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A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg (review

A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg (review
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                                   Accessed 20 Aug 2016 04:13 GMT   testimonial heart-religion.She stands there quietly,yet sturdily,with no rigidity.’ (p.174).This is indeeda form of influence ‘Felt in the blood,and felt alongthe heart’.A different approach again is adopted inElizabeth Fay’s ‘Wordsworth,Bostonian Chivalry andthe Uses of Art’,which argues that Lyrical Ballads was‘one of the most influential publications supportingthe medieval aesthetic and its implicit ethical system’(p.177).Fay persuasively sets up Wordsworth’scourtly advances on and development of the reader’ssocial conscience and ‘honour’,a readerly contractcompelling the reader ‘to uphold and preserve,carrying everywhere relationship and love’ (p.188).This high social purpose is then carried forward toEdwin Austin Abbey’s murals for the Boston PublicLibrary,an associative move which raises morequestions than it answers about the diffusion of Wordsworthian contracts in the course of nineteenth-century America.That Wordsworth’s individually andsocially curative role was consolidated by the end of the century is confirmed by James A.Butler’s ‘Home(at Grasmere and ‘On the Range’):Wordsworth andOwen Wister’s The Virginian’ ,which finds ‘Romanticvalues’ at the heart of modern American myth.Wister’s move west was a cure for neurasthenia,amodern ‘American’ disorder which Butler links toWordsworth’s experiences.Wordsworth is again atherapist in the final essay,Matthew Scott’s ‘An Ethicsof Wonder and the Cure of Poetry:Wordsworth,William James and the American Reader’.Scott usesDon McCullin’s photographs of killings in Beirut in1976 and Susan Sontag’s 2003 Regarding the Pain of Others to set up reflections on wonder,distance,andthe limits of sympathy.Scott’s essay can be read as anindirect response to Susan Manning’s.It raises theproblem of intellectual and affective remoteness,inwhich Wordsworth’s poems are both close to ‘us’ andmarked by a ‘feeling of immovability’ (p.221).Despite this implicit responsiveness,however, Wordsworth in American Literary Culture standsmore in need of a Postscript than a Preface.Severalcontributors emphasize the importance of receivedideas about Wordsworth’s life rather than,or inconjunction with,readings of his poetry,an elementof misprision alien to the Bloomian model of the text,though constantly invited in to that model by Bloom’semphasis on ‘strong poets’ rather than ‘strong poems’.To what extent does America’s ‘Wordsworth’challenge Bloom? Or is that challenge alreadyincorporated in Bloom’s work;or,indeed,in Americanliterary history as an independent subject,alwayswary of influence as an intellectual model? Readingthis collection straight through,one notices thatcertain poems seem to have been especially importantin the construction and consumption of America’sWordsworth – ‘We Are Seven’,‘The world is toomuch with us’,‘Ode:Intimations of Immortality’,‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’.The same lines from‘Tintern Abbey’ direct Susan Manning’s and RichardGravil’s investigations.Some closing comments mighthave made more of these special resonances:didAmerican readers construct a significantly differentWordsworthian canon? Or is modern criticismparticularly attuned to these Wordsworthianisms inAmerican writing? On a more practical note,there aresigns of editorial haste – contradictory citations of thesame works in different essays,missed words,and anintermittent suppression of the definite article whichat least made me reflect on how expressive it is inWordsworth’s own writing.Despite these minor flaws,this is an interesting,varied,forward-lookingcollection which will fulfil the editors’ hope thatit should ‘offer points of contact,contestation,intersection and departure’ for subsequent studies.Fiona RobertsonUniversity of Central England Geraint H. Jenkins (ed.), A Rattleskull Genius:TheMany Faces of Iolo Morganwg(Iolo Morganwg andthe Romantic Tradition in Wales) (Cardiff:Universityof Wales Press,2005),pp.xviii + 516.