Back to site

028 To Theo van Gogh. London, Monday, 10 August 1874.

No. 028 (Brieven 1990 028, Complete Letters 21)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: London, Monday, 10 August 1874

Source status
Original manuscript

Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b21 a V/1962

Letter headed: ‘Londen 10 Aug. 1874’.

In De brieven 1990 a sheet bearing two poems, one by Longfellow and one by Rossetti, was appended to this letter. The paper, writing medium and handwriting differ from that of this letter, which makes no mention of an appendix. These poems are therefore not included here; it remains unclear to what letter they were appended. See RM3.

The address ‘Mr. Th. van Gogh’ written on the letter itself indicates that it was enclosed in a shipment sent from Goupil’s.

original text
Londen 10 Aug. 1874

Waarde Theo,
“Gij oordeelt naar het vleesch. Ik oordeel niemand”.1
“Wie van U zonder zonde is, werpe het eerst den steen op haar.”2
Blijf dus bij je eigen idées & als je twijfelt of die wel goed zijn, toets ze dan aan die van hem die zeggen durfde “Ik ben de waarheid”3 of aan die van een of ander humaan mensch, Michelet b.v.─
Virginité de l’âme & impureté du corps kunnen samengaan.─4 Je kent de Marguerite à la fontaine van Ary Scheffer,5 is er een reiner wezen dan dat meisje “dat zooveel heeft liefgehad”.─6
“Leys n’est pas un imitateur mais un semblable” is een waar woord dat mij ook getroffen had.─7 Men zou ’t zelfde kunnen zeggen van sommigen van Tissot’s schilderijen, van zijn Promenade dans la neige, Promenade  1v:2 sur les remparts, Marguérite à l’église &c.8
Wat is ’t sujet van de Leys van Fagel.─9
Koop van ’t geld dat je van mij hebt Alphonse Karr “Voyage autour de mon jardin”,10 doe dat bepaald, ik wil dat je dat leest.
Anna & ik wandelen iederen avond, ’t begint reeds herfst te worden & dat maakt de natuur nog ernstiger & inniger.─
Wij gaan verhuizen & wonen in een huis geheel met klimop begroeid11 waarvan we je spoedig meer schrijven.─
Groeten aan allen die naar mij vragen.─


London, 10 Aug. 1874

My dear Theo,
‘Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.’1
‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’2
So stick to your own ideas, and if you doubt the goodness of them, test them against those of him who dared to say ‘I am the truth’,3 or against those of some humane person, such as Michelet.
Purity of soul and impurity of body can go together.4 You know the Margaret at the fountain by Ary Scheffer;5 is there a purer being than that girl ‘who loved so much’?6
Leys is not an imitator, but a kindred spirit’ is a true saying that touched me as well.7 One could say the same of some of Tissot’s paintings, of his Walk in the snow, Walk  1v:2 on the ramparts, Margaret in church, &c.8
What is the subject of Fagel’s Leys?9
Buy Alphonse Karr’s ‘Voyage autour de mon jardin’ with the money I gave you.10 Be sure to do it, I want you to read it.
Anna and I take a walk every evening; it’s already the beginning of autumn, and that makes nature even more serious and intimate.
We’re going to move and will live in a house completely overgrown with ivy;11 we’ll write to you again soon from there.
Regards to everyone who asks after me.

1. John 8:15.
2. John 8:7.
3. John 14:6.
4. In this part of the letter Vincent pursues several questions that Theo touched upon in an earlier letter, one of which was how purity of spirit can go together with impurity of body, which is an allusion to Mary Magdalene (see the rest of the paragraph, as well as nn. 5 and 6 below). The use of French might mean that Theo was quoting these words.
5. Ary Scheffer, Margaret at the fountain, 1858 (London, The Wallace Collection). Ill. 1663 . A print made after this by William Hollidge appeared in The Illustrated London News of 21 December 1872, p. 581. Goupil published a photograph in the ‘Galerie Photographique’ series (no. 277) under the title Marguerite à la fontaine, the same title used by Van Gogh (see Ewals 1987, p. 339 and fig. 57; exhib. cat. London 1992, pp. 13 (ill. 4), 47, cat. no. 24; and exhib. cat. London 1998, pp. 16-19, figs. 14-19).
This depiction of an episode from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe shows Gretchen hearing the news that her unmarried girlfriend is pregnant. She realizes that at one time she would have condemned such behaviour but that she herself is no longer free of sin (Faust, 1, 5).
6. Cf. Christ’s words when he forgives the sinful woman: ‘she loved much’ (Luke 7:47).
7. Presumably Van Gogh knew this quotation about Henri Leys – to which Theo evidently referred – from the article ‘Artistes contemporains. M. Henri Leys’ by Paul Mantz, who wrote in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts: ‘Profitons du moment où Théophile Gautier a le dos tourné pour lui prendre un mot charmant. “M. Leys, a-t-il dit, n’est pas un imitateur, mais un semblable”’ (Let’s profit from Théophile Gautier’s turning his back for a moment by making use of one of his witty remarks. “Mr Leys”, he said, “is not an imitator, but a kindrid spirit”’). See Mantz 1866, p. 316. The statement was taken from Théophile Gautier, Les Beaux-Arts en Europe: 1855. Second series. Paris 1856, p. 214.
8. James Tissot, Walk in the snow, 1858 (Paul Touzet) was exhibited at the 1859 Paris Salon (Promenade dans la neige) and at the London International Exhibition of 1862 (Ill. in Wentworth 1984, pl. 1). Ill. 1382 .
Walk on the ramparts of 1864 (Stanford, University Museum of Art, Gift of Mr Robert Sumpf) was included in Goupil’s ‘Galerie photographique’, Promenade sur les remparts, no. 429 (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 1664 .
There are two versions of Margaret in church: one dating from 1860 (present whereabouts unknown) and one from 1861 (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland). At the time the work was photographed by Bingham for Goupil’s ‘Galerie photographique’, Marguerite à l‘église, no. 76 (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 1662 .
9. This person has not been identified; nor is it known to which of Henri Leys’s works this refers.
10. Alphonse Karr, Voyage autour de mon jardin (1845), a novel well known at the time, was based on natural history and written in the form of diary-like letters containing descriptions of plants and insects alternating with philosophical, religious and moral reflections.
11. Van Gogh and his sister Anna moved to the home of John and Mrs Parker, Ivy Cottage, 395 Kennington Road in Kennington (FR b2715). A while later, on 18 November 1874, Mr and Mrs van Gogh voiced their concerns to Theo. Mr van Gogh wrote that Anna had said ‘that one should just let Vincent quietly go his own way, and that he would come round of his own accord. It is, she says – a fit of pique. At any rate, it seems nothing can be done about it.’ And Mrs van Gogh said: ‘Our Vincent cannot but feel unhappy now. He has strayed from the true path, to which alone our blessed Lord attaches happiness and the joy of living. We hope it’s not for ever, but as long as it lasts, there’s every reason to be worried, and we cannot stop doing so. Have you written to him? If not, please do write again. He loves you so much’ (FR b2733 and b2734).