[From Manx Quarterly, #14 Sep 1914]
ADDRESS BY CANON WILSON AT UNVEILING CEREMONY.
On June 18th a large company of ladies and gentlemen assembled at- Windsor Mount, Ramsey, on the occasion of the unveiling of a memorial tablet to the late Rev T. E. Brown, the Manx poet. Amongst those present were the High-Bailiff (who presided), the Ven. J. M.Wilson, M.A., Canon of Worcester (principal of Clifton College, Bristol, during Mr Brown's mastership there) ; Canon Quine, Dr Davies, Rev H. T'. and Mrs Devall, Rev J. Q. Christian (Darlington), Rev E. C. Paton (London), Rev H. C Weaver, Mr T. H. Corkhill, C.T.C., J.P., Mr J. B. Clague (chairman, School board), and a number of prominent citizens.
The High-Bailiff said he need not remark that they were met to do honour to a great Manxman. Though he himself was a great admirer of T. E. Brown, he could not claim to be a Brown scholar. He would not enlarge on Mr Brown's claims to be regarded as, a great Manxman and poet. He occupied a position not only as a delineator of character, but he was on the highest plane of poetry and literature. As a special favour, they had secured for the unveiling of the memorial tablet a gentleman of the highest distinction in the Church, and one who was a great scholar. There was a connection for a great number of years between this gentleman and Mr Brown, which had developed into great intimacy. He referred to Canon Wilson (applause). Canon Wilson's connection with the Island went back to the days when his father was first Principal of King William's College. There he met Brown as a boy, and afterwards Brown went to Oxford, and returned to King William's, where the friendship began. The High-Bailiff concluded by referring to the recent functions in the schools in connection with the Brown memorial, and said that the committee wished to arrange to supply copies of Brown's books to the schools (in addition to the photos), so, that the children might read them. He also acknowledged the committee's indebtedness to Mr P. W. Caine, the secretary, who had taken the burden of the work on his shoulders (applause).
The house in which the poet lived for a few years, and died [sic Brown died whilst on a visit to Clifton] , is situated in Windsor-mount, overlooking the Mooragh Park. It is owned by Mr W. B. Irving, and is tenanted by Mrs Hilton. The tablet is placed in the boundary wall, in a conspicuous place, and is of copper bronze, with letters in relief. Canon Wilson prefaced his address by uncovering the tablet and reading the superscription, which was as follows:-
T. E. BROWN,
The Manx Poet,
Lived here from May, 1894, to his death, 1897.
" The ebb and flow of all men's hearts went through and through him."
The tablet was supplied and placed by Messrs Jas. Callow and Sons, builders. Canon Wilson said: Your committee has conferred on me the great honour of unveiling this tablet to the memory of T. E. Brown, because I am one of the very few still living of his school-fellows at King William's College in 1848, and because I enjoyed the immense privilege of his friendship till his death in 1897. If there are any here present who do not know the barest facts of his life, it must suffice now for me to say he was a Manx-man born and bred, a brilliant Oxford scholar; and that after some shorter episodes, he was master of the modern side at Clifton College for 27 years till 1893. He then retired to this much-loved Island. Here and in this house he spent the last five years of his life. It is now nearly 17 years since he died; a period long enough for judges of literature, wherever English is spoken, to have realised his high and assured place in the temple of poetic fame; a period long enough for all Manxland to have recognised by common consent that he was her noblest son in brain 'and heart and in sympathetic insight into all that is most human and most divine. Happily, these 17 years are also a period short enough for many to be able still to recall, as I do, the man as well as his books; so, that this memorial is a tribute of personal affection as well as of public honour. He gave his last five years to this Island with lavish love. All his varied knowledge and charm were at your service. Same of you will remember his lectures, such as those on old Kirk Braddan, Manx stories, Manx proverbs, Manx idioms, Manx scenery; sketches of local celebrities, lectures on Burns, and other literature-lectures unsurpassed in critical insight, humour, and frank enjoyment. He was also a real authority on the Manx language, and could speak, as only a trained scholar could speak, of its relation to its sisters, the Gaelic and the Erse, and to, its half-sister the Welsh; and of the influence on it of the irruptions of the Teutonic Danes and the Norwegians. None who knew him will ever forget the brilliancy and ease of his talk, his dramatic mimicry, his wide literary knowledge, his unerring critical judgment, his discriminating love of music and his ever fresh humour. He was the most delightful of men as acquaintance or friend. As some one said of him, "You never got to the end of Brown." These personal reasons explain the love and admiration of those who knew 'him; but the justification for this tablet must be sought elsewhere. For the time will soon come when none will be able to recall the living man. It is in his writings only that he will then live. It will be because of his poems that Manx-men and many others in far-off years will look on this house, and read this tablet, and will say, "Here Brown passed his latest years in the Island he loved so well, and taught us to love." His claim for a permanent place in the ranks of literature rests on his letters, his stories in verse or yarns, mainly in the Anglo-Manx dialect, and on his lyrical and other poems in which he reveals glimpse: of inmost soul, poems that are the fragmentary expression of his life long intimate communing with Nature and God. Obviously of all these I cannot speak in the few minutes assigned to this address. Of his letters, unique as they are, I say nothing at all. But I must a few words on his Fo'c's'le Yarns, stories of the life of Manx fisherfolk and others. Brown is a consummate teller of stories. He sees men and women direct with his own eyes, as Chaucer and Shakespeare saw them. He understands them all because he loves them all-as he says of the Doctor-
Lovin' is understandin' ! Eh ?
