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Letter ReferenceJohn X. Merriman MSC 15/1905:199
ArchiveNational Library of South Africa, Special Collections, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date31 October 1905
Address FromHanover, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToJohn X. Merriman
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
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 Hanover
2 Oct 31st 1905
3
4
5 My dear Mr Merriman
6
7 It was rather strange that your letter should have come just when I
8was thinking I must write & ask you whether you had read a book called
9the Souls of Black Folks, & to advise you to get it at once if you
10have not.
11
12 It's by a coloured man, I should say from his photograph nearly a full
13blooded Negro, called du Bois ^& son of a slave.^ It's a book I have
14long been seeking & waiting for, in which some native should give true
15expression, not to what he feels it's politic & wise to express to
16white men, but to what he really feels. This book is just what I have
17wanted. The chapter I like best is the one called "The passing of the
18first-born" where he speaks of his child, with its "proud" little
19curly head who died before he ever learnt what he was & had to ?low it;
20 - & he, the father was glad. If you can't get it in Cape Town I will
21send you my copy. I should much like to know how you feel to it.
22
23 Yes, what you say on the matter of the natives & war is profoundly
24true: it bodes no good to any one when that delouche, King Edward
25shakes hands with the man of gold & speculation. That shake of Rhodes'
26hand at the time of the raid trial, represented more of the evil that
27has since over taken South Africa than many people are inclined to
28think. Last night I was looking at the new railway map. Have you
29noticed how all the new bits of line built are converging on
30Basutoland & Kaffir-land? - they are not only being built for carrying
31grain!! I feel as I felt twelve years ago, when first Rhodes plans
32with regard to the Transvaal & Freestate began to loom up before me.
33You see the thing only in misty out line; & yet you see it so clearly;
34& know what is coming. And ^yet^ you are so terribly helpless to do
35anything.
36
37 //The Lawrences spend a delightful week with me here; they have now
38gone up to the Falls, but will be back in Hanover today week. One
39would have to live year after year amid the suffocating narrow
40surroundings of a little up country town to know what the presence of
41friends from the outer world means to one.
42
43 My husband told me this evening that he had written to you on the
44Venter matter. It is a miserable, sordid little game they are playing
45up here.
46
47 //Is Wills' book on "Roman Society" in the Parliamentary Library? I am
48sure to be greatly interested in the study of that Roman Imperial
49world throws far more light on our problems & conditions today than of
50all intervening centuries in Europe. At present I am reading for about
51the 10th time Don Quixote. A friend in England has sent me an ideal
52little copy in four tiny volumes & I read myself to sleep with it
53every night, & I've never enjoyed it so much before.
54
55 South African politics & public matters are to me simply heart
56breaking at the present time, & I am trying to forget them in revising
57one of my old novels that I wrote many years ago. It is simply the
58lives of two women, one very intellectual & complex, the other very
59simple & unintellectual, but both equally beloved: its just the story
60of all they thought & did & felt, & how it
61
62^ended with them both. I should like to think I was leaving it ready
63for publication when I died, but don't make much progress with it
64because one can only do good work ^^except^^ at high pressure & one
65daren't sometimes put the pressure on.^
66
67I am sending you a copy of the Volk-stem with a little article on the
68Taal & myself: not of any interest in the personal way, but because it
69throws light on the narrow racial attitude with regard to South Africa,
70 which makes one in ones weakest moments almost despair of the future.
71
72Yours sincerely
73Olive Schreiner
74
Notation
The article in the Volkstem attacking Schreiner's article on the taal has not been traced. Schreiner's 'Letter on The Taal' was originally published in the Cape Times 10 May 1905 (p.9); it also appears in a shortened version as Appendix E in (ed) Cronwright-Schreiner (1924) The Letters of Olive Schreiner London: Fisher Unwin. The book referred to is: W.E.B. Du Bois (1903) The Souls of Black Folks Chicago: A.C. McClurg. Wills's book on Roman Society cannot be established.