[From Manx Note Book vol 3]
IN THE COURSE OF THE LAST CENTURY a great change has occurred in the manner and method of writing history. The easy narrative, which made our forefathers delight in Hume, has been discarded for work of a different character. A capacity for research has been recognised as the first requirement in the historian; and the attractions of mere style have been regarded as of secondary importance. The ideal student of the present day is supposed to prefer the facts of the Bishop of Chester to the generalisations of Hallam; and the learning of Mr. Freeman to the eloquence of Macaulay.
No competent critic will deny the advantages which have ensued from this change. Research has thrown a flood of light on the history of previous generations: and, if we be still ignorant of many of the influences, by which men of other ages and other nations were affected, we have a far more intimate acquaintance with their ideas and their motives than we ever possessed before. History, in fact, has become in our own time what the father of History intended it should be - not a story, but an enquiry: and, in strict accordance with the meaning of his title, the historian recognises that the first duty of his profession is not to tell, but to ascertain.
Yet, vast as is the change which has thus taken place, it may be doubted whether we are not on the eve of a much larger extension of the functions of History. The historian has hitherto founded his narrative mainly on written authorities. When he has supplemented his account with oral traditions, he has, at the outset, expressed his distrust of this kind of information. He has separated the earlier myths or stories, which every people possesses, from the written annals, which some of its earlier students record. But, while he has been carefully weighing the oral and written traditions of former ages, he has almost uniformly neglected another kind of evidence, which is far more ancient and far more reliable than either myth or legend. For the earliest records of mankind are written on the rocks; and the key to their understanding is probably to be found in the habits and customs of races still living on the face of the globe. The primitive men, whose skeletons, whose weapons, and whose dwellings, we discover in cave and valley, seem still to retain their counterparts among us; and the condition of the Australian or of the Eskimo to-day may explain the circumstances, amidst which the earlier inhabitants of modern Europe lived and worked.
If, then, it is the function of History to trace the gradual progress of Man from his first appearance on the earth to the present time, the historian must carry back his narrative far beyond the origin of the earliest traditions which have come down to him. He must address himself to the studies which have hitherto occupied the geologist, the palaeontologist, the biologist, and the anthropologist, and recognise that a knowledge of the discoveries, which these investigators have made is essential to a right understanding of the history of the human family. The scanty evidence, which will thus be collected of the habits and conditions of former races of man, will have to be illustrated by the descriptions which travellers have given of the manners and Customs of savage tribes. Thus the historian will have to use every expedient for ascertaining and explaining the stories which cave and valley may have to tell him in addressing himself to the task which is still to be undertaken of carrying back the history of mankind to what are known as prehistoric Times.
Great, however, as is the labour which will thus have to be undergone, work of another character still lies before the historian. History has hitherto too much neglected the evidence which is undoubtedly to be found in the names of things and places. For the names, which a people applies to natural and artificial objects, frequently survive their own extinction. A few years hence, when the last Australian and the last Maori shall have disappeared, the most enduring evidence, which these nations will have left behind them, will he the names, by which some of the rivers or of the mountains which were once their own, will still be remembered. The British Islands, it is now plain, have been occupied by a succession of races in various stages of civilisation. It is certain that many of them it may be possible some day to ascertain whether all of them - have left evidence of their occupation behind them in the language and names of the country in which they dwelt.
As, then, the first step towards progress is an acknowledgment of error, let it he confessed that history commences at a far earlier period than the earliest with which it is usually occupied; and that the true historians of early man are not the Raleighs and the Duncklers: hiltgeologists, like Professor Geikie; biologists, like Professor Boyd Dawkins; scientists, like Sir John Lubbock; anthropologists, like Mr. Tylor; and philologists, like Professor Max Smeller; and let it he acknowledged that such inquirers, and others, working in the same and analogous fields, are historians, dealing with various chapters in the early history of mankind at a period antecedent to that to which history, in its usual sense, has hitherto thought proper to confine itself.
It is perhaps inevitable that the labour of collecting the materials for this history should be divided among many workers. I; or the task itself is so large that it is impossible for any single person, or any single generation to complete it: the materials, moreover, at the inquirer's disposal, are to he collected frown so wide an area that the investigator may hesitate where to begin. No one author can hope to be intimately acquainted with all the discoveries which 'nave been made by specialists in geology, biology, ethnology, anthropology, and philology, and which illustrate the early history of man. The writer who undertakes the task of founding a connected narrative on these different materials, must necessarily be content with obtaining much of his knowledge at second-hand. He must be acquainted with so many diverse subjects that he cannot hope to be a specialist in all of them.
If, however, the future historian of early man can hardly hope to have first-hand information on every subject with which he must deal, it is possible that the historian of early man on particular spots of the earth's surface may be more adequately furnished for the task before him. Though unacquainted with all the facts which his subject embraces, he may be acquainted with all the facts comprised in a limited area. He may hope to fill in all the details of his picture by reducing the size of his canvass; and, if he despair of producing a cartoon, he may venture on attempting a miniature. He may fail to write the history of early man if he work on the scale on which Mr. Buckle endeavoured to write the history of civilised man, but he may, at least record the progress of mankind on a small spot of earthjust as other historians have succeeded in illustrating the development of particular races.
