What I feel obliged to tell you once more is this. You know
very well that up to this very day there has been nothing in my
life of a criminal nature, and that I am in full possession of
my civil rights as a Netherlander. Further, that I shall take
good care to avoid all things prohibited by the laws of this
country, but consequently that I shall not suffer myself to be
molested or to be put under guardianship or anything of the
sort. I know quite well that in our family very ugly things
have been said about me repeatedly and in various ways,
although I do not know the source from which they originated.
But I very much doubt whether those who said them would have
the courage to swear to them before a judge or something like
that. I do not know if you have the Dutch constitution and the
other laws in your possession. Personally, I have consulted
them repeatedly on questions in which I myself was concerned
when I was in doubt whether this or that was legally justified.
And not just the Dutch laws; at times I even took the trouble
to compare the Dutch regulations with the French or English
constitutions. It wasn't just recently necessary for me to look
up the law; I had to in the past, when I was studying some
points in history.
Therefore I can tell you in all tranquillity that I am
waiting for things to take their course; I only hope that
nothing of the sort will happen and that, on the contrary, the
family will prove disposed to arrange things reasonably and
peacefully, should the necessity arise.
I must tell you, Theo, that sometimes I perceived that
Father, for instance, does not always take the trouble
to look things up, or that he bases and maintains a judgement
on such shaky premises and such superficial impressions,
information or gossip that it doesn't cut any ice. Besides one
should not consider a clause separately, without relation to
other laws, but rather relate it to the modifications and
clarifications of the pertinent clauses which appear with
When the law says, for instance, “A child owes respect
to its parents,” which is the introduction to the law on
paternal rights, it is not enough to fly into a rage and say,
“You don't show enough respect for your parents” -
one ought to think it over and try to find out if there really
is something illegal in the child's behaviour before one starts
shouting about the law.
Just think, Theo, how different things might have been at
home, for instance, if Father could have been less distrustful
of me, a bit less suspicious; if, instead of considering me a
person who could only do wrong, he had shown more patience and
good will in order to understand my real intentions - in which
he has always been sorely mistaken. In the first place, he
would have felt less grief on my account, and would have been
easier in his mind about me; and in the second place, he would
have spared me much sorrow. For it is a great sorrow to think,
This is worse than having no home at all, no father, no mother,
no relations - and I have often thought so, as I do now.
But one thing is certain, it is wrong to act and leave the
person concerned out of things; I do not even believe in a
family council taking resolutions about a person unless the
accused, or rather the person over whom the family council was
gathered, is present. But what is a family council? In most
cases nothing more than an intrigue, and occasionally a
vindication of family pride - beaucoup de bruit pour peu de
besogne [much ado about nothing].
But often something is decided upon which proves that the
persons who were present did not take the law into account, and
the resolution would not cut any ice if it were actually laid
before a judge.
If I really were bad or vicious or a mischief-maker or a low
schemer or an incompetent, I should really be afraid. However,
being what I am, I firmly believe I need not be afraid of
anything the family or some members of the family may attempt
It is my sincere wish that nothing will be attempted, not
because I am afraid of anything, but because I prefer peace to
I do wish you knew Sien, but you are so far away, and it is
impossible for me to describe a person in such a way that you
would know her well just from that description. However, I can
Do you remember our old nurse at Zundert, Leen Veerman? If my
memory does not deceive me, Sien is that kind of person. Her
type of profile resembles “L'Ange de la Passion” by
Landelle, you know the one I mean, a kneeling figure; the print
is published by Goupil. But of course she is not exactly like
this, I say it only to give you an idea of the lines of her
face. She is slightly pock-marked, so she is no longer
beautiful, but the lines of her figure are simple and not
What I appreciate in her is that she is not coquettish with
me, goes her way quietly, is thrifty, is quite willing to adapt
herself to the circumstances and to learn, so that she will be
able to help me with my work in a thousand ways. And she is
useful to me just because she is no longer handsome, no longer
young, no longer coquettish, no longer foolish. Her health has
been very bad, and last winter she was very weak. Now, by
eating simple food, by walking in the open air a lot, and by
taking baths, she has become much healthier and stronger. But
pregnancy is a difficult time. However, her speech is ugly and
she often says things and uses expressions which, for instance,
our sister Willemien, who has been brought up differently,
would never use. But this is something that I don't mind in the
least. I would rather have her speak coarsely and be good than
be refined in speech and heartless. But that is just it - she
has a good heart, has endurance, patience and good will, puts
herself out to help me. She comes every week to clean the
studio to save the money I should have to pay a cleaning woman.
Well, we shall be poor at times, but as long as she has enough
to eat, she is not sickly in the sense of having some ailment,
but she has suffered a great deal, for instance, she had
smallpox and later throat trouble. But there is no reason why
she cannot live long and get quite well again.
I must put a question to you confidentially. Do you think
Father is afraid that I shall ask him for money on this
occasion? I certainly wouldn't. Father has often told me that
my education, etc., has cost more than that of the others,
therefore in case of my marriage I would not ask Father for
anything, not even for an old cup and saucer. Sien and I have
what's strictly necessary. The only thing we cannot do without,
as long as I do not sell my work, is the 150 fr. from you, for
rent, bread, shoes, drawing materials - in short, for daily
I ask nothing, not even an old cup and saucer. I ask but
one single thing: to let me love and care for my poor, weak,
ill-used little wife as well as my poverty permits, without
their trying to separate, worry or hurt us.
Nobody cared for her or wanted her, she was alone and
forsaken like a worthless rag, and I have taken her up and have
given her all the love, all the tenderness, all the care that
was in me; she has felt this and she has revived, or rather,
she is reviving.
You know the old fable or parable: There was a poor man in a
town who had but one single little ewe lamb which he had bought
and fed, and it had been raised in his house - it ate his bread
and drank from his cup and slept in his arms, and it was like a
daughter to him. There was also a rich man in that town who
possessed many herds of sheep and oxen, but he took that one
ewe lamb from the poor man and killed it.
You see, if Tersteeg, for instance, could do what he liked,
he would separate Sien from me, force her back into her former
damned life which she has always hated - and why?
Know it well, the life of the woman, of the children, of me,
depends on that little thread of 150 fr. a month until my work
begins to sell. If that little thread breaks before that time,
then “morituri te salutant.” It is the least we can
manage on, and only with the greatest economy at that. But we
are happy this way because love binds us so closely.
Whether Father and Mother take it quietly or not will
three-fourths depend on what you tell them. If you oppose me,
then the trouble starts. If you say something like, Keep calm,
don't meddle, or if you try to reassure them in some way, they
will keep quiet. You need not compromise yourself, however, or
take any responsibility. In no way, for that responsibility
rests with me, but if you remain to me what you have been until
now, you can reassure then in two ways as to the financial
side. First, that I have your monthly allowance for the
necessary expenses, secondly, that I shall not ask anything
from them, not a penny, not even an old cup and saucer.
Finally, that I already have what's strictly necessary -
furniture, bedding, child's clothes, cradle, etc.
Well, brother, I hope all “dramatic” scenes will
be avoided, and that we may all keep calm; that is what I hope
and strive for.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 2-3 June 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 201.
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