Jo van Gogh-Bonger to Vincent van Gogh. Paris, Friday, 5 July 1889.
My dear brother,
This time I’ll try to write to you in French, first I know that you like it more, and then with both of us expressing ourselves in the same language we’ll eventually understand each other better, I believe. Only I’m not at all accustomed to writing in French, and I fear I may make mistakes which will seem very ridiculous to you – but I’m going to do my best. I very much hope that in a while I’ll be able to express myself better – if now the foreigners I meet don’t speak English, the conversation isn’t at all animated, I can assure you.
I’m going to begin by telling you a great piece of news which has greatly occupied us lately – it is that this winter, around February probably, we’re hoping to have a baby, a pretty little boy – whom we’ll call Vincent if you’ll consent to be his godfather. I’m well aware that we ought not to count on it too much, and that it could also be a little girl, but Theo and I always imagine it as a boy. When we wrote to Amsterdam and Breda everyone replied ‘aren’t you pleased, what joy’, etc. etc. – and yet to tell the truth, when I found out I wasn’t at all pleased, on the contrary I was very unhappy, and Theo had a great deal of difficulty consoling me. It isn’t that I don’t like babies – my little brother who is now twelve, I had him in my arms when he was scarcely two hours old, I adored him and I think there’s nothing prettier in the world than a little child – but that’s a slightly selfish pleasure. When I think that neither Theo nor I are in very good health, I’m very afraid that we may make a weak child, and for me the greatest treasure that parents can give their child is a good constitution. But the doctor reassured me greatly on that score, and then good food and good care can do a great deal – and it won’t
lack for those. Do you remember the portrait of the Roulin baby you sent Theo? Everyone admires it greatly, and many times now people have asked ‘but why have you put this portrait in this out-of-the-way corner?’ It’s because – from my place at table I can just see the child’s big blue eyes, its pretty little hands and round cheeks, and I like to imagine that ours will be as strong, as healthy and as beautiful as that one – and because his uncle will consent to do his portrait one day!
In one of your recent letters you asked Theo if he was still dining at the restaurant? Not at all – never – what’s the good of being married if one couldn’t even dine at home? He always comes for lunch at midday and comes home at seven-thirty for dinner. Often in the evening someone comes. Isaäcson or Nibbrig – Mr Tersteeg has dined with us twice, De Haan has also come to see us6 – and when he was there Mr Pissarro and his son came too. Generally we’re very tired in the evening and we go to bed early – however I find that Theo is looking not at all well, but he has been caused a great deal of fatigue by that Secrétan sale, and then the heat is so unbearable! Don’t talk to me about Paris in this weather, and Theo says that it’s even worse in August!
I read with great pleasure what you wrote to Theo about reading Shakespeare. Isn’t it beautiful – and so few people know it, ‘It’s too difficult,’ people say – but that isn’t true – as for me I understand it much better than Zola. But when I think that it’s almost 300 years since these so beautiful things were written I think that the world hasn’t progressed much in these times. When I was in London I once saw The merchant of Venice at the theatre – and then the effect that it produced was considerably greater than by only reading it. I’ve also seen Hamlet and Macbeth, but in Dutch. Then it loses a good deal. Now I’m going to bid you good-day. If you would like, write and tell us your opinion about our little boy, for a boy it must be.