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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/4/3-8
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateSunday 30 January 1887
Address FromHotel Roth, Clarens, Lake Geneva, Montreux, Switzerland
Address To2 Harcourt Buildings, Temple, London
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 120-4
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
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 address this letter was sent to is provided by an attached envelope.
1 Hotel Roth
2 Clarens
3 Lake of Geneva,
4 Sunday night
5 Jan 30th 1887
7 My dear Mr Pearson
9 I read this morning, for the first time your letter to Dr Donkin. I
10have thought it over carefully today. The conclusion I have arrived at
11is that it is my duty to write telling you & Mrs Cobb how entirely I
12feel myself wrong. If you will kindly neither of you reply to this
13letter I should feel it a great favour.
15 More than a year ago when the Pall Mall letters came out & again with
16regard to Miss Haddon if I thought Mrs Cobb acting wrongly & screening
17herself behind her husband it was my place then to have spoken when
18the matter was impersonal. I simply kept away. When at last ^I thought^
19she touched me personally, when she said what might have divided
20between me & Mr Ellis & in other small ways hurt my feelings then I
21became suddenly virtuous & posed as the defender of abstract truth!
22All the time it was my own tiny feelings I was defending. I have had a
23curious kind of feeling attracting me to Mrs Cobb, such as I have not
24felt for another woman, I had defended her fiercely when a friendship
25of hers which I knew to be noble & pure was called into question. I
26had taken care that neither Carpenter nor Mrs Brown nor any friend of
27mine whose opinion she would value should guess that my ideal of her
28was touched. When she acted as I thought untruly to me I was fiercely
29bitter against her, I did not for a moment realize that she could not
30possibly know how I ^had^ felt to her. The night of the club meeting
31when you & Parker came up, I had been talking to her about Ellis, & I
32acted to you with positive rudeness. There was no excuse for my doing
33so. The bitterness one feels when one is trying to lose oneself in
34abstract work & is violently brought back to personalities is no
35excuse. If the price of abstract work is antisocial action, then one
36is simply not fit for it! I did not write to Ellis or Miss Haddon
37about Mrs Cobb. I simply sent them the copy of my letter to her. To
38Miss Haddon I have not since written. Ellis wrote simply, "Let Mrs
say what she will. Let us do our work", showing the larger spirit
40of the man & his superiority over me.
42 I was absolutely unjustified in writing to you about Mrs Cobb at all.
43I had no right to take your time, nor run the risk of touching your
44friendship for her for an hour, ^a friendship I had felt to be nearer
45the ideal than any other I knew between a man & a woman.^ I could
46perfectly have explained to Mrs Cobb what my feeling to her was
47with-out mentioning you. Were I to show you the copies of my letters
48to her you would see how absolutely nothing you had to do with my
49feeling. I have nothing to say in justification.
51 //Further I was unjust to Mrs Cobb. She came twice in one day to see
52me when I was very ill. I had asked her not to come, & had said all I
53could. I thought she came to torture me. When she sent me a letter to
54me I sent it back unopened. Now I find from your letter she did not
55come on her own account that it was you what who sent her: You would
56have been perfectly justified in doing so if my illness had been as
57you thought ^it was^ merely caused by some imaginary sorrow; I had been
58underfed at the convent, over worked in London, & fifteen days of
59bronchitis had reduced me to drivelling weakness; but weakness is no
60excuse for anti social action it may bring out the evil that is in us
61it cannot put it there. Robert Parker holds all anti-social action as
62the result of muddle headedness - this is true, but how often at the
63root of muddle headedness lies selfishness & passion! This has been my
64case. Had I turned to Mrs Cobb with love & wide impersonal sympathy,
65her sweet sympathetic nature would have been the first to turn to mine.
66 We are going to reform the world, to show a nobler form of human life
67- & we cannot maintain a sweet human relation with one beautiful
68woman-soul! The satire is a little bitter; & there is an aspect of it
69which you cannot see. Only I, looking back at my own life see the
70cutting sarcasm implied in my standing as a representative of ideal
71virtue. The reason I love my fellow-men better than another others &
72can come nearer them, is that I have erred more than others, & to the
73weak-side of every nature mine answers back. You were quite right to
74strike me as hard as you did.
