The Welsh Bible is the third in a series edited by Professor Gareth Williams under the umbrella title of ‘The Tempus History of Wales’. It records the history of the translation of the Bible into Welsh from the first full translation in 1588 to the latest revision in 2004. Along the way, Eryn White explores how the availability of the Bible in the language of the people influenced the Welsh way of life, in particular the maintenance and development of the language, education, politics and literature.
Following a Preface and general Introduction, the first part describes the process of translation. After noting that the first printed book in Welsh was by Sir John Price, it records, in absorbing detail, the development of printing in general, the printing of the Scriptures in English, the devotional manuals, translated from Latin, which preceded the full translation of the Bible, and the main political and religious pressures which led to the ‘1563 Act for the translation of the Bible and Divine Service into the Welsh tongue’ being passed by Parliament. The many religious leaders, prominent people and scholars who contributed to, or influenced, the orthography of the different editions are included and make most interesting reading.
The second part, ‘Spreading the Word, 1588c.1640’, follows the rapid development of printing during that era. However, the Bible was still out of reach of the ordinary working Welsh family. Some medieval dramas were being performed in Welsh. Editions of the Welsh Bible appeared in 1620 and 1630.
Part 3, ‘Learning to Read the Word, c.1640c.1740’, discusses literacy in Wales from the 1640s, when less than a fifth of the population were able to read, and how things improved as more books were printed. Attempts by philanthropic scholars to educate children and illiterate adults, mainly so that they could read the Bible for themselves, followed, much of it through the medium of memorable free-metre verse. Other books mentioned include those of such people as Morgan Llwyd who produced three works in English and six in Welsh ‘demonstrating his concern to spread the Gospel among his Welsh-speaking compatriots’. The circulating schools initiated by Griffith Jones made a great impact on Welsh literacy. By the time of his death in 1761, it is estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 pupils had received instruction in his schools.
Part 4 deals with ‘Print, Revival and the Bible in the Eighteenth Century’. This was a time when all forms of printing gathered pace, including the printing of cheaper and innovative editions of the Bible, such as Beibl Peter Williams, many editions of which were published in instalments. Communal hymn singing became important in Wales at this period after the revival of 1735 and the emergence of prominent Welsh hymn writers is recorded as is the development of spiritual journals and autobiography.
Part 5 ‘The Bible for all the World in the Nineteenth Century’ gives an account of the growth of Nonconformity in Wales. Scarcity of Bibles was still a cause for concern and led to ‘a remarkable acceleration in the numbers of copies printed’. Thomas Charles figures prominently in this section. This was ‘the golden age of Welsh publishing’ with many Welsh medium periodicals appearing. ‘The Treachery of the Blue Books’ features in this part as does the difficulties arising for believers at the time of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Part 6 is headed ‘The Book Which You Inhabited: The Long-term Legacy of the Bible in Wales’. It details the development of the activities of chapels and churches during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, including the emergence of the cymanfa ganu. It goes on to record the decline in the numbers of worshippers during the twentieth century despite the Great Revival of 1904/5. The influence of Nonconformity on Welsh politics is also discussed. Eryn White also notes that, as in English in the nineteenth century, novels were being published in Welsh, both translations of English novels and original Welsh novels such as those of Daniel Owen where the influence of a Nonconformist upbringing and a knowledge of the Welsh Bible is clear. Other writers mentioned are Caradoc Evans, whose stories ‘were written in a style partly inspired by the language of the Bible’, R. S.Thomas and Allen Raine as well as notable Welsh poets and many others.
The Conclusion draws together the different threads of research followed in the earlier parts. There is a helpful appendix listing the editions of the Welsh Bible referred to in the text, copious notes on particular items in the text; a general bibliography and a useful index.
This is an academic book, printed in rather a small font, which is full of valuable information for students but also, because of its wealth of detail about the impact of the Welsh Bible on the lives of our ancestors, is accessible to all those interested in Welsh history.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.