My things are packed, and I can leave here as soon as I have
the money. It is best to act as quickly as possible, for one
cannot work in such a moving time, and I shall not feel at ease
till I am settled somewhere in the country.
So if you can send some money about the tenth, I hope to be
able to start - if not at once for Drenthe, I shall go and stay
in a nearby village for a few days.
I hope it will turn out as you suppose - and, in fact, more
or less as I do too - that it will bring about a change for the
better in the woman.
But I'm afraid that it won't, and that she will fall back
into the old ways. Judging from my intimate knowledge of her, I
say she is too weak, especially in mind and will power, to
continue on the right road.
When I spoke to you about it during your visit, I had
already resolved to make a decision, but I thought there were
two ways, and the choice of how depended more on her
than on me.
If she had really wanted to struggle on with me in such a
way that it had been more than mere words, but an avoidance of
those faults that have made things unbearable, I believe -
however many cares we might have had, however poor we might
have been - it would have been a better fate for her than what
she may now expect. But I have come to think of her as
something of a sphinx, incapable of saying Yes or No. And if
you should ask me what I think she will do, and how she will go
on, I can only answer: “Certainly not as straight as she
These last days I have seen clearly that her going out to
look for a job was only make-believe, and that she is probably
waiting till I am gone before beginning something they do not
mention to me. That much more reason for me to start at once,
for otherwise it would end in her delaying on purpose. And
that's another trick of the mother's.
This plan is again a corruption of what they started a few
days ago; it will almost certainly lead to nothing but
wretchedness. But I should be crazy to help them as long as
they are not straightforward with me, shouldn't I? So I intend
to start abruptly, and to let a few weeks pass. Then I will
write them and see how things are.
I too am beginning to believe that I must go away to make
them realize the gravity of the situation. But such an
experiment is dangerous, for they can spoil a great deal even
in a short time.
Why, oh why, is the woman so foolish?
She is entirely what Musset has called “un enfant de
siècle” - and I can't help thinking of the ruin of
Musset himself when I think of her future. In Musset there was
something noble and idealistic; well, in her too there is a
“je ne sais quoi,” though she certainly is no
If only she was one a little. She has her children,
and if these become more her chief interest than they are now,
there will be some steadiness in her; but even that is not what
it ought to be, though her mother love, imperfect as it is, is
in my eyes the best trait in her character.
I am sorely troubled by the thought that after I have gone
away she will regret a number of things and want to do better
and then be in need of me. In that case I shall be willing to
help, but not unless I can instill in her what you told me the
woman you met expressed thus, “Tu m'as trouvée
bien en bas, il faut que je remonte.” [You have
found me very low down, it is necessary that I rise.]
But instead of it is necessary that I rise, she may say,
The abyss attracts me.
I once heard there had been an affair between Musset and
George Sand. George was resolute, positive, and hard working;
Musset was lâche, indifferent and even neglected his
work. It came to a crisis and a break between those two
characters. After that, a desperate effort by Musset, and
remorse, but not before he had sunk even more deeply into the
mud; and in the meantime George Sand had arranged her affairs,
was quite absorbed in a new work, and said, “It is too
late, it cannot be helped now.”
These things bring so much agony of the soul, and make
hearts shrivel up with pain - more than anybody suspects.
Theo, my mind will not be easy about her when I go; on the
contrary, I am anxious, because I know that she will wake up
only when it is too late, and will have an ardent desire for
something simpler and purer only when the moment to attain it
When I see that sphynxlike quality in her, I know of old
what it means, in her as well as in others, and that is a bad
And that melancholy staring into the abyss is just as fatal,
and the way to avoid that is to work hard.
And, Theo, now - she drops her hands into her lap too often
already - melancholy, if it is to be conquered, must be
conquered by hard work, and he who does not feel that is undone
forever, and goes straight to the dogs. I have told her so,
often enough. At times she took it a little to heart.
But now, you see, she is very near the abyss.
It shall not be my hand that pushes her over the edge, but I
cannot keep standing by forever, to draw her back.
A human being must have enough common sense to exert himself
when others help him and warn him.
I know there are cases in which melancholy seems to prevent
it, but later on he quietly does what he should do, and
recovers in the end. If only she is like this, all is well, and
she will be all right. Nothing is more effective than the
presence of a friend during the period of recovery from
melancholy. To have one at such a time means a lot, even though
the friend be poor. Well, she will always find one in me, and
though the fact is that she used to be and still is very
malicious at times, nevertheless it will be so.
She will stand in need of help, and so…I shall be
ready to help, even after I am gone, provided I see some
willingness and energy. Those people (in her family) who have
tried to estrange her from me did something that might well be
as wicked as murdering her and her children, only they did it
out of obduracy and stupidity; if it weren't for them, she
would have made better progress.
Try to let me have the money about the tenth, at least
enough so that I can leave here, for that would be wise.
But don't let it get you into trouble yourself. I will act
according to circumstances and will let you know at once what I
have done. If it is not enough for Drenthe, I shall go to
Loosduinen for a few days and wait there. I have found even
more beautiful things in Loosduinen, old farmyards - and in the
evening there are some splendid effects there. I might send my
things ahead or leave them in the luggage room.
But now is just the moment to give up the house, and as soon
as your letter arrives, I shall leave here; it will be a hint
for the woman to put her shoulder to the wheel. I will place a
few more advertisements, but they have done nothing but dawdle
these last two days, and I'm afraid they have changed their
Adieu, Theo, I wish things were fixed already, for days like
these are hard and of little profit.
I wish you good luck and prosperity. Believe me,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
I hope you have not fallen ill, I had the same thing some
time ago, but it has disappeared again.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 7 or 8 September 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 321.
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