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Letter ReferenceLetters/474
Epistolary Type
Letter DateSeptember 1908
Address FromDe Aar, Nothern Cape
Address To
Who ToAdela Villiers Smith nee Villiers
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 282-3
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 Mrs. Francis Smith.
2De Aar, Sept.
4... I have been re-reading that Elizabeth and her German Garden you
5sent me. It's very curious that I like the book so much that I've read
6it three or four times' - it's like Pickwick Papers. I can read it and
7her other book when I can't read anything else hardly, and yet
8curiously enough I don't like the woman herself. I feel I should be
9afraid of her, as I always am of those sharp clever women, who don't
10mind how they hurt people. I don't think I like “clever" people very
11much, unless there is something much deeper behind the cleverness. I
12like a stupid loving person better. ... Isn't it strange that no great
13artist has ever translated into the common language the meaning of
14continual suffering disease to the human soul. Heine did it a little
15in his wonderful way. You once, in a letter to me, expressed better
16than anyone else has ever that awful solitariness and aloofness from
17all things existing that certain forms of intense physical anguish
18leave the soul in; and it is that solitude of the soul and not the
19mere physical suffering that is so awful. The mental anguish of the
20mother who loses her child, of the lover who is betrayed - almost all
21forms of purely mental anguish unconnected with the individual's own
22body - have been expressed, or have sought to find expression in art;
23but the awful anguish of a soul, striving against its own body, has
24found no expression. Is it not because this doesn't so very often
25happen? I mean in most cases, where physical pain and disease are very
26intense, there comes, mercifully, a deadness of the nerves and brain,
27a stolid absence of power to feel or desire almost. Only in a terrible
28exceptional case like yours, in some form of diabetes and heart
29disease and asthma, etc., does the brain keep all its clearness and
30the nervous system seem almost sharper and keener than in health! The
31time before last I got violent influenza, which of course settled on
32my lungs, according to the doctors I was very bad - but what we know
33as suffering I didn't have at all. From the second day I just lay in
34bed, my head ached and I didn't want the light to shine in my eyes and
35I wanted poultices; but when I look back at all the three weeks there
36was no anguish! I wasn't comfortable or happy, but then I didn't feel
37much of anything, and it was nice to go to sleep! I think in the Gods'
38mercy much of what is called human disease and suffering is like that.
39But oh, it isn't all like that. I have seen such terrible things in a
40hospital of a soul all alone and keep fighting the fight. But I think
41we can comfort ourselves by thinking that such suffering is rare; that,
42 with great physical disorganisation, comes generally deadness and
43indifference to life even, only a wish for rest. It's so blessed to
44think this. Do you remember Heine's wonderful poem written on his
45mattress-grave, where he fights with that other man, and that other
46man is himself.