On rereading your letters, my dear fellow, I find such
lively and funny sallies in them that I feel stimulated,
particularly by the latter, to continue our correspondence.
Well, well! So after all I am a fanatic! All right, for your
words have gone home, right through my skin! So be it - thanks
for your revelation, yes, thank God, at first I dared not
believe it, but you have made it clear to me - so I have a
will, a conviction, I am going in a definite direction, and
what is more, not being contented with this, I want others to
go along with me! Thank God, so I am a fanatic! Well, from now
on I won't be anything else. And now I should like to have my
friend Rappard as a fellow traveller - it is not a matter of
indifference to me to lose sight of him - do you think I am
wrong in this?
Now I said in my hurry that I wanted to drive people “to
the open sea” (see my previous letter). If I did nothing
but this, I should be a sorry barbarian. But there is something
else which renders the thing more reasonable. In the long run a
man cannot stick it out in the open sea - he must have a little
cottage on the shore with a bit of fire on the hearth - with a
wife and children around that hearth.
Look, Rappard, whither I am trying to drive myself, and
whither I am trying to drive others too, is to be fishermen on
the sea that we call the Ocean of Reality, but on the other
hand I want - for myself and for the fellow creatures whom I
importune now and then - that “little cottage,”
most decidedly I do! And in that cottage, all those things! So
the open sea and that resting place, or that resting place and
the open sea. And as regards the doctrine I preach, this
doctrine of mine - “My friends, let us love what we
love” - is based on an axiom. I thought it superfluous to
mention this axiom, but for clarity's sake I will add it. That
axiom is: “My friends, we love.” 1 From
this I deduce that first thesis.
My friends, let us love what we love, let us be ourselves,
“do not let us think we know better than God.” This
“do not let us think we know better than God” is
not my expression, it belongs to Mauve. And this thesis I prove
by negative demonstration, i.e. in the following way to begin
Suppose a man did not love what he loves, what a lot of misery
he would cause himself and others, and how much turbulence he
would create in God's world. In short, if all men were like the
person who, as we suppose - at least if this is possible - for
the moment, does not love what he loves, how the world (which,
I think, our Lord put squarely on its feet, which is kept in
that position by Him, and which will stay that way as long as
you and I are alive - which will serve our time, you
know!)...if, I say, all men were like this imaginary one,
willfully turned inside out and upside down - (and how
fortunate it is that he can only exist in our imagination as an
abstraction, just like our proof by negative demonstration of
an unmathematical thesis) - how much the world, correctly
created by God, would gradually seem to become a radically
wrong world. Methinks, by continuing to work with this
abstraction in our imagination - and this only for a short,
even a very short while - I mean, with the above actually
nonexistent man, willfully turned inside out and upside down -
we cannot help feeling it goes so much “against the
grain” that we are entitled to think we have proved
definitely the correctness and reasonableness of our thesis:
“My friends, let us love what we love.” (Besides,
if I have not demonstrated clearly enough that the
incorrectness of the said thesis would be an enormous
absurdity, you, who are much further advanced in
mathematics than I, would easily succeed - if you would give
your mind to it - in finding more conclusive proofs for my
We now come to some remarkable conclusions or
“deductions” from our primary thesis, as for
1. The man who damn well refuses to love what he loves dooms
2. He must have quite a lot of o(a)bstinatie, to stick it out
in the long run (The o and the a happen both to
be appropriate, eh?) [This pun is untranslatable. The Dutch
word obstinatie means “obstinacy,” and the
(incidentally incorrect) word abstinatie (correct:
abstinentie) means “abstinence.”]
3. If he changed, wouldn't his conversion be a great
Yes, and whether I add it or not, I think you will
understand that I am suggesting more or less, Rappard, by
sticking so close to the academy you are clinging to a
reservation as to a rope that has “strangled” many
a one - I mean, who could not cut himself loose when he wanted
to put to sea.
Are there still other “reservations” besides the
academic ones? See the chapter “eye beams” in my
previous letter. There are, if you will allow me to say so, as
many kinds of reservations as there are kinds of eye beams.
How many? Legions, I tell you, legions!
This “being strangled” by a reservation is a much
slower and more agonizing death than stoutly hanging oneself by
means of a halter. Are there also moral reservations? Why
shouldn't there be, just as there are moral “eye
beams”? But you and I, have we laboured under them, are
we labouring under them, shall we labour under them?
Goodness gracious - I am far from sure, and if I were speaking
for myself instead of for the two of us, I should say, I have
laboured, am labouring and shall labour under moral eye beams
and moral reservations, but this has not altered, does not
alter and will not alter the fact that I have cast, am casting
and shall go on casting moral beams out of my eyes, and that I
have chucked away, am chucking away and shall go on chucking
away moral reservations.
Until in the end I shall stand with a clear eye and a free
If I persevere until the end - in the end.
But I feel sure you will see that by continuing our
correspondence we get so much profit out of it that gradually
this correspondence is getting more serious.
For though, as I said, I give my imagination a free rein, yet
I swear that I write in dead earnest, and not the reverse.
Nothing is further from my thoughts than writing you out of a
lust for argument, but my intention is “to wake Rappard
up,” and I doubt whether I shall drop off myself when
“waking Rappard up.” God forbid that this should be
the case - far be it from me!
Now I told you on a former occasion that in general, and more
especially with artists, I pay as much attention to the man who
does the work as to the work itself. If the man is not there, I
am now and then forced to draw conclusions from the work only
(we cannot know all artists personally), or if the work is not
there, to form an opinion of the man by himself. Now I know
something of the work of a certain Mr. Van Rappard, and
secondly something of the gentleman himself.
His work is always saying to me, Better is to come; his person
is saying the same thing to me.
Better and better.
Do you think this a very merciless judgment? And (to jump from
one subject to another) as regards my special “bête
noire,” today I had little opportunity to occupy myself
with hunting it; but for all that I have not been able to
refrain from attacking it a little.
And we shall have a bone to pick with it by and by. But it is
beginning to be a little on its guard; the fact is that
resignation is accustomed to resignation, and I thought it
would give up the struggle. But lo! I am not yet in a mood for
it. Oh well, later on I shall probably tell you something more
about the said bête noire. Damned bête noire! And
yet it amuses me.
Meanwhile believe me, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
I am writing you pretty often now, as shortly I shall have a
lot of other correspondence to attend to.
See letter 161 to Theo of the same date. “Through
love... 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.”
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Anthon van Rappard. Written 23 November 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number R06.
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