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  • PEDROG : Rev John Owen Williams (1853—1932)
  • A Glimpse of Pedrog the Hymn Writer
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  • PEDROG : Rev John Owen Williams (1853—1932)

    JOHN OWEN WILLIAMS, or PEDROG to give him his bardic name, was born in May 1853 in Madryn, near Pwllheli, the youngest son of Owen and Martha Williams, both of whom were in service locally. He had a tragic childhood. At the tender age of two he was sent to stay with his father’s sister Jane Owen, in Llanbedrog, when his elder brother contracted smallpox. A few years later his mother died in childbirth. His father then decided to go to sea as a ship’s steward but his first voyage seemingly ended in a Melbourne hospital where he died. Pedrog’s memories of both his parents were few and hazy.

    His Aunt lived in a small cottage and scrapped together a living. Pedrog went to the local church school and in his memoirs he speaks well of the local vicar who regularly visited the school and ran a sort of clothes club for the poor of the parish, and Pedrog was undoubtedly one of these. His only mention of the schoolmistress was of her readiness to use the cane and to teach them the Catechism of the Church of England! His knowledge of written Welsh came largely from the chapel and the Sunday school, and he learnt more from friendly neighbours than in the classroom. But he displayed an early musical talent and in his teens he was asked for a short time to lead the singing in the Wesleyan chapel at a time when the tonic-solfa was beginning to sweep the land.

    He left school at the age of twelve and for some four years did odd jobs around local farms and whatever other work he could find. When 16 he went to work as an assistant gardener in Gelliwig Hall. There he learnt good gardening practice, the Latin name of plants, and came across the work of Eben Fardd and admired it greatly. When he read such poetry ‘my heart leapt and I felt as if I was holding an electric battery’. He had dallied with some early verse composition but he took up the interest seriously under the guidance of the head gardener who taught him the rudiments of the Welsh strict alliterative meters (y cynganeddion) and he read a primer on them assiduously. Every spare minute was devoted to studying Gramadeg Tegai. His first published verses appeared in Trysorfa’r Plant while he was at Gelliwig. It is interesting to note that access to news about the outside world came largely from the head gardener who read the Liverpool Mercury. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the sympathy of the gardeners lay with Prussians. They did not want to see another Napoleon in Europe!

    After the death of his Aunt, his employer at Gelliwig and the head gardener felt he would benefit from a period at Dixon’s Nurseries in Chester. Paid 12s a week for a 12 hour day, he enjoyed the work. Like most young Welshmen in a strange English city he looked for the nearest Welsh Wesleyan chapel and found it in Hamilton Place. Later, when offered a position on Lord Vane-Tempest’s estate, Plas Machynlleth, the seat of the Marquis of Londonderry, he happily accepted; it was a chance to return to Wales and the head gardener at Gelliwig had worked there. But he did not stay long. The head gardener had a foul temper and his fellow lodger was a drunken apprentice, an unpleasant duo. Within a few months he returned to the Chester nurseries.

    He declined two other positions in stately gardens. He felt he was a prisoner to gardening and unable to satisfy his deepest longing and instincts. He left Chester and headed for Liverpool to work for Lewis Williams, a Wholesale Provisions merchant. As he said ‘the die has been cast, I am crossing my Rubicon’. His friends thought he had thrown away a golden gardening future and the nineteenth century had lost its Alan Titchmarsh! Within a few months his work for Lewis Williams ended and after a spell in the cotton trade he found permanent employment in William Williams’ warehouse in Button Street. He stayed there for ten years until he became minister of Kensington congregational chapel in 1884, a ministry which lasted for 46 years.

    Like many new arrivals in Liverpool he had on him a letter of introduction from his local chapel, in his case the Wesleyan chapel in Chester, and with this he duly enlisted as a member in Shaw Street. This was some way from his lodging in Rathbone Street (just below the present Anglican Cathedral), so he moved his membership to Seion, the Wesleyan chapel in nearby Chester Street. For the next eight years this was his spiritual and intellectual home. Here he could delight in the meetings of the very active Literary & Divinity Society (Y Cymdeithas Lenyddol a Diwinyddol). Nurturing his poetical talent and developing his public speaking ability, he soon gave up attending night school. The hours were uncongenial and his understanding of the lessons was somewhat handicapped by his English comprehension and the thick Scottish accent of the teacher. He became a familiar participant in chapel literary meetings, winning awards for poetry in eisteddfodau and getting some of his entries accepted by Welsh newspapers and periodicals.

    When 21, in 1875, to quote his words he ‘took the plunge’ and married Rose Ellen Williams from Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant, who was in service in Alexandria Drive. After the wedding ceremony at Seion chapel it was straight back to the warehouse and no ‘honeymoon’. They made their first home in Madryn Street and then in Dorrit Street and had five children. Some years later he was persuaded to try his hand at preaching, given his fluent contributions to the literary society, and preached his first sermon at the Wesleyan Chapel in Garston. From 1878 he served as a Wesleyan local preacher for a few years. Given his ability and talent he was urged to become a full time minister. But his family commitments did not allow him to fulfil the training as required by the Wesleyan church. Encouraged by his friends he took a major decision and joined the Congregationalists and became a member at their Kensington chapel in 1881. Three years later he was ordained as the minister at Kensington and served with distinction until he retired in 1930.

    Pedrog had many interests but his main passions were preaching, poetry and the press. In pursuit of preaching he undertook, in 1895, a lengthy tour of the eastern states of America where Welsh migrants had set up numerous chapels. He preached so often that he lost his voice at one point. He sailed from the Pier Head on The Teutonic. While not one of the princes of the Welsh pulpit he was much in demand at preaching festivals in the north and south and was never afraid to speak on the difficult issues of the day.

    But his lasting fame came from his eisteddfod achievements. He first came to prominence in 1887 by winning the chair (and £20) at the Gwynedd Eisteddfod at Porthmadog with an ode on ‘Faith’ and in 1889 he won the gold medal at the Utica Eisteddfod. But greater honours came at the National Eisteddfod. He won the chair at the Swansea Eisteddfod in 1889 for his awdl on ‘Yr Haul’ (The Sun), followed in 1895 by winning the chair in Llanelli with ‘Dedwyddwch’ (Contentment) and finally, and appropriately, he won the chair at the Liverpool Eisteddfod in 1900 with ‘Y Bugail’ (The Shepherd).

