The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I., ed. by J. Williams Ab Ithel, , at sacred-texts.com
THE promoters of the National Eisteddvod, which was held at Llangollen, in the autumn of 1858, conscious of the increased attention that was being paid by foreign scholars to the literature and usages of our Cymric ancestors, and desirous, at the same time, of facilitating their inquiries in that direction, as well as of effectually rescuing from a precarious existence the traditions of the Bards, offered a prize of £30, and a Bardic tiara in gold, for "the fullest illustration, from original sources, of the theology, discipline, and usages of the Bardo-druidic system of the Isle of Britain." Only one compilation was received, which, nevertheless, received a very high encomium, accompanied with a recommendation that it should be published, in the following adjudication, which was read at the meeting by Myvyr Morganwg, 1 one of the three judges appointed for the occasion.
"On this very important and interesting subject only one composition has been received, which bears the feigned signature of PLENNYDD. It is a very extensive collection, for the most part of unpublished
[paragraph continues] MSS., consisting of 287 folio pages, clearly and beautifully written, and exhibiting indications of being carefully and accurately copied, for the writer, following herein the example of the late Iola Morganwg, has suffered even errors, which were obvious in the manuscripts before him, to remain unaltered.
"The compiler has been very diligent, and remarkably successful in obtaining access to such a vast number of ancient MSS. bearing on Bardism, many of which had seen but little light for several years before. With respect to their genuineness, PLENNYDD justly observes,--'though their authors cannot in many instances be named, any more than we can name the authors of the Common Law of England, yet the existence of the peculiar dogmas and usages, which they represent, may be proved from the compositions of the Bards from the era of Taliesin down to the present time.'
"This collection contains a great many of the Rules and Usages appertaining to the Gorsedd of the Bards, several valuable fragments on the Natural and Moral Philosophy of our ancestors, together with the ingenious Theology of the ancient Bardism of the Cymry; also curious extracts on Astronomy, Arithmetic, the Bardic Coelbren, and a vast quantity of Triads. Every fragment that can thus be made public, of what once related to the primitive Gorsedd or Throne of the Bards, is truly valuable, inasmuch as it was this simple, moral, and sublime system, that constituted the very foundation of the primitive worship, legislature, and scholastic institutes of the nation, and was the living means of promoting learning and morality among all classes of the people, in early times. And when we consider that the Gorsedd of the Bards was but a continuation, in the White Island, of the circular temples of patriarchal times, we may feel assured that it is among the remains of Bardism, or the religious system connected with those primitive temples, we may hope to discover, if at all, that Golden Key, concealed and secured, which can open the mysteries, or esoteric doctrine, of ancient nations.......
"We had no right to expect that we should find the 'Secrets of Bardism,' or the 'Mysteries of Maen Arch,' introduced into a compilation, which was intended to be made public; for such have been, and ought to be a sort of mute tradition, and tradition only, to be communicated solely to such as have proved themselves worthy to receive the.......
"Nevertheless, there may be found in this collection, some fragments which contain, as is very clear to every initiated Bard, the remains of that sublime learning, as it existed in the Isle of Britain anterior to Christianity; such as those extracts about the elements--the migration of the soul from the point of extreme evil in Annwn to the point of extreme good in heaven--the mystic Name of God--the nature of Cythraul, &c. In order to prove the genuineness and
great antiquity of these particulars to one who is not initiated in the mysteries of Bardism, it may suffice that they are also discoverable, though in a more corrupt form, in the ancient bardism of Hindoostan. They are old dogmas, at present neither preserved nor existing amidst the antiquities of any nation under the sun, except the Indians and the Cymry.
"But we have in the present collection some pieces of mixed Bardism, which may be called Monkish Bardism, or Bardism and Christianity mixed together, which could easily take place after the introduction of Christianity, owing to the remarkable--very remark-able coincidence which exists between the two systems.
"The Compiler assures us that he is in possession of more documents, which would have been added, if time had permitted. We trust that he will hereafter kindly make the addition, and that the whole will be published in one or more volumes. It will make a valuable Book, not only as aid in the management of the Gorsedd of the Bards, but also, and especially, because the time is undoubtedly coming, as is proved by certain signs, when every fragment of the primitive Bardism of the Cymry will be treasured as gold, and subjected to the severest criticism by men of learning and research.
"I know not what the literati of the Continent will say, when the Book is published, but I presume that their curiosity will be much excited by its contents, and that they themselves will be highly pleased with the labour and industry of the Compiler.......
