The Meaning of an Eisteddfod

“ Why should n’t gallant Taffy
Have his relics and his bones,
Llewellyns and Cadwallos
And Griffyevanjones ?
To say nothing of the question
Whether Taffy’s mother-tongue
Was n’t quite a fine old language
When all of ours were young’ ? ”



FROM the “ summer land ” they came, over the “ hazy sea : ” so tradition in the form of the Triads tells us. The foggy German Ocean (Môr Tawch) was doubtless a depressing exchange for the mild Euxine region with its golden atmosphere. We wonder what must have been the pressure of over-population, or what the enterprise and curiosity on the part of these strenuous, restless, forwardpushing sons of Gomer, that drove them from sunny Defrobani across a continent and a sea to a country of fens, forests, and heavy-hanging clouds. That they were not driven by mere wandering instincts is plain. The Aryan was no nomad ; when he traveled he generally went a great way, but once having chosen a spot to settle in, he was likely to stay in his new quarters. It was perhaps a prearranged thing that the portion earliest broken off from the parent stock should move on until it came to the jumping-off place, and then stop. Certain is it that all the Celtic races are found in the extreme west of Europe, and there is good showing to prove that they were the very foremost in the wonderful march of Aryan emigrants. As to the particular branch of Celts that we are now considering, when they reached the island of Britain (Inya Prydain) they sat down there contentedly enough, and nobody has ever been able to oust them.

Hu Gadarn — whom we may as well believe in, for I fancy he is no more mythical than Cadmus — strikes us as a sort of primeval Moses, teaching the ways and arts of peace to the smallest details, yet a strong leader withal; meek, but not milk-livered; a man to infuse courage, tenacity of purpose, and patience of everything save cruelty and injustice.

His followers—Gomeri, Cymry, Welsh, call them what you will — have been from first to last unconquerable. Henry II. of England, writing to the Emperor of Constantinople, said : “ There is, in a corner of this island, a people called Cymry, who are so courageous in defense of their country that they will even dare to fight, open-handed and without weapons, an enemy armed with spear, sword, and shield.” More than a thousand years before the English king wrote thus, Julius Cæsar had encountered the same rash courage in this people. That vanquisher of worlds failed to vanquish the Cymry, and though Claudius afterwards succeeded in winning the island as a Roman province, that it was ever really subdued to the Roman power cannot be truthfully stated. Nor could the AngloSaxon make such a boast regarding the Britons, nor even the masterful Norman.

When Henry II. had lain dead for a century, another English king “ guaranteed to a people he could not conquer ” the continuance of their ancient laws and usages. Rhuddlan Castle yet contains a huge stone bearing the following inscription : —


This is hardly the record of a conquest.

To-day, the Welsh are, to the ordinary view, a subdued race. They no longer immure themselves in their mountain fortresses, and fling defiant words and arrows at the hated “ Saeson.” Offa’s Dyke has long ceased to be even a moral barrier. The yellow hair of the early Britons has turned brown, and their fierce blue eyes now gleam with a mild earnestness. They apparently have accepted once and for all that sop in the shape of a royal prince, first thrown to them in a kind of desperation by Edward Longshanks. We do not hear their voices clamoring for the high places in public life ; as a race they are singularly devoid of political ambitions. Yet in all the essentials that go to make a people they lack not one, unless it be the possession of a separate government. From the time when, shieldless, bucklerless, helmetless, without any strong implement of warfare, he drove hack the mailed Roman army, until now, the Welshman has never ceased to be a Welshman.

Such persistence of race qualities, after so many centuries of struggle, of despoliation, of disintegration, is perhaps unmatched in history save in the instance of the Jews. The latter people have maintained their marvelous social integrity through their religion. A yet stronger — dare I say a deeper ? — bond unites the scattered remnants of the followers of Hu Gadarn. This bond is twofold : it consists of a land and a language. Both of these have been their possessions for twenty - four hundred years, “ which,” says Sir Thomas Jones, “ is the greatest argument that can be given of a people’s never having been subdued to a foreign power.”

It is very doubtful if the common Hebrew heart of the nineteenth century responds with one throb of national enthusiasm to the name of Palestine, or to any suggestion of return thither ; the Hebrew language, though forming a part of the education of every Jewish child, is as dead as the Latin or the Greek. But Cambria, land of music and of song, “ paradise of bards,” land of renowned warrior patriots who through thirteen hundred years shed their blood to maintain its freedom, — Cambria the mountainous, to which “ the sea is a wall,” — this land is to every Welshman the world over, “ Hen wlad fy nhadau ” (Land of my fathers) ; and the refrain of the song in which he utters his pure, warm, undying patriotism is a plea that “ while the sea remains a wall, the old language may live.”

The plea is no vain one ; the old language does live, not in books merely, but in the mouths of those to whom it is almost the dearest of inheritances. Cymraeg is as much alive to-day as any one of its Aryan sisters ; and whereas philologists formerlv held it to be, among that great family of languages, the one most transformed from its original source, some of them now seriously question the extent of this transformation ; so that it is quite possible that in listening to modern Cymric we may be hearing more than faint echoes of the tongue spoken by the great mother of nations in her Caucasian (?) home.

