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Davies, Edward (DNB00)


DAVIES, EDWARD (1756–1831), Welsh antiquary, was born on 7 June 1756 at a farm called Hendre Einion, in the parish of Llanvareth in Radnorshire, about three miles from Builth. His father was the farmer of the small estate of which his uncle was the proprietor. When six years old he met with an accident which permanently weakened his sight and caused blindness in his old age. Though in an English-speaking part of the country he learned Welsh surreptitiously, and wrote hymns and poems before he was twenty. He was never, however, fluent in colloquial Welsh. After spending only a year at the College Grammar School at Brecon, he opened a school at Hay in 1775, and was ordained as curate of Bacton in Herefordshire in 1779. He served this and several other cures besides keeping on his school. At this period he conducted five services and travelled thirty miles every Sunday for 30l. a year. From 1783 to 1799 he was master of the grammar school at Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire. In 1783 he married his first wife, Margaret Smith of Whittington. His leisure was devoted to Celtic antiquarian studies, and to poetry and divinity. He made the acquaintance of Owen Pughe, Edward Williams, and other leading Welsh antiquaries. Some of the poems of the ‘Myvyrian Archaiology’ were taken from his transcripts. In 1799 he exchanged his hard work at Sodbury for the lighter curacy of Olveston, also in Gloucestershire. Theophilus Jones, the Breconshire historian, who was his contemporary at school, exerted himself to obtain for him some preferment, as well as to collect subscribers for his works. At last in 1802 he secured the perpetual curacy of Llanbedr, in his native county, and in 1805 became rector of Bishopston, in Gower, but he continued to live at Olveston till 1813, when he removed to Bishopston. In 1810 Bishop Burgess [q. v.], charmed to find that ‘he was not a mere black-letter man but an orthodox divine and admirable theological writer,’ gave him the prebend of Llangunllo in Christ's College, Brecon. In 1816 he married a second wife, Susanna Jeffreys, and was made chancellor of Brecon and rector of Llanfair Orllwyn in Cardiganshire. After 1823 his health became too bad to allow the continuance of his clerical duties. In 1824 he was elected an associate of the Royal Society of Literature, and thus obtained 100l. a year. He died on 7 Jan. 1831, and was buried at Bishopston.

With little regular education, small command of books, bad health, and laborious duties, Davies managed to find learning and energy to write a very large number of books on various subjects. He was never wanting in ingenuity, though the extent of his critical powers may be illustrated by his contentions that ‘in the mystic Welsh bards he found certain terms evidently pertaining to the Hebrew language,’ and that ‘the British mysteries commemorate the deluge and those characters which are connected with its history.’

Davies's chief works were:

  1. ‘Aphtharte, the genius of Britain. A poem written in the taste of the sixteenth century,’ 1784.
  2. ‘Vacunalia, consisting of Essays in Verse,’ 1788.
  3. ‘Eliza Powell, or the Trials of Sensibility, a novel,’ 1795.
  4. ‘Celtic Researches on the Origin, Traditions, and Language of the Ancient Britons, with Introductory Sketches on Primitive Society,’ 1804. This is his best known book.
  5. ‘A Series of Discourses on Church Union, in which it is maintained that the duty of communion with the apostolical church remains uncancelled by the tolerance of the British laws,’ 1811, directed against dissenters.
  6. ‘Immanuel, a letter on Isaiah vii. 14, in answer to the strictures of a modern Jew,’ 1816.
  7. ‘The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, ascertained by national documents and compared with the traditions and customs of Heathenism,’ 1809.
  8. ‘The Claims of Ossian examined and appreciated, together with some curious particulars relative to the state of poetry in the Celtic dialects of Scotland and Ireland,’ 1825, an attack on Macpherson for disparaging the Welsh bards.
  9. Various papers and translations, such as those of Davydd ap Gwilyn, which are printed in the ‘Cambrian Register.’

Several of Davies's works remained in manuscript.

[Memoir of Rev. E. Davies by Rev. W. J. Rees in Cambrian Quart. Mag. iii. 408–36, abridged in R. Williams's Eminent Welshmen, pp. 103–4; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. F. T.