(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Belgian life in town and country"






a 

y 



111 

Froi 
T 



THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

NORTH CAROLINA 

AT CHAPEL HILL 




ENDOWED BY THE 

DIALECTIC AND PHILANTHROPIC 

SOCIETIES 



DHi+71 



UNIVERSITY OF N.C. AT CHAPS. ■ Hlli 




10000642529 




i/-hi. %lS) 



This book is due at the LOUIS R. WILSON LIBRARY on the 
last date stamped under "Date Due." If not on hold it may be 
renewed by bringing it to the library. 



DATE 
DUE 



RET. 



DATE 
DUE 



RET. 



k'«wov 1 P 



APR 2 8 







-^~ 



- 



m i'fto ! 



_£_i_ 



?tffl 



1L 



I & 



2GM 






Form /Vo. 5 



BELGIAN LIFE IN 
TOWN 6f COUNTRY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 



http://archive.org/details/belgianlifeintowOboul 




THE BELFRY OF BRUGES. 



BELGIAN LIFE IN 
TOWN & COUNTRY 



DEMETRIUS C. BOULGER 







WITH TWENTY-FOUR 
ILLUSTRATIONS 



LONDON: GEORGE NEWNES, LIMITED 
SOUTHAMPTON STREET, STRAND, W.C. 

**ol i, *»* THE LIBRARY 

n i j „<&* WE UNIVERSITY Of NORTH CAROLINA 

7^Jfr ATCHAPnu,! 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER FAUH. 

I. The two Races of Belgium ... ... i 

II. The Modern Constitution ... ... 13 

III. The Legislature and the Electorate ... 25 

IV. The Court and Society ... ... 36 

V. Burgher Life in Brussels ... ... ... 46 

VI. The Commercial Classes of Antwerp ... 59 

VII. The Miners of the Borinage ... ... 69 

VIII. The Manufacturing Centres ... ... 80 

IX. Country Life in Belgium ... ... ... 93 

X. The Dead Cities of Flanders ... ... 104 

XI. Education and Religious Aspects ... ... 114 

XII. Law and Justice ... ... ... 126 

XIII. In True Wallonia ... ... ... ... 137 

vj XIV. Amusements and Legends ... ... 14 8 

XV. Literature and Science ... ... ... 160 



A 



XVI. In Leafy Arden ... ... ... 171 



Contents 



CHAPTER 

XVII. Some Popular Types— Men ... 

XVIII. Some Popular Types— Women 

XIX. Seaport and Sailor Life 

XX. The Army and Military Life 

XXI. Colonies and Colonial Aspirations 
Index 



183 
i93 
204 
210 
223 
235 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



PAGE 



The Belfry of Bruges ... ... ... Frontispiece 

Brussels — House of the Dukes of Brabant ... 4 

Brussels — Statue of Godfrey of Bouillon ... 13 

Brussels — The Maison du Roi ... ... ... 37 

Brussels — The Grande Place ... ... ... 44 

Brussels — Place Brouckere ... ... ... 51 

Antwerp — The Cathedral ... ... ... 62 

A Woman of Antwerp in Grande Toilet ... ... 64 

Bridge of Trous at Tournai ... ... ... 69 

A Flemish Farmer ... ... ... ... ... 99 

Bruges— Maison du Franc ... ... ... 102 



The Brael Bridge at Courtrai 



Town Hall at Oudenarde 



107 



The Cloth Market at Ypres ... ... ... u 



"3 



Louvain — Panorama taken from the Dominican 

Church ... ... ... ... ... 128 

Ostend— Scene on the Sands ... ... ... 148 

vii 



List of Illustrations 



PACE 

Valley of the Meuse — Steamer from Namur arriving 

AT DlNANT ... ... ... ... ... 163 

Brussels — The Palais de la Nation ... ... 167 

Dinant— Chateau of Walzin seen from the Lesse 174 

A Brussels Postman ... ... ... ... 183 

Brussels Milkwoman ... ... ... ... 193 

A Flemish Milkwoman ... ... ... ... 197 

A Grenadier ... ... ... ... ... 210 

The Palace Guard, Grenadiers and Carabiniers ... 217 



BELGIAN LIFE IN TOWN 
AND COUNTRY 

CHAPTER I 

THE TWO RACES OF BELGIUM 

The most striking fact in the national life of modern 
Belgium is that two distinct races, in blood and in 
language, form there a single community and even a / 

united people. In Austria-Hungary there are many 
races and many tongues, but in Belgium there are only 
two, and as they almost balance each other in strength 
and influence, the harmony that exists between them is 
the more remarkable. These two races are the Walloons 
and the Flemings. The connecting bond between them 
is, no doubt, the close political association that has kept 
Walloons and Flemings under the same administration, 
since the first union of the State in the fifteenth century 
by Philip the Good, of the house of Burgundy. The fact 
that the two races have shared a common political 
destiny under foreign and native rulers during more than 
four hundred and fifty years has removed many natural 
causes of friction between them, and has created some 
definite belief in their joint and identical interest. It is a 
fact, which cannot be explained away, that Flemings and 
Walloons have never in the long course of their combined 



Belgian Life 



history, which commenced with the close of feudalism, 
engaged in a racial war, and this absence of strife has left 
an abiding impression on their relations. The strongest 
link, however, in the chain that connects the two peoples 
of the South Netherlands is provided by identity of 
religion ; so that the most fruitful cause of all human 
differences and quarrels has never arisen to create a feucf 
between Flemings and Walloons. There is, consequently, 
every reason to conclude that the two races, which in 
the past never came into hostile collision, are now well 
content to perform their duties together, and to be known 
as Belgians. 

When people talk of the Belgians as a modern people, 
with a history of only seventy-four years, they should 
not forget that the Flemings have scarcely changed in 
character, and not at all in their tongue, since the days 
of the Plantagenets ; and that the Walloons, of Liege at 
least, are very much what they were in the time of the 
Prince-Bishops. Under these circumstances, it would have 
been natural to expect that one language would have pre- 
vailed over the other, or, at least, spread, while the other 
contracted. Such has not been the case. The Flemings 
still speak Flemish, the great majority of the Walloons 
French, while the Walloons of the Ardennes and parts of 
the province of Liege retain, for ordinary use, their old 
' Romance ' tongue, Walloon. There has been no marked 
change in the proportions which the three languages bear 
to each other, except that all the Walloons now speak 
French. A very small section in the Liege province, on 
the Prussian frontier, have, however, adopted German 
instead, but numerically they are insignificant. 

There has never beenany combined or common move- 
ment, as might have been expected during the long 
process of forming a new nation, towards the adoption of 
a single language in either French or Flemish, and this 
fact is very remarkable in the case of French, which had 
chances of spreading, through its hold on society and 
literature, that to onlookers would have seemed almost 



in Town and Country 

irresistible. The powers of resistance possessed by the 
Flemish race have been well displayed in the preservation 
of their language, and this triumph is rendered more 
remarkable by the fact that the Flemings, despite their 
language being of German origin, have never had any 
German sympathies, and have never received any outside 
assistance whatever in the successful maintenance of the 
right to preserve their own speech. As Flemish national 
energy is just as intense to-day as it was in the time of 
the Arteveldes, any project for the supersession of the 
Flemish language by French must now be pronounced 
chimerical. The French propaganda had every chance 
in its favour, and a fair field between 1831 and 1855, 
and it signally failed to gain the mastery. The conditions 
are never likely to be again so favourable for it, and in 
the mean time a decisive Flemish triumph has been 
achieved. The only practical solution of the difficulty 
is that all Belgians should be bilinguists. At present, 
this accomplishment is possessed by little more than ten 
per cent, of the population, and the bulk of these persons 
reside in Brussels and the province of Brabant, which 
is intermediate between Flanders and the Walloon 
countries. 

The difference in the languages of the two races 
inhabiting what is now Belgium first attracted attention 
in the divisions of territory that took place soon after the 
death of Charlemagne, more than a thousand years 
ago. The fact of the Flemings speaking a German or 
Tudesque language seems to show clearly enough that 
they are descendants of the German colonists established 
on Belgian soil by several Roman Emperors. Clovis 
also introduced German settlers in the Meuse valley, and 
finally Charlemagne removed a large number of Saxon 
families from their homes in Germany to the plains of 
Flanders. The western districts of Belgium were those 
in which these immigrants, voluntary or forced, congre- 
gated. Flemish influence never reached the right bank 
of the Meuse, and a solid wedge of Walloon territory 

3 



Belgian Lih 



separated the Flemings from the Germans. When the 
Germans became interested in the Netherlands, at the 
end of the fifteenth century, through the marriage of 
the Archduke Maximilian with the heiress of Burgundy, 
the Flemings had lost all sympathy with their kinsmen 
in blood, and so it has remained ever since. 

While the Flemish people form the German element 
in the Belgian nation, ethnologically considered, the 
Walloons represent the Celtic. They have probably a 
superior claim over that of the Flemings to be regarded 
as the descendants of the Belgic tribes of the country, or 
such of them as survived the sweeping measures of 
Cassar, and they are closely akin to the people of ancient 
Gaul and modern France. They were probably leavened 
also by marriage between their women and the members 
of the Roman garrison, established for several centuries 
on their soil, just as they were in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries by association with the Spaniards. 
The Roman and Spanish types are frequently met with 
in the provinces of Namur, Luxemburg, and Liege ; and 
many Roman names, such as Gambrinus, Fabronius, 
Mamius, and Marius, are to be found to-day among 
Walloon surnames. 

The Walloons have the more right, then, to pose as 
the original inhabitants of the country, and their language 
may be regarded as the ' Romance ' tongue which marked 
the transition between Latin and French. As Walloon 
is a living language to-day, the vehicle for the thoughts 
of the people in large districts, such as Liege and the 
Ardennes, this race has shown scarcely less tenacity in 
preserving the idiom of a thousand years ago than the 
Flemings. But there is one marked difference between 
them. There is scarcely a Walloon who does not now 
speak French, whereas the vast majority of the Flemings 
are only acquainted with their own tongue, and find 
themselves in a foreign State when they visit the French- 
speaking parts of the common country. 

As the two races had preserved their own separate 
4 



in Town and Country 

languages during the long centuries that the country 
was subject to a foreign Power — Germany, Spain, 
Austria, France, or Holland — it is not surprising to 
find that the achievement of independence in 1830 
was followed, at a brief interval, by the appearance of a 
language difficulty in modern Belgium. The Belgian 
rising against the Dutch in that year was primarily a 
Walloon movement. The Flemings, whose community 
of language with the Dutch provided them with a certain 
fellow-feeling, and at least prevented their resenting the 
proclamation of Dutch as the official national language 
of the Netherlands, were more disposed than the 
Walloons to accept the Orange dynasty. They might 
have dissociated themselves from the insurrectionary 
movement altogether but for the Dutch measures against 
the Roman Catholic Church, which roused their religious 
fervour, and even as it was, they left the direction of the 
movement in the hands of the Walloons of Brussels and 
Liege. On the success of the movement for national 
liberation, it was only natural, then, that the Walloons 
should proclaim French as the official language of the 
country. At that moment, quite half the population did 
not understand a word of it ; but seeing that the fatal 
act of the Dutch, which entailed their expulsion, had 
been the proclamation of their language as the national 
tongue to be employed in the Courts, the triumph of 
French became a necessary part of the national triumph, 
and any agitation at such a moment on behalf of the 
Flemish language would have seemed unpatriotic and 
sympathetic to the Dutch. None the less, a thoughtful 
man knowing the situation would have declared that 
such a state of things could not endure permanently. A 
solution would have of necessity to be found, or the 
State would split into two fragments at the first crisis or 
appearance of danger. The only possible solutions were 
three in number, viz. that the Walloons should give up 
French and adopt Flemish, which was so inconceivable 
as to be palpably absurd ; or that the Flemings should 

5 



Belgian Life 

drop their language and learn French, which, if not so 
fantastic, was still highly improbable ; or that both races 
should master the two languages and become bilinguals. 
For this last solution, the most equal and the most 
flattering arrangement to both races, time and the spread 
of education were essential elements of success. 

The establishment of the modern kingdom of Belgium 
in 1 83 1 was followed then by that of French in the 
Chambers, the Courts of Law, and the Colleges as the 
national language of the new State. It had been em- 
ployed by society more or less generally since the 
Crusades. Not a word was raised for or by the Flemings, 
the vast majority of whom, as has been said, could not 
at that moment speak a word of French. But before the 
young kingdom had reached its twentieth year several 
things had become clearer, and one of these was that 
the Flemings were quite resolved not to give up their 
language. The necessary corollary of this tenacity was 
that they should claim and agitate for the admission of 
their language to an equal place with French in the 
country, of which they formed not the lesser part. A 
French observer, writing in 1855 from Brussels, declared, 
' The Fleming is slow, but he moves, and when once he 
makes up his mind to travel he goes far without stopping.' 
The observation was called forth by the appointment of 
a Commission to inquire into the complaints of the 
Flemish population set forth in numberless petitions. 
The report of this Commission was strongly in favour of 
Flemish pretensions. It recommended that Flemish 
should be placed on an equality with French, and that 
all. examinations and pleadings in the Courts should be 
held or expressed in either language or in both. The 
Government was so surprised at the sweeping character 
of these proposals that it suppressed the Report, and 
kept it secret. Its purport only leaked out gradually 
with the lapse of years. 

The Flemish movement began at Ghent in a modest 
way about the year 1836. Half a dozen literary and 

6 



in Town and Country 

scientific men founded there a Flemish review called 
Belgisch Museum, and meeting with considerable success, 
they soon afterwards formed a club, taking as their 
motto, 'de taal is gansch het volk ' — 'the language 
is the whole people/ In 1844 Jan Frans Willems, the 
leader of the movement, summoned a Congress, not, it 
is true, for a political purpose, but merely to exhort the 
Government to preserve the literary treasures of Flanders 
by the publication of its ancient texts. Assent was given 
to this request, but the necessary funds were not voted 
for ten years, which proved that the Government regarded 
the Flemish movement with distrust and even dislike. 
Willems died soon after the first Congress, but the 
Congresses went on, and were sometimes held in Holland 
as well as in Belgium. The work of Willems was con- 
tinued in a more efficacious manner by Henri Conscience, 
whose romances stimulated Flemish pride and aspirations, 
and recalled the great days of Flanders. His ' Lion of 
Flanders ' (Leeuw van Vlaanderen) became not merely 
the most popular book of the day, but it idealized for all 
time the thoughts and longings of the Flemish race. It 
has, without much exaggeration, been called the Flemish 
bible. 

The efforts of Conscience were well seconded by 
those of the poet Ledeganck, whose ballads were sung or 
recited from one end of Flanders to the other. There 
were Txiany other writers in the same field, and the 
Flemish agitation was illustrated by the one genuine 
literary movement that has occurred in modern Belgium. 
There were thus two marked and opposing tendencies 
in the country. The liberation of Belgium had been 
followed by the undoubted and obvious increase of 
French influence in official circles. All the sympathies 
of the Court and the Government were French, but there 
was no corresponding movement in the literature of the 
country. The Walloon intellect proved sterile. On the 
other hand was to be seen a remarkable ebullition, not 
merely of talent, but of original genius, in the Flemish 

7 



Belgian Life 

race, which had so long remained torpid and silent. This 
literary activity furnished proof of the vitality of the race, 
and of the strength of its hopes, which precluded the possi- 
bility of contentment with a subordinate position. The 
Flemings were resolved not to be a party to their own 
effacement. It was not, however, until 1861 that the 
Flemish party succeeded in carrying in the Chamber an 
address to the King, expressing the hope that justice 
would be done to ' the well-founded demands of the 
Flemings.' 

It was soon after this event that a favourable oppor- 
tunity offered itself for a demonstration calculated to 
stimulate public opinion. A native of Flanders, brought 
before one of the courts at Brussels, refused to plead in 
French, and his attitude was supported and imitated by 
his counsel. In another case a Fleming accused of 
murder was tried and sentenced without his understand- 
ing a word of what passed in court. The most was 
made of these cases to strengthen the claims of the 
Netherlanders, as the Flemish party called themselves. 
There was an obvious need for reform, and the public 
realized that the concession of the Flemish demands 
could only be denied at the peril of disintegration. At 
last a first tangible success was obtained when a law was 
passed in 1873 to the effect that in criminal cases the 
court should employ the language of the accused person. 
After that the Flemish movement progressed rapidly. 
A Flemish Academy was founded by the State in 
1886 ; Flemish theatres for the exclusive representation 
of Flemish plays, or, at least, translations, were set up at 
the cost of the nation in Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent. 
Finally, the Flemish text of laws and regulations was 
declared to be equally valid with the French ; the names 
of streets, and all public notices in them, were to be 
printed in the two languages in the five provinces in 
which Flemish is spoken ; and a fluent acquaintance 
with both languages has more recently been made an 
express condition of employment in Government service 



in Town and Country 

in the same provinces for minor posts, and generally for 
those of a superior grade. With these successes the 
triumph of the Flemish cause may be said to have been 
made complete. Ostracized after 1830, the Flemish 
language has gained in the last forty years a position of 
equality with French as the official language of Belgium. 

The following statistics will be useful for purposes of 
reference in connexion with the language question. By 
the census of 1890 the population of Belgium was 
6,069,321. Of this number 2,744,271 spoke only 
Flemish, 2,485,072 only French, and 32,206 only 
German. With regard to those speaking more than one 
language, 700,997 spoke French and Flemish, 58,590 
French and German, 7028 Flemish and German, and 
36,185 French, Flemish, and German. The census of 
1900 showed that the population had risen to 6,815,054. 
Of this total 3,145,000 spoke only Flemish, 2,830,000 
only French, and 770,000 the two languages. 

The struggle of the languages has, therefore, resulted 
in what may be called a drawn battle. Flemish has 
gained the position to which the antiquity and solidity 
of its pretensions entitled it, but French remains the 
language of society, of the administration, and of the 
bulk of the literature of the country, while the common 
language of the people in the eastern and south-eastern 
divisions is Walloon. There still remains to be found a 
solution for the political difficulties that must arise in a 
community so constituted, and it seems as if it can only 
be found in the direction of bilingualism. This result 
must be promoted by the stipulation that proficiency in 
the two tongues is requisite for public employment ; but 
there are still nearly six millions of people in Belgium 
who know only one language. The Flemings have pre- 
served their language by a rigid exclusiveness, and they 
have always refused to learn any other. The encourage- 
ment of bilingualism by the authorities is now repre- 
sented to be an insidious attempt to vulgarize French in 
Flanders. On the other hand, the Walloons are protesting 

9 



Belgian Life 



against the waste of time and uselessness of learning 
a language which is never heard . in Wallonia. Time 
may remove these suspicions and complaints, and force 
home the conviction to the mind of every Belgian that 
under the peculiar conditions in which his country is 
constituted, it is the duty of each citizen to master the 
language of the brother race, which shares the same 
national fortunes. 

The great bond, however, between the two races is 
religious union. Bavaria, Ireland, and Belgium have been 
called the three most devoted children of the Church 
of Rome, and in Belgium to-day the Flemings are the 
staunchest of Roman Catholics, and the real supporters 
of the political influence of their Church. Readers of 
Motley may remember his describing ' the great majority 
of the burghers ' of Ghent as belonging to c the Reformed 
religion.' It would be difficult to discover to-day not 
only in Ghent, but throughout the whole of Flanders, a 
single Flemish family which is not attached to the Roman 
Catholic faith. This religious unanimity makes for the 
stability of Belgium, because it effectually separates the 
Flemings from the Dutch, who are practically the same 
people in race and language. The Walloons never 
betrayed any sympathies with the Reformation, and their 
devotion to the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth 
century was the main cause of the preservation of Spanish 
rule in the Netherlands, and of the consequent split of 
the provinces into North and South. But at the present 
time the Flemings rather than the Walloons are the chief 
prop of Roman Catholic power in Belgium. The reason 
for this may be found by comparing the characters of the 
two races. The Fleming is simple in his habits, and 
somewhat restricted in his views, but with strong feelings, 
and a capacity for intense devotion to his convictions. 
He is averse to change of any kind, and having reconciled 
himself to the Church of Rome, after a brief lapse three 
and a half centuries ago, for which a severe penance 
was paid, he shows no tendency to embark on further 



in Town and Country 

theological adventures. The Walloon, on the other hand, 
is given by character to scepticism and free thought He 
is far from being a docile servant of the Church, and 
politically he is quite beyond its control; not that he 
has any tendency towards any other creed, lhe Uiurcft 
of Rome has not to fear Protestantism in any form among 
the Walloons, who only include one Church within ^ then- 
religious or politico-religious horizon. With them it is a 
question of the Roman Catholic Church or no Church at 
all The Walloons are the chief supporters and pro- 
ducers of the advanced Liberals and the Socialists. With 
the former the religious sentiment is far from being dead, 
but with the latter the deposition of the Church is an article 
of their programme. The Liberals, however, have 
Ion- been a decaying force. For fifty years they possessed 
pohtical supremacy in Belgium, and the effort has appar- 
ently exhausted them. The old leaders are gone, and 
new ones have not yet been found. The capacity of 
reproduction seems to have disappeared. The Liberals 
of to-day have no inspiration and no programme. On 
the other hand, the Socialists are an active and aggressive 
body with definite ends, and moving towards a clear y 
visible goal. In the Walloon provinces they are rapidly 
winning over, if they have not already won over the 
whole of the proletariat. Fortunately for the stability 
of the country, the Flemish population is just as stolid in 
its support of the Roman Catholic party, which from the 
political point of view is the only barrier to the spread 
and triumph of Republicanism throughout the land. I he 
last election, however, favours a belief that the formation 
of a new moderate central party is not outside the bounds 
of possibility, and several eloquent speakers have been 
discovered who, in the course of time, may become 

popular leaders. .,,-«, u „ 

There is another direction in which the Flemings have 
done good work. They may claim that much of the 
present prosperity of the country has been due in a 
special degree to their efforts. They are hard workers, 



Belgian Life 

and the development of the agricultural wealth of East 
and West Flanders since Belgium became a kingdom has 
been unexampled. Industrially they have revived the 
reputation of Ghent, and commercially they have made 
Antwerp the first or second port of the Continent. The 
extraordinary material progress of Belgium, which will 
form the subject of another chapter, furnishes clear proof 
that the presence of two distinct races side by side, and 
running together, as it were, in harness, is not incompa- 
tible with the attainment of a high degree of prosperity. 



12 




BRUSSELS — STATUE OF GODFREY OF BOUILLON. 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER II 

THE MODERN CONSTITUTION 

Belgium, one is frequently reminded when writing of the 
great past of the Belgian races, dates only from 1830. 
The application of the same arbitrary rule to our own 
history would exclude much upon which the historian has 
been wont to descant as contributing to the making of 
England. However, the existing constitution of Belgium 
was drawn up in that and the following year, and 
although the name was suggested for the country in 1789, 
and again in 18 14-15, Belgique or Belgium was then first 
adopted as the designation of the nine southern pro- 
vinces of the Netherlands. The revolt of the Belgians 
against the Dutch in 1830 was sudden and unexpected, 
and Belgians still living, who witnessed its scenes 
when children, speak of it as a misunderstanding. 
The king, William I., of the house of Orange-Nassau, 
was undoubtedly well-intentioned, and his son, the 
Prince of Orange of Waterloo fame, was popular every- 
where. But one great and irreparable fault was com- 
mitted. The policy of the Dutch king was ostentatiously 
shown to include a systematic attempt to change the 
language of half his southern subjects, and the religion of 
them all. These innovations, and the steps preliminary 
to them, were entitled reforms and liberal measures ; but, 
as was written at the time, ' This king was too much of 
a Liberal to be a ruler, and too much of a king to be a 
liberal.' Moreover, Belgium was not Liberal in any 

*3 



Belgian Life 



Dutch sense of the word, it was Roman Catholic and 
Conservative, attached to its traditional rights, and proud 
of the old separate constitutions of the different] pro- 
vinces. The Fundamental Law of August 24th, 18 15, 
marked the Dutch ideal, while the Belgians looked to 
the past when their ' States ' represented the only 
Constitution to be found on the Continent, and traced 
back their liberties to the charters of the Baldwins and 
of Wenceslas. 

Events in Belgium were undoubtedly hastened by the 
French Revolution of July, 1830, which ended the mon- 
archy of the Bourbons and established a constitutional 
one in its place. The Belgians had never felt any 
attachment for the Dutch regime, and for some years had 
been openly discontented, but the agitation might not 
have taken a bellicose form if the change of government 
in France had not furnished some ground of hope that 
support would be forthcoming for the cause of the people 
in a country so closely attached to it by the ties of race, 
religion, and language. On the 25th of August, 1830, 
during the performance in Brussels of the opera the 
Muette de Portici, the populace took fire when the 
tenor sang the well-known and spirit-stirring words of 
Massaniello — 

' Plutot mourir que rester miserable, 
Pour un esclave est-il quelque danger ? 
Tombe le joug qui nous accable, 
Et sous nos coups perisse l'etranger. 
Amour sacre de la patrie, 
Rends nous l'audace et la fierte ; 
A mon pays je dois la vie, 
II me devra sa liberte ! ' 

The audience rose in their seats, joined in the refrain, 
and, stopping the performance, rushed into the streets. 
They then hastened off to attack the residences of the 
Dutch Ministers, and pillaged them. There were then very 
few troops in the town, which passed into the possession 
of the people of Brussels who summoned a Council of 

14 



in Town and Country 



Notables. King William moved a force of 5000 men 
under his two sons to Vilvorde, and there can be little 
doubt that if it had advanced at once it could have stamped 
out the agitation in blood. King William was not a cruel 
man, and was all for a pacific solution ; while his son, 
the Prince of Orange, relied on his popularity. Instead 
of entering at the head of his troops, the latter rode into 
the city attended by only six officers. He remained 
three days in Brussels, and when he left he took away a 
document which may be termed, as the reader prefers, a 
petition or an ultimatum, containing the formal wish of 
the Belgian leaders for separation ' under the Orange 
dynasty.' 

King William's reply to this message was made ten 
days later, when in his speech to the Dutch Chambers he 
declared that he would never yield 'to passion and 
violence.' At the same time orders were given to the 
Dutch troops to recover possession of Brussels, and as 
the Prince of Orange was loth to take any measures 
against the city in which he had lived so long, the com- 
mand was entrusted to his brother, Prince Frederick. 
Brussels was still a walled city, and on September 23rd, 
the Dutch attacked four of its gates. At two they were 
repulsed, but at the other two they were successful, and 
forced their way to the Park facing the Palace. Here 
they were brought to a halt and found themselves in a 
trap. The success which had been certain on September 
1st could no longer be achieved on the 23rd, for in the 
interval the Brussels insurgents had been joined by a 
strong contingent from Liege, and the whole of Walloon 
Belgium was in open insurrection. The Dutch troops 
in the Park were attacked from all sides, and after 
three days' fighting, Prince Frederick found himself 
obliged to extricate himself from a false and dangerous 
position by a midnight retreat. The Hotel Bellevue was 
used as a fort by the popular party, and some idea of 
the severity of the fighting may be formed from the fact 
that 600 Belgian citizens were killed during those few 

15 



Belgian Life 



days. These men are regarded as the Martyrs of the 
Belgian Revolution, and there is a fine monument to 
them in the Place des Martyrs, over the trench in which 
they — ' simples citoyens morts pour la liberie ' — were 
buried. After this the Orange dynasty was doomed, and 
the cry became ' Separation and Independence.' 

A Provisional Government had been formed even 
before the Dutch troops retreated, and its purpose was 
revealed in the following public notice : — ' The Belgian 
provinces detached by force from Holland shall form an 
Independent State.' Envoys were sent to London and 
Paris to enlist the sympathy of their Governments, while 
more strenuous measures were taken to expel the Dutch 
from the country. The Belgian Volunteers, assuming the 
offensive, gained two successes at Waelhem and Berchem, 
at the latter of which places the heroic Count Frederic 
de Merode died of his wounds. Antwerp, excepting the 
citadel, was occupied before the end of October, and 
then the five Powers, sitting in conference in London, 
interposed to bring about an armistice, as the preliminary 
to some definite arrangement. It had become clear to 
most minds that the kingdom of the Netherlands, formed 
in 1815, had practically ceased to exist. If the Brussels 
movement had been crushed on September 1st, history 
would have only spoken of the participators as rioters. 
One short month raised them to the rank of patriots and 
liberators of their country. On November i8th, the 
National Assembly, convoked for that day, declared as 
its first act ' the independence of the Belgian people.' 

It must always be considered a remarkable fact that 
the Belgian Revolution of August-September, 1830, 
was immediately followed by the production of a Consti- 
tution which has stood the test of seventy years. On 
February 7th, 1831, the Constitution was published, 
while the Powers were still deliberating over the safe- 
guards to be imposed on the new State for its own pro- 
tection and for the maintenance of the balance of power 
in Europe. The Belgian Constitution is an amalgam of 

16 



in Town and Country 

the separate Constitutions of the provinces. It is based 
on the principle of absolute liberty, and its 139 Articles 
cover the whole ground of constitutional law in * a con- 
stitutional, representative, and hereditary monarchy,' such 
as Belgium was declared to be. Having formed the 
kingdom, it was necessary in the next place to find the 
king. The French prince, the Due de Nemours, son of 
King Louis Philippe, was the first choice of the Pro- 
visional Government ; but his candidature was withdrawn, 
as it would have added too much to the power of France 
in the opinion of other States, and entailed a European 
war. Application was then made to Prince Leopold of 
Saxe-Coburg, who had recently declined the throne of 
Greece, and by so doing rendered a considerable service 
to European diplomacy. Prince Leopold, the widower 
of the Princess Charlotte, only child of George IV., 
was then resident in England, and had made a reputa- 
tion which his subsequent career did not belie. He 
accepted the offer, declaring that ' Human destiny does 
not offer a nobler or more useful task than that of 
being called to found the independence of a nation, and 
to consolidate its liberties.' On June 4th, 183 1, he was 
proclaimed King of the Belgians, and on July 21st his 
inauguration took place, with much ceremony, in Brussels. 
The creation of the kingdom of Belgium supplied the 
Dutch with an excuse for resuming hostilities, and re- 
lying on the supposition that the Powers would certainly 
quarrel among themselves sooner than allow the French 
to take up their position in Belgium, a Dutch army 
marched on Louvain and Brussels. 

The Belgian national forces were at that moment 
badly organized, and the Dutch outnumbered them. 
After one reverse at Hasselt, King Leopold summoned 
the French army, which had been held in readiness on 
the frontier, to his assistance. On the same day that the 
Dutch invaders arrived in front of Louvain, the French 
deliverers entered Brussels. Threatened also by the 
British Government, which prepared to send a fleet to 

17 C 



Belgian Life 

the Scheldt, King William countermanded his orders 
and recalled his army. Unfortunate for the Belgian 
national forces, this brief campaign served to increase the 
reputation and popularity of King Leopold, 'whose 
courage, coolness, and energy,' in the words of General 
Belliard, 'alone saved the Belgian army from annihilation.' 
This remark had special reference to his skilful dispo- 
sitions after the rout of the Belgians at Hasselt, and to 
the fortitude he displayed in opposing with half-disciplined 
and discouraged troops the advance of the Dutch army 
on the capital. The Dutch troops having withdrawn, 
the French also retired within their frontier, but the 
attitude of Prussia, Austria, and Russia towards the new 
State was more than dubious, and their refusal to receive 
King Leopold's envoys was calculated to raise Dutch 
hopes. Curiously enough, the Belgians encountered 
graver perils after the Dutch had retired from the whole 
country, with the exception of Antwerp citadel, and one 
or two fortified places (Luxemburg and Maastricht) than 
before. The Twenty-four Articles of the final London 
Protocol of October 15th, 1831, did not accord with the 
aspirations of the Belgians, who were compelled to cede 
the greater part of Luxemburg, which is now the Grand 
Duchy, and the portion of Limburg that lies east of the 
Meuse. If the Belgians did not like the loss of provinces 
inhabited by men of their own race, the Dutch openly 
resented the conditions of the Protocol, and refused to 
adhere to it. Inspired with hope by the attitude of the 
three Powers, which formed the Holy Alliance, King 
William once more prepared for war. During the same 
period, King Leopold also concentrated all his efforts 
and attention on the reorganization and increase of the 
Belgian forces. Having succeeded in obtaining votes 
for military purposes to the extent of three millions 
sterling, he raised the army to a strength of 100,000 men, 
and, by the admission of impartial observers, it had 
improved to such an extent from what it was at the 
time of the battle of Hasselt, that it could have dealt 

18 



in Town and Country 

effectually with its Dutch opponents without any external 
assistance. 

During this critical period, England and France stood 
staunchly beside Belgium, and King Leopold's marriage 
in August, 1832, with the Princess Louise, eldest 
daughter of King Louis Philippe, strengthened the 
relations between Brussels and Paris. Notwithstanding 
that all the other Powers ratified the Protocol, King 
William refused his assent, and retained possession of 
Antwerp citadel with a garrison of 5,000 men. In 
October, 1832, it was decided by England and France 
that this defiance of the will of Europe could no longer 
be tolerated, and that the Dutch must retire from 
Antwerp. The Belgians, having 100,000 men ready to 
take the field, were most anxious to be allowed to 
recover Antwerp themselves, and considerable difficulty 
was experienced in restricting them to the passive role 
that the Powers imposed on them. In November, a 
French army, 50,000 strong, commanded by Marshal 
Gerard, and accompanied by several of the Orleans 
princes, entered Belgium for a second time, under the 
terms of a convention concluded with the British Govern- 
ment, and laid siege to the citadel of Antwerp, which 
the commandant, General Chasse, refused to evacuate 
without an order from his sovereign. The defence of 
the citadel under great difficulties, and against an over- 
whelming force, was prolonged for over three weeks, but 
when the wall had been breached, and everything was 
ready for an assault that could not have been resisted, 
General Chasse' capitulated. His defence excited general 
admiration throughout Europe, and this was increased 
when it became known that the Dutch commander of 
the Scheldt flotilla, sooner than yield up his ships, had 
burnt or sunk them. The closing scenes of Dutch 
authority in Belgium were thus redeemed by a rare 
display of fortitude and courage. Immediately after the 
surrender of Antwerp, the French army was withdrawn ; 
but it was not until 1839 that King William finally gave 
*9 



Belgian Life 



way by adhering to the London Protocol and with- 
drawing from the forts on the Scheldt below Antwerp. 

The support given by the French army and diplomacy 
to the Belgians naturally earned their deep gratitude. 
By the arrangement between the two Powers, France 
played a more prominent part than England, but those 
in authority well knew that the latter had as much to do 
with the establishment of Belgian independence as any 
other State. If England had not heartily co-operated 
with France, France could not have acted at all. In the 
words of Louis Philippe, ' Belgium owes her independ- 
ence and the recovery of her territory to the union of 
France and England in her cause.' 

At the same time, the gratitude of the Belgians in 1832 
was more effusive in its expression to the French than to 
this country. Even now they are prone to magnify the 
role of France and to minimize that of England in the 
great national crisis of seventy years ago. Marshal 
Gerard's troops had hardly recrossed the frontier, when a 
motion was made in the Belgian Chamber to express the 
gratitude of the Belgian people to France by demolishing 
the Lion monument at Waterloo. The speaker also 
disparaged the services rendered by England. The 
Government opposed this motion, which was defeated, 
and M. Nothomb, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, paid 
the following tribute to this country, whose share in their 
liberation and independence is too little appreciated by 
the Belgians : — 

' The battle of Waterloo opened a new era for Europe, 
the era of representative government. I will not say 
anything about the strange manner in which this speaker 
has distorted that historical event. I will confine myself 
to saying that if the battle of Waterloo had been won by 
those who came to help us the other day, all would have 
been over with our nation for many a long day, and this 
capital in which we meet might be no more than the 
chief town of the department of the Dyle. I have been 
asked what England has done for Belgian independence, 

20 



in Town and Country 

for the liberty of the world. What has she done ? But 
is contemporary history ignored? She was the last 
asylum of freedom while a Conqueror held Europe under 
his iron sceptre; she sustained a gigantic struggle to 
restore independence to this Continent. What has she 
done in the last two years ? She stretched forth her 
powerful hand first over France and then over Belgium, 
and she said to the other Powers, "You shall not interfere 
with these two revolutions ; " and those two revolutions 
remain untouched. What has she done for us in par- 
ticular? She has, among other things, prevented the 
subdivision of our territory. When the refusal of the 
Due de Nemours was known, plans for sharing and 
distributing our soil became general. It was England 
who opposed this project with greater energy than 
any one else. What has she done in the last three 
months ? She concluded in our interest a striking treaty 
with France, she broke away from all her traditions by 
her rupture with Holland.' 

Having attained its independence, Belgium entered 
on the path of peaceful progress in the character of a 
neutral State among the nations, and enjoying in its 
domestic affairs the privileges conferred by the Con- 
stitution of February, 1831. Its neutrality was put to 
a severe test in 1840, when war between England and 
France seemed imminent, and there were some poli- 
ticians who hoped that Belgium, in recognition of past 
services, would declare herself the ally of the French. 
The Belgian Government had a more correct view of 
its position and duty, and declared that its policy was 
that of ' sincere, loyal, and strong neutrality.' 

In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war confronted Belgium 
with a fresh crisis. Her neutrality had been pro- 
claimed, but the question in doubt was whether she 
could maintain it by force of arms, if necessary ; in 
other words, whether it was a 'strong' neutrality as 
well as a sincere. In 1840 it was only a matter of a 
proclamation against an eventuality; but in 1870 the 



Belgian Life 



responsibility was a real one, and not free from danger. 
The Belgian army was mobilized, and sent to the frontier 
to guard it, and after the battle of Sedan a large number 
of French soldiers fled into Belgium, and were interned 
there during the continuance of the war. Some German 
soldiers who crossed the frontier in pursuit were treated 
in the same fashion. For a second time the principle 
of Belgian neutrality had been successfully and peace- 
fully vindicated ; but in this instance it must always be 
remembered that the result was largely due to the active 
intervention of the British Government, which signed a 
treaty with France, and another with Prussia, engaging 
itself to declare war upon the Power that violated 
Belgian territory. 

The important point to be remembered is that while 
Belgium is a State whose neutrality is guaranteed by 
the chief Powers, she retains in undiminished force the 
responsibility of making her neutrality respected, and, 
in the extreme case of invasion, of affording effective 
co-operation to those who intervene for her protection. 
This she could have done in 1840, and in a minor 
degree in 1870, but a careful reorganization of her 
military system is needed to enable her and her friends 
to co-operate efficaciously in the future. 

The Belgian Constitution declared the monarchy to 
be hereditary, after his acceptance of the crown, in the 
family of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, in the male 
line. His marriage with Princess Louise of Orleans 
has been mentioned. Their family consisted of two 
sons and one daughter. The elder of the sons, born 
in April, 1835, succeeded his father as Leopold II. in 
December, 1865, and is still reigning. He married the 
Austrian Archduchess Marie Henriette in 1853, and 
by her had one son and three daughters. As the Salic 
law prevails in Belgium, it is unnecessary to say any- 
thing of the female descendants of Kings Leopold I. 
and II., except that the daughter of the former, the 
Princess Charlotte, married the unfortunate Archduke 

22 



in Town and Country 

Maximilian, who became Emperor of Mexico, and was 
shot at Queretaro in 1867. The only son of Leopold II. 
bore the title of Duke of Brabant, and died in 1869, 
when, failing any subsequent male issue, the succession 
passed to the king's brother, the Count of Flanders, 
born in 1837. This prince married in 1867 the Princess 
Mary of Hohenzollern, sister of the King of Roumania, 
and by her has had two sons and two daughters. The 
elder son, Prince Baudouin or Baldwin, was endowed 
with a bright and attractive personality, and he was 
immensely popular with the people. His death in 1891 
was felt as a national calamity. His brother, Prince 
Albert, the last male descendant of the first king, then 
became heir-presumptive, and fears were entertained 
that the house of Saxe-Coburg might eventually become 
extinct in Belgium, and the State find itself confronted 
with the dangers arising from a vacant throne. These 
fears were removed by the marriage of Prince Albert to 
a Princess of Bavaria in 1900, and by the subsequent 
birth of a prince, who bears the name of Leopold, and 
promises to become, in due course, the third ruler of 
his name. The continuance of the dynasty has been 
further ensured by the birth of a second prince quite 
recently. 

There is no reason, therefore, why Belgium should 
not long continue a hereditary monarchy in the family 
of the prince who took so prominent and honourable 
a part in founding its liberties. It is also a Constitu- 
tional State with safeguards against absolutism, and the 
Monarch's power is strictly circumscribed by the Con- 
stitution. The consideration of this part of the subject 
can be best undertaken in another chapter, dealing 
more specifically with the politics of the country. The 
origin of modern Belgium has been described because 
knowledge of the facts connected with it is essential 
to any useful acquaintance with the people or their 
country; but that would be a very shallow view to take 
of Belgium which arbitrarily decided to ignore all that 

2 3 



Belgian Life 



preceded 1830, and to treat the Belgians as a nation 
which, at the furthest, only dates back to Waterloo. 
In national spirit, as well as in their political privileges, 
to which the Constitution of 1831 only gave a new form, 
the Belgians of to-day are the direct and natural repre- 
sentatives of the Flemish craftsmen, the proud burghers 
of Brabant, and the Walloons of Liege and Luxemburg. 



24 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER III 

THE LEGISLATURE AND THE ELECTORATE 

The Belgian Constitution presented on February 7th, 
1 83 1, to the National Congress, and accepted by it with 
unanimity, is chiefly remarkable for having proclaimed 
and established the complete liberty of the people in all 
the departments of civil activity. It decreed freedom of 
conscience, of education, of the Press, and also the right 
of meeting. As a constitution it was far in advance of 
any system existing on the Continent, and the lapse of 
seventy years has not rendered necessary any material 
change in its provisions. The changes introduced in 
1894 related either to minor points, or to the important 
extension of the electoral vote. That is to say, the 
Constitution remained substantially unchanged, while a 
remarkable alteration was introduced in the qualification 
and number of the electorate. The second change, in 
1900, was merely the modification of the Electoral Law 
to the extent of subjecting the results of any election to a 
process of proportional representation for the protection 
of minorities. 

The Constitution provided that the government of the 
country should be formed by a King, a Senate, and a 
Chamber of Representatives. The King was to be a 
constitutional sovereign with defined powers, but with 
the throne hereditary in the male line of his family. 
The Senate was to consist of 76 elected members, and 
26 nominated by the Provincial Councils, and the period 

2 5 



Belgian Life 



of membership was to be for eight years. The Chamber 
was to contain 152 representatives, elected for a period of 
four years, but retiring in sections at the end of every two 
years. No one can become a Senator before he is 40, 
or a Deputy under 25. An appeal to the country, which 
could only be made by the King, of course entailed the 
evacuation of every seat pending re-election. Sons of 
the King, or Princes of the Belgian Royal House, become 
members of the Senate by right of birth, on arriving at 
the age of 18, but they have no vote before they are 25. 
Until the revision in 1894, the qualifications -of electors 
were fixed by Article 47 as follows : (1) owners of ;£8o 
in the funds ; (2) principal occupier of a house valued in 
large towns at not less than ^100, and in villages at 
.£50; (3) holders of diplomas and certificates; and (4) 
those who pass, after attaining their majority, an exami- 
nation. By this system the electoral body was small and 
exclusive, and Belgium presented the anomaly of a 
perfectly free country, ruled by only the upper class of 
citizens. These qualifications were simplified, by the Act 
of 1893, into the following comprehensive definition, 
' all Belgians (males) are entitled to one vote on attaining 
the age of 25, and on having resided in the same com- 
mune for one year.' The electorate was thus increased 
so as to include the larger half of the nation. Important 
modifications and additions were also introduced into the 
system in 1894 that will require fuller explanation. 
The revision of this year covered a somewhat wider 
ground than the qualification of the electorate, although 
its salient feature was the extension of the franchise. 
The first constitution related exclusively to Europe, and 
had not contemplated the possibility of Belgium having 
colonies or possessions beyond the sea. The formation 
of the Congo State, with its possible reversion to Belgium, 
altered the position. A new Article was introduced to the 
effect that the garrisons of such possessions must be 
composed of volunteers. Another Article strengthened 
the hands of the Sovereign by providing that the Prince 
26 



in Town and Country 

who married without his consent should forfeit all his 
rights. The Constitution of 1831 had made Belgium a 
constitutional monarchy, and the subsequent Articles of 
Agreement with Prince Leopold had fixed the succession 
in the heirs male of that prince ; but nothing was said 
as to what would happen if the situation should arise 
when there were no 'heirs male.' A new Article, 
No. 6r, was accordingly introduced, providing that ' in 
default of male heirs the King can nominate his suc- 
cessor with the assent of the two Chambers ; and if no 
such nomination has been made the throne shall be 
vacant.' The apprehension which led to the insertion of 
this Article has now been allayed in a natural manner 
by the marriage of the heir-presumptive. 

The payment of members of the Representative 
Chamber, rendered necessary by its becoming more 
democratic, was fixed at 4000 francs (£160) a year, with a 
free pass on the railways between their constituencies and 
Brussels. Senators, however, remained unpaid, but have 
the same privilege as representatives on the railways. 
These minor changes were quite overshadowed by the 
important addition of the plural vote, which formed the 
striking and original feature of the revision of 1894. Up 
to that date the Belgian citizen who possessed the neces- 
sary property qualification had a single vote. In 1893 
there were 137,772 voters. The Socialists loudly de- 
manded universal suffrage — the simple formula, one man, 
one vote — the concession of which it was, and is still, feared 
would sweep away all the established political landmarks 
in the country. At the same time it had become clear 
that the old exclusive system could no longer be main- 
tained. It was useless assuring the Belgians that they 
occupied the freest country in Europe, so long as the 
great majority of them did not possess a vote. Some- 
thing had to be done to satisfy the people, and at the 
same time to save society from the real or imaginary 
perils which it perceived ahead, through an increase of 
the electorate. Various suggestions were made in the 

27 



Belgian Life 



spring of 1893, but none of these found favour until 
M. Beernaert brought forward his resolution in favour of 
the establishment of the plural vote. The state of the 
country, in which strikes and disorders prevailed, lent 
emphasis to the argument that something must be done 
to avert grave trouble. M. Beernaert's scheme, by re- 
moving the property qualification, gave every Belgian a 
vote on reaching the age of 25, and by his ingenious 
addition of extra votes for certain qualifications, which 
doubled or trebled the voting strength of the wealthy and 
educated classes, he provided a safeguard against Social- 
ism. He thus satisfied popular opinion for the moment, 
and allayed the fears of society at the same time. His 
resolution was carried by the overwhelming majority of 
119 to 14, and became law in April, 1894. 

A brief statement of the qualifications of electors will 
make the matter clear to the reader. Every Belgian 
citizen, on reaching the age of 25, is entitled to one vote in 
any commune in which he has resided for twelve months. 
One extra vote is given to every elector on reaching the 
age of 35, provided that he is married or, if a widower, 
has legitimate children, and provided that he pays 5 francs 
of personal taxation, or is exempted from such payment by- 
reason of his profession. Two extra votes are given to 
any elector who is proprietor of real estate, with a mini- 
mum cadastral revenue of 48 francs, or has an investment 
in State stock, or the State Savings Bank, producing 
100 francs annually. The two extra votes are also given 
to any elector, (1) holding certain diplomas set forth in 
Article 17, or (2) filling Government offices and profes- 
sional situations enumerated in Article 19. The maxi- 
mum number of votes under any heads, separate or 
collective, is three. The result of this measure was that 
the number of voters increased from 137,772 in 1893, to 
1 5354)^9 1 in 1895, and the voters in the latter year 
represented 2,085,605 votes. As the new law also 
made voting obligatory, all elections would have to be 
decided by a full poll. The consequences of this law 

28 



in Town and Country 

were not precisely what its author anticipated. M. Beer- 
naert conceived it to be a Liberal measure, which would 
diminish the power of the Catholic Right, contribute to 
the more equal distribution of political power between 
the several parties, and in the end strengthen the Liberal 
centre. At the time of the passing of the measure, the 
Chamber contained 93 Catholics and 59 Liberals of all 
shades of opinion. In the Senate were 7 2 Catholics and 
30 Liberals. A Catholic administration had held office 
for over ten years. The balance of parties, after the 
election of 1896, was as follows: 112 Catholics, 12 
Liberals, and 28 Socialists. In the Senate the figures 
were 70 Catholics, 31 Liberals, and 1 Socialist. The 
Catholic Government is still in power, and the hopes of 
establishing a strong central party between it and the 
Socialists are still unrealized. On the other hand, the 
Socialists have increased in numbers, and have taken 
as their political cries universal suffrage, and ' one man, 
one vote,' which means the abolition of the plural vote 
which has come to be regarded as the safeguard of 
Belgian society. 