The Welshman himself will tell you that his beloved accents were spoken in Eden; that Adam was a Welshman; that Eve never would have understood the devil had he not addressed her in Welsh ; nay, one has soberly written it in a book that Jupiter and Saturn and Apollo were Welshmen. Perhaps they were. Perhaps Juno and Venus and Minerva were Welshwomen. I myself am nearly certain that the god of love must have been Welsh-tongued. If so, these gods and goddesses could not have desired a more dignified, richly expressive, high-sounding language in which to converse, quarrel, sing, make love, or fulminate, than the pure Cymric affords. It has been well called the most extraordinary monument of antiquity extant. Both in its structure and affinities it evidences a most remote origin, and is undoubtedly one of the oldest living languages in Europe; while its literature carries us further backward than any modern tongue except the Gaelic. Its unique system of versification — which will be more fully spoken of further on — is found in manuscripts five hundred years old, and had attained its highest degree of perfection when every European tongue that we now know of was in “ the dark womb of barbarity.” A stately speech it is, a trifle stilted at times. The Welsh always having been a literary people, imaginative rather than practical, their speech has naturally been more or less controlled by literary standards, and has retained its poetic form and flavor. It presents some curiously opposite traits. That it is essentially the most jaw-breaking of tongues must be named an impolite fiction for which apology is owing. No tongue is beautiful in the mouths of all its speakers ; the “ sweet bastard Latin ” may be vulgarized into a frightful hiss, and in our Southwest I have heard Spanish which sounded like the crackling of thorns under a pot. Cymric well spoken is not unlike the Greek ; in fact, the first time I listened to an address in it I was strongly reminded of the latter language, so rhythmical was it, so velvety smooth, then again so full of resonant, big-mouth words. Yet it has at least one poetical composition that is known as “ the shibboleth of sobriety,舡 because no man who is drunk can possibly repeat it. In music itself discord may be piled on discord, until both ear and soul are rent asunder ; and it is the unlimited capacity of the Welsh language for producing musical combinations of sounds that also gives it its extraordinary power of cacophony. A synthetic and highly inflected tongue, rich in compounds which have the sudden, direct, and telling quality of the Greek compounds, it is capable at the same time of great conciseness and of an almost indefinite expansion and elaborateness of phrase. In its numberless inflected forms it shows, of course, a lack of full development, but much of its fluidity and beauty is owing to these inflections, which enable the writer of Welsh poetry to perform capers in versification quite beyond the reach of the versifiers of any other nationality.

Not the least remarkable thing about this remarkable language is the love lavished upon it by those to whom it belongs. The sound of his mother-tongue is truly dear to every one, especially when he is away from his country and hearing unknown accents. But this sentiment is apt to be a mere instinctive one, expressed in some superficial way, as, “ How good to hear the old home words again ! ” It is something entirely different from the appreciative, critical admiration which the Welshman bestows upon his dear Cymraeg. The language is a cult with him ; he not only loves, he reverences and adores it, — not just because it is his own, but for itself. He thinks it the most beautiful thing in the world ; he rolls out its mellifluous and resounding words, and asks. “ Did you ever hear anything so glorious ? ” Perhaps it is not too much to say that he would die for it.

I am inclined to think that the root of this fervent devotion may be found in the language itself. Men of equal excellence possess widely varying powers of attractiveness ; it is the subtle thing personality that draws or repels. Why may not a language have a personality ? We English-speaking people value our language, and, I believe, rate it rightly. We admire it chiefly for its fine working capacity. We say it is the best business language on earth ; and we boast that it is better suited to telegraphy than any other. Having produced the invaluable word “ hello,” it naturally claims the telephone for its own. But it does not inspire us with a great enthusiasm on its personal account. When Shakespeare, or Swinburne, or Tennyson juggles with it, and makes music, pictures, and even poetry out of it, we marvel, saying, Is it not wonderful what can be done with the English language ?

But the Welshman does not marvel at his own poetic jugglers, for the spell of his enchanting tongue is ever upon him. The literary sense has not been developed so universally in the AngloSaxon as in the Welsh Celt. The aim of the former — unless he be specifically a man of letters — is to express his thoughts as clearly as possible in the fewest words, regardless of form. Almost every Welshman is, in a sense, a man of letters ; for though he may not write essays or poetry himself, he is constantly listening, in the weekly or monthly literary societies, or in the yearly Eisteddfod, to those who at least are striving to be men of letters. He hears his language discussed ; he hears the would-be poets turn and twist its sounds and grammatical forms; he comes to realize that there is something in it beyond its mere use ; that it is also capable of misuse ; moreover, that it is capable of beautiful, graceful, melodious use. He becomes filled with a sense of its inherent grandeur and importance. No wonder that he cannot be induced to give it up ; that he has introduced the study of it into the common schools of Wales ; and that in the United States, where the danger of its disappearance is still greater, classes are formed in the literary societies in order that the children may learn it. You can part a true Welshman from his skin as easily as you can part him from his language. The last perfect relic of the ancient Celtic tongues, its use is increasing, not diminishing. The Cornish dialect is now extinct ; so, practically, is the Manx ; in Brittany there yet linger among the peasants words and forms of Celtic origin, so that a Welshman can there make out to be understood; the Gaelic is fast dying out in Ireland. But Welsh is daily spoken by a million people, and has a large living literature. At the national Eisteddfod in 1886, it was reported that there were seventeen newspapers, twenty-five monthly magazines, and six quarterlies printed in Welsh, and it is not likely that their number has lessened in these eight years ; from what I know of the almost passionate efforts on the part of Welshmen to resist the oncoming flood of English which threatens to engulf the whole globe of nations, I can well believe it to have grown.

This love and admiration and zealous defense of the language is no new, modern thing. Dr. Dafydd John Rhys, of the sixteenth century, a grammarian, a linguist, and a poet, wrote a Latin Treatise on the Grammar of the Welsh Language, wherein, while strenuously upholding the capacity of the Welsh for delicacy and subtlety of expression, he also gloats over its euphoniousness and flexibility, with astonishing shamelessness comparing it in these respects to the Italian. In his Introduction, Dr. Rhys laments the neglect of this beautiful tongue, and condemns those who, following the fashion of the time, are giving it up to speak other tongues “ when they are but imperfectly acquainted with them.” He has no mercy for these misguided persons, but calls them “ vain and shallow upstarts,” “ a degenerate race and outcasts of society. 舠 He says they are like “a surly, ill-natured cur who will neither gnaw the bone himself nor suffer any other dog to have it.” He justifies such strong terms by asserting that the Welsh language can never be extinguished without utterly destroying the Welsh nation.

Dr. Rhys’s censures and warning were no doubt timely, yet he surely overestimated the danger ; Cymraeg has enough inherent vitality to revivify itself from its own ashes, but it is too strong, too full of energy, too well organized, to die.

This language, — ancient, rich in associations, and highly organized as we find it to be, — while in itself an object worthy of a keen and profound interest, is also, in the very fact of its existence, an indication of the character of those who have spoken it so long. The Encyclopædia Britannica, speaking of the Welsh, says, “The speech of Gaul and of Spain is at this day Latin ; . . . the Roman tongue has in Britain no place at all.” Why is this ? Why but that these wild Cymry, though obliged to yield a physical submission to the nations assailing them who possessed a superior genius for government, were yet in certain mental and moral directions not a whit inferior to those nations ; that so active and forceful was their intellectual life as to keep their free spirits unenslaved by the powers which in turn managed to coerce and bind, though never to absorb them. The Roman, the Saxon, the Norman, the Teuton, has set out, each in his own way, to gobble up this rarebit; it remains in the nineteenth century an unassimilated mass. We do not read that it was ever attempted to extinguish the Briton’s native speech ; the thought alone of doing so would have brought discouragement with it; a terrible obstinacy makes itself felt both in speech and people ; but it was a mistake on the part of the encroaching nations not to have done so. You may take away a people’s name ; you may demolish their political institutions ; you may deprive them of every liberty, civil or religious ; but leave them their language and you can never make them your slaves ; you cannot even make them your brothers, in the sense of turning all their interests and aims into the one channel of your own national family life. This is one of the truisms of history.



The modern as well as the ancient world has for the most part underrated the importance of early Celtic civilization, particularly the Cymric portion of it.1 Popular and superficial historians are largely to blame for this, passing over with a word, perhaps with a sneer, comprehensive and significant facts. The scientists, especially the philologists, are doing much to make amends for this historical injustice. Knight speaks of the Welsh of the thirteenth century as “ a brave but imperfectly civilized people,” and seems to think he has sufficiently characterized them; but the unmodified statement is misleading. What people were perfectly civilized at that time ? If we but for a moment reflect upon what Europe in general was doing in the thirteenth century, and contrast those doings with the doings of a certain rugged, remote little corner of it, some of us will perhaps be surprised.

The truth is that when the Cymro first peeps out of the darkness, he is reading and writing and composing poetry. He writes in Greek characters, to be sure, — taught him by Brutus, says tradition, a thousand years before Christ, — and sometimes, centuries later, in Irish characters ; but his thoughts are his own, individual and marked as is his physiognomy. The Romans found him with cities, arts, manufactures, with knowledge of metallurgy as well as of letters. Moreover, this barbarian in a white linen tunic and gold torques had attained a point in civilization which we in this fin de siècle are agonizing vainly to reach : his “ women folks ” shared with him the elective franchise.

As to the Cymro of whom Knight so slightingly speaks, he was at that very time at the height of his intellectual vigor. The era comprised in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, from Gruffydd ab Cynan to Llewellyn, last native Prince of Wales, is the boast of bardic annals ; it formed the Augustan age of early Cymric literature. Nor, as on the Continent and in England, was learning here esteemed the privilege of the few and presumably better sort, to be acquired only through the medium of dead foreign languages; in Wales, any man whose tastes so led him might strive for the blue mantle, and in his own noble tongue.

In the midst of politically busied peoples, Wales is like the “ accomplished ” daughter of the family, who does not scrub, bake, and sew, but spends her elegant leisure in the drawing-room with books and music. We are too much accustomed to think of the early Britons as exclusively engaged in fighting. Some of us, I fear, have pictured them as having the Berserker’s periodic rage for blood. Good fighters they were,— let Cæsar and Agricola bear witness,— but they fought not for war’s sake, never for conquest, save to gain back their own lost land. When Buddug fought the Romans, it was what Hosea Biglow would have called “pison-mad, pig-headed fightin’.”It was brutal work, no doubt, brutal as the shebear’s work when her cubs are attacked. But, the danger over, and the pressure of foreign foes removed, the peaceful arts of music, literature, and science reassumed their sway over intellects no less alert than the spear-hands had been when spear-hands were needed.

Among all Celts we find a literary order, — the bards, guardians of traditionary learning, collectors and preservers of genealogies, eulogists of princes and their deeds. But of the several members of this division of races, the Welsh alone have retained anything approaching in character to the ancient bardic system. A very elaborate system it was in the olden time, and still is ; far too comprehensive in its scope and intricate in its workings to be much more than referred to here. It arose, according to the Triads, out of the black mists of time immemorial, apparently from the mere human desire for self-expression. Gwyddon Ganhebon enjoys the distinction of being the first man in the world to compose vocal song (poetry). Gwyddon seems to have had no arrière-pensée when he invented this pleasant method of telling what he knew or believed for the benefit of his kind. But Hu Gadarn, the utilitarian leader of the Cymry, had a thought beyond that simple one of Gwyddon Ganhebon’s. He it was “ who first adapted vocal song to the preservation of memory and record. 舡 After him came one yet greater, Tydain Tad Awen, Father of the Muse. In Tydain was that rare combination of the poetical and the practical. He “ conferred art on poetic song, and system on record.”Hence originated bardism, and later the three primary bards, Plenwydd, Alawn, and Gwron, created “ a system of privilege and discipline.”

The system embraced three orders, bards, druids, ovates. The ovate — an honorary degree — wore a green robe, thereby symbolizing the natural sciences; the druids, or priests and instructors, wore white, as representatives of holiness ; the “ privileged bards ” — including poets and musicians — were clad in blue, the blue of the firmament, showing both their character and their mission, purity and peace. Triad 233 tells what are the indispensable qualifications of a bard (hardly to be improved upon in this generation) : “ a poetical genius, a knowledge of the bardic institutes, and irreproachable manners.”

