Cleric, scholar and lexicographer.

The St David’s College magazine for 1903 includes an obituary for Daniel Silvan Evans written by the Principal Llewellyn John Montfort Bebb, in which he describes Evans as ‘the most distinguished student who has owed his early training to Lampeter’. Born in the small village of Llanarth in Cardiganshire the son of a farmer, Evans demonstrated his academic qualities early in life, publishing his first collection of poems and essays, Blodue leuainc at the age of twenty-five and receiving the Bardic name of Daniel Las. Having begun preaching to the Independent congregation of which he was a member, Evans decided upon a career in the ministry and in 1845 he became the four hundredth student to enter St David’s College. Three years later he was elected Welsh Scholar and Lecturer however, after just eight months teaching, he was ordained deacon, made priest the following year, and given his first curacy in Llandegwning on the Llyn Peninsula. After five years he moved as curate to the adjoining parish of Llangian and ten years later was appointed Rector of Llanymawddwy in Merioneth. In 1876 Evans was offered the living of Llanwrin in Montgomeryshire where he was Rector for seventeen years. In recognition of his long parochial service he was made Honorary Canon of Bangor in 1888, offered a Prebendal Stall in the Cathedral in 1891, made Chancellor of Bangor in 1895 and Chaplain to the Bishop of Bangor in 1899. 

During his life Evans combined his parochial and academic activities publishing, translating and editing a considerable volume of work. Although his main interest was the Welsh language he was also interested in Welsh folklore and history and in 1882 co-authored Ysten Sioned, a collection of folk tales, ghost stories, poems and verses. He acted as editor of the Archaeologia Cambrensis from 1871 to 1875 and edited Lewis Morris’s Celtic Remains in 1878.  

His interest in academia was life-long and for a period of time he was Examiner in Welsh for St David’s College, and from 1875-1883 part-time Professor of Welsh at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He was awarded a three-year Fellowship at Jesus College, Oxford in 1897 in recognition of his eminence as a Welsh scholar, and in 1901 the University of Wales gave him the honorary degree of D.Litt. 

However, Evans’s legacy is his great dictionary which Principal Bebb claimed originated from his Lampeter days, ‘Whenever he read a book, from Llywarch Hen down to Ceiriog or Daniel Owen, he read it with a view to collecting materials for his lexicon’. Evans published a two volume English-Welsh Dictionary in 1852 and 1858, but it was not until 1887 that the first part of Geiriadur Cymraeg was published. The first volume, up to the letter C was completed by 1893, and the first instalment of the second part was published in 1896. However, despite assistance from his son John, the dictionary was never to be completed. By the time of his death Evans had produced over 1900 pages of his dictionary, but had only reached the letter E, this final section was published in 1906 by Walter Spurrell.  

Evans died 13th April 1903 at the age of eighty-five and was buried in Cemaes churchyard, near Llanwrin.  In his obituary Principal Bebb suggested that a fitting commemoration would be the endowment of a Welsh library in his name at St David’s College, ‘to kindle an interest in the study of Welsh literature and history’, sadly this did not happen. However, at the Lampeter Eisteddfod held in August 1907, the college offered a prize on the ‘Life and Work of Chancellor Silvan Evans’. Many years later, on 5th July 1956, the Bishop of Bangor officiated at a service attended by the Welsh poet and author T.H. Parry-Williams, to lay a gravestone on Evans’s grave. His manuscripts and private papers are held in the archives of the National Library of Wales.  

Sources: 

Hughes, R. E. (1959). Evans, Daniel Silvan (1818-1903), cleric, translator, editor, and lexicographer. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Available from: https://biography.wales/article/s-EVAN-SIL-1818 [Accessed 27th May 2020]. 

Lloyd, J. E., and Beti Jones. Evans, Daniel Silvan (1818-1903), Welsh scholar and lexicographer. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Available from: https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-33034?rskey=corBJo&result=1 [Accessed 27th MY 2020]. 

St David’s College Magazine, Vol. VIII, No. 6, June 1903, pp.253-255. 

St David’s College Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 5, February 1907, p.268.