T.E. Brown

TEB is, as we all know, little read and known not at all outside of the Isle of Man. His fate, like other figures of Victorian fiction and poetry, is similar to that of George Borrow, influential in his day but now equally neglected. As was written recently of him and his decline in popularity: “Since then he has suffered the characteristically British fate of a decline into biography.” [Duncan, Ian. “Wild England: George Borrow’s Nomadology.” Victorian Studies 41.3 (1998): 381–93.] This too has happened with TEB; for example Winterbotton, Derek. T.E. Brown: His Life and Legacy. Douglas: The Manx Experience, 1997. Much earlier, though a different kettle of fish, is Tobias, Richard. T.E. Brown. Twayne’s English Authors Series. Ed. Herbert Sussman. Vol. 213. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978. Tobias has shown himself to be a sensitive critic of TEB and this is an essential read for those even mildly interested in him.

Personally, I think I was first put off TEB by that gloomy memorial room to him in the Manx Museum (of which more in another post). But recently I have come to reading (and rereading for that matter) the letters gathered in Irwin’s two volume edition from 1900 and there are any number of themes that you can draw upon from the material there. In fact, his letters are peppered with phrases that easy serve as titles for articles and much more and may be a better way into TEB that mere biography suggests.

The Irwin reference properly is Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900. To be added is Dakyns, Andrew Graham, and Belinda Robinson, eds. Newly Discovered Letters of T.E. Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation, 2004. Also of note is Morrison, Sophia. “New Letters from T.E. Brown.” Mannin 9 (1917): 519–23. Anon. “Some Unpublished Letters of T.E.B.”  T.E. Brown: A Memorial Volume, 1830–1930. Ed. Isle of Man Centenary Committee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930. 173–201. Finally, Morrison, Sophia. “T.E. Brown–Egbert Rydings.” Mannin 9 (1917): 505–10.

The Irwin set can be downloaded from the Internet Archive (as can the majority of TEB’s poetry for that matter). The links for the letters are:
Vol i = http://archive.org/details/lettersb01browuoft
Vol ii = http://archive.org/details/letters_02browuoft

I will post what I find interesting from the letters (and hope others are equally interested as well) in this thread rather than starting separate threads.

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10 thoughts on “T.E. Brown

  1. In 1930, it was the centenary of TEB’s birth and duly set up was the “Isle of Man Centenary Committee” who commissioned a set of essays that were published by Cambridge University Press (though one imagines with a financial subvention by the said Committee, one doubts that CUP was taking a punt themselves on the likely success of the title). Contained within it is a remarkable voice of dissent about TEB and one wonders how this was allowed to stand given the tone of veneration throughout the book.

    “Brown went early to King William’s College, and, after his years at Christ Church, the Island knew him no more in his working days save as a visitor with a slight taint of the “come-over” on him. In the normal course Brown would have passed more and more out of the orbit of Manx ways and ideas, and nourished only a quietly sentimental interest in the land of of his birth. His ways were set in the English countryside beside the loveliness of the Avon Gorge, and his speech was that of the cultivated Englishman.” [Costain, Rev. A.J. “The Manx Poems.” T.E. Brown: A Memorial Volume, 1830–1930. Ed. Isle of Man Centenary Committee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930. 151–67.]

    First of all here is the fact that TEB had lost whatever Manx accent he ever possessed: this the first and only reference that I know of about this topic. Then there is the pastoralist theme: TEB nolonger belonging to the Manx countryside but now that of England as represented by the phrase of “the loveliness of the Avon Gorge.” Finally, the idea that time spent away from the Island led to one becoming less and less Manx (“more and more out of the orbit of Manx ways and ideas”) and then retaining a mere “quietly sentimental interest in the land of of his birth.” This idea about the English countryside standing in for a changed TEB is echoed by his own view on the Manx weather as already posted.

    However, for someone being celebrated here as the “Manx National Poet” this is a somewhat damning statement about the man.

