[From Little Manx Nation, 1891 by Hall Caine]


The Manx Language

A FRIEND asked me the other day if there was any reason why I should not deliver these lectures in Manx. I answered that there were just forty good and sufficient reasons. The first was that I did not speak Manx. Like the wise queen in the story of the bells, he then spared me the recital of the remaining nine-and-thirty. But there is at least one of the number that will appeal strongly to most of my hearers. What that is you shall judge for yourselves after I have braved the pitfalls of pronunciation in a tongue I do not know, and given you some clauses of the Lord's Prayer in Manx.

Ayr ain t'ayns niau.
(Father our who art in heaven.)
Caskerick dy row dty ennym.
(Holy be Thy name.)
Dy jig dty reeriaght.
(Come Thy kingdom.)
Dty aigney dy row jeant er y thalloo mry te ayns niau.
(Thy will be done on the earth even as in heaven.)
* * *
Son dy bragh, as dy bragh, Amen.
(For ever and ever. Amen.)

I asked a friend — it was Mr. Wilson Barrett — if in its fulness, its fine chest-notes, its force and music, this old language did not sound like Italian.

" Well, no," he answered, " it sounds more like hard swearing."

I think you must now understand why the greater part of these lectures should be delivered in English.

Manx is a dialect mainly Celtic, and differing only slightly from the ancient Scottish Gaelic. I have heard my father say that when he was a boy in Ramsey, sixty years ago, a Scotch ship came ashore on the Carrick, and next morning after the wreck a long, lank, bony creature, with bare legs, and in short petticoats, came into the market-place and played a tune on a little shrieking pair of smithy bellows, and then sang a song. It was a Highland piper, and he sang in his Gaelic, but the Manx boys and girls who gathered round him understood almost every word of his song, though they thought his pronunciation bad. Perhaps they took him for a poor old Manxman, somehow strayed and lost, a sort of Manx Rip Van Winkle who had slept a century in Scotland, and thereby lost part of his clothes.

You will wonder that there is not more Norse in our language, remembering how much of the Norse is in our blood. But the predominance of the Celtic is quite natural. Our mothers were Celts, speaking Celtic, before our Norse fathers came. Was it likely that our Celtic mothers should learn much of the tongue of their Norse husbands Then, is it not our mother, rather than our father, who teaches us to speak when we are children ? So our Celtic mothers taught us Celtic, and thus Celtic became the dominant language of our race.

Manx Names

But though our Norse fathers could not impose their Norse tongue on their children, they gave them Norse names, and to the island they gave Norse place-names. Hence we find that though Manx names show a preponderance of the Celtic, yet that the Norse are numerous and important. Thus we have many dales, fells, garths, and ghylls. Indeed, we have many pure Scandinavian surnames and place-names. When I was in Iceland I sometimes found myself face to face with names which almost persuaded me that I was at home in our little island of the Irish Sea. "There is, for example, a Snaefell in Man as well as in Iceland. Then, our Norwegian surnames often took Celtic prefixes, such as Mac, and thus became Scandio-Gaelic. but this is a subject on which I have no right to speak with authority. You will find it written down with learning and judgment in the good book of my friend Mr. A. W. Moore, of Cronkbourne. What concerns me more than the scientific aspect of the language is its literary character. I seem to realise that it was the language of a poetic race. The early generations of a people are often poetic. They are childlike, and to be like a child is the best half of being like a poet. They name their places by help of their observatory powers. These are fresh and full of wonder, and Nature herself is beautiful or strange until man tampers with her.

So when an untaught and uncorrupted mind looks upon a new scene and bethinks itself of a name to fit it, the name is almost certainly full of charm or rugged power. Thus we find in Man such mixed Norse and Celtic names as : Booildooholly (Black fold of the wood), Douglas (Black stream), Soderick (South creek), Trollaby (Troll's farm), Gansy (Magic isle), Cronk y-Clagh Bane (Hill of the white stone), Cronk-ny-hey (Hill of the grave), Cronk-ny-arrey-lhaa (Hill of the day watch).

Manx Imagination

This poetic character of the place-names of the island is a standing reproach to us as a race. We have degenerated in poetic spirit since such names were the natural expression of our feelings. I tremble to think what our place-names would be if we had to make them now. Our few modern christenings set my teeth on edge. We are not a race of poets. We are the prosiest of the prosy. I have never in my life met with any race, except Icelanders and Norwegians, who are so completely the slave of hard fact. It is astounding how difficult the average Manxman finds it to put himself into the mood of the poet. That anything could come out of nothing, that there is such a thing as imagination, that any human brother of an honest man could say that a thing had been, which had not been, and yet not he — these are bewildering difficulties to the modern Manxman. That a novel can be false and yet true — that, well that's foolishness. I wrote a Manx romance called " The Deemster ; " and I did not expect my fellow-country-men of the primitive kind to tolerate it for a moment. It was merely a fiction, and the true Manxman of the old sort only believes in what is true. He does not read very much, and when he does read it is not novels. But he could not keep his hands off this novel, and on the whole, and in the long run, he liked it — that is, as he would say, " middling," you know! But there was only one condition on which he could take it to his bosom — it must be true. There was the rub, for clearly it transgressed certain poor little facts that were patent to everybody. Never mind, Hall Caine did not know poor Man, or somebody had told him wrong. But the story itself! The Bishop, Dan, Ewan, Mona, the body coming ashore at the Mooragh, the poor boy under the curse by the Calf, lord-a-massy, that was thrue as gospel! What do you think happened ? . I have got the letters by me, and can show them to anybody. A good Manxman wrote to remonstrate with me for calling the book a " romance." How dare I do so ? It was all true. Another wrote saying that maybe I would like to know that in his youth he knew my poor hero, Dan Mylrea, well. They often drank together. In fact, they were the same as brothers. For his part he had often warned poor Dan the way he was going. After the murder, Dan came to him and gave him the knife with which he had killed Ewan. He had got it still !

Later than the " Deemster," I published another Manx romance, "The Bondman." In that book I mentioned, without thought of mischief, certain names that must have been lying at the back of my head since my boyhood. One of them becomes in the book the name of an old hypocrite who in the end cheats everybody and yet prays loudly in public. Now it seems that there is a man up in the mountains who owns that name. When he first encountered it in the newspapers, — where the story was being published as a serial, he went about saying he was in the " Bondman," that it was all thrue as gospel, so it was, that he knew me when I was a boy, over Ramsey way, and used to give me rides on his donkey, so he did. This was before the hypocrite was unmasked ; and when that catastrophe occurred, and his villainy stood naked before all the island, his anger knew no limits. I am told that he goes about the mountains now like a thunder-cloud, and that he wants to meet me. I had never heard of the man before in all my life.

