The Welsh Revival Welsh Revival The Welsh Revival 1904
Welsh Revival 1904

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WESTERN MAIL - November 13th, 1913

Evan Roberts Interviewed


About These Articles

These newspaper articles in the Nov. 17 issue of the Western Mail, are a fascinating record of a visit of ‘Awstin,’ the Western Mail journalist, to the home of the Penn-Lewis’ in Leicestershire during Evan Roberts ‘seclusion.’ They document some very interesting facts about the freedom that the revivalist enjoyed and how the writer sought to dispel the fears of Roberts family and supporters in Wales.

Also of note is Mrs. Penn-Lewis’ claims the ‘Overcomer’ Christian magazine, was initiated by him and that the book ‘War on the Saints’ was a record of his words.

Some find evidence of Evan Roberts’ mental instability in these lengthy and revealing articles.

Moriah Chapel today
Evan Roberts Interviewed

Declines To Discuss His Return To Wales.

Cause Of The Family Estrangement.

Why He Stays At Leicester: His Freedom Of Choice.

The “veil of mystery” which of late had descended on the home of the Penn-Lewises in Leicester, behind which Mr. Evan Roberts chose to stay, steadfastly refusing to see either relative or friend from Wales, has at last been lifted. On Saturday Awstin, who journeyed to Leicester at the request of the Western Mail, was enabled to see and converse with the revivalist.

He was also privileged with the fullest explanations from fellow-residents of Mr. Roberts’s habits and attitude of mind, and was able to see for himself the environments and relations of the inmates of Cartref. Readers will obtain from Awstin’s admirable and graphic narrative a pen-picture of Mr. Roberts and his surroundings which will be of the greatest interest and value at the present moment.

Awstin met the revivalist at the tea table. Except that he is thinner and paler — the result of his ill-health; his heart is affected — he was the same Evan Roberts as during the great revival. He took a leading part in the conversation, and this chiefly bore on his message published in the Western Mail on Saturday, in which he declared his belief in the imminence of the second coming of Christ to “translate” his saints to Heaven. With emphasis he made it clear that his meaning of “imminence” is that this coming would be “within the life of a man.”

The meeting ended with the close of the tea. Pausing at the door, he declined—in reply to a question—to discuss the question of coming to Wales.

In conversation with Mrs. Penn-Lewis, it was revealed that at the bottom of the estrangement which keeps Evan from coming home is the fact that his relatives, believing in the sincerity of the man, disbelieve in his present views on religion. Mr. Dan Roberts now accepts this as the real explanation.

Awstin’s conclusion is that the revivalist is neither a “man of unbalanced mind nor a prisoner.”

The “Veil Of Mystery” Lifted

An Interview With Evan Roberts.

By Awstin.

Having spent a considerable portion of two days in “the house of mystery,” and spent some time in the company of the “hermit,” Evan Roberts, at Leicester, I propose giving in detail the account of what took place during my visit and as good a pen picture as I can of the man and his surroundings, and to leave the readers of the Western Mail to draw their own conclusions.

Let me at the outset explain, however, that I did not go there to try to induce Evan Roberts to come away, but simply to see and hear whatever I could, and, if possible, to lift the veil of mystery which undoubtedly—from a Welsh national as well as a Welsh religious point of view— has enshrouded the position and attitude of the man who formed such a prominent figure in the great revival of eight years ago.
On several occasions, during the past two years especially, I have been urged to go to Leicester, and the most persistent in his suggestions as to such a visit has been the Editor of the Western mail — whose commission to me in those days gone by was to go and see and bear witness, accepting the Scriptural description of absolute freedom of choice — “the wind bloweth where it listeth.”

Knowing Evan Roberts personally very intimately, I considered, rightly or wrongly, that a visit would be of very little, if any, use, but, singularly enough, on the present occasion felt that success might attend such an effort and, notwithstanding the replies brought to me twice on Friday, I persisted in my effort to see him, and succeeded, partly on account of my association with the recording of the main incidents of the Welsh revival, and partly because Evan Roberts considers that he has a special message to send out, and that I had come, as he declared, “at the precise moment” for that purpose.

A Pen Picture.

Evan Roberts The Man And His Surroundings.

