11 December.

My dear friend,
I haven’t written to you for such a long time that I feel the need to tell you a thousand things to gain forgiveness for my silence. However I’ll begin by asking you to accept my apologies. Since my arrival here1 I’ve toiled and continue to toil like a negro, hence from six o’clock in the morning to four thirty in the afternoon, I scarcely leave the barracks for long enough to eat  1v:2 , I spend the whole time standing in the blazing sun, shouting like a devil, so in the evening it’s with a certain pleasure that I see the moment coming when I can slide between the sheets, hence my shortage of time to write.
I shan’t tell you about my journey, which went very well. Pointless. Like all other countries, Algeria is only interesting for the visitor, from far away, like this, on paper, it comes across badly. Is that true?  1v:3
I’ve been thinking about Bernard.2 I’ve been working on his behalf as much as possible. The officer who commands my battalion is very well disposed towards him after what I said about him. Tell your friend to come to the 3rd Zouaves, he’ll then surely be near me, and when he does we’ll try to make his life as gentle as the job permits. It’s a great pity that he isn’t here now,  1r:4 because being in charge of the recruits as I am, the task would be a hell of a lot more simplified still.
Guelma is an absolutely indifferent town: any small village in France would be as pleasant. What really is beautiful is nature, the sun, the light, the types of Arabs, these people with billowing robes are superb. But what astonishes me is that, contrary to what you see in Europe, the paintings seem to be composed in the shade with a dark centre  2r:5 and corners in the light. It’s just like, if I dare say so, Rembrandt in reverse. At least that’s how I feel about things.
From my window I have a superb view: my horizon is formed by a line of small mountains running parallel from east to west and lost in the blue. From another side, I have a perfectly flat stretch of ground, of a rather indefinable colour, the areas nearest to the eye are yellowish;  2v:6 the parts that fade into the distance melt into violet greys (does this colour actually exist? In any case that’s what it seems to me), one last ash-grey line, but so thin it would take only a single slender stroke, determines the true depth of the countryside, which is truly very extensive. All of this is marvellous. I wish I could draw so as to depict it, but I can’t, alas.
How are you  2v:7 my dear friend, and how is Gauguin finding life down there? Is he getting used to it?
Write to me, if you have the time, you’ll give me very great pleasure.
Of course, I haven’t a single book to cast my eyes over, not even Balzacs at 1 franc 2 sous each.3 What a hole, what a hole! On top of that, impossible to get any. Have you unearthed Bel-ami?4  2r:8
Recall me, if you would, to your esteemed brother’s excellent memory.5 Hearty handshake for Gauguin, and believe me, my dear friend, your entirely devoted and faithful

2nd Lieut. 3rd Zouaves
Place de Constantine.


Br. 1990: 729 | CL: 590c
From: Paul-Eugène Milliet
To: Vincent van Gogh
Date: Guelma, Tuesday, 11 December 1888

1. The Zouave lieutenant Milliet had left Arles on 1 November 1888 for Guelma, a city in the north-east of Algeria.
2. Van Gogh had asked Milliet if he would take charge of Bernard, if the latter were to serve with the Zouaves in Africa during his spell of military service. In exchange for drawing lessons, Milliet would then ensure that Bernard could devote himself to painting. See letter 628.
3. 1 franc 2 sous (1 franc 10 centimes). Compare the editions in the series ‘Oeuvres complètes’ of Honoré de Balzac, which cost ‘1 franc 25 centimes per volume’ in 1884 at Calmann Lévy’s in Paris (this price appears on the cover of Le médecin de campagne).
5. In August 1888 Milliet had brought Theo a batch of Vincent’s paintings (see letter 652).