Lives of the Poets: Addison, Savage, etc.
Samuel Johnson

Part 2 out of 4

from oppression, or call in law to the assistance of justice, her
will was eluded by the executors, and no part of the money was ever
paid. He was, however, not yet wholly abandoned. The Lady Mason
still continued her care, and directed him to be placed at a small
grammar school near St. Albans, where he was called by the name of
his nurse, without the least intimation that he had a claim to any
other. Here he was initiated in literature, and passed through
several of the classes, with what rapidity or with what applause
cannot now be known. As he always spoke with respect of his master,
it is probable that the mean rank in which he then appeared did not
hinder his genius from being distinguished, or his industry from
being rewarded; and if in so low a state he obtained distinctions
and rewards, it is not likely that they were gained but by genius
and industry.

It is very reasonable to conjecture that his application was equal
to his abilities, because his improvement was more than proportioned
to the opportunities which he enjoyed; nor can it be doubted that if
his earliest productions had been preserved, like those of happier
students, we might in some have found vigorous sallies of that
sprightly humour which distinguishes "The Author to be Let," and in
others strong touches of that imagination which painted the solemn
scenes of "The Wanderer."

While he was thus cultivating his genius, his father, the Earl
Rivers, was seized with a distemper, which in a short time put an
end to his life. He had frequently inquired after his son, and had
always been amused with fallacious and evasive answers; but being
now in his own opinion on his death-bed, he thought it his duty to
provide for him among his other natural children, and therefore
demanded a positive account of him, with an importunity not to be
diverted or denied. His mother, who could no longer refuse an
answer, determined at least to give such as should cut him off for
ever from that happiness which competence affords, and therefore
declared that he was dead; which is perhaps the first instance of a
lie invented by a mother to deprive her son of a provision which was
designed him by another, and which she could not expect herself,
though he should lose it. This was therefore an act of wickedness
which could not be defeated, because it could not be suspected; the
earl did not imagine that there could exist in a human form a mother
that would ruin her son without enriching herself, and therefore
bestowed upon some other person six thousand pounds which he had in
his will bequeathed to Savage.

The same cruelty which incited his mother to intercept this
provision which had been intended him, prompted her in a short time
to another project, a project worthy of such a disposition. She
endeavoured to rid herself from the danger of being at any time made
known to him, by sending him secretly to the American Plantations.
By whose kindness this scheme was counteracted, or by whose
interposition she was induced to lay aside her design, I know not;
it is not improbable that the Lady Mason might persuade or compel
her to desist, or perhaps she could not easily find accomplices
wicked enough to concur in so cruel an action; for it may be
conceived that those who had by a long gradation of guilt hardened
their hearts against the sense of common wickedness, would yet be
shocked at the design of a mother to expose her son to slavery and
want, to expose him without interest, and without provocation; and
Savage might on this occasion find protectors and advocates among
those who had long traded in crimes, and whom compassion had never
touched before.

Being hindered, by whatever means, from banishing him into another
country, she formed soon after a scheme for burying him in poverty
and obscurity in his own; and that his station of life, if not the
place of his residence, might keep him for ever at a distance from
her, she ordered him to be placed with a shoemaker in Holborn, that,
after the usual time of trial, he might become his apprentice.

It is generally reported that this project was for some time
successful, and that Savage was employed at the awl longer than he
was willing to confess: nor was it perhaps any great advantage to
him, that an unexpected discovery determined him to quit his

About this time his nurse, who had always treated him as her own
son, died; and it was natural for him to take care of those effects
which by her death were, as he imagined, become his own: he
therefore went to her house, opened her boxes, and examined her
papers, among which he found some letters written to her by the Lady
Mason, which informed him of his birth, and the reasons for which it
was concealed. He was no longer satisfied with the employment which
had been allotted him, but thought he had a right to share the
affluence of his mother; and therefore without scruple applied to
her as her son, and made use of every art to awaken her tenderness
and attract her regard. But neither his letters, nor the
interposition of those friends which his merit or his distress
procured him, made any impression on her mind. She still resolved
to neglect, though she could no longer disown him. It was to no
purpose that he frequently solicited her to admit him to see her;
she avoided him with the most vigilant precaution, and ordered him
to be excluded from her house, by whomsoever he might be introduced,
and what reason soever he might give for entering it.

Savage was at the same time so touched with the discovery of his
real mother, that it was his frequent practice to walk in the dark
evenings for several hours before her door, in hopes of seeing her
as she might come by accident to the window, or cross her apartment
with a candle in her hand. But all his assiduity and tenderness
were without effect, for he could neither soften her heart nor open
her hand, and was reduced to the utmost miseries of want, while he
was endeavouring to awaken the affection of a mother. He was
therefore obliged to seek some other means of support; and, having
no profession, became by necessity an author.

At this time the attention of the literary world was engrossed by
the Bangorian controversy, which filled the press with pamphlets,
and the coffee-houses with disputants. Of this subject, as most
popular, he made choice for his first attempt, and, without any
other knowledge of the question than he had casually collected from
conversation, published a poem against the bishop. What was the
success or merit of this performance I know not; it was probably
lost among the innumerable pamphlets to which that dispute gave
occasion. Mr. Savage was himself in a little time ashamed of it,
and endeavoured to suppress it, by destroying all the copies that he
could collect. He then attempted a more gainful kind of writing,
and in his eighteenth year offered to the stage a comedy borrowed
from a Spanish plot, which was refused by the players, and was
therefore given by him to Mr. Bullock, who, having more interest,
made some slight alterations, and brought it upon the stage, under
the title of Woman's a Riddle, but allowed the unhappy author no
part of the profit.

Not discouraged, however, at his repulse, he wrote two years
afterwards Love in a Veil, another comedy, borrowed likewise from
the Spanish, but with little better success than before; for though
it was received and acted, yet it appeared so late in the year, that
the author obtained no other advantage from it than the acquaintance
of Sir Richard Steele and Mr. Wilks, by whom he was pitied,
caressed, and relieved.

Sir Richard Steele, having declared in his favour with all the
ardour of benevolence which constituted his character, promoted his
interest with the utmost zeal, related his misfortunes, applauded
his merit, took all the opportunities of recommending him, and
asserted that "the inhumanity of his mother had given him a right to
find every good man his father." Nor was Mr. Savage admitted to his
acquaintance only, but to his confidence, of which he sometimes
related an instance too extraordinary to be omitted, as it affords a
very just idea of his patron's character. He was once desired by
Sir Richard, with an air of the utmost importance, to come very
early to his house the next morning. Mr. Savage came as he had
promised, found the chariot at the door, and Sir Richard waiting for
him, and ready to go out. What was intended, and whither they were
to go, Savage could not conjecture, and was not willing to inquire;
but immediately seated himself with Sir Richard. The coachman was
ordered to drive, and they hurried with the utmost expedition to
Hyde Park Corner, where they stopped at a petty tavern, and retired
to a private room. Sir Richard then informed him that he intended
to publish a pamphlet, and that he had desired him to come thither
that he might write for him. He soon sat down to the work. Sir
Richard dictated, and Savage wrote, till the dinner that had been
ordered was put upon the table. Savage was surprised at the
meanness of the entertainment, and after some hesitation ventured to
ask for wine, which Sir Richard, not without reluctance, ordered to
be brought. They then finished their dinner, and proceeded in their
pamphlet, which they concluded in the afternoon.

Mr. Savage then imagined his task over, and expected that Sir
Richard would call for the reckoning, and return home; but his
expectations deceived him, for Sir Richard told him that he was
without money, and that the pamphlet must be sold before the dinner
could be paid for; and Savage was therefore obliged to go and offer
their new production to sale for two guineas, which with some
difficulty he obtained. Sir Richard then returned home, having
retired that day only to avoid his creditors, and composed the
pamphlet only to discharge his reckoning.

Mr. Savage related another fact equally uncommon, which, though it
has no relation to his life, ought to be preserved. Sir Richard
Steele having one day invited to his house a great number of persons
of the first quality, they were surprised at the number of liveries
which surrounded the table; and after dinner, when wine and mirth
had set them free from the observation of a rigid ceremony, one of
them inquired of Sir Richard how such an expensive train of
domestics could be consistent with his fortune. Sir Richard very
frankly confessed that they were fellows of whom he would very
willingly be rid. And being then asked why he did not discharge
them, declared that they were bailiffs, who had introduced
themselves with an execution, and whom, since he could not send them
away, he had thought it convenient to embellish with liveries, that
they might do him credit while they stayed. His friends were
diverted with the expedient, and by paying the debt, discharged
their attendance, having obliged Sir Richard to promise that they
should never again find him graced with a retinue of the same kind.

Under such a tutor, Mr. Savage was not likely to learn prudence or
frugality; and perhaps many of the misfortunes which the want of
those virtues brought upon him in the following parts of his life,
might be justly imputed to so unimproving an example. Nor did the
kindness of Sir Richard end in common favours. He proposed to have
established him in some settled scheme of life, and to have
contracted a kind of alliance with him, by marrying him to a natural
daughter, on whom he intended to bestow a thousand pounds. But
though he was always lavish of future bounties, he conducted his
affairs in such a manner that he was very seldom able to keep his
promises, or execute his own intentions; and, as he was never able
to raise the sum which he had offered, the marriage was delayed. In
the meantime he was officiously informed that Mr. Savage had
ridiculed him; by which he was so much exasperated that he withdrew
the allowance which he had paid him, and never afterwards admitted
him to his house.

It is not, indeed, unlikely that Savage might by his imprudence
expose himself to the malice of a talebearer; for his patron had
many follies, which, as his discernment easily discovered, his
imagination might sometimes incite him to mention too ludicrously.
A little knowledge of the world is sufficient to discover that such
weakness is very common, and that there are few who do not
sometimes, in the wantonness of thoughtless mirth, or the heat of
transient resentment, speak of their friends and benefactors with
levity and contempt, though in their cooler moments they want
neither sense of their kindness nor reverence for their virtue; the
fault, therefore, of Mr. Savage was rather negligence than
ingratitude. But Sir Richard must likewise be acquitted of
severity, for who is there that can patiently bear contempt from one
whom he has relieved and supported, whose establishment he has
laboured, and whose interest he has promoted?

He was now again abandoned to fortune without any other friend than
Mr. Wilks; a man who, whatever were his abilities or skill as an
actor, deserves at least to be remembered for his virtues, which are
not often to be found in the world, and perhaps less often in his
profession than in others. To be humane, generous, and candid is a
very high degree of merit in any case; but those qualifications
deserve still greater praise when they are found in that condition
which makes almost every other man, for whatever reason,
contemptuous, insolent, petulant, selfish, and brutal.

As Mr. Wilks was one of those to whom calamity seldom complained
without relief, he naturally took an unfortunate wit into his
protection, and not only assisted him in any casual distresses, but
continued an equal and steady kindness to the time of his death. By
this interposition Mr. Savage once obtained from his mother fifty
pounds, and a promise of one hundred and fifty more; but it was the
fate of this unhappy man that few promises of any advantage to him
were performed. His mother was infected, among others, with the
general madness of the South Sea traffic; and having been
disappointed in her expectations, refused to pay what perhaps
nothing but the prospect of sudden affluence prompted her to

Being thus obliged to depend upon the friendship of Mr. Wilks, he
was consequently an assiduous frequenter of the theatres: and in a
short time the amusements of the stage took such possession of his
mind that he never was absent from a play in several years. This
constant attendance naturally procured him the acquaintance of the
players, and, among others, of Mrs. Oldfield, who was so much
pleased with his conversation, and touched with his misfortunes,
that she allowed him a settled pension of fifty pounds a year, which
was during her life regularly paid. That this act of generosity may
receive its due praise, and that the good actions of Mrs. Oldfield
may not be sullied by her general character, it is proper to mention
that Mr. Savage often declared, in the strongest terms, that he
never saw her alone, or in any other place than behind the scenes.

