Chapter 13


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Resurgence

At the start of the 18th century, Welsh authors were aided immensely by the benevolence of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Founded in 1699 by Sir John Phillips of Picton, Haverfordwest, up a network of charity schools in Wales was set up.

Unlike similar schools set up in Scotland, where the use of Gaelic was forbidden, those in Wales, begun between 1700 and 1740, condoned the Welsh language. It was the SPCK that published a great deal of books, mostly translations of religious works, including Ellis Wynne's "Gweledigaetheu y Bardd Cwsc" (The Vision of the Sleeping Bard) in 1703.

Written by a clergyman from Harlech in North Wales, the poem's main theme is the improvement of morals. Wynne passionately believed that Great Britain, under its Protestant sovereign, Queen Anne had become the stronghold of "the true faith," in a world that had become mostly satanic and evil. He was particularly anxious that the political and religious unity of the island of Britain, so much in contrast to the rest of Europe, would be maintained. The Vision became one of the most popular and enduring of the Welsh classics.

Theophilus Evans, a contemporary of Ellis Wynn, was another Anglican priest who was greatly disturbed by the new and sometimes violent forces of non-conformity that were sweeping through Wales. Evans wanted to uphold the authority of the established church, while keeping alive some of the ancient Welsh traditions in epic form. His most important work, first published in 1716 is "Drych y Prif Oesoedd" (Mirror or the First Ages), in which he recounts the history of the Welsh people all the way from the Tower of Babel to the death of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282.

Evans' book is regarded as a classic of Welsh prose, popularizing some of the myths of Welsh history, such as the descent from Gomer, a grandson of Noah; the founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy; and the betrayal of the British people to the Saxons by Hengest. The book' s real importance, however, is that it reminded its readers that Wales was a nation possessing its own history, distinct from that of England and the rest of Britain, with a language (at least according to Evans) that was the oldest in Europe, if not in the world.

Another Welsh writer of the time who appealed to the classical past, thus fulfilling a great thirst of his people for their own history, was Lewis Morris, of a prominent Anglesey family. A cartographer, Lewis accurately chartered the entire Welsh coastline. He also published maps of Welsh harbors and coastal channels.

Becoming concerned that the traditional patrons of Welsh culture were increasingly turning to English books and culture, Morris had the idea of producing entertaining books in the Welsh language. His "Tlysau yr hen Ooesoedd" (Treasures of the Ancient Ages) was published in 1717. Anticipating the future works of O.M. Edwards in the latter half of the 19th century, it was the first Welsh periodical.

Chapter 13 Continued
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