[From Manx Quarterly, #28 1922]
BY W. RALPH HALL CAINE.
Author of " Annals of the Magic Isle," " The Cruise of the Port Kingston," "The Isle of Man" in Black's Colour Series, etc.
The "lure" must be admitted first of all. Long before the War, the proudest feature of our railway systems was the daily performance of what has come to be described as the " Cornish Riviera Expe'ss." This train has now been restored. It covers the distance from Paddington to Plymouth, 225 miles, in 4 hours 7 minutes, or an average speed of almost exactly 55 miles an hour.
Now, I observe a startling development of the same idea a poster graphically shewing an imaginary train stretching from Aberdeen, on the far North-East coast of Scotland, to Penzance, in the extreme south-westerly corner of England. A passenger in search of health and sunshine is thus enabled to accomplish this long journey from one end of Britain to the other, travelling by way of Newcastle, York, Banbury, and Swindon, without change of carriage, within the limits of one day, or in 22 hours, to speak by the book. Dining and sleeping-car accommodation are provided. Never before has it been possible to make a journey of such length with greater ease and like comfort. Cornwall is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Londoner.
Government Control Removed.
"The cold hand of Government control has been removed," said a railway official to me by way of explanation of the startling innovation. "We are back again to the days of rivalry and competition, keen and insistent, and this train, covering practically the whole length of Britain, is merely one expression of the enterprise of the Great Western Railway and a series of allied companies."
What is this Lure?
What is this lure of the West Country? Ostensibly it is merely one of climate, a means by which people are tempted to exchange, say, the bitter east winds and cold clammy fogs of the granite city for the clear air, warm sunshine and flowery splendour of South Devon; a means by which the gradely folk of Lancashire and York-shire are prompted to exchange the environment of their great cities, where tall chimneys abound and the atmosphere is charged with the sulphurous odours of a thousand heavily-charged furnaces, for the peace, radiance, and simple delights of a Cornish fishing village.
More than Climate.
There is, however, a vast deal more to the exchange than merely that of climate. the least bookish person who comes hither is, consciously or unconsciously, susceptible to another and, in some kind of way, greater appeal, though it is one of the spirit rather tl an one of the body. I mean that vague and undefinable atmosphere of the soul we denominate history or mythology, or both in combination, for where the first ends and the second begins, no one in this treasured land of King Arthur, of so-called Celtic legend (I suspect King Arthur was here long before the first Celt set his foot in the land) can truly say. We call it " the West Country" because to our far-away ancestor the golden west was ever a land of secret and illusive mystery, a realm of radiant splendour, a veritable paradise on earth, wherein the sun sank at fall of day and shone with undiminished glory through the dark watches of our ever-recurring night.
The Land of Promise.
In Ireland, the Romans heard of "Brasil," a sunny isle for ever blest. Their curiosity was piqued.
" Where is this wonderful land, this isle of everlasting beneficence ?" they asked without a shadow of misgiving.
"A boat's night journey by the way of One sea," replied the old women; and for direction they pointed to where the sun was sinking in the rich glow of the far away western horizon.
But no island did the Romans ever find there. The things of the spirit are greater than the things of the flesh and the world. he vivid poetic imagery of the Irish people va as too illusive for Ireland's first conquer-ing hosts. And so it has ever been, right down the ages.
Thus, in like manner, we can never hope to penetrate " the West Country" this side of the grave. The Romans, and a later generation of Britons, applied the term indiscriminately to all territory lying beyond Devizes; hence a name derived from Divisoe, Devisis, De Vies; and the modern tendency of giving the term the background of vivid reality has led us to accept a definition for which ancient mythology and the dreams of our earliest poets provide no sanction. " The West Country," therefore, is a feature of our history, rather than an expression of geographical fact.
That Devon and Cornwall, with much of Somerset, and a little even of Dorset and Wilts, should come to be confused with dreams of the soul, is of itself no slight tribute. But these are rare lands, fragrant with song, rich in story, radiant by day, glorious by night, steeped in a gentle air that greets you in the early spring and late autumn like an exhalation of paradise.
A Common Heritage.
The West Country ! Let us catch a glimpse of its beauty, a sense of its charm, the secret of its lure. It is bound to us in the Isle of Man by a thousand ties language, blood, and lore, and that community of interest that springs from the cultivation of the soil, the in-gathering of the harvest of the sea, and the penetration of the earth's crust in search of precious metals. Not fewer than 50 surnames, proper to Cornwall, are now, I believe, common to the Isle of Man. In years long since fled, the link must have been both intimate and real.
The grave of the Rev. T. E. Brown, the great Manx poet, lies in the West Country; fittingly so, some people say, because with all his devotion to the Isle of Man, the land of his birth, the years he spent at Clifton were the richest and most productive of his genius.
This is the twenty-fourth anniversary of Brown's passing, his death having occurred on the 29th October, 1897, as recorded on his tombstone, which I shall later set out in full, not the 30th, as stated in the "National Dictionary of Biography," and other books of reference. It is appropriate, therefore, that I should begin with observation of this tiny patch of earth, hallowed ground to every patriotic Islander.
The grave is contained in a cemetery attached to a Chapel of Ease, known as Redland Chapel, of which the Vicar of Westbury-on-Trym, in Gloucestershire, is ex officio minister.
