Ellis Wynne.

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"Gweledigaetheu y Bardd Cwsc"
Translated by Robert Gwyneddon Davies

Author's Life
The Text
A Brief Summary
Vision of The World
The Vision of Death
The Vision Of Hell
The Visions of the Sleeping Bard


At the National Eisteddfod of 1893, a prize was offered by Mr. Lascelles
Carr, of the Western Mail, for the best translation of Ellis Wynne's
Vision of Hell. The Adjudicators (Dean Howell and the Rev. G. Hartwell
Jones, M.A.), awarded the prize for the translation which is comprised in
the present volume. The remaining Visions were subsequently rendered
into English, and the complete work is now published in the hope that it
may prove useful to those readers, who, being unacquainted with the Welsh
language, yet desire to obtain some knowledge of its literature.

My best thanks are due to the Rev. J. W. Wynne Jones, M.A., Vicar of
Carnarvon, for much help and valuable criticism; to the Rev. R Jones,
MA., Rector of Llanfair-juxta-Harlech, through whose courtesy I am
enabled to produce (from a photograph by Owen, Barmouth) a page of the
register of that parish, containing entries in Ellis Wynne's handwriting;
and to Mr. Isaac Foulkes, Liverpool, for the frontispiece, which appeared
in his last edition of the Bardd Cwsc.

1st July, 1897.



Ellis Wynne was born in 1671 at Glasynys, near Harlech; his father,
Edward Wynne, came of the family of Glyn Cywarch (mentioned in the second
Vision), his mother, whose name is not known, was heiress of Glasynys.
It will be seen from the accompanying table that he was descended from
some of the best families in his native county, and through Osborn
Wyddel, from the Desmonds of Ireland. His birth-place, which still
stands, and is shown in the frontispiece hereto, is situate about a mile
and a half from the town of Harlech, in the beautiful Vale of Ardudwy.
The natural scenery amidst which he was brought up, cannot have failed to
leave a deep impression upon his mind; and in the Visions we come across
unmistakeable descriptions of scenes and places around his home.
Mountain and sea furnished him with many a graphic picture; the
precipitous heights and dark ravines of Hell, its caverns and its cliffs,
are all evidently drawn from nature. The neighbourhood is also rich in
romantic lore and historic associations; Harlech Castle, some twenty-five
years before his birth, had been the scene of many a fray between
Roundheads and Cavaliers, and of the last stand made by the Welsh for
King Charles. These events were fresh in the memory of his elders, whom
he had, no doubt, often heard speaking of those stirring times; members
of his own family had, perhaps, fought in the ranks of the rival parties;
his father's grand-uncle, Col. John Jones, was one of those who erstwhile
drank of royal blood."

It is not known where he received his early education, and it has been
generally stated by his biographers that he was not known to have entered
either of the Universities; but, as the following notice proves, he at
least matriculated at Oxford:-

WYNNE, ELLIS, s. Edw. of Lasypeys, co. Merioneth, pleb. Jesus Coll.
matric. 1st March 1691-2, aged 21; rector of Llandanwg, 1705, & of
Llanfair-juxta-Harlech (both) co. Merioneth, 1711. (Vide Foster's Index

Probably his stay at the University was brief, and that he left without
taking his degree, for I have been unable to find anything further
recorded of his academic career. {0a} The Rev. Edmund Prys, Vicar of
Clynnog-Fawr, in a prefatory englyn to Ellis Wynne's translation of the
"Holy Living" says that "in order to enrich his own, he had ventured upon
the study of three other tongues." This fact, together with much that
appears in the Visions, justifies the conclusion that his scholarly
attainments were of no mean order. But how and where he spent the first
thirty years of his life, with the possible exception of a period at
Oxford, is quite unknown, the most probable surmise being that they were
spent in the enjoyment of a simple rural life, and in the pursuit of his
studies, of whatever nature they may have been.

