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The Carmarthenshire Historian


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John Jones 1772 - 1837

JohnJones.jpg Little is known of the early life of John Jones, barrister, translator and historian beyond the solitary fact that he was born on the 17th August, 1772 at Derwydd in the parish of Llandybie.

He seems to have had small formal education and although largely self-taught he acquired a good grounding in the classics, which was sufficient to enable him to become at a very early age an under-master at a superior school at Wimbledon, where (Sir) Robert Peel was one of his pupils. Later he went to Germany where he distinguished himself in his studies and received the degree of LL.D. from the university of Jena. He was acknowledged to be a good Greek scholar.

When he returned to England he applied himself to the study of the law and was called to the Bar, following which he joined the Oxford and South Wales circuits. He made a very successful start as a lawyer, but fell foul of the profession when, in defending a poor client, he made forthright reflections on those who administered the law. This caused great offence to the legal profession and as a result no further briefs came his way. He ended his days in poor circumstances and died at St. James's Street, Islington on the 28th September, 1837.

Jones was well read in the manuscript records of Britain and other countries, but it is said that his strong prejudices affected his judgements as an historian. His chief historical work was a History of Wales, which was published in London in 1824. The work showed much learning, but he has been charged with a failure to understand the religious revival in Wales in the eighteenth century, a shortcoming said to have been influenced by German rationalism. After his death a revised copy of the work was found among his papers. In a footnote at page 323 of the published version he says that he 'was born at Derwydd and hence is a natal Druid', a reference to the fact that the place-name is Welsh for Druid.

Another historical work, left in manuscript at the time of his death, was entitled 'The Worthies of Wales, or Memories of Eminent Ancient Britons and Welshmen, from Cassivelaunus to the present time.' In compiling it, Jones stated that he had, 'from juvenile days, collected notes respecting his country and the great men it has produced.... It is presumed the work will form three vols. 8vo., making 1200 pages, and contain from 50 to 100 lives.' In addition to the History of Wales, his published works were: Translation from the Danish of Dr. Bugge's Travels in the French Republic, 1801; De Libellis Famosis, 1812, a useful work on the law of libel; Y Cyfammod Newydd, a translation of the gospels which has been dismissed as almost worthless [see another point of view -- ChrisJones] because of the author's evident unfamiliarity with some of the simplest rules of Welsh construction.

Thanks are due to Cardiff City Library for making available the picture of John Jones (page 77 of the booklet -- ChrisJones).
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