ed final proof until modern timesrnbrought the invention of DNA testing.rnIt seems likely that most of them, likernmore common but similar claims to noblerndescent, have been false. In the casernof Savage, he was probably the child of arnnurse or servant employed by LadyrnMacclesfield or someone close to her,rnwho knew about her illegitimate childrenrnand passed the story on. Whateverrnthe source of such claims, the narrativernframing the alleged fact of birth usuallyrnconforms to current fashion in storytelling,rnwhether it involves lost colonistsrnand drowned sailors or, as with Savage,rnthe conviction that an anonymous 18thcenturyrnNobody can turn out to bernSomebody after all.rnA self-created, well-published, andrnwidely read fiction. Savage as witty, noblernbastard was a character from literaturernwho had migrated into the Londonrnstreets, coffee houses, and taverns viarnthe pages of Grub Street newsletters andrnmagazines. His fictional contemporariesrnwere the heroes of Fielding, but Shakespeare’srnEdmund in King Lear wasrnamong his ancestors. One might evenrnsay that as an inhabitant of, writer for,rnand creation of Grub Street, Savage wasrna dream come true, the embodiment ofrnone of Dryden’s or Swift’s nightmaresrnof social and literary subversion. So, forrnthat matter, was his friend, the youngrnSamuel Johnson, when he first arrived inrnLondon as an aspiring Grub Street hack.rnOutside the shrinking circles of thernliterate, Johnson is now remembered,rnif at all, as the self-confident sage andrnconversationalist of Boswell’s Life: wise,rnfunny, kind, sensible, and, above all,rnreliable in word and in person; the veryrnembodiment of the Man of Letters. YetrnBoswell’s Johnson, like Richard Savage,rnwas an imaginative creation, and thernJohnson his other friends knew—Mrs.rnThrale, for instance—was a rather differentrnman. He was still funny, self-confident,rnand a wonderful talker and writer,rnbut he was not always reliable, not alwaysrnterribly sensible, and often difficultrnto cope with. Moreover, he had oncernbeen young, desperately unhappy, andrnnear to hopelessness.rnIn March 1737 Samuel Johnson, havingrnventured and lost his wife’s smallrncapital, went to London to scrape a livingrnfrom writing. He was 27 years old, arnbrilliant young man handicapped byrna grotesquely ugly appearance: tall, rawboned,rnpartly blind, scarred by scrofula,rnand afflicted by spasmodic tics and convulsivernmovements. His recent, bizarrernmarriage to a woman more than 20 yearsrnolder than himself was proving unsatisfactory,rnand he was developing nomadicrntendencies, on occasion preferring arnnight in the streets to sharing lodgingsrnwith his wife.rnThis was the period when, soon afterrnhis arrival in London, he met Savage,rnand the unlikely pair—dapper wit andrnself-made nobleman; big, awkwardrnprovincial—became friends. The friendshiprnlasted several years, providingrnJohnson’s biographers with a famousrnanecdote and also with a problem. Thernanecdote told how young Johnson andrnthe older Savage, both hard-up, wouldrnspend the night walking the streets ofrnLondon, unable to afford lodging. Thernproblem arose from the friendship itself:rnHow could one explain Dr. Johnson’srnintimate association with a notoriouslyrnbad lot like Richard Savage?rnA reader of Johnson’s Life of Savagernencounters at least two related problems.rnWhy did a man as temperamentallyrnskeptical as Johnson accept Savage’srnstories? And how can one preservernJohnson’s reputation as a man of literaryrnconscience and moral sympathy in thernface of his savage, libelous attacks onrnSavage’s putative mother, Lady Macclesfield,rnnot to mention the sheerrninaccuracy of his Life? The two questionsrnhave simple though unflatteringrnanswers. Johnson was a raw provincialrnwith a chip on his shoulder when he metrnSavage, already celebrated as a poet andrnas the embodiment of a personal legend.rnSavage’s talk and character dazzled him,rnand his attention flattered him. Then,rnwhen Savage died a few years later, Johnsonrnfound himself well placed to write arnsaleable Life, which he published (asrnRichard Holmes points out) with a firmrnknown for sensational books. Holmes’srntactic is to incorporate both answers intornhis book, dignifying them by dwellingrnon the significance of Savage’s lifernand Johnson’s response to it. “WhenrnJohnson came to write Savage’s Life inrn1743, he put Savage’s night walking atrnthe heart of the story of his literaryrncareer. He did it so powerfully that herncreated a legend, almost an 18th-centuryrnarchetype, of the Outcast Poet movingrnthrough an infernal cityscape.” Andrnso Holmes presents Johnson’s Life ofrnSavage and the man himself as precursorsrnof the Romantic movement.rnThis makes for impressive writing, butrnis it true? After all, the whole 18th centuryrncould be treated as the precursor ofrnRomanticism. The problem with Dr.rnJohnson & Mr. Savage is that it is a literaryrnbrick made without straw. The onlyrnevidence for Johnson’s friendship withrnSavage is his own anecdote of the nightrnwalks, and the Life itself. I lolmes’s bookrnconsists of his interpretation of thoserntwo pieces of evidence, framed in materialrndrawn from standard works on bothrnauthors.rnIt is not a convincing interpretation.rnAs reported by Johnson’s friends, hisrntelling of the anecdote did not presentrnLondon as “an infernal cityscape,” butrnas the setting for a high-spirited defiancernof circumstances. Nor is it likely thatrnmost readers of the Life would put thernnight walks at the center of it. Nothingrnin Johnson’s approach encourages one tornfind that kind of symbolist form in thernbook.rnInsofar as the Life has a central, recurrentrntheme, it is Savage’s tale of abandonmentrnby his mother, the only aspectrnof his story which Johnson acceptedrnunreservedly. Indeed, not to have acceptedrnit would have gone against thernexpectations of his readers. For asrnHolmes’s narrative reveals without itsrnauthor quite realizing it, there was a momentrnwhen Savage’s private fantasy andrnits related campaign of stalking, libel,rnand blackmail became a public phenomenon,rnand the entire social and literaryrnworld ganged up on poor Lady Macclesfield,rnmaking Savage famous in thernprocess. In this way his story became thernbasis of his relationship to the world,rnincluding young Samuel Johnson:rnfriendship with Savage required acceptancernof his legend. Holmes, intentrnupon scrutinizing the mouse of thernmidnight walks, misses entirely this trulyrnextraordinary mountain of significancernthat brought them forth.rnIn Johnson’s friendship with Savage,rnand in his writing of the Life, we catchrnhim in deep collusion with the grouprnpsychology of his time. The positionrnwas not to his credit, but he was notrnalone in it. All sorts of unlikely peoplernbelieved Savage, and offered him friendshiprnand money, Alexander Pope amongrnthem. No doubt the effective opener ofrnso many hearts and purses, includingrnyoung Johnson’s, was the claim to noblernbirth; and one aspect of the manyfacetedrnjoke that resulted was thatrnSavage, securely locked into his ownrndelusions of nobility, always ended uprntreating his benefactors with contemptrn38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn