Of this gentleman, Dr. Johnson (who does not seem very sedulously to have laboured in this part of his vocation) could collect not other anecdotes than such as his letters to Mr. Duncombe, published in Hughes's correspondence, and the notes added by the editor, afforded; yet, surely a little industry would have greatly increased his scanty stock of materials. John Dyer, the poet, was the second son of Robert Dyer, of Aberglancey, Carmarthenshire, a solicitor of great capacity, eminence, and consequently of great practice. He was born in 1700; he passed through Westminster School during the time that Dr. Friend presided, with considerable reputation; but, as his father intended to introduce him to his own profession, he does not seem to have completed what may be termed a regular academical education. How long he laboured at the desk does not appear, but it is probable only a short period; as the death of his father soon left him at liberty to pursue the bent of his own inclination.
Unsettled in his disposition, young Dyer, when no longer under parental restraint, found that the law was, as Ranger says, "but a dry study," or, as the late Mr. Bearcroft more emphatically observed, "a profession, of which no man ever made himself master, who was not, in some degree, stimulated by necessity to mental exertions." In these opinions Dyer (who, it is likely, had also a spice of that volatility in his ideas which is frequently the concomitant of genius, though antecedent to Hoadly or Bearcroft) seemed to concur.
Having from his early years, amused himself with drawing, he resolved to become a painter. RICHARDSON, who is now rendered much more eminent by his literary than his graphic talents, was at that time the Vandyke of the metropolis; with him, therefore, Dyer placed himself as a pupil; but having, it is probable, only attained the first rudiments of his art, he afterward travelled for improvement.
In fact, he became an itinerant painter, in which character he wandered over many parts of South Wales; a country into which we should suppose the arts had, at that time, made little progress. It seems that he woo'd the poetic as well as the graphic muse, for, in the year 1727 he published GRONGAR HILL. He then, with the laudable view of improving in both arts, travelled to Italy. Of the productions of his pencil, we have no specimens; but soon after his return from the continent, namely, in 1740, he published THE RUINS OF ROME, a poem which did not add one single leaf to the laurel with which GRONGAR HILL had decked his brows.
It is said that his love of study, combined with his declining health, determined him to take refuge in the church; he, therefore, entered into holy orders; and, about the same time, married a lady, of Coleshill, named ENSOR, whose grandmother, says he, "was a Shakspeare, descended from a brother of every body's Shakspeare."
In the church it appears that he was, for a considerable time, very slenderly provided. Mr. Harper, his first patron, gave him, in 1741, CALTHORP, in Leicestershire, on which he lived ten years. In April, 1751, the Lord Chancellor Hardwick, on the recommendation of a friend to virtue and the muses, induced him to change it for BELCHFORD, in Lincolnshire; probably, as this living was only seventy-five pounds a year, and his former eighty, to draw him into the line of his more immediate patronage.
Sir John Heathcote, who was one of Pope's "large acred men," gave him CONNINGSBY, a living of the value of one hundred and forty pounds a year; and in 1756, unsolicited, obtained for him, from the Chancellor, KIRKBY ON BANE, a living of one hundred and ten pounds per annum. For this it is probable he exchanged BELCHFORD; for, he says, "I was glad of this, on account of its nearness to me, though I think myself a loser by the exchange, through the expense of the seal, dispensations, journeys, &c. and the expense also of an old house, half of which I am going to pull down." Whether there was an absolute necessity for this dilapidation, is now uncertain; but it is certain, that if either the decay of the incumbent induced the repairs, he made in them a very considerable improvement; his study, a small room, which had a large window that opened into the church-yard, afforded but a melancholy prospect; he therefore stopped it up, and opened a less that gave him a full view of a beautiful landscape, enlivened by the church and castle of Tateshall, about a mile from his parsonage, and of the road leading to them.
He also restored the long neglected garden to its pristine beauty. Building seems at this period to have been his chief amusement; and a high wind, by blowing down a large barn, gave him another opportunity of enjoying it; yet at the expense he seems to repine, for, says he, "These, some years ago, I should have called trifles, but the evil days are come, and the lightest thing, even the grasshopper, is a burden upon the shoulders of the old and sickly."
At this period Mr. Dyer had just published his greatest poetical work The Fleece, an event which he did not long survive, for he died in 1758.
Mrs. Dyer, on her husband's decease, retired to her friends in Carnarvonshire. They had four children, three girls and a boy, who attained the age of maturity. Of these, Sarah died single; the son, a youth of a most amiable disposition, who inherited his father's classical taste, and his uncle's estate, of three or four hundred a-year, in Suffolk, devoted the principal part of his time to travelling. He died at London, as he was preparing to set out on a tour to Italy, April 1782, aged thirty-one. Of the surviving sisters, to whom the estate devolved, one of them married Alderman Heart, of Coventry; the other, Elizabeth, the Rev. John Gaunt, of Birmingham. Of the brothers of Mr. Dyer, one, who was also a clergyman, and yeoman of his majesty's almonry, married one of the daughters of Mrs. La Place; a lady who, in an age when preparatory boarding-schools for boys were not quite so numerous as at present, kept a very considerable one at Marybone. The Rev. Mr. Fountain married the other daughter of the same lady. Those gentlemen had both been preceptors to the young noblemen and gentlemen in the school.