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Welsh, The Eight Wonder
Survival of the Welsh Language: Part V

For the continued survival of the language, however, there had to be a groundwork laid in the field of general education among the masses. There were still too many people in Wales who could not read or write. As so often in Welsh history, help came from outside the country itself.

In 1674, a charitable organization, the Welsh Trust, was set up in London by Thomas Gouge to establish English schools in Wales and to publish books "in Welsh." Over 500 books were printed in 1718 and 1721 at Trefhedyn and Carmarthen respectively. Many of these were translations of popular English works, Protestant tracts that encouraged private worship and prayers, but along with the six major editions of the Bible that appeared during the same period, they had the unpredicted effect of ensuring the survival of the language in an age where many scholars were predicting its rapid demise. Of equal importance were the cheap catechisms and prayer books.highly prized by rural families who read them (along with the Beibl Cymraegd) in family groups during the long, dark winter nights

So successful were educators, benefactors and itinerant teachers that perhaps as many as one third or more of the population of Wales could read their scriptures by the time of Griffith Jones' death in 1761. Jones had realized that preaching alone was insufficient to ensure his people's salvation: they needed to read the scriptures for themselves. Though not intended by such as Jones (the rector of Llanddowror and therefore not a Nonconformist minister), his writings created a substantial Welsh reading public primed and ready to receive the appeal of the ever-growing Methodists, whose ability in such preachers as Hywel Harris was matched by their eloquence in the pulpit, and who obviously filled a great need among the masses.

One influential convert was Thomas Charles who joined in 1784, and who set up the successful Sunday School movement in North Wales that had such a profound and lasting influence on the language and culture of that region. Another preacher of great influence was Daniel Rowland, who had converted in 1737 after hearing a sermon by Griffith Jones. With Hywel Harris, he assumed the leadership of the Methodist Revival. Rowland's enthusiasm along with that of his colleagues, attracted thousands of converts, and though their initial intention was to work within the framework of the established church, opposition from their Bishops, all of whom had little real interest in Wales and knew nothing of its language and culture, led finally to the schism of 1811 when an independent union was founded.

This was the Calvinistic Methodist Church (today known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales). Providing the excitement and fervor that the established church had been lacking for so long, it did much to pave the way for the rapid growth of the other non-conformist sects such as the Baptists and Independents. The movement also was responsible for producing two names that are outstanding in the cultural history of Wales: William Williams and Ann Griffiths (dealt with at length in my History of Wales).

In 1841, William Jones, in The Character of the Welsh as a Nation in the Present Age, praised the perseverance of his people in the face of almost impossible odds:

To exist after so many and preserving attempts at their extinction, and to retain the vernacular use of their primitive, nervous, and enchanting language, after so many revolutions in their civil and religious circumstances, are facts in which they will ever glory; and no good reason appears why our English neighbours should deny us the consolation of these facts, or laugh at us, with so much sarcastic malevolence, when the matter is discussed in their society
Jones could not have foreseen the result of the coming of heavy industry to south Wales in the 19th century, especially its twofold effect on the language and social life of the area. First, with so many Welsh speakers moving into the area in search of jobs, bringing their language (and their chapels) with them, a Welsh culture survived in many fields of valley activity.

Many historians have realized that without this immigration, Wales may have suffered a fate similar to that of Ireland where the lack of the raw materials for industry and the heavy reliance upon a single food crop (not to mention the benign neglect of the English Parliament) led to famine and massive emigration. Also unlike the Irish language (and to some extent Breton) the language of scattered, rural communities, Welsh thrived as the medium of everyday communication in large industrial communities (such as Merthyr). One writer in 1804, commenting on the fact that Merthyr Tydfil was now the largest town in Wales, marvelled that :

The workers of all descriptions at these immense works {Cyfarthfa, Merthyr Tydfil} are Welsh men. Their language is entirely Welsh. The number of English among them is very inconsiderable. (The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales
But change was inevitable. At the same time, another culture developed that owed just as much to its non-Welsh immigrants as it did to those who retained the language and culture of the Welsh-speaking areas from which they moved. In 1847 one writer had described the Rhondda Valley thus:
The people of this solitudinous and happy valley are a pastoral race, almost wholly dependent on their flocks and herds for support ...The air is aromatic with wild flowers and mountain plants, a sabbath stillness reigns
Only three years later, the celebrated English author Thomas Carlyle described the same scene in a letter to his wife:
Ah me! 'Tis like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling or in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills . . The Town [Merthyr] might be, and will be, one of the prettiest places in the world. It is one of the sootiest, aqualidest and ugliest; all cinders and dust mounds and soot. . .Nobody thinks of gardening in such a locality--all devoted to metallic gambling
Such a heavy toll came to so many areas of the southern valleys. In the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth, the long, verdant valleys quickly filled up with factories, mills, coal mines, iron smelting works (and later, steel works), roads, railways, canals, and above all, people. Houses began to spread along the narrow hillsides, filling every available space upon which a house could be set, small houses, crammed together in row after row, street after street, town after town all strung together on the valley floor. Houses separated only spasmodically by the grocery store, the somber, grey chapel, or the public house. Above them all loomed the blackened hillsides and the slag heaps of waste coal or industrial refuse. And all this brought about by the discovery of coal.

Part VI



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