Amsterdam, May 1878
My dear Theo,
It’s time you received a few words from me, Pa already wrote that you’ve arrived safely and have already written how you roamed around the city the first few days.1 I’m really longing to hear what your impressions are of this and that, and that’s why I urge you to write a few words as soon as you can find the time. It’s true, though, that first impressions don’t last, for we know all too well that all that glitters is not gold, and that when there is a friendly dawn there is a midnight too, and scorching and oppressive heat in the afternoon. But just as the morning hour is a blessed hour and the early bird catches the worm, so it is with first impressions, and they have their value even though they pass, for it is they which later appear to have been correct, and one comes back to them. The first thing that attracts and strikes a child is the light, and an old man also searches again fearfully for it. So write and tell me what you saw during those first few days, and what you thought.
You’ll have heard that Lies didn’t pass her exam and has fallen ill, and that because she longed so much for home, Ma went to fetch her,2 poor girl, it will be no small disappointment for her and for everyone at home, and yesterday was perhaps a less cheerful Sunday. Pa nevertheless wrote again, and in his mouth that is the truth,3 that with all disappointment and at every serious moment of life, faith becomes more alive and stronger.
The weather has been beautiful here the last few days, and probably in Paris too. You’ll soon notice that in the summer it’s at times rather warmer there than it is here, and you’ll probably see stormy skies like those Bonington painted.4 It’s really a nice neighbourhood where you live.5 If one roams the streets there, whether in the morning or evening, or walks in the direction of Montmartre,6 one is struck by many workshops and many rooms that recall ‘a cooper’ or The seamstresses or other paintings by E. Frère,7 and it does one good sometimes to see such things, which are simple, as one occasionally
1v:2 sees a good many people who for various reasons have strayed a long way from everything that is natural, thereby throwing away their true and inner lives, and also many who are rooted in misery and loathsome things, because in the evening and at night one sees all manner of those dark figures walking about, both men and women, who personify, as it were, the terror of the night,8 and whose misery must be classified among the things that have no name in any language.
Vos isn’t well, he has coughed up blood again more than once. Was there recently one afternoon when he was up, sitting hand in hand with Kee, both of them dressed in black and their faces equally pale, looking out of the window at the Church9 and the trees across the street, when there was a dark stormy sky and the leaves and the dust were whirling around in a strange way and the paving-stones looked so much whiter than usual, and the little black figures of the people stood out against them so much more sharply, as is often the case before a thunderstorm. He has become so much paler and thinner than when you saw him, and sometimes looks like a ghost. It has become a veritable house of mourning,10 and Uncle Stricker’s too, in fact, for when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it,11 for they have been planted together.12
Last week one of the ministers here died who was very well known throughout the country (Pantekoek).13 The funeral was on Saturday, it was something that reminded one of ‘In memoriam’,14 that procession along the path by the green borders of the Amstel. He was the father of 6 children, the eldest around 20.15 A very large crowd followed, literally jostling one another. Yesterday there were sermons occasioned by the event in nearly every church. Heard Uncle Stricker, among others, who had been a close acquaintance of his. It was his turn to preach in the Oudezijdskapel,16 where the boys from the orphanage and those from the nautical college17 usually go. There was a lot of spirit in it, spoke, among other things, of the words: Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say?18 It was a long and terrible suffering that was his lot. Heard one of his last sermons one evening, and even then it was clearly evident from what he said that he trembled at and recoiled from each new day and night, and especially from one that followed upon the effort of preaching. Even then one couldn’t hear him without feeling for him, as it were, and one couldn’t help shuddering, for it is a dark path, the one to his long home,19 and happy is he who, when that darkness and night are approaching, is strengthened even then by the hope for a better life and the resurrection as we know befell Mary Magdalen and Him Whom she supposed to be the gardener in the garden by the sepulchre,20 by the hope: who knows what shall be on the morrow?21
Saw his son yesterday at the early service,22 if one can compare the faces of people with other faces, then his looks very much like an eagle, especially then, when he was stricken by what had just happened.
You must try to read some beautiful book or other over there, by Michelet, for instance, on the Revolution23 or something by Thoré or T. Gautier on Paris and the time of the young painters and writers.24 Oh, old boy, how I’d like to roam through the city with you.
Hope to take a long walk today through a neighbourhood I haven’t seen much of yet. I found the house in Breestraat where Rembrandt lived.25 We talked about it, you know, when you were here.26
Don’t forget about that painting in the Luxembourg, He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me, and write and tell me who made it.27
It can be so glorious in Paris in the autumn, well, you’ll be seeing something of it at the end of September.
Give my warm regards to everyone at the Soeks’, I still think so often of an excursion I made with his family to Ville-d’Avray. Going into the church there, it struck me that there was, I believe, even more than one painting by Corot hanging there. You know that he spent a lot of time there.28
Bid good-day to Braat,29 and Mutters30 too. I wish you well, and write soon, and accept in thought a hearty handshake, and believe me ever
Your most loving brother
I still have to thank you for your portrait,31 I’m very glad to have it, it turned out very well. Thanks for sending it.