To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Thursday, 26 January 1882.
My dear Theo,
I received your letter and the 100 francs enclosed in good order, and thank you very much for both. What I feared would happen when last I wrote to you has now truly come about, namely that I fell ill and spent three days or so lying in bed with fever and anxiety. Accompanied now and then by headache and toothache. It’s a wretched condition and comes from nervous exhaustion. Mauve came to see me and we agreed again to bear up bravely through it all.
But then I loathe myself so much for not being able to do what I’d like, and at such moments one feels as though one is bound hand and foot, lying in a deep, dark pit, powerless to do anything. Now it’s over, inasmuch as I got up last night and pottered around a bit, putting one thing and another in order, and when this morning the model came of her own accord to have a look, even though I only half expected her, together with Mauve I arranged her in a pose and tried to draw a little, but I can’t yet, and this evening I felt completely weak and miserable. But if I do as little as possible for a couple of days then it will be over for a good long time, and if I’m careful I needn’t be afraid that it will recur for the time being. I’m very sorry that you’re not well either. When I was in Brussels last winter, I had baths as often as I could, 2 or 3 times a week in the bathhouse, and I felt very well and shall start doing it again here. I don’t doubt but that it would also help you a lot if you were to keep it up for a while, because one gets what they call ‘radiation’ here, namely that the pores of the skin stay open and the skin can breathe, whereas otherwise it shrivels up a bit, especially in the winter. And I tell you frankly that I definitely think you mustn’t be embarrassed about going to a girl now and then, if you know one you can trust and you can feel something for, of which there are many in fact. Because for someone whose life is all hard work and exertion it’s necessary, absolutely necessary, to stay normal and to keep one’s wits about one. One doesn’t have to overdo that kind of thing and go to excess, but nature has fixed laws and it’s fatal to struggle against them. Anyway, you know everything you need to know about it.
It would be good for you, it would be good for me, if we were married, but what can one do?
I’m sending you a little drawing, but you mustn’t conclude from it that they’re all like that, this is fairly thin and washed quickly, but that doesn’t always work, especially with larger ones, in fact it seldom does.
Yet it will perhaps prove to you that it’s not a hopeless case, that I’m beginning to get the hang of it, rather.
When Mauve was last here he asked me if I needed any money. I could put on a brave face towards him and that’s going better, but you see that in an emergency he would also do something.
And so, although there will still be worries, I do have hope that we’ll muddle through. Especially if Mr Tersteeg would be kind enough, if it’s inconvenient for you, to give me some credit if it should prove absolutely necessary.
You speak of fine promises. It’s more or less the same with me. Mauve says it will go well, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the watercolours I’m making still aren’t exactly saleable. Well, I also have hope and I’ll work myself to the bone, but one is sometimes driven to desperation when one wants to work something up a bit more and it turns out thick. It’s enough to drive one to distraction, for it’s no small difficulty. And experiments and trials with watercolours are rather costly. Paper, paint, brushes and the model and time and all the rest.
Still, I believe that the least expensive way is to persevere without losing any time.
For one must get through this miserable period. Now I must learn not to do some things which I more or less taught myself, and to look at things in a completely different way. A great effort must be made before one can look at the proportion of things with a steady eye.
It’s not exactly easy for me to get along with Mauve all the time, any more than is the reverse, because I think we’re a match for each other as regards nervous energy, and it’s a downright effort for him to give me directions, and no less for me to understand them and to attempt to put them into practice.
But I think we’re beginning to understand each other quite well, and it’s already beginning to be a deeper feeling than mere superficial sympathy. He has his hands full with his large painting that was once intended for the Salon, it will be splendid. And he’s also working on a winter scene. And some lovely drawings.
I believe he puts a little bit of his life into each painting and each drawing. Sometimes he’s dog-tired, and he said recently, ‘I’m not getting any stronger’, and anyone seeing him just then wouldn’t easily forget the expression on his face.
This is what Mauve says to console me when my drawings turn out heavy, thick, muddy, black, dead: If you were already working thinly now, it would only be being stylish and later your work would probably become thick. Now, though, you’re struggling and it becomes heavy, but later it will become quick and thin. If indeed it turns out like that, I have nothing against it. And you see it now from this small one, which took a quarter of an hour to make from beginning to end, but – after I’d made a larger one that turned out too heavy. And it was precisely because I’d struggled with that other one that, when the model happened to be standing like this for a moment, I was later able to sketch this one in an instant on a little piece of paper that was left over from a sheet of Whatman.
This model is a pretty girl, I believe she’s mainly Artz’s model, but she charges a daalder a day and that’s really too expensive for now. So I simply toil on with my old crone. The success or failure of a drawing also has a lot to do with one’s mood and condition, I believe. And that’s why I do what I can to stay clear-headed and cheerful. But sometimes, like now, some malaise or other takes hold of me, and then it doesn’t work at all. But then, too, the message is to keep on working – because Mauve, for instance, and Israëls and so many others who are examples know how to benefit from every mood.
Anyway, I have some hope that as soon as I’m completely better things will go well, a little better than now. If I have to rest for a while I’ll do it, but it will probably be over soon.
All things considered, though, I’m not like I was a year or so ago, when I never had to stay in bed for a day, and now there’s something thwarting me at every turn, even if it isn’t so bad.
In short, my youth is past, not my love of life or my vitality, but I mean the time when one doesn’t feel that one lives, and lives without effort. Actually I say all the better, there are now better things, after all, than there were then. Bear up, old chap – it really is rather petty and mean of Messrs G&Cie that they refused you when you wanted to have some money. You certainly didn’t deserve that, that they were so cold-hearted towards you, because you do a lot of their dirty work and don’t spare yourself. So you have a right to be treated with some respect.
Accept a handshake in thought, I hope that I’ll soon have something better to tell you than I did today and recently, but you mustn’t hold it against me, I’m very weak. Adieu.