Aolib.comFragment of Photochrom print of the front of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany (ca. 1897)

A Handbook of the Cornish Language ... »

By Henry Jenner

14. The rest of the remains of Cornish consist of a few songs, verses, proverbs, epigrams, epitaphs, maxims, letters, conversations, mottoes, and translations of chapters and passages of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, King Charles’s Letter, etc. They are found in the Gwavas MS. (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 28,554), a collection made by William Gwavas, barrister—at—law, and ranging in date from 1709 to 1736; in the Borlase MS. of the date of about 1750, in the handwriting of Dr. William Borlase, Rector of Ludgvan, formerly in the possession of his descendant, the late W. C. Borlase, F.S.A., M.P., but now belonging to Mr. J. D. Enys, of Enys; in Pryce’s Archæologia Cornu—Britannica, 1790, and in Davies Gilbert’s editions of the Poem of the Passion and Jordan’s play of The Creation, published respectively in 1826 and 1827. Those in the Borlase MS. (except a few from a work of John Boson), and those printed by Pryce and Davies Gilbert, were probably taken from the Gwavas MS. and from Tonkin’s MSS. There is also one epitaph dated 1709 in Paul Church, an epitaph on Dolly Pentreath, which does not appear ever to have been inscribed on her tomb, and the letter of William Bodenor in 1776.

These fragments may be classified as follows:—

Songs and Poems.

1. Lhuyd’s Elegy on William of Orange, 1702. Sixty—three lines of verse in rhyming triplets, in modern Cornish, with occasional archaic turns. A copy occurs in the Gwavas MS.; it was printed by Pryce, with a Latin version, as part of a correspondence between Lhuyd and Tonkin, and by Polwhele in his fifth volume, with the same correspondence. There is a copy with an English version by John Keigwin in the library of Sir John Williams, Bart., of Llanstephan.

2. A song beginning “Ma leeas gwreage, lacka vel zeage,” a series of moral platitudes on married life and the bringing up of children, by James Jenkins of Alverton, near Penzance (died 1710). This consists of five stanzas of five or six lines each. There is a complete copy in the Gwavas MS., and a copy wanting one line in the Borlase MS., and this in complete version, with a translation, has been printed by Pryce and Davies Gilbert. A note in Pryce says that Tonkin had it from Lhuyd and again from Gwavas, whose is the translation. It is in idiomatic late Cornish, in rather wild spelling.

3. Song on James II. and William of Orange, by John Tonkin of St. Just, a tailor, who appears to have been a solitary Whig in a nation of Jacobites, as with very few exceptions the Cornish certainly were. It begins, “Menja tiz Kernuak buz galowas,” and consists of fourteen four—lined stanzas of modern Cornish, probably composed in 1695, to judge by the historical allusions. It is in the Gwavas MS. only, and has never been printed.

4. A song of moral advice by the same writer, beginning “Ni venja pea a munna seer,” and consisting of seven four—lined stanzas, only one of which, beginning “An Prounter ni ez en Plew East,” has been printed (from the Borlase MS.) in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for 1866. The complete song is in the Gwavas MS., and has never been published.

5. A song beginning “Pelea era why moaz, moz, fettow, teag” (Where are you going, fair maid? he said). This consists of six four—lined stanzas, the second and fourth lines of each stanza being the burthen:—

“Gen agaz bedgeth gwin (or according to Borlase, Tonkin, and Gwavas, pedn du) ha agaz blew mellyn”

(With your white face, or black head, and your yellow hair)


“Rag delkiow sevi gwra muzi teag”

(For strawberry leaves make maidens fair).

The song was sung by one Edward Chirgwin or Chygwin, “brother—in—law to Mr. John Groze of Penzance, at Carclew, in 1698,” as a note by T. Tonkin says. Whether it was translated from English or whether the Cornish is the original does not appear. The story is not quite the same (or quite so scrupulously “proper”) as the English nursery version. There is a copy in the handwriting of Chirgwin in the Gwavas MS., and one copied from Tonkin’s MS. in the Borlase MS. It was printed by Pryce in an amended form, and by Polwhele.

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