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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner: Havelock Ellis 2006.29/5
ArchiveNational English Literary Museum, Grahamstown
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date30 June 1912
Address FromDe Aar, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other Versions
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 Havelock Ellis, 30 June 1912, National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription’. Please also supply letter line numbers for specific quotations.

The Project is grateful to the National English Literary Museum (NELM) for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections.

1:  De Aar
2:  June 30th 1912
4:  Dear old Boy
6:  Thanks for your letter. Of course each person's "diary works" (I mean
7:  simple, spontaneous, straight forward records of what one sees, feels,
8:  & does & thinks) will differ with the individuality of the person. The
9:  charm is that it is an expression of their individuality. A guide book
10:  has no charm because it expresses no individuality it is just a
11:  collection of facts. If Barrow writes a book the thing his
12:  individuality notes are names of mountains & rivers, language, words,
13:  also gypsies, tramps thieves & scenery to a small extent, with a word
14:  picture of his mind thought & feeling. When Darwin writes he notes all
15:  plants, animals, scientific speculation turn up in his mind at every
16:  moment, nature impresses him with great cosmic feelings: his books are
17:  greater than Barrow's because a greater soul - but Barrow's also have
18:  their value & charm.
20:  You could write a book most engaging & splendid if you wrote more as
21:  you write letters & more spontaneously. Any one of your letters to me
22:  where you've told me just a little about your travels in Spain say, is
23:  worth the whole of your book. The letters live, the book seems
24:  artificial. You express in the book what you've really seen & thought
25:  but in a stiff artificial manner. There is not enough of yourself in
26:  all of your later writing
. If I were very ill & you knew that my life
27:  depended on q my being amused & interest, & to help me you wrote an
28:  account of your a fortnight spent in Paris, just who you saw where you
29:  went & felt interest, what you felt about your food & your room: & how
30:  the pictures impressed you, it would no doubt splendid. Your short
31:  hurried letters ^even^ are 100 times more interesting than your books.
33:  I could write the most marvelous books in that way, compared to which
34:  all my other books are nothing. I do see the actual world about me so
35:  intensely the men & women I meet print themselves on me, agonize me if
36:  they are antipathetic, give me bliss if there are beautiful.
38:  The sc atmospheric effects of every day I note intensely the changes
39:  in the sky the weather the scene: all nature is immensely important.
40:  My feeling to this awful sandy desert, the strange passionate love I
41:  feel for the pepper-trees I have planted, & especially one rose bush
42:  that I nurture & care for before my door. My difficulty is that I dare
43:  not write the truth! I would be so afraid of paining human beings.
44:  Character! character! character! is what cuts deep into me. The
45:  character people I meet on the train, of the people living in de Aar,
46:  of my different servants - I could write books about them alone - &
47:  most easily. But dare I, with my terror of inflicting pain? - I can't,
48:  that's why I can't write my life! My
50:  You
52:  You who are not so terribly moved by all persons you come into contact
53:  with - could write much more easily just what you feel & think about
54:  the things you see. Of course you do lack descriptive power with
55:  regard to material things. I doubt whether in a few lines you could
56:  make me see an old ruin on a hill as Barrow does so that I actually
57:  see it. He was of course born the artist. - that is what the matter
58:  with him - unlovable, in many respects an ignorant & narrow man - he
59:  was an artist
! The few right words in which to pain a thing he saw
60:  always came to him, because he saw so clearly & intensely. Life was
61:  always shaping itself into pictures to him. But you could write most
62:  valuable books if they were more like your letters. There are such
63:  wonderful little touches - so often in your conversation - now & then
64:  in your letters, in which you throw a whole world into a short
65:  critical or descriptive sentence - t as where you once said of Karl
66:  Pearson's
wife when you first met her that she seemed a good sort of
67:  woman, "but the kind of person who would finish off a man!" C I can't
68:  write more now.
70:  Cron is still away at the Victoria Falls. He returns the middle of
71:  this week. The weather is a little better, the sunshine through my
72:  window is dancing on the sheet as I write.
74:  Things in South Africa grow darker & darker. Sauer & Burton the two
75:  only liberal men on the native question have been turned out of their
76:  offices in the ministry, & the most bigoted, narrow native hater in
77:  South Africa Hertzog put in as minister of native affairs. There are
78:  terrible things coming soon
80:  ^in this poor accursed land. We have also passed a bill for forced
81:  conscription.
83:  Olive^

The books referred to are: George Borrow (1857) The Romany Rye London: John Murray and (1851) Lavengro: The Scholar Gypsy London: John Murray.

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