London, 7 August 1873

My dear friends,
It was a very pleasant surprise for me to receive Caroline’s letter. Thank you.
I sincerely hope that she’s now completely better; fortunately, it’s past. When you write again sometime I must hear more about that last piece you made.1 I was truly astounded by it; for 10 people, that’s surely the biggest you’ve done.
The last few days I’ve enjoyed reading the poems of John Keats; he’s a poet who isn’t very well known in Holland, I believe. He’s the  1v:2 favourite of the painters here, and that’s how I came to be reading him.2 Herewith something by him.3 His most famous piece is ‘St Agnes’ eve’, but it’s rather too long to copy out.4
I haven’t yet been to the Crystal Palace and the Tower, nor to Tussaud’s;5 I’m not at all in a hurry to go and see everything. For the time being I have enough with the museums, parks, &c., which attract me more.
I had a nice day last Monday. The first Monday in Aug. is a holiday here.6 I went with one of the Germans to Dulwich, an hour and a half outside L., to see the museum there,7 and afterwards we walked to a village about an hour further on. The countryside here is so beautiful; many people who have their business in L. live in some village or other outside L. and come to the city every day by train. Perhaps I’ll  1v:3 soon be doing that as well, if I can find a cheap room somewhere. But I find moving so terrible that I’ll stay here as long as possible, though things aren’t as nice here as they seemed at first. Perhaps this is my fault, so I’ll wait a little longer.
I’m sorry that my letter isn’t as I’d wish it to be, I’m writing in haste. But I wanted to congratulate you on Willem’s birthday8 and wish you many happy returns.
It gave me a great deal of pleasure to hear that you had renewed your acquaintance with the Tersteeg family. I had long been hoping that you would, for your sake.
Write to me when you get the chance and tell me which photographs you’ve received, I’m curious to know.  1r:4
I’ve had a letter from Marinus,9 and have understood from it that he’s going to Amsterdam. That will be a big change for him, I hope he’ll do well. I was glad he wrote to me.
A day or two ago I had a visit from a brother of Iterson who lives here,10 and so had the first opportunity of speaking Dutch since May. We live a long way from each other, which I very much regret. And now I bid you good-day, I wish you well. Many regards to everyone in the Poten.11 I wish you well,

Yours truly,

Cheer me up soon with a letter if you can find the time.

The eve of Saint Mark12

Upon a Sabbath day it fell;
Twice holy was the Sabbath bell,
That called the folk to evening prayer;
The city streets were clear and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains;
And, on the western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatured green, vallies cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,
Of primroses by shelter’d rills,
Of daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell:
The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies,
Warm from their fire-side orat’ries;
And moving, with demurest air
To even-song, and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch, and entry low,
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush and shuffling feet,
While played the organ, loud and sweet.
The bells had ceased, the prayers begun,
And Bertha had not yet half done
A curious volume, patch’d and torn,
That all day long, from earliest morn,
Had taken captive her two eyes,
Among its golden broideries;
Perplexed her with a thousand things,
The stars of Heaven, and angels’ wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze,
Azure saints and silver rays
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven
Candlesticks John saw in Heaven,
The winged lion of Saint Mark,
And the covenantal Ark,
With its many mysteries
Cherubim and golden mice.  2v:6
Bertha was a maiden fair,
Dwelling in th’old minster-square;
From her fireside she could see,
Sidelong, its rich antiquity,
Far as the Bishops gardenwall;
Where sycamores and elm trees tall,
Full leaved, the forest had outstript,
By no sharp north wind ever nipt,
So shelter’d by the mighty pile,
Bertha arose and read awhile,
With forehead ’gainst the window pane.
Again she tried and tried again,
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the legend of St Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin,
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes
And dazed with saintly imag’ries.

All was gloom, and silent all
Save now and then the still foot-fall
Of one returning homewards late,
Past the echoing minster-gate.
The clamorous daws, that all the day
Above tree tops and towers play,
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry-nest,
Where asleep they fall betimes
To music and the drowsy chimes.

