"Spending the last days destroying letters & papers, no daughter to leave them to" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceSmuts A1/186/75
ArchiveNational Archives Repository, Pretoria
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date23 January 1899
Address From2 Primrose Terrace, Berea, Johannesburg, Transvaal
Address To
Who ToJan Smuts
Other VersionsRive 1987: 344-5
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
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 Special Collections. The date of this letter has been written on in an unknown hand.
1 Primrose Terrace
2 Berea
3 Johannesburg
5 Dear Mr Smuts
7 Some time ago my husband told me that Mr Rous had mentioned to him
8that you regretted he had entered the a lawyer’s office here as you
9would have liked to see him in the public service, & if he were
10willing would be glad if he would now enter it.
12 I may tell you that I had one of the bitterest struggles within myself
13that I have ever had before I could feel that it could be right that
14my husband should enter the Transvaal service, whatever use I believed
15he might be of to South Africa by doing so. Of all the lies Rhodes &
16his followers have spread about me none has cut me so deeply as the
17lie circulated in England that I had received £4,000 from the
18Transvaal Government for writing Peter Halket. It cut straight at the
19use & value of what I have written & of what I may yet write
. Further
20the idea that an artist should for money set pen to paper & prostitute
21their intuitions by writing to order at all, is an accusation in my
22eyes, far worse even than murder. It is a moral & spiritual murder on
23one’s own soul which one would commit. I knew if my husband accepted
24your offer though at the greatest sacrifice to himself (& thought I
25should never have touched one farthing of his salary as I support
26myself by my own work) that yet, the Rhodes party would have made it
27an excuse for repeating their unholy lie & injuring the usefulness of
28what I may write in the future, yet further. It was only after a very
29stiff struggle with myself that I came to the conclusion, that if my
30husband felt he could be of any use in the anti-capitalist fight here,
31nothing ought to stand in his way.
33 Yesterday my husband showed me a letter he had received from you in
34which you spoke of the wish of the Transvaal Government to help us! My
35idea has always been to help the Transvaal, & not that it should help
36me! I feel that in the history of the world no nobler or more gallant
37fight has been fought than that of this little Republic with the
38powers which seek on every side to engulf it. But the freedom &
39independence of the Transvaal has for me a much more serious meaning.
40I look upon the Free State & the Transvaal as the two last little
41sluice-gates we have left keeping out the flood of Capitalism which
42would otherwise sweep in & overwhelm South Africa. The little fight of
43Doornkop is to me the most memorable, not only in the history of South
44Africa, but of this century: there for the first time in the history
45of the world, troops armed, fed, paid, & led (or rather misled!) by
46the capitalist horde, met the simple citizens of a state & were
. The average Boer fighting at Doornkop no doubt only thought
48he was fighting for his little state, just at the Dutch of Holland
49when in the 16th century they fought Philip, no doubt believed they
50were fighting merely to free their country from a tyrant, & had no
51idea they were leading in humanity’s great fight for freedom of
52thought and enlightenment! God’s soldiers sometimes fight on larger
53battlefields than they dream of. To me the Transvaal is now engaged in
54leading in a very small way in that vast battle which will during the
55twentieth century be fought out - probably most bitterly &
56successfully in America & Germany - between engorged capitalists & the
57citizens of different races.
59 It is this that makes our little struggle here something almost sacred,
60 & of world-wide importance. Doornkop was a stab in the vitals of the
61international capitalist horde, from Roths-child & Rosebery to Rhodes
62& Harris. No doubt for the present they may beat us; but there are
63more Doornkops coming in other lands, & another fifty years will see
64the battle won. Feeling as I do on this matter you will understand how
65intense is my desire to see this independence & complete autonomy of
66the Transvaal; (the day when federation maybe is desirable may come,
67but I hope it is yet far distant) - & who glad I should be to assist
68the Transvaal government in the fight; but under no circumstances & no
69condition could I ever consent to accept the least consideration from
70it. The only thing the Transvaal Government could do for me, would be
71to enfranchise all the wives & daughters of the Burgers, & who
72constitute the real back-bone of the country. But that they are not
73likely to do!
75 Please give my kind regards to your wife whom I should very much like
76to meet. I am sure I should sympathize with her from what I have heard
77of her. I am sorry my health does not allow of my going over to
80 Yours faithfully
81 Olive Schreiner
Schreiner is referring to her allegorical novella Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland. Rive's (1987) version of this letter is in various respects incorrect.