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Richard Savage

Birthplace: London, Greater London, UK
Death: August 01, 1743 (46)
Place of Burial: St Peter Churchyard, Gloucestershire, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers and Mistress
Brother of Lady Bessy Nassau de Zuylestein
Half brother of Elizabeth Barry

Managed by: Woodman Mark Lowes Dickinson, OBE
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Richard Savage

Note: The dates of birth and baptism are of the illegitimate son born to Anne Mason. The other dates are of the poet Richard Savage, who claimed to be this son, and whose claims were widely believed. As the following article makes clear, there are discrepancies in his account. It is unlikely that the question will be conclusively resolved. Since, however, he had decided to blackmail his alleged relatives (which he did with some success) and the discrepancies mostly arise from his accounts of their allegedly bad behaviour (which may have been made up as a blackmail weapon) I find the match is plausible in the absence of evidence of another Richard Savage with a better claim to be the son of Earl Rivers.

From Wikipedia: Richard Savage (c. 1697 – 1 August 1743) was an English poet. He is best known as the subject of Samuel Johnson's Life of Savage (1744), on which is based one of the most elaborate of Johnson's Lives of the English Poets.

Savage's parentage, while the subject of some dispute, is central to his legend. Besides the story related by Johnson, a romantic account of Savage's origin and early life, for which he supplied the material, also appeared in the Curll's Poetical Register in 1719.

In 1698 Charles Gerard, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, obtained a divorce from his wife, Anna, daughter of Sir Richard Mason; shortly afterwards she 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 16 January 1697, and christened two days later at St Andrews, 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 in a school near St Albans, and by his godmother, a 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 abducted to 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 there is 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 research in Notes and Queries (second series, vol. vi., 149, Nov. 6, 1858, p. 361). However, Clarence Tracy in his seminal biography "The Artificial Bastard" did give weight to Savage's claims. In Richard Holmes' "Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage" the author, though not in complete agreement, did not discount Tracy's bias. However, there is no supportable evidence to conclude that Johnson was a dupe.

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, 1st Viscount Tyrconnel, bought 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 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 the Countess of Hertford.

Savage was at his best as a satirist, and in The Author to be Let he reported many scandals involving his fellow scribblers. Proud as he was, he was servile enough to supply Alexander Pope with petty gossip about the authors attacked in Pope's The Dunciad. His most significant poem, The Wanderer (1729), shows the influence of James Thomson's Seasons, part of which had already appeared. Savage tried without success to obtain patronage from Robert Walpole, and he hoped in vain to be made poet-laureate. Johnson states that he received a small income from Mrs. 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 1 August 1743.

Savage was the subject of a novel, Richard Savage (1842), by Charles Whitehead, illustrated by John Leech. Richard Savage, a play in four acts by J. M. Barrie and H. B. Marriott Watson, was presented at an afternoon performance at London's Criterion Theatre in 1891. The dramatists took considerable liberties with the facts of Savage's career. See also S.V. Makower, Richard Savage, a Mystery in Biography (1909). A gentleman's Club in London, the Savage Club, is also allegedly named after him

SUPPLEMENT TO THE HAY STANDARD RICHARD SAVAGE Dr. Johnson describes Savage as a 'man whose writings entitled him to an eminent rank in the classes of learning, and whose misfortunes claim a degree of compassion not always due to the unhappy. His mother, Anne, Countess of Macclesfield, in 1697 proclaimed her own disloyalty; where upon her husband obtained a dissolution of his marriage. Two months before, the lady had given birth to a son. who was duly baptised at St. Andrew's, Holborn, Earl Rivers, his alleged father, acting, as godfather. Directly after all the feelings of a mother seem to have been abandoned, for the countess committed her son to the care of a poor woman. Humbly brought up as an apprentice with a literary ability. On the death of his nurse he learned from some papers she had left the secret of his birth, but his mother refused to recognise him: Turning to the stage he wrote his first comedy in his eighteenth year. Savage's after career, till his death in the Debtors' prison at Bristol in 1743, was a succession of misfortunes. The most serious incident was his killing a man in a tavern broil which nearly led to his execution.

