Williams, John (1792-1858) (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, JOHN (1792–1858), archdeacon of Cardigan, first rector of Edinburgh Academy and warden of Llandovery, was the youngest child of John Williams, vicar of Ystrad-meurig, by Jane, daughter of Lewis Rogers of Gelli, high sheriff of Cardiganshire in 1753.

His father, John Williams (1745–1818), was the eldest son of David Williams of Swyddffynnon, one of the earliest ‘exhorters’ among the Welsh methodists. He was educated at Ystrad-meurig grammar school under Edward Richard [q. v.] After keeping school at Cardigan (1766–70) and other places, and serving a curacy at Ross, Herefordshire (1771–6), he succeeded Richard as master at Ystrad-meurig in August 1778. His pupils soon increased to nearly a hundred in number, and about 1790 it became necessary to build a schoolhouse, the work having been previously carried on in the parish church. ‘For some half-century it became the leading school in Wales, and rose to the position of a divinity school, supplying a considerable number of candidates for holy orders’ (Bevan, Diocesan Hist. of St. David's, p. 224; cf. Rees, Beauties of South Wales, p. 469). Traditions of his mastership and of his classical learning are still current in the county (Cymru, iv. 45, 127, vi. 124, with portrait). Besides his mastership he held several clerical appointments in the diocese, and was the author of a ‘Dissertation on the Pelagian Heresy’ (Carmarthen, 1808, 8vo). He died on 20 March 1818. Two of his brothers, Evan and Thomas, established a bookselling and publishing business at No. 11 Strand, London, where, between 1792 and 1835, they published a large number of books relating to Wales (Enwogion Sir Aberteifi, pp. 152–4; Rowlands, Cambr. Bibliography, p. 666). Another brother, David (1751–1836), prebendary of Tytherington, was father of Charles James Blasius Williams [q. v.] During his latter years John Williams the elder was assisted and eventually succeeded at the school by his eldest son, David (1785?–1825), a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, to whom Lockhart addressed his ‘open letters,’ entitled ‘Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk,’ Edinburgh, 1819, 3 vols. 8vo (Lang, Life and Letters of Lockhart, i. 212–25).

John Williams the younger (David's brother) was born at Ystrad-meurig on 11 April 1792. He was educated chiefly at his father's school, but after an interval of three years spent in teaching at Chiswick he went for a short time to Ludlow school, whence he proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, matriculating on 30 Nov. 1810, and graduating B.A. in 1814, when he passed a ‘triumphant examination’ (Lang, i. 57). He proceeded M.A. in 1838. Like Dr. Arnold, who was one of his four companions in the first class, Williams chose for himself the career of a public-school master. He was for four years (1814–18) immediate assistant to Henry Dison Gabell [q. v.] at Winchester, and for another two years assistant to the brothers Charles and George Richards at Hyde Abbey school in the same city. In 1820 Thomas Burgess (1756–1837) [q. v.], then bishop of St. David's, offered him the vicarage of Lampeter in his native county, with the expressed hope that he would carry on the school established there by the previous vicar, Eliezer Williams [q. v.] He accepted, and through his influ- ence Lampeter was selected as the home of the divinity school since known as St. David's College, the foundation-stone of which was laid in 1822, but, owing to some subsequent difference of views with the bishop, Williams was not appointed its principal.

Presumably at the suggestion of Lockhart, who was one of Williams's closest friends both at college and in after life, Charles, the second son of Sir Walter Scott, was in the autumn of 1820 sent to Lampeter as a private pupil; and so inspired was Sir Walter with confidence in the Welsh tutor that he induced several of his Scotch friends to follow his example, and young Scott was shortly joined in Wales by Villiers Surtees and William Forbes Mackenzie [q. v.] In 1824 Mackenzie's father and Sir Walter invited Williams to become headmaster of a proprietary day school, to be called the Academy, which they were then promoting at Edinburgh, with the view of raising the standard of classical education and especially of Greek learning. The school was opened, with Williams as rector, on 1 Oct. 1824. His success at Edinburgh was in many respects even more remarkable than that of Arnold at Rugby, for apart from the difficulties incidental to a day-school, he had to overcome the native Scottish bias in favour of purely utilitarian education as against the more liberal training of the classics and other higher branches of learning. The high standard of scholarship for which the academy became famous ‘extinguished whatever necessity there ever was for sending Scotch boys beyond Scotland’ to school. Speaking in 1857, his old pupil, Dr. Tait (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury), unhesitatingly ascribed to Williams ‘more than to any man living the present movement in Scotland indicating a wish for a higher standard in the classical department of the universities.’ Among the more distinguished of his pupils, in addition to Tait, who was the first dux of the school, may be mentioned Principal Shairp, Professor Sellar, James Clerk Maxwell, W. E. Aytoun, Frederick Robertson of Brighton, Dr. Forbes (bishop of Brechin), and Charles Frederick Mackenzie (the African bishop).

