1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Dyer

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:22.



JOHN DYER, a picturesque and moral poet, was a native of Wales, being born at Aberglasslyn, Carmarthenshire, in 1700. His father was a solicitor, and intended his son for the same profession. The latter, however, had a taste for the fine arts, and rambled over his native country, filling his mind with a love of nature, and his portfolio with sketches of her most beautiful and striking objects. The sister art of poetry also claimed his regard, and during his excursions he wrote "Grongar Hill," the production on which his fame rests, and where it rests securely. Dyer next made a tour to Italy, to study painting. He does not seem to have excelled as an artist, though he was an able sketcher. On his return in 1740, he published another poem, "The Ruins of Rome," in blank verse. One short passage, often quoted, is conceived, as Johnson remarks, "with the mind of a poet:"—

The pilgrim oft
At dead of night, 'mid his orison, hears,
Aghast, the voice of time, disparting towers,
Tumbling all precipitate down dashed,
Rattling around, loud thundering to the moon.

Seeing, probably, that he had little chance of succeeding as an artist, Dyer entered the church, and obtained successively the livings of Calthrop, in Leicestershire, of Conningsby, in Huntingdonshire, and of Belchford and Kirkby, in Lincolnshire. He published in 1757 his longest poetical work, "The Fleece," devoted to "The care of sheep, the labours of the loom." The subject was not a happy one. How can a man write poetically, as was remarked by Johnson, of serges and druggets? One critic asked Dodsley how old the author of "The Fleece" was; and learning that he was in advanced life, "He will," said the critic, "be buried in woollen." The poet did not long survive the publication, for he died next year, on the 24th of July 1758. The poetical pictures of Dyer are happy miniatures of nature, correctly drawn, beautifully coloured, and grouped with the taste of an artist. His moral reflections arise naturally out of his subject, and are never intrusive. All bear evidence of a kind and gentle heart, and true poetical fancy.