The story of the Good Samaritan was related by Jesus to a certain lawyer as a parable, that is, a story to teach a moral lesson. The object was to show what was true neighborly conduct; and this was the story:—[6]

"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, 'Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.'"

[6] St. Luke, chapter x. verses 30-37.

The point of the story is very plain, and when Jesus asked the lawyer which one of the three passers-by was a neighbor to the wounded man, he was forced to reply, "He that shewed mercy." Then said Jesus simply, "Go, and do thou likewise."

Though the scene of the story is laid in Palestine, it is the sort of incident which one can imagine taking place in any country or period of time. So it seems perfectly proper that Rembrandt, in representing the subject, should show us an old Dutch scene. The etching illustrates that moment when the Good Samaritan arrives at the inn, followed by the wounded traveler mounted on his horse.

The building is a quaint piece of architecture with arched doors and windows. That it was built with an eye to possible attacks from thieves and outlaws, we may see from the small windows and thick walls of masonry, which make it look like a miniature fortress. This is a lonely spot, and inns are few and far between. The plaster is cracking and crumbling from the surface, and the whole appearance of the place does not betoken great thrift on the part of the owners. On the present occasion, during the working hours of the day, doors and windows are open after the hospitable manner of an inn.

The host stands in the doorway, greeting the strangers, and the Good Samaritan is explaining the situation to him. In the mean time the inn servants have come forward: the hostler's boy holds the horse by the bridle, while a man lifts off the wounded traveler.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

About the dooryard are the usual signs of life. In the rear a woman draws water from a well, lowering the bucket from the end of a long well-sweep, heedless of the stir about the door. Fowl scratch about in search of food, and there is a dog at one side. Some one within looks with idle curiosity from the window into the yard. It is little touches like these which give the scene such vividness and reality.

There is also a remarkable expressiveness in the figures which tells the story at a glance. You can see just what the Good Samaritan is saying, as he gestures with his left hand, and you can guess the inn-keeper's reply. Already he has put the proffered money into the wallet he carries at his belt, and listens attentively to the orders given him. He may privately wonder at his guest's singular kindness to a stranger, but with him business is business, and his place is to carry out his guest's wishes.

You see how the hostler's boy magnifies his office, swaggering with legs wide apart. Even the feather in his cap bristles with importance. This bit of comedy contrasts with the almost tragic expression of the wounded man. The stolid fellow who lifts him seems to hurt him very much, and he clasps his hands in an agony of pain. He seems to be telling the gentleman at the window of his recent misfortune.

To study the picture more critically, it will be interesting to notice how the important figures are massed together in the centre, and how the composition is built into a pyramid. Draw a line from the inn-keeper's head down the stairway at the left, and follow the outline of the Good Samaritan's right shoulder along the body of the wounded traveler, and you have the figure. This pyramidal form is emphasized again by the wainscot of the stairway at the left, and the well-sweep at the right.

To appreciate fully the character of the etching, one must examine attentively all the different kinds of lines which produce the varying effects of light and shadow. Below the picture Rembrandt wrote his name and the date 1633, with two Latin words meaning that he designed and etched the plate himself. This would seem to show that he was well pleased with his work, and it is interesting to learn that the great German poet, Goethe, admired the composition extravagantly.