Cymric items in the Pepys Library

This blog explores the themes of Welsh language and culture in the Pepys Library, published as a companion piece to the Universal Short Title Catalogue’s blog by Jamie Locke-Jones exploring early Welsh-language printing.

Locke-Jones highlights the Pepys Library’s rare copy of The fyrst boke of the introduction of knowledge by Andrew Boorde (c. 1490-1549).  The title of the book continues: The whych dothe teache a man to speake parte of all maner of languages, and to knowe the vsage and fashion of al maner of countreys, and contains some choice phrases for the English to use when conversing in Welsh.  Some of these bear a striking, charming, similarity to modern tourist phrasebooks, such as: ‘Is this the right way to the towne?’, ‘Mystres have you any good meat and lodgyng?’ and ‘Gyve me some ale’.  An accompanying woodcut illustration depicts a man with a harp, to help the reader distinguish between the Welshman and the Englishman.

This book would have certainly piqued Pepys’s strong interest in languages.  As explored in previous blogs such as Pepys and Cervantes and The Historic Libraries go Dutch, Pepys collected books and ephemera in many European languages and others further afield, such as his examples of Chinese almanacs.  Pepys’s diary reveals that he could speak Spanish and French (his wife Elizabeth de Saint Michel was of French Hugenot origin) and he also had a good grasp of Latin and Ancient Greek.  His collection of material in Welsh and concerning Wales shows an interest in languages and cultures closer to home.

PL 2044: Rhys, John David. Cambrobrytannicæ Cymraecæue linguæ institutiones et rudimenta accuratè. Londini : Excudebat Thomas Orwinus, 1592.

For more advanced lessons in Welsh, Pepys could turn to his copy of John David Rhys’ Cambrobrytannicae Cymraecaeue linguae institutions et rudimenta, the first Welsh grammar in Latin and published by Thomas Orwin in 1592.  Pepys’s copy of this work has a Welsh connection in its provenance: it was owned previously by the author James Howell (c. 1594-1666).  Born in Llangammarch, Powys, Howell was a friend of Ben Jonson.  On the title page, Jonson notes that Howell gave this book to him as a gift in 1634, and we also see Jonson’s famous Latin motto inscription found on many books he owned, ‘Tanquam Explorator’.  Additionally, there is a copy  of Howell’s poem ‘Upon Dr. Davies Brittish Grammar’, in Howell’s hand, on the upper endpaper of the volume. 

PL 362(30). Crumpton, Hugh. The Distressed Welshman. [London]: for W.T., to be sold by J. Conyers, [1680].

In addition to scholarly works there are several examples in the Pepys Library of ephemeral items, such as chapbooks and broadside ballads, which Pepys collected upon a Welsh theme.  These items of popular print often included bawdy and disparaging stereotypes.  On the first leaf of the chapbook The Distressed Welshman by Hugh Crumpton, we see a woodcut of the protagonist with a leek in his hat.  In the background we see the ‘unpleasant-smelling billy goat’ which was associated with the Welsh peoples in the London popular press.[1]  In the vast collection of Broadside Ballads which Pepys collected, there is one example in Welsh entitled Byd y Bigail (The Shepherd’s Life) attributed to Richard Hughes (c. 1565-1619), a poet and courtier of Elizabeth I and James I.[2]  It is the only known copy of this ballad the world, and it would have originally had an accompanying English translation, but no extant copy of this part of the printed ballad has been discovered.  Byd y Bigail is digitised and available to study on the English Broadside Ballad Archive website.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections


[1] Lord, Peter.  ‘The history of a Welsh painting: :”Poor Taff” and the Welsh school in London’.  The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, Volume 23, 2017. pp. 159-162.

[2] Davies, J.H.  ‘An Early-printed Welsh Ballad’.  Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, Volumes 2 no, 7, 1922.  Pp. 243-245.

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