Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Salisbury, William (1520?-1600?)

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SALISBURY or SALESBURY, WILLIAM (1520?–1600?), lexicographer, and first translator of the New Testament into Welsh, was born probably about 1520 at Cae Du, Llansannan in Denbighshire. The chief residence alike of his parents and of himself was Plas isaf, Llanrwst, where many writers have erroneously placed his birth. He was the second son of Foulke Salesbury, whose uncle, also named Foulke (d. 1543), was the first protestant dean of St. Asaph, and whose grandfather was Thomas Salesbury of Llewenny (fl. 1451). The family has, since the sixteenth century, claimed descent from Adam de Salzburg—a younger son of a duke of Bavaria—who is said to have come to England and been appointed captain of the garrison of Denbigh by Henry II; Adam's great-grandson, John Salesbury (d. 1289), is said to have settled at Llewenny, and endowed a monastic house at Denbigh (Lewis Dwynn, Heraldic Visitations, ii. 114–15, cf. p. 331; Vincent Collections at the Heralds' College, No. 135; cf. Williams, Ancient and Modern Denbigh, pp. 163–74). The family name was spelt in a great variety of ways, Salbri and Salsbri being the oldest Welsh forms, the latter being anglicised into Salesbury and Salisbury, while the modern representatives of the family have uniformly adopted Salusbury (Burke, Landed Gentry, ed. 1894, ii. 1778). The translator used the form Salesbury. His mother was Elen, daughter of John Puleston of Hafodywern (in Welsh Maelor).

Salesbury was educated at Oxford, where ‘he spent several years in academical learning, either at St. Albans or Broadgates-hall or both.’ Thence he proceeded, about 1547, to London to study law, first at Thavies Inn and subsequently, ‘as 'tis supposed,’ at Lincoln's Inn (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. i. 358). According to his own statement, he was brought up in the catholic faith. His conversion to protestantism has been assigned to the personal influence exerted on him while at Oxford, between 1540 and 1547, by Jewel, the leader of the protestant party at the university (Dr. T. C. Edwards, in Trans. Liverpool Welsh Nat. Soc. 1st session, pp. 56–7). In 1550 he first openly declared for protestantism by the publication of ‘The baterie of the Popes Botereulx, commonlye called the high Altare. Compiled by W. S. in the yere of oure Lorde 1550,’ London, 8vo (Brit. Mus.). This was printed by Robert Crowley, who in the same year also published for Salesbury a small tractate (4to, pp. 4) entitled ‘Ban wedy i dynny … o hen gyfreith Howel da, &c. A certaine case extracte out of the Auncient Law of Hoel da … whereby it may be gathered that priestes had lawfully maried wyues at that tyme.’ The work was apparently intended as a supplement to ‘The Baterie.’ A copy is in the possession of the Rev. Chancellor Silvan Evans (Revue Celtique, i. 383–4). It is probably to this work that Wood (loc. cit.) referred when stating that Salesbury published ‘the laws of Howell Dda.’

Salesbury had already produced some important philological books. Under the title ‘Oll Synwyr Pen Kembero’ he edited and published a collection of Welsh proverbs which had been compiled by his friend and neighbour, Gruffydd Hiraethog [q. v.] Only one copy is known; it is at Shirburn Castle, in the Earl of Macclesfield's collection. It was printed by Nicholas Hyll, and bears no date. Mr. Gwenogvryn Evans is of opinion that it was issued in 1546, in which case it was the earliest extant book printed in Welsh. Its claim to this place is, however, contested by another work, also said to have been printed in 1546, of which no copy is now known to exist. This has been described as a Welsh almanac, with portions of the Scriptures (e.g. the Decalogue and the Lord's Prayer) in Welsh, and on that account called ‘Beibl’ (Moses Williams, Welsh List, 1717; Rowlands, Cambr. Bibl. p. 3). It is said by Bishop Humphreys to be either by Salesbury or Sir John Price (d. 1573?) [q. v.] (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. i. 218, 359). Salesbury is said to have brought out in 1547 another ‘Calendar of Months and Days,’ possibly a revised version of the former volume; but this work is also unknown (Rowlands, Cambr. Bibl. p. 6).

