NLW 21387E, no. 10
In compliance with the request of some of my Friends, I shall insert here some anecdotes of my Life: that egotisms that on this occasion is impossible to be avoided will, I hope, be tolerated, and if some unwelcome truths which must occur in the course of my tale will offend, any one, let them be as publicly contradicted as they are here asserted, I owe more to my own reputation and the consequent reputability of my Children, than all the world could purchase. But of this in its' proper place.
My Father whose name like my own is Edward is of a reduced branch of the Cromwelian Williams, as they are by some called, because Oliver Cromwel was of the Family. He was the son of an industrious farmer and brought up to the trade of a Mason, and was of the Parish of Landough Super Ely in the County of Glamorgan
My Mother was the Daur of Edward Mathews of Coychurch in the same County, he was of one of the most ancient and respectable Families in Wales, born to a competent Estate which he, falling a prey to some Misfortunes and many villanies was obliged to sell, and my Grandmother then dying, my Mother about nine years of age was taken into the Family of Richard Seys of Boverton Esqr, who was married to her maternal aunt, here she was brought up and educated in a manner that was rather disadvantageous to a woman of no Fortune. She had all the qualifications but Wealth that could be required in the Wife of a Peer of the Realm, but it was her lot to marry a Mason. She was however a flower eventually
Born to blush unseen
And waste its' fragrance on the desart air.
Let the Reader pardon my filial partiality, and allow me to say that she was a woman of uncommon mental abilities, her taste in polite literature was uncommonly good, but unperceived by those amongst whom it was her destiny to pass thro' life, she had a dignity of mind which kept aloof from many, this was by many who knew no better called pride, vanity, or any thing envious ignorance could conceive. at the time of her marriage she had but little of any thing except needle work in which she excell'd and her Boarding school acquirements, but with a proper sense of what was requisite in her Situation in Life she applied her self to the practice of what in rural Domesticity was almost indispensably necessary, such as carding, spinning, knitting &c and she acquired more knowledge of these things than could have been well expected.
My father and mother were married in the Autumn of 1744. their first was a Daur. that died an infant. I was born on the 21st day of March (New stile) 1747, at six o clock in the morning at the same instant as I have been told that the rising sun appeared. And had it been the will of heaven for me to disappear with the Sun of the same I should have escaped the distresses of a life protracted to 46 years and embittered by almost every thing that could well happen to one that was never guilty of the least criminality. My Mother was consumptive and I inherited her disorders, I was thro' childhood so very sickly and weak that my death was almost daily expected, for this reason I was never put to any school, my Mother whose tenderness to me was in the superlative degree taught me to read, write, some of the first rules of arithmetic, a little of the Theory and vocal practice of Music, and gave me valuable ideas of many things that I should never have heard any thing of in a Welsh Country school. she and my father made English the language of domestic conversation, it was thus by my brothers and I learned in infancy, tho' never heard in common conversation in the Parish wherein we lived. My Mother had a good tho' weak voice and would often sing, she had amongst other Books two volumes of songs titled the Vocal Miscellany. I could never be perswaded to learn the hornbook primer &c I would learn no book but my Mother's, as I could her song books. I had learned the Alphabet by seeing my father engrave letters on stone. and it was in the vocal miscellany that I first learned to read, and from thence I derived an early taste for Poetry, from this I have often been led to conclude that the latin adage of Poeta nascitur non fit originated either in ignorance or imposture. A Poet is as much made as a Printer or Printer's Devil. Man is nothing but what education and habit makes him, no more born a Poet than a Rope dancer, mental abilities are by Nature the same in all men where no bodily defects occasion an inequality. I know that an early bias or prepossession whilst a child or very young, in favour of any thing will produce great effects, will make one with Newton a Philosopher, and another a pugilist with Big Ben and some British Noblemen (as they must, it seems, be called) if Poetic Genius must still be called still a kind of inspiration I would ask whether it is from heaven, or hell the second? And if any one can conjecture, let him inform me how much longer is the World to be bubbled with nonsense?
