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Glimpses of Olive

Olive Schreiner appears in sometimes sideways, sometimes full-face, ways in many letters written by other people, including family members, friends and acquaintances, political colleagues, people who liked or loved her, who found her disreputable ,or who were just plain interested in her. An array of such glimpses now follows.


Glimpse 1

Olive Schreiner Birth Certificate; 4 November 1855. NELM, Schreiner Register of Births.

No. 181. 
November 4th 1855

Olive Emily Albertina 
daughter of

Gottlob & Rebecca Lyndall



born March 24th 1855.

J.D.M. Ludorf

Glimpse 2

Elise-Pauline ('Lily') Rolland (later Orpen) to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); 27 April 1855; Beersheba, KwaZulu-Natal. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... I have to congratulate you dear Kate for the addition of a little sister and hope she may in some measure be a binding up of the wound which the Lord has seen fit to inflict. ... I must leave you now my love. Kiss dear Aunty and the sweet baby. May God bless you all ...

Glimpse 3

Fanny C. Cumming to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); 29 May 1855; Bloemfontein. Free State. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... I was much pleased on the receipt of your two letters to see that you had not quite forgotten me when so many weeks lapsed after your mother's confinement... I think I have made my epistle sufficiently tiresome so shall conclude with kindest love to your Mama and kisses for Etty and the little newcomer. I wish I could see her. I told Mrs Stuart the names she was to have. ...

Glimpse 4

Elise-Pauline ('Lily') Rolland (later Orpen) to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); 11 June 1855; Beersheba, KwaZulu-Natal. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

...What a mercy dear Aunty has been preserved through her trying illness ... and the dear little Olive. What a sweet name! And what a sweet comfort she must be to you all. I told Mrs Schuh this afternoon the three names and she said she hoped it would indeed in some measure prove the restoring of her three namesakes. ... I trust the little one will prove a message of consolation from him who said to the bereaved mother of Nain 'Weep not'....

Glimpse 5

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); 11 December 1855; Wittebergen Mission Station, Herschel, Eastern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Wittebergen Station 
December 11th 1855.

My very dear Katie,

We were very glad to receive your letter yesterday and to hear of your safe arrival. I have dear very little time as you know and no leisure for writing but I will try to scribble a line as I know you will long for home news. We all miss you and talk of you even little Olive looks round when we say where's Katy. We have all been very poorly with influenza. Dear baby had high inflammation of the lungs. What a season of agony to me you will imagine. She had all dear Emile's symptoms but the Lord had mercy upon me, during her illness her sore quite disappeared. Now again it has been very bad, much worse than you ever saw it, but just now it is again better and the darling seems tolerably well, has two teeth and is very sweet and good. Etty was some days confined to bed. She is better again and longs after your, tries to get on with her lessons but is rather neglected, goes to bed with the sun, we now take tea at 4 and no supper - Alice is on the whole obliging and she takes the breakfast preparation.

Theoff has been very poorly often nervous and sleepless at night for some time he slept in my room but has now returned to his own. He assists me in many ways and I trust wishes to do what is right. He and Pappa have just been to de Beer's with corn to grind. I am often my dear child very very weary. The sickness in our family and among the people have of course added much to my fatigue added to which I have had a very painful fester on the thumb of the right hand, a great hindrance which I am now thankful to say is nearly removed. ...

I have written to Mr. Murray and Mrs. v.d. Meer, also to your cousin Catherine and your dear Aunt. I should also so like them to spend Christmas with us, but I really begin to despair of them coming. If so I must hope, if spared, to see them when we come to fetch you. How is the church progressing? Give my very kind love to Mr. And Mrs. Ludorf. Kiss Theoph. for me. Etty was quite pleased with his message. Papa is going to Aliwal next Sunday. Theoph. remains with me as I am occasionally threatened with these strange attacks one of which will I think be appointed to dismiss my I humbly trust ransomed spirit from this body of sin and death. ...

I must tell you that poor Johnny Sauer of Aliwal, Theoph's companion was deceased a week or two since. Theoph. feels it, his parents are much distressed. Do not fail to write to Mrs Stuart dear. I really must leave off. I think you will agree with me that I have written you at least a very long letter. Receive it as a token of love and interest from your very affectionate mother.

R.L. Schreiner

Glimpse 6

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); 7 July 1856; Wittebergen Mission Station, Herschel, Eastern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Wittebergen. Monday 7th 1856

Much beloved sister Kate,

I am sitting in my little room having just returned from Austen's and have just begun to write to you my dear sister. We received your letters yesterday. I thank you very much for your kind note and will now answer it.

Well I suppose I may begin to with Fredy. We were much rejoiced to get a letter from him a few weeks ago but it was of August last year. It came inclosed in one of Grandmama's which is February 1856 so you can see it was at Grandma's 7 months. Poor boy he says he is so sad because he does not get any letters from us. He says he has written every month. When he wrote he was at Dr. Bell's but Grandmama's letter says he is now at Taunton.

You will also be sorry to hear that poor Uncle William's wife is dead. I have written a letter to him. I must tell you that I am getting a few correspondents. A German gentleman has asked me to write to him and a little time ago Mrs. Atkinson wrote me a nice little note.

I have not been to Burgersdorp as Mama upon maturer consideration thought it best not to let me go. Papa went there on Friday. We are expecting him back tomorrow. I do not know whether I told you that Mama has begun to ride out on horseback which I think does her good. On Fridays we all go about a walk after dinner and take a horse with us which Mama and Alice ride by turns. ...

I must tell you that Mr. Cullom is going to England and we are sending letters to Freddy by him. I think you might write a letter to Fredy and then if you were to send it here it would perhaps come in time to go with Mr. Cullom. I have sent our beloved brother ten shillings which I had poor boy Aunt Hannah would not give him an old pair of inexpressible when he asked her.

