Amsterdam, 31 May 1877

My dear Theo,
It’s already late and everyone is already asleep, but I feel the need to write a few words to you again. You must persevere – you must go onward – as I must, too – we’re going through the same ordeal1 in many respects.
In your last letter you write that you were thinking about moving elsewhere if possible, and you mention London and Paris.
That might be good – oh, old boy, how deeply I love those cities, that’s to say I love much of what one meets with there, there’s also much that I hate – or at least don’t love as much as the hedges of thorn-bush and the green grass and the little grey churches. What you’re thinking of is not bad at all.
Be aware, though – we must both make sure that we survive the time between now and the age of 30 or so – and we must beware of sin – after all, we’re in the midst of life – well then, we must fight a good fight2 – and we must become men – which we aren’t yet, neither of us – there is something greater in store for us, my conscience tells me so, we are not what others are – well then, but we can endeavour to become so. You know what I want. If I may become a clergyman, if I fulfil that position so that my work is equal to that of our Father, then I shall thank God. I have good hope that I shall succeed, it was once said to me by someone who was further on in life than I, and who was no stranger in Jerusalem3 – I mean someone who had sought it himself and had also found it; it was once said to me: I believe that you are a Christian, you see, it was so good for me to hear those words. You too hold fast, no matter what you wish for yourself, to the thought of Christ and keep His saying,4 as you do. It is good to believe that there is a God who knows what we need, better than we know it ourselves, and who helps us when we need help. It is also good to believe that, just as in the olden days, now, too, an angel is not far from those who feel godly sorrow5 – not only from those who are almost angels themselves, but especially those who need help from a higher power to keep them from evil,6 from the evil that we know is in the world and not far from us, not far from those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.7 I’ve carefully read the story of Elijah so often,8 and so often has it given me strength up to now:

And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an Angel touched him,  1v:2 and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the Angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And He said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. And the Lord said unto him, ‘Go, return on thy way’.

And that story does not stand alone, we read of the Angel who strengthened Him in Gethsemane,9 who was sorrowful, even unto death,10 of the Angel who woke Peter from his sleep in prison,11 of the Angel who appeared to Paul in the night and said ‘Fear not’.12 And we, although we saw no Angel, although we are not the same as those men of old, should we not know that there is strengthening from Above?
This afternoon it was stormy and rained here, and I walked to the sea past the Jewish cemetery,13 a few days ago I also went for a walk there on Buitenkant near the Oosterspoor, where they’re working on the sand works &c.14 What a beautiful and heartening story that is too, the one about Jesus walking on the sea, Matthew XIV:22-33,15 And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Believe in God, through faith one can become ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’16 and evergreen and we need not complain ‘if our youth disappears at the maturing of our powers’.17
Herewith something by Esquiros,18 I wish you the very best, write again soon, give my regards to your housemates and any acquaintances you might see, and accept in thought a hearty handshake, and believe me

