1775 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Boyse

William Giles, in Giles, Collection of Poems on Divine and Moral Subjects (1775) xii-xvi.



Mr. BOYSE was the son of a dissenting minister at DUBLIN. He was born in the year 1708. As he was intended for the ministry, he was sent at the age of eighteen, to the University of GLASGOW. But in less than a year he married a tradesman's daughter of that city. This interrupted his studies, and immediately after he became wholly dependent on his father. By a series of extravagancies, he soon squandered away a little estate which had supported his father and family, so that the old man in his last sickness was intirely supported by presents from his congregation, and buried soon after his death at their expence. In 1726, and 1731, Mr. BOYSE wrote several poems which gained him much credit. He was caressed by some of the first families in Scotland, and by them recommended to the patronage of several noblemen of the first rank in England. Among other men of learning, Mr. POPE was one to whom he was strongly recommended. However, by neglecting the many favourable opportunities he had of preferment, and by a life of indolence and extravagance, he was, about the year 1740, reduced to such an extremity of human wretchedness, that he had neither shirt, coat, nor any other kind of apparel to put on. The sheets in which he lay were carried to the pawnbroker's; and he was obliged to be confined to his bed with no other covering than a blanket. He supported himself six weeks in this distressful situation, by writing verses for the magazines; and must certainly have continued in it much longer, if he had not been relieved by the generosity of some gentlemen who knew him to be a man of parts. In the latter part of his life, his behavior was more decent than it had formerly been, which induced his friends to hope, that in the evening of life a reformation might be expected.

Among the many friends who generously contributed to his relief, he was in a peculiar manner indebted to the liberality of Mr. SANDBY, who, in order to make provision for his future wants, employed him to translate a treatise on the ARCHBISHOP OF CAMBRAY. Mr. Boyse, however, did not live to complete his undertaking, as he left behind him three sheets unfinished. He died in the performance of this work with a pen in his hand, as he sat in his bed in a garret in White Friars, and was afterwards buried at the expence of the parish. [Author's note: For this account, I am partly indebted to the writer of the Biographical Dictionary, and partly to Mr. Sandby, who was well acquainted with Mr. Boyse, and a witness of that wretchedness and misery to which he was at last reduced.]

Thus, after many years spent in indolence and extravagance, this unhappy man was reduced to the lowest ebb of human wretchedness. In the early and middle part of life, he had many pleasing prospects of advantage. His friends were numerous and respectable; but his extreme indolence was such, that it induced him to neglect those favourable opportunities which providence pointed out for his assistance and relief. This was certainly the surest way to forfeit the regard of those who had been his warmest friends; and no doubt, the loss of their favours, added to his own imprudent conduct, reduced him to the state we have described.

In these circumstances, it is probable, he was first brought to lament the follies of his life. Adversity, though a hard, is yet a kind instructor. Prosperity, though calculated to excite our gratitude and promote our happiness, is not in general so successful. And a consideration similar to this might induce the Lord once to say, "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence and seek my face;" and then to add "in their affliction they will seek me early." I trust this was indeed the case with Mr. Boyse: but that the candid reader may be enabled to determine for himself, I will transcribe a letter which he wrote a little before his death to Mr. Hervey.

"Reverend and dear Sir,

"For your tender Admonitions, and excellent Advice, I am truly indebted to you; as they discover a generous and compassionate Concern for my better Part. — I bless God I have reason to hope, that great Work is not to do; for of all the Marks of Infatuation I know amongst men, there can be none equal to that of trusting to a death-bed Repentance.

"I do not pretend to vindicate my own conduct — nor can I ever forget the very christian sense of my condition and misfortunes, which (notwithstanding all my misbehavior) you have so pathetically expressed. — The follies of my youth have furnished a plentiful harvest of reflection for my latter years; as I have now been for a long time in a manner buried to the world, so it has been my endeavor to spend that time in lamenting my past errors, and in pursuing a course of life void of offence towards God and man.

"I have learnt to trust in God as my only portion, to bless him for his Fatherly corrections, which have been much gentler than my demerit; and by which I have been taught to know him and myself; his infinite mercy and goodness; my own ingratitude and unworthiness, so that I may truly say with the returning prodigal, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against thee, and am not worthy to be called thy son.'

"My health is in a very precarious state; and the greatest hopes of recovery I have (which are very small) arise from warm weather and the country air. — I thank God I am absolutely resigned to his holy and blessed will. I have seen enough of the vanity and folly of earthly things, and how insufficient they are to satisfy the desires of an immortal soul. I am sensible of my own wretchedness and nothingness, and that my only hope of salvation is through that blessed Redeemer, who died to save lost sinners. — This is my rock of hope against an approaching eternity.

"May you long, Sir, taste those true and unfading pleasures, which attend the practice of religion and virtue; and may you, by your shining example, be a means of turning many to righteousness: this is the sincere and ever grateful wish of

Your most obliged, and faithful servant,

S. BOYSE."