I was lying awake half the night, Theo, after I wrote you
I am sick at heart about the fact that, coming back after
two years' absence, the welcome home was kind and cordial in
every respect, but basically there has been no change whatever,
not the slightest, in what I must call the most extreme
blindness and ignorance as to the insight into our mutual
position. And I again feel almost unbearably disturbed and
The fact is that things were going extremely well until the
moment when Father - not just in the heat of passion, but also
because he was “tired of it” - banished me from the
house. It ought to have been understood then that this was
supremely important to my success or failure - that things were
made ten times more difficult for me by this - almost
If I had not had the same feeling at the time which I now
have again, namely that notwithstanding all good intentions,
notwithstanding all the kindness of the reception,
notwithstanding anything you like, there is a certain hardness
in Father, like iron, an icy coldness - something that gives
the impression of dry sand or glass or tinplate - for all his
outward gentleness - if, as I said, I had not had this feeling
already, I should not have resented it so much.
[Written in the margin] I am not so much interested in a
kind or an unkind reception - it grieves me that they do not
regret what they did at the time. Now I am again in an almost
unbearable state of wavering and inner struggle.
You understand that I should not write as I do - having
undertaken the journey hither of my own free will having been
the first to swallow my pride - if I did not find real
obstacles in my way.
If I had now noticed some eagerness to do as the Rappards
did, with the best results, and as we began here with good
results too - if I had noticed that Father had also realized
that he ought not to have shut his house to me, then I
should have felt some confidence in the future.
Nothing, nothing of all that.
Father does not know remorse like you and me and any man who
Father believes in his own righteousness, whereas you and I
and other human creatures are imbued with the feeling that we
consist of errors and efforts of the lost souls. I
commiserate with people like Father - in my heart of hearts
I cannot be angry with him - because I think they are more
unhappy than I. Why do I think them unhappy? - because the good
within them is wrongly applied, so that it acts like evil
because the light within them is black and spreads
darkness, obscurity around them.
Their cordial reception grieves me - their indulgence
without acknowledging their error is for me, perhaps worse than
the error itself. Instead of a ready understanding and a
certain eager contribution to my, and indirectly their own,
well-being I feel in everything a hesitation and delay which
paralyze my own ardor and energy like a leaden atmosphere.
My masculine intellect tells me that I must consider it an
irrevocable, fatal fact that in the depth of our souls Father
and I are irreconcilable My compassion for Father as well as
for myself says to me, “Irreconcilable?” -
“Never!” - indefinitely, for ever and ever, there
is the possibility of and one should have faith in the
possibility of, a decisive reconciliation. But this - ah, why
is it probable, alas, that it will turn out “an
Do you call this moroseness on my part?
Our life is an appalling reality, and we ourselves are
infinitely driven, things are - as they are - and whether we
take them more or less gloomily does not in any way alter the
nature of things. I think about it this way, for instance at
night when I lie awake, or I think about it this way in the
storm on the heath in the evening, in the dreary twilight.
In the daytime, in daily life, I sometimes look as
thick-skinned as a wild boar perhaps and I can well understand
that people find me crude.
[Here Vincent crossed out the text “People are much
like brushes: those with the finest looks are not the finest in
When I was younger I myself also thought, much more than
now, that things depended on coincidence, or small things or
misunderstandings that were without any foundation. But getting
older, I feel it more and more differently, and see deeper
motives. Life is “a queer thing” too, brother.
You see how agitated my letters are, one moment I think that
it can be done, the next, that it cannot.
One thing is clear to me, “that things don't go readily,
that there is no eagerness.”
I have decided to go and see Rappard, and tell him that I
myself should be agreeable to staying at home, but that
notwithstanding all the advantages this would have, there is a
je ne sais quoi in Father which I am beginning to look upon as
incurable and which makes me listless and powerless. Last night
it was decided that I shall stay here for a time - and
notwithstanding this, next morning I again hear, Let's think it
over some more - oh yes, sleep on it a night or so, and think
it over!!! - when they have been able to think it over for
two years - ought to have thought it over of their own
accord, as a matter of course.
Two years, every day of which was a day of distress to me; for
them - everyday life, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing
could happen - the burden did not weigh on them. You say they
do not express it, but they feel it - I do not believe
it. I have thought so myself, but it is all
wrong. One acts as one feels - our
acts, our ready compliance or our hesitation, they are what
people may know us by - not by what we say with our lips,
kindly or unkindly. Good intentions, opinions, in reality all
this is less than nothing.
You may think of me what you will, Theo, but I tell you that
it is not my imagination. I tell you Father will not
I see now what I saw then -I flatly contradicted
Father then, I shall now speak out in any case
whatever might happen against Father once more because
he does not want it, he makes it impossible.
It is damned awful, brother, the Rappards acted
intelligently, but here!!!!! And everything one has done and is
doing about it, it is rendered ¾ useless because of
them. It's tiresome, brother. With a handshake,
[Written in the margin] They think they did no harm at
the time, this is too bad.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 6-7 December 1883 in Nuenen. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 345.
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