In 1547 Salesbury issued ‘A Dictionary in Englyshe and Welshe moche necessary to all suche Welshemen as wil spedly learne the englyshe tôgue thought vnto the kynges maiestie very mete to be sette forthe to the vse of his graces subiectes in Wales: Wherevnto is p'fixed a litle treatyse of the englyshe pronûcicion of the letters,’ London, 4to. This is really a Welsh and English dictionary, the first of its kind, and, as is further explained in a dedication to Henry VIII, was intended to facilitate the acquisition of English by Welshmen, whom Salesbury desired to see converted into a bilingual nation, while most of his educated countrymen at the time thought it best that the Welsh language should be allowed to die as soon as possible. The dictionary was printed in black letter by John Walley [q. v.] Perfect copies are in the Peniarth Collection and in the possession of Chancellor Silvan Evans, while there are two copies (one of them imperfect) in the British Museum. A facsimile reprint was issued by the Cymmrodorion Society in 1877. The ‘litle treatyse’ prefixed to the dictionary Salesbury supplemented in 1550 by a treatise entitled ‘A playne and a familiar Introductiô, teaching how to pronounce the letters in the Brytishe tongue, now commonly called Welshe,’ London, 4to; this was apparently intended for English-speaking people resident in Wales. No copy of the original edition is known; but there are in the British Museum two copies of a second edition in black letter, ‘perused and augmêted’ by the author, and ‘imprinted at London by Henry Denham for Humfrey Toy’ [1567]. Salesbury describes Toy as ‘my louinge Friende,’ and dedicated the book to him while ‘soiurning at your house in Paules Churchyarde, the 6 day of Maij 1567.’ An eighteenth-century transcript is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 33777). The full text (omitting only such parts as had no phonetic interest), and a diplomatic reproduction of the earlier Welsh tract of 1547, with a translation in parallel columns and notes, appeared in Ellis's ‘Early English Pronunciation’ (iii. 743–94, London, 1871, 8vo). Salesbury's account of the pronunciation of English in his time is there described as ‘the earliest which has been found’ (cf. Y Cymmrodor, i. 120). In the same year (1550) Robert Wyer printed ‘The Descripcion of the Sphere or Frame of the World, set forth by Proclus Diadochus, and Englysshed by me, Wyllyam Salysburye’ (black letter, 12mo). The translation was made from Linacre's Latin version, and was dedicated by Salesbury from ‘Thauies Inn’ ‘to his louynge cosen, John Edwardes of Chyrke’ (Denbighshire), who had desired the translator to procure him an English work on the subject (Brit. Mus.). In 1551 he published, while ‘dwellynge in Elye rentes in Holbourne,’ a Welsh translation—for the most part from the Vulgate—of the Epistles and Gospels appointed to be read in churches throughout the year, under the title ‘Kynniver Llith a Ban,’ the printer being Robert Crowley (London, 4to). The only perfect copy is at Shirburn Castle; but the principal of Bala College (Dr. T. C. Edwards) has another, from which the title-page is missing. Only a few leaves are in the British Museum.

After the accession of Mary, Salesbury seems to have withdrawn, not to his better known residence at Plas isaf—of which he is said to have illegally dispossessed the orphan daughters of his elder brother—but to the remoter house of Cae Du, Llansannan. There he is reported to have pursued his studies in a secret chamber, which, when examined a few years ago, could only be entered by climbing up the chimney.

In 1562–3 John Walley obtained a license ‘for pryntinge of the Latenye [Litany] in Welshe’ (Arber), and it may be assumed that Salesbury was the translator. It was published, but no copy is known (Rowlands, Cambr. Bibl. p. 10, quoting Timperley). Salesbury had ‘long desired’ a translation of the whole Bible into Welsh. In 1563 an act of parliament (5 Eliz. chap. 28), the passage of which was doubtless due to his efforts, charged the bishops of the Welsh sees and of Hereford to ‘take order among themselves’ that the whole Bible and Book of Common Prayer be translated into Welsh within a period of four years (Dr. T. C. Edwards, op. cit. pp. 54–5). The bishops seem to have entrusted the work to Salesbury (cf. his New Testament, ded.). In the same year (1563) a patent was granted to Salesbury and Walley to be sole printers for seven years of the whole Bible or any part thereof, the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and the Book of Homilies in Welsh, on condition that the books be first perused and allowed by the five bishops or any two of them (Strype, Annals, I. ii. 88; a facsimile of this patent is in the Lansdowne MS. No. 48, fol. 175).

Salesbury probably wrote the major part of his translation at Cae Du in 1564. In the spring of 1565 he borrowed from a neighbour 100l., the bond being executed on 2 April 1565 (Arch. Cambr. 5th ser. ix. 180, where a tracing of his autograph signature is given). Having thus apparently provided for his expenses, he appears to have carried so much of his version as was finished to Richard Davies (d. 1581) [q. v.], bishop of St. David's, at Abergwili in Carmarthenshire. Davies gave Salesbury energetic aid, and, while the New Testament was still in progress, they jointly executed a rendering of the Psalms and prayer-book. Their separate contributions have not been here identified. The four years' limit prescribed by the act for the completion of the New Testament necessitated all speed. Archbishop Parker wrote to Bishop Davies ‘to despatch his lot in the Bible,’ and through him asked Salesbury, who ‘then sojourned with the bishop,’ to decipher a manuscript of great antiquity which he enclosed. Salesbury forwarded a full statement of ‘his conjectures’ on 19 May 1565, with which Parker was well pleased (Strype, Parker, i. 418–419; C. C. C. MSS. at Cambridge, No. 114, p. 491; see Nasmyth, Catalogue, p. 154).