What I say is true only of the typical Manxman, the natural-man among Manxman, not of the Manxman who is Manxman plus man of the world, the educated Manxman, who finds it as easy as anybody else to put himself into a position of sympathy with works of pure imagination. But you must go down to the turf if you want the true smell of the earth. Education levels all human types, as love is said to level all ranks ; and to preserve your individuality and yet be educated seems to want a strain of genius, or else a touch of madness.

The Manx must have been the language of a people with few thoughts to express, but such thoughts as they had were beautiful in their simplicity and charm, sometimes wise and shrewd, and not rarely full of feeling. Thus laa-noo is old Manx for child, and it means literally half saint — a sweet conception, which says the best of all that is contained in Wordsworth's wondrous " Ode on the Intimations of Immortality." Laa-bee is old Manx for bed, literally half-meat, a profound commentary on the value of rest. The old salutation at the door of a Manx cottage before the visitor entered was this word spoken from the porch : Vel peccaghs' thie ? Literally: Any sinner within ? All humanity being sinners in the common speech of the Manx people.

Manx Proverbs

Nearly akin to the language of a race are its proverbs, and some of the Manx proverbs are wise, witty, and racy of the soil. Many of them are the common possession of all peoples. Of such kind is "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip." Here is one which sounds like an Eastern saying: " Learning is fine clothes for the rich man, and riches for the poor man." But I know of no foreign parentage for a proverb like this: " A green hill when far away; bare, bare when it is near."

That may be Eastern also. It hints of a long weary desert ; no grass, no water, and then the cruel mirage that breaks down the heart of the wayfarer at last. On the other hand, it is not out of harmony with the landscape of Man, where the mountains look green sometimes from a distance when they are really bare and stark, and so typify that waste of heart when life is dry of the moisture of hope, and all the world is as a parched wilderness. However, there is one proverb which is so Manx in spirit that I could almost take oath on its paternity, so exactly does it fit the religious temper of our people, though it contains a word that must strike an English ear as irreverent : " When one poor man helps another poor man, God himself laughs."

Manx Ballads

Next to the proverbs of a race its songs are the best expression of its spirit, and though Manx songs are few, some of them are full of Manx character. Always their best part is the air. A man called Barrow compiled the Manx tunes about the beginning of the century, but his book is scarce. In my ignorance of musical science I can only tell you how the little that is left of Manx music lives in the ear of a man who does not know one note from another. Much of it is like a wail of the wind in a lonely place near to the sea, sometimes like the soughing of the long grass, sometimes like the rain whipping the panes of a window as with rods. Nearly always long-drawn like a moan rarely various, never martial, never inspiriting, often sad and plaintive, as of a people kept under, but loving liberty, poor and low down, but with souls alive, looking for something, and hoping on, — full of the brine, the salt foam, the sad story of the sea. Nothing would give you a more vivid sense of the Manx people than some of our old airs. They would seem to take you into a little white-washed cottage, with sooty rafters and earthen floor, where an old man who looks half like a sailor and half like a landsman is dozing before a peat fire that is slumbering out. Have I in my musical benightedness conveyed an idea of anything musical ? If not, let me, by the only vehicle natural to me, give you the rough-shod words of one or two of our old ballads. There is a ballad, much in favour, called Ny kirree fo niaghty. The Sheep under the Snow. Another, yet better known, is called Myle Charaine. This has sometimes been called the Manx National Air, but that is a fiction. The song has nothing to do with the Manx as a nation. Perhaps it is merely a story of a miser and his daughter's dowry. Or perhaps it tells of pillage, probably of wrecking, basely done, and of how the people cut the guilty one off from all intercourse with them.

O, Myle Charaine, where got you your gold?
Lone, lone, you have left me here.
O, not in the curragh, deep under the mould,
Lone, lone, and void of cheer.

This sounds poor enough, but it would be hard to say how deeply this ballad, wedded to its wailing music, touches and moves a Manxman. Even to my car as I have heard it in Manx, it has seemed to be one of the weirdest things in old ballad literature, only to be matched by some of the old Irish songs, and by the gruesome ditty which tells how " the sun shines fair on Carlisle wa'."

Manx Carols

The paraphrase I have given you was done by George Borrow, who once visited the island. My friend the Rev. T. E. Brown met him and showed him several collections of Manx carols [possible T.E.B was 20 in 1855 though mostly likely later - see TEB's letters to Rydings ] , and he pronounced them all translations from the English, not excepting our famous Drogh Vraane, or carol of every bad woman whose story is told in the Bible, beginning with the story of mother Eve herself. And, indeed, you will not be surprised that to the shores of our little island have drifted all kinds of miscellaneous rubbish, and that the Manxmen, from their very simplicity and ignorance of other literatures, have had no means of sifting the flotsam and assigning value to the constituents. Besides this, they are so irresponsible, have no literary conscience, and accordingly have appropriated anything and everything. This is true of some Manx ballads, and perhaps also of many Manx carols. The carols, called Carvals in Manx, serve in Man, as in other countries, the purpose of celebrating the birth of Jesus, but we have one ancient custom attached to them which we can certainly claim for our own, so Manx is it, so quaint, so grimly serious, and withal so howlingly ludicrous. It is called the service of Oiel Verree, probably a corruption of Feaill Vorrey, literally the Feast of Mary, and it is held in the parish church near to midnight on Christmas Eve. Scott describes it in " Peveril of the Peak," but without personal knowledge.

Services are still held in many churches on Christmas Eve ; and I think they are called Oiel Verree, but the true Oiel Verree, the real, pure, savage, ridiculous, sacrilegious old Oiel Verree, is gone. I myself just came in time for it ; I saw the last of it, nevertheless I saw it at its prime, for I saw it when it was so strong that it could not live any longer. Let me tell you what it was.

