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HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY



HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OF MODERN KNOWLEDGE

No. 95

Editors :

HERBERT FISHER, M.A., F.B.A.
PROF. GILBERT MURRAY, LlTT.D.,

LL.D., F.B.A.

PROF. J. ARTHUR THOMSON, M.A.
PROF. WILLIAM T. BREWSTER, M.A.



A complete classified list of the volumes of THE
HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY already published
will be found at the back of this book.



BELGIUM



BY

R. C. K. ENSOR

.OMETIME SCHOLAR OF BALLIOL COLLEGE, OXFORD




NEW YORK
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

LONDON
WILLIAMS AND NORGATE



-



v\



CONTENTS

CHAP. PAGE

I INTRODUCTORY . ... 9

II GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OP THE COUN-
TRY 22

III GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OP THE PEOPLE 40

IV THE HISTORIC GLORIES OF BELGIUM . 65
V THE HISTORIC SUBJECTION OP BELGIUM . 97

VI THE ESTABLISHMENT OP INDEPENDENCE . 123

VII THE BELGIAN CONSTITUTION . . . 142

VIII POLITICS AND PARTIES. . . . 166

IX SOCIAL CONDITIONS AND AGENCIES . .195

X ART AND LITERATURE .... 222

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . .251

INDEX 253



BELGIUM

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTORY

THE events of August 1914 and their
sequel have shown Belgium to many in a
new light. They have seen a nation where
they had supposed that there was only a
geographical expression. They have seen
martial courage where they had forgotten
that it had been famous for centuries. They
have been surprised to find in this little land
so much chivalrous honour and so much civic
patriotism. They need to be reminded that
its nobility headed the Crusades and that
its common people established the first free
city life north of the Alps.

Belgium is the most accessible country on
the Continent to the English; and it has
been visited by numberless Americans since
Longfellow's day. But it is proverbially easy
to overlook what lies under one's nose.
A 2



10 BELGIUM

Those of us who have long been aware that
Belgium is something more than a collection
of old buildings and Old Masters, or a stopping-
place on the journey to Germany or Switzer-
land, can but welcome the new interest
which is being taken in her by the wider
public on both sides of the Atlantic. For
she is worthy of it. The episode which the
world admires and pities is not an historical
accident, ennobling by chance the record of
an ignoble people. If under the ordeal they
have acted greatly, it was because they had
greatness in them.

Anyone studying the Belgians for the first
time must beware of mixing condescension
with his interest. He will do well to grasp
four facts about them as early as possible.
They are a nation. They are an old nation.
They are a proud nation. They are a nation
which has a good deal to teach as well as to
learn.

They are a nation ; even though they have
no national language. A hasty critic once
described them as a " fortuitous concatena-
tion of mongrels Latin mongrels talking
bad French, and Teutonic mongrels talking
bad Dutch." Undoubtedly they are, like
the English, of hybrid origin. Undoubtedly
Belgium, like England, has been a meeting-



INTRODUCTORY 11

point between the French language and
culture and the Low-German language and
culture. In the one country, separated by
the sea both from France and Low-Germany,
the languages fused and formed the hybrid
speech in which this book is written. In
the other they remained distinct. But in
both a nation was formed, and exists.

They are an old nation. The political
union in West Belgium between the Flemings
of Flanders and the Walloons of Hainaut,
and that in East Belgium between the
Flemings of Brabant and the Walloons of
Limburg, Namur, and Luxemburg, were being
perpetually wrought, unwrought, and wrought
again in the three centuries between 1050 and
1350, during which the Norman and French
dynasties consolidated the kingdom of
England and Wales. The combining of the
two combinations, that is to say, of all Belgium
except Lie"ge, dates from the fifteenth century ;
and it has never been broken since. Through
prosperity and adversity (and adversity is
sometimes the more consolidating of the two)
all Belgians, save those of Lie"ge, have been
united under the same governments for nearly
five hundred years. There are not many
European nations whose people can claim
as much.



