Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dyer, Edward

DYER, Sir EDWARD (d. 1607), poet and courtier, son of Sir Thomas Dyer, kt., of Somersetshire, by his second wife, the daughter of Lord Poynings (more probably a daughter of one of the bastard brothers of Thomas, lord Poynings, who died 18 May 1545), was born at Sharpham Park, Somersetshire. Wood states that he had in Oxford ‘some of his academical education,’ either at Balliol College or at Broadgates Hall. Leaving the university without a degree, he travelled on the continent; and in 1566 he was at the court of Elizabeth. His patron in 1571 was the Earl of Leicester, over whom he seems to have exercised much influence. In 1572 he addressed a very curious letter of advice to Sir Christopher Hatton, who had fallen under the displeasure of the queen. Dyer himself had also incurred royal disfavour, for Gilbert Talbot, writing in 1573 to his father, the Earl of Shrewsbury, says: ‘Dyer lately was sick of a consumption, in great danger; and, as your lordship knoweth, he hath been in displeasure these eleven years. It was made the queen believe that his sickness came because of the continuance of her displeasure towards him, so that unless she would forgive him he was not like to recover; and hereupon her majesty hath forgiven him, and sent unto him a very comfortable message’ (Nicolas, Memoir). The writer of the letter also states that Leicester, with the connivance of Burghley, intrigued to make Dyer the queen's personal favourite in the place of Hatton. In 1580 Gabriel Harvey in a letter to Spenser (Three Proper and Wittie, Familiar Letters) describes Sidney and Dyer as ‘the two very diamondes of her maiesties courte for many speciall and rare qualities.’ From Harvey's ‘Letter-Book’ it appears that Spenser in 1579 obtained some of Harvey's poems and published them with a dedication ‘to the right Worshipfull Gentleman and famous Courtier Master Edwarde Diar, in a manner oure onlye Inglishe poett.’ Early in 1584 Dyer was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Low Countries. In May 1585 he addressed a letter to Lord Burghley, whose patronage had been temporarily withdrawn. On 26 Aug. 1586 articles of agreement were drawn up between Lord Burghley and ‘Edward Dyer of Weston, in the county of Somerset, esqr.,’ whereby Dyer was empowered, by the authority of the queen, to search and find out what manors, lands, &c., were concealed or detained from her majesty. In May of the same year (1586) Dyer addressed a letter of advice to Leicester on the subject of the expedition for the relief of Grave. Sir Philip Sidney, his intimate friend, died in October 1586, and desired by his will that his books should be divided between Dyer and Fulke Greville. In Davison's ‘Poetical Rhapsody,’ 1602, are ‘Two Pastorals’ by Sidney ‘upon his meeting with his two worthy friends and fellow-poets, Sir Edward Dyer and Sir Fulke Greville.’ By a warrant dated 30 March 1588 Dyer was granted by the queen all the lands which he had ascertained to have been concealed ‘before the 20th November, 1558, 1 Eliz., for five years next insuing’ (Nicolas, from Lansd. MS. 56, f. 42). In 1589 he went on a diplomatic mission to Denmark. His method of dealing with the forfeited lands gave dissatisfaction to the queen, and in March 1592–3 he wrote to solicit Burghley's protection. There is extant a statement by Dyer of ‘The whole course of my proceedings, both before and since the granting of her majesty's warrant unto me’ (Lansd. MS. 73, f. 37). Oldys reports in his ‘Diary’ that Dyer would never ‘fawn and cringe’ at court. He soon came into favour with the queen again, for on the death of Sir John Wolley in 1596 he was appointed to the chancellorship of the order of the Garter, and was knighted. After this date little is heard of him. John Davies of Hereford, in the ‘Preface’ to ‘Microcosmos,’ 1603, addresses him as

