[Introduction to R.J. Moore's intended anotated edition of Stowell's works - to judge from alterations to indicate that William Gill had died they date from c.1870]
A Native of the Isle of Man
with Memoirs of the Author by his brother the
Revd Hugh Stowell
Rector of Ballaugh
With Introduction and Explanatory Notes together with an Appendix Containing brief notices of the Biographer and other leading characters referred to in the course as well as of several public characters
By Robert J Moore
High Bailiff of Peel
It is generally received as an acknowledged truism that early impressions are more lasting, and that the predilections formed in youth, cling more closely to us than those of later years
In many instances this has been the case with me - the name of Mr John Stowell was thoroughly familiar to my boyhood ears, and I was early led to consider him with feelings of national pride as the poet par excellence, of his native country - Ellan Vannin veg veen.
This feeling has never been banished from my mind. Although Mr Stowell was to a great extent "to the world unknown", I feel confident that every candid and attentive reader of his poems will admit that they possess a vast amount of rare ability, combined with genuine subtle and pungent wit - and were evidently the productions of a man of much more than ordinary brilliancy of genius and intellectual power.
Being in possession of a copy of his two principal productions "the Sallad" and "The Retrospect" (both of which had been presentations from the author to my Grandfather) and having obtained from a lady, who had been on terms of intimacy with Mr Stowell a number of his shorter pieces some of which had never been printed - it many years ago occurred to me that it would be most desirable to republish the whole of his poems, and to append a brief Memoir of their author. With the latter object in view, I commenced gathering information, and taking notes of every circumstance within my reach bearing on the subject.
Having incidentally named my intention to my old and esteemed friend the Revd John LaMothe Stowell, Vicar of German (a nephew of the Poet) he informed me that his uncle, the late Revd Hugh Stowell [1768-1835], Rector of Ballaugh , had in the early part of the present century [19th] prepared a Memoir of his brother John, but which, for some reason or other, had never been published.
His was to me the most welcome intelligence and I requested that my friend Mr Stowell would endeavour to procure the M.S. for me if possible. After many enquiries, he discovered that is was in possession of the Revd William Gill [1797-1871], the late highly respected and venerable Vicar of Malew (the son-in-law of the Biographer)* This Gentleman at once most kindly placed the M.S. in my hands giving me unreserved powers to use it as my discretion might dictate.
I then lost no time in submitting the matter to the Consideration of "The Manx Society" by whom my proposal to publish the poems of Mr John Stowell, in connection with the memoir referred to was favourably received - and the work was duly announced as one of those sanctioned by the Society for publication.
It would ill become me to attempt to improve, or alter in the slightest degree 'the interesting narrative' of so eminent a writer, and so distinguished a scholar as the late Rector of Ballaugh.
I shall therefore present it verbatim at literatim.
Inasmuch as, however several circumstances in connection with the subject of the memoir, had come to my knowledge (during my investigations previously to my being informed of the existence of the M.S.) and which are not referred to in it, I do not consider it will be infringing upon good taste in supplementing the Reverend Biographer's narrative by giving insertion of them here.
It is stated in the following memoir that "The Sallad" which appeared in 1790, was the first poem that had ever been printed in the Isle of Man. This "maiden production" appears to have been through two editions and is somewhat remarkable that this fact should have been lost light of by his biographer and further that the title of the poem appended to the Memoir is that affixed to the second edition, and differs considerably from the former one.
The copy in my hands is of the first edition which was printed in Liverpool - the second (which probably followed the other very shortly) was printed in Douglas by J Briscoe. The title of each will be found prefixed to the poem.
"The Switch for Tom the gardener or the Sallad dressed and the lamb roasted" although without a date , came out in the latter part of the same year, and was printed in Douglas.
It was not until the following year (1791) that "The Retrospect - or the memorable Events of Mona in the year 1790" appeared. This also emanated from the Manx press.
Towards the close of 1791, the Grammar School at Peel became vacant - the Revd John Christian, who had held the Mastership for some time, having been appointed in October in that year to the living of Arbory. This school was founded by Mr Philip Moore of Douglas, merchant, who by his will dated 1746 endowed the institution with the sum of £500 and nominated the Lord Bishop of the Diocese and the Twenty four Keys of the Island, trustees.
