To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Thursday, 2 October 1884.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter, thanks for the enclosure. Now listen here.
What you write is all very well and good, and as far as fuss is concerned I’m beginning to be a bit better prepared to forestall it than before. No fear that Pa and Ma will leave, for instance. Although a call came just now.1 On the contrary, if they set about it the right way, Pa and Ma will be able to consolidate their position here.
Now there are people who say to me, ‘what were you doing getting involved with her?’ — that’s one fact. Now there are people who say to her, ‘what were you doing getting involved with him?’ — that’s a second fact. Apart from that, both she and I have sorrow enough and trouble enough — but regret — neither of us. Look here — I certainly believe or know for sure that she loves me, I ,, believe ,, ,, ,, ,, ,, I ,, her that has been sincere — has it also been crazy — etc.? Perhaps it has, if you like, but the wise people who never do anything that’s crazy, aren’t they even crazier in my eyes than I in theirs?
That can be said against your argument and other arguments.
I say all this simply by way of explanation, not hostilely or nastily. You say you like Octave Mouret, you said you’re like him. Since last year I’ve also read the second volume, in which he pleases me much more than in the first.
I recently heard it said that ‘Au bonheur des dames’ wouldn’t add particularly to Zola’s reputation. I find some of the greatest and best things in it. I’ve just looked it up, and I’m copying out a few of Octave Mouret’s words for you.
You — haven’t you gone to the Bourdoncle side over the last 1 1/2 years or so? Would have done better to stick with Mouret; that was and still is my opinion. Aside from an enormous difference in circumstances, indeed diametrically opposed circumstances, I tend more towards the Mouret direction than you might think — as regards my belief in women and that one needs them, must love them. (Mouret says, ‘in our establishment, we love the customers’.)
Think about this — and remember my sorrow about your saying that you had ‘cooled’. I repeat more forcefully than ever everything I said by way of bitter warning against the influence of Guizot-ness, as I called it. Why? It leads to mediocrity. And I don’t want to see you among the mediocrities because I have loved you, indeed still love you, too much to be able to bear seeing you numbed.
I know it’s difficult, I know that I don’t know enough about you, I know that I may perhaps be mistaken. But anyway — just read your Mouret again.
I mentioned a difference between Mouret and what I should want, and yet the parallels. Look here. Mouret worships the modern Parisian woman — very well.
But Millet, Breton, worship the peasant woman with the same passion.
These two passions are one and the same.
Read Zola’s description of women in a room at dusk — women often already past 30, up to 50 — such a sombre, mysterious little corner.
I find it magnificent, indeed sublime.
But equally sublime to my mind is — Millet’s Angelus, that same dusk, that same infinite emotion — or that solitary figure by Breton in the Luxembourg, or his Spring. You’ll say that I’m not successful. I don’t care, vanquish or be vanquished, in all events one has emotion and motion, and they’re more similar than they appear and are said to be.
As regards this woman in question, how it must end remains a mystery to me, but neither she nor I will do anything crazy. I fear for her that the old religion will numb and freeze her again with that damned icy coldness that has already shattered her once in the distant past to the point of death, long years ago. Oh — I’m no friend of present-day Christianity, even though the founder was sublime — I’ve seen through present-day Christianity only too well. It mesmerized me, that icy coldness in my youth — but I’ve had my revenge since then. How? By worshipping the love that they — the theologians — call sin, by respecting a whore etc., and not many would-be respectable, religious ladies.
To the one party, woman is always heresy and diabolical. To me, the opposite. Regards.
Look at this from Octave Mouret — Mouret says: ‘If you believe yourself strong, because you refuse to be foolish and to suffer! Ah, well — then you are nothing but a dupe, no more!’
‘Are you enjoying yourself?’
Mouret seemed not to understand immediately. But, when he recalled their old conversations about empty foolishness and the pointless torment of life, he replied:
‘No doubt — never have I lived so much... Ah! old chap — don’t mock! Those are the shortest hours in which one dies of suffering!
I want her, I’ll have her!.... and — if she escapes me you’ll see the things that I’ll do to cure myself of it. You don’t understand this language, old chap; otherwise, you’d know that action contains its reward within itself — to act — to create — to struggle against facts, vanquish them or be vanquished by them, all human joy and health are there!’ Just a way of deadening oneself — the other muttered.
‘Ah, well! I prefer to deaden myself. To die for the sake of dying — i prefer to die of passion than to die of boredom!’ it isn’t only I who say this last, after all, but she too, instinctively ,, ,, that’s why I saw something grand in her from the outset, and it’s just a damned shame for her that when she was young she allowed herself to be overwhelmed by disappointments.
Overwhelmed in the sense that the Begemann family of the old religion believed it had to suppress the active, indeed brilliant principle in her, and made her passive for ever and ever.
If only they hadn’t broken her when she was young! Or if they’d left it at that and not driven her to distraction again!, this time with 5 or 6 or even more women fighting against her alone.
Do read L’evangeliste by Daudet about these female intrigues, which were different here but still of the same kind. Oh Theo, why should I change? In the past I was very passive and very gentle and quiet — not any more, but I’m not a child any more either — sometimes I feel myself.
Take Mauve — why is he irascible and by no means always mild? I’m not yet as far as he is, but still I’ll get further than I am. I tell you, if one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie, and you said yourself in the past that it was a lie. That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.
You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t’.
Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.
But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’ — they say.
Let them talk, those cold theologians.
Theo, I feel such damned pity for this woman, precisely because her age and just possibly a liver and gall bladder disorder are hanging so fatally over her head. And this is made worse by the emotions. Still, we’ll see what can be done or what’s made impossible by fate. I’ll do nothing, though, without a very good doctor, so I shan’t do her any harm. Yet it was at precisely this time that it happened that I was asked to make a drawing or painted sketch for 20 guilders. Which I duly acceded to, but because I suspected, and on investigation found my suspicion was correct, that Margot Begemann was behind it and would have given me the money indirectly, I most decidedly refused the payment but not the drawing, which I sent. It’s not easy to refuse it, though, when one is sorely in need of money. But it would have been a bridge of asses — so — Instead of bridges of asses — is there something better to do? I very definitely believe so. For your sake and mine and for many others, I wish that we could get Mourets in the art trade who knew how to create a broader, new buying public.
You’ll say, isn’t Tersteeg, for instance, a Mouret. Perhaps he is, after all.
But be that as it may, there are still new careers to be made, simply because the public that buys paintings could be multiplied tenfold, and this is becoming more necessary by the day. Were a few Mourets to emerge, who bought and sold other than according to the old routine, good, then there would be more and more work to be done.
But if no Mourets come — then — perhaps the trade should change utterly because the painters themselves revived it and started their own permanent exhibitions without the old intermediary. I wish you knew and felt how young you still are if you would only act young and be daring.
If you aren’t an artist in painting, be an artist as a dealer, just like Mouret.
For my part — at times like these, when I get completely stuck — I still feel that in a few years’ time I’ll happily dare take on a great many larger bills for paint and other things. I want to have a lot of work — believe me — I have no intention of being bored — do a great deal or die.