This essay considers the 1847 Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, better known as the “Blue Books,” which alleged that Wales’s Welsh-speaking population was benighted, immoral, superstitious, and barbarous, and in need of English-language education. These factors were said to be compromising the country’s modernization while also, in more quiet ways, threatening British society more broadly. The Welsh language was the primary target, and it was deemed antiquated and unfit for commercial and imperial life. Through the Welsh language, the Blue Books also inveighed against Welsh motherhood, Wales’s increasing Nonconformity, and its recharged and growing literary culture. I place the Blue Books in a larger nineteenth-century Welsh context, focusing especially on how rising rates of literacy and religiosity across the country countered the Blue Books’ primary claims. I discuss with particular emphases the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist movement, the antiquarian movement, the revived eisteddfod literary festival, and the influences of Welsh women in Welsh society and as Welsh mothers. Furthermore, I argue that the Blue Books borrowed much colonialist rhetoric then in fashion that disparaged Irish, Indian, Chinese, and African people. With this in mind, the Blue Books fit in among contemporary colonial documents, and they construct the Welsh in similar manners to how other non-English populations were during this moment of Victorian Britain.
It can be quite perplexing to learn that the 1847 Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales are regarded as the most influential text regarding Victorian Wales. The Reports, more commonly known as the “Blue Books” (blue being the color of their original binding), deplored a low state of education across Wales, and alleged that this contributed to and was reinforced by a lack of Welsh literature, ubiquitous religious misguidance, and—particularly among its women and mothers—endemic immorality. While such claims are striking on their own, the puzzlement arises less from the inherent hostility of such conclusions than from their all-around inaccuracy. First and foremost, with a majority of its population possessing some level of literacy, Wales was among the most literate countries in Europe at this time. Over the long nineteenth century, this literacy fueled a rejuvenated and burgeoning literary culture, a series of religious revivals, and an expansive press culture. Much of the Blue Books’ vitriol was directed at the alterity of these circumstances; in contradistinction to the “English” crown and the Anglican Church, in the mid-nineteenth century more than half of Wales spoke only Welsh (meaning that Welsh was the language of much of the widespread literacy), and eighty percent of its worshippers attended a Nonconformist chapel (i.e., non-Anglican Protestant). This period also witnessed a highpoint of popular unrest across Wales, which was often, in one way or another, organized in and supported by the Welsh language and Welsh Nonconformity.
Yet, such circumstances assist in understanding why the Blue Books were undertaken when they were, and why their composition took the forms it did. By and large their provenance, undertaking, and completed form were similar to those of other Victorian governmental reports (including other reports on elements of Welsh life). But, the commissioners who were assigned the task placed the blame upon Welsh cultural characteristics (and at times, as we shall see, used these characteristics to exoticize the Welsh as racial “others”), concluding that Wales’s primitive and inferior “civilization” supported both rioting and ignorance. Scholars have called attention to the mendacity upon which the Blue Books’ formulations of Welsh culture and society were built: Gwyn A. Williams explains that “[the Report], accurate enough in its exposure of the pitiful inadequacy of school provision, moved on to a partisan, often vicious attack on Welsh Nonconformity and on the Welsh language itself as a vehicle of immorality, backwardness, and obscurantism” (When Was Wales? 208); Gareth Elwyn Jones adds that “within the so-called Blue Books, prejudice of class, religion and language emerges in virtually every judgement” (431); and Harri Garrod Roberts reasons that “Welsh cultural difference was thus viewed by government[sic] as a barrier blocking the development of a unified British identity” (25). If we possess a sense of why the Blue Books were commissioned, what remains is to consider questions of “how”: particularly, how could they draw conclusions that bore so little resemblance to reality, and how could such falsities possibly be legible to British readers?
This essay seeks to begin to answer these questions. Broadly, my conclusions are that two points contributed to the Blue Books’ legibility. The first is that many of their charges depended upon Welsh stereotypes that had existed for centuries and had reached a new height of proliferation during a spike in Welsh tourism over the turn of the nineteenth century. Relatedly, the second is that they systematically and methodically reapplied to Wales colonial and xenophobic rhetoric then in vogue in British discussions of other foreign, and colonized, populations. Each of the Blue Books’ accounts of Welsh culture—its “barbaric” language, its “superstitious” piety, its “immoral” domestic and marriage customs, culminating in an altogether “primitive” civilization (these all being terms that are invoked regularly over the course of the Blue Books, as I shall demonstrate)—had been in circulation among consumers of popular English literature throughout the decades leading up to 1847, and the putative validity of these charges was continually repeated and reinforced in waves of travel literature. The distinction, I contend, is that the Blue Books reframed these practices as hindrances to British progress, and inflected them in such ways that they were threats to English society. Quintessentially, this transformation was anchored in a blending of intangible moral and literal domestic “purity:” the “uncleanliness” of Welsh homes and schoolrooms was made to mirror Welsh mothers’ “unclean” moral condition, which together perpetuated an “impure” civilization. By focusing on recognizable Welsh traits, however inaccurate, and imbuing them with newer and farther-reaching consequences, the Blue Books could deftly circumvent any meaningful discussion of Welsh social matters. Furthermore, by elevating “education,” they could dress their discourse in fashionable terms and propose state intervention as a benevolent mission rather than a military conquest. One important result is that unrest in Wales becomes rooted in Welsh markers of difference, and that any resulting discourse revolves around abstract terminology rather than the sociological conditions out of which the unrest grew. An equally-significant result arises from such terminology being used simultaneously in descriptions of other colonized populations, effectively exoticizing the Welsh by framing their culture in the same way that colonial literature constructed other “primitive” societies.
Such concerns are the undercurrents of this essay, and inform its structure. I will be addressing both the image of nineteenth-century Wales produced by the Blue Books and the nineteenth-century Wales that they distort. As such, my focus is predominantly on Wales in the English-language imagination, specifically on how the Blue Books catered to their immediate target audience (and could cater to English-language readers more broadly), and what is lost in its appraisals of Welsh society, rather than the range of reactions within Wales (though this will be touched upon as well). Gwyneth Tyson Roberts identifies the Blue Books’ “intended readers” as “members of the Committee…, [and] the other policy-makers and opinion-formers who were likely to take an interest in the Report’s contents” (6). With this in mind, I will begin with an overview of how Wales’s culture, people, and customs were constructed in Romantic-era literature, with an especial focus on conventions regarding the Blue Books’ primary targets: Wales’s literature, religious practices, and marriage customs such as bundling (the Welsh language, being inseparable from each of these points, will undergird these discussions throughout). From here I will turn to that which is perhaps most important: how each of these elements—literature, religion, and gender—figured into identity and culture construction within Wales by Welsh people pre-1847. First, concerning Welsh literary culture, I will provide an overview of the Welsh antiquarian movement and the revival of the eisteddfod over the long nineteenth century. Then, I will discuss the largely-contemporaneous rise of Nonconformity across Wales, with emphases on the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist movement and the educational networks that it created and supported. Next, I will introduce the position of Welsh women in local and national Welsh culture, and how such courtship rituals as bundling actually afforded a certain degree of female autonomy and agency. I will then turn to the Blue Books themselves, with focuses on their preoccupations with Welsh literacy and religion, and how they elevated “immoral” Welsh women as the sources of Welsh misdirection. Lastly, I will briefly turn to contemporaneous usages of “barbarism,” “superstition,” and female “immorality” in colonial British literature, such as travel writing and state reports on Africa, China, India and Ireland, concluding that one effect of deploying such terms for the Welsh was that English and Welsh readers would associate Welsh society with that of other people within the British Empire’s radius of power.
Throughout, I will call attention to scholarship that has discussed various elements of the constituent topics of this essay. In every instance I will strive to point out directions for further inquiry in the scholarly archive (usually in English, but occasionally in Welsh as well). Ultimately, in addition to expanding our knowledge of the Blue Books by more widely contextualizing them within contemporary worldwide Victorian British colonialism, this essay will also serve as an entry into both nineteenth-century Wales and the research that provides readers other access points to it.
