- Saunders Lewis
Saunders Lewis (John Saunders Lewis) (
October 15, 1893- September 1, 1985) was a Welsh poet, dramatist, historian, literary criticand political activist. He was a prominent Welsh nationalist and founder of the Welsh National Party (later known as Plaid Cymru). Lewis is usually acknowledged to have been among the most prominent figures of twentieth-century Welsh-language literature. Lewis was a 1970 Nobel nominee for literature, and in 2005 was voted 10th as Wales' 'greatest-ever person' in a BBC Walespoll. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/3523363.stm Bevan is ultimate Welsh hero extracted 12-04-07] ]
Born into a Welsh family living in
Wallasey, England, in 1893, Lewis was studying English and French at Liverpool Universitywhen the First World War broke out. After serving as an officer with the South Wales Borderershe returned to university to graduate in English.
In 1922 he was appointed as a lecturer in Welsh at the University College of Wales, Swansea. During his time at Swansea he produced some of his most exciting works of
literary criticism: "A School of Welsh Augustans" (1924), "Williams Pantycelyn" (1927), and "Braslun o hanes llenyddiaeth Gymraeg" (=An outline history of Welsh literature) (1932).
Founding Plaid Cymru
His experiences in
World War I, and his sympathy for the cause of Irish independence, brought him to Welsh nationalism, and in 1925 he met with H.R. Jonesand Lewis Valentineand others at a 1925 National Eisteddfodmeeting, held in Pwllheli, Gwynedd, with the aim of establishing "a Welsh party". [John Davies, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, Page 547]
Discussions for the need of a "Welsh party" had been circulating since the 19th century. [Davies, "op cit", pages 415, 454] With the generation or so before 1922 there "had been a marked growth in the constitutional recognition of the Welsh nation," wrote
historianDr. John Davies. [Davies, "op cit", Page 544] By 1924 there were people in Wales "eager to make their nationality the focus of Welsh politics. [Davies, "op cit", Page 547] "
Lewis and Jones both represented two other organizations, founded only the previous year, with Lewis heading "The Welsh Movement" and Jones heading the "Welsh Home Rulers". The principal aim of the party would be to foster a Welsh speaking Wales. [Davies, "op cit", page 548] To this end it was agreed that party business be conducted in Welsh, and that members sever all links with other British parties. [Davies, "op cit", page 548] Lewis insisted on these principles before he would agree to the Pwllheli conference.
According to the 1911 census, out of a population of just under 2.5 million, 43.5% of the total population of Wales spoke Welsh as a primary language. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/language/pages/1911.shtml BBCWales History extracted 12-03-07] ] This was a decrease from the 1891 census with 54.4% speaking Welsh out of a population of 1.5 million. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/language/pages/1891.shtml BBCWales history extracted 12-03-07] ]
With these prerequisites Lewis condemned "'Welsh nationalism' as it had hitherto existed, a nationalism characterized by inter-party conferences, an obsession with
Westministerand a willingness to accept a subservient position for the Welsh language," wrote Dr. Davies. [Davies, "op cit", page 548] It may be because of these strict positions that the party failed to attract politicians of experience in its early years. [Davies, "op cit", page 548] However, the party's members believed its founding was an achievement in itself; "merely by existing, the party was a declaration of the distinctiveness of Wales," wrote Dr. Davies. [Davies, "op cit", page 548]
The Lewis Doctrine 1926-1939
During the inter-war years, "Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru" was most successful as a social and educational
pressure grouprather than as a political party. [Davies, "op cit", page 591] For Saunders Lewis, party president 1926 - 1939, "the chief aim of the party [is] to 'take away from the Welsh their sense of inferiority... to remove from our beloved country the mark and shame of conquest.'" Lewis sought to cast "Welshness" into a new context, wrote Dr. Davies. [Davies, "op cit", page 591]
Lewis wished to demonstrate how Welsh heritage was linked as one of the 'founders of
European civilization. [Davies, "op cit", page 591] Lewis, a self-described "strong monarchist," wrote "Civilization is more than an abstraction. It must have a local habitation and name. Here its name is Wales." [Davies, "op cit", page 591] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4329001.stm Royal plans to beat nationalism Tuesday, 8 March 2005 extracted 29 Oct 07] ] Additionally, Lewis strove for the stability and well-being of Welsh-speaking communities, decried both capitalism and socialism and promoted what he called "perchentyaeth;" a policy of 'distributing property among the masses. [Davies, "op cit", page 591] "
