Meet the most remarkable Welsh autodidact of them all, ‘Dic of Aberdaron’, alias Richard Robert Jones, alias ‘Dirty Dick’, a celebrated linguist (1780-1843). His appearance was described in the North Wales Chronicle for September 11th 1832 as ‘most disgusting and offensive. He wears a long black beard, pendant over his breast’. His face was ‘filthy in the extreme.’
Dic was the son of a poor boatswain from this coastal village in North Wales, whose small cargo boat shuttled between Wales and Liverpool. In childhood Dick taught himself Hebrew and Greek, which he could write beautifully as well as read. His father used to flog him regularly for reading on the boat instead of watching the tiller, but nothing could diminish the dreamy child’s passion for Classics. He wrote a Greek-Latin lexicon and a Hebrew Grammar. He understood Arabic and Persian and was completely fluent in Latin, French and Italian. He once visited Bangor School, where he was ‘tested’ on his Greek, passed with flying colours, and given some classical books which he accepted with delight and gratitude.
He spent much of his life as a homeless beggar in Liverpool, where he was a well-known and celebrated character. His life improved when the radical Merseyside poet William Roscoe gave him a small regular stipend. But Dick remained extremely eccentric. Although his favourite author by far was Homer, he liked to sing the psalms in Hebrew, accompanying himself on a Welsh harp, and turned up at an Eisteddfod with an ancient Greek essay on types of stringed instrument. Since there was no competition requesting entries on this theme, he could not be awarded a prize, but the committee welcomed him and he was celebrated anyway.
Dic died as he had lived, a wandering bard and intellectual—or ‘a perfect child of nature’ as one obituary called him. He was buried in the churchyard of St Asaph’s Cathedral in Denbighshire.
n.b. around 1810