I could about eight years of age cut letters in stone tolerably well, and do many things else in my fathers trade. His family was rather large for we were four children, boys, and I was the eldest. I was when about nine years old taken to work with my father, my brothers were sent to school where they continued several years. I had a strong desire for knowledge and often expressed a wish to be put to school, but I was now able to get some money, and my father wanted it, for this reason I must not in the least blame him for not complying with my wishes tho' they were warmly seconded by my Mother. besides my father imagined that I knew much more than was necessary for the business in which I was to be brought up, and he was I believe, not much mistaken, when I was about 16 years of age a Cousin of mine who had a Captain's commission in the Navy offered his interest, I applied myself [to] the study of Navigation & Geography &c but after I had acquired a tolerable knowledge of these things my mother would not consent for me to go to sea or any where from home. and indeed my constitution was very bad and would perhaps not bear the hardships that absent from I might, or she feared I should have experienced, I was besides her favourite, and I am happy in the thoughts of having never, for any considerable time, left her: About 18 years of age I met with Lord Bacon['s] Natural History, Essays, Malebranche's search after Truth, at the sale of the Library of the Revd Mr Carne of St Athan who must by me be remembered with gratitude. he has often lent me and given me books, and very valuable information in many things, and this was the more valuable because at that time there was not a Bookseller in the whole County of Glamorgan, not a book of any kind to be had for any money but, by accident, at second hand. – From the Books above mentioned I got some knowledge of natural experimental and moral Philosophy, Clare on the Fluids and a little anonymous treatise on electricity came in my Way. Amongst my mothers books were some volumes of the Spectator, the Tatler, Guardian, and one or two of Popes works and as many of Shakespear[e], with Priors Poems Miltons Paradise Lost, Randolphs Poems, &c, these were the most valuable English Books I had, and many could not be borrowed in a Country where English Readers were far less in number than Parishes. The natives of Wales learn soon and with great ease to read their own language, all that is necessary in a manner to be known is the power of the Alphabet, knowing this is knowing all, for there is not a single quiescent letter in any word in the language and no letter is ever used to express two different sounds as many are in English and other modern languages in Welsh the Accent is always on the last syllable but one, so that there is not the least difficultly of pronunciation, none go to school to learn to read Welsh, and I learned it as others do. I have mentioned the sale of the Revd. Mr Carne's Library. I there met with some old Welsh Dictionarys, and the folio Welsh and Latin Grammar of Dr. J. D. R. printed in the time of Queen Elizabeth, therein there is a valuable treatise on the Welsh Poetry, versification, and the ancient Laws of the Bards. The late Mr Edward Williams of Lancarvan, (the Parish wherein I was born) was one of my Godfathers, he was a man of sense and learning, and an excellent Welsh Poet. He noticed me in a very friendly manner and being well acquainted with ancient Welsh versification, which is far more harmonious than the modern, he assisted me thro' many difficulties – I soon after became acquainted with Mr. John Bradford, Mr Lewis Hopkin, the Revd. Mr. Edward Evans, they lived in the mountainous parts of Glam., were well skilled in the Welsh Poetry and were with one or two more all that remained in Wales of the true succession of Ancient British Bards, they held several meetings from time to time, and admitted me into their order. I was surprised to find amongst them many branches of ancient Bardic knowledge that were no where to be found in printed Books, and which I had long imagined were not now, nor had been for some centuries existing, amongst other things they had amongst them a complete system of versification, which comprehends under proper elementary classes every kind of verse that can in any language whatever be conceived, there is nothing like this in any other language hitherto know[n] ancient or modern. With this I found that they retained the ancient Bardic Mythology without which it is impossible to understand our ancient Welsh MSS. of these genuine ancient Welsh Bards there is now only one besides myself remaining in Wales, and that is the Revd. Mr. Edward Evans, a Dissenting Minister of Aberdare in Glamorganshire, the ancient Bardism has been extinct in Northwales for, I believe, nearly two centuries, it has not been any where retained to this day but in the Mountainous parts of Glamorgan. I have endeavoured lately to revive the usages of the Primitive British Bards at London with so much success as to bring two or three fully acquainted with them according to the best information that I am able to give, and being put into the proper track, they will in a good collection of MSS in the Library of the Welsh Charity school trace the old Bardism up thro all ages to the fourth century. Beyond that that we have no MSS. or at least of any certainty unless we may suppose a few anonymous fragments to be such from the very simple and rude kind of verse in which they are written. The Welsh Poets who have of late years held frequent meetings in Northwales encouraged by the Gwyneddigion (Venedotian) Society of London who give silver medals for the best poetic production on a given subject are not properly speaking Bards in the true Celtic acceptation of the word, which implies a Priesthood. Thus far have I thought proper to say something of the Ancient British Bards of the true and regular succession that the period of their defunction, which is probably very near, may be known, for this event has not yet taken place, tho generally supposed to have done a long while, even many centuries ago. The Bardic Institution of the Ancient Britains was it properly known would be without hesitation allowed to be one of the noblest things that the World knew, and what does the highest honour to human nature.
