"Everything so dark & mysterious, going to be a great European war" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceJohn X. Merriman MSC 15/71/4/3
ArchiveNational Library of South Africa, Special Collections, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date29 June 1896
Address FromThe Homestead, Kimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToJohn X. Merriman
Other VersionsRive 1987: 284-6
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 June 29 / 96
4 Dear Mr Merriman
6 I am very glad you liked my Bushman paper. I have never gone on with
7the letter I was writing in answer to your last, because we have had
8visitors staying with us ever since, & as I do all the cooking &
9housework, with the help of a little boy of 14, I have not been to my
10desk since.
12Your remark with regard to the attitude of the Boers towards some of
13their old favourite Halfcaste servants is so very true. I have been
14struck by the fact on some farms I have ^been^ lived on, that, while the
15Kaffirs, who seem to me such a much more noble folk, are treated with
16scorn & severity, the Half-caste servants, or some of them, are petted
17& spoiled. Does not this rise partly from the fact that blood is
18thicker than water?? In one family I was struck by the way in which an
19old ^coloured^ woman of 70 & her daughter of 40 seemed to dominate &
20govern the mistress & the house. I found out afterwards that the old
21woman had actually born several children to the ^grand^ father in the
22old slave times ^& later after she was freed^ & that the daughter of 40
23was actually own half sister to the mistress of the house! In many
24cases where there is of course no personal relation between the
25masters family ^& the coloured servants^ there is still a racial
. I think this accounts for the fact that had before ^I
27thought of it^ often puzzled me - that English men in the Eastern
28province where there are both Kaffirs & Halfcaste always prefer the
29Kaffirs, while Boers almost always prefer the Halfcastes. Might this
30also not explain a little, why there are cases on record of white
31girls running away with Halfcasts & seldom or never with Kaffirs? ^- as
32you mentioned in your last.^
34 //I do not think I over state the the painful position of the
35Halfcaste, though on the surface it certainly does appear so. I could
36recount to you if there were time, severa1 ?instances in which
37coloured women have poured out a flood of bitterness at their position,
38 when a few words of indirect sympathy had once showed them that I
39felt kindly towards them. I know ^also^ one highly cultured &
40intellectual woman, in a good social position who has one 8th of
41Hottentot blood. I have She has declared unreadable that if she had
42had any conception of what her children would have had to go through
43she would never have given one of them birth. Her hatred towards her
44grand father for the misery he has caused his des-cendants is
45something almost savage! She certainly is the only wom person in the
46upper ranks of life, who has ever spoken frankly to me of their
47position; but I have not the slightest doubt that thousands who do not
48speak, feel just as bitterly. There is a very delightful & fine
49coloured family ^who^ live next door to us here; the husband is a cab
50driver. The other day when I was kissing & nursing the baby the ^woman^
51burst forth ?most unexpectedly; "Yes, I wonder that you kiss the child!
52 Most white people wouldn't touch it, because it's skin is a little
53darker than theirs!" &c &c &c.
55 //I don't know why the Bushman must die: they have kept alive a
56variety of the original wild cattle of Europe in a certain Park in
57England! There is no reason the Bushman should perish, if a
58millionaire bought unreadable up thirty or forty large farms, fenced
59them, & stocked them with wild beast, or rather let them simply run, &
60left the Bushman at peace in the territory, not trying to civilize
61them. It certainly won't be done, but it certainly might be.
63 Yes, you are quite right. I have not dealt adequately with the Boer
64woman in the two articles I sent you, but the next article is called
65"The Boer Woman", & entirely devoted to her, ^though^ & incidentally ^it
66deals with^ to the woman question, as I conceive it. I shall be
67exceeding interested to find out what you think of that article.
69 My husband leaves on Friday for Cradock to read his paper.
71 I am exceedingly depressed about political & public affairs in this
72country To you who are more behind the scenes it may seem ridiculous,
73but I am continually haunted by the dread that Rhodes & his backers in
74high circles at home whi will yet plunge South Africa in war. It seems
75to me his last card. If he fails in that he is done for.
77 Yours sincerely
78 Olive Schreiner
80 ^No, I have never read Stevenson, strange as it may seem I have a most
81peculiar antipathy to novels. I love the Mill on the Floss and
82Turgannieffs Fathers & Sons & a dozen others, but I think I like them
83because they are science or poetry, not because they are novels!!! I
84have often tried to analyze why it is that th I have this intense
85horror of ordinary novels, while the all folks of this age from Huxley
86& Darwin to servant girls find pleasure in them, & benefit too. They
87are so dry
The 'Bushman paper' and 'The Boer Woman' are among the essays initially published pseudonymously from 1891 on as by 'A Returned South African', intended for publication in book form as 'Stray Thoughts on South Africa'. However, although prepared for publication, a dispute with a US publisher and the events of the South African War prevented this. They and some related essays were posthumously published as Thoughts on South Africa. The books referred to are: George Eliot (1878) The Mill on the Floss Edinburgh: Blackwood; Ivan Turgenieff (1867) Fathers and Sons Thomas New York: Y. Crowell & Co. Rive's (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.