Theophilus Cibber.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V online

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actions of Æneas, or to Mr. Dryden, who has not only conveyed the
general ideas of his author, but has conveyed them with the same majesty
and fire, has led you through every battle with trepidation, has soothed
you in the tender scenes, and inchanted you with the flowers of poetry?
Virgil contemplated thro' the medium of Trapp, appears an accurate
writer, and the Aeneid as well conducted fable, but discerned in
Dryden's page, he glows as with fire from heaven, and the Aeneid is a
continued series of whatever is great, elegant, pathetic, and sublime.

We have already observed, in the Life of Dryden, that it is easier to
discern wherein the beauties of poetical composition consist, than to
throw out those beauties. Dr. Trapp, in his Prælectiones Poeticæ, has
shewn how much he was master of every species of poetry; that is, how
excellently he understood the structure of a poem; what noble rules he
was capable of laying down, and what excellent materials he could
afford, for building upon such a foundation, a beautiful fabric. There
are few better criticisms in any language, Dryden's dedications and
prefaces excepted, than are contained in these lectures. The mind is
enlarged by them, takes in a wide range of poetical ideas, and is taught
to discover how many amazing requisites are necessary to form a poet. In
his introduction to the first lecture, he takes occasion to state a
comparison between poetry and painting, and shew how small pretensions
the professors of the latter have, to compare themselves with the
former. 'The painter indeed (says he) has to do with the passions, but
then they are such passions only, as discover themselves in the
countenance; but the poet is to do more, he is to trace the rise of
those passions, to watch their gradations, to pain their progress, and
mark them in the heart in their genuine conflicts; and, continues he,
the disproportion between the soul and the body, is not greater than the
disproportion between the painter and the poet.

Dr. Trapp is author of a tragedy called Abramule, or Love and Empire,
acted at the New Theatre at Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, 1704, dedicated to the
Right Honourable the Lady Harriot Godolphin. Scene Constantinople. The
story is built upon the dethronement of Mahomet IV.

Our author has likewise written a piece called The Church of England
Defended against the False Reasoning of the Church of Rome. Several
occasional poems were written by him in English; and there is one Latin
poem of his in the Musæ Anglicanæ. He has translated the Paradise Lost
into Latin Verse, with little success, and, as he published it at his
own risk, he was a considerable loser. The capital blemish of that work,
is, the unharmonious versification, which gives perpetual offence to the
ear, neither is the language universally pure.

He died in the month of November 1747, and left behind him the character
of a pathetic and instructive preacher, a profound scholar, a discerning
critic, a benevolent gentleman, and a pious Christian.

We shall conclude the life of Dr. Trapp with the following verses of Mr.
Layng, which are expressive of the Dr's. character as a critic and a
poet. The author, after applauding Dryden's version, proceeds thus in
favour of Trapp.

Behind we see a younger bard arise,
No vulgar rival in the grand emprize.
Hail! learned Trapp! upon whose brow we find
The poet's bays, and critic's ivy join'd.
Blest saint! to all that's virtuous ever dear,
Thy recent fate demands a friendly tear.
None was more vers'd in all the Roman store,
Or the wide circle of the Grecian lore,
Less happy, from the world recluse too long,
In all the sweeter ornaments of song;
Intent to teach, too careless how to please,
He boasts in strength, whate'er he wants in ease.


[1] By his last Will he ordered a copy of that book to be given to each
of his parishioners, that when he could no longer speak to them from
the pulpit, he might endeavour to instruct them in his writings.

* * * * *


This Poet was the son of the Revd. Mr. Joseph Boyse, a Dissenting
minister of great eminence in Dublin. Our author's father was a person
so much respected by those immediately under his ministerial care, and
whoever else had the happiness of his acquaintance, that people of all
denominations united in esteeming him, not only for his learning and
abilities, but his extensive humanity and undisembled piety.

The Revd. Gentleman had so much dignity in his manner, that he obtained
from the common people the name of bishop Boyse, meant as a compliment
to the gracefulness of his person and mien. But though Mr. Boyse was
thus reverenced by the multitude, and courted by people of fashion, he
never contracted the least air of superciliousness: He was humane and
affable in his temper, equally removed from the stiffness of pedantry,
and offensive levity. During his ministerial charge at Dublin, he
published many sermons, which compose several folio volumes, a few Poems
and other Tracts; but what chiefly distinguished him as a writer, was
the controversy he carried on with Dr. King, archbishop of Dublin, and
author of the Origin of Evil, concerning the office of a scriptural
bishop. This controverted point was managed on both sides with great
force of argument, and calmness of temper. The bishop asserted that the
episcopal right of jurisdiction had its foundation in the New-Testament:
Mr. Boyse, consistent with his principles, denied that any
ecclesiastical superiority appeared there; and in the opinion of many,
Mr. Boyse was more than equal to his antagonist, whom he treated in the
course of the controversy, with the greatest candour and good-manners.

