This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. Pip is currently working on a CUROP project to catalogue the Barbier family archive.
Paul E E Barbier was a respected member of staff at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire (now Cardiff University), as well as being a recognised name within the wider community in Cardiff. After moving there in 1883 with his family, he made a concerted effort to become involved with local cultural societies and in particular was interested in the conservation of the Welsh language. The archive testifies to his sustained commitment to Welsh throughout his time in the Welsh capital.
He also sought to foster the relationship between Britain and France. According to an article from the Revue Mensuelle Galloise (March 1909), no one ‘laboured more arduously, in his own sphere, than Professor Barbier to bring about a better understanding between England and France’. In 1906, he co-founded the Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff alongside Max Wideman and W.E Thomas, two other Francophiles residing in Cardiff. The society looked to ‘strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries’ and continues to have an extensive programme of lectures (in French) and social events. I have met John Martin, the society’s current treasurer, who has provided me with a history of the society (which of course mentions Paul Barbier) and a programme of upcoming events. The society’s website can be found here: http://www.francais-a-cardiff.org.uk/index.html
I have also found evidence in the archive that Paul E E Barbier was a member of the Société Nationale des Professeurs de Français en Grande-Bretagne (SNPF). Founded in 1881, the society still exists to promote French culture, as well as the teaching of the French language. Through his public lectures and contributions to the press gathered in the archive, Barbier also promoted the Entente Cordiale, a series of agreements signed in 1904 which settled a number of controversial matters and sought to bring an end to antagonisms between Great Britain and France. In an obituary from the South Wales Echo dated 26th September 1921, I learnt that the secretary of King Edward VII sent Paul Barbier a letter of thanks in the name of the King for his public spirit. I’ve searched the archive for this letter, unfortunately without success so far, but it would be great to see it!
As well as speaking and writing perfect English along with his native French, Professor Barbier had a keen interest in the Welsh language. From 1897 he was on the committee for the National Eisteddfodd, the annual festival held in a different Welsh town or city each year. As mentioned in my last blog post, I have found the Welsh Newspapers Online website very useful in obtaining information about Paul E E Barbier. One article for The Western Mail (7th July 1899) entitled ‘Mons. P Barbier on the Eisteddfodd’ explains that he contributed to a series of short newspaper articles about the National Eisteddfodd. In the same article, Paul Barbier asserts that ‘the Welsh nation owes its spirit of culture to the Eisteddfodd’.
I understand that during the late 1800s very little attention was paid to the Welsh language in Cardiff, nonetheless it seems that Paul E E Barbier devoted his time and attention to the study of the language. Throughout the archive I have found evidence of Welsh being used. It is apparent in exercise books and letters from Paul E E Barbier. When the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire first opened, there was no option to study Welsh. However, Paul E E Barbier’s son, Paul E A Barbier, studied for a MA in French and Welsh – this suggests that Paul E E Barbier might have had something to do with the pioneering of Welsh studies. Evidence from newspaper articles explain that Barbier delivered lectures about Welsh language and culture. An article from The South Wales Echo (2nd February 1899) gives an account of his lecture ‘My Impressions of Wales and Welshmen’. According to the article, there ‘was a full attendance’ and the lecture ‘was full of humour and literary charm’. The article also cites a wonderful quote from the lecture, in which Paul E E Barbier says ‘if French were the language of men, German of soldiers, Spanish of God’s Saints, Italian of women and English of men, surely Welsh was that of angels!’.