Your most loving brother

Read Ps. 23, 42 and 91 as well.19

[Three appendices]
[Appendix 1]
The Siege of Leiden.20

The city of Leiden is Holland’s Versailles, with its air of past grandeur, of all-pervading sadness and dignified solitude. It mourns not at all its festivities, nor the vanished splendours of a departed court, but it looks back wistfully on its defunct industry, its woollen mills, once famous throughout the world, now gone. These mills, the cradle of a new aristocracy, were founded in part by French refugees, who, following Saint Bartholomew and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, brought to Holland their business, their wealth, their eminent men. The desire to regain a country made them enterprising and capable of surmounting adversity. And so, with their help, Leiden became what Manchester was later to become for Great Britain, the centre of a strong and productive industry. Of that economic glory and that wealth it retains only one town house (a magnificent fifteenth-century building), two large churches, splendid canals with wide, tree-lined quays, houses that still retain a memory of the good days of the Republic, and above all, a university. The origins of this famous university are connected with the siege that Leiden sustained in 1573. The causes that made the United Provinces rise up against domination by Spain are well known. Freedom of conscience shamefully abused, political and religious despotism, the Inquisition, censorship, arbitrary taxation, all these had outraged national feeling. In those days, says the historian Hooft,21 ranks, sexes and ages were mingled in a general persecution. The instruments of torture were everywhere to be seen. Gibbets and wheels were not sufficient in number. Trees bordering the roads were over-laden with corpses. Elsewhere, the flames rose up from countless execution pyres. Every day were erected gallows, from which the blood dripped. The very air, the source of life, seemed infected by it, and resembled an immense tomb. And then was seen a sight unique in the history of the world. A few hundred men, driven to despair – fishermen, shepherds, shopkeepers – came together to fight against the crushing oppression of a powerful government, and against armies deemed invincible. Following the example given by other cities in Holland, the residents of Leiden had declared themselves in favour of the union of the provinces, but in the last days of October they were attacked and surrounded by the Spaniards. The Prince of Orange wrote to them, telling them to organize the resistance at all costs. He himself undertook to seek all the means of coming to their aid. Hold out for three months, he told them; even if the siege should last longer, do not lose courage. If you are able to persevere despite the agonies of hunger, deliverance is assured; if, on the other hand, you yield, eternal servitude awaits you.
But the enemy tried with flattering promises to open a way into the citadel. To such advances, the insurgents replied with this saying, and no more:22 The bird-catcher tricking the bird plays sweetly on the flute. The defence of the city was put into the hands of Janus Douza. The citizens swore an oath that they would bury themselves beneath the debris of their houses rather than yield. A siege currency was created. Although from the first all superfluous mouths had been sent away, famine soon raged. For 7 weeks, bread had not been seen in the city. Provisions of all kinds were exhausted. Grass, leaves, the bark of trees, the pelt of slaughtered beasts long since devoured, even earth, all became food. Famine was followed by plague. Of 16,000 residents who closed up the citadel, six or seven thousand perished. All that was to be seen was living corpses engaged in burying the dead. This city, defended by shades, nevertheless stood out against the fury of the opposing army, and against its own divisions. To the soldiers who yelled at them, You’re dying of hunger, surrender and you’ll receive a distribution of victuals, they answered from the top of the ramparts, When we run short of provisions we will eat our left hands forthwith, and keep our right hands to defend our freedom. But one day, famished bands of men presented themselves to the burgomaster of Leiden, Pieter Adriaanszoon van der Werff. They made a peremptory demand for bread or the surrender of the city. I have sworn to defend this city, answered the mayor, and with God’s help I hope to keep my word. I have no bread; but if my body may be of use to you in continuing the fight, take it, cut it up and divide it amongst you. The wretched men withdrew in silence.