About the year 1769, (1770) I became intimately acquainted with the Revd. Mr. Walters Rector of Landough, near Cowbridge, a Gentleman of very extensive learning and one of the best, I will say the very best Critic in the Welsh language living, he has written many fine Poems in the English, the Welsh, the Latin, and I believe in the Greek languages, he always gave me free access to his very valuable Library, this and his frequent conversation with which he honoured me, has been of infinite advantage to me, and my most grateful acknowledgements of these favours are due to him in language for beyond what I am master of. I was also on intimate terms with his very learned and ingenious sons, the late Revd. Mars John and Daniel Walters both of Jesus College, the first was Master of Rhuthin Gram School in Denbighshire, the last after having been an Usher under the celebrated Dr Par at Norwich was by the Principal and Fellows of Jes. Coll. appointed master of Cowbridge Gram school in Glam. I reckon amongst the greatest misfortunes of my Life the loss of these two very learned friends who died in the bloom of youth and will be long lammented by many more than myself.
I lived pretty near the late Revd. Mr. Richards of Coychurch Author of the Welsh and English Dictionary with whom I became pretty early in life acquainted. will it be believed that this learned Gentleman was suffered to starve a long life on a tenpound a year curacy. starve however he did not, for by close attention to the cultivation of a little farm he bred up two sons to the Church, and gave them a College education. When Dr. Barrington (now of Durham) was Bishop of Landaff he gave a tolerably good living in that Diocess to Mr. Richards, who being nearly 80 years of age did not live long to enjoy it. but before Barrington came to Landaff no one could perceive any merit in the poor, modest, and bashful tho learned Mr. Richards. I have spent many an hour with him in turning over old Welsh Manuscripts of which he had a valuable number – I could mention other very respectable friends that I have been by death deprived of, but it is too foreign to my present purpose.
