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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
“Gens Wallensis habet hoc naturale per omnes
Indigenas, primis proprium quod servat ab annis,
Nec soleis plantas, caligis nec crura gravantur
« Then forth, from sea-girt Albion's farther coast;
Of the wild Welsh, he call'd a num'rous host,
And all the fiery Welshman's innate ire.
Which from their earliest ancestors they draw,
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
Coram latrone tutior, quam phalaratus ditior.".
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
per Hic solummodo, nunc articulatur,
Ne in tanto crimine moriaris, cave.
“Nonne de militibus milites procedunt?
“Paulus cælos rapitur in superiores
“Propter hæc et alia dogmata doctorum
Reor esse melius, magis et decorum
“Proximorum fæminas, filias et neptes
“Ecce jam pro clericis multum allegavi
Necnon pro Presbyteris plura comprobavi,
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,
A worse paire enough, the other srswith him brought,
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