Edward Lhwyd

Digital Calendar and Transcriptions

People involved: Brynley F. Roberts, Richard SharpeHelen Watt

Partner institution: Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, University of Wales

Edward Lhwyd (c.1660–1709) was the second Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, and an important naturalist, archaeologist, and linguist. He published the first catalogue of English fossils, the Lithophilacii Britannica ichnographia (1699), in a limited edition of 120 copies; many of the specific fossils he illustrated still survive in the Oxford collections.

Lhwyd was also a keen naturalist, and assisted (among many others) John Ray with his botanical work. Perhaps Lhwyd’s greatest claim to scholarly significance, however, rests upon the extensive tours he made of the Celtic lands to continue his work as a naturalist and for the dual purposes of archaeological and linguistic survey. This resulted, on the one hand, in the most sophisticated archaeological work of the day; and on the other, in the first serious comparative study of the Welsh, Scots and Irish Gaelic, Cornish, and Breton languages. For this latter achievement Lhwyd is now regarded as the father of Celtic linguistics. His results were printed in Glossography (1707), the first volume of his projected Archaeologia Britannica, giving some account additional to what has hitherto been publish’d, of the languages, histories, and customs of the original inhabitants of Great Britain: from collections and observations in travels through Wales, Cornwal, Bas-Bretagne, Ireland and Scotland.


Helen at an EMLO focus group.


Helen at work in Aberystwyth.

fossil1‘Lhwyd corresponded regularly throughout his busy life in English, Latin, French, and Welsh with a wide array of natural philosophers and antiquaries, including Martin Lister and John Aubrey …’

This linguistic work, of course, must be associated with Lhwyd’s broader intellectual pursuits in Oxford, where he was not only Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, but an active member of the Oxford Philosophical Society in its first years. Lhwyd corresponded regularly throughout his busy life in English, Latin, French, and Welsh with a wide array of natural philosophers and antiquaries, including Martin Lister and John Aubrey, two figures central to the activities of Cultures of Knowledge. Many of Lhwyd’s papers passed in the mid-nineteenth century from the Ashmolean to the Bodleian Library, but there are significant holdings in many other locations, and an edition of his correspondence will have to collect together a very large and scattered corpus, albeit with its core in Oxford.

Rationale for Inclusion

R. T. Gunther, in his Early Science in Oxford (volume XIV), published a collection of letters written by Lhwyd, but those received by him are largely unedited and unpublished. As with Aubrey, Wallis, and Lister, this has led to the neglect of his correspondence in all but the most specialised scholarship. The Lhwyd corpus, however, is vast: at the moment we know of c.1,500 letters, many of which are among the Lister, Ashmole, and Aubrey MSS in the Bodleian. Systematic searching throughout Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England is likely to reveal still further letters.

Most of the preliminary work towards an edition has already been carried out by Dr Brynley Roberts from the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS). After assembling a collection of transcripts of correspondence over many decades, Dr Roberts now has copies of c.1,100 letters in his possession, not counting those already published in Early Science in Oxford. With the financial and infrastructural support of Cultures of Knowledge, this valuable personal collection will be turned into a scholarly resource accessible to international scholarship.

Outputs & Presentations

Primary Outputs

Launch Lhwyd Catalogue

Secondary Outputs

  • Brynley Roberts, ‘Edward Lhwyd in Carmarthenshire’, Carmarthen Antiquary 46 (2011), pp. 24-43.
  • Brynley Roberts, ‘A Visit to Merthyr Tydfil in 1697’, Merthyr Historian 22 (2011), pp. 5-10.
  • Brynley Roberts, ‘Etifeddion Edward Lhwyd’ [The Legacy of Edward Lhwyd], Welsh History Review 25 (2010), pp. 97-119.
  • Brynley Roberts, ‘Edward Lhwyd a Cheredigion’ [Edward Lhwyd and Ceredigion], Ceredigion, 16 (2009), pp. 49-69.

Recent Presentations

  • Brian Davies, ‘Edward Lhwyd: Register to the Chymical Courses of ye Laboratory’. The Royal Society of Chemistry Mid-Wales Local Section (Seminar, April 2011).
  • Helen Watt, ‘The Edward Lhwyd Correspondence Project’, Occasional Lunchtime Seminar (Seminar, Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, May 2011).

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