[taken from Chapter 5 Manx Worthies, A.W.Moore, 1901]
the third son of the Rev. Robert Brown (see p. 34) and Dorothy Thompson, and younger brother of Hugh Stowell Brown (see p. 53) was born in New Bond Street, Douglas.1 He received his early education partly from the parish schoolmaster of Braddan, but, as he himself says, mainly from his father. To him, no doubt, he owed much of his marvellous instinct for style. For education of another kind he, many years afterwards, owned his indebtedness to a humbler source, his Scottish servant, " Old John. "
You were not of our kin nor of our race
Old John: nor of our church, nor of our speech:
Yet what of strength, or truth, or tender grace
I owe, 'twas you that taught meborn to teach All nobleness.
Doubtless, too, it was mainly at this time that he stored his receptive and retentive memory with many of the quaint stories depicting the characteristics of his fellow-countrymen which he afterwards reproduced so inimitably in his poems. When he was fifteen he went to King William's College, then under the headmastership of Dr. Dixon, a deeply religious and earnest-minded man of the evangelical school of thought. There he greatly distinguished himself. In 1847, he won the second prize for a poem, 2 and, on leaving, he took with him an " exhibition " to Oxford.
Through the influence of Bishop Shirley, he was admitted, in October, 1849, to a servitorship at Christ Church College by Dean Gaisford, and he went into residence in the following January. At first he read too hard, till, in his own words, he found his brain " almost on fire. " He thereupon wisely took more leisure and exercise. In November of the same year, he was elected to a "Boulter Scholarship," which placed him in a more comfortable position pecuniarily, and so, characteristically, his first thought was what he could do for his mother and sisters. " It is my intention," he says, "still to practise the most rigid economy,. . and in this way I do not despair of yet enjoying that greatest perhaps of earthly blessings. the ability to administer to the wants of those who, near and dear to me, are still in a condition bordering on penury."3 In May, 1851, he was head of the list in his College examination, and he gained a further exhibition. Can one wonder that the earnest and self-denying young man thought the time had come when he might be justified in faking a little relaxation? "Indeed," he writes, "you must not think that I am becoming 'fast' when I tell you that I not infrequently go on the river. Rowing is a very favourite exercise of mine and does me good. " In May, 1853, he announces his first class in literis humanioribus, or " classical finals" : " must not be vain ; and yet the examination and its results have been altogether so exciting that I cannot help feeling a little triumphant." In the foliowing December, he gained a first class in the School of Law and Modern History : " I am the only first and thus am entitled to the honour of being the first double first, as I was among the first 'firsts' under the new system. . . . Am I justified in recognising the guidance of Providence in these successes? This last one absolutely places me in advance of the whole University ; for the tutors themselves have said that I occupy the same place relatively to the new system that Sir Robert Peel did to the old." Of his social life at Oxford, his letters give but scant glimpses. Indeed it would seem that he, who was afterwards such a cheery, social soul, the best of good fellows, was so absorbed in his books, so circumscribed by poverty, and so out of sympathy with his colleagues, as to have but little time or inclination for society. " I must say," he writes, ' I feel very lonely in Oxford. I seem to have no sympathy with the men around me." Many of them were imbued with the principles of the Tractarian party, which he evidently viewed with the greatest detestation : " Their absurdities when beheld in all their hated profusion are to me very sickening." Now that he had taken his degree, the question of his future career naturally arose. He was swayed in two directions. His Oxford friends urged him to remain at the University, declaring that his " attainments were altogether beyond the requirements of the Isle of Man," but he, feeling, very properly, that his exhibition from King William's College laid an obligation upon him to offer himself for the service of the Church in the island, felt bound to do so. Moreover, he did not desire a university life. Even in his first year at Oxford, he writes : " It is not my wish to lounge about the college and fatten on a fellowship all my days. I am always trying to look upon a college life as a medium not an end," and, at the time he took his degree, "There is nix influence exercised by tl)elife of an Oxford tutor which I cannot help perceiving. I feel it even now working in myself, and I shrink from its baneful consequences. It is a disposition to avoid and shirk all ministerial labour, to degenerate into mere cultivators of the intellectual field, abandoning the moral. " He, however, decided to try for a fellowship at Oriel, then the highest academic honour at Oxford, and he obtained it in the following year.
