"Spencer's First Principles, key books, we who have never been to school starved, you overfed" Read the full letter
John William Bertram (1845 - 1879) was the son of Rev J.P. Bertram, Gottlob Schreiner’s predecessor at Wittebergen mission station. Olive Schreiner first encountered Bertram in June 1871 while staying at Hermon with her aunt Elizabeth Rolland, shortly after he had been appointed as clerk to the magistrate at Dordrecht, where it is possible Schreiner later met him again. As a freethinker Bertram made a strong impression on the young Schreiner, and this was compounded by him lending her a copy of Spencer’s First Principles, a book which at the time acted as an intellectual and ethical touchstone. Schreiner also credited Bertram with suggesting that she read Emerson, whose work had an enormous impact on her intellectual development. The episode in The Story of the African Farm where the stranger horseman presents Waldo with the “old brown book” is loosely based on Schreiner’s meeting with Bertram. Bertram killed himself in August 1879.
For further information see:
Karel Schoeman (1991) Olive Schreiner: A Woman in South Africa 1855-1881 Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball
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