One autumn day, about two or three and thirty years ago, a travelling carriage was slowly ascending a steep and sandy hill on the high road, about ten miles from Antwerp. It was one of those days of alternate cloud and sunshine, when the landscape shows to the greatest advantage; great shadows of clouds driven by the fresh, pleasant west wind, rested here and there upon woods and valleys, making their shades deeper, while capricious gleams of light gilded upland fields, from whence the corn was not yet carried, or played on the foam of the water-wheel, and brought out in full relief the peaked red gables of the miller’s house, backed by fruit-trees heavily laden.
The owner of the carriage seemed to enjoy this beautiful scene and weather, for he alighted from his carriage at the foot of the hill; and slowly as the horses climbed up its sandy ascent, his progress was still slower, for he turned round every three yards to note the different changes in the scene as the driving clouds cast fresh shadows, or the objects of the landscape assumed fresh combinations as he advanced; so that the carriage was almost out of sight by the time he came up to a boy, who, leaning against a rail, was drawing figures in the sand with so much attention and interest, that he did not perceive the stranger’s approach.
“What are you doing, my little man?” said the gentleman.
The boy looked up, and without answering, ran to him and tried to pull him backwards by the tails of his coat.
“Oh, you are walking over St. Peter,” he cried, in such a tone of tragic despair, that the gentleman laughed and retreated a few steps.
“What do you mean?”
“Why my beautiful head that I have been all the morning drawing,” said the boy, endeavouring to efface the foot marks in the loose sand which covered the spot where they stood; “it was so exactly like!”
“The image of St. Peter in the church. I have done it a great many times, but never got it so like before, and I meant to have drawn the whole figure, with the keys and all, but the sand is so trampled now, I shall not be able to do it. I had just left it for a moment, to draw that carriage that passed just now; the postilion had such a comical face, and the valet, perched up behind, looked so hungry and cross, and never once turned round to look at the view, though there is nothing half so pretty between this and Antwerp.”
While he spoke the stranger was examining a drawing traced on the sand with the point of a stick, of his own carriage and servants, and although, from the nature of the implements used, roughly done, yet a spirited likeness of the somewhat remarkable features of the men had been produced, while the attitude of the horses labouring to draw the heavy vehicle up the hill, was very well done. He made no observation, however, but simply asked the child if he had ever been at Antwerp.
“Yes, once.” Then folding his hands with an expression of reverential admiration, he added, “And in the great church there I saw Rubens’s pictures!”
“Ah, indeed; and what did you think of them?”
“Oh, sir, if I could only see them always, I should be happy. I dream of them almost every night, and I try to draw bits of them on the sand, but I can do so little,” he went on, with a sigh.
“Would you not like to have pencil and paper to draw with?” said the gentleman.
“Oh, yes,” said the child. “I have them on Sunday. The good curlS gave me some, and after mass I draw all day long. I am so happy then, without any pigs to look after.”
“It seems to me that you have that pleasure now,” said the other, “for I see none anywhere.”
“Those stupid, tiresome beasts, they are always running away:” and, brandishing his stick, he rushed into the little grove near, and was soon heard shouting, gesticulating, screaming to his pigs; but it was some time before he could bring them all back; and in the meanwhile the stranger stood examining the scratches in the sand.
We may as well mention here who this gentleman was who took so much interest in the little swineherd’s sketches, and inform our readers that he was a prince of one of the noblest families in Poland. More fortunate than the greater part of his countrymen, the father of Prince Ponasky had sold his great estates in Poland before its dismemberment by its powerful neighbours, and had settled in France, in whose rich and luxurious capital he could freely indulge his taste for the refined and beautiful.
His son had grown up a perfect enthusiast of Art— one of those men one finds often in the higher circles, who, without any positive genius for the art they devote themselves to, have yet the greatest passion for everything connected with it. There are some patrons of art who take a kindly interest in those who minister to their pleasures; and one of the noblest of these was Prince Ponasky; his purse, his time, his sympathy, were ever at the service of the struggling artist; to have genius was a sure passport to his favour; and many, now famous, bless the kind hand that helped, and the wise head that counselled their inexperienced youth.
When the boy returned hot and breathless from his chase, the Prince was still contemplating the sand drawings.
