John Dyer (1699–1757) was a native of Wales, whose landscape he celebrated in his popular poem Grongar Hill (1726). His other significant work was The Fleece (1757), a four-book poem written in the style of Virgil’s Georgics in which the celebration of Britain’s wool industry is intertwined with a detailed and comprehensive prospect of Britain’s commercial networks and prosperity across the globe. Dyer travelled to Italy in 1724 and it is this trip which shaped the melancholic yet awe-inspiring vision of ancient Rome in The Ruins of Rome. The Roman Empire, for eighteenth-century writers, provided an emblem of imperial decay. Mobilised as both a contrast and a warning to the British Empire, the fate of Rome offered lessons in national and imperial conduct. Dyer’s poem begins with a scene of the ruins of Roman civilisation, then proceeds to narrate the history of its rise and downfall. The excerpts below are from the opening and end of the poem. In the fate of the Roman Empire, writers — and Dyer’s poem is no exception — saw a number of inter-related causes and symptoms: a fatal slide into apathy, the downfall of virtuous political rule, luxurious pleasure and even effeminacy.
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- John Dyer, from The Ruins of Rome (1740)
Stephen H. Gregg
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number