To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, on or about Friday, 24 February 1888.
My dear sister,
For my part, I could just as well say that I’ll stop writing to you immediately at the moment you reply to me; the simplest thing is not to write if it’s too much trouble and one doesn’t always feel inclined.
But be this as it may, it’s very good that you’re starting by finding out what sort of harm that wretch Voltaire has done — and you’ll certainly find this in Candide, that Voltaire dared to laugh at the ‘highly serious life which we ought only to devote to or spend on the best ends’.
And I don’t have to tell you that this crime is terrible enough in itself.
I can’t really write about Mauve, I think about him every day, and that’s all there is to it. It has affected me very badly but personally, as a human being, he was perhaps very different from what people sometimes said, that’s to say deeper in life itself than in art perhaps, and I loved him as a human being — now I find it so hard to imagine that those who penetrate to the heart of life, who by the way judge themselves as if it were another, and deal with others with as little embarrassment as if they were dealing with themselves, I find it so hard to imagine that such people cease to exist.
Now I know that it’s fairly impossible for the white potato or salad grubs that turn into May bugs later to be capable of forming credible ideas about their future overground existence.
And that it would be rash of them to undertake overground studies to throw light on this question, since the gardener or others interested in salad and vegetables would immediately trample them underfoot as being harmful insects.
But for parallel reasons I have little faith in the rightness of our human ideas concerning our future life. We can no more judge our own metamorphoses impartially and sagely than the white salad grubs can theirs.
For the same reason that a salad grub has to eat salad roots for its higher development — so I believe that a painter has to make paintings — perhaps that there’s something else after that.
You see that I’ve gone somewhat further to the south — I’ve seen only too clearly that I cannot prosper with either my work or my health in the winter — moreover, nowadays people are demanding colour contrasts and highly intense and variegated colours in paintings rather than a subdued grey colour. So I thought for one reason and another that I wouldn’t do anyone any harm if I just went to what attracted me.
Give Ma my warmest regards; for the time being there will certainly not be any chance of my coming back to Holland. Regards.