WALES AND THE WELSH
The Welsh Mind in Evolution. By J. Vyrnwy Morgan, D.D. (Allenson. 10s. 6d. net. ) Welsh Poems in English Verse. By H. I. and C. C. Bell. (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co. 5s. net.) The Mountains of Snowdonia. By H. R. C. Carr and G. A.
Lister. Illustrated. (The Bodley Head. 25e. net.)
" SIR," said Dr. Johnson, " I have been in five of the six counties of North Wales, and have seen St. Asaph and Bangor,
the two seats of their Bishops, and have been upon Penmaen Mawr and Snowdon ; and passed over into Anglesea. But Wales is so little different from England that it offers nothing to the speculation of the traveller." He added, however, on being gently rallied by Boswell, that " one of the castles in Wales would contain all the castles he had seen in Scotland." Romanticism and Naturalism had to come before Borrow, in the next century, arrived finely, on the early railway, at Chester, " with dragon speed and dragon noise, fire, smoke, fury," as in Turner's picture, to discover the wildness of Wales : but the difficulties of dumping wife and daughter at small inns are large, and even Borrow, keeping like a sensible man to the lowland roads, was limited in his later wanderings.
Knowledge of the Celtic population of these islands has been slowly acquired, and it is not too much to say that our idei of bardic days has been based on the comments of Julius Caesar. Gray, in the eighteenth century, showed remarkable prescience and even corresponded with Welsh scholars and poets of his day, yet he has left us with a rather theatrical conception of bards, which has been fortified by our visual knowledge of the National Eisteddfod. Mystification has attended Celtic matters ; the shadow hosts conjured up by Macpherson have deceived Goethe, Napoleon and us ; the adventurous
theories of Matthew Arnold and the vagaries of the Celtic Twilight School are between us and the racial literature of
Our comparative ignorance of Wales, despite popular seaside resorts, may be due to the insularity of its people, if Dr. Morgan's analysis be acceptable. Dr. Morgan has in- herited the candour of Giraldus Cambrensis. The Welsh mind, according to him, has great powers of resistance, but it cannot absorb or assimilate. Belief in a superior racial genius that differs in all essentials from that of any other nation has formed the national character ; and public men speak and act on the assumption that the Welsh mind is wholly capable of achieving anything or everything, everywhere and at all times. The Welsh, in temperament, are contradictory: theologically predisposed to Calvinism, they manifest, in politics, benevolence and large social feeling : weighed down by a religious sense of implacable fate, they are cheerful in everyday life. The national character is changing for better and worse. The Welsh have become as practical and indus- trious as their neighbours, but in certain centres politics/ redness is rampant, and religion, always apart from morality, is losing hold. Education empties the fields, and the young men and women are seeking easy remunerative posts in the teaching profession. Welsh Nationalism which attempts to enforce the Welsh language—a bundle of dialects—is the present enemy. The Welsh have contributed nothing to the world's thought : " they have been more interested in the old bards, musicians, harp-players, composers and singers of stanzas or verses and in preachers and revivalists," and--- a'nce Dr. Morgan does not mind contradicting himself—they know nothing of their own. literature. In fact, " if the bulk of Welsh literature could be translated into idiomatic English, there would be nothing to interest the English scholar."
After such grinding of battle-axes we may come at least to literary facts in these Welsh Poems translated by H. I. and C. C. Bell. The Methodist movement of the eighteenth century is better known than the simultaneous, and even contrary, revival of Welsh poetry. The older school, to-day, follows the tradition of Ceiriog and Islwyn, the best known poets of the Victorian age : the younger group, working in freer metres, have been influenced by Heine, Swinburne, Rossetti, and even the Irish literary movement. Unfortunately neither original nor literal version is given in this collection. The quality of an old line by Bedo Brwynllys such as :-
" My sighing for my soul's darling Beats upon the East,"
or the simple poignancy of a folksong :-
" There is nothing between him and me to-night But the earth and the coffin and the shroud, I was many a time further from him
But never with a heavier heart"
is obvious. But here, where English rhyme conveys assonance and the rich native sound of Welsh, and conventional phrases represent the simple natural feeling and romance, or philo- sophic tendencies of the originals, especially in the poems of Gruffydd or of the elder T. Gwynn Jones, too much is lost for a stranger to come to poetic conclusions.
The Mountains of Snowdonia is an admirable compilation.
Every aspect of that wild district, historic, natural and scientific, has been examined by experts such as Dr. Edward Greenly, Professor J. E. Lloyd and G. Winthrop Young. The ancient cantred of Eryri, the abode of eagles, where the men of Arthur lie sleeping like the warriors of Barbarossa, where Merlinus was born, and whither Vortigern retreated, is pic- turesque, romantic to us now, though to what Sir Leslie Stephen called the " Old School," it was an example of the Finely Horrid, Stupendous, Stygian, Plutonian. As early as 1652, John Taylor, " The Water Poet," came to see Snowdon Summit (Yr Wydda) which he, however, " no stomack had to tread upon." To climbers the Snowdon, Glyder, and Garnedd
group yield delight of cloud and crag on, without sinister humour, ".the narrow way that leads to Paradise." Although the development of quarry, rail and waterpower hastens, and the engineer replaces the shepherd, it is not too late to see dark peak and green glen from legendary and natural aspects, before the last school of industrial nature regards them finally
as mere " catchment areas."