It has been asserted with some truth, that the number of individuals to whom no circumstances can teach wisdom is absolutely countless, and amongst that numerous class may be included the subject of the present memoir. He was the only son of his father, who was an eminent dissenting minister in England, but accepting an invitation to be joint pastor with Dr. Williams, in Dublin, he removed thither; but at what period he died is unknown. He was considered as a learned, pious, and useful divine; assiduous in the exercise of his ministry, and in his conduct generally esteemed. Samuel, who was in every respect the reverse of his father, was born in Dublin in the year 1708; and, after receiving the rudiments of his education at a private school in his native city, he was sent, at the age of eighteen, to the university of Glasgow. His father's intention was, that he might pursue those studies that are preparatory to entering into the ministry; but before he had resided many months in that metropolis, his studies met with rather a serious interruption a love affair, with a Miss Atcheson, the daughter of a respectable tradesman in that city, who, being possessed of both beauty and thoughtlessness, he married, before he had attained his twentieth year, and probably without the consent of the parents on either side. This unwise connection, in addition to the natural extravagance of his temper, involved him in numerous pecuniary difficulties, which obliged him to quit the university before he had completed his studies, and to seek relief for himself and his wife from his father at Dublin. On this expedition he was accompanied by his wife and her sister; but, notwithstanding this addition of interesting 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 by voluntary subscriptions from his congregation, and from the income of a small estate in Yorkshire, which produced him £80 annually, he endeavoured to maintain his son, and to reclaim him once more to the prosecution of his studies. Tenderness like this, however, the mere mention of which is sufficient to excite gratitude, produced no corresponding effects on the degraded mind and abandoned heart of his son; who, far from attempting to prosecute his studies, gave way to the most unremitting idleness and dissipation. In this course too (it is said) he was unhappily encouraged by his wife! who, while she imposed upon the good old man, by a shew of decency and even sanctity, became in fact both dissolute and vicious, and at length unblushingly shared her favours with other men, and that not without the knowledge of her husband, who is said either to have wanted resolution to resent her infidelity, or was reconciled by a share in the profits of his dishonour. We will hope, however, for the sake of human nature that this was not the case, and that the hand of some obscure biographer inserted this anecdote for the purpose of rendering his memorial amusing, and thus sacrificed fact on the altar of fiction.
His father died in the year 1728, and his entire property having been exhausted in the support of his son, the latter repaired to Edinburgh, where his poetical talents procured him numerous friends, amongst whom were some patrons of considerable eminence, particularly the lords Stair, Stormont, and Tweedale. In 1731 he published a volume of poems, which gained him reputation; and to which was subjoined a translation of the Tablature of Cebes, and a Letter Upon Liberty, which had been previously published in the Dublin Journal. This volume was addressed to the Countess of Eglinton, a lady of distinguished excellencies, and so much celebrated for her beauty "that it would be difficult," says Cibber, "for the best panegyrist to be too lavish in her praise:" she was the patroness of all men of wit, and greatly distinguished Mr. Boyse while he resided in that country. It is likewise recorded of this damsel, that she was not totally exempt from the lot of humanity, and her conspicuous accomplishments were yet chequered with failings: the chief of which was too high a consciousness of her own charms, which inspired a vanity that sometimes betrayed her into errors.
The following short anecdote was frequently related by Mr. Boyse. The countess one day came into the bed-chamber of her youngest daughter, then about thirteen years old, while she was dressing at her toilet; the countess observing the assiduity with which the young lady wanted to set off her person to the best advantage, asked her, "What she would give to be as handsome as her mamma?" To which Miss replied, "As much as your ladyship would give to be as young as me." This smart repartee, which was at once pungent and witty, very sensibly affected the countess; who, for the future, was less lavish of her own charms.
Upon the death of the Viscountess Stormont he wrote an elegy, entitled The Tears of the Muses; in compliment to her ladyship's taste, as a patroness of poets. Lord Stormont was so highly gratified with this mark of respect to the memory of his deceased lady, that he ordered a handsome present to be made to the author, whom however it was no easy matter to find, as a radical meanness of character, and partiality for low pleasantry, together with an aversion to all decent society, had possessed him so entirely, that Boyse's person was known only among the lower orders; and the generous intention of Lord Stormont would have been frustrated, had not his agent put an advertisement into the papers, the author of The Tears 0f the Muses to call upon him.