12 BELGIUM

They are a proud nation. How should
they not be? From the time when the
Walloon dynasty of Charles Martel and
Charlemagne relaid the foundations of
settled life in Europe, down to the time when
Antwerp was the shipping metropolis of the
world, theirs was always the most civilised
country north of the Mediterranean water-
sheds. If they subsequently endured for
three centuries such miseries at the hands
of foreigners as not even Italy has suffered,
it was their misfortune, not their fault. If
they survived; if they preserved through
the fiery trial not only their national life
but their national love of art, industry, and
liberty; if, starting behind all the Western
nations eighty-five years ago, they have since
reached the very front rank in the rivalries
of peace and progress, can they be expected
to like hearing their behaviour in the European
War praised as if it was the first title to
respect that they had ever earned ?

They are a nation, which has a good deal
to teach as well as to learn. Look, for ex-
ample, at their constitution. Great Britain
can learn from Belgium that it is possible
to take ancient liberties, embodied in vener-
able charters and century-old customs and
understandings, and to codify them into a



INTRODUCTORY 13

clear logical modern document, legible for
all and almost insusceptible of doubts, with-
out destroying their sanctity and efficacy
in the process. The United States can learn
that it is possible to have a written constitu-
tion, and a Judicature which can invalidate
laws conflicting with it, and at the same time
to have a Legislature which never passes
such laws. Look, again, at their industry
and thrift. Eighty-five years ago they were
poverty-stricken; even in the 'forties and
'fifties it was common to compare Flanders
with Ireland. Now for many years theirs
has been the one nation in the world besides
those old-established bankers, Britain, France,
and Holland, which has a sufficient surplus
of capital beyond its own requirements to be
a large lender to other countries. Look at
the unrivalled system of transit and transport
facilities, which the Belgian State has de-
veloped, with its network of railways, light
railways, canals, and ship canals. Or look
at its attempts to deal with the housing
problem perhaps the most successful made
in any European country.

The present volume will have fulfilled its
purpose, if it enables some of its readers to
realise the national character and achieve-
ments of the Belgian people a little better



14 BELGIUM

than they have done hitherto. It makes
no pretence of being an exhaustive social
study of modern Belgium; nor does it pre-
sume to throw on its history any lights
which have not been thrown before. It is
not meant as a gossiping guide-book; still
less as a statistical abstract. Books filling
all of these r61es with varying degrees of
success already exist; and the present
moment would be a peculiarly unsuitable
one for adding to their number when Belgium
is nearly all in an enemy's hands, when her
libraries and public offices are inaccessible,
when her Government and her Press is in
exile, when her leading citizens are scattered
over half the countries of the world, and when
the whole of her internal activities industrial,
administrative, intellectual are either in a
state of suspended animation or in one of
diversion and abnormality. In the following
pages frequent use is made of the present
tense. The reader is informed regarding
this, that, or the other feature of Belgian life
or administration, that it " is." Let him
take note here, once and for all, that in no
case is the tense meant to indicate whether
or not a thing still " is " under war con-
ditions. "Is," in every case not otherwise
shown, means " was when the European



INTRODUCTORY 15

War broke out " ; and in most cases let us
hope that it means " will be again when the
war is over." To avoid endless tiresome
circumlocutions we are bound to express
ourselves thus; and if the phraseology of
convenience happens also to be that of faith,
it is none the worse on that account. The
present writer does not for a moment believe
that Belgium can be obliterated. No one
does who has been connected with the
country for any length of time. If it were
possible to destroy the people's nationality
and their determination to live their own
life in their own way, they would have
been destroyed long ago, between 1555 and
1830.

While a bulky new study of the country
could not profitably be undertaken in such
circumstances, the case seems different with
an attempt to portray it in brief compass by
the aid of existing materials. The moment
is favourable for this, not merely because
the war has made Belgium conspicuous,
but because whatever else it may do for her,
it marks an epoch. In the eighty -four years
since she won her independence, her progress
was continuous. There were developments,
but no break. The war is such a break;
and just as we may care in the life of an



16 BELGIUM

individual to have portraits of him as he
appeared when he left school, or when he
married, or when he entered Parliament,
so there may appear some special reasons
for attempting to place on record the portrait
of a nation, as on the eve of one of the greatest
crises in its career it appeared to a sympathetic
observer.