The story carries me back to early boyish years, when, from the lonely school-house on the bleak top of Maughold Head, I was taken in secret, one Christmas Eve, between nine and ten o'clock, to the old church of Kirk Maughold, a parish which longer than any other upheld the rougher traditions. My companion was what is called an original. His name was Billy Corkill. We were great. chums. I would be thirteen, he was about sixty. Billy lived alone in a little cottage on the highroad, and worked in the fields. He had only one coat all the years I knew him. It seemed to have been blue to begin with, but when it had got torn Billy had patched it with anything that was handy, from green cloth to red flannel. He called it his Joseph's coat of many colours. Billy was a poet and a musical composer. He could not read a word, but he would rather have died than confess his ignorance. He kept books and newspapers always about him, and when he read out of them, he usually held them upside down. If any one remarked on that, he said he could read them any way up — that was where his scholarship came in. Billy was a great carol singer. He did not know a note, but he never sang except from music. His tunes were wild harmonies that no human ear ever heard. before. It will be clear to you that old Billy was a man of genius.

Such was my comrade on that Christmas Eve long ago. It had been a bitter winter in the Isle of Man, and the ground was covered with snow. But the church bells rang merrily over the dark moorland, for Oiel Verree was peculiarly the people's service, and the ringers were ringing in the one service of the year at which the parishioners supplanted the Vicar, and appropriated the old parish church. In spite of the weather, the church was crowded with a motley throng, chiefly of young folks, the young men being in the nave, and the girls (if I remember rightly) in the little loft at the west end. Most of the men carried tallow dips, tied about with bits of ribbon in the shape of rosettes, duly lighted, and guttering grease at intervals on to the book-ledge or the tawny fingers of them that held them. It appeared that there had been an ordinary service before we arrived, and the Vicar was still within the rails of the communion. From there he addressed some parting words of solemn warning to the noisy throng of candle-carriers. As nearly as I can remember, the address was this : " My good people, you are about to celebrate an old custom. For my part, I have no sympathy with such customs, but since the hearts of my parishioners seem to be set on this one, I have no wish to suppress it. But tumultuous and disgraceful scenes have occurred on similar occasions in previous years, and I beg you to remember that you are in God's house," &c. &c. The grave injunction was listened to in silence, and when it ended, the Vicar, a worthy but not very popular man, walked towards the vestry. [This was Rev Bowyer Harrison, vicar from 1818 to death in 1871 - according to Gelling 'loved and esteemed til the last'] To do so, he passed the pew where I sat under the left arm of my companion, and he stopped before him, for Billy had long been a notorious transgressor at Oiel Verree.

"See that you do not disgrace my church tonight," said the Vicar. But Billy had a biting tongue.

" Aw, well," said he, " I'm thinking the church is the people's."

" The people are as ignorant as goats," said the Vicar.

" Aw, then," said Billy, " you are the shepherd, so just make sheeps of them."

At that the Vicar gave us the light of his countenance no more. The last glimpse of his robe going through the vestry door was the signal for a buzz of low gossip, and straightway the business of Oicl Verree began.

It must have been now approaching eleven o'clock, and two old greybeards with tousled heads placed themselves abreast at the door of the west porch. There they struck up a carol in a somewhat lofty key. It was a most doleful ditty. Certainly I have never since heard the like of it. I remember that it told the story of the Crucifixion in startling language, full of realism that must have been horribly ghastly, if it had not been so comic. At the end of each verse the singers made one stride towards the communion. There were some thirty verses, and every mortal verse did these zealous carollers give us. They came to an end at length, and then another old fellow rose in his pew and sang a ditty in Manx. It told of the loss of the herring-fleet in Douglas Bay in the last century. After that there was yet another and another carol — some that might be called sacred, others that would not be badly wronged with the name of profane. As I recall them now, they were full of a burning earnestness, and pictured the dangers of the sinner and the punishment of the damned. They said nothing about the joys of heaven, or the pleasures of life. Wherever these old songs came from they must have dated from some period of religious revival. The Manxman may have appropriated them, but if he did so he was in a deadly earnest mood. It must have been like stealing a hat-band.

My comrade had been silent all this time, but in response to various winks, nods, and nudges, he rose to his feet. Now, in prospect of Oiel Verree I had written the old man a brand new carol. It was a mighty achievement in the sentimental vein. I can remember only one of its couplets

Hold your souls in still communion,
Blend them in a holy union.

I am not very sure what this may mean, and Billy must have been in the same uncertainty. Shall I ever forget what happened ? Billy standing in the pew with my paper in his hand the wrong way up. Myself by his side holding a candle to him. Then he began to sing. It was an awful tune — I think he called it sevens — — but he made common-sense of my doggerel by one alarming emendation. When he came to the couplet I have given you, what do you think he sang

" Hold your souls in still communion,
Blend them in — a hollow onion!"

Billy must have been a humorist. He is long dead, poor old Billy. God rest him !

Decay of the Manx Language

if in this unscientific way I have conveyed my idea of Manx carvals, Manx ballads, or Manx proverbs, you will not be surprised to hear me say that I do not think that any of these can live long apart from the Manx language. We may have stolen most of them ; they may have been wrecked on our coast, and we may have smuggled them ; but as long as they wear our native homespun clothes they are ours, and as soon as they put it off they cease to belong to us. A Manx proverb is no longer a Manx proverb when it is in English. The same is true of a Manx ballad translated, and of a Manx carval turned into an English carol. What belongs to us, our way of saying things, in a word, our style, is gone. The spirit is departed, and that which remains is only an English ghost flitting about in Manx grave-clothes.

Now this is a sad fact, for it implies that little as we have got of Manx literature, whether written or oral, we shall soon have none at all. Our Manx language is fast dying out. If we had any great work in the Manx tongue, that work alone would serve to give our language a literary life at least. But we have no such great work, no fine Manx poem, no good novel in Manx, not even a Manx sermon of high mark. Thus far our Manx language has kept alive our pigmies of Manx literature ; but both arc going down together. The Manx is not much spoken now. In the remoter villages, like Cregnesh, Ballaugh, Kirk Michael, and Kirk Andreas, it may still be heard. Moreover, the Manxman may hear Manx a hundred times for every time an Englishman hears it. But the younger generation of Manx folk do not speak Manx, and very often do not understand it. This is a rapid change on the condition of things in my own boyhood. Manx is to me, for all practical uses, an unknown tongue. I cannot speak it, I cannot follow it when spoken, I have only a sort of nodding acquaintance with it out of door, and yet among my earliest recollections is that of a household where nothing but Manx was ever spoken except to me. A very old woman, almost bent double over a spinning wheel, and calling me Hommy-Veg, and baugh-millish, and so forth. This will suggest that the Manx people are themselves responsible for the death of the Manx language. That is partly true. The Manx tongue was felt to be an impediment to intercourse with the English people. Then the great English immigration set in, and the Isle of Man became a holiday resort. That was the doomster of the Manx language. In another five-and-twenty years the Manx language will be as dead as a Manx herring.

