I HAD been knocking about London, as tbe phrase goes, for more months than I choose to mention, when, my purse presenting unmistakable symptoms of a coming state of collapse, I began seriously to look about me for the means of replenishing it. Luckily, I had not to wait long for an opportunity. One morning, as I sat in the box of a coffee-room in Holborn, running my eye over the advertisement columns of the “Times,” I met with one which promised novelty, at least; I had had too much experience in such matters to anticipate from it any very great pecuniary compensation. The said advertisement was to the effect, that a gentleman who combined literary tastes with business habits was required to edit a paper published in a town in South Wales; and it went on to state, that application, personally or by letter, might be made to the proprietor of the said journal at M-.
That I possessed some taste for literature I was well enough assured; but as for my “business habits,” perhaps the least said about them, the better. This condition of candidateship, however, I quietly shirked, while counting over my few remaining coins, scarcely more than sufficient, after paying my landlady, to defray my expenses to M-, some one hundred and sixty miles distant. Determining, then, to assume a commercial virtue, though I had it not, I quitted the metropolis, and in due time reached the land of leeks, with a light heart, and seven and sixpence sterling in my pocket.
A queer little Welsh town was M-, with an androgynous population,—or so it seemed to me, who had never before beheld women wearing men’s bats and coats, and men with bead-coverings and other articles of apparel of a very ambiguous description. It chanced to be market-day when I arrived, so that I had a capital opportunity of observing tbe population for whose edification my “literary tastes” were, I hoped, to be called into requisition. But at the very outset a tremendous difficulty stared me in the face. Nine out of every ten of the people I met or passed spoke in a language that to me was as unintelligibly mysterious as tbe cuneiform characters on Mr. Layard’s Nineveh sculptures. It was a hard, harsh, guttural dialect, which even those who were to the manner born seemed to jerk out painfully and spasmodically from their lingual organs. This was especially obvious during a bargain, where an excited market-man was endeavoring to pass off a tough old gander as a tender young goose, to some equally excited customer. It was dissonant enough to my ear, but I fancy it would have driven a sensitive Italian to distraction. After listening to the horrible jargon for some time, I could easily believe the story which poor William Maginn used to tell with such unction, of the origin of the Welsh language. It was to this effect.—When the Tower of Babel was being built, tbe workmen all spoke one tongue. Just at the very instant when the “confusion” occurred, a mason, trowel in band, called for a brick. This his assistant was so long in handing to him, that he incontinently flew into a towering passion, and discharged from the said trowel a quantity of mortar, which entered the other’s windpipe just as he was stammering out an excuse. The air, rushing through the poultice-like mixture, caused a spluttering and gurgling, which, blending with the half-formed words, became that language ever since known as Welsh.—I think it my duty to advise the reader never to tell this anecdote to any descendants of Cadwallader, who are peculiarly sensitive on the subject, and so hot-blooded, that it is not at all unlikely the injudicious story-teller might be deprived of any future opportunity of insulting the Ap-Shenkins, the Ap-Joneses, and the race of very irascible Taffys in general.
I had, however, little time to study either language or character; so, after a plain dinner at the Merlin’s Head, the chief inn of the place, I set out for the purpose of seeing the newspaper proprietor. Fortified by a letter of introduction and some testimonials, I entered his shop,—he was a bookseller and stationer, —and inquired for Mr. F-.
“That’s my name,” said a red-faced man behind the counter. I handed him the introductory note, he glanced at it and then at me, thrust it into his waistcoat pocket, and, as soon as he had served the customer with whom he was engaged, led the way into a little room adjoining the place of business.
Mr. Fowned the newspaper; but, as he never ventured in a literary way beyond reading proofs of advertisements, he was compelled to employ an editor to do the leaders, select from the exchanges, prepare the local news, and get up the reporting. He was, however, a practical printer, and, in the main, a good fellow. After looking at my testimonials and asking a few questions, my services were accepted, and I was duly installed as editor of the “MBeacon,” a small, but rather influential county sheet. I ought to observe, that, as it circulated chiefly in places where English was generally spoken, my ignorance of Welsh was of but little importance, especially as the foreman of the printingoffice was a Cambrian, who could correct any errors I might make in Taffy’s orthography, which, prodigal as it is of consonants and penurious of vowels, and, as it regards pronunciation, embarrassing to the last degree, might drive Elihu Burritt back to his smithy in an agony of despair.
