On Sundays I usually feel like writing you, and so I do
today. The last few days I have been reading Le Nabab by
Daudet, and I think it a masterpiece - for instance, that walk
of Le Nabab and Heinerlingue, the banker, on
Pére-Lachaise in the twilight, while the bust of Balzac,
a dark silhouette against the sky, looks down on them
ironically. That is exactly like a drawing by Daumier. You
wrote me about Daumier that he had done “La Revolution -
Denis Dessoubs.” When you wrote this, I didn't know who
Denis Dessoubs was; now I have read about him in Histoire d'un
Crime by Victor Hugo. He is a noble figure, I wish I knew the
drawing by Daumier. Of course, I can't read any book about
Paris without thinking at once of you. Nor can I read a book
about Paris without finding in it something of The Hague, which
is indeed much smaller than Paris, but is nevertheless a royal
residence too, with its appropriate morals and manners.
When you say in your last letter, “What a mystery nature
is,” I quite agree with you. Life in the abstract is
already an enigma; reality makes it an enigma within an enigma.
And who are we to solve it? However, we ourselves are an atom
of that universe which makes us wonder: Where does it go, to
the devil or to God ?
Pourtant le soleil se leve [yet the sun rises], says Victor
Hugo. Long, long ago I read in L'Ami Fritz by Erckmann-Chatrian
a saying of the old rabbi's, which I have always remembered:
“Nous ne sommes pas dans la vie pour etre heureux, mais
nous devons tacher de meriter le bonheur.” [We are not in
life to be happy, but we must try to deserve happiness.] Taken
separately, there is something pedantic in this thought - at
least, one might take it as such - but in the context in
which the words occurred, that is, from the mouth of that
sympathetic figure of the old rabbi, David Sechel, they touched
me deeply, and I often think of them. Similarly in drawing, one
must not count on selling one's drawings, but it is one's duty
to make them so that they have a certain value and are serious;
one must not become careless or indifferent even though
disappointed by circumstances. In regard to my plan for the
lithographs, I have often thought it over; if I hadn't done
more than that, I fear it wouldn't have advanced me much, so
why think about it? Therefore I have made a few drawings for it
again, a woman with a bag of coals on her head, with a yard in
the background - a silhouette of roofs and chimneys and a woman
at the washtub.
You needn't be afraid of my taking any other steps for the
present apart from doing the drawings themselves. I must wait
till I have some cash before I try any more experiments in
lithography. But I think there is something in it.
At times I feel a great desire to be in London again. I should
so much love to know more about printing and wood
I feel a power in me which I must develop, a fire that I may
not quench, but must keep ablaze, though I do not know to what
end it will lead me, and shouldn't be surprised if it were a
gloomy one. In times like these, what should one wish for?
What is relatively the happiest fate?
In some circumstances it is better to be the conquered than to
be the conqueror - for instance, better to be Prometheus than
Jupiter. Well, it is an old saying, “Let come what
To change the subject, do you know whose work has impressed me
deeply? I saw reproductions after Julien Dupré
(is he a son of Jules Dupré?). One represented two
mowers; the other, a beautiful large wood engraving from Monde
Illustré, a peasant woman taking a cow into the meadow.
It seemed to me excellent work, very energetic and faithfully
done. It resembles, for instance, Pierre Billet perhaps, or
I also saw a number of figures by Dagnan Bouveret, a beggar, a
wedding, “The Accident,” “The Garden of the
I think these two are fellows who wrestle man to man with
nature, fellows who do not weaken and who have an iron grip.
You wrote me about “The Accident” some time ago;
now I know it and think it very beautiful. Perhaps they do not
possess Millet's sublime, almost religious, emotion - at least
not in the same degree as Millet himself - perhaps they do not
feel the same full warm love as he, but still, how excellent
they are! It is true I know them only from the reproductions,
but I think there can be nothing in them that was not in the
original work. By the way, it took a long time before I could
admire Thomas Faed's work, but now I do not hesitate about it
any more; for instance, “Sunday in the Backwoods of
Canada Home and the Homeless,” “Worn Out,”
“The Poor Man's Friend" - in short, you know the series
published by Graves.
Today I have been working on old drawings from Etten, because
in the fields I saw the pollard willows in the same leafless
condition again, and it reminded me of what I saw last year.
Sometimes I have such a longing to do landscape, just as I
crave a long walk to refresh myself; and in all nature, for
instance in trees, I see expression and soul, so to speak. A
row of pollard willows sometimes resembles a procession of
almshouse men. Young corn has something inexpressibly pure and
tender about it, which awakens the same emotion as the
expression of a sleeping baby, for instance. The trodden grass
at the roadside looks tired and dusty like the people of the
slums. A few days ago, when it had been snowing, I saw a group
of Savoy cabbages standing frozen and benumbed, and it reminded
me of a group of women in their thin petticoats and old shawls
which I had seen standing in a little hot water-and-coal shop
early in the morning.
In regard to those figures I have mentioned which I should
like to lithograph, I think the greatest difficulty will be to
find about thirty which will fit together to make a whole. One
must draw a great many more than thirty to get them.
If first I have those, reproduction is a second step, which I
suppose will be easier than if one starts to reproduce before
the whole is finished. Perhaps, or rather certainly, you will
have been here before I have them all, and then we can talk
about it some more.
Something like it has been done here for the primary schools,
namely twenty-four lithographs by Schmidt Crans, which I saw
recently. A few of them are good, but knowing the person who
made them you will understand that the whole is rather insipid.
It seems, however, that they are eagerly used at the
schools, but what a pity that they content themselves with such
things, particularly for educational purposes. Well, it's the
same with that as it is with everything else.
But, boy, don't forget to read Le Nabab, it is splendid. One
might call that figure a virtuous scoundrel. Do they
really exist? I certainly think so. There is much heart in
those books by Daudet - for instance, in Les Rois en Exil, that
figure of the queen, “aux yeux d'aigue-marine”
[with eyes of aquamarine].
Write again soon.
How much good walking out to the desolate seashore and
gazing out at the grey-green sea with the long white crests on
its waves can do for a man who is downcast and dejected! But if
one should have a need for something great, something infinite,
something one can perceive God in, there is no need to go far
in quest; it seems to me that I have seen something deeper,
more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression in
a small child's eyes when it awakens early in the morning and
yells or laughs on finding the dear sun shining upon it's
cradle. If ever a “rayon d'en haut,” [a beam shines
down from above] that may be where it is to be found.
Adieu, boy, with a handshake in thought,
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 5 November 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 242.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.