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Jeremiah Dyson (1722-1776)

This article was written by William Prideaux Courtney and was published in 1888

Jeremiah DysonJeremiah Dyson, a civil servant and politician, has been tersely described as ‘by birth a tailor, by education a dissenter, and from interest or vanity in his earlier years a republican.’ His father, whether a tailor or not, left considerable means to his son, who, it is established by many witnesses, professed in early life the extremest principles of whiggism. For two years he studied at the university of Edinburgh, and ‘Jupiter’ Carlyle bears testimony to his ‘perfect idea of the constitution of the church of Scotland, and the nature and state of the livings of the clergy.’

On 4 October 1742 he matriculated at Leyden with the object of prosecuting the study of civil law, and eighteen months later Mark Akenside, still engaged in learning medicine, joined him there, thus renewing an acquaintance which had been originally established at Edinburgh. They lived together while in Holland, and returned together to London, when Dyson was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, and obtained a position as ‘subaltern clerk’ in the House of Commons. After a brief residence at Northampton, Akenside settled at Hampstead, whereupon Dyson bought a house at the Golder's Hill extremity of that suburb, in order that the physician might become acquainted with the better class of its residents. The two friends were dissimilar in manners and style; their only taste in common at this time was their advanced liberalism. In spite of differences of character their affections were so profound that Dyson, ‘with an ardour of friendship that has not many examples,’ says Dr. Johnson, secured, on the failure of Akenside's practice at Hampstead, for the man he loved a small house in Bloomsbury Square, and allowed him £300 a year until he could live by his practice.

Although Dyson was endowed with a competency, he did not live an idle life, and on 10 February 1748 the speaker announced to the members of the House of Commons the resignation by Nicholas Hardinge of his place as their clerk; five days later Dyson, who had purchased the succession for £6,000 was called in and took his seat in that office. The consideration money was large, and as the clerk possessed the right of appointing a deputy to officiate in his stead, and of nominating the clerk assistant and all the outdoor clerks, it had been the practice for the holder of the higher office to recoup himself some parts of his expenditure by the sale of these subordinate positions. This practice was condemned by Dyson, who appointed all his subordinates on their merits, and without any pecuniary consideration. The post of clerk assistant would have realised £3,000 but it was gratuitously conferred on Hatsell, who in gratitude dedicated to Dyson in 1776 his collection of Cases of Privilege of Parliament (now quoted as the first volume of the well-known Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons), and recorded in the preface his patron's ‘universal knowledge upon all subjects which relate to the history of parliament.’

With the accession of George III, both Dyson and Akenside changed sides in politics, and showed the proverbial zeal of neo-converts on behalf of their new creed. Dyson resigned the clerkship of the House of Commons in August 1762 to enter upon political life, and in December of that year was returned to parliament by the borough of Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. This constituency he represented until the dissolution in 1768, when he was elected by the twin borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, for which he sat until the close of that parliament in 1774, and was then chosen by the voters of Horsham as their representative.

He was at first considered the devoted supporter of George Grenville, but his position was in reality among the members known as ‘the king's friends.’ Office after office was conferred upon him, and as he brought to his side a profound knowledge of parliamentary forms and precedents (for he was jocularly said to know the journals of the commons by heart), and was endowed with a subtleness of apprehension which gained him the title of ‘the jesuit of the house,’ his promotion was fully justified by his merits.

For a short period (13 October to 25 November 1761) Dyson was a commissioner to execute the office of keeper of the privy seal; from 29 May 1762 to 5 April 1764 he acted as joint secretary to the treasury and secretary to the first lord; from April 1764 to 20 January 1768 he was one of the commissioners for the board of trade, and from 31 December 1768 to March 1774 he was a lord of the treasury. In that month his services were rewarded with the lucrative post of cofferer of the household, and he was at the same time summoned to the privy council. Dyson was allowed, though with extreme reluctance on the part of the premier, to remain in office during the Rockingham administration, and as its acts were known to be frequently distasteful to the monarch, the ‘king's friend’ did not hesitate to show his ‘usual parliamentary sagacity’ in criticising its proceedings.

