This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
This poem had an extraordinary sale; and its appearance happening at the time when his mother was at Bath, many persons there repeated passages from it in her hearing. 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 adulteress, 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 fled from reproach, though she felt no pain from guilt; and left Bath in haste, to shelter herself among the crowds of London. Some time after this, Savage formed the resolution of applying to the Queen; who, having once given him life, he hoped she might extend her goodness to him, by enabling him to support it. With this view, he published a poem on her birth-day, which he entitled The Volunteer Laureat; for which she was pleased to send him £50, accompanied with an intimation that he might annually expect the same bounty. But this annual allowance was nothing to a man of his strange and singular extravagance. His usual custom was, as soon as he had received his pension, to disappear with it, and secrete himself from his most intimate friends, till every shilling' of it was spent; which done, he again appeared penniless as before : but he would never inform any person where he had been, nor in what manner his money had been dissipated. From the reports, however, of some who penetrated his haunts, he expended both his time and his cash in the most sordid and despicable sensuality ; particularly in eating and drinking, in which he would indulge in the most unsocial manner, sitting whole days and nights by himself, in obscure houses of entertainment, over his bottle and trencher, immersed in filth and sloth, with scarcely decent apparel; generally wrapped up in a horseman's great coat; and, on the whole, with his very homely countenance, exhibiting an object the most dis gusting to the sight, if not to some other of the senses.
His wit and parts, however, still raised him new friends, as fast as his misbehaviour lost him his old ones. Yet such was his conduct, that occasional relief only furnished the means of occasional excess; and he defeated all attempts made by his friends to fix him in a decent way. He was even reduced so low as to be destitute of a lodging; insomuch that he often passed his nights in those mean houses that are set open for casual wanderers; sometimes in cellars, amidst the riot and filth of the most profligate of the rabble ; and not seldom would he walk the streets till he was weary, and then lie down, in summer, on a bulk, - or, in winter, with his associates, among the ashes of a glasshouse. Yet, amidst all his penury and wretchedness, this man had so much pride, and so high an opinion of his own merit, that he was always ready to repress, with scorn and contempt, the least appearance of any slight towards himself, in the behaviour of his acquaintance ; among whom he looked upon none as his superior. He would be treated as an equal, even by persons of the highest rank. He once refused to wait upon a gentleman, who was desirous of relieving him, when at the lowest distress, only because the message signified the gentleman's desire to see him at nine in the morning. His life was rendered still more unhappy, by the death of the Queen, in 1738. His pension was discontinued; and the insolent manner in which he demanded of Sir Robert Walpole to have it restored, for ever cut off his supply, which probably might have been recovered by proper application.
His distress now became so notorious, that a scheme was at length concerted for procuring him a permanent relief. It was proposed that he should retire into Wales, with an allowance of £50 a year, on which he was to live privately, in a cheap place, for ever quitting his town haunts, and resigning all farther pretensions to fame. This offer he seemed gladly to accept; but his intentions were only to deceive his friends, by retiring for awhile to write another tragedy, and then to return with it to London. In 1739, he set out for Swansey, in the Bristol stage-coach, and was furnished with 15 guineas, to bear the expense of his journey. But, on the 14th day of his departure, his friends and benefacto.s, the principal of whom was Mr. Pope, who expected to hear of his arrival in Wales, were surprised with a letter from Savage, informing them that he was yet upon the road, and could not proceed for want of money. There was no other remedy than a remittance, which was sent him, and by the help of which he was enabled to reach Bristol, whence he was to proceed to Swansey by water. At Bristol, however, he found an embargo laid upon the shipping; so that he could not immediately obtain a passage. Here, therefore, being obliged to stay for some time, he so ingratiated himself with the principal inhabitants, that he was often invited to their houses, distinguished at their public entertainments, and treated with a regard that highly gratified his vanity. At length, with great reluctance, he proceeded to Swansey ; where he lived about a year, very much dissatisfied with the diminution of his salary, for he had, in his letters, treated his contributors so insolently, that most of them withdrew their subscriptions. Here he finished his tragedy, and resolved to return with it to London ; which was strenuously opposed by his constant friend Mr. Pope; who proposed that Savage should put this play into the hands of Mr. Thomson and Mr. Mallet, that they might fit it for the stage ; that his friends should receive the profits it might bring in; and that the author should receive the produce by way of annuity. This kind and prudent scheme was rejected by Savage with contempt. He declared he would not submit his works to any one's correction; and that he would no longer be kept in leading-strings. Accordingly, he soon returned to Bristol, in his way to London; but at Bristol, meeting with a repetition of the same kind treatment he had before found there, he was tempted to make a second stay in that opulent city for some time. Here he was not only caressed and treated, but the sum of £30 was raised for him; with which it would have been happy if he had immediately departed for London. But he never considered that a frequent repetition of such kindness was not to be expected. In short, he remained here till his company was no longer welcome. His visits in every family were too often repeated, his wit had lost its novelty, and his irregular behaviour grew troublesome. Necessity came upon him before he was aware ; his money was spent, his clothes were worn out, his appearance was shabby, and his presence was disgustful at every table. He now began to find every man from home at whose house he called, and he found it difficult to obtain a dinner.