Westbury is an old ecclesiastical foundation, so old that its history would in itself constitute, in the words of the Rev. C. S. Taylor, M.A. (see " Clifton Antiquarian Club" papers, vol. IV. p. 20), "an epitome of the history of the Church of England." It existed as a Monastic Church as far back as 715, having been built upon land bestowed upon Eanulf by King Athelbald, the dedication then being to the Apostles Peter and Paul. About 900 it was plundered by the Danes, but by 961 it was restored, and dedicated afresh, this time to St. Mary, by St. Oswald, Bishop of Worcester. Thus it became the first Benedictine Monastery in England.
To the outside world, however, the fame of Westbury rests upon two great national and historic links, viz.:-(1st) With John Wycliffe, Canon and Prebendary of Aust (1362-1384), " the morning star of the Reformation"; and (2nd) with John de Trevisa (1390-1402), who is reputed to have made, for the greater glory of God, and the edification of his patron, Lord Berkeley, a translation of the Bible at a period of English history when it was considered in the highest degree impolitic to translate holy script and thus place the reading of the scriptures within the intelligences of people other than monks and priests. Sacrilege such as that Trevisa was fraught with the gravest censure of the Holy Church, if not, indeed, with the direst penalty.
There is an idea that Trevisa's translation of the Bible ultimately found its way to Rome; but within recent years, all efforts on the part of Cardinal Gasquet to trace the manuscript in the archives of the Vatican lave failed. All the same, Trevisa, a native, by the way, of the parish of St. Mellion, near Saltash, in Cornwall, by his many translations of Latin works into English, did much to give form and force to the native speech of our land; and thereby he earned our everlasting gratitude, as so aptly expressed in the description of him as "one of the fathers of English prose."
To the reader who cares to know more, I commend two recently published works en-titled, " Was John Wycliffe a Negligent Pluralist?" Also, "John De Trevisa : his life and work," by H. J. Wilkins, D.D., Vicar of Westbury-on-Trym, and minister Redland Chapel, Bristol (1915), and " An Appendix" (1916).
Enough, however, has been said for these presents, i.e., the association of the fame of perhaps the greatest narrative poet of our time with the glory of Wycliffe and the proud achievements of Trevisa.
Redland Chapel stands on high land abutting upon an open area now known as Redland Green. At the time of its erection, 1740-3, it occupied a site carved out of the park-like surroundings of a mansion called Redland Court, then owned by one John Cousins. In that day this hill-top must have possessed great charm. It still affords delightful views of a wide expanse of country, hill and dale and leafy coppice, as far as the eye can reach; whilst, close at hand, great trees still serve to remind us of the seclusion that has vanished before the all-conquering electric tramcar.
Situated in such close proximity to a thriving city, change was inevitable. The park of Redland Court is no longer an exclusive domain. A great cluster of fashionable villas, it can hardly be described as a suburb of an ever-expanding city. It is part and parcel of the municipal area of Bristol, and as such its future is for ever sealed and linked in indissoluble bondage with the trade and commerce of the great port.
The Chapel itself is a small, oblong mausoleum type of building, stolid, almost forbidding in exterior; constructed of local stone mellowed in colouring by age. Its facade consists of two inset columns with a door in the centre, over which there is a vacant niche for a piece of statuary, surmounted by a small half-circular window. Above the roof rises the belfry, and a cupola, crowned with ball and cross.
We enter the porch. Only eleven pews on either side. Four stained-glass windows right and left, and one half-circular window over the altar emblematic of breaking day. the altar picture takes for its subject, " The Descent from the Cross," or perhaps, more properly, " The Preparation of the Body of Jesus for Burial." It consists, so far as I could make out, of four figures : St. Peter, St. James, and St. John, and, presumably, Mary Magdalene; but at the hour of noon, when I visited the chapel, the sun being no longer in the east, the window was in deep gloom, and I cannot rightly pledge myself as to any detail.
Turning to the west, I note the organ in a gallery over the porch and behind a stone screen on the front of which are two busts, which may be effigies of William and Mary of England, or, in the alternative, the pious founder and his spouse-in the deeply-shaded light I cannot, once more, hazard more than the merest guess. The Cousins vault, with its inscribed stone set in the wall, is seemingly at the lower end of the chapel, on the right-hand of the porch as we entered.
It is easy, therefore, to determined the purpose of the construction, viz., that of a private chapel and family burial place. And so it appears to have remained for a generation or more. But ah, for the vanity of human wishes ! Empty pride!
There are very few tombs bearing inscriptions dating from the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The century old grave a readily distinguished, having, as a rule, a tall fencing of iron. Time, however, is playing havoc with the unpainted metal, and very appropriately to a cemetery, where decay is the rule, reducing the protection to ashes. It is only a small area, and it is in the nature of things that it should be closely packed. Nearly all the graves belong to recent years, the last thirty or forty years, if I judge by a glance at those nearest at hand; and the grade of society to which the dead once belonged is sufficiently indicated by the rather lavish display of white marble and carved figure. In truth, the cemetery partakes, rather over much to my eyes, of the character of the luxurious homes by which it is surrounded; it is, in a word, the last retreat of exclusiveness, wealth and station.
Flowers are everywhere, and though it is late October, I note the lavender, sweet briar, heliotrope, begonia, geranium, variegated fuchsia, mignonette, and rose trees in a wealth of summer bloom.
The Rev. T. Ferrier Hulme, M.A., of Bristol, who has many ardent friends in the Isle of Man, had, on the introduction of the Town Clerk of Douglas, very kindly provided me with directions for finding the last resting place of the great Manx Poet.
