Owen, Goronwy (DNB00)

OWEN, GORONWY or GRONOW (1723–1769?), Welsh poet, son of Owen Goronwy, a tinker, and Jane Parry, his wife, was born on 1 Jan. 1723 in a small cottage at Rhos Fawr, in the parish of Llanfair Mathafarn Eithaf, Anglesey. His father, though not without talent, was idle and drunken, and it was only through the strenuous efforts of his mother, a woman of energy and character, that Owen obtained his early education. He first attended a school at Llanallgo, near his home, which has been supposed to be one of the many circulating schools established by Griffith Jones (1683–1761) [q. v.] of Llanddowror. Showing decided aptitude for study, he was next sent to Friars School, Bangor, where he remained from 1737 until 1741. After an unsuccessful application in 1741 to Owen Meyrick of Bodorgan for assistance wherewith to proceed to Oxford (Life and Works of Goronwy Owain, ed. Jones, 1876, ii. 10–11), and a brief experience as under-master in a school at Pwllheli, Owen in 1742 went to Oxford, probably with the aid of Edward Wynne of Bodewryd. He entered Jesus College, matriculating on 3 June 1742; after three years' residence he was ordained deacon in 1745, but left the university without a degree. He obtained a curacy at Selattyn, near Oswestry, adding to his clerical duties some work at the grammar school. He was admitted to priest's orders, and in August 1747 married a young widow, Ellen, daughter of Owen Hughes, ironmonger and alderman of Oswestry. In September 1748 the young couple removed to Donnington, Shropshire, where Owen took the mastership of a small endowed school, and with it the curacy of the neighbouring church of Uppington.

It was after several years' residence at Donnington that he attracted the attention of lovers of Welsh literature as a Welsh poet. As a boy he had learnt to use the strict Welsh metres, having composed ‘Calendr y Carwr’ (‘The Lover's Calendar’) at Pwllheli; but he had written nothing for years, and had indeed lost sight of his Welsh friends, when, towards the end of 1751, he opened a correspondence with Lewis Morris [q. v.]; this led to the composition of ‘Cywydd y Farn Fawr’ (‘Lay of the Last Judgment’) and other odes in the same metre, which were at once recognised as of high merit. Some fruitless efforts were made by Lewis Morris and his family to find him a place in Wales. His next move was, in 1753, to a curacy at Walton, near Liverpool, worth 35l. per annum, to which were soon added a house in the churchyard and 6l. for the superintendence of the school. Owen was now in fairly good circumstances, but he was in ill-health, and visited Liverpool taverns more frequently than was desirable. In May 1755 he accepted the post of secretary to the newly established Cymmrodorion Society of London, with the prospect of becoming minister of a Welsh church in the metropolis. He removed to London, only to find that it was not possible to establish the proposed church; a curacy worth 50l. was found for him at Northolt, Middlesex, whence he was able to attend without much difficulty the periodical meetings of the Cymmrodorion. Here he remained for two years and a half, yielding more and more to habits of intemperance, to which his wife was also addicted, and quite wearing out the patience of his friends the Morrises. Towards the end of 1757 he was offered, probably as a means of extricating him from his difficulties, the mastership of the school attached to William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia. Having obtained some assistance from the Cymmrodorion, he sailed in December, and early in 1758 entered upon his duties. His wife died during the voyage, and he married within a year Mrs. Clayton, who was sister to the president of the college, but within a twelvemonth he was again left a widower. It appears that in 1760 he lost his mastership through riotous conduct, afterwards became minister of St. Andrew's, Brunswick County, Virginia, and died in this position about 1769. A letter he sent in July 1767 to Richard Morris, enclosing an elegy upon Lewis Morris, gives some particulars of his life at this period, and from this it seems that he had married a third time, and had then three children besides Robert (born at Donnington in 1749).

Few Welsh poets have shown a greater mastery of the language than Owen, whose classical training is reflected in the purity and suppleness of his Welsh style. He wrote entirely in the strict metres, favouring especially the ‘cywydd’ form. His letters are models of racy, idiomatic Welsh prose. The following editions of his works have appeared: 1. ‘Diddanwch Teuluaidd’ (1st edit. London, 1763; 2nd edit. Carnarvon, 1817), containing the bulk of his poetry. 2. ‘Gronoviana,’ Llanrwst, 1860, containing the poetry and correspondence, preceded by a life and critical notices. 3. ‘Poetical Works of Rev. Goronwy Owen,’ edited by the Rev. Robert Jones, 2 vols. London, 1876, a similar compilation on a somewhat larger scale.

[The biographies in the second edition of Diddanwch Teuluaidd, 1817, the Llanrwst edition of the works of Owen, and the edition of the Rev. Robert Jones; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886.]

J. E. L.