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Alfred Milner

Alfred Milner (1854 - 1925) was Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa from 1897 until 1901, and also Administrator and then Governor of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony until 1905 and the return of ‘responsible government’ to these. A man of considerable personal charm, Milner was also a rigid arch imperialist and the prime agitator of war in the face of strenuous efforts by most South African politicians to prevent it. Signs of the political machinations going on in this period surface in Schreiner’s letters to Jan Hofmeyr, Jan Smuts and also her brother Will, including concerning the role of the amateur spy Adela Chapin (Stanley and Dampier 2011), with Milner on his part commenting in a letter of 28 March 1899 to Chapin about Olive Schreiner that “She is, to me, the most interesting of S. African humans
(Headlam 1913: 336).

Just a handful of Schreiner letters to Milner are extant, and it is not certain that there were ever more than this written. The content of these letters is concerned mainly with the South African War and what Schreiner expressed to Jan Smuts and Will Schreiner as the possibility she could help persuade Milner away from the war course he appeared to be set on. Whether the meeting the 30 May 1899 letter mentions ever took place is not known but seems unlikely, but Schreiner certainly attempts to make him see that she is not his enemy, and her very careful phasing and emendation of her letter - in particular an inserted letter ‘d’ to produce a past verb tense - can have left Milner no doubt that he was losing friends and supporters by his conduct:

“I have much wished to see you apart from all political considerations. Many of my friends in England are those who know and value^d^ you: & life in Africa is a little lonely to those who have spent their forming years in England.”

This theme is continued in her 10 July 1899 letter, that that he could have been the ‘new George Grey’ as Governor, and her sense that no matter what and how much she writes - the 16 withheld pages she invokes - it will do no good. The 23 May 1900 letter asks a favour for a pro-British acquaintance, emphasises that she is not his enemy and points out that it is the Uitlanders who are the problem and not the Republics. Schreiner’s letter of 1919 following the death of Will Schreiner is very striking; it was written as a response to a letter of condolence Milner had sent to Fan Schreiner and comments on the sincerity of such sentiments from a former political enemy of Will’s, and also her perception of Milner’s faithfulness to his own sense of duty.

For further information see
Hugh & Mirabel Cecil (2002) Imperial Marriage: An Edwardian War and Peace London: John Murray
Cecil Headlam (1931) The Milner Papers: South Africa 1897-1899 London: Cassell
Colin Newbury (2004) ‘Milner, Alfred, Viscount Milner (1854-1925)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35037
Liz Stanley & Helen Dampier (2012, in press) “‘I just express my views & leave them to work’: Olive Schreiner as a feminist protagonist in a masculine political landscape with figures & letters” Gender & History
J. Lee Thompson (2007) A Wider Patriotism: Alfred Milner and the British Empire London: Pickering & Chatto
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collection icon Bodleian Libraries Special Collections: Schreiner’s few remaining letters to Frank (or Harriet) Colenso, to Alfred Milner and to Cecil Rhodes are part of the l... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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collection icon Bodleian Libraries Special Collections: Schreiner’s few remaining letters to Frank (or Harriet) Colenso, to Alfred Milner and to Cecil Rhodes are part of the l... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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