Johnson on Savage

Samuel Johnson and Prof. Richard Holmes, O.B.E.

When he first came to London, young Samuel Johnson was befriended by the flamboyant poet, playwright and blackmailer, Richard Savage. Walking the backstreets at night, he learned Savage’s extraordinary story – supposedly persecuted by a ‘cruel mother’, sentenced to death for a murder in a brothel, appointed Volunteer Poet Laureate to the Queen, and finally broken and outcast.

With this moving and intimate account, Johnson created a brilliant black comedy of 18th-century Grub Street which revolutionised English biography by its psychological realism. Yet Savage’s destructive charm and delusions of grandeur sometimes even threatened to entangle Johnson himself.