Chapter 12

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Status Quo

The Propagation Act, in addition to rooting out dissident clergymen, attempted to establish in Britain a national system of schools. In Wales, sixty-three new schools were opened in the larger towns; in them, children of both sexes were taught to read, write and count (and memorize the scriptures) free of charge, albeit through the medium of English. Though the Commission was not renewed in 1653, "suitable" ministers continued to be selected by the agents of Parliament, and many gifted and enthusiastic preachers arrived in Wales to live and work.

The influence of such tireless spiritual leaders was a lasting one, and the nonconformist chapels that sprang up everywhere in their wake, such as those of the Independents, Baptists, Quakers and others created a heritage that until very recently was still regarded as an integral part of the Welsh character. It certainly left a fertile field to be tilled by the Methodists in the next century.

In the meantime, for those in power in Westminster, more rigid control of the Welsh was needed: the forces of Nonconformity were moving too rapidly for the likes of King and Parliament. Congregations in England and Wales had to be brought back into line: the Act of Uniformity of 1662 required all ministers to assent to the rites and liturgy of the Established Church, restored with the accession of Charles II.

Next came The Clarendon Code (four acts passed 1661-65) that imposed severe penalties on those who refused to conform to the Act of Uniformity. For many, it was far too late. Whole congregations who were moving from Wales to the New World became instrumental in setting up such settlements as the Welsh Quakers that later became the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (In the little village of Llangaches in Monmouthshire, the mother church of Welsh nonconformity was modeled after those established by the Puritans in the American colonies).

An even more severe burden for the religious independents came with the first Conventicle Act in 1664 that prohibited groups of more than five persons from assembling for religious worship other than that prescribed by the Church. Other Acts ensured that such sects as the Quakers and Baptists were forced to meet in secret or join their brethren over the Atlantic Ocean. Even the Toleration Act of 1689 that allowed Dissenters to worship in their own chapels did nothing to keep them from being excluded from municipal government and the universities. It is noticeable that in the American colonies, Welsh people quickly became prominent in both fields.

At home, Puritan writers continued their work, with or without royal blessing. One of the most influential was Charles Edwards (1628-91?) who believed sincerely that the Welsh were God's chosen people, having replaced the fallen children of Israel or having been directly descended from the Lost Tribes themselves (a myth that remained widely popular in Wales for generations). Edwards's "Y Ffydd Ddi-ffuant" (The Sincere Faith, 1667) was an attempt to prove his claim. The book dealt with the history of the Christian religion, the moral history of the Welsh people themselves and the spiritual condition of individual Welshman.

Religion was also the prime subject of many popular poets. The most popular and influential was Rhys Prichard (1579-1644), Vicar of Llandovery, whose verses were published in 1681 as "Canwyll y Cymry" (the Candle of the Welsh) and recited and learned by generation after generation of Welsh children. At this time too, though their subject matter was not religious, we should mention the 17th century collection of "hen benillion" (old penillion), four-line stanzas recited to the harp that had been preserved orally for centuries, and which still play a major part in modern eisteddfodau.

Yet another influence was at work, outside the realm of religion -- one that was to satisfy the Welsh people's long curiosity in their historical origins. The gentry of Wales, enjoying a period of peace and prosperity, were anxious to find out about both their origins and their localities, and historians were only too happy to oblige them with histories of the various Welsh counties. In 1602 George Owen had put together his "Descriptions of Wales" to chronicle all the features of the country, an attempt helped immensely by the Humphrey Lhuyd map of Wales of 1573 that was reprinted almost fifty times during the next two hundred years.

Next, around the year 1660, in an age called by Professor Davies "a golden age of local history," Edward Lhuyd of Llanforda, Oswestry, published studies that were to have an enormous influence on antiquarian studies in Britain. His interest in botany and geology gained him recognition as the finest naturalist in Europe.

Training himself in the new science, Lhuyd placed Welsh studies on a firm and lasting foundation. An indefatigable traveler, he visited all the Celtic countries, studying the links between their various languages. His vast correspondence have been seen as instrumental in defining the customs and traditions of his people at a time when they could have been lost for ever or mercilessly diluted into the general history of Britain.

In 1691 Lhuyd was appointed keeper at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where he conducted scientific experimentation. Some of his notes, for a new edition of William Camden's Britannia (a description of Roman Britain first published in 1586) are regarded as a milestone in the history of topographical and archaeological studies in Britain. Known as "the father of British paleontology," Lhuyd's objectivity was in contrast to much antiquarianism later in the century that sought to recreate Wales in a romantic image. His influential "Archaeologia Britannia" was first published in 1707.

Before leaving the 17th century, we should mention the Welsh poets George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne. Their writings more properly belong to the English school of metaphysical poetry and thus do not belong in a discussion of Welsh literary history. (Perhaps a glimpse of what was to come when Anglo-Welsh writing became a clearly recognized genre?) Henry Vaughan, nevertheless, was able to speak and write in Welsh and was certainly aware of Welsh cultural and historical traditions as well as being influenced by the landscape of the Usk Valley. There were other poets, however, who wrote exclusively in Welsh who played major roles in the literary renaissance of their country that helped keep alive the struggle in the next century.

Chapter 13: Resurgence
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