At her death he endeavoured to show his gratitude in the most decent
manner, by wearing mourning as for a mother; but did not celebrate
her in elegies, because he knew that too great a profusion of praise
would only have revived those faults which his natural equity did
not allow him to think less because they were committed by one who
favoured him; but of which, though his virtue would not endeavour to
palliate them, his gratitude would not suffer him to prolong the
memory or diffuse the censure.

In his "Wanderer" he has indeed taken an opportunity of mentioning
her; but celebrates her not for her virtue, but her beauty, an
excellence which none ever denied her: this is the only encomium
with which he has rewarded her liberality, and perhaps he has even
in this been too lavish of his praise. He seems to have thought
that never to mention his benefactress would have an appearance of
ingratitude, though to have dedicated any particular performance to
her memory would have only betrayed an officious partiality, and
that without exalting her character would have depressed his own.
He had sometimes, by the kindness of Mr. Wilks, the advantage of a
benefit, on which occasions he often received uncommon marks of
regard and compassion; and was once told by the Duke of Dorset that
it was just to consider him as an injured nobleman, and that in his
opinion the nobility ought to think themselves obliged, without
solicitation, to take every opportunity of supporting him by their
countenance and patronage. But he had generally the mortification
to hear that the whole interest of his mother was employed to
frustrate his applications, and that she never left any expedient
untried by which he might be cut off from the possibility of
supporting life. The same disposition she endeavoured to diffuse
among all those over whom nature or fortune gave her any influence,
and indeed succeeded too well in her design; but could not always
propagate her effrontery with her cruelty; for some of those whom
she incited against him were ashamed of their own conduct, and
boasted of that relief which they never gave him. In this censure I
do not indiscriminately involve all his relations; for he has
mentioned with gratitude the humanity of one lady, whose name I am
now unable to recollect, and to whom, therefore, I cannot pay the
praises which she deserves for having acted well in opposition to
influence, precept, and example.

The punishment which our laws inflict upon those parents who murder
their infants is well known, nor has its justice ever been
contested; but, if they deserve death who destroy a child in its
birth, what pain can be severe enough for her who forbears to
destroy him only to inflict sharper miseries upon him; who prolongs
his life only to make him miserable; and who exposes him, without
care and without pity, to the malice of oppression, the caprices of
chance, and the temptations of poverty; who rejoices to see him
overwhelmed with calamities; and, when his own industry, or the
charity of others, has enabled him to rise for a short time above
his miseries, plunges him again into his former distress?

The kindness of his friends not affording him any constant supply,
and the prospect of improving his fortune by enlarging his
acquaintance necessarily leading him to places of expense, he found
it necessary to endeavour once more at dramatic poetry; for which he
was now better qualified by a more extensive knowledge and longer
observation. But having been unsuccessful in comedy, though rather
for want of opportunities than genius, he resolved to try whether he
should not be more fortunate in exhibiting a tragedy. The story
which he chose for the subject was that of Sir Thomas Overbury, a
story well adapted to the stage, though perhaps not far enough
removed from the present age to admit properly the fictions
necessary to complete the plan; for the mind, which naturally loves
truth, is always most offended with the violation of those truths of
which we are most certain; and we of course conceive those facts
most certain which approach nearer to our own time. Out of this
story he formed a tragedy, which, if the circumstances in which he
wrote it be considered, will afford at once an uncommon proof of
strength of genius and evenness of mind, of a serenity not to be
ruffled and an imagination not to be suppressed.

During a considerable part of the time in which he was employed upon
this performance, he was without lodging, and often without meat;
nor had he any other conveniences for study than the fields or the
streets allowed him; there he used to walk and form his speeches,
and afterwards step into a shop, beg for a few moments the use of
the pen and ink, and write down what he had composed upon paper
which he had picked up by accident.

If the performance of a writer thus distressed is not perfect, its
faults ought surely to be imputed to a cause very different from
want of genius, and must rather excite pity than provoke censure.
But when, under these discouragements, the tragedy was finished,
there yet remained the labour of introducing it on the stage, an
undertaking which, to an ingenuous mind, was in a very high degree
vexatious and disgusting; for, having little interest or reputation,
he was obliged to submit himself wholly to the players, and admit,
with whatever reluctance, the emendations of Mr. Cibber, which he
always considered as the disgrace of his performance. He had,
indeed, in Mr. Hill another critic of a very different class, from
whose friendship he received great assistance on many occasions, and
whom he never mentioned but with the utmost tenderness and regard.
He had been for some time distinguished by him with very particular
kindness, and on this occasion it was natural to apply to him as an
author of an established character. He therefore sent this tragedy
to him, with a short copy of verses, in which he desired his
correction. Mr. Hill, whose humanity and politeness are generally
known, readily complied with his request; but as he is remarkable
for singularity of sentiment, and bold experiments in language, Mr.
Savage did not think this play much improved by his innovation, and
had even at that time the courage to reject several passages which
he could not approve; and, what is still more laudable, Mr. Hill had
the generosity not to resent the neglect of his alterations, but
wrote the prologue and epilogue, in which he touches on the
circumstances of the author with great tenderness.

After all these obstructions and compliances, he was only able to
bring his play upon the stage in the summer, when the chief actors
had retired, and the rest were in possession of the house for their
own advantage. Among these, Mr. Savage was admitted to play the
part of Sir Thomas Overbury, by which he gained no great reputation,
the theatre being a province for which nature seems not to have
designed him; for neither his voice, look, nor gesture were such as
were expected on the stage, and he was so much ashamed of having
been reduced to appear as a player, that he always blotted out his
name from the list when a copy of his tragedy was to be shown to his

In the publication of his performance he was more successful, for
the rays of genius that glimmered in it, that glimmered through all
the mists which poverty and Cibber had been able to spread over it,
procured him the notice and esteem of many persons eminent for their
rank, their virtue, and their wit. Of this play, acted, printed,
and dedicated, the accumulated profits arose to a hundred pounds,
which he thought at that time a very large sum, having been never
master of so much before.

In the dedication, for which he received ten guineas, there is
nothing remarkable. The preface contains a very liberal encomium on
the blooming excellence of Mr. Theophilus Cibber, which Mr. Savage
could not in the latter part of his life see his friends about to
read without snatching the play out of their hands. The generosity
of Mr. Hill did not end on this occasion; for afterwards, when Mr.
Savage's necessities returned, he encouraged a subscription to a
Miscellany of Poems in a very extraordinary manner, by publishing
his story in the Plain Dealer, with some affecting lines, which he
asserts to have been written by Mr. Savage upon the treatment
received by him from his mother, but of which he was himself the
author, as Mr. Savage afterwards declared. These lines, and the
paper in which they were inserted, had a very powerful effect upon
all but his mother, whom, by making her cruelty more public, they
only hardened in her aversion.

Mr. Hill not only promoted the subscription to the Miscellany, but
furnished likewise the greatest part of the poems of which it is
composed, and particularly "The Happy Man," which he published as a

The subscriptions of those whom these papers should influence to
patronise merit in distress, without any other solicitation, were
directed to be left at Button's Coffee-house; and Mr. Savage going
thither a few days afterwards, without expectation of any effect
from his proposal, found, to his surprise, seventy guineas, which
had been sent him in consequence of the compassion excited by Mr.
Hill's pathetic representation.

To this Miscellany he wrote a preface, in which he gives an account
of his mother's cruelty in a very uncommon strain of humour, and
with a gaiety of imagination which the success of his subscription
probably produced. The dedication is addressed to the Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu, whom he flatters without reserve, and, to confess
the truth, with very little art. The same observation may be
extended to all his dedications: his compliments are constrained
and violent, heaped together without the grace of order, or the
decency of introduction. He seems to have written his panegyrics
for the perusal only of his patrons, and to imagine that he had no
other task than to pamper them with praises, however gross, and that
flattery would make its way to the heart, without the assistance of
elegance or invention.

Soon afterwards the death of the king furnished a general subject
for a poetical contest, in which Mr. Savage engaged, and is allowed
to have carried the prize of honour from his competitors: but I
know not whether he gained by his performance any other advantage
than the increase of his reputation, though it must certainly have
been with farther views that he prevailed upon himself to attempt a
species of writing, of which all the topics had been long before
exhausted, and which was made at once difficult by the multitudes
that had failed in it, and those that had succeeded.

He was now advancing in reputation, and though frequently involved
in very distressful perplexities, appeared, however, to be gaining
upon mankind, when both his fame and his life were endangered by an
event, of which it is not yet determined whether it ought to be
mentioned as a crime or a calamity.

On the 20th of November, 1727, Mr. Savage came from Richmond, where
he then lodged that he might pursue his studies with less
interruption, with an intent to discharge another lodging which he
had in Westminster; and accidentally meeting two gentlemen, his
acquaintances, whose names were Merchant and Gregory, he went in
with them to a neighbouring coffee-house, and sat drinking till it
was late, it being in no time of Mr. Savage's life any part of his
character to be the first of the company that desired to separate.
He would willingly have gone to bed in the same house, but there was
not room for the whole company, and therefore they agreed to ramble
about the streets, and divert themselves with such amusements as
should offer themselves till morning. In this walk they happened
unluckily to discover a light in Robinson's Coffee-house, near
Charing Cross, and therefore went in. Merchant with some rudeness
demanded a room, and was told that there was a good fire in the next
parlour, which the company were about to leave, being then paying
their reckoning. Merchant, not satisfied with this answer, rushed
into the room, and was followed by his companions. He then
petulantly placed himself between the company and the fire, and soon
after kicked down the table. This produced a quarrel, swords were
drawn on both sides, and one Mr. James Sinclair was killed. Savage,
having likewise wounded a maid that held him, forced his way, with
Merchant, out of the house; but being intimidated and confused,
without resolution either to fly or stay, they were taken in a back
court by one of the company, and some soldiers, whom he had called
to his assistance. Being secured and guarded that night, they were
in the morning carried before three justices, who committed them to
the Gatehouse, from whence, upon the death of Mr. Sinclair, which
happened the same day, they were removed in the night to Newgate,
where they were, however, treated with some distinction, exempted
from the ignominy of chains, and confined, not among the common
criminals, but in the Press yard.

When the day of trial came, the court was crowded in a very unusual
manner, and the public appeared to interest itself as in a cause of
general concern. The witnesses against Mr. Savage and his friends
were, the woman who kept the house, which was a house of ill-fame,
and her maid, the men who were in the room with Mr. Sinclair, and a
woman of the town, who had been drinking with them, and with whom
one of them had been seen. They swore in general, that Merchant
gave the provocation, which Savage and Gregory drew their swords to
justify; that Savage drew first, and that he stabbed Sinclair when
he was not in a posture of defence, or while Gregory commanded his
sword; that after he had given the thrust he turned pale, and would
have retired, but the maid clung round him, and one of the company
endeavoured to detain him, from whom he broke by cutting the maid on
the head, but was afterwards taken in a court. There was some
difference in their depositions; one did not see Savage give the
wound, another saw it given when Sinclair held his point towards the
ground; and the woman of the town asserted that she did not see
Sinclair's sword at all. This difference, however, was very far
from amounting to inconsistency; but it was sufficient to show, that
the hurry of the dispute was such that it was not easy to discover
the truth with relation to particular circumstances, and that
therefore some deductions were to be made from the credibility of
the testimonies.

