1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Savage

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 3:37-38.



The extreme excellence, fulness, and popularity of Johnson's Life of Savage must excuse our doing more than mentioning the leading dates of his history. He was the son of the Earl of Rivers and the Countess of Macclesfield, and was born in London, 1698. His mother, who had begot him in adultery, after having openly avowed her criminality, in order to obtain a divorce from her husband, placed the boy under the care of a Poor woman, who brought him up as her son. His maternal grandmother, Lady Mason, however, took an interest in him, and placed him at a grammar school at St. Alban's. He was afterwards apprenticed to a shoemaker. On the death of his nurse, he found some letters which led to the discovery of his real parent. He applied to her, accordingly, to be acknowledged as her son; but she repulsed his every advance, and persecuted him with unrelenting barbarity. He found, however, some influential friends, such as Steele, Fielding, Aaron Hill, Pope, and Lord Tyrconnell. He was, however, his own worst enemy, and contracted habits of the most irregular description. In a tavern brawl he killed one James Sinclair, and was condemned to die; but, notwithstanding his mother's interference to prevent the exercise of the royal clemency, he was pardoned by the queen, who afterwards gave him a pension of 50 a-year. He supported himself in a precarious way by writing poetical pieces. Lord Tyrconnell took him for a while into his house, and allowed him! 200 a-year, but he soon quarrelled with him, and left. When the queen died he lost his pension, but his friends made it up by an annuity to the same amount. He went away to reside at, Swansea, but on occasion of a visit he made to Bristol he was arrested for a small debt, and in the prison he sickened, and died on the 1st of August 1743. He was only forty-five years of age.

After all, Savage, in Johnson's Life, is just a dung-fly preserved in amber. His Bastard, indeed, displays considerable powers, stung by a consciousness of wrong into convulsive action; but his other works are nearly worthless, and his life was that of a proud, passionate, selfish, and infatuated fool, unredeemed by scarcely one trait of genuine excellence in character. We love and admire, even while we deeply blame, such men as Burns; but for Savage our feeling is a curious compost of sympathy with his misfortunes, contempt for his folly, and abhorrence for the ingratitude, licentiousness, and other coarse and savage sins which characterised and prematurely destroyed him.