Lovin' is understandin'.
All his characters are of the broad human type, nothing exceptional, nothing morbid. They show the permanent emotions and passions of human nature and all are put before us with a love which glorifies and sanctifies what is common and natural; he was like his " Pazon "-
True and kind ; and the ebb and the flow
Of all men's hearts went through and through him,
The sweet ould man, if you'd only knew him
Brown finds his material for poetry largely in the every-day life of working folk There are some people, as we know, who think the daily life, the common talk, the homely ways of working folk below the dignity of literature. They think that all who work with their hands-sailors, farm hands, weavers, shoemakers, and the like -are commonplace, inartistic, vulgar
They are mistaken. Art and poetry find their true and perennial inspiration in humble homes and simple life, not in that which is artificial and conventional. "Good society," as sarcastically defined by Goethe, " is that which affords no material for art or literature." And the genius of the artist lies in his revealing to our dull eyes the loveliness in common scenes, and in common lives that are being lived all around us. Browning, in " Fra Lippo Lippi," says most truly-
We're so made that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times, nor cared to see.
An artist paints an outline of moorland, misty London street, with gas-lights reflected in its wet pavements, two working-folk with bowed head, and the distant church tower black against the evening sky, and he straightway opens our eyes to the beauty and pathos of such scenes. So does T. E. B. open our eyes to what few can see without such help, the human loveableness, or let us say more truely the presence of the Divine, in men and women of simple life, or rough exterior, and slow and rugged speech. is a revelation for which we may thank God. All who know the fo'c's'le yarns will know what I mean. Which of us is not the better for knowing Tom Baynes, and the Pazon, and the Doctor, and Little Katty, and Mrs Caine, and Tommy Gelling? Thank God for such pictures, I say. They help us to recognise and honour such folk when we might never have suspected them. There are dear old Tom Baynes's on our quays; there are sweet Betsy Lees', and adorable Mrs Caines in many a cottage. Perfectly to reproduce such life and character involves the use of dialect. Dialect is to the literary presentation of the life and genius of a people what suitable costume is on the stage of a theatre. Tom Baynes in Tennysonian English would be like Julius Caesar in a dress coat. Dialect for some literary purposes is indispensable. But it, has too commonly come to be looked down upon as the mark of an illiterate person. Sir Walter Scott, indeed, and Burns have secured literary rank for the the Scotch dialect. But this rank has scarcely been won for any other. Edwin Waugh in Lancashire, Lowell in the United States of America, but more than all others, Brown in this Island have helped to break down this prejudice. Dialect is an insurpassable instrument for expressing natural feeling. It is racy, terse, picturesque. It can say in a phrase what would take a sentence to express in literary language, and in that form would have lost its edge. The literary value of dialect is no new discovery. It is as old as Longinus. It was said by Montaigne that he would rather have his son learn the talk of a tavern than that of a school of elocution. In the tavern, he said, his son would learn directness, simplicity, and these is the life of expression, whether in speech, or essay, or poetry. So when Lowell wanted to stir the soul of the United States of America in the war against slavery, he wrote his Biglow papers in the New England dialect, and he gives the reason why :-
I love the unhigh-schooled way
Of farmers hed when I wuz younger;
Their talk wuz M'eatier, an' mould stay,
While book-froth seems to whet your hunger
For putting in a downright tick
'Twixt Humbug's eyes, there's few can metch it,
An' then it helves my thoughts ez slick
Es stret-grained hickory doos a hetchet.