Sinclair had declared several times before his death that he
received his wound from Savage: nor did Savage at his trial deny
the fact, but endeavoured partly to extenuate it, by urging the
suddenness of the whole action, and the impossibility of any ill
design or premeditated malice; and partly to justify it by the
necessity of self-defence, and the hazard of his own life, if he had
lost that opportunity of giving the thrust: he observed, that
neither reason nor law obliged a man to wait for the blow which was
threatened, and which, if he should suffer it, he might never be
able to return; that it was allowable to prevent an assault, and to
preserve life by taking away that of the adversary by whom it was
endangered. With regard to the violence with which he endeavoured
to escape, he declared that it was not his design to fly from
justice, or decline a trial, but to avoid the expenses and
severities of a prison; and that he intended to appear at the bar
without compulsion.

This defence, which took up more than an hour, was heard by the
multitude that thronged the court with the most attentive and
respectful silence. Those who thought he ought not to be acquitted
owned that applause could not be refused him; and those who before
pitied his misfortunes now reverenced his abilities. The witnesses
which appeared against him were proved to be persons of characters
which did not entitle them to much credit; a common strumpet, a
woman by whom strumpets were entertained, a man by whom they were
supported: and the character of Savage was by several persons of
distinction asserted to be that of a modest, inoffensive man, not
inclined to broils or to insolence, and who had, to that time, been
only known for his misfortunes and his wit. Had his audience been
his judges, he had undoubtedly been acquitted, but Mr. Page, who was
then upon the bench, treated him with his usual insolence and
severity, and when he had summed up the evidence, endeavoured to
exasperate the jury, as Mr. Savage used to relate it, with this
eloquent harangue:--

"Gentlemen of the jury, you are to consider that Mr. Savage is a
very great man, a much greater man than you or I, gentlemen of the
jury; that he wears very fine clothes, much finer clothes than you
or I, gentlemen of the jury; that he has abundance of money in his
pockets, much more money than you or I, gentlemen of the jury; but,
gentlemen of the jury, is it not a very hard case, gentlemen of the
jury, that Mr. Savage should therefore kill you or me, gentlemen of
the jury?"

Mr. Savage, hearing his defence thus misrepresented, and the men who
were to decide his fate incited against him by invidious
comparisons, resolutely asserted that his cause was not candidly
explained, and began to recapitulate what he had before said with
regard to his condition, and the necessity of endeavouring to escape
the expenses of imprisonment; but the judge having ordered him to be
silent, and repeated his orders without effect, commanded that he
should be taken from the bar by force.

The jury then heard the opinion of the judge, that good characters
were of no weight against positive evidence, though they might turn
the scale where it was doubtful; and that though, when two men
attack each other, the death of either is only manslaughter; but
where one is the aggressor, as in the case before them, and, in
pursuance of his first attack, kills the other, the law supposes the
action, however sudden, to be malicious. They then deliberated upon
their verdict, and determined that Mr. Savage and Mr. Gregory were
guilty of murder, and Mr. Merchant, who had no sword, only of

Thus ended this memorable trial, which lasted eight hours. Mr.
Savage and Mr. Gregory were conducted back to prison, where they
were more closely confined, and loaded with irons of fifty pounds'
weight. Four days afterwards they were sent back to the court to
receive sentence, on which occasion Mr. Savage made, as far as it
could be retained in memory, the following speech:--

"It is now, my lord, too late to offer anything by way of defence or
vindication; nor can we expect from your lordships, in this court,
but the sentence which the law requires you, as judges, to pronounce
against men of our calamitous condition. But we are also persuaded
that as mere men, and out of this seat of rigorous justice, you are
susceptive of the tender passions, and too humane not to commiserate
the unhappy situation of those whom the law sometimes perhaps exacts
from you to pronounce upon. No doubt you distinguish between
offences which arise out of premeditation, and a disposition
habituated to vice or immorality, and transgressions which are the
unhappy and unforeseen effects of casual absence of reason, and
sudden impulse of passion. We therefore hope you will contribute
all you can to an extension of that mercy which the gentlemen of the
jury have been pleased to show to Mr. Merchant, who (allowing facts
as sworn against us by the evidence) has led us into this our
calamity. I hope this will not be construed as if we meant to
reflect upon that gentleman, or remove anything from us upon him, or
that we repine the more at our fate because he has no participation
of it. No, my Lord! For my part, I declare nothing could more
soften my grief than to be without any companion in so great a

Mr. Savage had now no hopes of life but from the mercy of the Crown,
which was very earnestly solicited by his friends, and which, with
whatever difficulty the story may obtain belief, was obstructed only
by his mother.

To prejudice the queen against him, she made use of an incident
which was omitted in the order of time, that it might be mentioned
together with the purpose which it was made to serve. Mr. Savage,
when he had discovered his birth, had an incessant desire to speak
to his mother, who always avoided him in public, and refused him
admission into her house. One evening, walking, as was his custom,
in the street that she inhabited, he saw the door of her house by
accident open; he entered it, and finding no person in the passage
to hinder him, went up-stairs to salute her. She discovered him
before he entered the chamber, alarmed the family with the most
distressful outcries, and when she had by her screams gathered them
about her, ordered them to drive out of the house that villain, who
had forced himself in upon her and endeavoured to murder her.
Savage, who had attempted with the most submissive tenderness to
soften her rage, hearing her utter so detestable an accusation,
thought it prudent to retire, and, I believe, never attempted
afterwards to speak to her.

But shocked as he was with her falsehood and her cruelty, he
imagined that she intended no other use of her lie than to set
herself free from his embraces and solicitations, and was very far
from suspecting that she would treasure it in her memory as an
instrument of future wickedness, or that she would endeavour for
this fictitious assault to deprive him of his life. But when the
queen was solicited for his pardon, and informed of the severe
treatment which he had suffered from his judge, she answered that,
however unjustifiable might be the manner of his trial, or whatever
extenuation the action for which he was condemned might admit, she
could not think that man a proper object of the king's mercy who had
been capable of entering his mother's house in the night with an
intent to murder her.

By whom this atrocious calumny had been transmitted to the queen,
whether she that invented had the front to relate it, whether she
found any one weak enough to credit it, or corrupt enough to concur
with her in her hateful design, I know not, but methods had been
taken to persuade the queen so strongly of the truth of it, that she
for a long time refused to hear any one of those who petitioned for
his life.

Thus had Savage perished by the evidence of a bawd, a strumpet, and
his mother, had not justice and compassion procured him an advocate
of rank too great to be rejected unheard, and of virtue too eminent
to be heard without being believed. His merit and his calamities
happened to reach the ear of the Countess of Hertford, who engaged
in his support with all the tenderness that is excited by pity, and
all the zeal which is kindled by generosity, and, demanding an
audience of the queen, laid before her the whole series of his
mother's cruelty, exposed the improbability of an accusation by
which he was charged with an intent to commit a murder that could
produce no advantage, and soon convinced her how little his former
conduct could deserve to be mentioned as a reason for extraordinary

The interposition of this lady was so successful, that he was soon
after admitted to bail, and, on the 9th of March, 1728, pleaded the
king's pardon.

It is natural to inquire upon what motives his mother could
persecute him in a manner so outrageous and implacable; for what
reason she could employ all the arts of malice, and all the snares
of calumny, to take away the life of her own son, of a son who never
injured her, who was never supported by her expense, nor obstructed
any prospect of pleasure or advantage. Why she would endeavour to
destroy him by a lie--a lie which could not gain credit, but must
vanish of itself at the first moment of examination, and of which
only this can be said to make it probable, that it may be observed
from her conduct that the most execrable crimes are sometimes
committed without apparent temptation.

This mother is still (1744) alive, and may perhaps even yet, though
her malice was so often defeated, enjoy the pleasure of reflecting
that the life which she often endeavoured to destroy was at last
shortened by her maternal offices; that though she could not
transport her son to the plantations, bury him in the shop of a
mechanic, or hasten the hand of the public executioner, she has yet
had the satisfaction of embittering all his hours, and forcing him
into exigencies that hurried on his death. It is by no means
necessary to aggravate the enormity of this woman's conduct by
placing it in opposition to that of the Countess of Hertford. No
one can fail to observe how much more amiable it is to relieve than
to oppress, and to rescue innocence from destruction than to destroy
without an injury.

Mr. Savage, during his imprisonment, his trial, and the time in
which he lay under sentence of death, behaved with great firmness
and equality of mind, and confirmed by his fortitude the esteem of
those who before admired him for his abilities. The peculiar
circumstances of his life were made more generally known by a short
account which was then published, and of which several thousands
were in a few weeks dispersed over the nation; and the compassion of
mankind operated so powerfully in his favour, that he was enabled,
by frequent presents, not only to support himself, but to assist Mr.
Gregory in prison; and when he was pardoned and released, he found
the number of his friends not lessened.

The nature of the act for which he had been tried was in itself
doubtful; of the evidences which appeared against him, the character
of the man was not unexceptionable, that of the woman notoriously
infamous; she whose testimony chiefly influenced the jury to condemn
him afterwards retracted her assertions. He always himself denied
that he was drunk, as had been generally reported. Mr. Gregory, who
is now (1744) collector of Antigua, is said to declare him far less
criminal than he was imagined, even by some who favoured him; and
Page himself afterwards confessed that he had treated him with
uncommon rigour. When all these particulars are rated together,
perhaps the memory of Savage may not be much sullied by his trial.
Some time after he obtained his liberty, he met in the street the
woman who had sworn with so much malignity against him. She
informed him that she was in distress, and, with a degree of
confidence not easily attainable, desired him to relieve her. He,
instead of insulting her misery, and taking pleasure in the
calamities of one who had brought his life into danger, reproved her
gently for her perjury, and, changing the only guinea that he had,
divided it equally between her and himself. This is an action which
in some ages would have made a saint, and perhaps in others a hero,
and which, without any hyperbolical encomiums, must be allowed to be
an instance of uncommon generosity, an act of complicated virtue, by
which he at once relieved the poor, corrected the vicious, and
forgave an enemy; by which he at once remitted the strongest
provocations, and exercised the most ardent charity. Compassion was
indeed the distinguishing quality of Savage: he never appeared
inclined to take advantage of weakness, to attack the defenceless,
or to press upon the falling. Whoever was distressed was certain at
least of his good wishes; and when he could give no assistance to
extricate them from misfortunes, he endeavoured to soothe them by
sympathy and tenderness. But when his heart was not softened by the
sight of misery, he was sometimes obstinate in his resentment, and
did not quickly lose the remembrance of an injury. He always
continued to speak with anger of the insolence and partiality of
Page, and a short time before his death revenged it by a satire.

It is natural to inquire in what terms Mr. Savage spoke of this
fatal action when the danger was over, and he was under no necessity
of using any art to set his conduct in the fairest light. He was
not willing to dwell upon it; and, if he transiently mentioned it,
appeared neither to consider himself as a murderer, nor as a man
wholly free from the guilt of blood. How much and how long he
regretted it appeared in a poem which he published many years
afterwards. On occasion of a copy of verses, in which the failings
of good men are recounted, and in which the author had endeavoured
to illustrate his position, that "the best may sometimes deviate
from virtue," by an instance of murder committed by Savage in the
heat of wine, Savage remarked that it was no very just
representation of a good man, to suppose him liable to drunkenness,
and disposed in his riots to cut throats.

