[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 3 pp341/7]

JOHN IVON MOSLEY (1830-1876),
Compiler of the Manx Dictionary.

[by C. Roeder]

John Ivon Mosley, the accomplished wood turner and linguist, belongs to that bright band of entirely self-taught and toiling Lancashire men whose life-long struggles for a mere living have not incapacitated or daunted them from cultivating, and ever nourishing to the last, an intellectual taste for all branches of learning, either in the field of letters, art, or science. His modest position in life, accentuated by acute sensitiveness, and the lack of a more practical turn of mind, were elements which pr e vented him from shaking himself free of conditions which left him a prey to constant cares, and doomed him to perpetual drudgery, while life lasted. It is, therefore, little surprising that he lived and died in his native town in semi-obscurity, and that the circle of those who did most appreciate his extraordinary powers and his amiable character was composed of a mere handful of men.

Born on the 7th of December, 1830, John Ivon was the third son of Daniel Mosley, who had come from Cubley, on the borders of Staffordshire and Derbyshire ; he claimed kindred with the stock of Sir Oswald Mosley, and was originally a yeoman. There he became many things in turn, warehouseman, shopman, traveller, and collector, acting besides as local preacher of the Primitive Methodists. His mother, a daughter of the Rev. Wm. Wade, minister of Salthouse Lane Chapel, Hull, was a good religious woman, who died at the ripe age of 77. Of all the seven children, John Ivon proved the only one who evinced early signs of mental superiority, and a love for poetry or language. This tendency was not derived from either of his parents ; his mother, however, appears to have been a well-read woman who took great interest in her husband’s work. He spoke almost all the European languages, and knew and examined many of those of Asia, ( Australia, Africa, and North America ; dictionaries and grammars he almost devoured. He delighted in all books of travel for reference and information concerning the language, customs, and manners of the people, from which he carefully garnered up extracts in his note books ; these notes are found always carefully copied in a lovely round hand, and bear the impress of thoroughness, neatness, and method.

His name is best known in connection with the part he took in the preparation of the English-Manx dictionary, published 1866 by the Manx Society, as their Vol. XIII., and printed for the same by John Heywood, Deansgate. It was prepared from Dr. Kelly’s Triglot dictionary, with alterations and additions from the dictionaries of Archibald Cregeen and John Ivon Mosley. For, in the editor’s preface, the Rev. Wm. Gill, remarks :—"Their attention. was then directed to an English and Manx dictionary in manuscript which purported to supply the place of a second part to Dr Kelly’s Dictionary. This was the work of Mr. John Ivon Mosley, of Manchester, a gentleman who without any of the advantages of a residence in the Isle of Man, had prepared a dictionary which reflected great credit on his intellectual acumen and philological research. It became, however, a matter of inquiry how far an English and Manx dictionary might be drawn from the doctor’s own more copious work." The Society decided on availing themselves of the doctor s learned labours, " and adding thereto all such words from Cregeen and Mosley’s dictionaries as would improve and enrich the volume." Principal Rhys in his " Outlines of Phonology of Manx Gaelic (Manx Society, Vol. XXXIII , 1894), briefly refers to Mosley’s work, and adds, " His dictionary appears never to have been printed." In this he is perfectly correct, and I think it is but due to the memory of Mosley to advert more minutely to his Manx studies and to show how far he was concerned in the publication of the Society’s dictionary, what qualifications he brought to it, and what share he had in this transaction.

