[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
WITH the vision of a hawk our student watched for every discovery from the lands of Biblical history that would throw additional light on the authenticity of the page of Holy Writ. In February of 1872 she was especially excited about the reported unearthing of a second Moabite stone; and writing to her brother she asks, " Has Mrs. Deeping heard of this second stone ? " the Mrs. Deeping mentioned elsewhere, whose tastes and pursuits coincided with those of her friend.
It would appear, however, that this alleged discovery was altogether a mistake, only one Moabite stone remaining so far to testify to the inaccuracy of the report the stone discovered in Moab in 1869 by Dr. Klein, a German missionary, the announcement of which intensely interested Mrs. Elliott at the time. It was to her like the crying out of a divine voice from the ages gone by a direct and further confirmation of the truth of seriptural history, and establishing irrefutably the record of the sacred page.
It will be remembered that this remarkable erection of black basalt, discovered by Dr. Klein, was afterwards purchased by M. Clermont Ganneau, a member of the French consulate at Jerusalem, and placed in the Museum of the Louvre at Paris.
This stone, with its interesting inscription, is truly a startling reiteration of Biblical history recorded in 2 Kings iii., and reads like a chapter of Old Testament Scripture. It is the record of Mesha, King of Moab, who, after the death of Ahab, rebelled against the King of Israel, and was victorious in his rebellion. In the inscription he describes the revenge he took upon the Israelites for their former oppression of his country. The characters used are Phoenician, and differ very little from those in vogue on the western side of the Jordan; showing that the language of Moab was almost similar to that of the Hebrew settler on the eastern side of the river. These venerable characters to be seen on the Moabitish stone present to us the exact mode of writing practised by the earlier prophets of the Old Testament. At another time an inscription in the Himyaritic character called forth our friend's interest. It was reported to her as having been seen and copied near Cabul by the Rev. Charles Swinnerton, a Manxman, and brother to the distinguished sculptor and to the equally distinguished painter of that name. Mr. Swinnerton's copy appeared in the Graphic of February 14,1880.*
The characters seemed to bear a resemblance, in the estimation of one of Mrs. Elliott's sagacious informants, to a curious inscription seen by Mrs. (afterwards Lady) Brassey in Easter Island, the southernmost island in the South Pacific. Another inscription of a like character is to be seen in the Ladrones in the North-West Pacific. "So," writes Mrs. Elliott, " those Himyaritic people must have been a very widespread race in early days."
In keeping with her interest in Biblical inscriptions, she hailed with untold satisfaction the arrival in 1873 of the Shah of Persia in England.
Writing to a relative she says: " The arrival of the Shah yesterday would be a great sensation with terrific thunder of guns and uproar of shouting. There is a clever cartoon of him in Punch as the Persian ' chat' between the British Lion and the Russian Bear. However, there is a peculiar interest about this Eastern monarch as a representative of an empire founded by Cyrus the Great, whose name is emblazoned on the page of prophecy. And it is something new for an oriental king of so old an empire to visit our shores."
Even the politics of the subject of this memoir were deeply coloured with scriptural, as well as hereditary bias. Gladstone she regarded as a most dangerous man, and could in no respects tolerate him or his policy. Her thoughts of him were those of John Arthur Roebuck, who remarked "It may be that Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister of this country, may not be inclined to (R.) Catholicism. I do not say yea or nay as to that, but I do say this, that if he were inclined to Catholicism, he would do exactly the thing he is now doing."
But Beaconsfield she admired and supported. Much, no doubt, on account of his brilliant parts as a statesman, but chiefly from the fact that he was a Jew, a descendant of "princely Israel's hallowed line," and an opponent to the innovation of Jesuitical principles and Popish practices into Britain. She did not forget his startling declaration " What is the power beneath whose sirocco breath the fame of England is fast withering? Were it the dominion of another conqueror another bold Bastard with his belted sword we might gnaw the fetters which we could not burst. Were it the genius of Napoleon with which we are again struggling, we might trust the issue to the God of Battles, with a sainted confidence in our good cause and our national energies. But we are sinking beneath a power before which the proudest conquerors have grown pale, and by which the nations most devoted to freedom have become enslaved the power of a foreign priesthood. . . . Your empire and your liberties are more in danger at this moment than when the Army of Invasion was encamped at Boulogne."
The great statesman's coup-de-main in buying up the Egyptian shares of the Suez Canal she regarded with peculiar interest, and as an act of more than human foresight and astuteness; and the cutting of the Suez Canal the tongue of the Egyptian sea a direct fulfilment of prophecy: " And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold, these shall come from far; and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim " (Isa. xlix. r r ). And again, " Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Is. xl. 3).
A grand phenomenon in the heavens of Eastern Europe, also gave wings to our friend's fancy, and subject for contemplation and speculation in 1872 It was the appearance, after an elapse of twenty years, of the so-called comet, " Biela."
"By this post," she writes to her brother, " I send you a Herald with a startling paragraph about a new comet. You can tell me if you have seen it noticed elsewhere, and what other astronomers think of it. Though it seems that no other astronomer, except this one at Geneva, has noticed this fiery flying comet, which may come as a flaming fire-brand to set fire to this earth. If this news be true (and something like it will happen sooner or later), it turns all earthly news to ashes."
