Dordrecht, 16 March 1877

My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter, want to make sure you receive a few words in Amsterdam. We’ll see each other Sunday, I hope, and it will be good for us to be together again.1
My hearty congratulations to you on Willemien’s birthday,2 what a nice girl she’s become. From Pa and Ma she’s getting ‘de wijde wijde wereld’,3 and from me ‘het Kerstfeest aan de pool’ by Bungener.4 I’m glad for you that you left on your trip so soon, that makes for a good change.
I’m so sad and so alone, you say. ‘And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me’.5 ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’.6
Holding fast in all places and in all circumstances to the thought of Christ, that is a good thing. ‘I set the Lord before me alway,7 the Lord is my keeper, He is the shade upon my right hand’, said David.8 What a hard life the farmers in Brabant have; Aarssen,9 for example, where does their strength come from? And those poor women, what is the support in their lives? Might it not be that image of Christ, the wondrous power and attraction of that name? Might it not be what the painter painted in his ‘Light of the world’?10  1v:2
I cannot tell you how much I sometimes yearn for the Bible. I do read something out of it every day, but I’d so much like to know it by heart and to see life in the light of that word of which it is said: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.11
I believe and trust that my life will still be changed, and that that longing for Him will be satisfied. I, too, am sometimes sad and alone, especially when I walk around a church or a parsonage.
‘A poor man in the kingdom of heaven’,12 that is a name that attracts a man and is a gospel to him. Let us not give up and go on seeking meekness and longsuffering.13
And be true to your own nature and be separate,14 distinguish between good and evil even if you don’t show it. Do it for yourself.
‘Do not leave this life without having given evidence in one way or other of your love for Christ’, says Claudius.15
You’ve had an experience that can make you wise your whole life long, do hold that fast which thou hast.16
Feed me with the bread of my tears,17 truth, teach me.18 And it also says: ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a broken spirit; a broken heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’.19 HATE sin,20 be discerning,21 do you remember how Pa used to pray every morning ‘Preserve us from all evil,22 especially the evil of sin’? And he certainly knows. And it also says: he who hate not, yea his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.23  1v:3
I’m longing for Sunday, I hope you’ll have a good trip, working is always a wonderful thing, and there is something good in all labour.24
Am still busy until late at night, but glad it’s like this.
Be sure to give my regards to Uncle Cor and Aunt.
There are storks here already, but I haven’t heard any larks yet. It’s often stormy, and then one sees swarms of crows and starlings.
The photograph of Mater Dolorosa25 that you sent is hanging in my room, how beautiful it is. Do you remember it hanging in Pa’s study at Zundert?
Now Theo, I wish you the very best, we’ll be seeing each other soon, I’m longing to see the prints you wrote about, accept a handshake in thought, see you Sunday, adieu, and believe me

Your loving brother


Br. 1990: 108 | CL: 88
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Dordrecht, Friday, 16 March 1877

1. Theo was staying with Uncle Cor (FR b2514). Vincent went to visit them on Sunday, 18 March and left the next day; see letter 109.
2. Willemien turned 15 on 16 March. She received not only the books mentioned in this letter but also one from Theo (FR b2514, 17 March 1877).
3. Elizabeth Wetherell, De wijde, wijde wereld, a translation of The wide, wide world; see letter 80, n. 5. The first Dutch translation dates from 1854 (Doetinchem); the second edition appeared in 1863 (Amsterdam) and the third in 1877 (Schoonhoven). It is not known who translated it.
4. Louis Félix Bungener, Het kersfeest aan de Pool, of God overal; een nieuw kersverhaal. Translated from the French by J.P. Hasebroek. Amsterdam [1864] (Christmas at the Pole, or God everywhere: a new Christmas story). This 32-page book cost 0.25 guilders. Another edition is Het kerstfeest aan de pool, of God overal. Een nieuw kersverhaal, translated from the French by J.P. Hasebroek, Utrecht n.d. [possibly 1873]. The original title was Noël au Pôle ou Dieu partout: quelques pages pour les enfants. Lausanne 1864 (Christmas at the Pole or God everywhere: a few pages for children). This edifying children’s book tells the story of the crew of a ship stranded on the North Pole. Several members of the crew have already died, and the morale and faith of the survivors is seriously weakened. By putting up a Christmas tree, the crew’s leader manages to restore trust and faith in Christ.
8. Ps. 121:5: like the previous quotation, the source is one of the Psalms of David.
9. Johannes Aertsen, who was seriously ill, was the husband of Adriana van Eekelen and lived at Tiggelt 131 in Rijsbergen (see letter 110). This large family and the Van Goghs saw each other regularly. Aertsen had long been an elder and church warden. As head of the local branch of the Maatschappij van Welstand (Welfare Society), Mr van Gogh did his best to promote the welfare of the farmers, including Aertsen, who had been in the position to lease a farm since 1849. This farmer had experienced many setbacks, including failed harvests and cattle plagues. See Kools 1990, pp. 46-47, 52, 55 69-71, 120.
10. William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World, 1853 (Manchester, City Art Galleries). Ill. 1800 [1800]. In 1860 Ernest Gambart published a costly print made by William Henry Simmons, which became exceptionally popular and was copied many times. Ill. 2307 [2307]. In 1865 Gambart had a smaller and less expensive reproduction made in the form of an etching by William Ridgway. See Jeremy Maas, Holman Hunt and the Light of the World. Aldershot 1987; Engen 1995, pp. 42-46, and Verhoogt 1999, pp. 27-28.
[1800] [2307]
a. Meaning: ‘be true to yourself’.
15. The passage reads: ‘en trek niet uit de wereld zonder uw liefde en eerbied voor den Stichter van het Christendom op de een of andere wijze openlijk aan den dag te hebben gelegd’ (and leave not the world without having shown openly your love and respect for the Founder of Christianity). See Matthias Claudius, De Wandsbecker Bode, translated by I.C. van Deventer. 2 vols. Haarlem 1853, vol. 2, p. 163 (The Wandsbeck Messenger). There were other translations of this book as well.
The passage is originally from the book Matthias Claudius, An meinem Sohn Johannes (To my son John): ‘und gehe nicht aus der Welt, ohne Deine Liebe und Ehrfurcht für den Stifter des Christentums durch irgend etwas öffentlich bezeugt zu haben’ (and do not leave this world without having testified in some way to your love and respect for the Founder of Christianity). Sämtliche Werke. Ed. J. Perfahl et al. Munich 1968, p. 548.
18. Based on the chapter ‘La vérité nous enseigne’ (The truth teaches us) in Thomas a Kempis, L’imitation de Jésus-Christ, i, 3, from which Van Gogh quotes in letters 134 and 135.
24. Expression, possibly based on Prov. 14:23, ‘In all labour there is profit’. Cf. letter 104, n. 20. Dorn considers this line to be one of Thomas Carlyle’s central theses, seeing in it a paraphrase of ‘Blessed is he who has found his work’ from Carlyle’s Past and present. Dorn also refers to Carlyle’s ‘Know thy work and do it’. See exhib. cat. Mannheim 1996, pp. 34, 48 (n. 17). Cf. letters 128, 288 and 294.
25. Van Gogh had asked for this photograph in letter 105.