One sentence in your letter of November 6 requires a
You say, “In the present case I should not lose
courage if I were you, but I would let the thing rest with
regard to people whom it does not concern. I think this
attitude will astonish those who now interfere, and it will
disarm them.” It would have been new to me if I had not
already tried these tactics more than once before and found
them one of the best weapons. Now, however, I can only say,
Yes, I knew as much, but now, after that, what more do you
know? For you must not forget that there are cases where it is
not always sufficient to be on the defensive, especially when
the strategy of the enemy is based on the somewhat rash
supposition that at the most I certainly cannot go any further
than wait in a defensive attitude.
Theo, if you were in love with the same sort of love as mine
- and, boy, why should you ever have another kind of love? -
then you would discover something quite new in yourself. Such
as you and I, who generally associate with men and who attend
to business of some kind - you, in a large way and I, in a
small - well, we are used to doing most of our work with our
brains - with a certain diplomacy, with a certain sharp
calculation. But now fall in love, and look, you will perceive
to your astonishment that there is still another force that
urges us on to action - and that is the heart.
We are sometimes rather inclined to ridicule it, but the
truth cannot be denied; especially when in love, one says, I do
not go to my head to ask my duty in this case, I go to my
Now, I cannot believe that you would expect me to consider
either my parents or her parents as persons “who have
nothing to do with it,” etc. On the contrary, I cannot
suppose that it would be superfluous to talk it over with them
now and then. Especially when, as is now really the case, their
attitude is neither positive nor negative; that is to say, they
do nothing openly, for or against. I do not understand how they
can bear this, it is like being neither cold nor warm, and that
is always a miserable thing.
Oh, how much precious time is perhaps lost in this way? If
you would rather be counted among the persons “whom it
does not concern and with whom I should let the thing
rest,” then I would still talk to you about it now and
then, even against your will - in exactly the same way as I do
now with Father and Mother and Uncle and Aunt Stricker. When I
spoke of it to Father this summer, he interrupted me with an
anecdote about somebody who had eaten too much and another who
had eaten too little. It was quite inappropriate, and it was a
story with no beginning or end, so that I thought, What's wrong
It was perhaps from nervousness, as he had not expected it,
yet it was under his very eyes, so to speak, that she and I had
walked together and spoken together for days and weeks. Now, in
this mood, are those eyes clear seeing? I think not. If I were
hesitant, doubtful, halting between two opinions, I might agree
with Father's and Mother's attitude. But now it is quite
different. This, my love, has made me resolute, and I feel
energy - new, healthy energy in me. Just the way everybody else
who really loves feels. So what I want to say, brother, is no
more nor less than that I firmly believe that any man is
unconscious of some peculiar great hidden force, deeply hidden
in him, until sooner or later he is awakened by meeting someone
of whom one says, “She, and no other.”
If a man has more ambition and thirst for money than love,
in my opinion there is something wrong with him. If a man only
has love and does not know how to earn money, there is
something wrong with him, also. Within us ambition and greed
are partners in their hostility to love. The germs of the two
forces are inside all of us from the beginning; they develop
later on in life, generally in unequal proportions; one is
love, the other, ambition and greed!
But at our age we, you and I, can do something to keep the
things within us orderly.
My opinion is that when it develops, when it comes to its
full development, love produces better characters than the
opposite passion: Ambition & Co.
But just because love is so strong, generally in our youth
(I mean at 17, 18, or 20 years) we are not strong enough to
keep it going straight! The passions are the little ship's
sails, you know. And he who gives way entirely to his feelings
in his twentieth year catches too much wind and his boat takes
in too much water and - and he sinks - or comes to the surface
again after all.
On the contrary, he who hoists the Ambition & Co. sail
and no other on his mast, sails through life on a straight
course without accidents, without wavering until - until at
last, at last, circumstances arise which make him think, I
haven't enough sail. Then he says, I would give everything I
possess for another square of sail, and I have not got it. He
is in despair.
But now he remembers that he possesses another power which
he can use; he thinks of the sail which he has despised until
now, which he had put away with the ballast. And it is this
sail that saves him. Love's sail must save him; without
hoisting it, he cannot arrive.
The first case - that of the man whose little boat capsized
when he was twenty years old, and sank, did it not? …no,
recently it came to the surface again - is really that of your
brother Vincent, who writes to you as “one who has been
down, yet came up again.”
