My dear Theo,
As long as my mind was so out of sorts it would have been fruitless to try and write to you to reply to your kind letter. Today I’ve just returned home for the time being, I hope for good.1 There are so many moments when I feel completely normal, and actually it would seem to me that, if what I have is only a sickness peculiar to this area, I should wait quietly here until it’s over. Even if it were to happen again (which, let’s say, won’t be the case).
But here is what I’m saying once and for all to you and to Mr Rey. If sooner or later it were desirable that I should go to Aix, as has already been suggested2 – I consent in advance and will submit to it.
But in my capacity as painter and workman it isn’t permissible for anyone, not even you or the doctor, to take such a course of action without warning me and consulting me myself about it too, because as up to now I’ve always kept my relative presence of mind3 for my work, it’s my right to say then  1v:2 (or at least to have an opinion on) what would be best, to keep my studio here or to move completely to Aix. That in order to avoid the expenses and the losses of a move as much as possible, and not to do it except in the event of an absolute emergency.
It appears that the people around here have a legend that makes them afraid of painting and that people talked about that in the town.4 Good. As for me, I know that it’s the same thing in Arabia, and yet we have heaps of painters in Africa, don’t we? Which proves that with a little firmness one can alter these prejudices, or at least do one’s painting all the same. The unfortunate thing is that I’m rather inclined to be impressed, to feel the beliefs of other people myself and not always to laugh at the foundation of truth that there may be in the absurd.
Besides, Gauguin is like that too, as you were able to observe, and was himself also tired out at the time of his stay by some malaise or other.
As I’ve already been staying here for more than a year, and have heard people say pretty much all the bad things possible about me, about Gauguin, about painting in general,  1v:3 why shouldn’t I take things as they are and wait for the outcome here.
Where can I go that’s worse than where I’ve already been twice – the isolation cell.5 The advantages that I have here are, as Rivet would say – first – ‘they’re all sick’ here, and so at least I don’t feel alone.
Then, as you well know, I love Arles so much, although Gauguin is darned right to call it the filthiest town in all of the south.
And I’ve found so much friendship already from the neighbours,6 from Mr Rey, from everyone at the hospital for that matter, that really I’d prefer to be always ill here than to forget the kindness there is in the same people who have the most incredible prejudices towards painters and painting, or in any case have no clear and healthy idea whatsoever about it as we do.
Then at the hospital they know me now, and if this were to come on again it would pass in silence, and at the hospital they’d know what to do. I have absolutely no desire to be treated by other doctors, nor do I feel the need for it.  1r:4
The only desire I might have is to be able to continue to earn with my own hands what I spend.
Koning has written me a very kind letter, saying that he and a friend would probably come to the south with me for a long time. That in response to a letter I wrote him a few days ago.7 I no longer dare to urge painters to come here after what has happened to me, they run the risk of losing their heads like me. The same thing for De Haan and Isaäcson.
Let them go to Antibes, Nice, Menton, it’s perhaps healthier.
Mother and our sister also wrote to me, the latter was very upset about the sick woman she was caring for.8 At home they’re very pleased about your marriage.
Be well aware that you mustn’t preoccupy yourself with me too much, nor fret yourself.
It must probably run its course, and we couldn’t change very much about our fate with precautions.
Once again, let’s try to seize our fate in whatever form it comes. Our sister wrote to me that your fiancée would come to stay with them for a while.9 That is well done. Ah well, I shake your hand most heartily, and let us not be discouraged. Believe me

Ever yours,

Warm regards to Gauguin, I hope he’s going to write to me, I’ll write to him too.

Address next letter place Lamartine.


Br. 1990: 751 | CL: 577
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Monday, 18 February 1889

