Dear brother,
I feel what Pa and Ma instinctively think about me (I don’t say reasonably).
There’s a similar reluctance about taking me into the house as there would be about having a large, shaggy dog in the house. He’ll come into the room with wet paws — and then, he’s so shaggy. He’ll get in everyone’s way. And he barks so loudly.
In short — it’s a dirty animal.
Very well — but the animal has a human history and, although it’s a dog, a human soul, and one with finer feelings at that, able to feel what people think about him, which an ordinary dog can’t do.
And I, admitting that I am a sort of dog, accept them as they are.
This home is also too good for me, and Pa and Ma and the family are so unduly fine (no feelings, though)1 and — and — they are ministers — many ministers. So the dog recognizes that if they were to keep him it would be too much a question of putting up with him, of tolerating him ‘in this house’, so he’ll see about finding himself a kennel somewhere else.
The dog may actually have been Pa’s son at one time, and Pa himself really left him out in the street rather too much, where he inevitably became rougher, but since Pa himself forgot that years ago and actually never thought profoundly about what a bond between father and son meant, there’s nothing to be said.  1v:2
Then — the dog might perhaps bite — if he were to go mad — and the village constable would have to come round and shoot him dead. Very well — yes, all that, most certainly, it is true.
On the other hand, dogs are guards. But there’s no need for that, it’s peace, and there’s no danger, there are no problems, they say. So then I keep silent.
The dog is just sorry that he didn’t stay away, because it wasn’t as lonely on the heath as it is in this house — despite all the friendliness. The animal’s visit was a weakness that I hope people will forget, and one that he’ll avoid lapsing into again.
Since I’ve had no expenses in the time I’ve been here, and because I received money from you twice here, I paid for the journey myself and also paid myself for the clothes that Pa bought because mine weren’t good enough, yet at the same time I’ve repaid the 25 guilders from friend Rappard.
I think you’ll be pleased that this has been done, it looked so careless.

Dear Theo,
Enclosed is the letter I was engaged in writing when I received your letter.2 To which, having read what you say attentively, I want to reply. I’ll start by saying that I think it noble of you, believing that I’m making it difficult for Pa, to take his part and give me a brisk telling-off.
I regard this as something that I value in you, even though you’re taking up arms against someone who is neither Pa’s enemy nor yours, but who definitely does, however, give Pa and you some serious questions to consider. Telling you what I tell you, that being what I feel, and asking: why is this so?
In many respects, moreover, your answers to various passages in my letter make me see sides to the questions that aren’t unfamiliar to me either. Your objections are in part my own objections, but not sufficiently. So I see once more your good will, your desire at the same time to achieve reconciliation and peace — which indeed I don’t doubt. But brother, I could also raise very many objections to your tips, only I think that would be a long-drawn-out way and that there’s a shorter way.
There’s a desire for peace and for reconciliation in Pa and in you and in me. And yet we don’t seem to be able to bring peace about.  2v:4 I now believe that I’m the stumbling block,3 and so I must try to work something out so that I don’t ‘make it difficult’ for you or for Pa any more.
I’m now prepared to make it as easy as possible, as tranquil as possible, for both Pa and you.
So you also think that it’s I who make it difficult for Pa and that I’m cowardly. So — well then, I’ll try to keep everything shut up inside me, away from Pa and from you. What’s more, I won’t visit Pa again, and I’ll stick to my proposal (for the sake of mutual freedom of thought, for the sake of not making it DIFFICULT for you either, which I fear is already inadvertently starting to be your opinion) to put an end to our agreement about the money by March, if you approve.
I’m deliberately leaving an interval for the sake of order and so that I’ll have time to take some steps that really have very little chance of success, but which my conscience won’t allow me to postpone in the circumstances.
You must accept this calmly and accept it with good grace, brother — it isn’t giving you an ultimatum. But if our feelings diverge too far, well then, we mustn’t force ourselves to act as if nothing is happening. Isn’t this your opinion too, to some extent?  2v:5
You know very well, don’t you, that I consider that you’ve saved my life, that I shall never forget, I’m not only your brother, your friend, even after we put an end to relations that I fear would create a false position, but at the same time I have an infinite obligation of loyalty for what you did in the past by stretching out your hand to me and by continuing to help me.

