I wish you were able to see that in several things I must be
You know what an “erreur de point de vue” [error
in one's point of view] represents in painting, viz. something
far different and far worse than a faulty drawing of such or
such a detail. A single point decides the greater or lesser
gradient: the development more to the right or left of the
sideplanes of the objects throughout the whole composition.
Well, in life there is something like this.
When I say I am a poor painter and have still years of
struggle ahead - my everyday life I must arrange
“à peu près” [approximately] like a
farm labourer or a factory hand does; then this is a fixed
point, from which many things result, which one tears from
their roots, when one considers them otherwise but
comprehensively. There are painters in other circumstances who
can and must act differently.
Everyone must decide for himself. If I had had other
chances, had been in different circumstances, and if no
decisive things had happened, of course that would have
influenced my actions. Now however, and “à plus
forte raison,” [with all the more reason] if there were
even the slightest question of it being considered arrogance
on my part to assume a right to which I had no claim - even if
I had this right as a matter of course - the mere suggestion of
the thing would have made me withdraw of my own accord from any
intercourse with people who occupy a certain rank in life, even
my own people.
So this is the fact: My firm resolve is to be dead to
anything except my work. But it is very hard for me to speak
about those things, simple in themselves, but which
unfortunately link up with much deeper things.
There is no anguish greater than the soul's struggle
between duty and love, both in their highest meaning. When I
tell you I choose my duty, you will understand everything.
A simple word said about it during our walk, made me feel
that absolutely nothing is changed in me in that respect, that
it is and remains a wound which I carry with me, while it lies
deep and cannot be healed. After years it will be the same as
it was the first day.[Kee Vos].
I hope you understand what battle I have had to fight within
myself of late.
The upshot was this: quoiqu'il en soit [be that as it
may] (not taking the quoi as interrogative, for I have
not the right to consider it so) I will do my utmost to remain
an honest man and doubly attentive to duty.
I have never suspected her, nor do I suspect her now,
nor shall I ever suspect her, of having had any but right and
proper financial motives. She went as far as was reasonable,
other people exaggerated. But for the rest, you understand that
I do not hold any delusive convictions about love for me, and
what we talked of on the road remains between us. Since then,
things have happened that would not have taken place, if at a
certain moment I had not had to face in the first place a
decided “no,” and secondly a promise that I would
not stand in her way. I respected in her a sense of duty - I
never have suspected, shall never suspect her of anything
Of myself I know this one thing, that it is of the greatest
importance not to deviate from one's duty, and that one should
not compromise with duty. Duty is absolute. The consequences?
We are not responsible for them, but for the choice of
doing or not doing our duty, we are responsible.
This is the direct opposite of the principle: The end
justi-fies the means.
And my own future is a cup that may not pass away from me
except I drink it.
So “Fiat voluntas.” [Thy will be done]
Regards - good luck on your journey - write soon - but you
know now how I shall face the future, with serenity, and
without a line on my face to betray the struggle in my very
You will understand, however, that I must avoid everything
which might tempt me to hesitate, so that I must avoid
everything and everybody that would remind me of
her. In fact that idea has made me this year
sometimes more resolute than I otherwise would have been, and
you see that I can do it in such a way that nobody understands
the real motive.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 18 August 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 313.
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