The first chapter deals with the influence
of geography on the character and destinies
of the Belgian people. It would be difficult
to name any nation in whose history this
has been a more important or more constant
factor. The second chapter describes some of
the more general characteristics of the people
themselves, particularly those of race and
of long-inherited sympathies, antipathies,
traditions, and ways of life. Thirdly, the
reader must appreciate at least the outline
and the main bearings of those glorious
epochs in the history of the Low Countries,
with which every educated Belgian is familiar,
and of which he has the right to be proud.
Fourthly, we trace the story of the evil
centuries, when Belgium was the " cockpit
of Europe." Without this, it is not possible
to realise what a terrible necessity lies upon
her to maintain that neutrality, which Dr.
von Bethmann-Hollweg described on the



INTRODUCTORY 17

outbreak of war as a phrase. For her,
neutrality and independence are indissolubly
bound together. Once she " gave a passage "
to foreign troops from any side, her inde-
pendence would be gone. Since she had
allowed her unique strategical position to
be used by others with impunity, none of
her neighbours would be content for her to
remain the trustee of it; each would be
compelled in self-defence to seek control of
it. She would not only lose freedom in the
process, but would sink back into being a
" cockpit " for an indefinite future.

Our fifth chapter deals with the establish-
ment of Belgian independence in 1830-31-39.
What should be specially noticed here is
that the Belgian nation was not, as is some-
times foolishly said, an artificial creation of
the Powers. The Powers were indeed guilty
of such an artifice; but it was in 1814-15,
when they created the United Kingdom of
the Netherlands; and that was the very
thing against which the Belgians rebelled.
For the formation of their own national
State, nobody but themselves was responsible.
It originated spontaneously in the will of the
people, and is entitled to whatever respect
that origin merits. The action of the Powers
was limited to putting a certain restraint



18 BELGIUM

on the efforts of their own creature, the
Dutch King, to regain his position, and to
lopping off some pieces of self-freed Belgium
for his consolation and appeasement.

The later chapters give some description
of the constitution, the party politics, the
social conditions and agencies, the art, and
the literature of the modern kingdom. The
principle adopted in the political and social
chapters has necessarily been to direct atten-
tion to only a few of the more important
issues and developments, with preference for
those which seem either to be most typical
of Belgium or to be most intrinsically worthy
of notice by an English-reading public.
Only people who suppose that Belgium is
a " little " country and must therefore have
few difficulties and differences, will imagine
that this sort of selection is easy, or can be
performed to the satisfaction of the selector.

The reader will find nothing on two sub-
jects on which he may have expected in-
formation. One is the personal history of
the three kings. The other is the Congo.
The omissions are intentional. Our subject
is Belgium; and though the remarkable
personalities of Leopold I, Leopold II, and
Albert I have all exercised a powerful in-
fluence on the country, it has in a sense been



INTRODUCTORY 19

external. The reigning family is not, of
course, Belgian by origin; and the very
great ability which its princes have shown
now for three generations has nothing very
Belgian about it. Nor was there anything
Belgian in the vices and egotisms which
were so strangely assorted in Leopold II's
character with the highest qualities of fore-
sight, enterprise, and will, and which he
displayed on the same colossal scale and with
the same indifference to opinion. In England,
at any rate, there has been far too common a
tendency to talk about Belgium as if it were
an annexe to Leopold II and the only im-
portant event in its history were that
monarch's acquisition of the Congo. The
prominence of the present King in his country's
fight against aggression is another matter.
His greatness and the country's are one;
and when it is time which it is not yet
to write seriously the story of the war as
it affects Belgium, his name will lead all the
rest. It is probably true, as a Socialist
deputy is reported to have said after three
months' war, that if Belgium were made a
Republic to-morrow and the people had an
absolutely free choice of President, they
would elect King Albert by a vast majority.
It would never have been true of Leopold II



20 BELGIUM

throughout his long reign; and not often
true of Leopold I before that.

