Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boyse, Samuel
BOYSE, SAMUEL (1708–1749), poet, was the son of Joseph Boyse [q, v.], a dissenting minister, and was born in Dublin in 1706. He was educated at a private school in Dublin and at the university of Glasgow, His studies were interrupted by his marriage when twenty with a Miss Atchenson. He returned to Dublin with his wife, and lived in his father's house without adopting any profession. His father died in 1728, and in 1730 Boyse went to Edinburgh. He had printed a letter on Liberty in the 'Dublin Journal,' No. xcvii., in 1726, but his regular commencement as an author dates from 1731, when he printed his first book, 'Translations and Poems,' in Edinburgh. He was patronised by the Scottish nobility, and in this volume and in some later poems wrote in praise of his patrons. An elegy on the death of Viscountess Stormont, called 'The Tears of the Muses,' 1736, procured for Boyse a valuable reward from her husband, and the Duchess of Gordon gave the poet an introduction for a post in the customs. The day on which he ought have applied was stormy, and Boyse chose to lose the place rather than face the rain. Debts at length compelled him to fly from Edinburgh. His patrons gave him introductions to the chief poet of the day, Mr. Pope, to the lord chancellor, and to Mr. Murray, afterwards Lord Mansfield, and then solicitor-general. Boyse had, however, not sufficient steadiness to improve advantages, and wasted the opportunities which these introductions might have given him of procuring a start in the world of letters or a settlement in life. Pope happened to be from home, and Boyse never called again. The phrases of Johnson may be recognised in a description of him at this time, which relates that 'he had no power of maintaining the dignity of wit, and though his understanding was very extensive, yet but a few could discover that he had any genius above the common rank. He had so strong a propension to groveling that his acquaintance were generally of such a cast as could be of no service to him' (Cibber, Lives of the Poets, 1753, v. 167). In 1739 Boyse published 'The Deity : a Poem ;' in 1742 'The Praise of Peace, a poem in three cantos from the Dutch of Mr. Van Haren.' He translated Fenelon on the demonstration of the existence of God, and modernised the 'Squire's Tale' and the 'Coke's Tale' from Chaucer. These, with several papers in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' signed Alcæus, were his chief publications in London. At Reading, in 1747, he published, in two volumes, 'An Historical Review of the Transactions of Europe, 1739-45.' When the payments of the booksellers did not satisfy his wants, Boyse begged from sectaries, to whom his father's theological reputation was known, and when their patience was exhausted from any one likely to give. Two of his begging letters are preserved in the British Museum (Sloane MS. 4033 B). A sentence in one of these shows how abject a beggar the poet had become. 'You were pleased,' he writes to Sir Hans Sloane, 'to give my wife the enclosed shilling last night. I doubt not but you thought it a good one, but as it happened otherwise you will forgive the trouble occasioned by the mistake.' The letter is dated 14 Feb. 1738. Two years later he was reduced to greater straits. 'It was about the year 1740 that Mr. Boyse, reduced to the last extremity of human wretchedness, had not a shirt, a coat, or any kind of apparel to put on ; the sheets in which he lay were carried to the pawnbrokers, and he was obliged to be confined to bed with no other covering than a blanket. During this time he had some employment in writing verses for the magazines, and whoever had seen him in his study must have thought the object singular enough. He sat up in bed with a blanket wrapped about him, through which he had cut a hole large enough to admit his arm, and placing the paper upon his knee scribbled, in the best manner he could, the verses he was obliged to make' (Cibber, Lives of the Poets, v. 169). Necessity is the mother of invention, and Boyse's indigence led him to the discovery of paper collars. 'Whenever his distresses so pressed as to induce him to dispose of his shirt, he fell upon an artificial method of supplying one. He cut some white paper in slips, which he tyed round his wrists, and in the same manner supplied his neck. In this plight he frequently appeared abroad, with the additional inconvenience of want of breeches' (Cibber, v. 169). In the midst of this deserved squalor, and with vicious propensities and ridiculous affectations, Boyse had some knowledge of literature and some interesting, if untrustworthy, conversation. It was this and his miseries, and some traces which he now and then showed of a religious education, not quite obliterated by a neglect of all its precepts, which obtained for him the acquaintance of Johnson. Shiel's 'Life of Boyse' (Cibber, v. 160) contains Johnson's recollections. Mrs. Boyse died in 1745 at Reading, where Boyse had gone to live. On his return to London two years later he married again. His second wife seems to have been an uneducated woman, but she induced him to live more regularly and to dress decently. His last illness had, however, begun, and after a lingering phthisis he died in lodgings near Shoe Lane in May 1749. Johnson could not collect money enough to pay for a funeral, but he obtained the distinction from other paupers for Boyse, that the service of the church was separately performed over his corpse.
Besides his literary attainments, Boyse is said to have had a taste for painting and for music,and an extensive knowledge of heraldry. 'The Deity, a Poem,' is the best known of his works. It appeared in 1729, went through two editions in the author's lifetime, and has been since printed in several collections of the English poets ('The British Poets,' Chiswick, 1822, vol. lix.; Park's 'British Poets,' London, 1808, vol. xxxiii.) Fielding quotes some lines from it on the theatre of time in the comparison between the world and the stage, which is the introduction to book vii. of 'Tom Jones.' He praises the lines, and says that the quotation is taken from a poem called the Deity, published about nine years ago, and long since buried in oblivion. A proof that good books no more than good men do always survive the bad.' It was perhaps a knowledge of Boyse's miseries which made Fielding praise him. The poem was obviously suggested by the 'Essay on Man,' and the arrangement of its parts is that common in theological treatises on the attributes of God. The edition of 1749 contains some alterations. These are unimportant, as 'celestial wisdom' (1739) altered to 'celestial spirit' (1749); 'doubtful gloom' (1739) to 'dubious gloom' (1749) ; while the few added lines can neither raise nor depress the quality of the poem. In some of Boyse's minor poems recollections of Spenser, of Milton, of Cowley, and of Prior may be traced. False rhymes are not uncommon in his verse, but the lines are usually tolerable. Some of his best are in a poem on Loch Rian, in which Lord Stair's character is compared to the steadfast rock of Ailsa, with a coincident allusion to the Stair crest and the family motto 'Firm.' Four six-line verses entitled 'Stanzas to a Candle,' in which the author compares his fading career to the flickering and burning out of the candle on his table, are the most original of all Boyse's poems. They are free from affectation, and show Boyse for once in a true poetic mood, neither racking his brains for imagery nor using his memory to help out the verse; not writing at threepence a line for the bookseller, but recording a poetic association clearly derived from the object before him.
[Cibber's Lives of the Poets, 1753, vol. v.; Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1791; Sloane MS. 4033 B; Boyse's Works.]