LEYDEN was the mother of some precious human clay. Among her sons was the greatest of Dutch painters, Rembrandt van Rijn ; the most lovable of them, Jan Steen ; and the most patient of them, Gerard Dou.
Of Rembrandt’s genius it is late in the day to write, nor have I the power. We have seen certain of his pictures at The Hague ; we shall see others at Amsterdam. I can add nothing to what is said in those places, but here, in Leyden (which has ten thousand stuffed birds, and not a single picture by her greatest son), one may dwell upon his early days and think of him wandering as a boy in the surrounding country unconsciously absorbing effects of light and shade.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon` van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606, probably in a house at the corner of the Weddesteg, near the Wittepoort, on the bank of the Rhine. It was the same year that gave England Macbeth, and King Lear. His father was a miller, his mother the daughter of a Leyden baker : it was destined that the son of these simple folk should be the greatest painter that the north of Europe has produced.
They did not foresee such a fate, but they seem sufficiently to have realised that their son had unusual aptitude for him to be sent to study law at the University. But he meant from the first to paint, and when he should have been studying text-books he was studying nature. The old miller, having a wise head, gave way, and Rembrandt was allowed to enter the studio of Jacob van Swanenburgh. That was probably in 1622, when he was sixteen ; in 1624 he knew so- much more than Swanenburgh had ever dreamed of that he passed on to Amsterdam, to see what could be learned from Peter Lastman. But Lastman was of little use, and Rembrandt soon returned to Leyden.
There he set up his own studio, painting, however, at his father’s housepossibly even in the mill itselfas much as he could ; and for seven years he taught younger men at Leyden his secrets. He remained at Leyden until 1631, moving then again to Amsterdam and beginning the greatest period of his life. At Leyden he had painted much and etched much; perhaps the portrait of himself in a steel gorget, at The Hague, is his finest Leyden picture. It was not until 1632, the year in which he married his Saskia, that the first of his most famous works, “The School of Anatomy,” was painted. Yet Leyden may consider that it was she that showed the way ; she may well be proud.
Rembrandt’s later life belongs to Amsterdam ; but Leyden had other illustrious sons who were faithful to her to the end. Chief of these was Jan Steen.
Harmens the miller, as we have seen, became the father of a boy named Rembrandt in 1606 ; it was twenty years later that Steen the brewer rejoices over the birth of a son called Jan.
Of Jan’s childhood we know nothing, but as a young man he was sent by his father to Utrecht to study under Nicholas Knupfer. Then he passed on to Adrian van Ostade and probably to Adrian Brouwer, with whom and Frans Hals he used to carouse. Finally he became the pupil of Jan van Goyen, painter of the beautiful ” Valkhof at Nymwegen,” No. 991 in the Ryks museum, a picture which always makes me think of Andrew Marvell’s poem on the Bermudas. Like many another art pupil, Jan Steen married his master’s daughter.
Jan van Goyen, I might add, was another of Leyden’s sons. He was born in 1596 and he died at The Hague in 1666, while London was suffering under the Plague.
Jan Steen seems to have intended to make brewing his staff and painting merely his cane ; but good nature and a terrible thirst were too much for him. From brewing he descended to keeping a tavern, “in which occupation,” to quote Ireland, ” he was himself his best customer “. After a while, having exhausted his cellar, he took seriously to painting in order to renew it, paying for his liquor with his brush. Thus ” for a long time his works were to be found only in the hands of dealers in wine “. Who, after this, shall have the hardihood to speak evil of the grape ?
Jan is not supposed to have lived at Leyden after his marriage to Margaretta van Goyen, in 1649, until 1669, when his father died. In 1672 he is known to have taken a tavern at Leyden at the Lange Brug.
Of the intervening years little is known. He was probably at Haarlem part of the time and at The Hague part of the time. In 1667 he paid his rentonly twenty-nine florinswith three pictures “painted as well as he was able”. Margaretta died in 1669a merry large woman we must suppose her from her appearance in Jan’s pictures, and the mother of four or five children who may often be seen in the same scenes. Jan married again in 1673 and died in 1697.
He was buried in St. Peter’s Church, Leyden, leaving more than five hundred pictures to his name. The youth who, in the absence of the koster, accompanied me through St. Peter’s Church, so far from knowing where Jan Steen was buried, had never even heard his name. (And at the Western Church in Amsterdam, where Rembrandt is said to have been buried, his resting-place cannot be pointed out. But never a Dutch admiral’s grave is in doubt.)
