Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dunlop, John Colin

DUNLOP, JOHN COLIN (d. 1842), author, was the son of John Dunlop [q. v.] of Rosebank, Glasgow. He was studious and retired in disposition. He was admitted an advocate in 1807, but was only nominally at the bar. The first edition of his well-known ‘History of Fiction’ was published at Edinburgh in 1814. An article by W. Hazlitt in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (November 1814, pp. 38–58) complains of the omission of reference to metrical fiction and the narrow and unphilosophical views; but Christopher North censured the reviewer as ‘one of the shallowest praters that ever contaminated the fields of classical disquisition by his touch’ (Blackwood's Mag. September 1824, p. 291). The ‘Quarterly Review’ (July 1815, pp. 384–408) considered the work executed on ‘a defective plan, in what we incline to think rather a superficial manner.’ These strictures are noticed in the preface to the second edition, which the author claims to have improved and enlarged. More recent specialists have investigated particular branches of the subject, some of Dunlop's views and opinions are obsolete, and it would be easy to point out small deficiencies and errors, but he was a conscientious critic, and in most instances he had carefully read the works he describes. The oriental and modern sections are the weakest. The chapters on romances of chivalry are good, and those on the Italian novelists deserve high praise. The stories are well condensed, and the book is written in a clear and agreeable style. It is still the most complete and useful history of prose fiction. ‘Noch immer ist die Arbeit des Schotten John Dunlop die einzige in ihrer Art,’ says Liebrecht. Evidence of the worth of the work is to be seen in the fact that the German version is not materially preferable to the original.

Dunlop was appointed ‘sheriff depute of the shire of Renfrew, in the room of John Connell, esq., resigned,’ in 1816 (London Gazette, 20 July 1816). This office he retained until his death. In 1823 he produced the first two volumes of a ‘History of Roman Literature,’ which is noticeable for useful abstracts of the writings described, and illustrations drawn from modern European literatures. The ‘Memoirs of Spain,’ published in 1834, deals with the period from 1621 to 1700, supplementing R. Watson and Thomson's ‘Philip II and III’ (1555–1621), which, with Robertson's ‘Charles V’ and Coxe's ‘Memoirs of the Kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon’ (1700–88), supply the English reader with a continuous history of Spain for nearly three hundred years. In 1836 he printed for private circulation fifty copies of the ‘Poems’ of his father, John Dunlop. His last production was a volume of translations from the Latin anthology (1838), which is said to give evidence of plagiarism and negligence (Blackwood's Mag. April 1838, pp. 521–64). He died at Edinburgh in February 1842 (Gent. Mag. March 1842, p. 341).

He was well read in the Greek and Latin classics, and in the literatures of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Gentle, amiable, cheerful, and a good talker, his physical presence showed a marked contrast with that of his robust and jovial father. ‘People sometimes wondered how so feeble and so retired a creature could venture as a penal magistrate among the strong sailors of Greenock or the illfed rebels of precarious Paisley; but he did his duty among them very well. … In appearance he was exceedingly like a little, old, gray cuddy—a nice kindly body, with a clear, soft Scotch voice, so exactly like that of Glenlee that the two were undistinguishable. Everybody loved Dunlop; and, with the single exception of a relation who was always trying to swindle him, there was no one whom Dunlop did not love’ (Journ. of Henry Cockburn, 1874, i. 310–11).

The titles of his works are:

  1. ‘The History of Fiction, being a Critical Account of the most celebrated Prose Works of Fiction from the earliest Greek Romances to the Novels of the present Age,’ 3 vols. sm. 8vo, Edinburgh, 1814; 2nd edition, 3 vols. sm. 8vo, Edinburgh, 1816; 3rd edition (unaltered), large 8vo, double columns, London, 1845. A new edition, continued to recent times, was published under Mr. H. Wilson's editorship in 1888. Translated as ‘John Dunlop's Geschichte der Prosadichtungen, u.s.w., aus dem Englischen übertragen und vielfach vermehrt und berichtigt, so wie mit einleitender Vorrede, ausführlichen Anmerkungen und einem vollständigen Register versehen von Felix Liebrecht,’ large 8vo, Berlin, 1851.
  2. ‘History of Roman Literature, from its earliest period to the Augustan Age,’ 3 vols. 8vo, London, 1823–8 (now scarce, especially complete with the third volume).
  3. ‘Memoirs of Spain during the Reigns of Philip IV and Charles II, from 1621 to 1700,’ 2 vols. 8vo, Edinburgh, 1834.
  4. ‘Selections from the Latin Anthology, translated into English Verse,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1838.

[Notes and Queries, 5th ser. iv. 308, 376, 435, xii. 356; Encyclopædia Britannica, art. ‘Romance,’ by H. R. Tedder and M. Kerney, 9th edition, vol. xx., 1886.]

H. R. T.