Regarding the Congo, this much may be
said. The entire credit (and it is much)
for acquiring it and taking the first steps to
civilise it belongs to Leopold II alone. So
does the entire discredit for the abuses which
eventually sprang up under his sway. The
Belgian nation had no more to do with the
one than with the other. It was a single
man's enterprise. It was, of course, the
case that King Leopold's dual sovereignty
put the Belgian nation into an increasingly
difficult position. She would have extricated
herself earlier if it had not been for the
strong will of the King, the weakness of the
then Premier, Count Smet de Naeyer, and,
one must add, the extravagances and in-
justices of the English agitation. Since,
however, the transfer was effected in 1908
and the Congo Free State became the Belgian
Congo Colony, steady progress has been made
towards good government. The King has
visited the colony; and the interest of all
the parties in it has been shown by the per-
sonal tours of their leaders. The abolition
of forced labour, the improvement in the
pay and quality of the officials, and the
opening of successive zones to international



INTRODUCTORY 21

trade have been among the measures of
reform. The Congo does not yet have a very
appreciable effect on the life of Belgium as
a whole; but her possession of this great
heritage must not be overlooked in estimating
her future.



CHAPTER II

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COUNTRY

THE kingdom of Belgium had a population
of 7,423,784 at the census of 1910, and an area
of about 11,373 square miles. The area was
almost exactly equal to that of the English
counties of Northumberland, Cumberland,
Westmoreland, Durham, and Yorkshire com-
bined; but these counties had only four-
fifths the population. The population was not
far short of that of the State of Pennsylvania ;
but Pennsylvania covers nearly four times the
Belgian area. Another comparison would be
with the neighbouring country of Holland,
whose area was 1275 square miles (or 11
per cent.) larger, and whose population was
1,565,509 (or 21 per cent.) smaller.

It may be noted that in Holland the popula-
tion of towns with over 30,000 inhabitants
was much larger, both absolutely and relatively
than in Belgium ; the fact being that (contrary
to a common English belief) the Belgians are
22



CHARACTERISTICS OF COUNTRY 23

a more rural people than the Dutch. Their
country is one in which modern travellers from
abroad have been apt to visit the towns only ;
and like all countries with a great deal of level,
it cannot be apprehended from the railway.
Nevertheless its landscapes, no less than its
general geographical situation in relation to
Europe, have profoundly influenced the char-
acter and history of its sons. In spite of
Belgium's industrial prominence, both in the
Middle Ages and in the twentieth century,
its agriculture is more prominent still; and
possibly the success even of its industries owes
not a little to the unique degree in which
they are carried on by people with country
homes.

The land rises by a succession of stages from
the sea coast on the north-west to the low
mountains of the Ardennes on the south-east.
One may distinguish seven main strips of
it, roughly parallel to each other. ' First in
order, fringing the North Sea, comes a belt
of sand-dunes about forty miles in length,
haunted by grey mists and swept by stormy
winds. Long uninhabited save by hardy
fisherfolk, it has latterly developed a chain of
fashionable watering-places, the chief of which
is Ostend. Inland of this lies the region of
polders, a band of reclaimed territory at or



24 BELGIUM

below sea-level, protected by dykes and
traversed by raised causeways, treeless except
for rows of poplars planted along these, but
yielding rich crops from a heavy, clayey soil.
Inland again we find a wide expanse of sandy
soil, extending from east to west almost
continuously across Belgium. The eastern
tract of this, covering the north-eastern
portions of the provinces of Antwerp and
Limburg, is called the Campine; it consists
of sterile heaths and wastes, which in recent
years have been the object of systematic
reclamation, and under which still more
recently rich coal deposits have been proved.
The western tract of sand is the celebrated
plain of Flanders. Resuming our inland
progress with our backs to the sea, we come
next to more undulating scenery. The sand
becomes loamy; finally it gives place to
loam. The hills, though low, shut in the
horizons nearer; and there are great forests,
principally of beech, most scientifically man-
aged. This is the typical Brabant country.
As we proceed, it beconu , barer ; we are in
an area of large farms without hedges and
almost without trees. The southern portion
of this is a region only second in importance to
the Flemish plain, the coal-bearing district
which runs across Belgium on the north side



