Wednesday, 21 June 2017

21st June, 1792, Iolo Morganwg founds the Gorsedd of Bards.

Balmy weather in my corner of Wales, so thought on this Summer Solstice thought i'd return to someone I've written of before, who  was undoubtedly one of Wales's most colourful and intriguing sons. to have emerged from the pages of my country's history books, one Edward Williams who is better known by his bardic name of Iolo Morganwg  He's been a personal hero of mine for awhile, I will refer to him as Iolo  throughout this post,. My first post way back in 2009 incidentaly was inspired by him too ;- I've been wading through memories today, it being the eighth anniversary of when I met my departed soul mate and lover, another unique individual,who inspired earlier post today,  I seem to  be drawn to them, hey ho back to Iolo.
He was born in 1747 in  the parish  of Llancarfan in Glamorgan, southern Wales,and bought up in the village of Flemington, Although English was his home language he soon became interested in the Welsh language, its literature and history. He was a stonemason by craft and travelled throughout Wales and to London. There, he came into contact with the Gwyneddigion Society and began to move in cultural and radical circles.
Iolo Morganwg was a genius,,one of the founder members of the Unitarian movement in Wales, a political radical who supported the French Revolution, a pacifist, republican, accomplished flute playing, antiquarian,a hymn-writer and an able lyrical poet who called himself 'The Bard of Liberty'. A political radical, religious dissenter and pacifist  who believed Wales should have its own national institutions celebrating its unique culture and heritage, known as one of founders of Welsh national consciousness..As a young man working as a stonemason in London, he had seen Welsh culture widely disparaged.,Iolo became heavily involved in the political activities of London - Welsh societies in fostering republican views in Gorsedd ceremonies, and in defending the rights of persecuted Dissenters and freeborn Welshmen. He often styled himself 'Jacobin', 'Citizen' and 'Theocrat', and penned dozens of forthright, satirical and subversive essays and poems. He came close to being jailed himself for seditious libel. On his return to the Vale of Glamorgan in 1795 he was kept under surveillance, especially when he used his Cowbridge bookshop and grocery to support anti-slavery, fair trade and Jacobinism.
Iolo denounced 'kingcraft' and 'priestcraft', thundered against war and injustice, and never tired of proclaiming the benefits of 'Breiniau Dyn' (the Rights of Man). A political animal to the core, he played a prominent part in raising the profile of libertarian causes in Wales and in spreading subversive ideas.  He believed the Welsh poets were the direct descendants of the Celtic druids, and he set about writing so glorious a history it would put the English to shame, even if he had to forge it.
In support of this vision, in 1789 he published a collection of poems by 14th-century Welsh bard Dafydd ap Gwilym. Included were many newly-discovered poems Morganwg had “found,” i.e., written himself. He was also a prolific poet in both Welsh and English, but as well as using his own voice, he was more than capable of writing in the guise of others. The book proved to be popular and this  inspired him to return to London to take the next step in promoting Welsh culture.
Apart from being in my opinion as I've said  a genius, Iolo also was in what in today's terms be an addict, like many of his contemporaries of the time his particular foible was Laudanum.
Iolo  had started taking laudanum as a young man to cure a troublesome cough later for a troublesome bad back .Taking laudanum, tincture of opium, was actually both common and fashionable during the eighteenth century, other  notable  opium eaters of Iolo's time include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Crabbe and Thomas De Quincey among  many others. It is generally believed that the drug does not enrich a dull imagination but rather enhances one that is already active. Laudanum produced a paradoxical effect on users. On the one hand, it gave them the impression that their ideas were clearer and more original because of the laudanum: it enabled them to create unexpected creative links, and also bolstered their belief in the distinctness of their own visions. It certainly seemed to consolidate Iolo's. and many many people were taken in by him despite his drug fuelled hallucinations. What a man though. here's his actual  poem he wrote about his enabler, some parts  could actually read as an ode to a lover ;--

Ode to Laudanum-
WHILST, crowding on my woful hour,
Fate's deep'ning glooms indignant low'r,
And crush my wearie soul;
Thou, Laudanum, can'st quickly steep
My burning eyes in balmy sleep,
And ev'ry grief controul.
When Reason strives, but strives in vain,
To banish care, to vanquish pain,
And calm sad thoughts to rest;
Thy soothing virtues can impart
A bland sensation to my heart,
And heal my wounded breast.

