Etten, 8 April 1877

My dear Theo,
Want to make sure you get a letter quickly,1 I’m writing to you again from Etten, as you see.
Yesterday morning I got a letter from Pa in which Pa wrote that Aertsen was dying and how Pa had been there again, as he wished to see and speak to Pa again.2 When I heard that, my heart was drawn to Zundert so strongly that I felt the need to go there again. But more about this later – I just read your last letter and saw that your trip is over and you’re back in The Hague. Do write to me again soon, too, and let’s remain close to one another.
Today a postcard from Anna to say she arrived safely,3 may things go well for her. Haven’t you also noticed that something has come over her that recalls the women who loved Jesus of whom the Bible tells.4 And every time I think of her I am reminded of the words of Béranger:

In palaces and under thatch,
The Virgin said, with my hands
I have prepared honey and balm
For mankind’s suffering.5

And how sweet she was in that family in Welwyn, sharing their joys and sorrows, keeping nothing back of what she had in her to be a help and comfort to them, also during the time that child there was sick and died;6 I saw so clearly how everyone there loved her. She did her very best from the start,  1v:2 getting up early in the winter to make the fire with her own hands, even though the first days weren’t easy and she wrote that she was thinking: Without Thee, O Eternal Being,7 oh, what would become of man on earth? Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.8 And how she wanted so much to attend the Lord’s Supper, and went there and found strength in it. And Pa and Ma love her so much, and we all do too, yes, do let’s stay close to one another.
On Saturday evening I left on the last train from Dordrecht to Oudenbosch and walked from there to Zundert.9 It was so beautiful there on the heath, even though it was dark one could make out the heath and the pine-woods and the marshes stretching far and wide, it reminded me of that illustration by Bodmer that’s hanging in Pa’s study.10 The sky was grey but the evening star shone through the clouds, and now and then other stars were visible too. It was still very early when I arrived at the cemetery in Zundert, where it was so quiet, I went to have a look at all the old places11 and paths and waited for the sun to rise. You know the story of the Resurrection,12 everything there reminded me of it in that quiet cemetery this morning. I heard from Aertsen and Mientje,13 as soon as they were up, that their Father had died that night, oh, they  1v:3 were so sad and their hearts were so full, for Hein14 also arrived there early. I was glad to be there; I sympathized with them because I had also been so fond of the man.15
The aunts16 send you their regards, and Jan Doome17 too, whom I also went to see. From there I walked with Hein to Rijsbergen,18 and was in the house around an hour and we read together. Woutje Prins19 had also sat up for 3 nights with the deceased, and had stood by him till the last. His passing was peaceful.
I’ll never forget that noble head lying there on the pillow; one saw, besides the signs of suffering, an expression of peace and something holy. Oh, it was so beautiful, I’d say that it spoke of all the singularity this land has and the life of these Brabant folk.
And they were all so full of praise for Pa and what Pa had always been to them, and how fond those two were of each other.
Then I walked with Hein Aertsen to Etten and am now at home, leaving early tomorrow morning.
Goodbye, old boy, it’s time for the post, accept a handshake in thought and believe me, after giving my regards to all your housemates,

Your most loving brother,


Br. 1990: 111 | CL: 91+91a
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Etten, Sunday, 8 April 1877

1. The two brothers had seen each other in Etten on Easter (1 April) (FR b2519).
2. On Monday, 2 April Mr van Gogh had been to see Jan Aertsen on his deathbed (FR b2519).
3. After some delay, Anna entered the service of the Van Houten family in Hengelo as a governess (cf. letter 107). She left Etten on 6 April (FR b2519).
4. Mary (the mother of James), Mary Magdalene and the mother of Zebedee’s children (Matt. 27:55).
5. Taken from Pierre Jean de Béranger, ‘Les deux soeurs de charité’ (The two sisters of charity). All of the editions consulted differ from Van Gogh’s transcription in the same two places:
l. 21 Dit la vierge [ Moi, dit la soeur
l. 22 Préparé ... Pour [ Distillé ... Sur
P.-J. de Béranger, Chansons. Anciennes et posthumes. Paris 1866 (Songs. Old and posthumous), pp. 121-122. Van Gogh alludes to this poem again in letter 388.
6. In Welwyn, Anna had lived with Mrs Catherine Stothard, her employer’s sister; Catherine’s son Ernest died of diphtheria on 9 April 1875. See Bailey 1990, pp. 54, 82 (cf. also FR b2331 and b2333).
7. Compare, among others, rhy. ps. 28:1 and rhy. ps. 35:15.
9. It is c. 16 km from Oudenbosch to Zundert. Van Gogh borrowed the railway fare from his roommate Görlitz. See Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 4, pp. 331-332.
10. This could be the Bodmer print that Van Gogh may have sent to his father in January 1876 (see letter 66). Its description suggests that it was the lithograph after Bodmer's painting Fontainebleau in the autumn [1753] (Interior of the forest in winter); see also letter 55, n. 11.
11. One of these ‘old places’ was the grave of Van Gogh’s deceased brother Vincent: see letter 124.
12. The resurrection of Christ; see Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20.
13. The farmer Serfaas Aertsen, third son of Jan Aertsen, and his wife Jacomijna (Mientje) Honcoop. Mientje was formerly a servant in the Van Gogh household. As sextoness she lived near the Zundert church and cemetery (RAW and Kools 1990, pp. 18, 28-29, 139).
14. Hendrik (Hein) Aertsen, likewise a son of the late Jan Aertsen. Cf. Kools 1990, pp. 139-140.
15. P.C. Görlitz recalled the words Van Gogh had used to describe that evening: ‘I did not go in vain, I sat and prayed with the members of the old man’s household. I’ll tell you what I tried to impress upon them: Jesus and his teachings must be for you a light unto your path and a lamp unto your feet, then you will learn to resign yourself’. See Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 4, p. 332. The first part of the text quoted was taken from Ps. 119:105.
16. This was how the members of the Van Gogh family referred to the unmarried daughters of Zundert’s former minister: Elisabeth Petronella and Louisa Christina van der Burg.
17. The farmer Johannes (Jan) Doomen lived with a working-woman, Johanna Belet, who was seven years his junior, at Katerstraat A 186 (later 190) in Zundert. Their son, Cornelis Maria, was born on 20 September 1866. In the past Doomen had taken care of the Van Gogh family’s garden and had also tended the vegetable garden of the Van der Burg sisters (FR b2506; RAW and Kools 1990, p. 21).
18. Johannes Aertsen’s farm was in Rijsbergen.
19. Wouterina (Woutje) Prins had been a maidservant in the Van Gogh family when they were living in Zundert.
a. Read: ‘den gestorvene’ (the deceased).