Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 56

Ringing of Bells — Battle of Alma — The Brown Jug — Ale of Llangollen — Reverses.

ON the third of October — I think that was the date — as my family and myself, attended by trusty John Jones, were returning on foot from visiting a park not far from Rhiwabon we heard, when about a mile from Llangollen, a sudden ringing of the bells of the place, and a loud shouting. Presently we observed a postman hurrying in a cart from the direction of the town. “Peth yw y matter?” said John Jones. “Y matter, y matter!” said the postman in a tone of exultation, “Sebastopol wedi cymmeryd. Hurrah!”

“What does he say?” said my wife anxiously to me.

“Why, that Sebastopol is taken,” said I.

“Then you have been mistaken,” said my wife smiling, “for you always said that the place would either not be taken at all or would cost the allies to take it a deal of time and an immense quantity of blood and treasure, and here it is taken at once, for the allies only landed the other day. Well, thank God, you have been mistaken!”

“Thank God, indeed,” said I, “always supposing that I have been mistaken — but I hardly think from what I have known of the Russians that they would let their town — however, let us hope that they have let it be taken. Hurrah!”

We reached our dwelling. My wife and daughter went in. John Jones betook himself to his cottage, and I went into the town, in which there was a great excitement; a wild running troop of boys were shouting “Sebastopol wedi cymmeryd. Hurrah! Hurrah!” Old Mr Jones was standing bare-headed at his door. “Ah,” said the old gentleman, “I am glad to see you. Let us congratulate each other,” he added, shaking me by the hand. “Sebastopol taken, and in so short a time. How fortunate!”

“Fortunate indeed,” said I, returning his hearty shake; “I only hope it may be true.”

“Oh, there can be no doubt of its being true,” said the old gentleman. “The accounts are most positive. Come in, and I will tell you all the circumstances.” I followed him into his little back parlour, where we both sat down.

“Now,” said the old church clerk, “I will tell you all about it. The allies landed about twenty miles from Sebastopol and proceeded to march against it. When nearly half way they found the Russians posted on a hill. Their position was naturally very strong, and they had made it more so by means of redoubts and trenches. However, the allies undismayed, attacked the enemy, and after a desperate resistance, drove them over the hill, and following fast at their heels entered the town pell-mell with them, taking it and all that remained alive of the Russian army. And what do you think? The Welsh highly distinguished themselves. The Welsh fusileers were the first to mount the hill. They suffered horribly — indeed almost the whole regiment was cut to pieces; but what of that? they showed that the courage of the Ancient Britons still survives in their descendants. And now I intend to stand beverage. I assure you I do. No words! I insist upon it. I have heard you say you are fond of good ale, and I intend to fetch you a pint of such ale as I am sure you never drank in your life.” Thereupon he hurried out of the room, and through the shop into the street.

“Well,” said I, when I was by myself, “if this news does not regularly surprise me! I can easily conceive that the Russians would be beaten in a pitched battle by the English and French — but that they should have been so quickly followed up by the allies, as not to be able to shut their gates and man their walls, is to me inconceivable. Why, the Russians retreat like the wind, and have a thousand ruses at command, in order to retard an enemy. So at least I thought, but it is plain that I know nothing about them, nor indeed much of my own countrymen; I should never have thought that English soldiers could have marched fast enough to overtake Russians, more especially with such a being to command them, as — whom I, and indeed almost every one else have always considered a dead weight on the English service. I suppose, however, that both they and their commander were spurred on by the active French.”

Presently the old church clerk made his appearance with a glass in one hand, and a brown jug of ale in the other.

“Here,” said he, filling the glass, “is some of the real Llangollen ale. I got it from the little inn, the Eagle, over the way, which was always celebrated for its ale. They stared at me when I went in and asked for a pint of ale, as they knew that for twenty years I have drunk no liquor whatever, owing to the state of my stomach, which will not allow me to drink anything stronger than water and tea. I told them, however, it was for a gentleman, a friend of mine, whom I wished to treat in honour of the fall of Sebastopol.”

