1. Like Theo, Vincent had spent the Christmas holidays at home in Etten.
2. Presumably Vincent and Theo travelled to Chaam, a village c. 17 km south-east of Etten, to attend a service conducted by their father, who regularly substituted for the minister there. The trip was recollected again in letter 414.
3. Pieter Kornelis Braat, manager of the bookshop Blussé & Van Braam in Dordrecht. Frans Braat had written to his father, urging him to give Vincent a job. Dirk Braat, another son of P.K. Braat, recollected that there was actually no vacancy, but ‘father did not want to refuse Frans’. See Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, pp. 108-110 (quotation on p. 108).
4. There were plans to discuss Vincent’s future when he was home at the end of the year. Mr van Gogh wrote on 6 December 1876 to Theo: ‘I long so much to speak with Vincent when he comes at Christmas, to see what will become of him. I sometimes fear that the Rev. Jones exploits him a little as an errand boy and cannot believe that his present path will lead to a proper livelihood’ (FR b2800). Mrs van Gogh also wrote to Theo of the need for a change: ‘He himself did not see much light in his future, but imagined he had to persevere because he thought he must – though I see no grounds for that ‘must’ without study, but it’s good he’s coming and we can talk about it again properly’ (FR b2803, 18 December 1876).
Theo, for his part, got involved in the matter and told his parents of a vacancy, upon which Mr van Gogh wrote to him: ‘I responded immediately to the advertisement you mentioned – but no answer. It is intended for someone who is at least 24 years old’ (FR b2802, 18 December 1876).
Even though Braat conferred with Uncle Vincent, and both Vincent and Theo were acquainted with his son Frans, Mrs van Gogh maintained that the position had materialized without intercession or mediation: ‘You can understand that we positively recognize it as a ray of light from above and the answer to our prayers. By no means did we or anyone else, Uncle Cent included, have a hand in it – it is through meeting Vincent and having faith in him, so to speak, that it was offered to him. He himself sees no prospects in what has gone before and in his own wishes, so why look for something else abroad and not take this wonderful opportunity near us and you?’ (FR b2804, to Theo, 18 December 1876).
5. On the same day as Vincent wrote this letter – 31 December – Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo: ‘An opportunity seems to be opening up for Vincent. He will have written to you about it. It’s like a ray of hope, the more so at the end of the year. I should so much like to have him closer, also to you. From Dordrecht to here it costs only 1.70 guilders return. He could be with us now and then on Sundays. Let us hope. It seems to us his eyes are clearer’ (FR b2804).
6. His other sisters, Willemien and Elisabeth.
7. Aunt Cornelie, Uncle Vincent’s wife.
8. Van Gogh’s cousin Willem Carbentus, the son of Uncle Arie Carbentus and Aunt Fie van Bemmel.
9. Possibly an allusion to Clemens Brentano’s ‘Der Spinnerin Nachtlied’, see letter 18, n. 1.
10. This could mean either that Theo already knew Vincent’s new address in Dordrecht or that he could send his letters in care of the bookshop Blussé & Van Braam.