In August 1827 Williams rashly accepted the post of Latin professor at the London University, then in course of being organised, but with equal precipitation resigned it some nine months later, before entering on its duties, because of the opposition which its secular policy had aroused among the high-church party. After a twelvemonth's break in his connection with the academy, during which he devoted himself to literary work, he was re-elected rector in July 1829, and continued to hold the post until his retirement in July 1847.

Besides profound scholarship and wide general culture, Williams had exceptional capacity for communicating to his pupils his own enthusiasm for learning. An interesting account of his method of teaching is given by Sir Walter Scott (Journal, ii. 4), who eulogises him as ‘a heaven-born teacher’ (ib. ii. 27) and ‘the best schoolmaster in Europe’ (ib. ii. 205), while for his social qualities he describes him as a man ‘whose extensive information, learning, and lively talent made him always pleasant company’ (ib. i. 413). It was their conversations on Welsh history that prompted the writing of ‘The Betrothed,’ Scott's only Welsh romance, while Squire Meredith in ‘Redgauntlet’ may perhaps have been also due to the same influence. On Scott's death it was Williams who read the burial service over his remains at Dryburgh Abbey.

During his long sojourn in Scotland Williams's connection with Wales had never been wholly severed. He continued to be the non-resident vicar of Lampeter till October 1833, when he was instituted archdeacon of Cardigan, but owing to some informality his institution had to be repeated in August 1835 (Sinclair, Old Times). He, however, longed for some suitable opening for undertaking educational work in Wales. Within a few weeks after his retirement from the rectorship Williams was appointed the first warden of a new school at Llandovery, just endowed by Thomas Phillips (1760–1851) [q. v.] The school was opened in very incommodious premises on 1 March 1848, pending the erection of permanent buildings, which were completed by May 1851, the prestige of Williams's name being largely instrumental in raising the necessary funds. The warden desired to develop the school into a collegiate institution which might perhaps in time supersede the theological college at Lampeter. He and Sir Benjamin Hall openly attacked Lampeter College for the inefficiency of its training and its systematic neglect of Welsh studies (Life of Rowland Williams, i. 160–209). Ill-health, however, compelled Williams to close his scholastic career by retiring from the wardenship at Easter 1853, but not before he had raised Llandovery to a foremost position among the schools of Wales. The remaining years of his life he devoted chiefly to literary work, though, while residing for his health at Brighton, in 1853 he took for three months the duties of his old pupil, Frederick Robertson [q. v.] at Trinity Chapel, and on his death preached his funeral sermon. He subsequently lived for a time at Oxford, but in 1857 went to reside at Bushey, Hertfordshire, where he died on 27 Dec. 1858, and was buried on 4 Jan. following in Bushey churchyard.

While at Lampeter he married Mary, only daughter of Thomas Evans of Llanilar, Cardiganshire (who predeceased him on 16 Aug. 1854), and had by her six daughters, five of whom survived him. The eldest, Jane Eliza, in 1861 married Major Walter Colquhoun-Grant of the 2nd dragoon guards, who died the same year in India. She occupied for many years the position of lady principal of Kidderpore House, Calcutta (where she died on 24 Sept. 1895), being succeeded in the principalship by her fourth sister, Margaret, who died unmarried at the same institution on 12 July 1896. Williams's third daughter, Lætitia (d 20 March 1899), married Mr. Robert Cunliffe, president of the Incorporated Law Society for 1890–1; and the youngest, Lucy, married Mr. John Cave Orr of Calcutta.

An oil painting of Williams by Colvin Smith, executed in 1841 on the commission of some old pupils, hangs in the great hall of the academy at Edinburgh. There is also a marble bust of him by Joseph Edwards in the library of Balliol College, a cast of which is at the University College of Wales, Aberystwith.

Besides being one of the greatest classical scholars that Wales has produced, Williams made a special study of the early history of the Celtic races, and particularly of the language and literature of Wales. The more important of his published works are:

