To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 19 November 1877.
My dear Theo,
I feel the need to write to you again, because I often think of you and long so much for Christmas, when we hope to see each other again. Well, the dark days before Christmas are already in sight, and behind them lies Christmas, just like the kindly light from the houses behind the rocks and the water that breaks against them on a dark evening.
The Christmas celebration was always a bright spot for us, and may it remain so.
An entrance exam has been held at the university here for the first time — it’s here in the city that I’ll sit the exam as well. In addition to the usual 4 subjects of Latin, Greek, algebra and geometry, they also tested history, geography and Dutch.
Have taken pains to find a teacher of Algebra and Geometry and have succeeded, namely a cousin of Mendes, Teixeira de Mattos, a teacher at the Jewish School for the Poor. He gives me hope that we’ll have met the requirements by around October of next year. If I should then pass the exam, things will have gone very well indeed. Because when I started they said that 2 years would be necessary for the first 4 subjects mentioned, whereas if I should pass in October, I’ll have done more in an even shorter time. May God give me the wisdom I need and grant me my heart’s desire, namely to complete my studies as soon as possible and to be inducted into a living and the practical duties of a minister. Doing that work, and being devoted to it, I believe one would be doing what God wants one to do.
The preparatory studies (i.e. those preceding the actual theological study and practice in preaching and speaking) more or less comes down to the history, languages and geography of Greece, Asia Minor (which can be taken to include Palestine) and Italy. So I have to study these just as diligently as a dog gnaws a bone, and similarly I should like to know the languages, history and geography of the northern countries, i.e. those around the North Sea and the English Channel.
Have finally succeeded in making a map of Asia Minor, Greece and Italy, fairly large (which now includes Paul’s travels as well), and also one of England which finally has something of what I wanted it to have, at least Mendes sees it in it, namely that it was not drawn without feeling and love. (I put in the names from a map in the Atlas Antiquus of Spruner-Menke that Mendes has, because it’s one to be used for history.) Come on, do your best to take a look at that atlas sometime, likewise the one by Stieler in particular. Because it is artistry. (Spruner-Menke, Atlas Antiquus.)
On Sunday I heard the Rev. Ten Kate on John XIV:1-6 (In my Father’s house are many mansions: Whosoever says that, what our Father’s house holds in memories for us, what it promises us). He ended with: The hour is coming in which the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of the people and shall stand up, they that have done good, unto the Resurrection of the Eternal Life. Blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home. The church was so packed that I stood.
Spent two evenings at Uncle Cor’s, once to look at old books (including volumes of L’Illustration in which I found many old acquaintances, that is really an interesting magazine, among other things an old portrait of Dickens and a woodcut by De Lemud, ‘The cup of coffee’, a young man with rather severe and sharp features and a serious expression who looks exactly as though he were thinking about that passage from The imitation, On the monastic life, or as though he were contemplating some difficult but good work or plan, as only a soul in need can. Such work isn’t always the worst, but what one does in sorrow, as it were, lives on. Happy the man who is instructed by Truth itself, not by signs and passing words, but as it is in itself, are good words).
Then I was also at Uncle Cor’s on Aunt’s birthday, i.e. last Friday, they played cards that evening, and because I can’t I sat there reading A. Gruson, Histoire des croisades (Panthéon classique 50 cmes). That’s a very beautiful little book, I would almost say that here and there it was written with the sentiment of Thijs Maris (herewith, among other things, a page that struck me), such as when he paints an old castle on a rock with autumnal woods at twilight, with the black fields with a peasant ploughing with a white horse in the foreground, and it also made me think of Michelet and Carlyle.
I should like so much for Pa to know that etching of A young citizen of the year V. Do you approve of giving it on Pa’s birthday or before then, along with some small photos of the Revolution, so that it forms a whole from which Pa can see what we often think about?
Perhaps you already know that there have been sad tidings today from Brussels, that Pa has already gone there. Uncle Jan, who received a telegram containing this news from Ma, telegraphed Pa and received the answer ‘Condition unchanged don’t come yet I’m here’. Uncle Jan and Uncle Cor were already set to go there together, now they’re awaiting further notice from faithful Pa. Will there then finally be an end to that long and terrible suffering?
Goodbye Theo, write soon, old boy, if you can, may God preserve our health and give us the clarity of mind and the strength and vigour we need every day. Uncle Jan, Uncle Cor and the Stricker family send you their regards, and accept a hearty handshake in thought from
Your loving brother
That news about Uncle Hein comes while I’m writing this.
Paul Stricker will in all likelihood have to return to Holland because of his health.
A good letter from Johan van Gogh, and Willem is also doing relatively well, but does have to look after himself and be careful.