"The three judges are of opinion that the writer deserves to have the prize presented to him by acclamation, and with the full and joyful approbation of the nation, as represented in this Great Eisteddvod." 1
The compilation thus referred to is that, which, with omissions and additions, somewhat re-arranged, and accompanied with an English translation, is now offered to the public. With very few exceptions, the several documents used on the present occasion, have been collected from the manuscripts of the late Iolo Morganwg, Bard according to the privilege and usage of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, and one of
the two that constituted the only members of the Bardic institution, when it was revived at the close of the last century. 1 But though they are thus in his handwriting, if we set aside some brief and unimportant notices, which, whether original or otherwise, may have been couched in his own language, there is every reason to believe that they are transcripts of older manuscripts. In the first place we may remark, that they are interspersed, without method or order of any kind, among the private and casual entries of the Bard, which he made on loose scraps of old letters, bills, and placards--bound together only after his death, and that they were thus evidently not intended to be published. This fact of itself would remove the notion of any design on his part to impose upon the credulity of his countrymen. Moreover, we have had an opportunity of examining fully and carefully those papers, and thus seen the Bard, as it were, in his most private and unguarded moments, and can, as the result of our observation, unhesitatingly pronounce him to be incapable of perpetrating literary deceit or forgery, particularly with the view of upholding a theory. Integrity of purpose is apparent throughout all his works. Strong feelings, indeed, he had, amounting almost to prejudice, but they were founded in jealous concern for the due preservation of the traditions of the country, and never displayed, except when he beheld a disposition to oppugn or disparage what he considered ancient and national. It was on this ground, for instance, that he so strenuously advocated the claims of Dosparth
[paragraph continues] Morganwg, or the Glamorgan system of versification, in preference to the twenty-four new canons of poetry, which were sanctioned at the famous Eisteddvod, held at Caermarthen, under the patronage of Gruffydd ab Nicholas, in the 15th century. Secondly, the style is in general too archaic for the 18th century, exhibiting occasionally terms of such an obsolete character as to baffle the skill of the etymologist. Nor must it be asserted that they were fabricated for a purpose, with a view of imparting to the documents the appearance of antiquity, for even Iolo Morganwg himself professes not to fully understand some of them. Thus, in reference to a Triad entitled, "Tri phrif anaw Beirdd Ynys Prydain," he remarks, "the meaning of this word (anaw) has not hitherto been satisfactorily given," and proposes the query, "whether it may not signify an original genius?" and soon after, "whether anaw may not signify a philosopher?" Again, after an extract, to which the name of Llywelyn Sion is attached, relative to "Cadair Tarannon," he asks, "Tarannon and Teyrnon--were they one and the same thing? Qu. whether Cadair Teyrnon in Taliesin be not one and the same thing, and also the same thing as gorsedd gwlad ac arlwydd?" The word obryn is not to be met with in the Dictionaries; it may, and probably does, signify a state in Abred corresponding with man's turpitude at the time of his death, which is the meaning given to it by Iolo Morganwg; but assuredly if he had been driven to coin for himself a compound which should express the above idea, instead of the very unusual prefix ob, he would naturally have adopted cyf, cyd, or cyn, as
in the case of cydfil, which occurs in the same Triad. Sometimes, when the language is not obscure, he seems to misunderstand the import of a word, and to suggest an interpretation, which, on due examination of the Bardic doctrine, appears to be erroneous. Thus when, referring to light in the Triad--"There are three cognates: man; liberty; and light," he observes, "intellectual light is here probably meant," he forgets that it is distinctly stated in other documents that man sprang into existence simultaneously with the resplendent appearance of the triple form of God's Name, which was the first manifestation of material light. These facts clearly prove that Iolo Morganwg had no hand in forging the documents in question. Thirdly, the different readings, which abound in them, demonstrate that the Bard had frequently even more than one manuscript before him, when he made his transcripts--a fact, which shows, moreover, that their contents were then better known than they are in our own day. Fourthly, whilst the general subject is the same, there is a want of uniformity in some of the details, as in the directions given for constructing a Peithynen, and the formation of a Gorsedd--the explanation of the Divine epithet IAU--and the enumeration and names of the elements. This circumstance, whilst it indicates a variety of sources, whence the different expressions of opinion must have been derived, at the same time excludes the idea of a collusion. Had Iolo and some of his friends entered into a conspiracy to palm upon the public, as an ancient system, a theory of their own invention, they would doubtless have taken care that there should exist an exact agreement
between the several parts of their joint production. It is of the essence of forgery to endeavour to avoid varieties in matters of detail--whilst truth, and integrity of purpose, having a greater regard for the main subject, are generally indifferent to these particulars. Lastly, Iolo Morganwg refers to the actual existence of some of the documents, which he alleges to have copied, and gives, with very great minuteness, the address of the owner. Thus, in relation to certain extracts which he made from "Trioedd Barddas," "Trioedd Braint a Defod," "Trioedd Doethineb," and "Trioedd Pawl," which contain the very essence of Bardism, as exhibited in our pages, he remarks;--"The Triades that are here selected are from a manuscript collection, by Llywelyn Sion, a Bard of Glamorgan, about the year 1560. Of this manuscript I have a transcript; the original is in the possession of Mr. Richard Bradford, of Bettws, near Bridgend, in Glamorgan;" and as if this were not sufficiently particular, he adds in a note, "son of the late Mr. John Bradford, who, for skill in ancient British Bardism, left not his equal behind." Nor does this statement occur among the private papers of the Bard, but appears in his published work--his "Poems Lyric and Pastoral," where also the selections alluded to are printed. 1 If the reference had been untrue, it could easily have been refuted, nor would his enemies, of whom he had several, have been slow to take advantage of the circumstance to expose the whole as a tissue of falsehood and deceit. But nothing of the kind took place. It is fair, however,
to observe that the existence of the manuscript in question at the present moment is open to doubt--the prize offered at the Eisteddvod failed to bring it forth. Still we are in hopes that it is not irretrievably lost, and it may be in the possession of some person who "careth for none of these things."