Wales in the English State and Popular Imaginations
Before any investigation of the Blue Books’ charges toward Wales and its culture it is important to be aware that they do not represent a radical departure of official attitudes toward the Welsh language from those of pre-1847. The earliest state documents regarding Wales’s colonial subjectivity to England evidence this, while also presenting an opportunity to trace how the Welsh language transitioned from being endurable into being transgressive. The Act of Union of 1536, which formally incorporated Wales with England, stated that “the Dominion Principality and Country of Wales justly and righteously is and ever hath been incorporated annexed united and subject to and under the Imperial Crown [of England]” (qtd. in Tyson Roberts 9). Having established this, it goes on, in what is widely known as the “language clause,” to bar Welsh speakers from holding office: “[all] Justices Commissioners Sheriffs coroners Escheators Stewards and their Lieutenants, and all other Officers and the Ministers of the Law, shall proclaim and keep the Sessions Courts Hundreds Leets Sheriffs Courts, and all other Courts in the English Tongue” (qtd. in Ellis Jones 587). This Act granted Wales representation in England’s parliament but at the same time asserted that “those using the Welsh language were not to receive public office in the territories of the king” (John Davies 235). From the first moments of its union with England, then, the Welsh language was excluded from the realm of official state discourse. Language policy regarding Welsh remained virtually unchanged through the dawn of the Victorian era.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, such a policy served to bar virtually all of Wales from holding public office, and it was complemented by virtually all of Wales being disenfranchised. At this time, upwards of 90% of Wales remained monoglot-Welsh speaking, and 98% of Wales could not vote (Franklin 11). The centuries following the Act of Union also spurred the process of the Anglicization—that is, the adoption of the English language and English customs—of the Welsh gentry, the effects of which would resonate across Welsh culture over the next three hundred years. The gradual drift of Wales’s more prosperous people toward Anglicization means that the two percentages above largely referred to the same population. That the large majority of Wales had no influence in government nor access to the language any policy was written in, also contributed to an overlooked English-Welsh cultural dynamic: by and large, Welsh people typically could not, at least on their own, access English-language popular literature, which often featured Welsh subjects. This lack of access became especially pertinent in the decades surrounding 1800, when tours of Wales came into vogue among polite sectors of English society (due in no small part to continental wars virtually prohibiting the traditional Grand Tour). In addition to travel literature’s wonted myopia and problematic racial ruminations, these tours came to construct the Welsh in rather unenviable ways for English reading audiences, for whom these firsthand accounts constituted anthropological truths. Wales was, for instance, “that terra incognita of goats and barbarians,” and all around “a barbarous country” (qtd. in Russell Davies, Hope and Heartbreak 29). Connotations of primitiveness and barrenness extended also to more positive remarks on the country; to quote Kathryn Jones et al., “Most scholars agree that in the 1770s perceptions changed from predominantly negative views of Wales as an inaccessible terrain and backwards nation to a growing appreciation of its distinctive landscape and ancient culture” (101). As the bearers of what was understood as “ancient culture,” the Welsh were fashioned as untouched by the intellectual and commercial advancements of modernity. R. J. W. Evans explains, such comparatively-benign constructions of Wales’s culture and history fit comfortably within prevailing English-language Enlightenment discourses (156-57). Furthermore, one must bear in mind that, as Cathryn A. Charnell-White observes, the Welsh were portrayed more innocuously and even affably than were other Celtic peoples (especially the Irish) (Bardic Circles 45). Of course, even such praise of Welsh “antiquity” served to detach and separate the “Welsh” from those reading about them, and they remained a foreign and peripheral population throughout this period’s tours.
The Welsh thus simultaneously performed two contrary roles in the English imagination: their customs and behavior were described in ways that made them inherently alien and exotic, yet these same traits were venerated as hallmarks of an earlier “British” society that had developed into that of the Romantic-era English tourists. Gwyn A. Williams encapsulates this contradictory state when he writes that “by the 1790s the Welsh were already drowning in a flood of travel literature which ranged from the biliously racist to the embarrassingly effuse” (“Romanticism in Wales” 20). Neither tendency carried with it any sense of urgency or great pressure to foist “civilization” upon the Welsh, due in part to much of their perceived ancient preservation being nurtured by their language. To English readers, the early nineteenth-century Welsh person ranged from merely unenlightened and superstitious to savage and barbarous, and the Welsh language from simply unharmonious to painfully discordant. The population was also, along with the landscape, seen as largely homogenous across its entire country. Joseph Hucks, who undertook a tour with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 1790s, provides a representative assessment:
The ingenuousness of nature is shewn in its real colours, and displayed in all their actions. They do not trouble themselves with the politics of the times, or addict themselves to the habits of thinking, and the cares of the world they have little concern with; for they are free from those occupations, those tremulous solicitudes, which engross the attention of a commercial people. (135)
Willful antiquity was supported in part by adherence to superstition; in his tour John Evans provides descriptions of a number of “superstitious or singular customs” (403), but then assures readers that “amidst all these superstitions, however, it appears the principles of religion are not lost; a considerable portion of devotional spirit occupies the bosoms of the lower classes of the Welsh” (409). Welsh people were different, but not quite seditious. Hand-in-hand with their benighted culture and perverse religiosity were Welsh people’s infelicitous co-minglings and archaic marriage rituals. Hucks observes the communal bathing of “the inferior orders of people,” where any traveling voyeur might witness “ten or a dozen of both sexes promiscuously enjoying themselves in the lucid element, regardless, or rather unconscious, of any indecency” (58); describing a cultural practice that resurfaces in the Blue Books, Samuel Leigh warns readers in his Guide to Wales, the fifth edition of which was printed in 1839, that “the custom of bundling, or courting in bed…has arisen from the lowly circumstances in which the peasants live, and is totally disassociated in their minds from any idea of impropriety” (15). Lost in such passing references is the fact that it was well-known to English-language authors even at this time that bundling was in practice not only in Wales, but also across Britain, in parts of Europe, and in New England.
This popular archive complemented the nation’s invisibility and muteness, or at least illegibility, in the legal sphere. Such characteristics were repeated and reiterated by virtually every canonical literary figure of the time, including William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, Percy Shelley, and no shortage of others. Undergirding the accounts of such authors (neither Wordsworth, Southey, nor Shelley could speak or understand Welsh), was a certain veneration of Welsh ignorance, for, as the indigenous population of Great Britain, the living Welsh were a link to “ancient Britain,” with its accompanying themes of “freedom” and “liberty.” Yet, this is not all to say that such authors and texts necessarily conspired to suppress Welsh respectability in English eyes; indeed, as we shall see, many authors collaborated directly with Welsh antiquarians. However, for English readers these texts did further inflect an alien population that was subjected to the same domestic and national policies as they were, casting them as a people who could neither quite comprehend nor, subsequently, contribute to said policies in any meaningful way. When in 1847 the Blue Books assailed Wales’s language (and literacy), religion, and female decency, they colored their obloquies with a palette already familiar to the English imagination.
Internal Perspectives: Welsh Literacy, Revival, and Society to 1847
From within, Welsh society cannot be said to have lent much support to any image of monolithic atavism. Reiterating the late Welsh scholar Hywel Teifi Edwards’s claim that the nineteenth was “the greatest century” in Wales’s history, Siwan Rosser writes: “Dyma gyfnod a welodd drawsnewid cymdeithasol ysgytwol ym mywyd, gwaith a meddylfryd y trigolion ac a osododd sylfeini’r Gymru fodern” (“This was a period that saw a jolting transformation of Welsh society, affecting the life, work, and disposition of its inhabitants, and setting the foundations of modern Wales,” my translation) (1). John Davies draws similar conclusions, writing that “the changes which the people of Wales underwent between 1770 and 1850 were of a fundamental nature,” and that the significant changes Wales would undergo in the twentieth century “can be considered to be consequential upon the changes initiated in the period 1770-1850” (320). Such transformations were facilitated by a vibrant and growing press culture; Rosser enumerates the breadth of the Welsh-language press and its readership: “Ar y naill law, hiraethwn am gyfnod pan oedd y Gymraeg yn iaith y mwyafrif gan genfigennu at ddiwylliant a allai gynnal dros hanner cant o gyfnodolion a dwsin o bapurau Cymraeg yn wythnosol, misol a chwarterol” (“On the other hand, we long for a period when Welsh was the language of the majority, and envy the culture that could maintain over fifty Welsh-language periodicals and a dozen Welsh-language weekly, monthly, and quarterly newspapers,” my translation) (1). This is especially impressive for a nation that, in addition to its minority status in terms of English-language ability and the franchise, could boast no university, library, capital, or any other conventional material cultural institution until well into Victoria’s reign. The literacy and communal fabric that supported this press culture did not, of course, arise overnight. As has been well-documented, a number of discrete forces, some unique to Wales and some similar to external developments elsewhere, coalesced to corroborate proclamations such as Rosser’s and Davies’s. Important for our purposes here, however, is the fact that these progressive transformations within Wales were taking place throughout the years that English-language authors repeatedly diagrammed Wales as being unchanged since time immemorial, and that by recycling tropes from preceding decades, the Blue Books effectively overwrote the growth of Welsh culture during its moments of greatest vivaciousness. This discordance would be especially acute in 1847.
Any discussion of nineteenth-century Wales must begin with its literacy, the roots of which were communal, spiritual, and nondiscriminatory. Indeed, perhaps the most important point regarding the literary and religious elements of Wales’s nineteenth-century transformation is that they are inextricably bound together. Again, at the century’s onset, Wales was one of the few countries in Europe that could boast a literate majority (Davies 307; Williams, “Romanticism in Wales” 25). The country’s enviable status was due in large part to the work of Griffith Jones of Llanddowror (1684-1761), who over the bulk of the mid-eighteenth century organized and oversaw a system of “circulating schools” across Wales. These would operate seasonally, stopping for three months at a time in order to allow as many people as possible to attend without jeopardizing the rigid demands of farming life. Jones was an Anglican minister, and as his principal concern was with the salvation of the Welsh population’s souls, the schools’ lessons were strictly limited to reading and reciting the Bible and the catechism. As the basis of his pupils’ literacy was the Bible, Wales’s entire literary atmosphere can be said to have revolved around the scriptures. Over the nineteenth century these schools’ legacy was reformed and maintained by nation-wide Sunday Schools, largely under the guidance of Thomas Charles of Bala (1755-1854). Charles grew to be a leading figure of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists (which began as a movement within the Anglican Church but formally separated from it and become a Nonconformist denominataion in 1811; more on this below). The “circulating schools” and the Sunday Schools were spread across the whole of Wales, and their attendance was egalitarian in nature, with all members of the population invited to learn to read, including men, women, children, adults, and the elderly. They also were what could be considered a “grassroots” movement; while they, in different ways across time, were patronized and supported by influential figures, they certainly did not constitute a state-regulated educational system. It was the generational students of these branches of Wales’s indigenous and self-propelled educational networks that came to consume and support the press culture that Rosser and Davies laud.
