The creation of a Dictionary of Welsh Biography, claims Emrys Jones in his preface to this volume, ‘has been the Cymmrodorion Society’s greatest gift to Welsh scholarship’. His claim rests on a solid foundation. Over some seventy years the scores of scholars involved in the Welsh National Biography project have assembled, by meticulous research and in some cases from personal knowledge, a veritable treasure trove of information that has been published in three Welsh-language and two English-language volumes by the Cymmrodorion.
The volumes are a kaleidoscope: authors, ministers, landowners, industrialists, politicians, soldiers, architects, musicians are to be found in its pages. It is fitting that among them are the biographies of four men closely involved with the biography project. Sir John Cecil-Williams became honorary secretary of the Cymmrodorion and was the driving force behind the publishing of the DWB. The historian Sir John Edward Lloyd was, in addition to being Registrar and Professor of History at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, and the author of distinguished historical works, the first editor of the Dictionary. Sir William Llewelyn Davies succeeded Sir John Ballinger as National Librarian and was the Dictionary’s Associate Editor. However, the embodiment, over many years, of the Welsh Biography project was R. T. Jenkins, historian, man of letters, Francophile – 'a many-sided man', as the entry describes him.
As well as being an invaluable work of reference, the Dictionary is also a book to dip into at random. In it, side by side, are to be found Llewellyn Jones, general secretary of the Welsh Presbyterian Missionary Society and Mai Jones, the composer of 'We’ll keep a welcome'; and an inspired radio personality, or the Cilie family – 'smiths, poets, musicians and preachers' – and the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones. The reader can ponder the variety of the sources, which range from the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons via the Alpine Journal and the Radnor Express to the Bulawayo Chronicle, or marvel at the number of entries under the names of R. T. Jenkins or E. D. Jones in the index to contributors and their articles.
The current editor of the Dictionary of Welsh Biography is Dr Brynley F. Roberts and as a result of a joint initiative with the National Library of Wales it is now available online.