We trust that these reasons are sufficient to justify us in our conclusion, that Iolo Morganwg had nothing whatever to do with the original compilation of the main documents, which form the present collection, and that he merely transcribed older materials, which from some sources or other had fallen into his hands.
Failing the attempt to convict Iolo Morganwg as a literary impostor, the sceptics of the present day profess to discover the sources in question in the Eisteddvodau, which were held subsequently to the beginning of the 15th century, more especially those of 1570, 1580, and 1681. A body of curious matter is found to exist, purporting to have come down to us, through the medium of the Chair of Glamorgan, as genuine remains of the theology and usages of the Bards. This is an incontrovertible fact. Again, history notes with equal sternness the authorization, at the above mentioned Congresses successively, of what was likewise called Bardism: and the not unnatural inference is, that they are one and the same. But, apparently for no other reason than that the code thus promulgated was not formally committed to writing before, a higher origin is denied to it, and of course the Bards of those periods, Ieuan ab Hywel Swrdwal, Gwilym Tew, Lewys Morganwg, Meurig Davydd, Davydd Benwyn, Llywelyn Sion, Davydd Llwyd Mathew, Edward Davydd, and others, are
boldly charged with being its sole inventors. As they were not all contemporaries, and as they held various positions in life, and were also members of different religious communions, it would be difficult to account for the unanimity with which they adopted the strange and curious system, which these volumes present to our view. To accuse them of being under the influence of that spirit, which led to the overthrow of the monarchy, and to the establishment of the commonwealth on its ruins, merely because their system represents the three orders of Bard, Druid, and Ovate, as co-equal in rank and privilege, is, to say the least, not warranted by facts. History does not point out a single Bard of those times as mixing in any political intrigue. On the contrary they, one and all of whom we have any knowledge, appear to have led quiet lives, paying due and just homage of loyalty to the existing government of the day, without opposition, and without complaint. Besides, it may be interesting to know, why the Bards in question should have selected this particular form, whether as the embodiment of their own creed, or as the representation of ancient Druidism? There was nothing in the prevailing philosophy of the day to suggest it; and to say that they derived it from the traditions of the Brahmins, would be to give them credit for a greater extent of knowledge than their positions in life would warrant. Could they, then, have compiled the whole system--ingenious, complex, and yet harmonious and symmetrical as it was, out of the mere allusions to it, which are contained in the works of the earlier Poets? The Rev. Edward Davies observes,--"It does not appear, from their
own profession, nor from the research of Llwyd, and other antiquaries, that this society possessed a single copy of the works of the ancient Bards, previous to the eighteenth century." 1 If the inference, evidently intended to be drawn from this guarded form of expression, be well founded, of course a direct negative must be returned to our inquiry. But we are not prepared to endorse the opinion, favourable as it may be to our present argument. We believe that the Bards of the 15th and 16th centuries were, to some extent, acquainted with the poetical productions of their predecessors, but at the same time we boldly maintain that it was next to impossible they should agree upon any system drawn from those sources. And in proof of our assertion, we need only refer to those who are known to have made the trial. What two persons have been found to agree in their views of the mystic allusions of the Bards? What an interminable distance there is between the respective theories of Davies and Nash!
