The Character, Manners, and Customs of the Inhabitants. Language. Attractions of the Island.
The Manks are reckoned to be naturally of an indolent and credulous, often of a superstitious, and gloomy disposition. I do not know of any one that has rendered himself eminent, by a great proficiency, or useful discovery in the arts or sciences, by fire of genius or profundity of learning. Characters endowed with piety, benevolence, and other virtues, in general, I trust, less remarkable, have not been rare. I would particularise several, were I not afraid of omitting others of perhaps equal merit. Some of the women of the higher classes are well informed and accomplished: most of the lower classes, civil and industrious. To these may be applied the character which one of the author's of King's Cheshire gives to the women that country: they are usually, says he, very prolific after marriage, and sometimes before.
An honest and industrious servant girl is not ruined by becoming a mother, though for the sake of decency her place is lost. To this laxity of morals is attributed the absence, even in Douglas, of those women which so frequently swarm in towns. I was informed that their trade bad been tried, but found not to answer. The servants of Man are more dirty and untidy then the English, but less so than the Scotch or Irish.
The people are attached to their native vale, and mountains, to their ancient customs, and their laws. They considered themselves independent of the English nation, and were greatly affected by the sale of the island which they thought would blend the countries. Though few the enjoyments of the lower orders, their cares are also few. Over a jug of ale their troubles are frequently forgotten; and, when again remembered, are expected to terminate with the next fishing season. The cheapness of law encourages strife: many a quarrel, which in England, would be amicably adjusted, is here brought into court;. Rancour, when long indulged, it is not easy to eradicate.
Insanity among the natives is reckoned rather common: it is usually of a melancholy, not of a violent description. Persons, afflicted with this calamity, if not kept at home by their friends, are permitted to roam at large.
The middle and higher ranks mix too much with the English to retain any, peculiar characteristic of their native country. The chief trade and much of the farming business is carried on by strangers. Civilization is little, if at all, behind the remoter parts of England. An anonymous writer of the last century says, that knives and forks were scarcely known here; that when a person gave a dinner, the appendage was a few butchers knives for carvers; that their thumbs and fingers and their teeth were the only implements allotted to the guests. He was either misinformed himself or attempted to mislead his readers.
The people are hospitably and charitably disposed. One of their proverbs is, " When one poor man relieves another God himself laughs for joy". Poor's rates and most other parochial rates are things unknown; and there is not in the whole island either hospital, workhouse, or house of correction. A collection is made after t ye morning service of every Sunday for the relief of such poor of the parish as are thought deserving of charity. The donation is optional; but it is usual for every one to give something Beggars are little encouraged and rarely met with. The want of poor's rates and workhouses is by some thought a disadvantage; while others, judging by their effect in England, and reasoning upon general principles, imagine that, while they are a tax upon the higher and middle classes, they are rather detrimental than beneficial to the industrious poor, and consequently prejudicial to a nation.
In every parish is at least one charity school, and often a small library. These were founded by Bishops Barrow and Wilson, are supported by voluntary contributions, and many of them hare funds arising from legacies and donations.
The inhabitants have nothing peculiar in their dress; sandals or kerranes being now seldom seen. Blue cloaks are more common here than red ones in London or Dublin. The market baskets and panniers are made of straw-bands, crossing each other at right angles, usually tom two to four inches apart, in a manner not unlike that before described for fastening down a thatch. The common dress of strangers is a sailors jacket and trowsers of fine blue cloth. It is termed the Manks' livery; but when or whence this fashion arose, I have not been informed.
The language of Man is naturally Erse; and many of the country people do not understand a word of English. I subjoin as a specimen a translation of the Lord's prayer from the Manks' prayer book:
"Ay-r ain t'ayus niau, casheric dy row dt' ennym, dy jig, dly reeriaght, dty aigney dy row jeant ev y thalloo myr t'yh awns niau; cur dooin nyn arran, jiu as gagh-laa, as leigh dooin nyn loghtyn, myr ta shin leigh daues yn ta jannoo loghtyn nyn 'oi. As ny lecid shin ayns miolagh, lagh livrey shin veigh olk. Son Chiat's yn reeriaght, as yn phooar, as ye ghloyr, son dy bragh as dy bragh. Amen."
