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Letter ReferenceKarl Pearson 840/4/3/43-52
ArchiveUniversity College London Library, Special Collections, UCL, London
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateSaturday 7 August 1886
Address FromThe Convent, Harrow, London
Address To2 Harcourt Buildings, Temple, London
Who ToKarl Pearson
Other VersionsRive 1987: 100-2
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 name of the addressee is indicated by content and is on an attached envelope, which also provides the address the letter was sent to. The final insertion is on the envelope.
1 The Convent
2 Saturday night
3 Aug 7 / 86
4
5 I do not know your address, but write tonight that I may send it when
6I do. Your letter was very delightful it made me feel almost as if I
7were there. too. How glorious those fields of ice & snow. I have
8dreamed of them ever since I was a child. I wonder if I shall ever see
9them. Yes, how beautiful some days are without a fleck or flaw. I felt
10as if I’d been there with you almost.
11
12 I am wondering where you are now. If you got ill or anything happened
13to you no one would tell me, I should hear it only by chance. I
14haven’t anything particular to say to you tonight I’m writing to
15you only because I want to talk to you.
16
17 I think I am sorry to hear you are perhaps coming back to England. I
18want you to live alone & draw your mind in on itself, & that you
19can’t do here. It almost seems to me you have reached a time when
20you should digest, not gather. But one soul can never judge for
21another.
22
23 The secretary of the Progressive (Sunday lecture society you know) has
24just written to ask me whether I think you might be willing to lecture
25for them next term on Sunday evening. Do, if you can. The audience is
26small, from one hundred to two; but you can say just what you like, &
27the audience would be sympathetic. Morris & Harrison & NC Blunt & a
28number of good men have lectured for them this year; but they want to
29get up a better programme for next. In opening my Emerson the other
30day I found the ticket you sent me for "Matter & Soul". I never saw it
31before. I wish I had gone but my mind was in such a wild maze I
32shouldn’t have gained much. I think "Matter & Soul" the most perfect
33thing you have written, the thing I read with small internal grunts of
34approval, "that’s right! That’s just as it ought to be!" sort of
35feeling; but (a brown spider has just run over my letter that’s a
36sign of good luck?) your perverse, "prigish" "Enthusiasm of the Market
37Place Study" – I personally like more.
38
39 ^Please excuse – wind has blown my papers all over the room, while I
40went out^
41
42 Monday morning.
43
44 Have you ever set your mind fixedly & unchangingly on a certain things
45coming to pass at a certain time – for no reason at all – & it
46hasn’t! I made sure there would be a letter from ^you^ beginning this
47morning, & there wasn’t one. I ought to have asked you to send me a
48post card just to telling me where & how you unreadable were.
49
50 I have been in the depths of darkness for some time passed about my
51work; but I am better now.
52 "unreadable ^Ach dafs die inure Schopifungskraft^
53 Durch meinen Sien erscholle!
54 Dapeine Bildung voller Vaft
55 Aus meinen Fingerm quolle
56 Ich gittre nur, ief stottre mor,
57 And kaum es doch nich lefsen ;
58 Ich fuhl, ichkenne dich natur,
59 Und so nuufs ich dich fassen"
60 Do you know that old poem ^(Kunstters Abendlich)^ it is my favourite:
61that last verse I love so –
62 "Wirst alle meine Krafte nur,
63 In meinem Sien erfeitern,
64Und dieses erge Daseyn mir
65 Yur Ewigheit erweitern."

66
67 My work seemed so beautiful ^to me^ when I did it years ago; now it is
68all so small, so contemptible. Ach! I am feeling so tensioned lately,
69I could cry out in agony when I see my papers. I am working under time
70pressure I must get it done before the winter. I wish I could go to
71Yorkshire & lie on my face on the moors for a week. They say it’s
72just like the Cape veldt.
73
74 Thursday afternoon, 12th.
75 I’ve just got yesterdays P. Mall Gaz. with something on the woman
76question you might like to see; it is so loathsomely illogical: I’ll
77send it you with this. It’s made me so excited I don’t want to go
78on working, so I may rest by talking to you. You will say why do you
79allow such ridiculous things to excite you, but I believe when I am
80eighty injustice that tries to defend itself by illogical argument
81will always make me double up my fists just like it did when I was a
82tiny child.
