Murderers who escaped Death
RICHARD SAVAGE —- a name the mention of which cannot fail to excite in every feeling mind the deepest emotions of pity, and whose almost unparalleled persecution, by an abandoned mother, tends to efface all recollection even of his many frailties —- was born in 1698, having been the son of Anne, Countess of Macclesfield, by Captain Savage, afterwards Earl of Rivers. He might have been considered the lawful issue of Lord Macclesfield; but his mother, in order to procure a separation from her husband, made a public confession of adultery in this instance. As soon as her spurious offspring was brought to light, the countess treated him with every kind of unnatural cruelty. She committed him to the care of a poor woman to educate as her own, and prevented the Earl of Rivers from making him a be quest of L.6000 by declaring he was already dead. She endeavoured to send him secretly to the American plantations; and at last, to bury him in obscurity and indigence for ever, placed him as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Holborn. About this period his nurse died; and, in searching her effects, Savage found some letters which unravelled the mystery of his origin. He therefore left his low occupation, and tried every method, but without avail, to awaken the tenderness and attract the regard of his mother. Being thus thrown upon the world without the aid of any fostering hand, he availed himself of the portion of learning he had acquired at the grammar school of St. Albans, and commenced author.
Savage's early productions do not seem to have afforded him either fame or profit; but in 1723 he produced a tragedy, in which himself performed a principal character, entitled "Sir Thomas Overbury"; during his employment upon which he is said to have been without a lodging, and often without food; possessing no other conveniences for study than the fields or the street; and, when he had composed a speech, stepping into a shop, and begging the use of pen, ink, and paper. The profits of this play appear to have amounted to L.200; and the world was beginning to regard this victim of maternal heartlessness with a more favourable eye, when the accident occurred which put not only his reputation but his life itself into jeopardy, and brought the name of Richard Savage within the gloomy boundaries of our criminal chronology.
We have before adverted to the frailties of the subject of this memoir. He was proud, vain, and dissipated; and the narrative we are about to give will show that he was destitute of that command over his passions which should be indicated in the conduct of every wise and virtuous man. But let the humane reader pause before he passes too severe a judgment upon poor Savage; and suffer the remembrance of his forlorn condition and unheard-of wrongs to cover, at least to a certain extent, "a multitude of sins."
In the month of December, 1727, this gentleman, together with James Gregory and William Merchant, was indicted at the Old Bailey, for the murder of James Sinclair: —- Savage by giving him a mortal wound with a drawn sword in the lower part of the belly; and Gregory and Merchant by aiding and abetting in the commission of the said murder.
It appeared in evidence that these three gentlemen had accidentally come, at a late hour, much disguised in liquor, to Robinson's coffee-house at Charing Cross, and went into a room where Mr. Sinclair and other company were drinking. Merchant, entering first, kicked down the table; and Savage and Gregory drawing their swords, they were earnestly desired to put them up, but refused to do so.
A scuffle ensued, in which Mr. Sinclair received a mortal wound, and was heard to say "I am a dead man": soon after which the candles were extinguished.
Another witness deposed that, as he and some other company were on the point of leaving the house, the prisoners came in, when Merchant kicked down the table, and Gregory, going up to the deceased, said, "Damn ye, you rascal, deliver your sword"; on which weapons were drawn, and the deceased wounded, as above mentioned: that the deceased had his sword drawn when the word was given by Savage; but that he held it with the point down towards the ground; but neither this deponent nor the former observed that Merchant had any sword.
There were several other witnesses to prove the fact; but it may be now proper to mention how it happened that the parties accused came to the house where it occurred. Mr. Savage had at the time a lodging at Richmond, and another at London; and having come to town to pay off the latter, and casually meeting with Gregory and Merchant, with whom he had been acquainted for some time past, they went to a coffee-house, where they drank till late in the evening. Savage would have engaged a bed at this place; but there not being accommodations for him, he and his friends went into the street, proposing to spend the night as they could, and in the morning to walk to Richmond. Strolling about, they saw a light in Robinson's coffee-house, into which they entered, and the fatal consequence ensued which we have already recited.
The perpetrators of this rash action having left the house, some soldiers were sent for, by whom they were taken into custody, and lodged in the round-house; and in the morning were carried before a magistrate, who committed them to the Gate-house; but Mr. Sinclair dying on the following day, they were sent to Newgate.
The deceased had been attended by a clergyman, who declared that he said he was stabbed before he had time to draw his sword; and his testimony was confirmed by that of other witnesses.
When the evidence was summed up, the Court observed to the jury, that, "As the deceased and his companions were in possession of the room, if the prisoners were the aggressors, by coming into that room, kicking down the table, and immediately thereupon drawing their swords, without provocation, &c. it was murder, not only in him who gave the wound, but in those who aided and abetted him."
After a trial of eight hours, the jury found Savage and Gregory guilty of murder, and Merchant guilty of manslaughter: in consequence of which the latter was burnt in the hand and discharged.
On the 11th of December, 1727, Richard Savage and James Gregory were brought to the bar, with other capital convicts, to receive sentence of death; and being asked, in the customary manner, what they had to say why judgment should not be duly passed, Savage spoke as follows:
"It is now, my lords, too late to offer anything by way of defence or vindication; not can we expect aught from your lordships in this Court but the sentence which the law requires you, as judge, to pronounce against men in our calamitous condition. —- But we are also persuaded that as mere men, and out of this seat of rigorous justice, you are susceptible of the tender passions, and too humane not to commiserate the unhappy situation of those whom the law sometimes perhaps exacts from you to pronounce sentence upon.
"No doubt you distinguish between offences which arise out of premeditation and a disposition habitual to vice or immorality, and transgressions which are the unhappy and unforeseen effects of a casual absence of reason and sudden impulse of passion; we, therefore, hope you will contribute all you can to an extension of that mercy which the gentle men of the jury have been pleased to show Mr. Merchant, who (allowing facts as sworn against us by the evidence) has led us into this calamity. "I hope this will not be construed as if we meant to reflect upon that gentleman, or remove anything from us upon him, or that we repine the more at our fate because he has no participation of it: no, my lord! for my part, I declare nothing could more soften my grief than to be without any companion in so great a misfortune."
It will scarcely be believed that, at this critical juncture, the inhuman countess exerted all her influence to prejudice the queen against her unhappy child, and to render unavailing every intercession that might be made to procure for him the royal mercy: at length, however, the Countess of Hertford having laid an account of the extraordinary story and sufferings of poor Savage before her majesty, a pardon was obtained for him and his companion, and they were accordingly set at liberty on the 5th of March, 1728.
Our author had now recovered his liberty, but was destitute of all means of subsistence; and his latter days appear to have been spent, for the most part, in abject poverty. His distresses do not, however, seem to have overcome him. In his lowest sphere his pride sustained his spirits, and set him on a level with those of the highest rank. After enduring numberless privations, and disgusting almost all his friends by the heedlessness (and we are afraid we must add the ingratitude) of his disposition, Savage expired at Bristol, where he had been imprisoned for debt, August, 1743, in his 46th year, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter, at the expense of the gaoler.