Boston, Thomas

, a popular and learned Scotch divine, was born in the town of Dunse, March 17, 1676, and educated at the grammar school of that place, where he was taught the elements of Latin, Greek, rhetoric, and arithmetic. In 1692, he went to the university of Edinburgh, where he went through the usual courses for three years, and entered on the study of divinity. In 1695, he returned home with ample testimonials of his diligence and good character. Next year he taught school at Glencairn for a short time, and then was appointed tutor to a young gentleman of family at Edinburgh, where he continued the study of divinity, until he accompanied his pupil into the country. In 1699, after the usual trials before the presbytery, he was licenced to preach the gospel, as a probationer for the ministry, agreeably to the forms of the church of Scotland, and in September of that year was ordained to the Jiving of Simprin, one of the smallest in Scotland. In the following year he married Katherine Brown, whom he describes as a woman possessed of many valuable qualifications. In May 1707, he exchanged the living of Simprin for that of Etterick, on which he remained until his death. About this time he began to improve his knowledge in the Hebrew, having before only read the Psalter, but 1771 was, according to his own account, “the happy year wherein he was first master (possessor) of a Hebrew Bible, and began the study of it;” and some day, which he forgot, in Oct 1712, was the Happiest day in his life, for he then borrowed “Cross’s Taghmical Art.” More than half his cares and anxieties alter this related to the Hebrew accents. About this time, he was one of the clergy of | Scotland, who refused taking the oath of abjuration, and in dread of the penalty, made over his little property to one of his sons, and another person, but it does not appear that the penalty was ever levied. Returning in 1715 to the study of the “Taghmical Art,” after incredible pains, he found that he could make nothing of it; but still persevering, he became persuaded that the accents are the key to the true version of the Hebrew text, and the intrinsic light which illuminates it. Compared to this, as to him, the digging in the mines of Peru was but a trifle. From this time he began to write, as leisure permitted, a work on the accents, accompanying his labours with constant prayer, particularly that he might be instructed in the secrets of double accentuation, which he had not been able to comprehend. All this zeal and industry at length produced an “Essay on the Hebrew accentuation,” which he exhibited in manuscript to some learned friends, who gave him various degrees of encouragement, but he often met with delays and evasions which occasioned great uneasiness to the good man. It being supposed that there were few persons in Great Britain very much interested in the Hebrew accents, he was advised to translate it into Latin that it might circulate among the learned on the continent. Accordingly he began his translation, and as a help to his style, he mentions the following expedient, which perhaps others have made use of on similar occasions. “As I went on, I read something of Cicero, in my leisure hours, for the language, and noted in a book some terms and phraser, taken from him and others: particularly out of Calepin’s dictionary, which Providence had in the year 1724 laid to my hand, when 1 knew not for what use it was designed, and to this collection 1 had frequent recourse, while I wrote that book: and found it to be of good use to me. I had formerly, upon occasion of appearing in print, done the same as to the English tongue: by which means my style, that I had been careless of before, was now somewhat refined.” This work, which he pursued with uncommon enthusiasm, and which was to prove the antiquity and divine authority of the Hebrew accents, was occasionally interrupted by his public services, and the publication of some of his practical works, particularly “The Fourfold State,” in 1720. That on the Hebrew accents did not appear until 1738, when it was published at Amsterdam under the care of the learned David Mill, professor of Oriental languages | in the university of Utrecht, in a quarto volume entitled “Thomæ Boston ecclesiæ Atricensis apud Scotos pastoris, Tractatus Stigmologicus Hebraeo-Biblicus,” dedicated to sir Richard Ellys, who had been very friendly to Boston in the prosecution of his studies on this subject. Mr. Boston died May 20, 1732. His works in practical divinity, which are still well known and popular in Scotland, were collected in a large fol. volume in 1768, and since that time others, particularly his “Body of Divinity,” 3 vols. 8vo. 1773, have been published from his Mss. but this last mentioned work is eked out by extracts from other authors witnout acknowledgment, a disingenuous artifice of which the author never would have been guilty. The most remarkable of his posthumous pieces is the “Memoirs of his Lite, Time, and Writings,” written by himself, a closely printed octavo volume, 1776. This is in the form of a diary, tedious and minute beyond all precedent, but evincing a wonderful simplicity of heart, ignorance of the world, and a mind continually harrassed by conscientious scruples about the merest trifles; much of it, however, may be interesting to curious inquirers, as exhibiting characteristics of the manners and sentiments of the Scotch clergy of the seventeenth and part of the eighteenth century. 1


Memoirs ubt snpra.