My dear Theo,
A few more words before you leave. Things are going well these days. The day before yesterday and yesterday I went into town for an hour to find things to work with. When I went home I was able to learn that the real neighbours, those whom I know, weren’t among those who got up that petition.1 However it may be, anyway I saw that I still had friends among them.
If need be Mr Salles is pretty sure he can find me an apartment in another district in a few days.
I’ve had another few books brought in order to have a few solid ideas in my mind. I’ve re-read La case de l’oncle Tom — you know, the book by Beecher Stowe on slavery2 — Dickens’s Contes de Noël,3 and I’ve given Mr Salles Germinie Lacerteux.4
And here I am, going back to my figure of the Berceuse for the 5th time.5 And when you see it you’ll agree with me that it’s nothing but a chromolithograph from a penny bazaar, and what’s more, it doesn’t even have the merit of being photographically correct in the proportions or in anything.
But anyway, I’m trying to make an image such as a sailor who couldn’t paint would imagine it when he was in the middle of the sea and thought of a woman on land.
They’re very, very attentive to me at the hospital these days, which — like many other things — mixes me up and makes me a little confused.
Now I imagine that you’d prefer to marry without all the ceremonies and congratulations of a wedding, and am quite sure in advance that you’ll avoid them as much as possible.
If you see Koning or others, and above all cousins Mauve and Lecomte,6 don’t forget to give them my warm regards.
How strange these last three months appear to me. Sometimes nameless moral anguish, then moments when the veil of time and of the inevitability of circumstances seemed to open up a little way for the space of a blink of an eye.
Certainly, you’re right after all, darned right — even allowing for hope, one probably has to accept the rather distressing reality.
I hope to throw myself back completely into work, which has fallen behind.
Ah, I mustn’t forget to tell you a thing I’ve often thought about. Utterly by chance, in an article in an old newspaper, I found a line written on an ancient tomb at Carpentras, near here.
Here is this very, very, very old epitaph, let’s say from the time of Flaubert’s Salammbô:7
‘Thebe, daughter of Telhui, priestess of Osiris, who never complained about anyone.’8
If you were to see Gauguin you could tell him that. And I was thinking of a faded woman, at your place you have the study of that woman who had such strange eyes, whom I met by another chance.9
What does it mean, that ‘she never complained about anyone’?
Imagine a perfect eternity, why not — but let’s not forget that reality in the old centuries has that... ‘and she never complained about anyone.’
Do you remember that one Sunday good old Thomas came to see us and said, ah but — is it women like that who give you a hard-on?
No, that doesn’t always produce a hard-on precisely, but anyway — from time to time in life one feels amazed, as if one was taking root in the ground.
Now you talk to me of the ‘real south’ and as for me, I was saying that after all it seemed to me that it was rather for people who were more complete than me to go there.10
Is the ‘real south’ not to some degree the place where one might find a reason, a patience, a serenity sufficient to become like that good ‘Thebe — daughter of Telhui — priestess of Osiris — who never complained about anyone’?
Beside that I feel like some kind of unworthy being.
To you and your wife on the occasion of your marriage that is the happiness, the serenity I would ask for you two, to have that true south inwardly, in your souls.
If I want this letter to leave today I must end it. Handshake, bon voyage, kind regards to Mother and Sister.