My dear Theo,
I found it really nice that you were here again1 and we could talk about things again. I still think it a pity that we can’t yet be together more. Not that I attach much value to talking in itself, but I mean that I do wish we knew each other much better and more intimately than is now the case. I thought this especially during the ride back from Roosendaal, after I had brought you to the station, also because of some things we talked about during our last moments at the station.2 But possibly, probably, you don’t even know what that was any more. I’m glad that your letter of today holds out hope that it won’t be so very long before you come back again.
I am, of course, completely better again, though I did stay in bed the day after you left and have spoken to Dr Van Genk,3 a thoroughly practical man, not because I thought this insignificant malaise to be worth the bother, but rather because in general, well or not well, I like to speak to a doctor from time to time to find out if everything is all right.4 If one hears wholesome and true words about health now and then, it seems to me that one gradually acquires much clearer notions about such matters, and if one knows more or less what one should take care not to do, and what one should abide by, one isn’t tossed about by the shifting winds of opinion, by all manner of nonsense that one hears so often concerning health and ill health.
I’m also busy drawing the Exercices au fusain on the Ingres paper that you brought. It costs me a great deal of effort to stick to that work. It’s much more stimulating to draw something outdoors than such a sheet from the Bargues, but still, I set myself the task of drawing them again, thus for the last time. It wouldn’t be good if, when drawing from nature, I lapsed into too much detail and overlooked the important things. And I found much too much of that in my last drawings. And that’s why I want to study Bargue’s method once more (who works with broad lines and large masses and simple, delicate contours). And if I let outdoor drawing rest for the moment, then when I come back to it in a short while I’ll have a better eye for things than I used to.
I don’t know if you ever read English books. If so, then I can highly recommend Shirley by Currer Bell, the author of another book, Jane Eyre.5 This is as beautiful as the paintings of Millais or Boughton or Herkomer. I found it at Princenhage6 and read it in three days, even though it’s quite a thick book.
I’d wish that everyone had what I’m gradually beginning to acquire, the ability to read a book easily and quickly and to retain a strong impression of it. Reading books is like looking at paintings: without doubting, without hesitating, with self-assurance, one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.  1v:2
I’m gradually putting my books back in order. I’ve read too much not to continue systematically to try to keep abreast of modern literature, to some extent at least.
Sometimes I very much regret not knowing a great deal more about history, for example, especially modern history. Well, one won’t get any further by being sorry and having these sad thoughts; what one must try and do is simply struggle on.
It gave me a great deal of pleasure to detect some truly good philosophy occasionally in your recent conversation. Who knows what a thoughtful creature you may become with time?
If Illusions perdues by Balzac is too long for you (2 volumes),7 start with Le père Goriot, 1 volume only,8 once you’ve tasted Balzac you’ll prefer it to a great many other things. Remember Balzac’s nickname, ‘veterinary surgeon for incurable maladies’.9
By the time I’ve finished the Bargues it will be autumn, that’s really a wonderful time to draw, I’d like Rappard to come here again then.10 I also hope to succeed in finding a good model, such as Piet Kaufmann the labourer, though I think it will be better not to have him pose here at the house, but either in the yard at his place or in the field with a spade or plough or something else.11 But what a business it is to get people to understand what posing is! Peasants and townsfolk desperately cling to an idea they won’t give up, namely that one shouldn’t pose other than in one’s Sunday suit with impossible folds in which neither knee nor elbow nor shoulder blades nor any other part of the body has made its characteristic dent or hump. Truly, this is one of the petty vexations in the life of a draughtsman.12
Well, adieu, write if you can, and accept in thought a handshake, and believe me

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 169 | CL: 148
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Etten, Friday, 5 August 1881

1. Theo’s holiday in Etten probably ended on the weekend of 30-31 July, since several days later he wrote to his parents and Vincent from Paris (see Date). The letter to his parents reveals that the family had had some ‘good days’ together and that Theo had also visited friends in The Hague. His holiday therefore lasted at least a week.