Pale, thinner than he was when I last saw him, but alert, pleasant, and cordial, the Evan Roberts I met at Cartref, Toller-road, Leicester, was to me the same man as I had known in the old days.

Attired in a brown suit of clothes, neatly cut, and without the spectacles which it is said he habitually wears for reading, he looks just what he is — a serious-minded, hard thinker; but his hands and fingers, almost transparent in their whiteness, bear no indication of labour, even in writing. He is now, I can quite understand, in too weak a physical condition to indulge in long bicycle rides, or such walks as he could undertake when eight years ago he kindly “slowed down” in walking to suit my less vigorous constitution, and so kept the Great Western Railway train waiting for us both at Tondu.

A Free Agent.

For open-air enjoyment he is frequently taken out for drives, either in an open carriage or a motor-car, by Mrs. Penn-Lewis, and, wonderful to relate for a recluse, carries the latch-key of the front door in his pocket, and until recently — during the twenty-six days of his latest illness — was in the habit of going out about Leicester and having brief chats with people on the road — as I know from what was related to me outside. That, of course, is no proof that he is not a recluse — it only goes to show that he is a free agent, deciding his own movements.

In the house I was told that he spends much of his time in prayer, and that statement he confirmed during my interview with him.

He says he has had a burden upon him in regard to the imminent second Advent — not the Day of Judgment, be it understood, but the second coming of Christ, and the “translation” of His saints. The “burden” has been removed, and in describing the interview fuller references to his experiences will be made.

Mental Powers Unobscured.

Meanwhile, following up points which I had raised with members of the household and others who had met him before I did, I watched for evidences of a disordered mind — of, as had been bluntly, perhaps somewhat brutally, suggested, insanity. Well, I am not an expert or a medical man, but, candidly, my opinion is that no man with the clear thinking powers and the absolute, clearness of expression and ability to show how he arrives, line upon line, at the conclusions that he now possesses can be insane.

Peculiar in his manner and subject to what one may well call “moods,” he is, and so he was during the Welsh Revival. He refuses to receive or readily meets, as the case may be, whom and when he likes, and the orders thus issued from his sanctum are law to all in the house. He certainly was not dominated by anyone during my visit, but seemed to dominate, and as he is regarded in that home as “the most Godly, Christian man they have ever known,” it is stated that everyone literally and promptly and unquestioningly obeys him.

Glimpses At Cartref.

Now, as to the surroundings, let me try my descriptive powers. Cartref is a fairly large house, situate in a pleasant residential quarter of Leicester, and the regulations as to the admission of visitors are practically the same as anywhere else, except that owing to the frequency of calls on the part of all sorts of people from all parts of the world to see Evan Roberts extra care, perhaps, is taken to ascertain the business of callers, and that, owing to his own instructions, many have to go away without seeing him or having a word with him
On my first visit on Friday I had to be somewhat importunate, because I was told that Mr. Evan Roberts received no callers, but once my card had been taken in to Mrs. Penn-Lewis I was promptly admitted, and the long chat I had with the secretary (Mr. Usher) and the Indian missionary from Carnarvon, Mr.Watkin Roberts, led to my subsequent interview with Mr. Penn-Lewis.

When I paid the second visit I was instantly admitted, as if expected, for the maid at the door simply said, “Mr. Davies, I believe; please come in.” and it was the promise then made to get a written message from me handed to Evan Roberts in the morning that led to Saturday’s interview.

Greenhouse As Bible Classroom.

When I arrived on Saturday, about noon, the same thing occurred at the door and almost immediately after being taken into the “morning-room,” beautifully furnished — one might almost say luxuriously-appointed — apartment overlooking the garden, I was given cordial welcome by Mrs. Penn-Lewis, who told me she knew of the promise made, and that she hoped and prayed Evan would meet me. She invited me to stay to dinner, and added that she had told “Evan” of my presence in the house, intimated that she had added casually that she was going to invite me to dine with them, and asked him whether he would care to join us, but that his reply was, “No; I don’t think so.” However, she said my note, written on the pages of my note-book and then handed to her, would be placed his hand.

He was then in his “sanctum,” just above, and when a little later on I was taken out into the garden and the “greenhouse” I was shown how, at the suggestion of Evan Roberts, the greenhouse had been transformed into a classroom — the plants removed and the floor laid with wood blocks, and chairs and tables provided — where “Christian workers” come for Bible lessons daily, and where, after my interview with him that same day, Evan Roberts went for a long “talk” with those who had gathered together there.