Whilst fell Disease, with rapid flame
Preys ireful on my feeble frame,
Pervading ev'ry vein;
Thou canst repel the venom'd rage,
The fever'd anguish canst assuage,
And blunt the tooth of Pain.
When wakeful Sensibility
Her wrongs recounts, I fly to thee,
And feel her touch no more;
At painful Memory's loud call,
'Twas she, with fingers dipt in gall,
My rankling bosom tore.
With soul-corroding thought oppress'd
Whilst keen affliction fills my breast,
And swells the tide of grief;
O! shed thy balm into my heart,
And, plucking thence the piercing dart,
Bestow thy kind relief.
Now Comfort shuns my woful sight,
And sad returns the sleepless night,
In sable glooms array'd;
I court thy pow'rs with anxious mind,
And, on the down of rest reclin'd,
I bless thy lenient aid.

.My joyless hours I waste alone,
Unpitied weep, unheeded moan,
Unfriended sigh forlorn;
Consign to grief my crawling years,
The victim of desponding cares,
Existing but to mourn.

Thou faithful friend in all my grief,
In thy soft arms I find relief;
In thee forget my woes:
Unfeeling waste my wint'ry day,
And pass with thee the night away,
Reclin'd in soft repose.

.O! still exert thy soothing pow'r,
Till fate leads on the welcom'd hour,
To bear me hence away;
To where pursues no ruthless foe,
No feeling keen awakens woe,
No faithless friends betray.

Poems, Lyric and Pastoral vol I, pp 1-5 was

Iolo believed that the Welsh bards had inherited the learning and traditions of the Druids of the ancient world. Iolo, however, declared that Druidism had survived in its purest form in Glamorgan, his birthplace. He produced a vast corpus of literary forgeries and Druidic lore  to justify this claim, products  of his own very fertile, laudanum-addicted imagination. So in  1791, he returned to London proclaiming, in both Welsh and English literary circles, that he was heir to all the mysteries of Druidism.
So on this day,  the Summer Solstice of  21st of June, Summer Solstice, 1792, Iolo Morganwg held a ceremony on the nearest mountain he could find,  Primrose Hill , and  founded the Gorsedd of Bardds  (in Welsh the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain), a community of Welsh bards dedicated to preserving Welsh language, poetry and music. He developed the ritual for the ceremony from druidic rites described in ancient manuscripts from his own collection that were later found to have been yet again creations of his own. As they say if you've got an idea, you might as well go for it, wish I was capable of pursuing my inner dreams as Iolo did.
Thanks to Iolo's actions on Primrose Hill  it would see  the revival of the Eisteddfod, otherwise known as the national festival of Wales.The Eisteddfod is a folk festival celebrating Welsh language, music, poetry and literature that traces its lineage back to a grand gathering of musicians and poets held by Lord Rhys of my hometown Cardigan/ Aberteifi  in 1176. From that early progenitor, a vast number of provincial gatherings proliferated over the centuries, sponsored by local lords all over Wales.

Iolo returned to Wales in 1795, and began collecting material for his magnum opus, 'The History of the British Bards', a book that would, he believed, explain all the history and learning of the Druids to the world. In 1801 and 1807, a large number of his forgeries were published in the Myvyrian Archaiology, after he had persuaded the editors that they were texts copied from old manuscripts. Iolo and this is why I like him so much, never wandered or wavered from the devotion to his ideals and inner vision.

In 1819 the eisteddfod festivals and the Gorsedd of Bards came together, thanks once again to Iolo Morgannwg, now 72 years old and still with a keen eye towards promoting Welsh civilization. He traveled to the eisteddfod being held at the Ivy Bush Inn in Carmarthen and drew a Gorsedd circle meant to be a sacred circle of standing stones a la Stonehenge, on the lawn using a handful of pebbles  from his pockets. He went on to admit poets and druids, including the local bishop and festival patron, Bishop Thomas Burgess of St. David’s. giving them white, blue and green ribbons according to their rank. During the chairing ceremony a new rite took form as poets stood either side of the chair, sheathing and unsheathing a sword above the winning poet’s head. The sword used by Iolo  during these 1819 ceremonies can still to be seen at St Fagans National History Museum.

                                          Iolo Morganwg's  sword used in the 1819 ceremony

From then on, the Gorsedd and the eisteddfod continued to develop their relationship, and when the National Eisteddfod was established in 1861, the Gorsedd’s Druidic rituals, now considerably more elaborate than they had been at that first Primrose Hill ceremony of 1792, played a central role, providing high drama and pageantry in the medal ceremonies and in the investiture of important political, religious and cultural figures into the Gorsedd in recognition of their contributions to the nation, language and culture of Wales.
Iolo died in 1826, aged 80 leaving an enormous collection of manuscripts. This collection is now at the National Library of Wales. When Welsh scholars discovered the extent of his forgeries at the beginning of last century, he was rejected and reviled but.I try not to forget this maverick genius, I have a picture of this poet and visionary in my bathroom, a romantic juggler of truth yes, but what a man. Lets continue to celebrate him as a scholar who sought about reviving Welsh culture, I think my nation actually owes this rebel druid a lot of debt.
Happy Summer solstice.


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