According to Rowlands's Cambrian Bibliography his first venture into the
fields of literature was a small volume entitled, Help i ddarllen yr
Yscrythur Gyssegr-Lan ("Aids to reading Holy Writ"), being a translation
of the Whole Duty of Man "by E. W., a clergyman of the Church of
England," published at Shrewsbury in 1700. But as Ellis Wynne was not
ordained until 1704, this work must be ascribed to some other author who,
both as to name and calling, answered to the description on the title-
page quoted above. But in 1701 an accredited work of his appeared,
namely, a translation into Welsh of Jeremy Taylor's Rules and Exercises
of Holy Living, a 12mo. volume published in London. It was dedicated to
the Rev. Humphrey Humphreys, D.D., Bishop of Bangor, who was a native of
the same district of Merionethshire as Ellis Wynne, and, as is shown in
the genealogical table hereto {0}, was connected by marriage with his

In 1702 {0b} he was married to Lowri Llwyd - anglice, Laura Lloyd - of
Hafod-lwyfog, Beddgelert, and had issue by her, two daughters and three
sons; one of the daughters, Catherine, died young, and the second son,
Ellis, predeceased his father by two years. {0c} His eldest son, Gwilym,
became rector of Llanaber, near Barmouth, and inherited his ancestral
home; his youngest son, Edward, also entered the Church and became rector
of Dolbenmaen and Penmorfa, Carnarvonshire. Edward Wynne's son was the
rector of Llanferres, Denbighshire, and his son again was the Rev. John
Wynne, of Llandrillo in Edeyrnion, who died only a few years ago.

The following year (1703), he published the present work - his magnum
opus - which has secured him a place among the greatest names in Welsh
Literature. It will be noticed that on the title-page to the first
edition the words "Y Rhann Gyntaf" ("The First Part") appear; the
explanation given of this is that Ellis Wynne did actually write a second
part, entitled, The Vision of Heaven, but that on hearing that he was
charged with plagiarism in respect of his other Visions, he threw the
manuscript into the fire, and so destroyed what, judging from the title,
might have proved a greater success than the first part, as affording
scope for lighter and more pleasing flights of the imagination.

It is said by his biographers that he was induced to abandon the pursuit
of the law, to which he was educated, and to take holy orders, by Bishop
Humphreys, who had recognised in his translation of the Holy Living
marked ability and piety, and that he was ordained deacon and priest the
same day by the Bishop, at Bangor, in 1701, and presented on the
following day to the living of Llanfair-juxta-Harlech and subsequently to

All these statements appear to be incorrect. To deal with them
categorically: I find no record at the Diocesan Registry of his having
been ordained at Bangor at all; the following entry in the parish
register of Llanfair shows that he was not in holy orders in July, 1704:
"Gulielmus filius Elizaei Wynne generosi de Las ynys et uxoris suis
baptizatus fuit quindecimo die Julii, 1704. - W. Wynne Rr., O. Edwards,
Rector." His first living was Llandanwg, and not Llanfair, to which he
was collated on January 1st, 1705. Moreover, the above-named Owen
Edwards was the rector of Llanfair until his death which took place in
1711. {0d} From that date on to 1734, the entries in the register at
Llanfair church are all in Ellis Wynne's handwriting; these facts prove
conclusively that it was in 1711 he became rector of the latter parish.

In 1710 he edited a new and revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer,
at the request of his patron, the Bishop of Hereford (Dr. Humphreys) and
the four Welsh bishops, - a clear proof of the confidence reposed in him
by the dignitaries of his church as a man of learning and undoubted
piety. He himself published nothing more, but A Short Commentary on the
Catechism and a few hymns and carols were written by him and published
posthumously by his son, Edward, being included in a volume of his own,
entitled Prif Addysc y Cristion, issued in 1755.

The latter part of his life is as completely obscure as the earlier; he
lapsed again into the silence from which he had only just emerged with
such signal success, and confined his efforts as a Christian worker
within the narrow limits of his own native parts, exercising,
doubtlessly, an influence for good upon his immediate neighbourhood
through force of character and noble personality, as upon his fellow-
countrymen at large by means of his published works. His wife died in
1720, and his son, Ellis, in 1732; two years later he himself died and
was buried under the communion table in Llanfair church, on the 17th day
of July, 1734. {0e} There is no marble or "perennial brass" to mark the
last resting-place of the Bard, nor was there, until recent years, any
memorial of him in either of his parish churches, when the late Rev. John
Wynne set up a fine stained-glass window at Llanfair church in memory of
his illustrious ancestor.

