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script of pleasures derived from what would to most persons be any thing but a pleasurable occasion—a call from home to a distant house and rough night's lodging, through night, fog, “rare and dense,” bog, ford, mountain, dell, with no companion but Nature and the wilder picturesque. If a taste for the varying aspects of Nature can thus render even her repulsion attractive, her melancholy cheerful, to those who have cultivated such taste, I think it will not be disputed that many of the minor ills of life will be alleviated by it, as surely as those incident to “ life in Wales," and a professional journey by night.
THE LITERARY SPIRIT IN WALES.
Were we, on entering a mansion, to find it filled with the noblest antique sculptures, paintings, and curious remains of past ages; were its architecture not only of the grandest order, but almost every apartment identified with some event of high historic interest; tapestried and carpeted so as to deaden all harsher sounds than the fall of waters, and murmur of a forest, “imposing silence with a stilly sound;" in short, so hushed, so secluded, so grandly beautiful a home, as seemed formed to lay to rest every “fiercer, fouler passion,” and to waken every nobler and gentler, as a fitting guest angelical to be entertained in that earthly paradise, —we should certainly say, “the tenant of this mansion is a man of fine feelings, tastes, and pursuits.”
In like manner, on entering a land of landscapes such as Wales, one of sylvan and soft solemnity, of retreats that seem made as gardens for a saint or sage wherein to “meditate at eventide ; one of stirring and proud recollections, of a patriot war of many centuries' duration—we should hardly be rash in pronouncing of its people, even if unknown, that they must be a literary people, must, at least, possess a national literature.
The transition from the deep delightful sense of beauty, is so straight and natural to the desire of perpetuating that delight, of keeping a record of rapture, evanescent in its nature, and whose objects are partly subject to decay, that they might almost seem a single emotion of the mind; so that great scenes and great poets (that is, writers of poetic elevation of thought) should be inseparable: as we see some pale green and gold-coloured insects, whose bodies are all delicate transparency, inhabiting a leaf of the very same tints of beauty, as if they were but vivified out-shoots
of their little father-land, of an inch of emerald vegetable silk.
The question arises, should we be mistaken in thus pronouncing on primâ facie evidence, and that analogy which seems to subsist between the nature of the soil and its human produce, respecting Wales ? I beg to be considered as but delivering the opinion (perhaps formed on insufficient experience) of a single writer, not a native, in whatever remarks I may here put forth, and therefore, not in the least degree involving those of the Editors of this work, whatever theirs may be. It is of the nature of modern periodical literature to afford a sort of amicable arena for collition of opinions; not the furious fight, but the gay tournament, in which the hearts and minds of those opposed are not arrayed against each other, but only certain points of belief, derived from that variety of aspects under which every object may be viewed. Perhaps the manner in which truth is often elicited, through even the errors of each partisan, being thus brought forth for the cooler judgment of the third party, (the reading public,) is one cause of the vast strides made in public esteem by periodical literature of late years. It was recently asserted, in another periodical* of wide circulation, that the Welsh are not a literary people. That assertion has been combated with much ability in this, but, as it seems to me, with more zeal than the occasion demanded, inasmuch as the charge (if such it be) is one scarcely derogatory to its objects, and, at all events, one which needs only a definite form, to be met by a definite reply.
That the Welsh are physically incapacitated for distinction in the Belles Lettres were an idea too absurd to be broached, if not contradicted by their past history, and present vivacity and ardour of mental character,—this, therefore, cannot be intended by the writer. Whether Wales boasts any living native author of lofty merits and celebrity, or does not, is a question of fact easily settled. That she contains, perhaps buries, many fine scholars, and men of modest genius, especially among her clergy, (a class whose range, by the way, is, from the top to the bottom, of intellectual dignity,) is a matter of fact not questionable at all. The only point that can be mooted, then, seems to be whether a spirit of literary enthusiasm is abroad in the whole Principality; such a spirit as animated the Scottish nation to hail and foster the genius of the few persons, who,
about the beginning of this century, converted the northern capital (before more noted for certain odd characteristics than letters,) into a sort of emporium of literary commerce for all Great Britain? I should certainly, for one, answer, that it is not—that it is dormant, or, if awake, it is not of that active, earnest kind which brings forth geniuses, which must exist as the precursor of great literary births; just as a rage for military glory in a people presently calls up herves who would have never been heard of otherwise. But for the impulse given in the direction of warlike glory, to the popular mind, by our revolution and that of France, Napoleon might have been at this day an honest notary in Ajaccio, and Cromwell have laid his bones, without name or fame, in that western world whither he had embarked to proceed, when detained by the monarch whose throne and Îife he was fated to destroy. The demand in the market precedes the supply of a commodity; the market where fruit is not esteemed, will not be the resort of excellent horticulturists. But of a fruit exotic, or neglected by those whose own soil would produce it if cultured, it is unfair to say, that they who never taste it, want the taste for it; for once tried they may relish it highly, and cannot, therefore, be charged with dulness or incapacity of their gustatory organs. So neither can the Welsh be found guilty of any mental defect for setting less value on mental luxuries than plainer diet, consistent with the wants and habits of a rural and agricultural people. How it may have happened that literature is not that prevailing resource in Wales—that pride, and that ambition which has long been in Scotland and England,—is another question ; but I cannot regard it as other than a misfortune, not a fault, when any country is behind its neighbours in any exalting tastes or pursuits. But, however it may be as to the cause of such lagging behind, its effects must be uniform, in denying that open high-road, with pointing finger-post, and expectant crowds, and visible temple for a goal, which, in the forwarder country, at once directs the young high-mettled genius, looking all about for a fitting race-course, which way he shall run, and what shall be his reward.*
We may compare a people among whom intellectual, at least literary, greatness is not much in vogue, (among whom genius must yet be indigenous, as well as elsewhere,) to a crowd at a fair, where no athletic exercise happens to be
See our note, at the end of this article.--Edrs.
