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Title: Heart of Europe
Author: Cram, Ralph Adams
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            HEART OF EUROPE

               [Illustration: _The Cathedral of Reims_]



                            HEART OF EUROPE

                                  BY

                   RALPH ADAMS CRAM, LITT.D., LL.D.

                      F.A.I.A., A.N.A., F.R.G.S.

                              ILLUSTRATED

                               NEW YORK

                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                                 1916


                          COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                        Published October, 1915

                            [Illustration]



                                  TO

                               E. S. C.

                       WHO SOME DAY MAY KNOW THE
                            HEART OF EUROPE
             AND TO WHOM THIS BOOK MAY BE A DIM RECALLING
                   “OF OLD, UNHAPPY, FAR-OFF THINGS
                         AND BATTLES LONG AGO”

                               WHITEHALL
                            29 AUGUST, 1915


The author wishes to express his great sense of personal obligation to
Miss Gertrude Schirmer and Mr. Emil P. Albrecht for their kindness in
furnishing illustrations that otherwise could not have been obtained.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I. A SANCTUARY LAID WASTE                                              1

II. THE FORGING OF MEDIÆVALISM                                        15

III. FLANDERS AND BRABANT                                             37

IV. THE SPANISH NETHERLANDS                                           63

V. THE GLORY OF A GREAT ART                                           84

VI. AMIENS AND REIMS                                                 109

VII. THE BURGHERS AND THEIR BUILDING                                 128

VIII. COAL AND IRON                                                  149

IX. A TALE OF THREE CITIES                                           172

X. MARGARET OF MALINES                                               191

XI. THE FIFTEENTH-CENTURY PAINTERS                                   219

XII. GOTHIC SCULPTURE                                                238

XIII. THE ALLIED ARTS                                                256

XIV. ART IN THE RHINELAND                                            278

XV. THE FOREST OF ARDEN                                              296

XVI. EX TENEBRIS LUX                                                 310



ILLUSTRATIONS


_Reims_                                                    _Frontispiece_

                                                             Facing page

_The hall of the University of Louvain_                               12

_The chapel at Aix_                                                   30

_St. Bavon’s Tower, Ghent_                                            44

_The Quai aux Herbes, Ghent_                                          50

_Bruges, from the Quai du Rosaire_                                    54

_The Duke of Alva, Moro van Dashorst_                                 68

_Jumièges_                                                            86

_Laon_                                                                98

_Beauvais_                                                           106

_Amiens_                                                             112

_Reims_                                                              116

_The destroyed Hôtel de Ville of Arras_                              130

_The destroyed Cloth Hall of Ypres_                                  132

_Bruges, Hôtel de Ville_                                             134

_The Hôtel de Ville of Louvain_                                      138

_A chimney-piece from Courtrai_                                      164

_A canal in Malines_                                                 174

_The belfry of Bruges_                                               184

_The tower of St. Rombaut, Malines_                                  202

_A detail from the church at Brou_                                   216

_Our Lady, from the Tryptich at Ghent, Hubert van Eyck_              226

_A drawing of St. Barbara, Jan van Eyck_                             232

_A Memling altar-piece_                                              234

_Madonna and Child with St. Luke, Van der Weyden_                    236

_A head, now destroyed, from Reims_                                  242

_Three destroyed figures from Reims_                                 250

_Fifteenth-century Flemish tapestry_                                 262

_Worms_                                                              282

_Cologne_                                                            286

_Strasbourg_                                                         288

_Bacharach on the Rhine_                                             292

_Schloss Eltz_                                                       300



HEART OF EUROPE



I

A SANCTUARY LAID WASTE


Between the Seine and the Rhine lay once a beautiful land wherein more
history was made, and recorded in old monuments full of grace and
grandeur and fancy, than in almost any other region of the world. The
old names were best, for each aroused memory and begot strange dreams:
Flanders, Brabant, the Palatinate; Picardy, Valois, Champagne,
Franche-Comté; Artois, Burgundy, and Bar. And the town names ring with
the same sonorous melody, evoking the ghosts of a great and indelible
past: Bruges, Ghent, Louvain, and Liége; Aix-la-Chapelle, Coblentz, and
Trèves; Ypres and Lille, Tournai and Fontenay, Arras and Malplaquet;
Laon, Nancy, Verdun, and Varennes; Amiens, Soissons, and Reims. Cæsar,
Charlemagne, St. Louis, Napoleon, with proconsuls, paladins, crusaders,
and marshals unnumbered; kings, prince-bishops, monks, knights, and
aureoled saints take form and shape again at the clang of the splendid
names.

And in all these places, and by all these men (and elsewhere, endlessly,
and by hands unnumbered), two thousand years had wrought their visible
manifestation in abbey, church, and cathedral; in manor and palace and
castle, in trade hall and civic hall, and in library and seminary and
school.

Wars, great and small, have swept it from river to river, but much has
been free for a century and all of it free for forty years. Under every
oppression and every adversity it has thriven and grown rich, not in
material things alone, but in those commodities that have actual
intrinsic value; and a short year ago it was the most prosperous,
peaceful, and industrious quarter of Europe. Whatever the war, however
violent the opposing agencies, its priceless records of architecture and
other acts were piously or craftily spared, except when the madness of
the French Revolution swept over its convents and cloisters, leaving
Coxyde, Villers, St. Bavon, St. Jean des Vignes, the Abbaye des Lys,
dead witnesses of the faith that had built them and the spared monuments
as well.

And now a thing calling itself the highest civilisation in Europe, with
the name of God in its mouth, again sweeps the already well-swept land.
In defiance of Peace Palaces and Conferences; in spite of the bankers of
the world and their double-knotted purse-strings; in spite of a
socialism that said war should not happen again, and an evolutionary
philosophy that said it could not happen again (men now being so
civilised), the world is at war, and the old arena of Europe flames as
at Armageddon, while those things too sacred for pillage and destruction
by the armies and the commanders of five centuries are given over to
annihilation in order that the peril of the Slav, on the other side of
Europe, may not menace the treasured civilisation of the West, whose
vestiges even now are blazing pyres, or cinders and ashes!

It is significant that thus far the heavy hand of the pursuer has fallen
notably on two things: the school and the church; for these are two of
the three things he most fears and hates. Not the school, as with him,
where secularism, through economic materialism and a sinister
philosophy, breeds a race as unprincipled as it is efficient and
fearless, nor the church, as with him, where intellectualism ousts
faith, expediency morals, and God is glad “ably to support” the
victorious battalions of a crown prince. Quite otherwise; the school
that teaches both independence and regard for law, with religion as the
only basis for right conduct, and the Church that teaches humility and
the reality of sin, and the subservience of all rulers, whether king or
parliament, to the religion and the authority of a living Christ
speaking to-day as He spoke on the Mount of Olives.

