Dear brother,
Thank you for your letter and the 50 francs enclosed, which were very welcome as always, both the former and the latter.
I read what you write about your patient with interest. I understand that you’re in two minds over the matter of posing a certain question — which I shan’t further define here — now or later.1
And the change of circumstances brought about by her recovery has a more or less critical side because, and this is what you are actually prepared for (and say so yourself), opposition may be aroused — possibly anyway — let’s hope not.
How odd that last point really is. One sees what one does as simple and natural in itself — something self-evident — one is more or less puzzled as to why others don’t find the motives in themselves that compel someone to do such a thing. And would almost draw the conclusion that some people have cauterized certain sensory nerves in themselves — in particular those collectively known as the conscience. Anyway, I pity such people: in my view they travel through life without a compass.2
Love of one’s fellow man is something one would expect to be able to take for granted in everyone as the basis of just about everything. But some believe there are better foundations. I feel little curiosity about them. This old foundation that has been tested and found good for so many centuries is enough for me. Don’t you find this nicely put? — it’s from Les misérables:

If Caesar had given me
Glory and war,
And if I was forced to forgo
My mother’s love,
To great Caesar would I say,
Take back your sceptre and your chariot,
I love my mother more, hey!,
I love my mother more.3

In the context in which this (a student song from the time of the revolution of ’30) occurs,4 love of my mother stands for love of the Republic, or rather ‘love of mankind’; in other words, quite simply, universal brotherhood.5  1v:2
A woman, however good and noble she may be by nature, in my view stands in great and immediate danger in today’s society of sinking into the maelstrom of prostitution if she has no means and isn’t protected by her own family. What is more natural than that one should support such a person?
And if there’s no other solution when circumstances lead to it, well, then — you must put your heart and soul into it6 and marry her.
At least it seems to me that one must make it a principle to continue with this protection once offered until rescue is complete, and to protect with one’s own breast if necessary. Even without a particular love? Perhaps, yes — in that case it’s a marriage of convenience, so be it — but not in the sense of a marriage that one enters into for gain.
And now, your particular case differs from the more everyday — such as mine, for instance — because of the singular circumstance that the person in question has a special charm and that there is, I believe, a sympathy of feeling, so that even if the meeting had taken place under entirely different and less dramatic circumstances, you might have been in two minds over the question at issue.
In the above you have my thoughts on the question: ‘How far may one go in becoming involved with an unfortunate woman?’ Answer — ‘ad infinitum’.7
While still emphasizing that staying loyal comes first and foremost in all love, I remind you of your own words that ‘marrying’ (i.e. civil marriage) ‘is such an odd thing’.8 These words of yours express exactly how it is, and on that point I declare I don’t know which is better or worse, to meddle or not. It’s what they call ‘puzzling’.
It puzzles me too — and I for my part wish so much that one had nothing to do with that. I believe it’s well said that ‘when one marries, one marries not only the woman herself but the family  1v:3 too’,9 which is sometimes more or less fatal and wretched if they’re nasty people.
But now about the drawings — I’ve done some more with printer’s ink, and this week I was investigating how to mix the printer’s ink with white, and found that it can be mixed in at least two ways — namely with the white from the tubes of oil paint — and probably even better with the ordinary zinc white in powder form that one can even get at any chemist — in that case diluting it with turpentine, which doesn’t soak through on this paper or leave marks on the reverse like oil — because it dries so quickly and disappears.10
Printer’s ink has much livelier effects than indian ink.
How beautiful Jules Dupré’s work is. In the window at G&C. I saw a small seascape which you no doubt know, and which I’ve been going to have a look at almost every evening11 — but as regards Dupré and similar art — of which one sees so much more in Paris than here — you may be rather spoiled — and not know what an almightily beautiful impression it makes here, where one sees so precious little of it.
Have got round to reading the last part of Les misérables — the figure of Fantine — a prostitute — made a deep impression on me12 — oh, I know as well as anyone that in reality one won’t find an exact Fantine — but all the same this character by Hugo — like all his characters for that matter — is true, being the essence of what one sees in reality. It is the type — of which one encounters only individuals.
Should you happen to run into an engraver one of these days, like Girardet or Eichens, for example, who make aquatints,13 you’d be doing me a great favour if you could ask in passing: what is normally used for the drawings intended to serve as a guide for the engraving? Perhaps they’ll say: printer’s ink. If that’s what they use, what do they dilute that printer’s ink with? How do they use it?
It seems to me that if you raised this with some engraver or other in passing and told me what he said, I would probably find something in what he said  1r:4 that would throw light on some questions, even if it wasn’t a direct answer to what printer’s ink is mixed with to make it possible to work with it on paper in various ways. No doubt there are other kinds of printer’s ink apart from the one I have at the moment, and the question may resolve itself in due course.
Effects like those in aquatint engravings are produced in the drawings when one works with printer’s ink and turpentine, as I tried now.
I’ve seen drawings in the past by Mottram, say, the English engraver who engraved the Boughtons,14 and I wish I knew what he worked with, for example.
It goes without saying that I’m not in a rush to have this information, but if you happen to hear something about different methods of drawing, do let me know.
I too know Soek’s wife and her mother15 (if she still lives with her) — went there in the past — they’re still very clear in my memory — and find them two sympathetic people — who remind me of the members of my own household — so much so indeed that instinctively I often think of them as members of the same family. They’re just like characters from Souvestre, say, or E. Frère. One sees more people like that in Paris — everywhere for that matter. Such people always remind me of the female figures in the gospel, perhaps because sometimes in their expressions there’s something of, for instance, the figures in Delaroche, Good Friday,16 or in Landelle, Blessed are they that mourn.17 I know, this view isn’t complete, there are other aspects — still better than Delaroche — and deeper than he — such as those of Lhermitte and Herkomer. Well, I find that in them too, but I can still understand that this movement became popular in the days of Souvestre, Delaroche, Frère, Landelle &c., even though compared with Millet and others it isn’t entirely correct and true.
Is ANKER still alive?18 I think of his work often, I find it so sound and so delicately felt. He’s one of the genuine old sort, like Brion. Old chap, how I sometimes long for you to be in the studio again. I sincerely hope you’ll get the money back from H.19 In my case a lot had to be spent right away this time, and I have precious little left. Anyway, write as soon as you can when it’s getting towards the 20th. Adieu, with a handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 338 | CL: 279
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, on or about Wednesday, 11 April 1883

