Paris 5 July.

My dear brother,
This time I’ll try to write to you in French, first I know that you like it more, and then with both of us expressing ourselves in the same language we’ll eventually understand each other better, I believe. Only I’m not at all accustomed to writing in French, and I fear I may make mistakes which will seem very ridiculous to you – but I’m going to do my best. I very much hope that in a while I’ll be able to express myself better – if now the foreigners I meet don’t speak English, the conversation isn’t at all animated, I can assure you.
I’m going to begin by telling you a great piece of news which  1v:2 has greatly occupied us lately – it is that this winter, around February probably, we’re hoping to have a baby, a pretty little boy – whom we’ll call Vincent if you’ll consent to be his godfather.1 I’m well aware that we ought not to count on it too much, and that it could also be a little girl, but Theo and I always imagine it as a boy. When we wrote to Amsterdam and Breda2 everyone replied ‘aren’t you pleased, what joy’, etc. etc. – and yet to tell the truth, when I found out I wasn’t at all pleased, on the contrary I was very unhappy, and Theo had a great deal of  1v:3 difficulty consoling me. It isn’t that I don’t like babies – my little brother who is now twelve,3 I had him in my arms when he was scarcely two hours old, I adored him and I think there’s nothing prettier in the world than a little child – but that’s a slightly selfish pleasure. When I think that neither Theo nor I are in very good health, I’m very afraid that we may make a weak child, and for me the greatest treasure that parents can give their child is a good constitution. But the doctor reassured me greatly on that score, and then good food and good care can do a great deal – and it won’t  1r:4 lack for those. Do you remember the portrait of the Roulin baby you sent Theo?4 Everyone admires it greatly, and many times now people have asked ‘but why have you put this portrait in this out-of-the-way corner?’ It’s because – from my place at table I can just see the child’s big blue eyes, its pretty little hands and round cheeks, and I like to imagine that ours will be as strong, as healthy and as beautiful as that one – and because his uncle will consent to do his portrait one day!
In one of your recent letters you asked Theo if he was still dining at the restaurant?5 Not at all – never – what’s the good of being married if one couldn’t even dine at home? He always comes  2r:5 for lunch at midday and comes home at seven-thirty for dinner. Often in the evening someone comes. Isaäcson or NibbrigMr Tersteeg has dined with us twice, De Haan has also come to see us6 – and when he was there Mr Pissarro and his son7 came too. Generally we’re very tired in the evening and we go to bed early – however I find that Theo is looking not at all well,8 but he has been caused a great deal of fatigue by that Secrétan sale,9 and then the heat is so unbearable! Don’t talk to me about Paris in this weather, and Theo says that it’s even worse in August!
I read with great pleasure what you wrote to Theo about reading  2v:6 Shakespeare.10 Isn’t it beautiful – and so few people know it, ‘It’s too difficult,’ people say – but that isn’t true – as for me I understand it much better than Zola. But when I think that it’s almost 300 years since these so beautiful things were written I think that the world hasn’t progressed much in these times. When I was in London I once saw The merchant of Venice at the theatre11 – and then the effect that it produced was considerably greater than by only reading it. I’ve also seen Hamlet and Macbeth, but in Dutch.12 Then it loses a good deal. Now I’m going to bid you good-day. If you would like, write and tell us your opinion about our little boy, for a boy it must be.

Your sister


Br. 1990: 789 | CL: T11
From: Jo van Gogh-Bonger
To: Vincent van Gogh
Date: Paris, Friday, 5 July 1889

1. On 31 January 1890 Jo gave birth to a boy, who was named after his godfather: Vincent Willem. On 27 June 1889, Jo van Gogh-Bonger wrote to her family in Amsterdam: ‘we have already talked about what we should call our little boy. Theo would like “Vincent” but I don’t attach much importance to names’ (FR b4290).
2. Jo’s parents lived in Amsterdam; Mrs van Gogh and Willemien lived in Breda.
3. Jo’s youngest brother, Willem (Wim) Adriaan Bonger.
4. Marcelle Roulin (F 441 / JH 1641 [2753]); this canvas was included in the third consignment of paintings from Arles (see letter 767).
5. Van Gogh asked this in letter 782.
6. On 27 June 1889, Jo wrote to her family that De Haan had come from Pont-Aven to attend a family reunion in Saint-Cloud (FR b4290). De Haan himself later wrote that he had come for ‘the Paris exhibition’ (FR b1042).
Jo’s new role as hostess was not always easy for her. In fact, Jo’s sister Mien wrote: ‘Weren’t you scared when Tersteegh ate at your place? If I were you, I’d always take too much in future, if someone is coming to eat, it can’t do any harm, after all. Don’t you ever have a joint of beef, like you had at Annie’s?’ (FR b2909, 12 June 1889).
8. On 11 July, Jo wrote to her sister Mien: ‘Theo has not been well all along – he coughs and looks thin and pale, I don’t know what it is – he eats like a horse ... He says he would like to have a week’s holiday and go outdoors! If only that were true’ (FR b4291).
9. Regarding the Secrétan sale, see letter 785, n. 8.
10. Van Gogh had written about Shakespeare in letter 784.
11. On 17 July 1883 Jo wrote in her diary about her ‘delight at seeing the Merchant of Venice acted. How great, how immense a genius must Shakespeare have possessed, that still now after almost three centuries his work delights and attracts alike all nations. How well I remember the time, when I said that I could not understand how people always rave about Shakespeare. Now I have understood it and feel proud of it for it shows me that at least I have made some progress. The scene which struck me most was: Portia in the habit of a young barrister, her hands lifted up to heaven, exclaiming in her sweet tender voice
The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.....
The scenery was splendid and I do not think it will be easy to efface from my memory that sight of Venice with its palaces and terraces and gondolas and masques and splendour and luxury. I am very glad I saw it’ (FR b4550. Cf. also FR b1769).
The quotation is from act 4, scene 2. See The merchant of Venice. Ed. John Russell Brown. 7th ed. London 1959, p. 111. The production Jo saw took place in London’s Lyceum Theatre and was directed by Henry Irving. Ellen Terry played the role of Portia. The programme is to be found in the estate (FR b3682). Cf. also Alan Hughes, Henry Irving, Shakespearean. Cambridge 1981.
12. The Dutch performances that Jo probably saw were produced by the Koninklijke Vereeniging het Nederlandsch toneel. On 21 January 1882 this company performed Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Grand Théâtre in Amsterdam (and the next day in the Royal Theatre of The Hague). Macbeth was performed on 15 and 17 September 1887 in the Amsterdam Municipal Theatre (and on the 18th in The Hague). See Amsterdam, Archives Theaterinstituut, and cf. Robert Leek, Shakespeare in Nederland. Kroniek van vier eeuwen Shakespeare in Nederlandse vertalingen en op het Nederlands toneel. Zutphen 1988.