My dear Theo,
Accept my thanks for your letter and the enclosure. I want to answer it today. What you write may be true — as we’ve already discussed — as I’ve thought to myself more than once, both before and since then — that if the woman were obliged to do without me — to stand on her own feet — she would follow a straighter course. Since she has 2 children, however, it’s a very difficult case, but what can I say? In the given situation it’s something that she herself makes necessary, and the circumstances make much more necessary. I underline this last.
Do you know what I’ve done? Today I had a quiet day with her — talked with her about it at great length — explained fully what my position was and how I must go for my work and must have a year with few outgoings and earn something to make up for what had passed, which had been rather too much for me. That I foresaw that if I stayed with her, I soon wouldn’t be able to help her any more and would then get into debt again here, where it’s expensive, and be unable to get out of it.
So in short she and I must be sensible and part as friends. That she’d have to get her family to take the children in, and that she must go into service.
Well, it’s so clear that it’s impossible for me to carry on here that she too understands. And so our agreement is that, both of us being in a fix at the moment, and making it worse by staying together, we’ll separate for a while or forever, depending on how things turn out.
I say ‘or forever’ because we have reasons for having to live nonetheless, she in her children and I in my work, and shall have to do things we don’t like — and shall perhaps not be able to be as good as we would wish.
I said to her, you may not be able to manage by going entirely straight, but go as straight as possible, I too shall go as straight as possible, but be assured in advance that I’ll do far from well in life. So I say, as long as I know that you’re doing your best and not letting everything go and are good to the children, just as you know I too have been good to them — as long as you behave in a way that the children still find a Mother in you, even if you’re only a poor maidservant, even if you’re only a poor whore — in my eyes you are and will remain good, with the whole damned host of faults. And I, though I don’t doubt for a moment that I have similarly attractive points, will be no different, I hope, from how I was, in that I won’t be able to see a woman with a big belly or in a stew without drawing my own conclusions about it and doing what I can if she crosses my path. If you were in the same state, I say, as when I found you, you would have a home with me — a shelter from the storm — as long as I had a crust of bread and a roof, but it isn’t like that now and the storm has passed, I believe you can now make a straight path for your feet1 without me. Well, you must try.
For my part I’ll also make a straight path for my feet, I must work hard, and you should too. That’s how I talked about it.
Ah, brother, you see that we wouldn’t have parted if we didn’t have to. I repeat, we wouldn’t have parted if we didn’t have to. Haven’t we forgiven each other’s faults time after time and made up again? We know each other so well that we can’t think each other bad. I don’t know whether it’s love, but what there is between us is between us.
As regards having to. You see, I don’t want to lapse into scraping by, I want to keep on working, straight ahead — vigorously — do what must be done by way of painting. I know that it can’t be wrong to do that — that’s to say, I don’t know how it will turn out for her or for me if I keep on working hard, but it will certainly turn out better if I keep hewing away on my own, if need be, than if we both lapse into stagnation by staying together when we get in each other’s way.
I come back now to Drenthe. Think about whether you see a way for me to get money to go there on my own. If need be, I imagine, I can leave the furniture here, and rent a corner of an attic somewhere from my landlord.
But first I want to be rid of the burden of my house rent, the sooner the better, you understand, and I want to go over there, the sooner the better. I need it to make progress. Drenthe, Katwijk,2 Brabant, I don’t mind. To stay for a time with a farmer or someone, far, far away in the country, far enough away for nature there to be real.
And then I must paint a lot and be able to spend a little more on painting materials.
I discussed everything again with Van der Weele. He spent an afternoon at the studio and saw my studies one by one. Together we repainted several of them to show me some things to do with technique. Anyway, he showed me some useful things. Also, before I go, in the next few days in other words, he’ll give some more of his time to tell me a thing or two.
Wisselingh, too, came for a morning. Very pleasant — he said I had got further than he expected. We had coffee together and talked about old times. He gave me great encouragement, and Van der Weele did too. But there’s no getting away from painting. I must — let me say it plainly for once — try to paint about a hundred substantial studies. You see, persevering with them. And these studies must be practical subjects too. Fragments of nature with character. Wisselingh will take something from me now and again, perhaps soon, and I’ve agreed with him that as early as this autumn or towards the winter, anyway when I’ve been in the country for a while, I hope to send him something. And to continue doing that. So that he’ll be abreast of what I’m doing, whether or not he takes anything.
I said to him, write to me about what I send you, and then I’ll continue in the genre that you think you can do something with.
As for C.M., I sent him more than 20 studies, so I don’t think he’ll be dissatisfied — moreover, he can exchange them later.3
Given that you have nothing to spare, I would ask you to consider putting the case to him — that it would be good if I could go to the country and do a lot of painting. That we’ll try to manage without his aid, but that when necessary it would be such a help if he didn’t stay out of it completely in future. You see, there’s a possibility that we’ll now be able to manage with the usual and still be able to do what the work demands, in painting as well. At a farmer’s in Drenthe one pays about 1 guilder a day for board and lodging. I would like to keep an eye on the woman in the beginning as far as I can, and contribute something, but still the care will be reduced, and the studio will have to be given up for a time. The things stored in a corner of an attic until better times. And then without baggage, without company, off on an excursion to study. Write to me soon and tell me what you think about one thing and another, I want you to write immediately when you’ve read this and say what you think about one thing and another. For my part, I’m going to give my landlord notice tomorrow and arrange to store my things somewhere here, if need be. The woman is going to look for a position in service. And meanwhile I do what work I can. As for a plan of where to go, I’ll wait for your letter, and after that we’ll see what we can do. I hope it will be a way of getting back on my feet. Adieu, old chap, I wish you the very best, I hope the business prospers. Believe me