"Tân yn Llŷn" 1936
Welsh nationalism was ignited in 1936 when the UK government settled on establishing a bombing school at
Penyberthon the Llŷn Peninsulain Gwynedd. The events surrounding the protest, known as "Tân yn Llŷn" ("Fire in Llŷn"), helped define "Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru". [Davies, "op cit", page 593] The UK government settled on Llŷn as the sight for its new bombing school after similar locations Northumberlandand Dorsetwere met with protests. [Davies, "op cit", page 592]
However, UK Prime Minister
Stanley Baldwinrefused to hear the case against the bombing school in Wales, despite a deputation representing half a million Welsh protesters. [Davies, "op cit", page 592] Protest against the bombing school was summed up by Lewis when he wrote that the UK government was intent upon turning one of the 'essential homes of Welsh culture, idiom, and literature' into a place for promoting a barbaric method of warfare. [Davies, "op cit", page 592] Construction of the bombing school building began exactly 400 years after the first Act of Union annexing Wales into England. [Davies, "op cit", page 592]
On 8 September 1936 the bombing school building was set on fire and in the investigations which followed Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine, and D.J. Williams claimed responsibility. [Davies, "op cit", page 592] The trial at Caernarfon failed to agree on a verdict and the case was sent to the
Old Baileyin London. The "Three" were sentenced to nine months imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs, and on their release they were greeted as heroes by fifteen thousand Welsh at a pavilion Caernarfon. [Davies, "op cit", page 592]
Many Welsh were angered by the judge's scornful treatment of the Welsh language, by the decision to move the trial to London, and by the decision of University Collage, Swansea, to dismiss Lewis from his post before he had been found guilty. [Davies, "op cit", page 593]
Dafydd Glyn Joneswrote of the fire that it was "the first time in five centuries that Wales struck back at England with a measure of violence... To the Welsh people, who had long ceased to believe that they had it in them, it was a profound shock." [Davies, "op cit", page 593]
However, despite the acclaim the events of "Tân yn Llŷn" generated, by 1938 Lewis' concept of "perchentyaeth" was firmly rejected as "not" a fundamental tenet of the party. In 1939 Lewis resigned as "Plaid Genedleathol Cymru" president citing that Wales was not ready to accept the leadership of a Roman Catholic. [Davies, "op cit", page 593]
econd World War
Lewis maintained a strict neutrality in his writings through his column "Cwrs y Byd" in "Y Faner". It was his attempt at an unbiased interpretation of the causes and events of the war. [Davies, "op cit", page 599] Outside of the party's initial position on the war, party members were free to choose for themselves their level of support for the
war effort. "Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru" was officially neutral regarding involvement the Second World War, which Lewis and other leaders considered a continuation of the First World War. Central to the neutrality policy was the idea that Wales, as a nation, had the right to decide independently on its attitude towards war, [Davies, "op cit", page 598] and the rejection of other nations to force Welshmen to serve in their armed forces. [Davies, "op cit", page 598] With this challenging and revolutionary policy Lewis hoped a significant number of Welshmen would refuse to join the British Army. [Davies, "op cit", page 599]
Lewis and other party members were attempting to strengthen loyalty to the Welsh
nation"over the loyalty to the British State. [Davies, "op cit", page 598] " Lewis argued "The only proof that the Welsh nation exists is that there are some who act as if it did exist. [Davies, "op cit", page 599] "
However, most party members who claimed
conscientious objectionstatus did so in the context of their moral and religious beliefs, rather than on political policy. [Davies, "op cit", page 599] Of these almost all were exempt from military service. About 24 party members made politics their sole grounds for exemption, of which twelve received prison sentences. [Davies, "op cit", page 599] For Lewis, those who objected proved that the assimilation of Wales was "being withstood, even under the most extreme pressures. [Davies, "op cit", page 599] "
University of Wales by-election, 1943
Prior to 1950, universities could elect and return representatives to the UK parliament. In 1943 Lewis contested the University of Wales parliamentary seat at a by-election, his opponent was former "Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru" deputy vice-president Dr.
