This devoted scholar was a native of Nettlestead, in Suffolk, where he was born January 3rd, 1560. His father William Bois, a convert from papistry, was a pious minister, and a very learned man; and at the time of his death, was Rector of West Stowe. His mother, Mirable Poolye, was a pious woman, and a great reader of the Bible in the older translations. He was the only child that grew up. He was carefully taught by his father; and at the age of five years, he had read the Bible in Hebrew. By the time he was six years old, he not only wrote Hebrew legibly, but in a fair and elegant character. Some of these remarkable manuscripts are still carefully preserved. This precocious scholar, who yet lived to a ripe and hale old age, was sent to school at Hadley, where he was a fellow-student with Bishop Overall. He was admitted to St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1575. He soon distinguished himself by his great skill in Greek, writing letters in that language to the Master and Senior Fellows, when he had been but half a year in College. Bois was a pupil to Dr. Downes, then chief lecturer on the Greek language, who took such delight in his promising disciple, that he treated him with great familiarity, even while he was a freshman. In addition to his lectures, which Dr. Downes read five times in the week, he took the youth to his chambers, where he plied him exceedingly. He there read with him twelve Greek authors, in verse and prose, the hardest that could be found, both for dialect and phrase. It was a common practice with the young enthusiast to go to the University Library at four o’clock in the morning, and stay without intermission till eight in the evening.
When John Bois was elected Fellow of his College in 1580, he was laboring under that formidable disease, the small pox. But, with his usual resolution, rather than lose his seniority, he had himself wrapped in blankets, and was carried to be admitted to his office by his tutors, Henry Coppinger and Andrew Downes. He commenced the study of medicine; but fancying himself affected with every disease he read of, he quitted the study in disgust, and turned his attention to divinity. He was ordained a deacon, June 21st, 1583; and the next day, by a dispensation, he was ordained priest of the Church of England.
For ten years, he was Greek lecturer in his college; and, during that time, he voluntarily lectured, in his own chamber, at four o’clock in the morning, most of the Fellows being in attendance! It may be doubted, whether, at the present day, a teacher and class so zealous could be found at old Cambridge, new Cambridge, or any where else,--not excluding laborious Germany. At this time, Thomas Gataker, afterwards one of the most distinguished of the Westminster Divines, was a pupil to Bois.
On the death of his father, Mr. Bois succeeded to the rectory of West Stowe, but soon resigned it, and went back to his beloved College. The Earl of Shrewsbury made him his chaplain; but this too he soon resigned. When he was about thirty-six years old, Mr. Holt, Rector of Boxworth, died, leaving the advowson of that living in part of a portion to one of his daughters; and requesting of some of his friends, that “if it might be procured, Mr. Bois, of St. John’s College, might become his successor.” The matter being intimated to that gentleman, he went over to take a view of the lady thus singularly portioned, and commended to his favorable regards. The parties soon took a sufficient liking to each other, and the somewhat mature lover was presented to the parsonage by his future bride, and instituted by Archbishop Whitgift, October 13th, 1596. He fulfilled the other part of the bargain, by marrying the lady, February 7th, 1598; and so resigned his beloved Fellowship at St. John’s. He could not, however, wholly separate himself from old associates and pursuits. Ever week he rode over from Boxworth to Cambridge to hear some of the Greek lectures of Downes, and the Hebrew exercises of Lively, and also the divinity-acts and lectures. Every Friday he met with neighboring ministers, to the number of twelve, to give an account of their studies, and to discuss difficult questions. While thus absorbed in studious pursuits, he left his domestic affairs to the management of his wife, whose want of skill in a few years reduced him to bankruptcy. He was forced to part with his chief treasure, and sell his library, which contained one of the most complete and costly collections of Greek literature that had ever been made. This cruel loss so disheartened him, as almost to drive the poor man from his family and his native country. He was, however, sincerely attached to his wife, with whom he lived in great happiness and affection for five and forty years.