    The Liverpool Daily Post for Friday, September 21 (the Eisteddfod was much later in the year then), gave a description of the ceremony.

    “The ceremony of chairing the successful bard had been fixed for half past one, and punctually to time the platform was prepared, and the Gorsedd banner and the carved oak chair became conspicuous objects. Under the presidency of Hwfa Mon and the generalship of Eifionydd, the Recorder the members of the Gorsedd, robed, and in some cases crowned, formed into a semi-circle facing the auditorium. Corn Gwlad failed to put in an appearance”.

    The adjudication, on behalf of the panel of three, was given by Professor Morris Jones of Bangor (later Syr John Morris-Jones, the great authority on Welsh grammar and upholder of Eisteddfod standards). Twenty entries had been received, sixteen of which were odes, and the other four were ‘mere doggerel unworthy of notice’. It was agreed that the odes of Alun Mabon and ‘Hesiod’ were the two best. Alun Mabon’s ode was ‘brief, beautiful, and full of sweetness and every line was on the subject; but it was restricted in scope, and never lofty’. Hesiod’s had ‘the opposite fault of being too lengthy, and besides contained many errors of technique. It was, however, richer in thought, and reached a higher level than any of the others’. One of the adjudicators tended to favour Alun Mabon’s entry but Hesiod won on a majority decision.

    When the author’s name was called it was found to be Pedrog, whose appearance evoked three loud cheers’. He was duly escorted to the platform and invited to sit in the bardic chair. For many years it has been on display in Liverpool’s town hall.

    As befitting a triple chair winner he then became a frequent adjudicator at the Eisteddfod. The final eisteddfod honour came in 1928, with the Eisteddfod again in Liverpool, when he was chosen as Archdruid, succeeding Elfed. His literary output, however, was not confined to eisteddfod competitions. He was a prolific contributor to the Welsh press over many years, served as an editor, wrote some popular hymns and was a popular lecturer noted for his eloquence and humour. The University of Wales conferred on him an honorary M.A. in 1917 and in 1927 he was chosen as President of the Welsh Congregational Union. He received two much needed national testimonials in 1917 and 1930. He died on July 9th 1932, aged 79 and was buried in West Derby Cemetery.

    A poor but not unhappy childhood, able and self educated, blessed with a good memory, one who put duty before self-interest, humorous and companionable, humble but not subservient, kind and obliging, he achieved much in his lifetime. Literary criticism has probably been less kind to him. But he certainly deserves to be remembered as one who rose above great adversity to record commendable achievements.

    A suitable epitaph on Pedrog was that of another stalwart of the Eisteddfod, Wil Ifan, ‘Mawredd yn ymguddio dan fantell gostyngeiddrwydd’—Greatness concealed under the cloak of humility.

    Arthur Thomas.

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    A glimpse of Pedrog the Hymn Writer

    (A short presentation delivered at the Pedrog Festival which was held at Liverpool Town Hall on Saturday morning, 20 March 2010 before an audience drawn from Liverpool and north Wales. Mrs Beryl Williams (Calderstones, Liverpool) presided at the session and Mrs Rhiannon Liddell (Wavertree) led the singing of Pedrog’s hymn ‘O fendigaid Geidwad’)

    Like so many of the Welsh poets of Merseyside Revd J O Williams, better known by his bardic names of Pedrog, was also a competent hymn writer. We can claim a large number of excellent hymn writers, from the nineteenth century we can mention the Calvinist hymns of Peter Jones (Pedr Fardd), and William Rees (Gwilym Hiraethog), the missionary hymns of John Roberts (Minimus) and to the twentieth century we have four ordained ministers who left us a legacy of hymns, the Baptist Peter Williams (‘Pedr Hir’) of Bootle, the Welsh Independent minister Pedrog and his contemporary in Grove Street, Revd David Adams (Hawen) as well as Reverend Dr J G Moelwyn Hughes, the Birkenhead based Welsh Presbyterian divine. Pedrog has left us with a number of hymns and I intend to introduce three of his most important hymns.
    The first Welsh hymn that I would like to introduce is usually sung to the tune Tichfield. The title says it all, Yr Ymdrech Ysbrydol, which is the Spiritual Struggle

    Y mae’r ymdrech yn parhau
    Y mae ngobaith bron llesgau;
    Caled ydyw brwydro cyd
    A’r ddrwg galon ac â’r byd;
    Ti, fu gynt ar Galfari,
    Gwrando, gwrando ar fy nghri
    Hollalluog, fraich fy Nuw
    Gadwo eiddil un yn fyw.

    That is the first verse of the hymn of the theme of the life of a Christian pilgrim. Pedrog knew from his own experience that it is not at all easy to be a Christian in this world of ours ‘Caled ydyw brwydro cyd’ he admits. It is so difficult. Those who believe in Jesus “come”. (erchomai) to him for eternal life. Unbelief is manifested always in the refusal to submit, to accept, and to receive life everlasting. Those who practice evil shrink from the challenge and refuse to fight the ‘good fight with all our might’. Pedrog informs us in no uncertain terms what we are up against: ‘Â’r ddrwg galon ac â’r byd’ our hearts, that is our emotions which have been tainted by original sin is described as ‘ddrwg galon’ while we have to witness within a world (â’r byd) which ignores as often as it can the ‘values of the Faith’. Then Pedrog who knows his Saviour confesses with Martha of old, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming to the world.’ He turns to the Saviour of the world who suffered death on the Cross of Calvary:

    Ti fu, gynt ar Galfari
    Gwrando, gwrando ar fy nghri’

    He pleads (‘gwrando, gwrando’) on the Saviour to listen to his cry ‘ar fy nghri’. The arm of the Almighty God in Christ will keep the struggling believer within the fold.
    In the second verse he finds comfort among the cloud of witnesses who has conquered through the Cross of Calvary. They also had experienced a spiritual struggle while they walked on earth.

