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improving his fortune by enlarging his acquaintance necessarily leading him to places of
expence, he found it neceffary * to endeavour once more at dramatic poetry, for which he was now better qualified by a more extenfive 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 subjects was that of Sir Thomas Overbury, a story well adapted to the stage, though perhaps not far enough removed from the present age, to ada mit properly the fictions necessary to complete the plan: for the mind, which naturally loves truth, is always most offended with the violation of those truths of which we are most certain ; and we of course conceive those facts most certain, which approach nearest to our own time.
Out of this story he formed a tragedy, which, if the circumstances in which he wrote
it be considered, will afford at once an uns common proof of strength of genius, and evennels of mind, of a ferenity 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 conveniences for study than the fields or the street 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 un
dertaking, which, to an ingénuous mind, was in a very high degree vexatious and disgufting; for, having little interest or reputation he was obliged to submit 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 friendfhip he received great assistance on many occafions, 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 correction. Mr. Hill, whose humanity and politeness are generally known, readily.complied with his requeft; .but as he is remarkable for singularity of sentiment, and bold experiments in language, Mr. Savage did not
* Printed in the late collection of his poems.
think his 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 tendernefs.
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 seemed 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 shown to his friends.
In the publication of his performance he was more successful, 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 accumulated profits arose to an 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 excellencies 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. Savage’s necessities returned, he encouraged a subscription to a Miscellany of
* To Herbert Tryst, Esq. of Herefordshire.