A few days ago I received a letter from Rappard, with whom I
have been corresponding about the experiments in lithography,
and who is also making some experiments himself.
I had incidentally written him, “I have had another
obstacle, a letter with money which was especially intended for
the experiments got lost.”
In answer to this, he wrote: “Don't let this trouble
you, and count on me if you cannot continue or if you need
something.” I had not written it to him because I
expected him to say such a thing, but because I wanted him, for
his part, to make a few more experiments. Still, it pleased me,
because such proofs of sympathy are rare. I answered him, For
the moment there is no need of it, but if it really became a
question of my not being able to continue, I would accept your
aid. And I told him how much I appreciated it. You see now that
this is one of the cases which I wrote you about in my last
Of course the drawing, the stone, the printing, the paper,
cause expenses, but, relatively speaking, they are small.
Sheets such as the last one I sent you, for instance, as well
as a new one I finished last night and which is ready, would, I
think, be perfectly suitable for a popular publication, which
is so very, very necessary, here in Holland even more than
Now, an enterprise such as the drawing and printing of a
series of, for instance, thirty sheets of workmen types - a
sower, a digger, a woodcutter, a ploughman, a washerwoman, then
also a child's cradle or a man from the almshouse - well, the
whole immeasurable field lies open, there are plenty of
beautiful subjects - can one undertake it or not? The question
goes even deeper: it is a duty, and is it right or is it wrong?
That's the question.
If I were a man of means, I shouldn't hesitate to decide, I
should say, “En avant et plus vite que ça. [Quick
march, and hurry up.]
But here it is different - may one, must one, can one
involve and carry along others whom one needs, without whom one
cannot accomplish it, in an enterprise doubtful of success? I
wouldn't spare myself. By helping me, you have shown that you
do not spare yourself either. But others think it both wrong
and foolish of you to have anything to do with me, and they
think my own actions even more foolish; and many who at first
were full of good will changed their opinion, and their courage
and enthusiasm were as short-lived as a straw-fire.
In my opinion they are indeed quite wrong, for neither you
nor I act foolishly in this matter. The whole thing started a
short time ago with a word from you, “I met Buhot, who
knows a certain way of lithographing which I will tell you more
about later; you ought to make some experiments with the paper
he is going to send you.” This matter, with its
relatively insignificant beginning at first, has in a short
time assumed more important proportions to me.
I see that with persistence and perseverance it might become
something not at all unnecessary, but definitely good and
It has always been said that in Holland we cannot make
prints for the people - I have never been able to believe it, I
see now that it can be done
The Society for General Welfare has bolstered up Elsevier in
Rotterdam with thousands of guilders for the publication of The
Swallow. Did The Swallow become a good thing?
No, though it had a few beautiful sheets, it was
too uninteresting, not serious, not powerful, not strong
enough; an imitation of what the English do, not original
There are two systems: How not to do it and How to do it.
How not to do it was, I'm afraid, Elsevier's underlying motive,
otherwise he would have done it, even if he had had to
pay for it himself. How-not-to-do-it argues thus: The Society
gave me so and so much; I get so and so much from the sale; I
must have so and so much of this for my own
pocket. I must follow my colleagues' custom,
otherwise they will call me a mauvais coucheur or a
So, instead of saying what was written under a picture by
Millais,1 "It might be done, and if so, we should
do it," Elsevier and thousands like him say it can't be
done, or they do it sloppily and without enough energy. I do
not know the publishers of The Swallow well enough to be able
to say exactly whose fault it is; however, I know their
magazine well enough to take it upon myself to say, "You have
not made it what it might have been, it should and might have
And in addition to this I say, whatever the case may be now,
at all times there have been clever, true, brave, honest
Dutchmen - even during times when everything was generally
slack and enervated and wrong, the fire was found burning here
and there in some hidden corner. How much more so during those
periods when the Dutch people were ranked among the first and
So what is needed is courage and self-sacrifice and risking
something, not for gain, but because it is useful and good; one
must retain one's trust in one's fellow creatures and fellow
countrymen in general.
