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That this act of generosity may receive its due praise, and that the good actions of mrs. Oldfield may not be sullied by her general character, it is proper to mention what mr. Savage often declared, in the strongest terms, that he never saw her alone, or in any other place than behind tho
At her death he endeavoured to shew his gratitude in the most decent manner, by wearing mourning as for a mother; but did not celebrate her in elegies, because he knew that too great a profusion of praise would only have revived those faults which bis natural equity did not allow him to think less, because they were committed by one who favoured him; but of which, though his virtue would not endeavour to palliate them, his gratitude would not suffer him to prolong the memory or diffuse the censure.
In his Wanderer, he has indeed taken an opportunity of mentioning her; but celebrates her, not for her virtue, but her beauty, an excellence which none ever denied her; this is the only encomium with which he has rewarded her liberality, and perhaps he has even in this been too lavish of his praise. He seems to have thought, that never to mention his benefactress would have an appearance of ingratitude, though to have dedicated any particular performance to her memory would have only betrayed au officious partiality, that, without exalting her character, would have depressed his own.
He had sometimes, by the kindness of mr. Wilks, the advantage of a benefit, on which occasions he often received uncommon marks of regard and compassion; and was once told by the duke of Dorset, that it was just to consider him as an injured nobleman, and that, in his opinion, the nobility ought to think themselves obliged, without solicitation, to take every opportunity of supporting him by their countenance and patronage. But he had generally the mortification to hear that the whole interest of his mother was employed to frustrate his applications, and that she never left an expedient untried, by which he might be cut off from the possibility of supporting life. The same disposition she endeavoured to diffuse among all those over whom nature or fortune gave her any influence, and indeed succeeded too well in her design: but could not always propagate her effrontery with her cruelty; for, some of those whom she incited against him were ashamed of their own conduct, and boasted of that relief which they never gave him.
In this censure I do not indiscriminately involve all his relations; for he has mentioned with gratitude the humanity of one lady, whose name I am now unable to recol. lect, and to whom therefore I cannot pay the praises which she deserves, for having acted well in opposition to influence, precept, and example.
The punishment which our laws inflict upon those parents who murder their infants is well known, nor has its justice ever been contested; but, if they deserve death who destroy a child in its birth, what pains can be severe enough for her who forbears to destroy him, only to inflict sharper miseries upon him; who prolongs his life, only to make him miserable; and who exposes him, without care and without pity, to the malice of oppression, the caprices of chance, and the temptations of poverty; who rejoices to see him overwhelmed with calamities; and, when bis own industry, or the charity of others, has enabled him to rise for a short time above his miseries, plunges him again into his former distress?
The kindness of his friends not affording him any constant supply, and the prospect of improving his fortune by enlarging his acquaintance necessarily leading bim to places of expence, he found it necessary * to endeavour once more at dramatic poetry, for which he was now better qualified by a more extensive knowledge and longer observation. But having been unsuccessful in comedy, though rather for want of opportunities than genius, he resolved now to try whether he should not be more fortunate in exhibiting a tragedy.
The story which he chose for the subject, was that of sir Thomas Overbury, a story well adapted to the stage, though perhaps not far enough removed from the present age to admit properly the fictions necessary to completo the plan; for the mind, which naturally loves truth, is always most offended with the violation of those truths of wbich we are most certain; and we, of course, conceive those facts most certain which approach nearest to our own time.
* In 1723.
Out of this story he formed a tragedy, wbich, if the circumstances in which he wrote it be considered, will afford at once an uncommon proof of strength of genius, and evenness of mind, of a serenity not to be ruffled, and an imagination not to be suppressed.
During a considerable part of the time in which he was employed upon this performance, he was without lodging, and often without meat; nor had he any other conveniencies for study than the fields or the streets allowed him; there he used to walk and form his speeches, and afterwards step into a shop, beg for a few moments the use of the pen and ink, and write down what he had composed upon paper which he had picked up by accident.
If the performance of a writer thus distressed is not perfect, its faults ought surely to be imputed to a cause very different from want of genius, and must rather excite pity than provoke censure.
