Page images

could not pay for a lodging; so that they have wandered together whole nights in the streets. Yet in these almost incredible scenes of distress, we may suppose that Savage mentioned many of the anecdotes with which Johnson afterwards enriched the life of his unhappy companion, and those of other poets.

He told sir Joshua Reynolds, that one night in particular, when Savage and he walked round St. James'ssquare for want of a lodging, they were not at all depressed by their situation; but in high spirits and brimful of patriotism, traversed the square for several hours, inveighed against the minister, and "resolved they would stand by their country."

I am afraid, however, that by associating with Savage, who was habituated to the dissipation and licentiousness of the town, Johnson, though his good principles remained steady, did not entirely preserve that conduct, for which, in days of greater simplicity, he was remarked by his friend Mr. Hector; but was imperceptibly led into some indulgences which occasioned much distress to his virtuous mind. Cave, and occasionally praised it. Soon after meeting him, Cave said, 'You made a man very happy t'other day.'How could that be,' says Harte; 'nobody was there but ourselves.' Cave answered, by reminding him that a plate of victuals was sent behind a screen, which was to Johnson, dressed so shabbily, that he did not choose to appear: but on hearing the conversation, he was highly delighted with the encomiums on his book."-MALONE.

x As Johnson was married before he settled in London, and must have always had a habitation for his wife, some readers have wondered how he ever could have been driven to stroll about with Savage all night for want of à lodging. But it should be remembered, that Johnson, at different periods, had lodgings in the vicinity of London*; and his finances certainly would not admit of a double establishment. When, therefore, he spent a convivial day in London, and found it too late to return to any country residence he may occasionally have had, having no lodging in town, he was obliged to pass the night in the manner described above; for, though at that period it was not uncommon for two men to sleep together, Savage, it appears, could accommodate him with nothing but his company in the open air.-The epigram given above, which doubtless was written by Johnson, shows that their acquaintance commenced before April, 1738.—MALONE.

* It is recorded in a subsequent page of these Memoirs, that Mrs. Johnson was often living in comparative luxury on the healthy hills of Hampstead, while her husband was toiling amidst the smoke and dirt of London.-ED.

That Johnson was anxious that an authentick and favourable account of his extraordinary friend should first get possession of the publick attention, is evident from a letter which he wrote in the Gentleman's Magazine for August of the year preceding its publication.


'MR. URBAN,-As your collections show how often you have owed the ornaments of your poetical pages to the correspondence of the unfortunate and ingenious Mr. Savage, I doubt not but you have so much regard to his memory as to encourage any design that may have a tendency to the preservation of it from insults or calumnies; and therefore, with some degree of assurance, intreat you to inform the publick, that his life will speedily be published by a person who was favoured with his confidence, and received from himself an account of most of the transactions which he proposes to mention, to the time of his retirement to Swansea in Wales.

"From that period, to his death in the prison of Bristol, the account will be continued from materials still less liable to objection; his own letters, and those of his friends, some of which will be inserted in the work, and abstracts of others subjoined in the margin,

[ocr errors]

It may be reasonably imagined, that others may have the same design; but as it is not credible that they can obtain the same materials, it must be expected they will supply from invention the want of intelligence; and that under the title of The Life of Savage, they will publish only a novel, filled with romantick adventures, and imaginary amours. You may therefore, perhaps, gratify the lovers of truth and wit, by giving me leave to inform them in your magazine, that my account will be published in 8vo. by Mr. Roberts, in Warwick-lane."

[No signature.]

In February, 1744, it accordingly came forth from the shop of Roberts, between whom and Johnson I have not traced any connection, except the casual one of this

publication. In Johnson's Life of Savage, although it must be allowed that its moral is the reverse of "Respicere exemplar vitæ morumque jubebo," a very useful lesson is inculcated, to guard men of warm passions from a too free indulgence of them; and the various incidents are related in so clear and animated a manner, and illuminated throughout with so much philosophy, that it is one of the most interesting narratives in the English language. Sir Joshua Reynolds told me, that upon his return from Italy he met with it in Devonshire, knowing nothing of its author, and began to read it while he was standing with his arm leaning against a chimney-piece. It seized his attention so strongly, that, not being able to lay down the book till he had finished it, when he attempted to move, he found his arm totally be numbed. The rapidity with which this work was composed, is a wonderful circumstance. Johnson has been heard to say, "I wrote forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the Life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up all night"."