Soon after this, having refused an offer from Gladstone of political work, he went to King William's College as vice-principal, remaining there for eight years. In 1856, he was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford, Wilberforce, but did not do any parochial work till 1884, when he was priested by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, and licensed to the curacy of St. Barnabas, Bristol, which he held for three years. In 1863, he accepted the headmastership of the Crypt School at Gloucester. In the following year, he was appointed second master of Clifton College, where he was to spend nearly thirty years of his life. One who knew him well writes of his work there as follows : " It is impossible to convey to those who did riot know him what was his effect on the school. His form appreciated his splendid teaching and his eye for genius of all kinds. His house was passionately loyal. The school overflowed with delight in his Sunday evening addresses."4 And yet it would seem that he was glad to leave, since, by his own confession, teaching had never been congenial to him
I'm here at Clifton, grinding at the mill
My feet for thrice nine barren years have trod,
But there are rocks and waves at Scarlett still
And gorse runs riot in Glen Chass- thank God!
He repaired to his beloved island, residing at Ramsey, where, during the last five years of his life he spent most of his time, (when not engaged in reviewing for the " Times " and other newspapers, in writing articles for magazines and giving his inimitable lecturest on various subjects), in revelling in the beauties of nature, in visiting his old friends, and in helping the clergy in their work. The most remarkable incident during this calm and peaceful period was his refusal of the Archdeaconry of Man, which, on the resignation of Dr. Hughes-Games in 1894, had been offered to him by Mr. Asquith his reasons for doing so are characteristic of the man: -
I must be free ... free to do what I like, say what I like, write what I like, within the limits prescribed tor me by my own sense of what is seemly and fitting. Literature is my calling To hold up the mirror to my countrymen comes natural to me; and in the open field of invention I am not without hopes of giving them pleasure.5
And in another letter: " Every man should follow the bent of his nature in art and letters, always provided that he does not offend against the rules of morality and good taste."6
This leads to a brief summary of his literary work. Nearly all his poems were written during his residence at Clifton. "Betsy Lee," which he began soon after he went there, was first printed in the " Isle of Man Times," not appearing in book form till 1873 7 This poem, with "Captain Tom and Captain Hugh,"8 "The Christmas Rose," and Tommy Big Eyes," all in the Manx dialect,9 was re-published under the title of " Fo'c's'le Yarns " in 1881. In 1887 followed "The Doctor and other Poems,"10 and, in 1893, "Old John and other Poems," only a few of which were dialect.11 A complete collection of his poems was issued by Messrs. Maemillan in 1900.
After he settled in the Isle of Man he did not write much poetry, but was a not infrequent contributor of short prose stories and articles in "Macmillan's Magazine," "The National Observer," "The New Review," and the Manx newspapers and magazines, particularly '- The Isle of Man Times," " The Isle of Man Examiner," "The Ramsey Courier" and " The Ramsey Church Magazine." His last important prose composition was the able preface which he contributed tothe book of "Manx Ballads," edited by the writer, and published in 1896.
Brilliant and interesting as much of his prose writings are, especially those in which he dealt with such subjects as " Manx Character" and " Old Manx Parsons," none of theni are equal as literature to his letters. Others besides the recipients will now be able to read some few of these letters in the collection published by Mr. Sidney T. Irwin,12 which also contains an interesting and sympathetic memoir of their writer. Most of Tom Brown's letters cannot, for excellent reasons, be published for many years to come, and many of them, notably those to Mr. Hall Caine, were not placed at Mr. Irwin's disposal, but those that have been published suffice to justify his claim that " the man who wrote them was rarely gifted." it is, however, by his verse that he will be chiefly remembered, and especially by his verse in dialect. To portray his countrymen was his chief aim
Dear countrymen, whate'er is left to us
Of ancient heritage
Of manners, speech, of humours, polity,
The limited horizon of our stage
Old love, hope, fear,
All this I fain would fix upon the page;
That so the coming age,
Lost in the empire's mass,
Yet haply longing for their fathers, here
May see, as in a glass,
What they held dear
May say, 'Twas thus and thus
They lived," and as the time-flood onward rolls
Secure an anchor for their Keltic souls.
and again :-
to my own people do I sing :
And 'use the old familiar speech,
Happy, if I shall reach
Their inmost consciousness.
