The classicist Maurits Benjamin Mendes da Costa (1851–1938) gave Vincent van Gogh daily lessons in Latin and Greek. Vincent had to immerse himself in the classical languages to attain the proficiency required for the theology course on which he hoped to enrol. Vincent had difficulty mastering the material, but Mendes told him he was on track to prepare successfully for the entrance exam. Vincent consulted Mendes, a mere two years older, on numerous matters and greatly respected him, as is evident in a letter to his brother Theo:
“one shouldn’t utter the word genius lightly, even if one believes that there is more of it in the world than many people think, but Mendes certainly is a very remarkable person, and I’m happy and grateful for my contact with him.”
However, he observed:
“Still, Greek lessons in the heart of Amsterdam, in the heart of the Jewish quarter on a very warm and oppressive summer afternoon, with the feeling hanging over me that many difficult examinations will have to be taken, set by very learned and cunning professors, are rather more oppressive than a walk on the beach or in the Brabant wheatfields, which will certainly be beautiful now, on a day like that. But we must ‘strive on’ through everything, as Uncle Jan says.”
Ultimately, the pressure became too great: Vincent was unable to take in the enormous amounts of new material he was confronted with. Mendes gave up hope that Vincent would be able to attain the proficiency necessary for the entrance exam and advised Vincent's family to allow him to quit. In July 1878, Vincent left Amsterdam in disappointment and went to Etten to figure out what to do with his future.