[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #2 1936]
JOINT MEETING OF THE SOCIETY AND AEGLAGH VANNIM at Loch Parade School, Douglas, on February 8th, 1937.
Illustration on Violin.
Some months ago I heard the Attorney-General, when giving an account of some of his experiences in America, speak some words which perhaps to most of his hearers had no special significance; in his reference to Manxmen whose names we hold in remembrance "for the good they wrought," he gave those of the compilers of the Manx National Song Book. On the title page of that book it says "compiled from the collection of the Deemster Gill, Dr. John Clague, and W. H. Gill."
The late Speaker Moore, in his very able introduction to his Manx Ballads, congratulates W. H. Gill and his co-adjutors the Deemster Gill and Dr. Clague, on having preserved some beautiful melodies. In both instances the order of the names is wrong.
While W. H. Gill arranged the tunes and edited the book, neither he nor his brother the Deemster had much to do with the actual collecting of the tunes. Of all the tunes in that book those not of the Doctor's collecting may be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Attorney-General-whether consciously or not-gave the names in the following-and proper order: Dr. John Clague, W. H. Gill, and the Deemster Gill. I do not wish in any way to minimise or underestimate Mr Gill's share in that undertaking; it was a very important one-as to which I shall have something to say later-but the finding and transcribing of the tunes and such fragments of words as survived from the singing of sailors and housewives, farmers and fishermen, weavers and blacksmiths, was entirely the devoted and enthusiastic work of Dr. Clague. Mr W. H. Gill was a most delightful man, no one who knew him can easily forget his natural charm of manner, his ready sympathy and his infectious enthusiasms, especially in reference to "the ould times," a comprehensive expression which covered everything relating to Island history, legend, customs, folk lore, and song. He had all the qualities of the ideal collector, but opportunity was lacking. His work lay in London, and out of every twelve months he spent perhaps two weeks in the Island, so collecting in any real sense was not possible. The only references to the subject that I have been able to find are in some reminiscences that appeared in a magazine called "The Choir," and where he speaks about taking down some tunes from the singing of "Phillie the Desert," otherwise, Philip Cain, of Baldwin Choir. He does not state what these were, nor have I been able to find any trace of them in MS., which leads to the assumption that, they were either duplicates or variants of tunes already in the Doctor's collection. Deemster Gill's part in the matter was, 1 think, negligible. It was not given him to "unlock the treasure cf the Island heart." Different in almost every way to his brother, he combined with an austere and somewhat solemn aspect, an habitual aloofness of manner which invited no confidences, and opened no closed doors; and the old Manxman of forty or fifty years ago was a shy bird who had to be approached with caution.
While the Doctor was engaged in gathering in waifs and strays of tunes-the flotsom and jetsom of a past age-there were other gleaners in the same field. The publication of Arthur William Moore's Manx Ballads was later only by a few months than that of the Manx Song Book. In it are recorded some forty tunes most with traditional words; Mr Moore, in his preface, says that these are a faithful presentation in print of the recorded tunes, which makes the book, quite apart from the beauty of its production, of much greater antiquarian and historical value than either the Manx National Song Book or the Manx National Music Book, both of which, having been somewhat too freely edited; but we must not blame too hastily. In an article in the 11th Edition of the Encylopedia Britannica, the writer says: "Editors have seldom resisted the temptation of tampering with popular airs, if by so doing they can render them more attractive to popular taste." Mr Gill's objective was frankly a popular one. The publishers of the National Song Book issued it as a commercial undertaking and were not at all concerned with antiquarian considerations; while the object which Mr Moore had in view was almost entirely antiquarian.
