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099 To Theo van Gogh. Isleworth, Saturday, 25 November 1876.

metadata
No. 099 (Brieven 1990 099, Complete Letters 82)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Isleworth, Saturday, 25 November 1876

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b96 V/1962

Date
Letter headed: ‘Isleworth 25 Nov. 1876’.

Sketch

  1. Small churches at Petersham and Turnham Green (F Juv. XXVIII / JH Juv. 8), letter sketch

original text
 1r:1
Isleworth 25 Nov. 1876

Waarde Theo,
Dank voor Uw laatsten brief dien ik ontving tegelijk met een uit Etten.─ Gij zijt dus weer in de zaak. doe Gij wat Uwe hand vindt om te doen met al Uwe kracht1 en de zegen op werken en bidden zal niet achterblijven.─ Wat had ik graag dien tocht naar het Heike en naar Sprundel2 meê gemaakt in de eerste sneeuw.─ Maar vóór ik verder ga schrijf ik een paar verzen over die Gij wel mooi zult vinden.

The journey of life3

Two lovers by a mossgrown spring
They leaned soft cheeks together
Mingled the dark and sunny hair,
And heard the wooing thrushes sing
o Budding time
o Loves best prime.

Two wedded from the portal steps
The bells made happy carolings
The air was soft as fanning wings
While petals on the pathway slept
O pure eyed bride
o tender pride.

Two faces o’er a cradle bent
Two hands above the head were locked
These pressed each other while they rocked
Those watched a life which love had sent
O solemn hour
o hidden power.

Two parents by the evening fire
The red light fell about their knees
On heads that rose by slow degrees
Like buds upon the lily spire
O patient life
O tender strife.

The two still sat together there
The red light shone about their knees
But all the heads by slow degrees
Had gone and left that lonely pair
O Voyage fast
O Banished past.

The red light shone upon the floor
And made the space between them wide
They drew their chairs up side by side
Their pale cheeks joined, and said “once more
O, memories!
O past that is!

The three little chairs.4

They sat alone by the bright woodfire
The grey-haired dame and the aged sire
Dreaming of days gone by;
The tear drop fell on the wrinkled cheek
They both had thoughts that they could not speak,
And each heart uttered a sigh.

For their sad and tearful eyes descried
Three little chairs placed side by side
Against the sitting room wall;
Old fashioned enough as there they stood
Their seats of flag, and their frames of wood,
With their backs so straight and tall.

Then the sire shook His silvery head,
And with trembling voice he gently said,─
“Mother, those empty chairs,
They bring us such sad, sad thoughts tonight,
We’ll put them for ever out of sight
In the small dark room upstairs”.

But she answered: Father, no, not yet;
For I look at them, and I forget
That the children went away,
The boys come back, and our Mary, too,
With her apron on of checkered blue
And sit here every day.

Johnny still whittles a ships tall masts,
And Willie his leaden bullets casts
While Mary her patchwork sows;
At evening time three childish prayers
Go up to God from those little chairs,
So softly that no one knows.

Johnny comes back from the billowy deep,
Willie wakes from the battle field sleep,
To say good night to me:
Mary’s a wife and mother no more,
But a tired child whose play-time is o’er,
And comes to rest on my knee.

 1v:2
So let them stand there ─ though empty now,
And every time when alone we bow
At the Fathers throne to pray,
We’ll ask to meet the children above
In our Saviours home of rest and love,
Where no child goeth away.─

