To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Tuesday, 18 September 1877.
My dear Theo,
The time is approaching when you’ll go travelling for the Messrs G&Cie, and I’m already looking forward to seeing and talking to you again.
What I wanted to ask you is this. Wouldn’t you be able to arrange it so that we could be together for a while, quietly and calmly, I was thinking of at least one whole day.
Mendes was out of town this week, staying for a few days with a Rev. Schröder in Zwolle who had lessons from him at one time. Being less occupied because of this, I could carry out my plan to see the etchings by Rembrandt in the Trippenhuis, went there this morning and am glad I did it.
When I was there I thought, won’t Theo and I be able to see them together sometime? Think about whether you couldn’t go off on your own for a day or even longer for such things.
How much someone like Pa – who oft-times travels at night, carrying a lantern, to a sick or dying person, for example, to speak to him about Him whose word is also a light in the night of suffering and mortal fear – would have a feeling for Rembrandt’s etchings. Such as the flight into Egypt at night or the entombment of Jesus. That collection in the Trippenhuis is splendid, and I saw much that I’d never encountered before, there they also told me about drawings by R. in the Fodor. If you think it’s a good idea, speak to Mr Tersteeg about it, and write a few words in advance and tell me when you’re coming, then I’ll study ahead to be free and at your disposal when you come.
I can’t see anything of that kind, paintings either, for example, without thinking of you and of Pa and everyone at home.
Am otherwise up to my ears in work, because it’s becoming clear to me what I actually have to know, what they know and what inspires those whom I should like to follow. ‘Search the scriptures’ is not written for nothing, but those words are a good guide, and I’d really like to become such a scribe who is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things old and new.
I spent Monday evening with Vos and Kee, they’re fond of each other and one certainly notices that where Love lives the Lord commands His blessing. It’s nice at their house, only a great pity that he couldn’t go on being a minister. When one sees them sitting there together in the evening by the kindly light of their lamp in the little living room and close by the bedroom of their little boy, who wakes from time to time and asks his mother for this or that, it’s an idyll, but they also know dreadful days and sleepless nights, and fear and anxiety. Walked back over the big sand works by the Oosterspoor which you know, and along Buitenkant, the moon was shining and everything was full of M. Maris or Andersen.
From there it’s such a wonderful sight across the city and towers, with lights here and there, on one side the IJ and on the other Bickerseiland. And everything was so deathly still, ‘the withered leaf does not rustle, the stars alone speak. When all sounds cease, God’s voice is heard under the stars’. Was in the Oudezijdskapel last Sunday, where the Rev. Jer. Meijjes preached on Eccl. XI:7-XII:7.
‘Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: but if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgement. Therefore remove heaviness from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, nor the stars be darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the door shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: or ever the silver bowl be loosed, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall turn unto God Who gave it.’ For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap and he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap Life Everlasting.
I then heard the Rev. Laurillard again in the early sermon on Jer. VIII:7, Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming.
He told about how he had walked on a road where the leaves were already falling from the trees, and had seen a flock of migratory birds and spoke about the phenomenon of birds migrating, and how man will also migrate once to a warmer land. He treated this subject in the spirit of Michelet or Rückert, or as many have also painted it, including Protais, Souvenirs of the homeland.
Pa wrote that you’d been to Antwerp, am eager to hear what you saw there, long ago I also saw the old paintings in the museum – and even seem to recall a beautiful portrait by Rembrandt, it would be wonderful if one could remember everything clearly, but it’s just like the sight of a long road, in the distance things seem smaller and as though in a mist.
There was a fire here one evening on the water, namely a barge with arrack or something similar. Was with Uncle on the Wassenaar, there was no real danger as they’d managed to get the burning barge out from between the other boats and had tied it to a post. When the flames got up a bit one saw Buitenkant and the black row of people standing there watching, and the little boats going back and forth around the blaze also appeared black in the water in which the flames were reflected, I don’t know if you’re familiar with photographs after Jazet that were in the Galerie photographique at one time but have now been destroyed, ‘Christmas Eve’, ‘The conflagration’ and others, it was something like that.
Twilight is already falling, ‘blessed twilight’ Dickens called it, and indeed he was right. Blessed twilight especially when two or three are gathered together in harmony of mind, and like the scribes bring forth out of their treasure old and new things just like a householder. Blessed twilight when two or three are gathered together in His name and He himself is in the midst of them. And blessed is he who knows these things and also does them. Rembrandt knew that, for out of the rich treasure of his heart he brought forth, among other things, that drawing in sepia, charcoal, ink &c. (which is in the British Museum) depicting the house in Bethany. In that room twilight dominates, the figure of the Lord, noble and impressive, stands out gravely against the window through which the evening twilight falls. Just like the figure of John Halifax. He said he was a Christian, in front of a window with white curtains in a room in Rose Cottage, I think, on an evening like so many that are described with so much feeling in that book. At Jesus’ feet sits Mary, who had chosen that good part which would not be taken away from her, and Martha is in the room busy with something or other, stirring up the fire or something like that, if I remember rightly. I hope not to forget that drawing, nor what it seemed to be saying to me: I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life, the light of the gospel that is preached to the poor in My Father’s Kingdom, that shines, like a candle placed on a candlestick, on all that are in the house. I am come that they shall have life and that they shall have abundance. I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. If a man love Me, My Father will honour him and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him, We will come in to him, and will sup with him. The twilight says such things to those who have ears with which to hear and a heart with which to understand and to have faith in God – blessed twilight.
And it’s also twilight in that painting by Ruipérez, The imitation of Jesus Christ, and also in another etching by Rembrandt, ‘David praying to God’, yes! we may thank ‘blessed twilight’ for the words ‘as the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.
Deep calleth unto deep: all Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the health of my countenance, and my God’.
But it isn’t always ‘blessed twilight’, as you see from my handwriting I’m by the lamp upstairs, because there are people downstairs and I can’t sit with them with my books.
Uncle Jan sends you his regards, Hendrik and Marie were here for a day this past week and have now left. Monday a telegram that the Madura had arrived at Southampton. The day of their departure Uncle left in the morning with the 6 o’clock train with Mr Vos, who had come here the previous evening from Utrecht – for Nieuwediep to say goodbye to them on board.
I wish you well, write soon and do come soon, because it’s good to see each other again and to talk, perhaps we could go together to see the exhibition that will open one of these days. Give my regards, too, to your housemates. Old boy, how wonderful it must be to have a life behind one like Pa has, God grant that we be and that we may become more and more sons after His spirit and heart, something may yet come of that, He can raise a person above that which is his nature, His strength can be made perfect in our weakness.
Adieu, accept in thought a handshake from
Your most loving brother