Ancient and Modern Britons

Ancient and Modern Britons The refrain to a patriotic jingle published in 1904 – ‘Every Briton is brave for Wales his country’ – reads oddly in translation unless one bears in mind the fact that in the Welsh original (‘Dewr yw pob Britwn dros Gymru ei wlad’)1 the term ‘Britwn’ signified a Welshman, an Ancient Briton. The disjunction between the modern and ancient significations of ‘Briton’, and the complexities of identity and national allegiance to which it could give rise, are at the heart of Bethan M. Jenkins’s new study. Britain was forged anew after the 1707 Act of Union with Scotland, when the ‘Parliament of Great Britain’ was established to unite the parliaments of Scotland and England. For the Welsh, however, and particularly for Welsh antiquarians, such as the three authors who constitute the main focus of Between Wales and England – Lewis Morris (Llewelyn Ddu o Fôn, 1701–65), Evan Evans (Ieuan Fardd or Ieuan Brydydd Hir, 1731–88), and Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg, 1747–1826) – the word ‘Briton’ still signified those people conquered by Rome, from whose British, or Brittonic, language Welsh had evolved. As Bethan Jenkins points out, ‘when Evans speaks of British poetry he invariably means Ancient British, that is the Welsh’ (p. 89); similarly, Edward Williams remarked in 1792, in his correspondence, that ‘by Britons, we the Welsh always mean ourselves’ (p. 130). Between Wales and England queries the accepted view, promoted by Linda Colley in her influential Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (1992), that Great Britain coalesced around its Protestant religion which unproblematically united England, Scotland, and Wales, though not, of course, Ireland. It introduces in opposition to Colley’s findings the arguments of the twentieth-century Welsh philosopher J. R. Jones, in Prydeindod (Britishness, 1966), that language, rather than religion, is the key issue in the formation of national identity. Rather than unifying Wales with England and Scotland, that issue, of course, divided them. The people of the island Julius Caesar knew as Britannia, a Latinised derivative of the British and subsequently Welsh term, Prydain, were indeed united by one language, but that language was not English. Attempts had been made to eradicate the Welsh language: the sixteenth-century Welsh Acts of Union which ‘annexed’ Wales ‘to and with this realm of England’ had ordained that ‘from henceforth no person or persons that use Welsh speech or language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fees … unless he or they use and exercise the speech or language of English’. But it survived, in part, ironically, because of the Protestant revolution which, with its emphasis on the necessity of worshipping in the vernacular, led to the publication of a Welsh translation of the Bible in 1588. Consequently, at the close of the eighteenth century 71.8 per cent of the Welsh population were still Welsh-speaking, and 44.2 per cent had no English.2 For them the absence of any reference to Wales in the Act which unified Scotland and England into Britain was as paradoxical as it would be if New Zealand were to rename itself Aotearoa today while at the same time obliterating from its records any acknowledgement of its Maori past. Lewis Morris, Evan Evans, and Edward Williams were all bilingual writers, publishing in both Welsh and English. Bethan Jenkins’s thesis is that J. R. Jones’s question ‘what becomes of one’s identity when writing in a language not one’s own?’ (pp. xv–xvi) was for each of them a vital concern. ‘What have I, who am a Welshman, to do with English Poetry?’ asked Evan Evans in 1772. If there was an answer to that question, it lay within that slippery term ‘Briton’ and its ancient and modern meanings. In its opening chapter, Between Wales and England provides a full historical introduction to this complex situation, before proceeding to devote one chapter to each of its three key subjects; their English-language works are assessed to gauge their degree of difficulty in, and/or resistance to, becoming British. All contributed richly, as antiquarian translators of ancient manuscripts and in their original writings, to the development of the Celtic revival. After the era of Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationality and its valorisation of classically influenced literature, eighteenth-century culture sought to re-engage with, and create, a literature capable of arousing strong affect. Early British writing was seen as illustrative of the unrepressed vitality of pre-Enlightenment culture and as evidence that the Isle of Britain had once been inhabited by ‘noble savages’, free of the artificial constraints of modern civilisation. It was Scottish materials, however, which dominated the popular scene, with the phenomenal success of James Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ fragments (1760–3) in particular, and arguably the Gaelic-speaking Scots, their lands not part of Rome’s Britannia, were not British before 1707. All three of the writers with whom Bethan Jenkins is concerned sought to amend this situation by introducing English readers to the cultural remains of the