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LIFE OF BOYSE,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
1 HE following account of this unhappy poet is taken chiefly from the Lives of the Poets published under the name of Gibber; from the Biographia Britannica; and from the useful notes appended to Mr. Nichols' select Collection of Poems. Some unpublished letters of Boyse in the British Museum have enabled me to correct or confirm a few particulars in all these authorities.
Samuel Boyse, the only son of Joseph Boyse, a dissenting minister of considerable eminence in Dublin", was bom in the year 1708, and after receiving die rudiments of education in a private school in that city, was sent at the age of eighteen to the university of Glasgow. His father's intention was that he might cultivate the studies that are preparatory to entering into the ministry, but before he had resided many months at Glasgow, he contracted an attachment for a Miss Atchcnson, the daughter of a tradesman in that city, and married her about a year after, probably without the consent of the parents on either side.
By this imprudent match his studies were in some measure interrupted, and his expenses increased. The family of his wife were either unwilling or unable to support their new relation, and he soon found it necessary to repair to Dublin in hopes of receiving assistance from his father. On this expedition he was accompanied by his wife and her sister, but notwithstanding this additional encumbrance, and die general levity of his conduct, his father received him with kindness, and out of the scanty and precarious income which he derived from his congregation by voluntary subscriptions, and from a small estate of eighty pounds a year in Yorkshire, endeavoured to maintain his son, and to reclaim him to the prosecution of his studies. Tenderness like this, however, which only to mention is to excite gratitude, produced no corresponding effects on our poet, who abandoned his mind and time to dissipation and idleness, without a thought of what he owed to bis father or to himself. In this course, too, he was unhappily encouraged by the girl he married, who, while she imposed upon the good old man by a show of decency and even sanctity, became in fact devoid of all shame, aud at length shared her
Hii life it in the Biographia Britannica. C.
favours with other men, and that not without the knowledge of her husband, who is said to have either wanted resolution to resent her infidelity, or was reconciled by a share of the profits of his dishonour. Such a connection and such a mind, at an age when the manly and ingenuous feelings are usually strongest, may easily account for the miseries of his subsequent life.
His father died in the year 1728, and his whole property having been exhausted in the support of his son, the latter repaired in 1730 to Edinburgh, where his poetical genius raised him many friends and some patrons of considerable eminence, particularly the lords Stair, Tweedale, and Stormont, and there is some reason to think that he was occasionally entertained at their houses. In 1731, he published a volume of poems, to which was subjoined a translation of the Tablature of Cebes, and a letter upon Liberty which had been before published in the Dublin Journal. This volume, which was addressed to the countess of Eglinton, a lady of great accomplishments, procured him much reputation. He also wrote an elegy on the viscountess Stormont, entitled, The Tears of the Muses, in compliment to her ladyship's taste as a patroness of poets. Lord Stormont was so much pleased with this mark of respect to the memory of his lady, that he ordered a handsome present to be made to the author, whom, however, it was not easy to find. Such was Boyse's unsocial turn and aversion to decent company, that his person was known only among the lower orders, and lord Stormont's generous intention would have been frustrated, if his agent had not put an advertisement into the papers desiring the author of The Tears of the Muses to call upon him.
By means of lady Eglinton and lord Stormont, Boyse became known to the dutches of Gordon, who likewise was a person of literary taste, and cultivated the correspondence of some of the most eminent poets of her time. She was so desirous to raise Boyse above necessity, that she employed her interest in procuring the promise of a place for him: and accordingly gave him a letter, which he was next day to deliver to one of the commissioners of the Customs at Edinburgh. "But it unluckily happened that he was then some miles distant from the city, and the morning on which he was to have ridden to town, with her grace's letter, proved to be rainy. This trivial circumstance was sufficient to discourage Boyse, who was never accustomed to look beyond the present moment; he declined going to town on account of the rainy weather; and while he let slip the opportunity, the place was bestowed upon another, which the commissioner declared he kept for some time vacant, in expectation of seeing a person recommended by the dutchess of Gordon."
Such is the story of this disappointment, in which all Boyse's biographers have acquiesced, although it is not very consistently told. If the commissioner kept the place open for some time, which seems to imply weeks, Boyse might have easily repaired the neglect of not presenting his letter next day; but the truth perhaps was that he disliked the offer of regular employment, and loitered about until he could pretend that it was no longer in his choice. It is certain that this as well as every other kind intention of his patrons in Scotland, were defeated by his perverse conduct, and that he remained at Edinburgh until contempt and poverty were followed by the dread of a jail.
While any project, however, remained of a more advantageous lot, he could still depend on the friends who first noticed him, and he had no sooner communicated bb design of going to England, than the dutchess of Gordon gave him a recommendatory letter to Mr. Pope, and obtained another for him to sir Peter King, then lord chancellor. Lprd Stormont also recommended him to his brother the solicitor-general, afterward* LIFE OF BOYSE. 517
the celebrated lord Mansfield. On his arrival in London in 1737, he waited on Pope', but as he happened to be from home, he never repeated the visit. By the lord chancellor he is said to have been received with kindness, and to have occasionally been admitted to his lordship's table; so sordid were his habits however, and such his aversion to polite company, that this latter part of his history, which he used to relate himself, has been doubted by those who lived near enough to the time to have known the fact.
