My dear Theo,
I received your letter today, as well as a letter from friend Rappard by the same post. Let me start by thanking you for the money. And let me say right after that, that I appreciate it, both in you and in Rappard, that you people approve of my coming here.
This gave me courage at a moment when I myself couldn’t have been more discouraged about that deed, coming here, and had the most lively regret about it, because for my part I saw, deep down in all those conversations I had with Pa, a je ne sais quoi of coolly refusing to commit himself in case of a reconciliation, and this made me desperate because I realized that a cankerous root would remain, which would later make everything impossible, as before, yet again.
But your letter and a very intelligent, very sympathetic, very cordial missive from friend Rappard, and your respective opinions to the effect that my journey here could bring about something good, have led me for the moment to regard the case as not yet being lost, and to employ patience and wisdom.
Have patience with me, brother, and don’t suspect me of unwillingness. For my part, I know Pa very intimately and from close quarters in many respects, and in the situation we’re faced with I couldn’t just let everything rest. I had to hear what Pa said about this and about that so as to compare it with certain precedents. I turned the conversation to subjects that aren’t even the actual issues, for instance, and already got in enough of a scrape then.
As for your advice ‘don’t talk to them about certain things’, you should know, I believe that you have something well-observed in mind.
But in the past the matter was actually (I mean for me personally, at least) of the utmost, utmost import — and embarking on a new future with Pa is again a very important thing, which no one can ask me to begin by letting absolutely all those things rest.
At the moment, too, particularly after receipt of your letter, Pa and I are getting on as well as is possible, and Pa is even not disinclined to make certain arrangements.
Know, moreover, that for my part I’m in complete agreement with you that they mean well; I don’t suspect them of wishing me any misfortune, even though they cause it from time to time, or deliberately placing obstacles in my path, even though I may be thwarted by them (not without good intentions, Mauve would say).
But Pa’s character is exceedingly changeable and at the same time exceedingly stubborn — (I’m very well aware that most people don’t know that), Pa’s character is dark (the black ray, as I once reminded you),1 there’s something very narrow-minded, or rather icy cold, about Pa. I can’t express it, but do feel it.
I’ve thought a great deal about this question, I’ve watched Pa closely, I know Pa from many sides, I’ve very often tried to come to an agreement with Pa, I also appreciate the good in Pa. I appreciate the good in Pa, but yet I think that Pa is not good.
I cannot say that I think Pa is straightforward, or simple and clear enough.
And now there’s a continuing je ne sais quoi that causes me concern, and right through everything I detect the same fatal element as in the past.
It struck me, Theo, that friend Rappard writes to me now that he observed in me how much I changed in the summer of the year I spent in Etten — (it was then that I met her).2 And at the same time he lets me see that he understands that something happened then, although he doesn’t know what. And seems to ask: did it turn out all right? In my view, Pa and Ma and several others weren’t very sensitive then.
If you could agree with me in this, I’d say to you, Theo, they’re equally insensitive now, and you would understand it.
And so, although you need not attach importance to any conversations with Pa at the outset, which I chiefly undertook just to find out what Pa thought, although those are nothing and at this moment, for instance, an arrangement could be made which would make the work easier for me in many respects and give me the peace and quiet to work, I see right from the outset a je ne sais quoi, particularly in Pa, that causes me concern, a heavy, silent concern about the future.
Keeping the peace with Pa will be a hard job. I now understand my own attitude of opposition in former times again. I don’t say that it can lead to nothing, but I point out to you — it will be difficult.
You’ll point out to me something I’ve thought of myself, that I personally am also difficult to get on with in many respects. Yes, there’s that, too, and I take it into account too. There’s an excuse for me, and that is the passion as well as the frequent absorption that everyone who paints, writes or composes must have by the very nature of the thing.
Is it the same with Pa? No — it’s something different. If you say, but Pa is also a thinker and a writer — then I reply — I wish he were that in a different way, because now I can’t say that he’s happy. I say this with more melancholy than you perhaps think, I’m serious in what I say. Is it impossible for you to go along with that?
In the desperation of the moment I wrote you my last letter, in which I fundamentally say ‘it cannot be done after all, and I see a certain separation from Pa — irrevocably and with éclat — as the only thing I can do; if I don’t do that, then I have the semblance of agreeing with someone whose principles I don’t even respect, and I don’t want to have even the semblance of going along with him because I am utterly against him, absolutely against’.
So, brother, there you have what was in my last letter. Now, though, your letter and a letter from Rappard arrive together today, written in a tone that I can understand and appreciate. And after I talk to Pa again, there’s a provisional arrangement and calm. A calm which is indeed it but far more still not yet it at all.3 What to do?
Yes — what to do? I must tell you that I don’t choose to experience the same thing as 2 years ago again. It doesn’t only depend on me to keep the peace (any more than it only depended on me at that time). Can one, MAY one keep the peace with Pa? Perhaps you don’t understand this — that I even add ‘MAY’. Go so far as to say that. I’ll give you an example.
You, Rappard, I, if people reproach us for something — undeservedly, say — we’ll stand our ground and reply, and just show our claws for a moment. But precisely because we are who we are, we will NOT say, you may not reproach me for anything.
We would say, reproach away, I stand up to you.
But Pa sees sacrilege in observations that aren’t even reproaches, unavoidable observations when one talks about things. Which one may not avoid in things where one has to understand one another before one embarks on an undertaking. Proudhon says, woman is the desolation of the righteous man.4 I think that one can feel and understand these words even if one has absolutely no pretensions to being ‘a righteous man’ or of passing oneself off as one. Although a minister in general, but more specifically Pa in particular, isn’t a woman, it seems to me that there’s something similarly inexpressibly desperate in his manner of speaking and acting at certain moments.
