Chapter 21


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Once More a Sense of Nationhood

In all his work, the older Edwards was interested in fostering a sense of national consciousness among the Welsh people. He himself had suffered the embarrassment of being ridiculed for speaking Welsh at school in Bala, having to wear the dreaded piece of Wood (the Welsh Not or Welsh Lump) around his neck, a most effective method of making young children ashamed of their own language. For his untiring efforts at promoting a sense of nationhood, "O.M." as he is affectionately remembered throughout the principality is one of the giants of Welsh literature.

Another father of Welsh nationalism, who wrote in a completely different vein than O.M. Edwards, was Clwyd-born Robert Ambrose Jones (Emrys ap Iwan: 1848-1906). A literary critic and writer on political and religious subjects, Jones did not enjoy the popularity of his colleague. Violently opposed to those who preached in English to please immigrants into Wales, Jones was scathing and cruel in his criticisms of those who catered to the "English fever."

Writing of Ambrose Jones, Meic Stephens has so succinctly pointed out that for someone to try to convince the Welsh to remain faithful to their cultural heritage at a time when the British Empire was at its zenith was a monumental task indeed. Historian Dafydd Johnson sees Jones as way ahead of his day in his intuitive grasp of the recognition that language is not merely incidental, but [is] "an essential aspect both of the mentality of a people and of their nationhood."

Ambrose Jones wrote many sermons and homilies that have been considered as literary masterpieces. A regular contributor to the Welsh press, he published only two books: Camrau mewn Gramadeg Cymraeg (Steps in Welsh Grammar), and an adoption of Ellis Wynn's Visions of a Sleeping Bard.

Despite his few publications, it was Jones who made an important contribution to the literary revival in the early part of the century. He highlighted the existence of Welsh prose classics going back to the Bible, and he helped restore many of the former high standards which had been disappearing as a result of over-dependence on inferior English models. As one of the founders of Welsh nationalism, recognizing that language is an essential aspect of the mentality of a people and of their nationhood, Jones had a great influence on later generations that cannot be overlooked.

Perhaps the leading scholar and literary critic of the nationalist movement was John Morris-Jones (1864-1929), professor of Welsh at Bangor University. Determined to set studies of the Welsh language and its literature on a firm foundation, he was perhaps the first to study them scientifically. Because of Morris-Jones's A Welsh Grammar, Historical and Comparative (1913), Meic Stephens believes that he belongs in the company of such great Welsh grammarians of the Welsh language as Gruffydd Robert and John Davies of Malltwyd.

Other influential poets constituted what became known as the Bardd Newydd (New Poet) School. One was Howell Elvet Lewis (Elfed, 1860-1953), like so many others from the county of Carmarthen, a minister, hymn-writer as well as a poet. Winner of the Crown at the National Eisteddfodau of 1888 and 89, he later became Archdruid. Unlike that of many of his contemporaries, however, his poetry, published in Caniadau, consists of romantic lyrics about the beauties of nature. It is not as well known as his hymns.

Chapter 21 Continued
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