Ellis Wynne appeared at a time when his country had sore need of him,
when the appointed teachers of the nation were steeped in apathy and
corruption, when ignorance and immorality overspread the land - the
darkest hour before the dawn. He was one of the early precursors of the
Methodist revival in Wales, a voice crying in the wilderness, calling
upon his countrymen to repent. He neither feared nor favored any man or
class, but delivered his message in unfaltering tone, and performed his
alloted task honestly and faithfully. How deeply our country is indebted
to him who did her such eminent service in the days of adversity and
gloom will never be known. And now, in the time of prosperity, Wales
still remembers her benefactor, and will always keep honored the name of
Ellis Wynne, the SLEEPING BARD.


The Bardd Cwsc was first published in London in 1703, a small 24mo.
volume of some 150 pages, with the following title-page

"GWELEDIGAETHEU Y BARDD CWSC. Y Rhann Gyntaf. Argraphwyd yn Llundain
gan E. Powell i'r Awdwr, 1703." {0f}

A second edition was not called for until about 1742, when it was issued
at Shrewsbury; but in the thirty years following, as many as five
editions were published, and in the present century, at least twelve
editions (including two or three by the Rev. Canon Silvan Evans) have
appeared. The text followed in this volume is that of Mr. Isaac Foulkes'
edition, but recourse has also been had to the original edition for the
purpose of comparison. The only translation into English hitherto has
been that of George Borrow, published in London in 1860, and written in
that charming and racy style which characterises his other and better
known works. He has, however, fallen into many errors, which were only
natural, seeing that the Visions abound in colloquial words and phrases,
and in idiomatic forms of expression which it would be most difficult for
one foreign to our tongue to render correctly.

The author's name is not given in the original nor in any subsequent
edition previous to the one published at Merthyr Tydfil in 1806, where
the Gweledigaetheu are said to be by "Ellis Wynne." But it was well
known, even before his death, that he was the author; the fact being
probably deduced from the similarity in style between the Visions and an
acknowledged work, namely, his translation of the Holy Living. The most
likely reason for his preferring anonymity is not far to seek; his
scathing denunciation of the sins of certain classes and, possibly, even
of certain individuals, would be almost sure to draw upon the author
their most bitter attacks. Many of the characters he depicts would be
identified, rightly or wrongly, with certain of his contemporaries, and
many more, whom he never had in his mind at all, would imagine themselves
the objects of his satire; he had nothing to gain by imperilling himself
at the hands of such persons, or by coming into open conflict with them;
he had his message to deliver to his fellow-countrymen, his Visions a
purpose to fulfil, the successful issue of which could not but be
frustrated by the introduction of personal hatred and ill-will. Ellis
Wynne was only too ready to forego the honor of being the acknowledged
author of the Visions if thereby he could the better serve his country.

The Bardd Cwsc is not only the most popular of Welsh prose works, but it
has also retained its place among the best of our classics. No better
model exists of the pure idiomatic Welsh of the last century, before
writers became influenced by English style and method. Vigorous, fluent,
crisp, and clear, it shows how well our language is adapted to
description and narration. It is written for the people, and in the
picturesque and poetic strain which is always certain to fascinate the
Celtic mind. The introduction to each Vision is evidently written with
elaborate care, and exquisitely polished - "ne quid possit per leve
morari," and scene follows scene, painted in words which present them
most vividly before one's eyes, whilst the force and liveliness of his
diction sustain unflagging interest throughout. The reader is carried
onward as much by the rhythmic flow of language and the perfect balance
of sentences, as by the vivacity of the narrative and by the reality with
which Ellis Wynne invests his adventures and the characters he depicts.
The terrible situations in which we find the Bard, as the drama unfolds,
betoken not only a powerful imagination, but also an intensity of feeling
which enabled him to realise the conceptions of such imagination. We
follow the Bard and his heavenly guide through all their perils with
breathless attention; the demons and the damned he so clothes with flesh
and blood that our hatred or our sympathy is instantly stirred; his World
is palpitating with life, his Hell, with its gloom and glare, is an
awful, haunting dream. But besides being the possessor of a vivid
imagination, Ellis Wynne was endowed with a capacity for transmitting his
own experience in a picturesque and life-like manner. The various
descriptions of scenes, such as Shrewsbury fair, the parson's revelry and
the deserted mansions; of natural scenery, as in the beginning of the
first and last Visions; of personages, such as the portly alderman, and
the young lord and his retinue, all are evidently drawn from the Author's
own experience. He was also gifted with a lively sense of humor, which
here and there relieves the pervading gloom so naturally associated with
the subject of his Visions. The humorous and the severe, the grotesque
and the sublime, the tender and the terrible, are alike portrayed by a
master hand.