Richard Savage. An interesting story about Dr. Johnson, which, according to Ed- mund Malone, was told to Boswell, is not included in Boswell's bio- graphy of the Great Cham of Litera- ture. Johnson during, his early years in London experienced the hardships of poverty, and on one occasion, when Edward Cave,' founder and editor of the "Gentleman's Maga- zine," was entertaining at dinner Walter Harte, the author of the "Life of Gustavus Adolphus;" John- son, who was shabbily dressed, did not sit at the table, but was served behind a screen. Harte, who was unaware of Johnson's presence, gave much pleasure to the hidden guest by praising Johnson's "Life of Richard Savage," which had just been pub- lished. Thia biography of Savage was included thirty-seven years later in Johnson's "Lives of the Poets." It still makes interesting reading, for Savage was a strange abnormal crea- ture, and Johnson, who had been on terms of close friendship with him when poverty made them comrades, delineated him with much care, and with an amazing degree of sympathy for faults of character which he did not share. Johnson entertained no doubts of Savage's story that he was the son of the Countess of Maccles- field and the Earl of Rivers (Robert Savage), and that his birth enabled Lord Macclesfield to obtain a divorce from his wife. The infant was hand- ed over to the care of a poor woman, who was told to bring him up as one of her own, and never to tell any- one who were his parents. Lady Macclesfield told Lord Rivers that the child was dead, and this pre- vented Richard Savage receiving the legacy which otherwise would have been left him by his father. When he grew up his mother tried to have him kidnapped and sent to America to work on a plantation, virtually as a slave. Subsequently, when Savage was found guilty of murder after having fatally injured an unarmed man with a sword during a drunken brawl in a coffee house, Lady Mac clesfield used her influence unsuccess- fully to prevent him being pardoned. After his release he pestered the Countess at various times for recog- nition as her son, and for money. Or, as Johnson expresses it, "he made use of every art to awaken her tenderness, and attract her regard-" And, when these efforts failed he | lampooned her in a poem. "One cir- cumstance attended the publication (of this poem) which Savage used to relate with great satisfaction," wrote Johnson. "His mother to whom the poem was with 'due reverence' inscribed, happened than to be at Bath, where she could not conveni- ently retire from censure or conceal herself from observation, and no sooner did the reputation of the poem begin to spread than she heard it repeated in all places of concourse; nor could she enter the assembly rooms or cross the walks without being saluted with some lines from it." Johnsonian critics who have in- vestigated-Savage's story of his birth are unable to arrive at a definite con clusion in regard to it because of the lack of evidence. Boswell refers to it as "somewhat doubtful," and sug- gests that the fact that it emanated from Richard Savage justifies doubt, for Savage. was an unscrupulous blackmail. One of the most re- markable aspects of Savage's per- sistent claim is that Lady Maccles- field took no legal steps to suppress the annoyance caused by the pub- licity given to the matter. She was alive when Johnson's "Life of Rich- ard Savage" " was published, but made no effort to refute the scandal ous charges Johnson made against her. A VAIN POET, Richard Savage's poems have long been buried in oblivion, but Johnson regarded him as "a man; whose writ ings entitle him to an eminent rank in the classes of learning." And Savage naturally had a very exalted opinion of the value of his work. "A superstitious regard to the cor- rectness of his sheets was one of Mr. Savage's peculiarities," wrote his biographer. "He often altered, re- vised, recurred to his first reading or punctuation, and again adopted the alteration; he was dubious and irresolute without end, as on a ques- tion of the last importance; and at last was seldom satisfied: the in- trusion or omission of a comma was sufficient to discompose him, and he would lament an error of a single letter as a heavy calamity. . He could not easily leave off when he had once begun to mention himself or his works; nor ever read his verses without stealing his eyes from the page to discover in the faces of his audience how they were affected with any favorite passage. "He did not suffer his esteem of himself to depend on others, nor found anything sacred in the voice of the people when they were in- clined to censure him; he then readily showed the folly of expecting that the public should judge right, ob- served how slowly poetical merit bad often forced its way into the world; he contented himself with the ap- plause of men of judgment, and was somewhat disposed to exclude all those from the character of men of judgment who did not applaud him. But he was at other times more fav- orable to mankind than to think them blind to the beauties ,of his works, and imputed the slowness of their sale to other causes; either they were published .at a time when the town was empty, or when the attention ot the public was engrossed by some struggle in Parliament, or some other object of general concern; or they were by the neglect of the publisher not diligently dispersed, or by his avarice not advertised with suificienl frequency." A PROUD BEGGAR. Savage was an accomplished sponger. "He appeared to think himself born to be supported by others, and dispensed from all neces- sity to provide for himself," wrote Johnson. "Whoever was acquainted with him was certain to be solicited for small sums, which the frequency of the request made in time con- siderable, and he was therefore quickly shunned by those who were become familiar enough to be trusted with his necessities, but his rambling manner of life and constant appear- ance at houses of public resort always procured him a new succession of friends, whose kindness had not been exhausted by repeated requests, so that he was seldom absolutely with- out resources but had in his utmost exigencies this comfort, that he always imagined himself sure of speedy relief "It was observed, however, that he always asked favors of this kind without the least submission or ap- parent consciousness of dependence, and that he did not seem to look upon a compliance with his request as an obligation that deserved any extra- ordinary acknowledgments, but a re- fusal was resented by him as an affront, or complained of as an in- jury, nor did he readily reconcile himself to those who either denied, to lend, or gave him afterwards any in- timation that they expected to be repaid. His distress, however effec- tive, never dejected him; in his low- est state he wanted not spirit to assert the natural dignity of wit, and was always ready to repress that in- solence which superiority