Amsterdam, 30 October 1877

My dear Theo,
Thanks for your last letter, which I was glad to get. Yes, old boy, that etching after Jules Goupil1 is beautiful and forms, with all that’s associated with it, a fine and good whole that is a thing to keep in one’s heart. I rather envy your having read Carlyle, ‘French Revolution’, it’s not unknown to me but didn’t read all of it, I found parts of it in another book, namely by Taine.2
Am busy making an extract from Motley, including capture of Den Briel and siege of Haarlem, Alkmaar and Leiden,3 have drawn a map to go with it, so as to complete it. Have also finished an extract from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress.4 Am working all the time, day in, day out, so some things do get done.
I keep my work together, everything aimed at getting through the exams, I consult Mendes on everything, and model my studies on what he has done, for that is how I’d like to do it too. That history of the 80 Years’ War is really wonderful, anyone would do well to make such a good fight of his life.5 Truly life is a fight,6 and one must defend oneself and resist and make plans and calculations with a cheerful and alert mind in order to make it through and get ahead. It becomes no easier the further one gets in life, and it has been rightly said:

Does the road go uphill then all the way?
‘Yes to the very end’
And will the journey take all day long?
‘From morn till night, my friend.’7

But by fighting the difficulties in which one finds oneself, an inner strength develops from within our heart, which improves in life’s fight (one matures in the storm),8 if we always endeavour to keep that heart out of which are the issues of life,9 good and simple and rich toward God,10 to restore that and make it thus more and more, and to bear in mind the words that we must have a good conscience before God11 and before people.
As we regard others so are we regarded by many eyes. It is from the conscience — God’s finest gift,12 and the proof that His eye is upon us, all-seeing and all-knowing,13 and also the assurance that He be not far from every one of us,14 but as our shade upon our right hand,15 and that He keeps us from the evil16 — that our light comes in the darkness of life and of the world.17 And if we feel an eye watching us, as it were, then it is good to gaze upward sometimes as though seeing Him who is invisible.18  1v:2
I know that life of Frederick the Great illustrated by Menzel,19 that’s a good acquisition, do go on with that collection; I also know that woodcut after Jacque, The sheepfold,20 do bring those things home with you at Christmas.
Have bought from the Jew that lithograph after L. Steffens of which you once showed me the painting, an old and a young priest conversing in a garden,21 it’s a good lithograph. The scene reminds me of a painting by Jacquand, photographed in the cartes de visite, it’s called ‘The new vicar’, I believe,22 it has the same sentiment, and also of The novice by G. Doré.23
Old boy, Latin and Greek and studying are difficult, but all the same I feel very happy with it and am doing the things I have longed for.24 I’m no longer allowed to sit up late in the evenings, Uncle has very strictly forbidden it — yet the words written below the etching by Rembrandt stick in my mind, In medio noctis vim suam lux exerit25 (In the middle of the night the light diffuses its strength) and I make sure that a small gaslight goes on burning the whole night, and lie looking at it often in medio noctis, thinking about my plan for work the following day and considering how to go about that studying as well as possible. Hope in the winter to light the fire early in the morning (and while obeying Uncle yet letting the light shine in the night and darkness26 once in a while). The winter mornings have something special about them, Frère painted that in that workman, ‘A cooper’27 (the etching is hanging in your room, I believe), among other things.
Fill my soul with a holy bitterness that shall be agreeable to Thee, and I shall humbly spend all the years of my life in Thy service, in the bitterness of my soul,28 yea, even in Thy Service, O Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.29 That is certainly a good prayer, and I thought of it when I told you in simplicity30 that it was good to steep oneself in coffee in everyday life.
A person has needs, and requires strength and fortification to be able to work. And one must make do with what one has and fight with such weapons as are within one’s reach, and use the means at one’s disposal to make the most of it and gain from it.31
(You can see from my handwriting that it had grown dark, but now the lamp is on.)32 Ate hotchpot at Uncle Stricker’s one afternoon, and it occurred to me on that occasion to make that extract from Motley, I’ll show it to you at Christmas. Because here in town I’ve seen and walked over so awfully many doorsteps and church floors and flights of steps up to houses, it occurred to me to make those maps of rocky Scotland, and while colouring them in (green and red) I thought of those pickles33 that Uncle is so fond of and I’ve grown fond of too. A person’s soul is a singularly strange thing, and it is good, I think, to have one like a map of England made with love and to have in it as much as possible of that love which is holy and beareth all things  1v:3 and believeth all things and hopeth all things and endureth all things and never faileth.34 That Love is the Light of the world,35 the true life that is the light of men.36 The knowledge of languages is certainly a good thing to have, and I follow after37 in the hope that I might also grasp something of it.
