"Fighting Boer women" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceLetters/509
Epistolary Type
Letter Date27 August 1912
Address FromDe Aar, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToAdela Villiers Smith nee Villiers
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 315-8
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
When Cronwright-Schreiner prepared The Letters of Olive Schreiner, with few exceptions he then destroyed her originals. However, some people gave him copies and kept the originals or demanded the return of these; and when actual Schreiner letters can be compared with his versions, his have omissions, distortions and bowdlerisations. Where Schreiner originals have survived, these will be found in the relevant collections across the OSLO website. There is however a residue of some 587 items in The Letters for which no originals are extant. They are included here for sake of completeness. However, their relationship to Schreiners actual letters cannot now be gauged, and so they should be read with caution for the reasons given.
1To Mrs. Francis Smith.
2De Aar, 27th Aug.
4... I'll write about the suffragettes another day. I can understand
5your position if you condemn all force - all fighting for freedom and
6justice and right - Washington and the Americans who fought because
7they would not be taxed but by their own representatives
- Oliver
8Cromwell and Pym and Hampden - the Greeks who died at Thermopylae. If
9you say no wrong, no wickedness, no injustice must be opposed by force,
10 in that case the Boers were wicked in fighting for freedom to save
11their little Republics, William the Silent and the Dutch of Holland
12were wicked to fight against Philip of Spain, Garibaldi, Cavour and
13the Italians when they fought against the Austrians, &c. &c. &c.! If
14you really hold this principle, if you feel that if a Russian army was
15landed in England to-morrow it would be the duty of English people to
16sit quite still and let them burn down houses, kill people, and take
17possession of and rule England - and that to use force to expel them
18was wrong - then you are quite justified in thinking the militants
19wrong. But those people who think of Washington and Pym and Hampden
20and William the Silent and the Dutch who fought with him as heroes,
21who glory in Italy's war against Austria, and the Greek wars against
22the Persians, and the war of modern Greece against Turkey - those
23people, who, if the working classes in England gained power and passed
24a law that all men with more than £300 a year should not vote, would
25advise their rising and fighting for their right - such have no
26justification for morally condemning the militant suffragettes. The
27freedom of women is yet more important than any question which
28humanity has yet fought out. If it was right for Garibaldi and the
29Italians to cause the death of thousands fighting for their freedom,
30or the Americans in resisting "taxation without representation," how
31infinitely more right it would be for the women of England to cause
32twenty thousand deaths in their fight for justice - a fight which
33would help not only to put them in a new position, but all the women
34of the world! I, myself, am opposed to all using of force personally.
35I, personally, would use passive resistance and argument. But I
36recognise this is an eccentricity on my part. It is the religion of
37the future, not of the present and the past. I would take no human
38life in revenge - not the life of a man who had committed ten murders.
39But, while we execute criminals or sentence them to solitary
40confinement for life; while we admire soldiers, hired to fight against
41any nation or class of persons the Prime Minister of England and his
42Cabinet may at any moment desire to fight against and kill; while our
43whole system is based on the use of force - police, prisons,
44repressive laws - it is to me simply hypocrisy for anyone upholding
45this system and approving of it, to talk of the wickedness of women in
46fighting for freedom in using a little force. If the use of force is
47ever justified it is justified in fighting against social oppression.
48Of course there is quite another question - the question of tactics -
49which is not a moral question at all. Granted that it is right for men
50and women to fight for freedom and against injustice and oppression,
51what under the conditions is the wisest way of doing it? I cannot
52judge from this distance, but I think, under the conditions, their
53later tactics are not wise. If they could kidnap Asquith and Winston
54Churchill and force-feed them I for six weeks, I think that would be a
55mode of warfare which the world must approve as perfectly just; I,
56personally, am a non force-using passive resister. The only life I
57would ever punish anyone by taking is my own; I have always since I
58was a little child, long before I had heard of the Japanese custom,
59thought the punishment one would have a right to inflict on those who
60had injured one too much was to go and stand before them and stab or
61shoot oneself and say - "my blood be upon you." But that is a wholly
62un-English idea. An Englishman would probably laugh and have a whiskey
63and soda if a woman killed herself on his door-step - but a Japanese
64is forever disgraced.
66I feel, personally, as you do about the use of physical force against
67others; but I cannot possibly be so unjust as to make one rule for one
68set of persons and another for another. I have a horrible idea that
69many people condemn the militants because they are women. The glory to
70me of the militant movement is that women are showing they can fight;
71there are higher things than fighting physically, the quiet resistance
72of wrong even to the death; but it is a great step forward when the
73slave shows any kind of fight. I am not going to condemn those who are
74fighting in a method that is not my method. Personally I prefer the
75martyr to the warrior - but I admire the warrior too. I think, I may
76be mistaken, but I think their later tactics are unwise - but their
77brave fight will never be forgotten while the world lasts. In
78forced-feeding and treating the women fighting for justice as they
79have done, Asquith and his followers have committed a crime which
80brands them forever. I would rather be Con. lying broken and shattered
81there than any one of those men who have been false to every principle
82of the Liberalism they have professed. If they had been Conservatives
83it would have been quite another matter. I do not believe that any
84civilised government has ever committed a greater crime, given the
85enlightenment of their age and surroundings. I do not think I could
86bear the thought of their treatment of those women, if it were not for
87my deep Jewish faith - “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever
88a man soweth, that shall he reap." How glorious to be one of those
89women, now to-day, rather than Asquith. Talk of "force"; who has used
90the force of their whole social organisation to crush a small body of
91human creatures fighting for justice? I don't think, darling, you hate
92the use of force at all more than I do, especially when it's organised
93force used to crush individuals. But I think, my own darling, perhaps
94you haven't felt so deeply and bitterly as I have, ever since I was a
95little tiny child, the evil and injustice of woman's position. I would
96always have been so glad, so glad, to give my life, if I could have
97done a little to free woman. The vote may seem to you a little thing,
98but nothing is small that is a step towards the large freedom. I
99believe the whole future development of the race depends on woman's
100freeing herself - no one can do it for her. If Con had died it seems
101to me she would have died so gloriously. Good-bye, dear one. I hope
102you can make out this scribble.