Seren Gomer (‘Star of Gomer’) was the first Welsh-language weekly newspaper, launched in Swansea by the Baptist minister Joseph Harris, and catering to a lively, highly literate community of readers across Wales.
Its 86 issues ran from January 1814 to August 1815. Four densely-packed pages offered a mix of local, national and international news digested and translated from various sources, interspersed with advertisements, poetry and letters. From March 1815, Napoleon haunts its pages.
The item for June 8th, ‘Ymlediad y Gwrthrhyfel yn Ffraingc’ (‘Spread of the Rebellion in France’), appears in issue 77. Published on June 14th, it relates events previously reported in French newspapers on the 4th and 5th, concerning Napoleon’s Generals Soult and Bertrand, who have gone ahead to join the army in Flanders: ‘they set out on Monday and expect the Emperor to join them on Tuesday’.
The time-lag in the narration of news is a distinctive, and to modern eyes, oddly disconcerting, feature of provincial newspapers of this period. Items on the first page are already a leisurely week behind the publication date, and readers working through the paper (if that is indeed how they were read) would have been brought gradually up to date, revising their knowledge in the process.
When the news is in itself a gripping day-by-day narrative, as Napoleon’s march up through France certainly was, one has the added complexity of a moving target, and immense difficulty in authenticating sources. Anxieties about the correctness of information are a constant editorial theme: an issue from March 29th carries a fulsome and rather defensive apology for the misreporting of Napoleon’s ‘capture’ the previous week, laying the blame firmly on its source, the unreliable Bristol Monitor.
Entry continues in 'Further Information'.
On the back page of issue 77 is a rather flowery letter signed Dafydd Glantren, describing an early morning walk along the shoreline, where the sight of the mighty ocean, he recounts, moved him to various thoughts:
Tybiais fod Prydain yn ddedwydd iawn fod ganddi cylch o ddwfr o’i hamgylch; ond yn fwyaf neillduol daeth i’m meddwl am adferiad Alltud Elba i’r orsedd drachefn, a thebygolrwydd tywallt rhagor o waed dynion; rhy debygol yw y bydd i’r march coch gael ei ollwng eleni eto.
I thought how fortunate Britain is to have a circle of water around her; and more specifically, I thought of the Exile of Elba and his return to the throne, of the likelihood that men’s blood will be spilled; how likely it is that the red horse will be loosed again this year.
He then notes how ungrateful people have been for the brief peace, in particular those making money out of war with France; now, he says, they have their desire, and many will die before peace returns again.
Read with historical hindsight, this issue of Seren Gomer is tense with pre-Waterloo build-up. The battle itself is oddly out of focus. One always thinks of big historical dates as somehow instantly and simultaneously significant; but even the following issue, 21st June, can only tell its readers, in a hurried post-script on page three, that they have heard that the fighting in Belgium ‘has begun’. Further news about the final battle seems to seep out rather anticlimactically throughout July – presumably long after the bells had stopped ringing in Swansea. Coincidentally but rather aptly, the narrative arc of the Hundred Days mirrors the last months of the paper itself; the Seren got into irretrievable financial difficulties and folded in August. In its final issue the two ‘stars’ set out together, as, on the very last page, Harris took leave of his readers ˗ alongside news of the Bellerophon heading for St Helena.