[From Thomas Howard Gill, 1895]
THE ISLAND HOME.
The childhood shows the man
As morning shows the day."-Milton.
A WELL ordered household, in which the father ruled with firmness and decision, and the equally wise mother tempered with loving tenderness the strict paternal discipline, made the vicarage of Malew a model home.
Sometimes the children were tempted to think father and mother too strict.
The vicar was a rigid disciplinarian, of himself as well as of others. He expected his children to abide by his convictions, his experience, the law of his God. Thus writes his son of him: "Presumptuous disobedience was almost unknown in the house, we felt that to disobey him would be to run our heads against a wall." He himself practised the severest self-denial, and had done so from boyhood. One who knew William Gill well, tells how, as a youth of eighteen, it was his frequent habit to lay several folio volumes under his back in bed to avoid his indulging in more sleep than Nature absolutely required. Early rising was also habitual to him, and with this object in view he would, night after night, place on the window-sill of a ground-floor room adjoining a street, a piece of money, which the first passer-by would inevitably carry off in the morning, if he himself had not previously withdrawn it. " Thou, therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," seemed for ever sounding in his ear.
As age crept upon him, he by no means relaxed his self-imposed discipline. When obliged to drive, because of the great distances, he would always alight and walk up every hill. He would thank God for his legs, and set off for a six or ten miles' ramble amongst his parishioners. His son, Thomas Howard, tells the following story, which was by no means unique of its kind:-" I well remember one dark night in 1862, when I was his curate, attending a missionary meeting with him, some seven miles over the mountains. When about to return, he said to the driver, 'You had better give your horse plenty of time up this steep hill, and we will walk on until you overtake us.' And walk on we did, and no mistake, for so rapidly did he get over the ground, that we had ascended and descended the hill, and were almost at his own gate before the vehicle overtook us."
Almost throughout his life he was a total abstainer, and on his dying bed he bore testimony to the good practice. In semi-unconsciousness, he fancied someone was pressing upon his acceptance a glass of wine. "Thank you, thank you," he said, "but I have been a bound abstainer for many years, and I have found it a very happy and blessed thing; I could wish you were all the same."
One practice, from which, through all the years of his long ministry, extending over more than fifty years, he never swerved, demands especial notice. After the mid-day meal on Saturday, he always retired to his little upstair study, and no member of his family saw him again until he issued forth to deliver his message on Sunday morning, in the old parish church of Malew.
Doubtless he spent that time in prayer and meditation, and his household knew it, and moved softly; even the five merry boys passed their father's door on tip-toe, and thus early learnt reverence and self-control. So it came to pass, that, by simple living and self-denial, the Vicar of Malew and his helpmate were able to keep almost open house, to send four sons to the university, the fifth to the bar, besides educating four daughters. Added to this, he adopted, reared, and educated two nephews, whom he sent out into the world. Such a man was the father of the Rev. T. Howard Gill; truly he came of a good old stock of 'men and women, to whom " Life was real, life was earnest."
Tempering the father's sternness was the mother's sun-shiny nature. All was well with her ; she never saw the dark side of anything, either at home or abroad. If the sky looked cloudy when a pic-nic or a day's outing was in prospect, and someone bemoaned the possibility of disappointment, she would say cheerily, `° Tut, tut, child, don't fret, think it will be fine till the rain comes, and then think it may clear up." In this, as in many other points, her youngest son resembled her. He was always bright, he was always happy. He found his pleasures in nature, and with animals, and these tastes which he developed in his earliest childhood remained with him to the last. His garden, his chickens, his pigeons, were a never-ceasing delight. In explaining afterwards to his own children that nothing grew which had not life in it, he used to tell them how, when a very small boy, he made a hole, and carefully planted a penny, and looked every day to see if it were growing; at last he lost patience, rooted it up, and brought it with tears to his mother, saying, he " could not get all the pennies he wanted because his penny would not grow."
Sometimes he would be invited to visit his godfather, the Rev. Thomas Howard, at the old rectory of Ballaugh ; this was a great treat. The old man was very fond of the little child-he was himself so childlike, he could enter freely into his joys and sorrows. When the day was over, the little boy and the aged man lay down to rest side by side; but before they closed their eyes, as they lay in the darkness, they sang a hymn, a child's hymn. One seems to hear the old man's quavering voice and the child's clear treble; and then followed the quiet "Good-night, lad," "Good-night, sir ; " and the two innocent souls passed into dreamland.
Now, surely they have met once more in Paradise, and their voices mingle with the angels in the hallelujah chorus, " Glory to God in the highest."
At eight years old, Tom was sent to a dame school, and seems to have given satisfaction, for we find that Bishop Short was in the habit of paying surprise visits to the little school and examining the boys. The bishop's questions were apparently somewhat above the dame's standard, and the answers few in consequence, for he grew to call Tom his " bright little boy," because he generally managed to give original answers. Mrs. T. Howard Gill found among her husband's eldest brother's papers, an old letter, which dates back to this time. It is on half-a-sheet of paper, written in a child's imperfect hand, and addressed to
C. C. College, CAMBRIDGE.
Its simplicity is charming. I give it just as it is in the original
"MY DEAR WILLIE,
" Mr. Marshall has taken the Abbey flower garden, so we cannot get the tulips there; but perhaps we can get them at the Cragging gardeners. I have no snow drops in my garden, as you asked me in your letter. Father and mother had their pictures brought up to-day, they are in morocco cases, fixed in such a way that it cannot come out. Mother's is the most like I think. The way my letter is burnt at the corner, is that I held it over the candle to dry it.
