To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Thursday, 4 April 1889.
My dear Theo,
A few words to wish you and your fiancée much happiness these days. It’s like a nervous tic with me that on the occasion of a day of celebration I generally experience difficulties in formulating a congratulation, but it shouldn’t be concluded from that that I desire your happiness less ardently than anyone else, as you well know.
I still have to thank you for your last letter, as well as for the consignment of colours from Tasset and several issues of Le Fifre with drawings by Forain. The latter have often had the effect on me that what I manufacture becomes very sentimental in comparison.
I waited a few days before replying, not knowing which day you would leave for Amsterdam, besides I also don’t know whether it’s in Breda or Amsterdam that you’ll be getting married. But if, as I’m led to believe, it will be in Amsterdam, then I presumed that you would find this letter there around Sunday.
By the way — just today friend Roulin came to see me — he told me to give you his warm regards and to congratulate you. His visit gave me considerable pleasure, he often has to carry burdens which one would say were too heavy. As he has a strong peasant nature, that doesn’t prevent him from always looking well and even joyful — however for me, who am always learning something new from him, what lessons for the future there are in his conversation when he seems to say that the road doesn’t become easier as one advances in life.
I talked with him to have his opinion on what I ought to do as regards the studio, which I must leave in any case, as I was advised by Mr Salles and Rey, at Easter. I told Roulin that having done many things to put this house in a much better state than I had taken it in, and above all for the gas which I had put in, I considered it as a piece of work we have done.
I’m being forced to leave — all right — but to take away the gas — to make a fuss for damages or something else, certainly there would be justification but I don’t have the heart for it. The only thing that I find possible in this case is to tell ourselves that we’d have tried to set up a habitation for unknown successors.
And besides, before seeing Roulin I had already been to the gasworks to arrange it so. And Roulin was of the same opinion. He’s planning to remain in Marseille.
I’m well these days, apart from a certain vague background sadness that’s hard to define — but anyway — I’ve gained physical powers rather than lose them, and I’m working. Just now I have on the easel an orchard of peach trees beside a road with the Alpilles in the background. It appears that there’s a fine article on Monet in Le Figaro, Roulin had read it and had been struck by it, he said.
All in all it’s quite a difficult question to resolve, to take a new apartment, and even to find it, especially by the month. Mr Salles spoke to me of a house at 20 francs which is very good, but he isn’t sure that I’ll be able to have it.
At Easter I’ll have to pay 3 months’ rent, the removal costs &c. All that is neither cheering nor convenient. Especially since absolutely nothing promises us better luck. Roulin was saying, or rather made it understood, that he didn’t at all like the anxiety that has reigned here in Arles this winter, even considered completely outside the share that fell on me. Anyway, it’s like that just about everywhere, business affairs that aren’t going well, worn-out resources, discouraged people and — — — — as you were saying, not content to remain spectators and becoming wicked through lack of occupation. If someone still laughs or works, they come down on him fast.
Anyway, my dear brother, I think that soon I’ll no longer be ill enough to remain confined. Apart from that, I’m beginning to get accustomed to it, and if I had to remain in a hospital for good I would get used to it, and I think that I could find subjects for painting there as well.
Write to me soon if you find the time.
Roulin’s family was still out in the country, and although he’s earning a little more, since the separate expenses are increased in proportion, they’re not a mite better off in reality, and he wasn’t without very distressing anxieties. Fortunately the weather is fine and the sun glorious, and the people here momentarily quickly forget all their troubles and then glow with energy and illusions.
These last few days I’ve been reading Dickens’s Contes de Noël, in which there are things so profound that one must re-read them often, it has a very great deal in common with Carlyle.
While Roulin isn’t exactly old enough to be like a father to me, all the same he has silent solemnities and tendernesses for me like an old soldier would have for a young one. Always — but without a word — a certain something that seems to mean: we don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow, but think of me in any event. And that does one good when it comes from a man who is neither embittered nor sad, nor perfect, nor happy, nor always irreproachably just, but such a good soul and so wise and so moved and so full of belief. Listen — I have no right to complain of anything to do with Arles when I think of certain people I’ve seen there and whom I’ll never be able to forget.
It’s late, once again I wish you and Jo much happiness, and handshakes in thought.