It has been reported that Mr. Boyse had two brothers, one a clergyman of
the church of England, and the other a cardinal at Rome; but of this
circumstance we have no absolute certainty: Be it as it may, he had,
however, no brother so much distinguished in the world as himself.

We shall now enter upon the life of our poet, who will appear while we
trace it, to have been in every respect the reverse of his father,
genius excepted. -

He was born in the year 1708, and received the rudiments of his
education in a private school in Dublin. When he was but eighteen years
old, his father, who probably intended him for the ministry, sent him to
the university of Glasgow, that he might finish his education there. He
had not been a year at the university, till he fell in love with one
Miss Atchenson, the daughter of a tradesman in that city, and was
imprudent enough to interrupt his education, by marrying her, before he
had entered into his 20th year.

The natural extravagance of his temper soon exposed him to want, and as
he had now the additional charge of a wife, his reduced circumstances
obliged him to quit the university, and go over with his wife (who also
carried a sister with her) to Dublin; where they relied upon the old
gentleman for support. His behaviour in this dependent state, was the
very reverse of what it should have been. In place of directing his
studies to some useful acquisition, so as to support himself and family,
he spent his time in the most abject trifling, and drew many heavy
expences upon his father, who had no other means of supporting himself
than what his congregation afforded, and a small estate of fourscore
pounds a year in Yorkshire.

Considerations of prudence never entered into the heart of this unhappy
young roan, who ran from one excess to another, till an indulgent parent
was reduced by his means to very great embarrassments. Young Boyse was
of all men the farthest removed from a gentleman; he had no graces of
person, and fewer still of conversation. To this cause it was perhaps
owing, that his wife, naturally of a very volatile sprightly temper,
either grew tired of him, or became enamour'd of variety. It was however
abundantly certain, that she pursued intrigues with other men; and what
is still more surprising, not without the knowledge of her husband, who
had either too abject a spirit to resent it; or was bribed by some
lucrative advantage, to which, he had a mind mean enough to stoop.
Though never were three people of more libertine characters than young
Boyse, his wife, and sister-in-law; yet the two ladies wore such a mask
of decency before the old gentleman, that his fondness was never abated.
He hoped that time and experience would recover his son from his courses
of extravagance; and as he was of an unsuspecting temper, he had not the
least jealousy of the real conduct of his daughter-in-law, who grew
every day in his favour, and continued to blind him, by the seeming
decency of her behaviour, and a performance of those acts of piety, he
naturally expected from her. But the old gentleman was deceived in his
hopes, for time made no alteration in his son. The estate his father
possessed in Yorkshire was sold to discharge his debts; and when the old
man lay in his last sickness, he was entirely supported by presents from
his congregation, and buried at their expence.

We have no farther account of Mr. Boyse, till we find him soon after his
father's death at Edinburgh; but from what motives he went there we
cannot now discover. At this place his poetical genius raised him many
friends, and some patrons of very great eminence. He published a volume
of poems in 1731, to which is subjoined The Tablature of Cebes, and a
Letter upon Liberty, inserted in the Dublin Journal 1726; and by these
he obtained a very great reputation. They are addressed to the countess
of Eglington, a lady of distinguished excellencies, and so much
celebrated for her beauty, that it would be difficult for the best
panegyrist to be too lavish in her praise. This amiable lady was
patroness of all men of wit, and very much distinguished Mr. Boyse,
while he resided in that country. She was not however 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

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 13 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 in praise of her own charms. -

Upon the death of the viscountess Stormont, Mr. Boyse wrote an Elegy,
which was very much applauded by her ladyship's relations. This Elegy he
intitled, The Tears of the Muses, as the deceased lady was a woman of
the most refined taste in the sciences, and a great admirer of poetry.
The lord Stormont was so much pleased with this mark of esteem paid to
the memory of his lady, that he ordered a very handsome present to be
given to Mr. Boyse, by his attorney at Edinburgh.

Though Mr. Boyse's name was very well known in that city, yet his person
was obscure; for as he was altogether unsocial in his temper, he had but
few acquaintances, and those of a cast much inferior to himself, and
with whom he ought to have been ashamed to associate. It was some time
before he could be found out; and lord Stormont's kind intentions had
been defeated, if an advertisement had not been published in one of
their weekly papers, desiring the author of the Tears of the Muses to
call at the house of the attorney[1].

