To Theodorus van Gogh and Anna van Gogh-Carbentus. Ramsgate, Monday, 17 April 1876.
Dear Father and Mother,
By now you’ve no doubt received the telegram, but will be wanting to know more particulars. I wrote down a few things in the train and am sending you that, so you can see how my trip went.
We want to stay together today. Which would be better, the joy of seeing each other again or the sadness of parting?
We’ve often parted from each other already, though this time there was more sorrow than before, on both sides, but courage as well, from the firmer faith in, and greater need for, blessing. And wasn’t it as though nature sympathized with us? It was so grey and rather dismal a couple of hours ago.
Now I look out over rolling pastures, and everything is so quiet and the sun is setting behind the grey clouds and throws a golden glow across the land. How much we long for each other, those first hours after parting, which you’re spending in church and I in the station and the train, and how much we think of the others, of Theo, and of Anna and the other sisters and of little brother.
We just passed Zevenbergen, and I thought of the day you took me there and I stood on Mr Provily’s steps and watched your carriage driving away down the wet street. And then the evening when my Father came to visit me for the first time. And that first homecoming at Christmas.
Saturday and Sunday.
How much I thought of Anna on the boat; everything there reminded me of our journey together. The weather was clear, and on the Maas especially it was beautiful, also the view from the sea of the dunes, gleaming white in the sun. The last thing one saw of Holland was a small grey tower.
I stayed on deck until sunset, but then it grew cold and dismal. The next morning in the train from Harwich to London it was beautiful to see in the morning twilight the black fields and green pastures with sheep and lambs, and here and there a hedge of thorn-bushes and a few large oak trees with dark branches and grey, moss-covered trunks. The blue twilit sky, still with a few stars, and a bank of grey clouds above the horizon. Even before the sun rose I heard a lark.
When we arrived at the last station before London the sun rose. The bank of grey clouds had disappeared and there was the sun, so simple and as big as possible, a real Easter sun. The grass was sparkling with dew and night frost.
And yet I prefer that grey hour when we parted. Saturday afternoon I stayed on deck until the sun was down. The water was quite dark blue as far as one could see, with rather high waves with white crests. The coast had already disappeared from view. The sky was light blue, burnished and without a cloud. And the sun went down and cast a streak of dazzling light on the water.
It was a truly grand and majestic sight, and yet simpler, quieter things move one so much more deeply, for now I couldn’t help shuddering, and thought of the night in the stuffy saloon with smoking and singing passengers.
A train was leaving for Ramsgate 2 hours after my arrival in London. That’s another train ride of around 4 1/2 hours. It’s a beautiful ride; we passed, among other things, a hilly region. The hills have a sparse covering of grass at the bottom and oak woods on the top. It’s very similar to our dunes. Between those hills lay a village with a grey church covered with ivy like most of the houses. The orchards were in blossom, and the sky was light blue with grey and white clouds.
We also came past Canterbury, a town which still has a lot of medieval buildings, in particular a splendid church with old elm trees around it. Often, already, I’ve seen something of this town in paintings.
You can imagine how I sat looking out of the window, watching well ahead of time for Ramsgate. I arrived at Mr Stokes’s around 1 o’clock. He was away from home but will be coming back this evening. During his absence his place was taken by his son (23 years old, I think), a schoolmaster in London.
I saw Mrs Stokes in the afternoon at table. There are 24 boys between the ages of 10 and 14. (It was a fine sight, seeing those 24 boys eating.) So the school isn’t large. The window looks out onto the sea.
After eating we went for a walk by the sea, it’s beautiful there. The houses on the sea are mostly built of yellow brick in a simple Gothic style, and have gardens full of cedars and other dark evergreen shrubs.
There’s a harbour full of ships, closed in by stone jetties on which one can walk. And further out one sees the sea in its natural state, and that’s beautiful. Yesterday everything was grey.
In the evening we went to church with the boys. On the wall of the church was written ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’. The boys go to bed at 8 o’clock and get up at 6.
There’s another assistant teacher, 17 years old. He, 4 boys and I sleep in another house close by, where I have a small room, which wants some prints on the wall.
And now enough for today, what a good time we had together, thank you, thank you for everything. Many regards to Lies, Albertine and little brother, and in thought a handshake from
Thanks for your letters which just arrived; more soon, when I’ve been here a few days and have seen Mr Stokes.