TEXTS FROM ENGLISH RELIGIOUS HISTORY
Ode to the Welsh Leek
The Welchmens Jubilee in Honour of St. David
Fame, the Vice-regent of the universe, is most to be applauded for her future indulgence to her sons: for whom she cherishes alive, she will not permit to lie in the odious sepulcher of oblivion, nor suffer their names to be raced out of the rolls of honour, but in an annual progression rather to blow their names abroad, with the trump of never dying glory. The explication of my meaning includes the customary observation of the Welchmen, who yearly celebrate one day to the honour of St. David (once their Grand Signior of Chivalry) in great solemnity. He that was once the pillar of their hope, the glory and fame of their country, is now honoured (although long since interred) in the memory of his meritorious name. He that esteemed not his dearest blood sufficient to accommodate his country, is eternalized or at least solemnized by the same, and hath moreover a respective remuneration for his magnanimous puissance. He lastly, that once greatly honoured Wales, is now himself greatly honoured by the same. To memorize any man signifies not only the general good opinion, and affection towards the same person, but likewise declares his deserving virtues. Among the Greeks it was called a worthy thing to be solemnized after death. The Romans likewise acknowledged it to be gloriosum quid, a glorious thing to celebrate any day to the honour of the dead. And I ingenuously confess I cannot but highly extol the indulgent sedulity of the Welchmen in remembering their Saint with such annual devotion. Polemon when he died at Athens was once in three years honoured with a solemn Celebration, and that was acknowledged to be a most famous deed. It was likewise accounted an eminent act when Cassiodorus was twice remembered solemnly after his funeral. But neither of these can be reputed to be so glorious as that of S. David, for his day is not only one every year duly observed, to the memory of his immortal fame, but successively continues without any praetermission. Yet one thing I cannot omit, viz., their custom in wearing a green leek on their hats on that day likewise. And here (Gentle Reader) give me leave to expatiate myself a while, to see whether I can scrutably, and in a credible probability search out the meaning and cause of the same.
Some report that they wear this leek because of their general affection unto it. Others affirm the cause to be because of the numerous multitude of leeks that grow in their land. But either of these are fallible, for it is more credibly declared that S. David, when he always went into the field, in martial exercise, he carried a leek with him, and once being almost faint to death, he immediately remembered himself of the leek and by that means not only preserved his life, but also became victorious. Hence is the mythology of the leek derived, and hence it was that they ever since continued respectively the investigation of the same, to the sempiternal honour of their champion St. David.
There is also a common proverb in Wales, that St. David is as bright as the moon. Yet I confess, I have oftentimes presumed to wonder at their similitude in comparing him to the moon, unless be the cause thereof, that the moon was made of green cheese, at whose bright splendor perhaps, they may have the courtesy to taste it. But be more clement Reader, whoever you are, and think not that I speak this in a ludibrious jeer, or abuse to the country, for I speak altogether in praise and commendation of it: yet however according to the poet:
Interpone tuis, interdum gaudia curis.
If I have been barren in expressions for the honor of St. David, you must excuse the brevity of time, wherein it was composed, and what remains I will consummate in a merry Hymn or Panegyric:
quaff off your Sherry, and let us be merry
is a good week, when we wear a Leek
Then be merry boys,
and leave off your toys
Let those that are
civil, now go to the Devil,
A pox of all Ale,
which makes the cheeks pale,
Drink you to him,
till both your brains swim,
Come cast away grief,
we need no relief,