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Arles, c.9th. July 1888
My Dear Theo,
I have come back from a day at Mont Majour, and my friend the
sub-lieutenant kept me company. The two of us explored the old garden
and stole excellent figs there. If it had been bigger
it would have made me think of Zola's Paradou, great reeds,
vines, ivy, fig trees, olive trees, pomegranates with lusty flowers
of the brightest orange, hundred-year-old cypresses, ash trees
and willows, rock oaks, half-demolished flights of steps, ogive
windows in ruins, blocks of white rock covered with lichen, and
scattered fragments of collapsed walls here and there among the
greenery. I brought back another big drawing, but not of the
garden. That makes three drawings. When I have half a dozen of them I
will send them.
Yesterday I went to Fontvieilles to pay a visit to Bock and Mac Knight,
only these gentlemen had gone on a little trip to Switzerland
for 8 days.
I think the heat is still doing me good, in spite of the
mosquitoes and flies.
The grasshoppers — not like those at home, but like this,
like those you see in Japanese albums;
and gold and green Cantharides in swarms on the olive trees.
These grasshoppers (I think they are called cicada) sing at least as loud
as a frog.
Xanthippe, Mother Tanguy, and some other ladies have by
some queer freak of Nature heads of silex or flint. Certainly
these ladies are a good deal more dangerous in civilized
society they circulate in than the poor citizens bitten by mad dogs
who live in the Pasteur Institute. And old Tanguy would be
right a thousand times over to kill his lady…but he won't
do it, any more than Socrates.
And for this reason old Tanguy has more in common — in
resignation and long suffering anyhow — with the ancient
Christian martyrs and slaves, than with the present day pimps
Nevertheless, there is no reason to pay him 80
francs, but it is a reason for never losing your temper with
him, even if he loses his, when, as you may do in this
instance, you chuck him out, or at least send him packing.
I am writing to Russell at the same time. I think we know,
don't we, that the English, the Yankees, have this much in
common with the Dutch, that their charity…is very
Christian. Now, the rest of us not being very good
Christians…That's what I can't put out of my head
writing again like this.
This Bock has a head rather like a Flemish gentleman of the
time of the Compromise of the Nobles, of the time of Taciturn [William the Silent]
and Marnix. I shouldn't wonder if he's a decent fellow.
I have written to Russell that I would send him my parcel in
a roll direct to him, for our exchange, if I knew that he was
That means he must in any case answer me soon. Now I shall
soon need some more canvas and paints. But I have not yet got
the address of that canvas at 40 francs for 20 meters.
I think it is well to work especially at drawing just now,
and to arrange to have paints and canvas in reserve for when
Gauguin comes. I wish paint was as little of a worry to work
with as pen and paper. I often pass up a painted study for fear
of wasting the colour.
With paper, whether it's a letter I'm writing or a drawing
I'm working on, there's never a misfire — so many leaves
of Whatman, so many drawings. I think that if I were rich I
should spend less than I do now.
Well, old Martin would say, then it's up to you to get rich,
and he is right, as he is about the masterpiece.
Do you remember reading in Guy de Maupassant the gentleman
hunter of rabbits and other game, and who had hunted so hard for
ten years, and was so exhausted by running after the game that
when he wanted to get married he found he was impotent, which
caused him the greatest embarrassment and consternation.
Without being in the same state as this gentleman as to its
being either my duty or my desire to get married, I begin to
resemble him in physique. According to the worthy master Ziem, man
becomes ambitious once he becomes impotent. Now though
it's pretty much all one to me whether I am impotent or not,
I'm damned if that's going to drive me to ambition.
It is only the greatest philosopher of his place and time, and
consequently of all places and all times, good old master
Pangloss who could — if he were here — give me
advice and calm my soul.
There — the letter to Russell is in its envelope, and
I have written as I intended. I asked him if he had any news of
Reid, and I ask you the same question.
I told Russell I left him free to take what he liked, and
from the first consignment I sent as well. And that I was only waiting
for his explicit answer, to know whether he preferred to make
his choice at his or your place; that if, in the former
circumstance, he wanted to see them at his own house, you would
send him along some orchards as well, and fetch the lot back
again when he had made his choice. So he cannot quarrel with
that. If he takes nothing from Gauguin it is because he cannot.
If he can, I am hoping that he will.
I told him that if I ventured to press him to buy, it was not because
nobody else would if he didn't, but because Gauguin, having
been ill, and with the further complication of his having been
laid up in bed and having to pay his doctor, it all fell rather
heavily on us; and we were all the more anxious to find a
purchaser for a painting.
I am thinking a lot about Gauguin, and I would have plenty
of ideas for pictures, and about work in general.I have a charwoman
now for 1 franc, who sweeps and scrubs
the house for me twice a week. I am banking very much on her,
counting on her to make our beds if we decide to sleep in
the house. Otherwise we could make some arrangement with the
fellow where I am staying now. Anyhow, we'll try to manage so
that it would work out as an economy instead of more expense.
How is your health now? Are you still going to Gruby?
What you tell me of that conversation at the Nouvelle Athènes is
interesting. You know the little portrait by Desboutin that
Portier has very well.
It certainly is a strange phenomenon that all the artists,
poets, musicians, painters, are unfortunate in material things
— the happy ones as well — what you said lately
about Guy de Maupassant is a fresh proof of it. That brings up
again the eternal question: is life completely visible to us,
or isn't it rather that this side of death we see one
Painters — to take them only — being dead and buried,
speak to the next generation or to several succeeding
generations through their work.
Is that all, or is there more besides? In a painter's life
death is not perhaps the hardest thing there is.
So it doesn't seem impossible to me that cholera, gravel, pleurisy
& cancer are the means of celestial locomotion, just as
steam-boats, omnibuses and railways are the terrestrial means.
To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.
Now I am going to bed, because it is late, and I wish you
good night and good luck.
A handshake, Yours
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 9 July 1888 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 506.
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