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 slavery2Dickens’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.  1v:2
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.’  1v:3
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.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 757 | CL: 582
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Friday, 29 March 1889

1. Van Gogh must be referring to the café proprietor Joseph Ginoux and his wife, Marie, who were friends of his. Ginoux had not signed the petition, but the statement he made to the police confirmed the neighbours’ complaints about Van Gogh’s indecent behaviour. See letter 750, nn. 2 and 3, Documentation, shortly before 27 February 1889, and Ill. 2278 [2278]-2280 [2280].
[2278] [2280]
3. Charles Dickens’s Christmas books (1843-1845) contained five Christmas stories: ‘A Christmas carol’, ‘The chimes’, ‘The cricket on the hearth’, ‘The battle of life’ and ‘The haunted man’. The book was published in French as Contes de Noël. Traduits de l’anglais avec l’autorisation de l’auteur sous la direction de P. Lorain. Paris n.d.
5. Preceding his hospitalization on 26 February, Van Gogh had painted four versions of Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’): F 508 / JH 1671 [2775], F 505 / JH 1669 [2773], F 506 / JH 1670 [2774] and F 507 / JH 1672 [2776]. See letter 748, n. 2. The fifth and last version, which is the one discussed here, was F 504 / JH 1655 [2762]. See Hoermann Lister 2001, p. 73.
[2775] [2773] [2774] [2776] [2762]
7. Flaubert’s historical novel Salammbô (1863) takes place in ancient Carthage. It is the story of rebellious mercenaries at the end of the First Punic War (264-241 BC). Their indignation at their paltry pay causes them to launch an attack on Carthage. They threaten the capital with the help of African tribes, but ultimately suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of Hamilkar Barkas.
8. This refers to the so-called ‘Pierre de Carpentras’ (Musée de Carpentras), the Carpentras Stele, commemorating Taba, daughter of Tahapi, an Aramaean lady who was a convert to Osiris. The inscription is in Aramaic and is translated into Latin in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum. Ab academia inscriptionum et litterarum humaniorum conditum atque digestum. Pars 2. Inscriptiones aramaicae. Paris 1889, tab. xiii, no. 141. The stone dates from the period between the end of the 5th century and the 3rd century BC.
The museum provides the following translation: ‘Blessed be you, Taba, daughter of Tahapi, who have achieved perfection with the god Osiris. You have done no evil deed and you have maligned no one on this earth. May Osiris in person bless you. Receive the waters in the house of Osiris. [Be received at the table of Osiris[?]. Pray, my love, and [be perfect[?] among souls dear to the god’. (Bénie sois-tu Taba, fille de Tahapi, parvenue à la perfection auprès du dieu Osiris. Tu n’as accompli aucune mauvaise action et tu n’as jamais calomnié personne sur cette terre. Qu’Osiris en personne te bénisse. Reçois les eaux chez Osiris. [Sois reçue à la table d’Osiris[?]. Prie, mon amour, et [sois parfaite[?] parmi les âmes chères au dieu).
Van Gogh probably copied the deviant spellings of the names from the untraced ‘old newspaper’ in which he read about this. He mentions the inscription again in letters 764 and 785.
9. This is possibly Portrait of a woman (F 357 / JH 1216). It is not known who the woman was, but she was also the model for the nude studies F 1404 / JH 1213, F 329 / JH 1215 and F 330 / JH 1214, and possibly F 328 / JH 1212. See cat. Amsterdam 2001, pp. 252-253 and cat. Otterlo 2003, pp. 165-167. According to Bernard, this lady was a ‘pierreuse’ (streetwalker) ‘picked up by Vincent, and who was very willing to agree to pose for him’ (récoltée par Vincent qui voulut bien consentir à poser pour lui). See Paul Gachet, Souvenirs de Cézanne et de Van Gogh. Auvers 1873-1890. Paris 1928, unpaginated.
[803] [971]
10. On this subject, see letter 752.