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In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight

Edward Jones, Welsh bard

Edward Jones. Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards. London: printed for the author, 1794. [Bound with]: Edward Jones. The bardic museum, of primitive British literature; and other admirable rarities. London: printed by A Strahan … for the author, 1802

Foyle Special Collections Library, Rare Books Collection FOL. ML1731.7W3 JON

By Katie Sambrook, Head of Special Collections

Though little remembered today, Edward Jones (1752-1824) played an important part in the preservation and dissemination of traditional Welsh music, collecting and publishing, often at his own expense, songs that might otherwise have been lost to posterity. This handsome folio volume, recently acquired by the Foyle Special Collections Library, contains, bound together, two of the three substantial works in which he sought to bring the music of the Welsh bardic tradition to a wider public, Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards (in the expanded edition of 1794) and The bardic museum, of primitive British literature; and other admirable rarities (1802).

Title page and frontispiece from Edward Jones, Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards, 1802A farmer’s son from rural north Wales, Jones grew up in a musical family and was taught to play the harp by his father. As a young man he moved to London to make a living from his mastery of this instrument, both as a performer and as a teacher. The harp was then much in vogue in London musical circles and Jones made the acquaintance of such cultural luminaries as Charles and Fanny Burney. He was eventually appointed harpist to the Prince of Wales (the future George IV) and on the title page of both Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards and The bardic museum he describes himself as ‘bard to the prince’. From Fanny Burney’s account of Jones’s performances on the harp, he appears to have been a technically proficient but somewhat pedestrian player (she wrote that ‘as expression must have meaning, he does not abound in that commodity’).

Jones's real importance lies in his work of collecting and publishing traditional folk music and song. Jones cast his net widely, publishing songs in Albanian, Spanish, Russian and Armenian, among other languages. The Foyle Special Collections Library holds a rare surviving copy of his Maltese melodies (London: printed for the editor, [ca 1805]), a collection of traditional Maltese and Italian airs which in 2000 was the subject of a recording by the Maltese folk group Etnika.

Engraving showing harps and other instruments. From: Edward Jones, Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards, 1794Jones devoted his most extensive research, however, to the bardic musical tradition of Wales, and his work of rediscovery and preservation can be seen as part of a wider 18th century movement of British and Celtic nationalistic antiquarianism, reflected in works as diverse as Percy’s Reliques of ancient English poetry, the ‘Ossian’ poems of James Macpherson and Charlotte Brooke’s Reliques of Irish poetry, all of which are represented in first or early editions in the Foyle Special Collections Library’s collections.

Particularly evident in Jones’s work is the influence of Thomas Gray’s poem of 1757, The bard, a key catalyst of the Celtic literary revival. The frontispiece of Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards comprises an engraving of Gray’s bard, from an original painting by Philip de Loutherbourg, accompanied by a stanza from the poem; the bard stands on a wind-swept cliff, playing the harp in defiance of  Edward I’s soldiers, who watch him from the opposite bank of ‘Conway’s foaming flood’.

For Jones the figure of the bard was symbolic of an unbroken tradition of noble Welsh nationalism stretching back to pre-Roman times and reflected in the survival of words and music. He notes with pride that the inhabitants of Wales and Cornwall ‘are the only Aborigines of this island now remaining; both of which, as well as their fraternal tribe of Bretagne, in France, all speak the ancient British language’.  He describes the bards as ‘one of the most respected order of men in the ancient British states … the Fathers of Sciences; the national instructors, musicians, legislators, priests, prophets, and often princes.’

In his official role as harpist and, later, bard to the Prince of Wales (an office which he is always careful to mention on the title page of his works) Jones sought to revive the elevated status of the ancient Welsh bard. It is not surprising that Jones was a leading figure in the revival of the Welsh eisteddfod, often acting as an adjudicator, awarding and presenting prizes; his bardic studies were more than scholarly antiquarianism – they were intertwined with active efforts to preserve and revive the bardic tradition as a living feature of Welsh culture.

The copies of Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards and The bardic museum acquired by the Foyle Special Collections Library are of particular interest for their possible link with their author.  In both works the address of the bookseller, as given on the title page, has been crossed out and replaced in ink by another address, that of Jones. These and other occasional manuscript corrections in the same hand elsewhere in the book suggest that Jones may have handled and marked this volume. The volume also contains the ink stamp of a contemporary bookseller, which reads ‘Sold at Fentum’s Music Shop, No. 78, Strand.’  John Fentum (fl 1784-1835) was a music publisher, ticket agent, violinist and bookseller, whose business premises occupied a site only a few yards from what is today the Strand campus of King’s College London.

Title page and frontispiece from Edward Jones, The bardic museum, of primitive British literature; and other admirable rarities, 1802

Further reading

Trevor Herbert, ‘Jones, Edward [Bardd y Brenin] (1752–1824)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/14997, accessed 23 Oct 2017]

Philip A Highfill, Kalman A Burnim and Edward A Langhans. A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers, and other Stage personnel in London, 1660-1800: Eagan to Garrett. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978

Rosemary Sweet. Antiquaries: the discovery of the past in eighteenth-century Britain. London: Hambledon and London, 2004

 

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