Bardism, Antiquarianism, and the Eisteddfod
This period of rising literacy was accompanied hand-in-hand with a rejuvenation of Welsh literary culture, which was expressed perhaps most prominently through the antiquarian work of numerous eighteenth-century organizations, including the Cymmrodorion and Gwyneddigion Societies (which the Blue Books would call by name). By and large, the antiquarians’ primary goals were to preserve and proliferate Welsh-language literature and illuminate its fundamental role in Britain’s history. In order to accomplish this, antiquarians needed to be legible outside of Wales as well as inside of it, and some of the most active Welsh literary revivalists, such as William Owen Pughe (1759-1835) and Iolo Morganwg (bardic name of Edward Williams, 1747-1826), were inescapable presences in London literary circles. Iolo, whose expertise Robert Southey regularly consulted, is especially remembered for his role in revivifying and reconstructing the eisteddfod, Wales’s ancient festival of bardism and poetry. From the Middle Ages through the Tudor period, eisteddfodau were patronized public celebrations and performances of bardic practice, with the bards at this time being poets and, to quote Prys Morgan, “scholars, historians, genealogists, heralds, chroniclers, story-tellers, copyists and collectors of manuscripts” (Eighteenth-Century Renaissance 22). One effect of the Welsh gentry’s Anglicization following the Act of Union was the slow erosion of their patronage, which contributed significantly to the eisteddfod’s demise by the early Elizabethan period. Although the eisteddfod resurfaced in various small forms over the eighteenth century, Iolo can be credited with carrying the traditional bardic cultural roles into the Romantic period by imbuing the eisteddfod with a new spirit, mostly by way of introducing to it radical and innovative, if dubious and spurious, elements. Iolo refashioned a Welsh history that had fallen into inaccuracy and disrepute and that complemented images of Wales and its people found in contemporaneous travel literature. The Wales that rose from his bardism was an epicenter of enlightenment and reason, and a wellspring of worldly understanding. He is also largely responsible for bringing this quintessential element of Welsh culture into the public eye, and with reconceptualizing it in such ways that it could invite participation and thus grow.
And, indeed, it did. Over the following decades the eisteddfod became larger and more structured, until the first truly National Eisteddfod took place in Aberdare in 1861. Although, as Hywel Teifi Edwards explains at length, the eisteddfodau over these decades witnessed the intrusion of Anglicizing forces that sought to marginalize the Welsh language, and indeed it would be another few decades before the National Eisteddfod would begin in its present form (in Merthyr Tydfil in 1881) the various eisteddfod movements over this time constituted opportunities to reflect upon and contribute to Welsh literary culture’s legacy (“The Welsh Language” 293). That there were anxieties of Anglicization making inroads into the eisteddfod belies the important fact that the spread of Welsh cultural institutions over this time countenanced the voicing of oppositional opinions in various forms through various platforms. Although the eisteddfodau became a prominent outlet for cultural and political thought, they were not the only avenue by which Welsh people might share hegemonic anxieties or political opinion, and Iolo is today but the most well-known voice among a small yet notable network of radical thinkers across Wales.
Nonconformity, Popular Education, and Religious Community
The success of the eisteddfod’s revival was assisted, if only indirectly, by the earlier and then concurrent network of circulating and Sunday Schools throughout Wales. Much of these educational enterprises’ later successes can be attributed to the efforts of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists (not to be confused with Wesleyan Methodists), who came into existence in the first half of the eighteenth century. This denomination grew from concerns that the Welsh flock was straying from the path of righteousness and that its souls were in peril. While numerous factors contributed to these anxieties, perhaps principal among them were concerns that Welsh-speakers were being neglected by the Anglican Church. This is perhaps best exemplified in the Church’s practice of assigning bishops who could not speak Welsh to Welsh sees. Ultimately, between 1727 and 1870, no Welsh-speaking bishops were assigned to any of the four Welsh dioceses (which included St. David’s, St. Asaph, Bangor, and Llandaff).
Over this time Welsh Methodists introduced “society meetings”—or seiadau—across Wales, wherein congregants would meet, sing hymns, recite the catechism, read scripture, and all-in-all participate in a communal spiritual social life that in many cases was withheld from them, or at least insufficiently fulfilled, at Sunday Anglican mass. As Brinley Roberts explains, the communal nature of seiadau came to produce articulate and compelling orators out of its participants, “with a feel for language and effective forms of expression which were given a firm basis in extempore prayer, Bible reading and exhorting” (281-2). Yet, despite their strict and outspoken loyalism to the Church and the Crown, the Welsh Methodists were met with skepticism and hostility from the outside, which included propaganda campaigns and state persecution. Much of this prejudice arose from suspicions and misunderstandings due to Methodists educating and socializing in the Welsh language. Such discrimination notwithstanding, the Welsh Methodists remained a committed group within the Anglican Church until, desirous of the ability to ordain their own ministers, they separated formally from the Anglican Church in 1811. In doing so, they brought, to use Gwyn A. Williams’s approximation, about 15% of Wales over to Nonconformity (“Romanticism” 26). They also brought with them their enthusiasm for popular education.
To be clear, Nonconformity, or “Dissent,” was not tantamount to political dissent or radical thought. The Nonconformist denominations in Wales—including Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan and Welsh Methodists, and others—cultivated a range of political and religious thought, with the Welsh Methodists remaining steadfastly loyal in their doctrine through the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the Blue Books can be cited for Welsh Methodism’s political shift; by including Welsh Methodists in its portrayal of Nonconformity, they pushed the Welsh Methodists to join other Nonconformists in reaction against them (Morgan, “From Long Knives” 210). One broadly unifying trait of these Nonconformist denominations was their willingness to preach in the vernacular, which remained Welsh over much of the country. Welsh Nonconformity grew along with the Welsh population over the nineteenth century and became dominant in Welsh spiritual life. In 1851, a religious census revealed that among attendees of Sunday services in Wales, four out of five worshiped at a Nonconformist chapel. Other statistics reveal that across Wales 40,000 people attended evening Anglican services, while evening Nonconformist chapels could boast 369,000 people (Thomas 89).
The discrete denominations were not necessarily a “popular front” or bloc in opposition to Anglicanism, but they did come to embrace some shared customs. One vivid example is the practice of Sunday School students of multiple denominations marching together in parades in urban areas across south Wales. It should come as no surprise then that this period saw a rise in religious literature within Wales, adding to an already-lively tradition; to quote Morgan, “the endless theological wrangles between the various sects, or the debates between Church and Chapel” would have been more important than discussions of popular unrest to most Welsh people (“Long Knives” 205). This was the case even among media shared by other cultures; as Ffion Mair Jones notes on Welsh ballads, the “ubiquitous nature of biblical reference and imagery” was one prevailing element separating Welsh balladry “from its English equivalent” (Welsh Ballads 6).
For our purposes, what is most important to gain from these overviews of nineteenth-century Welsh literary culture and Nonconformity is neither their presence nor even that they partook in social networking and print culture. Rather, it is that from its earliest stages, Wales’s literacy generated a diversity of social, religious, and political opinions. This diversity surfaces in the various responses across Wales to topical affairs. For instance, Welsh speakers had access to the same radical and subversive thoughts that permeated England in the wake of the French Revolution. In one form or another the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other French intellectuals surfaced across Welsh-language discourse.  The radical land reformer Thomas Spence had a strong influence on Iolo’s work. Thomas Paine filtered in to Wales as well, his thoughts lending scaffolding to the work of Iolo and other radicals such as John Jones (Jac Glan-y-Gors). By contrast, Paine was also burnt in effigy, in multiple places on a number of occasions (Löffler, Press & Public Discourse 9, 16). Such acts were referred to in a 1793 Welsh-language ballad (Ffion Mair Jones, Welsh Ballads 363); similarly, in a 1796 almanac he was the subject of a Welsh-language poem that derided him as “an instrument of God’s wrath” (Ffion Mair Jones, Welsh Ballads 366; Löffler, Press & Public Discourse 80). In 1792 the Shrewsbury Chronicle ran a story retelling the burning of copies of the Rights of Man in Aberystwyth (Löffler, Press & Public Discourse 110). This is all to say that during this period Wales witnessed rebirths of its indigenous literary culture in numerous forms, and also nurtured a press culture that partook of mediums in use elsewhere. Most importantly, these cultural and social outlets facilitated a spectrum of public opinions and political beliefs. Such an archive poorly reflects a 1795 description of a people who “do not trouble themselves with the politics of the times.”
