Friday, 18/9-1881

Dear Brother,
I think that if I didn’t give vent to my feelings once in a while the boiler would burst. I must tell you something that would perhaps drive me mad if I kept it to myself but perhaps doesn’t have to weigh so heavily on my mind if only I speak openly about it. As you know, Pa and Ma on the one hand and I on the other don’t agree about what should or should not be done about that certain ‘no, nay, never’.
Well, after hearing for a long time the rather crass expressions ‘indelicate and untimely’1 (imagine that you loved someone and that love was called ‘indelicate’, wouldn’t you stand up to that with a certain measure of pride and say, Enough!), and this had stopped at my express request not to use those expressions any longer, something else became the order of the day.
Now it was said ‘that I would break ties’.2 Well, I’ve said many times with seriousness, with patience, with feeling, that this wasn’t the case at all. This helped for a time, but then it started all over again.
What I did, in fact, was ‘write letters’, behold the actual offence.
But when (so overhastily and stupidly, in my opinion) that awful expression ‘breaking ties’ went on and on, I did the following.  1v:2
For a couple of days I spoke not a word and took not the slightest notice of either Pa or Ma. Reluctantly, but still, I wanted to make them feel what it would be like if ties really were broken.
Naturally my behaviour surprised them, and when they told me so I answered, You see, this is how it would be if there were no bond of affection between us, but fortunately it does exist and won’t be so easily broken for the present, but now see for yourself, I beg you, how wretched words like ‘breaking ties’ really are, and don’t say them any more.
The result, though, was that Pa became very angry, sent me out of the room and – and – cursed me, at least that’s what it sounded like!
It causes me much sorrow and grief but I refuse to accept that a father is right who curses his son and (think of last year) wants to send him to a madhouse (which I naturally opposed with all my might)3 and calls his son’s love ‘untimely and indelicate’!!!  1v:3
When Pa gets angry he’s used to having people, me included, admit that he’s right. Now, though, I’d firmly resolved to let his anger burst forth, for God’s sake.
Also IN ANGER, Pa said something about my having to move somewhere else, but because it was said IN ANGER I don’t attach much importance to it.
Here I have my models and my studio,4 life would be more expensive elsewhere, and working more difficult and models costlier. But if Pa and Ma said to me calmly, leave, of course I would leave.
There are things that a man cannot take lying down. If one were to let himself be told ‘you’re a madman’ or ‘you’re someone who breaks family ties’ or you’re ‘indelicate’, then anyone with a heart in his body would protest with all his might. I also said something to Pa and Ma, namely that in the matter of this love of mine they were very wrong and their heart was very hardened and they seemed entirely insensible to a milder and more humane view. That, in a word, their view seemed to me to be bigoted and not broad-minded and generous enough, also that it seemed to me that the word ‘God’ would have only a hollow ring to it if one had to conceal love and wasn’t allowed to follow one’s heart’s promptings.  1r:4
Well, I’ll gladly believe that at times I couldn’t hide my indignation upon hearing ‘indelicate’ or ‘breaking ties’, but who would remain calm if it didn’t stop?
In any event, Pa, in his anger, muttered neither more nor less than a curse.
But I already heard something similar last year, and thank God, far from being damned in reality, new life and new energy developed in me. So I have every confidence that it will be like that now as well, only more and stronger than last year.
Theo, I love her, her and no other,5 her for ever. And – And – And – Theo, even though the ‘no, nay, never’ still ‘appears’ to be in full force, there’s a feeling of deliverance in me, and it’s as though she and I had ceased to be two people and had been united for eternity.
HAVE MY DRAWINGS ARRIVED?6 I made another one yesterday, a peasant lad, in the morning, lighting the fire in the hearth where the kettle hangs,7 and another one, an old man laying dry twigs on the fire.8 I’m sorry to say that there’s still something stiff and severe in my drawings, and I think that she, namely her influence will be needed to soften that. Now, old chap, I don’t see any reason to take ‘the curse’ so very seriously, perhaps I availed myself of too harsh a means to make Pa and Ma feel something they didn’t want to hear, but isn’t ‘a father’s curse’ much more crass and harsh, really too bad! Anyway, I shake your hand, and believe me

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 183 | CL: 158
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Etten, Friday, 18 November 1881

1. For ‘onkiesch’ (indelicate) and ‘ontijdig’ (untimely), see letter 181.
2. Regarding ‘banden verbreken’ (‘break old ties’), see letter 179.
3. As also emerges from later letters (e.g. 186, 227, 228, 234 and 235), in 1880 Mr van Gogh was thinking about having Vincent committed to a lunatic asylum in Geel. This Belgian village was a psychiatric colony, where most of the patients lived in a kind of supervised freedom. With regard to this place and what was known at that time about the patient care at the institution, see H.A. Banning, ‘Een uitstapje naar Gheel’, De Katholieke Illustratie 10 (1876-1877), NS, nos. 35, 41-43, 45, 50; pp. 275-278, 323-324, 335-336, 339-342, 355, 398-399. See also letter 155, n. 1. In Brieven 1914 this passage was censured.
4. According to Elisabeth van Gogh, her brother had his studio in an annexe by the parsonage, which had earlier served as an evangelization classroom. Many years later Elisabeth was prompted by the drawing Church and parsonage in Etten (from 1876), in which the annexe is depicted (F Juv. XXI / JH Juv. 6), to write the following to Anna de Jong-van Houten: ‘that annex was first a place where confirmation classes were held and later – when V. returned from Antwerp [she means Brussels] – his studio’ (FR b4538, 11 June 1933). See cat. Amsterdam 1996, pp. 57-59, cat. no. 7.
5. Van Gogh borrowed ‘her and no other’ from Michelet’s L’amour; see letter 180, n. 5.
6. These are the otherwise unspecified drawings Van Gogh refers to in letter 182, saying he has sent them.
7. This drawing of a ‘peasant lad’ is not known.
8. Man sitting by the fireplace (F 868 / JH 80 [2349]).