Page images
PDF
EPUB

particular is so very high-dried and hard as almost to defy the carver's most strenuous efforts. The flavour is, nevertheless, at times very fine when the palate gets used to it, though the appearance is far from inviting, being about the colour and not far from the hardness of the black oak table. They generally keep it in a large chest in oatmeal (which was before mentioned). Often, when lodging at a little country inn, have we, when just awake in the morning, seen one of the children come stealthily into the room, open the lid of the huge chest, climb over the edge of it, and, diving down, almost disappear in its recesses, whence, after sundry efforts and strainings, he has reappeared, dragging forth a piece of the aforesaid black beef, which is obtained thus early that it may be soaked a few hours before boiling, to render it more submissive to the knife.

From the foregoing particulars it will be seen that these people live almost entirely on vegetable food. When a cow or a pig is killed, for a day or two they luxuriate on fresh meat; but that is the exception, not the rule. Herrings, too, they are fond of as a relish, as well as cockles and other indigestible food; but neither these nor the beef and bacon can be considered to be the staple food of the peasantry, which is, in one form or another, potatoes, oatmeal, bread, cheese, and milk.

The great consumption of oatmeal produces, as might be expected, cutaneous diseases, though, generally speaking, the people are tolerably healthy. They have a great horror of the doctor, whom they never send for but when they think there is some great danger. So long as the patient is free from pain they think all is right. They have not the slightest idea of what an invalid ought to eat. If gruel is ordered, they make a lumpy oatmeal pudding, to which, however, the sick man will frequently prefer bread and cheese. When they have gone on in this way till the unhappy individual is in the greatest danger and the medical attendant insists upon his directions being attended to, they unwillingly submit; and if the patient dies, they then impute it entirely to the doctor, and vow they will never call him in to kill people again.

As in most rural districts, by constant inter-marriages every family has a host of relations in the surrounding country. All consider it their duty to attend a funeral, and almost every person acquainted with the deceased attends as a mark of respect. Consequently the funerals are very large, often two or three hundred persons, and when the corpse has to be carried a distance, most of them come on horseback, which, with the varied colours of the women's dresses and the solemn sounds of a hymn from a hundred voices, as they wend their way along some lonely mountain road, has a most picturesque and interesting effect. This large company generally meet at the house, where provisions are ready for all who choose to partake of them. The well-known beautiful custom of adorning the graves with flowers and evergreens is much practised.

When a birth takes place in a family all the neighbours and relations call within a few days to inquire after the health of the mother and child, and take a cup of tea or bread and cheese, and every one brings some present, either a pound of sugar, quarter pound of tea, or a shilling or more in money, as they think best. This is expected to be returned when the givers are in a similar situation.

The “bidding,” which is a somewhat similar custom at a marriage, is not quite so general, though it is still much used in Carmarthenshire. When a young couple are married they send notice to all their friends, that “on a day named they intend to have a 'bidding,' at which they request their company, with any donation they may think proper, which will be punctually returned when they are called upon on a similar occasion.” At such biddings £20 or £30 are frequently collected, and sometimes much more, and as from various causes they are not called upon to return more than one-half, they get half the sum clear, and a loan without interest of the other half to commence life with.

The national dress or costume of the men (if ever they had any) is not now in use ; that of the women, however, is still very peculiar. Both use principally home-made articles, spinning their own wool and sending it to the factory to be made into fannel or cloth. They also dye the wool black themselves, using in the operation the contents of certain well-known domestic utensils, which is kept stewing over the fire some days, emitting a most unsavoury odour, which, however, they assert to be very wholesome. The men generally wear a square-cut coat of homemade pepper-and-salt coloured cloth, waistcoat and breeches or trousers of the same, and a round low crowned hat; or occasionally fustian trousers and gay Aannel waistcoat with bright metal buttons, coloured neckerchief, home-knit stockings of black sheep's wool, and lace-up boots. Shirts of checked coarse Aannel-cotton shirts and sheets being considered equally luxurious. One of the most striking parts of the women's dress is the black beaver hat, which is almost universally worn and is both picturesque and becoming. It is made with a very high crown, narrowing towards the top, and a broad, perfectly flat brim, thus differing entirely from any man's hat. They frequently give thirty shillings for one of these hats, and make them last the greater part of their lives. The body dress consists of what they call a bedgown, or betcown, as it is pronounced, which is a dress made quite plain, entirely open in front (like a gentleman's dressing gown), with sleeves a little short of the elbow. A necessary accompaniment to this is an apron, which ties it up round the waist. The bedgown is invariably formed of what they call flannel, which is a stuff formed by a mixture of wool, cotton, and sometimes a little silk. It is often striped black or dark blue, or brown and white, with alternate broad and narrow stripes, or red and black, but more frequently a plaid of several colours, the red and black being wool, the white or blue cotton, and often a narrow yellow stripe of silk, made in plaid patterns of every variety of size and colour. The apron is almost always black-andwhite plaid, the only variety being in the form and size of the pattern, and has a pretty effect by relieving the gay colours of the other part of the dress. They in general wear no stays, and this, with the constant habit of carrying burdens on the head, produces almost invariably an

