Edward Matthews of Ewenni 1813-1892
By the Rev. Cynddylan Jones D.D. 09.01.1923
The name of Matthews, Ewenni, is probably strange to the majority of Englishmen resident in the Principality, as it is, of course, to all Englishmen outside the Principality. But to all genuine Welshmen Matthews y Wenni is a household name. Overt twenty years have passed since his burial in Bridgend Churchyard. Many have called for his memoirs, and if there ever lived a Welshman deserving a biography it was he. At last the demand has been met in a lovely volume of over 500 pages, beautifully printed by the well-known firm of Gee and Sn, Denbigh, written by the Rev. J.J. Mold, the son of the Rev. David Morgan, Ysbytty, the remarkable revivalist of 1859.
A few years ago Mr. Morgan turned out a volume reminiscent of his father, in that ever-memorable religious ferment. The present volume is his second venture in authorship, and without doubt he has been supremely successful – a fine attempt to delineate the character of the greatest genius Wales has produced, not only in the last century, but in any century. I do not say the greatest scholar, nor the greatest philosopher, nor the greatest poet, but the greatest genius, the raw material out of which the others are evolved.
The Matthews are an old Glamorgan family, and known in history at the Matthews’ of Llandaff, erstwhile owners of large tracts of the best land in the country. They gave the State many officers of importance. A scion of the family was Admiral Thomas Matthews, notorious for his daring and recklessness on the high seas, whose name was perpetuated in the late Thomas Matthews of Fontygeri, in the Vale of Glamorgan. This admiral it was that built the palace of Llandaff, with the view of residing in it in his later years. But life on land was too steady – he preferred the rolling of the ship and the wild adventures of the sea, when piracy was not only legal, but honourable. Admiral Matthews’ house is the present episcopal palace, where the present beloved bishop is leading a life of great usefulness. I was about writing a life of great ease, but I checked myself in time – great usefulness is better.
The Matthews family were Royalists by choice and by instinct. In the revolution Oliver Cromwell marched down to Glamorgan with the view of vanquishing the Royalists. But the battle had been fought at St. Fagan’s before his arrival, in which the Roundheads, commanded by Col. Jones, had put the Royalists to flight. As a token of gratitude Oliver, presented Col. Jones with is portrait in oil, which it is said is the only authentic picture of Cromwell, and know kept at Fonmon Castle, all other pictures of the great commoner being copies of the above.
But if he rewarded Col. Jones, he confiscated the Matthews estate. As a consequence the Matthews’ family was scattered. One branch fled to Ireland, out of which grew and flowered Father Matthew, who, with his unrivalled eloquence, could sway the wild Irish as he pleased, make them stand on their heads or on their heels; aye, much more than that, could make them forswear the whisky bottle. Out of another branch came the late Lord Chancellor Matthews, who, on his elevation or on his retirement, chose to style himself Lord Llandaff.
Winning the Race
Another branch remained in Glamorgan in greatly reduced circumstances. Out of that family came the great man whose name is at the head of this article. He was born in the neighbourhood of St. Athan in the first quarter of the last century. His father farmed in the neighbourhood. And, conscious or unconscious of his noble-lineage he felt high blood tingling in his veins, associated with men of higher stations in life, threw himself with ardour into the sports of Kings, staked money upon horse-racing, became financially embarrassed. Just before emigrating he entered a cob in the Cowbridge Races, and put the youngster Edward, between eight and nine years of age, on the saddle, with strict orders to do is best to win the race. The horses started, and the young boy, just ole enough to realise the importance of helping his parent, threw the strange mystic energy of his body into the horse, which flew forward, half-body, half-spirit, gaining every minute on his competitors, and shot like lightening past the winning-post. Victory was his to the great delight of his father.
It was not the horse that won, but the boy on the horse’s back. That magnetic force lodging in his constitution never deserted him. Is not that a prophecy of his marvellous future, when on public platforms in the open air, because no churches or chapels could hold the multitudes that crowded to hear him, he held aloft the banner of the Cross, his brain all aflame his eyes flashing fire, and his voice like Sinai’s trumpet, throwing inspiration into 6,000 of his countrymen, till the old leapt like rams, and the young men like lambs. A dozen time have I been present on such occasions, unable to resist the contagion, and, like those around me, cared not a fig of the planet burst into atoms under our feet, for had we not beheld a larger and a better world?
