To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Thursday, 6 and Friday, 7 July 1882.
My dear Theo,
It’s now the evening before I go back to the hospital and I don’t know what they’ll say there — perhaps I’ll be there only briefly, perhaps they’ll use their probes again and I’ll have to rest in bed for several days. So I’m writing again from home. It’s so silent and peaceful now here in the studio — it’s already late — but outside a gale is blowing and it’s raining — that makes the calm inside all the greater. Brother, how I wish I had you here at this silent hour — how much I would have to show you. The studio looks so authentic, it seems to me: plain, grey-brown wallpaper, scrubbed floorboards, muslin fixed to laths in front of the windows, everything bright. And of course the studies on the wall, an easel on each side, and a big pine-wood work-table. Adjoining the studio is a sort of alcove where the drawing boards, portfolios, boxes, sticks, &c. are, and also where all the prints lie. And in the corner a cupboard with all the little pots and bottles, and also all my books. Then the little living room with a table, some kitchen chairs, a paraffin stove, a big wicker armchair for the woman in the little corner by the window overlooking the yard and meadows familiar to you from the drawing, and next to it a small iron cradle with a green coverlet. I can’t look at the last piece of furniture without emotion, for it’s a strong and powerful emotion that grips a person when one has sat beside the woman one loves with a child in the cradle near her. And even if it was a hospital where she lay and I sat with her, it’s always that eternal poetry of Christmas night with the baby in the manger as the old Dutch painters conceived of it, and Millet and Breton — — — that light in the darkness — a brightness in the midst of a dark night. So I’ve hung the big etching after Rembrandt above it — those two women beside the cradle, one reading from the Bible by the light of a candle, while the great cast shadows put the whole room in deep chiaroscuro.
I’ve hung up other prints there as well, and all very beautiful: Christus Consolator by Scheffer, a photo after Boughton, The sower and The diggers by Millet, The bush by Ruisdael, and splendid, big wood engravings by Herkomer and Frank Holl and The paupers’ pew by Degroux.
Now in the small kitchen I have the very basic necessities, but such that if the woman recovers before me she can find all the essentials and cook something in 10 minutes, in short so that she can see that she has been thought about a great deal, and she will enter a house with flowers in the window where she will sit. And upstairs in the large attic a big bedstead for her and me, and my old one for the child with all the bedding in good order.
But you mustn’t imagine that I bought all of this at once. In the winter we’d already begun buying one thing and another, bit by bit, even though I didn’t know at the time
what course it would take or where we’d end up. And now, thank God, the outcome is that the little nest is ready for her after all her pain.
However, her mother and I have made a huge effort in the last few days, she especially. The most difficult thing was the bedding — all made or altered by us — bought straw, bought eel-grass, ticking &c. and stuffed the beds ourselves in the attic. Otherwise it would have been too expensive. And now, after paying off my old landlord, I still have 40 guilders left after what you sent me. Admittedly, tomorrow I’ll have to pay 10 guilders of that to the hospital, but in return I’ll get food and medical treatment for a fortnight. So that this month, even though it includes my entire move and settling in and Sien’s return after her confinement with all that that involved, such as a cradle &c., I’ll get by without your having to send more than usual.
Alone, one is sure to perish, only with another can one be saved. I believe this saying to be true and I’m basing my life on it; is it a mistake and a miscalculation?
You see, brother, I’ve thought of you so very much recently, first because everything I possess is really yours, including my zest for life and energy, because through your help I can move and I feel my capacity for work returning. But I also think of you often for another reason. I remember how I came home not long ago to a house that wasn’t yet a real home with all the emotion of now, where two great empty spaces stared at me day and night. There was no woman, there was no child. I don’t believe there was less suffering as a result, but I do believe there was less love.
And on the street those two empty spaces accompanied me right and left, at work and everywhere and all the time. There was no woman, there was no child.
You see, I don’t know whether you know that feeling, when you’re alone at certain moments, that causes one to feel a kind of sigh or lament rising up from within: My God, where is my woman, my God, where is my child — is being alone living? When I think of you, I believe I’m not mistaken in thinking that in you too, though perhaps less passionately and nervously than in me, the same sadness must be present in some measure, at least at times. And I don’t know whether you believe I’m right or wrong, seeing correctly or incorrectly, when I say that I sometimes think of you this way.
