Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dr William Price

Here is a newspaper account of the appearance of Dr William Price at the Cardiff Art Exhibition of 1884. Price you will remember was a pioneer of cremation who got into trouble for burning the corpse of his son Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ). He was also a Druid, nudist, chartist and vegetarian. He was vehemently against marriage, capitalism and socks. Here, amongst other things, he champions the Welsh language.

Dr Price at the Cardiff Art Exhibition

The announcement that Dr Price, of Pontypridd, would appear at the Cardiff Art Exhibition and sing and explain Gwyllis yn Nad drew a numerous gathering to the Public-hall in Queen Street on Saturday afternoon, the audience being largely composed of ladies. The presence upon the platform of a table bearing several ponderous tomes, and the close proximity of the doctor's crescent-topped staff, with its cabalistic characters, led to anticipations full of mystery before the chief actor in the scene appeared. Dr Price, who came upon the stage after a gentleman had sung the much discussed National Anthem of Wales, wore the singular costume which he traces to ancient Druidism, and with which most of the people of south Wales are now familiar. He had removed his goat-skin headgear, as well as the blanket which, in the open air, serves the purposes of an overcoat, and thus stood before the people as he appeared in the assize-court upon the occasion of the celebrated cremation trial, in a loose tunic of milky whiteness, which contrasted with green-coloured trousers of a decidedly baggy cut. The silvery locks of the doctor were twisted and tied in long attenuated wisps, which hung over his shoulders and mingled with his snowy and patriarchal beard. The famous apostle of Druidism, although 84 years of age, has a remarkably erect figure, and his appearance on Saturday afternoon was undoubtedly striking, if a little grotesque in the eyes of commonplace Britons. Holding in one hand his staff, from which was suspended a scarlet robe, and having in the other palm the egg of a goose, encircled with a narrow blue band, Dr Price proceeded to address the audience in Welsh, but afterwards dropped into the less poetic, if more useful, language of the English. It is to be feared, however, that very little of what he said was caught by the large assembly, for the doctor had not the strongest of voices, nor the best style of delivery. He was understood to remark, in the course of a disjointed and irrelevant harangue, that all children who were not taught the Welsh language would in after life curse their parents for the omission, seeing that the tongue of the Cymry was the beginning of all languages. In a manner which had about it much of the occult, the lecturer connected his earliest ancestry with the contents of the goose's egg, and declared, amid wondering amusement on the part of his hearers, that 3,700 years ago his birth was registered, and thus, he said, he objected to registration now - this remark apparently having reference to the proceedings recently taken with a view to the registration of the child which Dr Price cremated. Subsequently the doctor struck up a Welsh song, in the course of chanting which, and with his face to the ladies and gentlemen, he removed his tunic, or smock with scalloped sleeves, disclosing what appeared to be a red flannel shirt beneath, a waistcoat apparently having no place in the wardrobe of an ancient Druid. The audience laughed at the coolness and the singular simplicity which marked the lecturer's conduct, as he thus divested himself of a part of his curious costume, but they were altogether unprepared for what was to follow. In the next place Dr Price deliberately kicked off his boots, and then with an apparent unconsciousness which the alarmed looks of the audience did nothing to dispel, he removed the green-cloured trousers. The various habiliments were not discarded with the rapidity with which a circus rider will effect a metamorphosis in his appearance as he gallops round the ring, but were taken off, one after the other, with a slow deliberation. A number of ladies left the room, but whether the departure could be connected with the turn of affairs were taking is difficult to say. After divesting himself of the clothing mentioned, the doctor stood revealed in a dress even more extraordinary than that which usually makes him the observed of all observers. It consisted of one piece of scarlet cloth which covered the body and the lower extremities, fitting tightly to the skin, and being literally covered with letters worked in green. This under costume appeared to be the same as that in which Dr Price appears in the photograph contained in a book in Welsh of which he is the author, and a copy of which he presented to Mr Justice Stephen, at the recent assizes, when the cremation case was heard. After a few more remarks in the Welsh language, the doctor rehabilitated himself in the calmest manner possible, and continued his lecture, still retaining possession of the egg and the staff of mysterious omen. Having concluded, he gathered up his books, to which he had not referred, and placed them in a trunk, after which the goatskin and cloak were put on, and thus equipped for mingling with his fellow-men, the doctor went forth to defy the April weather.