What kind of love was it that I felt when I was twenty? It
is difficult to define - my physical passions were very weak
then, perhaps because of a few years of great poverty and hard
work. But my intellectual passions were strong, meaning that
without asking anything in return, without wanting any pity, I
wanted only to give, but not to receive. Foolish, wrong,
exaggerated, proud, rash - for in love one must not only give,
but also take; and, reversing it, one must not only take but
also give. Whoever deviates either to the right or to the left
falls, there is no help for it. So I fell, but it was a wonder
that I got up again. What helped me recover my balance more
than anything else was reading practical books on physical and
moral diseases. I got a deeper insight into my own heart and
also into that of others. Gradually I began to love my fellow
men again, myself included, and more and more my heart and soul
- which for a time had been withered, blighted and stricken
through all kinds of great misery - revived. And the more I
turned to reality, and mingled with people, the more I felt new
life reviving in me, until at last I met her.
It is written, Love thy neighbour as thyself. One can
deviate to the right or to the left, but both are bad. I think
all in exchange for all is the real true thing - that is
it. And now the two extremes; first, to ask everything
without giving, second, to ask nothing but give everything. Two
equally fatal, bad things, both damned bad.
Of course there are people who advocate one or the other of
these extremes: the first produces those members of society
which we call rascals, thieves, and usurers, etc., etc.; the
second produces Jesuits and Pharisees, male and female - also
rascals, you know!
If you tell me, “Take care that you do not get too
fond of that `never, no, never,' and you mean by that, take
care that you do not give all without taking anything, then you
are quite right. My answer is, I made that mistake once: I gave
up a girl and she married another, and I went away, far from
her, but kept her in my thoughts. Fatal.
But now, grown wiser by experience, I say, I must try if,
far from resigning myself, I cannot by strong, patient energy
achieve the result which will give me more satisfaction. I will
use all my powers to thaw that “never, no,
Theo, in order to prove to you that I can reason quite
calmly, though I am in love, I say to you:
If she and I were sentimental and soft-hearted, then we
could have married already and great misery would have come of
it - poverty, hunger, cold, illness, etc., but, oh, it would
still be better for us to be together than not to be
If violent passion ruled me and she yielded to it, that
passion would cool down - my lendemain de fête [morning
after the party] would be desolation and hers, a broken
If she were a coquette and played with a man's heart, and
the man did not see through her game, that man would be a fool,
but a sublime fool - if a fool can be sublime.
If I wanted her for other motives - money, for instance, or
sensuality - and if I thought, She cannot escape me for this or
that reason, I would be the damnedest of all Jesuits and
Pharisees (may I tell you “meanwhile” that it is
not so between us two).
If we played at brother and sister, we would be acting like
children, and it would be quite out of place.
If she never returned my love, I should probably stay a
If I saw that she loved another man, I should go far, far
away. If I saw that she took a man she did not love for his
money, I should plead guilty to short-sightedness on my part,
and I would say, I have mistaken a picture by Brochart for one
by Jules Goupil, a fashion print for a figure by Boughton,
Millais or Tissot.
Am I as shortsighted as that???
But my eye is like yours, well trained and steady.
But if she and I rise to a new life with renewed energy,
then the future is no longer dark.
If she with her lady's hand and I with my draughtsman's fist
are willing to work, the daily bread will not be wanting for
us, nor for her boy.
If I had had other motives when I proposed to her, she would
have despised me, and now she does not despise me.
But my third page is almost full and I still have something
to ask. Boy, I must see her face again and speak to her once
more; if I do not do it soon, something will happen at the
silver wedding which would perhaps do me great harm. Don't ask
me to go into it. If you were in love too, you would
understand; because you are not in love, I should not be able
to make it clear to you.
Theo, I want money for the trip to Amsterdam; if I have but
just enough, I will go. Father and Mother have promised not to
oppose this if only I leave them out of the matter, as it
Brother, if you send it to me, I will make lots of drawings
for you of the Heike, and whatever you want. And they would not
get worse if the “never, no, never” began to thaw.
For aimer encore is also the best recipe for dessiner
Could you help me with the money, boy? If it is only 20 fr.,
Father will perhaps give me another 10 (leaving him out of it,
“pretending not to know”) et alors je
décampe plus vite que ça. As-tu compris, mon
cher! [and then I'll rush off at a tremendous speed. You
understand, old chap!] Crois-moi toujours,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 12 November 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 157.
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