One cannot but regret this certain fate. I dare not say that the language itself is so good that it ought to live. Those who know it better say that it's a fine old tongue, rich and musical, full of meaning and expression." I know that it is at least forcible, and loud and deep in sound. I will engage two Manxmen quarrelling in Manx to make more noise in a given time than any other two human brethren in Christendom, not excepting two Irishmen. Also I think the Manx must be capable of notes of sweet feeling, and I observe that a certain higher lilt in a Manx woman's voice, suggesting the effort to speak about the sound of the sea, and the whistle of the wind in the gorse, is lost in the voices of the younger women who speak English only. But apart from tangible loss, I regret the death of the Manx tongue on grounds of sentiment. In this old tongue our fathers played as children, bought and sold as men, prayed, preached, gossiped, quarrelled, and made love. It was their language at Tynwald ; they sang their grim carvals in it, and their wailing, woful ballads.

The Rev. T. E. Brown.

When it is dead more than half of all that makes us Manxmen will be gone. Our individuality will be lost, the greater barrier that separates us from other peoples will be broken down. Perhaps this may have its advantages, but surely it is not altogether a base desire not to be submerged into all the races of the earth. The tower of Babel is built, the tongues of the builders are confounded, and we are not all anxious to go back and join the happy family that lived in one ark.

But aside from all lighter thoughts there is something very moving and pathetic in the death of an old language. Permit me to tell you, not as a philologist, a character to which I have no claim, but as an imaginative writer, how the death of an ancient tongue affects me. It is unlike any other form of death, for an unwritten language is even as a breath of air which when it is spent leaves no trace behind. A nation may die, yet its history remains, and that is the tangible part of its past. A city may fall to decay and lie a thousand years under the sands of the desert, yet its relics revivify its life. But a language that is dead, a tongue that has no life in its literature, is a breath of wind that is gone. A little while and it went from lip to lip, from lip to ear ; it came we know not whence ; it has passed we know not where. It was an embodied spirit of all man's joys and sorrows, and like a spirit it has vanished away.

Then if this old language has been that of our own people its death is a loss to our affections. Indeed, language gets so close to our heart that we can hardly separate it from our emotions. If you do not speak the Italian language, ask your self whether Dante comes as close to you as Shakespeare, all questions of genius and temperament apart. And if Dante seems a thousand miles away, and Shakespeare enters into your closest chamber, is it not first of all because the language of Shakespeare is your own language, alive with the life that is in your own tongue, vital with your own ways of thought and even tricks and whims of speech ? Let English die, and Shakespeare goes out of your closet, and passes away from you, and is then your brother-Englishman only in name. So close is the bond of language, so sweet and so mysterious.

But there is yet a more sacred bond with the language of our fathers when it can have no posthumous life in books. This is the bond of love. Think what it is that you miss first and longest when death robs you of a friend. Is it not the living voice ? The living face you can bring back in memory, and in your dark hours it will shine on you still ; the good deed can never die ; the noble thought lives for ever. Death is not conqueror over such as these, but the human voice, the strange and beautiful part of us that is half spirit in life, is lost in death. For a while it startles us as an echo in an empty chamber, and then it is gone, and not all the world's wealth could bring one note of it back. And such as the vanishing away of the voice of the friend we loved is the death of the old tongue which our fathers spoke. It is the death of the dead.

Manx Superstitions

When the Manx tongue is dead there will remain, however, just one badge of our race — our superstition. I am proud to tell you that we are the most superstitious people now left among the civilised nations of the world. This is a distinction in these days when that poetry of life, as Goethe names it, is all but gone from the face of the earth. Manxmen have not yet taken the poetry out of the moon and the stars, and the mist of the mountains and the wail of the sea. Of course we are ashamed of the survival of our old beliefs and try to hide them, but let nobody say that as a people we believe no longer in charms, and the evil eye, and good spirits and bad. I know we do. It would be easy to give you a hundred illustrations. I remember an ill-tempered old body living on the Curragh, who was supposed to possess the evil eye. If a cow died at calving, she had witched it. If a baby cried suddenly in its sleep, the old witch must have been going by on the road. If the potatoes were blighted, she had looked over the hedge at them. There was a charm doctor in Kirk Andreas, named Teare-Ballawhane. He was before my time, but I recall many stories of him. When a cow was sick of the witching of the woman of the Curragh, the farmer fled over to Kirk Andreas for the charm of the charm-doctor. From the moment Teare-Ballawhane began to boil his herbs the cow recovered. If the cow died after all, there was some fault in the farmer. I remember a child, a girl, who twenty years ago had a birth-mark on her face — a broad red stain like a hand on her cheek. Not long since, I saw her is a young woman, and the stain was either gone entirely or hidden by her florid complexion. When I asked what had been done for her, I heard that a good woman had charmed her. " Aw, yes," said the girl's mother, " a few good words do no harm anyway." Not long ago I met an old fellow in Onchan village who believed in the Nightman, an evil spirit who haunts the mountains at night predicting tempests and the doom of ships, the dooinney-oie of the Manx, akin to the banshee of the Irish. " Aw, man," said he, "it was up Snaefell way, and I was coming from Kirk Michael over, and it was black dark, and I heard the Nightman after me, shoutin' and wailin' morthal, how-la-a, how-a-a. But I didn't do nothin', no, and he came up to me lek a besom, and went past me same as a flood, who-o-o ! And I lerr him ! Aw, yes, man, yes!"

I remember many a story of fairies, some recited half in humour, others in grim earnest. One old body told me that on the night of her wedding-day, coming home from the Curragh, whither she had stolen away in pursuit of a belated calf, she was chased in the moonlight by a troop of fairies. They held on to her gown, and climbed on her back, and perched on her shoulders, and clung to her hair. There were " hundreds and tons " of them ; they were about as tall as a wooden broth-ladle, and all wore cocked-hats and velvet jackets.