In Pa’s brief stond o.a.: “s’middags moest ik naar de Hoeve, Moe had de vigilante besteld maar men kon niet rijden, omdat de paarden nog niet scherp gezet konden wordena ─ ik besloot dus te voet te gaan en die goede Oom Jan5 wilde mij niet alleen laten gaan, maar ging mede. ’t Was een barre tocht maar Oom Jan zei te recht: de duivel is nimmer zoo zwart of ge kunt hem wel onder de oogen zien.─6 We zijn dan ook behouden daar en terug gekomen, hoewel het stormde, gepaard met ijzel zoo dat de wegen spiegelglad waren, en onbeschrijflijk heerlijk was het om s’avonds in een lekkere warme kamer zoo recht gezellig te zitten en te rusten na den arbeid ─ die beste Theo was toen ook nog bij ons”.─
Zullen wij ook zoo nog eens naar de een of andere kerk gaan? als droevig zijnde maar altijd blijde7 met eene eeuwige vreugde in het hart omdat wij zijn armen in Gods koninkrijk,8 omdat wij in Christus een vriend gevonden hebben in ons leven die zich vaster klemt dan een broeder,9 die ons bracht tot aan het einde van de reis als voor de deur van het vaderhuis.─ God geve het ─ wat God doet is wel gedaan.10
Verl. Zondag was ik s’avonds in een dorp aan den Theems, Petersham, s’morgens was ik in de Zondagschool te Turnham Green geweest en ging van daar na zon ondergang naar Richmond en van daar naar Petersham. Het werd spoedig donker en ik wist den weg niet goed, het was een verbazend modderigen weg over een soort dijk of hoogte aan de helling met knoestige iepen boomen en struiken begroeid. Eindelijk zag ik beneden de hoogte een licht in een huisje en klauterde en baggerde daar naar toe, en daar wees men mij den weg. Maar jongen  1v:3 daar was een mooi houten kerkske met vriendelijk licht11 aan het einde van dien donkeren weg, ik las Hand. V: 14-16.12 Hand. XII: 5-17 Petrus in de gevangenis en Hand. XX: 7-37 Paulus predikende in Macedonia en toen vertelde ik de geschiedenis van Johannes en Theagenes nog maar eens.13 Er was een harmonium in de kerk dat bespeeld werd door eene jonge jufvrouw van eene kostschool die allen daar waren.
s’morgens was het zoo mooi op den weg naar Turnham Green, de kastanjeboomen en helder blaauwe lucht en morgenzon weerkaatsten in het water van den Theems, het gras was zoo schitterend groen en overal in de ronde het gelui der kerkklokken. Den vorigen dag had ik een verren tocht naar Londen gehad, s’morgens 4 uur ging ik van hier, was om half 7 in Hydepark, daar lag de mist op het gras en vielen de bladeren van de boomen, in de verte zag men de lichten van de lantaarns schemeren die nog niet waren uitgedaan en de torens van Westminster Abbey en the House of Parliament en de zon ging rood op in den morgenmist ─ van daar naar White Chapel, dat arme gedeelte van Londen, toen naar Chancery Lane en Westminster, toen naar Clapham om Mrs Loyer nog eens te bezoeken die den vorigen dag jarig geweest was.14 Wel is zij eene weduwe inderdaad met een hart waarin de psalmen van David en de hoofdstukken uit Jesaja niet dood zijn maar sluimeren.15 Haar naam is geschreven in het boek des Levens.16 Ook was ik nog bij Mr. Obach aan huis om Mevrouw en de kinderen weer eens te zien.17 Toen van daar naar Lewisham waar ik om half 4 bij de familie Gladwell kwam. Juist 3 maanden was het geleden sedert ik daar dien zaturdag dat hun dochtertje begraven werd was,18 ik was een uur of 3 bij hen en menigvuldig waren de gedachten die in ons allen opkwamen, te veel om te zeggen. Van daar uit schreef ik nog aan Harry te Parijs. Ik hoop Gij dien nog eens zult ontmoeten.
 1r:4
het kan licht gebeuren dat Gij ook nog eens te Parijs komt. s’avonds half 11 was ik weer hier terug, ik ging gedeeltelijk met de underground railway terug.─ Gelukkig had ik wat geld binnen gekregen voor Mr Jones. Ben bezig aan Ps. 42:1, Mijne ziel dorst naar God, naar den levenden God.19 Te Petersham zei ik tot de gemeente dat zij slecht Engelsch zouden hooren, maar dat als ik sprak ik dacht aan den man in de gelijkenis die zei “heb geduld met mij en ik zal U alles betalen”,20 God helpe mij.─
Bij Mr. Obach zag ik het schilderij, of liever schets, van Boughton: the pilgrimsprogress.─21 Als Gij ooit eens kunt krijgen Bunyan’s Pilgrimsprogress, het is zeer de moeite waard om dat te lezen. Ik voor mij houd er zielsveel van.22
Het is in den nacht, ik zit nog wat te werken voor de Gladwells te Lewisham, een en ander over te schrijven enz.; men moet het ijzer smeden als het heet is en het hart des menschen als het is brandende in ons.─23 Morgen weer naar Londen voor Mr Jones. Onder dat vers van The journey of life en the three little chairs zou men nog moeten schrijven: Om in de bedeeling van de volheid der tijden wederom alles tot één te vergaderen, in Christus, beide dat in den Hemel is en dat op aarde is.─24 Zoo zij het.─ een handdruk in gedachten, groet de Hr en Mevr. Tersteeg voor mij en allen bij Roos en Haanebeek en v. Stockum en Mauve, à Dieu en geloof mij

Uw zoo liefh. broer
Vincent

[sketch A]
translation
 1r:1
Isleworth, 25 Nov. 1876

My dear Theo,
Thanks for your last letter, which I received at the same time as one from Etten. So you’re back at the gallery. Do whatever your hand finds to do, with all your might,1 and your work and prayers cannot fail to be blessed. How I’d have liked to go along on that walk to Het Heike and to Sprundel2 in the first snow. But before I go further, I’ll copy out a couple of poems that you’ll no doubt like.

