Isleworth, 26 Aug. 1876

My dear Theo,
Herewith a few words for Mr Tersteeg. The last time I wrote to him I was still in Paris and it’s time I wrote again; we’ve always kept in touch with each other since I left The Hague.1
It’s a magnificent morning, the sun is shining through the large acacias on the playground, flashing on the roofs and windows visible behind the garden. There are already threads of gossamer in the garden, and it’s cool in the morning and the boys run back and forth to get warm. I hope to tell them the story of John and Theagenes2 this evening in their bedroom. I often tell them stories in the evening, such as Le conscrit by Conscience,3 and Madame Therèse by Erckmann-Chatrian4 and Oudejaar by Jean Paul,5 which is enclosed herewith, and Andersen’s fairy tales, ‘The story of a mother, The red shoes, The little matchseller’,6 King Robert of Sicily by Longfellow,7 etc. Sometimes something from Dutch history, too.
Every day I teach them biblical history, and that is something more than a pleasure.
Not a day goes by without praying to God and  1v:2 without speaking of God, not only praying but also admitting to it, not only speaking but also holding fast to prayer, Father I pray not that Thou shouldest take me out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep me from the evil.8 ‘O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our Love for Thee make that bond ever stronger’.9
My speaking of Him is nothing much as yet, but with God’s help and blessing it will get better. I have confidence10 nowadays, but there is greater confidence than this, and greater Love and greater strength to act and to do what is right, a greater yielding to a stronger urge, a better and more profound searching for God and doing His will with a simpler, better and humbler heart, and that’s what I hope for.11
Have I ever told you about that painting by Boughton, ‘The pilgrim’s progress’?12
It’s getting on towards evening. A sandy road leads over the hills to a mountain on which one sees the holy city lit by the sun setting red behind the grey clouds of evening.
On the road a pilgrim who wants to go to that city, he is already tired and asks a woman in black standing by the roadside whose name is ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’,13

‘Does the road go uphill then all the way?’
‘Yes to the very end’
‘And will the journey take all day long?’
‘From morn till night my friend’.14  1v:3

The landscape the road goes through is so beautiful, brown heathland with birches and pine trees here and there, and patches of yellow sand, and mountains in the distance, against the sun.
Actually, it’s not a painting but an inspiration.
I’m writing to you between lessons; today I escaped briefly and walked between the hedgerows with ‘John and Theagenes’ in order to memorize it. How I wish you could see the playground now, and the garden behind it, in the twilight, inside the school the gas-lamps flicker and one hears the congenial sound of the boys learning their lessons, from time to time one of them starts humming a snatch of melody from some hymn or other, and there’s something of that ‘faith of old’15 in me. I’m still a long way from being what I’d like to be, but with God’s help I’ll succeed. What do I want – – – to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel those bonds. To be sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing.16 To live in and for Christ, to be one of the poor in His kingdom,17 leavened with the leaven,18 inspired by His Spirit, constrained by His Love,19 resting in the Father with that rest of which I spoke in my last letter. To become one who cannot rest in anything but in Him, who desires nothing on earth beside Him,20 and who lives in the Love of God and of Christ, in whom we are intimately bound with one another.  1r:4
Gal. IV:6. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father!

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, it is meek, it is woe-spirited, it has woe and spirit, charity is kind; Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, Charity; but the greatest of these is Charity.21

I know in Whom my faith is founded,
Though day and night change constantly,
I know the rock on which I’m grounded,
My Saviour waits, unfailingly.
When once life’s evening overcomes me,
Worn down by ills and strife always,
For every day Thou hast allowed me,
I’ll bring Thee higher, purer praise.22

May you also have a pleasant evening, may it be so. Thanks for your postcard. Mr Jones hasn’t yet decided what he will do.23 Give my regards to all who ask after me, in any case Borchers if you see him or any of his family. A handshake in thought from

Your most loving brother,

Just a few more words. I just told the story of John and Theagenes – first in the room where most of the boys sleep and then in the room upstairs where there are 4 others – in the dark, but when I’d finished they had all fallen asleep unnoticed. It’s no wonder, because they ran around a lot today in the playground. Then, too, I speak with some difficulty and I don’t know what it sounds like to English ears. But I’ll learn by practice. I think that the Lord has received me24 just as I am, with all my shortcomings, although there’s an even deeper kind of receiving for which I hope.
It’s already late. Tomorrow evening I have to tell the same story to the assistant teacher and the two oldest boys, who stay up later. Those three and I eat our bread together in the evenings. When I was telling the story,  2v:6 I heard one of them playing ‘Tell me the old, old story’ on the piano downstairs.25 It’s already late, and school rules don’t really allow me to stay up this long. Just now I smoked my pipe in the playground, it was so beautiful outside, even in the small yard where the pig lives for most of the year, though it’s not there at the moment. It’s nice to walk around like that everywhere in the evening, upstairs and downstairs. And now good-night and sleep well, and when you say your evening prayers, remember me as I do you. Good-night, old boy, a handshake in thought from

