"My heart is heavy over my work" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner: Havelock Ellis 2006.29/5
ArchiveNational English Literary Museum, Grahamstown
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date30 June 1912
Address FromDe Aar, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToHavelock Ellis
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the National English Literary Museum (NELM) for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscript Collections.
1 De Aar
2 June 30th 1912
4 Dear old Boy
6 Thanks for your letter. Of course each person's "diary works" (I mean
7simple, spontaneous, straight forward records of what one sees, feels,
8& does & thinks) will differ with the individuality of the person. The
9charm is that it is an expression of their individuality. A guide book
10has no charm because it expresses no individuality it is just a
11collection of facts. If Barrow writes a book the thing his
12individuality notes are names of mountains & rivers, language, words,
13also gypsies, tramps thieves & scenery to a small extent, with a word
14picture of his mind thought & feeling. When Darwin writes he notes all
15plants, animals, scientific speculation turn up in his mind at every
16moment, nature impresses him with great cosmic feelings: his books are
17greater than Barrow's because a greater soul - but Barrow's also have
18their value & charm.
20 You could write a book most engaging & splendid if you wrote more as
21you write letters & more spontaneously. Any one of your letters to me
22where you've told me just a little about your travels in Spain say, is
23worth the whole of your book. The letters live, the book seems
24artificial. You express in the book what you've really seen & thought
25but in a stiff artificial manner. There is not enough of yourself in
26all of your later writing
. If I were very ill & you knew that my life
27depended on q my being amused & interest, & to help me you wrote an
28account of your a fortnight spent in Paris, just who you saw where you
29went & felt interest, what you felt about your food & your room: & how
30the pictures impressed you, it would no doubt splendid. Your short
31hurried letters ^even^ are 100 times more interesting than your books.
33 I could write the most marvelous books in that way, compared to which
34all my other books are nothing. I do see the actual world about me so
35intensely the men & women I meet print themselves on me, agonize me if
36they are antipathetic, give me bliss if there are beautiful.
38 The sc atmospheric effects of every day I note intensely the changes
39in the sky the weather the scene: all nature is immensely important.
40My feeling to this awful sandy desert, the strange passionate love I
41feel for the pepper-trees I have planted, & especially one rose bush
42that I nurture & care for before my door. My difficulty is that I dare
43not write the truth! I would be so afraid of paining human beings.
44Character! character! character! is what cuts deep into me. The
45character people I meet on the train, of the people living in de Aar,
46of my different servants - I could write books about them alone - &
47most easily. But dare I, with my terror of inflicting pain? - I can't,
48that's why I can't write my life! My
50 You
52 You who are not so terribly moved by all persons you come into contact
53with - could write much more easily just what you feel & think about
54the things you see. Of course you do lack descriptive power with
55regard to material things. I doubt whether in a few lines you could
56make me see an old ruin on a hill as Barrow does so that I actually
57see it. He was of course born the artist. - that is what the matter
58with him - unlovable, in many respects an ignorant & narrow man - he
59was an artist
! The few right words in which to pain a thing he saw
60always came to him, because he saw so clearly & intensely. Life was
61always shaping itself into pictures to him. But you could write most
62valuable books if they were more like your letters. There are such
63wonderful little touches - so often in your conversation - now & then
64in your letters, in which you throw a whole world into a short
65critical or descriptive sentence - t as where you once said of Karl
wife when you first met her that she seemed a good sort of
67woman, "but the kind of person who would finish off a man!" C I can't
68write more now.
70 Cron is still away at the Victoria Falls. He returns the middle of
71this week. The weather is a little better, the sunshine through my
72window is dancing on the sheet as I write.
74 Things in South Africa grow darker & darker. Sauer & Burton the two
75only liberal men on the native question have been turned out of their
76offices in the ministry, & the most bigoted, narrow native hater in
77South Africa Hertzog put in as minister of native affairs. There are
78terrible things coming soon
80^in this poor accursed land. We have also passed a bill for forced
The books referred to are: George Borrow (1857) The Romany Rye London: John Murray and (1851) Lavengro: The Scholar Gypsy London: John Murray.