1870 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Dyer

Henry Crabb Robinson, in Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence (1870; 1872) 1:34-35.



I became about acquainted about this time [1799] with George Dyer. He was one of the best creatures morally that ever breathed. He was the son of a watchman in Wapping, and was put to a charity school by some pious Dissenting ladies. He afterwards went to Christ's Hospital, and from there was sent to Cambridge. He was a scholar, but to the end of his days (and he lived to be eighty-five) was a bookseller's drudge. He led a life of literary labour in poverty. He made indexes, corrected the press, and occasionally gave lessons in Latin and Greek. When an undergraduate at Cambridge he became a hearer of Robert Robinson, and consequently a Unitarian. This closed the Church against him, and he never had a fellowship. He became intimate with the Nashes, Fordhams, and Rutt, and was patronized by Wakefield and Mrs. Barbauld. He wrote one good book, The Life of Robert Robinson, which I have heard Wordsworth mention as one of the best works of biography in the language. Dyer also put his name to several volumes of poetry; but on his poems my friend Reid made an epigram that I fear was thought just:—

The world all say, my gentle Dyer,
Thy odes do very much want fire.
Repair the fault, my gentle Dyer,
And throw thy odes into the fire.

Dyer had the kindest heart and simplest manners imaginable. It was literally the case with him that he would give away his list guinea. He was not sensible of any impropriety in wearing a dirty shirt or ragged coat; and numerous are the tales told in illustration of his neglect of little every-day matters of comfort. He has asked a friend to breakfast with him, and given him coarse black tea, stale bread, salt butter, sour milk, and has had to run out to buy sugar. Yet every one loved Dyer. One day Mrs. Barbauld said to me, "have you heard whom Lord Stanhope has made executor?" — "No! Your brother?" — "No, there would have been nothing in that. The very worst imaginable." — "Oh, then it is Buonaparte." — "No, guess again." — "George Dyer?" — "You are right. Lord Stanhope was clearly insane!" Dyer was one of six executors. Charles James Fox was another. The executors were also residuary legatees. Dyer was one of the first to declare that he rejected the legacy and renounced the executorship. But the heir insisted on granting him a small annuity; his friends having before settled another on him, he was comparatively wealthy in his old age. Not many years before his death, he married his laundress, by the advice of his friends — a very worthy woman. He said to me once, "Mrs. Dyer is a woman of excellent natural sense, but she is not literate." That is, she could neither read nor write. [Thomas Sadler's note: This is a mistake, as is probably the statement that Mrs. Dyer had been George Dyer's laundress. He was her fourth husband.] Dyer was blind for a few years before his death. I used occasionally to go on a Sunday morning to read to him. At other times a poor man used to render him this service for sixpence an hour. After he came to London, Dyer lived always in some very humble chambers in Clifford's Inn, Fleet Street.