[Taken from The Manx Church Magazine Vol v #3 Mar p. xxxiv]

Bishop Phillips Prayer Book : A Review

"The Book of Common Prayer in Manx Gaelic, being translations made by Bishop Phillips in 1610, and by the Manx Clergy in 1765. Edited by A. W. Moore, M.A., assisted by John Rhys, MA., LL.D., professor of Celtic in the University of Oxford. Douglas, Isle of Man : Printed for the Manx Society, at the University Press, Oxford, by Horace Hart, Printer to the University." Vol. i, 1893 ; vdl. ii, 1894. Manx Society’s Publications, vols. xxxii and xxxiii.

The first book printed and published in Manx was " The principles and duties of Christianity, by Thomas, Lord Bishop of Sodore and Man "; this was printed in 1707. In the preface Bishop Wilson says " All which are here translated into Monks, and, I hope, as well as can be expected, considering that this is the first book published in this language."

The Manx Society have now given us the text of a Manx translation of the Prayer Book, hitherto existing only in manuscript, made a century earlier than the date just mentioned ; " by so doing," says Professor Rhys, in the preface to vol. i, " they have laid Celtic scholars under a lasting obligation, and have set an example worthy of being followed by many a more numerous society in Great Britain and Ireland." For more than ten years the Manx Society published nothing ; it is to be hoped that this sign of renewed activity, with so valuable a book, will prove to be but the first of a series of annual volumes of equal importance.

The manuscript from which the text of Bishop Phillips’ Prayer Book is printed is in the possession of the Rev Hugh S. Gill, Vicar of Malew, the newly-appointed Archdeacon of Man, and is the only copy known to be now in existence. It had been copied out with a view to its being used in public worship some 15 to 20 years after the original translation had. been completed in 1610. This can be shewn from the Litany, where Charles I and his Queen are mentioned (he came to the throne in 1625), but their son, afterwards Charles II, who was born in 1630 is not named. The whole of morning and evening prayers are wanting, the MS. beginning with Quicunque vuit ; this is due no doubt to frequent use in Church, for experience shews that just that part of the Prayer Book becomes shabby and dilapidated sooner than any other.

Mr Moore has carried out his work as editor with a thoroughness and ability which are worthy of all praise. In a short but interesting " Biographical Memoir " he gives all the information that can be gathered about Bishop Phillips. He was a native of North Wales. In 1579 he took his B.A. degree at Oxford ; and in 1587 he was appointed Rector of Andreas, and Archdeacon of Man. This did not prevent him, however, from accepting other clerical appointments in England to be held at the same time, and during this period of his life the Isle of Man does not appear to have seen much of him. In 1605, on the removal of Bishop Lloyd to Chester, he was appointed Bishop of Sodor and Man, still however retaining his Archdeaconry. He set himself earnestly to the work of learning Manx, and within five years of his appointment to the Bishopric he had completed the translation of the Prayer Book ; which he wished the clergy of the diocese to use in public worship as an improvement on the plan, which had hitherto prevailed, of each one translating the service from the English Prayer Book into Manx on the spur of the moment. The work, however, met with little or no favour with his clergy, whose prejudice was perhaps due to the fact, as suggested by Mr Moore, that it was " the work of a stranger." So utterly did all knowledge of the translation die out that in 1663 Bishop Barrow writes of the Manx " their is nothing either written or printed in their language." Those who are competent to give an opinion speak well of this translation. It is more direct and forcible than that which was issued a century and a half later, in fact, Mr Moore says that so far is the complaint of the clergy of the seventeenth century from being true, viz., that they could not read or understand it, that he has read this version to those who have a knowledge of Manx, " by whom it has been, for the most part, easily understood." Of course, after the reception it met with, through jealousy or prejudice, the Bishop’s scheme of having it printed was not carried out, though manuscript copies were made, as we have seen, for those who wished to use it in public worship.

We have no contemporary account of Bishop Phillips beyond certain notices scattered here and there in public records, chiefly dealing with disputes with the Governor. He died in 1633 ; and Chaloner, writing 25 years later, speaks of him as a " singularly Learned, Hospitable, Painful, and Pious Prelate "giving him also praise for his zeal in mastering the Manx language.

To all who are interested in the science of language, these two versions in parallel columns, one by a Welshman, who spelt the words phonetically, the other 150 years later, by native Manxmen, are singularly valuable. Most valuable, also, is the Essay at the end of vol. ii, by Professor Rhys, on " The Outlines of the Phonology of Manx Gaelic". We frankly say that we must leave the reviewing of this portion of the work to those whose scientific knowledge is sufficient to enable them to follow and appreciate the learned Professor on an obscure subject with which he is peculiarly qualified to deal ; we wish, however, to say a few words about the chatty preface of eight pages, in which he gives an account of how his study of Manx began, and how it has been pursued. His object was to trace the phonetics of the language from the Prayer Book of nearly three centuries ago to the pronunciation of our own time. In order to do this thoroughly and satisfactorily he was " fortunate enough to find opportunities of studying the pronunciation of every parish and of most of the villages in the island " Professor Rhys speaks warmly of his visit to the Isle of Man, but he also speaks with sadness of the decay of Manx. " Except when haunted by the thought of the rapid extinction of Manx as a living language, I used to enjoy my study of it greatly " (p. x.) " It is to me a cause of grief and profound sadness to see how rapidly the men and women who can talk and read Manx are disappearing" (p. ix). "One cannot help contemplating with sadness the extinction of a language, even though confined to such a small area as the Isle of Man ; but the idiom of the Lancashire ‘tripper‘ must triumph, and it is not rash to prophesy that in ten or fifteen years the speakers of Manx Gaelic may come to be counted on the fingers of one hand" (p. ix).

We are confident that the same feeling of sadness is experienced by every true Manxman when this possibility is contemplated. We are proud, and justly so, of our language, which is as ancient as Erse and Scotch Gaelic, and much older than Welsh. In Ireland their is a society for preserving the native language, and it is still extensively used in parts of the country, especially in the west. Every traveller in the northern and western parts of Scotland must have come home impressed with the extent to which the native tongue is used among the people ; and in Wales it is by no means dying out, hut from one end of. the country to the ether energetic means are taken to keep the language alive, and even to extend its use. Why then should Manx be doomed ? It is true that the area within which it is spoken is smaller than that of any of the other three countries named ; but this ought not to make it more difficult of preservation. On the contrary it should make it more easy to concentrate any effort to keep it alive. We trust that some practical suggestions may be made to this end, and we hope that the Editors of the " Manx Church Magazine" will admit correspondence in its pages from those qualified to give practical advice towards accomplishing this. The Manx Church did much, both in the 17th and 18th centuries, towards preserving the native language of this island. We sincerely trust that some scheme may be devised by which it may be possible for the same to be done in our own time.

It is fortunate that so skilled a phonologist as Professor Rhys came amongst us before Manx has ceased to be a spoken language ; and every Manxman must be deeply grateful to him for the prominence he has given to our language in the scientific world, and the valuable information he has imparted even to Manx scholars in his exceedingly interesting essay. In conclusion we have to congratulate Professor Rhys most cordially, in behalf of all true Manxmen, on his recent election to the Principalship of Jesus College, Oxford.

[the review was unsigned - possible author was Rev E. B. Savage.



Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001