My dear Theo,
Today I received a letter from home and I wanted to talk to you about it, although Pa doesn’t mention you in the letter, because in the circumstances you might perhaps like to know something about their state of mind, above and beyond what they may write to you directly. And my impression is that for the present you may be entirely at ease on that score.
The letter in question is Pa’s first since his visit1 and is very amiable and cordial and was accompanied by a package containing a coat, a hat, a packet of cigars, a cake, a money order.
In the letter was the outline of a sermon, by far the best part of which I thought was the biblical text,2 and which made less of an impression on me than a few words about the funeral of a farm labourer later on.
And otherwise that Ma was at Princenhage3 and domestic details.
Well, the reason I’m telling you this at such length is so that you’ll see from it that there’s no particular tension or anything abnormal; rather, I got the impression that Pa’s mood was more passive or resigned, tending towards good-natured melancholy, more so than one would expect if one were to go only by the expressions of objections you wrote to me about.
So I think those words were intended more as advice or warning (advice that in the end has no solid grounds in my view, and doesn’t hold water) and less as a sign of definite resistance or opposition to your firm decision.
They may think that you haven’t yet made up your mind, or they may believe that you haven’t given it enough thought.
Because in my last letter I disapproved so strongly of what Pa had said4 — and still disapprove of it now, being decidedly of the opposite opinion inasmuch as I don’t consider it appropriate in this case to raise objections to do with money and religion — I wanted to soften my words, in the sense that I believe that it’s a question here of a fault (at any rate a fault in my view) that lies more in Pa’s words than in his heart and mood.
And I have in mind to talk to you about how Pa is an old man and so deeply fond of you, and you’ll find, I believe, that he’ll accept your view if there’s no alternative, even if it conflicts with his own, yet couldn’t possibly accept estrangement from you or having less contact, etc.
And adopting a humane point of view, I take back my opinion: ‘by saying that, they have shown they are unworthy of your trust and in my eyes you needn’t confide in them any further’, or something similar that I wrote then, I don’t remember exactly.5 But don’t misunderstand me, not because I disapprove less of what they said, but because I believe that in this case one shouldn’t take it too seriously, and there’s no pressing need to take up arms against it as long as it remains only words.
Cutting it short by saying something like, for example, ‘You take a rather gloomy view of the future’ and ‘can hardly demand from me that I act as if the end of the world were imminent’ is wiser in this case, I believe, than taking their words very seriously.
It seems to me that Pa’s a little melancholy, though, and is perhaps fretting a little about you and imagining gloomy things — but again Pa writes not a syllable about it directly, and said not a word about it at the time of his visit. But not talking about it is in fact also rather abnormal. Anyway — I, too, know Pa quite well, and believe I can see signs of some melancholy.
If you want to help him, write quite lightly and cheerfully, and write about your visit this summer as though it’s certain you’ll see them again soon (even though you may not know yourself yet how you’ll fit your visit in as regards the time).
For perhaps, perhaps Pa himself is conscious of having gone a little too far, or worried about how you’ll take it, or afraid that you won’t come.
Of course I don’t know how matters stand and am only guessing, but I do think this, Pa is an old man and deserves to have people cheer him up if they can.
You know well enough that in my view you ought to be loyal to the woman; there’s no question of my saying anything less about that than I did, but do what’s right and don’t blame Pa if he’s mistaken. That’s what I wanted to say. Don’t even refer to the fact that he’s mistaken unless he keeps going on, perhaps he’ll retract of his own accord.
Now a word about the work.
Today I asked for permission to draw sketches in the old men’s and old women’s home,6 namely the men’s ward, the women’s ward and the garden. I was there today. From the window I sketched an old gardener by a crooked apple tree, and the workshop of the home’s carpenter,7 where I drank tea with two orphan men.
I can go into the men’s ward as a visitor. It was very real, inexpressibly real.
A small chap with a long, thin neck in a chair on rollers, among others, was priceless.
In the carpenter’s workshop, with a view of the cool, green garden with those two old boys, it was just like the scene in, for example, that photo by Bingham after that small painting by Meissonier, the two priests sitting drinking.8 Perhaps you know the one I mean. Whether I’ll get permission isn’t, however, entirely certain, and has to be applied for from the assistant deacon, which I’ve done and have to go back for the answer.
Apart from that, I’m working out how to draw the dung-heap. I wrote to you that I had hopes of getting a Scheveningen cape,9 well, I’ve got it, and an old hat thrown in which isn’t particularly beautiful, but the cape is superb and I immediately started working with it. Am just as pleased with it as I was with the sou’wester before.10
And I’ve got as far with the sketch of the dung-heap as more or less getting into it that sheep-shed effect of inside against outside — the light under the dark sheds — and the group of women emptying their dustbins is beginning to develop and take shape.11
Now the wheelbarrows going up and down and the rag-pickers with dung forks, that grubbing about under the sheds, has still to be expressed without losing the effect of light and shade of the whole. On the contrary, it must be strengthened as a result.
I believe you’ll have your own, similar view of Pa’s words, and so I’m not telling you anything new, but because I spoke so sharply about it I wanted you to know at the same time that I don’t do such a thing with pleasure but with regret, and would be glad if peace could be kept with a little geniality.
This winter Pa was pretty much against my being with the woman just as much as now, yet he sent a warm coat ‘in case I could make use of it’, not specifying what for but obviously with the idea ‘she may be cold’.12 Well, you see, that is right after all, and for one such deed I would gladly put up with a deluge of words.13
Because I myself am not one of those who don’t fail in words either — such people would be perfect — and don’t make the slightest claim to perfection.
And wanted to point out to you that in any case Pa14 objects to my being with the woman, MUCH MORE SO indeed than with you, and despite that last winter he still no doubt thought something like: ‘that wretched woman — but she shouldn’t suffer from the cold’. Now, probably the same in your case: ‘that poor papist woman shouldn’t be alone even so’, or something like that. So don’t be concerned, be of good heart, and put their minds at ease.
Adieu, old chap, with a handshake.