Imagine a man, a citizen of London, healthy, middle-aged, successful in business, whose interest in golf is as keen, according to his lights and limitations, as the absorption of Rembrandt in art. Suppose this citizen, having one day a loose half-hour of time to fill in the neighbourhood of South Kensington, remembers the articles he has skimmed in the papers about the Constantine Ionides bequest: suppose he strolls into the Museum and asks his way of a patient policeman to the Ionides collection. Suppose he stands before the revolving frame of Rembrandt etchings, idly pushing from right to left the varied creations of the master, would he be charmed? would his imagination be stirred? Perhaps so: perhaps not. Perhaps, being a man of importance in the city, knowing the markets, his eye-brows would unconsciously elevate themselves, and his lips shape into the position that produces the polite movement of astonishment, if some one whispered in his ear—"At the Holford sale the Hundred Guilder Print fetched £1750, andEphraim Bonus with the Black Ring, £1950; and M. Edmund de Rothschild paid £1160 for a first state of the Dr. A. Tholinx." Those figures might stimulate his curiosity, but being, as I have said, a golfer, his interest in Rembrandt would certainly receive a quick impulse when he observed in the revolving frame the etching No. 683, 2-7/8 inches wide, 5-1/8 inches high, called The Sport of Kolef or Golf.


1634. National Gallery, London.

Is it fantastical to assume that his interest in Rembrandt dated from that little golf etching? Great events ofttimes spring from small causes. We will follow the Rembrandtish adventures of this citizen of London, and golfer. Suppose that on his homeward way from the Museum he stopped at a book shop and bought M. Auguste Bréal's small, accomplished book on Rembrandt. Having read it, and being a man of leisure, means, and grip, he naturally invested one guinea in the monumental tome of M. Émile Michel, Member of the Institute of France—that mine of learning about Rembrandt in which all modern writers on the master delve. Astonishment would be his companion while reading its packed pages, also while turning the leaves of L'Œuvre de Rembrandt, décrit et commenté, par M. Charles Blanc, de l'Academie Française. This sumptuous folio he picked up second hand and conveyed home in a cab, because it was too heavy to carry. Now he is fairly started on his journey through the Rembrandt country, and as he pursues his way, what is the emotion that dominates him? Amazement, I think.

Let me illustrate the extent and character of his amazement by describing a little incident that happened to him during a day's golfing at a seaside course on the following Saturday.

The approach to the sixteenth green is undeniably sporting. Across the course hangs the shoulder of a hill, and from the fastnesses of the hill a brook gushes down to the sea through the boulders that bestrew its banks. Obliged to wait until the preceding couple had holed out, our citizen and golfer amused himself by upturning one of the great lichen-stained boulders. He gazed into the dank pit thus disclosed to his eyes, and half drew back dismayed at the extraordinary activity of insect life that was revealed. It was so sudden, so unexpected. Beneath that grey and solemn boulder that Time and man accepted as a freehold tenant of the world, that our citizen had seen and passed a hundred times, a population of experts were working, their deeds unseen by the wayfarer. Now what is the meaning of this little story? How did the discovery of that horde of capable experts strike the imagination of our golfer? The boulder was Rembrandt. The busy insects were the learned and patient students working quietly on his behalf—his discoverers and recoverers. He had passed that boulder a hundred times, his eyes had rested cursorily upon it as often as the name of Rembrandt in book or newspaper had met his indifferent gaze. Now he had raised the boulder, as he had lifted the Rembrandt curtain, and lo! behind the curtain, as beneath the boulder, he had discovered life miraculously active.

Reverence for the students of art, for the specialists, for the scientific historians, was born within him as he pursued his studies in Rembrandt lore. Also he was conscious of sorrow, anger, and pride: sorrow for the artist of genius who goes down to his grave neglected, unwept, unhonoured, and unsung: anger at the stupidity and blindness of his contemporaries: pride at the unselfish industry and ceaseless activity of the men who, born years after, raise the master to his throne.


1645. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

In the year 1669 an old Dutchman called Rembrandt dies in obscurity in Amsterdam. So unmemorable was the death deemed that no contemporary document makes mention of it. The passing of Rembrandt was simply noted, baldly and briefly, in the death-register of the Wester Kerk: "Tuesday, October 8, 1669; Rembrandt van Ryn, painter on the Roozegraft, opposite the Doolhof. Leaves two children." Yet once, while he was alive, before he painted The Night Watch, he had been the most famous painter in Holland. Later, oblivion encompassed the old lion, and little he cared so long as he could work at his art. Forty years after his death, Gerard de Lairesse, a popular painter, now forgotten, wrote of Rembrandt—"In his efforts to attain a yellow manner, Rembrandt merely achieved an effect of rottenness.... The vulgar and prosaic aspects of a subject were the only ones he was capable of noting." Poor Gerard de Lairesse!

