Dr Johnson & Mr Savage is the story of a mysterious eighteenth-century friendship. Richard Savage was a poet, playwright and convicted murderer who roamed through the brothels and society salons of Augustan England creating a legend of poetic injustice. Strangest of all his achievements was the friendship he inspired in Samuel Johnson, then a young, unknown schoolmaster just arrived in London to seek his literary fortune. This puzzling intimacy helped to form Johnson’s experience of the world and human passions, and led to his masterpiece The Life of Richard Savage, which revolutionized the art of biography and virtually invented the idea of the poet as a romantic, outcast figure. Richard Holmes gradually reconstructs this alliance, throwing suprising new light on the character of Dr Johnson. This extraordinary book also questions the very nature of life-writing and exposes the conflicts between friendship, truth and advocacy which the modern form has inherited.
Reviews of Dr Johnson and Mr Savage
‘As tense as a detective story and as rich as a Hogarth print, this is the work of a master-biographer.’ John Carey, Sunday Times
‘Richard Holmes’s Dr Johnson & Mr Savage is enthralling, well-written and convincing, a model of tactful psychological biography. One reads it with the pleasure one derives from great imaginative literature.’ Theodore Dalrymple, Spectator
‘Samuel Johnson’s Life of Mr Richard Savage is now perfectly complemented by Holmes’s volume which acts as a Baedeker through the reeking purlieus of an 18th-century Grub Street, while at the same time bringing fully to life two of the most complex and fascinating characters of English letters.’ Peter Ackroyd
‘Holmes, one of the most subtle and imaginative of contemporary biographers, is a virtuoso sleuth, an inspired rooter out of the human being netted in the web of words spun by a poem or a memoir. He combines scholarship with a rare gift of empathy, a deep personal involvement with his subject…His writing seems to glow from the fusion of an acute critical intelligence with a deep poetic and imaginative insight.’ Patrick Taylor Martin, Literary Review
‘A chiaroscuro masterpiece.’ David Nokes, TLS