Holland’s fate lay within the walls of Leiden; the eyes of all the provinces were on that heroic city, but the citadel was so strongly blockaded that it was very difficult to come to its aid. At last, the Prince of Orange resolved to breach the dykes. It was a desperate decision. Nevertheless, the old Batavian proverb held good: Better a devastated land than one that is lost. And so the land was devastated by the waters and the crops engulfed. The sea, that natural enemy of Holland, came to Leiden’s aid, but it was slow in coming. The wind did not carry the flood with it. On those lazy waves, which fell far short of the city, there appeared boats bearing cannons. These boats, which had neither oars nor sails, and moved by means of wheels, were manned by fearsome Zeeland sailors, almost all of them wounded in the war for independence. They were men of savage mien, most of them disfigured by terrible but honourable wounds. They came in order to offer the ruined city the example and the counsel of desperate resistance. The besieged citizens could see the flotilla from the top of their ramparts, and they could speak with the crews, but impeded by a north-easterly wind, the water retreated instead of advancing, and carried hope away with it: the very walls were shaken. The enemy, on the other hand, although driven from certain advanced positions by the overflowing of these waters, still held its ground on the principal dykes. Leiden appeared lost, when the moon, just then becoming full, swelled the mass of the waters. The wind veered to the south-west. One of those violent, unremitting storms which, in ordinary times, cause such acute alarms for the country’s safety, broke upon the coasts. The sea, being no longer held back, enlarged the breaches already made in the dykes and flung itself upon the land, carrying before it terror, desolation and salvation. Taken by surprise and overwhelmed, rigid with terror at the extraordinary noise of the tempest and of the collapse of parts of the walls, the Spaniards abandoned their posts amid great commotion, throwing their cannons into the water. The same tide that carried them away brought the Zeeland fleet, loaded with provisions, to the gates of Leiden. A tremendous battle, an Amphibious battle, to borrow a Dutch historian’s expression, was engaged amongst the branches of trees, partly on the dykes and partly in the boats. The liberating sailors entered the city, but in the midst of the joy, how sad a sight presented itself to their eyes! On both banks of the great canal exhausted men cried out for provisions. With the avidity of animals they seized the bread and herrings that were handed out to them, and several of them who had survived famine succumbed to this food. This deliverance seemed to have something of the miraculous. The formidable Spanish army – attacked, drowned, scattered inland by the waters of the sea, which appeared to be guided by an unseen hand – had vanished like the army of Pharaoh. This sudden rout seemed to reveal the direct favour of God, who now loved the Netherlands as he had once loved Israel; chroniclers even tell how a young Dutch woman, Madeleine Moons, raised, no doubt, in the traditions of the Old Testament, had made the siege drag on, using her charms to distract the heart of Valdez, the commander-in-chief of the Spanish army. And here is a graver fact. Detained by an illness, the Prince of Orange had not been able to appear in person before the walls of Leiden. He was in Delft, and barely recovered, was listening to the sermon at one of the city’s churches, when they came to bring him the happy news of the lifting of the siege. He had the message passed to the preacher, who read it out. Tears flowed from all eyes, together with thanksgivings. Although the plague was still claiming victims in that unhappy city of Leiden, William the Silent hesitated not a moment in going there. Surrounded by the citizenry, who forgot their woes on seeing in this man the living fortress of liberty regained, he asked them which they preferred, exemption from certain taxes, or the foundation of a Protestant university. The citizens of Leiden did not waver in their choice, ‘A University’ was the general cry. This academy was established on February 9 1575. And so a great political idea protected such an institution, which would provide a focus for the intellectual movement of the Batavian Reformation. To found by force of arms the material independence of the United Provinces was not all; a national moral identity had also to be created.

