Hugh Stuart Boyd

Hugh Stuart Boyd (1781–1848)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 339–341.

He came from a wealthy family in Ireland, with an estate at Ballycastle, County Antrim. His father, Hugh McAuley Boyd, a friend of William Pitt, was prominent enough to be suspected as author of the anonymous “Junius” letters, critical of government policy, which stirred a British teapot-tempest in the late 1700’s (see letter 391). At Hampstead, in London, the young Boyd eagerly studied Greek under a tutor—Mr. Spowers—who taught him the same manner of pronunciation that was championed by another close EBB friend, Uvedale Price. Boyd studied at Westminster School and at Pembroke College, Cambridge, but took no degree. During his time at Cambridge, he wrote a tragedy, Luceria, that was dismissed as “deficient in interest” by the manager of the Drury Lane theatre when Boyd submitted the play to him. Despite this negative criticism, Boyd proceeded to publish the tragedy in 1806. In 1805 he married Ann Lowry, daughter of the well-known engraver, Wilson Lowry. They had one daughter, Ann Henrietta, who was of about the same age as EBB. Boyd never established a genuine family residence, moving from place to place as circumstances dictated. He never worked, but lived on income from his Irish estate. He developed ophthalmia in 1811, and by the time he met EBB was completely blind. Before losing his sight, however, he read and memorized vast amounts of ancient Greek writings. He was extremely opinionated in his Greek studies and in anti-Catholic religious views. He was a friend and admirer of the noted theologian Adam Clarke (1762?–1832). He also had a deep interest in campanology. For one reason or another, in 1825 Boyd settled in the Malvern area not far from Hope End. EBB’s An Essay on Mind attracted his attention and sparked a correspondence that gradually developed into an intimate relationship. It has been pointed out that the pedantic style of this Essay, which EBB herself eventually acknowledged, was precisely the quality which appealed to the eccentric scholar. Boyd himself published numerous translations of early Greek works, and made some undistinguished attempts at original writing. He was one of the few people in the Hope End area with whom EBB could communicate on her own intellectual level. As Robert Coles, a psychoanalyst, said, his was “a mind whose company made the world seem more hopeful, responsive and encouraging” ( Diary, p. xliv). The story of their friendship is well documented in EBB’s letters to Boyd. Most of his letters to her have, unfortunately, disappeared. The correspondence as we know it deals mostly with Greek literature, though there is also lighthearted bantering about cats, bells, etc. It began in early 1827, but, because of obstacles imposed by EBB’s father, the two did not actually meet until over a year later. She eventually made frequent visits to his home, reading Greek to him and studying it under his supervision, and occasionally writing letters at his dictation. The attachment between them, certainly on the part of EBB, seemed obsessive, despite the presence of a wife and daughter in the Boyd household. But eventually, in May 1832, his Malvern lease having expired, Boyd moved to Bathampton. This was shortly before the Moulton-Barretts’ move from Hope End to Sidmouth. Boyd eventually came himself to Sidmouth, but there was unpleasantness on account of Mrs. Boyd’s remaining behind for a considerable length of time at Bathampton. During the Sidmouth period, EBB began to recognize more clearly some of Boyd’s weaknesses—his eccentricities, childishness and prejudices—but she never abandoned her friendship toward him. The Boyds went to Bath while the Moulton-Barretts were still at Sidmouth, but by 1834 the Boyds were in London, where Mrs. Boyd died. When the Moulton-Barretts moved to London later, EBB frequently visited Boyd, as did her sister Arabella. Their direct contact was interrupted, of course, during EBB’s stay at Torquay. Later, though physically blind, Boyd “saw” clearly what was going on between EBB and RB, and he approved. After the secret marriage ceremony, she went directly to his home to rest. She did not, however, conduct much correspondence with him after leaving England. Boyd died in London on 10 May 1848. EBB, in Italy, paid tribute to him with three sonnets (see Reconstruction, D350–355).

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