To Theo van Gogh. Paris, Monday, 11 October 1875.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter of this morning. This time I’d like to write to you as I seldom do; I’d actually like to tell you in detail about my life here.
As you know, I live in Montmartre. Also living here is a young Englishman, an employee of the firm, 18 years old, the son of an art dealer in London, who will probably enter his father’s firm later on. He had never been away from home and was tremendously boorish, especially the first few weeks he was here; he ate, for example, mornings, afternoons and evenings 4-6 sous worth of bread (bread, nota bene, is cheap here) and supplemented that with pounds of apples and pears &c. In spite of all that he’s as lean as a pole, with two strong rows of teeth, large red lips, sparkling eyes, a couple of large, usually red, jug-ears, a shorn head (black hair) &c. &c. I assure you, an altogether different creature from that lady by Philippe de Champaigne.3 This young person was ridiculed a lot in the beginning, even by me. But I nonetheless warmed to him gradually and now, I assure you, I’m very glad of his company in the evenings. He has a completely naїve and unspoiled heart, and works very hard in the firm. Every evening we go home together, eat something or other in my room, and the rest of the evening I read aloud, usually from the Bible. We intend to read it all the way through. In the morning, he’s already there to wake me up, usually between 5 and 6 o’clock; we then have breakfast in my room and go to the gallery around 8 o’clock. Recently he’s begun to eat with more moderation, and he’s started to collect prints, with my help.
Yesterday we went to the Luxembourg together and I showed him the paintings I like best there. And truthfully, unto babes is revealed much that is hidden from the wise.
J. Breton, Alone, The blessing of the corn, Calling the gleaners
Brion, Noah, The pilgrims of St Odile.
Bernier, Fields in winter
Cabat. The pond and Autumnal evening
Emile Breton, Winter evening. Bodmer, Fontainebleau
Duverger, The labourer and his children
Millet, The church at Gréville
Daubigny, Spring and Autumn
Français, The end of winter and The cemetery
Gleyre, Lost illusions and Hébert, Christ in the Garden of Olives and Malaria, also Rosa Bonheur, Ploughing &c.
Also a painting by ? (I can’t remember his name), a monastery where monks receive a stranger and suddenly notice that it is Jesus. Written on the wall of the monastery is L’homme s’agite et Dieu le mène. Qui vous reçoit, me recoit et qui Me reçoit, reçoit celui qui m’a envoyé. At the gallery I simply do whatever the hand finds to do, that is our work our whole life long, old boy, may I do it with all my might.
Have you done what I advised you to do, have you got rid of the books by Michelet, Renan &c? I believe it will give you peace. You certainly won’t forget that page from Michelet about that portrait of a lady by P. de Champaigne, and don’t forget Renan either, but still, get rid of them. ‘If you have found honey, see to it that you don’t eat too much of it, lest it disagree with you’ it says in Proverbs, or something to that effect. Do you know Erckmann-Chatrian, Le conscrit, Waterloo, and especially L’ami Fritz and also Madame Thérèse? Read them some time if you can get hold of them. A change of fare whets the appetite (provided we take especial care to eat simply; not for nothing is it written ‘Give us this day our daily bread’), and the bow cannot always stay bent. You won’t take it amiss if I tell you to do one thing and another. I know you have your wits about you as well. Do not think everything good, and learn to distinguish for yourself between relative good and evil; and let that feeling show you the right way with guidance from above because, old boy, it’s so necessary ‘that God dispose us’. Do write again soon with some particulars, give my regards to my acquaintances, especially Mr Tersteeg and his family, and I wish you the very best. Adieu, believe me ever,
Your loving brother