3.1 The relationship between the reading text and the original text
‘The primary task of the editor of letters is to prepare the manuscripts for the press in such a way that the intended text is established,’ writes Marita Mathijsen.16 We endorse this position, but that still does not make it entirely clear which interventions are justified in Van Gogh’s case and which are not. Van Gogh’s letters were generally written without much concern for producing a polished text, often in some haste, sometimes visibly under the influence of strong emotions. We believe that the resultant shortcomings in the text are typical of the style of the letters, and that this ‘directness’ should be retained as far as possible in the reading text.
Dutch as spoken and written in Van Gogh’s time differs quite markedly from present-day Dutch; the language has changed far more than French. The reading texts reproduce Van Gogh’s original use of language, that is to say nineteenth-century Dutch. This means that modern readers will sometimes run up against unfamiliar sentence constructions or unexpected words and phrases. This may well be as a result of subsequent developments in the language, but may also reflect Van Gogh’s own idiosyncrasies or particular family usages. In this respect, too, we want the text to remain as authentic as possible.
We see two other arguments for keeping the reading text as faithful as possible. The nature of this scholarly edition and of the users we envisage permits the inclusion of a reading text which respects aspects of the text of the letters that are not necessarily preserved in a reading edition, which is generally more heavily edited. Besides, there are already editions that offer ‘edited’ versions of the text.
We shall now set out the general principles we observed in constituting the reading text, followed by an explanation of the practical application.
3.2 General principles
On the basis of the considerations formulated above, we were guided in the constitution of the reading text by the following principles.
3.2.1 The reading text represents the final version of the letter
The text as printed is the final reading of the letters (including, of course, the emendations). In other words we do not present in the text any variants (crossings out, corrections, additions) or other particulars in the manuscript. Where we believe that such details are relevant for an understanding of the text, we have included them in the annotations.
3.2.2 The reading text must be comprehensible and may not lead to misunderstandings
Comprehensible does not mean faultless. Most of Van Gogh’s errors do not give rise to misunderstandings, and he makes so many of them that they are characteristic of his writing style. For this reason we have not automatically corrected inconsistencies in spelling or the use of capitals, or introduced missing punctuation.
There is, however, a category of mistakes and sloppiness that can result in incomprehension or misunderstanding. In these cases we have made emendations where we felt it was necessary to prevent any uncertainty as to meaning. All these emendations are explained under the heading Textual notes, and incorporated in the non-normalized reading text at the end of the letter.17
3.2.3 The reading text should reflect the distinctive features of Van Gogh’s style of writing as closely as possible
The idiosyncrasies of Van Gogh’s style arise in part out of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and in part out of his lack of concern for the appearance of his correspondence. Then there are words, expressions and spellings that have to be regarded as part of his personal or family idiom. That said, presenting the most faithful reproduction of these characteristics may not mean that the reader is left to tease out the meaning from the context: certain interventions are therefore necessary.
Van Gogh spaced his words very irregularly. Sometimes words are joined together; sometimes the space between the letters in a word or between two random words is strikingly large. He also often left extra space for capitals. The spacing is normalized in the reading text.
We have been cautious in the introduction of punctuation. Had this been done tacitly it would have markedly changed the character of the letters and made it impossible to reconstruct the original version. As we explain in Missing commas and Missing full stops, Van Gogh’s handwriting displays various features that can be an indication for the insertion of punctuation. We have endeavoured to assist the reader here by the sparing addition of punctuation.
3.2.4 The reading text must be quotable
The reading text with the emendations is comprehensible and coherent, and hence quotable – even if the appearance of a word is different from what we are accustomed to now.
3.2.5 The reading text must be translatable
A comprehensible and quotable text should in principle be translatable, but inevitably grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and idiosyncratic constructions are lost in translation. We deal with this problem by means of concise annotations at the relevant place in the translation.
3.3 Differences between the manuscript and the reading text: the emendations
The great majority of the emendations relate to missing full stops and commas. To indicate this we used typographically distinct stops and commas in the non-normalized reading text. The recognizability of the marks / as an added comma and _ as an added full stop gives a good idea of the original version. This practical and economical solution calls for little or no extra effort on the part of the reader.18 It also means that we have been able to confine the list of emendations to the few remaining cases; they can be found under the heading Textual notes at the end of the non-normalized presentation of the reading text.
