...so you must not think that I disavow things - I am rather faithful in my unfaithfulness and, though changed, I am the same;
my only anxiety is :
How can I be of use in the world?
Can't I serve some purpose and be of any good?
How can I learn more and study certain subjects profoundly?
You see, that is what preoccupies me constantly; and then I feel imprisoned by poverty, excluded from participating in certain work, and certain necessities are beyond my reach.
That is one reason for being somewhat melancholy. And then one feels an emptiness where there might be friendship and strong and serious affections, and one feels a terrible discouragement gnawing at one's very moral energy, and fate seems to put a barrier to the instincts of affection, and a choking flood of disgust envelops one. And one exclaims, "How long, my God!"
Well, what shall I say? Do our inner thoughts ever show outwardly?
There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way.
Look here, now, what must be done? Must one tend that inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down near it-maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.
For the moment it seems that things are going very badly with me, and it has already been so for a considerable time and may continue awhile in the future; but after everything has seemed to go wrong, perhaps a time will come when things will go right. I don't count on it, perhaps it will never happen; but if there is a change for the better, I should consider it so much gain, I should be contented, I should say, At last! you see there ~as something after all!
But you will say, Yet you are an intolerable being because you have impossible ideas about religion and childish scruples of conscience. If my ideas are impossible or childish, I hope to get rid of them- I ask no better..............
In the same way I think that everything which is really good and beautiful-of inner moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works-comes from God, and that all which is bad and wrong in men and in their works is not of God, and God does not approve of it.
But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things.
Love a friend, a wife, something-whatever you like-you will be on the way to knowing more about Him; that is what I say to myself.
But one must love with a lofty and serious intimate sympathy, with strength, with intelligence; and one must always try to know deeper, better and more. That leads to God, that leads to unwavering faith.
To give you an example: someone loves Rembrandt, but seriously-that man will know there is a God, he will surely believe it. Someone studies the history of the French Revolution-he will not be unbelieving, he will see that in great things also there is a sovereign power manifesting itself. Maybe for a short time somebody takes a free course at the great university of misery, and pays attention to the things he sees with his eyes and hears with his ears, and thinks them over; he, too, will end in believing, and he will perhaps have learned more than he can tell.
To try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God; one man wrote or told it in a book; another, in a picture. Then simply read the Gospel and the Bible: it makes you think, and think much, and think all the time. Well, think much and think all the time, it raises your thoughts above the ordinary level without your knowing it. We know how to read-well then, let us read!
It is true that there may be moments when one becomes somewhat absentminded, somewhat visionary; some become too absent-minded, too visionary. This is perhaps the case with me, but it is my own fault; maybe there is some excuse after all-I was absorbed, preoccupied, troubled, for some reason-but one overcomes this.
The dreamer sometimes falls into a well, but is said to get out of it afterward. And the absent-minded man also has his lucid intervals in compensation. He is sometimes a person who has his reasons for being as he is, but they are not always understood at first, or are unconsciously forgotten most of the time, from lack of interest.
A man who has been tossed back and forth for a long time, as if on a stormy sea, at last reaches his destination; a man who has seemed good-for-nothing and incapable of any employment, any function, ends in finding one and becoming active and capable of action-he shows himself quite different from what he seemed at first.
I write somewhat at random whatever comes to my pen. I should be very glad if you could see in me something more than an idle fellow. Because there are two kinds of idleness, which are a great contrast to each other.
There is the man who is idle from laziness and from lack of character, from the baseness of his nature. If you like, you may take me for such a one.
On the other hand, there is the idle man who is idle in spite of himself, who is inwardly consumed by a great longing for action but does nothing, because it is impossible for him to do anything, because he seems to be imprisoned in some cage, because he does not possess what he needs to become productive, because circumstances bring him inevitably to that point. Such a man does not always know what he could do, but he instinctively feels, I am good for something, my life has a purpose after all, I know that I could be quite a different man! How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside of me, what can it be? This is quite a different kind of idle man; if you like, you may take me for such a one!
A caged bird in spring knows quite well that he might serve some end; he is well aware that there is something for him to do, but he cannot do it. What is it? He does not quite remember. Then some vague ideas occur to him, and he says to himself, "The others build their nests and lay their eggs and bring up their little ones"; and he knocks his head against the bars of the cage. But the cage remains, and the bird is maddened by anguish.
"Look at that lazy animal," says another bird in passing, "he seems to be living at ease."
Yes, the prisoner lives, he does not die; there are no outward signs of what passes within him-his health is good, he is more or less gay when the sun shines. But then the season of migration comes, and attacks of melancholia-"
But he has everything he wants," say the children that tend him in his cage. He looks through the bars at the overcast sky where a thunderstorm is gathering, and inwardly he rebels against his fate.
"I am caged, I am caged, and you tell me I do not want anything, fools! You think I have everything I need! Oh! I beseech you liberty, that I may be a bird like other birds!"
A certain idle man resembles this idle bird.
And circumstances often prevent men from doing things, prisoners in I do not know what horrible, horrible, most horrible cage. There is also-I know it-the deliverance, the tardy deliverance. A justly or unjustly ruined reputation, poverty, unavoidable circumstances, adversity-that is what makes men prisoners.
One cannot always tell what it is that keeps us shut in, confines us, seems to bury us; nevertheless, one feels certain barriers, certain gates, certain walls. Is all this imagination, fantasy? I don't think so. And one asks, "My God! is it for long, is it forever, is it for all eternity?"
Do you know what frees one from this captivity?
It is every deep, serious affection.
Being friends, being brothers,
that is what opens the prison by some supreme power, by some magic force. Without this, one remains in prison. Where sympathy is renewed, life is restored.
And the prison is also called prejudice, misunderstanding, fatal ignorance of one thing or another, distrust, false shame.
But to speak of other things, if I have come down in the world, you, on the contrary, have risen. If I have lost the sympathy of some, you, on the contrary, have gained it.
That makes me very happy - I say it in all sincerity-and always will. If you hadn't much seriousness or depth, I would fear that it would not last; but as I think you are very serious and of great depth, I believe that it will. But I should be very glad if it were possible for you to see me as something more than an idle man of the worst type.
If ever I can do anything for you, be of some use to you, know that I am at your disposal. As I have accepted what you have given me, you might, in case I could render you some service, ask me to; it would make me happy, and I should consider it a proof of confidence. We are rather far apart, and perhaps we have different views on some things, but nevertheless there may come an hour, there may come a day, when we may be of service to one another.
For the present I shake hands with you, thanking you again for the help you have given me.
If you wish to write me one of these days, my address is, c/o Ch. Decrucq, Rue du Pavillon 3, Cuesmes, near Mons.
And know that a letter from you will do me good.
? jul 1880