Before I go further, however, I want to state this: I
personally will have nothing to do with this business of prints
for the people, except for making them if such a thing is
undertaken. It must be a public service, not a publishing
venture. However, as it is necessary to come into some contact
with the "book trade," if only about the printing or such,
for once I speak to you about it, not to ask, "Do you think it
would be a success?” from their point of view, but only
to discuss, how to do it.
I should think the following would be the best way:
As it is useful and necessary that Dutch drawings be made,
printed and distributed which are destined for workmen's houses
and for farms, in a word, for every working man, a number of
persons should unite in order to use their full strength toward
This combination must try to operate as practically and well
as possible, and should not disperse before the work is
The price of the prints must not be more than ten, at the
most fifteen cents.
The publication should start when a series of thirty sheets
has been made and printed and when the expenses for stones,
wages and paper have been paid
Those thirty sheets would be published together, but could
be bought separately; they would form a whole in a linen cover
with a short text, not referring to the drawings - which speak
for themselves - but explaining in a few concise, vigorous
words how and why they are made, etc.
The reason for this combination is the following. If the
draughtsmen undertook it alone, they would be saddled with
everything, the work as well as the expenses, and the
undertaking would be a failure before it was half finished.
Therefore the burden must be equally divided, so that everyone
has his share to carry and the thing can be brought off.
The profits from the sale would serve first to pay back the
money to those who furnished it, and second, to pay each
draughtsman an equal amount to be fixed later.
Once these things have been settled, the rest would be used
for new publications to continue the work.
Those who begin this work will consider it a duty.
Self-interest not being their aim, if the undertaking
doesn't pay, and the deposits are lost, neither the
money-lenders nor the draughtsmen nor anyone who might have
contributed may retrieve what they have put into it; neither
may they claim more than they furnished if the undertaking
should succeed beyond all expectation.
In the latter case, the surplus would be used for the
continuation of the work; in the former case, the original
group would keep the stones, from which at all events the first
700 copies would be reserved not for thc combination but for
the public: if the combination fails, those copies must be
spread free of charge. Immediately after the publication of the
first series of thirty, a consultation must be held, and it
must be decided whether to continue or not; and then, but not
before, whoever wants to withdraw from the combination may do
This is the idea I've formulated, and now I am telling you
how to do it. Will you join?
I haven't spoken to others about it because the idea only
became clear to me while at work. But I have already been
discussing the question of prints for the people for a long
time with Rappard, with the result that both he and I are
interested in it; so that, as I already told you, he
voluntarily said to me, I will give you a helping hand.
However, Rappard does not view the matter as I wish he would
- that is, he doesn't agree with me on questions of technique.
As to his proposal to lend me money, I resolved to refuse it
for myself personally, because I should only want it if a
combination such as the one I wrote you about could not be
established: then I should try to carry out the idea myself.
Once as far as that, I should have to see what more I could do.
For the present I tell him my ideas about the matter, and ask
him as I do you: couldn't we take such a thing in hand?
Meanwhile it is December 1. If you have not written already,
do so as soon as possible, for I haven't a cent left.
Adieu, believe me with a warm handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
It ought to be a combination which acts, not
deliberates, acts quickly and resolutely and without loss of
time, considering the whole thing a matter of public service,
not a publisher's speculation.
Another thing. One must calculate the expenses beforehand;
thirty stones, printing wages, paper, how much would it be? I
do not know exactly, but I think that 300 guilders would cover
a great deal. The drawings would be contributed by members who
could not give any money. I will take them all upon myself if
there is nobody else. But I would rather that artists better
than myself undertook it.
In any case I think it is desirable to bring the first
thirty sheets before the public, and I should like to see this
through, even if for the present no other contributors should
present themselves to make the drawings. Because artists who
could do it better than I may hope to might perhaps be induced
to join if they were shown the series. Many people will begin
only when they know for sure that the undertaking is serious,
and will refuse to have anything to do with it as long as the
first steps have not been taken.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 1 December 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 249.
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