To Theo van Gogh. Nieuw-Amsterdam, Monday, 12 or Tuesday, 13 November 1883.
Thanks for your letter, although as you indeed say yourself, it’s short. I know that nowadays various people consider everything that is an exchange of ideas, everything that isn’t specific things or facts, to be superfluous and even nonsense in a letter, and so arrive at a very concise form, certainly; at the same time though, a rather unsatisfactory — disappointing — manner of writing. In short, brother, I do wish that you had written less drily about it (but could have been due to pressure of work). As to your idea of letting some time go by, then examining the question again from all sides, I think it’s wise and not at all wrong in itself. But then you add something else to that suggestion to which I’ll give you a wholly forthright answer. You say... just you think again about whether there isn’t also a lot to be said for staying at G&Cie. Well, brother, I’ve already thought more about that question, both in the past and now, than I’ve written to you until now, and since you now ask me to consider the issue for once from the for side, I’ll tell you in all honesty what I think about it.
You should know, then, that I find it increasingly doubtful whether what G&Cie have on the for side is really fundamentally any good to us, I mean to you, to the people at home and to me — I’m not thinking solely of the financial benefit but also of other doubtful benefits, such as direct or indirect relationships with influential people &c., in short, all things considered, I put a question mark after for. Make no mistake — there has perhaps — no certainly — been a crisis both at home and in my own life when I really believe that all our lives were, as it were, literally saved by you — ruin averted by the support and protection that we got from you — for me, in particular, it was critical. If I’ve now reached a point where, when I stand before an object or a figure, I feel within myself clearly, distinctly, without hesitation the power to draw it — not render it perfectly but definitely in its general structure and proportion, very well, it was essential, absolutely essential to reach this point, and if I’ve reached it, it has been chiefly because your support was a hedge or fence between a hostile world and me, and I had the peace I needed to think almost exclusively about drawing, and my thoughts weren’t snuffed out by fatally overwhelming material worries.
And — although I don’t know the ins and outs of it — I believe they’re also greatly obliged to you at home. And indirectly to G&Cie, too — so — I want to acknowledge the for
side to the full — so far, but from now on? You see, that’s where the question mark arises, after good, after for.
If your support was indispensable until today, I believe that in future I, at least, must work on bringing about a change in this. The germinating seed mustn’t be exposed to a freezing wind — that’s how it was with me at the start; if you hadn’t been there, Uncle Vincent’s words, ‘good for nothing’, HGT’s words and their accompanying turning of the back and cold shoulder, would I fear have been as fatal to me at a critical moment as a cold wind to the germinating wheat. But once the winter wheat has put down roots it’s a little stronger, and it manages to get through the winter one way or another, at least must get through the winter.
And now, brother, I’d consider it weak on my part if I said to you, the money from you must continue, thus contributing to your resigning yourself to staying at G&Cie.
On the contrary, I say — Theo, if you stay at G&Cie, if this is settled, I’m so decidedly against it, I so decidedly warn you: the art trade will betray you in the end — that I want no part in forcing you to make such a decision by needing help myself.
And although I hope that we’d remain just as good friends and always feel that we’re brothers, I repeat, it is my intention to refuse your financial help as soon as you bind yourself to G&Cie permanently, because I would regard such a decision as being one that you’d regret in the end, and put you in a position where you might say: I wish I’d never got into it, and then you would also think: why did my brother, my parents bring me to this at the time. I do not want any part of that, leading you to make that decision. Consequently you now know in all frankness what, au fond, I think about ‘what G&Cie has for(?) it’.
What would I do then? Well, for instance try to get a job on an illustrated magazine, or in short do whatever turned up, no matter what, for which perhaps you yourself might know of an opening or could tell me something about — about Moniteur Universel, for instance — which I don’t regard as the most desirable, by the way. But left entirely to myself I might perhaps take a chance in Paris or in London or The Hague, in short at a printer’s or illustrated magazine in a city, at the same time trying to make drawings or paintings and to sell them of course, and after that try to consider Drenthe again. In that case, though, I would expressly want to put myself in a tremendous predicament so as to force me to be productive, and myself request that the present payment should stop.
But brother, this in the event that you stay at G&Cie, and in the other possible case, that you yourself decide on painting, we’d automatically have the pressure of a tremendous compulsion behind us, and in those circumstances would have to strengthen each other by loyal comradeship. But although I feel and will always feel a gratitude for the support, for which all words and expressions seem to me too feeble, my intention for the future is fixed; if you stay at G&Cie it’s precisely what will force me to take the decision stated above, although our friendship will always endure in any event, unless you should object to having anything to do with me.
If — and I don’t now consider this entirely impossible either — it’s not so much the circumstances as your own soul that leads you to painting, very well, then it seems to me that it goes without saying that we’ll join forces wholly for one and the same goal and endeavour.
But as far as my coming round to the idea of thinking it good(?) for you to continue at G&Cie, considering the for(?) of the matter — you see the nature of my considerations.
In short, when I wrote as I wrote in certain letters, it’s too definite for me to say later, no, now I think it’s a good idea after all. I have my own experiences of G&Cie in the past, a look at that, a look at the present, and a look into the future bring me to a Beware! And for my part I regard Paris as enervating, and I would see no benefit in being there for good, either for me or for you. Perhaps I might have to be there for a while myself, have to see about making certain contacts (from which I was precluded too much in The Hague), but I’ll stay in the country as much as possible, and I regard anything that isn’t painting or drawing as an irrelevance to me. Adieu, old chap, in any event give it time, and accept a hearty handshake in thought.
Well, brother, you know I’d promised Wisselingh that I’d show him a few studies from Drenthe before the winter. I’m sending 6 studies off today; would you be so good as to show them to him when you get a chance, by way of a small sign of life? Though of course I don’t think that they’d be suitable for selling.
There’s no more painting out of doors now, because it’s far too cold these days. But what a relief it would be for me if I could settle in these parts permanently.
The rent is very low; if one only had company it would be such a wonderful thing to rent a peasant cottage and to arrange everything solidly and less precariously than in an inn.
Anyway, as I said, let us possess our souls in patience; let things take their course. Taking a house alone is so very melancholy and cold. There has to be a bit of life in the place to keep things going along and prevent stagnation.
But Theo, how inexpressibly beautiful it is here. You can’t see that yet in my studies at all. I still have to learn a lot more to express how it really is here, and it’s also a question of time.
One thing I tell you, that this countryside has the effect on me of bringing me peace, faith, courage, and I believe you also need this influence yourself — it would be the very, very best thing for you — let you find yourself, your soul again, but more thoroughly and fully than in the time of drawing mills. But I’m afraid you regard what I say as a trick of my imagination, my words as up in the air and without foundation.
And it’s therefore extremely difficult, I admit it, to know what one should do. Money plays a shameless role in society, and your feeling about this is a feeling that I also have on the subject. Only there’s such a lively hope in me that painting really would unleash our true capacity for work and still keep us going, even though the first few years would inevitably be extremely difficult.
If I die then I die, is the only thing one can say in that situation. About what I say, that if you definitely stay at G&Cie I’ll consider myself obliged to refuse your support,
don’t think that I have high opinions of my present work. No, I don’t, for example, attach any market value to it, but my idea is that I want to work without more protection
than other people have, and so I’ll throw myself into it not because I’m already there now, but because I believe ‘I will mature in the storm’. You will ask what I mean by saying
‘staying at G&Cie permanently or decidedly’?
Look — winter is almost upon us, and here I am in the middle of the heath, and what else can I try to do right now besides work?
But suppose that come the spring, in the month of March for instance, you’re still at G&Cie and on good terms, without the prospect of leaving. Then I would already call this staying permanently or definitely, and then seek to take another direction, or rather force myself into it due to an enormous predicament.
Fortune favours the bold, says the proverb, although something could perhaps be said against that, but anyway I believe that it’s definitely based in fact, as is the opposite, that in the end a sort of fatal doom rests on moral weakness or lack of courage.
Consequently, my plan is always to try to do too much rather than too little; if one bumps one’s head doing too much, well then, one bumps it. Enough, I don’t want my needs to be pressing reasons for you to stay; if you want to stay, stay; but not for my sake, as I’ll only too decidedly not think it your best way.
Once more, with a hearty handshake.
Don’t take what I say amiss, will you; as if I had something personal against you should you stay. Because even then I’ll consider you good the way you are. In that case it will be absolutely nothing other than a question that I don’t want there to be any possibility that it could reasonably be said that I would ever agree that you should have done something like stay in a profession against your will with my knowledge, more or less for my sake; I certainly don’t want anyone’s pocket to suffer for my boldness.