Mind you, I mean what I say about the woman.
Mind you, all the disappointment that your visit of last
summer caused me (more than you know) is something that does
not count seriously with me - as far as I myself was concerned
- but the other thing - namely finding her in such a condition
that my heart melted in my breast - that - it will remain
something insuperable between you and me - unless she can
still be saved. At the time you were frivolous when
uttering your words - you did not think over what you said, and
evidently spoke on insufficient grounds - and what do I think
about it? I tell you without reserve that you have this much in
common with Father, who often acts in the same way, that you
are cruel in your worldly wisdom.
Cruel, I repeat the word, for what can be more cruel than
depriving such an unfortunate and withered woman and her little
child of support. Don't think you will be able to delude
yourself into the belief that it was nothing, or only my
imagination. Don't think it will help you if you reason that it
was only a question of a faded whore and of bastards. So much
the more motive for deep compassion - which I showed for that
I have only just noticed that during all that time you have
not written a single word about her, and that you did
not reply when I wrote you that I had heard from her.
And there are more things that I have only just noticed
now, and because I notice them now, I no longer
address you in the same tone as formerly.
Oh, I know that to a certain extent you did it with good
intentions - I know how you always try to keep the peace with
everybody (which I don't believe can be done) - I know that
even in this case you probably haven't got the faintest notion
that you did something that was not right - but being good
friends with the world and following our conscience just
don't go together - you do not give your
conscience its due.
I also know that not everybody in my case and in my
circumstances would dare contradict you, but granted that not
everybody would do so, I for my part want to tell you that
there is something in you that I object to, and that in general
I warn you against your “politics.” Which I think
For I foresee later on (perhaps much later on) you will be
sorry for many things you think right now. Why do I think so?
For the time being I need not give a reason because you would
not believe me.
The period of separation has spoiled most of what I had
gained for her preservation, and this makes matters even more
difficult. Can anything be done about it now? But in what
Truly, it is not a question of money alone, for the poor
woman also misses myself too, the way I was to her and her
children, that is to say, I had an affection for them, just as
I now feel an equal and even greater affection for them.
What you wrote in a certain letter about “that I
should render her and myself a disservice,” kindly take
it back, bearing in mind the service you rendered her last
summer, her, her children and myself - really you cannot be too
silent about it!
Moreover, you presume in the letter in question,
which contains the only reference to her that you have written
since last summer - you presume that I should like to
take “that person,” as you called her, with me to
Drenthe. I should not be able to, even if I wanted to,
because I haven't got the money for it.
As regards the money - brother - you will understand that I
no longer take any pleasure in it, won't you? You do understand
this thoroughly, don't you? I took pleasure in it because it
served to keep not only myself but also these poor creatures
This is a sad letter at the end of the year - sad for me to
write, sad for you to receive (although you are at liberty to
dismiss it from your thoughts; this is something you must
decide for yourself), but it is worse for the poor woman.
Yours sincerely, Vincent
I have received more news from her, for I sent her to a
doctor, and now I have heard particulars about it.
Further, brother, my answer to your intimation that a
calamity which threatened you had been averted - you know that
my answer was cool; in this matter I have no other answer than,
“So much the worse for you, my friend.” Perhaps you
will understand why later on. I do not say it would not have
been a calamity, but…There are moments in life when it
is better that the blow is dealt, even if it be a hard blow,
rather than that one is forced into the position of one who is
spared by the world, I think.
As for me, I am chained to misfortune and failure; it is
damned hard at times, but never mind, for all that I do not
envy the so-called fortunates and the ever successful, as I can
see through it too much. Take “The Prisoner” by
Gérôme - the man lying fettered is most certainly
in an unpleasant situation, but to my way of thinking he is in
a better condition than the fellow who has the upper hand and
is harassing him. I tell you this in order to point out the
extremes of certain conditions. I am far from confusing my own
fate, for instance, with the terribly aggravated misery of the
prisoner. Notwithstanding which, something of what I want to
point out may be seen in our society.
As to me, I do not congratulate you on the fact that
it may be expected that you will be able to keep the peace with
certain authorities. It appeared to me that it was not
superfluous to explain myself to you. You can interpret this
precisely as you like.
I do not forget either that at first you had compassion for
the woman in question. But the very fact that I was and am far
from blind to her faults, and notwithstanding this tried and am
trying to save her, ought to have induced you, I think, to
respect my feelings more and to understand them better - in
that case you would have been able to stand up for me more
resolutely against those who knew less about it than you, and
for me things would not have come to such a pass that I had
to give it up.
Now I caution you, because perhaps it is not too late yet;
if things become worse, the time for cautioning will be
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written late December 1883 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number .
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