Beginning to Preach
The mother had died when Edward was three years old, but he had a faint recollections of her face. She lies alongside St. Athan’s Church, just under the eaves droppings to him the most sacred place on earth next to Calvary’s Mount. The father emigrated to America, taking with him four sons, leaving behind his two sons and a daughter.
Little Edward, nine years of age, with fire in his brain kindled at the sun, was left practically an orphan, under the care of distant relatives. For three years he worked on a farm and attended school on and off. Those years were filled with deep thinking and much reading of Welsh literature. In 1825 he removed to Hirwain to join his brother Thomas, and for six or seven years both worked in the collieries of that district. The two brothers joined themselves to the Calvinistic Methodist Church. The deacons (churchwardens), especially one William Beavan, a man standing over 6ft, in his stockings, took great interest in the new arrival.
By degrees new ambitions were awakened within him, and fresh impulses began to pulsate and disturb his tranquillity. He resolved to become an ambassador of Christ. The Monthly Meeting (alias Presbytery) sent delegates to the Hirwain Church, of which the well known minister, William Evans, Tonyrefail, was one, to converse with the young candidate and test his abilities. Mr. Evans reported he could see nothing in him! The deacon, Beavan, declared that he saw worlds in him. Very reluctantly permission was given his to exercise his talents within a limited circle of Hirwain.
Soon the Churches felt they had discovered not a coal mine – they had plenty of then before – but a gold mine. The fame of the young preacher spread abroad over the land. Such originality, such brilliance, such power – the old saints lost themselves in wonderment and praise. There were many good, able, useful ministers in the country before him, but they were all barn fowls laying small nutritious eggs, with here and there a cock of extraordinary voice, such as the above patriarch of Tonyrefail, known though South Wales as the Silver Bell (y Gloch Arian). But here is a bird of a different voice – what is he? Who is he? There is much cackling among the ordinary barn fowls. At last they made the discovery, “Here is an eaglet; give him Fairplay to grow his feathers and develop his wings and we shall see him soaring to the empyreau, making majestic curves in the face of the sun. Eagles are scarce; let him alone.” Their prophecy was fulfilled.
As there were no settled pastorates in the Calvinistic Methodist Churches in those days, only about forty years having transpired since their separation from the Established Church, he returned to his beloved vale, settled at Pontlliwydd, assisted the landlady in the supervision of the farm, and devoted most of his time to study and itinerant preaching, as were the custom then, and is now to a large extent.
His popularity increased, his influence extended, his services were in request in all parts of the country. The club of Ivorites desired him to preach their anniversary sermon at Pencoed, if I remember rightly, which he did. Secret clubs, though not proscribed, were under suspicion in those days. The Monthly Meeting (Presbytery) called him to account, inquired into the case, and authorised the chairman, the Rev. W. Griffiths, of Gower – a grand character, and at one time one of Queen Victoria’s Guards – to warn the young preacher, “We do not censure you this time, but if you commit the same fault again we will show you the door.” Thereupon the old patriarch of Tonyrefail, the idol of the people, jumped suddenly to his feet and said, “No, you won’t! No, you won’t, or you will find me the same side of the door as he.” So Edward Matthews escaped safely out of their hands.
In later years, when he was visiting Tonyrefail and happened to stand on the hearth, the aged patriarch cried out, “Mattho, Mattho, you stand between me and the fire.” Mattho turned around with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, and replied with perfect composure, “Mr. Evans, you have stood between me and the fire many a time.” “Mattho, Mattho,” said the old man, past his ninety; “there is none like you; no one.”
Matthews Ewenni Not an Eccentric
Dramatic Power of the Great Preacher 11.01.1923
In a North Wales paper the Rev. John Puleston Jones, M.A. writes an article, full of knowledge and good nature, in which he describes Mr. Matthews as ‘eccentric.” Mr. Jones never saw him, and I doubt if he ever heard of him.