So in Brown's stories the language fits the people: it is the language of common life, redolent of the fo'c's'le and the farm, with all the Celtic raciness of idiom. It is inconceivable that the story should be told otherwise. Each phrase is inevitable. Let any one try to turn a few lines of one of Brown's yarns into literary English -he might as well try it with Burns' " For auld la:ng syne, my dear, for auld tang syne." The spirit will have evaporated. The thought is wedded to the language. And it ought not to be forgotten that dialects are indispensable to students of early English, and that they are made accessible by such scholars as T. E. Brown. It is, moreover, certain that the Anglo-Manx dialect is dying out. The far greater facilities for communication between England and the Island and between our towns and our countryside, and the all-unifying influence of elementary schools are killing dialect. Even I, revisiting the Island after twenty-four years, notice in the country children I have talked to, indeed in all but the oldest generation, that a difference of intonation and speech has come over the Island. In a few generations, as Trafford Clegg says of his loved Lancashire dialect, " only :a few scraps and relics of it will remain, like fossils on a beach." Brown has done a service to future students of the English language by seizing and preserving imperishably the Anglo-Manx dialect before it is for ever irrecoverably lost: But all this is incidental. wrote without any such far-off purpose.
He wrote for Manxmen primarily.
Na'th'less for mine own people rib I sing
And use the old familiar speech,
Happy if I shall reach
Their inmost consciousness.
I have left but little time for speaking of Brown's lyrical and reflective poems, which I personally hold to be by far the greatest monument of his genius. They are finished, both in form and substance, and are happily free from that " neo-obscurantism," to use his own phrase, " which seems to be settling down so fatally on modern literature." They will assuredly live, and be treasured by the few, not only for their beauty, but as a contribution to the religious insight and
thought of the world. In an age of religious questioning and reconstruction, Brown was one of the few who could fearlessly probe to the bottom all questions, because he felt his feet planted on a rock. It was not the rock of authority in any form; but the rock of personal experience, of what can only be described as intimate and direct communing with God in Nature and his own soul. To convey some conception of this communing, to interpret to others their own vague and speechless moods and longings as the germ of such communing, is the highest function of poetry. In this sense Brown was not only a poet and a, seer, but also a teacher; a teacher of theology, not from its formal and logical side, which never attracted him, but from the poetical and spiritual side; starting from no axioms, but interrogating his own consciousness. No man was ever more full of faith in God, and in God's universal presence. The thinnest of veils, impenetrable, however, and impassable, seemed to separate him from that Presence. Readers of his poems will instantly recall his "Land ho! land!" and many others, He always had the reposeful assurance that
A power is working still on our behalf.
A primal Power that in the world abides.
The intense faith that inspired his lyrics can only be understood by those who know and love them. I will not attempt to quote or expound them. His faith, though in some modes pantheistic, as it is called, was never otherwise than Christian. You will feel this intensely Christian faith in the " Hymn for Ascensiontide," which is, unfortunately, omitted in his collected works. No one morn truly loved our Church's time-honoured prayers; " well-known at, the gates of heaven"; or more highly valued the continuity of soul-life those prayers imply and sustain But I think he was independent of all such accessories to religion; ins knew that there were moods in all men, moods not of one sort only, when those and all religious forms were inadequate and illusory; where either, on the one hand, when
The irregular grips
Of zeal constrain the cleric heart or lair,
Into a thousand fiery shred's it rips.
Our old mosaic
Or when, on the other hand, God's inconceivability-as in the " Demiourgos," or the infinite and sorrowful mystery of human life pressed on his soul. To quote one passage only
One thing appears to me,
The work is not complete ;
One world I know and see
It is not at His feet.
Not, not? Is this the sum ?
Not, not? The heavens are dumb I bear His stigmata,
Or not? Ah, who shall say ?
Only it is most meet that I be sad, Sad, Sad.
Yes, he had many moods. But the permanent impression he left on his friends, and his far-reaching influence at Clifton College, was one of moral strength, intellectual vigour, and unshakeable faith in the divine, invisible guiding Hand. He flooded all life with light and truth and generous sympathies. He was one in whose presence meanness and. shams and Shallow sneering at faith were impossible, Such is the picture his strong individuality left on all who knew him. May this monument long testify that these are qualities which some of our generation have honoured, and that they deserve honour while the world lasts!
On the conclusion of Canon Wilson's address, the audience joined in singing a hymn for Ascensiontide composed by the late poet. It was set to an old German tune which nobody knew, and Luther's was substituted, which was well sung, Miss Mills presiding at the organ. After that, Canon Wilson pronounced the benediction.