Iolo Morganwg to William Meyler, I January 1792
Address: none. Postmark: none
Source: Cardiff Central Library 3.99
Status and condition: this letter is a copy made by Edward Davies
No. 36 Broad Street, Saturday noon
I thank you for the perusal of Mr. Davies's manuscript. I am highly pleased with it. His observations on our historians and bards are in my humble opinion very just. When I return to the country, I can furnish him with a better copy of the British triades than he seems to have. The paraphrastical translations of Taliesin &c are much in the spirit of the original, and far more poetical. His translations of Dafydd ab Gwilym are true to, without being the slaves of the originals. This is just what they ought to be in my opinion. They are by far the best attempts that have yet appeared to put our old licentious bards into an English dress. So much in commendation. Now for severe criticism, in the true spirit of a reviewer.
What in the name of Old Nick, for it cannot be in the name of any other being, induced Mr Davies to address his book to the Gwyneddigion? If he knows but little of them, let me give him some information. I was one of the very first members in 1772. It was at first whimsical, became afterwards ridiculous, and is now detestable. Mr Owen Jones was the first institutor, and is, I know not from what infatuation, the chief, if not the only support of it. He has, on all other occasions good sense, and what is still better a good heart, but he is no scholar, no judge of poetry, and will not thank Mr Davies for abusing his favourite historian Geoffrey, which I call in Welsh, Galfrid gelwydd têg [Geoffrey of the fair lie]. Mr William Owen has long ago left the Gwyneddigion, so has Mr Samwell. What shall I say of the other members, about 40 in number? Why, there are amongst them very eminent coal-heavers, porters, scavengers, chimney sweepers &c.
'Knaves and fools of very class'.
Now if Mr Davies thinks that I have wronged the Gwyneddigion in this account of them, I wish he would take a trip to London. The committee, the cleverest of these d__n clever fellows, meet every Monday night at the Crindy (Bull's Head), a very creditable bawdy house in Walbrook Street. There he shall hear the vociferation of John Edwards, bard of the society, who is well convinced that sambies, frochees, and such outlandish things, are poisonous plants that grow in Otaheite, a place, he says almost as far as the land's-end. He will also be edified by the fine harangues of Mr Jones, their worthy President, who is an eminent journey-man carpenter. He was, it is true, a mere clown, but no matter for that, he is now tolerably well becockney'd (if I may use the phrase). His deficient knowledge of English is well supplied by the true classic, London slang. On his orations, Mr Davies would do well to form his stile, and then about half the number of them would understand a line, or at least half a line, in every page. They would also subscribe a penny each towards purchasing one of Mr Davies's books and, who knows but that they would highly honour him with a silver medal, such as they annually give to the best bard in north Wales, which is a half crown piece, the reverse effaced, and there engraved the successful candidate's name. This is the high reward obtained by the best scurrilous bard, who leaves his family to starve, whilst he goes fifty miles from home to contend for the honourable prize. Messrs Owen Jones and William Owen were at the whole expence of printing Dafydd ab Gwilym. Not one of the Gwyneddigion contributed a single farthing.
Another eminent member of the Gwyneddigion is Edward Jones, the harper, He has published the Musical Remains and, in his 'Account of the Bards', gives long quotations from Latin, and even Greek writers. True, but for all that he cannot write three words of good English. The late Mr John Walters wrote much of it, Mr Samwell much, and myself a little. Amongst other things, the prose translation of the Afallenau, but not a line has Mr E. Jones, bard to the Prince of Wales, as he has dubd'd himself, acknowledged. He is now preparing, and, as he says, an improved edition. Now Mr Davies would do him very essential service by publishing his book, that he may pilfer a little from it, if he may be able to procure somebody to read, and select for him.
I fear that I have expressed myself with some indecency, but I am really hurt that Mr Davies, a gentleman of learning, genius and good breeding, should think of addressing his work to the Gwyneddigion, amongst whom there are not three that can properly read a single page in it. Why must it be addressed to any man, or set of men whatever? If it must, would not the Principal and Fellows of Jesus College be more proper? But why does a member of the barbarous Gwyneddigion Society presume to dictate? Yes, they still call me a member, for I have had no quarrel with them. When in town, I go sometimes amongst them, for we all of us, sir, now and then spend a little of our time in such a manner that we cannot help being ashamed of.
I hope I shall never live to see Mr Davies's name disgraced by being put at the tail end of an address to the Gwyneddigion. What benefit could he derive from it, supposing them a little respectable? Nothing. It would degrade him in the eye of the literary world. His work will stand in need of no such feeble support. I hope he will think no more of these Gwyneddigion, but that he will be so fortunate as to find a Mæcenas in some noble patron, who would receive no less honour from, that he would confer on, this performance.
If any thing that I have said is offensive to Mr Davies, I humbly ask his pardon. If I have been a little warm, it was from being hurt at the phrases: 'I presume with deference'; 'I humbly ask pardon' and all this spoken to a set of wretches that know not the meaning of the words; that knowing them, he could not possibly think of suffering his name to be mentioned by them. I am, sir, with all possible respect,
your, and Mr Davies's most humble servant,