SAMUEL BOYSE, the only son of the preceeding [Joseph Boyse], and whose life affords an excellent moral, was born in the year 1708, and after receiving the rudiments of education in a private school in Dublin, 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 Atchenson, 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 incumbrance, and the 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 his 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, and at length shared her 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 duchess 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 duchess 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 prospect, however, remained of a more advantageous lot, he could still depend on the friends who first noticed him, and he had no sooner communicated his design of going to England, than the duchess of Gordon gave him a recommendatory letter to Mr. Pope, and obtained another for him to sir Peter King, then lord chancellor. Lord Stormont also recommended him to his brother, the solicitor general, afterwards 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 in 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 soon dissipated in the lowest gratifications, and his friends were at length tired of exerting their 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 supplicating 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 is not known; and, as he did not put his name to this volume, his biographer has 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 purpose, 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 DEITY, a poem, which was highly praised by some of the best critics of the age. Among those whose praise was of considerable 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 (1749), 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 collections. 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 years 1741 and 1743. 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 Alcaeus. 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 coelo summo,
Sine panno, sine nummo,
Sorte positus infeste,
Scribo tibi dolens moeste:
Fame, bile, tumet jecur,
URBANE, mitte opem, precor;
Tibi enim cor humanum
Non a malis alienum:
Mihi mens nec male grata,
Pro a te favore data.
Ex gehenna debitoria,
Vulgo domo spongiatoria.
I wrote you yesterday an account of my unhappy case. I am every moment threatened to be turned out here, because I have not money to pay for my bed two nights past, which is usually paid before-hand, 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. I 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,
Your unfortunate humble servant,
Crown Coffee-house, Grocers-alley,
Poultry, July 21, 1742."
"July 21, 1742.
Received from Mr. Cave the sum of half a guinea, by me, in confinement.
10s. 6d. Sent.
I send Mr. Van Haren's Ode on Britain.
To Mr. Cave, at St. John's-gate, Clerkenwell."
The Ode on the British Nation, mentioned here, is a translation from Van Haren, a Dutch poet, from whose works he translated some other passages. The "part of Stowe" was a part of his poem on lord Cobham's gardens. The greater number of the poems which he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine during the years above mentioned are reprinted in the late edition of the English Poets; but all of his fugitive pieces were not written for the magazine, some of them having been composed long before he had formed a connection with Cave, and, as there is reason to believe, sent in manuscript to such persons as were likely to make him a pecuniary return.
By a letter to Dr. Birch, dated Oct. 23, 1742, it appears that he had, among many similar projects, an intention of publishing a translation of Voltaire's poetical works, and sent to the Doctor a specimen of three of his Ethic epistles. On the next day, he sent another letter supplicating assistance, and assuring Dr. Birch that his distress was not in any way the effect of his own misconduct! In a letter dated Nov. 5, after acknowledging Dr. Birch's kindness to him, and urging him to make his case known to others, he gives the following account of himself:
"I am, Sir, the only son of Mr. Boyse of Dublin, a man whose character and writings are well known. My father died in 1728 in very involved circumstances, so that I had nothing left to trust to, but a liberal education. In 1730 I removed to Edinburgh, where I published a Collection of Poems with a translation of the Tablature of Cebes. After some years stay there, and many disappointments, I came in 1737 to London, where I have done several essays in the literary way (chiefly poetry) with but slender encouragement. Mr. Cave, for whose magazine I have done many things, and at whose desire I removed to this neighbourhood (St. John's-court, Clerkenwell,) has not used me so kindly as the sense he expressed of my services gave me reason to expect. Learning, however it may be a consolation under affliction, is no security against the common calamities of life, I think myself capable of business in the literary way, but by my late necessities am unhappily reduced to an incapacity of going abroad to seek it. I have reason to believe, could I wait on lord Halifax (which a small matter would enable me to do) I should receive some gratuity for my dedication, so as to make me easy. This is all the hope I have left to save me from the ruin that seems to threaten me if I continue longer in the condition I am in: and as I should be willing most gratefully to repay any assistance I might receive out of my lord's bounty, so I should ever retain a deep impression of the obligation. I humbly beg you will forgive this liberty, and believe me, with the greatest gratitude and esteem,
P.S. Mrs. Boyse has so deep a sense of your goodness that it is with difficulty she undertakes this."
