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Many warm thanks for your letter; the enclosure was very
welcome, it helps me a great deal. I begin by telling you that
it takes a load off my mind to know that the past of the woman
whom you write about is quite different from what I first
supposed. Namely that she has known other things beside poverty
and narrow-mindedness, so that I suppose she can fully
appreciate you with regard to culture and broad-mindedness too,
more than a woman who has been crushed by misery from childhood
on and knows no better. From what you say about her reading,
for instance, I see she has a sentiment which many other women
Social standing and her experience contribute to the
formation of her character, and, I think, make her entirely
suitable for you. Certainly you will be doubly, doubly happy
when she recovers. And I wish from the bottom of my heart that
she might become your wife, for a woman turns life into
something so very different.
And what is a woman like her without a man to appreciate and
understand her? Something pathetic, yes, you termed it
correctly, something like a spirit or a shadow. Look, I am
afraid she would return to such a state (even if her
circumstances and her health were different) if you left
And in my opinion an infinite and profound happiness - for
you as well as for her - would be within reach because of the
consciousness of not being alone any more. For it is sometimes
bitterly hard for us men, too, that being alone.
But Israël's poetry without there being anybody to
understand it - that is something so awful that it is beyond
one's comprehension, and one cannot keep hold of the idea.
Only this being alone and wandering … How deep
Michelet's saying is, “Pourquoi y a-t-il une femme seule
sur la terre?” [Why is there a lone woman on earth?]
You once said, or rather wrote, “Earnestness is better
than the most delicate raillery.” It is the same thing
here, mustn't one take such a figure seriously? I mean,
the life of us men is so dependent on our relations with women
- and, of course, the opposite is also true - that it seems to
me one must never laugh at women or think lightly of them. If
one reads carefully, Balzac's Petites misères de la vie
conjugale is very, very serious and honestly well meant - not
intended to separate but to unite; but not everybody sees that
When I read your letter, what struck me immediately was that
you are involved with a person who, for instance, would be able
to evoke the past along with you, who will learn to see the
same things in art that you see, and this is of great
I congratulate you, my dear fellow, because by your
description, she is a woman to whom one may apply Michelet's
words, “Une dame c'est une dame.”
I think you will also find her in Ary Scheffer's work.
As to reading, I think the works of Michelet would be
something to soothe and strengthen her mind.
Just like Victor Hugo.
And what Michelet himself thought desirable reading for a
woman is Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis - of course the
origional edition, not the one that has been garbled and
spoiled by the clergy.
But I suppose you know more about French literature than
That book by Thomas a Kempis is as beautiful as, for
instance, Ary Scheffer's “[Christus] Consolator” -
it can be compared to nothing else. But I have seen editions
that were purposely changed and distorted by adding to each
chapter a kind of explanation which was terrible. I once bought
one like that; it was a very bad bargain indeed.
And do you know what seems excellent to me? - that a patient
should breathe fresh air from a book. What I mean is La Nature
chez elle [Nature at home] by Bodmer, with text by
Théophile Gautier - the old series for sale at
L'Illustration or Monde Illustré. But I recently saw a
Nature chez elle which was much thinner and less fresh than the
first series, nor do I think the text was by Théophile
Gautier. Probably done by Bodmer at a later period, when he had
lost some of his early vigour.
Boy, I have been drawing with such delight - fishermen's
heads with that sou'wester I told you about; the fish scales
were still sticking to it when I got it.
What a feeling you must have had when you walked into the
hospital or clinic to visit her the day after the operation!
Isn't that one of the things one can hardly talk about, the
emotion being so intense? At least, when you wrote me about
that operation, I was reminded of visiting the woman on the day
of her confinement last summer.
Recently you wrote about a certain Laurens who generally
makes large drawings or pictures. I didn't know him then (only
as a painter of Oriental landscapes), but today I saw an
etching by Courtry after a picture by Jean Paul Laurens, a
scene from the Revolution, and I liked it very much, especially
some types and heads.
But it is quite possible that his pictures are not so good
as the etching.
Is Jules Goupil's work still good? One is inclined to ask
that question when one sees men like Émile Wauters and
Hoeterinks, for instance, lose their strong grip on reality,
replacing it with things which are correct, yes, and have a
delicate sentiment, too, but which do not reach the vigour of
their earlier work and instead betray a certain timidity.
And it is sad when it's that way.
So few manage to remain vigorous like Israëls, for
Recently I saw a new edition of R. Caldecott's picture books
and bought two of them, namely, illustrations of Washington
Irving's Sketch Book, which both together cost a shilling now.
There is a description of Christmas in a little village at the
beginning of this century. Those small drawings are pithy, like
Jacque's, for instance, or Menzel's. When you come, you must
look at the wood engravings again. Right now there are some
people like Caldecott, for instance, who are quite original and
highly interesting. How I wish we could be together more, and
on an evening or a Sunday, look over those things which many
others pass by.
I am reading Eliot's Middlemarch. Eliot analyzes like Balzac
or Zola - but English situations, with an English
Adieu, boy, may everything go well, and once more, best
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 15 February 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 267.
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