1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Dyer

John Aikin, in Select Works of the British Poets (1820) 511.



JOHN DYER, an agreeable poet, was the son of a solicitor at Aberglasney, in Carmarthenshire, where he was born in 1700. He was brought up at Westminster-school, and was designed by his father for his own profession; but being at liberty, in consequence of his father's death, to follow his own inclination, he indulged what be took for a natural taste in painting, and entered as pupil to Mr. Richardson. After wandering for some time about South Wales and the adjacent counties as an itinerant artist, he appeared convinced that he should not attain to eminence in that profession. In 1727, be first made himself known as a poet, by the publication of his Grongar Hill, descriptive of a scene afforded by his native country, which became one of the most popular pieces of its class, and has been admitted into numerous collections. Dyer then travelled to Italy, still in pursuit of professional improvement; and if he did not acquire this in any considerable degree, he improved his poetical taste, and laid in a store of new images. These he displayed in a poem of some length, published in 1740, which he entitled The Ruins of Rome, that capital having been the principal object of his journeyings. Of this work it may be said, that it contains many passages of real poetry, and that the strain of moral and political reflection denotes a benevolent and enlightened mind.

His health being now in a delicate state, he was advised by his friends to take orders; and he was accordingly ordained by Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Lincoln; and, entering into the married state, he sat down on a small living in Leicestershire. This he exchanged for one in Lincolnshire; but the fenny country in which he was placed did not agree with his health, and he complained of the want of books and company. In 1757, he published his largest work, The Fleece, a didactic poem, in four books, of which the first part is pastoral, the second mechanical, the third and fourth historical and geographical. This poem has never been very popular, many of its topics not being well adapted to poetry; yet the opinions of critics have varied concerning it. It is certain that there are many pleasing, and some grand and impressive passages in the work; but, upon the whole, the general feeling is, that the length of the performance necessarily imposed upon it a degree of tediousness.

Dyer did not long survive the completion of his book. He died of a gradual decline in 1758, leaving behind him, besides the reputation of an ingenious poet, the character of an honest, humane, and worthy person.