It was only after twenty years of study and practice that a bard was considered perfectly graduated. We shall not be greatly astonished at this when we discover that all learning was taken for his province. Our astonishment will be still less when we get a glimpse of what the bare technique of Welsh poetry means. Before admission to the order, the disciple must commit to memory every precept and every branch of knowledge embraced by his teachers. That these branches were not few in number may be inferred from the following list of subjects treated by the ancient Welsh poets : metaphysics (theology and vaticination), history, heraldry, elegy, ethics, art, physiology, mechanical and pastoral matters. Astronomy, also astrology, music, and even geometry and arithmetic were taught through their verses.

The scope of the true poet’s art is thus shown in the Triads : —

“ Three things to form a poet: genius, knowledge, and incentive.”

“ The three branches of versifying: sound learning, sound composition, sound judgment.”

“ The three intentions of poetry : the increase of good, the increase of understanding, the increase of happiness.”

“ The three splendid honors of the bards of the isle of Britain : the triumph of learning over ignorance, the triumph of reason over irrationality, the triumph of peace over depredation.”

There are many such maxims, but all are summed up in the following: —

“ Three things which a bard ought to maintain : the Welsh language, the primitive bardism, the memorial of everything good and excellent.”

The high moral end of poesy was to be assured in the poet’s own person and character. No corrupt tree could be trusted to bring forth good fruit. A bard must utterly renounce the seven mortal sins, “ for sin tends to make barren the Muse, the memory, and the imagination.” He was preëminently a man of peace, being employed in embassies and negotiations. As a symbol of his peaceful character, no weapon might be Held naked in his presence.

The ancient Briton had arrived at an ideal state in one regard, at least: those favored by the Muses were the darlings of the community. They were exempted from personal attendance in war; they had permission to pass everywhere unmolested in time of war; their persons were held sacred in battle ; they were entitled to five acres of land and to exemption from land-tax ; and every plough in the district where they taught owed them a contribution. Where shall we of to-day look for such enlightened patronage of those gifted ones who, while delighting our senses and instructing our minds, are too often unendowed with the ability to earn unbuttered bread ! But, as if to accent the more forcibly the glory of that estate to which a bard was called, “ one convicted of any crime was to be degraded forever.”

The bards comprised three orders : the itinerant, or minstrel; the family, or herald, bard; and the poet proper. The minstrels were public satirists, going from place to place to elevate morals “ by censure, by ridicule, by precept,”— a responsible and dangerous position to fill. It is to be feared that the average clerwr relied more upon satire than upon wise and sober precepts, and that his example was not always what it should have been. The office of wandering minstrel was naturally liable to abuse. But the clerwr was not the only censor of morals. The teulüwr. or family harpist, enjoyed something of the jester’s privilege of plain speaking, while even the chief bard (prydydd), who was supposed to represent the highest rank in art and morality, often dealt in satirical denunciations that were little less than fatal.

One story told of Dafydd ab Gwilym, the most famous of the fifteenth-century bards, calls to mind the frequent tragic effect ascribed to the Greek iambics. Dafydd, then a youth, being at the house of a nobleman, was insolently called upon by Rhys Meigan, a rival poet and a much older man than Dafydd, to take his horse and give it some oats. Whereupon Dafydd challenged Rhys to a poetic contest as to a duel. The contest must have been characterized less by poetry than by truth, truth of the most bitter sort. Frightful was the interchange of insults, the youthful Dafydd always gaining on his adversary. His last stone of vituperation took the Welsh Philistine fairly between the eyes. Rhys Meigan fell forward from his chair, dead.

And now I come to the task of giving to English readers a far-off, momentary view of the bewildering complexities of that department of Welsh poetical composition which is known as “ restricted versification ; ” for it must be understood that, except when competing for bardic honors, the Welsh poet is as free as any English versifier to choose both his metres and his syllables.

The very root and being of restricted versification is in alliterative consonance (cynghanedd), and the highest possibilities of alliterative consonance are to be found in the Welsh language. It is safe to say that no other tongue possesses a similar equipment in its sounds. The salient characteristics which fit it thus peculiarly for symphonic composition are : (1) the absence of silent letters ; (2) that each letter has everywhere the same sound; (3) that the accents are invariably regular, falling on the penultimate ; (4) the homogeneity of its construction ; being rich in roots, it is likewise rich in the similarity of its consonantal sounds ; (5) the mutation of initial consonants. This law would seem primarily to have had a euphonic basis. It applies to all words — except the particles — beginning with c, p, t, g, b, d, m, ll, rh, the changes occurring according to the sense in which the word is used, its position in the sentence, or the word which immediately precedes it. There are three classes of these mutations, so that each word is subject to one, two, or three initial changes. It will at once be seen how this virtual multiplying of words enriches the language for purposes of “ alliterative symphony and concord.” Welsh alliteration bears small resemblance to what is recognized by that name in English, and which consists chiefly in beginning several successive or neighboring words with the same letter. The cynghanedd is something infinitely more elaborate. One of the Triads states that these symphonies may be of three kinds : pencerddol (magistrails), dysgyblaidd (disciplinaris), and iselraddol (vulgaris).

It is difficult to imagine a vulgar production, in any sense of the word, which should conform to rules expressed by such terms as, the trailing, attractic, or unirhyme symphony; the transilient, or unindented transverse symphony; the conjunctive transverse by retroversion; the unirhyme and transilient sonorous ; the descending trailing transilient; the ascending catenated sonorous transverse ; the reciprocal transilient transverse; with many another yet more unspeakable and unexplainable, and all of them endlessly varied. These complications of alliterative and syllabic consonance are capable of adaptation to every form of verse, from doggerel to the highest poetry, being entirely accordant with the nature and structure of the Welsh language.

Then there are the twenty-four metres in which every aspirant to the bardic chair must show himself expert. What poet s head would not burst to produce stanzas (englunion) that should be pronounced poetry, in such measures as, the undeviating unirhyme, or the recurrent homoerhythmie sustich, or the combined catenated alternity, or the catenated blending recurrent; and so on to the end of the twenty-four. It would be wearisome to dwell upon the descriptions of these measures ; variations in metre are no new thing, though the Venedotion Canons might have some novelties for us. It is enough to say that many of them are hardly rhythmical, according to English notions of rhythm ; the number of syllables in a line being of more importance than the balanced and recurrent accent which helps to make the music of our verse. In fact, the lines are not to be measured by feet at all, but by single syllables.

