Transcripts of Thomas Stephens' letters made available online

Dr Marion Löffler with the four volumes of correspondenceThe team behind a Leverhulme Trust-funded research project on Thomas Stephens of Merthyr Tydfil has made its transcripts of over 400 letters sent to the Chemist and self-taught scholar, who fuelled a revolution in Welsh historical learning, available to the public online.

Since November 2014, Dr Löffler has been leading a research project at the University of Wales Centre of Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) entitled Knowledge Transfer and Social Networks: European Learning and the Revolution in Welsh Victorian Scholarship. Researching how European knowledge was transferred to Merthyr Tydfil in the 1840s and 1850s, the project has explored the effect of local elite patronage and the role of the lower middle class in the process of modernizing Wales and its learning, as well as focusing on the life, times and European connections of the historian and social reformer Thomas Stephens.

 A Letter from America

A letter from America

Thomas Stephens’s voluminous archive was donated to the National Library of Wales in 1916, and most of the letters to him were bound in four large volumes. The National Library website therefore seemed the natural home for transcripts of letters sent to Wales from all over the world: America, Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Scotland and Switzerland, but which have long found a permanent home in Aberystwyth.

Among famous Welsh correspondents are Lady Charlotte Guest, Augusta Hall (Lady Llanofer), Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain), Harry Longueville Jones, Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc)and the dictionary maker D. Silvan Evans. Topics of at times heated discussions include eisteddfod competitions and adjudications, the relationship between workers and iron masters in Merthyr, the Welsh orthography reform begun in 1858, Lady Llanofer’s singers, druidism, and of course Thomas Stephens’s own work and publications.

Team members Dr Marion Löffler and Dr Adam Coward, whose aim is to gain recognition for Thomas Stephens’s efforts on behalf of his community of Merthyr Tydfil for modernizing Welsh culture, and for revolutionizing Welsh scholarship, have decided to make the first fruits of their research available to the public on-line and free of charge.

Project leader Dr Marion Löffler said:

 Druidic rays in a letter by William Richard John (Mathonwy)

Druidic rays in a letter by William Richard John (Mathonwy)

“These letters demonstrate that south Wales was not on the margins, but at the centre of world-wide correspondence networks and connections. Expatriate Welshmen wrote from America and Australia, antiquaries from Ireland and Wales sought answers to questions about cromlechs and Celtic inscriptions, and international Celtic scholars like Adolphe Pictet and Hersart de la Villemarqué corresponded on the interpretation of Celtic river names and the mythical figurese like Hu Gadarn. Among the more bizarre letters to Stephens are those by William Wilde, the father of Oscar Wilde, who combined being a well-known eye-specialist with antiquarian interests. He corresponded with Stephens about the name and nature of ‘y fad felen’, the ‘yellow plague’ which swept through the British Isles in the sixth century AD.”

Whether you are interested in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales or European Celtic scholarship, the four volumes of letters, should make for fascinating reading.

You can access the letters via the two links below:
https://archives.library.wales/index.php/letters-534
https://archives.library.wales/index.php/letters-889

On Wednesday the 9th of August at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Anglesey, Dr Marion Löffler will deliver the Cymdeithas Carnhuanawc lecture. Entitled Thomas Stephens a Chymreigyddion Y Fenni (Thomas Stephens and the Abergavenny Cymreigyddion), the lecture will take place at 12 noon in Societies Pavilion 1. A warm welcome is extended to all.

For more information about the research project, please visit the Centre’s website.