83
84 //Did I ever tell you of the further enqui question I have lately been
85asking among my friends with regard to their feeling about having
86children? As far as my experience goes it is an invariable rule that
87in proportion as a woman has a strong active, intellect, well worked,
88she desires to have children, & if she has them devotes herself to
89them, & if she has none thinks with longing almost passionate of the
90joy of training & caring for them. Mrs Walters the most intellectual &
91most emancipated woman I know, is the one ideal mother I have ever
92seen. (You will see the bearing of this when you read the P.M.G.) I
93have a noticeable case in my own family: I have one sister who is very
94intellectual & who spends her life in lecturing, she has adopted six
95children!, & for years has never slept a night with out some tiny
96creature in her arms whom she was training up by hand; I have another
97sister the conventional non-intellectual woman who has had eleven
98children, but leaves them entirely to the nurse & governess, so that
99one was actually starved to death by it’s wet-nurse without her
100knowing it. Take such women as G. Sand & Mrs Browning & see how
101overmasteringly strong the mother instinct was in them. I would almost
102be prepared to say – ‘Give me a woman in whom the intellect is
103strong & active, & I will show you a woman who desires children, &
104having them will be devoted to them.’ & I know no exception to this
105rule. Did I ever tell you the rather interesting case of that girl at
106Bournemouth? Hers was just a case of a brain-worked woman in whom one
107would not expect to find mother-instinct strong. For three years from
108the time she was eighteen she had had to support herself entirely by
109brain work writing for newspapers, & is very unemotional. She was
110talking about the impossibility of finding a man whom one could marry,
111& I asked her whether she never wished to have a child. The
112impassioned way in which she turned to me quite astonished me. "Ah,
113that is the bitterness," she said, & she described all the feelings of
114longing - the main thing seemed to be that she would never have a
115little child to clasp its fingers round hers! (No man would ever have
116thought of that! I think it’s just on these fine points closely
117connected with our sexual natures
that the difference between man &
118woman lies, not in the purely intellectual functions were you seem to
119me to be, sometimes, too much inclined to place it!) She said she
120would not care whether the father at all, or who he was, she only
121wanted the child; that is, that her feeling for the child was not in
122any way dependent on the feeling for the father. She said she had
123often thought whether it would be very wrong to have a child & send it
124away to the South of France & go away secretly to see it every year.
125This was very noticeable to one as telling against the theory that the
126brain-working woman does not desire children. This girl is a hack
127writer worked mentally almost to death. I myself have a very intense
128longing wish to have a child, but unreadable I cannot understand the
129desire to have a child with indifference to its father. The feeling
130for the child would depend altogether, or largely, on the feeling for
131the father. For the joy of maternity it seems to me absolutely
132necessary that the suffering she has to undergo should be borne for
133one who appears to her admirable. I think that here we come near to
134one of the most important differences between man & woman

135
136 Friday morning.
137
138 I’ve just got another letter from the progressives wanting your
139address & to know whether there is any chance of your lecturing. They
140are filling up the list for Oct. Nov. & Dec. Auberon Herbert is going
141to lecture on 31 Oct. on Individual Liberty. I shall send a line to
142Mrs Cobb & ask her to forward it to you. I won’t send this, as if
143you had wanted to be talked to you would have given me your address.
144Are you at work now I wonder, or still wandering about? I hope the
145latter. I wonder in which way you are going to "solve so much
146Universe" before you begin lectures again. Have you yet drawn up a
147plan of your woman book. If you have, will you let me see it ?
148
149 It is strange to me that you should hold minds of the Newton type as
150so much higher than the Goethe & Shakespeare type, when it is
151peculiarly to that type that yours belongs. Newton, the great
152mathematician but the drivelling idiot when he touched ^on any other
153subject,^ religion, & revelation (see his views on the Revelations,
154unless my memory is playing me false!): the man with only one eye,
155with, so to speak, only one lobe of the brain active, is or & may be a
156great man, but is he, unreadable ^can he be^ the ideal man? It is
157curious that you should feel him to be so when that which
158distinguishes your mind from all other minds with which I ^have^ ever
159come into contact is its unreadable the power you feel in it of
160extending itself in almost any direction: this is your greatness: &
161the real work of your life must be something which will give play to
162this qualitie. I feel at times such an almost passionate desire that
163you should find your work & begin on it. Sometimes I see it in the
164woman’s question with its infinite complexity. Any other man might
165treat, perhaps, as well individual branches as you would; no other man
166could so grasp the question in all its complexity & show his strength
167greater as the subject grew larger & larger on his hands. I see what
168you might do here. Will all your life pass & nothing come that we feel
169is an adequate expression of what we feel & know in you? But why
170should we trouble ourselves; at the right time, life ^will^ take you by
171the hand & lead you where you should go; you will do your work at last.
