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Letter ReferenceHRC/CAT/OS/4a-iii
ArchiveHarry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateSunday 13 February 1887
Address FromClarens, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Address Toc/o Dr Grey, Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 109; Draznin 1992: 428-30
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the University of Texas at Austin, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections. This letter has been dated by reference to an associated envelope and its postmark, which also provides the address it was sent to. The stamp of the Hotel-Pension Roth, Clarens, Montreux, is on the envelope. The final insertion is on the back of the envelope.
2Sunday afternoon
4My Henry. What are you doing this Sunday afternoon. If you were here
5we would talk so nice I have just heard that my old friend Emile Holeb
6the African traveller is killed.
8^I^ Am much better today all that is the matter with me is common
9weakness. What has been the matter with you. When am I to have what
10you’ve written. Someday I'll send you I am an artist. It wouldn’t
11do to print.
13It’s an artist lying by himself on the rocks here in the sun, & all
14the thing is just talking out his thoughts in the first person. How he
15loves a person ^woman^ first sexually, & how he’s tempted to sacrifice
16his higher spiritual life for ?me her, & how he breaks free from her
17love when she isn’t free true to him: & then after years he loves
18meets a g woman whom he only calls “my little white face” who is
19very delica dying almost of consumption & how he loves her & worships
20her for her genius, wants nothing from her not even a kiss, only feels
21that if she hadn’t her mother he would take care of her. She wakes
22up all his old art power all his higher life, all that seemed slipped
23from him forever.
25Then once he hears her talking, & she says to the person who is with
26her that he loves her, talks as though it were the common feeling that
27exists between men & women. Then she & the other person go away among
28the trees. He never wants to see her again. And when As he lies there
29in the sun he laughs to himself & plans his work his great picture
30that has lain in his heart for years, & that only she has given him
31strength to finish. He laughs to himself he has got all he wants of
32her. And then he plans how perhaps he will marry & have children. And
33he gets more drowsy lying there in the sun. And there’s a
34des-cription of Clarens mixed with it all. Can you see how it goes!
36If only I was not physically so very, very, weak. When New Edition of
37S.A.F. comes out I’m going to send one to New Life. Give me any news
38you’ve time for of old people. My English Life is now a thing of the
39past for ever, & I don’t want quite to lose touch of it all. I feel
40that for the next four years my duty is to keep as far from people as
41I can & try to throw off a little of the work artistic & other that is
42pressing on my brain.
44I didn’t write sweetly to you my own true-heart. I will never talk
45of Mr. Pearson to you again. Only I should like you to know that you
46are mistaken in thinking I acted well in the matter.
48I wrote Mrs. Cobb the letter you saw about you & Miss Haddon, then she
49wrote letters that made me more angry. Then I wrote to her to say I
50would never write to her or have more to do with her. Then I take it
51into my head to write to Pearson (from whom I have not heard & to whom
52I have not written for a month!) a most horrible letter, telling him
53that I intended to have nothing more to do with Mrs Cobb; as she is
54his friend, I think he & I had better have nothing more to do with
55each other also, &c. &c. Poor Pearson, who knows nothing about the
56affair about you or Miss Haddon or anything else, has only Mrs.
’s version, writes to me in blank astonishment & agony.
59Donkin comes in at the moment I am reading his letter & half mad.
60Donkin doesn’t this day know about the horrid letter I wrote to
61Pearson, or understand anything about Mrs Cobb & me, - he rushes off
62writes to Pearson thinking that all the matter is that I am in love
63with Pearson & that he is breaking my heart. Pearson writes back a
64fiercely cold letter to D-. What right has ?day D- or have I to imply
65he is killing or distressing me. I write a letter to Pearson saying I
66won’t explain anything about Mrs Cobb.
68Pearson writes to me in agony, saying he is crushed & dazed, that he
69cannot understand the awful calamity that has over taken us. So I
70leave England, & so the matter ends. If you can see anything to blame
71in Pearson in all this or anything to blame except in me I can’t. My
72excuse is that I was absolutely broken down & that Mrs Cobb had
73tortured me till I couldn’t bear any more & I wrote him ^& Mrs. Cobb^
74a note together, some-time ago, saying that I had been wrong in
75writing to him about Mrs Cobb at all, that I could quite well have
76told her what I thought of her without mentioning his name. The real
77thing which drew me into writing to her was what she said to Miss
. I told Pearson that he was quite right in thinking D I loved
79him better than anyone else, but that my feeling for him was not of
80sex attraction or the desire to live near him but quite another kind,
81but that I would not enter into that matter & that neither he nor Mrs
were please to write to me. He has written, but I have written to
83say I shall not open his letter for some months. I should be obliged
84to answer it & absolute quietness is now necessary for me.
86I have told him I was wrong, & removed the irritation that I know is
87in his mind as much as possible, now my duty is done
89It has been such agony during the last year & a half to talk about
90Karl Pearson to you, that perhaps I have not explained myself clearly
92^Isn’t it a funny world. How little one soul knows of the passions &
93struggles that are filling another, even you & I. When I say I
94haven’t sex feeling for Karl, & that he thinks I have, I’m not
95talking of physical passion at all. Karl would never misunderstand me
96on that point, but that much more brutal selfish kind of feeling that
97wants to take a person’s soul up & say “this is mine.”^
99I suppose we all have to love with that kind of sex love before we
100love with the other. If I were a frail person whom you thought dying
101of consumption, & with a horror of all physical relationships, then
102your love for me would be like mine for Karl.
104^I may marry, I may have children, it will not touch my feeling for him,
105 one loves so only once. And it never changes because^
107^there is no element of self in it. Olive^
109^Do you know if you were ever to love a wife & mary & have a wife &
110children it wouldn’t touch your love for me much. You would always
111love me better than anyone else.^
113^Mrs. Blands vol of poetry really is very good.^
Mrs Bland's vol of poetry' is: Edith Nesbit (1886) Spring Songs and Sketches London: Griffith, Farran & Co. Schreiner's story 'I am an artist' was either never written down or else lost or destroyed. Draznin's (1992) version of this letter is in some respects different from our transcription. Cronwright-Schreiner's (1924) short extract is incorrect in various ways.