George Dennis (explorer)
George Dennis (21 July 1814 in Ash Grove, Hackney, Middlesex – 15 November 1898 in South Kensington, London) was a British explorer of Etruria; his written account and drawings of the ancient places and monuments of the Etruscan civilization combined with his summary of the ancient sources is among the first of the modern era and remains an indispensable reference in Etruscan studies.
George Dennis left school at the age of 15. He never went to college, and yet he interested himself in languages, studying ancient Greek and Latin on his own and eventually becoming a polyglot in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, modern Greek, Turkish and some Arabic. A strongly physical man as well, he often went for 40-mile hikes in the uplands of Scotland and Wales. He resolved to become an explorer; however, he worked mainly alone.
At age 22 Dennis conducted his first explorations in Portugal and Spain, writing his first work, A Summer in Andalucia, in 1839. Dennis roughed it in Etruria between 1842, at age 28, and 1847, in the company of artist Samuel Ainsley in 1842 and 1843. Etruria of the times had reverted to a semi-wilderness state, rural, depopulated, malarial and infested with bandits. There were few roads. Dennis hiked about the country living in the outdoors or in rural quarters infested with insects studying and recording the monuments he found and any traditions about them.
The result of his travels was his 1,085 page treatise Cities and cemeteries of Etruria, published in 1848 by the British Museum and including sketches by Dennis and Ainsley. Dennis captures Etruscan civilization and Tuscan landscapes in able prose with scholarly detail. It was nevertheless generally unknown and unappreciated by the British public, partly because of Dennis' lack of academic credentials. He did make some fast friends among the academics who read his work, such as Austen Henry Layard.
As his book did not receive the recognition and remuneration it deserves, George used his contacts to obtain work with the Colonial Service, which shipped him off to British Guiana. He married there but he found life dreary. After 14 years he asked his friend Austen Henry Layard to mediate with Lord John Russell to get him out of Guiana. The ploy was successful and in 1863, at age 50, Dennis went as vice-consul to Sicily, subsequently to Benghazi and Smyrna in Turkey, accompanied by his wife. He had no children.
Meanwhile his magnum opus became widely read and was appreciated for the masterpiece it is. Oxford University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law for it. He was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. His lack of a formal education was a stigma that prevented higher honors. He endured shallow reviews and comments for the rest of his life.
George Dennis died alone in London at age 84 officially of "senile decay." At some time before his death second third editions of his work had come out.
- Wellard dedicates Chapter Four, The Founder of English Etruscology, to Dennis. This material comes from there.
- Dennis, George (1839). A Summer in Andalucia. London: R. Bentley. Two volumes. A rare book.
- Dennis, George (1883). The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, Third Edition. London: John Murray. Two volumes. Downloadable from Google Books at .
- Potter, Timothy W. "Dennis of Etruria: a celebration", Antiquity 72 (1998), 916–21.
- Rhodes, Dennis E. Article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Rhodes, Dennis E. (1973). Dennis of Etruria. London: Cecil & Amelia Rhodes.
- Wellar, James (1973). The Search for the Etruscans. New York: Saturday Review Press. ISBN 0-8415-0231-5.