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Letter from Unknown to Unnamed Newspaper
Brussels, April 12 1922

The following article appeared in an unnamed newspaper dated April 12, 1922:

In a miscellany signed Fr. G. from Brussels, we find in Ons Tijdschrift [Our Magazine] the following particulars about “Vincent van Gogh and Master Bokma”:

Not long ago a man known as “Master Bokma,” highly respected in his circle, died in Brussels. One of the curious circumstances of his life - which he himself little realized, if at all - was that at one time he was the preceptor of the great Vincent van Gogh.

The Training School for Evangelists, founded in 1876 by the Reverend Mr. N. de Jong, was first establishing itself. Master Bokma was the headmaster. Three pupils were in attendance, one of whom furnished me with the following particulars.

Soon it appeared that - considering the nature of the school - he knew quite a lot already. Also, he was much respected for his warm-heartedness. Yet was he not a stranger in Jerusalem? He was teased once in a while, for example, when once he sketched on the blackboard cliffs and a sea-beach; on that occasion he flew into a rage and hit out furiously.

He did not stay long. He did not know what submission was. He could no more finish his training as a clergyman than he could finish his training as Evangelist. When he was confronted with the task of conjugating irregular Greek verbs, he asked his teacher, Mendes da Costa, “Are these horrors really necessary to bring rest and peace to men?” In the same way, when Master Bokma asked him, “Van Gogh, is this dative or accusative?" he answered, “I really don't care, sir.”

And Van Gogh would reply: “Oh, don't worry, sir; this is good enough for me!”

When he spoke at a meeting, he would read a long discourse he had already written down on paper - a thing little appreciated in that Flemish land.

It is known that soon afterward he went to the Walloon country as an evangelist, labouring among the miners; he gave away all his clothes, so that he wore nothing more than a pair of trousers and a jacket; he slept on a plank.

But he did not forget his fellow pupils. When he went to see one of them - an army conscript in Mons - he carried under his arm a large portfolio full of drawings of miners - all very stiff and wooden, he told me.

Van Gogh neglected himself to such a degree that a short time later, when he went to see a Brussels notable with whom he was acquainted, the man's daughter, on opening the door, shrieked, “Papa!” screamed in terror, and fled.

When he went to Paris, his circle of acquaintances in Brussels lost track of him.

[A confirmation of the preceding account was published in De Telegraaf (an Amsterdam newspaper), November 24, 1927.]

On the occasion of the Van Gogh Exhibition the Reverend Mr. J. Chrispeels wrote in his Christelijk Volksblad [Christian Popular Paper] the recollections char-acteristic of Vincent which follow. The Reverend Mr. Chrispeels met him in Brussels, presumably in 1878, when the future painter's father brought him to the Training School for Evangelists, consisting (if a few rooms over the Church Hall in Kathelijne Square. After recalling that previously Van Gogh had not shown too great zeal as a theological student in Holland, the Reverend Mr. Chrispeels, erstwhile parson at Maria-Hoorebeke, related:

This lack of inclination for study manifested itself in Brussels too. Let me give an example.

When we had a Dutch grammar lesson and the master asked a question such as, “Van Gogh, is this the nominative or dative?” the answer was, “ Oh, sir, I really don't care.”

Another gift lay smoldering within him the art of painting. What he liked was ferreting out peculiarities in the Bible and in other books. He asked to be allowed to join the other pupils studying Greek, but he was refused as long as he declined to take lessons in other subjects, too. In certain ways he often made one think of a legalist of the Middle Ages.

Once I saw him furiously indignant. The word falaise [cliff] had occurred in a French exercise. The master explained it to us, but Van Gogh asked, “Sir, will you allow me to draw une falaise on the blackboard?” The master, however, did not think it necessary.

As soon as the lesson was over and the master gone, Van Gogh went to the blackboard and started drawing a cliff. A younger pupil tugged at Van Gogh's jacket from behind to make fun of him. Van Gogh sprang round with an expression on his face I shall never forget, and dealt his teaser such a blow that he did not come back for more.

Oh! that face blazing with indignation and wrath!

No, I shall never forget it. How deplorable that Van Gogh, who took a life devoted to God so seriously, could for a moment so forget himself! He did not stay long at the Training School.

The Synod appointed him Evangelist at Wasmes, in the Borinage, in the Walloon Country, where he was to officiate in a small parish - in reality not more than a missionary post.

In the meantime I had become a soldier.

Once when we were exercising on the parade ground the sergeant called me, saying, “There is a man to see you.” The man came to me...It was Van Gogh, with a big portfolio under his arm. He showed me drawings intended to represent miners. How queer those stiff little figures looked!

“A heart of gold,” people said. His coming to see me did me good.

After one of his wanderings he once more came back to Brussels on a Sunday evening. But he was received with the most cordial hospitality.

After this we lost sight of him. But it is known that he took art lessons in Brussels and Antwerp.

At this time, Vincent was 69 year old
Unknown. Letter to Unnamed Newspaper. Written April 12 1922 in Brussels. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.

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