“My friend,” he said, “there is a great fault here. You have made the off-wheel about three times larger than the near one.”
“Yes,” said the boy, “that puzzles me. All my drawings of carts and carriages look wrong, and I cannot tell why. Both the wheels are really the same size, and yet if I make both the same length, one looks larger than the other.”
“I will tell you,” said the Prince. And taking the stick from the child’s hand, he explained to him some of the first principles of perspective.
The quick, intelligent eyes of his auditor followed eagerly every word and movement, and at the conclusion he clapped his hands with joy, and exclaiming, “I see now how to draw the wheels,” he moved to an untrodden bit of sand, and drew the carriage with the most perfect correctness.
The Prince was delighted with his quick comprehension, and asked the boy to show him some of his Sunday sketches on paper.
“Well,” he replied, “I have not got any here, but if you will come to-morrow I shall be here. This is the best bit of ground for drawing on for three miles round, and the view is so beautiful down there.”
“But, my little friend, to-morrow I shall be many leagues from here, on my road to Paris.”
“Then if you will stay here and take care of the pigs, I will go and fetch them for you.”
“Thank you,” replied the other, drily, “I think the best plan would be for you to tell me where your mother lives, and then I could go and look at your drawings there. I don’t exactly see where the pigs are at this moment.”
“Oh!” said the little swineherd, with a gesture of despair, “I never can draw for two minutes together in peace. I must go after them again.”
“Tell me your mother’s name first.”
“Kaysar, sir — la Mere Kaysar. She lives in the first cottage after the church. You see the tower there above the trees.”
“And your name is”
“Heinrich; I am the youngest but two, and there are ten of us altogether.”
“Well, adieu my little friend, perhaps we may meet again soon — don’t forget what I have taught you.”
“O! there is no danger of that, sir. I shall practise it as soon as ever those horrible pigs give me a moment’s rest.”
Prince Panasky pursued his way to the top of the hill, where his carriage was waiting for him. He got in, and told the postilion to leave the highroad, proceed to the little village on the left, and stop at the cottage next the church.
The valet had been duly explaining to the postilion whilst they waited, that his master was an eccentric foreigner, crazed on the subject of artists and paintings. So the Prince was obeyed without more astonishment than was conveyed by an expressive shrug of the postilion’s shoulders to the valet, and replied to by him with a significant shake of the head.
At the door of la Mere Kaysar the carriage stopped and the Prince entered. The good woman, who was washing, was filled with astonishment and terror at seeing so grand an equipage stop at her door. She thought some misfortune must have happened, and immediately began to think of her sons. Her relief was great when she found that this fine gentleman had only come to look at Heinrich’s useless scraps of paper.
“You shall see them, and welcome, sir,” she said; “I wish you could persuade Heinrich to turn his hand to something useful — no one will employ him for anything but pig-keeping, and even for that his master begins to say he is too lazy.”
The Prince smiled to himself as ho thought of the uncontrolled liberty the pigs seemed to enjoy under Heinrich’s care — but said nothing, and began to examine the drawings. They were sketches of every imaginable object that came under his notice: his mother, brothers, and sisters were represented in all kinds of attitudes; the old watermill; the picturesque church porch, with groups passing in to hear mass; his companions ; his dog; even his special tormentors, the pigs, had their place in this gallery of art, where the backs of the drawings had other sketches upon them — paper being far too valuable a commodity to serve only once.
There were, of course, innumerable faults; but with them all a breadth and freedom, a quickness in catching likenesses, and power of giving its distinctive character to everything he attempted, that to the Prince’s experienced eye evinced a very high degree of talent. Even genius — who knew? — might be lurking there! What should he do? Should he leave this embryo artist to sink down into the sordid life of the boors around him, or should he take him with him and give him the training his powers seemed to demand? He pondered long and profoundly, at length he said:
“I think your son has a decided talent, my good woman. Should you like him to be brought up as an artist?”
“Ah, sir, that is what a painting gentleman who came out from Antwerp in the spring said; but we are too poor to think of that. Heinrich must get his living as he can. Here are some of the drawings the gentleman showed him how to do, all in colours, much prettier than those black scratches, but he has no paints now.”