To-day not a turn or a twist of his life, not a facet of his temperament, not an individual of his family, friends, or acquaintances, not the slightest scrap of paper bearing the mark of his hand, but has been peered into, scrutinised, tracked to its source, and written about voluminously. The bibliography of Rembrandt would fill a library. Several lengthy and learned catalogues of his works have been published in volumes so large that a child could not lift one of them. His 450 pictures, his multitudinous drawings, his 270 etchings, their authenticity, their history, their dates, the identification of his models, have been the subjects of innumerable books and essays. Why, it would have taken our golfer three months just to read what has been written about one of Rembrandt's pictures—that known as The Night Watch. He might have begun with Bredius and Meyer of Holland, and M. Durand-Greville of France, and would then have been only at the beginning of his task. People make the long journey to St. Petersburg for the sake of the 35 pictures by Rembrandt that the Hermitage contains. He is hailed to-day as the greatest etcher the world has ever known, and there are some who place him at the head of that noble triumvirate who stand on the summit of the painters' Parnassus, Velasquez, Titian, and Rembrandt. Having browsed and battened on Rembrandt, and noted the countless cosmopolitan workers that for fifty years have been excavating the country marked on the art map Rembrandt, you can perhaps understand why our golfer likened the work of his commentators to the incessant activity that his upturning of that grey, lichen-covered boulder revealed.


1645. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

But had our golfer, brimming with the modern passion for efficiency, learned foreign tongues, and browsed in the musty archives, he would have discovered that there was much to unlearn. The early scribes piled fancy upon invention, believing or pretending that Rembrandt was a miser, a profligate, a spendthrift, and so on. "Houbraken's facts," we read, "are interwoven with a mass of those suspicious anecdotes which adorn the plain tale of so many artistic biographies. Campo-Weyermann, Dargenville, Descamps, and others added further embellishments, boldly piling fable upon fable for the amusement of their readers, till legend gradually ousted truth."

All this and much more he would have had to unlearn, discovering in the end the simple truth that Rembrandt lived for his art; that he loved and was kind to his wife and to the servant girl who, when Saskia died, filled her place; that he was neither saint nor sinner; that he was extravagant because beautiful things cost money; that being an artist he did not manage his affairs with the wisdom of a man of the world; that he was hot-headed, and played a hot-headed man's part in the family quarrels; and that he was plucky and improvident, and probably untidy to the end, and that he did his best work when the buffets of fate were heaviest.

The new era in Rembrandt literature began with Kolloff's Rembrandt's Leben und Werke, published in 1854. This contribution to truth was followed by the works of Messrs. Bürger and Vosmaer, by the lucubrations of other meritorious bookworms, by the studies of Messrs. Bode and Bredius, and finally by M. Émile Michel's Life, which is the definitive and standard work on Rembrandt. Our golfer, whose French is a little rusty, was delighted to find when he gave the order for this book that it had been translated into English under the editorship of Mr. Frederick Wedmore. It was in the third edition.

He learned much from M. Émile Michel—among other things the herculean labour that is necessary if one desires to write a standard and definitive book on a subject. Not only did M. Michel visit and revisit all the galleries where Rembrandt's pictures are displayed in Russia, France, England, Sweden, Denmark, and North Germany, but he lived for several years with Rembrandt, surrounded by reproductions of his pictures, drawings, and etchings, and by documents bearing on their history, his mind all the while intently fixed on the facts of Rembrandt's life and the achievements of his genius. Gradually the procession of dates and facts took on a new significance; the heterogeneous threads of information wove themselves into the fabric of a life. M. Michel is the recoverer-in-chief of all that truly happened during the sixty-three years that Rembrandt passed upon this earth.

Every dead painter, poet, or writer of genius, has had his Recoverer. A searchlight has flashed upon all that Charles Lamb said, did, or wrote. Every forerunner who inspired Keats, from the day when he took the Faerie Queene like a fever, and went through it "as a young horse through a spring meadow, romping," has been considered and analysed. You could bury Keats and Lamb in the tomes that have been written about them. With the books of his commentators you could raise a mighty monument of paper and bindings to Rembrandt.

All this is very right and most worthy of regard. We do not sing "For they are jolly good fellows" in their honour, but we offer them our profound respect and gratitude. And our golfer, in his amateurish way, belongs to the tribe. He has approached Rembrandt through books. His temperament enjoyed exploring the library hive marked Rembrandt. Now he feels that he must study the works of the master, and while he is cogitating whether he shall first examine the 35 pictures at St. Petersburg, or the 20 in the Louvre, or the 20 at Cassel, or the 17 at Berlin, or the 16 at Dresden, or the 12 in the National Gallery, or the etchings and drawings in the print room of the British Museum, or the frame of etchings at South Kensington, so accessible, I drop him. Yes: drop him in favour of another who did not care two pins about the history or the politics of art, or the rights or wrongs of Rembrandt's life, but went straight to his pictures and etchings, wondered at them, and was filled with an incommunicable joy.