My dear Theo,
May I draw your attention to the fact that the post of Monday, 26 Nov. has just been without having brought your letter.1 That because it still has to go to Hoogeveen and back,2 we’ve now reached a point where it’s almost the same as if I hadn’t had the usual once, for supposing the next post brings the letter, I won’t receive the money before late evening on 28 Nov. or the morning of 29 Nov.
Consequently this is actually a deficit, because your next letter, namely the one that I’d otherwise have thought I could expect around 1 Dec., will probably not come. Because since I’ve been here in Nieuw-Amsterdam the letters have come later and later each time.
If I’d received a word of warning in accordance with our agreement, it wouldn’t have engendered in me this feeling that, little by little, I cannot help getting slightly. Namely that some ambiguity is beginning to creep into our relationship, which began by being sincere, by mutually understanding and respecting each other.
Well, that the above-mentioned is a disappointment to me and very palpably distresses me, even aside from thoughts that I can’t exactly help welling up in me, still isn’t the most pressing thing on my mind today.
It is, rather, a vague disquiet about you, although — perhaps precisely because — I heard from home only yesterday that they’d had a good letter from you. From this, then, I would infer that that particular crisis has been suppressed, averted, stopped; well, whatever you want to call it. And that  1v:2 this, then, would be a confirmation of your words to me, ‘I think that things will stay as they are for the time being’. As to which, however, I already hinted that it only half pleased me,3 or rather that it worried me much more than reassured me about your future. I just hope that you will understand and not misunderstand me.
At this moment I don’t suspect you of insincerity — please hold on to that as my starting-point.
Because I thus believe in you as an honest man, I reckon you to be relatively safe up till now despite everything, even in the event of a catastrophe.
But now comes the point where I fear you run a risk — are vulnerable. Suppose everything that threatened is averted, suppose everything has calmed down, I’d like to remind you of the saying: don’t fear the storm but dread the calm, treacherous, enchanted ground.4 Suppose you are slowly and imperceptibly carried along by a silent current into other waters rather than forging straight ahead. Suppose that what I’ll call — forgive the expression — poison in the Paris atmosphere — the Jesuitism of its miasma — seeps insidiously into your pores — imperceptible to you — but nevertheless you’ll begin to notice its effect yourself in a few years — I’ve strayed from the course — I’m too insincere, have become too little myself, and I’ve yielded too much to just seeking prosperity.  1v:3
Brother — when you recently wrote ‘I believe I’m on to a new idea in the financial sphere’5 — I just thought: that’s bad enough. I wouldn’t have thought that if, say, you’d been able to write, I’m on to something in the sphere of printing, for instance, or — I’ve discovered some bold new artists with whom I’ll be able to do something — in short, I’d have found anything you like in the field of work or art capital, but — financial sphere — I’m sorry — it’s too much up in the air for me.
Well, old chap, do you take it amiss that I’m not completely at ease about you? And secondly, do you believe that I’m not confusing the things that concern you with my own affairs, as being in a sense dependent on yours? Although my affairs are dependent on yours, that isn’t what’s worrying me now — my worry is purely about you — about you as a human being — as a man — as an upright, honest man. As to my question, will you not suffer harm and go downhill — as a human being? If I bring myself to ask this question it’s because Paris is Paris.
I don’t say that I know that I would always have that strength of mind, so I don’t speak of myself but of a person from the distant past. He, so they say, when he felt that he was on enchanted ground in an enchanted atmosphere, where he felt he was being enervated, resolutely ventured from the island in question, on a beam or raft, into the open sea, thinking: the sea isn’t as dangerous as this and that. And in my view that man was very wise.6
You must permit me not to define this and that, but simply say of it, there are things that one must be aware can enchant someone insidiously and can in a short time turn one precisely the opposite way from where one was going as long as one was honest.  1r:4
My words may be gloomy — very well. As to myself, I have moments when all my own prospects seem very dark to me — yet, as I already wrote to you, I don’t believe that my fate is dependent on what may appear to be against it. Even if all manner of things are against me, there can be something more powerful than what I see threatening. I used the word fatality7 — for want of a better word — he who doesn’t have to fall yet, won’t fall. So as for myself, I submit to it and act as if nothing was the matter.
As for you, as I said, as long as I believe in your sincerity, and I don’t yet believe the opposite, I also believe that, despite good fortune or ill fortune, you are safe, albeit only in that particular reality that hovers above the appearance of things.
But I had to smile about what they wrote from home with a single, general word about a ‘good’ letter — and I know nothing more about it than this, and that it seemed that things had taken a more favourable turn. I thought: good — if you people say that you’re at ease, then let you people be at ease. I didn’t think any more of it than that, though.
If the single sentence about you in the letter in question ended with: ‘but in the coming year they8 expect that important events will take place and we just hope that he (you, in other words) won’t suffer any harm from them,’ it occurred to me that the events in question won’t add to or detract from you much as a man, but the question will rather be: what shall he do with it?9 — with his character, aptitude — soul in a word — question in my view undecided thus far — very certainly dependent to a highly significant degree on one’s own reflections and own will.  2r:5
