Williams, William (1801-1869) (DNB00)

WILLIAMS, WILLIAM (1801–1869), Welsh poet, whose bardic name was Caldefryn, was born at Denbigh on 6 Feb. 1801. He was brought up as a weaver, but when about twenty-six was induced to prepare for the congregational ministry. After spending a short time at Rotherham College, he was on 2 June 1829 ordained pastor of the church at Llanerchymedd, Anglesey, and subsequently held pastorates at Carnarvon (1832–48), the Welsh church, Aldersgate Street, London (1848–50), Llanrwst (1850–1857), and at Groeswen, Glamorganshire, from 1857 until his death on 23 March 1869. He was thrice married, and his son Ab Caledfryn is known as a Welsh portrait-painter.

Williams was an eloquent lecturer and platform speaker, and took a prominent part in many Welsh controversies, political, social, and religious. He was an early advocate of free trade and disestablishment, but made himself notorious for his opposition to the total abstinence crusade. It was, however, as a poet and a man of letters that he chiefly distinguished himself. In his youth he acquired a very thorough mastery of the strict metres of Welsh poetry, and from 1822 onwards won many of the chief prizes at eisteddfodau. His most notable poems are his ode on ‘The Wreck of the Rothesay Castle’—which won him the ‘chair’ at the Beaumaris eisteddfod in 1832, when he was invested with a gold medal by Princess Victoria, who was present with her mother, the Duchess of Kent—and his ode on ‘The Resurrection,’ declared second in the competition at the Rhuddlan eisteddfod, 1850, when the ‘chair’ was awarded to Evan Jones [q. v.] for a free-metre poem—an incident which provoked a long and angry controversy in bardic circles. Williams's poetry is characterised by an extreme precision of thought and a flawless accuracy of form rather than by sublimity of ideas or originality of treatment. By nature he was more a critic than a poet, and his influence as such has been deeply impressed upon modern Welsh literature, his grammars having long served as the text-books of the humbler school of Welsh writers, while at nearly every eisteddfod of importance held during the last twenty years of his life he served as one of the adjudicators.

He had also a lifelong connection with the Welsh press, either as editor or contributor. His published writings, covering a wide range of subjects, were very numerous, the following being the more important of them: 1. ‘Grawn Awen,’ Llanrwst, 1826, 4to, a collection of poetry, containing inter alia a translation of Pope's ‘Messiah.’ 2. ‘Drych Barddonol,’ Carnarvon, 1837, 12mo, a work on Welsh prosody. 3. ‘Gramadeg Cymreig,’ Cardiff, 1851, 12mo, a Welsh grammar, being practically the third edition, considerably enlarged, of a similar work published in 1822 and 1830. 4. ‘Caniadau Caledfryn,’ Llanrwst, 1856, 12mo, a collection of his later poetry. He also published a collection of hymns (1860), and edited the works of two minor poets, Robert ab Gwilym Ddu and John Thomas of Pentre Foelas, in 1841 and 1845 respectively. His autobiography (‘Cofiant Caledfryn,’ Bala, 8vo), with additional chapters contributed by various writers and a selection of his unpublished poetry and his portrait, was issued in 1877 under the editorship of Thomas Roberts (‘Scorpion’).

[His autobiography, as mentioned above; Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol Cymru, ii. 389–96, iii. 240; Foulkes's Enwogion Cymru, p. 1111; Ashton's Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymreig, pp. 674–679; Gwyddoniadur Cymreig (Encyclopædia Cambrensis), x. 206–14.]

D. Ll. T.