He was now indeed at liberty, but was, as before, without any other
support than accidental favours and uncertain patronage afforded
him; sources by which he was sometimes very liberally supplied, and
which at other times were suddenly stopped; so that he spent his
life between want and plenty, or, what was yet worse, between
beggary and extravagance, for, as whatever he received was the gift
of chance, which might as well favour him at one time as another, he
was tempted to squander what he had because he always hoped to be
immediately supplied. Another cause of his profusion was the absurd
kindness of his friends, who at once rewarded and enjoyed his
abilities by treating him at taverns, and habituating him to
pleasures which he could not afford to enjoy, and which he was not
able to deny himself, though he purchased the luxury of a single
night by the anguish of cold and hunger for a week.

The experience of these inconveniences determined him to endeavour
after some settled income, which, having long found submission and
entreaties fruitless, he attempted to extort from his mother by
rougher methods. He had now, as he acknowledged, lost that
tenderness for her which the whole series of her cruelty had not
been able wholly to repress, till he found, by the efforts which she
made for his destruction, that she was not content with refusing to
assist him, and being neutral in his struggles with poverty, but was
ready to snatch every opportunity of adding to his misfortunes; and
that she was now to be considered as an enemy implacably malicious,
whom nothing but his blood could satisfy. He therefore threatened
to harass her with lampoons, and to publish a copious narrative of
her conduct, unless she consented to purchase an exemption from
infamy by allowing him a pension.

This expedient proved successful. Whether shame still survived,
though virtue was extinct, or whether her relations had more
delicacy than herself, and imagined that some of the darts which
satire might point at her would glance upon them, Lord Tyrconnel,
whatever were his motives, upon his promise to lay aside his design
of exposing the cruelty of his mother, received him into his family,
treated him as his equal, and engaged to allow him a pension of two
hundred pounds a year. This was the golden part of Mr. Savage's
life; and for some time he had no reason to complain of fortune.
His appearance was splendid, his expenses large, and his
acquaintance extensive. He was courted by all who endeavoured to be
thought men of genius, and caressed by all who valued themselves
upon a refined taste. To admire Mr. Savage was a proof of
discernment; and to be acquainted with him was a title to poetical
reputation. His presence was sufficient to make any place of public
entertainment popular, and his approbation and example constituted
the fashion. So powerful is genius, when it is invested with the
glitter of affluence! Men willingly pay to fortune that regard
which they owe to merit, and are pleased when they have an
opportunity at once of gratifying their vanity and practising their

This interval of prosperity furnished him with opportunities of
enlarging his knowledge of human nature, by contemplating life from
its highest gradations to its lowest; and, had he afterwards applied
to dramatic poetry, he would perhaps not have had many superiors,
for, as he never suffered any scene to pass before his eyes without
notice, he had treasured in his mind all the different combinations
of passions, and the innumerable mixtures of vice and virtue, which
distinguished one character from another; and, as his conception was
strong, his expressions were clear, he easily received impressions
from objects, and very forcibly transmitted them to others. Of his
exact observations on human life he has left a proof, which would do
honour to the greatest names, in a small pamphlet, called "The
Author to be Let," where he introduces Iscariot Hackney, a
prostitute scribbler, giving an account of his birth, his education,
his disposition and morals, habits of life, and maxims of conduct.
In the introduction are related many secret histories of the petty
writers of that time, but sometimes mixed with ungenerous
reflections on their birth, their circumstances, or those of their
relations; nor can it be denied that some passages are such as
Iscariot Hackney might himself have produced. He was accused
likewise of living in an appearance of friendship with some whom he
satirised, and of making use of the confidence which he gained by a
seeming kindness, to discover failings and expose them. It must be
confessed that Mr. Savage's esteem was no very certain possession,
and that he would lampoon at one time those whom he had praised at

It may be alleged that the same man may change his principles, and
that he who was once deservedly commended may be afterwards
satirised with equal justice, or that the poet was dazzled with the
appearance of virtue, and found the man whom he had celebrated, when
he had an opportunity of examining him more narrowly, unworthy of
the panegyric which he had too hastily bestowed; and that, as a
false satire ought to be recanted, for the sake of him whose
reputation may be injured, false praise ought likewise to be
obviated, lest the distinction between vice and virtue should be
lost, lest a bad man should be trusted upon the credit of his
encomiast, or lest others should endeavour to obtain like praises by
the same means. But though these excuses may be often plausible,
and sometimes just, they are very seldom satisfactory to mankind;
and the writer who is not constant to his subject, quickly sinks
into contempt, his satire loses its force, and his panegyric its
value; and he is only considered at one time as a flatterer, and a
calumniator at another. To avoid these imputations, it is only
necessary to follow the rules of virtue, and to preserve an unvaried
regard to truth. For though it is undoubtedly possible that a man,
however cautious, may be sometimes deceived by an artful appearance
of virtue, or by false evidences of guilt, such errors will not be
frequent; and it will be allowed that the name of an author would
never have been made contemptible had no man ever said what he did
not think, or misled others but when he was himself deceived.

"The Author to be Let" was first published in a single pamphlet, and
afterwards inserted in a collection of pieces relating to the
"Dunciad," which were addressed by Mr. Savage to the Earl of
Middlesex, in a dedication which he was prevailed upon to sign,
though he did not write it, and in which there are some positions
that the true author would perhaps not have published under his own
name, and on which Mr. Savage afterwards reflected with no great
satisfaction. The enumeration of the bad effects of the
uncontrolled freedom of the press, and the assertion that the
"liberties taken by the writers of journals with their superiors
were exorbitant and unjustifiable," very ill became men who have
themselves not always shown the exactest regard to the laws of
subordination in their writings, and who have often satirised those
that at least thought themselves their superiors, as they were
eminent for their hereditary rank, and employed in the highest
offices of the kingdom. But this is only an instance of that
partiality which almost every man indulges with regard to himself:
the liberty of the press is a blessing when we are inclined to write
against others, and a calamity when we find ourselves overborne by
the multitude of our assailants; as the power of the Crown is always
thought too great by those who suffer by its influence, and too
little by those in whose favour it is exerted; and a standing army
is generally accounted necessary by those who command, and dangerous
and oppressive by those who support it.

Mr. Savage was likewise very far from believing that the letters
annexed to each species of bad poets in the Bathos were, as he was
directed to assert, "set down at random;" for when he was charged by
one of his friends with putting his name to such an improbability,
he had no other answer to make than that "he did not think of it;"
and his friend had too much tenderness to reply, that next to the
crime of writing contrary to what he thought was that of writing
without thinking.

After having remarked what is false in this dedication, it is proper
that I observe the impartiality which I recommend, by declaring what
Savage asserted--that the account of the circumstances which
attended the publication of the "Dunciad," however strange and
improbable, was exactly true.

The publication of this piece at this time raised Mr. Savage a great
number of enemies among those that were attacked by Mr. Pope, with
whom he was considered as a kind of confederate, and whom he was
suspected of supplying with private intelligence and secret
incidents; so that the ignominy of an informer was added to the
terror of a satirist. That he was not altogether free from literary
hypocrisy, and that he sometimes spoke one thing and wrote another,
cannot be denied, because he himself confessed that, when he lived
with great familiarity with Dennis, he wrote an epigram against him.

Mr. Savage, however, set all the malice of all the pigmy writers at
defiance, and thought the friendship of Mr. Pope cheaply purchased
by being exposed to their censure and their hatred; nor had he any
reason to repent of the preference, for he found Mr. Pope a steady
and unalienable friend almost to the end of his life.

About this time, notwithstanding his avowed neutrality with regard
to party, he published a panegyric on Sir Robert Walpole, for which
he was rewarded by him with twenty guineas, a sum not very large, if
either the excellence of the performance or the affluence of the
patron be considered; but greater than he afterwards obtained from a
person of yet higher rank, and more desirous in appearance of being
distinguished as a patron of literature.

As he was very far from approving the conduct of Sir Robert Walpole,
and in conversation mentioned him sometimes with acrimony, and
generally with contempt, as he was one of those who were always
zealous in their assertions of the justice of the late opposition,
jealous of the rights of the people, and alarmed by the long-
continued triumph of the Court, it was natural to ask him what could
induce him to employ his poetry in praise of that man who was, in
his opinion, an enemy to liberty, and an oppressor of his country?
He alleged that he was then dependent upon the Lord Tyrconnel, who
was an implicit follower of the ministry: and that, being enjoined
by him, not without menaces, to write in praise of the leader, he
had not resolution sufficient to sacrifice the pleasure of affluence
to that of integrity.

On this, and on many other occasions, he was ready to lament the
misery of living at the tables of other men, which was his fate from
the beginning to the end of his life; for I know not whether he ever
had, for three months together, a settled habitation, in which he
could claim a right of residence.

To this unhappy state it is just to impute much of the inconsistency
of his conduct, for though a readiness to comply with the
inclinations of others was no part of his natural character, yet he
was sometimes obliged to relax his obstinacy, and submit his own
judgment, and even his virtue, to the government of those by whom he
was supported. So that if his miseries were sometimes the
consequences of his faults, he ought not yet to be wholly excluded
from compassion, because his faults were very often the effects of
his misfortunes.

In this gay period of his life, while he was surrounded by affluence
and pleasure, he published "The Wanderer," a moral poem, of which
the design is comprised in these lines:--

"I fly all public care, all venal strife,
To try the still, compared with active, life;
To prove, by these, the sons of men may owe
The fruits of bliss to bursting clouds of woe;
That ev'n calamity, by thought refined,
Inspirits and adorns the thinking mind."

And more distinctly in the following passage:--

"By woe, the soul to daring action swells;
By woe, in plaintless patience it excels:
From patience prudent, clear experience springs,
And traces knowledge through the course of things.
Thence hope is formed, thence fortitude, success,
Renown--whate'er men covet and caress."

This performance was always considered by himself as his
masterpiece; and Mr. Pope, when he asked his opinion of it, told him
that he read it once over, and was not displeased with it; that it
gave him more pleasure at the second perusal, and delighted him
still more at the third.

It has been generally objected to "The Wanderer," that the
disposition of the parts is irregular; that the design is obscure,
and the plan perplexed; that the images, however beautiful, succeed
each other without order; and that the whole performance is not so
much a regular fabric, as a heap of shining materials thrown
together by accident, which strikes rather with the solemn
magnificence of a stupendous ruin than the elegant grandeur of a
finished pile. This criticism is universal, and therefore it is
reasonable to believe it at least in a degree just; but Mr. Savage
was always of a contrary opinion, and thought his drift could only
be missed by negligence or stupidity, and that the whole plan was
regular, and the parts distinct. It was never denied to abound with
strong representations of nature, and just observations upon life;
and it may easily be observed that most of his pictures have an
evident tendency to illustrate his first great position, "that good
is the consequence of evil." The sun that burns up the mountains
fructifies the vales; the deluge that rushes down the broken rocks
with dreadful impetuosity is separated into purling brooks; and the
rage of the hurricane purifies the air.

Even in this poem he has not been able to forbear one touch upon the
cruelty of his mother, which, though remarkably delicate and tender,
is a proof how deep an impression it had upon his mind. This must
be at least acknowledged, which ought to be thought equivalent to
many other excellences, that this poem can promote no other purposes
than those of virtue, and that it is written with a very strong
sense of the efficacy of religion. But my province is rather to
give the history of Mr. Savage's performances than to display their
beauties, or to obviate the criticisms which they have occasioned,
and therefore I shall not dwell upon the particular passages which
deserve applause. I shall neither show the excellence of his
descriptions, nor expatiate on the terrific portrait of suicide, nor
point out the artful touches by which he has distinguished the
intellectual features of the rebels, who suffer death in his last
canto. It is, however, proper to observe, that Mr. Savage always
declared the characters wholly fictitious, and without the least
allusion to any real persons or actions.

