Amsterdam, 9 Dec. 1877

My dear Theo,
I feel the need to write to you without waiting too long, the reason being first of all that I must thank you for three things. First of all, for your excellent four-page letter, with which you gave me the greatest pleasure, because it does one good to feel that a brother of his also walks and lives on earth, when one has a lot of things to think about and a lot to do, one sometimes gets the feeling, where am I? what am I doing? where am I going? — and one starts to grow dizzy — but then such a familiar voice, or rather familiar handwriting, makes one feel firm ground beneath one’s feet again, as it were.
Then I must thank you for an issue of the Galerie Contemporaine about E. Frère.1 It’s very interesting and I’m happy to have something by him. And I also thank you for the 10 postage stamps, it really is too much and you shouldn’t have done so much. A hearty handshake for everything.
Now I have a few things to tell you about St Nicholas;2 I received a good letter from Etten with a money order for a pair of gloves enclosed.
I already had some, however, so I bought something else with the money, namely another map by Stieler, namely Scotland alone.3 At present I can get them singly at Seyffardt’s,4 but there probably won’t always be that opportunity. I’ve drawn that map and so have it double, and because I did want to give Harry Gladwell a Christmas present I hope to send it to you for him, to enclose when a crate goes to Paris. one must build one’s house upon a rock,5 Scotland, Normandy and Brittany are really rather rocky, just take a look at that large map of Scotland when you get it. If I compare the work of studying to the building of a house, and these months to its foundation, then rocks accordingly lie at its base.
But all of this by the by, now more about the evening in question. From Uncle Cor I received Bossuet, Oraisons funèbres,6 in a very good and handy edition, very complete, it includes, among other things, the fine sermon about Paul on the text ‘for when I am weak, then am I strong’.7 It’s a noble book, you’ll see it at Christmas, I was so happy with it that until today I’ve been carrying it around in my pocket, though it’s time I stopped that because something might happen to it.8 From Mendes I received the works of Claudius, also a good, solid book;9 I had sent him Thomae Kempensis de imitatione Christi and written in the front, There is neither Jew nor Greek in Him, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female: but Christ is all, and in all.10 From Uncle Stricker a box of cigars, you know what I did with them, they’re always so friendly at the Rooses’ and I’d already been wondering if I had anything to send when that box of cigars arrived as a godsend. And in the evening I found a letter11 from Uncle Jan lying on my table. Was then briefly at Vos and Kee’s, where Uncle and Aunt Stricker were as well, but couldn’t stay because I had a lesson from 8-10 with Teixeira. Uncle Jan spent the evening at Uncle Cor’s.  1v:2
Was at Uncle Stricker’s service this morning, i.e. in the Eilandskerk,12 Uncle Cor was there too. The text was ‘by Thy light shall we see light’.13
It’s always a nice walk to that Eilandskerk. This afternoon I took another walk around the little English church with those maps of those rocky countries, because I had a feeling that they were connected with that little church.
‘The Church of God stands on a rock’,14 those words were in this morning’s hymn, and that’s how Ruisdael painted it too,15 and Millet in the painting in the Luxembourg.16
It’s a good plan of yours to write those names etc. on the map of Brittany. Bring it along at Christmas, you know that I did that on the one I drew, then we can compare them. Be sure and do it, for that is good.
You talk about my coming to The Hague again on my way to Etten, I should really like to, would it be possible to stay a night at the Rooses’? If so, then you do not have to write, then I’ll count on it being possible if necessary. I should like to see your room again and the tree with ivy, I hope that will be possible and that I can leave here early enough.
I can’t tell you how much I long for Christmas. And may Pa be satisfied with what I’ve done.
It was such wonderful weather today, and so beautiful among those thorn-hedges by the little church when night began to fall.