A writer, contented with a limited task of this kind will perhaps find in the Isle of Mann a convenient field for his study. This little Island, lying as it does in the centre of the United Kingdom, has been subjected to most of the changes to which Great Britain and Ireland have been exposed. It has been occupied by the same races; Its earlier inhabitants have left numerous traces of their rule behind them: and it has, singularly enough, maintained its independence, while the larger nations around it have been absorbed into one kingdom.
In relating the early history of mankind on this little Island there are two things which the historian should especially notice. The first is that, in times which, in a historic sense, are remote, but which, in a geological sense, are comparatively modern, the Isle of Mann formed part of that vast continent which stretched continuously from Europe far beyond the present boundaries of the British Islands. The varying coastline of this continent in successive ages has been laid down, with more or less accuracy, by competent authorities. It is unnecessary to enter into its successive changes here. It is sufficient to point out that no barrier of ocean, no " silver streak of sea, " prevented the migration of life over the whole of this continent. So far therefore, as considerations of climate did not interfere the same fauna spread over the whole country; and there is a fair presumption that the same races of earlyman, which occupied any one portion of it, were thinly scattered over the whole.
The second thing to notice, in connection with the early historyof the Isle of Mann, is the break the irreparable break which occurs in its geological annals. The great hilly region, which, running from northeast to southwest, occupies so large a portion of the whole area, is composed almost entirely of metamorphic rocks, of schists in various stages of change, but of schists whose whole story is concerned with some of the earlier forms of life on this planet. In the west, indeed, at Peel, the red cliffs at Crag Malin; and in Rushen, the quarries at Poolvash, at Scarlett, and elsewhere, carry down the history to a little later date. But, even here, the story is interrupted before the student has discovered the personal interest it has for himself. As Mr. Cumming put it, forty years ago, " the physical history of the Isle of Man, as read from the characters graven on its surface, is after all but a book with its middle portion torn out, and its preface a good deal injured " The narrative abruptly stops where the carboniferous age is just beginning and is only resumed in that period which, geologically speaking, is modern. At that time climatic changes, whose causes Sir R. Ball has lately endeavoured to explain, but which perhaps are not yet fully accounted for, had enveloped the British Islands in the cold of an arctic winter; and covered them with those great glacial rivers, whose slow but constant progress may be traced in the clay which they both deposited and crushed ast hey moved, and in the great boulders torn from distan tmountains, which they dropped here and there as they gradually thawed.
The Isle of Mann, then, can throw no light on the question which geology raises respecting the forms of life in the periods which immediately preceded the glacial epoch. It cannot help the student to an answer to the old question whether man was in these lands before the age of ice, or whether he only appeared in them on its retreat. But, as the continent of Europe stretched over the whole of the British Islands, and the continuity of land remained after the return of a more genial climate broke up the ice, it is a fair presumption that the same races who have been proved to have maintained at that time a difficult existence in what is now England, may have penetrated to the hills and valleys of Mann, and the student has to search the caves and gravel for the traces which may still exist of the River Drift and Cave Men.
These races, representing what is known as paleolithic man, were of course superseded by a race which from the superiority of its flint implements is known as Neolithic man. It was probably during the time when Neolithic man dwelt in the British Islands that the sloNv and gradual subsidence took place which separated England from France, and Ireland from Great Britain. It must, therefore, have been in this period that the Isle of Mann first became an island, and it must have been subsequent to this period that the Celts, who inhabited it in the dawn of what is usually called history, settled on it and subdued it. Possibly, indeed, the continuity between Ireland and Mann may have existed after the separation of Mann from England. The presence of the Irish elk in both countries, and the absence of some reptiles from each of them, may favour this supposition. In any event, however, the insularity of Mann must have become an accomplished fact before the Celt superseded the small dark race of Neolithic man; and the Celt, therefore, must have come by water and not merely have moved on a continuous continent of land.
Here, then, is the field which the future historian of Mann has to explore, and which has been left open for him by all the Manx historians from Sacheverell to Train. Which of the races which have been thus enumerated used the flint weapons, which have been gathered here and therein the Island ? Which of them hunted, with these rude tools, the great Irish elk whose remains have been discovered in the marshes, in which they must have been embedded centuries ago, in Ballaugh and German ? Which of them were engaged in hollowing whole trees into the boats or troughs, which have been unburied in our own time near St. Mark's and Poortown ~ Which of them dwelt in the circular dwellings, whose foundations may be still traced on the slopes of Snaefell, on the uplands of the Mull, and in other places ? Which of them raised the tumulli and stone heaps over their departed dead, which are scattered so thickly over the Island Which of them engraved and in honour of what deities the Cup markings on the Dohnaens, which have still been left for our study ? These, and other questions, require treatment by some competent writer who, by, answering them. may give us a new Idea of the early history of the Isle of Mann.