The following characteristics of the written text led us to emend the text of the original transcriptions and so convert it into the reading text:
3.3.1 Missing commas
We have inserted commas where the text is ambiguous or unclear without punctuation, or might mislead the reader. The argument for insertion is the syntax. A wide space (where Van Gogh often omitted a comma) and the end of the line in the manuscript may be additional arguments. Sometimes we have added a comma to separate two finite verbs or for conjunctions. We have not added commas in the case of repeated words (for instance, ‘zeer zeer’, ‘wijde wijde wereld’). We have added commas in lists (of names) and also between the name of an artist or author and his work, for example: ‘Ruysdael/ Le buisson’. Phrases in which the conjunction ‘dat’ is missing, as in ‘Ik ben blij je zoveel...’, ‘Je kunt denken ik ’t heerlijk vind’, are left unchanged. At the end of a letter we have only added punctuation at the end of the last sentence, not after a closing formula like ‘met een handdruk’ before ‘Vincent’.
3.3.2 Missing full stops
Van Gogh often left out elementary punctuation, one frequent omission being the full stop at the end of a sentence. We end each sentence in the reading text with a full stop. The decision was dictated primarily by the syntax, but in many cases this was underpinned by the appearance of the text – for instance where a sentence was followed by a larger than average space, by a capital letter or by a new paragraph. The end of a line in the manuscript is sometimes an additional argument in favour of a full stop. When adding a full stop we have left untouched any other punctuation marks, particularly dashes. The full stop we added always comes before the dash, in line with Van Gogh’s custom.
Van Gogh often ended sentences with the combination of a full stop and a dash: ‘.–’. Occasionally he switched the two; in those cases we have reversed the order to his normal practice without comment.
Van Gogh sometimes followed a semi-colon with a capital letter; we have left this unchanged.
Abbreviations (such as ‘c. à d.’) are always tacitly correctly spaced; this includes such cases as ‘&c.&c.’ and ‘Goupil&Cie’, which become ‘&c. &c.’ and ‘Goupil & Cie’. There is one category of exceptions to this: fixed combinations of letters such as ‘G&Cie’, ‘J.P.S.’ and ‘Z.W.Eerw.’ remain unaltered in the reading text.
Points have been added to abbreviations, unless the last letter coincides with the end of the word or there is a superscript; thus ‘phot_’; ‘&c_’ ; ‘Matth_’; but ‘Mr’; ‘Ds’; ‘Schij’ (a frequent abbreviation for ‘Schilderij’); ‘Co’ and so forth. The same exception applies here as in the case of the spacing: the fixed combination ‘G&Cie’ remains unchanged in the reading text.
For sums of money the indication of the currency is separated from the figure, regardless of how Van Gogh wrote it (he was not consistent). Stops are added if necessary (so not if the last letter of the abbreviation is the same as that of the word). For example ‘f.25.-’ becomes ‘f. 25.-’; ‘fr100’ becomes ‘fr_ 100’; ‘frs200’ becomes ‘frs 200’. However where Van Gogh himself wrote ‘frs.’, the point is copied. This also applies to abbreviations in proper names: if the points were omitted, we have added them (so ‘v_’ and ‘v.d_’).
In Bible references chapter and verse numbers are separated by a colon, thus: Matthew 7:5-6. In instances where a verse number is followed by a quotation, a punctuation mark may have been added depending on the circumstances, so: ‘: 1 Cor_ XIII/ zij bedekt alle dingen’ and ‘Stricker sprak over Hand_ II:1-4/ de uitstorting van den Heiligen Geest.’
In the case of conditional clauses, if there is a dash in the middle of a sentence this can be read as a sort of colon, after which the sentence continues.
When Van Gogh ended a sentence and left the rest of the line blank, this is taken as an indication of the end of a paragraph. It may also be a new paragraph when the end of the line and ‘.–’ coincide, and the content supports this reading. In making such decisions we took account of the distribution of the paragraphs throughout the letter and the period when a letter was written.
Where a new sentence begins on a new line, the content often dictates that this should be a new paragraph. (This may coincide with a change in the duct of the handwriting.) Here, too, we opened a new paragraph.
