Imágenes de páginas


To the Editors. GENTLEMEN, The paucity of original publications in the Welsh language, at the present day, does not appear to furnish sufficiently ample materials for the scope of Cambrian criticism. In this dearth of literary novelty in our tongue, and in order to supply its defect, there is nothing which appears to me so appropriate as occasionally to present your readers with a review either of some of our own more ancient authors, or of those Saxon and Gallic writers who have made Wales or Welshmen the subject of their lucubrations; from both these excursive fields of black-lettered lore, the most abundant harvests may be collected. As introductory to a literary disquisition of this local character, I now take the liberty of handing you a few extracts from some works of this description, not very generally known.

Although our neighbours, both in England and in France, seem disposed, on all occasions and in all periods of our history, to render due homage to the valour and intrepidity of the ancient British, yet, by way of counterpoise to this complimentary concession, they never fail to make the alleged ferocity, irascibility, abject poverty, and brutality of our ancestors, the constant subjects of their sarcastic reproaches. Some of these foreign writers, more especially the poets, have depicted our forefathers as entirely devoid of any the least pretensions to any degree of refinement or civilization; in short, as absolute savages : with what colour of justice, we shall be able to demonstrate in the sequel. One of them in particular, William Britto, a French writer, in the reign of Richard Cæur-de-Lion, in the fifth book of his Philippeidos, a poem, written, as its name imports, in praise of Philip, the then reigning monarch in France, is thus pleased to express himself on the occasion of the invasion of that country by a numerous army of Welshmen, under King Richard.

“ Protinus extremis Anglorum finibus agmen

Wallorum immensum numero vocat, ut nemorosa
Per loca discurrant ferroque, ignique, furore
Innato, nostri vastent confinia regni.

“Gens Wallensis habet hoc naturale per omnes

Indigenas, primis proprium quod servat ab annis,
Pro domibus sylvas, bellum pro pace frequentat,
Irasci facilis, agilis per devia cursu,

Nec soleis plantas, caligis nec crura gravantur
Frigus docta pati, nulli cessura labori.
Veste brevi, corpus nullis oneratur ab armis
Nec munit thorace latus, nec casside frontem,
Sola gerens, hosti cædem quibus inferat arma,
Clavam cum jaculo, venabula, gesa, bipennem
Arcum cum pharetris, nodosaque tela, vel hastam:
Assiduis audens prædis, fusoque cruore."


« Then forth, from sea-girt Albion's farther coast;

Of the wild Welsh, he call'd a num'rous host,
To waste our sylvan plains with sword and fire

And all the fiery Welshman's innate ire.
“ Of Cambria's sons, this ever was the law,

Which from their earliest ancestors they draw,
War to prefer to all the charms of peace;-
Fleet in the course, their vigour to increase,
They choose the devious paths; to anger prone;.
Their only dwellings are their woods alone;
Unshod they run, nor galligaskins wear,
By habit taught th’ extremest cold to bear.
In toil and labour none can them exceed;
Short are their vests, no armour elogs their speed,
Their heads no helm, their breasts no coat of mail :
Serves to protect when enemies assail;
A bow, a knotted club, a hunter's spear,
Their only armas against their foes appear;
In plunder they incessantly delight,

And their first pleasure is the bloody fight.” The“ irasci facilis” may still, perhaps, be considered a prominent feature in the moral physiognomy of our countrymen; but the progress they made in general civilization, in less than a hundred years after the death of Richard Cour-de-Lion, is established by the following Leonine verses, which are not without their interest as a literary curiosity.

“ Mores antiqui Britonum, jam ex convictu Saxonum
Commutati in melius, ut patet ex his clarius,
Hortos et agros excolunt, ad oppida se conferunt.
Et loricati equitant, et calceati peditant,
Urbanè se reficiunt, et sub tapetis dormiunt,
Ut judicentur Anglici, nunc potius quam Walliei.
Hujus si quæratur ratio, quietius quam solito
Cur illi vivant hodie, in causâ sunt divitiæ,
Quas citò hæc gens perderet, si passim nunc confligeret.
Timor damni hos retrahit, nam nil habens nil metuit,
Et ut dixit Satyricus,-Cantat viator vacuus

Coram latrone tutior, quam phalaratus ditior.".
The author of these lines, from his attributing the incipient


civilization of the Welsh to their intercourse with the English, ex convictu Saxonum," as well as to their acquisition of some portion of wealth, was probably himself a Saxon." He proves that, in his time, our ancestors not only wore shoes and stockings, but that they were in the habit of visiting the towns, of conducting themselves with decorum and politeness at their meals, and further, that they cultivated the arts of agriculture and horticulture, and actually slept in beds with tapestry hangings! The luxury and refinement of modern times can scarcely exceed this description; and yet this great change for the better in their habits and manners was effected in less than a century from that period in which William Britto describes them as savages, wandering almost naked in their mountain forests, without a roof to shelter them.

In the reign of Henry the Second, when the Pope forbade the clergy their wives, and inhibited them from marriage, Madoc Hên Gwyllt, a Welsh priest, produced a dozen couplets, in Latin rhymes, on the occasion, which are so far worthy our notice, as not being altogether devoid of humour, as summing up some of the principal arguments against clerical celibacy, and, more particularly, as fixing the period when the English Catholic clergy were first forbidden to marry by papal ordinance.

The only reward the poet modestly asks for his poetry, is a Pater noster to be said for him by every married clergyman and his lady.

