1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Belgium
Topography, &c.—Belgium lies between 49° 30′ and 51° 30′ N., and 2° 32′ and 6° 7′ E., and on the land side is bounded by Holland on the N. and N.E., by Prussia and the grand duchy of Luxemburg on the E. and S.E., and by France on the S. Its land frontiers measure 793 m., divided as follows:—with Holland 269 m., with Prussia 60 m., with the grand duchy 80 m. and with France 384 m. In addition it has a sea-coast of 42 m. The western portion of Belgium, consisting of the two Flanders, Antwerp and parts of Brabant and Hainaut, is flat, being little above the level of the sea; and indeed at one point near Furnes it is 7 ft. below it. The same description applies more or less to the north-east, but in the south of Hainaut and the greater part of Brabant the general level of the country is about 300 ft. above the sea, with altitudes rising to more than 600 ft. South of the Meuse, and in the district distinguished by the appellation “Between Sambre and Meuse,” the level is still greater, and the whole of the province of Luxemburg is above 500 ft., with altitudes up to 1650 ft. In the south-eastern part of the province of Liége there are several points exceeding 2000 ft. The highest of these is the Baraque de Michel close to the Prussian frontier, with an altitude of 2190 ft. The Baraque de Fraiture, north-east of La Roche, is over 2000 ft. While the greater part of western and northern Belgium is devoid of the picturesque, the Ardennes and the Fagnes districts of “Between Sambre and Meuse” and Liége contain much pleasant and some romantic scenery. The principal charm of this region is derived from its fine and extensive woods, of which that called St Hubert is the best known. There are no lakes in Belgium, but otherwise it is exceedingly well watered, being traversed by the Meuse for the greater part of its course, as well as by the Scheldt and the Sambre. The numerous affluents of these rivers, such as the Lys, Dyle, Dender, Ourthe, Amblève, Vesdre, Lesse and Semois, provide a system of waterways almost unique in Europe. The canals of Belgium are scarcely less numerous or important than those of Holland, especially in Flanders, where they give a distinctive character to the country. But the most striking feature in Belgium, where so much is modern, utilitarian and ugly, is found in the older cities with their relics of medieval greatness, and their record of ancient fame. These, in their order of interest, are Bruges, Antwerp, Louvain, Brussels, Ghent, Ypres, Courtrai, Tournai, Furnes, Oudenarde and Liége. It is to them rather than to the sylvan scenes of the Ardennes that travellers and tourists flock.
The climate may be described as temperate and approximating to that of southern England, but it is somewhat hotter in summer and a little colder in winter. In the Ardennes, owing to the greater elevation, the winters are more severe.
Geology.—Belgium lies upon the northern side of an ancient mountain chain which has long been worn down to a low level and the remnants of which rise to the surface in the Ardennes, and extend eastward into Germany, forming the Eifel and Westerwald, the Hunsrück and the Taunus. Westward the chain lies buried beneath the Mesozoic and Tertiary beds of Belgium and the north of France, but it reappears in the west of England and Ireland. It is the “Hercynian chain” of Marcel Bertrand, and is composed entirely of Palaeozoic rocks. Upon its northern margin lie the nearly undisturbed Cretaceous and Tertiary beds which cover the greater part of Belgium. The latest beds which are involved in the folds of this mountain range belong to the Coal Measures, and the final elevation must have taken place towards the close of the Carboniferous period. The fact that in Belgium Jurassic beds are found upon the southern and not upon the northern margin indicates that in this region the chain was still a ridge in Jurassic times. In the Ardennes the rocks which constitute the ancient mountain chain belong chiefly to the Devonian System, but Cambrian beds rise through the Devonian strata, forming the masses of Rocroi, Stavelot, &c., which appear to have been islands in the Devonian sea. The Ordovician and Silurian are absent here, and the Devonian rests unconformably upon the Cambrian; but along the northern margin of the Palaeozoic area, Ordovician and Silurian rocks appear, and beds of similar age are also exposed farther north where the rivers have cut through the overlying Tertiary deposits. Carboniferous beds occur in the north of the Palaeozoic area. Near Dinant they are folded amongst the Devonian beds, but the most important band runs along the northern border of the Ardennes. In this band lie the coalfields of Liége, and of Mons and Charleroi. It is a long and narrow trough, which is separated from the older rocks of the Ardennes by a great reversed fault, the faille du midi. In the southern half of the trough the folding of the Coal Measures is intense; in the northern half it is much less violent. The structure is complicated by a thrust-plane which brings a mass of older beds upon the Coal Measures in the middle of the trough. Except along the southern border of the Ardennes, and at one or two points in the middle of the Palaeozoic massif, Triassic and Jurassic beds are unknown in Belgium, and the Palaeozoic rocks are directly and unconformably overlaid by Cretaceous and Tertiary deposits. The Cretaceous beds are not extensive, but the Wealden deposits of Bernissart, with their numerous remains of Iguanodon, and the chalk of the district about the Dutch frontier near Maastricht, with its very late Cretaceous fauna, are of special interest.
Exclusive of the Ardennes the greater part of Belgium is covered by Tertiary deposits. The Eocene, consisting chiefly of sands and marls, occupies the whole of the west of the country. The Oligocene forms a band stretching from Antwerp to Maastricht, and this is followed towards the north by a discontinuous strip of Miocene and a fairly extensive area of Pliocene. The Tertiary deposits are similar in general character to those of the north of France and the south of England. Coal and iron are by far the most important mineral productions of Belgium. Zinc, lead and copper are also extensively worked in the Palaeozoic rocks of the Ardennes.
Area and Population.—The area comprises 2,945,503 hectares, or about 11,373 English sq. m., and the total population in December 1904 was 7,074,910, giving an average of 600 per sq. m.
English sq. m.
| Population at
end of 1904.
sq. m. 1904.
The population was made up of 3,514,491 males and 3,560,419 females. The rate at which the population has increased is shown as follows:—From 1880 to 1890 the increase was at the rate annually of 54,931, from 1890 to 1900 at the rate of 62,421, and for the five years from 1900 to 1904 at the rate of 66,200. In 1831 the population of Belgium was 3,785,814, so that in 75 years it had not quite doubled. The following table gives the total births and deaths in certain years since 1880:—
|Year.||Total births.||Total deaths.||Excess of births.|
These figures show that the births were 23,674 more in 1904 than in 1880, while the deaths were nearly 4000 fewer, with a population that had increased from 51 to 7 millions. Of 191,721 births in 1904, 12,887 or 6·7% were illegitimate. Statistics of recent years show a slight increase in legitimate and a slight decrease in illegitimate births.
The emigration of Belgians from their country is small and reveals little variation. In 1900, 13,492 emigrated, and in 1904 the total rose only to 14,752. Of Belgians living abroad it is estimated that 400,000 reside in France, 15,000 in Holland, 12,000 in Germany and 4600 in Great Britain. The number of Belgians in the Congo State in 1904 was 1505. The number of foreigners resident in Belgium in 1900 with their nationalities were Germans, 42,079; English, 5096; French, 85,735; Dutch, 54,491; Luxemburgers, 9762; and all other nationalities, 14,411.
With regard to the languages spoken by the people of Belgium the following comparative table gives the return for the three censuses of 1880, 1890 and 1900:—
French and Flemish
French and German
Flemish and German
The three languages
| 2,574,805 |
Constitution and Government.—The Belgian constitution, drafted by the national assembly in 1830–1831 after the provisional government had announced that “the Belgian provinces detached by force from Holland shall form an independent state,” was published on the 7th of February 1831, and the modifications introduced into it subsequently, apart from the composition of the electorate, have been few and unimportant. The constitution originally contained one hundred and thirty-nine articles, and decreed in the first place that the government was to be “a constitutional, representative and hereditary monarchy.” Having decided in favour of a monarchy, the provisional government first offered the throne to the duc de Nemours, son of Louis-Philippe, but this offer was promptly withdrawn on the discovery that Europe would not endorse it. It was then offered to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, widower of the princess Charlotte of England, and accepted by him. The prince was proclaimed on the 4th of June 1831 as Leopold I., king of the Belgians, and on the 21st of July 1831 he was solemnly inaugurated in Brussels. The succession is vested in the heirs male of Leopold I., and should they ever make complete default the throne will be declared vacant, and a national assembly composed of the two chambers elected in double strength will make a fresh nomination. In 1894 a new article numbered 61 was inserted in the constitution providing that “in default of male heirs the king can nominate his successor with the assent of the two chambers, and if no such nomination has been made the throne shall be vacant,” when the original procedure of the constitution would be followed. The Belgian national assembly assumed that its constitution would extend over the whole of the Belgic or south Netherlands, but the powers decreed otherwise. The limits of Belgium are fixed by the London protocol of the 15th of October 1831—also called the twenty-four articles—which cut off what is now termed the grand duchy of Luxemburg, and also a good portion of the duchy of Limburg. These losses of territory held by a brother people are still felt as a grievance by many Belgians. The Belgian constitution stipulates for “freedom of conscience, of education, of the press and also of the right of meeting,” but the sovereign must be a member of the Church of Rome. The government was to consist of the king, the senate and the chamber of representatives. The functions of the king are those that appertain everywhere to the sovereign of a constitutional state. He is the head of the army and has the exclusive right of dissolving the chambers as preliminary to an appeal to the country.
The senate is composed of seventy-six elected members and twenty-six members nominated by the provincial councils. A senator sits for eight years unless a dissolution is ordered, and no one is eligible until he is forty years of age. Half the seventy-six elected senators retire for re-election every four years. There is no payment or other privilege, except a pass on the state railways, attached to the rank of senator. The chamber of representatives contained one hundred and fifty-two members until 1899, when the number was increased to one hundred and sixty-six. Deputies are elected for four years, but half the house is re-elected every two years. A deputy must be twenty-five years of age, and the members of both houses must be of Belgian nationality, born or naturalized. A deputy receives an annual honorarium of 4000 francs and a railway pass. Down to 1893 the electorate was exceedingly small. Property and other qualifications kept the voting power in the hands of a limited class. This may be judged from the fact that in the year named there were only 137,772 voters out of a population of 65 millions. In April 1894 the new electoral law altered the whole system. The property qualification was removed and every Belgian was given one vote on attaining twenty-five years of age and after one year’s residence in his commune. At the same time the principle of multiple votes for certain qualifications was introduced. The Belgian citizen on reaching the age of thirty-five, providing he is married or is a widower with legitimate offspring and pays five francs of direct taxes, gets a second vote. Two extra votes are given for qualifications of property, official status or university diplomas. The maximum voting power of any individual is three votes. In 1904 there were 1,581,649 voters, possessing 2,467,966 votes. This system of plural voting has proved a success. It does not, however, satisfy the Socialists, whose formula is one man, one vote. The final change in the system of parliamentary elections was made in 1899–1900, when proportional representation was introduced. Proportional representation aims at the protection of minorities, and its working out is a little intricate, or at all events difficult to describe. The following has been accepted as a clear definition of what proportional representation is:—“Each electoral 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, viz. Catholic, Liberal and Socialist, but the presence of Catholic-Democrats or some other new faction may increase the total to four or even five. The number of seats to be filled is divided by the number of parties or candidates, and then they are distributed in the proportion of the total followers or voters of each. The smallest minority is thus sure of one seat.” An illustration may make this clearer. In an electoral district with 32,000 votes which returns eight deputies, four parties send up candidates, let us say, eight Catholics, eight Liberals, eight Socialists and one Catholic-Democrat. The result of the voting is, 16,000 Catholic votes, 9000 Liberal, 4500 Socialist, and 2500 Catholic-Democrat. The seats would, therefore, be apportioned as follows: four Catholic, two Liberal, one Socialist and one Catholic-Democrat.
