The eyes and the mouth are the supremely significant features of the human face. In Rembrandt’s portraits the eye is the center wherein life, in its infinity of aspect, is most manifest. Not only was his fidelity absolute, but there is a certain mysterious limpidity of gaze that reveals the soul of the sitter. A “Rembrandt” does not give up its beauties to the casual observer–it takes time to know it, but once known, it is yours forever.
Swimming uneasily in my ink-bottle is a small preachment concerning names, and the way they have been evolved, and lost, or added to. Some day I will fish this effusion out and give it to a waiting world. Those of us whose ancestors landed at Plymouth or Jamestown are very proud of our family names, and even if we trace quite easily to Castle Garden we do not always discard the patronymic.
Harmen Gerritsz was a young man who lived in the city of Leyden, Holland, in the latter part of the Sixteenth Century. The letters “sz” at the end of his name stood for “szoon” and signified that he was the szoon of Mynheer Gerrit.
Now Harmen Gerritsz duly served an apprenticeship with a miller, and when his time expired, being of an ambitious nature, he rented a mill on the city wall, and started business for himself. Shortly after he very naturally married the daughter of a baker.
All of Mr. Harmen Gerritsz’s customers called him Harmen, and when they wished to be exact they spoke of him as Harmen van Ryn–that is to say, Harmen of the Rhine, for his mill was near the river. “Out West,” even now, if you call a man Mister, he will probably inquire what it is you have against him.
Mr. and Mrs. Harmen lived in the mill, and as years went by were blessed with a nice little family of six children. The fifth child is the only one that especially interests us. They named him Rembrandt.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Ryn, he called himself when he entered at the grammar-school at Leyden, aged fourteen. His father’s first name being Harmen, he simply took that, and discarded the Gerrit entirely, according to the custom of the time. In fact, all our Johnsons are the sons of John, and the names Peterson, Thompson and Wilson, in feudal times, had their due and proper significance. Then when we find names with a final ending of “s,” such as Robbins, Larkins and Perkins, we are to understand that the owner is the son of his father. And so we find Rembrandt Harmenszoon in his later years writing his name Harmensz and then simply Harmens.
Mynheer Harmen Gerritszoon’s windmill ground exceeding small, and the product found a ready market. There were no servants in the miller’s family–everybody worked at the business. In Holland people are industrious. The leisurely ways of the Dutch can, I think, safely be ascribed to their environment, and here is an argument Buckle might have inserted in his great book, but did not, and so I will write it down.
There are windmills in Holland (I trust the fact need not longer be concealed) and these windmills are used for every possible mechanical purpose. Now the wind blows only a part of the time–except in Chicago–and there may be whole days when not a windmill turns in all Holland. The men go out in the morning and take due note of the wind, and if there is an absolute calm many of them go back to bed. I have known the wind to die down during the day and the whole force of a windmill troop off to a picnic, as a matter of course. So the elements in Holland set man the example–he will not rush himself to death when not even the wind does.
Then another thing: Holland has many canals. Farmers load their hay on canal-boats and take it to the barn, women go to market in boats, lovers sail, seemingly, right across the fields–canals everywhere.