Entering the cemetery by the tall iron gates fixing the paved way up to the portico of the Chapel, we pass into the burial ground proper by an opening in the dwarf railing on the left-hand. Passing along a narrow moss-covered pathway to the east end, where r. wall runs separating the cemetery from a terrace of fresh-looking villas, we find at a glance the grave of Brown. It is easily distinguished. It is marked by a plain marble cross, standing some four feet high. The grave is bordered by bevelled marble coping, with dwarf iron pillars inset, linked by chains.
The cross has a base of three tiers. The inscription is as follows :-
In Loving Memory of AMELIA BROWN wife of the
REV. T. E. BROWN OF CLIFTON COLLEGE Died July 3, 1887, Aged 57.
Died April 21st, 1876, Aged 7 years. " Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Also REV. THOMAS EDWARD BROWN who died Oct. 29th, 1897,
Aged 67 years.
" Keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life."
On a panel on the right-hand side is the following recent addition:-
Also of THOMAS BIRKETT BROWN
Son of the above.
Died July 5th, 1919, aged 56.
" I am the resurrection and the life saith the Lord."
Bristol, I am told, is supremely unconscious of her proud privilege, the sheltering of the remains of a great poet, as a narrative poet, in the words of the "Spectator," above either Tennyson or Browning.
"You must tell us about Brown," somebody said to me, as though a poet did not speak for himself.
Throughout Brown's long residence as a master at Clifton College, 1863-1892, or nearly thirty years, the living of Westbury, with the Ministry of Redland, where he lies buried, was held by one, William Cartwright, who at his death on March 3rd, 1900, or two and a half years after Brown's passing, had completed fifty-two years' service to the parish, and reached the 90th year of his age. Far too long, I fear, for one man to remain in the enjoyment of one rare and precious plum.
The present Vicar and minister, is the Rev. H. J. Wilkins, D.D., a learned and industrious antiquarian, a great lover of books, humanist, smoker, and bachelor, a man of broad sympathies, humorist with just enough of the cynic in his composition to lend piquancy to his conversation. As an author, various works stand to the credit of his name. He has written papers deal ing with " Faith Healing," a plea for greater recognition in the Church and also by the medical profession; "The History of Divorce and Re-Marriage," a compilation from scripture, Church Councils, and authoritative writers' and edited several volumes entitled "Westbury and Bristol Records."
The precedence given to a mere village like Westbury in the title of the volumes referred to, may prompt the reader to a smile; but it must be remembered that, in the words of the late John Taylor, the city librarian, Bristol, "as early as the 9th century, when the outlying hollow which afterwards became Bristol, was for the most part an uninhabitable swamp, West-bury was an important ecclesiastical district" ("Antiquarian Essays," p. 115.) Further, away back in pre-Reformation days, Bishop Carpenter made Westbury his Cathedral Church, officially styling him-self Bishop of Worcester and Westbury. This was as far back as 1473, at a time when Bristol Cathedral was known only as an abbey, dedicated to St. Augustine.
When the Reformation came, that old rufian, known to history as Henry VIII., granted the College, church, and estates to Sir Ralph Sadlier, thus leaving Westbury without any endowment, and wholly dependent upon the goodwill and tender mercies of the greedy, self-seeking courtier of a dissolute king with a penchant for removing the head of a former spouse. Is there a Protestant in the wide world who does not feel humbled to the dust by the remembrance that the religious freedom we all enjoy to-day came, at its beginning, from a man whose hands were befouled with blood?
Under date 1790, I find in a chronicle of " Memorabilia" extracted from the parish magazine the following item :-" Redland Chapel and minister's house, built (A.D. 1740-3) by John Cousins, of Redland Court (who died April 19th, 1759), and endowed with a munificent endowment, which has steadily increased, joined to the advowson of Westbury on certain terms."
It is not difficult to hazard a guess as to why William Cartwright was throughout Brown's long service to Clifton College so immovable in his attachment to this parish, and why he lived to such an advanced age. During those fifty odd long years many prayers must have advanced into the high vault of heaven for blessings on the head of "one, John Cousins"
"The Minister's House" is a quaint old place set in a garden with the enclosure of a high wall, separating lawn and shrubberies from the open and public space known as Redland Green. I marvel at the old stairway that leads from an inner hall to the minister's study. The steps bear no covering; it would be a sacrilege to obscure the shining beauty of choice hard woods, rich and mellow in colouring with age.
" Timbers, I believe, from an old weather-worn Bristol ship broken up nearly a century and a half ago," says Dr. Wilkins.
The study is probably the principal room in the house. The windows must be an everlasting refreshment to the eye, afford-ing a view of the country far and wide, not forgetting the chimney-pots of the Bishop's Palace on the lower side of the green, as " the second Mrs Tanqueray" might be tempted to point out. The walls from floor to ceiling are lined with books. Seated before the old-fashioned grate, the entrance door is screened by a jutting-out wall of books back and front. It is books ! books !! books !!! everywhere.
"What a 'comfy' study !" I exclaimed in admiration. The blessing of " all the gods there be" (to quote a line from one of the best known poems of Henley, who was Brown's pupil during the two years 1861-3 he was headmaster of the Crypt School at Gloucester) on the sleepy old head of the vain but pious " one. John Cousins."
The minister is gratified by my admiration of his workshop. Smiles. Asks me to join him with a smoke. And then, more in the spirit of one tendering an excuse rather than an explanation, he says, "We bachelors may be, as I really try to believe we are, 'encumberers of the ground' -you know a statement need only be sufficiently repeated to carry conviction to some minds-but I say that we are saved from one infirmity of nobler minds, i.e., we never resign ourselves to the chill comforts of a tiny back bedroom for a workroom, while a large, well-lighted, front drawing-room is available to our purpose."