Not that all Welsh poetry is unrhythmical ; let it be remembered that we are now speaking only of restricted versification, which may be likened to the writhings, contortions, and “Anglo-Saxon messenger attitudes ” of the Delsarte system, to be gone through with as an exercise for the sake of muscular development and for the modifying of natural awkward movements, but not intended of themselves to enter into our daily behavior. Alliterative consonance, however, is a unique fact in the history of verse ; and although a complete understanding of its complications is possible only to a Welshman, it is quite worth the effort to have acquired even a faint conception of so curious a product of poetic ingenuity.

The following illustrations are taken from a prize essay written for the national Eisteddfod in Wales a few years ago, in which the writer heroically attempts to give an example in English of every class of Welsh metres and consonances. One wanders through a hundred pages to gain at the end confusion of intellect; not because the writer has done his work unsystematically, but because of the infinite tortuosity of the system.

The examples here given are for the most part empty of meaning ; for since English is to so limited an extent phonetically written, equivalents in form to the true alliterative symphony and concord are far to seek. It is important to keep in mind that symphony and concord imply the satisfaction of the eye as well as of the ear ; also, that consonance consists not merely in rhyming endings, or in occasional mid-line rhymes ; it is “an agreement of symbols and sounds in a prescribed order and form.” In the line,

She doth rue that she threw a heart away,

the sound of th rue is echoed in threw, but the symbols do not correspond ; therefore the line could not pass according to the rules of cynghanedd.

The first of the symphonies is the attractic or unirhyme, of which there are two kinds, the smooth attractic and the attractic by conjunction. The former is very simple, consisting of a single rhyme ending with a single consonant: —

He may frown on thy crowning.
In their greed they hate freedom.

It will be observed that the rhyme here must always fall on the penult, and that the word rhyming with the penult must fall upon some natural pause or rest in the line. Such a symphony is not highly prized, being considered weak. A variation of the smooth attractic calls for a double consonant rhyme, as : —

In fact he was active.
He paced the Strand in grandeur.

There are also triple consonant rhymes :

From the first he felt thirsty.

In the attractic by conjunction, the first letter of one word is joined to the final letter of another to form the symphony, thus : —

The Vicar died regarding.
Trim built with finest timber.

There are very artful forms of this order called “ hidden con junctions,” because not always readily discoverable by either the eye or ear. In these the symphony is composed of vowels and consonants : —

To the lea past me leaping.

A transilient symphony is one in which certain consonantal sounds in the middle of a line are passed over, or leaped over, and remain unanswered. The syllables passed over can have only a secondary accent, the strong accent falling upon the concordant syllables. It has many varieties, distinguished by different combinations of consonantal sounds. The most curious of these is the furcated, or cloven transilient, so named because one sound is divided, or made up of two sounds. In Welsh, two soft consonants coming together and sounded separately are regarded, for symphonic purposes, as equivalent to one hard sound. Thus, “ I painted a cub hunting ” is a cloven transilient by conjunction ; the cleavage being made by joining part of one word to part of another, the soft labial and the aspirate together, bh, making a sound equal to the hard labial p.

The sonorous symphony consists chiefly of concordant syllabic sounds in regular sequences, but it also requires a consonantal correspondence and a change of vowels: —

No longer a stranger strives.

Here we have a syllabic symphonic symphony ending two pauses, er; a correspondence of consonantal combinations, str; a vowel change from a to i. The accent in this form must fall on the last syllable of the line. The pauses, also, have their special places appointed them. There are five varieties of the sonorous symphony, and a very slight study of them fills one with immense respect for the nicety of the Welsh ear which can detect and enjoy such subtle harmonies and rhythms, as well as for the language which unstintedly supplies material for these cunning combinations.

The transverse is considered the strongest and most elegant of all the symphonic orders. Every consonant in the former part of the line must be answered in the latter part. Here are a few examples of its very simplest variety : —

See how I cut his coat.
Ob, beware how you borrow.
To the arch tie the urchin.
Lo, how long will he linger.

To attempt an analysis of all its possible changes — ascending, descending, conjunctive (complete and incomplete), reciprocal, etc. — would be distracting to the writer and unsatisfactory to the reader. I have given the merest glimpse of this vast system of concordance, avoiding many details, passing over much of importance and interest, fully aware of the inadequacy of our own irregularly formed and rather unmusical language to represent the diversity and fullness of sounds which the Welsh affords, and which are so necessary to the making of these literary symphonies. I should like, however, to give a single instance of the mixed symphonies. These are endlessly intricate, being compounds of the different alliterative and syllabic concords. The following is a transilient sonorous with a furcated reciprocal transverse: —

Draw your paw, dare you rob here ?

The alliterative symphony is d r r pd r r bh. It is transverse, because of the complete answering of consonantal sounds in the two parts of the line ; sonorous, because of the repetition of syllabic sounds in draw and paw ; reciprocal, in that the two parts of the line may be transposed without altering the symphony ; and furcated, on account of the sound p being divided into bh.

After these unpleasing, not to say senseless examples in the English, it may be gratifying to some readers to see a sonorous transverse symphony in its natural setting. Those who are so fortunate as to be able to read it properly may hear, as well as see, its peculiar beauties :

“ Llio Eurallt lliw Arian,
Llewch Mellt, ar y lluwch mân;
Mai ar y phenn seren serch
Llio rhuddaur Llio Rhyddereh.”

Observe that the consonantal symphony in the first line runs, ll r ; in the second, ll wch m ; the third has the sonorous correspondence in seren serch; the fourth is especially rich, ll rh dd r. The vowel changes also are very beautiful, balancing and accenting throughout the echoing consonants.

I shall surely be excused for not going into an exposition of all the other laws of restricted versification, though a column might be easily devoted to poetical resumptions, which indicate the mode of transit from one line to another; a page to the variations thereof; and many pages to the Venedotion Canons, or rules relating to the twenty-four metres, compiled in the fifteenth century ; then it would take an entire article to explain the differences between these and their rivals, the Glamorgan Canons.

