The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume V Part 2

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For thee my gaudy garden blooms, And richly colour'd glows; Above the pomp of royal rooms, Or purpled works of Persian looms, Proud palaces disclose.


Haste, nymph, nor let me sigh in vain, Each grace attends on thee; Exalt my bliss, and point my strain, For love and truth are of thy train, Content and harmony.

[1] This piece is not in Mr. Hinchliffe's works, but is a.s.suredly his.


This gentleman was a native of Ireland, and was bred to the Law. In this profession he seems not to have made any great figure. By some means or other he conceived an aversion to Dr. Swift, for his abuse of whom, the world taxed him with ingrat.i.tude. Concanen had once enjoyed some degree of Swift's favour, who was not always very happy in the choice of his companions. He had an opportunity of reading some of the Dr's poems in MS. which it is said he thought fit to appropriate and publish as his own.

As affairs did not much prosper with him in Ireland, he came over to London, in company with another gentleman, and both commenced writers. These two friends entered into an extraordinary agreement. As the subjects which then attracted the attention of mankind were of a political cast, they were of opinion that no species of writing could so soon recommend them to public notice; and in order to make their trade more profitable, they resolved to espouse different interests; one should oppose, and the other defend the ministry. They determined the side of the question each was to espouse, by tossing up a half-penny, and it fell to the share of Mr. Concanen to defend the ministry, which task he performed with as much ability, as political writers generally discover.

He was for some time, concerned in the British, and London Journals, and a paper called The Speculatist. These periodical pieces are long since buried in neglect, and perhaps would have even sunk into oblivion, had not Mr. Pope, by his satyrical writings, given them a kind of disgraceful immortality. In these Journals he published many scurrilities against Mr. Pope; and in a pamphlet called, The Supplement to the Profound, he used him with great virulence, and little candour. He not only imputed to him Mr. Brome's verses (for which he might indeed seem in some degree accountable, having corrected what that gentleman did) but those of the duke of Buckingham and others. To this rare piece some body humorously perswaded him to take for his motto, De profundis clamavi. He afterwards wrote a paper called The Daily Courant, wherein he shewed much spleen against lord Bolingbroke, and some of his friends. All these provocations excited Mr. Pope to give him a place in his Dunciad. In his second book, l. 287, when he represents the dunces diving in the mud of the Thames for the prize, he speaks thus of Concanen;

True to the bottom see Concanen creep, A cold, long winded, native of the deep!

If perseverance gain the diver's prize, Not everlasting Blackmore this denies.

In the year 1725 Mr. Concanen published a volume of poems in 8vo. consisting chiefly of compositions of his own, and some few of other gentlemen; they are addressed to the lord Gage, whom he endeavours artfully to flatter, without offending his modesty. 'I shall begin this Address, says he, by declaring that the opinion I have of a great part of the following verses, is the highest indication of the esteem in which I hold the n.o.ble character I present them to. Several of them have authors, whose names do honour to whatever patronage they receive. As to my share of them, since it is too late, after what I have already delivered, to give my opinion of them, I'll say as much as can be said in their favour. I'll affirm that they have one mark of merit, which is your lords.h.i.+p's approbation; and that they are indebted to fortune for two other great advantages, a place in good company, and an honourable protection.'

The gentlemen, who a.s.sisted Concanen in this collection, were Dean Swift, Mr. Parnel, Dr. Delany, Mr. Brown, Mr. Ward, and Mr. Stirling. In this collection there is a poem by Mr. Concanen, called A Match at Football, in three Cantos; written, 'tis said, in imitation of The Rape of the Lock. This performance is far from being despicable; the verification is generally smooth; the design is not ill conceived, and the characters not unnatural. It perhaps would be read with more applause, if The Rape of the Lock did not occur to the mind, and, by forcing a comparison, destroy all the satisfaction in perusing it; as the disproportion is so very considerable. We shall quote a few lines from the beginning of the third canto, by which it will appear that Concanen was not a bad rhimer.

In days of yore a lovely country maid Rang'd o'er these lands, and thro' these forests stray'd; Modest her pleasures, matchless was her frame, Peerless her face, and Sally was her name.

By no frail vows her young desires were bound, No shepherd yet the way to please her found.

Thoughtless of love the beauteous nymph appear'd, Nor hop'd its transports, nor its torments fear'd.

But careful fed her flocks, and grac'd the plain, She lack'd no pleasure, and she felt no pain.

She view'd our motions when we toss'd the ball, And smil'd to see us take, or ward, a fall; 'Till once our leader chanc'd the nymph to spy, And drank in poison from her lovely eye.