Our conversation turns upon T. E. Brown. " I am delighted to hear that Brown is a kind of cult in the Isle of Man, the land of his birth, if that means intelligent study and appreciation and is not a mere excuse for vapid, self-glorious adulation. In Bristol, with which Brown was by long residence so closely associated for so large a proportion of his working days, the position is very different. Before the war, it was easy to detect a distinct quickening of interest. People talked of his work, read his poems, quoted a telling phrase, or an amusing quip. respite the disadvantage that always belongs to dialect, however sparingly it is used, Brown seemed like coming to his own. But now all that is changed. So far as I am able to judge, that interest has practically entirely lapsed. It is dormant. It is dead. Not from any demerit on the part of the poet, unless it be the local lingo, or crude uncultured native speech of the Isle of Man, which, it has been aptly said, acts like a non-conductor; but rather, in my judgment, from the pressure of modern life and affairs-of the war to begin with, and now with the anxieties that wait upon trade and the making of a living in these anxious days. The people, taking them in the bulk, can hardly be said to have heard Brown's name. It is for you, a fellow-countryman, with your neighbours, to remedy that grievous defect.
"Bristol is a commercial city; very, very commercial, I might say; vastly more devoted to the development of the profits that accrue from trade than of the intellectual faculties; the expansion of industry rather than the outlook of the soul. Proof? Here we are surrounded by houses of culture and natural refinement yet my bookseller grieved no less than ,surprised me the other day by declaring that of genuine book-buyers among my neighbours, he could count the numbers on his ten fingers. That was his estimate. I am not qualified to confirm or controvert his statement. Of course I take it that he would not take count of the buyers of novels. I suppose he would regard those people who buy fiction in order to induce sleep as drug-takers; though I rather wonder that if a mere soporific is wanted, why they neglect some volumes of my historical research t I can solemnly guaran-tee their efficacy.
" What chance, then, has a great Manx poet, or any poet, for that matter, of recognition under such circumstances? You surprise me, however, by classing Brown among the first of the immortals; as a narrative poet above Tennyson and Browning. That is a high place, and great praise, though, of course, I know that his "Fo'c'sle Yarns" were admired by Browning him-self, by George Eliot, and other giants of intellect of that day.
" There may be people who seek his grave without reference to anyone. I do not know of them. How can I ? The chapel and grounds are open. nearly all the hours of daylight. But anything like a pilgrimage, even of a small people like the Manx, I would know of that, if there were any such thing to know. So far as I am aware, there has never been any single act of recognition of the poet's grave on the part of the Manx people during all the years I have been here.
I suggest that a year hence, when the 25th anniversary of Brown's passing occurs, this unpardonable neglect will be rectified, and tokens of affection and admiration come from many quarters of the earth.
" Then tell the Manx people scattered over the earth, in the pursuit of a vocation and a living, that I shall take the greatest pride and pleasure in seeing that their tributes are reverently' displayed on the poet's tomb. And that I wish all possible success to their efforts of winning wide-spread recognition for their able and distinguished fellow-countryman."
I must not close this general summary of our chat without giving emphasis to the recommendation of the learned historian regarding "recognition" of our "able and distinguished fellow-countryman." What, I think, we had in mind was an espousal of Brown's merits; first, because they were merits; second, because they were Brown's. By that I mean that we must not exploit Brown as some men exploited our soldiers in the last war, whether dead or living, for their own social or material interests; we must not convert his gifts and fame as a poet into a peg by which a small and isolated community shall be enabled, by the most obvious and transparent implication, to praise themselves; as a pigmy may puff himself out with mere wind and religion to look like a giant.
Hitherto-since shortly after Brown's death, not a word before-a vast amount of praise has been raised on Brown's behalf. The very skies have resounded with our paeans. But let us in the secret of our own hearts ask ourselves a candid question : Has our glorification of the poet been simple in spirit, honest in purpose, wholly untainted by ulterior motive? Let us penetrate the prompting by the effect on the world at large. It is an amazing circumstance that after more than twenty years' experience of our praise, Brown has thereby lost, rather than gained, in reputation.
What is the explanation of this startling phenomenon? Simply that we have praised Brown as men praise God-for the benefits they hope to secure in return. No room for disinterested love here. Not as a fellow-countryman of outstanding gifts of mind and heart. Not as a man whose scholarship was such as to deserve and command, in the opinion of Bishop Fraser, the highest distinction within the gift of his university, probably the first in the world-the fellowship of Oriel, at a moment when it still meant much, a link with Matthew Arnold and Arthur Hugh Clough, and other great thinkers and poets. In plain truth, we have praised Brown because he praised us; we have appreciated him because, in doing so, we have lent weight and authority to his appreciation of ourselves. So much self-esteem with a tiny, tiny tincture of disinterestedness. Of the total sum of our glory, five per cent. for Brown, 95 per cent. for ourselves. And the world has been cute enough to penetrate the secret of the compound.
This must not be. It is not the atmosphere in which genius can be called into existence. It is not the atmosphere in which Brown himself could have lived. I knew of him practically all the days of my life; personally and intimately during only the last five or ten years of his life ; but I knew sufficiently, at any time, to enable me' to say that he would have died from very shame rather than have suffered some of the slobbering things now freely uttered in his praise.