  2. TEB on AW Moore (from 1885).
    “Now, Frederick, go back over your old stores, and send me some good human stuff from “the Parish.” I am quite hungering for it. You are just in the position, and you are just the man, to get this sort of thing. Poor Arthur Moore may work away at his old soakless, screeching, rusty-fusty, archaeological pump for ever, and he’ll get up a lot of sound like enough: but it is nothing to what you can get, simply by going to the living heart of the actual, living people. If a man’s contemporaries are not to him the matter of supreme interest, then he better attend to “double entry,” and the rest of it.”
    [Letter from the Rev. T.E. Brown to Rev. F. La Mothe, 5 October 1885. In Dakyns, Andrew Graham, and Belinda Robinson, eds. Newly Discovered Letters of T.E. Brown. 2 vols. Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation, 2004.]

  3. TEB on his “possession” of the Manx people:

    (1) “My poor fishermen, and farm-labourers, and miners—there they are, delightful as ever!”
    [Letter from the Rev. T.E. Brown to H.G. Dakyns, 23 May 1892. . In Dakyns, Andrew Graham, and Belinda Robinson, eds. Newly Discovered Letters of T.E. Brown. 2 vols. Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation, 2004.]

    (2) “Unutterably precious to me is the woman, the native of the hills, almost my own age, or a little younger, whose spirit is set upon the finest springs, and her sympathies have an almost masculine depth, and a length of reflection that wins your confidence and stays your sinking heart.”
    [Letter from the Rev. T.E. Brown to S.T. Irwin, 28 November 1893. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. i. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900.]

    (3) Out for a walk in Sulby Glen, “[…] meditating tea. Get people at Cottage to ‘boil’ a kettle. […] Beautiful girl at Cottage, try to get my companion to see her with my eyes. Failure; Cowley assents, not enthusiastically “thoroughly Manx face.” The rest silent—yet the child (say 17) was simply exquisite.”
    [Entry for 24 May [1894], 36, in diary kept by Rev. T.E. Brown, fragments for 1894, now in Notebook B, MNHL, MS 1302 A.]

  4. Walking for TEB was more than exercise and I will return to this theme when I hunt out the references I was really looking for…. Until then here are some short extracts.

    (1) Walk from Ramsey to Glen Aldhyn and then on to Glen Roy. “Flask of whiskey gradually drained; very strong; fast asleep by W. fall.” Waterfall, junction of Glen Roy / Glen Ballacowin. [Entry for [December 1894], 64, in diary kept by Rev. T.E. Brown, fragments for 1894, now in Notebook B, MNHL, MS 1302 A.]

    (2) “I had a big walk on Wednesday and Thursday, and am rather stiff and knocked up. The symptoms are not encouraging! Am I really going to turn my face to the wall? It’s no use living if I can’t walk and climb cliffs. Not the very smallest atom, it isn’t.”
    [Letter from the Rev. T.E. Brown to H.G. Dakyns, 21 March 1896, in Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900.]

    (3) “Yesterday Dora and I went up Sulby glen, taking with us two lady friends. We caught it, and no [194] mistake. About eight miles of drench and bellowing. The ladies had to get changes of raiment and wait till their own ‘things’ were dry.”
    [Letter from the Rev. T.E. Brown to S.T. Irwin, 25 February 1897, , in Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900.]

  5. “I discovered a new country”

    This is the Ballaugh Curragh:
    [5] “I discovered a new country, the flat land lying between the hills and the north shore, more particularly that portion of it which we call the Curragh (agh strong guttural). The Curragh is a green bog, many miles in extent. It is full of bog-plants : for instance, there are whole acres of that most lovely flower the bog-bean. I had conjectured the beauty of this level space, with its sweet winding ways, and in ‘Tommy Big-eyes’ I had expressed what was after all a merely superficial appreciation. Now I know it. The haunt of innumerable cuckoos, the home of gorse and such [6] delights, dreams so soothing made up of soft creamy vapours dreams that are creams in fact, not whipped into artificial luxuries, but placid, smooth, and all but unctuous. So I was very happy there: few people, those that I met very simple and good: for instance, a dear nice woman who was proud of the bog-bean, and knew its habitat and the changes of its condition. I felt how much can be done by level surface. The glen, with its rocks and waterfalls and steep hillsides, I absolutely ceased to care for.
    [Letter from TEB to J.R. Mozley, 10 January 1894. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 5–8.]

