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MEMOIR OF Principal Thomas…






PRINCIPAL AT THE U.CW. After a stay of over six years in Liverpool, he was called upon to occupy a post of great and unique importance, and for which no man in Wales or out of it was better qualified. While the late Sir Hugh Owen and other leading Welshmen were actively engaged in laying the foundation of the new system of education in Wales, the talents of the young man were marked by them, and when at last the dreams of many ardent and patriotic Welshmen were realized by the foundation of the University College at Aberystwyth in 1872, Thomas Charles Edwards was chosen as its first principal. For the ensuing 19 years—from 1872 to 1891-the history of Principal Edwards is the history of the College-and rare indeed are the institutions that have such a history of heroic efforts, and matchless devotion and self-sacrifice. Though Thomas Charles Edwards was not the author of the scheme which culminated in the institution, he was the creator of the college, and to him belongs the credit of placing it on a firm and permanent footing. He threw himself into the work of his new and important charge with characteristic power and energy, and the great success of the mother college of the University of Wales is almost entirely due to his personal efforts. It was a heavy undertaking for a young man, obviously calling for a long period of hard and anxious work, and offering but one real mducement the chance of rendering a service of first-rate importance to the cause of Welsh education. Thomas Charles Edwards was a dreamer of dreams; he was a man of high ideals, and, thank Heaven, he lived to see many of the cherished ideals of his boyhood realised-realised not by dreaming but by working. His whole life was but an embodiment of his dreams- Nicht trmvmen sollt ihr euer Lebtn, Erltbtn sollt ihr, was ihr traumt. The worker is no more but to-day what exquisite pathos is attached to his early dreams—long since living realities—witness bis speech at the opening of the College at Aberystwyth on October 15th, 1872. This is what Principal Edwards said on that auspicious occasion:— I am almost unable to believe it, yet it seems to me that the dream of my boyhood is about to become true, in a very extraordinary way. The yearnings and imaginings of our early years are swept away, they vanish for a time, but we find that very often, in after years, they are realised. I feel it is so with me. Ever since I can remember anything, I remember that the most ardent desire of my boyish days was to serve Wales (cheers). I was ambitious enough to hope that I might obtain a niche amongst those who lived in former days, and who live in our own time, who have served not a party but a whole nation (cheers). And when I was asked to preside over this College, I began to think, Surely this is my boyish dream beginning to come true (cheers), For that reason I deter- mined to throw myself heart and soul into the movement, and to devote the best energies of my whole life to the great work of bringing up young men in this place. I am proud to know that I come of a very good stock, I trn not only proud of being a Welshman, but 1 am proud of being a descendant of Charles of Bala—and I may be pardoned, too, for mentioning the name of my own father (applause). My greatest ambition, my highest aspirations, will be more than satisfied, if I can, even at a distance, follow in the footsteps of the distinguished men who have been before me and whom I see around me from day to day (applause)." Dull must he be of soul who can to- day read this touching address without being moved; and deny it its glow of prophetic truth. The majority of the noble band of workers who stood by the principal that day are no more; but among those who remain and took part in the opening ceremony we find the names of Aldermen J. F. Roberts, of Manchester, and Peter Jones, Aberystwyth. The Principal had but little en- couragement in the early years of the College, which started on its eventful career with only two professors and twenty-five students. The College was supported during the first ten years of its existence entirely by voluntarys ubscriptions. Altogether these amounted to about E60,000, of which sumt he larger part came from the working classes—the miners, quarrymen and farm' servants of gallant little Wales. For at least six years an annual collection was made in almost every Nonconformist place of worship throughout the Principality and among the > Welsh communities in England. In spite of the disheartening apathy of the wealthy and the noble, the Principal never lost heart nor flinched before difficulties. He had unbounded faith in the possibilities of the College, and by hard work and undaunted courage he drove its roots into the heart of the nation. About ten years after its opening- in 1833-an attempt was made to wipe out the college. The Principal and council has an anxious time and a tremendous task, but the country rallied j round them and declared with no uncertain voice | in favour of retaining Aberystwyth. The College was saved, and the Principal was allowed to continue with his work. For the fir four years the Principal himself undertook the teaching of four different subjects which are now taught by four different professors. Those subjects were, (1) Greek Language and Literature; (2) Logic and Mental and Moral Philosophy; (3) English Language and Literature; (4) Welsh Language and Literature. But this was not all, for we know on the best authority that Principal Edwards for several years j paid the Collge fees of 12 or 15 students out of his I own pocket, which meant an annual sum of from J £ 120 to £ 150. He also generously paid not only 5 the fees of many students, but also helped them J by paying for their food and lodgings; and he I; helped not a few long after they had left their alma mater at Aberystwyth. And it is no secret that there are to-day, in Wales especially, many medical practitioners who entirely owe their qualifi- cation to the fact that Principal Edwards helped them financially while pursuing their studies at London Hospitals. After a desperate struggle Aberystwyth College secured a common footing with its younger sister colleges at Bangor and Cardiff. Then, when its position seemed assured, a new disaster fell upon it. The College buildings, which within three years had been paid for, and subsequently extended and improved, were destroyed by fire in July 1885; but the College was burned down only, as its devoted Principal declared at the time, to rise, Phcenix-like, from its baptism of fire. Then began another period of splendid work and keroic efforts for the restoration of the College. j The Principal girded his loins for the task; he went on a mission through the length and breadth of the land to appeal for funds and support; he crossed the Atlantic to make a similar appeal to the Welsnmen that are scattered throughout the United States. He had a princely reception whereever he went in America, and his mission was crowned with success. The vast sums of money he reised enabled him not only to repair, but to enlarge the college. It was a gigantic undertaking, and the worry and anxiety it involved J left the Principal with a furrowed brow. The j nineteen years of life at Aberystwyth were years I d daily toil and incessant labour. Dr Edwards seemed to inspire everyone with his own singular zeal. Inside the college he worked his hardest; outside, wherever he went, he pressed the claims of the college upon his countrymen. And he was successful in both directions As with most great teachers, it was in his personal character that the secret of his influence lay. In 1891, when Dr Edwards resigned the principalship, the institution had not only recovered its lost ground, but had extended its borders, and was full of the promise of the good work which it has since done and is doing for Wales.