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´╗┐Title: Beautiful Europe: Belgium
Author: Morris, Joseph E. (Joseph Ernest)
Language: English
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Beautiful Europe



Joseph E. Morris


It needs, indeed, an effort of the imagination at the moment of writing
to think of Belgium as in any sense a component part of "Beautiful
Europe." The unhappy "cockpit" of the Continent at the actual hour is
again in process of accomplishing its frightful destiny--no treaty, or
"scrap of paper," is potent to preserve this last, and weakest, of all
the nations of Western Europe from drinking to the dregs the cup of
ruin and desolation. Tragic indeed in the profoundest sense--in the
sense of Aristotle--more tragic than the long ruin of the predestined
house of Oedipus--is this accumulated tragedy of a small and helpless
people, whose sole apparent crime is their stern determination to cling
at any cost to their plighted word of honour. I have been lately
glancing into a little book published about five years ago, in which a
view is taken of the Belgian character that no one could term
indulgent. "It is curious," says the writer in one place, "how few
Belgians, old or young, rich or poor, consider the feelings or
convenience of others. They are intensely selfish, and this is
doubtless caused by the way in which they are brought up." And, again,
in another chapter, he insinuates a doubt as to whether the Belgians,
if ever called on, would even prove good soldiers. "But whether the
people of a neutral State are ever likely to be brave and
self-sacrificing is another thing." Such a writer certainly does not
shrink--as Burke, we know, once shrank--from framing an indictment
against an entire people. Whether Belgium, as a nation, is
self-sacrificing and brave may safely be left to the judgment of
posterity. There is a passage in one of Mr. Lecky's books--I cannot put
my finger on the exact reference--in which he pronounces that the sins
of France, which are many, are forgiven her, because, like the woman in
the Gospels, she has loved much. It is not our business now, if indeed
at any time, to appraise the sins of Belgium; but surely her love, in
anguish, is manifest and supreme. When we contemplate these firstfruits
of German "kultur"--this deluge of innocent blood, and this wreckage of
ancient monuments--who can hesitate for a moment to belaud this little
people, which has flung itself thus gallantly, in the spirit of purest
sacrifice, in front of the onward progress of this new and frightful
Juggernaut? Rather one recalls that old persistent creed, exemplified
perhaps in the mysteries, now of the Greek Adonis, now of Persian
Mithras, and now of the Roman priest of the Nennian lake, that it is
only through the gates of sacrifice and death that the world moves on
triumphant to rejuvenation and life. Is it, in truth, through the blood
of a bruised and prostrate Belgium that the purple hyacinth of a
rescued European civilization will spring presently from the soaked and
untilled soil?

Yet even if German "kultur" in the end sweep wholly into ruin the long
accumulated treasures of Belgian architecture, sculpture, and
painting--if Bruges, which to-day stands still intact, shall to-morrow
be reckoned with Dinant and Louvain--yet it would still be worth while
to set before a few more people this record of vanished splendour, that
they may better appreciate what the world has lost through lust of
brutal ambition, and better be on guard in the future to protect what
wreckage is left. All these treasures were bequeathed to us--not to
Belgium alone, but to the whole world--by the diligence and zeal of
antiquity; and we have seen this goodly heritage ground in a moment
into dust beneath the heel of an insolent and degraded militancy.
Belgium, in very truth, in guarding the civilization and inheritance of
other nations, has lavishly wrecked her own. "They made me keeper of
the vineyards; but my own vineyard have I not kept."

Luckily, however, it is not yet quite clear that the "work of waste and
ruin" is wholly irreparable. One sees in the illustrated English papers
pictures of the great thirteenth-century churches at Dixmude, Dinant,
and Louvain, made evidently from photographs, that suggest at least
that it is not impossible still to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Dixmude, indeed--I judge from an interior view--is possibly shattered
past hope; but Dinant and St. Pierre, at Louvain, so far at least as
their fabrics are concerned, seem to lack little but the woodwork of
their roofs. It is only a few years ago since the writer stood in the
burnt-out shell of Selby Abbey; yet the Selby Abbey of to-day, though
some ancient fittings of inestimable value have irreparably perished,
is in some ways not less magnificent, and is certainly more complete,
than its imperfect predecessor. One takes comfort, again, in the
thought of York Minster in the conflagration caused by the single
madman Martin in 1829, and of the collapse of the blazing ceilings in
nave and chancel, whilst the great gallery of painted glass, by some
odd miracle, escaped. Is it too much to hope that this devil's work of
a million madmen at Dixmude or Nieuport may prove equally incomplete?

In the imperfect sketch that follows I write of the aspect of
Belgium--of its cities, that were formerly the most picturesque in
Europe; of its landscapes, that range from the level fens of Flanders
to the wooded limestone wolds of the Ardennes--as I knew these, and
loved them, in former years, before hell was let loose in Europe. And
perhaps, the picture here presented will in time be not altogether
misrepresentative of the regenerated Belgium that will certainly some
day arise.


It is not merely in its quality of unredeemed and absolute flatness
that the great fen country of Flanders is so strongly reminiscent of
the great fen country of the Holland parts of Lincolnshire. Each of
these vast levels is equally distinguished by the splendour and
conspicuousness of its ancient churches. Travelling by railway between
Nieuport and Dixmude, you have on every side of you, if the day be
clear, a prospect of innumerable towers and spires, just as you have if
you travel by railway between Spalding and Sleaford, or between
Spalding and King's Lynn. The difference, perhaps, is that the
Lincolnshire churches present finer architectural feature, and are
built of stone, floated down in barges, by dyke or fen, from the famous
inland quarries of Barnack, in Northamptonshire; whilst most of those
in Flanders are built of local brick, though the drums of the piers and
the arches are often of blue limestone. It is remarkable, certainly,
that these soaring spires should thus chiefly rise to eminence in a
setting of dead, flat plain. It may well be, indeed, as some have
suggested, that the character of architecture is unconsciously
determined by the type of surrounding scenery; that men do not build
spires in the midst of mountains to compete with natural sublimity that
they cannot hope to emulate, but are emboldened to express in stone and
mortar their own heavenward aspirations in countries where Nature seems
to express herself in less spiritual, or at any rate in less ambitious,

As we cross the level prairie between these two little towns of West
Flanders (we hope to visit them presently), a group of lofty roofs and
towers is seen grandly towards the west, dominating the fenland with
hardly less insistency than Boston "Stump," in Lincolnshire, as seen
across Wash and fen. This is the little town of Furnes, than which one
can hardly imagine a quainter place in Belgium, or one more entirely
fitted as a doorway by which to enter a new land. Coming straight from
England by way of Calais and Dunkirk, the first sight of this ancient
Flemish market-place, with its unbroken lines of old white-brick
houses, many of which have crow-stepped gables; with the two great
churches of St. Nicholas, with its huge square tower, and of St.
Walburge, with its long ridge of lofty roof; and with its Hotel de
Ville and Palais de Justice of about the dawn of the seventeenth
century, is a revelation, in its atmosphere of sleepy evening quiet, to
those who rub their eyes with wonder, and find it hard to credit that
London, "with its unutterable, external hideousness," was actually left
behind them only that very morning, and is actually at present not two
hundred miles distant. Furnes, in short, is an epitome, and I think a
very charming one, of all that is most characteristic in Flanders; and
not the less charming because here the strong currents of modern life
that throb through Ghent and Antwerp extend only to its threshold in
the faintest of dying ripples, and because you do not need to be told
that in its town hall may still be seen hangings of old Spanish
leather, and that the members of the Inquisition used to meet in the
ante-chamber of the first floor of its Palais de Justice, in order to
throw yourself back in memory to those old days of Lowland greatness
from whose struggles Holland emerged victorious, but into which
Belgium, for the time, sank back oppressed.