[Appendix 2]
Siege of Harlem23

One of the periods in the history of Holland that has left most traces in the buildings and the outward physiognomy of Dutch cities is the great movement that in the 16th century aroused the nation’s energies against foreign domination. Starting with Briel, the first citadel seized by the Dutch, we can follow step by step the alternating progress and reverses of that holy war.24 The city of Harlem, for example, still bears the scars of that heroic and desperate struggle that it waged against the Spanish. I have walked more than once round the old ramparts of that ancient fortress, now riven with cracks, pierced by new houses set proudly between their bastions, split by trees that grow from the very stone and whose shadows are cast over the surface of the canal. The sight of these walls and its gates, dark, narrow passageways that wind all the way into the city, brought back to mind the chief circumstances of the siege. In those times, the ramparts of the city of Harlem were already bad (I am speaking of the walls), but the residents’ patriotism took it upon itself to cover this ancient city, and such a boulevard thus proved impregnable. The siege of Harlem preceded that of Leiden. There was no lack of warnings. Amsterdam, which had yet made no open declaration of support for the Reformation and independence, laid before the residents of Harlem the dangers of the resistance to which they were committing themselves, the number and discipline of the enemy’s army, and the scant trust that could be placed in the Prince of Orange, who had so far succeeded in liberating not a single besieged city. At these counsels of human caution, the citizens hesitated. A bold and vigorous harangue by Wybald van Ripperda, captain of the civic guard, overcame their irresolution. He reminded them of the blood of their fellow-citizens that had flowed in the ruins of Naarden, and the loyalty they had sworn to the Prince of Orange. This speech was greeted by a unanimous shout of enthusiasm. ‘Yes,’ replied the citizens of Harlem, ‘each of us will give his life for the defence of the city and the triumph of the good cause.’ Images were promptly torn from the churches, and the reformed order of worship was established everywhere. On 9 December 1572, Don Frederico, the Duke of Alba’s lieutenant, marched on Harlem with sixty companies of Spanish infantry, sixteen of Germans, twenty of Walloons and fifteen hundred horse. These forces were overwhelming in comparison with those of the besieged. To begin with, the garrison numbered scarcely over 1,500 men, but every citizen became a soldier. Even the women flocked to take up arms. Kenau Hasselaar, a widow of a certain standing and a substantial fortune, formed a regiment of 300 women, who, while retaining their female attire, none the less showed manly intrepidity. However, the siege operations opened under bad auspices for the besieged. Don Frederico, covered by a dense fog as if by a cloak, seized the fort of Sparendam, a short distance from the city. He was thus able to launch his equipment for mounting an attack and entrenching his positions without being concerned about fire from the garrison. I curtail the story of this memorable siege. Hardly was a breach opened but it was at once closed up with timber, sacks, earth and anything that came to hand. The residents spent long winter nights building an inner wall, higher and stronger than the old one, which threatened to collapse entirely. Rich and poor, adults and children, men and women, everyone flocked to the defence works and wielded spades and picks. Scarcely a day passed but an assault was made by the besieged upon the besiegers. More than once, the Dutch threw themselves into the enemy’s trenches, and pillaged and set fire to his tents. The cold was severe, but winter became an ally; the elements appeared to be taking Holland’s part. The residents of Harlem received from those of Leiden a constant supply of provisions and munitions, carried on sledges across the lake that had turned into a sea of ice. Troop reinforcements reached them by the same route. Unhappily for the besieged, the severity of the season decreased, and spring, which gladdened all of nature, came and made the city’s sad situation even more grave. Although the Spaniards had made wide breaches near the gate of St John’s Cross, their assaults were twice repulsed, and after seven months of fruitless hostilities, and after suffering the loss of between ten and twelve thousand men, they were forced to raise the siege and to confine themselves to keeping the citadel blockaded. However, Bossu took advantage of the thaw to breach the dyke that held back the waters between the river IJ and the Harlem lake. By that means he opened a passage  1v:2 through which a squadron made up of sixty naval launches entered the lake and took up positions before the city. That lake was punished, and the historian would search in vain today for the waves of one that, a child of Holland, says a poet, dared bring the enemy vessels right into the interior of the country. Nevertheless, the situation of the blockaded city became more lamentable by the day. Provisions were beginning to run short. A great many of the residents had died of hunger. The streets were full of the sick and dying. Friends of those besieged attempted several times to send them provisions, but without success. The residents then resolved to form themselves into an armed corps, to put their wives and children in the centre and to open up a passage, swords in hand, through the enemy’s lines. Only the German troops who were in the city refused to be part of so bold an enterprise. Learning of this plan, and fearing the effects of despair, the Spaniards sent a negotiator, who promised mercy and amnesty on condition that the city surrender and deliver fifty-seven of its leading members into the hands of their rightful masters. It was also agreed that the residents could redeem the pillage of their houses and their possessions by paying a sum of 24025 florins. Such harsh conditions would never have been accepted had the word ‘clemency’ not been uttered by the enemy. When the Spaniards entered the city, they found its garrison reduced from 4,000 to 1,800 men. Three days passed; people trusted the word that had been given, and the residents had laid down their arms. Suddenly, Ripperda, the Governor of the city, and the 57 noblemen who had been taken hostage, were executed. Four executioners were then enlisted for another task, and two thousand men, including soldiers of the garrison, residents of the city, and Protestant ministers, were coldly put to death. The butchery was approaching its end. The butchers were weary, and the victims remaining in the prisons were tied two by two and thrown into the Harlem lake. The siege had lasted from December 1572 to July 1573. The sad outcome of so long and valiant a resistance at first brought consternation to the United Provinces, but a cause is not lost while the sense of justice is not snuffed out. Four years later, the Dutch regained possession of Harlem. Memories of the siege are preserved in its town hall, an elegant building; there I saw, not without emotion, an old painting showing the condition of this unhappy city during the dark days in which it offered the Netherlands the example of heroic devotion.