The king has one right which other constitutional rulers do not possess. He can initiate proposals for new laws (projets de loi). He is also charged with the executive power which he delegates to a cabinet composed of ministers chosen from the party representing the majority Adminis-tration.in the chamber. Down to 1884 the Liberal party had held power with very few intervals since 1840. The Catholic party succeeded to office in 1884. The ministers represent departments for finance, foreign affairs, colonies, justice, the interior, science and arts, war, railways, posts and telegraphs, agriculture, public works, and industry and labour. The minister for war is generally a soldier, the others are civilians. Ministers may be members of either chamber and enjoy the privilege of being allowed to speak in both. Sometimes one minister will hold several portfolios at the same time, but such cases are rare.
The kingdom is divided into nine provinces which are subdivided into 342 cantons and 2623 communes. The provinces are governed by a governor nominated by the king, the canton is a judicial division for marking the limit of the jurisdiction of each juge de paix, and the commune is the administrative unit, possessing self-government in all local matters. For each commune of 5000 inhabitants or over, a burgomaster is appointed by Provinces and communes.the communal council which is chosen by the electors of the commune. As three years’ residence is required these electors are fewer in number than those for the legislature. In 1902 there were 1,146,482 voters with 2,007,704 votes, the principles of multiple votes, with, however, a maximum of four votes and proportional representation, being in force for communal as for legislative elections.
Religion.—The constitution provides for absolute liberty of conscience and there is no state religion, but the people are almost to a man Roman Catholics. It is computed that there are 10,000 Protestants (half English) and 5000 Jews, and that all the rest are Catholics. The government in 1904 voted nearly 7,000,000 francs in aid of the religious establishments of, and the benevolent institutions kept up by, the Roman Church. The grant to other cults amounted to 118,000 francs, but small as this sum may appear it is in due proportion to the relative numbers of each creed. The hierarchy of the Church of Rome in Belgium is composed of the archbishop of Malines, and the bishops of Liége, Ghent, Bruges, Tournai and Namur. The archbishop receives £800, and the bishops £600 apiece from the state yearly. The pay of the village curé averages £80 a year and a house. Besides the regular clergy there are the members of the numerous monastic and conventual houses established in Belgium. They are engaged principally in educational and eleemosynary work, and the development in such institutions is considerable.
Education.—Education, though not obligatory, is free for those who cannot pay for it. In the primary schools instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography is obligatory. In 1904 there were 7092 primary schools with 859,436 pupils of both sexes. Of these 807,383 did not pay. Primary education is supposed to continue till the age of fourteen, but in practice it stops at twelve for all who do not intend to pass through the middle schools, which is essential for all persons seeking state employment of any kind. The middle schools have one privilege. They can give a certificate qualifying scholars for a mastership in the primary schools, which are under the full control of the communes. These appointments are always bestowed on local favourites. The pay of a schoolmaster in a small commune is only £48, and in a large town £96, with a maximum ranging from £80 to £152 after twenty-four years’ service. It is therefore clear that no very high qualifications could be expected from such a staff. The control of the state comes in to the extent of providing district inspectors who visit the schools once a year, and hold a meeting of the teachers in their district once a quarter. In each province there is a chief inspector who is bound to visit each school once in two years, and reports direct to the minister of public instruction. With regard to the middle schools, the government has reserved the right to appoint the teaching staff, and to prescribe the books that are to be used. The results of the middle schools are fairly satisfactory. Still better are the Athénées Royaux, twenty in number, which are quite independent of the commune and subject to official control under the superior direction of the king. Mathematics and classics are taught in them and the masters are allowed to take boarders. The expenditure of the state on education amounts to about a million sterling. In 1860 the grants were only for little over one-eighth of the total in 1903. In 1900 31·94% of the toal population was illiterate. Considerable progress in the education of the people is made visible by a comparison of the figures of three decennial censuses. In 1880 the illiterate were 42·25% and in 1890 37·63, so that there was a further marked improvement by 1900. Among the provinces Walloon Belgium is better instructed than Flemish, Luxemburg coming first, followed by Namur, Liége and Brabant in their order.
Higher instruction is given at the universities and in the schools attached thereto. Those at Ghent and Liége are state universities; the two others at Brussels and Louvain are free. At Louvain alone is there a faculty of theology. The number of students inscribed for the academical year 1904–1905 at each university was Ghent 899, Liége 1983, Brussels 1082, and Louvain 2134, or a grand total of 6098. Liége is specially famed for the technical schools attached to it. There are also a large number of state-aided schools for special purposes; (1) for military instruction, there are the École Militaire at Brussels, the school of cadets at Namur, and army schools at different stations, e.g. Bouillon, &c. For officers in the army, there are the École de Guerre or staff college at Brussels with an average attendance of twenty, a riding school at Ypres where a course is obligatory for the cavalry and horse artillery, and for soldiers in the army there are regimental schools and evening classes for illiterate soldiers. (2) For education in the arts, there is the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at Antwerp, and besides this famous school of painting there are eighty-four academies for teaching drawing throughout the kingdom. In music, there are royal conservatoires at Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Liége. Besides these there are sixty-nine minor conservatoires. (3) For commercial and professional education, there are 181 schools. The Commercial Institute of Antwerp deserves special notice as an excellent school for clerks. (4) Among special schools may be named the three schools of navigation at Antwerp, Ostend and Nieuport. Since the wreck of the training-ship “Comte de Smet de Naeyer” in 1906, it has been decided that a stationary training-ship shall be placed in the Scheldt like the “Worcester” on the Thames. Among the numerous learned societies may be mentioned the Belgian Royal Academy founded in 1769 and revived in 1818. For the encouragement of research and literary style the government awards periodical prizes which are very keenly contested.
Justice.—The administration of justice is very fully organized, and in the Code Belge, which was carefully compiled between 1831 and 1836 from the old laws of the nine provinces leavened by the Code Napoleon and modern exigencies, the Belgians claim that they possess an almost perfect statute-book. The courts of law in their order are Cour de Cassation, Cour d’Appel, Cour de Première Instance, and the Juge de Paix courts, one for each of the 342 cantons. The Cour de Cassation has a peculiar judicial sphere. It works automatically, examining every judgment to see if it is in strict accord with the code, and where it is not the decision or verdict is simply annulled. There is only one judge in this court, but he has the assistance of a large staff of revisers. The Cour de Cassation never tries a case itself except when a minister of state is the accused. The president of this tribunal is the highest legal functionary in Belgium. There are three courts of appeal, viz. at Brussels, Ghent and Liége. At Brussels there are four separate chambers or tribunals in the appeal court. Judges of appeal are appointed by the king for life from lists of eligible barristers prepared by the senate and the courts. Judges can only be removed by the unanimous vote of their brother judges. There are twenty-six courts of first instance distributed among the principal towns of the kingdom, and in Antwerp, Ghent and Liége there are besides special tribunals for the settlement of commercial cases. Of course there is the right of appeal from the decisions of these tribunals as well as of the regular courts. Finally the 342 Juge de Paix courts resemble British county courts. Criminal cases are tried by (1) the Tribunaux de Police, (2) Tribunaux Correctionnels, (3) and the Cours d’Assises. The last are held as the length of the calendar requires. Capital punishment is retained on the statute, but is never enforced, the prisoner on whom sentence of death is passed in due form in open court being relegated to imprisonment for life in solitary confinement and perpetual silence. The chief prisons are at Louvain, Ghent and St Gilles (Brussels), and the last named serves as a house of detention. At Merxplas, near the Dutch frontier, is the agricultural criminal colony at which an average number of two thousand prisoners are kept employed in comparative liberty within the radius of the convict settlement.
Pauperism.—For the relief of pauperism there are a limited number of houses of mendicity, in which inmates are received, and houses of refuge for night shelter. At the béguinages of Ghent and Bruges women and girls able to contribute a specified sum towards their support are given a home.
National Finance.—The budget is submitted to the chambers by the minister of finance and passed by them. The revenue and expenditure were in the years stated as follows:—
|382,908,429 francs |
The revenue is made up from taxes, including customs, tolls, including returns from railway traffic, &c., and the balance comes from various revenues, return of capital, loans, &c. The following are the principal items of expenditure (1903):—
|Service of debt
Sovereign, senate, chamber, &c.
Departments, foreign office
” public instruction
The difference is made up of “special expenditure.” The total debt in English money may be put at 126 millions sterling, which requires for interest, sinking fund and service about 53 millions sterling annually. The rate of interest on all the loans extant is 3%, except on one loan of 219,959,632 francs, which pays only 21%.
Army and National Defence.—The army is divided into the regular army, the gendarmerie, and the garde civique. The Belgian regular army is thus composed: infantry, one regiment of carabiniers, one of grenadiers, three of chasseurs à pied, and fourteen of the line, all these regiments having 3 or 4 active and 3 or 4 reserve battalions apiece; cavalry, two regiments of guides, two of chasseurs à cheval, and four of lancers, all light cavalry; artillery, four horse, thirty field, and seventy siege batteries on active service; engineers, 140 officers and 2000 men. The train or commissariat has only 30 officers and 600 men on the permanent establishment. Belgium retains the older form of conscription, and has not adopted the system of “universal service.” The annual levy is small and substitution is permitted. In 1904 the number inscribed for service was 64,042. Of these only 12,525 were enrolled in the army, and of that number 1421 were volunteers, who took an engagement on receipt of a premium. The effective strength of the army in 1904 with the colours was 3406 officers and 40,382 men. To this total has to be added the men on the active list, but either absent on leave or allowed to return to civil life, numbering 70,043. It is assumed that on mobilization these men are immediately available. The reserve consists of 181 officers and 58,014 men, so that the total strength of the Belgian army is 3587 officers and 168,439 men. The field force in war is organized in four infantry and two cavalry divisions, the total strength being about 100,000. The peace effective has not varied much since 1870, but the total paper strength is 75,000 more than in that year. In the years 1900–1904 it increased by 8000 men. The gendarmerie is a mounted force composed of men picked for their physique and divided into three divisions. It numbers 67 officers and 3079 men, but has no reserve. It is in every sense a corps d’élite, and may be classed as first-rate heavy cavalry. The total strength of the garde civique in 1905 was 35,102, to which have to be added 8532 volunteers belonging to the corps of older formation, service in which counts on a par with the garde civique. Some of the latter regiments, especially the artillery, would rank with British volunteers, but the mass of the garde civique does not pretend to possess military value. It is a defence against sedition and socialism. The defence of Belgium depends on five fortified positions. The fortified position and camp of Antwerp represents the true base of the national defence. Its detached forts shelter the city from bombardment, and so long as sea communication is open with England, Antwerp would be practically impregnable. Liége with twelve forts and Namur with nine forts are the fortified têtes de pont protecting the two most important passages of the Meuse. The forts are constructed in concrete with armoured cupolas. Termonde on the Scheldt and Diest on the Dender are retained as nominally fortified positions, but neither, could resist a regular bombardment for more than a few hours, as their casemates are not bomb-proof.
