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153 To Theo van Gogh. Cuesmes, Tuesday, 5 August 1879.

No. 153 (Brieven 1990 152, Complete Letters 131)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Cuesmes, Tuesday, 5 August 1879

Source status
Original manuscript

Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b151 V/1962

Letter headed: ‘Cuesmes 5 Aug 1879’.

The address written on the letter itself, ‘Monsieur Th. van Gogh. La Haye’, confirms that it was enclosed with the letter Vincent mentions sending to H.G. Tersteeg (see ll. 32-33).

Ongoing topic
Theo’s impending departure for Paris (152)

original text
Cuesmes 5 Aug. 1879

Waarde Theo,
’t Is in haast dat ik U schrijf. Is ’t niet spoedig op handen dat Gij naar Parijs zult gaan. Zoo ja schrijf het mij welken dag & welk uur en naar alle gedachten zie ik U aan ’t station. hebt Gij tijd een dag ’t zij langer of korter hier te vertoeven, regt gaarne wenschte ik dat dit mogt geschieden.
Zou U nog eenige teekeningen kunnen laten zien, typen van hier,1 niet dat die alleen de moeite waard zijn dat ge er voor uit den trein stapt maar Gij zoudt hier ligt in de natuur en in het eigenaardige van alles vinden wat U zou aantrekken, daar er zooveel pittoresk karakter ook in alles ligt in deze streek. Hebt Gij ooit gelezen Dickens “Les temps difficiles”, ik geef U den titel in ’t Fransch omdat er eene zeer goede Fransche vertaling is à Frs 1.25, uitgaaf Hachette, Bibliothèque des meilleurs romans étrangers.2 Dat is meesterlijk, daar is eene figuur in van een arbeider, Stephen Blackpool, die treffend is en sympathiek in de hoogste mate.3
Ben onlangs te Brussel geweest en te Maria Hoorebeeke en te Tournay,4 gedeeltelijk te voet.
Ben op ’t oogenblik aan ’t onderstaand adres

M. Frank. Evangéliste à CUESMES5 (au Marais, près de Mons).

Er is hier veel onweer geweest in den laatsten tijd.
Toe kerel, als Gij ’t schikken kunt kom dan en blijf een trein over.
Ben onlangs nog op een atelier geweest, n.l. bij Ds Pieterszen6 die schildert in den trant van Schelfhout of Hoppenbrouwers7 en wel verstand van kunst heeft.
Hij vroeg mij om een van mijn schetsen, een mijnwerkerstype.8 Zit dikwijls tot laat in den nacht te teekenen om wat souvenirs vast te houden en gedachten te versterken die het zien van de dingen onwillekeurig opwekken.
Maar Jongen, ik heb geen tijd, moest noodzakelijk schrijven aan den Hr. Tersteeg om te bedanken voor de verfdoos die hij zond en het schetsboek, reeds halverwege vol.9 Kocht te Brussel nog een groot schetsboek met oud Hollandsch papier bij een boekenjood.
Zou ik U dus mogen zien, wat zoudt Gij mij welkom zijn, ik beloof U Dickens, Les temps difficiles als gij ze wilt komen halen maar anders zend ik ’t bij gelegenheid.
A Dieu, ontvang een handdruk in gedachten en geloof mij steeds

Yours truly

Cuesmes, 5 Aug. 1879

My dear Theo,
I’m writing to you in haste. Won’t you be going to Paris quite soon now? If so, write and tell me which day and what time, and in all likelihood I’ll see you at the station. If you have time to stay here for a day, or longer or shorter, I sincerely wish that this could happen.
Would be able to show you some drawings, types from here,1 not that they alone make it worth your while to get off the train, but here you would easily find something that appeals to you in the scenery and in the singularity of everything, for there’s so much picturesque character in everything in this region. Have you ever read Dickens, ‘Les temps difficiles’, I’m giving you the title in French because there’s a very good French translation for 1.25 francs published by Hachette, Bibliothèque des meilleurs romans étranger.2 It’s masterly, one of the characters is a worker, Stephen Blackpool, who’s well portrayed and extremely likeable.3
Was recently in Brussels and Maria-Horebeke and Tournai,4 partly on foot.
Am at the following address at the moment

Mr Francq. Evangelist in CUESMES5 (at Marais, near Mons).

