[From Manx Quarterly #7 1909]
BUST OF T. E. BROWN IN DOUGLAS PUBLIC LIBRARY.
Photo. by Horace Callow.
Bust and Pedestal executed in Marble by Swynnerton.
In the Council Chamber of the Town Hall on Friday, July 9th, in presence of a large and distinguished audience, a life-size bust of Tom E. Brown, the Manx poet, was unveiled by the Speaker of the House of Keys (Mr A. W. Moore). The sculptor (Mr Swinnerton) has represented Brown in academic costume, and the folds of his gown are well brought out. The mortar-board cap is, too, a careful piece of chiselling. Into the features Mr Swinnerton has put some splendid work. He has suggested in marble that fine, rugged personality which will ever be associated with the author of " Fo'c's'le Yarns." There is a mobility of expression about the features as represented by Mr Swinnerton that gives distinction to the work. But if he has been successful in stamping in imperishable marble much of the personality of Brown, we do not think he has been happy in pourtraying the most unconventional of men in the orthodox cap and gown of the student. A student Brown undoubtedly was, but it is not as such that he is remembered, and it was not as Fellow of Oriel, but as the incomparable poet who fulfilled his self-imposed mission " to unlock the treasures of the Island heart" that Tom Brown's memory is to-day held dear by Manxmen the world over.
At Friday afternoon's meeting, the Governor presided. He was supported by the Speaker, the Archdeacon, the Clerk of the Rolls, Deemster Callow, and Mr Pleignier, while in the body of the hall were gathered other members of both branches of the Legislature, the Rev Canon Quine, and about one hundred other well-known Manx people.
His Excellency, in opening the meeting, called on the Speaker to unveil the bust, and in doing so, he read the following letter from the Bishop, who was unable to attend :-
Kirk Michael, Isle of Man, July 7th, 1909.
My dear Lord Raglan,
It is a great disappointment to me to be unable to join in the ceremony of Friday next, when so many will do honour to one of our most brilliant Manxmen
When I was a boy at school in Douglas, I used to look with awe at a rough mark made with a workman's pick in the stone wall about 100 yards from Braddan vicarage. It was one of my boyish land-marks, and was the spot where T. E. Brown's father, Vicar of Braddan, was found dead on returning from seeing his son, Hugh Stowell Brown, off to Liverpool. This was in 1847, and "Tom Brown's" house then became my home at least as soon as I was born in " the old vicarage" during that year.
All who knew Tom Brown's life know what an influence the home life of Braddan vicarage, the intercourse with so cultured and so saintly a man as his father had upon the formation of his character. The old home retained a secure place in his affections to the last, and he loved to revisit it, to see well in the fields, trace the position of the old vicarage house, and wander round the field " where the cowslips grew."
I remember him also as a vice-principal of King William's College, where I was in his class. He was always interesting, brilliant, witty, and inspiring. After he left King William's College for Clifton, I saw but little of him, owing to the difference in our ages. The last time I saw him was in Ramsey, a year or two before he died. I called upon him there, and found him the same genial, friendly, unconventional being that he always was. I was staying at the time in Derbyhaven, and I remember him saying that he would come over and spend a long day on the rooks at Ronaldsway, and have a real Manx talk. But that happy day, I regret to say, never came off.
He was one of the most human of men; and his love for his native Island, and his longing to see better times and to produce better things in the Church and people of Man was an absorbing passion to the last.
T. E. Brown had a soul full of music, and I wish we had profited more from that and other things which went to make up the genius of T. E. Brown. I very deeply regret that I cannot be present on Friday next, but I send this small tribute from an old scholar and a fellow-Manx-man.
I need not add that I had an affection for him, or that I regard him as one of the greatest of Manxmen.