The training camp of the Belgian army is at Beverloo in the province of Limburg, and at Braschaet not far from Antwerp are ranges for artillery as well as rifle practice. The Belgian officer is technically as well trained and educated as any in Europe, but he lacks practical experience in military service.
Mines and Industry.—The principal mineral produced in Belgium is coal. This is found in the Borinage district near Mons and in the neighbourhood of Liége, but the working of an entirely new coal-field, which promises to attain vast dimensions, was commenced in 1906 in the Campine district of the province of Limburg. The coal mines of Belgium give employment to nearly 150,000 persons, and for some years the average output has exceeded 22,000,000 tons. Other minerals are iron, manganese, lead and zinc. The iron mines produce much less than formerly, and the want of iron is a grave defect in Belgian prosperity, as about £5,000,000 sterling worth of iron has to be imported annually, chiefly from French Lorraine. The chief metal industry of the country is represented by the iron and steel works of Charleroi and Liége. Belgium is particularly rich in quarries of marble, granite and slate. Ghent is the capital of the textile industry, and all the towns of Flanders are actively engaged in producing woollen and cotton materials and in lace manufacture. The bulk of the population is, however, engaged in agriculture, and the extent of land under cultivation of all kinds is about 61 million acres.
Commerce.—The trade returns for 1904 were as follows:—
Special Commerce (included in General Commerce)
Special Commerce (included in General Commerce)
The general commerce includes goods in transit across Belgium, the special commerce takes into account only the produce and the consumption of Belgium itself. The trade of Belgium has more than trebled as regards both imports and exports since 1870. The following table shows the amount of exports and imports between Belgium and the more important foreign states:—
In the relative magnitude of the annual value of its commerce, excluding that in transit, Belgium stands sixth among the nations of the world, following Great Britain, the United States, Germany, France and Holland. The principal imports are food supplies and raw material such as cotton, wool, silk, flax, hemp and jute. Among minerals, iron ore, sulphur, copper, coal, tin, lead and diamonds are the most imported. The exports of greatest value are textiles, lace, coal, coke, briquettes, glass, machinery, railway material and fire arms.
Shipping and Navigation.—Belgium has no state navy, although various proposals have been made from time to time to establish an armed flotilla in connexion with the defence of Antwerp. The state, however, possesses a certain number of steamers. In 1904 they numbered sixty-five of 99,893 tons. These steamers are chiefly employed on the passenger route between Ostend and Dover. The total number of vessels entering the only two ports of Belgium which carry on ocean commerce, namely Antwerp and Ostend, in 1904 was 7650 of a tonnage of 10,330,127. Among inland ports that of Ghent is the most important, 1127 ships of a tonnage of 786,362 having entered the port in 1904. The corresponding figures for ships sailing from the two ports first named were in the same year 7642 and tonnage 10,298,405. The figures from Ghent were 1128 and 787,173 tons. Whereas the lines of steamers from Ostend are chiefly with Dover and London, those from Antwerp proceed to all parts of the world. A steam service was established in 1906 from Hull to Bruges by Zeebrugge and the ship canal.
Internal Communications.—The internal communications of Belgium of every kind are excellent. The roads outside the province of Luxemburg and Namur are generally paved. In the provinces named, or in other words, in the region south of the Meuse, the roads are macadamized. The total length of roads is about 6000 m. When Belgium became a separate state in 1830 they were less than one-third of this total. There are about 2900 m. of railways, of which upwards of 2500 m. are state railways. It is of interest to note that the state railways derived a revenue of 249,355 francs (or nearly £10,000) from the penny tickets for the admission of non-travellers to railway stations. Besides the main railways there are numerous light railways (chemins de fer vicinaux), of a total length approaching 2500 m. There are also electric and steam tramways in all the principal cities. The total of navigable waterways is given as 1360 m. Posts, telegraphs and telephones are exclusively under state management and form a government department.
Banks and Money.—The principal banking institution is the Banque Nationale which issues the bank-notes in current use. In 1904 the average value of notes in circulation was 645,989,100 francs. The rate of discount was 3% throughout the whole of the year.
The mintage of Belgian money is carried out by a directeur de la fabrication who is nominated by and responsible to the government. The gold coins are for 10 and 20 francs, silver for half francs, francs, 2 francs and 5 francs. Nickel money is for 5, 10 and 20 centimes, and the copper coinage has been withdrawn from circulation.
Authorities.—Annuaire statistique de la Belgique (1905); Beltjens and Godenne, La Constitution belge (Brussels, 1880); La Belgique illustrée (Brussels, 1878–1882); Les Pandectes belges (Brussels, 1898); Annales du parlement belge for each year; Belgian Life in Town and Country, “Our Neighbours” Series (London, 1904). For geology see C. Dewalque, Prodrome d’une description géologique de la Belgique (Brussels, 1880); M. Mourlon, Géologie de la Belgique (Brussels, 1880–1881); F. L. Cornet and A. Briart, “Sur le relief du sol en Belgique après les temps paléozoques,” Ann. Soc. Géol. Belg. vol. iv., 1877, pp. 71-115, pls. v.-xi. (see also other papers by the same authors in the same journal); J. Gosselet, L’Ardenne (Paris, 1888); M. Bertrand, “Études sur le bassin houiller du nord et sur le Boulonnais,” Ann. des mines, ser. ix. vol. vi. (Mém.), pp. 569-635, 1894; C. Malaise, “État actuel de nos connaissances sur le silurien de la Belgique,” Ann. Soc. Géol. Belg. vol. xxv, 1900–1901, pp. 179-221; H. Forir, “Bibliographie des étages laekénien, lédien, wemmélien, asschien, tongrien, rupélien et boldérien et des dépôts tertiaires de la haute et moyenne Belgique,” ibid. pp. 223 seq. (D. C. B.)
The political severance of the northern and southern Netherlands may be conveniently dated from the opening of the year 1579. By the signing of the league of Arras (5th of January) the Walloon “Malcontents” declared their adherence to the cause of Catholicism and their loyalty to the Spanish king, and broke away definitely from the northern provinces, who bound themselves by the union of Utrecht Final separation of the northern and southern Netherlands.(29th of January) to defend their rights and liberties, political and religious, against all foreign potentates. Brabant and Flanders were still indeed under the control of the prince of Orange and through his influence accepted in 1582 the duke of Anjou as their sovereign. The French prince was actually inaugurated duke of Brabant at Antwerp (February 1582) and count of Flanders at Bruges (July), but his misconduct speedily led to his withdrawal from the Netherlands, and even before the assassination of Orange (July 1584) the authority of Philip had been practically restored throughout the two provinces. This had been achieved by the military skill and statesmanlike abilities of Alexander Farnese, prince of Parma, appointed governor-general on the death of Don John of Austria, on the 1st of October 1578.
Alexander Farnese, prince of Parma, governor-general.
Successes of Parma.Farnese first won by promises and blandishments the confidence of the Walloons, always jealous of the predominance of the “Flemish” provinces, and then proceeded to make himself master of Brabant and Flanders by force of arms. In succession Ypres, Mechlin, Ghent, Brussels, and finally Antwerp (17th of August 1585) fell into his hands. Philip had in the southern Netherlands attained his object, and Belgium was henceforth Catholic and Spanish, but at the expense of its progress and prosperity. Thousands of its inhabitants, and those the most enterprising and intelligent, fled from the Inquisition, and made their homes in the Dutch republic or in England. All commerce and industry was at a standstill; grass grew in the streets of Bruges and Ghent; and the trade of Antwerp was transferred to Amsterdam. On Parma’s death (3rd of December 1592) the archduke Ernest of Austria was appointed governor-general, but he died after a short tenure of office (20th of February 1595) and was at the beginning of 1596 succeeded by his younger brother the cardinal Albert and Isabel, sovereigns of the Netherlands.archduke Albert. Philip was now nearing his end, and in 1598 he gave his eldest daughter Isabel in marriage to her cousin the archduke Albert, and erected the Netherlands into a sovereign state under their joint rule. The advent of the new sovereigns, officially known as “the archdukes,” though greeted with enthusiasm in the Belgic provinces, was looked upon with suspicion by the Dutch, who were as firmly resolved as ever to uphold their independence. The chief military event of the early years of their reign was the battle of Nieuport (2nd of July 1600), in which Maurice of Nassau defeated The twelve years’ truce.
The rule of the archdukes.
Reversion of the southern Netherlands to Spain, 1633. the archduke Albert, and the siege of Ostend, which after a three years’ heroic defence was surrendered (20th of September 1604) to the archduke’s general, Spinola. The Dutch, however, being masters of the sea, kept the coast closely blockaded, and through sheer exhaustion the king of Spain and the archdukes were compelled to agree to a truce for twelve years (9th of April 1609) with the United Provinces “in the capacity of free states over which Albert and Isabel made no pretensions.” During the period of the truce the archdukes, who were wise and statesmanlike rulers, did their utmost to restore prosperity to their country and to improve its internal condition. Unfortunately they were childless, and the instrument of cession of 1598 provided that in case they should die without issue, the Netherlands should revert to the crown of Spain. This reversion actually took place. Albert died in 1621, just before the renewal of the war with the Dutch, and Isabel in 1633. The Belgic provinces therefore passed under the rule of Philip IV., and were henceforth known as the Spanish Netherlands.
This connexion with the declining fortunes of Spain was disastrous to the well-being of the Belgian people, for during many years a close alliance bound together France and the United Provinces, and the Southern Netherlands were exposed to attack from both sides, and constantly suffered Peace of Münster.from the ravages of hostile armies. The cardinal archduke Ferdinand, governor-general from 1634–1641, was a capable ruler, and by his military skill prevented in a succession of campaigns the forces of the enemy from overrunning the country. On the 30th of January 1648, Spain concluded a separate peace at Münster with the Dutch, by which Philip IV. finally renounced all his claims and rights over the Ruinous consequences of
the closing of the Scheldt.