A good fairy long inhabited the Isle of Man. He was called in Manx the Phynnodderee. It would appear that he had two brothers of like features with himself, one in Scotland called the Brownie, the other in Scandinavia called the Swart-alfar. I have often heard how on a bad night the Manx folk would go off to bed early so that the Phynnodderee might come in out of the cold. Before going upstairs they built up the fire, and set the kitchen table with crocks of milk and pecks of oaten cake for the entertainment of their guest. Then while they slept the Phynnodderee feasted, yet he always left the table exactly as he found it, eating the cake and drinking the milk, but filling up the peck and the crock afresh. Nobody ever intruded upon him, so nobody ever saw him, save the Manx Peeping Tom. I remember hearing an old Manxman say that his curiosity overcame his reverence, and he " leff the wife," stepped out of bed, crept to the head of the stairs, and peeped over the banisters into the kitchen. There he saw the Phynnodderee sitting in his own armchair, with a great company of brother and sister fairies about him, baking bread on the griddle, and chattering together like linnets in spring. But he could not understand a word they were saying.

I have told you that the Manxman is not built by nature for a gallant. He has one bad fairy, and she is the embodied spirit of a beautiful woman. Manx folklore, like Manx carvals, Manx ballads, and Manx proverbs, takes it for a bad sign of a woman's character that she has personal beauty. If she is beautiful, ten to one she is a witch. That is how it happens that there are so many witches in the Isle of Man.

The story goes that a beautiful wicked witch entrapped the men of the island. They would follow her anywhere. So she led them into the sea, and they were all drowned. Then the women of the island went forth to punish her, and, to escape from them, she took the form of a wren and flew away. That is how it comes about that the poor little wren is hunted and killed on St. Stephen's Day. The Manx lads do it, though surely it ought to be the Manx maidens. At midnight they sally forth in great companies, armed with sticks and carrying torches. They beat the hedges until they light on a wren's nest, and, having started the wren and slaughtered it, they suspend the tiny mite to the middle of a long pole, which is borne by two lads from shoulder to shoulder. They then sing a rollicking native ditty, of which one version runs : —

We'll hunt the wren, says Robbin the Bobbin;
We'll hunt the wren, says Richard the Robbin ;
We'll hunt the wren, says Jack of the Lan';
We'll hunt the wren, says every one.

But Robbin the Bobbin and Richard the Robbin are not the only creatures who have disappeared into the sea. The fairies themselves have also gone there. They inhabit Man no more. A Wesleyan preacher declared some years ago that he witnessed the departure of all the Manx fairies from the Bay of Douglas. They went away in empty rum puncheons, and scudded before the wind as far as the eye could reach, in the direction of Jamaica. So we have done with them, both good and bad.

However, among the witches whom we have left to us in remote corners of the island is the very harmless one called the Queen of the Mheillia. Her rural Majesty is a sort of first cousin of the Queen of the May. The Mheillia is the harvest-home. It is a picturesque ceremonial, observed differently in different parts. Women and girls follow the reapers to gather and bind the corn after it has fallen to the swish of the sickles. A handful of the standing corn of the last of the farmer's fields is tied about with ribbon. Nobody but the farmer knows where that handful is, and the girl who comes upon it by chance is made the Queen of the Mheillia. She takes it to the highest eminence near, and waves it, and her fellow-reapers and gleaners shout huzzas. Their voices are heard through the valley, where other farmers and other reapers and gleaners stop in their work and say,

" So-and-so's Mheillia ! " " Ballamona's Mheillia's took! " That night the farmer gives a feast in his barn to celebrate the getting in of his harvest, and the close of the work of the women at the harvesting. Sheep's heads for a change on Manx herrings, English ale for a change on Manx jough ; then dancing led by the mistress, to the tune of a fiddle, played faster and wilder as the night advances, reel and jig, jig and reel. This pretty rural festival is still observed, though it has lost much of its quaintness. I think I can just remember to have heard the shouts of the Mheillia from the breasts of the mountains.

You will have gathered that in no part of the world could you find a more reckless and ill-conditioned breeding-ground of suppositions, legends, traditions, and superstitions than in the Isle of Man. The custom of hunting the wren is widely spread throughout Ireland ; and if I were to tell you of Manx wedding customs, Manx burial customs, Manx birth customs, May day, Lammas, Good Friday, New Year, and Christmas customs, you would recognise in the Manxman the same irresponsible tendency to appropriate whatever flotsam drifts to his shore. What I have told you has come mainly of my own observation, but for a complete picture of Manx manners and customs, beliefs and superstitions, I will refer you to William Kennish's " Mona's Isle, and other Poems," a rare book, with. next to no poetic quality, and containing much that is worthless, but having a good body of real native stuff in it, such as cannot be found elsewhere. A still better anthology is likely to be soon forthcoming from the pen of Mr. A. W. Moore (the excellent editor of " Manx Names ") and the press of Mr. Nutt.

It is easy to laugh at these old superstitions, so childish do they seem, so foolish, so ignorant. But shall we therefore set ourselves so much above our fathers because they were slaves to them, and we believe them not ? Bethink you. Are we so much wiser, after all ? How much farther have we got ? We know the mists of Mannanan. They are only the vapours from the south, creeping along the ridge of our mountains, going north. Is that enough to know ? We know the cold eye of the evil man, whose mere presence hurts us, and the warm eye of the born physician, whose mere presence heals us. Does that tell us everything ? We hear the moans which the sea sends up to the mountains, when storms are coming, and ships are to be wrecked, and we do not call them the voices of the Nightman, but only the voices of the wind. We have changed the name ; but we have taken none of the mystery and marvel out of the thing itself. It is the Wind for us; it was the Nightman for our fathers. That is nearly all. The wind bloweth where it listeth. We are as far off as ever. Our superstitions remain, only we call them Science, and try not to be afraid of them. But we are as little children after all, and the best of us are those that, being wisest, see plainest that, before the wonders and terrors of the great world we live in, we are children, walking hand-in-hand in fear.

