Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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JONES , JOHN JAMES ( 1892 - 1957 ), teacher, librarian, scholar and linguist ;

b. on 12 March 1892 in New Quay, Cards. , the son of a saddler , Thomas Jones and Elizabeth , dau. of John Williams , Pendre , Llwyndafydd . He was educated at the Council School , New Quay and Aberaeron intermediate school ( 1906-10 ); he was a student teacher before entering the University College of Wales , Aberystwyth ( 1911-14 ). He graduated B.A. (Wales) with honours in Latin , and was awarded an M.A. degree for a thesis on The native Italian element in early Roman religion . He taught for nine years in English grammar schools — Stockton-on-Tees ( 1914-15 ); Whitchurch , Salop ( 1915-18 ); Ryleys School , Chester ( 1918-20 ); and Sir Thomas Rich's School , Gloucester ( 1920-23 ). Latin was removed from the curriculum at the school in Gloucester and he lost his post in consequence. Owing to a slight defect of his hearing , he left the teaching profession and returned to do further research in the Classics department at Aberystwyth . In 1926 , he was appointed Assistant Keeper in the Department of Printed Books , National Library of Wales , promoted Deputy Keeper in 1928 and he was Head of the Department from 1950 until his death. He was recognized as a skilful bibliographer , a skill which he surely derived from his scholarship and discipline in the Classics. He married Elizabeth Mary , daughter of Isaac Davies , of New Quay , but there were no children.

He had a special aptitude for learning languages , and his thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek provided him with a firm foundation for learning other languages, such as French , Spanish and Italian . He had a good knowledge of German , Russian and Polish , and could read most of the other Slavic , Scandinavian , Hungarian , and, of course, Celtic languages. He was interested in the Eastern languages , such as Persian and Arabic , and he took up the study of Sanscrit and Pali to acquire first-hand knowledge of the religious literature of India . It was his mastery of Sanscrit that enabled him to translate the Mahāvastu , the scriptures of the oldest of the Buddhist sects, into English , and which was published in three volumes under the auspices of the Pali Text Society in 1949-56 . According to Miss I.B. Horner , the Society's secretary , this first translation into any language is an outstanding contribution to Buddhist studies; he succeeded in overcoming and explaining the difficulties of the text, and translated it into a beautiful, flowing English style.

He contributed articles to Welsh periodicals on Celtic studies, religion and bibliography. He published Welsh translations of Breton and Russian short stories in Yr Efrydydd , 1935 and Yr Haul 1945 , and Persian sayings in Yr Efrydydd , 1934 . He published articles in Yr Haul ( 1942-4 ) on unascribed Latin hymns in the Emyniadur (the Welsh Anglican hymnal, 1897 ), contributed to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography , and wrote the introduction to the section on Welsh proverbs in Racial proverbs … edited by S.G. Champion ( Routledge , 1938 ).

His relaxations were chess and an occasional novel. He enjoyed watching football and cricket and was an enthusiastic bowls player . His hardness of hearing made conversation difficult for him and he developed interests such as these, which did not depend on conversational ability. He was a true gentleman, friendly, unassuming and respected by all who knew him. His wife died on 29 July, 1955 , at the age of 64, and the third volume of the Mahāvastu is dedicated to her as a tribute to her patience and inspiration in the course of his work on the translation. He died suddenly on the 20th February, 1957 , a few months before he was due to retire, and he was buried in the cemetery of Maenygroes Congregational chapel , near New Quay .


  • Annual Report of the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth)
  • letters in the MSS. dept. of the NLW;
  • The National Library of Wales Journal X, 1957 , 119-20;
  • The Times , 26 Feb. 1957 ,
  • personal knowledge and information from members of staff of N.L.W.


John Keith Evans, Caerwedros, New Quay

Published date: 2001