76 //As to the much smaller matter between ourselves. From the beginning
77of our brief acquaintance when at Portsea Place, you treated me with
78something like brutality because the paper I was labouring under had
79gone beyond my grasp you have dealt towards me with hard truthfulness,
80which I liked. There has been no time when you have suggested to me
81that you valued my friendship in any personal sense. You are charging
82yourself entirely without cause when you suggest such a thing. I have
83valued you because you stimulated me; unreadable you have valued me
84because I was an interesting study, differing slightly from the women
85among whom your lot was cast. I have never imagined that our
86friendship was of a personal kind such as might have existed between
87yourself & Parker, unreadable ^for instance.^ You have been interested
88in my work & I have been so in yours.
90 Looking over our brief intercourse I cannot see what suggested to you
91in the last month that I had broken our agreement that no sex element
92should enter. Possibly you have not understood one thing. When at
93Kilburn you wrote me that you intended experimenting in marriage, that
94in six months your position would have changed &c. I regarded this as
95a joke. When you spoke further on the matter, & I learnt you were
96leaving the Temple & other things matters, I came to the conclusion
97you were about to try the experiment. Our brief acquaintance gave me
98no right to speak or question you on the subject. With my feeling that
99legal marriage is an immorality in the highest members of the race
100(not in the lower) that it is their duty to lead in this matter, not
101only in speculation but in action, & also feeling that you were
102somewhat more than usually likely to make a mis-calculation, I was
103somewhat perturbed. Had Mrs Cobb & I been on different terms I might
104have written to her, as it was I mentioned the matter to no one. Had I
105felt quite sure I might have spoken to you of the matter directly, but
106I felt doubtful. I have watched two of the humanbeings nearest me die
107slowly in the hands of a pure sweet loving-woman. I have seen her put
108her lips to them & suck & suck all their life. You have perhaps not
109seen this - but were I or any man-friend about to take this step you
110would not be wholly indifferent. Love & friendship are sacred ^to
111individuals^ not to be touched by the outer world. Sex-feeling &
112sex-relationship on the other hand are matters on which a man should
113seek the widest advice from the widest circle of friends, firstly,
114because sex-feeling has an aberrant effect on the intellect; secondly,
115because the results of sex-relationship, are matters more of social
116than private importance. With the brain worker who has anything to
117give the world marriage is a peculiarly difficult question, it may
118benefit the general health & so lengthen life, but what if while it
119makes the flame burn longer it makes it burn duller! I think when you
120take into consideration my strong feeling on the subject of unreadable
121^sex relationships^ (I regard marriage as other people regard death. My
122feeling of profoundest gratitude is to the woman who once saved me
123from it) you will understand my sending you the allegory & anything
124which may have appeared uncalled for. In our brief acquaintance there
125has been an equal absence of sex feeling on your side & on mine in
126other respects our relationship has been very unequal. The life of a
127woman like myself is a very solitary one. You have had a succession of
128friendships that have answered to the successive stages of your mental.
129 When I came to England a few years ago, I had once, only, spoken to a
130person who knew the names of such books as I loved. Intellectual
131friendship was a thing I had only dreamed of. Our brief intellectual
132relations & our few conversations have been common-place enough to you,
133 to me they have been absolutely unique. I have known nothing like it
134in my life. You will be generous & consider this when you remember how
135I have tortured you with half-fledged ideas, & plans of books that
136could never be written.
138 //A woman has a great many lovers. When she comes near unreadable to a
139man it comes at last, generally, to this – "Will you love me" - ^that is^
140"Will you have no object or aim in the world but me. Let me be the
141little glass through which you see life. Let me be the wall round you
142beyond which you do not grow. You will shall be everything all the
143world to me!" This seems a beautiful ideal, & to the woman at the
144present day who still wishes to be dependent on the man it may answer.