A wide space between two sentences could be an indication of a new paragraph, but because these places are arbitrary we did not regard them as paragraph transitions.
3.3.4 The use of capitals
Although, taking the correspondence as a whole, Van Gogh did generally follow the conventions, he sometimes used lowercase where nowadays we would use capitals, chiefly at the beginning of a new sentence, for proper names, topographical names, names of things like buildings and parks, and titles. Since we have ended each sentence in the reading text with a full stop (see Missing full stops), it was not necessary to capitalize a lowercase letter at the beginning of a new sentence. The names of people and places, on the other hand, have always been capitalized in the reading text since capitals in these instances provide important markers for the reader. These emendations have been made without comment. The names of people and places have not automatically been normalized: ‘Schevening’, ‘de Gas’, ‘Bock’ have been left as they are because Van Gogh generally spelled them like that.19 We have only intervened where there might have been confusion; for instance ‘Baekeleer’ has been emended to ‘Braekeleer’.
While Van Gogh was fairly consistent in his – sometimes unconventional – use of capitals, this was certainly not the case when it came to the titles of books, magazines and works of art. He often misquoted titles or did not quote them in full. More significantly, he sometimes quoted them in passing, incorporated in his own sentences – to such an extent that it is sometimes impossible, particularly in the case of his own work, to make out whether he is giving a title or a description. Since this treatment of titles is so characteristic of Van Gogh’s style, we have not normalized the use of capitals in titles. The correct title can be found in the annotation.
Van Gogh wrote accents swiftly and without a clear direction, or not at all. Where he did put in an accent, it is rendered in the reading text as the spelling requires. For the purposes of quotability and ease of reading there were occasions when it was desirable to intervene. If an error in the accent could have hindered the comprehension of the text, for example when different accents or the presence or absence of an accent change the meaning of a word, such as a and à, we emended it without comment.
It was not necessary to intervene when the incorrect use or omission of accents did not affect comprehensibility. These spelling mistakes have been reproduced in the reading text. (See also Accents.)
Van Gogh was likewise very inconsistent in his use of hyphens. Hyphens often have a syntactical function in French, so where the absence of a hyphen could be confusing we emended the error tacitly. (See also Hyphens.)
The Van Gogh family, including the parents, were rather cavalier in their use of apostrophes. Both Theo and Vincent frequently omitted apostrophes or put them in the wrong place. For the sake of readability all errors in apostrophes have been emended without comment, as have incorrectly positioned elision marks: hob’blige has been corrected to hobb’lige. (See also Apostrophes.)
3.3.8 Other instances of punctuation
Where t and k were written as separate letters they have been given an apostrophe (in other words ’t or t’ and ’k). Zoo’n was often written Zoon. This has been tacitly corrected. We have only intervened to add a missing diaeresis where there could be confusion, for example in the case of ‘aigues’. In the great majority of cases the appearance of the word makes emendation unnecessary, as in the case of ‘Belgie’ and ‘poezie’. Van Gogh used wildly varying numbers of points in omission marks or ellipses: the number of points in the manuscript has been reproduced in the reading text, spaced close up against the preceding word. We have not inserted a colon before direct speech if Van Gogh himself put in quotation marks. Thus: “er zijn menschen die tot haar zeggen ‘wat had...”. We have been very cautious in adding an exclamation mark or question mark where there is no closing punctuation but the sentence calls for one, because Van Gogh usually omitted them, contenting himself with a full stop.
When inserting something later, Van Gogh sometimes forgot to correct the punctuation; for instance if he added words to the end of a sentence he did not correct or erase the original full stop or ‘.–’. In such cases the intended punctuation is given in the reading text. This is done without comment where the original punctuation is superfluous; when we change it, we give our reasons in the textual notes. Similarly, in the case of irregularities in spacing caused by corrections or changes the intended reading is given, without comment, in the reading text. For instance Van Gogh wrote ‘weders’ (instead of ‘weder’). To obliterate the final ‘s’ he wrote the first letter of the next word, ‘te’, on top of it, in other words close up against ‘weder’. In the reading text ‘weder’ and ‘te’ are separated by a space.