For all his roystering and recklessness, for all his drinking and excess, Jan Steen’s work is essentially delicate. He painted the sublimated essence of comedy. Teniers, Ostade, Brouwer are coarse and boorish beside him ; Metsu and Miens genteel. Even when he is painting low life Jan Steen is distinguished, a gentleman. And now and then he touches the springs of tears, so exquisite in his sympathetic understanding. He remains the most lovable painter in Holland, and the tenderestin a country where tenderness is not easily found.
Look, for example, at the two pictures at The Hague which are reproduced opposite pages 74 and 80. The first represents the Steen family. The jolly Jan himself is smoking at the table; the old brewer and the elder Mrs. Steen are in the foreground. I doubt if any picture exists in which the sense of innocent festivity is better expressed. It is all perhaps rather a muddle : Mrs. Steen has some hard work before her if the house is to be restored to a Dutch pitch of cleanliness and order ; but how jolly every one is ! Jan himself looks just as we should expect.
The triumph of the ” Oyster Feast,” in the Mauritshuis, seems to me to be the girl kneeling in the corner. Here is drawing indeed. The charge brought by the mysterious painter in Balzac’s story against Pourbus, that one was unable to walk behind the figure in his picture, could never hold with Jan Steen. His every figure stands out surrounded by atmosphere, and never more so than in the ” Oyster Feast “. Again, in the ” Cat’s Dancing Lesson,” what drawing there is in the girl playing the pipe, and what life in the whole scene !
It is odd. that Jan Steen in Holland, and George Morland in England, both topers, should have had this secret of simple charm so highly developed : one of nature’s curious ironies, very confusing to the moralist. In the second Hague picture (opposite page 80) Leyden’s genial tosspot has achieved a farther triumphhe has painted one of the most radiantly délicate figures in all art. One must go to Italy and seek among the early Madonnas to find any-thing to set beside the sweet Wordsworthian character of this little Dutch girl who feeds the animals.
It was Jan Steen’s way to scamp much of every picture ; but in every picture you will find one figure that could not be excelled. Nothing probably could be more slovenly, more hideously unpainted, than, for example, the bed and the guitar-case in the “Sick Woman “No. 2246 at the Ryks Museumopposite page 22. But I doubt if human skill has ever transcended the painting of the woman’s face, or the sheer drawing of her. Look at her arm and hand Jan Steen never went wrong with arms and hands. Look at the hands of the boy playing the pipe in the picture opposite page 74 ; look at the woman filling a pipe at the table. Today, we are accustomed to pictures containing children: they are as necessary as sunsets to picture buyers : all our figure-painters lavish their talents upon them : but who had ever troubled to paint a real peasant child before Jan Steen? It was this rough convivialist that showed the way, and no one since has ever excelled him.
Parallels have been drawn between Jan Steen and Hogarth, and there are critics who would make Jan a moralist too. But I do not see how we can compare them. Steen did what Hogarth could not, Hogarth did what Steen would not. Hogarth is rarely charming, Steen is rarely otherwise. It is not Hogarth with whom I should associate Jan, but Burns. He is the Dutch Burnsin colour.
I wish we had more facts concerning him, for he must have been a great man and humorist. The story is told of Hogarth that on being commissioned to paint a scriptural picture of the Red Sea for a too parsimonious patron who had beaten him down and down, he rebuked him for his meanness by producing a canvas entirely covered with red paint. “But what is this ?” the patron asked. “The Red Seasurely.” “Where then are the Israelites ? ” ” They have all crossed over.” ” And Pharaoh’s hosts ?” “They are all drowned.” The story is perhaps an invention ; but a somewhat similar joke is credited to Jan Steen. His commission was the Flood, and his picture when finished consisted of a sheet of water with a Dutch cheese in the midst bearing the arms of Leyden. The cheese and the arms, he pointed out, proved that people had been on the earth ; as for Noah and the ark, they were out of the picture.
A century earlier Leyden had produced another Jan, separated from Jan Steen by a difference wide asunder as the poles. Yet a very wonderful man in his brief season, standing high among the world’s great madmen. I mean Jan Bockelson, the Anabaptist, known as Jan of Leyden, who, beginning as pure enthusiast, succumbed, as so many a leader of women has done, to the intoxication of authority, and became the slave of grandiose ambition and excesses. Every country has had its mock Messiahs : they rise periodically in England, not less at the present day than in the darker ages (hysteria being more powerful than light) ; yet the history of none of these spiritual monarchs can compare with that of the tailor’s son of Leyden.