Believe me, my dear Lord Raglan, Yours sincerely,
T. W., SODOR AND MAN.
Mr A. W. Moore said: In accordance with your Excellency's request, I have the inestimable privilege of unveiling the effigy of a great Manxman (the audience rose as the veil was removed). The bust now before you is the work of Mr Swinnerton, who has executed it with loving fidelity and skill. To Mr Swinnerton also we owe the handsome gift of its beautiful pedestal. Whilst you are gazing at Tom Brown's features, it may not be amiss for me to sketch, in briefest outline, the main facts of his life and work. Born in the heart of old Douglas; bred at Braddan Vicarage; educated first: by his father, who was not only a divine, but a scholar and a, poet, then at our chief Insular school, and finally at Oxford, where he gained the rare distinction of a " double first," together with the " blue ribbon" of the University, an Oriel Fellowship-he had a brilliant career before him. Yet he chose to come back to his beloved Island, and to teach in his old school. Thus he passed thirty years of his life, all the time drinking in, we may be sure, the very essence of that wonderful knowledge of his countrymen and of their characteristics that was afterwards to be displayed in his poems. Then followed thirty years of exile which, but for a brief period as head master of the Crypt School at Gloucester, were spent as second master at Clifton College.
I'm here at Clifton, grinding at the mill
My feet for thrice nine barren years have trod.
But we cannot agree with him that these years were barren. The were, on the contrary, truly fertile years. Fertile in poetry, since nearly all his poems were written during them, and fertile in good to the boys whom he taught and by whom he was adored for his charming individuality and his buoyant bonhomie. And, finally, he came home. What his life here was to be he had fully determined. Writing to me at the time he declined the Archdeaconry, he said: " I seek no preferment. At some cost I have purchased my freedom, and will not lightly part from it. A few years will finish the business; and I must be free-free to do what I like, say what I like, write what I like." Verily he enjoyed his freedom. How he loved being with "his own people " ! " Uncommon good to the poor.," and "friend of all things weak," he was welcomed equally by all classes. Wherever he went, he literally radiated joy and mirth and gladness. "This," he wrote, " is life at last"; and again, "All life has hitherto detained me from my true life." What a delightful companion he -vas! And how genial! How modest and simple and unaffected! What an inimitable mimic ! And how helpful, especialy to those who, calling him Master," strove in their various ways to tell something of this Island's story! But of all his traits, the most salient is, as readers of his poems know well, his ardent and unbounded patriotism. Coming to his literary work, let us not forget that, though he now appeals to us mainly as a poet, he was absolutely in the highest rank as a lecturer and a letter writer. It is perhaps too soon to pronounce a verdict on his rank as a poet, but we may feel sure that it will ultimately be a high one. His poems are certainly more and more widely appreciated than they were ten years ago. All we can now, I think, say with confidence is that, exquisite as is his English verse, it is his grand " Fo'c's'le Yarns," written in the Anglo-Manx dialect, that will give him his best title to fame. How vigoous and racy of the soil they are! What humour, what pathos they contain! What a grasp of character they show! What passion and emotion are there!
What truth! What a feeling for nature in all her moods! Such poems as these %veto no mere efflorescence of passing reveries. They were the outcome of pro-found knowledge, of incubation during many years, and of a very definite aim. What, then, was this aim? The poet himself tells us-
To sing a song shall please my countrymen;
To unlock the treasures of the Island heart
With loving feet to trace each hill and glen,
And find the ore that is not for the mart
And what is the burden of this song?-
Dear countrymen, white er is left to us
Of ancient heritage -
Of manners, speech, of humours, polity-
The limited horizon of our stage-
Old love. hope, fear,
All this I fain would fix upon the page;
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-
May say, "Twas thus and thus
"They lived"; and as the time-flood onward rolls,
Secure an, anchor for their Keltic souls.
Such was his aim, and, with the master hand of genius, he carried it out. These poems preserve the very inmost soul of our country, which, in and through them, so speaks to tho world that none can deny that Manxmen have a nationality of their own. What does he ask in return for all that he has done for us? Simply for our belief that "he, never did us wrong" and for our " acceptance of the singer and his song." May I not, then, say that we. as representing the people of this Island, do accept "the singer and his song," and that we now pay him our tribute of whole-hearted gratitude and admiration and love? (applause).
