My dear Theo,
Sincerest thanks for your letter, and the enclosure was most welcome; it really does help me.1 I begin by telling you that it’s a great relief to me that the past of the woman you write about is entirely different from what I first instinctively thought. Namely that she has known not only misery and straitened circumstances, but also other things, so I believe that she’ll appreciate you fully, also as regards civilization and broader views, much more so than a woman who has been hurt by misery from an early age and knows no better than to think that normal. From what you say about reading, for example, I can see that she has a feeling that many other women certainly do not have. Social standing and her vicissitudes help to shape her character and, it seems to me, make her suitable for you. Yes, if she gets better, you’ll be doubly happy. And I wish from my heart that she becomes your wife, for a woman makes life so completely different. And a woman like her — what is she without a man who values and understands her? A distressing sight — yes, as you said, like a spirit or a ghost.
Look, if you were gone I fear that is what she’d relapse into (even if her circumstances and even her health were otherwise).
And with you, I believe, an unending inner happiness for both her and you would lie within reach, stemming from the very awareness of no longer being alone.
For us men, too, being alone is sometimes terribly hard.  1v:2
Yet: the poetry of Israëls without anyone who understands it — see, that is something so very awful that it’s almost beyond one’s comprehension, and one can’t grasp the concept.
That wandering and drifting alone — —
What Michelet says is profound, Why is there a woman alone on earth?2 You once said, or rather wrote, seriousness is better than the cleverest raillery.3 Now isn’t it just the same here? Shouldn’t one take such a figure seriously?
I mean, the life of we men is so dependent on our relations with women, and of course the same is true the other way around, that it seems to me one shouldn’t make fun of women or think lightly of them. If one reads carefully, Balzac’s petty vexations of married life are very, very serious and good, honestly meant, not to divide but to unite, but not everyone sees that in it.4 I think you’ll also find her in the work of Ary Scheffer.
When I read your letter it immediately struck me that you’re dealing with a person here who will be able, for example, to transport herself to the past with you, who will learn to see what you see in art, and that’s worth a great deal. I congratulate you, old chap, that judging by your description she’s the sort of woman to whom the words of Michelet apply: ‘A lady is a lady’.5 As for reading, the work of Michelet seems to me to be something that would give her spirit and tone.
And Victor Hugo equally.
And the reading MICHELET himself regards as desirable for a woman is L’imitation de Jésus Christ by Thomas a Kempis6 — the original version, of course, not the botched one that the clergy distorted.  1v:3
But you probably know more about French literature than I do. The book by Thomas a Kempis is as beautiful as, for example, Ary Scheffer’s Consolator;7 it’s something one can’t compare to anything else. But I’ve seen editions of it that were wholly and deliberately distorted and altered by having a horrible sort of explanation added to each chapter. I still have one myself that I was once tricked into buying. And do you know what I think would be excellent, especially when a patient must breathe in fresh air from a book? It’s La nature chez elle by BODMER with the text by Théophile Gautier. The old series, available from L’Illustration or Monde Illustré. But recently I saw a Nat. chez elle that was far more meagre and less fresh than the first series, and in which the text wasn’t by T. G., as I remember. Probably done by Bodmer later when he had lost some of his early gusto.8
Old chap, I’ve had so much pleasure drawing fishermen’s heads with that sou’wester,9 which had fish scales still stuck to it when I got it.
The feeling that you’ll have had on your walk to the hospital or clinic the day you visited her after she’d undergone the operation — isn’t that one of those things one can hardly speak of, so strong are the emotions? — at any rate when you wrote to me about the operation I thought back to last summer when I visited the woman the day she gave birth.10  1r:4
You wrote lately about a certain Laurens who generally made large drawings or paintings. Now I didn’t know who he was (unless he was the one who did oriental landscapes &c.),11 but today I saw an etching by Courtry after a painting by Jean Paul Laurens, a scene from the Revolutionary age, and found it very beautiful, especially some types and heads.12 But I think it quite likely that his paintings don’t look as beautiful as the etching. Is the work of Jules Goupil still beautiful? One is prompted to ask this when one sees men like Emile Wauters and Hoeterickx, for instance, exchanging their powerful snatches from reality for things that are, yes, refined and finely felt too, yet don’t match the boldness of their early work, and betray a certain timidity almost. And when things go like that, it’s a pity.
To stay bold — like Israëls, say — how few there are who bring it off.
