Amsterdam, 19 May 1877

My dear Theo,
What a good day we spent together,1 one we shall certainly remember. I want to make sure that you find a letter when you return from Etten.2 You’ll certainly have had a good time at home, write soon to say how you spent the day.
Herewith you receive something for your portfolio, namely a lithograph after J. Maris,3 beneath which one might write: a poor man in the kingdom of God,4 and a lithograph after Mollinger.5 Had you seen this one before? I hadn’t. From a Jewish bookseller, who gets me the Latin and Greek books I need, I had the opportunity of choosing what I wanted from a large batch, and not at all expensive, 13 for 70 cents. Thought I’d take several for my room, to give it some atmosphere, which is necessary to get and refresh ideas.
I’ll give you a list, then you’ll know what it looks like and what’s hanging there.
1 after Jamin6 (which is also hanging in your room), one after M. Maris, that little boy going to school,7 5 after Bosboom8Van der Maaten, Funeral in the cornfield9Israëls, a poor man walking on a snowy road in winter,10 and Van Ostade, studio.11 Then there’s Allebé, a little old woman who has collected water and coals on a winter morning with snow on the streets.12 I sent that last one to Cor for his birthday.13 The Jewish bookseller had many more beautiful things but I can’t afford any more, and even though I’m hanging a few up, I’m not going to start collecting.
Yesterday Uncle Cor sent me a batch of old paper, such as the sheet on which I’m writing to you. Isn’t it wonderful for doing my work on?
I have a lot of work already, and it isn’t easy, but meekness14 will help one to get used to it. I only hope to bear in mind the ivy, ‘which stealeth on though he wears no wings’.15 Like the ivy on the walls, so the pen must cover the paper.
Every day I go for a long walk. I recently came across a very nice part when I walked all the way down Buitenkant16 to the Hollandsche Spoor station,17 where there were people working with sand-carts &c. on the IJ,18 and I walked along all kinds of narrow little streets with gardens full of ivy. It was somehow similar to Ramsgate.
At the station I turned left where all those mills are, down a street running alongside a canal lined with elm trees.19 Everything there puts one in mind of Rembrandt’s etchings.20
One of these days I’ll be starting General History from the book by Streckfuss,21 or rather, I’ve already started it. It won’t be easy, but taking it one step at a time and doing it well must surely produce results, this I fervently hope. But it will take time: this has been attested to by many, and not just Corot: ‘It took only forty years of work, thought and care.’22 For the work of men like Pa and the Rev. Keller van Hoorn, Uncle Stricker and so many others, a lot of practice is necessary, just as it is for painting. And a man says once in a while: however will I manage that?  1v:2
And one’s own deeds, ideas and observation aren’t enough, we need the comfort and blessing and guidance of a higher power, and anyone with any earnestness and a desire to illumine his soul will recognize and experience this. Godly sorrow23 acts like leaven in dough.24 May that also be seen in the story of both our lives.
Let us only believe in God and, holding fast to that belief, have faith in Him:

God firmly spoke on mount and rock
And set this word in stone
And all who view this sacred writ
May read the words intoned.
The hardest rock will one day crumble
The highest mount come tumbling down
But this my covenant with Thee,
O Upright One, remaineth sound.25

He who lets the Lord provide,
And hopes for His aid in times of peril,
Will find protection at God’s side,
Be saved as by a miracle.
He whose faith rests in God’s hands
Will not have built on shifting sands.26

Doing whatever the hand finds to do,27 and, if we are pushed in the right direction and a door is opened unto us,28 as it were, proceeding in that direction, we may have something of the faith of old,29 which God pours into many a heart,30 into that of the mean as well as that of the mighty,31 into that of Aertsen32 as well as that of Pa or Uncle Jan or Uncle CorRembrandt, Millet, Bosboom and how many others experienced the same thing. Yes, we can observe it, or at least traces of it, in nearly everyone, to a greater or lesser extent. He is not far from every one of us.33
Is Mrs Tersteeg continuing to do well,34 and have you already been to see Mauve? Just be steadfast, as you are doing, there can be good days in store for us if God wishes to spare our lives and give His blessing to what we do. Will you ever attend some little church of mine? May God grant it, and I believe that He shall. Meanwhile let us simply be grateful for our everyday life – if we are not confronted with anything unusual, and if we know a good prayer, then let us say it, like the one Pa once said on New Year’s Eve when it was very cold and the winter was not easy on anyone, our own household either – that prayer came from the secret recesses of his heart: O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our Love for Thee make that bond ever stronger,35 preserve us from all evil,36 especially the evil of sin. Father, we pray not that Thou shouldest take us out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep us from the evil.37 ‘Preserve us from too much self-reproach.’ Let us find grace in the eyes38 of those to whom we are closest and in the eyes of those who shall come after us. Whenever I look at a painting by Ruisdael, Van Goyen, Bosboom and so many others, I always think of the words ‘as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’.39 Of woe-spiritedness.40
Will you come again on a Sunday to my study,41 and shall we go again together to the little church at Scheveningen?42 I hope so.
Give my regards to your housemates, and accept in thought a handshake from

Your most loving brother,

Yesterday I saw a portrait of Michelet43 and looked at it again closely and thought of ‘his life of ink and paper’.44 In the evenings I’m tired and can’t get up as early as I’d like, but that will surely improve, and I hope I can force myself to do so.

