To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Wednesday, 19 July 1882.
My dear Theo,
I cannot deplore Tersteeg’s untimely visit enough.
It prompts me to discuss a few things before you come which I would rather have dealt with while you were here. I’ve told you that I want to marry Sien, and as soon as possible — note, though, that I especially wanted to discuss this matter with you in person and before I said anything to Pa. I get on better with you, you sense things more correctly than all the others put together, and if you say something it’s useful to me. Even if we disagree about this or that, there’s always a middle way to be found between you and me, because we speak with sympathy and calmness. I also believe that if no one else interfered unasked, agreement could be reached in every respect. However, the minute that the issue of marriage is raised, people instantly fly into a temper and there’s an infernal outcry, and you can no longer reason with them or get a word in edgeways.
I shan’t wait any longer to write about something I would rather have discussed face to face. On the subject of marriage you said, don’t marry her, &c., and you thought that Sien was making a fool of me, &c. I wrote to you about a few thing at the time, saying that I didn’t agree with you, &c. But I didn’t want to argue with you as strongly as I felt, because I believed and still believe that in time you’ll come to care a great deal for Sien as you get to know her, and then, of course, will no longer imagine that she’s deceiving me or something like that.
Once we’d got that far, I thought, we could talk about marriage again. But you will remember that in my later letters I didn’t speak of that so directly any more.
But I did say at that time there is a promise of marriage between her and me, and I don’t want you to think that I regard her as a kept woman or as someone with whom I’m having an affair with no further consequences. Now I return to this point: that promise of marriage given by her to me, by me to her, sincerely and honestly on both sides, is sacred to me, and will remain more sacred to me than anything else.
This promise of marriage is twofold, namely a promise of civil marriage — as soon as circumstances permit – but secondly it’s a promise henceforth to help each other in the meantime, to support and cherish each other as if we were already married. In short, to share everything, to live entirely for each other, and not to let ourselves be separated by anything.
For the family the most important question is probably civil marriage. That’s important to her and me, but all the same secondary to the essence of the matter, the love and
loyalty between her and me as it already exists and daily grows.
I want to propose that we let the whole subject of civil marriage rest for a while and, for example, postpone speaking about it until such time as I earn around 150 francs a month by selling my work, so that help from you is no longer required. Thus with YOU, but with you alone, I want to agree that for the time being I won’t marry her — in a civil marriage — until the drawing business is going so well that I’m independent. As soon as I begin to earn, you will gradually send less, and eventually, when you can stop sending money altogether, we’ll return to the question of civil marriage.
But now, as to the meantime — it would be quite absurd after this entire winter, and above all after everything that has happened in recent months, to want to detach or part me from her. We are chained and tied to each other by a strong bond of sincere affection. And through the help we give each other. For, if I may put it this way, she’s my associate in the work and more, infinitely more than an ordinary model, because she’s so willing and intelligent in posing that I can’t praise her too much.
So for the present we must combat the difficulties as calmly as possible day by day, and I hope that you’ll view things with greater peace of mind after what I’ve told you now. In the winter, for example, you heard better things about me from Heyerdahl than, for example, Tersteeg’s opinion of my work. I now feel so much new pleasure in work that I have every hope of making good progress again this autumn. Perhaps towards Christmas, thus when the year in question is up, I’ll send you small watercolours, which had their beginnings in the last small drawings that already had some brown and red and grey in them. And sometimes I feel a strong desire to paint as well, a very strong desire and ambition.
Especially now that the better light and the better studio automatically put the idea in my mind.
The doctor won’t yet let me do as I would wish — I still tire very quickly, but that will pass and then... we can set to work full of energy.
I just hope, Theo, that what I’ve said about marriage will make you see that I don’t demand to have my own way in everything, that I’ll go along with what you think as far as I can, but see this also as proof that I deserve to have your trust and to have you write to me about various things. I can’t get on with the others, and with you I can talk and reach a compromise. What I want is to preserve the lives of Sien and her two children. I don’t want her to sink back into that terrible state of illness and misery in which I found her and from which she has been rescued for the time being. I undertook that and I must persist with it. I don’t want her to feel abandoned and alone for a moment longer, I want her to realize and to see in everything that I feel a tender love for her and hold her children dear.
And that — no matter who thinks it wrong — you will understand and not try to stop me. I accordingly give you the credit for her recovery, in that I attribute only a small part to myself. I was merely the means.
Now I reserve the right to raise the subjects of marriage in general, the cost of running a home and so on when you come, especially because I believe there are points you’re mistaken about, but that’s entirely in a spirit of friendship and has no direct relation to civil marriage to Sien. Since one thing and another force me to write about that straightaway, I ask only that this matter be allowed to rest until such time as I earn more through selling my work straightaway. When you come I’ll tell you the reasons why I would much prefer to marry straightaway, but you mustn’t see that as further insistence on my part. No, I’m ready to concede as much as I’ve said of my own accord and voluntarily.
If you’re asked about the matter, I believe you can say that there’s enough trust between you and me for you to get full information from me, but that you don’t consider it necessary to discuss the matter for the time being. Conversations like the one with Tersteeg put the woman and me further back than the cruellest north wind. They must be avoided. What comes first is full recovery and being able to start regular work again.
I repeat. I regret I haven’t been able to say to you face to face — in your presence and after you had got to know the woman better — what I say now by letter. Then I might have been able to say more to make you see that I’m not being unreasonable. But even so, I hope you won’t stay away long, and will write soon in any case.
Rest assured, the woman will soon be at ease with you. You, after all, won’t observe her and look down on her the way H.G.T. did yesterday.
Rest assured of her and my warmest affection, and accept in thought a handshake, and believe me
What I’ll also discuss with you sometime is the state in which I found her and things from her past. The poor creature has suffered appallingly. And yet there’s still a zest for life and sensitivity in her that hasn’t been extinguished.
I also repeat that I long for you so much, isolated from everything and everyone else, because I need sympathy and warmth. I would so much like to take a walk with you — even though the Rijswijk mill isn’t there any more. Oh well.