John Gwenogvryn Evans
1852 - 1930
Born in South Wales, Evans studied theology and was ordained a minister of the Unitarian Church of England and Wales. However, he was forced to abandon the position for health reasons. In this off period, he obtained a copy of W.F. Skene's The Four Ancient Books of Wales. Upon finding that this monumental work had been done by a Scot and not a Welshman, Evans decided to devote his life to preserving and diseminating as much medieval Welsh literature as he could find. In 1882, he attended a lecture at Oxford given by Sir John Rhys (who, IIRC, inaugurated the Chair of Celtic Studies at Oxford), who encouraged Evans to become a palaeographer.
Evans was the seminal palaeographer of medieval Welsh texts. From his handpress--first in Oxford, then in Pwllheli and later at Llanbedrog--he produced facsimilies of the major Welsh medieval manuscripts for the consumption of scholars and enthusiasts alike. This process consisted of Evans and his partner Rhys tracking down and studying the manuscript directly, trying to determine the contents from badly-damaged pages and hard to read scripts. The result of his work was the aforementioned publishing venture, the Series of Old Welsh Texts, which consisted of diplomatic editions of books like The Black Book of Carmarthen, the Book of Aneirin, the Book of Taliesin, and selections from the Red Book of Hergest, among other manuscripts. Many of these remain the standard diplomatic editions.
Without his and Rhys' work, medieval Welsh scholarship would be at a huge disadvantage. While scholars had produced translations and transcriptions before Evans, it was he who worked to faithfully reproduce the page numbering, columns, at general look of the manuscripts, while retaining a clear, readable format. For instance, his diplomatic edition of The Black Book of Carmarthen contains hand-drawn reproductions of illustrations and initial letters.
His work in cataloguing is also important. From 1897 to 1920, he worked on the eight-part Report on Manuscripts in the Welsh Language, produced for the Historical Manuscripts Commission in London, cataloguing over nine hundred medieval Welsh manuscripts. He also helped establish the order of the Peniarth MSS at the National Library of Wales.
For his work, he recieved two honorary doctorates, one from Oxford (1903), the other from the University of Wales (1907).
Evans, J. G. "Introduction." Poems from the Book of Taliesin. Series of Old Welsh Texts vol. IX b. Pwllheli, 1907.
Maier, Bernhard. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. trans. Cyril Edwards. Rochester, NY: Boydell, 1997.
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Mary Jones © 2004