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Letter ReferenceFindlay Family A1199/3709
ArchiveWilliam Cullen Library, Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date3 December 1897
Address FromThe Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToJohn Findlay
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the William Cullen Library, University of Johannesburg, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Historical Papers.
1 The Homestead
2 Kimberley
3 Dec 3rd 1897
5 Dear John Findlay
7 Your truly inexplicable & astonishing letter was forwarded to me in
8Cape Town. I am returning by this post your manuscript to Hudson's
9care. I did all I could to find a publisher for it in England but
10could not succeed; no one would take it, even though I offered to in
11one case to pay out of my own pocket if the editor would put it in his
12magazine. I can only suppose that that my not having succeeded in
13^getting^ doing so ^a publisher for it^ is the cause of your writing me so
14astonishing & insulting a letter
16 Your letter was the more astonishing to me because I have always
17entertained the very kindest & most friendly feelings for you. I have
18not seen you for over 23 years & then only for a few moments but I
19have always thought of you as one of the kindest hearted & gentlest of
20men, till I received this letter.
22 You state that you were not in the habit of beating your wife & call
23God to witness. I can only say that, that ^the idea that^ an Englishman,
24& a gentleman, could strike a woman is one that would never enter my
25mind. I would have as soon have thought that Hudson would attempt to
26cut his little Zoe's throat. Even if your wife had been a strong
27healthy woman mentally such a horrible thought, would never have
28occurred to me; but that a human creature calling himself a man would
29strike a woman whom he knew to be mentally weak, is an idea too
30horrible even to be conceived of.
32 In the most brutal public asylums in England, they may strike the
33patients, but unreadable it must be done secretly, or public opinion
34would rise up & visit punishment upon the torturers. All civilised
35peoples have long passed that stage in which mental weakness is
36regarded as a crime & not as the most pitiful disease on earth.
38 You may perhaps suppose that I have heard from someone of your
39striking your wife, but I can assure you that during the last 20 years
40I have never ^that I can recall^ heard your name so much as mentioned by
but your daughters, & they have always spoken of you most
44 You suggest complain that you, & your sins have to pay £150 for your
45^wife's^ keep; & suggest that I might support her. Now you must forgive
46my saying that while a woman's husband is living who has sworn to
47support her in sickness & in health till death, that I do not think he
48has a right to look to any one else to help him to do so. I am only a
49weak woman with broken down health, but if my husband's mind became
50affected or weak tomorrow, from that hour till the day of my death, I
51should have only one object, so to labour & toil that he should be
52supplied with everything that human care & tenderness could give him;
53not till my health was so completely broken down that I could no
54longer earn our bread should I dream of asking any human creature to
55help me to keep him. I should have thought that if I had sent you a
56£5 note to help you support your wife you would have sent it back to
57me indignantly, & asked me if I did not know you were a man & could
58support your own wife.
60 When you, & your two able bodied sons & your five able daughters are
61all dead, I will gladly support her my sister, though I should not
62even know her by sight if I met her, & have never passed so much as a
63day in her house.
65 My husband & his two young brothers supply their mother with over
66£300 a year, though she is a woman of barely 60, healthy in mind &
67body, & quite able to labour, yet they feel it a joy & an honour to
68labour for her, & to stint themselves almost of the necessities of life
69that she may have in abundance. For years my husband gave her £150 a
70year & lived on 80 or 90 a year himself & uttered no word of complaint,
71 but rejoiced to do it for her, though she was quite strong. I am sure
72that none of your children feel that if she was costing you £300 a
73year instead of only £150, that it would be my duty & ^my^ husbands to
74leave off supporting our own relatives to aid you in doing your duty.
76 I did not even know she was in an asylum & I had heard nothing of her
77health for some years till I got a note from Theo telling me in
78passing as a bit of news that she was in an asylum in Natal, & giving
79me no reason for her being here.
81 In writing to Alice a few days after I asked if it was true & what the
82cause was, but she has never replied to my letter. A few days after I
83got a letter from Mother saying it was too painful a matter to write
84about (naturally) but that she would send some letters which would
85explain matters to me. But she she has never ^sent the letters & I have never^
86referred to the matter again to her, nor to any human being in the
87whole of South Africa, neither to Theo, Ettie, Emma, Will nor anyone
90 It is a matter so terrible that one would not willingly speak think of
91it, much less speak of it to any human creature. The day after I wrote
92to Eliza as I got a long letter from your wife which had been
93addressed to Cape Town, & had evidently been wandering about the
94country for some weeks in which she begged me & Cron to take her out
95of the asylum & put her with a private nurse, or to let her come &
96live with us or to give her the address of Mr. Andrew Murray as she
97felt sure he would help her. I took no notice of her letter; & did not
98even tell her I had got it; but wrote her a note of almost twenty
99lines talking of the weather, or th & that sort of thing. I was
100careful not even to refer to her being in an asylum
simply said I felt
101sure she would soon be quite well & strong again. Again she wrote me a
102long letter. I took no notice of it, as I have never taken any notice
103of anything she said for the last 20 years. I simply wrote & asked her
104if she would like some flower seeds as I had some. She wrote again,
105but that letter I have never answered. This was all I knew of the
106whole matter till your astonishing letter reached me. You need never
107fear I will willingly dis-cuss you or your affairs with any human
108being if I life live in South Africa for twenty years; & as for poor
109old Katie it would be too much agony to talk of her to any one.
111 I shall probably never mention her name again as long as I live.
113 Yours sincerely,
114 Olive Schreiner
The manuscript by John Findlay referred to cannot be established. However, his reply to this letter from Olive Schreiner is as follows (and is a copy of the letter sent, not the actual letter itself):

Leeuw River Mills

Mrs. Olive Schreiner

Dear Olive,

It gave me great sorrow to see how you unreadable ^misunderstood^ my letter. I did not keep a copy so cant say how I have comported myself.

