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Bedd / Grave of Monsieur Auguste Guyard , Awst / August 1882

Bedd  / Grave of Monsieur Auguste Guyard , Awst / August 1882
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Lecture given at the Dragon Theatre, Barmouth 7th Sept 1982 by The Venerable Wallis Hugh Wallis Thomas MA, Archdeacon of Merioneth

In the manner of the radio programme “Round Britain Quiz” I start with a question “What have Barmouth, Guernsey, Claremont and Chislehurst in common?” The answer is “MUCH , as I hope to have shown you before I sit down”
“When I was a young man preparing for the ministry I read French, or tried to, and when I tell you that the little corner I made for myself was Rabelais”!
“If you know anything at all about Rabelaisian humour, you will want to say to me, what on earth possessed you to read that bawdy stuff more suited to Mr Benny Hill than to an apprentice Curate?”
Well there you are, French it was.


“And so when I came to Barmouth in 1946, and heard about this Frenchman’s Grave, I began to take notice…
But could I find anything about him, no. Not even his name.
I spent many happy evenings in those days at the Sailor’s Institute with company around the stove, with John Jones stoking the furnace every 5 minutes as if he had been stoking the Queen Mary.
The old familiar faces in the room, they’ve all crossed the ferry now to a fairer Bourne, (Forgive the pun my dear listener!)
(We pay for our advancing years, do we not in the precious coin of departed friends). Well among the departed friends was Walter Pugh – a baker by profession. Dear Walter!! Grannies boy if ever there was one. He doted on this and was always quoting his “Nain” he said to me one evening “I knew Garibaldi” and then in deference to my cloth, he whispered in my ear “ he never went to church, you know” “In fact (looking round) a bit of an unbeliever”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have come here this evening to redress the balance and to show you, before I finish that, in Auguste Guyard (for such was our hero’s name) we have, without any question, one of the really great spirits of the 19th century and an immortal soul who is more likely to keep the recording angel busy with his good deeds than many a conventional observer of our church and chapel pews.
Now, in the course of time, I came to hear of a certain Mrs Lilly who lived in Arthog in the 1890’s who claimed to be the last of our hero’s disciples. She also claimed to be in descent from the Wynn’s of Gwydir. Auguste was her star and caller her his Deodata. (Latin for Gift of God) Deodata- God’s gift to me. What price “unbelievers” now?
Mrs Lilly had many of our Frenchman’s memorabilia, especially a picture of Lamartine, which he gave her. I will tell you about Lamartine in a minute, all I need to tell you now is that Lamartine, Guyard’s closes friend is to the French what Keats or Shelley is to us, a poet to rank with the immortals. He turned to politics in his middle years and for a brief period was head of the provisional government of 1848.
Do you see that was the sort of company that our refugee of the rock kept you know a man by his friends.
Well, how did I find Mrs Lilly? The answer is through the good offices of a Doctor EJ Jones, minister of a Baptist chapel in Wrexham for many years and once president of the Baptist Union of Wales – a man still freshly remembered and honoured. Jones had read an article by Blanche Atkinson called “Ruskin’s Social Experiment at Barmouth” He was on the trail at once. It was 1921 he wrote a letter to the mayor of Vesoul in France, a city now of some 150,000 people, it is and was the administrative capital of the Haute Saone. A department of France near the eastern border with Germany and Switzerland and not very far away from Bãle.
