[From Manx Quarterly, #12 June 1913]
The Collection at the Douglas Public Library.
The ordinary Manxman has no idea of the wealth of the literature of his native land, both in Manx and in English. Beyond Mr Hall Caine, the late Rev T. E. Brown, Canon Quine, and the late Mr A. W. Moore, there is no Manx literary personage of note he can readily call to mind. And yet the fine artistic temperament and poetic intuition of all the Celtic peoples has plentifully descended upon the dwellers in Mannin. The present time is certainly opportune for a movement to proclaim this rich inheritance of Manx folk, and Mr W. Cubbon, the Douglas librarian, deserves the best thanks of all Manx patriots in his enthusiasm to give definite shape to such a movement, which was set on foot by his predecessor. In the Douglas Library there is already housed the nucleus of an extensive collection of Manx books. Some of the choicest treasures from the collection of the late Mr Speaker Moore (as well as copies of that gentleman's original works), the complete Manx library of the late R. J. Moore, High-Bailiff of Peel, and the essence of the late Rev T. Talbot's collection, find a prominent place, in addition to other volumes which have been obtained. A thrill of pride and interest runs through one as he turns old faded leaves, and reflects on the reverent devotional character and the rare literary instinct which would not be satisfied until it had given expression to the love and the genius which burned within.
The Church was the mother of the old schoolmen, and the earliest literary efforts in the Manx language which were widely used were translations of the Bible and Prayer Book. Prior to the accomplishuionts of Bishop Wilson and Bishop Hildesley, there were, of course, quite a wide range of folklore and folk-songs which ancient bards had expressed in song. But these do not seem to have been altogether a part of the fibre of the multitude, and it was only from the time when the devotional spirit of the Manx people was served by printed translations of scriptures that we can trace a lineal sucession of Manx literature.
An " Examiner " representative recently privileged to examine some the curios in this department of the Douglas Library. Juan Ware, a Whitehaven follower of Caxton, printed the earliest copy of the Prayer Book in Manx. He also published a translation of the Scriptures for Bishop Hildesley in the year 1773. and the New Testament which comprised the third volume in 1775. The, collection is particularly rich in Manx volumes. the first in 1772, the second in Gaelic Literature and editions of the Scriptures, with the exception of the quarto published in 1775 (pulpit edition). There is a full set of Manx Society's works, and an almost complete lot of the works of the Rev Hugh Stowell (son of the Rector of Ballaugh and uncle of T. E. Brown), which covers a big range, has been procured. The collection, however, is rather deficient in Professor Forbes' works.
The copy of Stowell's poems, annotated by the late R. J. Moore, High-Bailiff of Peel, is the only complete copy in existence.
The inscription in the book runs thus The satirical and political poems of the late Mr John Stowell, of Peel. Isle of Man. Published in pamphlets under the following titles :
I A Salad for the young ladies and gentlemen of Douglas, by Tom the Gardener.
II The retrospect, or a review of the memorable events of Mona in the year 1790, by Philanthus.
III. The literary Quixote. or the Beauties of Townley versified. To which is added several Elegies and some occasional pieces by the same author, with manuscripts and letters, 1790-1799.
The following is from the " Salad " :
Ask not from whence my little Daphne came;
A gay coquette is every way the same ;
Manks born, Manks bred.
Manks made, Manks fed, Manks taught ;
She's Manks in everything but what she ought.
Pray what is that? In modesty and sense
Virtues, alas ! too long departed hence,
Daphne would fain disown from whence she sprung,
Altho' the herring scales are on ner toügue
Great pains she takes to " Englify " Mamma,
For "Myammee" was the word the other day.
Not less her care a vulgar gait to mend
How well she imitates the Grecian bend !
Mistaken Daphne ! let a friend advise ;
Contrive to raise, nor sink thy pigmy size
Exalt your heels, stand up. do all you can,
E'en do as Flora does walk like a man.
A splendid collection is that which embraces all the works relating to the Isle of Man up to the year 1870, including Bibliotheca Monensis," by Wm. Harrison, which sheds much light on the history of Biblical translations.
The great George Borrow, author of "Lavengro," and a distinguished linguist, spent three months in the Isle of Man, which event is mentioned in his journals, 1855. He visited the Island to make researches into Manx literature, and he has a most interesting account of his visit. At one time Borrow proposed writing a book on the subject. Borrow, it should be mentioned, obtained a verv good working knowledge of the Manx language.
