Mary-Ann Constantine is Reader at the University of Wales Centre for Welsh and Celtic Studies. She works on C18th Welsh literature and is currently leading the AHRC-funded project, Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1820.
Responses to John Evans’ Map of North Wales 1797.
When Thomas Pennant evoked the view, on a rare clear day, from the top of Snowdon, he remembered it as a map:
In a former tour, I saw from it the county of Chester, the high hills of Yorkshire, part of the north of England, Scotland, and Ireland: a plain view of the Isle of Man; and that of Anglesea lay extended like a map beneath us, with every rill visible. I took much pains to see this prospect to advantage; sat up at a farm on the west till about twelve, and walked up the whole way.
Other travellers in Wales who mention maps often use them in the same, metaphorical, way to describe extensive views. Many, indeed, borrow Pennant’s image, particularly when they find themselves at the summit of Snowdon. Henry Wigstead, though pessimistic of the chances of actually seeing anything, claimed that ‘when the prospect is unobstructed, it is the most wonderful map imagination can form.’
By the end of the century we start to find more references to people using real maps, to plan their routes and to interpret the landscape around them. Sometimes, their observations reveal interesting mismatches between the way places are represented and the actual terrain. William Hutton, describing the dirty, straggling little village of ‘Dinas Mouddy’ (Dinas Mawddwy) is much amused by its historic claims to ‘considerable eminence in the scale of Welch towns’. ‘I had observed also’, he notes wryly, ‘its name distinguished with bold letters in our maps’. More dramatically, his experience in Snowdonia points up the problems with reading contemporary maps for gradient. Having successfully identified ‘a sheet of water, a mile long, and three quarters wide […] which, by the map, I knew must be Ogwen Pool’, he finds himself quite literally brought up short:
But what was my surprize, when, at the extremity of the pool, I instantly found myself upon a precipice two hundred feet high, and burst, in a moment, upon a most beautiful valley, nearly one mile wide and four long.
The mineralogist Arthur Aiken experienced no such ‘surprize’, having taken the precaution of purchasing John Evans’s beautifully detailed large-scale nine-sheet map of 1795, ‘pasted on canvas, and folded up into single sheets for the conveniency of carriage’. With this, he and his companions could trace ‘every turning of the road, every winding of every rivulet’. Even more gratifyingly for the geologist:
the plan of every mountain is given with such accuracy that a person conversant with the forms of mountains may, by a bare inspection of the map, distinctly trace the course of the primitive, secondary, and limestone ridges through the whole of North Wales.
After 1797 most travellers mentioning maps are referring specifically to John Evans’s smaller map, published by his son two years after his death. For William Bingley, travelling on foot in 1798, it was ‘the correctest map I ever travelled by’, and particularly accurate in its depiction of roads. When, a few years later, he published an expanded version of his Tour, he felt obliged to include his own map ‘compiled from the most authentic sources, to which I could have access, and corrected by my own observations’. This, he explained, was not due to his superior cartographical skills, but rather because ‘Mr John Evans’s ‘Map of North Wales’, which contains by far the fewest errors of any that has yet been published, now sells at the enormous price of a guinea’.
One of the most fascinating responses to Evans’s 1797 map appears in a lively description of several tours in north Wales by the Birmingham writer Catherine Hutton, who travelled with her father William Hutton in the late 1790s, and like him, kept a record of their experiences. An account of her tour appeared as a series of letters to her brother in the Monthly Magazine in the 1810s, but the manuscript version, held here in the National Library, is more detailed, and more intimate. Catherine Hutton was obsessed with the mountains of north Wales. She familiarized herself with their names and their contours – counting them off, for example, as she rode along the eastern shore of Anglesey, enjoying the dramatic line of peaks across the Menai Straits. Suffering acutely from vertigo, Hutton, though a keen rider and pedestrian, could not emulate her seventy-six-year-old father in his energetic ascent of Snowdon. But her descriptions of the mountains, seen from the valley floor, from different angles and in different weather conditions, are vivid and full of a kind of reverence.
Towards the end of the final tour in 1800 Hutton writes from the new hotel at Capel Curig with a description of Snowdonia that verges on the visionary. Drawing on the Biblical phrase ‘an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’ (2 Corinthians 5:1) she tells her brother:
I have fancied Snowdonia a city not made with hands, whose Builder and Maker is God. I have bounded my fancied city by the district of Arvon; an imaginary line drawn from the Rivals to Pont Aber Glaslyn; the vale beginning at Pont Aber Glaslyn, and ending at Pont y Pair, and the Vale of Conwy, from Pont y Pair to the sea.
The limits and features of this eternal city are described at length and with precision: it is intersected by huge ‘streets’ (the deep valleys between the ranges) and has Snowdon as its ‘temple’. To give her brother a clearer idea of its form, she notes: ‘I have annexed a sketch of Snowdonia, from Evans’s map, which will explain my ideas better than all the words I could use’. This ‘sketch’, folded neatly into her hand-written account, is a map of a map—a spiritual map derived from a geographical one—a visual record of Catherine Hutton’s, creative, imaginative grasp of the complex mountainous space around her.
Derek Williams ‘John Evans’ Map of North Wales 1797’, Ystrad Alun 11 (Nadolig, 2010).
Mary-Ann Constantine, ‘”The bounds of female reach”: Catherine Hutton’s Fiction and her Tours in Wales’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, no. 22, 92-105
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