Brown will have lived and wrought in vain if he has merely succeeded in minis-tering to our worbt vice-a degree of Insular conceit and self-esteem that is, at once, the despair of our friends and the amused derision of our enemies.
A Life of Achievement and Disappointment!
Brown first saw the light of day, or such of it as could penetrate the windows of a house situate in a narrow and obscure by-way, known as New Bond-street, Douglas, in 1830. The house was the residence allocated to the chaplain of a sort of, or reputed, chapel of ease (the precise ecclesiastical status was not settled without recourse to law) known at that time as St. Matthew's Chapel.
This chapel was for long years the only place of worship within the present municipal area. The site was in the very heart of the old town. It abutted upon an open space dedicated to public use and availed of once a week as a butter and vegetable market. Market Hill ran to the west of the chapel; on the south were the quay and harbour; on the north and east an entire network of narrow, tricky and unsavoury alleyways, running at every conceivable angle, of which this New Bond-street was one.
The name of the alleyway was in no way reminiscent of a fashionable thoroughfare in London. It had reference solely to a newly-opened cellar for the storage in bond of certain exciseable goods, notably rum.
The ancient chapel has since attained the status of a church with a parish of its own, carved partly out of areas that had pre-viously belonged to Onchan (the whole of Douglas was at one time within the jurisdiction of the Vicar of Onchan) and a still older ecclesiastical settlement, now called Kirk Braddan, a place name that links us to the Viking and the still earlier Celt. It is enshrined in many memories. " I cling to old St. Matthew's with the fondest affection," says T. E. Prown. " I was baptised there; almost all whom I loved and revered were associated with its history." Alas! the old edifice has disappeared; and with it the one picturesque feature of the town, viz., a belfry that was like nothing so much as the look-out of an Oriental mosque, whence the faithful Moslem is called to morning and evening prayer.
In identifying the birthplace of a great poet amid such mean surroundings-" in what is now a squad street" is a merely typical inexactitude-we sometimes seek to make it appear that the New Bond-street of to-day is a vastly different place to what it was in 1830; as though it had, in the interval, fallen from grace. The truth is all the other way. If nothing can relieve the squalid misery of the present surroundings, they are, at all events, no longer scenes of unspeakable debauchery, such as they were nearly a century ago. Can we realise that the very walls of the Parsonage stood cheek by jowl with one of the most noisome resorts that ever disgraced a city's fair name? The picture presented by the poet's elder brother, Hugh Stowell Brown, in the Memorial volume edited by W. S. Caine, his son-in-law and brother-in-law (1887), is one of unrelieved gloom. If it included the whole truth, it would be worse.
The poet was only a child when he was removed from such scenes of social sin and degradation to the pure, clear atmosphere of the open country, the Vicarage of Kirk Braddan, three or four miles out of the town. The contrast was immense.
All biographers devote an unusual amount of attention to a consideration of the distinguishing characteristics of the Rev. Robert Brown, the father of the poet. He had some gift in writing verse. He was a man of courage and intellect. He never read the Athanasian Creed, took no notice of Ash Wednesday, or of Lent, and treated the rite of Baptism with an in-difference amounting almost to contempt. He condemned Gibbon's " History" for its rationalistic explanation of the rise of Christianity; but in the seclusion of his own home he never wearied of his son Hugh's reading of that great work, not omitting those early chapters that still lie under the ban of orthodoxy. Nevertheless be was a good man and an earnest pastor. The Poet's School Record.
T. E. Brown passed through King William's College in the same year as F. W. Farrar. He obtained an Exhibition from the School to Oxford in 1849; again in 1850; was elected a Servitor at Christ Church; became a Fellow of Oriel in 1854; was ordained in 1855, and graduated Master in 1856. He returned to King William's in 1858; retired from the Vice-Principalship in 1861, on his appointment as Head Master of the Crypt School, Gloucester. Two years later he accepted, from Percival, the poet of second master at Clifton (and head of the modern side). And Clifton remained his home for nearly thirty years. It was the scene of his life work.
" Betsy Lee" first appeared in Macmillan's Magazine in April, 1873; was republished with other pieces as " Fo'c'sle Yarns" in 1881 (second edition 1889)), and elicited the high praise of George Eliot, Robert Browning, and others. " The Doctor" followed in 1887; " The Manx Witch" in 1889; and "Old John" in 1893. (All are included in a collected edition; and a selection in " The Golden Treasury" series).
The welcome from individuals may have been cordial and sincere; but it cannot be said that Brown's poetry achieved in his lifetime anything more than a very moderate measure of success. The writer in the " National Dictionary of Biography" seeks to explain the public neglect:-" The Manx dialect, though quite the reverse of formidable, seems to have acted as a non-conductor, and the poemjs did,' not meet with a tithe of the recognition they de-served."
Early in 1893, Brown returned to the Isle of Man; lectured a good deal in his own inimitable racy fashion on vanished, or fast-vanishing phases of Manx scene and character. To avoid naming names in such a connection was impossible. Result, every address produced an abundance of sullen critics who felt that they or their ancestors had been sacrificed for a laugh. Brown had not the very smallest intention to wound, or offend; but farming folk, in the isolation of a small Island set in a northern sea, are quick to suspect, tardy in linking up the art of the clever mimic with that of the born humorist. Is human nature, taken in the bulk, very different?
I read:-"Brown was a keen critic of all his friends, and did not deny himself amusement at the weakness and limitations of those he cared for most." And this :-" Was there one of his acquaintances he could not reproduce to the very life" ?
