My dear Theo,
I would have preferred to reply to you immediately about the very kind letter containing 100 francs, but as I was very tired at that precise moment, and as the doctor1 had absolutely ordered me to go for walks without mental work, because of that it’s only today that I write to you. As for work, the month hasn’t been bad after all, and the work distracts me, or rather keeps me in order, so I don’t deprive myself of it.
I’ve done the Berceuse three times,2 now since Mrs Roulin was the model and I was only the painter, I let her choose between the three, her and her husband, only on condition that I’d do a repetition for myself of the one she took, which I’m working on at present.3
You ask me if I’ve read Mistral’s Mireille – I’m like you, I can only read it in fragments of the translation. But have you heard it yet, for perhaps you know that Gounod has set it to music.4 I think so anyway. Naturally I don’t know this music, and even if I was listening to it I would be rather looking at the musicians than listening.
1v:2 But I can tell you this, that the original language from here in words sounds so musical in the mouths of the Arlésiennes that my word yes, from time to time I catch fragments of it.
Perhaps in the Berceuse there’s an attempt at a little music of colour from here, it’s badly painted, and chromos bought at the penny bazaar are infinitely better painted technically, but all the same.
Here – the so-called good town of Arles is a funny place which for good reasons friend Gauguin calls the filthiest place in the south.
Now Rivet, if he saw the population, would certainly be sorry at times, saying over and over, ‘you’re all sick’ – as he says of us. But if you catch the local sickness, my word, afterwards you won’t be able to catch it again.
This is to tell you that as for myself, I don’t have any illusions. It’s going very, very well and I’ll do everything that the doctor says but...
When I came out of the hospital with good Roulin I fancied that I hadn’t had anything, only afterwards did I have the feeling that I’d been ill. What can you say, I have moments when I’m twisted by enthusiasm or madness or prophecy like a Greek oracle on her tripod.5
Then I have a great presence of mind in words and talk like the Arlésiennes, but I feel so weak with all that. Especially when my physical powers return. But I’ve already told Rey that at the slightest serious symptom I’d come back and then subject myself to the alienist doctors of Aix6 or to himself.
What else can it do to us but bad things, and only cause us pain, you and me, if we aren’t well.
Our ambition has sunk so low. So let’s work very calmly, look after ourselves as much as we can and not wear ourselves out in sterile efforts at reciprocal generosity.
You’ll do your duty and I’ll do mine, as far as that’s concerned both of us have already paid for it other than in words and, at the end of the road, possibly we’ll see each other calmly again. But myself, whereas in my delirium all things I love so much are in turmoil, I can’t accept that as reality and am not acting the false prophet.
Sickness or mortality, my word, that doesn’t surprise me, but ambition isn’t compatible, fortunately for us, with the professions we follow.
Besides, there are so many people who think this way, in several categories of society, from the highest to the lowest.
But how come that you’re thinking about the little clauses of marriage and the possibility of dying at this moment, wouldn’t you have done better quite simply to have screwed your wife in advance? Anyway, that’s part of the customs of the north, and I’m not the one to say they don’t have good customs in the north.
It will come back, really.
But as for me without a sou, in this case I still say that money is one kind of currency and painting another. And I’m already able to send you a consignment in the sense mentioned in the previous writings.7 But it will get bigger if my strength comes back to me.
So I would like only, should Gauguin, who has a complete infatuation with my sunflowers, take these two paintings from me,8 that he gives your fiancée or you two of his paintings, not mediocre ones but better than mediocre. And if he takes a version of the Berceuse all the more reason why he should also give something good on his part.9
Without that I couldn’t complete this series I was telling you about, which must be able to go into the same little shop window we’ve looked into so often.10
The value of a painting in a case like this doesn’t come into it and I declare that I’m no expert. It remains that my social position may be as dear to me as yours as a good employee is to you.
And let me say just this, I attach as much importance as you do to a brotherly honesty as regards Boussod’s money. We have never served it ill. And we’ve worn ourselves out too much to do the right thing to be able to get angry at being called thieves or incompetents, what’s more, I won’t go on about it.
For the Independents, it seems to me that six paintings is too many by half. To my taste the harvest11 and the white orchard12 are enough, with the little Provençal girl13 or the sower14 if you want. But it’s all the same to me. I just really want one day to give you a more consolatory impression in our trade of painting in which we work, by means of a collection of around 30 more serious studies.
In any case, that will prove to our real friends like Gauguin, Guillaumin, Bernard &c. that we’re engaged in the work of production.
Ah well, as for the little yellow house, when I paid my rent the landlord’s agent15 was very nice and behaved like an Arlesian, treating me as an equal.
So I told him that I had no need of a lease, nor of a written statement of intent, preferably in writing, and that in the case of illness I would only pay by friendly agreement.
Here the people have their hearts in the right place, and a spoken word is more binding than a written one. So I’m keeping the house for the time being, since I need to feel at home here for the sake of my mental recovery.
Now as regards your move from rue Lepic to rue Rodier16 I can’t have an opinion, not having seen it, but the main thing is precisely that you also lunch at home with your wife. By staying in Montmartre you’ll be decorated and Minister for Fine Arts more quickly, but as you don’t much care about that it’s better to have tranquillity at home, so I think you’re completely right.
I too am a little like that – to the local people who ask after my health I always say that I’ll begin by dying of it with them and that afterwards my sickness will be dead.
That doesn’t mean to say that I won’t have considerable periods of respite.
But once you’re seriously ill you well know that you can’t catch the sickness twice, being healthy or sick is the same thing as being young or old.
Only be well aware of the fact that like you, I’m doing what the doctor tells me as much as I can. And that I consider that as a part of the work and the duty one has to carry out.
I must say this, that the neighbours &c.17 are particularly kind towards me, everyone here suffering either from fever or hallucinations or madness, we get along like members of the same family.
Yesterday I went back to see the girl I went to when I went out of my mind.18 I was told there that things like that aren’t at all surprising around here. She had suffered from it and had fainted but had regained her composure. And what’s more, people say good things of her.
But as to considering myself completely healthy, we shouldn’t do it.
The local people who are ill like me indeed tell me the truth. You can live to be old or young, but you’ll always have moments when you lose your head.
So I don’t ask you to say of me that there’s nothing wrong with me, or won’t be.
Only the Ricord of that is probably Raspail.19 I haven’t yet had the local fevers, and I could still catch them too. But here they’re already well-versed in all that at the hospital, and so from the moment when you have no false shame and say frankly what you feel, you can’t go wrong.
I’m closing this letter for this evening, with good handshake in thought.