Rice Rees (1804-1839) was one of the original three lecturers at St David’s College Lampeter and the first librarian.
Rees was born at Ton in the parish of Llandingad, near Llandovery. His father, David Rees, appears to have been a dissenter; Rice Rees was christened in an Independent chapel. In his mid teens, he was educated for a short time at Lampeter Grammar School, living in digs in the town. After that, he spent some time back at home. He was prepared for Oxford by his uncle, W.J. Rees, a literary clergyman and the vicar of Cascob, Radnorshire. Already Rice had developed an fascination with Welsh history and culture; his interest was roused by John Howell, (Ioan Glan Dyfroedd).
Rice Rees entered Jesus College Oxford in 1822; he graduated BA in 1826, MA in 1828 and BD in 1837. He was a scholar of his college from 1825 to 1828; in 1828 he was elected fellow. Also, at Oxford, he became a member of the Church of England. A combination of nervousness and overwork, which strained his eyesight, meant he did badly in his undergraduate finals. However, when St David’s College Lampeter was established, Rees’ tutor at Oxford, Llewellyn Lewellin, became its principal. Lewellin was asked if he knew anyone able to be classical tutor and professor of Welsh. He commented ‘… I assure you, Sir it gave me sincere pleasure to have such an opportunity, of bearing my testimony to an old pupil’s general attainments and very excellent and moral conduct on all occasions.’ Aged only twenty-two, Rice Rees was appointed lecturer in Welsh and librarian. His salary was to be £150 from a government grant until a living became vacant, plus a proportion of the tuition fees. He was also to receive a set of comfortable rooms in college. Rees accepted conditionally, saying he was not ready to sit an examination in Welsh at once, having never written in it or studied it systematically. He later admitted that his answer was influenced by his fear of examinations, rather than his lack of fluency in Welsh! Through 1826 and 1827, he followed a course of study in the Welsh language. As well as becoming professor of Welsh, he was also Librarian and in charge of the buttery. He was ordained deacon in 1827 and priest in 1828, becoming rector of Llanddewi Velfrey in 1832.
Rees took up residence at the new college in February 1827. On Monday 5 March he ‘had the honour of being the first to give lectures at St David’s to a class of about 18 men in St. John.’ As the lecture-rooms were not ready, lectures had to be given in Hall. Despite having only three members of staff, the new college was attempting to provide a complete university course. Rees gave fourteen lectures a week; in the early days of the college, he taught the Greek Testament, Cicero’s Offices, Horace and Welsh. By 1829, he had added to this Herodotus and Logic. As Librarian, he compiled a catalogue of the collection; in 1836 his brother William published A Catalogue of Books deposited in the Library of St David’s College. He also carefully recorded every book in the register of donations, as well as sticking bookplates with the names of the donors in the actual volumes. He also worked as Welsh examiner for the diocese of St David’s, to test the proficiency of clergy appointed to Welsh-speaking parishes. He was appointed bishop’s chaplain in 1838.
Lampeter was remote; Rees found that everything was expensive because of the enormous cost of the transport there. In 1828 he purchased a mare for travelling, paying £26 5s.
Rees was a scholar by nature. His book The Welsh saints originated as an essay, submitted to the Carmarthen eisteddfod for ‘The best Essay on the Notices of the Primitive Christians, by whom the Welsh Churches were founded, and to whom dedicated.’ He expanded the composition into a book, published in 1836. J.E. Lloyd described it as ‘full and illuminating’ and it was to remain a standard authority for generations to come. He also played a huge part in the revision of the Welsh Book of Common Prayer in 1838 to 1839. At the time of his death he was working on an edition of Rhys Prichard’s Canwyll y Cymry; this was finished in 1841 by his brother William Rees, a publisher in Llandovery. Rice Rees also started work on an edition of Liber Landavensis; his uncle, W.J. Rees, completed the task, although inadequately, in 1853.
Rees was never robust and it is clear that he overworked. He died on 20 May 1839, by the roadside at Newbridge-on-Wye, Brecknockshire, whilst travelling from his uncle’s home in Cascob to Lampeter. He is said to have fallen dead from his horse’s back. He is buried in Llandingad churchyard; there is a tablet to his memory in the wall of the south aisle.
Jones, S. (1959). REES, RICE (1804-1839), cleric and scholar. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved October 9 2020 from https://biography.wales/article/s-REES-RIC-1804
Lloyd, J., & Banerji, N. (2004, September 23). Rees, Rice (1804–1839), historian. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 9 Oct. 2020, from https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-23287.
Price, D.T.W. (1977). A History of Saint David’s University College Lampeter. Volume one: to 1898. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Davies, J. (1905) Rev. Rice Rees. Old Wales. 1(5), 152-154. Retrieved October 9 2020 from https://journals.library.wales/view/2414565/2471288/25#?xywh=-1925%2C-570%2C5944%2C3634