Dangerous proficiency, think yet I can. not imagine one more calculated to wound and estrange. It is a rare soul that can enjoy the laugh when it is all at him, rather than with him; and though I instantly acquit Brown of all malice, I marvel now, as I marvelled then, that any man of such penetrative mind did not realise how risky was his art of entertainment. If he had only lectured in the Isle of Man on the ridiculous social pretensions of the newly-rich, who are always with us; and in Clifton on the calm assumption of Manx folk that the world is waiting upon their merest word, how different would have been the result?
The Devotion of Two Brothers: Poet and Preacher to Life's End.
In my pilgrimage of the West Country, I catch up with many memories of the poet.
" I see it stated that Brown died whilst addressing the boys at Clifton. Is that a touch of drama, or is it an expression of literal fact?" I ask.
" He was standing and actually addressing the boys in Tait's house when faintness overtook him. His speech suddenly became clogged, words ceased, he was in danger of reeling when he fell back into his chair. Master and boys hastened to his aid. He was unconscious. The boys were dismissed; and he was borne to an adjoining room and medical aid sought; but he never rallied or regained consciousness, and passed away shortly afterwards."
"There is a discrepancy of date. The tombstone gives the 29th October, 1897; the books of reference the 30th."
" I think that merely expresses the doubt as to which side of 12 o'clock he actually expired. It is only a matter of moment either way. A lovely passing. I crave no better fate."
"Brown used to make a grievance of schoolmastering. He speaks of 'grinding at the mill' at Clifton as though his spirit or very soul were being crushed into powder."
" Oh yes, I remember he used to talk like that; but you must take all such words at their proper value. Brown was a poet, an idealist; all poets are idealists and very prone to understatement and over-statement. I assure you that by whatever reasonable test you could apply, Brown was very, very happy at Clifton. I say that without a thought of misgiving, be-cause I know it to be fact by personal knowledge and observation."
" Reflect ! Congenial surroundings; highly capable and companionable colleagues; neighbours of culture and refine-ment; a locality, the choicest spot in all the West of England, if not in all Eng-land, for what has Eton or Harrow to offer that can surpass Clifton? A college, a new foundation steadily advancing in public repute; a chapel so chaste in outline and so richly endowed for worship as to con-stitute a perpetual inspiration; a congregation of boys ever growing in numbers-under Dr. King, the present Principal, there are not fewer than 600 every unit of that congregation at attention, and here and there one destiny under the Preacher and Master's guidance to leave his mark in science, or art, or literature, manufacture, or trade; and in a domestic sense, a house full of boys, in all of whom he was deeply interested, in some instances personally attached; while the boys on their part were all admiration for their Master's intellectual gifts, no less than his high character ! For what could the heart of man crave more?"
"You are overlooking financial considerations. Perhaps these gave him cause for pause?"
" I would not overlook anything so important. The monetary return was substantial. Without being so large as to gratify a merchant prince, it was, in the opinion of the world, adequate for a man exercising his gifts in a dignified profession. At all events it ran into four figures. It is true that there was at that time no pension attached to the post. I believe that has been long since rectified. Sufficient to enable him to provide for comfort in the closing years of his life. Sufficient, too, to make him not a little indifferent to the outlook. It was no unusual circumstance for him to allow cheques in his favour to lie about his desk for weeks; until, in short, the drawer had to beg him to pay them into his bank !"
" Yet for a considerable period he suffered a grievous drag upon his resources?" "You refer to his son Birkett?"
" I do. I suppose now that he is dead and the chapter closed, there is no offence in speaking of him?"
"None that I am aware of. Omit him and your tale is only half a tale. I did not know, however, that Birkett was dead. His was a peculiar character. Clever and cynical, one wondered how he came to be the son of such a father."
" I remember Brown telling me of his son's distinguished career at Oxford, and of his great attainments; telling me in pain and tears rather in pride, for a singularly bright future seemed to suddenly and unaccountably close into nothingness. The young man's life appeared to end with his preparation for it."
" I know ! I know !!I know ! ! ! All the pitiful tale."
" Have you any theory, or explanation to offer, that will help us to an interpretation of the poet's life and work ?"
"Once upon a time I thought that all that Birkett stood in need of, was a modest demonstration of that " strength" on the part of his father, with which his biographers so fondly credit him. In a word, the big stick; for he that will not work, and asuredly shall not eat. But all that attitude of mind has vanished from me in that larger charity that comes with age? in the light of a larger experience of life? or by reason of a closer study of family history, of biology, if you like to dignify it by that name?"
" You mean that he was a natural expression of nature's law?"
" I would rather say 'may have been,' rather than he actually was. You must bear in mind, first, that T. E. Brown was, by his own assumption, of Scottish blood and allegiance; second, that he married his cousin, an act always fraught with danger where the cousin has shared, in some general way, the environment of her future husband. I am not so ridiculously minded as to say that cousins should not marry under any circumstances. Brother and sister, or half-sister, have married, unknowingly, of course, and without evil effect, where the environment has been wholly different and widely separated, as the text books of our social scientists have shewn. But even cousins cannot marry, without grave responsibility, where they have shared a common inheritance in atmosphere and surroundings.
