Thanks for your nice letter, and also for that page from
Michelet; I have copied it on the back of the map of Normandy
and Brittany. How noble and beautiful it is - with a peculiar,
weird beauty, the finest expression of which we find in that
story of Elijah near the brook Kishon and with the widow - it
is written in simplicity of heart and simpleness of mind by one
who was sorrowful yet always rejoicing.
I am glad you are going to the library to see those maps by
Stieler and Sprüner Menke; they have the same kind of
beauty. Last night I was at Uncle Cor's and looked at them
again; when you look through the Atlas, notice also the maps of
Denmark, Sweden and Norway and especially that of Greece.
Father wrote from Brussels, and later wired both the uncles
to come. When the letter came, Uncle Jan had just gone to the
Leidsestraat 1, and I went there, too, to bring him
the letter, though rather afraid that Uncle might have just
gone home and that we should miss each other. On the Dam I
found Uncle standing under the light of a street lamp, waiting
for a bus. We then entered the parcels express office of v.
Gend & Loos there on the Dam and read the letter. Next day
they both left for Brussels.
Uncle Cor has already come back. Things in Brussels are
very, very sad. When one hears such things - so terrible, and
yet they may befall us too, for what are we, and what
distinguishes us? - one begins rather to realize why He said,
“If a man hate not his life, he cannot be my
disciple,” for there is reason to hate that life, and
what is called “this body of death.” And with
reason it is written, “Si vous désirez apprendre
et savoir utilement quelque chose, aimez à rester
inconnu at à n'être compté pour rien, et
l'étude la plus élevée et la plus utile,
c'est de se bien connaître et de se
mépriser” [If you want to learn and have a useful
knowledge of something, prefer to remain unknown and to be
counted for nothing; the most sublime and useful study is to
know oneself well, and to despise oneself.]
I had to draw for Mendes a map of ancient Italy, or rather
two, for I drew also one of middle Italy, just about from Rome
When I saw Uncle Jan standing on the Dam that evening, his
figure reminded me of Landseer's “The Highlander”
(or is that engraving called “The Mountain
This week I paid a visit to the Reverend Mr. Jeremie Meyes.
I went there when it was raining, hoping to find him at home,
but he was out; perhaps he had gone to visit somebody else for
the same reason. But his wife was at home, and was sewing in a
little room, like the little back room in Etten (but this one
looks out on the street). She reminds me of Mrs. Jones. They
are such nice people; I ran into them lately at a lecture, and
they differed from the other people like an old moss-covered
apple tree or a rosebush differs from all kinds of unnatural
Uncle Cor told me about the walk he took with Uncle Jan in
the Bois de Cambre - you know its gnarled brushwood and trees
with their weird forms; the sky was stormy, with big clouds
reflected in the pools on the ground. It has been a deeply
melancholy journey for them both, and for Father also. On the
ninth day there is sometimes a change in such a condition;
Uncle Jan will wait for that, and will probably stay until
The tidings from Prinsenhage are not very favourable
Next month I hope to send you the little book about the
Crusades by Gruson; when you have read it, we can give it to
And so Brion is dead too; well, he left some beautiful work
behind. Do you know his “Un enterrement sur les bords du
Rhin” [A Funeral on the Banks of the Rhine], an old
picture? I also like the one at the Luxembourg,
“Noah,” so much; how many things has he done! He
had a great talent and has made the most of it, and gained by
it. There are many illustrations by him in the illustrated
edition of Erckmann-Chatrian. “The Invasion” is
also one of his most beautiful pictures.
Tomorrow Martyn Aerssen is going to be married, and Father
will officiate. Aerssen is a fine man - Brion would have
painted him well.
If you find in the store an old lithograph, “A Church
Meeting Somewhere in Lapland,” and also the pendant by
Meyer van Bremen, “Mothers with Children” - they
are hanging at home - please put them aside and tell me what
How beautiful that portrait of De Ruyter is; it's an old
aquatint, which hangs in Uncle's room. I look at it so often;
it has a stormy or thundery expression, a look such as I think
Cromwell must have had.
At Uncle Cor's I saw a new engraving after Erskine Nicol,
“Sabbath,” an old woman going home in the rain; it
is very fine and well engraved.
Tomorrow morning I shall go to the little English church I
told you about. In the evening it lies so peacefully in that
quiet Beguinage, between the hawthorn hedges; it seems to say,
“In loco isto dabo pacem,” which means, In this
place I will give peace, saith the Lord.
The view of the yard in the morning is intriguing now that
the sun rises so late in the dark days before Christmas and the
workmen do not arrive until seven o'clock. It is stormy
outside; we have quite enough wind and rain these days.
In studying the history of Ancient Rome, I read that if a
crow or an eagle landed on the head of anyone, it was a sign
that heaven approved of them and blessed them. It is good to
know this history; I am happy because it has given me a chance
to understand what happened during this time.
Uncle Cor has offered me A Child's history of England by
Dickens; I don't remember if I have written you that this book
is fine gold, and that I have read notably the description of
the Battle of Hastings. I know that when one attentively reads
books of this genre, for example Motley, Dickens, and Gruson's
Les Croisades, they convey to us a simplified but precise idea
of history in general.
I must set to work now, Latin exercises for tomorrow morning
and other things. Write me soon if you can, and have as good a
time as possible. I hope to have copied a few more of those
maps by Stieler before Christmas. Now I am studying, though it
may cost a little more effort, it must be done well, and
I will try to do it the way I see others who take their work
seriously do; it is a race and a fight for my life - no
more, no less. Whoever gets through this course of study and
perseveres in it to the end will not forget it as long as he
lives; to have done this will be something to treasure.
What a good employee that Wierda is; he is very clever too,
I think. There are a great many nice people in the book
business; Uncle Cor, Mr. Braat, Schröder here (that is
where Mendes gets his books, and I, too, sometimes). One might
also count Mr. Tersteeg among them, and you, too, are in it;
hold on to what you have, for you are also in the battle.
My compliments to the Roos family; à Dieu, boy, we
must try to travel together at Christmas. A warm handshake in
Your loving brother, Vincent
1. Where Uncle Cor lived.
At this time, Vincent was 24 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 25 November 1877 in Amsterdam. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 114.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.