Richard Savage

A poem by William Ernest Henley

By J. M. Barrie and H. B. Marriott Watson, Criterion Theatre, April 16, 1891.

To other boards for pun and song and dance!
Our purpose is an essay in romance:
An old-world story where such old-world facts
As hate and love and death, through four swift acts -
Not without gleams and glances, hints and cues,
From the dear bright eyes of the Comic Muse! -
So shine and sound that, as we fondly deem,
They may persuade you to accept our dream:
Our own invention, mainly - though we take,
Somewhat for art but most for interest's sake
One for our hero who goes wandering still
In the long shadow of PARNASSUS HILL;
Scarce within eyeshot; but his tragic shade
Compels that recognition due be made,
When he comes knocking at the student's door,
Something as poet, if as blackguard more.

Poet and blackguard. Of the first - how much?
As to the second, in quite perfect touch
With folly and sorrow, even shame and crime,
He lived the grief and wonder of his time!
Marked for reproaches from his life's beginning;
Extremely sinned against as well as sinning;
Hack, spendthrift, starveling, duellist in turn;
Too cross to cherish yet too fierce to spurn;
Begrimed with ink or brave with wine and blood;
Spirit of fire and manikin of mud;
Now shining clear, now fain to starve and skulk;
Star of the cellar, pensioner of the bulk;
At once the child of passion and the slave;
Brawling his way to an unhonoured grave -
That was DICK SAVAGE! Yet, ere his ghost we raise
For these more decent and less desperate days,
It may be well and seemly to reflect
That, howbeit of so prodigal a sect,
Since it was his to call until the end
Our greatest, wisest Englishman his friend,
'Twere all-too fatuous if we cursed and scorned
The strange, wild creature JOHNSON loved and mourned.

Nature is but the oyster - Art's the pearl:
Our DICK is neither sycophant nor churl.
Not as he was but as he might have been
Had the Unkind Gods been poets of the scene,
Fired with our fancy, shaped and tricked anew
To touch your hearts with love, your eyes with rue,
He stands or falls, ere he these boards depart,
Not as dead Nature but as living Art.

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