I forgot to tell you that Alice and myself began a journal since the first of last month and I am reading a very nice book which we got at Mrs. Cachet's. It's title is "Todd's Students Guide" which I think is really a guide. I hope it will prove one to me. You may judge a little about it by that extract I gave to you.

I often wish you were here, dear Katey. I must tell you that we have heard from dear Aunt and Cousins who are quite well and send much love to you. They are living out of Cape Town and every morning Emma and Elise go at 8 o'clock in an omnibus to a Miss Hanburry's's school in town and come back at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. I do not know whether you have heard that Mr. A. Murray is married to Miss. Emma Rutherford. A little time ago we received a letter from poor Mrs. Vandermeer. Poor soul she knoweth not whither to flee. ...

Dear Emily is quite well and can say all our names and a number of other names besides. She every day more and more resembles our dear Emile, not perhaps so much in her look but in her ways.

Mrs. Austen's baby is to be baptised next Sunday. Its name is Fanny Christiana. I must now say adieu.

I remain with love your ever affectionate brother

T.L.S. ...

Glimpse 7

Alice Schreiner (later Hemming) to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); 7 July 1856. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... I must tell you that dear little Emily is quite well all her sores having dise^a^^ppeared by the application of Holloway's Ointment. She is not yet weaned. ...

Glimpse 8

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Schreiner (later Findlay); late 1857; Wittebergen Mission Station, Herschel, Eastern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

My dear Kate,

I write you a hasty line by Mr. J. Orpen whose name as report may have already informed you your dear cousin Elise will one day bear. I like him much and think they have every prospect of happiness. I have asked Mr. Desle to take you as far as his place from where Theoph will fetch you or perhaps we many come with the cart. I do sincerely trust that your return home may be mutually pleasant and beneficial, ought to be so. As to any definite arrangement of your duties I can say nothing at present. Our first work must be to start your brothers and sisters. On our return from B.dorp we can make arrangements. Mrs. Austen is in Grahamstown with her family. Papa is gone to Smithfield. I do so hope Mr. Murray may be able to take Alice. I am quite as anxious for her to leave as for Theoph. Willie is fat and sweet, Emily still rather self willed and impetuous needing much patient firmness - it is however very pleasing to see the efforts the dear little thing makes to conquer herself - she often asks "Mamma have I been a little better today?". Etty is much the same - they are both so glad you are coming. Pressed for time I will close with very kind regards to Mr. and Mrs. Burnet

I am your affectionate mother 
R. L. Schreiner

Glimpse 9

Theophilus Lyndall ('Theo') Schreiner to Henrietta ('Ettie') Schreiner (later Stakesby Lewis) and Olive Schreiner; 18 February 1858; Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Rondesbosch Feb, 18th 1858

My dear little Sisters

I know that Etty, and Emmy will be glad to get a little letter from brother, & therefore he writes them this, for he is also glad to be able to write to them. Oh Doffy was so sad when he said goodbye to all of you, & he looked at the little cart, which took you back, till he could no more see it, & then he cried very much. I know you were also very sorry; but I must not make you sad again. On Tuesday, I & Ally went to the Museum, it is a place where all sorts of wonderful things are kept. Brother had no time to see everything, but he will tell you of some of the things he saw. There were live serpents but they could not hurt us because they were in a glass box, & there were dead serpents (but which looked just as if they were alive) as long as from our dining-room door to the door of the garden, & there were lions, tigers, wild cats, crocodiles, springbok, wildebeest, & jackals, & wolves, & a hippopotamus, & buffaloes & bison, and many many other fierce animals, & they all look alive, & as if they wanted to bite you, so you would have been frightened, I think. There were thousands of beautiful butterflies, & moths, & all sorts of birds, & fishes, which you read about Etty at least, in Peter Parley, & there were fierce looking kaffers, only made of plaster, & thousands of precious, & beautiful stones, & pieces of money. I am sure you would have liked to have seen them all. Ally has gone to school to-day. I ha am sure if she knew I was writing she would send her love to you. And now, dear Hetty, you must try to help poor dear Mamma & to comfort her when she's & as sad, & y be obedient to Papa, & Mama & then you will feel so happy, & you must learn nicely, & try to improve in your writing, so that you many soon be able to write to me, & help to teach Emily, & my sweet little Em must also listen to what Mamma & Hetty say, & she must be kind to dear Willy, & be a good girl, so that when Willy is older, he may see how you do, & become a good boy, & Emmy must always think of Doffy, & then he will be so glad. And now I must say goodbye, kiss dear Willy for me, so with much love, & many kisses for you both, I am your affectionate brother

Th. L. Schreiner.

Glimpse 10

Henrietta ('Ettie') Schreiner (later Stakesby Lewis) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 6 April 1876; Kimberley, Northern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Independent Order of Good Templars 

April 6th 1876

My dear Sister

I am very sorry to have been prevented so long from writing. I was so very glad to get your letter, & so pleased with your Katie's photo. Thank you very much for it. What a dear girl she looks. It seems strange to think I have never seen her and she is so big already. Theo likes it very much also. Please give our love to her when you write. I often wish I had time to write to her but every hour seems occupied. Is she getting on well at school? I have never seen photos of your two youngest. I wish you could all have your likenesses taken, I should be so glad to get later portraits. I wonder if we shall ever see each other. Years pass on and we seem no nearer meeting. Will God grant us all a safe glad meeting in the true Home, when this life's wear & tear is over & past.

Do you ever hear from Olive. The last I heard she was thinking of leaving Fouches, so I wrote & proposed her going home to stay with Mama who is very lonely. And we would pay for her board and lodging, & send her so much a month for her clothes, and own comforts.

I do hope she and our Parents will decide on that, as I think it will be much the happiest and best plan for them and her. I've not heard what they have decided....

