Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 68

Llan Silin Church — Tomb of Huw Morris — Barbara and Richard — Welsh Country Clergyman — The Swearing Lad — Anglo–Saxon Devils.

HAVING discussed my ale I asked the landlord if he would show me the grave of Huw Morris. “With pleasure, sir,” said he; “pray follow me.” He led me to the churchyard, in which several enormous yew trees were standing, probably of an antiquity which reached as far back as the days of Henry the Eighth, when the yew bow was still the favourite weapon of the men of Britain. The church fronts the south, the portico being in that direction. The body of the sacred edifice is ancient, but the steeple which bears a gilded cock on its top is modern. The innkeeper led me directly up to the southern wall, then pointing to a broad discoloured slab, which lay on the ground just outside the wall, about midway between the portico and the oriel end, he said:

“Underneath this stone lies Huw Morris, sir.” Forthwith taking off my hat I went down on my knees and kissed the cold slab covering the cold remains of the mighty Huw, and then, still on my knees, proceeded to examine it attentively. It is covered over with letters three parts defaced. All I could make out of the inscription was the date of the poet’s death, 1709. “A great genius, a very great genius, sir,” said the inn-keeper, after I had got on my feet and put on my hat.

“He was indeed,” said I; “are you acquainted with his poetry?”

“Oh yes,” said the innkeeper, and then repeated the four lines composed by the poet shortly before his death, which I had heard the intoxicated stonemason repeat in the public-house of the Pandy, the day I went to visit the poet’s residence with John Jones.

“Do you know any more of Huw’s poetry?” said I.

“No,” said the innkeeper. “Those lines, however, I have known ever since I was a child and repeated them, more particularly of late since age has come upon me and I have felt that I cannot last long.”

It is very odd how few of the verses of great poets are in people’s mouths. Not more than a dozen of Shakespear’s lines are in people’s mouths: of those of Pope not more than half that number. Of Addison’s poetry two or three lines may be in people’s mouths, though I never heard one quoted, the only line which I ever heard quoted as Addison’s not being his but Garth’s:

“’Tis best repenting in a coach and six.’

Whilst of the verses of Huw Morris I never knew any one but myself, who am not a Welshman, who could repeat a line beyond the four which I have twice had occasion to mention, and which seem to be generally known in North if not in South Wales.

From the flagstone I proceeded to the portico and gazed upon it intensely. It presented nothing very remarkable, but it had the greatest interest for me, for I remembered how many times Huw Morris had walked out of that porch at the head of the congregation, the clergyman yielding his own place to the inspired bard. I would fain have entered the church, but the landlord had not the key, and told me that he imagined there would be some difficulty in procuring it. I was therefore obliged to content myself with peeping through a window into the interior, which had a solemn and venerable aspect.

“Within there,” said I to myself, “Huw Morris, the greatest songster of the seventeenth century, knelt every Sunday during the latter thirty years of his life, after walking from Pont y Meibion across the bleak and savage Berwyn. Within there was married Barbara Wynn, the Rose of Maelai, to Richard Middleton, the handsome cavalier of Maelor, and within there she lies buried, even as the songster who lamented her untimely death in immortal verse lies buried out here in the graveyard. What interesting associations has this church for me, both outside and in, but all connected with Huw; for what should I have known of Barbara, the Rose, and gallant Richard but for the poem on their affectionate union and untimely separation, the dialogue between the living and the dead, composed by humble Huw, the farmer’s son of Ponty y Meibion?”

After gazing through the window till my eyes watered I turned to the innkeeper, and inquired the way to Llan Rhyadr. Having received from him the desired information I thanked him for his civility, and set out on my return.

Before I could get clear of the town I suddenly encountered my friend R-, the clever lawyer and magistrate’s clerk of Llangollen.

“I little expected to see you here,” said he.

“Nor I you,” I replied.

“I came in my official capacity,” said he; “the petty sessions have been held here today.”

“I know they have,” I replied; “and that two poachers have been convicted. I came here on my way to South Wales to see the grave of Huw Morris, who, as you know, is buried in the churchyard.”