The story is told in many places, but nowhere with such dramatic picturesqueness as by Professor Karl Pearson in his Ethic of Freethought. ” As the illegitimate son of a tailor in Leyden,” says Professor PearsonJan’s mother was the maid of his father’s wife” his early life was probably a harsh and bitter one. Very young he wandered from home, impressed with the miseries of his class and with a general feeling of much injustice in the world. Four years he spent in England seeing the poor driven off the land by the sheep ; then we find him in Flanders, married, but still in vague search of the Eldorado ; again roaming, he visits Lisbon and Lübeck as a sailor, ever seeking and inquiring. Suddenly a new light bursts upon him in the teaching of Melchior Hofmann [the Anabaptist]; he fills himself with dreams or a glorious kingdom on earth, the rule of justice and of love. Still a little while and the prophet Mathys crosses his path, and tells him of the New Zion and the extermination of the godless.”
Mathys, or Jan Mathiesen, was a baker of Haarlem, who, constituted an Anabaptist bishop, was preaching the new gospel through the Netherlands and gathering recruits to the community of God’s saints which had been established at Munster. “Full of hope for the future,” says Professor Pearson, ” Jan sets out for Munster to join the saints. Still young, handsome, imbued with a fiery enthusiasm, actor by nature and even by choice, he has no small influence on the spread of Anabaptism in that city. The youth of twenty-three expounds to the followers of Rottmann the beauties of his ideal kingdom of the good and the true. With his whole soul he preaches to them the redemption of the oppressed, the destruction of tyranny, the community of goods, and the rule of justice and brotherly love. Women and maidens slip away to the secret gatherings of the youthful enthusiast; the glowing young prophet of Leyden becomes the centre of interest in Munster. Dangerous, very dangerous ground, when the pure of heart are not around him ; when the spirit ‘chosen by God’ is to proclaim itself free of the flesh.
“The world has judged Jan harshly, condemned him to endless execration. It were better to have cursed the generations of oppression, the flood of persecution, which forced the toiler to revolt, the Anabaptists to madness. Under other circumstances the noble enthusiasm, with other surroundings the strong will, of Jan of Leyden might have left a different mark on the page of history. Dragged down in this whirlpool of fanaticism, sensuality, and despair, we can only look upon him as a factor of the historic j udgment, a necessary actor in that tragedy of Munster, which forms one of the most solemn chapters of the Greater Bible.”
Gradually Jan rose to be head of the saints, Mathieson having been killed, and none other displaying so much strength of purpose or magnetic enthusiasm. And here his mind gave way. Like so many absolute rulers before and since, he could not resist the ecstasies of supremacy. To resume Professor Pearson’s narrative : ” The sovereign of Sionalthough `since the flesh is dead, gold to him is but as dung ‘yet thinks fit to appear in all the pomp of earthly majesty. He appoints a court, of which Knipperdollinch is chancellor, and wherein there are many officers from chamberlain to cook. He forms a body-guard, whose members are dressed in silk. Two pages wait upon the king, one of whom is a son of his grace the bishop of Munster. The great officers of state are somewhat wondrously attired, one breech red, the other grey, and on the sleeves of their coats are embroidered the arms of Sionthe earth-sphere pierced by two crossed swords, a sign of universal sway and its instrumentswhile a golden finger-ring is token of their authority in Sion. The king himself is magnificently arrayed in gold and purple, and as insignia of his office, he causes sceptre and spurs of gold to be made. Gold ducats are melted down to form crowns for the queen and him-self ; and lastly a golden globe pierced by two swords and surmounted by a cross with the words, ‘A King of Righteousness o’er all’ is borne before him. The attend-ants of the Chancellor Knipperdollinch are dressed in red with the crest, a hand raising aloft the sword of justice. Nay, even the queen and the fourteen queenlets must have a separate court and brilliant uniforms.
