Letters of Olive Shreiner

To Havelock Ellis

18th July, 1884.

Did you ever read the passage in Shelley's letters when he talks about genius (I think he repeats it from another book) : Genius does not invent, it pevceives! I think that this is so wonderfully true, and more true the more one looks at it. It agrees with the true fact that you noticed the other day, that men of genius are always childlike. A child sees everything, looks straight at it, examines it, without any preconceived idea; most people, after they are about eleven or twelve, quite lose this power, they see everything through a few preconceived ideas which hang like a veil between them and the outer world. By the bye (this doesn't bear directly on that) did you ever do what I was very fond of doing when I was a child (I used to call it looking at things really) look at your hand for instance, make an effort of mind, and dissociate from it every preconceived idea. Look at it simply as an object which strikes the eye. You will be surprised how new and strange and funny it looks as though you had never seen it before. I used to do it often in Church to pass away the time. It can be done with the other senses. Listen to people talking just as a mere noise striking the ear. It is utterly different from what one fancies.... I know you can criticise my work as if it were anyone else's, as I could yours; in fact I think I am more keen to see a fault in you than in anyone else.

I am going to subscribe to the London Library next year. I can get fifteen books there and never need more than four or five at once, so if the other self cares he can have the rest. Tell me any good books you think of.

I am suffering from such depression of spirits to-day, and I don't know why.