Between Wales and England: Anglophone Welsh Writing of the Eighteenth Century

Between Wales and England: Anglophone Welsh Writing of the Eighteenth Century

by Bethan M. Jenkins


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ISBN-13: 9781786830302
Publisher: University of Wales Press
Publication date: 05/15/2017
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Bethan M. Jenkins is senior library assistant at the Bodleian History Faculty Library at Oxford University and Librarian-in-Charge at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine.

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Between Wales and England

Anglophone Welsh Writing of the Eighteenth Century

By Bethan M. Jenkins

University of Wales Press

Copyright © 2017 Bethan M. Jenkins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78683-032-6



'What have I, who am a Welshman, to do with English Poetry?' So wrote Evan Evans (Ieuan Fardd or Ieuan Brydydd Hir; 1731–1788) in 1772, in the preface to his English-language poem The Love of our Country. So far is that question from being answered even today that the English-language productions of primarily Welsh-language authors in the eighteenth century continue to be neglected or ignored. Even following Raymond Garlick and Roland Mathias's efforts in The Anglo-Welsh Review and the anthology Anglo-Welsh Poetry: 1480–1980 in tracing Welsh writing in English back as far as c. 1480, or more recently Sarah Prescott's 2008 analysis of eighteenth-century examples, Elizabeth Edwards's 2013 work on Anglophone Welsh responses to the French Revolution, and Jane Aaron's work on nineteenth-century Women's writing, there is still a pervasive notion that the movement – if it can be so termed – began in the twentieth century with Caradoc Evans's My People (1915), or the late nineteenth century at a stretch. English works of earlier authors such as those I will go on to discuss have often been treated as aberrations if they are noticed at all, as shameful examples of the 'contributionism' of a willingly assimilated people, perhaps, or coded resistance to the dominant Anglophone hegemony.

Lewis Morris (Llewelyn Ddu o Fôn; 1701–1765), Evan Evans and Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg; 1747–1826), the three main focal points of this study, produced the majority of their literary works in Welsh, and it is upon these works that their modern reputation rests. Lewis Morris was a prolific letter-writer, noted polymath and antiquary, driving force behind the founding of the still-extant Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, and poetic tutor. Evan Evans's poetic reputation hangs on a single work, Englynion Llys Ifor Hael [The Englynion of the Court of Ivor the Generous], and his fame as a scholar upon his collection and publication of the poets of the Age of Princes in Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh Bards (1764). Edward Williams's reputation, for good and ill, rests mainly upon poetic forgeries successfully presented to the world as the rediscovered work of great medieval Welsh poets, and his elaborate invented tradition of Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, the Bardic Assembly of the Island of Britain, whose grand pageant still presides over the major prizes at the National Eisteddfod today. The deprecation of these poets' English-language output has a political dynamic, as well as a (debatable) aesthetic one. As a consequence of the dominant position of English within the post-1536 British polity, it became important to emphasise the pre-eminent literary worth of Welsh-language poetry within Wales and to the rest of the world, a process begun with Evans's Specimens, and which became especially critical in the twentieth century with the more dramatic decline in numbers of Welsh speakers and a further marginalisation of Welsh culture. This neglect of prominent Welsh-language authors' English works can be traced to the supreme over-determination of language as the last remaining marker of difference between a politically united Wales and England, and the heavy and conflicting moral burden placed upon authorial language choice.

This marker of difference was potentially a hindrance to the creation of a unified British identity. The now-infamous 'language clause' of the 1536 Act of Union, which finally incorporated Wales legally as 'part of an expanded England or Greater Britain', laid out the reasons for the desirability of unity in language:

[T]he people of the same dominion [Wales] have and do daily use a speche nothing like ne consonaunt to the naturall mother tonge used within this Realme ... his highnes therefore of a singuler love and favour that he beareth towardes his subiectes of his said dominion of Wales minding and entending to reduce them to the perfecte order notice and knowlege of the lawes of this his Realme and utterly to extirpe alle and singuler the sinister usages and customes differinge frome the same and to bring his said subiectes of this his Realme and of his said dominion of Wales to an amiable concorde ...