Thus assisted, I got on tolerably well, though at first I made some awful mistakes in the names of places mentioned by witnesses in courts of justice and elsewhere. For instance, at the assizes, a man swore that he resided at a place which he pronounced Monothosluin, and so I spelt it in my report. “Cot pless me, Sur!—sure inteed, and you have not spelt hur right,” remarked Mr. Morgan, the foreman; and for my edification he set it up thus,—Mynyddysllwyn. I almost turned my tongue into a corkscrew, trying to speak the word as he did, and I fairly gave up in despair. After that, I made it a rule, when I did not know how to spell some unpronounceable word, to huddle a number of consonants together in most admired disorder, and I was then usually nearer correctness than if I had orthograpliized by ear.
I had been installed in the editorial chair some six months when Mr. Finformed me it was necessary I should visit Abergavenny, a town some twentyfive miles distant, for the purpose of reporting the proceedings at the CYMREIGGDDYON.
“And what the deuse is that?” I inquired.
I learned that it was a Triennial Musical Festival, so called,—at which all the musical talent of Wales would be present; in short, that it was a very grand occasion indeed, would be patronized by the aristocracy of the Principality, and full reports of each of the three days’ proceedings were absolutely necessary.
Here again the Welsh difficulty started up; but as the Cymreiggddyon would be quite a novelty, I determined to trust to Chance and Circumstance,—two allies of mine who have gallantly aided me in many a tough battle of literary life.
Remembering the words of Goldsmith, —“The young noble who is whirled through Europe in his chariot sees society at a peculiar elevation, and draws conclusions widely different from him who makes the grand tour on foot,” I determined to make my wav to Abergavenny either by means of my own legs or through the chance aid of those of a Welsh pony. So, one bright morning, with stick in hand, knapsack on shoulder, and a wandering artist for a companion, I started for the iron district, as that part of Wales is termed. Wildly romantic were the roads we traversed; and after having threaded many a glen, leaped frequent torrents, ascended and descended mountains with impossible names, and plodded wearily across dreary moors, glad enough were we to observe, in the less thinly scattered cottages, indications of a town.
The clouds had been gathering ominously during the latter half of our long day of travel,—and as the sun set bloodred behind a heavy bank of vapor, it cast lurid reflections on large bodies of dense mist, which sailed heavily athwart the crests of the mountains, with low, ragged, trailing edges, that were too surely the precursors of a storm. Just before the orb finally disappeared, its slant rays streamed through some dark purple bars on the horizon’s verge, and for an instant tinged the opposite distant mountains with strange supernatural hues. The Blorenge and the Sugar Loaf glowed like huge carbuncles, while the pale green light which bathed their bases gleamed faintly like a setting of aqua-marina. My artist companion incontinently fell into professional raptures, and raved of “effect,” and “Turner,” and “Rusk in,” heedless of my advice that he had better hasten onward, lest night should overtake us in that wild region, where sheep-tracks, scarcely visible even by daylight, were our sole guides. At length, however, I managed to start him, and on we stalked, the decreasing twilight and the distant reverberations of thunder among the mountains hastening our steps, until they became almost a trot.
But soon the trot declined once more into a walk, and a slow one too,—for we entered a gloomy pass or gorge, whose rocky walls on either side effectually excluded what little light yet lingered in the sky. Cautiously picking our way, we slowly travelled on, until at length we became sensible of a faint red flush in the narrow strip of sky overhead. It seemed as though the sun had just wheeled back to give a forgotten message to some starry-night-watcher,—or so my companion intimated. But, unfortunately for his theory, the dull red glare above us, which every moment deepened in intensity, was evidently the reflection of earthly, not heavenly fire. I had seen too many conflagrations to doubt that for an instant. Presently a dull, confused sound fell on our ears, and at a sudden turn round an angle of our mountain road we stood speechless as we gazed on a spectacle which Milton might have conceived and Martin painted.
