To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, Sunday, 22 July 1883.
Whether it’s fever or nerves or something else I don’t know — but I don’t feel well. I think of that remark in your letter in connection with various things, more than necessary I hope, and have an uneasy feeling I can’t shake off, although I’ve tried to distract myself.
There’s nothing wrong, or is there? If there is something, say frankly what kind of obstacles are in the offing.
Write in any case, if possible by return of post, and say whether or not there is something. I can’t help it if it has no cause, but I’ve suddenly fallen ill; it may be a reaction to my having over-exerted myself.
Write to me in any case, old chap. Did you get the photos? I’m going for a walk to see if it clears up. Regards and
I don’t really have any friends except for you, and when I’m ill you’re always in my thoughts. I wish you were here and we could confer again about a move to the country.
Apart from what I’ve already written, there’s nothing particular wrong with me and things carry on as normal — but I may have caught a chronic fever or something, and have suddenly fallen ill. I’ve had to pay out left and right again: landlord, paint, baker, grocer, cobbler, I don’t know what else, and what’s left isn’t much. Anyway, the worst thing is that after many weeks like that one sometimes feels the strength to bear things diminishing, and begins to feel a general fatigue.
Even if you have nothing to send immediately, brother, make sure in any event that you write to me, if you can, by return of post.
And as for that future, if there’s something wrong, don’t be afraid to say so, forewarned is forearmed, it’s better to know exactly what one will be fighting against.
I did do some work today, but I was overcome all at once by a malaise in my very marrow, and I don’t exactly know what to attribute it to.
At such moments one would like to be made of iron and hates being only flesh and blood. I wrote to you early this morning, but when I had posted my letter it was just as if suddenly all the trouble I had had with one thing and another gathered itself together and it was too much for me, because I could no longer comprehend the future. Otherwise I cannot say — cannot understand — why the work shouldn’t be making progress.
I’ve set my whole heart on it, and that seemed to me a mistake, at least for the moment.
Still, old chap, you know yourself, on what (in practice, in real life), to what should one give one’s strength and one’s thoughts and mental powers? One must have a stab at
it and say, I’ll do something and carry it through. Now and then it may turn out wrong and one may come up against a wall if people don’t want to have it, but still one needn’t
take it to heart, need one? I don’t believe that one should make oneself ill over it, but sometimes it becomes too much for someone and one falls ill, even though one
would rather not. Now I thought that I was sorry that I didn’t get ill and give up the ghost somewhere in the Borinage years ago instead of painting. For I’m just a burden
to you and I can’t help it, for one must go through many periods to become good, and in the meantime what one produces isn’t bad because of that if one does one’s best, but
there ought to be people who viewed it in its context and direction and aim, and didn’t make demands. I don’t know what they really want.
Things look black to me now. If only I was alone, but it’s the thought of the woman and the children, those poor lambs, whom one would like to keep safe and for whom one feels responsible. The woman has been doing well recently. I can’t discuss it with them, but I myself found it too frightening today. All one can do is work; if that doesn’t help one is at one’s wits’ end.
And you see, the thing is that the possibility of working depends on getting the work placed, for one has expenses — the more one works the more the expenses (although not in all respects). Not getting it placed — if there’s no other income — makes progress impossible that would otherwise follow naturally. In short, old chap, I’m more anxious about it than I can bear, about the general state of affairs, and I’m letting you know my thoughts. I wish you would come soon.
Anyway, above all write soon, for I have need of it. Naturally, I can’t talk about things with anyone else as I do with you, for others have no involvement and are outsiders. All things considered, what it will come down to is that we continue to understand each other well and keep our friendship warm. Then if misfortune comes, we’ll defy it but, brother, let’s remain true to each other.
I gain everything, for without you I wouldn’t have been able to carry on to where we are now; you gain nothing except for the feeling of giving a career to someone who would have had no career otherwise.
And later, who knows what we can produce together in this way? A period of some struggling on will be required to get the painting right, but when you see the studies I believe you’ll see that it isn’t foolishness.
The reason I write to you so often now about the shortage of money is that the situation is desperate. One mustn’t become too weak physically and not have been too emotionally hurt. And if things get too bad and too hot to bear, it’s one’s duty to look around and see if one can alleviate the circumstances somewhat. I would see less of a problem in the future if I were less awkward in dealing with people. Finding buyers if I’m without you is impossible, so to speak, and with you it’s gradually becoming possible. And if we do our absolute best it will stay on its feet and not founder, but we must stay together.
I feel a need for us to see each other again and together see which way the work should go. I talk to De Bock and other painters sometimes, but I don’t talk about things as if I trusted them completely, and there are many things they don’t need to know. Of course I don’t talk about things like that small incident this morning, but encountering a lot of unpleasantness from outside makes one feel a need to forget everything for once by talking to someone who understands things fully and is sympathetic. The everyday reality for me is to keep things to myself and get by through being offhand. But the everyday isn’t enough if one has some feeling, and one seeks true friendship and trust. It’s precisely because my constitution begins to give way at times and I feel the strength to bear things diminishing that I say to you frankly that I sometimes have a need to be with you quietly and to see each other.
This year I had a battle to carry on in the studio; sometimes it was terribly difficult to go on working. And I must renew my strength.
And write now if at all possible — and that must be possible — one more time in the interval that must pass before we see each other again. I must keep on working, and there’s a feeling of weariness that overwhelms me time and again, a general weakness that’s a reaction to exertion and keeps recurring, but which I must do something about or it will get worse. I wouldn’t say this to De Bock or someone like that — but I trust you enough to say it. It’s not a question of losing heart or giving something up, but of having expended more strength than one should and of having more or less exhausted one’s powers.