Your most loving brother

I’m already looking forward to Christmas, two years ago we took that walk in the snow in the evening, do you remember it, when we saw the moon rise above Mariënhof?26 I still remember very well that evening at Christmas-time when I rode from Den Bosch27 to Helvoirt in an open cart, it was awfully cold and the road was slippery, how beautiful Den Bosch looked, the marketplace and the streets with snow and the houses dark, with snow on the roofs; Brabant is indeed Brabant, and the Mother country is indeed the mother country, and the lands where one is a stranger are the lands where one is a stranger.28 And how friendly Helvoirt looked that evening, and the lights in the village and the tower between the snow-covered poplars, seen from a distance on the road to Den Bosch. But it’s love that gives everything such great beauty and life. And do you still remember that trip to Sint-Michielsgestel?29

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with great singing and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.30

A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.31
Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the foreign land.32

Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.33

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.34
When Lies came home at Christmas we had such a nice reunion. She and Albertien35 came from Breda36 in Uncle Vincent’s carriage. Pa, Cor and I walked up the road to meet them, and when we saw the carriage in the distance I walked on ahead. It was twilight, and dark in the carriage. Through the window one saw the road with rows of trees on either side, and the fields. At the end of the road the church, dark against the sky. Behind the church the large, dark evening clouds, dark but with silver edges. And it was so unexpectedly good for me to see the girl again; it was a much greater joy than I thought it would be.
Anna should be back in Welwyn by now,37 when she leaves Welwyn she’ll feel how much she loved it. You remember how in the winter she was the first to get up and make the fire. She’s been a blessing for that household. Her little room is so pretty, with the ivy  4v:10 around the window and the view of the garden and the huge chestnut trees, which masses of swallows fly around in the summer when the sun goes down behind the trees. And the rooks have their nests there. The Mater Dolorosa by Delaroche38 was hanging above her bed.
Do you perhaps still have that page from Michelet that begins ‘from here I see a lady’?39 If you do, copy it for me if you will, I need it but don’t have the book any more.

A torrent of unrightousness
Has got the mastery of me
Oh my unbridled sinfulness
Thou dost atone in harmony!
Blest is he whom Thou hast chosen
From all earthly woe set free
Coming nigh, for Thou hast spoken
To find his dwelling-place in Thee.40

Blest is the man whose sins have been forgiven
Saved from punition in the sight of heaven
The transgression leading to his blight
Is hidden from the Lord’s most holy sight.
Blest is the man to whom it is allowed
To be judged blameless by a righteous God And nurtures in his heart sincere and pious
Pure probity and no base wickedness.41

How shall these things be?42

Who shall roll us away the stone from the sepulchre?43

I will go forth before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.44

I am the First and the Last.45

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget Thee.46

Hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine: Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.47

For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.48
The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light,  5v:12 and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.49

As one whom his Mother comforteth, so will I comfort you,50 saith the Lord. From this time thou shalt cry unto me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth.51 Thou shalt call me, My Father; and shalt not turn away from me.52

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.53 Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.54

For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee,55 even if all thy lovers have forgotten thee.56

I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.57

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting Love.58 As one whom his Mother comforteth, so will I comfort you,59 saith the Lord. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.60

There is no safer or better way to get through life than Love, above all for our Father, in whose name we go forward from one day to the next, though we can feel love for others as well. How often has the memory of one who is already departed to our Father’s house where there are many mansions61 warmed me and made my heart glow with Love in the streets of London and on my evening walks in the cabbage fields outside the city. And still the thought of Him recurs and Love of Him, as often as I walk the streets of London.


Br. 1990: 088 | CL: 74
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Isleworth, Saturday, 26 August 1876