When the University of Louvain passed in the smoke and flame of a
murdered city; when the Church of St. Pierre and the Cathedral of
Malines and the Shrine of Our Lady of Reims were shattered by bombs and
swept by devouring fire, there was something in it all other than the
grim necessity of a savage war; there was the symbol of a new thing in
the world, built on all Louvain, Malines, and Reims had denied, and
destroying the very outward show of what could not exist on earth side
by side with its potent and dominant negation.

Reims Cathedral “stood in the line of gunfire,” it was “a landmark and
unfortunately could not escape,” it had been “fortified by the enemy
and therefore could not be spared.” All true, each statement, and thus:
It stood between a brute power founded on Bismarckian force and
Nietzschean antichristian philosophy, on the one hand, and on the other
nations newly conscious of their Christianity, ashamed of their
backsliding, and ready to fight to the death for what had made them. It
_was_ a landmark, a vast, visible showing forth of a great Christian
spirit and a greater Christian principle, and as such it must go down.
It _was_ fortified, as every church is fortified, to fight against the
devil and all his works, and therefore, equally with the allied forces
behind it, it was fighting against a common enemy. If by its ruin it can
make this universally and eternally clear, we can see it go without a
tear or a regret, for, like the martyr in the Roman arena, it has
accomplished its work.

Thus far, of the great cities, Liége, Louvain, Malines, Ypres, Arras,
and Reims are gone, with the greater part of their treasured art, while
Laon, Soissons, and Namur have been grievously wrecked. Apparently,
Amiens, Noyon, Bruges, and Ghent are now safe, but endless opportunities
open for destruction and pillage, and we may well be prepared for
irreparable loss before the invader is hurled back across his natural
river frontier. Let us consider, not what already has been annihilated,
but the kind of art it was, so measuring, in a degree, the quality of
our loss--and of what we still may lose.

First of all, there are the towns themselves, for all art is not
concentrated in hôtel de ville and cathedral; it shows itself sometimes
in more appealing guise in the river villages and proud cities, and its
testimony to a great past is here equally potent. Ypres, Malines,
Dinant, Termonde, and Huy, all of which are gone, were treasures that
belonged to all the world; Namur and Plombières we could not spare, and
as for Bruges and Ghent, even apart from their exquisite architecture
and their treasures of painting, the soul shudders at what might happen
there were they involved in the retreat of a disorganised army, when one
considers what happened to Liége and Louvain in its victorious advance.
All Belgium and Luxembourg, all Picardy and Champagne are, or were, rich
with lovely little towns and villages, each a work of art in itself;
they are shrivelling like a garden under the first frost, and, it may
be, in a little while none will remain.

The major architecture of this unhappy land falls into three classes and
three periods of time. Oldest and most priceless are the churches, and
these are of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, the ages
when religion was one and secure and was building a great civilisation
that we would fain see equalled again. Then come the town halls and
guildhalls of the fifteenth century, each speaking for the proud freedom
of merchant and burgher, when the hold of religion was weakening a
little, and the first signs were showing themselves of what, in the end,
was to have issue in this war of wars; finally come the town houses of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in all their quaint
individuality and their overriding self-esteem, though fine still, and
with hints of the great art that already had passed.

Brussels is full of these, and Antwerp; Louvain had them, and Ypres,
Termonde, Arras, and Charleville, only a few months ago; in Bruges and
Ghent they fill whole streets and stand in silent accusation of what we
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have offered as our
contribution to the housing of civilisation.

Of the civic halls the list is endless: Brussels, Malines, Bruges,
Ypres, Ghent, Antwerp, Mons, Audenaarde, Termonde and Liége; Compiègne,
St. Quentin, Arras, Valenciennes; ranging from the grave solemnity of
the enormous and wide-spread Ypres to the lacy fantasticism of Louvain
and Audenaarde. Architecture has gone far from the Salle Synodale of
Sens and the Merveille of Mont-St.-Michel, and it has not gone
altogether well, but how significant these stone fancies are of the
abounding life and the splendid pride and the open-handed beneficence of
the fifteenth-century burghers, who loved their towns and bent the
rebellious masonry to their will, working it into a kind of stony lace
and embroidery to the glory of trade and civic spirit! If we should lose
them now, as we almost lost Louvain, standing in the midst of the
roaring flame and drifting smoke, while tall churches and rich
universities and fair old houses crumbled and died around it, what
should we not lose?

And the churches, those matchless monuments, four, five, and six
centuries old, where generations have brought all their best to glorify
God, where glass and sculpture, tapestries and fretted woodwork,
pictures, and gold and silver wrought cunningly into immortal art--how
are we to speak of these, or think of them, with St. Pierre of Louvain
and St. Rombaut of Malines still smoking with their dying fires, while
piece by piece the calcined stone falls in the embers, and while Reims,
one of the wonders of the world, stands gaunt and shattered, wrecked by
bombs, swept by fire, its windows that rivalled Chartres split into
irremediable ruin, its statues devastated that once stood on a level
with the sculptures of Greece?

The catastrophe itself is so unthinkable that the world does not now
half realise it. And yet, what of all that remains in the
pathway--backward or forward--of Attila and his Huns? St. Gudule of
Brussels, St. Bavon of Ghent, and the cathedrals of Antwerp, Tongres,
and Tournai; and in France that matchless sequence of which Reims was
once the central jewel, Soissons, Senlis and Noyon, St. Remi, Amiens,
and Laon; here, with Reims, are seven churches such as man never
surpassed, and equalled only at Paris, Chartres, Coutances, and Bourges;
each is of a different _timbre_, each a different expression of the
greatest century of Christian civilisation, and, given the opportunity,
there is no reason why each should not suffer the fate of Reims.

There is a thin and sinister philosophy, akin to that of Treitschke and
Nietzsche (which is for to-day what Machiavelli was for the sixteenth
century), that avows no building, no consummate work of art of any kind,
“worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier,” justifying its statement on
the basis of a superficial humanism. Never was a more malignant ethic. A
man is valuable in proportion to what he is and does for righteous
society, and for what he makes of himself as a free and immortal soul
responsible to God. Go through the roaring mills of Crefeld and Essen,
the futile pleasure-haunts of Homburg and Wiesbaden, the bureaux and
barracks and palaces of Berlin; you will find--as similarly in every
country--hundreds of thousands of peasants, workmen, and aristocrats
whose contribution to Christian civilisation is nothing, and will be
nothing however long they may live; who forget their souls and deny
their God, and of these we can say, it is not the bones of a Pomeranian
grenadier or even the bones of a Prussian _Junker_ that weigh more in
the scale than Reims or Louvain, it is not a million of these that mean
so much for service and the glory of God, as one such potent influence
as Amiens or Reims, or the library and schools of Louvain, or the
pictures of Memling and the Van Eycks in Bruges and Antwerp and Ghent.

Those that cry loudest for the sanctity of human life and its priority
before art and letters, most insistently hurl a hundred thousand lives
against inevitable death, and spread black starvation over myriads of
women and children, in order that their privilege of selling inferior
and unnecessary products to far-away savages may be preserved intact.
Against this set the cathedrals and universities and the exquisite art
of France and Belgium and the Rhine; consider what it meant once, what
it means even now, what for the future it is destined to mean as never
before.

