Richards, David (DNB00)

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RICHARDS, DAVID (1751–1827), Welsh poet, best known as ‘Dafydd Ionawr,’ son of John and Anne Richards, was born at Glanymorfa, Towyn, on 22 Jan. 1751. His father, who owned a small estate, neglected his education, and it was not until he was about eighteen that he entered Edward Richard's school at Ystrad Meurig with a view to preparation for orders. There he made rapid progress, not only in his school studies, but also in the writing of ‘strict’ Welsh verse, an art he had learnt from Evan Evans (‘Ieuan Brydydd Hir’), for a time curate of Towyn. After a year his father refused him further help, and he took a situation as usher to C. A. Tisdaile of Wrexham grammar school. It was now he made his first appearance in Welsh literature, contributing to the ‘Eurgrawn,’ the first Welsh magazine. On 16 May 1774 he matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford, but found university life so uncongenial that in a few months he again became usher to Tisdaile, now head master of Oswestry grammar school; some years afterwards he became assistant to W. H. Barker, head master of Carmarthen. At Carmarthen he experienced a double disappointment: he competed unsuccessfully in 1779 for the prize offered by the Cymrodorion Society for the best elegy upon Richard Morris (d. 1779) [q. v.], and not long afterwards Bishop Watson declined to ordain him to the curacy of Llandough. He resolved never again to enter a competition or seek orders. In 1790 he returned to Towyn to take charge of the free school, but after two years' labour abandoned teaching that he might carry out more effectually what he conceived to be the true mission of his life, that of the religious poet. His ‘Cywydd y Drindod’ (‘Ode to the Trinity’) had been in preparation for twenty years; in 1793 it appeared, a poem of over thirteen thousand lines, at Wrexham, Richards having mortgaged his interest in the family estate in order to defray the cost of printing. The work was not popular, and two-thirds of the issue remained unsold. In 1794 he moved to Dolgelly, and four years later, on the death of his father, gave still further proof of his devotion to the life of the poet and the recluse by making over his inheritance to his friend, Thomas Jones of Dolgelly, on condition of receiving maintenance for the rest of his life. From 1800 to 1807 he took charge of the free school at Dolgelly; but devoted his closing years entirely to the writing of Welsh religious verse, living with Thomas Jones until his death on 11 May 1827. He was buried in Dolgelly cemetery.

‘My motive to write,’ says Richards in his preface to ‘Cywydd y Drindod,’ ‘was a very strong impression made upon my mind very early in life, which would not suffer my thoughts to rest, and which I regarded as a call from heaven.’ His power as a poet, though considerable, was hardly on a level with his loftiness of purpose, and his works have exercised little influence. He published: 1. ‘Cywydd y Drindod,’ 1793; 2nd edit. Carmarthen, 1834. 2. ‘Y Mil Blynyddau,’ Dolgelly, 1799. 3. ‘Cywydd Ioseph,’ Dolgelly, 1809. 4. ‘Barddoniaeth Gristionogawl,’ Dolgelly, 1815. 5. ‘Cywydd y Diluw,’ Dolgelly, 1821. Some minor poems appeared at Dolgelly in 1803, and in 1851 a collected edition of the poems, with portrait, memoir, and critical estimate, was published in the same town, under the supervision of the Rev. Morris Williams (‘Nicander’).

[Memoir by R. O. Rees in edition of 1851; Ashton's Llenyddiaeth Gymreig, pp. 481–8; Llyfryddiaeth y Cymry; Alumni Oxon.]

J. E. L.