After a flagrant case of insubordination on Dyson's part, the prime minister urged his dismissal, but could not succeed in inducing George III to take that step. Every liberal proposal was opposed by him either openly or secretly. He took a leading place in the business connected with the East India Company in 1767-8, and he joined Rigby and Lord North in opposing George Grenville's bill for removing the trials of contested elections from the whole House of Commons. The repeal of the Stamp Act met with his unflagging opposition, and during Lord North's administration its measures against the American colonies found a warm supporter in Dyson. His quickness and shrewdness were constantly in requisition, and he interposed so often in the business of the house, that Colonel Barré on 26 Jan. 1769 provoked general laughter by remarking, ‘The honourable gentleman, Mr. Dyson, has the devil of a time of it, “Mungo here, Mungo there, Mungo everywhere,”’ an appropriate allusion to a black slave of that name brought on the stage in Isaac Bickerstaffe's comic opera of ‘The Padlock.’The nickname stuck to him for the rest of his life.

There was granted to him in February 1770 a pension on the Irish list of £1,500 a year for his own life and that of his three sons; but on 25 November 1771, in committee of supply in the Irish House of Commons, after a long and fierce debate, in which Flood exerted all his powers of invective, the pension was condemned by a majority of one vote (105 ayes, 106 noes), and afterwards struck off the list. The grant was in direct contradiction to the pledge of a previous viceroy that no more pensions should be granted on the Irish establishment for a term of years, save in reward of extraordinary services; and even George III acknowledged in 1774 that he was wrong, ‘after what the Duke of Northumberland had declared in my name, in giving the pension.’

Dyson's figure was rendered familiar in the satirical prints of 1769-70, and his loss of the Irish pension was commemorated in a caricature of ‘Alas! poor Mungo,’ which appeared in the same month of November 1771. On one occasion only did Dyson vote in parliament with the whigs, and that was in favour of expunging the vote of thanks to Dr. Nowell for his high prerogative sermon on King Charles's day in 1772. As he went into the lobby he said good-naturedly, in reference to General Keppel, Colonel Fitzroy, and Charles Fox, all descendants of that monarch, ‘If King Charles's grandsons vote against him, sure I may.’ Ill-health had long been his lot, and in October 1774 he was seized with a stroke of the palsy, which incapacitated him from further business.

He died on 16 September 1776, aged 54, and a monument in white marble was erected to his memory on the north wall of the northern chancel of Stoke Church, near Guildford. His wife, Dorothy Dyson, a relation of the same name, whom he married about 1758, died on 16 December 1769, aged 34 years, and the same monument records the death of three of their children in early life, and of the wife of his son and heir, Jeremiah Dyson. Dyson purchased about 1765 a considerable estate in Stoke parish, which descended to his son Jeremiah, some time clerk assistant in the House of Commons, by whom it was subsequently sold.

Warburton published in 1744, under the title of Remarks on several occasional Reflections, a defence of his portentous volumes, The Divine Legation of Moses and in the preface he commented in a ‘free footing’ on Akenside's poem of the Pleasures of Imagination. The poet's offence was a note in the third book of the Pleasures, reviving and maintaining the doctrine of the third Lord Shaftesbury that ridicule is the test of truth. Dyson thereupon retaliated in his friend's defence, in An Epistle to the Rev. Mr. Warburton, occasioned by his treatment of the author of the “Pleasures of Imagination". When Akenside determined upon amplifying this poem, he inserted into the first book a glowing panegyric of the friend to whom he owed so much, and by his will, dated in December 1767, his ‘whole estate and effects of whatsoever kind’ passed on his death in June 1770 to Dyson.

Two years later (1772) there appeared an edition, very handsomely printed in quarto, of the poems of Akenside, under the superintendence of Dyson, who wrote the advertisement thereto. To his pen is attributed a tract on the right of Wilkes to sit in parliament for the county of Middlesex, entitled The Case of the last Election for Middlesex considered, which provoked numerous replies, and among the pamphlets produced at this crisis were, ‘Mungo on the use of Quotations,’ ‘Mungo's Case considered.’

After Dyson's death he was satirised in a pamphlet called ‘Extortion no Usury; or the merits of a late Election [for the city chamberlainship] discussed in a dialogue between Minos, Lord Russell, Charles Churchill, and Jeremiah Dyson, 1777.’

No terms but those of praise were passed on his private life. Sir John Hawkins bears witness to the attractiveness of Dyson's social life, and he was numbered among the friends of Samuel Richardson.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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