[From Manx Quarterly, #2 June 1907]
MANX LIFE ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO.
The following extracts from the third volume of a scarce book in the British Museum, entitled " The Itinerant; or, Memoirs of an Actor," by S. W. Ryley,* which relate to a visit to the Isle of Man, and a brief residence in Peel, in 1795, will, I think, be of interest to your readers.
A. W. MOORE.
[FPC - what is even more interesting are some of the sections -shown in green - not included by Moore ! probably remembering that S.K. Broadbent was a leading Methodist - Unfortuneately the Mrs Clarke has not yet been located in property records to identify the cottage - Clarke is not uncommon in Peel - the proximity of the Methodist chapel woul place it somewhere on shore road between Bridge street and Stanley road]
In Sept., 1795, we sail'd from Liverpool in the Duke of Athol Packet. Amongst the passengers, which consisted of about thirty, were seven of that respectable body of people called Quakers; they were accompanying a very old lady, who left America with the charitable intent of being useful to her fellow creatures, in the way of salvation. These good people, and indeed I know no denomination of persons that deserve the title so well, had undertaken the voyage from the purest motives; they were all opulent, of course could have no mercenary views, or even a wish of gaining popularity, or obtaining a single proselyte; their sole intention was, in the old lady's language, "to stir them up, and to awaken the Manx people from their slumbers." This she attempted in every town upon the Island, but I fear without much effect.
After a pleasant, though tedious voyage of two days and a half, we anchored in Douglas Harbour, amidst as animated a scene as ever I remember to have witnessed, occasion'd by a numerous fleet of fishing smacks just leaving the port as we enter'd it, their white sails unfurl'd and bending before the breeze; this gave a degree of life to the view which greatly increased its natural beauties, and added an exhilaration to the spirits truly delightful.
I must here remark that without introduction, the inhabitants of Mona are very backward in noticing strangers, yet this can scarcely be called a fault, when we consider the number of unprincipled refugees who fly to the Island as a place of sanctuary. Of this description were several of the most "dashing" inhabitants at this period, who lived in " style " upon the means that ought in justice to have been appropriated to their creditors.
It was our intention to make a pedestrian tour of the Island, but the weather proved so intensely warm, through September, that we were induced to take a chaise to Peel Town. The roads are excellent, without turnpikes, and posting cheap (nine pence per mile) ; upon second thought, I do not know whether that can be called cheap, for travelling is subject to no tax whatever; the chaises are deplorably shabby, and the rough, uncouth, ill-matched horses, harnessed to the carriage with ropes, or sometimes with bands of hay, certainly make a great difference in the expense, to say nothing of the comfort.
Peel is a small fishing town, chiefly inhabited by that description of people; and whilst the men are thus employed, their wives perform the whole of the harvest work and drudgery, and may, in fact, be called the slaves of the other sex; who, if the weather be unfavorable for their usual occupation, are seen sleeping on the shore or under hedges, instead of assisting the females in their daily toil, disgusting pictures of sloth and idleness. Indeed, the character of the Manx people, as far as I could judge, is unamiable; they are unfriendly, cunning, suspicious, over-reaching, and avaricious; yet with all this, very devout in their way; before they go to sea on the most trifling excursion, you see them laid upon their oars, with their hats off, making a long prayer. To finish their character, they are deplorably ignorant, ridiculously superstitious, and believers in fairies and second sight. It was Sunday when we arrived at the only miserable inn* the place afforded; after supper, I ordered some punch, but could not obtain it, because there was no water in the house, and the landlord (though drunk himself) was too devout to suffer any of his family to go to the well on the Sabbath day. I merely mention this, to corroborate what I advanced respecting the stupid inconsistency of the natives; nor is this a singular case, 'tis the general character of the people. Perambulating the town on the following day, I was struck with the appearance of a neat little cottage, within ten yards of the sea at high water, and, on inquiry, found it was to be let ready furnished.
The situation was truly desirable; the ruins of Peel Castle presented a magnificent object to the eye, and relieved that monotony such a vast expanse of water must have produced, though diversified by trading vessels skirting the horizon, or sometimes a smuggling cutter at anchor within a mile of the shore. In the vicinity there was excellent fly fishing, and a moderate supply of game and wild fowl. These various local circumstances strongly recommended Peel Town as a residence, but the house was furnished, consequently my furniture would be superfluous; besides the inhabitants neither manufactured cloth, nor were apparently capable of receiving entertainment from the stock of knowledge I had imported for their edification, and my own profit; at any rate there could be no harm in looking at the house, and enquiring the terms; the premises consisted of a sitting room, kitchen, and two bed chambers, very neatly furnished, and amply supplied with linen of every description; in short, it was a convenient, comfortable place, and the owner hoped we should not think three shillings a week an unconscionable rent! This, in my mind, stamped its excellence, though I conceived it my duty, ere I closed the bargain, to continue our tour, and find, if possible, a "lucrative" as well as pleasant situation. With this intent (as there was no chaise in Peel), I hired a couple of horses, miserable both in their appearance and accoutrements; however, they answered the purpose, though without conveying to the casual observer either respectability or " éclat."
Ramsey is of considerably larger extent than Peel, and the country in a much higher state of cultivation, with an extensive and commodious bay; but, to my eye, everything was dull and sombrous. Though I endeavor'd to divest myself of prejudice, and to examine the place and people with an eye of candour, every object appear'd in shade, dark, heavy, and opaque; in fact, the Peel cottage subverted my judgment, and irrefragably propell'd me to its delightful vicinity.
