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|Letter Reference||Karl Pearson 840/4/3/2-12
|Archive||University College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
|Letter Date||Friday 3 July 1886
|Address From||The Convent, Harrow, London
|Who To||Karl Pearson
|Other Versions||Rive 1987: 85-7
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 Karl Pearson, 3 July 1886, University College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription’. Please also supply letter line numbers for specific quotations.
The Project is grateful to University College London (UCL) and its Library Services for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Special Collections. The date has been written on this letter in an unknown hand.
My dear K.P.
You say the senses of taste & touch seem to have no intellectual side,
7: & so you doubt whether they can ever become aesthetic. But have they
8: not? & are they not even now largely used aesthetically? I think so.
9: Touch, (the sense of pressure) most present in the hands & lips &c but
10: more or less existing in ^almost unreadable^ all tissues) is the root of
11: almost all our intellectual knowledge! So it seems to me. If a child
12: is born blind, may be intellectually very much as an other, but a
13: child born with out sense of touch in any part of the body, is more or
14: less an idiot, shut off from the outer world. All ideas of extention,
15: weight, size, age, distance, we derive from touch; a blind person can
16: be perfectly correct in all these matter. (After all what is sight but
17: a portion of the surface becoming highly modified & sensitive, till it
18: is cons-cious even of the touch of light. Trace the evolution of the
19: eye in the animal – but I may be wrong here).
//Take touch in its simplest form in the snail or jelly fish which
22: curls up if or moves if touched by a foreign object – the sense is
23: then simply used for the purpose of self preservation, not at all for
24: pleasure i.e. aesthetically. But take the case of even the lower
25: animals, say the cat or dog. Already the cat uses her sense
26: aesthetically when she rubbs her face against velvet, & a dog when he
27: comes & stands besides you & looks up into your face that you my touch
28: him on the head. Among human beings the sense of touch is already very
29: largely aesthetic in its use. What is the first thing we teach a
30: little child – "Look at pretty things, but you mustn’t always want
31: to touch them". Why does a child cry for the moon? As we develop in
32: years we do not want to touch the same things but we want to touch
33: other things just as much, for pleasure & not for profit. What is
34: grasping a unreadable ^human^ hand at parting, or putting your hand
35: under your pillow at night to feel the book you love, but the
36: aesthetic use of touch. Take kissing it is an entirely aesthetic use
37: of the sense of touch. (One might imagine that lips had been developed
38: for that purpose, they are not found in the lower animals, but I
39: believe that the lowest savages rarely kiss, so I suppose they were
40: developed in connection with speech?).
When I was a child I remember climbing up at the risk of my neck on
43: chairs & hassocks to stroke the face of a picture I thought beautiful.
44: I think nothing more expresses the height of evolution which a
45: creature has reached that the ^degree^ power ^unreadable^ of expressing
46: even complex though & states of feeling by a simple touch. To a course
47: ^unreadable^ touch is comparatively nothing.
Taste it seems to me has certainly become aesthetic to a large extent.
50: The pleasure of a highly developed palate in a complex French dish
51: with seven flavours is as entirely aesthetic, & as little possible to
52: the savage, as is the pleasure of another man in the shades of colour
53: in a picture, or ^in^ the variations in the movements of a sonata. The
54: difference is this, that the one is a purely egoistic aestheticism to
55: be engaged in by one alone at the cost of the others, the other an
56: aestheticism which may be share with others & is not made less by
57: division. That I enjoy a sunset or a song does not make any one
58: else’s enjoyment of them less ^perhaps more if we share it together;^
59: but that I enjoy a roast foul does make somebody poorer! Therefore as
60: our advance in sympathetic development we crush out those aesthetic
61: developments which are egoistic & cultivate those which are eq
62: sharable. Don’t you think that’s the explanation, & that taste
63: does tend to become aesthetic?
With regard to smell it’s only struck me just now, that we have the
66: remarkable case of a sense which has become entirely aesthetic almost!
67: Smell was developed at first as the means of preserving the life of
68: the creature & obtaining food. If from many of the lower animals you
69: took the sense of smell the individual & the race would become extinct
70: at once. Even the monkey depends ^almost^ entirely depends on its sense
71: of smell & taste, in determining what food is poisonous & what not.