£45 hardback.0 7083 1971 8. A Rattleskull Genius is not merely an immensely longand carefully articulated collection of essays on IoloMorganwg but announces itself as the precursor of anentire series devoted to that remarkable stonemason,agricultural consultant,self-proclaimed heir to Wales’sbardic tradition,autodidact,artisan poet and scholarlyforger of both the poems and the consciousness of hisnation.The collection is made somewhat more wieldyand reviewable than a set of twenty-two disparateessays might otherwise be,by its helpful division intofour sections.After a thorough introduction,which previews thevolume’s territory in a helpfully discursive fashion,Part 1,‘Contexts’,contains two essays situating thehero vis-à-vis Wales and Central European forgery.Branwen Jarvis describes Iolo as playing the parts of ‘both Macpherson and Dr Johnson’ in his own versionof the Ossian scandal,and relates Iolo’s work both to Reviews 65  the scholarly circles of Evan Evans and Lewis Morrisand to Wales’s political heavyweights,Richard Priceand David Williams.R.J.W.Evans gives a spiritedaccount of the cultural politics of literary forgerythroughout central Europe,and in particular the longhistory of the so-called RKZ affair,which rumbled onfrom the ‘discovery’ of the ‘Dvur Králové’ manuscriptin 1817,until the 1990s,when a report begun in theheady days of the Prague Spring was finallypublished,only to have its sceptical conclusiondenounced as a Communist slur on Czech nationhood.The parallels with Iolo’s history and its nationalistimplications are well drawn.Part 2,‘The Bard’,relates Iolo’s to Welsh poeticpractice and to the English poets of the day.Twochapters on Iolo’s forgery of syllabic ‘strict metre’and accentual ‘free-metre’ poetry commend his workin both modes and his command of the tradition.Bothchapters rather assume that the reader knows whatthe ‘twenty-four canonical metres’ of strict metrepoetry might be.That on Iolo’s strict metre poetryworks mainly through paraphrase.Huw M.Edwards,however,makes a deft attempt to exemplify theintricacy of Iolo’s work in Welsh.To cite one exampleof his analysis (in this case of a poem Iolo composed,but attributed to Dafydd y Nant):There is cynghanedd in the middle of each line(e.g. Ebrill / ebrwydd ) and between the end of eachline and the beginning of the next (e.g. codais / coedydd ).The pattern is sustained over three eight-line stanzas,with the added complication that theend of each stanza rhymes with the beginning of the next,thereby ensuring that the metre may beretained unaltered.This commentary is both succinct and self-explanatory,but it may be a stumbling block toEnglish readers.‘Metre’,here,signifies verse forms,or specified combination of rhyme,alliteration andassonance,in combination with what passes for metrein English or Greek usage,that is,combinations of oneto eight metrical feet in duple or triple time.At somepoint in the fifty pages of this book devoted to ‘strict’and ‘free’ metre it might have been useful to outline just what is involved in at least two or three of those‘twenty-four canonical metres’.There is,clearly,aproblem of audience.While almost every Welsh titleor quotation is helpfully translated,with Englishreaders in mind,some cultural assumptions – suchas what is meant by metre – go untranslated.Romanticists will be most immediately interestedin the chapter by Mary-Ann Constantine on thesubscription-list approach to the publication of Iolo’sfascinating Poems Lyric and Pastoral ,Joseph Johnson’srole in its publication,and Iolo’s compulsive revisionsin the interest of literary conventionality.DamianWalford Davies’s argument that Godwin’scondescension to Iolo was instrumental in reinforcingColeridge’s hostility to Godwin,has already appearedelsewhere (in his Presences that Disturb ,reviewed in Romanticism issue 11.2).The evidence that the way‘Poor Williams’,as Coleridge called him,felt about hismother,and the way Godwin scorned him for this,fedinto Coleridge’s own thinking about filial and paternalaffections is well handled,though other essays in thisbook might make one wonder whether the trueaffinity between Iolo and Coleridge is their sharedtalent for calumniation of competitors,andparticularly non-believers.Jon Mee’s chapteraccumulates considerable ‘circumstantial evidence’associating Iolo Morganwg and William Blake,and itdoes so without glossing over their very considerabledifferences.Part 3,‘Iolo’s Preoccupations’,widens one’ssense of what Iolo was about,in terms of building,agriculture and landscape,expertise in the study of Welsh dialects and the collection of traditional music.Unevenness is to be expected in so long a book,andthe range of subjects in this section particularly isperhaps too great to interest any single readercontinuously.A somewhat circumstantial chapterhalf-heartedly accuses of Iolo of profiting from hisfamily’s West Indian interests while fulminatingagainst the traffic in human gore.Much the mostengaging contribution in this section is the editor’sown.Geraint H.Jenkins shows how Iolo succeededin hijacking both the Cambrian Society and theCarmarthen Eisteddfod tradition,and in makingUnitarianism a small but