I would fain have excused myself, but the old gentleman insisted on my drinking.

“Well,” said I, taking the glass, “thank God that our gloomy forebodings are not likely to be realised. Oes y byd i’r glod Frythoneg! May Britain’s glory last as long as the world!”

Then, looking for a moment at the ale, which was of a dark-brown colour, I put the glass to my lips and drank.

“Ah!” said the old church clerk, “I see you like it, for you have emptied the glass at a draught.”

“It is good ale,” said I.

“Good,” said the old gentleman rather hastily, “good; did you ever taste any so good in your life?”

“Why, as to that,” said I, “I hardly know what to say; I have drunk some very good ale in my day. However, I’ll trouble you for another glass.”

“Oh ho, you will,” said the old gentleman; “that’s enough; if you did not think it first-rate, you would not ask for more. This,” said he, as he filled the glass again, “is genuine malt and hop liquor, brewed in a way only known, they say, to some few people in this place. You must, however, take care how much you take of it. Only a few glasses will make you dispute with your friends, and a few more quarrel with them. Strange things are said of what Llangollen ale made people do of yore; and I remember that when I was young and could drink ale, two or three glasses of the Llangollen juice of the barleycorn would make me — however, those times are gone by.”

“Has Llangollen ale,” said I, after tasting the second glass, “ever been sung in Welsh? is there no englyn upon it?”

“No,” said the old church clerk, “at any rate, that I am aware.”

“Well,” said I, “I can’t sing its praises in a Welsh englyn, but I think I can contrive to do so in an English quatrain, with the help of what you have told me. What do you think of this? —

“Llangollen’s brown ale is with malt and hop rife; ’Tis good; but don’t quaff it from evening till dawn; For too much of that ale will incline you to strife; Too much of that ale has caused knives to be drawn.”

“That’s not so bad,” said the old church clerk, “but I think some of our bards could have produced something better — that is, in Welsh; for example old — What’s the name of the old bard who wrote so many englynion on ale?”

“Sion Tudor,” said I; “O yes; but he was a great poet. Ah, he has written some wonderful englynion on ale; but you will please to bear in mind that all his englynion are upon bad ale, and it is easier to turn to ridicule what is bad, than to do anything like justice to what is good.”

O, great was the rejoicing for a few days at Llangollen for the reported triumph; and the share of the Welsh in that triumph reconciled for a time the descendants of the Ancient Britons to the seed of the coiling serpent. “Welsh and Saxons together will conquer the world!” shouted brats, as they stood barefooted in the kennel. In a little time, however, news not quite so cheering arrived. There had been a battle fought, it is true, in which the Russians had been beaten, and the little Welsh had very much distinguished themselves, but no Sebastopol had been taken. The Russians had retreated to their town, which, till then almost defenceless on the land side, they had, following their old maxim of “never despair,” rendered almost impregnable in a few days, whilst the allies, chiefly owing to the supineness of the British commander, were loitering on the field of battle. In a word, all had happened which the writer, from his knowledge of the Russians and his own countrymen, had conceived likely to happen from the beginning. Then came the news of the commencement of a seemingly interminable siege, and of disasters and disgraces on the part of the British; there was no more shouting at Llangollen in connection with the Crimean expedition. But the subject is a disagreeable one, and the writer will dismiss it after a few brief words.

It was quite right and consistent with the justice of God that the British arms should be subjected to disaster and ignominy about that period. A deed of infamous injustice and cruelty had been perpetrated, and the perpetrators, instead of being punished, had received applause and promotion; so if the British expedition to Sebastopol was a disastrous and ignominious one, who can wonder? Was it likely that the groans of poor Parry would be unheard from the corner to which he had retired to hide his head by “the Ancient of days,” who sits above the cloud, and from thence sends judgments?

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