The journey of life3

Two lovers by a mossgrown spring
They leaned soft cheeks together
Mingled the dark and sunny hair,
And heard the wooing thrushes sing
o Budding time
o Loves best prime.

Two wedded from the portal steps
The bells made happy carolings
The air was soft as fanning wings
While petals on the pathway slept
O pure eyed bride
o tender pride.

Two faces o’er a cradle bent
Two hands above the head were locked
These pressed each other while they rocked
Those watched a life which love had sent
O solemn hour
o hidden power.

Two parents by the evening fire
The red light fell about their knees
On heads that rose by slow degrees
Like buds upon the lily spire
O patient life
O tender strife.

The two still sat together there
The red light shone about their knees
But all the heads by slow degrees
Had gone and left that lonely pair
O Voyage fast
O Banished past.

The red light shone upon the floor
And made the space between them wide
They drew their chairs up side by side
Their pale cheeks joined, and said ‘once more
O, memories!
O past that is!

The three little chairs.4

They sat alone by the bright woodfire
The grey-haired dame and the aged sire
Dreaming of days gone by;
The tear drop fell on the wrinkled cheek
They both had thoughts that they could not speak,
And each heart uttered a sigh.

For their sad and tearful eyes descried
Three little chairs placed side by side
Against the sitting room wall;
Old fashioned enough as there they stood
Their seats of flag, and their frames of wood,
With their backs so straight and tall.

Then the sire shook His silvery head,
And with trembling voice he gently said,
‘Mother, those empty chairs,
They bring us such sad, sad thoughts tonight,
We’ll put them for ever out of sight
In the small dark room upstairs’.

But she answered: Father, no, not yet;
For I look at them, and I forget
That the children went away,
The boys come back, and our Mary, too,
With her apron on of checkered blue
And sit here every day.

Johnny still whittles a ships tall masts,
And Willie his leaden bullets casts
While Mary her patchwork sows;
At evening time three childish prayers
Go up to God from those little chairs,
So softly that no one knows.

Johnny comes back from the billowy deep,
Willie wakes from the battle field sleep,
To say good night to me:
Mary’s a wife and mother no more,
But a tired child whose play-time is o’er,
And comes to rest on my knee.

 1v:2
So let them stand there – though empty now,
And every time when alone we bow
At the Fathers throne to pray,
We’ll ask to meet the children above
In our Saviours home of rest and love,
Where no child goeth away.

In his letter Pa wrote, among other things: ‘in the afternoon I had to go to Hoeven, Ma had ordered the cab but it couldn’t come, because they hadn’t yet been able to have the horses’ shoes frosted – I therefore decided to go on foot and good Uncle Jan5 didn’t want me to go alone, so he came along. It was a hard journey, but Uncle Jan rightly said: the devil is never so black that you can’t look him in the face.6 And indeed, we arrived there and returned safe and sound, even though there was a gale blowing, coupled with freezing rain, so that the roads were slippery as ice, and I cannot describe how wonderful it was to sit so cosily in a nice warm room in the evening, resting after work – that dear Theo was still with us then’.
Shall we, too, go once again to some church in this way? As sorrowful yet alway rejoicing,7 with everlasting joy in our hearts because we are the poor in the kingdom of God,8 because we have found in Christ a friend in our lives that sticketh closer than a brother,9 who brought us to the end of the journey as to the door of the Father’s house. May God grant it – what God hath done is done aright.10
Last Sunday evening I went to a village on the Thames, Petersham. In the morning I had been at the Sunday school at Turnham Green, and went after sunset from there to Richmond and then on to Petersham. It grew dark early and I wasn’t sure of the way, it was a surprisingly muddy road over a kind of embankment or rise on the hill covered with gnarled elm trees and shrubs. At last I saw below the rise a light in a small house, and scrambled and waded over to it, and there I was told the way. But, old boy,  1v:3 there was a beautiful little wooden church with a kindly light11 at the end of that dark road, I read Acts V:14-16.12 Acts XII:5-17, Peter in prison, and Acts XX:7-37, Paul preaching in Macedonia, and then I told the story of John and Theagenes yet again.13 There was a harmonium in the church, played by a young woman from a boarding school that was attending en masse.
In the morning it was so beautiful on the way to Turnham Green, the chestnut trees and clear blue sky and the morning sun were reflected in the water of the Thames, the grass was gloriously green and everywhere all around the sound of church bells. The day before I’d gone on a long journey to London, I left here at 4 in the morning, arrived at Hyde Park at half past six, the mist was lying on the grass and leaves were falling from the trees, in the distance one saw the shimmering lights of street-lamps that hadn’t yet been put out, and the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and the sun rose red in the morning mist – from there on to Whitechapel, that poor district of London, then to Chancery Lane and Westminster, then to Clapham to visit Mrs Loyer again, her birthday was the day before.14 She is indeed a widow in whose heart the psalms of David and the chapters of Isaiah are not dead but sleeping.15 Her name is written in the book of life.16 I also went to Mr Obach’s to see his wife and children again.17 Then from there to Lewisham, where I arrived at the Gladwells at half past three. It was exactly 3 months ago that I was there that Saturday their daughter was buried,18 I stayed with them around 3 hours and thoughts of many kinds occurred to all of us, too many to express. There I also wrote to Harry in Paris. I hope you’ll see him sometime.  1r:4
It may well be that you too will go to Paris sometime. That night I was back here at half past ten, I went part of the way with the underground railway. Fortunately I’d received some money for Mr Jones. Am working on Ps. 42:1, My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.19 At Petersham I told the congregation that they would be hearing poor English, but that when I spoke I thought of the man in the parable who said ‘have patience with me, and I will pay thee all’,20 God help me.
At Mr Obach’s I saw the painting, or rather the sketch, by Boughton: the pilgrim’s progress.21 If you can ever get Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress, it’s very worthwhile reading. For my part I love it with heart and soul.22
It’s night-time now, I’m still doing a bit of work for the Gladwells at Lewisham, copying out one thing and another etc.; one must strike while the iron is hot and soften the human heart when it is burning within us.23 Tomorrow off to London again for Mr Jones. Beneath that poem The journey of life and The three little chairs one should write: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.24 So be it. A handshake in thought, give my regards to Mr and Mrs Tersteeg and to everyone at the Rooses’ and the Haanebeeks’ and the Van Stockums’ and the Mauves’, adieu and believe me

