van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from His Parents to Theo van Gogh
Zundert, 1878

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

2 March 1878

The concern about Vincent oppresses us heavily. I foresee that again a bomb is going to burst. It is apparent that the beginning of his studies are disappointing to him, and his heart seems to be torn by conflicting forces. He has now tied up connections with English and French clergymen of ultra-orthodox views - and as a result the number of faults in his work has increased again. I am afraid he has no idea what studying means, and now I fear the remedy he will choose will be again a proposal for a change, for instance to become a catechist! But that doesn't bring in any bread! We sit and wait, and it is like the calm before the storm.

To us, it is a vexation of our souls, and yet we believe in relief that God can accomplish. He creates light in the darkness! But also, there is a close relation between human errors and sad results. Does this happen also under God's guidance? - and it is amazing that we experience pain and sorrow when he always goes his way as with bowed head, while we have done everything we could to lead him to an honorable goal? It is as if he purposely chooses the ways that lead to difficulties.

Mrs. Van Gogh

2 March 1878

You know, he is always a faithful writer, and now we haven't had a letter for a fortnight. You will remember that Pa was not quite reassured when he had seen him; Pa wrote him about it once more, and then we received such a strange conflicting reply…But how unhappy he must be, poor boy, you can well imagine how it worries us. He probably doesn't want anything else but a position with the church but without study; what a prospect for his living and his honour!

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

April 1878

I am afraid he is very unhappy, but what can we do about it? We encourage him and give him the opportunity of continuing his studies, although we hardly know how to manage. It is a sickly existence he has chosen, I'm afraid, and how much he will still have to endure, and we together with him.

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

11 May 1878

So your work will be of a somewhat different kind from what we had thought, and you will have to be at the exhibition most of the time.

[Mother] Our whole heart travelled after you and keeps following you and praying for the Lord's blessing. Do not start a single day without the good Lord, my child. In that big world full of distraction and temptation you can't do without Him, just as little as we in our quiet spot in Etten; and whatever the circumstances, don't forget life is earnest, then you will increase not only in knowledge, but also in firmness, which is the basis and source of a happy life - something we wish you above all.

[Reverend van Gogh] You say that among the young people there they do not understand why you have been picked for the job. Is it possible that they are jealous? Then take care, do not trust unconditionally every friendship that is being offered. Think of intrigues! Which are somehow ascribed to that metropolis! If one should tempt you to any spending beyond your means: be doubly on your guard! When one plans someone's downfall, the system of making him run up debts is fairly customary to throw a net over his head! But do not think I look at things too darkly. Only watch out. I do know that you do not intend anything else, we trust you! But is it surprising that we - who know what disappointment is - also think a little further ahead?

Mrs. van Gogh to Theo.

12 May 1878

Dear Theo, do remain the crown for us old ones, which is shaken so often.

[Reverend van Gogh] You evidently enjoy life and are well able to overcome your difficulties. It is really a stroke of luck to be able to look at that colossal world around you and observe representatives of all nations and people behaving at their best and less than best, and then with so much art around you…and far, very far away so many who think of you with love and interest and confidence, and already look forward to receiving a word or two from you.

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

7 June 1878

We don't know yet where this crisis will lead to…Because I did not want to rush things, I told him that for the time being he should go on with his lessons for three months, giving me time to think things over. In the meantime I have written to the Reverend Van der Brink, who is now a parson at Roesselaere in Belgium, asking him whether he might be used in that country. The reverend Van der Brink thinks it not impossible that a post as evangelist might become available for which knowledge of English and French would be an asset. He will keep me informed and try to help.

[…] Perhaps we should risk this experiment as a last resort, but everything is still so uncertain. It is a problem that worries us seriously, but let us not lose courage. You have always said: who knows whether he will not pull through some day and succeed. May God grant it.

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

8 July 1878

[Vincent has come home] last Friday evening [5th July].

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

28 July 1878

It was last Tuesday and Wednesday that we were there, and we have seen a lot of people. What we have decided now is that we will arrange for a try-out period of three months - against payment for board on our side - to see whether he would have a chance in succeeding. Vincent spoke perfectly well and made a good impression as far as I know. After all, his staying abroad has not been completely fruitless, nor has the year spent in Amsterdam, when he is called upon he is able to prove that he has learned and observed a lot in the school of life.

However, the cause of evangelization in Belgium cannot boast of a solid monetary base; it is started and continued in faith. But most of the time, if money was necessary, there was no lack of it. The reverend Pietersen from Malines joined us and led us to the Reverend de Jong in Brussels, who had asked us to stay with him.

[…] It was a pleasant coincidence that the Reverend Jones, with whom Vincent had been in England, could accompany us. He had arrived the preceding Saturday, and stayed till Tuesday, when he went to Brussels with us. He is a nice human being, who has made a good impression upon us all. In Brussels he spoke well of Vincent, and his presence caused the discussion to be held mostly in English; this gave Vincent the opportunity to show us that he could speak it quickly and correctly, for which they gave him a compliment. We now wait for further instructions about when and how he will start work.

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

August 1878

[Vincent will depart for Brussels on the 24 August].

[Mother] May everything go well with Vincent, but Oh, Theo, it isn't clear yet, he is more absent-minded than ever. Probably also because he really concentrates on his thoughts on his sermons, of which he is making a whole stock. On Saturday he will go, and so will Lies, and then it will be very quiet here.

Reverend van Gogh to Theo.

24 November 1878

I am on the point of going to Brussels. Mr. Plugge wrote me about Vincent. He is weak and thin - it seems he was not given any prospects, and I am worried.and seems to be in a nervous condition. Therefore I want to go and see for myself what we should do.

[Mother] Tomorrow is the end of the three month period; we are almost sure he will not be accepted. We don't talk about it to anybody, don't do that either. We say to the people who know that Father will go on a journey that Vincent is ill. You can well imagine what a sad journey. Mr. Plugge asked us to come and take him home. What is going to become of all this?

Reverend van Gogh to Reverend Péron, Protestant Minister at Dour.

5 December 1878

Dear Sir, Having received a letter from my son Vincent, who wrote that he had addressed himself to you to ask for some work, and who said to you, Sir, wished to have some more information about him from me, his father, I hasten to comply with your request by telling you: That it is really my son who, having been looking for a place as evangelist in Belgium for three months now, came to see you in the hope that you might give him some light, giving him the advice and information which he needs.

[…] May God grant him to find with you the possibility of gaining his bread by practical work of an honest kind.


At this time, Vincent was 25 year old
His Parents. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 1878 in Zundert. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number .

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
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