Your affectionate sister 
H R Schreiner

Please give my love to the dear children & please write as soon as you can. HRS.

Glimpse 11

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 3 April 1880; Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... I am again anxious about Olive as when she last wrote she was very poorly and worst of all could not take milk which has always suited her so well. I do hope next post will bring me a more cheery account of my poor lonely child. If only she were well it would be so different, but to think of her being ill among strangers is so bitter I can only ask God again and again to be a Father to her and bring her and all of us to His everlasting Kingdom of glory. What a dream life is! ...

Glimpse 12

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 30 November 1880; Mount Pleasant, Eastern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Mount Pleasant 
Nov 30th

My dearest Katie

I was very glad to get your loving letter ... I dare say you have heard that dear Olive is thinking of going to England early in the year. As I think it will be a good move for her I am glad she is going but it will be a terrible trial for me to part from her. You see we have hitherto always managed to meet once a year and that was always something to anticipate. When she is gone I can hardly hope to see one of my scattered ones again at least until dear Will comes out. But as I said all these selfish thoughts must be hushed by remembering that it is best for my darling to go and our blessed Lord will help me to bear the wrench and the agony of parting.

I know you will be very sorry for poor Hammy's sad end. Auntie and Emma are going to live in Aliwal. Emile is there getting a house for them and also to attend his niece Vannie's wedding in a few days. She is to be married to Dr Impey. May they be happy! ... What a dreadful state the country is in and no prospect of peace....

Much love from your loving mother 
R.L. Schreiner

Glimpse 13

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 11 December 1880; Cathcart Vale, Eastern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Cathcart Vale 
Dec 11th 1880

My dearest Katie

I was very glad to receive your loving letter and your pretty birthday gift. I have not sent Olive her cross because it is likely she may come to me this month. If she does not I will send it to her at Xmas. ... Nelly Orpen is a dear loving girl very pious ... Your dear cousin Lilly is very happy in her religious life ... Lilly and Emmie send much love to you and to tell you they do not forget old times ...

Glimpse 14

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 9 January 1881; Mount Pleasant, Eastern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Mount Pleasant 
?9 January 1881

My dearest Katie,

I had almost finished a letter to you last week when your dear loving letters and pretty Xmas presents came ... I can't put into words how I shrink from parting with my darling Olive. It is true we have not been able to live together but she has always been so near that we could sometimes meet and now of course that great yearly joy can never again be mine. Sometimes it seems really as though I cannot bear it - but as I believe the change is good for her I know I ought not to grieve so much. I only fear that the change will be too severe for her and the work as hospital nurse too heavy. Time will show. Anyway it is a comfort to know that in our dear Fred she will have a kind brother near at hand in any emergency...

Your ever loving mother 
R.L. Schreiner...

Glimpse 15

Mary Brown (nee Solomon) to Alice Hemming (nee Schreiner); 15 October 1884-1885; Bank Parade, Burnley, Lancashire. UCT, Schreiner-Hemming BC1080.

Bank Parade 
October 15th

I was very glad to see your hand-writing again dear Mrs Hemming & would like to send you a reply at once if I can get the letter finished for Wednesday's mail ... I was so amused at all your questions about Olive's Book, & very surprised that you had n't read it. The Second Edition is dedicated "lovingly" to me, & as a token of love I value it, but she knows I have not entire sympathy with the book, tho' there is much true in it, & it is certainly very clever. Great future things are expected from her, & she has had high praise, but all the reviews I have seen tho' speaking very favourably of the good points - the power & vividness &c. say it is most crude & quite plainly the work of a young author. She has had wonderful success so far, & the book is "one of the most powerful that has appeared for many years." This is the opinion of a personal friend of ours, who is one of the first novelists of the day. For Olive's sake, & for the sake of future work, I sincerely hope she will try to come in contact with minds who think differently to herself.

I do not think the success of her book is owing to the Free thinker's views therein expressed. A review I saw lately by Dr Aveling & a man I wholly dislike praises the author's views & accounts them "pure atheist" but I told Olive he did her book & her an injury thereby, & because he wanted to believe that she is an atheist, he says so - but I for one do not believe Olive is either a Freethinker or an Athiest!

Others say the book is coarse, & unwomanly & certainly only a very brave writer wd say what she says - & to us who know her, it is not coarseness that makes her write so. Opinions vary very much concerning it, and I can quite understand it being very objectionable to many - but in a place like England it finds favour with as many: - It is most powerful & is generally compared to "Ouida's" writings & the Brontës; there is a morbidness about it wh. makes it very like Emily Brontë's writings."

One gentleman to who I sent it said, "Well, the writer must either be a genius or mad." - It is very morbid & sad sad. Awfully sad I think to be the outcome of a young heart. Poor Olive, I love the girl so tenderly & withal so compassionately that I wish she had more sunshine at heart. She is happy in her own way, & seems to be making many literary friends - "Sometime, somewhere" Olive will come all right, & I do n't think her writings will "harm thousands" - but no one cd wish more than I do, that her genius & talent were directed into another channel, & that she was serving mankind in a more rational & natural way. 
It is wonderful how she has got on, for altho' your brother is a true friend to her in every way, she has made her own path for her: self, and is most independent.

I am very anxious that she should not associate herself with a clique or party of thinkers but mix freely with all sorts & conditions of men & minds. That is the very best education she can give herself for future work. Her health is so poor, she cannot be in London in winter which is a great disadvantage as that is the time for meeting folk. ...

Glimpse 16

Mary Brown (nee Solomon) to Blanche Knightly; 23 July 1893; Bank Parade, Burnley, Lancashire. UCT, Schreiner-Hemming BC1080.

