Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 109

Arrival at Chepstow — Stirring Lyric — Conclusion.

I PASSED through Caer Went, once an important Roman station, and for a long time after the departure of the Romans a celebrated British city, now a poor desolate place consisting of a few old-fashioned houses and a strange-looking dilapidated church. No Welsh is spoken at Caer Went, nor to the east of it, nor indeed for two or three miles before you reach it from the west.

The country between it and Chepstow, from which it is distant about four miles, is delightfully green, but somewhat tame.

Chepstow stands on the lower part of a hill, near to where the beautiful Wye joins the noble Severn. The British name of the place is Aber Wye or the disemboguement of the Wye. The Saxons gave it the name of Chepstow, which in their language signifies a place where a market is held, because even in the time of the Britons it was the site of a great cheap or market. After the Norman Conquest it became the property of De Clare, one of William’s followers, who built near it an enormous castle, which enjoyed considerable celebrity during several centuries from having been the birthplace of Strongbow, the conqueror of Ireland, but which is at present chiefly illustrious from the mention which is made of it in one of the most stirring lyrics of modern times, a piece by Walter Scott, called the “Norman Horseshoe,” commemorative of an expedition made by a De Clare, of Chepstow, with the view of insulting with the print of his courser’s shoe the green meads of Glamorgan, and which commences thus:-

“Red glows the forge” —

I went to the principal inn, where I engaged a private room and ordered the best dinner which the people could provide. Then leaving my satchel behind me I went to the castle, amongst the ruins of which I groped and wandered for nearly an hour, occasionally repeating verses of the Norman Horseshoe. I then went to the Wye and drank of the waters at its mouth, even as some time before I had drunk of the waters at its source. Then returning to my inn I got my dinner, after which I called for a bottle of port, and placing my feet against the sides of the grate I passed my time drinking wine and singing Welsh songs till ten o’clock at night, when I paid my reckoning, amounting to something considerable. Then shouldering my satchel I proceeded to the railroad station, where I purchased a first-class ticket, and ensconcing myself in a comfortable carriage, was soon on the way to London, where I arrived at about four o’clock in the morning, having had during the whole of my journey a most uproarious set of neighbours a few carriages behind me, namely, some hundred and fifty of Napier’s tars returning from their expedition to the Baltic.


THE original home of the Cumro was Southern Hindustan, the extreme point of which, Cape Comorin, derived from him its name. It may be here asked what is the exact meaning of the word Cumro? The true meaning of the word is a youth. It is connected with a Sanscrit word, signifying a youth, and likewise a prince. It is surprising how similar in meaning the names of several nations are: Cumro, a youth; Gael, a hero; 24 Roman, one who is comely, a husband; 25 Frank or Frenchman, a free, brave fellow; Dane, an honest man; Turk, a handsome lad; Arab, a sprightly fellow. Lastly, Romany Chal, the name by which the Gypsy styles himself, signifying not an Egyptian, but a lad of Rome. 26

The language of the Cumro is called after him Cumraeg. Of Cumric there are three dialects, the speech of Cumru or Wales; that of Armorica or, as the Welsh call it, Llydaw, and the Cornish, which is no longer spoken, and only exists in books and in the names of places. The Cumric bears considerable affinity to the Gaelic, or the language of the Gael, of which there are also three dialects, the Irish, the speech of the Scottish Highlanders, and the Manx, which last is rapidly becoming extinct. The Cumric and Gaelic have not only a great many thousand words in common, but also a remarkable grammatical feature, the mutation and dropping of certain initial consonants under certain circumstances, which feature is peculiar to the Celtic languages. The number of Sanscritic words which the Cumric and Gaelic possess is considerable. Of the two the Gaelic possesses the most, and those have generally more of the Sanscritic character, than the words of the same class which are to be found in the Welsh. The Welsh, however, frequently possesses the primary word when the Irish does not. Of this the following is an instance. One of the numerous Irish words for a mountain is codadh. This word is almost identical with the Sanscrit kuta, which also signifies a mountain; but kuta and codadh are only secondary words. The Sanscrit possesses the radical of kuta, and that is kuda, to heap up, but the Irish does not possess the radical of codadh. The Welsh, without possessing any word for a hill at all like codadh, has the primary or radical word; that word is codi, to rise or raise, almost identical in sound and sense with the Sanscrit kuda. Till a house is raised there is no house, and there is no hill till the Nara or Omnipotent says ARISE.

