I am writing a letter to Father at the same time as this
one, in which a few things are set forth which now I need not
write twice. Be so kind as to read Father's letter. In this
letter for you,Is now the right
moment? In fact, isn't it better to say to myself straight out:
“Don't think yourself ripe enough yet, because what you
want and mean to do does not yet seem comprehensible enough to
those who see it - as they are, so to speak, more or less
frightened by it; keep on going - work faithfully and firmly
after nature. Seek it once more in nature only, on the heath or
in the dunes, and for the present don't mind that those who
have seen it don't think much of it yet. Don't go on showing
it, don't think of immediate approval in London - it must get
even better.” I say all these things to myself, and after
thinking over what I write about the woman, you too will
perhaps find there are reasons for hesitating about going to
London directly. I cannot decide yet.
But a simple thought, which seems good to me just because of
its simplicity, is that I should take no step other than going
and living more cheaply someplace in the country where the
scenery is striking. I am anxious to know whether Father and
you can comprehend my feelings about staying with the woman. I
should wish it were possible that, instead of sending her out
into the street again, we might return her promise to better
herself with a cordial pardoning and forgetting.
It is better that she be saved than that she be ruined.
This morning she said to me, “As to what I did before,
I do not even think of it, and have not mentioned it to Mother
either. I only know that if I have to go, I shall not earn
enough, especially as I shall have to pay board for the
children; and if in that case I walk the street, it will be
because I must, not because I want to.” I think I wrote
you once what passed between us when she was in the hospital
and I had not yet decided whether I should take her into my
house or not. She never asked anything then either, which
contrasts very much with her more ordinary behaviour.
I cannot say exactly what her expression was, but it was
something like a sheep that would say, “If I must be
slaughtered, I won't try to defend myself.” At any rate,
something so pathetic that I can only pardon fully - aye, feel
guilty myself - rather than accuse her. However, I kept this to
myself, and made her promise several things: that she would be
more orderly, more zealous, pose better, not go to her mother,
And now I have completely forgiven and forgotten, without
reservation, and I take her part just as I did before.
It is a heartfelt pity which is so strong that everything
gives way before it, and I cannot act otherwise than last year
in that hospital, and I say now as I did then, As long as I
have a crust of bread and a roof over my head, it is yours. It
was no passion then, it is no passion now; it is understanding
each other's vital wants. Knowing now, however, how her people
upset her last year, and fearing she might fall back again, I
should like to live with her someplace in a little village
where she could see nothing of the town and could live a more
natural life. However, I have known from the beginning that her
constitution required years to recover, and so there is
Well, the little boy really dotes on me. Now that that he is
beginning to crawl and stand, he is always at my side wherever
I go in the house.
Look here, Theo, by acting according to what we feel, firmly
and resolutely, I think we may fall into mistakes, may meet
with deceptions several times; but I think we shall be saved
from a great evil and from despair if we ask what our duty is -
and do what ought to be done as well as we can.
Now about the work, I do not doubt it has its faults, but
neither do I doubt that I am not entirely wrong, and that I
shall succeed, though it be after a long period of seeking.
And I believe that it is dangerous to expect success
anywhere else but in the work.
I wish I had, for instance, Mauve or Herkomer for a friend.
However, I believe that isn't the most important thing, neither
would they consider it the most important. By working on
faithfully, it may last a longer or a shorter time, be more or
less successful; sooner or later one will meet among the
painters the lifetime friend, as for instance M. or H. might
And perhaps it will come sooner if one goes on working
quietly than if one goes begging for it, or visiting people,
which for me has the smaller chance of success because of some
eccentricities in me which you notice even more than I, though
I occasionally notice them myself too, but I do not think them
so bad that I should not be astonished at the continuous
obstacles when trying to get some people to have some
confidence in me. Suppose my faults are as bad and as obvious,
for instance, as the woman's: then I should wish that some
people did for me what I am now doing for the woman - and have
already done several times - forgive, not just partially, but
completely, as though nothing had happened or would happen
again. If you have perhaps said something to C. M. about my
leaving the woman, please take it back immediately; I cannot do
a thing which will prove to be cruel or unmerciful. I do not
know whether I shall be happy with the woman in the future,
maybe not, it certainly won't be perfect; happiness is not
anything we ourselves are responsible for - but we are
responsible for how far we heed conscience.
Adieu, boy, let me hear from you while you are still at
I cannot speak differently.
Just read Father's letter.
If I deserted the woman, she would perhaps go mad, but
because I have already often found the way to calm her in her
fits of unbearable temper, by quieting a fear which oppressed
her, because in the course of this year she has learned to
understand that she has found in me a true friend, on whom she
can lean in her weakness, who understands her troubles, it has
given her a feeling of rest when I am with her; and I hope she
will improve in time, especially if she is no longer attracted
by what draws her back to the past, of which she had better not
Moving to the country would be a good thing, but at the same
time it must be an economy measure. She has been told, for
instance, that I should leave her because of the children. That
isn't true, it would never be my reason, but it is one of the
things which upset her and make her wish she did not have
Theo, as a matter of fact she does improve, but one has to
show her the same thing over and over again, and she can make
one feel discouraged; but when - which rarely happens - she
tries to say what she means and thinks, it is wonderful how
pure she is, notwithstanding her depravity. As if, far deep in
the ruin of her soul and heart and mind, something had been
And in those rare moments her expression is like that of a
“Mater Dolorosa” by Delacroix or like certain heads
by Ary Scheffer.
That's what I believe in, and now that I have seen it again,
I respect that depth of feeling and won't mention her
I hope, boy, you will see a few beautiful sunsets over the
silent quiet country, far away from the city, before you go
As to the change of residence, I know that I could find it
in more than one place. But of course we do what must be done,
in all calmness, and we shall write each other about it
Adieu, have a good time and know that whatever the future
may bring, I have hope for better times.
Yours sincerely, Vincent.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 19 August 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 314.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.