RHYS DAVIDS, Thomas William. Colchester, Essex 12.5.1843 — Chipstead, Surrey 27.12.1922. British Indologist, Pāli and Buddhist Scholar. Professor in Manchester, Founder and President of the Pāli Text Society. Married with —> C. A. F. Rhys D. Son of Rev. Thomas William Davids, a minister of Welsh origin, lost early his mother, Louisa Winter (d. 1854). Educated in Brighton. Studied law at Breslau, where he also started Indology under Stenzler (he and Eggeling were then the only students) and financed his stay teaching English. In 1864 he joined Ceylon Civil Service and learned quickly Tamil and Sinhalese. Served in Matale and Galle, from 1871 in Anuradhapura. Finding no one knowing Pāli, he became interested in this language and eventually found the learned thera Yātrāmullē Unnānsē for his teacher. He was accused for rash handling of people and had to quit the service in 1877 and return to England. Trying to cope with malaria he first continued his legal studiesand worked for a while as attorney, but also kept his interest in Pāli. In 1881 he founded the Pāli Text Society and in 1882 gained the honorary chair of Pāli at University College, London (until 1904). In 1894 he married his student Caroline Augusta Foley (—> C. A. F. Rhys Davids), two daughters and one son. In 1894-95 he travelled in the U.S.A. and 1899 in India. From 1905 Professor of Comparative Religion at Victoria University in Manchester, retired 1915.
In his early career in Sri Lanka Rhys Davids was much interested in history and epigraphy, but later concentrated entirely on Pāli and Buddhist studies. He was mainly a philologist and saw the new Pāli dictionary as his principal aim. He was a skilled businessman and good in convincing people and thus succeeded in making the P.T.S. a flourishing body. He was a friend of Max Müller and an ardent critic of Theosophy.
Publications: “Sîgiri, the Lion Rock, near Pulastipura, Ceylon, and the 39th Chapter of the Mahavansa”, JRAS 7, 1875, 191-220; articles on Sri Lankan inscriptions, ibid. 152-171 & 353-375; Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon. 60 p. 1877.
– Buddhism: Being A Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha. 252 p. L. 1878, rev. ed. L. 1899, German transl. by A. Pfungst. Lp. 1899; Lectures on the origin and growth of Religions as illustrated by some points in the history of Indian Buddhism. 7+262 p. The Hibbert lectures. L. 1881; Buddhism. Its History and Literature. 13+230 p. N.Y. & L. 1896.
– Translated: Buddhist Birth Stories. 1. 103+347 p. L. 1880 (Nidānakathā); Buddhist Suttas. 48+320 p. S.B.E. 11. L. 1881; Vinaya Texts. 1-3. 37+360, 444, 444 p. S.B.E. 1881 (with Oldenberg); The Questions of King Milinda. 1-2. 369+415 p. S.B.E. 35-36. L. 1890-94.
– Edited: “Anuruddha’s Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha”, JPTS 1884, 1-46; Yogavacara’s Manual of Indian Mysticism as practised by Buddhists. 105 p. L. 1896, repr. P.T.S. Text ser. 154. L. 1981.
– Edited with R. Morris: “Daṭhāvaṁsa”, JPTS 1884, 109-151.
– Edited with with J. E. Carpenter & W. Stede: Buddhaghosa: Sumaṅgala-Vilāsinī. Commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya. 1-3. L. 1886-1932 (PTS Text Ser. 124-126); with Carpenter: Dīgha Nikāya. 1-3. L. 1889-1910 (PTS Text Ser. 33-35).
– Translated with C. A. F. Rhys Davids: Dīgha Nikāya. Dialogues of the Buddha. 1-3. 27+334, 8+382, 12+274 p. S.B.B. 2-4. L. 1899-1921.
– Buddhist India. 15+332 p. L. 1903; Early Buddhism. 92 p. L. 1908.
– With W. Stede: The Pali Text Society’s Pāli-English Dictionary. 753 p. L. 1921-25.
– Numerous articles in JRAS, JPTS, BSOS, ERE, Manchester Guardian, OC, etc.
Sources: *R. Chalmers, JRAS 1923, 323-328; *L. Finot, BEFEO 23, 1923, 571f.; Harris 2006, 127ff.; Peiris, Buddhism 10-19; M. Ridding, BSOS 3:1, 1923, 201-207; Stache-Weiske 2017, 552; *W. Stede, ZDMG 77, 1923, 137-142; Payer, Materialien 5; Pe Maung Tin, BSOS 3:1, 1923, 207-210; L.A. Wickremaratne, The Genesis of an Orientalist: T.W.R.D. in Sri Lanka. 28+247 p. N.D. 1984; Wikipedia with photo; photo in Sardesai, another (poor quality) in Peiris.