“ Prisciani regula penitus cassatur
Sacerdos per Hic et Hæc olim declinatur,

per Hic solummodo, nunc articulatur,
Cum per nostrum Præsulem Hæc amoveatur.
“Ità quidem Presbyter cæpit allegare,
Peccat criminaliter qui vult separare
Quod Deus injunxerat, fæminam amare,
Tales dignum duximus fures appellare.
“O quam dolor anxius! quam tormentum grave!
Nobis est dimittere quoniam suäve,
O Romane Pontifex! statuisti prave,

Ne in tanto crimine moriaris, cave.
“Non est innocentius, immó nocens veré
Qui quod facto docuit, studet abolere,
Et quod olim juvenis voluit habere,
Modo vetus Pontifex, studet prohibere.
“Gignere nos præcipit vetus testamentum,
Ubi novum prohibet nusquam est inventum,
Præsul qui contrarium donat documentum
Nullum necessarium his dat argumentum.
“Dedit enim Dominus maledictionem
Viro qui non fecerit generationem.
Ergo tibi consulo per hanc rationem
Gignere, ut habeas benedictionem.

“Nonne de militibus milites procedunt?
Atque reges regibus sibi qui succedunt?
Per locum a simili, omnes jura lædunt,
Clerici qui gignere crimen esse credunt.
“ Zacharias habuit prolem et uxorem
Per virum quem genuit adeptus honorem,
Baptizavit enim nostrum Salvatorem:
Pereat, qui teneat novum hunc errorem !

“Paulus cælos rapitur in superiores
Ubi multas didicit res secretiores
Ad nos tandem rediens, instruensque mores,
Suas (inquit) habeat quilibet uxores.

“Propter hæc et alia dogmata doctorum

Reor esse melius, magis et decorum
Quisquis suam habeat et non proximorum,
Ne incurrat odium et iram eorum.

“Proximorum fæminas, filias et neptes
Violare nefas est, quare nil disceptes,
Verè tuam habeas, et in hâc delectes,
Diem ut sic ultimum tutiùs expectes.

“Ecce jam pro clericis multum allegavi

Necnon pro Presbyteris plura comprobavi,
Pater noster nunc pro me quoniam peccavi,

Dicet quisque Presbyter cum suâ Suävi.” That ancient historical poet old Robert of Gloucester, may be considered a Welshman, from his having been a monk in Llanthony Abbey, during the earlier part of his life. This writer brought the English language to a very high degree of perfection, for the time in which he lived. In the following characteristic anecdote which he gives us of William Rufus, there is not a single word which is not perfectly intelligible at present, and scarcely

one which is not good English at this day: there is also a smoothness in the metre very remarkable for the age. It is further observable that his language in the construction of its phrases, and more particularly in the collocation of the words, bears a much closer affinity to the Norman-French than to the old Saxon or ancient British. It is a very pointed satire, told with great naïveté, on the pride of the great for costly apparel, merely

for its cost, abstractedly from any other consideration.

“As his chamberlayne him brought, as he rose on a day,

A morrow for to wear, a paire of hose of Say,
He asked what they costned,—Three shillings, he said.
Fie-a-dibbles! quoth the king, who sey so vile a deed ;
King to wear so vile a cloth! But it costned more,
Buy a paire for a marke, or thou shalt ha corry fore.

A worse paire enough, the other srswith him brought,
And said they costned a marke, and unneath them he bought.
Aye, bel-amy, quoth the king, these were well fought,
In this manner serve me, other ne serve me not.”

When Henry the Eighth, soon after the Pope conferred upon him the title of Defender of the Faith, translated Dr. Mountayne from a Welsh bishoprick to the see of Lincoln, a curate of the diocess he quitted, Evan Pugh, wrote this Latin distich, which is inserted in *Owen's Epigrams:”

“Defensor fidei montem de sede removit,

Mira fides montem quæ removere potest!"

Which may be thus Englished:

“The Faith's Defender moves Mountain from this see,

Mountains to remove, how great his faith must be!"

One of the best arguments that can be adduced against the alleged ferocity of our ancestors, may certainly be found in the peculiar softness and harmony of their language. In the history of nations, it has always been observed that a people must have attained a very considerable degree of civilization before their vernacular tongue becomes capable of musical expression: the perfection of the language of every country may be considered the best criterion of its moral and intellectual refinement. Here, methinks, I hear one of your Saxon readers exclaim, “But surely: sir, with all your partiality to the Principality, you do not mean to assert that the Welsh language has any pretensions to melody or sweetness? the Welsh, so harshly grating to the ear, so redundant in double consonants and gutterals, that the late Mr. Justice Hardinge is reported to have said, on the Brecon circuit, ‘I would rather give up the emoluments of my office, than try a cause in so barbarous a language!'". To this I answer, Yes, I do maintain, notwithstanding this judicial authority, that of all the modern languages of Europe, the Welsh is the softest and the most harmonious, and the most capable, from the vast variety of its inflections, of admitting a continual reduplication of alliterative repetitions in its cadences. In this it strongly resembles the Provençal Romanesque of the Troubadours of the south of France, now a dead language, but from which the early Italian poets formed their own melodious verse. If we compare some of the relics left us of Taliessin with the verses of Sordello, a celebrated Troubadour of Provence, as they are now extant, in a manuscript in the French king's library in Paris, we must be instantly struck with the similarity which exists between the mechanism of the rhythm and metre of the two poets, each abounding with syllabic alliterations which

« AnteriorContinuar »