We have made no changes to Van Gogh’s use of the dash. He used it (sometimes combined with a full stop) to mark the end of a sentence, to indicate a pause in the sentence (as a comma), to separate the elements of a list and to create a link (explanatory or causal) to what follows (as the colon is used today). Where the dash is used as a colon, it may be followed by a capital letter.
3.3.9 Missing quotation marks around titles and quotations, and missing brackets or dashes
These intended punctuation marks have been inserted when Van Gogh had put them in in part. Quotation marks are always double; single inverted commas are used for quotations within quotations. On occasion, we have placed text that Van Gogh added later in parentheses. These emendations are always noted. For example, in regard to the insertion in the sentence ‘zijn naar het Trippenhuis geweest (2 maal) en hij alleen op van der Hoop’ (went to the Trippenhuis (twice) and he alone to Van der Hoop), the Textual notes on ‘(twee maal)’ reads: Added later; parentheses added by us.
3.3.10 Inconsistent spelling
We have regarded Van Gogh’s inconsistencies as typical of his style and only emended them where they cause words or expressions to lose their meaning or the spelling could give rise to misunderstandings. These emendations are noted and explained in the Textual notes.
3.3.11 Case endings
We have not intervened when Van Gogh incorrectly adds or omits the case endings -n or -r, as in the case of ‘groete’, ‘vele(n)’, ‘alle(n)’, ‘andere(n)’, ‘te(n) alle(n) tijde(n)’ and the like.
3.3.12 Manifest errors in spelling and grammar
We only corrected errors where they could give rise to misunderstandings or meaningless readings. We did not intervene when Van Gogh wrote ‘hij houd’, ‘ik vindt’, ‘de kagchel brande’, ‘ik ontmoete Gladwell’ and similar, since they do not compromise comprehension of the text. There are, however, cases where the context does give rise to uncertainty (‘een vrouw die bemind en bemind wordt’). Such instances may have prompted an emendation.
Consistent spelling mistakes like néamoins and sonnanbule are not corrected. They are typical of Van Gogh’s style, and we do not think that they cause confusion. Because it is so consistent, his misuse of the adjective probable for the adverb probablement has been retained in the reading text. Where there is a possibility of confusion, we give a suggested reading in a textual note that is identified by the use of a, b, c etc. (in superscript) instead of the note number that is used for annotations relating to the content.
3.3.13 Sources and quotations
We have not automatically intervened in cases where the titles of books, articles, poems etc. are written incorrectly; the same applies to departures from the original – in word use and punctuation – in quotations. Where possible, we indicate variants that have a significant impact on meaning; relatively insignificant variations are not noted.
We have added as little punctuation as possible in verses, hymns and the like. We have punctuated at the end of a verse or couplet if this is also the end of the sentence or the end of the quotation.
We took a number of decisions regarding two words written as one and one word written as two. Without comment we have set the s’ and t’ close up against the following word, with no space, if they form a grammatical entity with it (article and noun, genitive ‘s’, sometimes subject and finite verb): s’ avonds becomes s’avonds; t’ was becomes t’was. We have made an emendation in such cases as ‘al was t’slechts voor een week’; this becomes ’t slechts.
The constructions ’s and ’t are not set close up to the following word: ’t geen and ’s avonds are left unchanged (unless Van Gogh wrote ’tgeen). Similarly ’k is not connected to the following word. One exception, of course, is the genitive ‘s’: ‘oude jaar ’s’ becomes oude jaar’s and ‘Willemien ’s’ becomes Willemien’s. The same applies to compounds: ‘werkmans kleeren’ is emended without comment to werkmanskleeren. Where Van Gogh wrote ’t huis to mean home or at home this has been tacitly emended to t’huis. (This is analogous to the correction of apostrophes in French words.) However, we have left te huis in the meaning of shelter or accommodation as two words. The word vandaan is often written as two words: van daan; this has not been changed; the same goes for nog al in the sense of somewhat (nogal). Van Gogh also frequently wrote compounds as two words. We did not intervene unless there could be a misunderstanding. Similarly, we did not emend ‘contracted compounds’: ‘kastanje en iepenboomen’ and ‘zondags & werkpak’ remain unchanged.
