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Gossip from Old Wales.


Gossip from Old Wales. lB y ERNEST RHYs.] VIII,-THE LAST OF THE DRUIDS. Derlwyn. The Last of the Oaks. Old Tradi- tions and the Modem Spirit. Mona and the Last of the Druids. Davies's Mytho- logy and Rites of the British Druids." Taliesin and Merlin Again. Druidism and a Welsh Renaissance. The Quest of Welsh Tradition. Envoi. On one of the wildest parts of the Meri- oneth coast, where great hills, almost bareof trees, shoulder back the sea, you may find one small grove of immensely old gnarled oaks—Deriwyn in native term-sole sign of the oak forests that once flourished there. From Derlwyn it is an easy step to Der- wydd and from the last of the oaks to the last of the Druids. On some autumn or I winter's evening, when a curious light, red, suggesting storm, is left by the sunset, is the time to see these gnarled oaks, and to believe in every wildest tradition of the older Druids, who are said to have once haunted there. At other times, when the modern spirit and its works, railways, tourists, and what t not are all too palpable, you may be in- clined to join the sceptics, and disbelieve in both the primitive oak-groves and the Druids. But (pace Mr Nash and other critics of the kind) this is unworthy. In any case, as at other times in recalling the past of Wales, let us here be legendary and traditional, and not scientific and de- structively critical. And whenever and wherever we come on the Welsh mountain- Bides to the old oak-groves, or those mysterious circles of stones, which by old association are Druidic, let us pay our homage as imaginatively as did Lucian, to the Druids who take us back to the grey first beginnings of Welsh tradition. It is in Anglesea, "haunted Mona," and not in Merioneth, however, that, according to tradition, the last of the Druids, fighting a lost cause against what he deemed the effeminate heresy of Christianity, saw a younger generation desert him, and found himself with only the Druidic oaks for his companions. Into that sequestered scene, Mona," says Edward Davies, in his Mythology and < Rites of British. Druids, "the Druids, who detested warfare, had retired after the irruption of the Romans." Then he goes on to amplify this information, suo more-in the fashion that was so well calculated to raise the ire of critics like Nash, who found his magnificent assumptions only absurd. They had deserted," he says, their ancient magnificent seat at Aveury and their circular temple on Salis- bury Plain, in which the Hyperborean sages bad once chanted their hymns to Apollo." This is Davies, no doubt, on his mythical ^aigh horse again, with its Helio-Arkite and other fantastical trappings. And yet we should be unwise to dispose of the Druids acid their Mona traditions because Edward Davies was extravagant, as when he tells us, for instance, that we may place our last of the Druids as late as the close of the sixth century, and that the bards of that time 44 used all the means in their power to conceal their secrets from the knowledge of the populace, to guard them from the persecu- tion of Christian priests, and to transmit },hem safe and unblemished to future ages." Now, when one turns to Davies's authori- ties for his unhesitating statements of the kind, no doubt one is a little dismayed at first, and not a little inclined to doubt him altogether, and in disposing of his Helio- Arkite absurdities, dispose of the Druids with them. It is the same kind of effect as was produced by the irresponsible methods of iolo Morganwg about the same time as Davies—to say nothing of ,a recent noto- rious and painful instance of modern pseudo-Druidism. But as the subtlest Eng- lish critic of our generation, Matthew Arnold, who preserved ex- cellently the happy mean between the extremes of scepticism and credulity in Celtic matters, said there are worse provoca- tions to the genuine critic than the over- enthusmstic contentions of writers like Davies. They may rail for want of science and scholarly accuracy in making good their case but yet their sense of something pro- founder in old Welsh poetry and the writings of the Cynveirdd than lies on the surface — something primitive, august, mythological, Druidic in a word, arose out Df a sure instinct. But this brings us round 1 again to Taliesin, and some of the poems in |t the" Black Book of Carmarthen." t ——— 1 A not unfriendly critic, writing to this paper some weeks ago apropos of Taliesin, took me to task for not solving this