” Thrice a week the king goes in glorious array to the market-place accompanied by his body-guards and officers of state, while behind ride the fifteen queens. On the market-place stands a magnificent throne with silken cushions and canopy, whereon the tailor-monarch takes his seat, and alongside him sits his chief queen. Knipperdollinch sits at his feet. A page on his left bears the book of the law, the Old Testament : another on his right an unsheathed sword. The book denotes that he sits on the throne of David ; the sword that he is the king of the just, who is appointed to exterminate all umrighteousness. Bannock-Bernt is court-chaplain, and preaches in the market-place before the king. The sermon over, justice is administered, often of the most terrible kind ; and then in like state the king and his court return home. On the streets he is greeted with cries of : ‘ Hail in the name of the Lord. God be praised ! ‘
Meanwhile underneath all this riot of splendour and power and sensuality, the pangs of starvation were beginning to be felt. For the army of the bishop of Munster was outside the city and the siege was very studiously maintained. The privations became more and more terrible, and more and more terrible the means of allaying them. The bodies of citizens that had died were eaten ; and then men and women and children were killed in order that they might be eaten too. Under such conditions, is it any wonder that Munster became a city of the mad, mad beyond the sane man’s wildest dreams of excess ?
A few of the least demented of Jan’s followers at length determined that the tragedy must cease, and the city was delivered into the bishop’s hands. ” What judgment,” writes Professor Pearson, “his grace the bishop thinks fit to pass on the leaders of Sion at least deserves record. Rottmann has fallen by St. Martin’s Church, fighting sword in hand, but Jan of Leyden and Knipperdollinch are brought prisoners before this shepherd of the folk. Scoffingly he asks Jan : ‘ Art thou a king?’ Simple, yet endlessly deep the reply : `Art thou a bishop ?’ Both alike false to their callingsas father of men and shepherd of souls. Yet the one cold, self-seeking sceptic, the other ignorant, passionate, fanatic idealist. ` Why hast thou destroyed the town and my folk ?’ ` Priest, I have not destroyed one little maid of thine. Thou hast again thy town and I can repay thee a hundredfold.’ The bishop demands with much curiosity how this miserable captive can possibly repay him. ‘ I know we must die, and die terribly, yet before we die, shut us up in an iron cage, and send us round through the land, charge the curious folk a few pence to see us, and thou wilt soon gather together all thy heart’s desire.’ The jest is grim, but the king of Sion has the advantage of his grace the bishop. Then follows torture, but there is little to extract, for the king still holds himself an instrument sent by Godthough it were for the punishment of the world. Sentence is read on these menplaced in an iron cage they shall be shown round the bishop’s diocese, a terrible warning to his subjects, and then brought back to Munster; there with glowing pincers their flesh shall be torn from the bones, till the death-stroke be given with red-hot dagger in throat and heart. For the rest let the mangled remains be placed in iron cages swung from the tower of St. Lambert’s Church.
“On the 26th of January, 1536, Jan Bockelson and Knipperdollinch meet their fate. A high scaffolding is erected in the market-place, and before it a lofty throne for his grace the bishop, that he may glut his vengeance to the full. Let the rest pass in silence. The most reliable authorities tell us that the Anabaptists remained calm and firm to the last. ‘ Art thou a king ?’ ‘ Art thou a bishop ?’ The iron cages still hang on the church tower at Munster; placed as a warning, they have become a show ; perhaps some day they will be treasured as weird mentors of the truth which the world has yet to learn from the story of the Kingdom of God in Munster.”
A modern German artist of great power, named Joseph Sattler, too much of whose energy probably was given to designing book-plates, produced some few years ago an extraordinary illustrated history of the Anabaptists in Munster Many artists have essayed to portray madness, but I know of no work more terrible than his.
We have travelled far from Leyden’s peaceful studios. It is time to look at the work of Gerard Dou. Rembrandt we have seen was the son of a miller, Jan Steen of a brewer ; the elder Dou was a glazier. His son Gerard was born in Leyden in 1613. The father was so far interested in the boy’s gifts that he apprenticed him to an engraver when he was nine. At the age of eleven he passed to the studio of a painter on glass, and on St. Valentine’s day, 1628, he became a pupil of Rembrandt. From Rembrandt, how-ever, he seems to have learned only the charm of contrasts of light and shade. None of the great rugged strength of the master is to be seen in his minute and patient work, in which the genius of taking pains is always apparent. ” He would frequently,” says Ireland, “‘paint six or seven days on a hand, and, still more wonderful, twice the time on the handle of a broom. The minuteness of his performance so affected his sight that he wore spectacles at the age of thirty.”