Furnes--in Flemish Veurne--is an excellent centre from which to explore
the extreme west point of Belgian Flanders, which is also the extreme
west point of Belgium as a whole. Flanders, be it always remembered,
does not terminate with mere, present-day, political divisions, but
spreads with unbroken character to the very gateways of Calais and
Lille. Hazebrouck, for example, is a thoroughly Flemish town, though
nearly ten miles, in a beeline, inside the French border--Flemish not
merely, like Dunkirk, in the architecture of its great brick church,
but also actually Flemish in language, and in the names that one reads
above its shop doors. In particular, excursions may be pleasantly made
from Furnes--whose principal inn, the Noble Rose, is again a quaint
relic of the sixteenth century--to the two delightful little
market-towns of Dixmude and Nieuport-Ville: I write, as always, of what
was recently, and of what I have seen myself; to-day they are probably
heaps of smoking ruin, and sanguinary altars to German "kultur."
Nieuport-Ville, so called in distinction from its dull little
watering-place understudy, Nieuport-les-Bains, which lies a couple of
miles to the west of it, among the sand-dunes by the mouth of the Yser,
and is hardly worth a visit unless you want to bathe--Nieuport-Ville,
in addition to its old yellow-brick Halles, or Cloth Hall, and its
early Tour des Templiers, is remarkable for its possession of a
fascinating church, the recent restoration of which has been altogether
conservative and admirable. Standing here, in this rich and picturesque
interior, you realize strongly the gulf in this direction between
Belgium and France, in which latter country, in these days of
ecclesiastical poverty, loving restoration of the kind here seen is
rare, and whose often neglected village churches seldom, or never,
exhibit that wealth of marble rood-screen and sculptured woodwork--of
beaten brass and hammered iron--that distinguishes Belgian church
interiors from perhaps all others on earth. The church has also some
highly important brasses, another detail, common of course in most
counties of England, that is now never, or hardly ever, found in
France. Chief, perhaps, among these is the curious, circular brass--I
hope it has escaped--with figures of husband, wife, and children, on a
magnificently worked background, that is now suspended on the northwest
pier of the central crossing. Very Belgian, too, in character is the
rood-beam, with its three figures of Our Lord in Crucifixion, of the
Virgin, and of St. John; and the striking Renaissance rood-screen in
black and white marble, though not as fine as some that are found in
other churches. Rood-screens of this exact sort are almost limited to
Belgium, though there is one, now misplaced in the west end of the
nave, and serving as an organ-loft, in the church of St. Gery at
Cambrai--another curious link between French and Belgian Flanders.
Dixmude (in Flemish Diksmuide), nine and a half miles south from
Nieuport, is an altogether bigger and more important place, with a
larger and more important church, of St. Nicholas, to match. My
recollection of this last, on a Saturday afternoon of heavy showers
towards the close of March, is one of a vast interior thronged with men
and women in the usual dismal, black Flemish cloaks, kneeling in
confession, or waiting patiently for their turn to confess, in
preparation for the Easter Mass. Here the best feature, till lately,
was the glorious Flamboyant rood-screen, recalling those at Albi and
the church of Brou, in France; and remarkable in Belgium as one of the
very few examples of its sort (there is, or was, another in St. Pierre,
at Louvain) of so early a period, in a land where rood-screens, as a
body, are generally much later in date.

It is difficult, in dealing with Flanders, to avoid a certain amount of
architectural description, for architecture, after all, is the chief
attraction of the country, save perhaps in Ghent and Bruges, where we
have also noble pictures. Even those who do not care to study this
architecture in detail will be gratified to stroll at leisure through
the dim vastness of the great Flemish churches, where the eye is
satisfied everywhere with the wealth of brass and iron work, and where
the Belgian passion for wood-carving displays itself in lavish
prodigality. Such wealth, indeed, of ecclesiastical furniture you will
hardly find elsewhere in Western Europe--font covers of hammered brass,
like those at Hal and Tirlemont; stalls and confessionals and pulpits,
new and old, that are mere masses of sculptured wood-work; tall
tabernacles for the reception of the Sacred Host, like those at Louvain
and Leau, that tower towards the roof by the side of the High Altars.
Most of this work, no doubt, is post-Gothic, except the splendid stalls
and canopies (I wonder, do they still survive) at the church of St.
Gertrude at Louvain; for Belgium presents few examples of mediaeval
wood-work like the gorgeous stalls at Amiens, or like those in half a
hundred churches in our own land. Much, in fact, of these splendid
fittings is more or less contemporary with the noble masterpieces of
Rubens and Vandyck, and belongs to the same great wave of artistic
enthusiasm that swept over the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.
Belgian pulpits, in particular, are probably unique, and certainly, to
my knowledge, without parallel in Italy, England, or France. Sometimes
they are merely adorned, like the confessionals at St. Charles, at
Antwerp, and at Tirlemont, with isolated figures; but often these are
grouped into some vivid dramatic scene, such as the Miraculous Draught
of Fishes, at St. Andrew's, at Antwerp, or the Conversion of St.
Norbert, in the cathedral at Malines. Certainly the fallen horseman in
the latter, if not a little ludicrous, is a trifle out of place.

From Furnes to Ypres it is a pleasant journey across country by one of
those strange steam-trams along the road, so common in Belgium and
Holland, and not unknown in France, that wind at frequent intervals
through village streets so narrow, that you have only to put out your
hand in passing to touch the walls of houses. This is a very leisurely
mode of travelling, and the halts are quite interminable in their
frequency and length; but the passenger is allowed to stand on the open
platform at the end of the carriage--though sometimes nearly smothered
with thick, black smoke--and certainly no better method exists of
exploring the short stretches of open country that lie between town and
town. Belgian towns, remember, lie mostly thick on the ground--you are
hardly out of Brussels before you come to Malines, and hardly out of
Malines ere you sight the spire of Antwerp. In no part of Europe,
perhaps, save in parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, do you find so many
big towns in so limited a space; yet the strips of country that lie
between, though often intolerably dull, are (unlike the strips in
Yorkshire) intensely rural in character. Belgian towns do not sprawl in
endless, untidy suburbs, as Sheffield sprawls out towards Rotherham,
and Bradford towards Leeds. Belgian towns, moreover--again unlike our
own big cities in England--are mostly extremely handsome, and generally
contrive, however big, to retain, at any rate in their heart, as at
Antwerp, or in the Grande Place at Brussels, a striking air of
antiquity; whilst some fairly big towns, such as Malines and Bruges,
are mediaeval from end to end. This, of course, is not true of Belgian
Luxembourg and the region of the Ardennes, where the population is much
more sparse; where we do not stumble, about every fifteen miles or so,
on some big town of historic name; and where the endless chessboard of
little fields that lies, for example, between Ghent and Oudenarde, or
between Malines and Louvain, is replaced by long contours of sweeping
limestone wold, often covered with rolling wood.