“Can you tell me anything?” he wrote “about a certain Auguste Guyard?” Well by chance – oh happy chance! there was to be a wedding in the Mayor’s parlour in Vesoul in three days’ time – and who should sign the register but a Captain Hauant! And who was Captain Hauant? You ask (I hope) None other than a grandson of Auguste Guyard. The gallant captain replied at once (Toulon la Balinese?) giving Dr Jones the address of his mother Mde Hauant who was living then in Mendou, a suburb of Paris. She was the last surviving child of Auguste Guyard.
What I am going to give you now is what she gave to Dr E K Jones.
Ann Lew-as I like to call him – was born in Frotey, a little village about two miles from Vesoul. It was the 8th Sept 1808.
His father and grandfather were gardeners, or rather, market gardeners of some standing in their little world. Now is this important, to the real gardener, as Wordsworth knew:” The meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for fears”
His mother came (I refuse to say “from a better family”- aren’t we all God’s children, for goodness sake?); let us say then from a family rather higher in the pecking order. A member of the family was General Lyautey, Marshall of France, governor of Morocco and founder, if I am not mistaken of the Foreign Legion. Beau Geste and all that. Oh yes! That old man was a somebody but, like Gallio in the Acts of the Apostle,” he cared for none of these things”.
His mother, bless her heart! wanted him to be a priest, noble aspiration. Sent him to the local Seminary where he read Theology and Philosophy but after confronting his teachers with a mind just as nimble as theirs, he soon found that the soutane and the Biretto and the Sanctus bell were not for him. It was goodbye to all that. He took up teaching, and if teachers, my dear audience are born up there as I think they are, their Heaven never sent a better one than Auguste Guyard and to these glimpses of the moon.
He started in a modest way coaching in the local stately mansions, when he was 27 he married a young woman of Verona and this young couple set up home in Paris. All his pleasure in those early years was the company of scholars, learning the principles of education, teaching himself and writing to the newspapers.
From 1840 – 1845 we find him in Roause, on the Loire, not very far from St Etienne & Lyon – or should I say Lions?
He hadn’t been there long before they clapped him in gaol. But what for this “Gwerinwr” as we say in Welsh (Try to translate that if you can!) The nearest I can get is “this man of the people”. A convict? But what had he done to offend society? ……. disbelief: he had written an article in the local paper (called Le Moqes de las Loue) on “the rights of the worker” And to do that don’t you see, was not exactly a passport to happiness in the France of Louis Philippe, king of the French from 1830 to 1848.
I don’t think he got hard labour or whatever the French did for picking oakum or sewing mail bags, because many of the best people in France called to see him in the cells, among them Lamartine.
And now, wait for it, I come to that point in this man’s painful pilgrimage. When this son of Barmouth (as we may claim him to be) played a part in this history of France, and a crucial part too. When he came out of prison it was he, Auguste Guyard, who edited for many years Lamartine’s Newspaper “Le Bien Public” which did as much as anything or anybody to dethrone Louis Philippe and to bring about the Revolution of 1848. That is the stature of the man you are honouring today by your presence (by the way LP died an exile in Claumont).

