“Now what shall I say about your little piece about the plants and the rain? You see for yourself in nature that many a flower is trampled, freezes or is parched, further that not every grain of wheat, once it has ripened, ends up in the earth again to germinate there and become a stalk — but far and away the most grains do not develop but go to the mill — don’t they?
Now comparing people with grains of wheat — in every person who’s healthy and natural there’s the power to germinate as in a grain of wheat. And so natural life is germinating.
What the power to germinate is in wheat, so love is in us. Now we, I think, stand there pulling a long face or at a loss for words when, being thwarted in our natural development, we see that germination frustrated and ourselves placed in circumstances as hopeless as they must be for the wheat between the millstones.
If this happens to us and we’re utterly bewildered by the loss of our natural life, there are some among us who, willing to submit themselves to the course of things as they are, nonetheless don’t abandon their self-awareness and want to know how things are with them and what’s actually happening.
And searching with good intentions in the books of which it is said they are a light in the darkness, with the best will in the world we find precious little certain at all and not always satisfaction to comfort us personally. And the diseases from which we civilized people suffer the most are melancholia and pessimism.
Like me, for instance, who can count so many years in my life when I completely lost all inclination to laugh, leaving aside whether or not this was my own fault, I for one need above all just to have a good laugh. I found that in Guy de Maupassant and there are others here, Rabelais among the old writers, Henri Rochefort among today’s, where one can find that — Voltaire in Candide.
On the contrary, if one wants truth, life as it is, De Goncourt, for example, in Germinie Lacerteux, La fille Elisa, Zola in La joie de vivre and L’assommoir and so many other masterpieces paint life as we feel it ourselves and thus satisfy that need which we have, that people tell us the truth.
The work of the French naturalists Zola, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, De Goncourt, Richepin, Daudet, Huysmans is magnificent and one can scarcely be said to belong to one’s time if one isn’t familiar with them. Maupassant’s masterpiece is Bel-ami; I hope to be able to get it for you.
Is the Bible enough for us? Nowadays I believe Jesus himself would again say to those who just sit melancholy, it is not here, it is risen. Why seek ye the living among the dead?
If the spoken or written word is to remain the light of the world, it’s our right and our duty to acknowledge that we live in an age in which it’s written in such a way, spoken in such a way that in order to find something as great and as good and as original, and just as capable of overturning the whole old society as in the past, we can safely compare it with the old upheaval by the Christians.
For my part, I’m always glad that I’ve read the Bible better than many people nowadays, just because it gives me a certain peace that there have been such lofty ideas in the past. But precisely because I think the old is good, I find the new all the more so. All the more so because we can take action ourselves in our own age, and both the past and the future affect us only indirectly.
My own fortunes dictate above all that I’m making rapid progress in growing up into a little old man, you know, with wrinkles, with a bristly beard, with a number of false teeth &c.
But what does that matter? I have a dirty and difficult occupation, painting, and if I weren’t as I am I wouldn’t paint, but being as I am I often work with pleasure, and I see the possibility glimmering through of making paintings in which there’s some youth and freshness, although my own youth is one of those things I’ve lost. If I didn’t have Theo it wouldn’t be possible for me to do justice to my work, but because I have him as a friend I believe that I’ll make more progress and that things will run their course. It’s my plan to go to the south for a while, as soon as I can, where there’s even more colour and even more sun.”
Vincent from Paris in October 1887 to Sister Willemina