[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]
ONE of my occupations during that summer and autumn, and during the same seasons of subsequent years spent at the vicarage, was peculiar. My fathers income was derived principally from tithes of hay and corn gathered from several persons in the parish. These tithes were paid in kind, so we lads went with old Paul Stephenson, our man, round in a cart. Arrived at the field, we drove the cart to each tenth hay-cock, or stook of wheat, oats, barley, as the case might be. The hay or corn was placed on the cart, and we went home sitting on the top of the load. We did not always leave the field without very sincere and hearty abuse from the farmer or his wife. I remember one case in which the farm was held by a poor widow, and she gave us the length of her tongue, and cursed us for robbing her of her bread. It was with difficulty that she was restrained from violence; She was all but pitching into old Paul, and told us lads to go to the devil, expressing also the wish that our food ill-gotten might choke us.
Through the return of the cold weather, the cholera abated and disappeared, and we were sent to school; and I should think that few clergymens sons have had a worse schooling than that which fell to our lot. The school was held in our old house, the parsonage, connected with St. Matthews; so we were very much at home in the place. The schoolmaster was my fathers successor in the chaplaincy, the Rev. John Stowell. He had an assistant, his uncle Mr. William Stowell, an elderly gentleman, who had lived much in Liverpool, had been a ship-painter, and had met with an accident which had caused him the loss of a leg. Accordingly he stumped about with a wooden leg, a broom unmistakable, and of course we boys called him old peg-leg. In Liverpool Mr. William Stowell could find no such preaching in the Church of England as satisfied him. Like all the other Stowells he was strictly evangelical; but the Church of England in Liverpool was, in his opinion, little better than heathenism. So he went to hear Dr. then Mr. Raffles, and became a Dissenter; the only one of the Stowell race that, so far, had had the courage to quit the Establishment, for they were all very respectable people. Mr. W. Stowell, unfitted for his business by reason of the loss of his leg, returned to his native air and island, and took to keeping school. That profession was in those days the refuge of the destitute: a man who was good for nothing else was good enough for that. John Stowell, the head master, had, like so many others of the family, become a Church parson; he had been to Oxford, and graduated there. He is still (1879) living, an old, old man, for the last forty years Vicar of Kirk German, in which the town of Peel is situated. As a schoolmaster, so far as I recollect, I think he was neither better nor worse than the average of other masters of the period, although he was afterwards Vice-Principal of King Williams College at Castletown. The Rev. John Stowell was supposed to teach us Latin. Greek was never thought of. Mr. W. Stowells accomplishments consisted of a moderate knowledge of the three Rs; the united teaching power of both being hardly equal to that of any National or Board School teacher of the present day. In passing our Latin exercises the Rev. John Stowell usually thought it the easiest and most discreet course to announce that they were correct. Mr. William Stowell, in looking over our English exercises carefully, with spectacles on nose, and knitted brows, compared our spelling with that of Walkers Dictionary. That valuable work, together with Lindley Murrays English Grammar, a Latin Dictionary, Ruddimanns Rudiments of the Latin Tongue, an Arithmetic, the Latin New Testament, Caesars Commentaries, Cornelius Nepos, Virgil, and the English Bible, were, I think, the whole book-list of the school. I dont remember a Euclid; I dont think either of the masters understood a single word of him. The Rev. John Stowell was well armed; he carried a formidable ebony ruler and a cane. The cane was used without the slightest regard either to justice or to mercy and a new one was required every few weeks. Mr. W. Stowell had on his desk a broad wooden slapper, to be smitten with which we were commanded to hold out our unwilling hands. But I will say that Mr. W. Stowell was a good-tempered old fellow, much more so than his reverend kinsman.
"He did not always chide,
And when his strokes were felt,
His strokes were fewer than our crimes,
And lighter than our guilt."