Now, on the return of the Empire in 1852, when Napoleon 111 came to the throne (he, by the way was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and it was under him that France was Britain’s ally in the Crimean War). In 1852 then Auguste Guyard gave up politics or, shall I say party politics. He was too much a gentleman for that sort of thing. Mr Macmillan’s” Night of the Long Knives” would not have suited his gentle ways at all.

But “politics - the art, the science of living together in sweetness & light. Politics in that sense “yes”. He was utterly consumed with the ambition to lift the people from their miseries and to free them from the shackles (as he thought) of the Papacy.
But the aim and ideas were not enough; he must give them flesh and blood. He must start his own Utopia in his own little Frotey (and so he did).
He would make his native village the pattern for all the villages of France. And that was some job I can tell you, because that part of France (called La Franche Comte) then had been under the Spanish Crown and the jurisdiction of Rome for 200 years.
How did he start? Well he wrote a series of letter to his fellow villagers. He called them “Lettres aux, Gem de Frotey (Letters to the people of Frotey) in which he outlined his plan. You wouldn’t say there was anything new in them but they were new to the Gem de Frotey indeed. They were a revelation. “Look”, he said to them, “brains are not everything, but character is”. “The man who pushes the pen is no more the elect of God,” he told them, “than the man who mucks out the cow shed”. “If God planted a garden in Eden, then the man who plies the spade has a divinity about him that no King or priest can take away”. There is much more like that – about the dignity of human labour “And” he told them “don’t you believe everything that the priests tell you! Test everything: Prove everything”! And, if you say to me dear listener,” bit of a rebel, wasn’t he?” Well, I suppose he was. But he was in good company, the company of no less a person than St Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles who in his first letter to the Thessalonians wrote “Prove everything, hold fast to that which is good”
His little Utopia was launched. His little Commune.
And now, my dear listener, marvel with us at the ways of Providence, at the way in which men, who are strangers to one another but compelled by the spirit of the age, are seized at the same time with the same idea and cannot rest until they are thought to be with, ……Louis , painfully.
In 1871 only 6 years after the Letter to the People of Frotey, our own John Ruskin was writing his famous monthly letters to the Workmen of England, blazing the same trail. He called them “ Fors Clavigera - Latin for fortune with a key in her hand” The same gospel again! – the redress of poverty & misery.
“For my own part” he writes, “I will put up with this state of things not an hour longer. I simply cannot paint or read, nor look at missals nor do anything else that I like because of the misery that I know of and see signs of where I know it not”
But come back to Frotey, Auguste Guyard’s little Utopia – his “Commune Modile” as he called it, popped the Champagne. It was heady stuff. The people loved it, the intoxication spread to the neighbouring villages. They had a kind of Eisteddfod. They had prizes, not for beating other people as is the way in out Welsh vales but (oh! I like this!) for industry: for improvement, for perseverance,
Those were happy days for our Frenchman. Fortune smiles. The best in the land came to see him and became his friends, Alexandre Dumas (who had not read “The Three Musketeers” and the Count of Monte Carlo”?, Victor Hugo, the greatest of them all. Did …never read “Les Miserables” or the “Hunchback of Notre Dame”? Poor Victor – for 19 years an exile in Guernsey – for the love of Liberty and do you know what he did before his self-imposed banishment? He had a white Persian cat which he loved . Before he left home he gave it into the safe keeping of Auguste Guyard and his wife and if you also are a lover of these marvellous creatures, you will know that this was a mask of the kind of passion which Byron once described as “love without his wings” and there were other friends, now exalted still, who came to see him. Napoleon 111 became, Emperor of the French. He also was to die in exile in Chislehurst, Kent after his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. What a tale of man’s inhumanity to man this is! Napoleon gave Guyard a gold medal. as some kind of reward for his labour. His son Eugene, the Prince Imperial, gave him a silver one.
These were brilliant days but clouds were to come. The parish priest of Frotey, in the spirit of the Inquisition raised the alarm. His superiors answered his “Tallyho” and the chase was on for this poor haunted man whose only offence had flouted the magesterium of the Church with this nonsense about enlightenment.
By now the 1870 war had broken out between France and Prussia. Poor Auguste was too poor. He fled to Paris and when Paris was besieged to these islands, home of so many lost causes.
But how did he come to Barmouth for goodness sake?
I’ll tell.
Living in Barmouth then, in Ty’n y Ffynnon on our Barmouth rocks was a Mrs Talbot, an intelligent woman and a philanthropist. Her husband was a brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, the premier earl of England. The family name is Chetwynd –Talbot. One member of the family, if I am not mistaken, was Edward Stuart Talbot, the first Principal of Keeble College, Oxford and later Bishop of Winchester. His son was the beloved Gilbert Talbot, founder of Toc H. We live, do we not, in no mean city.
Well, Mrs Talbot‘s son went to Paris. He studied painting there and fine art, at whose feet, may I ask? At the feet of none other than Annette Guyard, our hero’s daughter. He married her and when she died in the passage of time, he married her sister too! That, don’t you see, is how our Frenchmen came to Barmouth – through his daughter’s marriage.
It was through her that he found a home in Wales and a grave. And it was through her that he came to know Ruskin. They met at least twice to my knowledge. Oh what would I not have given to offer my services (with my little French) my services as an interpreter between great men. The author of the letters to the People of Frotey and the writer of the Letters to the Workmen of Britain, twin souls – if … there were such things.
At this time, 1871, Ruskin had just founded the Guild of St George, his English Commune module (still surviving in my earliest from here ) – founded (I quote) on the principles that “food can only be got out of the ground and happiness out of poverty “and “that the highest wisdom and the highest treasure need not be costly or exclusive”.
Mrs Talbot gave a number of her houses on the Rock to launch the venture and one of these, 2 Rock terrace, she gave to the refuge of Frotey, and there he spent the last twelve years of his life. Lonely among strangers. Imagine the difference, if you can, between the lights of the Champs Elysees and our own little Aberamffra!!.
Did I say lonely? Well not altogether. He had a beloved sheep dog, cara, by name. With her at his heels, he loved to walk these Welsh hills, his long grey coat around him and a red fez on his white locks – thinking his long thoughts. One summer he tamed a jackdaw and a hawk that would roost every night in the rafters of his attic, and when he clapped his hands all the birds of the air would fly on his summons.

