Petit-Wasmes, 26 Dec. 1878
Borinage Hainaut1

My dear Theo,
It’s time I write to you again, first of all to wish you happiness at the beginning of a new year. May much good be your share, and God’s blessing be on your work in this year that we’re beginning.
I’m eagerly longing for a letter from you, to hear again how things are going and how you are,2 also perhaps to hear if you have recently seen anything beautiful or remarkable.
As far as I’m concerned, you surely understand that there are no paintings here in the Borinage, that in general they haven’t the slightest idea of what a painting is, so it goes without saying that I’ve seen absolutely nothing in the way of art since my departure from Brussels. But this doesn’t mean that this isn’t a very special and very picturesque country, everything speaks, as it were, and is full of character. There was snow these last few days, the dark days before Christmas. Then everything was reminiscent of the medieval paintings by Peasant Bruegel, among others, and by so many others who were so good at expressing the singular effect of red and green, black and white. Time and again, what one sees here reminds one of the work of Thijs Maris or Albrecht Dürer, for example.
There are sunken roads here, overgrown with thorn-bushes and with old, twisted trees with their gnarled roots, which look exactly like that road in the etching by Dürer, The knight and Death.3
These last few days, for instance, it was an extraordinary sight, with the white snow in the evening around the twilight hour, seeing the workers returning home from the mines. These people are completely black when they come out of the dark mines into the daylight again, they look just like chimney-sweeps. Their houses are usually small and could better be called huts, scattered along the sunken roads and in the wood and against the slopes of the hills. One sees moss-covered roofs here and there, and the light shines kindly in the evening through the small-paned windows.  1v:2
Just as in Brabant we have the copse and the oak wood, and in Holland the pollard willows, so here one sees those black thorn-bushes around the gardens, fields and land. The recent snow gave it the effect of letters written on white paper, like the pages of the gospel.
I’ve already spoken here at various times, both in a fairly large room, specially furnished for religious meetings,4 and in the gatherings that are customarily held in the workers’ houses in the evenings, which one can best call Bible-reading. Spoke, among other things, on: the parable of the mustard seed,5 the barren fig tree,6 the man who was blind from his birth.7 On Christmas, of course, on the stable of Bethlehem,8 and Peace on earth.9
May it come to pass with God’s blessing that I be placed here permanently somewhere; I should sincerely wish it.
Everywhere around here one sees the big chimneys and the huge mountains of coal at the entrance to the mines, the so-called coal-pits. You know that large drawing by Bosboom, Chaudfontaine,10 it conveys the character of the land here well, only here everything is coal, in the north of Hainaut stone-quarries, and Chaudfontaine more iron ore.
I still think so often of that day when you were in Brussels and of our visit to the Museum.11 And I often wish that you were a bit closer and we could be together more often. Do write again soon. Again and again I look at that etching of A young citizen.12 The mine-workers’ language is not all that easy to understand, but they understand normal French well if one can speak it rapidly and fluently, then it naturally resembles their dialect, which is spoken amazingly fast. At a gathering this week I spoke on the text  1v:3 Acts XVI:9 ‘And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.’13 And they listened attentively when I tried to describe what that Macedonian was like who needed and longed for the comfort of the gospel and the knowledge of the Only True God. How we should imagine him as a worker with signs of sorrow and suffering and fatigue on his face, without form or glory but with an immortal soul that has need of the meat which endureth unto everlasting life,14 namely the Word of God, for man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.15
How Jesus Christ is the Master16 who can strengthen, comfort and enlighten a man like the Macedonian, a workman and labourer who has a hard life. Because He himself is the great Man of Sorrows,17 who knows our diseases,18 who himself is called the carpenter’s son,19 even though He was the Son of God and the great physician of sick souls.20 Who worked for 30 years in a humble carpenter’s workshop to carry out God’s will; and God wants man to live and walk humbly upon the earth, in imitation of Christ, minding not high things, but condescending to men of low estate,21 learning from the gospel to be meek and lowly in heart.22
I’ve already had the opportunity to visit a few sick people, for many people here are ill. Wrote today to the president of the Comité d’Evangelisation23 to request that my case be brought before the next meeting of the committee.
It thawed last night, I cannot tell you how picturesque the hilly countryside looks in the thaw, now that the snow is melting and the black fields with the green of the winter wheat are again becoming visible. For foreigners the villages here are truly a maze, with countless narrow streets and alleyways with the small houses of the workers, at the foot of the hills as well as on their slopes and at the top. It can best be compared to a village like Scheveningen, especially the poor quarters, or to those villages in Brittany that we know from paintings. For that matter, you rode through this region yourself on the railway journey to and from Paris, and maybe remember it a little. The Protestant churches are small, similar to the one in Hoeven,24 but slightly larger, but where I spoke was only a simple, large room that can hold a hundred people if necessary. I also attended a service in a stable or barn, so it’s quite simple and novel.
Write soon when you have the time, and remember that you are repeatedly, even constantly, in my thoughts. Wishing again that God’s best blessings may be your share in the new year, and shaking your hand in thought, believe me ever