Ypres is distinguished above all cities in Belgium by the huge size and
stately magnificence of its lordly Cloth Hall, or Halles des Drapiers.
So vast, indeed, is this huge building, and so flat the surrounding
plain, that it is said that it is possible from the strangely isolated
hill of Cassel, which lies about eighteen miles away to the west, just
over the border, in France, on a really clear day--I have only climbed
it myself, unluckily, in a fog of winter mist--to distinguish in a
single view, by merely turning the head, the clustering spires of Laon,
the white chalk cliffs of Kent, and this vast pile of building, like a
ship at sea, that seems to lie at anchor in the heart of the "sounding
plain." Nothing, perhaps, in Europe is so strangely significant of
vanished greatness--not even Rome, with its shattered Forum, or Venice,
with a hundred marble palaces--as this huge fourteenth-century
building, with a facade that is four hundred and thirty-six feet long,
and with its lofty central tower, that was built for the pride and need
of Ypres, and as a market for the barter of its priceless linens, at a
time when Ypres numbered a population of two hundred thousand souls
(almost as big as Leicester at the present day), and was noisy with
four thousand busy looms; whereas now it has but a beggarly total of
less than seventeen thousand souls (about as big as Guildford), and is
only a degree less sleepy than Malines or Bruges-la-Morte. Ypres,
again, like Arras, has lent its name to commerce, if diaper be really
rightly derived from the expression "linen of Ypres." The Cloth Hall
fronts on to the Grande Place, and, indeed, forms virtually one side of
it; and behind, in the Petite Place, is the former cathedral of St.
Martin. This is another fine building, though utterly eclipsed by its
huge secular rival, that was commenced in the thirteenth century, and
is typically Belgian, as opposed to French, in the character of its
architecture, and not least in its possession of a single great west
tower. This last feature is characteristic of every big church in
Belgium--one can add them up by the dozen: Bruges, Ghent, Louvain
(though ruined, or never completed), Oudenarde, Malines, Mons--save
Brussels, where the church of Ste. Gudule, called persistently, but
wrongly, the cathedral, has the full complement of two, and Antwerp,
where two were intended, though only one has been actually raised. This
tower at Ypres, however, fails to illustrate--perhaps because it is
earlier, and therefore in better taste--that astounding disproportion
in height that is so frequently exhibited by Belgian towers, as at
Malines, or in the case of the famous belfry in the market-place at
Bruges, when considered with reference to the church, or town hall,
below. In front of the High Altar, in the pavement, is an inconspicuous
square of white stone, which marks the burial-place of Cornelius
Jansen, who died of the plague, as Bishop of Ypres, in 1638. The
monument, if you can call it monument, is scarcely less insignificant
than the simple block, in the cemetery of Plainpalais at Geneva, that
is traditionally said to mark the resting-place of Calvin. Yet Jansen,
in his way, proved almost a second Calvin in his death, and menaced the
Church from his grave with a second Reformation. He left behind in
manuscript a book called "Augustinus," the predestinarian tenor of
which was condemned finally, though nearly a century later, by Pope
Clement XI., in 1713, in the Bull called Unigenitus. Jansenism,
however, had struck deep its roots in France, and still survives in
Holland at the present day, at Utrecht, as a sect that is small,
indeed, but not altogether obscure. Jansen himself, it may be noted,
was a Hollander by birth, having been born in 1585 at Akkoi in that

If Ypres is to be praised appropriately as a still delightful old city
that has managed to retain to a quite singular degree the outward
aspect and charm of the Middle Ages, one feels that one has left one's
self without any proper stock of epithets with which to appraise at its
proper value the charm and romance of Bruges. Of late years, it is
true, this world-famed capital of West Flanders has lost something of
its old somnolence and peace. Malines, in certain quarters, is now much
more dead-alive, and Wordsworth, who seems to have visualized Bruges in
his mind as a network of deserted streets, "whence busy life hath
fled," might perhaps be tempted now to apply to it the same prophetic
outlook that he imagined for Pendragon Castle:

    As in a dream her own renewing."

One hopes, indeed, that the renewing of Bruges will not proceed too
zealously, even if Bruges come safely through its present hour of
crisis. Perhaps there is no big city in the world--and Bruges, though
it has shrunk pitiably, like Ypres, from its former great estate in the
Middle Ages, has still more than forty thousand souls--that remains
from end to end, in every alley, and square, and street, so wholly
unspoilt and untouched by what is bad in the modern spirit, or that
presents so little unloveliness and squalor in its more out-of-the-way
corners as Bruges. Bruges, of course, like Venice, and half a dozen
towns in Holland, is a strangely amphibious city that is intersected in
every direction, though certainly less persistently than Venice, by a
network of stagnant canals. On the other hand, if it never rises to the
splendour of the better parts of Venice--the Piazza and the Grand
Canal--and lacks absolutely that charm of infinitely varied, if
somewhat faded or even shabby, colour that characterizes the "Queen of
the Adriatic," there is yet certainly nothing monotonous in her
monotone of mellow red-brick; and certainly nothing so dilapidated, and
tattered, and altogether poverty-stricken as one stumbles against in
Venice in penetrating every narrow lane, and in sailing up almost every
canal. Of Venice we may perhaps say, what Byron said of Greece, that

    "Hers is the loveliness in death
    That parts not quite with parting breath";

whilst in Bruges we recognize gladly, not death or decay at all, but
the serene and gracious comeliness of a dignified and vital old age.

We cannot, of course, attempt, in a mere superficial sketch like this,
even to summarize briefly the wealth of objects of interest in Bruges,
or to guide the visitor in detail through its maze of winding streets.
Two great churches, no doubt, will be visited by everyone--the
cathedral of St. Sauveur and the church of Notre Dame--both of which,
in the usual delightful Belgian fashion, are also crowded
picture-galleries of the works of great Flemish masters. The See of
Bruges, however, dates only from 1559; and even after that date the
Bishop had his stool in the church of St. Donatian, till this was
destroyed by the foolish Revolutionaries in 1799. In a side-chapel of
Notre Dame, and carefully boarded up for no reason in the world save to
extort a verger's fee for their exhibition, are the splendid black
marble monuments, with recumbent figures in copper gilt, of Charles the
Bold, who fell at Nancy in 1477 (but lives for ever, with Louis XI. of
France, in the pages of "Quentin Durward"), and of his daughter, Mary,
the wife of the Emperor Maximilian, of Austria, who was killed by being
thrown from her horse whilst hunting in 1482. These two tombs are of
capital interest to those who are students of Belgian history, for
Charles the Bold was the last male of the House of Burgundy, and it was
by the marriage of his daughter that the Netherlands passed to the
House of Hapsburg, and thus ultimately fell under the flail of
religious persecution during the rule of her grandson, Spanish Philip.
Close to Notre Dame, in the Rue St. Catherine, is the famous old
Hospital of St. Jean, the red-brick walls of which rise sleepily from
the dull waters of the canal, just as Queens' College, or St. John's,
at Cambridge, rise from the sluggish Cam. Here is preserved the rich
shrine, or chasse, "resembling a large Noah's ark," of St. Ursula, the
sides of which are painted with scenes from the virgin's life by Hans
Memling, who, though born in the neighbourhood of Mayence, and thus
really by birth a German, lived for nearly a quarter of a century or
more of his life in Bruges, and is emphatically connected, like his
master Roger van der Weyden and the brothers Van Eyck, with the
charming early Flemish school. There is a story that he was wounded
under Charles le Temeraire on the stricken field of Nancy, and painted
these gemlike pictures in return for the care and nursing that he
received in the Hospital of St. Jean, but "this story," says Professor
Anton Springer, "may be placed in the same category as those of Durer's
malevolent spouse, and of the licentiousness of the later Dutch
painters." These scenes from the life of St. Ursula are hardly less
delightfully quaint than the somewhat similar series that was painted
by Carpaccio for the scuola of the Saint at Venice, and that are now
preserved in the Accademia. Early Flemish painting, in fact, in
addition to its own peculiar charm of microscopic delicacy of finish,
is hardly inferior, in contrast with the later strong realism and
occasional coarseness of Rubens or Rembrandt, to the tender poetic
dreaminess of the primitive Italians. Certainly these pictures, though
finished to the minutest and most delicate detail, are lacking in
realism actually to a degree that borders on a delicious absurdity. St.
Ursula and her maidens--whether really eleven thousand or eleven--in
the final scene of martyrdom await the stroke of death with the stoical
placidity of a regiment of dolls. "All the faces are essentially
Flemish, and some of the virgins display to great advantage the pretty
national feature of the slight curl in one or in both lips." A little
farther along the same street is the city Picture Gallery, with a small
but admirable collection, one of the gems of which is a splendid St.
Christopher, with kneeling donors, with their patron saints on either
side, that was also painted by Memling in 1484, and ranks as one of his
best efforts. Notice also the portrait of the Canon Van de Paelen,
painted by Jan van Eyck in 1436, and representing an old churchman with
a typically heavy Flemish face; and the rather unpleasant picture by
Gerard David of the unjust judge Sisamnes being flayed alive by order
of King Cambyses. By a turning to the right out of the Rue St.
Catherine, you come to the placid Minne Water, or Lac d'Amour, not far
from the shores of which is one of those curious beguinages that are
characteristic of Flanders, and consist of a number of separate little
houses, grouped in community, each of which is inhabited by a beguine,
or less strict kind of nun. In the house of the Lady Superior is
preserved the small, but very splendid, memorial brass of a former
inmate, who died at about the middle of the fifteenth century.

