To Theo van Gogh. Welwyn, Saturday, 17 June 1876.
My dear Theo,
Last Monday I left Ramsgate for London. That’s a long walk indeed, and when I left it was awfully hot and it remained so until the evening, when I arrived at Canterbury. That same evening I walked a bit further until I came to a couple of large beeches and elms next to a small pond, where I rested for a while. In the morning at half past 3 the birds began to sing upon seeing the morning twilight, and I continued on my way. It was good to walk then. In the afternoon I arrived at Chatham, where, in the distance, past partly flooded, low-lying meadows, with elms here and there, one sees the Thames full of ships. It’s always grey weather there, I think. There I met a cart that brought me a couple of miles further, but then the driver went into an inn and I thought he might stay there a long time, so I walked on and arrived towards evening in the well-known suburbs of London and walked on towards the city down the long, long ‘Roads’. I stayed in London for two days and often ran from one end of the city to the other in order to see various people, including a minister to whom I’d written. Herewith a translation of the letter, I’m sending it to you because you should know that the feeling I have as I start out is ‘Father, I am not worthy!’ and ‘Father be merciful to me!’ Should I find anything it will probably be a situation somewhere between minister and missionary, in the suburbs of London among working folk. Don’t speak about this to anyone, Theo. My salary at Mr Stokes’s will be very small. Probably only board and lodging and some free time in which to teach, or if there’s no free time, at most 20 pounds a year.
But to continue: I spent one night at Mr Reid’s and the next at Mr Gladwell’s, where they were very, very kind. Mr Gladwell kissed me good-night and that did me good, may it be granted me sometime in the future to show some more friendship to his son every now and then. I wanted to leave for Welwyn that evening, but they literally held me back by force because of the pouring rain. However, when it had let up somewhat, around 4 in the morning, I set out for Welwyn. First a long walk from one end of the city to the other, something like 10 miles (each taking 20 minutes). In the afternoon at 5, I was with our sister and was very glad to see her. She looks well and you would be as pleased with her room as I am, with ‘Good Friday’, ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’, ‘Mater Dolorosa’ &c. with ivy around them instead of frames. Old boy, when you read my letter to that minister you’ll perhaps say: he’sb not so bad after all, though in fact he is. Think of him as he is, however, every once in a while. A handshake in thought from
Your loving brother
A clergyman’s son, who, because he must work to earn a living, has no money and no time to study at King’s College,10 and who, besides that, is already a couple of years older than is usual for someone starting there, and has not even begun on the preparatory studies of Latin and Greek, would, in spite of everything, dearly like to find a situation connected with the church, even though the position of a clergyman who has had college training is beyond his reach.
My father is a clergyman in a village in Holland. When I was 11 years old I started going to school and stayed there until I was 16. At that time I had to choose a profession and didn’t know what to choose. Through the offices of one of my uncles, an associate in the firm of Goupil & Co., art dealers and publishers of engravings, I was given a position in his branch at The Hague. I worked for the firm for 3 years. From there I went to London to learn English, and after 2 years from there to Paris. Forced by various circumstances to quit the firm, however, I left Messrs G.&Co. and have since taught for 2 months at Mr Stokes’s school at Ramsgate. As my goal is a situation connected with the church, however, I must look further.
Although I have not been trained for the church, perhaps my past life of travelling, living in various countries, associating with a variety of people, rich and poor, religious and not religious, working at a variety of jobs, days of manual labour in between days of office work &c., perhaps also my speaking various languages, will compensate in part for my lack of formal training. But what I should prefer to give as my reason for commending myself to you is my innate love of the church and that which concerns the church, which has at times lain dormant, though it awakened repeatedly, and – if I may say so, despite feelings of great inadequacy and shortcoming – the Love of God and of humankind. And also, when I think of my past life and of my father’s house in that Dutch village, a feeling of ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants. Be merciful to me.’ When I was living in London I often attended your church and I have not forgotten you. Now I am asking you for a recommendation in my search for a situation, and to keep a fatherly eye on me should I find such a situation. I have been left very much to myself; I believe that your fatherly eye could do me good, now that
The early dew of morning
has passed away at noon.
Thanking you in advance for whatever you may be willing to do for me...