The next and last constitutional reform arose out of 
the main result of the Electoral Law of 1894, which had 
confirmed and strengthened the Catholic ascendency. 
The originator of that law had always intended to sup- 
plement it by a measure in favour of proportional repre- 
sentation, that is to say, for the protection of minorities, 
and, if his party had not deserted him, he would have 
carried a law in 1894 to that effect. At last, in 1899, 
the necessity of effecting some change in the return 
of representatives was generally admitted. The session 
of that year was marked by stormy scenes, during which 
several Ministers resigned, including M. Vandenpeere- 
boom, the head of the Government. The scenes in the 
Chamber found their counterpart in the streets, and the 
threats of the Socialists pointed under a thin veil to revo- 
lutionary proceedings. It is unnecessary to go into the 
particulars of the discussions that attended the passing 
29 



Belgian Life 



into law of the system called proportional representation. 
It will suffice to describe here what it is as completing 
the electoral system of Belgium. The result of the 
plural vote having been to confirm the Catholic party's 
ascendency, to strengthen the Socialists who took the 
place in the Chamber of the Extreme Left, and to weaken 
the Liberals, it naturally followed that the last-named 
were eager for a change that would bring them nearer to 
the power they had enjoyed under the limited electorate 
down to 1884. The victory of proportional representa- 
tion was prepared by the application of the system to 
communal elections, and in 1 899-1 900 it was extended 
to the election of the national representatives. By this 
system Belgium was partitioned into a number of electoral 
districts, and each district has the number of its members 
apportioned in accordance with the total strength of each 
party or political programme in that district, As a rule, 
there are only the three chief parties, but the presence 
of Catholic-Democrats, or other factions, may raise the 
number to four, or even five. The number of seats held 
is divided by the number of parties or opposing candi- 
dates, and then distributed in the proportion of the total 
followers of each. The smallest minority, therefore, is 
sure of one seat. Sanguine Liberals predicted before- 
hand that this system would practically equalize parties, 
and estimated the strength of the Chamber to be returned 
in 1900 at 80 Catholics and 72 Liberals and Socialists 
combined, independent of the results in the 14 new seats 
created. Others thought it would make little or no change 
except to transfer some Socialist seats to the Liberals. The 
returns, including the 14 new seats, which raised the 
total of representatives to 166, gave the following as 
the strength of the three parties, after the first election 
under proportional representation held in May, 1900: 
— 95 Catholics, 35 Liberals, 34 Socialists, and two 
Catholic-Democrats. In that year there were 1,452,232 
voters, possessing 2,239,621 votes. 

If the Belgian Constitution, drafted in a time of great 
3° 



in Town and Country 

emergency, has only required modification in matters 
which the increase of population and the march of 
democratic ideas have brought up in every country, it is 
because it was based on the principles of a very compre- 
hensive and unfettered liberty. The hopes of 183 1 were 
more than fulfilled. In 1856, on the 25th anniversary of 
the formation of the kingdom of Belgium, it was declared 
that ' the King had neither violated one of its laws, nor 
assailed one of its liberties, nor given any legitimate 
cause of complaint to any of our fellow-citizens. In the 
midst of commotions which have shaken so many 
Governments, Belgium has remained faithfully attached 
to her prince, and to the institutions bestowed upon 
her.' Partly to the merits of her Constitution, partly to 
the tact of her first King, Belgium escaped the troubles 
of 1848. She has, indeed, had no serious internal 
troubles in the seventy odd years of her national history. 
The general strike of 1893 and the disorders of 1899, 
however disagreeable at the time, and perhaps ominous 
for the future, were merely passing incidents, not entitled 
to rank as grave national dangers. 

Latterly there has arisen a cloud on the horizon of 
Belgian political life in the Socialist party. Socialism is 
a spectre in other Continental States, and it was regarded 
with apprehension in Belgium long before there was a 
Socialist Deputy in the Chamber. Perhaps it was more 
dangerous before it could send thirty loud and angry 
voices to disturb the harmony of the Palace of the Nation. 
Its programme is still summed up in one phrase and one 
chief demand, the concession of the principle of universal 
suffrage. As, however, so much is said and written 
about the programme of the Socialists, and of the dangers 
that would follow from its realization, it may be as well 
to give a summary of its purport. In the first place, it 
demands universal suffrage for both sexes over twenty- 
one years of age; some of the Socialists have since 
modified their opinion on the enfranchisement of women 
and would abandon the female voting clause. The next 

3i 



Belgian Life 



claims are the abolition of the plural vote and of the 
Senate. So far the points are political. The social 
demands are more serious, viz. State support of all 
children attending schools; freedom of justice, the State 
to bear all costs ; salaries, the maxima and minima, 
as well as the hours of labour to be fixed by law and 
scheduled ; all mines and forests to be public property, 
and worked for the benefit of the people, etc., etc. This 
is the programme of the party led by M. Vandervelde, 
and as it is directed against the rights of property and 
capitalists it can easily be imagined how hateful the mere 
name of Socialist is to the moneyed classes. Curiously 
enough, M. Vandervelde, the Socialist leader, is a wealthy 
man himself and rather appreciative of the good things 
of this world. Some of his opponents have suggested 
that he should carry out his own theories by subdividing 
his property among his followers. 

All the Socialist programme, however, must not be 
pronounced shadowy and unattainable. A wise Con- 
servative administration would not delay in making 
concessions on reasonable points, such as the hours of 
labour, and by these concessions it would do much to 
remove existing dissatisfaction. With regard to the 
plural vote, it must be evident that it constitutes 
a system that cannot permanently endure. It was 
the temporary expedient of a society easily frightened 
by the raising of spectres, and it has secured a lull 
while men's minds become more reasonable and 
tranquil. How long it will continue in force no one 
can pretend to know, but the consideration that makes 
it impossible to regard it as a permanent feature in 
Belgium's political system is that it is based on distrust 
of the Belgian people themselves. The day must come 
when the Belgians, who enjoy so perfect an equality in 
most respects, will insist on their having also an equal 
power in voting. The very failure of proportional re- 
presentation to seriously diminish the Catholic majority, 
or even to shake its long-retained ascendency, makes 

32 



in Town and Country 



this result all the more certain, and brings the change 
nearer. 

Nevertheless, there is no immediate likelihood of the 
existing Chamber voting what it would consider its own 
destruction any more than there is of the Socialists gain- 
ing a majority at the elections under the present system. 
Things will go on in the present temporizing fashion 
until the opinion of the country has become formed as 
to fresh issues. The Socialists may never be able to 
put their programme into force ; but, on the other hand, 
they are prevented from abandoning it, because their 
followers would resent it as an act of treachery. They 
have attained political importance, partly by asserting 
the legitimate rights of labour, and partly by taking 
advantage of the deplorable ignorance of the masses who 
have supported them. What that ignorance is may be 
gathered from the incident that, when the troubles of 1893 
occurred, the mot tfordrew&s given out that the miners of 
the Borinage were to go into Charleroi to bring back 
Universal Suffrage. Accordingly, each woman provided 
herself with a bag or a basket, and when they reached 
Charleroi they replied, to those who asked them why they 
carried this article, that ' it was to bring back the S. U.' 

The recognized leaders of the Socialist party are 
Messrs. Vandervelde, Lorand, and Anseele. Of these 
M. Vandervelde, long considered the leading orator in 
the Chamber, has been already mentioned. That he is 
not devoid of caution was shown in 1899, when he 
arrested the development of the Socialist outbreak with 
the caustic remark that the revolvers of his followers 
would be of little avail against the Mausers of the Garde 
Civique. M. Lorand is a good debater, but as he is 
opposed to everything, he is a destructive and not a 
creative politician. M. Anseele is the most extreme of 
all the Socialist deputies. His harangues indicate the 
man of action rather than the orator. He has more of 
the stuff of a mob-leader, if acts were substituted for 
words, than either of his colleagues. 

33 D 



Belgian Life 



At the same time there are reasons for thinking that 
the worst danger from Socialism in Belgium has passed 
by, not because the Socialist programme has undergone 
any change, but because safeguards have been provided 
against its realization. These are of two kinds. In the 
Chamber itself the return of the Liberal party in con- 
siderably increased numbers, which places it on an 
equality with the Socialists, and with the addition of 
several new men of undoubted ability and promise, as the 
result of the 1900 election, has imposed some restraint on 
the Socialist members. The Liberals operate to some 
extent as a brake on the extreme violence of the most 
advanced section of the Chamber. The presence of gifted 
orators, such as M. Paul Hymans and M. Huojomans have 
proved themselves to be, imposes a limit to the authority 
of M. Vandervelde, whose influence through the fervour 
of his language was felt even by his opponents. The 
second safeguard is of a more definite character. In 
1892-3, when the outbreak of Socialism was most violent, 
the forces at the disposal of the authorities were insuf- 
ficient, and if its leaders had realized the weakness and 
unpreparedness of the Government at that moment a 
revolution might have been brought to a temporarily 
successful issue. Warned by this experience, the Govern- 
ment determined not to be caught napping again, and in 
the following year it organized the Garde Civique. This 
step was tantamount to arming the bourgeois class in its 
own self-defence. There is no doubt whatever that this 
body of armed citizens would, on any serious occasion 
arising, deal promptly and resolutely with all rioters in 
the chief cities. It may be compared to the force of 
special constables organized in London on any great 
emergency, with this important difference, that its 
members are armed with rifles and bayonets instead of 
staves. The recent addition to the army of 15,000 pro- 
fessional or long-service soldiers as volunteers will add 
greatly to the trustworthiness of the army in times of 
civil disturbance, and effectually dispel the growing 

34 



in Town and Country 

Socialist hope that the youthful conscripts would not fire 
upon them. 

It is safe to say, none the less, that the Belgian Con- 
stitution has answered its main object, which was to keep 
Flemings and Walloons joined together in one State, 
and to ensure that its form of government should be a 
hereditary monarchy. The country has been exceedingly 
fortunate in weathering both internal and external perils 
during three quarters of a century, and the one serious 
danger that has revealed itself from Socialism is less 
acute than it was a few years ago. The praise that has 
been lavished upon it by the public men of Belgium, read 
in the light of history, does not appear ill-deserved or ex- 
cessive. The revision of 1893-4 removed some doubtful 
points and added new clauses to meet fresh circumstances. 
Even if the laws applying to the discovery and manifesta- 
tion of public opinion have to be further modified at 
some future date, by the abolition of the plural vote and 
the adoption of universal suffrage, the Constitution 
would not need any alteration so long as Belgium remains 
' a constitutional and hereditary kingdom.' 



35 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER IV 

THE COURT AND SOCIETY 

The Court of Belgium, although it was created under 
what might almost be called popular influences, has 
established as severe an etiquette as exists at larger and 
older courts with historical associations and an inherited 
ceremonial. This tendency was certainly increased 
under the influence of the two successive queens, Marie 
Louise of the house of Orleans, and Marie Henriette of 
that of Hapsburg. The first King was a great upholder 
of the monarchical dignity, and, during a long period of 
his reign, showed it by keeping himself in a state of 
seclusion from his Ministers. He was never easily ac- 
cessible to any one. Such a charge cannot be brought 
against his son, King Leopold II., who is sometimes 
accused of being too easily accessible, because he wishes 
to see men with his own eyes, and to judge them and 
the public questions with which they are connected for 
himself. But, notwithstanding this personal condescen- 
sion, the regulation of Court ceremonial has been just as 
strict under the Second Leopold as under the First. 

The seat of the Belgian Court is the Palace of Brussels, 
facing the park, at the opposite extremity of which stand 
the ' Palais de la Nation ' and some of the Government 
offices. Despite its plain exterior, its interior is bright 
and attractive, and the throne-room is one of the finest 
in Europe. The palace was built in the middle of the 
eighteenth century by the Austrian Archduchess Marie 

36 



;^ 



1 

■i 






i 




BRUSSELS — THE MAISON DU ROI. 



in Town and Country 

Christine. The old palace of Brussels, known either as 
the Castle of Caudenberg or as the Palace of Brabant, in 
which the Duchess of Parma received the celebrated 
Protest of the Beggars, was destroyed by fire in 1731. 
It occupied the ground now covered by the Place Royale, 
and its extensive grounds included the site of the present 
palace, the park, and much of the boulevards. Prince 
Charles of Lorraine, during his long governorship, resided 
in the Palais de Nassau, the residence of William of 
Orange, which has now been converted into the record 
office, library, and museum of modern pictures. During 
the Dutch regime the present Palace of Brussels was occu- 
pied by the Prince of Orange. At present the palace is 
flanked on one side by the somewhat unsightly building 
which was formerly the residence of the D'Assche family, 
but which is now used as the office of the Civil List, the 
rooms and stables of the guard intervening between 
the two buildings. At the other end of the facade is 
the Hotel Bellevue, the proximity of which is certainly 
incongruous with the dignity of a palace. It was con- 
structed at the same time as the palace under a favourable 
lease, granted by the Empress Maria Theresa, and in 
external aspect harmonizes with the palace. An ar- 
rangement for the acquisition of this hotel has recently 
been made on behalf of the King of the Belgians. It 
has thus become possible to extend the front of the 
palace from the old Hotel d'Assche to the corner of 
the Rue Royale, which will allow of the expansion of 
the existing palace into one of the finest royal residences 
in Europe. A law was passed in the summer of 1903 
for the necessary appropriation of land, including a 
portion of the Park. 

The Brussels palace is used as the official headquarters 
of the Sovereign, rather than as a residence for the King. 
The Court receptions at the New Year, and all Royal 
banquets or other entertainments, are held there, and the 
official work of the King, in his dual capacity of Belgian 
ruler and Sovereign of the Congo State, is performed in 
37 



Belgian Life 



this building. The Court officials — the Court Grand 
Marshal, the King's Private Secretary, and .the Superin- 
tendent of the Civil List — are also located in the palace. 
But the residence of the Royal Family is at the chateau of 
Laeken, which lies in a fine park to the north of Brussels, 
and about four miles from the palace. The old chateau , 
which was a favourite residence of the First Napoleon, 
and which was made historically famous as the place 
from which he dated the order for the Russian campaign, 
was destroyed by fire in 1889, though it was soon rebuilt 
on the same spot. Laeken is more remarkable for its 
orangery and glass-houses than for the chateau itself, 
although the new additions to the main building may in 
a few years alter this description. In the lifetime of the 
late Queen of the Belgians, the two garden-parties given 
at Laeken always marked the close of the Brussels season. 
One of the most popular excursions of the Brussels 
citizens at the end of the summer is the visit to the 
Laeken conservatories and gardens, which are opened 
to the public for a certain number of days after the 
Court has gone into the country to Spa or Ostend. There 
are reports that it is proposed to add considerably to the 
size of the chateau at Laeken, but its charm will always 
be its rural position on the verge of a great city. 

Other Royal residences in Belgium are the Royal chalet 
at Ostend, the late Queen's villa at Spa, and the chateau 
of Ciergnon. Of these only the first is in regular use, 
and it is the King's favourite summer residence. The 
villa at Spa was left by the Queen to the controller of 
her household, and has ceased to be a Royal residence. 
A new Royal residence is being built at Ostend, and when 
it is completed the old chalet will be devoted to some 
public use. The chateau of Ciergnon, beautifully situated 
on the Lesse, has not been occupied for many years, but 
its situation in close proximity to the Royal preserves at 
Villers will make it a favourite residence again whenever 
the Sovereign happens to be fond of sport. The present 
King, unlike his father, has never taken any interest in 

3* 



in Town and Country 

covert or any other shooting. The Comte de Flandre, 
the King's only brother, has a fine palace in the Rue de 
la Regence, facing the Gallery of Old Masters, and also 
the Chateau des Amerois, with large coverts and wild 
boar shooting, in the Ardennes, close to the French 
frontier. His son, Prince Albert, heir-presumptive to 
the Belgian throne, occupies a house in one of the 
fashionable squares, and has latterly used Ciergnon as a 
country seat. 

Society in Brussels is divided into several clearly dis- 
tinguishable groups. There are, first of all, the few 
representatives left of the old Netherlands nobility, with 
their pedigrees and papers dating back to the Crusades 
and the founding of the order of the Golden Fleece in 
the Burgundian epoch. These families, restricting the 
list to those who have preserved their ancient importance, 
are those of De Ligne, D'Arenberg, Chimay, Croy, 
Merode, D'Assche, and Lalaing. Of these families Be 
Ligne and D'Arenberg are more Austrian in the first 
case and German in the second than Belgian. The 
Prince de Ligne maintains a house in Brussels, the 
famous park at Beloeil, which is the cradle of his race, 
and a chateau de chasse in the Ardennes ; but his palace 
is in Vienna, and his titles and honours are Imperial and 
Austrian. The Duke D'Arenberg represents in the 
female line the German family of his name, also a branch 
of the Croys, and still a third of the De La Marcks of 
the Ardennes, but in the male line he is a De Ligne. His 
favourite residences are in Germany, and his chief func- 
tions are those of an officer of the Garde du Corps. But 
he still keeps up a country place at Aerschot, and his 
residence at Brussels is the most famous private hotel or 
palace in the city, and was formerly well known to 
tourists for its picture gallery, but this has lately been 
removed to Germany. The Hotel D'Arenberg stands 
above the little square called the Petit Sablon. It is 
surrounded for the greater part by a high wall, which 
effectually conceals its extensive and well-wooded garden, 

39 



Belgian Life 



in which there are several ponds. Part of the old building 
was destroyed in the fire of 1889, but the wing then 
saved, which represented the residence of the famous 
and splendour-loving Count Egmont, has lately been 
demolished and rebuilt. A little further up the Rue 
des Petits Carmes was the Hotel Culembourg, in which 
the famous Oath of the Beggars was taken in 1566. 
It has long been demolished, and the new barracks of 
the Grenadiers now stand on the spot which was formerly 
occupied by a convent, and afterwards by a prison. 
There have of late years been repeated rumours that 
the present Duke D'Arenberg contemplates selling his 
Brussels residence to the town, which is desirous of 
making some improvements in this quarter. It is pro- 
bable that sooner or later this scheme will be carried 
out. 

The five other families in the list are more exclusively 
Belgian than the two great houses just named, which 
have their seats in other countries as well. They have 
not merely their estates in the country, but the careers 
of many of the scions of these families lie in its public 
service. They have held all the chief posts in the 
Government or the diplomatic service of the country. 
A Count de Merode has been Prime Minister, and 
his grandfather was put forward as eligible for the 
office of first Belgian King or President in 1830. 
Prince de Carignan-Chimay was long Foreign Minister ; 
and Count de Lalaing has just been appointed Minister 
in London. Others have proved that they are worthy 
descendants of the men whose names figured in the first 
list of the Golden Fleece. This small and exclusive set 
stands at the head of Belgian society. 

Other clear social divisions are composed of the 
officials, the haute finance, literature, and artists. Political 
personages enjoy no special consideration socially on 
account of their being members of the Legislature : in- 
deed, it is rather the reverse. The majority of them are 
regarded as persons requiring or seeking emolument; 

40 



in Town and Country 

those whose material prosperity is beyond doubt are held 
in some way to diminish their own importance by be- 
coming Deputies. There are, of course, a few exceptions 
to this rule, as, for instance, in the case of M. Woeste, 
who is regarded by the Catholic party as sacrificing his 
own convenience for the benefit of the cause. These 
remarks do not apply either to the Senators, who are 
unpaid, conduct their proceedings in a dignified manner, 
and have comparatively little legislative work to occupy 
their time and attention. 

It is very different with the permanent officials of the 
great departments. Employment in the Cabinets or 
Secretariats of the chief offices is much sought for, and 
considerable social influence and position are needed to 
obtain admission into them. The permanent officials of 
Brussels are, therefore, a highly representative class, and 
contain in their ranks some of the best ability in the 
country. A leading English statesman once declared 
that the real rulers of England were the permanent 
officials. This remark might be applied with equal force 
to Belgium, in the sense that the officials, if not rulers, 
are the directors and manipulators of the Administration. 
An official who has risen to be head of a department has 
therefore a recognized place in society, and is often a 
welcome guest in the most exclusive set, where the finan- 
cial magnate could never gain admission. It is certainly 
curious and not easily to be explained why this is so, but 
there is no disputing the fact that the bureaucrat occupies 
a superior place in the social scale to members of the 
bar and men of letters or art. The explanation is perhaps 
to be found in the wish to know what is going on, and 
the permanent official is supposed to be the depository 
of many secrets. But it is none the less the fact that, as 
an observant foreign member of the corps diplomatique at 
Brussels once said to the present writer, ' At the dinners 
of the most exclusive families there will always be one 
official.' 

Members of the bar, judges, and officers of the army, 
4i 



Belgian Life 



as such, do not by virtue of their rank command the 
recognition that they receive in other countries. This 
is equally true of writers, artists, and musicians. The 
Belgians are not great readers, and perhaps this explains 
why literature as a profession does not stand as high in 
their estimation as it ought to do. Music and painting 
are far more appreciated, and Belgians will even get 
enthusiastic about the works of their compatriots in these 
arts when the prose of the most graceful writer is practi- 
cally ignored outside his own comparatively small circle. 
But the painter or musician, however admired and 
appreciated, does not effect an entrance into society by 
right of his talent. As the consequence of this the 
successful painter generally quits Brussels for Paris, 
where all doors are opened to him, and the successful 
musician becomes cosmopolitan, spending the greater 
portion of his year in the capitals of Europe and even 
of America. 

The members of the haute finance form another set, or 
almost a colony, in the Belgian capital. Some of the 
largest fortunes in Europe commenced in a very small 
and humble way at Brussels. The threads of many 
important undertakings might be traced to a single reel 
in that city. Some of the finest houses on the boulevards 
and in the avenues are occupied by men whose names 
are pillars of strength in the stock exchanges of Europe. 
The majority of these financiers are Jews, not Belgians, 
and their predominance in the world of finance almost 
revives the time in the great age of Flemish prosperity, 
when ' only Jews and Lombards were allowed to deal in 
money.' As Belgium is essentially a business country, 
it naturally follows that the financial magnates of 
Brussels stand high in society. Their establishments are 
the best appointed, their carriages and horses are the 
most showy, and their dinners and entertainments the 
choicest and most sought after in Brussels. Their in- 
fluence is the greatest in the land — greater than that of 
the permanent officials, whose means are limited. But 

42 



in Town and Country 

there are some circles into which all their wealth will not 
gain them admission, and among the mass of the bour- 
geois classes there is felt for them a strong and increasing 
dislike, which may one day develop dangerous tendencies. 
It is quite a common complaint to hear Belgian journa- 
lists and politicians declare that their country is being 
exploited by the Jews. There is, of course, no real 
truth in this assertion, but certainly the Jews are not 
popular among the Catholics. 

In addition to Brussels society, the three important 
cities Antwerp, Liege, and Ghent have social sets of 
their own, each marked by special features and charac- 
teristics. At Antwerp the rich merchants who inhabit 
the fine mansions along the avenues that have been laid 
out over the site of the old enceinte entertain hospitably, 
and give the tone to the life and fashion of the place. 
The society is mainly Flemish, and employs that language 
in familiar conversation. At Ghent and Liege the social 
magnates are manufacturers rather than merchants. At 
Ghent, where society is more exclusively Flemish than at 
Antwerp, there are still to be seen the residences of some 
of the old Flemish families which constituted the civic 
nobility of the cities of Flanders, and in which the digni- 
ties of sheriff and burgomaster had become hereditary. 
The governors of the Flemish provinces are carefully 
selected from their ranks, and such names as Liedekerke, 
Ryhove, and Van Kerckove preserve to the present age 
families that were prominent in the days of the Arteveldes. 
At Liege society is just as pronounced from the Walloon 
point of view. Here French is the language of society, 
and Flemish is never heard. The great source of wealth 
is manufacture, and the workshops which have turned 
Seraing and Liege itself into a vast congeries of chimneys 
and furnaces support a considerable society in a state of 
luxury. At Liege, unlike Ghent and Antwerp, a large 
number of the wealthy residents have villas and country 
houses outside the city, and consequently the streets of 
Lidge do not present long rows of fine houses as at 

43 



Belgian Life 



Antwerp. On the other hand, the surrounding hills 
which make the Liege panorama so fine are dotted at 
frequent intervals with fine suburban residences in charm- 
ing gardens. The prosperity of Liege is in no way 
behind its western rivals, and Walloon society is quite 
as gay and hospitable as that of Flanders. It is said, 
however, that there is an increasing tendency among 
those who have made their fortunes or who have retired 
from the active direction of their business concerns to 
migrate to Brussels, and to settle down in the capital, 
where the attractions are undeniably greater. 

Speaking generally, society throughout Belgium is con- 
trolled by local considerations, and is even in the capital 
not comprehensive of several sections of the community. 
Class keeps to class, profession to profession, interest to 
interest. There is the society of Brussels, which is partly 
noble, partly official, and partly financial. It has not yet 
assimilated literary, artistic, or even political elements. 
In the other great cities it is exclusively commercial and 
industrial. The Court life of Brussels is not of sufficient 
activity to provide an instrument for the fusion of classes. 
The occasions when the palace opens its doors are few. 
The formal receptions show the invited in groups, and in 
groups they remain. The State banquets are given to 
definite bodies — the Senate or the Chamber. The less 
formal dinners have as their motive some business nego- 
tiation, or the discussion of an external question, which 
may relate to a railway in Africa or a concession in 
China. 

On the whole, however, society in Brussels manages to 
enjoy itself, and if the vie i?itime is simpler than in London 
or Paris, the social intercourse is on a sufficiently active 
scale to make the Brussels season a very gay one. It 
commences with the close of autumn and the return of 
the families from their holidays at the seaside or the 
country. A country trip, whether it lasts for three months, 
as with the leisured class, or for only a fortnight, as with 
the well-to-do shopkeeper, is regarded as an indispensable 

44 



in Town and Country 

condition of existence. All have returned by November, 
and the opera season has begun a month earlier, and 
continues until the following June. Lent imposes a 
break on the round of festivities, and the very wealthy 
flit to the Riviera or the Cote d'Azur, as it is generally 
called in Belgium. After Easter the season reopens with 
renewed fervour for a short period. The drives down 
the Avenue Louise to the Bois de la Cambre, the gallops 
round the sinuous tracks made for horsemen between the 
alleys of lofty limes and sycamores, become more crowded, 
and are often continued further afield through the forest 
of Soignies to Groenendael or Tervueren. Of late years 
horse-racing has taken a firm hold on the public fancy, 
and the race-meetings in the Bois are frequented as much 
by the populace, which goes there by train or tram, as 
by society, which has its own carriages and motor-cars. 
The popularity of the race-meeting, which was at first 
looked at askance by society, furnishes evidence of the 
scarcity of outdoor amusements. As the summer advances 
the outdoor concerts of the Vauxhall Gardens, which 
form part of the park, are substituted for the opera, and 
for the good people of Brussels, unable to prolong their 
villegiature beyond a fixed period, they provide an agree- 
able and never-failing attraction. Society has taken up 
in turn croquet, lawn-tennis, and ping-pong; but as its 
most favourite role is to find amusement without exertion, 
these games have only a fleeting vogue and success. 



45 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER V 

BURGHER LIFE IN BRUSSELS 

The typical life of the Belgian people is perhaps to be 
found best revealed in the household of the Brussels 
citizen. Leaving aside the very small stratum of what 
may be called Society, the mode of life among the great 
body of citizens, above the working classes, is very 
much the same, notwithstanding differences of income, 
occupation, and education. Whether the head of the 
household be a lawyer or a trader, a manufacturer 
or a shopkeeper, who is well enough off to live away 
from his shop, there is less class difference, so far as 
the daily routine of life goes, than would be found in 
any other European community. The explanation is, 
that at heart the Belgians are a simple people, whose 
chief characteristic, strengthened by harsh experience 
for many generations, is thrift. There is a complete 
absence of all ostentatious display. It would be as 
impossible to estimate a man's income from the interior 
of his house as it would be to assign his profession or 
business from his appearance in the street. This appear- 
ance of equality is very largely due to the two not 
disconnected facts, that the first object with every 
Brussels citizen is to become proprietor of his own house, 
and that the houses of Brussels are built very much 
after the same pattern. This, of course, does not apply 
to the fashionable boulevards or the Avenue Louise, 
but in all the by-streets and suburbs now spreading 

46 



in Town and Country 



out in every direction, houses are being run up, lofty 
and narrow, all seemingly fashioned by the same archi- 
tect. The Belgians have an aversion to being mere 
tenants, regarding the payment of rent as so much loss 
of money ; and a house, or the money to purchase one, 
is considered the best kind of dot that a young woman 
can bring to her husband. The price of a house con- 
taining seven rooms, besides kitchen, runs from a thousand 
pounds in the fashionable suburbs like St. Gilles, to 
five hundred in the outer suburbs like Etterbeck. There 
is, in addition, a tax of ten per cent, payable to the 
commune, with a share to the State, on the conclusion 
of the purchase. Having paid the price, the proprietor 
is practically relieved from all annual payments, for 
the taxes to the commune are exceedingly low, and do 
not amount to more than six per cent, on the estimated 
rent, which is about one-eleventh of the purchase sum. 
Ten per cent, will pay the commune, the supply of 
water, and that of gas as well, and for this reason 
Brussels has been called the paradise of the small 
householder. There is no doubt that the free possession 
of a house lies at the root of the Belgian citizen's 
comfort, and explains how, with a very small income, 
he can occupy a decent house which externally does 
not differ materially from one the occupant of which 
may have ten times his income. 

It is only on entering these houses that some idea can 
be formed of the status of the occupant. Among those 
families whose income is not in proportion to the 
exterior of their residence, the interior will reveal the 
fact by its bareness and absence of decoration, whereas 
those who are comfortably off will expend large sums 
on painting and gilding. The Belgians are noted for 
their good taste in the way they decorate the inside 
of their houses, and as the house is really theirs, they 
do not mind spending very considerable sums in this 
way. It is the same with the furniture, which is always 
as good as the owner can afford in the reception-rooms. 

47 



Belgian Life 



Every Belgian house has what may be called its show- 
rooms, and their contents will give the clue at once 
to the degree of prosperity the family has attained. 
There may be a thousand pounds' worth of furniture 
and objets (Fart in the room, or there may be only ten 
pounds' worth. In either case it is the best that the 
owner can show. 

There is one thing that these rooms have in common, 
no matter what the position of the occupant, and that 
is the air of being rarely used. It is more like the 
model-room into which the furniture provider invites 
his customer for the purpose of deciding the style in 
which he proposes to furnish, than an actual living-room. 
The Belgian's first investment is to buy his house, and 
his second is to lay in a stock of furniture. As both 
are intended not merely to last a lifetime, but to be 
handed down in the family, the most scrupulous care 
is taken of every article. A shade of anxiety may be 
traced on the worthy owner's face if a visitor moves in 
a chair or brushes past a table. Sometimes these good 
people let off a floor, often to English visitors, with the 
view of saving something for a holiday, or through some 
needed economy ; and if the rooms are well furnished, 
the urgent request is made not to spoil the furniture 
('z'/ tie faut pas alnmer les tumbles'), I knew of a case 
where the iteration of this injunction became so irksome 
that the English tenants left twenty-four hours after 
entry, because they were afraid to sit on the chairs. 

Into the regular living-rooms no stranger is allowed to 
penetrate, but the casual opportunities afforded during 
long residence in the country enable one to see that 
they are very bare and plain. As a rule, the dining- 
room is in close proximity to the kitchen, so that the 
necessary domestic service is reduced to a minimum. 
There is, of course, in most houses a dining-room 
upstairs, but this is only used on the very rare occasions 
when an entertainment of some sort is given. The 
Belgians are not prone to the display of much hospitality 



in Town and Country 



among themselves. They do not dine often at one 
another's houses. The members of the same family 
meet occasionally, but, as a rule, their dinners in common 
are to celebrate some family event, such as a marriage, 
or an engagement, or a first communion. The case is 
practically unknown of taking a friend home to have 
'pot-luck.' To do so would seriously disconcert the 
lady of the house, who is probably in neglige until she 
goes for her afternoon promenade. 

The life of the house, like the life of the whole 
country, begins at an early hour. By eight o'clock, probably 
every family in Brussels will have finished their break- 
fast, and if they are near the markets in the lower town 
or in the communes, each of which has its market, they 
will have purchased their provisions as well. This early 
rising is indispensable, as all the offices, and in fact the 
whole business of the city, commence at nine punctually. 
This means that the person engaged must leave his 
house between eight and half-past, in accordance with 
the distance he has to travel ; but as there are electric 
trams now in all directions, the journey, from even the 
outer suburbs, can generally be accomplished with much 
rapidity. The Belgians take only a light breakfast, which 
is almost universally cafe mi lait, rolls and butter ; but of 
late years the doctors have been recommending a more 
substantial meal after the English fashion. Those who 
are not too pressed in the morning by their occupations 
are now adding to their breakfast one or two dishes, but 
such luxuries, as they are called, are taken by but a very 
small number of persons. 

The offices close at twelve, and all business is stopped 
at that hour for the purpose of dining. The men, who 
have rushed off in the morning to be at their posts 
in good time, rush back to their houses at a still greater 
speed to enjoy the chief meal of the day. By this time 
the stimulating effect of the morning coffee has long 
worn off, and the bread-winners are simply faint and 
famishing. It is perilous to protract an interview with 

49 e 



Belgian Life 



a Belgian official when the clock hand points to ten 
minutes to twelve. Politeness will scarcely prevent his 
displaying the anxiety and displeasure with which he 
begins to apprehend that some minutes of his cherished 
two hours are going to be poached from him. The best 
business in the country is done before eleven o'clock in 
the morning. After that hour it is no exaggeration to say 
that the needs of exhausted nature begin to assert them- 
selves. 

The midday meal, which commences, as a general 
rule, at half-past twelve, is the most substantial of the 
whole day. It is always a hot repast and always 
opens with a soup. The Belgians are hearty, not to 
say great, eaters, and it takes a good hour to allay their 
hunger. The general drink is beer — wine is drunk rarely 
and sparingly — and a cup of black coffee is taken at the 
end as a digestive rather than as a stimulant, and then 
the journey is made back to the office or business, which 
resumes work at two o'clock. The work of the afternoon 
is done more leisurely than that of the morning, and 
chiefly consists of the correspondence resulting out of 
the transactions of the morning. The offices work late, 
always till six, and often till seven or after. Then the more 
or less w T eary toiler returns home to his supper, which is a 
simple meal, probably the remains of the dinner, assisted 
with something purchased on the way back from a 
cfiarcutier. Having to get up so early, the Brussels 
citizen goes to bed in good time. Very soon after nine 
o'clock all the lights will be out in the ordinary house- 
hold five nights out of the seven. The Belgian is not a 
reader ; the morning and evening newspapers satisfy 
all his wants in that direction; hence there is nothing 
to keep him from his w T ell-earned repose. 

The life au restaurant is a far less marked feature in 
Brussels than in Paris. It is rather expensive, even at 
the cheapest restaurants, and the family man will only 
indulge in it occasionally. Those whose work lies in the 
lower town, where the bourse and business offices are, 

5° 



in Town and Country 

sometimes are obliged to take their dinner in one of 
the numerous second-class restaurants off the Boulevard 
Anspach. In any of these a hot plat, with beer and 
coffee afterwards, can be obtained for a franc and a half. 
In the same quarter of the town, but chiefly round the 
Grand Place and the square of the Monnaie theatre, 
are some of the first restaurants in the city : the Filet 
de Sole, the Riche, the Etoile, no longer what it was 
in the reign of M. Dot, the Gigot de Mouton, etc. 
These are not so well known to the tourist as those 
in the upper town, e.g. Freres Provencaux, Regence, 
Globe, and Strobbe, the last-named in the Avenue 
Louise. Fashion and excellence vary, suddenly and 
without apparent reason ; but perhaps the best cooking 
in Brussels is now to be had at the Filet de Sole and 
the Provencaux, while at the Globe, which is far less 
expensive than either, the cuisine is surprisingly good. 
But if the Brussels paterfamilias does not habitually 
patronize the restaurant, he makes a great effort to dine 
out on Sunday evening, and to take the grown-up 
members of his family with him. He may not, in the 
majority of cases, be able to do this more than once a 
month, but during the summer he will probably patronize 
every week one or other of the cafes encircling the 
Bois de la Cambre, and take his Sunday supper with his 
family al fresco. Even if the repast is limited to one 
dish for himself and his wife, and tartines or gauffres 
for the children, he will sit there the whole evening 
drinking not immoderately light beer, such as gueuze 
lambeck or bock. It is a significant indication of the 
prevalence of the same views of life throughout the 
nation, that while the humble citizen is enjoying himself in 
the less pretentious cafes, Society is doing very much the 
same thing on the terrace of the fashionable Laiterie in 
the Bois, or farther off at Groenendael, which is reached 
by a delightful drive through part of the old forest of 
Soignies. Then the concerts given in the Vauxhall 
Gardens by the orchestra of the opera are an additional 

5i 



Belgian Life 



attraction, and on Sundays in particular bring together a 
large audience outside the enclosure. To get an idea of 
the real life of Brussels, one must go about the boule- 
vards and to the popular resorts on Sunday evenings. 
Then the people can be seen enjoying themselves in their 
own quiet, undemonstrative way, and if there is some 
music going on their contentment is complete. A band 
is maintained by the municipality, and plays daily in the 
park facing the palace. Military bands also play there 
occasionally, and in the Bois. The band of the regiment 
of Guides is first-rate and has been heard in London 
and Paris. 

One of the most marked predilections of the Belgian 
character is his enthusiasm for music. Most nations are 
ruled by laws, but it would be easier to govern the 
Belgians by music. Every commune, not merely in 
Brussels but throughout Belgium, has its band or 
sytnphonie, and most of those of any size or importance 
have two, for politics come into the question. There will 
be the Catholic Band and the Liberal Band, and even 
the Socialists — with a programme destructive of every- 
thing else that is national — conform to the popular 
feeling, and march to the sound of drums and trumpets. 
The chief or at least the most frequent occasion for the 
public appearance of these bands is for the funeral of some 
old or prominent resident, when the symphonie commwiale 
will attend and lead the procession to the strains of the 
Dead March. But in their own halls they always give 
one or two concerts in the course of the year. 

Bearing in mind this trait, it is not surprising that the 
opera is exceedingly popular. The Theatre de la 
Monnaie is an opera house, not a theatre, and is noted 
for the excellence of its orchestra and general manage- 
ment. It has a remarkably long season, beginning in 
October and going on without interruption to May. A 
very fair company is attached to the theatre, and occa- 
sionally singers with a European reputation are engaged 
for a time. This is especially the case after Easter. 

52 



in Town and Country 

Formerly, debutantes of exceptional promise rather 
inclined to the Monnaie as the scene for their first 
appearance, because they might feel sure that, if they 
had the least claim to merit, the appreciative Brussels 
audience would give them a cordial greeting; and in 
the event of failure none would be more indulgent. 

Brussels is well known in the musical world for its 
excellent College of Music, and, indeed, the facilities for 
studying music in all its branches are great, and to be 
enjoyed at a very reasonable charge, any Belgian 
student of promise paying nothing at all. For this 
reason many English and other foreign families take 
up their residence in Brussels and send their sons or 
daughters to the Conservatoire, in the Rue de la Regence, 
where they have to pay only eight pounds a year. This 
institution enjoys a State subsidy, and is more or less 
under State direction, showing that the Government 
recognizes the important place music has in the estima- 
tion of the public. The concerts given by the students 
at the end of each term, in connexion with the distribu- 
tion of prizes, are attended by great crowds. Owing to 
the large number of persons interested, tickets are only 
distributed to the relatives of the students attending the 
college. A large number of Conservatoire certificate- 
holders have become subsequently famous in the ranks 
of musicians and singers. Concerts are given occasion- 
ally by Mons. Ysaye and other well-known performers 
at the Salle d'Harmonie, at the bottom of the Montagne 
de la Cour; and when that hall is too small for the 
audience expected, in the large theatre called the Alham- 
bra. There is not a house exclusively reserved for light 
opera in Brussels, but the Monnaie has of late years 
somewhat extended its programme from its old restricted 
cultivation of the grand opera. 

There are a considerable number of theatres in Brussels, 
but not one that could be singled out as the theatre par 
excellence of the city. A national theatre is, indeed, a 
conspicuous want in the capital of Belgium, and it is 

53 



Belgian Life 



surprising that the State, which looks after most things, 
has never thought of supplying one. In the upper town 
there are only two theatres, both very small, viz. the 
Pare, which is the most fashionable, and the Moliere, 
near the Porte de Namur. In the lower town there are 
half a dozen or more, none very distinguished, and all 
devoted to light comedy. The drama is sometimes 
to be seen at the Alhambra, and the Flemings have a 
theatre of their own, in which a play of the great days 
of old, like Thys van Uylenspiegd, sometimes creates a 
sensation. As a rule, the theatres arouse but languid 
interest, if compared with the opera, unless the latest 
Paris success flits northward to amuse and attract the 
Belgians for a short spell. 

One of the most striking features of Brussels is the 
long avenue, bordered with two rows of noble lime 
trees, which forms the centre of the boulevard in the 
upper town, forming a half-circle, from the top of the 
Jardin Botanique to the Porte de Hal. These trees were 
planted by Prince Charles of Lorraine, in the middle 
of the eighteenth century. At that time the old walls 
of the town followed the same curve as, and imme- 
diately beyond, this avenue. After the war of indepen- 
dence the walls were demolished and several new 
quarters were constructed, such as the fine Rue de la Loi, 
and the Quartier Leopold. Less than thirty years ago 
the Avenue Louise was completed with its promenade 
of one mile and a half under limes and chestnuts, its 
ride for the same distance, and the broad carriage drive 
between. Part of the roadway is occupied by the 
electric tram-line. The avenue is bordered on each side 
by fine modern houses, many of them in a blue grained 
stone, which is very effective. Although these houses 
are quite modem, and contain many improvements which 
are not to be found in the houses of the older quarters 
of the town, the Quartier Louise is not so fashionable 
as the Quartier Leopold, On the other hand, the 
former contains the bulk of the English colony, and its 

54 



in Town and Country 



fine gravel soil adds greatly to its reputation for healthi- 
ness. The Avenue Louise terminates at the entrance 
to the Bois, and it runs in a southerly direction, parallel 
with the road that leads to Waterloo. Within the 
last six years another fine avenue has been laid out in 
an easterly direction to the Park of Tervueren. This 
avenue is really a prolongation of the Rue de la Loi, 
beyond the grounds of the Cinquantenaire, where the 
last exhibition was held. It is about six miles long, 
and a large number of handsome houses have been 
constructed for a considerable distance along the 
route. When all the arrangements have been completed, 
it will be one of the finest drives in Brussels. There 
is an electric tramway along the avenue to Tervueren, 
which was once a Royal park. It is now occupied by 
the Congo Museum, and excursions there are very 
popular. There are some fine woods and several large 
lakes in the grounds. The old castle of Tervueren was 
the country seat of the Dukes of Brabant, and in the 
Abbey Church hard by many of them were buried. 
Halfway the route is intersected by the road to Groe- 
nendael, which eventually arrives at the village of 
Waterloo. 

For a city which, with its suburbs, contains not much 
over half a million people, Brussels covers an immense 
extent of ground, and as the tendency of the inhabitants 
is to move out into the suburbs, a rapid and cheap means 
of conveyance is absolutely essential. This has been 
provided in the admirable service of electric trams which 
run in all directions. Without these it would be quite 
impossible for so large a number of the Brussels popula- 
tion to live at a distance of three or four miles, and even 
more, from their work. No one who has enjoyed the 
facilities of getting about in Brussels can have failed to 
regret that London has not been provided with some 
similar means of locomotion. Insular prejudice has 
kept the antiquated horse-bus on the streets for twenty 
years after the introduction of the electric tram on the 

55 



Belgian Life 



Continent ; and even now that a change is practically 
decided, the prejudice against laying down a tram-line 
in the streets is so great that motor-omnibuses are to be 
allowed to pursue their independent tracks at the discre- 
tion of their drivers — expert or inexpert, cool or nervous 
— through the crowded thoroughfares of London, in- 
stead of adopting the simplest and safest system. The 
Brussels trams work in a regular fashion, without inter- 
fering in the least with the vehicular traffic. The driver 
keeps his finger incessantly on the alarum-bell, and at 
first the continuous noise offends the ear, especially in 
the more narrow streets ; but this soon passes off, and the 
' kling-ting ' of the tram-car attracts no more notice than 
the jar of the omnibus along the roads at home. Indeed, 
the noise of a heavy waggon on the paved streets is far 
greater and more difficult to get accustomed to. I re- 
member when I first went to Brussels saying to a Belgian 
gentleman that the Brussels streets were very noisy, 
whereupon he rejoined : ' And so are London streets.' 
It seemed to me at the time that he was quite mistaken, 
and even that he had said something absurd ; but when 
I returned to London some months later, I found the 
noise far worse than the noisiest Brussels street, which 
is evidence in its way of how thoroughly one gets 
accustomed to whatever goes on around. 

The main electric tram-line in Brussels is that which 
connects the Northern and Southern railway-stations by 
the upper boulevards. These stations are on the same level, 
and between them run the broad boulevards of Anspach 
and Hainaut. By this direct road, paved with asphalt, 
the distance is about one mile and a half; whereas by 
the route followed it is over five miles. At the Porte de 
Namur and the Porte Louise there are cross routes, both 
starting from Schaerbeek, and proceeding to either the 
Bois or to Uccle, a suburb at the end of the Chaussee de 
Charleroi. One of these routes passes in front of the 
King's Palace, while the other continues across the 
Place Royale, down the Rue de la Regence to the Palais 

56 



in Town and Country 

de Justice, and then up the Avenue Louise. Among 
other important lines may be mentioned that down the 
Rue de la Loi to the Cinquantenaire, and the line starting 
at the back of the Chambers for Tervueren. There is 
another line by the Chaussee of Waterloo to a point not 
far from that village which is, however, four miles from 
the Lion. Besides these regular tramways there are still 
some horse-omnibus routes, a few running along rails, 
between the upper and lower towns, as well as along the 
lower boulevards; but during the summer of 1903 an 
electric tram was laid between the two stations, and 
continued to Laeken. The tram-lines are admirably 
managed, and the fares are cheap. Each carriage is 
divided into two compartments — first- and second-class — 
and the platform at each end is also used for passengers. 
There is a driver and a ticket-collector to each car ; but 
when the train is made up of two carriages, as is 
generally the case, there is only one driver. The fare in 
the first-class is only a halfpenny more than the second, 
and threepence will take one from the Bois to either of 
the chief stations. The tram-cars have fixed stopping- 
posts • but there are numerous arrets facultatifs which it 
takes some time, however, for the stranger to discover. 
The only drawback is that the platforms, especially in 
fine weather, are often so crowded as to make it difficult 
for fresh arrivals to get on to the tram or into the interior, 
which may be empty. The Belgian passengers are not 
very active in making way — it is not intentional rudeness 
— and sometimes there is a little more hustling than is 
pleasant or necessary. But anything of this nature in 
Brussels pales into insignific ance beside the free-fight for 
a seat on a London omnibus at a crowded hour of the 
day. 