  1. ‘Two Essays on the Geography of Ancient Asia: intended partly to illustrate the Campaigns of Alexander the Great and the Anabasis of Xenophon,’ London, 1829, 8vo.
  2. ‘The Life and Actions of Alexander the Great’ (being vol. ii. of Murray's ‘Family Library’), London, 1829, 12mo; New York, 18mo; 3rd edit. London, 1860. These two works were written during the author's rectorial interregnum in 1828–9.
  3. ‘Homerus,’ London, 1842. The essential unity of the Homeric poems was strenuously upheld by the author.
  4. ‘Claudia and Pudens. An Attempt to show that Claudia [mentioned in 2 Timothy iv. 21] was a British Princess,’ and that Britain was christianised in the first century, Llandovery, 1848, 8vo.
  5. ‘The Life of Julius Cæsar,’ London, 1854, 8vo.
  6. ‘Gomer; or a Brief Analysis of the Language and Knowledge of the Ancient Cymry’ (London, 1854, 8vo), followed in the same year by a ‘second part,’ which contained ‘specimens from the works of the oldest Cymric poets in their original form, with translations’ (cf. Skene, Ancient Books of Wales, i. 8–9). In ‘Gomer,’ his most ambitious philological work, Williams dealt with the origin of language, claiming inter alia that Welsh, in its earliest known forms, contained vocables expressive of abstruse philosophical truths, such as the doctrine of the conditioned. His treatment of the subject obtained the warm commendation of Sir William Hamilton.
  7. ‘Discourses and Essays on the Unity of God's Will … with special reference to God's Dealings with the people of Christianised Britain,’ London, 1857, 8vo.
  8. ‘Essays on various Subjects, Philological, Philosophical, Ethnological, and Archæological,’ London, 1858.
  9. ‘Letters on the Inexpediency, Folly, and Sin of a “Barbarian Episcopate” in a Christian Principality,’ London, 1858. He also brought out in 1851 an edition (since twice reprinted) of Theophilus Evans's ‘Drych y Prif Oesoedd’ (Carmarthen, 8vo).

Before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he was a fellow, he read several papers, two of which, dealing with points of Latin philology, were printed in the thirteenth volume of the society's ‘Transactions’ (pp. 63–87 and 494–563). He also contributed essays on the ‘Ancient Phœnicians’ and kindred topics to the ‘Cambrian Journal’ for 1855–7, and articles on more general subjects to the ‘Quarterly Review’ and other magazines.

At his death he left behind him several unfinished works. These included some slight portions of an autobiography (Bye-Gones, 1874, p. 159). His eldest daughter, Mrs. Colquhoun-Grant, subsequently, as his literary executrix, collected further materials for biographical purposes; but these, together with most of Williams's papers and correspondence, were lost off the coast of Spain, near Ferrol, in the wreck of the steamship Europa (17 July 1878), in which Mrs. Colquhoun-Grant was returning to England from India.

[Cambrian Journal, March 1859, vi. 52–61 and vii. 313, 360, cf. also ii. 227, iii. 81, 132, 209, 384 and iv. 57; Archæologia Cambrensis, 3rd ser. v. 66; Macphail's Edinburgh Ecclesiastical Journal, March 1859, pp. 89–95; Gent. Mag. 1818 i. 373–5, 1859 i. 209; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Foster's Index Ecclesiasticus; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Journal of Sir W. Scott; Life and Letters of J. G. Lockhart, ed. Lang; Archdeacon Sinclair's Old Times and Distant Places, pp. 231–43; Langhorne's Reminiscences (Edinburgh, 1893), pp. 99, 129, 150–63; Davidson and Benham's Life of Archbishop Tait, i. 18–26; Campbell and Garnett's Life of James Clerk Maxwell, pp. 47–8, 66–7, 578; Lord Cockburn's Memorials of his Time, i. 414, and Life of Jeffrey, i. 305; Knight's Principal Shairp and his Friends, p. 9; Letters and Memorials of Jane Welch Carlyle, ed. Froude, iii. 55; Annual Reports of the Edinburgh Academy (kindly lent by the former rector, R. J. Mackenzie, esq.), especially Reports for 1847; Edinburgh Academy Chronicle for July 1894 (personal recollections by Dr. James Macaulay) and July 1896 (commemoration dinner); Fergusson's Chronicles of the Cumming Club and Memories of Old Academy Days, 1841–6; minutes and other manuscript records relating to the Welsh Collegiate Institution, Llandovery (in possession of the secretary to the trustees); papers relating to the same, collected by William Rees of Tonn (one of the trustees), now preserved at Cardiff Free Library; Weekly Mail (Cardiff), 3 Oct. 1896, and Western Mail, 28 July 1898 (with portrait); Life of Dr. Rowland Williams; Yr Haul (church monthly published at Llandovery), 1848–52; Foulkes's Enwogion Cymru, p. 1105; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Gwyddoniadur Cymreig (Encyclopædia Cambrensis), x. 253–8; Enwogion Ceredigion (Gwynionydd), pp, 17, 152–7; information kindly supplied by Robert Cunliffe, esq. (son-in-law), by Professor Lewis Campbell, and other old pupils of Williams, both at Edinburgh and Llandovery.]

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