... threw a damp. upon those energies; which exhilarated my mind during the ride, the cause of which I could not conceive, and, requested an explanation:
" Sir," said the truly innocent creature, whilst a modest blush added to her native beauty, " we hear you belong to the stage, and my mother is fearful you mean to. have plays here we are methodists sir, and take in the preachers, and you know it would. be quite out of character to have preachers, and players under the same roof! "
I could scarcely avoid smiling at the poor girl's simplicity, at the same time certain feelings arose in my mind, of an unpleasant nature. The cottage was a temporary seclusion, on which my mind was strongly bent, but to take possession against the will of the owner, was inimical to every feeling of comfort, and the thought could. not be indulged for a moment; accordingly I determined to return to Douglas in the chaise which brought us, but on sending to the inn, the carriage was gone. Mrs. Clarke, the owner of the house, hearing this; waited upon us, and requested " I would make myself easy, we were welcome to rernain a few days, or till we could suit ourselves with another habitation ; for her own part, she did not know what plays were, but was told they were very wicked things, and she should never forgive herself, if there was to be one, in her house !"
From the whole of this discourse, I found her in reality so ignorant of the nature of a play, that she fancied I had taken her cottage, for the sole purpose of a. public. exhibition, at which I could not avoid a smile, on reflecting that the largest room in the house occupied a space of about nine feet square. I took some pains to convince her of the nature, and likewise the tendency and morality, of plays, though without the smallest intention of remaining her tenant; but ere we.had been a week in the house, such a revolution took place in the minds of the whole family, that, they one and all entreated our stay; this, as being perfectly congenial with our feelings and convenient on the score of economy, we gladly consented to, and during the three months residence at Peel, found centered in this worthy family every goodness and virtue that could adorn uncultivated minds.
Mrs. Clark's house and ours had originally been one dwelling; and as doors of communication still remained, every transaction, that took place in one part, was liable to be overheard in the other ; thus were we daily, almost hourly, annoyed by their audible piety which, joined to the nasal harmony introduced by the compositions of Messes. Wesley andWatts, which they never ceased chaunting "both in season and out of season,"' fully convinced me, that these pious people literally worked out their salvation with fear and; trembling. Our sitting room was unfortunately over theirs; and every evening the most pitiable supplications, attended with groans and sighs, accompanied our repast, and generally concluded with a burst of singing, so loud and coarse; that the very windows gave trembling evidence of: their powerful lungs.
Unpleasant, as this really was, the people were so virtuous, so kind, so truly innocent, that, though they were righteous over much, I knew they were sincere, and whatever way of. thinking. I might be inclined to favor;: though perhaps more rational, my moral practice was so far short of theirs, that no remonstrance from me ever checked their rhapsodies, or; interrupted their devotions. Once indeed, a circumstance happened, which called forth my indignation; as I stood one evening at the door of my cot listening to the returning tide, which broke almost beneath, my feet, my ears were assailed with shrill and plaintive moanings, now and then followed by a deep, and more full toned voice. Although rather a ludicrous comparison, it put me in mind of a pack of beagles in full cry, with whom a large southern hound generally ran, whose deep howl served as a kind of bass. The Methodist chapel lay close behind my house, from whence the voices seemed to proceed; I walked that way, found the door open, and perceived, by the light of a dim horn lanthorn, about a dozen girls, between the ages of six and ten, kneeling round an old woman, who, upon inspection, proved to be, our laundress ; she was a great devotee, and accounted an highly gifted person, a, sort, of apostolic saint: with hands clasped,; eyes uplifted, and features convulsed by, the energies of enthusiasm, she was beseeching the Almighty,. "to spare the children from the pains of hell fire; to awaken, convince, convert, and receive them amongst the elect; and though they were born in sins, and dead in treslrassëã to wash ,and cleanse them in the blood of the lamb." At every period of a very long supplication, she sent forth a most piteous groan., which was caught: likea contagion by the children, who wiped and blew their little noses, which, from the tears and alarms the old woman had created, distilled a copious quantity of mucilaginous matter; and between groaning; tears, snot, and slaver, the poor little brats were in a fair road to salvation.
At the impulse of the moment, such a profanation of sacred things led me to enter the chapel and drive them all out; but on. second thoughts I left them, and brought Mrs. Clarke, who, though a great enthusiast, was not deaf to reason. After listening some time, "Well, Madam, said, I what do you think of this?' "Why, sir," she replied, "Martha is a good, and an enlightened woman, nevertheless her zeal sometimes carries her too far; not that I blame her endeavours to awaken in these young minds a sense of spirituality, for I assure you,.we have many in our society not more than twelve years old, who have received the day of grace, and experienced the forgiveness of their sins; and you know, our blessed Lord says, " Father I thank thee, that thou hast hid these things from the:wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes and sucklings." Conceiving argument would only, be a useless' waste of words, and loss of time, for credulity is with them the pearl of great price, I returned to my cottage, and finished the evening with " Zimmerman on Solitude."
Douglas is the principal town on the Island, greatly exceeding the others in population, refinement, and, of course, in expense. The inhabitants, generally speaking, are independent, indolent, dissipated, and, above all, curious after every trifling occurrence that may supply food for conversation, in which defamation bears no inconsiderable part. The Whitehaven packet was ready to sail, but the wind for three weeks proved contrary, and a long bill at the inn was the consequence,
* London : Printed for Taylor and Hessy, 93 Fleet Street, 1808. 3 vols., 12mo.
*The writer evidently means that there was only one inn and that it was a miserable one.