“Far other light than that of day there shone
Upon the wanderers entering Padalon,”
murmured the artist, as he gazed on the strange scene. And strange indeed was it to our startled eyes. We stood on the end and summit of a mountain spur, some two thousand feet above the valley, or rather basin, below, from the centre of which burst forth a thousand fires, whose dull roar—dulled by distance—was like “the noise of the sea on an iron-bound shore.” The extent of space covered by those strange, fierce fires must have amounted to many acres, —in fàct, did so, as we afterwards ascertained,— and the effect produced by them may be partially imagined when it is remembered that these flames were of all hues, from rich ruby-red, to the pale lurid light of burning sulphur. Fancy all the gems of Aladdin’s Palace or Sinbad’s Valley in fierce flashing combustion, immensely magnified, and you may form some faint idea of the scene in that Welsh valley.
Stretching out, like spokes of a gigantic wheel, from their fiery centre, were huge embankments, like those of Titanic railways, whose summits and sides, especially towards their extremities, glowed in patches with all the hues of the rainbow. As I gazed wonderingly on one of these,—a real mountain of light, far surpassing the Koh-i-Noor,—I observed a dark figure gliding along its summit, pushing something before it, like a black imp conveying an unfortunate soul from one part, of Tophet to another. At the extremity of the ridge the imp stopped, and suddenly there shot down the steep, not a tortured ghost, but a shower of radiant gems even more brilliant than those to which I have alreadyreferred.
“What, in the panic of all that’s wonderful, is that?” said my friend, Mr. Vandyke Brown; and I was also trying to account for the phenomena, when a voice close to my ear—a voice which I was certain belonged neither to Mr. B. nor myself—uttered the mysterious word,—
I looked round, and, sure enough, there stood a being who might very easily be mistaken for a new arrival from the bottomless pit. Such, however, it was evident be was not. Though be was black enough, in all conscience, he had neither horns, hoof, nor tail, and he was redolent rather of ’bacco than brimstone; a queer old bat, in the band of which was stuck an unlighted candle, covered a mass of matted red hair; his eyes were glaring and rimmed with red; and there was a gash in his face where his mouth should have been. A loose flannel shirt, which bad once been red, a pair of indescribable trowsers, and thick-soled shoes, completed his dress,—an attire which I at once recognized as that common among the coal-miners of the district.
“’Deed and truth, Sur, they is cinderheaps and slag from the iron-works, Sur; and yon is Merthyr-Tydvil, sure.”
Piloted by our dusky guide,—not exactly, though, like Campbell’s “Morning brought by Night,”—we soon reached the town,—which is named after a young lady of legendary times named Tydfil, a Christian martyr, of which MerthyrTydvil is a corruption,—and made the best of our way to the Bush Inn, where we treated our sable friend to some cwrw dach,—Anglicé, strong ale; and after a hearty supper of Welsh rabbit, which Tom Ingoldsby calls a “bunny without any bones,” and “custard with mustard,” —which, as made in the Principality, it much resembles,—I took a stroll through the town. It was a dull-looking place enough, and as dirty as dull; every house was built with dingy gray stones, without any reference whatever to cleanliness or ventilation; and as to the civilization of the inhabitants, I saw enough to convince me, that, to see real barbarism, an Englishman need only visit that part of Great Britain called Wales. It was eight in the evening, and the day-laborers at the furnaces had just left work. The doors of all the cottages were open, and, as I passed them, in almost every one was to be seen a perfectly naked stalwart man rubbing himself down with a dirty rough towel, while his wife and grown-up daughters or sisters, almost as nude and filthy as himself, stood listlessly by, or prepared his supper.
Glad to escape from such disgusting objects, I hurried back to the Bush and to bed. But not to rest, though; for during that long, miserable night, the eternal rattle of machinery, clattering of hammers, whirling of huge wheels, and roaring of blast-furnaces completely murdered sleep. Never, for one instant, did these sounds cease,—nor do they, it is said, the long year through; for if any accident happens at one of the five great iron-works, there are four others which rest not day nor night. Little, however, is this heeded by the, people of Merthyr; they are lulled to repose by the clatter of iron bars and the thumping of triphammers, but are instantaneously awakened by the briefest intervals of silence.
Glad enough was I, the next morning early, to cross an ink-black stream and leave the town, and pleasant was it to breathe the free, fresh mountain air, after inhaling the foul smoke of the iron-works. Towards the close of the afternoon, after a delightful walk, a great portion of it on the banks of the picturesque river Usk, we came in sight of Abergavenny, where the Cymreiggddyon was to be held.
