[From Mannin, vol 9]
T. E. BROWN was certainly one of the great letter writers among the poets. In his letters we find himself, his vivid personality, his large-heartedness and knowledge of human nature, his keen sense of humour, his Joy in beauty, and his deep religious feeling. Mr. Irwin's collection is a cherished possession of all lovers of the Poet, and makes them long for more. The discovery of these hitherto unpublished letters, which have for years been deposited in Manchester Reference Library is, then, a most welcome literary event, and we congratulate ourselves that by the kind permission of Mr. Charles W. Sutton, M.A., the Librarian, we are able to publish them in MANNIN.
The letters were written between September 1895 and April 1897, to Mr. Charles Roeder, the well-known archaeologist and geologist. Mr. Roeder came to England as a clerk to a Manchester shipping firm in 1869 and spent the rest of his life in Manchester. All his spare time was given to the study of archaeology and kindred subjects, and he became an authority on the folklore and history of Lancashire and Cheshire. He published various books, including his most important work, Roman Manchester, and one which specially concerns us here Manx Notes and Queries (1904). Mr.Roeeder died in 1911. S. M.
Ramsey. September 11, 1895,
Dear Mr. Roeder, kindly tell me how you have come to take such an interest in our little Island and its speech and lore, you will deeply interest me. Mr. Rydings is a Lancashire man, almost more than naturalised he is an authority. He speaks broad Lancashire himself. The mystery of his Manx is a secret between himself and his Maker. He loves the Island; that has something to do with it. No Englishman that I have met, not even Mr. Rydings, can pronounce the Manx dialect like a native. A good mimic can manage individuals decently, but will flounder dismally in attempting, for instance, to read aloud Mr. Rydings' stories; I believe, however, that North Countrymen will not have much difficulty in understanding them.
As regards a good dictionary of the Manx Dialect, I have undertaken to prepare some such work, for purely Dialectic purposes, not literary, at the request of the Dialect Committee of the British Association. This is now well in hand. quite a short thing. I am kept back a good deal by my knowledge of the Manx language being so imperfect. To do the work thoroughly you need to be familiar with the old Keltic tongue. Many words, many phrases, many grammatical peculiarities, can only be explained by reference to the Keltic Manx. This brings them out fresh and clear as spring-water.
The Phonetics will, I think, be as satisfactory as they can be made. I follow Sweet's notation. It is absolutely necessary to have a system like that and stick to it. Even so, nothing will supply the place of the viva voce The best scheme of Phonetics is a stiff uncertain thing. Both in consonants and vowels the Manx are very much by themselves; but they are not capricious or simply lawless. We have dialectic variations even within the small compass of the Isle of Man. As you conjecture, the main division is between North and South. These are gradually fading away. Mr Rydings lives on the south side of our mountains in a specially secluded district. It has retained much which has disappeared elsewhere a perfect stronghold of the primeval! The North, linguistically and ethnologically is Scandinavian, the South, Keltic. But then observe- the basis of all is Keltic. History illustrates, and is illustrated by this.
You are good enough to ask about my works They are Betsy Lee (Macmillan); Fo'c'sle Yarns, including Betsy Lee Macmillan);The Doctor (Swan & Somnenschen); The Manx Witch (Macmillan); Old John (Macmillan). All of these contain Manx tales most of them nothing else. Most truly yours,
T. E. BROWN.
November 4, 1895.
Dear Mr. Roeder, Your two letters have interested me exceedingly, You are, no doubt, quite right in the belief that the long sway of the Derby family in the Island left a deposit of Lancashire dialect and folklore I have over and over again come upon traces of this influence in games, for instance. You know the game called Duckstone ? All Manx children played it some fifty years ago. And about twenty years ago I saw it played vigorously on Douglas sands by trippers. I don't believe for a moment they learnt it in the Isle of Man. They played it with too much go for that. Many of our nursery rhymes are English. It is almost inconceivable that these could have been translated from the Manx Not a fragment of the Manx has been discovered as having ever existed. Take 'Hop-tchu-naa,' for instance, it abounds in rollicking nonsense, there is no Manx original known, nor is it possible to imagine it. What would be the Manx of
Hop tchu-naa upon the goof ringers,
Troll-lol.laa upon the gool fingers,
Hop-tchu- naa, a goose and a cock,
Troll-lol.laa, I scalt my thrott
Jinny Squinney went over the wall
To get a rod to beat the foal;
Jinny Squinuey went over the house
To get a rod to beat the mouse.
Jinny Squinney went up to the claddagh
To get an apron full of barragh, etc., etc. ?
Note the imperfect rhyme and assonances. Every mark is hereof the uncontrolled rustic revelling in his foolery, and in the freedom of his own language. And the language is not Manx.