These substantial tokens of favour, on the part of his lordship, and of the Countess of Eglinton, served to procure for him the patronage of 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: and so desirous was she of raising Boyse from obscurity, and placing him above necessity, that she employed her interest in procuring for him the promise of a place; and, accordingly, gave him a letter, which he was the 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 rode 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, and who invariably acted up to the old Spanish proverb of "Never doing that to-day, that can be done to-morrow;" he therefore declined going to town on account of the rainy weather; and while he let slip the opportunity, the place was bestowed upon another; and he was consoled by the commissioner's declaration, "that he had kept the place vacant for some time in expectation of seeing a person recommended by the Duchess of Gordon."
Such is the story of the disappointment, in which all Boyse's biographers have acquiesced, and which bears strongly the marks of probability. Its consistency has been objected to by some on account of the epithet "some time" being applied by the commissioner; but let it be remembered that Boyse had studied, and was thoroughly acquainted with every chapter of "The Art of Indolence," and that there was no space of time but what he would have got rid of without knowing how.
It is certain that this, as well a 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 succeeded by the dread of incarceration. To escape from a prospect, which, viewed at all points, appeared dreary in the extreme, he determined on visiting London; and had no sooner communicated his design of going to England, than the Duchess of Gordon (who still retained a high opinion of his poetical abilities) gave him a recommendatory letter to Mr. Pope, and obtained another for him to Sir Peter King, then lord chancellor, and procured for him several, to persons of rank, fashion, and influence. Lord Stormont also recommended him to his brother, the solicitor-general, afterwards the celebrated Lord Mansfield. Upon receiving these letters, he, with great caution, quitted Edinburgh; and his absence was regretted by a numerous class of society — his creditors.
On his arrival in London, in 1737, he waited on Pope, but as he happened to be from home, he never repeated his visit. There is some reason to think, however, that he was afterwards known to Pope, who acknowledged that there were lines in his poem of The Deity which he should not have been ashamed to have written; and Boyse complains to one of his correspondents, that nothing was approved of unless sanctioned by the infalibility of a POPE. By the lord chancellor he is said to have been received with kindness, and to have been occasionally admitted to his lordship's table. So despicable were his habits, however, and such his aversion to polite company and rational society, hat this latter part of his history, which he used to relate himself, has been doubted by those who lived near enough his time to have known the fact.
Whatever advantages he derived from the recommendations he brought with him from Scotland, they made not the smallest alteration in his line of conduct, in that he was lamentably consistent and, consequently, was speedily reduced to a state of extreme indigence, from which he attempted no means of extricating himself, but by writing complimentary poems and mendicant letters, except that he frequently applied for assistance to several eminent dissenters, from whom he received numerous benefactions, in consequence of the respect which they paid to his father's memory. But such supplies were quickly dissipated in the lowest gratifications, and his friends were at length tired of exerting their bounty, that was thus rendered useless to the object of it. The author of his life in Cibber's works 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 just been given him in charity, without having any one to participate the regale with him, and while his wife and children were starving at home." If this anecdote be fact, it is altogether so disgusting and of so heartless a nature, that we rejoice while we write that we believe it to be unequalled in the annals of depravity.
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, ("the sum, (said Johnson) was collected by sixpences, at a time when to me sixpence was a serious consideration;") 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 be 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. Fielding's respect for this poem was uniform. He praised it in a periodical paper, called The Champion, dated February 12, 1739-40, but at the same time points out its defects, and seems to object to the author's orthodoxy. 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,
A 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. Augustin's Cave. l 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, Grocer's-alley, Poultry, JuIy 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 a were likely to make him a pecuniary return.
By a letter to Dr. Birch, dated October 23, 1742, it appears that be 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 November 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) but with 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 surprised 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 the general meanness of his 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 Albion'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 he 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 ale-house, and regaled himself with hot twopenny, 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 mouth 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 be was brought home in such a condition as to make this probable, but too far gone to he 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 be 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 live 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 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 he 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 degree 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 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 be 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.
"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 he 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 degree 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 his 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; which poem, like many other productions of the author, is not now to be found unless by accident.
The following observations, annexed to a sketch of the life of Boyse, contain so much of apposite remark and judicious reflection, as will, we are sure, preclude the necessity of any apology for inserting them:—
"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 and 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 be 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 s 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 sympathise 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, of 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 be 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 earnest 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 surprise, 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."