Amsterdam, 21 May 1877

My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and for the church’s attestation,1 it’s a pity you didn’t go to Etten for Whitsun;2 I sincerely hope you’ll be able to go one Sunday soon. Did you get the attestation easily? Thanks for taking the trouble.
Yesterday morning I went to the early service3 and heard a sermon, ‘I shall not always strive with man’,4 how after a time of disappointment and grief in life a time may come when one’s innermost desires and wishes may be fulfilled. At 10 in the morning I heard Uncle Stricker on Acts II:1-4,5 the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit. A very beautiful, warm address from the heart; this morning I’m going to hear Uncle again and must go now, I’ll write and tell you presently what his text was.
It’s rainy today, and a long walk6 along Buitenkant to the Noorderkerk.7 There, by the Schreijerstoren,8 where one has a view of the IJ, the city looked like a painting by J. Maris.9 The text was I Corinthians 12:13, For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body. There are some beautiful churches here. This week I walked as far as the Zuiderzee10 on a dyke going to Zeeburg.11 This takes one past the Jodenkerkhof,12 which I visited as well. It’s very simple, full of old tombstones standing upright with Hebrew inscriptions and elderberries here and there, and covered with long, dark grass. Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon I went with Uncle Jan to Baarn,13 how beautiful it is there, we walked in the wood in the avenues of spruce and beech trees and saw the sun go down behind the oak copse. You can imagine how beautiful it is in the evening, around the time we came home yesterday, for example, at the wharf and the dockyard and the shore of the IJ, and there’s such a glorious smell of tar in the air that reminds one of pine-woods.
Yesterday Uncle gave me some old black gloves and scarves. Thought we’d share them in brotherly fashion. You’ll receive them in a day or two as ‘samples without value’,14 because black gloves are a good thing, good like ivy, for example, and ‘mosses green and lichens fair’,15 and good like the fixed habit of going to church.
This afternoon I’m going to Uncle Stricker’s, who asked me to come, Vos, Kee16 and Paul’s girl17 will be there too.
Do you know an old English engraving ‘The vicar’s daughter’? It’s hanging at Baarn18 and struck me yesterday; look out for it if you come to Baarn. Its atmosphere recalls Die Abendglocke.19
Nevertheless, I find it such a pity that there, as well as in Uncle Jan’s best rooms, there is nothing hanging like Christus Consolator20 or Ecce Homo. The latter is hanging in your room, surely, at least I thought I noticed it there.21 Do make a habit of hanging it up everywhere you live, for that is right and is your due.
This morning in church I saw a little old woman, probably the foot-stove woman,22 who reminded me so much of that etching by Rembrandt, a woman who has been reading the Bible and has fallen asleep leaning her head on her hand.23 C. Blanc writes about it so beautifully and with so much feeling,24 and I think Michelet does as well in his: there is no such thing as an old woman.25 The poem by De Génestet, ‘Haar pad in ’t leven loopt eenzaam af’26 also reminds me of it.  1v:2
Will we also find ourselves in the evening of our life27 before we know it, as it were? – when we feel the days flying by, passing ever more quickly – it helps me to believe and trust that ‘man proposes, but God disposes’.28
Were you at the gallery in the mornings over the Whitsun holidays? I do hope you had a good time all the same.
22 May. Yesterday evening I was at Uncle Stricker’s, where it was very convivial. Vos, Kee, Paul’s girl and Jan29 were there, and it was after 11 when I got home, then I wrote until 12, how I wish that we could go to places together, I’d have liked you to be with us last night.
Do write a few words again soon, when you have a moment. This morning I still have a lot of work to do, I see that it isn’t easy and will no doubt become much more difficult, yet have unfaltering hope that I’ll succeed, and I’m also convinced that I’ll learn to work by working, and that my work will become better and more substantial. I’ve already begun studying the Bible, but only in the evenings, when I’ve finished my work for the day, or early in the morning – after all, that’s the most important thing – even though it’s now my duty to dedicate myself to studying other things, which I do, of course.
Yesterday at the Strickers’ I had to tell them about London and Paris, and whenever I do that I see it all before me again, all things from that past can also work together for good,30 I’m fond of much there, and that, ah, I’ve experienced that everywhere I’ve been, I also feel that when I walk the streets of The Hague or Zundert, for example, I shan’t easily forget that last journey there.31 Before I went to the Strickers’ I walked briefly through the Trippenhuis32 in order to see several paintings again, I’m sure you know which ones.
Now, Theo, give my regards to one person or another you might see, write soon, I wish you the very best, accept a firm handshake in thought, and believe me