In order to finish the New Testament in time, other aid had to be summoned. Salesbury himself translated all from the beginning of St. Matthew to the end of 2 Thessalonians, together with 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1, 2, and 3 John and Jude. Thomas Huett, precentor of St. David's, translated the Book of Revelation, while the remainder was the work of Bishop Davies. Huett contributed 24 folios, Davies 40, and Salesbury 330. Salesbury also supplied the explanatory words in the margin throughout, translated from the Genevan Bible the ‘argument’ prefixed to every book, and wrote an English dedication to the queen and a Welsh letter to ‘all Welshmen.’ The translation (which was independent of Salesbury's earlier version of the Epistles and Gospels, published in 1551) was prepared from the Greek, the text chiefly followed being Beza's edition of 1556, and to a lesser extent the two Stephanic editions of 1550 and 1551; while reference was often made to the Vulgate, the Latin text of Erasmus, Beza's two versions of 1556 and 1565, and the two Genevan versions of 1557 and 1560, together with Beza's annotations on his text in 1565. Salesbury's portion shows numerous signs of the influence of the English Genevan versions of 1557 and 1560 (Dr. T. C. Edwards of Bala, op. cit.; Professor Hugh Williams in Y Drysorfa, 1888, new ser. xlii. 126, 163).

In order to see the whole version through the press, Salesbury ‘sojourned’ through the summer of 1567 at Humphry Toy's house in London. Henry Denham printed it ‘at the costes and charges of Humfrey Toy,’ who possessed sole rights (Arber, Stationers' Register, i. 336–337). It was published on 7 Oct. 1567. Twenty-nine copies of the New Testament were known in 1890 (cf. list in Mr. Charles Ashton's Welsh ‘Life of Bishop Morgan,’ pp. 321–5); it was reprinted, with some of the introductory matter omitted, in 1850 (Carnarvon). Two other reprints, one of them in facsimile, were commenced in this century, but were not completed (Ashton, op. cit. p. 76).

Denham also printed Davies's and Salesbury's Prayer Book and Psalms, which was published a short time before the New Testament. A copy of the prayer-book is at the Free Library, Swansea; none is in the British Museum; a second edition was issued in 1586 (London, fol.).

Salesbury's Welsh presents an uncouth appearance owing to the general absence of the initial mutations and the writer's tendency to spell all words according to their supposed etymology. But his version is remarkable for the wealth of its vocabulary—especially as he had often ‘to form his theological terms for himself’—while his attempt to combine various dialects both in the text and by means of copious marginal variants renders the work extremely valuable to the philologist. But it never acquired much popularity, and was soon superseded in general use by Bishop Morgan's version, which was mainly a revision of Salesbury's work, with his linguistic peculiarities eliminated.

A few years after the publication of the New Testament, Salesbury appears to have returned to Abergwili, where, according to their contemporary, Sir John Wynn (Hist. of Gwydir Family, 1878, pp. 93–4), he and Bishop Davies were engaged ‘for almost two years’ in translating ‘homilies, books, and divers other tracts in [to] the British tongue,’ as well as the Old Testament into Welsh. About 1576 a ‘variance for the general sense and etymology of one word’ caused a rupture between them and put an end to their partnership. Sir John Wynn, who had a grudge against Bishop William Morgan (1540?–1604) [q. v.], says that Morgan, in translating the Old Testament, had ‘the benefit and help of Davies and Salesbury's works, who had done a great part thereof’ (Gwydir Family, p. 96). Salesbury appears to have had no share in the production of Morgan's Welsh version of the Old Testament of 1588.