2. The brothers had discussed the desirability of a relationship with a woman (see letter 432, ll. 300-308).
4. Mr van Gogh also wrote to Theo about Vincent’s brief illness: ‘Vincent recovered quickly. He seldom goes outdoors, but anyhow it’s too warm’ (FR b2236, 5 August 1881).
5. Currer Bell was the pseudonym of Charlotte Brontë. Her long novel Shirley. A tale (1849) is the story of the Yorkshire mill owner Robert Moore, who is convinced that mechanization is necessary for his mill to be profitable, a conviction that makes him seem indifferent to the fate of his workers. Even though he loves Caroline Helstone, he makes an offer of marriage to the wealthy and charismatic Shirley Keeldar, who refuses him because she loves Louis, Robert’s brother. An attempt on Robert’s life opens his eyes to his selfish behaviour, and in the end he turns to Caroline. Shirley and Louis also confess their love for one another and both couples marry.
In the novel Jane Eyre. An autobiography (1847) the eponymous heroine – an orphan who has become a governess – falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester. During the marriage ceremony, an uninvited guest shockingly reveals that Rochester is already married to a woman who is mentally ill. Jane flees, and eventually starts a new life elsewhere. Later on she is driven by a sense of foreboding to visit Rochester, and finds out that he was disfigured during an unsuccessful attempt to rescue his wife from their burning house. Jane and Rochester end up marrying after all.
It is in fact uncertain whether Van Gogh had even read Jane Eyre at this point. For a long time it was customary to refer to Currer Bell as ‘the author of Jane Eyre’ on the cover and title page of editions of Shirley; cf. the words Van Gogh uses in l. 38. When he mentions Jane Eyre again several months later, however, he does seem to have read the novel (letter 187 of 19 November).
6. Van Gogh therefore obtained books from Uncle Vincent van Gogh.
7. Honoré de Balzac’s long novel Illusions perdues (1837) is part of the cycle La comédie humaine. The protagonist, Lucien Chardon, a promising young poet, goes to Paris to seek his fortune. He fails to realize his expectations, however, and returns to his native province. The novel criticizes the social structures of Paris and the provinces alike.
8. Le père Goriot (1835) is part of the series Scènes de la vie privée from the cycle of novels La comédie humaine. The protagonist, Goriot, works himself up from poverty to a position of wealth. His money is squandered by his daughters, however, and his business takes a bad turn. He tries to marry off his daughters to men in higher circles, while others of his acquaintance scheme to climb higher up the social ladder.
9. The nickname is taken from Balzac’s foreword to La cousine Bette (1846), addressed to Don Michele Angelo Cajetani, Prince of Cajetani, in which Balzac says of himself: ‘I could have ... become a learned man with the power of three Schlegels; whereas I shall remain a mere doctor of social medicine, the veterinarian of incurable diseases’. (J’aurais pu ... devenir un homme docte de la force de trois Schlegel; tandis que je vais rester simple docteur en médecine sociale, le vétérinaire des maux incurables). See Balzac, La comédie humaine vi. La cousine Bette. Ed. Anne-Marie Meininger. Paris 1977, p. 53.
10. Van Rappard had spent some time in Etten in June; see letter 168.
a. Meaning: ‘het erf’ (the yard).
11. Piet Kaufmann, a gardener and clog-maker in Etten, lived at Leursestraat, Dorp, A 82. He looked after the garden of the Van Gogh family. As to his role as Vincent’s model, see letter 172, n. 1. The term ‘labourer’ was applied to people who did farm work on land owned by others. Cf. Kerstens 1990.
b. Meaning: ‘schouderbladen’ (shoulder blades).
12. This expression could allude to two things: first of all, to the title of the book Petites misères de la vie humaine (1843) by Old Nick and Grandville, repeated almost exactly in letter 178; secondly, considering the earlier references to Balzac in this letter, to his Petites misères de la vie conjugale (1859), which Van Gogh mentions about a year and a half later in letter 316.