Born: c. 1697
Birthplace: London, England
Location of death: Bristol, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Poet-subject of Life of Savage
English poet, born about 1697, probably of humble parentage. A romantic account of his origin and early life, for which he at any rate supplied the material, appeared in Curll's Poetical Register in 1719. On this and other information provided by Savage, Samuel Johnson founded his Life of Savage, one of the most elaborate of the Lives. It was printed anonymously in 1744, and has made the poet the object of an interest which would be hardly justified by his writings. In 1698 Charles Gerrard, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, obtained a divorce from his wife, Anna, daughter of Sir Richard Mason, who shortly afterwards married Colonel Henry Brett. Lady Macclesfield had two children by Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers, the second of whom was born at Fox Court, Holborn, on the 16th of January 1697, and christened two days later at St. Andrew's, Holborn, as Richard Smith. Six months later the child was placed with Anne Portlock in Covent Garden; nothing more is positively known of him. In 1718 Richard Savage claimed to be this child. He stated that he had been cared for by Lady Mason, his grandmother, who had put him to school near St. Alban's, and by his godmother, Mrs. Lloyd. He said he had been pursued by the relentless hostility of his mother, Mrs. Brett, who had prevented Lord Rivers from leaving £6000 to him and had tried to have him kidnapped for the West Indies. His statements are not corroborated by the depositions of the witnesses in the Macclesfield divorce case, and Mrs. Brett always maintained that he was an impostor. He was wrong in the date of his birth; moreover, the godmother of Lady Macclesfield's son was Dorothea Ousley (afterwards Mrs. Delgardno), not Mrs. Lloyd. There is nothing to show that Mrs. Brett was the cruel and vindictive woman he describes her to be, but abundant evidence that she provided for her illegitimate children. Discrepancies in Savage's story made James Boswell suspicious, but the matter was thoroughly investigated for the first time by W. Moy Thomas, who published the results of his researches in Notes and Queries (second series, vol. vi., 1858). Savage, impostor or not, blackmailed Mrs. Brett and her family with some success, for after the publication of The Bastard (1728) her nephew, John Brownlow, Viscount Tyrconnel, purchased his silence by taking him into his house and allowing him a pension of £200 a year. Savage's first certain work was a poem satirizing Bishop Benjamin Hoadly, entitled The Convocation, or The Battle of Pamphlets (1717), which he afterwards tried to suppress. He adapted from the Spanish a comedy, Love in a Veil (acted 1718, printed 1719), which gained him the friendship of Sir Richard Steele and of Robert Wilks. With Steele, however, he soon quarrelled. In 1723 he played without success in the title role of his tragedy, Sir Thomas Overbury (1724), and his Miscellaneous Poems were published by subscription in 1726. In 1727 he was arrested for the murder of James Sinclair in a drunken quarrel, and only escaped the death penalty by the intercession of Frances, countess of Hertford (d. 1754).
Savage was at his best as a satirist, and in The Author to be Let he published a quantity of scandal about his fellow-scribblers. Proud as he was, he was servile enough to supply Alexander Pope with petty gossip about the authors attacked in the Dunciad. His most considerable poem, The Wanderer (1729), shows the influence of Thomson's Seasons, part of which had already appeared. Savage tried without success to obtain patronage from Horace Walpole, and hoped in vain to be made poet-laureate. Johnson states that he received a small income from Anne Oldfield, but this seems to be fiction. In 1732 Queen Caroline settled on him a pension of £50 a year. Meanwhile he had quarrelled with Lord Tyrconnel, and at the queen's death was reduced to absolute poverty. Pope had been the most faithful of his friends, and had made him a small regular allowance. With others he now raised money to send him out of reach of his creditors. Savage went to Swansea, but he resented bitterly the conditions imposed by his patrons, and removed to Bristol, where he was imprisoned for debt. All his friends had ceased to help him except Pope, and in 1743 he, too, wrote to break off the connection. Savage died in prison on the 1st of August 1743.
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