Wander where you will in the ancient streets of Bruges, and you will
not fail to discover everywhere some delightful relic of antiquity, or
to stumble at every street corner on some new and charming combination
of old houses, with their characteristic crow-stepped, or corbie,
gables. New houses, I suppose, there must really be by scores; but
these, being built with inherent good taste (whether unconscious or
conscious I do not know) in the traditional style of local building,
and with brick that from the first is mellow in tint and harmonizes
with its setting, assimilate at once with their neighbours to right and
left, and fail to offend the eye by any patchy appearance or crudeness.
Hardly a single street in Bruges is thus without old-world charm; but
the architectural heart of the city must be sought in its two
market-places, called respectively the Grande Place and the Place du
Bourg. In the former are the brick Halles, with their famous belfry
towering above the structure below it, with true Belgian disregard for
proportion in height. It looks, indeed, like tower piled on tower, till
one is almost afraid lest the final octagon should be going to topple
over! In the Place du Bourg is a less aspiring group, consisting of the
Hotel de Ville, the Chapelle du Saint Sang, the Maison de l'Ancien
Greffe, and the Palais de Justice--all very Flemish in character, and
all, in combination, elaborately picturesque. In the Chapel of the Holy
Blood is preserved the crystal cylinder that is said to enshrine
certain drops of the blood of Our Saviour that were brought from the
Holy Land in 1149 by Theodoric, Count of Flanders, and installed in the
Romanesque chapel that he built for their reception, and the crypt of
which remains, though the upper chapel has long since been rebuilt, in
the fifteenth century. At certain stated times the relic is exhibited
to a crowd of devotees, who file slowly past to kiss it. Some congealed
blood of Our Lord is also said to be preserved, after remarkable
vicissitudes of loss and recovery, in the Norman Abbey of Fecamp; and
mediaeval Gloucestershire once boasted as big a treasure, which brought
great concourse and popularity to the Cistercian house of Hayles. Pass
beneath the archway of the Maison de l'Ancien Greffe, cross the
sluggish canal, and turn sharply to the left, and follow, first the
cobbled Quai des Marbriers, and afterwards its continuation, the Quai
Vert. Pacing these silent promenades, which are bordered by humble
cottages, you have opposite, across the water, as also from the
adjacent Quai du Rosaire, grand groupings of pinnacle, tower, and
gable, more delightful even, in perfection of combination and in mellow
charm of colour, than those "domes and towers" of Oxford whose presence
Wordsworth confessed, in a very indifferent sonnet, to overpower his
"soberness of reason." "In Brussels," he says elsewhere in his journal,
"the modern taste in costume, architecture, etc., has got the mastery;
in Ghent there is a struggle; but in Bruges old images are still
paramount, and an air of monastic life among the quiet goings-on of a
thinly-peopled city is inexpressibly soothing. A pensive grace seems to
be cast over all, even the very children." This estimate, after the
lapse of considerably more than half a century, still, on the whole,
stands good.

"In Ghent there is a struggle." Approaching Ghent, indeed, by railway
from Bruges, and with our heads full of old-world romance of Philip van
Artevelte, and of continually insurgent burghers (for whom Ghent was
rather famous), and of how Roland, "my horse without peer," "brought
good news from Ghent," one is rather shocked at first, as we circle
round the suburbs, at the rows of aggressive new houses, and rather
tempted to conclude that the struggle has now ended, and that
modernity, as at Brussels, has won the day at Ghent. Luckily the doubt
is dissipated as we quit the splendid Sud station--and Belgium, one may
add in parenthesis, has some of the most palatial railway-stations in
the world--and find ourselves once again enmeshed in a network of
ancient thoroughfares, which, if they lack wholly the absolute quiet,
and in part the architectural charm, of Bruges, yet confront us at
every corner with abundance of old-world charm. I suppose the six great
things to be seen in Ghent are the cathedral of St. Bavon (and in the
cathedral the great picture of the "Adoration of the Lamb," by Hubert
and Jan van Eyck); the churches of St. Michel, with a "Crucifixion" by
Van Dyck, and St. Nicholas; the wonderful old houses on the Quai des
Herbes; the splendidly soaring Belfry; and possibly the Grande
Beguinage, on the outskirts of the town. The cathedral has the usual
solitary west tower, as at Ely, that we have now come to associate--at
Ypres and Bruges--with typical Belgian churches. The great Van Eyck is
hung in a chapel on the south of the choir, and the services of the
verger must be sought for its exhibition. The paintings on the shutters
are merely copies by Coxie, six of the originals being in the Picture
Gallery in Berlin. Their restoration to Ghent, one hopes, will form a
fractional discharge of the swiftly accumulating debt that Germany owes
to Belgium. The four main panels, however, are genuine work of the
early fifteenth century, the reredos as a whole having been begun by
Hubert, and finished by Jan van Eyck in 1432. The centre-piece is in
illustration of the text in the Apocalypse (v. 12): "Worthy is the Lamb
that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honour, and glory, and blessing." One may question, indeed, if
figurative language of the kind in question can ever be successfully
transferred to canvas; whether this literal lamb, on its red-damasked
table, in the midst of these carefully marshalled squadrons of
Apostles, Popes, and Princes, can ever quite escape a hint of something
ludicrous. One may question all this, yet still admire to the full both
the spirit of devotion that inspired this marvellous picture and its
miracle of minute and jewel-like execution. There are scores of other
good pictures in Ghent, including (not even to go outside St. Bavon's)
the "Christ among the Doctors" by Francis Pourbus, into which portraits
of Philip II. of Spain, the Emperor Charles V., and the infamous Duke
of Alva--names of terrible import in the sixteenth-century history of
the Netherlands--are introduced among the bystanders; whilst to the
left of Philip is Pourbus himself, "with a greyish cap on which is
inscribed Franciscus Pourbus, 1567." But it is always to the "Adoration
of the Mystic Lamb" that our steps are first directed, and to which
they always return.

