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Edmund Prys

His appeal was not in vain. EDMUND PRYS, before twenty years had passed, published a complete Welsh Psalter. He was an Archdeacon of Merioneth, a man of scholarly attainments, and an eminent poet. Born, about 1541, in the romantic neighbourhood of Harlech, the fellowship of Nature in the charming ruggedness of hill and glen, and in the shining blue of the sea, would establish a community of thought, and of sacred 19 fancy between him and the poet-king of Israel, who read the signature of the Divine hand on every page of creation. I am afraid, nevertheless, that this poetic genius was sometimes scarcely under control. Among all the bardic quarrels of Welsh literature, his quarrel with William Cynwal must be counted as its Iliad. The latter was a smith by trade, and received one day a message in verse from the archdeacon, asking for a steel bow to be sent to a friend, according to promise. The smith--who was also a poet--made a long delay, and sent his excuses back in verse. So the battle began and went on, poem for poem; till the archdeacon began to treble his blows, sending three satires together, and receiving the same number of fiery missiles in return. The archdeacon then thought he would finish his adversary with a fusillade of nine poems, but the sturdy blacksmith was sufficiently alive still to reply with another nine. Three times nine poems was the next intended onslaught, but when the archdeacon had finished sixteen of them, a messenger brought him tidings that his rival had reached the dark and silent land where 'there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom'--nor any noise of warfare! He threw his sword far into the sea, and there and then commenced an elegy bewailing the loss of so brave a foe, so skilful a poet!

So much for the archdeacon's celebrated fight, in which he laboured hard and gained nothing. More profitable is it to chronicle that he found a 20 new mission in the work mapped out by Maurice Kyffin, and already initiated by Edward Kyffin. In turning the whole of the Psalms into verse--and verse that could be sung--he has given all coming ages cause to bless the regeneration of his muse.

It is said that his custom was to prepare a Psalm for each Sunday, to be chanted in the church. His intimate knowledge of Hebrew helped him to give sometimes a better rendering of the original than that even in the Authorized Version of the Welsh Bible. The whole was published in 1621. While the version has suffered somewhat from a lack of variety in its metre, it has nevertheless been, ever since its first appearance, one of the chief treasures of Welsh hymnology. Many a single verse, rugged and massive of form, has done yeoman service on 'the field of Association' (maes y Gymanfa); when, as in the earlier part of the present century, it was uttered by the lips of a John Elias, and taken up by the large assembly in unison, at first in slow and halting tones, gradually rising and swelling, till at last with overwhelming force it seemed to break on the shore of ten thousand souls like the splendid rush and roar of a mighty sea. On occasions like this, a favourite verse of that famous preacher was the archdeacon's rendering of Psalm lvii. 11: 'Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let Thy glory be above all the earth.' And another--equally appropriate before speaking 21 the eternal word to the great assembly--was the rendering of Psalm cxli. 3: 'Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.' How effective such a verse, spoken by such a man in such a place, might be, let the following graphic description of him bear witness--drawn by Gwalchmai, a living poet and preacher:

'Mr. Elias rises up to the desk. He casts a glance over all the congregation. He requests those who stand on the edge of the crowd to close in toward the centre. The sight of him is very striking; his whole aspect is winning; there is a noble dignity in his look; greatness is interwoven with humility in his personal appearance. He comes forward as a general to lead an army--a captain of the host of the Lord; or rather as an ambassador for his King. No one asks to see his seals of office every one reads his authority in his appearance. . . . His thought fills every line, every muscle, every vein in his face. Sparks of fire leap out of his eyes, and still at the same time the most diffident tenderness clothes his countenance. He looks as anxious as if this were to be the last association in which he would ever appear publicly to deliver his message for his great Master; he seems as if he thought that he is on the point of being summoned to render an account to his King; and on that account he commands every feeling, every nerve, every faculty, and every purpose he possesses, to his important and solemn task. He is as if he wanted to make one immortal exploit. 22 To-day or never, to save the souls in his presence! He gives out a verse to sing, with a sonorousness like that of a golden bell in his mouth:

"Set on my mouth a seal, O Lord,

Lest witty word offendeth;

Cover my lips, lest I speak ill

What now Thy will me sendeth."'

The severe, rugged strength of the words in the Welsh original moves like a torrent in its course; and the preacher used the mighty and awful words to bring himself into the current of Divine eloquence. No wonder that, with 'the door' of God upon his lips, his sermon was as the visible fire of heaven.

The above gives some hint of the place taken by the archdeacon's Psalter in the national history. Perhaps a still clearer glimpse of its power is afforded by this memorable incident connected with the singing of his version of Psalm cxxi. 1, 2.

One of the evangelist preachers of the eighteenth century ventured to cross over to Anglesey to publish the glad tidings of God. His appearance was the signal for violent opposition; and how it fared with him on one occasion shall be told in the words of one who ought to know:

'Saul of Tarsus was never more determined to imprison the disciples of Jesus than I, and the persecuting band that had gathered together with staves to meet the Roundhead who was coming to 23 preach at Penmynydd. We had all agreed, if he tried to preach, to make an end of him there and then. When he had arrived, we began to push forwards close to him; and when he had mounted a large stone which stood beside the house, and turned his face toward Carnarvon, and gave out this stanza, to be sung by his scanty followers:

"I lift mine eyes unto the hills

Whence willing help shall come,"

we, supposing him to be expecting some armed men from the hills of Arvon, began to retreat a little. And after consultation, some of us decided to hear what the preacher had to say; and so we went over the fence, and crept slowly and noiselessly under cover of it till we came over against where he stood. He could not see us, and we did not want to see him; but we could hear every word he said as plainly as if we stood beside him. Under that sermon, on the most wonderful day of, my life, I came to know myself as a lost sinner--lost everywhere, and in everything, outside of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.'

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