The first of the glorious three days was duly ushered in with the firing of cannon, ringing of bells, and all kinds of extravagant jubilation. It wasn’t quite as noisy as a Fourth of July, but much more discordant. Strings of flags were suspended across the streets,—flags with harps of all sorts and sizes displayed thereon,—flags with Welsh mottoes, English mottoes, Scotch mottoes, and no mottoes at all. In front of the Town Hall was almost an acre of transparent painting,—meant, that is, to be so after dark, but mournfully opaque and pictorially mysterious in the full glare of sunshine. As far as I could make it out, it was the full-length portrait—taken from life, no doubt—of an Ancient Welsh Bard. He was depicted as a baldheaded, elderly gentleman, with upturned eyes, apparently regarding with reverence a hole in an Indian-ink cloud through which slanted a gamboge sunbeam, and having a white beard, which streamed like a (horse-hair) “meteor on the troubled air.” This venerable minstrel was seated on a cairn of rude stones, his white robe clasped at his throat and round his waist by golden brooches, and with a harp, shaped like that of David in old Bible illustrations, resting on the sward before him. In the background were some Druidical remains, by way of audience; and the whole was Surrounded by a botanical border, consisting of leeks, oak-leaves, laurel, and mistletoe, which had a very rare and agreeable effect. Nor were these hicroglyphical decorations without a deep meaning to a Cambrian; for while the oak-leaf typified the durability of Welsh minstrelsy, the mistletoe its mysterious origin, and the laurel its reward, the national leek was pleasantly suggestive, of its usual culinary companions, Welsh mutton and toasted cheese.
As in America, so in Wales, almost every public matter is provocative of a procession, and the proceedings of the Festival commenced with one. No doubt, it was to the eyes of the many, who from scores of miles round had travelled to witness it, a very imposing and serious demonstration; but anything more ridiculously amusing it was never my good fortune to see. I had, however, to keep all my fun to myself, for Welshmen are not to be trifled with. Any one who wishes to be convinced of this need only walk into a Welsh village, singing the old child-doggerel of
“Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief,
Taffy came to my house and stole a piece
of beef,” etc.,
and, my life on it, he will not leave it without striking proofs of Welsh sensitiveness, and voluble illustrations of some Jenny Jones’s displeasure. By no means inclined to subject myself to such inconvenient. experiences, I prudently kept my eyes wide open and my mouth shut,—or if I spoke, I merely asked questions, by which means I acquired necessary information and passed off for a gratified stranger and an admiring spectator.
All the resources of the town and its neighborhood, and indeed of the county itself, had been exhausted to give due effect to the parade, of which I regret to say that I cannot hope to give any adequate description. All the usual elements of processions were to be seen. Bands of music,—there were at least a dozen of them, all playing different pieces at one and the same moment, which had a somewhat distracting effect on those sensitively-cared people who weakly prefer one air at a time and do not appreciate tuneful tornadoes. As the procession went by at a brisk pace, it was curious enough to notice how the last wailing notes of “A noble race was Shenkin,” played by a band in advance, blended with the brisk music of “My name’s David Price, and I’m come from Llangollen,” performed by a company in the rear. In fact, it was a genuine Welsh musical medley, and the daring genius who would have occupied himself in “untwisting all the links which tied its hidden soul of harmony,” would have had about as difficult and distressing a task as he who tried to make ropes out of sea-sand.
Of course, these bands were made up of divers instruments, but the national harp was head and chief of them all, as might naturally have been expected in such a place and at such a time. There were harps of all sorts and shapes; some of the Welsh urchins had even Jewsharps between their teeth. There were Irish harps, English harps, and Welsh harps. There was no Caledonian harp, though; but a remarkably dirty fellow in the procession seemed to be making up for the lack of one stringed instrument by bringing another,—the Scotch fiddle! —on which he perpetually played the tune of “God bless the gude Duke of Argyle!” There were harps with one, two, and three sets of strings,—harps with gold strings, silver strings, brass strings,— strings of cat-gut and brass,—strings red, and brown, and white. I looked sharp for the “harp of a thousand strings,” but it was nowhere to be seen; and surmising that such is only played ou by the spirits of just men made perfect, I ceased to search further for it in that procession,—for though the men composing it might be just enough, they were evidently a long way from perfection. And when it is remembered that all these harps were twang-twanging away furiously, and that their strings were being swept over with no Bochsa fingers, few will wonder that I longed for cottonwool, and blessed the memory of Paganini, who had only one string to his bow.
