ROLAND MATHIAS ; Poet and Literary Critic
Stephens, Meic, The Independent (London, England)
As poet, editor and critic, Roland Mathias made a major contribution to the literature of Wales in English, helping to define and develop it for more than 50 years. His work on the origins and growth of Anglo-Welsh literature, from about the late 15th century to the present day, drew its substance and accuracy from his training as a historian, and his literary criticism blazed a trail down which many others have since ventured. It is no exaggeration to say that, with his friend Raymond Garlick, he was the founding father of post-war Anglo-Welsh literary studies, to which his enormous energies were almost exclusively devoted.
Born on a farm above Talybont-on-Usk in the old county of Breconshire, and in a valley which was subsequently flooded to make a reservoir, Roland was educated at British military schools in Germany, where his father was an army chaplain, and at Caterham School and Jesus College, Oxford, where he took a First in Modern History. Both his parents were Welsh, but only his father was Welsh- speaking and the language of his home and education was English. He first became aware of his Welsh identity while reading a boys' adventure novel by Owen Rhoscomyl (CaptainOwenVaughan),butitwasmany years before he was able to immerse himself in the history and English-language literature of Wales. After teaching for a while at schools in England, he returned to Wales in 1948 as headmaster of Pembroke Dock Grammar School, a post he held for 10 years. It was there, a year after his appointment, that he took a leading role in founding Dock Leaves, a magazine which, as The Anglo-Welsh Review from 1957 until its demise in 1988, was to have a longer continuous existence than any other English-language magazine in Britain, except for Outposts. Roland Mathias was its editor from 1961 to 1976. The magazine took as its principal aim the healing of the breach between writers in Welsh and their counterparts whose work was done in English; the literary tag "Anglo-Welsh" was applied to the latter in order to distinguish between the two camps. From 1958 to 1969 Mathias lived in England: he was headmaster of the Herbert Strutt School at Belper in Derbyshire and then of King Edward VI Five Ways School in Birmingham. Nevertheless, he strove to develop The Anglo-Welsh Review as a journal of the arts in Wales by publishing studies of Welsh composers and painters as well as scholarly articles about aspects of Anglo-Welsh literature which had not, until then, received much critical attention. With no specifically political commitment other than that of Welsh patriot, but with a deep sense of mission and insisting that English- speakers had a part to play in the cultural life of Wales, he sought to strengthen the attachment of writers and readers to the national heritage.
"My writing is anti-cosmopolitan in emphasis," he wrote. "I believe it is important to know and cultivate my own piece of ground. Not to love one's own parish and always to believe in a greater significance elsewhere is not only to deny the well-springs of being but often to miss a natural humanity in the search." Mathias's professional interest as a historian was clearly reflected in the magazine's contents, notably in the many substantial reviews, articles, and editorials which he contributed. His literary criticism had a breadth of outlook, a high seriousness and a concern with issues rather than with personalities, which put it among the best-informed and most authoritative writing about the culture of modern Wales. His most important books were Whitsun Riot (1963), a monograph on Vernon Watkins in the "Writers of Wales" series (1974), a study of the poetry of John Cowper Powys (1979) and an illustrated history of Anglo-Welsh literature (1987). …