"All art should be an expression of the individual soul; views don't interest me" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceT120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/4- pages 47-54
ArchiveNational Archives Depot, Pretoria
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date After Start: January 1891 ; Before End: February 1891
Address FromMatjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToMargaret (Maggie) Harkness
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the National Archives Repository, Pretoria, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Micofilm Collections. The year has been written on this letter as 1890 in an unknown hand although content shows it was written after 24 December 1890 when Harkness's "Little Tim's Christmas" was published and so was most likely written in early 1891. Content also shows that this letter is linked to Schreiner’s letter to Stead of March-December 1890 (T120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/6- pages 58-61), which mentions Harkness by name, and was written from Matjesfontein, where Schreiner was mainly resident from March 1890 for around two years, with frequent visits elsewhere. The start and end of the letter are missing.
1 [missing page/s]
3I am giving up today & tomorrow in trying to answer.
5I wrote to you last in June ^or July^ not yet quite two years ago, when
6I was in Chenie Street, but there are close bosom friends who were
7tender to me when I was a child that I have not written to for 8 years,
8 though they often write to me. The woman I love best in the world, &
9who I think loves me better than anyone else has written to me ten
10times or
more on political & social questions since I came out here: I
11have written her two post cards. yet if tomorrow I wrote “I need you
12she would leave her husband & home & come to me, & if she simply
13hinted that she needed me, I should be in England in three weeks. I
14know that my name is so sacred to her that she never dis-cusses me
15with anyone, & I never mention her & it would be over my body that
16anyone should touch her; but I don't feel I want to write to her, it
17is she who must give me food for thought in her large interesting life
18in the centre of political & social thought & action, & I would much
19rather she was doing her great work in England than hanging round of
20in Africa where she sho, could not be of so much use.
22I would rather have read that lovely little story of yours about the
23poor children in the P.M.G. than have five thousand letters from you;
24I would rather you wrote one great generous article in a news-paper
25showing how large & impersonal the soul of woman be, than of thousands
26of convers-ations with me. You ought to feel the same about me. I am
27doing my best to work, & what more can any one who values me want.
29Mrs I am sending this through Mr Stead as he wrote to tell me he was
30going to try to send you out to stay with me, in a way that implied
31you & he thought I was very lonely & were wanting making a
32sacrifice of yourselves for my sake. ^(& also because I can’t make out
33your address.)^ I am afraid you & he will think me very ungrate full
34because of the letter I wrote him, but you who yourself write should
35understand. I have had something over 25 (twenty five) offers: of
36people from home to come & staying with me here. I am getting very
37worn out of writing “No, I want to be quiet & work, & if I can have a
38day or hour free I should like to spend it in studying people here, &
39the in seeing the dear friends whom I must soon say good bye to
40forever when I return to Europe”. I know you & Mr Stead will be very
41angry with me I can’t help it. I am despair, I try to help other
42people, & I try to satisfy every one, I try to love other people, & I
43have only one poor little life. I cannot do all things for all men.
45It is so terrible to feel you can never satisfy your fellows. I used
46to think in “London, yes of my own will I come here & live among women,
47 & they have a right to be angry with me, if I cannot do & be all they
48wish.” but here in my own solitary Karroo thous-ands of miles from you
49all, I thought it would have been possible for me to feel “I am doing
50all that other women have a right to expect of me.” You don’t know how
51terrible it is to me feel human beings have expectations from me, that
52God knows I have not the power to satisfy.
54I was going to write you a long letter the other week of three or four
55sheets about something in Booth’s book, that I thought my might be
56useful to you & him; but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s
57nothing very useful in my idea. I can always write about impersonal
58things, art or s-cience, or poetry, or nursing, or education or ways
59of feeding babies, or managing a house. All these things are so
60beautiful & large, & use ful. But I’m loving more & more the power of
61writing ordinary notes simply to say I’m well &c, &c.
63I will promise always to write to you if I’ve anything impersonal to
64dis-cuss; you must promise to write to me if we’ve any lile ?line of
65thought we can thrash it out together. I will write to you if ever I
66want any material & practical service from you: ^you^ I will write to me
67if ever you want a like service from me
. There is no need for us
68simply to write to say we are alive & well. I should always see in the
69papers if you were ill, you would always see from the papers if I were
70ill or dead.
72When I have got a private secretary, then I mean to answer everybodies
73letters. It can’t be till then.
75// I don’t think that in the last three years ^except Mrs Philpot & Mr
76Stead unreadable & unreadable^ anyone has ever mentioned your name to
77me so much as to say they had met you much less to tell me anything
78about you. Mrs Aveling has never even, that I know of, mentioned your
79name; I did not know you ever saw her; in the last year & a half all I
80have heard from her is a post card about some work she was copying for
81me. I should think she was the very last woman to sully her lips by
82dis-cussing other peoples affairs. As a rule no woman dares in my
83presence to dis-cuss other peoples private concerns. I will not stand it.
84 Four times only have I ordered women out of my rooms or told them not
85to come again, & in all cases it has been because they dis-cussed
86other women & their private concerns. There is one place where every
87woman’s reputation is safe, & that is in my presence. If I can help it
88no one dis-cusses men & women with me unless they are politicians, &
89then we dis-cuss them purely in their political capacity. The only
90kind of personality I like is when people tell me of themselves, their
91own thoughts, their own feelings, their own children, I like them to
92talk of. If anyone had come to talk against you or any one to me, I
93should have liked you or any one all the better for it. I judge of
94people by what they say to me, I never allow the opinions of others to
95influence me. I believe you are quite loyal to me. I believe you will
96yet do greater & greater good work in our world. I wish that all good
97& success always be with you.
99Olive Schreiner
101PS. If you are coming out here for your own sake & not for mine I
102shall be glad to give you any advice & help I can about interesting
103place to see, & lines of travel to take. I know South Africa well.
104Please let me do anything I can for you: it would be a very great joy
105to me.
107Please give my friendliest greeting to Mr Stead. He must forgive me as
108you must if I seem churlish. What am I do when life is so short. I
109believe him to be one the greatest men in England or in this age; &
110his wide genial sympathies are his grand virtues. There is hardly ever
111a mention of any person in the Rev=. of Rev. that is not broad &
112showing up the best side of men, & our common beautiful human nature.
113I have no news to give of myself. I am happy except when people are
114angry with me for not writing: I am learning Kaffir, one of the most
115beautiful &
117^wonderful of languages, & am collecting some very curious insects &
118fossils. The years I have spent here have been the happiest & most
119peaceful of my life. Not once has any one been unkindly dis-cussed in
120my little room, not once has an unkind word been said to me, by any
121one here. I am so happy.^ [missing page/s]
Harkness published under the pseudonym John Law; the story by her about poor children is: John Law (1890) "Little Tim's Christmas" Pall Mall Gazette 24 December 1890, vol 5, number 8039. ‘Booth’s book’ refers to: William Booth (1890) In Darkest England and the Way Out London: International Headquarters of the Salvation Army.