    Brodyr imi, fyrdd a mwy
    Yn yr ymdrech buont hwy;
    Ond yn wyneb pob rhyw loes,
    Gorchfygasant trwy y Groes.

    The pilgrim-believer is strengthened for he also will enjoy the fruits of the victory of Jesus.

    Minnau hefyd caf wrth raid
    Eu Harweinydd hwy yn blaid;
    Buddugoliaeth fydd fy nghân,
    Gyda saint y nefoedd lân,

    The victory of Easter is the final victory of the pilgrim-believer.
    My second hymn from Pedrog’s collection is again on the theme of Peregrine / Pilgrim and unusually sung on the tune Stephanos. It has five verses, and in this hymn, we have similar references and insights as we had in the first.

    Gwael bererin wyf yn crwydro
    Drwy anialwch maith;
    Ac mewn hiraeth dwys am gyrraedd
    Pen y daith.

    He is in the grant tradition of the finest hymn writer in the Welsh language, William Williams (1717-91) known simply by then name of his farmstead in Carmarthenshire, Pantycelyn. This eighteenth century genius had influenced Pedrog. TO the Liverpool based minister the pilgrim, in his spiritual weakness, had wandered through the world and longs to reach his destination:

    Llenni’r nos sydd yn ymgasglu,
    Duo mae pob awr,
    Ac mae’r wybren ddig yn tywallt
    Storom fawr.

    The pilgrim is in deep trouble. ‘Y Nos’, that is the night, is on the horizon. With every hour the sky (‘wybren ddig’) seems to get darker. Soon the huge storm (‘storom fawr’) will encompass him.

    A oes llygad all fy nghanfod?
    A oes glust a’m clyw?
    A oes braich a all fy nghodi
    O fyny’n fyw’

    He asks three simple questions, namely, Is there an eye somewhere that can see me? Is there an ear that can hear me? Is there an arm that can lift me up alive? Pedrog finds an answer

    Ust! Pa beth yw’r saint a glywaf?
    “Byddaf gyda thi”!
    Felys sain! Fe ddaw â nefoedd
    Gyda hi.

    What the note or voice that he hears? It is the promise of the Lordship of Christ. Pedrog understands that Jesus who was the Messiah of Israel, he is also the Son of God, who was exalted to God’s right had at the resurrection

    Gyda thi!” O! dyna ddigon,
    Yn y dŵr a’r tân
    Nes im gyrraedd i ogoniant
    Salem lân.

    ‘Gyda thi’ which means ‘With thee’. That is the promise of the Gospels. It is enough comfort, even in fire or water, for the pilgrim till he reaches the glory of Salem, the city of God. This hymn of Pedrog has a charm all of its own, and fits perfectly into the message of the New Testament.
    We come to the most popular, well-known hymn of Reverend John Owen Williams, the only hymn allowed into the best-selling hymnbook published under the title Caneuon Ffydd in 2001 and which sold a staggering eighty thousand copies within a few months of its appearance. The editors of this huge collection of hymns altered the original hymn of the Liverpool Welsh minister. In the first verse, third line, Pedrog had written ‘Dyro ddawn dy gariad’ (give me the virtue of love) while the editors inserted ‘crea ddelw’r cariad’ (create the image of love). In the fifth line Pedrog was inspired to write ‘Mi gawn dy gymundeb’ (we will have your fellowship) while the editors have inserted ‘carwn dy gymuneb’ (we will love your fellowship). Then in the third verse, the sixth line, Pedrog had written in my opinion a beautiful line ‘Troir y glyn yn gân’ (will turn the valley into song) while the editors had inserted a pedestrian line ‘Try y farn yn gân’ (turn the judgement into song’. Without any doubt I prefer the original.
    The theme of the hymn is Pure in Heart, based on the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, based on Matthew 5:8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.’ This hymn first appeared in the hymnbook of the Welsh Independent denomination. The hymnbook was called Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol Newydd when it was published in 1921. The tune is Maesgwyn composed by John Edwards, then based in Penrhiwceibr in the Cynon Valley, before he emigrated to Canada. It is a fine hymn, words as well as tune:

    ‘O fendigaid Geidwad
    Clyw f’egwan gri:
    Dyro ddawn dy gariad
    Yn fy enaid i.’

    He pleads on his Blessed Saviour to listen to his miserable cry as he needs his love in his soul

    ‘Mi gawn dy gymundeb
    Nefol heb wahân
    Gwelwn wedd dy wyneb,
    Ond cael calon lân.’

    Pedrog realises that he will experience the heavenly fellowship, and will see Jesus face to face if he possesses a pure heart. Calon Lân is an important concept in Welsh hymnody.

    Timothy J Hughes has expressed it so well:

    ‘When we sing the hymn Calon Lân, as all of us have done since childhood, we sing what we know to be true, that the simple values of the heart matter more than the fancy things, more than gold. The message has been central to our religious culture.’

    He is absolutely right. Pedrog hymns fits into the ‘simple values of the heart’, it is a message to all of us. Politicians have been in the news in 2009 and 2010 for their failure to understand the values of the heart. It is true also of the sexual standards of some priests within the Roman Catholic Church who have entirely forgotten the Beatitudes in their lust. We are seriously in trouble (see Matthew 5: 27-30). The Pure in Heart is Pedrog at his best The Greek adjective Katharos means both clean, as in “clean linen shroud” (Matt 27:59), and pure, that is, unalloyed, as in ‘pure gold’ (Rev 21: 21) Pedrog has followed the interpretation of Revelation, and to him the ‘pure in heart’ are those Christians, many he knew in his congregation, whose devotion to God is completely sincere. We could add another word, unalloyed. They are not double minded (James 1:8), they do not attempt to serve both mammon and God (Matt 6:24). Pedrog himself was never paid a handsome wage as a minister, he was on starvation wages in Kensington compared with those who served Mammon. But he was contented and served his congregation with diligence for 46 years in inner-city Liverpool. Such a fact accords with the thesis enunciated by the Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard in his book titled Purity of Heart is to will one thing.
    In the second verse of this fine hymn the minister instructs us in the Faith. He urges us to bend our stubborn will to the Will of God and to accept in faith what he gives us in gifts. It is a privilege to carry the Cross, and to praise his mercy. For in the end only one thing matters - ond cael calon lân (to have a pure heart).
    The final verse again is a verse of praise and hope and love, a real combination of God’s mercy, goodness and compassion.

