T. E. Brown
“the greatest man, the finest brain, the noblest heart, the largest nature that we can yet call Manx”
Hall Caine’s words come closest to expressing the feelings that readers of T. E. Brown have about him and his place at the heart of not just Manx literature but the very idea of Manxness itself. In reading his poems and letters, it is hard to imagine them as anything but perfect and that Brown himself was something other than the quintessence of all that is Manx; he is The Manx Poet, and so much more.
Holding such a worthy place in Manx hearts, the story of Thomas Edward Brown’s life might seem unremarkable. Born in New Bond Street, Douglas on the 5th May 1830, raised at the Vicarage at Braddan, Brown was educated at King Williams College and Christ Church, Oxford. He went on to a career as a school teacher, first as Vice-Principle at King Williams College for eight years and then as second master at Clifton College near Bristol. He spent nearly 30 years at Clifton, from 1864 until his retirement in 1892, when he returned to live in a house overlooking the Mooragh Park in Ramsey.
Despite living most of his adult life off the island, Brown’s love of the Isle of Man was evident to all who knew him and it is unmistakable in his writings. The first of his poems to appear in book form was ‘Betsy Lee’, the best known of his Fo’c’s’le Yarns, published in 1881. His other instalments of poems in Manx dialect were published also during his time in England and it was only his final collection, Old John and Other Poems, that was published during his years as resident on the Island.
To read his poems gives a good idea of the deep store of kindness, humanity and wisdom in T. E. Brown, a picture widened by the letters that he wrote throughout his life. In him the Isle of Man was blessed by that rare meeting of a great poet and great human being. That his interests were focussed on the island and on Manxness in general only serve to deepen his claim to the place closest to all Manx hearts.
“It is in his writings that we will live,” wrote his friend, Canon J. M. Wilson after his death. Reading his poems and letters now, there is little doubt in the truth of these words.
[Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage]
Works by T. E. Brown
Fo’c’s’le Yarns (1881)
The Doctor (1887)
Kitty of the Sherragh Vane and The Schoolmasters (1887)
The Manx Witch and Other Poems (1889)
Old John and Other Poems (1893)