Evans, J. Gwenogvryn (John Gwenogvryn), 1852-1930

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Evans, J. Gwenogvryn (John Gwenogvryn), 1852-1930

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John Gwenogvryn Evans (1852-1930), palaeographer, was born at Ffynnon-felfed, Llanybydder, Carmarthenshire, but his family soon moved to Llanwenog, Cardiganshire, in honour of which parish he later coined his second name. At the age of 16, Evans was apprenticed to his uncle, a grocer in Lampeter, but at 18, following an accident, he went back to school, and entered the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen in 1872. He was ordained as a Unitarian minister 1876, and served as pastor at Carmarthen and Preston, Lancashire, but was forced to give up the ministry in 1880 when he lost his voice, a legacy of childhood typhoid attacks which affected his health for the rest of his life. In 1877, he married Edith Hunter, the Secretary of the Carmarthen Branch of the RSPCA; she died in 1923. Her father, the Rev. Stephenson Hunter, was Principal of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen. Moving to Oxford in 1880, Evans attended lectures on the Mabinogi by the Celtic scholar Sir John Rhys (1840-1915), and was inspired to study and transcribe the Red Book of Hergest. From this came the idea of a series of diplomatic editions of mediaeval Welsh texts, the first volume of which appeared 1887. Such was the success of this project that he was awarded a Civil List pension of £200 in 1893, and in 1894 he was appointed inspector of Welsh manuscripts for the Historical Manuscripts Commission, producing reports which have been indispensable ever since. He took a leading part in the negotiations which enabled Sir John Williams (1840-1926) to purchase the Peniarth manuscripts, thereby contributing substantially to the establishment of the National Library of Wales. Evans became a member of the Library's Court and Council as a nominee of the Privy Council, and also served as a justice of the Peace in Cardiganshire and as a member of the Court and Council of the University College of Wales. He retired to Llanbedrog, Caernarfonshire, where he continued printing old Welsh texts on a small hand-press. In his later years, he was more interested in interpreting texts than reproducing them, but his theories concerning the 'Aneirin' and 'Taliesin' poems met with little acceptance amongst scholars.

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