This morning we got your letter. We think that it is already
something that you have broached the subject - and broken the
ice as you have spoken about it with the Hollandsche heeren [Dutch gentlemen],
etc. And I do not think that my “elle sera à la
vapeur” was wrong; I myself see that
à la vapeur in the future. And as
to the immediate present, you will remember that I said to you:
meet with a refusal this time if necessary, but then in any
case the subject is broached - and then there will have to
follow a second trip to Holland by Bonger and you together. For
the time being there is every reason to say with Father
Pangloss: tout est pour le miex dans le meilleur des
mondes. [Everything is for the best in the best of
But, old fellow, the solution to the S. problem which you
mention in today's letter, namely “either she gets out or
I get out,” would be very succinct and efficacious - if it
were practical. But you will run your head against the same
difficulties Bonger and I had to face the last few days, and
which we are taking the utmost trouble to clear away. These
difficulties are of a nature other than you suppose, but this
is not the moment to discuss details; we shall tell you all
about it as soon as you get back.
That you are not suited to S. and S. is not suited to you is,
I think, incontrovertible, as well as that you must part company -
but how? It would be a good thing if you accepted the idea that the
affair cannot be settled in the way you propose, by treating her
harshly you would immediately drive her to suicide or insanity, and
the repercussions on you would be sad indeed and leave you a
So no catastrophes, please! Well, I told Bonger what I told
you, namely that you should try and pass her on to somebody
else, and I told him more explicitly what my feelings on the
subject are that an amicable arrangement, which would seem
obvious, could be reached by your passing her on to me. So it
is certain that, if you could reconcile yourself to it, and S.
too, I am ready to take S. off your bands, preferably
without having to marry her, but if the worst comes to
the worst even agreeing to a marriage de raison.
I am writing this in a few short words in order that you may
have time to think things over before your return. As in this
way she could keep house for you, and as she would live on what
she earns by working, it would be rather a saving of expense
than the reverse. Lucie has been given notice; I told her that
you could not continue paying her, as it was too expensive, but
I have kept her on until your return, so that you may be able
to decide what you will do about the housekeeping, and in case
the decision cannot be arrived at on the first day, it may be
desirable to let the housekeeping go on on the same footing, as
far as Lucie is concerned, until you have decided about what to
do with S.
If you could agree with this arrangement, the first
consequence, as I see it, would be that you would feel a free
man, and your own engagement would become à la
vapeur. Keep courage and be calm!
As for my work, I painted the pendant of those flowers which
you have. A branch of white lilies - white, pink, green -
against black, something like black Japanese lacquer inlaid
with mother-of-pearl, which you know - then a bunch of orange
tiger lilies against a blue background, then a bunch of
dahlias, violet against a yellow background, and red gladioli
in a blue vase against light yellow.
I have read Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant.
Do you know that Bonger is sleeping here as well as S., and
these are queer days; at times we are afraid of her, and at
other times we are almighty gay and lighthearted. But S. is
seriously deranged, and she is not cured yet by a long
However, the moment you meet again, you will both feel that
the liaison between S. and you is definitely off and so
you need not be afraid of getting tied to her again. But you
must talk a lot with her, and try to get her settled down.
Please think it over in the interval between now and your
return, and remember: aux grand maux les grands
Bonger is sure to add something to this letter, if he does
not write to you directly from his office.
I quite agree to the exchange for two watercolours by
Isabey, especially if they are figures. Try to make an exchange
for the pendant that I have here, and to get something else
with it. I say, would it not be possible to get the Otto Weber
from Prinsenhage, that beautiful autumn? I would give them a
series of four in exchange. We need pictures more than
drawings, but do what seems best. Love to all at home.
With a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
The basis of V.'s reasoning corresponds with my own
conviction. The problem is that S.'s eyes must be opened. She
is not the least bit in love with you, but it is as if you have
cast a spell on her. Morally she is seriously ill. It goes
without saying that we could not leave her to her fate in this
condition. On the contrary, we have been as kind as possible to
her. If we hadn't, she would have gone mad. What makes me
optimistic about her recovery is something she said last night:
“que je suis bête de ne pouvoir me faire un
raisonnement.” [how stupid I am not to be
reasonable.] So it seems she feels what is the matter with her.
The great difficulty is her obstinacy, which we have repeatedly
bumped our heads against, as against a stone wall. Nothing is
to be gained by harsh treatment. For the time being it is
extremely difficult to make a plan, (Vincent's is impractical,
as far as I can see), but I hope you are fully convinced that
your handling of her has been wrong; during the past year your
relations have had no other result than getting her hopelessly
muddled. Perhaps it would have been better to live together
completely; then she would have seen of her own accord that you
are not at all well matched. If she could live a month with
somebody else who would be able to satisfy her sensuality and
take care of her (for she requires a lot of care) so that she
may recover her health, you would be forgotten. Her condition
greatly resembles the nervous overexcitement of most girls in
Holland. It will prove no less difficult to convince S. of hers
than it would be to give rest to those minds at home.
I don't suppose you have met my sisters Jo and Annie; as far
as I know, both of them are out of town. We are both anxious to
know how things are in Amsterdam. It gave me great pleasure to
hear that V. is appreciated now. What a satisfaction for you,
because of the firm confidence you have always had in him! He
has made a number of very beautiful things; those on a yellow
background are quite striking. The flower pieces are most gay
and colourful as a whole; but some pictures are flat, a thing I
am unable to convince him of. He persists in replying, But I
wanted to introduce this or that colour contrast. As if I give
a damn about what he wanted to do!
Write soon when you will come back. Try to come back with a
renewed physical strength, and a clear mind, and an inflexible
will. You will need all three of them.
For the matter, the situation is not at all hopeless, though
it is precarious. Spijker is recovering only very slowly.
Remember me to your family, and believe that I am with all my
Your friend, Bonger
At this time, Vincent was 33 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written August 1886 in Paris. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 460.
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