Bank Parade 
July 23-93

Yesterday was all unlike what we anticipated, but altogether lovely, & when I pulled myself together to realize the facts of the case, perfectly bewildering. Olive met us at the Ilkley station, in her grey dress which you remember & a "little brown earthy cloak" as Willie calls it! armed also with a waterproof & umbrella. Her face was radiant with kindness & love, & in response to Willie's "cuffs" showed off a pair of clean ones herself! She had arranged that we should all 3 go off by the 11 oclock coach to Bolton woods, & so with her dear little body & so much of her soul as we could see & feel - between us - we drove off on a front seat. It was a lovely drive & day "quite a wonderful day for England" she said. A soft but breezy breeze, a blue sky with great snow beds of cloud hanging between the blue and the air, & range after range of distant moorland & ridge beyond. "All along the valley" the Wharfe shining clear & brown. Willie more than once envied the fishes standing knee deep & in quiet & delicious expectancy. Fancy longing for trout fishing beside an Olive Schreiner, but such is the fascination of fishing & such the weakness of man!

Olive says "the emotional in woman is what she loves, & the restfulness in man!" Men rest her, women call out her love & tenderness & yearning.

All through Bolton woods we wandered & for ever more that beautiful woodland & that glorious stream will be a sort of framework round one little brown cloaked figure!. She loved all its beauties, & delighted in every new view or light or shadow, & she herself all the time was the most beautiful creature there!

We drove back to the Bolton Wood Station & being very hungry had something to eat at a cottage near by - All the time she & Willie talked of the possibility of finding some cure for asthma, & she said she would gladly have suffered all these many years if thereby she could find some antidote for others pain. She urges me to go to the Black Forest with her & Ed. Carpenter & a few other kindred souls taking Ray with me; but so far as I am concerned I think it would be quite impossible - We had an hour together upstairs at Highfield after we got back We drove there from the town (Ilkley). It was a very sacred time to me. She stood there brushing out her long black hair & twisting it as if it had been an old rope, looking so beautiful so tender, so alone! She goes on Tuesday, south. & we said goodbye. That goodbye has been like a holy place, a sacred presence - I still feel the clinging warmness & sweetness of that tender suggestive blessed little body!

This is all I can tell you in writing of the day. There were many pathetic touches by the way, but she tried to make it all as bright & beautiful for us as was possible, at times sparkling with fun, & laughing like a child of 5, & then looking out of her soft eyes with a tenderness & love which made one quiver!

I asked Willie when we came home what sort of feeling she had awakened as regarded herself. "Oh" he said, with a very suggestive movement of his hands, "I'd just like to clear every difficulty out of her way"! and "I'd like to keep her away from public eyes!" I came home last night with a numb sort of feeling all over me, as if I had been close to some wonderful revelation of God's person & goodness. I can't explain.

Well, we should all rise to the highest possibilities of our nature, (or rather be helped to rise), by having been with her, even for a little time -

Mary Brown.

Glimpse 17

Eliza ('Ely') Findlay to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 19 February 1894; Vredenburg, Western Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... Yes it is strange to think of Aunt Olive as engaged, she is to be married on the 24th. She is at Middelburg now, it is to be a very quiet wedding indeed. ...

Glimpse 18

Katie Stuart (nee Findlay) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 27 February 1894; The Highlands, Gardens, Cape Town, Western Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... We hope to pay Aunt Olive & Uncle Cron a visit at their farm. Uncle Theo was present at the wedding. ...

Glimpse 19

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 8 March 1894. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... Yes I am very pleased with Olive's marriage. I know and like her husband now Mr Cron Schreiner, she being Mrs Olive Schreiner. He is a clever practical man with marked intellectual ?looks and good brain power. They are so largely congenial in literature and politics that I fancy their union may be one of animated interest and happiness. ...

Glimpse 20

Eliza ('Ely') Findlay to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 24 June 1894; Sweet Repose. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... Aunt Olive was coming to town with her husband but has stopped at Kimberley on account of her asthma troubling her again. ...

Glimpse 21

Rebecca Schreiner (nee Lyndall) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 15 July 1894; The Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

... I have visitors here and am expecting Olive & her husband shortly, & am trying to get the house they are thinking of looking at near here into proper order before they come.

Glimpse 22

Henrietta ('Ettie') Stakesby Lewis (nee Schreiner) to Catherine ('Katie') Findlay (nee Schreiner); 6 August 1894; The Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

I even now scarcely know how to make time for writing this, but I am expecting Olive & her husband - and Theo & Katie & little Willie, all this week, & then after they come, what with caring for them & packing up ready for our journey to Cape Town, there will be more to do than ever, so I must write a few lines, or the silence will be too long. ...

Glimpse 23

John X. Merriman to James Rose Innes; 29 December 1896. NLSA, James Rose Innes MSC21.

Dear Innes

At Olive Schreiner's request I send you her last letter to me but I do not agree with her in her strictures on your letter - For you have, wrongly as I think, always been a ^consistent^ supporter of the "North" and of that blood stained sham the Br SA Co ^& I have told her this^ Women are generally personal in their way of looking at things they like a man and all he does is glorious or they dislike him & he can do nothing right As to the prospect of the future of S Africa from the point of view of those who think that moral considerations are more than material ones. I am not sure that she is far wrong - "Unctuous rectitude" will have a poor chance against stock exchange imperialism.

I wish you & Mrs Innes & Dorothy a good New Year - 
Always yours 
John Merriman

Glimpse 24

Katie Stuart (nee Findlay) to Emma Earp (nee Findlay); 17 March 1897. NLSA, E.L. Earp MSC47.

My darling Emma...

Always your loving sister Katie Stuart.

