To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 21 and Tuesday, 22 May 1877.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and for the church’s attestation, it’s a pity you didn’t go to Etten for Whitsun; I sincerely hope you’ll be able to go one Sunday soon. Did you get the attestation easily? Thanks for taking the trouble.
Yesterday morning I went to the early service and heard a sermon, ‘I shall not always strive with man’, how after a time of disappointment and grief in life a time may come when one’s innermost desires and wishes may be fulfilled. At 10 in the morning I heard Uncle Stricker on Acts II:1-4, the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit. A very beautiful, warm address from the heart; this morning I’m going to hear Uncle again and must go now, I’ll write and tell you presently what his text was.
It’s rainy today, and a long walk along Buitenkant to the Noorderkerk. There, by the Schreijerstoren, where one has a view of the IJ, the city looked like a painting by J. Maris. The text was I Corinthians 12:13, For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body. There are some beautiful churches here. This week I walked as far as the Zuiderzee on a dyke going to Zeeburg. This takes one past the Jodenkerkhof, which I visited as well. It’s very simple, full of old tombstones standing upright with Hebrew inscriptions and elderberries here and there, and covered with long, dark grass. Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon I went with Uncle Jan to Baarn, how beautiful it is there, we walked in the wood in the avenues of spruce and beech trees and saw the sun go down behind the oak copse. You can imagine how beautiful it is in the evening, around the time we came home yesterday, for example, at the wharf and the dockyard and the shore of the IJ, and there’s such a glorious smell of tar in the air that reminds one of pine-woods.
Yesterday Uncle gave me some old black gloves and scarves. Thought we’d share them in brotherly fashion. You’ll receive them in a day or two as ‘samples without value’, because black gloves are a good thing, good like ivy, for example, and ‘mosses green and lichens fair’, and good like the fixed habit of going to church.
This afternoon I’m going to Uncle Stricker’s, who asked me to come, Vos, Kee and Paul’s girl will be there too.
Do you know an old English engraving ‘The vicar’s daughter’? It’s hanging at Baarn and struck me yesterday; look out for it if you come to Baarn. Its atmosphere recalls Die Abendglocke.
Nevertheless, I find it such a pity that there, as well as in Uncle Jan’s best rooms, there is nothing hanging like Christus Consolator or Ecce Homo. The latter is hanging in your room, surely, at least I thought I noticed it there. Do make a habit of hanging it up everywhere you live, for that is right and is your due.
This morning in church I saw a little old woman, probably the foot-stove woman, who reminded me so much of that etching by Rembrandt, a woman who has been reading the Bible and has fallen asleep leaning her head on her hand. C. Blanc writes about it so beautifully and with so much feeling, and I think Michelet does as well in his: there is no such thing as an old woman. The poem by De Génestet, ‘Haar pad in ’t leven loopt eenzaam af’ also reminds me of it.
Will we also find ourselves in the evening of our life before we know it, as it were? – when we feel the days flying by, passing ever more quickly – it helps me to believe and trust that ‘man proposes, but God disposes’.
Were you at the gallery in the mornings over the Whitsun holidays? I do hope you had a good time all the same.
22 May. Yesterday evening I was at Uncle Stricker’s, where it was very convivial. Vos, Kee, Paul’s girl and Jan were there, and it was after 11 when I got home, then I wrote until 12, how I wish that we could go to places together, I’d have liked you to be with us last night.
Do write a few words again soon, when you have a moment. This morning I still have a lot of work to do, I see that it isn’t easy and will no doubt become much more difficult, yet have unfaltering hope that I’ll succeed, and I’m also convinced that I’ll learn to work by working, and that my work will become better and more substantial. I’ve already begun studying the Bible, but only in the evenings, when I’ve finished my work for the day, or early in the morning – after all, that’s the most important thing – even though it’s now my duty to dedicate myself to studying other things, which I do, of course.
Yesterday at the Strickers’ I had to tell them about London and Paris, and whenever I do that I see it all before me again, all things from that past can also work together for good, I’m fond of much there, and that, ah, I’ve experienced that everywhere I’ve been, I also feel that when I walk the streets of The Hague or Zundert, for example, I shan’t easily forget that last journey there. Before I went to the Strickers’ I walked briefly through the Trippenhuis in order to see several paintings again, I’m sure you know which ones.
Now, Theo, give my regards to one person or another you might see, write soon, I wish you the very best, accept a firm handshake in thought, and believe me
Your most loving brother