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Letter ReferenceJohn X. Merriman MSC 15/71/4/5
ArchiveNational Library of South Africa, Special Collections, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date17 December 1897
Address FromThe Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToJohn X. Merriman
Other VersionsRive 1987: 323-4
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Special Collections.
1 The Homestead,
2 December 17 / 97
4 Dear Mr Merriman
6 I am as sick of the word progressive as you can be; as sick as a sheep
7would feel at the sight of wool, if under half the fleeces they saw
8moving about them, there peered out a wolf's head.
10 But weary as one feels of this rotten assumption of names that mean
11nothing, there are in South Africa a body men & women who might be
12drawn together into a small compact & therefore powerful party, were
13there anyone to organise & lead them. But we are scattered abroad as
14sheep having no shepherd. A little sign, I take it, of the way people
15will support & stand by anyone who takes a decided stand against
16Rhodes & the monopolist party he represents, is the fact that though
17my husband failed in his case, people, many of them people we do not
18know & have never seen have sent us in cheques or offered a sum
19amounting ^altogether^ to £985 (a thousand all but £25) asking to be
20allowed to contribute to the damages & cost of the case as they felt
21the matter was not a personal one, & the expense should be borne by
22the public.
24 Of course we have declined all offers of help. But does this not show
25there is a strong feeling under the surface, though it will not be
26called forth by half measures.
28 I do hope you are quite sound on the Diamond tax! Do you know who
29wrote that excellent letter in the Argus of the 14th signed A Liberal,
30an answer to Jagger? There was a whole hearted outspoken-ness about it
31that is rare in the utterances of so-called progressives.
33 Yours very sincerely
34 Olive Schreiner
36 Do you remember that lovely passage in Plato, "Those who have also
37seen & been satisfied of the madness of the multi-tude, & know that
38there is no one who ever acts honestly in the admin-istration of
39states, nor any helper who will save any one who main-tains the cause
40of the just. Such a saviour would be like a man who has fallen among
41wild beasts being unable to join in the wickedness of his friends, &
42would have to throw away his life before he had done any good to
43himself or others. And he reflects on this & holds his peace, & does
44his own business. He is like one who retires under the shelter of a
45wall in the storm of dust & sleet, which the driving wind hurries
46along - he is content if he can live his own life & depart in peace
47with bright hopes."
49 One is often minded of this passage now a days! And yet by each man
50doing his tiny best in his tiny place, humanity does grow slowly &
51slowly onwards.
53 I hope there is not the slightest chance of the machination of your
54foes unseating you. I do not think such a ^dis-grace could be-fall
55South Africa.^
The 'lovely passage in Plato' is from The Republic (1888, London: Macmillan). Rive's (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.