Successive cession of Belgian territory to France.United Provinces, and made many concessions to them. Among these was the closing of the Scheldt to all ships, a clause which was ruinous to the commerce of the Belgic provinces, by cutting them off from their only access to the ocean. Thus they remained for a long course of years without a sea-port, and in the many wars that broke out between Spain and France were constantly exposed, as an outlying Spanish dependency, to the first attack, and peace when it came was usually purchased at the cost of some part of Belgian territory. By the treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) Artois (except St Omer and Aire) and a number of towns in Flanders, Hainaut, and Luxemburg were ceded to France. Subsequent French conquests, confirmed by the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), took away Lille, Douai, Charleroi, Oudenarde, Coutrai and Tournai. These were, indeed, partly restored to Belgium by the peace of Nijmwegen (1679); but on the other hand it lost Valenciennes, Nieuport, St Omer, Ypres and Charlemont, which were only in part recovered by the peace of Ryswick (1697).
The internal history of the Belgic provinces has little to record during this long period in which the ambition of Louis XIV. to possess himself of the Netherlands, in right of his wife the infanta Maria Theresa (see Spanish Succession), led to a series of invasions and desolating wars. The French king managed to incorporate a large slice of territory upon his northern frontier, but his main object was baffled by the steady resistance and able statesmanship of William III. of England and Holland. Meanwhile from 1692 onwards brighter prospects were opened out to the unfortunate Belgians by the nomination by the Spanish king of Maximilian Emanuel, elector of Bavaria, to be governor-general with well-nigh sovereign powers. The elector had himself a claim to the inheritance as the husband of an Austrian archduchess, whose mother, the infanta Margaret, was the younger sister of the French queen. Maximilian Emanuel was an able man, who did his utmost to improve the condition of the country. Efforts of the elector of Bavaria to promote trade.He attempted to promote trade and restore prosperity to the impoverished land by the introduction of new customs laws and other measures, and particularly by the construction of canals to counteract the damage done to Belgian commerce by the closing of the Scheldt. The position of the elector was greatly strengthened by the partition treaty of the 19th of August 1698. Under this instrument the signatory powers—England, France and Holland—agreed that on the demise of Charles II. the crown prince of Bavaria under his father’s guardianship should be sovereign of Spain, Belgium and Spanish America. Charles II. himself The Spanish succession.shortly afterwards by will appointed the Bavarian prince heir to all his dominions. The death of the infant heir a few months later (6th of February 1699) unfortunately destroyed any prospects of a peaceable settlement of the Spanish Succession. Charles II. was persuaded to name as his sole successor, Philip duke of Anjou, the second son of the dauphin, and on his death (on the 1st November 1700) Louis XIV. took immediate steps to support his grandson’s claims, in spite of his formal renunciation of such claims under The Grand Alliance.the treaty of the Pyrenees. England and Holland were determined to prevent, however, at all costs the acquisition of Belgium by a French prince, and a coalition, known as the Grand Alliance, was formed between these two powers and the empire to uphold the claims of the archduke Charles, second son of the emperor.
One of the first steps of Louis was to take possession of the Netherlands. The hereditary feud between the houses of Austria and Bavaria induced the elector to take the side of France, and he was nominated by Philip V. vicar-general of the Netherlands. The unhappy Belgic Marlborough’s successes.provinces were again doomed for a number of years to be the battle-ground of the contending forces, and it was on Belgic soil that Marlborough won the great victories of Ramillies (1706) and of Oudenarde (1708), by which he was enabled to drive the French armies out of the Netherlands and to carry the war into French territory. At the general peace concluded at Utrecht (11th of April 1713) the long connexion between Belgium
and Spain was severed, and this portion of the Peace of Utrecht.
The Austrian Netherlands.
Marquis de Prié
in Belgium.Burgundian inheritance of Charles V. placed under the sovereignty of the Habsburg claimant, who had, by the death of his brother, become the emperor Charles VI. The Belgic provinces now came for a full century to be known as the Austrian Netherlands. Yet such was the dread of France and the enfeebled state of the country that Holland retained the privilege, which had been conceded to her during the war, of garrisoning the principal fortresses or Barrier towns, on the French frontier, and her right to close the navigation on the Scheldt was again ratified by a European treaty. The beginnings of Austrian sovereignty were marked by many collisions between the representatives of the new rulers and the States General, and provincial “states.” Despite their troubled history and long subjection, the Belgic provinces still retained to an unusual degree their local liberties and privileges, and more especially the right of not being taxed, except by the express consent of the states. The marquis de Prié, who (as deputy for Prince Eugene) was the imperial governor from 1719 to 1726, encountered on the part of local authorities and town gilds vigorous resistance to his attempt to rule the Netherlands as an Austrian dependency, and he was driven to take strong measures to assert his authority. He selected as his victim a powerful popular leader at Brussels, Francis Anneesens, syndic of the gild of St Nicholas, Execution of Francis Anneesens.
Chartered Company of Ostend.who was beheaded on the 19th of September 1719. His name is remembered in Belgian annals as a patriot martyr to the cause of liberty. The administration of de Prié was not, however, without its redeeming features. He endeavoured to create at Ostend a seaport, capable in some measure to take the place of Antwerp, and in 1722 a Chartered Company of Ostend was erected for the purpose of trading in the East and West Indies (see Ostend). The determined hostility of the Dutch rendered the promising scheme futile, and after a precarious struggle for existence, Charles VI., in order to gain the assent of the United Provinces and Great Britain to the Pragmatic Sanction (q.v.), suppressed the Company in 1731.
For sixteen years (1725–1741) the archduchess Mary Elizabeth, sister of the emperor, filled the post of governor-general. Her rule was marked by the restoration of the old form of administration under the three councils, and was a period of general tranquillity. She died (1741) in the Netherlands,Archduchess Mary Elizabeth.
Charles of Lorraine. and the empress-queen, Maria Theresa, who had succeeded under the Pragmatic Sanction to the Burgundian domains of her father about a year before, appointed her brother-in-law, Charles of Lorraine, to be governor-general in her aunt’s place, and he retained that post, to the great advantage of Belgium, for nearly forty years. He was deservedly known as the “Good Governor.” The first years of his administration were stormy. During the Austrian War of Succession the country was conquered by the French, and for two years Marshal Saxe bore the title of governor-general, but it was restored to Austria by the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). Belgium was undisturbed by the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), and during the long peace which followed enjoyed considerable prosperity. Charles of Lorraine thoroughly identified himself with the best interests of the country, and was the champion of its liberties, and though he had at times to make a stand against the imperialistic tendencies of the chancellor Kaunitz, he was able to rely on the steady support of the empress, who appreciated the wise and liberal policy of her brother-in-law. Although the Scheldt was still closed, Charles endeavoured by a large extension of the canal system to facilitate commercial intercourse, he encouraged agriculture, and was successful in restoring the prosperity of the country. He also did much for the advancement of learning, founding, among other institutions, the Academy of Science, and he consistently restrained the undue intervention of the church in secular affairs, and placed restrictions upon the accumulation of property in the hands of religious bodies.
The death of Charles of Lorraine preceded only by a few months that of Maria Theresa, whose son Joseph II. not only appointed his sister, the archduchess Maria Christine, governor-general, but visited Belgium in person and showed a great and active interest in its affairs. Reforming zeal
of Joseph II.Here as elsewhere in his dominions his intentions were excellent, but his reforming zeal outran discretion, and his hasty and self-opinionated interferences with treaty rights and traditional privileges ended in provoking opposition and disaster. Finding the United Provinces hampered by a war with England, he seized the opportunity to try to get rid of the impediments placed upon Belgian development by the Barrier and other treaties with Holland. He was able to compel the Dutch to withdraw their garrisons from the Barrier towns, but was wholly unsuccessful in his high-handed attempt to free the navigation of the Scheldt. These efforts to coerce the Dutch, though marred by partial failure, were, however, calculated to win for Joseph II. popularity with his Belgian subjects; but it was far otherwise with his policy of internal reform. He offended the states by seeking to sweep away many of their inherited privileges and to change the time-honoured, if somewhat obsolete, system of civil government. He further excited the religious feelings of the people against him, by his edict of Tolerance (1780), and his later attempts at the reform of clerical abuses, which were pronounced to be an infraction of the Joyous Entry (see Joyeuse Entrée). Fierce opposition was aroused. Numbers of malcontents left the country and organized themselves as a military force in Holland. As the discontent became more general, the The Brabancon revolt.insurgents returned, took several forts, defeated the Austrians at Turnhout, and overran the country. On the 11th of December 1789, the people of Brussels rose against the Austrian garrison, and compelled it to capitulate, and, on the 27th, the states of Brabant declared their independence. The other provinces followed and, on the 11th of January 1790, the whole formed themselves into an independent state, under the name of the “Belgian United States.” A few weeks later, on the 20th of February, Joseph II. died, his end hastened by chagrin at the utter failure of his well-meant efforts, and was succeeded by Leopold II.
The new emperor at once took steps to re-assert, if possible, his authority in Belgium without having recourse to armed force. He offered the states, if the people would return to their allegiance, the restoration of their ancient constitution and a general amnesty. This, however, Leopold II. pacifies the country.did not suit views of the popular party, who, under the leadership of an advocate named Van der Noot, had possession of the reins of power, and were uplifted by their success. The terms offered in an imperial proclamation were rejected, and preparations were made to resist coercion by the levée en masse of a national army. When, however, in November 1790, a powerful Austrian force entered the country, there was practically little opposition to its advance. The popular leaders fled, the form of government, as it existed at the end of the reign of Maria Theresa, and an amnesty for past offences was proclaimed; a superficial pacification of the revolted provinces was effected, and Austrian rule re-established. It was destined to be short-lived. In 1792 the armies of revolutionary France assailed Austria at her weakest point by an invasion of Belgium. The battle of Jemappes (7th of November) made the French Conquest of Belgium by the French.masters of the southern portion of the Austrian Netherlands; the battle of Fleurus (26th of June 1794) put an end to the rule of the Habsburgs over the Belgic provinces. The treaty of Campo Formio (1797) and the subsequent treaty of Lunéville (1801) confirmed the conquerors in the possession of the country, and Belgium became an integral part of France, being governed on the same footing, receiving the Code Napoléon, and sharing in the fortunes of the Republic and the Empire. After the fall of Napoleon and the conclusion of the first peace of Paris (30th of May 1814) Belgium was indeed for some months placed under the administration Union of Holland and Belgium under William I.of an Austrian governor-general, but it was shortly afterwards united with Holland to form the kingdom of the Netherlands. The sovereignty of the newly formed state was given to the prince of Orange, who mounted the throne (23rd of March 1815) under the title of William I. The congress of Vienna (31st of May 1815) determined the relations and fixed the boundaries of the kingdom; and the new constitution was promulgated on the 24th of August following, the king taking the oath at Brussels on the 27th of September.