actual original Britons, i.e. the Welsh. Lewis Morris features as the most comfortable of the three with his Welsh/British identity, writing code-switching bilingual family letters, and resting on his belief that, throughout England as well as Wales, ‘the bulk of ye people are still the old Britains’, i.e. Ancient Britons. Through a detailed analysis of his Dialogue between a Highland Welshman newly come to London and a Citizen, upon the situation of affairs in Britain (c.1756), Jenkins indicates the manner in which he inverted the traditional satiric portrayal of ‘Taffy’ in the English chapbooks of the period. Tudor, the Welsh visitor, critiques the present-day government by drawing upon comparative incidents from ancient British history, in effect instructing his new-found London acquaintance in the history of his own island. He makes much of his supposed Tudor kinship with ‘my Couzin Shors’, George II. A seventh-century prophecy that one day British-speakers would regain control of the isle was still potent when Henry Tudor, of Welsh blood, took the English throne in 1485; accordingly he was valorised by the Welsh bards as the ‘mab darogan’ (son of prophecy). Much was made of the vestigial remains of Tudor blood in the Hanoverian dynasty by eighteenth-century Welshmen who found it expedient to profess their Britishness, and Lewis Morris was a state servant, employed by the Crown as a surveyor. Bethan Jenkins argues convincingly that it was through his loyalty to the royals, figured as Tudor descendants, that Morris managed to rationalise his allegiance to both ancient and modern Britain. For Evan Evans, however, the anglicisation of the Church in Wales, with its lack of Welsh-speaking bishops and parsons, aroused such ire that he never managed fully to reconcile himself to the status quo. As an Anglican clergyman he suffered for his convictions, drawing down upon himself the ire of his bishop by publishing protesting pamphlets on the iniquity of appointing monolingual English-language clergy to parishes in which virtually no English was spoken. Welsh preferments were denied to him, and he remained in poverty throughout his career, though he contributed richly to the development of the Celtic Revival. In Some Specimens of the Antient Welsh Bards (1764) he published the first translations into English of many key Welsh texts, previously only extant in manuscript form. Jenkins illustrates, however, that in doing so he consistently resisted all attempts to persuade him to popularise his materials in order to make them more accessible to English readers. In his original poetry, he lamented the decline of the Welsh language and the erosion of its bardic culture, as its former patrons, the gentry of Wales, became increasingly anglicised. Yet he too, like Lewis Morris, venerated the Tudors, not only because of Henry VII’s Welsh blood but also because they established Protestantism. His allegiance to the Anglican Church was uncompromising: it was in part because its refusal to provide Welsh-speaking clergy for Welsh-speaking parishes led to the growth of Methodism in Wales that he opposed its linguistic prejudices so fervently. Torn between his loyalties to an Anglican religion and a Welsh-language culture, he is convincingly portrayed as the most troubled of Jenkins’s three subjects. Edward Williams, on the other hand, is featured in Between Wales and England as one who with apparent ease adopted different roles, constructed to appeal to both ancient and modern British sensibilities. In his Poems, Lyric and Pastoral (1794) he conformed to the pressure to render his Welsh themes accessible to English audiences, giving his pastoral swains classical as opposed to Welsh names. Yet in other ways his was the most combative response to the construction of modern Britain, particularly in the manner in which it ignored the Welsh origins of Britain, valorising Scottish rather than Welsh antecedents. Jenkins argues that the poem with which he opens the second volume of his Poems, ‘Ode to the British Muse’, constituted an ‘attempt to reappropriate and reposition the Ancient Briton within this influential emergence of national identity’ (p. 131). Following in the tradition of Macpherson and Thomas Chatterton, Williams passed off many poems and triads of his own invention as authentic medieval Welsh materials, with the deliberate intention of swamping late eighteenth-century culture with a flood of manufactured Bardo-Druidism. His goal, Jenkins argues, was to ‘forge a full curriculum of knowledge for what was essentially a bardic university of a far greater age than the “blockheaded”, “book-learned” universities of Oxford and Cambridge’ (p. 124), in order to assert the pre-eminence of the Ancient Britons at the core of Britishness. The book’s last two chapters focus on the changing roles which patronage and translation played in the relation between Welsh and English cultures generally during the eighteenth century, and in the lives and writings of Morris, Evans, and Williams in particular. Initially these chapters may seem insufficiently integrated with the bulk of the volume, but in fact the more varied material they contain does add substantially to the argument. Changes in the