1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Dermody

Anonymous, "Savage and Dermody" Monthly Anthology and Boston Review 8 (February 1810) 102-03.



Savage was undoubtedly a man of genius; but this does not form the most interesting feature in his character; for in this he has been often equalled, and indeed excelled. The interest excited for him does not arise from admiration at his talents, but from pity for his misfortunes. Few, very few of equal talents have been so eminently wretched as Savage. Indeed Dermody is the only individual I now recollect, who can be compared with him, and the resemblance here is very palpable. They were both possessed of violent passions, and, above all, spirits, which could brook no species of control or opposition. The life of each was an almost uninterrupted series of misfortunes, and they at last died in the most distressing poverty. In the cases of these literary vagabonds, neither the government nor individuals could be charged with want of patronage; but, at length, they both became weary of bestowing money, where it was received without gratitude, and squandered without prudence. Thus far these remarkable characters coincide; but each had his peculiar traits. Savage was supported under his misfortunes by that noble pride, which is ever capable of descending to obsequiousness; Dermody was without sensibility to affront, and repeatedly threw himself as mendicant, where he had been repulsed as an object of contempt and detestation. Savage demanded a support from his friends with unparalleled effrontery; Dermody begged it with slavish meanness. — Savage was insolent; Dermody was servile.

As much, however, as the character of Dermody is below that of Savage in this point of view, I think him superiour in genius. It is true, the great critick of English literature has lavished much praise on Savage and his works; but when we read his life by Johnson, we should remember, that they had been intimate companions; that they had been drawn to this intimacy by similarity of misfortune; — they had passed many a night together "on a bulk, in a cellar, or in a glass house, among thieves and beggars;" and surely partiality may be excused even in "the rigid moralist," when these are considered, and when it is recollected, that the life of Savage was written for bread, and that the attractions of commendation were necessary to give it an extensive and profitable circulation.