There have been a lot of storms here lately.
Come on, old chap, if you can arrange it, come and stay over till the next train.
Was recently in a studio, the Rev. Pieterszen’s,6 who paints in the style of Schelfhout or Hoppenbrouwers7 and really understands art.
He asked me for one of my sketches, a mine-worker’s type.8 Often sit up drawing until late at night to have some keepsakes and to strengthen thoughts that automatically spring to mind upon seeing the things.  1v:2
But old boy, I don’t have any time, had to write urgently to Mr Tersteeg to thank him for the box of paints he sent and the sketchbook, already half full.9 In Brussels I bought another large sketchbook with old Dutch paper from a Jewish bookseller.
If I should get to see you, how pleased I’d be, I promise you Dickens, Les temps difficiles, if you want to come and fetch it, but otherwise I’ll send it when I get the chance.
Adieu, accept a handshake in thought, and believe me ever

Yours truly,
1. Jean Denis, one of the offspring of the Denis family with whom Van Gogh boarded in Wasmes, stated that Vincent had made several drawings of members of his family: ‘Grandmother busy milking the cows, making soup, grinding coffee; Grandfather harnessing the horses, etc. Each time he had finished, Van Gogh would give his drawing.’ (la grand-mère occupée à traire les vaches, à préparer la soupe, à moudre le café; le grand-père attelant les chevaux etc. Chaque fois qu’il avait terminé, Van Gogh donnait son dessin.) When the drawings were later found, they were torn up. According to witnesses, other drawings Van Gogh made at the time must have included the following: ‘The Cage: Pâturages coal-mine, no. 10 shaft, Grisoeuil’, ‘The Decrucq family picking potatoes: the men digging, the women gathering up the potatoes’, ‘Miner outside his cottage’, ‘Portrait of Madame Denis’, and ‘A pair of miners carrying bags on their backs.’ (‘La Cage: charbonnage de Pâturages, puit no 10 de Grisoeuil’, ‘La famille Decrucq faisant la récolte des pommes de terre: les hommes bêchant, les femmes ramassant les pommes de terre’, ‘Mineur devant sa chaumière’, ‘Portrait de Madame Denis’ and ‘Un couple de mineurs portant sur le dos un sac’). See Eeckaut 1990, pp. 93-94 and ‘Annexes’, p. 50; Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, pp. 223-225.
2. Hard times by Charles Dickens was translated by William L. Hughes as Les temps difficiles (Paris 1857) and appeared in the series ‘Library of the best foreign novels’, mentioned by Van Gogh as part of the Oeuvres de Charles Dickens. The price – 1 franc 25 centimes – is printed on the cover. The book was reprinted at least six times between 1857 and 1879.
3. The solitary weaver Stephen Blackpool, a man of perfect integrity, refuses to join the union and is ostracized by his fellow-workers. When he is wrongfully accused of theft, he sees no alternative but to leave town. Returning later to clear his name, he falls in a mine shaft and dies of his injuries.
4. Van Gogh, who had meanwhile lost his post as an evangelist, was exploring his possibilities for the future. He went to Sint-Maria-Horebeke (a small village c. 50 km west of Brussels) and Tournai (a city c. 40 km north-west of Wasmes) to ask acquaintances for help and advice (see also n. 6 below).
The evangelization committee, whose demands he had failed to meet, had given him three months to look for another situation. He was judged to be lacking in several qualities necessary to perform his duties, namely the ability to speak eloquently and to organize meetings at which the community could be uplifted by hearing the message of the gospel. Van Gogh’s successor, Hutton, would succeed within two months in turning around the deteriorating situation, as emerges from the minutes of a meeting of the church council of Wasmes: ‘The trial made in accepting the services of a young Dutchman, Mr Vincent Van Gogh, who believed himself called to evangelize in the Borinage, has not yielded the expected results. If to the admirable qualities he displayed among the sick and injured, to the devotion and spirit of sacrifice of which he furnished many demonstrations, watching with them at night and divesting himself for them of most of his clothes and linen, had been added a gift for speaking, indispensable to anyone placed at the head of a congregation, Mr van Gogh would certainly have been an accomplished evangelist. It would not, of course, be reasonable to ask for extraordinary talents. But it is a fact that the absence of certain qualities may render the performance of the evangelist’s primary function totally deficient. Unfortunately, that was the case with Mr van Gogh. Therefore, once the trial period had expired, we were obliged to abandon the idea of keeping him longer.
The evangelist currently employed, Mr Hutton, took up his post on 1 October 1879. The work he has done so far is extensive and has already borne fruit.
Mr Hutton has re-established the meeting that had been established by Mr Péron in Warquignies and had lapsed under Mr van Gogh. But it seems to have been seriously compromised due to that neglect, because it is continuing with difficulty.’ (L’essai qui a été fait en acceptant les services d’un jeune homme Hollandais, M. Vincent Van Gogh, qui se croyait appelé à évangéliser dans le Borinage, n’a pas donné les résultats qu’on en attendait. Si aux admirables qualités qu’il déployait auprès des malades et des blessés, au dévouement et à l’esprit de sacrifice dont il a fourni maintes preuves en leur consacrant ses veilles et en se dépouillant pour eux de la meilleure partie de ses vêtements et de son linge, s’était joint le don de la parole, indispensable à quiconque est placé à la tête d’une congrégation, M. Van Gogh aurait certainement été un évangéliste accompli. Sans doute il ne serait pas raisonnable d’exiger des talents extraordinaires. Mais il est constant que l’absence de certaines qualités peut rendre l’exercice de la principale fonction de l’évangéliste tout à fait défectueux. C’était malheureusement le cas de M. Van Gogh. Aussi le temps d’essai expiré, a-t-il fallu renoncer à l’idée de le conserver plus longtemps.
