John Rhŷs (1840-1915) was one of Britain’s most prominent scholars of Celtic Studies at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. He also inspired a whole generation of scholars in the field.
Rhŷs was born at Ponterwyd, Ceredigion, and spent some time as a pupil-teacher before graduating at Oxford in 1869, and thereafter becoming an inspector of schools. On the basis of his early publications, he was appointed to the University of Oxford’s new Chair of Celtic Studies in 1877. He published a number of pioneering volumes, including:
He became Principal of Jesus College, Oxford in 1895, and for a while served also as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. He died at Oxford on 17 December 1915.
The Papers of Sir John Rhŷs were presented to the National Library of Wales by Sir Idris Foster in 1978. It is an archive of considerable size (over 117 boxes), rich in contents. It was fully catalogued, and organised into two main groups:
A number of striking photographs have been transferred from the collection of papers to the Library’s Photographic Collections. The Library also holds two portrait busts of Sir John: one by W. Goscombe John (bequeathed to the Library in Sir John’s will), and the other by Robert Lambert Gapper, purchased in 2015 and unveiled during the Centenary commemorations.
Numerous letters from John Rhŷs may be found among the personal papers of other individuals at the National Library, including the collections of J. Gwenogvryn Evans, J. Glyn Davies, D. Silvan Evans and T.H. Parry-Williams. Search the Catalogue for further details.
After his death in 1915, Sir John’s books were transferred from their shelves in the Principal’s Lodgings at Jesus College, Oxford to Aberystwyth University. They were listed, and within many is a special bookplate, designed by artist Kelt Edwards, noting their provenance as part of John Rhŷs’s bequest. They are now kept at Aberystwyth University’s Hugh Owen Library. Also at Aberystwyth University is a small collection of John Rhŷs papers, most of which - in all probability - were removed from the printed books for safe-keeping during a century of student use.
Although the main sources for the life and work of John Rhŷs may now be found at Aberystwyth, a small collection of diaries and papers created by his daughters, Myvanwy and Olwen, may be found at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
In 2015, the centenary of John Rhŷs’s death was marked by two public lectures and two academic conferences at Aberystwyth, the fruit of collaboration between Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh and the National Library: