"My arms stretching out to Alice Greene; if I could put my love into words, must feel it coming to you across the miles" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/3/2-12
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateFriday 3 July 1886
Address FromThe Convent, Harrow, London
Address To
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 85-7
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 has been written on this letter in an unknown hand.
1 The Convent
2 Friday
3
4 My dear K.P.
5
6 You say the senses of taste & touch seem to have no intellectual side,
7& so you doubt whether they can ever become aesthetic. But have they
8not? & are they not even now largely used aesthetically? I think so.
9Touch, (the sense of pressure) most present in the hands & lips &c but
10more or less existing in ^almost unreadable^ all tissues) is the root of
11almost all our intellectual knowledge! So it seems to me. If a child
12is born blind, may be intellectually very much as an other, but a
13child born with out sense of touch in any part of the body, is more or
14less an idiot, shut off from the outer world. All ideas of extention,
15weight, size, age, distance, we derive from touch; a blind person can
16be perfectly correct in all these matter. (After all what is sight but
17a portion of the surface becoming highly modified & sensitive, till it
18is cons-cious even of the touch of light. Trace the evolution of the
19eye in the animal – but I may be wrong here).
20
21 //Take touch in its simplest form in the snail or jelly fish which
22curls up if or moves if touched by a foreign object – the sense is
23then simply used for the purpose of self preservation, not at all for
24pleasure i.e. aesthetically. But take the case of even the lower
25animals, say the cat or dog. Already the cat uses her sense
26aesthetically when she rubbs her face against velvet, & a dog when he
27comes & stands besides you & looks up into your face that you my touch
28him on the head. Among human beings the sense of touch is already very
29largely aesthetic in its use. What is the first thing we teach a
30little child – "Look at pretty things, but you mustn’t always want
31to touch them
". Why does a child cry for the moon? As we develop in
32years we do not want to touch the same things but we want to touch
33other things just as much, for pleasure & not for profit. What is
34grasping a unreadable ^human^ hand at parting, or putting your hand
35under your pillow at night to feel the book you love, but the
36aesthetic use of touch. Take kissing it is an entirely aesthetic use
37of the sense of touch. (One might imagine that lips had been developed
38for that purpose, they are not found in the lower animals, but I
39believe that the lowest savages rarely kiss, so I suppose they were
40developed in connection with speech?).
41
42 When I was a child I remember climbing up at the risk of my neck on
43chairs & hassocks to stroke the face of a picture I thought beautiful.
44I think nothing more expresses the height of evolution which a
45creature has reached that the ^degree^ power ^unreadable^ of expressing
46even complex though & states of feeling by a simple touch. To a course
47^unreadable^ touch is comparatively nothing.

48
49 Taste it seems to me has certainly become aesthetic to a large extent.
50The pleasure of a highly developed palate in a complex French dish
51with seven flavours is as entirely aesthetic, & as little possible to
52the savage, as is the pleasure of another man in the shades of colour
53in a picture, or ^in^ the variations in the movements of a sonata. The
54difference is this, that the one is a purely egoistic aestheticism to
55be engaged in by one alone at the cost of the others, the other an
56aestheticism which may be share with others & is not made less by
57division. That I enjoy a sunset or a song does not make any one
58else’s enjoyment of them less ^perhaps more if we share it together;^
59but that I enjoy a roast foul does make somebody poorer! Therefore as
60our advance in sympathetic development we crush out those aesthetic
61developments which are egoistic & cultivate those which are eq
62sharable. Don’t you think that’s the explanation, & that taste
63does tend to become aesthetic?
64
65 With regard to smell it’s only struck me just now, that we have the
66remarkable case of a sense which has become entirely aesthetic almost!
67Smell was developed at first as the means of preserving the life of
68the creature & obtaining food. If from many of the lower animals you
69took the sense of smell the individual & the race would become extinct
70at once. Even the monkey depends ^almost^ entirely depends on its sense
71of smell & taste, in determining what food is poisonous & what not.
