Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 55

A Visitor — Apprenticeship to the Law — Croch Daranau — Lope de Vega — No Life like the Traveller’s.

ONE morning as I sat alone a gentleman was announced. On his entrance I recognised in him the magistrate’s clerk, owing to whose good word, as it appeared to me, I had been permitted to remain during the examination into the affair of the wounded butcher. He was a stout, strong-made man, somewhat under the middle height, with a ruddy face, and very clear, grey eyes. I handed him a chair, which he took, and said that his name was R-, and that he had taken the liberty of calling, as he had a great desire to be acquainted with me. On my asking him his reason for that desire he told me that it proceeded from his having read a book of mine about Spain, which had much interested him.

“Good,” said I, “you can’t give an author a better reason for coming to see him than being pleased with his book. I assure you that you are most welcome.”

After a little general discourse I said that I presumed he was in the law.

“Yes,” said he, “I am a member of that much-abused profession.”

“And unjustly abused,” said I; “it is a profession which abounds with honourable men, and in which I believe there are fewer scamps than in any other. The most honourable men I have ever known have been lawyers; they were men whose word was their bond, and who would have preferred ruin to breaking it. There was my old master, in particular, who would have died sooner than broken his word. God bless him! I think I see him now with his bald, shining pate, and his finger on an open page of ‘Preston’s Conveyancing.’”

“Sure you are not a limb of the law?” said Mr R-.

“No,” said I, “but I might be, for I served an apprenticeship to it.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr R-, shaking me by the hand. “Take my advice, come and settle at Llangollen and be my partner.”

“If I did,” said I, “I am afraid that our partnership would be of short duration; you would find me too eccentric and flighty for the law. Have you a good practice?” I demanded after a pause.

“I have no reason to complain of it,” said he, with a contented air.

“I suppose you are married?” said I.

“Oh yes,” said he, “I have both a wife and family.”

“A native of Llangollen?” said I.

“No,” said he: “I was born at Llan Silin, a place some way off across the Berwyn.”

“Llan Silin?” said I, “I have a great desire to visit it some day or other.”

“Why so?” said he, “it offers nothing interesting.”

“I beg your pardon,” said I; “unless I am much mistaken, the tomb of the great poet Huw Morris is in Llan Silin churchyard.”

“Is it possible that you have ever heard of Huw Morris?”

“Oh yes,” said I; “and I have not only heard of him but am acquainted with his writings; I read them when a boy.”

“How very extraordinary,” said he; “well, you are quite right about his tomb; when a boy I have played dozens of times on the flat stone with my schoolfellows.”

We talked of Welsh poetry; he said he had not dipped much into it, owing to its difficulty; that he was master of the colloquial language of Wales, but understood very little of the language of Welsh poetry, which was a widely different thing. I asked him whether he had seen Owen Pugh’s translation of Paradise Lost. He said he had, but could only partially understand it, adding, however, that those parts which he could make out appeared to him to be admirably executed, that amongst these there was one which had particularly struck him namely:

“Ar eu col o rygnu croch Daranau.”

The rendering of Milton’s

“And on their hinges grate Harsh thunder.”

which, grand as it was, was certainly equalled by the Welsh version, and perhaps surpassed, for that he was disposed to think that there was something more terrible in “croch daranau,” than in “harsh thunder.”

“I am disposed to think so too,” said I. “Now can you tell me where Owen Pugh is buried?”

“I cannot,” said he; “but I suppose you can tell me; you, who know the burying-place of Huw Morris are probably acquainted with the burying-place of Owen Pugh.”

“No,” said I, “I am not. Unlike Huw Morris, Owen Pugh has never had his history written, though perhaps quite as interesting a history might be made out of the life of the quiet student as out of that of the popular poet. As soon as ever I learn where his grave is I shall assuredly make a pilgrimage to it.” Mr R— then asked me a good many questions about Spain, and a certain singular race of people about whom I have written a good deal. Before going away he told me that a friend of his, of the name of J-, would call upon me, provided he thought I should not consider his doing so an intrusion. “Let him come by all means,” said I; “I shall never look upon a visit from a friend of yours in the light of an intrusion.”

In a few days came his friend, a fine tall athletic man of about forty. “You are no Welshman,” said I, as I looked at him.

“No,” said he, “I am a native of Lincolnshire, but I have resided in Llangollen for thirteen years.”

“In what capacity?” said I.

“In the wine-trade,” said he.

“Instead of coming to Llangollen,” said I, “and entering into the wine-trade, you should have gone to London, and enlisted into the Life Guards.”

“Well,” said he, with a smile, “I had once or twice thought of doing so. However, fate brought me to Llangollen, and I am not sorry that she did, for I have done very well here.”

I soon found out that he was a well-read and indeed highly accomplished man. Like his friend R-, Mr J— asked me a great many questions about Spain. By degrees we got on the subject of Spanish literature. I said that the literature of Spain was a first-rate literature, but that it was not very extensive. He asked me whether I did not think that Lope de Vega was much overrated.

“Not a bit,” said I; “Lope de Vega was one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived. He was not only a great dramatist and lyric poet, but a prose writer of marvellous ability, as he proved by several admirable tales, amongst which is the best ghost story in the world.”

Another remarkable person whom I got acquainted with about this time was A-, the innkeeper, who lived a little way down the road, of whom John Jones had spoken so highly, saying, amongst other things, that he was the clebberest man in Llangollen. One day as I was looking in at his gate, he came forth, took off his hat, and asked me to do him the honour to come in and look at his grounds. I complied, and as he showed me about he told me his history in nearly the following words:-

“I am a Devonian by birth. For many years I served a travelling gentleman, whom I accompanied in all his wanderings. I have been five times across the Alps, and in every capital of Europe. My master at length dying left me in his will something handsome, whereupon I determined to be a servant no longer, but married, and came to Llangollen, which I had visited long before with my master, and had been much pleased with. After a little time these premises becoming vacant, I took them, and set up in the public line, more to have something to do, than for the sake of gain, about which, indeed, I need not trouble myself much, my poor, dear master, as I said before, having done very handsomely by me at his death. Here I have lived for several years, receiving strangers, and improving my house and grounds. I am tolerably comfortable, but confess I sometimes look back to my former roving life rather wistfully, for there is no life so merry as the traveller’s.”

He was about the middle age and somewhat under the middle size. I had a good deal of conversation with him, and was much struck with his frank, straightforward manner. He enjoyed a high character at Llangollen for probity and likewise for cleverness, being reckoned an excellent gardener, and an almost unequalled cook. His master, the travelling gentleman, might well leave him a handsome remembrance in his will, for he had not only been an excellent and trusty servant to him, but had once saved his life at the hazard of his own, amongst the frightful precipices of the Alps. Such retired gentlemen’s servants, or such publicans either, as honest A-, are not every day to be found. His grounds, principally laid out by his own hands, exhibited an infinity of taste, and his house, into which I looked, was a perfect picture of neatness. Any tourist visiting Llangollen for a short period could do no better than take up his abode at the hostelry of honest A-.

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