Branding the language unnatural whilst offering the gentry an opportunity to participate fully in the English-language machinery of the state accelerated the pace of linguistic change, creating the conditions for a potential psychological rift for those trying to live between two countries which were now ostensibly one. Though Welsh was not banned, the provision that no-one could hold state office 'unless he or they use and exercise the English speech or language' had the result of raising the status of English at the expense of Welsh. The attempt at 'extirping' the language that was the one distinction left between the two countries was a deliberate act of colonial imposition, and resulted in English gradually becoming the means of polite, educated and ecclesiastical communication, proficiency in that language being required for social acceptability in court and gentry society.

One need only look at the stock Welsh caricatures in English drama to see the derision heaped upon Welsh English. Enshrining the relative status of each language in law brought the process of denigrating Welsh to the fore, and began a tendency among some of its speakers to debase their own language. Gruffydd Robert's 1567 personification of the Welsh language surveyed the traffic between Wales and England, condemning what would now be termed 'code-switching' as an outright betrayal of an identity now entirely embodied in the language.

E fydd weithiau'n dostur fynghalon wrth weled llawer a anwyd ag a fagwyd im doedyd, yn ddiystr genthynt amdanaf, tan geissio ymwrthod a mi, ag ymgystlwng ag astroniaith cyn adnabod ddim honi. Canys chwi a gewch rai yn gyttrym ag y gweland afon Hafren, ne glochdai ymwithig, a chlowed sais yn doedyd unwaith good morow, a ddechreuant ollwng i cymraeg tros gof, ai doedyd yn fawr i llediaith: i cymraeg a fydd saesnigaidd, ai saesneg (dyw a wyr) yn rhy gymreigaidd. A hyn sy'n dyfod naill ai o wir pholder, yntau o goeg falchder a gorwagrwydd. Canys ni welir fyth yn ddyn cyweithas, rhinweddol mo'r neb a wado nai dad, nai fam, nai wlad, nai iaith ...

[Sometimes my heart feels pity when I see many, who were born and bred to speak me, speaking unmindfully about me, even trying to reject me and dallying with a foreign tongue before knowing her at all properly. For you find some as soon as they spy the River Severn or the spires of Shrewsbury town, and hear an Englishman saying once 'Good Morrow' beginning to forget their Welsh and pronounce it with an affected accent: their Welsh becomes anglicised, and their English (God knows) is too Welshified. And this arises either out of sheer coquetry, or from a false pride and vanity, for one would never see a virtuous balanced man denying his own father and mother and country and language ...]

To switch between languages is evidently seen as switching between identities, renouncing one as the other is adopted. Even Lewis Morris, who, as we shall see, was a supporter of union, wrote in 1754 that '[o]ur Chief Men here have forgot their Native Tongue, to their Shame and Dishonour be it spoken.' Other Welsh writers also recognised the importance of the language in relation to identity and autonomy. Jeremy Owen noted in a sermon on The Goodness and Severity of God (1717) that

'Tis hardly known but that the Language of a People is lost with their Liberty; the Conquest of a Land has generally issu'd (in process of Time) in the Conquest of the Language: The Conquerors have given Law to Words as well as Actions, and to the Tongue as well as to the Customs and Manners of the Nation conquer'd.

Such statements are common in Welsh prefaces and sermons of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the inclusion of such a sentiment in an English-language loyal sermon of the eighteenth century is a more delicate matter. Earlier in the same sermon, Owen writes of the inclusion of Wales into the wider state apparatus:

And in the time of Henry VIII of the British Blood, we were completely incorporated in to the English Nation, and enjoy'd thenceforth the same laws and Privileges with themselves. And tho' there had been such Contention and shedding of Blood, yet from thenceforward no Subjects more peaceable, or made more easy. Neither have we any separate Interest from theirs; nor are we to reckon ourselves as Two distinct Bodies, but as one and the same Body Politick with the English.