The extreme facility for getting about in Brussels 
by means of the trams is one of its chief attractions as 
a place of residence. As has been said, it is the main 
cause why the suburbs are spreading far out in every direc- 
tion, so that there are now streets of houses leading to 

57 



Belgian Life 



places that only a few years ago were primitive country 
villages. It is one of the privileges of the Belgian 
citizen that he can generally fix his home in a suburb 
which is almost the country, and where he can have his 
vegetable garden and his poultry. 



58 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER VI 

THE COMMERCIAL CLASSES OF ANTWERP 

To a very great extent, the prosperity of Belgium is 
revealed in the commercial activity of Antwerp, and the 
commercial classes of that city form a community which 
more nearly resembles our own than any other in 
Belgium. The pursuit of over-sea commerce has broad- 
ened the view of the merchants and shippers of the great 
port on the Scheldt, and there is less of the communal, 
or as we should say parochial, spirit about them than any 
other section of the Belgian people. They are stationed 
at Belgium's window to the outer world, and they realize 
better than the rest of their countrymen the precise place 
filled in it by their small country. They know, for instance, 
that the affairs of this planet are not bound up in the 
petty questions that engross the attention of professional 
politicians in the Rue de la Loi. Consequently they 
keep aloof from politics and concentrate their energies 
on making money. 

Of all the cities of Belgium there is not one with a 
more interesting past, or a more prosperous present, than 
Antwerp. When Bruges lost the premier place as a 
centre of commerce through the closing of the Zwyn, 
Antwerp stepped into its shoes, and in the time of 
Charles V. it attained the zenith of its prosperity. Its 
population exceeded 130,000, and some authorities have 
put it as high as 200,000. Guicciardini, the Italian 
envoy, at the beginning of the reign of Charles's son 

59 



Belgian Life 



and successor, Philip II., described in glowing terms its 
commercial activity, which exceeded that of Venice. 
Alva first arrested its prosperity and Parma dealt it 
the final blow. The city which in 1566 could boast of 
130,000 inhabitants, contained in 1589 no more than 
55,000. A large proportion of its citizens and their 
families had sought and found new homes in England. 
After the cessation of the troubles of the sixteenth 
century, Antwerp suffered from the closure of the Scheldt 
by the Dutch, and when the French occupied Belgium in 
1794, its population did not exceed 40,000. Its modern 
prosperity began one hundred years ago, when Napoleon, 
believing that he could make it the first port of the 
Continent, assigned large sums for the excavation of two 
docks and a line of quays. It did not, however, receive 
the impulse which has made it one of the most important 
ports of the Continent until 1863, when the freedom of 
the Scheldt was obtained by purchase from the Dutch 
Government. Since that occurrence the number of ships 
making use of the port of Antwerp has trebled, while 
their tonnage has increased fivefold. In consequence 
of this increase Antwerp needs a larger port, and schemes 
are under discussion for providing new docks and quays, 
and even a fresh channel to the river, by means of what is 
called the grande coupure, which would save a consider- 
able bend in the Scheldt between Antwerp and the sea. 
This large project has encountered quite as much opposi- 
tion as it has received support, and is never likely to be 
carried out. But there is no doubt that Antwerp does 
not possess the accommodation it has need of, and that the 
port will have to be enlarged. 

If the traffic has outgrown the port, so also has the 
population the town. When the Scheldt was freed in 
1863, it had 125,000 people; it now contains 330,000. 
Antwerp is, as is well known, a fortress of great strength, 
but the town is surrounded by an enceinte, which is the 
finest work of its kind in the world, except where the 
river makes it unnecessary. The present enceinte was 

60 



in Town and Country 

finished in i860, and replaced the old one of the Middle 
Ages. It signified a very large addition to the area of 
the town, as the new enceinte is eight and a quarter miles 
in length, as compared with the two and a half miles of 
the old. But the growth of population has proved so 
rapid that people say there is not room for the present 
inhabitants. The large suburbs of Berchem and Borger- 
hout absorbed by the new enceinte afforded some relief, 
but the pressure within the town has again become 
serious, and must, before many more years, be relieved 
by some means or other. One proposal is to remove 
the enceiiite. Another is to extend the town down the 
Scheldt on land reclaimed by means of the grande 
coupure. A third is to develop the land on the left 
bank of the Scheldt and to connect it with the town on 
the right bank, by several tunnels passing under the 
river. It has never been forgotten locally, that Napoleon 
considered the left bank of the river the preferable side, 
and wished to found a town round the fine fort known as 
the Tete de Flandre. 

Antwerp, although it lies fifty-six miles up a river, 
part of which might be called more appropriately an arm 
of the sea, is a seaport open to the largest steamers. 
The principal portion of its trade, therefore, is that of 
transmitting and receiving merchandise. It is the gate 
of Belgium from and to the oceans, for Ostend, its only 
rival, is limited to the conveyance of passengers and of 
light articles, such as vegetables and fruits, to and from 
England. There is and never can be any serious rivalry 
between the two places. Ostend is in communication 
with Dover and the Thames, while Antwerp is in touch 
with all the countries of the world. Shipping, therefore, 
plays the preponderating role in the commercial life of 
Antwerp, and it is certainly strange to find that notwith- 
standing all their enterprise and industry, the Belgians 
have practically no marine of their own. Almost the 
whole of their trade is carried on in foreign vessels. 
The only important exception is the line of steamers 

61 



Belgian Life 



plying to and from the Congo, which is subsidized by 
the Congo Free State. These steamers were built at 
Hoboken, three miles above Antwerp, on the Scheldt, 
where the Cockerill firm of Seraing have a yard. State- 
ments have frequently been made that this yard is to be 
enlarged, and that shipbuilding is to be taken in hand 
on a large scale, but up to the present nothing important 
has been accomplished. There is, however, valid reason 
to believe that something before long is to be done, and 
a training-ship for young officers is being constructed. 

Be that as it may, the present high prosperity of the 
place has been reached without a Belgian marine, and, 
as a matter of fact, the great bulk of its trade has been 
carried on under the British flag. Of late German com- 
petition has been creeping up, and makes a good show 
in the port statistics, but it is still a long way behind 
ours. In the agency business on shore it is different. 
Not merely are there a great many more German firms 
than English, but they are so numerous that they appear 
almost as the equals of the Belgians. They are careful, 
however, to screen their nationality as much as possible, 
and as an instance of this it may be mentioned that they 
do not claim the usual foreigner's exemption from service 
in the Garde Civique. 

Apart from the shipping interest, the Antwerp market 
is one of the most important in Europe for several 
articles of commerce. The prices of rubber and ivory 
are practically regulated on the Continent by its quota- 
tions. Antwerp has greatly benefited by the import of 
caoutchouc or rubber from the Congo State. In 1902 
the value of this raw material was estimated at five 
million kilogrammes (5000 tons), sold at an average of 
seven francs a kilo, or about ^1,500,000, and Antwerp 
now ranks after Liverpool, but, of course, at a respectful 
distance, in the rubber market. Coffee, hides, leather, 
and timber are dealt in to very large amounts. The daily 
transactions on the Bourse are very considerable, and the 
activity displayed in the sale and purchase of securities 

62 




ANTWERP — THE CATHEDRAL. 






C r 



k> 



in Town and Country 

reveals the presence of a wealthy and enterprising business 
class. It is here that the real stock exchange transac- 
tions of the country are carried out. There are Bourses 
at Brussels and the other large towns, but their business 
is small in comparison with that of Antwerp, and they 
generally follow its lead. The Bourse of Antwerp is a 
fine building, constructed thirty years ago on the site of 
the old edifice, which was burnt down in 1858. The 
original Bourse, one of the finest Gothic buildings in the 
country, was built in 1531 at the cost of an Antwerp 
merchant, named Van der Beurse, who presented it to 
his fellow-citizens as a meeting-place for merchants. It 
is said that the word Bourse is derived from his name. 
The magnitude of the commerce of Antwerp may be 
gathered from the fact that Belgium's exports exceeded 
129 millions sterling, and her imports were over 145 
millions in 1902, and that so far as they were sea-borne, 
nine-tenths of them passed through Antwerp. 

The wealthier of the Antwerp merchants reside in fine 
and attractive-looking houses that border the broad 
boulevards laid out over the line of the ancient wall. 
These houses are singularly bright, and many of them 
are highly artistic. Unlike the Brussels mansion, which 
is uniformly white, except in the new parts of the town 
such as the Avenue Louise, the Antwerp residence is 
generally brick of several colours, with bright green 
wooden shutters, or volets. The boulevards form a 
semicircle in the town extending from the fine new 
picture gallery on the Place du Peuple in the south, to 
the Grand Bassin in the north, and the centre is occupied 
by gardens, decorated with statues, as well as by a 
broad carriage- and tram-road. As the line of boulevard 
extends for over three miles, the effect is impressive, 
and it is certainly increased by contrast with the older 
parts of the town where the streets are narrow and 
tortuous. 

The Antwerp merchant, probably on account of his 
greater knowledge of and intercourse with the outer 

63 



Belgian Life 



world, is far more hospitable in his habits than any 
other class in Belgium. He will invite a foreign visitor 
to dinner, and he will get friends to meet him. He will 
make it his object to reveal his own manner of life, and 
what his class think on the social side of existence. He 
likes to be a little ostentatious in his entertainment, and 
to bring forth the best of his wines and his cigars. Nor is 
this done by any exceptional effort, as is so often the case 
in Brussels, when one cannot help feeling that any special 
entertainment has only been provided by upsetting the 
w r hole household. In Antwerp it is made perfectly clear 
that the host is quite accustomed to receiving friends 
and visitors in the intimacy of his family life ; it is an 
every-day occurrence. In another point Antwerp society 
leads the country, and that is in respect of conversation. 
In other cities the conversation is very limited in the 
range of subjects, being generally devoted to local or 
family matters, but in Antwerp interest is taken in any 
questions that may happen to attract the attention of the 
world generally. No Belgians read much beyond the 
newspapers, but the Antwerp citizen reads more than any 
other Belgian. 

If one wishes to get a good general impression of 
Antwerp society, the place to go to is the Opera at the 
Theatre Royal on Sunday afternoon. The house is 
always packed. In the stalls, the boxes, and the parquet, 
especially the last, which corresponds to our dress-circle, 
may be seen the most prominent representatives of the 
wealth and prosperity of Antwerp. As the opera season 
is in the winter, the show of furs is imposing, and a 
double row of carriages awaits to bear the representatives 
of the city's plutocracy back to their homes. A very 
similar scene is repeated at the Flemish Theatre in the 
evening, but here the middle class of merchants and shop- 
keepers is more in evidence. In both the scene suggests 
a high order of comfort, and the possession of material 
blessings, and speaks volumes for Flemish energy and 
its results. It must be borne in mind that the Walloons 

6 4 




A WOMAN OF ANTWERP IN GRANDE TOILETTE. 



in Town and Country 

have had no part in the building up of the modern 
prosperity of Antwerp. It is altogether a Flemish 
achievement, and Antwerp of the twentieth century 
renews in a modern dress the life in Bruges of the 
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and of its own in the 
first half of the sixteenth. 

Reference has been made to the hospitality of the 
Antwerp citizens in their own families. But entertain- 
ment generally plays a large part in its daily life. There 
are at Antwerp some of the best restaurants to be found 
anywhere in Belgium, and at the principal hotel, the 
St. Antoine, the ctiisine has a well-deserved reputation. 
The civic entertainments are generally held in the large 
hall of the Zoological Society on account of the number 
of guests, and the only complaint that can be made 
against them is that there are too many courses and that 
they last too long. It is not at all unusual for a banquet 
that commences at eight to reach the last line of the 
menu only at midnight. These banquets bear some 
resemblance to those at the Guildhall or Mansion House, 
and the burgomaster and sheriffs (echevins) often attend 
them in state. The present burgomaster, M. Van 
Ryswyck, has long held that office, and is famous among 
his countrymen for his oratorical gifts. His reputation 
has not been gained without good justification for it. 

In the Middle Ages the Belgian cities were dis- 
tinguished from each other in the following distichs : — 
' Nobilibus Bruxella viris, Antwerpia nummis, Gan- 
davum laqueis, formosis Bruga puellis, Lovanium doctis, 
gaudet Mechlinia stultis' — which may be translated 
thus : ' Brussels for its noblemen, Antwerp for its 
moneyed men, Ghent for its neck-cords (referring to its 
submission in 1540), Bruges for its pretty girls, Louvain 
for its learned men, and Malines for its fools.' It is said 
that Malines got this reputation because one night a 
citizen declared that the cathedral was on fire, and all 
his neighbours turned out to extinguish it, when after 
many efforts they discovered that the fire was only the 

6c F 



Belgian Life 

moon shining through the open towers of St. Rombaud. 
With regard to Antwerp, it may still be pronounced 
famous ' for its moneyed men. 5 

In speaking of Antwerp, it is impossible to forget that 
there is another side to its life besides its commercial 
character. It is a great fortress — the bulwark, as it has 
been called, of Belgian freedom. When this statement 
is made the minds of most people revert to the siege of 
Antwerp in 1832, but the citadel which General Chasse' 
defended so courageously against a French army twenty 
times as numerous as his own force has long disappeared, 
with the rest of the old fortifications, the old Scheldt 
Gate on the Steen being the only survival of that period. 
Antwerp, as a fortress, is quite as new as it is as a town. 
The left bank is defended by the strong fort Tete de 
Flandre, which might almost be regarded as a citadel, 
and lower down the Scheldt are Fort Isabelle and Fort 
Marie. These and the enceinte built round the town in 
1859-60, supplemented by the small fort of Berchem, 
constitute the inner defences of Antwerp. In their way 
they are admirable, and the enceinte, with its wet ditch 
and caponnieres thrown out to protect each of the seven 
gates on the east and south sides of the rampart, is a 
very remarkable work. The caponnieres mentioned are 
used as the arsenals of the place. But these defences 
are now out of date, or rather, they are reduced to a 
second order of utility. They are useless to keep off the 
fire of long-range artillery, but they provide an efficient 
defence against any attack by infantry or cavalry. They 
guarantee the rich city behind them against a coup de 
main. Those persons who had lightly proposed to 
remove the enceinte, so that the town may spread out, 
have overlooked the fact that this would render possible 
the capture of the city, and of the government which 
presumably had found shelter therein, by a raid of the 
invader's cavalry, notwithstanding that the forts surround- 
ing the place were still keeping the foe at bay. Con- 
sidering Antwerp in the light of a national refuge-place 

66 



in Town and Country 

an enceinte, therefore, is absolutely indispensable, and if 
there is no other way of getting over the difficulty from 
the increased population, a new one will have to be 
constructed along a more advanced circumference. As 
this must entail enormous expense and a corresponding 
advance of the outlying forts in order to keep the new 
portion of the town out of the range of the enemy's guns, 
it is possible that some alternative plan will be adopted, 
such as that of building a fresh town on the left bank. 

In addition to the enceinte, the scheme of defence of 
1859 provided for the construction of eight forts in a 
semicircle, drawn about two miles in advance of the 
enceinte. These forts commence on the north near 
Wyngene, where the country that would be flooded in 
war time ends, and terminate in the south near Hoboken. 
In 1870 they were further strengthened by a new fort at 
Merxem, and two redoubts. The increased range of 
artillery soon showed that even these forts would not 
save the city of Antwerp from destruction, as it could be 
bombarded over their heads. 

It was consequently decided in 1878 that a second 
line of advanced forts should be built at a distance rang- 
ing from six to nine miles from the enceifite. It was also 
decided that these forts should number fifteen ; but after 
five had been constructed, the fit of energy passed off, 
and for years Antwerp has been left in a practically 
defenceless state. In 1900, two more were taken in 
hand with the view of protecting an uncovered gap of 
fourteen miles in breadth on the Lierre. There still 
remain eight missing forts to complete what was pro- 
nounced to be necessary as long ago as 1878. Considering 
the vital interests at stake, the apathy shown in dealing 
with this matter is extraordinary and inexplicable. A 
sum of ^600,000 has at last been voted for the comple- 
tion of the missing forts. 

In 1878, the defences of the left bank were also 
improved. They then consisted of Fort St. Marie, 
which, supplemented by the small fort of La Perle, and 

67 



Belgian Life 



the large Fort St. Philippe, guarded the river below 
Antwerp. In the year named, the forts of Cruybeke 
above Antwerp and of Zwyndrecht west of the town 
were added, and the entrenched camp of the left bank is 
even now considered fairly complete. What would be 
the military requirements should a large town be created 
on the left bank as well does not come at present under 
the head of practical questions. 

The commercial side of Antwerp somewhat obscures 
its military role. The busy merchants who jostle one 
another as they hasten through the Place de Meir, or the 
Longue Rue Neuve, overshadow the large garrison that 
is always present at Antwerp. But it is impossible to 
overlook the fact that the one cause of its importance is 
closely connected with the other. Antwerp is the large 
and prosperous centre of commerce that it is, because it 
is the bulwark, or, if not that, then the last ditch, of 
Belgian independence. If there is a vigorous Belgian 
nation in any part of the country, it is to be found at 
Antwerp. Its commercial classes stand in the forefront 
of the life of the country, and they represent its highest 
form of patriotism. They are in great need of effectual 
protection for their city, which justifies this digression on 
the subject of the fortifications of Antwerp. 



68 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER VII 
THE MINERS OF THE BORINAGE 

One of the most remarkable centres of national life is 
to be found in the coal-mining district known as ' le 
Borinage,' which signifies the place of boring. Here is 
to be found a state of society that does not exist in any 
other part of the country, and the miners are a type 
quite distinct from the rest of their countrymen. It 
would be unfair to judge other Belgians by the mining 
population, which has been allowed to sink — not merely 
by the character of its work, but by the deficiencies of 
education, supplemented by the poisonous effect of the 
fiery and deleterious beverages which the miners too 
freely imbibe — into a state of physical and mental decay. 
The Borinage district lies south of Mons, but it 
extends westwards as far as Quievrain, on the line to 
Valenciennes. The mines now extend further north than 
the original Borinage district, and the railway from Tournai 
to Charleroi, passing by Mons and Marchienne, traverses 
for a great part of the distance the mining district, the 
trollies passing from the collieries to railway trucks, or 
canal barges overhead, as the train glides along. The 
whole of the southern portion of the province of Hainaut 
is given up to mining operations, and more than 100,000 
persons are actually employed in them. Some idea of 
the importance of this industry may be gathered from 
the fact that whereas the output sixty years ago was only 
two million tons a year, it now exceeds twenty millions, 

69 



Belgian Life 



and has shown for many years past a considerable annual 
increase. There seems to be no valid ground for appre- 
hension lest this increased activity should entail an early 
exhaustion of the mineral. The extension of the coal 
area to districts not included in the original Borinage 
has also contributed to banish that fear. The mines are 
owned and worked by societes anonymes, or joint-stock 
companies. There are no royalties to landowners, and 
the State waived any claim to participate that it might 
have advanced in the first place because its main object 
was to develop national industry. It is understood that 
it will not show itself so disinterested with regard to any 
new coalfields that may be discovered and made pro- 
ductive. The mines of Hainaut have, therefore, been 
exploited to exceedingly great profit by the small body 
of capitalists who became interested in them in the first 
place, and who tried to keep them a close preserve until 
the shares were got rid of at high premiums on the 
Bourse. The halcyon days of the mine-owners were 
those before the organization of labour. Then the 
Belgian miner toiled for as many hours underground as 
he would have done above, and he received a wage 
which, in the most favourable case, did not reach a 
pound a week. That is more than twenty years ago, but 
it had been the general practice during more than two 
generations, and it has left a deep, if not indelible, mark 
on the old mining families. Among these it seems as if 
there had sprung up a fresh race of dwarfs, men under 
four feet eight inches, women shorter still, and children 
who look as if they will never reach even this height. 
They are stunted and emaciated, and they are easily 
distinguishable from the rest of the population as the 
third and fourth generation of the old mining population. 
At Frameries and Paturages, where mining has been in 
existence for a century, this type is very obtrusive. 

In no country of Europe did the miners have a harder 
battle to fight in order to obtain more indulgent treat- 
ment and a fairer living wage than in Belgium, The 



in Town and Country 

extreme ignorance and illiteracy of the miners left them 
more or less at the mercy of their masters, and outside 
sympathy and support were long arrested by the grave 
assurance that, if the miners were to work fewer hours 
and to receive more wages, the Belgian mines could not 
compete with foreign mines, and would have to close 
altogether. Of course there was not the least ground 
for this assertion, but it served its turn, and enabled the 
owners to remain for a longer time masters of the situa- 
tion. This state of things could not have endured as 
long as it did but for the extremely small sum upon 
which a Belgian workman can maintain himself and his 
family. 

There comes an end, however, to any system that does 
not take into account the actual necessities and the 
natural aspirations of the men who support it. Capital 
had ruled the roast for so many years in Belgium, that 
it looked as if its position was inexpugnable, and as if 
the miners were consigned to perform the part of helots 
to the end of the chapter. But the labour party had 
been growing steadily in influence and organization long 
before its members possessed a vote, and the spread of 
Socialism was, it must be admitted, strengthened by the 
legitimate grievances of the labour classes. The move- 
ment of the Parti Ouvrier reached its height in the year 
1892, when a general strike was carried out, and after 
intense suffering the mining population rose in what 
was practically armed rebellion the following year. At 
Charleroi, and throughout the Borinage generally, riots 
occurred, and even when the military were called out 
the result was left doubtful. A more serious calamity 
indeed seemed not impossible, as the loyalty of the 
young troops was called in question. At this juncture 
the mine-owners gave way under pressure from the 
Government, and a new scale of payment was introduced 
which, if not all that the men desired, was fair and 
reasonable. By this scale the average miner's wage was 
raised to between twenty-five and thirty-five shillings a 

7i 



Belgian Life 



week, and that of women and boys to from twelve shillings 
to one pound. The maxima might, indeed, be greater but 
for the protective measures adopted by the miners them- 
selves in the restriction of the output. The labour party 
organized a scale of production which, while it restricts 
the maximum earnings of any workman, ensures the 
prolonged existence of the mines themselves. The limit 
thus placed on the output of any single mine has rendered 
it the more necessary to discover fresh mines, both in 
Hainaut and elsewhere. The fifty per cent, increase in 
the coal produce of the country during the last ten years 
represents the total furnished by these new pits, some of 
which are in Hainaut, while others are in the Liege 
district. 

Satisfactory as the arrangement of 1893 was in the 
main, especially as it was followed in the next year by 
the conferring of the franchise on every Belgian on 
attaining the age of 25, so that the victory was twofold, 
the miners have, on one or two occasions since, displayed 
a feeling of resentment towards their employers. The 
differences between labour and capital in Belgium are 
far indeed from being finally composed, and the relations 
between the miners and the mine-owners are not merely 
wanting in cordiality, but reveal marked antagonism and 
extreme enmity. In 1899 tne troubles of 1892-93 were 
nearly breaking out afresh. It was difficult at the time 
to discover whether the miners had any serious grievance, 
or whether the Socialist agitators were merely resorting 
to the cry of labour wrongs for the purpose of strength- 
ening their political programme for the attainment of 
universal suffrage. At all events, while the political 
agitation was at its height in the streets of Brussels, the 
miners of the Borinage and their close confederates, the 
men engaged on the iron and steel works at Charleroi, 
made demands for an improved scale of pay and for 
shortening the hours of labour. 

The owners of the mines and the smelting works 
declared that these requests were inadmissible, and that 

72 



in Town and Country 



they could only be granted by their accepting a loss 
which would soon compel the closing of the mines, and 
the consequent cessation of all enterprises dependent 
upon them. Notwithstanding the firmness of the owners 
and the general belief that they were within their rights, 
all the preliminaries for a strike were arranged, and in 
some cases the men even came out ; but in the meantime 
the agitation in Brussels had collapsed. The Socialists, 
finding that the Government had made the necessary 
preparations to put down disorder, and that the bourgeois 
class was quite equipped to take action by means of the 
Garde Civique, abandoned the campaign, and orders 
were issued not to proceed with the strike. Evidence 
was thus furnished that the grievances of the miners 
could not have been very great, and that their position 
was far from being intolerable, as it undoubtedly was 
in 1892. The rate of wages and the hours of labour 
reverted, after the 1899 scare, to the scale established in 
1893, but it is impossible to say whether general content- 
ment remained behind. Whether the last chapter is 
written or not in the struggle between capital and labour, 
one thing is certain. The hands of the authorities 
are now much stronger than they were in former 
years, and labour questions will have to be fought out 
on their merits, without the interposition of political 
agitators. 

A visit to the Borinage is not a pleasant experience, 
and the closer the acquaintance made with the life of 
the mining population the less attractive does it appear. 
All mining work, apparently, must be accompanied by 
a deterioration in the moral as well as the physical 
qualities of the population so engaged, and this must be 
especially marked where the education of the people has 
been notoriously backward and neglected for generations. 
In Hainaut the majority of the miners are illiterate, and 
this condition of things will not be altered until the State 
makes education compulsory, and places restrictions in 
the way of the indiscriminate employment of children 

73 



Belgian Life 



on the mines ; for their non-employment underground 
is no real remedy. No one has interested himself in 
the moral and intellectual development of this class of 
the population, because the State, in carrying out its 
theory of perfect liberty, does not concern itself with 
such matters, and leaves the whole responsibility to 
the commune and the parent, while the Church, having 
lost all influence over the mining population, is only 
too glad that these hostile classes should be left in a 
condition of almost utter ignorance. 

But the most potent of all the reasons which produce 
this result is that boys and girls, as soon as they have the 
physical strength, which is supposed to be at twelve 
years of age, are taken on the mining establishment 
and employed above ground. They thus become bread- 
winners, and the smattering of learning that they may 
have acquired as infants is soon reduced to the capacity 
of signing their names. The employment of children 
of tender years lies at the root of the ignorance of the 
people of the greater part of a large province. It is 
this practice which has led to the following custom 
among the mining population. Immorality, and especially 
that which takes the distressing form of girl-mothers, 
is general and widespread. It has always been the 
concomitant of the close employment of the two sexes 
in mines and mining operations, and if it seems some- 
what worse in Hainaut than in our own Black Country, 
it is because the mining population in Belgium is so 
completely detached and cut off from the rest of the 
community. To the proprietors, with rare exceptions, 
the miners are mere beasts of burden, in whom they 
do not affect to feel the least interest. No steps what- 
ever are taken to improve the lot of the miners, to 
elevate their ideas, or even to provide them with amuse- 
ment or recreations. There are no clubs, except the 
cercles of the Socialists, and the only places of resort 
are the estami?iets and cabarets that are to be found in 
practically every third and fourth house. The custom 

74 



in Town and Country 

referred to is that the miner seeks as a wife the woman 
who has had the greatest number of illegitimate children, 
because they will contribute to the household expendi- 
ture. It is quite a common thing to find in a miner's 
house a married man with one or two children of his 
own, and four or even more sons and daughters of the 
wife by different men in the pre-nuptial state. It is 
scarcely going too far to say that morality does not 
exist in the Borinage; but the greatest curse in this 
community is the large number of immature mothers, 
and the consequent inseparable deterioration of the whole 
race. The evil has been allowed to reach such a pass 
that the success of any remedies must now be slow 
and uncertain, and as yet none are even talked of. 
But certainly something could be done to improve edu- 
cation and to restrain the employment of children. No 
doubt the miners themselves would at first be the most 
determined opponents of any such change, because the 
existing evils are mainly due to their own selfishness 
and evil habits. The consequent diminution in the 
earnings of the family could, however, be made up by 
the increased exertions of the men. 

Ignorance and immorality explain the low condition 
to which the mining population has sunk, but even 
these causes would not have produced so appalling a 
result if they had not been supplemented and aided 
by the prevalence of drunkenness. As there is no 
restriction on the sale of drink, every house can retail 
intoxicating liquors, and in many places where it is 
procurable there is no external appearance of the place 
being a drinking-shop. The room of the cottage will 
contain a few chairs and benches, besides a table, and 
the liquor comes from a cupboard or an inner room. 
In warm weather the table and chairs are placed outside, 
and on Sundays and feast days there is not one of 
these houses which will not be crowded with visitors. 
The only amusement known to this people is to drink 
and to get drunk. There are no abstainers or half 

75 



Belgian Life 



abstainers among them. The only distinction lies 
between beer-drinkers and spirit-drinkers. The beer- 
drinkers are the more reasonable drunkards of the two. 
Having soaked themselves with faro, they sleep it off. 
Not so the spirit-drinkers, for when they have finished their 
orgies they are half mad with the poisonous alcohol which 
they have imbibed, and the greater number of crimes 
are perpetrated by this class among the miners. Crime 
of all kinds is prevalent, and the reports of the Hainaut 
assizes are not pleasant reading. The tine explanation 
of the evils that follow this spirit-drinking is to be 
found in the character of the spirit itself. In name it 
is gin or genievre, but it bears little or no trace of that 
origin. What it is, no one outside the place of manu- 
facture — which appears to be unknown — can correctly 
declare, but by the smell it would seem to be mainly 
composed of paraffin oil. This beverage, called schnick, 
is the favourite spirit with the miners. It is sold at 
one penny for a large wine-glass and one halfpenny 
for a small, and official statistics show that a large 
majority of the miners drink a pint of this stuff every 
day of their lives, while it is computed that there are 
not fewer than fifty thousand who drink a quart. In 
the latter total are no doubt included many who are 
not miners, but the majority of them are. In Belgium 
the drink question is aggravated by the poisonous 
nature of the intoxicant and by the admitted inability 
of the Government to devise any means of preventing 
adulteration. Lest the reader should imagine that there 
is some exaggeration in the figures just given, it may be 
mentioned that the total consumption of spirits in the 
country during a year exceeds fifty quarts per head of 
the population. This being the case, it will not appear 
surprising that an extreme toper consumes a quart of 
spirit a day. The consequences of this excess are to 
be seen in the increasing number of lunatics and 
alcohol-maniacs confined in the State asylums, and it 
is observed that of late years the proportion of women 

7 6 



in Town and Country 

has been largely increasing, so that it is now not much 
short of one to two. 

The Government of Belgium is, of course, aware of 
these facts, and a visit to the Borinage will quickly 
convince the most sceptical of the extent of the mischief 
already done, which becomes more glaring every year. 
But it has been afraid to grapple with the difficulty by 
passing, for instance, a law to oblige all places where 
drink is on sale to have a license. The absolute 
immunity of the drink-shop from all control, the tacit 
permission given to every house to be at the will of 
its occupant a public-house, and the fact that there is in 
existence one drinking-place for every five adults, explain 
the situation. The State has refrained from interference 
so long, through its regard for the liberty inscribed in its 
Constitution, which includes its citizens' liberty to get 
drunk, that the difficulty has assumed appalling propor- 
tions. To interfere with a practice in which every one 
can put forward some evidence of a vested interest is a 
perilous step. 

On the other hand, the Government is confronted with 
the prospect that if the evil is allowed to continue un- 
abated, the deterioration of the race which has become 
marked in certain districts like the Borinage must bring 
about a national decline that will constitute a grave peril 
to the country. If the Government is afraid to diminish 
the number of houses by imposing licences, it might 
well grapple with the minor problem of arresting 
adulteration, and putting an end to the consumption of 
pernicious substitutes for gin. Unless it does something 
practical for the mitigation of the evil, it will be con- 
fronted one of these days with a peril that may overtax 
its resources, and that must damage its reputation. 
Ignorance, immorality, and drunkenness have made the 
mining districts of Belgium a black spot in the national 
life, and the sooner an era of reform is commenced the 
better. " Ces gens la sont des brutes" a Belgian noble- 
man once said to me, when speaking of these very 

77 



Belgian Life 



miners j but a wise Government admits no brutes among 
the nation committed to its charge. It cannot help 
individual exceptions, but in Hainaut the description 
applies to a large community counted by tens of thousands. 

Coal is the most important product of Belgium, and its 
possession lies at the base of much of its prosperity. 
The output for the year 1902 was 23,462,819 tons, of 
which only 7,000,000 were exported. Belgium also 
imported 3,600,000 tons from Germany and England. 
When the Hainaut mines began to be worked with 
greater activity, there were fears that they would not be 
able to stand the increased output, and it was a common 
opinion among Belgian experts that they would soon be 
exhausted. Such has not proved the case. The output 
has largely increased, and signs of exhaustion are still 
absent. None the less there has been considerable 
relief, owing to the discovery of an entirely fresh coal 
area in the district of Campine, which is part of the 
province of Limburg. It may be some years before 
this coalfield can be put into active development, 
because intricate questions of law have to be decided 
as to private owners' rights and the claims of the State. 
What seems already established, although contrary to our 
own law, is that the owner of the surface of the earth 
does not possess the mineral deposits which lie under it. 
Should the State establish its claims, and decide in favour 
of making the Campine mines a national undertaking, then 
it must be hoped that steps will be taken to prevent the 
repetition of some of the vicious, unhealthy, and degrading 
practices that have grown up in the province of Hainaut. 

In the last session of the Chambers, the Belgian 
Government brought in and passed a bill increasing the 
excise on spirits by 50 per cent. This measure may 
do some good, but the concoction in which spirit has no 
part will obviously escape duty. The temptation to put 
deleterious liquors on the market will be increased, and 
even should the new Act increase the revenue it will 
not diminish intemperance. 

73 



in Town and Country 

By the last census, the official deductions from which 
are not yet completed, 277,997 men and boys, and 
15,266 women, are employed in the mines and metal 
industries. The larger half, say 150,000, work on the 
mines. The railway system of Belgium, it may be re- 
marked, is excellent, and managed for the greater part 
by the State — State railways, 2516 miles; private com- 
panies, 334 miles. Travelling is cheap, the trains are 
punctual, and the system of season-tickets is admirable. 
Light railways and steam or electric tramways supple- 
ment the main lines, and are worked in conjunction 
with them. 



79 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE MANUFACTURING CENTRES 

The activity of Antwerp, of which I have already spoken, 
is due to the development of the manufacturing centres 
throughout the country. If Ghent, Liege, and Seraing 
did not exist, the exports of Antwerp could not have 
reached their present imposing figures. The prosperity 
of Belgium is the result of the productive capacity of its 
citizens, and this is shown in the sphere of manufacture 
as much as of agriculture. Large portions of Belgium 
seem to be given up as completely to factories as Flanders 
is to vegetable-fields, and the Borinage to coal-mines. 
The coal and iron of Hainaut are the gifts of nature, 
but the products of Ghent, Seraing, Verviers, and other 
places too numerous to name, are due to the ingenuity 
and toil of man alone. 

Of all Belgian cities Ghent has the best associations for 
English people. As the home of the Arteveldes — who were 
the most sincere upholders of the alliance with England 
that Belgium ever produced — and as the birthplace of 
John of Gaunt, its name has been familiar to us from our 
childhood. It is also the capital, as it were, of that 
Flemish race with which we are in an ethnological sense 
more closely connected than with any other Continental 
people. The history of this once proud city contains 
much of, if not all, the pathos and tragedy of the Belgian 
epic. Until that pacification of 1540 to which reference 
is made in the Latin lines that are so often quoted by 

80 



in Town and Country 



way of distinguishing between the cities, Ghent was a 
Power in itself. It fell because it did not realize that 
its pre-eminence among Flemish communes was no proof 
that it could beard the ruler of a great Empire with 
impunity. It retained the insolence of power long after 
it had lost the substance, and its fall was both ignominious 
and irretrievable. In the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- 
turies, Ghent suffered in a special degree from the blight 
which fell generally upon Flanders. The grass grew in 
its streets, the canals were unused, and the population 
steadily declined. From being the rival of potentates 
and States, Ghent sank into the position of a second-rank 
provincial town. The city that had once boasted of its 
quarter of a million inhabitants, and of how with its 
dependent towns it could put 80,000 combatants in the 
field, contained less than 40,000 citizens when the French 
occupied the country in the Revolutionary period. At 
that time the principal occupation of the citizens of 
Ghent, and the main source of such prosperity as they 
possessed, was horticulture, and Ghent, which had been 
famous for its gloves, became better known for its flowers. 
It has not lost this reputation to-day, and the flowers from 
the glass-houses of Ghent are in much demand, and sold 
all over the country \ but at the same time it has dis- 
covered new and more profitable industries in the last 
century. 

The first and the main cause of the return of prosperity 
to Belgium was, it must be admitted, the establishment 
of peace. It ceased in 1795 to De tne cockpit of 
Europe, and even during the Waterloo campaign a 
hostile force was on Belgian soil for no more than five 
days, and Charleroi, then a small place of no importance, 
was the only one of its towns to undergo military occupa- 
tion. The cessation of strife, waged by foreign armies 
on its territory, was the first and main cause of the revival 
of Belgian industry. Men were able to turn their atten- 
tion to more remunerative work than the cultivation of 
the fields with some reasonable prospect of enjoying 

81 G 



Belgian Life 



the fruits of their labour. While a larger area was brought 
under cultivation, commerce, however timidly, began 
to appeal to the townspeople. The population, long 
stationary, commenced to show signs of expansion. 

Ghent was the first place to feel the new influence. 
Admirably situated for purposes of trade by means of its 
water communication in many different directions, Ghent 
was able, in the days before railways, to despatch its 
wares by the cheap and sufficiently expeditious transport 
provided by canal and river barges. It thus found con- 
venient markets in Brussels, which always enjoyed a 
certain prosperity as the residence of a Court, and in 
Antwerp, which was largely dependent on the country 
lying at its back. In the old days the weavers and fullers 
of Ghent had made its prosperity. It was, therefore, 
natural that when the revival of the place commenced, 
the thoughts of its citizens should turn in the same 
channel. The first factory set up in modem Ghent was 
one for cloth, during the French occupation, and it was 
busily employed in turning out a large part of the 
material used in providing Napoleon's soldiers with their 
uniform. During the Dutch rule, which extended from 
1815 to 1830, the manufacture of cotton goods was 
introduced ; but this did not become at all general until 
after the year 1839, when the independence of Belgium 
was rendered more assured by the recognition of the fact 
by Holland. After that event, cotton and woollen manu- 
factures became a staple industry in Ghent, and the out- 
put increased every year, so that it seemed no undue 
exaggeration to speak of it as the Belgian Manchester. 
The prosperity of Ghent received a rude interruption in 
1 861 through the outbreak of the American Civil War, 
which cut off the supply of cotton, and produced the 
greatest distress. The suffering was increased by a 
serious outbreak of cholera, and for a time it seemed as if 
Ghent had only risen to fall again. After the conclusion 
of the struggle in the United States, the enterprise that 
had been interrupted reasserted itself, and the cholera 

82 



in Town and Country 

having led to many sanitary improvements, the city took 
on a new lease of life. The lace and embroidery 
industry, which had been carried on in a modest way in 
the houses of the workpeople themselves, was transferred 
to factories, and was developed with all the appliances of 
capital and science. An entirely new business was intro- 
duced by the opening of works for the construction of 
engines and agricultural implements. There is, therefore, 
no doubt as to the activity of the business life of the city. 
No proof, indeed, can be clearer than that its population 
now exceeds 160,000. Ghent, besides being an active 
commercial and manufacturing centre, is also a fine city, 
and a pleasant place of residence. It contains some very 
interesting monuments of its mediaeval grandeur, and 
although the bell of mighty Roland is heard no more in 
the land, there is an effective carillon of forty-four bells 
in the belfry, from which it used to give forth ' victory,' or 
1 the alarm for fire.' 

In striking contrast to Ghent is Seraing, where the 
greatest foundry and engine-works of Belgium were 
established by an Englishman two years after Waterloo. 
This was Cockerill, who fixed upon Seraing as the best 
spot for his enterprise, in which he had the cordial sup- 
port of King William I. of the Netherlands, who sub- 
scribed half the capital. The site for the works, which 
now cover 260 acres, and employ 15,000 workpeople, 
was happily chosen at an old chateau with extensive 
grounds, which had once been the summer residence of 
the Prince-Bishops of Liege. The chateau is still used as 
the house of the resident director, and as a library. 
Formerly the spot was one of the most picturesque in 
the environs of Liege. Now both banks of the river are 
lined with furnaces and factories, for Jemeppe, Ougre'e, 
Sclessin, and Tilleur are imitators of Seraing. The valley 
is also carboniferous, and there are numerous coal-mines. 
The Liege collieries rank next to those of Hainaut in 
importance, and some authorities think that they will be 
productive for a longer period. 

83 



Belgian Life 



Seraing is situated five miles above Liege on the right 
bank of the Meuse. There is communication between 
the two places by river-steamer, tramway, and railway. 
By the last census its population exceeded 38,000, and it 
may be assumed that every one resident in the town is 
connected with or dependent on the Cockerill establish- 
ment. In 1 83 1, after the separation of the two countries, 
Cockerill repaid King William his share of the capital, 
and remained sole proprietor until his death in 1840. 
The concern was then turned into a company, with the 
modest capital of half a million sterling. In 187 1 the 
capital was increased, and the descendants of Cockerill 
having died out or retired, the business became exclu- 
sively Belgian. Reference has been made to its ship- 
building branch at Hoboken on the Scheldt. The record 
of the Seraing works is a very remarkable one, especially 
in the construction of railway and other steam-engines, 
of which close on 60,000 have been turned out since the 
commencement of that branch in 1835. With its present 
staff it can construct annually 150 locomotives, 2000 
engines, steam and hand, and 300,000 quintals (or 15,000 
tons) of font for bridges, etc. The iron casements for 
the new forts at Namur and Liege itself were cast in the 
Seraing foundries. Seraing may be compared in some 
respects to the Armstrong works at Elswick and the 
Krupp works at Essen, and it is well to remind the 
Belgians that their country owes this now national 
undertaking to the capital and enterprise of an Englishman. 

Seraing is, in a certain sense, only an annexe of the 
important city of Liege close by. In many respects 
Liege is the most remarkable place in Belgium, remark- 
able for its magnificent position, for the activity of its 
citizens, and for its history, which has, in a certain sense, 
been detached from that of the rest of the country. Liege 
is the natural and typical capital of the Walloon country, 
just as Ghent is of the Flemish. Both cities are now at 
the height of their prosperity, and contain about the same 
population. If, however, Seraing and Chenee were 

84 



in Town and Country 



included as suburbs of Liege, which they are in reality, 
Liege would have a very marked superiority over Ghent. 
There is probably more wealth in Liege than in Ghent, 
but there is also more misery. The poor quarters of the 
town on both banks of the river are very repulsive, and 
the old dilapidated lofty houses, built up against the 
side of the mountain on which stands the citadel, are 
not worse than the new tenements across the river at 
Bressoux. The staple industry of Liege, upon which its 
prosperity depends, is the manufacture of arms, and this 
fact has led to its being called the Birmingham of Belgium. 
There is one distinctive practice which brings out the 
marked difference between the two countries and peoples. 
Our gunsmiths work in shops where weapons are turned 
out by the thousand. In Liege the individual works in 
his own abode, and takes each single weapon on com- 
pletion to the gunshop for sale. It is said that there are 
40,000 working gunsmiths in Liege and its suburbs. It 
would appear a risky means of livelihood, for each piece 
is carefully inspected and tested before acceptance at the 
warehouses, and the least defect is said to cause summary 
rejection. Opinions differ as to the quality of Liege fire- 
arms, but there is one point in which they beat all com- 
petitors, and that is in lowness of price. An enormous 
business is done in single-barrelled guns, that are sold at 
fifteen shillings apiece. As this class of gun has a rapid 
and sure sale, the preparation of first-class weapons has 
grown less attractive for the workman, who thinks only 
of earning his living in the easiest and surest way, and 
who seems to be quite content when he makes a pound 
or twenty-five shillings a week. With the view of arrest- 
ing this tendency, and preventing the loss of an important 
branch of the trade, several factories for the manufacture 
of rifles have been opened of late years, and there is also 
a cannon foundry. The last-named and one of the rifle 
factories belong to the State. It may be added that the 
former is now busily occupied casting the new guns for 
the Belgian artillery. At all times the citizens of Liege 

8S 



Belgian Life 



have been noted for their independent, and it might even 
be said quarrelsome, spirit. The fact that each man is 
more or less his own master has greatly contributed to 
keep alive the sentiment of independence, and the work- 
ing classes are organized by leagues, societies, and clubs. 
The Socialists are very powerful, but there is also a 
genuine Catholic, or, as we should say, Conservative, 
party among them. 

Among other manufacturing centres less widely known 
than Ghent and Liege, which are springing into importance, 
are Gembloux, Ath, Renaix, and Diest. At Gembloux 
the State railways have established their engine and 
carriage works, which employ several thousand hands. 
There is also a factory for excellent cutlery at this place. 
Ath, on the Dender, is the centre of the important lime 
manufacture, and being in direct water communication 
by river and canal with most parts of Belgium, it is able 
to deliver this article by the most economical mode of 
transport. Renaix has developed an important cloth 
industry, and Diest is the centre of the brewing enterprise 
of the country, and might be compared to Burton-on- 
Trent. Marines is still famous for its lace, although 
Grammont, interesting as the first of the communes to 
receive a charter, is running it hard in the matter of 
' point.' Tournai produces most of the carpets to which 
Brussels gives its name. Artistic carpets are also pro- 
duced at Termonde, where there are extensive oil works. 
Verviers, a large town east of Liege, flourishes on a con- 
siderable manufacture of woollen goods and of glass. 
Within the last few years the competition of German 
works at Eupen has been so keen that several of the 
Belgian glass companies have suspended operations. A 
new industry is being developed in cement and a com- 
position that serves as an excellent pavement. In no 
manufacturing district of Belgium are the vicissitudes of 
trade through external competition greater or more sudden 
than at Verviers. 

The condition of the artisan classes in Belgium is 
86 



in Town and Country 



probably better than in France, although it falls a long 
way below that of English workmen, especially in respect 
of hours of labour. These are unquestionably long to 
excess, and are really fixed by the will of the employer. 
The language of the law on the employment of children 
is very instructive. No child can be employed in a 
factory or warehouse until it is twelve, which means that 
all children of the working classes begin their life of toil 
at twelve. This explains the stunted appearance of the 
population of the larger towns and manufacturing districts. 
The law says, in the second place, that no child under 
sixteen is to be kept at work for more than twelve hours 
a day. If the young can work for this length of time, it 
will be understood that an adult is assumed to be capable 
of doing more. At the same time, the long hours do not 
hang as so great a burden on the Belgian working man 
as they would on the British. The race has always been 
accustomed to early hours, and as there are no great 
distractions except on fete days, the Belgian takes his 
pleasure in his work. Of course he does not work so 
hard as the British workman used to do and still does on 
piecework, and a very considerable portion of his time 
must be deducted for gossip, rest, and sheer idleness. 
Still, this relief is not possible in all employments, and 
in the foundries, for instance, the hours of labour are 
excessive. The Belgian capitalist has benefited thereby, 
and is fond of representing that when the hours are 
reduced the trade will depart elsewhere. The thought 
does not seem to have occurred to him that a man may 
do more work in fifty hours a week than he will in 
seventy-two. 