At a meeting of the House of Keys held on the 8th July 1792 they passed a Resolution appointing Mr John Stowell master, provided the Bishop would approve. The then Lord Bishop (Dr Claudius Crigan) did approve of the appointment made by the Keys and joined in it.
Upon Mr Stowell's first going to Peel to undertake his new charge, and for some time afterwards he lived in lodgings, but subsequently occupied the dwelling house attached to the Grammar School.
Towards the close of this year, Mr Christopher Briscoe, who was a printer in Douglas, started the first insular newspaper - its opening number under the title of "The Manks mercury and Briscoe's Douglas Advertiser" was published on the 27th November 1792. It consisted of 4 pages of letter press and its price was two pence British. To this paper Mr Stowell was a frequent contributor, and several of his minor pieces appeared in its pages.
Soon after the establishment of the paper some aspiring Rhymester sent his effusions to the publisher - presumptuously adopting the signature to them of "Tom the Gardener" (the nom de plume of the author of "The Sallad") In a notice to Correspondents in the "Mercury" of the 29th January 1793 the editor says - "The Verses signed Tom the Gardener are as much like the productions of the gentleman who has hitherto been distinguished by that signature as Mr Callister's songs are like Homer's Illiad. The Author ought to have his ears cropt for his presumption". The songs thus referred to, were included in a small volume of the most wretched doggerel verses imaginable published in 1785 by one Robert Callister, a Manxman but then resident in Liverpool [? Robert Collister, carpenter 13 Charlotte street in 1790]. As this literary curiosity is now exceeding scarce, I give a specimen in the appendix..
Shortly after Mr Stowell's removal to Peel, he adopted a similar course to that described in the Memoir as having been so successful in Douglas - namely the opening of a Grammar Class for Young Ladies. In the "Manks Mercury of the 7th May 1793 he issued an advertisement of which the following is a copy -
J. Stowell, successor to the Revd Mr Christian to the Classical Free School of Peel, respectfully informs the public, that he intends teaching Young Ladies English Grammar - to which purpose he means to allot extra hours, so as not to interrupt his Latin students: he judges it unnecessary to recommend a branch of Literature in such universal estimation at the present day, and particularly reputed as the greatest ornament of female education.
Terms - ½ Guinea per Quarter Entrance Money 5/-
A considerable number of young ladies in the town and neighbourhood of Peel availed themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them, and every one in after life, spoke of their instruction in terms of the greatest gratitude and of the kindest remembrance.
In 1798 Mr John Feltham published a very interesting, and accurate account of the Island. It was entitled "A Tour through the Island of Mann in 1797 and 1798" (Republished by the Manx Society in 1861, forming vol: VI of their series)
The writer in his description of Douglas, and of its progress in refinement - having "A circulating Library, a theatre, several billiard-tables, assemblies and balls" - adds -
"Well might Mona's bard exclaim
O Luxury ! whom Eastern kings revere,
Dost thou maintain a little empire here ?
Could not whole kingdoms thy desires allay,
But must poor simple Douglas be thy prey ?
Ah! see what desolation thou hast spread
Young Industry is sick and Virtue dead:
While Pride and Pomp so absolute are grown,
That friendless Modesty's kicked out of town.
And again, after describing the new pier, then newly finished, and the promenades, walks &c in the neighbourhood of Douglas, says "Happiness is, however, not even here unqualified, for as we highly estimate the Churchill of Mona, we are constrained to credit his muse, though it informs us that alas !
Douglas, the seat of scandal-nurse of pride
To ignorance by lasting ties allied ;
With self-tormenting spleen, and envious strife,
Sours her own cup, and blasts the joys of life.
Let not the peaceful stranger hope to find
An Eden here, and saints of human kind
No sooner is he landed on the quay,
Than vigilant detraction grasps her prey;
And though his kinder fates protect his life,
His fortunes suffer - or his faithful wife.
* * * *
Oh! learn to live, let pride and scandal die
Let envy make her exit with a sigh -
why does detraction through the country roam
why do you still forget you're all at home ?