Wales’s two inextricable, if nebulous and overlapping, institutions of literature and Nonconformity preceded the decades associated with urbanization and industrial growth (which was especially beneficial for chapel life, as the ancient parish structure was ill-equipped for the migrations these developments caused). Both of these institutions took advantage of opportunities afforded by urban density. Paul O’Leary describes an example of a druidic procession through Swansea in 1840, writing that “[its] aims were to give the public an opportunity of judging the principal designs of Druidism,” and “to create an interest in the history, literature and customs of the Welsh people” (Claiming the Streets 91). O’Leary goes on to write that “Organized religion was a dynamic influence on urban life, creating new social and cultural networks and easing the integration of some migrants in an unfamiliar society” (Claiming the Streets 123). Urban growth also produced predictable negative contemporary effects, including dense poverty, overcrowding of domestic spaces, and disease. Such conditions within Wales contributed to increased intercultural visibility and growth of social networks within Wales to contribute to a period of intense popular unrest in rural and urban areas alike. Some of the more recognizable organized popular movements over this period include the Scotch Cattle, the 1831 Merthyr Rising (during which the state militia killed twenty-four people, more even than at the Peterloo Massacre), the 1839 Newport Rising (known also as the “Chartist March”), and the 1839-43 Rebecca Riots, with these last two being the declared catalysts for the Blue Books in 1847. These collective efforts partook in the spirit of localized risings and protests that had been taking place across Wales since, at least, the late eighteenth century, and which “were local attempts to preserve the old ways” against foreboding changes to agriculture and industry (David J. V. Jones, Before Rebecca 199). If unrest reverberated across urban and rural Wales alike, so did religious enthusiasm; as O’Leary observes, “the relatively small gap between the rural and urban experiences of organized religion in Wales in the mid-nineteenth century means that attendance at Sunday schools in the towns was also high” (Claiming the Streets 127).
As informed research has treated each of these discrete movements in recent years, my focus here is not on industrialization or these popular responses to perceived social oppressions as such.  Rather, I approach them as portals through which we can see the high degree to which Welsh women participated in such social matters, and how women were actors in key components of Welsh cultural life. To be clear, Wales was not egalitarian in terms of gender (to take two examples, the Welsh antiquarian movement followed contemporary models of “gendered segregation,” and Welsh Methodists would not ordain female missionaries until 1887) (Aaron, “Nineteenth-Century” 48; Aaron and Masson, The Very Salt 67). However, by considering, to quote Rosemary Jones, “the role of women in the day-to-day affairs of their immediate communities” (including their active and symbolic roles in the abovenamed popular movements) we gain an even clearer perspective of the breadth of the Blue Books’ attacks on Welsh women and through them Welsh culture (“Women, Community” 25). The Blue Books inveighed against Welsh women directly; but, through their attacks they also confronted the Welsh practices in which women held positions of influence, effectively condemning women and their social standing within their communities alike.
Welsh Women and Mothers to 1847
In their assault on Welsh mothers the Blue Books wielded a two-pronged sword, denigrating Welsh womanhood where it operated nicely within Victorian norms as well as where it partook in alternative social models. Legally, women in Wales did not possess a political status in any way different from those in England (e.g., none could vote). This was largely the case socially as well, at least in terms of “polite society.” Much as in England, social strictures situated Welsh women in the “sphere of domesticity” in the years surrounding 1847. Rosemary Jones points to statistical figures that suggest that Welsh employment practices adhered to a strict gender divide, which led to “women who sought paid employment outside the home increasingly resorting to domestic service,” effectively strengthening contemporary notions of “separate spheres” (“Separate Spheres?” 180). At home, women saw that their children learned appropriate discourse, which in Wales of course generally meant appropriate Welsh. As Jones explains, women were the principal imparters of religious instruction at home, and “exerted a strong influence over the spiritual as well as moral development of her offspring during their formative years” (“Separate Spheres?” 186). Further, and most importantly in terms of Wales:
It was also a primary duty of Welsh mothers to ensure that the language of the home was pure and to protect their children from exposure to lewd, indecent or intemperate language, since this was believed to represent the first stage in a wider process of moral and eventually sexual degradation. (“Separate Spheres?” 186)
Welsh Victorian literature and women’s periodicals regularly refortified the image of Welsh mother as the preserver of the Welsh language in the home. Welsh mothers were the first sources of linguistic and religious instruction for their Welsh children. Even so, Anglicizing trends could be detectable. English was seen as the language of social and economic advancement and polite society well before 1847, and it was not uncommon for mothers to attempt to provide English instruction for their children (even when they did not speak the language themselves).
Investigating at the local level, however, reveals that across Wales women assumed proactive social roles, and were not entirely inhibited by the doctrine of “separate spheres.” Early nineteenth-century Welsh women were “often in the vanguard of popular protest,” which included the rural Rebeccaism and urban Chartism (Rosemary Jones, “Sociability” 97). From such positions Welsh women reconfigured proper Victorian domestic practice; to again quote Rosemary Jones, by leading roles in grassroots responses of social unrest being taken up by women “the roots of working-class activism and political expression remained firmly embedded within the ‘traditional’ domains of home and neighborhood” (“Sociability” 98). Women established social networks across their communities that served to transmit information while also giving them a significant voice regarding local issues. This included a commanding presence in rituals that dispensed social justice, with one primary example being the ceffyl pren (“wooden horse”), in which the transgressor was paraded through a town or village on a wooden or actual horse while being besieged by both invective and thrown projectiles from members of the community. Certain elements of the ceffyl pren rituals formed bases of the Rebecca Riots (of which participating men’s donning of women’s clothing was one notable feature). This is to say that women engaged directly in demonstrations of civil unrest across Wales, and in the case of Rebecca and the Newport Rising they performed active roles in the events that the Blue Books would identify by name.
Welsh women would have had very good reasons to lend their efforts to these causes even if they had not already been an integral part of communal social expression. Many Welsh customs, especially those revolving around marriage practices, granted women opportunities for independent and self-sufficient life; as Rhian E. Jones explains:
The Welsh system of trial marriage, besides alleviating any social stigma attached to divorce, allowed women to retain their property and maiden name while ‘cohabitating’. Property rights favourable to Welsh women extended to official marriage, with wives able to ‘keep their property separately from that of their husbands, from generation to generation.’ (82)
Among these forms of “trial marriage” was the act of bundling referred to in travel literature above (and a primary focus of the Blue Books’ gaze). The Welsh Encyclopedia provides a definition of “bundling”:
Maidservants were often visited in their bedrooms at night during courtship. Having taken off their shoes, the couple would lie on (not in) the bed to while away their brief leisure hours in private. As long as they continued to talk, it would be assumed by those downstairs that nothing improper was going on. (97)
Many such practices came under threat in the wake of the New Poor Law of 1834. Following its implementation, English Poor Law officials “alienate[d] not only the labouring poor but more respective tiers of the local community” (Jones, Petticoat Heroes 91). Even more directly, the New Poor Law challenged and deconstructed an entire “tradition of female agency and autonomy” in Wales (Jones, Petticoat Heroes 83).
As we can see, on the one hand, Welsh mothers were the first and greatest bestowers of linguistic and religious instruction for their children, which did not divert overmuch from standard conventions of the gendered “separate spheres.” On the other, by associating Welsh marriage customs such as bundling with immorality and dirtiness, the Blue Books maligned institutions that granted Welsh women a certain degree of independence. For English readers this bifurcated approach portrayed Welsh women as both insufficient enactors of contemporary conventions and threatening practitioners of alien customs. By this design, Welsh women were presented as requiring multifaceted reform. Most importantly, such a technique served to vilify and obfuscate; by hyperbolizing Welsh difference and funneling its many lineaments into its mothers, the Blue Books could succeed almost entirely in avoiding engagement in Welsh issues from Welsh perspectives. As we now know, the antiquarian movement, Nonconformity, and many facets of Welsh women’s activism each arose in response to perceived affronts from or neglect of the British state (to say nothing of the popular unrest across Wales in the years preceding 1847). Through adept finessing, the Blue Books obscured and marginalized these circumstances by reconfiguring earlier English-language constructions of Wales, reassessing them as threats to the British state, and diagnosing Welsh mothers to be the sources and perpetuators of endemic and newly-discovered Welsh social impurity and, potentially, state subversion.
The Blue Books: Some Official Precursors
The Blue Books came into being in response to the unrest across Wales over the decades that preceded them. However, they were not the first Report undertaken in the 1840s in the wake of Welsh unrest, nor were they the first to call English attention to Wales’s markers of difference, its poverty, or its educational structures.  For instance, in the 1844 Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales (undertaken in the wake of the Rebecca Riots), we can discern some of what would become the Blue Books’ thematic groundwork. As Tyson Roberts points out, this Report aligns English-language deficiencies with subversion, specifically where it claims that lack of English ability “is felt in a practical shape in the obstacles which it presents to the efficient working of many laws and institutions” (qtd. in Tyson Roberts 20). It goes on to identify Nonconformity as another deficiency, and emboldens its rhetoric while doing so: “Of the very serious evils now adverted to, a large class is still in active operation, and the consequences are apparent in that wide-spread alienation from the doctrines and discipline of the Established Church, which is so prominent a feature in many districts of the country (1844 Report 37).
Other reports maligned education in Wales more directly, completing the trifecta of Wales’s language, religion, and education as nurturers of its social disorder. As Ieuan Gwynedd Jones explains, “by 1846, therefore, there existed a substantial body of evidence regarding the educational state of Wales, something like an agreed analysis of its main features and causation, and an influential body of opinion regarding the most effective remedies” (Mid-Victorian Wales 123). It was in this year that William Williams, MP from Coventry and originally from a Welsh-speaking family in Carmarthenshire, brought the “issue” of education in Wales before parliament in a speech that would lead ultimately to Blue Books.
