Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boswell, Alexander (1775-1822)

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BOSWELL, Sir ALEXANDER (1775–1822), antiquary and poet, eldest son of James Boswell the biographer, w as born on 9 Oct. 1775, at the family mansion at Auchinleck, Ayrshire, and named after his grandfather, the Scotch judge, then living there. Along with his brother James he was educated at Westminster and Oxford. At his father's death in 1795 he succeeded to Auchinleck, and in the same vear commenced the tour of Europe. He wrote, at Leipzig, 'Taste Life's glad moments,' a translation of Usteri's poem 'Freu't euch des Lebens.' Being an enthusiastic lover of Burns's poetry, he composed in his native dialect several songs which were exceedingly popular, and in 1803 collected them into a volume, published anonymously, 'Songs chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,' Edin. 8vo. These are very graphic, full of Scotch humour, but coarse at times.

Having settled at Auchinleck, he studied the literature of his country, and imitated the ancient ballad style. In 1803 he published 'The Spirit of Tintoc, or Johnny Bell and the Kelpie,' Edin. 8vo. The same year he published an 'Epistle to the Edinburgh Reviewers,' in verse, by A. B., Edin. 4to. To George Thomson's 'Select Collection of Original Welsh Airs,' Edin. 1809, fol.,he contributed five songs. His next book was anonymous, 'Edinburgh, or the Ancient Royalty ; a sketch of Former Manners,' by Simon Gray, Edin. 1810, 12mo. In 1811, with his name affixed, appeared 'Clan Alpin's Vow,' a fragment, Edin. 8vo (second edition, London, 1817, 8vo). 'Sir Albyn,' a poem, burlesquing the style and rhythm of Scott, was published in 1812. Turning his attention to the literary heirlooms of Auchinleck, in 1811 he published from a manuscript 'A Breefe Memoriall of the Lvfe and Death of Dr. James Spottiswood, bishop of Clogher in Ireland, . . .' Edinb. 4to, and he reprinted from a unique copy of a black-letter work, originally published by Knox himself, the disputation between Quintine Kennedy, Commendatour of Crosraguell and John Knox, entitled 'Ane Oratioune . . . 1561,' Edin. 1812, 4to. To George Thomson's 'Select Collection of Original Irish Airs,' Edin. 1814, fol., he contributed seven songs, of which 'Paddy O'Rafferty' and 'The Pulse of an Irishman' are well known.

In 1815 he established a private press at Auchinleck. A gossiping letter, telling of his difficulties in the undertaking, addressed to Dibdin in 1817, is given in the 'Decameron' along with an engraving of the thatched cottage, his printing office, 'Officina Typographica Straminea.' Here, as first fruits, appeared 'The Tyrant's Fall,' a poem on Waterloo, by Alexander Boswell, Anchinl., printed by A. and J. Boswell, 1815, 8vo; ‘Sheldon Haughs, or the Sow is flitted,' 1816, 8vo, a quaint rendering of an Ayrshire tradition; and ‘The Woo’-creel, or the Bull o’ Allan Ramsay,‘ 1816, a poem after the manner of Allan Ramsay. This year he contributed some lyrics to Campbell's ‘Albyn's Anthology,' Edin. fol. We hear of him continually in the papers of this time. At the animal festival of the Harveian Society of Edinburgh he sang one of his topical songs on the Institution, its founder and members, ‘Song ... Harveian Anniversary,’ Edin. 1816, 8vo. The Society elected him poet laureate, as is shown by a poem published after his death. ‘An Elegiac Ode to the memory of Mr. Harvey ... by Sir Alex. Howell. Poeta Laureatus, Sod. Fil, Æculapii,' in ‘Andrew Duncan's Tribute to Raeburn,' Edin. 1824, 8vo. The works issuing under his editorship from his private press were interesting additions to literature. About 1816 appeared ‘Dialogus pius et festivus inter Deum (ut ferant) et Evam,' then 'Dialogus inter Solomon et Marcolphum,' and afterwards the Roxburghe work the 1598 edition of ‘Poems by Richard Barnfie1d.' 1816, 4to, the gift of his brother James. The series of rare reprints for which the press is chiefly noted is that of several old poems issued at intervals in, 4to, separate and unpaged, each with ‘Finis,’ but afterwards grouped in volumes (annumbered) under the title of ‘Frondes Caducæ,' of which a complete set is very sauce. We give abbreviated titles of the works issued :-- 1 [Vol. i.] 1816, with engraving of the printing-office ‘A Remembrance of Sir Nicholas Bacon . . (by) George Whetstones.' ‘A Remembrance of Judge Sir James Dier ... (by) George Wintston’ ‘ A Remembrance of ... Lord Thomas, late Earle of Sussex,' 1583. [Vol. ii.] 1816. ‘Sir Phillip Sidney, his honourable life ... by G. W[hetstones].' ‘The Mirror of Man, and the Manners of Men . . by Thomas Churchyard.' 1594. ‘A Pleasant Discourse of Court and Wars, by Thomas Churchyard,‘ 1594. ‘A Sad and Solemn Funerall . . . Francis Knowles, Knt., by Thomas Churchyard,’ 1596. The latter is called ‘Churchyard's Cherrishing.' [Vol. iii.] 1817 (with a neat engraving of Linnburn Bridge, by Grace Boswell) ‘A Fig for Momus by T. L[odge],' 1595. [vol. iv.] 1817, ‘A Musicall Consort, called Churchyard’s Charitie,' 1595. ‘ A Praise of Poetrie,' 1595. [vol. v.] 1818, ‘The Scottish Souldier, by [George] Lawder,‘ 1629. [Vol. vi.] 1818, ‘Ane Tractat of a part of ye Yngliss Cronikle . . . from Asloan's Manuscript.’ [Vol vii. and last] 1818, ‘The Buke of the Chess from a manuscript early in the 16th cent. by Jhois Sloane.' In 1817 Boswell contributed twelve songs to George Thomson's ‘Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs,’ London, fol., of which ‘Good night, and joy be wi’ ye a’,’ ‘Jenny's Bawbee,’ and ‘Jenny dang the Weaver’ are still favourites. In 1819 he succeeded the Rev. James William Dodd ns a member of the Roxburghe Club, a well-deserved acknowledgment of his bibliographical reputation.