    ‘O fendigaid Geidwad
    Ar fy nhaith trwy’r byd
    Gwynned dy sancteiddrwydd
    Ddyddiau f’oes i gyd.
    Angau try’n dangnefedd
    Troir y glyn yn gân
    Nefoedd wen ddiddiwedd
    Fydd i’r calon lân.’

    This is the beatific vision promised to the pure in heart. Death will become shalom. (‘Angau try’n dangnefedd’). The mountains and valleys will hear everlasting praise. Heaven itself will welcome for ever the pure in heart. It will be their pleasure to see God face to face (see 1 Cor 13:12).
    Pedrog had tremendous amount of influence within Welsh religious circles in Lancashire as he embodied Nonconformity in its golden age, a lovable poet-preacher of stature who was looked upon as a saintly, genteel and kind personality. He was himself the embodiment of the ‘pure in heart’ and in the Welsh communities around Liverpool who had no ordained minsters, such as Ashton-in Makerfield, Newtown-le-Willows, Skelmersdale, he was often called upon to officiate at funerals and weddings. His humility and his attractive personality were always referred to by his contemporaries and by those whom he cared for in his ministry at Kensington Chapel, Liverpool. The Scripture tells us that God dwells with the ‘lowly of spirit’ (see Psalm 51:17, also Isaiah 57: 15). As Douglas R A Hare of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary says:

    “Poor in spirit”, thus refers neither to those who are poor for religious reasons (the voluntarily poor) nor to those who are deficient with respect to spirit (the dispirited) but rather to those poor who manifest the attitude (the “spirit”) appropriate to their condition, namely humble dependence on God’s grace.’

    Pedrog personified Professor Hare’s explanation, he was indeed, a humble parson dependent on God’s grace.

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    Roedd yr eisteddfod y cyflawnodd Pedrog ei gamp ynddi yn hollol wahanol i Eisteddfod fodern. I ddechrau, doedd yna ddim rheol Gymraeg a hyd yn oed rhai o’r cystadlaethau yn Saesneg. Roedd y rhan fwyaf o’r darnau gosod ar gyfer y cystadlaethau cerddorol yn Saesneg; roedd hyn, wrth gwrs, yn denu corau o Loegr, ac yn aml iawn, nhw oedd yn ennill. Gellid ysgrifennu yn Saesneg hyd yn oed ar gyfer rhai o’r cystadlaethau rhyddiaith; yn wir roedd y traethawd buddugol ar ‘Democratic Institiutions’ wedi’i ysgrifennu yn Saesneg. Yn rhyfeddach byth i eisteddfodwyr heddiw, un o’r darnau gosod ar gyfer cystadleuaeth adrodd oedd ‘Speech of King Henry, from Sahakespeare’s King Henry, Act IV scene iii’. Dydy’r rhestr testunau ddim yn egluro pa King Henry, ond gan fod yr unig araith gan frenin yn y dramau i’r brenhinoedd Henry yn digwydd yn act 4 golygfa 3 o Henry V rwy’n cymryd mai at honno y cyfeirir. Dwn i ddim sut y byddai cynulleidfa fodern yn ymateb i’r llinell: ‘And gentlemen of England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here’.

    Roedd y Cyfansoddiadau a’r Beirniadaethau a gyhoeddwyd ddiwedd yr wythnos yn ddwyieithog hefyd a’r teitl Saesneg oedd Transactions of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Liverpool 1900. Ceir ynddo fraslun o ddigwyddiadau’r wythnos yn ogystal â’r cyfansoddiadau a’r beirniadaethau.

    Fe sylwir bod yr ansoddair ‘brenhinol’ yn absennol o’r teitl, er bod y gair ‘brenhinol’ yn cael ei gynnwys ar bamffledyn ges i hyd iddo yn hysbysebu un o gyngherddau’r Eisteddfod. Ond er gwaethaf hyn roedd rhestr y swyddogion yn darllen fel Burke’s Peerage. Y Llywydd neu’r President, chwedl nhwythau, oedd The Most Hon. The Marquis of Bute; yr Is lywyddion oedd His Grace the Duke of Westiminster, The Most Hon. the Marquis of Anglesey, the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Denbigh a nifer eraill o bobl efo teitlau tebyg. Y llywydd lleol oedd y Gwir Anrhydeddus Louis Cohen, Arglwydd Faer Lerpwl.

    Roedd Eisteddfod 1900 dipyn cwtocach nag eisteddfodau heddiw. Doedd hi ddim yn dechrau o ddifrif tan y Dydd Mawrth ac yn gorffen ar y dydd Sadwrn ond cynhaliwyd yr hyn a gofnodir fel an inaugural meeting ar y Nos Lun. Cynhaliwyd hwnnw yn siambr y Cyngor yn Neuadd y Dref lle y traddodwyd darlith ar y testun: ‘The defects of Technical Education in Wales’ gan Harry Reichel, Prifathro Coleg Prifysgol Bangor 1884-1927. Ar ôl y ddarlith rhoddwyd yr hyn a ddisgrifir fel at home gan yr Arglwydd Faer – ac i ddyfynu o’r Transactions ‘it was attended by the general committee and other prominent officials of the Eisteddfod together with their lady friends’. Mae hyn yn awgrymu nad oedd yna ferched ymhlith y swyddogion. Fe gofnodir yn y Transactions ‘The gathering was one of the brightest and most successful of the social events that have ever taken place in connection with the Eiteddfod and it was the thoughtfulness and generosity of the Lord and Lady Mayoress that enabled the Eisteddfod to be inaugurated with such éclat.’

