[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
WHILST Mrs. Elliott superintended the education of her children, and enjoyed, as only such a mother could, to watch the rapidly opening beauty of the character and mind of her eldest son, she herself perceptibly matured in holiness, and became increasingly rich in varied knowledge and experience of many kinds. Her house was the resort of all that was good and learned in Douglas and the island generally. Dr. Carpenter was a constant and beloved visitor there. He would come in with his beaming smile and warm words of greeting, and then enter into a conversation as racy and gracious as it was hallowed and elevating. He had a manner, it is said, of telling the most amusing stories, not only in such a way as to excite every one's risibility, but to end by doing every one good, and lifting them up into a higher region of principle and kindliness. His Irish humour was irresistible; but he made it a rule, when telling his good stories, never to mention names, if by so doing he would be led to expose the weakness or folly of any one. It is recorded that on an occasion when retailing a capital story, and making all laugh as he dilated on the eccentricities of a certain individual, suddenly a person in the company exclaimed-" Oh ! I know, Doctor, to whom you refer; it is to Mr --.
The good Doctor's countenance fell-his lips closed-and not another word - would he utter of his story.
Such was the loving nature of the man. His was the wit that edified, the charity that thinketh no evil, and that throw the mantle of protection over the ridiculous or frail fellow-creature.
To him might be justly applied the delightful saying of Jean Paul Richter: "No one should laugh at men but he who right heartily loves them."
The Rev. Benjamin Philpot, at this time Archdeacon of Sodor and Man, was also one of Mrs. Elliott's frequent guests. He had known her of course since her childhood, having been from 1827 to 1832 incumbent of St. George's. He was very dear to her; and all her life she continued to speak of him in the most affectionate terms. He and Dr. Carpenter were her beau ideals of ministers of the Gospel.
Archdeacon Philpot shared with her in the wonderful interest she took in the second coming of Christ. The second advent was, it may be said, her favourite theme of thought, and of conversation, when she came across any one like-minded with herself on this glorious subject. It will be seen how it imbued her thought in the preceding article from her pen. She and Archdeacon Philpot never met but what they communed together on that which was so precious to the heart of each. Archdeacon Philpot had a family of fifteen children, all of them with remarkable personal histories, and all of them devout Christians.
Amongst Mrs. Elliott's literary friends two especially may be mentioned, whose visits to her house were not few or far between-these were Mr. G. H. Wood, a late lieutenant in the army, and Mr. Wanton.
Lieutenant Wood was a most intense admirer of young Willie Elliott and of his mother. He regarded Willie as a precocious genius, and prophesied that one day his accomplished parent would indeed have cause to be regarded as the most enviable of mothers.
"Lieutenant George Horsley Wood was son of General Wood, and grandson of John Wood, Esq., the first Governor-in-Chief of the Isle of Man, who was the direct descendant of Sir Andrew Wood, the famous admiral immortalised by James Grant in his graphic and historical romance of the 'Yellow Frigate.' The admiral received his coat-of-arms direct from James IV. of Scotland for his exploits on the sea."
In addition to his interesting ancestry, Mr. Wood was a poet, a musician, and an elocutionist; and in his own and in the opinion of many, he was above and beyond these -a profound philosopher. He wrote sonnets and critiques on metaphysical subjects. The critiques were on articles by Reid and Brown, Berkeley, Collier, and others in the Edinburgh Review, Blackwood's Magazine, &c.
Most of his poems he published in a volume, a collection not unworthy of appreciation, and many of them very laudatory of the charms of beautiful Mona. Full of the eccentricities of erratic genius, Mr. Wood was nevertheless an undoubted scholar, and his range of reading had, been very extensive.
The reason why he liked Mrs. Elliott so much was that he regarded her as a kindred spirit, but also because she allowed him to hold his own fantastical and equally dogmatic opinions on things generally, not thinking it sometimes worth her while to contradict him, holding that-
"A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still."
As regards his other -gifts, and his personality generally, we will allow the Rev. Thomas Brown*1 to speak, who knew him well, and whose graphic pen will do justice to a word portraiture of his old friend.