Mrs. Boyse was generally employed in conveying his letters of this description, and if she felt so much on delivering the above, her feelings were again tried on the 16th of the same month, when Boyse sent another importunate letter, which Dr. Birch probably found it necessary to disregard. When he had thus exhausted the patience of some, he made attempts on the humanity of others by yet meaner expedients. One of these was to employ his wife in circulating a report that he was just expiring; and many of his friends were surprized to meet the man in the streets to-day, to whom they had yesterday sent relief, as to a person on the verge of dissolution. Proposals for works written, or to be written, was a more common trick: besides the translation of Voltaire, we find him, in one of his letters, thanking sir Hans Sloane's goodness in encouraging his proposals for a life of sir Francis Drake. But these expedients soon lost their effect: his friends became ashamed of his repeated frauds and general meanness of conduct, and could only mix with their contempt some hope that his brain was disordered.
In 1743, he published without his name, an ode on the battle of Dettingen, entitled Abion's Triumph, a fragment of which is printed in the last edition of the Poets. In 1745 we find him at Reading, where he was employed by the late Mr. David Henry in compiling a work, published in 1747, in two volumes octavo, under the title of An historical Review of the Transactions of Europe, from the commencement of the war with Spain in 1739 to the insurrection in Scotland in 1745; with the proceedings in parliament, and the most remarkable domestic occurrences during that period. To which is added, An impartial History of the late Rebellion, interspersed with characters and memoirs, and illustrated with notes. To this he affixed his name, with, the addition of M.A. a degree which it is probable he assumed without authority. The work, however, considered as a compilation of recent and consequently very imperfectly-known events, is said to possess considerable merit. In a letter, published by Mr. Nichols, we have some information relative to it, and to the present state of his mind and situation.—
"My salary is wretchedly small (half a guinea a week) both for writing the history and correcting the press; but I bless God I enjoy a greater degree of health than I have known for many years, and a serene melancholy, which I prefer to the most poignant sensations of pleasure I ever knew. — All I sigh for is a settlement, with some degree of independence, for my last stage of life, that I may have the comfort of my poor dear girl to be near me, and close my eyes. I should be glad to know if you have seen my history, from which you must not expect great things, as I have been over-persuaded to put my name to a composure, for which we ought to have had at least more time and better materials, and from, which I have neither profit nor reputation to expect. I am now beginning The History of the Rebellion, a very difficult and invidious task. All the accounts I have yet seen are either defective, confused, or heavy. I think myself, from my long residence in Scotland, not unqualified for the attempt, but I apprehend it is premature; and, by waiting a year or two, better materials would offer. Some account, I think, will probably be published abroad, and give us light into many things we are now at a loss to account for. I am about a translation (at my leisure hours) of an invaluable French work, entitled L'Histoire Universelle, by the late M. Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, and preceptor to the dauphin, eldest son of Lewis XIV. I propose only to give his dissertations on the ancient empires, viz. the Egyptian, Assyrian, Grecian, and Roman, which he has described with surprising conciseness, and with equal Judgment and beauty. I design to inscribe it to the right honourable Mr. Lyttelton, one of the lords of the treasury, one of the most amiable men I have ever known, and to whose uncommon goodness, if you knew my obligations, you would esteem him as much as he deserves."
During his residence at Reading, his wife died, and notwithstanding the good sense expressed in the above letter, he put on airs of concern on this occasion, which inclines us to think that intemperance had in some degree injured his reason. Being unable to purchase mourning, he tied a piece of black ribbon round the neck of a lap-dog which he carried about in his arms; and when in liquor, he always indulged a dream of his wife's being still alive, and would talk very spitefully of those by whom he suspected she was entertained. This he never mentioned, however, but in his cups, which was as often as he had money to spend. The manner, it is added, by his biographer, of his becoming intoxicated, was very particular. As he had no spirit to keep good company, he retired to some obscure alehouse, and regaled himself with hot two penny, which, though he drank in very great quantities yet he had never more than a pennyworth at a time. Such a practice rendered him so completely sottish, that his abilities, as an author, were sensibly impaired.
