Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 40

Caer Gyby — Lewis Morris — Noble Character.

I DINED or rather supped well at the Railroad Inn — I beg its pardon, Hotel, for the word Inn at the present day is decidedly vulgar. I likewise slept well; how could I do otherwise, passing the night, as I did, in an excellent bed in a large, cool, quiet room? I arose rather late, went down to the coffee-room and took my breakfast leisurely, after which I paid my bill and strolled forth to observe the wonders of the place.

Caer Gybi or Cybi’s town is situated on the southern side of a bay on the north-western side of Anglesey. Close to it on the south-west is a very high headland called in Welsh Pen Caer Gybi, or the head of Cybi’s city, and in English Holy Head. On the north, across the bay, is another mountain of equal altitude, which if I am not mistaken bears in Welsh the name of Mynydd Llanfair, or Saint Mary’s Mount. It is called Cybi’s town from one Cybi, who about the year 500 built a college here to which youths noble and ignoble resorted from far and near. He was a native of Dyfed or Pembrokeshire, and was a friend and for a long time a fellow-labourer of Saint David. Besides being learned, according to the standard of the time, he was a great walker, and from bronzing his countenance by frequent walking in the sun was generally called Cybi Velin, which means tawny or yellow Cybi.

So much for Cybi, and his town! And now something about one whose memory haunted me much more than that of Cybi during my stay at Holyhead.

Lewis Morris was born at a place called Tref y Beirdd, in Anglesey, in the year 1700. Anglesey, or Mona, has given birth to many illustrious men, but few, upon the whole, entitled to more honourable mention than himself. From a humble situation in life, for he served an apprenticeship to a cooper at Holyhead, he raised himself by his industry and talents to affluence and distinction, became a landed proprietor in the county of Cardigan, and inspector of the royal domains and mines in Wales. Perhaps a man more generally accomplished never existed; he was a first-rate mechanic, an expert navigator, a great musician, both in theory and practice, and a poet of singular excellence. Of him it was said, and with truth, that he could build a ship and sail it, frame a harp and make it speak, write an ode and set it to music. Yet that saying, eulogistic as it is, is far from expressing all the vast powers and acquirements of Lewis Morris. Though self-taught, he was confessedly the best Welsh scholar of his age, and was well-versed in those cognate dialects of the Welsh — the Cornish, Armoric, Highland Gaelic and Irish. He was likewise well acquainted with Hebrew, Greek and Latin, had studied Anglo–Saxon with some success, and was a writer of bold and vigorous English. He was besides a good general antiquary, and for knowledge of ancient Welsh customs, traditions, and superstitions, had no equal. Yet all has not been said which can be uttered in his praise; he had qualities of mind which entitled him to higher esteem than any accomplishment connected with intellect or skill. Amongst these were his noble generosity and sacrifice of self for the benefit of others. Weeks and months he was in the habit of devoting to the superintendence of the affairs of the widow and fatherless: one of his principal delights was to assist merit, to bring it before the world and to procure for it its proper estimation: it was he who first discovered the tuneful genius of blind Parry; it was he who first put the harp into his hand; it was he who first gave him scientific instruction; it was he who cheered him with encouragement and assisted him with gold. It was he who instructed the celebrated Evan Evans in the ancient language of Wales, enabling that talented but eccentric individual to read the pages of the Red Book of Hergest as easily as those of the Welsh Bible; it was he who corrected his verses with matchless skill, refining and polishing them till they became well worthy of being read by posterity; it was he who gave him advice, which, had it been followed, would have made the Prydydd Hir, as he called himself, one of the most illustrious Welshmen of the last century; and it was he who first told his countrymen that there was a youth of Anglesey whose genius, if properly encouraged, promised fair to rival that of Milton: one of the most eloquent letters ever written is one by him, in which he descants upon the beauties of certain poems of Gronwy Owen, the latent genius of whose early boyhood he had observed, whom he had clothed, educated and assisted up to the period when he was ordained a minister of the Church, and whom he finally rescued from a state bordering on starvation in London, procuring for him an honourable appointment in the New World. Immortality to Lewis Morris! But immortality he has won, even as his illustrious pupil has said, who in his elegy upon his benefactor, written in America, in the four-and-twenty measures, at a time when Gronwy had not heard the Welsh language spoken for more than twenty years, has words to the following effect:-

“As long as Bardic lore shall last, science and learning be cherished, the language and blood of the Britons undefiled, song be heard on Parnassus, heaven and earth be in existence, foam be on the surge, and water in the river, the name of Lewis of Mon shall be held in grateful remembrance.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50