" Lieutenant Wood was grandson of Governor Wood, and was, I believe, a native of the island. He was educated at the Cathedral College, Hereford, why there I cannot imagine. He entered the army, and served for some time in India. Here it was that he became converted. I wish I could remember the name of the good man under whom he experienced this change. Mr. Wood was attached to the force mounting guard on Napoleon at St. Helena.
He settled in his native island about 1820, and married a Miss Christian (if I mistake not) of London, belonging to that branch of the Christian family settled in the metropolis, and boasting amongst its members Archdeacon James Christian Moore, and Mrs. William Moore of Cronkbourne. He became a leading member of the Douglas religious circles, and attended unceasingly most of the churches there. My father was at that time the minister of St. Matthew's, and I think Mr. Wood was a great admirer of his. But as years rolled on, Mr. Wood developed the strong metaphysical tendency for which he was so famed in the Isle of Man, and gradually ceased to attend any place of worship. He had become devotedly attached to the opinions of Bishop Berkeley, and thought he saw in those opinions the sound philosophical basis for the evidences of Christianity. The local clergy and townspeople generally could not go with him in this conviction. For a while I imagine he consorted with the Plymouth Brethren. They were probably terrified out of their senses by the accession of a brother so eccentric and self-asserting. At any rate his connection with them did not last long, though Mrs. Wood (who, I ought to have said, was his second wife) was a sister to the end. Mr. Wood caught for a brief space at a kind of rag held out by Mr. Dowe, a curate of St. Barnabas. It was the theory of the intermediate state, which, supposing the souls of the departed to be wrapt in a dreamless sleep until the judgment day, was conceived by its champions to lend support to, or derive illustration from, the Berkeleyan system.
"With him to believe, or even to see intensely a truth, was to be possessed as if with some veritable demon of conviction, assertion, propagandism. However, for the pure, scientific Berkeleyanism he found little sympathy in Douglas. Most of the worthy half-pay officers and their wives who constituted the society of literary Douglas, were quite incapable of understanding even the terms used, and took refuge either in a gay gentlemanly indifference, or in the far-famed argument of Doctor Johnson-'Sir, I refute it thus,' mightily spurning the tombstone in Harwich churchyard. The tradespeople laughed and were rude, the clergy saved their reputation by a canny keeping out of the way.
By dint of force and a dialectic method sufficiently unscrupulous, though by him regarded as perfectly honest, by the wildest gesticulation, by paradox, by terror, he would reduce an opponent to silence. Indeed if the amenities of civilised life were to be maintained, there was no alternative for the person who might unfortunately be drawn into a controversy with my dear old friend except silence, and that not so prompt as to be suspicious, but after a show of defence which left a colour of triumphal conviction. An immediate surrender, however good-natured, however carefully guarded against the merest soupcon of the ironic, would be resented with the profoundest disgust, with rage, in fact, and a bitterness too awful to describe or even to think of. Happy the interlocutor who would deferentially, intelligently, with It semblance of growing conviction, subside into the attitude of an interesting neophyte. Dear, grand old fellow ! How I loved him, how we loved him ! and yet how trying he was ! "He was a man of boundless sympathy, and proffered it as a sort of creed. Proffered - by the term I mean nothing unreal or pretended. Perhaps confessed would be better, if you take it in the sense which implies a confession. of a faith. It is rather a peculiar way to put it, but he really thought and spoke of himself as appointed to the function of sympathy, not as merely a follower of Christ, but in some sense His assessor or collaborator. Excuse must be made for the use of lan~uage so wanting perhaps in theological precision, and even reverence, in dealing with a character so singular and hardly to be described in terms of strict orthodoxy.
" Beside metaphysics, Mr. Wood had two other favourite subjects of study, or rather pursuits-music and public reading, more particularly Shakespeare. At an early period of his life, during a short residence in London, he had taken lessons on the contra-basso from Draogonetti. He played this instrument very well, but also cultivated the violin. The contra-basso he used to call the 'cart-ropes.' His favourite composer was Corelli. Mr. Louis Garrett*2 played his accompaniments. Attempts were occasionally made to establish a Douglas orchestra: at any rate, scratch combinations would venture to solicit the services of Mr. Wood, and possibly regret having done so when the pupil of Dragonetti proved impracticable.