1. Van Gogh means a proposal of marriage; although part of the letter is unambiguously about that, he does not commit the words themselves to paper. In letters 331 and 339 Van Gogh also hints at a possible marriage between Theo and Marie.
a. Means: ‘weggeschroeid’ (cauterized).
2. For the ‘conscience’, see letter 133, n. 12.
3. The character Combeferre sings this song in Victor Hugo’s Les misérables, part 3, book 4, chapter 5. It derives from Molière, Le misanthrope (Act 1, scene 2). See Hugo 1951, pp. 690, 1615.
4. The Revolution of 1830 was the so-called July Revolution (27-29 July of that year), which was the beginning of the July monarchy. Louis-Philippe d’Orléans agreed to rule under a constitution that put political power in the hands of the propertied classes (1830-1848).
5. Immediately after the song in Les misérables the character Enjolars says that ‘l’amour de ma mère’ stands for ‘l’amour de la republique’. See Hugo 1951, pp. 690, 1615. It is Van Gogh who is responsible for equating mother love with ‘l’amour de l’humanité’ and with ‘fraternité universelle’.
7. Van Gogh comes back to this remark at the end of letter 417.
8. Theo must have made this comment in 1882; cf. letter 301, where these words were also quoted.
9. Vincent is probably quoting from Theo’s letter here. The passage (‘and I for my part... nasty people’) was added later by Van Gogh.
b. Means: ‘vond uit dat ze’ (discovered that they).
c. Read: ‘geen vlekken geeft’ (does not leave marks); ‘niet’ (not) before ‘doortrekt’ (soak through) is contracted.
10. These drawings are not known. See cat. Amsterdam 1996, p. 194.
11. On 9 March 1883 Goupil’s branch in The Hague received a seascape by Jules Dupré from Paris. The painting – measuring 54 x 45 cm – was bought for 6000 francs. It was to be sold on to Goupil’s in London for £ 250 on 27 November 1883 (RKD, Goupil Ledgers).
In a letter to Theo a few years later A.H. Koning said of the effect of exhibiting in this window on the Plaats: ‘Here in The Hague that is an excellent thing, because in the afternoon the entire beau monde takes a turn before the big window on the Plaats.’ (FR b1080, 15 september 1888).
d. Read: ‘toegekomen aan’ (got round to).
12. The prostitute Fantine has a boundless love for her illegitimate daughter Cosette, whom she hands over to an innkeeper’s family so that she is better able to earn the board and lodging. She works hard, even selling her hair and teeth, but encounters a great many setbacks.
13. Paul Girardet and Philipp Hermann Eichens were engravers who made numerous aquatints for Goupil’s publications.
14. Charles Mottram line-engraved different works after George Boughton, e.g. Pilgrim exiles (1874), The belated traveller (1875) and The two farewells (1875). Which drawings by Mottram Van Gogh saw – probably during his stay in London – is not known.
[500] [502]
15. It is not known who the widow of Frans Soek and her mother were.
17. Charles Landelle’s painting Bienheureux ceux qui pleurent parce qu’ils seront consolés (Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted) was shown at the Salon of 1852. The reproduction of it, engraved by Alexis François Girard in 1857, appeared as Beatitude (Bienheureux ceux qui pleurent car ils seront consolés) in the Goupil list (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 1031 [1031].
18. Albert Anker was to live until 1910.