Classic Podium: Singing the praises of Wales

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
From a speech by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, delivered at the

Saint David's Day banquet in Cardiff

(1 March 1927)

I AM prepared to admit, in passing, the antiquity of the Welsh race. We have that on the authority of Shakespeare and on the authority of Mr Lloyd George. Mr Lloyd George is a member of the bardic circle.

He has told us - true, it was in a peroration - that nearly 2,000 years ago Suetonius Paulinus massacred, on the shores of Anglesey, a throng of priests and women while they were singing Welsh hymns. Six weeks ago, I heard the Dowlais choir singing Welsh hymns, and I do not think anyone on earth could have massacred them. They sang a hymn called "Jerusalem", and I think Paulinus would have knelt by their side had he heard them. The complaint I make against you is that in moments of economic excitement, such as we had in the coal strike last year, the sweet harmonies are broken and the songs are turned into slogans.

But of your antiquity there is no doubt. You are alleged to be directly descended from the Trojans. Geoffrey of Monmouth hath declared it. I venture to differ from the venerable Archdeacon. I am convinced that no Welshman would ever have allowed a wooden horse inside the city.

The Celtic memory was a long one, and to those who looked on the Welsh from over the border, it was a source of satisfaction to see that ancient as the race was, and ancient as was the language, and great as was their history, they had what many ancient peoples had not: they had a present and a future.

You have a present, and no one can have the slightest acquaintance with the achievements of Wales in the last 25 years without recognising the idealism with which you have challenged the raw and stubborn facts of life and striven to transmute them.

Where I now stand is almost without parallel in these islands for foresight in planning the buildings required for a great and growing centre of population. You have housed here your municipal, county and national authorities in a way which stirs the imagination and exalts the self-respect of your people. They are a tribute to the untiring zeal of hundreds of the best men and women in Wales. You have a beautiful country in Wales. Don't let strangers spoil it for you, and don't spoil it yourselves.

You have in Wales the Snowdon district, the city of St David and the bays beyond it; you have the Carnarvon peninsula, and just outside Wales there is the Forest of Dean. Isn't it worth thinking whether it may not be possible to convert some of these districts into national possessions, which can never be disfigured, which can never be built over, where it may be possible to go in my old age without having to listen to the blast of a steam whistle or the hoot of a motor-car?

Men who deny their national spiritual heritage in exchange for a vague and watery cosmopolitanism become less than men; they starve and dwarf their personalities; they turn into a sort of political eunuch. But if the instinct of nationality is natural, it needs always to be directed and often to be curbed. We must temper it with other loyalties.

Long and bitter was the fighting between Wales and England, but there came a day when, under the banner with the dragon, Henry Tudor marched across Wales and placed upon his brow the crown of England. From that day the Welsh began to work with the English, giving what they had to the common stock, and drawing from the common stock what they needed, while preserving their own nationality, their own language and their own fire. I cannot end better than by quoting to you words more eloquent than mine. They are the words of Ben Jonson to Queen Elizabeth.

"This country has always been fruitful of loyal hearts to Your Majesty, a very garden and seed plot of honest minds and men. What light of learning hath Wales sent forth from your schools? What industrious students of your law? What able ministers of your justice? Whence hath the Crown, in all times, better servitors, more liberal of their lives and fortunes? I am glad to see it and to speak it, and though the nation be said to be unconquered and most loving liberty, yet it was never mutinous, but stout, valiant, courteous, hospitable, temperate, ingenious; capable of all good arts, most lovingly constant, charitable, great antiquaries, religious preservers of their gentry and genealogy, as they are zealous and knowing in religion."

Comments