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|Letter Reference||Olive Schreiner: J.T. Lloyd MSC 26/2.5.1
|Archive||National Library of South Africa, Special Collections, Cape Town
|Letter Date||29 October 1892
|Address From||Matjesfontein, Western Cape
|Who To||John T. Lloyd
|Other Versions||Rive 1987: 212-15
The manuscript of this letter by Olive Schreiner belongs to the Archive referenced above; its ownership of the original should be acknowledged by referencing the letter as indicated: Copyright transcription: © Olive Schreiner Letters Project. This transcription can be freely used as long as copyright is acknowledged and it is referenced using the following citation: ‘Olive Schreiner to John T. Lloyd, 29 October 1892, NLSA Cape Town, Special Collections, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription’. Please also supply letter line numbers for specific quotations.
The Project is grateful to the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Special Collections. The end of this letter is missing, with the bottom of the last sheet of paper having been cut off.
Oct 29 / 92
Dear Mr Lloyd
Thank you very much for the lecture you sent me. Need I tell you that
7: I valued it.
Thank you a great deal for the letter you gave me in Kimberley. I can
10: only feel there is so much I should have to learn from you if I knew
11: you personally. I can only tell you that any ^minute^ insight I have
12: gained, has been gained at the price of more mistakes than you could
13: easily understand.
I need not tell you that I have read your letter more than once with
16: deep interest. I wish we could have had a long talk together at
17: Kimberley, because I feel writing on such a subject to be very
18: unsatisfactory. So many things have come into my mind while I was
19: reading your letter that I wished to say to you. I am coming to visit
20: my little mother before I leave South Africa, probably in January, &
21: if I can go down for a day to Port Elizabeth, I shall do so, to have
22: the pleasure of meeting you. Then we can talk as I would like over the
23: many points of deep interest in your letter.
When I think over your position as shown in your letter, & mine, the
26: chief difference between you^r view & mine^ seems to be, that for you
27: the universe is not so Unified as it is for me.
I have never been able to conceive of God, & man & the material
30: universe as distinct from one another. The laws of my mind do not
31: allow of it. I hope unreadable at the ?assumption through reason have unreadable
32: When I was a little child of five & sat alone among the tall weeds at
33: the back of our house, this ?perpec perception of the unity of all
34: things, & that they were alive, & that I was part of them, was as
35: clear & over powering to me as it is today. It is the one thing I am
36: never able to doubt.
The agony of my childhood, especially from the time I was 9 till I was
39: fourteen, was the impossibility of reconciling this ^direct^ perception
40: from which I could never shake myself free, with what I was taught.
41: When at fourteen or fifteen I began to study physical science, this
42: agonizing disorganization ended for me. I was like a child walking
43: about with one half of a puzzle in its hand, into which nothing
44: willnot fit: then I found the other half; and it fitted. Since then
45: religion has been to me the one unending joy.
If you ask me what is my religion, it is hard for me to answer,
48: because we humanbeings have not framed speech for the purpose of
49: expressing such thoughts - but if I must put it into words I would say
50: the Universe is one, & it lives: - or if you would put it into older
51: phraseology, I would say; - there is nothing but God.
You may say that this is no answer to all the questions you asked me,
54: but, dear friend, it is the answer, & the only one I can give.
You ask me, do I believe in immortality? I cannot conceive of either
57: birth or death, as anything but simple changes in the endless
58: existence: how can I then either believe in or disbelieve in
59: immortality in the ordinary sense? There is nothing but God! If you
60: ask me what is the practical effect of this feeling, it is to make all
61: life very precious to me, but also to rob death of all its horrors.
There is something beautiful & sacred to me in assisting at the birth
64: of a little baby in studying the facts of embryology, in watching a
65: little plant seed germinate; there is also something to me wonderful &
66: sacred in death, but it is hardly more overpowering & wonderful to me
67: than birth. I could as little fear to be alone with a dying person; or
68: to sleep in a room with a dead body as I should be afraid to sleep
69: under the footstool of a personal God. Neither birth nor death are
70: final to me. You see, dear friend, how difficult it is for me to speak
71: of these things from the standpoint of another. My feeling with regard
72: to these things is not a theory; I believe scientific knowledge
73: harmonized with my feeling, but I could not shake myself free from it
74: if they did not; there would only be dis-cord, as there was of old
75: between facts as known to my intellect, & my inevitable perceptions. I
76: think I first had this feeling with regard to death clearly when my
77: favourite little sister died when I was nine years old. I slept with
78: her little body until it was buried, & after that I used to sit for
79: hours by her grave It & it was as impossible for me then, as it is
80: impossible for me now, to accept the ordinary doctrine that she was
81: living on somewhere without a body. I felt then & I have always felt
82: since when I have been brought face to face with the death of that it
83: is in a larger doctrine than that, that joy & beauty must be sought.
