To Theo van Gogh. Etten, Monday, 22 July 1878.
My dear Theo,
I’m enclosing a note in the letter from Pa and Ma; was glad to hear things are still going well for you there, and that you also continue to enjoy life. How much I’d like to walk with you there.
As Pa has certainly already written to you, Pa and I went to Brussels last week in the company of the Rev. Jones of Isleworth, who stayed here over Sunday. The impression we brought home from that journey was satisfactory inasmuch as we think that, with time, a place and position can be found there — that the road is most certainly shorter and less expensive than in Holland, and that it’s therefore best to fix our eyes on Belgium and to go on looking there until we find something.
We saw the Flemish training college, it has a 3-year course while, as you know, in Holland the study would take another 6 years at the very least. And one is not even required to complete the training before competing for a place and position as an Evangelist. What is required is the talent to give easy, warm-hearted and popular lectures or speeches to the people, better short and to the point than long and learned. So less attention is paid to great knowledge of ancient languages and much theological study, although everything one knows about such things is a great recommendation, and more consideration is given to one’s suitability for practical work and one’s natural faith. We aren’t there yet, though, first of all because one doesn’t suddenly possess, nor can one acquire it except by much practice, the gift of speaking to the people with earnestness and feeling and without stiffness and forcedness, but naturally and as though constrained by love and as a master of his subject matter, knowing how to say what one has to say to the people clearly and understandably, while what one has to say must have meaning and import and strong grounds to whet his listeners’ interest in it, that they shall endeavour to let their affections take root in truth. In a word, one must be a lay preacher to succeed over there.
Those gentlemen in Brussels wanted me to come there for a period of 3 months to make closer acquaintance, but in the long run this, too, would be costly, and that must be avoided as much as possible. It’s for this reason that at present I shall continue here in Etten to do some work as preparation, going from here from time to time to pay a visit to the Rev. Pieterszen in Mechelen or the Rev. De Jonge in Brussels, in so doing becoming more closely acquainted with one another.
How long things go on like this depends entirely on what else they’ll say over there. Both Pa and I have just written to them again.
Pa wants me to write, to the best of my ability, a theme or two to have on hand (I’m now busy, for instance, on Rembrandt’s painting ‘The carpenter’s house’ in the Louvre). Yesterday Pa had to preach at Zundert, and I went along. The Aunts sent you their regards, we also went to C. van Ginneken who, as you’ve probably heard, is going to marry Marie van Mens and has bought the Ropsentuin to put a tannery there.
Was also at Jan Doomen’s, who has been suffering a lot from rheumatism in his leg, and complains that he wouldn’t even be able to walk to Breda any more, but it didn’t bother him so much working in the field or the garden, only in the morning the pain drove him to get up very early. Old age is accompanied by ailments, the old Rev. Meijjes would say.
What an outstandingly beautiful wood engraving of ‘A young citizen of the year V’ by Jules Goupil was recently published in L’Illustration! Have you seen it? Have managed to get hold of one and it’s now hanging on the wall of the little room here where I’m allowed to take up residence, i.e. the classroom that looks out on the garden and against which the ivy grows. But regarding that painting, the magazine said this: ‘Eyes that have seen the spectacle of the dreadful guillotine, a mind that has survived all the sights of the Revolution. He is almost surprised to find himself still alive after so many disasters’.
It was a remarkable presence in art and will continue to have a similar effect on many and continue to make a deep impression on those with a feeling for high art, like a portrait by Fabritius or some other rather mystical paintings from the school of Rembrandt.
In the evening, when we rode back from Zundert over the heath, Pa and I walked a way, the sun set red behind the pines and the evening sky was reflected in the marshes, the heath and the yellow and white and grey sand were so resonant with tone and atmosphere. You see, there are moments in life when everything, within us too, is peace and atmosphere, and all of life seems to be like a path across the heath, though it isn’t always so.
And this morning Cor, who’s on holiday, and I went to the heath and the pine-wood again, a way past Molenend, and went to fetch heather for his rabbits, which are apparently very fond of it, for it’s their natural food for a good part, as well as a thing or two to fill a flower basket. We sat for a while in the pine-wood, and together we drew a map of Etten and its surroundings with the Bremberg and Haansberg and ’t Slagveld and Geestestraat and Sprundel and Het Heike and Hoeven.
Anna is but poorly, she’s so quiet and sometimes looks so very weak — poor sister — it seems to me that it’s better to be well and truly married than to be engaged, and I should sincerely wish for her sake that she were already safely three years or so further along in life — may God spare her and protect her from all evil, He about Whom it is written that He is our Keeper and our Shade upon our right hand.
Would you give my warm regards to Soek and all his family (if you happen to go there), also to Frans Braat and Ernest and the others if the opportunity should arise? I think about you a lot and am so glad that things are going well for you and that you’re finding things over there that stimulate you and are, as it were, good food for the true life. That too is high art, as are the works of those who work with their heart and with their mind and spirit, just as so many you know and will perhaps meet personally, whose words and works are spirit and life. That you too, and, if possible, all of us may become more and more rooted and grounded in that same principle, so that our affections take root in truth, this is wished you with a hearty handshake in thought by
Your most loving brother