From a poem so diligently laboured, and so successfully finished, it
might be reasonably expected that he should have gained considerable
advantage; nor can it, without some degree of indignation and
concern, be told, that he sold the copy for ten guineas, of which he
afterwards returned two, that the two last sheets of the work might
be reprinted, of which he had in his absence entrusted the
correction to a friend, who was too indolent to perform it with

A superstitious regard to the correction of his sheets was one of
Mr. Savage's peculiarities: he often altered, revised, recurred to
his first reading or punctuation, and again adopted the alteration;
he was dubious and irresolute without end, as on a question of the
last importance, and at last was seldom satisfied. The intrusion or
omission of a comma was sufficient to discompose him, and he would
lament an error of a single letter as a heavy calamity. In one of
his letters relating to an impression of some verses he remarks that
he had, with regard to the correction of the proof, "a spell upon
him;" and indeed the anxiety with which he dwelt upon the minutest
and most trifling niceties, deserved no other name than that of
fascination. That he sold so valuable a performance for so small a
price was not to be imputed either to necessity, by which the
learned and ingenious are often obliged to submit to very hard
conditions, or to avarice, by which the booksellers are frequently
incited to oppress that genius by which they are supported, but to
that intemperate desire of pleasure, and habitual slavery to his
passions, which involved him in many perplexities. He happened at
that time to be engaged in the pursuit of some trifling
gratification, and, being without money for the present occasion,
sold his poem to the first bidder, and perhaps for the first price
that was proposed, and would probably have been content with less if
less had been offered him.

This poem was addressed to the Lord Tyrconnel, not only in the first
lines, but in a formal dedication filled with the highest strains of
panegyric, and the warmest professions of gratitude, but by no means
remarkable for delicacy of connection or elegance of style. These
praises in a short time he found himself inclined to retract, being
discarded by the man on whom he had bestowed them, and whom he then
immediately discovered not to have deserved them. Of this quarrel,
which every day made more bitter, Lord Tyrconnel and Mr. Savage
assigned very different reasons, which might perhaps all in reality
concur, though they were not all convenient to be alleged by either
party. Lord Tyrconnel affirmed that it was the constant practice of
Mr. Savage to enter a tavern with any company that proposed it,
drink the most expensive wines with great profusion, and when the
reckoning was demanded to be without money. If, as it often
happened, his company were willing to defray his part, the affair
ended without any ill consequences; but if they were refractory, and
expected that the wine should be paid for by him that drank it, his
method of composition was, to take them with him to his own
apartment, assume the government of the house, and order the butler
in an imperious manner to set the best wine in the cellar before his
company, who often drank till they forgot the respect due to the
house in which they were entertained, indulged themselves in the
utmost extravagance of merriment, practised the most licentious
frolics, and committed all the outrages of drunkenness. Nor was
this the only charge which Lord Tyrconnel brought against him.
Having given him a collection of valuable books, stamped with his
own arms, he had the mortification to see them in a short time
exposed to sale upon the stalls, it being usual with Mr. Savage,
when he wanted a small sum, to take his books to the pawnbroker.

Whoever was acquainted with Mr. Savage easily credited both these
accusations; for having been obliged, from his first entrance into
the world, to subsist upon expedients, affluence was not able to
exalt him above them; and so much was he delighted with wine and
conversation, and so long had he been accustomed to live by chance,
that he would at any time go to the tavern without scruple, and
trust for the reckoning to the liberality of his company, and
frequently of company to whom he was very little known. This
conduct, indeed, very seldom drew upon him those inconveniences that
might be feared by any other person, for his conversation was so
entertaining, and his address so pleasing, that few thought the
pleasure which they received from him dearly purchased by paying for
his wine. It was his peculiar happiness that he scarcely ever found
a stranger whom he did not leave a friend; but it must likewise be
added, that he had not often a friend long without obliging him to
become a stranger.

Mr. Savage, on the other hand, declared that Lord Tyrconnel
quarrelled with him because he would not subtract from his own
luxury and extravagance what he had promised to allow him, and that
his resentment was only a plea for the violation of his promise. He
asserted that he had done nothing that ought to exclude him from
that subsistence which he thought not so much a favour as a debt,
since it was offered him upon conditions which he had never broken:
and that his only fault was, that he could not be supported with
nothing. He acknowledged that Lord Tyrconnel often exhorted him to
regulate his method of life, and not to spend all his nights in
taverns, and that he appeared desirous that he would pass those
hours with him which he so freely bestowed upon others. This demand
Mr. Savage considered as a censure of his conduct which he could
never patiently bear, and which, in the latter and cooler parts of
his life, was so offensive to him, that he declared it as his
resolution "to spurn that friend who should pretend to dictate to
him;" and it is not likely that in his earlier years he received
admonitions with more calmness. He was likewise inclined to resent
such expectations, as tending to infringe his liberty, of which he
was very jealous, when it was necessary to the gratification of his
passions; and declared that the request was still more unreasonable
as the company to which he was to have been confined was
insupportably disagreeable. This assertion affords another instance
of that inconsistency of his writings with his conversation which
was so often to be observed. He forgot how lavishly he had, in his
dedication to "The Wanderer," extolled the delicacy and penetration,
the humanity and generosity, the candour and politeness of the man
whom, when he no longer loved him, he declared to be a wretch
without understanding, without good nature, and without justice; of
whose name he thought himself obliged to leave no trace in any
future edition of his writings, and accordingly blotted it out of
that copy of "The Wanderer" which was in his hands.

During his continuance with the Lord Tyrconnel, he wrote "The
Triumph of Health and Mirth," on the recovery of Lady Tyrconnel from
a languishing illness. This performance is remarkable, not only for
the gaiety of the ideas and the melody of the numbers, but for the
agreeable fiction upon which it is formed. Mirth, overwhelmed with
sorrow for the sickness of her favourite, takes a flight in quest of
her sister Health, whom she finds reclined upon the brow of a lofty
mountain, amidst the fragrance of perpetual spring, with the breezes
of the morning sporting about her. Being solicited by her sister
Mirth, she readily promises her assistance, flies away in a cloud,
and impregnates the waters of Bath with new virtues, by which the
sickness of Belinda is relieved. As the reputation of his
abilities, the particular circumstances of his birth and life, the
splendour of his appearance, and the distinction which was for some
time paid him by Lord Tyrconnel, entitled him to familiarity with
persons of higher rank than those to whose conversation he had been
before admitted, he did not fail to gratify that curiosity which
induced him to take a nearer view of those whom their birth, their
employments, or their fortunes necessarily placed at a distance from
the greatest part of mankind, and to examine whether their merit was
magnified or diminished by the medium through which it was
contemplated; whether the splendour with which they dazzled their
admirers was inherent in themselves, or only reflected on them by
the objects that surrounded them; and whether great men were
selected for high stations, or high stations made great men.

For this purpose he took all opportunities of conversing familiarly
with those who were most conspicuous at that time for their power or
their influence; he watched their looser moments, and examined their
domestic behaviour, with that acuteness which nature had given him,
and which the uncommon variety of his life had contributed to
increase, and that inquisitiveness which must always be produced in
a vigorous mind by an absolute freedom from all pressing or domestic
engagements. His discernment was quick, and therefore he soon found
in every person, and in every affair, something that deserved
attention; he was supported by others, without any care for himself,
and was therefore at leisure to pursue his observations. More
circumstances to constitute a critic on human life could not easily
concur; nor, indeed, could any man, who assumed from accidental
advantages more praise than he could justly claim from his real
merit, admit any acquaintance more dangerous than that of Savage; of
whom likewise it must be confessed, that abilities really exalted
above the common level, or virtue refined from passion, or proof
against corruption, could not easily find an abler judge or a warmer

What was the result of Mr. Savage's inquiry, though he was not much
accustomed to conceal his discoveries, it may not be entirely safe
to relate, because the persons whose characters he criticised are
powerful, and power and resentment are seldom strangers; nor would
it perhaps be wholly just, because what he asserted in conversation
might, though true in general, be heightened by some momentary
ardour of imagination, and as it can be delivered only from memory,
may be imperfectly represented, so that the picture, at first
aggravated, and then unskilfully copied, may be justly suspected to
retain no great resemblance of the original.

It may, however, be observed, that he did not appear to have formed
very elevated ideas of those to whom the administration of affairs,
or the conduct of parties, has been intrusted; who have been
considered as the advocates of the Crown, or the guardians of the
people; and who have obtained the most implicit confidence, and the
loudest applauses. Of one particular person, who has been at one
time so popular as to be generally esteemed, and at another so
formidable as to be universally detested, he observed that his
acquisitions had been small, or that his capacity was narrow, and
that the whole range of his mind was from obscenity to politics, and
from politics to obscenity.

But the opportunity of indulging his speculations on great
characters was now at an end. He was banished from the table of
Lord Tyrconnel, and turned again adrift upon the world, without
prospect of finding quickly any other harbour. As prudence was not
one of the virtues by which he was distinguished, he made no
provision against a misfortune like this. And though it is not to
be imagined but that the separation must for some time have been
preceded by coldness, peevishness, or neglect, though it was
undoubtedly the consequence of accumulated provocations on both
sides, yet every one that knew Savage will readily believe that to
him it was sudden as a stroke of thunder; that, though he might have
transiently suspected it, he had never suffered any thought so
unpleasing to sink into his mind, but that he had driven it away by
amusements or dreams of future felicity and affluence, and had never
taken any measures by which he might prevent a precipitation from
plenty to indigence. This quarrel and separation, and the
difficulties to which Mr. Savage was exposed by them, were soon
known both to his friends and enemies; nor was it long before he
perceived, from the behaviour of both, how much is added to the
lustre of genius by the ornaments of wealth. His condition did not
appear to excite much compassion, for he had not been always careful
to use the advantages he enjoyed with that moderation which ought to
have been with more than usual caution preserved by him, who knew,
if he had reflected, that he was only a dependent on the bounty of
another, whom he could expect to support him no longer than he
endeavoured to preserve his favour by complying with his
inclinations, and whom he nevertheless set at defiance, and was
continually irritating by negligence or encroachments.

Examples need not be sought at any great distance to prove that
superiority of fortune has a natural tendency to kindle pride, and
that pride seldom fails to exert itself in contempt and insult; and
if this is often the effect of hereditary wealth, and of honours
enjoyed only by the merits of others, it is some extenuation of any
indecent triumphs to which this unhappy man may have been betrayed,
that his prosperity was heightened by the force of novelty, and made
more intoxicating by a sense of the misery in which he had so long
languished, and perhaps of the insults which he had formerly borne,
and which he might now think himself entitled to revenge. It is too
common for those who have unjustly suffered pain to inflict it
likewise in their turn with the same injustice, and to imagine that
they have a right to treat others as they have themselves been

That Mr. Savage was too much elevated by any good fortune is
generally known; and some passages of his Introduction to "The
Author to be Let" sufficiently show that he did not wholly refrain
from such satire, as he afterwards thought very unjust when he was
exposed to it himself; for, when he was afterwards ridiculed in the
character of a distressed poet, he very easily discovered that
distress was not a proper subject for merriment or topic of
invective. He was then able to discern, that if misery be the
effect of virtue, it ought to be reverenced; if of ill fortune, to
be pitied; and if of vice, not to be insulted, because it is perhaps
itself a punishment adequate to the crime by which it was produced.
And the humanity of that man can deserve no panegyric who is capable
of reproaching a criminal in the hands of the executioner. But
these reflections, though they readily occurred to him in the first
and last parts of his life, were, I am afraid, for a long time
forgotten; at least they were, like many other maxims, treasured up
in his mind rather for show than use, and operated very little upon
his conduct, however elegantly he might sometimes explain, or
however forcibly he might inculcate them. His degradation,
therefore, from the condition which he had enjoyed with such wanton
thoughtlessness, was considered by many as an occasion of triumph.
Those who had before paid their court to him without success soon
returned the contempt which they had suffered; and they who had
received favours from him, for of such favours as he could bestow he
was very liberal, did not always remember them. So much more
certain are the effects of resentment than of gratitude. It is not
only to many more pleasing to recollect those faults which place
others below them, than those virtues by which they are themselves
comparatively depressed: but it is likewise more easy to neglect
than to recompense. And though there are few who will practise a
laborious virtue, there will never be wanting multitudes that will
indulge in easy vice.

