by Samuel Butler
Samuel Butler had strong and sometimes odd opinions on many subjects: he wrote a book to prove that the Odyssey was written by a woman, he held unconventional views on religion and science, and quarrelled bitterly with Charles Darwin. He could also be rude, selfish and quick to take offence. Eliza Mary Ann Savage was his only close female friend, and he seems to have accepted her strictures and advice on his writings: he obviously respected her judgment and intelligence. He must also have enjoyed her letters: she shared his acid wit, and some of his dislikes. She for her part was a great admirer of his work, and encouraged him endlessly, while still being prepared to criticise.
Their correspondence--conducted with due formality between "Dear Mr. Butler" and "Dear Miss Savage"--continued for some fourteen years, until Miss Savage's death in 1885 after an operation for cancer, an illness she had not mentioned to Butler, although she must have known about it for years. Butler was devastated, and haunted by the feeling that he had treated her badly by not marrying her, although it's not certain that she would have accepted if he had proposed to her. In 1901 he edited their correspondence, in accordance with his declared wish "to leave a memorial of her, traced chiefly by her own hand, which will show what manner of woman she was". Also in 1901, while undertaking this work, he seems to have written these three sonnets.
The full text of Sonnets on Miss Savage can be read online or downloaded free of charge. It is in XHTML format, like this page. Please note the file size is 6kb. Downloading for reading later may be the preferred option and this can be typically achieved by calling up an option box. If you have a mouse and it is configured for left click to select, right clicking the link may give you this option.
While Butler's regret and sadness come over strongly in these sonnets, there is also a strong element of self-justification in his description of Miss Savage as "plain and lame and fat and short". Whatever was left unfulfilled or unachieved in their relationship was not to be seen as Butler's fault alone. The paradox of their relationship is summed up by Butler in the first of the sonnets:
..though I loved her in a certain sort,
Yet did I love too wisely but not well
Page created 6 January 2003 and last updated
6 January 2003
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