To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Thursday, 2 May 1889.
My dear Theo,
I recently sent off two crates of canvases. D58 and 59 – by goods train, and it will take a good week more before you receive them. There’s a heap of daubs in there which will have to be destroyed, but I’ve sent them as they are so that you can keep what appears passable to you. I’ve added Gauguin’s fencing masks and studies, and the Lemonnier book.
Having taken the precaution of paying 30 francs to the bursar in advance I am naturally still here – but they wouldn’t be able to keep me here indefinitely and it’s more than time to decide. Bear in mind that by confining me in an asylum it will cost a lot in the long run, although less probably than taking another house – besides, beginning to live alone again absolutely horrifies me. I would like to enlist; what I fear here is – my accident being known here in town – that I will be turned down – but what I dread, or rather what makes me timid, is the possibility, the probability here of a rejection. If I had some acquaintance who could stick me in the legion for five years I would go.
Only I don’t want that to be considered as a new act of madness on my part, and that’s why I’m talking to you about it as well as to Mr Salles, so that if I go it will be in all serenity and after due consideration.
For bear it firmly in mind, continuing to spend money on this painting when things could come to the point where there was a lack of money for housekeeping, that’s atrocious, and you’re sufficiently aware that the chance of succeeding is abominable. Besides, it has struck me so much that it’s such a force majeure that has frustrated me. Besides, in the future there would possibly be our sisters too for whom we should try to provide. Perhaps – I say – but anyway, whatever the case: if I knew that I would be accepted I would go to the legion. It’s that I’ve become timid and hesitant since, I live like a machine.
However, my health is very good and I’m working a little. I have on the go an avenue of chestnut trees with pink flowers with a little cherry tree in flower and a wisteria plant and the path in the park flecked with sunlight and shade.
It will make a pendant to the garden that’s in the walnut frame.
If I speak to you of enlisting for five years don’t go and think that I’m doing it with an idea of sacrificing myself or doing good. I’m ‘in a hole’ in life, and my mental state not only is but also has been – distracted. So that whatever might be done for me I can’t think of a way of balancing my life. Where I must follow a rule, like here at the hospital, I feel more tranquil. And in the armed forces it would be more or less the same thing. Now if here I certainly run a strong risk of being rejected because they know that I’m a madman or an epileptic, probably for good (although from what I’ve heard tell there are 50 thousand epileptics in France, of whom only 4,000 are confined, and that it’s thus not so extraordinary), perhaps in Paris by telling it for example to Detaille or Caran d’Ache I would soon be found a place. It would be no more of an impulse than anything else – anyway – let’s think about it – but in order to act.
In the meantime I’m doing what I can, and I have a fair bit of good will to work at anything, painting included. But the money that painting costs, that crushes me under a feeling of debt and of cowardice, and it would be good for that to stop if possible.
Besides, I’ve said once and for all, better if there’s a decision to be made at present that you and Mr Salles decide for me. And be well aware, I won’t refuse anything, not even going to St-Rémy, despite these obstacles of the cost of board and lodging being higher than we hoped at first, and not having complete freedom to go outside to paint. We must decide anyway, for they can’t keep me here indefinitely.
I was saying to the bursar that I was happy to pay for example 60 francs here instead of 45 if I could stay here indefinitely, but their rule is fixed price, it appears. So, although no one has said anything to me up to now, I think it would be right to leave. I could perhaps go again to lodge at the night café where I’ve stored my furniture, but... then I’m in daily contact with my very neighbours from a while ago, for it’s beside the house where I had my studio.
In the town, though, at present nobody says anything to me any more, and I’m currently painting in the public garden without being disturbed much other than by the curiosity of passers-by.
I’ve re-read the article on Monet from Le Figaro and it now appears much better to me than at first.
As regards material things, let’s not become too discouraged but let’s try at least to be sensible about them. It’s still good that if necessary I can go and lodge in that night café here, and even board there, for those people are friends of mine – naturally also because I have been and am their customer. It has been very hot today, which always does me good. I’ve worked with more gusto than I had yet had.
I give you a hearty handshake, you and your wife.