From this date until the Belgian revolt of 1830, the history of Holland and Belgium is that of two portions of one political entity, but in the relations of those two portions were to be found from the very outset fundamental causes tending to disagreement and separation. The Dutch 1814–1830.and Belgian provinces of the Netherlands had for one hundred and thirty years passed through totally different experiences, and had drifted farther and farther apart from one another in character, in habits, in ideas and above all in religion. In the south the policy of Alva and Philip II. had been wholly successful, and the Belgian people, Flemings and Walloons alike, were perhaps more devoted to the Catholic faith than any other in Europe. On the other hand the incorporation of the country for two decades in the French republic and empire had left deep traces on a considerable section of the population, the French language was commonly spoken and was exclusively used in the law courts and in all public proceedings, and French political theories had made many converts. The Fundamental Law promulgated by William I. aroused strong opposition among both the Catholic and Liberal parties in Belgium. The large powers granted to the king under the new constitution displeased the Liberals, who saw in its provision only a disguised form of personal government. The principle of liberty of worship and of the press, which it laid down, was so offensive to the Catholics that the bishops condemned it publicly, and in the Doctrinal Judgment actually forbade their flocks to take the oath. The “close and complete union,” which was stipulated under the treaty of 1814, began under unfavourable auspices. Nevertheless the difficulties might have been smoothed away in the course of time, had the Belgians felt that the Dutch were treating them in a fair and conciliatory spirit. This, despite the undoubtedly good intentions of the king, was far from being the case. Belgium was regarded too much in the light of an annexed Causes of disagreement between Holland
and Belgium.territory, handed over to Holland as compensation for the losses sustained by the Dutch in the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The idea that Holland was the predominant partner in the kingdom of the Netherlands was firmly rooted in the north and naturally provoked in the south the feeling that Belgium was being exploited for the benefit of the Dutch. The grievances of the Belgians were indeed very substantial. The seat of government was in Holland, the king was a Dutchman by birth and training, and a Calvinistic protestant by religion. Though the population of Belgium was 3,400,000 and that of Holland only a little more than 2,000,000 the two countries had equal representation in the second chamber of the states-general. Practically in all important legislative measures affecting the interests of the two countries the Dutch government were able to command a small but permanent majority. The use of the term “the Dutch Government” is strictly accurate, for the great majority of the public offices were filled by northerners. In 1830, of the seven members of the ministry only one was a Belgian; in the home department out of 117 officials 11 only were Belgians; in the ministry of war 3 were Belgians out of 102; of the officers of the army 288 out of 1967. All the public Attitude of the king.establishments, the Bank, the military schools, were Dutch. That such was the case must not be entirely charged to partiality, still less to deliberate unfairness on the part of William I. The conduct of the king proves that he had a most sincere regard for the welfare of his Belgian subjects, and in his choice of measures and men his aim was to secure the prosperity of his new kingdom by a policy of unification. This was the object he had in view in his attempt to make Dutch, except in the Walloon districts, the official language for all public and judicial acts, and a knowledge of Dutch a necessary qualification for every person entering the public service. That the fierce opposition which this attempt Language question.aroused in the Flemish-speaking provinces was ill-considered and unwise, is shown by the fact that in recent years there has been a patriotic movement in these same provinces which has been successful in forcing the Belgian government to adopt Flemish (i.e. Dutch) as well as French for official usage. This Flemish movement is all in favour of establishing close relations with the sister people of the north. Moreover it cannot be gainsaid that Belgium during her union with Holland enjoyed a degree of prosperity that Belgian prosperity during the union.was quite remarkable. The mineral wealth of the country was largely developed, the iron manufactures of Liége made rapid advance, the woollen manufactures of Verviers received a similar impulse, and many large establishments were formed at Ghent and other places, where cotton goods were produced which rivalled those of England and surpassed those of France. The extensive colonial and foreign trade of the Dutch furnished them with markets, while the opening of the navigation of the Scheldt raised Antwerp once more to a place of high commercial importance. The government also did much in the way of improving the internal communications of the country, in repairing the roads and canals, in forming new ones, in deepening and widening rivers, and the like. Nor was the social and intellectual improvement of the people by any means neglected. A new university was formed at Liége, normal schools for the instruction of teachers were instituted, and numerous elementary schools and schools for higher instruction were established over the country. These measures for the furthering of education among the people on the part of a government mainly composed of Protestants were received with suspicion and disfavour by the priests, and still more the attempts subsequently made to regulate the education of the priests themselves. The establishment under the auspices of the king in 1825 of the Philosophical College at Louvain, and the requirement that every priest before ordination should spend two years in study there, gave great offence to the clerical party, and some of the bishops were prosecuted for the violence of their denunciations at this intrusion of the secular arm into the religious domain. With the view of terminating these differences the king in 1827 entered into a concordat with the pope, and an agreement was reached with regard to nominations to bishoprics, clerical education and other questions, which should have satisfied all reasonable men. But in 1828 the two extreme parties, the Catholic Ultramontanes and the revolutionary Liberals, in their common hatred to the Dutch régime, formed an alliance, the union, for the overthrow of the government. Petitions were sent in setting forth the Belgian grievances, demanding a separate administration for Belgium and a full concession of the liberties guaranteed by the constitution.
Matters were in this state when the news of the success of the July revolution of 1830 at Paris reached Brussels, at this time a city of refuge for the intriguing and discontented of almost every country of Europe. The first outbreak took place on the 25th of August, the anniversary Brussels outbreak
of 1830.of the king’s accession. An opera called La Muette, which abounds in appeals to liberty, was played, and the audience were so excited that they rushed out into the street crying, “Imitons les Parisiens!” A mob speedily gathered together, who proceeded to destroy or damage a number of public buildings and the private residences of unpopular officials. The troops were few in number and offered no opposition to the mob, but a burgher guard was enrolled among the influential and middle-class citizens for the protection of life and property. The intelligence of these events in the capital soon spread through the provinces; and in most of the large towns similar scenes were enacted, beginning with plunderings and outrages, followed by the institution of burgher guards for the maintenance of peace. The leading men of Brussels were most anxious not to push matters to extremities. They demanded the dismissal of the specially obnoxious minister, Van Maanen, and a separate administration for Belgium. The government, however, could not make up their minds what course to pursue, and by allowing things to drift ended by converting a popular riot into a national revolt. The heir apparent, the prince of Orange (see William II. of the Netherlands), was sent on a peaceful mission to Brussels, but furnished with such limited powers, as under the circumstances were utterly inadequate. He did his best to get at the real facts, and after a number of conferences with the leaders became so convinced that nothing but a separate administration of the two countries would restore tranquillity that he promised to use his influence with his father to bring about that object—on receiving assurances that the personal union under the house of Orange would be maintained. The king summoned an extraordinary session of the states-general, which met at the Hague on the 13th of September and was opened by a speech from the throne, which was firm and temperate, but by no means definite. The proceedings were dilatory, and the attitude of the Dutch deputies exceedingly exasperating. The result was that the moderate party in Belgium quickly lost their influence, and those in favour of violent measures prevailed. Meanwhile although the states were still sitting at the Hague, an army of 14,000 troops under the command of Prince Frederick, second son of the king, was gradually approaching Brussels. It was hoped that the inhabitants would welcome the prince and that a display of armed force would speedily restore order. After much unnecessary delay, at a time when prompt action was required, the prince on the 23rd of September entered Brussels and, with little opposition, occupied the upper or court portion of it, but when they attempted to advance into the lower town the troops found the streets barricaded and defended by citizens in arms. Desultory fighting between the soldiers and the insurgents continued for three days until, finding that he was making no headway, the prince ordered a retreat. The news spread like wildfire through the country, and the principal towns declared for separation. A provisional government was formed at Brussels, which declared Belgium to be an independent state, and summoned a national congress to establish a system of government. King William now did his utmost to avoid a rupture, and sent the prince of Orange to Antwerp to promise that Belgium should have a separate administration; but it was too late. Antwerp was the only important place that remained in the hands of the Dutch, and the army on retreating from Brussels had fallen back on this town. At the end of October an insurgent army had arrived before the gates, which were opened by the populace to receive them, and the troops, under General Chassé, retired within the citadel. The general ordered a bombardment of the town for two days, destroying a number of houses and large quantities of merchandize. This act served still further to inflame the minds of the Belgians against the Dutch.
A convention of the representatives of the five great powers met in London in the beginning of November, at the request of the king of the Netherlands, and both sides were brought to consent to a cessation of hostilities. On the 10th of November the National Congress, consisting Meeting of the National Congress.of 200 deputies, met at Brussels and came to three important decisions: (1) the independence of the country—carried unanimously; (2) a constitutional hereditary monarchy—174 votes against 13; (3) the perpetual exclusion of the Orange-Nassau family—161 votes against 28. On the 20th of December the conference of London proclaimed the dissolution of the kingdom of the Netherlands, but claimed the right of regulating the conditions under which it should take place. On the 28th of January 1831, the congress proceeded to the election of a king, and out of a number of candidates the choice fell on the duke of Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, but he declined the office. The congress then elected Baron Surlet de Chokier to the temporary post of regent, and proceeded to draw up a constitution on the British parliamentary pattern. The constitution expressly declared that the king has no powers except those formally assigned to him. Ministers were to be The new constitution.appointed by him, but be responsible to the chambers. The legislature was composed of two chambers—the senate and the chamber of deputies. Both chambers were elected by the same voters, but senators required a property qualification,—the payment of at least 2000 florins in taxes. Senators and deputies received salaries. The franchise was for that time a low one—every one who paid at least 20 florins in taxes had a vote. The choice of a king was more difficult than that of drawing up a constitution. It was desirable that the new sovereign should be able to count upon the friendly support of the great powers, and yet not be actually a member of their reigning dynasties. It was from fear of arousing the susceptibilities of neighbouring states, especially Great Britain, that Louis Philippe had refused to sanction the election of his son. It was for this reason that the name of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the widower of Princess Charlotte of England, had not been placed among the candidates in January. Overtures were, however, made to him, as soon as it was understood that, as the result of private negotiations at the London conference, the selection of this prince would be favourably Leopold I., king
of the Belgians.received both by Great Britain and France. Leopold signified his readiness to accept the crown after having first ascertained that he would have the support of the great powers in bringing about a satisfactory settlement with Holland on those points which he considered essential to the security and welfare of the new kingdom. The election took place on the 4th of June, when 152 votes out of 196, four being absent, determined that Leopold should be proclaimed king of the Belgians, under the express condition that he “would accept the constitution and swear to maintain the national independence and territorial integrity.” Leopold made his public entry into Brussels, on the 21st, and subsequently visited other parts of the kingdom, and was everywhere received with demonstrations of loyalty and respect.
