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

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DYER, GILBERT (1743–1820), antiquary and bookseller, son of Gilbert Dyer, a schoolmaster of considerable reputation on the eastern side of Dartmoor, was born in the hamlet of Dunstone in the parish of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devonshire, and baptised on 14 Sept. 1743. After having been his father's assistant for some time he was appointed in June 1767 master of the school at Tucker's Hall, Exeter, and laboured there with credit for twenty-one years. About 1788 he opened a bookseller's shop opposite the Guildhall in Exeter, and soon became the leading tradesman of that class in the west of England. His catalogues are still held in high value, and in Hone's ‘Year-book’ he is said to have been the owner of a ‘circulating library, the choicest and perhaps the most extensive of any in the whole kingdom, except the metropolis.’ To this passage Hone himself adds a note on the love of books which inspired Dyer and his son, also called Gilbert Dyer, who succeeded him, and on ‘their enormous stock. Their collection of theology was astounding; it was stacked on manifold shelves to the angle point of the gable of their huge upper warehouse.’ Dyer published in 1796 an anonymous tract, entitled ‘The Principles of Atheism proved to be unfounded from the Nature of Man,’ in which he aimed at establishing that man ‘must have been created, preserved, and instructed by Divine Providence.’ He issued in 1805 a volume called ‘A Restoration of the Ancient Modes of bestowing Names on the Rivers, Hills, &c. of Britain,’ which had its origin in his desire ‘to explore the etymologies of a few rivers and towns near Exeter,’ and in which he traced their names back to the Gaelic. His subsequent work, ‘Vulgar Errors, Ancient and Modern … investigating the origin and uses of letters … a critical disquisition on every station of Richard of Cirencester and Antoninus in Britain. To which is added Richard's original work’ (1816), contained Dyer's tract on atheism, which appeared in 1796, and the commentaries on Richard of Cirencester and Antoninus, which had been published in 1814. Several of Dyer's speculations in this volume were contributed to the ‘Monthly Magazine’ in 1809; they were marked by labour and research. Until a few days before his death he seemed in good health, but a long walk overtaxed his powers, and brought on a fever. He died at Exeter on 19 Oct. 1820. He was twice married: first, on 19 July 1772, to Sarah Sayer of the Cathedral Close, Exeter, by whom he had two children, Sarah, baptised at the cathedral 25 Feb. 1775, and Gilbert, baptised 9 June 1776; and second, in 1789, to Sarah Finnemore of Exeter, who seems to have died on 24 Oct. 1811, aged 83.

[Dymond's Widecombe-in-the-Moor, p. 79; Hone's Year-book, p. 1469; Alfred, of a West England journal, 24 Oct. 1820.]

W. P. C.