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Lives of the Gaolers

Let us recall Mr. Dagg, whatever his lineage,
He showed himself a tender turnkey.

There was a poet, a Mr. Savage, who sometimes
Lived up to his name, a troublesome bastard
Of the Earl of Here and the Countess of There.
His illegitimate father died of a distemper:
“I can only,” he said, “be a godfather to you.”
His ill-tempered mother desired to send him
To the American plantations in secret.

For a debt of eight pounds, owed to a Mrs. Read
Who managed a coffee-house, the poet was consigned
To Newgate and the care of Mr. Dagg, the keeper.
This happened on his 45th birthday, for Mr. Savage
Was proficient in misfortune.

Inspired perhaps by his mother, he had once written
A play, Woman’s a Riddle, also a poem about Bath,
The Triumph of Health and Mirth. They availed him
But little. “But now,” he said, “Freely I sing
In my cage, not a gaolbird but a bird of the Muses.”

“Here,” said Mr. Savage, “I have a room to myself.”
Moreover he fed at the keeper’s own table,
And often was taken for walks in the meadows.
Never in his life had the poet had it so good.
In his death he was buried at Mr. Dagg’s expense.

Modern scholars contend that in fact Mr. Savage
Was of low and legitimate birth. There is a book
On him, grudgingly titled The Artificial Bastard.
But the moral of the story remains unaffected:
Virtue, as Dr. Johnson observed, is most laudable
In conditions which make it most difficult—
Like being a gaoler. Mr. Dagg should not be forgotten.

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