To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Wednesday, 9 and Thursday, 10 January 1878.
My dear Theo,
I should so very much like to know if you’re better, and I’m just writing quickly to ask you to write soon, by postcard if necessary, whether your condition has returned to normal. Arrived here safe and sound on Monday evening and found Uncle Cor’s family playing cards at Uncle Jan’s. When Uncle Cor heard that Uncle Cent was thinking of leaving so soon, he went again to Princenhage to see Uncle again. He returned today and was satisfied with the journey. Had spoken to the doctor in Princenhage and he said that Uncle Cent was not in any immediate danger. Had also seen both Pa and Ma and they are well, so fortunately all that preaching hasn’t worn Pa out.
Was at Uncle Stricker’s yesterday, Paul left with the ship De Liberaal, they haven’t had a letter from Paul himself for quite some time, but Mr Scheffer writes that his health is improving, may they see him again as soon as possible.
Started taking lessons again on Tuesday morning, intend to do all those themes that I’ve written over again, at least inasmuch as I can find the time, what with my other work. Pa advised me to do it, because once one is well grounded in the rudiments and verbs &c., one makes rapid progress with translation. I suppose I’ll find the time when it begins to grow light a bit earlier in the morning and is a little less cold, so that I can start early. One can accomplish quite a lot in a few months if one works at something from early in the morning till late at night, and so I hope to be ready for the exam around October.
Saw a great many good drawings at Uncle Cor’s, including a new one by Rochussen, a diplomatic soirée, very clever. Mauve is giving that art presentation at Arti this evening, should really like to be there, but it’s likely I already saw many of the drawings that evening we visited him. Uncle Cor also had a very nice painting by Valkenburg, the interior of a peasant’s house with four small figures. I’ll hang up The oven by T. Rousseau and the Trekweg at Rijswijk by Weissenbruch which I got from you. I’m sorry I didn’t leave The Hague by a later train, then we would have been together a little longer, but now I hope to see you again when you make the trip in the spring. I recently went to see Hillen again, the last time I visited him I’d given him a pair of that Christus Consolator and pendant, such as I got from you, and now they were already hanging in his room, for he had put them under glass himself, I’m glad they’re hanging there. It was already growing dark when I arrived and he also showed me his living room, it looks very pleasant indeed and it’s a good house to remember. He’s a man one can really trust, for he’s very uncomplicated and does his work well and has persevered in it for a long time, I’ll be happy when I’m also that far along.
It’s terribly cold here these days, and this morning there was snow on the ground, it’s good that Uncle Cent is away (because he left today at 3 o’clock to be in Paris tonight). If you visit Mauve, remember to ask for that piece by Jules Breton, The labourer, and send it when you get it.
C.M. asked me if I didn’t find the Phryné by Gérôme beautiful, and I said I would much rather see an ugly woman by Israëls or Millet or a little old woman by E. Frère, for what does a beautiful body such as Phryné’s really matter? Animals have that too, perhaps more so than people, but animals don’t have a soul like the one that animates the people painted by Israëls or Millet or Frère, and hasn’t life been given to us to become rich in our hearts, even if our appearance suffers from it? I feel very little sympathy for that statue after Gérôme, for I see not one sign of reason in it, and a couple of hands that bear the signs of work are more beautiful than such as are seen on that statue.
And much greater still is the difference between such a beautiful girl and a man like Parker or T. a Kempis or those painted by Meissonier, and just as one cannot serve two masters, one cannot love two things that are so very different and feel sympathy for both.
And then C.M. asked if I wouldn’t feel anything for a woman or a girl who was beautiful, but I said I would have more feeling for and would prefer to be involved with one who was ugly or old or impoverished or in some way unhappy, who had acquired understanding and a soul through experience of life and trial and error, or sorrow. At C.M.’s there was also a beautiful drawing by Maris, townscape with water in the foreground and a vast sky, you no doubt know it.
Uncle Jan and Uncle Cor send you their warm regards, Uncle Jan is well again, you know that he wasn’t well at Christmas.
So write soon, and I wish you the very best, and bid good-day to your housemates. Just received a good letter from Pa, everything is all right at home, adieu, accept in thought a hearty handshake, and believe me ever
Your loving brother