Harps, however, would be of little value, were there no bards to sing and no minstrels to play. Walter Scott was decidedly wrong, when, speaking of his minstrel, he says,—
“The last of all the bards was he.”
Nonsense! I saw at least fifty in that procession,—regular, legitimate bards,— each one having a bardic bald pate, a long white bardic beard, flowing bardic robes, bardic sandals, a bardic harp in his hand, and an ancient bardic name. There was Bard Alaw, Bard Llewellyn, Bard Ap-Tudor, Bard Llyyddmunnddggynn, (pronounce it, if you can, Reader,—I can’t,) and I am afraid to say how many more, in face of the high poetical authority I have just cited and refuted. Talk of the age of poetry having passed away, when three-score and ten bards can be seen at one time in a little Welsh town! These men of genius were headed by Bard Alaw, whose unpoetical name, I almost hesitate to write it, was Williams,—Taliesin Williams,— the Welsh given name alone redeeming it from obscurity. I found, too, to my disenchantment, that all the other bards were Joneses and Morgans, Pryces and Robertses, when they were met in everyday life, before and after these festivals; and that they kept shops, and carried on mechanical trades. Only fancy Bard Ap-Tudor shaving you, or Bard Llyynnssllumpllyynn measuring you for a new pair of trowsers!
After the bards and minstrels came the gentry of the county, the clergy, and distinguished strangers, before and behind whom banners floated and flags streamed. On many of these banners were fancy portraits of Saint David, the Patron Saint of Wales, always with a harp in his hand. But the Saint must have had a singularly varied expression of countenance, or else his portraitpainters must have been mere blockheads, for no two of their productions were alike. I saw smiling Davids, frowning Davids, mild Davids, and ferocious Davids,—Davids with oblique eyes, red noses, and cavernous mouths,—and Davids as blind as bats, or with great goggle-orbs, aquiline nasal organs, blue at the tips, and lips made for a lisp. One David had a brown Welsh wig on his head, and was anachronistically attired in a snuff-colored coat, black smallclothes, gray, coarse, worsted stockings, high-low boots, with buckles, and he wore on his head a three-cornered hat, and used spectacles as big as tea-saucers. Ou my remarking to a bystander, that I was not aware knee-breeches were worn in the time of the ancient kings, I was condescendingly informed that this David was not the celebrated MonarchMinstrel, but a Mr. Pryce David, the founder of the Cymreiggddyon Society. But the most amusing David was one depicted on a banner carried in front of a company of barbers belonging to the order of Odd Fellows. In that magnificent work of art David was represented bewailing the death of Absalom, that unhappy young man being seen hanging by his hair from a tree. Out of the mouth of David issued a scroll, on which was inscribed the following touching verse:—
“Oh, Absalom! Oh, Absalom!
Oh, Absalom, my son!
If thou hadst worn a good Welsh wig,
Thou hadst not been undone!”
It was with no little trouble that I elbowed my way into the great temporary hall where the exercises were to be held; but by dint of much pressing forward, I at length reached the reporters’ bench. Directly in front was a raised platform, and on two sides of the tent galleries had been erected for the bards and orators. On the platform table were arranged prizes to be given for the best playing, singing, and speaking,—and also for articles of domestic Welsh manufacture, such as plaids, flannels, and the like. A large velvet and gilded chair was placed on a daïs for the president, and on either side of this, seats for ladies and visitors. In a very short time every corner of the spacious area was crammed.
And a pretty and a cheerful spectacle was presented wherever the eye turned. As in almost all other gatherings of the kind, the fair sex were greatly in the majority; and during the interval which elapsed between the opening of the doors and the beginning of business, the clatter of female tongues was prodigious. The sex generally are voluble when in crowds; but as for Welsh women, their loquacity was far beyond anything of the kind I had ever conceived of. And there were some wonderfully handsome specimens of girlhood, womanhood, and matronhood among that great gathering; though I am compelled to admit that in Wales beauty forms the exception, rather than the rule.