Probably some of you older people will remember Dr. Clague, or "the Doctor," as he was familiarly called by those who knew and loved him. But to the younger people he is only a name-if even that-and for their benefit I will try and picture him as I remember him. A round, somewhat portly figure, rather below medium height, with a keen fresh-coloured face, clean shaven, except for the usual side whiskers, stiff hair brushed straight up, firm well-shaped and sensitive hands (real surgeon's hands), a hearty friendly manner, with a keen sense of humour and an infectious laugh-altogether a very human personality. He was a physician of almost uncanny gifts, and a man of many interests; the Manx language, folk lore, folk songs, theology, mechanics and music all came within the circle of his orbit. My earliest recollections of him go back to a time when, as a small boy, I used to see his familiar figure seated in a high dog-cart, and always smoking a large pipe, being driven round by his man, Charles, who was, in his own way, an original like his master-the dog-cart was succeeded by a sort of pill box on two wheels, which I have always thought must have been designed by himself, as I have never seen its fellow. In regard to his eminence in his profession I will auote the words of Sir William Gull, one of the greatest medical authorities of his day, who said that "Claque was the cleverest man who had passed through Guys while he was at the head of that Institution.'" The Doctor was born at Ballaclague, in Arbory, in 1842. His father, Henry Clague, came from a long line of Manx yeomen farmers-the Clagues of Ballaclague-his mother was a Cregeen, I think a niece of Archibald Cregeen the Manx lexicographer; so he had "the Manx' in his blood in full measure. As a small boy he attended the village school at Ballabeg, going from there to the old Castletown Grammar School, and thence to King William's College, which he left in 1859. There was apparently a good deal of snobbery at the College in those days, and Manx dayboys had not too happy a time. In 1855 T. E. Brown was appointed Vice Principal. "Q," in his Memoir of Brown, says that "he had left Oxford nursing the bite of humiliation," and it may be that his bitterness of spirit, reacting on an otherwise kindly nature, gave a caustic edge to his wit, and perhaps considering Manx country boys fair game, had exercised it with too little discretion, or he may have thought, to auote his own lines, that
" A boy as a rule
At a public school
It a bit of a fool
Who does not join in
The general life of
Work and play."
Anyway, young Clague left the College without regret, and carried away no pleasant memories of the Vice Principal.
It was early decided that he should become a doctor, and he accordingly went to Guys, where, in 1870, after a brilliant studentship, he became first-prize winner and exhibitioner. Acting against the advice of his professors and medical friends in London, he came back to the Island in the early seventies, and never again left it. He never took a holiday, apparently finding sufficient relaxation in the pursuit of his various hobbies.
Those of you who have read Ian Maclaren's "Beside the Bonny Briar Bush" will recall Dr. McLure. I used to think that our Doctor might almost have stood for the original of McLaren's character-both were country born lads, both returned to their native parish after brilliant academic careers, and worked as General Practitioners, neither cared a rap about money, both worked untiringly without break or holiday for nearly forty years-what a record! But he had his hobbies, and possessed the happy faculty of being able to throw himself wholeheartedly into whatever pursuit interested him for the time being, and he varied them frequently, never pusuing one to the point of staleness. His music, however, he kept up from his early days in London, till a slight accident to one of his hands caused him to abandon his fiddle playing, but his interest he kept alive to the end.
He married Margaret Eliza, daughter of Captain Henry Watterson, of Colby.
