Dr Daniel Silvan Evans (1818-1903)

Welsh Intellectual Giant
(By Anellydd) 21.01.1935

Today (January 21) is the anniversary of the birth of the eminent Welsh Scholar and lexicographer, Dr. Daniel Silvan Evans, canon and chancellor of Bangor Cathedral and honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford.

He died at his rectory of Llanwrin, on Easter Sunday, at the advanced age of 84, thus proving that a life of intellectual preoccupation is not inconsistent with longevity. Silvan Evans was almost the last of the Welsh intellectual giants of the nineteenth century.

He was born at the farmstead called Bron Wilym Uchaf, in the parish of Llanarth, Cardingshire, in the year 1818. The farm has for many years been called “New Georgia,” for what reason it is not known to the present writer. Silvan’s mother was born in 1777 – “blweddyn y tair calb,” as our Welsh forefathers used to call it; it was the year, too, of the death of Edward Richard, Ystrad Meurig. His grandmother was born in 1737 three years after the death of Ellis Wynne, y “Bardd Cwsg,” the bicentenary of whose passing was widely observed last year.

Notable Men of Llanarth

The district of Llanarth has been exceptionally fertile in notable men, among whom may be named that ardent patriot and lover of his land and its ancient tongue, Dr. Daniel Lewis Lloyd “Llwyd o Lan Llethi,” Bishop of Bangor from 1890 to 1898, and the eminent physician, Dr. Emrys Jones, of Manchester.

Silvan Evans was educated at the old “Academy” at Neuaddlwyd under Dr. Phillips. He kept a school for a short time, and soon afterwards matriculated at Lampeter, where he became Senior Scholar and prizeman, and later on examiner in Welsh. He had previously brought out a remarkable little volume of his juvenilia, containing a collection of delightful verse in the free and strict metres and translations, including a felicitous rendering of Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village” and of some of the German lyrists. This volume he called “Blodau Ieuainc,” and it went through several editions.

He was ordained deacon in 1848 and priest the following year by Bishop Christopher Bethel, of Bangor (1830-1859), a diocesan from whom the able and studious young priest had little encouragement. The greater part of his life was spent in North Wales, in rural parishes, where he had leisure to carry out his literary pursuits, first curate of Llandygwnnin and Llangain, and then as rector of Llanymawddy, 1862-1876, and of Llanwrin in 1876 until his death.

Honoured by University

Bishop D. L. Lloyd lost no time in paying honour to one who had contributed so substantially to Welsh literature and learning, and in 1895 appointed him chancellor of his cathedral and examining chaplain. In the preface to the hymnal “Emyniadur yr Eglwys,” which the bishop brought out, he pays a handsome tribute to the invaluable help he had received from Silvan Evans in the production of that book, which is also enriched by several hymns of his composition. In 1901 the University of Wales conferred upon him a degree of D.Litt. (honoris causa). He was the first recipient of an honorary Doctorate from that University.

During his incumbency of Llanwrin, he was lecturer in Welsh at Aberystwyth for several years. While there his favourite pupil was Owen M. Edwards, who, to his latest day, expressed his boundless gratitude to his old teacher who guided him and stimulated him in his pursuit of Welsh literature.

Silvan Evans’s literacy output was vast and varied. Besides editing sundry periodicals and editions of the poets such as “Ieuan Brydydd Hir” and “Y Bardd Cwsg” (which ran into three editions) and the works of Gwallter Mechain in three large volumes, he edited, in conjunction with the late “Ivon,” of Aberystwyth, “Ysten Sioned,” a unique book which is a joy to every lover of old traditional Welsh tales.

Among his other writings are “Llythyraeth yr Iaith Gymraeg,” published in 1861, a work which must have cost him much labour, and an amended edition of Gwilym Lleyn’s “Llyfryddfaeth y Cymry,” and also of Edward Samuel’s translation, first published in the eighteenth century, of Grotius’s “Truth of the Christian Religion.

His Greatest Services

But the greatest services which he rendered to Welsh literature was as a lexicographer. His English-Welsh Dictionary had long been a standard work and soon supplanted Dr. W. Owen Pughe’s laborious work in the same field.

Silvan Evans’s magnum opus, however, is his stupendously arranged “Geiriadur Cymraeg,” three volumes of which, covering only A, B, C, D, reach 1,828 large double-column pages, published by Spurrell’s, Carmarthen, shortly before his death. It is understood, and a friend (now passed away) of the present writer, saw proofs of this at Llanwrin, that Dr Evans had prepared material for all the letters of the alphabet. The expense of publication and his death prevented this magnificent scheme-unsurpassed by private individuals in the literature of any country – from coming to fruition. Happily, this loss is now being made good by the work in the same direction, now in progress, subsidised by a Government grant and promoted under the Regis of the Board of Celtic Studies.

Someday, it may be, the picturesque village of Llanarth, in the neighbourhood opulent lovers of Wales have been born, may see its beauty and its interest enhanced by a monument to one who takes a high place among the worthies of Wales. Such monuments are raised in other countries to men for services which do not compare with his in-sacrifice and in permanent value.

Back to Welsh Preachers