upright carriage and good figure, though rather inclined to the corpulency of Dutch beauties. On their necks they usually wear a gay silk kerchief or flannel shawl, a neat white cap under the hat; laced boots and black worsted stockings complete their attire. In Carmarthenshire a jacket with sleeves is frequently worn by the women, in other respects their dress does not much differ from what I have described.

The women and girls carry (as before mentioned) great loads upon their heads, fifty or sixty pounds weight, and often much more. Large pitchers (like Grecian urns) of water or milk are often carried for long distances on uneven roads, with both hands full at the same time. They may be often seen turning round their heads to speak to an acquaintance and tripping along with the greatest unconcern, but never upsetting the pitcher. The women are almost invariably stout and healthy looking, notwithstanding their hard work and poor living. These circumstances, however, make em look much older than they really are. The girls are often exceedingly pretty when about fifteen to twenty, but after that, hard work and exposure make their features coarse, so that a girl of five-and-twenty would often be taken for nearer forty.

All, but more especially the young ones, ride most fearlessly, and at fairs they may be seen by dozens racing like steeple-chasers.

Many of these farmers are freeholders, cultivating their own land and living on the produce ; but they are generally little, if any, better off than the tenants, leaving the land in the same manner, thus showing that it is not altogether want of leases and good landlords that makes them so, but the complete ignorance in which they pass their lives.

All that I have hitherto said refers solely to the poorer class, known as hill farmers. In the valleys and near the town where the land is better, there are frequently better educated farmers, who assimilate more to the English in their agricultural operations, mode of living, and dress.

In all the mining districts, too, there is another class—the colliers and furnacemen, smiths, etc., who are as different from the farmers in everything as one set of men can be from another. When times are good their wages are such as to afford them many luxuries, which the poor farmer considers far too extravagant. Instead of living on vegetable diet with cheese and buttermilk, they luxuriate on flesh and fowl, and often on game too, of their own procuring. But in their dress is the greatest difference. The farmer is almost always dressed the same, except that on Sundays and market-day it is newer. But the difference between the collier or furnaceman at his work—when he is half naked, begrimed from head to foot, labouring either in the bowels of the earth or among roaring fires, and looking more like demon than man—and on holidays dressed in a suit of clothes that would not disgrace an English gentleman, is most remarkable. It is nothing uncommon to see these men dressed in coat and trousers of fine black cloth, elegant waistcoat, fine shirt, beaver hat, Wellington boots, and a fine silk handkerchief in his pocket; and instead of being ridiculous, as the clumsy farmer would be in such a dress, wearing it with a quiet, unconcerned, and gentlemanly air. The men at the large works, such as Merthyr Tydfil, are more gaudy in their dress, and betray themselves much more quickly than the colliers of many other districts.

It is an undoubted fact, too, that the persons engaged in the collieries and ironworks are far more intellectual than the farmers, and pay more attention to their own and their children's education. Many of them indeed are well informed on most subjects, and in every respect much more highly civilized than the farmer.

The wages which these men get-in good times £2 or £3 per weekprevents them, with moderate care, from being ever in any great distress. They likewise always live well, which the poor farmer does not, and though many of them have a bit of land and all a potato ground, the turnpike grievances, poor-rates, and tithes do not affect them as compared with the farmers, to whom they are a grievous burden, making the scanty living with which they are contented hard to be obtained.

