Open main menu
This page has been validated.

tongue. Morgan Llwyd wrote many other books in Welsh and English, all more or less in the vein of the first book.

During the remaining years of this period, the prose output of the Welsh press consisted mainly of devotional books, written or translated for or at the instigation of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The Established Church, with the help of this society, made a gallant attempt to lighten the darkness of Wales by publishing books of this description, and it is mainly due to its exertions that the lamp of Welsh prose was kept burning during these years. Among the clergy who produced books of this description were Edward Samuel (1674–1748), who published among other works Holl Ddyledswydd Dyn, a translation of The Whole Duty of Man (1718); Moses Williams (1684–1742), a most diligent searcher into Welsh MSS. and translator; Griffith Jones of Llanddowror (1683–1761), the father of Welsh popular education; Iago ab Dewi (1644?–1722) and Theophilus Evans (1694–1769), the famous author of Drych y Prif Oesoedd (1716 and 1740). This book, like Llyfr y Tri Aderyn and Y Bardd Cwsc, has an established position for all time in the annals of Welsh literature.

We come now to the greatest of all Welsh prose writers, Ellis Wyn o Lasynys (1671–1734). His first work was a translation of Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living, under the title of Rheol Buchedd Sanctaidd (1701). His next work was the immortal Gweledigaethau y Bardd Cwsc (1703). The foundation of this work was L’Estrange’s translation of the Suenos of the Spaniard Quevedo. Ellis Wyn has certainly followed his original closely, even as Shakespeare followed his, but by his inimitable magic he has transmuted the characters and the scenery of the Spaniard into Welsh characters and scenery of the 17th century. No writer before or after him has used the Welsh language with such force and skill, and he will ever remain the stylist whom all Welsh writers will strive to imitate. The magic of his work has endowed the stately idiom of Gwynedd with such glamour that it has now become the standard idiom of Welsh prose. See Stern, Z. f. celt. Phil. iii. 165 ff.

7. The Rise of Popular Poetry, 1600–1750.—When Henry VII. ascended the throne, the old hostility of the Welsh towards the English disappeared. They had realized their wildest hope, that of seeing a Welshman wearing “the crown of London.” Naturally enough, therefore, the descendants of the old Welsh gentry began to look towards England for recognition and preferment, and their interest in their own little country necessarily began to wane. The result was that the traditional patrons of the Welsh muse could no longer understand the language of the poets, and the poets were forced to seek some more profitable employment. Besides, the old conditions were changing; the medieval traditions were indeed dying hard, but it gradually and imperceptibly came about that the poets of the older school had no audience. The only poets who still followed the old traditions were the rich farmers who “sang on their own land,” as the Welsh phrase goes. A new school, however, was rising. The nation at large had a vast store of folk-poetry, full of all the poetical characteristics of the Celt, and it was this very poetry, despised as it was, that became ultimately the groundwork of the new literature.

The first landmark in this new development was the publication in 1621 of Edmwnd Prys’s metrical version of the Psalms (followed by later editions in 1628, 1630, 1638 and 1648), and of the first poem of the Welshmen’s Candle (Cannwyll y Cymry) of Rhys Pritchard, vicar of Llandovery (1569–1644). This was published in 1646. These works were not written in the old metres peculiar to Wales, but in the free metres, like those of English poetry. The former work is of the utmost importance, as these Psalms were about the first metrical hymns in use. They are often rugged and uncouth, but many of the verses—such as the 23rd Psalm—have a haunting melody of their own, which grips the mind once and for ever. The second work, the first complete edition of which was published in 1672, consisted of moral verses in the metres of the old folk-songs (Penillion Telyn), and for nearly two centuries was the “guide, philosopher and friend” of the common people. Many other poets of the early part of this period wrote in these metres, such as Edward Dafydd o Fargam (fl. 1640), Rowland Fychan, Morgan Llwyd o Wynedd and William Phylip (d. 1669). Poetry in the free metres, however, was generally very crude, until it was given a new dignity by the greatest poet of the period, Huw Morus o Bont y Meibion (1622–1709). Most of his earlier compositions, which are among his best, and which were influenced to a great extent by the cavalier poetry of England, are love poems, perfect marvels of felicitous ingenuity and sweetness. He fixed the poetic canons of the free metres, and made what was before homely and uncouth, courtly and dignified. He wrote a cywydd marwnad to his contemporary, Edward Morus o’r Perthi Llwydion (d. 1689), who was also a poet of considerable merit. Most of his work is composed of “moral pieces” and carols. Other poets of the period were Sion Dafydd Las (1650–1691), who was among the last of the family bards, and Dafydd Jones o Drefriw (fl. 1750). Towards the end of the period comes Lewys Morys (1700–1765). His poetry alone does not seem to warrant his fame, but he was the creator of a new period, the inspirer and the patron of Goronwy Owen. According to the lights of the 18th century, he was, like his brothers Richard and William, a scholar. His poetry, except a few well-known pieces, will never be popular, because it does not conform to modern canons of taste. His greatest merit is that he wrote the popular poetry then in vogue with a scholar’s elegance.

8. The Revival, 1750–1830.—The two leading figures in this period are Goronwy Owen (1722–1769) and William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717–1791). Goronwy Owen wrote all his poetry in the cynghanedd, and his work gave the old metres a new life. He raised them from the neglect into which they had fallen, and caused them to be, till this day, the vehicle of half the poetical thought of Wales. But he was in no way a representative of his age; he, like Milton, sang among a crowd of inferior poets themes quite detached from the life of his time, so that he also, like his English brother, lacks “human interest.” After Dafydd ab Gwilym, he is the greatest poet who sang in the old metres, and the influence of his correct and fastidious muse remains to this day. William Williams, however, wrote in the free metres in a way that was astoundingly fresh. It is not enough to say of him that he was a hymnologist; he is much more, he is the national poet of Wales. He had certainly the loftiest imagination of all the poets of five centuries, and his influence on the Welsh people can be gauged by the fact that a good deal of his idiom and dialect has fixed itself indelibly on modern literary Welsh. Besides the hymns, he wrote a religious epic, Theomemphus, which is to this day the national epic of evangelical Wales. Even as Goronwy Owen is the father of modern Welsh poetry in the old metres, so William Williams is the great fountain-head of the free metres, because he set aflame the imagination of every poet that succeeded him. With two such pioneers, it is natural that the rest of this period should contain many great names. Thomas Edwards (Twm o’r Nant) (1739–1810) has been called by an unwarrantably bold hyperbole, “the Welsh Shakespeare.” Most of his works are interludes and ballads, and he used to be very popular with the common people; he is, to this day, probably the oftenest quoted of all the Welsh poets. William Wynn, rector of Llangynhafal (1704–1760), is the author of a “Cywydd of the Great Judgment,” which bears comparison with Goronwy Owen’s masterpiece. Evan Evans (Ieuan Brydydd Hir) (1731–1789) was famous both as a poet and as a scholar and antiquarian. Edward Rhisiart (1714–1777), the schoolmaster of Ystradmeurig, was a scholar and a writer of pastorals in the manner of Theocritus. Most of the other poets who flourished towards the end of this period—Dafydd Ddu Eryri (1760–1822), Gwallter Mechain (1761–1849), Robert ab Gwilym Ddu (1767–1850), Dafydd Ionawr (1751–1827), Dewi Wyn o Eifion (1784–1841)—were brought into prominence by the Eisteddfod, which began to increase in influence during this period until it has become to-day the national festival. They all wrote for the most part in cynghanedd, and the work of nearly all of them is marked by correctness rather than by poetical inspiration.