To Theodorus van Gogh and Anna van Gogh-Carbentus. Isleworth, Friday, 17 and Saturday, 18 November 1876.
Dear Father and Mother,
Thank God Theo continues to get better, and bully for him, already walking in the snow to Het Heike with Pa, how I’d have liked to walk along with you both. It’s already late, and early tomorrow morning I have to go to London and Lewisham for Mr Jones, where I hope to drop by and see Gladwell. It will be late at night before I’m home again.
Where do Mr Jones and the others get their income from? Yes, I’ve thought about that many times. Here one often hears it said that God takes care of those who work for Him. I dearly long to talk to you about this and to confer. You then ask, too, whether I still give lessons to the boys: I do so every day until 1 o’clock, and then after 1 o’clock I usually have to go out for Mr Jones, or sometimes also teach Mr Jones’s children or a couple of boys in town. And then in the evening and in my spare moments I write in my sermon book.
Last Sunday I arrived at Turnham Green early to teach at Sunday school; it was a real, English, rainy day. In the morning Mr Jones delivered a sermon on the woman of Samaria, and afterwards there was Sunday school. I also have to do this during the week; there are quite a few children, but it’s a job to round them all up regularly. In the afternoon Mr Jones and his son and I went and had tea with the sexton, a shoemaker who lives in one of the suburbs. There was a view from the window there that reminded me very much of Holland – a flat, grass-covered area, which the torrential rains had turned almost into a morass, surrounded by rows of little red houses with their gardens and the lights of the street-lamps that were being lit. In the evening Mr Jones delivered a sermon on Naaman the Syrian, very beautiful, and afterwards the walk home. Last Thursday Mr Jones let me take his turn, and I took as my text ‘I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds’.
Next Sunday evening I have to go to Petersham to a Methodist church; Petersham is a village on the Thames, about 20 minutes beyond Richmond; I don’t know yet what I’ll talk about, the prodigal son8 or Ps. 42:1
Mornings and evenings Sunday school at Turnham Green.
And so the weeks pass and we approach winter, and the congenial Christmas festivities. Tomorrow I have to be in two remote parts of London, in Whitechapel – that extremely poor area which you’ll have read about in Dickens – and then cross the Thames in a boat and from there to Lewisham.
Mr Jones’s children are better again, but now 3 of the boys have the measles.
This week I had to go on a journey for Mr Jones with one of the boys to Acton Green, which is that grassy area that the sexton’s window looks out on.
It was surprisingly muddy there, but it was a beautiful sight when it began to grow dark and the mist rose and one saw the light of a small church in the middle of the green. And to our left were railway tracks on a rather high embankment, and at that moment a train came, and that was a beautiful sight, the red glow of the locomotive and the rows of lights inside the carriages in the twilight. To our right a few horses were grazing in a meadow surrounded by a hedge of hawthorn and blackberry bushes.
As I sit writing to you in my room and it’s so very, very quiet and I look around at your portraits and the prints on the wall, Christus Consolator and Good Friday and the Women at the sepulchre and The old Huguenot and The prodigal son by Ary Scheffer and the little boat on a stormy sea and one etching, an autumn landscape, view of the heath, which I got from Harry Gladwell on my birthday, and when I think of all of you and then of all those here and of Turnham Green and Richmond and Petersham &c., then I feel ‘Stay, Lord, and hear the prayer my Mother said for me when I left my parent’s house: Father, I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil, and, Lord, oh if Thou would only make me, not only almost but altogether, as it were, my Father’s brother, a Christian and a Christian worker. Complete Thy work in me which Thou hast begun. Yea, make me, slowly but surely, step by step, and almost and altogether, my Father’s brother.
And O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.’
And now good-night to you both and to Theo and Willemien and Cor, I’m longing again for a letter from you. Good-night, I have to get up early tomorrow, a handshake in thought from
Your most loving and affectionate
From the other end of L. I bid you all good-day! I left this morning at 4 o’clock, now it’s 2. I just came through the old cabbage fields, now on to Lewisham. A man sometimes says, how shall I manage it? Adieu.