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I am very glad that you wrote to Father and Mother about a
few things, as I asked you. I think it can only have a good
influence - at least gradually. Of course you understand that I
am not the man intentionally to grieve Father and Mother with
anything. When I must do something contrary to their wishes and
which often grieves them without cause, I feel very sorry about
But don't think that the recent regrettable scene was caused
only by hot temper. Alas, previously when I declared that I
would not continue with my study in Amsterdam, and later in the
Borinage when I refused to do what the clergymen there wanted
me to do, Father said something similar. So there is indeed a
lasting, deep-rooted misunderstanding between Father and
myself. And I believe that it never can be quite cleared
up. But on both sides we can respect each other because we
agree in so many things, though sometimes we have quite
different - aye, even opposite - views.
Now in regard to the “case in question,” as
Uncle Stricker calls what happened between Kee and me, I must
tell you that I have risked an attack on the above-mentioned
Mr. S.: by means of a registered letter. I was afraid
unregistered letters would be ignored, but he will be obliged
to read this one, and in it I have tried to draw his attention
to some points which I fear he overlooked or which he would
take no notice of. It is a very “undiplomatic”
letter, very bold, but I am sure it will at least make an
impression on him. But perhaps at first it will cause him to
use a certain expletive which he certainly would not use in a
There really are no more unbelieving and hard-hearted and
worldly people than clergymen and especially clergymen's wives
(a rule with exceptions). But even clergymen sometimes have a
human heart under three layers of steel armour.
But I am in terrible suspense and am quite ready to go to
Amsterdam, except that the journey is very expensive and I must
not waste my powder; the trip to Amsterdam is my reserve if my
letter has no effect.
Do you know that Uncle Stricker is really a very clever man,
in fact, an artist? His books are very good and give proof of
deep feeling. This summer I read a little book he had just
published on the “minor prophets” and a few of the
other less known books in the Bible. So I certainly hope that
after some time has passed, there will be more sympathy between
us than there has been hitherto.
The letter I received from him a few months ago was not
unsympathetic or written in anger, but he wrote very
positively, “Her no is quite decisive.” But
when, notwithstanding this letter, I continued to write Kee, he
thought the intervention of Prinsenhage would put a spoke in my
wheel. This spoke did not prove strong enough. It was not the
lever to lift me off my feet.
Apropos! you must write me soon. I have often thought over
what I wrote you.
If you thought I meant to insinuate that if a man's passions
were, for instance, ambition in business or financial affairs,
he must clip their wings, tone them down, or quite overcome
them, you were mistaken. On the contrary, but those passions
must bear more and a better kind of fruit. They must not
decrease, but be counter-balanced by love. Greed is a
very ugly word, but that demon does not let anybody alone; I
should be greatly astonished if it hadn't sometimes tempted you
and me, even to the extent that for the moment we were inclined
to say, “Money is the ruler, money can do everything,
money is No. 1.”
Not that you or I really bow to that Mr. Mammon and serve
him, but it is true that he worries you and me a great deal.
Me, by poverty through many a year; you, through a high salary.
These two both present the temptation to bow to the power of
money. We may be more or less strong in those temptations, but
I hope neither you nor I are destined to become entirely the
prey of that money devil; but won't he get some hold on us? Now
that money devil may not play you the trick of making you think
it a crime to earn much money and making me think that there is
some merit in my poverty. No indeed, there is no merit in being
so slow to earn money as I am, and I shall have to remedy that;
and you will give me many a useful hint, I hope.
But it certainly is my conviction that your attention, your
best, your most concentrated, attention must be centered at
this time on the development of a vital force which is still
slumbering within you - Love. For indeed, of all powers it is
the most powerful - it makes us dependent in appearance only;
the truth is, there is no real independence, no real liberty,
no steady self-reliance, except through Love. I say, our sense
of duty is sharpened and our work becomes clear to us through
Love; and in loving and fulfilling the duties of love we
perform God's will. In the Bible it is not written in vain,
“Love will cover a multitude of sins” [see I Pet.
4:8], and again, “In Thee O God will be mercy, that Thou
wilt be feared” [see Ps. 130:4]. But I think you will
derive more profit from rereading Michelet than from the
As for me, I could not do without Michelet for anything in
the world. It is true the Bible is eternal and everlasting, but
Michelet gives such very practical and clear hints, so directly
applicable to this hurried and feverish modern life in which
you and I find ourselves, that he helps us to progress rapidly;
we cannot do without him. The Bible consists of different parts
and there is growth from one to the next; for instance, there
is a difference between Moses and Noah on the one hand, and
Jesus and Paul on the other. Now take Michelet and Beecher
Stowe: they don't tell you the Gospel is no longer of any value
but they show how it may be applied in our time, in this our
life, by you and me, for instance. Michelet even expresses
completely and aloud things which the Gospel whispers only the
You must not be astonished when, even at the risk of your
taking me for a fanatic, I tell you that in order to love, I
think it absolutely necessary to believe in God. To believe in
God (that does not mean that you should believe all the sermons
of the clergymen and the arguments and Jesuitism of the
“bégueules dévotes collet
monté” [bigoted, genteel prudes], far from it); to
me, to believe in God is to feel that there is a God, not dead
or stuffed but alive, urging us toward aimer encore with
irresistible force - that is my opinion.
