To Theo van Gogh. Hoogeveen, Friday, 28 September 1883.
My dear Theo,
This morning the weather was better again and I went out to paint, regardless. Only it wasn’t possible, I was missing 4 or 5 colours, and so I came back again very wretched. I’m sorry I ventured so far without supplies — I know from prior experience how it can be if one undertakes an excursion like this without knowing that one will also get a response to reasonable, well-founded requests, and that they’ll be listened to.
You know yourself a little of how I fared in the Borinage. Well I’m already all too anxious that exactly the same thing could happen to me here, and I must have some security before I venture any further and otherwise, well then I’ll go back (oh — you know, I’m only saying this because I really want to stay). I take no pleasure in it, I saw no good in it then and see even less now in reaching a point of destitution such that one doesn’t even have a roof over one’s head and must tramp on and tramp on like a vagabond into infinity without finding either rest or food or shelter anywhere, moreover without the possibility of doing any work.
See for yourself on the map how far it is from Mons to Courrières, I covered that road there on foot from Valenciennes, and back to Mons with less than 2 francs in my pocket — three days and three nights at the beginning of March, in rain and wind, without a roof over my head.
These are the precedents, brother, which I haven’t yet come to now, of course — but would come to if I were to venture far without security — if I weren’t to put my affairs in reasonable order — if, I say, I were to venture far into the countryside without backing.
Before I start — it’s neither distrust nor suspicion of you but simply a common-sense measure — before I start — I say — (and ask because you wrote to me very recently that
you yourself were worried because you feared that there could be trouble and calamities ahead) can you assure me that the usual won’t be lacking? And at the same time — although
that’s enough and more wouldn’t be necessary on certain conditions — I’ll tell you the condition on which only the usual is sufficient — to start out well equipped, to set out
with a supply of this and that.
I, who like to take the initiative for acting myself, because a proof of sincerity, a deed proving that one deals in actions not words, is sometimes needed — I, although I came here this far in Drenthe myself, shrink from taking not the first step but the subsequent steps without being sure of my backing. Experience compels me to ask for a certain unshakeable understanding — if you yourself had experienced what I suffered on that expedition in the Borinage, then in my position now you would have learned exactly the same from this as I did — which I feel now so clearly and plainly — recognizing all the circumstances and things I’m faced with as old acquaintances.
The expeditions I have in mind are impossible and madness if I undertake them without supplies.
They are highly perilous without a surplus of cash for unforeseen circumstances.
In short, one mustn’t undertake them unless one feels through and through that one will always and everywhere be faced with people who stand gaping at someone but don’t lift a finger to help. One must picture oneself being mistrusted in inns &c. — like any poor pedlar (for that’s how they view one) — one often has to pay the money for lodgings — as I had to do even here — in advance in order to get a room by the grace of God. And so EVERYTHING IS PROSE, EVERYTHING IS CALCULATION in regard to the plan for a trip that after all has poetry as its goal.
I’ve never before told you as plainly as this, and if I tell you now it is, I ASSURE YOU, not in the least because I mistrust you, but because since I planned the trip I haven’t yet spoken to you as seriously as this about the drawbacks and their relationship to what you might have available or be able to find for it.
I must speak of it now because, although in the letter before last I told you that everything here was better than I’d expected — which really does remain the case — I’m still encountering drawbacks in this inn as regards light, space, suitability for trying things out with models — and therefore — although I can if necessary manage and I will do that if necessary — I’m thinking of continuing my journey deeper into the countryside despite the season, not doubting that everywhere (or where I’ll go, at any rate) I’ll find at least as good an opportunity to work as here, and even better space &c. I hope.
I’ve now been here for about a fortnight and I speak from experience when I tell you that in many, indeed in all respects my tools and equipment and supplies prove to be inadequate.
Hoogeveen itself is indeed on the map as a town, where it’s marked with a red dot, but in reality it isn’t (there isn’t even a tower). So I can’t even get any drawing materials. I’ll be even more embarrassed deeper in the countryside and must be prepared for everything or, I repeat, it would be madness. I wouldn’t be making haste with this were the season not so far advanced that it compels me to the greatest urgency. Bear in mind that time is passing, and another fortnight may perhaps have passed before I receive word from you again. Before the winter proper (and winter will be here all too soon!! I really don’t know how I’ll manage) I’d like to be better housed — find quarters somewhere — even further into the heath. And my state of mind, too — which is too gloomy and for which I feel a pressing need to be able to go on working steadily, as being the very best remedy and distraction — means that I must insist on better equipment. And this would actually remain precisely the same should I stay here in this place.