CHARACTERISTICS OF COUNTRY 25

of the line of the rivers Sambre and Meuse.
In modern industry (as distinct from agri-
culture and seaport trade) it leads the rest.
Its principal industrial centres (taking them
from west to east) are Mons, Charleroi, and
Liege ; but as we shall see, one of its notable
features is the diffusion of a dense manu-
facturing population over a number of small
towns and villages. Bordering this area and
providing water-carriage for its coal and
heavy goods, flows the navigable stream of the
Sambre, whose line is continued from Namur
onwards by the deeper and broader waters
of the Meuse, sweeping to Liege through a
magnificent valley walled by white limestone
rocks. Beyond the river-line another and
loftier zone stretches from west to east; its
highest hills exceed 1000 feet. Geologically it
is very varied, consisting largely of meta-
morphic rocks (marbles, schists, and slates)
besides limestones and sandstones, and con-
taining numerous quarries, as well as mines of
iron ore, manganese, and other minerals now
little exploited. This is a picturesque region
with steep valleys and rocky streams recalling
South Derbyshire; the surface soil is clayey,
the farms large, the towns and villages smiling.
Further again, still proceeding with our backs
to the sea, we climb higher and reach a sterner,



26 BELGIUM

lonelier zone, the forest of the Ardennes. It
averages nearly 1400 feet in height, though
its tallest summit is only 2204; its general
character is a series of lofty plateaux, whose
clayey surfaces are often waterlogged marshes
(hautes fagnes\ and whose slopes are clothed
in forests. 1 t Beyond them we descend finally
to a smaller region, the last of the seven main
tracts running from west to east, which must
be traversed by the traveller who crosses Bel-
gium from the sea. It is the limestone dis-
trict of Arlon sheltered from the north by
the Ardennes, and yielding an easier living to
a people who alone in Belgium speak, not
French or Flemish, but a Low-German dialect
similar to that in the neighbouring areas of
Rhenish Prussia and the Grand Duchy of
Luxemburg.

Geologically, the oldest rocks in Belgium
are those in the Ardennes ; they are Devonian,
with the earlier Cambrian formations cropping
through in places. The Arlon district to the
south of them is Jurassic. The districts
north of them on either side of the Sambre
and Meuse are Carboniferous, with a good deal
of metamorphosis (limestone to marble, and
shale to slate) and some eruptive intrusions
of granite, etc. The northern belts of these
Carboniferous rocks belong to the coal-



CHARACTERISTICS OF COUNTRY 27

measures; an.d beyond them there is a
geological fault, which brings us directly to
Cretaceous and Tertiary formations. The
plain of Flanders is Eocene, and the Campine
is Oligocene.

So much for an outline; we must now
consider in more detail the two most important
of these natural divisions the great plain of
Flanders, and the series of coalfields along the
Sambre and Meuse. The inhabitants of the
first are Flemings, and speak Flemish, a
language only differing from Dutch as English
does from Scots, i.e. they are written the same
with just such differences in pronunciation
and idiom as might entitle either to be termed
a dialect of the other. The inhabitants of the
second are called Walloons, and are classed as
French-speaking; though their Walloon dia-
lect has considerable claims to be regarded
as a separate Romance language.

The Flemish plain has played a great part
in the civilisation of Europe. Down to the
end of the sixteenth century it was by far
the most important district in the Low
Countries; and to this day, despite a long
series of wars and calamities, it remains a
wonderful triumph of human industry over
nature. The sandy soil is excessively barren.
Brief neglect makes it speedily revert to



28 BELGIUM

desert. Yet the Flemings have made it one
of the most populous, the most intensively
cultivated, and the most productive areas in
the entire world. To look over this plain
across the polders from the edge of the sand-
dunes is like looking over some terrestrial
sea. Its flat surface stretches to the horizon,
there to be lost in the characteristic blue haze
whose beauty and mystery form the back-
ground of so much of the Primitive Flemish
painting. In front the landscape lies in the
sunshine like a carpet, diapered with countless
small cultivated plots showing vivid contrasts
of green and colour, and dotted thickly with
whitewashed, red-roofed cottages. Planted
trees abound, at intervals showing like woods,
though woods of any size are rare in this busy
area. Church spires point upward from every
hamlet ; and at close intervals lie the historic
cities. Some of these, with tall, mediaeval
buildings rising over ancient squares, are but
the ghosts of their famous selves. The old
city walls are usually gone, their site often
marked by modern boulevards; but the
town halls and guildhalls and merchants'
houses remain, and the belfry (to have which
was for a mediaeval town the greatest of
chartered privileges, the very starting-point
of collective independence) still rises in the



CHARACTERISTICS OF COUNTRY 29


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