After the dispute with Davies, Salesbury ‘gave over writing (more was the pity)’ (Wynn; cf. Addit. MS. Brit. Mus. 15034, f. 187). Another work, mainly completed by him before 1550, was, however, published subsequently; it was a Welsh book on rhetoric, entitled ‘Egluryn Phraethineb’ (i.e. ‘The Elucidator of Eloquence’), London, 1595, 8vo, which is described on its title-page as commenced by Salesbury, added to and completed by Henry Perry [q. v.], and published at the expense of Sir John Salisbury of Llewenny, brother of Thomas Salisbury (1555?–1586) [q. v.] John Davies, in his ‘Grammar’ (1621, pp. 213), refers to it thus: ‘De figuris syntaxeos consule Wilhelmi Salesbury Rhetoricam MS. ab Henrico Perrio interpolatam et in lucem editam.’ The work as published was completed after 1580. A second edition, with a few omissions, was published under the editorship of Dr. Owen Pughe [q. v.] in 1807 (London, 8vo), of which a reprint appeared in 1829 (Llanrwst, 12mo). A manuscript copy prepared for publication by Sir Thomas Williams or ab William [q. v.] is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 15046, ff. 299–348). Williams doubtless had the advantage of perusing many of Salesbury's manuscripts, besides consulting him personally.

Rowlands doubtfully records (Cambr. Bibl. p. 81) under 1607 a translation of ‘Prideaux on Prayer,’ which he says was ascribed to Salesbury.

But although Salesbury published nothing after his rupture with Davies, he was busily engaged in scientific and antiquarian studies. It was in his later years that he wrote a Welsh Botanology, a transcript of which, made in 1763 from the original manuscript, now lost, was recently in the possession of John Peter (Ioan Pedr) of Bala. It was an original work, quite abreast of the time, and showing close observation of plant life (Y Traethodydd, 1873, xxvii. 156–81). Under the date of 1586 Lewis Dwnn mentions Salesbury as one of the gentry ‘by whom he was permitted to see old records, &c.’ in the compilation of his pedigrees (Her. Visit. i. 8). Among the Marquis of Bute's manuscripts there is a volume containing (inter alia) ‘poetry, pedigrees, &c., collected from various Welsh authors, and in that language by W. Salesbury of Llanrwst’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. App. to 3rd Rep. p. 207; cf. Harleian MSS. vol. 2289, No. 7, f. 76). Another manuscript, containing pedigrees of Welsh saints by Salesbury, is quoted in the ‘Myvyrian Archaiology’ (2nd ed. p. 417), while letters of his are among the Addit. MSS. (14929 f. 189, 14936 f. 105, 15034 f. 187, 15059 f. 121) (Gwenogvryn Evans's Cat. of Welsh MSS.). A tract on the bardic office, apparently forming part of some larger work now lost, has been attributed to him, and is reproduced in Edward Jones's ‘Musical and Poetical Relics’ (i. 51–9). Salesbury died about 1600. His place of burial is unknown. He married Catherine, a sister of Dr. Ellis Price [q. v.] of Plas Iolyn; Salesbury's elder brother married another sister. A son, John, married Mary Salesbury of Stour, Kent, and by her had two sons, the elder of whom lived at Plasisaf in 1612, and the other died at Cae Du in 1630.

Salesbury was ‘the best scholar among the Welshmen’ of his time (Dr. T. C. Edwards, p. 60). According to his contemporary, Sir John Wynn (op. cit. p. 94), he was ‘especially an Hebrician, whereof there was not many in those days.’ Skilled in no less than nine languages, he seems to have grasped the value of the comparative method in studying languages, and to have been a pioneer of the science of philology. But his interests were wide; he was ‘a most exact critic in British antiquities’ (Wood), and was described by Dr. John Davies (Preface to Davies's Dictionary) as ‘de ecclesia linguaque Brit. vir plurimum meritus;’ he also appears to have had some ambition to rank as a poet (cf. Addit. MS. 14872, f. 348). He had a taste for science, as is proved by his botanical work, while he is said to have constructed an automatic mill (Dr. Davies's Dictionary, s.v. ‘Breuan’).

[Wood, in his Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, i. 358–9, has only a short notice of him. Considerable materials for an adequate biography are collected by the Rev. John Peter (Ioan Pedr) of Bala in vol. ii. of the Welsh works of Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain), 1868, in Enwogion y Ffydd (1874?), i. 33–53, and in Mr. Charles Ashton's (Welsh) Life and Times of Bishop Morgan (1891), pp. 48–62, 71–83, 181–4. See also Dr. Lewis Edwards's Traethodau Llenyddol, pp. 80–92; Williams's Eminent Welshmen, p. 466; Y Cymmrodor, i. 107–25; Arch. Cambr. 5th ser. ix. 177–91. Rowlands, in his Cambrian Bibliography, gives particulars of most of his books, but is not wholly to be relied upon. The critical articles on Salesbury's work as translator, by Dr. T. C. Edwards, in the Transactions of the Liverpool Welsh National Society (first session, 1885–6), pp. 51–81, and by Professor Hugh Williams in Y Drysorfa, 1888, are valuable.]

D. Ll. T.