At this juncture news suddenly arrived that the Dutch were preparing to invade the country with a large army. It comprised 45,000 infantry and 6000 cavalry with 72 pieces of artillery, while Leopold could scarcely bring forward 25,000 men to oppose it. On the 2nd of August the whole of the Dutch army had crossed the frontier; Leopold collected his forces, such as they were, near Louvain in order to cover his capital. The two armies met on the 9th of August. The undisciplined Belgians, despite the personal efforts of their king, were speedily routed, and Leopold and his staff narrowly escaped capture. He, however, made good his retreat to the capital, and, on the advance of a French army, the prince of Orange did not deem it prudent to push on farther. A convention was concluded between him and the French general, in consequence of which he returned to Holland and the French likewise recrossed the frontier. Leopold now proceeded with vigour to strengthen his position and to restore order and confidence. French officers were selected for the training and disciplining of the army, the civil list was arranged with economy and order, and reforms were introduced into the public service and system of administration. He kept on the best of terms, though a Protestant, with the Roman Catholic clergy and nobility, and his subsequent marriage with the daughter of the French king (9th of August 1832), and the contract that the children of the marriage should be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, did much to inspire confidence in his good intentions.
Meanwhile the conference in London had drawn up the project of a treaty for the separation of Holland and Belgium, which was declared “to be final and irrevocable.” The conditions were far less favourable to Belgium than had been hoped, and it was not without much The treaty of separation.heart-burning and considerable opposition, that the senate and chamber of deputies gave their assent to them. The treaty, which contained 24 articles, was signed on the 15th of November 1831. By these articles the grand-duchy of Luxemburg was divided, but the king of Holland retained possession of the fortress of Luxemburg, and also received a portion of Limburg to compensate him for the part of Luxemburg assigned to Belgium. The district of Maestricht was likewise partitioned, but the fortress remained Dutch. The Scheldt was declared open to the commerce of both countries. The national debt was divided. The powers recognized the independence of Belgium, “as a neutral state.”
This agreement was ratified by the Belgian and French sovereigns on the 20th and 24th of November, by the British on the 6th of December, but the Austrian and Prussian and Russian governments, whose sympathies were with the “legitimate” King William rather than with a prince who owed his crown to a revolution, did not give their ratification till some five months later. Even then King William remained obdurate, refused to sign and continued to keep possession of Antwerp. After fruitless efforts on the part of the great powers to obtain his acquiescence, France and Great Britain resolved to have recourse to force. On the 5th of November their combined fleets sailed for the coast of Holland, and, on the 18th, The French besiege Antwerp.a French army of 60,000 men, under the command of Marshal Gérard, crossed the Belgian frontier to besiege Antwerp. The Dutch garrison capitulated on the 23rd of December, and on the 31st the town was handed over to the Belgians, and the French troops withdrew across the frontier. The Dutch, however, still held two forts, which enabled them to command the navigation of the Scheldt, and these they stubbornly refused to yield. Belgium therefore kept possession of Limburg and Luxemburg, except the fortress of Luxemburg, which as a fortress of the German confederation was, under the terms of the treaty of Vienna, garrisoned by Prussian troops. These territories were treated in every way as a part of Belgium, and sent representatives to the chambers. Great The Luxemburg question.indignation was therefore felt at the idea of giving them up, when Holland (14th of March 1838) signified its readiness to accept the conditions of the treaty. The chambers argued that Belgium had been induced to agree to the twenty-four articles in 1832 in the hope of thereby at once terminating all harassing disputes, but as Holland refused then to accept them, the conditions were no longer binding and the circumstances were now quite changed. They urged that Luxemburg in fact formed an integral part of Belgium and that the people were totally opposed to a union with Holland. They offered to pay for the territory in dispute, but the treaty gave them no right of purchase, and the proposal was not entertained. Final settlement between Holland
and Belgium.Addresses were unanimously voted urging the king to resist separation, great excitement was aroused throughout the country and preparations were made for war. But the firmness of the allied powers and their determination to uphold the conditions of the treaty compelled the king most reluctantly to submit to the inevitable. The treaty was signed in London on the 19th of April 1839. It saddled Belgium with a portion of Holland’s debt, and a severe financial crisis followed.
The Belgian revolution owed its success to the union of the Catholic and Liberal parties; and the king had been very careful to maintain the alliance between them. This continued to be the character of the government till 1840, but by degrees it had been growing more and more conservative, Struggle between the Catholics and Liberals.and was giving rise to dissatisfaction. A ministry was formed on more liberal principles, but it clashed with the Catholic aristocracy, who had the majority in the senate. A neutral ministry under M. Charles Nothomb was then formed. In 1842 it carried a new law of primary instruction, which aroused the dislike of the anti-clerical Liberals. The Nothomb ministry retired in 1845. In March 1846 the king formed a purely Catholic ministry, but it was fiercely attacked by the Liberals, who had for several years been steadily organizing. A congress was summoned to meet at Brussels (14th of June 1846) composed of delegates from the different Liberal associations throughout the country. Three hundred and twenty delegates met and drew up an Act of Federation and a programme of reforms. The election of 1847 gave a majority to the Liberals and a purely Liberal ministry was formed, and from this date onwards it has been the constitutional practice in Belgium to choose a homogeneous ministry from the party which possesses a working majority in the chamber. In 1848 a new electoral Electoral reform.law was passed, which lowered the franchise to 20 florins’ worth of property and doubled the number of electors. Hence it came to pass that Belgium passed safely through the crisis of the French revolution of 1848. The extreme democratic and socialistic party made with French aid some spasmodic efforts to stir up a revolutionary movement, but they met with no popular sympathy; the throne of Leopold stood firmly based upon the trust and respect of the Belgian nation for the wisdom and moderation of their king.
The attention of the government was now largely directed to the stimulating of private industry and the carrying out of public works of great practical utility, such as the extension of railways and the opening up of other internal means of communication. Commercial treaties were also entered into with various countries with the view of providing additional outlets for industrial products. The king also sought as much as possible to remove from the domain of politics every irritating question, believing that a union of the different parties was most for the advantage of the state. In 1850 the question of middle-class education was settled. In 1852 the Liberal cabinet was overthrown and a ministry of conciliation was formed. A bill was passed authorizing the army to be raised to 100,000 men including reserve. The elections of 1854 modified the parliamentary situation by increasing the strength of the Conservatives; the ministry resigned and a new one was formed, under Pierre de Decker, of moderate Catholics and Progressives. In 1857 the government of M. de Decker brought in a bill to establish “the liberty of charity,” but in reality to place the administration of charities in the hands of the priesthood. This led to a violent agitation throughout the kingdom and the military had to be called out. Eventually the bill was withdrawn, the ministers resigned and a Liberal ministry was formed under M. Charles Rogier. In 1860 the communal octrois or duties on articles of food brought into the towns was abolished; in 1863 the navigation of the Scheldt was made free, and a treaty of commerce established with England. The elections of July 1864 gave a majority to the Liberals, and M. Rogier continued in office.
On the 10th of December 1865, King Leopold died, after a reign of thirty-four years. He was greatly beloved by his people, and to him Belgium owed much, for in difficult circumstances and critical times he had managed its affairs with great tact and judgment. He was succeeded by Accession of Leopold II.his eldest son Leopold II., who was immediately proclaimed king and took the oath to the constitution on the 17th of December. On the outbreak of war between France and Germany in 1870, Belgium saw the difficulty and danger of her position, and lost no time in providing for contingencies. A large war credit was voted, the strength of the army was raised and strong bodies of troops were moved to the frontier. The feeling of danger to Belgium also caused great excitement in England. The British government declared its intention to maintain the integrity of Belgium in accordance with the treaty of 1839, and it induced the two belligerent powers to agree not to violate the neutrality of Belgian territory. A considerable portion of the French army routed at Sedan did indeed seek refuge across the frontier; but they laid down their arms according to convention, and were duly “interned.”
In 1870 the Liberal party, which had been in power for thirteen years, was overthrown by a union of the Catholics with a number of Liberal dissentients to whom the policy of the government had given offence, and a Catholic cabinet, at the head of which was Baron Jules Joseph d’Anethan, took office. At the election of August 1870, the Catholics obtained a majority in both chambers. They increased their power considerably by reducing the voting qualification for electors to provincial councils to 20 frs., and to communal councils to 10 frs., and also by recognizing the importance of what was styled “the Flemish Movement.” Hitherto French had been the official language of the states. The use of Flemish in public documents, in judicial procedure and in official correspondence was hereafter The Flemish Movement.required in the Flemish provinces, and Belgium became officially bi-lingual. It was, as has been already pointed out, a reversion to the policy of the Dutch king, which in 1830 had been so strongly denounced by the leaders of the Belgian revolution, and its object was the same, i.e. to prevent frenchification of a population that was Teutonic by race and speech. In 1871 M. Malou had become the head of a cabinet of moderate Catholics, and he retained office till 1878. This was the period of the struggle between the pope and the Italian government, and the German Kulturkampf. The Belgian Ultramontanes agitated strongly in favour of the re-establishment of the temporal power and against the policy of Bismarck. Though discountenanced by the ministry, the violence of the Ultra-clericals compassed its downfall. They passed a law adopting the ballot in 1877, but at the election of the following year a Liberal majority was returned.
The new cabinet, under M. Frère-Orban, devoted itself solely to the settlement of the educational system. Hitherto since 1842 in all primary schools instruction by the clergy in the Catholic faith was obligatory, children belonging to other persuasions being dispensed from attendance. School law of 1879.In 1879 a bill was passed for the secularization of primary education; but an attempt was made to conciliate the clergy by Art. 4, which enacted—“religious instruction is relegated to the care of families and the clergy of the various creeds. A place in the school may be put at their disposal where the children may receive religious instruction,” at hours other than those set apart for regular education. The bill likewise provided for a rigorous inspection of the communal schools. The passing of this law was met by the clergy by uncompromising resistance. The bishops ordered that absolution be refused to teachers in the schools “sans Dieu,” and to the parents who sent their children to them, and urged the establishment of private Catholic schools. All over Belgium the agitation spread, and the clergy, who were practically independent of state control, gained the victory. In November 1879 it was calculated that there were but 240,000 scholars in the secularized schools against 370,000 in the Catholic schools. In Flanders over 80% of the children attended the Catholic schools. The government appealed to the pope, but the Holy See declined to take any action, and so great was the embitterment that the Belgian minister at the Vatican and the papal nuncio at Brussels were recalled, and in 1880 the clergy refused to associate themselves with the fêtes of the national jubilee. In order to emerge victorious in such a struggle the Liberal party had need of all their strength, but a split took place between the sections known as the doctrinaires and the progressists, on the question of an extension of the franchise, and at the election of 1884 the Catholics carried all before them at the polls. From 1884 up to the present time the clerical party have maintained their supremacy.
