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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/5/10-16
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date11 November 1890
Address FromMatjesfontein, Western Cape
Address To
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 177-80
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.
1 Matjesfontein
2 Cape of Good Hope
3 Nov 11 / 90
4
5 My dear Karl Pearson
6
7 With all my heart keep the letters if they are of the smallest
8interest to you. The reason I asked for them was that before I went to
9Switzerland the first time when I thought I was dying, I got a friend
10to burn all the letters I had received during my London life. I felt I
11had no right to leave in existence letters meant only for my eye
12perhaps to fall into the hands of others. I have now no record left of
13those long years of wonderful life & human fellowship, but a few
14letters over looked in an old desk. Among them is a bundle of yours. I
15thought if you set no value on mine to you I would like to kept them.
16There is little personal in them; if there were, I would feel still,
17they were as safe in your hands as mine. The only thing I am ever
18troubled about with regard to anything I have written, is lest I
19should have said anything that might hurt a human being or is
20ungenerous. I think I never have to you you. Only perhaps of my dear,
21pure sweet friend Dr Donkin. I have never seen him since that night
22when he went to see you, except once in passing. I have never heard
23from him except a couple of notes when I first left, & a beautiful
24letter on his marriage; I have never asked him what passed between you,
25 I have gathered it from your letters to me: I have never wished to
26know more. If I ever said anything ungenerous of him to you, please
27know, that looking back now on all that life as a thing that no more
28touches me & mere history, I find Donkin the most childlikely pure,
29(in the world’s sense & the highest!), truthful, transparent nature
30with which I have ever come in contact. I have never fully understood
31his conduct, any more than I have ever fully understood yours. I have
32not wished to understand. The thing is to know a character as a whole;
33know it is noble, truthloving, sincere; & then trouble yourself
34nothing about details. The eagle is not less the eagle, you do not
35doubt it upward tendency & power of flight, because in the dark it
36catches its wings in trees, or beats against a night owl & is thrown
37to earth: the tendency & the direction are everything: you pity it for
38its misfortune in the dark - you never mistake it for a night-owl. The
39thought that I may have spoken of him to you ungenerously hurts me
40intensely. It was the purity & devotion of his friendship which for
41years copied my manuscripts, sought to save me in every little detail,
42& drew or thought it drew all its best inspiration for life & work
43from me, that angered me, because it seemed to bind me as no selfish
44or passionate feeling could have done. He is the only person of all
45the men & women I knew in my ten years of English life whom I acted
46ungenerously to; because he was my friend & I should never have spoken
47of him to a third person. It is all right now, he is married to a
48large & noble woman, & as saith the old story "story – "It all came
49right at last, & they lived & died happy ever after." But I have felt
50I wanted to say this to you. The less we talk of individuals the
51better. If we love them they are too sacred to be discussed with
52anyone; if we shrink from them, we dare not speak of them lest we
53should be unjust to them; if we don’t know enough of them either to
54love or hate, then it is foolish to speak of them. I want so when I
55lay my pen down for the last time, to lay it down just as pure as when
56I took it up the first time to form the first letters when I was a
57little child, never to have caused any-thing one moment’s pain with
58it.
59
60 I have a favour to ask you & your wife, my dear friend. Many years ago
61I asked you if I might dedicate a work of mine to you, & you said I
62might. I wrote it 12 years ago, & for the first time I am finding time
63to revise it now. I will be done soon. What I have to ask is will you
64& she let me dedicate it to you together? I would be so grateful if
65you. I want to say to you two "God bless you", but we have no modern
66way of saying that; it seems to me I would express it if you let me
67dedicate the book to you. Will you, my dear friends? There is no need
68to write. If I do not hear from you before next March I shall know I
69may; & if you think you would rather not, then a card with ‘no’,
70will be enough.
71
72 Another thing: the middle of next year I shall be starting to spend
73some years in the interior of Africa. I am learning Kaffir which is
74the key-language, so that I shall be able to study the people. What I
75want to know is if there are any particular points which you will
76would like me to investigate which might throw light on your work.
77No-where in the world as such vestiges of the primitive human
78condition to be found as among them. It would take too long or I would
79tell you of the wonderful relics of what you would call "the mother
80age" which are to be found among them, in their ceremonies & customs.
81I once ran a If you & your wife will read Wood’s Natural History of Man,
82 you will be surprised if how quite unconsciously he gives much
83evidence of that. If there are any special inquiries you would like me
84to make, I would be very glad to do so, because I wish to make my
85journey of as much use as I can. Please do not mention to anyone that
86I am going: it is for you & your wife alone. I unwisely mentioned it,
87& I have had two offers of ^from^ women to go with me; I was obliged to
88refuse them, & it hurts me so much to repulse people, & y so please
89consider what I tell you a secret. There is no need to write, you
90could simply send the questions.
