[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
THE NUNNERY FEMALE PIETY KIRK-BRADDAN VENERATION OF THE MANKS FOR THEIR DECEASED FRIENDS VIEW OF THE COUNTRY ROUND DOUGLAS ADVANCES OF AGRICULTURE ABUNDANCE OF THE ISLAND.
AT a little distance from Douglas is situated, in a most delightful solitude, the Nunnery. Close by the modern building is a venerable relique of the ancient priory; which, according to the Manks' tradition, was founded in the sixth century, by Saint Bridget, when she came to receive the veil of virginity from St. Maughold. From the pious celebrity of its foundress, the monastery was soon tenanted by female votaries; some of whom were compelled by parental ambition, while others were deluded by visionary joys, to frustrate the benignity of Nature, by sacrificing their youth and beauty at the shrine of Superstition. Yet, amid the gloom of this once-hallowed spot, Devotion might sometimes heighten the raptures of the enthusiast; or Religion, with her heavenly balm, heal the wounds of the unfortunate.
The Prioress of Douglas was anciently a Baroness of the Isle. Her person was sacred; her authority dignified; her revenue extensive; and her privileges important. She held Courts in her own name; and from the Lord's Court she frequently demanded her vassals, and tried them by a jury of her own tenants. When such was her temporal authority, it may be presumed of her spiritual jurisdiction, that
" Here perchance a Tyrant-Abbess reign'd,
" Who rul'd the Cloister with an iron-rod *.,'
But every vestige of her magnificence and dignity has long since vanished, except the ruins of the convent where she once presided: and even these, when a few years have glided away, will also disappear. Every ornament of its former grandeur is now levelled with the ground; the mouldering walls are mantled with ivy; cluttering wildflowers crown their summit; and the whole ruin, being shaded with aged trees, is at once gloomy and romantic.
The modern building has an air of elegance superior to any other in the Island. The gardens are spacious and luxuriant; and the surrounding fields, being highly cultivated, and finely interspersed with woods and waters, present an exquisite landscape. In this charming retirement, once consecrated to piety, but now sacred to hospitality, Captain Taubman, the worthy proprietor, enjoys " Otium cum dignitate;" not more esteemed by strangers, for his politeness and generosity, than respected by the natives, for his worth and benevolence.
About a mile from the nunnery, bosomed in a group of aged trees, appears the venerable Kirk-Braddan 1. The surrounding scenery is solemn and romantic. The last time I visited this sacred solitude was on a fine summer evening. The ruddy sun was sinking behind the western hills; and his parting beams shone faintly on the church-yard. Beneath, the river, in many a maze, murmured along its root-inwoven banks; while, overhead, a few solitary rooks had perched their nests on the summit of the trees. The gales of evening sighed among the groves: and at intervals the tones of the death-bell issued from the church. A solemn calm breathed around and every object insensibly disposed me to a pleasing, yet awful melancholy; reflecting, as I trod above the venerable dead,
" Time was, like me, they life possest,
" And time will be when I shall rest."
In this hallowed spot the inhabitants of Douglas, and the rude forefathers of the neighbouring hamlets, sleep in peace. Here, the green turf lies lightly on the breasts of some; and there, the long grass waves luxuriant over others; while all around,
" Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
" With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decks,
" Implores the passing tribute of a sigh."
The Manks are solicitous to pay every veneration due to deceased friends. When an inhabitant dies, he is attended to the church-yard by a great concourse of friends and neighbours. Before the corpse a funeral hymn is sung, which closes on leaving the town 2; but is resumed on approaching the place of burial. The corpse is then interred, according to the rites of the church of England: the solemnity of which, at Kirk-Braddan, is considerably heightened by the quiet and gloom of the surrounding scenery.
Colonel Townley, in his voluminous Journal of Trifles, has been pleased to give a ludicrous account of Kirk-Braddan. With such puerilities the old gentleman might have amused himself and his friends. But why should he have increased them by mis-representations; and then, to gratify his spleen, obtruded them on the public ?
Besides the Nunnery, there are several houses pleasantly situate in the neighbourhood of Douglas. Of these I shall only enumerate Athol-Lodge, the present residence of Lord Henry Murray; Ballaughton, enlivened by the generous conviviality of Captain Southcote; and the Hague, the seat of the late Richard Betham, LL. D.; a gentleman, whose erudition was truly respectable; and to whose politeness and friendship I am highly indebted.
The land round Douglas, though perhaps not the richest, is certainly the best cultivated in the Island. Of late years several English farmers, sinking under the accumulated taxes of their own country, have retired to a land, as yet exempt from such oppression. Here they enjoy peace and abundance; while the success attending their agricultural labours seems at length to have roused the Manks from their lethargy. The marshy grounds are now drained; the waste lands enclosed and nourished with lime, marle3, and sea-weed; cultivation begins to throw a rich verdure over hill and vale; and the yellow harvests now wave luxuriant " o'er the smiling land." The value of landed property, of course, is now considerably increased; the country enriched by the exportation of produce; and the markets at home abundantly stored rich variety of provisions. Eggs, butter, and poultry are here,very plentiful. Beef seldom exceeds 1d. a pound; mutton is equally cheap, and perhaps the most delicious in the world. Pork is still cheaper. The pigs fed at home are reasonably large; and have sometimes a fishy flavour: but there is a small species, called Purs, which run wild on the mountains, and are esteemed a most admirable delicacy. Hares, partridges, and moor. game are plentiful: and of fish there is great variety.
From this abundance of domestic come mats, and the plenitude of foreign luxuries, persons of small fortunes here enjoy life its full now: for here, the oppression of game-laws, land-taxation, and excise-establishment are utterly unknown 4.
In permitting one article of commerce the Manks are certainly culpable. Great quantities of excellent grain are annually exported; and in return very indifferent flour is imported for domestic consumption. But this error will, I hope, in a few months be remedied; for, since I left the Island, Captain Taubman has informed me, that on his estates grain-mills are now erecting, which will soon be sufficient for the supply of the Island. The same gentleman has lately endeavoured to promote among his countrymen a more universal spirit for agriculture: and as a striking proof of its blessings, has cultivated a hill in the vicinity of Douglas, which, a few years since, was one of the most barren spots in the Island. His patriotic enterprize certainly merits imitation; for with every advance of agriculture, the comforts of life, and consequently the happiness of society, gradually increase.
1 Braddan, in the Manks' language, signifies a Salmon; and this church probably derives its name from its vicinity to a rives which abounds with this delicate field.
2 The Manks church-yards are generally in some romantic spot, retired from the towns and villages.
3 In the north side of the Island marle is very plentiful The sweepings of the red-herring houses are esteemed a rich manure.
4 The only taxes in the island are 10s. 6d. on each publican per annum; 1s 6d. on greyhounds and pointers; and 1d. on other dogs. These taxes, with a very moderate statute duty, are appropriated to the repairs of Public roads; which are, in general, equal to any in England, without being fettered at every turning with odious imposts: In the whole Island there is not a single turnpike. The mercantile imposts I shall afterwards mention.