Amsterdam, 21 October 1877
My dear Theo,
Want to make sure you get a few lines again soon, yesterday a good letter from Etten from which I understood that you had already been there and are expected back on Saturday evening, to spend Sunday at home as well. So you’re probably there now too, and it will be a good Sunday.
Was at the early service this morning (Noorderkerk),1 afterwards walked around town a bit, the canals are especially beautiful now that the leaves on the trees have the colours of autumn, and then went to the English church2 and heard a very good sermon on ‘Take no thought (for your life) saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you, Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’.3 And he also spoke of the preceding ‘Behold the fowls of the air’4 and Consider the lilies of the field.5 There was a fairly large and pleasant congregation. I’m very fond of that little church, and many a person there probably recalls things and places that aren’t unfamiliar to me either.
Have you ever seen or read the book by Esquiros, La vie Anglaise (or L’Angleterre et la vie Anglaise?)?6 I haven’t, but I think it must be an interesting book.
If you have the time and the inclination, think of that piece by Jules Breton,7 and that other one by Michelet.8
Uncle Jan is going to Leiden tomorrow, from there to Middelburg, and will in all likelihood also go briefly to Princenhage,9 where Pa may well meet Uncle.
Did you have a good trip? Write a few lines soon, it was a wonderful surprise when you came here that evening.10 (NB: the woman at the station had been slightly surprised at our hasty departure.) It was nice that we saw Mauve there. Coming back home, I sat up working for a long time. That was a week ago already, the days fly by.
How beautiful that engraving after Ary Scheffer is, The holy women at the tomb of Christ,11 I’m so pleased to have it, especially that old woman, that’s it.12
Did you happen to pick up anything for your scrapbook en route?13 Do continue with it, for it’s a very good thing.
This morning I saw the Minister of the Navy, Taalman Kip,14 who paid Uncle a visit and took coffee here. How much character there is in that face and in those grey eyes, His Excellency immediately reminded me of old Mr Goupil,15 or someone like Guizot.16 It’s good to remember such faces, because it’s food for the soul. I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking the whole week of that painting and the etching after it of ‘A young citizen of the year V’ by Jules Goupil.17 I saw the painting in Paris,18 indescribably beautiful and unforgettable. All those French paintings about the days of the Revolution,19 such as The Girondists20 and Last victims of the terror21 and Marie Antoinette22 by Delaroche and Muller, and that Young citizen and other paintings by Goupil,23 and then Anker24 and so many others, what a beautiful whole they form with many books, such as those by Michelet25 and Carlyle26 and also Dickens (Tale of two cities).27 In all of that combined there’s something of the spirit which is that of the Resurrection and the Life, which shall live though it seems dead,28 for it is not dead, but it sleepeth.29
I’d so much like to read a lot, but I may not, though actually I needn’t yearn for it, for all things are in the words of Christ — more perfect and more glorious than in any other words. That etching by Jules Goupil hung for a very long time in my room in London in the days when I was very wrapped up in Michelet and other French writers, I believe Harry Gladwell has that etching now. Had a short letter from him since his return to Paris, would like to walk with him again on a day like today in the twilight along the Seine by Notre-Dame.30 Paris is so enchantingly beautiful in the autumn, and that spot not the least so. How beautiful the winter chrysanthemums in London will be in the little gardens, and they bloom there the whole winter long.
Are you planning to read any books in particular this winter, ‘cost what it may’? Sometimes it’s good to persevere and get on with it. Uncle Jan has also read a lot, and there are very many things31 in him. A like-mindedness and devotion and love like that between Pa and Uncle, that is good fruit32 of life, and even if that holy fire smoulders now and then because of worries and daily things, sometimes it flares up, bright and dazzling and glorious. As, for instance, that evening last winter when those two went to Hoeven together.
The top of Mount Hekla is white with the snow,
But inside its fire through the ages doth glow,
O Thou, though with winter on thy greying head,
Love, God’s own flame, in the heart is not dead.33
We have certainly seen what that means and we do know something about it. Such a fire of Spirit and Love is a Power of God34 against the dark and evil and terrible things of the world and the dark side of life, it is a power of the Resurrection35 stronger than death, and a light of hope that gives an awareness and an assurance in the depths and in the secret recesses of the heart, the expression of which are the words, which are simple but say much: I never despair.36
Now, old boy, I still have to work and must stop, I wish you well, be blessed, and may God give you and me and all of us the life that is more than meat,37 the life of doing God’s Word. Just look in art and in books and see whether you might find something, for it is written, Seek and ye shall find,38 and: If any of you is in need of wisdom, let him ask of God.39 And that we need. How is Caroline? Give them my regards, and to your housemates too, and to Mauve and Mr Tersteeg if the occasion arises.
In thought a hearty handshake, and believe me
Your loving brother
The portrait of Johan van Gogh40 bears some resemblance to that Young Citizen.
It, too, reminds me again of ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’,41 those words are perceivable in many things.
Regards from Uncle Jan too.