[From Mannin #6, 1914]

Manx Miniatures


THAT genial, warm hand-shake of Brown's had struck in the boy's heart the keynote of a lifelong friendship—a type of handshake that Charles Lamb in his famous category so quaintly described as 'the cordial grapple—the hearty boisterous shake of your friend's hand accompanied with moderate pressure and loud acclamations of welcome.' Evidently, in the present instance, the boy of nine had instinctively taken the measure of the young man of eighteen and had then and there secretly vowed the vow of hero-worship. He had been told that Mr. Brown was a real musician and could play the organ. That was enough. Besides, had he not seen and heard him play one Sunday afternoon on the old Seraphine in the organ gallery at Malew Church ? And so, while Brown was keeping his terms at Oxford, the mystery of the 'Sicilian Mariners,' already referred to, simmered in the boy's brain, and as, a little later on, he trudged daily to King William's College through lanes and claddaghs and, timidly at first, over the creaking and somewhat inadequate plank that spanned the Silverburn — a feat which in the rainy seasons required some courage—he wondered why so accomplished and clever a young man, as Mr. Brown undoubtedly was, should need to go to another college hundreds of miles away to 'finish his education'. Now also he began to realize how, having been born and bred in the country of the ' Sicilian Mariners,' he himself could pick up Latin so easily while the other boys had to look up every word in a dictionary. Dreamer though he was, he had little dreamt that in the course of a hew years, and after a long succession of brilliant achievements as a student at Oxford, his adopted hero would become his master in real earnest. But sometimes facts are even stranger than fiction, and so it happened fortunately for the boy that shortly before he in those days the 1st class and under the immediate tuition of the Principal—his chosen hero, crowned with academic glory, learning and distinction, returned to his old school as Vice-Principal. So far as the boy of that day can see the thing now as an old man, Brown's advent was distinctly a reformation and a time of rejoicing. New teaching methods, fresh and attractive to the boy mind, were introduced, and much real study that had lapsed into mechanical drudgery and academic formula was replaced by brilliant discourses provocative of original thought, and some of the old textbooks were superseded by up-to-date editions. As to those dreadful ~ nonsense-verses' of the old school, they were summarily displaced by attempts, however feeble and in many instances hopeless and inadequate, in original verse both Latin and English—the choice as between prose and verse being always left to the individual writer. What little aptitude any of us older boys of that day may have possessed for versification—one need not call it poetry— had been stunted if not chilled by the cold and merely mechanical and grammatical reading of the Greek and Latin classics regardless of the historical or topical feeling that had inspired them, but how the influence of Brown's personality acted as a powerful stimulant in some of us in after years will form the subject of further review later on in connection with the revival of Manx music in 1896. But it was out of school that the influence of our new Vice-principal found full and jubilant expression. Never to be forgotten were those festive meetings in the form of Occasional choir ~tea-fights' at the Vice-Principal's house at Derbyhaven, and it was then and there we boys saw his character in its unreserved buoyancy and abandon, free as the mountain air from old Barrule. The natural surroundings alone were unique and inspiring, for here was history and poetry and landscape beauty all combined. From his house one could see the white walls of Illiam Dhone s house at Ronaldsway reflected in the deep blue purple sea, the grey little ruined church on St. Michael's Island, the fast-vanishing bit of castle-wall on Hango Hill, the College with its imposing square tower; beyond that, westward, the then garrisoned Castle-Town of the Island, and in the far distance the big purple Hill of the Rising Sun. In the midst of such romantic surroundings the genius of the Master used to kindle into a brilliant burning ecstasy—a living poem.

But Life is real, life is earnest,' and inevitable is the parting of friends; and all too soon arrived the time when pupil and master must each pursue his destined way, one proceeding to London in 1858 and the other to Gloucester three years later. Fortunately for the pupil at least, the seeds of friendship thus happily sown retained their vitality, and a subsequent paper will describe how, many years afterwards, master and pupil, though hundreds of miles apart and with different surroundings and life interests, were once more drawn together by that sacred and irresistible power called Patriotism.

Meanwhile—such are life's kindly compensations—it is pleasant to record how for a long time previously master and pupil had possessed in common a much valued friend in the person of Alfred D. Lemon, who had been Drawing Master for many years both at the College and at the Abbey School at Ballasalla. As one of his pupils of nine years' standing, the present writer gladly avails himself of this opportunity to record his indebtedness for much valuable individual instruction which doubtless would have been gladly bestowed equally upon all the boys if,like the favoured one,they had all displayed a real liking for the work. As it was, this favouritism, as some might call it, existed simply because, strangely enough, this boy happened to be of all those boys the only one who, dissatisfied with simply copying pictures, habitually went out sketching from nature and so had the inestimable advantage of the master's criticism and correction of work which,however badly done, was al least calculated to foster a something of originality. Be all that as it may, however, the boy had happily found in that little man with a big soul and a face like Tennysons an entirely sympathetic and much valued instructor, and so, as good luck would have it, not many months had elapsed when master and pupil discovered each other in ~ famous London Town'. Dear old Lemon ! which of us old boys can remember why we called him ' Sammy' ? Anyway it is pleasant to recall the fact that for years we met as bosom friends recalling the old days at King William's and how some of the choir-boys used to listen in the dark corridor outside the library door to the piano playing going on inside, and how we knew the player by his individual predilections. Was the music Bach's ?— then the player was Lemon; was it Mendelssohn's ?—then the player was Brown; was it a part-song ?—then it must be Naylor practising for his choir. So, in after years, what with occasional letters and the golden chain of Brown's published work, the friendly intercourse among the three of us continued, and it was many years afterwards that he wrote expressing his regret that our meetings had lately been so few and far between. He felt guilty' about Lemon, who had sent him a long letter. 'I have not answered him yet,' he said regretfully, 'but I hope to make this all right soon. He writes with great vigour and most interestingly: has not at all cut the old Manx cables'. And then came the gladdening assurance, 'I know you have not; you have given me full proof of that. The anchor holds well gripped among the dullish and the tangles, I ride with a short scope and feel the very chafing of the boulders.' And so, in the spirit at least, we three were continually meeting again and comparing notes. Such is Life' and as the years come and go those echoes of the distant past recur like flashlights, and oft-times with an appeal that is half a rebuke a Voice seems to ask ~ Don't you remember so and so ?' And then an imperative longing mood insists upon one's recording the impression lest it should fade away perhaps never to return. Hence these so-called Miniatures— Thumb-nail Sketches, rather, which sometimes threaten to work out into elaborate pictures.

W. H. Gill.


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