|William Williams Pantycelyn|
|Born||11 February 1717 |
|Died||11 January 1791 (aged 73)|
William Williams, Pantycelyn (c. 11 February 1717 - 11 January 1791), also known as William Williams, Williams Pantycelyn, and Pantycelyn, is generally seen as Wales's premier hymnist. He is also considered today as one of the great literary figures of Wales as a writer of poetry and prose. In religion he was among the leaders, with Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, of the 18th-century Welsh Methodist revival.
Williams was born at Cefn-coed farm in the parish of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn, near the town of Llandovery (Llanymddyfri), in 1717, the son of John and Dorothy Williams. John died in 1742, and Dorothy later moved to the nearby farm of Pantycelyn ("Holly Hollow") and he himself is often referred to as Pantycelyn.
The family were Nonconformists and he was educated locally and then at a nonconformist academy near Talgarth. He had intended to become a doctor, but this changed in 1737/38, when he was converted by the preaching of the evangelical Methodist revivalist Howell Harris in Talgarth.
For much of his life, Williams lived in the parish of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn, near the town of Llandovery (Llanymddyfri). He died at Pantycelyn in January 1791, at the age of 74, and is buried in Llanfair-ar-y-bryn churchyard. He is also commemorated by a memorial chapel in Llandovery.
William Williams felt called to the priesthood; and in 1740, despite his family's links with the Nonconformist branch of Christianity, he took deacon's orders in the Established Anglican Church. (Since disestablishment in 1920, the Anglican church in Wales has been known as the Church in Wales.)
His first appointment was as curate to Theophilus Evans (1693-1767) in the parishes of Llanwrtyd, Llanfihangel Abergwesyn and Llanddewi Abergwesyn. Around this time he became involved in the Methodist movement and in June 1742 his disapproving parishioners reported his activities to the Archdeacon's Court in Brecon. Methodism was originally a reformist faction within the Church of England and was not intended to be a separatist movement or church. It was nevertheless seen as a threat to the Anglican establishment and in 1743, when Williams duly applied for ordination as a priest, his application was refused because of his Methodist connexion. His choice was between a comfortable but conformist career in the Anglican Church or the financially precarious, but perhaps spiritually richer life of a Methodist preacher outside of the Church. He chose the latter.
The key years in the foundation of English Methodism were between 1739, when the brothers Charles and John Wesley, both themselves Anglican priests, broke with the Moravian church and set up their own first chapel in Bristol, and 1743, when they drew up their General Rules. This was, unfortunately, the very time that Williams was beginning his own career in the Church and partly explains the hostility he experienced from his congregation and from the hierarchy. Williams paid a higher price for his beliefs than did the Wesleys. Williams was shut out of the Establishment at the start of his career, whilst the Wesleys had already been ordained.
Welsh Methodism predates 1739 and can be traced back to the conversions of the two main leaders of the Welsh Methodists, Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, in 1735. It was an indigenous, parallel movement to its sister movement in England, and the Welsh Methodists were mainly Calvinists, who worked much more closely with George Whitefield than they did with John Wesley.
Charles Wesley declared that his own Methodism was not incompatible with his Anglicanism, and he was buried as an Anglican. John Wesley's doctrine was more favourable to Arminianism than to Calvinism. In Wales, however, most Methodists followed Calvinist teaching, and this led to great tensions between the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists, especially after the Wesleyan Methodists began actively evangelising in Welsh-speaking Wales from 1800 onward. In 1811, the Welsh Calvinist Methodists, who are now usually called the Presbyterian Church of Wales, seceded from the Anglican Church and ordained their own ministers. Had he lived a little longer, Williams Pantycelyn would no doubt have approved these moves because, as a Methodist, he himself became a firm advocate of Calvinist Reformation doctrine and frequently invoked stern warnings against Arminianism, Arianism, Socinianism, Sandemanianism and other teachings. [See: G.T. Hughes: p. 7].
Williams Pantycelyn travelled throughout Wales (he is said to have partly supported his ministry by selling tea,) preaching the doctrine of Calvinistic Methodism. He needed to be not only a theologian and an advocate for the new Connexion, but an organiser and administrator. His converts gathered in seiadau (fellowship meetings). Williams had to organise, and then maintain, these seiadau as he went around the country. Each successful visit to a new locality in turn required a new seiat. Although he was not alone in his mission, the workload and mental burden must have been considerable. By the same token, it must have been deeply rewarding to see the community grow and thrive over the years and to reflect on the alternative life he had forsaken, as the priest of some obscure rural Anglican parish in mid-Wales.
Together with Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, William Williams "Pantycelyn" is acknowledged as a leader of the Methodist Revival in Wales in the 18th century and he is the "literary voice" par excellence of that movement.
William Williams Pantycelyn was not merely an important figure in the religious life in Wales, he was also one of the most important influences on Welsh language culture, not just in his own lifetime, but on into the 19th and 20th centuries. He is particularly known as a hymn writer and his ability earned him the accolade "Y pêr ganiedydd" (The Sweet Songster) - echoing the description of King David as "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Samuel, 23:1).
He wrote some of his work in English, but the great majority in his native Welsh. He published his first work in 1744: this was the first part of Aleluia, a collection of hymns in Welsh. It was followed by further collections:
He also published two collections of English hymns:
Possibly his best known hymn is "Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch" (in English, "Lord, lead thou through the wilderness"). This has been adapted as the English-language hymn: "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" or "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer". It is usually sung to the tune Cwm Rhondda by John Hughes.
His hymns were not his only major contribution to the success of Calvinistic Methodism. He wrote two long poems on theological and religious themes:
He also wrote a series of elegies in memory of various Methodist and other Christian leaders, including: Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, Howel Davies (the Pembrokeshire preacher), George Whitefield, and Daniel Rowland.
Williams wrote original prose works and also translated others from English. Most were intended to assist the members of the Methodist fellowships he established.
He wrote about the 1762 Revival:
These works were intended to defend and teach the significance of the 1762 revival at Llangeitho. The 1762 revival was a very powerful one which manifested its power physically. As a result, Methodists in Wales were very often known as Jumpers.
He wrote practical guides for a Christian life:
These were for the converts who were members of the seiadau or societies.
An extensive bibliography can be found in Derec Llwyd Morgan, ed., Meddwl a Dychymyg Williams Pantycelyn (Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, 1991).