The personal obscurity of Mr. Boyse might perhaps not be altogether
owing to his habits of gloominess and retirement. Nothing is more
difficult in that city, than to make acquaintances; There are no places
where people meet and converse promiscuously: There is a reservedness
and gravity in the manner of the inhabitants, which makes a stranger
averse to approach them. They naturally love solitude; and are very slow
in contracting friendships. They are generous; but it is with a bad
grace. They are strangers to affability, and they maintain a haughtiness
and an apparent indifference, which deters a man from courting them.
They may be said to be hospitable, but not complaisant to strangers:
Insincerity and cruelty have no existence amongst them; but if they
ought not to be hated, they can never be much loved, for they are
incapable of insinuation, and their ignorance of the world makes them
unfit for entertaining sensible strangers. They are public-spirited, but
torn to pieces by factions. A gloominess in religion renders one part of
them very barbarous, and an enthusiasm in politics so transports the
genteeler part, that they sacrifice to party almost every consideration
of tenderness. Among such a people, a man may long live, little known,
and less instructed; for their reservedness renders them
uncommunicative, and their excessive haughtiness prevents them from
being solicitous of knowledge.

The Scots are far from being a dull nation; they are lovers of pomp and
shew; but then there is an eternal stiffness, a kind of affected
dignity, which spoils their pleasures. Hence we have the less reason to
wonder that Boyse lived obscurely at Edinburgh. His extreme carelesness
about his dress was a circumstance very inauspicious to a man who lives
in that city. They are such lovers of this kind of decorum, that they
will admit of no infringement upon it; and were a man with more wit than
Pope, and more philosophy than Newton, to appear at their market place
negligent in his apparel, he would be avoided by his acquaintances who
would rather risk his displeasure, than the censure of the public, which
would not fail to stigmatize them, for assocciating with a man seemingly
poor; for they measure poverty, and riches, understanding, or its
opposite, by exterior appearance. They have many virtues, but their not
being polished prevents them from shining.

The notice which Lady Eglington and the lord Stormont took of our poet,
recommended him likewise to the patronage of the dutchess of Gordon, who
was a lady not only distinguished for her taste; but cultivated a
correspondence with some of the most eminent poets then living. The
dutchess was so zealous in Mr. Boyse's affairs, and so felicitous to
raise him above necessity, that she employed her interest in procuring
the promise of a place for him. She gave him a letter, which he was next
day to deliver to one of the commissioners of the customs at Edinburgh.
It 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 of
recommendation proved to be rainy. This slender circumstance was enough
to discourage Boyse, who never looked 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 dutchess of Gordon.

Of a man of this indolence of temper, this sluggish meanness of spirit,
the reader cannot be surprised to find the future conduct consist of a
continued serious of blunders, for he who had not spirit to prosecute an
advantage put in his hands, will neither bear distress with fortitude,
nor struggle to surmount it with resolution.

Boyse at last, having defeated all the kind intentions of his patrons
towards him, fell into a contempt and poverty, which obliged him to quit
Edinburgh, as his creditors began to sollicit the payment of their
debts, with an earnestness not to be trifled with. He communicated his
design of going to London to the dutchess of Gordon; who having still a
very high opinion of his poetical abilities, gave him a letter of
recommendation to Mr. Pope, and obtained another for him to Sir Peter
King, the lord chancellor of England. Lord Stormont recommended him to
the sollicitor-general his brother, and many other persons of the first

Upon receiving these letters, he, with great caution, quitted Edinburgh,
regretted by none but his creditors, who were so exaggerated as to
threaten to prosecute him wherever he should be found. But these menaces
were never carried into execution, perhaps from the consideration of his
indigence, which afforded no probable prospect of their being paid.