Gerard Don’s success was not only artistic; it was also financial. Rembrandt’s prices did not compare with those of his pupil, whose art coming more within the sympathetic range and understanding of the ordinary man naturally was more sought after than the Titanic and less comfortable canvasses of the greater craftsman.
Dou did exceedingly well, one of his patrons even paying him a yearly honorarium of a thousand florins for the privilege of having the refusal of each new picture. “The Poulterer’s Shop” at our National Gallery is a perfect example of his fastidious minuteness and charm. But he painted pictures also with a tenderer brush. I give opposite page 118 a reproduction of the most charming picture by Gerard Dou that I know,” The Young Housekeeper ” at The Hague, This is a very miracle of painting in every inch, and yet the pains that have been expended upon the cabbage and the fish are not for a moment disproportion-ate : the cabbage and the fish, for all their finish, remain subordinate and appropriate details. The picture is the picture of the mother and the children. ” The Night School “No. 795 in the Ryks Museum at Amsterdamis, I believe, more generally admired, but ” The Young Housekeeper” is the better. “The Night School “might be described as the work of a pocket Rembrandt ; “The Young Housekeeper” is the work of an artist of rare individuality and sympathy. At the Wallace Collection may be seen a hermit by Dou quite in his best nocturnal manner.
Gerard Dou died at Leyden, where he had spent nearly all his quiet life, in 1675. He is buried at St. Peter’s, but his grave does not seem to be known there.
Dou had many imitators, some of whom studied under him. One of the chief was Godfried Schalcken of Dort, whose picture of an “Old Woman Scouring a Pan” may be seen in the National Gallery, while the Wallace Collection has several examples of his skill. Schalcken seems to have been a man of great brusquerie, if two stories told by Ireland of his sojourn in England are true. William III., for example, when sitting for his picture, with a candle in his hand, was suffered by Schalcken to burn his fingers. “One is at a loss,” says Ireland, “to determine which was most to blame, the monarch for want of feeling, or the painter of politeness. The following circumstance, however, will place the deficiency of the latter beyond controversy, A lady sitting for her portrait, who was more admired for a beautiful hand than a handsome face, after the head was finished, asked him if she should take off her glove, that he might insert the hand in the picture, to which he replied, he always painted the hands from those of his valet.” The most attractive picture by Schalcken that I have seen is a girl sewing by candle light, in the Wallace Collection.
Dou said that the ” Prince of his pupils ” was Frans van Mieris of Delft, who combined the manner and predilections of his master with those of Terburg. He was very popular with collectors, but I do not experience any great joy in the presence of his work, which, with all its miraculous deftness, is yet lacking in personal feeling. Mieris, says Ireland, “was frequently paid a ducat per hour for his works. His intimacy and friendship for Jan Steen, that excellent painter and bon vivant, seems to have led him into much inconvenience. After a night’s debauch, quitting Jan Steen, he fell into a common drain ; whence he was extricated by a poor cobbler and his wife, and, treated by them with much kindness, he repaid the obligation by presenting them with a small picture, which, by his recommendation, was sold for a considerable sum.”
The amazingly minute picture of “The Poulterer’s Shop” which hangs in the National Gallery as a pendant to Dou’s work with the same title, is by William van Mieris, the son of Dou’s favourite pupil. He also was born at Leyden, that teeming mother of painters. Frans van Mieris, his father, died at Leyden in 1681 ; William died at Leyden in 1747.
Above the work of Frans van Mieris I would put that of Gabriel Metsu, another of Dou’s pupils, and also a son of Leyden, where he was born in 1630. Upon Metsu’s work Terburg, however, exercised more influence than did Gerard Dou. ” The Music Lesson ” and ” The Duet ” at the National Gallery are good examples of his pleasant painting. Even better is his work at the Wallace Collection. He died in 1667 in Amsterdam, where one of his best pictures “The Breakfast “No. 1553 at the Ryks-may be seen. There are many fine examples at the Louvre. He was always graceful, always charming, with a favourite model-perhaps his wifethe pleasant plump woman who occurs again and again in his work. She is in “The Breakfast.”