After his return from Reading, his behaviour, it is said, became so decent, that hopes were entertained of his reformation. He now obtained some employment from the booksellers in translating, of which, from the French language at least, he was very capable; but his former irregularities had gradually undermined his constitution, and enfeebled his powers both of body and mind. He died, after a lingering illness, in obscure lodgings near Shoe-lane, in the month of May 1749. The manner of his death is variously related. Mr. Giles, a collector of poems, says he was informed by Mr. Sandby, the bookseller, that Boyse was found dead in his bed, with a pen in his hand, and in the act of writing, and Dr. Johnson informed Mr. Nichols that he was run over by a coach, when in a fit of intoxication; or that he was brought home in such a condition as to make this probable, but too far gone to be able to give any account of the accident.
Another of Mr. Nichols's correspondents produces a letter from Mr. Stewart, the son of a bookseller at Edinburgh, who had long been intimately acquainted with Mr. Boyse, in which the particulars of his death are related in a different manner.
"Poor Mr. Boyse was one evening last winter attacked in Westminster by two or three soldiers, who not only robbed him, but used him so barbarously, that he never recovered the bruises he received, which might very probably induce the consumption of which he died. About nine months before his death he married a cutler's widow, a native of Dublin, with whom he had no money; but she proved a very careful nurse to him during his lingering indisposition. She told me, that Mr. Boyse never imagined he was dying, as he always was talking of his recovery; but, perhaps, his design in this might be to comfort her, for one incident makes me think otherwise. About four or five weeks before he breathed his last, his wife went out in the morning, and was surprised to find a great deal of burnt papers upon the hearth, which he told her were old bills and accompts; but I suppose were his manuscripts, which he had resolved to destroy, for nothing of that kind could be found after his death. Though from this circumstance it may be inferred that he was apprehensive of death, yet, I must own, that he never intimated it to me, nor did he seem in the least desirous of any spiritual advice. For some months before his end, he had left off drinking all fermented liquors, except now and then a glass of wine to support his spirits, and that he took very moderately. After his death I endeavoured all I could to get him decently buried, by soliciting those dissenters who were the friends of him and his father, but to no purpose; for only Dr. Grosvenor, in Hoxton-square, a dissenting teacher, offered to join towards it. He had quite tired out those friends in his life-time; and the general answer that I received was, 'That such a contribution was of no service to him, for it was a matter of no importance how or where he was buried.' As I found nothing could be done, our last resource was an application to the parish; nor was it without some difficulty, occasioned by the malice of his landlady, that we at last got him interred on the Saturday after he died. Three more of Mr. Johnson's amanuenses, and myself, attended the corpse to the grave. Such was the miserable end of poor Sam, who was obliged to be buried in the same charitable manner with his first wife; a burial, of which he had often mentioned his abhorrence."
Although there is too much reason to believe that no part of Boyse's character has been misrepresented in the preceding narrative, he must not be deprived of the evidence which Mr. Nichols's correspondent has advanced in his favour. He assures us that he knew him from the year 1732 to the time of his death; and that he never saw any thing in his wife's conduct that deserved censure; that he was a man of learning; and when in company with those by whom he was not awed, an entertaining companion; but so irregular and inconsistent in his conduct, that it appeared as if he had been actuated by two different souls on different occasions. These last accounts are in some decree confirmed by the writer of his life in Cibber's collection, who says that while Boyse was in his last illness he had no notion of his approaching end, nor "did he expect it until it was almost past the thinking of." His mind, indeed, was often religiously disposed; he frequently thought upon that subject; and probably suffered a great deal from the remorse of his conscience. The early impressions of his good education were never entirely obliterated; and his whole life was a continual struggle between his will and reason, as he was always violating his duty to the one, while he fell under the subjection of the other. It was, adds the same author, in consequence of this war in his mind, that he wrote a beautiful poem called Recantation.
