Alexander Dyce

Alexander Dyce (1798-1869), from The Book-Hunter in London, 1895.. Courtesy Project Gutenberg.

Alexander Dyce (30 June 1798 - 15 May 1869) was a Scottish dramatic editor and literary critic and historian.[1]



Dyce was born in Edinburgh, and educated there and at Oxford. He took orders, and for a short time served in 2 country curacies. Then, leaving the Church and settling in London, he betook himself to his life-work of ed. the English dramatists. His first work, Specimens of British Poetesses, appeared in 1825; and thereafter at various intervals ed. of Collins's Poems, and the dramatic works of Peele, Middleton, Beaumont and Fletcher, Marlowe, Greene, Webster, and others. His great edition of Shakespeare in 9 volumes appeared in 1857. He also edited various works for the Camden Society, and published Table Talk of Samuel Rogers. All Dyce's work is marked by varied and accurate learning, minute research, and solid judgment.[2]


Dyce, the eldest son of Lieutenant-general Alexander Dyce of the East India Company, was born in George Street, Edinburgh. His mother was a daughter of Neil Campbell of Duntroon and Oib, Argyllshire, and a sister of Sir Neil Campbell, sometime governor of Sierra Leone. The year after his birth his parents sailed for India, leaving him in the care of 2 of his father's sisters at Aberdeen.[1]

He was educated at the Edinburgh High School, and proceeded in 1815 to Exeter College, Oxford, and earned a B.A. in 1819. It was his father's wish that he should enter the service of the East India Company; but Dyce had no taste for this career, and accepted the alternative of taking orders. Between 1822 and 1825 he served 2 curacies, first at Llanteglos, a fishing village near Fowey, Cornwall, and afterwards at Nayland in Suffolk.[1]


His earlist books were Select Translations from Quintus Smyrnaeus (1821), an edition of Collins (1827), and Specimens of British Poetesses (1825).[3] In 1825 he abandoned clerical work, settled at Gray's Inn Square, and devoted himself to literary pursuits.[1]

He issued annotated editions of George Peele, Robert Greene, John Webster, Thomas Middleton,Marlowe, and Beaumont and Fletcher, with lives of the authors and much illustrative matter.[3]

He completed, in 1833, an edition of James Shirley left unfinished by William Gifford, and contributed biographies of Shakespeare, Pope, Akenside and Beattie to Pickering’s Aldine Poets. He also edited (1836-1838) Richard Bentley’s works, and Specimens of British Sonnets (1833).[3]

His carefully revised edition of John Skelton, which appeared in 1843, did much to revive interest in that trenchant satirist. In 1857 his edition of Shakespeare was published by Moxon; and the 2nd edition (a great improvement on the old one) was issued by Chapman & Hall in 1866. He also published Remarks on Collier’s and Knight’s Editions of Shakespeare (1844); A Few Notes on Shakespeare (1853); and Strictures on Collier’s new Edition of Shakespeare (1859), a contribution to the Collier controversy, which ended a long friendship between the 2 scholars.[3]

He was intimately connected with several literary societies, and undertook the publication of Kempe’s Nine Days’ Wonder for the Camden Society; and the old plays of Timon and Sir Thomas More were published by him for the Shakespeare Society. He was associated with Halliwell-Phillips, John Payne Collier and Thomas Wright as one of the founders of the Percy Society, for publishing old English poetry. Dyce also issued Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856).[3]

He displayed untiring industry, abundant learning, and admirable critical acumen in his editions of the old English poets. His wide reading in Elizabethan literature enabled him to explain much that was formerly obscure in Shakespeare; while his sound judgment was a check to extravagance in emendation. While preserving all that was valuable in former editions, Dyce added much fresh matter. His Glossary, a large volume of 500 pages, was the most exhaustive that had appeared.[3]

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Dyce, Alexander". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 743. . Wikisource, Web, Jan. 9, 2017.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 12px Bullen, Arthur Henry (1888) "Dyce, Alexander" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 16 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 277–278 
  2. John William Cousin, "Dyce, Alexander," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 126. Web, Jan. 9, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Britannica 1911, 743.

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