Boswell, Sir Alexander 1775-1822, antiquary and poet, eldest son of James Boswell the biographer, was 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 year 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 Lyfe 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, Auchinl., 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' Bashun, 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 annual 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 Dr. Harvey — by Sir Alex. Boswell, Poeta Laureatus, Sod. Fil. Æsculapii, 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 ferunt) et Evam, then Dialogus inter Solomon et Marcolphum, and afterwards the Roxburghe work, the 1598 edition of Poems by Richard Barnfield, 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 (unnumbered) under the title of Frondes Caducæ, of which a complete set is very scarce. We give abbreviated titles of the works issued:—[Vol. i.] 1816, with engraving of the printing-office. A Remembraunce of Sir Nicholas Bacon (by) George Whetstones. A Remembrance of Judge Sir James Dier — (by) George Whetstons. A Remembrance of — Lord Thomas, late Earle of Sussex, 1583. [Vol. ii.] 1816, Sir Phillip Sidney, his honorable 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 as 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 daunted, 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 1816 and 1820 he was elected member for Plympton, in Devonshire, and entered on his duties on strict conservative principles, but accepted the Chiltern Hundreds 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. Lockhart says that among those who appeared at the dinners without the silver dishes (as Scott called them) was Boswell of Auchinleck, who had all his father Bozzy's cleverness, good humour, and joviality, without 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 contributed 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 pasquinades against James Stuart of Dunearn (of the house of Moray), a writer to the Signet. Another paper, the Glasgow Sentinel, 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 on Saturday night, 23 March 1822, found a card of Lord Rosslyn awaiting him. On the 25th came Stuart's 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 his overbearing, boisterous love of ridiculing others. Lockhart gives an interesting account of his last evening at Scott's, a few hours before the fatal event. Several circumstances of his death 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 charge of the act (59 Geo. III, c. 70) which abolished 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 Nov. 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, 1849, 659, 1850, 523
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 Ministrelsy, 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.
Contributor: J. W. G. [John Westby-Gibson]