If it be asked whether such overelaborateness of technique does not tend to interfere with the free spirit of poesy, the answer will come from the bards themselves that it does. Cynghanedd has been well called “the incubus of Welsh poetry.” Inevitably must sense at times go overboard when words are made to perform such wonders of lofty tumbling. The Chief Bard (Pencerdd) is he who has least sacrificed sense to syllables; and a genuine bard, one born as well as made, with the Welsh language for the instrument of his Muse, would seem to have little excuse for not producing verse to edification. Lack of study and practice could alone cause him to fall short, and without study and practice he might never hope to be a bard. We have seen that his term of probation was twenty years, and we have glanced at the general course of learning required of him. It may be interesting to know what was the special poetic curriculum which was set up for him half a millennium ago, and, so far as I am able to discover, has not been modified since that time.

(1.) A Probationary Disciple was required to have a competent knowledge of the five forms of the stanza or sustich. His teacher, who was to be a Chief of Song, must pledge his word and conscience in attestation of the disciple’s ability to compose in these metres. (2.) The Articled Disciple had to be proficient in twelve metres. Besides the five stanza forms, he must master four ode metres and three poem metres. He must be able to avoid the fifteen ordinary faults which are prohibited, and give an example of his own composition in each metre, displaying in every one a genius befitting a disciple. (3.) The Qualified Disciple was required to know all the metres, to be able to avoid all alliterative faults, and to compose coherently and regularly in twenty-one of the metres. (4.) A Chief of Song was to be an adept in all the metres, and be able to compose in them after the most approved style and with the most intricate characteristics. In short, he was expected to be a perfect master of all the bardic canons, and to be capable of producing superior poetry in all the metres, that he might be adjudged qualified to teach others.



The Eisteddfod has been said to be the pivot on which the whole system of bardism turns. It is much more than this: it is the pivot of the national life of the Welsh people; it is the very symbol of their separateness, of their so-called clannishness, in which we perhaps see a survival of the Aryan “ village kinship ” feeling, a feeling that in its excessive form the more roomy-hearted peoples have relinquished. In the Welsh there is an inextinguishable pride of ancestry, and though they have long since lost all of the outward glamour that once made them the most romantic subjects for song and story, they continue to cherish this pride. It has become an inward thing, however; it still counts its kings and its nobles, but these high ones “feed not upon earth nor pelf ; ” the realms they inherit and the realms they strive to gain are of the mind. The proudest memories of the Welshman to-day are not of “ his Llewellyns and Cadwallos,” but of his Iolo Gochs and his Dafydd ab Gwilyms. His living heroes are they whose voices are the sweetest, whose renderings of great music by voice or instrument are the noblest, whose own musical compositions are pronounced by competent judges the most worthy ; they whose oratorical delivery of fine passages most stirs the multitude and defies the minute censure of skilled critics ; or they of the golden pens, whose work shall meet every requirement of the strictest standards. And the field whereon these heroes win their honors is the Eisteddfod.

Where, when, and how the first Eisteddfod took place no man can even guess. The earliest record we have of this assembly is one regarding its reformation by Gruffydd ab Cynan and Bleddyn ab Cynfyn, before the Norman conquest; so we may safely conclude that the institution could not have been either in its youth or middle age at this time. Some of the rules of the new arrangement give more than an inkling of the condition which rendered reform needful. The Eisteddfodau were to be held every three years (this gave ample time for preparation and insured regularity) ; no man was to be accounted a bard who had not passed through an Eisteddfod, and no work might be accounted poetry except under its laws. Also, the professions of poet and harpist were separated, it being strictly forbidden that one man should follow both. (It would appear from this that wandering players had laid claim to full bardic glory.) It was likewise enjoined that no one should set himself up to be a bard or a minstrel without previously gaining the consent of his lord, or the written testimony of his teacher, who should answer for him as an able man at the legal stated time.

The earliest intimation of copyright on record is found in this code : the bard is forbidden to use the songs of any other man without a special license from the owner. Gruffydd’s code of laws for music proves that science to have been already in an advanced state of cultivation among the early Britons. The would-be musician found it no easier than the poetical aspirant to establish a reputation in the Congress of Bards ; amateurship met with small encouragement at the hands of that congress. In Dr. Dafydd John Rhys’s account of the qualifications necessary to take the degree of Pencerdd, we learn that the probationary pupil must know ten concords, one fundamental, five concords of accompaniment, and eight tunes. The disciplined pupil must know twice as many ; the master pupil three times that number, and be able to explain them. The chief minstrel must know four times as many, and be acquainted with all the canons; also with the system of canons set forth in the book of science. He must be able to compose a piece of music, and give an explanation of every part of it, so that the doctors and chief minstrels may conscientiously adjudge him to be a composer and master in science. The code, moreover, prohibited candidates who proved unfit for the profession of music from following it at all, and torturing the ears of unoffending folk by their wretched performances, — showing, for the dark ages, a truly broad and enlightened conception of the question, “ Who is my neighbor ? ”

There is extant a license bestowed upon one Gruffydd Hiraethog, admitting him to the rank of bard in the year 1546. In this, the whole gentry and commonalty of Wales are apprised by the chiefs of song — all of whose names appear — that by virtue of the commission of his Grace King Henry VIII., etc., said Gruffydd is “ capable without any lack ” to attain to the degree of Professorial Disciple, according to the Five Books of the Profession of the Act of Vocal Song.

