Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boyle, John (1707-1762)

Boyle was elected to the Royal Society 23 October 1746.

BOYLE, JOHN, fifth Earl of Cork, fifth Earl of Orrery, and second Baron Marston (1707–1762), was born on 2 Jan. 1707, and was the only son of Charles Boyle, fourth earl of Orrery [q. v.], whom he succeeded as fifth earl in 1731. Like his father, he was educated at Christ Church. He took some part in parliamentary debates, chiefly in opposition to Walpole. On the death, in 1753, of his kinsman, Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork and Burlington [q. v.], he succeeded him as fifth earl of Cork, thus uniting the Orrery peerage to the older Cork peerage. His father, from some grudge, left his library to Christ Church, specially assigning as his reason his son's want of taste for literature. According to Johnson, the real reason was that the son would not allow his wife to associate with the father's mistress. The passage in the will seems to have stimulated the son to endeavour to disprove the charge, and he has succeeded in making his name remembered as the friend first of Swift and Pope, and afterwards of Johnson. His 'Remarks on Swift,' published in November 1751, attracted much attention as the first attempt at an account of Swift, and 7,500 copies appear to have been sold within a month. But neither Lord Orrery's ability, nor his acquaintance with Swift, was such as to give much value to his 'Remarks.' The acquaintance had begun about 1731 (apparently from an application by Swift on behalf of Mrs. Barber for leave to dedicate her poems to Orrery, although Swift had previously seen a good deal of his father), when Swift was already sixty-four years old, and their meetings, during the few succeeding years before Swift became decrepit, were not very frequent. If we are to judge, however, from the expressions used by Swift, both in his letters to Orrery and in correspondence with others, the friendship seems to have been cordial so far as it went. In one of the earliest letters he hopes Orrery will be 'a great example, restorer, and patron of virtue, learning, and wit;' and he writes to Pope that, next to Pope himself, he loves 'no man so well.' Pope, too, writes of Orrery to Swift as one 'whose praises are that precious ointment Solomon speaks of.' A bond of sympathy existed between Swift and Orrery in a common hatred of Walpole's government. It was to Orrery's hand that Swift entrusted the manuscript of his 'Four Last Years of the Queen' for delivery to Dr. King of Oxford; and Orrery was the go-between employed by Pope to get his letters from Swift. In his will Swift leaves to Orrery a portrait and some silver plate. On the other hand, there are traditional stories of contemptuous expressions used by Swift of Orrery, and these, if repeated to him, may have inspired in Orrery that dislike which made his 'Remarks' so full of rancour and grudging criticism. The 'Remarks on the Life and Writings of Jonathan Swift,' published in 1751, are given in a series of letters to his son and successor, Hamilton Boyle (1730-1764), then an undergraduate at Christ Church, and are written in a stilted and affected style. The malice which he showed made the book the subject of a bitter attack (1754) by Dr. Patrick Delany [q. v.], who did something to clear Swift from the aspersions cast on him by Orrery. But the grudging praise and feeble estimate of Swift's genius shown in the 'Remarks' are mainly due to the poverty of Orrery's own mind. He was filled with literary aspirations, and, as Berkeley said of him, 'would have been a man of genius had he known how to set about it.' But he had no real capacity for apprehending either the range of Swift's intellect or the meaning of his humour. Orrery was afterwards one of those who attempted to patronise Johnson, by whom he was regarded kindly and spoken of as one 'who would have been a liberal patron if he had been rich.'

Orrery married in 1728 Lady Harriet Hamilton, third daughter of the Earl of Orkney, and after her death he married, in 1738, Miss Hamilton, of Caledon, in Tyrone. He was made a D.C.L. of Oxford in 1743, and F.R.S. in 1750. He died on 16 Nov. 1762. He wrote some papers in the 'World' and the 'Connoisseur,' and various prologues and fugitive verses. His other works are:

  1. 'A Translation of the Letters of Pliny the Younger' (2 vols. 4to, 1751).
  2. 'An Essay on the Life of Pliny.'
  3. 'Memoirs of Robert Carey, Earl of Monmouth,' published from the original manuscript, with preface and notes.
  4. 'Letters from Italy in 1754 and 1755,' published after his death (with a life) by the Rev. J. Buncombe in 1774.

[Buncombe's Life, as above ; Swift's and Pope's Letters; Nichols's Lit. Illust. ii. 153, 232; Biog. Brit.]

H. C.