For the old passes: the old that began with Machiavelli and is ending
with von Bernhardi. It is not alone Prussia that will be purged by the
fire of an inevitable conflict, nor Germany, nor all the Teuton lands;
it is the whole world, that sold its birthright for a mess of pottage
and now, in terror of the price at last to be paid, denounces the
infamous contract and fights to the death against the armies of the
Moloch it helped to fashion. And when the field is won, what happens but
the coming into its own again of the very power that made Reims and
Louvain, the recovery of the old and righteous and Christian standard of
values, the building on the ruins of five centuries of a new
civilisation where whatever art that remains will play its due part as
the revealer of that Absolute Truth that brought it into being,
forgotten now for very long? Then the pictures of Flanders and Umbria
and Tuscany, the sculpture of France, the music of Teuton and Slav, the
“minor arts” of all mediævalism, the architecture of Bourges and Amiens
and Chartres will both reveal and inspire with doubled power.

And in all and through all, Reims in its ruin will be a more potent
agency of regeneration than the perfection of Chartres or the finality
of Bourges.

I should like to consider, though briefly and in the light of a very
real unity that negatived the political disunity that has always
prevailed, the art of these lands where for a twelvemonth millions of
men have fought after a fashion never known before, while around them
each day saw the irreparable destruction of the best that man could do
for the love of God, and better than he can do now. In spite of
constantly changing

[Illustration: THE HALL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUVAIN]

frontiers and dynastic vicissitudes, the great unity of mediævalism
blends the Rhineland, Flanders, Brabant, Luxembourg, Artois, Champagne,
Eastern Normandy, Eastern France, into a consistent whole, so far as all
real things are concerned. In spite of its bickerings and fightings and
jealousies and plots and counterplots, Europe was really more united,
more a working whole, during the Middle Ages than ever it has been
since. One religion and one philosophy did for the fluctuant states what
the Reformation, democracy, and “enlightenment” could only undo, and in
this vanishing art, which, after all, is the truest history man can
record, we find the dynamic force, the creative power, of a culture and
a civilisation that took little count of artificial barriers between
perfectly artificial nations, but included all in the greatest and most
beneficent syntheses Europe has ever known.

The art of this land--or these lands, if you like--should be so
considered; not as an interesting and even stimulating by-product of
social, industrial, and political evolution, with only an accidental
relationship to them, and only an empirical interest for the men of
to-day, but as the most perfect material expression of the great
reality that existed through and by these agencies that were in
themselves nothing; the character that emerged through the turmoil of
human activity, as it shows itself in the men and women of the time, and
expresses itself in their art.

To do this fully is impossible; every province would require a volume,
every art a series of volumes, but at least we can catalogue again the
more salient qualities of the greater masterpieces, and try to
co-ordinate them into some outward semblance of that essential unity
they both promised and expressed.



II

THE FORGING OF MEDIÆVALISM


It is not a large land, this Heart of Europe; three hundred and fifty
miles perhaps from the Alps to the sea, and not more than two hundred
and fifty from the Seine at Paris to the Rhine at Cologne; half the
size, shall we say, of Texas; but what Europe was for the thousand years
following the fall of Rome, this little country--or the men that made it
great--was responsible. Add the rest of Normandy, and the spiritual
energy of the Holy See, with a varying and sometimes negligible
influence from the Teutonic lands beyond the Rhine, and you have the
mainsprings of mediævalism, even though for its full manifestation you
must take into account the men in the far countries of the Italian
peninsula and the Iberian, in France and England, Bavaria, Saxony,
Bohemia.

The great empires of to-day, England, France, Germany, Italy, two of
which have eaten steadily into its territories until only a tiny
Luxembourg remains, together with a small new state with a novel name
made greater and more lasting by the events of a year than those of its
predecessors, have dulled the memory of an ancient unity, taking to
themselves at the same time credit, that is none of theirs, for men and
happenings that made ten centuries of enduring history; so the glory,
the high achievements of the small old states are forgotten. And yet,
out of these little dukedoms and counties and free cities came the men
who made France and Germany, who determined the genius of mediævalism,
imparted to it the high soul and the swift hand of its peculiar
personality, and gave to the world the memory and tradition of faith and
heroism, together with so much of that inimitable art that was its
perfect showing forth, and, until yesterday, a visible monument of its
accomplishment.

National unity this territory and these peoples have never possessed.
During the Roman dominion they formed the provinces of Germania and
Belgica, in the diocese of Gaul; under the Merovings all was comprised
in the Frankish kingdom, the old line between the Roman provinces
remaining to divide Austrasia and Neustria, as the northern and southern
sections came to be called under the Carolings. With the disruption of
the empire of Charlemagne, Austrasia went to the kingdom of the East
Franks, Neustria to that of the West Franks, the former becoming (west
of the Rhine) the duchies of Upper and Lower Lorraine, the latter (east
of the Seine) Flanders and Champagne. When Otto the Great restored the
Holy Roman Empire in A. D. 962, the Lorraines of course formed a part.
These comprised all that is now (or was, in June, 1915) Germany west of
the Rhine, together with all of Belgium except Flanders, Luxembourg, and
a strip of territory along the northeast frontier of France. Westward to
the Seine the land was divided into many feudal holdings, Flanders,
which then comprised not only northern Belgium but the present French
departments of Nord and Pas de Calais; Champagne, Amiens, Vermandois,
Laon, Reims, Châlons. During the Middle Ages Lower Lorraine became the
duchy of Brabant and the county of Hainault. Upper Lorraine, Luxembourg
and Bar, southern Flanders, Artois. Picardy and Valois became entities,
and the great bishoprics of Cologne, Trèves, Strasbourg, Cambray, Liége
acquired more and more land until they were principalities in
themselves.

During the fifteenth century the magnificent efforts of the dukes of
Burgundy to create for themselves an independent state between France
and the Empire, and reaching from the Rhine to the Aisne, from the Alps
to the sea, resulted in a partial and temporary unification of the old
Belgian lands, but with the death of Mary of Burgundy in 1482, the whole
territory became more and more closely knit into the Empire, France
losing even her claim to suzerainty over Flanders; all the lands west of
the Meuse and over the Rhine as far as the Ems became the Netherlands,
comprising roughly what is now Holland and Belgium. The duchies of
Luxembourg, Bar, and Lorraine, with the Palatinate, shared all that lay
between the Meuse and the Rhine, save what the great bishoprics had
assumed to themselves, while Burgundy (except the Franche-Comté) and
Lorraine were definitively merged in France.

Then came the Spanish dominion over the whole territory, barring the
duchy of Julich along the Rhine; the revolt of Holland and the severing
of the United Netherlands north of the Rhine from the Spanish
territories; finally, in 1715, after 160 years of ruinous domination,
Spain was driven out and Austria succeeded in Flanders, Brabant, and
Luxembourg, maintaining herself there until the time of Napoleon a
century later, when for a few years everything as far as the Rhine,
together with the Netherlands on the other side, was incorporated in
France. With the fading of the splendid dream of a Napoleonic empire,
Holland and Belgium, as we know them now, came into existence, the lands
of the duchy of Julich went to Prussia, the Palatinate to Bavaria.
Luxembourg was reduced to its existing area and the French frontier
delimited as it is now, except for Alsace and Lorraine, which were lost
in 1870.