I told you, did I not, that he was a gardener’s son. Well imagine a gardener, a clay zone, confronted today by the shaley rock of the Harlech Dome. But never mind! Our refugee made of that inhospitable soil a school and a paradise, which were the talk of the town. And he remained a teacher to the end. He taught the women of Barmouth to make a vegetable soup, which remained one of the gastronomic delights of Merioneth.
(Oh, by the way) He taught them French, and here I must do a little debunking:
When Auguste Guyard came to Barmouth in 1879 there was a 12-year-old boy living in Llwyn Gloddaeth . He was Robert Owen, Bardd y Mor, as we know him in Wales – the poet of the sea. He had been born in Tai Croesion, Llanaber (in 1858) a home made beautiful today by Miss Vera Hooper.

Sir O M Edwards the author of one of the delightful little books, which were the joy of Wales so long ago, refers to our Frenchman as the teacher who taught Robert Owen four languages, French, Greek, Spanish and Italian. But I’m sorry to have to puncture that inflated story, but I must or I do so on the authority of Ande Havaut herself. “I knew Robert Owen well “so she wrote to Dr E K Jones “he was an audacious student, but my father would hardly have taught him all these languages, except French of course, because he didn’t know them!!” And she must be right.
In 1879 when he was only 20 we find Robert Owen in Australia where he had gone for his health and there he died of (that awful) consumption some six months later.
Did a young man of 20 take 6 languages with him to the Continent of the Southern Cross (Star) the former I have mentioned and Welsh and English into the bargain? I don’t think so!
His belief was:-
God in the Universe and God and man and animals and water and air, birds and fish are a fusion of minds, body and spirit. Life is everywhere abundant and life is holy. He would never hurt anybody or anything because he would be hurting himself. We are all brothers and sisters, we must love all plants, we must cherish all animals. They are part of ourselves. That was his philosophy. He made a great stir in Barmouth. One of his books (now you listen to this) (dear Barmouth audience) one of his books, showing this creed, called “Rights and Duties,” came into the hands of Leo Tolstoy (I can call him, can I not? The world’s supreme novelist). Now in 1894 Tolstoy’s daughter wrote as follows “my father was absorbed by this book and confirmed that he had profited greatly by it. He would read it every day to us. He even sent it to Moscow to be translated”
Journeys end ladies and gentlemen, came to this great soul on the 27th of August 1882. He was nearly 74. he knew that he was dying and the evening before he dies he put together the legend, that most moving legend that you may read today at the spot where what was mortal of him lies in the soil that he loved so well: -

Ci - git un Semeur qui
Sema jusqu’au tombeau
Le Vrai, le Bien, le Beau
Avec Idolatire.
A travers mille combats
De la plume et des bras,
Tels travaux en ce monde
Ne se compensent pas.

There is an echo there of St Paul in his lowly letter to the Philippians.

Before I finish let me say to you Canon Hardwicke Rawnlseys’ translation of the French epitaph.

Here lies a man who toiled with pen and spade
Who went forth sowing and with all his might
Brought, from the dawn until the sunset light
And so from Banevi rock on Eden made
Who swore all fruits and all things pure B? and
Of all things beautiful this gentle knight
Still faced the storm and battled with trade the
And bled ….ingly his heave blight
In this high crag beloved of him, he gave
His outworn body …. To the weed
Of some wild saxifrage would kindly grow
Above his ashes laid in peace below
He little thought that from his hermit grave
Would bloom, for aye, Loves’ Universal Seed.

Ladies and Gentlemen:-
Allow me please to say to the gentle spirit of Auguste Guyard, wherever in God’s wide world he may be today
“Salute, mon amie, au revioir, merci. May we all meet some day in that land where exile itself is banished, where none … the faces of the poor, when faith reigns and where good men come to their reward”.

Daw yr holl wybodaeth hyn o archif fy 'nghyfaill / my good friend , Leslie Darbyshire , " Bwlch Vane " has provided this archive.

Date: 2012-09-17 06:05:26


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