Upon his arrival in London, he went to Twickenham, in order to deliver
the dutchess of Gordon's letter to Mr. Pope; but that gentleman not
being at home, Mr. Boyse never gave himself the trouble to repeat his
visit, nor in all probability would Pope have been over-fond of him; as
there was nothing in his conversation which any wife indicated the
abilities he possessed. He frequently related, that he was graciously
received by Sir Peter King, dined at his table, and partook of his
pleasures. But this relation, they who knew Mr. Boyse well, never could
believe; for he was so abject in his disposition, that he never could
look any man in the face whose appearance was better than his own; nor
likely had courage to sit at Sir Peter King's table, where every one was
probably his superior. 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. This want
of spirit produced the greatest part of his calamities, because he; knew
not how to avoid them by any vigorous effort of his mind. He wrote
poems, but those, though excellent in their kind, were lost to the
world, by being introduced with no advantage. 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; and those in higher life he
addressed by letters, not having sufficient confidence or politeness to
converse familiarly with them; a freedom to which he was intitled by the
power of his genius. Thus unfit to support himself in the world, he was
exposed to variety of distress, from which he could invent no means of
extricating himself, but by writing mendicant letters. It will appear
amazing, but impartiality obliges us to relate it, that this man, of so
abject a spirit, was voluptuous and luxurious: He had no taste for any
thing elegant, and yet was to the last degree expensive. Can it be
believed, 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 child were
starving home? This is an instance of base selfishness, for which no
name is as yet invented, and except by another poet[2], with some
variation of circumstances, was perhaps never practiced by the most
sensual epicure.

He had yet some friends, many of the most eminent dissenters, who from a
regard to the memory of his father, afforded him supplies from time to
time. Mr. Boyse by perpetual applications, at last exhausted their
patience; and they were obliged to abandon a man on whom their
liberality was ill bestowed, as it produced no other advantage to him,
than a few days support, when he returned again with the same

The epithet of cold has often been given to charity, perhaps with a
great deal of truth; but if any thing can warrant us to withhold our
charity, it is the consideration that its purposes are prostituted by
those on whom it is bestowed.

We have already taken notice of the infidelity of his wife; and now her
circumstances were reduced, her virtue did not improve. She fell into a
way of life disgraceful to the sex; nor was his behaviour in any degree
more moral. They were frequently covered with ignominy, reproaching one
another for the acquisition of a disease, which both deserved, because
mutually guilty.

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 pawnbroker's,
and he was obliged to be confined to bed, with no other covering than a
blanket. He had little support but what he got by writing letters to his
friends in the most abject stile. He was perhaps ashamed to let this
instance of distress be known to his friends, which might be the
occasion of his remaining six weeks in that situation. 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 the blanket wrapt 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: Whatever he got by those, or any of his begging letters, was but
just sufficient for the preservation of life. And perhaps he would have
remained much longer in this distressful state, had not a compassionate
gentleman, upon hearing this circumstance related, ordered his cloaths
to be taken out of pawn, and enabled him to appear again abroad.

This six weeks penance one would imagine sufficient to deter him for the
future, from suffering himself to be exposed to such distresses; but by
a long habit of want it grew familiar to him, and as he had less
delicacy than other men, he was perhaps less afflicted with his exterior
meanness. For the future, whenever his distresses so press'd, 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

He was once sent for in a hurry, to the house of a printer who had
employed him to write a poem for his Magazine: Boyse then was without
breeches, or waistcoat, but was yet possessed of a coat, which he threw
upon him, and in this ridiculous manner went to the printer's house;
where he found several women, whom his extraordinary appearance obliged
immediately to retire.

He fell upon many strange schemes of raising trifling sums: He sometimes
ordered his wife to inform people that he was just expiring, and by this
artifice work upon their compassion; and many of his friends were
frequently surprised to meet the man in the street to day, to whom they
had yesterday sent relief, as to a person on the verge of death. At
other times he would propose subscriptions for poems, of which only the
beginning and conclusion were written; and by this expedient would
relieve some present necessity. But as he seldom was able to put any of
his poems to the press, his veracity in this particular suffered a
diminution; and indeed in almost every other particular he might justly
be suspected; for if he could but gratify an immediate appetite, he
cared not at what expence, whether of the reputation, or purse of

About the year 1745 Mr. Boyse's wife died. He was then at Reading, and
pretended much concern when he heard of her death.

It was an affectation in Mr. Boyse to appear very fond of a little lap
dog which he always carried about with him in his arms, imagining it
gave him the air of a man of taste. Boyse, whose circumstances were then
too mean to put himself in mourning, was yet resolved that some part of
his family should. He step'd into a little shop, purchased half a yard
of black ribbon, which he fixed round his dog's neck by way of mourning
for the loss of its mistress. But this was not the only ridiculous
instance of his behaviour on the death of his wife. Such was the
sottishness of this man, that when he was in liquor, he always indulged
a dream of his wife's being still alive, and would talk very spightfully
of those by whom he suspected she was entertained. This he never
mentioned however, except in his cups, which was only as often as he had
money to spend. The manner of his becoming intoxicated was very
particular. As he had no spirit to keep good company, so he retired to
some obscure ale-house, 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 compleatly

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Online LibraryTheophilus CibberThe Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V → online text (page 12 of 25)