Between the upper and nether millstones of France and the Empire, the
Heart of Europe for fifteen centuries has been ground into fragments of
ever-changing form, never able to coalesce into unity, but producing
ever in spite of political chaos and dynastic oppression great ideals of
piety, righteousness, liberty; great art-manifestations of the vigour
and nobility of race, great figures to uphold and enforce the lofty
principles that have made so much of the brilliant history of mediæval
Europe, and all centring around the lands of the many tribes who from
earliest times were known as the Belgæ.

They enter well into history, these Belgæ, in the fifty-seventh year
before the birth of Christ, Nervii, Veromandri, Atrobates, from the
valleys of the Meuse and the Sambre, as Cæsar found and declared, “that
day against the Nervii,” when the battle for the winning of this new
land was his by hardly more than a chance. The tribes were hard and
free, and they died in the end almost to a man, five hundred remaining
out of fifty thousand warriors. But Cæsar was magnanimous, as always,
and by no means without appreciation of his adversaries, so Allies of
Rome, with full claim on her protection, they became, with the rank and
title of a free people, as they have remained at heart ever since. In
seven years the last of the tribes had surrendered and Belgium became a
flourishing colony as well as the advance-guard of Roman civilisation in
its progress against the savage Germans of the Rhine. By the fall of the
Empire a great and united people had come into being between Gaul and
Germania, divided into four great sections with their several capitols
at Trèves, Reims, Mainz, and Cologne.

Meanwhile the Franks had come on the scene, though their name is rather
a rallying-cry than a mark of race, meaning only that certain of the
tribes of Gaul, with others of the Belgæ, were determined to be free--as
they became shortly and as they have generally remained ever since. Now
the Salian Franks were the dwellers in Flanders and Brabant and under
their Duke Clodion had extended their borders as far as Soissons.
Clodion’s successor, Merovæus, was grandfather of Clovis, the first
Christian king of the north. The Merovings, then, are neither strictly
of Gaul nor of Germany, but of the Heart of Europe itself, and their
blood, like that of their followers, a mingling of Germanic and Celtic
and Roman strains.

Châlons saw them allied with the Romans and driving back the fierce tide
of the earlier Huns that threatened to beat out the last flicker of
light in Europe: Tolbiac saw them hurl back the savage Allemanni, in the
year 496, again preserving the European tradition from submergence under
barbarian hordes, nor was this the last time they were to perform this
service. Already Clovis had married Clotilde, niece of the Duke of
Burgundy, so bringing another region into close contact with his own,
and now, after the successful issue of the battle of Tolbiac, when he
had first called on the God of Christians, he presented himself before
the Archbishop of Reims, St. Remi, for baptism, where he heard the
significant words: “Bow thy proud head, Sicambrian! destroy what thou
hast worshipped, worship what thou hast destroyed.”

Whatever the motive, and however inadequate the performance of his new
obligations by Clovis, his baptism is one of the crucial events in
history, marking the end of paganism as a controlling force, and with
the conquest of Italy by Theodoric and the promulgation of the Holy Rule
of St. Benedict, the beginning of the great Christian era of culture and
civilisation that was to endure, unimpaired, for a thousand years.

The dominion of Clovis comprised all that is now France south to the
Loire and Burgundy, with Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Bavaria, but
his capital was at Tournai, and he was in fact even more a Belgian than
a French sovereign. Under him all the Franks were united and his power
was such that the Emperor at Constantinople made him patrician, consul,
and Augustus. With his death in 511 began a long era of division and
reunion, of internecine warfare and the plotting of jealous women, two
of whom, Fredegonde personifying the Gallic influence, Brunhilde the
Germanic, fostered a conflict that hardly came to an end before the fall
of the dynasty.

Little by little the Merovings broke away from their racial Belgic
affiliations, Soissons became the capital rather than Tournai, and at
last by a dramatic turn of fate another Belgian race brought the
decrepit line to its term and founded a new and a nobler house. Pepin of
Landen, in the province of Liége, became mayor of the palace and the
active influence in royal affairs, somewhere about the year 620, and it
was a son of his daughter, Pepin of Herstel (a town also in the province
of Liége) who was father of Charles Martel, who in his turn was the
grandfather of Charlemagne.

As the Huns and the Allemanni had been rolled back from their savage
incursions by the aid of men of Belgic nationality, so now the greater
threat of an onrushing Mohammedanism was to be dispelled by another and
a greater personality, Charles the Hammer, a soldier of consummate
ability, the real ruler of all the Franks, and the victor at the battle
of Tours when final decision was reached as to whether Europe was for
the future to be Moslem or Christian.

Charles Martel died when only fifty years of age, and his son Pepin
succeeded him as mayor of the palace. The fiction of Meroving kingship
could no longer be maintained; the stock was hopelessly degenerate; the
people demanded an end, the Pope sanctioned it, and so, after a most
orderly fashion Childeric III betook himself to a convenient cloister,
Pepin was raised on the shields of the Gallic soldiers, then decently
crowned in St. Denis, and the dynasty of the Carolings began. For
sixteen years he reigned as kings had not been wont to reign for many
centuries; Saxony, Brittany, Languedoc were added to the Frankish
dominions, Rome twice saved from the Lombard invaders, and the Papacy
made the faithful ally and defender of the Frankish kingdom, then the
one great power in Europe.

There were more reasons than that of policy for this alliance.
Practically abandoned by the Roman Emperors in the east, Italy had been
the prey of tribe after tribe of northern savages, and the Papacy was
the only centre of order and authority. In spite of this the Popes still
shrank from severing themselves wholly from the imperial centre, but the
iconoclastic controversy had resulted in what was both heresy and schism
on the part of the patriarchate of Constantinople, and communion was no
longer possible. Moreover, all the other northern tribes that had
accepted Christianity--Goths, Vandals, Lombards--had adopted the Arian
heresy and were therefore even more distasteful to Rome than unconverted
heathen. This condition of things justified the Papacy in its attitude
of intolerance, and when Pepin came to the throne, it was almost at the
last gasp, through persecution, spoliation, and outrage at the hands of
the Teutonic Arians. The Frankish kingdom alone was Catholic, and
enthusiastically Catholic, and it is small wonder that to the Pope the
rise of a great and powerful and Catholic nation under the dominating
Carolings came as a special mercy from heaven--as, indeed, it was.

With the death of Pepin and the accession of his son Charles--known now
for all time as Charlemagne--the curtain rose on one of the most
brilliant dramas of history. The Lombards had again revolted; Pope
Hadrian called on the Franks in despair; King Charles hurled his armies
into Italy like an avalanche, captured and deposed Desiderius, last of
the Lombard kings, proclaimed himself King of Lombardy, pressed on to
Rome, and was welcomed there by the Supreme Pontiff as the saviour of
Christendom.

