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

DYER, GEORGE (1755–1841), author, was born in London on 15 March 1755. His father is said to have been a watchman at Wapping. Dyer was sent to school by some charitable dissenting ladies, who obtained for him, at the age of seven, a nomination to Christ's Hospital. He stayed there till he was nineteen, and was for a long time at the head of the school. He received much kindness and access to books from Anthony Askew [q. v.], then physician to Christ's Hospital. In 1774 he entered Emmanuel College, where he read hard and was in favour with Richard Farmer [q. v.], the master. He took the B.A. degree in 1778. He became usher at the grammar school of Dedham, Essex, in 1779. He afterwards returned to Cambridge, where he was tutor in the family of Robert Robinson (1735–1790) [q. v.], then minister of a dissenting congregation. Robinson's influence led him to unitarianism. Priestley, Gilbert Wakefield, and Mrs. Barbauld took notice of him. He had to give up any hopes of preferment; lived in retirement at Swavesey, near Cambridge; and was for a time usher in a school at Northampton with the father of Charles Cowden Clarke [q. v.] In 1792 he went to London and took chambers in Clifford's Inn, where he ever afterwards lived. He was elected member of the Chapter Coffee-house Club, contributed to the ‘New Monthly’ and ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and was employed in various kinds of literary labour, such as making indexes and correcting the press. He had great knowledge of books; he visited libraries in all parts of the country to acquire materials for a bibliographical work, never published; and he had enough classical scholarship to contribute ‘all that was original’ to Valpy's edition of the classics in 141 volumes (1809–1831). When he had finished his eyesight gave way, and he soon became totally blind. In 1823 he had been nearly drowned by walking deliberately into the New River, close to Lamb's house, from sheer absence of mind, or possibly incipient blindness. Lamb describes the incident in his essay called ‘Amicus Redivivus.’ Dyer was a man of singular simplicity and kindliness, with a total absence of humour, and a pleasant conviction that ‘a poem was a poem; his own as good as anybody's, and anybody's as good as his own.’ He was a source of infinite amusement to his friend Charles Lamb (see E. V. LUCAS, Life of Charles Lamb, 1905, passim). Lamb describes him in ‘Oxford in the long vacation,’ and makes fun of him in many of his letters, while saying that ‘for integrity and singleheartedness’ he might be ranked ‘among the best patterns of his species.’ He swallowed the most preposterous of Lamb's stories, even to the report that he was to be made a peer; and showed his kindliness by saying that Williams, who murdered two families, ‘must have been rather an eccentric character.’ When Lord Stanhope appointed him one of his executors, the inference was that the testator must have been mad. He was utterly careless in dress. His ‘nankeen pantaloons were engrained with the accumulated dirt of ages;’ and his domestic arrangements were to match. This slovenly state of his abode excited the pity of a Mrs. Mather, whose third husband, a solicitor in chambers opposite to Dyer's, was dead. She told him that he should have some one to take care of him, and, after much consultation, agreed to accept the duty herself. She married him accordingly, and is said to have greatly improved his appearance. Dyer died in Clifford's Inn 2 March 1841. Crabb Robinson saw his widow on her ninety-ninth birthday, 7 Dec. 1860, when she was vigorous for her time of life. She died in May 1861 (Athenæum for 1861, p. 664). Dyer left a manuscript autobiography, quoted in obituary notice in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ but it is not now forthcoming.

Dyer's works are: 1. ‘Inquiry into the Nature of Subscription to the 39 Articles’ [1789]; second edition, with many additions, 1792. 2. ‘Poems, consisting of Odes and Elegies,’ 1792. 3. ‘The Complaints of the Poor People of England,’ 1793 (remarks on many questions of social and political reform). 4. ‘Account of New South Wales and State of the Convicts, compiled [from various private journals] … with … Character of Thomas Fysche Palmer. …’ 1794. 5. ‘Dissertation on Theory and Practice of Benevolence’ (sequel of above), 1795. 6. ‘Memoirs of Life and Writings of Robert Robinson,’ 1796. 7. ‘The Poet's Fate, a Poetical Dialogue,’ 1797. 8. ‘Address to the People of Great Britain on the Doctrine of Libel. …’ 1799. 9. ‘Poems,’ 1801. 10. ‘Poems and Critical Essays,’ 1802. 11. ‘Poetics, or a Series of Poems and Disquisitions on Poetry,’ 1812. 12. ‘Four Letters on the English Constitution,’ 1812. 13. ‘History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge, including Notices relating to the Founders and Eminent Men’ (with engravings by Greig), 2 vols. 1814. 14. ‘Address to the Subscribers to the Privileges,’ 1823. 15. ‘Privileges of the University of Cambridge’ (a calendar of documents, with an English and Latin dissertation), 1824. 16. ‘Academic Unity’ (substance of Latin dissertation in the above), with preface on dissenting colleges and the London University, 1827. Dyer contributed to the ‘Analytical’ and ‘Critical’ Reviews, to Leigh Hunt's ‘Reflector,’ and to the ‘Monthly Magazine.’ An account of some of his articles is appended to the ‘Privileges of Cambridge.’

A portrait is in the possession of Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton; another is in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.

[Mirror, vol. xxxviii. (1841); Gent. Mag. for 1841, pt. i. pp. 545, 546; H. Crabb Robinson's Diary, i. 61–3, iii. 474 (and elsewhere); Talfourd's Final Memorials of Lamb (1855); E. V. Lucas's Life of Lamb, 1905.]

L. S.