[from Jefferys A Descriptive Account of the Isle of Man, 1808]
LESAGE, the author of that universally read and ever-to-be admired novel, GIL BLAS, has, in the excellent story of the two students of Pennahel, given so powerful a recommendation to the reading of prefaces, as to excite a hope in the writers of them, that the admirers of that excellent work, Fly considering the "SOUL OF THE LICENTIATE,', will never prosceed to read a single page of any book previous to a careful perusal of its introductory matter.
The spirit for topographical inquiries, which has lately been so prevalent, has produced such numerous publications, that it is a proper mark of respect to the public to offer a reason for adding one more to the number.
Though almost every place in the British dominions, to which curiosity can lead an inquiring traveller, has its introductory publications in the form of "Tours" and "Guides," such as to the Lakes, the Highlands of Scotland, &c. it is not so with the Isle of Man.
As the publications to which I have alluded are to be purchased, in great variety, in the towns near to the places they describe, I naturally concluded that similar sources of information, relative to the Isle of Man, were to be procured in the towns of Cumberland immediately opposite to the Island, or at Liverpool, from whence passengers are continually sailing to Douglas. But the result of every application which I made for the purpose, was, that I could procure neither a book nor any map of the Island that could be of use to me.
Tours through the Island had been published many years since, but I could not, in the course of my inquiries, procure a copy of any of them.
A very mistaken opinion has long prevailed, among persons residing at a distance from the Isle of Man, both as to the natural character of the Island, and the moral character of its inhabitants. The former is supposed by many persons to be, as I have frequently heard it described, an uninteresting spot, half rock and half rabbit-warren; and the latter to be composed of fishermen, smugglers, and individuals in embarrassed circumstances, availing themselves of the mild laws of the Island, which do not allow of personal arrests for the recovery of debts contracted out of it.
To those who know the real state of the Island and the character of its society, it will be scarcely credible that such opinions as I have mentioned should obtain any belief. But such certainly is the case; and so unwilling are mankind in general to take the trouble of judging for themselves, even where the means of doing so are within their reach, that, from some of the inhabitants of Cumberland residing on the coast and within view of the Island, I have received information quite as absurd as that which I have stated. From some, indeed, I received a very different account of the Isle of Man; that it was a very beautiful spot, and that neither it nor its inhabitants at all answered the absurd description that was too frequently given of them.
Surprised at this variety of opinion, as well as scarcity of all printed information, in the report of an Island then within my view, (being at that time at Whitehaven) I took the opportunity of a Manks boat returning to the Isle of Man, and for the trifling consideration of five shillings I was safely and pleasantly conveyed there in about six hours.
The observations which a very short stay in the Island afforded me art opportunity of making, on its society, manners, trade, and agriculture, together with its natural beauties and advantage of situation, of which the inhabitants, by their industry, enterprise, and cheerfulness, so visible in the trading parts of the Island, appear sensible, could not fail to impress upon my mind very different ideas from those with which I went there.
Recollecting the difficulty I had to procure any previous intelligence relative to the Isle of Man, and that the little I did obtain was in a great degree erroneous, it occurred to me that, by arranging such information as by my personal observations I had obtained, and such as by a diligent inquiry into authorities to be relied upon as I could procure, and submit the whole to the public in the form of a tour, at a moderate expense, I might be the means of affording, to future travellers in the Isle of Man, that facility, for the want of which I had experienced so much inconvenience. Also that, by the addition of a few remarks on the subject of the Island and the character of its inhabitants, I might gratify my own feelings of admiration for both, in my attempt to remove the illiberal impressions so unjustly entertained by strangers respecting them. Such were the motives that led to this publication.
As it is my wish, in the execution of my plan, to give useful information, and at the same time to afford amusement, I shall carefully endeavour to avoid the two extremes into which publications of this description have of late too frequently fallen.
Of many of them it may with great truth be said, that they contain little more than an insipid register of inns and milestones, with occasionally an attempt to excite an interest by the breaking down of a chaise, and the very important business of tying it up again; accompanied with a fine moral reflection or two on the uncertainty of all sublunary bliss, which the shocking disappointment of being too late for dinner at the next stage gives rise to.
Of others, that they are filled with rhapsodies of sentimental nonsense, a sort of prose run mad, ushered forth to the world in all the pomp and splendor of a quarto volume, fine hotpressed paper, broad margins, a few sinewy engravings, and a very high price.
Should any persons be induced to take up this book in the expectation of finding amusement from the relation of anecdotes of the private life nd character of families and individuals residing in the Isle of Man, who in brighter days may have mixed in the splendid gaieties of the fashionable world, their curiosity will not be gratified, for though it is my object, in a description of my tour, to afford amusement, I should be very sorry to do so at the expence of a moment's uneasiness to anybody, having experienced too much of disappointment in the changes and chances of the world, to permit of my sporting with the vicissitudes of others.
[ the preface continues with material unconnected with the Isle of Man but concerned with his conduct towards the Prince of Wales]