    Dim rhyfedd i’r Arglwydd Faer gael ei dderbyn y bore canlynol i’r Orsedd a gynhaliwyd yn Whitely Gardens, yn Everton, gan yr archdderwydd Hwfa Môn. Yr enw barddol a ddewiswyd ar gyfer Louis Cohen oedd Cohenydd. Mae’n debyg mai May Cohen oedd enw ei wraig, oherwydd yr enw a roddwyd iddi hi oedd Mai Cohenydd. Traddododd yr Argwlydd Faer araith yn seremoni’r Orsedd ac un arall yn y pafiliwn, a godwyd yn North Haymarket, yn ddiweddarach y bore hwnnw. Traddodwyd araith hir arall yn y sesiwn hwnnw hefyd gan yr Arglwydd Mostyn. Yn wir ceid araith ym mhob sesiwn o’r Eisteddfod, fore, p’nawn a hwyr, a chofnodwyd nhw i gyd yn y Transactions.

    Dyma felly oedd cefndir yr eisteddfod yr enillodd Pedrog ei gadair ynddi. Testun yr awdl oedd ‘Y Bugail’ a dyma a ddywed y Cofnodion amdani:

    The shepherd was recognised as an ideal subject for the chair ode, the most eloquent testimony to this being the fact that it attracted no less than 20 competitors. The chair was a beautifully designed piece of oak furniture, valued at £15, to which was added a money prize of £25.

    Ac mae’r gadair honno yn cael ei chadw yn Neuadd y Dref, yma yn Lerpwl.
    Y beirniaid oedd:
    (i)Yr Athro (yn ddiweddarach Syr) John Morris-Jones,
    (ii)Tafolog, sef Richard Davies, mab ffarm a dreuliodd ei blentyndod yng Nghwm Tafolog, ger Cemais, Sir Drefaldwyn. Dechreuodd ymddiddori mewn barddoniaeth ym 1850 ar ôl ennill amryw o wobrau mewn eisteddfodau lleol. Ysgrifennodd swm enfawr o farddoniaeth yn ystod ei oes, awdlau meithion ar destunau fel ‘ Tywyllwch ,’ ‘ Prydferthwch ,’ ‘ Rhagluniaeth ,’ ‘ Hunanaberth ,’ ‘ Awen ,’ a phryddestau ar ‘Ymweliad y Doethion â Bethlehem ,’ ‘ Gwirionedd ,’ ‘ Tangnefedd ,’ ‘ Yr Iachawdwriaeth ,’ a ‘Tragwyddoldeb’.
    (iii) Berw, sef y Parch. R.A. Williams o Bentre Berw, Sir Fôn. Offeiriad yn eglwys Loegr oedd o a bu’n gwasanaethu am gyfnod yn Waunfawr. Enillodd y gadair yn eisteddfod Llundain 1887 ar awdl i’r Frenhines Fictoria.

    Syr John draddododd y feirniadaeth. Ond doedd y tri ddim yn gytun. Roedd Syr John a Berw eisiau gobrwyo awdl Pedrog ond Tafolog yn ffafrio awdl un â’r ffug enw ‘Alun Mabon’ - ffug enw addas iawn ar gyfer awdl ar y testun ‘Y Bugail’. Awdur yr awdl honno oedd Eliseus Williams, sy’n fwy adnabyddus o dan ei enw barddol Eifion Wyn. Yr eironi yw bod Eifion Wyn wedi parhau yn boblogaidd fel bardd ar hyd y blynyddoed ac ‘Y Bugail’ yw ei gyfansoddiad mwyaf adnabyddus yn y mesurau caeth, ond ychydig iawn o bobl sydd wedi clywed sôn am Pedrog, heb sôn am ddarllen ei waith. Mae’n amheus gennyf a oedd neb, heblaw y diweddar Athro Hywel Teifi Edwards efallai, wedi darllen ‘Y Bugail’ ers ei hymddangosiad yn y Transactions tan heddiw. Yr hyn oedd gan Syr John yn erbyn awdl Eifion Wyn oedd iddo gyfyngu ei hun yn ormodol i ystyr lythrennol ei destun, ond, meddai Syr John, ‘Mae ei awdl yn fwy cyfyng na hynny – mae wedi cyfyngu ei hun i draethu am fywyd bugail yng Nghymru.’

    Ffug enw Pedrog ar gyfer y gystadleuaeth oedd ‘Hesiod’, bardd Groeg o’r 8fed ganrif cc. Cyfeiriai ato ei hun fel ffarmwr o Boetia, ond dwn i ddim ai ffarmwr o fugail oedd o ai peidio; yn sicr does dim bugeilgerddi o’i eiddo wedi goroesi, er iddo ysgrifennu ar dechnegau ffarmio. Roedd o wedi tanio dychymyg Pedrog, mae’n amlwg, ac mae’n cynnwys englyn iddo yn ei awdl:

    Hesiod gynt, yn ystig oedd, - a’i ddefaid
    Hyd ddifyr fynyddoedd;
    Yno i galon gai olud
    Bröydd hud, a bardd ydoedd.

    Dyma ddywedodd Syr John am awdl Pedrog: ‘Os yw awdl Alun Mabon yn fer y mae awdl Hesiod yn rhy faith’. Pum can llinell oedd yn y naill ond 1700 o linellau yn y llall, yn ymestyn dros 37 o dudalennau. Pan ystyrir mai 1300 llinell oedd holl gynnyrch Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr, mae’n anhygol fod un gerdd yn cynnwys cymaint o linellau. Dim rhyfedd fod yna ‘gamgopïo a diofalwch’ ynddi weithiau. Meddai Syr John: ‘Mae’r arddull weithiau’n drwsgl ac afrwydd ac mewn mannau hyd yn oed yn ddrwg; ond yn ei fannau gorau y mae rhyw nerth a mawrhydi’n perthyn i’r bardd hwn na pherthyn i’r un o’i gyd-ymgeiswyr.’

