Owen, David (1784-1841) (DNB00)
OWEN, DAVID (1784–1841), Welsh poet, best known by his bardic title of ‘Dewi Wyn o Eifion,’ was the son of Owen Dafydd and Catherine, his second wife, who lived on the farm of Gaerwen, in the parish of Llanystumdwy, Carnarvonshire. He was baptised on 18 June 1784. He attended school at neighbouring villages until an improvement in his parents' circumstances enabled them to send him and his younger brother, Owen (the only other child), to a boarding school at Bangor Iscoed, Flintshire. Owen established himself as a shopkeeper at Pwllheli; but his brother David was less ambitious, and returned to the farm at Gaerwen, where he assisted his father until the latter's death in 1816, and afterwards managed the place himself, contriving to amass before his death a considerable sum of money. He joined his brother at Pwllheli in 1827, without, however, ceasing to hold Gaerwen, whither he returned in 1837, upon Owen's death. He died on 17 Jan. 1841, and was buried at Llangybi.
While still a schoolboy in Carnarvonshire Dewi Wyn showed an aptitude for composing in the alliterative ‘strict’ metres of Welsh poetry. The most prominent Welsh poets of the day were, with one or two exceptions, Carnarvonshire men, and Robert Williams of Bettws Fawr (Robert ap Gwilym Ddu) tilled a farm in the same parish as Dewi's parents. Thus the young poet lived in a congenial atmosphere, and was already a skilful composer at the age of eighteen. Robert ap Gwilym Ddu was probably his chief bardic instructor; they continued close friends until Dewi's death. Dewi Wyn first became known to the Welsh public as a poet of promise in 1804. The Gwyneddigion Society of London, under the leadership of Dr. William Owen Pughe [q. v.] and Owen Jones (Owain Myfyr), was endeavouring to revive the old bardic customs, and, among other enterprises, offered for several years an annual medal for the best poem on a given subject in the strict metres. The subject for 1803 was ‘The Memory of Goronwy Owain.’ Dewi Wyn competed, and was assigned the second place, Griffith Williams (Gutyn Peris) being declared the winner of the medal. The next subject announced was ‘The Isle of Britain and its Defence against an Alien Race.’ In 1805 Dewi Wyn sent in his ‘Awdl Molawd Ynys Prydain,’ but the society, after much discussion, gave him again the second place, and declared the poem bearing the pseudonym ‘Bardd Cwsg’ to be the best. ‘Bardd Cwsg’ was Hugh Maurice, a nephew of Owain Myfyr, the autocrat of the Gwyneddigion; but, yielding to the force of public opinion, he declined to reveal his real name, whereupon the society declared him to have forfeited the medal, and awarded it to Dewi Wyn.
In September 1811 at the Eisteddfod held at Tremandoc a silver cup was offered for the best poem upon ‘Agriculture,’ and Dewi Wyn was awarded the prize. But it was withheld owing to the action of influential members of the Gwyneddigion Society (cf. Seren Gomer, March, 1820; Blodau Arfon, 1869, appendix). The quarrel between the poet and the society finally came to a head in 1819. In connection with the Denbigh Eisteddfod of that year the society's medal was offered for the best poem upon ‘Charity’ (Elusengarwch); no announcement was made as to the result at the Eisteddfod itself, but some three weeks later ‘Y Dryw,’ viz., the Rev. Edward Hughes of Bodfari, was declared the winner. The injustice of this award, from the poetic point of view, was manifest, for the poem sent in by Dewi Wyn is one of the noblest in Welsh literature.
These disappointments so mortified Dewi that, after one or two fierce onslaughts in verse upon his foes, he gave up poetry altogether, writing scarcely anything from 1823 until his death. Once, in 1832, he broke the silence with ‘Stanzas to the Menai Bridge.’ His power and genius as a poet are now generally recognised, but in his own day he received less than his due from those who only saw in him an assertive self-esteem, impatience of criticism, and asperity of temper. Towards the end of his life he suffered much from religious melancholy; always attached to the baptist denomination, he did not enter its communion until the year before he died.
Dewi Wyn's published works are: 1. A volume containing the poem on ‘Agriculture,’ and a few others, 1812. 2. ‘Awdl Elusengarwch,’ with a prefatory letter to the poets of Wales, published early in 1820. 3. ‘Blodau Arfon,’ containing the bulk of the poet's writings, Chester, 1842, is illustrated by an engraving of Dewi Wyn, from a portrait by Roos, with a memoir compiled by Eben Fardd from the notes of John Thomas, Chwilog. 4. An appendix to ‘Blodau Arfon,’ Carnarvon, 1869, contains additional poems and further notes upon the poet's life and genius by Cynddelw (Rev. R. Ellis).
[Blodau Arfon and Atodiad; letters in Adgof uwch Anghof, Penygroes, 1883; Origin and Progress of the Gwyneddigion Society, by W. D. Leathart, London, 1831; Enwogion Cymru, Liverpool, 1870.]