1. That Van Gogh corresponded frequently with H.G. Tersteeg at this time emerges from the following remark made by Mrs van Gogh to Theo: ‘When Vincent was home last year, he let us read letters from Mr Tersteeg which he received in London. So nice, and enjoyable’ (FR b972, 31 March 1878).
2. The early Christian legend of John and Theagenes treats the apostle John, who asks a bishop near Ephesus to keep an eye on the promising youth Theagenes. The bishop fails in this endeavour and the lad becomes the leader of a band of robbers. Later, however, John succeeds in making him repent: Theagenes shows remorse and is converted to a new, God-fearing life. In the Netherlands the story was known from Bernard ter Haar’s adaptation titled Joannes en Theagenes. Eene legende uit de apostolische eeuw. Arnhem 1838 (and several reprints).
3. Le conscrit (The conscript) is the French title of an originally Flemish story set in an idyllic village, titled De loteling (1850) by Henri Conscience. It recounts the heartrending story of Jan, whose conscription into the army forced him to take leave of his family and his beloved Trien. The book had been reprinted several times before 1876 (the year in which this letter was written), and there were a number of French translations.
5. The short story ‘Die Neujahrsnacht eines Unglücklichen’ (A wretch’s New Year’s Eve) by Jean Paul, (the pseudonym of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter) is about an old man who regrets his past mistakes, and upon hearing the chimes ringing in the new year, recalls with longing his innocent youth and realizes that it is not too late to turn over a new leaf and lead a virtuous life. See Jean Pauls Sämtliche Werke. Ed. Eduard Berend. Vol. 7, section 1. Weimar 1931, pp. 392-394. A Dutch translation, ‘De oudejaarsnacht van eenen ongelukkigen’, appeared in Gedachten van Jean Paul. Met eene inleiding door J.A. Weiland. 2 vols. Amsterdam 1837, vol. 1, pp. 85-88.
6. Andersen's fairy talesDe geschiedenis eener moeder’ (Andersen 1872, pp. 413-419), which appeared as ‘The story of a mother’ in Andersen 1861, pp. 394-400; ‘De roode schoentjes’ (Andersen 1872, pp. 253-260), which appeared as ‘The red shoes’ in Andersen 1861, pp. 271-277; ‘Het kleine meisje met de lucifers’ (Andersen 1872, pp. 319-321), which appeared as ‘The little matchseller’, Andersen 1861, pp. 324-326.
The first is the story of a horror-stricken mother who sets out in search of her daughter, who has been claimed by Death. At first prepared to go to any lengths to recover her daughter, the mother ultimately accepts God’s will. The second fairy tale is about a girl called Karen who is obsessed with red shoes. When her shoes are put under a spell and cannot stop dancing, she has her feet chopped off. She goes to work for a preacher, whom she helps ‘diligently and thoughtfully’, finally realizing that it is not splendour and finery that is important, but the attainment of God’s grace. ‘The little matchseller’ is the tale of a little girl who is sent out on a cold New Year’s Eve to sell matches. She manages to stay alive by lighting one match after another, in the course of which beautiful and joyous things happen to her. Just before freezing to death, she is lovingly gathered up in the arms of her grandmother, and together they are embraced by God.
9. A prayer written and often recited in the family circle by Mr van Gogh; see letter 113.
10. ‘Vrijmoedigheid hebben’ (to have confidence) is a pietistic manner of speaking.
11. Van Gogh’s striving for greater godliness was viewed with dismay by his family. Lies, for example, wrote to Theo on 18 August: ‘I believe he is intoxicated with piety’ (FR b2766).
12. For a long time it was thought that Van Gogh was referring here to Boughton’s The pilgrim’s progress, also called: Godspeed! Pilgrims setting out for Canterbury; Time of Chaucer, 1874 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 1815 [1815]. There is reason to doubt this identification, however. Parts of Van Gogh’s description do not correspond to this work: the woman who is being addressed is not wearing black, for example, and there is no sign of either the evening sun or mountains in the distance. Moreover, Van Gogh refers again to this work in letter 99, in which he explicitly mentions a ‘sketch’. Sund therefore imagines a work ‘in the mode of Bearers of the Burden’, in Sund 1992, p. 259 (n. 77). See also Hope B. Werness, ‘Vincent van Gogh and a lost painting by G.H. Boughton’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts 106 (September 1985), pp. 53-75, and Xander van Eck, who stated: ‘It seems very probable that Boughton did indeed make a painting based on Bunyan’s immensely popular Pilgrim’s Progress, even though no such painting has yet come to light.’ See ‘Van Gogh and George Henry Boughton’, The Burlington Magazine 132 (1990), pp. 539-540 (quotation on p. 540); and De Leeuw 1995.
18. Biblical; cf. Matt. 13:33.
21. 1 Cor. 13. To verse 4 of this passage Van Gogh added the phrase ‘zij is zacht... moed’ (it is meek... woe and spirit), which is based on Gal. 5:22, Eph. 4:2 and Col. 3:12.
23. In letters 87 and 88, Vincent had asked Theo to inquire about the price of butter. Apparently Theo had written the information requested on the above-mentioned postcard.
25. Concerning ‘Tell me the old, old story’ from the book The old, old story by Arabella Catherine Hankey, see letter 82, n. 1.
26. Mariënhof was a country estate lying due south-west of Helvoirt. The Van Goghs – who were friends of the owners, the De Jonge van Zwijnsbergen family – visited the estate regularly, as emerges from the family correspondence.
27. ’s-Hertogenbosch, a city c. 10 km north of Helvoirt.
29. The village of Sint-Michielsgestel is c. 8 km east of Helvoirt.
32. Cf. Jer. 31:16, ‘and they shall come again from the land of the enemy’.
35. Albertina Brugsma, a school friend of Lies, spent the Christmas holidays with the Van Gogh family in 1875 (FR b2224, b2379 and b2385).
36. The city of Breda is c. 35 km west of Helvoirt.
37. Anna had left on Friday, 25 August and therefore could not have arrived in Welwyn before Saturday, 26 August (FR b2768).
39. For the passage ‘Je vois d’ici une dame’ from the chapter ‘Les aspirations de l’automne’ from Jules Michelet’s L’amour, see letter 14, n. 19. There is a sheet in the estate with this passage in Theo’s handwriting (FR b4527).
44. Isa. 45:2. Van Gogh wrote ‘heengaan’ (go forth) instead of ‘gaan’ (go).