Manx Stories

You will say that there ought to be many good stories of a people like the Manx ; and here again I have to confess to you that the absence of all literary conscience, all perception of keeping and relation, all sense of harmony and congruity in the Manxman has so demoralised our anecdotal ana that I hesitate to offer you certain of the best of our Manx yarns from fear that they may be venerable English, Irish, and Scotch familiars. I will content myself with a few that bear undoubted Manx lineaments. As an instance of Manx hospitality, simple and rude, but real and hearty, I think you would go the world over to match this. The late Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown, a Manxman, brother of the most famous of living Manxmen, and himself our North-country Spurgeon, with his wife, his sister, and his mother, were belated one evening up Baldwin Glen, and stopped at a farmhouse to inquire their way. But the farmer would not hear of their going a step further. " Aw, nonsense ! " he said. "What's the use of talkin', man ? You'll be stoppin' with us tonight. Aw 'deed ye will, though. The women can get along together. aisy, and you're a clane lookin' sort o' chap; you'll be sleepin' with me."

In the old days of, say, two steamboats a week to England the old Manx captains of the Steamboat Company were notorious soakers. There is a story of one of them who had the Archdeacon of the island aboard in a storm. It was night. The reverend Archdeacon was in an agony of pain and terror. He inquired anxiously of the weather. The captain, very drunk, answered, " If it doesn't mend we'll all be in heaven before morning, Arch deacon ! " " Oh, God forbid, captain," cried the Archdeacon.

I have said what true work for religion Nonconformity must have done in those evil days when the clergy of the Athols were more busy with back-gammon than with theology. But the religion of the old type of Manx Methodist was often an amusing mixture of puritanism and its opposite, a sort of grim, white-faced sanctity, that was never altogether free of the suspicion of a big boisterous laugh behind it. The Methodist local preachers have been the real guardians and repositories of one side of the Manx genius, a curious, hybrid thing, deadly earnest, often howlingly ludicrous, simple, generally sincere, here and there audaciously hypo critical. Among local preachers I remember some of the sweetest, purest, truest men that ever walked this world of God ; but I also remember a man who was brought home from market on Saturday night, dead drunk, across the bottom of his cart drawn by his faithful horse, and I saw him in the pulpit next morning, and heard his sermon on the evils of backsliding. There is a story of the jealousy of two local preachers. The one went to hear the other preach. The preacher laid out his subject under a great many heads, firstly, secondly, thirdly, up to tenthly. His rival down below in the pew spat and haw'd and tchut'd a good deal, and at last, quite impatient of getting no solid religious food, cried aloud, " Give us mate, man, give us mate ! " Whereupon the preacher leaned over the pulpit cushion, and said, " Hould on, man, till I've done with the carving."

But to tell of Happy Dan, and his wondrous sermon on the Prodigal Son at the Clover Stones, Lonan, and his discourse on the swine possessed of devils who went " triddle-traddle, triddle-traddle down the brews and were clane drownded ; " and of the marvellous account of how King David remonstrated in broadest Manx patois with the "pozzle-tree" for being blown down ; and then of the grim earnestness of a good man who could never preach on a certain text without getting wet through to the waistcoat with perspiration — to open the flood-gates of this kind of Manx storywould be to liberate a reservoir that would hardly know an end, so I must spare you. Manx " Characters"

At various points of my narrative I have touched on certain of our eccentric Manx " characters." But perhaps more interesting than any such whom I have myself met with are some whom I have known only by repute. These children of Nature are after all the truest touchstones of a nation's genius. Crooked, distorted, deformed, they nevertheless, and perhaps therefore, show clearly the bent of their race. If you are without brake or curb you may be blind, but you must know when you are going down hill. The curb of education, and the brake of common-sense are the surest checks on a people's individuality. And these poor half-wits of the Manx race, wiser withal than many of the Malvolios who smile on them so demurely, exhibit the two great racial qualities of the Manx people — the Celtic and the Norse — in vivid companionship and contrast. It is an amusing fact that in some wild way the bardic spirit breaks out in all of them. They are all singers, either of their own songs, or the songs of others. That surely is the Celtic strain in them. But their songs are never of the joys of earth or of love, or yet of war ; never, like the rustic poetry of the Scotch, full of pawky humour; never cynical, never sarcastic ; only concerned with the terrors of judgment and damnation and the place of torment. That, also, may be a fierce and dark development of the Celtic strain, but I see more of the Norse spirit in it. When my ancient bard in Glen Rushen took down his thumb-marked, greasy, discoloured poems from the " lath " against the open-timbered ceiling, and read them aloud to me in his broad Manx dialect, with a sing-song of voice and a swinging motion of body, while the loud hailstorm pelted the window pane and the wind whistled round the house, I found they were all startling and almost ghastly appeals to the sinner to shun his evil courses. One of them ran like this

O sinner, see your dangerous state,
And think of hell ere 'tis too late ;
When worldly cares would drown each thought,
Pray call to mind that hell is hot.

Still to increase your godly fears,
Let this be sounding in your ears,
Still bear in mind that hell is hot,
Remember and forget it not.

There was another poem about a congregation of the dead in the region of the damned

I found a reverend parson there,
A congregation too,
Bowed on their beaded knees at prayer,
As they were wont to do.

But soon my heart was struck with pain,
I thought it truly odd,
The parson's prayer did not contain
A word concerning God.

You will remember the Danish book called " Letters from Hell," containing exactly the same idea, and conclude that the Manx bard was poking fun at some fashionable yet worldly-minded preacher. But no ; he was too much a child of Nature for that.

There is not much satire in the Manx character, and next to no cynicism at all. The true Manxman is white-hot. I have heard of one, John Gale, called the Manx Burns, who lampooned the upstarts about him, and also of one, Tom the Dipper, an itinerant Manx bard, who sang at fairs ; but in a general way the Manx bard has been a deadly earnest person, most at home in churchyards. There was one such, akin in character to my old friend Billy of Maughold, but of more universal popularity, a quite privileged pet of everybody, a sort of sacred being, though as crazy as man may be, called Chalse-a-Killey. Chalse was scarcely a bard, but a singer of the songs of bards. He was a religious monomaniac, who lived before his time, poor fellow; his madness would not be seen in him now. The idol of his crazed heart was Bishop Wilson. He called him dear and sweet, vowed he longed to die, just that he might meet him in heaven; then Wilson would take him by the hand, and he would tell him all his mind, and together they would set up a printing press, with the types of diamonds, and print hymns, and send them back to the Isle of Man. Poor, 'wildered brain, haunted by " half-born thoughts," not all delusions, but quaint and grotesque. Full of valiant fury, Chalse was always ready to fight for his distorted phantom of the right. When an uncle of my own died, whose name I bear, Chalse shocked all the proprieties by announcing his intention of walking in front of the funeral procession through the streets and singing his terrible hymns. He would yield to no persuasion, no appeals, and no threats. He had promised the dead man that he would do this, and he would not break his oath to save his life. It was agony to the mourners, but they had to submit. Chalse fulfilled his vow, walked ten yards in front, sang his fierce music with the tears streaming from his wild eyes down his quivering face. But the spectacle let loose no unseemly mirth. Nobody laughed, and surely if the heaven that Chalse feared was listening and looking down, his crazy voice was not the last to pierce the dome of it. My friend the Rev. T. E. Brown has written a touching and beautiful poem, " To Chalse in Heaven "