nature of patronage, from the princes and gentry who supported the medieval bards to the modern subscription list, bedevilled the career of Evan Evans in particular. They induced Edward Williams to construct his most abiding creation, the Gorsedd of the Bards, and to include it in his revised version of the old Eisteddfod, or Welsh literary festival, an institution which has subsequently done much to maintain the traditions of bardism and Welsh-language culture generally. The section in the last chapter on the differing stated intentions of those scholars who prepared Welsh–English dictionaries also illustrates effectively the complexities eighteenth-century Welsh antiquarians faced as they attempted to resolve their subject position within the British state with their appreciation of Wales’s language and its history. This book has a strong story to tell, and it does so successfully. Its strengths lie in its detailed scholarly research, which brings to light a number of issues hitherto not addressed by scholars of Welsh writing in English, and in its lively portrayal of its three main subjects, brought sharply into perspective here by virtue of their differences from one another. The development since the 1980s of the so-called ‘archipelagic’ school of literary criticism, with its emphasis on the importance of including in British cultural studies the literature of all four of the UK’s nations, has helped to further international awareness of Welsh writing. ‘Four Nations’ criticism can, however, sometimes in practice feature only three nations: many edited essay collections purporting to concern themselves with British literature allot chapters to Scottish and Irish writers but make no reference to Wales. In this context, the publication of Bethan Jenkins’s study is of particular importance. Through approaching the topic from a determinedly Welsh perspective, Between Wales and England incites a new understanding of the complex nature of Britishness, in a manner likely to incite further debate. Footnotes 1 Ceridwen Peris, ‘Hen Fritwn wyf fi’ (‘I’m an Ancient Briton’), Y Gymraes, 8 (1904) p. 138. 2 Dot Jones, Statistical Evidence Relating to the Welsh Language 1801–1911 (Cardiff 1998) p. 222. © The Author, 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Cambridge Quarterly. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Cambridge Quarterly Oxford University Press

Ancient and Modern Britons

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© The Author, 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Cambridge Quarterly. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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0008-199X
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Abstract

The refrain to a patriotic jingle published in 1904 – ‘Every Briton is brave for Wales his country’ – reads oddly in translation unless one bears in mind the fact that in the Welsh original (‘Dewr yw pob Britwn dros Gymru ei wlad’)1 the term ‘Britwn’ signified a Welshman, an Ancient Briton. The disjunction between the modern and ancient significations of ‘Briton’, and the complexities of identity and national allegiance to which it could give rise, are at the heart of Bethan M. Jenkins’s new study. Britain was forged anew after the 1707 Act of Union with Scotland, when the ‘Parliament of Great Britain’ was established to unite the parliaments of Scotland and England. For the Welsh, however, and particularly for Welsh antiquarians, such as the three authors who constitute the main focus of Between Wales and England – Lewis Morris (Llewelyn Ddu o Fôn, 1701–65), Evan Evans (Ieuan Fardd or Ieuan Brydydd Hir, 1731–88), and Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg, 1747–1826) – the word ‘Briton’ still signified those people conquered by Rome, from whose British, or Brittonic, language Welsh had evolved. As Bethan Jenkins points out, ‘when Evans speaks of British poetry he invariably means Ancient British, that is the Welsh’ (p. 89); similarly, Edward Williams remarked in 1792, in his correspondence, that ‘by Britons, we the Welsh always mean ourselves’ (p. 130). Between Wales and England queries the accepted view, promoted by Linda Colley in her influential Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (1992), that Great Britain coalesced around its Protestant religion which unproblematically united England, Scotland, and Wales, though not, of course, Ireland. It introduces in opposition to Colley’s findings the arguments of the twentieth-century Welsh philosopher J. R. Jones, in Prydeindod (Britishness, 1966), that language, rather than religion, is the key issue in the formation of national identity. Rather than unifying Wales with England and Scotland, that issue, of course, divided them. The people of the island Julius Caesar knew as Britannia, a Latinised derivative of the British and subsequently Welsh term, Prydain, were indeed united by one language, but that language was not English. Attempts had been made to eradicate the Welsh language: the sixteenth-century Welsh Acts of Union which ‘annexed’ Wales ‘to and with this realm of England’ had ordained that ‘from henceforth no person or persons that use Welsh speech or