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033 To Theo van Gogh. London, Saturday, 8 May 1875.

No. 033 (Brieven 1990 033, Complete Letters 26)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: London, Saturday, 8 May 1875

Source status
Original manuscript

Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b26 V/1962

Letter headed: ‘Londen 8 Mei 1875’.

original text
Londen 8 Mei 1875

Waarde Theo,
Dank voor Uw laatsten brief. Hoe is het met de zieke,─1 van Pa hoorde ik reeds zij ziek was, dat het zoo erg was als gij schrijft wist ik echter niet.2
Schrijf mij dit spoedig, als ge wilt.– Ja jongen “wat zullen wij zeggen”.3
C.M. & de Hr. Tersteeg zijn hier geweest & zijn l.l. Zaturdag weer vertrokken. Zij zijn naar mij dunkt wat te veel naar ’t Crystal Palace & andere plaatsen waar zij niets te maken hadden, geweest. Zij hadden, dunkt mij, ook wel eens mogen komen zien waar ik woonde.─
Gij vraagt mij naar Anna, maar daar zullen wij het later nog wel eens over hebben.─4
Ik hoop & geloof dat ik niet ben wat menigeen op ’t oogenblik van mij denkt, nous verrons, de tijd moet er overheen gaan;─ waarschijnlijk zegt men over een paar jaar hetzelfde van U; ten minste als gij blijft wat gij zijt; mijn broeder in dubbelen zin.─5
Gegroet, & mijne groete aan de zieke. En te serrant la main.


pour agir dans le monde, il faut mourir à soi-même. Le peuple qui se fait le missionnaire d’une pensée réligieuse n’a plus d’autre patrie que cette pensée.
L’homme n’est pas ici-bas seulement pour être heureux, il n’y est même pas pour être simplement honnête. Il y est pour réaliser de grandes choses par la société, pour arriver à la noblesse & dépasser la vulgarité où se traîne l’existence de presque tous les individus.─


London, 8 May 1875

My dear Theo,
Thanks for your last letter. How is the patient?1 I’d already heard from Pa that she was ill, but I didn’t know that it was as bad as you said.2
Write to me about this soon, if you will. Yes, old boy, ‘what shall we say?’3
C.M. and Mr Tersteeg were here and left again last Saturday. In my opinion they went a little too often to the Crystal Palace and other places that didn’t concern them. It seems to me they could also have come and seen where I lived.
You ask about Anna, but we’ll discuss that another time.4  1v:2
I hope and believe that I’m not what many think me to be at present, we’ll see, we have to give it time; people will probably say the same about you in a couple of years; at least if you continue to be what you are: my brother in two senses of the word.5
Regards, and my regards to the patient. With a handshake,


To act on the world one must die to oneself. The people that makes itself the missionary of a religious thought has no other country henceforth than that thought.
Man is not placed on the earth merely to be happy; nor is he placed here merely to be honest, he is here to accomplish great things through society, to arrive at nobleness, and to outgrow the vulgarity in which the existence of almost all individuals drags on.

1. Jannetje (Annet) Cornelia Haanebeek, a sister of Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek.
2. There was no hope of recovery for Annet Haanebeek. On 26 April 1875, Lies wrote to Theo: ‘This poor Annet Haanebeek you wrote to me about, she’s still so young to have to die. Gosh, it would cost me a lot if already now I had to part from a world where there is so much to be enjoyed’ (FR b2332).
3. See Ezra 9:10, Rom. 3:5, Rom. 9:14 and Rom. 9:30.
4. From the family correspondence it emerges that Van Gogh’s behaviour had changed since August 1874 and that there was friction between him and Anna. His mood was sombre, his behaviour was considered strange and unfriendly, and he kept to himself. This change began after he left the Loyers (FR b2723, b2726 b2728 and b2729).
Mrs van Gogh thus told Theo on 15 August 1874: ‘I’m always afraid that, especially when Anna goes away, Vincent will not take enough care – he was really so thin ... Vincent will also not have had it easy at the Loyerses’ – I’m glad he’s no longer there, there were too many secrets there and no family like ordinary people, but he will surely have been disappointed by them and his illusions will not have been realized – real life is different from what one imagines’ (FR b2715).
On 28 April, Anna wrote about Vincent’s behaviour to Theo: ‘I believe that he has illusions about people and judges people before he knows them, and then when he finds out what they’re really like and they don’t live up to the opinion he formed of them prematurely, he’s so disappointed that he throws them away like a bouquet of wilted flowers, without looking to see whether or not there are some among those wilted flowers which, when handled with care, are not quite rubbish yet. I’m very sorry that I visited him during the Christmas holidays and was a burden to him. If I had had any reason beforehand to suppose that he would be like that, I’d certainly have found some way or other of arranging things differently. I haven’t told this to Pa and Ma, they think he’s a great support to me and that appears to reassure them greatly’ (FR b2333).
Van Gogh’s remark is probably also connected with his impending transfer to Paris, which he seems not to have wanted. On 24 May 1875, Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo: ‘[Uncle Vincent] also told me that Vincent is in Paris. Mr Tripp [Richard Howard Tripp (Trip)] – an Englishman – replaced him temporarily, during the exhibition in London – in Paris he’s in charge of the gallery. It will have been a disappointment to Vincent not to have been able to work in London just then.’ Mrs van Gogh wrote: ‘We have letters from Vincent himself in Paris. He writes nothing more than: the gentlemen have found it best to let Tripp replace me for 6 to 8 weeks. It’s certainly a change he didn’t expect and perhaps isn’t easy for him’ (FR b2338).
During his short spell in Paris in 1874, Van Gogh did not write to his parents very often, and they regretted the resulting estrangement (FR b2735, to Theo, 3 December 1874).
5. This passage could allude to the fact that they both suffered from unrequited love (Theo’s for Annet Haanebeek and Vincent’s for her sister Caroline). See Cassee 1997.
6. The quotation is a combination of two abridged passages from Etudes d’histoire religieuse. Paris 1857, pp. 121, 393. See also Ernest Renan, Oeuvres complètes. Ed. H. Psichari. Paris 1947-1961, vol. 7, pp. 109, 279. The English translation is from E. Renan, Studies of religious history and criticism. Translation O.B. Frothingham. New York 1864, pp. 141, 323.