Chapter 17


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A New Struggle for Identity

Thus, in the hodgepodge of heavy industry and inadequate, crowded housing, factory and mine, chapel and pub, a distinctive and unique social world came into being. With its large population, many of whom were immigrants from Ireland or England, it came to dominate the political affairs of Wales and to create the picture that seems most to characterize the country for the outside world.

This was a world all its own. To the men and women of these valleys, and to a certain extent, to the majority of the three large urban and English-speaking areas of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, the rest of Wales was another country , chapel-going, teetotal, parsimonious, and above all Welsh-speaking people of the West and North were totally alien beings who might have come from another planet.

The flight from rural Wales continued. Without industry (except for the coal mines and iron works of small areas of Flint and Denbigh and the slate quarries of Gwynedd) and short of land (other than that owned by the few wealthy, dominant families such as the Wynnes and the Mostyns) the men of Merioneth, Cardigan, Montgomery, Radnor, and Pembroke left their small holdings by the thousands to take up residence in the counties of Glamorgan or Monmouth or to take their families to England. Poor harvests in Wales over a long period and lack of employment meant that they would never return. The postal reforms of the 1840's that both speeded up and cheapened postal deliveries meant that many of these workers could keep in touch with the families they had left behind.

Despite being expanded and strengthened by the Welsh-speaking newcomers, the Welsh communities in the heavily industrialized areas of the country, by the end of the century was ultimately unable to absorb the vast influx of non-Welsh speakers, mainly from Ireland and England into its own language culture. The repercussions are felt strongly today as only one in five of the inhabitants of Wales use Welsh as a language of everyday affairs.

In Flintshire, so near to the large urban areas of Merseyside and Cheshire there had long been deliberate attempts to stamp out the Welsh language: a traveler to the area as early as 1799 described the situation thus:
If therefore, in the colloquial intercourse of the scholars, one of them be detected in speaking a Welsh word, he is immediately degraded with the 'Welsh lump,' a large piece of lead fastened to a string, and suspended round the neck of the offender. The mark of ignominy has had the desired effect: all the children of Flintshire speak English very well.
Such drastic measures had their desired effect. In 1804 John Evans wrote that "North Wales is becoming English." In the same year, describing another border county Benjamin Heath Malkin wrote:
The language of Radnorshire is almost universally English. In learning to converse with their Saxon neighbours, they have forgotten the use of their vernacular tongue.
The language managed to hang on in other areas, only to incur increasing hostility. In a letter to The Cambrian in September 1840, one writer even blamed the Welsh language for the country's moral turpitude; it is worth quoting in full, for it expressed an attitude all too common both in the writer's day, and the century that followed:
I cherish the hope that I may yet see the day when Wales, no longer the seat of barbarity and heathenism, will herself take a fit position (from which she has so long been excluded) in moral literature and science. It may be asked how was Wales set aside from that past, which is the glory and pride of every other nation? The answer is simple -- she is bound with fetters as yet indissoluble which she seems to hug with increasing tenacity -- namely her language --The Welshman is a fool, his language is his folly -- he prefers others to enjoy his goods, he prefers he prefers being laughed at as a puppet in Druidic processions and Bardic Eisteddfodau.
The writer wished to see the disappearance for ever of the Welsh language, "without which act, we can never hope to be recognized otherwise than as simple, good-natured, honest barbarians." The letter, astonishingly enough, was written just at the time that Lady Charlotte Guest was making known to the world some of the glories of Welsh literature through her translations of the medieval tales known as the Mabinogion. At the same time, Lady Llanover advised the mothers of Wales, "...speak Welsh to your children...it is from you, and not from their fathers, that they will learn to love God in their own language."

Chapter 17 Continued
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