Chapter 18


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The Struggle and the Dream Continue

One who was particularly offended by the government report on the status of Welsh education was Sir Hugh Owen, a pioneer in education in Wales. His open letter to the Welsh people in 1843 urged the acceptance of the schools of the British and Foreign Schools Society, and his untiring efforts to secure a university for Wales eventually led to a commission to promote the idea in 1854. As his pleas to the government for financial help went unheeded, the university itself was established mainly through voluntary contributions.

It was public subscription that brought to fruition the ancient dream of Owain Glyndwr, revived by such as R. J. Derfel, and promoted by Sir Hugh Owen. In 1872 Aberystwyth University accepted its first students in an impressive, but vacant hotel on the seafront. It was to attract many that would come to have profound influence on the culture and consciousness of the Welsh nation. In so many areas it provided the foundations for the national revival of the late 1890's.

In the meantime, it was the Chapel that helped continue the tradition of a literate working class eager for reading material and highly supportive of the nation's poets, especially those who competed at the eisteddfodau. The first truly national Eisteddfod was held at Aberdare in 1861. Its success led to the institution becoming an integral and much-loved part of Welsh culture from then on.

Two of Wales' top poets who competed at the Eisteddfodau were Evan Evans and William Thomas, both of whom wrote as members of the Church of England. They both wrote in Welsh, an accomplishment that not too many of their fellow clergy were capable of. In 1841, William Jones who deplored the situation wrote: "It is devoutly wished that the [Anglican] clergy of Wales were more vernacularly acquainted with the language in which they officiate. Jones also commented that the paradox facing the Welsh language which "had never been more encouraged than during the last twenty-five years, and never, in the same compass of time, has the English spread itself so much over the principality."

The situation was such that there were other notable poets of the 19th century whose work should be much better known. But their use of Welsh exclusively has led so many English critics, besotted as they are with Wordworth and Tennyson, Arnold and Shelley, et al ad nauseum, to conclude that Welsh literature of the 19th century contains nothing worthwhile.

It is a pity that these critics, because of their complete lack of knowledge of the Welsh language, are unable to appreciate such poets as William Thomas and Evan Evans, but especially John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-87). His publication of five volumes of poetry in the 1860's brought him enormous fame in Wales, if not elsewhere.

Chapter 18 Continued
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