P.S. Aunt Olive's new book has verified our worst fears - but we can hardly yet realize that she has stopped to degrade her genius & power at the altar of Vindictive Hate - She hates Rhodes as she used to hate Christ & has sworn to compass his ruin. It is awful to hear her fulminate against him. Her book has deeply grieved us all but especially Grannie & ourselves. For we love Rhodes. Did I tell you that Mr Rhodes took such a great fancy to Willie. Miss Rhodes called on us at Fish Hoek. ..."

Glimpse 25

Montagu White to Percy Molteno; 26 February 1900; New York, USA. UCT, Molteno Murray BC330.

New York, February 26th, 1900

My dear Percy,

In discussing the Transvaal question I have been astonished to find what influence Olive Schreiner seems to have, especially among cultivated Americans... I have been irresistibly led to the conclusion that if Olive Schreiner and her husband could come out here and address a few meetings in favour of mediation, it would have a tremendous effect. ...

Glimpse 26

John Steel to William Philip ('Will', 'WP') Schreiner; 24 March 1900; Narara, Mill Hill Road, Waverley, Sydney, Australia. NLSA, W.P. Schreiner MSC27.

Narara, Mill Hill Road, Waverley, Sydney, NSW Australia 
March 24th 1900


Enclosed herewith find letter which I require forwarded to his Honour, President Kruger, Pretoria. If you have a conscientious objection in the matter, entrust the letter to Olive. If also you object to that please return.

The letter contains no information re war matters, perhaps one sentence may be construed as such, yet tis an important letter. As I trust the letter to you, I will allow you to open and peruse, but the contents must remain an absolute inviolable trust, though if you open Olive may also know. You two only & the President. I have used a name freely, I always do so to those I greatly respect. I know the mystical Feather of the African Farm and perhaps the caller at the burning farm. I try to talk to the Soul not to the personality therefore greeting to Olive.

Yours fraternally John B Steel.

Glimpse 27

Emily Hobhouse Draft Memoir; June 1903; Free State Archives Repository, Bloemfontein; Steyn A156.

Beaufort West & Olive Schreiner


Little did I think as I thus bade good-bye to my kind Cape friends how much toil and stress lay before me ere I should see Cape Town again. The coming months proved perhaps the most exhausting of my life physically, emotionally and mentally. Nothing of the actual journey north remains in my mind except the break at Beaufort West where I was to stay a few days and meet a group of high-souled women - Olive Schreiner, Miss Molteno, Miss Greene and their friends. It was memorable to me if only as my first meeting in the flesh with Olive Schreiner - a meeting which developed into a friendship lasting so many years. I remember our walks together in the little town. Lifted suddenly from the coast to the pure air of the sunlit Karoo, the town and its dryness presented a healthful dryness to the winter rains of Cape Town. The altitude which tried me so greatly ten years later was stimulating at that date. We sat and basked in the dry sunny air and I listened and marvelled as Olive poured out her thoughts and feelings with an eloquence and power I have never heard equalled by any other woman. Hers was a magnificent spirit pathetically confined in a frail body. When she left us it was as if a light had gone out in South Africa. Yet an after-glow remains in the light of which we lesser folk may toil. Since her death many criticisms of her life and work have circulated all true in parts but all strangely erring. Few understood the enigmatic character of her genius. Perhaps it was not understandable. English critics have attempted to compress her into the European mould and judge her so, forgetting she was South African born and bred and belonged to the vast spaces and simple life of the veld, and was subject to its strange influences. South Africans, I think try to judge her by their standards alone, forgetting that her mind and spirit had burst all frontiers and racial bonds and embraced the world. It is hard for my unskilled pen to find words to describe your South African Olive. One gained breadth and grandeur from her. She gave me the inimitable feeling of the veld. She gathered Time and Space into herself and absorbed them. People who never knew her, or but superficially, ask what token exists of her claim to genius beyond the brilliant novel of a girl and a few allegories. It is difficult to reply; hers was a wayward genius, and clogged, too, in its outflow by two life-long limitations - frail health and poverty. Olive thought deeply - for days together I have found her wrapt in silence. At such periods she would not respond. On these occasions she withdrew into herself and was mentally occupied in bringing to the bar of her own lofty judgement things seen and heard. Such spells of silence were followed by the necessity of speech when relief only came by the outpouring of her thoughts. It was curious to note that she seemed unaware that much of what she said was common knowledge - it all came pouring out interspersed with gems of though which flashed light amid the commonplace like diamonds in a dust heap. To gather these jewels one gladly waited at her feet. Others with scant patience or no time would leave her thinking she was an over-estimated woman. Her powerful imagination, lacking its normal outlet in the continued writing of novel or romance, preyed upon common life and one soon found she mixed imagination with fact until it was not clear which was which. Thus one learnt not to rely on her statements of facts, her dates or her figures - though there never was a truer person. Whatever she said or did was true to the core and teaching of Truth itself, though often inexact in statement of detail. She was a lofty soul from whom one sought inspiration, certainly not one whose statements of detail one would accept. Matters of fact related by her might and often did differ every day according to the working of her imagination or her relations to the person she was talking to. All this took me time to discover. But at last I did understand. Olive resembled the sun from which one draws all-embracing light, heat and inspiration.

Such was the woman I now met and whose talk dazzled my slow mind. At the moment her heart was torn with the sad case of those Hanover men falsely accused and condemned for wrecking a train at Taaibosch, though Commandant W. Malan had publically stated he had himself done it as an act of war. The young Marquis de ?Kersansan, a Frenchman, who had served with Malan also bore witness to the truth of this and had written to me to that effect. But Olive could not forget that two of the innocent men, the Niewhoudts, were still in prison: the men for whose release I had begged Mr Hofmeyer to plead. The sense of injustice crushed her. ...

I wrote from Beaufort to my Aunt:

June 6 and 7 ...