I used to love the birds & animals & inanimate nature better after she
86: was dead; the whole of existence seemed to me more beautiful because
87: it had brought forth & taken back to itself such a beautiful thing as
88: she was to me. Can you understand the feeling?
You see, how can I believe in or care to think about miracles to whom
91: all life is a miracle? How can I believe in the incarnation of any one
92: man as God? It is unthinkable.
About my feeling with regard to Jesus it is not strong in any way. But
95: I deeply understand your feeling. The only man to whose moral teaching
96: I am conscious of owing a profound & unending debt is John Stuart Mill;
97: when I got home to Europe & found men & women whose views exactly
98: coincided with indifference to his works or ridiculing them as
99: old-fashioned, it was keenly painful to me; because they had been the
100: channels through which most of the spirit of current modem science
101: reached me.
Personally I owe nothing to the teaching of Jesus: except the 5th &
104: 6th chapters of Matthew. No part of his teaching morally ever touched
105: me, as a child, & from the time I was fourteen when I ceased to read
106: the bible or go to church, Christianity has been almost non-existent
107: for me; I have lived to an extent you would hardly understand, in
108: another world; & the name so dear to you brings back to me nothing but
109: sad & depressing memories. But as a great, rare soul, whom doubtless
110: we should love better if a fuller record had been left of him, by his
111: followers, I always wish some record had been left of them his life
112: between 20 & 30; those years the most important & intense in which
113: amid agony & temptation his view of life was forming. I think among
114: great religious teachers he does not quite draw me as Buddha & others,
115: because done his teaching stops short with the human world; it is to
116: me doubtful whether he ever caught sight of that larger unity; whether
117: he ever realized the divinity in plant & animal, as well as man. I
118: cannot quite understand how the sense of unity shall extend to the
119: most miserable, drunken little Bushman with his sloping forehead &
120: protruding jaw who limps past my house, & stop when I stand at the Zoo
121: & see Sally looking at me from behind her bars with her great,
122: passionate, fierce, reflective eyes! - my little sister growing on
123: slowly to be me! I cannot understand that scorn of men towards
124: "matter". The stars are wonderful, the light, in a human eye is
125: wonderful, the growing of a seed is wonderful; but is there anything
126: more wonderful than the power which keeps together the particles,
127: which in fact constitutes them? There is only one name which I can
128: give it, it is the same name I give to that I find working & moving in
129: my own little personality.
You see, my dear friend, how absolutely close we are, & yet I cannot
132: stop in the thought of "God" as the father of man; & men as brothers;
133: I have to go further. Nothing tortured me so in Christian teaching as
134: the scorn for the animal world, & the hatred of matter. But if we knew
135: really what the beautiful soul of Jesus thought & felt, we should find
136: it loved wider & deeper than its followers left us any record of.
This is a poor answer to send you to your beautiful letter. But except
139: in my own language of parables, I cannot express myself. If I say that
140: in a stone in the road, in the thoughts in my brain, in the corpuscles
141: in a drop of blood under my microscope, in a railway engine rushing
142: past me in the velt, I see God, shall I not only be darkening counsel
143: with words? If I say that when I nurse a man with smallpox I am
144: touching something far other than what simply seems to be lying there;
145: if I say that when I go to the prison to see a prisoner I simply go to
146: see myself; if I say that when I go out among the rocks alone, I am
147: not alone, I hav have I made anything clearer? Words are very poor
148: things. It almost pains write as I have been this afternoon, because
149: what one wants to say one cannot.
It will be great pleasure to me if ever we can meet before I go to
Thank you much for the book of poems. If I do not post this letter now
155: I shall tear it up, so I will not keep it to add what I think of them,
156: but shall write again.
158: [page/s missing]
The book of poems sent by Lloyd cannot be established. Rivess (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.