My dear Theo,
I received your letter in good order with the 50 francs enclosed. Which were a deliverance for me, at any rate a respite. I’ve also heard from friend Rappard — but nothing definite as yet.
A letter that’s a reply to my letter, and that he will help me and come as well, but, he writes, my health is letting me down again. Ends with: I enclose the money herewith. Postscriptum: oh, I’ll come immediately and bring it myself — I’ll come tomorrow. This is followed by a telegram the next day. Not coming, letter follows later.1
So, despite having heard something, it’s still the same as with a game of goose,2 if you remember how one can land on a goose, thus go forward, but unfortunately just then land on a new goose with its beak pointing in a direction one doesn’t want to take, and so one must count back to one’s original position. Yet it isn’t his fault, for he’s been really very ill and is still feeling the remnants or after-effects of that. Moreover, his sister3 had a fairly similar illness, and they were most concerned about her, but she recovered too.
Nonetheless, I do believe this of friend Rappard, that he does things that cost him a great deal of energy and nervous tension and aren’t worth the powder he expends on them. Thus before his illness I heard about decorations for the centenary of the Utrecht painters’ society,4 and now this time it was church ornaments. By chance
1v:2 I wrote to him that I thought they were both unwise, and he fell ill last time and now this time. I would approve if he overworked himself on normal things, but, as I said, this isn’t worth the powder expended on it, and I wrote again to him: you’re a soldier and one of the few who have cartridges in their box at the present time. Use them only in cases where a shot is unavoidable.
I fear — dear brother — that the money you loaned to our dear cousin H. has currently taken the form of a vicious gun dog, for instance, or some similar curiosity, since I believe he’s quite often mistaken about such purchases — and then later it’s sometimes impossible for him to bring it back from that form to the state of banknotes or to cash it in because, like other lovers of horses and hounds, he’s caught in the snares of some crooked dealer. I’m one of those who wish him as much good fortune as possible in these negotiations, and would like to see nothing better than that their outcome is that he may speedily return what he owes you. At one time there were big plans to populate the plantation5 with countless dogs. This livestock farming is highly commendable, but at present I want to say no more about it than that I hope it may prove exceedingly profitable.
Is your patient already discharged from hospital? But there may still be worrying days, no less grave than when she was in there. Michelet says rightly: a woman is an illness.6 They are changeable, Theo — they are changeable like the weather. Now those with an eye for it see something beautiful and good in all weathers, find snow beautiful and burning sun beautiful and storm beautiful and calm beautiful, cold good and heat, are fond of all seasons and don’t want to miss a single day of the year, and are fundamentally content and resigned to things being as they are — yet even if one looks at the weather and the changing year like this — and the changing female nature in the same way — believing that in the essence of that nature, in its mysteriousness, there is a Reason — accepting where one doesn’t understand — even, I say, if one should view it in that way, our own nature and vision isn’t always and at every moment in harmony and accord with that of the woman with whom we’re united, and individually one feels either concern or dissatisfaction or vacillation, despite the belief and the good spirits or serenity one may have.
I was told by the professor who delivered her that the complete cure of my woman would take years. That is, the nervous system remains tremendously sensitive, for example, and she has that changeableness of women very strongly. The great danger is — as you will understand — tumbling back into old mistakes.
This danger, although of a moral nature, has links with the physical constitution. And I have constant and sometimes serious concerns about what I would call these lurches between getting better and lapsing back into old bad habits. Her mood can be such that it’s almost unbearable, even for me, quick-tempered, wilfully wrong, in short, sometimes I despair. It passes — and more than once she has said to me later — I DON’T MYSELF KNOW WHAT I’M DOING THEN.
Do you remember writing to me last year that you feared that I would be burdened with the mother? Sometimes I wish things had taken that turn. The mother is very sturdy when she wants to be, and could have done so much better than she has. Now she sometimes obstructs more than she helps. Anyway, when the woman does something wrong it’s sometimes the mother’s fault, and when the mother does wrong it’s sometimes the family who are behind the mother. Things which aren’t so bad in themselves but which prevent progress and overwhelm or neutralize better influences.
