Cornelia Stratton Parker

 

Cornelia Stratton PARKER, English Summer
(NY: Horace Liveright), 1931.

[192] Denbigh…Ruthin… along a sheltered road in its soft green wooded valleys until it lifted high to bare green moors again, only to let itself down in a breath-taking horse-shoe [193] loop, with views into the vale far below, so lovely a car must needs stop for the sight. Down in the valley of the Dee we found Llangollen made famous not so much by the beauty of its situation, which many hold high, as by the “Ladies of Llangollen,” who come very much alive if you look at the eighteenth century picture of them in their library. Bless me, what a stir they caused back in their day, when as representatives of “the greatest feudal House, that of Ormond, and the most powerful political family in Ireland, respectively,” they forswore the “brilliant, rollicky, superficial, pre-Union Irish world,” and “eloped,” as an old guide book states it, to Llangollen. Not one soul knew their whereabouts but a faithful servant (faithful indeed! — out of her savings she bought Plâs Newydd, the house in Llangollen, and left it to the two eccentric, funny old ladies when she died). Fifty years the two friends lived tucked away in the Vale of Llangollen, abjuring the world in 1776 when Lady Emily Butler was forty and Miss Ponsonby thirty. One can imagine that it took some time for the pop-eyed inhabitants of a sleepy Welsh village to get used to their costumes, which remained constant for the fifty years.

It was a certain actor who wrote:

“Oh! such curiosities! I was nearly convulsed. I could scarcely get on for the first ten minutes after my eye caught them. As they are seated there is not one point to distinguish them from men: the dressing and powdering of the hair; their well-starched neck-cloths; the upper part of their habits, which they always wear even at a dinner party, made precisely like men’s coats; and regular beaver black hats. They looked exactly like two respectable superannuated old clergymen.”

By which it can be seen that as Telford’s feats of engineering put Llangollen on the highroad to Dublin, the world the ladies had scorned for thirty years found them out again, and many were the famed who sat in their book­-lined “saloon,” — in fact the good ladies came to feel a bit huffy if anyone of name and consequence passed them by. Few did. They were the great sight of the region in their day; the gabled and carved [194] Plâs Newydd, “an elegant little cottage” largely built by them, is the great sight of the region today.

It will always be understandable to us why anyone should choose Llangollen as a retreat from a no longer fancied world. It is the last appealing Welsh memory of what began as almost the most lovely, and soon after Llangollen turned into the most terrible, drive of our summer. Wild Wales, never look far across your north-east border!

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