From a careful estimate made by a Belgian statistician 
the average earnings of the Belgian artisan are thirty-three 
pounds a year, as against forty-two in England. It is 
not quite clear how he arrives at the figures so far as this 
country is concerned, but in Belgium he includes child- 
labour, which explains the lowness of the figure. Personal 
inquiries showed me that in Liege and Ghent the 

87 



Belgian Life 



workmen expect to earn as a minimum four francs a day, 
or about a pound a week. They seem to be perfectly con- 
tented when they can make five francs ; but in addition 
to the earnings of the man must be put those of his wife 
and children. These sums go nearly twice as far as in 
England for three reasons. The Belgian workman is not 
a great meat-eater, his wife is a far better cook and 
manageress than the same class of person in England, 
and thrift is the national virtue and characteristic as con- 
trasted with the waste and bad management generally 
displayed and gloried in by the British workman's better 
half. To take one instance of this difference. There is 
not a woman in Belgium who cannot make an excellent 
and nourishing soup, which forms the foundation of the 
national diet, whereas it would scarcely be going too far 
to say that soup is never seen in the homes of our work- 
ing men. Soup and bread form the principal part of the 
food of the Belgian workman ; but the bread is full of 
sustenance, and not like that consumed by our people. 
Owing to a perversion of the popular taste, skilfully engi- 
neered by German bakers, the old household loaf, which 
was full of nourishment, has been practically abandoned 
by our working classes in favour of a semi-fancy loaf, 
largely composed of German yeast, which has incom- 
parably less sustaining qualities, but a little more of the 
flavour of cake. As a consequence, the working classes 
of the towns, and especially of London, where the German 
baker has practically ousted every other, exhibit such 
marked indications of physical deterioration as to threaten 
a national peril, since children are now brought up on 
bread which has little or no nutritive qualities. 

The daily life of the factory operative is not as easily 
described as that of the miner, who lives under special 
conditions which differentiate him from the regular com- 
munity. But the mill-hand, the potter, or the lace-maker 
will pursue the mode of living agreeable to himself, in 
complete obliviousness of what his fellow-workers may 
do, except in regard to points of common trade interest. 

88 



in Town and Country 

The bond that links him to his class is that not of his 
work, but of his commune, which is the chief source of 
Belgian unity. Hence any attempt to give an account 
of the daily life of all factory operatives, as something 
fashioned in the same pattern, would be incorrect and 
misleading. At the same time, there are some points 
about the Belgian artisan which may seem of interest. 
His condition of life and general well-being furnish no 
inexact index to the national welfare, and, speaking rela- 
tively, they may be pronounced quite as high as in 
any country of Europe. The Belgian operative has 
command of all the necessaries of life, and he has also 
a surplus left for some of its luxuries, or, at least, 
some of its relaxations. His hours of labour may be 
many, but they are lightened by some hours of amuse- 
ment, and a not infrequent holiday ox jour de repos. If 
the cafe does not suffice for his leisure hours, there is 
always the cercle — Catholic, or Liberal, or Socialist ; and 
the cercle will have its band of music, its dances, and 
other annual or more frequent celebrations. The life of 
the operative is consequently by no means dull or un- 
varied. It is no dreary round of labour ; there is ample 
time for pleasure, and the Belgian character, whether 
Walloon or Flemish, is not prone to take its pleasures 
sadly. 

If the conditions of life among the operatives or artisans 
are examined more closely, it will be found that their 
material well-being is better than first impressions would 
incline one to think. It is quite true that in regard to 
housing the Belgian operatives were, until recently, very 
badly off. In the towns they occupied on the tenement 
system the older streets, which fashion and respectability 
had long abandoned. Crowded together, under con- 
ditions which precluded all considerations of sanitation 
and even of decency, up side-streets or alleys which the 
rest of the world carefully avoided, the quarters occupied 
by them presented all the repellent features of our old 
rookeries. These may still be found in all the great 

8 9 



Belgian Life 



cities, but a movement of reform has been set on foot, 
and the communal authorities have commenced a cam- 
paign for purging them of these plague spots. The 
execution of these reforms must take a certain time, but 
already the displacement of the working classes from 
their restricted quarters to the suburbs, where workmen's 
cottages have been specially constructed for them, has 
to a certain extent taken place. In some towns more 
progress has been made than in others. For instance, 
Brussels has carried the campaign of expulsion much 
further than Liege or Antwerp. This has been rendered 
possible by the excellent systems of tramways and light 
railways, which bring the workman to his place of labour 
rapidly and cheaply. In every other respect than housing 
the Belgian operative is well off. His own wages may 
not be high, but they are supplemented by the earnings 
of his wife and his children, all of whom commence to 
be bread-winners at an early age. Taxes do not affect 
him directly ; what he pays is contributed indirectly, and 
in such a form that he never realizes the payment. Food 
is cheap ; drink is cheaper still. There is no lack of 
amusement, and much of it gratuitous. Professional 
politicians tell him that he has his grievances, but he 
does not appear to be conscious of them himself. 

In another respect the Belgian working man enjoys an 
advantage which enables him to get the most out of his 
small wages. He has his political associations and clubs. 
The ' Parti Ouvrier ' is organized throughout the kingdom 
for political agitation and the attainment of universal 
suffrage. But, in addition, certain co-operative societies 
have been formed for retailing to their members practically 
all the articles of which they can have any need. These 
exist in all the large towns, but the two largest are those 
known as the Maison du Peuple in Brussels and the 
Vooruit in Ghent. At these stores everything is sold 
at the cost of production, plus five per cent, for the 
administration, from a loaf to the furniture of a house. 
An excellent loaf weighing nearly two pounds and a hal 

90 



in Town and Country 

is sold for twopence, and at the Maison du Peuple in 
Brussels over 160,000 such loaves are sold each week. 
As there are 16,000 members, the average consumption 
is ten loaves a week, which would exceed that in the 
family of, at all events, the London working _ man. 
Latterly these societies have taken an active part in the 
struggle with drunkenness by excluding spirits and beer 
from their lists, and in the refreshment-room attached to 
their stores coffee and lemonade are the only beverages 
sold. Although I have only mentioned two societies, there 
are in Belgium about four hundred of the same nature. 
Most of them are small in numbers, as the total of the 
members is under 60,000, and the Maison du Peuple 
and the Vooruit contain over one-third of the number. 
There are also saving- and sick-fund branches attached 
to most of these societies. The basis on which they 
are formed is a monthly payment of three francs to the 
former and one franc to the latter. For these subscrip- 
tions a member is guaranteed medical attendance and a 
franc a day during illness, and his annual savings are 
practically doubled by the additions made to them under 
the law by the State and also by the province, while 
there is a further voluntary grant by the society itself. 
As the most staid Belgian workman deems that he has 
the moral right to spend a franc a day on his drink, it 
does not seem to be asking him to practise much self- 
denial to put by one franc a week for a rainy day. It is 
right to mention that there are no grounds for supposing 
that he grumbles at having to do so. Whether the new 
State Pension Bill will encourage thrift or not remains to 
be seen. The measure came into force in 1900, and by 
it the Government undertakes to pay every working man 
in need after he is sixty-five an annual pension of sixty- 
five francs (£2 12s.). The amount, which is less than 
twopence a day, will seem ludicrously small to English 
ears; and thirty years ago M. Frere-Orban, one of 
Belgium's greatest public men, suggested that the State 
should pension all workmen over fifty-five with a hundred 

91 



Belgian Lite 



and fifty francs (^6), or, as some one said, with half a 
franc a day, bar Sundays and fete days. On this allow- 
ance an old man in Belgium, especially in the provinces, 
could subsist very fairly, whereas the grant sanctioned 
will leave him still a candidate for charity. Be that as 
it may, there have been a great number of applicants 
for the pension — far more, indeed, than the Government 
expected, so that it had to revise its estimates. The 
number of applicants exceeded the anticipated number 
by 30,000, and when the Government sent back the lists 
for more careful compilation the local committees were 
unable to reduce the number to any extent ; thereupon 
they were dismissed. This circumstance, among others, 
has led to the imposition of fresh taxes, the chief of 
which is the increase of the excise. This may be regarded 
as an ingenious manner of getting the working classes 
to pay for their own old-age pensions out of their earlier 
habits of self-indulgence, and if it produces the expected 
increase, the amount of the workman's pension will, no 
doubt, be increased also. So far the increase has been 
much less than was anticipated. 

Taking a comprehensive view of the position of the 
working classes in Belgium, it will compare not unfavour- 
ably with that of those in any other country. In one 
particular only is there pressing need of amelioration, 
and, as we have seen, that is the length of the hours of 
labour. It is probable that a reform would already have 
taken place in this matter but for the fact that political 
questions have become mixed up with social problems. 
The agitation is not one for eight or nine hours a day as 
the regular spell for the working classes in factories, but 
it is one for universal suffrage, the abolition of the plural 
vote, and the fettering of capital by the enforcement of 
Socialist theories of distribution and joint participation. 
It is unfortunate that these political matters have been 
connected with labour questions, and that natural conces- 
sions have been deferred by the fear of what those to 
whom they were made might do afterwards. 

92 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER IX 

COUNTRY LIFE IN BELGIUM 

As considerably more than half the population of 
Belgium resides outside the towns, the conditions of 
country life form quite as important a part of the nation's 
existence as those of the bourgeois classes. There are 
parts of the little kingdom, such as Luxemburg and 
Campine, where the population is sufficiently sparse to 
leave something like the accepted conditions of genuine 
country life ; but in Flanders, Hainaut, and Brabant, the 
population is so dense that the farms and cottages 
occupy practically every available spot that can be 
utilized for a building without diminishing the area of the 
cultivable ground. Leaving aside the mining districts, 
the western provinces of Belgium present in the main the 
appearance of vast market-gardens without a hedge or 
a wall. The boundaries are marked by nothing more 
than an insignificant trench. The cultivation of wheat 
and cereals generally is being increased ; but this is due 
more to the absorption of new land reclaimed from forest 
or heath than to the abandonment of vegetables. In 
Flanders, which was formerly given up exclusively to 
the cultivation of roots, however, it is not uncommon to 
see nowadays part of a half-acre plot assigned to a wheat 
crop, and the rest to cabbages. 

If one wished to study the agricultural system of 
Belgium, and to see what has been accomplished there, 
a visit should certainly be paid to the district called 

93 



Belgian Life 



Pays de Waes. This district lies west of the Scheldt, 
and south-west of Antwerp, and extends almost to Ghent. 
Its chief town is St. Nicolas, and Lokeren, another 
town of the Waes country, is scarcely less important. In 
1839, the whole of the district was a wild uncultivated 
tract. Now it is an unbroken expanse of gardens and 
fields, sustaining a resident population of five hundred 
persons to the square mile. There has been no such 
transformation scene in any part of Europe, and it would 
be a good experiment to tempt some Belgian agriculturists 
to see what they could accomplish in Ireland. 

Throughout the two Flanders, which produce more 
than half the total crops of the country, there are no 
large landed proprietors, and the soil is parcelled out in 
small lots among the peasants themselves. The farmer 
class in these provinces exists only to this extent, that 
where the commune owns the lands it has chosen to 
sublet them to a farmer with the means to work several 
hundred acres instead of dividing the land into allot- 
ments. But in Flanders the farmer is the exception, 
and the small proprietor of anything up to five acres is 
the rule, while in Hainaut and Brabant it is different. 
There the farmer class is in the ascendant. A historical 
cause lies at the root of this difference. Up to the 
French occupation in 1795, the soil of Belgium was the 
property in the main of the representatives of the aris- 
tocracy, civic as well as feudal, and of the Church. The 
religious orders were the chief proprietors, owning more 
than double the cultivated land possessed by the nobles. 
This was explained by the fact that the Church owned 
lands to make them revenue-producing, and possessed 
the capital to do so. The nobles were not rich in 
capital, and a very large proportion of their territorial 
possessions consisted of forest and unreclaimed land. 
As they kept these possessions for the chase, they did 
not even think of developing them. When the French 
Republic annexed Belgium, all the lands possessed by 
churchmen and nobles were at once made forfeit, and 

94 



in Town and Country 

the actual occupiers and tillers of the soil came into 
possession. At that time Flanders was just as much an 
agricultural country as it is to-day, and there was a large 
population actually existing upon it. The French law 
was practically carried out, and the Flemish peasants 
became the owners of their own ground, and have 
remained so to this day. But in the other provinces the 
same conditions did not prevail. Only a small portion 
of the soil was under cultivation, the population was 
scanty, and with local exceptions there were no peasants 
eager to take over the estates that had fallen vacant and 
that were at their disposal. Moreover, the land had to 
be cleared and won over for cultivation, which required 
capital. For these reasons a race of peasant proprietors 
was not created in Brabant and Namur as had been 
done in accordance with easily discoverable natural laws 
in Flanders. When the heat of the Republicans cooled 
down, there is no doubt that many of the former proprietors 
recovered their possessions partly by occupying what no 
one else claimed, and partly by repurchase from the 
State or the commune on nominal terms. This tendency 
became more marked under the Emperor Napoleon, and 
especially after he made his peace with the Pope. After 
his overthrow, there was a general recovery of territorial 
possessions by the aristocracy, subject to the recognition 
of the rights of occupation that had accumulated in 
twenty years. But in Flanders nothing of the sort took 
place. There the new rights entirely displaced the old 
title-deeds. 

The class of great landed proprietors in Belgium is 
exceedingly small, and there are many of the old noblesse 
without any land at all. Those who are more fortunate 
possess, as a general rule, not more than a thousand acres 
round their country residence, and the only great estates, 
according to our ideas, are to be found in the Ardennes 
and Campine, where land possessed little value until a 
quite recent period. \ The history of the estate of the // 
Duke of Wellington, as Duke of Waterloo, in Belgium 

95 



Belgian Life 



furnishes an instance of what took place when the repre- 
sentatives of the ancient owners recovered the non-pro- 
ductive portion of their estates. The duke was granted, 
as a reward for his great victory in Belgium, a portion of 
the old forest of Soignies. It was about 5000 acres in 
extent ; but the only income the great duke ever derived 
from it was from the timber, which must have been quite 
insignificant. Upon his death, his son and successor was 
confirmed in the possession of this estate, after some 
persons had represented that it was only granted for the 
life of the first duke. He then expressed the opinion to 
some Belgian officials that the estate about which so 
much stir was being made was really valueless, where- 
upon Baron Lambermont advised him to place it in 
the hands of the regisseur or manager of the Due d' 
Arenberg, who had vastly improved the estates of that 
nobleman at Enghien and elsewhere. The advice was 
followed, and in a few years the timber was all cut down 
and sold, and on his part of the old forest a number of 
farms were created. The estate then for the first time 
brought in an income ; | but the story is merely told here 
to illustrate the process which went on generally in 
Belgium outside Flanders after Waterloo, and in a still 
more marked degree after the establishment of an 
independent kingdom. 

The conditions of life among the agricultural classes 
of Flanders would be considered intolerably hard by the 
agricultural labourer in England, and even the sense of 
possessing the land on which they toil would not atone 
for them. The Flemish peasant, or proprietor, labours 
all day, and his day is the long one from sunrise until 
well after sunset. Any one who has lived in the Belgian 
provinces has seen grey figures moving along the roads 
or across the fields, while gleams of light alone showed the 
dawn of the coming day. They wish to be at their work, 
discontinued late the night before, as soon as there is 
sufficient light to enable them to resume it. They are 
working for themselves, and very likely they would 

96 



in Town and Country 



grumble if they were asked to do it for a master. But 
it is not only the men, but also the women who work 
thus. There are, of course, household duties and work 
at home to be performed ; but these do not prevent the 
women and girls from toiling in the fields as well. 
Market-gardening carried on in the fashion of the Con- 
tinent, where nothing is wasted, cannot be considered an 
altogether pleasant or even healthy occupation. It is 
certainly not calculated to elevate those who take part in 
it in intelligence, and as a matter of fact the vast body of 
Flemish labourers in the fields are sunk in a state of 
extraordinary ignorance for the twentieth century. Their 
education is practically nothing at all, but they are sound 
Catholics, and it is not thought to be to the interest of 
the Church, or the party that claims that designation, 
that they should progress in worldly knowledge. 

To judge the people of the Flemish plains by a cursory 
inspection, the conclusion come to would probably be 
that they must be exceedingly miserable and unhappy, 
and it requires a far more intimate knowledge than most 
foreigners are ever likely to take the trouble to acquire to 
discover that such is not really the case. Their worka- 
day clothes are not of a character to impress the observer 
with a perception of anything in their favour. They are 
certainly not picturesque, and they are generally very 
dirty. They all wear the wooden sabot, yellow in colour 
and clumsy in form. Their stockings are always coarse 
worsted and grey. Their short trousers are always tied 
with a ribbon above the calf, and they wear a linen 
smock. The usual headgear of the men is a cap with a 
peak, and the women have linen bonnets with a kind of 
hood over the forehead. If their dress is plain, their 
living is still plainer. Their breakfast consists of no 
more than coffee and rye bread, their midday meal of 
bread and butter, or grease — tartine — with which they 
sometimes have cheese or a little cold bacon, and their 
supper of soup and bread. On Sundays and fife days 
they have hot bacon, and occasionally rabbits or fish. 

97 h 



Belgian Life 

Fresh meat never comes their way, and is practically 
unknown. On the other hand, they eat great quantities 
of vegetables, cooked and uncooked, and dandelion 
salads are the luxury of the Belgian peasant. It is 
somewhat difficult to get at an idea of the results of 
their toil ; but the average amount of the produce of the 
land has been reckoned at five hundred francs, or twenty 
pounds, the half-acre. On this sum a Flemish family 
will contrive to live, having no rent to pay, and supple- 
menting the produce of the field with a pig and poultry. 
There are 650,000 men and boys employed in agriculture 
alone. 

In order to correct the depressing effect of the spectacle 
of these peasant proprietors in their weekday costumes, 
when they strike the observer as mere drudges bound in 
misery, it is as well to take a glance at the same people 
on Sundays going to or returning from mass. The 
whole population goes ; there are no non-attendants here, 
except from illness and those who are bedridden. And 
what do we see ? All the men wear respectable black 
suits and boots ; the women are well dressed and carry 
themselves well, and there are bright-coloured parasols 
to protect from the sun the girls and young women 
who have been toiling in the fields all the week with 
no protection save a linen hood. It is difficult to 
realize that these are the same people ; but it is quite 
clear from their animated conversation and laughter 
that they are far from unhappy or dissatisfied with their 
lot. 

In the Walloon country the conditions of agricultural 
life are quite different. The country population is scanty, 
and the cultivation of the land is in the hands of farmers 
who have rented it from the landowners or from the 
communes. The inhabitants show a tendency to gather 
in little towns, and not to spread over the country in 
detached cottages close to their work, but separated from 
their fellow-beings. When the outskirts of a townlet or 
large village are passed, not a house will be met with 




A FLEMISH FARMER. 



in Town and Country 

along the road until the next village is reached. Now, in 
Flanders the cottages are scattered all over the country, 
and dot the chaussee, or high-road. There is another 
marked difference. In Flanders the country house, with 
any extent of garden or park land attached, is quite a 
rarity. There are still a few old manor houses left, but 
they have only a small piece of ground round them. 
But in Liege, Limburg, and Luxemburg it is different. 
There are still a certain number of old chateaux and 
chalets left, and rich manufacturers from the cities have 
built a good many new country houses. All these have 
gardens and coverts attached to them. Some of the old 
houses are singularly picturesque and striking, such as 
the chateau of Mirwart ; and the chateau of Dave, with its 
forest of many thousand acres, is quite imposing. The 
majority of the old country houses resemble a manor house 
or mediaeval farm in England. They are almost uniformly 
built in a yellowish-brown stone, which is taken from the 
Luxemburg quarries. They have generally farm-build- 
ings attached, sometimes in unpleasant proximity to the 
residence. These old houses harmonize with the land- 
scape, and suggest the existence of a country life which 
might be compared with that of our own land. But 
none of the members of the petite noblesse, to which they 
mainly belong, have much income, and consequently 
their mode of living is conducted on lines of the strictest 
economy. They are also very exclusive, not so much 
perhaps from family pride — for the history of these 
families is quite provincial, and the majority of their 
names have never been heard of outside their little circle 
— as from the dislike to being eclipsed by the wealthy new- 
comers from the towns. They keep to themselves and 
their own set, giving a few dinners in the course of the 
year to their relatives, and inviting a few of their neigh- 
bours whom they regard as equals. These dinners are 
always held at one o'clock, and the afternoon is passed 
in testing the quality of the host's Burgundy, the 
favourite wine of the Belgians, which is nowhere found 

99 



Belgian Life 



in greater perfection than in the cellar of an Ardennes 
connoisseur. All these country gentlemen call them- 
selves sportsmen, but there is very little game on which 
they can exercise their skill, owing to the absence of any 
system of preserving. Rabbits alone can be described 
as plentiful. It is the fashion, however, for a certain 
number to club together and rent a chasse in one or other 
of the forests owned by the communes. Here a certain 
amount of game of a miscellaneous sort is to be had, and 
during the season a subscriber may hope to get as his 
share some venison and a little less wild-boar. Pheasants 
are only to be found on the well-stocked preserves of the 
Count de Limburg Stirum, and a few other noblemen. 
Teal and wild-duck still abound, however, on the upper 
courses of the Ourthe, and woodcock and snipe are also 
plentiful throughout the Meuse valley. During part of 
the season everybody is allowed to snare these birds at 
their pleasure. 

In striking contrast with these old houses, representing 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, are the modern 
villa or chalet, which the manufacturer or shopkeeper, 
having made a competence, constructs as his maison 
de ca??ipag?ie. These are always built in some brick 
or stone of glaring colours. White, red, and yellow 
are the favourite colours, with green verandahs and 
window-frames, and grey or blue slate roofs. It is, in 
fact, the favourite town house transported bodily into 
the country, and to which covered balconies for the 
purpose of enjoying the air and the view have been 
added. They are evidence of the liking that the Belgians 
have for country life, although they do not add to the 
beauty of the landscape. There must always be some- 
thing incongruous in the appearance of a yellow match- 
box-like house, rising out of the wooded crest of a hill, 
that presents in itself a charming and perfect bank of 
verdure. At the same time it must be allowed that this 
attraction of wealthy families from the towns to the 
country is a benefit for the inhabitants of those provinces 
ioo 



in Town and Country 

where there has never been much wealth or any rich 
class of residents to develop them. Every favoured spot 
in the region named has its well-to-do resident from 
Liege or Brussels, and as soon as one settles down 
others follow at no long interval. The La Roche valley, 
for instance, is overlooked by a considerable number of 
these villas, and many Liege manufacturers permanently 
reside at their country houses on the banks of the Vesdre 
and the Ambleve. These new-comers, although they 
evince a partiality for the country by fixing their resi- 
dence in it, do not take up with the pursuits of the 
country. They really live a town life in the country. 
They do not drive much in the sense of traversing 
distance, and they walk less. They only saunter about 
their places, if the phrase may be used. Even gardening, 
in which they take most interest, is done in a languid 
fashion. They pass a great part of the day in the open 
air, sitting on their balconies admiring the view which 
they have been specially built to command, and which 
their owners see every day without its palling on them. 
In fact, they have raised the habit of doing nothing in 
the open air to the level of a science. 

Formerly the provinces of Luxemburg, Namur, and 
Liege contained very little but forest or heath land, and 
it was the fashion to speak of the soil as too poor to pro- 
duce anything. In those days the population had little 
or no means of earning a livelihood, except as foresters 
or by work in the quarries. But all this is changing. 
The forests have been much thinned, and in many parts 
have quite disappeared. Poor as the soil may have been, 
it now raises crops. The uplands are rich with corn-fields 
in the summer ; in the valleys are meadows and orchards ; 
and it is a curious sight to see the cows being led to eat 
the grass which is sown in narrow strips between the 
crops, so that they may not stray on to the ground under 
cultivation. As the consequence of this change in the 
character of the country, the existence of the Walloon 
peasantry is less hard and penurious than it used to be, 

IOI 



Belgian Life 



There is a great deal more life and activity in the country, 
and consequently there is more money. 

The houses of the Walloon peasantry are more sub- 
stantial and attractive-looking than those of Flanders. 
They are generally built of stone, and slates are easily 
obtainable from the numerous slate quarries; while in 
Flanders the houses are brick, covered with stucco, which 
is generally painted, or rather washed, with a yellow 
mixture. The ground-floor usually consists of one large 
room that is both sitting-room and kitchen, while at the 
back there is a wash-house. Two or three bedrooms 
overhead and a loft under the roof generally complete 
the accommodation. There is often a cellar, and a pent- 
house for the storage of wood : for the collection of 
undergrowth in the forests is unrestricted, and at the 
commencement of winter there is a free distribution of 
firewood by the communes. Poultry and the small 
vegetable-garden supplement the earnings of the house- 
holders, and during the summer months at least there is 
plenty of work going on through the large influx of 
visitors from other parts of Belgium and from foreign 
countries. The Walloon is just as restricted in his diet 
as his Flemish co-nationalists. He lives on meagre fare, 
and flourishes on it ; but he does not work as hard as 
the Flemings do. He is more easily contented, and 
spends a good deal of his day in gossip. The "Walloons 
of Liege are, however, different from those of Luxem- 
burg. They are a bigger and a burlier race, probably 
because they are meat-eaters, and they are the most 
impressive type among the Belgian nationalities. 

Country life in Belgium is pleasant enough during the 
fine weather of summer and autumn, but in the winter it 
requires all the available philosophy of those who have 
to remain in the provinces. There is practically nothing 
to be done. Those who have to gain their own living 
depend during the winter on what they have put by in 
the summer. If it has been a good season they are 
comfortable ; if visitors have been few, they are pinched, 
102 



in Town and Country 

and relieved when the spring brings fresh hope. Those 
who have not the care of daily existence upon their 
shoulders pass through the winter months in a state 
of stagnation, or overpowered at last by ennui, rush 
off to Brussels or Liege. As has been said, rural 
Belgium is merely a repetition of town life ; there is no 
genuine country life at all. A Belgian goes into the 
provinces to move at his ease, to enjoy the open air 
when it is fine, and to hurry back to his city as soon as 
the leaves are off the trees, and the November mists and 
snow begin to put in an appearance. The less fortunate 
country gentleman, who has no town residence, has to 
put up with things. The only excitement he will be likely 
to have is when the wild-boar are driven by the cold to 
leave the forest for the farms in search of food, and then 
a great battue is organized, in which he will take a leading 
part. 



103 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER X 

THE DEAD CITIES OF FLANDERS 

The contrast between the Ardennes and the tame, flat 
scenery of Flanders and northern Belgium generally is 
not more marked than that between the bustling activity 
of Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, and Ghent, on the one hand, 
and the sleepy tranquillity of the once famous cities of 
Flanders on the other. Great as their names are in 
mediaeval history and romance, Bruges, Courtrai, and 
Ypres have long been classed as dead cities, while 
their neighbours and former rivals or dependencies, 
Commines, Poperinghe, and Audenarde, have been almost 
forgotten. Even if they remained quite as dead as 
they have been alleged to be, they must, however, always 
possess a profound interest for the student of history, the 
archaeologist, and even for the dreamer who, out of their 
old-world charm, is able to evoke the memories of their 
storied past. 

Of all these places, Bruges has best preserved its 
ancient grandeur. A portion of the old walls still re- 
mains, the gates which were closed behind Maximilian 
are to day in use, the house of the Franc, or the free 
district, which was classed with Bruges as one of the 
States, looks down on the canal, dead and stagnant as 
itself, and the Cathedral that witnessed the installation 
of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, and the funeral of 
Charles the Bold, is still frequented by the religious 
of the old city, and visitors from all quarters of the 
104 



in Town and Country 



world. But in the other cities of Flanders little is left 
to call up the memory of perished greatness. They 
preserve some monument of the past — a church, a town 
hall, or a belfry — which, in spite of not always judicious 
renovation, represents with sufficient fidelity the period 
of the great communes, and that is all. 

It is somewhat remarkable that Bruges has not 
shared in the marked industrial revival that has taken 
place at Ghent in the last fifty years. When Belgium 
became an independent kingdom there was no great 
disparity in their respective populations, although it 
used even then to be said that a large number of the 
citizens of Bruges were beggars. To-day Ghent has 
nearly four times the population of Bruges, the result of 
the energy which revived its prosperity, while Bruges, the 
old sister city, has remained sunk in indigence, through 
the inertia of its own citizens. This different result 
might appear the more remarkable since of the two places 
Bruges seems to possess the greater natural advantages. 
It is, for instance, nearer the sea, with which it has 
long possessed communication by two canals, one to 
Terneuzen and the other to Ostend, both of which were 
navigable by ships of a certain tonnage. But they were 
used to only a moderate extent, and it is probable, when 
the work to which I am about to refer has been com- 
pleted, that they will be abandoned. 

Ten years ago a project was set on foot to connect 
Bruges with the North Sea by a new canal sufficiently 
deep for large ocean-going steamers. In the days of her 
greatness, ships used to proceed direct from England and 
the Mediterranean to Bruges, or rather to Damme, which 
lies just outside one of the city gates. There was then a 
navigable river or inlet from the sea called the Zwyn, 
but this was gradually filled with sand, and ceased to be 
available by ships in the year 1489. From that date the 
prosperity of Bruges steadily declined, and it has long 
been a thing of the past. The existing canals are not 
suitable for enlargement, and one has the defect of 
105 



Belgian Life 

debouching in Holland. The Manchester Ship Canal 
suggested the idea of constructing an entirely new channel 
to the sea, that should make Bruges, as its promoters 
somewhat grandiloquently said, a seaport. Work on this 
ship canal was begun in 1897, and is still in progress. 
As the distance is only ten miles, the rate of construction 
has not been rapid; but slow and sure is a Belgian cha- 
racteristic. The line of the canal is traced in an almost 
due northerly direction from Bruges through Dudzelle 
to a point on the coast a ■ little west of Heyst. The 
name of Zeebrugge has been given to the new outlet, 
and in the hope of making the pier-head a place of call 
for ocean steamers passing from other ports to the 
Atlantic, an iron pier, ending in a stone breakwater 
and jetty, has been carried out over a mile into the sea 
to reach the navigable channel from and to the Scheldt. 
To effect this object a further prolongation of the pier 
has become necessary. It is thus hoped to make Bruges, 
which would be close to the sea, and a preferable port to 
Antwerp for traffic with this country, once more the 
great emporium and distributing centre of Flanders, and 
when persons interested in the supremacy of Antwerp 
expressed apprehension lest Bruges thus restored might 
injure their city, the assurance was given that it was 
intended to develop the large province of West Flanders, 
where apart from agricultural prosperity affairs had for 
many generations been stagnant. The main idea of the 
canal, then, is to restore life and activity to the long dead 
cities of Flanders. Up to the present there is not much 
evidence of any such change. The Bruges of the Early 
Flemish exhibition in 1902 was the same quiet and life- 
less town, apart from the foreign tourist, that it has been 
at any time during the last century. There were a great 
many more tourists, and the hotels were uncomfortably 
crowded, but that was the only difference. Still, no one 
can say what may happen when ocean liners are berthed 
in the new Bassin de Commerce, and the old ramparts are 
as frequented by foreign sailors as the quays at Antwerp. 

106 




THE BRAEL BRIDGE AT COURTRAI. 



in Town and Country 

Modern activity and mediaeval peace cannot long subsist 
side by side, and the erection of factories and warehouses 
must prove too much for the prolonged existence of such 
old-world, stone-flagged streets as those of Vieux Bourg 
and Notre Dame, in which the grass may sometimes be 
seen springing up between the flags. 

The monuments of Bruges — the Halles with their 
world-known Belfry, and the Hotel de Ville, represent- 
ing in part or in whole the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries, the still older Chapelle du Saint Sang, the 
fine Cathedral of St. Sauveur, and the finer Church of 
Notre Dame, the Hospital of St. Jean, with its priceless 
Memlings, and the Gothic Church of St. Jacques — these 
will all remain; but whereas they now form part of a 
town whose appearance harmonizes with them, they will 
become, under the effect of modem improvements, curi- 
osities of a past that will have finally disappeared and 
left them alone as its representatives. It is the inevitable 
march of civilization and prosperity. There will be fewer 
beggars; but, on the other hand, Bruges will no longer be 
the place for families that wish to economise. For many 
years Bruges was the seat of a considerable English colony, 
which settled down there because living was cheap, 
and because there were good educational facilities. But 
for some time this colony has been diminishing from 
natural causes, among which may be named the increase 
in the cost of living and the closing of some of the best 
schools. It is no longer the fashion, as was once the 
case, to send young Englishmen to Bruges to learn 
French. If they go to Belgium at all nowadays, they 
go to Brussels. The principal residents of Bruges are 
some of the old Flemish civic families who, having made 
a sufficient fortune elsewhere, fix upon Bruges for their 
abode, and lead a retired life behind the walls of some 
of the old-fashioned stone houses, of which all that the 
visitor can see are the porte ccchere and the windows, 
carefully screened with lace curtains, and protected by 
strong wooden shutters, which are fastened by a key on 
107 



Belgian Life 



the outside. They are very proud, these people, notwith- 
standing their simplicity, and lead a life of strict exclusive- 
ness. Their chief if not their only friends are their 
relations ; but despite a good many in-marriages, this 
system of limiting the acquaintance to blood-connexions 
still allows of a considerable society. In Bruges it has 
been kept a little more exclusive through the absence, prac- 
tically speaking, of the rich manufacturer and tradesmen. 
These have gone elsewhere, or remain where they made 
their fortunes, and no fortune has been made in Bruges 
for centuries past. It has all the respectability of an 
English provincial town, with a quaintness and sadness 
that while they last are all its own. 

Courtrai, by reason of the great part it played among 
the Flemish communes, has a fair claim to rank next to 
Bruges in importance and interest. In the past each 
of them had a population exceeding 200,000. To-day, 
Bruges has a little more than 40,000 and Courtrai 
about 30,000 inhabitants. But the contrast between 
them could not be greater than it is. Bruges pre- 
serves much of its ancient appearance, and possesses 
monuments that will always make it one of the 
most original cities of Europe ; but Courtrai possesses 
nothing in its aspect, position, or monuments at all calcu- 
lated to recall the days of its prosperity and fame. The 
church of Notre Dame, which was commenced by the 
ninth Baldwin in n 99 and completed in 121 1, has been 
several times restored, and even the Counts' Chapel, 
which is two centuries later, has suffered much, and the 
figures of the Counts and Countesses have been restored 
within the last few years, which gives them a brand-new 
appearance. The finest thing in the church is com- 
paratively quite modern, Vandyke's painting of the 
Erection of the Cross, one of his masterpieces. But 
of the Courtrai that fought and won the Battle of the 
Spurs, and that paid heavy contributions to Maximilian 
and to Charles the Fifth, virtually nothing is left. The 
town is uninteresting even in its modern aspect, and the 
108 



in Town and Country 



activity of the present-day builder in erecting factories 
for the linen industry and residences for their owners 
and workpeople, which is visible in all directions, is not 
of a nature to embellish the town or to make it more 
picturesque. 

There is one thing, however, that Courtrai is, and 
always has been, proud of, the memory of the Battle of 
the Spurs, fought underneath its walls in July of the year 
1302. This battle not only established the reputation of 
the Flemish footmen, who there inflicted the first great 
defeat that the chivalry of France had ever suffered, but 
it practically saved Flanders from falling to the House of 
Anjou. The occasion of its six hundredth anniversary 
in 1902 was seized for a great local celebration. The 
fites went on for a good fortnight, and on the site of the 
marsh of Guinegate, in which the French horsemen were 
overwhelmed, a monument was erected. The city walls 
that looked down on the marsh, and from which the 
women and children watched the progress of the struggle, 
have long since disappeared, and the centre of the battle 
is now a grass-grown avenue. The seven hundred pairs 
of gold spurs hung up in the church of Notre Dame gave 
their name to the battle, but it is uncertain how long 
they remained there. All that is shown at the present 
time are a few wooden copies gilded over to resemble 
the originals. Yet the good people of Courtrai are not 
so dull of mood as not to think that in the brave days 
of old their ancestors did a fine thing for liberty on that 
summer morning so long ago. For that reason the 
citizen of Courtrai squares his shoulders and thinks 
himself a fine fellow in a way that would seem pre- 
sumptuous if attempted by a man of Bruges. At the 
same time the commercial activity of Courtrai is some 
proof that Flanders contains the germs of a new life. 
Courtrai has become the Larne of Belgium. Its linen 
manufactures are well known in foreign countries, and 
its table necessaries are almost famous. The population 
has doubled in a little less than thirty years. If that fact 

109 



Belgian Life 



does not conclusively prove vigorous life and strenuous 
activity, then the conclusions generally drawn from 
statistics must all be erroneous. 

Ypres, the third of the Flemish cities, has not felt the 
touch of revival that has fallen on Courtrai, though, on the 
other hand, it has finer monuments of the past. The 
intense trade rivalry of the Flemish cities was their bane 
and weakness. We shall see how Ypres treated Pope- 
ringhe ; but Ypres itself suffered heavily at the hands of 
Ghent in 1383, when many of the weavers took refuge 
in England. From that year its decline was rapid, and 
Ypres ceased to play a prominent part in the councils 
of Flanders. Its two great memorials of that olden time 
are the Clothmarket Hall and the Cathedral of St. 
Martin, both dating from the thirteenth century. The 
Hall is the oldest specimen of its kind in Belgium, and 
it is practically untouched. The facade is about 460 
feet long and is simple and severe, presenting a double 
row of ogival windows, small turrets at each end, and a 
lofty belfry in the centre. The belfry is about 230 feet 
in height, and is flanked by small towers. The only 
additions to the building in modern times are the statues 
placed in niches on the facade of thirty-one Counts of 
Flanders and thirteen Countesses. In its way there is 
not a finer or more typical monument to be seen in 
Belgium. The Cathedral of St. Martin is well entitled 
to be placed in close proximity to it. It also dates from 
the thirteenth century, although the tower w r as not added 
until the fifteenth. The whole is a very fine specimen of 
late Gothic, and the interior contains some very fine 
oak carving and a richly decorated organ-loft. Bishop 
Jansenius, the founder of the Jansenist sect, is buried in 
a Gothic cloister which formed part of the older church 
that occupied the same site. The Hotel de Ville is also 
an interesting monument of the sixteenth century, but 
the effect is rather diminished by the presence of a large 
number of modern pictures somewhat garish in colour. 
The present prosperity of Ypres, such as it is, is derived 
no 



in Town and Country 

from a modest lace industry, supplemented by the fact 
that a considerable amount of activity and life is 
brought to the place through its being the spot where 
the riding-school for officers of the Belgian cavalry has 
been established. 

Audenarde, or Oudenaerde, is another Flemish city of 
old repute. Lying sixteen miles east of Courtrai, on the 
banks of the Scheldt, its fortunes were generally linked 
with those of Ghent. Its chief attraction is its Hotel de 
Ville, which competes with that of Louvain as the most 
ornate in Belgium. It was built in the reign of Charles 
V., and underwent a process of restoration some years 
ago that has done less mischief than such processes 
generally accomplish. There is an extremely fine oak 
chimney-piece in the council chamber, but otherwise the 
interior is disappointing. Audenarde, famous as the 
birthplace of Margaret of Parma, and for Marlborough's 
victory over the French in 1708, supports some local 
industries which make it resemble rather Ghent than the 
cities of West Flanders, which lie out of the beaten track. 
Comines, lying at the apex of a triangle, of which the 
base would be formed by a line drawn from Ypres to 
Courtrai, is showing some symptoms of revival, but it 
has no other claim to notice than that of being the birth- 
place of Philip de Comines, the chronicler of the reign of 
Louis XI. Poperinghe, west of Comines, once threatened 
the supremacy of Ypres, but the citizens of that town 
came down upon it in overwhelming force and put an 
end to its pretensions by fire and sword. This was in 
1 313, and when Ypres itself was served in similar fashion 
by Ghent in 1 383, the retribution seemed only just. Of its 
former greatness Poperinghe preserves only the fine church 
of St. Bertin, which dates from the thirteenth century. 
Furnes is the last of these old Flemish towns that need 
be named. It is now a placid place, chiefly noticeable 
because it is the centre of the butter-producing district 
and as the station for La Panne, a fashionable bathing 
resort on the sea-coast. In the Middle Ages it stood 

in 



Belgian Life 



high in the second rank among Flemish cities ; now it 
has only 5000 inhabitants. Its chief memorials of the 
past are two unfinished churches, both commenced in 
the fourteenth century on the large scale that the im- 
portance of Furnes at that time seemed to justify, but 
which owing to its rapid decline no one has since had 
the courage to complete. 

For those who wish to make a visit to these Flemish 
towns south of Bruges, Ypres is the best stopping point 
as well as the most important from the character of its 
monuments. There is convenient railway communica- 
tion between all the places named, and a few hours in 
each will satisfy the curiosity of the most inquisitive 
visitor. Audenarde is within easy distance of Ghent. 
The impression made on the visitor to West Flanders 
at the present time is that there is an immense agri- 
cultural activity, and that the towns are, to some extent, 
waking up. Courtrai in particular shows symptoms of 
marked progress, and the banks of the Lys are covered 
with factories and warehouses. What will happen at 
Bruges is still uncertain. The ship canal may turn it 
into a noisy port and place of trade. On the other 
hand, the port and landing-stage on the coast may be 
frequented by passing steamers and used as a regular 
place of call ; but the canal behind it may not have much 
traffic, in which case Bruges will continue to be very much 
what it is. There is even a possibility that the opinions of 
the critics who took a pessimistic view of this ship canal 
at the commencement will be confirmed, and that the 
inroads of the sea and the heavy deposit of sand carried 
with it will, before many years, close the entrance to the 
new canal — at least for large steamers. The breakwater 
has been so constructed as to throw a protecting arm in 
front of the entrance to the canal, and a very large 
expenditure in addition to the original estimate of 
;£i, 1 00,000 has already been incurred. Apart from 
this enterprise and its at present unascertainable in- 
fluence on the fortunes and aspect of Bruges, there is 




TOWN HALL AT OUDENARDE. 



in Town and Country 

nothing likely to hasten greatly the development of the 
old cities of Flanders. They are benefiting in their turn 
from the growing prosperity of the rest of the country, 
but West Flanders, with its sand-bound coast, must 
always lie outside the main stream of commercial 
activity in Belgium. Its population is not likely to find 
any more profitable pursuit than that, so long carried on, 
of agriculture. 



"3 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER XI 

EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS ASPECTS 

Considering the illiteracy of the larger half of the 
population of Belgium, it may be surprising to learn 
that a primary school exists in every commune, over 
6500 in number, and that the law of the land is free 
education for those who cannot pay for it. The course 
in these schools should produce better results than are 
obtained by it, for it embraces a good deal more than 
the three R's. While history and geography are com- 
pulsory, drawing and singing are optional. The girls are 
taught to sew, and the boys are instructed in the provinces 
in the rudiments of agriculture, and in the towns in a 
trade. If the prescribed course were carried out with 
good superintendence it should produce adequate results. 
The true explanation of the inadequate results ensuing 
from a system of what might be called compulsory 
education is to be found in the fact that all primary 
schools are managed by the communes, and not by the 
Government. Any private school, which means for the 
great majority one attached to a religious order, may be 
selected as the communal school, and so far as female 
education goes this is the rule. Its directors have to 
conform to the law and to rest content with the meagre 
grant of Government and the contribution, fixed by the 
commune, from parents who are assumed to be able to 
pay something for the education of their children. This 
contribution is fixed by reference to the taxes paid, and 
114 



in Town and Country 

persons who pay less than ten francs annually to the 
State are free everywhere, while in the largest towns, 
where a higher scale is in force, the limit is thirty francs. 

In the primary schools education, except for those 
who contemplate entering some department of the 
administration which entails passing through the ecoles 
moyennes, practically ceases at twelve, when the age of 
labour is reached, although the law assumes that educa- 
tion continues until the child is fourteen. What is 
learnt before twelve under far more favourable circum- 
stances than prevail in Belgium is soon forgotten, and 
the illiteracy of the country is to be explained by the 
inevitable relapse following the premature interruption 
and discontinuance even of primary education. It is 
probable also that the poor results attained are traceable 
to the deficiencies of the teaching staff, which is recruited 
from the pupils of the schools themselves. Those who 
pass from the primary school to the hole moyenne, and 
take a certificate at the latter, are eligible for a master- 
ship, and the appointment is made solely by the communal 
authorities. State supervision only comes in to the 
extent of stipulating that the teacher shall possess this 
certificate, and that he shall not receive a lower salary 
than iooo francs, or £40 a year. Considering that the 
prizes of the profession are headmasterships, for which 
the pay ranges from £48 in small to £g6 in large towns, 
it will be evident that even in Belgium, where all regular 
salaries run in low figures, no very high order of intel- 
lectual attainment is expected. The only additions that 
are possible to those salaries are an allowance for house 
rent, ranging from £8 to ^32 a year, according to the 
size of the town, and an annual increase of £1 a year 
U P ^ £24 a year. The maximum salary after twenty- 
four years' service is, in a small commune, £80 a year, 
and in a town of over 100,000 inhabitants, of which 
there are only four in Belgium, ^152 a year. 

The State comes in to the extent of providing District 
Inspectors, who are required to visit their schools once 
ii5 



Belgian Life 



a year, and to hold quarterly meetings of the teachers 
in their districts. These District Inspectors are in turn 
subordinate to Chief Inspectors, of whom there is one 
for each province, or nine in all. They are supposed to 
visit the schools once in two years, and they report 
direct to the Minister of Education. The maximum 
salary of a District Inspector is ^180 a year, and of a 
Chief Inspector ^300 a year. These salaries are only 
reached after many years' service. The most careful 
inspection cannot, however, remove the defects of the 
system, which arise from the fact that education is 
discontinued at too early an age to leave any durable 
impression. This is especially the case in Flanders and 
Hainaut, where there is a general demand for child 
labour. No marked improvement can be expected 
under communal control, which is lax in the sense of 
being easily satisfied and devoid of any high ideal. If 
things are kept in the old groove all is considered well ; 
the thought of progress is not seriously entertained. 

The influence of the Church is exercised in the same 
direction. By the law the teaching of religion, which 
forms part of the subjects in primary schools, is not 
compulsory, and children need not attend the class 
while instruction is being given in that subject. The 
law also enjoins respect for other creeds than the Roman 
Catholic faith ; but as there are no other creeds except 
10,000, mostly foreign, Protestants and 4000 Jews, this 
stipulation does not impose much restraint on the 
harmony of the playground. Practically speaking, the 
influence of the Church is supreme, and where the inter- 
vention of the Socialist element causes absence from 
the prayer hours, it may be shrewdly suspected that a 
practical revenge is taken by not paying great attention 
to the progress of the defaulting pupils. Moreover, it is 
an established maxim of the Church of Rome that 
education, far from being an aid, may be an obstruction 
to salvation, the only matter in its creed of essential 
importance. 

116 



in Town and Country 

The ecoles moyennes, to which only a comparatively 
small minority from the primary schools pass, give better 
results, and the education of the middle classes is 
acquired in them, or in the somewhat superior schools 
called Athenks Royaux. The real cause of the superiority 
of these institutions is that they are not wholly dependent 
on the commune, but are controlled to some extent by 
the Minister of Education, whose department makes all 
appointments to the teaching staff, and, where it provides 
the funds, prescribes the books that are to be used. The 
law left the right to the provinces and communes to 
establish these middle schools, and to retain the control 
of them subject to the two conditions named. This was 
due to the desire of the Catholic party to prevent 
education becoming a strictly State affair, as desired and 
recommended by the Liberals. One of the leaders of 
the Clericals on that occasion laid down the following 
principles in the Chamber : — ' Instruction is not a public 
obligation, it is the duty of the parent and not of the 
State. The State may, under certain circumstances, 
come to the father's aid by opening for his children 
teaching establishments, but it has not the right to force 
these establishments on any one.' Views such as these 
explain the backwardness of education in Belgium, for 
they reflect the principles held by the most powerful 
political party in the country. 

The Athenks are the highest form of scholastic 
institution in the country. They are entirely independent 
of the commune, and, in a certain sense, they are under 
the direct supervision of the King, hence the use of the 
term 'royal.' Classics and mathematics are taught in 
them, and some arrangements are made for the reception 
of boarders by the assistant-masters. There are only 
twenty Athen'ees throughout the country, and some of 
these, such as the one at Bouillon, have very few pupils. 
The Jesuits have a first-class school in Brussels, and the 
best education is obtainable there of any institution in 
the country. 

