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Alfred Mattison

Alfred Mattison, usually referred to as Alf or Mat by Schreiner and other friends, was a prominent figure in Leeds socialist circles and active in the ILP and then the Fabian Society among other socialist and trades union activities. It seems that Schreiner met him as a Carpenter connection, and according to Rowbotham (2008) Mattison ‘carried a torch’ for her. While only three extant letters from Schreiner to Mattison exist, there is certainly a sense from the first letter of 1896 that they already know each other and that this is not the ‘real’ first letter, and nor does the final extant letter in 1901 appear to be a last letter either. It seems likely, then, that significantly more letters than this were written and replied to.

The three letters are writing in a frank comradely style, with Schreiner referring to herself as ‘your good chum’, commenting on their shared socialism, although also emphasising to Mattison some important differences around the distinctive specifics of the ‘shape’ of capitalism and imperialism in South Africa. The letters also refer back to their shared Millthorpe connection with Carpenter et al. The two letters of 1896 and 1897 are dominated by political commentary on the nature of capitalist imperialism and appear to have been written in response to Mattison’s interpretation or comments about this to Schreiner. Thus in her letter dated 13 April 1896 Schreiner ‘sets him straight’ about capitalism in a southern African context, emphasising that “You people in England don't know what the heel of a capitalist is, when it gets right flat on the neck of a people! ... Now we are killing the poor Matabele.”, pointing up its ‘total’ and also brutally violent nature. Schreiner’s choice of words here is highly suggestive, for the ‘we’ she invokes is we whites - that is, she positions herself as responsible and complicit, and not as a aloof and distanced critic with ‘clean hands’ in a moral sense. In the letter of 4 August 1897, Schreiner again corrects an apparent misapprehension on Mattison’s part, that capitalism and the anti-capitalist struggle in South Africa and Europe were comparable, with “They only try to over work you, 10: but they try to shoot us!”.

The letters of 1897 and 1901 also contain some intriguing mentions of similarities between Alf Mattison and Schreiner’s husband Cronwright, including both wanted to crack skulls of capitalists. And in the 1901 letter she comments strikingly that “You are just like Cron, good at fighting!! I'm sorry you didn't see Cron. I often told him about you & that you & he were very much alike, in character & also a bit in appearance.”.

For further information see:
Sheila Rowbotham (2008) Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love London: Verso
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collection icon Cory Library, Rhodes University: The Cory Library, Grahamstown, is a rich resource for books and archival papers pertaining in particular to the history of th... 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 Sheffield City Libraries, Archives & Local Studies: Edward Carpenter Collection, Archives & Local Studies, Sheffield City Libraries: The Edward Carpenter Collection is held ... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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