1889 A Welsh rural portrait


A page from Thomas Ruddy’s Commonplace book  – from the handwriting written after his retirement

One of the reasons I have been able to continue transcribing and editing Thomas Ruddy’s journals for over 12 years, is the quality of his extended writing, as well as the liveliness of his intellect and curiosity.  As well as the attention to the natural world around him, and to family events and the life of the family and visitors at Palé Hall, he shows a keen interest in the people living around him, sometimes painting vivid pen portraits of his neighbours.  This often occurs when they die.  A particularly noteworthy example is his portrait of the tombstone engraver Robert Edwards known as ‘The Derfel’ – a significant nickname as the village name, Llandderfel springs from its patron saint, St. Derfel (see here)

‘The Derfel’ was one of three elderly men to die:

Friday the 18th.                           three of our oldest inhabitants have died within the last fortnight, namely Thomas Hughes of Pantyffynon, aged 74, John Williams the oldest tailor in the village aged 74 and Robert Edwards (The Derfel) a tombstone engraver of the village, aged 76.  The Derfel has been quite an eccentric character; he passed off as a poet, painter, political writer and an engraver, the engraving was his strength, for he could claim that little merit in the other three.  As a tombstone engraver, he is well known all over Merioneth, Denbigh, and Carnarvonshire, for like old mortality he seldom stayed long anywhere, he was ever on the move, and when at work his usual haunts were among the dead. He was very irregular in his working habits, for he would idle sometimes for days, or spend his time writing letters to the newspapers published in Welsh, and at other times he would work from daylight too dark at the tombstones. People had great difficulty to get him to engrave for them, for he was of a very independent mind; a relative or peers told me he would rather half starve than ask people for his money; he would, when straightened for food, go to some of the neighbouring farmers for a meal, Brynmelyn being always a house of refuge.

The Derfel married when about 30 years of age, his wife did not live long, and he had no children, so he has lived a widower ever since, and seldom had a woman to do for him; when at home he did all for himself, and in a very eccentric fashion; if he put the kettle on to boil, he could not stay in the house until it boiled, that would walk to the river bridge and back, a distance of half a mile each way. He has kept the file of the Banner Welsh newspaper for over 40 years, but his household goods would be the better of a good dusting. As he was seldom at home, his house was mostly locked up with newspaper in the window as blind. He had a considerable share of self esteem, so that his neighbours seldom got on well with him, he thought all should acknowledge his superior judgement.

In religion, he belonged to the Independent, or Congregational body but owing to something [72] which displeased him at the Village Chapel, he very rarely went to it, he would rather go to distant chapels on the Sunday. The Derfel has one brother living in the village, and who has been the Parish Clerk for some years, and is by trade shoemaker; his name is David Edwards. The wife of David is living, and he has two sons grown-

The page from Thomas’ Commonplace Book, shown above, indicates his wide-ranging literary knowledge and tastes.  The fact that some quotations are given page numbers suggests that Thomas himself owned the books from which the quotations are taken.  Thomas seems to enjoy the work of Coleridge and Southey from among the Romantic poets.  In browsing the Commonplace book I have come across little Wordsworth, but his witty, insightful and sympathetic portrait of The Derfel has something in common with Wordsworth’s Old Cumberland Beggar:

.......
Many, I believe, there are
Who live a life of virtuous decency,
Men who can hear the Decalogue and feel
No self-reproach; who of the moral law
Established in the land where they abide
Are strict observers; and not negligent
In acts of love to those with whom they dwell,
Their kindred, and the children of their blood. Praise be to such, and to their slumbers peace!
--But of the poor man ask, the abject poor;
Go, and demand of him, if there be here
In this cold abstinence from evil deeds,
And these inevitable charities,
Wherewith to satisfy the human soul?
No--man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause,
That we have all of us one human heart.
...................

Part of Llandderfel village photographed by John Thomas

A

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “1889 A Welsh rural portrait”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.