For the information or rather amusement of the reader I shall here insert an extract of a letter written to Camden, at the time that he. was composings his Britannia, by John Meryk, Bishop of the Isle.
"This island sect only supplies its own wants,: it exports many cattle and fish, and much corn . The abundance of its produce is to be ascribed rather to the pains and industry of the natives than to the goodness of the soil. The happy state of the country is chiefly owing to the government of the Earl of Derby, who, at his own expence, defends it with a body of regular troops, and lays out upon it the greatest part of his revenue. All causes between mall and man are decided, without either expense or writing, by certain judges whom they choose among themselves, and call deemsters. One of these takes up a stone, and having marked it, gives it to the plaintiff as his authority for summoning the witnesses and the defendant. Should the cause be difficult or of great consequence, it is referred to the hearing of twelve men, whom they call the keys of the island. They have also coroners, whom they call annos, and will execute the office of sheriff. The ecclesiastical judge hears and determines causes within eight days from the citation, and the parties must abide by his sentence or go to jaol. Their language is peculiar; so likewise are their laws and money; these bearing signs of a distinct sovereignty. The ecclesiastical laws in force here, next after the canon law, come nearest to the civil. No fees are taken by the judge or the clerks of the court. The reports of the witchcraft of the people are without foundation The richer ranks imitate, in their manners and splendid living, the gentry of Lancashire. The women never stir abroad, except with their winding sheets about them, to keep them in mind of their mortality. A woman, having been tried, and received sentence of death, is sewed up in a sack, and thrown from a rock into the sea. Stealing and begging are practices universally detested. The people are wonderfully religious and zealously conformable to the Church of England. They abhor the civil and ecclesiastical dissensions of the neighbouring countries; and as the whole isle is divided into, two parts, south and north, so the inhabitants of the one speak like Scots; and those of the other like the Irish."
It appears that the Bishop mistook for winding sheets, the blankets which the women wore as clocks to defend themselves from the inclemencies of the weather; and that he fancied in the language of the southern and the northern part a touch greater difference of dialect than actually existed. Blankets were so much in use that the women had two each, one for daily, the other for Sunday wear, as we learn by the statute book (1)
The number of the keys was never so low as twelve; but Chaloner says, that it was the custom in his time to select twelve from this house to decide appeals from inferior courts; and it probably extended to all matters not legislative.
The Isle of Man is a place of considerable resort for strangers, and is become so chiefly or altogether upon two accounts. The first is that it is a place privileged by law from all debts not contracted here; and from debts contracted here, if not with the inhabitants as far as respects the person and money of the debtor, but not his goods. The subject will be further noticed in the Second Book. The island is so much the resort of persons of this description, that a man, on his arrival, is, ipso facto, immediately suspected of coming hither to avoid his creditors. A poem by a Manksman has the two following couplets:
Let not the peaceful stranger hope to find
An Eden here, and saints of human kind
No sooner is he ladled o' the quay,
Than vigilant detraction grasps her prey."