Had a talk with Mendes this week, or rather last week, about ‘He who hate not, even his own life also, he cannot be my disciple’.17 He declared that expression too strong, but I maintained that it was the simple truth, and doesn’t Thomas a Kempis say it when he talks about knowing oneself and despising oneself?18
If we look at others who have done more and are better than we are, then soon enough we come to hate our own life because it’s not as good as that of others.19 Just look at a man like Thomas a Kempis, constrained by the love of Christ20 to write that little book, sincere and simple and true as few others were, either before or since. Or in another sphere, just take a look at the work of a Millet or that of a Stieler or The large oaks by Jules Dupré.21 They did it: ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’,22 and Pa is such a man too; and however much we can do, you see, the best thing is to keep our sights on such people and to seek whether we too may perhaps find something.23 And to believe that it’s true what Pa said, that if someone asks ‘Lord, I should so much like to be earnest’, that it will be heard and granted by God.24
Have a good Sunday today, how I’d like to be with you, Uncle Jan has gone to Haarlem so I’m alone this evening, but still have to do as much as I possibly can. You have really given me such pleasure with that magazine on E. Frère. I once saw him myself at Goupil’s, he has something very unpretentious about him. ‘At last, he triumphed’ it says in his biography,25 may it be so with us one day — that can happen and it is good to say: I never despair.26
A person doesn’t get it all at once, and most of those who have become something very good have gone through a long, difficult period of preparation that was the rock upon which their house was founded.27
Man is depraved by nature,28 at best a thief — but — with God’s guidance and blessing he can become something of higher worth,29 as there came for Paul  1v:3 a day on which he could say with frankness and trust to Herod, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were such as I am, except these bonds.30
Thanks for what you write about the lithographs.31 Something else — you also sent 2 pairs of Christus Consolator and pendant,32 I was very glad to get them.
It could do no harm if you also had that map of Scotland, then you would have three things from that atlas, and the proverb says: all good things come in threes. So count on getting that one too, and by no means buy it yourself, had first wanted to send you this one that is now going to Gladwell, but I consider it my duty to let him hear from me now and again. I hope he’ll be able to go to Lewisham at Christmas. You know that painting by Cuyp in the museum here, an old Dutch family,33 when he saw that he stood looking at it for a long time and then spoke of ‘the house built on the rock’34 and of his home in Lewisham. I, too, have memories of his father’s house and will not easily forget it. Much and strong and great love35 lives there under that roof, and its fire is in him still, it is not dead, but sleepeth.36
Now I have to hurry, for I have to get to work. So in all likelihood I’ll be coming to The Hague next week for a day, Thursday say, possibly later, I have to see how it fits in best with my work. From The Hague I hope to go to Dordrecht, and if it turns out that you can leave Saturday evening, we’ll meet each other at the station in Dordrecht.
In that case I would even spend two nights at the Rooses’, if I’m going to The Hague anyway, it can’t hurt to stay a bit longer and call on some people.
A pity, in a way, that Mauve is going to move,37 I hope that we’ll go there again together, like that evening last spring,38 it was really pleasant then.
Now make sure they don’t go to any trouble at the Rooses’. If I can’t stay there you’ll know it without asking them and can write to me, and I’ll take it into account; if I can, tell them only the day before.
I wish you the very best and blessings in your work. You’ll be busy, but actually one should be grateful for pressure and effort and all suchlike things more than for anything else, for it is only by long training in that that one develops. I sincerely hope that you’ll be able to leave Saturday, because at home they’d surely like us to be in Etten the Sunday before Christmas. So goodbye for now, if I hear nothing more from you I’ll come on Thursday or Friday, 20 or 21 December.
I finally decided to hang up that page again from Bargue’s Cours de dessin, Anne of Brittany,39 yes, man is depraved by nature and at best a thief, but in the battle of life he can become a being of higher worth; a being of higher worth, those words sprang to mind when I had been looking for a long time at the expression on the face of that beautiful woman Anne of Brittany, the expression which explains why she also recalls the words ‘one of Sorrows and acquainted with grief;40 sorrowful yet always rejoicing’.41
Adieu, give my regards to your housemates, and believe me

Your most loving brother


Br. 1990: 136 | CL: 116
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Sunday, 9 December 1877

1. The Galerie Contemporaine, Littéraire, Artistique, published by Goupil & Cie, appeared from 1876 in Paris. Each issue dealt with the life and work of one writer, painter or sculptor, and included a photograph of an art work or a facsimile of a manuscript. The issue on Frère contained a portrait and an article by Flor O’Squarr (the pseudonym of Oscar Charles Flor), ‘Édouard Frère, né a Paris en 1819’. The reverent biography stresses Frère’s perseverance in pursuing success and his choice of subject matter: domestic scenes, plain and simple. See Galerie Contemporaine, Littéraire, Artistique 1 (1876), 2nd series. Peintres & Sculpteurs (unpaginated).
2. Regarding the feast of St Nicholas, see letter 59, n. 1.
4. The bookshop of Julius Lodewijk Willem Seyffardt at Damrak 99 specialized in atlases, guidebooks and maps. See Kruseman 1886, pp. 688-691 and Groot and De Vries 1990, pp. 75-76.
a. Read: ‘Allicht’ (of course, most likely).