Your most loving brother

Give my regards to everyone at the Rooses’ and wish them all, and anyone who should happen to ask after me, a happy New Year.

If you write, please address your letter care of M. Vanderhaegen, Colporteur à Pâturages près de Mons (Borinage Haînaut).25
I just visited an old mother in a charcoal-burner’s family. She’s seriously ill, but pious and patient. I read a chapter to her and prayed with all of them. The people here have something special and appealing because of their simplicity and kind-heartedness, just like the Brabanters in Zundert and Etten.


Br. 1990: 148 | CL: 127
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Wasmes, Thursday, 26 December 1878

1. Since a longer stay at the Flemish training college at Brussels had become impossible (see letter 148), Van Gogh left for the Borinage to seek a position as an evangelist. Around the beginning of December 1878 he went to live in Petit-Wasmes, a village in the south of Belgium. Mr van Gogh had meanwhile written to Theo about this on 15 December: ‘A week ago we received a rather good letter from Vincent. Good inasmuch as he has found good lodgings with a Protestant farming family at Pâturages. For 30 francs a month – so little because he instructs their children in the evenings. He has been received there with kindness by many people, and associating with those people appears to fulfil his expectations. Moreover, the Rev. Péron at Dour has promised his assistance. In mid-January there will be another meeting of the Committee, of which the Rev. Péron is secretary, and he will try to further Vincent’s interests. Meanwhile he spends his free time drawing large maps of Palestine which could be of use to schools and confirmation classes – and which he hopes to dispose of for money. I received one from him and ordered 4 more copies, for which I will give him 10 francs each.
So now we are relieved inasmuch as he has good accommodation for the present – and otherwise we’ll wait and see. Especially now that it’s so wintry, we’re glad that he has initially ended up there, and in that colliery country there will certainly be no lack of opportunity to warm oneself. Accordingly, he writes that in his room, too, he has a fire in the grate, and clothing, and simple but healthy fare’ (FR b2448). The above-mentioned ‘Rev. Péron’ is Pierre Péron, who worked for the Eglise protestante unie de Belgique from 1869 to 1882.
A new situation for Vincent had thus been arranged fairly quickly. On 5 December, Mr van Gogh had sent a frank letter of recommendation to Péron at Dour, in which he said that Vincent had refused to take money from him, not wanting him to bear the expense. (See Documentation, 5 December 1878). Evidently two more letters followed, addressed to Nicolaas de Jonge and Abraham van der Waeyen Pieterszen, because on 8 January 1879 Mr van Gogh confided to Theo: ‘I wrote again in his behalf to Brussels and Mechelen’ (FR b2455).
2. On the last day of the year Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo, making sure he had Vincent’s exact address and asking him to write soon to Vincent in Belgium (FR b2452).
a. Absolutely nothing, none whatsoever. Van Gogh uses this adverb ‘ganschelijk’ here for the first time (probably under the influence of Flemish).
3. The description suggests that Van Gogh has Dürer’s Ritter, Tod und Teufel [1882] (Knight, Death and the Devil) in mind, of which he stressed the same aspect in letter 148.
4. This room, known in popular parlance as the ‘Salon du Bébé’ and ‘Le temple du Bébé’, was located at what is now rue du Bois 257-259 in Petit-Wasmes. See Eeckaut 1990, p. 173 and ‘Annexes’, pp. 23, 47.
b. Variant of ‘iewers’, which means ‘somewhere’. Otherwise used only in letter 152.