So you are gone, dear Chalse !
Ah well ; it was enough —
The ways were cold, the ways were rough.
O Heaven! O home!
No more to roam,
Chalse, poor Chalse !
And now it's all so plain, dear Chalse !
So plain —
The 'wildered brain, The joy, the pain
The phantom shapes that Haunted,
The half-born thoughts that daunted
All, all is plain,
Dear Chalse ! All is plain.
Ah now, dear Chalse ! of all the radiant host,
Who loves you most ?
I think I know him, kneeling on his knees ;
Is it Saint Francis of Assise?
Chalse, poor Chalse.

[Chalse - Charles Gell - died c.1870 (ie when THC was 5) — the only Cain uncle with name Thomas was born 1814 but whose burial is apparently not recorded on the Island — it is probable that he emigrated to USA ]

Manx Characteristics

I have rambled on too long about my eccentric Manx characters, and left myself little space for a summary of the soberer Manx characteristics. These are independence, modesty, a degree of sloth, a non-sanguine temperament, pride, and some covetousness. This uncanny combination of characteristics is perhaps due to our mixed Celtic and Norse blood. Our independence is pure Norse. I have never met the like of it, except in Norway, where a Bergen policeman who had hunted all the morning for my lost umbrella would not take anything for his pains ; and in Iceland, where a poor old woman in a ragged woollen dress, a torn hufa on her head, torn skin shoes on her feet, and with rheumatism playing visible havoc all over her body, refused a kroner with the dignity, grave look, stiffened lips, and proud head that would have become a duchess. But the Manxman's independence almost reaches a vice. He is so unwilling to owe anything to any man that he is apt to become self-centred and cold, and to lose one of the sweetest joys of life — that of receiving great favours from those we greatly love, between whom and ourselves there is no such thing as an obligation, and no such thing as a debt. There is something in the Manxman's blood that makes him hate rank ; and though he has a vast respect for wealth, it must be his own, for he will take off his hat to nobody else's.

The modesty of the Manxman reaches shyness, and his shyness is capable of making him downright rude. One of my friends tells a charming story, very characteristic of our people, of a conversation with the men of the herring-fleet. " We were comin' home from the Shetland fishing, ten boats of us ; and we come to an anchor in a bay. And there was a tremenjis fine castle there, and a ter'ble great lady. Aw, she was a ter'ble kind lady; she axed the lot of us (eighty men and boys, eight to each boat) to come up and have dinner with her. So the day come — well, none of us went ! That shy ! " My friend reproved them soundly, and said he wished he knew who the lady was that he might write to her and apologise. Then followed a long story of how a breeze sprung up and eight of the boats sailed. After that the crew of the remaining two boats, sixteen men and boys, went up to the tremenjis great castle, and the ter'ble great lady, and had tea. If any lady here present knows a lady on the north-west coast of Scotland who a year or two back invited eighty Manx men and boys to dinner, and received sixteen to tea, she will redeem the character of our race if she will explain that it was not because her hospitality was not appreciated that it was not accepted by our foolish countrymen. [From T.E.Brown's Jus the shy]

There is nothing that more broadly indicates the Norse strain in the Manx character than the non-sanguine temperament of the Manxmen. Where the pure Celt will hope anything and promise everything, the Manxman will hope not at all and promise nothing. " Middling" is the commonest word in a Manxman's mouth. Hardly anything is entirely good, or wholly bad, but nearly everything is middling. It's a middling fine day, or a middling stormy one ; the sea is middling smooth or middling rough ; the herring harvest is middling big or middling little ; a man is never much more than middling tired, or middling well, or middling hungry, or middling thirsty, and the place you are travelling to is always middling near or middling far. The true Manxman commits himself to nothing. When Nelson was shot down at Trafalgar, Cowle, a one-armed Manx quartermaster, caught him in his remaining arm. This was Cowle's story: "He fell right into my arms, sir. `Mr. Cowle,' he says, `do you think I shall recover ? ' ` I think, my lord,' I says, ' we had better wait for the opinion of the medical man.' " Dear old Cowle, that cautious word showed you were no Irishman, but a downright middling Manxman.

I have one more story to tell, and that is of Manx pride, which is a wondrous thing, usually very ludicrous. A young farming girl who will go about barefoot throughout the workdays of the week would rather perish than not dress in grand attire, after her own sort, on Sunday afternoon. But Manx pride in dress can be very touching and human. When the lighthouse was built on the Chickens Rock, the men who were to live in it were transferred from two old lighthouses on the little islet called the Calf of Man, but their families were left in the disused lighthouses. Thus the men were parted from their wives and children, but each could see the house of the other, and on Sunday mornings the wives in their old lighthouses always washed and dressed the children and made them nice " and paraded them to and fro on the platforms in front of. the doors, and the men in their new lighthouse always looked across the Sound at their little ones through their powerful telescopes.

