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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/3/102-110
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date25 October 1886
Address From9 Blandford Square, Paddington, London
Address To2 Harcourt Buildings, Temple, London
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 108-11
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
The Project is grateful to University College London (UCL) and its Library Services for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Special Collections. The date of this letter has been derived from the postmark on an attached envelope, while the name of the addressee and the address it was sent to are on its front. Schreiner was resident in Blandford Square from early October to late December 1886, when she left England for Europe. The start of the letter is perhaps missing.
1 You say we need a Jesus Christ, that we leave the work of preaching in
2the streets to the Hyndmans & Avelings! We do need a Christ; but the
3Christ of one age is not like to that of another. As for preaching in
4the streets, or indeed preaching & lecturing anywhere, it is pretty
5well dead as a power to move men with. The press has taken the place
6of the preacher. If Peter the Hermit should come to rouse a new
7crusade against the Turk he could do so at once not by preaching in
8Smithfield, but by a fierce, clever series of articles in the "Daily
9News" or "Pall Mall".
10
11 One man might set all Europe in a blaze still, but he must do it in a
12new way. If spoken & delivered speeches, say Mr Gladstone’s or
13Hyndman’s, ^have power^ it is not because they were spoken, but because
14they were repeated in all "the papers". Three things seem to me to
15have taken the place of the old powers that moved society. Science has
16taken the place of Theology, the press has taken the place of the
17ruler & the preacher (to a large & always growing larger extent) &
18fiction has taken the place which painting & the drama occupied in
19other ages, especially the middle ages. These are the three living
20powers of our age, whose rule is only beginning. Let us see to it, if
21it is our aim to influence humanity ^we must do it through these means.^
22Science is the pope of the middle ages ages, the Holy Ecumenical
23Council, when it speaks loud & clear & firm enough the whole world
24listens & not a dog may wag its tail; the Huxleys & Spencers &
25Tyndalls & Cliffords are preaching monks. The press is manifestly
26becoming the governing & ruling power. It matters cop comparatively
27little (of course it does matter somewhat) whether we send donkeys or
28sane men to parliament. It matters everything in the political world
29what "the papers say" & who rules them. Even more clearly the novel
30has taken the place of other forms ^of art^ in carrying to the heart of
31the people the truths (or untruths!) of the Age. In Florence or Venice
32once when a great picture was painted there crowded, not only the
33nobles & the idlers only to look at it but the work man & woman & the
34very child. It was the expression of their life, of their thought, of
35their religion. So also with the theatre of the Elizabethan age; now
36all this is dead & the work of fiction has taken their place. From the
37Queen to the servant girl & Smith & Sons news boys everyone reads the
38novel & is touched by it.
39
40 Its vice & its virtue, its frivolity & its ideals, all the life of our
41age is incarnate in its fiction, & reacts on the people. Let me take
42my own tiny experience. ^if I may.^ An un-taught girl, working ten hours
43a day, having no time for thought or writing, but a few in the middle
44of the night, writes a little story like "An African Farm"; a book
45wanting in unreadable many respects, & altogether young & crude, &
46full of faults; a book that was written altogether for myself, when
47there seemed no possible purpose chance that I should ever come to
48England or publish it. Yet, I have got scores, almost hundreds of
49letters about it from all classes of people, from an Earl’s son to a
50dressmaker in Bond St, & from a coal-heaver to a poet. One of the last
51letters I have had was from Pearsall Smith the American Millionaire &
52Lecturer: saying that it had helped largely in his giving up
53Christianity & the work he had been engaged in for thirty years. Now
54if a work of art so childish & full of faults, simply by right of a
55certain truth to nature that is in it can have so great a power, what
56of a great work of art? No, K. P., we will leave Hyndman & Aveling &
57do our own work. It strikes deeper. Sometimes I see your part in life
58as such an altogether rare & choice one. Not to influence the masses,
59but to influence those who influence them, - perhaps unknown to
60yourself.
61
62 Yes, we need to be more Christlike, but in this; - After our forty
63days of solitary contemplation we need to carry the theories & ideals
64we have formed out into the world, & incarnate them quietly & simply
65day by day in action. We want to raise women – well - let us help some
66^one^ woman up! – "And fail?" -Yes, fail, - & in that action that seems
67a great failure may lie a great success. I suppose one of the greatest
68successes the world has ever seen was when the Jew carpenter’s son
69hung alone, & cried "My God, I am forsaken". One can only form one’s
70ideal & strive to live it; success & failure must come as they will.
71
72 By the bye, I asked Donkin if he knew that Ray liked you, he said "Yes
73of course he’s always talking about him". Poor old Ray!
74
75 I send you an allegory I wrote on Thursday night. You’re not to laugh
76at it. I hate you so intensely sometimes.
77
78 //Thanks for your letter. My note was written before I got yours or it
79would not have been written. I have plenty of excuses for it, but none
80of them worth wasting time over.
81
82 I am going out to Regents Park. Saw yesterday morning one of the most
83beautiful sights I have seen in England there; the ducks on the great
84pond & the sun breaking through the mist at 9 o’clock in morning.
85
86 O.S.
87
88 Have been writing this in great haste to rest myself hope it is
89comprehendable.
90
91 Sat. night. Have just had a note from Donkin to say he has written to
92resign his membership of the Woll. I didn’t know he was going to. ^A
93week ago^ I told him I thought it was better he should not write to me
94or come to see me often. I’ve only seen him once since. I am sure that
95is the reason for his resigning, not any lack of good feeling to the
96club. I feel like a mother who has lost her child. But it now he can
97love some one else. He couldn’t while he was seeing me every day.
98
99 I don’t know that your theory of putting the thermometer in ice cold
100water always answers, because there isn’t always any ice to be had;
101but if one can set one’s teeth & make oneself "in love", or make
102oneself believe that one is "in love" with any body else, it always
103answers, for a time ^at least. Sometimes always.^
104
105 ^I’m glad you’re so well & happy. When those times of mental rest &
106satisfaction come we always do such good work. I work so much if I’m
107happy.^
108
109
Notation
The allegory Schreiner sent to Pearson cannot be established. Rive's (1987) version of this letter has been misdated and is also in a number of respects incorrect.