The volume in the library is entitled Life, writings, and correspondence of George Borrow," by William 1. Knapp, Ph.D., LL.D. Appended are extracts from Borrow's own notes:
The Manx have a literature, a native. vernacular Gaelic literature. This fact has beer. frequently denied, but it is now established beyond the possibility of doubt. Some time ago a gentleman went to Man with the express purpose of discovering whether the Manx had a literature or not. He possessed a slight knowledge of Manx, and was tolerably well acquainted with the Irish and Scotch Gaelic. The language, it will be necessary to observe. called "Gailk," and is closely connected with the vernacular speech of the Highlands and also with that of Ireland, bearing a closer resemblance to the former than to the latter. It has, however, certain peculiarities, amongst others it has a dual number.
The gentleman in question visited every part of the Island on foot and was a great deal amongst the peasantry of the mountainous districts, whose confidence he continued to win. He was not slow in discovering that they possessed a literature of their own, entirely manuscript. This literature consists of ballads on sacred subjects, which are called " carvals," a corruption of the English word carol. It was formerly the custom in the Isle of Man for young people, who thought themselves endowed with the poetic gift. to compose carols some time before Christmas, and to recite them in the parish churches. Those pieces which were approved of by the clergy were subsequently chanted by their authors through their immediate neighbourhoods both before and after the holy festival. Many of these songs have been handed down in writing to the present time. Some of them possess considerable merit. and a printed collection of them would be a curious addition to the literature of Europe.
The following is another note made by Borrow :
It seems that the Manx language is fast falling into disuse, and it is probable that within sixty years it will have ceased to exist as a spoken language. It is now seldom or never used in churches except in two or three in the Northern district, for example. in those of Jurby and Ballaugh.
The Manx may occasionally prove of great use to the antiquary and philologist. Some knowledge of it is indispensable for understanding some of the inscriptions on the Runic stones. for instance, the one on that which stands on the wall of Michael-Kirk yard to the memory of "Mal Moro." Who was "Mal Moro"? Why some principal man of the Morrisons or Clan Morris. Mal-o-Voro or Mal-o-Voirey (Myle Worrey) in the present Manx stands for Morrison. The literal meaninn of it is "Praise to Mary." The origin of Morris or Morrison seems to have been the devoting of a child at its birth to the Virgin Mary. As Mal Moro means praise to Mary, so "Myl-Chreest," a genuine Manx name. means "Praise to Christ." and originated in a similar manner ; it nearly corresponds with the Highland name "Gil-Christ," which means "Servant of Christ " "Malew," the name of a parish in Man, moans "Praise to Loup" or " Lupus," the church having been dedicated to that saint. it is curious enough that the Gaelic name "Malcolm" may be explained through the Manx. The meaning of Malcolm in English is "Praise to Columb," the illustrious Saint of Iona. 'Mal,' 'mail,' 'mel,' and 'mul' are. all syonymous with the Welsh " mawl " praise.
Borrow wrote copious notes on his experiences in the Isle of Man which are lucidly presented, and form an illuininating illustration of Manx people and Manx customs of sixty years ago.
One must not become possessed of the idea that the Manx collection has only antiquity to recommend it. The doings of the Manx adventurer, Fletcher Christian, are illustrated in "The mutiny of the Bounty," written by Wm. Bligh, the commander. A compilation replete with historical interest is " The memoir of Peter Heywood."
One of the treasures of the Manx section of the Library, and indeed of the Library as a whole, is the photographic collection of Manx worthies. This album bears the inscription:
Presented to the Borough of Douglas by A. W. Moore on the following conditions : That it is not to be removed from the library; that portraits of deceased Manx worthies be added from time to time at the discretion of the Library Committee.
