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Letter ReferenceT120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/54- pages 209-214
ArchiveNational Archives Depot, Pretoria
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateMarch 1892
Address FromMatjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToWilliam Thomas Stead
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 193; Rive 1987: 201-2
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
The Project is grateful to the National Archives Repository, Pretoria, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Micofilm Collections. Cecil Rhodes was thrown from his horse in late December 1891, while Schreiner refers to ‘next March a year from this’; thus the dating of this letter.
1Matjesfontein
2
3Dear Friend
4
5It’s a long while since I last heard from you. I quite wish for some
6word. I haven’t liked your ghost development, but I understand the
7part you have to play in life it is: to reflect back all the
8tendencies of your age, & therefore will not quarrel with you as I
9otherwise would!!! Life hath called us to many different labours.
10
11I’ve no news to give you of myself. I’ve been living quietly alone for
12some months working. As soon as I can find anyone in England who will
13undertake arrangements with publishers I shall send home much work =
14my five articles on South Africa, which will form a large book, & a
15thing dealing with the whole subject of sex, as far as my ten years
16work at that subject have yet brought me, & a large novel. I’ve got a
17number of little stories too but they will need revision.
18
19I am specially anxious to know what you will think of my sex work. I
20have thrown it into the form of a story, a woman scientific in
21tendency & habits of thought but intensely emotional loves a brilliant
22politician. She is going away where she will never see him again. She
23invites him to see her the last night, & they dis-cuss love, the ideal
24of marriage, prostitution, & the evils of celibacy (which I think are
25very great, though at the present day for many of the best men & women
26unavoidable! ^inevitable^); & the knotty question - In how far have we a
27right to force the sexual ideal, right & proper for us in a higher
28stage of evolution on persons in a lower! I’m wo More & more I see it
29is not by ruthless attacks on each others weaknesses, but by a drawing
30closer together, & a tender sympathy even with each others vices that
31we men & women will help & save each other & solve our sex
32difficulties.
33
34I have lived here so long alone now that I've no news to give you
35except about my work. I seem less & less to have any personal life & I.
36
37Of Mr Rhodes I have had no news for a very long time. I was very
38anxious lest he ?were ?together should have suffered from his fall but they
39say he is all right. Talking of this, ^Private^ I can tell you a story
40which will tend to prove to you how rotten are your ghost & dream
41theories!! Some time ago (it was the night when the mail train passes
42here, & I knew Rhodes was to be in it,) I woke woke up in the middle
43of the night & found myself standing on the floor in the middle of my
44room crying, & wringing my hands. I'd dreamt that I saw Rhodes walking
45by with his old big felt hat on drawn down very low on his head, & an
46over coat on with the collar turned up, & his head sunk very low
47between his shoulders. I ran up to him & stood before him. He did not
48speak a word, but he opened his over-coat; as he turned it ab back I
49saw his whole throat & chest covered with blood, & his face ghastly
50pale like a dead persons; he said nothing & it was at this point I
51woke. For some minutes ^moments^ I walked up & down the room half awake
52believing it was true. Then I heard the mail train move away, & I woke
53fully & realized it was only a dream. But so strong was the effect on
54my mind that when some time after I was walking in Cape Town streets
55the day of the accident, & my brother Will came up to me, & W asked me
56if I had heard any news; I said no: He said, then, ‘Come to my office,
57I want to tell you something’; I asked what it was, & he said, “Some
58one you know has met with an accident,” I at once said, “oh don't tell
59me I know what it is”: he asked me what ^I thought^ it was, & I said,
60Rhodes has been thrown from his horse & ^he's dead”^ died.' Now
61if anything had really happened you would all have said, how wonderful,
62 how prophetic!! Because he's all alive & well, one forgets all about
63it!! Coincidence must occur sometimes, that's what you people forget.
64
65I expect to leave for England about the 30th of next March a year from
66this. Please don't tell anyone or I shall be over run with visitor. I
67only want to see 20 or 30 of my closest friends. I shall send you my
68address as soon as I arrive. I shall only be in England a few weeks &
69shall then go on to Chicago & to travel for some months in the States.
70
71Now write me a letter. This is the longest letter I've written anyone
72for a year. Your letters always are to me a refreshing breath from the
73old outer world. Life in South Africa is very solitary for a woman. It
74may be & is good for ones work. But there are times when one longs to
75rub ones brains up against another “human’s”. There are plenty of
76women & children & niggers to love here, but sometimes one wants the
77other side of one's nature satisfied, that thinks. I am going to spend
78the winter at a farm in the Karroo where I wrote an African Farm, so
79many years ago. Just now I am busy taking care of a woman who is going
80to have a little child next month. Having a child always seems to me
81the one compensation the Gods give woman for being woman. The only
82thing that makes me sad in thinking I shall have to live all my life
83alone is the thought I shall never have a child. Marriage seems to me
84more & more an impossibility. If by any possibility one did at last
85find a humanbeing for whom one could feel so absolute an affection as
86would make marriage right, one would be sure to find that some other
87woman loved them, & that it was selfish even to desire their
88friendship, & that close knowledge & friendship which ought to preceed
89all thought of marriage is very difficult for men & women to attain to
90under existing circumstances.
91
92Things seem going well in Mashonaland. A friend said that
93
94I was going to enter the troubled sea of Colonial Politics, but won't.
95
96Yours- faithfully- & expecting a reply of immense length to so
97unusually long a letter,
98Olive Schreiner
99
Notation
The ‘five articles’ referred to are Schreiner’s ‘A Returned South African’ essays, originally published in a range of magazines and intended to be reworked in book form, as Stray Thoughts on South Africa. A dispute with a publisher and then the outbreak of the South African War (1899-1902) prevented this, and they were in the event with some additional essays published posthumously as Thoughts on South Africa. The ‘thing dealing with the whole subject of sex’ was a manuscript which was destroyed when Schreiner’s Johannesburg house was damaged during the South African War; its remains became first her two essays on ‘Woman’, and then Woman and Labour. The ‘large novel’ is likely to be From Man to Man, while the ‘little stories’ cannot be established. The story of the ‘woman scientific in tendency’ is ‘The Buddhist Priest’s Wife’, published posthumously in Stories, Dreams and Allegories. Rive’s (1987) version of this letter is incorrect in minor respects. Cronwright-Schreiner’s (1924) extract has been misdated and is incorrect in a range of ways.