But know this one thing, brother — that whatever choice you may make or whatever decision you take or don’t take — that whether you’d become better or worse in my view — and also whether or not more or less direct rapport with regard to money or business will remain between us, I will not conceive of this as our turning our backs on each other. Difference of perspective, difference of outlook on life, difference even of principles (supposing they might become apparent to us later — now they have not yet become so apparent) are still no reason for me to ignore what is a fact, namely that we’re brothers and have many points in common. I stress this here above all for our mutual reassurance, I hope.
You have your freedom, I have my freedom, to act as appears the most reasonable to us, haven’t we? And provided one always keeps this in the forefront — that one doesn’t blame the other or is hostile or becomes malicious, or makes the other’s life difficult on account of some difference of opinion — although there may be a time of greater coolness, at least things will, thank God, remain free of fantasy or intrigue. Which sadly isn’t always the case with everyone.
It’s the same as regards the money, which I started by writing about, what I mean FIRST AND FOREMOST is: let there never be any dispute about it between us, and know that of course I don’t hold it against you in the slightest if you don’t have it, not even though I’m sometimes hugely in difficulties because of it.  2v:6
And as regards the capital already invested in it by you and by me, for after all I’m investing my work, in fact every fibre of my being — as regards all this — I still have a real hope of its working out in the future — although, although — perhaps not only I, but you too for your part have been mistaken about a few things — which, however, aren’t yet fatal or irreparable in any event — and which I don’t even want to touch on now.
Don’t regard this letter or previous letters as mistrustful, as suspicious, as insulting, regard them as a warning about some Parisian things that I ask you to consider, not as if I were infallible, not as if I’d demand that you agree with me — but because I believe I detect certain symptoms that seem to me to be of a puzzling and ominous nature.
And yes — now it must be said — I don’t even ask for an answer — in fact, I ask you not even to consider it as a question but as a statement, in order to make it absolutely clear to you that I have another concern within the general concern. In short, the crux of a great deal is — this woman of yours, is she good? Is she sincere? Is she simple, does she stand on the ordinary ground, or is there a little weed of a rather dangerous desire for what I’ll call greatness running through her wheat?10 I was thinking of Lady Macbeth.11
Macbeth was an honest man, but — — — — but — was enchanted, and when he and she woke up, was faced with more and worse evil than had been their intention. And Macbeth fell — but with a great fall.12 Reassure me if you can — as for disasters, that’s not what I’m so terribly afraid of — on the whole one shouldn’t fear anything other than becoming worse. Now you know the chief thing I sometimes worry about when I think of you.  2v:7
There you are, I’m being harsh now because I wanted to say straight out that I would be so very thankful if I was reassured on that point.
I repeat, I don’t in the least ask for particulars. But the fact remains that there are men who fall in that way. And there are men who turn back in time. If a woman is simply good, well it’s a blessing — but there’s a danger, when the woman wants to shine in the eyes of the world, that she might make a man base. Mentioning this sickness isn’t the same as saying that this is your case, is it? — and on the contrary I ask, say one word and I’ll be completely reassured and not ask any more.
The woman I was with, who is she? — a whore, already marked by the pox, already withered and aged, already mother of 2 children — oh — she isn’t a good woman, all right — but here, misfortune has reached such a height that she could not have been a Lady Macbeth any more, and so as to temptation, if in former years she has perhaps been deeply wicked, her very misfortune has so curtailed the power to do harm (assuming it had existed, and I’m not at all sure of that) that there could hardly have been any question of temptation now. And so I don’t say what I say to you because I wanted to strike a rapport; precisely because there’s so much difference, there would be no chance of the above-mentioned Lady Macbeth effect in my relations with my woman, but you’re faced with a personality that has the power of charm, and that charm could be fatal if it were directed towards worldly ambition.
As for me, precisely because the woman I was with is someone who is unhappy through and through and so heavily burdened with a bad name, 2 children, poverty &c., that, even if  2r:8 I thought she wasn’t good, I wouldn’t want to break all the ties, and I wouldn’t let anyone stop me from seeing her, speaking to her, writing to her, sending her some money if I should have any. Let people think something of it or talk about it, fine, I’ve long since ceased even to take it amiss.
But look here; in your case charm could perhaps have the effect of numbing very important heartstrings, those governing the sense of right and wrong. I don’t say that this is so, I repeat once more, I don’t even ask: is it so? I repeat once more, I mention it just as a hint that I hint, but having given it because there could be a sort of possibility, I’ll leave it at that and not pursue it any further in my thoughts. And also believe you’ll excuse this concern of mine and not take it amiss should it have no raison d’être, which is what I hope we’re dealing with here.
Have you received my studies?13 I’ve since made a large painted study and a large drawing of a drawbridge, and even a second painted one of it, with a different effect.14 I hope to use them as soon as we get snow to tackle the snow effect more accurately, that is keeping the same lines and way it fits together as I’ve found now. Well, I hope to hear from you soon — I think very little about what effect one event or another that isn’t yet exactly on the horizon will have on you, but I do, as you see, think about you as a human being, about the ‘what shall he do with it’ — with your capacity for work and personal energy too. With a handshake, believe me