Midnight strikes, a flickering light shines far off over the Ocean, and a bell can be heard ringing, half lost in the great murmuring of the waves. At once, from every creek and cranny in the shore, from every rock, there emerge long, black, pointed forms that slip over the waves. They are fishing-boats, laden with men, children, women and old people, heading for the open sea. They all make for the same spot. The sound of the bell can already be heard closer, the distant light becomes more distinct and finally the object towards which this gathered crowd is making its way appears in the midst of the waves! It is a skiff, on which is standing a priest, ready to celebrate Mass. Certain that here he has only God as his witness, he has summoned the parishes to this solemn act, and all the faithful have come; all are kneeling between the sea, with its dull roaring, and the sky, dark with clouds. Imagine, if you can, such a sight! The darkness, the waves, two thousand bowed heads surrounding a man standing over the depths. The chanting of the holy office – and between each response and the next, the great threats uttered by the sea, murmuring like the voice of God.26

1. Corinthians XI. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took the bread. And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the New Testament in My blood, this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.27

[Appendix 3]


Holland’s coasts are hidden by ranges of dunes that deprive the traveller of the sight of the waters. After a long and arduous climb up these sandy hills, raise your eyes, and there’s the sea! This North Sea was poorly known to the ancients, who imagined it in terms of fables and superstitious terrors. Even Tacitus pictured it as being churned up by constant winds and inhabited by monsters. The fact is that its coasts are stormy, and its colour is variable; in the foreground it is a scummy yellow that looks like dirty washing water, further off, a weak green, and in the distance, a faded blue that blends into the wavy line of the sky. Here and there, great clouds cast their sombre shadows obliquely over this indistinct mirror. No rocks, no cliffs break the force of the waves: this sea rolls on its sandy bed, which it had made for itself and which it is constantly expanding. The physiognomy of Holland’s coasts varies very little: sand, and more sand, water and more water, sky and more sky. On these coasts, which give the impression of being limitless, there stand, between the mouth of the Maas and Den Helder, a number of fishing villages. The most interesting of these villages are Scheveningen and Katwijk. The beach at Scheveningen is frequented by bathers during the summer. At that time of year, a pretty village, linked with The Hague by a tree-lined road, and a promenade built of timber that disappears among the dunes, welcomes foreigners from every country. Here everything shows the effects of proximity to the Ocean. The church, which by no means lacks elegance, contains the enormous skull and a few vertebrae of a sperm whale that was cast up on the shore in a storm, in 1617. These silent fragments are like a commentary on these words of Job: ‘The monsters proclaim Thee, O Lord’. In the main street, which leads to the sea, are to be found several vendors of shellfish. This sea, whose voice can be heard, shows itself only when the traveller’s feet are almost at the water. The sudden delight of surprise, and the grandeur of the scene that then opens up, fully compensate for the gradation of effects found on other shores. A fishing fleet, whose smacks are beached on the sand, or riding at anchor, or scattered out at sea like the thoughts of the sea’s brain, associates the image of labour with historical memories. Here the Ocean must be proud of Holland and the Dutch; in 1673, De Ruyter defeated the English and French fleets within sight of Scheveningen.

And yet the main street, the baths, the cafés, the hotels – all of that is not Scheveningen. Behind some elegant dwellings, which are a true example of trompe l’oeil, are hidden narrow streets, and poor brick hovels, in which a silent and wretched population conceals itself. At the doors of these poky cubby-holes, in front of which  1v:2 are drying washing, nets, red shirts and strings of fish threaded on a line, there appears from time to time the figure of a woman, sad, aged and wasted by fever. Children play in the midst of all this wretchedness, as if it were one of the privileges of their age to be unaware of misfortune and poverty.
The fishermen’s language is a kind of patois that is fundamentally different from ordinary Dutch, and in which some linguists have believed they recognize traces of the Anglo-Saxon that seems to have been the source of the national language. Their dress, especially the women’s, is distinctive. In the winter, they wear a bodice of serge or calico, a brown serge skirt, a long cape of the same stuff and the same colour, lined in red, with a tall, stiff collar. There is something austere and monkish about this form of clothing; one must in any case admit that it is well suited to the climate and to their occupation. A large hat of coarse straw with a border of black ribbon, lined in flower-printed calico, bent slightly downward on either side and rising at the back and the front like a boat, enables them to hold up to three or four baskets on their heads. These women are tall, and robustly built, with rather plain but healthy-looking faces, blue eyes with somewhat drooping lids, and sturdy limbs. By the age of thirty they have already lost much of their freshness; their skin is weather-beaten, a condition due, no doubt, to the proximity of the sea and to their living in the dunes. The dunes form a country within the country itself; the sand reflects the sun’s rays more strongly than elsewhere; this is Holland’s Arabia. The men are comparatively short in stature; their dress – black jacket and trousers – does not suit their bearing, which is serious, but awkward. They have round faces, short necks, usually brown or curly hair. Their great treasures are their shirt-buttons and the silver buckles which they attach to their feet or their belts. This conservatism in their dress, especially the women’s, this consistency in their physical traits, these racial characteristics that are preserved due to the concern shown by the boys and girls of Scheveningen to marry only amongst themselves, are all, perhaps, a consequence of their dealings with the sea. The Ocean, in which some poets have believed they have seen an image of inconstancy, is, on the contrary, an image of Eternity; of all the elements, it is the one that has suffered the fewest vicissitudes since the beginning of the world. The dawn of creation saw it born thus, and thus it still rolls today. The ways of the fishermen who live on the coast share the nature of the Ocean. They have none of the habits of the city. The essence of their character is independence. These men have no love of the land; they need space, the free vastness of the seas, the untamed flood, the sky, blue by day, full of stars by night, the sharp north wind, the mind of a man standing upright upon the Ocean. Soldiers of toil, they love deliberately to brave the lightning’s bolt, the whinnying of the waves that run, without a bit and foaming at the mouth, about the boat’s keel. On land, they are homesick. These feelings of independence can be seen on their faces. Sailors and fishermen differ  1v:3 from other men in the way they carry their heads high as they walk. One would at the very least say that for them was written Ovid’s line: ‘He gave man a face that looks at the sky’.29
This love of liberty even rubs off on their religious beliefs. As we have seen, all, or almost all, of the fishermen of the coast are Protestant; they acknowledge only two books that have the right to speak to them of God: the Bible and the sea. It appears that the Ocean exerts a moral and sanctifying effect on them. Drunkenness is rare among the fishermen of Scheveningen, but even those who drink Hollands gin to excess on land abstain from any form of intemperance when they are at sea.
Swearing is unknown on board a boat.
The seafaring life strengthens and increases religious feelings in men.30 When a fishing smack sails, each fisherman takes his Bible with him. A meal is never eaten without grace being said, and is also followed by a prayer of thanks. On Sunday, if the men are at sea, they abstain from fishing, and if they are on land, the singing of the Psalms can be heard in their little houses from morning onwards.


