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Welsh History Review

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Vol. 17, nos. 1-4 1994-95

The littérateur as politician : Owen M. Edwards M.P. /

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THE LITTERATEUR AS POLITICIAN:
OWEN M. EDWARDS M.P.
'FOR a short period (1899-1900) he was M.P. for Merioneth, but politics were
to him a secondary interest at the most; his nationalism was cultural, not polit-
ical." Thus wrote no less an authority than Professor R. T. Jenkins on O. M.
Edwards. Born at Llanuwchllyn in Merioneth in 1858, Edwards had been
educated at the local Church school, the Bala Theological College and the
University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he studied English, history
and philosophy. He spent the session 1883-84 at Glasgow University, then
becoming a student of Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied modern
history and enjoyed much success. Subsequent travels on the Continent led to
the appearance of the charming and well-received volumes, Tro yn Llydaw
(1888), Tro yn yr Eidal (1889) and O'r Bala i Geneva (1889). In 1889 he was
appointed fellow and tutor in history at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he was
to remain for eighteen years. At Oxford he played a key role in the establish-
ment of the influential Cymdeithas Dafydd ap Gwilym and devoted great
energy to the writing and publication of an array of Welsh books and maga-
zines, including the series Cyfres y Fil and Cyfres y Werin, which reprinted
considerable selections of the Welsh classics. Edwards was also the author of
important works such as Hanes Cymru (1895, 1899) and Cartrefi Cymru
(1896), and in 1891 he launched his own monthly, Cymru, and, in the follow-
ing year, Cymru'r Plant, both of which soon attained a substantial circulation.
Less successful were the journals Wales (1894-97), Y LIenor (1895-98) and
Heddyw (1897-98). His prodigious and prolific contribution to Welsh letters
may be compared with that of Thomas Gee. He was, moreover, in 1896 the
founder of Urdd y Delyn, a forerunner of Urdd Gobaith Cymru.
In what has rightly been described as a somewhat 'curious episode',2 in
1899 he was cajoled into standing for parliament as successor to his close
friend, Thomas Edward Ellis, Merioneth's Liberal M.P. since 1886, while
simultaneously retaining his fellowship at Lincoln College. He remained at
Westminster for little over a year, never participating in parliamentary debate
nor indeed asking a single question in the Commons, and generally displaying
a marked lack of interest in parliamentary business; he had, it would seem,
resolved to retire from parliament within a few short months of his election.
This brief article seeks to examine these extraordinary events.
1 Dictionary of Welsh Biography (London, 1959), p. 193.
2 Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales, 1880-1980 (Oxford and Cardiff, 1981), p. 104.
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