The Publishing Office.

On the top floor of the house itself are the offices and work-rooms in which the compilation and publishing of the “Overcomer” and the books issued by Mrs. Penn-Lewis are carried on. There a staff, consisting of Mr. Usher, the secretary, Mr. Perryman who acts as amanuensis, and a young lady typist and two others — five in all — are generally at work except when either Mr. Usher or Mr. Perryman are employed in the “sanctum” taking down what Mr. Evan Roberts dictates.

Mr. Usher is not a shorthand writer, and since last March Mr. Perryman, who was a journalist in charge of a London district paper, has been engaged, and I was informed that he has hundreds of pages of shorthand notes in his book, of Evan Roberts’s dictation, which it will take him many weeks, when he has time, to transcribe.

Such is a general idea of the establishment, said, on the one hand, by Mrs. Penn-Lewis and her friends, to be the surroundings, comforts and facilities which enable Mr. Evan Roberts to communicate his thoughts to the wide world, and, on the other hand, by Mr. Dan Roberts, the Rev. T. C. Thomas, and others, said to be an environment which is unhealthy, bodily and spiritually, and from which he ought to be removed.

The Mayor’s Action.

Single Object Of His Intervention.

The attitude of Mr. Penn-Lewis was made clear in the interview I had with him — a, breezy, frank statement of his own opinions, as a genial host, who simply looks upon the matter from the point of view of a man who has a guest in the house, and who will neither turn him out nor prevent him from going if he wants to go.

Incidentally, perhaps I ought to mention that he told me that the mayor had spoken to him on Friday morning about the deputation that had waited upon him with reference to the matter. The Mayor of Leicester has, therefore, carried out what he undertook to do, but, after mutual explanations, the mayor, who, of course, could do nothing more, said that all he was concerned about was to express a sincere wish that nothing in the way of sensational communications to the press would tend to draw undue attention to the town of Leicester — and there the matter ended.

Mr. Penn Lewis, himself, who is recovering from the effects of a painful surgical operation, told me on Friday that he was off for a weekend at the seaside, by medical orders and did not want anything unpleasant to happen in his absence — referring, of course, to the attempt being made by Mr. Dan Roberts and some friends in Leicester to get Evan away: but I do not think that there is the slightest probability of anything being attempted which would be unseemly and against the will and full consent, if he grants it, of the “recluse” himself.

The message which I sent to Mr. Evan Roberts was as follows: —

Dear Evan, — As I have been unable to see you I am writing this note to appeal to you, if only for the sake of bygone days, to see me for a few moments.

You know me well enough to satisfy yourself that I am not one to seek to force a formal interview, and I know you well enough to be equally satisfied that such an attempt would be futile.

But, after our association in the days of the Welsh revival, and after all that both you and I have gone through since then, I shall be keenly disappointed if I am to return without a personal word from you, either oral or written.

Will you kindly meet my wish — In any way and under any conditions you may wish?

Yours, as before, AWSTIN.

An Anxious Moment.

After a lengthy interview which I had with Mrs. Penn-Lewis, prior to and during and after dinner, which will be dealt with later on, I had the response to my request granted of meeting Evan Roberts face to face. My note had been taken up to his room by Mr. Usher, at the direction of Mrs. Penn-Lewis and for some time there was no reply, Mr. Usher remaining in the room with Mr. Evan Roberts. In the dining-room with me were the hostess, Miss Butterwick, her companion, and the Rev. Watkin Roberts, the Welsh missionary already alluded to.

Mrs. Penn-Lewis during the conversation remarked that she thought the delay in bringing me a reply from Mr. Evan Roberts’s room was a good sign, because he was evidently considering the request, and when, subsequently, Mr. Usher came in with a note in his hand, and crossing the room to Mrs. Penn-Lewis, a shade of seeming anxiety passed over her countenance and, I am certain, over mine.

She opened the envelope, read the private note addressed to herself, clapped her hands, and said, “ Hurrah! Hallelujah!” and handed me this note, in Evan Roberts’s own handwriting: — Dear Mrs. Penn-Lewis,— Could you have tea laid immediately? Then I will come to sit with you and the others, and thus Mr. Davies wish of seeing me will be fulfilled.

