« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
view, may probably seem harder to be accounted for, than any one particular in his life. This person was Mr. Richard Savage, whose misfortunes, together with his vices, had driven him to St. John's gate,
and thereby introduced him to the acquaintance of Johnson, which, founded on his part in compassion, soon improved into friendship and a mutual communication of fentiments and counsels. The history of this man is well known by the life of him written by Johnson; which, if in no other respect valuable, is curious, in that it gives to view a character self-formed, as owing nothing to parental nurture, and scarce any thing to moral tuition, and describes a mind, in which, as in a neglected garden, weeds, without the least obstruction, were suffered to grow into luxuriance: nature had endowed him with fine parts, and those he cultivated as well as he was able ; but his mind had received no moral culture, and for want thereof, we find him to have been a stranger to humility, gratitude, and those other virtues that tend to conciliate the affections of men, and insure the continuance of friendship.
It may be conjectured that Johnson was captivated by the address and demeanour of Savage, at his first approach; for it must be noted of him, that, though he was always an adınirer of genteel manners, he at this time had not been accustomed to the conversation of gentlemen ; and Savage, as to his exterior, was, to a remarkable degree, accomplished: he was a handsome, well-made
very courteous in the modes of falutation. I have been told, that in the taking off his hat and disposing it under his arm, and in his bow, he displayed as much grace as those actions were capable of; and that he understood the exercise of a gentle
man's weapon, may be inferred from the use he made of it in that ralh encounter which is related in his life, and to which his greatest misfortunes were owing. These accomplishments, and the ease and pleasantry of his conversation, were, probably, the charms that wrought on Johnson, and hid from his view those baser qualities of Savage, with which, as his historian, he has nevertheless been necessitated to mark his character, The fimilarity of their circumstances might farther conduce to beget an unreserved confidence in each other; they had both felt the pangs of poverty, and the want of patronage : Savage had let loose his resentment against the poffeffors of wealth, in a collection of poems printed about the year 1727, and Johnson was ripe for an avowal of the same sentiments : they seemed both to agree in the vulgar opinion, that the world is divided into two classes, of men of merit without riches, and men of wealth without merit; never considering the possibility that both might concenter in the same person, just as when, in the comparison of women, we say, that virtue is of more value than beauty, we forget that many are poffeffed of both.
In speculations of this kind, and a mutual condolence of their fortunes, they passed many a melancholy hour, and those at a time when, it might be supposed, the reflection on them had made repose desirable : on
reflection is known to have interrupted it. Johnson has told me, that whole nights have been spent by him and Savage in conversations of this kind, not under the hospitable roof of a tavern, where warmth might have invigorated their spirits, and wine dispelled their care; but in a perambulation found the squares of Westminster, St. James's in
particular, when all the money they could both raise was less than fufficient to purchase for them the shelter and sordid comforts of a night cellar.
Of the result of their conversations little can now be known, save, that they gave rise to those principles of patriotism, that both, for some years after, avowed; they both with the same eye saw, or believed they saw, that the then minister meditated the ruin of this country; that excise laws, ftanding armies, and penal statutes, were the means by which he meant to effect it; and, at the risque of their liberty, they were bent to oppose his measures; but Savage's spirit was broken by the 'sense of his indigence, and the pressure of those misfortunes which his imprudence had brought on him, and Johnson was left alone to maintain the contest.
The character and manners of Savage were such, as leave us little room to think, that Johnson could profit by his conversation : whatever were his parts and accomplishments, he had no reading, and could furnish no intelligence to such a mind as Johnson's: his vagrant course of life had made him acquainted with the town and its vices; and though I am not warranted to say, that Johnson was infected with them, I have reason to think, that he reflected with as little
approbation on the hours he spent with Savage as on any period of his life.
Doubtless there is in the example and conversation of some men a power that fascinates, and suspends the operation of our own will : to this power in Savage, which consisted in the gentleness of his manners, thé elegance of his discourse, and the vivacity of his imagination, we must attribute the afcendant which he maintained over the affections of
Johnson, and the inability of the latter to pursue the suggestions of his own superior understanding. To the purpose of this sentiment, I am tempted to relate a fact which Mr. Garrick once communicated to me in conversation, who, speaking of the irresistible charm of engaging manners, told me, that being an actor at Drury-lane theatre, under Mr. Fleetwood, the patentee thereof, whose extravagances rendered him incapable of fulfilling his engagements, his falary became deeply in arrear, and he began to feel the want of money : in answer to his many applications for payment, he had obtained promises, and even oaths; but these had been so often broken, that, pressed by necessity, and provokcd by ill usage, he was determined to have recourse to law for payment: he however thought it but right to declare his intention ; and, for that purpose, invited himself to breakfast with Fleetwood. It was on a
Sunday,' said Mr. Garrick,' that he appointed to ' see me; he received me with great courtesy and
affability, and entertained me for some hours with
discourse, foreign to the subject of our meeting, but ' so bewitching in its kind, that it deprived me of the power of telling him that he owed me fix hundred pounds, and that my necessities compelled me to demand it.'
The intimacy between Savage and Johnson continued till the beginning of the year 1738, when the distresses of the former, and the cessation, by the death of Queen Caroline, of a pension, which, for some years, she had directed to be paid him, moved fome of his friends to a subscription for his support, in a place so far distant from the metropolis, as to be our of the reach of its temptations ; where he might beget
new habits, and indulge himself in those exercises of his imagination, which had been the employment of his happiest hours. The place fixed on for his residence was Swansea in Wales; but as it was some time before the subscription could be completed, his retirement thither was retarded.
In this suspense of Savage's fortunes, Johnson seems to have confirmed himself in a resolution of quarrelling with the administration of public affairs, and becoming ą satirist on the manners of the times; and because he thought he saw a resemblance between his own and those of Rome in its decline, he chose to express his sense of modern depravity by an imitation of the third satire of Juvenal, in which, with great judgment, and no less asperity, he drew a parallel between the corruptions of each, and exemplified it by characters, then subsisting. In it he anticipated the departure of his friend Thales, i. e. Savage, whom he describes as
resolv'd, from vice and London far,
And, fix'd in Cambria's folitary shore,
To this exercise of his talent he was, probably, excited by the success of Mr. Pope, who had done the fame by some of the fatires of Horace, and had vindicated, by the example of Dr. Donne a divine, that fpecies of writing, even in Christian times, from the imputation of malevolence and the want of that charity' which is not easily provoked, and endureth all ? things.