Here I will focus on where and how the Blue Books utilize Wales’s literary culture, religion, and women in their construction of Welsh identity. Since the Welsh language is placed at the at the vanguard of each of the Blue Books’ assessments, I will begin with it. As scholars have meaningfully discussed each of these constituent elements (discretely), I will aim to illuminate how the Blue Books built their visions of Welsh identity using traits established by popular English literature featuring Wales in earlier years, with their primary 1847 augmentation being crafting Welsh civilization such that it was an impediment to British progress. By doing so, I argue, they framed Welsh civilization such that it was not British at all but was a foreign force operating within the island’s perimeters. These claims are founded upon how William Williams, MP described the Welsh in his speech and in the nature of the commissioners that were dispatched to produce the reports. In broad terms, scholars have discussed both of these points. Tyson Roberts quotes a revealing turn of phrase in Williams’s speech, when he shares that “the moral power of the schoolmaster was a more economical and effectual instrument for governing this people than the bayonet” (qtd. in Tyson Roberts 24; see also William Williams, Speech 7). This sentiment refers in part to the military presence across south Wales responding to unrest throughout this period (as Gwyn A. Williams notes, Wales was at this time the most militarized zone in Britain). But, it must not be overlooked that he is here equating two colonial tactics. Elsewhere he clarifies this by invoking Scotland as possessing a once-foreign population that had since been fully assimilated by saying “If the Welsh had the same advantages for education as the Scotch, they would, instead of appearing a distinct people, in no respect differ from the English” (15). Furthermore, he emphasizes Wales’s perceived intellectual inferiority through reinforcing national borders: “consequently, although equally industrious with their English neighbours, the Welsh are much behind them in intelligence, in the enjoyment of the comforts of life, and the means of improving their condition” (3).
With the Blue Books’ invocation of tropes from earlier literature in mind, one way of entering a discussion of them is by beginning with where they share in travel literature’s more generic conventions. One of these is visible in the composition of the assigned commissioners themselves. Tyson Roberts summarizes them aptly:
The three Commissioners who drafted the Report were all men, all English, all lawyers, all Anglicans, and all members of the upper middle class. They had similar social and educational backgrounds… Sharing the mindset of those in British life who had power (power which could be social, political, economic, religious, cultural, or any permutation of these), the Commissioners had every reason to assume that the essential correctness of their own beliefs and practices was taken for granted by anyone who mattered. (75)
She goes on to use these shared traits to combine the three commissioners into a single authorial entity, explaining that despite stylistic differences among their reports: “…in their belief in the centrality of their own language, history, culture, religious denomination and social institutions, and their certainty that they possessed the objectivity and authority to arrive at ‘the truth’ about those of another nation, the three Commissioners were as one” (92). 
Similarly to any travel writing that deigns to incorporate first-hand accounts of its foreign subjects, the commissioners required the assistance of bilingual interpreters during their excursions. Many, though not all, of these assistants were, like the commissioners, Anglicans. Using north Wales as an example, Tyson Roberts expresses that this situation meant that “the majority of pupils…were examined by men of a different—and in some ways hostile—religious tradition” (94). The presence of bilingual Welsh assistants taking part in the commissioners’ reports on Wales reveals a circumstance that is central to the Blue Books as an enterprise: not all people in Wales, nor even all who spoke Welsh, were “Welsh” as the reports and the state used the term. My analysis of the Blue Books themselves will here begin with how this population was delimited, before moving on to the Blue Books’ more overarching illustrations of Wales’s language, religion, and female population.
The Blue Books: On a Single “Welsh Identity”
One innovation of the Blue Books was their comprehensiveness: the three volumes canvassed the entire country (volume one reporting on Carmarthenshire, Glamorganshire, and Pembrokeshire; volume two on Brecknockshire, Cardiganshire, Radnorshire, and, in an appendix, Monmouthshire; and volume three on Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Merionethshire, and Montgomeryshire). Although they were canvassing the whole country, the Blue Books’ full title reveals the narrowness of their demographic scope: Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, Appointed by the Committee of Council on Education… and especially into the means afforded to the Labouring Classes of acquiring a Knowledge of the English Language.
Tyson Roberts writes that the title page’s rhetoric displays a technique whereby the Blue Books assumed “objectivity” through invoking governmental sanction and discourse, and that this authority “gave it a position of particular importance in the shaping of attitudes towards the Welsh people and the Welsh language” (3). So, it is significant that the Blue Books here introduce their definition of “Welsh” people and of “education”: the former is specifically those in the “Labouring Classes” and the latter is in regard to them “acquiring a Knowledge of the English Language.” Given the fact that Wales’s gentry and middle classes had long been drifting toward Anglicization—in language and culture—by this point, such designations are understandable. However, even within the Welsh “labouring classes” there was of course great social variance, such as the inherent differences between rural and industrial areas.
The Blue Books overcome this obstacle by relegating such factors beneath more abstract, less quantifiable cultural qualities. In the Blue Books, the pan-Welsh “labouring classes” are a homogenized unit that is unified by its language, which harbors its single pernicious, and inferior, “civilization”:
My district exhibits the phenomenon of a peculiar language isolating the mass from the upper portion of society; and, as a further phenomenon, it exhibits the mass engaged upon the most opposite occupations at points not very distant from each other; being, on the one side, rude and primitive agriculturalists, living poorly and thinly scattered; on the other, smelters and miners, wantoning in plenty and congregated in the densest accumulations. An incessant tide of immigration sets in from the former extreme to the latter, and, by perpetuating a common character in each, admits of their being contemplated under a single point of view. (1: 2)
Having introduced how the language collapses the boundary separating rural from industrial Wales, this report begins to ascribe cultural values to this homogenized mass:
It is still the same people. Whether in the country, or among the furnaces, the Welsh element is never found at the top of the social scale, nor in its own body does it exhibit much variety of gradation. In the country, the farmers are very small holders, in intelligence and capitol nowise distinguished from labourers. In the works, the Welsh workman never finds his way into the office. He never becomes either clerk or agent. (1: 3)
These observations close by reemphasizing the root cause of this social immobility:
Equally in his new, as in his old, home, his language keeps him under the hatches, being one in which he can neither acquire nor communicate the necessary information. It is a language of old-fashioned agriculture, of theology, and of simple rustic life, while all the world about him is English. (1: 3)
Such conditions are unequally shared across Wales, with “Anglicized” zones typically spared such descriptors. These are not limited to the border regions, and commissioners identify outlying Anglicized areas within their districts. Sometimes they point to the presence of such areas in order to justify excluding them from their reports altogether; volume two reminds readers that “it is to be borne in mind that all day-schools in which the scholars belonged to the higher or middle classes were excluded,” which included those in Aberystwyth (on Wales’s western coast, quite far from the English borders), later referred to as “an oasis in the wilderness” (2: 6, 25).
The other volumes reassert such views of the character of the Welsh people, with each commissioner confidently using national signifiers despite only examining a minority of the nation’s counties. As shared in volume two: “The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales, and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to over-estimate its evil effects” (2: 66); and in volume three: “…others have frequently assured me that Welsh parents would not endure any encroachment upon their language – an argument which would seem to imply great ignorance of the poor among their countrymen…” (3: 34). The language warrants the inclusion of the legislatively—and nationally—ambiguous county of Monmouthshire, discussed in an appendix to volume two:
Although Monmouthshire no longer forms a part of the Principality, that portion which is comprised within the great mineral basin is so thoroughly Welsh as regards the character, habits, and language of the larger part of the inhabitants, that it could scarcely have been excluded from this inquiry without injury the comprehensiveness of the Reports. (2: 271)
From these excerpts we can draw certain conclusions on the nature of “Welshness” as understood in the Blue Books. The language is the principal constitutive element of the entire culture, and its presence diminishes any social or cultural distinctions between rural and industrial life. It is inextricably tied to stagnation in terms of employment, preventing promotion in both rural and industrial fields. In a stadial fashion, it prevents its speakers from moving forward with time, denying access to advancements in “all the world about” them.
Significantly, the language fosters certain characteristics and “habits,” which cannot be understood by outsiders due both to the language being unintelligible and by its speakers being locked in an earlier period of time. This situation begins to move toward the events that provoked the Blue Books; asserting that the Welsh person’s “social sphere becomes one of complete isolation from all influences, save such as arise within his own order,” volume one continues:
He is left to live in an under-world of his own, and the march of society goes on completely over his head, that he is never heard of, excepting the strange and abnormal features of a Revival, or a Rebecca or Chartist outbreak, call attention to a phase of society which could produce anything so contrary to all that we elsewhere experience. (1: 3)
By consolidating all of Wales by way of its language (which of course was not uniform even among its speakers), the commissioners could file Rebecca and Chartist “outbreaks” under the same heading and attribute them to the same cause, despite their unique circumstances. This way Wales could be seen to be experiencing a nationwide condition—Rebecca riots and Newport both occurred in 1839—that could not be rationalized by “modern” minds (volume one, in chorus, lists Rebecca and Chartism as “two extreme instances of the wild fanaticism into which such temperaments may run”) (1: 6). Popular unrest was due to a primitive society, not to modern conditions. However, it would be insufficient to suggest that Wales was different solely by way of its language; its entire culture needed to be exoticized. Through this point we see that the Welsh language facilitates an entire world that is unrecognizable “to all that we elsewhere experience,” with every element of it being worthy of correction. The Welsh language sequesters its speakers from the advanced ideas endowed in English, but it is the material ritualistic practices of its speakers that vouchsafe the conditions for “primitive” social unrest. These include its literary culture, its religion (hinted at in “abnormal features of a Revival”), and its marriage and courtship practices.