    Mae’r awdl yn dechrau drwy ymholi ynhylch egwyddor bugeiliaeth a dod i’r canlyniad mai gofal y deallus am yr anneallus ydyw. Yna mae’n son am ofal Duw am ei fydoedd ac enwa enghreifftiau eraill o’r un egwyddor nes dod at y bugail ei hun a’i ofal am ei braidd gyda chymorth ei gi. Mewn ychydig o gwpledi cywydd, sydd ddim ymysg y rhai mwyaf disglair yn yr awdl, dywed:

    Bugail; - ni nyddid ini
    Gan neb ei gân heb ei gi;
    Hwn, erioed, sydd fel yn rhan
    Ohono ef ei hun.

    Yna ceir darlun o’r bugail yn chwilio am ei braidd yng nghanol storm o eira
    ac yn achub rhai a ‘ddisgynodd is y gaenen’:

    Yn fyw dan eu hanfad do
    ‘Roedd ei annwyl braidd yno!
    Ac â’i nerthol gynorthwy
    O’u bedd oer achubodd hwy.

    Yna daw’r haf ac y mae’n creu darlun o’r bugail yn ei fwthyn tlawd; disgrifia ei brofiadau a’i bleser ym myd natur fel y cychwyn allan gyda’r wawr.

    O gresyn i’r wawr groesi - y gorwel
    Heb i garwyr tlysni
    Yma weled, a moli
    Awdur hael ei cheinder hi.

    Yna mae’n traethu am yr hen fugeiliaid beiblaidd –Abel, a Moses a Dafydd a hen broffwydi Israel. Crybwylla broffwyd a gaed o Gymru oedd wedi graddio ‘o goleg y bugeiliaid’. Gan ei fod yn cyfeirio fan hyn at Lansannan a Hiraethog mae’n amlwg ei fod yn cyfeirio at Gwilym Hiraethog – un arall a fu’n weinidog gyda’r Annibynwyr yn Lerpwl, yn ogystal â bod yn fardd ac yn newyddiadurwr. Fe anrhydeddwyd Gwilym Hiraethog drwy osod ei enw yn destun yr awdl yn Eisteddfod Lerpwl ym 1884, flwyddyn ar ôl ei farwolaeth. Dyfed enillodd y gadair honno. Yna try Pedrog yn ôl at fugeiliaid Bethlehem a symud ymlaen at y Bugail Da yn galw’r cenhedloedd ato. Clywch fel y mae’n ceisio cynganeddu rhestr hir o enwau’r cenhedloed

    Mae’n galw y Mongoliaid, - ei nodau
    A edwyn Tartariaid;
    A byw yw ei swyn heb baid
    Yn awyr y Chineaid.

    Hylon eilw anwyliaid, - yn lluoedd,
    Trwy’r gorllewin telaid;
    Yn rhin i lawer enaid – hwnt i’r don
    Mae’r acenion ar Americaniaid.

    Ei hiaith wypu Ethiopiaid, - troi o’r nen
    Hon ni phair cynhen yr Affricaniaid.

    Muda gwsg Madagasgar, - yn awyr
    Barneo mae’n seingar;
    Trwy awelon Australia’r – seinia hi,
    “Daeth yr addewid i eitha’r ddaear.”

    Iesu swyna’r Caucasiaid, - i’w ddedwydd
    Ddiadell daw Persiaid;
    A gorwibiog Arabiaid; - ac mae’r don
    Gan Iuddewon (sic) a duon Hindwiaid.

    Dim rhyfedd i Syr John ddweud, ‘Dylai bardd cystal â hwn wybod nad barddoniaeth ydyw cynganeddu rhyw rhestr o enwau dieithr’. Ond i ddiweddu ei feirniadaeth mae’n dweud: ‘Wedi rhoi holl feiau’r awdl hon yn ei herbyn yn y glorian, nid oes amheuaeth yn fy meddwl i nad yw’n drymach o ddigon na’r un arall yn y gystadleuaeth’. Pam roedd Syr John yn credu bod ‘trymder’ yn rhinwedd, dwn i ddim. Efallai ei fod yn golygu bod yr awdl yn fwy ‘sylweddol’ nag eiddo ei gyd-gystadleuwyr. Dyma’r adroddiad ar y cadeirio a geir yn y Cofnodion:

    The winner was, as is generally the case, discovered to be sitting in the middle of the audience. The tall gentlemanly figure of the Rev. J. O. Williams (Pedrog) was instantly recognised, and as he made his way to the platform he met with a most cordial reception. The ceremony observed in installing the successful bard was, in almost every particular, the exact replica of the crowning ceremony, but additional effect was given to it by the singing of ‘See the Conquering Hero comes’.

    Roedd popeth a ddigwyddodd ar ôl hyn braidd yn fflat. Fel y dywed y Transactions am y cyfarfod cyntaf yn y pafiliwn y bore wedyn:‘The attendance was small and subdued as if the exciting events of the previous 3 days had for the moment dulled the keen edge of even the most enthusiastic.’ Ond roedd y pafiliwn yn llawn erbyn cystadleuaeth y corau meibion yn y prynhawn. Cafwyd 2 gyngerdd ar ôl hynny – un ar y Nos Wener a’r llall ar y Sadwrn. A dyna ddiwedd Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Lerpwl 1900, lle y cyflawnodd Pedrog ei gamp fawr.

    Pat Williams
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    The subject of this brief talk has been advertised as Ei gamp yn Eisteddfod Lerpwl 1900 – ‘His achievement in the Liverpool Eisteddfod 1900’. This of course refers to the achievement of Rev. J. O. Williams (better known by his bardic name Pedrog), in winning the chair at the National Eisteddfod of Wales held in Liverpool in 1900. The chair is always awarded as a prize at a special ceremony for an awdl ‘ode’, written in a selection of the 24 strict metres which had been formulated in the medieval bardic schools. The earliest record of a competition in which a chair was awarded as a prize, although it was not called an eisteddfod, dates back to 1176.

    The 1900 Eisteddfod was very different from a modern Eisteddfod. Since the 1950’s there has been in place an all Welsh rule which means that everything which is spoken or sung from the platform or written in the book of Compositions and Adjudications has to be in Welsh alone. However in 1900, it was very much a bilingual affair. The test pieces for the music competitions were almost entirely in English. Even some of the essays for the prose compositions could be written in English. And stranger still to modern eisteddfod goers, the test piece for one of the recitations was the ‘Speech of King Henry, from Shakespeare’s King Henry, Act IV scene iii’. It didn’t state in the list of competitions which king Henry, but since the only speech made by a king in any act 4 scene 3 of the King Henry plays, occurs in Henry V, I have come to the conclusion that that was the intended play. However I don’t quite know how a modern eisteddfodic audience would react to the lines: ‘and gentlemen of England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here’.