It is hard, indeed, that necessities of space should compel us to pass
so lightly over other towns in Flanders--over Courtrai, with its noble
example of a fortified bridge, and with its great picture, by Van Dyck,
of the "Raising of the Cross" that was stolen mysteriously a few years
ago from the church of Notre Dame, but has since, like the Joconde at
the Louvre, been recovered and replaced; over Oudenarde, with its two
fine churches, and its small town hall that is famous for its splendour
even in a country the Hotels de Ville of which are easily the most
elaborate (if not always the most chaste or really beautiful) in
Europe; and over certain very minor places, such as Damme, to the
north-east of Bruges, whose silent, sunny streets, and half-deserted
churches, seem to breathe the very spirit of Flemish mediaevalism. Of
the short strip of Flemish coast, from near Knocke, past the
fashionable modern bathing-places of Heyst, Blankenberghe, and Ostende,
to a point beyond La Panne--from border to border it measures roughly
only some forty miles, and is almost absolutely straight--I willingly
say little, for it seems to me but a little thing when compared with
this glorious inland wealth of architecture and painting. Recently it
has developed in every direction, and is now almost continuously a
thin, brilliantly scarlet line of small bungalows, villas, and
lodging-houses, linked up along the front by esplanades and casinos,
where only a few years ago the fenland met the sea in a chain of
rolling sand-dunes that were peopled only by rabbits, and carpeted only
with rushes and coarse grass. About tastes there is no disputing; and
there are people, no doubt, who, for some odd reason, find this kind of
aggressive modernity in some way more attractive in Belgium than in
Kent. For myself, I confess, it hardly seems worth while to incur the
penalty of sea-sickness merely to play golf on the ruined shore of


Of Brussels I do not propose to say very much, because Brussels,
although the brightest and gayest town in Belgium, and although
retaining in its Grande Place, and in the buildings that immediately
surround this last, as well as in its great church of St. Gudule
(which, in spite of popular usage, is not, and never was, in the proper
sense a cathedral), relics of antiquity of the very highest value and
interest, yet Brussels, as a whole, is so distinctively a modern, and
even cosmopolitan city, and has so much general resemblance to Paris
(though its site is far more picturesque, and though the place, to my
mind at least, just because it is smaller and more easily
comprehensible, is a much more agreeable spot to stay in), that it
seems better in a sketch that is principally devoted to what is old and
nationally characteristic in Belgium to give what limited space one has
to a consideration rather of towns like Louvain or Malines, in which
the special Belgian flavour is not wholly overwhelmed by false and
extraneous influences. St. Gudule, of course, should certainly be
visited, not only for the sake of the general fabric, which,
notwithstanding its possession of TWO west towers, is typically Belgian
in its general character, but also for the sake of its magnificent
sixteenth and seventeenth century glass, and especially for the sake of
the five great windows in the Chapelle du Saint Sacrement, which
illustrate in a blaze of gorgeous colour the story of how Jonathan the
Jew bribed Jeanne de Louvain to steal the three Consecrated Wafers,
from which oozed, when sacrilegiously stabbed by the sceptical Jew, the
Sacred Blood of a world's redemption. This story is told again--or
rather, perhaps, a similar story--in the splendid painted glass from
the church of St. Eloi that is now preserved at Rouen in the
Archaeological Museum. As for the Grande Place, or original
market-place of the city, which is bounded on one side by the
magnificent Hotel de Ville, on the opposite side by the rather heavy,
rebuilt Maison du Roi, and on the remaining two sides chiefly by the
splendid old seventeenth-century Corporation Houses of the various
ancient city guilds--Le Renard, the house of the silk-mercers and
haberdashers; Maison Cornet, the house of the boatmen, or "batelliers";
La Louvre, the house of the archers; La Brouette, the house of the
carpenters; Le Sac, the house of the printers and booksellers; the
Cygne, the house of the butchers; and other houses that need not be
specified at any greater length, of the tailors, painters, and
brewers--this is probably the completest and most splendid example of
an ancient city market-square that now remains in Europe, and
absolutely without rival even in Belgium itself, though similar old
guild-houses, in the same delightful Flemish fashion, may still be
found (though in this case with admixture of many modern buildings) in
the Grande Place at Antwerp. It was in this splendid square at Brussels
that the unhappy Counts of Egmont and Horn were brutally done to death,
to glut the sinister tyranny of Spanish Philip, on June 5, 1568.

Also, in addition to these two superlative antiquities, two modern
buildings in Brussels, though for widely different reasons, can hardly
be passed over under plea of lack of space. Crowning the highest point
of the city, and towering itself towards heaven in a stupendous pile of
masonry, is the enormous new Palais de Justice, probably the most
imposing law courts in the world. English Law undoubtedly is housed
with much greater modesty, though not without due magnificence, in the
altogether humbler levels of the Strand. Also in the High Town--which
is the modern quarter of Brussels, in contrast with the mediaeval Low
Town, which lies in the flat below--is the Royal Museum of Ancient
Paintings, which probably divides honours with the Picture Gallery at
Antwerp as the finest and most representative collection of pictures of
the Netherlandish school in the world. Here you may revel by the hour
in a candlelight effect by Gerard Dow; in the poultry of Melchior
d'Hondecoeter; in a pigsty of Paul Potter's; in landscapes by Meindert
Hobbema; in a moonlight landscape of Van der Neer's; in a village scene
by Jan Steen; in the gallant world of Teniers; and in the weird
imaginings of Pieter Brueghel the younger. The greatest pictures in the
whole collection, I suppose, are those by Rubens, though he has nothing
here that is comparable for a moment with those in the Picture Gallery
and Cathedral at Antwerp. Very magnificent, however, is the "Woman
taken in Adultery," the "Adoration of the Magi," the "Interceder
Interceded" (the Virgin, at the prayer of St. Francis d'Assisi,
restrains the angry Saviour from destroying a wicked world), and the
"Martyrdom of St. Livinius." This last, however--like the "Crucifixion"
in the Antwerp Gallery; like Van Dyck's picture in this collection of
the drunken Silenus supported by a fawn; and like Rubens' own
disgusting Silenus in our National Gallery at home--illustrates
unpleasantly the painful Flemish facility to condescend to details, or
even whole conceptions, the realism of which is unnecessarily
deliberate and coarse. Here, in this death of St. Livinius, the
executioner is shown in the act of presenting to a dog with pincers the
bleeding tongue that he has just cut out of the mouth of the dying

Brussels itself, as already intimated, is an exceedingly pleasant city
for a more or less prolonged stay; and, owing at once to the admirable
system of "Rundreise" tickets that are issued by the State railways at
an uncommonly low price, to the rather dubious quality of the hotels in
some of the smaller towns, and to the cardinal fact that Brussels is a
centre from which most of the other great cities of Belgium--Malines,
Ghent, Antwerp, and Liege, not to mention smaller towns of absorbing
interest, such as Mons, Namur, Hal, Tirlemont, Leau, and Soignies--may
be easily visited, more or less completely, in the course of a single
day--owing to all these facts many people will be glad to make this
pleasant city their centre, or headquarters, for the leisurely
exploration of most of Belgium, with the exception of the more distant
and out-of-the-way districts of West Flanders and the Ardennes. All the
places enumerated are thoroughly worth visiting, but obviously only the
more important can be dealt with more than just casually here. Mons, on
a hill overlooking the great coalfield of the Borinage, with its
strange pyramidal spoil-heaps, is itself curiously free from the dirt
and squalor of an English colliery town; and equally worth visiting for
the sake of its splendid cathedral of St. Wandru, the richly
polychromatic effect of whose interior, due to the conjunction of deep
red-brick vaulting with the dark blue of its limestone capitals and
piers, illustrates another pleasant phase of Belgian ecclesiastical
architecture, as well as for the sake of a contest, almost of
yesterday, that has added new and immortal laurels to the genius of
British battle. Tournai, on the upper Scheldt, or Escaut, is remarkable
for the heavy Romanesque nave of its cathedral, which is built of the
famous local black marble, as well as for its remarkable central
cluster of five great towers. Soignies (in Flemish Zirick), roughly
half-way between Mons and Brussels, and probably little visited, has a
sombre old abbey church, of St. Vincent Maldegaire, that was built in
the twelfth century, and that is enriched inside with such a collection
of splendidly carved classical woodwork--stalls, misericordes, and
pulpit--as you will scarcely find elsewhere even in Belgium. The pulpit
in particular is wonderful, with its life-sized girl supporters, with
their graceful and lightly poised figures, and pure and lovely faces.
Namur, strangely enough, has really nothing of antiquity outside the
doors of its Archaeological Museum, but is worth a visit if only for
the pleasure of promenading streets which, if almost wholly modern, are
unusually clean and bright. Tirlemont, again, has two old churches that
will not delay you long, though Notre Dame de Lac has remarkably fine
confessionals of the dawn of the seventeenth century, and though the
splendid brass-work of the font and baptistery lectern at St. Germains
would alone be worth a visit; but Leau, for which Tirlemont is the
junction, is so quaint and curious a little town, and comes so much in
the guise of a pleasant discovery--since Baedeker barely mentions
it--that, even apart from its perfect wealth of wood and brass work in
the fine thirteenth-century church of St. Leonhard, it might anyhow be
thought to justify a visit to this little visited corner of South
Brabant. I do not know that the brass-work could be easily matched
elsewhere: the huge standard candelabrum to the north of the altar,
with its crowning Crucifixion; the lectern, with its triumphant eagle
and prostrate dragon; the font, with its cover, and the holy-water
stoup almost as big as a small font (in Brittany I have seen them as
big as a bath); and the beautiful brass railings that surround the
splendid Tabernacle that was executed in 1552 by Cornelius de Vriendt,
the brother of the painter Frans Floris, and that towers high into the
vaulting to a height of fifty-two feet. One realizes more completely in
a quiet village church like this the breadth and intensity of the wave
of artistic impulse that swept through the Lowlands in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries than is possible in half a dozen hurried
visits to a picture gallery at Antwerp or Brussels. Finally Hal, to
conclude our list of minor places, has a grand fourteenth-century
church, with a miracle-working Virgin, and a little red-brick town hall
of characteristically picturesque aspect.

