Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/358

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1039). That Mrs. Brett took no decisive steps to disprove his claims was owing doubtless to her unwillingness to revive the memory of her disgrace, and to the difficulty of obtaining proof of her child Richard's death. The boy (of which she was delivered in a mask) had been purposely hurried from one hiding-place to another while the divorce was pending, to deprive Lord Macclesfield of evidence of adultery.

Savage was probably of humble parentage, and early turned to literature for a livelihood. According to Johnson, his first literary effort was a comedy entitled ‘Woman's a Riddle,’ adapted from the Spanish. Being unable to get it played, he gave it to Christopher Bullock [q. v.], who brought it out at Lincoln's Inn Fields on 4 Dec. 1716. Baker, however, assigns the authorship to the wife of Robert Price [q. v.], a baron of the exchequer, from whom both Savage and Bullock are said to have stolen it. In 1717 he published a poem of no particular merit entitled ‘The Convocation, or the Battle of Pamphlets,’ London, 8vo. It was directed against Bishop Hoadly; but Savage was afterwards so much ashamed of it that he destroyed all the copies on which he could lay hands.

His next production was ‘Love in a Veil,’ a comedy, likewise borrowed from the Spanish, which was first acted at Drury Lane on 17 June 1718, and was printed in the following year. This play, though unsuccessful, gained for him the friendship of Wilks the comedian and of Sir Richard Steele. The latter took a great liking to him, and proposed to marry him to Miss Ousley, his natural daughter. The match fell through, owing to Steele's failure to raise the 1,000l. he proposed to bestow upon her. Savage declares that he never entertained the match; other accounts state that it was broken off because Steele heard that his intended son-in-law had held him up to ridicule. At any rate, a quarrel ensued, and Savage for a time was reduced to great distress. Mrs. Oldfield, who benefited under Earl Rivers's will, rendered him occasional assistance. Cibber, however, contradicts Johnson's assertion that she settled on him a pension of 50l. a year, and declares that she could not abide Savage, and would never see him (Lives of the Poets, v. 33). In 1723, while frequently lacking both food and lodging, he composed the tragedy ‘Sir Thomas Overbury,’ which was acted at Drury Lane on 12 June that year. Savage himself made an essay as an actor, and played the title-rôle, ‘by which he gained no great reputation, the theatre being a province for which nature seemed not to have designed him.’ After the publication of the play, in the following year he found that it had brought him in 100l., a larger sum than he had possessed before.

On 26 June 1724 Aaron Hill, who had already shown him several kindnesses, published the story of his birth in the ‘Plain Dealer.’ The narrative was accompanied by some lines on his mother's conduct, purporting to be written by Savage, but in reality composed by Hill himself. Hill doubtless revised much of Savage's published work, and the substantive authorship of two of Savage's principal poems, ‘The Wanderer’ and the first ‘Volunteer Laureate,’ has been claimed for Hill in a ‘Life’ of that writer by ‘I. K.’ prefixed to the 1760 edition of Hill's ‘Dramatic Works.’

After the appearance in the ‘Plain Dealer’ of Savage's story a subscription was set on foot which enabled him to publish ‘Miscellaneous Poems and Translations by Several Hands’ in 1726. The poet's story was now well known, and procured him considerable sympathy. His prospects were steadily improving when, on 20 Nov. 1727, he killed a gentleman named James Sinclair in a tavern brawl. He was tried before the ‘hanging judge,’ Sir Francis Page [q. v.], and condemned to death. It is asserted that after his conviction all Mrs. Brett's influence was employed to obtain his execution. Certainly from this time his hostility to her became more marked. He owed his life to the intercession of Frances Thynne, countess of Hertford, who obtained his pardon on 9 March 1728.

On his liberation an anonymous poem appeared, of which he was probably the author, entitled ‘Nature in Perfection, or the Mother Unveiled’ (London, 1728), in which Mrs. Brett was ironically congratulated on her son's escape, and, with her daughter Anne, was recklessly vilified. This was followed next month by ‘The Bastard,’ a poem which went through five editions in a few months, and which Johnson says had the effect of driving Mrs. Brett from Bath ‘to shelter herself among the crowds of London.’ In the same year appeared the bitter narrative of his early life, which prefaced the second edition of the ‘Miscellanies.’

Alarmed by public sentiment, and by Savage's growing reputation, Lord Tyrconnel, Mrs. Brett's nephew, undertook to settle on him a pension of 200l., and to receive him into his house, on condition of his abstaining from further attacks. Savage accepted the offer and conditions. ‘This,’ says Johnson, ‘was the golden part of Mr. Savage's life. To admire him was a proof of discernment, and to be acquainted with him was a title