"Will Schreiner's political duty, difficulty of finding path of duty,' Peter Halket' & lay aside ambition" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner: J.T. Lloyd MSC 26/2.5.1
ArchiveNational Library of South Africa, Special Collections, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date29 October 1892
Address FromMatjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToJohn T. Lloyd
Other VersionsRive 1987: 212-15
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
The Project is grateful to the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Special Collections. The end of this letter is missing, with the bottom of the last sheet of paper having been cut off.
1 Matjesfontein
2 Oct 29 / 92
3
4 Dear Mr Lloyd
5
6 Thank you very much for the lecture you sent me. Need I tell you that
7I valued it.
8
9 Thank you a great deal for the letter you gave me in Kimberley. I can
10only feel there is so much I should have to learn from you if I knew
11you personally. I can only tell you that any ^minute^ insight I have
12gained, has been gained at the price of more mistakes than you could
13easily understand.
14
15 I need not tell you that I have read your letter more than once with
16deep interest. I wish we could have had a long talk together at
17Kimberley, because I feel writing on such a subject to be very
18unsatisfactory. So many things have come into my mind while I was
19reading your letter that I wished to say to you. I am coming to visit
20my little mother before I leave South Africa, probably in January, &
21if I can go down for a day to Port Elizabeth, I shall do so, to have
22the pleasure of meeting you. Then we can talk as I would like over the
23many points of deep interest in your letter.
24
25 When I think over your position as shown in your letter, & mine, the
26chief difference between you^r view & mine^ seems to be, that for you
27the universe is not so Unified as it is for me.
28
29 I have never been able to conceive of God, & man & the material
30universe as distinct from one another. The laws of my mind do not
31allow of it. I hope unreadable at the ?assumption through reason have unreadable
32When I was a little child of five & sat alone among the tall weeds at
33the back of our house, this ?perpec perception of the unity of all
34things, & that they were alive, & that I was part of them, was as
35clear & over powering to me as it is today. It is the one thing I am
36never able to doubt.
37
38 The agony of my childhood, especially from the time I was 9 till I was
39fourteen, was the impossibility of reconciling this ^direct^ perception
40from which I could never shake myself free, with what I was taught.
41When at fourteen or fifteen I began to study physical science, this
42agonizing disorganization ended for me. I was like a child walking
43about with one half of a puzzle in its hand, into which nothing
44willnot fit: then I found the other half; and it fitted. Since then
45religion has been to me the one unending joy.
46
47 If you ask me what is my religion, it is hard for me to answer,
48because we humanbeings have not framed speech for the purpose of
49expressing such thoughts - but if I must put it into words I would say
50the Universe is one, & it lives: - or if you would put it into older
51phraseology, I would say; - there is nothing but God.
52
53 You may say that this is no answer to all the questions you asked me,
54but, dear friend, it is the answer, & the only one I can give.
55
56 You ask me, do I believe in immortality? I cannot conceive of either
57birth or death, as anything but simple changes in the endless
58existence: how can I then either believe in or disbelieve in
59immortality in the ordinary sense? There is nothing but God! If you
60ask me what is the practical effect of this feeling, it is to make all
61life very precious to me, but also to rob death of all its horrors.
62
63 There is something beautiful & sacred to me in assisting at the birth
64of a little baby in studying the facts of embryology, in watching a
65little plant seed germinate; there is also something to me wonderful &
66sacred in death, but it is hardly more overpowering & wonderful to me
67than birth. I could as little fear to be alone with a dying person; or
68to sleep in a room with a dead body as I should be afraid to sleep
69under the footstool of a personal God. Neither birth nor death are
70final to me. You see, dear friend, how difficult it is for me to speak
71of these things from the standpoint of another. My feeling with regard
72to these things is not a theory; I believe scientific knowledge
73harmonized with my feeling, but I could not shake myself free from it
74if they did not; there would only be dis-cord, as there was of old
75between facts as known to my intellect, & my inevitable perceptions. I
76think I first had this feeling with regard to death clearly when my
77favourite little sister died when I was nine years old. I slept with
78her little body until it was buried, & after that I used to sit for
79hours by her grave It & it was as impossible for me then, as it is
80impossible for me now, to accept the ordinary doctrine that she was
81living on somewhere without a body. I felt then & I have always felt
82since when I have been brought face to face with the death of that it
83is in a larger doctrine than that, that joy & beauty must be sought.
84
85 I used to love the birds & animals & inanimate nature better after she
86was dead; the whole of existence seemed to me more beautiful because
87it had brought forth & taken back to itself such a beautiful thing as
88she was to me. Can you understand the feeling?
89
90 You see, how can I believe in or care to think about miracles to whom
91all life is a miracle? How can I believe in the incarnation of any one
92man as God? It is unthinkable.
93
94 About my feeling with regard to Jesus it is not strong in any way. But
95I deeply understand your feeling. The only man to whose moral teaching
96I am conscious of owing a profound & unending debt is John Stuart Mill;
97 when I got home to Europe & found men & women whose views exactly
98coincided with indifference to his works or ridiculing them as
99old-fashioned, it was keenly painful to me; because they had been the
100channels through which most of the spirit of current modem science
101reached me.
102
103 Personally I owe nothing to the teaching of Jesus: except the 5th &
1046th chapters of Matthew. No part of his teaching morally ever touched
105me, as a child, & from the time I was fourteen when I ceased to read
106the bible or go to church, Christianity has been almost non-existent
107for me; I have lived to an extent you would hardly understand, in
108another world; & the name so dear to you brings back to me nothing but
109sad & depressing memories. But as a great, rare soul, whom doubtless
110we should love better if a fuller record had been left of him, by his
111followers, I always wish some record had been left of them his life
112between 20 & 30; those years the most important & intense in which
113amid agony & temptation his view of life was forming. I think among
114great religious teachers he does not quite draw me as Buddha & others,
115because done his teaching stops short with the human world; it is to
116me doubtful whether he ever caught sight of that larger unity; whether
117he ever realized the divinity in plant & animal, as well as man. I
118cannot quite understand how the sense of unity shall extend to the
119most miserable, drunken little Bushman with his sloping forehead &
120protruding jaw who limps past my house, & stop when I stand at the Zoo
121& see Sally looking at me from behind her bars with her great,
122passionate, fierce, reflective eyes! - my little sister growing on
123slowly to be me! I cannot understand that scorn of men towards
124"matter". The stars are wonderful, the light, in a human eye is
125wonderful, the growing of a seed is wonderful; but is there anything
126more wonderful than the power which keeps together the particles,
127which in fact constitutes them? There is only one name which I can
128give it, it is the same name I give to that I find working & moving in
129my own little personality.
130
131 You see, my dear friend, how absolutely close we are, & yet I cannot
132stop in the thought of "God" as the father of man; & men as brothers;
133I have to go further. Nothing tortured me so in Christian teaching as
134the scorn for the animal world, & the hatred of matter. But if we knew
135really what the beautiful soul of Jesus thought & felt, we should find
136it loved wider & deeper than its followers left us any record of.
137
138 This is a poor answer to send you to your beautiful letter. But except
139in my own language of parables, I cannot express myself. If I say that
140in a stone in the road, in the thoughts in my brain, in the corpuscles
141in a drop of blood under my microscope, in a railway engine rushing
142past me in the velt, I see God, shall I not only be darkening counsel
143with words? If I say that when I nurse a man with smallpox I am
144touching something far other than what simply seems to be lying there;
145if I say that when I go to the prison to see a prisoner I simply go to
146see myself; if I say that when I go out among the rocks alone, I am
147not alone, I hav have I made anything clearer? Words are very poor
148things. It almost pains write as I have been this afternoon, because
149what one wants to say one cannot.
150
151 It will be great pleasure to me if ever we can meet before I go to
152England.
153
154 Thank you much for the book of poems. If I do not post this letter now
155I shall tear it up, so I will not keep it to add what I think of them,
156but shall write again.
157
158[page/s missing]
159
160
161
Notation
The book of poems sent by Lloyd cannot be established. Rivess (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.