The railway journey from Brussels to Antwerp traverses a typical bit of
Belgian landscape that is as flat as a pancake; and the monotony is
only relieved, first by the little town of Vilvoorde, where William
Tyndale was burnt at the stake on October 6, 1536, though not alive,
having first been mercifully strangled, and afterwards by the single,
huge, square tower of Malines (or Mechlin) Cathedral, which dominates
the plain from enormous distances, like the towers of Ely or Lincoln,
though not, like these last, by virtue of position on a hill, but
solely by its own vast height and overwhelming massiveness. Malines,
though certainly containing fewer objects of particular interest than
Bruges, and though certainly on the whole a less beautiful city,
strikes one as hardly less dead-and-alive, and altogether may fairly
claim second place among the larger Belgian cities (it houses more than
fifty thousand souls) in point of mediaeval character. The great
thirteenth and fourteenth century cathedral of St. Rombaut has been the
seat of an archbishopric since the sixteenth century, and is still the
metropolitan church of Belgium. Externally the body, like the
market-hall at Bruges, is almost entirely crushed into insignificance
by the utterly disproportionate height and bulk of the huge west tower,
the top of which, even in its present unfinished state (one almost
hopes that it may never be finished), is actually three hundred and
twenty-four feet high. Boston "Stump" is only two hundred and eighty
feet to the top of the weather vane, but infinitely slimmer in
proportion; whilst even Salisbury spire is only about four hundred odd
feet. Immediately below the parapet is the enormous skeleton
clock-face, the proportions of which are reproduced on the pavement of
the market-place below. The carillons in this tower are an extravagant
example of the Belgian passion for chiming bells. Once safely inside
the church, and the monster tower forgotten, and we are able to admire
its delicate internal proportions, and the remarkable ornament of the
spandrels in the great main arcades of the choir. Unfortunately, much
of this interior, like that of St. Pierre at Louvain, is smothered
under half an inch of plaster; but where this has been removed in
tentative patches, revealing the dark blue "drums" of the single,
circular columns of the arcades, the general effect is immensely
improved. One would also like to send to the scrap-heap the enormous
seventeenth-century figures of the Apostles on their consoles on the
piers, which form so bad a disfigurement in the nave. The treasure of
the church is the great "Crucifixion" by Van Dyck, which is hung in the
south transept, but generally kept covered. To see other stately
pictures you must go to the church of St. Jean, where is a splendid
altar triptych by Rubens, the centre panel of which is the "Adoration
of the Magi"; or to the fifteenth-century structure of Notre Dame au
dela de la Dyle (the clumsy title is used, I suppose, for the sake of
distinction from the classical Notre Dame d'Hanswyck), where Rubens'
"Miraculous Draught of Fishes" is sometimes considered the painter's
masterpiece. It is not yet clear whether this noble picture has been
destroyed in the recent bombardment. Even to those who care little for
art, a stroll to these two old churches through the sleepy back-streets
of Malines, with their white and sunny houses, can hardly fail to

If Malines is a backwater of the Middle Time, as somnolent or as dull
(so some, I suppose, would call it) as the strange dead towns of the
Zuyder Zee, or as Coggeshall or Thaxted in our own green Essex,
Antwerp, at any rate, which lies only some fifteen miles or so to the
north of it, is very much awake, and of aspect mostly modern, though
not without some very curious and charming relics of antiquity embedded
in the heart of much recent stone and mortar. Perhaps it will be well
to visit one of these at once, taking the tram direct from the
magnificent Gare de l'Est (no lesser epithet is just) to the Place
Verte, which may be considered the real centre of the city; and making
our way thence by a network of quieter back-streets to the Musee
Plantin-Moretus, which is the goal of our immediate ambition. I bring
you here at once, not merely because the place itself is quite unique
and of quite exceptional interest, but because it strikes precisely
that note of real antiquity that underlies the modern din and bustle of
Antwerp, though apt to be obscured unless we listen needfully. Happy,
indeed, was the inspiration that moved the city to buy this house from
its last private possessor, Edward Moretus, in 1876. To step across
this threshold is to step directly into the merchant atmosphere of the
sixteenth century. The once great printing house of Plantin-Moretus was
founded by the Frenchman, Christopher Plantin, who was born at St.
Aventin, near Tours, in 1514, and began his business life as a
book-binder at Rouen. In 1549 he removed to Antwerp, and was there
innocently involved one night in a riot in the streets, which resulted
in an injury that incapacitated him for his former trade, and
necessitated his turning to some new employment. He now set up as
printer, with remarkable success, and was a sufficiently important
citizen at the date of his death, in 1589, to be buried in his own
vault under a chapel in the Cathedral. The business passed, on his
decease, to his son-in-law, Jean Moertorf, who had married his
daughter, Martine, in 1570, and had Latinized his surname to Moretus in
accordance with the curious custom that prevailed among scholars of the
sixteenth century. Thus Servetus was really Miguel Servete, and Thomas
Erastus was Thomas Lieber. The foundation of the fortunes of the house
was undoubtedly its monopoly--analogous to that enjoyed by the English
house of Spottiswoode, and by the two elder Universities--of printing
the liturgical works--Missals, Antiphons, Psalters, Breviaries,
etc.--that were used throughout the Spanish dominions. No attempt,
however, seems to have been made in the later stages of the history of
the house to adopt improved machinery, or to reconstruct the original,
antiquated buildings. The establishment, accordingly, when it was taken
over by the city in 1876, retained virtually the same aspect as it had
worn in the seventeenth century, and remains to the present day perhaps
the best example in the world of an old-fashioned city business house
of the honest time when merchant-princes were content to live above
their office, instead of seeking solace in smug suburban villas. The
place has been preserved exactly as it stood, and even the present
attendants are correctly clad in the sober brown garb of the servants
of three hundred years since. It is interesting, not only in itself,
but as an excellent example of how business and high culture were
successfully combined under the happier economic conditions of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Plantin-Moretus family held a
high position in the civic life of Antwerp, and mixed in the
intellectual and artistic society for which Antwerp was famed in the
seventeenth century--the Antwerp of Rubens (though not a native) and
Van Dyck, of Jordaens, of the two Teniers, of Grayer, Zegers, and
Snyders. Printing, indeed, in those days was itself a fine art, and the
glories of the house of Plantin-Moretus rivalled those of the later
Chiswick Press, and of the goodly Chaucers edited in our own time by
Professor Skeat, and printed by William Morris. Proof-reading was then
an erudite profession, and Francois Ravelingen, who entered Plantin's
office as proof-reader in 1564, and assisted Arias Montanus in revising
the sheets of the Polyglot Bible, is said to have been a great Greek
and Oriental scholar, and crowned a career of honourable toil, like
Hogarth's Industrious Apprentice, by marrying his master's eldest
daughter, Marguerite, in 1565. The room in which these scholars worked
remains much in its old condition, with the table at which they sat,
and some of their portraits on the wall. Everything here, in short, is
interesting: the press-room, which was used almost continuously and
practically without change--two of the antiquated presses of Plantin's
own time remain--for nearly three centuries; the Great and Little
Libraries, with their splendid collection of books; the archive room,
with its long series of business accounts and ledgers; the private
livingrooms of the Moretus family; and last, but not least, the modest
little shop, where books still repose upon the shelves, which looks as
though the salesman might return at any moment to his place behind the
counter. England has certainly nothing like it, though London had till
recently in Crosby Hall a great merchant's house of the fifteenth
century, though stripped of all internal fittings and propriety.
Luckily this last has been re-erected at Chelsea, though robbed by the
change of site of half its authenticity and value.