In the case of people’s names we have tacitly detached ‘v.d.’ and similar patronymic prefixes from the name (vanDyck becomes van Dyck) as well as titles preceding proper names such as ‘Hr.’, ‘Mr.’ and so on. Abbreviations in closing formulas have been spaced without comment, for instance t.àv. becomes t. à v. Opening and closing quotations marks are always set close up to the quoted text.
3.3.15 Other cases
The changes explained below were made without comment in the conversion from the transcription to the reading text. The reference points were Van Gogh’s writing style, customary usages in the family correspondence, and the authoritative French, English and Dutch dictionaries of nineteenth-century language.
Where the transcription states that it is uncertain whether a letter was intended to be lowercase or a capital – the most plausible always being given first – the reading text takes the first reading without comment or explanation. Uncertainties expressed in the notes to the transcript are not commented on in the reading text. So a note to the transcription such as
l. 12 boekske < Possibly: boeksken
which is in fact an alternative reading, is not found in the Textual notes under the reading text. The reading in the transcription is the one given in the reading text. It is only when the alternative reading involves a difference in meaning that a second reading of this kind is mentioned in the Textual notes:
l. 14 als < Van Gogh may have written: ‘iets’.
On occasions, when crossing out something he had written, Van Gogh did not strike through all the letters he meant to; in these cases the reading text reflects the writer’s intentions. Where he clearly missed out one or more words unintentionally when underlining, we regard the underlining as intended. For example, in letter 408 van t moment af gij ’t penseel grijpt is rendered as van ’t moment af gij ’t penseel grijpt. The same may apply to later additions within an underlined section and to places where he forgot to carry on the underlining of a phrase over the end of the line, as in ‘een troost in ons / leven’ (letter 56). The converse also occurs: Van Gogh carried the underlining on beyond what was evidently intended; in these cases we have confined the italics in the reading text to the words we believe he meant to emphasize.
Where a change to the text in the manuscript resulted in an ungrammatical (final) reading, this has been emended and explained in the Textual notes. For instance, Van Gogh may have written ‘Pa en Moe ... vinden’ (‘Pa and Ma … think’), then crossed out ‘en Moe’ but forgotten to correct the plural verb ‘vinden’.
Where compounds are written as one word in modern Dutch, people in the nineteenth century often made them two words. Hyphens were not always used at the end of a line (even in obvious cases), so the way the writer intended to write a compound is not always clear. Where there can be little doubt, we give these as one word in the reading text: land / schap becomes landschap and onder / wijzer becomes onderwijzer. In cases like onder / gaan we base the decision on similar instances in the text, if there are any; if there are not, the way Van Gogh wrote the words is respected and they are not joined together.
3.3.16 The typography of the reading text
The typographical layout of the text is not intended as an imitation of the manuscript – this would clearly be impossible – but it goes without saying that the meaning remains unaffected by the conversion from handwritten text to print. The form of a letter can convey a good deal about the author’s attitude to the recipient, and this can be seen in the facsimiles.
The following elements have been standardized in the reading text.