117 



Belgian Life 



There are four Universities in Belgium, two subject to 
the State, and two what are called ' free.' The former 
are at Liege and Ghent, the latter at Brussels and 
Louvain. ' Free ' means not under the State ; those of 
Brussels and Louvain represent the opposing parties in 
the State. Brussels is Liberal, and Louvain is Clerical 
and Catholic. There is nothing remarkable in the course 
beyond its comprehensiveness, and at the State Universi- 
ties there is a branch for technical instruction, which is 
of the greatest possible value for those who intend to 
become architects, engineers, mining-engineers, and land- 
surveyors. There is probably not a better teaching 
college in Europe for all departments of engineering 
than the technical school at Liege University. The 
duration of the academic year is nine months and a 
half, divided into two equal halves, so that the studies 
are only twice interrupted for two months, in August and 
September, and for a fortnight at Easter. The system 
has another merit in its remarkable cheapness. The 
annual fee for any of the courses varies from eight to 
ten pounds, and after the first year's payment the 
student has the right to attend all subsequent lectures in 
the same subject without further payment. A consider- 
able reduction is offered to those who wish only to attend 
a limited course of lectures. 

Besides the technical branches of the Liege and Ghent 
Universities, there are some special schools for practical 
training that enjoy almost as high a reputation as they 
do, and that have the power of granting diplomas, which 
are highly prized. Among these may be named the 
School of Mines at Mons and the Institute of Commerce 
at Antwerp. The period of instruction in the Mons 
school covers four years, and the only fee is an entrance 
one of less than five pounds. The Commercial Institute, 
controlled by the Antwerp Corporation, is an admirable 
training-college for clerks, correspondents, and business 
managers. The most promising pupils are given a 
special grant to spend twelve months in England, France, 
118 



in Town and Country 

Germany, or America, to study the commercial methods 
of those countries. It is not exaggerating to say that 
Belgian merchants have thus a supply of trained clerks 
at their disposal, while those of this country have had 
to take their employ'es untrained, and do the best they 
can with them after engagement. There are minor 
technical schools on most branches of industry scattered 
throughout the country, but those of the greatest 
importance have been mentioned. 

With the view of retaining some hold on those who 
enter the workshop, the Catholics have organized schools 
for apprentices, called St. Luke's Schools, in many of 
the towns, and especially in Flanders. No fees are 
required in these schools, which are very popular. 
Female education is not so advanced, but the courses 
of medicine and law have been thrown open to women. 
The school of technical instruction for women _ in 
Brussels has done excellent work during the last thirty 
years. It undertakes to instruct a woman in any trade, 
from lace-making to cooking and the management of 
the house. Several similar schools have been established 
throughout Belgium ; but the Brussels school is acknow- 
ledged to take the lead. In the province of Hainaut 
there are special schools of household management, 
which originated in a private experiment by the Prince 
de Chimay. 

Taking a broad and comprehensive view of the state 
of education in Belgium, the following general conclusions 
seem safe. With regard to the masses, more especially 
in agricultural Flanders and the mining district of 
Hainaut, primary education produces few and fleeting 
results. Little is learnt, and that little is soon forgotten. 
There is a general illiteracy that provides statistics which 
seem to condemn the educational system of Belgium in 
toto. If we pursue our investigations a little further, 
this condemnation will be qualified by the discovery 
that the middle schools are doing good work, and that 
if they were completely taken out of the hands of the 
119 



Belgian Life 

communal authorities they would probably do better. 
Then we come to the Athenees Royattx, where a classical 
education is obtainable on very easy terms ; but they are 
languishing institutions, because nobody in Belgium seems 
to want a classical education except persons in the 
wealthier classes, who send their sons to a special school 
like the Jesuits' College at Brussels already referred to. 
Even there classical instruction is confined to the chosen 
few, and can be combined with what is called the 
modern course. Finally, there are the technical schools 
and colleges which equip a large section of the com- 
munity for the battle of life. These are admirable in 
design and efficient in organization. Until comparatively 
recently we had nothing like them, and even now it is 
doubtful if our corresponding institutions produce as good 
results. Clearly it will not do to say off-hand, as some 
do, that education is backward in Belgium and that 
illiteracy and drink go together. There is a large section 
of the nation that may be termed neglected and backward. 
But another section enjoys very fair opportunities of 
becoming educated, while the technical schools are not 
to be equalled out of Germany, and some of them are 
not to be surpassed there. The following figures will 
give the reader some means of making a comparison 
for himself. In 1902 there were 205,000 children under 
six at infants' schools, 786,000 at primary schools, and 
only 23,000 altogether at Colleges, Athenees, and Ecoles 
Moyennes. 

An account of education in Belgium would be incom- 
plete without some reference to the numerous scholastic 
establishments where non-Belgians, mostly English, are 
received as pupils. The proportion between English and 
Belgian scholars varies, in some the majority are of one 
country, in others the numbers will be about equal. 
But the schools in which the English system and 
model are aimed at are confined to Brussels and 
Bruges, and this observation applies exclusively to those 
for young ladies. There have always been a few resident 



in Town and Country 

English tutors who take a limited number of pupils, but 
these exceptions apart, English boys if they go to school 
in Belgium must go to a Belgian school like any native 
subject. It is different in the case of girls. There are at 
least ten excellent young ladies' schools in Brussels in 
which the foreign element is quite as important as the 
Belgian, and there is certainly one which is exclusively 
English and American. On the whole, the instruction 
imparted in these schools is as good as can be obtained 
at home, and for those willing to learn there are great 
facilities for improving their French — especially in the 
mixed schools. At some of the strictly Belgian schools 
day boarders are received, and with genuine catholicity 
difference of creed is overlooked. The fees in these 
instances are very reasonable, and the cost of the quasi- 
English establishment is about the same as in England. 

The subject of religion is intimately associated with 
that of education in Belgium. All religions are allowed 
in Belgium, but the State religion is that of the Church 
of Rome, and it is stipulated in the constitution that the 
Sovereign must belong to it. This clause had to be 
waived in the case of Leopold I., who, while he married 
a Roman Catholic, and allowed his children to be brought 
up in that faith, stoutly declined to change his own. 
There are resident in the country about 10,000 Protes- 
tants, chiefly English and members of the Reformed 
French Church. The Belgians are Catholics, and where 
they are not fervent believers it is simply because they are 
generally sceptical, and not because they lean towards any 
other creed. The field-preachers, who produced a great 
impression in Flanders in the sixteenth century, would 
fare badly if they reappeared on the same scene to-day. 
The head of the Church is the Archbishop of Malines, 
who happens at the present time to be a Cardinal as well. 
This prelate is Cardinal Goossens, whose influence and 
power throughout Flanders are exceedingly great. He 
is described by those who know him as a man of great 
talent and resolution. He does not obtrude himself on 
121 



Belgian Life 



public notice, but works behind the scenes. There is 
a popular saying to the effect that ' the King is powerful, 
but Dr. Goossens is more powerful.' His admirers thought 
that he would have been Pope one day or other; but 
the Roman Curia loves not the determined and tenacious 
Fleming. Under the Archbishop are the five Bishops of 
Liege, Ghent, Bruges, Tournai, and Namur. There is a 
salary from the State to each of these Church function- 
aries, that of the Archbishop being over ^800 a year, and 
of the Bishops over £600 a year apiece. Each bishopric 
is divided into communes, to each of which a cure is 
appointed. He receives not more than £$2 a year and 
a house. The cure may be considered the rector of the 
parish, and in any commune of importance he is allowed 
the assistance of one or two vicaires, who fill the position 
analogous to a curate. The vicaire rarely receives F a 
higher salary than ^30 a year, but he has rooms in the 
cure's house, to which a good vegetable garden is generally 
attached. A certain portion of the church offerings is 
set apart for the maintenance of the priests. Each 
bishop maintains a considerable staff in his seminary, 
and the members are qualified in some form or other to 
receive a State salary, which is passed into a common 
fund. There is another functionary who deserves to be 
mentioned, although he is nominally an outsider. This 
is the Papal Nuncio, who, although really an Ambassador, 
cannot sometimes forget that he is a cleric and interferes 
with the Belgian bishops. In this he generally comes 
off second-best, as these bishops will not permit any 
outside interference with themselves or their flock. 

The power of the clergy is very great in Belgium, and 
in some parts they are omnipotent. This influence is 
largely increased by the knowledge that if the cures have 
but small salaries the Church is rich. Religious orders 
have always flourished in Belgium. In the eighteenth 
century they held two-thirds of the cleared land, and 
although they suffered during the French Revolution, 
they suffered less than might have been expected. The 



in Town and Country 

establishment of the modern kingdom of Belgium restored 
their chances, and they took the fullest advantage of 
them. In 1846 there were 779 religious houses with 
only 11,989 inmates, but in 1866 the totals had risen to 
1 3 14 houses and 18,162 members. In 1890, the latest 
year for which statistics are available, the numbers were 
1643 houses and 30,000 inmates. Some idea of the 
value of the Church possessions may be gathered from 
the fact that the movable property of the religious bodies 
in Liege alone has been valued at one million sterling. 
It would not be an exaggeration to value the total 
possessions of the Church in Belgium at fifty millions 
sterling. These resources needed no supplement from 
the State to make it the most powerful organization and 
the best equipped for offensive political operations in the 
country. 

It is impossible not to admire the skill and persistency 
with which the Roman Church has fought and won a 
stubborn fight in Belgium. At one time it seemed as if 
its influence had become a thing of the past. Thirty 
years ago, or even less, it was consigned to a back seat 
in politics, and in the control of education its wish 
counted for little. The Liberals were in power and had 
long been in power. They gave, or intended to give, 
the control of primary education to the State ; and once 
the Church lost its hold on the infant mind, anything and 
everything became possible. Then the Clericals stirred 
themselves to action. They recovered the control of 
education by having it vested in the commune. They 
appealed to the religious fervour and devotion of the 
unlettered Flemings ; and the Clerical party was re- 
turned to power in 1884, with an overwhelming majority 
that has kept it there ever since. By systematic organiza- 
tion, the Church has retained its hold on the popular 
mind in a remarkable manner, considering the extent to 
which Socialism and scepticism prevail among the in- 
dustrial classes. The main principle upon which it has 
acted has been to acquire a dominant influence over the 
123 



Belgian Life 



youthful mind, and to retain it by keeping up a direct 
interest in and practical control over the individual during 
his worldly career. There are in Brussels 5000 waiters 
and messengers who are on the list of the Catholic 
League, and there are nearly as many girls in domestic 
service and shops included in the same League. 

Many Roman Catholics in Belgium think it a mis- 
fortune and a direct injury to their religion, that the 
names Catholic and Clerical have been given to what is 
strictly the Conservative party in the State. The Church 
thus incurs odium in matters about which it feels very 
little concern. This way of looking at the matter is not 
quite as true as it appears. The policy of Rome sees far, 
and knows well the danger of eliminating any matter of 
human interest from its programme, as not being of a 
nature to affect its position at some future time. Thus, 
for instance, it would seem at first sight that the Catholics 
as a religious body could have no possible motive for 
opposing the introduction of a bill abolishing the privi- 
lege of pre-emption in the Army. Yet they are opposed 
to it because they believe that the compulsory and 
uniform enforcement of conscription will weaken their 
influence and increase the amount of irreligion. It 
cannot be denied, however, that the Church of Rome 
has, by descending into the political arena, incurred 
much odium which, if it had kept to its own sphere, 
would have been avoided. On the other hand, the 
undoubted good work performed by the parish priests, 
and by many of the religious institutions, must not be 
overlooked or disparaged. The advice of Monsieur le 
Cure is generally sought for in every difficulty throughout 
the communes of Belgium, and, as a rule, it is given 
disinterestedly. Now and then there is a scandal in 
which some young vicaire is concerned ; but considering 
the enforced celibacy of the clergy, these cases are 
remarkably rare. The monks and nuns of the various 
orders give themselves up to some special task. Much 
of the hospital work in the country is done by the latter. 
124 



in Town and Country 

And they not merely do the nursing work in the hospitals, 
but they have hospitals of their own for imbeciles and the 
deaf and dumb. Just as the Jesuits have a high-class 
school in Brussels for youths, so have the Ursulines one 
for young ladies at St. Hubert. The Trappists make 
beer and cheese, and are also excellent farmers. The 
Carmelites may provide nothing of practical utility, but 
their music and singing are superb, and add much to the 
enjoyment of their congregations. Apart from politics, 
the representatives of the Roman Church are doing 
in all parts of Belgium good work which has earned the 
gratitude of those who benefit by it, or come under 
its influence. 



125 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER XII 

LA IV AND JUSTICE 

At the same time that the Provisional Government was 
drawing up a Constitution for the country in 1830-31, it 
was also charged with the task of preparing a code of 
laws and justice. This was to be based on the old laws 
of the nine provinces, adapted to modern requirements 
and leavened by the Code Napoleon. The 'Codes 
Beiges,' which took several years to compile, fill a large 
volume, and the Belgians believe that they possess in 
them a model collection of laws. They are not, perhaps, 
so well satisfied with the manner of dispensing them, 
and especially with the extent to which litigation may 
be protracted. The law, they say, is slow and costly, 
especially in commercial matters and questions of in- 
heritance, which furnish the bulk of the cases carried to 
the Court of Appeal. This objection is heard in other 
countries besides Belgium, and does not reflect on the 
justice of the laws in any special degree. 

As the decisions in all cases have to be in conformity 
with the statute law, they are examined by a revising court 
called the Cour de Cassation. This court works automati- 
cally, as it were, for no action on the part of either plaintift 
or defendant is needed to set it in operation. It examines 
every judgment, and when it finds that it is not in har- 
mony with the written law, it simply annuls it. The 
Cour de Cassation never tries cases itself, except when 
a Minister of State is the accused. The Cour de 

126 



in Town and Country 

Cassation is the highest court of the realm, and has 
only one judge. He is assisted by a considerable staff of 
revisers, but he gives his decisions alone. These are 
only heard of when a judgment or sentence is reversed, 
as in the majority of cases ratification follows as a matter 
of course. 

Next to the Cour de Cassation come the Courts 
of Appeal, of which there are three. One sits at 
Brussels, another at Ghent, and a third at Liege. Each 
of these courts has several judges, and at Brussels there 
are four separate chambers, or tribunals, for the Court of 
Appeal. The judges are appointed by the King for life ; 
but a list of eligible persons, who, of course, are barristers 
or avocats, is first prepared by the Senate and the mem- 
bers of the courts in which a vacancy has occurred. 
There is no regular retiring scale or rule, but if a judge 
is incapacitated by age from discharging his duties, he is 
allowed to retire and still receive his full salary, which 
ranges from ;£8oo to ^1200 a year. There is one 
characteristic that the whole of the judicial and official 
classes in Belgium have in common. They remain at 
their posts until they actually break down. There are 
more octogenarians in the Belgian public service than in 
any other country of Europe. In Belgium, a judge is 
appointed for life, and in theory he cannot be removed 
from his post ; at least the King who appoints him cannot 
remove him, though if he does anything discreditable, his 
brother judges can pass a vote, which must be unanimous, 
to the effect that he is no longer worthy to sit among 
them, and he is then removed. 

Below the Courts of Appeal are the Courts of First 
Instance, in which all civil processes have to commence. 
There are twenty-six of these courts, which may be 
found in all the principal towns. They are supple- 
mented by tribunals of commerce, before which com- 
mercial disputes are first argued ; but these only exist in 
Antwerp, Ghent, Liege, and a few other places where 
such cases are likely to be- numerous. The lowest court 
127 



Belgian Life 



of all is that of the Juge de Paix, which combines the 
functions of our County and also of our Police Courts. 
All local disputes are brought before the Juge de Paix, 
whose sentence in the majority of offences against the 
law takes the form of a small fine. Where the offence is 
deemed grave, the prisoner is committed to the Assizes. 
There are 222 Juge de Paix Courts in the country. 

Criminal cases are supposed to be tried before the 
Court of Assizes, and these vary in number with the 
amount of crime in the calendar. In 1898 there were 
89 Assize Courts, before which as many as 42,732 per- 
sons were arraigned. The bulk of these cases could not 
have been very serious, as throughout the year there were 
never at any time more than 4000 prisoners in the gaols, 
All criminal cases, including those of treason and offences 
under the Press laws, have to be tried before a jury, which, 
as with us, is composed of twelve citizens. The jury 
system represents one of the oldest of Belgian privileges, 
having been ceded to the people as long ago as the 
Grammont Constitution in the year 1068. 

The punishments imposed by the criminal courts are 
far lighter than ours, and although capital punishment 
remains on the penal code, it is never inflicted. The 
condemned prisoner is sentenced in form to death, and 
he is removed to the solitary cells in the prison of 
Louvain, where he passes the remainder of his days in 
silence. Those who have had experience in Belgium of 
the perpetual silence system describe the punishment 
as being far more severe and terrible in its consequences 
than death. The advocates of the retention of capital 
punishment lay stress on its deterrent influence, but it 
has none in Belgium, for although it remains on the 
statute book, every one knows that it is never inflicted. 

The excessive leniency shown to all accused persons 
in the courts of the Juge de Paix is the great defect in 
the administration of justice in Belgium. The dominant 
idea in these courts which sit in the Hotel de Ville is to 
preserve harmony in the commune, and not to create bad 

128 



in Town and Country 



blood. A stabs B because he is found courting A's 
young woman. The wound is not very serious, and has 
disappeared by the time the case comes on. The Juge 
de Paix reads the culprit a sermon, and fines him five 
francs. In the mean time the friends and neighbours 
have made peace between the combatants, and if all is 
well, the whole party proceed to spend the five francs 
and more in their favourite drink-shop. But sometimes 
it is not so happily adjusted. The assailant may be a 
ruffian, and hastens to signalize his escape by perpetrat- 
ing a worse outrage on his rival or on the girl whose 
preference is the ostensible cause of the affair. A worthy 
Brussels citizen once described a little affair to me which 
aptly illustrates the defects, or rather the complete help- 
lessness, of the petty law in his country. His servant 
was washing the trottoir in front of the house. A youth, 
of the kind we would call nowadays a Hooligan, came 
along and upset her pail out of sheer mischief. The 
servant remonstrated with him on his conduct, where- 
upon he struck her with a heavy stick across her right 
arm. The arm was severely injured, and incapacitated 
the servant for work during several weeks. On my 
asking what punishment the fellow got, I received the 
answer, 'Nothing; but what would you have? I could 
have brought the culprit before the Juge de Paix, who 
would have fined him twenty francs, and all his relations 
and friends would have set themselves to work to do me 
an injury for inflicting that loss on them. Truly our 
police have not enough power.' This was the complaint 
of a prosperous inhabitant of Brussels. 

As a general observation, it may be said that the 
Belgian police devote all their time to watching the 
criminal classes, the men and women who have under- 
gone a term of imprisonment, and that it does not come 
within their conception of duty to attempt to regulate 
the affairs of ordinary citizens. For this reason a good 
deal of latitude is left to the citizen in respect of self- 
defence, as, for instance, against housebreakers. It is 

129 K 



Belgian Life 

perfectly legitimate for a householder to fire upon and 
kill any one breaking into his house, although he may be 
in the full security of an upper story, and the burglar be 
only testing the door-latch. With the exception of such 
extreme cases as this, the law of Belgium for petty 
offences is based on the theory that lenience is the wisest 
course, and provides the best way of preventing recruits 
joining the criminal classes. 

Any English family contemplating taking up its resi- 
dence in Belgium for a time should carefully study the 
law of tenancy before committing itself for a definite 
term, for the law is very strict on the point that if the 
tenant has a grievance against the landlord he must dis- 
charge his liability under the contract — that is, pay for 
the whole term — before he can get a hearing. In the 
case of a foreign tenant, too, who has no immovable 
property in the country, the landlord has very extensive 
powers of summary seizure for the purpose of securing 
himself against possible loss. It has been said that an 
English plaintiff has no chance of redress in a Belgian 
court. I have no reason to think this statement to be 
true, but it is certain that ignorance of the law in Belgium 
very often disqualifies a plaintiff without even a hearing. 

Belgian lawyers boast that the distinctive merit of 
their courts is that the sentences given forth in them 
cannot differ from the intention and provision of the law. 
If they do differ they are reversed, and the penalties 
fall to the ground. There is no inequality of sentence, 
because everything is done according to prescription, 
and the greatest pains are taken by dispassionate persons 
in controlling the record. The Cour de Cassation is 
swayed neither by the rhetoric of the advocate nor by 
sympathy with the accused. That is one side of the 
picture, but there is another. By the law of Belgium a 
man is tried for what he is accused of, and this is carried 
out with rigid consistency. If he is found not guilty of 
that particular and precise crime he is acquitted. In 
many cases the issue is simple and direct ; the accused 
130 



in Town and Country 

has done a thing or he has not done it. But there are 
many matters in which the deed cannot be disputed, but 
there is an opening for difference of opinion as to the 
degree of culpability. For instance, a man is killed, 
but the killer may commit murder, or manslaughter, or 
merely homicide. In Belgium, it is necessary to be very 
specific in the counts of a charge, or an undoubtedly 
guilty person will escape scot free. 

Stronger evidence could not be advanced in proof of 
this than information candidly placed at my disposal by 
a very clever Belgian lawyer and publicist with reference 
to the notorious Stokes case. Stokes was the merchant- 
missionary shot or hung by the Capitaine-Commandant 
Lothaire in Congoland. This officer was brought by 
the representations of the British Legation at Brussels to 
trial, and the indictment quite simply laid to his charge 
the crime of murder alone. The Legation no doubt took 
counsel with some Belgian advisers in the framing of 
the indictment ; but intentionally or otherwise it was 
faulty, for all minor counts were omitted. As my 
Belgian informant — I believe he was one of the counsel 
on our side — told me with a pleasant smile, ' Of course 
the court had no difficulty in acquitting Lothaire, for 
whatever his offence it was not murder.' The result of 
the Sipido case was due to a somewhat similar miscarriage 
on a technical point. 

The Belgian bar is recruited from the students of law 
at the different Universities. They attend the lectures 
of the legal course, and having received their diplomas 
as doctors in law are qualified on the payment of 
moderate fees to practise in the courts. They do not 
appear in the cases before the Juge de Paix. I believe 
there is no reason why they should not, but it almost 
seems as if they thought it beneath their dignity to do 
so. Nor do they appear often in the Assize Courts, 
unless it is a cause ceVebre. In these cases there is very 
rarely much, if any, money thrown away on the defence. 
The accused know fairly well what to expect, and accepts 

131 



Belgian Life 

it with a certain philosophy. The presence of a be- 
capped avocat from Brussels will not materially reduce 
the _ sentence, but it will the savings of the culprit's 
family. 

The Belgian lawyers work almost exclusively in the 
Courts of Appeal, the Tribunals of Commerce, and in 
private litigation. The fees paid them are on a moderate 
scale, but occasionally, in an important case, a leader in 
the Appeal Court will receive a daily fee of a hundred 
pounds. A successful barrister regards his service as an 
avocat either as the probationary period for a judgeship, 
or as the source from which he derives the income that 
enables him to be a politician. For instance, M. Beer- 
naert, who has been Prime Minister and also President 
of the Chamber, is still a practising barrister in the 
Brussels Court of Appeal, and perhaps it is not going 
too far to call him the leading lawyer as well as politician 
of his country. Solicitors do not fill the same position 
of importance that they do among us. One of the ex- 
planations is that a considerable portion of their duties 
is performed by the notaire, an important personage in 
Belgian life, of whom something must be said presently. 
The solicitor, or avoue, has studied law like the avocat in 
the University, and taken his diploma. But his work 
consists in giving a legal form to documents, preparing 
wills, etc. He does not instruct the avocats in the same 
way as English solicitors draw up the case for barristers, 
and it is permissible for the client to treat direct with his 
counsel. Their principal work lies in the conduct of 
litigation outside the courts, and in instructing the 
huissiers (sheriff's officers) in the collection of debts. 
The avou'es are not a numerous body, and they are also 
to be found only in the principal towns. Throughout 
Belgium there are probably not a hundred practising 
avou'es altogether. 

The 7iotaire> or notary, has no legal training or position, 
but he discharges all the business side of a solicitor's 
profession with us. All sales and transfer of house 
132 



in Town and Country 

property and land have to be executed before him in 
order to possess validity. He is a commissioner of 
oaths, and in, at least, the provinces he is the custodian 
of family papers and documents. He is also consulted 
in all matters of business, and no Belgian would think 
of purchasing a property before he had taken the advice 
of his notary. A good deal of banking business passes 
through his hands, for he often takes charge of the 
money of his clients, and makes them advances as 
required. In country towns he is the most important 
man in the place, for not only does he know every- 
body, but he holds in his hands the information which 
enables him to judge the financial position of every one 
in the town and the surrounding district. Far more 
than the parish-priest is he the keeper of the public 
conscience. As notaries are paid a definite fee or a 
commission on the amount of money that passes through 
their hands on the sale or purchase of property, they 
generally are able to save a considerable sum of money 
during their lifetime. They have also opportunities of 
purchasing land or houses on favourable terms. Their 
daughters are thus often the possessors of a tempting 
dot, which enables them to marry an officer in the army 
or a member of the petite noblesse. As a body the 
notaires are an honourable class, and this explains the 
great confidence reposed in them. But of course there 
are exceptions, and since speculation on the Bourse 
has increased of late years, paragraphs in the newspapers 
are sometimes seen announcing the failure and flight of 
a notaire. The principal interest from the general point 
of view of such an incident is that there is then revealed 
the magnitude of the sums entrusted to the custody 
of the notaires. Some years ago there was a rather 
notorious case in one of the southern towns, when a 
notaire made away with over a million francs of his 
clients' money. 

All criminal prosecutions are undertaken by the Pro- 
cureur du Roi. He differs from our Public Prosecutor 



Belgian Life 



in this respect, that he conducts the prosecution himself 
in court. A certain number of barristers are salaried 
by the State for this purpose, but when many cases are 
in progress any barrister may be retained to act as 
Procureur du Roi. 

There are maisons d' arret in all the small towns or 
Assize districts, and in the large towns there is a maison 
de surete. Prisoners are kept in these pending trial. 
At Brussels there are three of the latter — one for women, 
formerly in the Rue Petits Carmes, occupying the site of 
the Hotel Culembourg, but now in the Ancien Hopital 
Militaire, in the Rue des Minimes, and two for men. 
Of the latter, one is an old building in the Rue des 
Minimes on the side of the hill on the top of which 
Brussels stands, and the other is a new and extensive 
building at St. Gilles flanking the Chaussee de Charleroi. 
A new prison to take the place of the one in the Minimes 
is being built at Forest. The two chief prisons of Belgium 
for prisoners after sentence is passed are situated at 
Louvain and Ghent. At Ghent there is also a reforma- 
tory for youths. It was here that Sipido was incarcerated 
after he was brought back from France. Belgian prisons 
are under the control of the Minister of Justice, who 
selects suitable candidates for the posts of the Governors 
and Deputy-Governors, who are appointed by the King. 
They have the reputation of being well managed, and 
although released prisoners have not yet contracted the 
bad habit of publishing the record of their infamy and 
its punishment, the general impression is that Belgian 
prisoners do not suffer great hardships in prison. 

The complaint made by the Brussels householder as 
to there not being a sufficient number of police is not 
surprising, considering that the total police force of 
Brussels does not exceed five hundred men, and many 
of these are employed in the administration and are never 
seen in the streets at all. In accordance with population 
this force, as compared with that in London, is only 
one-third of what it ought to be. Some increase has 

134 



in Town and Country 

been made of late, including a body of bicyclists, but the 
total is still inadequate for a great city covering so large 
an extent of ground as Brussels. The police are armed 
with a short sabre, and since the Socialist disturbances of 
1899 they have carried a revolver. There is a dangerous 
criminal class in Brussels which congregates chiefly in 
the Rue Haute, a sort of Seven Dials, and the suburb 
of Schaerbeck. The greater portion of the offences in 
which violence plays a part are committed by professional 
criminals. The bulk of the citizens are extremely well 
behaved and give no trouble to the police. One ex- 
planation of the ease with which the population is 
managed lies in the system of compulsory registration 
at the police-office, and thus the authorities can put their 
hands at once on any member of the community, or 
at least ascertain that he or she has quitted the fixed 
address. Servants are compelled to notify their changes 
of situation, all of which are recorded in a little book 
which they submit to the examination and control of the 
police. The inspection of the livret of any servant is 
sufficient to reveal her personal history. 

It is the fashion in England to sneer at the Brussels 
policeman, and he is generally represented as a very 
puny fellow, devoid of physical strength and courage. 
He used to be a favourite butt of Pimch. As is often 
the case, the facts are not as they are popularly repre- 
sented to be, although it maybe admitted that during the 
last ten years considerable attention has been paid to 
the reorganization of the force and to the physique of 
the men composing it. It is consequently improved 
from what it was. Taking the corps as a body, they are 
a set of self-respecting men, who are held in respect by 
the community. As a force they are popular, which 
shows that they do not abuse their authority. Some of 
the misconception that has arisen in the British mind 
about them is due to the fact that it is not part of the 
duty of a Brussels agent de police to give information to 
the tourist and traveller, and consequently when accosted 

135 



Belgian Life 



in a matter-of-course sort of a way, as if he was a mere 
official intended to wait on strangers, he used no doubt 
to give very often a brusque answer, or no answer at all. 
On the other hand, if approached in a proper manner, 
with the customary slight elevation of one's hat, he will 
salute in return and give all the information at his dis- 
posal as cheerfully as do our own excellent constables. 
The newspapers contain every day one or more instances 
of exceptional courage and devotion to duty on the part 
of agents de police. 



136 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER XIII 

IN TRUE WALLONIA 

Although the original home and birthplace of the 
Walloon race cannot be found and specified with the 
same precision as in the case of the Flemings, there is 
no question that Liege may be called its central point. 
On the south it may be considered to be bordered by 
the Hautes Fagnes ; westwards it extends to the borders 
of Brabant, its eastern limit is Aix-la-Chapelle, which 
is historically a Walloon city, and on the north it 
touches the modern province and old Duchy of Limburg. 
Except the portion which has been German for cen- 
turies, and which has in Montjoie the most typical of 
all Walloon towns, the province of Liege represents 
the true home of the Walloons. The origin of the 
name Walloon appears to be the German word c welch,' 
cultured or civilized. We may take it that this title 
was given to the settlers in the productive and attractive 
Meuse valley by the other tribes of Austrasia long- 
before Liege had come into existence, and at a time 
when Tongres, Herstal, Landen, and Aix-la-Chapelle 
were the important towns of the Walloon country. 
Herstal sprang into fame because the Merovingian kings 
established there a hunting residence. These places 
became more famous as the cradle of the succeeding 
dynasty of the Carlovingians, or Carolovingians. Landen 
was the birthplace of the first Pepin who is distin- 
guished by its name, Herstal gave birth to the second, 
i37 



Belgian Life 



and the third Pepin or the Short was born at Jupille, 
on the opposite bank of the Meuse to Herstal, and 
supposed to have been another villa for the chase in 
the forest that covered the greater part of this region. 
Many places dispute the honour of having given birth 
to his son and successor, Charlemagne, but the claims 
of Herstal or Jupille are probably better than those 
of any of the others. At the same time it may be noted 
that volumes have been filled with learned theories on 
the subject without any absolutely certain result, for 
none is possible. The citizen of Herstal is just as proud 
and confident of the fact as his neighbour of Jupille 
across the river, and both are now small places, mere 
suburbs of Liege. On the other hand, Aix-la-Chapelle, 
which claimed the honour of being the birthplace of the 
greatest historical figure between Caesar and Napoleon, 
was undoubtedly his favourite residence and holds his 
tomb. 

The character of this region differs considerably from 
the other provinces of Belgium. It is more rugged than 
any part of the Ardennes, stands on a higher elevation, 
and although the growth of population has been followed 
by the general clearing of the woods, a visit to the 
Hautes Fagnes or the forest of Hertogenwald will 
convey some idea of what it must have been like in 
the days of the famous Mayors of the Palace. The 
valley of the Vesdre, despite the presence of numerous 
factories and villa residences, presents a savage aspect 
that is not to be found in any other part of the country. 
The little stream forces its way between dark and over- 
hanging rocks, and the railway from Liege into Prussia 
passes through twenty-five tunnels in as many miles. 
Throughout this region the oak used to abound, and 
in the beautiful woods on the summit of the range 
behind Chaudfontaine the king of trees can still be found 
in great numbers. There is also an extensive oak forest 
round the chateau of Argenteau near Herstal. 

The chateau of Argenteau, beautifully situated, is the 

138 



in Town and Country 

seat of the Counts Mercy-Argenteau, the most famous of 
whom was the Ambassador sent by the Empress Maria 
Theresa to Paris in the time of Queen Marie-Antoinette, 
and whose memoirs throw so much light on the period. 
Not far from it commence the limits of the hitherto 
neutral district of Moresnet, which, owing to the inability 
of Prussia and the Netherlands to come to an agree- 
ment about the frontier in 1815, was left autonomous. 
Moresnet consists chiefly of a mountain that contains 
large and valuable zinc deposits. It is about three 
miles in length, and a mile and a half broad. A little 
time ago some stir was made by a rumour that a pro- 
ject had been formed for opening there the gambling- 
tables that the Belgian Parliament had caused to be 
closed at Spa and Ostend, and now it is stated that 
Moresnet is about to lose its distinctive character, Prussia 
and Belgium having come to an agreement to divide it 
between them. 

The Hautes Fagnes, called in German Hohe Venn, 
extend from the Ambleve to the Prussian frontier and 
across it. The popular watering-place, Spa, is situated 
within their limits, and also the Baraque Michel, which 
is the highest mountain in Belgium, viz. 2080 feet. 
The exact origin of the word Fagnes has not been 
ascertained, but it signifies an uncultivated elevated 
plateau, covered with heath and forest. The name 
without the adjective is applied to a district between 
the Sambre and Meuse near Chimay, but the Fagnes 
generally known as such is the plateau lying south-east 
of Liege. It forms the highest altitude between the 
basins of the Rhine, Moselle, and Meuse. This region 
is the home of legend and folk-lore. The people are 
intensely superstitious, and believe in ' the little men ' 
who rule in the woods during the night time, and who 
sometimes come into the villages and do the villagers' 
work for them. These genii are called sottais. There 
are numerous customs which show a remote origin. 
One is that of sending the children on the first Sunday 
139 



Belgian Life 



in Lent to collect wood and brushwood at all the 
houses for the purpose of lighting bonfires on the 
hills. Those who refuse become very unpopular, and are 
supposed to make themselves liable to attack the next 
day by the children who employ the burnt sticks for 
the purpose of blackening their faces. In the Vesdre 
valley it is the accepted popular opinion that the souls 
of the departed live in the trees, and on All-Souls-Day 
children are strictly forbidden to cut wood for fear of 
disturbing them. At Verviers itself the children go 
about swinging pots of live coals, and begging for 
centimes for the poor souls. The Walloon country is 
certainly the home of folk-lore, and volumes have been 
written on the subject. 

In character, the pure Walloon is the finest and most 
distinctive type in Belgium. Leaving aside the degenerates 
of town life, he is a man of good height and fine 
physique. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see men of 
immense burliness, built like an ox, as the saying is, who 
seem a survival of the turbulent age of Charles the Bold, 
Louis XI., and the wild-boar of the Ardennes, so admir- 
ably portrayed in Scott's ' Quentin Durward.' The type 
is generally dark in both sexes, but it is entirely free from 
the swarthy element, due to the Spanish connexion, which 
is specially marked in Brabant and Luxemburg. It will 
be remembered by students of history that Liege quite 
escaped the troubles of the second half of the sixteenth 
century, and remained passive, but independent, under 
its Prince-Bishops. Consequently the Spaniards never 
had anything to do with Liege or its dependent districts. 
The Walloon is a man of very considerable energy, 
throws himself into whatever interests him with equal 
determination and animation, and although somewhat 
prejudiced against any outside interference or innovation, 
he has built up, by hard work and steady perseverance, a 
great local prosperity. Guicciardini, the Italian envoy, 
much of whose description of the Belgian races is true 
to-day, although he wrote in the sixteenth century, said 
140 



in Town and Country 

of the people of Liege : ' The citizens of Liege are 
industrious people, very ingenious, of much spirit, ready 
to undertake anything. The Walloons are undaunted by 
any kind of work, their ardour communicates itself also 
to their women, who share with them the rudest toil.' 

In old days the Walloons were noted for their turbu- 
lence and spirit of independence. In the Middle Ages, 
the Flemish weavers of Ghent were considered stiffnecked 
and quarrelsome, but the good people of Liege were 
always deemed able to go a little further in the way of 
combativeness than any other Belgians. It was Charles 
the Bold who first tamed their haughty spirit, or rather 
made them suffer for it. Perhaps in doing this he 
reduced his own power and resources, and paved the way 
for his own discomfiture at the hands of the Swiss. 
It is unnecessary to tell the story of his capture and 
punishment of the city, but his subsequent expedition 
against Franchimont is less known, and will bear re- 
peating. Franchimont is in the Hautes Fagnes, and lies 
a few miles north of Spa, on the road to Pepinster, 
the castle of Pepin, as the local authorities say, but with 
doubtful truth. It possessed a strong castle, held by a 
Marquis, who took his title from the place and who con- 
trolled the foresters and mountaineers of this region. 
When Charles the Bold and his hostage Louis XI. sat 
down before Liege, a summons for aid was sent to all the 
dependent towns, and among others to Franchimont. In 
its case the summons was readily responded to. The 
chief marched with his retainers and the foresters of the 
Hautes Fagnes to the rescue. The night surprise which 
so nearly succeeded, as told in the chronicle of Corn- 
mines and the pages of ' Quentin Durward,' was the deed 
of the men of Franchimont. After the capture of Liege, 
Charles marched to Franchimont, destroyed the castle, 
and, having killed many of its inhabitants, returned with 
a considerable number of prisoners of both sexes, whom 
he summarily got rid of by throwing them off the Lidge 
bridge into the Meuse. 

141 



Belgian Life 



Such was the end of Franchimont in history, but it 
lives in legend. Scott's lines, in ' Marmion,' perpetuate 
the story : — 

' Did'st e'er, dear Heber, pass along 
Beneath the towers of Franchemont, 
Which like an eagle's nest in air 
Hang o'er the stream and hamlet fair ? 
Deep in their vaults, the peasants say, 
A mighty treasure buried lay, 
Amass'd through rapine and through wrong 
By the last Lord of Franchemont.' 

The story goes that the devil in the guise of a hunts- 
man keeps watch and ward over an iron chest buried 
below the castle. As excavations have been made and 
nothing found, the tradition has no longer even local 
value. The eminence on which the castle stood is of only 
slight elevation, standing above the streamlet called the 
Hoegne, which flows into the Vesdre, and of the ruins 
scarcely anything remains. The hundred years since 
Heber visited the place have wrought a great change, 
and the materials of the old castle have been freely used 
in the construction of the modern village of Theux. 

The turbulence of the Walloons was well established, 
quite apart from the local history of Liege. The great 
district of Hesbaye — called in mediaeval documents Hes- 
bagne — separates the principality from Brabant. It was 
an early seat of Walloon colonization, and Tongres was 
their capital before Liege came into existence. The 
Walloon chiefs, who had erected strongholds in this 
country, resented any intrusion into their territory, 
killing and plundering all travellers. Hence the saying 
became common: 'Whoever enters the Hesbaye is fought 
on the morrow.' Travellers soon gave this district a 
wide berth, and having no one else to fight, the Walloon 
chiefs began to fight with one another. In the thirteenth 
century the first of these wars between Walloon Capulets 
and Montagus broke out between the Awans and Waroux, 
and when that feud ceased to supply excitement through 
142 



in Town and Country 

the deaths of all the principals, a fresh quarrel and cause 
of strife were provided by the Grignoux and the Chiroux. 
They were a brave, reckless people, whose legends would 
make a long story. 

Perhaps the following incident gives as good a proof of 
their fearlessness as any other. The devil figures in most 
of their legends, and in this he took on himself the form 
of a pretty woman, whom one of the Hesbaye chiefs found 
weeping by a fountain. He took her home to his castle 
to supper. In the morning the devil revealed himself in 
his true form. The undaunted Walloon merely remarked, 
'When you get back to hell tell them that you were never 
better entertained.' The characteristics of the mediaeval 
Walloons were preserved by their descendants in the 
sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, during 
which the Walloons fought well in the service of their 
foreign masters. It was at St. Quentin in 1557 that 
the Walloons first obtained the recognition of Europe 
as first-class fighters, and the reputation of their infantry 
as the most efficient and formidable force on the 
Continent remained undisputed for nearly a century. 
Conde's victory at Rocroi in 1643 was the first defeat 
they had suffered, and so far as courage went, they had 
rarely fought better. It is of this period that Schiller 
speaks in his Wallenstein, when he says of one of his 
characters, ' Respect him, for he is a Walloon.' But it is 
quite a mistake to assume, as some do, that the martial 
records of the Walloon race end with Rocroi. The Wal- 
loon contingent of the Imperial Army, after the Austrian 
rule was established in the Spanish Netherlands, was a 
corps delite. Belgian officers, and especially Walloons, 
rose to high command in the Imperial Army, from the 
time of Merode, in the war of the Spanish succession, to 
that of Clairfayt and Beaulieu, in the wars with the 
French Republic. When France succeeded Austria as the 
dominant power in the South Netherlands, the Walloon 
contingent was transferred to the former by one of the 
clauses of the Treaty of Luneville. The Belgians did 
143 



Belgian Life 



not preserve all their distinctive regiments in the French 
service, but at least the Latour Dragoons continued an 
old and honourable name. In the army of the Empire, 
Belgian troops had a good reputation, and General 
Thiebaut considered them better than French troops. 
After the fall of Napoleon in 1814, over 2000 Belgians 
who had received the Legion of Honour returned to 
their homes. In an earlier chapter the opinion has been 
expressed that the success of the Belgian rising in 1830 
was mainly due to the courage and dash of the Liege 
volunteers under Charles Rogier, in other words, to the 
co-operation of the Walloons. This active participation 
explains the selection of Liege as the scene of the great 
exhibition to be held in 1905 in honour of the seventy- 
fifth anniversary of the declaration of Belgian in- 
dependence. Certainly so far as site is concerned no 
selection could have been better, and the broad and 
swift-flowing Meuse, as it sweeps round Mount Ste 
Walburga, presents a panorama to which there are 
few equals in Europe. Great efforts are being made 
in order that the exhibition should prove a success and 
worthy of the occasion, and thus with a mixture of 
pride and business capacity a national celebration will 
be made to serve a practical purpose in giving the 
already well-known productions of Liege factories a 
still wider reputation. Both the King of the Belgians 
and Prince Albert are taking a lively interest in the 
preparation of the exhibition. 

If any one wants to get a favourable impression of the 
Belgian nation, it is to Liege that he should go as a place 
of residence, and from that city visit the towns and villages 
famous in the history of the Walloons. The facilities of 
intercommunication are great, the hotels are better, 
taken as a whole, than in any part of Belgium, the air 
is bracing and invigorating, the villages are clean, with a 
complete absence of the fumieres that detract from the 
pleasantness of the Ardennes, and they contain a healthy 
and hospitable population. The English tourist knows 
144 



in Town and Country 



Liege and Spa, but beyond those places he is never seen 
in the true country of the Walloons. 

Liege, the city founded by the Bishops of Tongres, who 
transferred their seat there in the tenth century, and of 
whom the most famous was Bishop Notger — it was said 
of him that God made Notger, but Notger made 
Liege — has already been treated of as a manufacturing 
centre. But, like Antwerp, it has another and quite a 
different role. Liege is a fortified position of the greatest 
importance, because it stands in the path of any army 
advancing from Germany. Until the year 1890 its 
defences were obsolete. They consisted merely of the 
Fort of La Chartreuse, on the right bank of the Meuse, 
and the citadel on the left ' crowning the lofty and im- 
posing Mount Ste Walburga. As a protection for the city 
of Liege, these forts were valueless, even before the great 
increase in the range of artillery. It was in 1888 that 
after long discussion the Belgian Chamber passed the 
necessary votes for the fortifications of the Meuse Valley. 
These consisted of the defences of Namur and Liege by 
a circle of detached forts, so that not merely the towns 
themselves should be rendered safe against bombardment, 
but that the passage of the Meuse should be rendered 
impossible. Both systems are the same, and were carried 
out on the plans and under the personal direction of 
General Brialmont. The forts axe forts a coufiole, with guns 
that are raised and lowered automatically. The cannon 
in them carry their shell for over ten miles. To each 
fort is attached a barrack, and the forts, where possible, 
are connected by a military road, and even in some 
instances by a tram-line. I say where possible, because 
the forts are on different sides of the river, and at Namur 
the Sambre intervenes in the system as well as the Meuse. 
Of the two positions Liege is infinitely the more im- 
portant, although the theory upon which they were 
constructed was that Namur would" close the Brussels 
road to the French, and Liege that from the German 
frontier. As Namur does not in any way command the 
145 l 



Belgian Life 



Charleroi and Mons roads to Brussels, it follows that it 
does not fulfil the role assigned to it. It is merely the 
fete de pont at the important junction of the Sambre and 
Meuse. On the other hand, Liege does fulfil the role 
imagined for it, because it commands all the roads from 
Germany into Belgium. The successful defence of Liege 
would therefore keep Germany off Belgian territory in the 
event of war. Liege, as a strategical position, is indeed of 
the first importance, not merely for the defence of Belgium, 
but on the map of Western Europe having regard to its 
present political conformation. In fact, it may be doubted 
if there is a more important fortified position in the part 
of Europe with which this country might become con- 
cerned than Liege. 

Under these circumstances a brief description of the 
system of defence at Liege will not be out of place. The 
outlying forts are twelve in number, and stand upon a 
circumference measuring 31 miles, and the average 
distance between them is 2\ miles. The intervening 
country is therefore fully commanded by rifle-fire from 
the adjacent forts. Six of the forts are on the right 
bank of the Meuse, and six are on the left. The former 
are the more important, or at least they would be 
exposed to the first attack. They are in their order from 
north to south — Barchon, Evegnee, Fleron, Chaudfon- 
taine, Embourg, and Boncelles. Of these the forts at 
Fleron and Chaudfontaine are the most exposed to 
attack, and would be the immediate object of any coup 
de main from the side of Germany, as they protect the 
main line of railway from Cologne. Their possession 
would open the door into Belgium, for the defence of the 
other forts of Liege would be then practically impossible. 
Remembering that future wars are likely to be of sudden 
commencement, and that the main object with the 
opposing commanders will be to snatch some material 
advantage within the first few hours after the signal is 
given, it becomes clear that only the inclusion of Belgium 
within the field of warlike operations is necessary to 
146 



in Town and Country 

make the possession of Liege a vital point, on which the 
result of the first campaign might depend. The forts on 
the left bank of the river are, taking them in the same 
order as those named, but on the western curve — Pontisse, 
Liers, Lantin, Loncin, Hollogne, and Flemalle. The 
last-named is on the Meuse, some distance above Seraing. 
They complete the defences of Lidge, but they would 
only be called into action in the event of a regular 
investment of the place. The value of all forts depends 
on the adequacy of the force defending them, and there 
is no doubt that the regular garrison of Liege is very 
small. At one time these new forts, which cost altogether, 
including armament (Namur and Liege), four millions of 
our money, were only tenanted by a sergeant and a 
corporal's guard. Of late years this has been increased 
to a company, but by an extraordinary oversight there 
was no officers' accommodation, and every evening the 
officers on guard went back to the regimental mess in 
Liege, slept in the town, and only returned the following 
morning. For the longer half of the twenty-four hours 
these forts then were left without an officer. In 1902 a new 
arrangement came into force by which one officer has to 
pass the night in each of the forts or casemates, as they 
are officially termed. It is curious that after sinking so 
much money in these defences the most elementary pre- 
cautions are neglected in providing for their security. 

