My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and the enclosure. Your letter explains your silence to me.
You thought that ‘feeling that I was flush’, I was giving you an ‘ultimatum’ — in the way — similar — that the nihilists, say, might send them to the Tsar.1 Well, fortunately both for you and for me, there’s no question here of anything of the kind or similar.
However, I do understand your interpretation now that I know what it is, but I had to know. For a start I meant something different — it was simply: ‘I wouldn’t want to flourish if you had to wither in consequence; I wouldn’t want to develop the artistic in me if you had to suppress the artistic in you for my sake. I wouldn’t approve if you were to suppress the artistic in you for anyone’s sake, even for the sake of father, mother, sister, brother or wife’. There you have my meaning — perhaps expressed nervously and in the wrong words — most decidedly there was no more nor anything else behind it than that. You understand it well enough now, don’t you?
As to what I wrote in my last letter, it arose out of your silence, an absolute mystery to me, absolutely inexplicable to me until I knew what the matter was. I already had an answer as far as Marie is concerned before I ever received your letter, simply because I remembered what you wrote to me in the past about your meeting with her and thought, that has to be all right, that can’t be what’s wrong. So even my letter on the subject was meant like this: brother, you seem to abandon me without warning; if you did this on purpose it would be treachery in my view, but I CAN not think that, so ‘explain it to me’ — no more nor less than this was behind that, and as to what I said about Lady Macbeth, you’ve interpreted it correctly, as a hint in general that was not even a question but only to make you feel: either it has to be like this or it is a misunderstanding.
Be aware of this, though, brother, that I’m absolutely cut off from the outside world — except for you — so that for me it was enough to make me crazy when your letter didn’t come at a moment when, far from being ‘flush’, I was in dire straits — although I didn’t mention that — because I reckon that I’m somewhat above the cares that peck at my vitals,2 regarding this torture as understandable, so be it, although not as deserved. As to ‘I wouldn’t want to flourish if someone else had to wither in consequence’, I hope that I would say this — which lay in what you conceived to be an ultimatum —whether I was ‘flush’ OR in ‘agony’.
It seems to me that the conclusion that I spoke as if I was ‘flush’ was rather shallow or hasty on your part — although it must have been in the way I expressed it, for it was certainly not what I felt.
I just want to tell you that since I’ve been here I’ve had to see to it that my equipment was organized, that I had paint, that I went to see this and that, that I paid for my lodgings, that I sent the woman something, that I paid off some debts. All this keeping me very hard up all the time — to put it mildly. Add to this that singular torture... loneliness, and you really will no longer be able to think that there’s any possibility of my feeling ‘flush’ for the time being — or that I felt it then.
I say loneliness and not even in peace3 — but that loneliness which a painter in an isolated region encounters when every Tom, Dick and Harry takes him to be a madman — a murderer — a vagabond &c. &c. Granted it may be a petty vexation,4 but a vexation it is. Being a stranger, doubly strange and unpleasant — however stimulating and beautiful the countryside may be.
But I see in this only a bad time that one has to get through. Something, though, which one can do very little about oneself — that is, about the attitude of the people whom one would so much like to have as models and can’t get.
With hindsight, I see clearly enough how you and I came to misunderstand each other. There was a moment when you were very melancholy, and you wrote me the following: the gentlemen are making it almost impossible for me, and I actually believe that they would rather dismiss me than that I should resign (the underlined precisely my case at the time). And you said, ‘sometimes I think I should just disappear’ — and you said — there were things about the idea of painting to which you were at least not averse.5
Very well — then I candidly told you all my thoughts about the possibility of your becoming a painter, I said you can do it provided you want to, and I believe in you as an artist, from the moment you pick up a brush, even if no one else does.
What I said about that, I’ll say to you in the future should a misfortune — a calamity — strike you — what is now stopping you from ‘a complete renewal’ is indeed a misfortune. If a calamity were to strike you, I believe that you as a person would become a greater person as a result, with — with — with — an eternally painful wound at the same time.
I would expect of you that it would raise you up, not ‘drag you down’, that wound which can only be caused by a calamity.
But your later letters differ so much in tone and so much in content that I now say: if your rigged ship is sound, very well, then stay on it.
However I’ll always maintain what I said should a calamity put you in a different position in relation to society. Were that ever to happen, I say in that regard: let it be a sign for you to make a complete change of profession, rather than starting all over again doing the same thing.
But as long as you have your rigged ship, I don’t say that I advise you to put to sea in a fishing-boat. Although I wouldn’t wish for G&Cie’s rigged ship back, as far as I personally am concerned. At the time I thought, for God’s sake, calamity — do your worst!