To Boswell’s enthusiasm Scotland is indebted for the monument erected on the banks of the Doon to Robert Burns. With a friend he advertised a meeting at Ayr on a certain day to consider proposals for honouring the memory of the poet. No one came but themselves; they were not dannted, however, a chairman was elected, resolutions were carried nem. con., thanks to the chair voted, and the meeting separated. The resolutions printed and circulated brought in a public subscription of 2,000l, and he laid the foundation-stone of the memorial on Burns's birthday, 25 Jan. 1820. He was an active magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Argyleshire, and lieutenant-colonel of the Ayrshire cavalry. In 1818 and 1820 he was elected member for Plympton, in Devonshire, and entered on his duties on strict conservative principles, but accepted the Chiltern Hundrerds in 1821. His song ‘Long live George the Fourth,' written, composed, and sung by him at Ayr, on the celebration of his majesty's anniversary, 19 July 1821, was afterwards published, Edin. 1821, fol. In August 1821 he was created a baronet. He married a daughter of David Montgomery, of Lanishaw, a relative of his mother, by whom he had several children. In society he was a general favourite. Croker describes him as a high spirited, clever, and amiable gentleman, of frank and social disposition. Lockheart says that among those who appeared at the ‘dinners without the silver dishes (as Scott called them) was Boswell of Auchinleck, who laid all his father Bozzy's cleverness, good humour, and joviality, withont one touch of his meaner qualities.'

The ‘Beacon ’ (not the ‘Warder,' as Allibone, Dibdin, and others say) had been started as a tory paper at this time, Scott oontributed without any share in directing it. He withdrew on account of its excesses, and after a short existence, Jan, to Aug. 1821, the committee ordered its extinction. It contained bitter pasqninades agaisnt James Stuart of Dunearn (of the house of Moray), a writer to the Signet. Another paper, the ‘Glasgow Sentinal,' a continuation of the ‘Clydesdale Journal,' took the place of the ‘Beacon,' and in its first number, 10 Oct. 1821, with equal rancour but less ability attacked Stuart. Squabbles arose between its proprietors, Robert Alexander and Wm. Murray Borthwick, eventuating in several crown prosecutions and appeals to the House of Commons. Stuart, under a judgment obtained by Alexander against Borthwick, got hold of the office papers, and found to his surprise that his enemy was his half-friend Boswell. Boswell had been to London to attend the funeral of his brother James, and returning to Edinburgh of Saturday night, 23 March 1822, found a card of Lord Rosslyn awaiting him. On the 25th came Stuarts challenge. Boswell would neither deny nor apologise, and on the 26th a duel was fought at the farm of Balbarton, near Kirkcaldy, the seconds being Lord Rosslyn for Stuart, and the Hon. John Douglas, afterwards Marquis of Queensberry, for Boswell. Stuart again endeavoured to effect a reconciliation, but Boswell was obstinate. The duel was with pistols fired at a signal, and Boswell was struck and his collarbone shattered. He died at Balmuto, the seat of his ancestors, the next day, 27 March 1822, in the presence of his wife and family, and was buried at Auchinleck.

In person Boswell was of a powerful, muscular figure; he was very fond of field sports from his youth. Lord Cockburn speaks of his jovial disposition, but censures hls overbearing, boisterous love of ridicaling others. Lockhart gives an interesting account of his last evening at Scott's, a few hours before the fatal event. Several circumstances of his doath are reproduced by Scott in the duel scene of ‘St. Ronan’s Well.' It is curious that his only piece of legislation was the taking change of the act (59 Geo. III, c. 70) which aboslished two old Scottish statutes against duelling. His daughter Janet Teresa, wife of Sir William Francis Eliott of Stobs, died 1836. His only son James, who succeeded him as second and last baronet, married Jessie Jane, daughter of Sir James Montgomery Cuninghame, and died 4 Nav. 1857, leaving two daughters, Julia and Emma, still living.

Stuart was tried for wilful murder at the high court of justiciary, Edinburgh, on 10 June 1822. On the trial Henry Cockburn opened and Francis Jeffrey followed. The jury, without retiring, acquitted the prisoner.

[Croker's Boswell, 1848, 212, 240, 270, 458, 468, 555; Nichols's Illust. v. 469; Edin. Ann. Reg. 1820, 1822; Gent. Mag. xcii. i. 365. new series, 1549, 659, 1850, 623; Anderson’s Hist. of Edin. 366; Thomson’s Collection of Airs,' 1809-17; Campbell's Albyn’s Anthol. 1806; Dibdin's Lit. Rem. 1836; Roxburghe (Club) Revels; Andrews's Brit. Journalism; Townsend‘s State Trials, i. 151; Trial of James Stuart, 1822; Dr. Rogers's Modern Scottish Minstrelsy, ii. 204; Dibdin's Biog. Decam. iii. 454; Lockhart’s Scott, pp. 371, 471, 477; Beacon, Edin. 1821; Glasgow Sentinel, 1821-2; Cockburn‘s Memorials. 398; Times, June 26, 1822, and Boswell's Works.]

J. W.-G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.32
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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429 ii 28 Boswell, Sir Alexander: for 1818 read 1816