Owen, Aneurin (DNB00)

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OWEN, ANEURIN (1792–1851), Welsh historical scholar, born on 23 July 1792, was son, by his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, of William Owen [see Pughe, William Owen] (Adgof uwch Anghof, 1883, pp. 176-7). While he was still a child his father took the additional name of Pughe on inheriting some property at Nantglyn, Denbighshire. Thither the family accordingly moved from London. Young Owen was for a short time at Friar's School, Bangor, but was chiefly educated by his father, who took special pains to train his son in the Welsh historical and literary studies in which he was himself proficient. Arrived at manhood, Aneurin made his home at Tanygyrt, near Nantglyn, and in 1820 married Jane Lloyd, also of Nantglyn (Seren Gomer, June 1820). His occupations were mainly literary until the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836, when he was appointed one of the assistant tithe commissioners for England and Wales. On the death of Colonel Wade he was made an assistant poor-law commissioner ; but the duties of this position tried his weak constitution, and he resigned it. When the work of tithe commutation grew less urgent, he was appointed, under the Enclosures Act of 1815, a commissioner for the inclosure of commonable lands.

When the government resolved in 1822 to publish a uniform edition of the ancient historians of the country, the Welsh portion of the work was entrusted to John Humphreys Parry [q. v.] On Parry's death in 1825 his duties were transferred to Owen, who thus became the adviser of the Record Office upon all Welsh matters. His work falls mainly under two heads — the publication of the ancient Welsh laws, and the accumulation of material for an edition of the 'Chronicle of the Princes.’ Both tasks were carried on concurrently during the period 1830–40; libraries were visited, manuscripts copied, and collations made, and in 1841 the Record edition of the laws appeared in two forms, a large folio and two quarto volumes. It is remarkable not only for the care and accuracy with which the manuscripts are reproduced, but also as distinguishing for the first time the three versions (Venedotian, Dimetian, and Gwentian) of the original law of Hywel. The edition of the ‘Chronicle of the Princes’ (‘Brut y Tywysogion,’ a continuation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's work, but, unlike it, based on contemporary evidence) did not appear in Owen's lifetime. The inconsiderable portion of the ‘Chronicle’ which ends at 1066 was indeed edited by him for the ‘Monumenta Historica Britannica,’ 1848, but the bulk of his material remained unpublished, and went to the Record Office on his death in 1851. Complaint was made in ‘Archæologia Cambrensis’ (3rd ser. v. 235) that the papers thus handed over were carelessly kept, and access to them had been granted to persons who were using them without acknowledgment; and when in 1860 the Rolls edition of ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ appeared, under the editorship of the Rev. J. Williams (Ab Ithel), the reviewer in the ‘Archæologia Cambrensis’ (3rd ser. vii. 93–103) asserted that the text, the translation, and all that was valuable in the preface were the work of Owen, who was nevertheless unmentioned in the book. In 1863 Owen's transcript and translation of the so-called ‘Gwentian Brut’ (a Glamorganshire version of the ‘Chronicle’), with the introduction he had prepared for the ‘Monumenta,’ and a letter on the Welsh chronicles to H. Petrie, were printed as an extra volume by the Cambrian Archæological Association.

‘No Welsh archæologist since the days of Edward Llwyd has appeared superior to Aneurin Owen’ (Archæolog. Cambr.) He was an accurate and well-informed paleographer and an apt historical critic. With all his father's knowledge of the Welsh language, he had none of his father's eccentricities. He took a keen interest in the Welsh movements of his day, and particularly in the Eisteddfod; he was one of a committee of five appointed at the Abergavenny Eisteddfod (1838) to consider the reform of Welsh orthography, and in 1832 won a silver medal at the Beaumaris Eisteddfod for the best Welsh essay on ‘Agriculture.’ The essay was published in the ‘Transactions’ of the Eisteddfod, 1839, and also in a separate volume. Owen died on 17 July 1851 at Trosyparc, near Denbigh (Annual Register for 1851).

[Enwogion Cymru, 1870; Archæol. Cambr. 3rd ser. iv. 208–12, v. 235, vi. 184–6, vii. 93–103; Ancient Laws of Wales, 1841, Preface; Transactions of Beaumaris Eisteddfod, 1839.]

J. E. L.