Sunday, February 06, 2011


Here's some jolly correspondence between three thirtysomething pals dating back to 1837, which might provide a clue as to the atmosphere that marked the rapid retreat of the Welsh language in Radnorshire during the early decades of the Nineteenth Century.

First off we have George Clive, future Liberal MP for Hereford, expressing his "fervent prayer" that the devil would fly away with the Welsh or "this miserable race of Celtic savages" as he describes them/us.

"Amen" echoes the recipient of the diatribe Ed Head, a future Privy Councillor and Governor of Canada, who in deference to the third of our correspondents asserts that "Wales begins just beyond New Radnor". Ed does however see some hope for the Welsh since "the railroads .... may civilize them in about three centuries."

The third of our Liberal pals is George Cornewall Lewis, "Radnorshire's most distinguished son" and a future Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose monument once dominated the main road into Mid Wales. Of course Lewis lived at Harpton, hence the need for friend Head to push the English border a couple of miles further west. Six generations of marriage to English brides combined with an Eton education had certainly expunged any memory of what had once been a distinguished Welsh family and Lewis is quick to agree with Clive's opinion of the intelligence of the Welsh. However, he laments "how that intelligence is to be raised, while they retain their villainous Celtic language, it is not easy to see."

Cornewall-Lewis considered the Welsh to be cowardly and timid, perhaps he had a point. His letters are available here.


jock said...

They sound like the sort of vile stand-up comics who are so popular with the Guardian reading classes. They tend not to like the Welsh either.

Jac o' the North, said...

These attitudes may be expressed differently today, but they persist.