Ancient monumental stones and hieroglyphics were not the only testimonies of bygone ages that appealed to Mrs. Elliott's interest. She revelled also in legendary lore, quaint ballads, a number of which she knew by heart, and ancient customs generally.
The Bacons of Seafield, near Douglas, were related to her sister's family, and Miss Marian Bacon, Major Bacon's second daughter, was a special favourite of Mrs. Elliott's. One day she and Karine went together to lunch at Seafield,
Mrs. Elliott describing to her companion on the way a wonderful glass goblet which she said she must be sure to ask Miss Marion Bacon to show her, as Karine :had never seen or heard of it before.
On arriving at Seafield, in due course the goblet was produced by Miss Bacon and its history unfolded, which was to the following effect
" The 'Luck,' or Fairy Cup of Ballafletcher, came into the possession of the Fletcher family along with the estate of Kirby, in the sixteenth century the Kirby ** estate being held on the tenure of providing for the entertainment of the Bishops of Sodor and Man when going to and from the island. The Fletchers were a distinguished Lancashire family who held important official positions in Man under the Earls of Derby. Previous to their ownership of the precious relic it had belonged, so tradition affirmed, to Magnus, King of Norway, and Lord of Man and the Isle , who took it from the shrine of St. Olaf; and perhaps as expiation for his crime of sacrilege, returned it to the Church, or the Church's representative, the bishop, who on his visits to the island and residence at Kirby used it as his peculiar privilege.
"The last of the Fletchers, the custodians of the cup, died in 1778, and the relic then passed into the possession of the Bacon family, which, in the female line, was related to the family of Fletcher; retaining with it, however, a serious responsibility, for it possessed a Lhiannan-shee, or ' Spirit-of peace,' its guardian spirit, who, according to an ancient tradition, would keep its owner in peace and plenty as long as the cup was preserved unbroken, but who, if it were broken, would haunt the unfortunate person who broke it, and cause the peace and plenty to depart."
" It reminds one," said Mrs. Elliott, her eye glistening with interest and animation as Miss Bacon recounted the legend, " of Longfellow's ' Luck of Edenhall ! "' And as she held the dainty goblet almost with sacred awe in her fingers, and waved it lightly, she repeated the lines :
"`This glass of flashing crystal tall
Gave to my mires the Fountain-Sprite ;
She wrote in it:
If this glass doth fall,
Farewell, then, O Luck of Edenhall !
Glass is this earth's Luck and Pride;
In atoms shall fall this earthly ball
One day like the Luck of Edenhall."'
The cup, Miss Bacon informed us, was never used except on Christmas and Easter days, when it was filled with wine, and quaffed by her father, as head of the house, to the health of the Lhiannan-shee.
Whether she added that it was also used on those annual occasions when, on June 18th, Major Bacon had been wont to celebrate the victory of Waterloo, we do not remember. But the venerable host of Seafield was one of the few surviving heroes of that memorable fight; and up to the time of the death of the Duke of Wellington, he always commemorated the event by giving a dinner-party, to which were invited other distinguished veterans and near relatives.
As regards ancient customs, Mrs. Elliott, on June 1, 1872, writes to her brother an amusing account of the last night's and early morning's proceedings of the Qualtagh. How the unseemly rat-a-tat-tats on the brass knocker at midnight, and in the small hours of the morning, had disturbed the slumbers of the household, and excited their temporary provocation. Between the lines, however, one can see she was in no way displeased by the boisterous display of a custom of wont and usage, and which bore upon its venerable face the approbation and sanction of time immemorial.
The Qualtagh may be explained as follows:
" On New Year's Eve the occupants of farmhouses and cottages smooth the ashes on the floor, in the hope of finding on the next morning the impression of a fairy foot. The direction of the foot is supposed to predict, if towards the threshold, a death, if from the threshold, an increase in the family during the year. As soon as the New Year dawns a number of young men go from house to house, singing a verse expressive of good wishes for the family, after which they are hospitably entertained. It is considered important, however, that a dark person should first enter the house. The rhyme is as follows:
Again Again we assemble, a merry New Year
To wish to each one of the family here,
Whether man or woman, girl or boy,
That long life and happiness all may enjoy.
May they have potatoes and herrings in plenty,
With butter and cheese, and each other dainty;
And may their sleep never by night or by day
Disturbed be by even the tooth of a flea,
Until at the Qualtagh again we appear
To wish you as now all a Happy New Year."
* Mr. Swinnerton here stated, "The inscription probably belongs to an age anterior to the Christian era. So few inscriptions were left by the destroying Mahomedans in 1050 that the one or two known to exist are of intense interest. This one has never been copied by a European, and probably never seen by one before."
** Kirby, near Douglas, now the property and residence of Deemster Sir William Drinkwater, was in ancient days situated close to the sea, as Port-a-chee, the adjoining land, by its name testifies. Since then the sea has receded nearly a distance of two miles.