Here again is a lovely old thing which I gave Mr. A. W. Moore (tune and all), for his collection of Manx Songs. But it is not Manx. How significant that is! Do try and find it in the remoter parts of Lancashire. It would be a priceless find, and go along way to settle the Lancastro-Manx question. But I will write it down; if you were here I would sing it.
Here comes three dukes [pron. looks] a-riding
With my ransee-tansee-tissimatee;
Here comes three dukes a-riding
With my ransee-tansee-tee.
Pray which of us will you have, sir,
With my ransee-tansee-tissinuatee;
Pray which of us will you have, sir,
With my ransee-tansee-tee.
I think I will have this one,
With my, etc.
You are all too black and too blousy,
With my, etc.
We are all too good for you, sir,
With my, etc.
There is a poem by Archdeacon Rutter (about 1685), which, I doubt not, you know. It is in vol. I. of The Manx Note Book. It praises the serenity and freedom from political strife which obtains in the Isle of Man. We have it in Manx and we have it in English. In both poems it is quite exquisite. The internal evidence would lead me to consider the English as the original, but it is a very delicate point of literary criticism. The Manx translator must have been an Al. I conjecture it was Philip Moore. Many years ago I submitted to George Borrow (Lavengro etc.) a number of Manx Carol Books. He pronounced then; to be, for the most part, from English originals. Of course you know they are sad rubbish.
And this leads me to the most important and striking part of your letter number two. The chilling influences which have withstood the free outpouring in song of the Manx genius. The Church - Bishop Wilson. Rutter was a genial old bird, but an old Oxford cavalier of the Lovelace, or, rather the Etheredge school . I don't believe he understood Manx, and in his time, I suspect the popular mind was on the whole guiltless of English. A clever, educated Manxman would translate Rutter's verses into Manx, but these are the aggrements of scholars, and could have no effect upon the people. We have evidence, though, that men like Moore and Deemster Heywood were interested in literature And we find this phenomenon just after the removal of Wilsonic severity, corresponding exactly with the more human episcopate of Hildesley. This is remarkably significant. These worthy men thought it worth their while to take down a fragment of an old Manx Epic from the lips of an aged countrywoman. This is the lucid interval. Then comes Methodism, and sweeps everything into the drag net of theological jargon. What chance had the wayside flowers A thing unheard of in the history of any other country we have no love song, no war song, except in obscure, precarious fragments. Nothing that expressses the heart of the people. Poor souls, they loved, even if they did not fight But love and hate alike went down beneath the Ecclesiastical harrows.
When we think of the rich profusion of our Border Ballads what are we to say of this Manx poverty ? It must have been a poor history, no great cause to fight for, no thrill, no glow. After all, what sparks of poetry can be kicked out of a football ? We were a football. And we were not big enough to have great families like those of the Border the Armstrongs, the Scotts the Robsons, with all their bards and minstrels. If we could get back into the early Derby period! But we can't. There, I suppose, we should find the pulse of a living nation, the love, the hate, but perhaps, after all, inarticulate. Had we any forms in which natural emotions could clothe themselves? I doubt it before the introduction of Anglo-Saxon, Irish? Ah, that is faraway. Heine, you recollect, speaks of that period as the era of 'kites and crows.' Perhaps we croaked! We certainly did not sing, or, if we did it was all drained off into the mediaeval midden, and is gone for ever. Spilt milk, or spilt muck. In any case irrecoverable, and no use crying over. Wealth, and the generous spirit that, sometimes, and in some races, accompanies it, seems always to have been wanting here. Hence no class of Bards, and without them (Fine . . illegible), the deeds of heroes and the heart-beats of the humble are alike forgotten, We speak of ourselves as an independent community, an Island Kingdom, but for at least nearly five hundred years we have been merely a Manor, and, at best, a poverty-stricken Manor, destitute of the rude splendours that lighten up the contemporary life of our neighbours.
You have picked the plums of the Rydings' porridge. As a rule he is a perfect phonograph, and you can thoroughly rely upon him. He lives in a district which has preserved much that formerly was common to the whole Island. At the same time he is apt to carry things too far, and to neglect certain nicetiesof distinction. In going over his MS. I had to correct many of these errors. For instance, you quote his ger for get, but you must not suppose that this pronunciation is invariable. It only takes place before words beginning with a vowel- e.g., 'gerrout' for Get out,' not 'ger strong' 'get strong'; 'Nawthin' burra fool' is all right; 'None bur fools' would be a solecism. A lovely example is 'Norrabirravit,' which I write as one word, = 'Not a bit of it.'
I hope you will come and see me when next you visit the Island. Viva voce, these peculiarities are so much easier to discuss.Most truly yours,
T. E. BROWN.