[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
THOUGH Manx was the language of the people, we have the remarkable fact that up to a period in the seventeenth century no attempt was ever made to set it down in writing. While Manx was the language of the tongue, English was the language of the pen.
Bishop Barrow-unaware apparently of the existence of one translated work, the Prayer-Book of Bishop Phillips, 1604-declared that up to 1663 nothing had ever been written or printed in Manx. Further, ' Neither can any who speak it best write to one another in it, having no character or letter of it among them.'
' The Principles and Duties of Christianity,' by Bishop Wilson, was the first work published in the Manx language. Instructions, Directions, and Prayers,' followed. During the succeeding century there were various publications in the native tongue. Chief among these is the Bible, which was the great feature of Bishop Hildesley's episcopate.
In 1762 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge handed him £100 'for the purpose of printing the Scriptures and other good books in the Manks tongue.'
In the year following this grant there appeared the following: ' Lewis's Catechism' (translated by the Rev. Henry Corlett), 'The Christian Monitor' (translated by the Rev. Paul Crebbin), and Bishop Wilson's 'Form of Prayer for the Herring Fishing.'
The first issue of the New Testament was commenced in London. Then, for some reason, the conclusion of the work was transferred to W. Shepherd, a Whitehaven man, who had set up a printing-press in Ramsey. The Epistles and Revelation were issued by him in 1767. To Shepherd was also entrusted a small edition of an entirely fresh translation of the Book of Common Prayer (1768).
Bishop Hildesley did not gather subscriptions for his enterprise without meeting discouragement at home and rebuffs abroad. ` If I were not fraught with full conviction of its utility, and with resolution to pursue my undertaking, what with the coolness of its reception by some, and the actual disapprobation of it by others, I should be so discouraged as to give it up.'
The plain truth seems to have been that the Bishop was feared for his ecclesiastical thunder and worse-rather than respected as a father-inGod, by those who had earned his displeasure. Marriages solemnized otherwise than according to his rule were rendered ' null and void to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever.' By this Act of 1757 (the natural corollary to Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753) the Church was virtually established as supreme authority in marriage. Measures were also adopted against those who were irregular in their attendance at church, or did not make proper preparation for Confirmation, whilst those who yoked their cattle on saints' days, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday, were proper subjects for condign punishment.
Indeed, no one but a self-sufficing Bishop could feel surprise if any considerable body of the Manx people viewed with suspicion every enterprise that promised to add prestige or authority to Bishopscourt.
Yet we find his lordship petulantly writing This, I believe, is the only country in the world that is ashamed of, and even inclined to extirpate, if it could, its own native tongue.'
The Bishop persevered, however, in his purpose of ' furnishing the Church of Mann (the only Church in the Christian world destitute of them) with the Divine oracles in the Vulgar Tongue,' though friends across the water told him that the Isle of Man was ' nothing but a nest of smugglers,' and that we could have ' no religion.'
The translations represented the learning of the whole body of the Manx clergy. The chief burden fell upon the Rev. Phillip Moore and John (afterwards Dr.) Kelly, both of whom fulfilled their task with no small measure of success, ` the beautiful expression of the Manx' being declared to be visible to every Celtick scholar.'
The work of revision and correction of the text was begun by Kelly in 1768. By 1770 the Pentateuch had been printed on a Whitehaven press. Deuteronomy to Job inclusive, completing the first volume, was issued in 1771. The second volume, completing the old Testament, with a portion of the Apocrypha, was ready in 1773, the New Testament following in 1775. A copy of Bishop Hildesley's Bible is now worth about £2. Thereafter the story of the printing-press in the
Isle of Man is continued by the brothers Joseph and Christopher Briscoe. The first named, setting up business in Douglas, issued in 1783 a collection of eighteen Acts of Tynwald, belonging to the legislative years of 1776 and 1777. A key was given to the elucidation of the text of the Acts!
