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The Life of Mr Richard Savage was the first important book by an unknown Grub Street hack, Samuel Johnson, who would later become the most celebrated British writer of the late 1700s. Richard Savage (1697-1743) was a poet, playwright, and satirist who claimed to be the illegitimate son of a late earl and to have been denied his inheritance and viciously persecuted by his mother. He was urbane, charming, a brilliant conversationalist, but also irresponsible and impulsive. His role in a tavern brawl almost led him to the gallows, though his life was saved by an eleventh-hour pardon by the King. Over time he attracted many supporters, practically all of whom he managed to alienate by the time of his death in a debtors’ prison in Bristol. Johnson, who had been friends with Savage for a little over a year, drew on published documents and his own memories of Savage to produce one of the first great English biographies.
The edition is supplemented by other writings by Johnson, a selection of Savage’s prose and verse, contemporary and posthumous responses to Savage and to Johnson’s biography, and selections by Johnson’s first two major biographers, John Hawkins and James Boswell. A discussion of factual errors in Johnson’s account help the reader place the Life and the supplementary texts in their historical and intellectual contexts.