Money can be repaid, not kindness such as yours.4

So let me get on with it — only I’m disappointed that a thoroughgoing reconciliation hasn’t come about now — and I’d wish that it still could, only you people don’t understand me and I fear that perhaps you never will. Send me the usual by return, if you can, then I won’t have to ask Pa for anything when I leave, which I ought to do as soon as possible.
I   gave  the  whole    of  the  23 .80  guilders  of 1 Dec.   to  Pa
(having borrowed 14 guilders, and shoes and trousers came to 9 guilders)
10   ,, Rappard
I only have a quarter and a few cents in my pocket. So that is the account, which you will now understand when, in addition, you know that from the 20 Nov. money, which came 1 Dec., I paid for the lodgings in Drenthe for a long period, because there had been some hitch then that was later put right, and from the 14 guilders (which I borrowed from Pa and have since given back) I paid for my journey etc.
I’m going from here to Rappard’s.
And from Rappard’s perhaps to Mauve’s. My plan, then, is to try to do everything in calmness, in order.  2r:6
There’s too much in my frankly expressed opinion about Pa that I cannot take back in the circumstances.5 I appreciate your objections, but many of them I cannot regard as sufficient, others I already thought of myself, even though I wrote what I wrote.
I set out my feelings in strong words, and of course they’re modified by appreciation of very much that’s good in Pa — of course that modification is considerable.
Let me tell you that I didn’t know that someone aged 30 was ‘a boy’, particularly not when he may have experienced more than just anyone in those 30 years. Regard my words as the words of a boy if you wish, though.
I am not liable for your interpretation of what I say, am I? That is your business.
As to Pa, I’ll also take the liberty of putting what he thinks out of my mind as soon as we part company.
It may be politic to keep what one thinks to oneself, however it has always seemed to me that a painter, above all, had a duty to be sincere — you yourself once pointed out to me that whether people understand what I say, whether people judge me rightly or wrongly, didn’t alter the truth about me.
Well brother, know that, even if there’s any sort of a separation, I am, perhaps much more even than you know or feel, your friend and even Pa’s friend. With a handshake.

Ever yours,

In any event I’m not an enemy of Pa’s or yours, nor shall ever be that.