I have sent Mauve a drawing of a man digging potatoes in the
field; I wanted to show him some sign of life. I wish he would
come soon. As soon as he has seen my studies, I will send you
some again. If you do not like my writing you so often and so
long, then say Stop; but perhaps there will soon be another
reason for stopping, for instance when the time left for
correspondence will all have to be devoted to her. These
very long letters will not continue forever.
It is so curious that I am entirely in the dark about what
is going on in Amsterdam: I mean, I don't know anything,
but only feel. How can one feel things at a distance?
Indeed, I can't explain it to you, but just fall in love
yourself, and then perhaps you will also hear voices in the
distance, and see little things which lead you to surmise
bigger ones - as one guesses there is a fire from seeing the
smoke. Fortunately the weather is warm and calm: that has a
beneficial influence on people. If it were biting cold with a
north wind, my “case in question” would be worse
Meanwhile Uncle and Aunt Stricker's silver wedding is
approaching; Father and Mother intend to go there. I am very
glad you have written them before that time, for I would rather
not have them come out with their “conscientious
objections” to “the untimeliness and
indelicacy” of my love. Hoping to hear from you again,
believe me, with a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
You must be sure that I try very hard to change many things
in myself - especially the sad state of my money affairs. And
then I also think it would be good for me to associate more
with other people.
Now the best and most effective way to better myself
financially is to work hard. “Travaillez, prenez de la
paine, c'est le fonds qui manque le moins.” But this
alone is not sufficient, or rather, there are still other
things for which I must work. Perhaps it is not bad that I have
lived so long “underground,” as it were, that I
have been “one who has been down.” But now I need
not go back into the abyss, and I think it right to do away
with all melancholy and to take a somewhat broader and more
cheerful view of life - to walk on level ground, and to renew
old relations as much as possible, and to enter into new
It may be that I shall meet with rebuff here and there, but
I want to carry it through and try and struggle to the surface.
I have often wondered whether it would not be possible and good
to go to The Hague for a time, always considering the sphere of
action here and the Brabant types my real work. Notwithstanding
everything, I must hold onto this; now that I have grown
familiar with it, I can find subjects here for years and years.
But keeping at those Brabant types need not prevent my seeking
new relations elsewhere, and even living elsewhere for a
All artists and draughtsmen do.
Do you know what I should like? Kee's beginning to say
better things than “no, never never”; then it would
be possible to plan an artistic campaign. But as things are
now, I have first to fight “Jesuitism,” and must
spend much of my energy on it; and second, I cannot begin
another campaign before the “case in question” has
Do you think Kee knows how terribly she unintentionally
thwarts me? Well, she will have to make up for it afterward!!!
That means I count on her joining in many artistic campaigns
with me, you see.
But I am afraid I am busy selling the skins of many bears
that I have not yet killed. However, there is one bearskin with
which I want to speculate.
Recently Father said to me, “My conscience has never
allowed me to influence two people to marry.” Well,
personally my conscience tells me exactly the opposite. Luckily
Michelet never had such scruples or else his books would never
have been written. And out of gratitude to Michelet I promise
that later on when I associate more with artists who so often
“beat about the bush,” I shall do all I can to make
it clear to them that they must marry. For the benefit of art
dealers who are afraid that “keeping a family”
costs more than not “keeping a family,” I add that
a married artist with his wife spends less and is more
productive than an unmarried one with a mistress.
Do you think father Millet had more expenses than so many
Italians and Spaniards who “live in the desert where the
sky is of brass and the soil of iron”? Is a wife more
expensive than a mistress? You do pay the mistress anyhow,
Messrs. Art Dealers, and those ladies laugh at you behind your
backs. “Qui est-ce qui vous tire des carottes [who are
cheating you…], messieurs Goupil et Cie? Les femmes
comme il en faut” - or “les femmes comme il faut?
On est sûr de périr à part, on ne se sauve
qu'ensemble.” That is one of the things Michelet says so
simply. Sometimes it seems that he must be mistaken, but later
one sees that he was right after all.
The saying, “il faut les avoir aimé, puis
désaimé, puis aimé encore,” can also
be applied to Michelet's books.
Do you think this mild weather will be mild enough to thaw
the “never, no, never” one of these days? Will they
expel me on or shortly after the silver wedding party? God
Do you think that Trojan horse in the form of a registered
letter has been taken inside the walls of Troy? And, if so,
will the Greeks that were hidden in that horse - that is to
say, the things that were written in the letter - storm the
I am in the greatest suspense on that point. Adieu.
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 23 November 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 161.
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