To Theo van Gogh. Nieuw-Amsterdam, on or about Thursday, 8 November 1883.
For a while now, despite myself, I’ve let my thoughts go over one thing and another. Coming events cast their shadows before and We know not what a day may bring forth. Enough, for myself I have a presentiment that it will come to pass that you leave G&Cie because G&Cie will behave intolerably, recklessly, really badly, in short will do everything they can to make it impossible for you. At least that’s the story of the departure of the honest people who didn’t stay with G&Cie — no matter how attached they were to the house. Anyway. Wait and see what transpires, but don’t flatter yourself with much hope of reconciliation. As for me, Theo, the fact is that I can’t help but have hope for reconciliation in 1,000 cases in life, but my experience tells me that usually, even if there’s every reason to patch something up and much wrong in failing to patch it up — my experience tells me that it usually doesn’t happen.
Well, old chap, if it should come to pass that you find yourself uprooted one fine morning before long, as if by a storm that has suddenly assumed amazing proportions, and increasingly start to feel that it had harmed you deeply, old chap, because something like that is terrible, and should yourself begin to doubt whether you still had the heart for trade — Then you be wise, then you be calm, then you be sensible and listen to what I tell you about the thorny path of painting, which initially involves all sorts of humiliation etc., but nonetheless leads to a solid victory and more definite peace than the trade can ever give.
You and I are brothers and, what’s more, friends, and if misfortune were to pull those ties a little bit tighter and bring us closer together, I’d see so very many good sides to it that for me it would put everything in a light different from misfortune.
Theo, I’ve sometimes thought that the greatest poverty as an artist would be bearable, and productive too, if only one weren’t alone.
You should realize, I’ve had that presentiment that you won’t stay with G&Cie constantly since I first wrote to you, coming events cast their shadows before, notwithstanding that I kept telling myself ‘that’s not going to happen, he’ll stay there’. And it has also become a fixed idea that you’ll feel so uprooted, so disoriented, so shattered, that at the thought of standing behind another counter again you’ll simply feel ‘I can’t’, ‘it wouldn’t be any good’, ‘I’m no use as a dealer any more’, ‘it was good at G&Cie, where I was since I was a boy, but now it’s all over’.
There you have it, my presentiment tells me that au fond you’ll feel something like that.
In that case, I see nothing reckless, nothing impractical, nothing foolish in that you and I should just feel our energy, ourselves, that our love for art might inspire in us a collier’s faith3 to say what others have said before and will say again after us. Namely that even if the situation is ominous, and even if we’re very poor &c. &c., yet we firmly concentrate on one single thing, on painting, naturally.
I do have every sympathy for what you say, that for the sake of so many things you feel your heart pulled towards throwing yourself back into the business, not so much for your pleasure as for the welfare of many others. Very well, but in my view those obligations to act thus would cease if the spirit of commerce were to fail you. And now, old chap, my presentiment, even despite myself, is that this spirit of yours will change and that your duty itself will bring you to the other thing.
Dear brother, you don’t in the least have to abandon your endeavours in general to keep the whole family going. On the contrary, although I didn’t feel until now that I was entitled to put in a word here, the current state of affairs leads me to propose that in future you and I will talk about these things further. We give up nothing of what we have in hand, but everyone at home, Pa, Ma, Wil, Marie and we ourselves, too, have to understand something clearly. That we’ll have to work together and that, because of the G&Cie debacle, we’re facing a few years when we’ll have to:
Stoop to conquer.
In those few years we’ll have to see to it that at the end of it you and I together are earning as much as you now earn alone. And even if the intervening period is a bit of a rough ride for us all, we’ll just have to try to make up for it with a little warmth and love between us.
But I see no good in your forcing yourself to take a new job against your inclination; on the contrary, I foresee that it would end in the whole thing coming to grief.
But you must have collier’s faith — begin boldly with the fixed idea: painter. I’m afraid, old chap, that if you get involved in new things, firstly you’ll waste time, secondly it will be a failure because the shock of being uprooted will be too much for you, thirdly you’ll lose more by it than you gain. If you still want to take this route and engage in Parisian or American or whatever business again, well then I would quietly let you go your own way, but I’ve stated my presentiments about this clearly enough overleaf. You decide for yourself whether I’ve got this wrong, to me it’s pretty obvious and clear that these consequences are highly likely.
Well, old chap, I’m advising you to do something altogether new. Collier’s faith in art instead of saying (to me it’s whining) I can’t do anything, I’m not an artist, don’t
attribute qualities to me that I don’t have, and all the rest of it. I say that is a delusion, and now, old chap, things are so serious and your future and mine are so mightily
dependent on them that you mustn’t take it amiss of me if I say a bit bluntly that the right way, in the circumstances, is to persevere with painting, with collier’s faith.
They’ll have to understand one thing at home — that, come what may, you and I will always have the same goal in view as we have now, namely to keep things going, not only ourselves but things in general. But that one path has been closed to us and we have to create a new one for ourselves, and for that we need them to keep quiet about it and not upset us, and on the contrary help us with it should that be needed. Our plan must be respected at home and not interfered with. There you have it, old chap, I can say no different. It unsettles me that I may not flatter you by saying that other things will work out well.
It was perhaps, or rather certainly, a mistake on our part not to begin sooner, but it’s an understandable mistake given our upbringing and the influences we were subject to, and now it’s simply a reason to set to work now with a steadfastness and resolve that I doubt we’d have had when we were younger. So it seems to me that all our forces must be concentrated in the direction of painting, with the greatest determination and as being the raft to get ashore after the shipwreck. Undertaking it in all cheerfulness. Adieu, old chap, with a hearty handshake.