I’m bargaining for 2 lots of old paint, which only has some outward damage to the tubes, but, over and above this, brushes, canvas, watercolours and Whatman would also be needed.
If I told you that this could be delayed, I would be speaking faint-heartedly, because it’s simply essential that it should happen immediately. If it can’t, then it can’t — but then I can’t go on either. And I wouldn’t have become so melancholy even now if my poor equipment hadn’t tied my hands too much. If, in these various respects, I can find reassurance and that which is indispensable, I believe I’ll be able to get on here. The countryside is very beautiful — today I saw a funeral6 in a barge, which was very curious — six women wrapped in cloaks in the vessel that was being towed by the men along the canal in the heath — the minister — in tricorne and breeches — just like a Meissonier figure — followed on the other side — oh, there are all sorts of things. You mustn’t take exception to my writing in this way — I left rather too hastily, and it’s only now that I feel what I lack and that I acted rather rashly — but what else could I do? And I’m so unbearably melancholy when the work doesn’t provide me with a distraction, as you’ll understand, and I must work and work steadily — FORGETTING MYSELF IN THE WORK, otherwise it would overwhelm me. Again, I don’t mistrust you in the very, very least, but my experience forbids me from embarking on an expedition without knowing what I can and what I can’t count on. So speak absolutely frankly, because my decision depends upon it, and I’ll in any event bow to circumstances. With a handshake.
If I’d known beforehand that it would come to a separation from the woman after all, I would most probably have separated 1/2 a year ago — but, although it still causes me harm even now, I would rather have been faithful to her for too long than for too short a time, and I didn’t want to act solely on my own opinion before I’d spoken to you personally. Don’t forget, when you think about last year, that the reason for the cost wasn’t so much our personal expenditure as the deadly prices in The Hague. Had I known everything — I could have saved 200 guilders on accommodation even if I had taken THIS WHOLE INN here, WITH THE GARDEN THROWN IN — and there you have it, even more than my deficit on one single item. So the woman in particular is as innocent of my deficit as I am myself, in so far as it could be no different in The Hague — but if I had known I would have moved here much sooner. I do blame myself for this neglect — or rather this ignorance. And yet last year is not wasted or not fruitless — it has been a year of hard work and, after all, I look back on it with tranquillity. And as to my not having my hands as free as I’d wish at the moment — they’re not free anyway — even if help comes — for a large part of the autumn will already have passed by then — and only some of those studies that I hoped to have been able to do will have been done before the winter — whatever present difficulties there may be, things will nevertheless come right with patience. Only — I really would like to undertake a trip between now and Christmas.
Let’s make the most of the time, because wasting time is the most expensive thing of all. I have more than 70 painted studies lying in The Hague8 — if only they were of here, they’d have been of more use to me. I must tell you frankly that lately I was sorry, and still am, that I paid my debt out of the money while I was in debt, but none of the people I paid recently was actually dunning me — although they have done in the past — and I could have put it off even longer.
I don’t know, may one not take care of oneself first so that one keeps one’s hands and one’s energies free because, I repeat, you see that I won’t be able to get the studies I need painted before the winter, and who will thank me for that?
I’ll blame myself and feel wretched about it. Since your visit I’ve paid Leurs more than 30 guilders and now, well, if it was ordinary paint I could get it on credit, but I’m negotiating about old paint that I can get at 33 1/3 % off, but only for cash. It’s the same with Furnée (he’s the father of that surveyor), I have his assurance that he trusted me, but the thing is that I usually paid him cash in the past — and see no reason to change that, since otherwise I would seem to be changing the way I do business and it might affect the friendship, and what I would like to get from him is also part of the lot in question, about half, and again a cash deal. Then brushes, another painting box, and a portfolio for studies, and other things — if I pay cash for them I get better terms and will have no further worries ahead, and if I have no further worries I can start paying Rappard back.