1. Cf. hymn 200:2, hymn 271:2, and the hymn ‘Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom’.
2. This entrance examination to the Faculty of Arts at the University of Amsterdam took place on 9 November 1877; that year there were 28 candidates. See Jaarboek der Universiteit van Amsterdam (1877-1884). Amsterdam 1885, p. 64.
a. Van Gogh’s ‘en’ in the name of the school is incorrect and misleading.
3. It is not clear which Teixeira de Mattos is intended. Wim Heijen, who has researched this family, thinks that it was probably Isaäc Teixeira de Mattos, a retired doctor who could have volunteered as a teacher at the Israëlitische Godsdienst Armenschool (Jewish School for the Poor), from 1871 a continuation of the Nederlandsch-Portugeesch-Israëlitische Armenschool (Dutch-Portuguese-Jewish School for the Poor). In the account-book of the Portuguese-Jewish community, Isaäc Teixeira de Mattos occurs frequently as a moneylender. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, two members of the Teixeira de Mattos family had been members of the board of governors of the Portuguese school for the poor.
Another candidate is a nephew of the aforementioned, another Isaäc Teixeira de Mattos (in 1881 an office clerk), who felt compelled to become involved in the care of the poor. See SAAm; I. van S. Mulder, Verslag van de commissie belast met het toezigt over de Nederlandsch-Israëlitische godsdienstige scholen binnen het synagogaal ressort van Amsterdam. Amsterdam 1863, p. 11; W.Chr. Pieterse, Inventaris van de archieven der Portugees-Israëlitische Gemeente te Amsterdam 1614-1870. Amsterdam 1964, p. 18 and Wim Heijen, ‘Teixeira de Mattos. Bankschandaal tastte goede naam aan’, Ons Amsterdam 49-6 (1997), pp. 160-164.
4. The apostle Paul.
5. Spruner-Menke, Atlas antiquus. Karoli Spruneri opus, tertio edidit Theodorus Menke. Göttingen 1865. The atlas consists of 31 plates with explanations. ‘Britannia et Hibernia’ is map no. 18. The makers of the atlas were Karl von Spruner von Merz and Theodor Menke.
6. Adolf Stieler, Hand-Atlas über alle Theile der Erde und über das Weltgebäude. Gotha. This much-used atlas originally stemmed from 1817-1823, but was completely revised in 1871-1875 and subsequently reprinted a number of times. The complete atlas comprised 90 maps, which were also sold separately (Stieler 1876).
7. On Sunday, 18 November the popular minister J.J.L. ten Kate conducted the 10 a.m. service in the Zuiderkerk.
8. Cf. John 5:28-29.
9. Van Gogh’s later addition – ‘Blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home’ – was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5.
10. The portrait of Dickens, drawn by Achille Isidore Gilbert and engraved by Burn Smeeton, appeared nine days after the death of the writer on the front page of L’Illustration 28 (18 June 1870), p. 429. Ill. 1858 [1858].
11. An engraving after La tasse de café (The cup of coffee) by Aimé de Lemud, in L’Illustration 6 (1 November 1845), p. 136. Ill. 1046 [1046].
12. ‘La vie monastique’ (The monastic life) is the title of book i, chapter 17 in L’imitation de Jésus-Christ, the French translation of De imitatione Christi by Thomas a Kempis.
13. Van Gogh could have become familiar with the current expression ‘A soul in need’ from a publication on Tissot; see letter 158, n. 26.
14. The opening lines of book i, chapter 3 in L’imitation de Jésus-Christ (ed. 1850), p. 7. Quoted, with variations, in letter 135 as well; cf. also letter 108, n. 17.
15. Johanna van Gogh-Franken turned 41 on 16 November.
16. Auguste Gruson, Histoire des croisades. Racontée à la jeunesse. Paris n.d. This book appeared as no. 247 in Panthéon Classique et Littéraire, a series of inexpensive schoolbooks that were put on the market simultaneously by a number of publishers in various countries.
17. See the end of the letter.
18. This is a description of Matthijs Maris, The castle ploughman, 1875-1876 (Cardiff, National Museum of Wales). Ill. 1860 [1860]. This painting was owned at the time by E.J. van Wisselingh, who lived in Amsterdam, where Van Gogh might have seen it, though it is possible that he had seen it as early as 1875-1876 in Maris’s studio in Paris.
19. For A young citizen of the year v [1855] by Jules Goupil, see letter 132, n. 17.
20. The French Revolution of 1789.
21. The condition of Uncle Hein, who had been ill for years, had worsened. Alerted to the situation, Mr van Gogh travelled on Sunday, 18 November to Laken, whence he returned on Wednesday, 21 November. Writing to Theo after Uncle Hein’s death on 26 November, he said: ‘So you already know that I left a week ago Sunday for Brussels and came back on Wednesday evening. There seemed to be some change then, but at last he was released from his suffering and died yesterday morning at 4 a.m. Fortunately he has been relieved of that heavy burden. The last few days he no longer regained consciousness, but on the last day I was with him he recognized me and stroked my hand, since he could no longer speak, and gave clear signs that he understood my words. Again, it is fortunate that his suffering is over, but his death affects me deeply nonetheless’ (FR b2571, 27 November 1877).
22. Paul Stricker, who was working in the Indies, was forced by poor health to return to the Netherlands. Mrs van Gogh wrote to Theo: ‘It appears to be neurosis; his stomach refused to take food. The doctor appears to have said that he must return to the Netherlands, so any illusions of his fine position there and his prospects are a thing of the past’ (FR b2569, 21 November 1877).
23. Johan and Vincent Wilhelm van Gogh, sons of Uncle Jan. Johan had left on 6 January 1877 for the Dutch East Indies, where he worked on Java as a planter. Vincent Wilhelm was an administrator at the Cinchona and Tea enterprise at Payung (Madjalengka, Cheribon). It is not known what was wrong with Wilhelm, who had married Maria Christina Elisabeth Musch on 25 July 1877 at Cianjur.
24. Van Gogh joined together several passages from Histoire des croisades, which he took from pp. 53, 54, 55, 56, 74 and 71 in the 1845 Brussels edition.
25. Ed. Brussels 1845, p. 8.
26. Ed. Brussels 1845, p. 200. In the book this closing line is in the interrogative.
27. Beginning of Charles Dickens’s A child’s history of England, of which there were a number of editions. See Master Humphrey’s clock and A child’s history of England. Introduction by Derek Hudson. Oxford etc. 1981, p. [129].
28. Gen. 1:1-5.
29. John 1:1-4 and John 1:9.