I cannot tell you how much I regret Tersteeg's untimely
visit. It is why I am writing about a few things now, although
I would rather have waited and talked them over with you. I
have told you that I wanted to marry Sien, and as soon as
possible. Mind, however, that I wish to talk this over with you
personally before saying anything to Father. I can get along
with you better; you feel things more justly than all the
others put together, and when you say something, it is worth
while. Even though we do not agree about some things, we can
always meet each other halfway because we speak in sympathy and
I also believe that if no one else meddled, unasked,
everything would come right in all respects. As soon as there
is any question of marriage, however, people flare up quickly
and noisily, and there is no arguing with them; you can hardly
get a word in edgewise. So I shall no longer wait to write
about what I would rather talk over.
About marrying, you said, Do not marry her, etc., and you
thought Sien fooled me, etc.
I then answered you that I could not agree with you in that,
But I did not want flatly to contradict you, because I
believed, and still believe, that in time you would grow to
like Sien if you knew her better; and then of course you would
no longer think that she fooled me or any such thing. When this
has been achieved, we can talk about marriage again, I thought.
But you will also remember that I did not speak openly about it
in my last letter.
Only I said this much at the time, there is a promise of
marriage between her and me, and I do not want you to think of
her as a mistress or as someone with whom I have a liaison
without caring about the consequences.
Now I shall come back to it once more. That promise of
marriage is twofold; first, a promise of civil marriage as soon
as circumstances will permit, and second, a promise to help
each other meanwhile, to support each other, to cherish each
other, not letting ourselves be separated by anything. Now the
civil marriage is probably the most important question to the
family. Indeed, it is important to her and to me, but it is
secondary to the real essence of the matter, the love and faith
between us as it already exists and is growing daily.
I am ready to propose to you letting the whole question of
civil marriage rest for an indefinite time and, for instance,
postponing it until I earn 150 francs a month by selling my
work, at which time your help will no longer be necessary. With
you, but only with you, I will thus agree that for the time
being I shall not enter into a civil marriage, not until my
drawing has progressed so far that I am independent.
As I begin to earn, you will gradually send less every
month; and when I finally do not need your money any longer, we
can talk about civil marriage again. But until then it would be
quite absurd, after what has happened all last winter and
especially these last months, to try to separate or divide us.
We are bound and knit together by a strong bond of mutual
affection, and by the help we mutually give each other. For she
is my partner in work, if I may call her so, and is infinitely
more than an ordinary model because she poses so willingly and
intelligently that I cannot praise her enough.
After all I have told you now, I hope you will look at
things with more confidence. This winter you heard from
Heyerdahl, for instance, better things about my work than what
Tersteeg thinks about it. I now feel so much renewed animation
for my work that I have high hopes of making some progress this
autumn. Perhaps about Christmas, when the year I have allowed
myself is over, I will send you a number of small watercolours,
of which the last little drawings, which already have some
touches of brown and red and grey in them, were the beginning.
And sometimes I feel a great longing to paint too, a very great
longing and ambition. Especially now that the better light and
the better studio involuntarily urge me on.
I want to reserve to myself the right of discussing with you
in general the question of marriage, housekeeping expenses,
etc., when you come here, particularly as I believe there are
some points on which you are mistaken; but this will be in
quite a friendly way, and it does not bear directly on the
question of a legal marriage to Sien. As all this forces me to
write at once, I only ask that the matter be allowed to rest
until such time as I earn more by the direct sale of my work.
When you come here, I shall certainly tell you the reason why I
should have preferred to marry her without delay, but please do
not consider this a further insistence on my part. No, to the
extent I mentioned I am prepared to make concessions as far as
I told you, of my own accord and of my own free will.
If people should speak to you about the affair, I think you
might say that you and I are on sufficiently confidential terms
to ensure your getting the necessary information from me, but
that you do not think the matter need be discussed for the time
Such interviews like the one with Tersteeg have a more
aggravating effect on the woman and myself than the rawest
north wind; they must be avoided. The main thing is to get
fully recovered, and to be fit to work regularly again.
I only hope now, Theo, that what I tell you about marrying
will show you that I do not want to have my own way in
everything, that I am willing to give in to your wishes as far
as I can; but then let this prove to you that I deserve your
confidence and your writing me about various things. I cannot
get on with the others, but I can talk and settle things with
What I want is to save Sien's life and that of her two
children. I do not want her to fall back into that terrible
state of illness and misery in which I found her, and from
which she is saved for the present. This I undertook, this I
must continue. I do not want her ever to feel again that she is
deserted and alone. I want her to feel and to know in every way
that I feel tender love for her and affection for the children.
And - whoever may disapprove of this - you will understand and
not try to prevent it. I attribute her recovery to you, as I
credit myself with only a small part. I have only been the
means of bringing it about.
I repeat, I am sorry that I have not been able to tell you
personally, and after you had made the acquaintance of the
woman, what I have told you in this letter; then perhaps I
might have added some more things to make you feel that I am
not unreasonable. But even now I hope you will come before long
and that at all events you will write soon.
Sien will soon be at her ease with you, and then you will
not look down on her, and think of her the way Tersteeg did
Be fully assured of her and my warmest affection, receive a
handshake in thought and believe me,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
What I should like to talk over with you once more is the
condition in which I found her, and things about her past. The
poor creature has had a very hard time of it. And yet there is
still a vitality and delicacy of feeling in her which have not
I repeat once more that I am longing so very much for your
coming, apart from everything, because I so need sympathy and
affection. I should like so much to walk with you once more,
though the Rijswijk mill is no longer there. Enfin.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 19 July 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 217.
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