All was silent, all was gloom,
Abroad and in the homely room:
Down she sat, poor cheated soul!
And struck a lamp from the dismal coal;
Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair,
And slant book, full against the glare.
Her shadow, in uneasy guise,
Hover’d about, a giant size,
On ceiling beam and old oak chair,
The parrot’s cage, and panel square;
And the warm angled winter-screen,
On which were many monsters seen,
Call’d doves of Siam, Lima mice,
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw, and tender Av’davat,
And silken-furr’d Angora cat.  2v:7
Untired she read, her shadow still
Glower’d about, as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untired she read the legend page,
Of holy Mark, from youth to age,
On land, on sea, in pagan chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains.
Sometimes the learned eremite,
With golden star, or dagger bright,
Referr’d to pious poesies
Written in smallest crow-quill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcell’d out from time to time:
John Keats (1818)

The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream; ‘he awoke and found it truth’.13


Season of mist, and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend to the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft.
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Br. 1990: 012 | CL: 10a
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willem van Stockum and Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek
Date: London, Thursday, 7 August 1873

1. It is not entirely clear what ‘piece’ refers to; presumably it was a tableau vivant or short play.
2. The poetry of John Keats had become increasingly popular in England from the 1840s on. English painters – especially the Pre-Raphaelites – regularly depicted themes from his work. In the Netherlands no great interest was taken in Keats’s work until the 1880s, at which time the country was gripped by a new literary movement of its own. In 1879 Keats’s ‘Hyperion’ was translated into Dutch by W.W. van Lennep. See G.H. Ford, Keats and the Victorians. A study of his influence and rise to fame 1821-1895. Hamden 1962; G. Dekker, Die invloed van Keats en Shelley in Nederland gedurende die negentiende eeu. Groningen 1926, p. 33, and John Keats. Gedichten. Ed. Léon Stapper. Baarn 1991, pp. 18-23.
3. See the poems appended to this letter.
4.The eve of St Agnes’ was published in 1820 in Lamia, Isabella, The eve of St Agnes and other poems. The poem, which consists of 378 lines of verse, treats of the forbidden love of Porphyro and Madeline, ending with the lovers’ taking flight. See Keats 1978, pp. 299-318.
5. Here Van Gogh names popular tourist attractions: Crystal Palace, the principal structure of the 1851 Great Exhibition, re-erected on Sydenham Hill in South London; the medieval Tower of London; and Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum in Baker Street.
6. Summer Bank Holiday.
7. Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain’s oldest public gallery with a famous collection of seventeenth-century paintings. On Monday, 4 August, Van Gogh wrote his signature ‘VWvanGogh the Hague’ in the visitor’s book (Documentation Dulwich Picture Gallery). Ill. 3104. [3104]
8. Willem van Stockum’s birthday was 8 August.
9. Casparus Marinus van Stockum, Willem’s brother.
10. Van Gogh might be referring to Teunis van Iterson’s eldest brother, 24-year-old Franciscus van Iterson.
11. Lange Poten 10 in The Hague, Caroline’s parental home.
12. A publication containing the poems Van Gogh mentions, including the ‘Imagination’ quotation (ll. 195-197), is The poetical works of John Keats. Edited, with a critical memoir by William Michael Rossetti. Illustrated by Thomas Seccombe. London [1871], pp. 180-194; 237-240; 231 and preface, p. xxii.
Van Gogh’s copy largely corresponds to this edition. For example, ‘Unfinished’ has been added below the title in the same way, and the name ‘Moses’ – instead of ‘Aaron’, as in other editions – also occurs here (in l. 35). By contrast, Van Gogh’s transcription differs in details in several places from this edition, corresponding instead to other versions, so that Rossetti’s edition cannot be said with certainty to be the source. Cf. the editions in Keats 1978, and The poems of John Keats. Ed. Miriam Allott. 6th ed. London 1986.
Keats’s ‘The eve of Saint Mark’, which was never completed, was published posthumously in 1848. Van Gogh did not copy out the whole poem; he omitted more than twenty lines at the end. The date ‘1818’ does not agree with the Rossetti edition, which gives the date correctly as 1819.
13. The quotation originally came from a letter written by Keats to Benjamin Bailey. See The letters of John Keats 1814-1821. Ed. H.E. Rollins. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1958, vol. 1, pp. 184-185. Van Gogh could have taken it from the foreword to the Rossetti edition (see note 12).
14. Like ‘The eve of St Agnes’, ‘To autumn’ was published in Lamia, Isabella, The eve of St Agnes and other poems (1820). Van Gogh omitted the middle stanza of the original (11 lines of verse, a personification of Autumn).