He would, however, accept no formal honours save that of patrician, and
returned to the north to continue the work of his father in
consolidating and extending the kingdom. For twenty-four years he was
engaged in innumerable wars, in eager efforts to restore education,
political order, ecclesiastical righteousness, and even some small
measure of genuine culture, with results that seem miraculous in the
light of what had been before for so many centuries. Finally, in the
year 799, he went again to Rome, where Leo III now sat in the chair of
Peter, and at mass on Christmas Day, A. D. 800, the Pope came suddenly
behind him as he was kneeling before the altar in St. Peter’s and,
placing a crown on his head, cried in a loud voice: “Life and victory to
Charles, the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans, crowned by the
hand of God!” and after three centuries and more of anarchy, barbarism,
and hopeless degeneration, the empire was restored as the Holy Roman
Empire, in the person of a Frankish warrior of the lands of the Belgæ,
and destined to endure for another thousand years.

Aix-la-Chapelle is the very centre of the land and the people that
built up the Christian civilisation of the Middle Ages, and it was here
that Charlemagne fixed his chief place of residence. During his lifetime
it was the very, and the only, centre of order and of culture in Europe.
A great warrior, he was an even greater administrator, while as the
restorer of learning and the patron of art and letters he was perhaps
greatest of all. When he came to the throne there lay behind him nearly
four centuries of absolute anarchy and barbarism, from the Baltic to the
Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to the marches of the Teutonic
savages. What he built he built from the ground upward, and though his
was only the “false dawn” that heralds the day, passing utterly, so far
as one could see, within a generation after his death, it was the saving
of Europe, the preservation of the succession, that, the second Dark
Ages overpassed, guaranteed the coming in of the great era that began
with the millennial year of Christianity and lasted for five full
centuries.

Under his direction a complete administrative system was established
over the unwieldy empire; local governments were set up, with a system
of regular visitations from the central authority, and in this way the
foundations were laid for the counties of Flanders, Brabant, Hainault,
into which, together with Vermandois, Valois, Amiens, and Champagne,
this territory of our survey was divided during the Middle Ages.

In religion, education, and art Charlemagne went far beyond his
predecessors for five centuries, so far as the form and re-creation are
concerned. Separated at last from the church in the East, now definitely
schismatic, heretical, and Erastian, the Papacy was in a position to go
on unhindered in its development, and Charlemagne became not only a
defender but a zealous and enthusiastic reformer. Monasticism was
universally strengthened and extended, new bishoprics were founded, the
state of the Holy See purified, while schools were established in
connection with cathedrals and monasteries throughout the Empire.
Charles had a great passion for scholars and artists, gathering them
from Italy, Spain, England, wherever, indeed, they were to be found, and
for a time his court was the nucleus of culture in the West.
Architecture was reborn, all the ravelled threads from Rome,
Constantinople, Ravenna, Syria were gathered up and knit together, and
though few authentic works from among the myriads of the Emperor’s
creation still remain, we know from what we have, and chiefly the royal
chapel at Aix, that the result was the restoring once more of a line of
continuity after the vast vacancy of the Dark Ages, and the initiation
of a new vitality that, after the second Dark Ages, was to serve as the
energising power that brought Romanesque art into existence and made
possible the great glory of Gothic.

Great as he was, Charlemagne had all the weaknesses of his racial
tradition, and by yielding to these his era was his alone, nor could it
outlast his personal influence. Divided between his successors, the
Empire rapidly and naturally fell to pieces during the lifetime of Louis
le Debonnaire, who for a brief period had succeeded in uniting it again,
and during the second Dark Ages, from 850 to 1000 A. D., there is no
more of note to record in this region than in any other part of Europe.
The era had culminated under Charlemagne; it was now to sink to its end,
as always had happened before, as always, so far as we can see, must
continue to happen. Not until the turn of the tide at the year 1000
could a real recovery begin. In the meantime history is little more than
a series of personal contests, but out of these certain beginnings are
made that are to have issue in great things, and amongst these are the
appearance of the first Baldwin of Flanders and the establishing of the
first hereditary title, and therefore the oldest in Europe. Baldwin of
the Iron Arm successfully fought the Vikings, driving them west until
they were forced to content themselves with the land they ultimately
made immortal as Normandy. His son married a daughter of Alfred the
Great, so establishing a certain connection between England and
Flanders, and by fortifying Bruges, Ypres, Ghent, and Courtrai, he did
much toward fixing these cities as centres of municipal life and of that
fierce independence that marked them for so many generations.

With the opening of the new era, at the beginning of the eleventh
century, a new vitality shows itself in the land. William of Normandy
had become the son-in-law of Baldwin V, and from Flanders many knights
joined the Conqueror for his invasion of England, one becoming first
Earl of Northumberland, another first Earl of Chester. Under Baldwin VI
complete peace was restored to the distracted provinces, while the
Charter of Grammont is a landmark in that development

[Illustration: THE CHAPEL AT AIX]

of personal and civil liberty which is one of the great glories of
mediævalism. The Tribunal of Peace, established by the Bishop of Liége,
is another shining sign of the times, while the defeat of France in its
attacks on Flemish independence assured a long period of splendid
development.

This was enhanced by the Crusades, and here, particularly in the first,
the Heart of Europe showed the quality of the blood that was its life.
Whatever the Crusades may have become after long years, they were in
their earliest impulse supreme examples of human faith, unselfishness,
devotion, heroism, and piety. The redemption of the Holy Places of
Christianity from the infidel became a passion, and the protagonist, the
moving and vitalising spirit, was one Peter the Hermit, of the province
of Liége, who, crucifix in hand, toiled through eastern France, the
Netherlands, the Rhineland, as well as through his own country,
exhorting prince and peasant to take up arms for the freeing of the Holy
Land from the Saracen.

His success was almost miraculous, for the great adventure appealed to
every instinct of the time--piety, reverence, chivalry, romance, the
passion for a new and venturesome and knightly quest--and in less than
two years the Pope himself set his seal of approbation on the First
Crusade. In Clermont, in the year 1095, surrounded by four hundred
bishops and mitred abbots, he cried to the waiting multitudes of Europe:
“Are we called upon to see in this century the desolation of
Christianity and to remain at peace the while our holy religion is given
over into the hands of the oppressor? Here is a lawful war; go, defend
the House of Israel!” Almost with a single voice Europe made answer with
the rallying-cry: “God wills it!” Every scarlet garment was shredded in
pieces to furnish crosses which were sewn to the shoulders; some even
branded themselves with the sign of the cross by means of red-hot irons.