A phenomenon that I’ve often tried to analyze but which remains a mystery to me, to which I can give no other or more correct definition than Hugo’s words, ‘he has the black ray’, or the words of someone else, ‘the most gentle of cruel men’.5
I say this to explain what I think, and to throw light on the question facing us. You will by now gradually begin to
2v:6 understand that I’m usually calm on the inside. Well, but what to do? If it were possible it would be a very good thing if I got a studio at home. It worked very well for Rappard, and Rappard writes to me, ‘I regarded it as your greatest misfortune that you couldn’t be at home’. And that’s true, and I’ve felt it terribly, not only later but also at the time, 2 years ago now, when I had just been confronted by it.
Pa didn’t do it on purpose. I say, Pa isn’t very sensitive, and Pa still has no idea at all, even now, although I’ve told him now for the very first time, that this has been a great difficulty for me. Pa still says — and this is something icy cold that frightens me when I think about it — Pa still says now, after two years, that he acted in the past according to his opinion and principles.
A normal person, you or I, if we’d done something like that, we would, I believe, I hope, I trust, have regretted it long, long since, whether we were at fault or were right.
Should you tell me that Pa doesn’t mean it so harshly, that may be so, but what someone means is one thing, and how it actually turns out is another. Pa’s opinions, however, are undoubtedly well-intentioned &c. &c. — but..... for my part I hope that His Hon. won’t adopt any new opinions like those.
I tell you here and now that for my part I agree with Rappard when he tells me — ‘stay at home for a long time’ — he insists on it.
There are a mass of reasons for this — oh, Theo, if you saw everything that I see in it! How much certainty it would give us for the future! I hope that it’ll prove possible.
There’s an eternal opposition in Pa between what he says and what he does, but it took me a long time before I knew that and understood that Pa himself is usually not aware of it, consequently one is often unable to decide to what extent he wanted to do what he actually did.
I tell you frankly how I see it, brother. Pa doesn’t always know what he’s doing; even though he watches his words terribly systematically, his actions are very haphazard.
And, in short, it will be hard to get something really good as the result of my visit here.
The circumstances are such, though, that it’s actually urgently necessary to bring about an arrangement that is really kept to. I’ve suggested to Pa that the room that can best be spared should become a storeroom for the bits and pieces that I have and, possibly, a studio (in the event that not I alone but you and I think it desirable and necessary for me to work at home for a while, especially when there are financial reasons to compel us to it).
Business is business, it’s clear enough to both you and me that this is a good move. I haven’t had this haven for far too long, and I believe that it must go ahead if we want to succeed in our plan.
I believe that it can be done, and I’ll dare to embark on it when you and I agree that we must put it into practice, and agree that you won’t hold it against me if, in the event of any discord with Pa, I don’t have to take it as seriously as I took it 2 years ago. I’ll quietly go my own way, follow your advice not to talk to Pa about various things — only provided that I find in you the person to whom I can talk about them and to whom I can say: I would find this and that all right for this and that reason. THEN I CAN leave Pa out of it, and not talk to Pa about the matters. The ice had to be broken, though, and I did that by coming to Nuenen, and on that occasion I had to have things out with Pa. I’m going to leave it at that, though.
I can tell you now that I’ve managed to get Pa to agree that I can fix up a room here. If you approve, that will become my permanent storeroom, and my studio at times when we don’t have the money to be anywhere else. And I’ll talk to you first, not to Pa, about other changes or matters — and you and I together will get Pa to the point where it will eventually get better and better. I do think you’ll approve my having gone on immediately to bring about something permanent. I think the arrangement where I get a studio here is decidedly good in the circumstances (although I won’t always be in that studio).
So let’s stand by that, and let this letter, and not my last, be our starting-point.
Well, brother, I write to you about this one subject now, but your communications concerning what you think about affairs in Paris are very important to me. I’ll leave you to do what you want to do, even should you turn to painting, because in that latter case you would, in my view, LAND on your FEET. With a handshake.
You can see how Pa is from what he followed up with, for instance, after saying that he can’t take back anything of what he did before, etc., which was enough, in other words, to create a fundamental irreconcilability.
He immediately followed that up with, ‘but we don’t lack conciliation’.
Conciliation with irreconcilability. This is certainly the ‘desolation of the righteous man’.
In short, that is Pa — that is ‘a minister’.
Inexpressibly desperate for me to talk to him. If Pa weren’t my father I wouldn’t worry about it, but can one always act as if a father didn’t exist? I can’t do that either. But nor am I a man who takes kindly to ‘conciliation’ where I see a fundamental irreconcilability.
Every now and then, C.M. also used to come out with ‘unforgivable’. And people like Pa and C.M. stick to that, carry it through, year in, year out — save for ‘conciliation’.
Bah — I think that’s really appalling. Approving of that, going along with it? No — I’d rather be soundly rebuked and I, for one, will say it to their faces.
You see how I am, brother, and you may make of it what you will, but don’t get the idea that I’ll enter into this sophistry of conciliation with irreconcilability.
I want to be reconciled, effectively, conclusively, through and through, but otherwise rather an open parting, opposed to each other, in short, so that the world can see it too.
Live life to the full6 is simply a duty — one mustn’t behave like the Jesuits and their kind.