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Letter ReferenceSchreiner-Hemming Family BC 1080 A1.7/49
ArchiveUniversity of Cape Town, Manuscripts & Archives, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date25 December 1901
Address FromHanover, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToHenrietta ('Ettie') Schreiner m. Stakesby Lewis (1891)
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
Legend
The Project is grateful to Manuscripts and Archives, University of Cape Town, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Manuscripts and Archives Collections. This letter has been dated by reference to content about Rebecca Schreiner's possible death. Schreiner was resident in Hanover from September 1900 to October 1907, after 1902 with visits, sometimes fairly lengthy, elsewhere.
1 Xmas Morning.
2
3 My darling old sister,
4
5 I hope you are feeling really better. It is so delightful to me that
6the dear little mother is sweetly resting in your care. "What we
7desire in youth, that we have in old age," Goethe said. I am sure it
8is true with regard to spiritual matters, because slowly the ideal
9which we strive after must shape itself within us but, I think it
10often happens with other things. At least it is my dream that it will
11so happen.
12
13 "Grow old along with me
14 The best is yet to be;
15 The last of life,
16 For which the whole was made.
17 Our times are in his hand,
18 Who so a whole I planned.
19 - Youth knows but half – trust God, see all, nor be afraid."
20
21 I have always looked forward to old age so because of the serene
22wisdom I thought one would have attained to, but I don’t think that
23I had realize the weakness that would come as one grew older. Of
24course you & I ought not to be as much weaker than we were at our age,
25but as Will once wrote me, all we Schreiners seem predestined to break
26down long before our time. This is of course owing to our hearts not
27being strong.
28
29 I have been studying my own case a good deal, & while absence of worry
30& excitement & worry is the main thing, as the doctors all agree where
31the heart is enlarged; yet I am sure to eat very little & practically
32no meat, & if possible to drink hot boiled milk, ^in small quantities
33at a time but often^ something which is very light & yet nourishing,
34does much to relieve the heart. I am sending you ?about which is
35attracting a good deal of attention in England. On uric-acid, the
36result of meat diet & its action on the system in later life, which
37might be interesting to you. I think he goes a little too far, but
38there is much truth in it. It seems a pity that few people can see a
39truth very clearly without exaggerating it.
40
41 I hope you got the little MS of mine safely. I wrote it fifteen years
42ago in Italy. I like it almost better than anything I ever wrote
43because it came to me in such a curious way. I wrote the novel to
44which it is the prelude years before, when I was Africa. I was sitting
45one day writing an article on the Bushman, & suddenly in an instant,
46all the scenes in that little prelude seemed to open themselves before
47me, one after the other in a flash, like when you open one of those
48folded series of views & draw them all open quickly. I saw the little
49girl at the back-door, & on her flat stone, & in the garden under the
50tree making storie & repeating poems right to the end, & curious, it
51was only when I sat down to write it out that I saw how it bore on the
52story that was coming & which I had written unreadable so long before.
53All my stories come to me that way I never consciously try to make one,
54 but none except Peter Halket ever came so completely & at once, they
55are sometimes only in bits for months before they are ready. With
56Peter Halket I was at the Kowie & had slept heavily all night from one
57o’clock, an unusual thing with me. About six o’clock I woke, &
58jumped out of bed Cron asked me what was the matter, & I said a whole
59new story had come to me just as I woke, & I told him all just as it
60stands but short. I had nothing further from my thoughts that the
61writing of such a book the night before & I was busy on my stray
62thoughts. I just as I opened my eyes saw Peter Halket on the kopje &
63heard the voices talking.
64
65 I think that’s the mistake people make who think you can make
66stories & poems. You can’t make them if they don’t make themselves.
67 You can put yourself into the conditions in which you know your mind
68will work spontaneously, i.e. free of worries & manual work, but you
69can’t say to your brain produce this or that. Of course you sh can
70will whether you will write it or not, but & the exact words you will
71put it into; but you can’t alter the pictures, if a man has blue
72eyes you can’t describe him with brown, is he says this or that you
73can’t make him say anything else.
74
75 //I have been thinking about Guy & can’t help being sure that if his
76tastes lay in a literary direction the civil service will be best for
77him; just because the work is so mechanical & uninteresting, it does
78not tax the energies you use for your own work, teaching if
79conscientiously done takes too much out of you, of nervous energy &
80will.
81
82 I wrote the whole of an African Farm when I was teaching 6 hours a-day,
83 but it’s a horrible strain. The civil-service work is very light.
84
85 Now I must end my darling. I know you will always wire to me if the
86little mother should be very ill, but I feel quite at ease about her
87now.
88
89 Have you ever thought how very nice it would be, if the dear little
90mother would consent to be buried at Balfour when she goes. I would
91not mention it to her unless she spoke of being buried some where else,
92 then you might suggest it, say you will be buried there too. Father
93would have liked it so.
94
95 Good bye darling.
96 Your little sis Olive
97
98 I sent mother that little prelude to read 10 years ago when I first
99came out from England. If she’s forgotten it & would care to read it
100again you might give it her, but I don’t want others to read it.
101
102
Notation
The 'little manuscript' and 'little prelude' refer to the Prelude to From Man to Man. 'Grow old along with me' is from Robert Browning's 'Rabbi Ben Ezra' in his (1864) Dramatis Personae London: Chapman & Hall.