It’s Sunday again and I’m writing again. Sometimes it seems to me that I haven’t told you warmly and sincerely enough how deeply touched I’ve been by what you’ve told me of late.
As to whether a sincerely felt love could turn into a lost illusion, I don’t doubt that it sometimes happens — it would surprise me very much if it happened in your case, and I don’t believe it will happen to me. Michelet says, singularly, that love is a spider’s web at first and grows to be as strong as a cable.
Provided there is faithfulness, that is.1
Lately I’ve walked a good deal in the Geest district and in the streets and alleys where I often walked with the woman last year in the beginning. It was wet weather — I find everything there beautiful then — and when I got home I said to the woman, it’s just like last year. I write this in relation to disenchantment — no, no, there’s a wilting and a budding again in love as in the whole of nature, but not a dying for ever. There’s ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea. And in love, whether for a woman or for art, for instance, there are times of exhaustion and powerlessness, but not a lasting disenchantment.
I regard love — as I do friendship — not only as a feeling but chiefly as an action2 — and particularly when it involves working and is an effort, it has another side of fatigue and powerlessness.
Where people love sincerely and in good faith, they are blessed I believe, although that doesn’t dispel difficult times.
I’m glad that my eyes are no worse, in fact already much better, but it isn’t completely over yet, and I must be careful. I must tell you, I wasn’t pleased.
How I’d like to talk to you — for I’m not despondent about the work, not apathetic or powerless, but I am rather stuck and that may be because I need to have some friction with people one can discuss it with; and with whom could I discuss it here in the present circumstances? At the moment there isn’t a single person in whom I can confide — NOT that I think none is to be trusted, far from it, but unfortunately I have too little contact with such people.
I sometimes think that when I first came to The Hague to G&Cie,3 years ago now, two of the 3 years I spent there were fairly unpleasant, but the last was much happier and so, who knows, something similar may happen here.
I like the saying, When things are at the worst they are sure to mend,4 but I sometimes ask, Are we by now at ‘the worst’?, for the ‘mending’ wouldn’t be unwelcome. Anyway.
Lately I read ‘Le peuple’ by Michelet, or rather I read it some time ago, this winter in fact, but I was strongly reminded of it for the first time just lately.
The book was written quickly and evidently in haste, and if it was all one read by M. I believe one wouldn’t find it very beautiful, or one would be less struck by it.5 Knowing the more carefully worked books like La femme, L’amour, La mer and L’histoire de la revolution,6 I found it to be like a rough sketch by a painter I like very much, and as such it had a special charm.
I, for one, find M.’s way of working enviable. I don’t doubt for a moment that there will be many writers who disapprove of M.’s technique, just as some painters believe they have the right to find fault with Israëls’s technique. M. feels strongly, and what he feels he slaps on without troubling himself in the least about how he does it, and without thinking in the least about ‘technique’ or generally accepted forms, except in so far as he casts it into one form or another such that it’s comprehensible to those who wish to comprehend. In my view, though, Le peuple is less a first thought or impression than an unfinished but yet deliberate conception well thought-out in advance. Some fragments were evidently done in haste from nature and added to other parts that are more worked and studied.
Judging by his fur coat, De Bock appears to be in especially flourishing circumstances. I hadn’t seen him in months but ran into him a few days ago, in a magnificent fur coat &c., as mentioned. But he didn’t look flourishing, I thought. Have you yourself sometimes felt a sympathy towards a person who you saw was unhappy but who nonetheless appeared to be and was regarded as thriving?, and then felt in yourself, if I tried to make friends with him, he would think I was making a fool of him and it would be almost impossible to win his trust, let alone his attachment — and even if I got that far, he would say ‘The fact is that I’m in this situation’ &c. and we’d have no effect on each other. This is how I think of De Bock, and although I do feel sympathetic towards him and find much of what he does beautiful, I don’t believe that he and I would be much help to each other; we see opposite things, mainly in life but in art too.
I sometimes find it difficult to give up a friendship, but if I were to go to a studio and had to think to myself: talk about trivia, don’t bring up anything more important, and don’t say what your real feeling is about this or that in art, then I would be more melancholy than if I had stayed away. It’s hard for me to be content with conventional friendship, precisely because I seek and persevere in sincere friendship.
If there’s a desire to be friends on both sides, even if there are disagreements from time to time, one doesn’t get irritated with each other lightly, or if one does one makes it up. Where there is convention it’s almost inevitable that bitterness arises, precisely because one doesn’t feel free, and even if one doesn’t express one’s true feelings they’re still enough to leave a lasting, unpleasant impression on both sides and to remove any hope that one might be able to be of help to each other. Where there is convention there is suspicion, and from suspicion comes all kinds of intrigues. With rather more sincerity we’d make life easier for each other.