"We all know the devotion of Scotland to education. It is like a religion even to the border households from which the Browns and the Birketts sprang. Parents can be found there still who are ready and :willing to actually starve their bodies, in food and raiment, in order to find the means of sending a promising son to Edinburgh University and thus reach the Ministry, or qualify for a post far above the status of life of his father or mother. Is there an occasion for surprise, then, that T. E. Brown, a schoolmaster himself, with that ghostly spirit of the primitive Caledonian ever animating his soul, as witness his own confession, should share that devotion to education that was the very essence of his being ?
"But does the Caledonian always remember that he may be forcing the pace? Nature, however, does not forget; she steps in, saying the upward lift shall not be too rapid; there must be a pause; every generation shall NOT register a steady progression. Thus we get the 'set-back,' or ' throw-back,' as it is called. And so in this instance. I am disposed to think that Birkett should never have gone to Oxford and burnt out, in a blaze of effort, his slender reserve of ' force,' ' push,' ' go'; but should, on the contrary, have entered upon a purely manual occupation. By wise selection, his child might have revealed once more the natural talent inherent in the blood. Remember how land requires its period of repose, its rotation of crop, which is repose under another name. The same general laws apply even to the highest animal. Genius is an expression of abnormality. A greatly-gifted parent rarely has a son of more than ordinary ability.
"Exceptions - the Darwins, for instance - prove the rule. At all events, that is the best I can make of that sad tale. It clouded Brown's life; but an almost greater disappointment awaited him in what I think you have yourself called ' the cold-shouldering' that was his fate from his fellow-countrymen on his retire ment to the Isle of Man in 1893. Poets, however, were ever heirs to disappointment; how else can we explain the tragedies of Keats and Shelley, or Burns, Byron, Coleridge, and many, many more?
" Practically all Brown's poems were written at Clifton. Curious to note, too, the gulf separating the two brothers; in point of view, I mean merely. Personally their relationship was altogether charming. They were devoted, each to the other. But, as seems almost inevitable under such cir-cumstances, there was, I judged, no love lost between their women folk; so they had to snatch such holidays together as vacation permitted. The elder, Hugh Stowell, had no poetic ear, or vision. Poetry he distrusted as so much gloss upon, or tampering with, fact. And yet as Sir Robertson Nicoll testified, in a review of T. E. Brown's inimitable " Letters," his face was all radiance the moment you praised, 'brother Tom's' outstanding poetic gifts. For him-self, however, in endeavouring to see things as they are, particularly the Isle of Man, the home of his childhood, he saw every-thing in the cold, forbidding, desolating light of a November morning, wlïen a clammy mist is coming up out of the sea, leaving him chilled at his very heart. T. E. Brown loved and admired his brother. ' He has ringed me round all my life with moral strength and abettance,' was his fine tribute. Yet he saw the Isle of Man only in the radiant spring, when the air is full of the nutty odour of the gorse, and alive with the song of birds. Both were true conceptions; but each is only half a tale, and half a tale is the worst of all possible lies.
" T. E. Brown idealised the scenes of his youth past all recognition. That was our solid conviction. The result was confirmation. Idealism is the business of a poet. We knew that disillusionment was inevitable. But whoever convinced a poet against his will? Experience, however, is a stern schoolmaster. 'Never go back' was the poet's last despairing counsel. No one knew its truth better than he. Not because the scenes of childhood change. It is we who change. Fancy weaves its spell about our early days. Bring not the gossamer thing to the test of the wind, and rain, and storm of life.
" Thus Brown, with a breaking heart. he admitted, child of nature to the end, that he was a born sobber-returned to the Clifton he should never have left. It was like a child awearied, returning to his mother's consoling arms. Here was the scene of his life work. Here should have been, without any painful interruption, the calm evening of his day. Let memory weave its fancies. Let not cruel disillusion-ment wait upon stern reality. Who worships his native heath as does the Scots-man? Who has not had to listen to his gush about the 'bonnie land,' 'the purple heather,' and `the land o' cakes,' and all the rest of it? Who toasts his native land with more insistence or greater fervour? But who in the end shews less inclination to return whilst any other land in the wide, wide world will shelter him? I say, there-fore, let the wandering Manxman take heed and profit by Brown's humbling, but al-most inevitable experience."
That evening I walked the quiet, select and sedate streets of Clifton. The moon was high. The air warm, but with a sense of invigoration in its gentle breath.
A seemingly endless succession of stone-built terraces. Many of the houses of noble proportions; not a few with wide views. These are houses to live in; homes. Not, however, such as we build now; legacies rather of a century ago. The most char-ing suburb to a great city in the kingdom.
Here and there, through an open window, I see the maids busy with their final preparations for a dinner party. I cease my way to cast, for a moment, admiring eyes upon the richly-ornamented table, the snow-white napery, the shining silver, the varied colours in bunches of chrysanthemums. AE the next turning, a glimpse through the open doorway of yet another house with its gathering of guests. The white staircase, the green self-coloured carpet, the tall clock chiming the hour on a resonant gong, the polished brass ornaments, the rich mahogany.
A lady in evening dress, with shimmering pearls about her throat, is handing her wrap, with a smile, to a maid. Her escort is a man of some distinction, if height, brow, and tanned skin have any signi ficance. I hear an approaching step. Here is T. E. B. coming alone, on foot, with swinging gait, his face bubbling with suppressed laughter over a newly-fashioned tale by which to set the table in a roar.
But, ah me! The door closes. The vision of the last guest has vanished. The dream is only a memory. A wine cup that has been drained.
Nights of gladness are so rare; so soon spent.
IN THE LIBRARY OF CLIFTON COLLEGE.
