To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Thursday, 6 August 1885.
My dear Theo,
What very much distresses me in our conversation is that when I say that I fear it will be tight for you this year, you reply: ‘that you observe that I’d like to see that’, ‘that you see very well that you can’t rely on me’, ‘that you know very well that I would be returning you no thanks for your pains’. This is not so, and it distresses me that this is how you see it.
My suggestion has been this — don’t regard my little painting business as dead weight and don’t treat it harshly, for the reason that it could prove to be a little boat in a disaster when the big ship is lost. My suggestion is and remains — let’s at any rate keep that little boat in good condition and ready to sail, whether the storm comes or my anxiety proves to be unfounded. At the moment I’m a little vessel which you have in tow and once in a while can only seem to you to be dead weight. Which, by the way — as dead weight — you can leave behind by cutting the rope if you want to. But in this case I, who am the skipper of my small craft, ask that far from having the tow-rope cut, my little craft should be caulked and provisioned so that it may do better service in time of need.
Should you doubt the good faith of this request, then for my part I can do nothing but repeat it more emphatically. For I notice that on the side of the paint bill, my own little craft is springing leaks here and there.
I’m plugging these leaks as much as I can, though, and am not yet losing my cool-headedness. Am not desperate either. But since we’ll perhaps both be in the same storm, I speak emphatically and, I believe, in both our interests.
I can sum up your answer to my question thus: ‘there may be a storm coming but, even in that case, don’t count on either caulking or provisions, and be aware that I may be compelled by the force of circumstances to cut the tow-rope’. I can take this answer as a warning, but only in so far as it’s not accompanied by suspicion of my good faith. But — by means of this letter I cry out to you again that my request for reinforcement may prove to be in both our interests, and I’m not doing it just out of selfishness, as you assume. That in the event of a storm, I in all events am willing but perhaps also able to be of some use and service to you, but that this will be impossible in the event that my own craft fills with water (which I’m trying to prevent, though) before the moment in question. I’m trying to prevent that myself, though, but still I wouldn’t cry out to you without necessity. I’m not afraid in the face of danger either, but nonetheless I try to be prepared in case disaster strikes.
If it seems to you unfounded that I urge that we should gradually let my, but I would rather say our little painting business become the heart of a business that we could go on to undertake together, for my part I insist that it can and will become something if we can remain sufficiently united.
If I don’t have the same ideas as you, don’t suspect me of bad faith or base intentions anyway, either towards you or towards those at home. I do nothing to those at home that I have no right to do, since I absolutely and always keep out of their affairs. Don’t ask for or urge advice, keep entirely to my own territory — and even keep my feelings about their affairs to myself too, since we don’t understand one another’s interests anyway.
And to you I speak now, and will go on speaking, as someone whose business is in paintings to someone else whose business is in paintings, and I will not intrude on the other territory.
And the question that I started to discuss with you is this: even if the slump is severe, and even if we both have to take great trouble, we must see to it that we keep an energetic hand on the little painting business that belongs to you as well as to me. I say, it might be a boat that could possibly be of service to you in the storm, although I wish for the storm as little as you can wish for it.