[Again hate to spoil a story but the Lighhousekeepers were generally Scottish as they were stationed on the Calf/Chicken Rock as part of a rotation being employed by the Northern Commissioners of Lights]

Manx Types

Surely that is a lovely story, full of real sweetness and pathos. It reminds me that amid many half-types of dubious quality, selfish, covetous, quarrelsome, litigious, there are at least two types of Manx character entirely charming and delightful. The one is the best type of Manx seaman, a true son of the sea, full of wise saws and proverbs, full of long yarns and wondrous adventures, up to anything, down to anything, pragmatical, a mighty moralist in his way, but none the less equal to a round ringing oath ; a sapient adviser putting on the airs of a philosopher, but as simple as the baby of a girl — in a word, dear old Tom Baynes of " Fo'c's'le Yarns," old salt, old friend, old rip. The other type is that of the Manx parish patriarch. This good soul it would be hard to beat among all the peoples of earth. He unites the best qualities of both sexes ; he is as soft and gentle as a dear old woman, and as firm of purpose as a strong man. Garrulous, full of platitudes, easily moved to tears by a story of sorrow and as easily taken in, but beloved and trusted and reverenced by all the little world about him. I have known him as a farmer, and seen him sitting at the head of his table in the farm kitchen, with his sons and daughters and men-servants and women-servants about him, and, save for ribald gossip, no one of whatever condition abridged the flow of talk for his presence. I have known him as a parson, when he has been the father of his parish, the patriarch of his people, the " ould angel " of all the hillside round about. Such sweetness in his home life, such nobility, such gentle, old-fashioned ceremoniousness, such delightful simplicity of manners. Then when two of these " ould angels " met, two of these Parson Adamses, living in content on seventy pounds a year, such high talk on great themes, long hour after long hour in the little low-ceiled Vicarage study, with no light but the wood fire, which glistened on the diamond window-pane ! And when midnight came seeing each other home, spending half the night walking to and fro from Vicarage to Vicarage, or turning out to saddle the horse in the field, but (far away "in wandering mazes lost") going blandly up to the old cow and putting on the blinkers and saying, " Here he is, sir." Have we anything like all this in England ? Their type is nearly extinct even in the Isle of Man, where they have longest survived. And indeed they are not the only good things that are dying out there.

Literary Associations

The island has next to no literary associations, but it would be unpardonable in a man of letters if he were to forget the few it can boast. Joseph Train, our historian, made the acquaintance of Scott in 1814, and during the eighteen years following he rendered important services to " The Great Unknown" as a collector of some of the legendary stories used as foundations for what were then called the Scotch Novels. But it is a common error that Train found the groundwork of the Manx part of "Peveril of the Peak." It was Scott who directed Train to the Isle of Man as a fine subject for study. Scott's brother Thomas lived there, and no doubt this was the origin of Scott's interest in the island. Scott himself never set foot on it. Wordsworth visited the island about 1823, and he recorded his impressions in various sonnets, and also in the magnificent lines on Peel Castle — " I was thy neighbour once, thou rugged pile." [Actually not the Manx Peel Castle!] He also had a relative living there — Miss Hutchinson, his sister-in-law. A brother of this lady, a mariner, lies buried in Braddan churchyard, and his tombstone bears an epitaph which Wordsworth indited. The poet spent a summer at Peel, pitching his tent above what is now called Peveril Terrace. One of my friends tried long ago to pump up from this sapless soil some memory of Wordsworth, but no one could remember anything about him. Shelley is another poet of whom there remains no trace in the Isle of Man. He visited the island early in 1812, being driven into Douglas harbour by contrary winds on his voyage from Cumberland to Ireland. He was then almost unknown; Harriet was still with him, and his head was full of political reforms. The island was in a state of some turmoil, owing to the unpopularity of the Athols, who still held manorial rights and the patronage of the Bishopric. The old Norse Constitution was intact, and the House of Keys was then a self-elected chamber. It is not wonderful that Shelley made no impression on Man in 1812, but it is surprising that Man seems to have made no impression on Shelley. It made a very sensible impression on Hawthorne, who left his record in the English Note Book."

Manx Progress

I am partly conscious that throughout these lectures I have kept my face towards the past. That has been because I have been loth to look at the present, and almost afraid to peep into the future. The Isle of Man is not now what it was even five-and-twenty years ago. It has become too English of late. The change has been sudden. Quite within my own recollection England seemed so far away that there was something beyond conception moving and impressive in the effect of it and its people upon the imagination of the Manx. There were only about two steamers a week between England and the Isle of Man at that time. Now there are about two a day. There are lines of railway on this little plot of land, which you might cross on foot between breakfast and lunch, and cover from end to end in a good day's walk. This is, of course, a necessity of the altered conditions, as also, no doubt, are the parades, and esplanades, and promenades, and iron piers, and marine carriage drives, and Eiffel Tower, and old castles turned into Vauxhall Gardens, and fairy glens into " happy day " Roshervilles. God forbid that I should grudge the factory hand his breath of the sea and glimpse of the gorse-bushes ; but I know what price we are paying that we may entertain him.

Our young Manxman is already feeling the English immigration on his character. He is not as good a man as his father was before him. I dare say that in his desire to make everything English that is Manx, he may some day try to abolish the House of Keys, or at least dig up the Tynwald Hill. In one fit of intermittent mania, he has already attempted to " restore " the grand ruins of Peel Castle, getting stones from Whitehaven, filling up loopholes, and doing other indecencies with the great works of the dead. All this could be understood if the young Manxman were likely to be much the richer for the changes he is bringing about. But he is not; the money that comes from England is largely taken by English people, and comes back to England.


From these ungracious thoughts let me turn again, in a last word, to the old island itself, the true Mannin-veg-Veen of the real Manxman. In these lectures you have seen it only as in flashes from a dark lantern. I am conscious that an historian would have told you so much more of solid fact that you might have carried away tangible ideas. Fact is not my domain, and I shall have to be content if in default of it I have got you close to that less palpable thing, the living heart of Manxland, shown you our island, helped you to see its blue waters and to scent its golden gorse, and to know the Manxman from other men. Sometimes I have been half ashamed to ask you to look at our countrymen, so rude are they and so primitive — russet-coated, currane-shod men and women, untaught, superstitious,fishing the sea, tilling their stony land, playing next to no part in the world, and only gazing out on it as a mystery far away, whereof the rumour comes over the great waters. No great man among us, no great event in our history, nothing to make us memorable. But I have been reassured when I have remembered that, after all, to look on a life so simple and natural might even be a tonic. Here we are in the heart of the mighty world, which the true Manxman knows only by vague report ; millions on millions huddled together, enough to make five hundred Isles of Man, more than all the Manxmen that have lived since the days of Orry, more than all that now walk on the island, added to all that rest under it; streets on streets of us, parks on parks, living a life that has no touch of Nature in the ways of it; save only in our own breasts, which often rebel against our surroundings, struggling with weariness under their artificiality, and the wild travesty of what we are made for. Do what we will, and be what we may, sometimes we feel the falseness of our ways of life, and surely it is then a good and wholesome thing to go back in thought to such children of Nature as my homespun Manx people, and see them where Nature placed them, breathing the free air of God's proper world, and living the right lives of His servants, though so simple, poor, and rude.



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