91
92 Yes, my dear friend, I have no need of ^personal intercourse with^ you
93any more. Don’t you see what the help was you used to be to me? When
94you first knew me, & for many years before, I had simply lived at the
95beck & call of every woman who chose to make a demand on me. You stopp
96I was simply bleeding to death. You stopped that. You were the first &
97only person who suggested to me, "Is this moral?" & who gave me
98strength to resist. You did it as much, perhaps unconsciously & by
99example, ^as by word^ but also there was one letter of yours which
100greatly helped me. Do you know that during the last four years when
101that little card has hung on my door in London, "Olive Schreiner does
102not wish to see anyone; please do not ring" - that there ought to have
103been added below, "this is hung in the strength of Karl Pearson"? Do
104you know that when I have been living a broad & women have insisted on
105following me, & saying they would live with me, I have taken the money
106out & said "Now buy your ticket, go to England, I can do nothing for
107you", in strength that was yours, not mine. Do you know that I have
108sometimes taken a pile of fifty letters, looked through them to see
109there was none from anyone who had need of me, & then put them all
110into the fire? - in the strength of Karl Pearson! Do you know that I
111had reached a stage in which I should have felt it wicked to spend 2d
112on an egg for myself - I could give it to some poor person, what right
113had I to anything; only once in three years did I go in for any
114relaxation. I was going to one of the Richter concerts, to sit in the
115back half crown seats as I was walking down one street near Piccadilly
116I saw a number of work girls sewing below, an agony came on me that I
117was seeking for pleasure while they were in the hot close air working,
118& & I fled back to Blandford Square. Why you helped me out of this
119state, & just how it would take too long exactly to explain. You did.
120Have you ever had unreadable internal haemorrhage, & they give you ice
121& the flow stops at once, & you always feel a curious kind of
122gratitude to the ice?? You always seemed to me like a lump of ice put
123on a wound where from which one was bleeding to death & freezing it up.
124 You may be tender, sympathetic, human - if you are it matters nothing
125to me; you helped me through that which the world calls cold, narrow,
126selfish: it was your self-consciousness & self concentration that
127helped me. You saved my life. Now I do not need you any more. I have
128learnt the lesson that to recklessly give yourself to the service of
129every ^man or^ woman who makes a demand upon you is gross immorality:
130that when I sit here at night writing I serve the prostitute ^much^ more
131than when I took her in from the streets & laid her in my bed, & sat
132up all night watching her sunken face in terror & agony. She had to go
133the next morning, I could do nothing for her, what was the use? I help
134the respectable woman more now, than when I gave up afternoons &
135evenings, to letting her sit & talk, hour after hour, & unreadable of
136her displeasure with life, & then when she went, throw myself in agony
137on the floor to cry, because of my wasted life, all given for what!
138for what! With no result! And then I would get up & write letters till
139two o’clock for fear I should pain some one.
140
141 Mark you, Karl Pearson, I do not regret that life; I am grateful.
142Those women taught me what I could not otherwise have learnt. I would
143not have those years blotted out. They are my most precious heritage.
144But if it had continued a little longer I must have died. I needed
145your lesson, "The man or woman who will spend life for his fellows,
146must look calmly, widely over life, & say here & here I can best spend
147myself, & quietly restrain his sympathys in others." You never said
148this, but you taught it me, my dear friend.
149
150 I do not need you to teach it me any more. I have seen that
151dis-cretion is the better part of valour, & come here, where I am 100
152miles from the nearest village & 200 from the nearest town; where the
153English mail comes once a week, & I have the moral courage to resolve
154never to write more than 21 letters a week. Where no one could come &
155seek me up but the ants & meerkats and it is I who generally go to
156seek them!
157
158 In one other way you were of help to me. When ever I had a few moments
159free in the night I used to set down hurriedly all the thought on sex
160& social questions that had come during the day. I had a vast pile of
161these more or less valuable. The fear of my life was that I should die
162with these papers all ?unwrought, & my life would have been lived for
163nothing. Can you understand? The one thought I clung to was that your
164brain was enough like mine to make them understandable by you, & that
165if I died you would work them up. I made a will a little more than
166four years ago leaving them all to you: it has remained so to the
167present; when I go to town next month I shall alter them it: not
168because my trust in you is less perfect, but we have drifted to far
169apart, there could be no mental understanding, & my physical strength
170is so I restored that I may be good for twenty years. When I was ill I
171longed very much to see you that I might explain about them.
172
173 Now, Karl Pearson, you understand how it is my need for you has ended
174as completely as yours for me.
175
176 Not my friendship.
177
178 You speak of offering me your friendship, as if it it were a thing I
179could accept or refuse. It is mine or it is not. If you have believed
180in me; if you have accepted no representation of any human being,
181dis-cussing me with none but to justify me; if you read all my words &
182acts in the light of all that is noblest & most impersonal in yourself;
183 if you have believed when you could not understand that my motives
184were large & generous, & that I was taking the only path open to me;
185then you are my friend. If you are not, then you are not & never have
186been.
187
188 To dis-cuss this matter would be to exhume what was once very sacred
189to me, & show disrespect to its remains.
190
191 I do not wish you to write to me. If you wish to do so write in your
192own person or through your wife. She is a woman I respect & have faith
193in, & being now so closely & beautifully connected with you I shall
194take all words from her as coming from you.
195
196 I am, my dear friends,
197 Yours affectionately, Olive Schreiner
198
199 This letter is for your wife as well as you.
200
201
202
Notation
The book Schreiner wants to dedicate to Pearson is From Man to Man. The bo'k referred to is: J. G. Wood (1868) The Natural History of Man London: George Routledge & Sons. Rive?s (1987) version of this letter is in a number of respects incorrect.