Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History: 1995 Annual

By Michael Harris ; Tom O'Malley | Go to book overview

9
Tokens of Antiquity: The Newspaper Press and the Shaping of National Identity in Wales, 1870-1900 1

Tom O'Malley, Stuart Allan and Andrew Thompson

The most to be said of this town [Brecon], is what indeed I have said of many places in Wales, (viz.) that it is very ancient, and indeed to mention it here for all the rest, there are more tokens of antiquity to be seen everywhere in Wales than in any particular part of England. . . . The stories of Vortigern and Roger of Mortimer, are in every old woman's mouth here. 2

When Daniel Defoe published the second volume of his Tour in 1725, he described Wales as a country with a past that stretched beyond the Roman occupation. 3 Wales then, like today, was an "imagined community" with its collective traditions informed by popular memory and embedded in symbols, rituals and customs. 4 During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Welsh intellectuals continuously reinvented this past in order to produce a portrait of Welsh history characterized by continuity, distinctiveness and romance. 5 By the end of the nineteenth century, however, this emphasis on the idyllic antiquity of Wales had been directly challenged by a new generation of Nonconformist, Liberal intellectuals and politicians. As D. Gareth Evans writes: "In the 1850s and 1860s there occurred a massive cultural and political shift to a 'Nonconformist Nation', and the Welsh were encouraged to forget their past with its passion for poetry, legend and history. The new emphases were on practical knowledge, industriousness, progress, the language of

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