[Letterhead: Goupil Paris]

Paris, 15 July 1875

My dear Theo,
Uncle Vincent was here again, we were together quite a lot and talked about one thing and another. I asked him whether he thought there would be an opportunity to get you here, into the Paris branch. At first he wouldn’t hear of it, and said it was much better that you stay in The Hague; but I kept insisting, and you can be sure that he’ll bear it in mind.
When he comes to The Hague he’ll probably talk to you; stay calm and let him have his say; it won’t do you any harm, and later on you’ll probably need him now and again. You shouldn’t talk about me if it’s not the right moment.
He’s terribly clever, when I was here last winter1 one of the things he said to me was ‘perhaps I know nothing of supernatural things, but of natural things I know everything’. I’m not sure whether those were his exact words, but that was the gist of it.  1r:2
I also want to tell you that one of his favourite paintings is ‘Lost illusions’ by Gleyre.2
Sainte-Beuve said, ‘There is in most men a poet who died young, whom the man survived’3 and Musset, ‘know that in us there is often a sleeping poet, ever young and alive’.4 I believe that the former is true of Uncle Vincent. So you know who it is you’re dealing with, and so be warned.
Don’t hesitate to ask him openly to have you sent here or to London.
I thank you for your letter of this morning, and for the verse by Rückert. Do you have his poems? I’d like to know more of them. When there’s an opportunity I’ll send you a French Bible and L’imitation de Jesus Christ.5 This was probably the favourite book of that woman whom P. de Champaigne painted;6 in the Louvre there’s a portrait, also by P. de C., of her daughter, a nun; she has L’imitation lying on a chair next to her.7
Pa once wrote to me: ‘you know that the same lips that uttered “be harmless as doves” also immediately added “and wise as serpents”’.8 You should bear  1v:3 that in mind as well, and believe me to be ever

Your loving brother

Do you have the photos of the Meissoniers in the gallery?9 Look at them often; he painted men. You may well know The smoker at the window and The young man having lunch.10


Br. 1990: 038 | CL: 31
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Paris, Thursday, 15 July 1875

1. In 1874 Van Gogh was transferred for two months to Paris, where he arrived on 26 October. He spent Christmas with his parents and then travelled from Helvoirt back to London (FR b2728 and b2738).
2. Charles Gleyre, Evening (Lost illusions), 1843 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 1725 [1725].
3. In 1837 Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve wrote about the poet Millevoye: ‘There’s better. In all of us, if we are poets, and even if we clearly are not, there exists or there has existed some fine flower of feelings, of desires, some primal dream, which soon vanishes into humdrum works and expires in the course of life’s business. It is found, in a word, in three-quarters of mankind, like a poet who dies young, while the man lives on.’ (Il y a mieux. En nous tous, pour peu que nous soyons poètes, et si nous ne le sommes pourtant pas décidément, il existe ou il a existé une certaine fleur de sentiments, de désirs, une certaine rêverie première, qui bientôt s’en va dans les travaux prosaïques, et qui expire dans l’occupation de la vie. Il se trouve, en un mot, dans les trois quarts des hommes, comme un poète qui meurt jeune, tandis que l’homme survit). See Revue des Deux Mondes, April-June 1837, pp. 645-646.
4. Louis Charles Alfred de Musset included his reaction to Sainte-Beuve in his poem ‘A Sainte-Beuve’:

‘Friend, you’ve said it well, and yet you’ve said it all too well.
In setting out your thoughts, you failed to guard against
Your pen’s creating of them pleasing verse,
Or your blaspheming in the language of the Gods.
Read your work again; I send you back to your affronted Muse.
Remind yourself that in us often lives
A sleeping poet, ever alive and young.’

(Tu l’as bien dit, Ami, mais tu l’as trop bien dit.
Tu ne prenais pas garde, en traçant ta pensée,
Que ta plume en faisait un vers harmonieux,
Et que tu blasphémais dans la langue des Dieux.
Relis-toi; je te rends à ta Muse offensée.
Et souviens-toi qu’en nous il existe souvent
Un poëte endormi, toujours jeune et vivant.)

Sainte-Beuve published Musset’s poem in September 1837 in his own collection titled Pensées d’août. See Poésies complètes de Sainte-Beuve. Paris 1845, p. 379. It was also included in the 1850 edition of the Poésies nouvelles by Alfred de Musset. See De Musset 1957, pp. 378-379, 795-796.
Van Gogh was familiar with the poetry of both men, as evidenced by the poetry albums he made for Theo; see Pabst 1988, pp. 13, 22-24. It can no longer be ascertained whether he knew these passages from the work of Sainte-Beuve or that of Musset, but it seems likely that he picked up both passages from the new magazine L’Art, first published shortly before this time in Paris. See L’Art. Revue Hebdomadaire Illustrée 1-1 (1875), pp. 86-87.
5. A French edition of De imitatione Christi (The imitation of Christ) by Thomas a Kempis. In this book the writer presents self-abnegation and complete submission to God’s will in the light of God’s love and inner peace, at the same time offering the reader a guide to devotional practice. A number of French translations of this book were available.
7. Philippe de Champaigne, Mother Catherine-Agnès Arnauld and Sister Catherine de Sainte Suzanne Champaigne (The ex-voto of 1662) (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 1726 [1726]. There is nothing to suggest that the little book depicted in the painting is titled The imitation; this was Van Gogh’s own idea.
8. Christ’s words in Matt. 10:16, though Van Gogh quotes these phrases the wrong way around with respect to the biblical passage.
9. The photographer Robert Jefferson Bingham reproduced numerous works by Meissonier. An overview of them appeared in Burty 1866. The two works mentioned by Van Gogh are included in this article. See n. 10.
10. Ernest Meissonier, Le fumeur à la fenêtre (The smoker at the window) and Jeune homme déjeunant (Young man having lunch) (both in Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 1727 [1727] and Ill. 1728 [1728].
[1727] [1728]