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

DYER, JOHN (1700?–1758), poet, born in 1700 or a year or two previously, was the second son of Robert Dyer, solicitor at Aberglasney, Carmarthenshire. He was educated at Westminster, and placed in his father's office. On his father's death he gave up business to study art under Jonathan Richardson [q. v.], author of some well-known books. He then rambled as an itinerant artist through South Wales and the neighbouring English counties, and in 1727 published his ‘Grongar Hill,’ which soon obtained a reputation. An earlier version had already appeared as an ‘Irregular Ode’ in a volume of miscellaneous poems published in 1726 by Savage. Dyer now visited Italy to study painting, and after his return published the ‘Ruins of Rome’ in 1740. His health had been injured, it is said, by malaria fever caught in the Campagna, and his painting was unsuccessful. He was ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln, married a Miss Ensor, said to be a descendant of Shakespeare, and in 1741 became vicar of Catthorpe in Leicestershire. In 1751 he resigned this cure on being appointed by Lord Hardwicke, as chancellor, to Belchford in Lincolnshire, on the recommendation of Daniel Wray, a teller of the exchequer, and ‘a friend to Virtue and the Muses.’ In 1752 Sir John Heathcote presented him to the living of Coningsby, and in 1755 obtained for him from the chancellor the living of Kirkby-on-Bane, both in Lincolnshire, for which he exchanged Belchford. He was made LL.B. of Cambridge by royal mandate in 1752. He was now well off, though he seems to have spent more than he could well afford upon building. In 1757 he published ‘The Fleece,’ upon which Dodsley remarked, according to Johnson, that he ‘would be buried in woollen.’ In 1758 he died of ‘a consumptive disorder.’ He left a son, who died in 1782, and three daughters. Dyer's shorter poems were collected in 1761.

Dyer's love of scenery at a period when the taste was out of fashion may give him some claims to remembrance. He was elaborately criticised in Gilpin's ‘Observations on the River Wye,’ and by Scott of Amwell in his ‘Critical Essays.’ The severity of Johnson's judgment is condemned in Drake's ‘Literary Hours;’ but it may be said that Dyer's longer poems are now unreadable, though there is still some charm in ‘Grongar Hill’ and some shorter pieces. He is probably best known by the sonnet addressed to him by Wordsworth.

[Biog. Brit.; Johnson's Lives of the Poets; Duncombe's Letters, iii. 56–75; Nichols's Leicestershire, iv. 78, 80; Welch's Alumni Westm. p. 285; W. Arthur in ‘Red Dragon,’ x. 208.]

L. S.