To Theo van Gogh. Dordrecht, Wednesday, 7 and Thursday, 8 February 1877.
My dear Theo,
Adam Bede costs 2.60 guilders, so herewith you get back 1.40 guilders. Now I only hope that it will give them some pleasure at home, but no doubt it will.
Thanks for your letter, which made me so happy. When next we meet we’ll look each other straight in the eye. I sometimes think how wonderful it is that we have the same ground beneath our feet and that we speak the same language.
Last week we were flooded here. Coming from the shop between 12 and 1 at night, I took another turn around the Grote Kerk. The wind was blowing hard in the elm trees surrounding it, and the moon shone through the rain-clouds and reflected in the canals that were already filled to the brim. At 3 o’clock in the morning we were all rushing around at Rijken’s, the grocer in whose house I’m lodging, bringing things upstairs from the shop, because the water was an ell high in the house. There was quite a bit of commotion, and in all the downstairs rooms people were busy bringing upstairs what they could, and a small boat came down the street. In the morning, when it was beginning to grow light, one saw a group of men at the end of the street, wading one after another to their warehouses. There’s a lot of damage, the water has also got into the place where Mr Braat keeps his paper &c., not because of the flood but because of the great pressure coming from under the ground.
Mr Braat says it will cost him a banknote of the largest kind. It took us a day and a half to carry everything to an upstairs flat. Working with your hands like that for a day is a welcome change, though it was a pity it was for that reason. You should have seen the sun go down that evening, the streets shone of gold, the way Cuyp used to paint them.
Longing to have my trunk, which is on the way, one reason being to have some prints hanging in my room again. I now have Christus Consolator, which you gave me, and two English woodcuts, namely the Supper at Emmaus: ‘But they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent’, and another: ‘They that sat in darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great light’; ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’. There can come a time in life when one is tired of everything, as it were, and has the feeling as if everything that one does is wrong, and there’s certainly some truth in that – is this a feeling that one ought to avoid and repress, or it is rather ‘the godly sorrow’ that one must not fear but carefully consider whether it can perhaps compel us to do good – is it perhaps ‘the godly sorrow that worketh a choice not to be repented of’? And at such times, in which one feels tired of oneself, one may think with heedfulness, hope and love of the words ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your soul. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light’. ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’ At such times one may well reflect upon: ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’. If we let ourselves be taught by the experience of life and led by godly sorrow, then new vitality may spring from the tired heart. If we are once good and tired, then we shall believe more firmly in God, and shall find in Christ, through His word, a Friend and Comforter. And then there may be times when we feel ‘thou removest my iniquities from me as far as the east is from the west’, when we feel something of ‘the zeal for Thine house hath eaten me up’ and ‘our God is a consuming fire’ – when we shall again know what it is to be fervent in spirit. Hope will not always fade away.
Let us not forget ‘the things which we have heard from the beginning’.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Nothing shall separate us from the Love of Christ, neither things present, nor things to come.
Rejoice on earth, praise God on high,
Let thankful tears stream from your eye
For Him from whom all blessings flow.
This joyful day then celebrate,
The greatest the world has seen to date,
On its horizon all aglow.
Still welcoming us, that blessed night,
In which the stars with beauteous light
And heavenly hosts with one glad voice
In Jesus’ coming do rejoice.
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,V Worn down by ills and strife always,
For every day Thou hast allowed me,
I’ll bring Thee higher, purer praise.
The panting hart, the hunt escapèd,
Cries no harder for the pleasure
Of fresh flowing streams of water
Than my soul doth long for God.
Yea, my soul thirsts for the Lord,
God of life, oh when shall I
Approach Thy sight, and drawing nigh,
Give Thee praise in Thine own house.
Why art thou cast down, my soul,
Disquieted in me, oh why?
Foster again the faith of old,
Rejoice in praising Him most high.
Oft hath he taken your distress
And turned it into happiness.
Hope in Him, eyes heavenward raised,
For to my God I still give praise.
Hope will not always fade forever.
Last Sunday morning I was in the French church here, which is very serious and dignified and has something very appealing. The text was Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. The end of the sermon was ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning’.
After church I took a lovely walk alone on a dyke running past the mills, there was a brilliant sky above the meadows that was reflected in the ditches. There are curious things in other countries, such as the French coast which I saw at Dieppe – the chalk cliffs with green grass on top – the sea and sky – the harbour with old boats like Daubigny paints them, with brown nets and sails, the small houses including a couple of restaurants with little white curtains and green pine branches in the window – the carts with white horses with big blue halters decorated with red tassels – the drivers with their blue smocks, the fishermen with their beards and oiled clothing and the French women with pale faces, dark, often somewhat deep-set eyes, black dress and white cap, and such as the streets of London in the rain with the street-lamps, and a night spent there on the steps of an old, small grey church, as happened to me this summer after that journey from Ramsgate – there are certainly curious things in other countries, too – but last Sunday when I was walking alone on that dyke, I thought how good that Dutch soil was, and I felt something akin to ‘today it is in mine heart to make a covenant with my God’ – because memories of times past came back to me, including how often we walked with Pa to Rijsbergen and so on in the last days of February and heard the lark above the black fields with young green wheat, the shimmering blue sky with white clouds above – and then the paved road with the beech trees – O Jerusalem Jerusalem! or rather O Zundert O Zundert! Who knows but that we may go walking at the seaside together this summer? We really must remain good friends, Theo, and simply believe in God and trust with that faith of old in Him who is able to do above all that we ask or think – who can say to what heights grace can ascend?
Hearty congratulations for today, it’s already half past 1 and therefore already 8 February. May God spare our Father for us for a long time yet ‘and may He join us intimately to one another and let our love of Him make that bond ever stronger’.
Pa wrote that he had already seen starlings, do you remember how they used to sit on the church at Zundert? I haven’t seen any here yet – though there are a lot of crows on the Grote Kerk in the mornings. Now it’s almost spring again and the larks will return again. ‘He reneweth the face of the earth’ and it is written, Behold, I make all things new, and just as He renews the face of the earth, so can He renew and strengthen the human soul and heart and mind – the nature of every true son somewhat resembles that of the son in the parable who ‘was dead, and is alive again’. Let us not forget the words ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’, ‘unknown, and yet well known’, and write the word woe-spiritedness as two words, woe and spiritedness, and believe in God who in His own good time can make the loneliness disappear which we sometimes feel so much even in the bustle, of whom Joseph said ‘He hath made me forget my Father’s house and all my sorrow’ – and yet Joseph did not forget his father – you know that of course, but you also know what he meant by those words. Do keep well, give my regards to everyone at the Rooses’, and especially to Mr Tersteeg and his wife, and accept in thought a handshake, and believe me
Your most loving brother,
Tell Mr Tersteeg that he shouldn’t be upset about the drawing examples being away for so long, it’s for the high school, 30 have already been chosen – but they still want to select some for the secondary school, which is why they have to keep them for another week or so. You’ll get them back as soon as possible.
Old boy, send me that page from Michelet again, the one you sent me earlier is in my reading-desk57 in my trunk and I need it again – do write again soon.