145But to the woman who has unreadable to fight for freedom it is exactly
146this ideal which is immoral! It is this demand upon her ^intellect unreadable^
147unreadable that she has to fight against, as the savage woman had to
148resist the physical over-ture of men! It is this demand which women &
149men have to teach each other is immoral. Is it ^not^ the anarchist
150principle ^of perfect freedom^ cutting through life, dealing not with
151private material property, but with ^the^ affections? It is this
152spiritual demand that we have to fight against, not now the material.
153unreadable The battle ground has changed. (One feels here more clearly
154than one sees, one’s hands are still only feeling after the truth!)
156 //If a cat were accustomed to regard all boys as unreadable beings
157whose aim it was to circumscribe the liberty of all cats & prevent
158their free locomotion; if she ^should^ discover unreadable a boy who
159showed no inclination in this direction, & who appeared absolutely
160oblivious of the possibility of of capturing any cat, can you not
161imagine the infinite placid satisfaction with which that cat would
162trot at his side. Must men & women in their friendships always stand
163on the defensive, not because of any brutal instinct, but because of
164subtle desire to circumscribe each other’s liberty? I think not: I
165see the hope of the world in the passing away of this.
167 The value in which I have held your friendship may have puzzled you,
168but have you realized that it is an absolutely unique thing that a man
169should try to stimulate a woman, that he should say, "What are you
170doing here; why are you squandering your time, why do you not go away
171& work?", that he should regard her as a worker & not as a woman?
172Edward Carpenter & yourself are the only men I know capable of taking
173this view of a woman; Parker might be.
175 You will wonder ^that I^ unreadable entering into this trivial detail;
176what you or I may think of each other is a very small matter. But
177there is an aspect which is not small. A large part of your work ^in life^
178deals with the sex questions. Our work on this matter will stand just
179in proportion as we have a true grasp on the ultimate facts which
180underlie our theories, these facts we cannot get at without an
181intimate knowledge of men & women. To do your work rightly you need
182the friendship of many women of many differing types. It is absolutely
183necessary for you. If the misunderstanding of our relation ^unreadable^
184prevents the formation of friendships, & both lessens your faith in
185their possibility a permanent injury has been done to your work; & the
186world suffers.
188 ^Feb 6th.^ The letters I wrote before I left London contained the truth,
189possibly an under rather than an over statement; but is that ever
190truth which is presented with out limitations or definitions! It is
191only truth when rightly interpreted. I cannot do so from lack of
192remembrance. I will leave you to do it for me.
194 //The I enclosed a letter from Dr Donkin written to me two days before
195my illness. unreadable letter about Mrs Cobb. His letter will show you
196how entirely he has failed to understand my position, not from any
197failure ^want^ in his own beautiful & generous nature but from the
198irreconcilable difference in our views of life. unreadable to you
199unreadable you after
Your letter to him shows me, for the first time,
200how complete that misunderstanding was. If his letter does not explain
201itself, there is nothing more to be said.
203 Neither to Mrs Wilson, nor to any one have I spoken on this matter. M
204I asked Mrs Wilson once whether if you had once cared for someone &
205you thought them untrue to you & felt very bitter, you had a right to
206speak; she replied that as long as you felt bitterness you might know
207you were in the wrong. I did not mention Mrs Cobb’s name to her,
208then, or at any time. You^r^ have name I have hardly mentioned in the
209last year; never personally. I have dis-cussed your intellect, & the
210work we might expect from you.
212 I shall trust that you & Mrs Cobb have forgiven me.
214 You will please not write to me. Life is very short; & we are burning
217 I am, yours always faithfully, Olive Schreiner
219 You will please not think that this letter requires any answer.
221 unreadable Dr Donkin what passed between him unreadable

223^Please send this letter to Mrs Cobb as it will save my writing to her.^
The 'Pall Mall letters' refers to its editor W.T. Stead's four articles under the heading of 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon' on prostitution and the age of consent, published in the paper on 6, 7, 8 and 9 July 1885. Rive's (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.