72
73 As the reason develops & ^the mode of^ life changes we need smell less &
74less. If you took from the ordinary civilized man or woman the sense
75of smell what would they lose? – Aesthetic enjoyment! nothing else!
76The smell of the flower, of the perfume & the hay, of the sea, of the
77early morning damp – nothing else! They would not be worsted in the
78animal struggle for existence, but the race without smell would lose
79some of the finest joys of life. (Have you ever noticed what a sub
80wordspace addition to our enjoyment of nature, those subtile scents
81are? If you took his sense of smell from a wolf he would probably die
82with in a week, either from want of food or falling a prey to his
83enemies. If you took his sense of smell from a man, he might eat an
84egg that was not quite fresh, or not move quickly away from a bad
85odour, but even with ^regard to^ bad air & food we have already better
86artificial tests than that of smell. Don’t you think one is almost
87justified in arguing, that in smell one has a sense which from being
88animal, & necessary for the continuance of animal life, has become in
89its uses purely aesthetic?
90
91 //With regard to the sexual sensations. Has it not sometimes seemed to
92you when you have tried to analyze them, that they are compounded of a
93mingling of all the other senses. (Just as the sexual fluid in man
94must (although we have not yet proved how) contain in itself nothin ^in^
95its apparently simple & structureless germs, the effects of every
96nerve and fibre in brain & body in some marvellously condensed form to
97transmit it to the des-cendant.)
98
99 Sexual passion is composed largely of the sense of hearing; among
100birds & with many insti insects it plays the greatest part. (Many
101insects are only attracted to the male or female when & while they
102make the noise. All song of birds, &c. has arisen entirely as a part
103of sexual intercourse: music is still with the human creature used to
104arouses sexual passion, in its undeveloped form in music halls & ball
105room, in its developed form when ^in^ listening to Beethoven an
106intellectual man or woman feels a wild sweep of desire for the ideal
107sexual love unreadable which takes they have perhaps not thought of
108for long. Take again, what I believe to be a possible fact, that a qu
109blind person might feel the strongest passion for a humanbeing they
110had never touched or seen spoken to, but only come into contact with
111through the sense of hearing! Also, note the strong That sight plays a
112large, among human beings (perhaps the largest part) is evident. Some
113human beings men and women awaken passion in almost every one ^of the
114opposite sex^ who sees them by their intense beauty (^i.e.^ power of
115pleasing the eye). The immense part beauty plays in physical passion
116might make us feel it was almost exclusively a "lust of the eye", but
117in the final moment of sexual relationship touch must it would seem
118play a stronger part than anything else.
119
120 //Smell in some of the lower animals forms a very important for of
121sexual feeling; & among human beings has not wholly lost its sexual
122all connection.
123
124 Now, if sexual feeling is largely built up of all these different sla
125kinds of sensations, & if they as they develop tend always to become
126largely aesthetic in their use, does it not seem that the sexual
127function must tend to become so too? - You know I’m just speculating
128aloud, I haven’t worked it out. I daresay I’m all wrong.
129
130 //Of course I don’t mean what I seem to have said that the
131sex-function is made up entirely of the ^action of^ this action of the
132five senses, all it has I think a sense element quite peculiar to
133itself, & untranslatable into the terms of any other sense. What I
134mean is that these others ^senses^ act largely upon it & that we seem
135authorised to suppose that the course of its development may be as
136theirs. As security advances we need less & less that the sex powers
137should be used exclusively for the production of human creatures; as
138war, famine, & the hardship of life diminishes, the number of infants
139unreadable ^who^ die becomes very small: & from this cause alone apart
140from many others
the demand upon the sex system to produce to becomes
141necessarily small. Now may not ^the^ that surplus sexual power naturally
142adapt itself to aesthetic uses?
143
144 //To make a wild supposition! If it were possible for some mode to be
145found by which the race might be continued without the action of the
146sexual systems, say by a mixture of human bloods drawn from the arm &
147treated in a certain manner; a mode analogous to the propagation of
148the rose tree by cuttings; then, the sexual system having entirely
149lost its use, might act as the sexual system of the rose tree does.