The leading feature of the Visions, namely the personal element which the
Author infuses into the recital of his distant travels, brings the reader
into a closer contact with the tale and gives continuity to the whole
work, some parts of which would otherwise appear disconnected. This
telling of the tale in propria persona with a guide of shadowy or
celestial nature who points out what the Bard is to see, and explains to
him the mystery of the things around him, is a method frequently adopted
by poets of all times. Dante is the best known instance, perhaps; but we
find the method employed in Welsh, as in "The Dream of Paul, the
Apostle," where Paul is led by Michael to view the punishments of Hell
(vide Iolo MSS.). Ellis Wynne was probably acquainted with Vergil and
Dante, and adopted the idea of supernatural guidance from them; in fact,
apart from this, we meet with several passages which are eminently
reminiscent of both these great poets.

But now, casting aside mere speculation, we come face to face with the
indisputable fact that Ellis Wynne is to a considerable degree indebted
to the Dreams of Gomez de Quevedo y Villegas, a voluminous Spanish author
who flourished in the early part of the 17th century. In 1668, Sir Roger
L'Estrange published his translation into English of the Dreams, which
immediately became very popular. Quevedo has his Visions of the World,
of Death and her (sic) Empire, and of Hell; the same characters are
delineated in both, the same classes satirized, the same punishments
meted out. We read in both works of the catchpoles and wranglers, the
pompous knights and lying knaves - in fine, we cannot possibly come to any
other conclusion than that Ellis Wynne has "read, marked and inwardly
digested" L'Estrange's translation of Quevedo's Dreams. But admitting so
much, the Bardd Cwsc still remains a purely Welsh classic; whatever in
name and incident Ellis Wynne has borrowed from the Spaniard he has
dressed up in Welsh home-spun, leaving little or nothing indicative of
foreign influence. The sins he preached against, the sinners he
condemned, were, he knew too well, indigenous to Welsh and Spanish soil.
George Borrow sums up his comments upon the two authors in the following
words: "Upon the whole, the Cymric work is superior to the Spanish;
there is more unity of purpose in it, and it is far less encumbered with
useless matter."

The implication contained in the foregoing remarks of Borrow - that the
Bardd Cwsc is encumbered to a certain degree with useless matter, is no
doubt well founded. There is a tendency to dwell inordinately upon the
horrible, more particularly in the Vision of Hell; a tiring sameness in
the descriptive passages, an occasional lapse from the tragic to the
ludicrous, and an intrusion of the common-place in the midst of a speech
or a scene, marring the dignity of the one and the beauty of the other.

The most patent blemish, however, is the unwarranted coarseness of
expression to which the Author sometimes stoops. It is true that he must
be judged according to the times he lived in; his chief object was to
reach the ignorant masses of his countrymen, and to attain this object it
was necessary for him to adopt their blunt and unveneered speech. For
all that, one cannot help feeling that he has, in several instances,
descended to a lower level than was demanded of him, with the inevitable
result that both the literary merit and the good influence of his work in
some measure suffer. Many passages which might be considered coarse and
indecorous according to modern canons of taste, have been omitted from
this translation.

From the literary point of view THE VISIONS OF THE SLEEPING BARD has from
the first been regarded as a masterpiece, but from the religious, two
very different opinions have been held concerning it. One, probably the
earlier, was, that it was a book with a good purpose, and fit to stand
side by side with Vicar Pritchard's Canwyll y Cymry and Llyfr yr
Homiliau; the other, that it was a pernicious book, "llyfr codi
cythreuliaid" - a devil-raising book. A work which in any shape or form
bore even a distant relationship to fiction, instantly fell under the ban
of the Puritanism of former days. To-day neither opinion is held, the
Bardd Cwsc is simply a classic and nothing more.