-- " I remain your affecate. brother,
P.S. - Iwish I had something to send you for a birth-day present, but I cannot send anything in a letter.
"Friday eveg., "Febry. 6th, 1846."
He loved to tell his own children, and the young people he so often, in later years, gathered about him, the pranks and merry-makings of the old vicarage. Mischievous tricks often, but no real wrong-doings ever made them shrink before their father's stern rebuke, But boys will be boys, and they would scarcely have grown up to be the men they proved themselves, if their exuberant spirits had not some-times carried them a little beyond bounds, making them laugh and shout with glee, and furnishing for later years many happy reminiscences.
In those days, in Manx land, there seems to have been ever-recurring festivals, which lightened the round of work, day in, day out.
Mr. Hall Caine has made many of these known to the world in his graphic novels, " The Deemster," "The Bonds-man," etc., but more especially in his essentially poetic book, entitled, "The Little Manx Nation." But still, from all I can gather from other Manxmen, who love their island home, he has depicted, in many cases, the dark side of things.
Still he acknowledges to having known and reverenced the Manx "parish patriarch," "the father of his parish," " the ould angel of all the hillside round about." To such men as these, the process of collecting tithes, paid in kind, was by no means as vexatious and humiliating as it probably was to the parson, who served his parish without love and without zeal. It was well remembered by a small boy, sitting in the vicarage cart beside the Sumner, how, as they drove up to the field where the sheaves of wheat, or barley, or oats, as the case might be, stood, the squire would himself come forth and say, "Pick your spot to begin with, John, and then count your sheaves." And it was not so only with the squire, but wherever the cart stopped, the vicar's sheaves were of the best; and the Mheilla, or Harvest Home was verily a time of rejoicing. The farmer's wives would have scorned to bring the mistress addled eggs or inferior cheese and butter in the baskets representing the tithe offering, and which, according to ancient custom, they laid, Sunday after Sunday, on the altar.
In some parishes, doubtless, occasional irreverence and contention prevailed, but between the " Holy Parsons" of Manx land and their people, there was no such thing.
It must have been a lovely sight !
Then there was Guy Fawkes' day observed throughout the island with pomp and ceremony. The great bonfires lighting up the hillsides, shouts and laughter, often, alas, unseemly conduct in the towns and villages, bringing some disgrace upon the revellers, and grieving the hearts of their pastors and masters.
But all these yearly occurrences left their impress on the child, never to be forgotten.
At twelve years old, Tom went as a day boy with his brothers to King William's College. Dr. Dixon was at that time headmaster. A lovable man of holy life, the most conscientious and interesting of teachers. He was classical; at the same time he might rightly be called an " all-round man." So far in his young life Tom had taken things easy, the necessity for work had not as yet become of marked importance to him, but one day the master of his class, Mr. Davidson, found the boys utterly unprepared, and flogged them all round. Young Gill received a double caning, because, said his master, " I know you could have done better had you chosen." After the punishment he was interviewed by the headmaster, who spoke to him on the responsibility of doing everything thoroughly. He left the college that day with the determination never again to bring unfinished work.
The result was, that the next year he got a first mathematical prize, and from henceforth went through the school with credit.
In his father's parish lay the old abbey of Rushen, its grey ruined towers standing in the gardens of a comparatively modern, yet old-fashioned residence. Old elms shaded the walks, where rooks cawed; along the avenue flowed the clear stream of Silverburn, where at one time monks walked up and down in prayer and meditation. In this lovely, secluded spot, lived two cousins of Mrs. Gill's, women of simple faith, unworldliness, and great culture. These good women undertook the care and teaching of a few children ; to them, therefore, a little motherless girl from Ireland, daughter of M. Mondes, Esq., J.P., of Riverstown, was sent at the age of ten. Every day the vicar's daughter went to Rushen Abbey for lessons, and one Saturday afternoon she brought back the news that a little girl in deep mourning had just arrived. This news, where news was scarce, excited curiosity among the young folk, and following day being Sunday and the Abbey pew being next the vicarage one, Master Tom craned his neck over the old-fashioned wooden separation to see what the little stranger might be like, little thinking that he was looking for the first time at his future wife, Isabella Mondes.
The Irish child's own description of her arrival at what was to be her future home seems to me worthy of note.
" 1st Supt., 1853.-To-day I arrived with Sue at the old Abbey. Our drive from the town for ten miles in a four wheeled car was in a very rainy, dark night. The lights in the cottage windows in the village, as we drove through, looked friendly and homelike. . . . We passed a cottage on the avenue, stopped, thinking it must be the house, but finding it closed and empty we drove on. A sweep round a grass plot brought us in front of the Abbey House, which looked a great big place. When our father left us in charge of the kind-looking lady who came into the hall to meet us, and then drove back to the town intending to return to Sligo the next day, we felt it very hard to keep from crying; we could eat little supper and were glad to go to bed in pretty little white-curtained beds ; but we lay awake long, crying quietly, for Sue and I were only two months before left motherless."
But the little maiden soon got accustomed to her new home, the beauty of which charmed her, whilst the kindness of those around her won her loving gratitude, and made her young life bright and happy.