Doctor Johnson and Mister Savage

Overview

Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage recounts a story of a mysterious eighteenth-century friendship between Richard Savage - poet, playwright, and convicted murderer - and the young Samuel Johnson, an unknown provincial schoolmaster just arrived in London to seek his literary fortune. In a book that the Times Literary Supplement has called "a chiaroscuro masterpiece, as gothic as a ghost story, as heroic as a myth," Richard Holmes brilliantly reconstructs the puzzling emotional intimacy between the naive Johnson and the ...
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Overview

Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage recounts a story of a mysterious eighteenth-century friendship between Richard Savage - poet, playwright, and convicted murderer - and the young Samuel Johnson, an unknown provincial schoolmaster just arrived in London to seek his literary fortune. In a book that the Times Literary Supplement has called "a chiaroscuro masterpiece, as gothic as a ghost story, as heroic as a myth," Richard Holmes brilliantly reconstructs the puzzling emotional intimacy between the naive Johnson and the seductive, contradictory Savage whose days (when he was not in prison) were spent in taverns, brothels, and society salons. Holmes's spellbinding account shows how their relationship shaped Dr. Johnson's experience of the world and his profound knowledge of human passion, and how it led directly to his early masterpiece, The Life of Richard Savage, a book that revolutionized the art of biography and invented the figure of the poet as a romantic outcast. In Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage, Richard Holmes, says Alfred Kazin, "has shown us the young Johnson that Boswell was afraid to portray," and transformed our understanding of biography itself.

The most praised book from Great Britain last year, this work of investigative biography transforms readers' understanding of the young Samuel Johnson and of literary biographies in general. Holmes reconstructs the strange alliance between Richard Savage, a poet and convicted murderer, and Johnson, who later became a renowned figure in English literature--and shows how this bond revolutionized the art of biography.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this outstanding, eminently readable work of literary scholarship, Holmes (Coleridge: A Life) explores the enigmatic friendship between Samuel Johnson and the poet Richard Savage, whom Johnson memorialized in Lives of the Poets. Synthesizing a wide array of contradictory historical sources, from Johnson's Life of Savage to Boswell's Life of Johnson, the correspondence of Johnson's contemporaries and modern scholarship, Holmes shows that Savage was a notorious and alluring figure when Johnson first arrived in London in 1737. Savage's life was as lurid as a popular novel, recounts Holmes: he claimed to be the illegitimate son of a malevolent Countess, was indicted for killing a man in a tavern brawl but was pardoned by the queen, lived profligately and died in debtor's prison in 1743. According to Holmes, the young Johnson, then an impressionable poet from the provinces, was enchanted by Savage's self-portrait as a persecuted and disenfranchised genius. Holmes enlivens his study with keen insights into the art of biography and evocative glimpses into the professional literary industry of 18th-century London: its oppositional politics, literary journals and Grub Street coffee houses bustling with impoverished writers. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Holmes, who has written award-winning biographies of Shelley and Coleridge, here examines the friendship between Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage in an attempt to understand Johnson's biography of the minor 18th-century poet. Holmes evokes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the title, arguing that in life and in Johnson's Life Savage was Johnson's alter ego. Holmes concludes that The Life of Savage (1744) "revolutionized the art of biography and invented the poet as romantic outcast." In the course of explaining how and why Johnson told his story as he did, Holmes provides a fairly full biography of Savage, the first book-length study since Clarence Tracy's The Artificial Bastard (1953). Holmes's book earned much praise when it was published in England in 1993 and will be equally welcome in this country. It is at once learned and a pleasure to read.-Joseph Rosenblum, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679757702
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1996
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,456,520
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

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