1. Around 4 February 1889 Van Gogh suffered a second mental breakdown. Rev. Frédéric Salles informed Theo on 7 February that Vincent had been readmitted to hospital that day, and that the doctors advised him to have himself admitted to an asylum. Salles wrote: ‘For three days he has thought he is being poisoned and just sees poisoners and victims of poison everywhere. The cleaning woman, who is showing considerable devotion in caring for him, faced with his more than abnormal condition, felt it her duty to tell others, and neighbours brought it to the attention of the police ... Today, according to the cleaning woman, he has refused all food; he hardly spoke yesterday and this morning and sometimes his behaviour frightened this poor woman who told me that she wouldn’t be able to go on looking after him in this state’ (Depuis trois jours il se croit empoisonné et ne voit partout que des empoisonneurs ou des empoisonnés. La femme de ménage qui le soigne avec un certain dévouement, en présence de son état plus qu’anormal, a cru de son devoir de signaler la chose, qui a été par les voisins portée à la connaissance du commissaire central ... Aujourd’hui, à ce qui m’a dit la femme de ménage, il s’est réfusé à prendre la moindre nourriture; toute la journée d’hier et la matinée d’aujourd’hui il a peu parlé et son attitude a quelquefois inspiré de crainte à cette pauvre femme qui m’a déclaré qu’en l’état elle ne pouvait plus continuer à lui accorder ses soins.) (FR b1046).
On 12 February Dr Rey wrote to Theo: ‘The first day, he was greatly overexcited, and his delirium was general. He no longer recognised me or Mr Salles. Since yesterday, however, I have noted a perceptible improvement. He is less delirious, and he recognises me. He talks to me about painting, but sometimes he loses his train of thought and speaks nothing but disjointed words and jumbled phrases’ (FR b1057). For this letter, see Documentation, 12 February 1889.
Acting on the orders of chief of police Joseph d’Ornano (see letter 750), the doctor Albert Delon examined Van Gogh on 7 February. Delon was a member of the hospital board and employed as a doctor by the Bureau de bienfaisance (L’indicateur marseillais 1889). He wrote the following in his report: ‘I found this man in a state of extreme excitement, suffering from a true delirium, pronouncing incoherent words, only momentarily recognising the people around him. He is subject in particular to auditory hallucinations (he hears voices uttering reproaches against him) and to an idée fixe, according to which he is supposed to have been the victim of an attempted poisoning. This patient’s condition appears very serious to us, and appears to require close surveillance and treatment in a special asylum, as his mental faculties are profoundly impaired.’ (J’ai trouvé cet homme dans un état d’exaltation complet, en proie à un véritable délire, prononçant des paroles incohérentes, ne reconnaissant que par instants les personnes qui l’entourent. Il est particulièrement en proie à des hallucinations de l’ouïe (il entend des voix qui lui adressent des reproches) et à une idée fixe, d’après laquelle il aurait été victime d’une tentative d’empoisonnement. L’état de ce malade nous paraît fort grave et nous semble nécessiter une surveillance vigilante ainsi qu’un traitement dans un asile spécial, car ses facultés mentales sont profondément altérées.) (ACA). For a photograph of the report, see Van Gogh à Arles. Dessins 1888-1889. Documents originaux, photographies. Exhib. cat. Arles (Fondation Vincent van Gogh), 2003. Arles 2003, p. 62.
2. Regarding the plans to transfer Van Gogh to an asylum in Aix-en-Provence, see letter 745, n. 6.
3. Van Gogh added ‘relative’ later.
4. This is no doubt Van Gogh’s own interpretation. It is true that people were afraid of him, because a short while later residents of the neighbourhood demanded that he be confined (see letter 750). As far as we know, there was no specific legend in Arles that instilled a fear of painting. What Van Gogh says here about the attitude of people in southern France and Arabic countries towards art and artists is a well-known topos. Cf. Kris and Kurz 1979, pp. 147, 151. In connection with Van Gogh’s remark, Merlhès quotes a letter written by the painter Henri Regnault 20 years earlier, in which he writes about a superstition prevailing among the gypsies in Spain, which forbade them to have their portraits made, fearing it would cause them to die. See Merlhès 1989, p. 221 (n. 2).
5. For Van Gogh’s first confinement in the padded cell, see letter 743, n. 10. On 7 February he had again been placed in ‘a private cell’ (une cellule particulière), as Salles wrote to Theo (FR b1046).
6. Regarding Van Gogh’s neighbours, see letter 744, n. 6.
7. This was letter 746 of 15 February; Van Gogh’s letter of ‘a few days ago’ was letter 740, written on or about 22 January.
8. Willemien and her sister Elisabeth were nursing Catharina du Quesne van Bruchem-Van Willis (see letter 426, n. 1), who died a short time later, on 17 May 1889.
9. Jo stayed from 21 February to 7 March with Mrs van Gogh and Willemien in Breda. See Brief happiness 1999 pp. 174, 198.