Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig

Reference: Llanstephan MS 84B

Llanstephan 84, or the Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig, as it is called is a Cornish dictionary compiled by the scholar Edward Lhuyd at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is considered to be an important source for the Cornish language in the recent period.

The Cornish Manuscripts of The National Library of Wales

Llanstephan 84 is not the only Cornish manuscript that is contained in the National Library’s collections. There are also 2 of the language’s most important manuscripts, namely 'Beunans Meriasek', a drama in Middle Cornish that was written in 1504, based on the life of Meriadoc, the saint from Brittany (NLW MS Peniarth 105) and 'Beunans Ke', a copy from the second half of the 16th century of a drama based on the life of Saint Ke (NLW MS 23849D).

There are also a number of Cornish glossaries in the Library. These include a copy written by Moses Williams (1686-1742) of a Cornish glossary (NLW MS Llanstephan 85) and the proofs of Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum (1865) by the Rev. Robert Williams (NLW MS Cwrtmawr 1138).

When Cornish manuscripts are mentioned, the name of the scholar Edward Lhuyd (1660 – 1709) cannot be omitted. Without his dedication and his studies of the Cornish language a number of the manuscripts would not have survived until the present day. These include 2 copies of the 'Ordinalia' that formerly belonged to Lhuyd (NLW MS Llanstephan 97 and NLW MS Peniarth 428), as well as the Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig (NLW MS Llanstephan 84).

Edward Lhuyd

Edward Lhuyd was born in 1660 and was educated at Oswestry Grammar School before going to study law at Jesus College, Oxford in 1682. Lhuyd had a great interest in antiquities, botany and geology and shortly after going to college he turned his attention to the experimental scientific work that was conducted at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. He left the college before graduating and he was appointed as one of the vice-curators of the Museum in 1687 and then as curator in 1691.

In 1707, Lhuyd published the first volume of his 'Archaeologia Britannica: an Account of the Languages, Histories and Customs of Great Britain, from Travels through Wales, Cornwall, Bas-Bretagne, Ireland and Scotland'.

His intention was to include the Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig in the projected second volume of his work, and he announced his intention in the first volume (p. 253):

"I find first that I must recal the promise made of a Cornish-English Vocabulary. I have one by me, written about six years since, and have lately improv’d it whith what additions I could; But there being no room for it in this volume…it must be deferred to the next."

Unfortunately, Lhuyd died suddenly in 1709 before he had the opportunity to prepare the second volume for the press.

Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig

In 1702 Lhuyd spent around 4 months in Cornwall traveling from parish to parish in order to gather material for the Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig. During this time he talked to the natives of the region and recorded their vocabularies in a notebook. That, in its essence, is the content of the Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig, namely a Cornish glossary with corresponding meanings in English.

As to its size, the Geirlyer Kyrnẁeig is a small notebook of 172 pages, with the glossary filling 162 of those pages. It was written in black and red ink in Lhuyd’s own handwriting. It contains a large number of corrections and several words have been crossed out.

At the end of the volume, on page 164, an elegy in the Cornish language to King William III, who died in 1702, has been added, together with a Latin translation.

Years after Lhuyd’s untimely death in 1709, the manuscript became part of the personal collection of Sir John Williams, the main benefactor of the National Library. He presented the volume among his collection to the Library in 1909.

By today, Lhuyd is considered to be one of the most versatile scholars that Wales has ever seen. He is respected for all the research work that he undertook to collect information about the Celtic languages and their interrelationship, and his work on the Cornish language is one of the few studies of the language that were undertaken while it was still a living language.

Further Reading

  • W Ll Davies, Cornish Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth, 1939)
  • R T Gunther, Life and letters of Edward Lhwyd (Oxford, 1945)
  • F Emery, Edward Lhuyd F. R. S. 1660 – 1709 (Cardiff, 1971)
  • Derek R Williams, Prying into every hole and corner; Edward Lhuyd in Cornwall in 1700 (Trewirgie, 1993)