However, there’s something I believe about you and know about myself despite my nervousness — that in any event there is in your character and mine a basis of serenity, serenity in spite of everything, and that therefore neither you nor I is unhappy, because that serenity arises from the fact that we truly and rightly love our occupation and work, and that art occupies a large place in our thoughts and makes life interesting. So it’s certainly not my intention to make you melancholy, but to help you understand my action and outlook on life through something in your own state of mind. I’m thinking now of Pa — do you believe Pa would remain cool and still object — in front of a cradle? You see, a cradle isn’t like anything else — there’s no flim-flam involved — and whatever may have been in Sien’s past, I know no other Sien than the one of this winter, than the mother from the hospital whose hand pressed mine when we both felt our eyes getting moist as we looked at the baby we were so anxious about this winter.
And just listen, between ourselves, without being preachy, it may be true that there is no God here, but there must be one not far off, and at such a moment one feels His presence. To say which is the same as saying — and for my part I would gladly exchange it for the straightforward statement — I believe in a God and that it is his will that man should not live alone but with a woman and with a child, if everything is to be normal. And what I hope is that you’ll understand my action and take it for what it is, namely natural, and not regard it as a case of deceiving or being deceived. And, old chap, when you come — and if you can, come and look soon — see Sien as I do, as a mother and an ordinary housewife and nothing else. For that’s what she really is, and in my view all the better for having seen the other side of life. The latest things I’ve bought are a few plates, forks, spoons, knives, because neither Sien nor I had any until now. I thought 3 people so 3 sets, but then I thought — and another for Theo or for Pa when they come to have a look. So your spot by the window and your place with us are open and waiting for you..... I only mean to say — after all, you will come without question... and Pa too. I think it was wise and discreet of you not to say anything to Pa and Ma up to now. The birth is now behind us, the flowers come out again, and up to now it was better not to involve Pa and Ma. I mean, I thought it best to keep the thorns for myself and to show Pa and Ma only the rose. So when the woman is back and I’m better, I would like to talk about it in the way I described to you — and if they ask you, I believe that now you can say something. Adieu, sleep well.
My dear Theo,
I’m adding a word today to my enclosed letter of yesterday evening. And can tell you that I’ve been to the doctor at the hospital and he said that since I had been feeling quite well recently I needn’t come back unless it got worse.
While not completely normal and not entirely free of pain, the fact that I was able to pass water regularly on those days is proof that things are on the mend.
So, this afternoon I at once sent a drawing (not to the director) as a small gesture to the doctor who treated me. It was a Scheveningen woman knitting that I did at Mauve’s studio and in fact the best watercolour I had, largely because Mauve had added some touches and repeatedly came across to draw my attention to one point or another while I was working. I would have liked to keep it as a souvenir, but with that delightful feeling of getting better I wanted to show my gratitude.
I received a letter from Pa and Ma today and wrote to them as soon as I heard that I needn’t go back.
Now tomorrow I’d like to take a trip to Scheveningen by tram and do some drawing on the beach.
Following His Hon.’s visit, I also wrote a line to Mr Tersteeg to say that I was out and to thank him for his unexpected visit.
I’d like to go to see the woman on Sunday. I’ve had a note from her saying that yesterday she was allowed to get up for half an hour for the first time, and that the baby is also doing well.
I still get tired and weary remarkably quickly, which comes from having had to stay quiet and lie in bed for so long, and that’s a strange feeling. But in many respects I feel well and healthier than last winter. And I feel in such good spirits and thankful for many things.
I hope you’ll be able to find half an hour one of these days to write and say whether you approve of my plan as to how to tell Pa and Ma. But first the woman must get stronger, because she mustn’t be subjected to any emotions from without now, or be tense about anything for the time being, most decidedly not. But in a month or six weeks, depending on how she progresses.
She saw Pa when he came because it was the visiting hour and she was sitting downstairs in the corridor waiting, but of course Pa didn’t know her.
It’s already late and I wanted to get up early tomorrow and go out quietly with my drawing materials as if nothing had happened between now and the last time I was sitting in the dunes at Scheveningen. I would like to succeed in making something for Rappard.
Adieu Theo, sleep well, how wonderful it is to be back in one’s normal routine. I wish you well and good fortune, and what I wish you above all in large measure is that serenity. With a handshake.
P. S. That Emile Zola is a superb artist. I’m now reading ‘Le ventre de Paris’, it’s mightily clever.
So my address is now Schenkweg 136.