When entering on the study of Manx, he commanded already a full grasp of Welsh, Gaelic, and Irish, and his attack on Manx was an almost natural step. It appears he began as early as 1851 (aet. 21) when he crossed over to the Isle of Man to study Manx on the spot, under Dan. Teare, of Ballaskilly, his chief object being to acquire the proper pronunciation and structure, and obtain a conversational mastery of the spoken language, and, at the same time, to collect material. But it was during 1855 that he first made more serious efforts and headway ; in 1857 he was so far advanced that he could address and write to his Manx friends in the vernacular. He had equipped himself from Quaritch, and from Kneale, in Douglas, with grammar, dictionary, bible, tracts, carols, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and other theological works, translated into Manx, and stood in close correspondence with Looney, of Ramsey, Jas. Killey, of Douglas, Kennish, of Coma,, Dan. Teare, Kissag, the blacksmith, Ramsey, Evan Christian, of Lewaigue, and many others who supplied him also with old M.S. books and glossaries of every description. He went over on different occasions, moving amongst fishermen, farmers, and cottagers, always on the alert for fresh words or phrases, conversing only in Manx, of which he was then full master. It was the real want of an English-Manx dictionary which urged him to the task of undertaking the composition of such a work, and when he had fully made up his mind he set about it with an ardour and devotion truly astonishing. In going through the visitors’ book of the Chetham library, I found that for many consecutive years he was an almost daily visitor, and from the entries it will be seen that, as a basis of operation, he availed himself of Cotton and Cruden’s Bible Concordance, along with Webster’s dictionary, Louth’s English grammar, Wilson’s Manx translations, and the Manx Bible, for the construction of his dictionary. To this he added the large stock of words and phrases accumulated by him and his Manx friends, both in the Island and in Manchester, the whole interspersed with copious references and ~‘ quotations to illustrate the genius and peculiarities of the language. The work involved him in tremendous labour, but it was done with a will, and his love for the labour cheered him in his nightly toilings. After he had his slips arranged in systematic order he began transcribing, but constantly adding to and re-shaping his notes, and, as I am informed by his surviving widow, before he was perfectly satisfied, he recopied his MS. four times, all done in beautiful calligraphy. He had brought together from 30,000 to 40,000 words ~ and phrases, which will give an idea of the strain and exertion this task entailed upon him. When the dictionary was complete it formed four big MS. folio volumes, the material alone filling a big case. It was in 1862, after eight years hard and incessant application, that he put the finishing stroke to it. While working away at the Chetham Library, he was one day introduced by Edwards to the Rev. W. MacKenzie, a member of the Council of the Manx Society, who was so much struck with Mosley’s linguistic powers that he brought the matter under the notice of the Society, who urged him to come over with his MS. dictionary. MacKenzie writes on the 19th September, 1861, in the " Mona’s Herald" :—" The Manx Society has discovered in Manchester a remarkable man who has a genius for language, and who has made the Manx his special study. He has actually finished an English Manx dictionary, and is willing to give his MS. to the Manx Society for a very reasonable price. This a lady has offered to pay." In response to an invitation of the Society, Mosley went over to Douglas on the 5th of March, 1862, whence he writes to his wife that he " arrived in Gorryland with his eight years toil on his back, and that he was very kindly received by the Council of the Manninee, who gave him ~

The " Mona’s Herald," in 1862, refers to Mosley’s extensive acquaintance with Welsh, Irish, Gaelic, and Manx. It would appear that final proposals had been made to him with regard to his MS., for the notice continues : " The proofs are to be corrected by him, assisted by Manx scholars of the Island."

Unfortunately, however, the offer to acquire the MS. came to nothing, and he was asked instead to correct the proofs. The result was a great blow to Mosley ; nevertheless he agreed to supervise the printing of the compilation prepared by the Manx Society. The work was to be set in type in Manchester, no printer being qualified in Douglas to take charge of it. The task was no light matter, and from 1863 to 1867- for five long years—poor Mosley aided as type-setter and proof reader in connection with the Society’s dictionary, a hash of Kelly’s, Cregeen’s, and Mosley’s dictionaries, and a piece on work of such inferior and disappointing nature in every direction that it should certainly have been left alone. His position, while acting in that capacity, belongs to the darkest years of his life ; he was under hands which did not deal gently with him and his susceptibilities. He was present again at a Committee meeting of the Society in Douglas on the 11 the May, 1867. He had given 13 years of his life’s devotion to this piece of work, and his energy had been heavily taxed. The reward he received was, however, so inadequate and disappointing that, on his return, he dismissed that language for ever from his mind. It was to have been his " magnum opus." If the Society had accepted the four MS. volumes, it would, no doubt, have formed a valuable reference book for Celtic scholars, or anyhow remained a lasting monument of his great industry. The MS. was still in existence in 1885, but subsequently his family lost it irrecoverably, and at present there are only a few fragments of a draft in existence.

With him language was not a mere mechanical vehicle but an edifice of a subtle structure clothed with distinct individuality and life, and one of the phases of mental development. He was eminently a comparative linguist, with an intuitive quickness to seize upon analogies and shadings and nuances. It was the philosophic aspect which charmed him and pushed him constantly forward in his studies. He was always, so to say, seeking for prey and fresh food for thought and some new truth or light. He not only loved language, as such, but in its co-relation to man and how it affected his mental and emotional status His ear was acute in the extreme in the distinction and analysis of pitch and sound, and he was quick to seize upon any peculiarity—a circumstance which helped him not a little in assimilating any language. But it must also be distinctly borne in mind that, although gifted with a natural genius for language, it was painstaking, unceasing, hard work and toil which led, in course of time, to a facility which seemed intuitive and instinctive. This he owned add declared himself. He was not of a common type and satisfied with a knack for anything, but penetrated with true scholarly feeling and aware he had no free scope for the proper expanse and growth of his faculties. This feeling of the dilettante, I believe, was at the root of occasional fits of depression. He knew what he could do, but saw no way out of his narrow sphere. His isolation and want of scientific contact, indeed, were keenly felt by him and lamented.

