Treachery of the Blue Books

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Blue Books prt 2, no.9, p.66 - Evils of the Welsh Language

The Treachery of the Blue Books or Treason of the Blue Books (Welsh: Brad y Llyfrau Gleision) was the publication in 1847 of the three-volume Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales, which caused uproar in Wales for disparaging the Welsh; being particularly scathing in its view of the Welsh language, nonconformity and the immorality of the Welsh people in general.[1] The term Brad y Llyfrau Gleision was coined by the author Robert Jones Derfel in response to the Reports' publication.

The public inquiry was carried out as a result of pressure from William Williams, Radical MP for Coventry, who was himself a Welshman by birth and was concerned about the state of education in Wales. The enquiry was carried out by three English commissioners, Ralph Lingen, 1st Baron Lingen, Jellynger C. Symons and H. R. Vaughan Johnson. The commissioners visited every part of Wales during 1846, collecting evidence and statistics. However, they spoke no Welsh and relied on information from witnesses, many of them Anglican clergymen at a time when Wales was a stronghold of nonconformism.

The work was completed by 3 April 1847, and Lingen presented his report to the Government on 1 July of that year in three large blue-covered volumes ("blue books" being a widely used term for all kinds of parliamentary reports). The report was detailed. It concluded that schools in Wales were extremely inadequate, often with teachers speaking only English and using only English textbooks in areas where the children spoke only Welsh, and that Welsh-speakers had to rely on the Nonconformist Sunday Schools to acquire literacy. But it also concluded that the Welsh were ignorant, lazy and immoral, and that among the causes of this were the use of the Welsh language and nonconformity. This resulted in a furious reaction in Wales, led by the bard Robert Jones Derfel. Derfel's book-length response, Brad y llyfrau gleision, was published in 1854 by I. Clarke in Ruthin; it had no immediate political consequences, but was instrumental in the birth of the modern Welsh self-government movement. A measure of the anger aroused by the report in Wales is the subtitle Brad y Llyfrau Gleision. It is a reference to the infamous "Treachery of the Long Knives" when, according to Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Saxons began their campaign of conquest against the native Britons.

The commissioners often simply reported verbatim the prejudiced opinions of landowners and local Anglican clergy. The more bilious editorial attacks on Welsh culture mostly emanated from Commissioner Lingen. The Books remain an invaluable, although slanted, source of information on mid-19th century Welsh society.

Saunders Lewis, in Tynged yr iaith, maintained that the Blue Books were for Welsh history "the most important nineteenth-century historical documents we possess".[2] Such a judgement also reflects the fact that the publication of the reports, and the controversy that followed, was the catalyst for a much greater level of nonconformist involvement in the politics of Wales than hitherto. Critics such as the Reverend Evan Jones (Ieuan Gwynedd), Rev William Rees (Gwilym Hiraethog), Henry Richard and the Rev Thomas Price gained wide publicity for their trenchant criticisms of the reports. Over time these criticisms evolved into an organised political action, which culminated at the General Election of 1868.

Although much discussion of the Blue Books has centered on the essentialist criticism of the Welsh as a people, in his book Pam na fu Cymru (2015: published in English in 2017 as Why Wales Never Was), Simon Brooks argued that the Blue Books were a fundamentally liberal project in that the authors were sincerely concerned with the material wellbeing of the Welsh, as individuals. The argument that the Blue Books put forward, suggests Brooks, was that embracing the English language would allow the Welsh to achieve their potential and take full part in British civic society.[3]

Digital scans of the Blue Books are available at the National Library of Wales.

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References[edit]

  1. ^ "'Treacherous' Blue Books online". BBC News. 23 December 2005. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  2. ^ Jones, Alun R., Thomas, Gwyn, Presenting Saunders Lewis, UoW Press, 2nd ed 1983, ISBN 0-7083-0852-X, p 130
  3. ^ Brooks, Simon (2017) [2015]. Why Wales Never Was: the failure of Welsh nationalism. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 9781786830128.

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