Enough has been said to show the important part 
that Liege plays in the national defence of Belgium. It 
stands for the Walloon half of the country in precisely 
the same manner that Antwerp does for the Flemish, as 
the bulwark of its security and independence. It is 
liable to far the greater danger of the two, because 
it is the sentinel on an exposed frontier. Moreover, 
Antwerp is a strictly defensive position, whereas the 
possessor of Liege will have in his hands the best possible 
base for offensive measures either eastwards or westwards. 



147 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER XIV 

AMUSEMENTS AND LEGENDS 

Some one has said that the Belgians work fifty-two weeks 
a year, including Sundays. An exception must be made, 
however, for fete days, when all work is discontinued. 
There is no compulsory religion by the Constitution, but 
the fete days are those of the Church — Easter with its 
Carnival, Pentecote or Whitsuntide, and the Assumption 
in mid-August. Besides these there are the Fetes Nation- 
ales, held by order of authority on the four days from 
23rd to 26th July, and the King's/^ has been incor- 
porated with them. Pentecote and the Assumption are 
really holidays of one day each, and as they occur during 
the summer they are observed by all who can afford the 
expense by making excursions to some favoured spot on 
the Meuse, in the Ardennes, or elsewhere. As travelling 
is cheap, and as clubs are formed to share the expenses 
in common, a clerk or an artisan from Antwerp or Liege 
can visit the Han grottoes, La Roche, or the Castle of 
Bouillon for a comparatively small number of francs. 
Special trains commence running at an early hour in the 
morning, and continue bearing their human freights to and 
fro across the little kingdom until long past nightfall. The 
trains are packed to repletion, and the holiday-makers 
are exceedingly boisterous. It is an occasion on which 
timid persons and foreign visitors should stay at home. 

The other holidays are more especially fete days, in 
the sense that they are celebrated locally, and each city 




*>0*,n •', Atf. 





in Town and Country 

and even commune has its own special and typical 
display. Those of Lent, distributed at intervals of a 
fortnight between the Little Carnival, Mi-Careme, and 
Grand Carnival, are very much of the same character 
throughout the country. In Brussels the Carnival enjoys 
a special vogue, on account of its being the capital and a 
pleasure-loving city. Dances are given in every petty 
casino or dancing-hall, while at the Opera House a grand 
masked ball is provided for those who can purchase the 
ten-franc tickets. The upper boulevards are crowded 
with domino-wearers, the pleasant avenues are covered 
with a shower of pink and green confetti, but it is in the 
lower town that the battle of the Carnival is waged with 
the greatest animation and vigour. A procession of 
carriages following a prescribed route is held during the 
day, passing through the Place de la Monnaie, which is 
supposed to be the place of inspection. Those who take 
part in it are masked for their own protection against 
the fusillade of confetti encountered along the route, and 
especially at the points of blockage which frequently 
occur. In the evening the rougher element gains the 
ascendant, especially in the covered galleries, and it is 
not always harmless confetti alone that is thrown. The 
police have introduced some regulations with the object 
of controlling the disorder and of preventing the crushes, 
in which people have lost their lives or met with serious 
injury, but they have not been very successful. 

The Carnival is, of course, general throughout Belgium, 
but perhaps it is more animated in the Walloon provinces 
than in Flanders. The prettiest celebration of all used 
to take place at Spa in the lifetime of the late Queen of 
the Belgians, and a small section of Belgian society 
endeavoured to emulate there the gaiety of the Riviera. 
The battle of the flowers round the Pouhon used to be 
an extremely pretty sight, but now that the patronage of 
the late Queen exists no longer, it is to be feared that at 
least the Carnival attractions of Spa will become a thing 
of the past. 

149 



Belgian Life 



The Fetes Nationales are made the occasion of 
much jubilation. They signalize the stirring events of 
September, 1830, when the people of Brussels rose 
against the Dutch. One of the most touching scenes is 
the procession of the few survivors of the Belgian Volun- 
teers who took part in the rising to the Place des 
Martyrs, where they lay wreaths on the monument to 
their gallant comrades. The Burgomaster appears in 
state with the sheriffs, and the Veterans, as they are rightly 
termed, are entertained at a dejetmer. Another of the 
days is marked by a military review or march past of the 
garrison before the Royal Palace. It is a fair occasion 
to inspect Belgian troops, and if allowance be made for 
the nature of the road, a paved chaussk, with many in- 
equalities, which would throw any troops out of line, the 
inspection will not give rise to unfavourable comment. 
The horses of the Guides are excellent for light cavalry, 
although they may seem a little pampered, and not hard 
enough in condition for real active work. The Grena- 
diers are big fellows, but the little Carabiniers, who in 
stature might be compared to the Goorkhas, march past 
best of all the infantry. The fetes are generally brought 
to a conclusion by a marche des flambeaux round the 
Boulevards at night, and sometimes there are fireworks 
on the island called Robinson Crusoe, in the Bois. 

During the summer the principal communes, which 
make up the city of Brussels and its suburbs, hold their 
kermesses. The kermesse in Brussels is now little more 
than a country fair is with us. There are merry-go- 
rounds, shooting-galleries, swings, a small menagerie, 
perhaps, and a theatrical troupe. The music is generally 
supplied by the band of the commune, but the most 
noise comes from the mechanical barrel organs, which 
are almost incessantly at work. The old allegorical 
representations, however, which used to form the main 
feature of the kermesse are now rare or wholly absent. 
During the kermesse of Brussels itself, the effigies of the 
Mannekin, and of some of the heroes of Brabant history, 
150 



in Town and Country 

are carried through the main streets of the lower town. 
Everard T'serclaes, who recaptured Brussels from the 
Flemings in the fourteenth century, is perhaps the popular 
hero in these processions, and his representative comes in 
for a big ovation. The kermesse itself is held in the Boule- 
vard de Jamar, close to the southern station. Of the other 
kermesses held in the suburbs nothing in particular need be 
said. Each town has its own particular/^, and no useful 
purpose would be served by attempting to give a cata- 
logue of them. It is better to select a few which will 
convey an idea of the survival of mediaeval traditions in 
a country that seems in many respects given up to the 
material concerns of modern life. At Mons the annual 
fete occurs on Trinity Sunday, and is called the parade 
of Lumecon, which is the Walloon for limafon, a snail. 
The allegory represented is none other than the legend 
preserved in so many varying forms throughout Christen- 
dom of St. George and the Dragon. At Mons the hero 
is called Gilles de Chin, and the dragon is represented 
as some indescribable monster, which kept a Princess a 
prisoner in the forest near the town. The dragon is duly 
killed on the pretty Grand' Place below the old citadel. 
The great curiosity formerly displayed on this occasion, 
but now shown only in a wooden facsimile, was the Mons 
cannon, which is alleged to have been used at Crecy, 
where a contingent from Mons fought on the side of the 
English— the Queen of Edward III. being Eleanor, 
Countess of Hainaut. At Hasselt, the capital of Lim- 
burg, situated at the opposite extremity of Belgium to 
Mons, the local fete is held on the day of the Assumption, 
viz. 15th August. This is the celebration of Virga Jesse, 
the patron of Hasselt. Hasselt, situated in the midst of a 
forest of nut trees in olden days, derives its name from hazel- 
bosch, i.e. hazel-wood. Several routes met at Hasselt, 
and many travellers passed by it. An image of the Virgin 
Mary was attached to a large tree near the present town, 
and travellers deposited offerings there to secure good 
luck on their journey. In course of time a town grew up 
151 



Belgian Life 

round the shrine, and the inhabitants handed down the 
legend of Virga Jesse. In the fourteenth century it became 
a place of pilgrimage, and a chapel having been built for 
the purpose, the statue was deposited therein, and on 
Assumption Day it was carried in procession through the 
streets. In the eighteenth century the ceremony was altered 
from an annual affair to one of every seven years. The 
statue is supposed to be very old, and shows the black- 
ness of age. A handsome crown, with stones presented 
by one of the Popes, and estimated to have cost ^300, is 
placed on the Virgin's head for the procession ; and among 
the possessions of the shrine is a fine velvet mantle, also 
covered with jewels, and thrown over the statue for the 
procession. 

All the ceremonies of the fete do not partake of a 
religious character. There are reminiscences of the time 
when the people of the Hazel Wood were heathens, and 
the distinctive feature of the fete is not the bedecked 
statue, but the streets and lanes bordered with fir trees, 
which temporarily convert Hasselt into its original forest. 
For weeks and even months before, all the women and 
children of the place are engaged in collecting the 
required wood from the forest, so that the smallest house 
may have its fir tree planted in front of it. Triumphal 
arches are erected at fixed points, and at each of these a 
halt is made by the procession, so that a scene in the 
legendary history of Hasselt may be enacted. Hendrich, 
the first inhabitant of the place, is represented living his 
primitive life in his hut, with his wife, his goats, and his 
pigs. His representative is allowed to smoke his pipe, 
as the good people of Hasselt cannot imagine a state of 
happiness without one. 

Another scene is that of the knight who loses his way 
in the forest, to whom the Virgin makes a miraculous 
appearance, and leads him to the hut of Hendrich. 
There are many other scenes, but none rouses the same 
excitement as the effigy of the giant, who once held the 
whole forest in terror. He is represented as an enormous 
152 



in Town and Country 

figure covered with armour and seated on the trunk of a 
tree, the whole drawn through the streets on a triumphal 
car. He is called the ' Lounge Man,' or the Big Man, 
and when he comes out in the procession the excitement 
is even greater than on the appearance of the statue with 
the supposed miraculous properties. By a curious arrange- 
ment, the statue contains a reservoir of thick pea-soup, 
which is distributed gratuitously to all comers. At the 
last celebration in 1898, there were 30,000 visitors, many 
coming from Holland and Germany to see it, and there is 
no reason to believe that the next septennary will show 
any decline in popularity. 

Many of the popular processions partake of the character 
of pilgrimages, such as the anniversary at Notre Dame 
de Montaigu. This shrine was founded by the Archduke 
Albert and the Archduchess Isabella at the beginning of 
the seventeenth century, and it was under the patronage of 
the late Queen of the Belgians, who used to drive herself 
from Laeken in order to be present on the occasion. 
The procession from Rochefort to Foy Notre Dame, not 
far from Dinant, possesses a great attraction for the 
people of the locality, and every seven years there is 
a regular march of a large part of the population, 
in addition to the annual pilgrimage. The story goes 
that Foy Notre Dame got its reputation during a severe 
outbreak of plague in the sixteenth century for the 
remarkable cures effected, in the cases of those who 
paid it a pilgrimage. The interest to-day lies in the 
revival of the procession which a Count of Rochefort 
organized during a time of great trouble from the 
prevalence of the plague. The men who take part in 
it are drilled for weeks beforehand by an ex-soldier, 
and all the farmers combine to form a cavalcade, in 
which the chief figure is the Count of Rochefort. The 
old and the children follow in carts and vehicles of all 
kinds. A start is made at daybreak on Whit-Monday, 
and it is late in the evening when they get back. On 
entering the town they are received with a salute from an 
153 



Belgian Life 



old cannon borrowed for the occasion. The last proces- 
sion was in 1899, and it will be in 1906 that the time 
will arrive for the next. The pilgrimage to St. Hubert 
is more of a religious undertaking than the semi-popular, 
semi-religious festivities that have been described. In 
the first place a considerable number of the participants 
are the sick and suffering, and the special disease for 
which a visit to the shrine of St. Hubert is supposed to 
be efficacious is the terrible one of hydrophobia. Under 
such circumstances the ideas of amusement and jocularity 
that are so natural to the Belgian mind in other revivals 
become repugnant and impossible. The legend of St. 
Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, is one of the best 
known. The place where the disbelieving officer of the 
Emperor Charlemagne met the stag with the shining 
cross between its antlers, is marked by a chapel in the 
forest still called La Converserie, or the place of con- 
version. He gave his name to the forest as well as the 
town, and his tomb is still shown in the crypt of the 
church, which has been rebuilt several times over it. 
The existing church was purchased for ^1500 by the 
Bishop of Namur, during the French Revolution, and 
thus saved from destruction when the lands dependent on 
the Abbey were sold by auction, and fetched ^80,000. 
It is said that as many as 30,000 pilgrims proceed every 
year to St. Hubert on the Saint's anniversary. 

Among popular legends none has been better preserved 
than the story of the Four Sons of Aymon, and their 
wonderful horse Bayard. The legend relates to the time 
of Charlemagne, the great Emperor of Western Europe, 
who had much difficulty in keeping his turbulent vassals 
in order. Among these the most troublesome was Duke 
Aymon and his four sons, Renault, Allard, Guichard, and 
Richard, all men of enormous stature and strength, 
Renault, the biggest, being not less than sixteen feet in 
height, according to the story. Aymon had also a 
brother named Buves, of Aigremont. Aigremont lies not 
far from Huy, and still boasts of a fine castle belonging 
154 



in Town and Country 

to Count d'Oultremont, and it was once the seat of 
power of the Wild Boar of the Ardennes. Buves refused 
to take part in Charlemagne's expedition against the 
Saracens, and when the Emperor sent one of his sons to 
remonstrate with him, Buves murdered him. The Em- 
peror came with a large force to punish him, and Buves 
was killed in battle. Then the four sons of Aymon swore 
vengeance and fled to the Ardennes, where they built 
the castle of Montfort stronger than Aigremont had been, 
and the ruins of which may still be seen on the Ourthe. 
They surrounded it with three walls, and defied the 
Emperor. Renault fought on horseback, and his cousin 
Mangis, son of Buves, gave him the magic horse Bayard, 
which could run as fast as the wind, and never grew 
tired. For seven years the sons of Aymon held their 
own, but at last the Emperor came with a mighty force, 
and captured the castle by force or fraud. Among his 
retinue was Duke Aymon himself, whom he obliged to 
follow him, and may have employed to deceive his sons. 
Be that as it may, the Castle of Montfort was taken and 
destroyed, and the four sons of Aymon barely made 
their escape by mounting all together on the horse 
Bayard. On this occasion they escaped, and are next 
heard of in Gascony, where they drove out the Saracens. 
The King of Gascony, named Yon, was not grateful, and 
gave them up to Charlemagne, but they fought their way 
through his forces. Their end is shrouded in mystery. 
Of Renault it is said that he became a monk at Cologne, 
and also that while directing some masons in their work 
he was ignominiously thrown by them into the Rhine and 
drowned. He was subsequently canonized, and there 
is a fine monument to him at Dortmund, in Westphalia. 

There are more details in the chronicles as to the fate 
of the horse Bayard. It was at last captured by some 
of the men of Charlemagne, and brought before the 
Emperor, who addressed it as follows : ' You have often 
upset my plans, and now you are in my power you shall 
upset them no more.' He then gave orders to tie a heavy 
*55 



Belgian Life 



stone round the horse's neck, and to throw it into the 
Meuse, which was done. But Bayard shook off the 
stone and swam to the other bank of the river, and, 
giving three neighs of triumph, disappeared into the 
forest. The legend goes on to declare that the horse 
was really immortal, and that he may be still coursing 
through the Ardennes, although he carefully avoids the 
sight of man. The legend of the sons of Aymon and 
the horse Bayard is to Belgian children what that of 
King Arthur is to us, but it is only at Termonde that 
there is a representation annually on the Grand' Place of 
some of the incidents in their career. 

In Hainaut there is a curious survival of the Middle 
Ages in the number of archery clubs that exist,' and in 
the popularity of the exercise. The archers take the 
pursuit quite seriously. They may be seen in consider- 
able numbers on Sundays at all the stations between 
Tournai and Mons, proceeding to the butts of their 
special society. The bow used is really a long-bow such 
as was used at Crecy, and is carefully kept in an oil-skin 
or leather case to prevent the string getting damp. A 
quiver containing the arrows is carried at the side or over 
the back. For festive or ceremonious occasions there is 
a showy uniform, of green or other coloured jerkins, a 
bonnet of the same colour, with a feather, and leather 
trousers, tight fitting to below the knee, with buskins. 
The archers of Hainaut enjoy the patronage of the 
authorities, and possess privileges that have a very 
remote origin. The services they used to render in 
return are no longer of any practical value, and they 
represent a mere tradition. 

Of late years a considerable change has been passing 
over the school-life of Belgium, at least among the well- 
to-do classes. More attention is paid to outdoor games 
and sports than formerly. Cricket has not become as 
popular as football and hockey, for the reason that the 
cricket-field attached to the school does not exist, while 
football has to be played on the asphalt or stone yard. 

156 



in Town and Country 

Some of the football teams from Ghent, Brussels, and 
Antwerp are quite efficient. There are rowing clubs at 
Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp, and a Ghent crew has 
figured twice at Henley, and its admirers hope yet that 
it will carry off the honours. Golf has been taken up by 
the smart set, and the wild heaths of the Campine and the 
dunes behind Ostend are admirably adapted for links. 
To the public mind in Belgium, however, golf is still an 
exclusively English amusement, and a few years ago 
nobody would have assumed that a Belgian could play 
it, at least in Belgium. The following little adventure 
happened to a party of Belgian gentlemen who had 
formed a golf club not far from Antwerp. It was in the 
year 1900, when the anti-English feeling on account of 
the Boer War was at its height, that these gentlemen, 
attired in the regulation costume of knickerbockers, etc., 
were returning from their game, when some Flemish 
boys began shouting, 'A bas les Anglais,' or rather its 
equivalent in Flemish. The boys were joined by others, 
and soon there was a small crowd. Finding the matter 
had gone far enough to be pleasant, the Belgian golf 
enthusiasts turned round and delivered their pursuers an 
edifying lecture in the best Flemish dialect. Whether 
anything was said reproving them for their outbreak 
against the English I know not, but at least they were 
informed in unmistakable terms that some of their fellow- 
countrymen wore knickerbockers and played golf. 

The games of the people are few and simple. In a 
considerable number of the estaminets a notice appears 
that there is a billiard table. This will be found to be a 
miniature concern, and, of course, without pockets, for the 
French game. Still more frequently the notice will have 
the attractive word ' Quilles,' and a skittle-alley will be 
found in the back garden, or more generally in a passage 
at the side of the house. If there is a really national 
game in Belgium it is skittles. What skittles is for in- 
doors, the jeu de bal is for out-of-doors. This is played 
in all the towns in the open squares, and even in the 
157 



Belgian Life 



streets. It consists in hitting a tennis-ball from one 
player to the other with the hand, or more often with a 
wooden instrument, half bat half glove, that fits on the 
hand. This bat, as we should term it, is called gant, or 
glove. The communes institute competitions on fete 
days, and give prizes to the most skilful player. In the 
cafes the men play dominoes, more rarely backgammon 
or bac, and still more rarely chess. Still greater pleasure is 
probably derived from gossip, while they sit at their ease 
in the cafes sipping their pecque or gin. On a fete day a 
very large number of the holiday-makers will spend the 
whole day passing from one cabaret to another, restrict- 
ing their visits to those kept by their friends and perhaps 
by their relations. It would be difficult to compute how 
many glasses they imbibe altogether on these occasions, 
especially as in some parts of the country there is a 
half measure of pecque retailed for a halfpenny. 

Music perhaps affords the greatest amount of pleasure 
to the Belgian mind, and the bands of comparatively 
small places attain a very considerable degree of efficiency. 
During the summer they perform several evenings a week ; 
but perhaps they are heard to the greatest advantage 
when they turn out to attend the funeral of some re- 
spected resident in the commune. A funeral is the 
spectacle that gives the foreigner the most favourable 
impression of the Belgian people. As the procession 
moves to the church the band leads the way giving 
forth probably Chopin's ' Marche Funebre ; ' when the 
music stops, the priest, who follows, escorted by at least 
two acolytes bearing the holy ensign, intones the lessons 
of the dead ; then come the family mourners, the females 
veiled so as to be invisible, and finally the crowd of 
friends, acquaintances, and even personal strangers, 
practically the whole male population of the commune 
or townlet which can possibly be present. When the 
funeral is that of a young female, girls and children, 
probably her playmates, attend as an escort to the coffin, 
which is always borne to the church on men's shoulders. 

158 



in Town and Country 

It is a very affecting sight, and reveals true kindness of 
heart and sense of fellow-feeling. The Belgian's respect 
towards the dead is one of his most cherished traditions. 
Let not the English tourist refrain from paying his 
tribute too, by uncovering as the coffin and chief 
mourners go by. 



59 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER XV 

LITERATURE AND SCIENCE 

In the chapter relating to the development of Flemish 
political influence, it was shown how the movement was 
preceded by an epoch of remarkable literary activity. 
The names of Conscience and Ledeganck are the greatest 
in the Belgian literature of the nineteenth century; 
but towards the dawn of the twentieth there appeared 
two new literary leaders, Maeterlinck and Verhaeren, 
whose intellect belongs rather to the new century than 
the old. It is not a little curious that it should have 
been reserved for Flemish writers to show that there 
existed in the French language a rugged force and a 
capacity for expressing popular emotions in popular 
language that had not previously been discovered. The 
' Douze Chansons ' of the former and the ' Jan Snul ' of 
the latter writer were revelations of linguistic power and 
originality. To these names must be added that of 
Camille Lemonnier, who stands for the Walloon world 
as the two others do for the Flemish. His remarkable 
work, Le Male, has recently been crowned as a chef 
cToeuvre by French Societies not over lavish in distributing 
their laurels abroad. 

It is as well for the reputation of modern Belgium that 
there has been this manifestation of literary genius by 
some of its citizens, for otherwise it might be declared 
that the whole nation was absorbed in the pursuit of 
material prosperity, and had lost the secret and the 
160 



in Town and Country- 
desire of intellectual vigour. For to tell the truth, litera- 
ture in Belgium has few rewards. It brings neither great 
fortune nor great fame unless the individual's reputation 
spreads beyond the narrow limits of the kingdom and 
becomes European. The Flemings, as a race, are proud 
of their writers, but now that they have taken to writing 
French, which is only understood by one-tenth of the 
race, their popularity can never equal that of the author 
of the ' Leuw van Vlaanderen.' At the same time there 
has never been any lack of literary activity in Belgium. 
The number of painstaking searchers into the voluminous 
and intricate historical records of the country has been 
beyond easy computation. Their names are to be found, 
not merely on the title-pages of separate works, but as 
contributors to the long series of volumes issued by 
historical and literary societies, many of which enjoyed 
only a brief and obscure existence. The researches of 
Gachard, Kervyn van Lettenhove, and others have pro- 
duced results that have led to a reconstruction of history. 
One instance may be referred to. Every English reader 
knows Motley's picturesque and belief-compelling portrait 
of Cardinal Granvelle. Yet new facts and documents 
have been discovered which in skilful hands might pro- 
vide the material for showing that after all he was only 
a reasonable and moderate statesman. 

The Flemish records at Ghent have not been more 
carefully compiled and annotated than those of Liege, 
and the only difference between them is that whereas 
the former dovetail into, and to a great degree actually 
constitute, the national history, the latter possess a purely 
local importance, and seem to lie outside the main course 
of Belgian history. To the generation of record-hunters 
and record-preservers succeeded another of historians, 
who utilized the materials garnered by their industry. 
Even when the cares of office were on him M. Nothomb 
was still more distinguished as a man of letters than as a 
statesman. In diligence and industry it would be diffi- 
cult to surpass M. Theodore Juste, who produced a score 
161 M 



Belgian Life 



of volumes upon passages in the history of his country, 
as well as one solid work treating it as a whole from the 
time of Caesar. In popularity M. Nameche has displaced 
M. Juste, and his ' General History ' has been adopted 
for the schools. Within the last few years M. Pirenne 
has been engaged upon a history that is full of promise, 
but up to the present he has only reached the Burgundian 
period. Among philosophical works the maxims of the 
late M. Emile Banning, a public servant of approved 
merit, would take a high place in any literature, while 
General Brialmont, his friend and fellow-worker, who 
died recently, has enriched military bibliography with 
many works, of which a life of Wellington is perhaps the 
most remarkable. 

There has, therefore, been no lack of writers in Belgium 
since it became independent, and a list of Belgian authors 
and their works would fill a good-sized volume. But 
none the less literature does not take the high place in 
the social life and public estimation of the country to 
which it is entitled. If this is true of serious literature, 
it is still more true of journalism, although journalists in 
Belgium cannot complain, as serious writers do, that they 
lack an audience. The Belgians do not read much, but 
they read newspapers, and as the journals are of limited 
size they read several of them in a day. The main 
defect of journalism in Belgium is that it writes to please 
the passions rather than to increase the intelligence and 
educate the opinions of its readers, It fixes upon some 
subject that happens to be prominent — recent instances 
are the Dreyfus case and the Boer War — and all its 
comments are subordinated to the attempt to foment the 
passions and prejudices of its readers. Every bit of 
news, true or false, is turned to the purpose of demon- 
strating that the people or cause which has had the mis- 
fortune to incur the displeasure of Belgian journalism is 
wholly in the wrong or completely unworthy. 

During the South African War many instances of this 
character occurred. One may be given. A London 
162 



in Town and Country 



telegram was published stating that the Argentina revenue 
showed a deficit, but the sub-editor altered it by accident 
or design to an English deficit, and the worthy editor, 
full of mistaken zeal, at once dashed off a leader full of 
confident assertion that proud Albion stood on the verge 
of ruin. The incident is typical of the manner in which 
writers in the Belgian Press are carried away by their 
preconceptions, until they persuade themselves that the 
only temple of Truth in Europe is to be found in the Rue 
des Sables, the Brussels Fleet Street. 

There are many political writers who produce from 
time to time pamphlets or treatises dealing with the 
questions of the hour, and this form of literature is by 
no means unpopular or unremunerative. While our 
publishers look askance at pamphlets, their colleagues in 
Belgium are favourably disposed to them. In the first 
place, the Belgian reader does not care for too solid fare. 
If it is to appeal to him it must be light, compact, and, 
above all things, cheap. In the second place, the amount 
risked by the publisher or the author is proportionally 
small, and this pleases his caution. The number of 
readers who will pay a franc for a small treatise is large 
even in Belgium, and the probable sale may be safely 
estimated by a knowledge of how far the views contained 
in the work are in accord with the wishes and prejudices 
of one or other of the two political parties. 

Brussels has always been a favourite home of the 
pamphleteer. In the time of the Austrian rule there was 
quite a deluge of pamphlets as the precursor of the 
Walloon revolt, and Count Kaunitz, the Austrian states- 
man, endeavoured, but in vain, to crush the movement 
by summary measures. The period of 1814-T5, before 
the formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was 
also one of great activity in pamphleteering, and at 
that time the cry was even raised for a republic under 
the style of the United States of Belgium. The rising 
of 1830 was preceded by a campaign of ephemeral 
literature now completely forgotten, but which gave the 
163 



Belgian Life 



keynote to the movement. So at the present time 
pamphlets frequently appear on the question of universal 
suffrage, the condition of national defence, including the 
privilege of pre-emption, and the Congo colony. 

Besides the pamphleteer there is an instructor of the 
public called a confirencier^ to whom we do not possess 
an exact counterpart, for the title of lecturer does not 
convey the same idea here. Our men of science and 
letters give lectures, but that is only done as a mode of 
drawing attention to what they have discovered or intend 
to describe in a book. On the other hand, the lecturer, 
as known in the United States, where lecturing has 
enjoyed a great vogue, does not give a fair idea of the 
Belgian conferencier, who is always a man of exceptional 
academic and literary distinction. Perhaps the most 
correct description of this personage is to say that he 
resembles a University lecturer with us, who, in place of 
confining himself to his class or his college, will come into 
the drawing-room and address a select audience on some 
serious and talked-of question which he has carefully 
studied and considered from different points of view. 
The great merit of a co7iferencier is to be brief. He has 
to enunciate all the principles underlying the subject in 
a succession of apothegms, and, above all, he must not 
exceed twenty minutes in discharging his task. The 
most successful conferencier of his day was M. Nys, whose 
lecture on ' The Neutrality of Belgium ' is quite a tow de 
force, and whose talent has been rewarded with a Judge- 
ship in the Court of Appeal. 

Enough has been said, perhaps, to show that there is 
no inconsiderable amount of literary life in Belgium, 
notwithstanding that the public is engrossed in material 
pursuits, and that the opinion in general is in favour of 
earning money instead of fame. Up to the present, 
however, the display of true literary genius has been 
restricted to the Flemish race; but the old exclusive 
partiality for their own tongue is not retained by the 
writers of to-day, who are employing French as the 

164 



in Town and Country 

means perhaps of achieving a wider distinction. Thus 
it almost naturally happens that the distinguished writers 
Maeterlinck and Verhaeren have taken up their residence 
in Paris. In the sphere of politics the pen is mightier 
than the sword, and the combats of parties in the 
Chamber of Deputies are preceded and accompanied 
by the appearance of brochures, which place the issues 
before the country as they are regarded by Catholics, 
Liberals, or Socialists. 

The literary club does not exist as we understand it. 
There is a Cercle Artistique et Litte'raire, very exclusive, 
in which the literary man is conspicuous by his absence. 
There is a circle of journalists, which is a society 
rather than a club, and which is at the other end of the 
social ladder. Halfway between the two is the Cercle 
Africain, a club primarily devoted, as its name implies, to 
those interested in the Congo, but which is, to a great 
extent, a literary institution. It occupies a picturesque 
old building known as the Hotel Ravenstein, which stands 
on the brow of the hill formerly crowned by the palace 
of the Caudenberg. The gentlemen who contribute to 
the Congo Beige and the Congo Illustri, as well as the 
better-known Mouvement Geographique, make it their 
headquarters, and lectures are periodically given there 
by officers returned from Central Africa. 

The artistic world of Brussels and Antwerp is some- 
what more prominent than that of letters. The people 
have a genuine passion for music, and consequently those 
who excel in it have the assurance that they have only 
to possess some merit to achieve a certain popularity. 
There is a further inducement to take up the study of 
music because the course at the Brussels Conservatoire 
is free to all Belgians, and there are prizes of different 
kinds for those who display exceptional merit in either 
composition or execution. Moreover, the Conservatoire 
is the recruiting-ground for the bands and orchestras 
of the country, so that the humblest student may 
imagine that he is qualifying for a career in life. The 

165 



Belgian Life 

Conservatoire has undoubtedly produced some remark- 
able musicians, of whom at the present day M. Ysaye is 
the best known. 

The arts of painting and sculpture are recovering 
something of their lost preeminence and popularity in 
the Netherlands. The historical school founded by 
Gallait and Wauters, with the dawn of independence, 
still flourishes. The young school of Belgian painters 
are brilliant colourists, but when they achieve any dis- 
tinction they flit to Paris, and their reputation becomes 
French. The most brilliant of all Belgian painters is 
Alma Tadema, for, although Dutch by birth, he was 
educated and trained in the Antwerp school, and Sir 
Laurence, like his great predecessor Sir Antonio Van 
Dyke, has done his best work in England. The prizes 
of supreme success and merit are too few to detain the 
greater class of artist at home. Belgium has also pro- 
duced a long array of meritorious sculptors. The 
equestrian statue of Godfrey of Bouillon, in the centre 
of the Place Royale, is one of the grandest works of its 
kind, and will perpetuate the name of Eugene Simonis. 
The statues of Rubens and Van Dyke at Antwerp are 
scarcely less worthy of praise and reflect credit on the 
brothers Geefs. Antwerp is specially rich in statues 
produced by the modern school, and William Geefs, the 
better known of the two brothers, is represented in 
Brussels by the figure of the first Leopold that crowns 
the Column of the Congress. Much of the talent of the 
sculptor has been devoted to the embellishment and 
restoration of the old churches and town halls of the 
country. Many of these possessed niches which were 
supposed to or did hold statues, and many modern 
sculptors have been engaged in restoring or complet- 
ing them during the last thirty or forty years. The 
Counts' Chapel at Courtrai is a striking instance in 
point, and similar work has been done outside the Town 
Hall of Ghent. There is one sculptor of great promise 
whose name may be mentioned, because he is half English, 
166 



in Town and Country 

the Count James de Lalaing, a member of the famous 
family of Hainaut. 

Among Belgian architects of the last century, Guimard, 
who built the Palais de la Nation, and Poelaert, the 
designer and constructor of the grandiose Palais de 
Justice at Brussels, are the best known and need alone 
be mentioned. The Palais de Justice, which covers 
more ground than St. Peter's at Rome, occupies a site 
on the southern extremity of the hill on which stands the 
upper town. The site has been happily chosen, for it 
dominates the valley that separates the two lines of hills, 
and the massive pile is seen to the fullest advantage. 
Poelaert sought his inspiration in the Eastern World. 
The Hall of Karnak and the palaces of the Assyrian 
kings served him as a model, but the dome is that of St. 
Peter's. Nearly twenty years were occupied in erecting the 
building, and about ^1,200,000 was spent on it, at which 
some Belgians occasionally make a wry face to-day as 
so much money wasted. On the other hand, the Belgians 
should feel some satisfaction in knowing that if it had 
been constructed by any of their neighbours it would 
have cost twice as much. There is no lack of patriotism 
in wishing that our London Law Courts and the Brussels 
Palais de Justice could change places. 

The profession of architecture is one of the most 
successful and best remunerated in the country. This 
arises from two causes, the necessity of providing new 
residential quarters for the increasing population, growing 
visibly in wealth as in numbers, and the embellishment 
of the principal towns, either by the restoration of old 
monuments, or by the construction of new buildings 
adapted to the requirements of modern days. King 
Leopold II. is taking the lead in inaugurating a regular 
plan for the improvement of Brussels in an aesthetic 
and architectural sense, which will make it worthy of 
its picturesque site. Not merely are new palaces 
and stations in course of construction, but the streets 
and squares in the new quarters are being laid out 
167 



Belgian Life 



on a definite plan, and in a style that has been pre- 
viously approved of by the authorities. Architects are 
thus having a busy and profitable time of it. Among 
their greater undertakings of lasting importance may 
be mentioned the buildings in connexion with the 
new docks and quays destined to make Brussels a 
seaport. 

In science, especially in engineering, Belgians have 
taken a high place. The courses at several of their 
Universities are specially framed to give every one a 
chance of pursuing that career with credit and success 
if he chooses. As mineralogists, surveyors, and geologists, 
they have every opportunity of doing good and useful 
work in a country whose prosperity depends on the 
development of its resources on the surface of the earth 
and beneath it. Belgium is so thickly populated, and 
the population continues to increase at such a rapid rate, 
that the greatest anxiety is felt by thoughtful Belgians lest 
the plethora of inhabitants should suddenly produce a 
decline in the national wealth and prosperity because 
shared by too many persons. Science, represented by 
engineering in the first place, is one of the chief agencies 
to which the authorities look for averting a national peril 
that might entail a national collapse. Hence the public 
rejoicing when it became known that the Campine, which 
was, practically speaking, unproductive, contained in its 
bosom coal deposits that may rival and must materially 
supplement those of Hainaut. A careful examination of 
this extensive coalfield, on which fifty shafts have already 
been sunk, some to a depth of 2000 feet, has shown 
that the anticipations as to its wealth have been in 
no way exaggerated. The deposits reveal good steam 
coal as well as anthracite. Belgian engineers are 
especially good in the construction of railways. They 
display marked ingenuity in turning or evading great 
natural difficulties, and they work with a closer eye to 
economy than many of their competitors. This is 
especially true of light railways, which are made on a 
168 



in Town and Country 

narrow margin of profit at which our plutocratic con- 
tractors would scoff. 

Finally, medical science has been highly developed in 
Brussels. The courses at the two great hospitals, St. 
Jean at one end of the town and St. Pierre at the other, 
are largely attended by those who have taken the 
necessary diplomas in the Universities, as well as by 
foreigners. The medical degree of Brussels used to 
be much coveted. Any foreigner who wishes to practise 
in the country must possess it, but it is usually conferred 
honorarily on any medical man who possesses equivalent 
degrees in another country. Belgian doctors have the 
reputation of being specially clever in cases of fever 
and cholera. The terrible epidemic of the latter in 
1866-67 gave them many opportunities of studying the 
disease that did not fall to the medical practitioner in this 
country. That epidemic was also the cause of a generally 
improved system of sanitation in the chief cities. Ghent 
was in a special degree purified, from the hygienic point 
of view. Brussels, at least the upper town, has been 
carefully drained. There is not a more sanitary city in 
Europe, and the supply of water, now that the waters 
of the Bocq, a tributary of the Meuse, have been added 
to those of the old springs in the forest of Soignies, 
is excellent and abundant. Science in Belgium is well 
represented by these improvements, for it takes a 
practical utilitarian form, which thoroughly appeals to 
the genius of the nation. 

Enough has been said to show that the intellectual life 
of the country is not dead. In the arts and the sciences 
the activity is by no means inconsiderable, and this is 
the more remarkable because the remuneration is small 
and the prizes are few. It is true that most people work 
in Belgium for small salaries which to Englishmen of 
the same grade seem a mere pittance, but the recom- 
penses of any intellectual pursuit are in a still more 
striking degree inadequate. I have reason to say 
that there is not an artist, musician, or author who 
169 



Belgian Life 

by his earnings in Belgium and from Belgians makes 
^500 a year, and that the successful journalist is very 
fortunate if he can make as much as ^300. These 
earnings appear to us wretched, but they are not out 
of proportion with those of Ministers of State at ^800, 
and Judges at a trifle more. There is, however, another 
hardship that literary men have to endure, and that is the 
want of social recognition and status. I have heard 
rich merchants scoff when the name of some clever writer 
among their own fellow-countrymen was named. It is well 
for a literary man in Belgium to have some definite place 
in society on his own account, or by reason of his family, 
or, failing these, to be at least a functionary. Otherwise 
he will fare badly. The artist, whether musician or 
painter, has a better chance. For him there is always 
an entrance to Bohemia, and, if he cannot discover that 
country, in Brussels, Paris is not far off, and there are 
over a million of his countrymen resident in the French 
Republic. 



170 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER XVI 

IN LEAFY ARDEN 

The greater part of Belgium might be fitly compared to 
a factory district in one half, or a market-garden in the 
other. The smoke-laden country of Charleroi and the 
Borinage, of Liege and Seraing, presents as little that 
may be termed attractive as the flat and heavily manured 
vegetable fields of Flanders. But there is one splendid 
exception in the region commonly called the Ardennes, 
which includes the province of Luxemburg and por- 
tions of the provinces of Namur and Liege. Here 
Belgium possesses a playground and a health resort 
which in its way will bear comparison with anything 
in Europe. The light railways have made the greater 
part of the Ardennes easily accessible ; but there are 
still bits left here and there of the virgin forest, which 
may have given shelter to the Belgian tribes in the 
time of Caesar. For the Belgians, outside this recog- 
nized holiday resort, business, and not pleasure, is the 
order of the day; but here, amid the pure charms of 
the country, they seek and find the change and recrea- 
tion that enable them to endure the atmosphere of 
the cities or manufacturing districts during the greater 
part of the year. With the Belgians, a change to the 
mountain air of the Ardennes at some period of the 
year is almost as much a matter of course as the sea- 
side trip in July, August, and September, and on fete 
days, even in the winter, thousands of members of clubs 

171 



Belgian Life 

and societies from all the large towns swarm into 
this region to visit some of the local curiosities, such as 
the Han grottoes, or merely to breathe ' the grand air of 
the country ' {Je grand air de la camp ague). 

The region is bounded on two sides — the north and 
the west — by the river Meuse. On ithe east it is flanked 
by that part of Rhenish Prussia which is known as the 
Volcanic Eiffel, and on the south there is France for the 
chief part, and the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg for a 
shorter distance. As the part of France touched is also 
portion of the ancient Ardennes, the scenery remains 
unchanged for a certain distance from the frontier, and 
this is especially the case in the woods extending north 
of Sedan to Bouillon on one side, and Florenville on the 
other. Here a few yards into the brushwood, flanking 
the Belgian road, takes one on to French territory. The 
elevation varies between 400 feet and 2000 feet at the 
Baraque de Fraiture, which is the second highest point 
in the country. Two principal lines of railway pass 
through it from north to south. First there is the main 
line from Brussels to Switzerland, passing by Namur, 
Jemelle, Libramont, and Arlon, which are all convenient 
halting-places, or junctions, for different parts of the 
Ardennes. Further east there is the main line from 
Pepinster for Verviers to the Grand Duchy. Between 
the two are connecting lines from LiCge to Huy and 
Ciney, from Liege to Jemelle, and from Gouvy to 
Libramont. On the western side, Jemelle and Roche- 
fort are connected by an excellent light railway with 
Dinant on the Meuse, which is itself in communica- 
tion with Namur by a line of railway that connects 
further south with the French system at Givet. In the 
summer there is also an excellent steamboat service on 
the Meuse between Namur and Dinant. The best bits 
of Meuse scenery occur in this strip and for a short 
distance above Dinant, the steamers proceeding as high 
up as Hastiere. Another light railway branches off in a 
southerly direction at Houyet, and forms a loop round 
172 



in Town and Country 

the southern frontier, which it does not approach nearer 
than from five miles at Florenville to twenty at Bertrix. 
A steam-tram connects Paliseul, one of the stations on 
this line, with Bouillon, and another is in course of con- 
struction from Bertrix to Herbeumont, which may be 
continued into France, linking on with the French 
system near Messempre. These lines will render more 
accessible the beautiful Semois Valley, to which reference 
will be made hereafter. 

In the centre of the picture stands La Roche, con- 
nected on one side by a tramway with the station of 
Melreux, but on every other separated by over twenty 
miles of road from a railroad. Between it and St. 
Hubert exist some of the finest parts of the ancient 
forest, and the valley of the Upper Ourthe adds many 
romantic features to its sylvan glories. St. Hubert 
itself, although famous for its shrine in honour of the 
Hunter Saint, and for the annual pilgrimage which is as 
numerously attended as that to Lourdes, presents no 
attractive features to the traveller beyond the fact that it 
provides an excellent stopping place for those who wish to 
drive, cycle, or walk through the best portions of the old 
forest. The best way to accomplish this object is to 
divide the available time equally between La Roche and 
St. Hubert. By this arrangement the whole of the 
valley of the Upper Ourthe can be explored, including 
the picturesque townlet of Houffalize, which is exceed- 
ingly popular with the Belgians, because it stands high, 
and enjoys a great reputation for salubrity. 

For the purpose of description, the Ardennes may be 
divided into four groups, the valleys of the Lesse, the 
Semois, the Ourthe, and the Ambleve. Of these the 
Lesse is the best known by English travellers, but, with 
the exception of a very small portion of this stream 
between Anseremme and Houyet, the Semois is by far 
the most beautiful river, and passes through the most pic- 
turesque scenery in Belgium. The Lesse rises a little 
west of Libramont, and joins the Meuse at Anseremme, 
173 



Belgian Life 



two miles above Dinant. One of its remarkable features 
is that it passes underground at Han, and flows through 
the celebrated grottoes at that place. A little below 
Han it sweeps round the Royal chateau of Ciergnon, 
dominating a picturesquely wooded hillside. Although 
in the springtime much of the landscape is rendered 
brilliant by the bright and luxuriant gorse, which turns 
the surrounding heights into mountains of seeming gold, 
the striking portion of the river only commences at 
Houyet, and is limited to the twelve miles of its meander- 
ing course down to the Meuse. At first the river flows 
in a broad channel, which in flood time spreads over the 
adjacent meadows, between great hills not less than 
500 feet above the valley, and covered from base to 
summit with trees of various kinds, but chiefly beeches 
and pines, which in October present a glorious mass of 
autumn tints. The cliffs are fully concealed with vege- 
tation, and there is little that is savage or sombre. The 
crest of the hills on the right bank is occupied by the 
Chateau d'Ardenne, once a Royal residence, but some 
years ago converted into a hotel. During the life of Leo- 
pold I. it was used as a shooting-box, and the sport over 
the 16,000 acres attached to it used to be very good; 
but as his son and successor had no tastes in the direction 
of sport, the place fell into neglect, until five years ago it 
was converted into a fashionable hotel. In the first king's 
time he resided in a tower which commanded the best view 
of the Lesse, and this was said to be his favourite retreat. 
This Tower of the Rock {Tour du Rocher), as it is called, 
forms a conspicuous object in the landscape, and is 
the only part of the chateau which can be seen from 
below. The chateau itself stands at a distance of two or 
three hundred yards from this tower. 

Below this point the river takes a more savage form. 
The meadows have contracted, the surrounding cliffs are 
less covered with trees, and the river cuts its way through 
a narrow channel flanked by the walls of nature. The 
light railway passes through a succession of tunnels, the 
174 



in Town and Country 

river-path, no longer close to the stream, often leaves 
it, and mounts, falls, and remounts with the exigencies 
of the locality. After six miles of increasing grandeur, 
the wildest and most characteristic feature of the Lesse 
is reached in the rocky heights of Furfooz, with their pre- 
historic caves. The path has crossed to the left bank of 
the river at Hulsonniaux, so that a full view is obtain- 
able of this magnificent cliff, which presents an impass- 
able barrier to the river, and turns it round its base. 
The cliff side is battered and breached by the storms of 
countless centuries, and its grey and reddish side, with 
many a clough, looks like the wall of a fortress that has 
withstood a long siege. The caves of the reindeer age 
are exceedingly interesting, although all the human bones 
and utensils found in them have been long removed to 
the Museum at Brussels. One cave is in the side of the 
cliff at only a slight elevation above the river, and it is 
commonly believed that this cave was used as a place of 
burial. 

A little below Furfooz is a further collection of caves 
at Chaleux. In one of these was found a human jaw- 
bone of a very early period. The panorama which com- 
mences at Furfooz is completed at Walzin. Here the 
river takes another bold sweep beneath a massive cliff, 
which extends from the ruined tower of Caverenne to the 
restored chateau of Walzin, and forms an imposing amphi- 
theatre above the river. The chateau of Walzin was 
built in the thirteenth century, and was once the strong- 
hold of the Counts d'Ardenne and the De la Marcks. 
It stands sheer with the cliff, and the skill with which it 
has been restored by its modern proprietors reflects 
much credit on their good taste. From Walzin the final 
stretch of the river to Anseremme is short, and calls for 
no particular notice. Formerly the junction of the 
Meuse and the Lesse was considered one of the pretty 
views on the former river ; but the useful has overcome 
the picturesque. The fine stone bridge that has been 
thrown across the Meuse of recent years at this point, 
175 



Belgian Life 



and which serves for the railway as well as for ordinary 
traffic, has quite destroyed the view favoured of old by 
artists. The excellent hotel accommodation obtainable 
at Dinant near one end of the Lesse valley, and at 
Rochefort at the other end, has made the whole of this 
district better known to English travellers than any other 
portion of the Ardennes, while the curious grottoes at 
Han and Rochefort, as well as the prehistoric caves 
round Furfooz, provide objects of interest that attract 
the merely inquisitive as well as the learned. 

The valley of the Ourthe is much less known, and 
while it presents none of the striking features of the 
Lower Lesse, it passes through much pretty scenery. 
The name of the main stream is given indifferently to 
two of its upper courses, one, the longer, rising near Libra- 
mont, and the other, which is much shorter, on the eastern 
frontier near Prussian territory. The two branches join 
about twenty miles above La Roche. The Ourthe flows 
into the Meuse at Liege. The two most picturesque 
places on its banks are Durbuy and La Roche. Durbuy 
is situated in a striking position on the river, concealed by 
hills, which overlap each other ; and on approaching it 
from Barvaux, a turn of the road suddenly reveals its 
ruined castle and ancient bridge. There are few better 
subjects left in Belgium for the artist, and it has not 
become hackneyed. Durbuy is quite a little place ; it 
has been called a little gem. 

