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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner: F.S. Malan 1000/7
ArchiveNational English Literary Museum, Grahamstown
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date6 January 1909
Address FromHotel Milner, Matjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToFrancois Stephanus ('FS') Malan
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the National English Literary Museum (NELM) for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections. This letter is written on printed headed notepaper.
1 Hotel Milner
2 Matjiesfontein
3 Cape Colony
5 Jan 6 1909
7 My dear F.S. Malan
9 Thank-you for your letter. I wanted to sit down & answer it the hour
10it came, but I have not been well enough till now. It comforted my
11heart to hear your words on the native question. Even if you do
12nothing, it is something to know you feel the duty we owe to the
13millions in our power.
15 Yes, it is a sad thing that the small body of thoughtful persons in
16South Africa who are really seeking for the best for their country
17without thought of self cannot be thrown more into contact with each
18other, by the exchange of thought & feeling to strengthen & also to
19back one another. I have had several very interesting letters ^since I
20wrote my paper^ from public men & others expressing sympathy with the
21broader view of the native question & our national life; but each
22write in the sad tone of - "I, only I am left." I suppose there are
23hours when we all of us sit with Elija at the door of his cave; but
24would not the answer be even in South Africa today - "Have I not kept
25unto me -" What I feel we really need is some central point about
26which we may rally! That a small strong united, enlightened party,
27never in the majority, but always making its presence felt might do
28great things for South Africa even now.
30 Your letter is so full of things I want to write about but it is so
31hard to write & so easy to talk I wish we could rather speak. You say,
32"How is a statesman to represent all, when all divided." (NB. The
33great man or men who are able to lead & help South Africa need not
34necessarily be part politics: they may be newspaper editors or
35anything else, so they lead & enlighten the people. You, as far as I
36can see, which is of course only a little way, were doing far greater
37work when you wrote those wonderful little sub leaders in Ons Land,
38which even Milner said were the most wonderful things in journalism he
39had ever come across, & when you were sitting a prisoner in ?Toku,
40than you have ever done since you became an important member of a
41party ministry.) Of course a great man cannot represent all when all
42are divided. A great man does not represent, unreadable he can leave
43small men to do that; he leads, & teaches, & unites men in ways they
44would not have been led, & taught united without him! All good & true
45men can only represent one thing - their principles of justice & right
46- in a complex land like this these may lead them now to aid one party
47by opposing them & showing them they are wrong & then another.
48Yesterday it was the English South African who had to be helped, by
49resisting him in his course of injustice & oppression towards the
50Republics, tomorrow it may be farming element ie the land money
51capitalists; who have to be resisted in their attempt to make all
52burdens fall on other classes; the next day it may be all white
53classes who are combined by greed & fear to do injustice to the dark:
54- but while he does this he will steadily seek the good of all. He
55will sympathize with all where he can sympathize. He will recognize
56the good. You may say "Yes, & he will die of a broken heart before he
57is fifty." Yes, I think so too. But what does it matter. He'll have to
58die some way any how. There is one rather monotonous story about the
59^all^ world's greatest & best sons - "He was crucified, died & buried -
60& the third day he rose again from the dead! Perhaps he is not
61physically crucified, nor does he physically rise again; but he
62sacrifices again & again those ambitions that are dear to the heart of
63man, & perhaps those friendships & associations that are dearer than
64all, & accepts what seems failure & defeat - but the large human ends
65of humanity & justice for which he lived go on & unreadable triumph
66because he suffered defeat & failure. When dear old Sir William Butler
67left this country he wrote me a heart-broken letter from Madeira; it
68seemed even to him that he had failed utterly, & that all he had done
69was of no use. But even you & I can to-day see that the part he plaid
70in South Africa was a much greater success than that of Milner &
71Rhodes; & in the years to come all men will see it. That's the only
72kind of success one wants for the men one loves & wants to look up it
73to. These are the true leaders of men, not the followers of majorities;
74 or even always the leaders of minorities; the men who at times have
75to stand quite alone - & do.
77 You say, my dear friend, that my ideal is that of a philosophic
78thinker, & not of a "statesman". Well, it certainly isn't of a Rhodes
79or a Milner or a Curzon or of some men near home; but as I look upon
80statesmen of that type as as a kind of unreadable parasite developed
81in the blood of humanity & feeding on it, I have no ambition that any
82man I value should attain it to it.
84 I do not value the mere philosophic thinker at all. The man I value,
85who alone seems to me really great, is the man who strives to put it
86in to action & incarnate in his life the ideals that have shaped
87themselves in his soul. He will fail often; he will make mistakes; it
88is for no man to blame him or judge him, who has ever in the humblest
89way tried to realize his own ideals in practical daily life. I see
90only too clearly the almost superhuman difficulties which must rise
91before any ^man^ who in South Africa, tries to lead ^practically^ his
92fellows towards broader ideals of humanity & natural life - but I do
93see glorious possibilities - though they may often mean "heaven's
94success bound to Earth's failures." South Africa seems to me to-day to
95call aloud for some man who amid the universal materialism & racial
96narrowness shall raise a nobler standard & try to induce us to follow
97it. I think you are in a peculiarly happy position because being Dutch
98by blood & having suffered & done so much for your own race they will
99be inclined to be influenced by you where they would not be by another,
100 & at the same time I think you are more trusted by the English than
101any man of non English blood. And at this moment there are
102opportunities of influencing the life of millions for good, or for
103evil that only come once, & perhaps not so often in a hundred years.
105 The problems of Dutch & English have for me quite vanished away from
106the practical horizon in South Africa now. The problem that is rising
107before us is that of the combination of the capitalist-classes,
108land-owning & mine-owning, against the rest of the community; & ^an^
109ignorant, blind, land-thirsty, gold-thirsty native policy; which will
110plunge South Africa into war & bitterness, compared ^with^ which the
111Boer War was nothing. In the picture of Jameson walking with his arm
112round the neck of his fellow "Conventioner" of Africander blood, I see
113an omen of evil. It is not love that is uniting you all - it is greed.
114Cheap land, cheap labour, cheap mines, exploit the nigger - that is
115the bond that is uniting you! Merriman tells us there are to be no
116more parties; that every principle is to die; well we shall see! This
117is a long & very stupid letter. But you know how hard it is to write
118compared to talking.
120 Yours ever
121 Olive Schreiner
The paper Schreiner refers to having written is '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 the short book Closer Union in 1909.