Wales’s End?

In response to:

Save the Wales? from the November 18, 1982 issue

To the Editors:

I am much indebted to Graham Hughes for his thoughtful and generous comments on my history of modern Wales, 1880-1980, Rebirth of a Nation [NYR, November 18]. I hope it is not discourteous to comment, briefly, not on his view of my book, which is excessively kind, but on his view of the present condition of Wales itself, where he is rather too gloomy. His pessimistic judgements on modern Wales as a geriatric, neurotic, failed Lazarus, ripe for the morgue and the dust-heap of history, relate largely to the fortunes of the Welsh language. Undoubtedly, there has been a decline in the past hundred years, but transatlantic readers, unaware of the facts, ought to be told that the 1981 census (released after my book was written) showed that the decline in the speaking of Welsh slowed down markedly between 1971 and 1981. Crucially, for the school population in the 5-18 age group, the decline has virtually stopped altogether, largely because of the Welsh schools movement which has gathered impetus in recent years. A recovery is now possible. In addition, the new Fourth television channel for Welsh-language programmes, is likely to have a galvanizing influence in a land where broadcasting has a uniquely powerful cultural effect. Compared with Gaelic, Breton and (despite all the efforts of de Valera and Sinn Fein) Irish, the Welsh language today is still relatively buoyant (even in Patagonia!). Nor is the political scene as moribund as is implied—witness current debate in Britain about governmental decentralization. The Welsh Office remains a worthwhile achievement; incidentally, its conception (in 1959) owed nothing to the Welsh Language Society which did not exist at the time. Where Professor Hughes’s pessimism is wholly justified, however, is in connection with the Welsh economy, where cruel decline threatens the social and cultural base. Until our anabaptist Thatcherite version of Reaganomic monetarism is reversed, little can be hoped for, and much cultural advance will be at risk. Even so, Welsh culture and the sense of national identity survived an economic holocaust, and the pessimistic strictures of transatlantic observers, in the agony of the thirties. They will do so again.

Kenneth O. Morgan

Queen’s College

Oxford, England