Such was the life of a man whose writings, as far as we have been able to discover them, are uniformly in favour of virtue, remarkable for justness of sentiment on every subject in which the moral character is concerned, and not unfrequently for the loftiness and dignity which mark the effusions of a pure and independent mind. To reconcile such a train of thought with his life, with actions utterly devoid of shame or delicacy, or to apologize for the latter with a view to remove the inconsistency between the man and his writings, if not impossible, must at least be left to those who have no scruple to tell us that genius is an apology for all moral defects, and that none but the plodding prudent sons of dulness would reveal or censure the vices of a favourite poet, Such is already the influence of this perversion of the powers of reasoning, that if it is much longer indulged, no men will he thought worthy of compassion or apology, but those who err against knowledge and principle, who act wrong and know better.
The life of Boyse, however, as it has been handed down to us, without any affected palliation, will not be wholly useless if it in any degree contribute to convince the dissipated and thoughtless of what dissipation and thoughtlessness must inevitably produce. It is much to be regretted, that they who mourn over the misfortunes of genius have been too frequently induced by the artifice of partial biographers, to suppose that misery is the inseparable lot of men of distinguished talents, and that the world has no rewards for those by whom it has been instructed or delighted, except poverty and neglect. Such is the propensity of some to murmur without reason, and of others to sympathize without discrimination, that this unfair opinion of mankind might be received as unanswerable, if we had no means of looking more closely into the lives of those who are said to have been denied that extraordinary indulgence to which they laid claim. Where the truth has been honestly divulged, however, we shall find that of the complaints which lenity or affectation have encouraged and exaggerated in narrative, some will appear to have very little foundation, and others to be trifling and capricious. Men of genius have no right to expect more favourable consequences from imprudence and vice than what are common to the meanest of mankind. Whatever estimate they may have formed of their superiority, if they pass the limits allotted to character, happiness, or health, they must not hope that the accustomed rules of society are to be broken, or the common process of nature is to be suspended, in order that they may be idle without poverty, or intemperate without sickness. Yet the lives of men celebrated for literary and especially for poetical talents, afford many melancholy examples of these delusions, which, if perpetuated by mistaken kindness, cannot add any thing to genius but a fictitious privilege, which it is impossible to vindicate with seriousness, or exert with impunity.
If the life of Boyse be considered with a reference to these remarks, it will be found that he was scarcely ever in a situation of distress, oft which he could justly complain. He exhausted the patience of one set of friends after another, with such unfeeling contempt and ingratitude, that we are not to wonder at his living the precarious life of an outcast, of a man who belongs to no society, and whom no society is bound to maintain. Among his patrons were many persons of high rank and opulence, whom he rendered ashamed of their patronage, and perhaps prevented from the exercise of general kindness, lest it might be disgraced by the encouragement of those who dissipate every favour in low and wanton excesses.
What can be urged in his favour from internal evidence ought not to he concealed. We do not find in his works much of the cant of complaint: and, although he submitted to every mean art of supplication, he does not seem to have resented a denial as an insult, nor to have taken much pains to make the worse appear the better cause. In his private letters, indeed, he sometimes endeavoured by false professions and imaginary misfortunes, to impose upon others, but he did not impose upon himself. He had not perverted his own mind by any of the impious sophistries which by frequent repetition become mistaken for right reason. He was not, therefore, without his hours of remorse; and towards the latter part of his life, when his heart was softened by a sense of inward, decay, he resolved in earliest to retrieve his character.
As a poet, his reputation has been chiefly fixed on the production entitled DEITY, which, although irregular and monotonous, contains many striking proofs of poetical genius. The effort indicates no small elevation of mind, even while we must allow that success is beyond all human power. His other pieces may be regarded as curiosities, as the productions of a man who never enjoyed the undisturbed exercise of his powers, who wrote in circumstances of peculiar distress, heightened by the consciousness that he could obtain only temporary relief, that he had forfeited the respect due to genius, and could expect to be rewarded only by those to whom he was least known. We are told that he wrote all his poems with ease and even rapidity. That many of his lines are incorrect will not, therefore, excite surprize, especially when we consider that he wrote for immediate relief, and not for fame, and that when one piece had produced him a benefaction, he generally dismissed it from his mind, and began another, about which he had no other care than that it might answer the same purpose.