Now pensive grown, he shunn'd the long-lov'd plains, His darling pleasures, and his favour'd swains, Sigh'd in her absence, sigh'd when she was near, Now big with hope, and now dismay'd with fear; At length with falt'ring tongue he press'd the dame, For some returns to his unpity'd flame; But she disdain'd his suit, despis'd his care, His form unhandsome, and his bristled hair; Forward she sprung, and with an eager pace The G.o.d pursu'd, nor fainted in the race; Swift as the frighted hind the virgin flies, When the woods ecchoe to the hunters cries: Swift as the fleetest hound her flight she trac'd, When o'er the lawns the frighted hind is chac'd; The winds which sported with her flowing vest Display'd new charms, and heightened all the rest: Those charms display'd, increas'd the G.o.ds desire, What cool'd her bosom, set his breast on fire: With equal speed, for diff'rent ends they move, Fear lent the virgin wings, the shepherd love: Panting at length, thus in her fright she pray'd, Be quick ye pow'rs, and save a wretched maid.

[Protect] my honour, shelter me from shame, [Beauty] and life with pleasure I disclaim.

[Transcriber's note: print unclear for words in square brackets, therefore words are a.s.sumed.]

Mr. Concanen was also concerned with the late Mr. Roome [Transcriber's note: print unclear, "m" a.s.sumed], and a certain eminent senator, in making The Jovial Crew, an old Comedy, into a Ballad Opera; which was performed about the year 1730; and the profits were given entirely to Mr. Concanen. Soon after he was preferred to be attorney-general in Jamaica, a post of considerable eminence, and attended with a very large income. In this island he spent the remaining part of his days, and, we are informed made a tolerable accession of fortune, by marrying a planter's daughter, who surviving him was left in the possession of several hundred pounds a year. She came over to England after his death, and married the honourable Mr. Hamilton.


This unhappy gentleman, who led a course of life imbittered with the most severe calamities, was not yet dest.i.tute of a friend to close his eyes. It has been remarked of Cowley, who likewise experienced many of the vicissitudes of fortune, that he was happy in the acquaintance of the bishop of Rochester, who performed the last offices which can be paid to a poet, in the elegant Memorial he made of his Life. Though Mr. Savage was as much inferior to Cowley in genius, as in the rect.i.tude of his life, yet, in some respect, he bears a resemblance to that great man. None of the poets have been more honoured in the commemoration of their history, than this gentleman. The life of Mr. Savage was written some years after his death by a gentleman, who knew him intimately, capable to distinguish between his follies, and those good qualities which were often concealed from the bulk of mankind by the abjectness of his condition. From this account[1] we have compiled that which we now present to the reader.

In the year 1697 Anne countess of Macclesfield, having lived for some time on very uneasy terms with her husband, thought a public confession of adultery the most expeditious method of obtaining her liberty, and therefore declared the child with which she then was big was begotten by the earl of Rivers. This circ.u.mstance soon produced a separation, which, while the earl of Macclesfield was prosecuting, the countess, on the 10th of January 1697-8, was delivered of our author; and the earl of Rivers, by appearing to consider him as his own, left no room to doubt of her declaration. However strange it may appear, the countess looked upon her son, from his birth, with a kind of resentment and abhorrence. No sooner was her son born, than she discovered a resolution of disowning him, in a short time removed him from her sight, and committed him to the care of a poor woman, whom she directed to educate him as her own, and enjoined her never to inform him of his true parents. Instead of defending his tender years, she took delight to see him struggling with misery, and continued her persecution, from the first hour of his life to the last, with an implacable and restless cruelty. His mother, indeed, could not affect others with the same barbarity, and though she, whose tender sollicitudes should have supported him, had launched him into the ocean of life, yet was he not wholly abandoned. The lady Mason, mother to the countess, undertook to transact with the nurse, and superintend the education of the child. She placed him at a grammar school near St. Albans, where he was called by the name of his nurse, without the least intimation that he had a claim to any other. While he was at this school, his father, the earl of Rivers, was seized with a distemper which in a short time put an end to his life. While the earl lay on his death-bed, he thought it his duty to provide for him, amongst his other natural children, and therefore demanded a positive account of him. His mother, who could no longer refuse an answer, determined, at least, to give such, as should deprive him for ever of that happiness which competency affords, and declared him dead; which is, perhaps, the first instance of a falshood invented by a mother, to deprive her son of a provision which was designed him by another. The earl did not imagine that there could exist in nature, a mother that would ruin her son, without enriching herself, and therefore bestowed upon another son six thousand pounds, which he had before in his will bequeathed to Savage. The same cruelty which incited her to intercept this provision intended him, suggested another project, worthy of such a disposition. She endeavoured to rid herself from the danger of being at any time made known to him, by sending him secretly to the American Plantations; but in this contrivance her malice was defeated.