When one eats a crust of black rye bread it’s certainly good to think of the words ‘Tunc justi fulgebunt ut sol in regnum Patris sui’38 (Then shall the righteous shine forth as the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father), or also when one very often has muddy boots or wet, dirty clothes. May we all at sometime enter into that kingdom which is not of this world,39 where they do not marry and are not given in marriage,40 where the sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee, but the Lord shall be an Everlasting Light, and God our glory, where the sun shall no more go down, neither shall the moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine Everlasting Light, and the days of mourning shall be ended41 and God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes.42 And so we can be leavened with the leaven43 of ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’,44 being what we are through God’s grace, having in the secret recesses of the heart the words ‘I never despair’45 because we have faith in God. And then ‘Set your face as a flint’46 are really good words in many circumstances, and also ‘be like an iron pillar47 or like an old oak tree’. It’s also good to love thorns, such as the thorn-hedges around the little English church or the roses in the cemetery, they’re so beautiful these days, yes, if one could make oneself a crown of the thorns of life,48 not for the people but with which one is seen by God, then one would do well.
I imagine you know the woodcuts by Swain, he’s a clever man, his studio is in such a nice part of London,49 not far from that part of the Strand where the offices of the illustrated magazines are (Ill. Lond. News, The Graphic,50 Seeley &c.),51 not far from Booksellers’ Row either,52 full of all kinds of bookstalls and shops where one sees all kinds of things, from the etchings of Rembrandt to the Household edition of Dickens53 and Chandos classics,54 everything there has a green cast (especially in foggy weather in the autumn, or during the dark days before Christmas), and it’s a place that immediately reminds one of Ephesus, as it is described with such singular simplicity in Acts.55 (Similarly, the bookshops in Paris are also so interesting, in the Faubourg St Germain, for instance.)56
Old boy, how inexpressibly happy I’ll be if I manage to pass my exams, if I conquer the difficulties it will be done in singleness of heart,57 but also with prayer to God, for I so often pray fervently to Him for the wisdom I’m in need of, and that He may one day grant that I write and deliver many sermons, the more like our Father’s the better, and to complete a Work in my life to which end all things work together for good.58
I was at Uncle Cor’s on Monday evening, and also saw Aunt and the whole family, all send you their warm regards. Stayed rather a long time because I hadn’t seen Aunt for a long time and one offends so easily without meaning to by giving the impression of not appreciating and of neglecting people. Looked through that book at Uncle’s, the engraved oeuvre of C. Daubigny.59 Went from there to Uncle Stricker’s, Uncle was out but a son of the Rev. Meyboom was visiting (brother of Margreet), an officer in the Navy,60 and his girlfriend and a young man, Middelbeek,61 who has been in London for a while and is going back there.  1r:4
At 10 o’clock Uncle came home soaking wet, for it was raining quite a lot that evening, and I had a long talk with him and Aunt, because Mendes had paid them a visit a couple of days ago (one shouldn’t utter the word genius lightly, even if one believes that there is more of it in the world than many people think, but Mendes certainly is a very remarkable person, and I’m happy and grateful for my contact with him) and hadn’t given them a bad report, fortunately, but Uncle asked me if it wasn’t difficult, and I admitted that it was very difficult and that I was doing my best to bear up and to be alert in all kinds of ways. He gave me encouragement, however. But now there’s still that terrible algebra and geometry, anyway, we’ll see — after Christmas I have to have lessons in those as well, there’s nothing for it.
I also cling to the church and to the bookshops, if I can think of an errand to do there I do it. Today, for instance, I was at Schalekamp’s62 and at C.L. Brinkman’s in Hartestraat63 (that shop of Schalekamp’s is an interesting sight) and bought a couple of maps from the Teachers’ Society, of which there are around 100 at a stuiver apiece, including the Netherlands in every possible historical period.64 (So often, in the past as well, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me up and reminded me that there are good things in the world.)
Sunday morning I went to the early service65 and afterwards to the French church,66 where I heard an outstanding sermon from the Rev. Gagnebin:67 the house at Bethany. ‘One thing is needful and Mary hath chosen that good part’.68 That Rev. Gagnebin has a pleasant appearance and a worthy head,69 and his face has something of the Peace of God which passeth all understanding.70 He does have something, I think, either of that priest in The last victims of the terror71 or of that humble and faithful manservant one sees in ‘The women of the boarding-house’.72
That painting by Israëls you describe must be beautiful, I can picture it from your clear description.73 Saw a small painting of his at C.M.’s,74 also one by Mauve, very beautiful, shepherd with flock of sheep in the dunes.75
A good cheerful letter from home too, fortunately things seem to be going better in Princenhage.76 I’m longing not a little for Christmas, do bring one thing and another with you, as much as possible, it’s good for all of us. Don’t be in a hurry to send the tobacco; still have some, it’s a good and necessary aid to study.