Mention of Gerard Dou and his pupils reminds me of a little-known satire on art-criticism written by ” Vathek ” Beckford. Biographical Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters it is called, among the painters being Sucrewasser of Vienna, and Watersouchy of Amsterdam. It is Watersouchy who concerns us, for he was a Dutch figure painter who carried the art of detail farther than it had been carried before. I quote a little from Beckford’s account of this genius, since it helps to bring back a day when the one thing most desired by the English collector was a Dutch picture-still life, boors, cows, ruins, or domestic interiorno matter what subject or how mechanically painted so long as it was done minutely enough.
” Whilst he remained at Amsterdam, young Watersouchy was continually improving, and arrived to such perfection in copying point lace, that Mierhop entreated his father to cultivate these talents, and to place his son under the patronage of Gerard Dou, ever renowned for the exquisite finish of his pieces. Old Watersouchy stared at the proposal, and solemnly asked his wife, to whose opinion he always paid a deference, whether painting was a genteel profession for their son. Mierhop, who overheard their conversation, smiled disdainfully at the question, and Madam Watersouchy answered, that she believed it was one of your liberal arts. In few words, the father was persuaded, and Gerard Don, then resident at Leyden, prevailed upon to receive the son as a disciple.
“Our young artist had no sooner his foot within his master’s apartment, than he found every object in harmony with his own disposition. The colours finely ground, and ranged in the neatest boxes, the pencils so delicate as to be almost imperceptible, the varnish in elegant phials, the easel just where it ought to be, filled him with agreeable sensations, and exalted ideas of his master’s merit. Gerard Don on his side was equally pleased, when he saw him moving about with all due circumspection, and noticing his little prettinesses at every step. He therefore began his pupil’s initiation with great alacrity, first teaching him cautiously to open the cabinet door, lest any particles of dust should be dislodged and fix upon his canvas, and advising him never to take up his pencil without sitting motionless a few minutes, till every mote casually floating in the air should be settled. Such instructions were not thrown away upon Watersouchy: he treasured them up, and refined, if possible, upon such refinements.”
In course of time Watersouchy gained the patronage of a rich but frugal banker named Baise-la-Main, who seeing his value, arranged for the painter to occupy a room in his house. “Nobody,” Beckford continues, ” but the master of the house was allowed to enter this sanctuary. Here our artist remained six weeks in grinding his colours, composing an admirable varnish, and preparing his canvass, for a performance he intended as his chef d’oeuvre. A fort-night more passed before he decided upon a subject. At last he determined to commemorate the opulence of Monsieur Baise-la-Main, by a perspective of his counting-house. He chose an interesting moment, when heaps of gold lay glittering on the counter, and citizens of distinction were soliciting a secure repository for their plate and jewels. A Muscovite wrapped in fur, and an Italian glistening in brocade, occupied the foreground. The eye glancing over these figures highly finished, was directed through the windows of the shop into the area in front of the cathedral ; of which, however, nothing was discovered, except two sheds before its entrance, where several barbers were represented at their different occupations. An effect of sunshine upon the counter discovered every coin that was scattered upon its surface. On these the painter had bestowed such intense labour, that their very legends were distinguishable.
“It would be in vain to attempt conveying, by words, an idea adequate to this chef d’oeuvre, which must have been seen to have been duly admired. In three months it was far advanced ; during which time our artist employed his leisure hours in practising jigs and minuets on the violin, and writing the first chapter of Genesis on a watch-paper, which he adorned with a miniature of Adam and Eve, so exquisitely finished, that every ligament in their fig-leaves was visible. This little jeu d’esprit he presented to Madam Merian.”
Leyden’s earliest painter was Lucas Jacobz, known as Lucas van Leyden, who was born in 1494. He painted in oil, in distemper and on glass ; he took his subjects from nature and from scripture ; he engraved better than he painted ; and he was the friend of Dürer. Leyden possesses his triptych, “The Last Judgment,” which to me is interesting rather as a piece of pioneering than as a work apart. After settling for a while at Middelburg and Antwerp, he returned to Leyden, where he died in I533.
In spite of her record as the mother of great painters, Leyden treats pictures with some indifference. The municipal Museum has little that is of value. Of most interest perhaps is the Peter van Veen, opposite ” The Last Judgment,” representing a scene in the siege of Leyden by the Spaniards under Valdez in 1574, which has a companion upstairs by Van Bree, depicting the Burgomaster’s heroic feat of opportunism in the same period of stress.