Thus reduced, it would have been prudent in him to have withdrawn from the place; but prudence and Savage were never acquainted. He staid, in the midst of poverty, hunger, and contempt, till the mistress of a coffee-house, to whom he owed about 81. arrested him for the debt. He remained for some time at the house of the sheriff's officer, in hopes of procuring bail; which expense he was enabled to defray by a present of five guineas from Mr. Nash at Bath. No bail, however, was to be found ; so that poor Savage was at last lodged in New-gate, a prison in Bristol. But it was the fortune of this extraordinary mortal always to find more friends than he deserved. The keeper of the prison took compassion on him, and greatly softened the rigours of his confinement by every kind of indulgence ; he supported him at his own table, gave him a commodious room to himself, allowed him to stand at the door of the gaol, and often took him into the fields for the benefit of the air and exercise ; so that, in reality, Savage endured fewer hardships here than he had usually suffered during the greatest part of his life.
While he remained in this agreeable prison, his ingratitude again broke out, in a bitter satire on the city of Bristol; to which he certainly owed great obligations, notwithstanding his arrest, which was but the lawful act of an individual. This satire is entitled, London and Bristol delineated; and in it he abused the inhabitants of the latter with such a spirit of re sentment, that the reader would imagine he had never receiv ed any other than the worst of treatment in that city. When Savage had remained about six mouths in this hospitable prison, he received a letter from Mr. Pope, (who still allowed him £20 a year,) containing a charge of very atrocious ingratitude; and though the particulars have not transpired, yet, from the notorious character of the man, there is reason to fear that Savage was but too justly accused: He, however, solemnly protested his innocence; but he was very unusually affected on this occasion: - in a few days after, he was seized with a disorder, which, at first, was not suspected to be dangerous; but growing daily more languid and dejected, at last a fever seized him, and he died on the 1st of August, 1743, in the 46th year of his age.
Thus lived, and thus died, Richard Savage, Esq. leaving behind him a character strangely chequered with vices and good qualities. Of the former we have mentioned a variety of instances ; of the latter, his peculiar situation in the world gave him but few opportunities of making any considerable display. He was, however, undoubtedly a man of excellent parts ; and had he received the full benefits of a liberal education, and had his natural talents been cultivated to the best advantage, he might have made a respectable figure in life. He was happy in a quick discernment, a retentive memory, and a lively flow of wit, which made his company much coveted ; nor was his judgment of men and writings inferior to his wit: but he was too much a slave to his passions, and his passions were too easily excited. He was warm in his friendships, but implacable in his enmity ; and his greatest fault was ingratitude. He seemed to think every thing due to his merit, and that he was little obliged to any one for those favours which he thought it their duty to confer upon him. He therefore never rightly estimated the kindness of his many friends and benefactors, or preserved a grateful sense of their generosity towards him. The works of this original writer, after having long lain dispersed in magazines and fugitive publications, were collected and published in an elegant edition, in 2 vols. 8vo. to which are prefixed the admirable Memoirs of Savage, written by Dr. Samuel Johnson.