A Catholic administration under M. Malou at once took in hand the schools question. A law was passed, despite violent protests from the Liberals, which enacted that the communes might maintain the private Catholic schools established since 1879 and suppress unsectarian schools at their pleasure. They might retain at least one unsectarian or adopt one Catholic school, where 25 heads of families demanded it. The state subsidized all the communal schools, Catholic and unsectarian alike. Under this law in all districts under clerical control the unsectarian schools were abolished. In October 1884, M. Beernaert replaced M. Malou as prime minister, and retained that post for the following ten years. He had in 1886 a troublous and dangerous situation to deal with. Socialism had become a political force Social outbreak in 1886.in the land. Socialism of a German type had taken deep root among the working men of the Flemish towns, especially at Ghent and Brussels; socialism of a French revolutionary type among the Walloon miners and factory hands. On the 18th of March 1886, a socialist rising suddenly burst out at Liége, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Paris Commune, and rapidly spread in other industrial centres of the Walloon districts. Thousands of workmen went on strike, demanding better wages and the suffrage. The ministry acted promptly and with vigour, the outbreak was suppressed by the employment of the military and order was restored. But as soon as this was accomplished the government opened a comprehensive enquiry into the causes of dissatisfaction, Agitation for a revision of the constitution.which served as the basis of numerous social laws, and led eventually to the establishment of universal suffrage and the substitution in Belgium of a democratic for a middle-class régime. It was not effected till several years had been spent in long parliamentary discussions, by demonstrations on the part of the supporters of franchise revision and by strikes of a political tendency. At last the senate and chamber declared, May 1892, that the time for a revision of certain articles of the constitution had come. As prescribed by the constitution, a dissolution took place and two new chambers were elected. The Catholics had a majority in both, but not enough to enable them to dispense with the assistance of the Liberals, the constitution requiring for every revision a two-thirds majority. The bills proposed for extending the franchise were all rejected (April 11th and 12th). Thereupon the council of the Labour party proclaimed a general strike. Fifty thousand workmen struck, in Brussels there were violent demonstrations, and the agitation assumed generally a dangerous aspect. Both the government and the opposition in the chambers saw that delay vas impossible, and that revision must be carried out. Agreement was reached by the acceptance of a compromise The Nyssens compromise.proposed by M. Albert Nyssens, Catholic deputy and professor of penal procedure and commercial law at the university of Louvain, and on the 18th of April the chamber adopted an electoral system until then unknown—le suffrage universel plural. The citizen in order to possess a vote for the election of representatives to the chambers was to be of a minimum age of twenty-five years, and of thirty years for the election of senators and provincial and communal councillors. For the four categories of elections a supplementary vote was given to (a) citizens who having attained the age of thirty-five years, and being married or widowers with children, paid at least 5 f. income tax, and (b) to citizens of the age of twenty-five years possessing real estate to the value of 2000 f. or Belgian state securities yielding an income of at least 100 f. Two supplementary votes were bestowed upon citizens having certain educational certificates, or discharging functions or following professions implying their possession. This elaborate system was only carried into law after considerable and violent opposition in the sessions of 1894 and 1895. It was chiefly the work of the ministry of M. de Burlet, who succeeded to the place of M. Beernaert in March 1894.
The composition of the elected bodies for the years 1894–1895 was:—for the chamber of representatives 1,354,891 electors with 2,085,605 votes, for the senate and provincial councils 1,148,433 electors with 1,856,838 votes. The result of the first election in October 1894 was Catholic majority
of 1894.to give the Catholic party an overwhelming majority. The old Liberal party almost disappeared, while the Walloon provinces returned a number of Socialists. In February 1896 M. de Burlet, being in bad health, transferred the direction of the government to M. Smet de Naeyer. The election of 1894 had given the Liberals a much smaller number of seats than they ought to have had according to the number of votes they polled, and a cry arose for the establishment of proportional representation. Both sides felt that reform was again necessary, but the Catholic majority disagreed among themselves as to the form it should take. In 1899 M. Smet de Naeyer gave place as head of the ministry to M. van den Peereboom. But the proposals Proportional representation.of the latter met with organized obstruction on the part of the Socialist deputies, and after a few months’ tenure of office he gave way to M. Smet de Naeyer once more. The new cabinet at once (August 1899) introduced a bill giving complete proportional representation in parliamentary elections to all the arrondissements, and it was passed despite the defection of a number of Catholic deputies led by M. Woeste. The election in May 1900 resulted in the return of a substantial (though reduced) Catholic majority in both chambers.
During this period of Catholic ascendancy social legislation was not neglected. Among the enactments the following are the most important:—the institution of industrial and labour councils, composed of employers and employés, and of a superior council, formed of officials, Social legislation.workmen and employers (1887); laws assisting the erection of workmen’s dwellings and supervising the labour of women and children (1889); laws for ameliorating the system of Friendly Societies (1890); laws regulating workshops (1896); conferring corporate rights on trades’ unions (1898); guaranteeing the security and health of working men during hours of labour (1899). In 1900 laws were passed regulating the contract of labour, placing the workman on a footing of perfect equality with his employer, assuring the married woman free control of her savings, and organizing a system of old-age pensions. Primary education was dealt with in 1895 by a law, which made religious instruction obligatory, and extended state support to all schools that satisfied certain conditions. In 1899 there were in Belgium 6674 subsidized schools, having 775,000 scholars out of a total of 950,000 children of school age. Only 68,000 did not receive religious instruction. The Catholic party also strove to mitigate the principle of obligatory military service by encouraging the system of volunteering and by a reduction of the time of active service and of the number with the colours.
In 1905 the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence was celebrated, and there was a great manifestation of loyalty to King Leopold II. for the wisdom and prudence shown by him during his long reign. Owing to dissensions among the Catholic and Conservative party Politics in 1905.on the subject of military service and the fortification of Antwerp, their majority in the chamber in 1904 fell from 26 to 20, that in the senate from 16 to 12. The partial election in 1906 reduced the majority in the chamber to 12, while the partial election in 1908 brought the majority down to 8. The Smet de Naeyer ministry which had held office since 1900 was defeated in April 1907 in a debate on the mining law over the proposal concerning the length of the working day. A new cabinet was formed on the 2nd of May following under the presidency of M. de Trooz, who had been minister of the interior under M. Smet de Naeyer, and who retained that portfolio in conjunction with the premiership. M. de Trooz died on the 31st of December 1907, and was succeeded by M. Schollaert, president of the chamber. The count of Flanders, brother of the king, died on the 17th of November 1905, leaving his son Albert heir to the throne.
The Congo question had meanwhile become an acute one in Belgium. The personal interest taken by Leopold II. in the exploration and commercial development of the equatorial regions of Africa had led, in the creation of the Congo Free State, to results which had originally Belgium and
the Congo.not been anticipated. The Comité des Études du Haut Congo, formed in 1878 at the instance of the king and mainly financed by him had developed into the International Association of the Congo, of which a Belgian officer, Colonel M. Strauch, was president. Through the efforts in Africa of H. M. Stanley a rudimentary state was created, and through the efforts of King Leopold in Europe the International Association was recognized during 1884–1885 by the powers as an independent state. Declarations to this effect were exchanged between the Belgian government and the Association on the 23rd of February 1885. In April of the same year the Belgian chambers authorized the king to be the chief of the state founded by the Association, which had already taken the name of État Indépendant du Congo. The union between Belgium and the new state was declared to be purely personal, but its European headquarters were in Brussels, its officials, in the course of time, became almost exclusively Belgian, and financially and commercially the connexion between the two countries became increasingly close. In 1889 King Leopold announced that he had by his will bequeathed the Congo state to Belgium, and in 1890 the Belgian government, in return for financial help, acquired the right of annexing the country under certain conditions. At later dates definite proposals for immediate annexation were considered but not adopted, the king showing a strong disinclination to cede the state, while among the mass of the Belgians the disinclination to annex was equally strong. It was not until terrible reports as to the misgovernment of the Congo created a strong agitation for reform in Great Britain, America and other countries responsible for having aided in the creation of the state, that public opinion in Belgium seriously concerned itself with the subject. The result was that in November 1907 a new treaty of cession was presented to the Belgian chambers, while in March 1908 an additional act modified one of the most objectionable features of the treaty—a clause by which the king retained control of the revenue of a vast territory within the Congo which he had declared to be his private property. A colonial law, also submitted to the chambers, secured for Belgium in case of annexation complete parliamentary control over the Congo state, and the bill for annexation was finally passed in September 1908.
Bibliography.—Th. Juste, Histoire de la Belgique (2 vols., 1853); La Révolution belge de 1830 (2 vols., 1872); Congrès national de Belgique (2 vols., 1880); Memoirs of Leopold I. (2 vols., 1868); De Gerlache, Histoire du royaume des Pays-Bas (3 vols., 1859); D. C. Boulger, The History of Belgium, part i. (1900); C. White, The Belgic Revolution of 1830 (2 vols., 1835); Moke and Hubert, Histoire de Belgique (jusque 1885) (1892); L. Hymans, Histoire parlementaire de la Belgique (1830–1899); Cinquante ans de liberté (4 vols., 1881); J. J. Thonissen La Belgique sous le règne de Leopold Iᵉʳ (4 vols., 1855–1858); De Laveleye, Le Parti clérical en Belgique (1874); Vandervelde and Destree, Le Socialisme belge (1898); C. Woeste, Vingt ans de polémique (1890); Hamelius, Le Mouvement flamand (1894). (G. E.)
Belgian literature, taken in the widest sense of the term, falls into three groups, consisting of works written respectively in Flemish, Walloon and French. The earlier Flemish authors are treated under Dutch Literature; the revival of Flemish Literature (q.v.) since the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1830, and Walloon Literature (q.v.), are each separately noticed. The earlier French writers born on what is now Belgian territory—e.g. Adenès le Rois, Jean Froissart, Jean Lemaire des Belges and others—are included in the general history of French Literature (q.v.). It remains to consider the literature written by Belgians in French during the 19th century, and its rapid development since the revolution of 1831.
Belgian writers were commonly charged with provincialism, but the prejudice against them has been destroyed by the brilliant writers of 1870–1880. It was also asserted that Belgian French literature lacked a national basis, and was merely a reflection of Parisian models. The most important section of it, however, has a distinctive quality of its own. Many of its most distinguished exponents are Flemings by birth, and their writings reflect the characteristic Flemish scenery; they have the sensuousness, the colour and the realism of Flemish art; and on the other hand the tendency to mysticism, to abstraction, is far removed from the lucidity and definiteness associated with French literature properly so-called. This profoundly national character disengaged itself gradually, and has been more strikingly evident since 1870. The earlier writers of the century were content to follow French tradition.