On Whit Monday I hope to be at Uncle Stricker’s in the afternoon and evening.


Br. 1990: 114 | CL: 95
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Saturday, 19 May 1877

1. Theo paid a visit to Vincent on Sunday, 13 May – later on in the letter he says ‘Will you come again on a Sunday to my study?’ (l. 86).
2. Although Theo had promised his parents that he would visit them on the Whit weekend of 20-21 May, he ended up staying in The Hague (FR b2532 and letter 115).
3. Most likely the lithograph Terugweg van het kerkhof (Returning from the cemetery) by Frederik Hendrik Weissenbruch Dzn. after Jacob Maris, in Kunstkronijk 3 (1862), NS, no. 16. This print is to be found in Theo’s scrapbook (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, t*1488, 22). Ill. 1804 [1804].
A few lines later Van Gogh says that he has purchased 13 lithographs for very little money. The works acquired, which he describes, correspond to the reproductions in Kunstkronijk; the works by the other artists mentioned appeared in this same issue. Since Van Gogh bought them as a set, there is a good chance that these lithographs were all taken from the magazine. See Chris Krijt, ‘Young Vincent’s art collection’, Vincent. Bulletin of the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh 4-3 (1975), pp. 24-26.
5. Most likely the lithograph De kerk op de heide (The church on the heath) by Frederik Hendrik Weissenbruch Dzn. after Alexander Mollinger, in Kunstkronijk 4 (1863), NS, no. 10. Ill. 1805 [1805].
a. ‘Boekenjood’ means a Jewish dealer in old and second-hand books.
6. Most likely the lithograph De biddende weeze (The praying orphan) by Hendrik Adriaan Christiaan Dekker after Diederik Franciscus Jamin, in Kunstkronijk 6 (1865), NS, no. 4. Ill. 1806 [1806].
7. The lithograph Vóór ’t naar school gaan (Before going to school) by Frederik Hendrik Weissenbruch Dzn. after Matthijs Maris, in Kunstkronijk 8 (1867), NS, no. 8 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum p791). Ill. 1807 [1807].
8. This could refer to the following lithographs from Kunstkronijk, all of which are preserved in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam): Een kloostergang (Cloisters) by Frederik Hendrik Weissenbruch Dzn., in Kunstkronijk 7 (1866), NS, no. 21. Ill. 1808 [1808]; Eene kerkekamer (A church room) by Jan Mesker, in Kunstkronijk 12 (1871), NS, no. 2. Ill. 1809 [1809]; De Bakenesse-kerk te Haarlem (The Bakenesse Church in Haarlem) by Anthony Cornelis Cramer Nz., in Kunstkronijk 9 (1868), NS, no. 15. Ill. 1810 [1810]; Eene kerk met figuren (A church with figures) by Bosboom himself, in Kunstkronijk 13 (1852), no. 4. Ill. 1811 [1811]; Het klooster te Boxmeer (The cloisters at Boxmeer) by Frederik Hendrik Weissenbruch Dzn., in Kunstkronijk 2 (1861), NS, no. 16. Ill. 1817 [1817]; Godsdienstoefening in eene dorpskerk (Divine service in a village church) by Adolf Carel Nunnink, in Kunstkronijk 3 (1862), NS, no. 15. Ill. 1818 [1818]; Eene kerk van binnen (A church interior) by Adolf Carel Nunnink, in Kunstkronijk 5 (1864), NS, no. 1. Ill. 1819 [1819]. The lithograph Cantabimus et Psallemus [1690], by Bosboom in Kunstkronijk was mentioned in letter 40, n. 17.
[1808] [1809] [1810] [1811] [1817] [1818] [1819] [1690]
9. For Jacobus Jan van der Maaten’s lithograph De laatste kerkgang [1719] (Going to church for the last time), in Kunstkronijk 3 (1862), NS, no. 20; see letter 36, n. 2.
10. The lithograph by Hendrik Adriaan Christiaan Dekker after Winter, ook in ’t leven (Winter, in life, too) by Jozef Israëls, in Kunstkronijk 4 (1863), NS, no. 17. Also included in a scrapbook from the estate (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, t*1487, 41). Ill. 1820 [1820].
11. The lithograph Het atelier van Adriaan van Ostade (The studio of Adriaen van Ostade) by Anthony Cornelis Cramer Nz., after Van Ostade’s The painter’s studio (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), in Kunstkronijk 12 (1871), NS, no. 8. Ill. 1821 [1821].
12. The lithograph Nadagen (Latter days) by Hendrik Adriaan Christiaan Dekker, after the panel Latter days (The stove-setter) (The winter of life), 1863 by August Allebé (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), in Kunstkronijk 6 (1865), NS, no. 11. Ill. 1822 [1822].
13. Vincent and Theo’s younger brother Cor had turned 10 on 17 May.
14. Biblical.
16. The Buitenkant ran from Kalkmarkt to Gelderse Kade, which in 1879 was renamed Prins Hendrikkade.
