This morning the weather was better again, so I went out to
You remember, perhaps, how it was with me in the Borinage.
Well, I am rather afraid it would be the same thing here all
over again, and I must have some security before I risk myself
further, otherwise I shall go back (Oh, you know, that's what I
say, but I really want to stay). I did not see any good at the
time, nor do I now, in reaching such a point of destitution, in
literally having no roof over my head, in having to wander and
wander forever like a tramp, without finding either rest or
food or covering anywhere - besides, without any possibility of
See for yourself how far it is from Mons to
Courrières on the map. I went that way on foot, from
Valenciennes to Mons and back, with not quite two francs in my
pocket - three days and three nights in the beginning of March,
in wind and rain, without a roof over my head.
It is just these antecedents, brother, which I have not yet
come to, of course - but should come to if I risked myself too
far without security, if I did not put my affairs in reasonable
order. I repeat, if I risked myself far into the country
without anybody to back me up.
Before I begin - I do not distrust or suspect you, but it is
just a measure of common sense - I repeat, before I begin (and
I ask it because not very long ago you wrote me about being
distressed yourself, and being afraid of troubles and
calamities in the future) can you assure me that the usual
remittance will not be lacking? And at the same time - though
that may be sufficient, and I should not need more under
certain circumstances - I tell you, the condition on which the
usual money loan will be sufficient is that one is well
equipped to begin with, and starts with a supply of certain
things. I, who like to have the initiative because sometimes a
proof of sincerity is needed, a fact proving that one does not
deal in words but in actions - though I went as far as Drenthe,
I shrink, not from taking the first step, but from taking the
next one without being sure of my footing.
Experience forces me to demand a definite fixed arrangement.
If you had gone through what I suffered during that expedition
in the Borinage, you would have learned to do exactly what I do
in my case - what I see so distinctly and clearly now -
recognizing as old acquaintances all the circumstances and
things with which I have had to deal.
The expeditions I should want to make are impossible and
foolish if undertaken without supplies. They are very
precarious without a surplus of ready money for unforeseen
In short, one must not undertake them without the thorough
conviction that one will be hampered everywhere and always by
people who stand staring, but are unwilling to lend a helping
hand. One must expect to be distrusted at every inn - like any
poor peddler (for that is what they take one for). Often one
has to pay the money for board and lodging in advance - as I
have to do here - to get them to take one in for pity's sake.
And so everything is prose, everything is
calculation in regard to a plan for an excursion, which,
after all, has poetry for its end. I never told you this as
plainly as I do now, and if I do so now, I assure you it is not
in the least because I distrust you, but because since I
planned this journey, I have not spoken to you as seriously as
I do now about the obstacles connected with the money you might
have available or might be able to find for it. I must mention
it now because, though in one of my last letters I told you
that everything here was better than I expected - which is
really the case - nevertheless in this inn I find drawbacks as
to light, space, opportunity to work with a model, and
therefore - though I can put up with it if need be, and will do
so if it must be - I am thinking of pushing on farther
into the country, notwithstanding the bad season, not doubting
that wherever I go, I shall find at least just as good an
opportunity to work as here, and I hope even more space, etc. I
have been here about two weeks now, and I speak from experience
when I tell you that in many, in almost all, respects my
materials and outfit and supplies prove to be insufficient.
Hoogeveen itself is classed as a town on the map, where it
is marked with a red dot, but in reality it isn't a (it doesn't
even have a tower). So I cannot get anything in the way of
drawing materials. If I go deeper into the country, I shall be
even more handicapped - and I must be prepared for anything,
or, I repeat, it would be sheer madness. I should not be in
such a hurry if this season's advance did not spur me to the
greatest speed. Remember that time is passing, and perhaps two
weeks will have gone by again before I can get an answer from
Before the real winter comes (and it will be there at all
too soon!! I really do not see how to manage), I should like to
try to get some better quarters - even farther out on the
heath. And also my state of mind, which is too gloomy - so that
I feel an urgent need to go on working steadily, this being the
very best remedy and distraction - forces me to insist on
better equipment. And that would remain exactly the same, even
if I stayed here.
