I have received your letter, but think it is only an answer
to my No. 1.
In No. 2 and No. 3 you will have found a `talking-to' as my
thanks for your advice. `Take care not to build too many
castles in the air before you are sure the work is not in
And since you have had that talking-to already, I shall not
repeat it. Bien te fasse [much good it may do you], old
It's lucky at any rate that you haven't been guilty of `in
the meantime' thinking, isn't that so?
No, neither you nor I are guilty of that sort of thinking.
To the best of our belief, yours and mine, someone who lacks
courage, or uses a won't-commit-myself approach, or doesn't
dare stake his life with a smile, would be better off not even
trying to win a real woman's heart. From the very beginning of
this love I have felt that unless I threw myself into it sans
arrière pensée [unreservedly], committing myself
totally and with all my heart, utterly and for ever, I had
absolutely no chance, and that even if I do throw myself into
it in this way the chance is very slight. But what do I care if
my chance is great or small?
I mean, should I, can I, take that into account when I am in
love? No, no reckoning up, one loves because one loves.
Being in love - quelle chose [what a business]!
Imagine what a real woman would think if she found that
someone was courting her with reservations; wouldn't she say
something worse than `never, no, never!'? Oh, Theo, don't let's
talk about it, if you and I are in love then we are in love,
voilà tout [that's all there is to it]. And we keep a
clear head and do not becloud our mind, nor curb our feelings,
nor douse the fire and the light, but simply say, `Thank God, I
am in love.'
Again, imagine what a real woman would think of a lover who
came to her confident of success. I wouldn't give tuppence for
his chances with someone like Kee Vos, and not for a hundred
thousand guilders would I swap his chances for that `no, never,
I sent you a few drawings because I thought you might find
something of the look of Heike [a town near Etten in
Noord-Brabant, also called St. Willebrord] about them. Now tell
me, please, why don't they sell and how can I make them
saleable? For I should like to earn some money now and then for
the fare to go and look into that `never, no, never.'
But be sure not to mention this plan of mine to the Most
Reverend and Very Learned Mr. J. P. S. [Johannus Paulus
Stricker, Uncle Stricker, the father of Kee]. For when I do
arrive entirely unannounced, he might perhaps have no
alternative but to turn a blind eye for the sake of peace.
Someone like the Most Reverend and Very Learned Mr. J. P. S.
becomes quite a different person from what he was before once
one falls in love with his daughter, at least as far as the one
involved in the `present case' is concerned. He becomes quite
gigantic and assumes unheard of proportions! But that does not
alter the fact that, as one who loves his daughter, one is more
afraid of not going to him than of going to him,
even though one knows that he is capable of doing terrible
things in the circumstances.
Anyway, right now I can't help feeling `I have a
draughtsman's fist,' and I am very glad that I have such an
implement, even though it is still unwieldy. The Ingres paper
is really excellent.
And so you are popularly known as a lucky dog. For all the
petites misères de la vie humaine.
And you are not sure whether you really are one or not? But
why should you doubt it?
Now look, what I should like to know is this: what sort of
petites misères do you have? I know some of them in part
or in full, others I don't.
Do you also have petites misères to do with a lady
from time to time? Of course you do, but I should like to hear
what they are! Surely none of the never, no, never sort? Or
perhaps, on the contrary, too many heavy-handed yeas and
Well, your petites misères with the ladies interest
me exceedingly. Especially because I think of your petites
misères what I think of my own, namely, that in many
cases we do not quite know how to take them, when, in fact,
they contain hidden treasure provided we know how to find and
take possession of it. The petites or grandes misères
are riddles. Finding the solution is well worth the
A lucky dog who complains - without reason! And they call me
`the melancholy one', and I ask you to congratulate me on my
`never, no, never'! And I get very cross when people tell me
that it is dangerous to put out to sea, observing that one
might drown in it. I don't get cross because I think they are
wrong to say that, but because they seem to forget `that there
is safety in the very heart of danger'.
So, you lucky dog: what is wrong with your luck? You were
able to tell me with much piquancy what falling in love is like
by your comparison with a strawberry. It was nicely put indeed,
but to be in love in the teeth of a triple `no, never, ever' as
well as of a Most Reverend and Very Learned Mr. J. P. S. who
makes inquiries about the means of existence in the `present
case', as His Reverence calls it, or rather, does not even make
inquiries about them because he (being into the bargain a
Philistine when it comes to art) thinks that they are
nonexistent - to be in love like that, I say, is not quite like
picking strawberries in the spring.
