BLTC Press Titles

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Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

The Characters of Theophrastus


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Miscellaneous papers on subjects relating to Wales

by Thomas Rees



The working classes of Wales, like every other class of the great human family, have their peculiarities. Owing to the great influx of English, Scotch, and Irish labourers to the coal, and iron districts of the counties of Glamorgan, Monmouth,-* Denbigh, and Flint, within the last forty years, the peculiar characteristics of the Welsh labourer are to a great extent, obliterated in those counties. We must therefore turn to the agricultural districts and the neighbourhoods of the slate quarries of North Wales in order to find communities of Welsh workmen in their genuine native character. The labouring classes of Wales, wherever they are to be found without any admixture of foreign elements and habits, are characterised by several very commendable qualities. As a class of people they are remarkable for their loyalty and submission to their superiors. Ever since the incorporation of Wales with England, the loyalty of the Welsh nation to their Saxon rulers has been perfectly unswerving, notwithstanding the occasional effusions of frenzied poets and hot-headed orators against the Saxon invaders. Who has ever heard, from the days of Henry VIII. to the present hour, of secret clubs and traitorous plots in Wales to upset the Government, such as have from time to time disgraced Ireland?

Whatever view may be entertained of the unhappy conflicts between Charles I. and the Parliament, the Welsh, almost to a man, sided with the King until they were forced to submission by the victorious arms of the Parliament. If their adherence to the Royal cause does not prove their attachment to Protestantism and religious liberty, it proves, to say the least, their determined loyalty. And the various and important political, social, and religious changes of the last two hundred and forty years have not in any sense lessened, but vastly increased the loyalty of the Welsh people. Queen Victoria has not in any part of her wide dominion a million of more attached and loyal people than her warm-hearted "Welsh subjects. This remark is quite as applicable to the working classes as to the middle and the upper classes. The lower classes in Wales are so far from conducting themselves with rudeness and disrespect towards their superiors, that they almost run to the opposite extreme of idolizing them. No landowner, proprietor of works, nor any other member of the upper class in the Principality, has cause to fear the dagger of the assassin, the fire of the incendiary, or the rude assaults of an infuriated mob. The very rare instances of misunderstanding between small tenant farmers and their landlords, or workmen and their employers, which occur now and then, are almost invariably to be traced to the insolence and tyranny of agents, rather than to a spirit of insubordination in the people. "Whatever may be the defects of the Welsh peasantry, the most ungrudging and cheerful submission to their superiors forms a prominent feature of their character. Even one of the Education Commissioners, in spite of all his inveterate prejudice against the Welsh people* was forced to acknowledge "that there is in the miners of South Wales but little of that dogged, desperate, wrong-headed courage which distinguishes the English miner." The working classes of Wales, including the small tenant farmers, who are generally worse off than the generality of our labourers, are exemplary for their industry, frugality, and quiet endurance of the most distressing poverty. I have no wish to conceal the fact that we have among our labouring classes numerous and sad examples of extravagance, improvidence, and inexcusable carelessness; but these, numerous as they are, are the exceptions, not the rule. The bulk of our working population are economical, industrious, and commendably provident. I know a man, who, for the last thirty years, has cultivated a small farm of about thirty-five acres, in the most bleak and mountainous district of this country, for which he pays the high rent of £35 a year. On that barren spot he has brought up thirteen healthy children without any other means of supporting his large family than the scanty produce of his small barren farm. Of course it was quite out of the question for him to pay for the education of his children, as he had to tax all his ingenuity to find them the bare necessaries of life, but in a neighbouring Sunday-school they were taught gratuitously to read their Bibles, and they have all grown up to be virtuous young men and women, worthy of their industrious parents. This is only one instance out of hundreds of similar ones which are to be found in different parts of the Principality.

As a further illustration of the rigid economy which the lower classes in Wales are compelled to observe, I beg leave to introduce the following incident:—The late Sir Robert Vaughan, of Nannau, Merionethshire, some years ago, accompanied by two or three gentlemen, went to the mountains to shoot grouse. Having gone further than they at first intended, and when at a distance of eight or ten miles from any place where they might get refreshment, they turned to the first house they could come to, which happened to be a small farm-house, or rather a hut, on the mountain side, to get something to eat, as they felt very hungry. There they found a girl of about thirteen years of age, and a boy of eleven years, with a number of younger children, the parents having gone from home that day. They asked for some food, and the girl, having not the remotest idea who the strangers were, brought to the table a jugful of buttermilk and a loaf of barley-bread, as Mack as the peat they used for fuel. One of the strangers enquired whether they had any butter in the house. "Yes," was the reply, "we have, but we are not allowed to take it, except on Sundays." When they insisted on having some butter with the bread, the boy, in the most heroic manner, ran out and brought in a spade, threatening, to the no small amusement of the gentlemen, to strike the first of them who would dare to touch their butter; "for," said he, "we must keep and sell it all to get money to pay the rent to Sir Robert Vaughan." It is said that Sir Eobert, the following day, ordered his agent to reduce the rent of that small farm 40 or 50 per cent. Hundreds of our sober and frugal workmen in the manufacturing, and some in the agricultural districts, are the owners of their own snug little cottages, and many more might be, were it not for their carelessness and intemperance. It is not probable that there is a community of working men to be found in any district of the United Kingdom equal to the working men of Wales for economy, industry, and the observance of those personal and social virtues which are essential to domestic happiness and the well-being of society at large, though the wages of workmen are, on an average, from eight to ten per cent. lower in Wales than in England and Scotland.

Our working classes are also decidedly superior in their morality to the corresponding classes in England and other parts of the kingdom. Prejudiced parties have repeatedly represented the people of Wales as deeply sunk in immorality, and as destitute of any sense of moral obligation. I do not stand here as a special pleader for my countrymen, and God forbid that I should utter a word of apology for any kind of immorality. The morality of Wales, when compared with the requirements of the Divine Law, is deplorably low, but when compared with the morality of England, Scotland, and Ireland, it stands very high. According to the Judicial Statistics for the year ending September 29, 1860, the number of all the persons committed for different crimes in the twelve Welsh counties, was 3,774, or about one to every 294 of the population; while 112,508 were committed in England, or one to every 168 of the population. The number of prisoners convicted in Wales was 410, or one to every 2,711 of the population, while the number of convicts in England amounted to 11,658, or about one to every 1,628 of the population. The Judicial Statistics also record another fact, which tells greatly in favour of the natives of Wales. Of the 3,774 committed in the Principality, 791 were natives of England, 612 were Irishmen, 59 were Scotchmen, 32 were natives of the Colonies, 110 were foreigners, and 47 were persons whose birthplaces had n*t been ascertained. These facts speak for themselves. The proportion of criminals to the population in Wales is full 40 per cent. less than in England; and of those criminals who disgrace the Principality, nearly one-half are not natives, while the proportion of the natives to the other inhabitants is at least nine to one. Out of every thousand persons committed in England and Wales for the year 1860, only twenty-five were natives of the Principality, which is one-half less, in proportion to the population, than the average for the whole of England and Wales. We thus see that the people of Wales are, in their morals, as far as criminal statistics prove the point, twice as good as the people of England. But, after all, the great question is, not whether we are better than other people, but whether we are what we should be.

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