Footsteps of Liberty and Revolt: Essays on Wales and the French Revolution

Footsteps of Liberty and Revolt: Essays on Wales and the French Revolution


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All of Europe was swept up in the events of the French Revolution and the radical restructuring of society that occurred in its aftermath. This collection of essays by leading academics explores how Welsh clerics, diplomats, singers, poets, journalists, and soldiers—many of whom traveled to Paris to witness the conflict firsthand—responded to the Revolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780708325902
Publisher: University of Wales Press
Publication date: 06/15/2013
Series: University of Wales Press - Wales and the French Revolution
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 9.40(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Mary-Ann Constantine is a senior research fellow at the University of Wales’s Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, where Dafydd Johnston is the director.

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Footsteps of Liberty and Revolt

Essay on Wales and the French Revolution

By Mary-Ann Constantine, Dafydd Johnston

University of Wales Press

Copyright © 2013 The Contributors
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7083-2590-2


Introduction: Writing the Revolution in Wales

Mary-Ann Constantine and Dafydd Johnston

Glimpsed briefly in the vast crowd of characters with walk-on parts in Simon Schama's epic account of the French Revolution, we find:

fashionable orators and writers like the ecumenical vegetarian Robert Pigott (who extended the message of fraternity into the animal kingdom) and the Quaker David Williams, both English pilgrims at the holy place of Liberty.

These are, implies Schama, minor oddities, amusing marginals, their expressions of faith in the fraternal and internationalizing ideals of the early years of the revolution ('civic sentimentalism', he calls it) part and parcel of their eccentricity. Quakers! Vegetarians! The lofty ideals of the French Revolution have had some curious adherents indeed. But eccentricity – off-centredness – depends a great deal on where you are standing in the first place. While it is true that Robert Pigott (brother of the better-known Charles Pigott, author of the contentious Political Dictionary (1795)) was hardly a major player in the revolutionary drama, his particular 'eccentricity' has at least formed a continuous discrete strand within radical thinking since at least the Civil War. And as for the second character – if he is indeed the David Williams most obviously present in Paris in the 1790s – then he was neither English nor a Quaker, but a renowned political and religious theorist and educationalist, born near Caerphilly and resident in London; the author of Letters on Political Liberty (1782) and of a deist liturgy welcomed by Voltaire and Rousseau, and the founder of the Literary Fund which bailed out 'Men of Genius and Learning in Distress', among them the newly married Coleridge, George Dyer and Iolo Morganwg.

The shrinking and distorting of David Williams in this particular historical narrative is not surprising. Citizens has a cast of thousands and is laudably Francocentric – neither Thomas Paine nor even Edmund Burke receive a great deal of attention either. But this jolting moment of recognition is an extreme example of a relatively common occurrence to anyone working on Welsh culture – people and texts that seem central, canonical, mainstream in Wales appear as if viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, terribly distant and indistinct; or in a circus mirror, made ridiculous. Often they are 'present' as a glaring absence. This is, to some extent, both inevitable and necessary; it is how human and cultural relations work, and not everyone starts from the same centre. One of the great achievements of Romantic-era literary criticism over the last two decades has been the revelation of very different perspectives on the same historical events through studying a much richer, much more diverse range of texts. Thanks to digital tools, such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and thanks to armies of scholars working to publish texts from the edges of the traditional literary canon – letters, pamphlets, diaries, marginalia – we also have a finer sense of how ideas and opinions rippled through the networks and groupings of the period, of who knew whom, who read whom, and when. The importance of an author has come to depend, at least to some extent, on one's own centre of gravity at any time.

And centres of gravity have shifted. Another achievement in the last twenty years has been the evolution of devolution, of 'four nations' or 'archipelagic' criticism, which offers multiple perspectives on the period informed by the cultural differences of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This school has been responsible for a surge of writing on literature from Scotland and Ireland in particular, much of it testing the possibilities for national identities, and even national Romanticisms, as they were played out within the comparatively new political entity of Britain. Of the four, Wales has been the Cinderella nation, misrepresented and overlooked. The reasons for this neglect are complex. In the late eighteenth century itself, as a result of its early union with England, Wales barely registers as a separate culture within certain types of legal and political discourse: as Rémy Duthille has noted, the language of those seeking parliamentary reform within Britain takes little account of the regions, even of Scotland, and virtually none at all of Wales. And although by this period many of the London Welsh were demonstrating their cultural confidence through what Murray Pittock terms 'the performance of the self in diaspora', some of the most influential Welsh voices on the wider international stage (notably Richard Price and David Williams, both discussed in this volume) express little interest in 'Welshness' in their public (or even their private) writings. There are, then, areas of discourse within the period where Welshness simply does not show up. On the other hand, as recent work has demonstrated again and again, the idea of Wales loomed large in the Romantic imagination: Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Blake, Bloomfield, the Shelleys, De Quincey, all have significant encounters with Welsh culture or the Welsh landscape. Essays in this volume by Caroline Franklin and Jon Mee remind us that Wales also informed the work of Godwin, Piozzi, Wollstonecraft and Seward. And there is, of course, no shortage of material from Wales itself.

