Savage also told Johnson another merry tale of careless Dick. “Sir Richard Steele having one day invited to his house a great number of persons of the first quality, they were surprised at the number of liveries which surrounded the table; and after dinner, when wine and mirth had set them free from the observation of a rigid ceremony, one of them inquired of Sir Richard how such an expensive train of domestics could be consistent with his fortune. Sir Richard very frankly confessed that they were fellows of whom he would very willingly be rid. And being then asked why he did not discharge them, declared that they were bailiffs, who had introduced themselves with an execution, and whom, since he could not send them away, he had thought it convenient to embellish with liveries, that they might do him credit while they stayed. His friends were diverted with the expedient, and by paying the debt discharged their attendants, having obliged Sir Richard to promise that they should never again find him graced with a retinue of the same kind.”
These little pleasantries are echoes of the halcyon days when Steele thought Savage a very fine fellow, made him an allowance and even proposed to become the poet’s father-in-law. But the recipient of all this favour was caddish enough to ridicule his patron, a kind friend mentioned the fact to Sir Richard, and the knight shut his doors on the ingrate. Let us, likewise, give the fellow his conge.
THE MIMIC WORLD
We have seen that Oldfield affected to despise tragedy, and was wont to suggest Mistress Porter as a lady better suited than herself to the purposes of train-bearing. And as the present chapter will be devoted to a few of Nance’s contemporaries let us linger, if only for an instant, over the imposing memory of one whom cynical Horace Walpole thought even finer than Garrick in certain scenes of passion. This “ornament to human nature,” as a biographer warmly called the Porter, played her first childish part in a Lord Mayor’s pageant during the reign of James II., appearing as the Genius of Britain, and incidentally falling under the august notice of another genius of Britain, the great Mr. Betterton. That worthy man regarded the little girl with prophetic eyes, saw in her a wealth of undeveloped talent, and was soon instructing the chit in the mysteries of dramatic art. Sometimes the actress-in-miniature revolted, poor mite ("she should have been in the nursery, the minx,” says some practical reader) and then noble Thomas would give vent to an awful threat. She must speak and act as she was directed, or else—horrible thought—the child should be thrown into the basket of an orange-girl and buried under one of the vine leaves which hid the luscious fruit! And with that punishment hanging over her, the novice went on learning and originating, until one day London woke up to find a new tragedienne within its boundaries.