My dear Theo,
One doesn’t always have the words to lay all one’s cards on the table, but — towards you — I’m so determined — (I don’t care whether you’re mistrustful or not) — to speak out completely frankly — that with some reflection I’ve perhaps found clearer words for what I already made you feel.
It seems to me that we must split up — in both our interests.
Your position doesn’t — does it? — admit of our associating with each other very intimately and actively and cordially. Your position — to give just one example — doesn’t, for instance, admit of my living in Paris with you — either to study or for financial reasons — however useful and necessary this might increasingly become if things permitted. For — you, like so many others, have things to say about my person, manners, clothes, words, important enough and evidently without redress — that have gradually caused personal, brotherly relations to die and weaken over the years. Added to that is my past, and the fact that you feel quite the little gentleman at G&Cie, and I’m insufferable and an awkward customer.1 Enough — this is how things are — aren’t they? — and when it comes to analysis, when it comes to looking manfully at our positions — you won’t contradict me in this respect.
Only — yet — I don’t say this as a reproach — this isn’t the moment for it — that’s passed — I say it to make things quite clear — only I had thought that you attached enough to our not drifting all too far apart — that by being on the look-out in that area, by skilful manoeuvres, you could probably have solved this tricky question more satisfactorily. In such a way, for instance, that I could have got, I won’t say on good terms, but at least back in touch with Tersteeg and Mauve again — so that I too — like almost all other painters do — could have come to Paris once again for a while &c.2
But — you had a certain struggle with your conscience on that point which you would prefer to avoid. So you don’t think about it, and you’re not exactly very kind if I raise it, that point in question.
In all events, you think me foolish in these matters, and always dismiss them.
This is your drawback — in this respect I find you very miserable — but your good side is your reliability with the money.
So to sum up — I right willingly acknowledge an obligation to you.
Only — failing relations with you yourself, with Tersteeg or with whoever else I knew in the past — failing these, I want something else — in compensation. For — I still have my future too — and I want to progress. If a girl won’t have me, very well, I can hardly blame her — but — nothing is surer than that I’ll try to find recompense elsewhere. So, too, with other relationships. I won’t foist myself on you nor try to force your affection — but — as a friend — let alone as a brother — you’re too cool to me. Not where the money’s concerned, old chap, I say nothing about that. But personally you’re of no use whatsoever to me, nor I to you. And we could and should have been of more mutual use to each other. We won’t quarrel now, though — things have their seasons, that of quarrelling has passed — then follows — I believe — the break-up. Remember, though, that there are people who really do love you and towards whom you shouldn’t be mistrustful, who become powerless in their sympathy because3 you’re too suspicious, precisely where you would do better to reinforce someone’s self-confidence. But anyway.
I don’t consider it impossible that — Marie — you know, the one you helped when she was ill — with all her appreciation of your character and help — must have felt something of what I feel — I dare assume something of the kind instinctively.
Now I’ll be so free as to tell you one thing. We will part — this is a difficult transition for me — and is coupled with financial difficulties that will certainly be thorny enough for me.
However — I’ll manage to survive — but I specifically demand that you, for your part, at this moment, which is critical for me, will be very frank. I know you will agree that we should part — precisely because it will be in peace. Tell me straight out whether you approve of Antwerp — keeping on my studio here in the country, which is too cheap to let go and I can’t do without in any event as a storeroom, and refuge if need be. And — if it’s not asking too much — help me to get on – financially the obstacles are worse for me at this very time of the end of the year than at other times. And I’d like to keep the transitional period short if possible, because it’s such torture to feel that one thing is disappearing — and one doesn’t yet have the other.
I couldn’t help thinking about why Marie and you parted. I don’t know any details, do I? and you thought she wasn’t good. Perhaps you’re right, but perhaps, too, you didn’t understand her. And as to me, quite possibly I’m not — maybe — good in the same way — but also as to me — do you understand and feel the right way? I neither can nor will judge that.
Proudhon writes, ‘woman is the desolation of the righteous man’4 — but shouldn’t there be an answer to that — ‘the righteous man is the desolation of woman’? Maybe.
Similarly one could perhaps say: ‘the artist is the desolation of the financier’ and conversely, ‘the financier is the desolation of the artist’.
You see — I don’t know the conclusion myself — but — I see two sides to the same question.
So you know the intentions I’ve resolved upon — I hope for both our sakes that the time of transition will be short and, because I know you agree to a parting — how can we handle it quickest and most satisfactorily? With a handshake.
Part — but in peace — without forcing it too much. Try to see to it that I don’t have to lose any time, that I can readily go on painting, and I’ll go on until I’m worth so much that people give me work in Antwerp in return for board and paint.
I wish you could understand this, I don’t want to part through a desire to quarrel — I want to part in order to keep the peace. I couldn’t endure it if I didn’t have the prospect of other circumstances. Not financially in the first place, but that it’s more pleasant for me in the house where I live. I have nothing to complain about at home — but — I can’t settle here, and it actually appears from your own words that you can’t understand me nor I you — so — work towards parting in peace and without harm to anyone, with good heart and serenity, and without rancour.
2v:6 But please don’t think that I want to quarrel with you or with them at home — because this is not in my character — although you imagine it is — and for that matter several others think as you do — actually the opposite is in me — the fact is I can’t endure it without more peace and cordiality.
