To Theo van Gogh. Dordrecht, Monday, 30 April 1877.
My dear Theo,
My hearty congratulations on this day, many happy returns, have a good day tomorrow, and many good days in the year you’re now beginning. Time passes quickly and the days fly past – yet something can remain and the past isn’t entirely lost – we can become richer and firmer of spirit, of character, of heart, we can become richer in God, we can become richer in the fine gold of life, the love for one another and the feeling ‘and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me’. May it be so for all of us, it is a good prayer, that one of Father’s: O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.
I hope to see you soon, because when I go to Amsterdam I’m planning to stop in The Hague for a while. Don’t tell anyone about this, though, because my main purpose in doing so is to see you.
I’m going to Etten this Wednesday, to stay there for a few days before putting my hand to the plough.
I should have liked you to be here yesterday; in the morning I heard the Rev. Hooyer’s farewell sermon in the little French church. The church was full, he spoke with fire and feeling, I was moved by the sight of that distinguished, singular congregation, the mood was very earnest. He thanked them for the love that he had received from many of them, especially at difficult times, in the beginning, four years ago, when he was wrestling with the difficulties of speaking in French, because he’s a Dutchman. There were various other clergymen in the congregation.
In the afternoon I went to the Grote Kerk to hear the Rev. Keller van Hoorn, whose text was ‘Our Father’; in the evening I heard the Rev. Greeff, whom I’d heard on my first Sunday evening here in Dordrecht. By chance, he took for his sermon yesterday the same text he had taken that first time: Now we see through a glass, darkly; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.
After church I walked along that path behind the station where we walked together, thinking of you and wishing we could be together – and kept on walking until I came to the cemetery at the end of a black cinder road running through the meadows that looked so beautiful in the twilight. The cemetery looks a little like that drawing by Apol in ‘Eigen Haard’, there’s a canal around it and there’s a house surrounded by pine trees, yesterday evening the light was shining through the windows in such a friendly way – it’s an old house that looks like a parsonage.
There can still be much good in store for both of us, let us learn to say after Pa ‘I never despair’ and after Uncle Jan ‘the devil is never so black that one cannot look him in the face’.
Write again soon, this Wednesday, then, I’ll be in Etten. Do you have De Plancy, Légendes des artistes, with woodcuts after Rochussen? I hope to bring it for you.
These last few days I’ve managed, in between times, to work my way through the whole story of Christ from a catechism book written by Uncle Stricker, and I copied out the texts, which brought to mind so many paintings by Rembrandt and others. It is, I believe and trust, a choice not to be repented of, which I’ve made in an attempt to become a Christian and a Christian labourer. Yes, all things of the past can work together for good, familiarity with cities like London and Paris and life in such places as that school in Ramsgate and in Isleworth makes one more drawn and attached to many things and such books of the Bible as The Acts of the Apostles. Knowing and loving the work and life of such men as Jules Breton, Millet and Jacque, Rembrandt, Bosboom and so many others, can also be a source of ideas.
What a similarity there is between the work and life of Pa and that of such men; that of Pa I rate even higher.
God help us, old boy, He can make you and all of us and me say, Lord, it is enough.
Adieu, accept a handshake in thought and again, hearty congratulations from
Your loving brother
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and give thee peace. May the Lord do above all that we ask and think. He is your keeper and the shade upon your right hand. May He be with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Give my regards to your housemates.