I do not know what first caused him to turn his attention to the collection of Manx tunes. The Archdeacon tells us in his introduction to Manx Reminiscences, that the Doctor was always deeply interested in everything connected with the land of his birth, and it would seem from some remarks in his book that he early made a habit of putting down any odd bit of lore or song that he came across; but it was not till about 1890 that he set himself seriously to across; task of searching for and recording the traditional Manx airs which form the MS. collection that bears his name, now preserved in the Manx Museum Library. He had both qualifications and opportunities in a somewhat unique degree. A good musician-he was continually about the country, in and out of the homes of rich and poor alike; equally at home in either, he was trusted and loved by almost everybody over the South of the Island; other men of his profession came and went, butt here was only one "Doctor." Between 1890 and 1896, in which year he ceased to collect, he had gathered in all, some 300 odd tunes and variants-these are contained in four MS. volumes; in addition there are in the Museum Library 24 volumes of notes on the language, customs, proverbs, folk lore, folk medicine, and religious and philosophical speculation. These I have gone through in the hope of finding something about his collecting experiences. but much to my regret, I found very little, and beyond what appears in his volume of Manx Reminiscences published in 1911, there is nothing relating to them. I doubt if he ever had in mind the idea of publication, his only object was the preservation of the tunes. In a letter to G. W. Wood, written in 1899, he says "I am merely a collector and preserver." It has been suggested that much of the material which he collected was of little value, but his work was a practical application of the old Manx proverb "cha vel sonneys gonneys" (store is no sore), and it is always good to have a well-stocked larder to choose from. He had, perhaps unconsciously, the mind of the true collector, and what this is may perhaps best be expressed in the words of T. E. Brown, who, in a letter to A. W. Moore in 1896, in reply to a remark of the latter that some of his friends had said that they wondered at his taking the trouble to publish such a book as the Manx Ballads, says, "A true folklore is-scorns nothing; because he never can tell where his honest gleanings. may not come in, what lacuna they may not supply, what literary tendency they may not illustrate, what parable they may not suggest. He feels that there is danger in letting any fragment go by, nay, something like literary treason in consulting his own case, taste, or prepossession, anything but the simple bits of what to others may appear rubbish and even to himself superfluous." So all was fish that came to the Doctor's net, he apparently neglected nothing-every little scrap, every fragment of a tune-native and foreign-which came his way went into his note book. Unlooked for things sometimes happened; who would connect the singing of an old woman up in the Rushen Hills with Poland? And yet she sang those curious doggerel verses "The Antimormon March" to a Polish tune.
Before pasing on to the tunes themselves, I will state briefly the position of Manx traditional song before the Doctor started to collect. The earliest known reference to music in the Isle of Man is the well-known passage of Chaloner's treatise published in 1656. It refers in general terms to the fondness of the Manx people "for the music of the violyne." The passage has always puzzled me-the violin did not come into general use in England until after the Restoration, and then only in Court circles. Evelyn, in his diary writng in 1662, six years after the publication of Chaloner's treatise, much resents the invasion of the upstart "petit violon" and its profane intrusion; and Anthony Wood in his description of the Court of Charles II, speaks about "The new fangled Violin," so that Chaloner must have been referring to some primitive form of fiddle of local make. This gives some support to the Doctor's contention that a type of fiddle with a flat bridge and three strings was in use in the Island in early days. That Chaloner did refer to some type of fiddle is clear, because later he writes "it is strange that they (the Manx) should be singular in affecting this instrument before others; their neighbours, the Northern English, the Scots, the Highlanders and the Irish generally affecting the pipes." The pipes were not absolute strangers to us, however, for in a letter written by Robert Burns to George Thomson, the Edinburgh publisher, in November, 1794, he says in reference to the air "Ye Banks and Braes," "a certain Countess had told him that the first person who introduced the air into this country (Scotland) was a baronet's lady of her acquaintance who took down the notes from an itinerant piper in the Isle of Man." I do not know Sir whether you will consider the evidence sufficient on which to establish a claim to the song.
Prior to the publication of the Manx Song Book and the Manx Ballads, at least one collections of Manx traditional tunes had been published-This was " Mona Melodies" a folio, printed in 1820, and now very scarce; Mr Cubbon tells me there are only three or four known copies of these; one is in the Manx Museum Library, two in the British Museum, and another somewhere in the Island. It contains 13 tunes, very feebly arranged for voice and piano; it has, however, some historical value in proving that the tunes it contains were regarded as traditional well over 100 years ago.
You may have noticed that I have not used the words "folk tune" or "folk song." I much prefer the word "traditional." It is comprehensive and is capable of exact definition, while hardly any two authorities agree on a definition of "folk song"
"The Communal Song of a people."
"Unconscious Art Song."
"Song -representing the feelings, tastes and aspirations of a people."