The Welsh is one of the most copious languages of the world, as it contains at least eighty thousand words. It has seven vowels; w in Welsh being pronounced like oo, and y like u and i. Its most remarkable feature is the mutation of initial consonants, to explain which properly would require more space than I can afford.27 The nouns are of two numbers, the singular and plural, and a few have a dual number. The genders are three, the Masculine, the Feminine and the Neuter. There are twelve plural terminations of nouns, of which the most common is au. Some substantives are what the grammarians call aggregate plurals, 28 “which are not used in the plural without the addition of diminutive terminations, for example adar, birds, aderyn, a bird; gwenyn, bees, gwenynen, a single bee.” There are different kinds of adjectives; some have a plural, some have none; some have a feminine form, others have not; the most common plural termination is ion. It is said by some that the verb has properly no present tense, the future being used instead. The verbs present many difficulties, and there are many defective and irregular ones. In the irregularities of its verbs the Welsh language very much resembles the Irish.

The numerals require some particular notice: forty, sixty and eighty are expressed by deugain, trigain, and pedwarugain, literally, two twenties, three twenties, and four twenties; whilst fifty, seventy, and ninety are expressed by words corresponding with ten after two twenties, ten after three twenties, and ten after four twenties. Whether the Welsh had ever a less clumsy way of expressing the above numbers is unknown — something similar is observable in French, and the same practice prevails in the modern Gaelic; in the ancient Gaelic, however, there are such numerals as ceathrachad, seasgad, and naochad, which correspond with quadraginta, sexaginta, and nonaginta. The numerals dau, tri, and pedwar, or two, three, and four, have feminine forms, becoming when preceding feminine nouns, dwy, tair, and pedair. In Gaelic no numeral has a feminine form; certain numerals, however, have an influence over nouns which others have not, and before cead, a hundred, and mile, a thousand, do, two, is changed into da, for it is not customary to say do chead, two hundred, and do mhile, two thousand, but da chead and da mhile. 29 With respect to pedwar, the Welsh for four, I have to observe that it bears no similitude to the word for the same number in Gaelic; the word for four in Gaelic is ceathair, and the difference between ceathair and pedwar is great indeed. Ceathair is what may be called a Sanscritic numeral; and it is pleasant to trace it in various shapes, through various languages, up to the grand speech of India: Irish, ceathair; Latin, quatuor; Greek, tessares; Russian, cheturi; Persian, chahar; Sanscrit, chatur. As to pedwar, it bears some resemblance to the English four, the German vier, is almost identical with the Wallachian patrou, and is very much like the Homeric word [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], but beyond Wallachia and Greece we find nothing like it, bearing the same meaning, though it is right to mention that the Sanscrit word pada signifies a QUARTER, as well as a foot. It is curious that the Irish word for five, cuig, is in like manner quite as perplexing as the Welsh word for four. The Irish word for five is not a Sanscritic word, pump, the Welsh word for five, is. Pantschan is the Sanscrit word for five, and pump is linked to pantschan by the AEolick pempe, the Greek pente and pemptos, the Russian piat and the Persian Pantsch; but what is cuig connected with? Why it is connected with the Latin quinque, and perhaps with the Arabic khamsa; but higher up than Arabia we find nothing like it; or if one thinks one recognises it, it is under such a disguise that one is rather timorous about swearing to it — and now nothing more on the subject of numerals.

I have said that the Welsh is exceedingly copious. Its copiousness, however, does not proceed, like that of the English, from borrowing from other languages. It has certainly words in common with other tongues, but no tongue, at any rate in Europe, can prove that it has a better claim than the Welsh to any word which it has in common with that language. No language has a better supply of simple words for the narration of events than the Welsh, and simple words are the proper garb of narration; and no language abounds more with terms calculated to express the abstrusest ideas of the meta-physician. Whoever doubts its capability for the purpose of narration, let him peruse the Welsh Historical Triads, in which are told the most remarkable events which befell the early Cumry; and whosoever doubts its power for the purpose of abstruse reasoning, let him study a work called Rhetorick, by Master William Salisbury, written about the year 1570, and I think he will admit that there is no hyperbole, or, as a Welshman would call it, GORWIREB, in what I have said with respect to the capabilities of the Welsh language.

As to its sounds — I have to observe that at the will of a master it can be sublimely sonorous, terribly sharp, diabolically guttural and sibilant, and sweet and harmonious to a remarkable degree. What more sublimely sonorous than certain hymns of Taliesin; more sharp and clashing than certain lines of Gwalchmai and Dafydd Benfras, describing battles; more diabolically grating than the Drunkard’s Choke-pear by Rhys Goch, and more sweet than the lines of poor Gronwy Owen to the Muse? Ah, those lines of his to the Muse are sweeter even than the verses of Horace, of which they profess to be an imitation. What lines in Horace’s ode can vie in sweetness with

“Tydi roit a diwair wen Lais eos i lysowen!”