William John Gruffydd. Gruffydd had voiced doubts about Lewis' ideas since 1933, [Davies, "op cit", page 610] and by 1943 he had joined the Liberal party. The "brilliant but wayward" Gruffydd was a favorite with Welsh-speaking intellectuals and drew 52.3 per cent of the vote, to Lewis' 22 per cent, or 1,330 votes. [Davies, "op cit", page 610]
The election effectively split the Welsh-speaking intelligentsia, and left Lewis embittered with politics and retreated from direct political involvement. [Davies, "op cit", page 611] However, the experience proved invaluable for "Plaid Cymru", as they began to refer to themselves, as "for the first time they were taken seriously as a political force. [Davies, "op cit", page 611] " The by-election campaign led directly to "considerable growth" for the party's membership. [Davies, "op cit", page 611]
"Tynged yr Iaith" and the 1961 census
Tynged yr iaith"
In 1962 Lewis gave a radio speech entitled "
Tynged yr iaith" ("The Fate of the Language") in which he predicted the extinction of the Welsh language unless action was taken. Lewis' intent was to motivate "Plaid Cymru" into more direct action promoting the language, however it led to the formation of " Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg" ("the Welsh Language Society") later that year at a "Plaid Cymru" summer school held in Pontardawein Glamorgan. [Morgan, K O, "Rebirth of a Nation", (1981), OUP ] The foundation of "Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg" allowed for "Plaid Cymru" to focus on electoral politics, while the "Cymdeithas" focused on promoting the language.
Lewis gave his radio speech responding to the 1961 census, which showed a decrease in the number of Welsh speakers from 36% in 1931 to 26%, out of a population of about 2.5 million. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/language/pages/1961.shtml BBCWales History extracted 12-03-07] ] In the census; Merionnydd, Ynys Mon, Carmarthen, and Caernarfon averaged 75% concentration of Welsh speakers, with the most significant decrease in the counties of
Glamorgan, Flint, and Pembroke. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/language/pages/1961.shtml BBCWales History extracted 12-03-07] ] [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/language/pages/1931.shtml BBCWales History extracted 12-03-07] ]
Responding on the calls of Welsh devolution, in 1964 the Labour Government gave effect to these proposals establishing the unelected
Welsh Office(Welsh: "Swyddfa Gymreig") and Secretary of State for Wales.
In 1970, he was nominated for the
Nobel Prizefor Literature. His literary works include plays, poetry, novels and essays. He wrote mostly in Welsh, but he also wrote some works in English. By the time of his death in 1985 he was amongst the most celebrated of Welsh writers.
Lewis' perceived "elitist views,"and a "condescending attitude towards some aspects of nonconformist, radical and
pacifisttraditions of Wales" drew criticism from fellow nationalist such as David J. Davies, a leftist party member. [Davies, "op cit", page 591] Davies argued in favor of engaging English-speaking Welsh communities, and stressed the territorial integrity of Wales. Davies pointed towards Scandinavian countries as a model to emulate, and was active in the economic implications of Welsh self-government. [Davies, "op cit", pages 591-592]
In many ways it was Davies' ideal of Welsh nationalism which was adopted after the
Second World War, wrote Dr. Davies. But it was Lewis' "brilliance and charismatic appeal" which was firmly associated with "Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru" in the 1930s. [Davies, "op cit", page 592]
In 1936, in the midst of the turmoil of "Tân yn Llŷn", Lewis praised
Adolf Hitlerwhen he said "At once he fulfilled his promise — a promise which was greatly mocked by the London papers months before that — to completely abolish the financial strength of the Jews in the economic life of Germany." [ [http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/vo011205/halltext/11205h02.htm United Kingdom Parliament] : Debate on " Government of Wales Act 1998". Retrieved 31 August 2006.]