Within another year an army of 100,000 men had been gathered together,
under the leadership of Peter, himself, and it poured across Europe as
far as Constantinople, a disorganised and impotent mob. It met its fate
as soon as it had crossed the Bosporus into Saracen territory, and only
a shattered remnant, including the originator of the mad venture, ever
returned to its home. In the meantime, however, a greater captain than
Peter the Hermit, and of the same race, was gathering the enormous host
that succeeded where he had failed. Godfrey of Bouillon, of the province
of Liége, a great scholar and greater soldier, gathered 90,000 knights
and men-at-arms in Flanders and Brabant, and set out for Jerusalem on
the 10th of August, 1096. A month later the French under command of the
King’s brother, and the Flemings under Robert, Count of Flanders,
followed in his track. Baldwin of Bourg, the Counts of Hainault, Namur,
Grez, Audenaarde, and Ypres, with knights of Dixmude, Alost, Bruges,
Ghent, Brussels, and Tournai were amongst the leaders, and a
concentration was effected at Constantinople when there were no less
than 600,000 in all. Crossing into Asia, the great host swept onward
from one victory to another; the battle of Dorylæum, fought on the 4th
of July, 1097, proved them invincible. Tarsus and Antioch fell, and
nothing lay between them and Jerusalem. The city was besieged and
finally carried by assault, the attack beginning on the 14th of July,
and after a week of incessant fighting on the walls and through the
streets, Jerusalem was wholly in the hands of the Crusaders. But the
host that set out from its many sources in Europe had vanished and only
a tenth of the original number remained to fight the relieving army from
Egypt at Ascalon, and to organise the victory. Five hundred thousand men
had perished on the long march, died of disease, or fallen in battle.

Godfrey of Bouillon became the first King of Jerusalem, the choice
resting between him and Robert of Flanders. He reigned only a year, and
was succeeded by his brother Baldwin, who had made himself Count of
Edessa, and whose descendants continued on the throne for several
generations.

In all the succeeding Crusades, Flanders and Brabant, Lorraine,
Champagne, and Burgundy played leading parts, and in the fifth, when the
arms of the knights were turned from the relief of Jerusalem to the
conquest of the Byzantine Empire, another Baldwin of Flanders was
leader, and, after the fall of Constantinople, became the first Latin
Emperor of the East, his dynasty continuing on the throne for fifty
years.

Amazing as were the results of the Crusades, with the conquering of the
Saracens in the Holy Land, and the overthrow of the Eastern Empire, a
Walloon being crowned first King of Jerusalem and a Fleming first Latin
Emperor of Byzantium, the local results had no permanency, Jerusalem
falling again to the Mussulmans after a century and a half,
Constantinople reverting to the Eastern line at about the same time. In
Europe, however, the results had been of profound import; directly, the
Crusades had had a vast influence in determining the temper and the
course of mediævalism, indirectly they had laid the foundations of the
industrial supremacy of the Belgian cities and of the emancipation of
the people from feudalism. The Saracen of the twelfth century was the
antithesis of the Ottoman Turk of to-day, and from him the Crusaders
learned much to their advantage, while from the Eastern Empire came new
impulses toward the development of a broader culture than the West alone
could have achieved. So far as the cities of Flanders, Brabant, and
Lorraine were concerned, the absence of their martial and turbulent
knights was by no means an unmixed catastrophe. The vast expeditions
demanded vast expenditures: money came generally into use in place of
barter; the common people who remained at home developed their
industries, increased their wealth, and in the end took into their own
hands much of the business of the government. The habit and tradition
of independence and liberty which so grew up, maintained itself steadily
against all assaults, nor has it lapsed or waned, as the last year has
gloriously proved, and many of the tall towers that became the
recognised symbol of civic independence still stand in testimony, though
one by one they are falling before the armed negation of all they rose
to proclaim.



III

FLANDERS AND BRABANT


In a study such as this tries to be, it is, of course, impossible to
consider in any degree the history of those portions of the chosen
territory that joined themselves to, or were by force incorporated in,
the great surrounding states. The Rhineland, in spite of its minor
vicissitudes of lordship, is and has always been Germanic, and its
annals are part and parcel of those of the Teutonic Holy Roman Empire
and of the German Empire that succeeded it. The marshes of the mouth of
the Rhine early differentiated themselves both from Germany and from the
Gallic provinces farther south; Dutch they were and Dutch they will ever
remain; their history and their culture and their art are by themselves.
The same is true of Champagne, Picardy, Burgundy, Bar, and of the lands
between them and the Seine. This is France, and its history is the
history of France even if its art takes enduring colour from a
persistent quality in its people that is its own and not simply that of
the Franks and Normans and Celts who coalesced around the old Île de
France to the building of one of the great peoples and one of the great
states in history. Each gave more than it received when it became a part
of a state that was slowly building itself out of assembling races and
peoples, but each was like the daughter of a house; however much she
might bring to some alliance, of fortune or character or power, she
became merged in her new family, forsaking her name and accepting that
of her chosen spouse, together with his ambitions, his interests, and
his fortunes. We may then consider the outlying lands of our central
district as so many fair daughters who have allied themselves with
suitors from neighbouring territories; remembering them with affection,
taking pride in the dowries they have carried with them, but confining
ourselves to the fortunes of the men of the line who have preserved the
family name and defended its honour in the field. In this sense
Flanders, Brabant, and Luxembourg are the three princes to whom was
given the defence of the patrimony that has been theirs from the ancient
times of the earliest beginnings of the house amongst the Gallic and
Germanic tribes of the Rhine valley, the meadows and uplands of the
Scheldt and the Meuse and the Sambre, and in the Forest of Ardennes.

As the Heart of Europe gradually became parcelled out between the great
adjoining empires, each taking its colour more or less from the central
influences, while in every instance contributing something in its turn
to the sum that made up the varying greatness of both, the essential
qualities of the original Belgæ seemed to concentrate in the little
province of Flanders, which, during the whole of the Middle Ages, played
a part in Europe strikingly disproportionate to its size, which was less
than half that of the State of Connecticut, though it contained over
1,200,000 people and counted cities like Ghent with 250,000 population,
Ypres with 200,000, Bruges and Courtrai with 100,000 each. At the same
time London could boast only 35,000 citizens. In trade, industry,
wealth, culture, and the standard of living Flanders was far in advance
of the rest of northern Europe, while it was marked by a perfect passion
for liberty not only for the state but for each individual member
thereof.

Every portion of the land we are considering made its own contribution,
early or late, to the great sum of mediævalism, but it would be
impossible to consider, even superficially, the gifts of Champagne,
Burgundy, the Rhineland. This book does not assume to be a history, it
is only a sequence of notes on the lost or imperilled art of the Heart
of Europe, with just so much of history as may serve to suggest what lay
behind and gave this art its peculiar and unmatched quality.

The great elements that entered into this art and this civilisation that
were pre-eminently the art and civilisation of Christianity were
primarily two: northern blood and monastic fervour. To the worn-out
vitality of the Mediterranean races came in the fresh vigour of the
North, Lombard, Germanic, Norman, Frank, while the monastic impulse
imparted by St. Benedict broke the spell of the Dark Ages, made possible
the “false dawn” of Carolingian civilisation, and then, through its
successors, the monks of Cluny in the eleventh century and the
Cistercians in the twelfth, brought to perfection and to complete
fulness of expression all the latent possibilities in the clean new
blood that had been transfused into the hardening veins of an Europe
already dangerously near dissolution.

