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Petersham
Isleworth, England

  • November 19, 1876

On 19 November 1876, Vincent preached at the Methodist church in Petersham, a village on the Thames. By the time he got there in late afternoon, he had already had a busy day, having taught Sunday school that morning in Turnham Green and visited the village of Richmond in the afternoon. At the bottom of a letter describing his day, he drew the Petersham and Turnham Green churches. He wrote of walking to Petersham:

“It grew dark early and I wasn’t sure of the way, it was a surprisingly muddy road over a kind of embankment or rise on the hill covered with gnarled elm trees and shrubs. At last I saw below the rise a light in a small house, and scrambled and waded over to it, and there I was told the way. But, old boy, there was a beautiful little wooden church with a kindly light at the end of that dark road.’’

In the church, he read out various passages from the book of Acts and told the legend of John and Theagenes. The choice was a surprising one: two days before his sermon, he had written to his parents that he was hesitating between the subject of the prodigal son and psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” In the end, he evidently chose a different topic. The churchgoers may have had a hard time understanding Vincent, for he apologised to them for his English:

“At Petersham I told the congregation that they would be hearing poor English, but that when I spoke I thought of the man in the parable who said ‘have patience with me, and I will pay thee all’, God help me.”  

literature

Martin Bailey
Young Vincent: the story of Van Gogh's years in England
London, 1990

Kristine Groenhart and Willem-Jan Verlinden
Hoe ik van Londen houd: wandelen door het Londen van Vincent van Gogh
Amsterdam, 2013

Jan Meyers
De jonge Vincent: jaren van vervoering en vernedering
Amsterdam, 1989

Ronald Pickvance
English influences on Vincent Van Gogh 
London, 1974

 
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