Amsterdam, 18 Sept. 1877.

My dear Theo,
The time is approaching when you’ll go travelling for the Messrs G&Cie, and I’m already looking forward to seeing and talking to you again.
What I wanted to ask you is this. Wouldn’t you be able to arrange it so that we could be together for a while, quietly and calmly, I was thinking of at least one whole day.
Mendes was out of town this week, staying for a few days with a Rev. Schröder1 in Zwolle who had lessons from him at one time. Being less occupied because of this, I could carry out my plan to see the etchings by Rembrandt in the Trippenhuis, went there this morning and am glad I did it.2
When I was there I thought, won’t Theo and I be able to see them together sometime? Think about whether you couldn’t go off on your own for a day or even longer for such things.
How much someone like Pa – who oft-times travels at night, carrying a lantern,3 to a sick or dying person, for example, to speak to him about Him whose word is also a light4 in the night of suffering and mortal fear – would have a feeling for Rembrandt’s etchings. Such as the flight into Egypt5 at night or the entombment of Jesus.6 That collection in the Trippenhuis is splendid, and I saw much that I’d never encountered before, there they also told me about drawings by R. in the Fodor.7 If you think it’s a good idea, speak to Mr Tersteeg about it, and write a few words in advance and tell me when you’re coming, then I’ll study ahead to be free and at your disposal when you come.
I can’t see anything of that kind, paintings either, for example, without thinking of you and of Pa and everyone at home.
Am otherwise up to my ears in work, because it’s becoming clear to me what I actually have to know, what they know and what inspires those whom I should like to follow. ‘Search the scriptures’8 is not written for nothing, but those words are a good guide, and I’d really like to become such a scribe who is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things old and new.9
I spent Monday evening with Vos and Kee, they’re fond of each other and one certainly notices that where Love lives the Lord commands His blessing.10 It’s nice at their house, only a great pity that he couldn’t go on being a minister.11 When one sees them sitting there together in the evening by the kindly light12 of their lamp in the little living room and close by the bedroom of their little boy,13 who wakes from time to time and asks his mother for this or that, it’s an idyll, but they also know dreadful days and sleepless nights, and fear and anxiety.14 Walked back over the big sand works by the Oosterspoor15 which you know, and along Buitenkant, the moon was shining and everything was full of M. Maris or Andersen.16
From there it’s such a wonderful sight across the city and towers, with lights here and there, on one side the IJ and on the other Bickerseiland. And everything was so deathly still, ‘the withered leaf does not rustle, the stars alone speak.17 When all sounds cease, God’s voice is heard under the stars’.18  1v:2
Was in the Oudezijdskapel19 last Sunday, where the Rev. Jer. Meijjes preached on Eccl. XI:7-XII:7.

‘Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: but if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgement. Therefore remove heaviness from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, nor the stars be darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the door shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: or ever the silver bowl be loosed, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall turn unto God Who gave it.’20 For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap and he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap Life Everlasting.21

I then heard the Rev. Laurillard again in the early sermon22 on Jer. VIII:7, Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming.
He told about how he had walked on a road where the leaves were already falling from the trees, and had seen a flock of migratory birds and spoke about the phenomenon of  1v:3 birds migrating, and how man will also migrate once to a warmer land. He treated this subject in the spirit of Michelet or Rückert, or as many have also painted it, including Protais, Souvenirs of the homeland.23
Pa wrote that you’d been to Antwerp, am eager to hear what you saw there, long ago I also saw the old paintings in the museum24 – and even seem to recall a beautiful portrait by Rembrandt,25 it would be wonderful if one could remember everything clearly, but it’s just like the sight of a long road, in the distance things seem smaller and as though in a mist.
There was a fire here one evening on the water, namely a barge with arrack or something similar.26 Was with Uncle on the Wassenaar,27 there was no real danger as they’d managed to get the burning barge out from between the other boats and had tied it to a post. When the flames got up a bit one saw Buitenkant and the black row of people standing there watching, and the little boats going back and forth around the blaze also appeared black in the water in which the flames were reflected, I don’t know if you’re familiar with photographs after Jazet that were in the Galerie photographique at one time but have now been destroyed, ‘Christmas Eve’, ‘The conflagration’ and others,28 it was something like that.
Twilight is already falling, ‘blessed twilight’ Dickens called it,29 and indeed he was right. Blessed twilight especially when two or three are gathered together in harmony of mind,30 and like the scribes bring forth out of their treasure old and new things just like a householder.31 Blessed twilight when two or three are gathered together in His name and He himself is in the midst of them.32 And blessed is he who knows these things and also does them.33 Rembrandt knew that, for out of the rich treasure of his heart34 he brought forth, among other things, that drawing in sepia, charcoal, ink &c. (which is in the British Museum) depicting the house in Bethany.35 In that room twilight dominates, the figure of the Lord, noble and impressive, stands out gravely against the window through which the evening twilight falls. Just like the figure of John Halifax. He said he was a Christian, in front of a window with white curtains in a room in Rose Cottage, I think, on an evening like so many that are described with so much feeling in that book.36 At Jesus’ feet sits Mary, who had chosen that good part which would not be taken away from her,37 and Martha is in the room busy with something or other, stirring up the fire or something like that,38 if I remember rightly. I hope not to forget that drawing, nor what it seemed to be saying to me: I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,39  1r:4 the light of the gospel that is preached to the poor in My Father’s Kingdom,40 that shines, like a candle placed on a candlestick, on all that are in the house.41 I am come that they shall have life and that they shall have abundance.42 I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.43 If a man love Me, My Father will honour him and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him,44 We will come in to him, and will sup with him.45 The twilight says such things to those who have ears with which to hear and a heart with which to understand46 and to have faith in God – blessed twilight.
And it’s also twilight in that painting by Ruipérez, The imitation of Jesus Christ,47 and also in another etching by Rembrandt, ‘David praying to God’,48 yes! we may thank ‘blessed twilight’ for the words ‘as the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.
Deep calleth unto deep: all Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the health of my countenance, and my God’.49
But it isn’t always ‘blessed twilight’, as you see from my handwriting50 I’m by the lamp upstairs, because there are people downstairs and I can’t sit with them with my books.
Uncle Jan sends you his regards, Hendrik and Marie51 were here for a day this past week and have now left. Monday a telegram that the Madura had arrived at Southampton.52 The day of their departure Uncle left in the morning with the 6 o’clock train with Mr Vos,53 who had come here the previous evening from Utrecht – for Nieuwediep54 to say goodbye to them on board.
I wish you well, write soon and do come soon, because it’s good to see each other again and to talk, perhaps we could go together to see the exhibition that will open one of these days.55 Give my regards, too, to your housemates. Old boy, how wonderful it must be to have a life behind one like Pa has, God grant that we be and that we may become more and more sons after His spirit and heart, something may yet come of that, He can raise a person above that which is his nature, His strength can be made perfect in our weakness.56
Adieu, accept in thought a handshake from