17. The railway station of the Hollandsche Spoor dated from 1843 and lay between Nassauplein and the Willemspoort, now the Haarlemmerpoort. From here the railway continued to Haarlem.
18. The centre of Amsterdam is bordered on the north by the River IJ.
19. Van Gogh describes the area around Buitensingel (up to the Kostverloren Vaart) and Lijnbaansgracht, with the public gardens on the Schans, where there were numerous sawmills. See J. van Eck, De Amsterdamsche Schans en de Buitensingel. Amsterdam 1948, and the topographical map ‘Situatie langs de Singelgracht tusschen de Kattensloot en het Varkenspad in 1870’ (SAAm).
20. In this context compare, for instance, Rembrandt’s etching View of Amsterdam, c. 1640 (B210), even though it was made on the Diemerdijk.
21. Carl Adolph Streckfuß, Die Weltgeschichte. Dem Volke erzählt. With numerous illustrations. 3 vols. Berlin 1865-1867. This publication treats the history of the world up to 1789. A revised Dutch translation appeared a short while later under the title De geschiedenis der wereld, aan het volk verhaald door Adolf Streckfuss. Adapted from the German by B. ter Haar Bz. 10 vols. Leiden and Ghent 1866-1875.
22. This utterance of Corot – which Van Gogh twists slightly, making it sound more serious – comes from an anecdote about a painting which, though it did not sell at first, eventually fetched 700 francs and was finally sold – many years later – for 12,000 francs. In Corot’s words: ‘the buyer was so pleased to have it that he gave a party for its unveiling. I was graciously invited and showered with kindnesses… And yet, it was the same thing as before, when nobody wanted it; I’m doing the same sort of thing at present, but one has come to accept it, and that has taken only forty years’ work. It is not I who have changed, but the consistency of my principles that has triumphed, and I am overjoyed!’ (l’acquéreur était si heureux de l’avoir qu’il donna une fête pour son inauguration. J’y fus convié gracieusement et comblé de gentillesses... C’était pourtant la même chose qu’autrefois quand on n’en voulait pas, à présent je fais encore de même, seulement on y est venu, et il n’a fallu pour cela que quarante ans de travail. Ce n’est pas moi qui ai changé, mais bien la constance de mes principes qui a triomphé, et je nage dans le bonheur!) See Dumesnil 1875, p. 52.
30. Cf. Ps. 62:9 (in KJ Ps. 62:8).
34. On 2 May 1877, Mrs Tersteeg-Pronk gave birth to her third child. Evidently her confinement was not without complications; Mrs van Gogh also asked Theo about her health (FR b2528, 7 May 1877). The child died on 24 July; see letters 124 and 125.
35. A prayer written and often recited in the family circle by Mr van Gogh; see letter 113.
38. Biblical.
40. For ‘wee-moed’ (woe-spiritedness), see letter 102, n. 53.
41. Van Gogh lived in a room in the house of Uncle Jan van Gogh, who lived at Kattenburgerstraat 3, on the grounds of the Marinewerf (naval dockyard).
42. Van Gogh is most likely referring to the Oude Kerk (De Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, or Dutch Reformed Church) in Keizerstraat; the Badkapel (‘The Protestant Chapel’) in Gevers Deynootplein was intended especially for use by the summer visitors to this seaside resort.
Shortly after 7 May, Vincent left Etten to visit Theo in The Hague; they paid a visit to Anton Mauve, among other people (see letter 137). Mr van Gogh had asked Theo to do the following: ‘Wouldn’t you be willing to do a work of mercy and have his hair metamorphosed by a clever barber? Here in Etten we don’t have such people. It seems to me that a Hague hairdresser would be able to make something of it ... We are very keen on Vincent’s going to see Tersteeg, Haanebeek and Mauve. So help bring that about’ (FR b959, 7 May 1877). A letter from Anna to Theo confirms that the meeting did indeed take place: ‘I heard from Etten that Vincent has been to see you’ (FR b2530, 13 May 1877).
43. It cannot be ascertained exactly which portrait Van Gogh saw, since a number of portraits of Michelet were in circulation, including a painting by Couture, a photograph by Nadar, an engraving by Boilvin and a lithograph by Lafosse. Cf. Roland Barthes, Michelet par lui-même. Paris 1954.
44. The phrase was taken from the chapter ‘Comment l’auteur fut conduit à l’étude de la nature’, with which Michelet’s L’oiseau (1856) opens: ‘Work was forbidden me; for the first time in 30 years I was separated from my pen, out of the life of ink and paper whereby I had always made my living.’ (Michelet 1861, p. 46). The Van Gogh family was already familiar with this book in 1875 (FR b2346).