But when, under these discouragements, the tragedy was finished, there yet remained the labour of introducing it on the stage, an undertaking which, to an ingenuous mind, was in a very high degree vexatious and disgusting; for, having little interest or reputation, he was obliged to subnit himself wholly to the players, and admit, with whatever reluctance, the emendations of mr. Cibber, which he always considered as the disgrace of his performance.
He had indeed, in mr. Hill, another critic of a very different class, from whose friendship he received great assistance on many occasions, and whom he never mentioned but with the utmost tenderness and regard. He had been for some time distinguished by him with very particular kindness, and on this occasion it was natural to apply to him as an author of an established character. He therefore sent this tragedy to him, with a short copy of verses,* in which he desired his correclion. Mr. Hill, whose humanity and politeness are generally known, readily
Printed in the late collection of his poems.
complied with his request; but, as he is remarkable for singularity of sentimenl, and bold experiment in language, mr. Savage did not think this play much improved by his innovation, and had even at that time the courage to reject several passages which he could not approve; and, what is still more laudable, mr. Hill had the generosity not to resent the neglect of his alterations, but wrote the prologue and epilogue, in which he touches on the circumstances of the author with great tenderness.
After all these obstructions and compliances, he was only able to bring his play upon the stage in the summer, when the chief actors had retired, and the rest were in possession of the house for their own advantage. Among these, mr. Savage was admitted to play the part of sir Thomas Overbury, by which he gained no great reputation, the theatre being a province for which nature seems not to have designed him; for neither his voice, look, nor gesture, were such as were expected on the stage; and he was so much ashamed of having been reduced to appear as a player, that he always blotted out his name from the list, when a copy of his tragedy was to be shewn to his friends.
In the publication of his performance he was more sucressful, for the rays of genius that glimmered in it, that glimmered through all the mists which poverty and Cibber had been able to spread over it, procured him the notice and esteem of many persons eminent for their rank, their virtue, and their wit.
Of this play, acted, printed, and dedicated, the accumu. lated profits arose to a hundred pounds, which he thought at that time a very large sum, having been never master of so much before.
In the dedication,* for which he received ten guineas, there is nothing remarkable. The preface contains a very liberal encomium on the blooming excellence of mr. Theophilus Cibber, which mr. Savage could not in the latter part of his life see his friends about to read without snatching the play out of their hands. The generosity of mr. Hill did not end on this occasion; for afterwards, when mr. Sa
* To Herbert Tryst, esq. of Herefordshire,
vage's necessities returned, he encouraged a subscription to a miscellany of poems in a very extraordinary manner, by publishing his story in the Plain Dealer, * with some affecting lines, which he asserts to have been written by mr. Savage upon the treatment received by him from his mother, but of which he was bimself the author, as mr. Savage afterwards declared. These lines, and the paper in which they were inserted, had a very powerful effect upon all but his mother, whom, by making her cruelty more public, they only hardened in her aversion.
Mr. Hill not only promoted the subscription to the miscellany, but furnished likewise the greater part of the poems of which it is composed, and particularly The Happy Man, which he published as a specimen.
The subscriptions of those whom these papers should influence to patronise merit in distress, without any other solicitation, were directed to be left at Button's coffeehouse; and mr. Savage going thither a few days afterwards, without expectation of any effect from his proposal, found to his surprise seventy guineas,f which had been sent him in consequence of the compassion excited by mr. Hill's pathetic representation.
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, and with a gaiety of imagination, which the success of his subscription probably produced.
The dedication is addressed to the lady Mary Wortley Montague, whom he flatters without reserve, and, to con
• The Plain Dealer was a periodical paper, written by mr. Hill and mır. Bond, whom Savage called the two contending powers of light and domkness. They wrote by turns, each six essays; and the character of the work was observed regularly to rise in mr. Hill's weeks, and fall in mr. Bond's.
+ The names of those who so generously contributed to his relief having been mentioned in a former account, ought not to be omit.' ted here. They were, the duchess of Cleveland, lady Cheyney, lady Castlemain, lady Gower, lady Lechmere, the duchess dowager and duchess of Rutland, lady Strafford, the countess dowager of Warwick, mrs. Mary Floyer, mrs. Sofuel Noel, duke of Rutland, lord Gainsborough, lord Milsington, mr. John Savage.