Deemster Callow said he had been asked to propose a vote of thanks to the Speaker, the sculptor, the subscribers, the committee, and the, hon. secretary (Canon Kewley). It might seem at first that this was a very comprehensive vote, but if they considered, they would see that the names were most suitably joined together. There were the committee and secretary, who originated the idea ; there was the sculptor, who had succeeded in infusing his personality into the bust, as well as faithfully representing his features. It was gratifying to them to know that they had a sculptor worthy of carrying out such a work. Then they had heard the speech of the Speaker, and they would agree that the committee made a wise and good selection. As a literary man, and one who had the privilege of an intimate acquaintance with the poet, the selection was a good one. From the piece of sculpture, future generations might, know something of what the man was like in features, and if they read the Speaker's address, they would know something of how he was appreciated by his fellow-Manxmen. He moved the motion.
The Mayor of Douglas (Councillor A. H. Marsden) seconded the motion, which was carried.
The Archdeacon was then called upon to respond to the vote. He said it had been a very great pleasure for him to be there that day, and to listen to the very admirable appreciation of his old friend Tom Brown, which the Speaker had given. Mr Brown was a very old friend of his
From the time when he was at King William's College until the time of his death, they remained close and intimate friends. They had sat on the same form at school, and on their return from college his (the Archdeacon's) house was one of the first places Brown visited. They kept up a correspondence, and when he eventually settled in Ramsey and he went to the same neighbourhood, he kept a very close communion with him. His powers as a. poet, his great literary attainments, he would not dwell upon. He was content to say that his work, which had never been appreciated as it ought to be in the Island, nor as it would be in years to come-his work, as it was published volume after volume, was greedily seized on by the best intellects and critics. Max Muller put it down as one of the best 100 books. He had read somewhere that Muller borrowed Canon Wilson's volume of " Fo'c's'le Yarns " in manuscript, and carried it off to Venice and read the lines to Browning. From there he went to Berlin, and read it to the late Empress Frederick, who expressed her gracious delight. When "Betsy Lee " came out, George Eliot was one of the first who wrote expressing rapturous approval of it. Mr Selwyn Simpson, who had published an appreciation of Brown, drew comparison between Brown and Tennyson. But he was far too volcanic for such a comparison, and while the " May Queen" was a beautiful sonnet, "Betsy Lee" was something quite different. He would not take up their time, though, in this way. But he would like to quote a few lines by Brown that were sent to him in the form of a cutting from a newspaper a few weeks before he died. He hoped they would all recognise that the Manx refrain of these verses was the response in the Litany, " We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord." He thought that they would agree with him that these lines brought the poet before them in quite a new light. These were the lines:-
THE SHORT MANX LITANY.
(Tune Southwell). (Hymns A. and M. 205).
When'neath the load of sin
We heave a bitter sigh,
*Ta shin guee ort dy clashtyn rooin,
Dy elashtyn rooin, Hiarn vie.
From Wisdom's path we've strayed,
And know not where to fly
Ta shin guee ort dy elashtyn rooin,
Dy elashtyn rooin, Hiarn vie.
Thine is the life, the way
Is Thine ; to Thee we cry
Ta shin guee ort dy elashtyn rooin,
Dy elashtyn rooin, Hiarn vie.
Our life is but a dream,
And Death's dark hour is nigh
Ta shin guee ort dy elashtyn rooin,
Dy elashtyn, rooin, H arn vie.
*Ta slain vi. " We beseech Thee to hear us good Lord."
T. E. BROWN.
He could not say when he was so touched as when he received that little scrap of paper. But he could not sit down, as Mr Brown's oldest friend, without expressing his pleasure on looking on that bust, and his own pleasure and the gratitude of the public to Mr Swynnerton for the beautiful likeness to poor Brown which he had executed (applause).
