"Good bye to Cronwright: have my big stone warmater bottle, yours ever" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceSmuts A1/190/43A
ArchiveNational Archives Repository, Pretoria
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date After Start: 7 January 1909 ; Before End: 28 February 1909
Address FromMatjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToIsie Smuts nee Krige
Other Versions
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 range of this letter is provided by content around when Schreiner was resident in Majjesfontein, when Closer Union was published as an article and then Constance ytton arranged for Fifield to publish it in book form.
1 Matjesfontein
3 My dear Isie
5 I think there must be unseen telepathic wires between Matjesfontein &
6Pretoria for today there came to pacages of books with Neef Jans name
7on them & your name inside some. How did you guess I wanted books? I
8have just been longing for some lately; all I have here are Wordswroths
9Wordsworth’s poem’s & Gibbons history; & as I have read both ever
10since I was a child till I almost know them by heart they are not very
11stimulating! The only other things I have to read are the ^"Cape^ Times"
12& the "Argus", & when I have finished the rest of them I sometimes
13read the advertisements to make them last out! And I get "the Nation"
14once a week from England. Thanks very much for them I have long been
15wishing to get that book of Fielding Hall’s; & have been reading it
16to day. I am writing at my novel, but one can’t write all the time,
17in fact when I have written for a couple of hours I have to go & lie
18down & it rests one’s brain to have something far removed from your
19work to think of. When the old librarian was alive in Cape Town he
20used to send me packet of the back numbers of the "Reviews" & the
21"Century" & Harpers"; but he is dead now & a new king has arisen "who
22knows not Moses." My friend Lady Constance Lytton has just cabled me
23she has madeking me satisfactory arrangements for bringing out my
24little article on Closer Union in Book form. Tell Jan I am going
25to send him a copy that he can carry about in his pocket, as I know
26how much he likes it & agrees with all the views!!!!!!
28 Really, I would come up to Pretoria just to have a long talk with him;
29but I know a politician never talks; he fences!
31 I hope the children are much better for their change. Your little son
32has a long face. Don’t you think he’s very like your little
35 Good bye, dear thanks for all you your love to me.
37 Olive Schreiner.
39 Tell Neef Jan, he’s I say, he’s not to go on dancing on the head
40of my Indians like he does; & that when I die, he must take care of
41all my black people for me!!! I shall leave them to him in my will.
This letter plays upon the racial, indeed racist, sensibilities of Jan and Isie Smuts. The savage ironies involved in endeavouring to liberalise them were shared with her friends Alice Greene and Betty Molteno, as a 23 November 1913 letter from Greene to Molteno written concerning the Natives Land Act makes clear:

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 seance 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 tete-a-tete, 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 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...

Schreiner's 'paper' is her 'Views on closer union', a lengthy article published in the Transvaal Leader on 21 December 1908 and the Cape Times on 22 December 1908 (p.9); it appeared as a short book in 1909. The novel Schreiner was 'working at' is From Man to Man. For Wordsworth's poems, see: William Wordsworth (1863) The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth London: Routledge, Warne & Routledge. The other books referred to are: Edward Gibbon (1776-1787) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire London; Harold Fielding Hall (1898) The Soul of a People London: R. Bentley & Son.