"The instinct to express in Song one's inner nature."
and so on, and Hubert Parry-who may be said to speak with authority, sums all these up in a long passage in his book on "Style," and ends with these words: "Folk Song, when it is found, outlasts the greatest works of art and becomes a heritage to generations." As to how far the tunes in the Clague Collection fulfil any of these conditions is a matter upon which I do not offer an opinion. The Doctor himself referred to them simply as "Manx Tunes," words which cover everything.
Turning now to the tunes in the collection, I find myself in something of a difficulty. To speak in vague general terms about the collection as a whole would lead nowhere. while to speak about two or three hundred tunes individuallv is not possible. Two courses are open. one is to classify them in the order of their subjects, such as weaving, spinning, and the like; and the other according to the distinguishing features of the tunes themselves, giving some examples. The first classification is the usual one, and is that adopted by Miss Ann Gilchrist in the English Folk Song Journal. This I do not propose to adopt, to do so would be to plough an already well-tilled field. I am aware that it has many advantages, but it has also the great drawback of breaking up the historical sequence which makes the task of following the natural evolution of the tunes a matter both cumbersome and difficult.
The latter method is at least free from this drawback, for by it the development of song-tune may be traced with some degree of accuracy by a consideration of the circumstances and events which have gone to the moulding of it. These have been of many kinds-Religion, Folk-lore, Social and Political conditions, Historical episodes, and the effects of our Commercial and Social relations with other countries.
You will see, then, that our traditional song is of a very mixed character, almost a collection of isolated units. There are many beautiful tunes, but it is difficult to say that there is a distinctive body of song which is peculiarly and entirely our own. A purely national or racial style must be developed from -within, the pressure of outside circumstances is fatal, and it was our misfortune that events should have proved too strong for us, or, was is as Chaloner says, that we were but "ill composers."
Two things strike one in a casual survey of these tunes - the first is the great number which begin with the upward or downward lean of a fourth.
It would appear to be almost a characteristic feature. It is not, however, peculiar to our Island, but persists in the primitive song of every people; it is a natural inflection of the voice upward or downward governed by the emotion which it is desired to express. The second is the great number of tunes which are either purely Modal or have a very definite Modal atmosphere. In this type of tune which shows the influence of the early Church, we can claim no monopoly however, for it is found wherever the power and influence of the Roman and Greek churches was felt. Before the dissolution of the Monasteries, in about 1540, we maintained at least three large Religous Houses, and their influence on the daily lives of the Manx people must have been very strong, hence it is natural that a religiously-minded and not very imaginative people should express themselves in their songs in the idiom to which their Church had accustomed them, and while in one sense this may have served as a sheet anchor, it had the effect of retarding, or altogether preventing the free develonment of a distinctive type of song based on purely racial and national character, and environment. It is those countries in which the influence of the Church was least felt that have produced the most beautiful and most highly characteristic type of National Song. We have no body of song in the sense that Scandinavia, or Hurgary, or Southern France, or the Outer Hebrides have; we have always been dominated more or less by influences which we were helpless to guide or control.
While a great number of our tunes are coloured by the old modes, there are also a considerable number which are variants of Scottish, Irish and English tunes, or in which the influences of these may be traced.
Earlier, I made reference to Miss Gilchrist's estimable review of our traditional song in the English Folk Song Journal. She has, however, hardly left us a leg to stand on, and I cannot help thinking that she has rather overstated her case. She adopts the attitude of not very sympathetic prosecuting Counsel, and proceeds on the assumption that all, or nearly all. our tunes are variants of tunes from neighbouring countries. In regard to a considerable number of tunes, we can, unfortunately, put up no good defence, but there are many others as to which I feel bound to traverse her findings. On general principles she carries her assumptions too far. It does not follow, because two tunes resemble each other in some particular, that they are variants of each other, coincidences of such a kind are far too common to warrant such an assumption. There are numerous instances, even in works of great Composers, in which the same thought is expressed in almost identical phrases.