Savage, however, was very little disturbed at the marks of contempt
which his ill fortune brought upon him from those whom he never
esteemed, and with whom he never considered himself as levelled by
any calamities: and though it was not without some uneasiness that
he saw some whose friendship he valued change their behaviour, he
yet observed their coldness without much emotion, considered them as
the slaves of fortune, and the worshippers of prosperity, and was
more inclined to despise them than to lament himself.

It does not appear that after this return of his wants he found
mankind equally favourable to him, as at his first appearance in the
world. His story, though in reality not less melancholy, was less
affecting, because it was no longer new. It therefore procured him
no new friends, and those that had formerly relieved him thought
they might now consign him to others. He was now likewise
considered by many rather as criminal than as unhappy, for the
friends of Lord Tyrconnel, and of his mother, were sufficiently
industrious to publish his weaknesses, which were indeed very
numerous, and nothing was forgotten that might make him either
hateful or ridiculous. It cannot but be imagined that such
representations of his faults must make great numbers less sensible
of his distress; many who had only an opportunity to hear one part
made no scruple to propagate the account which they received; many
assisted their circulation from malice or revenge; and perhaps many
pretended to credit them, that they might with a better grace
withdraw their regard, or withhold their assistance.

Savage, however, was not one of those who suffered himself to be
injured without resistance, nor was he less diligent in exposing the
faults of Lord Tyrconnel, over whom he obtained at least this
advantage, that he drove him first to the practice of outrage and
violence; for he was so much provoked by the wit and virulence of
Savage, that he came with a number of attendants, that did no honour
to his courage, to beat him at a coffee-house. But it happened that
he had left the place a few minutes, and his lordship had, without
danger, the pleasure of boasting how he would have treated him. Mr.
Savage went next day to repay his visit at his own house, but was
prevailed on by his domestics to retire without insisting on seeing

Lord Tyrconnel was accused by Mr. Savage of some actions which
scarcely any provocation will be thought sufficient to justify, such
as seizing what he had in his lodgings, and other instances of
wanton cruelty, by which he increased the distress of Savage without
any advantage to himself.

These mutual accusations were retorted on both sides, for many
years, with the utmost degree of virulence and rage; and time seemed
rather to augment than diminish their resentment. That the anger of
Mr. Savage should be kept alive is not strange, because he felt
every day the consequences of the quarrel; but it might reasonably
have been hoped that Lord Tyrconnel might have relented, and at
length have forgot those provocations, which, however they might
have once inflamed him, had not in reality much hurt him. The
spirit of Mr. Savage, indeed, never suffered him to solicit a
reconciliation; he returned reproach for reproach, and insult for
insult; his superiority of wit supplied the disadvantages of his
fortune, and enabled him to form a party, and prejudice great
numbers in his favour. But though this might be some gratification
of his vanity, it afforded very little relief to his necessities,
and he was frequently reduced to uncommon hardships, of which,
however, he never made any mean or importunate complaints, being
formed rather to bear misery with fortitude than enjoy prosperity
with moderation.

He now thought himself again at liberty to expose the cruelty of his
mother; and therefore, I believe, about this time, published "The
Bastard," a poem remarkable for the vivacious sallies of thought in
the beginning, where he makes a pompous enumeration of the imaginary
advantages of base birth, and the pathetic sentiments at the end,
where he recounts the real calamities which he suffered by the crime
of his parents. The vigour and spirit of the verses, the peculiar
circumstances of the author, the novelty of the subject, and the
notoriety of the story to which the allusions are made, procured
this performance a very favourable reception; great numbers were
immediately dispersed, and editions were multiplied with unusual

One circumstance attended the publication which Savage used to
relate with great satisfaction. His mother, to whom the poem was
with "due reverence" inscribed, happened then to be at Bath, where
she could not conveniently retire from censure, or conceal herself
from observation; and no sooner did the reputation of the poem begin
to spread, than she heard it repeated in all places of concourse;
nor could she enter the assembly-rooms or cross the walks without
being saluted with some lines from "The Bastard."

This was perhaps the first time that she ever discovered a sense of
shame, and on this occasion the power of wit was very conspicuous;
the wretch who had, without scruple, proclaimed herself an
adulteress, and who had first endeavoured to starve her son, then to
transport him, and afterwards to hang him, was not able to bear the
representation of her own conduct, but fled from reproach, though
she felt no pain from guilt, and left Bath in the utmost haste to
shelter herself among the crowds of London. Thus Savage had the
satisfaction of finding that, though he could not reform his mother,
he could punish her, and that he did not always suffer alone.

The pleasure which he received from this increase of his poetical
reputation was sufficient for some time to overbalance the miseries
of want, which this performance did not much alleviate; for it was
sold for a very trivial sum to a bookseller, who, though the success
was so uncommon that five impressions were sold, of which many were
undoubtedly very numerous, had not generosity sufficient to admit
the unhappy writer to any part of the profit. The sale of this poem
was always mentioned by Mr. Savage with the utmost elevation of
heart, and referred to by him as an incontestable proof of a general
acknowledgment of his abilities. It was, indeed, the only
production of which he could justly boast a general reception. But,
though he did not lose the opportunity which success gave him of
setting a high rate on his abilities, but paid due deference to the
suffrages of mankind when they were given in his favour, he did not
suffer his esteem of himself to depend upon others, nor found
anything sacred in the voice of the people when they were inclined
to censure him; he then readily showed the folly of expecting that
the public should judge right, observed how slowly poetical merit
had often forced its way into the world; he contented himself with
the applause of men of judgment, and was somewhat disposed to
exclude all those from the character of men of judgment who did not
applaud him. But he was at other times more favourable to mankind
than to think them blind to the beauties of his works, and imputed
the slowness of their sale to other causes; either they were
published at a time when the town was empty, or when the attention
of the public was engrossed by some struggle in the Parliament or
some other object of general concern; or they were, by the neglect
of the publisher, not diligently dispersed, or, by his avarice, not
advertised with sufficient frequency. Address, or industry, or
liberality was always wanting, and the blame was laid rather on any
person than the author.

By arts like these, arts which every man practises in some degree,
and to which too much of the little tranquillity of life is to be
ascribed, Savage was always able to live at peace with himself. Had
he, indeed, only made use of these expedients to alleviate the loss
or want of fortune or reputation, or any other advantages which it
is not in a man's power to bestow upon himself, they might have been
justly mentioned as instances of a philosophical mind, and very
properly proposed to the imitation of multitudes who, for want of
diverting their imaginations with the same dexterity, languish under
afflictions which might be easily removed.

It were doubtless to be wished that truth and reason were
universally prevalent; that everything were esteemed according to
its real value; and that men would secure themselves from being
disappointed, in their endeavours after happiness, by placing it
only in virtue, which is always to be obtained; but, if adventitious
and foreign pleasures must be pursued, it would be perhaps of some
benefit, since that pursuit must frequently be fruitless, if the
practice of Savage could be taught, that folly might be an antidote
to folly, and one fallacy be obviated by another. But the danger of
this pleasing intoxication must not be concealed; nor, indeed, can
any one, after having observed the life of Savage, need to be
cautioned against it. By imputing none of his miseries to himself,
he continued to act upon the same principles, and to follow the same
path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one
misfortune from falling into another. He proceeded throughout his
life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding
his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with
phantoms of happiness, which were dancing before him; and willingly
turned his eyes from the light of reason, when it would have
discovered the illusion, and shown him, what he never wished to see,
his real state. He is even accused, after having lulled his
imagination with those ideal opiates, of having tried the same
experiment upon his conscience; and, having accustomed himself to
impute all deviations from the right to foreign causes, it is
certain that he was upon every occasion too easily reconciled to
himself, and that he appeared very little to regret those practices
which had impaired his reputation. The reigning error of his life
was that he mistook the love for the practice of virtue, and was
indeed not so much a good man as the friend of goodness.

This, at least, must be allowed him, that he always preserved a
strong sense of the dignity, the beauty, and the necessity of
virtue; and that he never contributed deliberately to spread
corruption amongst mankind. His actions, which were generally
precipitate, were often blameable; but his writings, being the
production of study, uniformly tended to the exaltation of the mind
and the propagation of morality and piety. These writings may
improve mankind when his failings shall be forgotten; and therefore
he must be considered, upon the whole, as a benefactor to the world.
Nor can his personal example do any hurt, since whoever hears of his
faults will hear of the miseries which they brought upon him, and
which would deserve less pity had not his condition been such as
made his faults pardonable. He may be considered as a child exposed
to all the temptations of indigence, at an age when resolution was
not yet strengthened by conviction, nor virtue confirmed by habit; a
circumstance which, in his "Bastard," he laments in a very affecting

"No mother's care
Shielded my infant innocence with prayer;
No father's guardian hand my youth maintained,
Called forth my virtues, or from vice restrained."

"The Bastard," however it might provoke or mortify his mother, could
not be expected to melt her to compassion, so that he was still
under the same want of the necessaries of life; and he therefore
exerted all the interest which his wit, or his birth, or his
misfortunes could procure to obtain, upon the death of Eusden, the
place of Poet Laureate, and prosecuted his application with so much
diligence that the king publicly declared it his intention to bestow
it upon him; but such was the fate of Savage that even the king,
when he intended his advantage, was disappointed in his schemes; for
the Lord Chamberlain, who has the disposal of the laurel as one of
the appendages of his office, either did not know the king's design,
or did not approve it, or thought the nomination of the Laureate an
encroachment upon his rights, and therefore bestowed the laurel upon
Colley Cibber.

Mr. Savage, thus disappointed, took a resolution of applying to the
queen, that, having once given him life, she would enable him to
support it, and therefore published a short poem on her birthday, to
which he gave the odd title of "Volunteer Laureate." The event of
this essay he has himself related in the following letter, which he
prefixed to the poem when he afterwards reprinted it in The
Gentleman's Magazine, whence I have copied it entire, as this was
one of the few attempts in which Mr. Savage succeeded.

"MR. URBAN,--In your Magazine for February you published the last
'Volunteer Laureate,' written on a very melancholy occasion, the
death of the royal patroness of arts and literature in general, and
of the author of that poem in particular; I now send you the first
that Mr. Savage wrote under that title. This gentleman,
notwithstanding a very considerable interest, being, on the death of
Mr. Eusden, disappointed of the Laureate's place, wrote the
following verses; which were no sooner published, but the late queen
sent to a bookseller for them. The author had not at that time a
friend either to get him introduced, or his poem presented at Court;
yet, such was the unspeakable goodness of that princess, that,
notwithstanding this act of ceremony was wanting, in a few days
after publication Mr. Savage received a bank-bill of fifty pounds,
and a gracious message from her Majesty, by the Lord North and
Guilford, to this effect: 'That her Majesty was highly pleased with
the verses; that she took particularly kind his lines there relating
to the king; that he had permission to write annually on the same
subject; and that he should yearly receive the like present, till
something better (which was her Majesty's intention) could be done
for him.' After this he was permitted to present one of his annual
poems to her Majesty, had the honour of kissing her hand, and met
with the most gracious reception.
"Yours, etc."

