Daniel Owen is the foremost Welsh novelist of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1836 in Mold, Flintshire. The following spring, his father and two of his brothers were drowned in a mining accident that left the family ‘in poverty if not in destitution’. Although he received a little education in the town’s British School, he received his true early education in the Calvinistic Methodist chapel to which his widowed mother belonged.
A youth who loved literature
When he was twelve he was apprenticed to one of the chapel’s deacons, a wise cultured tailor called John Angell Jones. The camaraderie in that tailor-shop, Angell Jones’s prompting, and the encouragement of his minister, the Reverend Roger Edwards, turned the boy into a youth who loved literature. In his twenties, now a fully-fledged tailor, he published character-sketches of local characters, and translated an American novel. Also, like hundreds of his talented contemporaries, he started to preach.
In 1867, he enrolled at Bala College, an academy established by Dr Lewis Edwards mainly for the education of men who wished to enter the ministry. His fellow-students thought highly of him as an observant, sagacious young man, as, no doubt, did the Principal. But after eighteen months Daniel Owen returned to Mold—ostensibly to look after his mother and sister. I think he left college because the vital part of him could not abide the pieties of Nonconformity or its ministerial demands. He returned also to Angell Jones’s tailor-shop. He continued to preach on Sundays, he read avidly, and he regularly wrote and published portraits and stories and some poems. In time he established his own tailor-shop.
Straeon y Pentan
Then, when he was forty, he ruptured a blood-vessel in one of his lungs, and from then on he was never in the best of health. But ill as he often was, the life of his imagination flourished brilliantly. Some of his sermons and stories about Methodist-chapel affairs were published in Offrymau Neillduaeth; Sef Cymeriadau Beiblaidd a Methodistaidd (1879), after which Roger Edwards persuaded him to write a novel. Y Dreflan (1881) and Rhys Lewis (1885) were first published in monthly parts in Edwards’s Y Drysorfa. Rhys Lewis, perhaps the best of his novels, an autobiographical account of the life of a minister, mirrors Daniel Owen’s own life and times, and is a masterly analysis of the complexity of fervour, faith and faddishness that was Welsh religious society in the second half of the nineteenth century. Other novels followed, Enoc Huws (1891) and Gwen Tomos (1894). In 1888 he published a collection of essays, portraits and poems, Y Siswrn. Last of all, in the year of his death, 1895, he published Straeon y Pentan.
DEREK LLWYD MORGAN
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