Mr. Matthews was not an eccentric, but one of the most self-poised of men, perfectly commensurate in body and mind. He stood six feet high, minus an inch or an inch and a half; his head was large, with a broad open face; his body strong and solid, but not corpulent, though with a constitutional tendency to obesity. The massiveness of his frame arrested attention. The only drawback in the singular symmetry of his body, was the shortness of his neck. With an inch or two added to the neck he would be a perfect specimen of the developed human body. All though life he adhered to the old fashion of shaving off beard and whiskers, save about two inches on the sides, just adjoining the ears. You could not pass him on the highway without turning round to look and asking, “Who is he.” When he visited Fishguard on his tour through the country to establish a fund for the adequate support of the “Trevecca College,” his superb bearing arrested the attention of an aged Irish fish-woman.
She enquired who he was. When told, she insisted on giving him a sixpence to help the collection, and, learning his name, she got excited and was willing to give him all Ireland. His head in marble, chiselled by a well-known sculptor, conveys a pretty accurate idea of his appearance when his life was in flower. I know not in whose possession that precious work of art is at present, but I do know that its proper place is the connexional college of South Wales.
His mind was n perfect accord with his body – strong, symmetrical, all his faculties commensurate. An eccentric man is he whose faculties fail in proportion, and is, therefore, one-sided. In the case of Mr. Matthews however, all his powers were in fine equilibrium. But if one power were in fine equilibrium. But if one power over-shadowed the others it was his wonderful imagination. Not fancy, in which others excelled him; but pure imagination. His sound common sense, his keen logical faculty, shown not so much in constructing arguments of his own as in detecting with lightning swiftness the weak points in his adversary’s arguments; his grand fights of imagination as he was working towards the climax of his discourses – all that, combined with an inexhaustible fountain of humour, made him easily the paramount authority in that section of the Christian Church to which he belonged.
Formidable Task Accomplished
Therefore, when the conviction was forced on South Wales Calvinistic Methodism that a permanent fund was absolutely necessary to put the collegiate institution on a permanent and solid foundation all eyes were turned to Edward Matthews. He felt it incumbent upon him, in response to the appeal of the association to undertake the task.
The Scotch nation had been trained for generations, ever since the days of John Knox, to contribute liberally to religion and education. But the Welsh people had never been trained; they depended upon the endowment left them by their pious ancestors. This made it a might task to collect a fund from the lower middle class and the working men to uphold higher education.
Only fifty years had elapsed since the final rupture between the connexion and the Established Church, during which period from 1,000 to 1,500 chapels had been built some of them at a cost ranging from £5,000 to £10,000 – all this made a great drain upon the liberality of the adherents. To ask them to form another substantial fund for the education of the ministry was a formidable enterprise. However, Matthews confronted it, persevered for years, and at last succeeded. He was thanked? Scarcely. There were small terriers snarling and barking. But he conducted himself towards them with the same dignity that I saw a Newfoundland dog towards a small cur of the same breed: he did not bark nor bite – he simply lifted his hind leg and poured a stream of contempt into his eyes, which made him squeak and run away for very life.
Though Matthews was great in the spheres he had to occupy from time to time, yet the pulpit was his throne. For the first ten or twelve years his eloquence was an impetuous rush from beginning to end. But according to the testimony of Dr. Thomas Rees, of Merthyr, his method of delivery radically changed. He felt it necessary to abandon his impetuosity, for it was too great a drain on his vitality, and adopt a more temperate method. He became conversational, and, as occasion required, somewhat dramatic. He had adopted this second style when I first heard him.
By his dramatic power he kept the eyes of his congregation fastened on him. We were afraid of losing a single word or a single movement. He would begin a sentence and finish it with a swing of the arm, and that swing would convey the idea to our minds better than if he completed the sentence according to the laws of syntax. Considerable prominence is given in his memoirs to this theatrical element in his public deliverances. Some of his utterances and his actions, isolated from their context, appear rather extreme, verging on lack of refinement. But as a sensible man, without any claim to scholarship, said to me a fortnight ago. “Everything seemed to me perfectly natural.”