    [185] “Behold me! rather tired, but jolly enough, just the excuse required for not going to church, or, indeed, anywhere this glorious morning. Tarver and I walked yesterday for some seven hours. We went to Ballaglass and found it a ‘mash’ of primroses, with just a sprinkling of timid little blue-bells.
    Tarver about the Isle of Man is excellent. He is no doubt a most subtle person, and knows precisely what I want him to feel; but I really think he has the root of the matter in him. Fancy his going in for the Curraghs with all his heart and soul! The Curraghs, mind ye! think of that! and ‘him a sthraanger … what? And knickerbockers arrim! and belts all flyin’ about his jacket eh? A Norfolk jacket they’re callin’ it?–aye, aye! you’ll get lave though! you’ll get lave!”
    [Letter from TEB to Edith Brown, 23 April 1893. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. i. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 185.]

    [186] “Ballaglass is delicious in the sunlight with the beechen spray breathing over it. Also its primroses are good, also its blue-bells. As yet the blue-bells are hesitant, or apologetic. Of course you know that later on they will attend the funeral of the primroses with a mighty mourning of hyacinthine blooms; and then they will become quite cheeky and truculent, and make the ground their own. But now the Curragh is in its absolute perfection.
    I had a solitary ramble which lasted all day yesterday in Ballaugh Curragh. The bog-bean is everywhere and in extraordinary form. Do you know it? One of the loveliest, I think, of marsh plants. It insists upon growing right in the water. And the water is so still, and therefore so clear. All bog, observe, black, tremendous bog, i.e. the bottom; but what with reed and rush and flower, the Curragh, the combination of land and water, the inextricable labyrinthine twining of the two elements, is a thing marvellous to see, to smell, and indeed to hear. For the cuckoos were innumerable, and corn-crakes scraped their rasping celli with unwearied vigour. Then the feel of the air I have tried to indicate it in ‘Tommy Big Eyes’–the tactual effect of it on a skin dry and chapped with sea-salt, drawing the acrid crystals from the epiderm, soothing, filling up, I making good repairs,’ caulking, renovating.”
    [Letter from TEB to H.G Dakyns, 6 April 1893. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. i. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 185—87.]

    [34] “The day before yesterday I walked fifteen miles! and was not very tired. The day was glorious. The way led through curragh and gorse hedges (banks); and I picked a big nosegay of primroses. This first-born of the spring is now in splendid form–bless it!”
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin 18 March 1894. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 33—34.]

    [95] “Gorse has been terribly retarded, but it will now assert itself; and, before another month has passed, I shall be in the Curragh, among the bog-bean and listening for cuckoos. Mist lies upon the ground, but above it there is fine blue air, and the sea is blue. Take a good walk, and tell me about it.”
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin 17 March 1895. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 94—96.]

    [101] “Yesterday we were at Ballaugh Curragh to get the bog-bean. It was most glorious. The flower was in perfect bloom, just at its akme, and we could have gathered cart-loads. Probably no daintier beauty decorates the British Isles. It is so delicate, so complex, and so distinguished. We also found the bog-violet in great abundance.”
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin 12 May 1895. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 101—02.]

    [208] “To-day I got out into the Curraghs, and picked some bog-bean, the very perfection of a lovely flower complicated to an exquisite delicacy both of form and [209] colour. I picked my specimens to a fine accompaniment of cuckoos, not so numerous as usual; but think of the thermometer!”
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin 13 May 1897. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 208—10.]