The Blue Books: On Antiquarianism and Nonconformity
William Williams, MP effectively primed the commissioners to disparage Welsh literature in his speech, claiming that “[Welsh] being the language of the poorer classes, important works in literature have not for ages been produced in it” (3-4). If this were not unfortunate enough, “neither have scarcely been translated into it from other languages any works on literature, the arts, and sciences” (3). The Blue Books pick up this baton and take it a few steps further: “[Welsh] dissevers the people from intercourse which would greatly advance their civilisation, and bars the access of improving which would greatly advance their minds. As a proof of this, there is no Welsh literature worthy of the name” (2: 66). Volume three invokes the eisteddfod movement by name: “some thousands of pounds have, within the last thirty years, been given as prizes at Eisteddvods without doing much towards producing either writers or readers of general information—without giving that character of solidity and usefulness which might have been given to Welsh literature” (3: 330). This commissioner then goes on to include a table indicating the numerous eisteddfodic competitions and their monetary prizes, providing statistical corroboration for the inference that the funds effectively contribute to a recycling of literature that falls short of being “literature.” This is reiterated where he nods to Welsh antiquarian groups, writing that although it “would be idle to deny that the Cymreigyddion…, Gwyneddigion and Cymrodorion Societies have done good,” “they have done exceedingly little towards the solid instruction of the people” (3: 331). This passage also exemplifies a further reconditioning of Williams’s speech, specifically where he catalogs the branches of science whose texts have not been translated into Welsh, including “mechanics, chemistry, agriculture, and it may be said useful knowledge generally” (4). Volume three echoes: “I do not believe that there is a single book in Welsh on Geography, History (for general reading), Chemistry, Natural History, or any of the useful arts and sciences, which owes its origin to an Eisteddvod” (3: 330). That is, there might be meaningful texts available to Welsh speakers, but their content in no way originated in Wales. Welsh literature, then, is benefiting from active writers and discoverers, but is in a paradoxical position of simply repeating itself due to its language limiting its authors to ancient wisdoms. Worse, these circumstances are sanctioned by its revived literary institutions.
This point, as volume three clarifies, contributes to the literature falling short of giving “solid instruction” to Welsh people. The consequence is that the Welsh neither benefit from nor possess any awareness of the Enlightenment principles that have taken hold elsewhere. As volume two relates, “Little or none of such light has yet penetrated the dense darkness which, harboured by their language, and undisturbed by availing efforts of enlightenment, enshrouds the minds of the people” (2: 64). In such conditions other “unreformed” “habits” can cultivate, such as the religious practices taking place in tow with vapid literary festivals. As volume two continues, this aforementioned light “has long ago banished these remnants of the dark ages elsewhere,” with “remnants” here referring specifically to residual “superstition:” “Superstition prevails. Belief in charms, supernatural appearances, and even in witchcraft, sturdily survives all the civilisation…” (2: 64). “Superstition” arises regularly across the three Reports, much as it is omnipresent across the Welsh tours. But, it acquires another contour here, as any line separating “superstition” from “Nonconformity” can become imperceptible. Welsh Nonconformity, then, becomes a living archaism just as is Welsh literature, and indeed enjoins other cultural elements that are unrelatable “to all that we elsewhere experience.” “Superstition prevails to a great extent” even in Monmouthshire, where “charms are resorted to of the most ludicrous description, and which are reconcilable with nothing but a state of barbarism” (2: 293-4). Since it was religious instruction that was accessible to most people throughout Wales, this means that “superstition” filters directly into the wellspring of education. Volume two raises the “almost incredible amount of superstition” as among the “strongest proofs of the depth of ignorance which prevails throughout [the volume’s] district,” and goes on to quote an assistant’s report that exposes a “Dissenting teacher” who believed in various charms (2: 64).
Instructional tendencies to practice “superstition” must be borne in mind where the commissioners discuss religious education directly. This generally takes place in observations of the Welsh Sunday Schools. The commissioners tend to concede that the schools enhance the population’s spiritual lexicon, but this is after already promising that the country’s notions of religion are shackled to the past along with its people. This situation allows for such ruminations as:
[The Sunday Schools] have enriched the theological vocabulary, and made the peasantry expert in handling that branch of the Welsh language, but its resources in every other branch remain obsolete and meagre, and even of these the people are left in ignorance” (3: 59).
Similar reflections on the Sunday Schools in volume two leads to something of another paradox. This commissioner alleges that teaching children to read in schools actually jeopardizes their religious mission and compromises religious and non-religious instruction alike:
I cannot close these remarks on Sunday-schools without venturing to express my disapproval of the practice, common alike to Church and Dissenting schools, of allowing young children to learn to read in them. This is surely a perversion of the object and spirit of the institution. I have frequently seen persons occupied in teaching little children to spell and pronounce small words, not only engrossing their time with the drudgery of elementary education, but disturbing the rest of the scholars. Schools thus conducted cease to be seminaries of religious knowledge, and sink into weekday schools of the lowest class. (2: 52)
Teaching children to read in this manner unearths a contradiction in the Sunday Schools’ vision: “this is secular instruction, and of the most profitless and least spiritual kind” (2: 52). Wales’s Sunday Schools fail on two fronts: they jeopardize religious instruction by teaching literacy, and they compromise literacy by teaching it at a religious school. In addition to such contortions becoming difficult to follow in any meaningful way, they reveal that at the core of the Blue Books, there was no way for Welsh education to be measured as a success.
Strengthening Welsh-language spiritual literacy at the expense of more appropriate religious instruction creates the scenario of pupils receiving education that is inapplicable to a “modern” world. As volume one states, “I have found the children who had any religious knowledge at all usually better acquainted with the doctrines of redemption and grace than with moral duties” (2: 35). Deficient “moral education” and subsequently “morality,” here detached from any Welsh notions of “redemption and grace,” are the foundations of the Blue Books’ collective vision of Welsh society. This term envelopes all of the day-to-day communal experiences produced by literary and religious education. In short, Welsh society ranges from immoral to amoral. At their roots the Welsh are not “seditious,” as “Notwithstanding the lamentable state of morals, the gaols are empty” (2: 62). As an oft-referred-to passage amply explains (in a manner that harks back to John Evans’s observations in his tour):
The Welsh are peculiarly exempt from the guilt of great crimes. There are few districts in Europe where murders, burglaries, personal violence, rapes, forgeries, or any felonies on a large scale, are so rare. On the other hand, there are, perhaps, few countries where the standard of minor morals is lower. Petty thefts, lying, cozening, every species of chicanery, drunkenness (where the means exist), and idleness prevail to a great extent among the least educated part of the community, who scarcely regard them in the light of sins. (2: 56-7)
Although such a state seems difficult to believe regarding an “evil” and “barbarous” people, this is resolved by way of Enlightenment rhetoric (which, as we know, the Welsh are said to be incapable of comprehending): “I attribute the paucity of punishable offenses in Wales partly to the extreme shrewdness and caution of the people, but much more to a natural benevolence and warmth of heart, which powerfully deters them from acts of malice and all deliberate injury to others” (2: 62). We can discern something of a procrustean dilemma on the part of the Welsh: any individual minor offenses are forgiven by a uniform “natural benevolence.” Since the lowliness of “minor morals” is due to the Welsh language, replacing it through English instruction is the first step toward moral improvement (and standardization). This accords with Williams’s conjecture that the “moral power of the schoolmaster” is more appropriate in Wales than is the bayonet, and it works to assure that even such notable “outbreaks” as Rebecca and Newport can be obviated and assuaged by targeting the source of the “primitive” thinking that generated them.
The Blue Books: On Welsh Women and Mothers
In this manner the Blue Books address the literary and religious culture of Wales, the education that supports them, and behaviors to which they lead. Yet, according to the Blue Books, each of these institutions are products or results of a moral condition. That is, if the state were able to remove all vestiges of bardic literature, Nonconformist chapels, and Sunday Schools, they would simply be regenerated unless the core of their being were also confronted. This core is embodied in Welsh mothers, who are deemed responsible for all of Wales’s moral quandaries as they are the earliest imparters of the Welsh language in their children. Elaborating on “another very painful feature in the laxity of morals,” volume two states:
I refer to the alleged want of chastity in the women. If this be so, it is sufficient to account for all other immoralities, for each generation will derive its moral tone in a great degree from the influences imparted by the mothers who reared them. Where these influences are corrupted at their very source, it is vain to expect virtues in the offspring. (2: 57)
Welsh mothers are the origin of each of the cultural ills indicated in the Blue Books. As it is Welsh that they, in these cases, are charged with teaching their children, and since the Welsh are said to be indistinguishable whether they are in the fields or the furnaces, Welsh mothers here assume the role of being responsible for the problems of the entire nation. The Blue Books’ obsession with Welsh women in these matters presents something of a chiasmus: as Tyson Roberts notes, women and girls are virtually absent from, or at least invisible in, the commissioners’ discussions of schoolrooms and pupils, creating an inversion of roles and responsibilities since Welsh fathers do not arise in any meaningful way in discussions of morals.