" I don't think Mr. Wood was a good reader. He read such pieces as the ' Bridge of Sighs' and 'The Ancient Mariner' with plenty of fire; but he suffered from what I can only call a trick of snorting, which grievously marred his efficiency, and, in the reading of Shakespeare, ought to have been considered as absolutely forbidding the attempt. The attempt, however, was repeatedly made, and Mr. Wood was laughed at and treated with much rudeness by the rising generation. At these insulting demonstrations one's blood boiled; but the only remedy was retirement. At last Mr. Wood saw this, and gave up appearing as a public reader.
"In 1867 I took my family to Falcon Cliff for the summer holidays. This was near Mr. Wood's residence. He would still play the violin, and we heard him with pleasure; he would bring it in for an evening. 'Hark ! 'tis the Banshee's cry,' was especially remarkable for the weird grandeur of the performance. Here, too, for the entertainment of young people, he would exhibit his curious powers of facial expression, representing the character of a blind man, all idiot, and so forth. At such exhibitions our old friend demanded admiration, if need were, extorted it. We, however, needed no stimulus."
This entertaining individual, accurately depicted by Mr Brown, was never weary of retailing, for the benefit of his privileged hearers, the account of his connection with the captivity and death of Napoleon Bonaparte, he having been stationed with his regiment at St. Helena during the latter days of the banishment of the fallen chieftain. His contemplation of the captive's appearance and life in exile is described by himself in a poem to the memory of the great Emperor. In this poem and in a preface to it he also draws a telling picture of the burial of the once mighty potentate, at which he (Lieut. Wood) was present. " The funeral," said he, of the great but fallen and exiled chieftain was truly sublime and touching in its soldier-like simplicity. His coffin was borne to the spot he himself had chosen for his grave-over which a willow hung its weeping boughs-upon the shoulders of those who had once fought against him, but who now mourned over him with such heartfelt sorrow as the truly brave of every nation spontaneously pay to fallen greatness, and with such deep pity for his sad untimely fate, hastened as it doubtless was by the unnecessary rigour of his confinement, as could not have been drawn forth by the loftier claims. of their own illustrious chief.*3 No gorgeous pomp and pageantry was there, but nature's wild and awful grandeur.
The hallowed fane of his interment was the centre of a deep ravine, surrounded by rugged rocks and mournful trees; his requiem the fitful music of the moaning blast. The emotion felt by all was not produced by scenic effect, by martial strains, by sacred harmonies, the mighty organ's pealing tones, and full-voiced choir below; it was from nature's source alone-genuine and spontaneous. They wept in very pity while beholding the humble obsequies of the man who, for a few brief years, had 'made the earth to tremble, and did shake the kingdoms.' They wept, in compassion, to think that compassion was all the tribute man could render, in this sad closing scene, to genius, bravery, and lofty aspiration. . . ."
In verse Mr. Wood adds:-
"Oft have I gazed on this wondrous man,
But aye with strange emotions, undefined,
Akin to fearful dread and wonderment,
As if oppress'd by some mysterious power,
Like some poor bird beneath the serpent's gaze,
Spell-bound, and shivering with sudden fear;
For, oh! there was a magic in his eye,
That seem'd to penetrate the very soul,
And trace all secrets deeply buried there
Thus could he read the thoughts of other men,
Himself-a sealed book-unread the while.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But I did gaze upon that eye,-how changed
When all its bright celestial fire had fled;
Upon that pallid lip, where, e'en in death,
That smile still lingering play'd, that won all hearts
And I did hold that pale cold hand in mine,
Which once did grasp the sceptre of the world."
Lieut. Wood frequently recounted also how the Emperor, on his deathbed, asked for Dr. Archibald Arnott, the senior surgeon Of the 20th Foot, who had "the honour and privilege of attending the illustrious captive and alleviating his sufferings; " and desiring that a valuable gold snuff-box might be brought to him, he with his dying hand and last effort of departing strength engraved upon its lid, with a penknife, the letter "N," and presented the memento to Dr. Arnott. "Dr. Arnott," said Lieut. Wood, " had served with the 20th Regiment, which so highly distinguished itself in the Peninsular'
War during the campaign of the Duke of Wellington against the French, and of this Napoleon was aware; therefore is this last act of friendship stamped with true magnanimity."
