I feel I must write you without further delay, especially
because I have to thank you for three things. In the first
place for your nice four-page letter; it was the greatest treat
for me, for it does one good to feel that one still has a
brother living and walking on this earth. When one has many
things to think of and to do, one sometimes gets the feeling,
Where am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? And one's brain
reels. But then a well-known voice such as yours, or rather a
well-known handwriting, makes one feel firm ground under one's
Then I must thank you for that number of the Galerie
Contemporaine about Edouard Frère; it is very
interesting, and I am glad to have it. I also thank you for the
ten stamps - it really is too much, and you ought not to have
done it. A warm handshake for everything.
Now, I still have something to tell you about St. Nicholas:
I received a very good letter from Etten, and enclosed was some
money for a pair of gloves. As I still have a pair, I bought
something else with it, another map by Stieler, of Scotland
alone. At present I can get them separately at Seyffardt's, but
probably I shall not always have such an opportunity. I have
copied the map, so I have a duplicate, and as I wished to give
a Christmas present to Harry Gladwell, I hope to send it to you
so you can enclose it for him in the first box that goes to
Paris. One must build the house on a rock; Scotland,
Normandy and Brittany are rather rocky, as you will see if you
look at that big map of Scotland when you get it. When I
compare my studies to the building of a house, with these
months as the foundation of it, then these rocks are the
But all this business is in parenthesis - I must still tell
you about St. Nicholas Eve. Uncle Cor gave me the Bossuet's
Oraisons Funèbres in a very pretty and handy edition,
very complete; the beautiful sermon about Paul on the text,
“When I am weak, then I am strong,” is included. It
is a noble book, you will see it at Christmas; I was so happy
to get it that I carried it in my pocket all the time, but I
must stop doing it, lest I damage it. Mendes gave me the works
of Claudius, also a good, serious book; I had sent him Thomae
Kempensis, De Imitatione Christi, and on the flyleaf I wrote:
“In him there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor servant nor
master, nor man nor woman, but Christ is all and in all.”
Uncle Stricker gave me a box of cigars - do you know what I did
with them? The Rooses have always been so kind to me, and I was
wondering if I couldn't find something to send them when that
box of cigars helped me out of the difficulty. And in the
evening Uncle Jan had put my almond-paste initial on the table.
I stepped in for a moment at Vos's, where Uncle and Aunt
Stricker were spending the evening; I could not stay, however,
as I had a lesson from Teixeira from eight to ten.
Uncle Jan spent the evening at Uncle Cor's.
It is a good idea of yours to write those names on the map
of Brittany. Bring it with you at Christmas, then we can
compare them. You talk about my coming to The Hague on my way
to Etten, and I should like to do so - would there be room for
me at Roos's for one night? If so, you need not write to me,
then I will count on it if necessary. I should love to see your
little room again, and the ivy-covered tree; I hope it may
It was such delightful weather today, and it was so
beautiful between the hawthorn hedges around the little church
when the twilight began to fall.
This week I had a conversation with Mendes about “the
man who hates not his own life, cannot be my disciple.”
Mendes asserted that the expression was too strong, but I held
that it was the simple truth; and doesn't Thomas a Kempis say
the same thing when he speaks about knowing and hating oneself?
When we look at others who have done more than we and are
better than we, we very soon begin to hate our own life because
it is not as good as others'. Look at a man like Thomas a
Kempis, who wrote his little book with a simplicity and
sincerity unequalled by any other writer, either before or
since; or, in another sphere, look at Millet's work or Jules
Dupré's “The Large Oaks” - that is
I hope you are having a pleasant Sunday today - how I should
like to be with you. Uncle Jan has gone to Haarlem, so I am
alone tonight, but I have a lot of work to do.
You have given me a great deal of pleasure by sending that
article about Edouard Frère. Once I saw the artist
himself at Goupil's, his appearance is very simple.
“Enfin il vainquit” says his biography; so it may
be with us sometime - it may happen, and one should say,
“I never despair.” One does not get it all at once,
and most people who have attained something have passed through
a long and difficult time of preparation - the rock upon which
their house was built.
Now I must hurry, for I have to set to work so that next
week I can probably come to The Hague for a day, for instance
Thursday, perhaps later. I must see how I can arrange my work.
From The Hague I hope to go to Dordrecht; if you could leave on
Saturday night, we could meet at the Dordrecht station. Then I
should spend only two nights at Roos's; once at The Hague, I
should like to stay somewhat longer there and visit some
It is a pity that Mauve is going to move to the country. I
hope that we can go there together once more, like that evening
last spring; it was so pleasant then.
At best, man is a thief by nature, but under the guidance
and blessing of God, he may rise above it; thus the day came
for Paul when he could say with boldness and confidence to
Herod [sic]: I would to God, that not only thou, but also all
that hear me this day, were such as I am, except these bonds
[see Acts 26:29].
Thanks for your comments about the lithographs. Another
thing, you sent “Christus Consolator” and pendant,
for which I was very glad.
It would not be a bad thing for you to have that map of
Scotland, too; then you will have three out of that atlas, and
as the proverb goes, “Third time is lucky.” So
count on getting it, and don't buy it in any case; I should
have liked to send you this one, which will now go to Gladwell,
but I think it my duty to make sure he hears from me once in a
while; I hope he will be able to go to Lewisham at Christmas.
You know the picture by Carp, here in the museum, an early
Dutch family; when he saw it, he stopped and looked at it for a
long time, and then he spoke of “the house built on the
rock,” and of his home in Lewisham. I, too, have my
memories of his father's house, and I shall not easily forget
it. Under that roof dwells much love, strong and great, of
which there is something left in him; it is not dead, but
I have hung that page from the Cours de Dessin Bargue,
“Anne of Brittany,” in my room again. Yes, a man is
evil-minded by nature, but in the battle for life he may rise
above it; that thought came to my mind after I had been looking
at the expression on the face of that royal child, Anne of
Brittany, for a long time - the expression reminds one of the
phrases, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with
grief,” “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”
À Dieu, my regards to the Rooses and believe me,
Your loving brother, Vincent
P. S. If I do not hear from you, I shall come Thursday or
Friday, December 20 or 21.
At this time, Vincent was 24 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 9 December 1877 in Amsterdam. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 116.
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