My dear Theo,
Something occurred to me that I should add regarding ‘like a tame dove’1 (a period that’s like what Correggio painted);2 it’s that this doesn’t last. And it’s a good thing that it doesn’t. It’s good, too, that we’re able to see and experience it and not forget it. But it doesn’t last, in the sense that this distress (even though it may, as I believe, exist permanently ((yet hidden)) deep within man) is replaced by a more normal state of affairs. Thus, for example, my woman now seems much more like a brood hen, for example, scratching about with the chicks. A brood hen is a nice bird too, all the same. This morning I was in an almshouse, old chap, to see an old woman (with whom I had to negotiate about posing), and up to now she has brought up the two illegitimate children of her daughter, who is a so-called kept woman. Several things struck me — first of all how neglected the poor lambs were — although the granny does her best and there are many far worse — I was also deeply struck by the granny’s loyalty, and it struck me that if an old woman reaches out her wrinkled hands in such a case, we men cannot hold back ours. I saw the true mother, who came to have a look in slovenly, worn-out clothes with tangled hair left undone.
And, old chap, I thought that after all there’s a difference between the woman with whom I live as she is now and as she was a year ago when I found her. And between the children there and here. Oh, if only one keeps one’s eye on reality, then it’s as clear as daylight that it’s a good thing to take care of what would otherwise wither and shrivel. And I consider that no argument about the difficulties or the unsuitability of becoming involved holds water, given the reality of these cases.
And as for me, precisely because it can fit in with my work, many problems disappear on the one hand, although on the other, namely the financial side, there certainly are many difficulties, and these will remain. Yet here too it’s sometimes so that the poor can be the poor one’s friend,3 and it certainly has a very good side in that both woman and children learn to be thrifty and the man learns to work hard.
But as for you, I foresee that there will be things you’ll have to battle like everyone else, and which are different in nature, and occur in every life for that matter. This means that you’ll have to prepare yourself properly for the fact that you’ll gradually come to see things in the woman you’re looking after that are very different from what you see now, that’s to say in her character. And in short, to speak plainly, you’ll be disappointed in her and perhaps say to her, ‘how changed you are’ — and she’ll say the same to you. And in my view that’s a step forwards if on both sides, despite that mutual ‘change’, you have not become irritated with each other and if you have learned to put up with things from her and she has learned to put up with things from you, or in other words you have both let some things go.
You see this is a crisis no one can avoid, and a crisis through which some become more strongly attached to each other and, on the other hand, many also become separated, which is always most lamentable after one has once started. In short, persevering isn’t always easy.
And here in my case, for instance, on occasion during those days I was especially glad that there were children, so that the path of duty could be more clearly discerned, both for the woman and for me.
You see, a person has no better friend than his duty and, although he’s sometimes a rough and hard master, as long as one works for him one won’t easily go bankrupt.4 And if I foresee that you’ll have strife, perhaps more than the ordinary average amount, I base this assumption on the fact that this woman also probably comes from what might be called a lower class. And what Pa, for instance, says on that subject — you know his way of thinking too well for there to be any need for me to repeat it — it’s indeed true, at least in many respects, I admit that. Yet there are cases like yours now where there’s a life to be kept above water and then — you see, then Pa himself wouldn’t know what to do, or rather I believe that then his heart too would in fact decide it, ‘I AM FOR LIFE’. Ah! You see, when I sometimes have doubts I ask myself: would you like to be a judge passing a death sentence? And always, always I have only one answer: No, once and for all I am for the abolition of statutory and other death sentences, anathemas and other capital punishments. We’re called upon to preserve life, to respect it, and that is our duty, and we can always justify that even if the world says we’re wrong or even if it doesn’t bring us good fortune.
So, old chap, this letter is to tell you that you have my sympathy, not only if it turns out well but also should it turn out badly.
And as for me, you needn’t conclude from this letter that it turned out badly in my case. For I have many, many reasons to be thankful. But nonetheless, I too suffered petty vexations5 of various kinds, and the ‘precarious’ nature of such matters has become so evident to me that I wanted to give you my opinion once and for all, while you’re at the beginning, that I think it good that someone tries to save the life of a woman like that who isn’t known to him, even though he doesn’t know in advance how the woman will turn out later or what she’ll prove to be like. And so in any case won’t belong to those who say, ‘you should never have started’, for it goes without saying that this will be the general opinion if, unfortunately, it should not turn out well.
At the same time this letter is also to add that I consider it desirable that there be a child. For there, too, you’ll see that most people consider that a problem, which I do not, the opposite in fact. And I believe everything can be so arranged that you don’t compromise yourself in the eyes of the world. But suppose things turned out so that you had to choose between compromising yourself and abandoning her, then I would approve of you if you said: I am for her life, and in order to save a human life I scorn compromise. This for an extreme situation, and as long as you can remain at peace with everyone without damaging her, do so. Anyway, it isn’t superfluous to say this when one takes into account that, for example, Pa once said to me, ‘There’s something immoral in a relationship with a woman of a lower class’ (I don’t think this is true, since I see no connection between class and morality. Class is a matter for the world, morality is a matter for God). Also: ‘Don’t sacrifice your position for a woman.’ Which in my view no longer applies when a human life is at stake. Yet Pa himself is far from obstinate, and is often very reasonable.
