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 style. 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 clothes 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 pressed 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 tied 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 breeches.
From Cibber, Lives, v. 168-9.
Similar accounts will be found in John Nichols, A Select Collection of Poems (1780-1782), II. 163, and Gentleman's Magazine, xlix (1779), 32.
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