Wrote a long letter to Harry Gladwell that went off today, also sent your regards. If you have the time and the opportunity, think of Michelet, you know what, and J. Breton,77 but you know what it’s for and that there’s no hurry, and if necessary Christmas is soon enough. Now, I must get to work and the sheet of paper is nearly full, I wish you well, write if possible, I gave Uncle the receipt enclosed in your letter. Uncle sends you his regards, also Uncle and Aunt Stricker. Bid your housemates good-day from me, and should the opportunity arise also Mauve and his wife and the Tersteegs and Van Stockums (how is she?) and Haanebeeks, and Borchers if you run into him. Blessings on everything you do, I wish you strength and vigour in these autumn days, and let it be Christmas again with us together again before we know it, as it were, adieu, a handshake in thought, and believe me ever

Your most loving brother

Saw 2 photos of Gabriel Max, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and a nun in a convent garden,78 the first one, in particular, was beautiful.

Do you know an engraving after Landseer? It’s called The highlander, I believe, a highlander in a snowstorm on top of a mountain holding an eagle he’s shot.79


Br. 1990: 132 | CL: 112
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Tuesday, 30 October 1877

2. There are a number of works by Hippolyte Adolphe Taine in which Van Gogh could have encountered passages from Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution. The most likely one is Taine’s Histoire de la littérature anglaise (1863-1864), in which the author quotes The French Revolution in various places. The quotations occur in the fifth volume, Les contemporains (chapter 4 of which treats Carlyle), which was not added to the publication until the second edition. The 1874 Paris edition (the third) contains excerpts from The French Revolution (see Taine 1874, vol. 5, pp. 235-236, 319-321). Cf. Hippolyte Taine, Introduction à l’histoire de la littérature anglaise. Ed. H.B. Charlton. Manchester 1936, p. 23.
Taine’s L’idéalisme anglais. Etude sur Carlyle (1864) also contains several quotations from The French Revolution (pp. 15-17, 165-167).
3. These episodes from the Eighty Years’ War appear in J.L. Motley, The rise of the Dutch Republic (1865), which was reprinted a number of times. It is possible that Van Gogh quoted from the Dutch translation, De opkomst van de Nederlandsche Republiek. With an introduction and notes by R.C. Bakhuizen van den Brink. 3 vols. The Hague 1859-1860, which he presumably knew (see letter 43, n. 2). There were several abridged editions, most of them intended for young readers, such as Hoe er gestreden werd en waarom! Tafereelen van burgertrouw en heldenmoed. The Hague n.d. [1861]. It is also possible that Van Gogh owned smaller, inexpensive versions; other books which his tutor Mendes required him to read were also adapted for young readers.
6. Cf. Job 7:1 (worded differently in KJ).
8. This seems to be a quotation (Van Gogh uses this phrase again in letters 406 and 694), but the source has not been traced.
12. The conscience is assigned a central place in some Christian traditions, such as the pietistic Protestant movements. Free-thinking or esoteric streams, which dismissed the dogma and pretence of the supposed doctrinal authority of established religious institutions, often saw the conscience as the embodiment of man’s natural morality. The wording seems to be connected with the influence of ‘ethical theology’, which was on the rise in the Netherlands around the mid-nineteenth century, owing in particular to the work of Alexandre Rodolphe Vinet. See Cornelis Bezemer, Het christelijk geweten bij Alexandre Vinet. Kampen 1966. This idea of the conscience being an infallible moral compass implanted by God is mentioned by Van Gogh again in letters 294, 336 and 401.
17. Biblical; cf. also John 8:12.
19. Theo must have written to Vincent about Franz Kugler, Geschichte Friedrichs des Großen. Gezeichnet von Adolph Menzel. Leipzig 1840-1842, revised editions published in 1856 and 1860. Cf. Franz Kugler, Geschichte Friedrichs des Großen. Facsimile edition (Leipzig 1856). Dortmund 1977. This book, for which Menzel made numerous illustrations, was translated into a number of languages, including French (1843) and English (1845). The Dutch translation is F. Kugler, Geschiedenis van Frederik den Groote. Illustrated by A. Menzel. 2 vols. The Hague 1843-1845.