At a practical level, it seems that the relative invisibility of Wales in modern critical writing is a problem of our own creating: many researchers working in this period are simply unaware of the kinds of sources available for comparative study. In the bicentenary year of the French Revolution – the year Citizens was published – the Welsh historian Gwyn Alf Williams had had enough:

In 1968, I wrote: 'French historians of these islands nearly always use Welsh evidence, English historians hardly ever; I find this eccentric.' I no longer find it eccentric; I find it intolerable.

'Almost nothing', noted one historian in 2000, 'is known of Welsh loyalism during the 1790s and 1800s'. Not known by whom, one wonders? There are, after all, Welsh ballads to the Duke of York and Nelson, and Welsh eisteddfodic odes praising George III; there are anxious letters to the press by Dissenters protesting loyalty to the Crown in troubled times; published reports of loyalist meetings in small Welsh towns; patriotic songs to the local militia, and Tom Paine burned in effigy in Cardiff. These have not gone unnoticed by Welsh historians. It seems, at times, that Romantic-era Wales is caught in a double bind: largely Protestant, and largely loyal, it appears less foreign, and less troubling, in matters of politics and religion than do Scotland or Ireland, and is more likely to be overlooked. And yet (although much eighteenth-century writing from Wales is in fact in English) it is also more foreign in its actual text production – and so even more likely to be overlooked. Here be dragons indeed; from a critical perspective, Welsh culture is still, all too often, off the map.

In order that more than lip service is paid to the notion of four-nations criticism, then, some heed must be given to Welsh sources in both languages. One major aim of the recent AHRC-funded project on 'Wales and the French Revolution' has been to make this task easier for literary critics and historians of the period who are unlikely ever to read Welsh for themselves. A series of volumes, of which this book is one, presents a range of material reflecting responses to the events of the period. Most are anthologies, each taking a different genre – poetry in Welsh or English, printed ballads, journals and newspapers, letters and pamphlets – and providing a generous sample of texts, with translations; others have focused on a single author and an entire text (a journal, a travel diary) or explored an artistic oeuvre. Each volume offers close readings of the material, and maps the interplay of specific historical events with the times and places and people who produced it.

The impact of the Age of Revolutions on the culture of Wales is not a new topic. In the 1920s David Davies and J. J. Evans published discursive accounts (in English and Welsh respectively) of the effect of events in France on Welsh lives and letters. Both laid much of the groundwork for future research, locating Welsh texts from the period in manuscript collections, or in the rare surviving copies of printed journals, and weaving them into a narrative set against the backdrop of events in Britain and France. Though the thrust of both books was essentially literary – that is, their focus was on texts in their historical moment – it is striking how little interest this material has elicited in nearly a century of subsequent literary studies: the Welsh-literature university syllabus has been reluctant to stray from a focus on the 1760s and 1770s, with a Classical or Augustan period (exemplified by the poetry of Goronwy Owen) played off contrapuntally against a more emotional Methodism (the hymns of Williams Pantycelyn and Ann Griffiths). The more miscellaneous – and politically unsettling – literature of the 1790s and early 1800s has effectively dropped from sight.

Just as Welsh material has been missing from English/British accounts of the period, so, conversely, has new critical thinking about the Romantic period been relatively slow in permeating Welsh scholarship. Indeed, as an entertaining essay by Gwyn Alf Williams showed many years ago, the whole concept of Romanticism has had a tricky time of it in Wales. But as Romantic-period criticism now inhabits a far more interdisciplinary space, where literature is history, and history becomes infinitely more nuanced by precise attention to language, all that is changing. Indeed, a wealth of the kind of marginal, non-canonical texts that used to disqualify Wales from 'real' Romanticism – pamphlets and sermons, letters and printed ballads – now make Welsh literature of the 1790s and early 1800s prime Romantic-period territory. The recent major research project focused on the manifold writings of the stonemason bard Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg; 1747–1826) shows just how much can be done with the archive of a single (albeit extraordinary) author.

Romantic Wales has been better served by its historians, both between the covers of the big general histories of Wales, and at local level in the myriad thriving county journals, where so much of the coal-face historical research takes place. During the 1970s and 1980s the historian Gwyn Alf Williams became the period's most passionate spokesman, with his energetic narratives packed with extraordinary characters, from the young adventurer John Evans, hunting for Welsh-speaking American Indians in the upper reaches of the Missouri, to the Millenarian preacher Morgan John Rhys, founder of a brave, if short-lived, radical Welsh-language journal in the mid-1790s and an even braver colony of Welsh settlers in Ohio. Williams's Romantic Wales fizzes with lives lived against the huge political and social upheavals of industrialization, war, shifts in language and power, and mass emigration. His natural sympathies are with the 'organic intellectuals': the self-taught artisans, like Tomos Glyn Cothi and Iolo Morganwg or the tenant farmer William Jones (discussed by Geraint H. Jenkins in this volume), avid readers, sharp thinkers, men (they are inevitably men) of strong convictions and opinions. His enthusiasm, like theirs, is irresistible, and he cannot help but let them punch above their weight, leaving, one suspects, an abiding impression of the period as more radical than it really was. Like others who have followed him, his historian's instinct is biographical, and he is a master of a kind of indirect personal narrative, rich in quotation, which draws the reader in to the life of his characters with something of the novelist's flair.