The Prince turned over the water-colour drawings the good mother reached down from the shelf where they lay between a jar of onions and a round cheese, and decided at once what he would do. Heinrich should accompany him immediately to Paris, and he would take the care of his future destiny upon himself. In a few words he explained his plan to la Mere Kaysar, who wept, half with joy that her son should have such advantages offered to him, half with grief at the idea of parting with him. But she refused to decide either way, till Heinrich himself had been spoken to on the subject — for he had good sense enough, when he could be got to think about anything besides his scribbling.
A neighbour’s son was induced by the bribe of a few sous to take Heinrich’s place as swineherd for an hour, while he came to hear the result of the consultation upon his destiny. His bright blue eyes sparkled, and he showed all his white teeth in a grin of enthusiastic delight when the Prince offered to take him to Paris — clothe, feed, watch over him, and, above all, have him educated as a painter.
“O, sir,” he said, “will you be really so good? Shall I indeed learn to draw? O, I am so happy, so happy! Get me my Sunday clothes, mother,— let me get ready at once!”
“You are very glad to go then, Heinrich, and leave your poor old mother?” said la Mere Kaysar, putting her apron to her eyes.
“I forgot I must leave you,” said the boy, his honest heart swelling at the prospect of abandoning his home, which had not before entered into his calculations. “I couldn’t stand never seeing you or Susette,” he went on, bursting into tears as he spoke. ”Thank you kindly, sir, for your offer, but I must not leave my mother.”
The Prince explained that he had no wish to separate them wholly, gave the mother his card, and recommended her to confer with her friends, while he himself put up at an inn in the neighbourhood.
The result of the deliberation between la Mere Kaysar and the good curfi, whom she consulted in the matter, was that Heinrich’s not very extensive wardrobe was packed up in a cotton handkerchief, and he and his mother came at the time appointed to the Three Crowns, where the Prince was reposing after such a dinner as a way-side inn could furnish. They gratefully accepted his noble offer, and he renewed his promises of a pension to the mother, and of watchful care for the son; and they set off that evening on their journey to Paris.
Arrived there, the little rustic was suitably dressed, and then, through the Prince’s influence, permission was gained for him to study at the Academy. As he was so young he only spent a part of the day there; the rest was passed at a school, that his general education might be advanced. He slept at the Prince’s house, whose heart he completely won by his amiable disposition, good sense, and the quickness with which he gained the address and manners of those about him.
In the summer he returned to his village for a few weeks; his mother was delighted to see him so strong and tall, and exactly like a great gentleman, as she said; but she could not see any improvement in his drawing; his studies from the antique, heads with every kind of expression, and legs and arms in all imaginable attitudes, only reminded her of an hospital — they were not half so pretty as the drawings he used to make of Susette and the baby, or the groups round the village well.
He visited her every year, till he went to Italy and other countries for the purpose of studying his art. Long ere he returned, he could earn money enough to make her an allowance, which caused her to pass for a rich woman in her village.
When he revisited Paris, and his generous protector, a very high place was offered him in the Academy; but he would not accept it without first consulting the Prince, and to him he expressed a wish to return to Belgium.
“Do not think me ungrateful,” he said; “I will agree to any plan you propose; you have been as a father to me, and I will render you always the willing obedience of a child. But I must tell you frankly, I should like to dedicate what talent God has given me to my country, to be ranked among the Flemish painters. But I put myself in your hands.”
The Prince admired the patriotic feelings of the young man, and gave a willing assent to his return. He settled in Antwerp, and became the head of the Academy there. His distinguished manners, handsome figure, and courteous address, soon gained him the entree into the best circles. No one could ever have imagined that the graceful, polished gentleman, who took his place so easily and naturally among the highest in the land, had ever been a poor peasant boy.
Not that he sought to conceal his origin; far from it, he was very fond of relating the story of his early poverty and his patron’s munificence; but his was one of those natures to whom refinement is natural; his artist mind assimilated to itself as its proper aliment all that was graceful and beautiful. He married a lady of good family, who brought her husband, not only a considerable fortune, but the more valuable gifts of a noble mind and amiable temper.
Heinrich Kaysar lives happy and respected; and with our hearty wishes that so he may long remain, we will close this true story of the Swineherd Painter Of Antwerp.