As to whether you’ll have some people against you because of the woman, I believe that it’s a thing not to be repented of6 to aim for a permanent relationship, in contrast to many who in principle only enter into relationships with no obligations.
With a permanent relationship one finds great inner calm and is in harmony with nature in my view, whereas one goes against the eternal moral laws if one tries to evade the consequences of a relationship with a woman. And so, in my view, he who orders his life in harmony with the eternal laws of nature and of morality contributes to reform and progress, and consequently to the restoration of things that are disorientated in contemporary society. So don’t doubt the reasonableness of your act, and you can’t be too calm and cool in the face of cynical remarks by people. A permanent relationship is often a source of renewed energy and capacity for work. One loses patronage but gains in capacity for work, and holds one’s own in the end.
But do you know what is a danger that I now understand better than in the past? You have to deal not only with yourself as regards your attitude to things, but also with the attitude of the woman you’re with. And while you’re firm and unfaltering in the face of outside influences, it may be that in some cases the woman is upset by some people’s opposition. And is herself opposed, like those people, and says, it isn’t working anyway, it’s impossible, and just when victory was in sight, so to speak.
In short, because of the shocks that she encounters with you and must withstand, the woman can change greatly: she can turn out good or bad depending on how she takes things, gain or lose in character as a result of rowing against the current.
Well, it lies in a woman’s nature to regress.7
Yet because your woman is likely to prove to have an intellectual side and isn’t uncultured, I believe that for that reason she deserves to be doubly trusted. If she adds contentment to intellectual development and is modest in her needs, then I see no reason to fear the above. And equipped for a period of rowing against the current, she can only gain in energy.
So, take heart.
And as to the financial side relating to me, be assured that everything you can possibly spare is as absolutely necessary to me as air, and my productivity depends on it.
But provided that I can continue to be active and make progress with what I’m working on in the studio, I believe you needn’t scruple to take some
2v:7 steps to recommend my work, for we shan’t fail to find friends for it — I believe I can assure you of this. And for my part, to lighten your burden, I wrote to C.M. (although I took no pleasure in that, I assure you) and wanted to ask you, could you perhaps write a word to Tersteeg telling him that I’m working on those large drawings.8 You see, old chap, if Mauve, say, was to come around now, perhaps, perhaps paintings might be made of them. The studies and composition are sufficiently worked up, I believe, to serve as the basis for a painting if need be. If I had the means, for myself I wouldn’t wish to get rid of them, and would keep my work together until it formed a fine whole.
And be assured that I long deeply for your coming. I believe that you’ll see, brother, that something has come of your loyalty and your sacrifice for me after all, and that still more will come. But I’m rather short of money for the outgoings.
And even if we don’t sell these, I think it could be a way of finding new contacts and perhaps of putting things right with C.M. or Tersteeg, say, or Mauve.
Adieu, old chap, with a hearty handshake.
It would be all the more desirable if you could send me something extra because I would like to do more rather than less in the coming days, in the time still to pass between now and your arrival.
I have hopes of making good progress because I’m getting some results with the lithographic crayon &c. that are stronger and better than the earlier drawings. Just a little further and I believe they’ll be able and willing to use me for illustration work of one kind or another. For, although this is seemingly humble, I’m made for such a position, I feel attracted by it and filled with strength.
And I’d have great pleasure in washing once more on torchon as well, probably before you come. For you mustn’t think that I’ve put watercolour or painting out of my mind. I certainly have it in mind, but drawing is the root of everything, and the time spent on that is actually all profit.
One can’t help having ‘visions of the future’. Even if one is convinced that nothing can be foreseen with certainty or sufficient accuracy. Yet what you wrote to me today could have a great influence on my future.
For who knows if it mightn’t end up with our being nearer each other?
Anyway, this has made your arrival twice as important to me, and I’ll try to give myself a few tugs forwards, and help me with that if you can.
If you had a more domestic life, I believe we’d understand each other even better, and it seems to me we’d be even more help to each other.
And I understand you will probably have cares, and if there’s anything I can do to make my work better so that we can do something with it, I’ll redouble my efforts.
Love is sometimes blessed, although the world seems to believe it should doubt this. But the blessing lies in the fact that one can do more by working with love than otherwise, and one fears less. Thus in the end can have more serenity. In short, one learns to grit one’s teeth. And whatever may be the case — whether it’s an advantage or a disadvantage socially — old chap, I believe that in the end you can only gain from it. So a blessing on what you do, and be assured that my warmest wish is for the woman you’re caring for to recover and be saved.
Yes, it’s an inspiring task — keeping a life above water! Perhaps it’s a great piece of luck both for you and for her at the same time. For hidden powers of energy and life develop then. Thanks once more for your letter and for what you sent. And write again soon, if you can.