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Letter ReferenceOlive Schreiner BC16/Box2/Fold4/1901/38
ArchiveUniversity of Cape Town, Manuscripts & Archives, Cape Town
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateSunday 26 May 1901
Address FromHanover, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToFrances (?Fan?) Schreiner nee Reitz
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
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. The date has been written on this letter in an unknown hand.
1 ^Hanover^
2 Sunday
4 My dear Fan
6 Cron arrived today. I didn’t want the doctor to send for him but he
7would send for him. I am glad now he has come I feel better. I have no
8asthma, but curious fits of faintness that generally come on while
9I’m asleep. M I am so sorry you can’t come I long so to see you
10all, but you couldn’t risk leaving the train as you might not get
11another saloon.
13 Mrs Hofmeyr the Dutch ministers wife has got us to stay with her a few
14days to see if the air here will suit me. People are so kind to me now
15I’m ill. It’s so beautiful to see Cron. Please dear be careful not
16any of you to drink water or clean your teeth with water at any
of the
17stations. Take enough water or soda water from Grahamstown to last you
18all the way. Typhoid is still prevalent in all these parts.
20 Good bye dear give much love to the dear old mother & Will & the
22 Ollie
Cronwright-Schreiner wrote to Betty Molteno on 29 May 1901 concerning Schreiner’s illness, which had led to the local military commander giving permission for him to have a pass to travel to Hanover to look after her, as follows:

‘Hanover C.C.
29 May 01

My dear Friend,

I had no time to write to you the day I left, but asked mother to. You will be anxious about Olive, so I am just writing a short note to tell you she is decidedly better. It seems to be almost wholly a heart trouble. As you can imagine, the time spent here has, to one of her intensely strong nature, been one of peculiar strain. Her brother’s sudden death is the last thing. It seems to have given her a tremendous shock. However I hope she will now recover nerve tone, which will naturally react ?temporarily upon the heart. It remains to be seen whether she can stay on at this high cold place. She seems to go to pieces about 1a.m. but last night she did not have so bad a time. She must have been in a very dangerous state, and one feels very anxious yet. When up and about no one would say she was one whose hold on life is perhaps very precarious. However, may all go well.

Our love to you both,
Your sincere friend,
S.C. Cronwright Schreiner’

This was followed two days later by a 31 May 1901 letter from him, again to Molteno:

‘So many thanks for your note and your great kindness. I wired you that Olive was better (having written before), and am now glad to add that she is better ^is still improving.^ I have had a stove put in her room, so that she escapes the piercing cold at nights. But I fancy this place will not suit her, at this time of the year. Its height makes it misty. Frequently at night the town is enveloped in a thick mist. She may be able to stay some ?further time, perhaps till the end of June, but after that, at latest, I feel sure she’ll have to go. Where? That is the problem. She can only go to a place that we know suits her, & the such spots are very few & some ^now^ impossible on account of the war. I shall of course stay with her.

Do not come up. There is really no need. I understand all your kindness, & feel it too deeply to say much about it.’

Although less seriously so, Schreiner’s illness persisted and on 5 June 1901 he wrote to Molteno that:

‘...She has very little asthma; indeed I sometimes think that such symptoms as seem asthmatic are secondary symptoms. The trouble is the nervous organisation and a weak heart which feels acutely at at even any nervous reaction. But whether the distressing symptoms of collapse are primarily or secondarily heart symptoms, we know she has a weak heart & thus ?they become very distressing, the heart being so unreliable an organ in such cases. But Although her condition alternates, on the whole there is no doubt she is recovering tone. We have had three nice days, cool and still; but they are a bit too cool for her and stillness is a relative term: she is now particularly susceptible to wind. Yesterday and the day before we walked to the kopjies where she spent a couple of hours in the sun: the first day with good results; but yesterday there was a little wind which distressed her and caused a very bad night. I do not think she can stay here through July and August, but she must get a bit stronger before we begin to travel. She seems to fancy Victoria West, but she has never been there and one can never tell before hand how any place will suit her: so much depends, even in a suitable locality, on the exact situ of the unreadable and house and the nature of the room. Meanwhile we shall stay on here. The fire has made a vast difference in her. She is generally – pretty well always during the day – full of animation & interest in everything, & is stout & looks fairly well. I do not think you & Miss Greene can do anything just now – thank you so much; if ever you can, I shall not fail to let you know. It would be useless coming to see her until she is settled somewhere. I shall not leave her, however it affects my work. I know that the best work I can do for mankind is to help her in so far as I can to complete the work which she alone can do; anything I can do myself is but a bagatelle compared with what she may be able to do. I feel that if I did anything that hindered or even delayed her work, nothing could excuse it, for she is I think the greatest moral genius of the day: a splendid genius like hers, wholly moral in its direction, is one of those priceless minds which are the common property of humanity. My problem is how really to give her the conditions suited to her strange genius, & enable her to work – and she can only work when at peace emotionally & free of care. I have thought it wise to sacrifice – or to risk – the immediate future that later I might help her to those conditions of life without which there can be no fruition of her genius; but if her life is unsafe (and I think it is), then every instant of the immediate present is of priceless value and one seeks in vain for a justification for sacrificing any of them for a problematical future in which she was to ?flourish with conditions more suited to her. You will pardon and not misunderstand what I have said: you have been kind enough to ask about myself. I have only one real object in life, whatever I do, & that is to help her. But the problem is as complex as it can well be, Meantime of course such work as I was engaged in in Cape Town & such further work as I contemplated have to ?start over: at present my live is clear. My presence is necessary, for how long it is impossible to say.

I am going over the proofs of my book with her; what a profound literary instinct she has. When we have got through, I shall send the revised copy to Cape Town, so that the alterations made may to be written into the copy there which has to go to England. I do not wish to risk the Cape Town copy being sent up here as it has some original matter for reproduction of which I have no duplicate. So I want some one to make the alterations when I send the copy I have here down. I do not know of anyone to whom I can entrust it; but I have thought that Mr ?Marchand may know of some one quite conscientious, quite capable, and ?rest with the pen; I cannot ?quite write to him from here, for it may be thought the matter has some bearing on South Africa (which you know is not the case) and this may be awkward for him. So, if you will see him about it and ask him if he knows ^of^ anyone; or if you can suggest anyone, or anyone else can, I should be so much obliged. There will not be very much to do, as, where alterations are extensive, I am personally retyping here.’

‘Going over the proofs of my book with her’ refers to Cronwright-Schreiner’s (1906) The Land of Free Speech London: New Age Press.