But notwithstanding all these forms and ceremonies, and in spite of the appearance of maintaining such lofty standards of excellence, abuses were already creeping in, which by the time of Queen Elizabeth had grown intolerable ; whereupon a royal injunction was issued, wherein it was stated that “ vagrant and idle persons naming ymselves mynstrells, Rithmors and Barthes are lately growen into such an intolerable multitude within ye principalitie of North Wales yt not. only gentlemen and others by their shameless disorders are oftentimes disquieted in their habitations, but also ye expert mynstrells and mussicons in town and country thereby much discouraged to travail in the exercise and practice of their knowledge, and also not a little hyndred in their lyving and preferments.” Therefore a commission was “ apointed and auctorized ” to summon “every person and persons that entend to maynteigne their lyving by name or color of Mynstrells, Rithmors and Barthes,” to appear on a certain day, “ to shew forth their learnings” before “such expert men in ye faculte of Welsh musick as shall be thought convenient.” Those found unworthy were to be commanded “ that they returne to some honest labour such as they be most apte unto, upon pain to be taken as sturdie vagabonds.”

In consequence, some say, of this proclamation the bardic congresses were discontinued for about two hundred years. This would seem to be an evidence of a very serious lowering of standards; as if truly “expert mynstrells and mussicons” had grown so scarce, and sham “ Rithmors and Barthes ” so plentiful, that the arts of music and poetry themselves lost ground in public estimation, rendering it an unprofitable thing to hold an Eisteddfod. I am inclined to attribute the suspension of this national festival less to the proclamation and its enforcement than to a temporary change in the spirit of the Welsh people. The Reformation had come, and was working its way more or less rapidly in the isle of Britain. Its tendency was towards seriousness, towards a consideration of the things of the soul rather than of the mind. In the wake of the Reformation came Puritanism, with its positive hatred of earthly aims and vanities, with its utter lack of sympathy for the æsthetic aspect of things. The Welsh, have from the first been singularly open to what are technically known as evangelical influences. The stern, narrowing doctrines of Puritan Calvinism took ready root in their hearts, and I can well imagine that during this long period of religious storm and stress psalm - singing and a sober contemplation of eternity and its awards may for them have come quite to supersede the “ devilish delights ” afforded by a pursuit of the arts, and by the trivialities of contests for preëminence in worldly music or in that idle word-mongering called poetry.

They are still an essentially religiousminded people, but in common with the rest of Christendom they have arrived at a more steady and whole view of life. With a correct perspective, in life as in pictures, objects fall into their right places ; and among many other things which modern times have brought into focus, the Eisteddfod has resumed its position as the natural expression of a people’s national feeling, the normal outgrowth of their æsthetic nature.

The institution was revived in the eighteenth century with great enthusiasm, — an enthusiasm so genuine that the past hundred years have seen no diminution of it. The national Eisteddfodau are now held yearly, alternating between North and South Wales. They are under the patronage of the highest in the land, beginning with the sovereign, and the judges are sought for among the most distinguished and competent in their respective departments.

The modern Eisteddfod has a very wide scope. It includes competitions in the composition and performance of music, in poetry, prose essays, fiction, and translations ; it offers prizes, also, for specimens of artistic work and for manufactures. At the meeting held in Carnarvon last August, a £3 award was made for the design for a bardic chair ; £10 and a silver medal were given for the chair itself, of carved oak ; £20 and the chair for the “ chair poem.” The “ crown prize ” was for a poem on Lord Tennyson. Other subjects for poetical competition were a pastoral, patriotic songs, verses suitable to be sung with the harp, a drama, besides stanzas and several other forms of verse. Among the numerous subjects for prose treatment were : Historical and Critical Notes upon the Poems of Iolo Goch; A Critical Essay on the Welsh Poetry of the Present Century ; An Essay on the Roman in Wales, and his Influence on the Welsh People and Language ; A Serial Story Illustrative of Welsh Life; and An Essay on the Establishment of a National Museum for Wales. The musical prizes offered were thirty in number, ranging from £150, for a great choral composition, down to £1 ; this last for a violin solo by a child not over twelve years of age. Perhaps the most interesting, because the most characteristic of these musical numbers, was the performance of a distinctively Welsh composition upon the triple-harp of Wales, so called on account of being three - stringed. Brinsley Richards, in establishing his theory that the peculiar characteristics of a people’s music are attributable to their national instrument, dwells upon the fact that Welsh music is essentially harp music, showing everywhere the influence of that instrument upon its development. Within the last quarter of a century the three - stringed harp, long neglected, has again come into use, adding yet another to the many indications that the Cymric spirit is not on the decline.

In art Wales is far behind, notwithstanding the fact that a number of the most famous modern British architects and painters have been Welshmen. Constantly are art prizes withheld at the Eisteddfodau because of an entire lack of merit in the objects sent up for competition. At a recent Eisteddfod, one of the speakers amusingly asserted that “ nothing is more indicative of the powerful imagination of our race than the way in which we continue to offer prizes for works of art, while Wales is almost destitute of the ordinary means of securing the most rudimentary instruction.” Such blind persistence is indicative rather of the same bulldog courage noted by King Henry in writing to the Emperor regarding “ a people in a corner of this island ” who fought an armed host without weapons.

In the United States the Eisteddfod is almost exclusively a musical festival. A few recitations are always on the programme, but the poem and the essay rarely find a place there. A Welsh friend of mine attributes this to what he rightly regards as a prostitution of the high ends of the Eisteddfod, namely, the growing tendency to make it the occasion, after the American fashion, of raising money for various outside purposes; hence, banishing from it whatever is not of immediate popular interest, which musical contests are sure to be. The real reason probably lies deeper ; it would seem to be this: that in our country there are not enough bards to maintain a branch of the National Eisteddfod Association, with authority to confer degrees, and with the encouraging influence lent by numbers and acknowledged preëminence to the pursuit of those more difficult aims of the poet and essayist.

Those who would attain to the rank of bard must send their work to Wales. If a sufficient number are found deserving of honors, and if they cannot go to the old country to receive them, a commission of bards comes over here and bestows the bardic accolade with appropriate ceremonies. These ceremonies require a circle of stones, very suggestive of druidical days, a book of runes, to be read in hearing of the people, and an ancient sword, to be laid upon the shoulders of the kneeling candidate. Men very ordinary in outward seeming take this degree. They are found in the mines and in many other obscure walks of life. The blue robe has shrunk to a blue ribbon, but the little silk knot stands for glory all the same, the sort of glory that a Welshman most prizes.