This testimony is true. He would begin slowly, as is usual with Welsh preachers, and move in my degrees, the delivery and accompanying actions becoming more elaborate and complicated, till we, the hearers, found ourselves witnessing a drama and felt absorbed. Our blood beat faster. Gradually the voice would go stringer and louder in the pulpit, the emotions would grow in intensity every moment. Then the preacher would let go his imagination in a special shout, long-drawn, vibrant with emotion, and through it all along, tremulous wail of infinite sadness, or, perhaps, of infinite joy till strong men felt constrained to press hard their sides to check the rush of hot feelings that shook their frames.
What Was the Secret?
I never heard him, and I did hear him dozens of times, but I felt much as I do after witnessing a grand display of fireworks. As I see the balls bursting in the mysterious heights against the clouds of darkness into a hundred stars of various sizes and various hues. I am filled with wonderment and admiration and could keep on looking for an hour without any sense of fatigue. I return to my home, I have nothing in my hand or my pocket to show; but I have the recollection of the sublime view I witnessed which creates within me some strange aspirations after the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.
In like manner I never grew tired of listening to Matthews. Like an eagle he soared high above the clouds, and that wonderful voice seemed to be echoing and re-echoing among the stars, and he up-lifted me till I could see into the boundless vastness without a horizon. I would return home. Had I a new truth? Had I something I could deliver to my congregation the following Sunday? Nothing. But I had more vivid sense of the Infinite than ever before. One hour of inspiration is of more worth than one hundred ideas. And the impression he made upon me was the impression upon the throngs which crowded to hear him. In that consisted the invaluable worth of his ministry! What was the secret of it all? I cannot tell, no one can tell. Could we tell the secret of genius it would be no longer genius! Explain genius and genius ceases to be.
Death of Rev. Edward Matthews
We deeply regret to announce the death of the Rev Edward Matthews, who expired at his residence, Bryneglwys, Bridgend, on Saturday morning, after a long illness, under which, for some time, the Rev. gentleman displayed wonderful vitality. The end came at last, peacefully and without pain. The last moments of the eminent preacher were witnessed by his devoted wife and an old friend, Mrs. Evans. The melancholy event had been looked for, but the announcement gave rise to deep expressions of regret.
The Rev Edward Matthews was born at St. Athan’s, near Cowbridge, and was the youngest son of Thomas Matthews. His mother, whose maiden name was Morgan, died soon after his birth, and shortly afterwards the father emigrated to America, taking with him all the children, six in number, with the exception of Edward, who was left behind in St. Athan’s. Mr Matthews traced his descent from one of the oldest and most respectable families in the Vale of Glamorgan, and which at one period was possessed of extensive landed estates, granted for signal services rendered to the Welsh Princes.
When fifteen years of age, Mr Matthews left St. Athan and made his home with his brother Thomas, who then resided in Hirwain. It was here that he commenced to preach; but his stay at Hirwain was not long, and he subsequently removed again to the Vale, to a farm called Pontlliwydd, Penlline, near Cowbridge, where he settled down and married. While at Hirwain he became possessed of a number of horses and carried on the business of a contractor and haulier in connection with the local collieries. Even then, however, he evinced a great fondness for study, and was continually engrossed with his books. He was only about 18 years of age when he delivered his first sermon in the Calvinistic Chapel at Hirwain. When still a stripling of 20, Mr Matthews was tolerably well known as a preacher, and out of his pulpit was generally recognised as one possessing strong intellectual powers rarely met with in one of his age. He was ordained to the full work of the ministry at Llangeithio in the year 1841, and in this connection it is interesting to note that at the time of his death he was, with one exception, the oldest ordained minister in the Calvinistic Methodist denomination. At the time of his ordination Trevecca College had not been established, but when the institution was opened in 1842-twelve months afterwards. Mr Matthews at once became one of its students. Among the students in the college at that time was Mr Charles, who afterwards became the distinguished Dr Charles. Mr Matthews remained at Trevecca only about six months. His wife was at the time keeping a farm at Pontllywydd, near Cowbridge, but she having died, he proceeded to the farm to manage it far a female relative whom, in due course, he married.
He was at that time known as Matthews, of Penlline. By this time he had achieved a considerable reputation as a preacher. From this time onward his popularity increased. He soon became one of the pillars of the denomination in Glamorganshire, and one of the leading lights at the old “Cymanfaoedd,” at which, in those days, the Cymry mustered in vast assemblages. In 1860 he was chosen to deliver the address on Church Polity at the Llangeitho Association, and seven years afterwards when the Association met at Llangadock, he was elected to the coveted position of Moderator. Mr Matthews has filled all the most important and honoured offices which his denomination could confer upon him.