Your most loving brother
Vincent

[sketch A]
notes
1. Cf. Eccl. 9:10.
2. For Het Heike, see letter 98, n. 1. Sprundel is c. 4 km south of Etten.
3. George Eliot, ‘Two lovers’. See George Eliot, Collected poems. Ed. Lucien Jenkins. London 1989, pp. 42-43. This edition has the word ‘vanished’ where Van Gogh wrote ‘banished’.
4. James Giles (composer), Three little chairs. Song and chorus. Pittsburgh Music Publishing Company 1872. This song version might have been published as a poem before November 1876, since this the alleged ‘poem’ lacks the chorus ‘Three little chairs, three little chairs are empty now, / In Heav’n above three little children bow before the Father’s throne’. Van Gogh’s poem displays slight variations with this version. The song also appeared in One hundred choice selections, compiled by Phineas Garrett. Philadelphia 1877, p. 113, no. 13. Both versions are to be found in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
a. The horses’ shoes had not yet had frost-nails inserted in them to prevent them from slipping.
5. Uncle Jan (Johannes) van Gogh.
6. Another version of this proverb is ‘De duivel is zoo zwart niet, als hij wel geschilderd wordt’ (The devil is not so black as he is painted), see Harrebomée 1858-1870.
7. 2 Cor. 6:10.
8. Cf. Matt. 5:3 and Luke 6:20.
9. Prov. 18:24.
10. ‘Wat God doet, dat is welgedaan’ (What God hath done is done aright) is the first line of each verse of hymn 197.
11. Cf. hymn 200:2, hymn 271:2, and the hymn ‘Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom’; see also letters 131 and 134.
12. Acts 5:14-16 (which tells of the miracles performed by the apostles who healed the sick).
13. Regarding John and Theagenes, see letter 89, n. 2.
14. Sarah Ursula Loyer had turned 61 on 17 November.
15. Cf. Matt. 9:24, Mark 5:39 and Luke 8:52.
16. Cf. Phil. 4:3 and Rev. 3:8, 13:8 and 17:8.
17. At this time Charles Obach and his wife Pauline had two daughters, Malchen (7) and Lena (4). Since 1875 the family had been living at 314 Brixton Road (Lambeth), around the corner from Van Gogh’s old lodgings (LAL).
18. Van Gogh was mistaken: the funeral was not on a Saturday but on a Thursday (see letter 88).
19. Although Van Gogh said he was working on Ps. 42:1, he actually quoted Ps. 42:3 (in KJ Ps. 42:2). Cf., however, the related text in rhy. ps. 42:1: ‘mijn ziel verlangt naar God. Ja, mijn ziel dorst naar den Heer’ (My soul yearns for God. Yea, my soul thirsts after the Lord).
20. Matt. 18:26.
21. Cf. letter 89, n. 12.
22. For Bunyan’s The pilgrim’s progress, see letter 96, n. 17.
23. Luke 24:32.
24. Eph. 1:10.