Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dyer, Thomas Henry

DYER, THOMAS HENRY, LL.D. (1804–1888), historian, born 4 May 1804, in the parish of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, London, was educated privately. His early years were spent in a West India house, but upon the passing of the Negro Emancipation Act he relinquished a commercial career and devoted himself to literature. He travelled upon the continent, and embodied his observations in a series of works upon the topography, history, and antiquities of Rome, Athens, and Pompeii. He also became a voluminous contributor to Dr. William Smith's classical and biographical dictionaries, and to the publications of the Useful Knowledge Society. For several years Dyer was engaged in the study of Æschylus, endeavouring to emend his tragedies and to restore certain lost passages, and in 1841 he published his ‘Tentamina Æschylea.’ He next took up the study of Calvin, and in 1850 published his ‘Life of Calvin,’ compiled from every authentic source, and particularly from his correspondence. His view of Calvin's character is rather severe, but his work is grounded upon original documents of an undoubted and important nature, as well as upon the various preceding biographies. In 1865 Dyer published ‘A History of the City of Rome.’ It was the first attempt to give a connected narrative of the rise, progress, and decline of the city. Dyer was much indebted to the works of Papencordt, Gregorovius, and Ampère. In 1868 Dyer published ‘The History of the Kings of Rome.’ It was preceded by an erudite dissertation upon the sources from which the early history of Rome is derived. The author took a highly conservative view, in opposition to Niebuhr. His treatise combined ‘the profound learning of a German scholar with the sound sense, clearness, and force of a good English writer’ (Athenæum, 25 Jan. 1868). Dyer maintained the credibility of the main outlines of the story. His theories were warmly combated by, among others, Professor Seeley, in an edition which he issued of Livy's First Book. Dyer replied in an essay entitled ‘Roma Regalis; or the Newest Phase of an Old Story’ (1872), and in ‘A Plea for Livy’ (1873). Dyer spent much time in exploring the ruins of Pompeii, and his narrative of the remains went through several editions. In 1867 he published ‘Pompeii: its History, Buildings, and Antiquities.’ As the outcome of several visits to Athens, Dyer issued in 1873, ‘Ancient Athens: its History, Topography, and Remains.’ The important discoveries recently made in the city, and especially the excavation of the Dionysiac theatre in 1862, had suggested the preparation of this new dissertation on Athenian topography and antiquities. The work was admirably illustrated, and the author showed himself familiar with the latest researches. Dyer's most important work was the ‘History of Modern Europe,’ which originally appeared in 1861–4, in four volumes. It represented the labour of years, and chronicled the period from the fall of Constantinople to the end of the Crimean war. It was a clear and painstaking compilation, whose main object was to expound the origin and nature of the European concert. A second edition in five volumes appeared in 1877, in which the narrative was revised and extended, and brought down to 1871. Dyer's latest work, ‘On Imitative Beauty,’ appeared in 1882. The university of St. Andrews gave him the degree of LL.D. His last years were spent at Bath, in which city he died 30 Jan. 1888.

[Academy, 11 Feb. 1888; Athenæum, vols. for 1850, 1864, 1868, and 1888.]

G. B. S.