8. Numerous editions of Bossuet’s work were available, which makes it difficult to say which edition Uncle Cor gave Vincent; one of the editions containing the sermon on Paul is Les oraisons funèbres de Bossuet, suivies du sermon pour la profession de Mme de la Vallière, du panégyrique de St. Paul et du sermon de la vocation des gentils; avec des notices par Poujoulot. Gravures à l’eau-forte par V. Foulquier. Tours 1869.
9. It is not known which book by Claudius – who was popular in Protestant circles – Van Gogh is referring to here. Many editions – selected works as well as his complete oeuvre – were available in German. If Van Gogh had in fact been given a Dutch edition, one possibility is Matthias Claudius, De Wandsbecker bode. Prose. Translated from the German by I.C. van Deventer. 2 vols. Haarlem 1853. A less comprehensive but more deluxe edition is Gedachten van Matthias Claudius. Compiled from his works by J. Immerzeel Jr. Amsterdam 1836.
10. Gal. 3:28. Van Gogh undoubtedly chose this text because of the Jewish descent of Mendes da Costa, who said of Van Gogh in his recollections: ‘From those days [meaning when Van Gogh was employed in the art trade] he still had some prints, small lithographs after paintings and suchlike. Time and again he brought me one of them, but always completely spoiled by his having scribbled the margins completely full of quotations, which had something or other to do with the subject, from Thomas a Kempis and the Bible. Once he even gave me a copy of De imitatione Christi, but not at all with the unspoken objective of converting me; he only wanted to show me the human side of it.’ Originally appearing in Het Handelsblad of 2 December 1910; quoted from Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, p. 171.
11. A traditional confectionery eaten at the feast of St Nicholas, consisting of puff pastry with an almond-paste filling, baked in the shape of a letter.
12. J.P. Stricker conducted the 10 a.m. service in the Eilandskerk.
15. One of Jacob van Ruisdael’s paintings in which the Church of St Bavo features prominently is the View of Haarlem with bleaching grounds [1671]; see letter 37, n. 3.
18. In book iv, chapter 8 of De navolging van Christus, Thomas a Kempis quoted Luke 14:33: ‘he... that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple’. The sentence preceding the quotation says: ‘For this is why so few become enlightened and inwardly free, because they cannot manage perfect self-abnegation’ (Thomas a Kempis 1986, p. 143). See also the previously quoted passages from the end of book 1, chapter 2 in letter 135, notes 22-23.
19. Van Gogh probably got this idea from Thomas a Kempis, De navolging van Christus, book 1, chapter 18, in which the pious deeds of the holy fathers, who ‘hated their souls’ during their lifetimes, are contrasted with how little ordinary people generally accomplish.
21. Jules Dupré, Les grands chênes (The large oaks), 1844 (present whereabouts unknown). Known from a lithograph by Louis-François Français, published in Les artistes anciens et modernes. Ill. 78 [78] Louis Marvy also made an etching after it. See Aubrun 1974, p. 91, cat. no. 162.
24. Regarding this expression, cf. letter 112, n. 17.
25. The article ‘Édouard Frère, né a Paris en 1819’ (see n. 1 above) tells how Frère tried in vain for six years to be admitted to the Salon: ‘Finally he won, and in 1848 he exhibited seven small canvases.’
26. This expression of Mr van Gogh, which Vincent quotes frequently, could have been derived from hymn 56:1 and hymn 56:9.
28. Cf. The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 3, Question 7. The whole sentence – ‘Man is depraved by nature, at best a thief’ – seems to be a quotation, especially since it is repeated in its entirety at the end of the letter.
31. This refers to several prints which Van Gogh asked about in letter 135.
32. For the prints after Ary Scheffer’s Christus Consolator [1771] and Christus Remunerator [1772], see letter 85, n. 7. Van Gogh asked about them in letter 135.
[1771] [1772]
33. Since Van Gogh’s mention of ‘the museum’ means the Trippenhuis, he must be referring here to The Meebeeck Cruywagen family, then attributed to Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp but now considered to be the work of Jacob van Loo (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Ill. 37 [37].
35. Biblical; cf., for instance, Eph. 2:4.
37. As it turned out, Mauve did not move house (FR b960).
38. The brothers’ visit to Anton Mauve must have taken place during Vincent’s stay in The Hague in the second week of May 1877; cf. letter 114, n. 42.
41. 2 Cor. 6:10. Vincent writes ‘always’ instead of ‘alway’.