Lately I saw a new edition of the illustrated books by R. Caldecott and bought two of them, illustrations to Washington Irving’s Sketchbook, the 2 together now costing only 1 shilling. It’s a description of Christmas in a village at the beginning of this century.13 Those small drawings are as pithy as those by Jacque, say, or Menzel.
When you come, you must see the woodcuts again. There are fellows, like Caldecott now, for instance, who are highly individual and extraordinarily interesting. How I wish we could be together more in the evenings or on Sundays. So that we could look through ‘those things’ that many pass by.14
I’m reading Eliot, Middlemarch. Eliot analyzes like Balzac or Zola, but English situations and with an English feeling.15 Adieu, old chap, best wishes with everything, and many thanks again.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 318 | CL: 267
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, on or about Thursday, 15 February 1883

1. This phrasing indicates that Theo sent extra money; this is confirmed by a remark in letter 323, ll. 66-67. See also Date.
a. Means: ‘om haar karakter te vormen’ (to shape her character).
2. A year before Van Gogh had noted these words from Jules Michelet’s La femme (in a slightly different form) below the drawing Sorrow [2365]: see letter 216, n. 3.
3. For this pronouncement by Theo, see letter 291, l. 265.
4. Honoré de Balzac, Petites misères de la vie conjugale (1846) consists of a number of sketches of married life and is divided into two parts. The first focuses on man, in the person of Adolphe, and the second on woman, represented by Caroline. Balzac describes how married people sink ever deeper into trivia and superficiality, and how expectations at the beginning of a marriage end in disappointment.
6. It has not been possible to trace where Michelet advises women to read Thomas a Kempis. For L’imitation de Jésus-Christ, see letter 38, n. 5.
b. Means: ‘schraler’ (meagre). This is not a question of size; both editions have 139 pages.
8. Théophile Gautier, La nature chez elle. Paris (Auguste Marc, Imprimerie de L’Illustration), 1870, with 37 etchings by Karl Bodmer (50 francs). Various excerpts appeared in L’Illustration between 1869 and 1872.
Twelve years later La nature chez elle was published. Dessins originaux de K. Bodmer reproduits en fac-similé. Paris (G. Charpentier) 1882. It seems unlikely that Van Gogh’s criticism was provoked by this edition, since apart from the title page it is identical to the previous one. Only the first edition, however, mentions L’Illustration on the title page. These are the only two editions known from before 1883. See Claudine Lacoste, ‘Oeuvres de Théophile Gautier annoncées dans la bibliographie de la France de 1830 à 1935’, Bulletin de la Société Théophile Gautier, no. 11. Montpellier 1989, p. 171; and Charles Spoelenberch de Lovenjoul, Histoire des oeuvres de Théophile Gautier. 2 vols. Paris 1887, vol. 2, p. 388, no. 2275.
9. Which heads of fishermen with a sou’wester these are is not known; Van Gogh drew a number of them.
10. Sien had given birth on 2 July 1882: see letter 242.
11. Jules Joseph Augustin Laurens went on an expedition to Turkey and Persia and brought back thousands of drawings, which were published. He drew illustrations for L’Illustration and Le Magasin Pittoresque.
12. In 1877 Jean Paul Laurens had been awarded a medal for his painting L´état-major autrichien devant le corps de Marceau (The Austrian general staff gathered around Marceau’s body) (Kyoto, Sumitomo Collection). Goupil published the photogravure Mort de Marceau (Death of Marceau) in Eugène Montrosier, Les artistes modernes, part 3. Paris 1882, p. 4. Charles Courtry made an etching after the painting, as Van Gogh says. The photogravure is printed here because the only copy known to us (in the Cabinet des Estampes in Paris) cannot be found, Ill. 733 [733]. Cf. Béraldi 1885-1892, p. 64, no. 38; Eugène Verón in L’Art 4 (1878), vol. 3, pp. 215-216 and Jean-Paul Laurens 1838-1921. Peintre d’histoire. Paris 1997, p. 38. A general under the Republic, Marceau was attacked by General Hotze and shot by a rifleman in 1796.
[2060] [2059]
15. George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch. A study of provincial life (1871) is set in the town of Middlemarch in the first half of the nineteenth century. The ramifications of the marriage of young Dr. Lydgate to the beautiful, but superficial Rosamond Vincy form the main plot. Like this couple, the many other characters seek compromise in everything and abandon their ideals. Van Gogh may have been reading the novel for some time; he quoted from it in letter 294.