The events of 1830–1831 gave a great stimulus to Belgian letters, but the country possessed writers of considerable merit before that date. Adolphe Mathieu (1802–1876) belongs to the earlier half of the century, although the tenth and last volume of his Œuvres en vers was only printed in 1870. His later works show the influence of the Romantic revival. Auguste Clavareau (1787–1864), a mediocre poet, an imitator of the French and Dutch, produced some successful comedies, but he ceased to write plays before 1830. Édouard Smits (1789–1852) showed romantic tendencies in his tragedies of Marie de Bourgogne (1823), Elfrida (1825), and Jeanne de Flandre (1828). The first of these had a great success, partly no doubt because of its patriotic subject. For four years before 1830 André van Hasselt (q.v.) had been publishing his verses in the Sentinelle des Pays-Bas, and from 1829 onwards he was an ardent romanticist. A burst of literary and artistic activity followed the Revolution; and van Hasselt’s house became a centre of poets, artists and musicians of the romantic school. The best work of the Belgian romanticists is in the rich and picturesque prose of the 16th century romance of Charles de Coster (see De Coster), and in the melancholy and semi-philosophical writings of the moralist Octave Pirmez (q.v.). The Poésies (1841) and the Chansons (1866) of Antoine Clesse (1816–1889), have been compared with the work of Béranger; and the Catholic party found a champion against the liberals and revolutionists in the satirical poet, Benoît Quinet (b. 1819). Among the famous dramatic pieces of this epoch was the André Chénier (1843) of Édouard Wacken (1819–1861), who was a lyric rather than a dramatic poet; also the comedies of Louis Labarre (1810–1892) and of Henri Delmotte (1822–1884). Charles Potvin (1818–1902), a poet and a dramatist, is best known by a patriotic Histoire des lettres en Belgique, forming vol. iv. of the Belgian compilation, Cinquante ans de liberté (1882), and by his essays in literary history. Eugène van Bemmel (1824–1880) established an excellent historical tradition in his Histoire de la Belgique (1880), reproducing textually the original authorities, and also edited a Belgian Encyclopaedia (1873–1875), the Patria Belgica. Baron E. C. de Gerlache (1785–1871) wrote the history of the Netherlands from the ultramontane standpoint. The romanticists were attacked in an amusing satire, Les Voyages et aventures de M. Alfred Nicolas (1835), by François Grandgagnage (1797–1877), who was a nationalist in the narrowest sense, and regarded the movement as an indefensible invasion of foreign ideas. The best of the novelists of this period, excluding Charles de Coster, was perhaps Estelle Ruelens (née Crèvecœur; 1821–1878); she wrote under the pseudonym of “Caroline Gravière.” Her tales were collected by the bibliophile “P. L. Jacob” (Paris, 1873–1874).
The whole of this literature derived more or less from foreign sources, and, with the exception of Charles de Coster and Octave Pirmez, produced no striking figures. De Coster died in 1879, and Pirmez in 1883, and the new movement in Belgian literature dates from the banquet given in the latter year to Camille Lemonnier (q.v.) whose powerful personality did much to turn “Young Belgium” into a national channel. Lemonnier himself cannot be exclusively claimed by any of the conflicting schools of young writers. He was by turns naturalist, lyrist and symbolist; and it has been claimed that the germs of all the later developments in Belgian letters may be traced in his work. The quinquennial prize of literature had been refused to his Un mâle, and the younger generation of artists and men of letters gave him a banquet which was recognized as a protest against the official literature, represented by Louis Hymans (1829–1884), Gustave Frédérix (b. 1834), the literary critic of L’Indépendance belge, and others. The centres around which the young writers were grouped were two reviews, L’Art moderne and La Jeune Belgique. L’Art moderne was founded in 1882 by Edmond Picard, who had as his chief supporters Victor Arnould and Octave Maus. The first editor of La Jeune Belgique was M. Warlomont (1860–1889), known under the pen-name of “Max Waller.” This review, which owed much of its success to Waller’s energy, defended the intense preoccupation of the new writers with questions of style, and became the depository of the Parnassian tradition in Belgium. It had among its early contributors Georges Eekhoud, Albert Giraud, Iwan Gilkin and Georges Rodenbach. Edmond Picard (b. 1836) was one of the foremost in the battle. He was well known as an advocate in Brussels, and made a considerable contribution to jurisprudence as the chief writer of the Pandectes belges (1886–1890). His Pro arte (1886) was a kind of literary code for the young Belgian writers. His novels, of which La Forge Roussel (1881) is a good example, were succeeded in 1902–1903 by two plays, Jéricho and Fatigue de vivre.
Georges Eekhoud, born at Antwerp on the 27th of May 1854, was in some ways the most passionately Flemish of the whole group. He described the life of the peasants of his native Flanders with a bold realism, making himself the apologist of the vagabond and the outcast in a series of tragic stories:—Kees Doorik (1883), Kermesses (1883), Nouvelles Kermesses (1887), Le Cycle patibulaire (1892), Mes Communions (1895), Escal Vigor (1899) and La Faneuse d’amour (1900), &c. Nouvelle Carthage (1888) deals with modern Antwerp. In 1892 he produced a striking book on English literature entitled Au siècle de Shakespeare, and has written French versions of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster (1895) and of Marlow’s Edward II. (1896).
The earlier work of “Young Belgium” in poetry was experimental in character, and was marked by extravagances of style and a general exuberance which provoked much hostile criticism. The young writers of 1870 to 1880 had not long to wait, however, for recognition both at home and in Paris, where many of them found hospitality in the pages of the Mercure de France from 1890 onwards. They divided their allegiance between the leaders of the French Parnassus and the Symbolists.
The most powerful of the Belgian poets, Émile Verhaeren (q.v.), is the most daring in his technical methods of expressing bizarre sensation, and has been called the “poet of paroxysm.” His reputation extends far beyond the limits of his own country.
Many of the Belgian poets adhere to the classical form. Albert Giraud (born at Louvain in 1860) was faithful to the Parnassian tradition in his Pierrot lunaire (1884), Pierrot narcisse (1891) and Hors du siècle (1886). In the earlier works of Iwan Gilkin (born at Brussels in 1858) the influence of Charles Baudelaire is predominant. He wrote Damnation de l’artiste (1890), Ténèbres (1892), Stances dorées (1893), La Nuit (1897) and Prométhée (1899). The poems of Valère Gille (born at Brussels in 1867), whose Cithare was crowned by the French Academy in 1898, belong to the same group. Émile van Arenberghe (born at Louvain in 1854) is the author of some exquisite sonnets. Fernand Severin (b. 1867) in his Poèmes ingénus (1900) aims at simplicity of form, and seems to have learnt the art of his musical verse direct from Racine. With Severin is closely associated Georges Marlow (b. 1872), author of L’Âme en exil (1895).
Georges Rodenbach (1855–1898) spent most of his life in Paris and was an intimate of Edmond de Goncourt. He produced some Parisian and purely imitative work; but the best part of his production is the outcome of a passionate idealism of the quiet Flemish towns in which he had passed his childhood and early youth. In his best known work, Bruges la Morte (1892), he explains that his aim is to evoke the town as a living being, associated with the moods of the spirit, counselling, dissuading from and prompting action.
The most famous of all modern Belgian writers, Maurice Maeterlinck (q.v.), made his début in a Parisian journal, the Pléiade, in 1886. He succeeded more nearly than any of his predecessors in expressing or suggesting ideas and emotions which might have been supposed to be capable of translation only in terms of music. “The unconscious self, or rather the sub-conscious self,” says Émile Verhaeren, “recognized in the verse and prose of Maeterlinck its language or rather its stammering attempt at language.” Maeterlinck was a native of Ghent, and the first poems of two of his fellow-townsmen also appeared in the Pléiade. These were Grégoire le Roy (b. 1862), author of La Chanson d’un soir (1886), and Mon Cœur pleure d’autrefois (1889); and Charles van Lerberghe (b. 1861), author of a play, Les Flaireurs (1890) and a collection of Poèmes (1897).
Max Elskamp (born at Antwerp in 1862) is the author of some volumes of religious poetry—Dominical (1892), Salutations, dont d’angéliques (1893), En symbole vers l’apostolat (1895)—for which he has devised as background an imaginary city. Eugène Demolder (b.1862) also created a mythical city as a setting for his prose contes in the Légende d’Yperdamme (1897).
Belgian literary activity extends also to historical research. Baron Kervyn de Lettenhove (1817–1891) wrote a Histoire de Flandre (7 vols., 1847–1855), and a number of monographs on separate points in Flemish and English history. Though an accurate historian, he allowed himself lo be prejudiced by his extreme Catholic views. He was a vehement defender of Mary Stuart. Louis Gachard (1800–1885) wrote many valuable works on 16th century history; Mgr. Namèche (1810–1893) completed the 29th volume of his Cours d’histoire nationale before his death; Charles Piot (b. 1812) edited the correspondence of Cardinal de Granvelle; Alphonse Wauters (1818–1898), archivist of Brussels, published many archaeological works; and Charles Rahlenbeck (1823–1903) wrote enthusiastically of the history of Protestantism in Belgium. One of the most masterly writers of French in Belgium was the economist Émile de Laveleye (q.v.). In aesthetics should be noted the historian of music, François Joseph Fétis (1784–1871); F. A. Gevaert (1828–1908), author of Histoire et théorie de la musique d’antiquité (2 vols., 1875–1881); and Victor Mahillon (b. 1841) for his work in acoustics and his descriptive catalogue (1893–1900) of the museum of musical instruments belonging to the Brussels conservatoire. In psychology Joseph Delboeuf (1831–1896) enjoyed a great reputation outside Belgium; Elisée Reclus (b. 1830), though a Frenchman by birth, completed his Géographie universelle (1875–1894) in exile at Brussels; and Ernest Nys has written many standard works on international law. In the history of literature an important work is compiled by Ferdinand van der Haeghen and others in the Bibliotheca Belgica (1880, &c.), comprising a description of all the books printed in the Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries. The vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul (1836–1907) was well known in France as the author of Sainte-Beuve inconnu (1901), La Genèse d’un roman de Balzac (1901), Une Page perdue de H. de Balzac (1903), and of numerous bibliographical works.
See F. V. Goethals, Histoire des lettres, des sciences et des arts en Belgique (4 vols., 1840–1844); Fr. Masoin, Histoire de la littérature française en Belgique de 1815 à 1830 (1903); F. Nautet, Histoire des lettres belges d’expression française (3 vols., 1892 et seq.), written from the point of view of young Belgium, and by no means impartial; A. de Koninck, Bibliographie nationale brought down to 1880; Biographie nationale de Belgique (1866, &c.) in progress; see also articles by Émile Verhaeren in the Revue des revues (15th June 1896), by Albert Mockel in the Revue encyclopédique (24th July 1897); a collection of criticisms chiefly on Belgian writers by Eugène Gilbert, France et Belgique; études litteraires (1905); Frédéric Faber, Histoire du théâtre français en Belgique (5 vols., 1878–1880). An excellent anthology of Belgian poets was published by K. Pol de Mont with the title of Modernités (1898). (E. G.)