I have chosen to dwell on this strange museum at length that seems
disproportionate, not merely because of its unique character, but
because it seems to me full of lessons and reproach for an age that has
subordinated honest workmanship to cheap and shoddy productiveness, and
has sacrificed the workman to machinery. Certainly no one who visits
Antwerp can afford to overlook it; but probably most people will first
bend their steps towards the more popular shrine of the great
cathedral. Here I confess myself utter heretic: to call this church, as
I have seen it called, "one of the grandest in Europe," seems to me
pure Philistinism--the cult of the merely big and obvious, to the
disregard of delicacy and beauty. Big it is assuredly, and
superficially astonishing; but anything more barn-like architecturally,
or spiritually unexalting, I can hardly call to memory. Outside it
lacks entirely all shadow of homogeneity; the absence of a central
tower, felt perhaps even in the great cathedrals of Picardy and the Ile
de France, just as it is felt in Westminster and in Beverley Minster,
is here actually accentuated by the hideous little cupola--I hardly
know how properly to call it--that squats, as though in derision, above
the crossing; whilst even the natural meeting and intersection at this
point of high roofs, which in itself would rise to dignity, is wantonly
neglected to make way for this monstrosity. The church, in fact, looks,
when viewed externally, more like four separate churches than one; and
when we step inside, with all the best will in the world to make the
best of it, it is hard to find, much to admire, and anything at all to
love, in these acres of dismally whitewashed walls, and long, feeble
lines of arcades without capitals. The inherent vice of Belgian
architecture--its lack of really beautiful detail, and its fussy
superfluity of pinnacle and panelling--seems to me here to culminate.
Belgium has really beautiful churches--not merely of the thirteenth
century, when building was lovely everywhere, but later buildings, like
Mons, and St. Pierre at Louvain; but Antwerp is not of this category.
Architecturally, perhaps, the best feature of the whole church is the
lofty spire (over four hundred feet), which curiously resembles in
general outline that of the Hotel de Ville at Brussels (three hundred
and seventy feet), and dates from about the same period (roughly the
middle of the fifteenth century). As usual in Belgium, it is quite out
of scale; it is lucky, indeed, that the corresponding south-west tower
has never been completed, for the combination of the two would be
almost overwhelming. It is curious and interesting as an example of a
tower tapering upwards to a point in a succession of diminishing
stages, in contrast with tower and spire. France has something like it,
though far more beautiful, in the thirteenth-century tower at Senlis;
but England affords no parallel. I am not sure who invented the quite
happy phrase, "Confectioner's Gothic," but this tower at Antwerp is not
badly described by it. It is altogether too elaborate and florid, like
the sugar pinnacle of a wedding-cake.

This cathedral of Antwerp, however, though at the time that it was
built a mere collegiate church of secular canons, and only first
exalted to cathedral rank in 1559, is one of the largest churches in
superficial area in the world, a result largely due to its possession,
uniquely, of not less than six aisles, giving it a total breadth of one
hundred and seventy feet. Hung in the two transepts respectively are
the two great pictures by Rubens--the "Elevation of the Cross" and the
"Descent from the Cross"--that are described at such length, and with
so much critical enthusiasm, by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his "Journey to
Flanders and Holland." The "Descent from the Cross," painted by Rubens
in 1612, when he was only thirty-five years old, is perhaps the more
splendid, and is specially remarkable for the daring with which the
artist has successfully ventured (what "none but great colourists can
venture") "to paint pure white linen near flesh." His Christ, continues
Sir Joshua, "I consider as one of the finest figures that ever was
invented: it is most correctly drawn, and I apprehend in an attitude of
the utmost difficulty to execute. The hanging of the head on His
shoulder, and the falling of the body on one side, gives such an
appearance of the heaviness of death, that nothing can exceed it."
Antwerp, of course, is full of magnificent paintings by Rubens, though
unfortunately the house in which he lived in the Place de Meir (which
is traversed by the tram on its way from the Est Station to the Place
Verte), which was built by him in 1611, and in which he died in 1640,
was almost entirely rebuilt in 1703. There is another great Crucifixion
by the master in the Picture Gallery, or Palais des Beaux Arts, which
illustrates his exceptional power as well as his occasional brutality."
The centurion, with his hands on the nape of his horse's neck, is
gazing with horror at the writhings of the impenitent thief, whose legs
are being broken with an iron bar, which has so tortured the unhappy
man that in his agony he has torn his left foot from the nail." It is
questionable whether any splendour of success can ever justify a man in
thus condescending to draw inspiration from the torture-room or

One would gladly spend more time in this Antwerp gallery, which
exceeds, I think, in general magnificence the collections at Brussels
and Amsterdam; and gladly would one visit the great fifteenth and
sixteenth century churches of St. Jacques, St. Andre, and St. Paul,
which not merely form together architecturally an important group of a
strongly localized character, but are also, like the cathedral,
veritable museums or picture galleries. It is necessary, however, to
conclude this section, to say a few words about Louvain, which, lying
as it does on the main route from Brussels to Liege, may naturally be
considered on our way to the northern Ardennes.

Louvain, on the whole, has been much more modernized than other Belgian
cities of corresponding bulk, such as Bruges or Malines. The road from
the railway-station to the centre of the town is commonplace indeed in
its lack of picturesque Flemish house-fronts or stepped, "corbie,"
Flemish gables. Louvain, in fact, unlike the two "dead" cities of West
Flanders and Brabant, wears a briskly business-like aspect, and pulses
with modern life. I suppose that I ought properly to have written all
this in the past tense, for Louvain is now a heap of smoking cinders.
The famous Town Hall has, indeed, so far been spared by ruffians who
would better have spared the magnificent Cloth Hall at Ypres; between
these two great buildings, the products respectively of the Belgian
genius of the fifteenth and thirteenth centuries, "culture" could
hardly hesitate. The Hotel-de-Ville at Louvain is, indeed, an
astonishing structure, just as the cathedral at Antwerp is astonishing;
but one has to be very indulgent, or very forgetful of better models,
not to deprecate this absolutely wanton riot of overladened panelling
and bulging, top-heavy pinnacles. The expiring throes of Belgian Gothic
were a thousand degrees less chaste than the classicism of the early
Renaissance: few, perhaps, will prefer the lacelike over-richness of
this midfifteenth century town hall at Louvain to the restraint of the
charming sixteenth-century facade of the Hotel de Ville at Leiden.
Opposite the town hall is the huge fifteenth-century church of St.
Pierre, the interior of which, still smothered in whitewash in 1910,
was remarkable for its florid Gothic rood-screen and soaring
Tabernacle, or Ciborium. The stumpy fragment of tower at the west end
is said once to have been five hundred and thirty feet high! It is not
surprising to read that this last, and crowning, manifestation of a
familiar Belgian weakness was largely wrecked by a hurricane in 1604.


