John Jones 1810 – 1869

John Jones 1810 - 1869“Talhaiarn”

People said then that his mother, Gwen ran the pub, while his father, John was a carpenter and smallholder. Like his father, the child was also John Jones and he and his two brothers and two sisters were brought up to the sounds of singing and merriment, and he learned memorized a large number of verses and harp tunes. He went to the village school to learn reading and writing, and then to schools at Rhuddlan and Abergele. He came back home to work with his father as a carpenter on a mansion to be called Castell Gwrych.

At the age of 15, John Jones was apprenticed to an architect at Pool Park, a mansion near Ruthin and from there as an apprentice architect of bridges in the Denbighshire and Montgomery. By now he is recognized as a poet and took upon himself the bardic name “Talhaiarn”. According to his memories of the period when he lived in Efenechtyd he participated fully in festivities as GwylMabsant. He remembers buying a pair of shoes to dance in the festival.

In 1844, he moved to London to be apprentice architect working with the famous company of Scott and Moffat. He helped supervise buildings such as St Mary’s Church in Nottingham. His first building that we can be certain that he planned on his own Trefain Church, Cardigan. (The last, it is said was, Pen y Bont, Llanfairtalhaiarn!) Then in 1850, he joined Joseph Paxton, in his project to design and build the Crystal Palace. Is not known exactly what part Talhaiarn had in that work, but because he wrote articles for the Cymro on the Great Exhibition, the belief grew that he had an important role in the construction. Paxton it is also alleged that he planned the outside of the building and left to Talhaiarn the task of planning the indoor exhibition!

One of Paxton’s most important clients was the Baron de Rothschild, and it is a tribute to his employer that Talhaiarn was entrusted to oversee the construction of his new mansion at Mentmore Towers. That was completed in 1855 and that Talhaiarn’s work must have pleased the Baron, because in May of that year Talhaiarn was preparing to move to France, to Ferrieres, six miles from Paris to design and build a new family mansion for the Baron. There were three hundred employees at the mansion itself and two hundred elsewhere, working on the boulevards and gardens. Just as important, according to Talhaiarn was that he could join in the fun of a French Fete! “Evening-time violin and cornopean were seen and young men and girls dancing for all they were worth on the way to Church. Good grief! I said, at last I’ve just come to live among sensible people!”

It was a pity, and a great distress to Talhaiarn that he was tormented by the gout. It was so painful that Tal feared “the pitiless old witch more than soldiers with swords.” He had to return home from France, and though he begged for a Royal pension, he was refused by none other than Disraeli. The excruciating pain of the gout affected Talhaiarn’s mind, and in 1869, at the bedroom of his home out in the Harp, he shot himself in the temple with a pistol. In his lifetime bridged two different cultures and it is clear that both have left their stamp on Talhaiarn.

It is our painful duty to record the death of the celebrated Welsh bard Talhaiarn, which took place on Sunday, the 17th instant, at Hafodygan, Llanfairtalhaiarn, near Abergele. Mr Jones had been for many years subject to frequent attacks of gout, which of late had become more severe, and in addition he suffered greatly from an internal chronic disease of a dangerous character, so dangerous, indeed, that his medical attendant (Dr Davies, of Llanfair) resolved that an operation must be performed. The acute agony caused by the gout, the dangerous character of the internal malady, and dread of the operation, produced such an effect on the poet’s mind, that on Saturday, the 9th instant, he attempted, we are sorry to say, to put an end to his troubles by committing suicide, in which attempt, however, he was unsuccessful.