20. A wood engraving (Van Gogh often calls them ‘woodcut’) of La bergerie (The sheepfold) by Jacque has not been traced; the depiction probably looked something like the photogravure La bergerie ou Le grand troupeau (The sheepfold or The large flock) after Charles Emile Jacque (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 990 [990].
21. The lithograph of De oude priester (The old priest) by Adolf Carel Nunnink after a painting by Louise Eugénie Steffens, in Kunstkronijk 5 (1864), NS, no. 21. Ill. 1353 [1353]. The depiction displays a close resemblance to Steffens’s painting Consolation of 1863 (present whereabouts unknown; sold at auction at Sotheby’s, Mak van Waay, 21 February 1983). Ill. 1856 [1856].
[1353] [1856]
22. Claude Jacquand, L’arrivée du Vicaire. Charité bien ordonnée commence par soi-même (The arrival of the vicar. Charity begins at home), lithographed by Alphonse Léon Noël (1846). ‘Carte de visite’ no. 403 in the Goupil catalogue of 1864 (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 989 [989].
23. Gustave Doré, The neophyte, 1866 (Westwood, UCLA Hammer Museum, California), exhibited at the 1868 Salon (no. 817). There is another version of this painting (Norfolk, Chrysler Museum, Virginia) that has only one row of monks. This young monk is also known from drawings, etchings and a lithograph. See Annie Renonciat, La vie et l’oeuvre de Gustave Doré. Paris 1983, pp. 170-171. A photograph was published in René Delorme, Gustave Doré. Peintre, sculpteur, dessinateur et graveur. Photographs by Goupil & Cie. Librairie d’Art. Ludovic Baschet. Paris 1879, [p. 64]. Ill. 791 [791].
24. Two days later Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo about Vincent: ‘He appears to derive satisfaction from his work ... It is good that he keeps his courage up’ (FR b2564, 1 November 1877).
25. Van Gogh himself could have written In medio noctis vim suam lux exerit below a representation of a nocturnal scene – at this time he often provided prints with inscriptions (cf. Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, p. 171 and vol. 4, p. 330) – or he might have had a copy on which the text was already added (cf. the Pilgrims at Emmaus from Goupil’s list, below which a text from Luke is inscribed; letters 42, n. 9 and 245, n. 3). Artists added such inscriptions themselves: Millet, for example, supplied one of his drawings with an inscription from Luke in Latin. See Sensier 1881, p. 34.
28. This passage combines words from a sermon, preached by the French minister Eugène Bersier in 1867 in Amsterdam, and part of Isa. 38:15. Bersier speaks of ‘l’âme remplie d’amertume’ (the soul filled with bitterness) and about Paul’s being ‘rempli d’une sainte amertume’ (filled with a holy bitterness) (Les ruines de Jérusalem. Paris 1867, pp. 4, 9); the phrases ‘je passerai’ (I shall go), ‘toutes les années de ma vie’ (all my years) and ‘dans l’amertume de mon âme’ (in the bitterness of my soul) were taken from Isa. 38.
32. Van Gogh added this sentence after beginning the next sentence; up to ‘Ate’ (the first word of the following sentence; l. 80) his writing was large, but after this noticeably smaller.
33. What is meant are pickled vegetables, such as carrots and gherkins, which are often eaten in Amsterdam.
38. Matt. 13:43. Appearing in the Vulgate as ‘tunc iusti fulgebunt sicut sol in regno Patris eorum’.
45. This expression of Mr van Gogh, which Vincent quotes frequently, could have been derived from hymn 56:1 and hymn 56:9.
48. An allusion to Christ’s crown of thorns, in Matt. 27:29, Mark 15:17, John 19:2 and John 19:5.
49. Joseph Swain was London’s most prominent wood engraver. From 1844-1900 he supervised the production of the illustrations appearing in Punch and made numerous woodcuts after Millais, Sandys, Whistler, Keene and others. He took over the premises at 6 Bouverie Street, Fleet Street, EC, which he continued to occupy for the next 40 years. See Engen 1985, p. 251.
50. The offices of The Illustrated London News and The Graphic were both located at 190 Strand. In letter 307, Van Gogh remarked: ‘More than 10 years ago I used to go every week to the display case of the printer of The Graphic and London News in London to see the weekly publications’.
51. The family business of Seeley & Co was a publishing house and adjoining bookshop, located (in 1877) at 54 Fleet Street. The magazine Portfolio, published there from 1870, was illustrated by the more modern methods of engraving. See Anonymous, ‘The House of Seeley’, The Bookman 26 (April - September 1904), pp. 13-17.