Ever yours,

Heard yesterday that Furnée passed his final exam and now has his hands free again to get on with painting again.15

Although it may not be my first preoccupation, I’m nonetheless far from indifferent as to what’s happening in this question of almost 10 days’ difference in receipt of the money.


Br. 1990: 409 | CL: 342
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nieuw-Amsterdam, Monday, 26 November 1883

1. See for cashing the allowance Theo sent: letter 402, n. 14.
2. As appears from a letter from Mr van Gogh to Theo, the previous allowance on 10 November had been larger than usual, evidently because Theo foresaw that around the 20th he would not be in a position to send the customary amount (FR b2247). Vincent had apparently failed to understand this. See further letter 408, n. 8.
3. Van Gogh is referring to letter 406.
4. The source of this quote has not been found. ‘Enchanted Ground’ is a key concept in Bunyan’s A pilgrim’s progress and is a metaphor for sham, deceit, the wrong way. ‘Don’t fear the storm’ is the title of a gospel song. Cf. also the phrases ‘terre enchantée’ (letter 507) and ‘terrain enchanté’ (letter 822).
a. Means: ‘geworden’ (become).
5. In view of what follows, this means a new idea for financial investment or speculation.
6. This is a reference to Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus’s ship is wrecked and he is washed ashore, clinging to a spar, on the island of Ogygia, where he is held captive and seduced by the nymph Calypso. Although she gives him everything he might be supposed to desire, the hero spends most of his time bemoaning his fate and proclaiming his homesickness for his native land. On the orders of the gods he is given the chance to build a raft of tree trunks and take to the sea. Poseidon sends fierce storms to test him, but his courage does not fail and, after twenty days, he reaches the land of the Phaeacians. See Odyssey, book 5.
7. Van Gogh writes about ‘fatality’ in this context in letters 397 and 401.
8. Theo’s employers in Paris.
b. Read: ‘zal’ (will). The error was caused by the ‘gij’ (you) in the brackets.
9. This may be an allusion to What will he do with it? (1859) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton; cf. also Shakespeare, Othello, act 3, scene 3: ‘What he will do with it / Heaven knows, not I’. See Shakespeare 1882, p. 91.
11. Van Gogh queries Marie’s motives, and fears that she could have the same malign influence on Theo as Lady Macbeth had on her husband. For Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (c. 1606-1607), see letter 388, n. 14.
12. Macbeth was bewitched and allowed his wife to persuade him to murder the king so that he could become king himself. In the end, he is murdered too. (Shakespeare, Macbeth).
13. Van Gogh means the six studies that he said he had sent in letter 406.
14. The two painted studies are not known; the ‘large drawing’ is the watercolour Drawbridge in Nieuw-Amsterdam (F 1098 / JH 425 [2449]), which measures 38.5 x 81 cm. Details of the location in: Dijk and Van der Sluis 2001, pp. 242-245.
15. While he was in The Hague, Van Gogh had given lessons to the surveyor Antoine Philippe Furnée, the son of a paint supplier, see letter 362.