I can assure you it would be the last thing I would do to insult or annoy you. I have too much respect & regard for you. I know that in correspondence I am often very abrupt & short & rough = So please excuse me = and put it all down to the rough way this hard world has treated me.

1st. Kindly let me explain -
The only reason I mentioned about illtreatment of Katie, was because unreadable she has been writing to all sorts of people - ministers, friends, relatives &c - accusing me of ill treating her, and I was afraid that yo she might have written to you also - or you may have heard rumours to that effect = I most decidedly agree with you as to treatment of women = My father or mother never in all my life chastised me beat me ^or my sisters^, and I can say that in all my life I have never beaten a child of mine = a word was always enough in my young days I have often got into scrapes = by interfering where I have seen the women ill treated =

2nd. You are altogether too unjust to me in saying that, the cause 'I can only suppose that my not having succeeded in getting a publisher is the cause of your writing me so astonishing & insulting a letter.' As stated I did not intend insulting - and I had very little faith in your being able to succeed = with my rubbish, but as you held out a faint hope I left it in your hands and it gave me great pleasure to see your Kindness in taking the great trouble you & your worthy husband did take - now it is really cruel for you to say that I wrote on that account, and I'm sure you dont mean it - do you really - say no -

If I am what you say ^wrote for the motive you say^, I must be a childish, selfish ^ungrateful^ vindictive being, and will make a good character in one of your future novels = to show how easily a man can be changed & transmogrified.

3rd. I did not complain about what I & Hudson paid for my poor old wife, I merely mentioned it to show that we had put her in the 1st class at the asylum, merely to satisfy you that we were doing our best for her = and being your Eldest sister thought you would like to know it.

Neither did I intend to throw out any hint wishing you to assist us. Had I required your assistance in money for that purpose I would have been man enough to have asked you straight & you could only have said no.

If I remember right I surely said that if any of her friends or relations thought we were doing wrong in putting her in an asylum that we would be glad if they took her out & that in such case we would then pay them the money we are now paying the asylum - what harm was there in that. I did not intend it for you at all, last thought least of all would I suggest you - with your health you could never manage my poor old wife. =

I am happy ^to say^ Thank God I have kept my marriage vow & hitherto supported her - and, no one has assisted me except her son occasionally, and she has never been a drag on her relations; and had you sent a ?5 note, I would have returned it with thanks, as you say -

I cant make out how you come to the Conclusion that I wanted you to support her and leave of. Hudson is doing a good business and if required would with pleasure support me & my wife & the Girls also -

But having health & strength & a large Bump of Scotch Independence I don?t intend to. From my 16 year I have supported myself & never had aid from others. And can & will still do it =

Your husband & his brothers have done noble duty towards their mother. Perhaps in my days when I was in fact real good circumstances I also did good. After your ^dear^ father left Wittebergen I assisted him often - and after his death Hemming & I joined in remitting the Dear old mother money, when you and Willie & the other children could not do it - then we could - afterwards times got bad and we could no more - then Willie & Theo could & they did and they have ever since =

In those good old days I sent my two mule wagon down ^from Fraserburg^ to CT to fetch Uncle Rolland & Mrs. Syme and took them to Grahamstown ^via Fraserburg^ at my own costs = So you see I once had a kind heart also -

^I ought not to have mentioned this for Willie has for once over again repaid me for kindness shown his mother By his great great kindness shown to my children, and they again will always feel happy in showing kindness to his children.^

If your judgment is right Oh what a fearful change has come over me - no, my hard and rough life with its ups & downs has not altered me - your brother Willie knows that, and the strong love all my children bear to me proves unreadable how I got that love - only by kindness. Poor Katie could never have had a kinder husband than I have been to her = Mrs. Stuart, Theo, Ettie & all can vouch for that - But as is usual in cases such as her complaint, they generally hate those they firmly loved the last = she did love me & I loved her - and I still love her yea for the Troubles and hardships of her youth, and the happy years we have spent together, before her affection.

And as I said before, I only mentioned to you the fact that in all my life I never picked up my hand to her = fearing that she may have written to you = as she has to several calling me cruel & a heart all the bad names imaginable = whenever the temporary insanity came passing through her brain.

She is most kindly treated at the asylum - has dancing every Saturday night, she writes - private apartments, parlour, sitting room, piano - large gardens, every freedom - we send her papers etc. Eliza has just made her a nice dress which we send per post as well as whatever she requires.

Now after this long letter I am sure you will write and say that ^after my explanation^ you really did ^do^ not mean all that you said ^wrote^ about me =

Can I still say - Your affectionate, brother
J. Findlay
(John Findlay to Olive Schreiner Findlay Family A1199/3711)

Perhaps John Findlay did not know that Olive Schreiner contributed to her mother's upkeep too, not just her brothers Theo and Will; indeed, she kept a closer eye on the details of this that they did and on one occasion intervened to make sure Rebecca received increased financial help.