By Geraint H. Jenkins
An industrious educational and charmingly eccentric Romantic poet and forger, Iolo Morganwg (1747-1846) left at the back of a floor-to-ceiling stack of unpublished manuscripts in his small Welsh cottage. A Rattleskull Genius, according to that trove of unpublished fabric now held on the nationwide Library of Wales, presents either a party and a severe reassessment of the writer and his contributions to Welsh cultural culture.
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Extra resources for A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg (University of Wales Press - Iolo Morganwg and the Romantic Tradition)
It is wholly fitting that he should have coined the Welsh word for ‘unique’ (unigryw). The key factor which enabled him to 36 37 Jon Mee, Dangerous Enthusiasm: William Blake and the Culture of Radicalism in the 1790s (Oxford, 1992). See chapter 17 below. 11 12 ON THE TRAIL OF A ‘RATTLESKULL GENIUS’: INTRODUCTION develop multiple identities was the independence afforded by his trade. 40 Even though it would be hard to find a more inept businessman, he was a builder, a lime-burner, a farmer and a sea trader.
When Evan Davies (Myfyr Morganwg), who claimed to be the authentic successor of Iolo as archdruid of Wales, collaborated with John Williams (Ab Ithel) in engineering the spectacular Gorsedd ceremony held at the famous Llangollen eisteddfod in September 1858, the bardo-druidic vision of Iolo reached its apogee. Many of our stock perceptions of Iolo date from this time and, even as the bitter-sweet cocktail of bizarre pageantry and mumbo-jumbo entertained the masses, a new generation of university-trained Welsh academics was beginning to bring greater scholarly rigour to bear on the historical provenance of the Gorsedd of the Bards and the voluminous writings of Iolo Morganwg.
By combining factual information, imagination, subjectivity and passion, he offered his countrymen a new and compelling sense of the relevance of the past. 68 In so far as he was the first to collect Welsh folksongs in a systematic way, Iolo Morganwg is to the Welsh what Robert Burns is to the Scots, John Clare to the English and Gérard Nerval to the French. 70 By that stage he had successfully ‘married’ the Gorsedd of the Bards to the provincial eisteddfodau held from 1819 onwards, thereby reinforcing his commitment to liberty, druidism and Welsh culture in general.