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An Eighteenth Century Master of Words

John Walters, the compiler of an early Welsh dictionary, was a native of Carmarthenshire who was born two hundred and fifty years ago in the parish of Llanedi.

The son of John Walters, he was born near the Fforest on the 22nd August, 1721. His parents having died when he was young, Walters moved to Bassaleg in Monmouthshire, where he became a schoolmaster. Later he was a pupil at Cowbridge Grammar School and then went to keep a school at Margam. He was ordained in 1750 and became curate at Margam. Afterwards he was given the perpetual curacy of Llanfihangel Ynys Afan, where he remained until 1759, when he was instituted rector of Llandough and vicar of St. Hilary in the Vale of Glamorgan. Sometime domestic chaplain to the Mansel family at Margam, he became prebendary of Llandaff Cathedral in 1795. Walters died on 1st June, 1797 and was buried at Llandough.

In 1771 Walters published A Dissertation on the Welsh Language, pointing out its antiquity, copiousness, grammatical perfection, with remarks on its Poetry, and other articles not foreign. to the subject. But his chief work was the large English-Welsh dictionary, printed in eighteen parts between 1770 and 1794. The first three parts were printed at Llandovery by Rhys Thomas, who was probably persuaded by Walters to move to Cowbridge so that they could be more conveniently in touch. Thomas's printing press at Cowbridge was the first to be set up in Glamorgan and printed parts four to twelve of the dictionary between 1772 and 1780. The remaining six parts were published in London between 1782 and 1794.

An unpublished dictionary compiled by William Gambold (1672-1728) was used by Walters for his own work. But Walters was himself painstaking in collecting material and his finished work has been described as "unrivalled for its excellence in the idiomatic renderings of sentences and shows the compiler to have been a master of the idiom and phraseology of the Welsh language". The author coined many Welsh words which became established in the language and sought to show how to translate English idioms into Welsh.

Although it was a praiseworthy work, it proved a great financial loss to Walters, the dictionary being coldly received, partly perhaps because the many parts were so long in appearing. But it had a lasting value, as evidenced by the two editions which were published in the following century. The third edition was edited by the compiler's granddaughter, Hannah Walters. Her father, John, was one of five sons; he and his brother Daniel distinguished themselves as poets and scholars. Another brother, Henry, became a printer at Cowbridge.
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