These elements of new blood were chiefly supplied by the Franks (both of
the East and the West), the Burgundians, and the Normans, the latter
being descendants of the Vikings from the Baltic. The Belgæ were a
subdivision of the Franks, and made up of several tribes, Trevii,
Eburones, Nervii, etc. Generally speaking, they were Germanic, with a
considerable Celtic admixture. The Cluniac and Cistercian reforms came
from Burgundy, which is partially within the limits of our study, though
later they received great accessions of strength from natives of
Flanders, Brabant, the Rhineland, and Champagne. During the eleventh
century Normandy was the spiritual centre, the dynamic force, of Europe,
while in the twelfth century the leadership was assumed by the Île de
France, as wholly under the inspiration of the Cistercians as Normandy
had been under that of the Cluniacs. It was during these two centuries
that the great burst of Norman and of Gothic architecture occurred in
the Île de France, in Normandy, and in Champagne.

The contributions of the land we now know as Belgium were quite
different; they were at the same time a product of mediæval culture and
one of its causes, for they grew out of the deep and vital impulses
beneath the whole epoch, while they seemed to determine many of its
manifestations. The first of these, the Crusades, has already been
referred to; the second, the great guild system, with its concomitant,
the commune, and its result, a desire for personal, civic, and national
liberty that became a passion, needs some consideration, since it is
from this that came so much of the later mediæval art of Flanders and
Brabant that is so priceless and so appallingly in danger of
destruction.

Just how and why the Flemings should have become a nation of weavers,
merchants, and traders is hard to say, but even in the tenth century,
weaving had become so important an industry a charter was granted the
guild of weavers by Count Baldwin. The supply of wool came overseas from
England, where an important market for the finished wares was also
found, and as a result a close community of interests sprang up between
Flanders and East Anglia. Without natural protection of any kind, the
land lying open to any invasion, walled cities became imperative, as
well as unions for self-defence, and so came the great and rich and
defiant cities such as Ghent and Bruges, Ypres and Courtrai. When the
nobles and knights flocked off on crusade, the citizens remained at
home, and they were not slow to seize the opportunity offered them of
acquiring, almost without protest, the civil power that, elsewhere,
under a dominant and universal feudalism, remained in the hands of the
barons.

By this time the development of the guilds had reached enormous
proportions, and the members were so numerous, so highly organised, and
so defiant of molestation they were almost irresistible. In Ghent, for
example, there were more than 50,000 enrolled craftsmen and artificers
in the thirteenth century; in Bruges there were the four great trading
guilds of wool merchants, linen merchants, mercers, and brewers, and in
addition no less than fifty-two guilds of craftsmen. These guilds were
not only for the protection of the interests of their members, they
equally aimed at maintaining the highest possible standard in their
products (so differentiating themselves sharply from the contemporary
trade-union), while they demanded and received civic rights and
privileges unheard of before and elsewhere. Finally they were military
as well as civil in their nature, all the members being trained to arms
and under competent military direction. The actual power they could
exert is shown by the fact that at one time the weavers in Ghent put an
efficient army of 40,000 men into the field. Every man was bound to
answer the alarm-bell of his own guild on the instant, and so came the
great bell-towers that stood not only as the source of warning and the
rallying-place, but also as visible evidences of the liberty of the men
who obeyed the summons from their great bourdons.

Never before or since has skilled labour occupied a more advantageous
position than in Flanders in the thirteenth century; wages were high,
life liberal and self-respecting, comforts and even luxuries common to
all, while the high standard of workmanship made labour dignified and
enjoyable, and close union of interests guaranteed the protection of all
against the aggressions of the nobles and the feudal system.

Offsetting the gains were corresponding losses. Successful industry,
through group action, together with the consequent development of the
town unit, resulted in a general loss of any national or racial spirit.
The interests of each man were those of his guild or town, and during
the entire Middle Ages there was the most kaleidoscopic grouping and
regrouping of towns and provinces, now against the Empire, now against

[Illustration: ST. BAVON’S TOWER, GHENT]

France, Burgundy, England, now against each other or some count or duke
working in his turn for dynastic or political dominance. Another cause
of dissension was the complicated absurdity of feudal tenure, whereby
the French-speaking people of Brabant and Lorraine were united to the
Empire, the Flemings to France, while, as happened in the case of the
Count of Flanders, a prince might be one of the Twelve Peers of France,
and a vassal of the King, and yet be vassal to the Emperor for portions
of his land. The process of progressive unification which was taking
place elsewhere was here reversed, and by the end of the twelfth century
Brabant had been broken up into five counties, while as far as the Seine
were small and involved feudal domains and bishoprics, such as Hainault,
Vermandois, Ponthièvre, Amiens, Reims, Coucy, Beauvais.

Flanders retained a certain unstable unity, and against this Philip
Augustus of France set himself in his comprehensive policy of
unification; after his first invasion Ferrand of Portugal, who had
married the heiress of the last Baldwin of Flanders and Hainault, took
the lead in forming an alliance with England and the Empire for the
crushing of France and the division of the kingdom. Bouvines saw the
ending of the ambitious plot, and as well the beginnings of modern
France. Later came the League of Grammont and the second attempt to
destroy France, which failed also; but at the battle of Courtrai by the
Lys, the Flemish army of 25,000 utterly defeated a French force of
double the number, with the loss of the proudest blood in France. A
thousand knights fell, with 20,000 squires and men-at-arms, and in the
Church of Our Lady of Courtrai, 700 gold spurs, from the heels of dead
knights, were hung to the glory of the great victory.

So through the thirteenth century incessant fighting went on both in
Flanders and Brabant, and in the great bishopric of Liége, the net
result being the complete downfall of feudalism in advance of the rest
of Europe and the solidifying of the popular passion for personal
liberty and self-government.

The fourteenth century was the golden age of the communes and as well of
renewed resistance to the continuous encroachments of France, when the
brief period of the commercial alliance with England under Edward III
came to an end. This English alliance, prompted by both commercial and
political considerations, had been the dream of the first Van
Artevelde, Jacques by name, the leader of the weavers of Ghent. For nine
years he had laboured for the interests of his fellow guildsmen and
Ghentois, supporting King Edward III in his claims on the crown of
France, plotting and planning to preserve the independence of Flanders.
He fell a victim, however, to the spirit of irresponsible faction which
already had been the inevitable outcome of the democratic, socialistic,
and selfishly greedy elements inherent in an unhampered guild system,
and was murdered by his own followers in the streets of Ghent.

