The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I., ed. by J. Williams Ab Ithel, , at sacred-texts.com
Here is shewn the mode of making the Coelbren of the Bards.
Take small pieces of wood, split into four parts, a cubit in length; render the four sides fair, and exact, and smooth, their thickness being about the fourth of an inch, or very little more than that, and the width and depth being of equal size, that is, about the length of a barleycorn each way in the thickness of the wood. When you have prepared them thus far, trim down a little of the edges or corners of the wood, to the width of the tenth or twelfth of an inch; so that, when the letters are cut on one of the sides, they may not appear on any other side, but in the rasped margin alone. After that, make necks on the staves within the
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length of two barleycorns of the end, round, and the thickness of a nail or cabbage leaf, deeper than the surface of the tree; and trim both ends neatly and smartly, that they may be beautiful to look at, and easy under the finger to turn. Then the stave will be ready, which is also called ebill, and in the plural ebillion, and its appearance will be as here seen;--
[paragraph continues] And on this stave or ebill the letters are cut with a knife in small grooves the thickness of a leaf or small straw in depth, and as wide as a slender stalk of hay. Let every groove be cut fair and clear in its cutting. And when you have cut on one side, cut on the next, and so on the four sides; but take care not to cut deeper than the rasping of the edges. When you have cut on the four sides, proceed to another stave, and from ebill to ebill, until you shall have cut the whole of the poem or oration that was intended. Then take four pieces of wood for the pillwydd, for these sticks are called pillwydd, and with them make a frame, in which the lettered ebillion shall be arrayed methodically and securely. These are the delineations of the pillwydd;--
that is, in each is made a series of small semicircular notches, as large as half the necks of the ebillion, care being taken that the notch of one piece of wood is exactly opposite to its fellow in the other. And when two are finished, they are joined together, and afterwards the ebillion are inserted by their necks in the pillwydd, and the two pillwydd are tied round their necks at each end with a strong thread of silk,
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or with the small strings of a harp or violin, or with thin brass wires, or the small sinews of a hind. After this, construct the other two pillwydd in the same way, and place the ebillion, by their other necks, in them, tying them as at the other end. Thus will all the ebillion be strong and orderly, each one exactly in its place. And if there be occasion, because of the length of the poem or oration, make another framework, for it does not accord with convenience that there should be above from twenty-four to thirty ebillion in the same framework; therefore make two or three, or as many as may be required. When the framework is completed exactly, it is called Peithynen, and each of the ebillwydd will turn in it easily, for when one side of the ebill has been read, it is turned so that the other side may be read, and so with the four sides. The turning is made with the sun, or to the right hand. And when one ebill has been read, you proceed to the next below it, and so from one to the other until the whole be gone over. It should be remembered that the trimmed and ornamented end is to be towards the right hand, so that with it you may turn every one of them easily and dexterously. Others place the ebillion for the finger's end alternately, one to the right hand, and the other to the left hand, every other turn. Let this be as is deemed best by the maker.
A sharp knife is required to cut the grooves fairly and clearly, with a skilful, dexterous hand.
The breadth of either half of the pillwydd will be the length of two barleycorns, or somewhat less, and the thickness of each the fourth of an inch; and it is not convenient that there should be more bulk than what I said in the wood materials, lest they should be too heavy, and inconvenient to carry and handle.
Care should be taken that every groove be exact in its form, the perpendiculars of every letter be in a right position, inclining neither to the one hand nor to the other, and that the obliques slant correctly, as they ought, according to the form of the letter.
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On that end of the ebill, which projects through the pillwydd frame on the left side, is made its numerical groove, and so its number on every one, that it may be easy to put every ebill in its proper place, without being obliged to read it, whilst others are before and after it. These numbers are made in two ways, the one contains as many grooves as the number of the ebill in the peithynen, the other is the numeral letter that may be required.
Take care that every letter, in respect of its groove, be of uniform thickness, otherwise it will be unseemly to the sight.
The best wood wherewith to construct a Peithynen are young oak saplings, as thick as would leave the ebillion large enough, after the tree has been split into four parts, and the rind and epidermis have been completely chipped off from each quarter. They should be well dried before they are finished and lettered: the best time to cut the wood is the Feast of St. Mary.
The best wood in respect of the facility of chipping and grooving is hazel wood, split into four parts, or willow wood, split into four parts; and they ought to be well dried before they are lettered. The best of all willows is the yellow willow. The ancient Poets, however, sought the wood of mountain ash, regarding it as charmed wood, because worms do not devour or corrupt it, and because no vain spirit, or wicked fiend, will abide where there is mountain ash, and because neither charm nor enchantment can avail against mountain ash, nor injure it, nor him who carries it, and because no deadly poison can touch them.
This mode in regard to letters is the old mode of the Cymry before the coming of strangers into the island of Britain. But when they obtained the knowledge of the faith in Christ, writing on skin came to be understood in Cymru, as at present; and when that was known, a Roll was made, on which was placed the written skin, being folded and tied around the same. This is the form of the Roll, which is made of any wood you like, though mountain
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ash is considered the best, because of the charms attached to that tree.
It was around the thin part of the Roll, within the ends, that the lettered skins were put, as many skins as would go round the Roll, which were folded and tied about it. When paper was obtained, it was used instead of skins, as at present. The most convenient of all forms of book and writing is the Roll in respect of the facility and safety of keeping it; but it is not much used now, except at the exhibition of Gorsedd and Chair by such as are required to keep a Roll of the system of song, and the pedigrees and privileges of country.