The Blue Books make very clear that Welsh mothers are supported by the received traditions in which they take part. English reading audiences had been conditioned to look with suspicion upon Welsh courtship rituals for decades by this point, and these apprehensions are stoked throughout the Reports. Volume two unearths one source of impropriety: “The want of chastity results frequently from the practice of ‘bundling,’ or courtship on beds, during the night – a practice still widely prevailing” (2: 57). Common Welsh sleeping arrangements are another contributory force, such as “the revolting habit of herding married and unmarried people of both sexes, often unconnected by relationship, in the same sleeping-rooms, and often in adjoining beds without partition or curtain” (one is somewhat reminded of Hucks’s voyeurisms) (2: 57). Another “habit,” remembering that it was through “habits” that Monmouthshire gained inclusion in the Reports at all, are “night prayer-meetings, and the intercourse which ensues in returning home” (2: 57), with this point elucidating how the “unchaste” domestic and religious spheres overlap. By teaching their children Welsh, Wales’s mothers reinvigorate a language that allows such practices to continue while distancing a language that would illuminate their outdatedness and repugnancy.
Welsh women bear their “unchastity” from their infancy, when their own mothers instruct them in Welsh, through into their adolescent and adult years. Furthermore, young Welsh women are approached and understood in the same terms as the cleanliness and structure of Welsh homes. Bringing female virginity and domestic livability together, this technique blends abstract “unchastity” with visible poverty and traces the unhealthy state of both to a common source. Volume one exemplifies this method, beginning a “homes” subsection with an invocation of unchaste Welsh women: “The peasant girls proceed therefore from homes and domestic habits like the following to service in a farm-house” (1: 20). Two descriptions of domiciles provided by assistants follow, the second of which states (note the complementary nature of literal “darkness” here with the figurative primitive “darkness” of Wales quoted above):
In their habits the labouring classes are particularly dirty… Pigs and poultry are frequently allowed to come inside… There are rarely any privies. Neither light nor ventilation is well provided for… The use of linen until lately, either by day or night, was almost unknown; it is now, however, coming more into fashion among the young people. (1: 20).
Such conditions might appear unseemly on their own, but their purpose here is to inflect readers’ perceptions of Welsh women. The commissioner closes the section by lamenting that “in the farm-houses separation and decency are not better attended to than must have been the case in such homes, and the natural bar which consanguinity opposes to vice is removed” (1: 20). After quoting from other assistants’ reports, which reiterate the innate salaciousness of bundling and nighttime prayer-meetings, the commissioner concludes: “Such are some of the circumstances under which the early life of a Welsh peasant-girl is passed. So far from wondering at what is said of them, viz., that they are almost universally unchaste, the wonder would be if they were otherwise” (1: 21).
Welsh mothers thus nurture uncleanliness of two varieties: the unchastity of their children (especially daughters) and the unhealthiness of their homes. Expanding our scope, this fusion of feminine and domestic “dirtiness” culminates in the Blue Books personifying Welsh outhouses as Welsh mothers. As in many other cases, this is revealed through the repetition of key terms. Following its indictment of Welsh bundling and gender-mixing, volume two resigns that “natural modesty is utterly suppressed by this vile practice, and the instinctive delicacy alike in men and women is destroyed in its very germ,” and further that “these practices obtain in the classes immediately above as well as among the labouring people” (2: 57). It is of course worrisome that such customs overcome “natural” modesty and delicacy, which are extinguished in children before they possess the powers of reason to prevent it. But the clarion call for outside intervention is signaled by the fact that these “un-”natural threats are not limited to the Welsh labouring classes but can spread up the social ladder and thus perhaps even over national borders, reinforcing the urgency of addressing “Welsh civilisation.”
This construction also aligns Welsh morality with the destruction of modesty, drawing upon the “native” and familiar nature of modesty to English readers. If Welsh peasant-girls are removed from true moral guidance before they can discern it, in its “germ,” they cannot be expected to correct the course for their children. Volume three returns to this analogy, but transcribes it into terms of domesticity and cleanliness. Within a larger account of buildings operating as Welsh schoolhouses (which here and throughout the Blue Books very often resemble the descriptions of peasant-girls’ houses above), volume three includes a one-paragraph section titled “Outbuildings”:
It is a fact significant of the Welsh character, that 417 schools (71.5 of the entire number) are destitute of sufficient outbuildings: 210 (or 36 per cent.) having no provision of the kind. The germs of the barbarous and immoral habits which disfigure Welsh civilization are thus implanted in the minds of children, together with the first elements of education (3: 8)
Unsanitariness is thus the first lesson Welsh children receives in their “first elements of education.”
Tyson Roberts helpfully places the above passage in the context of the Blue Books’ constructions of Welsh identity, with “germs… [implying] organisms which will spread to infect living tissue” (85). However, reading germ as “an initial stage or state from which something may develop; a source, a beginning,” (this being the OED’s first entry), and considering this alongside of volume two’s revelation that unnatural practices destroy modesty, and morality along with it, “in its very germ” brings the two quotations together as a poignant and piercing castigation of Welsh mothers, and a final judgment of Welsh civilization. Welsh mothers, whether they realize it or not, destroy the “germ” of modesty through instructing their children in Welsh. “Natural modesty,” over the course of generations, becomes foreign to Welsh children, who are perverted by “vile practices” before they can determine their lack of virtue. The germs of “natural modesty” familiar to English reading audiences are replaced by the “germs of the barbarous and immoral habits which disfigure Welsh civilization,” themselves made possible by the lowly state of Welsh educational structures. Since, as we already know, such “habits” include the Welsh language, religious practice, and domestic customs, the outhouse comes to metonymize Welsh culture altogether. English formulations of Welsh “habits” had remained more or less unchanged since at least the Romantic period, if by habits we mean a foreign language, “superstitious” customs, and a complacent ignorance of worldly matters. However, once they began to facilitate social “outbreaks” such as Rebecca and Newport, they needed to be addressed. By laying the blame on Welsh mothers, the Blue Books craftily found an explanation for the timelessness of Welsh “habits” while also underscoring the point that Wales could not right its course on its own, necessitating intervention in the form of educational reform.
“Morality” and “Womanhood” Across the Nineteenth-Century British Empire
Across the three reports, the Blue Books systematically chastise the whole of Welsh society insofar as it was already understood in the English-language imagination, including where it mimicked contemporaneous polite Victorian culture and its more native customs. Its methods disregarded what might be considered its customs’ “progressive” effects (such as growths of literacy, intercommunal social networks, and women’s agency), and overshadowed them with hyperbolized warnings of non-British behavior. Major themes were picked up by the English press, in some cases deploying the same rhetoric that the Blue Books had reused from earlier literature, exemplified in such jeremiads as “Wales is fast settling down into the most savage barbarism” and is “sunk in the depths of ignorance” (qtd. in Ieuan Gwynedd Jones, Mid-Victorian Wales 158). The Blue Books’ adjudications were made available to Welsh-speaking Wales through quotations in newspapers and magazines and eventually, in 1848, the report’s translation into Welsh (Mid-Victorian Wales 138-40). Reactions and responses in Wales were immediate and of a spectrum of opinion. As Ieuan Gwynedd Jones explains, over the following year the national sentiment in Wales shifted from disbelief into anger into hatred, rooted in the fact that “the Commissioners’ attacks on the Welsh people, their language and culture, were deliberate policy on the part of the government” (153). What was first written in official language for an official readership thus filtered through to a national readership of two countries.
It is the blending of official and popular rhetorics with the intention of fueling public antagonism with state approval that I would like to touch upon as I close this essay, for through it we can consider the Blue Books’ colonial appurtenances in a larger, international British context. Terms such as “savage,” “barbaric,” and “uncivilized” were of course, and remain, derogatory on their own. But, their potency was due also to their contemporary applications to other populations, such as the Irish, Indian, African, and Chinese, that were being framed in specific ways for the British imagination. Specifically, whether external cultures were perceived as threats to British order or in need of British enlightenment, they were inherently un-British. This is not to say that Welsh responses to the Blue Books were couched in fears of being associated with other cultures as they were constructed in the popular imagination. Rather, Wales and its culture were exoticized to English-language readers using similar rhetorical devices as those that exoticized other populations, effectively eliminating any possible compromise regarding Wales retaining its unfamiliar customs. Scholars have pointed out a few pertinent points on this topic, especially regarding possible implementation of hegemonic apparatuses (Tyson Roberts, for instance, invokes British education policy in India). Wales’s circumstances were also, like those of Ireland and India, exacerbated by drought and famine (though, of course, to a far lesser extent in terms of mortality). Despite differences in degree, similarities can be traced between the perceived oppressions that catalyzed waves of popular unrest in Wales and those elsewhere.
Tracing similitudes among social factors that informed discrete populations’ reactions to state oppressions is largely made possible through hindsight. But, we can discern overlapping methods of categorizing the “other” for a reading audience. Here then our focus is more on how English-language, and at times Welsh-language, readers were to understand those who participated in foreign unrest than in the unrest itself. Approaching the history in this manner reveals the degree to which the Blue Books’ efficacy relied upon channeling its readers’ conceptions of foreign cultures, especially those cultures’ morals and female populations. Recognizable terms and tropes for colonized peoples abound throughout the Blue Books. Tyson Roberts quotes one assistant who remarked that there was “scarcely any difference” between one pupil “and a rude or rustic Hottentot” (184), and it is not difficult to trace similarities between the reports’ lightness and darkness duality and that deployed, for instance, in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Other instances are somewhat more subtle, and their detection relies upon a consideration of contemporary travel writing and state reports in which Wales was not a central subject. Further, by considering how tropes used elsewhere for African, Indian, Chinese, and Irish people were here reemployed for Wales, we begin to discover the far-reaching applicability of common colonial practices.