- always full left, followed by one white line
- always full left, beneath the date/place after a white line
- first line of the letter
- immediately below the salutation, set full left
- paragraphs are indented except for the first line of the letter text and after a white line
- white lines
- all larger than average blank spaces between lines in the manuscript are reproduced by one white line in the reading text, with the exception of any white space below the salutation
- there is one white line preceding ‘b. à t.’ etc.; the text is set full left. If there are two words or phrases that are on the same line in the transcription but on two lines in the reading text (chiefly in the closing formula), what was written in the second instance is given the same line number with an added asterisk (*)
- after the signature and after one white line
- has been reproduced, but any underlining of the superscript has been omitted
- are left unchanged. See Abbreviations used by Van Gogh: In specific places there are comments on abbreviations, for example the ‘M.’ before ‘Maris’ could stand equally for Matthijs or Mijnheer or Monsieur. Theo sometimes used a colon as an abbreviation mark, for example in ‘etc:’ and ‘tab:’ these colons have been rendered as points without comment
- quotation marks
- always double, as Van Gogh generally does; quotation marks written on the line have been set high
- commas, full stops
- commas and full stops added by us are rendered in the non-normalized reading text as a / and _ respectively, otherwise standard punctuation marks are used
- single underlining
- printed in italics
- multiple underlining
- printed as small capitals (double underlining), or capitals (more than double); figures are set in italics even if they are double underlined
- atypical writing
- when handwriting that is out of the ordinary can be explained as a deliberate device to mark particular words (names, quotations, titles), these words have been printed in italics; in extreme cases, capitals have been used to indicate the distinction
- combinations of writing variants and emphasizing devices are set as small capitals if there are two, capitals if there are more than two and in other extreme cases
- repeated quotes
- repeated quotation marks (at the beginning of every new line of a quotation) have not been reproduced; only the beginning and end of the quotation are marked
- additions in margins
- are inserted in the intended place if that is clear. If the position is not absolutely certain, the insertion in the reading text is noted in the Textual notes with the comment: ‘Added later. Insertion uncertain’. If the intended place of the insertion cannot be determined, the passage in question is placed at the very end of the letter (in other words after any postscripts there may be). If the letter contains several such passages, they are placed at the end in the order in which they occur in the manuscript. In the non-normalized version of the reading text these passages are marked with the symbol » beside the line number in the left margin
- if Van Gogh set off a quotation in any way (by indenting, outlining or similar) the passage in question is placed between white lines in the reading text. Centred text is always set full left, for example in the case of titles above quotations; there is always a white line between a title and/or heading and a poem or quotation
- lines and dots
- lines and dots that Van Gogh used to mark a transition are rendered as a white line in the reading text; if the start and/or end of a quotation are marked (for example with an indent or a dash) the whole quotation is placed between white lines
- all parentheses are rendered as ( )
- other uncertainties about the text that are not dealt with above are treated in the Textual notes.
3.3.17 Textual notes
Particulars about the constitution of the text are noted under Textual notes below the non-normalized version of the reading text. Textual clarifications are dealt with in the annotations. The annotations include everything that has to do with the comprehension of the text.
The Textual notes begin by noting a printed letterhead, if there is one. This is followed by the interventions in the text by line of the manuscript. The line number is followed by the emended text at the relevant place in the reading text, then a < symbol. Behind this is the actual reading in the manuscript or comments on the constitution of the text, or both. For example:
18 dan dat < dat dat
This means that in line 18 we changed ‘dat dat’ into ‘dan dat’.
An emendation may be followed by an editors’ comment, which is always italicized, for instance:
34 (eenige) < eenge Added later; parentheses added by us.
When there is only a comment, the < symbol is not used, as in
21-22 Text lost due to ink corrosion.
Text that is illegible in the manuscript is indicated in the reading text with italicized lowercase Xs between square brackets. Where possible, we try to give an indication of the number of illegible words or letters, thus: [xxx xx].
Where open variants are separated by a /, this is explained. For instance: ‘meisjes/dameskopje’ (letter 514, l. 98).
98 meisjes/dameskopje < Van Gogh added the word ‘dames’ later.
Where there might be doubt as to the intended meaning of a word or all or part of a sentence, we explain this in the Textual notes.
3.4 Emendations in the letters written in French
In principle we treated the letters in French in exactly the same way as the Dutch letters, endeavouring to stay as close to the original texts as possible. However, Van Gogh’s mastery of French did not equal that of his native tongue, and in some places his spelling and grammar are so odd that it was necessary to make additional decisions in establishing the reading text.
As a general rule our aim has been to avoid confusion and unintentional ambiguities in the text. It cannot be denied that the judgement as to whether something may be confusing to readers is sometimes arbitrary. Where we were in doubt, we erred on the safe side and allowed comprehension and/or readability to prevail over other considerations. Examples include
différentes < différentent
Mais < Mai
d’exempter < d’expempter
mois < moi
ça < sa
Van Gogh made mistakes in acute, grave and circumflex accents roughly one-third of the time. As far as the three criteria of comprehensibility, readability and quotability permit, we have preferred not to intervene in the reading text in order to preserve the original character of the letters to the greatest possible extent. Some incorrect accents may be typical of a Dutchman writing in French who as it were imposed the pronunciation of his mother tongue on the language; for example rémédier (in French there is no accent on the first syllable but the Dutch word derived from it is often, albeit incorrectly, pronounced as ré-) and, conversely, pretention (in Dutch the original é-sound in the first syllable of the French is not stressed).