As an author, Mr Matthews has contributed valuable works to the literature of his country; his best known productions, perhaps, being his memoirs of Jenkin Thomas, Penhydd, and Thomas Richard, Fishguard, and the “Life and Times of George Heycock,” and Dr Harries Jones, Trevecca. In earlier years he was a frequent contributor to the “Traethodydd and the Cylchgrawn”.
Ceramic bust and the mould of Rev. Edward Matthews
Possibly Mr Matthews’s greatest achievement was his indefatigable efforts in connection with the Trevecca College Endowment Fund. Trevecca will ever remain a magnificent memorial to the indomitable energy of the old divine of Ewenny. It is as “Matthews of Ewenny” that he was known to the multitude. At Ewenny he resided for about thirteen years. Subsequently he removed to Canton, Cardiff, the cause of his leaving Ewenny being, it is stated, the feeling of bitterness that was engendered against him in certain Episcopalian circles by reason of a humorous and satirical article he bad contributed to a local paper in reference to dances, balls, and other forms of, as he considered, too worldly amusement, in which the church people of that district were wont to engage. For ten years, or thereabouts, he lived in Canton, being a regular attendant, when not officiating ministerially, at Edward Street, Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel.
At the beginning of 1891 he was carried again. As a preacher Mr Matthews had a style peculiarly his own. At the outset of his career in the pulpit, and for some years, in fact, he put into his preaching a great amount of physical force, and he had passed middle age before he fully cultivated the conversational style in which only be was known to the present generation. Deliberate in his utterance, slow-at times painfully slow – in his delivery, he yet imbued his sermons with many touches of humour, and was often towards the end of his discourses, as he attained the climax, carried away by the force of his passion. His sermons are regarded as exquisite works of art – a kind of poem in prose. He retained to the full the quaint intonation – the hwyl – so characteristic of Welsh preachers of a few years ago, but in his case it was only when the climax was reached, and the preacher was lost in his subject, that vent was given to passion and deliberateness gave way to unbridled eloquence. The effectiveness of his preaching depended to a great degree upon the audience. If they lacked sympathy, or attentiveness, he lacked in power; but when he succeeded in the first part of his sermon to arouse his hearers, they in return by their very attentiveness, awoke the passion and energy that lay dormant in his nature; and it was on these occasions that “Matthews of Ewenny” justified the high position so generally awarded him in the ranks of Welsh divines by Welsh worshippers. Who among his bearers at the Aberystwyth Association years ago will ever forget the marvellous power and the entrancing effect of the sermon delivered by him on those words, “One of these little ones which believes on Me?”
Funeral of the Rev. Edward Matthews 02.12.1892
On Wednesday, shortly after the hour of noon, the mortal remains of the eminent Welsh preacher, the Rev. Edward Matthews, Bridgend, who, during 60 years had been a leading light with the Welsh Methodists, were consigned to the grave in the burial ground of the new church at Old Castle, Bridgend. His residence was within 50 yards of the God’s Acre where his remains were interred. The coffin, which was a very unpretentious one, was painted black, and the furniture upon it was of the same sombre hue, only relieved by the wreaths of white flowers on the lid which had been sent by Lady Llanover, Mrs Nicholl, Merthyr Mawr; Dr. Davies, Taibach, and Miss Edith Preece, daughter of Mrs Preece, Bridgend, a friend of the family. The chief mourner was Mrs Matthews, who was accompanied by Mr Tom Matthews, Miss Matthews, Llancadle (nephew and niece of the departed) Dr Neile and Mrs Neile Barry (niece and nephew) Mr Alexander Matthews and Mr W Alexander Matthews (relatives of the deceased), Richmond Road, Roath Mr and Mrs E Thomas, Llancadle, Mr Evan Thomas, and Mrs Thomas, Monk Nash; and Mr and Mrs Jones, Splot Farm. The following ministers of the denomination of which the deceased was so distinguished an ornament were also present: The Rev William Williams, Argyle Chapel, Swansea, who had been the deceased’s intimate friend the Rev William John, Bridgend the Rev William James, Nantymoel the Rev Thomas Powell, Laleston and the Rev B P Morris, Bridgend.