The second reason is, that a family may live especially in the country, and more particularly at the northern part, at a very small expense. To elucidate this subject it may be proper to mention a few examples of expenditure. At Douglas, where the price of articles, owing to the influx of strangers, has doubled within the last ten years, veal or mutton is sold at 6d. or 7d per pound, beef at 6d., and pork, by the side, at 3½; fresh butter from 9d to 1s.; eggs front 4d. to 8d. per dozen, being accounted dear when exceeding 6d.; and fowls from 1s. 6d. to 2s. per couple; port wine, very good, at 21s. per dozen; brandy at 11s. 6d. per gallon; hollands at 11s. 6d.; rum from 6s. to 8s. 6d.; tea from 4s. to 6s. per pound; refined sugar from 9d. upwards, and salt at 3s. per cwt. In the northern part of the island, and about Ramsey, meat is generally from 1d. to 2d. per pound lower; eggs are frequently sold as low as four, and till within these few years as six or eight for 1d.; butter at 6d. per pound, which, on account of the little demand for it, is usually salted, put into earthenware pans called crocks, and, at convenient times, sent to Douglas. Being one day at Ramsey, a woman, with a couple of ducks, came to the inn where I was. She asked sixteen pence for them; the landlady bid her eight pence, saying, that four pence a duck was their full value. Whether any bargain was made I did not hear. At Castletown the price of provisions is about midway between Douglas and Ramsey. Foreign goods in general are of course somewhat cheaper at Douglas than elsewhere. It is generally acknowledged that the price of house-rent, of land, and of provisions has doubled within the last fourteen years. I was informed that, half a century ago, a gentleman might keep his carriage and live sumptuously for £100 per annum.
In the north of England and some parts of Ireland many provisions are cheaper than they are here; but for wines, spirits, salt, eggs, and some other articles, Man has greatly the preference. The chief advantage however, and a very great one too, which this island possesses, is, that no tax-gatherers dun the ears of the inhabitant, that no commissioners can scrutinize his books, examine into the state of his incomes and finally, and without appeal, levy a contribution according to their discretion and his good behaviour.(2)
To support life is a mere animal propensity. No cultivated mind, which has once tasted the pleasures of society, would willingly relinquish them for the conversation of the peasant and the farmer, however desirable in other respects the residence might be. Hence it happens that thinly inhabited islands slowly increase their population; and that so many Europeans have repented of their emigration to the interior settlements of America. Against a sojournment in the Isle of Man no such reasons any longer exist. If it cannot boast of the deep learning of many of its inhabitants, it justly may of the usually more desirable qualifications of sociability, politeness, easy conversation, and general knowledge.
The attractions of the island appear sufficient to occasion a continual influx of strangers. The worst characters will probably introduce the most wealth. Having no money which they can honestly call their own, they will be prodigal of that which they have iniquitously acquired.
They will build and plant, and endeavour to introduce into the present scene every possible luxury and comfort. On its being the continual resort of strangers depends, and I think may safely depend, the increasing prosperity of this country.
Having published the general account of the island, I beg the reader to accompany me from Douglas, on a tour to Ballasalla, Castletown, the Calf of Man, Peel, Kirk Michael, Ramsey, and thence through Laxey to Douglas. I must, on setting out, request him not to expect too much. The country has many extensive and some romantic views to boast of, but is altogether without such gentlemen's seats as, in England, would claim the traveller's attention. There are few which deserve an higher epithet than that of pretty; and the owner would be greatly surprized, if asked by the stranger to shew the interior of his mansion. Plantations and shrubberies are sometimes seen to flourish with great luxuriance: but no park-scenery is yet visible. The churches have not any peculiar characteristic. The altar and the saloon are little decorated by the artist's skill.
The relics of antiquity are not numerous. They are chiefly mounds of earth and detached masses of the supposed temples or altars of the Druids, most of which would be passed almost unnoticed on Salisbury plain, or in many parts of North Wales; and stones or crosses, with Runic characters on the edge, to be read from the bottom upwards, supposed to be erected by the Danes, during their residence in the Isle of Man, and after their conversion to the Christian faith in the tenth or eleventh century. In the Calf of Man have been found, buried, ancient brass daggers,. and other Weapons, in a few instances partly of pure gold.
1 See the law relative to cedes
2 The income tax is just in principle; but cannot be fairly collected. It is the most arbitrary of all our taxes, approaching, in this respect, the nature of a poll-tax, and consequently is the most disliked. Its produce is so great and the expenditure of England so great, that to abolish it now would be impracticable.