In musical gifts the Welsh have no peers. Their natural voices are uniformly good, sometimes exceedingly beautiful ; so perfect, indeed, that one would almost dread training for them. Though a highly sensuous and emotional people, their tones are remarkably pure and steady, the timbre being brilliant, often cold, and in their art they evince a selfrestraint which is quite Grecian; for while their mode of singing is fervency itself, particularly in the great chorals wherein they excel all other nationalities, yet the intensity of their fervor never causes a loss of purity of tone, such as is too frequently heard in the provincial German singing societies.

About fifteen years ago, Dr. Damrosch came to the town in which I live, having been invited as one of the musical adjudicators in an Eisteddfod. I shall never forget his unfeigned delight at the singing by our own local choir of some of the Messiah choruses. He said afterwards, “ I wish I could get my choral society to sing in that way.”

It was a vain wish. None but a Welsh choir can sing in that way. At the last Eisteddfod in this neighborhood I listened to a rendering of Mendelssohn’s “ Oh, great is the depth,” which literally took me off my feet : the firm, honest manner of singing ; the solidity of tone; the warmth of harmonic coloring; the effective phrasing, — strong, not delicate, as befitted the music and the words ; and then the spirit of it! The singers were one and all of the lower classes ; some of them I knew to be quite uneducated. The leader was a plain man, who stood upon a chair that he might see all the faces of his large choir. One of the first contraltos was a little woman who sang holding a very young baby in her arms. This was the great event of the year to her, for which she had spent many months in practicing, and no doubt the baby attended every rehearsal. Its presence at the great festival did not prevent that choir from taking the first prize ; and who shall say what may be the effect upon its future of those mighty strains pouring into its tiny ear from birth !

The Welsh are never too young to sing, — nor too old, as would appear from the fact that lately, in Wales, a woman of ninety competed in the Penillion contest.

The Welsh youth get an early public training in the weekly “ Literary Society,” a diversified form of entertainment and instruction which, in a way, may be regarded as a preparation for the Eisteddfod. Here they learn in infancy to face an audience, and to hear their own voices without fear. I have seen children of five or six nonchalantly skip up on a platform, deliver their little “ pieces ” with admirable feeling and emphasis, and skip down again with a pretty air of belonging by right to the body politic. These little ones sit with exemplary patience through the performances of their elders, listening to speeches, essays, and long debates ; these dry matters being interspersed with songs and recitations contributed in a go-as-you-please manner by any who may feel moved to “ shew forth their learnings.”

The fondness of the Welsh for the higher pursuits is the most noteworthy thing regarding this strange people. While producing little, perhaps,— in literature, at least,— that is of definite and universal importance, they have always been able to show a greater proportion of individuals, in all ranks, who are interested and more or less versed in music and poetry than any other people, save one, on the face of the earth. In this fact is to be found the true meaning of an Eisteddfod.

I have made exception of one people, the Greeks, but it is a question whether intellectual activity was so widely diffused among them as among the Celts of Cymry. Public taste in Greece, in all matters artistic and literary, was immensely higher; actual participation in artistic and literary pursuits, save as spectators, was probably far less common. The Eisteddfod has been likened to the Olympic games, and in spirit the two institutions are not dissimilar. Leaving out the physical contests which formed the basis of the Greek festival, we find in both the same evidence of a passionate racial sentiment ; the same desire to keep alive the national customs, traditions, language, and literature; the same appeal to the glories of past times, and to the glorious ones who gave those times their character. Each is essentially representative of the respective nature, tastes, and strivings of the people who founded it; a gathering together of all who can do to display their doings before a cloud of witnesses, and for whose reward public acclaim is no less necessary than a crown.

But physical grace and strength, so prized by the Hellene, do not enter into the list of the Cymro’s ambitions: his lyrics are not written for the dancers ; his odes celebrate no mighty boxer, wrestler, runner ; to him beauty means brains ; his sole vanity is in intellectual superiority. This vanity is a wholesome one ; it keeps him a happy being. In his favorite pursuits he finds a sure preservative against discontent. Not over-thrifty nor ambitious for riches, he asks for little so long as he has opportunity to study, write poetry, practice and compose music, and match his mind with his neighbor’s. Above all, he wishes to be let alone to do as he chooses. To him freedom and independence of mind are not luxuries, but stern necessities. Roger Williams, who may stand to Americans as the symbol of every liberty they enjoy, is a worthy type of the Cambrian race. A fascinating, baffling study, this race, whether we follow it along the lines of history, or, standing face to face with the living man, we strive to penetrate the curious caul that envelops him, and read his mystery at first hand. Clannish in his ways of life, he is often hard to approach, yet underneath the repelling surface it is not unusual to find a genuine bonhomie, and a certain reserved friendliness that has a charm of its own. He makes a good friend, does “ gallant Taffy,” for he will never tell you a lie ; his offense, if he offend, will more likely be in the other direction. His motto has always been “ Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd,”— Truth against the World; and truth he will maintain even at the expense of your dearest feelings. It must be confessed that Taffy has not the suaviter in modo of his Celtic brother Patrick. This lack has doubtless helped to keep him back in the race with nations, and from taking the position for which, by his superior mental gifts, he would seem to be qualified. Yet his very aloofness of spirit, wherein he moves as in a separating atmosphere, has enabled those mental gifts to retain their unique flavor untainted by the promiscuous elements of the surging nationalities about him.

Edith Brower.

  1. Baldwin, in his Prehistoric Nations, says, “ Their (the Celts’) civilization was greater than history has admitted.” And he adds, “ If Roman scholars had carefully studied the Celtic languages, literatures, and antiquities, we should not now begin our histories of Great Britain with the invasion of Cæsar ; ” and furthermore, that “ it may well be doubted whether the Celts, at the time of the Roman invasion, were much inferior to the Romans themselves in anything save unity and military organization,” — two very important things under the circumstances!