Letter 0012

Letter 0012: From Vincent van Gogh to Willem J. van Stockum and family

London, 7 August 1873

My dear friends,

It was a pleasant surprise to receive Caroline's letter. Thanks. With all my heart I hope she is quite well again, and a good thing it is past now!

In your next letter I should like to hear more about the last play you wrote. I was really amazed that it was for ten characters. It must be the biggest you have done.

These last few days I have enjoyed reading the poems of John Keats. He is a poet who is not very well known in Holland, I think. He is the favorite of all the painters here, and for that reason I started reading him. Here I have included something by him. His best-known poem is 'The Eve of St. Agnes,' but it is rather too long to copy.

I haven't visited either the Crystal Palace nor the Tower yet, nor Tussaud’s. I am not in a hurry to see everything. For the moment I am quite satisfied with the museums, parks, etc.. They interest me more.

Last Monday was a nice day. The first Monday in August is a holiday here. I went with one of the Germans to Dulwich, an hour and a half outside L., to see the museum there, and after that we took a walk to another village about an hour further on.

The countryside is so beautiful here. Many people who have their businesses in London live in a village outside L. and come to the city by train every day. Perhaps I shall do the same thing soon, if I can find a cheap room somewhere. But I find moving so horrible that I shall stay here as long as possible, although everything is not as good as it seemed to me in the beginning. Perhaps it is my own fault, so I will bear with it a little longer.

Pardon me if this letter is not as I would wish it to be, for I am writing in a hurry. I want to congratulate you on Willem's birthday and wish you many happy returns.

I was pleased to learn that you have renewed your acquaintance with the Tersteeg family. I had been hoping you would for a long time.

When you have a chance, write to me and please let me know which photographs you have received - I am curious to know.

I received a letter from Marinus, and understand that he is going to Amsterdam. This will be a great change for him, I hope he will do well. I was very glad he wrote to me.

A few days ago a brother of Iterson's visited me, and for the first time since May I had a chance to speak Dutch. We live so far apart, much to my regret.

Good luck to you. Say hello for me to everyone in the Poten. Best wishes!

Yours truly,

Lighten my heart with a letter as soon as you can find time.

The Eve of Saint Mark


Upon a Sabbath day it fell;
Twice holy was the Sabbath bell,
That called the folk to evening prayer;
The city streets were clear and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains;
And, on the western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatured green, vallies cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,
Of primroses by shelter’d rills,
Of daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the Sabbath bell:
The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies,
Warm from their fireside orat’ries;
And moving, with demurest air
To even song, and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch, and entry low,
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush and shuffling feet,
While played the organ, loud and sweet.

The Bells had ceased, the prayers begun,
And Bertha had not yet half done
A curious volume, patch’d and torn,
That all day long, from earliest morn,
Had taken captive her two eyes,
Among its golden broideries;
Perplexed her with a thousand things,
The Stars of Heaven, and angels’ wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze,
Azure saints and silver rays
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven
Candlesticks John saw in Heaven,
The winged Lion of Saint Mark,
And the covenantal Ark,
With its many mysteries
Cherubim and golden Mice.

Bertha was a maiden fair,
Dwelling in th’old minster-square;
From her fireside she could see,
Sidelong, its rich antiquity,
Far as the Bishops gardenwall;
Where sycamores and elm trees tall,
Full leaved, the forest had outstript,
By no sharp north wind ever nipt,
So shelter’d by the mighty pile,
Bertha arose and read awhile,
With forehead ’gainst the window pane.
Again she tried and tried again,
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the legend of St Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin,
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes
And dazed with saintly imag’ries.

All was gloom, and silent all
Save now and then the still foot-fall
Of one returning homewards late,
Past the echoing minster-gate.
The clamorous daws, that all the day
Above tree tops and towers play,
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry-nest,
Where asleep they fall betimes
To music and the drowsy chimes.
All was silent, all was gloom,
Abroad and in the homely room:
Down she sat, poor cheated soul!
And struck a lamp from the dismal coal;
Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair,
And slant book, full against the glare.
Her shadow, in uneasy guise,
Hover’d about, a giant size,
On ceiling beam and old oak chair,
The parrot’s cage, and panel square;
And the warm angled winter-screen,
On which were many monsters seen,
Call’d doves of Siam, Lima mice,
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw, and tender Av’davat,
And silken-furr’d Angora cat.
Untired she read, her shadow still
Glower’d about, as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untired she read the legend page,
Of holy Mark, from youth to age,
On land, on sea, in pagan chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains.
Sometimes the learned eremite,
With golden star, or dagger bright,
Referr’d to pious poesies
Written in smallest crow-quill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcell’d out from time to time:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

John Keats (1818)

The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream; ‘he awoke and found it truth’.


Season of mist, and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend to the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft.
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willem and Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek
Date: 7 August 1873
Place: London
Letter 0012
Translation © vangoghonline.com

Caroline Adolphina van Stockum-Haanebeek was related to Vincent on his mother's side, distantly, and Willem Jacob van Stockum her husband. They had recently wed, and were friends of Vincent's from his time at The Hague.

Apparently Carolina, also referred to as Caroline, had recently been ill but had recovered. It seems that Willem perhaps wrote short plays to which Vincent refers.

Vincent went to Dulwich with one of the German boarders on the Summer bank holiday when his office would have been closed, and they visited Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain's oldest gallery that was known for their collection of 16th century artworks.

Willem's birthday was 8 August so Vincent was writing quickly so he could get the letter in the post. Marinus refers to Willem's brother, Casparus Marinus van Stockum.

Teunis van Iterson also worked for Goupil's but it is unclear which brother Vincent is referring to.

The poems at the end are a mix of works. 'The Eve of Saint Mark' seems to have been copied form multiple sources. The poem is unfinished but only some versions state that, and the date 1818 refers to another version. In any case Vincent left out about 20 lines. The quote about imagination is from a letter Keats wrote, and then he ends with the poem ' To Autumn' which would be fitting as Vincent wrote often about autumn being his favorite season.