“Thou couldst endow, with thy dear smile, With voice of lark the lizard vile!”

Eos signifies a nightingale, and Lysowen an eel. Perhaps in no language but the Welsh, could an eel be mentioned in lofty poetry: Lysowen is perfect music.

Having stated that there are Welsh and Sanscrit words which correspond, more or less, in sound and meaning, I here place side by side a small number of such words, in order that the reader may compare them.

WELSH                           SANSCRIT

Aber, a meeting of waters, an   Ap, apah, water; apaga,
outflowing; Avon, a river;      a river; Persian, ab,
Aw, a flowing                   water; Wallachian, apa

Anal, breath                    Anila, air

Arian, silver                   Ara, brass; Gypsy, harko,
Aur, gold                       copper (30)

Athu, to go                     At'ha; Russian, iti

Bod, being, existence           Bhavat, bhuta

Brenin, a king                  Bharanda, a lord; Russian

Caer, a wall, a city            Griha, geha, a house; Hindu-stani, ghar; Gypsy, kair,


Cain, fine, bright              Kanta, pleasing, beautiful;
                                Kana, to shine

Canu, to sing                   Gana, singing

Cathyl, a hymn                  Kheli a song; Gypsy, gillie

Coed, a wood, trees             Kut'ha, kuti, a tree

Cumro, a Welshman               Kumara, a youth, a prince

Daear, daeren, the earth        Dhara, fem. dharani

Dant, a tooth                   Danta

Dawn, a gift                    Dana

Derw, an oak                    Daru, timber

Dewr, bold, brave               Dhira

Drwg, bad                       Durgati, hell; Durga,
                                the goddess of destruction

Duw, God                        Deva, a god

Dwfr, dwfyr, water              Tivara, the ocean
                                (Tiber, Tevere)

Dwr, water                      Uda; Greek, [Text which
                                cannot be reproduced]
                                Sanscrit, dhlira, the
                                ocean; Persian, deria,
                                dooria, the sea; Gypsy,

En, a being, a soul, that       An, to breathe, to live;
which lives                     ana, breath; Irish, an,
                                a man, fire

Gair, a word                    Gir, gira, speech

Gwr, a man                      Vira, a hero, strong, fire;
Gwres, heat                     Lat. vir, a man; Dutch, vuur,
                                fire; Turkish, er, a man;
                                Heb., ur, fire

Geneth, girl                    Kani

Geni, to be born                Jana

Gwybod, to know                 Vid

Hocedu, to cheat                Kuhaka, deceit

Huan, the sun                   Ina

Ieuanc,young                    Youvan

Ir, fresh, juicy                Ira, water
Irdra, juiciness

Llances, a girl                 Lagnika

Lleidyr, a thief                Lata

Maen, a stone                   Mani, a gem

Mam, mother                     Ma

Marw, to die                    Mara, death

Mawr, great                     Maha

Medd, mead                      Mad'hu, honey

Meddwi, to intoxicate           Mad, to intoxicate; Mada,
                                intoxication; Mada, pleasure;
                                Madya, wine; Matta,
                                intoxicated; Gypsy, matto,
                                drunk; Gr. [Text which cannot
                                be reproduced], wine, [Text
                                which cannot be reproduced],
                                to be drunk

Medr, a measure                 Matra

Nad, a cry                      Nad, to speak; Nada, sound

Nant, ravine, rivulet           Nadi, a river

Neath, Nedd, name of a river;   Nicha, low, deep; nichaga,
nedd, a dingle, what is low,    a river, that which descends;
deep (Nith, Nithsdale)          nitha, water

Nef, heaven                     Nabhas; Russian, nabeca, the
                                heavens; Lat., nubes, a cloud

Neidiaw, to leap;               Nata, to dance; Nata, dancing

Ner, the Almighty, the Lord,    Nara, that which animates
the Creator                     every thing, the spirit of
                                God (31)

Nerth, strength, power          Nara, man, the spirit of God;
                                Gr. [text which cannot be
                                reproduced], a man, [text
                                which cannot be reproduced]
                                strength; Persian, nar, a
                                male; Arabic, nar, fire