And in a footnote to the charcter of the Churchill of Mona, he says - "see the Retrospect, the Sallad &c poems in 4to and 12mo. by this gentleman, no less distinguished by his poetical genius, than his modest worth and amiable deportment in private life".
Early in the following year, 1799, Mr Stowell applied to his Honor the Lieut.Governour, for the office of Notary Public, and was at once appointed. His commission was dated on the 26th January 1799, when he was sworn into office. *
During the entire time of his residence at Peel, he appeared to have identified himself most thouroughly with the place and to entered heart and soul into every project for its advancement.
In the Spring of 1799, considerable excitement prevailed in the Island with reference to a suggested change in the seat of Government, not very dissimilar to the condition lately prevailing with respect to the removal of the Courts from Castletown to Douglas. At this time there were three claimants - Castletown strenuously opposing any change, - and Douglas and Peel. each claiming for itself the honor of being selected as the seat of Government. Committees were appointed in each town and every effort used to secure success. as might be anticipated, Mr Stowell, as secretary to the Peel Committee was most zealous in his exertions on behalf of his adopted town.
A suggestion was thrown out by the committee acting on behalf of Douglas to that of Peel, that the two should join in one memorial, and pray that either of the two places should be chosen in preference to Castletown.
This was agreed to - but it was soon discovered that the Douglas people had got up and transmitted to his Grace the Duke of Athol a Memorial praying that that town should be chosen as the future seat of Government, and entirely ignoring Peel.
The news of this piece of duplicity was most indignantly received by the good people of the latter town - who upon the faith of the arrangement entered into, had not taken any steps with reference to a separate Memorial. A letter was at once sent off to the Duke of Athol informing him of what had occurred and requesting his Grace to suspend any judgement upon the Douglas Memorial until that from Peel could be conveyed to him. this letter was signed by "Geo Savage (then High Bailiff) John Stevenson, Philip Moore, Ev Christian, James Cowle, Charles Cooper, James Quirk" and was dated 4 April 1799.
On the same day a Memorial was prepared from the principal inhabitants of Peel and its neighbourhood addressed "To the Most Noble and Puissant Prince John Duke of Athol, Earl Strange, Lord of Man & the Isles, and Governor and Commander in Chief of the Isle of Man &c"
After referring to the important services which his Grace had rendered to the Island and that his interest with His Majesty's Ministers had been so successfully employed that Public Buildings should be erected &c - the Memorial went on 'to show that Peel was the most eligible situation for their erection.
Amongst other statements were the following
"That Peel being considerably the most central Town in the Island and as your Grace well knows in the same parish with Tynwald Hill where the Laws are promulgated is evidently best adopted for the accommodation of the public in General, to be the seat of Government - in which case all the northern District in particular would derive material advantage.
That Peel Castle, which might be made a singular ornament to the Island was aciently the Seat of Government and whatever partial inducement the inhabitants of Douglas may point out to have the seat of Government there - Nature gives an unquestionable preference to Peel, where also a good market and Commercial advantage might be as well established as in Douglas - And although the inhabitants of Douglas may allege in faour that it is the most populous Town in the Island (owing principally to the frequent influx of strangers who are in general mere temporary residents) yet it is far from beiung so populous as all the rest of the Island"
And it concluded by "presuming upon the friendly sentiments which your Grace was some time ago so condescendingly as to express towards Peel, most humbly crave your Grace's Influence in causing Peeltown to be made the seat of Government "&c
I may add that the draft of the foregoing letter and Memorial in Mr Stowell's handwriting are in my possession.
It is almost needless to observe that no change was made with respect to the altering the seat of Government.
The sudden death of Mr Stowell on the 21st July 1799 caused the greatest consternation in the town of Peel - which he adopted as his home - and by the inhabitants of which he was universally respected and his worth appreciated.
He was many years ago described to me by a gentlewoman who knew him intimately, as a man "overflowing with the milk of human kindness" - a warm hearted friend - a genuine wit - and though of retiring manners, a most agreeable and genial companion.