Twenty years after the interment of Bonaparte, it would appear that Lieut. Wood was again at St. Helena, and present when the potentate's coffin was opened, and the body displayed in perfect preservation.
"What though lingering years had pass'd away,
That form remained untouch'd by fell decay
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
And some who ne'er had seen that face before,
Beheld, amazed, Napoleon slumbering there."
In the coffin, says Mr. Wood, had been placed Napoleon's well-known hat, and also a silver vase containing his heart, embalmed in spirits, which he, on his deathbed, had wished might be carried to Parma, and presented, as a token of undying affection, to his dear Marie Louise; but even this last fond desire was not allowed to be fulfilled.
Another favourite theme of Lieut. Wood's at a later date in relation to the great Emperor was the fact that in 1852, on the occasion of his presentation to Napoleon III. at the Elysee Palace, he had had "the honour of presenting to the Emperor of the French an original portrait of his august uncle, the late Emperor Napoleon, as he lay in death (drawn by W. Rubidge, a talented artist at St. Helena, at the request of the French suite), and of receiving from His Imperial Majesty in return a very beautiful diamond and emerald ornament."
It is reported that on this memorable occasion Lieut. Wood also offered for the Emperor's acceptance a shaving-cloth blotched with Bonaparte's blood; but that Napoleon, at the sight of the precious relic, exclaimed-extending his hands deprecatingly-" Non-non-je vous remercie, Monsieur; gardez le je vous prie ! "
Another member of the great Bonaparte family known to Mr. Wood, and whom he regarded as a personal friend, was Prince Lucien Bonaparte. In all likelihood they met abroad. Prince Lucien, however, once visited the Isle of Man for the purpose of making a study of the etymology of the Manx language. He selected for his abode a little cottage in the mountains whose occupant was a simple Manxwoman, but who probably the Prince conceived would be of use to him in the object in view.
The Rev. William Drury, then Vicar of Braddan, being half a Manxman, knew Manx thoroughly, and the Prince not unfrequently visited at Braddan Vicarage. There on one occasion the writer's father had the honour of meeting him.
Lieut. Wood died in 1874, in his 81st year.
"What must he," remarks Mr. Brown, " have said in 1870 to Sedan, and the ruin of his ci-devant host of the Tuileries
And, adds the same friend-
" He lies in Kirk Onchan churchyard. As one stands on the grave it seems as if the world trembled. A quenched thunderbolt lies here, a man of noble intellectual endowments, of fiery energy."
Mr. Wanton, Mrs. Elliott's other habitual literary visitor, was also a most interesting but eccentric person. He was profoundly learned-his was truly a mind of varied and sound erudition, though his specialty in study was natural history. His habits were very much those of a recluse. His time of study was usually night. When every one slept, he waked; and when others waked, he often slept.
His admiration of Mrs. Elliott was certainly in no degree based on the fact that she tolerated his vanity, for he was not vain-the very reverse; he was, with all his peculiarities and like Mr. Wood, argumentative propensities-a humble and devout Christian.
He valued his friend for her intellectual attainments, but more especially for the nobler qualities still of her generous heart. A favourite quotation of Mrs. Elliott's was-
"Tis the heart and not the brain,
That to the highest doth attain."
In this Mr. Wanton would have agreed with her. He had one child, a hunchbacked daughter-a saintly creature with a brilliant intelligence-whom her father idolised and had educated for his companion. This daughter afterwards died in a most unexpected manlier and time; and the shock of the sudden calamity acted so on her parent's feelings that he never fully recovered it,
Mrs. Elliott used to tell amusing stories as to how these two Manx celebrities, Mr. Wood and Mr. Wanton, would meet at her house, and engage in discussions that so inflamed them both that they would at last burst forth in personal invective like a volcanic eruption-hurling upon one another denunciations of implied stupidity and ignorance unequalled! "My blood," she would say, "would run hot and cold when I saw them meet and be-in their controversies-many a time I have run out and given them up the room to themselves!
*1 Rev. T. Brown, alluded to before as author of Manx. Ballads "Foc'sle Yarns," "Betsy Lee," &c.
*2 Louis Garrett, Esq., an accomplished Douglas musician, and honorary organist of St. Thomas' Church.