“Have you seen the clergyman?” said R-.

“No,” I replied.

“Then come with me,” said he; “I am now going to call upon him. I know he will be rejoiced to make your acquaintance.”

He led me to the clergyman’s house, which stood at the south-west end of the village within a garden fenced with an iron paling. We found the clergyman in a nice comfortable parlour or study, the sides of which were decorated with books. He was a sharp clever-looking man, of about the middle age. On my being introduced to him he was very glad to see me, as my friend R— told me he would be. He seemed to know all about me, even that I understood Welsh. We conversed on various subjects: on the power of the Welsh language; its mutable letters; on Huw Morris, and likewise on ale, with an excellent glass of which he regaled me. I was much pleased with him, and thought him a capital specimen of the Welsh country clergyman. His name was Walter Jones.

After staying about half-an-hour I took leave of the good kind man, who wished me all kind of happiness, spiritual and temporal, and said that he should always be happy to see me at Llan Silin. My friend R— walked with me a little way and then bade me farewell. It was now late in the afternoon, the sky was grey and gloomy, and a kind of half wintry wind was blowing. In the forenoon I had travelled along the eastern side of the valley, which I will call that of Llan Rhyadr, directing my course to the north, but I was now on the western side of the valley, journeying towards the south. In about half-an-hour I found myself nearly parallel with the high crag which I had seen from a distance in the morning. It was now to the east of me. Its western front was very precipitous, but on its northern side it was cultivated nearly to the summit. As I stood looking at it from near the top of a gentle acclivity a boy with a team, whom I had passed a little time before, came up. He was whipping his horses, who were straining up the ascent, and was swearing at them most frightfully in English. I addressed him in that language, inquiring the name of the crag, but he answered Dim Saesneg, and then again fell to cursing; his horses in English. I allowed him and his team to get to the top of the ascent, and then overtaking him, I said in Welsh: “What do you mean by saying you have no English? You were talking English just now to your horses.”

“Yes,” said the lad, “I have English enough for my horses, and that is all.”

“You seem to have plenty of Welsh,” said I; “why don’t you speak Welsh to your horses?”

“It’s of no use speaking Welsh to them,” said the boy; “Welsh isn’t strong enough.”

“Isn’t Myn Diawl tolerably strong?” said I.

“Not strong enough for horses,” said the boy “if I were to say Myn Diawl to my horses, or even Cas Andras, they would laugh at me.”

“Do the other carters,” said I, “use the same English to their horses which you do to yours?”

“Yes” said the boy, “they’ll all use the same English words; if they didn’t the horses wouldn’t mind them.”

“What a triumph,” thought I, “for the English language that the Welsh carters are obliged to have recourse to its oaths and execrations to make their horses get on!”

I said nothing more to the boy on the subject of language, but again asked him the name of the crag. “It is called Craig y Gorllewin,” said he. I thanked him, and soon left him and his team far behind.

Notwithstanding what the boy said about the milk-and-water character of native Welsh oaths, the Welsh have some very pungent execrations, quite as efficacious, I should say, to make a horse get on as any in the English swearing vocabulary. Some of their oaths are curious, being connected with heathen times and Druidical mythology; for example that Cas Andras, mentioned by the boy, which means hateful enemy or horrible Andras. Andras or Andraste was the fury or Demigorgon of the Ancient Cumry, to whom they built temples and offered sacrifices out of fear. Curious that the same oath should be used by the Christian Cumry of the present day, which was in vogue amongst their pagan ancestors some three thousand years ago. However, the same thing is observable amongst us Christian English: we say the Duse take you! even as our heathen Saxon forefathers did, who worshipped a kind of Devil so called, and named a day of the week after him, which name we still retain in our hebdomadal calendar like those of several other Anglo–Saxon devils. We also say: Go to old Nick! and Nick or Nikkur was a surname of Woden, and also the name of a spirit which haunted fords and was in the habit of drowning passengers.

Night came quickly upon me after I had passed the swearing lad. However, I was fortunate enough to reach Llan Rhyadr, without having experienced any damage or impediment from Diawl, Andras, Duse, or Nick.

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