Your most loving brother


Br. 1990: 115 | CL: 96
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Monday, 21 and Tuesday, 22 May 1877

1. An attestation – declaring one’s religious faith and character to be sound and honourable – issued by a church council when one of its members moved to another community.
2. In 1877, Whit Sunday and Monday fell on 20-21 May.
3. Two early services were held on Whit Sunday at 7 a.m.: the Rev. Theodorus Matthijs Looman, an adherent of the Réveil, took the service in the Noorderkerk, and the Rev. Lieuwe Steinfort, an opponent of the independent principles advocated by Abraham Kuyper, conducted the service in the Zuiderkerk (NNBW).
5. J.P. Stricker preached at 10 a.m. in the Zuiderkerk.
6. Read: ‘I took a long walk’. Regarding this walk, see Groot and De Vries 1990, pp. 21-23.
7. The Noorderkerk is located on the Noordermarkt.
8. The Schreijerstoren is located at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade (in those days the Kamper Hoofd) and the Gelderse Kade.
9. Van Gogh could have been thinking of Jacob Maris’s painting The Buitenkant with the Schreierstoren, Amsterdam (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Ill. 1823 [1823]. See also letter 31, n. 4.
10. At that time the Zuiderzee was still connected to the sea; it is now called the IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel).
11. The modern-day Zeeburgerdijk, called at that time the Sint Anthoniesdijk.
12. The Jewish cemetery (the ‘Hoogduitsche Joden-Kerkhof’, or High German Jewish Cemetery) near Zeeburgerdijk (now called Flevoweg).
13. The journey on Whit Sunday to Baarn, a town around 35 km south-east of Amsterdam, was undertaken to visit Uncle Cor van Gogh, who lived in a villa there (cf. FR b2727 and letter 158, n. 11).
14. A label put on samples sent by post, which were charged lower postage rates.
15. Taken from the last verse of the poem ‘Mortality’ (1859) by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik:

Ye dead leaves, dropping soft and slow,
Ye mosses green and lichens fair,
Go to your graves, as I will go,
For God is also there.

Published in Poems. Leipzig 1868, pp. 44-45.
16. Christoffel Martinus Vos married Cornelia Adriana Stricker (referred to as Kee Vos) in 1872; Kee was a daughter of J.P. Stricker and W.C.G. Carbentus, referred to as ‘Uncle Stricker’ (or ‘J.P.S.’) and ‘Aunt Mina’. Christoffel Vos suffered from tuberculosis.
17. Margaretha A.S. Meyboom was engaged to Johannes Paulus (Paul) Stricker. Margreet later wrote about Vincent: ‘I remember him so well. I met him at the Geldersche Kade [where the Stricker family lived]. It was the tenderness in him that appealed to me. You got the feeling that you couldn’t speak to him other than in a tender, friendly way. That, and his wanting resolutely to go his own way was a combination that attracted me.’ Letter to Willemien van Gogh, The Hague, 13 January 1889 (private collection).
18. It is not clear which depiction of The vicar’s daughter this refers to. It could be the print published at the front of the book Procrastination; or, The vicar’s daughter. A tale. London 1824 (London, British Library). This anonymous engraving was made in the style of Thomas Stotthard. Another possibility is The vicar’s daughter by George Dunlop Leslie, after which a woodcut was published in the Christmas number of The Illustrated London News in 1878 (p. 24). There are steel-plate engravings after Leslie’s work, such as News from the war (1877); perhaps there was also one of The vicar’s daughter.
19. There are at least 60 nineteenth-century songs that have the word Abendglocke(n) or Abendglöcklein (Evening bell) in the title or in the first line. Eleven of them became known through popular literature or were passed on by word of mouth. The one most likely intended here is the folk song Die Abendglocke (also Die Abendglöcklein), known from 1825 and set to music by Friedrich Silcher. Not only is it included in a number of songbooks and pamphlets (by 1877 it had appeared in around 12 collections), but it also occurs most frequently in the oral tradition. The song has three couplets and begins as follows:

Look how the sun is now sinking
Behind the wood at night-time!
Little bell, rest to us signalling,
Listen to its pretty chime!
Trustworthy bell, oh how lovely you ring!
Ring on, my bell, with all zest,
Ring in the hour of sweet rest!

(Seht, wie die Sonne dort sinket
hinter dem nächtlichen Wald!
Glöckchen schon Ruhe uns winket,
hört nur, wie lieblich es schallt!
Trauliches Glöcklein, du läutest so schön!
läute mein Glöcklein, nur zu,
läute zur süßen Ruh’!)

See Großer Schulliederschatz oder 1000 Jugend- und Volkslieder ... Ein Buch für evangelische Lehrer sowie für alle Freunde gesunden Volksgesanges. Gütersloh 1868, p. 326, no. 706 and Franz Magnus Böhme, Volksthümliche Lieder der Deutschen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. Leipzig 1895, p. 180, no. 228.
21. Regarding the Ecce Homo [1798] print which Vincent sent to Theo, see letter 105, n. 4.
22. This woman’s job was to set out the foot-stoves in the church.
23. Rembrandt, Sleeping old woman, c. 1635-1637 (B350) (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 1824 [1824].
24. In L’Oeuvre complet de Rembrandt, Charles Blanc was lyrical about the etching. In his opinion it was difficult to find a work in Rembrandt’s oeuvre that was ‘more sincere, more convincing in life and truth, more charming in its chiaroscuro. The abandonment to sleep and the fatigues of old age are expressed in it in the most endearing way.’ The old woman dozing had to be approached in stockinged feet: ‘I think one has to look at this print in silence, or at least one mustn’t speak loudly, for fear of disturbing a sleep so deserved and so sweet.’ See Blanc 1859-1861, vol. 2, pp. 205-207, no. 244.
25. ‘Il n’y a point de vieille femme’ (There is no such thing as an old woman) is the title of a chapter in Michelet’s book L’amour; see letter 27, n. 2. Michelet remarked in this book: ‘Titian prefers to paint beautiful ladies of 30 years old. Rubens goes without difficulty to 40 and above. Van Dyck knows no age; in his work, art is emancipated! He has spurned time. The powerful magician Rembrandt does more: with a gesture, a glance, a ray of light, he dispels it all. Life, goodness, light – that is enough to delight us.’ Ed. Paris n.d., p. 382. See also Pabst 1988, p. 30.
26. ‘Haar pad in ’t leven loopt eenzaam af’ (Her path in life comes to a lonely end) are the opening lines of the poem ‘Naar ’t beloofde land’ by P.A. de Génestet which accompany the print ‘Preparing for the Promised Land’. See De Génestet 1869, vol. 2, pp. 298-299.
27. Old age; cf. hymn 180:5.
28. For ‘L’Homme... mène’, see letter 35, n. 2.
29. Johannes (Jan) Andries Stricker, Kee and Paul’s brother.
31. Van Gogh is referring to the journey he made on foot from Oudenbosch to Zundert on 7 April; see letter 110.
b. Read: ‘Through (the rooms of the museum)’.
32. The Trippenhuis was the forerunner of the Rijksmuseum; see letter 4, n. 3.