It appears that he fired a pistol at his head, but the ball, instead of penetrating the brain, as he intended, lodged in the neck, whence it was extracted on the following Monday by Dr Turnour. For a short time the unfortunate bard showed slight symptoms of recovery, but they were only temporary; and a relapse setting in, he gradually sank, and on Sunday week he expired, in the 60th year of his age. The memory of Talhaiarn will be long cherished by his fellow-countrymen, as a man of varied talents and a true bard. Although it cannot be said that Talhaiarn was in the very first rank of Welsh bards, his poetry is undoubtedly characterised by deep feeling and pathos, his songs and ballads, especially, being about the best ever published in the Welsh language, proof of which is sufficiently given by his being specially engaged to write words to be put to music by Brinley Richards, John Thomas, Blockley, Owain Alaw, Ellis Roberts, &c. Amongst his numerous poems we may mention some of those he himself considered best., viz., his poem on the “Creation,” “Awdl Moliant,” poem “Albert the Good,” “The Brave Old Oak,” “Welcome Gallant Warrior,” “Leaflet on the River,” “My Mother’s Portrait,” “Molawd Cymru,” “Traddodiadheb Sail,” “Cantos (Tal. arben Bodran);” “ModrybModlan,” “Rhyfelgyrch Gwyr Harlech,” “Eisteddfod Speeches,” “The Poet’s Grave,” “I’r Awen,” &c. He lacked the fire of Dewi Wyn and the sublimity of Eben Fardd, but in playing on the tenderest chords of the human heart he was unequalled, and of him it may be said, that:

“**lengthened thoughts that gleam through many a page.Have sanctified whole poems for an age.”

Talhaiarn published his poetry in three volumes, in which appear not only his songs and lyrics, but also several long poems and awdlau, which he had sent for competition to different eisteddfodau. He was twice a competitor on chair subjects the first time at the Aberffraw Royal Eisteddfod in 1849, and the second time at the Swansea Eisteddfod in 1863, but at both Eisteddfodau he was unsuccessful. At the Aberffraw Eisteddfod he disputed the award of the late illustrious Eben Vardd, and a keen controversy ensued in the columns of the “North Wales Chronicle” and other journals, but when the awdl commended by Eben Vardd was published, Talhaiarn, to his honour be it said, at once admitted the justness of the award, and wrote a famous poem, dedicated to Eben Vardd, his late antagonist, and entitled “Cywydd y Cymod,” (The Poem of Reconciliation.) His translations are highly esteemed for their fidelity to the original and their elasticity, and it is not too much to say that his translation of Burns’ “Tam O’Shanter” is inimitable, although it was his first great effort of the kind. We believe that he had lately been engaged on a Welsh translation of the Ingoldsby Legends, which, however, he has left in an unfinished state.

Although Mr Jones himself had not been very successful as a competitor at Eisteddfodau, he was, nevertheless, a firm supporter of those institutions, and had served as conductor at several meetings of the National Eisteddfod with remarkable tact and ability. He also defended the national institution against the calumnies of the “Times” and other newspapers, and was on that account subject to frequent attacks by the London press.

The Poet’s Grave

“I hope to bleep in silence
Beneath the old Yew Tree
Whose branches, in my childhood,
I climb’d with joyous glee;
Within the cell at stillness.
Oh! lay my careworn head,
While the soft west wind is sighing
Above my lonely bed”

“And while the breeze is wailing
A melancholy chant,
The dewdrops of the morning
Are all the tears I want;
The greensward pied with daisies
Above my lifeless breast,
‘Where the wicked cease from troubling,
And the weary are at rest.’”

The Inquest

An inquest was held on Monday week at the deceased bard’s residence, before Dr Pierce, coroner, and a respectable jury of the neighbouring tradespeople and farmers. The inquiry was of a lengthened nature, the medical attendant being examined and cross-examined minutely at considerable length.

Mrs Anne Hughes said: I am a sister of the deceased. He lived with me at Hafodygan, in the village of Llanfairtalhaiarn He had lived with me three years last January. He was an invalid during that time. On Saturday the 9th instant, I was with the deceased in his room about seven p.m. He was sitting on the chair by the fire. I left him, and in about ten minutes afterwards I went up, having heard something falling. I had heard the report of something before the falling. I found the deceased on the floor. My cousin, Lucy Williams, spoke with him. I went out for assistance. When I came back, I asked tile deceased how he was. He said he was very poorly. He had been complaining, and in a very desponding state for some weeks, and was very low in mind that day. He was great sufferer from pains, and said that he could not live long. He had been for some time complaining of the great pains he endured and which made him in o despondent a state. The deceased was attended by Dr Davies. The deceased died yesterday, at half-past nine o’clock a.m. He took but very little nourishment for some days before the 9th inst. He had been moderate in his habits for some time past.