of fortune incited, and to trample on that repu- tation which rose upon any other basis than that of merit; he never admitted to be treated otherwise than as an equal. Once, when he was without lodging, meat, or clothes, one of his friends, a man not indeed re- markable for moderation in his pros- perity, left a message that he desired to see him about nine in the morn- ing. Savage knew that his intention was to assist him, but was very much disgusted that he should presume to prescribe the hour of his attendance, and I believe, refused to visit him, and rejected his kindness. "He was sometimes so far com passioned by those who knew both his merit and distresses, that they re- ceived him into their familes, but they soon discovered him to be a very incommodious inmate; for being always accustomed to an irregular life, he could not confine himself to any stated hours, or pay any regard to the rules of family, but would prolong his conversation till mid- night, without considering that busi- ness might require his friend's ap- plication in the morning, and when he had persuaded himself to retire to bed was not without equal difficulty called up to dinner." A FREE SPENDER. When Mr. Eusden, the Poet Laure- ate, died, Savage expected to suc ceed him, and was even promised, the appointment by the King, but the Lord Chamberlain bestowed it on Colley Cibber. To the annoyance of the new Poet Laureate. Savage styled himself Volunteer Laureate and wrote a laudatory poem on the Queen's birthday, for: which he received from her Majesty a gift of £50, and "per- mission to write annually on the same subject," for which he would receive a like sum, until something better could be done for him.' He wrote a laudatory poem on each anniversary of the Queen's birthday, and re- ceived £50 on each occasion, but nothing came of the Royal promise that something better, would be done for him." Concerning; these birthday poems, Johnson wrote: "Mr. Savage "did not appear, to consider these encomiums as tests of his abilities, or as any- thing more than annual hints to the Queen of her promise, or acts of ceremony by the performance of which he was entitled to his pension, and therefore did not labor them with great diligence or print more than fifty each year. . . . His con- duct with regard to his pension (i.e., the Queen's annual gift of £50) was very particular. No sooner had he changed the bill than he vanished, from the sight of all his acquaintances and lay for some time out of the reach of all inquiries that friendship or curiosity could make after him. At length he appeared again, penniless as before, but never informed even those whom he seemed to regard most where he had been, nor was his retreat ever discovered. This was his constant practice during the whole time that he received the pen- sion from the Queen; he regularly disappeared and returned. He, in- deed, affirmed that he retired to study, and that the money supported him in solitude for many months; but his friends declared that the brief time in which it was spent sufficiently confuted his own account of his con- duct. "While he was thus wearing out his life in the expectation that the Queen would some time recollect her promise he had recourse to the usual practice of writers, and published proposals for printing his works by subscription, to which he was en- couraged by the success of many who had not a better right to the favor of the public, but whatever was the reason he did not find the world equally inclined to favor him, and he observed with some discontent that, though he offered his works at half a guinea, he was able to procure but a small number in comparison with those who subscribed twice as much to Mr. Duck. Savage's applications were, however, not universally un- successful, for some of the nobility countenanced his design, encouraged his proposals, and subscribed with great liberality. He related of the Duke of Chandos particularly that upon receiving his proposals he sent ten guineas. But the money which his subscriptions afforded him was not less volatile than that which he received from his other schemes; whenever a subscription was paid to him be went to a tavern, and as money so collected is necessarily received in small sums, be was never able, to send his poems to the press, but for many years continued his solicitation and squandered whatever he ob- tained. On the death of the Queen his pension , of £50 ceased, and some of his friends, including Pope, came to his rescue with a proposal that on condition he retired to ' Wales "to live privately in a cheap place with- out aspiring any more to affluence, or having any further care of reputation," they would provide him with a pen- sion of £50 a year. They wanted to get Savage away from his old haunts in London, and from the temptation to dissipation. Savage accepted the offer, but without any intention of being bound by its conditions. It was his intention to retire to Swan- sea, and after completing a play he was writing and preparing his other works for the press, to return to London in triumph as a successful author. With fifteen guineas in his pocket as the first instalment of the promised question, he took his seat in a stage coach, after saying good- bye to his friends. "He parted from the author of this narrative with tears in his eyes," wrote Johnson. His friends hoped that when next they heard of him he would be com- fortably settled in Swansea, and that the fifteen guineas would last him for several months. But fourteen days after his departure there came a let- ter from him stating that he was still on the road to Swansea, but having spent the whole of the fifteen guineas he couldn't proceed any further. More money was sent to him, and after staying a few days at Bristol, where he met with a cordial reception on account of his literary reputation, and the charm of his conversation, he eventually reached Swansea. He re- mained there about a year, but the pension was never paid in full. Some of his friends who had promised to contribute to it withdrew, because of the letters which Savage wrote com- plaining of the way in which they had treated him. His only staunch friend in a position to assit him was Pope, whose contribution of £20 a year to the pension was paid regularly. With the intention of returning to London Savage got as far as Bristol, where he was again welcomed, a fund of £30 being subscribed for him. But he soon wore out the welcome of his Bristol friends, and was ar- rested for a debt of £8 owing to the keeper of a coffee house. But this was only one of numerous debts he had incurred in. Bristol. He spent six months in, the debtors' prison, and died there on July 31, 1743, at the age of 46.

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Richard Savage's Timeline

January 16, 1697
London, Greater London, UK
January 18, 1697
August 1, 1743
Age 46
St Peter Churchyard, Gloucestershire, England