La Roche is a place of far greater importance. It lies 
in a sort of basin, surrounded on all sides by lofty hills. 
The only approaches are those made by the Ourthe, 
which casts a loop round it. The road from Melreux, 
now flanked by the steam-tram, follows the course of the 
river, and so does one road to Houffalize. There are 
other roads that have been cut down the hillsides, one 
from Viel Salm and the Baraque de Fraiture, another 
from Champion, where the roads to St. Hubert and 
Nassogne bifurcate. In the centre of the town, crowning 
the summit of a small rock, which gave the place its 

176 



in Town and Country 

name, are the ruins of the old castle, familiarly known as 
that of the Counts. The woods surrounding La Roche 
are exceptionally fine, and present its great attraction. 
Among the local sights is the famous Chateau du Diable, 
a castle of nature's formation on the model of a robber 
or baronial stronghold. A good portion of the forest of 
St Hubert is within driving distance. 

The Ambleve is a tributary of the Ourthe, flowing into 
that stream near Rivage, a little before it reaches the 
Meuse itself. The Ambleve rises in Prussia, and flowing 
past Stavelot, presents its choicest bits of scenery at Coo 
and Aywaille. The Cascade of Coo is known by pro- 
bably every visitor to Spa, but a visit to the whole of the 
valley from Rivage to Stavelot would repay the trouble. 
There is a light railway for the whole distance, with 
stations at convenient stopping places, and excellent 
hotels. 

The fourth and last valley is that of the Semois, which 
is, beyond doubt, the most beautiful and attractive 
portion of the Ardennes. The picturesque bit of the 
Lesse does not exceed ten miles, whereas the Semois is 
beautiful throughout the greater part of its course, or 
from Chiny to its junction with the Meuse at Montherme 
in France. In another respect the Semois surpasses the 
Lesse, and probably any other stream in Europe, and 
that is in its sinuous course. It meanders along by a 
succession of loops, great and little, which are reckoned 
at a hundred in a course of as many miles. As the 
Semois lies in the extreme south of Belgium, it was long 
outside the track of any ordinary traveller ; and the 
means of getting there, until a few years ago, were confined 
to the diligence. In those days the Semois was fre- 
quented by a few anglers, who had discovered the 
excellence of its trout, and the comfortable character of 
some of the hotels on its banks. The construction of 
the southern railway already referred to simplified the 
question of getting there, but even now a long drive has 
to be accomplished before reaching some of the most 

177 N 



Belgian Life 

attractive spots on the river. Herbeumont, for instance, 
is a twelve-mile drive from Bertrix, and Alle is about the 
same distance from Paliseul or Graide. The steam-tram 
from Paliseul to Bouillon was the first direct communica- 
tion by rail established with the river, just as that now in 
course of construction between Bertrix and Herbeumont 
will be the second. The southern line from Bertrix to 
Virton also crosses the river at Florenville, but that is so 
high up as to be of little use. One of the chief charms 
of the Semois Valley was its inaccessibility, and, in old 
days, to follow its course on foot upwards from Mon- 
therme seemed quite an adventure in an unknown land. 
It is now easy enough to reach ; the French have laid 
down a light railway from Monthcrmd to Hautes- 
Rivieres, their border town, and are now urging the 
Belgians to continue it on their side up to Bouillon. 
The advent of the railway, however, will destroy the 
old charm of such places as Vresse and Alle — dear to 
the angler and the artist. 

Bouillon is the true central point of the district, because 
it is the only place with any pretensions to be called a 
town. Famous for the castle of Godfrey of Bouillon, 
which preserves better than any other that can be called 
to mind the aspect of the early mediaeval fortress, it 
must attract the archaeologist, while its position on the 
only main-road from France into the Ardennes makes 
it strategically important. But it does not present the 
advantages for residence that may be found at many other 
places along the valley. Bouillon is confined on every 
side, so that no fresh air reaches it, and as the town is of 
ancient date the houses are old, and the question of its 
sanitary condition is more than dubious. A local autho- 
rity has computed that the graveyard has contained over 
one hundred thousand bodies. Bouillon will fully repay 
a visit for the inspection of its castle ; but the well-in- 
structed visitor will pass on quickly to either Alle in one 
direction or Herbeumont in the other. 

Among the most popular excursions along the whole 
178 



in Town and Country 

of the southern frontier is a visit to the battlefield of 
Sedan, which can be made with almost equal convenience 
from any of the places in the Semois Valley. The old 
post-road is from Bouillon to Sedan, and of late years 
this has been much improved by the construction of a 
new road on a different alignment. At Bouillon, too, is 
the Hotel de la Poste, at which Napoleon III. slept the 
night after the capitulation at Sedan. The room he 
occupied is shown, and little heeding the memories of 
that unfortunate disaster and its victim, the modern 
tourist may occupy the same four-poster as the fallen 
Emperor. Bouillon has other memories of the Franco- 
Prussian War. The place which Turenne called the key 
of the Ardennes was the headquarters of the Belgian 
Army protecting the neutrality of the Belgian frontier 
during that struggle. It was the chief hospital for the 
wounded Frenchmen who crossed the frontier. Many 
of them repose in the churchyard high up the hillside, 
reached by the Avenue of Sighs. Another excursion 
of a different kind is to the beautifully situated ruins of 
the once famous Abbey of Orval, about six miles from 
Florenville, and close to the French frontier. 

The finest bits of scenery on the river are, below 
Bouillon, the view from Corbion of the high cliff of 
Rochehaut, or the view from Rochehaut itself of the 
river sweeping beneath in a wide semicircle round 
Frahan, and, above Bouillon, the savage channel from 
Chiny to La Cuisine. Here herons and martin-fishers 
find a congenial haunt in the rock-strewn passage, and 
the navigation of the channel on fragile punts is not free 
from excitement and a sense of danger. The traveller 
who wishes to make comparisons between the Semois 
and the Lesse must see these two totally different pano- 
ramas on the former river before he can be in a position 
to decide. But apart from these special spots, the whole 
of the Semois Valley is picturesque, which cannot be said 
of the Lesse. Its picturesqueness is also entirely due 
to Nature. There are no ruined or modern castles to 
179 



Belgian Life 

suggest comparisons with the Rhine and the Moselle. 
Bouillon is the one exception, for the ruins at Her- 
beumont are hardly perceptible until one has got 
close to the knoll on which the once famous [castle 
stood. 

The great attractions of the Ardennes, as a whole, 
are the invigorating quality of the air over the whole of 
this plateau, well raised above the plains of northern 
and western Belgium, and the tranquillity of the life 
of the people, which forms a refreshing contrast to the 
bustle of the towns. Here, if anywhere, a perfect rest 
can be found. The hotels, taken all through the country, 
are good, clean, and comfortable, with excellent food 
and cooking. In the month of August, when foreign 
tourists come to largely swell the number of Belgian 
residents, who are taking their holiday in the country, 
the hotels are crowded, and accommodation is difficult to 
obtain. But if there are no rooms in the hotel, the pro- 
prietor will always succeed in finding accommodation for 
his guest at some house in the town or village. The 
accommodation, however primitive, may always be relied 
upon as being scrupulously clean ; and when it is remem- 
bered that the regular price for a bedroom is only one 
franc a night, this is very remarkable. I shall never for- 
get reaching Bouillon once about midnight, and finding 
all the hotels full, and then being taken all over the town 
with the fireman from the tramcar engine, carrying his 
lamp, and acting as my guide until a vacant bedroom was 
found. It was long past midnight when this was accom- 
plished, and the woman of the house took an infinity 
of trouble to make me comfortable, although an arrival 
of this kind must have put her to great inconvenience with 
the prospect of very little recompense, for they will accept 
nothing more than the regular price, unless it is put as a 
gift for the children. 

Life in the Ardennes is moulded in a different fashion 
from the rest of the country. It is more primitive and 
simple. The dinner is in the middle of the day, and at 
180 



in Town and Country 

a place like Rochefort, which has two excellent hotels, it 
consists of five or six courses, and the regular price is 
two and a half francs, or two shillings, for the meal. The 
evening meal is called a supper, but there is always one 
hot dish, and sometimes two. The average rate of the 
pension is five francs, which at the height of the season 
is slightly increased. For five shillings a day the tourist 
can always depend on a good clean bedroom and ex- 
cellent food. The quality of the cooking varies, but at 
some of the hotels, such as the Hoffmann at Alle, the 
Etoile at Rochefort, and the Bellevue at Viel Salm, it is 
really excellent. Now that the Ardennes are being 
steadily brought under cultivation, the character of the 
province is undergoing considerable change. Many of 
the woods which formerly covered the provinces of 
Namur and Luxemburg have disappeared, and in their 
places are ploughed fields and great bare downs, on 
which flocks of sheep browse. Owing to the ruthless 
manner in which the country was being stripped bare, 
a law was passed ordering that when trees were cut 
down saplings should be planted. In consequence fir 
and pine woods are being created in all directions. 
There is also a tendency to plant fruit trees, and pears 
and apples are doing so well, that some sanguine people 
are predicting that when the Ardennes cease to be a 
forest they will become an orchard. It is becoming the 
fashion of the wealthy merchants to have a country house 
in the Ardennes, and their villas of every scale of preten- 
tiousness are to be found all over the province ; but, as a 
rule, round some town with good railway facilities, like 
Rochefort. The representatives of the old feudal chiefs 
are practically extinct. Of those whose home is in the 
Ardennes, the Count de Limburg Stirum is perhaps the 
only representative left. But there are numerous repre- 
sentatives of the country gentry class still surviving. 
They lead a quiet and retired life of their own, keeping 
strictly to their own set, giving occasional dinners to 
their neighbours, enjoying such sport as can be found 
181 



Belgian Life 

where preservation is not attempted outside a very few 
arge estates, and only getting any great excitement in 
the winter, when the cold sometimes drives the wild-boar 
to maraud on the farms. For the resident as for the 
casual visitor, the Ardennes are a very tranquil and 
economical place of abode. 



182 




A BRUSSELS POSTMAN. 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER XVII 

SOME POPULAR TYPES — MEN 

I am perfectly aware that most English visitors to 
Belgium give a very unflattering description of Belgian 
character, and fix upon some national traits or habits 
to make them subjects of ridicule. This was not the 
impression I formed of the people during the several 
years I resided in the country, mixing with all classes 
of society and visiting parts rarely if ever visited by 
my fellow-countrymen. There are, of course, disagree- 
able persons in Belgium as in every other country, 
but I brought away the most agreeable opinion of 
the good qualities of the people as a whole, and in 
saying this I make no distinction between Walloons 
and Flemings. Both have their attractive side, although 
the latter are perhaps, on the whole, the more agreeable 
people to deal with. Leaving for others the unpleasant 
task of criticism, I only wish to dwell here on some 
of the popular types as they struck me in a favourable 
manner. Comparisons are notoriously odious, but in 
my opinion some of the types would compare favourably 
with the corresponding class here, although this is more 
especially the case with regard to the women, of whom 
I must treat in a separate chapter. 

If I were asked what class of men, taken as a whole, 

impressed me most favourably in Belgium, I should 

have to reply, the postmen. Perhaps my appreciation 

of the intelligence, amiability, and cheerfulness of the 

183 



Belgian Life 



Belgian facteur was enhanced by a sense of the dete- 
rioration that has taken place in London of late years 
among the carriers of our correspondence. Everybody 
must have observed the different manner in which the 
young recruit delivers his letters from that of the 
older and more serious functionary to whom we were 
accustomed some years back. Nowadays the London 
postman has only one object, to get rid of his packet 
with the greatest despatch. The letters are of no value 
in his eyes, he crushes them into letter-boxes that are 
obviously too small to hold them, he does not study 
the names, and goes blindly by the number, so that a 
portion of one's correspondence is always at somebody 
else's house, and it depends on a good neighbourly feel- 
ing whether it is only hours or days before it comes to 
hand. I would send these indifferent carriers to hear 
lectures on the value of letters, and to Brussels to get 
lessons in the art of delivering them. 

The Belgian facteur has raised the science of deliver- 
ing letters to the level of a fine art. He works with 
his head as well as his fingers. He has mastered the 
first secret of the profession. The important fact on 
the envelope is not the address, but the name of the 
person. His object is to find that person. An error 
in number does not baffle him. There may be no street 
on the address. The name is called out to the assembled 
facteurs in the sorting-hall at the Grandes Postes, and 
the man who goes out to St. Gilles or Etterbeck exclaims : 
' There is a person of that name at such and such an 
address ; give it to me, and I will see if it is for him.' 
If the person cannot be found this way, the register 
at the bureau de police is searched. If the name is not 
there, then only is it returned to the dead-letter office. 
I have had letters delivered to me which only bore 
the name Brussels, and I was a stranger in the land. 

There is another art that the facteur has learnt. He 
is always cheerful of aspect, as if he was the bearer 
of nothing but good news, and when he brings a 

184 



in Town and Country 

registered letter, he quite beams. I have once or twice, 
however, seen a grave sternness displace the smile, 
when the dull English man or woman, ignorant of the 
general custom, omits to give him the three or four 
sous that is the usual reward for a lettre chargee. It is 
little omissions of this sort that explain a good deal 
of our unpopularity on the Continent. The Belgian 
postman not only delivers the letters, but also the 
newspapers to subscribers, and I never recollect a paper 
going astray in the course of three years. Perhaps he 
is seen at his best on the occasion of the New Year, 
when it is the custom to send one's visiting-card to 
all one's friends and acquaintances. Then he works 
like a Titan to distribute the three million bits of 
pasteboard in Brussels alone. 

It may be admitted that the Brussels facteur would 
never be able to get through his work, or to do it so 
well, but for the electric-trams, which carry him from 
one end of the town to the other. These are used for 
another purpose in the matter of correspondence. A 
letter-box is to be found at the end of each car, into which 
an express letter, bearing an extra 25 centimes or 2\d. 
stamp, may be dropped, and it will then be delivered as 
rapidly as possible, not only in Brussels, but throughout 
the kingdom. Telegraph-boys are waiting at all the chief 
stopping places to open these boxes, examine the letters, 
and take out those for places near at hand. If for the 
provinces, the letter is taken out at the station, sent 
off by the next train, and delivered by telegraph-boy, 
or if the post-office is closed, by the station-porter. 
No doubt this system works better because the railways 
are owned and managed by the State. Express letters 
are in common use in Belgium, and, as worked on the 
uniform charge of 2^., no matter what the distance 
may be, are undoubtedly a great public convenience. 

The tram-car employees are also a deserving body. 
They work very hard during long hours, and yet they 
always seem fresh and up to the mark. The cars are 

185 



Belgian Life 

divided into first and second class, the difference being 
that in the former there are cushions. The receveurs, 
or collectors, are often the recipients of a little perquisite. 
Where the change would be five centimes, or a halfpenny, 
the fare will often not accept it, whereupon the receveur 
politely raises his cap. These little favours, especially 
during the summer-time, total up to a considerable 
addition to the meagre wages paid by the tram companies. 
I cannot remember seeing a tram-car collector rude or 
disobliging to any one, and when a passenger rises too 
late to stop the car at one of the arrets facultatifs, he 
will generally express his regret at having got too far 
to make it possible. Accidents are not as numerous 
as might be expected, but pedestrians have to be on 
their guard, especially in crossing behind a stationary 
car on to the opposite line of traffic. 

The railway officials are another class who come a 
good deal under one's observation in travelling about 
the country. If the best side of them is to be seen, 
they require a little management, and some consideration 
must be paid to their dignity as State officials. The 
English tourist is rather prone to address the red- 
capped chef de gare as if he were a porter at home, 
appointed for the express purpose of giving bewildered 
travellers information. That is not included among the 
duties of a station-master in Belgium. His function is to 
look after the trains, not the travellers. On the other 
hand, if the traveller approaches him in the correct 
manner, which means by raising his hand to his hat, 
he at once unbends, and will do everything he can to 
assist him. The railway guards and ticket-collectors also 
have nothing whatever to do with luggage, and it is 
infra dig. for them to help to take it out of the carriage. 
The porters are few in number, and their duties in taking 
luggage out of the van, etc., monopolize their time, so 
they, too, are unable to assist travellers. As all these 
functionaries wear some sort of uniform, it is to them that 
the English traveller looks for aid which he never 
186 



in Town and Country 



receives, and consequently he or she feels aggrieved at 
the indifference with which the demand for a porter is 
received. 

If, however, the traveller uttered the word Commis- 
sionnaire, there would be no lack of ready hands to 
carry the baggage, as on every platform a good supply of 
these men stand ready for a job. They can easily be 
distinguished by their linen shirts or smocks, and gene- 
rally have a badge, either on their cap or their arm. 
These are the railway porters, in our sense of the term, 
but they have no authority in the station, and must not 
do anything else but carry luggage. They are to be 
found outside the station also, but at Brussels a penny 
ticket has to be taken for them to secure their admission 
to the platform, even when carrying travellers' luggage. 

Among some national habits that get English travellers 
into difficulties on the railways, is that of carrying all their 
belongings in the compartment with them. Now, the 
carriages on all the cross lines, or chemins defer vicinaux, 
are very small. There are seats for sixteen persons, and 
in the tourist season the trains are always crowded. 
There is really no room in them for any luggage at all, 
beyond such light articles as can be put in the racks or 
under the seats. If luggage is carried in the compartment, 
a certain amount of discomfort must be caused to every 
other traveller, and unpleasantness follows. A scene of 
this character once came under my observation, and the 
offenders in this case were two English ladies. They 
had found an empty compartment, and under their in- 
structions the commissionnaire had piled up their luggage 
on one of the seats assigned for two persons. There 
were several small portmanteaus, hold-alls, rugs, bags, and 
baskets, and, finally, a collection of golf clubs. They not 
only filled the seats, and the rack above, but overflowed on 
to the gangway. The ladies went away to get some refresh- 
ment, as the train was not to start for half an hour, in the 
happy belief that they had secured a whole compartment 
for themselves and their luggage. As the time of departure 

187 



Belgian Life 



drew near, passengers began to arrive and take their 
seats. Soon fourteen of the seats were occupied, and on 
the arrival of the ladies, with a commissionnaire bearing 
more bags, not a place was vacant. The ladies looked 
round, and turned complaining to the commissionnaire as 
to there being no seat for them, but that person, raising 
his cap, muttered, ' Ce n'est pas mon affaire,' and beat a 
discreet retreat. The ladies, or rather the one who could 
speak a little French, continued complaining, ' Where are 
we to sit?' and seemed to expect other passengers to 
stand up so that their baggage might remain undis- 
turbed. Finding that they understood French, a gentle- 
man explained that the seats were for travellers, not for 
luggage, and removing the bags, etc., on to the floor in 
the central gangway, said very politely, ' There are your 
seats, ladies.' This was meant in the way of civility, but 
our good countrywomen seemed to cherish resentment 
throughout the rest of the journey, exclaiming, when the 
sliding door revealed the half of the carriage reserved for 
smokers, ' Oh ! there was heaps of room in there,' and 
never thinking for a moment that they had acted very 
unreasonably, and were wholly in the wrong. There is 
scarcely a doubt that this incident will be cited by them 
as a proof of the incivility of Belgian fellow-travellers. 

The Brussels policeman has often been held up to 
ridicule, but it is altogether undeserved. The cartoon in 
Punch of the small representative of the law, who has 
ordered a big Flemish ouvrier in vain to get out of a 
beershop, ending the colloquy by saying, ' Then stay 
where you are,' is not more true to life than such 
skits generally are. In the first place, the Brussels 
policeman is not so very small, but his loose and 
comfortable costume does not give him the stiff and 
imposing appearance of our ' men in blue.' He is really 
a very active individual, and his courage is beyond 
question. It must be remembered that the criminal class 
with which he has to deal is far more dangerous than 
ours, apart from the alien element in London, which is 

188 



in Town and Country 

giving our police authorities a taste of Continental con- 
ditions. Brussels criminals always carry revolvers, and 
know how to use them, and as they generally work in 
couples, a solitary policeman has to be always on his 
guard. The newspapers are seldom without an account 
of an affray in which revolver shots are exchanged, but 
it is very rarely that a criminal escapes the hands of 
justice. The Brussels policeman is not, however, 
assumed to be at the service of every pedestrian in search 
of information. Still, if asked a question with sufficient 
politeness, he will reply to the extent of his knowledge 
with equal civility. But his engrossing duty is to watch 
the criminal classes, and to prevent them doing much 
mischief. This duty he discharges in an efficient manner, 
considering that the force to which he belongs is numeri- 
cally weak, and that the criminal class is proportionally 
large. 

Passing to a higher class in society, I wish to say a 
good word for the Belgian officer. He, not less than the 
Brussels policeman, is made the object of caricaturists, 
and very unjustly. I have known or met a great many 
of them, and I have found them intelligent, earnest, and 
devoted to their profession, although its prospects are not 
very seductive, and the chances of earning any glory in it 
seem remote. This is the more remarkable, because the 
greater number of Belgian officers come from the body of 
the people. They represent not a separate class or 
caste, but just the ordinary citizens of the country, and 
many of them have risen from the grade of sous-officiers. 
The noble class only enters the Guides, and to a less 
extent the Grenadiers, Lancers, and Carabiniers. Out- 
side the Guides there is also a complete absence of what 
we call ' side.' The Belgian officer is a quiet inoffensive 
fellow, rather inclined to take the small affairs of his 
barrack life a little too seriously, but entitled to special 
credit for the attention he pays to the wants of his 
men, and to preserving good relations with them. It 
is not his fault if so little fighting has fallen to his 
189 



Belgian Life 



lot, and if his reputation in real warfare has still to be 
made. 

The official class in Belgium presents what we should 
consider the most favourable type of the Belgian gentle- 
man. An official is always extremely courteous (I speak 
of the representatives of the higher administration), arid 
rather a stickler for formality. The pith of his remarks 
maybe small, but he will cover it with a number of polite 
phrases, expressed in classic French. The staff of each 
cabinet, or the inner private office of a Secretary of 
State, or director of a department, is carefully recruited 
from the most promising candidates, who are selected 
for their personal appearance and family connexions as 
well as their attainments. They have also to undergo, 
after appointment, qualifying examinations to prove their 
fitness to pass into higher grades. In the Foreign Office, 
or Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, the highest level of 
excellence is maintained under the guiding influence of 
Baron Lambermont, Belgium's leading statesman. He 
stands, at the age of eighty-four, as a living example of 
the model to which the young officials of his department 
should attain. There are many stories told of his 
vigilance and activity, which, by all accounts, remain 
unabated. It was only the other day that he was invited 
to arbitrate between England and France on the subject 
of two disputes in West Africa — not for the first time, as 
on a previous occasion he received the Grand Cross of 
the Bath for officiating in a similar capacity. Yet it is fifty 
years ago since he contributed towards saving in the first 
place, and developing in the second, the Duke of Welling- 
ton's estate in Belgium ; forty years since he helped to free 
the Scheldt, from which event dates the prosperity of 
Antwerp ; and, finally, twenty years have passed since he 
represented the Congo State, with consummate ability 
and tact at the Berlin Conference. Yet he seems as 
fresh and vigorous in intellect to-day as a man half his 
age. In his youth Baron Lambermont was an officer in 
the Spanish Army, and served with much distinction in 

190 



in Town and Country 



the first Carlist War. On one occasion he performed 
an act which decided the victory, and for this he received 
the coveted Order of St. Ferdinand. This decoration is 
embroidered on the front of the coat. It is reported of 
a Spanish Grandee, sent to represent his country at 
Brussels, that at a reception he came across to Baron 
Lambermont and said, ' Excuse me, Minister, but it is 
very extraordinary to me how your Brussels tailors can 
embroider your coat exactly like our Order of St. 
Ferdinand.' It never entered his head that the peaceful 
director of the Foreign Department in Belgium, whose 
fame as a diplomatist had been European for so long a 
time, could have performed a military achievement that 
entitled him to wear the most coveted of Spanish orders. 

Another high official, whom I may select as a favourable 
type of the Belgian administrator, is the Baron Van Eetvelde, 
who was for many years the responsible director of the 
Congo State Government in Brussels. He has not been 
direcily responsible for the policy pursued since the end 
of 1898, and in the administration of its affairs, as well as 
the conduct of its diplomatic relations, he displayed 
before that time much ability and breadth of view. Some 
time ago he gave up the onerous office of Secretary of 
State, and was nominated a Minister of State with less 
severe duties. He was for some years Belgian Consul 
General at Calcutta, and possesses an excellent acquaint- 
ance with the English language and with English opinion. 
More is certain to be heard of this statesman hereafter. 

Perhaps these detached portraits, taken from different 
classes, will suffice to show that those who denounce 
everything Belgian must be either grossly prejudiced or 
possess but a slight knowledge of what they are talking 
about. Taking the best specimens in every walk of life, 
they are a distinctly pleasing people to have relations 
with. They are franker and more outspoken than the 
French, while they are not so overbearing and dictatorial 
as the Germans. They are, indeed, just what their race 
makes them, halfway between the two. At the same 

191 



Belgian Life 



time they are not the easiest men to debate with, 
for, after the ordinary conventionalities of society are 
passed, they become very dogmatic and vigorous in 
the assertion of their own opinions, arguing from first 
principles, and insisting on the paramount authority of 
philosophical axioms in complete indifference to the hard 
facts of this workaday world. I am quite sure that 
should the Prussians ever force their way down the 
Avenue Louise the Independance Beige of the previous 
evening would have contained an editorial descanting in 
sonorous phrases on the inviolable rights of a little nation 
to be free, not merely in its own institutions, but in its 
criticism and censure of others. As a parting advice, it 
is well not to get into any warm discussion with Belgians, 
but to listen to the expression of their views, and to 
confine one's own remarks to safe generalities. 



192 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER XVIII 

SOME POPULAR TYPES—WOMEN 

No one can reside any time in Belgium without form- 
ing a very high opinion of its women, of their thrift, 
cleanliness, and capacity for work. Even English visitors, 
who are always more or less prejudiced against everything 
foreign, and who have not a word to say on behalf of the 
men, are impressed in their favour, and make comparisons 
unflattering to the corresponding class at home. There 
is, for instance, a complete absence of that tawdriness 
which is so obtrusive and offensive among our working 
classes, and the neat and tidy way in which all the women 
in Belgium, without exception, arrange their hair is a 
striking contrast with the dishevelled locks or flaunting 
chignons of their English sisters. A case of a Belgian 
woman wearing any hair but her own is not to be found. 
The first impression formed in the country is that the 
women do all the work, which brings the reflection in its 
train that the men must have an easy time of it. On the 
latter point this is corrected by greater knowledge of the 
subdivision of labour; but the opinion that the female 
half of the community works as hard as the male will 
not in any way be modified. Women manage all the 
shops, from the small groceries and greengroceries up to 
businesses of importance, and it is only in the largest 
establishments that men take their place. They will be 
helped in this task by their children or, if there is one, by 
the grandfather ; but it is considered somewhat undignified 

193 o 



Belgian Life 

for an active man to mind a shop. He will often seek 
and obtain employment outside the business which his 
wife stops at home to conduct. All the purveyors and 
carriers of milk are women, and their little carts, drawn 
by dogs with their bright brass cans, are one of the sights 
of Brussels, especially when they are all assembled on 
the Grand' Place for inspection. 

This inspection takes place at the early hour of 
six, and consequently finds but few English spectators 
throughout the year. It is rather an interesting sight. 
The inspection is held for the purpose of ascertaining 
whether all the regulations are properly observed or not. 
The cans are carefully examined with regard to their 
cleanliness and state of repair, the milk is also tested, 
and the arrangement of the girth and straps is looked to, 
lest they should chafe the dog. Latterly a small piece of 
carpet for the dog to lie on, and a drinking-bowl have 
been added as part of the essential equipment of a milk- 
cart. Of course it goes without saying that the quality of 
the milk on the day of inspection is always exceptionally 
good, but it must not be supposed that the test is only 
applied on these fixed occasions. A certain number of 
police inspectors are sent out every morning to stop 
vendors of milk, and test their milk on the spot. As it 
is never known when or where this inspection may be 
made, the watering of milk is not common. The offence 
is punishable by fine, but if frequently committed entails 
the withdrawal of the licence to sell, and that means 
losing a certain livelihood. 

As reference has been made to the dogs which draw 
the milk-carts, or barrows, it will be appropriate to say 
something on the subject of employing dogs for draught 
purposes, which is common throughout Belgium. With 
regard to the milk-cart dogs, they are always a large 
breed of dog, and frequently there are two dogs to a cart. 
As the sale of milk is profitable, and means that the 
person engaged in it earns a good livelihood, the se dogs 
are well fed. They also come in for a certain amount 
194 



in Town and Country 

of scraps at the houses at which they call regularly each 
morning. So far as any suffering by the dog thus 
employed is in question, I do not believe there is any. 
He is in good fettle, and as he is a big, powerful, and 
combative fellow he is generally muzzled. Leaving aside 
the broad and comprehensive question as to whether 
dogs were ever intended by nature for draught work, 
which was decided in the negative in England only about 
fifty years ago, I think it may be safely assumed that 
the employment of these big dogs in the little milk-carts 
of Belgium is free from positive cruelty. This remark also 
applies to the same kind of dog employed by the greater 
number of the laundresses, and by some of the bakers. But 
as it is permissible by the law of the land to use dogs for 
draught — or as they are called chiens de trait — it follows 
that the poor or the lazy use any and all dogs, big or 
small, well-fed or ill-fed, to drag their cars and carts 
carrying their goods for sale, and not infrequently them- 
selves. In the strict economy of the Belgian social 
system dogs have no right to existence except as beasts 
of burden. The rich may indulge themselves with the 
luxury of a chien de maison or a chien de ekasse, but for 
the Belgians who work, from the peasant to the shop- 
keeper, a dog has no other interest or value than as a 
fellow-worker and obedient slave. It is the inevitable 
concomitant of this practice that cases of cruelty must be 
frequent, and that the wretched condition of many of 
the dogs so employed leads to a general condemnation 
of Belgian character as indifferent to animal suffering 
and as tolerating a system from which a greater or less 
degree of cruelty is inseparable. It is unnecessary to 
dilate upon the spectacles of cruelty which are to be 
witnessed in every part of the kingdom, and which 
diminish the pleasure of at least many English visitors 
who come to stay in the country. 

Of late a sentiment has been springing up among the 
rich in Belgium that something should be done in the 
matter. The Belgian Government is notoriously timid in 

195 



Belgian Life 



the matter of introducing fresh legislation on any subject. 
This arises from a mixed feeling that a new law may be 
regarded as a reflection on the Constitution, and that it is 
perilous to interfere with the customs of the people. 
For these reasons it has done and will do nothing in the 
matter of the employment of dogs for drawing purposes, 
until at least a marked change has occurred in public 
opinion on the subject, of which there is at present no 
sign, except among the wealthy. They have founded a 
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in 
some towns one may see its notices on the walls : ' Traitez 
les animaux avec douceur.' But it rarely, if ever, brings 
a case of cruelty into court, and there is good reason to 
doubt whether it would obtain a single judgment in its 
favour if it did. A more hopeful sign is the action of the 
Antwerp Corporation, which has drawn up a set of regu- 
lations against dogs being worked under a certain size, 
and requiring the weight drawn to be in fair proportion 
to the size and strength of the dog. 

To return to our subject after this digression suggested 
by the Brussels milk-carts. It is impossible for an 
observer not to be struck by the bright and contented 
appearance of the women in Belgium. The cares of life 
weigh lightly upon them, and they find a real pleasure in 
their occupation. As all the workwomen on ordinary 
days go about bareheaded, the neatness with which they 
arrange their hair in the most simple style at once attracts 
notice. This practice is universal, and in Belgium a 
woman's hair is her chief glory. In cold or rainy 
weather they draw a shawl over their heads, and this is 
the only protection they employ against the weather. 
Umbrellas are regarded as a luxury that does not come 
within the purview of the masses. Apart from the care 
which they bestow on their hair, the most striking points 
in the appearance of these young women are the trimness 
of their dress, which is always short, not coming below 
the ankle, and the activity with which they hasten 
through the streets on their errands, looking neither to the 
196 




A FLEMISH MILKWOMAN. 



in Town and Country 

right hand nor the left. In this respect they furnish a 
marked contrast to the men, who saunter over their out- 
door work, and generally include a gossip and a con- 
sommation, or drink, as part of the task of delivering a 
parcel. 

In short, the women of Belgium, apart from the 
domestic duties which fall to their lot everywhere, per- 
form their half of the work of the country, and for some 
reason or other are more in evidence than the men. 
They take it quite naturally, and are remarkable for their 
cheery aspect, and, in fact, a morose or disappointed-look- 
ing face is scarcely to be seen among them. A main cause 
of this is no doubt the bright invigorating climate, which 
enables them to get through their work without fatigue. 
Another is the early hour at which everybody commences 
the daily occupation, so that the greater part of the house- 
hold work and the marketing is done before the ordinary 
English breakfast hour. Late rising is often attributed 
to the English as a great fault, and as an explanation of 
the success of foreign competition. But it is really due 
to the heaviness of our atmosphere as compared with that 
in Belgium. I have heard Belgians themselves complain 
that in London they had as much difficulty in getting 
up at eight in the morning as they had in Brussels or 
Liege in rising at six, or even earlier. On the other 
side of the question it must be noticed that comparatively 
less work is done on the Continent in the afternoon than 
is accomplished with us, so that early rising may not 
signify all the gain that is attributed to it. 

One of the most typical characters in the life of the 
towns is the patronne^ the wife of the proprietor, or the 
proprietress herself, of a restaurant or cafe. She sits or 
stands behind a kind of bar, which is prettily decorated, 
and which provides a commanding post of observation. 
The waiters carry the orders to her and she passes them 
on through speaking-tubes to the kitchen or the wine- 
cellar. Active work in a cafe or cafe-restaurant rarely 
commences before midday, but it continues till long after 
197 



Belgian Life 



midnight. The waiters, or garcons, have made everything 
clean and spruce by eleven o'clock, and shortly after- 
wards the patronize will take up her position at the bar in 
anticipation of the work of the day. From twelve to two 
the place will be crowded, in proportion with its popu- 
larity, and in the cafe the bustle will continue still longer. 
But at half-past two the proprietor — who has been not less 
occupied in his own department, supervising the c/?ef and 
looking after the wine orders, than his better half — his wife, 
their daughters, who, if grown up, are also in the bar, and 
any other children, all sit down to their dejeuner at one of 
the tables in the cafe. They have deserved their meal, 
and enjoy it. They criticize their food and the quality 
of their chefs cooking just as freely and impartially as the 
casual or regular visitor. They have their bottle of wine 
for the whole family, and also their glass of beer apiece, 
the younger members mixing water with the wine, and all 
drinking a tumbler of water at some stage of the repast. 
At four o'clock the patronne and her daughters disappear 
to make preparations for the evening, and if the restaurant 
is a well-known resort for diners the preparations will be 
most elaborate. The patronne puts on her jewellery, and 
the prosperity of the house may be gauged by the size 
and colour of her diamond earrings. At five o'clock she 
is back at the post of comma nd,as diners begin to arrive 
at six o'clock, or even before. More fashionable persons 
come in at seven, but by eight o'clock all the dinners in 
the great majority of the restaurants are over. At half- 
past the family, taking advantage of the lull, which is not 
broken till after the theatre hour, sit down to their own 
supper. They do full justice to the repast, and perhaps 
they have invited some friend or relative to join them, in 
which case a special bottle of wine may be brought up 
from the cellar. But, as a rule, they take very little wine, 
a bottle between five or six persons, and always the 
lowest priced on the list. From ten till midnight the 
place is again crowded, and all is bustle and clatter. At 
midnight the majority of customers will have gone home, 

198 



in Town and Country 

but even as late as two in the morning the patronne may 
be seen at her post ready to see that the belated visitor 
gets what he asks for. I have used the word ' bar,' but 
perhaps counter is a more correct term, as no one drinks 
at it. On entering and leaving it is the proper thing to 
raise one's hat to ' Madame.' The observance of this 
simple and easily acquired act of courtesy in shops would 
much increase the popularity of English visitors. 

As between Flemish and Walloon women it is difficult 
for an outsider to draw a just comparison. In appearance 
the Flemings are shorter and slighter than their half-sisters. 
They are also a fair-haired race, with bright complexions 
and pink cheeks. The Walloon is far taller and big in pro- 
portion, generally dark, with pale face and very marked 
features, although tradition declares that she should be fair, 
and assigns for dark-haired women a Spanish or even a 
Roman origin, which is going rather far back. It is not 
at all uncommon to meet a flaxen-haired woman of grand 
physique among the Walloons of Liege and Luxemburg, 
and this is especially the case among some of the old 
noble families. But, as a rule, the Walloon woman is 
dark, just as the Flemish is fair. There is more energy 
about the Fleming and more dignity about the Walloon. 
The former works harder and calls the latter lazy ; the 
latter is a better manager, and requires a higher grade of 
comfort in her domestic life, and is disposed to regard 
her Flemish sister as being somewhat behind the day and 
not quite on the same plane of culture as herself. There 
may be some foundation for this, and if we were to apply 
the test of cooking, Walloon cooks are pronounced superior 
in ev*ry way to Flemish. It is said that the Flemings, 
despite their clean and natty appearance in the streets, 
are not so scrupulously clean in their domestic arrange- 
ments as is desirable, and as is undoubtedly the case 
throughout the Walloon part of the country. Both have 
a marked partiality for fine clothes and bright colours, 
and those who have only observed the people in their 
workaday clothes would not recognize the same persons 
199 



Belgian Life 



as they go to mass on Sundays. The Walloons dress in 
better taste than the Flemings, and as they are consider- 
ably taller they carry their clothes more gracefully and 
with greater effect. The art of dressmaking has been 
carried to a higher point of perfection among them, and 
most Walloon girls can cut out their own clothes and 
make them in the latest fashion. It is quite remarkable 
to notice the degree to which the art of dressing well 
is carried among the Walloon women of all classes, 
especially as there is no corresponding movement among 
the men. While the men in their Sunday clothes are just 
ordinary provincials, their wives and daughters might 
easily be mistaken for Parisiennes. 

It is a common assumption that Belgian women are 
very fond of pleasure, but it is certain that they get very 
little amusement. They are supposed to find it in their 
work and their household duties, for it is only on fete 
days that regular toil is superseded by what may be 
called the idea of pleasure-seeking. Even the fine 
clothes, of which they are so proud, are carefully put 
away and stored up on return from church, or, at the 
longest, after the afternoon promenade in fine weather. 
In the towns, visits are paid on rare occasions to the 
theatre, and, as work begins for every one at such an 
early hour, it is not surprising that everybody goes to bed 
early. Even among the middle classes, when the man 
goes to his cafe or his cercle to read the newspapers or 
hear the gossip, his wife remains at home attending to 
her sewing. It is only on fete days and Sundays during 
the summer that she expects to accompany her husband 
and make an excursion to her home, or the theatre, or 
at the least to an open-air cafe or beer-garden, and see 
and hear what is going on. This is, or should be, enough 
to establish the fact, if any doubted it, that the Belgians 
are an essentially domestic people, who find their pleasure 
at home in their family work and duties. This domesticity 
is equally characteristic of the two races, and explains 
the old Flemish proverb : ' East, west, home's best' 
200 



in Town and Country 

The characteristics which mark the people at large 
are also found among the leisured and well-to-do classes. 
The Belgian lady has very much the same views of life 
as her humbler sister. Money means practically finer 
clothes, more visits to the theatre, a longer vacation at 
the seaside or in the country, but the objects that con- 
stitute her ideas of a pleasant life are practically the 
same. Society passes its time with a certain lazy in- 
difference and a complete absence of the exciting whirl 
of entertainments that constitutes high life in London and 
Paris. There is a considerable amount of visiting, after- 
noon teas have become popular, the daily drive to the 
Bois for those who keep a carriage is de rigueur, and 
there are occasional charity bazaars ; but these must all 
form part of the regular existence anywhere of those 
who have no obligation to work for their living. The 
chief feature of Belgian society, as of Belgian life gene- 
rally, is its domesticity. The family and its affairs form 
the pivot upon which the whole social system turns. It 
is very creditable and home-like, if the charge cannot be 
avoided that the result is a trifle dull. 

Belgian ladies dress well and Brussels dressmakers are 
undoubtedly very skilful and not much, if at all, behind 
the same class in Paris. The fashions come from Paris, 
but they reach Brussels before London, and the sight 
on the boulevards on an early spring morning is very 
striking. The colours are brighter than are usual with 
us, and the warm sun and clear air show them off 
to the best advantage. Then one is able to judge the 
truth of the French poet's reference to the peau lact'ee, the 
milky complexion of the fair ladies of Brussels, or les 
belles Bruxelloises. Notwithstanding their skill and good 
taste which, although less talked about, is quite equal to 
that of Paris, the Brussels dressmakers are considerably 
more reasonable in their charges than those of the 
French capital, and this is true in a still more marked 
degree of the milliners. 

Every Belgian lady insists on her husband allowing 



Belgian Life 



her each year at least two costumes in the latest fashion 
for the promenade or for making formal visits. She 
takes the greatest care of them, never wearing them in 
the house, so that they remain fresh to the end of the six 
months, when the change of the season and of fashion 
exacts the purchase of the new costume. A costume to 
go en ri/fe, which is the phrase for going to look at the 
shops, will cost something between two and three hundred 
francs \ but in every other respect than these two annual 
dresses the greatest economy will be practised, and the 
other ordinary house-clothes will all be made at home by 
the mistress, with the occasional aid of a sempstress. If 
the wife of an average professional man, or an official, 
gets thirty pounds a year as her dress-money she is 
perfectly contented, even if there are two or three children 
to be clothed out of it. In many cases the lady's parents 
make her an allowance for dress, which is either part of 
the original ' dot ' or an addition to it. 

Taking a comprehensive view of the position of women 
in Belgium, the conclusion to which one must come is 
that they form a scarcely less important moiety of the 
nation than the men, and that they contribute as workers 
in a material degree to secure the remarkable prosperity 
which the country has enjoyed for so many years. From 
many points of view they possess either specific merit or 
present such features of interest as to furnish ground for 
the belief that their good qualities supply the true source 
of Belgian prosperity. It would be a good thing for our 
ow r n country if we could bring over some of their thrift, 
good management in the household, cheery content in 
their work and in their station in life, together with the 
large quantities which we import of the natural produce 
of the south Netherlands. They throw all their energies 
into their work, and their chief pride and pleasure lies in 
doing it well and to the best of their ability. If a young 
Belgian woman describes herself as a cook, it can be 
assumed that she has some good reason to call herself one, 
and that in her degree, of which the salary she asks will 



in Town and Country 

j 

be the indication, she is proficient. If she is merely a 
fille d tout /aire, she will work her hardest from six in the 
morning till nine at night, and only expect one evening 
in the fortnight to amuse herself by going to the dance 
at the little meeting-rooms for servants and their young 
men which are to be found in even the smallest towns of 
the kingdom. The women of Belgium appreciate the 
dignity of labour, and their happiness lies in their work 
and their capacity for doing it. 



203 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER XIX 

SEAPORT AND SAILOR LIFE 

Although Belgium has a first-class seaport in Antwerp, 
despite the fact that it is situated sixty-five miles up a 
difficult and tortuous river, and a second port in Ostend 
of considerable value, there is little or nothing in its 
history of maritime skill or enterprise. The 'sea-beggars' 
were men of the provinces north of the Scheldt, or Dutch, 
and after the cleavage of the Netherlands, the one fixed 
point in the policy of Holland was to keep the Scheldt 
closed and to prevent Antwerp ever becoming the rival 
of Rotterdam or Amsterdam. It is only since the free- 
ing of the Scheldt in 1863 that a marked change has 
taken place, and if ever Belgium becomes a maritime 
State, which is not impossible, she will date her growth 
from that event. 

In addition to the political closing of the Scheldt by 
jealous rivals, the natural condition of the coast of 
Flanders will explain the absence of naval activity and 
the practical non-existence of Belgian sailors until a 
quite recent period. From Nieuport to Heyst the low- 
lying coast is fringed by the sand dunes which have been 
cast up by the sea, and, with the exception of Ostend, 
there is not a seaport on this treacherous coast, which is 
rendered especially dangerous for navigation by shallow 
and difficult channels, and by the dense mists that 
suddenly arise in the summer as well as the winter. The 
improvements at Ostend have adapted that place to the 
204 



in Town and Country 

requirements of a port for cross-Channel passenger traffic 
between England and Belgium, and the approaching 
opening of Zeebrugge as the calling point for ocean- 
going steamers at the outlet of the Bruges ship canal 
will add another port to the coast of Flanders. 

But if there is a dearth of sailors in Flanders, there 
is a hardy fishing population along this coast, and pro- 
bably not fewer than 5000 men and boys earn their 
livelihood on the sea. Of these, nearly one half hail 
from Qstend, but at Heyst, Middelkerke, Nieuport, and 
Blankenberghe the bulk of the inhabitants gain their 
livelihood as fishermen. It is quite a pretty sight to see 
the fishing-smacks putting out to sea from any of the 
places named, but more especially from Ostend ; but as 
this generally happens very early in the morning, it is 
more often their return than their departure that comes 
under the observation of the foreign visitor. They are 
good sea-boats, and although their usual fishing-grounds 
are only about ten miles off the coast, they sometimes 
extend their trips to a much greater distance. On the 
sail of each boat its registered number has to be clearly 
stamped, with the abbreviated name of the port from 
which it hails. The largest smacks belong to Ostend, 
and the majority of them are the property of companies 
or guilds. Elsewhere the fishermen to a large extent 
own their boats. The dangers of the coast, especially 
in the winter, are clearly proved every year by the 
loss of one or more of these smacks, and collisions 
with the steamers passing to Ostend and the Scheldt are 
not infrequent in thick or hazy weather. During the 
bad weather of the summer of 1903 several such accidents 
occurred, and on one occasion several boats from Heyst 
were lost, causing much grief and misery in that place. 

In her fishing population along the coast, therefore, 
Belgium has the available material for manning a small 
navy with men accustomed to life at sea. The impression 
they give is that they are a hardy and wiry set of men, 
capable of undergoing a good deal of hardship and 
205 



Belgian Life 



privation, and it would be difficult to differentiate them 
from the Dutch, whose ancient skill and reputation as 
seamen have not diminished. The Heyst fishermen 
have a local reputation as making the best seamen, but 
there is probably no marked difference between the men 
of one place and those of another. There is certainly 
nothing in their external appearance to suggest such a 
difference. The prevalent use of the wooden sabot 
while on shore gives them a clumsy appearance. On 
their boats, those who retain the use of the sabot gene- 
rally wear exceedingly thick worsted stockings, which 
are rolled over the trousers, and dispense with any other 
foot covering. The use of the jack or long sea-boot is 
coming in, and is regarded as evidence of prosperity, 
but it may be suspected that before the boat has got far 
out to sea they are laid aside for the plain-stockinged 
feet. 

The commercial marine of Belgium is exceedingly 
limited. The two Ostend lines of packets, one for 
passenger traffic to Dover and the other for fruit, vege- 
tables, and parcels, as well as passengers to London, 
employ a certain number of Flemish sailors. The navi- 
gating staff of these packets is Belgian, and the absence 
of accident is a tribute to their skill. Engineers as well as 
officers and crew are Belgians, but the stewards and cabin 
boys are almost without exception German. Flemings 
are also to be found on the English subsidized steamers 
(Elder line) from Antwerp to the Congo, and on the 
Red Star (German line) from the same port to the United 
States. Besides these ocean lines, there are a limited 
number of Belgian-owned ships trading between Belgium 
and the British Isles chiefly in timber and coal. The 
bulk of Belgian commerce is carried in British ships, and 
the majority of the sailors on the Antwerp quays are 
Britishers. In the last ten years, however, there has been 
a considerable increase in the numbers of both Flemish 
sailors and Flemish vessels. 