52. For Booksellers’ Row, see letter 122, n. 6.
53. The Household Edition of The works of Charles Dickens was published between 1871 and 1879 by both Chapman and Hall in London and Harper and Brothers in New York. This illustrated edition consisted of 22 volumes, 21 of which were novels and one The life of Charles Dickens by John Forster.
54. Chandos Classics was a popular, extensive series of works considered to be literary classics, published by Frederick Warne and Co., London and New York.
55. Van Gogh is perhaps referring to Acts 19 and Acts 20, even though the city of Ephesus is mentioned therein only very briefly. The burning of books mentioned in Acts 19:19 might have prompted Van Gogh to make the link.
56. Faubourg St-Germain is a district in the centre of Paris, on the left bank of the Seine.
59. Charles Frédéric Henriet, C. Daubigny et son oeuvre gravé. Paris 1875. The detailed introduction gives an overview of the career of Charles-François Daubigny as a painter and engraver. It is followed by catalogues of his etchings, his glass clichés and the works he exhibited at the Salon. The book contains nine engravings by and after Daubigny.
60. Claas Meyboom was at that time lieutenant at sea of the second class. See ‘In memoriam Claas Meyboom’, Marineblad. Orgaan der Marine-vereeniging 26 (1911-1912), pp. 337-339. Margreet, who was engaged to Paul Stricker, has been mentioned in previous letters.
61. This young Middelbeek has not been identified.
62. This could refer either to the bookshop of J.M. Schalekamp at Haarlemmerstraat 69 or the bookshop belonging to the firm of Schalekamp, Van de Grampel & Bakker at Spuistraat 157-159, which specialized in textbooks and had an extensive depot. See Kruseman 1886, pp. 324-325 and Adresboeken 1877-1878.
63. The bookshop of C.L. Brinkman at Hartenstraat 24.
64. With a view to improving elementary education in the Netherlands, the Nederlandsch Onderwijzers-Genootschap (Dutch Teachers’ Association) published an atlas consisting of 96 loose-leaf school maps costing 5 cents apiece, made by P.H. Witkamp, J. ter Gouw and W. Degenhardt. The maps, both historical and current, were published and sold by C.L. Brinkman. See H.F. Boer and A. Heinsius, Het Nederlandsch Onderwijzers-genootschap en zijne instellingen, 1842-1892. Amsterdam 1892, pp. 10, 116.
65. On Sunday, 28 October, the Rev. J.P. Hasebroek conducted the early service held at 7.30 a.m. in the Zuiderkerk.
66. The Oude Walenkerk (Eglise Wallonne) – the old Walloon church, at which services were held in French – in Walenplein, near the Oudezijds Achterburgwal.
67. The Rev. Ferdinand Henri Gagnebin was an orthodox Protestant.
69. Cf. the portrait photograph of F.H. Gagnebin (SAAm). Ill. 1857 [1857].
72. François Claudius Compte-Calix’s Les amies de pension (The women of the boarding house) was included in various series published by Goupil, including the ‘Galerie photographique’, ‘Musée Goupil’ and ‘Carte-album’ (no. 100) (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 700 [700].
73. In the autumn of 1877, Jozef Israëls, The potato harvest, 1877 (present whereabouts unknown) was on display at Goupil’s in The Hague under the title Bringing in the first crop. Ill. 185 [185]. See exhib. cat. Groningen 1999, pp. 196-197, cat. no. 34a. Sold at auction at Christie’s (New York), 29 October 1987, no. 166.
74. It is not known which work by Israëls Vincent is referring to here.
75. Which painting Vincent is referring to here is not known. For an early example of this motif, see Sheep in Dekkersduin of 1874 (Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum), which was bought in 1889 from the collection of Uncle Vincent van Gogh.
76. Uncle Vincent van Gogh, who lived in Princenhage, had long been suffering from the effects of bronchitis.
a. This remark refers to the letter sent that same day, since by this time Gladwell had been back in Paris for around ten days (see letter 132).
77. See letter 132, notes 7-8, regarding this request.
78. Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max, Talitha cumi; The raising of Jairus’ daughter, 1875 (Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Lord Atholstan). Ill. 1135 [1135]. The story depicted is told in Mark 5:22-43 and Luke 8:40-56, which tell how Christ raised the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum from the dead. Max gave the title Reconvalescent to The nun in the convent garden, 1869 (Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle). Ill. 1134 [1134].
[1135] [1134]
79. Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, The mountain top, engraved in 1856 by John Outrim (London, British Museum). Ill. 208 [208]. The print is after The highlander, 1850 (London, Windsor Castle, Collection of Her Majesty the Queen).