'But, exquisite as is his dialect verse, we think that such poems as 'Bella Gorry," " Mary Quayle," '.Aber Stations," and "Clevedon Verses," which are not in dialect, are as fine as any he has written. " Most of his poems smack of the sea, and some deal directly with it. As stories the poems are full of interest, while, as represented by the poet, with a rare vividness of diction and style, and an overrnastering dramatic power, they are of their kind unequalled."13 " Foremost among the characteristics of his verse is an extraordinary power of presentation, of character and incidents alike. He also reveals an immense capacity for feeling, both in his treatment of nature and his analysis of human emotion . . . . . The unspoiled lusciousness of nature and of simple human lives breathes in his every line. . . . Sometimes the feeling is robust and vigorous, even rude. At others it is calm, soft. tranquil. But it is always deep. . . 14 His pages teem with passion. The hidden springs of human joy and sorrow were unsealed to him : nothing was alien from his . . far-reaching humanity."15 Anotheir salient point is " his extraordinary force of expression, his gift of instant and persuasive speech."16 He possessed an admirable raciness, a peculiar, irresistible flavour, which leaves a taste in the mouth. . . . Humorous often, often serious, these strong utterances burst into sight like shooting stars, and, like shooting stars, bring trails of glory. They have a quality which is indefinable -which, too, is their own." Again, observe that his "phrases are expressions of fact. He was the closest observer of things, the craftiest expert in human character and life;,, and no one could "question his knowledge at first hand of what he was writing about." In brief, then, it may be confidently stated that his poems show him to have been gifted with humour, pathos, knowledge, and sympathy, with " an abounding humanity, an unique capacity for presentation, a singular genius in style." It was his " to perfect, if not to invent, a certain genre, and to fit to local uses a genius which was big enough and comprehensive enough to take in the whole English race. "17 " To the claim of genius, " says Mr. Canton, " no one who knows Mr. Brown's work will demur. In the essential qutlities of the genuine poet he is not lacking ; and in spiritual vision, in the tenderness which springs out of a large humanity, in genial humour and gaiety, there are few poets of our century, there are no living poets. who have been equally aifted. There is a big burly naturalness, a heartiiiess, a conteiii~t of trick and artifice, a broad sanity and placidity observable in all his work. These mask the finer, the more delicate and evanescent characteristics, like a hardy serviceable husk ;"18 and, finally, a recent writer in the Quarterly Review " says :-
Mr Brown depicts for us a region that has never been depicted before; he shows us men and women different from any men or women that poet or novelist has hitherto shown-but men and won-ien real, full of life, natural in spite of many peculiarities and oddities, strong in spite of many weaknesses. Such pictures of life are worth preserving; and the poet himself, in his personal feeling, has also phases that have never before been rendered in verse ; sudden turns, opening out in a few words unexpected vistas. Individuality stamps the lyrics in these volumes as well as in the narrative poems; and this (provided it be a worthy individuality) is the surest guarantee of permanence.
But the man himself-great classical and English scholar, historian, preacher, and musician, as well as poet-with his geniality, his force, his intellectual sincerity, was greater than his work.