The Rev Canon Kewley also returned thanks. He considered it a very great honour to work on the committee, and to act as secretary. For those who knew Brown, there was no need of this beautiful bust. They carried about with them the memory of Brown's character, his love of his country and countrymen-yet his countrymen did not understand him as a rule. He was like that greater Teacher whom he followed with simple childlike faith, in that it was left for generations after his own to follow his work and find in it inspiration and com-fort and hope when he has entered into rest.
Canon Kewley also proposed a vote of thanks to the Mayor and Council for allowing the use of the chamber that afternoon, and for looking after the bust until a national museum should be provided.
Mr V. Pleignier seconded the motion. He said he would at the same time congratulate the Mayor and Municipal Council on having such a beautiful bust, and he hoped it would be placed carefully and in a proper light. There was a subtle fine expression about the features that would be lost entirely if not properly placed. He thought the Mayor and Councillors had done themselves honour in having the bust placed in that building. Perhaps as being next to the Ven. Archdeacon and the Speaker, the oldest friend of Brown, and certainly his oldest colleague at King William's College, he might be allowed to recall some recollections of Mr Brown. He went to the College in 1855 as vice-principal. He (Mr Pleignier) went there well, roughly speaking (laughter) about fifty years ago. He was fortunate enough to take the house next to Brown. They used to go to College together, go home together, grumble together, and laugh together. If there was a half-day, they usually went for a. long walk together. They walked one day, he remembered from Castletown to Douglas, and they did it in the record time, of 11 hours (laughter). But it didn't seem long to him. How the time was spent he could not tell. Brown went to King William's from Oxford full of enthusiasm, and he need not say he was a most delightful companion. He was always ready to help, especially his colleagues, and for the more promising boys he would sacrifice anything. He had a way of talking to them that spurred them on and made them work all the better. He was thankful to say that it was his great privilege to keep in constant correspondence with Brown and often see him after he left College. He always remained faithful to his old love for the Island. He recalled two instances one at Reading and the other at Edinburgh-when two distinguished professors, by whom he (Mr Pleignier) would have been passed unnoticed, hearing someone connect him with the Isle of Man, at once plied him with questions about Tom Brown, whose works they had read and admired. The former had said that he had desired to meet Brown more than any other man. He had the pleasure of supplying Sir Douglas Maclagan, of Edinburgh, who had only read a few lines of Brown in a review, with a copy of his works, and that led him to send some half-a-dozen more copies to his friends, who were much struck with the poems. On one occasion, he went with Brown to hear him lecture in St. George's Hall, in Douglas. The lecture concluded at about half-past nine, and they were due to take supper with Brown's mother, an old Roman matron, who lived in Broad-way. It was past eleven o'clock when they realised, after walking many miles, that they were lost. Hearing an uncertain step in the dark, they waited and questioned the person responsible for it, soon discovering, by the way, the reason for the uncertainty. When Brown asked to be directed, the man laughed and winked, and wanted to carry them off he knew not where (laughter). Another time, he and Mr Brown, after much persuasion, had subscribed to the funds of a regatta to be held at Castletown, and wishing to grace the proceedings with their presence, they took a small boat and paddled about the bay. Presently they noticed some racing boats bearing down on them. They were right in the course. Mr Pleignier told Mr Brown it was no fault of his, and Mr Brown exonerated him from blame. They were both agreed that they were perfectly guiltless. Imagine their disgust when the newspaper said of the race: " Owing to the stupidity of two local gentlemen, the race was spoiled" (laughter). They did not write to the paper to prove they were not stupid. If they had done, they might think they were (laughter). They decided merely to withdraw their support in future from Castletown regattas. He (Mr Pleignier) was a very vindictive man, and he had resolutely kept his word in this case - incidentally saving several pounds (laughter). In concluding, he said that he had had for over fifty years the most intimate relations with Brown He had always admired him, and admired him now more than ever, and, as the Speaker had properly said, he was not so well-known in his own time, but his reputation was increasing, and was likely to increase.