language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fees … unless he or they use and exercise the speech or language of English’. But it survived, in part, ironically, because of the Protestant revolution which, with its emphasis on the necessity of worshipping in the vernacular, led to the publication of a Welsh translation of the Bible in 1588. Consequently, at the close of the eighteenth century 71.8 per cent of the Welsh population were still Welsh-speaking, and 44.2 per cent had no English.2 For them the absence of any reference to Wales in the Act which unified Scotland and England into Britain was as paradoxical as it would be if New Zealand were to rename itself Aotearoa today while at the same time obliterating from its records any acknowledgement of its Maori past. Lewis Morris, Evan Evans, and Edward Williams were all bilingual writers, publishing in both Welsh and English. Bethan Jenkins’s thesis is that J. R. Jones’s question ‘what becomes of one’s identity when writing in a language not one’s own?’ (pp. xv–xvi) was for each of them a vital concern. ‘What have I, who am a Welshman, to do with English Poetry?’ asked Evan Evans in 1772. If there was an answer to that question, it lay within that slippery term ‘Briton’ and its ancient and modern meanings. In its opening chapter, Between Wales and England provides a full historical introduction to this complex situation, before proceeding to devote one chapter to each of its three key subjects; their English-language works are assessed to gauge their degree of difficulty in, and/or resistance to, becoming British. All contributed richly, as antiquarian translators of ancient manuscripts and in their original writings, to the development of the Celtic revival. After the era of Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationality and its valorisation of classically influenced literature, eighteenth-century culture sought to re-engage with, and create, a literature capable of arousing strong affect. Early British writing was seen as illustrative of the unrepressed vitality of pre-Enlightenment culture and as evidence that the Isle of Britain had once been inhabited by ‘noble savages’, free of the artificial constraints of modern civilisation. It was Scottish materials, however, which dominated the popular scene, with the phenomenal success of James Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ fragments (1760–3) in particular, and arguably the Gaelic-speaking Scots, their lands not part of Rome’s Britannia, were not British before 1707. All three of the writers with whom Bethan Jenkins is concerned sought to amend this situation by introducing English readers to the cultural remains of the actual original Britons, i.e. the Welsh. Lewis Morris features as the most comfortable of the three with his Welsh/British identity, writing code-switching bilingual family letters, and resting on his belief that, throughout England as well as Wales, ‘the bulk of ye people are still the old Britains’, i.e. Ancient Britons. Through a detailed analysis of his Dialogue between a Highland Welshman newly come to London and a Citizen, upon the situation of affairs in Britain (c.1756), Jenkins indicates the manner in which he inverted the traditional satiric portrayal of ‘Taffy’ in the English chapbooks of the period. Tudor, the Welsh visitor, critiques the present-day government by drawing upon comparative incidents from ancient British history, in effect instructing his new-found London acquaintance in the history of his own island. He makes much of his supposed Tudor kinship with ‘my Couzin Shors’, George II. A seventh-century prophecy that one day British-speakers would regain control of the isle was still potent when Henry Tudor, of Welsh blood, took the English throne in 1485; accordingly he was valorised by the Welsh bards as the ‘mab darogan’ (son of prophecy). Much was made of the vestigial remains of Tudor blood in the Hanoverian dynasty by eighteenth-century Welshmen who found it expedient to profess their Britishness, and Lewis Morris was a state servant, employed by the Crown as a surveyor. Bethan Jenkins argues convincingly that it was through his loyalty to the royals, figured as Tudor descendants, that Morris managed to rationalise his allegiance to both ancient and modern Britain. For Evan Evans, however, the anglicisation of the Church in Wales, with its lack of Welsh-speaking bishops and parsons, aroused such ire that he never managed fully to reconcile himself to the status quo. As an Anglican clergyman he suffered for his convictions, drawing down upon himself the ire of his bishop by publishing protesting pamphlets on the iniquity of appointing monolingual English-language clergy to parishes in which virtually no English was spoken. Welsh preferments were denied to him, and he remained in poverty throughout his career, though he contributed richly to the development of the Celtic Revival. In Some Specimens of the Antient Welsh Bards (1764) he published the first translations into English of many key Welsh texts, previously only extant in manuscript form. Jenkins illustrates, however, that in doing so he consistently resisted all attempts to persuade him to popularise his materials in order to