One of the pioneers in the revival of the Cornish language, he was one of the first people to notice that it was in danger of dying out and, as Matthew Spriggs observed, ‘the first we know of who actively did something about it’. Scawen gave sixteen reasons for the decay of the Cornish language, including cessation of contact with Brittany, the ending of performances of the miracle plays, destruction of records during the civil war, the lack of a Cornish translation of the Bible, the antipathy of the gentry to the language, and the closeness of English-speaking Devon and its influences. Between 1679 and 1680 he made an English translation of a Cornish medieval passion poem Pascon agan Arluth. After his death he left behind his Antiquities Cornubrittanic (a history of Cornwall).
Scawen was a correspondent of prominent language revival figure Edward Lhuyd and was also the uncle of another significant person in the history of the revival of the Cornish language, John Keigwin.
Further reading: William Scawen – A Negelected Cornish Patriot and Father of the Cornish Language Revival by Matthew Spriggs (98-125) in Cornish Studies 13 ed. Philip Payton. University of Exeter Press, Exeter 2005
John Keigwin: bap. 1642–1716
A scholar of the Cornish language, Keigwin is said to have helped William Scawen in his translation of Pascon agan Arluth. He also aided Edward Lhuyd with Cornish translations when Lhuyd visited Cornwall in 1700.
Keigwin completed his own translation of Pascon agan Arluth in 1682 and Gwreans an Bys: the Creation of the World by William Jordan in 1693 (a task later repeated by Whitley Stokes). His later translations included the three dramas of the Ordinalia cycle. As well as aiding Lhuyd, Keigwin also worked with William Gwavas and Thomas Tonkin.
Link to various religious translations by John Keigwin in Mount Calvary; or, The history of the passion, death, and resurrection, of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, written in Cornish (as it may be conjectured) some centuries past. https://archive.org/details/mountcalvaryorhi00keiguoft
William Hals: 1655–1737
Although Hals’ Complete History of Cornwall did not make it in to publication in its entirety, An Latimer ay Kernow (a Dictionary of the Cornish Language) was published in 1750 after his death.
Wella Rowe: 1660–?
Translated texts from the Bible; Genesis Chapter 1, 1-24, Matthew Chapter 2, 1-20, and Matthew Chapter 4. Rowe also wrote a (now lost) Cornish vocabulary of some 350 pages. Link to Genesis 3:1-24 by Wella Rowe http://www.bibelkernewek.com/wrg3.htm
John Boson: 1655–1730
Boson was a writer in the Cornish language whose works in Cornish include an epitaph for the language scholar John Keigwin, and the Pilchard Curing Rhyme written in 1705. The only known surviving lapidary inscription in the Cornish language (to Arthur Hutchens, died 1709) is also his work. He also taught Cornish to William Gwavas. Link to Pilchard Rhyme by John Boson 1705 www.moderncornish.net/late-texts/Boson-John-pilchardrhyme.html
Edward Lhuyd: 1660–30 June 1709
Lhuyd followed up his 1702 publication Early Modern Cornish with the first volume of Archaeologia Britannica: an Account of the Languages, Histories and Customs of Great Britain, from Travels through Wales, Cornwall, Bas-Bretagne, Ireland and Scotland in 1707. This book is important for its linguistic description of Cornish and because in it Lhuyd noted the connection between the Breton and Cornish languages. He was invited to Cornwall by John Keigwin of Mousehole, William Gwavas and Thomas Tonkin (who knew Lhuyd from his time at Oxford University) to help preserve the language. Link to Lhuyd’s Archaeologia Britannica 1707 https://archive.org/details/archaeologiabrit00lhuy
Further reading: Prying into Every Hole and Corner: Edward Lhuyd in Cornwall in 1700 byDerek R. Williams (1993) Dyllansow Truran
Member of Parliament for Helston and expert on stannary law, Tonkin was also an antiquary and Cornish scholar. Although his extensive work on the history, geography and language of Cornwall wasn’t published in his lifetime, it finally came into print in an 1811 edition of Carew’s Survey of Cornwall as Notes Illustrative of its History and Antiquities. He corresponded with Edward Lhuyd for many years and worked with fellow language revivalists John Keigwin and William Gwavas. Fellow Cornish historian Richard Polwhele described Tonkin as ‘one of the most enlightened antiquaries of his day’.
Born in St.Just and son of local squire John Borlase, William made several tours of England before finally returning to Cornwall in 1722. There is, as was noted by Charles Thomas, a strong linguistic element to his Antiquaries Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall reflecting his interest in both place names and the Cornish language. ‘It was in the hopes of throwing some lights upon the history of my native country, that I undertook the task of inspecting the few things that remain in the Cornish language, and forming out of them, as far as my time and reading would reach, the little vocabulary that follows.’ The dictionary that followed was just under 50 pages.