See Brahms' opening of A. ma. Violin. Sonata, and Wagner's Preislied in the Meistersingers, and Mozart Finale of Gimi. Symphony, and Beethoven Opening of first piano Sonata.
Such examples can be multiplied many times over, they are not olagiarisms, but instances of coincident thought. Anyone may test the theory for himself. Take any Church Hymnary containing a good selection of tunes, and jot down all the coincidences of note and phrase that you come across-the result will surprise you, as it did me. In little over half an hour, I had found eleven, and I confined myself to first lines, but here are some of them-(Old Hundredth and Wareham) - Claremont, Arabia, Richmond, Southampton, Christchurch. (Drough Vraane and Irish)-Ramsey Town, Ephraim, Conqueror, and Rule Brittania.
Is it, therefore, any wonder that in primitive forms of melody, such as are many of our tunes, we should find many duplications of thought and phrase?-I think not.
It is inevitable, in view of the vicissitudes of our history, that our tunes. like our names, should be a compound of various elements. We need not, therefore, be too cast down as a result of Miss Gilchrist's conclusions.
Omitting song-dances and those tunes associated with legends, customs and superstitions, most of which in one form or another are almost universal, and whose beginnings are lost in a dim and far distant past, Manx traditional tunes may be roughly divided into:
1. Tunes, or scraps of tunes, of primitive origin.
2. Modal tunes.
3. Tunes which are a mixture of old modes and new scales.
4. Migratory and derived tunes not later than the 18th century, and early nineteenth century tunes.
This is not an exact classification, but it will answer my purpose, for in whatever manner the tunes are classified there will be considerable overlapping.
The primitive tunes are few and fragmentary, and I cannot venture to say with what they were associated.
Of the purely modal tunes there are a goodly number, many of them of as fine a quality as can be found anywhere. Several of these will be familar to you-"Kirree," "Mylecharine," "The Drough Vraane," "The Good Old Way ." so I will play a few not so well known.
Although these Church modes were in common use in England for all kinds of secular music, until early in the 17th century, their significance was not realized, or at least acknowledged, when Chappel published his "Popular Music of the Olden Time" in 1840, and many tunes were altered by adding flats or sharps which resulted in entirely changing their character; these were, however, removed, and the originals restored in the 1893 edition. Some, at least, of our tunes suffered in the same way as those in the earlier editions of Chappel. Many of these modal tunes were attached to ballads and carvals of doggerel verse very popular in this Island up to 100 years ago, and the tunes remain known to us by the titles of the ballads with which they were associated. There can be little doubt, however, that most of them are of much greater antiquity than the ballads or carvals from which they derive their titles.
A new ballad coming into currency would not be sung to a new tune, it would be written to a tune already known to the author, and might bring with it some fragments of earlier words in the form of a refrain. This may possibly account for the peculiarities which appear in some of these ballads where the tail seems to have no relationship to the body.
Coming now to the tunes in which Church modes and modern scales jostle each other, we find that some start off in true orthodox style, and later fall away into a major key, often at the end, in the form of a refrain, as in the "Good Old Way," and a few more. Others again combined both old and new, not perhaps too happily, in the body of the tune. "The Geod Old Way" was much sung at early Primitive Methodist Camp meetings, which were open air mission services. This may account for the refrain sung to the words "For I have a sweethope of glory in my soul." The tune itself is, I think. very old, but the refrain cannot be, not so much by reason of its breaking away from the modal scale as because of the repea~ed notes and the seauential passage, both of which are alien to modal usage, but it is perhaps unwise to dogmatise. Even so far back as the 12th century, Composers allowed themselves some liberty in a refrain. The old time "Immanuel" will readily occur to you as an instance.
These mixed tunes call to mind the old Carvals with which -many of them were associated. These were mostly ballads on biblical subjects. The titles of many of them seem to indicate that they may be descended from the primitive carols and songs associated with the Mystery Plays of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Investigation along this road might yield some interesting results, and I suggest that some of you younger people might follow it; you would have an entirely unexplored field in which to work. It may even be found that some of the tunes can be traced to this source because they are not all native to the soil.