My woman has certain faults and defects in the way she acts — that’s bound to be the case. THAT DOES NOT MAKE HER BAD in my view. Still, those defects must be eliminated — habits of laxity, indifference, lack of activity and deftness, oh, a mass of things. But all with the same root — wrong upbringing, years of an utterly wrong view of life, fatal influences of bad company. I tell you this in confidence, mind — and not out of desperation but so that you will understand that for me this love isn’t a bed of roses, but something as prosaic as Monday morning.7
A small painting by Tissot showed a figure of a woman in the snow amid withered stalks.8 Way of flowers, way of tears.9 Well, my woman no longer walks on a way of flowers as she did when she was younger and pleased herself and followed her inclination, but life has become thornier for her and become a Way of tears, especially last year — yet this year has thorns too, and the following years as well — still, by persevering she will overcome them.
But sometimes there’s a crisis — particularly when I venture to raise the matter of some fault of hers that I’ve been quietly observing for a long time. For example, just to mention one thing, mending the clothes and making the children’s clothes herself. But that ends with her getting down to it one day, and she’s already much improved in this respect and in other respects.
I must change so much in myself too, but I must ensure that in me she has an example of working and of patience, and that’s damned difficult, brother, to be so that one can indirectly show someone how to do something, and I too fall short sometimes, I must raise myself to something better in order to awaken her interest.
The boy, above all, is doing extremely well, though — the girl was very ill in the past and neglected.
But the little lad is a miracle of high spirits, already appears inclined to oppose social institutions and conventions. For instance, as far as I know all children are brought up on a kind of bread porridge. But he has refused that with the greatest determination. Although as yet without teeth, he bites firmly into a piece of bread and gets down all kinds of eatables while all the time smiling and crowing and making noises, but his mouth stays firmly shut for porridge &c. &c. He often sits with me in the studio on the floor in a corner on a couple of sacks or something, he crows at the drawings and is always quiet in the studio because he looks at the things on the wall. Oh, he’s such an agreeable little lad.
The number of studies keeps growing — when you come I think you’ll find some to put in a portfolio in your room perhaps, anyway that’s up to you, as long as you clearly understand that you may of course regard anything you take a liking to as your own. Other things must come forth from the studies, though, and better studies come from the old ones. I myself don’t know exactly how.
But I do long for you to see them again.
I saw with great interest a publication, Le Salon 1883, a first issue of a series of illustrations, some deuced good. Done with that new way of reproduction.10 I’ve subscribed to it, although I have enough expenses, with a view to what I’m doing myself at present with the printer’s ink and lithographic crayon. Listen, I definitely believe that some of my things would do well if reproduced in that way — particularly those that have the more intense blacks obtained by lithographic crayon and printer’s ink; I can also get the brownish wash that I often come across in the above prints.
Well, when you come perhaps we can arrange one thing and another.
And perhaps I’ll write down a detailed statement of several matters about which I need information, and you could take some of my studies together with that to show to Buhot, for instance, who would then probably shed light on a few things for me.
Recently read Un mâle by Camille Lemonnier — very strongly done in the manner of Zola. Everything observed from nature and everything analyzed.11
Saw a big Fromentin, a battle of fellahs, in the window at G&C.12
Also saw the nouveautés, perhaps not all of them. I again came across Julien Dupré, whom I wrote to you about, in two things that I found less beautiful and more conventional than what I saw by him in an illustrated magazine in the winter.13
Did you already know that Rappard’s painting has been accepted this time in Amsterdam?14
Well, it’s late already — thanks for your timely dispatch — I just hope that R’s ‘letter follows’ doesn’t take too long, or that H. v. G.’s livestock farming may prosper.
Adieu — good fortune in all things, especially the woman.
Still, Fromentin is clever — and a seeker, and someone who carries through, and conscientious too.