My dear Theo,
I couldn’t get my last letter into a different form.1
But understand that it always seems to me that it’s more an ill-fated quarrel between you and me than one for which we ourselves are solely to blame. And the same with Pa too.
You say there’s soon to be an exhibition of Delacroix’s work.2 Very well — you’ll certainly see a painting there, The barricade, that I only know from biographies of Delacroix. I think it was painted in 1848.3 You also know a lithograph by De Lemud, I think — if not by him then by Daumier, also depicting the barricade of 1848.4 I wish that you could just imagine that you and I had lived in that year, 1848 — or a similar period, for there was also something of the kind with Napoleon’s coup d’état.5 I won’t say anything nasty to you — that’s never been the aim — I’m trying to make clear to you the extent to which the difference that has come between us is related to general tendencies in society, and as such is something very different from expressly intended nastiness.
So take the 1848 period.
Who were facing each other then whom one can take as prototypes of all the rest? Guizot — Louis-Philippe’s minister on one side,6 Michelet and Quinet with the students on the other side.7 I’ll start with Guizot and Louis-Philippe. Were they bad or tyrannical? Not exactly — they were people, as I see it, like, say, Pa and Grandfather, old Goupil8 (people in short who look almighty respectable — profound — serious — yet if one looks at them a bit sharply and at close quarters, there’s something lugubrious, dull, even feeble about them, to such a degree that they make one sick. Is this going too far???), aside from a difference in position, same mind, same character. Have I got this wrong???
Quinet now, say, or Michelet or V. Hugo (later),9 was the difference between them and their opponents almighty great? Yes — but on the surface one wouldn’t have said so. At the time I myself, at one and the same time, found a book by Guizot and a book by Michelet equally good. Yet in my case, as I got deeper into it, I saw a difference and, what’s more, contradiction! In short, that the one peters out, disappears vaguely, while in contrast something infinite remains in the other.
Much has happened since then. But I believe that if you and I had lived then, you would have been on Guizot’s side and I on Michelet’s side. And both remaining consistent, could with a certain sadness have found ourselves directly opposed to each other as enemies, on just such a barricade, say; you in front of it as a soldier of the government, I behind it as a revolutionary or rebel.
Now in 1884 — by chance the figures are exactly the same, just reversed — we’re facing each other again — although there are no barricades now, it’s true. The minds that can’t agree, however, are real. The mill is there no longer, but the wind’s still there.10 And we are — in my view — opposite each other in different camps — it can’t be helped. And whether you like it or not, you must go on, I must go on. Yet because we’re brothers, let’s stop short of shooting each other dead, say (figuratively speaking).
Yet we can’t help each other as much as two people standing side by side in the same camp. No, if we come in each other’s vicinity, we’d walk into each other’s fire.
My nasty remarks are bullets directed not at you — who are my brother — but in general at the party to which you belong. Likewise I don’t regard your nasty remarks as being expressly aimed at me, but — you’re shooting at the barricade (and believe that you’re thereby making yourself useful) and I happen to be inside it.
Think about this if you will — for I don’t believe that you can contradict very much of it; all I can say is that I believe this is pretty much how it is.
I’ve now realized that while I used to hope that you’d turn out differently and we’d be on the same side, it has been decided that we’ve ended up in opposing camps. And you — for your part, perhaps hoped that I’d change to the extent that we’d have fetched up together on the side where you are now. But you see I have no intention of that. I have to shoot in your direction — I’ll try not to hit you, though. You have to shoot in my direction — do the same.
I hope you’ll take what I’m saying in a figurative sense. Neither you nor I concern ourselves with politics, but we do live in the world, in society, and ranks of people do form groups as a matter of course. Can the clouds themselves do very much about whether they belong to one thunderstorm or the other? Whether they are carriers of positive or negative electricity? But it’s also true that people aren’t clouds. As an individual one is part of the whole that makes up humanity. Within this humanity there are parties. To what extent is it free will, to what extent the fatefulness of circumstances, that one belongs to one opposing party or the other?
Anyway, it was 48 then, it’s 84 now. The mill is there no longer, the wind is still there. However, try to know for yourself where you actually are, as I try to know it for myself. Regards.