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Letter ReferenceLife/4
Epistolary Type
Letter DateMay 1896
Address Fromna
Address To
Who ToRebecca Schreiner nee Lyndall
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner (1924) The Life…: 278-82
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
When Cronwright-Schreiner wrote The Life of Olive Schreiner, he included a small number of largely complete letters which do not appear in The Letters, then destroyed them. They are included here for sake of completeness. However, when Schreiner’s originals can be compared against his versions, his have omissions, distortions and bowdlerisations. Consequently the relationship of these letters embedded in The Life... to what Schreiner originally wrote cannot be gauged, and they should therefore be read with caution. The month and year of this letter is implied by content. The beginning of the letter is not provided.
1During the last six weeks I have been very unhappy, not knowing
2whether to answer your letters on political matters or not. Would it
3not, my dear little Mother, be much better to drop all references
4direct or indirect with regard to politics between us? During the last
5fifteen years, both in England and here, my work and my interest in
6life have been mainly political, yet I do not think six times, I have,
7in all these years, mentioned politics to you, because I felt you were
8not sympathetic to my view; and I believe that where, with regard to
9either religion or politics, parents and children, or even brothers
10and sisters, are not agreed, they should avoid these subjects. I have
11held this all my life. The tender love existing between mother and
12child and brother and sister need surely never be ruffled by these
15The news of the Jameson Raid reach Cron and myself the first morning
16after we got to the Kowie. Cron has never seen you since, and I only
17saw you for a few minutes, and then, though you and Lily were
18discussing political news, I said not one word. When I got to
19Middelburg I sent you my usual daily line referring to nothing
20political, and Cron did not write to you at all as he was too busy.
21You then wrote me three letters on politics. I took no notice of the
22first three, as I was determined not to discuss politics with any
23private individual. Apart from anything else I have no time for it:
24but in your third letter you said (I quote from your letter), speaking
25of Jameson’s Raid, “there are even some wretches here who say that
26Will and Rhodes knew of it, and had to do with it” - and you went on
27to write as though Will were being attacked as being against the
28Transvaal - and you added that “he, Laing and Frost - a noble three”
29would stand by Rhodes.
31Now I had not heard from Will for some months at that time. But from
32private information from people in Cape Town, and from much personal
33intercourse with many Boers and bitter opponents of Rhodes, and above
34all from Will’s letter in the paper, I knew that no one was blaming
35Will, or thinking that he knew anything of the attack by the Chartered
36Company on the Transvaal, and I had been told by those who ought to
37know that most probably would be asked to be Prime Minister when
38Parliament met.
40I wrote telling you this, and asked you to send my letter to Will, as
41I never like discussing members of my own family even with others of
42the family unless they know what I say, and I wanted Will to know how
43full of admiration I was at his not entering the new Ministry. I wrote
44this letter in the tenderness of my heart to comfort you. You wrote of
45his sacrificing the “emoluments of office” by standing with Rhodes and
46I told you that, so far from the “emoluments of office” being a gain
47to Will, it was a monetary loss to him, and a heavy one, to be in the
50I thought I should get a letter full of joy and tenderness in a few
51days. To my astonishment I received a long letter in which you asked
52me how I dared to insinuate that Will was on the side of that wretch
53Hofmeyr. To this letter I never replied, nor to any of your other
54letters on politics.
56Dear Mother, I have no time for long political discussion; can they be
57of any use when we are at the opposite extreme in regard to our views
58of what is for the true good of the country? You must not feel pained
59if I do not take notice of what you say.
61A few days after you wrote a letter to Cron about Hofmeyr and wrote on
62the outside do not answer. I told Cron it would be best to take no
63notice, but he said he thought he ought to answer it as you had begged
64him to He and I have not once written to you on political matters, not once.
66Dear little Mother, are not there hundreds of fair and beautiful
67things we can write of, leaving politics out? I have surely as much
68right to be on the side of the Transvaal Government as you have to be
69on that of Rhodes: have I not, little Mother?
71I used to feel it so bitterly when people would insist upon attacking
72you on your change of religion, but surely, surely, politics need far
73less to divide a mother and daughter.
75You have said in your two letters that I was allowing Cron to warp my
76mind and degrade my character. I can only think that you refer to the
77fact I am in politics opposed to Rhodes. Now, dear little mother, I
78will just shortly tell you the whole story of my relation with Rhodes.
80Six years ago in England I first heard much of him from two intimate
81friends of his. He had just given £10, 000 to the Irish cause. He was
82represented to me as a millionaire who was going to devote his life to
83the freeing of the Irish peasant from the landlord, to the education
84and development of the Native races of South Africa, and to the
85benefit of all poor and down-trodden people generally! As painted to
86me, he seemed the ideal of human greatness and one of my great wishes
87was to meet him. Living quietly at Matjesfontein, I had been in Africa
88nearly a year before I met him. It was the beginning of the
89disappointment. As long as he and I talked of books and scenery we
90were very happy, but, when he began on politics and social questions,
91I found out to my astonishment that he had been misrepresented to me;
92especially when we got on the Native Question, we ended by having a
93big fight, and Rhodes getting very angry. All our subsequent meetings
94were of the same kind. I think Rhodes liked me for the same reason
95that I liked him, because of his life and energy, but we never once
96met without a royal fight. I have copies of all the letters I ever
97wrote him, and they are one long passionate endeavour to save him from
98what seemed to me the downward course
. I have felt so terribly about
99him, when he was acting in a course that seemed to me most
100disastrously wrong - I have gone out of the House of Parliament when
101he was speaking, and written a note and hired a boy to take it over,
102imploring him to abstain from damning his own soul as it seemed to me
103he was doing. With all his genius, with all his beautiful wonderful
104gifts, to see it going so!