But the bards are in their places,—the front rows of either gallery; the president has taken his seat; the leading ladies of the county are in their chairs; and while the large audience are settling down into their places, let us glance at two or three of the celebrities present.
On the foremost seat, to the right of the chairman, sits a lady who is evidently a somebody, since all the gentlemen, on entering, pay her especial respect. She is rather past the middle age, but has worn well; her eye is still bright, her cheek fresh-colored, and her skin smooth. Evidently she takes much interest in the proceedings,—and little wonder,—for it is mainly owing to her exertions that the Festival has not become one of the things that were. Her name? You may see it embroidered in dahlias on yonder broad strip of white cotton, stretching across the breadth of the hall, nearly over her head. These blossoms form the letters and words, GWENNEN GWENT, or “The Bee of Gwent,”—Gwent being the ancient name of that portion of Glamorgan. The title is apt enough; for Lady Hall—that is her matter-of-fact name— is proverbially one of the busiest of her sex in all that relates to the welfare of her poorer neighbors. She is wife of Sir Benjamin Hall, member of Parliament for the largest parish in London, St. Mary-le-bone, and whose county residence is at Llanover Court, near Abergavenny. That tall, aristocratic man near her is her husband; but he looks somewhat out of place there. As a member of the House of Commons, he is prominent; but evidently his present position is not at all to his taste.
On the left of the chairman is another lady, whose name is well known in literary circles. She is not Welsh by birth, though she is so by marriage,—she being united to one of the great iron-masters. She has a large face, open and cheerfullooking, if not handsome. The forehead is broad and white,—the eyes dark and lustrous. Formerly she was known to the reading world as Lady Charlotte Lindsay; now she is Lady Charlotte Guest; a woman than whom very few archæologists are better acquainted with the Welsh language and its ancient literature. She is the author of that very learned work, “The Mabinogion,” a collection of early Welsh legends. This book was printed a few years since by the pale-faced, intelligent-looking man who is standing behind her chair,—Mr. Rees,—a printer in an obscure Welsh hamlet, named Llandovery. He has, with perfect propriety, been termed the Welsh Elzevir; and certainly a finer specimen of typography than that furnished by the “Mabinogion” can scarcely be produced.
The chairman is a pompous old nobody. Him I need not describe. The presiding and directing spirit of the place is a tall, slender gentleman with snowwhite hair, dark, flashing eyes, and a graceful bearing; it is the Rev. Thomas Price, or, as his Welsh title has it, Carnuhanawc. He is a thorough believer in the ultra-excellence of everything Welsh,—Welsh music, Welsh flannels, Welsh scenery, Welsh mutton; and so far as regards the latter, I am quite of his opinion. After a very animated speech, he directs the competitors on the triple harp to stand forward and begin a harmonious contest.
There are three,—an old blind man, a young man, and a girl some fourteen years of age. Every one cheers the latter lustily, and “wishes she may get it.” So do I, of course; and I listen with great interest as Miss Winifred Jenkins commences her performance, which she does without blush or hesitation, and with quite an I-know-all-about-it sort of air. I forget the particular piece the young lady played; but upon it she extemporized so many variations, that long before she came to an ending I had lost all remembrance of the text from which she had deduced her melodious sermon. There was, I thought, more mechanical tact than expression in her performance, but it was enthusiastically applauded for all that; and with an awkward curtsy—much like Sydney Smith’s little servant-maid Bunch’s “bobbing to the centre of the earth”—the red-cheeked little harpist vanished.
Next came the young man; but several of the harp-strings at once snapped in consequence of his fierce fingering, and he broke down amidst howls of guttural disapprobation. So far as competition was concerned, be was, in sporting parlance, nowhere!
The old blind gentleman followed, and I do not think that I ever witnessed a more melancholy spectacle. Apollo playing on his stringed instrument presents a very graceful appearance; but fancy a Welsh Orpheus with a face all seamed and scarred by smallpox,—a short, fiery button in the middle of his countenance, serving for a nose,—a mouth awry and toothless,—and two long, dirty, bony hands, with claw-like fingers tipped with dark crescents,—and I do not think the picture will be a pleasant one. If the horrible-looking old fellow had concealed his ghastly eyes by colored glasses, the effect would not have been so disagreeable; but it was absolutely frightful to see him rolling his head, as he played, and every now and then staring with the whites of his eyes full in the faces of his unseen audience. At length, greatly to my relief, he gave the last decisive twang, and was led away by his wife. It is almost needless to say that the musical “Bunch” took the prize.