He exhibits the genius of Savage to the best advantage, in the specimens of his poetry which he has selected, some of which are of uncommon merit. We, indeed, occasionally find such vigour and such point, as might make us suppose that the generous aid of Johnson had been imparted to his friend. Mr. Thomas Warton made this remark to me; and, in support of it, quoted from the poem entitled The Bastard, a line in which the fancied superiority of one stamped in nature's mint with ecstacy, is contrasted with a regular lawful descendant of some great and ancient family:

No tenth transmitter of a foolish face.

But the fact is, that this poem was published some years before Johnson and Savage were acquainted.

y Roberts was, for whatever reason, employed by Cave to publish the first edition of this life. Cave was the purchaser of the copyright, and Johnson's receipt for the money, (fifteen guineas,) appeared lately in the Gent. Mag. with another agreement between Johnson and Cave, respecting the Rambler.

z Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3d. edit. p. 35.

It is remarkable, that in this biographical disquisition there appears a very strong symptom of Johnson's prejudice against players; a prejudice which may be attributed to the following causes: first, the imperfection of his organs, which were so defective that he was not susceptible of the fine impressions which theatrical excellence produces upon the generality of mankind; secondly, the cold rejection of his tragedy; and, lastly, the brilliant success of Garrick, who had been his pupil, who had come to London at the same time with him, not in a much more prosperous state than himself, and whose talents he undoubtedly rated low, compared with his own. His being outstripped by his pupil in the race of immediate fame, as well as of fortune, probably made him feel some indignation, as thinking that whatever might be Garrick's merits in his art, the reward was too great when compared with what the most successful efforts of literary labour could attain. At all periods of his life Johnson used to talk contemptuously of players; but in this work he speaks of them with peculiar acrimony; for which, perhaps, there was formerly too much reason, from the licentious and dissolute manners of those engaged in that profession. It is but justice to add, that in our own time such a change has taken place, that there is no longer room for such an unfavourable distinction.

His schoolfellow and friend, Dr. Taylor, told me a pleasant anecdote of Johnson's triumphing over his pupil, David Garrick. When that great actor had played some little time at Goodman's-fields, Johnson and Taylor went to see him perform, and afterwards passed the evening at a tavern with him and old Giffard. Johnson, who was ever depreciating stage-players, after censuring some mistakes in emphasis which Garrick had committed in the course of that night's acting, said, "The players, sir, have got a kind of rant, with which they run on, without any regard either to accent or emphasis." Both Garrick and Giffard were offended at this sarcasm, and endeavoured to refute it; upon which Johnson rejoined, "Well, now I'll give

[ocr errors]

you something to speak, with which you are little acquainted, and then we shall see how just my observation is. That shall be the criterion. Let me hear you repeat the ninth commandment, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."" Both tried at it, said Dr. Taylor, and both mistook the emphasis, which should be upon not and false witnessa. Johnson put them right, and enjoyed his victory with great glee.

His Life of Savage was no sooner published, than the following liberal praise was given to it in the Champion, a periodical paper: "This pamphlet is, without flattery to its author, as just and well-written a piece of its kind as I ever saw; so that at the same time that it highly deserves, it certainly stands very little in need of this recommendation. As to the history of the unfortunate person, whose memoirs compose this work, it is certainly penned with equal accuracy and spirit, of which I am so much the better judge, as I know many of the facts mentioned to be strictly true, and very fairly related. Besides, it is not only the story of Mr. Savage, but innumerable incidents relating to other persons, and other affairs, which renders this a very amusing, and, withal, a very instructive and valuable performance. The author's observations are short, significant, and just, as his narrative is remarkably smooth, and well disposed. His reflections open to all the recesses of the human heart; and, in a word, a more just or pleasant, a more engaging or a more improving treatise, on all the excellencies and defects of human nature, is scarce to be found in our own, or perhaps, any other language b.

a I suspect Dr. Taylor was inaccurate in this statement. The emphasis should be equally upon shalt and not, as both concur to form the negative injunction; and false witness, like the other acts prohibited in the Decalogue, should not be marked by any peculiar emphasis, but only be distinctly enunciated.—Boswell. A moderate emphasis should be placed on false.-Kearney.

This character of the Life of Savage was not written by Fielding, as has been supposed, but most probably by Ralph, who, as appears from the minutes, of the partners of the Champion, in the possession of Mr. Reed of Staple Inn, succeeded Fielding in his share of the paper, before the date of that eulogium.BOSWELL.

« PreviousContinue »