Being still restless in the persecution of her son, she formed another scheme of burying him in poverty and obscurity; and that the state of his life, if not the place of his residence, might keep him for ever at a distance from her, she ordered him to be placed with a Shoemaker in Holbourn, that after the usual time of trial he might become his apprentice. It is generally reported, that this project was, for some time, successful, and that Savage was employed at the awl longer than he was willing to confess; but an unexpected discovery determined him to quit his occupation.

About this time his nurse, who had always treated him as her own son, died; and it was natural for him to take care of those effects, which by her death were, as he imagined, become his own. He therefore went to her house, opened her boxes, examined her papers, and found some letters written to her by the lady Mason, which informed him of his birth, and the reasons for which it was concealed.

He was now no longer satisfied with the employment which had been allotted him, but thought he had a right to share the affluence of his mother, and therefore, without scruple, applied to her as her son, and made use of every art to awake her tenderness, and attract her regard. It was to no purpose that he frequently sollicited her to admit him to see her, she avoided him with the utmost precaution, and ordered him to be excluded from her house, by whomsoever he might be introduced, and what reason soever he might give for entering it.

Savage was at this time so touched with the discovery of his real mother, that it was his frequent practice to walk in the dark evenings for several hours before her door, in hopes of seeing her by accident.

But all his a.s.siduity was without effect, for he could neither soften her heart, nor open her hand, and while he was endeavouring to rouse the affections of a mother, he was reduced to the miseries of want. In this situation he was obliged to find other means of support, and became by necessity an author.

His first attempt in that province was, a poem against the bishop of Bangor, whose controversy, at that time, engaged the attention of the nation, and furnished the curious with a topic of dispute. Of this performance Mr. Savage was afterwards ashamed, as it was the crude effort of a yet uncultivated genius. He then attempted another kind of writing, and, while but yet eighteen, offered a comedy to the stage, built upon a Spanish plot; which was refused by the players. Upon this he gave it to Mr. Bullock, who, at that time rented the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields of Mr. Rich, and with messieurs Keene, Pack, and others undertook the direction thereof. Mr. Bullock made some slight alterations, and brought it upon the stage, under the t.i.tle of Woman's a Riddle, but allowed the real author no part of the profit. This occasioned a quarrel between Savage and Bullock; but it ended without bloodshed, though not without high words: Bullock insisted he had a translation of the Spanish play, from whence the plot was taken, given him by the same lady who had bestowed it on Savage.-Which was not improbable, as that whimsical lady had given a copy to several others.

Not discouraged, however, at this repulse, he wrote, two years after, Love in a Veil, another Comedy borrowed likewise from the Spanish, but with little better success than before; for though it was received and acted, yet it appeared so late in the year, that Savage obtained no other advantage from it, than the acquaintance of Sir Richard Steele, and Mr. Wilks, by whom, says the author of his Life, he was pitied, caressed, and relieved. Sir Richard Steele declared in his favour, with that genuine benevolence which const.i.tuted his character, promoted his interest with the utmost zeal, and taking all opportunities of recommending him; he a.s.serted, 'that the inhumanity of his mother had given him a right to find every good man his father.' Nor was Mr. Savage admitted into his acquaintance only, but to his confidence and esteem. Sir Richard intended to have established him in some settled scheme of life, and to have contracted a kind of alliance with him, by marrying him to a natural daughter, on whom he intended to bestow a thousand pounds. But Sir Richard conducted his affairs with so little oeconomy, that he was seldom able to raise the sum, which he had offered, and the marriage was consequently delayed. In the mean time he was officiously informed that Mr. Savage had ridiculed him; by which he was so much exasperated that he withdrew the allowance he had paid him, and never afterwards admitted him to his house.

He was now again abandoned to fortune, without any other friend but Mr. Wilks, a man to whom calamity seldom complained without relief. He naturally took an unfortunate wit into his protection, and not only a.s.sisted him in any casual distresses, but continued an equal and steady kindness to the time of his death. By Mr. Wilks's interposition Mr. Savage once obtained of his mother fifty pounds, and a promise of one hundred and fifty more, but it was the fate of this unhappy man, that few promises of any advantage to him were ever performed.

Being thus obliged to depend [Transcriber's note: 'depended' in original] upon Mr. Wilks, he was an a.s.siduous frequenter of the theatres, and, in a short time, the amus.e.m.e.nts of the stage took such a possession of his mind, that he was never absent from a play in several years.

