Ramsgate, 12 May 1876

My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter; I also like ‘Tell me the old, old story’1 very much. I first heard it sung in Paris, in the evening in a small church I used to attend sometimes. No. 122 is also beautiful. I regret not having gone to hear Moody and Sankey when they were in London.3 There’s such a yearning for Religion among the people in those big cities. Many a worker in a factory or shop has had a remarkable, pure, pious youth. But city life often takes away ‘the early dew of morning’,4 yet the yearning for ‘the old, old story’ remains, the bottom of one’s heart remains the bottom of one’s heart. In one of his books, Eliot describes the  1v:2 life of factory workers &c. who have joined a small community and hold religious services in a chapel in ‘Lantern Yard’, and he says it is ‘God’s Kingdom upon earth’,5 nothing more nor less.
And there’s something moving about seeing the thousands now flocking to hear those evangelists.
I think your plan to give Pa and Ma ‘After the departure’ by Sadée6 is very good; that’s agreed, then.
Willemien may be already there on 21 May. I see from your letter that you’re also thinking of going. Do it, old boy, if you can manage it. Sometimes such actions receive a special blessing. How it would surprise them.
There was something wistful in Ma’s last letter, in which she wrote a word or two about the necessity of our being so far from home.  1v:3 And Ma’s eyes are hurting her again.
Come on, old boy, brighten them up again by being there on that day.
This afternoon Mr Reid7 sent me the catalogue of the exhibition in London.8
In thought a handshake, and congratulations on the birthdays of Lies and Cor,9 and also on 21 May. Regards to everyone at the Rooses’. In haste.

Your loving brother.


Br. 1990: 080 | CL: 66
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Ramsgate, Friday, 12 May 1876

1. Popular hymn, originally from the book The old, old story (1866) by Arabella Catherine Hankey. The first verse reads thus:
Tell me the old, old story
Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory,
Of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply,
As to a little child;
For I am weak, and weary,
And helpless, and defiled.
Quoted from The methodist hymn-book. London 1954, no. 161. Cf. Pabst 1988, p. 63.
2. Uncertainty as to the edition makes it impossible to tell which hymn Van Gogh meant. Dozens of editions were available in 1876.
3. Dwight Lyman Moody, an American evangelist, drew large crowds in the United States and led wide-ranging evangelization campaigns in both the United States and England. The singer and song writer Ira David Sankey was his accompanist and travelling companion. Sankey’s hymns were published in two volumes, Sacred songs and solos (1873) and Gospel hymns (1875-1891), both of which enjoyed widespread popularity.
Van Gogh refers here to numerous evangelical gatherings, organized by Moody and Sankey, which were held in London between February and July 1875. An illustrated account of the service held in The Agricultural Hall at Islington appeared in The Graphic 11 (20 March 1875), pp. 270, 276-277. See also W.R. Moody, The life of Dwight L. Moody. London n.d.
4. Passage from the second verse of ‘Tell me the old, old story’ (see n. 1), which ends thus:
‘Tell me the story often,
For I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning
Has passed away at noon.’
5. Van Gogh mistakenly took George Eliot, the pseudonym of Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans, to be a man. He refers here to Silas Marner: The weaver of Raveloe (1861), chapter 2: ‘that life centring in Lantern Yard, which had once been to him the altar-place of high dispensations ... These things had been the channel of divine influences to Marner – they were the fostering home of his religious emotions – they were Christianity and God’s Kingdom upon earth’. Ed. Edinburgh and London n.d., p. 11 (Novels of George Eliot, vol. 3). Van Gogh’s appreciation of this passage contrasts sharply with its function in the novel; see Sund 1992, pp. 28-29.
6. Goupil and Co. published a photogravure of Philip Lodewijck Jacob Frederik Sadée’s Après le départ. Plage de Scheveningue (Pays-bas) (After the departure. Beach at Scheveningen (Netherlands)), which was exhibited at the 1875 Salon (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 1768 [1768]. Two years later Anna received the print as a wedding present: ‘We gave her After the Departure by Sadée, which we got from you and Vincent. Because it had hung in our drawing room, we wanted to give it to her as a souvenir of it, and hope you will approve’ (FR b988, Mr van Gogh to Theo, 5 August 1878).
7. The identification of this Mr Reid poses problems. Van Gogh must have made his acquaintance when he was working for Goupil in London. The respectful way in which Van Gogh refers to him as ‘Mr’ Reid (cf. also letters 84 and 93) implies that he was either older than Van Gogh or had a more important position, which means that this is most likely a reference to the art dealer George R. Reid, a partner in the London firm of Buck & Reid, who in 1895 would enter the employ of Van Wisselingh. Cf. also Heijbroek and Wouthuysen 1999, p. 71.
8. It cannot be said for certain which catalogue Van Gogh is referring to. It could be the catalogue published to accompany an exhibition held at Goupil’s, where, according to The Art Journal, 170 works were displayed: ‘a finer collection of Continental works has not been seen for some time’, (vol. 15, NS, 1876, p. 241); or the catalogue of the Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition, which opened on the first Monday in May (1 May 1876). Cf. exhib. cat. Nottingham 1974, p. 43.
9. Lies’s birthday was 16 May; Cor’s birthday was 17 May.