Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 47

Spanish Proverb — The Short Cut — Predestinations — Rhys Goch — Old Crusty — Undercharging — The Cavalier.

THE Spaniards have a proverb: “No hay atajo sin trabajo,” there is no short cut without a deal of labour. This proverb is very true, as I know by my own experience, for I never took a short cut in my life, and I have taken many in my wanderings, without falling down, getting into a slough, or losing my way. On the present occasion I lost my way, and wandered about for nearly two hours amidst rocks, thickets, and precipices, without being able to find it. The temperance woman, however, spoke nothing but the truth when she said I should see some fine scenery. From a rock I obtained a wonderful view of the Wyddfa towering in sublime grandeur in the west, and of the beautiful, but spectral, Knicht shooting up high in the north; and from the top of a bare hill I obtained a prospect to the south, noble indeed — waters, forests, hoary mountains, and in the far distance the sea. But all these fine prospects were a poor compensation for what I underwent: I was scorched by the sun, which was insufferably hot, and my feet were bleeding from the sharp points of the rocks which cut through my boots like razors. At length coming to a stone wall I flung myself down under it, and almost thought that I should give up the ghost. After some time, however, I recovered, and getting up tried to find my way out of the anialwch. Sheer good fortune caused me to stumble upon a path, by following which I came to a lone farm-house, where a good-natured woman gave me certain directions by means of which I at last got out of the hot stony wilderness, for such it was, upon a smooth royal road.

“Trust me again taking any short cuts,” said I, “after the specimen I have just had.” This, however, I had frequently said before, and have said since after taking short cuts — and probably shall often say again before I come to my great journey’s end.

I turned to the east which I knew to be my proper direction, and being now on smooth ground put my legs to their best speed. The road by a rapid descent conducted me to a beautiful valley with a small town at its southern end. I soon reached the town, and on inquiring its name found I was in Tan y Bwlch, which interpreted signifieth “Below the Pass.” Feeling much exhausted I entered the Grapes Inn.

On my calling for brandy and water I was shown into a handsome parlour. The brandy and water soon restored the vigour which I had lost in the wilderness. In the parlour was a serious-looking gentleman, with a glass of something before him. With him, as I sipped my brandy and water, I got into discourse. The discourse soon took a religious turn, and terminated in a dispute. He told me he believed in divine predestination; I told him I did not, but that I believed in divine prescience. He asked me whether I hoped to be saved; I told him I did, and asked him whether he hoped to be saved. He told me he did not, and as he said so, he tapped with a silver tea-spoon on the rim of his glass. I said that he seemed to take very coolly the prospect of damnation; he replied that it was of no use taking what was inevitable otherwise than coolly. I asked him on what ground he imagined he should be lost; he replied on the ground of being predestined to be lost. I asked him how he knew he was predestined to be lost; whereupon he asked me how I knew I was to be saved. I told him I did not know I was to be saved, but trusted I should be so by belief in Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, and that if he believed in Christ he might be as easily saved as myself, or any other sinner who believed in Him. Our dispute continued a considerable time longer. At last, finding him silent, and having finished my brandy and water, I got up, rang the bell, paid for what I had had, and left him looking very miserable, perhaps at finding that he was not quite so certain of eternal damnation as he had hitherto supposed. There can be no doubt that the idea of damnation is anything but disagreeable to some people; it gives them a kind of gloomy consequence in their own eyes. We must be something particular they think, or God would hardly think it worth His while to torment us for ever.

I inquired the way to Festiniog, and finding that I had passed by it on my way to the town, I went back, and as directed turned to the east up a wide pass, down which flowed a river. I soon found myself in another and very noble valley, intersected by the river which was fed by numerous streams rolling down the sides of the hills. The road which I followed in the direction of the east lay on the southern side of the valley and led upward by a steep ascent. On I went, a mighty hill close on my right. My mind was full of enthusiastic fancies; I was approaching Festiniog the birthplace of Rhys Goch, who styled himself Rhys Goch of Eryri or Red Rhys of Snowdon, a celebrated bard, and a partisan of Owen Glendower, who lived to an immense age, and who, as I had read, was in the habit of composing his pieces seated on a stone which formed part of a Druidical circle, for which reason the stone was called the chair of Rhys Goch; yes, my mind was full of enthusiastic fancies all connected with this Rhys Goch, and as I went along slowly, I repeated stanzas of furious war songs of his exciting his countrymen to exterminate the English, and likewise snatches of an abusive ode composed by him against a fox who had run away with his favourite peacock, a piece so abounding with hard words that it was termed the Drunkard’s chokepear, as no drunkard was ever able to recite it, and ever and anon I wished I could come in contact with some native of the region with whom I could talk about Rhys Goch, and who could tell me whereabouts stood his chair.