Mrs Lucy Williams said: I am first cousin of the deceased. On the 9th instant, when passing by Hafodygan, I went into the house to inquire for his health. I heard the report of something, and someone falling down. I went up with the last witness to the deceased’s bedroom. I found the deceased on the floor. One John Morris, who was in the house at the time, picked up a pistol (now produced), and gave it me. He picked it up close to where I stood. I put my hand under deceased’s head to raise him, and Mrs Hughes went for assistance. I asked him whether lie had fallen. He said “It was himself that did it” He did not appear at all stunned, Knew that the deceased had been for some time in a desponding state, and getting weaker daily before then. He told me that he was very poorly. He had taken but very little to eat before that day. I saw the deceased daily afterwards up to his death. He did not appear to me to be any the worse. Before last Saturday week, and when the deceased used to complain of his illness, he was very low. I saw little blood when I went up to the deceased on the 9th instant, and found him on tile floor. Before the 9th instant the deceased used to keep his bed for several days, when he was suffering from the illness hecomplained of at night he would call for assistance to nurse him.

Mr Thomas Jones, London, said; I am a brother of the deceased. About the middle of June last I visited him. His age last birthday was fifty nine. When I saw him in June last he was in a very despondent state being hopeless of cure, made him in a very low state. He knew that there was no cure for him, and that made him very despondent in mind. He used to have periods of lowness of spirits occasionally, and at other times became more cheerful. I saw the deceased this night week. I came purposely to see him. I know that for the last the five years the deceased was obliged to have surgical aid to relieve the bladder.

Miss Maria Hughes said: The deceased, who was my uncle, lived with my mother at Hafodygan. On Saturday week I saw the deceased about a quarter of an hour before we heard the noise. We spoke to each other. I left him and went downstairs. He was very low in spirits. I never saw him so low before.

Mr Robert Davies, surgeon, said I am in practice at Llanfairtalhaiarn. I am a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Have attended deceased professionally for the last three years. When he came to live in the village, about three years ago, he was in a very precarious state of health, but he afterwards improved. He consulted me for the last twenty years when he came to visit at Llanfairtalhaiarn. For the last three years his health was considered to be in a dangerous state and gradually getting worse with no hope of a permanent cure. He was a martyr to gout. He had also other internal maladies (described) which were the cause of delusions, and of the morbid secretion being absorbed in the blood. By a retention of the urine for such a long time, it was absorbed into the blood, and the urea that wasin the blood entered the brain, and consequently poisoned the blood and the brain.  That is my opinion, judging from the symptoms already stated. I looked upon the deceased as a dying man for some time previous to the occurrence of the 6th instant. On that night I was called to the deceased immediately afterwards. I found him on the bed.  By examination of the deceased’s head I found a mark of a wound from a shot, which wound was on the right ear.  I examined it. I did not see much blood. Upon re-examination I found a bullet on the right upper cheek bone. The bullet entered through the right car, and struck against the thick part of the temporal bone, made a curve of two or three inches along the bone, and came very near to the direction where it first entered, and lodged in a very strong part on the superior cheek bone near the right ear. The ball was extracted by me on the 11th instant. The deceased was quite conscious, but in a desponding state, as he had been for some time before I visited him on that occasion. Indeed, for the previous month he had been in a very desponding state, as he believed that them was no cure for him. I am of opinion that the deceased occasionally was labouring under delusions. After the occurrence in question, I did not find that his general health was in any way worse. For the first three days he partook of nourishment, the same as he used to do prior thereto, which was very little. Since death, I have examined the wound on the deceased’s head, and in my opinion, judging from its appearance, and the course which the bullet took, that it was not the cause of death, and the wound did not produce any fresh symptoms. The deceased lived eight days after the wound had been inflicted, and the wound looked remarkably healthy. The wound by itself did not cause dangerous symptoms. When I first saw the deceased there was no symptoms of concussion of the brain. The pulse was also natural. I am of opinion that the deceased died from chronic complaints, under which he suffered for so many years, and which were much worse for the last month.

The coroner having carefully summed up, the jury returned an unanimous verdict of “Death from natural causes.”

John Jones 1810 - 1869The Grave of John Jones