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25: The Wales of To-Day

<< 24: Local Government || An Outline of Welsh Political History

The most striking characteristic of the Wales of to-day is its unity- -self-conscious and self-reliant. The presence of this unity is felt by all, though it may be explained in different ways. It cannot be explained by race; for the population of the west midlands and the north of England, possibly of the whole of it, have been made up of the same elements. It cannot be explained by language—nearly one half of the Welsh people speak no Welsh. Some attribute it to the inexorable laws of geography and climate, others to the fatalism of history. Others frivolously put it down to modern football. But no one who knows Wales is ignorant of it.

The modern unity of the Welsh people—seen occasionally in a function of the University, or at a national Eisteddvod, or in a conference of the County Councils—has become a fact in spite of many difficulties.

One difficulty has been the absence of a capital. The office of the University and the National Museum are at Cardiff, in the extreme south; the National Library is at Aberystwyth, on the western sea. The thriving industries, the densely populated districts, and the frequent and active railways, are in the extreme south or in the extreme north; and they are separated by five or six shires of pastures and sheep-runs, without large towns, and with comparatively few railways. In the three southern counties—Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Carmarthen—the population is between two and six people to 10 acres, and the industrial population is from twelve to three times the number of the agricultural. In the central counties—Brecon, Radnor, Cardigan, Merioneth, Montgomery—the population is below one for 10 acres; the industrial and agricultural population are about equal, except in Radnor, where the agricultural is more than two to one. Though Merioneth has more sheep even than Brecon—and each of them has nearly 400,000—its industrial population, owing to the slate districts, is double the agricultural. The population begins to thicken again as we get nearer the slate, limestone, and coal districts. In Denbigh it is two to the 10 acres, in Carnarvon it is three, and in Flint it rises to four or five. In these northern counties the industrial population is double or treble the agricultural. The fertile western counties of Pembroke and Anglesey come between the industrial and grazing counties in density of population. (1)

Unity has arisen in spite of differences caused by the intensity of a religious revival, an intensity that periodically renews its strength. The Welsh are divided into sects, and the bitterness of sectarian differences occasionally invades politics and education. But there are two ever-present antidotes. One is the Welsh sense of humour, the nearest relative or the best friend of toleration. The other is the hymn—creed has been turned into song, and that is at least half way to turning it into life; the heresy hunter is disarmed by the poetry of the hymn, and its music has charms to soothe the sectarian breast. The co-operation of all in the work of local government has also enlarged sympathy.

Unity has arisen in spite of the bilingual difficulty. Rather more than one half of the people now habitually speak English. For three centuries an Act—a dead letter from the beginning—ordered all Government officials to speak English; for many generations, until recently, Welsh children were not taught Welsh in schools, and they could not be taught English. The bilingual difficulty is now at an end. The two languages are taught in the schools, and as living languages. It is clear, on the one hand, that every one should learn English, the language of the Empire and of commerce. It is also clear that, on account of its own beauty as well as that of the great literature it enshrines, Welsh should be taught in every school throughout Wales.

Next to its unity, a characteristic of modern Wales is its democratic feeling. It is a country with a thoughtful and intelligent peasantry, and it is a country without a middle class. There is a very small upper class—the old Welsh land-owning families who once, before they turned their backs on Welsh literature, led the country. They have never been hated or despised, they are simply ignored. Their tendency now is to come into touch with the people, and they are always welcomed. But a middle class, in the English sense, does not exist. The wealthier industrial class is bound by the closest ties of sympathy to the farmer and labourer. The farmer's holding is generally small—from 50 to 250 acres—and he always treats his servants and labourers as equals.

The three great levelling causes—religion, industry, (5) and education—have been at work in Wales in recent years. Education helps and is helped by equality. In town and country alike all Welsh children attend the same schools—elementary and secondary; and they proceed, those that do proceed, to the same University, and a university is essentially a levelling institution. The dialects, as well as the literary language, are recognised; and no dialect has a stigma. In this respect Wales is more like Scotland than England.

There is one other characteristic of modern Wales—a certain pride, not so much in what has been done, but in what is going to be done. Wales is small, though not much smaller than Palestine, or Holland, or Switzerland, and every part of it knows the other. There is a healthy rivalry between its towns and between its colleges; each town can show that it has done something for Wales in the past—by means of its industries, or school, or press. In the strong feeling of unity there is ambition to surpass, and each part lives in the light of the action of the other parts.

The day is a day of incessant activity—industrial, educational, literary, and political. What is true in the life of the individual is true in the life of a nation—a day of hard work is a happy day and a day of hope.


(1) According to the census of 1901 the population per square mile of Glamorgan is 758, Monmouth 427, Carmarthen 141, Brecon 73, Radnor 49, Cardigan 88, Montgomery 68, Merioneth 74, Denbigh 197, Carnarvon 217, Flint 319, Pembroke 143, Anglesey 183.

The rate of increase per cent. between 1891 and 1901 are—Wales 13.3; England 12.1; Scotland 11.1; Ireland—5.2.

(2) In 1801 the population of Cardiff was 1870, and coal was brought down from Merthyr on donkeys. In 1901 the three ports of Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea exported nearly as much coal as all the great English and Scotch ports put together.

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