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Welsh History Review


Vol. 15, nos. 1-4 1990-91

Artisans and sans-culottes. Book review.

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than a sneaking suspicion, however, that he would have dismissed that truly
fascinating coterie of auto-didacts and Baptist ministers who led the radical charge in
Wales itself as just another bunch of Celtic chiliasts, like those damned Bretons who
caused him so much trouble in the Vendee.
For those who ponder upon such matters and who seek a primer on the Welsh
response to the Revolution-Painite and Burkeian-one could start with Ymateb I
Chwyldro. It consists of a brief introduction, in Welsh and English, followed by potted
biographies of some of the leading Welshmen of the revolutionary day, pride of place,
predictably, going to Richard Price and David Williams. One could treat it as a tasty
little hors d'oeuvre, before sampling the meatier works by Whitney Jones, David
Williams: the Anvil and the Hammer, and Gwyn Williams, In Search of Madoc. It
will, at least, provoke you into wanting to know about the extraordinary Morgan Rhys
who emigrated to America (following a year in France distributing, amongst other
things, bibles and Sunday schools), barnstorming his way through the southern states
denouncing papists and slave-owners with Ian Paisley-like fervour and rhetoric. Rhys
was also partly responsible for the foundation of that physical, but very short-lived,
haven for radical Welshmen and women who endured the ghastly Atlantic crossings
in the mid- and late- 1790s— the town of Beulah in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he
never found that mythical tribe of 'Welsh Indians' on the river Missouri, descendants
of the equally mythical Welsh prince, Madoc, who-Rhys was firmly convinced-
discovered America three centuries before Colombus. 'Thank God, we are a mythical
nation! to paraphrase another Welshman who lost his way in America.
For Gwyn Williams, millenarianists like Rhys and Iolo were early fathers of later
Welsh radicalism and socialism. I just wonder whether or not the rupture-to use a
word Professor Williams will understand-of the 1790s was not too severe to make
a reality of any firm link between a Morgan Rhys and a Dic Penderyn. Perhaps the
character of nineteenth-century radical socialism was shaped more by what it rejected
of the 'utopian' past than by what it accepted. We also need to assess with greater
clarity the consequences upon the post-revolutionary generation, not only of the
transforming power of the Methodist cross but the equally transforming power of
Pitt's cudgel. All this does not mean that we should turn our backs or minds against
those brave and original Welsh souls who set 'Off to Pennsylvania' in the 1790s.
ARTISANS AND SANS-CULOTTES, by G. A. Williams. 2nd ed., Libris, London, 1989.
Pp. xliv, 132. £ 7.95 paper.
I read this explosive little book as an undergraduate, on its first appearance in 1968,
at a moment when it was indeed 'bliss to be alive'. Even twenty years on, in a political
atmosphere totally permeated by what Professor Williams calls a 'Thermidor of the
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