From Beautiful Wales (1905). A description of a Welsh clergyman which exemplifies Edward Thomas’s skill at observing traits of character as well as his gentle humour.
He makes a fine figure of Charity in his old age, with his preoccupied blue eyes under a brow that is marked only by three lines like three beams thrown upward by a sun. He has a large, joyous, curving mouth, side-whiskers, careless beard, large feet.
He has but one touch of sentiment. Nearly half a century ago he fell in love with a pretty woman, and unsuccessfully; yet, though she is known to be married and still alive, he has come to have for her memory a grandfatherly tenderness, regarding her as a white and careless girl, in spite of time. For the rest, so warm and radiant is he, that I remember the peculiarity of Kai. “When it rained hardest, whatever he carried remained dry for a handbreadth above and a handbreadth below his hand, and when his companions were coldest, it was to them as fuel with which to light their fire.”
But in the pulpit – whether it is a whim or an atonement or merely a recollection of his years at a theological college – he always makes an attempt to dust the wrinkles of his waistcoat. In every other way he makes his week-day self incredible to a stranger. He justifies and makes use of his size more than any man I ever saw. Seeing him in the pulpit, it seems fitting that he should live there day and night, so necessary a pillar is he to the dull, small chapel, though, when holding out his arms, as often he does, he threatens to demolish the little arches and poor windows and to create something more splendid in their place. Going there once in his absence, a visitor remarked to a deacon that they had made some changes in the building; and asking what had gone from there, he was told, “Oh, only Mr Rowlands.”
Standing there, he undertakes to speak on behalf of the Deity, whose ways he explains, and by a magnificent self-conceit supposes that his own stature and voice are fitting symbols to mortals incapable of apprehending things more august. For a time, indeed, during the singing of the hymns, there is a geniality as of lightning about his face. He smiles; he tosses his head with the joy of the song, and he may even be supposed to feel, not without sympathy, that the mighty music says things which were not dreamed of by prophets or apostles.
When he reads a lesson, it is plain to see that above all other Gods he loves “the Lord that smiteth.” He opens his mouth and rejoices in the rich and massy Welsh. He makes no attempt at mere clear reading, which would be of no use to an imaginative audience, that is familiar with the Bible; but, raising and lowering his voice, now hurrying as if to a precipice where all will be overthrown, now creeping as if he feared what is to come, he makes the chapter anew, creating it as if he were sculptor or musician. I suppose he uses nearly as many musical notes as if he sang; but the result differs from singing, as prose from poetry; and so noble is the prose that it suggests only one possible answer to the question which, like a schoolman, he once asked, Whether the music of the spheres be verse or prose? Yet, if the note of the lesson is melancholy, full of the dreariness of moving over the void and creating, the note of the sermon is triumphant, or if not triumphant it is minatory, or if not minatory it is scornful, and at times a listener expects to see him wrapped in a cloud and carried away from an undeserving and purblind race.