"The result of the van der Berg trail and his acquittal has taken away the last remnant of belief in English justice, and there seems to be no appeal because it is a criminal case. The military know full well that it was a miscarriage of justice, and some of the officers say the punishment of the five men, three by death and two by imprisonment, was the darkest deed of the war. It appears that Huddlestone, the Intelligence Officer, who egged van der Berg on to forgery, is kept under lock and key by the military, who fear he will turn round and inform against them.

"The two Niewhoudts, who have served two years and four months as convicts, are now come out; they are perfectly quiet and calm with that terrible calm which has settled down upon the people and which is so unnatural and dreadful.... The Peace fell like a great blow that nearly killed them, but the women pray that all the children born to them now may be boys, for in sixteen years such will be of Burgher age. They think it is the hand of God that most babies born since the Peace have been boys. ...

"I suppose you understand that though van der Berg was acquitted (to save the military reputation) yet Pienaar, who was incriminated by his story, was set at liberty last week. It was all nicely arranged so that the innocent men should no longer suffer and on the other hand the military will not be disgraced. From the Chief justice downwards everyone is disgusted, but I don't suppose anyone in England cares a rap about a trial with which this whole country rings. The feeling was dramatically shewn at Pienaar's trial. The statement of his case had taken some days. At its close Olive Schreiner turned round to shake hands with him, but at the moment his old father and mother and father came up and kissed him, and the ice thus broken there was a sudden stampede of every woman and girl in the Court and with the cry 'Ach! maar hij is een waare Rebel,' they all flocked round and kissed him, the magistrate quite powerless to prevent this sudden onslaught upon the prisoner. The gaols are so dear to the people now, full of associations of their best and closest friends and relations, and mothers tell their children when they grow up they must never mrry anyone whose father hasn't been in prison. I am a guest in a boarding-house here and my host was himself thrown into prison without charge. He comes and entertains us at meals when also we are waited upon by a wee Bushman boy who is very quaint with wee crisp curls and a flat nose, quite a different type from Kaffirs. ...

"I have very thoroughly enjoyed meeting Olive Schreiner. She is full of life and spirits, a tremendous talker in spite of her asthma. She understands her people down to the ground and all the spirit of all the Boer women seems to be condensed and concentrated in her. She says my book is the only one on the War which she has cared for and all the people I have met here call it their 'sweet drop'. Every house is gradually getting one, a permanent possession, part of their experience, to place with the family Bible and Hymn book on the shelf. ..."

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Anna Purcell (nee Cambier Faure) to Betty Molteno and Alice Greene; 26 October 1905; Beaufort West, Western Cape. UCT, Molteno Murray BC330.

Beaufort West 
Oct 26th 1905

Dear Friends,

Although I am a shockingly bad correspondent it does not mean I do not think of you very often - in fact it has the opposite effect - for my conscience often pricks me ... I had the latest news of you from Olive and it is good to hear that you are both well. ... We have just come from spending a delightful fortnight at Hanover. It was wonderful to see Olive so well and happy - she could walk miles on the kopjes with us and seem fresh as ever ... The Pethick-Lawrences were there for a few days too while we were there and we were a very happy family - Is she not a sweet woman? They have gone up to the Victoria Falls - Mr Schreiner had to go to Cape Town a few days before we left in connection with an important case... Olive took me to see Mrs Nienaber and several other Hanover people and to two farms. It was all so very interesting... We are at the Kriel's boarding house for a few days. They speak so affectionately of you and Miss Green. I was sorry not to see Tant Sanie. She is living on a farm 24 miles from the village. ...

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Alice Greene to Betty Molteno; Sunday 23 November 1913; Ivy Dene, Rondesbosch, Cape Town, Western Cape; UCT, Molteno Murray BC330.

Ivy Dene 
Sunday Night 
Nov 23rd. /13

My Beloved,

Yesterday morning I walked to Glazemount Bank, where I had left my book the day before to be made up. ... In the afternoon I went to see Olive. Miss Thompson was just bicycling up the drive when I arrived at Lyndall met us at the door. "Aunt Olive is holding a séance upstairs in her bedroom" she said "Mrs Molteno & John are there. Would you like to go up?" "I said I would & asked after Olive. She said she perfectly astonished them with her freshness & vigour & said she seemed a different being from what she was when she had last seen her at D'Aar. She was lying muffled up in a quilt on her bed, Mrs Molteno in a low chair beside her: Mister John grave in the background. I felt sorry to interrupt so nice a tête-à-tête, but Lucy was exceedingly sweet & nice, & presently she & John took their leave. Then followed a long confabulation for I stayed until a quarter to seven. She is delighted you have gone up - more delighted still, I think, if they clapped you into prison. Declares that all her best friends have been in prison, & yet she's never been able to get put there herself. Is very vexed with me for allowing myself to be left behind, & duly wishes she were going too. All the same thinks you will have to be awfully "slim". In these times it is difficult to sift truth from falsehood, because fear & distrust reign supreme. Asked what I should do if they clapped you into prison, said I would go up & get put into prison too. "They wouldn't put you together, silly" she said, "They would send you off to Pretoria"

She was very amusing about having written to Smuts leaving in his tender care during her absence "all my Kaffirs & my Indians." She speaks with great affection & respect of Gandhi, & thinks Kallenbach would like me & that I should like Kallenbach. She says that there are not too many Indians or too many natives that is the trouble. They want more but they must be absolutely tools in their service. What they cannot stand is any independent footing of any sort. And she says the terror is that the Kaffir will take a leaf out of their book & go in for passive resistance too, for they are horribly taxed. She has a nephew in the Transvaal who gives his Kaffir shepherd rations & hut & £6 a year. For two years the taxes swallowed up every penny of this money. The third year he said, when he got the money, "Look here baas, I'm going to run away: I'm not running from you but the tax collector." And run away he did & saved his money. And she told me a funny story of Fichardt coming back from Basutoland perfectly overcome at the sight of the perfectly beautiful house entirely designed & built by natives for the British President. "Superior! Of course they are! That's just the trouble. It is just because they are our superiors or threaten to be that we've got to get them under!"