This gift was made on September 11th, 1908, and it is a fascinating gift indeed. It ought to become a national pride. The faces are a rare study, with something of distinction in almost everyone of them. Included in the art gallery are portraits of Hugh Stowell ; T. E. Brown; Col. Mark Wilks, S.H.K., of Kirby, successful administrator in India for the greater part of his life, and who was in charge of Napoleon at St. Helena; Capt. Quilliam, who served under Nelson at Trafalgar; Sir Mark Cubbon, nephew of Wilks, and at one time Governor of Mysore; Illiam Dhone; John Stevenson, Speaker of the House of Keys, who in 1703 negotiated the Act of settlement, the Manx Magna Charta ; Captain Crows, the privateer; series of portraits of the Taubmans, Speakers of the House of Keys; members of the Heywood, Stevenson, Quayle, Moore, Mylrea, Gill, Gawne, Christian, Stephen, and Crellin families. Many of these are taken from oil paintings and miniatures belonging to the representatives of the families. May we appeal to the general public to do all in their power to enhance this art gallery? There are portraits of many worthies which ought to have a place in it. and we can assure all who could help in this respect that the representations sent by them would be taken the greatest care of.
Amongst other Celtic collections are a number of Irish and Welsh Bibles, which to the student should furnish a happy hunting ground. There are five volumes of facsimile Celtic manuscripts, including the " National Manuscripts of Ireland," published by the Government, and comprising facsimiles of documents, the earliest of which is supposed to have belonged to the fifth century. The coloured indexing of the " Book of Kells " is exquisite in its artistic finish.
There are some rarities in the way of biography at the Library. In this department must be mentioned members of the famous Stowell family, Sir Mark Cubbon, Crowe. Professor Forbes, Wilson, and the Gills, including Thos. Howard Gill. The " Memoirs of Joseph Stowell " afford an excellent insight into the life of the period. Train's " History of the Isle of Man and Traditionary Ballads appear to have been printed in 1507.
A remarkable selection of Manx guides has found a place in the section. Ashe's Sketch Book, dated 1825, and of which only a few copies remain, may be seen here; also Waldron's work of 1731, and the Commissioners' Report of 1792.
The library which the late Rev T. Talbot had got together is exceedingly rich in Celtic literature, and the works bearing on the Isle of Man are exceptionally valuable. Mr Talbot always went to the first source for his collections, and the books which he presented to the library include " Antiquities of Furness," 1774; Holinshead's history; Camden's works; and " Runic Monuments," by Professor Stephens a unique production. During the next month, our representative was informed, shelves will be erected on the walls outside the reference departntent, on which will be placed the most important of the late Mr Talbot's books, and they will be available for students to read on the premises.
Although not part of the distinctively Manx section, the Dictionary of National of Biography (of which about 70 volumes repose on the shelves of the reference department) deserves mention. It is not commonly known that in this series appear records of the lives of very eminent Manxmen. Considerable space is devoted to Professor Edward Forbes, who was born about 50 yards from the site of the Douglas Town Hall, and who became the most eminent man in natural history in Edinburgh University, although he died before he was 39. It is not a matter of general knowledge that a bust of Forbes, in marble, by an eminent sculptor, was put into a public building in Douglas. The necessary money was collected publicly in the years 1859-60, and the very beautiful bust was put into the Government Office, where it still is. Busts have also keen placed in public buildings in London and Edinburgh. Forbes belonged to a clever family. One of his brothers, David Forbes, attained note as a geologist, and another, who died at the early age of 26, was an artist of exceptional skill he had paintings in the Royal Academy. Space is also devoted in the dictionary to Sir Mark Wilks, and also Sir Mark Cubbon, who was a nephew of Wilks. Wilks' father, by the way, was at one time Vicar of Michael.
Through the good offices of Sir Spencer Walpole, the first president of the committee, there has been placed in the library a number of books published at the Record Office during the last 30 or 40 years. They include reproductions of the oldest histories in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Amongst them are many interesting old documents, such as the Annals of Ulster, Annals of Loch Ce, and Sagas of Iceland all bearing on British history. Mr Talbot obtained Record Office publications when they bore upon the subjects he was interested in, and this accounts for the extensiveness of his library in historical publications, such as those of Camden, Speed, and Holinshead, English and Scotch history, Icelandic Sagas, scientific and geological works, and so on.
The Manx and Celtic compilations in the Douglas Library, as will be seen from the foregoing summary, are very extensive, and it is to be hoped that Manx folk will take a real live interest in maintaining, and if possible extending, the work of this section.
[FPC - many of these books passed to the Manx National Heritage Library housed at the Manx Museum]