Entry Of Evan Roberts.

His Prophecy Of The “Second Coming.”

Of course, this was agreed to, and when the table had been laid in the dining-room the gong sounded, and in walked Mr. Usher, Mr. Perryman, and — Mr. Evan Roberts.

We were standing in various parts of the room when Mr. Evan Roberts walked in. He bowed courteously, as usual, when entering the room, and smilingly came directly towards me, and, shaking me warmly by the hand, said he was very pleased to meet me again.

“I am glad you have come,” he added,

“I have longed to see you, and have much to say to you. There was one phrase in your note that I did not care for — the words ‘keenly disappointed.’ Others have come, even from distant countries, and been disappointed. It was not because you said that you would be keenly disappointed that I came, but because I wanted to see you.”

My reply was: “I have been over and over again urged to come, and hitherto refused, rightly or wrongly, because I did not want to intrude.”

“You have come at the precise moment,” he said, and we proceeded to the table for tea — quite a large company; and over the tea we talked—Evan Roberts doing most of the talking, but everyone present joining in at various times.

Meaning Of “Imminence.”

I have been told,” he said, “that you yesterday sent on my message to the Churches, and I am very glad you have done so.” The conversation turned upon the “ message” for a while, and Evan Roberts explained, clearly and lucidly, how he had come to the conviction that the “translation” was imminent, and, consequently, that the Churches and individuals should be prepared. He had, he said, come to that conviction in the same manner as he had been prepared for the Welsh revival.

Then he dwelt at some length upon the prayers he had been offering, night and day, but that “the imminence” of the ‘translation had become so manifest to him that the burden had been lifted off his spirit and he felt he had a message to give to the churches of the world in the words he had given to me the previous afternoon.

“What do you mean by imminence?” I queried, and his reply was, “In the near future.”

“Could you fix what I may, for want of a better phrase, call a ‘time-limit’?”

“No,” was the reply, “but soon.”

One of the others — Mr. Perryman, I think, suggested that perhaps it might mean years—five or ten.

“A thousand years, perhaps?” I asked, and Mr. Evan Roberts replied “No.”

“That would not be imminent” said another of the party, and on my remarking that it depended upon whether they took it from a prophetic point of view or a period in the life of a man, Evan Roberts promptly replied, “I mean within the life of a man.”

A Subject He Would Not Touch.

Several references were made to the converts of the Welsh revival, and Mr. Evan Roberts seemed particularly interested in those, and going over the story of his experiences at New Quay, Loughor, and other places his face lighted up as he followed the theme but he invariably led back to the “message” and his explanations of his experiences and his remarks, interspersed, as they were, with Scriptural quotations and including an interesting exposition of his own views upon Revelations xii., were taken down in shorthand by the amanuensis, Mr. Perryman.

AS I have already stated, his intellect seemed as clear as ever — his reasoning power stronger than during the revival, his English diction more fluent and apart from his slighter physique, he appeared to be precisely the same man as the revivalist of old.

But when we came to the end of the tea, and Mrs. Penn-Lewis had temporarily left the room he rose, and pleasantly smiling, and shaking my hand and repeating his expression of pleasure at seeing me, he went to the door. Then, turning round, he said:— “I will retire now—unless there is something more you wish to ask me.”

I replied, “I am going to keep the promise I made in the note sent you, not to press for a formal interview, and have nothing to ask, unless you would like to say something with regard to Coming to Wales,” and, with a smile and a bow, he said, “Well, we will leave it at that then; we will not discuss that,” and he left the room.

[The remainder of these articles are available on the CD-ROM which can be purchased shortly]

Mrs. Penn-Lewis.

Her Reply To Innuendo Of Personal Profit.
Speaking To The World.
Offered Him Whole Profits.
Sensitive About Money.
Guiding Hand In The “Overcomer.”
Family Estrangement.
Welcome To Welsh People

Duty To Parents.

Mr. Penn-Lewis’ Retort To Fault-Finders.

Brother Interviewed.

Family Sceptical Of Evan’s Beliefs.
Strange Moods.
Better Away.
“Subtle Influences.”

My Own Conclusions.

Not Mentally Unbalanced Or A Prisoner.

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