1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Savage

John Wilson Croker, Note in Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 1:96n.



Notwithstanding Mr. Boswell's proofs, and Dr. Johnson's own assertion, the identity of Savage and Thales has been repeated by all the biographers, and has obtained general vogue. It may, therefore, be worth while to add, that Johnson's residence at Greenwich (which, as it was the scene of his fancied parting from Thales, is currently taken to have been that of his real separation from Savage) occurred two years before the latter event; and at that time it does not appear that Johnson was so much as acquainted with Savage, or even with Cave, at whose house he first met Savage: — again; Johnson distinctly tells us, in his Life of Savage, that the latter took his departure for Wales, not by embarking at Greenwich, but by the Bristol stage coach: and, finally and decisively, Johnson, if Thales had been Savage, could never have admitted into his poem two lines which seem to point so forcibly at the drunken fray when Savage stabbed a Mr. Sinclair, for which he was convicted of murder.

Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you in a jest.

There is, certainly, a curious coincidence between some points of the characters of Thales and Savage; but it seems equally certain that the coincidence was fortuitous. Mr. Murphy endeavours to reconcile the difficulties by supposing that Savage's retirement was in contemplation eighteen months before it was carried into effect; but even if this were true (which may well be doubted), it would not alter the facts, that London was written before Johnson knew Savage; and that one of the severest strokes in the satire touched Savage's sorest point.