172 But you know the feeling of a little child when when it sees a great
173cactus bud & wants to put its hand in & push it open! I don’t think
174my feeling for you has in it anything of vulgar ambition; I want to
175feel the force in you is utilized - I take every thing you have done
176yet as only a promise.
177
178 That something in you that people call "prigishness" has no relation
179to conceit, & less to vanity. It is the cons-ciousness of unused
180powers, ^powers^ which are perhaps yet unshaped & which are chafing you
181within.
182
183 Goodbye. Now I must get to my work. It helps me so to talk with you.
184 O.S.
185
186 Sat. morning. I’ve just come back from the church-yard. It divides
187my heart with the Convent grounds. It’s lovely in the early morning
188when there’s not a soul there.
189
190 I’ve torn up my criticisms on your paper. They weren’t worth any
191thing, & it isn’t good to be criticized till one’s work is done.
192But you must let me someday say what I think on the subject of brother
193& sister ^marriage.^ You may have gone over the ground as carefully as I
194have & have come to your conclusion deliberately, but it seemed to me
195from the last paragraph of the paper you sent me that you had not.
196unreadable yourself on the question you I also want to relieve my soul
197on the point of woman’s, owing to her physical inferiority, never
198possibly having been ^in a savage state^ the superior of man. I know
199your own mind is very clear on this point, but your paper certainly
200leaves a general impression that, before the father-age there was a
201mother-age in which woman domineered over man! It seems to me that the
202permanent value of the paper is injured by this. But I won’t trouble
203you with it now.
204
205 I’ve only had one visitor in the last fortnight, little Miss Jones,
206funnier than ever; she says her brother fell violently in love with
207you.
208
209 I’ve been in once to spend the day at the museum & the National, and
210after lunch I walked up to see the Temple church. Isn’t it lovely
211– that dear little devil sucking the man’s ear to the left side of
212the door! I wanted to sit down & rest & look at things quietly; but
213the old woman told me that people were obliged to keep on walking as
214long as they were in the church
, so it was something like a treadmill.
215
216 Yes, I was surprised to meet you & Mrs Cobb at the British ^Museum.^
217Somehow, I had never associated either of you with it. I don’t think
218I should have felt more surprised if the great Beast of Nineveh had
219flapped his wings. That seat where you were sitting is a particular
220old spot of mine. I used to sit there & rest in the first days when I
221came to London, & the world seemed an orange too large to hold in my
222hand - & yet I had to try & hold it.
223
224 Good bye, I won’t write any more till I hear from you.
225 O.S.
226
227 Dr Donkin has just written to tell me that Mrs Clifford is staying at
228the same Hotel at which he is staying on the Alps. I wish so much they
229would get to like each other! ^Next week^ I shall have to be in Town a
230great deal trotting round an old Colonial who has just turned up. I
231feel as if I should like to see a little of the world again.
232
233 ^Please forward^
234
235
Notation
The book which Schreiner 'must get done' is From Man to Man. The poem she quotes, 'Künstlers Abendlied', is by Goethe. A short version of Schreiner's destroyed 'criticisms on your paper' is provided by her 1885 'Note'; see Pearson 840/4/1/105. The other publications referred to are: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841) Essays Boston: J. Munroe & Co; Karl Pearson (1886) 'Matter and Soul: a Lecture delivered before the Sunday Lecture Society' later re-published in his (1888) The Ethic of Freethought: A Selection of Essays and Lectures London: T. Fisher Unwin; Karl Pearson (1885) 'Enthusiasm of the Market-Place and of the Study. A Discourse delivered at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, E.C.', was also later re-published in his The Ethic of Freethought. The paper in the Pall Mall Gazette on the woman question is: "The Subjection of Women - An address at the British Medical Association" Pall Mall Gazette 11 August 1886 p.6. It is a Presidential address by Dr Withers-Moore, in which he espouses the 'old chivalrous ideal', and that men and women innately differed on everything, views that Schreiner would have found unacceptable. Pearson's 'woman book' was never written. Rive's (1987) version omits part of this letter and is also in a number of respects incorrect.