    [218] “We have had some excellent walks, and we shall have more, if matters go on like this.
    For instance, my stile-walk on Peel Hill–Mountains of Mourne unquestionably distinguishable, no possibility of doubt, as you know there sometimes is!
    The Curragh walk.”
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin 11 July 1897. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 218—20.]

    [220] “It is rather late for some of the good things. We were reminded of that yesterday in rambling through the Curragh. The bog-bean was all over, the cuckoo [211] had gone. But certain reeds and grasses were magnificent, and your husband was so delighted that to-day he is off there again, sketching.”
    [Letter from TEB to Mrs Worthington, 11 July 1897. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 220—21.]

  6. “[F]ull of Keltic [sic] frenzy”

    [270] “He [ie, MacCace] was at the Burns dinner in Douglas, where I spoke last January. He won’t believe I’m not Scotch.”

    [270] MacCace: “full of Keltic [sic] frenzy.”

    [Letter from the Rev. T.E. Brown to H.G. Dakyns, 20 October 1895. In Dakyns, Andrew Graham, and Belinda Robinson, eds. Newly Discovered Letters of T.E. Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation, 2004, 269—72.

  7. “[M]aking Anglo-Manx dialect the basis”

    [83] “I have an idea that Mr. M.’s new book [ie, Manx Ballads and Music (1896)] will show plainly that we have arrived at the last squeak of the Manx language proper. So I think what we have now to do is to make a new start, making Anglo-Manx dialect the basis. In its turn this will probably become obsolete, but meanwhile the catastrophe will be deferred by your stories, and, perhaps I may add, mine.
    Let us then make all we write very good and sound Manx timber, Manx calking, Manx bolting, Manx everything. Manifestly we shall not appeal to strangers, nor in fact, hope to make a penny by them. Neither will the Manx public defray the expense of pen-and-ink and paper.”
    [Letter from TEB to Eygbert Ridings, 19 January 1895. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 83–84.]

  8. “[T]his ironic cloak of rusticity?”

    [224] “A very kind letter from Ainger. But how funny it is that so many people are surprised that I can write decent English verse! They had focussed me as a dialectic poet, a man of the people, imperfectly educated, and so forth; and they seem rather impatient at my venturing in a new and more cultivated field. What ought I to do ? Shall I put on my next title-page ‘Late Fellow of Oriel,’ &c.? or am I always to abide under this ironic cloak of rusticity?”
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin, 5 November 1893. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. i. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 223–24.]

  9. “[W]ho is to perpetuate the traditions?”

    223] “I went to Douglas on Friday week and saw Dora off by the boat. So I went to the Head, the Marine Drive. […] As I advanced on my walk I had other things to think of. It is my old parish; every knoll and nook haunted by a thousand memories. And indeed I felt rather sad. The thought that troubled me was this who is to perpetuate the traditions? They must go with me. The whole business will be a perfect blank; not only tribal traditions, but family. My children know next to nothing of them. And these traditions are the most precious deposit, though not of a nature to be made public. ‘The wind passeth over it, and [224] it is gone; and the place thereof knoweth it no more.’
    Under this burden I stumbled on. The new generation must build the fabric of its own interests, and the old must vanish. Yet there are families in which, by some strong vital force of projection on the one hand and a retrospective adhesiveness on the other, all that is best and worthiest is transmitted. It was never so with us. We live vigorously in the living present, and extract the gold from the current years, being amply satisfied with contemporary relations. I alone have tried to build a cairn of memories in my books. But that is nothing. This isolation is the nightmare that oppresses me. If, in another world, I could find my brothers, restored and fitted for the converse, what a joy it would be! Perhaps it will be so. This is a long monody. Do forgive me!
    [Letter from TEB to S.T. Irwin, 5 November 1893. In Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. Vol. i. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900, 223–24.]

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