Monday I had written a good deal more than this ^about my talk with Olive^ ... - a lot about Emily - but think it best to let it wait until we meet. I ought scarcely to write it down at all, except as a private note. ...

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Alice Greene to Betty Molteno; 25 November 1913. UCT; Molteno Murray BC330.

My Beloved, ...

Just this evening to my intense joy has come a little letter from Olive, asking me to go & see her often. She did not say "Come again" when I was there, & I had feared that I had vexed her in some way, & I am so happy to find it is not so. She begins "The sweetest thing I have seen since I came to Cape Town has been your face." She says she is practically always ill & does not leave the house much. She says "Give my love to my darling Betty. Tell her to give my love to Kallenbach & Gandhi if she sees them. They are playing a splendid part.".....

Emily Hobhouse left yesterday in her grand coach, Your brother, May, & the Purcells saw her off. It was pouring with rain but she seems to have gone off cheerfully. ...

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Alice Greene to Betty Molteno; 26 November 1913. UCT, Molteno Murray BC330.

My Beloved...

... I will go every day to Olive, I will read to Mrs Spender ...went to see Olive. The house seemed quiet and empty. The maid went upstairs and brought back word that Mrs Schreiner was sleeping beautifully & should she wake her? I replied No, that I should come back again at half-past five & then on I went to Nutfield. I packed away there until a quarter past five & then back I went to Newlands, getting there about a quarter to 6. She never got my message & denied having been asleep, so it was rather sad. However we had a lovely hour together in spite of her wanting me to be with you I think she was a bit taken aback by my telegram! She had hoped I would be here until the 6th, & I believe she cant help wishing that we were all going back together. Nothing will induce her to consider for a moment going back with Emily! Emily made a great mistake in trying to make Olive fit in with her own schemes: that drives Olive wild.

Thurs When I got back from Sandown between 3&4 I was just reading thy E. London letter when I saw Olive waiting below with a trap. Now I must send this off unfinished, as I have been out with her all the time.

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Alice Greene to Betty Molteno; 4 December 1913. UCT, Molteno Murray BC330.

My Beloved,

Again it will have to be a little letter...

Lucy told Olive that a few of her friends had collected to give her a parting present for Xmas, but could not think what to spend it on, as jewellery would be no use. Would she get the present herself if they gave her the money? She said Why isn't it just from you & Anna? Why does anyone else come into it?" "O but it's just your personal friends, who wanted so badly to come into it." So she said it was very sweet of them, & of course she would be very pleased. It comes to £140 I am thankful to say, & Mrs Haldane Murray's cheque has not yet arrived. So we have her promise, & that is the main thing. I suppose she thinks it is about £10! ...

... at last, rather late, I got back to Newlands to find the dear Olive stretched on her bed under a Kaross, warming herself after a hot bath, & trying to rest away her fatigue before people arrived for a dinner party tonight. She is awfully tired. Lucy is giving a big At Home for all Olive's friends as a farewell. I do trust she will be able to go thro' with it. I believe Anna means to make the presentation there. The money seems burning her fingers! ...

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Emily Hobhouse to May Murray Parker (nee Murray); 18 September 1918. UCT, Schreiner BC16.

Dearest May,

Many thanks for your sweet-letter wh: it has been impossible to find a moment to answer ... Next I want to say: no wonder you were surprised at what I told you of Olive's evident rudeness - I tried not to believe it myself & so was glad when a mutual friend asked me to tea saying she was coming.

I went, determined to ignore the incident in Essex Hall & to behave as usual - But Olive was as cold distant & repellent as she could possibly be. (Your Aunt was not there.) She did all that she could to cold-shoulder & keep me out of the conversation & this in the house of people to whom I had introduced her.

However I still took no notice & determined as I left to put the matter to the test by an invitation to lunch with me the following week. This was refused blatantly & with an absurd effort to invent excuses which failed to be found - so I shrugged my shoulders & came away - I asked my host if he knew the reason of her annoyance & he said he believed it was because I had not broken with General Smuts. Imagine anything so puerile & so fanatical! Afterwards I felt the wisest plan was to approach Olive herself & ask the reason of hers strange behaviour saying I thought it due to our long friendship that she should have told me what had annoyed her - & begging for an explanation - But if you can credit the further rudeness she has made no answer to my letter!

As several friends have told me this is undoubtedly the reason I shall let the matter rest - for certainly, I should never suffer anyone to settle for me when or why to break with old friends. To give up Smuts because I am against his politics would be to range myself with those narrow jingoes who refuse to associate with us pacifists - I do not mean to sink to their level for I believe in freedom of thought as well as of speech and writing.

It is a pity that Olive with all her breadth of mind should so shut herself in & allow herself to become so bigoted & fanatical.

I should never have thought this of her. I feel she is acting beneath her better self- I fancy the only thing to cure it will be a little wholesome ridicule & if I meet her anywhere again I shall take the line of poking fun at her for such rude & silly behaviour. It certainly won't influence my attitude towards Smuts the least in the world - & she has received also so much kindness from him & his wife that she too should remain his friend & help him all she can in his onerous position.

Now dear May, I have told you this little story; it is characteristic but unfortunate. 
Keep it to yourself. 
Yrs ever, E.H

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William Philip ('Will', 'WP') Schreiner to Emma Earp (nee Findlay); 9 March 1919. NLSA, E.L. Earp MSC47.

Dearest Emma....

Aunt Olive was here today: rather better than usual. She suffers a great deal from various ailments, poor dear...