Most of these questions, moreover, have not merely been neglected by the historians of the Island; they have been only imperfectly treated in the books to which we naturally turn for special information. The volume on Manx Antiquities, which has been published by the Manx Society, is chiefly occupied with a discussion of matters of a much later date. The single report, which was presented by the Archaeological Commission. deals with only one section of one of the subjects requiring examination, the remains of dwellings on the Mull. The region, therefore, as a whole, has been imperfectly explored: only its most accessible highway have hitherto been penetrated: its by-ways and valleys are still open to the investigator.
The inquiry, which is thus unanswered, constitutes the first unwritten chapter in the history of the Isle of Mann. The Celtic invasion introduces us to the second chapter in this history. That chapter, among other things, has to deal with the conversion of the Island to Christianity, and its subsequent conquest by the Danes. In compiling it the future historian must largely depend on philological research. Some of the early missionaries undoubtedly gave their names to the parishes into which the Island is still divided, while they naturally bestowed on others the names of the Saints whose memory was still dear to them; and the fact that Christianity appeared in Celtic times is, therefore, written in indelible characters in Insular nomenclature. But the parochial organisation of the Island forms only the preface to this inquiry. The history of the early Church is intimately connected in all countries with the history of the State, and, in ascertaining the arrangements made by the Ecclesiastical authorities a clue is usually found for determining the organisation of the Civil power. In those early times, moreover, Christianity, in converting heathen nations, rarely succeeded in wholly eradicating earlier customs; and the traditions and superstitions, which are handed down to us in legends, may enable the investigator to obtain some insight into the primitive faith which Christianity, superseded.
The Celtic period was finally terminated by the successive invasions of the Northmen, who rapidly acquired the whole of the Island, who have not only left traces of their dominion in the names of mountain, headland, river, town, and district; but whose rule still gives a name to the Manx legislature, and whose institutions are still visible in the ancient ceremony on Tynwald day. So high an authority as Canon Taylor indeed declares that Scandinavian names " are confined mainly to the South of the Island ", he produces a map which certainly bears out his theory; and he explains the circumstance " by the historical fact that when Goddard of Iceland conquered Man he divided the southern portion among his followers, while he left the natives in possession of the northern region, where consequently, Celtic names still prevail. " When men of undoubted eminence and weighty authority can make such statements, the necessity for some further work on the philology of Mann is, at once, visible. For, as a matter of fast, it is a mistake to suppose that Celtic names prevail on the north of the Island, and it is a still greater mistake to assume that Godred Crovan conquered the country from a Celtic ruler. Centuries before Godred Crovan won the battle of Skyhill, indeed, the great Orry had conquered the Island. His dynasty still ruled on Godred Crovan's arrival, and all that the latter potentate did was to replace one Scandinavian ruler with another Scandinavian ruler, and to say that the new comers should live in the south, their forerunners in the northern districts.
It may, moreover, be doubted whether any warrior race such as that which followed the old North kings ever succeeded in radically changing the names of a country. For warrior races, particularly when they come over tempestuous seas, are necessarily imperfectly attended by women. And so it happens that, after conquering the men of the race they settle among, they sooner or later marry the women. It is the province of the women among other things to teach their children to speak. The young consequently learn the language of their mothers more readily than they acquire the tongue of their fathers; and they apply the names which their mothers, not those which their fathers use to places and things. Hence it followed that in England the old Saxon speech in the course of a few generations superseded the Norman tongue; and hence in the Isle of Mann, the people, though Norse by conquest, remained Celtic in dialect.
This fact comes out in a striking way by a careful examination of Manx names. The parishes in the Isle of Mann are divided, it is well known, into treens and quarterlands, and there are, on an average, about ten treens and forty quarterlands in each parish. The division into treens is believed to be older than the division into quarterlands, and it is a remarkable fact that, while in the treens Scandinavian names predominate, in the quarterlands Celtic names are largely in excess. The editor of this Note Book informs me that he has traced the origin of the names of 146 treens, and of 585 quarterlands; 83 of the treen names, considerably more than one-half, are Scandinavian, but 533 of the quarterland names, or more than nine-tenths, are Celtic. The Celtic tongue had apparently recovered its predominance before the sub-division of the treens into quarterlands took place. But an analysis of the names also enable us to test and controvert Canon Taylor's theory. For while in the northern parishes which ought, according to his rule, to show a vast predominance of Celtic names there are 66 Scandinavian names and 310 Celtic names in the southern parishes, which ought to show traces of Scandinavian predominance, the proportion is very similar, viz: 70 Scandinavian and 286 Celtic words.
No one, accustomed to test historical evidence, can doubt the importance of such facts as these, and no one, acquainted with the previous historians of the Island, can deny that historical evidence of this kind has been too much neglected. The two first chapters in the history of the Isle of Mann have still to be written. Is there no one endowed with knowledge, with industry, and with leisure, prepared to undertake the task ?