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Restoring reputation of Welsh scholar who championed Cornish

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 14, 2013

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A Cornish author and historian is hoping that years of research will help to restore the reputation of a long-neglected champion of the Cornish language.

Derek Williams' new book looks at the life and work of the Reverend Robert Williams, author of the first Cornish dictionary. Williams, The Llawnt is the first detailed attempt to examine the life and work of the Robert Williams, a Celtic scholar and antiquary who was born in Conwy in Wales and spent most of his working life as a rural clergyman and private tutor at Rhydycroesau (formerly Llawnt Ucha), near Oswestry.

The book's Camborne-born author has used the diary of Robert Williams and his correspondence with other Celtic scholars to reveal the extent of his Welsh and Cornish studies, bringing to life the man behind the scholar and cleric.

It also gives a vivid picture of life in the mid-19th century, particularly in Rhydycroesau, Oswestry and beyond.

The book is illustrated with old postcards of Rhydycroesau, as well as photographs of places and people associated with the clergyman, who died in 1881.

"As an exiled Cornishman, links between my adopted home and my homeland fascinate me," said Derek, who hails from Cornwall but has lived and worked in Oswestry for many years.

A Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd and author of a number of books, he added: "I published an early article about Robert Williams and his Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum, the first Cornish dictionary, in the Rhydycroesau History Group magazine. I couldn't believe how little had been written about him. Whilst resuming and augmenting my early research, I discovered the existence of his diary in the National Library of Wales, as well as his correspondence with other Celtic scholars."

Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum: A Dictionary of the Ancient Celtic Language of Cornwall, with synonyms in Welsh, Breton, Irish, Gaelic and Manx was completed in 1865 and helped consolidate Robert Williams' reputation as one of the leading Celtic scholars and antiquarians of the day.

Dr James Whetter, director of the Roseland Institute, said: "Robert Williams' later correspondence with such scholars as Silvan Evans and Whitley Stokes is enlightening about his important role in the renaissance of Celtic studies.

"And while Williams' work in studying, assessing and promoting Welsh manuscripts was the cornerstone of his life of scholarship, his Cornish dictionary and the aid he gave to those researching Cornish manuscripts represent a major contribution to Cornish culture and history."

Williams, The Llawnt – Robert Williams: A Neglected Celtic Scholar by Derek R Williams is published by Y Lolfa of Ceredigion, priced £7.95.

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