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by [?]

The mother of Rembrandt knew that in Leyden there were men who painted beautiful pictures. She had seen these pictures at the University, and in the Town Hall and in the churches; and she had overheard men discussing and criticizing the work. She herself was poor and uneducated, her husband was only a miller, with no recreation beyond the beer-garden and a clicking reluctantly off to church in his wooden shoes on Sunday. They had no influential friends, no learned patrons–the men at the University never so much as nodded to millers. Her lot was lowly, mean, obscure, and filled with drudgery and pettiness. And now some one was saying her boy Rembrandt was lazy; he would neither work nor study. The taunt stung her mother-pride–“He will do nothing but make pictures!”

Ah! a great throb came to her heart. Her face flushed, she saw it all–all in prophetic vision stood out like an etching on the blankness of the future. “He will do nothing but draw pictures? Very well then, he shall draw pictures! He will draw so well that they shall adorn the churches of Leyden, and the Town Hall, and yes! even the churches of Amsterdam. Holland shall be proud of my boy! He will teach other men to draw, his pictures will command fabulous prices, and his name shall be honored everywhere! Yes, my boy shall draw pictures! This day will I take him to Mynheer Jacob van Swanenburch, who was a pupil of the great Rubens, and who has scholars even from Antwerpen. I will take him to the Master, and I will say: ‘Mynheer, I am only a poor woman, the daughter of an honest baker. My husband is a miller. This is my son. He will do nothing but draw pictures. Here is a bag of gold–not much, but it is all good gold; there are no bad coins in this bag; I’ve been ten years in saving them. Take this bag–it is yours–now teach my son to paint. Teach him as you taught Valderschoon and those others–my memory is bad, I can not remember the names–I’m only a poor woman. Show my boy how to paint. And when I am dead, and you are dead, men will come to your grave and say, “It is here that he rests, here–the man who first taught Rembrandt Harmenszoon to use a brush!” Do you hear, Mynheer Van Swanenburch? The gold–it is yours–and this is my boy!'”

* * * * *

The Van Swanenburches were one of the most aristocratic families of Leyden. Jacob van Swanenburch’s father had been burgomaster, and he himself occupied from time to time offices of importance. He was not a great painter, although several specimens of his work still adorn the Town Hall of his native city.

Rembrandt was not very anxious to attend Swanenburch’s classes. He was a hesitating, awkward youth, and on this account was regarded as unsocial. For a year the boy looked on, listened, and made straight marks and curves and all that. He did not read, and the world of art was a thing unknown to him.

There are two kinds of people to be found in all studios: those who talk about art, and the fellows who paint the pictures.

However, Rembrandt was an exception, and for a time would do neither. He would not paint, because he said he could not–anyway he would not; but no doubt he did a deal of thinking. This habit of reticence kept him in the background, and even the master had suspicions that he was too beefy to hold a clear mental conception.

The error of the Swanenburch atelier lay in the fact that quiet folks are not necessarily stupid. It is doubtless true, however, that stupid men by remaining quiet may often pass for men of wisdom: this is because no man can really talk as wisely as he can look.