Davis, David (1745-1827) (DNB00)

DAVIS, DAVID (1745–1827), Welsh poet, was born on 14 Feb. 1745 at Goitreisaf, near Llanbedr (Lampeter), Cardiganshire, where his father (d. 1795, aged 83) was a farmer and a zealous independent. David was the eldest of five brothers, all of whom adopted the surname of Davis, though their father's name was Timothy Jacob. A manuscript by Davis's eldest son calls him Dafydd ab Ieuan Rhydderych (Evan Roderick), which was possibly his bardic style. His early religious impressions were due to the influence of his pastor, Philip Pugh of Cilgwyn, a venerable divine who had been trained under Samuel Jones [q. v.], one of the ejected presbyterians of 1662. Having passed through preparatory schools at Leominster, Llanbydder, and Llangeler, Davis was sent in 1763 to the grammar school at Carmarthen, and at the beginning of 1764 was admitted as a divinity student on the foundation at the Carmarthen Academy, under Samuel Thomas (d. 1766). This institution, supported by the London presbyterian board, had been aided also by the London congregational board till 1755, when the theological teaching of Thomas began to be regarded as heterodox. Yet until Horsley became bishop of St. David's (1788), not only dissenters of all classes but candidates for Anglican orders received their training in this academy. Under Thomas's successor (from 1765), Jenkin Jenkins, D.D., the academy was in high esteem for classical learning. Among Davis's contemporaries and lifelong friends were Archdeacon Beynon and Josiah Rees, editor of the first Welsh periodical (1770), and father of Rees the London publisher. Leaving the academy, Davis accepted (1 Jan. 1769) a call to be co-pastor with David Lloyd at Llwyn-rhyd-owen, Cardiganshire, where he received presbyterian ordination on 15 July 1773. His stipend was very small, and his duties were somewhat laborious, as he had to minister to three or four congregations at some distance from each other. As a preacher in Welsh he was very popular, having a fine voice and great command of his native language. He excelled in pathos; it is said, however, that he relied too much on his extemporary powers. His great theme was universal benevolence. In addition to his pastoral work he conducted a school, removed to Castle Howel in 1783, and became distinguished as one of the most successful classical teachers in the principality. The managers of the Carmarthen Academy were desirous of securing him as tutor, but he declined their overtures. Lloyd died on 4 Feb. 1779, and a few years later Richard Lloyd, his son, was for a short time colleague with Davis (till 1784). Subsequently Davis's own son, Timothy, was his colleague (1799–1810).

When he began his ministry Davis had already departed from the theological views of his earlier years. The fact that he had become Arianised appears in his controversy with the Rev. D. Saunders, a Calvinistic baptist, of Merthyr. But he retained a good deal of evangelical sentiment, indicated by his version of Scougall. As showing the latitudinarian tendencies of his time it is worth noting that, at the instance of Archdeacon Beynon, he began a Welsh translation of Dr. John Taylor's work on the Epistle to the Romans. In 1791 he initiated resolutions of condolence offered to Priestley by the Cardiganshire dissenters after the Birmingham riots; but he never had any intellectual sympathy with thinkers of the Priestley school, and proposed the following epitaph for their leader:—

Here lie at rest
In oaken chest,
Together packed most nicely,
The bones and brains,
Flesh, blood, and veins,
And soul of Dr. Priestley.

This choice sample of Welsh humour was repeated by Price to Priestley, who is said to have been ‘much pleased with it.’ In the poetical handling of his native tongue Davis was more successful. His Welsh poems were, in the opinion of his friend Beynon, ‘the nearest approach to good poetry of any in the language.’ Beynon specifies particularly the version of Gray's elegy as ‘equal to anything in any language whatever.’ Rees goes so far as to say that it is ‘incomparably superior to the original.’ These are verdicts of partial judges; but Davis's poems still hold their ground in Wales, and though there is nothing in his very few attempts at English verse to attract attention, his original and translated pieces in Welsh have lost none of their repute. They were not collected till a few years before their author's death, and have been recently reprinted.

An engraving of Davis, from a painting by Harvey, presents a rather heavy countenance, with a forehead high but receding. He was of gentle and genial manners, fond of society and the idol of his circle, full of anecdote and sportive in conversation. He reached a mellow and venerable age, dying at Castle Howel on 3 July 1827. He was buried on 7 July in the churchyard of Llanwenog, Cardiganshire, where a monument with an inscription in Welsh is erected to his memory. He married (15 Dec. 1775) Anne Evans of Voelallt, by whom he had five sons and four daughters. His widow survived him some years. Three of his sons entered the ministry; his second son, Timothy, the translator into Welsh of a portion of the commentary of Thomas Coke, D.C.L. [q. v.], died at Evesham, Worcestershire, on 28 Nov. 1860, aged 80.

He published: 1. ‘Bywyd Duw yn Enaid Dyn,’ &c., Carmarthen, 1779, 12mo; 2nd edition, Carmarthen, 1799,12mo (a version of Henry Scougall's ‘Life of God in the Soul of Man,’ first published 1677). 2. Article in ‘Analytical Review,’ vol. vii. (1791) p. 295 sq., on the Welsh poems of Davydd ap Gwilym. 3. ‘Telyn Dewi [Harp of David]; sef Gwaith Prydyddawl,’ &c., London, 1824, 12mo (portrait; this collection of his poetical pieces in Welsh, Latin, and English was edited by his eldest son, the Rev. David Davis of Neath, and printed at Swansea; prefixed is a poem by Daniel Ddu of Cardigan; the list of subscribers at the end contains nearly a thousand names, including those of a hundred and eleven pupils of the author, among them being Lewis Loyd, father of the first Baron Overstone). The second edition is Lampeter, 1876, 12mo, with prefixed memoir in Welsh, on the basis of the one published by the Rev. Thomas Griffiths in 1828. Davis published also a Welsh translation of a sermon by Dr. Abraham Rees [q. v.]

[Monthly Repos. 1827, pp. 692 sq., 848; Rees's Hist. Prot. Nonconformity in Wales, 1861, p. 473 sq.; Christian Reformer, 1861, p. 209 sq. (memoir of Timothy Davis); Memoir in 1876 edition of Telyn Dewi; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 49, 51, 67; extracts from unpublished papers furnished by Rev. R. Jenkin Jones, Aberdare.]

A. G.