In the year 1723 Mr. Savage brought another piece on the stage. He made choice of the subject of Sir Thomas Overbury: If the circ.u.mstances in which he wrote it be considered, it will afford at once an uncommon proof of strength of genius, and an evenness of mind not to be ruffled. During a considerable part of the time in which he was employed upon this performance, he was without lodging, and often without food; nor had he any other conveniencies for study than the fields, or the street; in which he used to walk, and form his speeches, and afterwards step into a shop, beg for a few moments the use of pen and ink, and write down what he had composed, upon paper which he had picked up by accident.

Mr. Savage had been for some time distinguished by Aaron Hill, Esq; with very particular kindness; and on this occasion it was natural to apply to him, as an author of established reputation. He therefore sent this Tragedy to him, with a few verses, in which he desired his correction. Mr. Hill who was a man of unbounded humanity, and most accomplished politeness, readily complied with his request; and wrote the prologue and epilogue, in which he touches the circ.u.mstances [Transcriber's note: 'cirumstances' in original] of the author with great tenderness.

Mr. Savage at last brought his play upon the stage, but not till the chief actors had quitted it, and it was represented by what was then called the summer-company. In this Tragedy Mr. Savage himself performed the part of Sir Thomas Overbury, with so little success, that he always blotted out his name from the list of players, when a copy of his Tragedy was to be shewn to any of his friends. This play however procured him the notice and esteem of many persons of distinction, for some rays of genius glimmered thro' all the mists which poverty and oppression had spread over it. The whole profits of this performance, acted, printed, and dedicated, amounted to about 200 l. But the generosity of Mr. Hill did not end here; he promoted the subscription to his Miscellanies, by a very pathetic representation of the author's sufferings, printed in the Plain-Dealer, a periodical paper written by Mr. Hill. This generous effort in his favour soon produced him seventy-guineas, which were left for him at b.u.t.ton's, by some who commiserated his misfortunes.

Mr. Hill not only promoted the subscription to the Miscellany, but furnished likewise the greatest part of the poems of which it is composed, and particularly the Happy Man, which he published as a specimen. To this Miscellany he wrote a preface, in which he gives an account of his mother's cruelty, in a very uncommon strain of humour, which the success of his subscriptions probably inspired.

Savage was now advancing in reputation, and though frequently involved in very perplexing necessities, appeared however to be gaining on mankind; when both his fame and his life were endangered, by an event of which it is not yet determined, whether it ought to be mentioned as a crime or a calamity. As this is by far the most interesting circ.u.mstance in the life of this unfortunate man, we shall relate the particulars minutely.

On the 20th of November 1727 Mr. Savage came from Richmond, where he had retired, that he might pursue his studies with less interruption, with an intent to discharge a lodging which he had in Westminster; and accidentally meeting two gentlemen of his acquaintance, whose names were Marchant and Gregory, he went in with them to a neighbouring Coffee-House, and sat drinking till it was late. He would willingly have gone to bed in the same house, but there was not room for the whole company, and therefore they agreed to ramble about the streets, and divert themselves with such amus.e.m.e.nts as should occur till morning. In their walk they happened unluckily to discover light in Robinson's Coffee-House, near Charing-Cross, and went in. Marchant with some rudeness demanded a room, and was told that there was a good fire in the next parlour, which the company were about to leave, being then paying their reckoning. Marchant not satisfied with this answer, rushed into the room, and was followed by his companions. He then petulantly placed himself between the company and the fire; and soon afterwards kicked down the table. This produced a quarrel, swords were drawn on both sides; and one Mr. James Sinclair was killed. Savage having wounded likewise a maid that held him, forced his way with Gregory out of the house; but being intimidated, and confus'd, without resolution, whether to fly, or stay, they were taken in a back court by one of the company, and some soldiers, whom he had called to his a.s.sistance.

When the day of the trial came on, the court was crowded in a very unusual manner, and the public appeared to interest itself as in a cause of general concern. The witnesses against Mr. Savage and his friends, were the woman who kept the house, which was a house of ill-fame, and her maid, the men who were in the room with Mr. Sinclair, and a woman of the town, who had been drinking with them, and with whom one of them had been seen in bed.

They swore in general, that Marchant gave the provocation, which Savage and Gregory drew their swords to justify; that Savage drew first, that he stabb'd Sinclair, when he was not in a posture of defence, or while Gregory commanded his sword; that after he had given the thrust he turned pale, and would have retired, but that the maid clung round him, and one of the company endeavoured to detain him, from whom he broke, by cutting the maid on the head.