The rents, too, continue the same as when their produce sold for much more and the above-mentioned taxes were not near so heavy. The consequence is that the poor farmer works from morning to night after his own fashion, lives in a manner which the poorest English labourer would grumble at, and as his reward, perhaps, has his goods and stock sold by his landlord to pay the exorbitant rent, averaging 8s, or ros. per acre for such land as I have described.

LANGUAGE, CHARACTER, ETC. The Welsh farmer is a veritable Welshman. He can speak English but very imperfectly, and has an abhorrence of all Saxon manners and innovations. He is frequently unable to read or write, but can sometimes con over his Welsh Bible, and make out an unintelligible bill; and if in addition he can read a little English and knows the four first rules of arithmetic, he may be considered a well-educated man. The women almost invariably neither read nor write, and can scarcely ever understand two words of English. They fully make up for this, however, by a double share of volubility and animation in the use of their own language, and their shrill clear voices are indications of good health, and are not unpleasant. The choleric disposition usually ascribed to the Welsh is, I think, not quite correct. Words do not often lead to blows, as they take a joke or a satirical expression very good humouredly, and return it very readily. Fighting is much more rarely resorted to than in England, and it is, perhaps, the energy and excitement with which they discuss even common topics of conversation that has given rise to the misconception. They have a ready and peculiar wit, something akin to the Irish, but more frequently expressed so distantly and allegorically as to be unintelligible to one who does not understand their modes of thought and peculiarities of idioms, which latter no less than the former they retain even when they converse in English. They are very proud of their language, on the beauty and expression of which they will sometimes dilate with much animation, concluding with a triumphant assertion that theirs is a language, while the English is none, but merely a way of speaking.

The language, though at times guttural, is, when well spoken, both melodious and impressive. There are many changes in the first letters of words, for the sake of euphony, depending on what happens to precede them; m and b, for instance, are often changed into f (pronounced v), as melin or felin, a mill; mel or fel, honey. The gender is often changed in the same manner, as bach (masculine), fach (feminine), small; mawr (m.), fawr (f.), great. The modes of making the plural is to an Englishman rather singular, a syllable being taken off instead of being added, as is usually the case with us, as plentyn, a child ; plent, children : mochyn, a pig ; moch, pigs. But in other cases a syllable or letter is added.

Their preachers or public speakers have much influence over them. During a discourse there is the most breathless attention, and at the pauses a universal thrill of approbation. Allegory is their chief speciality, and seems to give the hearers the greatest pleasure, and the language appears well fitted for giving it its full effect.

As might be expected from their ignorance, they are exceedingly superstitious, which is rather increased than diminished in those who are able to read by their confining their studies almost wholly to the Bible. The forms their superstitions take are in general much the same as in Scotland, Ireland, and other remote parts of the kingdom. Witches and wizards and white witches, as they are called, are firmly believed in, and their powers much dreaded. There is a witch within a mile of where I am now writing who, according to report, has performed many wonders. One man who had offended her she witched so that he could not rise from his bed for several years, but he was at last cured by inviting the witch to tea and making friends with her. Another case was of a man driving his pig to market when the witch passed by. The pig instantly refused to move, sat up on its hind legs against the hedge in such a manner as no pig was ever seen to do before, and, as it could not be persuaded to walk, was carried home, where it soon died. These and dozens of other similar stories are vouched for by eye-witnesses, one of whom told me this. A still more extraordinary instance of the woman's supernatural powers must be mentioned. She is supposed to have the power of changing herself into different shapes at pleasure, that of a hare seeming to be with her, as with many other witches, the favourite one, as if they delighted in the persecution that harmless animal generally meets with. It is related that one day, being pursued by men and dogs in this shape, the pursuers came to a coal mine the steam-engine of which was in full work, bringing up coal. The witch-hare jumped on to the woodwork which supports the chains, when immediately they refused to move, the engine stopped, pumps, everything remained motionless, and amid the general surprise the witch escaped. But the pit could never be worked again, the pumps and the engine were taken away, and the ruins of the

« EelmineJätka »