150The little wild rose has stamens & pistol & bears seed; but the
151cultivated rose having no more need of seed, turns all its sexual
152organs into petals, & doubles & doubles; it becomes entirely aesthetic.
153 It is only for beauty not at all for the continuance of the race: yet
154it came into existence as all flowers do - simply as a collection of
155sexual organs. If that state were reached by the ^human^ race, then the
156sexual systems might be used exclusively aesthetically for purposes of
157pleasure; for sympathy & union between humanbeings. But we have not
158reached that state. We are ^yet^ in a stage in which the action of the
159sexual system is as necessary as ever for the perpetuation of the race;
160 But was unreadable nature entirely a stage in which like But may not
161the sexual system nature
but may it not be that a large & important
162part of its function has already become aesthetic. May not those be
163both equally wrong who hold that the only function of sex to be the
164birth of children, & those who hold there is something degrading in
165the exercise of that function. May not the sex nature from being
166simple have become complex and have two functions now?
167
168 //I want much to say something about what you said with regard to
169promiscuity & the freedom of woman. I must another time.
170
171 //When I think of the church yard now I always see a little sensitive,
172excitable boy, so glad to find the bench empty & climb up onto it
173before other people come, & he sits on the bench with his yellow hair
174& his leg not touching the ground.
175
176 //I am not going to Mrs Cobb’s tomorrow. Will you tell me, if you
177have time, what you think of the assembled womanhood.
178
179 Yours ever
180 O.S.
181
182 Friday eve. I send the enclosed that you may forever feel remorse ^at
183the thought^ with that you have falsely accused a most innocent person
184of the sin of emotionality. If you had curled up like a porcupine when
185you were nine years ^old^ & never uncurled for twelve years, & never
186made an indication that you were not of the consistency of stones,
187brick-bats, & other persistently insensitive materials, you would feel
188it a terrible aspersion in your old age to be accused of that deadly
189crime.
190
191 She & her husband were once the only friends I had, ^when I was a
192fierce little girl^ & I’m afraid Dolly Maitland’s prediction
193won’t come true in their case & I shan’t wish to change them for
194new ones ^even if they never give me a new idea^ in the next fifty years.
195 I wish you would be in London in September: they are coming then & I
196would like you to know them.
197
198 //I think you ought to write that book on woman. You will find that
199your thoughts get clearer as you go on I think; & when you get to the
200end of the book you can write the first part, if you find things have
201become clearer to you. If you will send me the first chapter I shall
202be very glad. I shall go over it as if it were my own, but I doubt if
203you my criticism will be of much value if it deals with the early
204condition of woman in Germany as I am quite ignorant there. When I can
205get over the flood of emotion that arises when I look at the heap of M.
206S. I will go over my woman papers & send you any parts that might
207possibly interest. It would be so nice to me if you could ^find^ make
208any use in them, then I should feel my time had not been thrown away,
209but I doubt whether you will. Is your mind in any way made up with
210regard to prostitution & marriage? & with regard to the difference
211between men & women?
212
213 //I wish I hadn’t interrupted you about that word. I don’t quite
214understand the view you meant to express with regard to man’s sexual
215unreadable degeneration.
216
217 It’s such a glorious day, I’ve walked more than 12 miles: one
218feels such an exuberant health & animal spirits when the sky’s like
219this. Now I would like to keep on writing.
220
221 O.S.
222
223 Just got a card from Mrs Cobb to say Miss Müller will be there & stay
224to supper tomorrow I hope you will have a cosy talk with her. Send
225Destroy her letter.
226
227 ^May I please write as badly as I like when I write to you? & not mind
228if I leave out half the sentences, & three-fourths of the words & a
229large number of the letters? It’s so nice.^
230
231
Notation
The 'enclosed' was probably a letter from Henrietta Muller. The 'early conditions of woman in Germany' refers to Pearson's 'A Sketch of the History of Sexual Relations in Germany', read at the Men and Women's Club in June 1886. Rive's (1987) version of this letter has been misdated, omits part of the letter, and is also in a number of respects incorrect.