And that `never, no, never' is not balmy as spring air but
bitter, bitter, bitter as the biting frost of winter. `This is
no flattery,' Shakespeare would say [As You Like It]. However
Samson said something else: `Out of the strong came forth
sweetness'. And the question is very much whether Samson was
not much wiser than I am. Proudly he seized hold of a lion and
overpowered him, but could we do the same? `You must be
able to,' Samson would have said, and rightly so.
Enough, the strawberry season has not yet arrived, I can
indeed see the strawberry plants but they are frozen. Will
spring arrive and thaw them out, and will they come into bloom,
and then - then - who will pick them?
Still, that `never, no, never' has taught me things I did
not know: 1. It has brought home to me the enormity of my
ignorance, and 2. Women have a world of their own, and much
more. Also that there are such things as means of
I should think it more considerate of people if they said
(as the Constitution says: `Tout homme est
considéré innocent jusqu'à sa
culpabilité soit prouvée [every man is considered
innocent until proven guilty]) that it should be assumed that
others have the means of existence until the contrary is
proved. It could be said: this man exists - I see him, he
speaks to me, a proof of his actual existence is even that he
is not uninvolved in a certain case, e.g. `the present case'.
His existence being clear and obvious to me (since I am aware
that the person in question is not a mere ghost, but is made of
real live flesh and bones) I shall take it as axiomatic that he
owes that existence to means he obtains in some way or other
and for which he works. So I shall not suspect him of existing
without any means of existence. However that is not the way
people reason, least of all a certain person in question in
Amsterdam. They have to see the means in order to believe in
the existence of the person in question, but the existence of
the person in question does not prove to them that he has
means. Well, this being so, we are obliged to hold up a
draughtsman's fist, though not to attack or even to threaten
them with it. Then we must use that draughtsman's fist as best
But the `no never ever' riddle is still by no means solved
in this way. Trying the direct opposite of certain pieces of
advice can often prove practical and do one good. That is why
it is in many cases so useful to ask for advice. But some
pieces of advice can be used in their natural state and do not
need to be turned inside out or upside-down. This latter kind
is very rare and desirable, however, for it still has some
special characteristics. The former kind thrives everywhere in
profusion. The latter sort is expensive. The former costs
nothing and is sometimes delivered unsolicited to one's home by
the sackful. `In the meantime!!!'
Yours truly, Vincent
I close this letter with some advice of my own.
If ever you fall in love, do so without reservation, or
rather, if you should fall in love simply give no thought to
Moreover, when you do fall in love, you will not `feel
certain' of success beforehand. You will be `un âme en
peine' [a lost soul] and yet you will smile.
Whoever feels so `sure of his ground' that he rashly
imagines `she is mine', even before he has waged the soul's
battle of love, even before, I say, he has become suspended
between life and death on the high seas, in the midst of storm
and tempest - there is one who knows little of what a woman's
heart is, and that will be bought home to him by a real woman
in a very special way. When I was younger, one half of me once
fancied that I was in love, and with the other half I really
was. The result was many years of humiliation. Let me not have
been humiliated in vain.
I speak as one `Who has been down', from bitter
experience, from learning the hard way.
Lucky dog! What's the matter? What aileth thee? Perhaps,
after all, you have not been such a lucky dog so far, but I
think you are well on the way to becoming one. That much I
gather from the tone of your letters.
It was just as if there is a small lump in your throat, in
your voice. What kind of small lump is it? Could you not tell
me for once, now that I have told you so much?
Theo, every girl's father has something called a key to the
front door. A very terrible weapon, which can open and shut the
aforesaid door as Peter and Paul open and close the gates of
Heaven. Well, does that implement also fit the heart of the
respective daughters in question? Can that be opened or shut
with a key to the front door? I think not, God and love alone
can open or close a woman's heart. Will hers open? Brother,
will she ever let me in? Dieu le sait [God knows]. I cannot
tell such things in advance.
Father and Mother have promised not to oppose this if only I
leave them out of the matter, as it were.
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 10-11 November 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 156.
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