difficult problem of Bardic Druidism in my previous gossip about Taliesin. As well indict an innocent gossip about Shakespeare, telling you how much he liked King Lear at the Lyceum, for not deciding the dramatic relationship betwixt Shakespeare and Seneca, and perpending the historical origins of the Elizabethan drama. However, I, for one, am quite pre- pared to believe in a Druidic residue, after you have stripped all that is mediaeval and Biblical from the poems called Taliesin. The same with Merlin". The more one reads of the traditional accounts of Merlin, the more one comes to believe in their having an origin in certain Druidic mythological ideas and superstitions, in particular, as well as in the Celtic romantic imagination in general. Take even the common tradition of Merlin's end, as you have in Welsh, or with a slight difference in the old Scottish verse— Mervelous Merlin is wasted away With a wicked woman, woe might; she be, For she has closed him in a craize On Cornwel coast! There is no doubt a mystic origin for this fabulous imprisonment, as there is for the grave of Merlin in Bardsey, or his enchanted sleep in Caledonia, or his sea-change in the famous House of Glass, or his birth, death, and burial near Carmarthen. But who of us now shall disen- tangle these intricate threads, and present them in exact terms of science ? It were easier, perhaps, to present them in terms of imaginative literature but that, too, 1 fear, is rather beyond our modern faculty, which is apt to be clever and accomplished, rather than strong and creative. Meanwhile, our Taliesin and Merlin, and our impalpable Last i"*1. of the Druids lie, as far as Ave modernly are concerned, securely locked in that magic sleep from which only the wand of the coming poet of Wales, that we look for, shall avail to wake them. This Is without prejudice, let it akonce be added, to the admirable work of many Welsh scholars and writers of to-day, who are doing so much to make Old Wales a possible subject for the rest of us, and who are teaching us to make its past minister to f its present in quite a new way. The signs, ) indeed, are not wanting (and altogether 1 apart from polities) of what we may deem to fl be an incipient Welsh Renaissance. They are to be read between the lines of every paper in Wales, whether dating from Cardiff, Carnarvon, or elsewhere, whether in Welsh or English, that one takes up. A copy of "Cymru" that reached me lately in a dull London February day fairly surprised me by its Cymric stimulus and its finer sense of the things (new and old) that make for national life and its full contemporary expression. The Oxford texts of such indis- pensable books as the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Mabinogion I have mentioned before and of London Celtic literary, as well as political, activity, we hardly need to be reminded on the morrow of St David's Day. If the "Last of the Druids" seem by this to have rather faded out of his place in our gossip, the disappearance is not perhaps altogether a loss where in truth, as various writers on Druidism have proved, it is better to say too little than too much. One may use him for a last word, however, or yet another argument for the pursuit of all his shadowy kith and kin in the fields > .d by lie firesides of rural Wales— vherever folk-lore and folk-tale have clieir favouring circumstance. To the same end may fairly be appropriated the following little apologue from a keen hunter after such elusive Celtic imaginations, M. de Ville- marque which may very well serve as envoi to this brief present series of papers It is related that St. Patrick, wishing to know the history of Ireland, went to consult a good old wife, who had seen several genera- tions pass. She had, in spite of her years, an eye still quick, a springing foot, a fine ear, a fresh voice, simple speech and ingenious, an inexhaustible memory, and a heart of fire under the snows of her white hair. The people loved her, followed her, believed in the truth of her tales, and listened to her with admiration. A Welsh shepherd of the Valley of Myvyr met her also wandering in the mountains of the North of Wales. Walter Scott tells us he followed her along the Scottish border. For myself, I have seen her more than once seated at the fire of a Breton peasant-her eye as quick, her ear as fine, her voice as fresh, her heart as warm as in St. Patrick's day. To whoever asked her name, she replied, "I am Celtic Tradition."

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