Boyse, Samuel (1708–49), poet, translator, and hack writer, was born in Dublin in 1708, son of the Rev. Joseph Boyse (qv), the English-born presbyterian theologian, pamphleteer, and minister to the Wood St. church, Dublin. Educated privately in Dublin, where he was possibly a pupil of Francis Hutcheson (qv), he subsequently attended the University of Glasgow, where his father hoped he would train as a minister. However, while still only 19 he married Emilia Atchenson, a tradesman's daughter, after which he abandoned his studies. Unable to support either himself or his wife in Glasgow and with no plans for his career, he returned to Dublin with his wife and sister-in-law, and moved in with his father, where his notoriously extravagant and idle lifestyle reduced the Rev. Boyse to indigence by the time of his death in 1728.
It was during this period in Dublin that he first made a name for himself as a writer. He came in contact with the circle of Robert, 1st Viscount Molesworth (qv), and in 1726 contributed a letter ‘Liberty’ to the Dublin Weekly Journal, edited by another of Molesworth's protégés, James Arbuckle (qv). He is known to have produced at least one other piece for the journal. His financial difficulties continued, and in 1730 he moved to Edinburgh, where he gained the favour of several influential Scottish aristocrats. Among these were the countess of Eglinton, to whom he dedicated a volume of poetry, Translations and poems (1731), and Viscount Stormont, who provided Boyse with a sizeable donation on reading his elegy to Lady Stormont, The tears of the muses (1736). The duchess of Gordon was similarly convinced of his abilities, and secured him a position in the customs, which he did not take up. She continued to support him after he was forced to leave the city, having built up substantial debts, and after his move to London (1737) she provided him with letters of recommendation to (among others) Alexander Pope and Peter King, the lord chancellor of England, while Lord Stormont gave him an introduction to his brother-in-law, the solicitor-general Lord Mansfield. He failed to use his introductions to their full advantage, most notably when he visited Pope at his home in Twickenham. Finding the poet out, he did not call again.
In London he continued to live hand to mouth, eventually finding work as a Grub Street hack writer. One of his most consistent London employers was Edward Cave, founder of the Gentleman's Magazine, to which Boyse regularly contributed under the pseudonyms ‘Alcaeus’ and ‘Y’. Cave is said to have paid him by the hundred lines. Throughout this period he did manage to produce poetry of considerable merit, most particularly his best-known piece, Deity (1739), which reached its third edition in 1752. It was much admired by the Rev. James Hervey, who, impressed by its pious sentiments, sent him a donation of two guineas on reading the poem. Henry Fielding was also taken with it, giving it a favourable review in The Champion, and subsequently quoting it in his novel Tom Jones (1749). Among Boyse's later publications were his modernised version of Chaucer's Canterbury tales (1741); In praise of peace (1742), translated from the Dutch; and his ode on the battle of Dettingen, Albion's triumph (1743). While living in Reading (1745) he was employed by Cave's brother-in-law David Henry to compile An historical review of the transactions of Europe (1747). Knowledgeable in art, music, and heraldry, he was considered by Samuel Johnson to be a talented translator, producing translations of Voltaire (1738), Fénelon (1749), and Prévost. However, he was also known to pawn the books he was commissioned to translate.
Boyse's destitution and extravagance were considered infamous even by the standards of eighteenth-century literary bohemia. He consistently exceeded his own income, and with what Theophilus Cibber described as a ‘strong propension for grovelling’ (v, 167), regularly resorted to sending begging letters to his associates and friends of his father. Poverty led him to make paper collars and cuffs, and, in one instance, send his wife out to claim he was dying, in the hope of collecting money for funeral expenses. Johnson, who provided many of the anecdotes of his excesses, recalled collecting money to redeem his clothes from the pawnbrokers, only to find they had been pawned again two days later. On one occasion (c.1740) he pawned both his clothes and bed linen, after which he was reduced to staying in bed, where, wrapped in a blanket, he continued to write poetry in an effort to earn some money. In 1742 he was briefly held in a debtor's prison.
Widowed in 1745, in his later years Boyse appears to have led a more orderly life and regretted his earlier extravagances. Details surrounding his death are conflicting. Some accounts suggest he died after being run over by a coach while drunk; however, his friend Francis Stewart, a literary assistant of Johnson, stated his health failed after an assault by a group of soldiers. He appears to have been nursed in his final illness by his second wife, a cutler's widow from Dublin, whom he married in 1748. He died in his lodgings in Shoe Lane in May 1749, and (despite the efforts of friends to collect enough money for his funeral) was buried by the parish of St Bride's. A collection of his verse, Poems on several occasions, was published in 1757.