Such was the performance, and such its reception; a reception which,
though by no means unkind, was yet not in the highest degree
generous. To chain down the genius of a writer to an annual
panegyric showed in the queen too much desire of hearing her own
praises, and a greater regard to herself than to him on whom her
bounty was conferred. It was a kind of avaricious generosity, by
which flattery was rather purchased than genius rewarded.

Mrs. Oldfield had formerly given him the same allowance with much
more heroic intention: she had no other view than to enable him to
prosecute his studies, and to set himself above the want of
assistance, and was contented with doing good without stipulating
for encomiums.

Mr. Savage, however, was not at liberty to make exceptions, but was
ravished with the favours which he had received, and probably yet
more with those which he was promised: he considered himself now as
a favourite of the queen, and did not doubt but a few annual poems
would establish him in some profitable employment. He therefore
assumed the title of "Volunteer Laureate," not without some
reprehensions from Cibber, who informed him that the title of
"Laureate" was a mark of honour conferred by the king, from whom all
honour is derived, and which, therefore, no man has a right to
bestow upon himself; and added that he might with equal propriety
style himself a Volunteer Lord or Volunteer Baronet. It cannot be
denied that the remark was just; but Savage did not think any title
which was conferred upon Mr. Cibber so honourable as that the
usurpation of it could be imputed to him as an instance of very
exorbitant vanity, and therefore continued to write under the same
title, and received every year the same reward. He did not appear
to consider these encomiums as tests of his abilities, or as
anything more than annual hints to the queen of her promise, or acts
of ceremony, by the performance of which he was entitled to his
pension, and therefore did not labour them with great diligence, or
print more than fifty each year, except that for some of the last
years he regularly inserted them in The Gentleman's Magazine, by
which they were dispersed over the kingdom.

Of some of them he had himself so low an opinion that he intended to
omit them in the collection of poems for which he printed proposals,
and solicited subscriptions; nor can it seem strange that, being
confined to the same subject, he should be at some times indolent
and at others unsuccessful; that he should sometimes delay a
disagreeable task till it was too late to perform it well; or that
he should sometimes repeat the same sentiment on the same occasion,
or at others be misled by an attempt after novelty to forced
conceptions and far-fetched images. He wrote indeed with a double
intention, which supplied him with some variety; for his business
was to praise the queen for the favours which he had received, and
to complain to her of the delay of those which she had promised: in
some of his pieces, therefore, gratitude is predominant, and in some
discontent; in some, he represents himself as happy in her
patronage; and, in others, as disconsolate to find himself
neglected. Her promise, like other promises made to this
unfortunate man, was never performed, though he took sufficient care
that it should not be forgotten. The publication of his "Volunteer
Laureate" procured him no other reward than a regular remittance of
fifty pounds. He was not so depressed by his disappointments as to
neglect any opportunity that was offered of advancing his interest.
When the Princess Anne was married, he wrote a poem upon her
departure, only, as he declared, "because it was expected from him,"
and he was not willing to bar his own prospects by any appearance of
neglect. He never mentioned any advantage gained by this poem, or
any regard that was paid to it; and therefore it is likely that it
was considered at Court as an act of duty, to which he was obliged
by his dependence, and which it was therefore not necessary to
reward by any new favour: or perhaps the queen really intended his
advancement, and therefore thought it superfluous to lavish presents
upon a man whom she intended to establish for life.

About this time not only his hopes were in danger of being
frustrated, but his pension likewise of being obstructed, by an
accidental calumny. The writer of The Daily Courant, a paper then
published under the direction of the Ministry, charged him with a
crime, which, though very great in itself, would have been
remarkably invidious in him, and might very justly have incensed the
queen against him. He was accused by name of influencing elections
against the Court by appearing at the head of a Tory mob; nor did
the accuser fail to aggravate his crime by representing it as the
effect of the most atrocious ingratitude, and a kind of rebellion
against the queen, who had first preserved him from an infamous
death, and afterwards distinguished him by her favour, and supported
him by her charity. The charge, as it was open and confident, was
likewise by good fortune very particular. The place of the
transaction was mentioned, and the whole series of the rioter's
conduct related. This exactness made Mr. Savage's vindication easy;
for he never had in his life seen the place which was declared to be
the scene of his wickedness, nor ever had been present in any town
when its representatives were chosen. This answer he therefore made
haste to publish, with all the circumstances necessary to make it
credible; and very reasonably demanded that the accusation should be
retracted in the same paper, that he might no longer suffer the
imputation of sedition and ingratitude. This demand was likewise
pressed by him in a private letter to the author of the paper, who,
either trusting to the protection of those whose defence he had
undertaken, or having entertained some personal malice against Mr.
Savage, or fearing lest, by retracting so confident an assertion, he
should impair the credit of his paper, refused to give him that
satisfaction. Mr. Savage therefore thought it necessary, to his own
vindication, to prosecute him in the King's Bench; but as he did not
find any ill effects from the accusation, having sufficiently
cleared his innocence, he thought any further procedure would have
the appearance of revenge; and therefore willingly dropped it. He
saw soon afterwards a process commenced in the same court against
himself, on an information in which he was accused of writing and
publishing an obscene pamphlet.

It was always Mr Savage's desire to be distinguished; and, when any
controversy became popular, he never wanted some reason for engaging
in it with great ardour, and appearing at the head of the party
which he had chosen. As he was never celebrated for his prudence,
he had no sooner taken his side, and informed himself of the chief
topics of the dispute, than he took all opportunities of asserting
and propagating his principles, without much regard to his own
interest, or any other visible design than that of drawing upon
himself the attention of mankind.

The dispute between the Bishop of London and the chancellor is well
known to have been for some time the chief topic of political
conversation; and therefore Mr. Savage, in pursuance of his
character, endeavoured to become conspicuous among the
controvertists with which every coffee-house was filled on that
occasion. He was an indefatigable opposer of all the claims of
ecclesiastical power, though he did not know on what they were
founded; and was therefore no friend to the Bishop of London. But
he had another reason for appearing as a warm advocate for Dr.
Rundle; for he was the friend of Mr. Foster and Mr. Thomson, who
were the friends of Mr. Savage.

Thus remote was his interest in the question, which, however, as he
imagined, concerned him so nearly, that it was not sufficient to
harangue and dispute, but necessary likewise to write upon it. He
therefore engaged with great ardour in a new poem, called by him,
"The Progress of a Divine;" in which he conducts a profligate
priest, by all the gradations of wickedness, from a poor curacy in
the country to the highest preferments of the Church; and describes,
with that humour which was natural to him, and that knowledge which
was extended to all the diversities of human life, his behaviour in
every station; and insinuates that this priest, thus accomplished,
found at last a patron in the Bishop of London. When he was asked,
by one of his friends, on what pretence he could charge the bishop
with such an action, he had no more to say than that he had only
inverted the accusation; and that he thought it reasonable to
believe that he who obstructed the rise of a good man without reason
would for bad reasons promote the exaltation of a villain. The
clergy were universally provoked by this satire; and Savage, who, as
was his constant practice, had set his name to his performance, was
censured in The Weekly Miscellany with severity, which he did not
seem inclined to forget.

But return of invective was not thought a sufficient punishment.
The Court of King's Bench was therefore moved against him; and he
was obliged to return an answer to a charge of obscenity. It was
urged, in his defence, that obscenity was criminal when it was
intended to promote the practice of vice; but that Mr. Savage had
only introduced obscene ideas with the view of exposing them to
detestation, and of amending the age by showing the deformity of
wickedness. This plea was admitted; and Sir Philip Yorke, who then
presided in that court, dismissed the information, with encomiums
upon the purity and excellence of Mr. Savage's writings. The
prosecution, however, answered in some measure the purpose of those
by whom it was set on foot; for Mr. Savage was so far intimidated by
it that, when the edition of his poem was sold, he did not venture
to reprint it; so that it was in a short time forgotten, or
forgotten by all but those whom it offended. It is said that some
endeavours were used to incense the queen against him: but he found
advocates to obviate at least part of their effect; for though he
was never advanced, he still continued to receive his pension.

This poem drew more infamy upon him than any incident of his life;
and, as his conduct cannot be vindicated, it is proper to secure his
memory from reproach by informing those whom he made his enemies
that he never intended to repeat the provocation; and that, though
whenever he thought he had any reason to complain of the clergy, he
used to threaten them with a new edition of "The Progress of a
Divine," it was his calm and settled resolution to suppress it for

He once intended to have made a better reparation for the folly or
injustice with which he might be charged, by writing another poem,
called "The Progress of a Free-thinker," whom he intended to lead
through all the stages of vice and folly, to convert him from virtue
to wickedness, and from religion to infidelity, by all the modish
sophistry used for that purpose; and at last to dismiss him by his
own hand into the other world. That he did not execute this design
is a real loss to mankind; for he was too well acquainted with all
the scenes of debauchery to have failed in his representations of
them, and too zealous for virtue not to have represented them in
such a manner as should expose them either to ridicule or
detestation. But this plan was, like others, formed and laid aside,
till the vigour of his imagination was spent, and the effervescence
of invention had subsided; but soon gave way to some other design,
which pleased by its novelty for awhile, and then was neglected like
the former.

He was still in his usual exigencies, having no certain support but
the pension allowed him by the queen, which, though it might have
kept an exact economist from want, was very far from being
sufficient for Mr. Savage, who had never been accustomed to dismiss
any of his appetites without the gratification which they solicited,
and whom nothing but want of money withheld from partaking of every
pleasure that fell within his view. His conduct with regard to his
pension was very particular. No sooner had he changed the bill than
he vanished from the sight of all his acquaintance, and lay for some
time out of the reach of all the inquiries that friendship or
curiosity could make after him. At length he appeared again,
penniless as before, but never informed even those whom he seemed to
regard most where he had been; nor was his retreat ever discovered.
This was his constant practice during the whole time that he
received the pension from the queen: he regularly disappeared and
returned. He, indeed, affirmed that he retired to study, and that
the money supported him in solitude for many months; but his friends
declared that the short time in which it was spent sufficiently
confuted his own account of his conduct.

His politeness and his wit still raised him friends who were
desirous of setting him at length free from that indigence by which
he had been hitherto oppressed; and therefore solicited Sir Robert
Walpole in his favour with so much earnestness that they obtained a
promise of the next place that should become vacant, not exceeding
two hundred pounds a year. This promise was made with an uncommon
declaration, "that it was not the promise of a minister to a
petitioner, but of a friend to his friend."

Mr. Savage now concluded himself set at ease for ever, and, as he
observes in a poem written on that incident of his life, trusted,
and was trusted; but soon found that his confidence was ill-
grounded, and this friendly promise was not inviolable. He spent a
long time in solicitations, and at last despaired and desisted. He
did not indeed deny that he had given the minister some reason to
believe that he should not strengthen his own interest by advancing
him, for he had taken care to distinguish himself in coffee-houses,
as an advocate for the ministry of the last years of Queen Anne, and
was always ready to justify the conduct, and exalt the character, of
Lord Bolingbroke, whom he mentions with great regard in an Epistle
upon Authors, which he wrote about that time, but was too wise to
publish, and of which only some fragments have appeared, inserted by
him in the Magazine after his retirement.

