[From Flaxney Stowell, Castletown 100 years ago]
MY oldest and most worthy friend has honoured me with an invitation to write a few words of introduction to his reminiscences of Castletown. I have much pleasure in accepting this invitation, for I am sure that his little book will prove interesting to many who love the dear old town.
He ought to be very well qualified to write on such a subject, because his memory goes further back than that of anyone I know; and he has always been an accurate observer of everything that has occurred. He has been passionately devoted to his native place, though he has not been blind to its shortcomings.
What changes he has seen! Even Castle Rushen has changed. The appearance of the streets, parade, bridges, and harbour has changed. The officials have all been changed. The Legislature, the High Courts, and the Military have been removed. And, yet, among all these changes, he himself seems to be unchanged. Practically everything in the town has been altered during my own memory, but there appears to have been no alteration in my old friend. His venerable and familiar figure presents the same appearance as it did when first I knew him. The same unruffled and unperturbed temper; the same kind word for everyone; the same unfailing patience; the same intense love for his fellow men; the same fervent and unabated desire to help them to lead better and holier and happier lives.
It is no small thing to he able to say of one whom I have known very intimately for nearly forty years, that, during the whole of that time, I have never heard an unkind word about anyone pass his lips. He has been a man of peace and goodwill. His aim has been to do all in his power to brighten the lives of others. And I do not think he has failed in this respect.
His work in the cause of Temperance in the Island has been without parallel, and his interest in the relief of the poor has been unsurpassed.
When I was at King William's College, the great event of the year, eclipsed not even by the Prize Day, was the Poor Relief Festival. Our good Principal, Dr. Jones, as he was then known, regularly gave permission for all the students, boarders as well as dayboys, to attend it. We were unsettled until the event of the evening came off. This was "Flaxney's" speech. I am sure that he will pardon the familiarity. There were many in the town known as "Mr. Stowell," but there was only one "Flaxney"- the inimitable. There could never, by any possibility, be another. His appearance on the platform was sufficient to make us forget our boyish troubles. It was not necessary for him to speak a word. We were carried away before he opened his mouth. We roared; we applauded. We knew that there was a delightful treat in store for us, that we would not be disappointed, and that, for one night at least, neither French Verbs, nor Conic Sections, nor Impositions, would disturb our youthful dreams. His wit, so subtle, so original, and yet so simple and innocent, charmed us; and, without it, the Festival would have fallen flat. He seemed to understand us so thoroughly, to be one of ourselves - a boy - as far as his spirits were concerned. His anecdotes and his jokes were his own, part and parcel of himself. We could think of them, and laugh over them, when we were alone, but we could not attempt to relate them. Their charm could not he separated from himself.
Then, again, in the Good Templar Lodge, when the question was asked by the Worthy Chief Templar "Has any brother or sister anything to communicate for the good of the Order?" if "Brother Stowell" did not get up, we felt that there was a want which could not be supplied. Fortunately, however, this happened very seldom indeed, for he was always ready for the occasion. His wit, and wisdom, and humour had no limit.
My memory does not take me back to a time when I do not remember him. One of the earliest things I call to mind is a visit from him and his esteemed brother, "Quayley." I was a very little boy at the time, but I distinctly remember that "Quayley" had me on his knee, and that he sang to me in his rich, deep, sonorous voice, "There is sweet rest in Heaven." That sacred song, with its pathetic melody, has had a charm for me ever since. I could not have been more than three years of age at the time; but I could never forget it. I remember it as distinctly as if it had occurred only yesterday.
I was a little over five years of age when I first attended a public meeting. Of course, "Flaxney" was there. How could there have been a public meeting without him? It was the annual festival of the Castletown Temperance Society, now, alas, a thing of the past, and it was held on New Year's Day, 1866. I was too young to remember much of his address, though I have not forgotten the enthusiasm with which it was received, and I distinctly call to mind his eulogy on the good lady who played the piano. In those days we were not sufficiently advanced to speak of "presiding at" it. He said that if her husband had travelled over the Island, from the Point of Ayre to the Calf of Man, he could not have, found a better wife. Time has justified this. She is living still, and my friend's words have proved true. Probably she will read this, but I doubt if she will remember the incident as distinctly as I do.
I must also mention his endeavours to promote a more friendly and Christian feeling between people of different views on religious questions. He had an idea of getting up a monster temperance meeting. It was held in the Town Hall. I forget the date, though I worked with him in connection with it. Good Bishop Hill presided, and was supported by representatives of all denominations. Father Bradshaw, the Roman Catholic priest in charge of the Castletown Mission, was on the platform with his Lordship. It was the most representative meeting I have ever seen. But many were afraid of the broad catholic views of the veteran champion in the Temperance cause. They were too much advanced for them. However, I have no doubt that time will prove that his broad views were the right ones, though he may seem to have lived before the time when they shall be carried out. Some of those who opposed him - and good and earnest souls they were - are now resting from their labours. He is still going on, and we hope to have him with us for many a year to come. He has striven, with all his might, and his work has not been in vain in the Lord. He will have his reward. His name will be remembered with affection and esteem, long after he has been laid to rest in the old Churchyard at Kirk Malew, with her who for considerably over half a century was the partner of his joys and of his sorrows. The good work, which he initiated and furthered for so long, will be carried on, and many will regard it as a privilege and a pleasure to have had "Flaxney" for their friend.
Kirk Arbory, 1902.