Among those present in the church were the Rector of Coychurch Mr Morgan Lewis, Bridgend Dr Davies, Taibach and Mr John Hemming. There was a considerable number of the general public within the church.
The funeral ceremony was performed in English by the Rector of Coity, assisted by the Rev T. Morris, curate. At the close of the service in the church the curate gave out the Welsh hymn,” Yn y dyfroedd mawr a’r tonau,” &c. The curate led the singing, all apparently joining. At the grave, after the usual beautiful service of the Church had been performed, the curate gave out, “Bydd myrdd o ryfeddodau.” Here again the curate led the singing, and all, standing bareheaded, joined, some of the old friends shedding tears while they sang. The ceremony being over, several went to see the coffin “ar waelod bedd,” (at the bottom of the grave), and dropped sympathetic tears as they read on the plate below, “Edward Matthews, born 1813; died Nov. 26, 1892.” The grave which is in the corner beyond the chancel window, was bricked the height of the coffin.
From amongst the numerous expressions of sympathy which Mrs Matthews has received I have selected the following:
Mrs Nicholl, Merthyrmawr, wrote:
I must send you a line of sympathy in the great sorrow that has befallen you. Believe me that your grief is shared by everyone who has had the privilege of Mr Matthews’s acquaintance. He was a man whom everybody loved and honoured, and who has done more for Christianity and righteousness in his own country than can be realised by people who do not know this district as well as I do. And you must indeed feel desolate, but yet it should be a consolation to you to feel that you made Mr. Matthews’s last days as happy as they could possibly be, and that nothing that love could do was left undone. As for himself what a blessed change it must be to him.
Professor Prys, of Trevecca College, wrote:
In him we have lost, as I think, the greatest genius of the modern pulpit. I had not the privilege of hearing him more than three times, and I am sincerely glad today that I had those opportunities. Not to have heard Edward Matthews would have been a loss indeed. The vividness of his description and his remarkable dramatic power made passages of his sermons altogether over- powering, and how grateful Wales ought to be that be had consecrated all those powers in the service of Christ and His Church. If he had used his talents in various secular fields that one could mention be would most certainly have made a lasting reputation for himself. But, happily, the Master had called him early to His own service, and right loyally did he serve Him and us for a long life. I cannot refrain again from referring to the excellent work which he did in connection with our college. He requires no other monument to commemorate his zeal and devotion to the Master’s service. The name of Mr Matthews will ever be inseparably connected with this college, for it owes to him almost its very existence. The world seems emptier to us now that he has gone.
The Rev J. Cynddylan Jones wrote:
The last two years have been to you a time of much trouble and anxiety, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped to smooth down the path to the grave of one of the greatest men Wales produced.
Lady Llanover wrote to Mrs Matthews:
Lady Llanover cannot sufficiently express the deep regret and sorrow which she feels upon receiving from Mrs Matthews the very sad news of the death of one for whom she had a real and true regard, and whose loss she considers must be irreparable, although she has strong confidence that a Heavenly Providence will provide help and protection for the very numerous souls left behind, who have now lost their mainstay, and also sup- port Mrs Matthews herself in her deep sorrow. The only and best consolation is the firm belief that she alone suffers, and that he whom she has lost is in peace and happiness. There is a chair at Llanover which is called Matthews’s chair, and she believes it was only yesterday that she named it, little thinking that he himself was gone from this world. She will only now repeat her deep sympathy with Mrs Matthews and her own real sorrow at the loss of so good a man, and she hopes that later on Mrs Matthews will come again to Llanover, where she will be most welcome, and can have rooms to herself at Ty Uchaf, should she prefer it to being at the Ty Porth, where Parch J and Mrs Prys will I be at her band to sympathise with and endeavour to console her.
Mrs Matthews, the widow, received communications, expressing deepest sympathy, from Sir David Evans (ex-Lord Mayor of London) and Lady Evans, forwarded from Ewell Grove, Surrey.
It is no secret that the family would have preferred a public funeral, but the instructions of the deceased were emphatic in favour of a private one.
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