My dear Theo,
I write to you often these days and often the same, but see it as proof that I have one thing on my mind above all — the need to embark on that period of figure drawing. Moreover — you may call it selfish — I want to have my health restored. My impression of the time that I’ve been here doesn’t change either — in a way I’m very disappointed with what I’ve done here — but my ideas have changed and been refreshed, and that was actually the goal I had in mind in coming here. As far as my health is concerned, though, I’ve observed that I relied on it too much and that, although the core is still good, I’m just a ruin of what I might have been. So it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if you were also in just as much need in the strongest possible terms of that better way of life that was prescribed for me.
If I’m not mistaken in this, then I believe that we can’t be together too soon, and I continue to see drawbacks to a stay in the country. For although the air there may be invigorating, I would miss the distractions and sociability of the city. From which we could benefit so much more still if we were together.
As for you, I shouldn’t be surprised if — if I may now speak as I find — office life had mechanized you too much, let’s say for a good few years.
And a very subtle and more refined and more artistic intelligence was somewhat sterilized. Now, though, that’s what we need to revive again and bring back to life. And were we to be together much more in the near future, I’d disappoint you in things for sure, but not in everything and not in my way of looking at things, I believe. I want to tell you at the start of our conversation about one thing and another that I wish that before too long we could both have acquired a wife, one way or another. Because it’s high time, and because we’d be no better off if we were to wait a long while to do it. Anyway — all that quite coolly. But it’s pretty much a prerequisite for living better. And I mention it because we may perhaps have a huge difficulty to overcome in this respect. And on which much depends. And I’m just breaking the ice about it here; we’ll always have to come back to it.
And in relationships with women one learns so much specifically about art. Pity that as one learns by degrees, so by degrees one ceases to be young. But were that not so, life would be too good.
Have you read that introduction to Chérie by De Goncourt yet?1 When one looks at it, the mass of work those fellows got through is colossal.
It’s such a brilliant idea, working and thinking in concert.
And every day I find evidence supporting the proposition that a major reason for many misfortunes among artists lies in the discord between them, in not cooperating, in being nasty, not kind, to one another. And now if we were wiser in this respect, I don’t doubt for a moment that we’d be on a better path and happier in a year’s time.
I’m not getting on very well with the work but I’m not forcing it either, because to all intents and purposes it’s actually forbidden me. And I want to save my strength for that initial period in Paris, should that be the most obvious thing to do first, without an intervening period except, then, for that one month. For I’d like to arrive there fresh.
Today — Sunday — it was almost a spring day — this morning I went for a long walk on my own, all through the city, in the park, along the boulevards. It was such weather that in the countryside one would probably have heard the lark for the first time.
And in short there was something of a resurrection in the atmosphere.
All the same, how depressed the mood is in business and among the people. I don’t think it’s exaggerating when one takes a gloomy view of the various strikes2 &c. everywhere. They certainly aren’t worthless for later generations, because then the cause will have been won. But for now, of course, it’s gloomy enough for everyone who has to earn his living, all the more so since we can foresee that it will get worse and worse from year to year. The working man against the bourgeois — is as justified as the third estate against the other two a hundred years ago.3 And the best thing is to keep quiet, because the bourgeois don’t have fate on their side, and we’ll experience more of it. We’re by no means at the end yet. So although it’s spring — how many thousands and thousands are walking around desolate?
I see just as clearly as the greatest optimist the lark ascending in the spring sky.
But I also see the young girl of barely 20, who could have been healthy and has contracted consumption — and perhaps will drown herself before she dies of a disease.
When one is always in respectable company and among reasonably well-to-do citizens, one may perhaps not notice it so much — but when, like me, one has been through very hard times, then it’s impossible to ignore the fact that great hardship is a factor that weighs in the balance.
One may not be able to cure or save, but one can nonetheless sympathize and share in it. Corot, who had serenity if anyone did, who truly felt the spring, wasn’t he as simple as a working man and thus sensible of all the misfortunes of others all his life? And something that struck me in a biography of him — when he was already very old in 70-71, he certainly still looked up into the clear sky, but — at the same time he visited the ambulances where the wounded lay dying.4 Illusions may fade — but what endures is the sublime — if one were to doubt everything, one wouldn’t doubt fellows like Corot and Millet and Delacroix. And I think that in moments when one doesn’t care about nature any more, one still cares about people.
If you can send me a bit more this month, be it a lot or be it little, but even if it’s only five francs, don’t neglect to do it, and if you can’t, you can’t. I’m really looking forward to hearing your decision as to whether for your part you would approve if I were to come to Paris as early as somewhere around 1 April. In any event, write to me about it soon. Regards, with a handshake.