This article focuses on three essays published on the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Immanuel Kant by the theologian and scholar, Lewis Edwards, in the Traethodydd between 1846 and 1853. Edwards is considered here as representative of the religious leaders of Wales in the second half of the nineteenth century. His work is examined for evidence of attitudes towards the philosophical developments of the period which could offer an explanation for his failure to defend Welsh language and culture in the face of the spread of English.
The article argues that Edwards’ commitment to the speculative reasoning on which contemporary Calvinist theology was based prevented him from responding directly to the intellectual challenge represented by modern thought. In the three articles considered here, which present Kant’s thought as expressed in the first Critique, together with Coleridge’s philosophical theology as it is presented in his Aids to Reflection, we find clear evidence of Edwards’ unwillingness to accept any challenge to Calvinist philosophy. The picture he presents of the work of these two authors is defective and misleading. A major part of both Kant’s Kritik and Coleridge’s Aids is a destructive criticism of the baseless pretensions of speculative reason. Edwards chooses to ignore this entirely, so as to maintain his belief in the power of the human intellect to intuit truth without reference to empirical evidence.
It is argued here that this wilful blindness to modern thought was an important factor in motivating the intellectual treason of which Edwards and his contemporaries stand accused. It is also suggested that this treason undermined not only Welsh language and literature, but also the Calvinist religion Edwards was determined to defend. In refusing to face the challenge of modern thought, Edwards left his students with no means of adapting traditional teaching to meet the requirements of a changing sensibility. The eventual result of that was a degree of alienation from the Nonconformist past, the effect of which continues even today