    The Cyfansodiadau Buddugol Eisteddfod Lerpwl 1900 was also given a title in English, Transactions of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Liverpool 1900. This recorded not only the adjudications and competitions but it also described in detail what had happened in every session.

    You may have noticed that this publication lacked the title ‘royal’ – although the epithet ‘royal’ was included in a flyer that I found advertising one of the eisteddfod concerts. But even if the title ‘royal’ was omitted, the list of Eisteddfod officials reads like Burke’s Peerage The President was The Most Hon The Marquis of Bute; the vice-presidents: His Grace the Duke of Westminster, The Most Hon the Marquis of Anglesey, the Rt Hon the Earl of Denbigh and a string of other such titled people. The president of the local committee was the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, the Rt. Hon Louis Cohen. Nowadays all the officials would be Welsh people.

    The modern Eisteddfod extends from Saturday to Saturday the first week in August. The 1900 Eisteddfod, which was held in September didn’t start officially until the Tuesday but there was, what is described as an inaugural meeting, on the previous Monday evening. This was held here in the council chamber at the Town Hall, where the audience heard a lecture on ‘The Defects of Technical Education in Wales’ by Harry Reichel Principal of the University College of North Wales, Bangor, 1884-1927. After the lecture there was an ‘at home’ given by the Lord Mayor and (I quote from the transactions) ‘it was attended by the General committee and other prominent officials of the Eisteddfod together with their lady friends’. Clearly there were no women on the committee. The transactions continue: ‘The gathering was one of the brightest and most successful of the social events that have ever taken place in connection with the Eisteddfod and through the generosity of the Lord and Lady Mayoress enabled the Eisteddfod to be inaugurated with such éclat.’

    It is little wonder that when the Eisteddfod opened the next day in Whitley Gardens in Everton with an assembly of Gorsedd y Beirdd, ‘the Bardic circle’, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress were inaugurated as members by the then archdruid, the Rev Rowland Williams, better known by his bardic name Hwfa Môn, a name which he took from his birth place Rhostrehwfa in Anglesey or Môn. Louis Cohen took as his bardic name (or rather had it chosen for him by one of the Welsh speaking officials) the name ‘Cohenydd’. His wife must have been called May Cohen, because her bardic name was Mai Cohenydd.

    At the first meeting in the Pavilion which had been erected in North Haymarket, (I couldn’t find North Haymarket on the map, but if they mean Old Haymarket, that would have been behind St George’s Hall, in what is now St John’s Gardens) the president was introduced under his bardic name Cohenydd and he gave a lengthy address. That was followed by a second address by Lord Mostyn. The audience must have been greatly relieved when they eventually got on to the choral competition. The transactions report in detail every single speech that was made in every session – morning afternoon and evening – but don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with those.

    So that was the background against which Pedrog won his chair

    The subject of the winning poem was ‘Y Bugail’ – The Shepherd. The Transactions record, ‘The shepherd was recognised as an ideal subject for the chair ode, the most eloquent testimony to this, being the fact that it attracted no less (sic) than 20 competitors. The chair was a beautifully designed piece of oak furniture, valued at £15, to which was added a money prize of £25.’ And of course the chair he won is here in the Town Hall

    The adjudicators were
    (i) Prof. John Morris Jones, who held the chair of Welsh at the University college of North Wales, Bangor.
    (ii) Richard Davies (Tafolog) who took his bardic name from Cwm Tafolog, near Cemais, Montgomeryshire, where he spent his childhood on his father’s farm. His interest in poetry dates from about 1850, when he won several prizes at local eisteddfodau. He composed a large number of long-winded odes on rather dreary philosophical topics.
    (iii) the Rev. R.A. Williams. (Berw) from Pentre Berw in Anglesey and a priest in the established church . He had won the chair in the London National Eisteddfod 1887 for an Ode to Queen Victoria.

    The adjudication was delivered by Professor John Morris-Jones, but there was disagreement among the three. Sir John (as he was subsequently known) and the Rev. R.A. Williams (Berw) judged Pedrog’s ode to be the best but Richard Davies (Tafolog) preferred the composition of another competitor, who had submitted his entry under the nom de plume Alun Mabon. Alun Mabon was a very suitable, albeit predictable, nom-de plume to have been chosen for a poem entitled ‘Y Bugail’, as Alun Mabon was the main character in a pastoral poem by a Manchester Welsh poet John Ceiriog Hughes, parts of which are well-known even today. It was subsequently revealed that ‘Alun Mabon’ was none other than Eliseus Williams (better known by his bardic name Eifion Wyn) and the irony is that Eifion Wyn is well known as a poet even today and his ode ‘Y Bugail’ is the best known of his poems in the strict metres, whereas Pedrog is virtually unknown and I doubt if anyone has read his winning ode since it was published in the Transactions until now.

    Sir John’s main criticism of Eifion Wyn’s Ode was that he had confined himself to a far too literal interpretation of the theme, a theme which he had narrowed even further by describing the life of a shepherd in Wales.

    Pedrog’s Ode on the other hand, extended the scope of his subject and treated it metaphorically as well as literally. His ode was considerably longer than Eifion Wyn’s – 1700 lines in fact extending over 37 pages of print. Even Eifion Wyn’s poem of 500 lines is long by today’s standards. Nowadays the poet is restricted to writing a maximum of 300 lines but most write fewer than that. Pedrog’s nom de plume for the competition was ‘Hesiod’, a Greek poet from the 8th century B.C., who refers to himself as a farmer from Boeotia. Whether he was a sheep farmer or not, I don’t know, and he hasn’t written any pastoral poems, (at least none have survived), but he has written on farming techniques and economic thought. Pedrog was clearly attracted to him and he mentions him in the body of the poem. In one of his better englynion (a four lined stanza in strict alliterative metre) he describes Hesiod busying himself with his sheep among the mountains situated in a magical district from where his soul is enriched.

