Richard Savage was an English poet. He is best known as the subject of Samuel Johnson's Life of Savage, on which is based one of the most elaborate of Johnson's Lives of the English Poets.
Savage's parentage, while the subject of some dispute, is central to his legend. Besides the story related by Johnson, a romantic account of Savage's origin and early life, for which he supplied the material, also appeared in the Curll's Poetical Register in 1719.
In 1698 Charles Gerard, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, obtained a divorce from his wife, Anna, daughter of Sir Richard Mason; shortly afterwards she married Colonel Henry Brett. Lady Macclesfield had two children by Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers, the second of whom was born at Fox Court, Holborn, on 16 January 1697, and christened two days later at St Andrews, Holborn, as Richard Smith. Six months later the child was placed with Anne Portlock in Covent Garden; nothing more is positively known of him.
In 1718, Richard Savage claimed to be this child. He stated that he had been cared for by Lady Mason, his grandmother, who had put him in a school near St Albans, and by his godmother, a Mrs. Lloyd. He said he had been pursued by the relentless hostility of his mother, Mrs. Brett, who had prevented Lord Rivers from leaving £6000 to him and had tried to have him abducted to the West Indies. His statements are not corroborated by the depositions of the witnesses in the Macclesfield divorce case, and Mrs. Brett always maintained that he was an impostor. He was wrong in the date of his birth; moreover, the godmother of Lady Macclesfield's son was Dorothea Ousley, not Mrs. Lloyd. There is nothing to show that Mrs. Brett was the cruel and vindictive woman he describes her to be, but there is abundant evidence that she provided for her illegitimate children. Discrepancies in Savage's story made James Boswell suspicious, but the matter was thoroughly investigated for the first time by W Moy Thomas, who published the results of his research in Notes and Queries. However, Clarence Tracy in his seminal biography "The Artificial Bastard" did give weight to Savage's claims. In Richard Holmes' "Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage" the author, though not in complete agreement, did not discount Tracy's bias. However, there is no supportable evidence to conclude that Johnson was a dupe.