make them more accessible to English readers. In his original poetry, he lamented the decline of the Welsh language and the erosion of its bardic culture, as its former patrons, the gentry of Wales, became increasingly anglicised. Yet he too, like Lewis Morris, venerated the Tudors, not only because of Henry VII’s Welsh blood but also because they established Protestantism. His allegiance to the Anglican Church was uncompromising: it was in part because its refusal to provide Welsh-speaking clergy for Welsh-speaking parishes led to the growth of Methodism in Wales that he opposed its linguistic prejudices so fervently. Torn between his loyalties to an Anglican religion and a Welsh-language culture, he is convincingly portrayed as the most troubled of Jenkins’s three subjects. Edward Williams, on the other hand, is featured in Between Wales and England as one who with apparent ease adopted different roles, constructed to appeal to both ancient and modern British sensibilities. In his Poems, Lyric and Pastoral (1794) he conformed to the pressure to render his Welsh themes accessible to English audiences, giving his pastoral swains classical as opposed to Welsh names. Yet in other ways his was the most combative response to the construction of modern Britain, particularly in the manner in which it ignored the Welsh origins of Britain, valorising Scottish rather than Welsh antecedents. Jenkins argues that the poem with which he opens the second volume of his Poems, ‘Ode to the British Muse’, constituted an ‘attempt to reappropriate and reposition the Ancient Briton within this influential emergence of national identity’ (p. 131). Following in the tradition of Macpherson and Thomas Chatterton, Williams passed off many poems and triads of his own invention as authentic medieval Welsh materials, with the deliberate intention of swamping late eighteenth-century culture with a flood of manufactured Bardo-Druidism. His goal, Jenkins argues, was to ‘forge a full curriculum of knowledge for what was essentially a bardic university of a far greater age than the “blockheaded”, “book-learned” universities of Oxford and Cambridge’ (p. 124), in order to assert the pre-eminence of the Ancient Britons at the core of Britishness. The book’s last two chapters focus on the changing roles which patronage and translation played in the relation between Welsh and English cultures generally during the eighteenth century, and in the lives and writings of Morris, Evans, and Williams in particular. Initially these chapters may seem insufficiently integrated with the bulk of the volume, but in fact the more varied material they contain does add substantially to the argument. Changes in the nature of patronage, from the princes and gentry who supported the medieval bards to the modern subscription list, bedevilled the career of Evan Evans in particular. They induced Edward Williams to construct his most abiding creation, the Gorsedd of the Bards, and to include it in his revised version of the old Eisteddfod, or Welsh literary festival, an institution which has subsequently done much to maintain the traditions of bardism and Welsh-language culture generally. The section in the last chapter on the differing stated intentions of those scholars who prepared Welsh–English dictionaries also illustrates effectively the complexities eighteenth-century Welsh antiquarians faced as they attempted to resolve their subject position within the British state with their appreciation of Wales’s language and its history. This book has a strong story to tell, and it does so successfully. Its strengths lie in its detailed scholarly research, which brings to light a number of issues hitherto not addressed by scholars of Welsh writing in English, and in its lively portrayal of its three main subjects, brought sharply into perspective here by virtue of their differences from one another. The development since the 1980s of the so-called ‘archipelagic’ school of literary criticism, with its emphasis on the importance of including in British cultural studies the literature of all four of the UK’s nations, has helped to further international awareness of Welsh writing. ‘Four Nations’ criticism can, however, sometimes in practice feature only three nations: many edited essay collections purporting to concern themselves with British literature allot chapters to Scottish and Irish writers but make no reference to Wales. In this context, the publication of Bethan Jenkins’s study is of particular importance. Through approaching the topic from a determinedly Welsh perspective, Between Wales and England incites a new understanding of the complex nature of Britishness, in a manner likely to incite further debate. Footnotes 1 Ceridwen Peris, ‘Hen Fritwn wyf fi’ (‘I’m an Ancient Briton’), Y Gymraes, 8 (1904) p. 138. 2 Dot Jones, Statistical Evidence Relating to the Welsh Language 1801–1911 (Cardiff 1998) p. 222. © The Author, 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Cambridge Quarterly. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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The Cambridge QuarterlyOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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