significant force in Welshexperience.Numerous scholarly clerics who thoughtthey could harness Iolo’s energies to more sober endsfound themselves outmanoeuvred as he yoked theirprestige to his subversive purposes.Part 4,‘Iolo’s Friends and Enemies’,turns out to bean episodic study of how Iolo fairly predictably turnedfriends into enemies,or as the editor puts it,felt ‘acompulsive need to fall out with just about everyonehe met’.Chapters on Iolo and women,in the lump,and on the naval surgeon David Samwell (a chapterwhich barely refers to Iolo,and left me with no senseof what it was doing in this book) are perhaps chapterstoo far.Three chapters tackle the indispensable story 66R omanticism  of Iolo’s relations to his patron Owain Myfyr and hiscollaborators Edward Davies and William OwenPughe.Unfortunately,these three relationships doconstitute essentially one story and telling that storyfrom three angles leads to much repetition.GlendaCarr’s chapter on William Owen Pughe,coming in atchapter 20,suffers from having had a dozen of itsmain points anticipated many times.Fortunately it isan excellent piece of work.It tells the story of Iolo’sdifferences with Owain Myfyr,and with WilliamOwen Pughe,and his use of the Hengwrst library,andof Evan Evans’s manuscripts,much more roundly thanhas been done hitherto.The effect of this considerablesuccess is to make one wonder whether the separatechapters on Owain Myfyr and on Edward Daviesmight have been better passed over in favour of a jointone by this author,or a collaborative effort.One feelsthat Glenda Carr would be capable of an excellentbiography of her subject.After a useful chapter on Iolo’s son and heir,Taliesin ab Iolo,and his editorial work on his father’slegacy,the final chapter by Huw Walters tackles themuch-heralded questions of what Damian WalfordDavies calls the ‘mummeries of the Gorseddceremonies on Primrose Hill’ in 1792 and Iolo’smasterly hijacking of the Carmarthen Eisteddfod of 1819,bringing the book to a scintillating climax.When Iolo died in 1827 his functions were continuedby his son and by Gwilym Morganwg,a printer andpublican,and druidic apostle.In turn,the mystic eggwas assumed in 1852 by Ieuan Myfyr,anothervisionary artisan who restored the rocking-stone of Pontypridd and surrounded it with two stone circlesand an avenue of standing stones in the style of Avebury.Myfyr styled himself Archdruid of the Isleof Britain,took the dynastic name Myfyr Morganwg,and conducted quarterly druidic rituals at the rockingstone until the 1870s.Throughout the Victorianperiod,Huw Walters concludes,the druidic myth thatwas essentially Iolo’s creation,found a succession of true believers.Druid worship continued at Pontypriddunder an unbroken,if sometimes disputed succession of Archdruids,until the death of Myfyr’s successorMorien,in 1921.One is left wondering.Justwhat was it about the stonemason bard of liberty –or,of course,about a pervasive culture of credulitymanifested similarly but less durably in the Churchof Joanna Southcote – that inspired over one hundredand twenty years of ritual observance,entwinedsuch observances into the national eisteddfodau,and enrolled in the druidic order successive clericsfrom Bishop Thomas Burgess in 1819 to Dr RowanWilliams? If intended as an appetizer for the series of monographs that is to follow,this scholarly feast mayin some respects be too rich and circumstantial.It isundoubtedly a book of great value (and at only £45something of a bargain) but it must run some risk of satiating the appetite it is designed to whet.There maybe an optimum number of essays for a collaborativebook if repetitiveness is to be avoided.Anyone readingthis one from cover to cover will wonder too oftenwhether a topic already alluded to in passing by half a dozen contributors will at some point be treated indepth (on the whole,they are,but far too many topicsand quotations exemplify the Zarathustran quality of eternal recurrence).It is a little surprising,also,thatfor a foundational work – likely to constitute mostlibraries’ entire stock of information on the subject –this one lacks one highly desirable feature,namelya bibliography of antiquarian titles and moderntreatments.This volume ought to stimulate a demand,however,for more work on Morganwg’s poetry inWelsh and in English,on his political and Unitarianinvolvements,on the reasons for the durability of hissingle-handed expansion of the Welsh bardic canon,and on some of his associates and antagonists.Andfew readers will engage with this handsome prefatoryvolume without having their sense of Iolo Morganwgand his culture challenged and extended.Richard Gravil Reviews 67
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