In August 1770, I my Mother died, and how irreparable was the loss of her to me! I had for seven weeks sat up with her ever taking a moments' rest in bed, she would not suffer me to quit the room. her disorder was a consumption, I had anticipated the fatal hour long before it arrived, my grief was extreme, but its effects were singular I believe, a deep melancholy would for awhile seize me than followed often an odd kind of extravagant laugh which some deemed mirth, and blamed me for, but little did they know of the matter. I have experienced something similar on many other occasions since that time. if maternal tenderness could be a fault my mother was beyond all that ever lived guilty, if assiduity and anxious care inform the morals of her children was a virtue she surely sits on the highest throne of heaven. my Mother amongst other things had no despicable knowledge of Surgery and Physic, she had been habituated to these studies and practices by her Aunt Mrs. Seys, who was a very good old Lady, and with her niece (my Mother) performed many remarkable cures on the poor who could not afford to apply to any of the faculty, My father when single had his hand shatter most terribly by the crush of a large stone every bone tore to pieces, in every one of his fingers, amputation of the hand was deemed absolutely necessary by all the faculty, in the sore distress of mind which he felt on this occasion he recollected what he had heard of the remarkable cures performed by Mrs Seys, he applied to her, and my mother assisted by her aunts advice set the bones and in time performed a successful cure so as to restore to my father the full use of his hand. this was the occasion that brought them first an acquaintance that in about a twelvemonth ended in Marriage
I had been as before observed from a child of a consumptive habit, I have been several times in what to all human appearance was the last stage of a pulmonary consumption the perpetual cough with every breath, discharge of purulent matter, colliguative sweat swell'd ankles wasting away to nothing, and no food of any kind remaining on my stomach, with a continual hectic fever are symptoms that I have several times experienced the careful attention of my mother was the means I verily believe of rescuing me from the jaws of death, amongst other remedies which she would prepare was a kind of jelly prepared from linseed, marsh mallow & Eringo root, which she would give me dissolved in milk, and would often boil sweet horehound for me in milk. I have often been very much restored by those simple remedies. I would never drink any kind of strong liquor whatever and animal food was what I very seldom took. Tea, milk and vegetables were almost the whole of my diet. It will not be believed I fear that nothing ever had a better effect in restoring my health than the seven weeks that I sat up day and night continually during my mother's last illness, hard labour in inclement seasons I have also found very beneficial and nothing more pernicious than an attempt to avoid it, by keeping too much within doors there is something very friendly to human life in open air which in stormy and wintry skies is more pure than many imagine. I am always relieved by clearer air let it be ever so cold. and fear nothing so much as clouded sun, even then it is better in the open air than within doors. about 26 years of age I fell into the habit of taking Laudanum in which I continue to this day. I took it at first [to] relieve a very troublesome cough, and that often in very large doses even 300 drops at a time, which is, I think, more than half an ounce. I for many years acquiesced in the common prejudice that it was a slow but certain poison, but it was the only thin that gave me relief, and I could not well do without it. and I have never been in the habit of flattering myself that I should live long. I have of late years entertained very different Ideas of laudanum from what I formerly did and cannot help being fully perswaded that I owe my life to it. In believe that it has nearly perhaps entirely healed some dangerous ulceration in my lungs, tho there is, and I am perswaded for ever will be, remaining a confirmed asthma[?tic] always pituitous frequently nervous. there is one symptom however that has not entirely disappeared yet, which is the large discharge by coughing of small bladders or bags some as large as a pea others no larger than a shot, full of a thin humour, the[y] are often discharged unbroken, so that I know precisely what they are. I mention these things in hopes that some may be induced to make similar observations on their own cases, and who knows but that this may be a means of making valuable discoveries, who knows but some comfortless person in the fangs of death may find one little hint in my case that may be of service, for after having experienced every thing that was alarming I now feel my complaint on the decrease and at the age of 46, enjoy a greater tho still a bad, sta[te] of health than ever I knew before. Whatever those years generally called the prime of youth may have been to others, it was nothing to me but one foot in the grave.
Soon after my mother died I went to Bristol London, and other places in England my chief study during these rambles was architecture. I have particularly studied the Gothic and am surprised to find that hardly a man living knows any thing of its true principles. Bentham in his account of Ely Cathedral, and Mr King on Ancient Castles give proofs of their having more knowledge of this, in my opinion, very noble species of architecture, than all besides that I have met with. – And let me ask the pedantic admirers of they know not what, whether what they call the five Antique Orders are anything more than so many varieties of one Order of Architecture and what must we think of what some wise fellows say, that the wit of man has not been hitherto able to add a sixth order to the Ancient five of Greece and Rome. Such opinions may do very well for those who think that nothing can be Poetry without lugging in by the shoulders those gentry called appollo, the Muses, Drigades Naiades and the Devil knows what and that nature wherein exist all sciences can never be seen but thro the medium of Greek or Latin.