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Letter ReferenceHRC/OliveSchreinerUncatLetters/OS-PhilipKent/7
ArchiveHarry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date26 May 1883
Address From5 Harrington Road, Kensington, London
Address To
Who ToPhilip Kent
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the University of Texas at Austin, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections.
15 Harrington Rd
2South Kensington
3May 26 / 83
5My dear Mr Kent,
7I am going to trouble you again, but I think I can promise it will be
8for the last time.
10The first edition of my book was sold out two weeks ago, & for it
11Chapman gave me £18. He wants to bring out another edition now, &
12offers me for it this edition of 1000 copies £30. I saw him yesterday
13& said that before I accepted anything I should like to have our
14agreement drawn up in black & white, clearly stating that the edition
15was to consist of 1000 copies, & no more, & that when that thous-and
16copies was sold the copy-right was mine to do as I pleased with. He
17grew very angry & said that if ever I tried to sell the copyright to
18any one else he would go to law a-bout it & we should see who would
19come off best, &c. I left. An hour or two after he sent me a note to
20say he had been talking the matter over with Sir Herbert Samford &
21that if I would write agreeing to take the £30 they would then write
22me out an agreement making the copyright mine. I have written to say
23that I will accept the agreement when I have seen it, & can say
24nothing before. If they send me the agreement may I please send it to
25you to look at before I sign it? I don’t want to sign away my right
26to future editions, & the windings & turnings of the law are an awful
27& impenetrable mystery to me. It would be a very great help to me if
28you could tell me I was all right in signing it
30You gave me a rare treat by introducing me Cousin Pons. It is many a
31day since any book has given me the same pleasure. The keen perception
32of character, the absolute truth, the rare artistic gift of saying
33exactly what is needed & no more, are not to be found in equal
34proportions in any work of fiction I know. That dear old ?Schumucke!
35The original old German whom Balzac knew must surely have been some
36blood relation to my old German. Such characters cannot be invented;
37they can only be artistically copied.
39Ach, & old ?Schumucke rubs his hands & nods his old head too! Cousin
40Pons is a more difficult character to draw because he is composite, &
41he is drawn with wonderful delicacy. Your translation must be perfect,
42for from the first page to the last you seem to be having every
43sentence warm from the brain of the writer. Did not you find Madam
44?Cibot more troublesome work? I have got into perfect despair over
45Tant’ Sannie sometimes – the almost impossibility of translating
46the low humorous Dutch into English, without losing the humour, & so
47having nothing but the coarseness left. I have not always succeeded.
48Infact, I believe low Cape Dutch cannot be translated into any
49language under the sun. I hope you are going to translate all Balzacs
50works for us. I don’t know enough French to be able to enjoy a work
51in the original French.
53I hope you will forgive my troubling you again. In England we are all
54so busy that it is a great thing to make a demand on any one’s time.
56I am,
57Yours sincerely,
58Olive Schreiner
60Mr Chapman is very anxious I should put my own name to my book. He
61says double the number of copies would be sold. I can not see what
62difference it would make. I wonder who the writer in the Pall Mall
63thinks I am!
Schreiner's book that is sold out is The Story of An African Farm, and Tant' Sannie is a character in it. The book referred to is: Honore de Balzac (1880) Poor Relations. Cousin Pons (translated by Philip Kent) London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. The Pall Mall Gazette review Schreiner refers to includes as follows:

Pall Mall Gazette 11 May 1883: "The story is a painful and a terrible one. It is the old tale of human misery flavoured with a modern pantheistic despair... The world may be hollow, and our doll may be stuffed with sawdust; but constant insistence upon these unpleasant facts does not tend to increase the greatest happiness of the greatest number, even in the worst of all possible worlds. In spite of all faults of matter or manner, however, "The Story of an African Farm" is certainly a remarkable and interesting book."