In the year 1802 the Revd Samuel Burdy of Down, Ireland published a small volume of Poems entitled "Ardglass, or the Ruined Castles; also the transformation with some other Poems" Interpersed through the piece headed "Ardglass" are several references to the Isle of Man - called in one or two places "Mona's bleak Isle". After a somewhat lengthened description of its people - trade - constitution, &c the writer at page 28 says "The authors here (I give you now to know it, save one in Peele, a solitary Poet") to this couplet is attached at page 47, a note in the following words -
"save one in Peele, a solitary poet" Mr John Stowell, since deceased who kept an endowed Latin School in that town. He published a poem price one shilling, entitled "The Retrospect; or a Review of the memorable Events of Mona in the year 1790",- in which he ridicules the Manx Parliament and censures Douglas for its pride and detraction. Our reading a few lines of his poem, which we purchased, we had a desire to see the author, whom we found in his Schoolroom at eight o'clock in the morning - a little ordinary man, with a face not very poetical. We introduced ourselves to him by informing him that we had read his poem entitled "The Retrospect", and had a curiosity to see its author. - He seemed flattered by the honour we paid him, but remarked with great gravity that we saw him rather to disadvantage that morning, as he had been drinking late the night before, and had got but little sleep, which was sufficiently evident from his bleared eyes and his breath smelling strong of spirits. The following lines taken from three separate parts of the Poem, may serve as a fair specimen of their merit
"Why does detraction thro' the Country ..[+11 lines]
"hark! Jacky Lakie gives the signal call
Enter ye bucks, half bucks, no bucks at all
and 4 following lines
and further - "In ridicule of the Manx parliament, he uses the following lines
"For senators are senators tho' Manks
As well as Pitt and Fox with all their Pranks
That notice of the foregoing extract from the book in question reflecting upon Mr Stowell's personal appearance and habits, is as unmerited as it is contemptibly illiberal. It savours strongly of an enviously jealous feeling on the part of Parson Burdy (as the Revd Author of "Ardglass was generally known during his residence in the Island) towards a poetical brother who was in every way as poet infinitely his superior !
The very manner in which by his own account the Revd S Burdy intruded himself upon Mr J Stowell and his after conduct in publishing the detracting notice of him show at once what style of man he himself was. He appears to have utterly forgotten the good old maxim "De mortuis nil nisi bonum".
It has lang been the practice of writers on all subjects who were desirous of preserving an incognito to adopt a nom-de-plume. The subject of our notice appears to have had a partiality for a strange variety of signatures. The following list will show the diversity of names assumed by him from time to time "Tom the Gardener", "John Sharpe Junior" "Candidus", "Philanthus", "Americus" "Juvenis" "Humanus", "Infelix".
It occurs to me that this work would scarcely be complete were it to omit a brief reference to the Reverend Author of the Memoirs of the Poet
Instead however of extending the length of this introduction by its insertion here I shall reserve the notice of the late Rector of Ballaugh for the appendix.
And inasmuch as another opportunity may not present itself, and as other members of the same talented family occupied conspicuous positions in this their native Isle - one on the Bench and the other in the Pulpit I purpose adding a few remarks on the two individuals to whom I have referred - namely Thomas Stowell Esq, Clerk of the Rolls and the Revd Joseph Stowell - the brothers of the poet and of this biographer
Exception may possibly be taken by a few fastidious persons to the carelessness of some expressions occasionally used by the poet and I may not escape censure for reproducing them.
*--- in draft but not fair copy - probably intended for an appendix ---
His application was as under
Peeltown 22 Jany 1799
By the advice of some of the principal inhabitants of this place I take the liberty of applying to your Honor for the appointment of Notary Public, - an advantage possessed by all the other towns in the Island and through the want of which masters of vessels put into this port are occasionally subject to great inconvenience.
I am with great respect
Your Honor's most obedient servant
The Honorable Alexander Shaw Esq
To this he received the subjoined reply from the Clerk of the Rolls of the day -
The Governor being himself unwell, direcrts me to acknolwedge the receipt of yours of the date, and to inform you that the appointment requested meets with approbation (?) ; he also directs me to mention to you that if you will attend him on Saturday night a commission will then be given and you sworn into the office of Notary Public.
Your mo: ob: Sevt
Mark H Quayle
Castletown 22 Jany 99
Mr John Stowell, Schoolmaster, Peeltown
It is a little curious that the original letters above quoted are in my possession.