As the reason develops & ^the mode of^ life changes we need smell less &
74: less. If you took from the ordinary civilized man or woman the sense
75: of smell what would they lose? – Aesthetic enjoyment! nothing else!
76: The smell of the flower, of the perfume & the hay, of the sea, of the
77: early morning damp – nothing else! They would not be worsted in the
78: animal struggle for existence, but the race without smell would lose
79: some of the finest joys of life. (Have you ever noticed what a sub
80: wordspace addition to our enjoyment of nature, those subtile scents
81: are? If you took his sense of smell from a wolf he would probably die
82: with in a week, either from want of food or falling a prey to his
83: enemies. If you took his sense of smell from a man, he might eat an
84: egg that was not quite fresh, or not move quickly away from a bad
85: odour, but even with ^regard to^ bad air & food we have already better
86: artificial tests than that of smell. Don’t you think one is almost
87: justified in arguing, that in smell one has a sense which from being
88: animal, & necessary for the continuance of animal life, has become in
89: its uses purely aesthetic?
//With regard to the sexual sensations. Has it not sometimes seemed to
92: you when you have tried to analyze them, that they are compounded of a
93: mingling of all the other senses. (Just as the sexual fluid in man
94: must (although we have not yet proved how) contain in itself nothin ^in^
95: its apparently simple & structureless germs, the effects of every
96: nerve and fibre in brain & body in some marvellously condensed form to
97: transmit it to the des-cendant.)
Sexual passion is composed largely of the sense of hearing; among
100: birds & with many insti insects it plays the greatest part. (Many
101: insects are only attracted to the male or female when & while they
102: make the noise. All song of birds, &c. has arisen entirely as a part
103: of sexual intercourse: music is still with the human creature used to
104: arouses sexual passion, in its undeveloped form in music halls & ball
105: room, in its developed form when ^in^ listening to Beethoven an
106: intellectual man or woman feels a wild sweep of desire for the ideal
107: sexual love unreadable which takes they have perhaps not thought of
108: for long. Take again, what I believe to be a possible fact, that a qu
109: blind person might feel the strongest passion for a humanbeing they
110: had never touched or seen spoken to, but only come into contact with
111: through the sense of hearing! Also, note the strong That sight plays a
112: large, among human beings (perhaps the largest part) is evident. Some
113: human beings men and women awaken passion in almost every one ^of the
114: opposite sex^ who sees them by their intense beauty (^i.e.^ power of
115: pleasing the eye). The immense part beauty plays in physical passion
116: might make us feel it was almost exclusively a "lust of the eye", but
117: in the final moment of sexual relationship touch must it would seem
118: play a stronger part than anything else.
//Smell in some of the lower animals forms a very important for of
121: sexual feeling; & among human beings has not wholly lost its sexual
122: all connection.
Now, if sexual feeling is largely built up of all these different sla
125: kinds of sensations, & if they as they develop tend always to become
126: largely aesthetic in their use, does it not seem that the sexual
127: function must tend to become so too? - You know I’m just speculating
128: aloud, I haven’t worked it out. I daresay I’m all wrong.
//Of course I don’t mean what I seem to have said that the
131: sex-function is made up entirely of the ^action of^ this action of the
132: five senses, all it has I think a sense element quite peculiar to
133: itself, & untranslatable into the terms of any other sense. What I
134: mean is that these others ^senses^ act largely upon it & that we seem
135: authorised to suppose that the course of its development may be as
136: theirs. As security advances we need less & less that the sex powers
137: should be used exclusively for the production of human creatures; as
138: war, famine, & the hardship of life diminishes, the number of infants
139: unreadable ^who^ die becomes very small: & from this cause alone apart
140: from many others the demand upon the sex system to produce to becomes
141: necessarily small. Now may not ^the^ that surplus sexual power naturally
142: adapt itself to aesthetic uses?
//To make a wild supposition! If it were possible for some mode to be
145: found by which the race might be continued without the action of the
146: sexual systems, say by a mixture of human bloods drawn from the arm &
147: treated in a certain manner; a mode analogous to the propagation of
148: the rose tree by cuttings; then, the sexual system having entirely
149: lost its use, might act as the sexual system of the rose tree does.