Sinclair had declared several times before his death, for he survived that night, that he received his wound from Savage; nor did Savage at his trial deny the fact, but endeavoured partly to extenuate it, by urging the suddenness of the whole action, and the impossibility of any ill design, or premeditated malice, and partly to justify it by the necessity of self-defence, and the hazard of his own life, if he had lost that opportunity of giving the thrust. He observed that neither reason nor law obliged a man to wait for the blow which was threatened, and which if he should suffer, he might never be able to return; that it was always allowable to prevent an a.s.sault, and to preserve life, by taking away that of the adversary, by whom it was endangered.

With regard to the violence with which he endeavoured his escape, he declared it was not his design to fly from justice, or decline a trial, but to avoid the expences and severities of a prison, and that he intended to appear at the bar, without compulsion. This defence which took up more than an hour, was heard by the mult.i.tude that thronged the court, with the most attentive and respectful silence. Those who thought he ought not to be acquitted, owned that applause could not be refused him; and those who before pitied his misfortunes, now reverenced his abilities.

The witnesses who appeared against him were proved to be persons of such characters as did not ent.i.tle them to much credit; a common strumpet, a woman by whom such wretches were entertained, and a man by whom they were supported. The character of Savage was by several persons of distinction a.s.serted to be that of a modest inoffensive man, not inclined to broils, or to insolence, and who had to that time been only known by his misfortunes and his wit.

Had his audience been his judges, he had undoubtedly been acquitted; but Mr. Page, who was then upon the bench, treated him with the most brutal severity, and in summing up the evidence endeavoured to exasperate the jury against him, and misrepresent his defence. This was a provocation, and an insult, which the prisoner could not bear, and therefore Mr. Savage resolutely a.s.serted, that his cause was not candidly explained, and began to recapitulate what he had before said; but the judge having ordered him to be silent, which Savage treated with contempt, he commanded that he should be taken by force from the bar. The jury then heard the opinion of the judge, that good characters were of no weight against positive evidence, though they might turn the scale, where it was doubtful; and that though two men attack each other, the death of either is only manslaughter; but where one is the aggressor, as in the case before them, and in pursuance of his first attack kills the other, the law supposes the action, however sudden, to be malicious. The jury determined, that Mr. Savage and Mr. Gregory were guilty of murder, and Mr. Marchant who had no sword, only manslaughter.

Mr. Savage and Mr. Gregory were conducted back to prison, where they were more closely confined, and loaded with irons of fifty pound weight. Savage had now no hopes of life but from the king's mercy, and can it be believed, that mercy his own mother endeavoured to intercept.

When Savage (as we have already observed) was first made acquainted with the story of his birth, he was so touched with tenderness for his mother, that he earnestly sought an opportunity to see her.

To prejudice the queen against him, she made use of an incident, which was omitted in the order of time, that it might be mentioned together with the purpose it was made to serve.

One evening while he was walking, as was his custom, in the street she inhabited, he saw the door of her house by accident open; he entered it, and finding no persons in the pa.s.sage to prevent him, went up stairs to salute her. She discovered him before he could enter her chamber, alarmed the family with the most distressful out-cries, and when she had by her screams gathered them about her, ordered them to drive out of the house that villain, who had forced himself in upon her, and endeavoured to murder her.

This abominable falsehood his mother represented to the queen, or communicated it to some who were base enough to relate it, and so strongly prepossessed her majesty against this unhappy man, that for a long while she rejected all pet.i.tions that were offered in his favour.

Thus had Savage perished by the evidence of a bawd, of a strumpet, and of his mother; had not justice and compa.s.sion procured him an advocate, of a rank too great to be rejected unheard, and of virtue too eminent to be heard without being believed. The story of his sufferings reached the ear of the countess of Hertford, who engaged in his support with the tenderness and humanity peculiar to that amiable lady. She demanded an audience of the queen, and laid before her the whole series of his mother's cruelty, exposed the improbability of her accusation of murder, and pointed out all the circ.u.mstances of her unequall'd barbarity.

The interposition of this lady was so successful, that he was soon after admitted to bail, and on the 9th of March 1728, pleaded the king's pardon.[2]

Mr. Savage during his imprisonment, his trial, and the time in which he lay under sentence of death, behaved with great fort.i.tude, and confirmed by his unshaken equality of mind, the esteem of those who before admired him for his abilities. Upon weighing all the circ.u.mstances relating to this unfortunate event, it plainly appears that the greatest guilt could not be imputed to Savage. His killing Sinclair, was rather rash than totally dishonourable, for though Marchant had been the aggressor, who would not procure his friend from being over-powered by numbers?

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume V Part 2

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