Thanks for your letter and the enclosed 50 fr., which were
as welcome as ever, the former as well as the latter.
How strange it is that it must be so. We ourselves see such a
thing as very simple and natural - something logical - and then
we are more or less astonished because others cannot find in
themselves the motives which make us act as we do. And one
would almost conclude that some people have cauterized certain
sensitive nerves within themselves - especially those which,
combined, are called conscience. Well, I pity them - in my
opinion they travel through life without a compass. One might
suppose that the love for humanity which is the foundation of
everything should be in every human being. But some pretend
that thee are better foundations. I'm not very curious to know
them; since the old one has proved to be the right one for so
many ages, it is sufficient for me. Don't you like this little
poem - it is from Les Misérables:
Si César m'avait donné
La gloire et la guerre,
Et qu'il me fallût quitter
L'amour de ma mère,
Je dirais au grand César:
Reprends ton sceptre et ton char,
J'aime mieux ma mère, o hé,
J'aime mieux ma mère.
[If Caesar had given me/ glory and war,/ and if I had to
leave/ the love of my mother,/ I should say to great Caesar:/
take back your sceptre and your triumphal car,/ I love my
In the context in which it appeared in the book (it is a
student's song of the time of the Revolution of '30), the
“love for my mother” stands for the love for the
republic, or rather love for humanity, in other words, simply
It is my opinion that no matter how good and noble a woman
may be by nature, if she has no means and is not protected by
her own family, in the present society she is in great,
immediate danger of being drowned in the pool of prostitution.
What is more natural than protecting such a woman, and, if it
can be done in no other way, if circumstances lead to it, if il
faut y mettre sa peau - marrying her?
At least I think one must, on principle, continue that
protection until she is definitely safe, and shield her with
one's own breast, as it were. Even without real love?
Perhaps so - then maybe it is a marriage de raison, but not
in the sense of a marriage for selfish reasons.
And further, your particular case is different from the more
commonplace ones like mine, for instance, because the person in
question possesses a special charm and, as I see it, sympathy
of feeling; as a consequence, the possibility of an inner
struggle about the problem you mention would also have emerged,
even if the meeting had taken place under quite different and
less dramatic circumstances.
You will find my thoughts on the question, “How far
may one go in helping an unfortunate woman?” in what I
have said. The answer is, Indefinitely. However, granting that
in love the first and principal thing is to be faithful, I
remind you of your own saying, “Marriage (that is, civil
marriage) is such a queer thing.” This saying of yours
describes it exactly, and on that point I declare I do not know
which is better or worse, to reject it or not. It is what they
call puzzling, it puzzles me, too, and I wish one could leave
it alone altogether. I think the saying is true, “If one
marries, one doesn't marry only the woman herself, but the
whole family in the bargain” - which is sometimes awkward
and miserable enough when they are a bad lot.
But now about the drawings.
One gets much stronger effects working with printer's ink
than with ordinary ink.
How beautiful Jules Dupré's work is. In Goupil's show
window I saw a small marine which you are sure to know. I went
to look at it nearly every evening. But you are perhaps
somewhat blasé about Dupré and similar works of
art, which one sees so much more in Paris than here; you do not
know what a beautiful impression it makes here, where one sees
so very little of it.
I am reading the last part of Les Misérables; the
figure of Fantine, a prostitute, made a deep impression on me -
oh, I know just as well as everybody else that one will not
find an exact Fantine in reality, but this character of Hugo's
is true - as, indeed, are all his characters, being the essence
of what one sees in reality.
It is the type - of which one only meets individuals.
If you meet, one of these days, an engraver like, for
instance, Girardet or Eichens, who make aquatints, you would do
me a great favour if you just asked him how the drawings which
serve as a guide for the engraving are usually made. Perhaps
they will answer, with printer's ink; if this is right, what do
they dilute the printer's ink with, how do they use it?
It seems to me that if you spoke to some engraver casually
about it, and repeated what he said to me, I might find
something in it which would shed light on some questions, even
though it contained no direct information about how the
printer's ink is diluted so that one can work with it in
different ways on paper.
There certainly is some kind of printer's ink other than the
one I am using right now, and gradually I shall find out many
things for myself. When one works with printer's ink and
turpentine, as I do now, the drawings get effects like those in
aquatint engravings. At one time I saw drawings, for instance,
by Mottramb, the English engraver who has engraved Boughton's
pictures, and I wish I knew what materials he worked with.
Of course I'm in no hurry for this information, only when
you hear something about different drawing techniques, be sure
to tell me.
I remember Soek's wife and her mother [acquaintances of
Vincent and Theo in Paris, with whom Theo's patient went to
live] quite well (if she still lives with her), and used to
visit their house; and I think them two sympathetic persons who
remind me of those of my own household, so much so that I often
think of them as if they were of the same family. They are just
like figures done by Souvestre, for instance, or of Ed.
Frère. One sees them in Paris often, in fact, one finds
them everywhere. Such persons always remind me of the women
figures in the Gospel, perhaps because their expression is
something like, for instance, the figure in Delaroche's
Vendredi Saint, or in Landelle, “Bien heureux ceux qui
pleurent” [blessed are they that mourn]. I know quite
well that their conception is not perfect - there are other
aspects even better than Delaroche's, and deeper than his, for
instance, those of Lhermitte and Herkomer.
Well, I see these too, but I can readily understand that in
the days of Souvestre, Delaroche, Frère, Landelle, etc.,
this tendency became popular, though compared with Millet and
others it isn't quite correct and true.
Is Anker still alive? I often think of his work; it is so
serious and the sentiment is so delicate. He is a real good old
Boy, how I sometimes long to have you in the studio once
more. I sincerely hope you will get the money back from
Hendrik. As for me, I had to pay so much all at once that very
little is left. Well, write as soon as you can, about the
twentieth. Adieu, with a handshake,
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 11 April 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 279.
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