“Penillionn Singing” was the next attraction. This was something like an old English madrigal done into Welsh, and, as a specimen of vocalization, pleasing enough,—as pleasing, that is, as Welsh singing can be to an English ear; but how different from the soft, liquid Italian trillings, the flexible English warblings, the melodious ballads of Scotland, or the rollicking songs of Ireland! There was only one of the many singers I heard at the Festival who at all charmed me, and that was a little vocalist of much repute in Southern Wales for her birdlike voice and brilliancy of execution. Her professional name was pretty enough, —Eos Vach Morganwg,—“The Little Nightingale of Glamorgan.” Her renderings of some simple Welsh melodies were delicious; they as far excelled the outpourings of the other singers as the compositions of Mendelssohn or Bellini surpass a midnight feline concert. I have heard Chinese singing, and have come to the conclusion, that, next to it, Welsh prize-vocalism is the most ear-distracting thing imaginable.
So it went on; Welsh, Welsh, Welsh, nothing but Welsh, until I was heartily sick of it. Then, the singing part of the performance being concluded, the bardic portion of the business commenced. It was conducted in this manner:—
The names of several subjects were written on separate slips of paper, and these being placed in a box, each bard took one folded up and with but brief preparation was expected to extemporize a poem on the theme he had drawn. The contest speedily commenced, and to me this part of the proceedings was far and away the most entertaining. Of course, being, as I said, ignorant of the language, I could not understand the matter of the improvisations; but as for the manner, just imagine a mad North American Indian, a howling and dancing Demise, an excited Shaker, a violent case of fever-and-ague, a New York auctioneer, and a pugilist of the Tom Hyer school, all fused together, and you may form some faint idea of a Welsh bard in the agony of inspiration. Such roaring, such eye-rolling, such thumping of fists and stamping of feet, such joint-dislocating action of the arms, such gyrations of the head, such spasmodic jerkings-out of the language of the ancient Britons, I never heard before, and fervently pray that I never may again. And, let it be remembered, the grotesque costume of the bard wonderfully heightened the effect. His long beard, made of tow, became matted with the saliva which ran down upon it from the corners of his mouth; his make-believe bald scalp was accidentally wiped to one side, as he mopped away the perspiration from his forehead with a red cotton handkerchief; and a nail in the gallery tront catching his ancient robe, in a moment of frenzy, a fearful rending sound indicated a solution of continuity, and exposed a modern blue unbardic pair of breeches with bright brass buttons beneath,—an incident in keeping with the sham nature of all the proceedings. For a mortal half hour this exhibition lasted, and when the impassioned speaker sat down, panting and perspiring, the multitude stamped, clapped, and hallooed, and went into such paroxysms of frenzy, that Bedlam broke loose could alone be compared with it.
During the three days the Festival lasted, such scenes as I have described were repeated,—the only changes being in the persons of the singers and spouters. Glad enough was I when all was over, and my occupation as reporter gone, for that time at least. With the aid of a Welsh friend I managed to make a highly florid report of the proceedings, which occupied no less than eight columns of the “MBeacon.” As several of the speakers were only too glad to give me, sub rosâ, copies of their speeches in their native language, and as none knew of that fact but ourselves, I gained no little reputation as an accomplished Welsh scholar. The result of this was, that presents of Welsh Bibles, hymn-books, histories, topographies, and the like, by the score, were forwarded to me,—some out of respect for my talents as a great Welsh linguist, others for review in the newspaper. I was neither born to such greatness, nor did I ever achieve it; it was literally thrust on me; so also were sundry joints of the delicious Liliputian Welsh mutton, which latter I am not ashamed to say I thoroughly understood, appreciated, and digested. The ancient litter-ature, I am sorry to confess, I sold as waste paper, at so much per pound; but to show that some lingering regard for at least two of Cambria’s institutions yet reigns in this - bosom, I am just about to begin upon a Welsh rabbit, and wash it down with a pitcher of cwrw dach.