Further reading: Antiquaries Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall by William Borlase (1769) EP Publishing Ltd, London 1973
Great nephew of fellow Cornish language scholar William Borlase, William Pryce was a surgeon, mineralogist, and antiquary. He published his Archæologia Cornu-Britannica in 1790 which contained a Cornish language vocabulary of 64 pages, and a grammar. Much of the material was taken directly from the collections of Thomas Tonkin and William Gwavas, as acknowledged in the preface, but he added information gained by interviewing old people who claimed to speak Cornish.
Richard Polwhele: 1760–1838
The Reverend Richard Polwhele came from an ancient Cornish family and spent most of his life in Truro. His History of Cornwall, a work of some seven volumes, took several years to complete and contains a section entitled The Language and Literary Characters of Cornwall. It begins: ‘The origin and genius of the Cornish language, and its affinity with the Welch [sic] and Amorican [Breton], has been sufficiently illustrated in the ancient history. Little else remains, but to notice its extent; and observe it gradually contracting its limits, till we see it reduced to a mere point, though not sure of its utter extinction’. His Cornish-English Vocabulary (in volume 7) comprises of the dictionaries of both William Borlase and William Pryce, ‘not omitting a single word’.
Norris wrote a Sketch of Cornish Grammar, published in 1859, and transcribed and translated the Ordinalia, three medieval mystery plays dating from the late fourteenth century and written primarily in Middle Cornish which were published in the same year. The three plays are Origo Mundi (The Origin of the World Passio Christi (The Passion of Christ) and Resurrexio Domini (The Resurrection of Our Lord).
Robert Williams: 29 June 1810–26 April 1881
Williams wrote Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum, published in 1865, a dictionary with examples of Cornish usage from the medieval Cornish texts and translations into English. It also features cognates from the other Celtic languages.
Further reading: Williams, the Llawnt; Robert Williams: a neglected Celtic scholar by Derek Williams; Y Lolfa, 2013
Louis Lucien Bonaparte: 1813–1891
Chiefly of interest to Cornish scholars for his efforts to commemorate the Cornish language, Bonaparte (nephew of the Emperor Bonaparte) unveiled the granite memorial to Dolly Pentreath that stands in the village of Paul near Newlyn in 1860 whilst on a tour of Cornwall. He was also the former owner of the Bilbao ‘Cornish Manuscript’ that Henry Jenner examined whilst on his travels in Spain.
Whitley Stokes: 28 February 1830 – 13 April 1909
The Irish Celtic Scholar translated three Cornish works, the first of which was The Passion: Middle Cornish Poem. Thought to have been found in Sancreed church, it was published in 1861. A translation of William Jordan’s 1611 play Gwreans an Bys: the Creation of the World was published in 1864 (John Keigwin had also translated the play in 1693) and Beunans Meriasek: The Life of Saint Meriasek Bishop and Confessor in 1872. These three Cornish texts added 2000 words to the language. Links to: Gwreans an Bys: the Creation of the World https://archive.org/details/gwreansanbyscre01jordgoog And: Beunans Meriasek: The Life of Saint Meriasek Bishop and Confessor https://archive.org/details/TheLifeOfSaintMeriasek
Louis Charles Richard Duncombe-Jewell: 10 September 1866–1947
Louis Charles Richard Jewell was born in Liskeard, Cornwall and in 1895 he assumed the surname ‘Jewell’ after his grandmother. He had a long and intense friendship and correspondence with both Henry and Kitty Jenner. In 1901 he proposed what would be the first society to actively promote Cornwall as a Celtic nation, Cowethas Kelto-Kernuak (Celtic-Cornsih Society) with himself as President and Henry Jenner as Vice-president. At the Pan Celtic Congress of 1901 he made a spirited plea for recognition of Cornwall as a Celtic nation, something that would be achieved in 1904.
Robert Morton Nance: 1873–1959
Robert Morton Nance was a Cornish language scholar and teacher who worked closely with Henry Jenner on the revival of the Cornish language. Together they founded the first Old Cornwall Society in St Ives in 1920 and eventually the Old Cornwall Federation in 1924. Nance himself wrote over two hundred articles in the societies’ journal ‘Old Cornwall’. The pair also established the Cornish Gorsedh in 1928, Jenner being its first Grand Bard and Nance succeeding him in 1934.Jenner’s ‘Handbook of the Cornish Language’ was based on Cornish as it was used as a living language in the 14th and 15th centuries and Nance would follow on from this work by publishing ‘Cornish for All’ in 1929 and a dictionary in collaboration with A. S. D. Smith in 1938. Like Jenner, Robert Morton Nance shaped, to a large extent, modern understandings of the region’s separate cultural identity.
Further Reading: Setting Cornwall on it's Feet: Robert Morton Nance, 1873-1959 by Derek Williams (Editor), Peter D. Thomas (Editor). 2007.
A. S. D. Smith: 1883–1950
Arthur Saxon Dennett Smith was a Cornish Bard (who went by the bardic name of Caradar). He worked with both Henry Jenner and Robert Morton Nance on the Cornish language and compiled several Cornish grammars as well as translating Cornish texts. He was involved in both the Cornish language group Tyr ha Tavas, corresponding with fellow members R.V. Walling and Allin-Collins, and the group’s ground-breaking magazine Kernow.