'The History of the Bards'

Iolo began work on 'The History of the Bards' in August 1795. It would have been his magnum opus, had he ever completed it.

Collecting material from the British Museum, the Welsh Charity School, and other manuscripts in private collections throughout Wales, his approach was professional and systematic. Such was his enthusiasm for the venture that he seldom paused to eat or pass water while researching, and developed kidney stones and eye strain as a result. Pinning his hopes of establishing his reputation as an author on 'The History of the Bards', he told his wife that it 'must be a substitute for my trade, and it would be ruinous not to pursue it' (NLW 21285E, Letter no. 843, Iolo Morganwg to Margaret Williams, 1 October 1795).

Several plans of the proposed volume survive, and despite superficial differences between them, they reveal that 'The History of the Bards' was to be a comprehensive exegesis of Bardism. Iolo intended to include dissertations on the following subjects: the Welsh language, the origin of letters among the Welsh, the bardic alphabet, the origin and principles of the bardic institution, theology and mythology, various triads (religious, ethical, philosophical, historical and Moelmutian), the introduction of Christianity and its effects on Bardism, the ancient principles of government and law of the Welsh, the national manners of the Welsh, and Welsh music.

It was also to contain a detailed study of the development of Welsh versification, the schools of Welsh poetry, as well as the full text of the Glamorgan Classification which was contained in the manuscript 'Cyfrinach Beirdd Ynys Prydain'. 'The History of the Bards' never came to fruition and none of the dissertations were ever completed satisfactorily.

Several incomplete drafts of 'A Short Account of the Ancient British Bards' survive, and these provide a more elaborate account of 'Bardism' than that supplied by William Owen Pughe in Heroic Elegies (1792). See also his drafft essay on the Welsh language which was also planned for 'The History of the Bards', 'Plan of the Analytical Dissertation on the Welsh language by E.W.' Click to see digitized pages of one of Iolo's manuscript which includes material intended for 'The History of the Bards', NLW 13107B: Gathering the Jewels. Much of the fabricated bardic material which was published in the second and third volumes of The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (1801-07) had originally been intended for 'The History of the Bards'.