Prichard, Rhys (DNB00)

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PRICHARD, RHYS or RICE (1579–1644), Welsh religious poet, born in 1579, was the eldest son of David ap Richard of Llandovery, and his wife Mary, daughter of John ap Lewis of Cwrt Newydd, Cardiganshire. At the age of eighteen he entered Jesus College, Oxford, whence he graduated B.A. on 26 June 1602, and M.A. in 1626. He had already (25 April 1602) been ordained priest at Witham, Essex, and on 6 Aug. 1602 he received from Bishop Rudd the vicarage of Llandingad and the chapelry of Llanfair ar y Bryn, which together form the living of Llandovery. He possessed considerable private property, and lived, not at the vicarage, but in his own mansion of ‘Neuadd Newydd’ (New Hall), which is still shown in the town. Through the influence probably of Sir George Devereux of Llwyn y brain, he became chaplain to the young Earl of Essex, and received the primate's authority to hold, as a nobleman's chaplain, the rectory of Llanedi, Carmarthenshire, in conjunction with his vicarage. He was instituted to Llanedi on 19 Nov. 1613, and on 17 May 1614 received a prebend in the collegiate church of Brecon. In October 1626 he was appointed chancellor of the diocese of St. David's and rector of Llawhaden, Pembrokeshire.

Prichard was an earnest and eloquent preacher, who, while a conformist and a royalist in politics, was profoundly influenced by puritan ideals. He attacked the frivolity and licentiousness of his age, and, finding, as he tells us, that set preaching did little good, while a snatch of song was always listened to, threw his teaching into rough, popular verse, which, despite its literary shortcomings, gained him a hearing. His stanzas, written in the colloquial Welsh of the district, were everywhere quoted, and his fame spread throughout Wales. So popular was he as a preacher that on many occasions he was forced to speak in the open air, and this, it is supposed, was made the occasion of complaint against him in an ecclesiastical court. Two of his compositions, a ‘Prayer in Adversity’ and a ‘Thanksgiving for Deliverance from the hands of Enemies’ (Canwyll y Cymry, Llandovery edit. Nos. xcix, c), appear to have reference to some incident of this kind.

On the outbreak of the civil war Prichard attacked the parliamentary party in his ‘Ballad on the Rebellion in the Year 1641’ (ib. No. clxviii, Llandovery edit.), and contributed liberally to the maintenance of the royalist interest in the district. A letter has, however, been preserved, in which he complains of the excessive taxation, amounting in one year to 200l., imposed upon him by the king's officers. Prichard died before the end of 1644, and was buried in Llandingad church. He had by his wife Gwenllian one child, Samuel.

None of Prichard's poems were published during his lifetime. In 1646 a few were printed from manuscripts then in the possession of Evan Pugh (Pren Teg), one of the vicar's parishioners; a second instalment appeared in 1658. In 1670, Stephen Hughes, a nonconformist preacher, obtained permission to publish a third part, and in 1672 he followed this up by reprinting the three parts already issued, together with a fourth and a verse introduction of his own. Adopting a title which occurred in one of the poems, Hughes entitled the whole book ‘Canwyll y Cymry’ (The Welshmen's Candle). A further edition by Hughes appeared in 1681 (London); this was succeeded by a number of Shrewsbury editions (1714, 1721, 1725, 1740, 1766), some of which contained many spurious additions. In 1770 Rhys Thomas of Llandovery printed an entirely new edition (with the alternative title ‘Y Seren Foreu,’ i.e. The Morning Star), rejecting the Shrewsbury additions and adding a large number of poems from what were believed to be the author's manuscripts. A brief biographical notice was prefixed. Further editions appeared at Carmarthen in 1776, 1798, and 1808; in 1841 a complete edition with explanatory notes and a full biography of Prichard was published at Llandovery by Professor Rees of Lampeter, and subsequently reprinted in 1858 and 1867. Selections of the vicar's verse were also issued by Griffith Jones (1683–1761) [q. v.], Llanddowror, in 1749 and 1758, and a translation into English by William Evans of Llawhaden in 1771 (Carmarthen).

There is a tradition that his granddaughter on his death employed a servant for two days in the task of burning his manuscripts. According to Wood, Prichard translated some books into Welsh, and also wrote upon the Thirty-nine Articles. Some of his sermons survived; an abortive proposal to print them was made by Rhys Thomas in 1770.

[Life in Llandovery editions of Canwyll y Cymry; Wood's Athenæ Oxon.; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Archæologia Cambrensis, 4th ser. 1878, ix. 237; Llyfryddiaeth y Cymry; Nelson's Bull, 1714, p. 475.]

J. E. L.