Noddwr, a protector             Natha

Nos, night                      Nisa

Pair, a cauldron                Pit'hara

Ped, a foot; pedair, four       Pad, a foot; pada, a quarter

Pridd, earth                    Prithivi, the earth

Prif, principal, prime          Prabhu, a lord, a ruler

Rhen, the Lord                  Rajan, a king

Rhian, a lady                   Hindustani, rani

Rhod, a wheel                   Ratha, a car

Swm, being together             Sam

Swynwr, a wizard, sorcerer      Sanvanana, a witch;
                                Hindustani, syani

Tad, father                     Tata

Tan, fire                       Dahana

Tant, a string                  Tantu

Tanu, to expand                 Tana

Toriad, a breaking, cutting     Dari, cutting

Uchafedd, height                Uchch'ya

Ych, ox                         Ukshan

The Nara is called by the Tartars soukdoun, and by the Chinese ki: “Principe qui est dans le ciel, sur la terre, dans l’homme, et dans toutes les choses materielles et immaterielles.” — DICTIOINNAIRE TARTARE MANTCHOU, par Amyot. Tome second, p, 124.

In the above list of Cumric and Sanscrit words there are certainly some remarkable instances of correspondence in sound and sense, the most interesting of which is that afforded by Ner, the Cumric word for the Lord, and Nara, the Sanscrit word for the Spirit of God. From comparing the words in that list one might feel disposed to rush to the conclusion that the Cumric sprang from the Sanscrit, the sacred language of sunny Hindustan. But to do so would be unwise, for deeper study would show that if the Welsh has some hundreds of words in common with the Sanscrit, it has thousands upon thousands which are not to be found in that tongue, after making all possible allowance for change and modification. No subject connected with what is called philosophy is more mortifying to proud human reason than the investigation of languages, for in what do the researches of the most unwearied philologist terminate but a chaos of doubt and perplexity, else why such exclamations as these? Why is the Wallachian word for water Sanscrit? for what is the difference between apa and ap? Wallachian is formed from Latin and Sclavonian; why then is not the word for water either woda or aqua, or a modification of either? Why is the Arabic word for the sea Irish, for what is the difference between bahar, the Arabic word for sea, and beathra, an old Irish word for water, pronounced barra, whence the river Barrow? How is it that one of the names of the Ganges is Welsh; for what is the difference between Dhur, a name of that river, and dwr, the common Welsh word for water? How is it that aequor, a Latin word for the sea, so much resembles AEgir, the name of the Norse God of the sea? and how is it that Asaer, the appellative of the Northern Gods, is so like Asura, the family name of certain Hindu demons? Why does the scanty Gailk, the language of the Isle of Man, possess more Sanscrit words than the mighty Arabic, the richest of all tongues; and why has the Welsh only four words for a hill, and its sister language the Irish fifty-five? How is it that the names of so many streams in various countries, for example Donau, Dwina, Don, and Tyne, so much resemble Dhuni, a Sanscrit word for a river? How is it that the Sanscrit devila stands for what is wise and virtuous, and the English devil for all that is desperate and wicked? How is it that Alp and Apennine, Celtic words for a hill, so much resemble ap and apah, Sanscrit words for water? Why does the Sanscrit kalya mean tomorrow as well as yesterday, and the Gypsy merripen life as well as death? How is it that ur, a Gaelic word for fire, is so like ura the Basque word for water, and Ure the name of an English stream? Why does neron, the Modern Greek word for water, so little resemble the ancient Greek [text which cannot be reproduced] and so much resemble the Sanscrit nira? and how is it that nara, which like nira signifies water, so much resembles nara, the word for man and the Divinity? How is it that Nereus, the name of an ancient Greek water god, and Nar, the Arabic word for fire, are so very like Ner, the Welsh word for the Creator? How is it that a certain Scottish river bears the name of the wife of Oceanus, for what is Teith but Teithys? How indeed! and why indeed! to these and a thousand similar questions. Ah man, man! human reason will never answer them, and you may run wild about them, unless, dropping your pride, you are content to turn for a solution of your doubts to a certain old volume, once considered a book of divine revelation, but now a collection of old wives’ tales, the Bible.

24 Sanscrit, Kali, a hero.

25 Sanscrit, Rama, Ramana, a husband.

26 Romany chal, son of Rome, lad of Rome. Romany chi, daughter of Rome, girl of Rome. Chal, chiel, child, the Russian cheloviek, a man, and the Sanscrit Jana, to be born, are all kindred words.

27 For a clear and satisfactory account of this system see Owen’s Welsh Grammar, p. 13.

28 Owen’s Grammar, p. 40.

29 Pronounced vile or wile — here the principle of literal mutation is at work.

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