Your most loving brother


Br. 1990: 130 | CL: 110
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Tuesday, 18 September 1877

2. A sizeable collection of Rembrandt etchings was preserved in the Trippenhuis. Two days later Van Gogh visited the Trippenhuis again, writing his name in the visitors’ book. See Groot and De Vries 1990, p. 57.
3. A reference to the two Rembrandt prints which Van Gogh mentions a couple of lines later (see notes 5 and 6), both of which are nocturnal scenes lit by a lantern.
5. Rembrandt, The flight into Egypt, at night, etching, 1651 (B 53,I) (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 375 [375].
6. Rembrandt, The entombment of Christ, etching, c. 1654 (B 86) (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 339 [339]. There is an impression in the family estate (inv. no. t1441).
7. The Museum Fodor (opened in 1863) at Keizersgracht 609-613 in Amsterdam concentrated on paintings, drawings and prints by nineteenth-century artists, though it also owned works by old masters, including 25 drawings attributed at that time to Rembrandt; a number of those attributions have now been revised or cast into doubt. See cat. Amsterdam 1863 and Broos 1981, pp. 7-12. The collection is now housed in the Amsterdam Museum.
11. In the summer of 1873, Christoffel Martinus Vos was forced by a pulmonary condition to resign from the ministry. He subsequently took up an editorial post at the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad (FR b2638).
12. Cf. hymn 200:2, hymn 271:2, and the hymn ‘Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom’.
14. Not only was Christoffel Vos suffering from an incurable illness, but on 4 February 1877 he and Kee lost their one-year-old son Catharinus Henri.
15. The groundwork being done to build the new Central Station; see letter 118, n. 14.
16. Van Gogh’s mention of Andersen was prompted by his Vertellingen van de maan (What the moon saw) (see letter 68); it is not certain whether he is referring to a specific work by Matthijs Maris. Fairy-tale-like representations and atmospheric townscapes of his are known, however, including Fairy tale, c. 1877 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), City outskirts, 1872 (private collection) and The castle ploughman, 1875-76 (Cardiff, National Museum of Wales) – the last one is mentioned in letter 134, n. 18.
[117] [118] [119]
17. The end of the first recitative in Hieronymus van Alphen’s poem ‘De starrenhemel. Eene cantate’ (The starry sky. A cantata). The variant is ‘ritzelt’ (rustles) instead of ‘schuifelt’ (shuffles). See Van Alphen 1857, vol. 2, pp. 57-61 (quotation on p. 58). From the list of subscribers (p. 488), it appears that Uncle Cor had ordered ten copies of this work for his bookshop in Amsterdam. Van Gogh is possibly quoting Van Alphen indirectly, for the lines are also included in Johannes van Vloten’s Aesthetica of schoonheidskunde, to which Van Gogh referred in letter 19. Ed. Deventer 1865, p. 8.
18. See for this quotation from the poem ‘Under the stars’ by Mulock Craik: letter 119, n. 15.
19. On Sunday, 16 September, Jeremias Posthumus Meijjes preached at 10 a.m. in the Oudezijdskapel.
20. The quotation from Ecclesiastes is not rendered word for word.
22. On Sunday, 9 September, Laurillard preached the early sermon in the Zuiderkerk.
23. Paul Alexandre Protais, Souvenirs de la patrie (Souvenirs of the homeland), was included in Goupil’s list as an aquatint-engraving (engraved by ‘Masson’) and as a photograph, appearing in both the series ‘Musée Goupil’, ‘Carte-album’ (no. 178) (Ill. 1221 [1221]) and in the ‘Carte de visite’ series (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil).
24. There are no details of either Vincent’s or Theo’s visit to Antwerp, 33 km south of Zundert.
25. The Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp did not have a portrait by Rembrandt in its collection, though it did have the panel of An old man (Ill. 1848 [1848]), which is presumably a late-seventeenth-century copy after Rembrandt’s Portrait of an old man in the Louvre. Van Gogh could also be referring to the Saskia van Uylenburgh (Ill. 1849 [1849]), a contemporary copy of the original portrait by Rembrandt (now in Kassel, Gemäldegalerie), which was viewed by Vosmaer and Thoré as an autograph replica by Rembrandt. See cat. Antwerp 1988, p. 306, cat. nos. 615, 293.