Mistakes with accents can create ambiguity and make it difficult to understand the text. For example, a and à mean different things, as do du and dû, sur and sûr, la and là, ou and où, après and âpres. This category also includes words like represente and dessine, where the omission of the acute accent on the final e can cause confusion. To avoid this we have always emended these instances without comment, because it is fair to assume that Van Gogh did know what was right – after all in around two-thirds of cases he spelled these words correctly – and a full list of emendations of this kind would make the Textual notes unacceptably long.
Some of Van Gogh’s mistakes with accents make it appear that a word exists in French when it does not. The word retablie, for example, only exists as the past participle rétablie, but it looks like a French word. In these cases, too, the accent was added to avoid confusion. We have not intervened, on the other hand, when a possible alternative reading would be very unlikely, as in the case of meme, which could be read as either même or mémé, but is almost without exception the former.
Van Gogh was also very inconsistent in his use of hyphens. In French, however, they often have a semantic function. For instance the hyphen linking même to a pronoun, as in lui-même, governs the syntax and meaning of the sentence. The same applies when the hyphen connects là to a noun: cet artiste-là and cet artiste là mean different things. Omissions of hyphens in these instances are confusing, so they have been emended without comment. Hyphens have likewise been tacitly added in the combination of là with an indication of place (là bas, là haut, là dessus and so on), because bas, haut and dessus are also nouns. In line with this reasoning, the missing hyphen has also been reinstated in au dessus and au dessous. In contrast, we have not intervened in such cases as celle là; there is only one possible reading of the demonstrative pronoun celle in combination with là.
Van Gogh often put apostrophes in the wrong place or left them out altogether. In many places this was undoubtedly just carelessness, but sometimes these errors may have arisen out of confusion with the Dutch use of the apostrophe. Elision is a case in point: the apostrophe is put before instead of after the remaining letter (je ’t écris instead of je t’écris and ’t ai instead of t’ai, analogous to the Dutch ’s morgens and ’t pleintje). We believe that incorrect and missing apostrophes affect readability, so all such errors have been corrected without comment.
3.5 The reading text: two versions
There are two versions of the reading text in this web edition: one where the layout largely corresponds with the structure of the manuscript, the other set as a continuous text.
The first, non-normalized version makes it easy to compare the reading text with the manuscript. The lines are the same length and the page breaks are marked by square brackets containing a number indicating which sheet of the letter it is, and an indication of recto or verso. Every letter begins, of course, on the front of the first page, that is 1r. Most letters run to more than one page;20 the page number (assigned by us) follows the sheet number and the recto or verso indication, separated by a colon. So [1v:3] indicates that this is the third page of the letter, written on the verso of the first sheet; [2r:8] is the eighth page on the recto of the second sheet.
In this version of the reading text, symbols are used to identify added commas and full stops – the most frequent emendations to the punctuation. We use / for an inserted comma and _ for a full stop.
The lines are numbered according to the transcriptions that underlie the reading text; if these line numbers are not consecutive it means that text that appears in the transcription has not been included in the reading text (for instance because Van Gogh crossed the line out). The sequence of line numbers may also be broken because we have inserted passages Van Gogh added subsequently, which appeared at the end of the transcription, into the running text of the letter. This was only done when there was a clear indication to justify it in the manuscript. Non-categorial interventions are recorded under the heading Textual notes at the end of this version of the reading text.21
The other version of the reading text is normalized: the text runs over the full width, commas and full stops are rendered with the customary marks. There are no Textual notes. Generally speaking, it is this normalized version that will be used for quotations.
3.6 Symbols used in the reading texts
- Text placed on a new line; it is part of a previous or subsequent line in the manuscript (only in the non-normalized version of the text)
- Inserted comma (only in the non-normalized version of the text)
- Inserted full stop (only in the non-normalized version of the text)
- Position of the text is uncertain (only in the non-normalized version of the text)
- Text between italicized square brackets indicates lost text (explained under Textual notes)
- Illegible text (the number of Xs indicates the number of letters)
- Used in the Textual notes to separate the emended text (before the left angle bracket) from the original text (only in the non-normalized version of the text)