The Visions derive considerable value from the light they throw upon the
moral and social condition of our country two centuries ago. Wales, at
the time Ellis Wynne wrote was in a state of transition: its old-world
romance was passing away, and ceasing to be the potent influence which,
in times gone by, had aroused our nation to chivalrous enthusiasm, and
led it to ennobling aspirations. Its place and power, it is true, were
shortly to be taken by religion, simple, puritanic, and intensely
spiritual; but so far, the country was in a condition of utter disorder,
morally and socially. Its national life was at its lowest ebb, its
religious life was as yet undeveloped and gave little promise of the
great things to come. The nation as a whole - people, patrician, and
priest - had sunk to depths of moral degradation; the people, through
ignorance and superstition; the patrician, through contact with the
corruptions of the England of the Restoration; while the priesthood were

"Blind mouths, that scarce themselves knew how to hold
"A sheep-hook, or had learnt aught else the least
"That to the faithful herdman's art belongs."

All the sterner and darker aspects of the period are chronicled with a
grim fidelity in the Visions, the wrongs and vices of the age are exposed
with scathing earnestness. Ellis Wynne set himself the task of
endeavouring to arouse his fellow-countrymen and bring them to realize
the sad condition into which the nation had fallen. He entered upon the
work endowed with keen powers of perception, a wide knowledge of life,
and a strong sense of justice. He was no respecter of person; all orders
of society, types of every rank and class, in turn, came under
castigation; no sin, whether in high places or among those of low degree,
escaped the lash of his biting satire. On the other hand, it must be
said that he lacked sympathy with erring nature, and failed to recognize
in his administration of justice that "to err is human, to forgive,
divine." His denunciation of wrong and wrong-doer is equally stern and
pitiless; mercy and love are rarely, if ever, brought on the stage. In
this mood, as in the gloomy pessimism which pervades the whole work, he
reflects the religious doctrines and beliefs of his times. In fine, when
all has been said, favourably and adversely, the Visions, it will readily
be admitted, present a very faithful picture of Welsh life, manners, and
ways of thought, in the 17th century, and are, in every sense, a true
product of the country and the age in which they were written.



One summer's day, the Bard ascends one of the mountains of Wales, and
gazing a long while at the beautiful scene, falls asleep. He dreams and
finds himself among the fairies, whom he approaches and requests
permission to join. They snatch him up forthwith and fly off with him
over cities and realms, lands and seas, until he begins to fear for his
life. They come to a huge castle - Castle Delusive, where an Angel of
light appears and rescues him from their hands. The Angel, after
questioning him as to himself, who he was and where he came from, bids
him go with him, and resting in the empyrean, he beholds the earth far
away beneath them. He sees an immense City made up of three streets; at
the end of which are three gates and upon each gate a tower and in each
tower a fair woman. This is the City of Destruction and its streets are
named after the daughters of Belial - Pride, Lucre and Pleasure. The
Angel tells him of the might and craftiness of Belial and the alluring
witchery of his daughters, and also of another city on higher ground - the
City of Emmanuel - whereto all may fly from Destruction. They descend and
alight in the Street of Pride amidst the ruined and desolate mansions of
absentee landlords. They see there kings, princes, and noblemen,
coquettes and fops; there is a city, too, on seven hills, and another
opposite, with a crescent on a golden banner above it, and near the gate
stands the Court of Lewis XIV. Much traffic is going on between these
courts, for the Pope, the Sultan and the King of France are rivals for
the Princesses' hands.

They next come to the Street of Lucre, full of Spaniards, Dutchmen and
Jews, and here too, are conquerors and their soldiers, justices and their
bribers, doctors, misers, merchants and userers, shopmen, clippers,
taverners, drovers, and the like. An election of Treasurer to the
Princess is going on - stewards, money-lenders, lawyers and merchants
being candidates, and whoso was proved the richest should obtain the
post. The Bard then comes to the Street of Pleasure, where all manner of
seductive joys abound. He passes through scenes of debauchery and
drunken riot, and comes to a veritable Bedlam, where seven good fellows -
a tinker, a dyer, a smith and a miner, a chimney-sweep, a bard and a
parson - are enjoying a carousal. He beholds the Court of Belial's second
daughter, Hypocrisy, and sees a funeral go by where all the mourners are
false. A noble lord appears, with his lady at his side, and has a talk
with old Money-bags who has lent him money on his lands - all three being
apt pupils of Hypocrisy.

The Angel then takes him to the churches of the City; and first they come

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