"Men selling their souls & fate watching" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceLetters/399
Archive
Epistolary Type
Letter Date12 June 1890
Address FromMatjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 188-90; Rive 1987: 174-5
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
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.
2Matjesfontein, 12th June.
3
4Such a funny thing happened to me the other afternoon. I was very
5happy and well and went out to walk in the veld, taking Ruskin with me.
6 It was a glorious afternoon, everything was beautiful, the sun
7shining an the bushes. Suddenly I found I was crying; not quietly but
8in a wild convulsed agony, just as one cries if one has had some
9terrible and heart-breaking news. And yet I wasn't crying. I kept
10saying to myself; "What is the matter? What am I crying about? I am
11quite happy." It was as if some terrible things, quite beyond the
12range of my conscious consciousness, were affecting me. It was the
13strangest mental condition I have ever experienced. It was like the
14agony one starts up with sometimes in the night; but I had not been to
15sleep and my whole mind was busily engaged with the book, and if I was
16conscious of anything else it was the beautiful peaceful sunset scene
17about me. It is a new and strange evidence of that double
18consciousness which I am sure exists in the brain, at least in mine. I
19am sure that these marvellous flashes, as when in one instant the
20whole of my Prelude flashed on me as I was sitting and writing things
21about Bushmen's heads, are not really a flash of revelation, but the
22result of absolutely unconscious cerebration that had been going on in
23my brain. Tell me if, without your suggestion, anyone ever tells you
24of the same experience. I wish I could make you understand how
25wonderful the feeling was, to feel that conscious part of my brain
26which had been reading, looking on, perfectly calm and cool, at the
27other part which was in such agony. All my English life is so clear to
28me now, all my faults, but I was nearer Heaven that time when you all
29turned from me four years ago than I ever was before or than I’ll ever
30be again. I shall live now, and work, but I shall always be much less,
31no one will ever misunderstand me now, because I am living like them,
32with the same aims, and no larger faith in humanity and my fellows
33than they have. I have transferred all my dreams and hopes to the
34future, which is perhaps wiser. It wouldn't hurt me so much if you
35were to try and murder me and - published all my letters in The Times
36as those little tiny things did. I can see now that my great sin was
37that I put, not one individual, but all my fellow-men, humanity, in
38the place of the Infinite. To set my fellow-men before deeper things,
39and doing right to humanity entirely before everything, that is wrong.
40One must hold the balance perfectly even between knowledge and service
41of our fellows, never let it sink either way, and never love human
42beings better but exactly as well as inanimate nature. We help them
43more so.
44
Notation
The 'Prelude' is to From Man to Man.