Let us quote Dr. Percival, now Bishop of Hereford, who first brought him to Clifton:-
I have never known anyone at all like him. His whole naturehead and heart, intellect, imagination, emotion-was cast in a larger and more richly varied mould than that of ordinary men; and I have often felt that if his great gifts and powers had only been fused just a little differently he would have been one of the greatest lights in the literature of our day. To compare Brown with even the average run of the distinguished men who are all around us is like trying to compare the Bay of Naples with an English bay or Scotch loch. We can find plenty of beauty in the familiar northern scenes: but we miss the pent-up forces, the volcanic outbursts, the tropic glow, and all the surprisingly maulfold and tender and sweet-scented outpourings of soul and sunshine, so ntaneous so inexhaustibly rich, and with the great heart of svurning an~ palpitating underneath all the time.19
And another friend describes him as follows
Strong, almost rugged, loveable, a poet of many-sided, deepstreaming human nature, full of faith in God, independent of, but never scorning nor neglecting, the accessories of religion, flooding all life with lieht and truth and generous sympathies, one in whose presence meanness and shame were impossible-such is the picture which his strong individuality has impressed on all who knew him.20
His individuality has been so aptly and deftly portrayed by Mr W. E. Henley in the following charming quatrain, that this brief sketch could not close more appropriately than by giving it21
He looked half parson and half-skiper: a quaint
Beautiful blend, with blue. eyes good to see
And old-world whiskers. You found him cynic, saint,
Salt, humorist, Christian, poet; with a free
Far-glancing luminous utterance; and a heart
Large as St. Francis'g: withal a brain
Stored with experience, letters, fancy, art,
And scored with runes of human joy and pain.
Till six and sixty years he used his gift,
His gift unparalleled, of laughter and tears,
And left the world a high-piled, golden drift
Of verse.. to grow wore golden with the years,
Till the Great Silence fell upon his ways,
Brake into song, and he that had Love hath Praise.
1 As it has been frequently stated that ' Tom
Brown', was Manx by birth only we append a note on his family. Mrs
Williamson, his sister, writes my father (the Rev. R. Brown) was
certainly Manx, and both his parents were born in the Island. His
father (T.E.B.'s grandfather), Captain Robert Brown' married Jane
Drurugold, who belonged to a family which originally came from the
North of Ireland but had been for a long time settled in Douglas. It
was from them that Drumgold Street took its name. Captain R Brown's
mother is said to have been a Stowell of Ballastole, Maughold and his
sister, Ann. married Thomas Stowell of Ballastole, and was mother of
the Rev. Hugh Stowell, Thomas Stowell, C. P., John Stowell, and
Joseph Stowell." [see also my
page on TEB for more recent work]
T E. Brown himself. in writing about his father in the Ramsey Church Magazine, says: " the name (Brown) is not Manx, but the family belonged to an old Manx stock the Cosnahans. A cousin of Mr Brown's Lieutenant Cosnahan, took part in the engagement between the Shannon and Chesapeake: another cousin, Major Bacon, of Seafield, was at the battle of Waterloo.",
2 The first prize was gained by F. W. Farrar. now
Dean of Canterbury.
3 The letters quoted between 1849 and 1853 are all addressed to the late Archdeacon Moore.
4 Account in the London Times.
5 His powers as a lecturer were said, by one who heard his Clifton lectures only, to have excelled those of " the most brilliant lecturer from Faraday downwards." (Ibid.)
6 letter to the writer.
8 Published by Macmillan & Co.
9 "Captain Tom and Captain Hugh" had previously appeared in the Isle of Man Times.
10 i.eThe dialect of English spoken in the Isle of Man.
11 Published by Swan, Sonnenschein & Co.
12 Some of these these first appeared in Plain Talk, a periodical of his brother Hugh's church in Liverpool.
13 Letters of Thomas Edward Brown, author of " Fo'c'sle Yarns." Edited with an introductory Memoir by Sidney T. Irwin. (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., limited, 1900. 2 vols.)
14 Quoted, by permission of the publisher, from an able article on T.E. Brown," in the December (1897) number of The New Review, by Wm. Storr.
15 " There was something so intense in his love of nature that I have felt it as some strange deep secret that he knew or knew of and was trying to penetrate." (The Cliftonian, Dec., 1897.)
19 The Bookman, May 1897. t
20 Oxford Magazine, November 3rd, 1897.
21 From the London Times.
22 By permission of the author. It was published in the December number of "The New Review."