    Hesiod gynt, yn ystig oedd, - a’i ddefaid
    Hyd ddifyr fynyddoedd;
    Yno i galon gai olud
    Bröydd hud, a bardd ydoedd.

    (Hesiod of yore was diligent – with his sheep / in the pleasant mountains; / there his heart was filled with the wealth / of magical regions, and he was a poet.)

    However even Sir John considered Pedrog’s ode to be too long and this, he said, resulted in carelessness and scribal errors. He said that the style was occasionally clumsy and unpolished and at times downright bad, but at his best he displayed a certain majesty and power which the others lacked.

    The ode begins with a discussion about the principles of pastoral care and reaches the conclusion that what is meant by pastoral care is the dependence of the weak on the strong. He then moves on to describe God’s care for the universe and gives many other examples of sun care, before coming to the subject proper. In Sir John’s opinion he could easily have abbreviated this tedious introduction. Pedrog then turns to the Shepherd himself and even gives his dog a very honourable mention in what I can only describe as a less than memorable stanza:

    Bugail; - ni nyddid ini
    Gan neb ei gân heb ei gi;
    Hwn, erioed, sydd fel yn rhan
    Ohono ef ei hun.

    (Shepherd; no-one composed for us / a poem to him without (including) his dog);
    he, always, is almost a part / of himself.)

    He continues with a graphic description of the hardships of winter and the shepherd rescuing his flock after a snow storm

    Fry safodd! fe welodd wawr
    Anadl ar eira gwynwawr;
    Pa fywyd dan oerllyd nen
    Ddisgynodd is y gaenen?
    Yn fyw dan eu hanfad do
    ‘Roedd ei annwyl braidd yno!
    Ac â’i nerthol gynorthwy
    O’u bedd oer achubodd hwy.

    (He stood aloft! he saw the breath of dawn / on the early morning white snow;/ what life under the cold heaven / had fallen beneath the layer (of snow)? His beloved flock was there! / And with his strong help / he rescued them from there icy grave.)

    He can write acceptable lines on occasions, even though the translation does not do them justice. Summer follows and he paints a picture of the shepherd in his lowly cottage and describes his experiences and his enjoyment of the world of nature as he sets out at dawn. All this he expounds in another reasonably good englyn:

    O gresyn i’r wawr groesi - y gorwel,
    Heb i garwyr tlysni
    Yma weled, a moli
    Awdur hael ei cheinder hi.

    (What a pity that the dawn crosses the horizon / without lovers of beauty/ seeing, and praising / the bounteous creator of her splendour.)

    Then he turns his attention to the biblical shepherds–Abel, Moses, David and the prophets of Israel. He moves on to mention a prophet from Wales who had graduated from coleg y bugeiliaid ‘the college of shepherds’. Since this coleg was located in Llansannan and the district of Hiraethog, it was obviously a reference to a fellow congregational minister and man of letters William Rees, otherwise known as Gwilym Hiraethog. Pedrog then returns to the shepherds of Bethlehem and leads up to the Good Shepherd calling the nations to his fold. He then proceeds to present in strict metre verse what I can only describe as a roll-call of the nations involved. Below is a selection of these stanzas:

    Mae’n galw y Mongoliaid, - ei nodau
    A edwyn Tartariaid;
    A byw yw ei swyn heb baid
    Yn awyr y Chineaid.

    Hylon eilw anwyliaid, - yn lluoedd,
    Trwy’r gorllewin telaid;
    Yn rhin i lawer enaid – hwnt i’r don
    Mae’r acenion ar Americaniaid.

    Iesu swyna’r Caucasiaid, - i’w ddedwydd
    Ddiadell daw Persiaid;
    A gorwibiog Arabiaid; - ac mae’r dôn
    Gan Iuddewon a duon Hindwiaid.

    (He calls the Mongols, - his sounds / are known to the Tartars; / and his charm is unceasingly alive / in the air of China.

    Cheerfully he calls loved ones – in droves / , through the beautiful west; / balm to many a soul are the American accents.

    Jesus charms the Caucasians, to his happy / flock come the Persians;/ and the nomadic Arabians; and the Jews and black Hindus hear his call.)

    It is little wonder that Sir John said that a poet as good as this should know better than to versify a list of foreign names. Nevertheless he was prepared to award him the prize. He said ‘in spite of its many faults, having weighed them in the balance, this ode is more substantial than any other in the competition.’ I’m surprised it passed the test of Sir John because some of the stanzas are ludicrously bad, particularly when he describes the feelings of a ewe for its lamb

    Y ddafad addfwyn, hyfwyn
    A eddyf hedd efo’i hŵyn;
    Dynered, yn ei orhoen
    Yw ‘ma-ma’ ’r chwareugar oen.

    (The gentle, genial sheep enjoys peace with her lambs; / how tender, in her joy / is the ‘ma-ma’ of her playful lamb.)

    It certainly would not have been considered worthy of the chair in a modern Eisteddfod. It is very encouraging that the literary renaissance of the twentieth century has continued to produce poets of a very high calibre indeed, poets who can compare favourably with the best English poets writing today.

    The Transactions give a graphic account of the ceremony:

    The winner was, as is generally the case, discovered to be sitting in the middle of the audience. The tall gentlemanly figure of the Rev. J. O. Williams (Pedrog) was instantly recognised, and as he made his way to the platform he met with a most cordial reception. The ceremony observed in installing the successful bard was, in almost every particular, the exact replica of the crowning ceremony, but additional effect was given to it by the singing of ‘See the Conquering Hero comes’.

    Everything that followed this was an anti-climax. The Transactions report that at the first meeting on Friday morning: ‘The attendance was small and subdued as if the exciting events of the previous 3 days had for the moment dulled the keen edge of even the most enthusiastic.’ However the pavilion filled up again for the choral competition in the afternoon and for the final two concerts, which concluded the Liverpool National Eisteddfod of 1900, when Pedrog won such acclaim.

    Pat Williams
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