London’s eighteenth-century Welsh societies – the Cymmrodorion and the Gwyneddigion Societies in particular – have held the fascination of generations of academics and readers. The societies’ role as architects of Welsh nationhood is an unassailable strand in the scholarly narratives about them, as is their reputation for conviviality. The songs and prose squibs that society members wrote and performed for one another have received little scholarly attention and are, therefore, less well known than the societies’ literary and antiquarian publications. A celebration of the homosocial excesses of lewdness and drinking, this body of literature is incompatible incompatible with the established narrative of the societies’ Enlightenment beginnings and lofty status as benefactors of Wales and the Welsh language, yet it includes themes and intertextual references that speak to a tight intersection between the convivial and antiquarian activities of London’s Welsh Societies.
This essay gives due recognition to the convivial associational literature of the 1790s. It defines and expands the extant canon and establishes a Welsh-language conceptual vocabulary for it: ‘cymdeithasaidd’ (associational), ‘cymdeithasgarwch’ (sociability) and ‘homogymdeithasaidd’ (homosociability). By drawing on the manuscripts of a forgotten writer, Edward Charles (Siamas Wynedd, 1757–1828), the essay throws new light on individual texts and authors, and includes edited excerpts from a broad range of texts from the associational canon. The essay makes a case for the canon’s intrinsic literary merit and focuses on its associational culture and fraternal and patriotic identity – the way in which it performs what Murray Pittock has termed ‘fratriotism’. In this, the essay argues that the societies’ inward-looking associational culture is as important and as legitimate an expression of Welsh identity as their more outward-facing antiquarian achievements.