To despair was not, however, the character of Savage; when one
patronage failed, he had recourse to another. The Prince was now
extremely popular, and had very liberally rewarded the merit of some
writers whom Mr. Savage did not think superior to himself, and
therefore he resolved to address a poem to him. For this purpose he
made choice of a subject which could regard only persons of the
highest rank and greatest affluence, and which was therefore proper
for a poem intended to procure the patronage of a prince; and having
retired for some time to Richmond, that he might prosecute his
design in full tranquillity, without the temptations of pleasure, or
the solicitations of creditors, by which his meditations were in
equal danger of being disconcerted, he produced a poem "On Public
Spirit, with regard to Public Works."

The plan of this poem is very extensive, and comprises a multitude
of topics, each of which might furnish matter sufficient for a long
performance, and of which some have already employed more eminent
writers; but as he was perhaps not fully acquainted with the whole
extent of his own design, and was writing to obtain a supply of
wants too pressing to admit of long or accurate inquiries, he passes
negligently over many public works which, even in his own opinion,
deserved to be more elaborately treated.

But though he may sometimes disappoint his reader by transient
touches upon these subjects, which have often been considered, and
therefore naturally raise expectations, he must be allowed amply to
compensate his omissions by expatiating, in the conclusion of his
work, upon a kind of beneficence not yet celebrated by any eminent
poet, though it now appears more susceptible of embellishments, more
adapted to exalt the ideas and affect the passions, than many of
those which have hitherto been thought most worthy of the ornament
of verse. The settlement of colonies in uninhabited countries, the
establishment of those in security whose misfortunes have made their
own country no longer pleasing or safe, the acquisition of property
without injury to any, the appropriation of the waste and luxuriant
bounties of nature, and the enjoyment of those gifts which Heaven
has scattered upon regions uncultivated and unoccupied, cannot be
considered without giving rise to a great number of pleasing ideas,
and bewildering the imagination in delightful prospects; and
therefore, whatever speculations they may produce in those who have
confined themselves to political studies, naturally fixed the
attention, and excited the applause, of a poet. The politician,
when he considers men driven into other countries for shelter, and
obliged to retire to forests and deserts, and pass their lives and
fix their posterity in the remotest corners of the world to avoid
those hardships which they suffer or fear in their native place, may
very properly inquire why the legislature does not provide a remedy
for these miseries rather than encourage an escape from them. He
may conclude that the flight of every honest man is a loss to the
community; that those who are unhappy without guilt ought to be
relieved; and the life which is overburthened by accidental
calamities set at ease by the care of the public; and that those who
have by misconduct forfeited their claim to favour ought rather to
be made useful to the society which they have injured than be driven
from it. But the poet is employed in a more pleasing undertaking
than that of proposing laws which, however just or expedient, will
never be made; or endeavouring to reduce to rational schemes of
government societies which were formed by chance, and are conducted
by the private passions of those who preside in them. He guides the
unhappy fugitive, from want and persecution, to plenty, quiet, and
security, and seats him in scenes of peaceful solitude and
undisturbed repose.

Savage has not forgotten, amidst the pleasing sentiments which this
prospect of retirement suggested to him, to censure those crimes
which have been generally committed by the discoverers of new
regions, and to expose the enormous wickedness of making war upon
barbarous nations because they cannot resist, and of invading
countries because they are fruitful; of extending navigation only to
propagate vice; and of visiting distant lands only to lay them
waste. He has asserted the natural equality of mankind, and
endeavoured to suppress that pride which inclines men to imagine
that right is the consequence of power. His description of the
various miseries which force men to seek for refuge in distant
countries affords another instance of his proficiency in the
important and extensive study of human life; and the tenderness with
which he recounts them, another proof of his humanity and

It is observable that the close of this poem discovers a change
which experience had made in Mr. Savage's opinions. In a poem
written by him in his youth, and published in his Miscellanies, he
declares his contempt of the contracted views and narrow prospects
of the middle state of life, and declares his resolution either to
tower like the cedar, or be trampled like the shrub; but in this
poem, though addressed to a prince, he mentions this state of life
as comprising those who ought most to attract reward, those who
merit most the confidence of power and the familiarity of greatness;
and, accidentally mentioning this passage to one of his friends,
declared that in his opinion all the virtue of mankind was
comprehended in that state.

In describing villas and gardens he did not omit to condemn that
absurd custom which prevails among the English of permitting
servants to receive money from strangers for the entertainment that
they receive, and therefore inserted in his poem these lines:

"But what the flowering pride of gardens rare,
However royal, or however fair,
If gates which to excess should still give way,
Ope but, like Peter's paradise, for pay;
If perquisited varlets frequent stand,
And each new walk must a new tax demand;
What foreign eye but with contempt surveys?
What Muse shall from oblivion snatch their praise?"

But before the publication of his performance he recollected that
the queen allowed her garden and cave at Richmond to be shown for
money; and that she so openly countenanced the practice that she had
bestowed the privilege of showing them as a place of profit on a man
whose merit she valued herself upon rewarding, though she gave him
only the liberty of disgracing his country. He therefore thought,
with more prudence than was often exerted by him, that the
publication of these lines might be officiously represented as an
insult upon the queen, to whom he owed his life and his subsistence;
and that the propriety of his observation would be no security
against the censures which the unseasonableness of it might draw
upon him; he therefore suppressed the passage in the first edition,
but after the queen's death thought the same caution no longer
necessary, and restored it to the proper place. The poem was,
therefore, published without any political faults, and inscribed to
the prince; but Mr. Savage, having no friend upon whom he could
prevail to present it to him, had no other method of attracting his
observation than the publication of frequent advertisements, and
therefore received no reward from his patron, however generous on
other occasions. This disappointment he never mentioned without
indignation, being by some means or other confident that the prince
was not ignorant of his address to him; and insinuated that if any
advances in popularity could have been made by distinguishing him,
he had not written without notice or without reward. He was once
inclined to have presented his poem in person and sent to the
printer for a copy with that design; but either his opinion changed
or his resolution deserted him, and he continued to resent neglect
without attempting to force himself into regard. Nor was the public
much more favourable than his patron; for only seventy-two were
sold, though the performance was much commended by some whose
judgment in that kind of writing is generally allowed. But Savage
easily reconciled himself to mankind without imputing any defect to
his work, by observing that his poem was unluckily published two
days after the prorogation of the parliament, and by consequence at
a time when all those who could be expected to regard it were in the
hurry of preparing for their departure, or engaged in taking leave
of others upon their dismission from public affairs. It must be
however allowed, in justification of the public, that this
performance is not the most excellent of Mr. Savage's works; and
that, though it cannot be denied to contain many striking
sentiments, majestic lines, and just observations, it is in general
not sufficiently polished in the language, or enlivened in the
imagery, or digested in the plan. Thus his poem contributed nothing
to the alleviation of his poverty, which was such as very few could
have supported with equal patience; but to which it must likewise be
confessed that few would have been exposed who received punctually
fifty pounds a year; a salary which, though by no means equal to the
demands of vanity and luxury, is yet found sufficient to support
families above want, and was undoubtedly more than the necessities
of life require.

But no sooner had he received his pension than he withdrew to his
darling privacy, from which he returned in a short time to his
former distress, and for some part of the year generally lived by
chance, eating only when he was invited to the tables of his
acquaintances, from which the meanness of his dress often excluded
him, when the politeness and variety of his conversation would have
been thought a sufficient recompense for his entertainment. He
lodged as much by accident as he dined, and passed the night
sometimes in mean houses which are set open at night to any casual
wanderers; sometimes in cellars, among the riot and filth of the
meanest and most profligate of the rabble; and sometimes, when he
had not money to support even the expenses of these receptacles,
walked about the streets till he was weary, and lay down in the
summer upon the bulk, or in the winter, with his associate, in
poverty, among the ashes of a glass-house.

In this manner were passed those days and those nights which nature
had enabled him to have employed in elevated speculations, useful
studies, or pleasing conversation. On a bulk, in a cellar, or in a
glass-house, among thieves and beggars, was to be found the author
of "The Wanderer," the man of exalted sentiments, extensive views,
and curious observations; the man whose remarks on life might have
assisted the statesman, whose ideas of virtue might have enlightened
the moralist, whose eloquence might have influenced senates, and
whose delicacy might have polished courts. It cannot but be
imagined that such necessities might sometimes force him upon
disreputable practices; and it is probable that these lines in "The
Wanderer" were occasioned by his reflections on his own conduct:

"Though misery leads to happiness and truth,
Unequal to the load this languid youth,
(Oh, let none censure, if, untried by grief,
If, amidst woe, untempted by relief),
He stooped reluctant to low arts of shame,
Which then, e'en then, he scorned, and blushed to name."

Whoever was acquainted with him was certain to be solicited for
small sums, which the frequency of the request made in time
considerable; and he was therefore quickly shunned by those who were
become familiar enough to be trusted with his necessities; but his
rambling manner of life, and constant appearance at houses of public
resort, always procured him a new succession of friends whose
kindness had not been exhausted by repeated requests; so that he was
seldom absolutely without resources, but had in his utmost
exigencies this comfort, that he always imagined himself sure of
speedy relief. It was observed that he always asked favours of this
kind without the least submission or apparent consciousness of
dependence, and that he did not seem to look upon a compliance with
his request as an obligation that deserved any extraordinary
acknowledgments; but a refusal was resented by him as an affront, or
complained of as an injury; nor did he readily reconcile himself to
those who either denied to lend, or gave him afterwards any
intimation that they expected to be repaid. He was sometimes so far
compassionated by those who knew both his merit and distresses that
they received him into their families, but they soon discovered him
to be a very incommodious inmate; for, being always accustomed to an
irregular manner of life, he could not confine himself to any stated
hours, or pay any regard to the rules of a family, but would prolong
his conversation till midnight, without considering that business
might require his friend's application in the morning; and, when he
had persuaded himself to retire to bed, was not, without equal
difficulty, called up to dinner: it was therefore impossible to pay
him any distinction without the entire subversion of all economy, a
kind of establishment which, wherever he went, he always appeared
ambitious to overthrow. It must therefore be acknowledged, in
justification of mankind, that it was not always by the negligence
or coldness of his friends that Savage was distressed, but because
it was in reality very difficult to preserve him long in a state of
ease. To supply him with money was a hopeless attempt; for no
sooner did he see himself master of a sum sufficient to set him free
from care for a day than he became profuse and luxurious. When once
he had entered a tavern, or engaged in a scheme of pleasure, he
never retired till want of money obliged him to some new expedient.
If he was entertained in a family, nothing was any longer to be
regarded there but amusement and jollity; wherever Savage entered,
he immediately expected that order and business should fly before
him, that all should thenceforward be left to hazard, and that no
dull principle of domestic management should be opposed to his
inclination or intrude upon his gaiety. His distresses, however
afflictive, never dejected him; in his lowest state he wanted not
spirit to assert the natural dignity of wit, and was always ready to
repress that insolence which the superiority of fortune incited, and
to trample on that reputation which rose upon any other basis than
that of merit: he never admitted any gross familiarities, or
submitted to be treated otherwise than as an equal. Once when he
was without lodging, meat, or clothes, one of his friends, a man
indeed not remarkable for moderation in his prosperity, left a
message that he desired to see him about nine in the morning.
Savage knew that his intention was to assist him, but was very much
disgusted that he should presume to prescribe the hour of his
attendance, and, I believe, refused to visit him, and rejected his

The same invincible temper, whether firmness or obstinacy, appeared
in his conduct to the Lord Tyrconnel, from whom he very frequently
demanded that the allowance which was once paid him should be


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