Your loving uncle WP Schreiner

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John X. Merriman to Frances ('Fan') Schreiner (nee Reitz); 16 December 1920; Schoongezigt, Stellenbosch, Western Cape. UCT, W.P. Schreiner MSC27.

16 Dec 1920

Dear Mrs Schreiner, I do not like this occasion to pass by without writing to pay my small tribute of praise and regard to Olive Schreiner - It was only the other day that I met her in Adderley St and she was good enough to come and speak to me. I had not seen her since 1914, just when the war broke out, and I was much struck by the way she had aged, and altered, she must have felt the same war, and still more the peace, greatly I can never forget the part she played in the Boer War, that sordid struggle! And I treasure the many letters I received from ^her^ during those troubled years - I wish I could think that those for whom she sacrificed so much remembered her as much and appreciated her as greatly as I do - She was a gifted soul I never forget the impression made on me by her great work, which I first read as we were embarking for S Africa on our return from some mission to England, and how we wondered who Ralph Iron could be.

I differed from many, nearly all, her views on many subjects but I can never forget the courage and self sacrifice with which she espoused the weaker side and came to the aid of the down trodden She was a true woman and did much for her sex and country - Above all I admire the contempt she felt for the worship of the golden calf the divinity whom we, for our sins, have set up as the idol in our midst here in South Africa.

May she rest in peace after lifes fitful fever! 
Believe me yours truly 
John X Merriman

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S.C. ('Cron') Cronwright-Schreiner to Betty Molteno; 31 December 1920; 50 Cambridge Terrace, City of Westminster, London. UCT, Molteno Murray BC330.

50 Cambridge Terrace, W.2 

Dear Miss Molteno

I hope you did not misunderstand my action yesterday evening. I was deeply engaged in work & could see nobody ... there are several things I must finish before Havelock Ellis comes... after which I shall, with him, be ?concerned closely with Olive's matters till I sail ... I have thus decided ... anyone who needs to see me... should not come without having made an appointment previously. As I have said, I have to do this, in consequence of the forced acceleration of my plans...

I had two letters & a post card from Olive yesterday, & some papers. The first letter was posted ^at Wynberg^ on the 9th; the second letter was a long one, was written on the 9th & posted ^at Cape Town^ on the 10th; the postcard, undated, was posted at Cape Town on the 10th, but, from its contents, was, I think, written on the 10th. As you will remember, she died on the 10th. The letters show no indication of any departure from the (for her) good health she had in in S. Africa. She complains of the great heat, but it is clear there was nothing specially wrong. Her death must have been very sudden, which is what she would have wished. I cannot get any further details till next mail. But, alas, there'll be no more post from her.

With kind regards, 
Yours very sincerely, 
SC Cronwright-Schreiner

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Frances ('Fan') Schreiner (nee Reitz) to Emma Earp (nee Findlay); 5 September 1921. NLSA, E.L. Earp MSC47.

Dearest Emma

... Somehow I knew ... you would be thinking of your old Uncle who loved you dearly... I hope soon now to make arrangements for having a tombstone put up. I have been waiting till Aunt Olive's wish to be buried at Cradock was carried out, that has been done now. Have you seen a copy of the "Midland News" with an article on her re-interment? The appearance of that big white bird must have been wonderful. ...

Love from Aunt Fan

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Ruth Alexander (nee Schechter) to Jan Smuts; 1 March 1926. National Archives Repository Pretoria, Smuts A1.

... I wanted, of course, to remind you of your promise to me at the end of last session; unreadable that you would on returning home go through Olive Schreiner's letters, and give me a selection to copy from. I am naturally anxious to receive these as soon as possible, and have been waiting to hear from you.

I may say that there can, as you conjectured, be no question of publication for the present. But what can be done, and what I shall endeavour and am endeavouring to do, is to make as complete and representative a collection of her letters as possible to be stored in safe keeping until they can be used for biographical purposes or for a separate volume.

For the former purpose even letters that seem quite everyday and trivial are of value as well as more significant ones. They fill in gaps and help to create a true atmosphere from which the biographer, when the time comes, may compose his picture.

Forgive me for troubling you, but in view of your impending visit to America the matter is one of some urgency and importance ....

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Ruth Alexander (nee Schechter) to Jan Smuts; 25 March 1926. National Archives Repository Pretoria, Smuts A1.

... If you are not going away for the recess, or if there is any afternoon next week when you are free, would you not do me the greatest kindness to come here to tea, and talk over this business of Olive's letters? ...

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Ruth Alexander (nee Schechter) to Jan Smuts; 12 April 1926. National Archives Repository Pretoria, Smuts A1.

... Your letters are a joy. I've had all my children here for the we holidays, and haven't been able to finish reading them in peace. With your permission I will keep them another week, and then return them marked for copying, as you kindly suggest.

I am interested to hear of your forthcoming book. Even the title is oo abstruse for me, who have none of the 'ologies', but I feel sure that it will be a stimulating and worthwhile piece of thinking, and it is so beautiful to think it has nothing to do with politics. Olive would have been as pleased as only she had the lovely secret of being with the fine achievement of a friend. ...

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Laura Wright to George Findlay; 8 September 1932. Cullen, Findlay Family A1199.

Dear Mr Findlay,

I was delighted to get your letter ...

... You speak of the Schreiners, and that is very interesting, for Daddy's first cousin married Olive Schreiner - the authoress. How she ever stood the old curmudgeon is beyond my understanding! Still, there it is! As a child of eight I met her here in Cape Town, and, having then, as now, a passion for books, regarded her with reverence and awe, till I heard her trying, in the most fanatical manner, to convert mother to the use of soet-suur yeast in place of the stuff mother had been using! To my mind, then, it seemed that a novelist fell from a great height in stooping to such a mundane subject, but since then I have eaten bread properly made with this wonderful yeast, and I know that poor Olive was riding Pegasus towards the heights of Olympus! ...