van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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 Memoir of Vincent van Gogh

In the beginning of August Theo came over from Paris. Shortly after, Vincent made a trip to The Hague to consult Mauve about his work; the latter firmly encouraged him so that he continued with great animation. Finally, in those days he met for the second time a woman who had great influence on his life. Among the guests who spent that summer at the vicarage at Etten was a cousin from Amsterdam - a young widow with her little four-year-old son. Quite absorbed in her grief over the loss of her husband, whom she had loved so tenderly, she was unconscious of the impression which her beauty and touching sorrow made on the cousin who was a few years her junior. &ldHe was so kind to my little boy,” she said when she later remembered that time. Vincent, who was very fond of children, tried to win the mother's heart by great devotion to the child. They walked and talked much together, and he also drew a portrait of her (which seems to have been lost). The thought of a more intimate relation did not occur to her, and when Vincent at last spoke to her of his love, a very decided no was the im-mediate reply. She went back to Amsterdam and never saw him again. Vincent could not abide by her decision, and with his innate tenacity he kept on persevering and hoping for a change in her feelings for him. When his letters were not answered, he accused both his and her parents of opposing the match, and only a visit to Amsterdam, where she refused to see him, convinced him of the utter hopelessness of his love.

“He fancied that he loved me,” she said afterward, but for him it was sad ear-nest, and her refusal became a turning point in his life. If she had returned his love, it would perhaps have spurred him on to acquire a social position - he would have had to provide for her and her child. As it was he lost all worldly ambition, and subsequently lived only for his work, without taking one step to make himself independent. He could not bear to stay in Etten any longer. He had become irritable and nervous, his relations with his parents became strained, and in December, after a violent altercation with his father, he left suddenly for The Hague.

The two years he spent there were for his work a very important period, of which his letters give a perfect description. His low spirits rose at first with the change of surroundings and the intercourse with Mauve; but the feeling of having been slighted and wronged did not leave him, and he felt utterly abandoned. When in January he met a poor neglected woman approaching her confinement, he took her under his protection, partly from pity but also to fill the great void in his life. “I hope there is no harm in his so-called model. Bad connections often arise from a feeling of loneliness, of dissatisfaction,” his father wrote to Theo, who was always the confidant of both parties and had to listen to all the complaints and worries. Father was not far from being right. Vincent could not be alone; he wanted to live for somebody, he wanted a wife and children, and as the woman he loved had rejected him, he took the first unhappy woman who crossed his path, with children that were not his own. At first he feigned happiness and tried to convince Theo in every letter how wisely and well he had acted; the touching care and tenderness with which he surrounded the woman when she left the hospital after her confinement strike us painfully when we think on whom that treasure of love was lavished. He prided himself now on having a family of his own, but when their living together had become a fact and he was continually associated with a coarse, uneducated woman, marked by smallpox, who spoke with a vulgar accent and had a spiteful character, who was addicted to liquor and smoked cigars, whose past life had not been irreproachable, and who drew him into all kinds of intrigues with her family, he soon wrote no more about his home life. Even the posing, by which she won him (she sat for the beautiful drawing, “Sorrow”) and of which he had expected so much, soon ceased altogether.

This unfortunate liaison deprived him of the sympathy of all in The Hague who took an interest in him. Neither Mauve nor Tersteeg could approve of his taking upon himself the cares of a family - and such a family! - while he was financially dependent on his younger brother. Acquaintances and relatives were shocked to see him walking about with such a slovenly woman; nobody cared to associate with him any longer, and his home life was such that nobody came to visit him. The solitude around him became greater and greater and, as usual, it was only Theo who understood and continued to help him.

When the latter came to visit Vincent for the second time in The Hague, in the summer of 1883, and saw the situation for himself (he found the household neg-lected, everything in bad condition and Vincent deeply in debt), he too advised him to let the woman go her own way, as she was not able to live an ordered life. She herself had already realized that things could not continue, because Vincent required too much money for his painting to leave enough for the support of her and the children, and she and her mother were already planning to earn money another way. Vincent himself felt that Theo was right, and in his heart he longed for a change of surroundings and the liberty to go where his work called him; but it cost him a bitter struggle to give up what he had taken upon himself and to leave the poor woman to her fate. Till the last he defended her and excused her faults with the sublime words, &ld...she has never seen what is good, how can she be good.”

In those days of inner strife he allowed Theo to read deeper than ever into his heart. These last letters from The Hague (letters 313 to 322) give the key to many things that were incomprehensible until now. For the first time he spoke openly about what had happened at the time of his dismissal from Goupil, explained his strange indifference to showing his own work or trying to make it profitable when he wrote, “I am so afraid that the steps I might take to introduce myself would do more harm than good...It painful for me to speak to people. I am not afraid of it, but I know I make an unfavorable impression.” How naively he added, “...human brains cannot beat everything...Look at Rappard, who got brain fever, and had to travel as far as Germany to recover.” As if he wanted to say, “Do not let me make efforts to know strangers, as the same thing might happen to me.” Once more he touched on the old love story of Etten. “A simple word... made me feel that...nothing is changed within me in that respect, that it is and remains a wound which I carry with me; it lies deep and cannot be healed. After years it will be the same as it was the first day.” And he expressed openly how different his life would have been without this disappointment in love.

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