A Doctor Writes

by Theodore Dalrymple (August 2012)

than others, if he be not better.

It is by studying at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.

yet he that reads them here, persuades himself that he has always felt them.

literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtility and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claims to poetical honours.

Take that, all you literary theorists!

Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
fastidiousness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science.

But which is more significant? The verses I have quoted, or the speck upon his character? Surely, nearly a quarter of a millennium after his death, the former.

Savage belonged to that small and select group of writers who were once condemned to death and reprieved: I can think, offhand, of Dostoyevsky, Koestler and the greatest South African writer (not much known or appreciated outside South Africa, however), Herman Charles Bosman. Savage was involved in a sordid quarrel with a man in a tavern and ran him through with his sword. Initially sentenced to death, he was reprieved by the intercession of the Countess of Hertford, but taverns remained his natural habitat for the rest of his life. Johnson captures precisely the failure of psychopaths to learn from experience, all the more powerful because the notion of the psychopath was not yet known:

reason, when it would have discovered the illusion, and shewn him, what he never wished to see, his real state.

But honesty compels me to admit that I, in common I suspect with many scribblers, exhibit one of the traits of Richard Savage as described by Dr Johnson.

public to judge right, and was somewhat disposed to exclude all those from the character of men of judgement who did not applaud him.


laid rather on any person than the author.

Anything Goes.

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