I can only shrug my shoulders at that opinion — the people who think like that about me, though, I decidedly do not exactly regard as friends, though. Even if they were my father or my brother a thousand times over — if they think like that — I’m grieved by it, but at the same time fortunately have the wit not to allow myself to be overwhelmed by it.
The road in this respect is fairly well marked, I believe.
Think about it, old chap — I’m not hiding my deepest feelings from you — I’m weighing up both one side and the other. You can’t give me a wife, you can’t give me a child, you can’t give me work.
Money — yes.
But what good is it to me if I have to do without the rest? It remains sterile because of it, your money, because it’s not used the way I’ve always told you — a labourer’s household if need be, but if one doesn’t make sure that one has a home of one’s own, art doesn’t thrive.
And for my part — I told you really quite plainly enough back in my salad days, if I couldn’t get a fine woman I’d take a common one, better a common one than none.
I know plenty of people who argue the exact opposite, and are as frightened of ‘children’ as I am of ‘no children’.
And for my part — I don’t lightly give up a principle — even if something often goes wrong for me.
And consequently I’m not that afraid of the future because I know how and why I acted in the past. And because I know that there are others who feel the same as I feel.
You’re mistrustful, you say — but — why, what about, and what use is this to you or me? Does mistrust make you any the wiser? I hope you know to the contrary. But then again, it’s loyal of you to say yourself that you’re mistrustful — that’s also why I’m responding to it — which would have been beneath me otherwise. And my answer is very brief — I mean no harm to you nor to Pa nor to anyone else, but I very seriously think that I might want to part from you and seek a new partnership for the very sake of preventing harm in the future.
Later on we’d clash as Pa and I have clashed with each other, and then I COULD not give in. That’s all. On the one hand my duty compels me to love my father, my brother — and I do — but we live in an age of innovation and reform, and many things have changed utterly, and in consequence of this I see, I feel, I believe differently from Pa, differently from you. And because, with all this, I try to keep the abstract ideal of good separate from my own imperfect self — I don’t use big words — but I simply say — the way to remain good friends is — to part — it pains me to say this — but I’m resigned to it.
You’ll understand — that even though the future isn’t clear to me — I’m not afraid. And even in a very calm mood. But yet — a lot is going on inside me — and that’s partly out of a great sense of obligation, which will also remain — on the other hand a sense of disappointment that I actually find the reason why my career has to be broken in the way in which it started, namely with your help and support, so absurd.
However, I would do wrong to carry on — since — if we carried on — a few years later we’d most probably have a serious quarrel that could end in hatred.
Now there’s still time for me to fix myself up elsewhere — and if I have to do battle elsewhere, then at least it won’t be with my brother. And that — isn’t that viewed clearly and coolly, and calculated beforehand?
I won’t take it despondently, believe me, but equally I’m not acting wildly. I’ve found calm now that I’ve resolved on separation, and am convinced that later on, if we went on, we’d be more likely to put a spoke in each other’s wheels than help.
Rappard said, don’t go to Antwerp before you’re sure you’ll find something there — but how can one know beforehand what one will encounter? And if I keep my studio on here as a refuge, then now is the time to begin. It will be there, though, so for the time being it’s certainly not my plan to leave these parts altogether. You understand, Theo — that I’ve often thought at length about it on long walks: I don’t want to get into a second series of quarrels with Pa II like I’ve had with pa I. You would be pa II. One is enough — the phrase is forthright and the centre of my ideas; draw your own conclusions.
Know moreover — that I haven’t been aggressive in my actions towards Pa, nor should want to become aggressive towards you, my brother. I’ve often restrained myself — whereas I would have fought very differently and more fiercely with strangers. This very fact, though, also makes me powerless in the circumstances. Yonder I have a new field, and one where I can behave as I see fit, as stranger to stranger — yonder I have neither rights nor obligations. And can then be more brusque — willingness not to give offence, confidence to resist, that’s my ideal, and I’m searching for that so far as is in me. But accepting everything, though, will be regretted later — so — one has to act. Working here and seeking a new connection is the way forward — unfortunately money is needed for both, and the prospect of a breakthrough is poor. And — time is money, too — and — as things are now — I’m not getting any richer.
But you know my motives — if I go on, you would become Pa II in my life and, although I know you mean well — you don’t understand me at all, and nothing could come of it.
I dare say — that if you were just to analyze your own feelings rather more accurately — what you call ‘mistrust’ — could actually have been something very different.
Namely a sort of presentiment that something had to happen between you and me — and that otherwise it wouldn’t go well. You’re in an elevated position, that’s no reason to be mistrustful of someone who’s in a lowly position, as I am — where I also intend to stay.
4v:12 If I were to drop dead — which I shan’t refuse if it comes but won’t expressly seek — you’d be standing on a skeleton — and — that would be a mightily insecure standpoint. As long as I’m painting, though, and am alive, well then you can expect from me gratitude and a feeling of obligation. But — where I feel that it’s necessary to press on with the work with vigour and that I can’t stick it otherwise, I dare to speak to you about what the trouble is.
If you didn’t listen to this at the time and then started thinking badly of me — couldn’t you have analyzed that feeling incorrectly — and it actually have been a presentiment of something — that could have happened not through my doing but through your own actions and state of mind and that we would do very well to avoid? Let’s part, old chap, in a while — as friends — that can do no harm — neither to you nor to me. Staying together — that would end badly if it were to go on like this.