When I mailed my letter to you this morning, I had a feeling
For a moment I had been in doubt - shall I tell him or not?
- but on thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that it
really was necessary. I sit writing to you now in the little
room that is my studio now that the other room is so very damp.
When I look around, I see the walls all covered with studies
relating to one subject, “Brabant
So this is a work I have started, and if I were suddenly
taken out of these surroundings, I should have to start anew on
something else, and this one would remain half finished! That
must not be! I have been working here since May, I am beginning
to know and understand my models, my work is progressing; but
it has cost me a lot of effort to get on so far.
And now that I have got so far, Father would say, Because
you write letters to Kee and therefore make trouble between us
(for this is the chief reason, for whatever they may say
of my being too unconventional, or the like, it is just talk),
because difficulties arise, I am showing you the door.
Isn't it too bad, and wouldn't it be ridiculous to stop a
work that has been started, and is beginning to succeed, for
that reason? No, no, it is not the way!
Besides, the disagreement between Father and Mother and
myself is not so terrible, is not of such a nature that we
could not stay together. But Father and Mother are getting old,
and they have prejudices and old-fashioned ideas which neither
you nor I can share any more. When Father sees me with a French
book by Michelet or Victor Hugo, he thinks of thieves and
murderers, or of “immorality”; but it is too
ridiculous, and of course I don't let myself be disturbed by
such opinions. So often I have said to Father, Then just read
it, even a few pages of such a book, and you will be impressed
yourself; but Father obstinately refuses. Just now, when this
love took root in my heart, I reread Michelet's book L'Amour et
la Femme, and so many things became clear to me that would have
otherwise been riddles. I told Father that under the
circumstances I attached more value to Michelet's advice than
to his own, if I had to choose which of the two I should
But then they bring up the story of a great-uncle who was
infected with French ideas and took to drink, and so they
insinuate that I shall do the same.
Father and Mother are very good to me in that they do
everything to feed me well, etc. Of course I appreciate it very
much; but it cannot be denied that food and drink and sleep are
not enough for a man, that he longs for something nobler and
higher - aye, he positively cannot do without it.
That higher feeling which I cannot do without is love for
Kee. Father and Mother argue in this way: She says No, so
you must resign yourself. I do not see the necessity of
this at all, on the contrary. And I would rather give up the
work just begun and all the comforts of this home than resign
myself to not writing her or her parents.
Well, I write to you about it because at least my work
certainly concerns you, for you are the one who has already
given so much money to help me succeed. Now I am getting on, it
progresses, I begin to see some light; and now I tell you,
Theo, this threatens me. I ask no better than to work on
quietly, but Father seems to want to put me out of the house,
at least he said so this morning.
A strong word from you can perhaps settle this matter.
You will understand what I tell you: In order to work
and to become an artist, one needs love. At least one
who wants sentiment in his work must first feel it himself, and
live with his heart.
But Father and Mother are harder than stone in the matter of
“means of subsistence,” as they call it. If it were
a question of marrying immediately, I should certainly agree
with them; but now it is a question of thawing a
“no, never never,” and that a means of
subsistence cannot do. It is quite another thing, a matter of
the heart, and therefore she and I must see each other, write
to each other, and speak to each other; it is as clear as
daylight, and simple and reasonable. And indeed, I tell you
(though they think me a weak character, a man of butter) that
nothing in the world will make me give up this love. No
delaying from day to day, from week to week, no silent
waiting. The lark cannot be silent as long as he has a voice.
What is to be done now?
Wouldn't it be foolish, Theo, not to continue drawing those
Brabant types now that I am getting on with them, simply
because Father and Mother disapprove of my love?
No - it must not be.
For heaven's sake, let them give in for once; it would be
too foolish for a young man to sacrifice his energy to the
prejudices of an old man. And really, Father and Mother are
prejudiced in this.
No, brother, listen: it would be too bad if for this reason
I should have to leave my work here and spend money elsewhere,
where things would be much more expensive, instead of
eventually earning a little money for a trip to Amsterdam. No,
no, no, there is something wrong, it cannot be right that they
want to put me out of the house just at this moment. There is
no excuse, and it would thwart me in my work. So I cannot allow
What would she think if she knew what happened this morning?
She is so tender and kind that it pains her to say one unkind
word, but if one so soft, so tender, so loving as she is roused
- piquée au vif! - then woe to those who are the cause
of this anger. May her anger not be roused against me, dear
brother. I think she is beginning to understand that I am
neither a thief nor a criminal, but, on the contrary, am
inwardly more quiet and sensible than I appear outwardly. In
the beginning she did not understand this - at first she really
had an unfavourable impression of me - but now, I do not know
why, while the sky becomes clouded and overcast with quarrels
and curses, a light rises on her side.
Well, boy, as soon as you send me the money for the journey,
you will receive at once three drawings - “Dinner
Time,” “Lighting the Fire,” “Almshouse
Man.” So send the money if you can, for the journey will
not be entirely in vain. If I have only 20 or 30 francs, I can
at least see her face once more.
And if you can, write a few words about that sentence of
banishment, for I should like so much to go quietly on with my
work here; that is what I should like best. I want her and her
influence in order to reach a higher artistic level. Without
her I am nothing, but with her there is a chance. To live, to
work, and to love are really one. Well, adieu, with a
Yours sincerely, Vincent
One word from you, “from Paris,” will weight the
scale against prejudices.
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 18 November 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 159.
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