My dear sister,
For my part, I could just as well say that I’ll stop writing to you immediately at the moment you reply to me;1 the simplest thing is not to write if it’s too much trouble and one doesn’t always feel inclined.
But be this as it may, it’s very good that you’re starting by finding out what sort of harm that wretch Voltaire has done — and you’ll certainly find this in Candide, that Voltaire dared to laugh at the ‘highly serious life which we ought only to devote to or spend on the best ends’.2
And I don’t have to tell you that this crime is terrible enough in itself.
I can’t really write about Mauve, I think about him every day, and that’s all there is to it. It has affected me very badly3 but personally, as a human being, he was perhaps very different from what people sometimes said, that’s to say deeper in life itself than in art perhaps, and I loved him as a human being — now I find it so hard to imagine that those who penetrate to the heart of life,  1v:2 who by the way judge themselves as if it were another, and deal with others with as little embarrassment as if they were dealing with themselves, I find it so hard to imagine that such people cease to exist.
Now I know that it’s fairly impossible for the white potato or salad grubs that turn into May bugs later to be capable of forming credible ideas about their future overground existence.
And that it would be rash of them to undertake overground studies to throw light on this question, since the gardener or others interested in salad and vegetables would immediately trample them underfoot as being harmful insects.4
But for parallel reasons I have little faith in the rightness of our human ideas concerning our future life. We can no more judge our own metamorphoses impartially and sagely than the white salad grubs can theirs.
For the same reason that a salad grub has to eat salad roots for its higher development —
so I believe that a painter has to make paintings — perhaps that there’s something else after that.  1v:3
You see that I’ve gone somewhat further to the south — I’ve seen only too clearly that I cannot prosper with either my work or my health in the winter — moreover, nowadays people are demanding colour contrasts and highly intense and variegated colours in paintings rather than a subdued grey colour. So I thought for one reason and another that I wouldn’t do anyone any harm if I just went to what attracted me.
Give Ma my warmest regards; for the time being there will certainly not be any chance of my coming back to Holland. Regards.



Br. 1990: 582 | CL: W2
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willemien van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 24 February 1888

1. Vincent is replying here to an unknown letter from Willemien, in which she must have expressed her disappointment that he did not write often (cf. letter 574). It is also clear from Theo’s letter to her that Vincent did not write much: ‘Vincent started writing to you ten times and I have read more letters to you than you have received from him, but sometimes one begins rattling away if one has finally got started, and then it is better to start afresh. But his letters are always interesting, which is why it’s a pity that he doesn’t write more’ (FR b914). See for the complete letter: Documentation, 24 and 26 February 1888.
2. See for Voltaire’s Candide: letter 568, n. 3. Van Gogh is not quoting literally here; it may be that he is paraphrasing the theme of the book in Panglossian terms, but it is more likely that he is quoting from Willemien’s last letter: she must have read the book because of what Vincent said about it in his previous letter to her (letter 574).
3. Anton Mauve, Van Gogh’s first teacher, had suddenly died on 5 February 1888 (Laren, Civil registration). He was 49 years old.
4. This metaphor may derive from Frederik van Eeden’s De kleine Johannes (1887), which Van Gogh undoubtedly chose in order to appeal to Willemien’s frame of reference. (Van Gogh was to refer to the book again later; see letters 626 and 740). De kleine Johannes is a Bildungsroman disguised as a fairy tale, in which Johannes tries to find ‘wisdom’ with the help of various allegorical fairy-tale figures. The contrast between idealized nature and man is the connecting thread throughout the book.
The metaphor in the letter possibly relates to an episode in chapter 3, which tells the story of a young maybug who, searching for a ‘serious calling’ for which he will be rewarded with eternal happiness, believes that he has to fly upwards to the light, whereas his real calling is to eat leaves. In his premature attempt to reach ‘the house with the bright light’, however, he is caught by humans and eventually trodden underfoot.