"You found him cynic, saint, Salt, humourist, Christian, poet; with a free Far-glancing, luminous utterance; and a heart large as St. Francis' : withal a brain stored with experience, letters, fancy, art, And scored with runes of human joy."
The most famous portrait of Brown is contained in the library of Clifton College. It, is the work of Sir William Richmond, a man of versatile gifts, and belongs to the year following the severance of Brown's official connection with the college.
The painting, at a guess, is about 40 by 30 inches. It occupies a position at an angle on the screen separating the library and the museum, two departments housed in one hall; and bears somewhat of the glow of the southern sky from windows high up. The artist, however, has not called for any external warmth, the painting being, in feeling, full of generous maturity and mellow radiance.
It is work that suggests a date -1870, or even 1880; the portrait of a man who, at that period, might have been, say, 65 years of age. The subject is shewn sitting in an easy, unstudied position, leaning away to the right, whilst the face, of which three-fourths is visible, is turned to the spectator. The head is full and well-developed; but not conspicuously so. There is a fair shewing of bald pate, with a gathering of white hair about the ears, and a fringe passing round and "below the chin, after the manner of old-fashioned gentlemen of the age I have named, forty or fifty years ago. The lips and chin are clean shaven. The eyes are deep set, dark blue in colouring, reflective in expression. The, mouth, pleasant in outline, is expanded to the verge almost of a smile. There is a small opening in the waistcoat, shewing a starched shirtfront and a scrap of white cambric cravat. The folds of a black broadcloth coat are faintly discernible.
The general feeling is that of an English gentleman of forty years ago. That the painting should portray a clergyman aged 63, as recently as 1893, only serves to reveal the sitter's innate conservatism, his attachment to old ways and former habits.
The portrait is iredoglent of generous instinct, of which the kindly mouth is the most outstanding feature. There is vastly more vigour in the eye than one would look for in the portrait of a man who had lived more than three score years; but it must be remembered that Brown was a man of vigorous intellect to the last day of his life.
The background is rather curiously chosen, being of smooth varnished timber, shewing the grain and small open knots in the wood. I could not think for a while that the artist had in mind in this choice of setting ;but it became quite obvious in the end; and I realised the aptness of his choice. In interpreting the physical being that entered upon the vision of Sir Wm. Richmond, the artist sought to further emphasise the rugged exterior of the poet, the homely simplicity of his up-bringing, his love of the hills, the sea, and the fresh air. The antithesis could not be better exemplified than in the large Percival portrait that occupies the opposite wall.
The gold mount bears the following inscription :-
T. E. BROWN Master 1863-1898.
A replica of this painting ought to be added to the art collection of the Town Hall of Douglas, Brown's native town. I suggest that the Corporation should authorize the Town Clerk to communicate with the Rev. Dr. King, Principal of the College, or, by preference, with Mr W. J. Lewis, the secretary to the Trustees, College-road, Clifton, Bristol, inquiring (1) if there is any objection to a copy being made; (2) if none, whether the copy must be made at Clifton, or if loan of the painting may be made to the Corporation for, say, a couple of months.
Mr R. E. Morrison, who is the moat distinguished portrait painter the Isle of Man has produced (he is responsible for the portraits of Arthur Moore and Dalrymple Maitland now hanging in the chamber of the House of Keys) might be asked to nominate a skilful copyist -a form of art quite distinct from that of the creative artist. Or the replica might be open to competition.
HOW MAY WE MOST FITTINGLY CELEBRATE THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE PASSING OF THE REV. T. E. BROWN, THE GREAT MANX POET?
The Rev. T. E. Brown, the great Manx poet and inimitable letter writer, of whom a thousand pens have been said and sung by his fellow - countrymen at home and abroad, has lain buried in the cemetery attached to Redland Green Chapel, Bristol, for nigh upon twenty-five years; yet never once during all that period has any individual, or society, or organization of any kind whatsoever thought fit to reverently lay a flower on the green grass covering his brow, not even a sprig of rosemary, "that's for remembrance," as Ophelia would say.
This neglect must not be.
How then may we best attest our understanding by honouring him who honoured us ?
Sunday, the 29th October, 1922, is a great milestone in the history of the dead, now silent in the grave, but speaking to every heart in purposes and in words of imperishable truth and glory.
How shall be celebrate that passing? How shall we make our tribute to that tomb on the fringe of the West C'ountTy of England, and thereby redeem our inexcusable forgetfulness in the past?
October is a long way off, but I wish by the agency of " The Manx Quarterly" to reach readers of Manx blood and ancestry in the furthermost corners of the earth, and the seven or eight intervening months are none too many for the interchange of views and the settlement of plans.
What do you suggest? A service at St. Matthew's, Douglas? At Kirk Braddan? At Redland Green Chapel? Good. But do not forget that all the Browns, the father (Vicar of Kirk Braddan), and both his sons, were very wide in their spiritual outlook, tolerant to the limits of orthodoxy in their recognition of the Guiding Spirit of all good men. Read T. E. Brown's poem on Bishop Wilson at the foot of the Great White Throne, and his vision of the honouring there of the Magdalen in the person of Catherine Kinrade, to appreciate afresh the judgment and daring of which his faith was compounded. The aim, therefore, should be a commemoration that breathes in some distinctive way the very soul of the dead.
I shall be glad to receive letters of suggestion. and publish them in the " Isle of Man Examiner," and in the succeeding issues of " The Manx Quarterly." Give the matter some careful thought; and write me soon.
S. K. BROADBENT, Editor.