Page images
PDF
EPUB

common 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 domestick 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 lei sure to pursue his observations.

More circumstances to constitute a critick on human life could not easily concur ; nor indeed could any 'man, who assumed from accidental advansages more praise than he could justly claim for 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 advocate.

What was the result of Mr. Savage's enquiry, 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, it can be delivered only from memory, may be imperfectly represented ; so that the pic-. zure 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 narrower, and that the whole range of his mind was from obscenity to politicks, and from po-: liticks 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 had 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 is 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,

[ocr errors]

mind, but that he had driven it away by amusements, or dreams of futur felicity and affluence, and had never taken any measures by wbich he migh prevent a precipation 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 a always been careful to use the advantages he enjoyed with that moderating which ought to have been with more than usual caution preserved by bis who knew, if he had reflected, that he was only a dependent on the boun ty of another, whom he could expect to support him no longer than he ea deavoured to preserve his favour by complying with his inclinations, an whom he nevertheless set at defiance, and was continually irritating by neg ligence and encroachments.

Examples need not be sought at any great distance to prove, that superis rity of fortune has a natural tendency to kindle pride, and that pride se dom fails to exert itself in contempt and insult ; and if this is often the fect of hereditary wealth, and of honours enjoyed only by the merits others, it is some extenuation of any indecent triumphs to which this un happy 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 had formerly borne, and which he might now think himself entitled to te venge. It is too common for those who have unjustly suffered pain, to in flict it likewise in their turn with the same injustice, and to imagine 13 they have a right to treat others as they have themselves been treated.

That Mr. Savage was too much elevated by any good fortune, is gene rally known; and soine passages of his introduction to The Author to be le sufficently shew, that he did not wholly refrain from such satire as he afterwards thonght very unjust, when he was exposed to it himself; for, whes he was afterwards ridiculed in the character of a distressed poet, he very easi sily discovered, that distress was not a proper subject for merriment, or topick of invective. He was then able to discern, that if misery be the e fect 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 panegyrick, who is capable of reproaching a ctia minal 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 shew than use, and operated very little upon his conduct, however ele

gant!

intly he might sometimes explain, or however forcibly he might inculte them. His degradation therefore from the condition which he had enjoyed with ch wanton thoughtlessness, was considered by many as an occasion of trioph. Those who had before paid their court to him without success, on returned the contempt which they had suffered ; and they who had reived favours from him, for of such favours as he could bestow he was ry liberal, did not always remeinber them. So much more certain are effects of resentment than of gratitude: it is not only to many more easing to recollect those faults which place others below them, than those tues by which they are themselves comparatively depressed: but it is kewise more easy to neglect, than to recompense; and though there are w who will practise a laborious virtue, there will never be wanting multudes that will indulge an easy vice. Savage, however, was very little disturbed at the marks of contempt hich his ill-fortune brought upon him, from those whom he never esmed, and with whom he never considered himself as levelled by any canities : and though it was not without some uneasiness that he saw some, hose friendship he valued, change their behaviour ; yet be observed their Idness without much emotion, considered them as the slaves of fortune d the worshippers of prosperity, and was more inclined to despise them, an to lament himself. It does not appear that, after this return of his wants, he found mannd equally favourable to him, as at his first appearance in the world.

story, though in reality not less melancholy, was less affecting, beiuse it was no longer new; it therefore procured him no new friends : and lose that had formerly relieved him, thought they might now consign hin others. He was now likewise considered by many rather as criminal than unhappy; for the friends of Lord Tyrconnel, and of his mother, were ifficiently industrious to publish his weaknesses, which were indeed very umerous; and nothing was forgotten, that might make him either hateal or ridiculous. It cannot but be imagined, that such representations of his faults must take 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 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' proboked 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 :

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; bur was prevailed on, by his domesticks, to retire without insisting upon seeing him.

Lord Tyrconnel was accused by Mr. Savage of some actions, which scarcely any provocations will be thought sufficiently 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 to diminish their resentment. That the anger of Mr. Savage should be kept alive, is not strange, because he felt every day the copsequences 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 por 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 very 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 ni base birth; and the pathetick sentiments at the end, where he recourts 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 seception; great numbers were immediately dispersed, and editions were multiplied with unusual rapidity.

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 assem

bly-rooms

hly-rooms or cross the walk, without being saluted with some lines from The Bastard.

This was perhaps the first time that ever she 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 adultress, 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 fied from reproach, though she felt no pain from guilt, and left Bath with 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 over balance the miseries of want, which this performance did not much alleviate ; for it was sold for a very trivial súm 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 incontestible proof of a general acknowledgment of his abilities. It was indeed the only production of which he could 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 any thing sacred in the voice of the people when they were inclined to censure him ; he then readily shewed the folly of expecting that the publick '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 judginent 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 town 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 liberairy, vas 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 Vol. I.

3 K

was

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »