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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner BC16/Box4/Fold1/1908/37
ArchiveUniversity of Cape Town, Manuscripts & Archives, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date4 June 1908
Address FromDe Aar, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToWilliam Philip ('Will') Schreiner
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to Manuscripts and Archives, University of Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscripts and Archives Collections.
1 de Aar
2 June 4th 1908
4 Dear Laddie
6 It was good to see you. I hope the trip will do you good. You can
7hardly know how glad I am you are up there.
9 Dear, the success or failure of life is not an outward thing. Perhaps
10when the hour to die comes it will be some of those things which to
11the outer world seem most failure, which will stand us in stead, when
12that terrible sense of the good & great we might have accomplished if
13we had been wiser comes over us.
15 "All I aspired to be, and was not, comforts me; This I was worth to
16God, Whose wheel the pitcher shapes."
18 Second rate men can easily do the Prime Ministry of this country or
19can even work officially at its Federation. That is a thing which will
20be accomplished if there were only third rate men in this country. But
21the work that calls for great men & women here, & that none but they
22can accomplish
, because it is a work requiring devotion to a high
23ideal & self obliteration is the wise ordering of our native question.
24That calls for the largest, the sanest, the widest intellects & hearts
25the world has seen.
27 In my small way I am doing what I can. If it were typewritten & easy
28to read I would you a chapter of my novel I’m just finishing. The
29colour question comes in quite naturally there, because one of the
30centre points of the story is that the wife has adopted & brings up as
31her own among the legitimate children a little half-coloured child who
32is her husbands by a coloured servant. He never suspects the child is
33his till the end of the book, when he attacks his wife with bringing
34up a coloured child with his white children. You will of course see
35how this opens up the whole question of our relation to the unreadable
36^darker^ races, & the attitude which says ‘they are here for our
37interest for our pleasure, & to hell with them when they aren’t that!
38’ If only I could live to finish that book, I would feel satisfied,
39though it was perfect failure.
41 We had very sad news about half an hour before you passed yesterday.
42We got a wire to say Cron’s mother has cancer of the breast & has to
43be operated on on Monday. Cron says he can’t leave his business, so
44I shall probably go down on Saturday to be with her when she undergoes
45it. Until a few days ago every one thought she was in perfect health.
46In the awful physical & mental tragedy of life there really is nothing
47but loving other people & helping them to make life bearable. It seems
48strangely unjust that that dear old woman should have to suffer so.
50 Good bye Laddie. Your chum
51 Olive
53 ^Old J X Merriman struck me as rather lofty & mighty when I met him at
54Matjesfontein for a few minutes. It’s strange how only the very
55greatest natures can accept success of any kind, & retain the simple
56sweetness of the unknown man. Jan Smuts does it, & his wife. I hope
57Malan always will.^
The 'This I was worth to God, Whose wheel the pitcher shapes' quotation is from Robert Browning's poem 'Rabbi Ben Ezra', in his (1864) Dramatis Personae London: Chapman and Hall. The novel Schreiner refers to 'just finishing' is From Man to Man.