Whilst, however, we deny that the contents of these volumes could have been derived immediately from the metrical compositions of the medieval and early Poets, we believe that they can be abundantly proved by them. There are numerous allusions, which, otherwise obscure and unintelligible, become by means of the light thrown upon them from Bardism, as clear as day. As an example; Rhys Brydydd, between 1450 and 1490, has the following lines on Hu the Mighty:--
Even supposing Hu the Mighty to signify the Supreme Being, it would be difficult to explain how He can be "the smallest of the small," and at the same time "the greatest," or to show how His chariot is composed of "an atom of glowing heat." Accordingly, the interpretations given by Davies, Archdeacon Williams, and Nash, varied though they be, are extremely vague and unsatisfactory, leaving us in a greater state of bewilderment than if we had never received them. And yet how simple is the illustration which Bardism affords--"Hu the Mighty--Jesus the Son of God,--the least in respect of His worldly greatness whilst in the flesh, and the greatest in heaven of all visible majesties." Or, which also explains the nature of His car;--"the particles of light are the smallest of all small things; and yet one particle of light is the greatest of all great things, being no less than material for all materiality that can be understood and perceived as within the grasp of the power of God. And in every particle there is a place wholly commensurate with God, for there is not, and cannot be less than God in every particle of
light, and God in every particle; nevertheless God is only one in number."
In like manner, there are various allusions to annwn, abred, manred, byd mawr, byd bach, pair Ceridwen, the Coelbren, and many other particulars of a similar kind, which, while they are in themselves insufficient to constitute an intelligible groundwork on which to raise a superstructure such as our pages contain, bear strong testimony to the fact of its existence from the 16th up to the 6th century. The transmigration related by Taliesin is not identical in detail with that of Bardism, for in the latter the soul is not supposed to enter inanimate objects, such as a sword, a star, a word, a book, a boat, a shield, a tree, an axe, and a grain of wheat, which form some of the gradations in "Cad Goddeu" and "Angar Cyvyndawd;" and we infer from this discrepancy that the Bardic doctrine was not directly founded on the poet's language. Still we may regard it as a valuable testimony to the actual existence among the Cymry, at the time when the poems were written, of a doctrine of metempsychosis, whether believed in, or preserved merely as a matter of curiosity. To notice in detail all the passages, which might be culled out of the works of the Poets, as referring to the principal tenets and usages of Bardism, would swell our Preface to an unnecessary length, especially since many of them are inserted in the body of the work as footnotes; to then, then, we would beg to direct the attention of our readers.
Further, the philosophical features of Bardism may be traced even in the language of the Cymry, and the testimony, which it thus affords, is the more valuable,
because it is indirect and unexpected. If we allow it possible that the Bards of the 15th and 16th centuries should have actually drawn their system directly from the works of their predecessors, no one can for a moment entertain the thought that they were capable of drawing it from the language, whether solely, or in conjunction with the poetry of different times. Independently of Bardism, it would be difficult to explain why advyd, a term signifying re-world, or a beginning of the world over again, should in common use stand for adversity, but "Rhol Cof a Chyfrif" informs us that it was originally applied to the state of retraversing abred, which, being a punishment for sin, was of course a state of hardship and adversity. Again, we find that the word gwydd means both wood and knowledge, which cannot be accounted for except on the supposition of a common origin, or that there was a mutual connection between the one and the other from the earliest times. This affinity is explained by the Coelbren. In like manner, the doctrine of eneidvaddeu alone can satisfactorily account for the double meaning of maddeu, and show us how a word, which properly means to liberate, or to dismiss, came also to signify to forgive, which is its common import at the present day. Angau, aberth, huan, nefoedd, and a host of other words might be enumerated, which clearly refer to the mythology of the ancient Cymry; hence it is manifest that no Welsh philologist can effectually succeed in his investigations, unless in the first instance he makes himself acquainted with Bardism.
What, then, shall we say? Did the Bards in question model their system according to the description, which Julius Cæsar, and other foreign
writers, have given of Druidism? There is prima facie a wide difference between the two systems. Cæsar speaks of a plurality of gods, of an archdruid, who had superior authority over the others, and also of the immolation of human sacrifices; whereas the unity of the Godhead is the very soul and centre of Bardism, which also strongly insists upon the co-equality of its orders, and seems to discountenance altogether the notion of the sacrifice of living beings, in the strict acceptation of the term, whether they were men or beasts. This circumstance, therefore, is fatal to the hypothesis which would regard classical Druidism as the groundwork on which the fabric of Bardism has been raised. Still, if the latter is, as it professes to be, the genuine remains of the primitive worship and philosophy of Britain, there must be a possibility of harmonizing the two systems--they must in principle be identical. To this subject we will now address ourselves.
xiii:1 The other adjudicators were the Rev. T. James, Netherlong, Huddersfield, and the Rev. Silvan Evans, Llangian, Pwllheli.
xv:1 The adjudication was originally written in Welsh, in which language it was also read at the meeting.
xvi:1 The other was the Rev. Edward Evan, of Aberdare.
xix:1 see Vol. ii.
xxii:1 The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, p. 34.
xxiii:1 Dr. O. Pughe's Dict., sub voce mymryn.