Here, the dark days before Christmas are as a long
procession at the end of which shines such a light, the feast
of the Nativity: the friendly lighthouse behind the rocks, when
the water comes crashing against them on a dark night. This
feast of Christmas has always been for us a bright spot, and
may it always remain so.
For the first time there has been an entrance examination at
the university, I, too, shall have to take it here in this
city. Besides the ordinary subjects, Latin, Greek, algebra and
mathematics, one has to pass examinations on history, geography
and Dutch grammar.
I have been looking for an algebra and mathematics teacher;
I have found one, the cousin of Mendes, Teixeira de Mattos, who
teaches religion at the Jewish pauper school. He has given me
hope to cover all the programs before the month of October of
If I should pass the examination, I will be able to
congratulate myself, because they told me at the start of my
studies that a minimum of two years would be necessary for me
to deepen my knowledge of these four subjects. If I succeed in
October, I will have made up in a lot less time.
The preparatory studies, which precede theological studies
proper, which will be exercises in preaching and recitation,
consist of history, Dutch grammar, the geography of Greece,
Asia Minor and Italy. I apply myself to these studies with the
tenacity of a dog that gnaws a bone; I should also like to know
the grammar, history and geography of the Nordic countries,
particularly those countries that border on the North Sea and
At last I succeeded in making a map of Asia Minor, Greece
and Italy, rather a large one (on which the travels of Paul are
also indicated) and one of England which finally has the
quality I wanted - Mendes, for one, sees it - namely that it
has been made with feeling and love. The names I put on it came
from a map in the Atlas Antiquus by Sprüner Menke, which
Mendes has; it is one used for history. Do try your best to get
a look at that atlas, and also at the one by Stieler
especially, for it is the work of real artists.
I spent two evenings at Uncle Cor's looking over old books,
including volumes of L'Illustration, in which I found many old
friends (what an interesting magazine it is!). Among others,
there was an old portrait of Dickens and a woodcut by De Lemud,
“ Cup of Coffee” - a young man with rather severe,
sharp features and a serious expression who looks just as if he
were pondering over a fragment from l'imitation de la vie
monastique or planning some difficult but good work, as
only une âme en peine can do. Such work is not always the
worst, for what is wrought in sorrow, lives for all time.
“Heureux celui que la vérité instruit, non
par des mots fugitifs, mais par elle même en se montrant
telle qu'elle est” [Happy the one who is taught by truth,
not by fleeting words but by itself, showing itself as it is]
is a good saying.
I was also at Uncle Cor's on Aunt's birthday last Friday.
They played cards that evening, and as I cannot play, I read in
Aug. Gruson, Histoire des Croisades (Pantheon Classique 50
cmes.). It is a fine little book, I should almost say written
with the sentiment of Thijs Maris - for instance, when he
paints an old castle on a rock with the autumn woods in
twilight, and the black fields in the foreground, with a
peasant and a white horse ploughing. It also reminded me of
Michelet and Carlyle.
I should like very much to have Father know that etching,
“A Young Citizen of the Year V.” Shall we send it
on or before Father's birthday, with some other small
photographs on the subject of the Revolution, so that they form
a whole and Father can see what occupies our thoughts so
You have heard, I suppose, that sad news arrived from
Brussels today and that Father has gone there already. Uncle
Jan, who received a telegram from Mother with this information,
wired Father and received the answer, “Condition
unchanged, do not come yet, I am here.” Uncle Jan and
Uncle Cor were ready to start for Brussels together, but now
they are waiting for more news from Father. Will that long and
terrible suffering come to an end at last?
Goodbye, Theo, write soon, boy, if you can. May God keep us
in health and give us the lucidity, strength and cheerfulness
which we need every day. A warm handshake from
Your loving brother, Vincent
The news about Uncle Hein came while I was writing this.
At this time, Vincent was 24 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 19 November 1877 in Amsterdam. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 113.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.