I’ve thought again about your remarks since I wrote the enclosed letter, and I’ve also spoken to Pa again. I had as good as definitely made up my mind not to stay here — regardless of how it would be taken or what might come of it — when, though, the conversation took a turn because I said: I’ve been here for a fortnight now and I don’t feel any further forward than in the first half hour. If only we’d understood each other better we’d have got all sorts of things sorted out and settled by now — I can’t waste time and I have to decide.
A door has to be open or shut.6 I don’t understand anything in between, and in fact it can’t exist. It has now ended up that the little room at home where the mangle is now will be at my disposal as a storeroom for my bits and pieces, as a studio too, should circumstances make this desirable.7 And that they’ve now started emptying the room, which wasn’t the case at first, when the case was still pending then.
I do want to tell you something that I’ve since understood better than when I wrote to you about what I thought of Pa. I’ve softened my opinion, partly because I believe I detect in Pa (and one of your tips would support this to some extent) signs that, indeed, he can’t follow me when I try to explain something. Gets stuck in part of what I say, which becomes wrong when it’s taken out of context. There may well be more than one reason for this, but old age is certainly to blame for a large part of it. Now, I respect old age and its weaknesses too, as you do, even though it may not seem so to you or you may not believe it of me. I mean that I probably humour Pa in some things that I would take amiss in a man with his full faculties — for the aforementioned reason.  3v:8
I also thought of Michelet’s saying (which he had from a zoologist), ‘the male is very wild’.8 And because now, at this stage in my life, I know that I have strong passions, and so I should have, in my opinion — looking at myself I see that perhaps I am ‘very wild’. And yet, my passion abates when I’m faced with one who is weaker; then I don’t fight.
Although, for that matter, taking issue in words or about principles with a man who, mark you, occupies a position in society concerned with guiding people’s spiritual lives is, to be sure, not only permitted but cannot in any way be cowardly. For after all, our weapons are equal. Give this some thought, if you will, particularly since I tell you that, for many reasons, I want to give up even the battle of words because I sometimes think that Pa is no longer able to concentrate the full force of his thoughts on a single point.
In some cases, after all, a man’s age may be an added strength.
Going to the heart of the matter, I take this opportunity to tell you that I believe that it’s precisely because of Pa’s influence that you’ve concentrated more on business than was in your nature.
And that I believe that, even though you’re now so sure of your case that you must remain a dealer, a certain something in your original nature will still keep on working and perhaps react more than you expect.  3v:9
Since I know that our thoughts crossed each other in our first years with G&Cie, that is that both you and I thought then about becoming painters, but so deeply that we didn’t dare to say it straight out then, even to each other, it could well be that in these later years we draw closer together. All the more so because of the effect of circumstances and conditions in the trade itself, which in the meantime has already changed compared with our early days and, in my view, will go on changing more and more.
I forced myself so much at the time, and I was so burdened by a conviction that I was certainly not a painter that, even when I left G&Cie, I didn’t turn my thoughts to it but to something else (which was in turn a second mistake, over and above the first). Being discouraged then about the possibility, because diffident, very diffident approaches to a few painters weren’t even noticed. What I’m telling you is not because I want to force you to think like me — I force no one — I’m just telling you it in brotherly, in friendly confidence.
My views may sometimes be out of proportion; that may be so. Yet I believe that there must be some truth in the nature of them, and in the action and direction. That I myself have now worked on getting the house here open again, even to the extent of having a studio here — I’m not doing it in the first place or primarily out of self-interest.  3r:10
In this I see that even though we don’t understand each other in many things, there’s always a will to cooperate between you, Pa and myself, albeit in fits and starts. Since the estrangement has already lasted so long, it can’t do any harm to try to place some weight on the other side, so that we shouldn’t appear to the world, too, as being more divided than is the case, so as not to lapse into extremes in the eyes of the world.
Rappard says to me, ‘a human being isn’t a lump of peat, in so far as a human being can’t bear to be thrown up in the loft like a lump of peat and be forgotten there’ — and he points out that he thought it a great misfortune for me that I couldn’t be at home. Give this some thought, if you will. I believe that it has been regarded a little too much as if I acted capriciously or recklessly or, well, you know it better than I do, whereas I was more or less forced into things, and could do nothing other than what they wanted to see in it.
And it was precisely the biased view of seeing base objectives &c. in me that made me very cold and fairly indifferent towards many people.
Brother, once again — think a great deal at this stage in your life; I believe that you’re in danger of taking a distorted view of many things, and I believe that you should examine your life’s aim once more, and that then your life WILL BE BETTER. I don’t say it as if I knew it and as if you didn’t know it, I say it because I’m increasingly coming to see that it’s so terribly difficult to know where one is right and where one is wrong.


Br. 1990: 415 | CL: 346
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Saturday, 15 December 1883

a. Read: ‘verstandelijk’ (rationally).
1. A pun on the ‘fijngevoelig’ (‘finer feelings’) used earlier.
2. Van Gogh started on a fresh sheet – the ‘enclosed letter’ refers to the first part up to here.
3. After this Van Gogh crossed out: ‘Stumbling block that cannot belie his nature in so far’ (‘Struikelblok dat zijne natuur niet kan verloochenen in zoover’).
4. This sentence derives from two lines of verse in the poem ‘Enoch Arden’ by Alfred Tennyson: ‘He will repay you: money can be repaid; / Not kindness such as yours.’ See The poems of Tennyson. Ed. Christopher Ricks. 3 vols. Harlow 1987, vol. 2, p. 634. Quoted again in letter 420.
5. After this Van Gogh crossed out: ‘unless something makes me change my mind’ (‘ten zij ik daaromtrent tot andere gedachten kom door wat’).
b. Read: ‘Als doorslaggevende (bedenkingen)’ (as decisive (suspicions)).
6. Cf. the French proverb ‘Une porte doit être ouverte ou fermé’, which Van Gogh quotes in letter 432.
7. On Thursday, 20 December 1883, Mr van Gogh informed Theo that the room where the mangle was had already undergone some modifications for Vincent’s benefit (FR b2250). See also letters 416 and 422.
8. Jules Michelet quotes this sentence in L’amour (book 2, ‘La noce’ (The wedding) as ‘the hard, but clear word of Natural history’ (le mot dur, mais net, de l’Histoire naturelle). See Michelet, L’amour, p. 118.