Young Sam Johnson


Richard Savage. Sir Thomas Overbury: A Tragedy. 1723. Manuscript. MS Hyde 31

The playwright and poet Richard Savage (d. 1743) spent much of his short life pressing his claim, probably untrue, to be the illegitimate son of the Earl Rivers and the Countess of Macclesfield. The more squalid details of his life, including his conviction for murder, for which he later received a royal pardon, have overshadowed his literary accomplishments. For a brief time in the late 1730s, he and Johnson were close friends, and Johnson would later write that the two of them roamed the streets of London at night, deep in conversation, when they had no place to sleep. After Savage's death in debtors' prison in 1743, Johnson wrote a biography of him which acknowledged his many faults but also movingly defended him:
Those are no proper Judges of his Conduct, who have slumber'd away their Time on the Down of Affluence, nor will any wise man presume to say, "Had I been in Savage's condition, I should have lived, or written, better than Savage."