Brief glimpses into the Victorian imagination reveal the rhetorical chains binding diverse colonized people across the empire and how easily the Blue Books set Wales in this colonial network. Timothy Johns calls our attention to nineteenth-century concerns with morality among African people, with popular literature of this period depicting South Africa as “a place encouraging sloth and indolence, as well as dubious forms of moral and intellectual lethargy” (with “sloth” being similar to Welsh “idleness” in volume two’s catalog describing the low “standard of minor morals”). Shanyn Fiske describes how following the Boxer Rebellion “prejudices against the Chinese as a source of spiritual, hygienic, and moral contamination escalated to fears of Chinese economic takeover and sexual predation.” This refers to a later Victorian moment, but the fact that one of Merthyr’s more insalubrious neighborhoods was known as “China” testifies to earlier manifestations of these prejudices. Such instances shed light on tendencies of state and popular literatures to ostracize foreign populations by way of their “morals,” and to make morality a causal result of, among other things, economic poverty. Complementing this was the anathematization of foreign women and mothers. Felicity Nussbaum points to the eighteenth century as the period in which an invigorated “national imperative to control women’s sexuality and fecundity” arose due to “increasing demands of trade and colonization” (1). Fixing her scope on “torrid zones,” she showcases how literature located “sexual heat” and its sundry deeds in sultry equatorial regions, and framed “domesticity” as being stronger the further one was from such areas (8). Nineteenth-century writing on India supports this assertion; Napur Chaudhuri, for instance, examines two Anglo-Indian travel writings by women whose accounts of Indian women portray worlds ready to receive British “civilization” (pointing, also, to deficiencies in education and religion).
In the case of the Irish, state officials could report on a population more visible to its British readers. E. P. Thompson thus quotes the 1835 Report on the State of the Irish Poor in Great Britain: “The Irish emigration into Britain is an example of a less civilized population spreading themselves, as a kind of substratum, beneath a more civilized community” (qtd. in Thompson 435). Other recognizable themes arise elsewhere in this Report. In one instance, the practice of women begging due to their husbands working and living away from home produces a “state of mind… incompatible with morality, especially among women” (1: 583), and in another:
The want of education or religious instruction, accompanied with injurious habits, such as want of system – neglect of the morals and education of their offspring – neglect of training them to habits of industry… is, consequently, productive of distress, and has its effects upon the children, and leads to the utter neglect of cleanliness in the persons and habitations of such families. (3: 18)
Beyond stratifications of “civilization” resurfacing in the Blue Books, this Report measures Irish “civilization” largely in terms of morality, which is itself bound in terms of poverty, sexuality, religion, education, and cleanliness. Considering late eighteenth-century constructions of Irish women on the English stage, Tamara Hunt contends that “stereotyped images of wild Irish women reinforced the belief that the Irish needed English guidance to become ‘civilized’” (50). She goes on to point to how these desires manifested in formal and legal discourse, quoting statesmen over the nineteenth century: “[through] wise parental legislation… the most barbarous and degraded portion of [the Irish] lower classes… [could be raised] in a few years to a high pitch of civilization” (Rev. Thaddeus O’Malley, 1837); “[the Irish] have not participated in the great progress of mankind. We do pity them, because they have yet to be civilized” (London Times, 1848); “[the Irish] hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our sustained courage, our decorous liberty, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character” (Benjamin Disraeli, 1868) (52-4). These allegations were linked by a shared feminine gendering of Irish civilization.
If vocabularies of “civilization” and “morality” and the peoples to whom they were applied were recognizable to Victorian English audiences, they also played to attitudes—and prejudices—present within Wales. Irish, African, Indian, and Asian people were “others” in the Welsh imagination as well, and these beliefs surfaced in a number of ways. This generally took the form of hostility in the case of the Irish, which was fueled and maintained in part by the Welsh press, which fostered the belief that “uncleanliness and unruliness were an intrinsic part of their character” (John Davies, History 385). Such thoughts were supported by the insalubrious areas in which Irish immigrants—of which there were over 20,000 in 1851—were forced to live. Their poverty lent itself to another element of this discrimination: immigrating to Wales primarily during famine or plague years (including 1817, 1822, and 1846-49), the Irish “were prepared to work for wages lower than that which the Welsh considered to be a bare livelihood” (John Davies, History 385). The Irish were associated with Catholicism, and perceived threats to society within were complemented by accounts of “Popish” “tyranny” without: as Paul O’Leary explains, “Sensationalist reporting in the press of events in Catholic countries reinforced the perceived threat to fundamental freedoms from priest, confessional, convents and monasteries” (“Languages of Patriotism” 541). Such mentalities were stoked by the increased presence of Catholicism within Wales, its growing number recorded as over 5,500 in the 1851 religious census (Owain W. Jones, 145). All in all, there was a “habitual linking together of poverty, criminality and dissoluteness with the Irish community in the social commentary of the period” (O’Leary, Claiming the Streets 87), which vented itself in anti-Irish activity such as protests against the Irish in the Rhymni Valley in 1825 and in Swansea in 1828 (John Davies, History 385).
Attitudes tended to take different forms in regard to populations living farther afield. This is evidenced by Welsh missionary activities that spanned the entire empire over the long nineteenth century. To borrow a list compiled by Jane Aaron, by the end of the nineteenth century, Welsh missionaries had traveled to the Cape Colony, Natal, Sierra Leone, the Sudan, Ceylon, Malacca, Australia, Fiji, Jamaica, Trinidad, the West Indies, British Honduras, Newfoundland, Gibraltar, and “to so many Indian provinces that it would be tedious to list them” (“Slaughter and Salvation” 39). Although the primary purpose of such enterprises was to convert the indigenous populations, this was usually bound with implied goals of bringing law, order, and civilization as well, all of which was enveloped in assimilation into the British empire. Especially in the case of Welsh Methodist missionary activity, the Welsh at home were kept abreast of the state of encountered peoples and the successes of various missions through a number of events, including “lectures and sermons given by missionaries on furlough, with occasional visits by converts,” and, especially later in the nineteenth century, regular segments in the Welsh press reporting on various missionary endeavors (Aled Jones, “The Other Internationalism” 51). In Wales’s popular imagination, the Irish were very different from foreign aboriginal populations. But, they came together as the “other” through shared rhetorics of improper religion, incivility, and primitive if not threatening cultural practices.
What all of this means is that by inveighing upon Welsh morals, uncleanliness, and female chastity in the same manner as those of foreign populations within the British empire, the Blue Books performed yet another dual role. They underscored Wales’s “foreignness” for English readers. But, the same methods also targeted Welsh cultural sentiments. Welsh readers recognized the same imperial descriptors that the English did. An additional factor is that, especially in regard to distant nations, the Welsh were already participating in the colonial process of “civilization.” And in the case of the Irish, similar elements were credited, however erroneously, with compromising Welsh life. In the Blue Books, Welsh customs were effectively indistinguishable from those of the threatening “other” at home, and of the “other” in need abroad.
In closing, it must be remembered that the Blue Books did not target Welsh people, but rather the very traits by which someone could be identified as being “Welsh.” Consequently, people and regions could be deemed “Welsh” even without exhibiting all of the defining “symptoms” (as Prys Morgan points out, the commissioners elevated some English-speaking areas as superlative examples of unruliness), and similarly entire Anglicized areas of Wales could be excluded from scrutiny altogether. By underpinning the reports with the language of “morality” and educational reform, they could convey urgency to readers that action should, could, and must be taken, lest unsavory characteristics begin to spread. The Blue Books thus reflect Kirsti Bohata’s observation that Wales held a vexed and tenuous position in Britain, since although it was a “complicit and instrumental” entity “within the imperial metropole,” its people could also “be constructed as marginal or threatening Other in terms which are derived from racial, colonial discourses” (62). With this in mind, the degree to which assaults on Welsh morality and womanhood resemble contemporaneous assaults elsewhere necessitates consideration of another factor in the colonial discussion of the 1847 Blue Books. In addition to being ridiculed, Welsh culture was also given descriptors already reserved for foreign populations engaging in “alien” customs.
In Wales’s case such criticisms were not a discovery but a rediscovery, in which their cultural practices came to force them out of the British population altogether. It was no longer the “ancient Britons” of the Romantic era who spoke a strange language, practiced superstitious rituals and engaged in fatuous courtship ceremonies, but a social group within the Island of Great Britain that needed to be apprehended in the same manner as other colonized peoples, except under the schoolmaster’s, rather than the bayonet’s, moral guardianship. By reinvigorating familiar stereotypes in this fashion the Blue Books could curry support among an English-language reading audience long-aware of Wales’s cultural tropes but unaware of their threatening implications (compounded by their close proximity), while at the same time generating anxieties among Welsh people that their culture was reminiscent of those of “primitive civilizations” elsewhere. In doing so they could configure Welsh society such that the truer fabrics of its cultural renaissance could be minimized or completely invisible (as we have seen, even where concessions are made, the Blue Books stop short of exalting Welsh literature, Nonconformity, and female agency as such). Finally, by fixing Welsh “uncivility” as a circular loop beginning and ending with Welsh mothers, they could punctuate the need for outside state, and thus colonial, intervention.
Acknowledgments: I wish to thank Rhys Hughes, Non Mererid Jones, Patrick Russell, my reviewers, and the editorial team of BRANCH for their advice and assistance throughout the writing and revising of this essay.
published May 2019