I do not think that we could have been more than a year under the Rev. John Stowell, when that gentleman was appointed by the trustees of King Williams College to be Vice-Principal. This greatly pleased the Manx people. The building of the college was always regarded by my father and many more as an act of robbery; funds established for the education of the Manx clergy had been secured for the purpose of building the college, and my father fought the question in the newspapers under the name of Anti-humbug.
The trustees had appointed an Englishman to the principalship; this gave great offence ; the Rev. John Stowell was a Manx man, and a University man to boot. Further, his father had been master of the Castletown Academy for the education of the Manx clergy. He was just the man for the vice-principalship, and so he left us, and none of the boys cried over his departure. His successor, of all men who ever undertook to keep a school, was the greatest duffer. Not having been to a university, he had none of the Rev. John Stowells academical fame, but he had all and more than all the Rev. John Stowells hasty temper. He was a downright savage with us; I have seen stand-up fights between him and the bigger boys, one of whom was expelled for drawing a knife upon the infuriated master. I will say for this new master, that if we were good he did not trouble us much. He sat by the fire all the morning, and made us read two chapters of the Bible, verse about; he flung the ruler at any boy who made a mistake. The Bible reading over, he read for his own pleasure the rest of the day.
We did not go to school for more than half our time. We went in the morning, going home to dinner, and we were supposed to be taught by my father in the afternoon. But small pains did he take with us; he generally had to go to a funeral, and the rest of the afternoon he slept on his sofa, while we did pretty much as we liked, until he laid hold of me for another service, of which more presently. The best part of our education Was the education of our limbs and lungs the walk of five miles to the town and back, diversified with jumping, leaping, running hither and thither, playing on the roads or among the rocks to the last moment; I believe we often ran the whole two miles and a half of it, up steep hills, and we seldom took half-an-hour to do it.
I have said that Mr. William Stowell was a Dissenter; he was a member of the Independent Church in Douglas, a poor struggling cause under the pastoral care of the Rev. Samuel Haining, a Scotchman of considerable erudition, and a preacher of dull, dry, long sermons. Mr. Stowells dissent had an effect on me that was brought about in a singular manner. On Saturday morning the school ought to have been put through the Church Catechism. But on the Saturday morning the reverend masters were busy with their sermons, so they never put in an appearance on Saturday, and the catechism was committed to Mr. William Stowell, the Dissenter. He did teach us the Catechism, but he did not put us through it. He began with bidding us rehearse the articles of our belief, and then the ten commandments, and finished with the exposition of the Lords Prayer. He said nothing of the first part of the Catechism concerning our baptism, our godfathers and our godmothers; nothing of the last part, concerning the sacraments. He taught us as much of the Catechism as he himself believed, carefully avoiding all its unscriptural and superstitious elements. I dont suppose that any of us noticed the omission, or if we did it was only with much thankfulness to our heretical teacher for letting us off so easily. On this ground our Shorter Catechism was a great boon to us. But in after times, when I began to think seriously, Mr. W. Stowells way of teaching the Catechism came to my remembrance. I asked myself why that old gentleman had not taught us the whole of it. I soon found the reason, I reflected upon it, and Mr. Stowells way of teaching me the Church Catechism proved to be one of the originating causes of my becoming a Dissenter. Mr. W. Stowell, who died a few years afterwards, was the father of the Rev. Dr. W. H. Stowell, President of Rotherham College, and afterwards of Cheshunt. His two daughters, Ellen and Belle Anne, are still living (1879), the oldest friends I have, and among the best. They are very old, but contented and happy, and they are gentlewomen in the truest sense of that word. Dr. W. H. Stowell, who died about twenty years ago, was a man of learning and great preaching power; a good friend and most genial companion. He left a large family, of whom the eldest son, William, became a Congregational Minister, and not succeeding very well in the ministry, entered the office of the Newcastle Chronicle, in the service of which he continued until his death in 1877. His daughter is now with us, preparing to be a teacher, so I have known the family in four generations.