John Dennis, an English writer, born in London in 1657, died Jan. 6, 1734. He was the son of a saddler, but was sent to Harrow school and Cambridge university, where he remained eight years, taking his degree of A. M. in 1683. After travelling some time on the continent he returned, a whig in politics, and mingled with the politicians and literary men of London. Among his friends were Dryden, Halifax, Wycherley, and Congreve. By his expensive habits he soon dissipated a small fortune which had been left him, and the duke of Marlborough obtained for him an appointment in the customs worth £120 a year; but he was compelled to sell this to satisfy pressing demands, only reserving a small annuity for a term of years. Having outlived this term, he was reduced to great poverty, became blind, and was compelled in the latter part of his life to depend upon the charity of literary friends, many of whom he had grossly calumniated. He wrote some verses of little merit, and several plays which obtained a transient popularity, especially the one entitled "Liberty Asserted," in which the French, with whom the English were then at war, were roughly handled.
Of his essays the best are "The Grounds of Criti-cism" and those on Addison's "Cato" and Pope's "Rape of the Lock," though the two latter are characterized by the bitterness with which he usually spoke of his contemporaries. He attacked Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele, and nearly all the prominent writers of the day, thereby making enemies of those best able to castigate him. This was done most effectually by Swift and Pope, the latter devoting to him some of the sharpest hits in the "Dunciad." He had a most exaggerated idea of his own importance, and desired to have a clause in the treaty of Utrecht protecting him from the wrath of the French king, which he imagined had been aroused by his play, "Liberty Asserted." He had invented a new way of imitating thunder for his play of "Appius and Virginia," which was brought out and failed in 1708. Shortly afterward, during the performance of "Macbeth," hearing the thunder produced by his apparatus, he rose in the pit and denounced the managers for stealing his thunder.
His fame is due mainly to the abuse which he received from those he had assailed.