106A little time after this I gave up all political hope of Rhodes. It
107was an affair with Logan and Sivewright and Government ground and
108other public matters, and it would take too long to explain, but there
109came a day when Rhodes and Sivewright were on the Matjesfontein
110railway station; we had a talk, and my disappointment at Rhodes’
111action was so great that when both he and Sivewright came forward to
112shake hands, I turned on my heel and went to my house. Some days after,
113 Rhodes passed and called as usual to see me. I heard him knocking at
114the door but did not open it. Some time after, ^This is four years ago now^
115I went to Town and he invited me to dinner but I declined. He then
116gave Mr. Sauer (who was then his closest friend and who used to drive
117home with him in his trap every night) a message to me, asking me what
118was the matter. I told Sauer to tell him that in political matters I
119was absolutely opposed to him, and was going to fight him on every
120point. He twice invited me to his house again, but I refused both
121invitations. I have never seen him to speak to since, and only bowed
122to him last year when he and Will were in Kimberley.
124Now, dear little Mother, this all happened long before I ever met Cron
125or knew that such a person existed: how then can he have had anything
126to do with my political opposition to Rhodes?
128So far from my having opposed Rhodes more since I was married, it is
129only the last two years
that I have taken no part or interest in
130political life, and, except that one little pamphlet on the political
131situation, I have not touched politics. Four years ago I did all that
132lay in my power to induce Sauer and Innes to leave Rhodes and come out
133of the Ministry. I was most active in my opposition to him then; since
134I was married I have said or done nothing with, regard to Rhodes.
135Since Jameson’s Raid I have had letters from papers asking me to write
136and send wires containing my views, I could have made much money, of
137which I am in need. But I attacked Rhodes frankly and fearlessly and
138endlessly when he was in power, and therefore I can afford to be quiet
139now. So far from hating Rhodes I have the greatest sympathy with him
140in many directions. With regard to religion and many other matters I
141am deeply in accord with him, while, with regard to politics and
142public life generally, I am as absolutely opposed to him, and
143therefore must always combat him; and I believe that Rhodes recognizes
144the sincerity of my attitude towards him. In the last week of this
145December he sent a message to me through Mr. Sauer, that when he was
146in Kimberley he had ridden past my house, and wanted to come and see
147me, but he felt he would not be welcome. So far from my having hatred
148towards him, there are few men in the world for whom I have such
149intense sympathy. Surely, my dear little Mother, you can distinguish
150between personal feeling and political opinions. Have they anything to
151do with each other?
153As far as Cron goes, how can he be actuated by personal feelings, when
154he has never even been introduced to Rhodes, and knows nothing of him
155but his political career?
157I have never read to Cron the things you have said of him in your
158letters to me. He has loved you so whole-heartedly and loyally that I
159couldn’t wound him so. Never in one instance has he said one little
160disloyal or unloving word of kith or kin of mine. He still feels anger
161against a woman because she dared to discuss Will personally in his
162presence. And for you he has a curious veneration and love. When Miss
went to see you she wrote: “Your little mother is just as
164beautiful and geniusful as your husband described her.” If he had ever
165said one little word or done one little thing ungenerous towards you I
166could tell him what you say of him, but I can’t wound another person
167so. Whatever your views with regard to politics or religion, it would
168make no atom of difference to us. Cron’s favourite brother is strongly
169against the Transvaal Government and for the Chartered Company, but do
170you think that makes any difference in our feeling towards him? Do you
171think that I could love you one dot more if you were on our side in
172this matter? Do you think I would ever care one straw what your
173political opinions were
175I have written this long letter, my little Mother, because I want you
176to know that at least on my side the political views of my friends
177make no difference! One of my dearest friends is a niece of an Irish
178landowner. She says she wishes Ireland could be put under the sea and
179all the Irish drowned; I would give my life for the Irish peasants! Is
180the fact that we differ so bitterly on this one point any reason why
181we should not be close friends on the number of subjects on which we
182do agree? Need we always bring up the Irish Question? Life to me would
183not be worth living it I felt my love grow less to my friends on
184account of their views with regard to public persons and political
185situations. Because I know my dear old Theo is on the other side I am
186careful never to mention politics when I write to him, just as I avoid
187religion with friends who do not share my religious views.
189Goodbye, my own little Mothie. You must not mind if I don’t refer to
190politics again.
192Your little daughter,
Although in Olive Schreiner's hand-writing, this letter is in fact a copy of a letter she sent to Rebecca Schreiner, which she made because of the family controversies concerned. Orignally, it was in an envelope with, on its front, also in Schreiner's hand-writing, 'Letters to Ettie & Mother about Rhodes'. The companion letter-copy is a letter to Ettie Stakesby-Lewsis of 25 May 1896 - see Life/5.