However, within the context of the 1930s, other UK politicians of other parties offered endorsements for fascist leaders. In 1933
Winston Churchillcharacterized Mussolini as 'the greatest lawgiver among men', [Canadine op cit p52 ] and later wrote in his 1937 book " Great Contemporaries", "If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable (as Hitler) to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations". In the same work, Churchill expressed a hope that despite Hitler's apparent dictatorial tendencies, he would use his power to rebuild Germany into a worthy member of the world community. And in August 1936, Liberal party member David Lloyd Georgemet Hitler at Berchtesgadenand offered some public comments that were surprisingly favourable to the German dictator, expressing warm enthusiasm both for Hitler personally and for Germany's public works schemes (upon returning, he wrote of Hitler in the "Daily Express" as "the greatest living German", "the George Washington of Germany").
Lewis was above all a dramatist. His earliest published play was "Blodeuwedd" (The woman of flowers) (1923-25, revised 1948). Other notable plays include "Buchedd Garmon" (The life of Germanus) (radio play, 1936), Siwan (1956), "Gymerwch chi sigarét?" (Will you have a cigarette?) (1956), "Brad" (Treachery) (1958), "Esther" (1960), and "Cymru fydd" (Tomorrow's Wales) (1967). He also translated
Samuel Beckett's "En attendant Godot" into Welsh.
He published two novels, "Monica" (1930) and "Merch Gwern Hywel" (The daughter of Gwern Hywel) (1964) and two collections of poems as well as numerous articles and essays in various newspapers, magazines and journals. These articles have been collected into volumes including: "Canlyn Arthur" (Following Arthur) (1938), "Ysgrifau dydd Mercher" (Wednesday essays) (1945), "Meistri'r canrifoedd" (Masters of the centuries) (1973), "Meistri a'u crefft" (Masters and their craft) (1981) and "Ati ŵyr ifainc" (Go to it, young men) (1986).
Works in English and translations
*Lewis, Saunders (1997), "Monica". Translated by Meic Stephens. Bridgend: Seren. ISBN 1-85411-195-7.
*Lewis, Saunders (1985-2002), "The plays of Saunders Lewis". 4 vols. Translated by Joseph P. Clancy. ISBN 0-9540569-4-9, 0715406485, 0954056957, 0715406523.
*Lewis, Saunders (1993), "Selected poems". Translated by Joseph P. Clancy. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1194-6.
*Griffiths, Bruce (1989), "Saunders Lewis". Writers of Wales series. Cardiff : University of Wales Pres. ISBN 0-7083-1049-4.
*Jones, Alun R. & Gwyn Thomas (Eds.) (1973), "Presenting Saunders Lewis". Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0852-X.
*Jones, Harri Pritchard (1991), "Saunders Lewis : a presentation of his work". Illinois : Templegate. ISBN 0-87243-187-8.
* 'Lewis, Saunders (1893-1985)'. In Meic Stephens (Ed.) (1998), "The new companion to the literature of Wales". Cardiff : University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1383-3.
*Chapman, T. Robin (2006), "Un bywyd o blith nifer: cofiant Saunders Lewis". Llandysul, Gomer. ISBN 1-84323-709-1. "In Welsh, but the only complete biography."
* [http://www.llgc.org.uk/ymgyrchu/Iaith/TyngedIaith/index-e.htm Saunders Lewis and the "Tynged yr iaith" (= The fate of the Welsh language) lecture] from the [http://www.llgc.org.uk/ National Library of Wales] website
* [http://www.gtj.org.uk/item.php?lang=en&id=14563&t=1 Saunders Lewis, 'The Banned Wireless Talk on Welsh Nationalism' (Caernarvon, 1930)] from the [http://www.gtj.org.uk/ Gathering the Jewels] website.
* [http://www.owainowain.net Owainowain]
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