The first Manx novel was either ' The Manks Monastery, or the Loves of Belville and Julia,' by Captain Thomas Ashe (a love-story of the realistic order, to which the date of 1792 is assigned), or ' Literary Lovers,' a volume issued from the press of Joseph Briscoe, and alluded to by Feltham in his Tour' (1798). The first is a scarce little book; of the latter no copy is apparently extant.
There have been two Manx dictionariesCregeen's (1835), with interleaves, now worth not less than £1 5s. ; Kelly's, worth about 15s. The market in scarce Manx books, plates, maps, etc., is, London booksellers tell me, a rising one, owing to the competition among collectors.
Passing from books memorable only because they were printed and published in the Isle of Man to those concerning the island-its history, scene, life, legend, and so forth-I cannot even name all those worthy of recall still read or eagerly sought by the collector. The reader must await the bibliography now in preparation by Mr. John Taylor, the librarian of the Douglas Free Library. It will reveal great gaps in the collection at the British Museum, no less than in that of the Douglas Corporation.
Sir Walter Scott never set foot in Man, but he drew inspiration therefrom for both `Guy Mannering' and ' Peveril of the Peak,' altering, admittedly, historic fact to suit his own high purpose. The wreck of a vessel in the Calf Sound was used by another master of romance in ' Armadale,' by Wilkie Collins.
Of the many books which, proceeding from one pen, have served in our own day to make the island familiar and famous, it is neither fitting nor necessary for me to say many words ; but some record must be made, or my silence might be misunderstood.
Kinship with the author only serves to heighten my pleasure and my pride. These stories, in all their variety of edition and translation, have familiarized and endeared the land of Mona to countless hosts of readers who have never set foot on her soil. Tricks of speech, terse phrase, and fragments of condensed wisdom peculiar to our island, have been rendered as familiar to the tongue of the stranger and friend as only a lifelong residence in our midst could otherwise have produced. They have given to the Man islander, in any company and in any land, a proud and distinctive niche among the nations of the earth.
For that service the Isle of Man is, in its heart of hearts, no less grateful to the author than the author is grateful to the Isle of Man. Each has done well by the other.
The series began with ' The Deemster,' which is not primarily a love-story at all. ' The Manxman ' fulfilled that condition. It has love, passion, and pride for its central motif; a well-defined scene for its setting, untrammelled by history or difficulties of patois. ' The Manxman ' is the island, and to the reader of that book I fear I have not been able to present one fresh fact or illuminating idea.
The Christian' is only partly Manx in scene. The Little Manx Nation' is a collection of three lectures delivered at the Royal Institute, Albemarle Street. ' The Little Man Island' was written at the suggestion of Mr. John A. Mylrea, the Chairman at the time of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, through whose agency, and that of the English railway companies, the booklet has been circulated everywhere.
There have been other works of mingled fact and imagination having the Isle of Man for their setting-some that would have stood a better chance of finding wider favour had they dealt with any other land than that which the public have insisted on regarding as the exclusive domain of one writer.
Mr. Hugh Coleman Davidson, in ` The Green Hills by the Sea,' deals with times when Castletown was the centre of civil and military govern- ment. Mrs. A. E. Barr has a Manx background in ` Feet of Clay.' Miss Norma Lorrimer has achieved fame farther afield, but ' Mirry Ann' shows that early days spent in the Isle of Man, when the parental roof was at Mount Rule, were days of unconscious study and intelligent observation.
Mr. S. R. Crockett's ' The Raiders' revives all the movement and excitement of smuggling days. The Rev. J. Quine, in ` The Captain of the Parish,' recalls the time when the Latter-Day Saints were active propagandists of what is called Mormonism. (In the hills between Rhenas and Little London the pedestrian may be interested to observe the mossand grass-covered steps leading down to the Mormon's baptismal pool. In a neighbouring mill count was kept of every convert by a notch cut in an old timber. Fifty yards lower down, where two streams meet, there is a larger and deeper pool. Here I recall more than one refreshing plunge into the crystal stream without any fear of disturbing the memories of Joseph Smith or his missioners to the Manx.) Mr. Richard Nicklin Hall has an attractive story and an Onchan background in ' Gilbert Vince, Curate.'