going on at the moment of some brawny visitor's presenting himself, the first of wrestlers perhaps in all the kingdom. Wrestling being in no esteem, and all present occupied about quieter, possibly more useful, exertions of their power, not one knows that such athletic hero has been among them, when he has walked, and gazed, and gone his way. That such distaste for high talent in letters is, however, a certain deprivation, and possible great loss to a community where it exists, I shall venture a few more remarks to prove. But first, does it exist in Wales? I invite those who doubt or deny it, to visit the houses of persons moving in the same sphere in Welsh life which those do in English or Scottish society, on whose tables they will almost always find the popular periodicals and many of the recent higher works of the press, and they will assuredly find them not, if the respectable and hospitable owner be not actually ignorant of their very names. Yet who can doubt that, were the lofty place now assigned to letters in the general mind, where high civilization exists, duly impressed on sensible and even educated persons like these, that it would no longer be ranked second, or third, or fourth to wealth, and birth, and a good look, and a carriage ? or that the relative merits and (if that were not enough) relative prices of the Edinburgh Review, Quarterly Review, New Monthly, &c., their politics, editors, and circulation, would not soon come to be deemed of some interest; as well as the prices and merits of pigs, and fat cattle, and wool, or as the circuit of a hare before the hounds ?- Let me not be misunderstood. If it be imagined that it is the shaft of satire I would here direct, at least it will be evident that, with a child-like innocence, I aim the feathered instead of the barbed end, and tickle instead of piercing; for I am sure this preference of home and homely concerns to literature, will no more be deemed a fault, or its imputation blame, than if I had said that the Welsh prefer their own national dish of flummery to whipped syllabub. My only aim is to awaken that literary spirit which I deem asleep, to shew that it is not incompatible with Welsh life, habits, or interests; in short, that syllabub is also no bad thing, although flummery be a better. As to the causes which may have kept Wales behind her neighbours in the love of letters, there may be many, and not one other than honourable to her population. They are not factious, not restless, not would-be dictators, and, above all, not smit with that curse of many populous districts, philo-legislativeness, or love of tampering with the
laws and old institutions of their county. Not meddling with these may more than atone for their not meddling with letters, though their humility in the latter may be carried too far.
It seems to me, after much observation, that the middling, and some of the upper classes of the Welsh, are not perfectly acquainted with the present rank which literature holds in the world's mind. If we look at periodical literature alone, the change is indeed vast. Even into this century, what are called magazines were mostly lumbering bundles of crude effusions, where, mixed with a very few clever hints or letters on some subject of science or local curiosity, the staple commodity was a mass of puling novel or romance, spun out through successive numbers, vile poetry, charades, riddles, &c. &c. A surprising fact, when we reflect that, upwards of a hundred years ago, so great a man as Dr. Johnson wrote in one of these vehicles of rubbish for his daily bread, yet failed to redeem the species of veying all sorts of minds to their proper goal. It was revehicle from its degraded, dirty, omnibus character, of conserved for the stirring spirit of the present age to seize on this mode of communion with the public, to convey the sentiments of minds more worthy of audience from his august majesty the reading public. Members of parliament now edit magazines, men of all ranks, from the middling to the very highest, expect with pleasure the new crop of thoughts or intelligence, or flights of fancy, which the first day of the month will present; and peers, and their compeers in high life, are proud to write in them, thus tacitly asserting the supremacy of mind over every mere human honour conferable by man, while they thus eagerly seek to surmount even the diamonds of the coronet with a sprig of laurel. That this is no more than plain truth, known to the
whole reading world of England, will be allowed by every English reader, but I am much mistaken if it be known to what may be called the reading public of Wales. And, if not known, why should it be an opprobrium to a people that they are not a literary people; in other words, that they do still assign to letters as a pursuit, the same low place in their respect, which their forefathers assigned to it? Were it possible for a plain sensible old English yeoman to rise from his grave, or a sleep like that of the Seven Sleepers, only shorter, it is very probable that, as he walked London, his first thought would be to get shaved, seeing beardless chins all round him: the next movement would be to find the shop of a tonsor of the best repute ; and, having heard