To Theo van Gogh. Isleworth, Saturday, 26 August 1876.
My dear Theo,
Herewith a few words for Mr Tersteeg. The last time I wrote to him I was still in Paris and it’s time I wrote again; we’ve always kept in touch with each other since I left The Hague.
It’s a magnificent morning, the sun is shining through the large acacias on the playground, flashing on the roofs and windows visible behind the garden. There are already threads of gossamer in the garden, and it’s cool in the morning and the boys run back and forth to get warm. I hope to tell them the story of John and Theagenes this evening in their bedroom. I often tell them stories in the evening, such as Le conscrit by Conscience, and Madame Therèse by Erckmann-Chatrian and Oudejaar by Jean Paul, which is enclosed herewith, and Andersen’s fairy tales, ‘The story of a mother, The red shoes, The little matchseller’, King Robert of Sicily by Longfellow, etc. Sometimes something from Dutch history, too.
Every day I teach them biblical history, and that is something more than a pleasure.
Not a day goes by without praying to God and without speaking of God, not only praying but also admitting to it, not only speaking but also holding fast to prayer, Father I pray not that Thou shouldest take me out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep me from the evil. ‘O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our Love for Thee make that bond ever stronger’.
My speaking of Him is nothing much as yet, but with God’s help and blessing it will get better. I have confidence nowadays, but there is greater confidence than this, and greater Love and greater strength to act and to do what is right, a greater yielding to a stronger urge, a better and more profound searching for God and doing His will with a simpler, better and humbler heart, and that’s what I hope for.
Have I ever told you about that painting by Boughton, ‘The pilgrim’s progress’?
It’s getting on towards evening. A sandy road leads over the hills to a mountain on which one sees the holy city lit by the sun setting red behind the grey clouds of evening. On the road a pilgrim who wants to go to that city, he is already tired and asks a woman in black standing by the roadside whose name is ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’,
‘Does the road go uphill then all the way?’
‘Yes to the very end’
‘And will the journey take all day long?’
‘From morn till night my friend’.
The landscape the road goes through is so beautiful, brown heathland with birches and pine trees here and there, and patches of yellow sand, and mountains in the distance, against the sun.
Actually, it’s not a painting but an inspiration.
I’m writing to you between lessons; today I escaped briefly and walked between the hedgerows with ‘John and Theagenes’ in order to memorize it. How I wish you could see the playground now, and the garden behind it, in the twilight, inside the school the gas-lamps flicker and one hears the congenial sound of the boys learning their lessons, from time to time one of them starts humming a snatch of melody from some hymn or other, and there’s something of that ‘faith of old’ in me. I’m still a long way from being what I’d like to be, but with God’s help I’ll succeed. What do I want – – – to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel those bonds. To be sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing. To live in and for Christ, to be one of the poor in His kingdom, leavened with the leaven, inspired by His Spirit, constrained by His Love, resting in the Father with that rest of which I spoke in my last letter. To become one who cannot rest in anything but in Him, who desires nothing on earth beside Him, and who lives in the Love of God and of Christ, in whom we are intimately bound with one another.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father!
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, it is meek, it is woe-spirited, it has woe and spirit, charity is kind; Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, Charity; but the greatest of these is Charity.
I know in Whom my faith is founded,
Though day and night change constantly,
I know the rock on which I’m grounded,
My Saviour waits, unfailingly.
When once life’s evening overcomes me,
Worn down by ills and strife always,
For every day Thou hast allowed me,
I’ll bring Thee higher, purer praise.
May you also have a pleasant evening, may it be so. Thanks for your postcard. Mr Jones hasn’t yet decided what he will do. Give my regards to all who ask after me, in any case Borchers if you see him or any of his family. A handshake in thought from
Your most loving brother,
Just a few more words. I just told the story of John and Theagenes – first in the room where most of the boys sleep and then in the room upstairs where there are 4 others – in the dark, but when I’d finished they had all fallen asleep unnoticed. It’s no wonder, because they ran around a lot today in the playground. Then, too, I speak with some difficulty and I don’t know what it sounds like to English ears. But I’ll learn by practice. I think that the Lord has received me just as I am, with all my shortcomings, although there’s an even deeper kind of receiving for which I hope.
It’s already late. Tomorrow evening I have to tell the same story to the assistant teacher and the two oldest boys, who stay up later. Those three and I eat our bread together in the evenings. When I was telling the story, I heard one of them playing ‘Tell me the old, old story’ on the piano downstairs. It’s already late, and school rules don’t really allow me to stay up this long. Just now I smoked my pipe in the playground, it was so beautiful outside, even in the small yard where the pig lives for most of the year, though it’s not there at the moment. It’s nice to walk around like that everywhere in the evening, upstairs and downstairs. And now good-night and sleep well, and when you say your evening prayers, remember me as I do you. Good-night, old boy, a handshake in thought from
Your most loving brother