By Geraint H. Jenkins
An industrious educational and charmingly eccentric Romantic poet and forger, Iolo Morganwg (1747-1846) left at the back of a floor-to-ceiling stack of unpublished manuscripts in his small Welsh cottage. A Rattleskull Genius, in accordance with that trove of unpublished fabric now held on the nationwide Library of Wales, offers either a party and a severe reassessment of the writer and his contributions to Welsh cultural culture.
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Additional info for A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg (University of Wales Press - Iolo Morganwg and the Romantic Tradition)
105 In his locality he was alive to the needs of others. His medicinal skills made him ‘a ready courier for the sick or afflicted among his neighbours’106 and he could be counted on to write letters and wills on behalf of the illiterate poor. His commitment to benevolence, justice and freedom, together with his willingness to champion the underdog (including piteously poor young women like Alice John and Catherine Thomas107), greatly endeared him to the lower orders of society. His Quaker sympathies and Romantic sensibilities, as well as his Paineite radicalism, alerted him to the iniquities perpetrated by the ‘Cowskin heroes, alias negro drivers, alias Bloodhounds at Bristol’108 against enslaved blacks in the Caribbean and elsewhere, and, as Andrew Davies indicates,109 his avowed determination never to accept a penny from his slavetrading brothers wavered only when worries over the future security of his children plagued him during his latter years.
Always hungry to learn and ready to question everything except his own dogma, Iolo assumed another persona from around 1796 onwards as an expert on agriculture and mineralogy. His experiences as a farmer and businessman had not dimmed his enthusiasm or his schoolboy sense of wonder. 58 He knew every species of bird and flower in his locality, and nothing gave him greater joy than growing apple trees in the most improbable locations. Although his impressive work for the Board of Agriculture was judged to be too subversive in its political comments, it nevertheless revealed his skills as a topographer, a statistician and a cartographer as well as his expertise in farming and industrial developments.
The plain fact is that he was by nature a prickly individualist who could not resist provoking people or stumbling into controversies. Life so often became a matter of Iolo contra mundum, and his ‘alliance to the genus irritabile’,88 as Waring delicately put it, meant that he could neither be silent nor be shocked into silence. He once confessed to a clerk at the Royal Literary Fund Society that all poets were prone to be fractious:‘Poets are said to be in general 87 88 See pp. 222–6 below. RAEW, p.