Letter 0010

Letter 0010: From Vincent van Gogh to Willem J. van Stockum and family

London, 2 July 1873.

My dear friends,

I wanted to write to you sooner, and now I will not postpone it any longer.

How are you? I heard that your new house is beautiful, and that all is well with you. I hope very much you will write to when you have a moment to spare.

All is well with me here. I see many new and beautiful things, and have been lucky enough to find a good boardinghouse, so that on the whole I feel quite at home already. Still I do not forget The Hague, and should like very much to spend an evening in the Poten, and look in on you again.

The branch office here is only a stockroom, and our work is quite different from that in The Hague, but I am sure I will get used to it. At six o'clock my work is done for the day, so that I have quite a bit of time for myself, which I spend pleasantly taking walks, reading, and writing letters.

The neighborhood where I live is quite beautiful, very quiet and intimate so that you almost forget you are in London. In front of every house there is a small garden with flowers or couple of trees, and many houses are built very tastefully in a sort of Gothic style. Still though, I have to walk a good half-hour to get to the countryside.

We have a piano in the living room and there are three Germans living here who are very fond of music, which makes it very pleasant.

One of the finest sights I have seen here is Rotten Row in Hyde Park, where hundreds of ladies and gentlemen ride on horseback. In all parts of the town there are beautiful parks with a wealth of flowers such as I have never seen anywhere else.

I have enclosed a copy of a poem by Van Beers, which you may not know. Our Elisabeth copied it for me on my last evening in Helvoirt because she knew I liked it so much. It is very much Brabant. I thought you would enjoy it so I copied it for you.

It was very considerate of your sister Marie to send me the announcement as I was hoping to hear something of the wedding. I congratulate you all. Would you be so kind as to send me a list of your birthdays some time? I did have one, but I lost it.

And now good-by. Say hello to everybody in the Poten, and good luck to you all. Excuse the bad handwriting as it is late and time to go to bed.

Sleep well.

The toll of the bell calling to prayer resounded lazily over the fields,
Which lay blissfully bathed in the gold of the evening sun.
O solemn and moving moment when every mother in the village
Stops the whirring wheel to bless herself with the sign of the cross.

O solemn and moving moment, when the bell that proclaims far and wide
The end of the day’s work and makes those powerful, sweating heads
Bow down for Him who causes the sweat in the furrow to run.

For the artist, too, on the slope of the shady hill,
Absorbed in his painting from early morning,
The bells now gave the sign to retreat. Slowly he wipes
His brush and palette, stowed now with his canvas in the valise,
Folded his stool and dreamily descended the path
That leads, gently winding, through the flowery valley to the village.

Yet how often, before reaching the foot of the hill, does he
Stand admiring still, to imprint on his mind once more
The refreshing scene down below, opening before his eyes.

Just before him lay the village, with a hill to north and one to south,
Between whose ridges the sun, flaming and sinking in the west,
Let flow the whole wealth of its colors and conjured glory.
The bell in the grey tower, entwined in black and green ivy,
Was now silent. Hanging motionless in the air were the brown
Sails of the windmill; the leaves stood still and above the cottages
Blue clouds of smoke ascended so straight from the chimneys
That they too seemed to hang motionless in the shimmering air.
’Twas as though this village, this field, and those hills, as though everything,
Before wrapping itself in a cloak of evening dew to sleep
Beneath the sun’s parting kiss, silently and gratefully
Recalled once more the peace and plenty it had again enjoyed.

Soon though, this silence was gently disturbed by the sweet sounds
Of the evening. In the distance, from a hollow in the hill echoed
Lingeringly the sound of the cow horn, calling the cattle in.
And at this sign from the herdsman there soon appeared in the furrowed,
Sandy mountain road the whole colorful herd of cows.

Cracking and smacking, the boy's whip drove them forward,
While they, as if by turns, their necks stretched out, with friendly lowing
Greeted from far way the cow shed where the milkmaid
Waited for them each evening to ease their taut udders.

Thus on the paths running out from the village like spokes
From an axle, there slowly came movement and life.
Here was a farmer, dragging home a plough
On a sledge, whistling a tune, and riding beside on his bay horse;
There, a blushing girl, on her head garland of sweet clover
Laced with daisies and poppies, called from afar to the others,
Kindly and sweetly, her clear toned ‘good evening’.

Further... on the same track where the painter’s path
Led, he heard peals of joyous laughter.
Rocking from side to side, a wagon, nearly toppling
Under its load of freshly harvested buckwheat, came rumbling closer,
Both horse and load adorned with fluttering ribbons and greenery.
Children with wreaths of flowers on their little flaxen heads,
Were seated on top, happily waving branches of alder,
Or scattering flowers and leaves, which rained down on all sides,
While round the wagon a group of country lads and lasses
Skipped and sang loudly enough to startle the whole sleepy plain.

Quietly smiling, the Painter, from behind the thicket,
Watched as the revelers slowly wound their way down the rutted road.
‘Aye’, he thus mumbled, ‘Aye, the Lord must think it
A happy sound, the joy with which these hearts
So simply pour forth their thanks as they gather the last
Fruits, which He yearly allows to grow, fully ripe from their toil.
Yes, the purest prayer of simplicity and innocence is joy!’

And thus contemplating the calm and deep delight upon which the soul
Feasts in the fields; or with his artist’s mind remembering
In silent rapture the glorious scene of a moment ago,
He found he had walked, unnoticing, into the village.

Already the purple and yellow had faded to grey in the west,
And in the east there had risen close by the little church the full
Copper colored disc of the moon, shrouded in mist,
When he entered The Swan, the inn where he boarded.

Jan van Beers
(The Boarder)

From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willem and Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek
Date: 2 July 1873
Place: London
Letter 0010
Translation © vangoghonline.com

Willem Jacob van Stockum and Carolina Adolphina van Stockum-Haanebeek were a young couple, Carolina a relative of Vincent's on his mother's side. They were friends of his from The Hague. Lange Poten 10 was Carolina's parent's address in The Hague.

The poem 'The Evening Hour' is by Jan van Beers. Elisabeth, Vincent's sister, had copied it for him as it reminded him of North Brabant, an area in the South of The Netherlands where Vincent grew up. He thought his friends might also enjoy the poem. The poet is known as the elder Beers to distinguish him from his son, Jan van Beers, a painter born in 1852 and a contemporary of Vincent. The actual title of the poem is 'The Boarder' and the copy here is actually only the first of four parts of the actual work.

The wedding announcement was from Willem's sister Maria Louisa van Stockum in regards to her wedding to the merchant Jan Bakker.