Mr. W. J. Clucas Joughin, whose love and knowledge of the island out of doors are above all words of praise and appreciation, has revealed a pen both plausible and compelling as a writer for boys, young and old, in ' Gorry, Son of Orry ' and ° The People of the Caves.'
Of ' Manx Tales' in the native dialect, those of Mr. Egbert Rydings easily take the foremost place. They are not merely vivid and true: they have humour, no less than penetration, to recommend them to anyone in the least degree familiar with our insular speech.
The Rev. T. E. Brown, son of a former Vicar of Kirk Braddan, and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, whose winsome personality is one of my most fragrant memories, beginning long before he left Clifton College and 'retired' to the Isle of Man, is now with us a cult. But there was a day, and that not long past, when his work was not read, or, when read, was not understood.
Even those plain countryfolk who are wholly free from cant or affectation of any kind were distrustful. How could any man of high culture and ripe scholarship speak to them in their own rude speech unless he were a mimic or poking fun ? Was Tom Brown conscious of offence? Only partly. A single reference will show (' Letters,' ii. 7).
But Mr. Brown loved the island, and all that was of the island a part, with a love that was sincere, single-hearted, and profound. And yethow can I confess it ?-the island never returned that love in the same overflowing measure: never, at all events, until it was too late to cheer the angel spirit that had passed from our midst, and its visible tabernacle had found a last resting-place in, to us, an alien land.
No one can presume to even a nodding acquaintanceship with the literature of our island without knowing Tom Brown-letters no less than poems. Was it not the Spectator which said, on the death of the author of ' Fo'c'sle Yarns,' ' Not so great a poet as Browning or Tennyson, but a greater story-teller in verse than either'?
Brown was in his own person, no less than in his poetry, an exposition of the island, its life, and all its varied idiosyncrasy. Nowhere can I find more of the man-the real man and all of him, scholar as well as humorist-than in his ' Letters.' For a personal picture let the reader turn to Brown's eulogy of another (ii. 240-5). It is Brown as truly as Archdeacon Moore. Lastly, as a witness to the ages in which his honour will grow, we shall soon see on Kirk Maughold Head a beacon to his memory-not a tribute to one close literary and personal comradeship merely (though it will inevitably be that first), but a tribute to one whose name and work the island will not soon let die, even though both should be momentarily imperilled by the cloying, effervescing enthusiasm of a cult.
Tom Brown's brother, the Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown, was by some unhappy chance lost to the Church in Man by the ineptitude of a Bishop. He was the Spurgeon of the North of England, where, towards the end of an entirely useful and honourable career, one of his lieutenants at a little branch church near St. Helens, in Lancashire, was the brilliant-minded, silver-tongued Rev. Charles F. Aked, now of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, New York, and his organist, a master of melody, was Mr. W. H. Jude, whose songs are so widely known.
Once Mr. Brown gave a Manx audience in Liverpool more keen thrusts than were either true or fair. My remembrances, however, are only those of a boy, but I recall the striking John Bullish personality and the gruff exterior that was the armour of a tender heart. He gave me a copy of Bunyan -the model, I believe, of much of his own terse, vigorous and eloquent speech, as may be gathered by any reader who cares to turn up his 'Lectures to Working Men,' or his Autobiography,' edited by W. S. Caine, M.P., who was, as a result of Brown's two marriages, both brother-in-law and son-in-law.
Miss Agnes Herbert's bright and vivacious volume, Isle of Man,' so called after the manner of a railway announcement, a statistical abstract or a mere guidebook, occupies a distinct place in Manx literature. She writes with the intelligence of a traveller-the generous instincts of a woman of culture and refinement. Why will she not be more serious?
And this is my last tribute. I never heard on the Island any but words of praise of Miss Herbert and her work. Ina community so largely Celtic, and therefore so slow to praise, so quick to belittle what it can either not realize or not imitate, this is praise indeed.