But whatever advantage he derived from the recommendations he brought from Scotland, it does not appear that it made any alteration hi his habits. In London he was soon reduced to indigence, from which he attempted no means of extricating himself, but by writing complimentary poems, or mendicant letters, except that he frequently applied for assistance to some of the more eminent dissenters, from whom he received many benefactions, in consequence of the respect which they paid to the memory of his father. But such supplies were dissipated in the lowest gratifications, and his friends were at length tired of exerting the bounty that was so useless to the object of it. The author of his life in Cibber's work informs us, that often when he had received half a guinea, in consequence of a supplicatory letter, he would go into a tavern, order a supper to be prepared, drink of the richest wines, and spend all the money that had been just given him in charity, without having any one to participate and regale with him, and while his wife and child were starving at home.
About the year 1738 he published a second volume of poems, but with what success it is not known; and, as he did not put his name to this volume, I have not been able to find any mention of it. In the year 1740, he was reduced to the lowest state of poverty, having no clothes left in which he could appear abroad, and what bare subsistence he procured was by writing occasional poems for the magazines. Of the disposition of his apparel, Mr. Nichols received from Dr. Johnson, who knew him well, the following account. He used to pawn what he had of this sort, and it was no sooner redeemed by his friends, than pawned again. On one occasion Dr. Johnson collected a sum of money for this purpose3, and in two days the clothes were pawned again. In this state he remained in bed, with no other covering than a blanket, with two holes through which he passed his arms when he sat up to write. The author of his life, in Cibber, adds, that when his distresses were so pressing as to induce him to dispose of his shirt, he used to cut some white paper in slips, which he tied round his wrists, and in the same manner supplied his neck. In this plight he frequently appeared abroad, while his other apparel was scarcely sufficient for the purposes of decency.
While in this wretched state, he published The Deity4, a poem, which was highly praised by some of the best critics of the age. Among those whose praise was of con
* There is some reason to think that he was afterwards known to Pope, who acknowledged that there were lines in his Deity which he should not have been ashamed to have written. Boyse complains to one of his friends that nothing was approved of unless sanctioned by the infallibility of a Pora. C.
3 "The sum," said Johnson, "was collected by sixpences, at a time when, to me, sixpence was a serious consideration." Boswell's Life of Johnson.
* The Deity was published in 1740, as appears by the notices of books in the Gentleman's Magazine; yet in a letter from the author to sir Hans Sloane, now in the British Museum, dated February 14, 1738-9, he reminds sir Hans, who denied any knowledge of him, that he had sent him this poem. Probably Boyse sent copies in this way to gentlemen likely to make him a present, before the time of general publication. This letter, it must be added, concludes with returning a shilling which sir Mans had scut him, as it was not a good one. G
siderable value, Hervey introduced the mention of it in his Meditations, "as a beautiful and instructive poem," and Fielding, in his Tom Jones, after extracting a few lines, adds, that they are taken from "a very noble poem called The Deity, published about nine years ago, (17-i.1)) and long since buried in oblivion: a proof that good books, no more than good men, do always survive the bad." These encomiums tended to revive the poem, of which a third edition was published in 1752; and it has since been reprinted in various collectionss.
An account of The Deity was sent to the Gentleman's Magazine, and, although not inserted, was probably the means of Boyse's introduction to Mr. Cave, from whom he obtained some supplies for writing and translating in that journal between the yean 1741 and 174-3. Cave's practice was to pay by the hundred lines, which after a while he wanted poor Boyse to make what is called the long hundred. His usual signature for his poems was Y. or Alceeus. When in a spunging-house in Grocer's Alley, in the Poultry, he wrote the following letter to Cave, which was communicated by the late Mr. Astle to the editor of the Biographia Britannica.
"Inscription for St. Lazarus' Cave.
"Hodie, teste cselo suinmu:
"Ex gehenna debitoria, "*li ,r.i •,
Vulgo domo spongiatoria.
"Sir, "I wrote you yesterday an account of my unhappy case. I am every moment threatened to be turned out here, because 1 have not money to pay for my bet! two nights past, which is usually paid beforehand, and I am loth to go into the Compter till I can see if my affair can possibly be made up: I hope therefore you will have the humanity to send me half a guinea for support, till I finish your papers in my hands.— The Ode to the British Nation I hope to have done to day, and want a proof copy of that part of Stowe you design for the present magazine, that it may be improved as far as possible from your assistance. Your papers are but ill transcribed. 1 agree with you as to St. Augustine's Cave. I humbly entreat your answer, having not tasted any thing since Tuesday evening I came here, and my coat will be taken off my back for the charge of the bed, so that I must go into prison naked, which is too shocking for me to think of.
"I am, with sincere regard, sir, •* Crown Coffee House, «• your unfortunate humble servant,
"Grocer's Alloy, Poultry, ' ..„,.»
"July'21, 1742." S- BOYSE.
5 Fielding's respect for this poem was uniform. He praised it in a periodical paper called tic Champion, dated February 12, 1739-40, but at the same time points out its defect;, and seems to object to the author's orthodoxy. C.