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Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage Hardcover – August 9, 1994


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st American ed edition (August 9, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679435859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679435853
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia. His is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA and the Tavistock Institute, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His first book, 'Shelley: The Pursuit', won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. 'Coleridge: Early Visions' won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and 'Dr Johnson & Mr Savage' won the James Tait Black Prize. 'Coleridge: Darker Reflections' won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' in 1985, and 'Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer' in 2000.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent introduction to Johnson and his literary milieu. Savage was a troubled poet who was orphaned as a child. He claimed to be the illegitimate son of the Earl of Rivers and that he was entitled to aristocratic standing in 18th century England. His best known poems are "The Wanderer" and "The Bastard". Given to riotous living he eventually was involved in a murder from which he was pardoned by Queen Caroline. He ended his days in debtors' prison. What makes the story so interesting is that someone like Johnson would take such a deep interest in Savage. They were separated by some twenty years in age and Johnson, who was just beginning his literary career, looked up to Savage. In doing so he chose not to notice his vices. Other important poets of the time, Pope, Thomson, Mallet also make an appearance. A good way into the world of Samuel Johnson. Holmes is capable of invoking the entire atmosphere of 18th century England
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Most of us know Samuel Johnson as the monumental center of Boswell's biography: witty, erudite, and revered by his contemporaries. Richard Holmes gives us a picture of the man before he became a living legend, when Johnson was destitute, wandering the streets all night because he had no money for lodgings--and friends with the notorious Richard Savage. In bringing Savage back to life--a man full of wild poetic genius but too erratic to create works worthy of it--, Holmes reconstructs 18th century London and gives us intriguing glimpses into the influences that made Johnson the literary lion that he became. Holmes' deconstruction of Johnson's "Life of Savage" reveals the substantial emotional ties that Johnson had to his wayward friend. Fascinating reading and tremendous scholarship
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on December 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm writing these words under the assumption that anyone who has found himself looking at this review knows a pretty good bit about Samuel Johnson, English Literature in general and at least a little about Mr. Savage (if only from his rather appropriate surname.) It's interesting how literary fads come and go; how a prominent poet or author of one era would find himself outcast in another, and, vice-versa; how an unknown of one era would find himself the talk of the town in another....Imagine Jack Kerouac in the days of Matthew Arnold! But I digress. I think I am one of the few people (the only person that I know of, in fact, Mr. Holmes included) who regards Mr. Savage as a great poet, greater than almost any writing during his lifetime: Thomas Grey and Cowper might be exceptions. He is an early, nearly forgotten path-setting pilgrim in the Romantic tradition, the Visionary Company (a phrase coined by Yeats and picked up as a title for his groundbreaking critical study of the Romantics by Harold Bloom). He is a Shelley, a Rimbaud, a Hart Crane before his time. Dr. Johnson is an anonymous, erudite scholar before his time. There just happened to be no satisfactory English dictionary before he came along, so he became famous for writing the (endearingly quirky) first of its kind. And there you have it. This book is to be commended for revealing what we know of Johnson before he became the old curmudgeon we love to ridicule. Like we all were at one time (Well, the better lot of us anyway.): Johnson was impressionable, naive and idealistic when he met the older Savage, and Savage was almost undoubtedly the subject Johnson had in mind when he penned "Slow rises worth, by Poverty oppressed." in The Vanity of Human Wishes.Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jim McKenna on September 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Richard Savage's sole claim to fame is that Johnson wrote a book about him. At the time it was written, however, Johnson wasn't very well known himself and was only marginally more respectable than Savage. Holmes does an excellent job of describing their relationship and showing us how Johnson lived before he bacame a tory sage. He provides an excellent counterweight to Boswell, who tended to play down Johnson's awkwardness and barely concealed rage. At the same time, Holmes never forgets that Johnson was a great writer and man.
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5 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Nick Statman on December 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
This author of this book is twice guilty. First he is guilty of the all too common academic act of reducing a fascinating subject to a dry and lifeless pseudo-rigorous study. Second he, while attempting impartiality, refuses to opine on what the reader really wants to know.
The characters involved, the location (a combination bar/whorehouse), the actual fight and the defense all could make for some seriously juicy reading. Richard Holmes has succeeded in completely boring the event down. Also he is too timid to really let us know what he thinks of Savage's parentage or Savages culpability in the murder. I suppose he is just trying to present the facts and let the reader draw his or her own conclusion. Holmes: these guys have been dead for centuries. You can go out on a limb and hazard some hard guesses!
The only thing this book really succeeds in doing is whetting my appetite for a good book on the subject.
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