150: The little wild rose has stamens & pistol & bears seed; but the
151: cultivated rose having no more need of seed, turns all its sexual
152: organs into petals, & doubles & doubles; it becomes entirely aesthetic.
153: It is only for beauty not at all for the continuance of the race: yet
154: it came into existence as all flowers do - simply as a collection of
155: sexual organs. If that state were reached by the ^human^ race, then the
156: sexual systems might be used exclusively aesthetically for purposes of
157: pleasure; for sympathy & union between humanbeings. But we have not
158: reached that state. We are ^yet^ in a stage in which the action of the
159: sexual system is as necessary as ever for the perpetuation of the race;
160: But was unreadable nature entirely a stage in which like But may not
161: the sexual system nature but may it not be that a large & important
162: part of its function has already become aesthetic. May not those be
163: both equally wrong who hold that the only function of sex to be the
164: birth of children, & those who hold there is something degrading in
165: the exercise of that function. May not the sex nature from being
166: simple have become complex and have two functions now?
//I want much to say something about what you said with regard to
169: promiscuity & the freedom of woman. I must another time.
//When I think of the church yard now I always see a little sensitive,
172: excitable boy, so glad to find the bench empty & climb up onto it
173: before other people come, & he sits on the bench with his yellow hair
174: & his leg not touching the ground.
//I am not going to Mrs Cobb’s tomorrow. Will you tell me, if you
177: have time, what you think of the assembled womanhood.
Friday eve. I send the enclosed that you may forever feel remorse ^at
183: the thought^ with that you have falsely accused a most innocent person
184: of the sin of emotionality. If you had curled up like a porcupine when
185: you were nine years ^old^ & never uncurled for twelve years, & never
186: made an indication that you were not of the consistency of stones,
187: brick-bats, & other persistently insensitive materials, you would feel
188: it a terrible aspersion in your old age to be accused of that deadly
She & her husband were once the only friends I had, ^when I was a
192: fierce little girl^ & I’m afraid Dolly Maitland’s prediction
193: won’t come true in their case & I shan’t wish to change them for
194: new ones ^even if they never give me a new idea^ in the next fifty years.
195: I wish you would be in London in September: they are coming then & I
196: would like you to know them.
//I think you ought to write that book on woman. You will find that
199: your thoughts get clearer as you go on I think; & when you get to the
200: end of the book you can write the first part, if you find things have
201: become clearer to you. If you will send me the first chapter I shall
202: be very glad. I shall go over it as if it were my own, but I doubt if
203: you my criticism will be of much value if it deals with the early
204: condition of woman in Germany as I am quite ignorant there. When I can
205: get over the flood of emotion that arises when I look at the heap of M.
206: S. I will go over my woman papers & send you any parts that might
207: possibly interest. It would be so nice to me if you could ^find^ make
208: any use in them, then I should feel my time had not been thrown away,
209: but I doubt whether you will. Is your mind in any way made up with
210: regard to prostitution & marriage? & with regard to the difference
211: between men & women?
//I wish I hadn’t interrupted you about that word. I don’t quite
214: understand the view you meant to express with regard to man’s sexual
215: unreadable degeneration.
It’s such a glorious day, I’ve walked more than 12 miles: one
218: feels such an exuberant health & animal spirits when the sky’s like
219: this. Now I would like to keep on writing.
Just got a card from Mrs Cobb to say Miss Müller will be there & stay
224: to supper tomorrow I hope you will have a cosy talk with her. Send
225: Destroy her letter.
^May I please write as badly as I like when I write to you? & not mind
228: if I leave out half the sentences, & three-fourths of the words & a
229: large number of the letters? It’s so nice.^
The 'enclosed' was probably a letter from Henrietta Muller. The 'early conditions of woman in Germany' refers to Pearson's 'A Sketch of the History of Sexual Relations in Germany', read at the Men and Women's Club in June 1886. Rive's (1987) version of this letter has been misdated, omits part of the letter, and is also in a number of respects incorrect.