Sunday, 11 October 2009

IOLO MORGANWG (10/3/1747 to 18/12/1826) Conjurer Of Truth

Pilate Seith unto him: What is truth?- St .John, 19.38

Just remembered who I was thinking of, when I started this blog of randomness,Edward Williams, better known by his bardic name Iolo Morgannwg.Have been inspired by him for a spell now so time for a brief introduction.He was born in 1747 at Pennon ,Glamorgan and bought up in the village of Flemington. His father was an intelligent and literate working stonemason whose career he followed, his mother a descendant of Glamorgans dynasties of Welsh poets. She never let him forget his cultural roots and heritage.
After his mothers death he became addicted to laudanum for his ashtma, but also became addicted to the world of books. Like a magpie he began plundering libraries, collections, poets homes wholesale and built himself into the most learned man in Wales on medieval Welsh literature, folklore, history and antiquities.Words and all their associations consumed him, drove him ,fired him.Hunger was in the air!
In 1773 he moved to London and became a significant figure in the Welsh community. On his return to Wales in 1777 he married his long suffering wife Peggy and tried his hand at farming and shopkeeping. In 1789 he produced some of his first known literary sleight of hands, when he bought out a colection of the 14th Century lyrical poet Daffyd ap Gwilym. Included in this edition were a large number of previously unknown poems, Iolo had claimed to have discovered. They were as good as anything Daffyd ap Gwilym had ever wrote, and notablly survived critical attention for over a 100 years when they were discovered to be forgeries.
His success led him to return to London where he founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards and it was at Primrose Hill on the summer solstice of 1792 that the first Gorsedd, Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys was held. In 1794 he published his own poetry to popular acclaim, now believed to be his only genuine work. He went on to author many more substantial works many now thought to be forgeries. Chiefly their was a 3 volume collection " THE MYRVYRIAN ARCHAIOLOGY OF WALES" published between 1801 and 1807. Essentially a collection of medieval literature, it collected the Welsh Triads and material attributed to Saint Cadoc and poems claimed again to be the works of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It also contained a third series of Iolos forged triads as well as his alterations to the authentic ones.Again undetected.
His vision represented a fusion of Christian and Arthurian influences, a proto romanticism comparable to that of William Blake and the Scottish poet and forger James Mac Pershon and a revived enthusiasm for all things " Celtic" and these elements of bardic heritage have genuinelly survived among Welsh language poets. Part of his aim was to assert the Welshness of South Wales against the prevalent idea that North Wales represented the purest survival of Welsh traditions.
Fuelled on laudenum and an inner quest he dreamt of the primitive purity of an ancient druidic system, and in his forgeries woke not to forget but to evangelise. This was the time of Revolution. A time half of Wales was starved and rioting. A time when people discovered The People, when intellectuals stamped nations out of the ground and wove new tricolours out of old legends, when among " non histrionic peoples" to publish a dictionary was deemed a revolutionary act. In this last warm freethinking , sometimes pagan, glow from an old but awakening Wales , Iolo was reborn as " THE BARD OF LIBERTY".
It is important to note that fabrications aside, he was a major scholar, the first serious Welsh Folklorist, the first to call for a Welsh National Library, museum and eisteddfod. The shop he ran in Cowbridge was notorious as a " Jacobin den; he helped to launch the Unitarian associaton in 1802 at Merthyr, he lost a job with the Board of Agriculture because he was a democrat, and was deemed to have seditious views and if the government had ever read his letter on the French landing in Fishguard in 1797, he would have been transported.He also perpetuated the myth that the Welsh explorer Madoc had gone to America and had settled with the native Americans.Later historians have found no trace.
A subversive of his time then, taking liberties with the facts in his own laudenumbed cause of truth! A time when most of Welsh history had already been airbrushed and buried. If he could correctly identify a truth he would then again correctly identify a necessary connection between it and another truth; if he found no evidence in the record to warrant this connection, he would then supply it in brilliant historical mimicry.
He believed , that Welsh poets had not been "poets" as the English use the word. They had been the ribcage of the body politic. They had been a collective memory honed for historic action. Their function had been to enable a Welsh present to construct a usable Welsh past to serve an attainable Welsh future. They had been remembrancers.
A political and religious radical although he evemntually embraced unitarianism. He opposed the ' tyranny ' of state religion and vehemently opposed the leaders of the Established Church... he considered  people like the Bishop of St Davids' Thopmas Burgess ' representing ' a system of Idiotism, of madneess or of villainy'.
The English court had its King's Remembrancer and its own fabricators. Iolo wanted to create a cadre of People's Remembrancers, who he saw perhaps in his opium imagination overload as descendants of an ancient , noble and more natural religion. Burrowing like Merlin in his books, Iolo's Gorsodd was to be the directive and democratic elite of a new and democratic Welsh nation, concieved in liberty. They were to be the People's Rembrancers to a Welsh Republic.
His lasting impact on Welsh culture is felt today. His " Druids Prayer "(Gweddi'r Orsedd) still staple of the ritual of both gorseddau and Neo-druidism.A big influence too on Robert Grave's " White Goddess". Let us remember him as a friend of language, a brilliant debunker and spinner of myth, a friend of the mystical depths, a friend of mankind. In the end the only pockets he picked were his own. Its hard to deny his genius. apparently he was  a good flute player as well . At the moment  the friends of Primrose Hill want to remove a plaque to him that has recently been erected, still rattling his bones then. nice that a compatriat is still enraging the inhabitants of regents park.  A man high on laudanum, high on life, with his pockets full of mischief , sticking his nose up to the establishment, I think it's time for a revival. I'll drink to that.