10. Johannes Bosboom, Lime-kiln by the quarry of Chaudfontaine (private collection) Ill. 607 [607]. The watercolour, whose measurements – 32 x 52 cm – entitle it to be called ‘large’, was in the possession of C.M. van Gogh; Vincent and Theo doubtless saw the drawing at his house.
11. See letter 148 with regard to the brothers’ visit to the Brussels museum.
12. Although Van Gogh calls it an etching, he must be referring to the wood engraving of Goupil’s A young citizen of the year v [887]; see letter 145, n. 14.
c. The ‘patois’ means the dialect of the region.
13. The text conforms to the translation in David Martin, La Sainte Bible. Brussels 1860.
16. Matt. 23:8 and Matt. 23:10. ‘Xtus’ is the abbreviation of the name Christ, beginning with the first letter of the Greek word for Christ ( ).
23. The president of the Belgische Evangelisatie-Comité van de Bond van Kerken (Belgian Evangelization Committee of the Association of Churches) was Emile Rochedieu. This letter is no longer to be found in the archives of the Eglise protestante unie de Belgique.
On 1 February 1879, the Committee appointed Vincent to a position for a period of six months, as evidenced by the document ‘Signatures des Agentes nouveaux depuis 1870’. Ill. 1913 [1913]. From the minutes of the meeting of 14 January 1879, it emerges that Abraham van der Waeyen Pieterszen had reported that he ‘introduces the subject of Mr van Gogh, who would like to be employed in the Borinage’ (fait connaître M. Van Gogh, qui voudrait être occupé dans le Borinage) [p. 173]. The minutes go on to say: ‘The Chairman introduces the application for employment from Mr van Gogh, son of a minister from Holland, who has come to the Borinage with the aim of working there. From what Mr Pieterszen and Mr Péron say, it emerges that this devout young man, completely devoted to work, would make a good Bible reader and would do useful work in that capacity, in Wasmes and Warpignies. Mr Péron suggests employing him in this way, at the modest salary of 600 francs. There will be a trial period of 6 months’ (M. le Président fait connaître la demande d’emploi de Mr van Gogh, fils d’un pasteur de Hollande et venu dans le Borinage dans le but d’y travailler. Il résulte de ce que disent M.M. Pieterszen et Péron que ce jeune homme pieux, dévoué dur au travail, ferait un bon lecteur de la Bible et travaillerait utilement à ce titre, à Wasmes et à Warpignies. M. Péron propose de l’employer ainsi avec le sobre traitement de 600 francs. On fera un essai de 6 mois’) (Brussels, Eglise protestante unie de Belgique, Bureau du Synode).
The minutes of 15 April 1879 report the situation to date: ‘Attention is drawn to Mr Vincent and his work. The details, both regrettable and encouraging, that have been given persuade the committee to authorise the Hainaut sub-committee to extend Mr Vincent van Gogh’s trial period for three [months], if it sees fit .’ (L’attention est attirée sur M. Vincent et sur son oeuvre. Les détails à la fois regrettables et encourageants qui sont donnés déterminent le comité à autoriser le sous-comité du Hainaut à prolonger l’essai de M. Vincent van Gogh pendant trois [mois], s’il le juge bon’) [p. 177]. (Brussels, Archives of the Eglise protestante unie de Belgique). Cf. also Lutjeharms 1978, p. 105.
24. Mr van Gogh was also responsible for the Protestant community in the nearby hamlet of Hoeven.
25. Van Gogh was ‘warmly received the first week’ by the evangelist-colporteur Benjamin Vanderhaegen, who found him lodgings in the house of Jean Baptiste Denis (see letter 150). According to archival records, he lived at rue de la place St Pierre 12 in Pâturages; Mr van Gogh, who corresponded with Vanderhaegen, gave Theo the address as rue de l’église 39. Cf. FR b2452, 31 December 1878 and FR b2463, 27 February 1879 (quotation).