Thou virgin knight, that dost thy selfe obscure
From world's unequal eyes;

and there is a sonnet to him in the same volume. Thomas Powell has some dedicatory verses to him in ‘A Welch Bayte to Spare Prouender,’ 1603. Dyer died in 1607, and in the burial register of St. Saviour's, Southwark, is the entry: ‘1607, May 11. Sr Edward Dyer, knight, in the chancel.’ Ben Jonson told Drummond that ‘Dyer died unmarried.’ Letters of administration of his estate were granted 25 June 1607 from the prerogative court of Canterbury to his sister, Margaret Dyer. In Lansd. MS. 165, f. 320, is preserved an account of the value of his lands and the amount of his debts, with a statement of ‘Monies received by virtue of Sir Edward Stafford's warrant as for Sir Edward Dyer's warrant of concealment between 1585 and the 29th of April 1607.’ His lands are stated in the manuscript to have produced a yearly rent of 130l., or to be worth 13,000l. at one hundred years' purchase; and his debts are estimated at 11,200l. 13s. 8d. It is difficult to credit the statement of Aubrey, made on the authority of Captain Dyer, his great-grandson or brother's great-grandson, that ‘he had four thousand pounds per annum, and was left four-score thousand pounds in money. He wasted it almost all.’ According to another statement of Aubrey, Dyer ‘labour'd much in chymistry, was esteemed by some a Rosie-crucian, and a great devotee to Dr. Joh. Dee and Edw. Kelly.’

Dyer gained considerable fame as a poet in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Puttenham in 1589 pronounced him to be ‘for elegy most sweet, solemn, and of high conceit;’ and Meres in ‘Wit's Treasury,’ 1598, mentions him as ‘famous for elegy.’ But his verse was never collected. During his lifetime, and early in the next century, critics were at a loss to know on what work his fame rested. Edmund Bolton in ‘Hypercritica’ says that he ‘had not seen much of Sir Edward Dyer's poetry;’ and William Drummond, coupling his name with Raleigh's, observes: ‘Their works are so few that have come to my hands, I cannot well say anything of them.’ Rawl. MS. Poet. 85 contains a few poems ascribed, with more or less authority, to Dyer. His most famous poem is his description of contentment, beginning ‘My mind to me a kingdom is’ (set to music in William Byrd's ‘Psalmes, Sonets, and Songs,’ 1588), of which several early manuscript copies are extant. Some poems in ‘England's Helicon,’ 1600, are subscribed ‘S[ir] E[dward] D[yer];’ but nearly all of them belong to Lodge. The sonnet entitled ‘The Shepherd's Conceit of Prometheus’ (which is undoubtedly Dyer's), with Sidney's ‘Reply’—printed in ‘England's Helicon’—had previously appeared among the poems appended to the 1598 ‘Arcadia.’ In Chetham MS. 8012, pp. 143–53, is a lengthy ‘Epitaph, composed by Sir Edward Dyer, of Sir Philip Sidney;’ but in Rawl. MS. Poet. 85 it is ascribed to Nicholas Breton. A whimsical prose-tract, ‘The Prayse of Nothing,’ 1585, 4to, of which a unique copy is preserved in the Tanner Collection, has been attributed to Dyer (privately reprinted by Mr. J. P. Collier). Collier claimed for him another unique book, ‘Sixe Idillia, that is, Sixe Small or Petty Poems, or Æglogues chosen out of the right famous Sicilian Poet, Theocritus, and translated into English verse,’ Oxford, 1588, 8vo. When Dr. Grosart collected Dyer's works in 1872, he could find no trace of this book; and Collier had forgotten where he had seen it. It is preserved in the Bodleian Library (Malone, 841), and was reprinted at the private printing-press of the Rev. H. C. Daniel, Oxford, in 1883. ‘The authorship of Sir Edward Dyer,’ says Collier, ‘is ascertained by his initials and motto at the back of the title-page.’ But this is an error, for the inscription at the back of the title plainly shows that the book was dedicated to, not written by, ‘E. D.’ Some of Dyer's letters have been printed by Sir Harris Nicolas. George Whitney, in ‘A Choice of Emblems,’ 1586, has laudatory notices of Dyer. From a manuscript copy of Abraham Fraunce's ‘The Lawiers Logike,’ 1588, it appears that Fraunce had intended to dedicate his poem (under the title of ‘The Shepheardes Logike’) to the ‘ryght worshypful Mr. Edward Dyer.’

[Memoir by Sir Harris Nicolas, prefixed to his edition of Davison's Poetical Rhapsody, 1826; Grosart's Introduction to the Writings of Sir Edward Dyer, in Miscellanies of the Fuller Worthies Library; Hannah's Notes appended to Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh, &c.; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, i. 740, &c.; England's Helicon, ed. Bullen; Gabriel Harvey's Works, ed. Grosart, i. 7, 8, 37, 75, 86, 111, 244, 266–7; Collier's Bibl. Cat. i. xii*.]

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