Welwyn, 17 June 18761

My dear Theo,
Last Monday I left Ramsgate for London. That’s a long walk indeed,2 and when I left it was awfully hot and it remained so until the evening, when I arrived at Canterbury. That same evening I walked a bit further until I came to a couple of large beeches and elms next to a small pond, where I rested for a while. In the morning at half past 3 the birds began to sing upon seeing the morning twilight, and I continued on my way. It was good to walk then. In the afternoon I arrived at Chatham, where, in the distance, past partly flooded, low-lying meadows, with elms here and there, one sees the Thames full of ships. It’s always grey weather there, I think. There I met a cart that brought me a couple of miles further, but then the driver went into an inn and I thought he might stay there a long time, so I walked on and arrived towards evening in the well-known suburbs of London and walked on towards the city down the long, long ‘Roads’. I stayed in London for two days and often ran from one end of the city to the other in order to see various people, including a minister to whom I’d written.3 Herewith a translation of the letter,4 I’m  1v:2 sending it to you because you should know that the feeling I have as I start out is ‘Father, I am not worthy!’5 and ‘Father be merciful to me!’6 Should I find anything it will probably be a situation somewhere between minister and missionary, in the suburbs of London among working folk. Don’t speak about this to anyone, Theo. My salary at Mr Stokes’s will be very small. Probably only board and lodging and some free time in which to teach, or if there’s no free time, at most 20 pounds a year.7
But to continue: I spent one night at Mr Reid’s8 and the next at Mr Gladwell’s, where they were very, very kind. Mr Gladwell kissed me good-night and that did me good, may it be granted me sometime in the future to show some more friendship to his son every now and then. I wanted to leave for Welwyn that evening, but they literally held me back by force because of the pouring rain. However, when it had let up somewhat, around 4 in the morning, I set out for Welwyn. First a long walk from one end of the city to the other, something like 10 miles (each taking 20 minutes). In the afternoon at 5, I was with our sister and was very glad to see her. She looks well and you would be as pleased with her room as I am, with ‘Good Friday’, ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’, ‘Mater Dolorosa’9 &c. with ivy around them instead of frames. Old boy, when you read my letter to that minister you’ll perhaps say: he’sb not so bad after all, though in fact he is. Think of him as he is, however, every once in a while. A handshake in thought from

Your loving brother

Rev. Sir.
A clergyman’s son, who, because he must work to earn a living, has no money and no time to study at King’s College,10 and who, besides that, is already a couple of years older than is usual for someone starting there, and has not even begun on the preparatory studies of Latin and Greek, would, in spite of everything, dearly like to find a situation connected with the church, even though the position of a clergyman who has had college training is beyond his reach.
My father is a clergyman in a village in Holland. When I was 11 years old I started going to school and stayed there until I was 16.11 At that time I had to choose a profession and didn’t know what to choose. Through the offices of one of my uncles,12 an associate in the firm of Goupil & Co., art dealers and publishers of engravings, I was given a position in his branch at The Hague. I worked for the firm for 3 years. From there I went to London to learn English, and after 2 years from there to Paris. Forced by various circumstances to quit the firm, however, I left Messrs G.&Co. and have since taught for 2 months at Mr Stokes’s school at Ramsgate. As my goal is a situation connected with the church, however, I must look further.  1r:4
Although I have not been trained for the church, perhaps my past life of travelling, living in various countries, associating with a variety of people, rich and poor, religious and not religious, working at a variety of jobs, days of manual labour in between days of office work &c., perhaps also my speaking various languages, will compensate in part for my lack of formal training. But what I should prefer to give as my reason for commending myself to you is my innate love of the church and that which concerns the church, which has at times lain dormant, though it awakened repeatedly, and – if I may say so, despite feelings of great inadequacy and shortcoming – the Love of God and of humankind. And also, when I think of my past life and of my father’s house in that Dutch village, a feeling of ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son,13 make me as one of thy hired servants.14 Be merciful to me.’15 When I was living in London I often attended your church and I have not forgotten you. Now I am asking you for a recommendation in my search for a situation, and to keep a fatherly eye on me should I find such a situation. I have been left very much to myself; I believe that your fatherly eye could do me good, now that

The early dew of morning
has passed away at noon.16

Thanking you in advance for whatever you may be willing to do for me...


Br. 1990: 082 | CL: 69
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Welwyn, Saturday, 17 June 1876

1. This letter was written when Van Gogh was visiting his sister Anna. On the same day Anna sent a short note to Theo, in which she wrote, among other things, ‘You can imagine how wonderful it is for me to see Vincent again’, and ‘Vincent is busy showing prints to the children’. See Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, p. 61, no. 69a (FR b769).
2. It is c. 120 km from Ramsgate to London.
a. Chattam: Read Chatham.
3. Vincent probably sent this letter to Edmund Henry Fisher, the vicar of St Mark’s in Kennington. At that time this parish also had four curates, who were technically also ‘Reverends’: Robert Herbert Fair; Alfred Fairbrother; Alfred Lionel Lambert and Franklen Llewelyn (Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1877). In letter 92, ll. 39-47, Van Gogh says that he used to attend this church often (when he was living with the Parkers). In the present letter (ll. 114-116), he says (in the letter addressed to the minister): ‘I often attended your church’. See also Bailey 1990, pp. 80-81, 88.
4. This letter is included at the end of the present letter.
6. The wording of this prayer recurs in a number of psalms; cf. also Luke 18:13.
7. The financial repercussions of Vincent’s vocational choice and the nature of his new situation was a matter of concern to Mr van Gogh, who wrote the following to Theo on 1 July 1876: ‘Mr Stokes doesn’t want to give him a salary, but instead some free time in which to teach. He doesn’t know how to come by pupils, though. He imagines that Mr Stokes would be willing to let him go. If he senses this even more strongly, he will even take the initiative himself. So the situation is not clear. If he truly has a passion for the church or evangelizing and is really serious about it, I should think that he could start his studies here and we could see if funds could be obtained, but it would take at least 8 years. For that matter, it would perhaps be best for him to look either there or here, but possibly better here, for a position as a bookkeeper, or an office clerk or shop assistant. He continually makes journeys lasting hours and I fear that his appearance will begin to suffer from it and he’ll become even less presentable’ (FR b2756).
9. Three photographs of paintings by Paul Delaroche, Good Friday [1743], Mater Dolorosa [1745] and Gethsemane [1744]; see letter 54, n. 14.
[1743] [1745] [1744]
b. ‘He’ refers to Van Gogh, not to the minister.
10. King’s College is one of the oldest colleges of the University of London.
11. After attending elementary school, Van Gogh attended a secondary school in Zevenbergen from October 1864 until August 1866 (see letter 76, n. 4), after which he attended the Hogere Burgerschool (HBS) (high school) Willem ii at Tilburg from September 1866 until March 1868. Cf. Meyers 1989, pp. 64-81; and H.F.J.M. van den Eerenbeemt, De onbekende Vincent van Gogh. Leren en tekenen in Tilburg, 1866-1868. Tilburg 1972, pp. 5-26.
c. Meaning: ‘my life up to now’.
16. Passage from the hymn ‘Tell me the old, old story’ from the book The old, old story by Arabella Catherine Hankey; see letter 82, n. 1.