Yr Athro R. Geraint Gruffydd

Elected: 2010 Founding Fellows

Area(s): Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Specialist Subject(s): Welsh, Welsh Culture, Welsh Literature

It could be said that Geraint Gruffydd had more than one career; university professor, head of a national institution, director of a research centre, each one of which he accomplished to a high standard, but there is no doubt that his main delight was his work as a scholar and researcher.  Over the years he published extensively on the writers and literature of all periods of Welsh literary history, both mainstream works and also less well-known writers and their works, unearthing many unknown gems. He had a tenacious memory and never forgot anything that he read or discovered, but also had the ability to find new, sometimes unexpected, connections, which meant that reading his work was always an exciting experience which opened the mind. One sign of his commitment to the ideals of research was his respect for his audience. Wherever he published his work – be it an academic journal, the proceedings of a society, a literary magazine, Y Cylchgrawn Efengylaidd,  Y Casglwr or any one of many other media – it was always remarkable for its light, accomplished style and the thoroughness of its research. Scholarship was a calling as well as a vocation for him.

He was born on 9 June 1928 in Egryn, an ancient house in Tal-y-bont, Ardudwy, the home of the parents of that flighty eighteenth-century scholar, William Owen [Pughe], but despite the fundamental difference between his scholarly perception and Geraint’s, in some almost mystical way, Geraint sensed the call of research and scholarship in Egryn and took pride in the fact that he had begun his journey there.

Geraint’s mother had graduated in Latin and Welsh, and his father, Moses Griffith, was an agricultural advisor. Some years later the family moved to Pwll Peirian, the experimental research farm in Cwm Ystwyth, north Ceredigion which is where he grew up. But if it was a geographically remote place, it was certainly not socially remote. Moses Griffith was one of the founding members of Plaid Cymru and its first Treasurer and many prominent Welshmen would call there, so Geraint became familiar from a young age with intellectual conversations on a range of topics, not only political, but also literary, social and religious. Saunders Lewis had no greater friend than Moses Griffith in his difficult years and Geraint took pride in the connection with that man of letters and thinker. He was appointed Saunders Lewis’s literary executor.

Geraint went from the local school to Ardwyn Grammar School at Aberystwyth and then, in 1941 to Gordonstoun which had relocated at the time to Llandinam. From there he went to Bangor College in 1945 with the intention of studying for a degree in English.  Gordonstoun didn’t offer a course in Welsh, and so Geraint expected to take an ‘inters’ course in Welsh at college. However, because of a clash (fortunate or providential) in the timetable, he was put into the higher class, where he was inspired by a trio of professors, Ifor Williams, Thomas Parry and Caerwyn Williams. Geraint was proud to have been in Ifor Williams’s final honours class and liked to relate his memories of his final lecture. Upon graduation, he went to Oxford to research his doctorate.

He was drawn to more than one topic. One was the contribution of that versatile genius, Edward Lhwyd, and it’s easy to see his appeal for Geraint. Another was Thomas Jones of Denbigh, the Methodist writer and scholar, and it is not hard to see why. But the subject which he finally chose was Welsh religious prose from the start of Elizabeth I’s reign to the Restoration. It was a challenging field and included all aspects of the Renaissance and humanists, and the works of Protestant Reformers, the Anti-Reformation and early Puritans; it demanded a grasp of (and interest in) the theology of a period of religious strife, a mastery of the intricate history of the ideas and politics of these years, and the ability to respond in a literary fashion to all these writings. The appropriate bibliographical skills also had to be learned. The whole of early modern Welsh literature opened before him and Geraint’s scholarship flourished in publications over the years on the Renaissance, its authors and books, and in particular the feat of William Morgan and the 1588 Bible.

His first job was on the editorial staff of the Dictionary of the Welsh Language and its location at the National Library gave Geraint free rein, in his spare time, to examine the wealth of Welsh manuscripts and create an inexhaustible reserve of knowledge to draw upon as necessary. In turn, Geraint became a lecturer in Welsh at Bangor College, a Professor at Aberystwyth, the National Librarian of Wales and the first full time Director of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth. He could master new fields thoroughly and set about researching them, providing detailed textual studies or perceptive original interpretations. At Bangor, he turned to Dafydd ap Gwilym and the cywyddwyr, \t Aberystwyth to early Welsh hengerdd poetry and ‘cerddi’r bwlch’, at the Centre he focused on the poets of the princes. He enriched the study of each and every one of these fields; but the flow of other publications did not abate, with articles on all periods of Welsh literary history, literary criticism, elegies for friends, and much too rarely, a poem or two; and in addition to all of this he wrote essays in which he shared his deep Christian conviction.

Geraint had an intense religious experience as a student in Bangor, an experience which deepened in Oxford; in Wales he was a member of the Evangelist Movement from the start. He professed his faith gladly but this did not restrict his interaction with other people or his scholarship in any way. He would have maintained that his religion enriched his life and his work. He was a people man, modest and always courteous and considerate, by nature agreeable and an active believer in collaboration while encouraging and inspiring others to contribute.

We extend our sympathies to his widow Luned, and the family, Sian, Rhun and Pyrs.

Brynley Roberts FLSW