If I told you it could wait, I should be lying, for it is
absolutely necessary to have it at once.
If it cannot be, it cannot - but then I must stop
And I should not have grown so melancholy even now if my bad
equipment had not handicapped me so much.
If I could find a measure of encouragement and what's
strictly necessary, I think I could manage all right here. The
country is very beautiful - today I saw a funeral in a barge,
it was very fascinating - six women wrapped in coats in the
boat, which the men pulled along the canal through the heath,
the clergyman in a three-cornered hat and breeches, exactly
like the figure by Meissonier, following on the other side.
There are all kinds of curious things here.
You must not be angry with me for writing the way I do. I
came here in too much of a hurry, and only now I feel what I
lack, and that I acted rather rashly - but what else could I
do? I feel inexpressibly melancholy without my work to distract
me, as you will understand, and I must work and work hard, I
must forget myself in my work, otherwise it will crush me. I
repeat, I do not distrust you in the slightest, but my
experience forbids me to undertake an excursion without knowing
what I can count on. So speak absolutely openly, for my
decision depends on it, and, at all events, I will suit my
actions to the circumstances. With a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
If I had known beforehand that I should have to separate
from the woman after all, I should probably have separated six
months ago - but even though I still have to smart for it, I am
glad I was faithful to her too long rather than too short a
time, and I did not want to act on my own responsibility before
I had spoken to you personally. When you think of last year, do
not forget that the reason for the expenses being too high was
less our personal needs than the enormous prices in The Hague.
If I had known everything - I could have economized 200
guilders on rent, even if I had taken this whole inn with
garden and all, and lo! The whole deficit would have been made
up out of one single item. Indeed, the woman is quite innocent
of my deficit, and so am I, since it was impossible to act
differently in The Hague - but if I had known it, I would have
moved here much sooner. I reproach myself with this blunder, or
rather this ignorance.
But last year was not entirely fruitless or useless - it was
a year of hard work, and I look back on it calmly after all. As
to my not having my hands as free as I should wish at present -
in no case shall I have them free, even if assistance came; for
by then a great part of the autumn will already have passed -
and before winter I shall have finished only a portion of those
studies which I had hoped to get done. As to the present
difficulties, only patience will clear them up here - all the
same, I should like to undertake another trip between now and
Christmas. Let's make the most of our time, for loss of time is
most expensive. In The Hague I have more than 70 painted
studies - if I had made them here, they would have been more
use to me.
I must tell you frankly that lately I have been sorry, and
am still, that I paid off my debt with the money you sent. It
is true I was in debt, but none of those I had recently paid
were exactly pressing me for money then - though they did some
time ago - and I might have put it off a little longer. I do
not know whether one may not think of oneself first in order to
keep one's plans and one's energy free, for I repeat, I shall
not be able to paint the necessary studies before winter comes,
and who will thank me for it?
I shall reproach myself with it, and be miserable about it.
It's true that since your visit I have paid Leurs over 30
guilders. I might get credit if it were ordinary colours, but I
am bargaining for old tubes, which I can get at 33 1/3%
discount, but payment in cash. It is the same thing with
Furnée, who is that land surveyor's father. I have his
assurance that he trusts me, but the fact is that I generally
used to pay him cash - and I see no reason to change it, as I
should then seem to change my line of conduct, and it might
influence our friendship; and what I wanted to buy from him is
also a part of that same lot, about half of it, so it is again
a question of cash. Then brushes, another paint box, a
portfolio for studies, and other things - if I pay cash for
them, I get more favorable conditions, and shall have no
further worries about it; and if I have no further worries, I
can begin to settle with Rappard.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 27 September 1883 in Drenthe. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 329.
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