1910 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Dyer

Ralph Straus, in Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher, and Playwright (1910) 108-10.



Two other poems may be mentioned. These were Grongar Hill and The Ruins of Rome, both by John Dyer, a country clergyman, of whom Gray said that he had "more of poetry in his imagination than almost any of our number." Dyer was probably introduced to Dodsley by Dr. Akenside, and it was from the Tully's Head in 1757 that his extraordinary poem The Fleece was issued. Several of the poet's letters which mention this meritorious if dull poem have been preserved. It was entrusted in manuscript to Akenside, who showed it to Joseph Warton, then a schoolmaster at Winchester. Akenside held it in such high esteem that he was willing to risk his critical reputation upon its merits. Writing to the younger Duncombe on Nov. 24th, 1756, Dyer says: "Your humble servant is become a deaf, a dull and languid creature; who, however, in his poor change of constitution, being a little recompensed with the critics' phlegm, has made swift, by many blottings and corrections, and some help from his kind friend Dr. Akenside, to give a sort of finishing to his Fleece, which is just sent up to Mr. Dodsley; but as people are so taken up with politics, and have so little inclination to read anything but satire and newspapers, I am in doubt whether this is a proper time for publishing it." At the beginning of the new year the poem had gone to press. Great expectations seem to have been aroused, probably by Akenside's encomiums, and the poem was published on March 15th. "I hope," writes the author to Duncombe on May 9th, "you have received a book of the Fleece. Mr. Dodsley, I think, has performed his part well; but in one or two places there have happened such alterations of the copy, as make me give my reader false precepts.... I will not trouble you with any ... corrections, but I will Mr. Dodsley, lest a second edition should happen." It is of interest to note that on several occasions Dodsley seems to have trusted his own judgment and sense of rhythm rather than the manuscript given to him for publication. That he was justified in such a course is open to question, but one may imagine him reading to a circle of friends the latest parcel to arrive, and then and there pencilling such alterations as seemed to please the company. Dyer wrote to Dodsley to point out one or two mistakes which may have arisen in this way. This was on May 12th. He was then at Coningsby, in wretched health. "You should have had my thanks before," he writes, "for your very handsome publication of the Fleece, had I not flattered myself with a journey to town, and with seeing you; but very ill health still confines me, and I almost despair of the journey." And then, after pointing out the most glaring of the few mistakes which had followed on Dodsley's unacquaintance with the methods of "us graziers," he goes on: "I hope these remarks will be agreeable to you. If you are inclined to make use of them, or any others, which I may send you, be pleased to acquaint me. I have no frank, and am your debtor for postage." The poor man was then on his deathbed, and there was no second edition of the Fleece for him to correct. He died in July of the following year. Completely forgotten now, he enjoyed a fair reputation in his day, and had a sonnet written to his memory by no less a poet than Wordsworth.