It is surprising how tunes migrate, for example, many songs of English of Scottish origin are found in Holland, memorials of a time when British soldiers fought alongside the Dutch against the Spaniards; then there are the songs found by the late Cecil Sharp in the far away Appalacian Mountains, carried there by British settlers hundreds of years ago.
That brings me to my last group: Migrants, derived tunes, and early 19th Century tunes.
I cannot deal with these in any detail. The Migrants alone would be sufficient to occupy a whole evening, so I will confine myself to giving typical examples of each, and as Miss Gilchristhas already dealt exhaustively with many of those in the Clague Collection, I will choose one from another source, the Shepherd Music Books with which the Doctor would be perfectly familiar. There is a tune which appeared in a recent issue of the Museum Journal, so ably edited by Mr Cubbon, the Director of the Manx Museum, and was taken down on 1935 by Mr Haydn Wood from the singing of Mr Henry Cubbon, of Castletown, a native of Colby. The tune is also found in one of Shepherd's books. and is known as the Rushen Funeral tune. Its life story is of some historical interest, and goes back nearly 400 years. It first appears in 1553 in a curious old work by Christopher Tye, who flourished in the reign of Henry VIII and and Mary. In 1592 Michael Este included it in his "Whole Book of Psalms." It then found its way over the border into Scotland, with the name changed to "Dundee." and was claimed by the Scots as their own. It must have been well known, as Burns in his Cottar's Saturday night, refers to it in the line:
"Perhaps Dundee's wild warbling measures rise.
Later again in Scotland it was known as "Coleshill," and in the early part of last century found its way to the Isle of Man, presumably through Shepherd, an itinerant musican. who, according to the Doctor, came here frorn Cumberland and taught Church Choirs in Rushen and Arbory. In the course of its many wanderings, and before it reached what may be its final resting place in the Manx Museum, it had received many hard knocks, and was rather badly dinged in several places. However, here it is as it is given in Shepherd's book, and also in its original form as the hymn tune "Windsor."
Among the migratory and derived tunes in the Clague Collection there are many beautiful melodies, waifs and strays of many countries. As an example I have chosen "O what if the fowler my blackbird hath taken," as, apart from its melodic beauty, it illustrates one or two features which we have so far not met with. While not strictly a migrant, it has its roots in Scotland as it bears a strong family likeness to a celebrated Jacobite Song-"Wae's me for Prince Charlie." It may even be a variant of that song-"the blackbird" is, of course, a reference to one of the Stuarts. Chambers, the Scottish historian, says it was a nickname of the Chavalier St. George because of his dark colouring.
It is one of a small number of tunes written in a six-note scale, a scale which is the medium of so many Scottish tunes. It may possibly be traced to the old pentatonic or five note scale of the Scottish bagpipe. I wish that we could claim it as entirely our own.
The last two tunes I shall play to you are "Keant ra Mae Aog" and the carol "We happy herdsmen here." This is the carval tune to which the Doctor refers in Manx Reminiscences sung by Old William Duke, a noted carval singer at an Oie'l Voirrey in Arbory Church, when the Doctor was a student. He says:
After the Oie'l Voirrey was over. I asked him if he had any music for it. He said to me, `there is no music to it. ' I took it down after from his singing, and it is the carol `We happy herdsmen, we.'"
You will notice that all traces of the old modes have completely vanished. We have reached the 19th century.
In saying farewell to these old tunes, it behoves us to spare a thought for the people-our own ancestors-who made them. A simple, sturdy people, and of a good heart, who sang their little songs and carvals in Church and cottage, in workshop, and in highway, in times and under conditions often grim and unlovely. yet not without their element of romance. We should remember that these things were to them almost their only means of emotional expression, indeed almost their only heritage. and a necessity of their spiritual existence. So they are worth holding.
"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."
| Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received MNB
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2010