L’évangéliste actuellement à l’oeuvre, M. Hutton, a pris possession de sa charge le 1er octobre 1879. Son activité jusqu’ici a été grande et a déjà porté des fruits.
M. Hutton a rétabli à Warquignies la réunion qui avait été inaugurée par M. Péron et était tombée sous M. Van Gogh. Mais son abandon parait l’avoir sérieusement compromise, car elle se soutient avec peine.)
See Vingt-troisième rapport du Comité synodal d’évangélisation 1879-1880. Etterbeek-Bruxelles 1880, pp. 17-18 (Union des églises protestantes de Belgique). Excerpts printed in the Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, pp. 227-228.
In his recollections of the l’Eglise Protestante of Petit-Wasmes, the chronicler Antoine Denis remarked that Van Gogh was ‘losing his mind [and] becoming ... a responsibility’ (perdait la tête [et] devenait ... une charge). (An extract from the archives of this church was kindly supplied by minister Ruben Quenon in 1973; a copy of the manuscript is to be found in the Dossier Pièrre Secretan-Rollier, Amsterdam, Vincent van Gogh Foundation). Vincent’s parents saw no way out of the situation, and Mr van Gogh complained to Theo: ‘We are sorely tried by this and are literally at our wits’ end’ (FR b2487, 19 July).
A letter written by Mr van Gogh to Theo on 5 August makes it possible to reconstruct events: ‘We’ve had another letter from Vincent. He has left Wasmes, and is now at Cuesmes, near Mons. He writes that last Friday he went to Maria-Horebeke in Flanders, arriving there Sunday afternoon – mostly on foot – to meet Rev. Pieterszen, who was in Brussels. He then went there and met him on Monday morning – after consulting him, he is now back in Cuesmes, and there he’s found accommodation and hopes in future to find a small room ...
In Brussels he visited the various families he had become acquainted with there. What kind of impression will he have made? Like a ?....
Oh, we can imagine almost anything! His letter was written in a rather cheerful tone – mixed with bitterness. Tomorrow it will be ten years since he left our house and I brought him to The Hague to work in Goupil’s firm. What troubles we’ve had since! ... We are tired and all but despondent ... I wrote this morning to Vincent and to others in his behalf. In the main I do not object to or condemn what he is doing. I think it best to leave him to his own devices, but we watch him with trepidation and remain ready to come to his aid if necessary. We invited him to come home, but he definitely doesn’t want that’ (FR b2488).
One of the ‘others’ to whom Mr van Gogh had written in Vincent’s behalf was the Rev. Abraham van der Waeyen Pieterszen, whose answer arrived in Etten on Sunday, 7 August (FR b2491, 10 August, Mrs van Gogh to Theo). Pieterszen had no solution. Vincent had arrived at his place on Sunday evening [i.e. 3 August], weary and flushed: ‘He was given good accommodation and invited to breakfast the following morning. He made the impression on everyone who saw him that he is someone who gets in his own way. He had lost a lot of weight. I sent Pieterszen 50 francs to give him, without his knowing that the money had come from me. Pieterszen had advised him to go to us, but he didn’t want to. Then, however, he went to Cuesmes ... Can he go on evangelizing on his own account? P. thought that would be best. But where would the financial means come from? Should I go and visit him to try and get him to come here? What will become of him?’ (FR b2488). This letter was probably one of the reasons Theo decided to visit Vincent (see letter 154).
In Brussels, Van Gogh had also gone to see the family of Otto Geerling, at whose house he showed up looking dirty and bedraggled. See Lutjeharms 1978, p. 106. Vincent knew Geerling from the time he and his father had stayed with them during their visit of 16-17 July 1878 (see letter 145, n. 2).
It is assumed that Van Gogh went to Tournai to visit the Rev. David Bonte. Cf. Lutjeharms 1978, p. 106. The family lived at Rue de l’Activité (Werkzaamheidstraat) 24, Sint-Lambrechts Woluwe (SAB, municipal register, 1876 - U fol. 47). Bonte’s recollections make no reference to this visit, however (quoted in Verzamelde brieven 1973 vol. 1, pp. 224-225).
5. Edouard Joseph (or Joseph Edouard) Francq, ‘traceur maître’ (a foreman in the coalmine) at Cuesmes, was married to Céleste (Celestine) Julie Batalje (Bataille). They lived at rue du Pavillon 5 (AEM).
6. Pieterszen had his studio in Sint-Maria-Horebeke. Hulsker is convinced that Van Gogh went there to consult Pieterszen not as a clergyman but as an artist. See Hulsker 1990-1, p. 82, and Hulsker 1990-2.
7. Johannes Franciscus Hoppenbrouwers was a pupil of Andreas Schelfhout.
8. This suggests that Van Gogh had taken sketches along and had given the above-mentioned ‘mine-worker’s type’ to Pieterszen. This sketch is not known.
9. Nothing is known about the circumstances of Tersteeg’s gift of drawing materials, but something Van Gogh wrote or sent him must have prompted him to make this gesture.