Lewis Morris


Lewis Morris was one of the most important figures in Wales during the eighteenth century, and to do him justice in a short article is a well-nigh impossible task. Writing about him in 1960, the late Hugh Bevan, had this to say:

This poet was at the same time a scholar, a scientist, and an early technologist. He devised instruments as varied as a windmill and a microscope. By occupation he was at different times a collector of taxes, a land surveyor, a cartographer and a mine supervisor. In his leisure hours he took an interest in botany, in sea-shells, engineering, chemistry and many other sciences. . . When he went to Llandrindod [Wells] for his health's sake, he took with him his microscope and other relevant instruments in order to analyse the water and choose the most beneficial well.

In his day he was without doubt the greatest authority on the Welsh language and its literature, a fact acknowledged by all in Wales who were in a position to judge, and by all those outside her borders who took an interest in her language and history. He acted as teacher and supporter to many young Welsh poets and scholars of his period, as for example Goronwy Owen and Evan Evans (Ieuan Brydydd Hir), both of whose contribution to Welsh poetry and scholarship is of prime importance. In spite of the tribulations that were to beset him after he moved to live in Ceredigion (see below), he continued to gather material for a project which he called Celtic Remains, a vast dictionary of place-names and personal names mainly. Sadly he died before the work was ever published, though part of it saw the light of day after his death.

He was dark and swarthy of appearance, and of some corpulence judging by some of the nicknames given him by his brothers and his nephew, John Owen, in their letters to one another, among them being 'The Fat Man of Cardiganshire'. The evidence that we have is that he was not a likeable man. Proud and arrogant, he could be hard and unfeeling. He was ready to take offence and to hold a grudge. He tended to keep things from those nearest him, and was considered to be tight-fisted and miserly ? traits that he had before ever coming to Ceredigion. A selfish man who was not averse to taking advantage of the kindness of others. Yet we catch a glimpse of him enjoying himself among his grandchildren at his fireside, and one cannot but feel sorry for him when he informs Edward Richard of Ystad Meurig of the death from smallpox of his ten year old son, John. 'I lost the other day my dear son', he writes, 'for whom I would have given my life'.

Lewis Morris was an Anglesey man. He was born there in 1701, one of four brothers and a sister, and it was there that he lived until his early forties. He learnt the cooper's trade from his father, but also interested himself in land surveying. He was commissioned in 1724 to survey the estate of Owen Meyrick of Bodorgan, and on the successful completion of that feat, and through the good offices of Meyrick, he was commissioned by the Admiralty to survey the coast of Wales from Penmaen-mawr in the north to Milford Haven in the south. It was this seven-year task that brought him to Aberystwyth for the first time, and there he was drawn to the lead-mining industry that flourished in north Ceredigion at that time. The result was that he settled here, and was soon appointed deputy steward of the Crown manors in Ceredigion. In that post one of his duties was to ensure that the local landowners forwarded a percentage to the Crown of their profits from the lead mined on their land, which they were exceedingly reluctant to do. As a result, Lewis became very unpopular in their sight, and the last twenty or so years of his life that he spent in this area were for him years of afflictions and grief. He was called upon to travel to London on several occasions, being forced to remain there sometimes for months, while various issues and wranglings between the greedy landowners and the Crown passed through the courts. His health suffered as a consequence, and his letters to his brothers are full of references to his chronic coughing and asthmatic attacks, and to the weird and wonderful medicines he took in an attempt to ease his discomfort.

When Lewis Morris first came to this part of Ceredigion he was a widower with two daughters who were left with members of his family in Anglesey. He probably lived for a short period at Cwmsymlog, but by 1747 he had bought part of Allt Fadog farm near Capel Madog. Above the main entrance to Allt Fadog a plaque was placed some years ago by Cymdeithas y Penrhyn to commemorate the fact that he had lived there. Sharing his new home was his second wife, Anne, who was half his age, and who was the heiress of a small esatate called Penbryn in Goginan, to where they both later moved to live. Nine children were born to them, while his two daughters from his first marriage came to live with him, as well as John Owen, his sister Elin's son.

The story of his years in this area is an interesting one. Apart from the difficulties presented by the local squires ? one of them on one occasion held a loaded pistol to his temple, and had him dragged to Cardigan prison ? his daughter Peggy from his first marriage was also a source of great tribulations. He took part in several lead-mining ventures, dreaming always of a large fortune which was bound to come his way some day. It never did come, and when he died in 1765 he was far from being a rich man. He was buried inside the church of Llanbadrn Fawr, near the altar, where his memorial stone may be seen, and which was placed there by his great-great grandson, the Victorian poet and man of letters, Sir Lewis Morris.