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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 distinction 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 ardent imagination which painted the solemn scenes of "The Wanderer."
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
to confess; nor was it perhaps any great advantage to him that an unexpected discovery determined him to quit his occupation.
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.
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 falla-employed at the awl longer than he was willing cious and evasive answers; but, being now in his own opinion on his deathbed, 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 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 dangers of being at any time made known to him, by sending him secretly to the American plantations.†
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 upon 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.
By whose kindness this scheme was counter- Savage was at the same time so touched with acted, or by whose interposition she was in- the discovery of his real mother, that it was his duced to lay aside her design, I know not: it is frequent practice to walk in the dark eveningst not improbable that the Lady Mason might for several hours before her door, in hopes of persuade or compel her to desist, or per-seeing her as she might come by accident to the haps she could not easily find accomplices window, or cross her apartment with a candle wicked enough to concur in so cruel an action; in her hand.
He died Angust 18th, 1712.-R.
* Savage's Preface to his Miscellanies,
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 all 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 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 HydePark 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. They soon sat down to the work. Sir Richard dictated, and Savage wrote, till the dinner that was ordered was put upon the table. Savage was surprised at the meanness of the entertainment, and after some hesitation ventured to ask for some 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 was over, and expected that Sir Richard would call for the reckoning, and return home; but his ex
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 altera-pectations deceived him, for Sir Richard told tions, and brought it upon the stage, under the title of "Weman's a Riddle," but allowed the unhappy Author no part of the profit.
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 for sale for two guineas, which with some difficulty he obtained. Sir Richard then returned home, hav
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 being retired that day only to avoid his creditors, fore; for though it was received and acted, and composed the pamphlet only to discharge yet it appeared so late in the year, that the his reckoning. 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 inbumanity 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 dea of his patron's character.
• It was called "The Battle of the Pamphlets." , Jacob's Lives of the Dramatic Poets.-Dr. J. This play was printed first in 8vo.; and afterwards in 12mo. the fifth edition.-Dr. J. "Plain Dealer."-Dr. J.
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 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 promiso
that they should never again find him graced in the world, and perhaps less often in his pro 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.
fession than in others. To be humane, generous, and candid, is a very high degree of merit in any case, but those qualities 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 ca
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.
Nor did the kindness of Sir Richard end in common favours. He proposed to have estab-lamity seldom complained without relief, he lished 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 never was able to raise the sum which he had offered, the marriage was delayed. In the mean time 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.
By his 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. 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 promise.
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 touch
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 benefaced with his misfortunes, that she allowed him a tors 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
* As it is a loss to mankind when any good action is forgotten, I shall insert another instance of Mr. Wilks's generosity, very little known. Mr. Smith, a gentleman educated at Dublin, being hindered, by an impediment in his pronunciation, from engaging in orders, for which his friends designed him, left his own country, and came to London in quest of employment, but found his solicitations fruitless, and his necessities every day more pressing. In this distress he wrote a tragedy, and offered it to the players, by whom it was rejected. Thus were his
settled pension of fifty pounds a year, which was during her life regularly paid.
last hopes defeated, and he had no other prospect, than of the most deplorable poverty. But Mr. Wilks thought his performance, though not perfect, at least worthy of some reward, and therefore offered him a benefit. This favour he improved with so much diligence, that the house afforded him a considerable sum, with which he went to Leyden, applied himself to the study of physic, and prose. cuted his design with so much diligence and success, that, when Dr. Boerhaave was desired by the Czar ina to recommend proper persons to introduce into Russia the practice and study of physic, Dr. Smith was one of those whom he selected. He had a considerable pension settled on him at his arrival, and was one of the chief physicians at the Russian court-Dr. J.
A letter from Dr. Smith in Russia, to Mr. Wilks, is printed in Chetwood's "History of the Stage." -R.
*"This," says Dr. Johnson, " I write upon the credit of the author of his life, which was published in 1727; and was a small pamphlet, intended to plead his cause with the public while under sentence of death for the murder of Mr. James Sinclair, at Robinson's Coffee-house, at Charing Cross. Price 6d. Roberts."-C.
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 what 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
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 only have betrayed an officious partiality, 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
* Chetwood, however, has printed a poem on her leath, which he ascribes to Mr. Savage. See "History of the Stage," p. 206.- R.
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 pains 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. been unsuccessful in comedy, though rather for want of opportunities than genius, he resolved now 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 violations of those truths of which we are most certain; and we of course conceive those facts most certain, which approach nearest 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.
* In 1724.
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.
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 never been master of so much before.
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, In the dedication,* for which he received ten having little interest or reputation, he was guineas, there is nothing remarkable. The preobliged to submit himself wholly to the players, face contains a very liberal encomium on the and admit, with whatever reluctance, the emen-blooming excellences of Mr. Theophilus Cibber, dations of Mr. Cibber, which he always con- which Mr. Savage could not in the latter part sidered as the disgrace of his performance. of his life see his friends about to read without snatching the play out of their hands. 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 papert in which they were inscrted, had a very powerful effect upon all but his mother, whom, by making her cruelty more public, they only hardened in her aversion.
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 his 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, was such as was 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 friends.
In the publication of his performance he was more successful; for the rays of genius that glimmered in it, that glimmered through all
*Printed in the late collection of his poems.
+ It was acted only three nights, the first on June 12, 1723. When the house opened for the winter season it was once more performed for the Author's benefit, Oct. 2.—R.
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 specimen.
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 com
• To Herbert Tryst, Esq. of Herefordshire.Dr. J.
"The Plain Dealer" was a periodical paper written by Mr. Hill and Mr. Bond, whom Savage called the two contending powers of light and dark ness. They wrote by turns each six essays; and the character of the work was observed regularly to rise in Mr. Hill's week, and fall in Mr. Bond's. -Dr. J.
The names of those who so generously contributed to his relief, having been mentioned in a former account, ought not to be omitted here. They
were the Dutchess of Cleveland, Lady Cheyney, Lady Castlemain, Lady Gower, Lady Lechmere, the Dutchess Dowager and Dutchess of Rutland, Lady Strafford, the Countess Dowager of Warwick, Mrs. Mary Flower, Mrs. Sofuel Noel, Duke of Rutland, Lord Gainsborough, Lord Mislington, Mr. John Savage.-Dr. J.