Owen's peaceable, quietly subservient and servile Welshmen have been subsumed into the English body politic; such slips provide a glimpse into the truth of the 'British' situation. English is the language of the British state. Accessing Britishness can therefore only be legitimately done through the medium of English; does that then mean abandoning Welshness along with the language? The need to prove, and even over-prove, loyalty during the unstable climate of the recently formed union with Scotland and the subsequent Jacobite threats conflict with an awareness of linguistic and racial differences. Such conflicts explain the dualities present in works such as Owen's, where declarations of unstinting loyalty force the repression of those differences that leak out elsewhere in the texts in their references to conquered countries and languages. The choice of language itself is a major factor in such repression, both politically and psychologically. Edward Lhuyd (1660–1709), Evan Evans and Edward Williams are all examples of writers at different times who felt able to speak their minds more plainly in a language the authorities did not understand, and who are far less radical in their published English writing.

Even after Wales's formal legal absorption into the British nation in the Acts of 1536 and 1542, the Welsh were still viewed by themselves and by the English as distinct. The notion that the English and Welsh were two separate races was a mainstream view in the eighteenth century, a theory apparently supported by biblical origin myths, as well as linguistic and antiquarian research. This is not to say that all the myths of the origins of the Ancient Britons were accepted unquestioningly – Polydore Vergil, and others before him, had cast a sceptical eye over the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the sixteenth century, and myths of descent from Brutus of Troy were by this time widely ridiculed. The two cultures saw themselves as distinctly and essentially different, whether or not one also accepts Linda Colley's thesis in her influential book, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (1992), that by the end of the eighteenth century, most inhabitants of the British Isles also, first and foremost, saw themselves as Britons. Though Defoe's famous poem highlighting the genetic blending of the island's inhabitants seems to support the notion of a racially various and intermingled isle, it should be noted that 'that het'rogeneous thing' is an Englishman, not a Briton, 'and Englishman's the common name for all' (The True-Born Englishman, 1701). Lewis Morris himself admitted the likelihood of Cymric absorption into the culture of the invading Saxons rather than a wholesale fight into the west in a letter from Castle Bromwich in 1753:

It is really my opinion that the bulk of ye people are still the old Britains. They have the same dress, the same customs and manners, and all except the language, and I dare say the words which we suppose were mostly borrowd by us from ye English are words the English found in ye country among ye natives. Where could the Loegrian natives go to on ye Saxon conquest? There was not room for them in Wales.

A blended ethnicity and therefore a hybrid identity would seem to be the answer to the ever-present spectre of racial antagonism within a unified multiethnic state, and the expression of such a desire reoccurs periodically from commentators of all nations. In 1630, Sir William Vaughan expressed a hope for conciliation and unity:

I reioyce, that the memoriall of Offaes Ditch is extinguished with loue and Charitie; that our greene Leekes, sometimes offensiue to your daintie nostrils, are now tempred with your fragrant Roses: that (like the Gibeonites) we are vnited and graffed into Israel.

In the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold speaks of the Celts 'conquering their conquerors' by allowing 'the greater delicacy and spirituality of the Celtic peoples who are blended with us ... to make itself prized and honoured'. This is that nebulously ethereal mysticism that had begun to be associated with the Celt from the time of Thomas Gray's Bard (1757) and the publication of the Ossian fragments (1760 onwards), and which reached its zenith in the Celtic twilight pseudo-mysticism of Yeats's time, the 'feminine dimension' that tames and contains the Celt, the cloying sentimentality of the Romantic image of the Celtic as site of a living melancholy past. The position of commentators such as Arnold, recognising the difference between the two peoples, yet hoping to create an amalgam of the better parts of the two, may be explained by the adherence to a notion of the need for progress, and the cult of improvement that Paul Langford identifies, which 'emphasized moral and material progress rather than an intellectual state.' The truth of the matter was that in order to be accepted as a modern Briton and not be ridiculed as a backward Taffy, a person had to adopt the trappings of metropolitan Englishness such that they could pass as English. English became the norm from which everything else was viewed as deviant. The perceived worth of the culture of the dominant English rose during this century as Britain expanded in size, wealth and confidence, and the Welsh at gentry level were encouraged to take it up, and consequently so too did the middling sorts. You were legally British if you did not, but it was quite plain that you were a lesser being because of it. As Kirsti Bohata has noted:

Welsh culture, raided for its 'valuable' artefacts, its useful stories, was seen as inferior to English culture. An obvious way to avoid the inferiority attached to Welshness was to become English – a solution denied to most of the subjects of the British Empire. Yet the possibility of 'full' acculturation, while offering certain privileges, is not without serious problems of its own. For all the difficulties of learning a new language and adopting new manners, changing oneself is surely much easier than challenging the hegemony.

The acres of material satirising those who failed to conform to this Anglified Britishness attest to this truth – Sawney on his 'boghouse' and Shenkin 'of noble race' upon his goat being merely the pleasanter tip of an iceberg whose darker racist undertones can be seen in satires on the Irish.

Welsh satirists countered that abandoning native culture to blend in with the English norm was an unnatural act. Ellis Wynne of Lasynys (1671–1734) consigns to his hell those Welshmen whom he accuses of ucheldremio ar wychder y Saeson [gazing aloft at the wondrousness of the English]. Dic Siôn Dafydd, the Anglophile, anglicised, self-loathing Welshman, has become a proverbial character in Welsh culture, reinforcing the linguistic difference and animosity between English and Welsh cultures, and above all their separateness; it is no coincidence that this character emerged in the eighteenth century, brought to life in the eponymous poem by the radical London Welsh man John Jones (Jac Glan-y-Gors; 1766–1821). Given these two opposing viewpoints, the position of a Welsh writer writing in English can be seen as a precarious one, especially when that writer is also a Welsh speaker. Where Welsh writers of the earlier age of humanism had a third alternative for scholarly and poetical endeavours in the relatively apolitical lingua franca of Latin, the rise of English as a language of literary and scholarly esteem meant that Welsh writers of certain classes increasingly found themselves not merely writing in another language, but in the language of the antagonistic Other, a language not of their land. Discussing the twentieth century, Stephen Barbour points to the importance and divisiveness of language as a marker of national identity in Wales, and suggests that

[Of the countries of the United Kingdom] [o]nly in Wales ... is language a potent symbol of national identity, albeit a sometimes divisive one, alienating people who are monoglot English speakers, but who nevertheless feel themselves to be Welsh ... It is perhaps justified to postulate two indigenous ethnic groups in Wales: English-speakers and bilinguals.

In the eighteenth century, where the position of the language was in reality quite secure (in spite of the perceptions of the Welsh literati concerned about the encroaching of English into the country), we might postulate three 'indigenous ethnic groups', being Welsh speakers, bilinguals and English speakers, though few indeed of those. These linguistic divisions ran broadly along class lines, with those at the lower end of the social scale being mostly monoglot Welsh, and a continuum running from bilingual to monoglot English of the middling and professional sorts through to the gentry.


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Table of Contents

Series Editors' Preface ix

Acknowledgements xi

Preface xiii

1 Welsh writing in English and the idea of Britishness 1

2 Lewis Morris; the proud, hot Welshman 33

3 Evan Evans: a multiplicity of discouraging circumstances 72

4 Edward Williams: the Jack daw in borrowed plumes 104

5 Patronage: supported with insolence, paid with flattery 139

6 Translation; you must give them names in Welsh 173

Notes 199

Bibliography 227

Index 243

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