But however immersed in their words, however sensitive to their personalities, the historian's ventriloquizing of these characters is still not the same as hearing their actual, unmediated, voices. Rather than write a narrative of the period, the aim of this series has been to return the focus to texts and sources, opening up new kinds of approaches and making it possible to ask different questions. This volume of essays, besides offering new light on the period, acts as an interpretive companion to the series as a whole: its aim is to explore contexts, pick out themes, and give more life to some of the authors.

The study of literary responses to the French Revolution in Wales has long been hindered by academic structures which place our two languages in quite separate departments and disciplines. In recent years there have been moves to break down these divisions, primarily in twentieth-century literature, and to a lesser extent in eighteenth-century studies. The 'Wales and the French Revolution' project has engaged fully with writing in both languages, and that synthetic approach was dictated by the nature of the material. Although some individual writers had worked in both Welsh and English in earlier periods, most notably Morgan Llwyd in another Age of Revolution in the seventeenth century, it is not until the 1790s that a whole generation of writers is seen to be operating bilingually. The causes and motivations of that bilingualism were multiple, including the influence of the periodical press and (as discussed by Cathryn Charnell-White in this volume) the growing dominance of London in Welsh literary culture, but the French Revolution clearly stimulated new ideas in both languages, increasing the traffic between them and bringing both into contact with other European languages.

This was not just a matter of an increase in the use of English at the expense of Welsh. The Welsh language shows extraordinary vitality in this period in its capacity to adapt its rich traditional modes of expression to deal with new concepts and genres. Chwyldro, corresponding to 'revolution' in its various senses, is just one of a host of words taking on new meanings at this time. Demand for reading matter in Welsh was evidently considerable, and although the three Welsh-language journals established in the mid-1790s were short-lived, there is reason to believe that their demise may have been due to repression by the authorities rather than lack of support. The few numbers which were published contain a wealth of material, both translated and original, in which the Welsh language is seen to be engaging with the same issues as the English periodicals.

Welsh-language publications were often suspected by the authorities of being vehicles for covert propagation of radical views, mostly, but not always, without justification. The Methodist movement in particular suffered a good deal of persecution on this account, and Methodist preachers were keen to emphasize that their opposition to the Established Church did not by any means imply disloyalty to the king. A revealing illustration of the atmosphere of the times is the following disclaimer which David Richard (Dafydd Ionawr) made in an English preface to a long Welsh-language poem on the Trinity, Cywydd y Drindod, published in 1793:

Owing to the turbulence of the times, the Author thinks it necessary to premise, that his work has nothing to do with French Revolutions, nor British Politics.

The very fact that he felt the need to say that, and to say it in English, perhaps suggests that his poem was not quite as apolitical as he liked to think.


Excerpted from Footsteps of Liberty and Revolt by Mary-Ann Constantine, Dafydd Johnston. Copyright © 2013 The Contributors. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Contributors
List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction: Writing the Revolution in Wales
      May-Ann Constantine and Dafydd Johnston
2. Wales as Nowhere: the tabula rasa of the ‘Jacobin’ imagination
      Caroline Franklin
3. Rousseau and Wales
      Heather Williams
4. ‘Our first concern as lovers of our country must be to enlighten it’: Richard Price’s response to the French Revolution
      Paul Frame and Geoffrey W. Powell
5. The Welsh in Revolutionary Paris
      Mary-Ann Constantine
6. The ‘Marseillaise’ in Wales
      Marion Löffler
7. The ‘Rural Voltaire’ and the ‘French madcaps’
      Geraint H. Jenkins
8. Networking the nation: the bardic and correspondence networks of Wales and London in the 1790s
      Cathryn A. Charnell-White
9. Radical adaptation: translations of medieval Welsh poetry in the 1790s
      Dafydd Johnston
10. ‘Brave Republicans’: representing the Revolution in a Welsh interlude
      Ffion Mair Jones
11. ‘A good Cambrio-Briton’: Hester Thrale Piozzi, Helen Maria Williams and the Welsh sublime in the 1790s
      Jon Mee
12. What is a national Gothic?
      Murray Pittock
13. Terror, treason and tourism: the French in Pembrokeshire 1797
      Hywel M. Davies
14. The voices of war: poetry from Wales 1794–1804
      Elizabeth Edwards
15. The Revd William Howels (1778–1832) of Cowbridge and London: the making of an anti-radical
      Stephen K. Roberts


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