[1848] [1849]
26. On Monday evening, 10 September, fire had broken out on a barge carrying arrack (rice liquor), lying in the Oosterdok. The ‘Amsterdamsche Onheil-kroniek’ in the Geïllustreerd Politie Nieuws of 15 September 1877 reported the attempts to extinguish the blaze.
27. For the ship De Admiraal Van Wassenaer, see letter 125, n. 6.
28. Van Gogh is referring to a series of four works by Alexandre Jean Louis Japhet (Jazet), all photographed by Billon: L’incendie (The fire), no. 77 (another name for ‘The conflagration’) Ill. 1000 [1000]; La nuit de Noël (Christmas Eve), no. 78 Ill. 1001 [1001]; Changement de garnizon (Changing of the garrison), no. 79 Ill. 1851 [1851]; and Chasse aux loups (The wolf hunt), no. 80 Ill. 1852 [1852].
[1000] [1001] [1851] [1852]
29. Taken from Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (chapter 50): ‘Blessed twilight stealing on, and shading her so soothingly and gravely, as she falls asleep, like a hushed child, upon the bosom she has clung to’. See Dealings with the firm of Dombey and Son. Introduction by W.H. Garrod. Oxford etc. 1981, p. 713. The same line served as a caption to the accompanying engraving by F. Barnard. Ed. London 1890, pp. 364-365.
35. The drawing, attributed to Rembrandt, of Christ with Mary and Martha (c. 1650) was also called The house at Bethany (London, The British Museum). Ill. 345 [345]. Van Gogh visited the British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings on Friday, 28 August 1874, as evidenced by the visitors’ book. See Bailey 1990, p. 51.
36. John Halifax is the protagonist of the novel John Halifax, gentleman by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (cf. letter 122). ‘No, I am a Christian’, he says when, during a conflict, he is taken for a Quaker (ed. New York [c. 1900], p. 166). The scene sketched by Van Gogh has not been traced. It is probably a combination of passages, for example, ‘All were gathered in a group at the window, the child being held on her father’s lap’ (pp. 204-205) and the one where John Halifax tells his children that there is only one name that should be revered: that of the Lord (p. 306). Rose Cottage plays an important role, but the scenes mentioned do not occur in the book. Van Gogh’s ‘I think’ indicates his own doubt as to the accuracy of his recollections.
38. Van Gogh is mistaken in thinking that Martha is busy stirring up the fire.
48. Rembrandt, David in prayer, etching, 1652 (B41) (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). There is an impression in the family estate (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. p111). Ill. 1853 [1853].
49. Ps. 42:2-3, 8-9 and 12 (in KJ Ps. 42:1-2, 7-8 and 11).
50. To the end of the paragraph ending ‘blessed twilight’ (l. 123), Van Gogh’s handwriting had gradually become less compact, owing to the increasing darkness; after this he wrote considerably smaller.
51. Hendrik Jacob Eerligh van Gogh (son of Uncle Jan) and Maria Elisabeth Vos were married on 16 August 1877.
52. The ship the Madura had put to sea on Sunday, 16 September, bound for Batavia (Nieuwe Amsterdamsche Courant. Algemeen Handelsblad, no. 14638). Ships destined for far-off lands departed from the port of Southampton on the south coast of England.
53. The naval officer Jan Vos, the father of Marie, was deputy director of the navy at Amsterdam. From 1876 until his death, Vos was a member of the Hoog Militair Gerechtshof (Supreme Court Martial) at Utrecht. See Adelborstopleiding te Delft – Medemblik – Breda 1816-1857. Ed. M.J.C. Klaassen. The Hague 1979, p. 79, no. M 144.
54. The Nieuwediep is the harbour on the eastern side of Amsterdam, near the mouth of the River IJ where it flows into what was then called the Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer).
55. On Thursday, 20 September 1877, the Levende Meesters (Living Masters) exhibition was to open in the premises of the former Koninklijke Akademie van Beeldende Kunsten. See exhib. cat Amsterdam 1877. Such exhibitions lasted three to four weeks. See exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1995, pp. 52-53.