Adrian Van der Werf was this Burgomaster’s name (his monument stands in the Van der Werf park), and nothing but his courage and address at a critical moment saved the city. Motley tells the story in a fine passage. ” Meantime, the besieged city was at its last gasp. The burghers had been in a state of uncertainty for many days ; being aware that the fleet had set forth for their relief, but knowing full well the thousand obstacles which it had to surmount. They had guessed its progress by the illumination from the blazing villages; they had heard its salvos of artillery on its arrival at North Aa ; but since then, all had been dark and mournful again, hope and fear, in sickening alternation, distracting every breast. They knew that the wind was unfavourable, and, at the dawn of each day, every eye was turned wistfully to the vanes of the steeples. So long as the easterly breeze prevailed, they felt. as they anxiously stood on towers and house-tops that they must look in vain for the welcome ocean. Yet, while thus patiently waiting, they were literally starving ; for even the misery endured at Haarlem had not reached that depth and intensity of agony to which Leyden was now reduced. Bread, maltcake, horse-flesh, had entirely disappeared ; dogs, cats, rats, and other vermin were esteemed luxuries. A small number of cows, kept as long as possible for their milk, still remained ; but a few were killed from day to day, and distributed in minute proportions, hardly sufficient to support life among the famishing population. Starving wretches swarmed daily around the shambles where these cattle were slaughtered, contending for any morsel which might fall, and lapping eagerly the blood as it ran along the pavement ; while the hides, chopped and boiled, were greedily devoured.
” Women and children, all day long, were seen searching gutters and dung hills for morsels of food, which they disputed fiercely with the famishing dogs. The green leaves were stripped from the trees, every living herb was converted into human food, but these expedients could not avert starvation. The daily mortality was frightful,infants starved to death on the maternal breasts, which famine had parched and withered ; mothers dropped dead in the’ streets, with their dead children in their arms.
“In many a house the watchmen, in their rounds, found a whole family of corpses, father, mother and children, side by side ; for a disorder called the plague, naturally engendered of hardship and famine, now came, as if in kindness, to abridge the agony of the people. The pestilence stalked at noonday through the city, and the doomed in-habitants fell like grass beneath its scythe. From six thousand to eight thousand human beings sank before this scourge alone, yet the people resolutely held outwomen and men mutually encouraging each other to resist the entrance of their foreign foean evil more horrible than pest or famine.’
” The missives from Valdez, who saw more vividly than the besieged could do, the uncertainty of his own position, now poured daily into the city, the enemy becoming more prodigal of his vows, as he felt that the ocean might yet save the victims from his grasp. The inhabitants, in their ignorance, had gradually abandoned their hopes of relief, but they spurned the summons to surrender. Leyden was sublime in its despair. A few murmurs were, however, occasionally heard at the steadfastness of the magistrates, and a dead body was placed at the door of the burgomaster, as a silent witness against his inflexibility. A party of the more faint-hearted even assailed the heroic Adrian Van der Werf with threats and reproaches as he passed through the streets.
” A crowd had gathered around him, as he reached a triangular place in the centre of the town, into which many of the principal streets emptied themselves, and upon one side of which stood the church of St. Pancras, with its high brick tower surmounted by two pointed turrets, and with two ancient lime trees at its entrance. There stood the burgomaster, a tall, haggard, imposing figure, with dark visage, and a tranquil but commanding eye. He waved his broad-leaved felt hat for silence, and then exclaimed, in language which has been almost literally preserved, ‘ What would ye, my friends? Why do ye murmur that we do not break our vows and surrender our city to the Spaniards? a fate more horrible than the agony which she now endures. I tell you I have made an oath to hold this city, and may God give me strength to keep my oath ! I can die but once ; whether by your hands, the enemy’s, or by the hand of God. My own fate is indifferent to me, not so that of the city intrusted to my care. I know that we shall starve if not soon relieved ; but starvation is preferable to the dishonoured death which is the only alternative. Your menaces move me not; my life is at your disposal; here is my sword, plunge it into my breast, and divide my flesh among you. Take my body to appease your hunger, but expect no surrender, so long as I remain alive.’”
Leyden was at last relieved by William of Orange, who from his sickbed had arranged for the piercing of the dykes and letting in enough water to swim his ships and rout the Spaniards.
Out of tribulation comes good. For their constancy and endurance in the siege the Prince offered the people of Leyden one of two benefitsexemption from taxes or the establishment of a University. They took the University.