Boyer, Abel (DNB00)

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BOYER, ABEL (1667–1729), miscellaneous writer, was born on 24 June 1667, at Castres, in Upper Languedoc, where his father, who suffered for his protestant zeal, was one of the two consuls or chief magistrates. Boyer's education at the academy of Puylaurens was interrupted by the religious disturbances, and leaving France with an uncle, a noted Huguenot preacher, he finished his studies at Franeker in Friesland, after a brief episode, it is said, of military service in Holland. Proceeding to England in 1689 he fell into great poverty, and is represented as transcribing and preparing for the press Dr. Thomas Smith's edition of Camden's Latin correspondence (London, 1691). A good classical scholar, Boyer became in 1692 tutor to Allen Bathurst, afterwards first Earl Bathurst, whose father Sir Benjamin was treasurer of the household of the princess, afterwards Queen Anne. Probably through this connection he was appointed French teacher to her son William, duke of Gloucester, for whose use he prepared and to whom he dedicated 'The Complete French Master,' published in 1694. Disappointed of advancement on account of his zeal for whig principles, he abandoned tuition for authorship. In December 1699 he produced on the London stage, with indifferent success, a modified translation in blank verse of Racine's 'Iphigénie,' which was published in 1700 as 'Achilles or Iphigenia in Aulis, a tragedy written by Mr. Boyer.' A second edition of it appeared in 1714 as 'The Victim, or Achilles and Iphigenia in Aulis,' in an 'advertisement' prefixed to which Boyer stated that in its first form it had 'passed the correction and approbation' of Dryden. In 1702 appeared at the Hague the work which has made Boyer's a familiar name, his 'Dictionnaire Royal Français et Anglais, divisé en deux parties,' ostensibly composed for the use of the Duke of Gloucester, then dead. It was much superior to every previous work of the kind, and has been the basis of very many subsequent French-English dictionaries; the last English unabridged edition is that of 1816; the edition published at Paris in 1860 is stated to be the 41st. For the English-French section Boyer claimed the merit of containing a more complete English dictionary than any previous one, the English words and idioms in it being defined and explained as well as accompanied by their French equivalents. In the French preface to the whole work Boyer said that 1,000 English words not in any other English dictionary had been added to his by Richard Savage, whom he spoke of as his friend, and who assisted him in several of his French manuals and miscellaneous compilations and translations published subsequently. Among the English versions of French works executed in whole or in part by Boyer was a popular translation of Fénelon's 'Télémaque,' of which a twelfth edition appeared in 1728.

In 1702 Boyer published a 'History of William III,' which included one of James II, and in 1703 he began to issue 'The History of the Reign of Queen Anne digested into annals,' a yearly register of political and miscellaneous occurrences, containing several plans and maps illustrating the military operations of the war of the Spanish succession. Before the last volume, the eleventh, of this work appeared in 1713, he had commenced the publication of a monthly periodical of the same kind, 'The Political State of Great Britain, being an impartial account of the most material occurrences, ecclesiastical, civil, and military, in a monthly letter to a friend in Holland' (38 volumes, 1711-29). Its contents, which were those of a monthly newspaper, included abstracts of the chief political pamphlets published on both sides, and, like the 'Annals,' is, both from its form and matter, very useful for reference. 'The Political State' is, moreover, particularly noticeable as being the first periodical, issued at brief intervals, which contained a parliamentary chronicle, and in which parliamentary debates were reported with comparative regularity and with some approximation to accuracy. In the case of the House of Lords' reports various devices, such as giving only the initials of the names of the speakers, were resorted to in order to escape punishment, but in the case of the House of Commons the entire names were frequently given. According to Boyer's own account (preface to his folio History of Queen Anne, and to vol. xxxvii. of the 'Political State) he had been furnished by members of both houses of parliament (among whom he mentioned Lord Stanhope) with reports of their speeches, and he had even succeeded in becoming an occasional 'ear-witness' of the debates themselves. When he was threatened at the beginning of 1729 with arrest by the printers of the votes, whose monopoly they accused him of infringing, he asserted that for thirty years in his 'History of King William,' his 'Annals,' and in his 'Political State,' he had given reports of parliamentary debates without being molested. The threat induced him to discontinue the publication of the debates. He intended to resume the work, but failed to carry out his intention (see Gent. Mag. for November 1856, Autobiography of Sylvanus Urban). He died on 16 Nov. 1729, in a house which he had built for himself at Chelsea.

Besides conducting the periodicals mentioned, Boyer began in 1705 to edit the 'Post-boy,' a thrice-a-week London news-sheet. His connection with it ended in August 1709, through a quarrel with the proprietor, when Boyer started on his own account a 'True Post-boy,' which seems to have been short-lived. A 'Case' which he printed in vindication of his right to use the name of 'Post-boy ' for his new venture gives some curious particulars of the way in which the news-sheets of the time were manufactured. Boyer was also the author of pamphlets, in one of which, 'An Account of the State and Progress of the present Negotiations of Peace,' he attacked Swift, who writes in the 'Journal to Stella' (16 Oct. 1711), after dining with Bolingbroke: 'One Boyer, a French dog, has abused me in a pamphlet, and I have got him up in a messenger's hands. The secretary '—St. John—' promises me to swinge him. … I must make that rogue an example for warning to others.' Boyer was discharged from custody through the intervention, he says, of Harley, to whom he boasts of having rendered services (Annals of Queen Anne, vol. for 1711, pp. 264-5). Though he professed a strict political impartiality in the conduct of his principal periodicals, Boyer was a zealous whig. For this reason doubtless Pope gave him a niche in the 'Dunciad' (book ii. 413), where, under the soporific influence of Dulness, 'Boyer the state, and Law the stage gave o'er'—his crime, according to Pope's explanatory note, being that he was 'a voluminous compiler of annals, political collections, &c.'

Of Boyer's other writings—the list of those of them which are in the library of the British Museum occupies nearly four folio pages of print in its new catalogue—mention may be made of his folio 'History of Queen Anne' (1722, second edition 1735), with maps and plans illustrating Marlborough's campaigns, and 'a regular series of all the medals that were struck to commemorate the great events of this reign;' and the 'Memoirs of the Life and Negotiations of Sir William Temple, Bart., containing the most important occurrences and the most secret springs of affairs in Christendom from the year 1655 to the year 1681; with an account of Sir W. Temple's writings,' published anonymously in 1714, second edition 1715. Boyer's latest production—in composing which he seems to have been assisted by a 'Mr. J. Innes'—was 'Le Grand Théâtre de 1'Honneur,' French and English, 1729, containing a dictionary of heraldic terms and a treatise on heraldry, with engravings of the arms of the sovereign princes and states of Europe. It was published by subscription and dedicated to Frederick, prince of Wales.

[Boyer's Works; obituary notice in vol. xxxviii. of Political State, of which the Memoir in Baker's Biographia Dramatica, 1812, is mainly a reproduction; Haag's La France Protestante, 2nd edition, 1881; Genest's Account of the English Stage, ii. 166-9; Catalogue of the British Museum Library.]

F. E.