One has left oneself all too little space to say what ought to be said
of the Belgian Ardennes. Personally I find them a trifle disappointing;
they come, no doubt, as a welcome relief after the rest of Belgian
landscape, which I have heard described, not altogether unjustly, as
the ugliest in the world; but the true glory and value of Belgium will
always be discovered in its marvellously picturesque old towns, and in
its unrivalled wealth of painting, brass-work, and wood-carving.
Compared with these last splendours the low, wooded wolds of the
Ardennes, with their narrow limestone valleys, seem a little thing
indeed. Dinant, no doubt, and Rochefort would be pleasant places enough
if one were not always harking back in memory to Malines and Ypres, or
longing to be once more in Ghent or Bruges.

The traveller by railway between Brussels and Liege passes, soon after
leaving the station of Ans, a point of great significance in the study
of Belgian landscape. Hitherto from Brussels, or for that matter from
Bruges and Ostend, the country, though studded at frequent intervals
with cities and big towns, has been curiously and intensely rural in
the tracts that lie between; but now, as we descend the steep incline
into the valley of the Meuse, we enter on a scene of industrial
activity which, if never quite as bad as our own Black Country at home,
is sufficiently spoilt and irritating to all who love rustic grace. The
redeeming point, as always, is that infinitely superior good taste
which presents us, in the midst of coal-mines and desolation, not with
our own unspeakably squalid Sheffields or Rotherhams, but with a
queenly city, with broad and handsome streets, with a wealth of public
gardens, and with many stately remnants of the Renaissance and Middle
Time. It is possible in Liege to forget--or rather impossible to
recall--the soiled and grimy country that stretches from its gates in
the direction of Seraing. Even under the sway of the Spanish tyranny
this was an independent state under the rule of a Bishop Prince, who
was also an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. Its original cathedral,
indeed, has vanished, like those at Cambrai and Bruges, in the
insensate throes of the French Revolution; and the existing church of
St. Paul, though dating in part from the thirteenth century, and a fine
enough building in its way, is hardly the kind of structure that one
would wish to associate with the seat of a bishopric that is still so
historic, and was formerly so important and even quasi-regal. Here,
however, you should notice, just as in the great neighbour church of
St. Jacques, the remarkable arabesque-pattern painting of the severies
of the vault, and the splendour of the sixteenth-century glass. St.
Jacques, I think, on the whole is the finer church of the two, and
remarkable for the florid ornament of its spandrels, and for the
elaborate, pendent cusping of the soffits of its arches--features that
lend it an almost barbaric magnificence that reminds one of Rosslyn
Chapel. Liege, built as it is exactly on the edge of the Ardennes, is
far the most finely situated of any great city in Belgium. To
appreciate this properly you should not fail to climb the long flight
of steps--in effect they seem interminable, but they are really about
six hundred--that mounts endlessly from near the Cellular Prison to a
point by the side of the Citadelle Pierreuse. Looking down hence on the
city, especially under certain atmospheric conditions--I am thinking of
a showery day at Easter--one is reminded of the lines by poor John

    "The adventurous sun took Heaven by storm;
    Clouds scattered largesses of rain;
    The sounding cities, rich and warm,
    Smouldered and glittered in the plain."

It is not often that one is privileged to look down so directly, and
from so commanding a natural height, on to so vast and busy a
city--those who like this kind of comparison have styled it the Belgian
Birmingham--lying unrolled so immediately, like a map, beneath our feet.

From Liege, if you like, you may penetrate the Ardennes--I do not know
whether Shakespeare was thinking in "As You Like It" of this woodland
or of his own Warwickshire forest of Arden; perhaps he thought of
both--immediately by way of Spa and the valley of the Vesdre, or by the
valleys of the Ourthe and of its tributary the Ambleve; or you may
still cling for a little while to the fringe of the Ardennes, which is
also the fringe of the industrial country, and explore the valley of
the Meuse westward, past Huy and Namur, to Dinant. Huy has a noble
collegiate church of Notre Dame, the chancel towers of which (found
again as far away as Como) are suggestive of Rhenish influence, but
strikes one as rather dusty and untidy in itself. Namur, on the
contrary, we have already noted with praise, though it has nothing of
real antiquity. The valley of the Meuse is graced everywhere at
intervals with fantastic piles of limestone cliff, and certainly, in a
proper light, is pretty; but there is far too much quarrying and
industrialism between Liege and Namur, and far too many residential
villas along the banks between Namur and Dinant, altogether to satisfy
those who have high ideals of scenery. Wordsworth, in a prefatory note
to a sonnet that was written in 1820, and at a date when these signs of
industrialism were doubtless less obtrusive, says: "The scenery on the
Meuse pleases one more, upon the whole, than that of the Rhine, though
the river itself is much inferior in grandeur"; but even he complains
that the scenery is "in several places disfigured by quarries, whence
stones were taken for the new fortifications." Dinant, in particular,
has an exceptionally grand cliff; but the summit is crowned (or was) by
an ugly citadel, and the base is thickly clustered round with houses
(not all, by any means, mediaeval and beautiful) in a way that calls to
mind the High Tor at Matlock Bath. Dinant, in short, is a kind of
Belgian Matlock, and appeals as little as Matlock to the "careful
student" of Nature. If at Dinant, however, you desert the broad valley
of the Meuse for the narrow and secluded limestone glen of the Lesse,
with its clear and sparkling stream, you will sample at once a kind of
scenery that reminds you of what is best in Derbyshire, and is also
best and most characteristic in the Belgian Ardennes. The walk up the
stream from Dinant to Houyet, where the valley of the Lesse becomes
more open and less striking, is mostly made by footpath; and the
pellucid river is crossed, and recrossed, and crossed again, by a
constant succession of ferries. Sometimes the white cliff rises
directly from the water, sheer and majestic, like that which is crowned
by the romantic Chateau Walzin; sometimes it is more broken, and rises
amidst trees from a broad plinth of emerald meadow that is interposed
between its base and the windings of the river. Sometimes we thread the
exact margin of the stream, or traverse in the open a scrap of level
pasture; sometimes we clamber steeply by a stony path along the sides
of an abrupt and densely wooded hillside, where the thicket is yellow
in spring with Anemone Ranunculoides, or starred with green Herb Paris.
This is the kind of glen scenery that is found along the courses of the
Semois, Lesse, and Ourthe, recalling, with obvious differences, that of
Monsal Dale or Dovedale, but always, perhaps, without that subtle note
of wildness that robes even the mild splendours of Derbyshire with a
suggestion of mountain dignity. The Ardennes, in short--and this is
their scenic weakness--never attain to the proper mountain spirit.
There is a further point, however, in which they also recall
Derbyshire, but in which they are far preeminent. This is the vast
agglomeration of caves and vertical potholes--like those in Craven, but
here called etonnoirs--that riddle the rolling wolds in all directions.
Chief among these is the mammoth cave of Han, the mere perambulation of
which is said to occupy more than two hours. I have never penetrated
myself into its sombre and dank recesses, but something may be realized
of its character and scale merely by visiting its gaping mouth at
Eprave. This is the exit of the Lesse, which, higher up the vale, at
the curious Perte de Lesse, swerves suddenly from its obvious course,
down the bright and cheerful valley, to plunge noisily through a narrow
slit in the rock--

    "Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea."

Rochefort, which itself has a considerable cave, is a pleasant centre
for the exploration of these subterranean marvels. Altogether this
limestone region of the Ardennes, though certainly not remarkable for
mountain or forest splendour, comes as a somewhat welcome relief after
the interminable levels and chessboard fields of East and West
Flanders, or of the provinces of Limburgh and Antwerp.

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