Further reading:

Geraint Jenkins (ed ) 2005- A Rattleskull Genius:
the many faces of Iolo Morganwg
Cardiff: University of Wales Press

Damien Walford Davies ( ed ) 2007- Wales and the Romantic
and Lynda Pratt Cardiff: University of Wales Press

THE GORSEDD PRAYER,called the Prayer of the Gwyddoniaid ( From the Great Book of Margam)

God, impart Thy strength;
And in strength, power to suffer;
And to suffer for the truth;
And in the truth, all light;
And in light, gwynfyd;
And in gwynfyd, love;
And in God, all goodness.

Llyma Weddi'r Orsedd, a elwir Gweddi'r Gwyddoniaid (0 Lyfr Mawr Margam)

Dyw dy nerth, ag yn nerth Dioddef;
A dioddef dros y gwir,ag yn y gwir pop goleuni;
Ag yngoleuni pob Gwynfyd, ag yngwynfyd Cariad,
Ag ynghariad Dyw, ag yn nuw pop daioni.

"My sheets of transcript,the labours of many years, are for the most part unbound and in great disorder, like everything else with me. I have always had to many Irons in the fire, a llawer unhonynt yn llosgi'n ulw ( and many burning to a cinder )."

Iolo in a letter written 26th July 1800


  1. excellent post mate... i was hoping you'd give us some cool welsh literature to jump into.i've been seduced by the south wales landscape since moving down to bristol,i love how many people speak welsh,can't understand a fuckin word said but it sounds great.
    i've only read mostly contemporary welch stuff,john williams and niall griffiths i rate and i recently read border country by Raymond williams,which i thought was a canny good read- made even more interesting as i was staying in brecon at the time...
    your post on lolo made me think of ace prankster jaroslav hasek and fernando pessoa,whose whole groove i'm well into.

    have you seen 'SLEEP FURIOUSLY' i went to see it last week... i thought it was a really sublime film.
    anyway,too much babble.
    looking fwd to what comes next.x

  2. cheers mate heard bit about Jarosolv, Czekh humorist?SLEEP FUROIOUSLY lovely took the name From Noam Chomsky's definition of a meaningless sentence,I love meaningless sentences laters heddwch.

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  4. I like the bit previously posted - "Nice that a compatriot is still enraging the inhabitants of regent's park."
    He was a wise, unique, and rare man who had the gutts to follow his purpose and passion.
    He was a dreamer yet visionary, for the future, and for all the past, a past which he helped to rebuild, and a future which he helped to forsee and dream of.
    He was a man in a leaque like few others and notably, he always will be.
    He shared the truth with the world and for some people that just wasn't good enough, but for the rest of us, he left a legacy, a treasure, and a heritage.

  5. share your sentiments, thanks for comment,laters heddwch