Strolling along in this manner I was overtaken by an old fellow with a stick in his hand, walking very briskly. He had a crusty and rather conceited look. I spoke to him in Welsh, and he answered in English, saying that I need not trouble myself by speaking Welsh, as he had plenty of English, and of the very best. We were from first to last at cross purposes. I asked him about Rhys Goch and his chair. He told me that he knew nothing of either, and began to talk of Her Majesty’s ministers and the fine sights of London. I asked him the name of a stream which, descending a gorge on our right, ran down the side of a valley, to join the river at its bottom. He told me that he did not know, and asked me the name of the Queen’s eldest daughter. I told him I did not know, and remarked that it was very odd that he could not tell me the name of a stream in his own vale. He replied that it was not a bit more odd than that I could not tell him the name of the eldest daughter of the Queen of England: I told him that when I was in Wales I wanted to talk about Welsh matters, and he told me that when he was with English he wanted to talk about English matters. I returned to the subject of Rhys Goch and his chair, and he returned to the subject of Her Majesty’s ministers, and the fine folks of London. I told him that I cared not a straw about Her Majesty’s ministers and the fine folks of London, and he replied that he cared not a straw for Rhys Goch, his chair or old women’s stories of any kind.

Regularly incensed against the old fellow, I told him he was a bad Welshman, and he retorted by saying I was a bad Englishman. I said he appeared to know next to nothing. He retorted by saying I knew less than nothing, and almost inarticulate with passion added that he scorned to walk in such illiterate company, and suiting the action to the word sprang up a steep and rocky footpath on the right, probably a short cut to his domicile, and was out of sight in a twinkling. We were both wrong: I most so. He was crusty and conceited, but I ought to have humoured him and then I might have got out of him anything he knew, always supposing that he knew anything.

About an hour’s walk from Tan y Bwlch brought me to Festiniog, which is situated on the top of a lofty hill looking down from the south-east, on the valley which I have described, and which as I know not its name I shall style the Valley of the numerous streams. I went to the inn, a large old-fashioned house standing near the church; the mistress of it was a queer-looking old woman, antiquated in her dress and rather blunt in her manner. Of her, after ordering dinner, I made inquiries respecting the chair of Rhys Goch, but she said that she had never heard of such a thing, and after glancing at me askew, for a moment, with a curiously-formed left eye which she had, went away muttering chair, chair; leaving me in a large and rather dreary parlour, to which she had shown me. I felt very fatigued, rather I believe from that unlucky short cut than from the length of the way, for I had not come more than eighteen miles. Drawing a chair towards a table I sat down, and placing my elbows upon the board I leaned my face upon my upturned hands, and presently fell into a sweet sleep, from which I awoke exceedingly refreshed just as a maid opened the room door to lay the cloth.

After dinner I got up, went out and strolled about the place. It was small, and presented nothing very remarkable. Tired of strolling I went and leaned my back against the wall of the churchyard and enjoyed the cool of the evening, for evening with its coolness and shadows had now come on.

As I leaned against the wall, an elderly man came up and entered into discourse with me. He told me he was a barber by profession, had travelled all over Wales, and had seen London. I asked him about the chair of Rhys Goch. He told me that he had heard of some such chair a long time ago, but could give me no information as to where it stood. I know not how it happened that he came to speak about my landlady, but speak about her he did. He said that she was a good kind of woman, but totally unqualified for business, as she knew not how to charge. On my observing that that was a piece of ignorance with which few landladies or landlords either were taxable, he said that however other publicans might overcharge, undercharging was her foible, and that she had brought herself very low in the world by it — that to his certain knowledge she might have been worth thousands instead of the trifle which she was possessed of, and that she was particularly notorious for undercharging the English, a thing never before dreamt of in Wales. I told him that I was very glad that I had come under the roof of such a landlady; the old barber, however, said that she was setting a bad example, that such goings on could not last long, that he knew how things would end, and finally working himself up into a regular tiff left me abruptly without wishing me good-night.

I returned to the inn, and called for lights; the lights were placed upon the table in the old-fashioned parlour, and I was left to myself. I walked up and down the room some time. At length, seeing some old books lying in a corner, I laid hold of them, carried them to the table, sat down and began to inspect them; they were the three volumes of Scott’s “Cavalier” — I had seen this work when a youth, and thought it a tiresome trashy publication. Looking over it now when I was grown old I thought so still, but I now detected in it what from want of knowledge I had not detected in my early years, what the highest genius, had it been manifested in every page, could not have compensated for, base fulsome adulation of the worthless great, and most unprincipled libelling of the truly noble ones of the earth, because they the sons of peasants and handycraftsmen, stood up for the rights of outraged humanity, and proclaimed that it is worth makes the man and not embroidered clothing. The heartless, unprincipled son of the tyrant was transformed in that worthless book into a slightly-dissipated, it is true, but upon the whole brave, generous and amiable being; and Harrison, the English Regulus, honest, brave, unflinching Harrison, into a pseudo-fanatic, a mixture of the rogue and fool. Harrison, probably the man of the most noble and courageous heart that England ever produced, who when all was lost scorned to flee, like the second Charles from Worcester, but, braved infamous judges and the gallows, who when reproached on his mock trial with complicity in the death of the king, gave the noble answer that “It was a thing not done in a corner,” and when in the cart on the way to Tyburn, on being asked jeeringly by a lord’s bastard in the crowd, “Where is the good old cause now?” thrice struck his strong fist on the breast which contained his courageous heart, exclaiming, “Here, here, here!” Yet for that “Cavalier,” that trumpery publication, the booksellers of England, on its first appearance, gave an order to the amount of six thousand pounds. But they were wise in their generation; they knew that the book would please the base, slavish taste of the age, a taste which the author of the work had had no slight share in forming.

Tired after a while with turning over the pages of the trashy “Cavalier” I returned the volumes to their place in the corner, blew out one candle, and taking the other in my hand marched off to bed.


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