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Letter ReferenceLetters/337
Epistolary Type
Letter Date5 February 1889
Address FromMentone, France
Address To
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 154; Rive 1987: 150
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
When Cronwright-Schreiner prepared The Letters of Olive Schreiner, with few exceptions he then destroyed her originals. However, some people gave him copies and kept the originals or demanded the return of these; and when actual Schreiner letters can be compared with his versions, his have omissions, distortions and bowdlerisations. Where Schreiner originals have survived, these will be found in the relevant collections across the OSLO website. There is however a residue of some 587 items in The Letters for which no originals are extant. They are included here for sake of completeness. However, their relationship to Schreiners actual letters cannot now be gauged, and so they should be read with caution for the reasons given.
1To Havelock Ellis.
2Mentone, 5th Feb.
4Harry Boy, it's a lovely morning, I'm going to work, but am shuffling
5out of it for a few minutes by writing to you. I'm in a hurry for your
6Criminal book to be done. Yesterday I was reading in my Zoology (that
7fertile source of ideas) and looking at the diagram of the nervous
8system in vertebrates and invertebrates. Well - a new definition of
9genius, artistic genius at least. People of genius are those
10individuals in whom the sympathetic or instinctive nervous system is
11particularly well developed, or, rather, combined with that
12intellectual cerebro-spinal system peculiar to the higher vertebrate
13in a peculiar way. They are both highly developed and both strongly
14act on one another in case of artistic, and, I think, all genius. The
15man in whom the brain system alone is great and active is a man of
16talent, a thinker but not an artist. The man in whom the sensory
17automatic sympathetic system of abdominal nerves alone is highly
18developed and active is a fool. In the great artist his brain governs
19but his sympathetic system does the work, artistic work. This is why,
20after artistic or in any way creative work, your back gets tired, not
21your head - Don't you see, the sympathetic system has to pass through
22all the stages that your brain, which. has the power of overlooking
23them, may become cognisant of them. The brain seizes and guides. and
24chronicles the sympathetic system for its own purposes, as an artist.
25But it can't guide more than a very little way; it mustn't interfere
26when the thing is working; or it spoils all. What is called
27inspiration is somehow explainable in this direction. I haven't got
28the true theory, but I know I don't do any of my best work in my brain,
29 by the process that is called thinking. It is as little thinking as
30your pinching my finger and my feeling it is thinking. I have millions
31of ideas always coming into my head that I would like to brood over
32and work out if life were longer.