Br. 1990: 118 | CL: 99
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Thursday, 31 May 1877

1. Read: ‘We are being put to the test (by life) in a similar way’; cf. Luke 23:40.
7. Cf. Ps. 51:19 (in KJ Ps. 51:17), ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’; and rhy. ps. 147:2, ‘He heals the broken-hearted’.
8. Van Gogh then quotes 1 Kings 19:3-15, leaving out all but the beginning of verses 14 and 15.
a. Here Van Gogh filled in the contracted ‘ging’ (it’s not in the Bible).
12. Acts 18:9, ‘Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid’; Van Gogh’s wording seems to be a mixture of this passage and Luke 2:10.
13. Regarding the Jewish cemetery, see letter 115, n. 12.
14. At that time the Oosterspoor (eastern railway) had its station on the Oosterdoksdijk; in 1876 work began on a project to fill in three islands to accommodate the railway. The new Central Station, which opened in 1889, was built on the middle island, making it possible to extend the lines of the Oosterspoor.
15. Van Gogh’s notation must mean up to (but not including) verse 33.
17. ‘If our... our powers’ is most likely a quotation.
18. Van Gogh probably enclosed several pages of text from La Néerlande et la vie hollandaise (1859) by Henri Alphonse Esquiros; they have been preserved the estate (FR b1458-b1461). See also RM11 and cf. Pabst 1988, pp. 72-82. It is not certain which of these loose leaves were enclosed, because one text was duplicated: in addition to ‘Siège de Leyde’ and ‘Siège de Harlem’, Van Gogh copied the passage ‘Scheveningen’ twice. The materials used offer no clues either.
19. ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ (Ps. 23), ‘The panting hart’ (Ps. 42) and ‘The secret place of the most High’ (Ps. 91), which includes the sentence ‘he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence’ (Ps. 91:3), to which Van Gogh referred in letter 112.

[Three appendices]

[Appendix 1]

20. Original manuscript. Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b1458 V/1962. This passage was copied, with a few minor discrepancies, from La Néerlande et la vie hollandaise. See Esquiros 1859, pp. 67-74.
21. Van Gogh omitted a long note here.
22. Esquiros wrote: ‘Fistula dulce canit, volucrem dum decipit auceps’ (Disticha Catonis, I, 27). Van Gogh first left an open space and then returned to it to insert his translation in French.

[Appendix 2]
23. Original manuscript. Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b1459 V/1962. This passage was copied, with a few minor discrepancies, from La Néerlande et la vie hollandaise. See Esquiros 1859, pp. 286-291.
24. Van Gogh mistakenly copied out the sentence beginning ‘La ville de Harlem’ twice.
25. Esquiros wrote : ‘240,000’.
26. Taken from Emile Souvestre, Les derniers Bretons. Paris 1858, deuxième partie, pp. 216-217 (chap. 3, § 2, ‘Une messe sur la mer’). There are a few minor discrepancies. Van Gogh also copied out this passage in the Visitors’ book of Annie Slade-Jones. See Pabst 1988, p. 67.

[Appendix 3]
28. Original manuscript. Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b1460 V/1962. The passage was copied from La Néerlande et la vie hollandaise. See Esquiros 1859, pp. 231-238. Van Gogh omitted several sentences and phrases, and there are a few other, more minor discrepancies.
29. Esquiros wrote: ‘Os homini sublime dedit’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses, i, 85).
30. Esquiros added: ‘ces hommes simples et ignorants’, which Van Gogh did include in his second copy (see RM11).