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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alexander B. Grosart

John Owen (1836–1896)

JOHN OWEN was the eldest son of John Owen, for many years actuary of the Savings Bank, Pembroke. He was born in 1836, in the town of Cardigan in South Wales; and after the local school attended the Grammar School at Haverfordwest. At the end of 1856 he proceeded to St. David’s College, Lampeter, where he came under the influence of Dr. Rowland Williams, then Vice-President—a connection continued to the close of Dr. Williams’ life. This sums up his academic advantages; but from first to last he was a keen and enriched philologist, hanging language after language as so many golden keys to his girdle. Perhaps his books in certain lines bear out that all along he was mainly self-taught ([Greek]), though making it certain that he had extensive scholarly acquirements. On leaving Lampeter he became curate of a Wiltshire parish, joined to and under the charge of Dr. Williams. He was ordained deacon in 1859 by the Bishop of Salisbury, and in the following year became priest. What leisure was left him was occupied with linguistic studies and occasional contributions to leading theological and literary journals—e.g., Beard’s Theological Review and Frazer (under Froude). In 1869 he was appointed to the rectorship of East Anstey in the county of Devon, and in 1870 he preached the funeral sermon of his master and friend Dr. Rowland Williams. He died on the 6th of February, 1896.

This is not the place to do more than name his chief books—viz. (α) “Evenings with the Skeptics,” 2 vols., 8vo (1881); (β) a revival of Glanvil’s “Scepsis Scientifica” (1885); (γ) “The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance, and the Skeptics of the French Renaissance,” 2 vols., 8vo (1893–4); (δ) “Essay on the Organisations of the Early Church” (1895), prefixed to Harnack’s “Sources of the Apostolic Canons.”

But it is as a poet that we have to do with John Owen. In 1889 appeared “Verse Musings on Nature, Faith, and Freedom.” A revised and enlarged edition of this volume was published in 1894. This volume is more remarkable—and it is remarkable—for its weight of thinking (“Musings”) than for its technique of rhyme and rhythm. It is marred by faults of measure, uncouth terms, and involute phrasings; nevertheless, when most irate with these, we come on the “higher strain,” and jets of melody, and quaint conceits of fancy, and memorabilia of axiomatic truths. A favourite fashion of his is to beat out a couplet, or stanza, and the like, of a prior poet. The result is not always a success, for the tiny nugget becomes extremely thin gold-leaf. And yet some of the finest things in the volume spring out of his texts. None can read a page without having avenues of thought and speculation opened out. Selection, to be just, would need to be fuller than our limits admit. But the poems that we have taken may be left to speak for themselves.