In the translation of the Bible, he had a double share. After the completion of the Apocrypha, the portion assigned to his company, the other Cambridge company, to whom was assigned from the Chronicles to the Canticles inclusively, earnestly intreated his assistance, as he was equally distinguished for his skill in Greek and Hebrew. They were the more earnest for his aid, because of the death of their president, Professor Lively, which took place shortly after the work was undertaken. During the four years thus employed, Mr. Bois gave close attention to the duty, from Monday morning to Saturday evening, spending the Sabbaths only at his rectory with his family. For all this labor he received no worldly compensation, except the use of his chambers and his board in commons. When the work had been carried through the first stage, he was one of the twelve delegates sent, two from each of the companies, to make the final revision of the work at Stationers’ Hall, in London. This occupied nine months, during which each member of the committee received thirty shillings per week from John Barker, the King’s printer, to whom the copy-right belonged. Mr. Bois took notes of all the proceedings of this committee.
He rendered a vast amount of aid to his fellow-translator, Sir Henry Savile, in his great literary undertaking, the edition of Chrysostom. Sir Henry speaks of him, in the Preface, as the “most ingenious and most learned Mr. Bois;” and it is said that the aged Professor Downes was so much hurt at the higher commendations bestowed on his quondam pupil’s share in that labor than upon his own, that he never got entirely over it. Mr. Bois, however, did not cease to regard his veteran instructor with the utmost respect and esteem. For his many years of hard labor bestowed upon Chrysostom, he received no compensation, except a single copy of the work. This was probably owing to the sudden demise of Sir Henry Savile, who was intending to make him one of the Fellows of Eton College.
Mr. Bois continued to be quite poor and neglected, till Dr. Lancelot Andrews, then Bishop of Ely, and who had also been employed in the Bible-translation, of his own accord made him a Prebendary of the cathedral church of Ely, in 1615. He there spent the last twenty-eight years of his life, in studious retirement, providing a curate for Boxworth. After his removal to Ely, he visited Boxworth twice a year, to administer the sacraments and preach, and to relieve the wants of the poor. He left, at his death, as many leaves of manuscript as he had lived days in his long life; for even in his old age, he spent eight hours in daily study, mostly reading and correcting ancient authors. Among his writings, was a voluminous commentary in Latin on the Gospels and Acts, which was published some twelve years after his decease.
He was of a social and cheerful disposition, and had a great fund of anecdote at command. He kept up a strict family government. His charity to the necessitous poor was limited only by the bottom of his purse; though he “chode the lazy,” knowing that charity’s eyes should be open, as well as her hands. He was ‘in fastings oft,” sometimes twice in the week; and punctual in all religious duties. His preaching was without notes, though not without much prayer and study. In performing this solemn duty, his main endeavor was to make himself easily understood by the humblest and most ignorant of his hearers. This is a wise and noble trait in one of such a vast acquirements; and one to whom Dalechamp, in dedicating to him a eulogy on Thomas Harrison, said with truth, that he was “in highest esteem with studious foreigners, and second to none in solid attainments in the Greek tongue.” He was so familiar with the Greek Testament, that he could, at any time, turn to any word that it contained.
His manner of living was quite peculiar. He was a great pedestrian all his days. He was also a great rider and swimmer; and possessed a very strong constitution, which all his hard study could not impair. He took but two meals, dinner and supper, and never drank at any other time. He would not study between supper and bed-time; but spent the interval in pleasant discourse with friends. He took special care of his teeth, and carried them nearly all to the grave. Up to his death, his brow was unwrinkled, his sight clear, his hearing quick, his countenance fresh, and head not bald. He ascribed his health and longevity to the observance of three rules, given him by one of his college tutors, Dr. Whitaker: --First, always to study standing; secondly, never to study in a draft of air; and thirdly, never to go to bed with his feet cold!
He had four sons and three daughters. The first-born son died an infant. The second son and eldest daughter he saw married. The third son died of consumption, at the age of thirty, at Ely, where he as a canon in the cathedral. The youngest son died of the small-pox, while a student of St. John’s College. Thus the father was not without his sore afflictions. These seem to have been sanctified to his good. He said of himself, near the end of his life,--”There has not been a day for these many years, in which I have not meditated at least once upon my death.” Thus he met death, at last, with great joy, as an old acquaintance, and long expected friend. Having survived his wife for two lonesome years, Mr. Bois had himself carried about five hours before his end, into the room where she died. He there expired, on the Lord’s Day, January 14th, 1643, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. “He went unto his rest on the day of rest; a man of peace, to the God of peace.”