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Savage, John (1828-1888)

Editor, Historian, Journalist, Lecturer, Playwright, Poet, Reformer

Irishman John Savage showed early artistic promise, winning the silver medal of the Royal Dublin Society at art school in 1847. While at school he became involved with the “Young Ireland” movement, which ultimately led to Savage’s early forays into journalism. Savage supported insurrection in actions as well as words and had to flee to the United States as a result, arriving in New York City on November 7, 1848. Shortly after his arrival he met Horace Greeley who hired him as a proofreader for the New York Tribune. In 1854 Savage became literary editor of the Citizen, got married, and published his ’98 and ’48: the Modern Revolutionary History and Literature of Ireland. He moved to Washington, D. C. in 1857 to work as the leading editorialist at Stephan Douglas’s States, and to dabble as a playwright, penning the tragedy Sybil, the comedy Waiting for a Wife (1859), and Eva: A Goblin Romance (1860). He also wrote under the pseudonyms Ezek Richards (Haynes 34) and Touchstone (Haynes 95).

The extent of Savage's connection to Pfaff's is not entirely known. During the 1850s, Savage may have become acquainted with some of the crowd at Pfaff’s who were active in the theater (F. Monaghan). An obituary from the New York Times of George Clapp, Henry Clapp's brother, places Savage within the scene at Pfaff's. In it, the author writes that "Henry Clapp, sat at the head of the table there, [referring to Pfaff's,] with such men as George Arnold, William Winter, John Savage, and Henry C. Watson as his associates" (New York Times, April 11, 1893, 7). Another obituary of George Clapp, published in The Publisher's Weekly, further cements Savage's connection to Pfaff's. The obituary states that Clapp "sat at the head of the table in the Pfaff club with such men as George Arnold, William Winter, Artemus Ward, John Savage and Henry C. Watson as his associates" (The Publisher's Weekly, April 15, 1893, 615). Thomas Gunn, who socialized with many Pfaffians, also mentioned Savage a few times in his diary. One of the first instances in which Savage is mentioned in these diaries, Gunn described him as an "Irish patriot heretofore, & "Democratic Review" slasher, & clever fellow" (Gunn vol. 5, 191). On another occasion, Gunn noted that Savage was his drinking companion for the night (Gunn vol. 5, 201).

Throughout his life, Savage committed his attention to political and social issues. In 1860 he penned the political potboiler Our Living Representative Men and served in the Union forces commanded by General Corcoran. Like Pfaff’s visitor William Ross Wallace, Savage composed nationalist verses like “The Starry Flag” in support of the Union cause. Savage’s interest in political causes during the postwar years led him back to New York City to agitate for the Fenian movement. He was elected Chief Executive of the Fenian Brotherhood in America and toured the United States, organizing and fundraising. He continued giving lectures, especially at Catholic colleges and fraternal organizations (F. Monaghan). While traveling, Savage still found time to write. Faith and Fancy appeared in 1864, Poems in 1867, and Fenian Heroes and Martyrs in 1868. He also edited the New Orleans Times until 1867. Savage died at his summer home in Pennsylvania in 1888, leaving behind his legacy for his work in journalism, history, drama, and poetry, as well as his more ineffable effect on the political causes he supported.