The motion was carried.
The Clerk of the Rolls proposed a vote of thanks to the Governor for initiating the idea and presiding on that occasion. He thought the Island appreciated thoroughly all his Excellency did to perpetuate its history, of which this was another instance to rank with his work at Castle Rushen and the Island's ancient churches. He had been thinking that if ever two men in this world would have got on well together, and would have enjoyed walks through the country which both loved so well, they were his Excellency and Torn Brown. He could imagine the Governor's hearty laugh at Brown's story so aptly told. How little they bid done for prominent Manxmen ! Brown was a man not so very well known to the generation of Manxmen to which he belonged. He was absent from the Island very much. trio (the Clerk of the Rolls) had not many opportunities of meeting him, but he had a very lively recollection of many happy hours spent in his company. He was confident that no one would have appreciated Mr Brown more heartily than his Excellency
The Rev Canon J. Quine seconded the motion. He said he would like to endorse what the Clerk of the Rolls had said. The Clerk of the Rolls had said his Excellency was one who should have known Mr Brown. There was absolutely no single thing in this world that he envied so much as to have met closely an exceptionally great person, and the one thing that he valued most was that he knew Mr Brown very well and intimately. He thought it very unfortunate that his Excellency should never have seen or known him. He thought, too, that it was fortunate that this initiative should have began with one who ought to have known him. He would like to mention two bonds of sympathy that would lave existed between the Governor and Mr Brown. Mr Brown was, of course, very widely-known as having made the Anglo-Manx dialect a literary vehicle. unlike the Speaker, he could not say that he thought Brown's greatest work was in the Anglo-Manx dialect; but nevertheless, it was so good and beautiful and charming as to have made that dialect for the first time interesting. The Anglo-Manx dialect, he thought, began with Mr Brown, and he thought would end with Mr Brown. But this was one of the points of sympathy, for his Excellency was himself a master of a very interesting dialect-the Anglo-Welsh or the dialect of the Welsh Marchers. The other point of sympathy was the greatness of Mr Brown. The greatness of his character was its many sidedness. He was capable of being all things to all men in this particular sense, that Mr Brown had a side for every possible sort of man he could meet, and he was closely bound to people of totally different sorts. No one could be a close and intimate friend of Brown without feeling that he was one of many friends he must have had, and many of them quite different sorts of people, and often having very little in common. He touched them at different points. In the presence of the bust unveiled that afternoon, he might say they were in the presence of the man himself for that relationship was infinitely more than a memory; it was a perpetual presence, there was a permanent and continuity about it that was uninterrupted by death. He (Mr Quine) lived with Brown still as one of the most live people in the world to-day. He concluded by repeating that between this man and the Governor there would be these two points of sympathy, and he regretted that his Excellency did not know him an never met him.
The motion was carried with applause. The Governor returned thanks. He said he was partly receiving this vote under false pretences. It was not he who suggested it, but Mr Norris, and much of the work of calling the meetings and so forth had fallen on Mr Story. He should always, however, be glad to think he had been able to assist the committee. He did think it was a good work that they keep alive the memory of the great men who have gone before us. We, although a small community had produced many great men men great in many different ways. He hoped this bust of our great poet would be an earnest for other great Manxmen who deserved our recognition. The Clerk of the Rolls and Canon Quine had given him great pleasure by considering him worthy to have known so great a man, and he did regret that he did not know him. More especially so because he (the Governor) took a great interest in local dialects, which, however, he was sorry to say, in these days of compulsory education were fast dying out. He only wished he had not come to the Island so late in life, or he might have learned the dialect; but he was so thoroughly permeated with his own native dialect that he could not pick it up (laughter and applause).
This concluded the proceedings.