Amsterdam, 3 March 1878
My dear Theo,
It’s time to write to you again, how I should like to have been with you today, it was such beautiful weather here, and one feels that spring is coming.
In the country one would probably have been able to hear a lark, but that’s difficult in the city, unless one notices the sounds of the lark’s song in the voice of some old minister whose words come from a heart tuned like a lark’s.
Heard the Rev. Laurillard this morning, preaching in the Oudezijdskapel,1 Uncle Stricker was in that church too, and I had coffee with him. Uncle Jan went this morning to ’t Nieuwe Diep, but has come back again. Then to a Sunday school in Barndesteeg, and then walked around the outer canals,2 visiting three Roman Catholic churches along the way.
Went yesterday to see Vos who is but poorly, it’s such a sad sight, seeing him sitting with his feet on a stove, for he’s troubled by cold feet, staring out the window with his hollow eyes. Kee is just as pale and looks so tired, went from there to Uncle Cor’s again, he’s had the gallery newly wallpapered and a new grey carpet laid on the floor, now those beautiful cupboards containing the whole Gazette des Beaux-Arts etc. in red volumes stand out better than before. Uncle told me that Daubigny has died,3 I freely admit that it made me sad to hear it, just as it did to hear that Brion had died4 (his Saying grace5 is hanging in my room), because the work of such men, if one understands it, moves one more deeply than one is aware of, it must be truly good, when one dies, to be conscious of having done a thing or two in truth, knowing that as a result one will continue to live in the memory of at least a few, and having left a good example to those who follow. A work that is good6 — it can hardly last for eternity but the idea expressed in it can, and the work itself almost certainly continues to exist for a long time and, if others appear later, they can do no better than to follow in the footsteps of such predecessors and to do it the same way.
Speaking of a good work, would you care to have a Flemish Imitation of Christ? I hope to send it to you shortly, a little book that one can easily put in one’s pocket if necessary.7
When Uncle told me about Daubigny, his etchings after Ruisdael, The bush and The ray of sunlight, came to mind, and he promised to send for them sometime,8 since he didn’t know them at all.
Was at the Rev. Gagnebin’s last Monday evening and also saw his wife and daughter,9 and was also in his study, where I talked to him until about 11 o’clock.
He said, among other things, that at certain times in his life he had benefited from forgetting himself altogether and throwing himself into work without a second thought; that he had done a lot then and had later found himself stronger and more advanced in what he intended to do and clear in his mind. That nevertheless, even now, nobody had any idea how much effort his sermons cost him.
Have worked my way through the history of the Netherlands and made an extract of 30 pages, closely written. (I was pleased to come across the Battle of Waterloo10 and the 10-day campaign11 again.) Did you know that Rochussen once painted the siege of Leiden?12 The painting belongs, I think, to Mr de Vos.13 Am now working on general history as well. I really long for you to come here again, be sure and do your best to stay as long as possible. And write again soon if you can, for you must know that you always give me so much joy by doing so.
Have you read anything beautiful lately? Do make sure somehow to get hold of and read the books by Eliot, you won’t be sorry, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Felix Holt, Romola (Savonarola’s story), Scenes of clerical life.14 You know we gave the 3 underlined ones to Pa on his birthday last year.15
When I get the time for reading, I’ll read them again. Both the Rev. Macfarlane and the Rev. Adler spoke to me about them, i.e. advised me to read them.
Wrote to Harry Gladwell again this week, since he didn’t answer my last letter and I wanted so much to know what he’s doing and what he’s planning to do.
I still have hopes of his becoming a minister, and if that happens he’ll do it well, of that I’m convinced, but it would be no easy thing for him to carry it off.16
Have you ever seen an etching by Millet himself, a man pushing a wheelbarrow of dung into a garden on a day like today in early spring?17 And don’t forget that he also made the etching ‘The diggers’,18 if you ever run into it you won’t easily forget it. Thought today of the former, this morning when Uncle Stricker was looking for texts in which the word dung occurs, one of which is ‘let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it’.19
Recently made a list of the paintings by Brion that I could remember, next time you come you must tell me whether I’ve forgotten many. Lord keep my memory green!20 One must say that over and over again.
Was last Sunday evening at cousin Vrijdag’s in Houttuinen, there are still 7 children at home, it was a pleasant little circle, most of them are still very young.21
Couldn’t you say a bit in advance when you’ll be coming? I’ll count on it, then, by working ahead a little so we can spend some time together. Adieu, a handshake in thought, and believe me
Your loving brother
Uncle Jan sends you his regards.
Bid your housemates good-day from me.