It is always difficult to fix precisely what may be the 
206 



in Town and Country 

effect produced by a single incident upon a great national 
evolution, but certainly the Antarctic expedition of 1899- 
1900, led by M. de Gerlache on the Belgica, furnished a 
considerable incentive to the movement for endowing 
Belgium with a national navy. If a nation can produce 
officers and sailors, as well as men of science, ready to 
pass a winter in the snow and the ice of the polar regions, 
it follows that it must be considerably advanced on the 
road to nautical experience and achievement. It is 
probable that M. de Gerlache will make a still greater 
reputation among Arctic explorers, as his ambition turns 
in that direction. 

An impetus is likely to be given to the movement by 
the scheme for establishing a national mercantile marine, 
the first step towards which has been the order to con- 
struct a training-ship and the bringing together of an 
efficient training staff. An elaborate scheme of instruc- 
tion has been drawn up, and the total cost for a naval 
cadet is not to exceed ^32 a year. The ship, which is 
not to exceed 2000 tons, is being constructed at the 
Cockerill works at Hoboken, above Antwerp, and is to 
be named the Count de Smet de Naeyer, after the Belgian 
Premier, who, is taking a prominent part in directing the 
arrangements necessary for the organization of the scheme. 
It is hoped by this means to form the nucleus of a corps 
of officers which will make Belgium less dependent on 
foreign aid in carrying on its trade beyond the seas. 

Whether the movement succeed to the full extent that 
its promoters expect or not, there can be no doubt that 
it will result in all lines employed in any way on State 
service, such as the Congo line, becoming national and 
manned more or less by Belgian officers and seamen. 
There is one important fact to be noticed. The move- 
ment is essentially Flemish, and the Walloons, who know 
nothing of the sea, from which they have always been 
cut off, take no part, and probably feel little interest in 
it. One consequence of the Flemish origin of the move- 
ment is that that language will have to be employed on 
207 



Belgian Life 



board ship, for the fishermen of the coast know scarcely 
a word of French. 

The extensive works in progress to make Brussels a 
seaport — the quays and docks under construction are 
grandiose — are evidence of the zeal and energy with 
which the Belgians are throwing themselves into a move- 
ment that may enable them to get rid of some of their 
excessive population. A great many years must still 
elapse before the projected ship-canal to the capital is in 
working order. The crowded state of the canals and of 
the smaller rivers, like the Dender and Lys, shows the 
great need of internal water communication as well as 
the bustling and restless activity animating commercial 
and industrial circles in Belgium. 

There is one curious fact suggested by Belgian develop- 
ment on the sea that has rarely received notice out of 
treatises on international law, and not often in them. If 
there is ever to be any marked development of Belgian 
maritime importance, it must commence at and radiate 
from Antwerp. Now, the position of Antwerp is anoma- 
lous, for it is on a river the entrance to which is in the 
possession of another country. A little below that city 
Holland owns both banks of the river, and continues to 
do so until it is lost in the sea. The lower Scheldt is 
exclusively Dutch, and consequently no State at war with 
Belgium could send men-of-war up it to attack Antwerp 
without by the act committing hostilities against Holland 
at the same time. The question will probably never 
possess any but theoretical interest, but it may be 
mentioned that Belgians see in this fact an additional 
guarantee of their neutrality, and a further proof of the 
identity of their interests with their northern neighbours, 
the Dutch. 

Seaport life in Belgium is not more attractive than it 
is anywhere else. Antwerp, it must be admitted, has 
acquired a bad name for rowdyism, especially for the 
systematic swindling of English sailors, who, on returning 
from a long cruise, were often relieved of their earnings 
208 



in Town and Country 



a very few days after their arrival, and left penniless. 
It was very difficult to provide a practical remedy for 
this evil, as the men were themselves to blame as much 
as any one else, but at last the British Consul solved 
the difficulty by arranging for the payment of the men's 
wages by pay-notes, to be recovered on their return 
to England. In this way the difficulty was overcome, 
and the troublesome scenes of a few years back have not 
been renewed. 

Nautical life in Belgium, which, practically speaking, 
means in this matter Antwerp, is not so picturesque as 
in Holland, where the population of Rotterdam and all 
the seacoast towns is typically nautical. Along the 
quays of Antwerp one may occasionally see a red-breeched, 
burly sailor with his inexpressibles tucked into grey 
stockings, but if so it will probably be found that he hails 
from Flushing or Middelburg. The Flemish sailor has 
little or nothing about him to distinguish him from any 
other of his craft, and neither in the colour nor in the 
shape of his clothes is there anything of the picturesque. 
The testimony of English captains who have employed 
Flemings in their crews is, hbwever, favourable to them. 
They have the virtues of the northern races, Scandinavians, 
Danes, and Dutch. They are hard workers, easily con- 
tented, and able to stand privation. But hitherto the 
Fleming has sailed under a foreign flag in mixed com- 
panies j it remains to be seen whether he will do so well 
when working exclusively among his own race and under 
the national ensign. 



209 



Belgian Life 



CHAPTER XX 

THE ARMY AND MILITARY LIFE 

Although Belgium is not a military State in the same 
sense that its powerful neighbours are, the army plays 
there a considerable role, and a very large section of the 
people are interested from one cause or another in military 
life. In the first place, the existence of the conscription 
represents a practical reality to the masses, and in the 
second a very considerable proportion of the well-to-do 
select the army as an honourable career for their sons 
in the capacity of commissioned officers. The important 
position which Belgium fills in the map of Europe, 
regarded from the strategical standpoint, the not less 
vital question of the maintenance of the balance of 
power, and the never absent probability of an occasion 
arising when it will be necessary for the Belgians to make 
a great personal effort to defend not merely their neutrality, 
but even their independence, are calculated to add to the 
estimation in which their army is held by Belgian citizens. 
The abolition of the still existing right of pre-emption, by 
which a substitute can be procured on payment of £68, 
will remove a class grievance in the unequal incidence of 
1 the blood tax ' between the rich and the poor, and this 
abolition is rendered practically inevitable by the ad- 
mitted failure of the compromise arranged in 1901 by the 
Army Reform Act for the voluntary recruitment of a 
body of long-service troops so as to increase the peace 
effective by 20 per cent. Against the inclination of many 
210 




A GRENADIER. 



in Town and Country 

Belgians time and destiny are slowly but surely proving 
that they must become an armed nation. 

Although the Walloons gained a high reputation for 
courage in the service of the foreign occupiers of their 
country, the distinct military annals of the Belgians 
commence only with the War of Liberation. That struggle 
was begun by civilians who did not possess a uniform, and 
the old prints show that the leaders fought in tall hats. It 
is not surprising, then, that in the campaign of 1831 these 
untrained men proved unable to make a prolonged stand 
against the Dutch regulars, and that on some occasions 
they were seized with panic. But owing to the exertions 
of King Leopold a remarkable reorganization of the 
national forces was effected in the ensuing year, and at 
the end of 1832 the Belgian army was composed of 
100,000 drilled soldiers. King Leopold wished that the 
task of capturing the citadel of Antwerp should be left to 
him, and from a Belgian point of view it would have 
been better to have done this ; but the Powers decided that 
the Belgian army should remain on the defensive. After 
the peace King Leopold continued throughout his reign 
to devote special care and attention to the organization 
of his army, and its military spirit was sustained and 
increased by his initiative and example. Among his 
measures may be mentioned the institution of the mess 
for each regiment in imitation of the English practice. 

The dismantling of the elaborate system of fortresses 
that had been created after Waterloo, with the exception 
of Antwerp and Namur, rendered it especially necessary 
that, however small in numbers, the Belgian army should 
be excellent in quality, and there is no doubt that before 
the great war of 1870 it was in many respects quite the 
equal of its neighbours. Much evidence is obtainable in 
support of this statement, and the captive Napoleon on 
his way to Prussia admired the Belgian artillery. But 
while both the French and Germans have made extra- 
ordinary progress in their military organization during the 
last thirty years, so that practically every citizen is a 



Belgian Life 



trained soldier, the Belgians have remained stationary, 
and in some matters have even gone back. To give one 
illustration will suffice ; the field artillery is precisely the 
same as it was in 1870. It is true that a new quick-firing 
gun is to be introduced, but nothing has yet been done 
in the way of rearmament, and the experiments for the 
selection of an approved type are not yet completed. 

On a peace footing the Belgian army numbers 47,000 
men, and on the outbreak of war the reserves increase it 
to 147,000 men. The infantry is divided into 1 regi- 
ment of Carabiniers of 4 active battalions and 3 of 
reserve, 1 regiment of Grenadiers, 3 regiments of foot 
Chasseurs, and 14 of Line, all of 3 active and 2 reserve 
battalions. The infantry is, therefore, comprised of 19 
regiments, or 58 active battalions and 39 reserve bat- 
talions, or about 100,000 men on a war footing. The 
peace establishment does not reach half that total, as 
the active battalions are kept at only four-fifths their 
strength. The number of infantry officers on active 
service is nearly 1800. 

The cavalry is composed of 8 regiments of about 400 
men each. Two regiments are Guides, 2 horse Chasseurs, 
and 4 Lancers. There are 320 officers on the establish- 
ment. The Guides have a handsome uniform of scarlet 
trousers, green tunics and busbies, and are always 
quartered in Brussels, where they serve as a sort of body- 
guard or household cavalry to the Sovereign. They have 
two fine barracks at Etterbeck, and the officers are men 
of good birth, and many of them represent the old noble 
families of the Netherlands. There is a cavalry school at 
Ypres somewhat after the model of the French establish- 
ment of the same kind at Saumur, but it is admitted 
to stand in need of reorganization. The whole of the 
Belgian cavalry is light ; but here, again, the armament 
has not been brought up to the level required by modern 
warfare. Taken all through, it is well mounted, many of 
the horses being purchased in England and Ireland. 

The Belgian artillery, which in the time of Leopold I. 
212 



in Town and Country 

was noted for its efficiency, is divided into three classes, 
horse, field, and siege. There are 4 horse, 30 field, 
and 70 siege batteries on the peace establishment, 
with 500 officers and 4000 men on the active list. 
In the engineer corps are 140 officers and about 2000 
men. The commissariat or train numbers 30 officers 
and 600 men. Thus the total combatant strength of the 
Belgian army on a peace footing numbers less than 
50,000 men, and it is computed that on the calling up of 
the reserves, allowing for the absent, the total would barely 
reach 140,000 effectives. This force would only suffice 
to provide adequate garrisons for the fortified positions 
at Lie'ge and Namur, and for the fortress at Antwerp, 
thus leaving the capital and the whole of Flanders and 
Hainaut at the mercy of an invader. Under these cir- 
cumstances military reformers in Belgium have long been 
agitating for the abolition of the privilege of pre-emption, 
the strict enforcement of the law of conscription, the 
increase of the annual contingent, and the formation of 
an efficient reserve and territorial army. Up to the 
present hour no progress has been achieved in any one 
of the desired directions, although twenty years have 
elapsed since General Brialmont first drew the attention 
of his countrymen to the defects of their position. With 
great difficulty he obtained from the Chamber the grants 
necessary to fortify Liege and Namur and thus secure 
the passages of the Meuse, but all his efforts failed to 
procure the funds for the completion of the trilateral by 
the fortification of St. Trond, or for the construction of 
the forts still missing, as already described, in the circum- 
vallation of Antwerp. It has been said that the Belgian 
Parliament agreed to provide the bricks required for 
national defence, but that it has resolutely declined to 
furnish the men. 

It will give the general reader some idea of the defects 
of the military system if he will make a comparison 
between the following sketch by a moderate military 
reformer as to what his country requires, and the particulars 

213 



Belgian Life 



already given about the existing Belgian army. He 
proposes that the peace establishment should be raised to 
107,000 men, and that the infantry should consist of 25 
regiments of 4 battalions each, with an extra battalion 
for the depot. The cavalry, he says, ought to be in- 
creased to 10 regiments of 500 men each, always with 
the colours, and on the declaration of war this total should 
become not less than 7000. In addition there ought to 
be territorial cavalry on the model of our Yeomanry 
of 2000 men. The artillery should be increased to 6 
batteries of horse and 60 of field, or 396 guns, and the 
siege artillery so as to number altogether 40 batteries, 
half of which would form part of the territorial army. 
The engineer and special corps ought to be raised to 
4500 men. Behind the active army of 107,000 men 
should be the first reserve of 77,000, a territorial army of 
88,500 and a territorial reserve of 95,000, or a grand 
total of 368,000 men. This would mean an effective 
force for the defence of the country of at least 300,000 
men. By this organization, which was sketched by Colonel 
Adtz of the Belgian staff, there would be adequate 
garrisons for all the fortified positions and a field army 
of over 100,000 men to co-operate with the Power or 
Powers which upheld Belgian independence. Such an 
organization as this would make Belgium practically 
secure against invasion. 

After the grave civil disturbances of 1893, it was 
decided to strengthen the force at the disposal of the 
authorities for maintaining law and order. There was 
no immediate prospect of obtaining the increase of the 
regular army, and therefore it was decided to organize 
the bourgeois or householder class in the towns into a 
Garde Civique. The idea, from a social point of view, 
was excellent, and although the Garde Civique has no 
serious military value, it provides a considerable safe- 
guard against the outbreak of any internal disorders. 
The Garde Civique at present numbers 50,000, and 
although the bulk of them are infantry, there are a few 
214 



in Town and Country 



regiments of cavalry, the men providing their own horses. 
A still more limited number form artillery corps, but by 
a strange coincidence this section, at least at Antwerp, 
is the most efficient, and might be brigaded with regular 
siege artillery. The different corps selected their own 
uniforms, which are very effective, and the regiments hold 
a weekly parade, every Sunday morning. This drill is not 
very severe, and they are only required to fire twelve 
cartridges at the rifle butts in each year. The Garde 
Ciyique was never intended to supply the military de- 
ficiencies of the country, but its creation was certainly 
favourable to the idea of eventually forming a territorial 
army. In order to maintain its purely civic character, 
the members are required to doff their uniform immediately 
after the Sunday parade. 

In addition to the forces enumerated, there is a very 
fine body of men in the gendarmerie. This is quite a 
corps d'elite^ and would bear comparison with any other 
military force in Europe. They are, in the first place, 
trained soldiers, selected from the ranks of the army for 
their good physique. They are a combination of mounted 
policemen and heavy cavalry. In their undress uniform 
they resemble the tormer, and in their full dress the 
latter. They are stationed throughout the provinces, and 
they patrol the high-roads. Much of their work consists 
in preventing smuggling across the very extended frontiers 
of the little State. Their number varies between 2500 
and 3000 men, with only 60 officers; the small pro- 
portion necessary being a certain indication of their 
efficiency. It is nowadays kept at its full strength of 
3000 men. Until 1899 the gendarmerie was a force 
of which the inhabitants of the towns knew and recked 
little. On State occasions, such as the King's fife day, a 
few of them appeared in Brussels in their uniform, with 
bearskins resembling the Horse Grenadiers of the French 
army, and the headquarters of the gendarmerie is an 
imposing building on the boulevards. But in that year 
there were very serious riots in Brussels, and a social 
215 



Belgian Life 



upheaval seemed possible. It was necessary to have a 
force at hand on which implicit reliance could be placed. 
The first division of the gendarmerie^ quartered in the 
provinces of Brabant, Hainaut, and Namur, was accord- 
ingly summoned to the capital, and in the street disturb- 
ances this force distinguished itself by a thoroughness 
and zeal to which the Brussels mob was quite unac- 
customed in the regular champions of the law. It was 
made abundantly clear that, if the gendarmes had been left 
to deal with the Socialist bands as they thought proper, 
the population of the Socialist haunts in Brussels would 
have been seriously diminished. As a consequence, the 
promoters of disorder were quite disconcerted. M. Van- 
dervelde then uttered his mot that revolvers were useless 
against mausers, and the gendarmes became the objects 
of the fear and the hatred of the Brussels mob, who 
christened them the Pandours. 

By the admission of Belgian officers, the discipline and 
training of the infantry soldiers leave much to be desired. 
Out of deference to public sentiment, which has hitherto 
not regarded the army with too favourable an eye, no 
measures have been taken to perfect the force as a 
military machine. In order not to make the young con- 
scripts discontented and resentful after they leave the 
colours, their work is practically confined to learning 
their drill so that they may march correctly through the 
streets. In the summer the regiments are sent in 
rotation for a few weeks each to the camp at Beverloo, 
in Limburg, where they execute manoeuvres and undergo 
some real training ; but this lasts for only a very short time. 
Beverloo is known officially as the camp for ' perfecting 
the drill of the infantry.' With regard to the national 
danger arising from the defects in the training of the 
Belgian soldiers at the present time, no plainer warning 
has ever been uttered than that of the present King: 
' Our military institutions should, with due regard to pro- 
portion, copy those of the powerful nations on our 
frontiers. Our tactical units ought to be composed, 

216 



in Town and Country 

armed, and trained under conditions analogous to those of 
our neighbours. If the Belgian system of defence was 
composed of men less well trained in the military service 
than those of these countries, it would only enter the lists 
to be uselessly sacrificed: Well, it is notorious that the 
Belgian army is so composed at the present time, and, 
as the King went on to say, ' all delusions on this point 
must prove fatal.' 

_ The only subjects about which the Belgian public have 
displayed any interest relate to the development of 
industry and trade, and to the acquisition of wealth. They 
have not given a serious thought to the security of the 
national workshop, with which their own prosperity is 
bound up. Until these views undergo a complete and 
thorough change no reorganization of the army is possible. 
Military enthusiasm remains suppressed, and the routine 
work is done in a perfunctory manner. The training of 
the infantry stops with parade instructions, and of the 
real conditions of modern warfare the men know nothing. 
The first and essential condition of any army reform in 
Belgium must be the abolition of the pre-emption 
privilege, and the conversion of the existing army into a 
truly national and representative force. The meagre 
results achieved must be somewhat disappointing to 
those who know that education for a military career 
forms a very important part of national education in 
Belgium as a whole. There are military schools for the 
sons or grandsons of soldiers at Most and Namur, who in 
return for their education engage to serve with the 
colours until they are 24. A curious feature of these 
institutions is that the teachers are officers detached from 
their regiments for the purpose of being schoolmasters. 
Many of these pupils of the State become non-commis- 
sioned officers, or join the Congo State service in Central 
Africa^ At Bouillon there is a more advanced school for 
the training of non-commissioned officers. The average 
age at which the period of training begins is 16, and 
by undergoing this preliminary training young men of 
217 



Belgian Life 



respectable parentage escape the drudgery of the con- 
script private's life, and are drafted as required into 
regiments as corporals. Reference has been made 
to the cavalry school at Ypres. There is an artillery 
school at Brasschaet, not far from Antwerp, as well 
as a polygon for artillery and big gun practice and 
experiments. 

A gymnasium and a fencing school have been 
established at Brussels, and quite recently the regiment 
of Grenadiers, in which Prince Albert has long been an 
officer, adopted a course of gymnastics on the model of 
the Swedish army. The most characteristic feature of 
military life in Belgium is the officers' mess. This was 
introduced by the first King, not only because he had 
seen how well the practice worked in England, but 
because he wished to maintain the dignity of the uniform 
by removing the necessity for the young officers dining in 
cheap and consequently inferior restaurants. The hour for 
the mess is, however, left to the judgment of the colonel 
and the convenience of his officers. The Grenadiers 
dine at their fine officers' quarters or mess on the 
boulevard at seven in the evening ; but other regi- 
ments have this regimental meal earlier, generally at 
5.30. There is no doubt that the mess greatly in- 
creases the esprit de corps, although married officers 
object to it. 

The chief, indeed the only, school to pass through, for 
the grade of officer in the army, is the kole militaire 
at Ixelles. This institution used to occupy the old Abbey 
of the Cambre, but a new building has been lately 
provided for it at the other end of the town, near the 
Cinquantenaire. Here the course is for two years, and 
there are two divisions, the first for cavalry and infantry, 
and the second for artillery and engineers. At the 
end of two years there is a general examination, and 
those who pass for the first division are appointed sub- 
lieutenants in the army and sent to join the regiments 
selected for them. But the successful candidates in the 
218 



in Town and Country 



second division do not leave the school, but enter on a 
fresh term of two years, and, on passing a further technical 
examination, at the end of that period are gazetted as 
full lieutenants to their branch of the service. The 
education and training are said to be excellent, and the 
cost is so reasonable that many persons send their sons 
to be educated there without any real intention of putting 
them in the army. 

Close to the military school at Ixelles is the School 
of War, which is the Belgian equivalent of our Staff 
College. Its system of instruction has a good reputation 
on the Continent, and many officers from the smaller 
States, such as Roumania and Denmark, attend its 
classes. The course covers three years, and is very 
severe. Only the successful candidates who pass with 
honours, and who are under 35 years of age at the time of 
passing out, get direct staff appointments. The others 
who succeed in passing the examination without honours, 
or who are over 35, return to their regiments with the 
additional designation of ' adjoint d "etat major. ' They 
are eligible for special appointments, and in the event of 
there being vacancies in the General Staff, which would 
probably happen on mobilization, these adjuncts become 
eligible for the posts. As a rule, there are less than 50 
officers serving on the staff, and over 200 qualified 
serving with their regiments. 

In the opinion of competent foreign critics, Belgian 
officers are very thoroughly trained in the theory of their 
profession, and their technical knowledge is good. 
Physically, they give the impression of being rather 
delicate, and this impression is heightened by their 
generally wearing an overcoat tightened at the waist by 
a belt. The neglect under which all military matters in 
Belgium have languished for over thirty years, until quite 
recently, has diminished the martial spirit of an army 
which obtained little or no popular recognition, and 
which by the international status of the country has had 
no opportunity of distinguishing itself in real war. And 
219 



Belgian Life 



yet there have been, and still are, some very earnest and 
competent officers in the higher ranks of the Belgian 
army, dating only from 1830. The two generals Van 
der Smissen and Chazal, among those who have gone 
over to the majority, would have reached high rank in 
any army on their merits. Among those of a more recent 
period, General Brialmont stood in his time at the head 
of the world's military engineers, and General Nicaise, 
although less widely known, is scarcely less competent 
in his own sphere as an artillerist. Of younger men, 
General Wahis, late Colonel of the Grenadiers, has done 
admirable organizing work since he distinguished him- 
self by his gallantry in Mexico, and Baron Dhanis and 
Commandant Chaltin have conducted several successful 
expeditions in Central Africa under great difficulties. In 
old days the Belgian races, and especially the Walloons, 
produced many excellent military chiefs in the service 
of Spain and Austria, and were the army converted into 
a truly national force, there can be no doubt that their 
military spirit would revive. At present there is some- 
thing unreal about the military resources of Belgium. 
They have been kept not only suppressed, but con- 
cealed. Circumstances are changing, and they will have 
to be displayed in the light of day. After so long a 
period of inaction and uselessness, it is not surprising 
that a good deal of renovation and reorganization has 
to be done. 

Although the army of a neutral State has necessarily 
few opportunities of distinction, it has the definite 
obligation of defending the country to which it belongs, 
no less than any other national force. When the Franco- 
Prussian war broke out, the Belgian army was mobilized 
for the defence of the southern frontier. The northern 
route, unfortunately selected by supreme authority for 
Marshal MacMahon's army in its advance from Chalons 
to Metz, brought the combatants into close proximity to 
Belgian territory. The Belgian army, numbering in this 
quarter about 50,000 men, under the command of the 



in Town and Country 

Count of Flanders and General Chazal, was drawn up 
along the northern bank of the Semois. After the battle 
of Sedan a considerable number of French fugitives, 
and some of their Prussian pursuers, crossed into Belgium, 
and were promptly disarmed. No unpleasantness was 
occasioned between the Belgians and the Prussians, and 
the discipline of the Belgian army was highly praised. At 
that period the armament of the Belgians was quite as 
good as that of the French. It was probably due to the 
impression then produced that a proposition was made 
by France, and supported by England, in December, 
1876, when the Eastern question was threatening trouble, 
that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be occupied on a 
European mandate by 6000 Belgian troops. Apart from 
the incidents of 1870, the only opportunity Belgian 
troops have had of distinguishing themselves was in 
1866, when a Belgian contingent under General Van 
der Smissen went to Mexico to support the Emperor 
Maximilian, and earned a good deal of credit in several 
actions. 

The pay of the Belgian officer is not very high, but 
he seems able to live upon it. Promotion is slow — on 
an average it takes twenty years to become a captain — 
and the prizes of the profession are few, and these are 
allotted in strict order of seniority. Still, Belgian officers 
give the impression of being fairly well contented with 
their profession. It is perhaps for this reason that so 
few of them volunteer for service in the Congo State, 
the public force of which is mainly officered from the 
ranks of the non-commissioned officers at home. An 
officer's life is not very hard. He has a great deal of 
spare time ; his uniform obtains for him a certain amount 
of popular consideration, and his prospects, if limited and 
slow, are sure. His relations with his men are generally 
satisfactory, as it is not the practice in Belgium to work 
the young conscripts too hard. The order of the day 
is to deal leniently with them, so that" the army may be 
rendered more popular in the country, and in the hope 



Belgian Life 



that those who pass through it may go back to civil 
life, and report that their stay in the army was not so 
hard and bad as many political agitators declare. The 
Belgian discipline is not Prussian. The brutal officer 
and still more brutal drill-sergeant are unknown in the 
army of Belgium. 



in Town and Country 



CHAPTER XXI 

COLONIES AND COLONIAL ASPIRATIONS 

The colonial aspirations of the Belgian people, or at least 
of their rulers, are much older than the founding of the 
Congo State in 1884. As long ago as 1843 tne nrst 
King Leopold declared that it was ' necessary to 
organize regular relations with distant countries ' for 
the benefit of Belgian trade, and he suggested that f a 
Company on the model of the Ostend Company of the 
eighteenth century would render the greatest services to 
the country.' At that time Belgian aspirations turned 
chiefly in the direction of Central America, and an 
expedition, half military and half commercial, was 
despatched in the year named to found a Belgian 
colony in Guatemala. No practical result followed from 
this attempt, the history of which is contained in a 
number of military reports that have been quite for- 
gotten. 

The subject of colonial expansion was revived in 
i860, after the return in 1859 of the present King, then 
Duke of Brabant, from a tour in the Far East. It is 
said that he had formed a plan for establishing a Belgian 
colony in the island of Formosa, and concentrating the 
efforts of his countrymen on the development of that 
beautiful island, which the Japanese are now slowly but 
surely accomplishing. There were other projects besides, 
but none took any practical form until the present King's 
attention was turned to Central Africa by the general desire 
223 



Belgian Life 



of all civilized peoples to put an end to the horrors of the 
slave trade. The Pope took a prominent part in initiat- 
ing what has been called a modern crusade, and the 
declamations of the eloquent Cardinal Lavigerie nowhere 
made a deeper impression than at Brussels. The psycho- 
logical moment had arrived for giving a definite bent 
to Belgian aspirations for securing a special outlet of 
their own in a colonial possession. Time and circum- 
stances were to give the turn to the enterprise, which, 
encouraged by religious and philanthropic zeal, was 
destined to endow the Belgian people with one of the 
finest and largest colonial possessions in the world. 

It is not necessary to give in great detail the story of 
the founding of the Congo State, but a summary of the 
main facts will be found useful. In 1876 King Leopold 
summoned a Geographical Conference at Brussels, basing 
his invitation on the ground that there was a generally 
prevalent desire throughout Christendom 'to abolish 
slavery in Africa, to pierce the darkness that still envelops 
that part of the world, and to pour into it the treasures 
of civilization.' The conference was duly held, and as its 
result ' The International Association for the Exploration 
and Civilization of Central Africa' was formed. Four 
expeditions were successively equipped for the purpose 
of commencing operations on the scene, and it will give 
the reader an idea of how completely the situation has 
altered since that date to state that the base of these 
expeditions was on the East Coast, in the territory of the 
Sultan of Zanzibar. The result of these efforts was the 
founding of the two stations of Karema and Mpala on 
the lake Tanganyika ; but long before this success was 
achieved the centre of interest had shifted elsewhere. 

Very soon after the Brussels Conference, Mr. (now 
Sir) H. M. Stanley reached the mouth of the Congo river, 
after his wonderful journey across Central Africa. His 
description of the great inland waterway, stretching across 
three parts of the Continent and only cut off from the 
Atlantic by a hundred miles of cataracts, electrified the 

224 



in Town and Country 



world. He declared that 'the Power which makes 
itself mistress of the Congo must absorb, despite the 
cataracts, all the commerce of the immense basin which 
expands itself behind that river.' No Power then came 
forward to claim the prize ; when England signed the 
treaty with Portugal seven years later it was too late. 
The King of the Belgians had been much struck by Mr. 
Stanley's statement. He invited him to Brussels, induced 
him to enter his service, and founded a new association 
for exploring the Upper Congo. This enterprise was 
strictly Belgian and contained the real germ of the Congo 
State. Finally, Mr. Stanley agreed to lead an expedition 
for the purpose of establishing stations or blockhouses 
along the Congo river. Great care had to be taken in 
sparing the susceptibilities of the Portuguese, who held 
the mouth of the river. 

The expedition under Mr. Stanley numbered ten 
Europeans, of whom five were Belgians, and 140 blacks, 
recruited by himself. The first station was founded at 
Vivi, the highest point to which boats could get below 
the cataracts. A road was then constructed from Vivi 
to Isanghila, at which place navigation again became 
possible as far as Manyanga, where river navigation 
ceases until Stanley Pool is reached. Having conveyed 
his river steamers in sections across the district called 
after the cataracts, Stanley put them together on the 
lake just named, and proceeded up the river to establish 
a line of posts. In the course of five years he completed 
a chain from Leopoldville to Stanley Falls. Extensive 
explorations had also been carried on by the despatch of 
steamers up the great tributaries of the Congo. In this 
manner much of Central Africa had been brought under 
the influence of the Belgians, but the measures had been 
carried on in an unofficial manner, and no one could say 
exactly what was the status of the Association. Portugal 
still held the coast, and its pretensions over the hinter- 
land had never been withdrawn. Yet there could not 
be a doubt in any one's mind that that Power had lost 
225 Q 



Belgian Life 



for ever the reversion of Central Africa which it had so 
long cherished. 

The Anglo-Portuguese Convention of February 7, 
1884, was an attempt to establish Portuguese supremacy, 
and it had an unfortunate fate. In March of the 
same year the French Government declared it would not 
be bound by it, and in April Germany followed suit. In 
June the two Powers went further, and agreed that the 
Congo should be placed under international control. 
Although we were quite in the wrong, and showed gross 
diplomatic ineptitude, this rebuff was a most unpleasant 
experience. An Anglo-Portuguese Convention con- 
cluded on the morrow of Stanley's return in 1876 would 
have had some justification and chance of success, but in 
1884 it was useless and impracticable. It was also too 
late. 

Before France and Germany came to their agreement 
in June, the status of the Congo Association had im- 
proved. On April 22, 1884, the United States recognized 
it as a properly constituted State, and France followed 
the example the next day. For her complaisance France, 
however, required and obtained some compensation. 
The Congo Association entered into the following obliga- 
tion towards France, viz. that ' it would never cede its 
possessions to another Power without a prior understand- 
ing with France, and that if it were compelled to alienate 
any of its territory France should have the right of pre- 
emption.' In November, Germany also recognized the 
new State, and immediately afterwards Prince Bismarck 
issued invitations for a Conference at Berlin for the 
purpose of regulating the African question. It is im- 
portant to remember that the Congo State had been 
recognized as a State by three Great Powers before 
the Berlin Conference. The Conference lasted from 
November, 1884, to February, 1885, and concluded 
with an Act proclaiming the neutrality of the Congo 
territory and freedom of trade and navigation therein. 
Before that x\ct was signed the Congo Association had 
226 



in Town and Country 

been recognized by all the Powers as a State, and thus 
became the Free or Independent State of the Congo. 
Separate treaties with the adjacent States defined the 
limits of its sovereign authority. The most important 
of these was the one with Portugal, for it secured the out- 
let to the sea, together with possession of the ports of 
Banana and Boma, which was indispensable for the 
development of the State. Another important treaty was 
signed with France in 1887, by which the right of pre- 
emption, aleady referred to, was waived as against 
Belgium. By this arrangement the reversion of the 
Congo State to Belgium became possible, and when in 
1890 the King published his will, bequeathing the 
Central African State to his country after his death, it 
became clear that one of his chief motives through- 
out had been to endow Belgium with a colony. 

France's right of pre-emption ,has been mentioned, 
and as it has been frequently recalled during the recent 
discussions on the subject of the administration of the 
Congo State, it is desirable to record some facts which 
would have to be taken into account if at any time an 
attempt were made to give it force. This right of pre- 
emption was given as the price for the recognition by 
France of the Congo Association as a State. It was of 
the nature of a private agreement between two parties. 
It certainly tied the hands of the Congo State, but inter- 
nationally its validity could not be binding on Govern- 
ments which were no party to it. Germany would cer- 
tainly not recognize it, and neither would England once 
the anti-Congolese mania had abated. Indeed, to let 
France acquire the best part of Africa must appear too 
absurd to any one who will give the subject five minutes' 
consideration. But there is another point. The would- 
be donors of the Congo State to France overlook the 
meaning of the word pre-emption. Pre-emption implies 
purchase; it does not warrant spoliation and robbery. 
The present value of the Congo State at a moderate 
computation is forty millions sterling. Are the French 
227 



Belgian Life 

people willing to pay a milliard for it ? If they are, 
perhaps business might yet be done. 

This possession, which for over eighteen years has 
been governed as a separate monarchy by King Leopold, 
covers an area of 900,000 square miles, and contains a 
population which has been variously estimated, but 
which cannot be less than 20,000,000. The cost of 
the creation of the State was defrayed by the King out 
of his private fortune, and is said to have exceeded a 
million sterling. It was not until the second Brussels 
Conference in 1890 that the State obtained the right to 
levy taxes and impose custom duties. The revenue 
in that year was less than ^20,000, and the expenditure 
seven times as great. It was impossible to expect such 
a state of things to continue. It could only result in a 
financial catastrophe. The new powers conferred by 
the Brussels Act raised the annual revenue gradually 
to about ^"360,000 in 1897, and since that year it has 
shown a steady annual increase, until the Budget of 1903 
anticipated a revenue of ^1,100,000, which has been 
more than realized. It is only within the last three 
years, however, that an equilibrium has been established 
between payments and receipts. After some anxiety 
and a long struggle the Government of this great Central 
African dominion can now be described as paying its 
way. 

During the last twelve years the trade of the Congo 
State has made marked progress, considering that the 
only railways actually working are the line traversing the 
cataracts district to Leopoldville and a short railway 
through the Mayumba district behind Boma. The 
export trade has risen from half a million sterling in 1895 
to nearly two millions in 1902, while the imports have 
shown equal proportional progress, being now computed 
at nearly one and a half millions. This total will neces- 
sarily increase with the progress of railway construction in 
the interior, and it may be mentioned that many schemes 
have been officially sanctioned, and some are in progress. 
228 



in Town and Country 

Rubber is the chief Congo export. The total value of 
the African rubber sold on the Antwerp market was 
about ^800,000 until 1902, when it nearly doubled, 
reaching in that year a total of 5000 tons, worth, say, 
^1,500,000. These figures sufficiently dispose of the 
absurd story that the present King clears a million a 
year out of this article, for the rubber is the property 
of companies, whose shares, largely held by Belgians, 
are quoted at high premiums. Moreover, the Belgian 
Foreign Minister has solemnly declared that all receipts 
from the domaine prive and the Crown domain are passed 
into the public accounts. 

Belgium has thus acquired the claim to the possession 
of a vast colony which enjoys present prosperity and pro- 
mises to become more valuable every year. She is thus 
the Colonial Power that she first aspired to be in 1843. 
It has been said that the Belgians would be wiser to 
attend to the home affairs of their little country and not 
enter into dangerous competitions beyond the seas. But 
when the little country by its own energy has raised itself 
into the position of the fourth trading and manufacturing 
country of Europe, it has reason to think otherwise. It has 
just as much right to found colonies, if it can do so, as other 
nations. What has really passed away is the pretension 
that because it is a little State it can be allowed privileges 
that are withheld from great States. By much cleverness 
and the good fortune without which cleverness may go 
empty-handed, the Congo State has been founded as, 
practically speaking, a Belgian Colony. It has many 
enemies and detractors, and not the least of the operating 
motives is envy that so large a part should have fallen to 
Belgium in the scramble for Africa. The Belgians will 
have some day or other to reckon with this sentiment, 
and the more carefully they discharge the obligations they 
contracted under the Acts of Berlin and Brussels the 
better prepared will they be to meet and repel the attack 
when it comes in a serious form. 

There are some persons who scoff at the idea of Belgium 
229 Q 3 



Belgian Life 



requiring or possessing colonies. If they were to read M. 
Alphonse de Haulleville's exhaustive and remarkable 
work * on the colonizing aptitudes of the Belgians they 
might change their tone. After tracing the colonial 
efforts of his race from the dawn of history down to the 
efforts of the Ostend Company in the eighteenth century 
to obtain its share of the trade with India, the author 
makes these two declarations — ' the Belgians, as proved 
by their past, know how to colonize,' and ' their necessities 
caused by the plethora of a dense population compel them 
to colonize unless they are prepared to perish as a nation, 
or at least behold their existing prosperity depart.' It is 
not merely the continued remarkable increase in the 
Belgian population, until it is not far short of seven 
millions, besides the million or over said to be resident in 
France ; but the appreciation of the fact that Belgian trade 
with its neighbours in Europe has been stationary for 
the last seven or eight years, that has compelled thought- 
ful Belgians to turn all their attention to extending the 
national trade by every means beyond the sea. It is 
thus necessity as much as ambition that has compelled 
the Belgians to take up seriously the question of colonies 
and colonial trade. 

There is one serious obstacle in the way of any exten- 
sive Belgian colonization, and that is the popular aversion 
to emigration. ' Home's best ' is still the Flemish motto, 
and there is the greatest difficulty in obtaining volunteers 
for the Congo, although the Belgians resident in the 
whole of that vast territory do not reach 1500. How far 
the pinch of want when it comes may drive the Belgians 
to seek a new home in those portions of Central Africa 
which may hereafter be declared suitable for European 
residents remains to be seen. No such movement to 
any part of the world has yet revealed itself in Belgium. 

* ' Les Aptitudes Colonisatrices des Beiges et la Question Colo- 
niale en Belgique,' par A. de Haulleville, 1898. The author is the 
son of the late well-known publicist in Belgium, Baron Prosper de 
Haulleville. 

230 



in Town and Country 

But if the Belgians object to emigrate they have no 
objection to exporting their manufactures, and in that 
sense they appreciate the Congo State as an outlet for 
their commercial products. If they have any pronounced 
sentiment in the matter, it is only the disappointment that 
it has not proved a larger and more profitable outlet. 
One million and a half's worth of exports to a region that 
is in their actual possession does not seem a large 
part of a total export trade of 127 millions. As an out- 
let for Belgian manufactures the value of the Congo lies 
more in the future than in the present. But it is different 
with regard to the exports from Central Africa itself. 
There a definite source of national wealth has been 
obtained. Among the advantages to be derived from 
colonial possessions M. de Haulleville very rightly lays 
stress on the importance of their producing the raw 
material which the possessing State knows how to convert 
into the manufactured article needed by the European 
market. 

This result has already been produced in the case of 
caoutchouc, or the rubber plant of the Congo region. In 
1886 the export of caoutchouc was valued at only ^6000 ; 
in 1902 it exceeded .£750,000, and in 1903 it reached 
£"1,500,000. It is impossible to state what is the 
ultimate sale value of the manufactured articles produced 
from this supply of raw material. Formerly Brazil was 
the chief if not the only source of supply, but to-day the 
price of Congo rubber on the Antwerp market helps to 
regulate the value of this article on the Continent. It 
has been declared that the rubber bearing lianas (La?i- 
dolphia florida) will soon be exhausted, but there does not 
seem to be any justification for this statement. In the 
early stages of the exploitation wasteful methods were in 
practice, but these have long been suppressed, and the 
greatest care is taken to preserve the lianas. 

The possession of the Congo territory, unduly large 
as many of its critics pronounce it to be for a small 
State like Belgium, does not satisfy Belgian aspirations. 
231 



Belgian Life 



In Siam and Persia considerable activity has been shown, 
and Belgian subjects are placed in good positions -to 
promote the commercial and political objects of their 
country. But it is not probable that in these States 
Belgian activity includes any scheme for founding a 
colony. Morocco is another country with a stormy 
present and an uncertain future upon which Belgian 
attention has been fixed for a good many years. 

It is, however, China that has attracted the largest 
measure of notice, and that appeals most to the aspira- 
tions of the colonial school in Belgium. The acquisi- 
tion of the contract for the trunk line from Peking to 
Hankow in 1898 was a marked success, although achieved 
with the joint participation of France, and with the 
alleged co-operation or connivance of the Russian 
Government acting under the cloak of the Russo-Chinese 
Bank. It has naturally whetted the appetite for further 
successes of the same kind, and a strenuous effort was 
long made to obtain a share of the so-called Anglo- 
American concession for the Canton-Hankow line, which 
is the southern section of the line now in course of con- 
struction from Peking. The effort has met with success, 
and quite recently it has been stated that the northern 
section of this line has passed into Belgian hands. It 
is also declared that the Belgians possess altogether not 
less than fifty concessions in China. These contracts 
mean large orders for Belgian manufacturers of rails, 
engines, and other railway material, and they probably 
represent a greater immediate profit than a year's export 
trade to the Congo. As Belgian interests in China have 
assumed such importance, and promise to acquire still 
more, it is not surprising to learn that the Belgian Govern- 
ment thinks that there should be a Belgian concession in 
one, or more than one, Chinese trading port. Some time 
ago Belgian concessions were marked out both at Tientsin 
and at Hankow, but for some unspecified reason posses- 
sion has not yet been taken of these sites. A diplomatic 
difficulty appears to have supervened as to the exact 
232 



in Town and Country 

status of Belgium internationally as ' a neutral State.' 
The Congo State is just as much pledged to neutrality 
in Africa as Belgium herself is in Europe, but the exact 
status of Belgian territorial possessions in China has been 
deemed obscure. It is now declared that all difficulties 
with regard to the Belgian concession at Tientsin have 
been overcome. Leaving this and other cognate matters 
to be solved by time, it is sufficient to note that the 
colonizing idea has taken deep root in the minds of 
intelligent Belgians who think, with M. de Haulleville, 
that ' colonization is the only safety of the communities 
upon whom their very prosperity inflicts plethora.' It 
is quite true that there is another class of Belgians who 
shrink from the effort required by emigration and who 
shudder at the very name of the Congo because they 
believe going there to be synonymous with death. But 
these timid persons have not prevented the more robust 
part of the nation from accomplishing what has been 
accomplished, and no doubt the movement will become a 
more marked feature than before in the external develop- 
ment of Belgium. There is no reason why this tendency 
should excite any adverse criticism or meet with any 
opposition in England, so long as it remains perfectly 
clear that the Belgians are carrying out their own legiti- 
mate business and are not making themselves the tools of 
other countries whose main object is to injure England. 
This is a pitfall that the Belgians will have to carefully 
avoid, and there will be the less excuse for them if they 
fail to do so, as they are perfectly aware of the suspicions 
already entertained about their being too subservient to 
Russia in both China and Persia. These suspicions 
may be quite baseless, and if so they will soon pass 
away, but should they be confirmed, Belgian colonial 
aspirations would unquestionably suffer. 



233 



INDEX 



Albert, Prince, 23 

Antwerp, defence of, 19 ; life 

at, chapter vi ; as a fortress, 

66-68 
Ardennes, the, chapter xvi 
Army, the, chapter xx 
Audenarde, ill 
Aymon and his four sons, 154, 

155 

Bayard, the horse, 154-156 

Beernaert, M., 28 

Belgian officers, 189, 190, chap- 
ter xx 

Belgium, two races of, 1-12; 
early history of, 2-4 ; forma- 
tion of modern kingdom, 13- 
17 ; created by France and 
England, 20; neutrality of, 
21, 22 ; and England, 233 

Berchem, 16 

Berlin Conference, the, 226 

Borinage, the, chapter vii 

Bouillon, 178, 179 

Brialmont General, 162 

Bruges, description of, 104-108 ; 
ship canal, at, 112 

Brussels, fighting in, 15 ; palace 
of, 36, 37 ; life in, chapters 
iv and v ; tramway system 
of, 56-57 

Campine, the, 78 
Carnival, the, 149 
Cassation, Cour de, 1 26 
Chamber of deputies, the, 25 ; 

payment of its members, 27 
Charlemagne, 155 
Chasse, General, 19 



China, Belgian interests in, 232 
Ciergnon, 38 
Clubs and club life, 165 
Cockerill, 83 

Colonies, Belgium, chapter xxi 
Congo State, the, 224 et seq. 
Conscience, Henri, 7 
Constitution, the, 25 et seq. 
Country life in Belgium, chap- 
ter ix 
Courtrai, 108, 109 
Culembourg, site of, 40 

D'Arenberg, Duke, 39 
Dogs, question of their employ- 
ment, 194-196 
Dutch, rising against, 14 ; re- 
cognition of Belgian indepen- 
dence, 20 

Education, chapter xi 

Flanders, Count of, 23 
Flemings, the, l-3> 5 i condi- 
tion of life among, 96-98 
France acts with England, 19 
France and the Congo State, 
her right of pre-emption, 227, 
228 
Franchimont, 141, 142 

Games, popular, 157, 158 
Garde Civique, the, 34, 214 
Gendarmerie, the, 215 
Ghent, life at, 80-83 
Goossens, Archbishop, r/22 

Hasselt, fight at, 17 ; fetes of, 



235 



Index 



Hautes Fagnes, the, 139 
Hymans, M. P., 34 

Ixelles, military school at, 
213 

Justice, instances of its admin- 
istration, 130, 131 

Kermesse, the, 150 

Laeken, 38 

Lambermont, Baron, 96, 190, 

191 
Language, the question of, 4, 

5, 8-10 
La Roche, 176, 177 
Law, chapter xii 
Ledeganck, 7 

Legends, 142, 143, chapter xiv j 
Lemonnier, C, 160 
Leopold L, 17, 18, 22, 36, 205 
Leopold II., 22, 36, 144, 167, 

211, 223-229 
Lesse, the, 173, 174 
Liege, 84-86 ; fortifications of, 

I45-M7 
Ligne, Princes de, 39 
London Protocol, the, 18 
Louis Philippe, 17, 19 

Maeterlinck, M., 160 
Martyrs, the Belgian, 16 
Merode, Count F. de., 16 
Mining strikes, 7 1 
Monnaie theatre, the, 14, 52 
Mons, 151 

Nemours, Due de, 17 
Nothomb, M., 20 

Orange, Prince of, 15 



Palais de Justice at Brussels, 

167 
Pensions, old age, 91 
Plural vote, the, 28 
Police, the, 129, 135, 136 
Poperinghe, ill 
Postman, the Brussels, 183-185 
Press, the Belgian, 162, 163 
Proportional representation, 30 

Railway travelling, 186, 187 
Ravenstein, Hotel, 165 
Religion, chapter xi 
Religious orders, 123 
Rochefort, 153, 176, 181 

St. Hubert, 154 

Seaports and seamen, chapter xix 

Semois, the, 177-179 

Senate, the, 25 

Seraing, 83 

Socialist party, the, 31, 32 

Society, Belgian, 36 et seq. 

Stanley, Sir H. M., 224 

Tervueren, 55 
Types, national, chapters xvii 
and xviii 

Vanderyelde, M., 32, 33 
Van Eetvelde, Baron, 191 
Verhaeren, E., 160 

Waes country, the, 94 

Walloons, the, 1-3, 5 ; con- 
ditions of life among, 98, 99, 
chapter xiii 

Waterloo Lion, the, 20 

Wellington, Duke of, his Bel- 
gian estate, 95, 96 

Willems, J. F., 7 

Woeste, M., 41 

YrRES, no 



PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.