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Letter ReferenceHRC/CAT/OS/1a-vi
ArchiveHarry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date2 May 1884
Address FromEdinburgh Hotel, St Leonards, East Sussex
Address To24 Thornsett Road, South Penge Park, London
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other VersionsCronwright-Schreiner 1924: 17-19; Rive 1987: 39-41; Draznin 1992: 46-8
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. The address this letter was sent to is provided by an associated envelope.
1Edinburgh Hotel
2Ap May 2nd 1884
4My dear Mr. Ellis
6Heine is not understood, & I almost doubt whether anything one could
7do would cause him to be better understood. He belongs to his own,
8like Emerson. One might cause him to be more read (& that would be
9something) but the real man, the infinitely tender, burning,
10passionate heart will be known only to a few – it must be heart to
13I have been reading that little book you lent me all the afternoon. I
14like it, & I like it more the more I read it, & when I re-read a page
15or two I like it better than at first. It is true, & it expresses what
16is in our hearts, ours of today. I must get Whitman & read him. I have
17read nothing of his yet. One evening a friend began to read him aloud
18to me, but I was in a wicked mood & began to laugh: I made fun of ^him,^
19it, & made them all laugh so that there was no more reading. I have
20sent for him to-day.
22It was at the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh that I nursed for a little
23while, & saw my beautiful girl. Then I was taken ill. When I got
24?fluen better I went to the Woman’s Hospital in Endel St in London, &
25nursed there for five days, & then I got inflammation of the lungs, ^&^
26had to go to Ventnor. When I came back I began attending the lectures
27at the Woman’s Medical School, the second lecture I went to I got my
28feet wet & sat in wet boots & got congestion of the lungs. I am very
29strong & well now, but I have made up my mind that scribbling will be
30my only work in life.
32Yes, my little glimps of nursing life was very sweet to me I am glad I
33had it though it was so short. The dream of my life always was to be a
34doctor; I can’t remember a time when I was so small that it was not
35there in my heart. I used to dissect ostriches, & sheeps’ hearts &
36livers, & almost the first book I ever bought myself was an elementary
37physiology. I don’t like to talk of my old dream even now, my heart is
38still tender over it. It seems to me that a doctor’s is the most
39perfect of all lives, it satisfies the craving to know, & also the
40craving to serve. A nurse’s life is sweet, but not so perfect.
42Thank you for those papers you sent me. I think I should like to join
43that society, though, like you, I have not much faith in them
44societies. One old woman sitting in her bed room alone reading her
45bible is sincere, but six old women at a “class meeting” make humbugs
46– very often. Ideally nothing can full be more perfect than the aims
47of that Progressive Society. I like the “New Life,” especially the
48clause on the necessity of combining physical with mental labour.
50My feeling about Socialism is exactly yours. I sympathize with it, but
51when I see the works & aims of the men who are working for it in
52London my heart sinks. What will it benefitt us to seize away the
53money from the rich? At the same moment that the greedy hands are
54seizing it there will pass over with it the disease of which the rich
55are dying, the selfishness, the hardness of heart, the greed for the
56material good. What we want is more love & more sympathy Does it ever
57strike you, it often does me, fo how within the sixteen miles that
58make London lie all the materials for heaven on earth, if only some
59thing could come suddenly & touch our hearts one night; there would be
60no-body sad, no-body lonely: every aching head with a hand on it;
61every miserable old maid let out of her drawingroom & her old life
62blood flowing; every wailing little child hushed in somebody’s arms &
63making them warm: no-body hungry & nobody untaught, the prisons
64emptied & the back slums cleaned, everybody looking with loving eyes
65at the world about them. That would be heaven, & it only wants a
66little change of heart. I haven’t faith in anything that promises to
67raise us by purely material means.
69I am glad you are so busy, you must be happy.
71Thank you for telling me about that new book of Romane’s. I think you
72are wrong in saying that scientific reading is not of much use. It is.
73To touch & handle would be far better, but it is better than nothing.
74You don’t know what a gap would be left in my life if all the ^good^
75?tragaghumites I have had from scientific books were taken out of it
76(making the word scientific cover everything from Darwin & Carl Vogt,
77to little primers on Heat & Light). I think that even the mere reading
78helps one to the feeling that truth is before all things, & to have a
79kind of love for things in their naked simplicity; I think that the
80tendency of science is always to awaken these two feelings; don’t you?
82I want to tell you what my feeling is about woman, but I can’t tonight
83because I would have too much to say. I have just got a letter I
84should like to show you. It is from a woman whose heart is being
85slowly broken, & the man who is doing it doesn’t know & doesn’t
86realize what he is doing. Why can’t we men & women come nearer each
87other & help each other, & not kill eachother’s souls & blight each
88other’s lives^.^ for unreadable There is no need why it should be so.
90I am coming up to live in London next week. My address will be 5
91Harrington Rd. South Kensington. After next Thursday. I shall like to
92know more of what Hinton thought, & of what you think. The question of
93woman’s having the vote, & independences & education, is only part of
94the question, there lies something deeper.
96Good bye.
97Olive Schreiner
99I love what you say about feeling a woman’s heart throbbing in you.
‘That little book’ is Edward Carpenter’s (1885) Towards Democracy Manchester: John Heywood. The other books referred to are: Walt Whitman (1855) Leaves of Grass New York: Brooklyn; George Romanes (1883) Mental Evolution in Animals London: Kegen Paul, Tench & Co. Which of Carl Vogt’s many publications Schreiner might be referring to cannot be established. Draznin’s (1992) version of this letter is in some respects different from our transcription. Rive’s (1987) version is in a number of respects incorrect. Cronwright-Schreiner’s (1924) version is incorrect in various ways.