At first I didn’t know what to think about the change in the tone of your letters. Now, looking back, I think as regards your somewhat melancholy but for me so touching letter, written at a time when G&Cie were being terribly nasty to you (a moment COMPARABLE to what I experienced myself) — now in hindsight I think, I say, that you took a different view of that moment when I said to the G&Cie gentlemen ‘if you force me to go, I won’t refuse to go’, and that things really have calmed down, perhaps for good — and with your consent — so be it — I won’t object. Well, I do not take it amiss of you — because I believe that in such a case certain conditions that really are acceptable can be laid down — and I think that you would not have accepted them were there to have been anything dishonest in accepting them. But why I said something like, ‘if you stay then I’ll refuse your financial support,’6 was because you had said ‘let me stay where I am because I have to take care of Pa, Ma, Wil and Marie’, and (although you didn’t mention me) me as well. Tact on your part not to mention me, to which I had to respond with tact on my part — I don’t want that — you sacrificing yourself in so far as you would stay there against your will for the sake of others. There you have what you interpreted as giving you an ultimatum.
If you stay there because ‘you have a renewed pleasure in it’ — it’s all to the good as far as I’m concerned, and I congratulate you on your newly rigged ship, although for myself I have no desire to go back.
What you write about Serret interests me greatly.7 A man like that who eventually produces something heart-rending as blossom from a hard and difficult life is a phenomenon like the blackthorn, or better yet a gnarled old apple tree which suddenly bears blossoms that are among the tenderest and most ‘pure’ things under the sun.
When a rough man blossoms — it’s indeed a beautiful sight — but HE has had to endure an awful lot of cold winters before then — more than even the later sympathizers know.
The artist’s life and WHAT an artist is, that’s very curious — how deep is it — infinitely deep.
Because of your silence, inexplicable to me, and because I also associated it with the possible resumption of difficulties with the gentlemen, because for my part I was intolerably hard-pressed as a result of the mistrust of the people in the lodgings, I dropped Pa a line that, not having heard from you, I didn’t know what to think and asked Pa for a loan. I added that I was uneasy both about you and about myself, particularly when I thought about the future, and I wished that both you and I had become painters when we were boys, and actually saw no reason why we two brothers shouldn’t be painters even now if G&Cie were not to remain what it once was to you. Should Pa ever write to you about it, you know the reason for it, but I’ll write to Pa myself (I haven’t had a reply from Pa yet) that your last letter has made it plain to me that for the time being G&Cie remains G&Cie.8 I add this to you, not to Pa: since G&Cie exercises an influence on our family, strangely compounded of good and evil; good, certainly, in any event because it prevents much stagnation (evil not being in question for the moment).
That my heart perhaps has and feels bitterness of its own is something that in my view you both understand and consequently forgive me out of yourself.
Ultimatum — YOU speak of it — NOT I (at least my intention was something very different) — if you want to interpret it that way — then it’s all right with me, but I shall not be the first — nor have I been — for the moment your interpretation runs very far ahead of my intention. I would perhaps not contradict you any more than I did G&Cie in the past, if you wanted to carry it through. Then I would say again, you said ultimatum first, NOT I. If you want to interpret it thus, then I don’t oppose this interpretation.9 With a handshake.
Brother — after your last letter all my worst vague anxieties have been quieted — I mean that I have complete confidence in you as a man and in Marie.
But I simply think that you’ll run into certain financial difficulties because of the course of events.
I advise you, if you can economize on something, then economize, that’s to say if you can put something by, then put something by.
I myself have nothing at the moment — but I’ll see if I can arouse some interest in certain plans of mine — or if no one wants to come back to Drenthe with me later on, then at least see if I can’t find some credit for myself so that I can settle there. I’m not flush, I have nothing.
I’ve seen how shaky your finances have been for a long time — you had too much on your shoulders — you think now that the future will put it right — I think you’ll find the future hostile in Paris. Again, if I’m wrong you can all laugh at me and I’ll laugh about it myself. If it’s just my nerves deluding me, well then, it’s my nerves — but I fear you all too effectively have a fatality against you.
I’ll be able to write to you more calmly from home. There’s certainly a working environment for me in Drenthe, but preferably I’ll have to be able to look at things rather differently from the outset and have a little more certainty in my finances. I have to watch the cents — on a small scale; at present, for instance, obviously I concede that this is the first time you have definitely skipped — the difference of some 25 guilders is something that may stump me again for 6 weeks perhaps. I can readily believe that you can’t imagine this — you cannot know what sort of difficulties over and over again, each very small in itself, make something possible or impossible. Don’t take it amiss of me, but believe me that I have to try to take some steps in order to accomplish what I want. Last week, for instance, I got a note from my former landlord,10 who gave me the impression that he could seize my things that I left behind (including all my studies, prints, books — that I could hardly do without) if I didn’t send him 10 guilders that I’ve promised him as payment for the use of an attic room for my belongings, and some rent that it was doubtful he was entitled to claim, but I agreed on condition of an arrangement to store my things. I have to pay for other things by the New Year, I still have to pay Rappard, and I economized on everything I could. In short, it’s not the same as feeling flush. Things can’t remain as they are at present. I have to find a way out. I don’t say that you’re to blame, of course, but even last year I couldn’t have economized more than I did. And the harder I work, the more hard-pressed I become. We’re now at a point where I say: at present I cannot go on.