In the meantime one gets used to the existing situation, but it isn’t normal, and if it were possible to suddenly go back 30, 40 or 50 years I believe
1r:4 one would feel more at home in that period than in this — that’s to say, you or I, for example, would feel at home there, I believe. In 50 years from now people won’t, I think, wish they were back in this period. For if it’s followed by a ‘periwig age’,7 people will be too drowsy to think about it at all, and if things improve — so much the better.
I don’t think it absurd to consider it possible that there may again be a kind of periwig age in the future, for after all what’s known as the periwig age in Dutch history had its origins in the abandonment of principles and the replacement of the original by the conventional.
If the Hollanders feel like it, they can be the syndics,8 but if the salt loses its savour it’s a periwig age. Not all of a sudden, but history proves that it can happen. I sometimes find it difficult to believe that a period of only 50 years, say, is enough to bring about a total change that turns everything around. Yet precisely through reflecting on history sometimes, one sees these relatively rapid and continuous changes. And for my part I’m led by this to the conclusion that every person still always puts some weight in the scale, though it may not be much, and that how one thinks and acts isn’t a matter of indifference. The battle is short and it’s worthwhile being sincere. If many are sincere and want what they want, then the whole period will be good, or at least energetic.
Yes, I think a great deal about what you’ve written to me recently. Don’t you agree that if one meets someone in such a state, that’s to say so weak and dependent, that very dependence is something through which one surrenders, as it were, and can’t imagine how one could abandon such a person? I believe there’s certainly a great difference between the woman you’ve met and the one I’ve been with for a whole year now, but they have misfortune in common, and the fact of being women, at any rate. Once people are so tied to each other, the bond is sacred and one thinks of the words ‘if I did not have you for ever, I would rather not have you’.9
Taking a broad view, such an encounter is like an apparition. Have you read Madame Thérèse by Erckmann-Chatrian? There’s a description of a woman recovering that’s very striking and beautifully felt.10 It’s a modest book, but deep at the same time.
If you don’t know Mme Thérèse, read it sometime — I believe she’ll find it beautiful too, and be moved by it.
I sometimes regret that the woman I’m with can understand as little of books as of art. But (although she definitely can’t) isn’t the fact that I’m so attached to her nonetheless proof that there’s something sincere between us? Later, who knows, she may learn to grasp it, and it may become another bond between us, but now with the children, you understand, she’s got enough on her mind.
And through the children, especially, she’s in touch with reality and learning by herself. Books and reality and art are the same kind of thing for me. I’d find someone who was outside real life tiresome company, but someone who is fully inside it knows and feels by herself. If I didn’t seek art in the real, I’d probably find her stupid or something. Now I wish it were otherwise, but I’m still content with the way it is.
I hope to be able to work more regularly this week. I have the feeling that I have to work twice as hard to make up for starting late, and it’s the very sense that I’m behind others in my age that gives me no rest.
These days Montmartre no doubt has those curious effects painted by Michel, for example, i.e. that withered grass and sand against the grey sky. At any rate the colour in the meadows at present is often such that one thinks of Michel. The ground yellow, brown withered grass with a wet road with puddles, the tree-trunks black, the sky grey and the houses white, tonal from a distance and yet still having colour, in the red of the roofs, for example. These effects are telling enough, and Michel’s secret is such that it depends (as with Weissenbruch) on taking accurate measurements, seeing correct proportions of foreground to background, and correctly feeling the direction the lines take through perspective.
These are not things one finds by chance (Michel’s work is abundant enough, and from it I see clearly how he was on a height, so to speak, doing it with ease) but things one knows, and I believe that before the period when everything started going well Michel was sometimes amazed and disappointed that things weren’t working.
However simple everything may look — behind it there’s very extensive general science, as there is behind other simple-looking work, for example that of Daumier.
Well, I’ll end this. Write again soon if you haven’t already written. I’m longing to know whether any unusual effects of the operation have appeared in your patient.
I’m pleased that in the first letter I received from Rappard after his illness he again wrote with great enthusiasm, especially about woodcuts he had found, by Lançon among others.11 He’s now so keen that I no longer need to encourage him, and in the beginning he was as little interested as others. His collection is becoming very good, and I believe that I see the influence of the English in what he does and wants, although of course it’s far from his nature to imitate something. But the fact that, for example, he went to make studies at the institution for the blind before his illness12 is a very practical outcome of his love for draughtsmen like Herkomer and Frank Holl.
Adieu, old chap, write soon, with a handshake.