His physique was excellent, his frame muscular and well-knit, his complexion sandy, his eyes and hair brown, his features gentle, thoughtful, and subdued. He stood 5 feet 4 inches, and looked a powerful and strong man. His walk was short, his forehead and face square. He was extremely fond of singing, and possessed a strong, manly bass voice, and used to sing to his children in all sorts of languages, such as Celtic, Slavic, and Caffir, etc. ; and at one time, for the benefit of a school, he sang to the audience in 20 different languages. His conversation was at all times lively and brilliant ; as a versifier and translator of songs he had acquired great versatility. He had always a pencil and notebook about him, even in the dark, and had a habit of reading aloud. When walking or strolling, he was always humming an air to himself, with his head turned upwards. He could not abide any show or ostentation, and was an enemy to familiarity in any shape. His disposition was generous and childlike, and, as a father, most loveable and endearing. His diet was plain, and he neither smoked nor did he drink anything but water.

It will be interesting to say something about the method he followed in the study of language. He would first go carefully through the grammar of any language he proposed to himself, and thoroughly master its internal structure. After this he attacked the Dictionary, which he used almost to devour; he then proceeded to colloquialism and phraseology, and translating and re-translating and mix and move constantly amongst those whose language he wished to follow up, in order to get hold of the true native ring and pronunciation, and obtain ease and facility of speech and expression.

His studies were carried on aloud. When he was once engaged with a new language, his power of application and enthusiasm absorbed his whole mind, and he did not rest until he had a full command of the idiom. His memory was such that he declared he never could forget anything he ever learned. With his method he engaged to thoroughly master any language in twelve months. He never learned at night, but was an early riser, and devoted daily from six to ten hours at a stretch to his study.

For many years he was a victim of acute headaches, lasting sometimes from three to four hours. In 1873 he had four strokes, brought about by over study and anxiety --his right side was paralysed and his speech affected, but only transitorily, without leaving any impediment.

His favourite haunts, as might be expected, were the old book shops and stalls of the town, and the libraries, and all such places where he could fall in with the company of the Irish, Welsh, Poles, Jews, Armenians, Bulgarians, etc. ; and he would enter all travelling gipsy camps and chat and talk away with them in their lingo, and walk miles for the chance of intercourse and conversation As a great lover of nature, he was fond of ramblings and long pedestrian tours, and never so happy as when he could listen and inhale the true doric of the rustic population.

From 1852 to 1860 he worked as a wood turner ; in 186r he was in turn coal agent, stationer, and kept a circulating library ; from the end of 1862 to 1863 he went to Rochdale to start as a schoolmaster in Silver Hill, which he relinquished, for want of sufficient pupils, to act as reader, printer, bookseller, and clerk. In 1864 to 1867 he was employed in printing the Manx Dictionary; and in 1868 to 1873 he turned to his old occupation as wood and metal turner. For some years he was foreign correspondent in a warehouse, and also gave lessons in French and German ; and in his latter years became manager in Taylor’s Saw Mill, in Cable Street. We see from this that his career had nothing very cheerful about it; he tried his hand at many things to mend his circumstances, but he struggled in vain. He had a growing family to provide for, and his earnings were never much—material prosperity there was none. His eagerness for study, of course, largely interfered with the proper exercise of his craft. When at last, in 1876, he found a situation as manager in a saw mill, a permanency was secured. But the change had come too late, his frame was now completely under-. mined. For the last four or five years of his life he had worked strenuously and uninterruptedly at his Romany, for which it was his intention to construct and publish a comprehensive dictionary, left in MS. With no mental rest and relaxation his physical powers broke down altogether. He had removed in 1874 to 109, Hendham Vale, Rochdale Road, Manchester, and here quite suddenly he died. I will quote the City .News of the 9th September, 1876 :— "John Ivon Mosley, of this city, a contributor to the Manx Dictionary, and writer of gipsy and dialect pieces, was found dead in his bed on Wednesday morning (6th September). He was born in Manchester on the 7th December, 1830. He died in the prime of his life, at the age of 46, and is buried in Harpurhey churchyard."


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