In the meantime Louis de Mâle, had become Count of Flanders, in
succession to his father, Louis de Nevers, while Wenceslas of
Luxembourg, son of the King of Bohemia, who had married one of the
daughters of John III, became Duke of Brabant. Here, as in Flanders, the
various guilds had gained a control that was periodically contested by
the nobles, particularly in Louvain, where the disorders continued for
twenty years. In the end the cities were defeated, for they had used
their power ill, determining their action by superhuman cruelty and
greed, oppressing the weaker communes whenever they threatened their
trade, fighting amongst themselves, splitting up into factions, and
vacillating between sudden enthusiasms and corresponding treachery.
Already the tendency was setting in away from the mediæval looseness,
mobility, and even democracy in government, and toward that
centralisation coupled with autocracy which was to be the contribution
of the Renaissance to the science of government and was to end in the
absolutism of Henry VIII, Philip of Spain, and Louis XIV. Even if the
guilds had shown a high standard of morals and of statesmanship, if the
communes had been truly patriotic and national in their aims and
methods, they could hardly have stood against a tendency already clearly
defined and marking the new era, now coming to birth, as their high
beginnings had marked that already drawing to its close.

Louis made war against Brabant, lost, but regained Malines, which he had
sold to his father-in-law of Brabant, and then turned his attention to a
final suppression of Ghent, the last stronghold of the declining
democracy of Flanders. It was in 1279 that Bruges asked for a canal to
the Lys to make amends for the silting up of her only outlet to the sea.
Ghent protested, fearing loss of her own trade, and took up arms when
Louis granted the canal. The “White Hoods” defeated the forces sent
against them, whereupon the fickle burgers of Bruges and Ypres went over
to their side and long, hard fighting followed, until Louis found
himself besieged in Audenaarde by some 60,000 “White Hoods” and was only
saved by the intervention of his son-in-law Charles of Burgundy.
Retreating to France, with headquarters at Lille, he reorganised his
forces, renewed the attack, captured Ypres, and, one after the other,
all the cities of Flanders except Ghent, to which he laid siege. At this
last crisis in its fortunes Ghent turned to Philip, son of Jacques van
Artevelde, who took command, organised a force of 5,000 men, led them
against Count Louis’ army of 40,000, attacked near Bruges, and defeated
it utterly, Louis escaping only in the clothes of his servant. Bruges
was occupied and its walls destroyed, Ypres and Courtrai joined in with
Ghent, and Bruges itself turned against its count.

The issue was now fairly joined between commons and knights; Louis de
Mâle made his cause that of order and the nobility against anarchy and
the proletariat, the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy joined him,
and under Oliver, constable of France, 80,000 men, amongst whom no
communal levies were admitted, marched on Ghent and its allies. Against
this force Philip van Artevelde mustered 40,000 men who advanced to the
attack with a mad confidence born of their recent victory over Louis. In
a thick fog they hurled themselves in a solid body on the centre of the
enemy, broke it, saw victory before them, and then, the fog lifting,
found themselves flanked on both sides by the constable’s horse, and
abandoned themselves to a panic that ended in the slaughter of more than
half their number, including Van Artevelde himself, whose brief day of
success and glory had lasted exactly eleven months.

The French sacked Courtrai and went home, whereupon Ghent again took
heart of hope, and, aided by Henry Spencer, Bishop of Norwich, with
3,000 men, defied Louis and laid siege to Ypres, which was relieved by
the returning French, and a truce was finally signed at Calais.

It was the end of the democratic communes, not only in Flanders but in
Brabant, where Duke Wenceslas at the same time had defeated the communes
at Louvain, and as well in France, where the growing spirit of communal

[Illustration: THE QUAI AUX HERBES, GHENT]

independence was wiped out by a king who had found in Flanders the proof
that this cannot co-exist with a strong and centralised monarchy.

Already industrial decline had set in; the country had been harried by
French armies and by civil wars, many had gone overseas to England to
establish there a rival industry that slowly sapped the prosperity of
Flanders and Brabant. The Black Death had decimated the remaining
population, and Bruges, Courtrai, Ypres, indeed nearly all the great
towns but Ghent, slowly lost their population until hardly a tenth was
left. Still a large degree of prosperity remained, and wealth was as
much desired and as successfully attained as before, only within
narrower lines and by a far smaller number of people.

When Louis de Mâle died, shortly after the victory of his French allies
over the communes, his son-in-law, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy,
became Count of Flanders, and the fifteenth century was dominated by
Burgundian efforts to build up a strong central kingdom when it became
evident that it could not control the destinies of France. Flanders,
Brabant, and Namur were all incorporated in Burgundy, and later Holland
and Hainault, so that it seemed for a time that a great central state
might arise between the Empire and the kingdom of France.

Philip’s first efforts were to wean Flanders from its friendship with
England in order that he might use the country for the invasion he had
planned to bring about. He died in 1404 before he could carry out his
schemes and was succeeded by his son, John the Fearless, whose aim was
the French crown, in opposition to the Duke of Orleans who had become
supreme in Paris. He marched on the capital, which opened its gates to
him, while Orleans took refuge in the south but returned and too
confidingly patched up some kind of a peace with Burgundy, who had him
assassinated in the streets of Paris in the following year. Out of his
murder grew the league of the partisans of Orleans, the “Armagnacs,” who
took their name from Count d’Armagnac, father-in-law of one of the
daughters of the murdered duke, and the warfare between them and the
house of Burgundy.

In the meantime Henry V had laid claim to the French throne, had invaded
France, and fought the battle of Agincourt. Thus far John the Fearless
had kept out of the fight, but now he allied himself with the Dauphin
and went to meet him at Montereau to seal his allegiance. Here he was
in turn slain by the Armagnacs in revenge for his own murder of the Duke
of Orleans, and his son, Philip the Good, at once threw himself into the
arms of England, against France, and it was he who handed over the B.
Jeanne d’Arc to the Bishop of Beauvais, after her capture at Compiègne
in 1430, as a witch and sorceress.

Philip was more devoted to his new possessions than to his native
Burgundy, and under him Bruges and Ghent took precedence of his old
capital of Dijon. Philip also was the founder of the Order of the Golden
Fleece on the occasion of one of his numerous marriages, this time in
Bruges and to the Countess of Nevers. The marriage was a great event in
many ways, for to it came the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, he being then
Regent of France for the English king and realising that the triumphant
career of Jeanne d’Arc was having results that urged him to make the
most of the Duke of Burgundy, the only friend left to his royal master.
The Golden Fleece, the oldest order on the Continent, was instituted in
particular honour of Flanders, and especially the city of Bruges, the
world centre of the wool trade. There were to be but twenty-four
knights, under the leadership of the duke, and they were granted
extraordinary privileges, amongst them immunity from all other states,
princes and laws, being subject only to their sovereign master, though
they remained citizens of their respective states, whatever those may
have been. Philip II of Spain did away with this intolerable anomaly,
and in 1725 the order was divided between Spain and Austria, so losing
wholly its original and most distinctive quality as a signal honour
especially pertaining to Flanders.

By 1435 Philip, whose affection for England had been at the best
lukewarm, could bear no longer the appalling misery of France and the
excesses of the English armies. All north of the Loire had become a
wilderness and even in the later Middle Ages pity was a feeling still
easily aroused. By the treaty of Arras Burgundy finally separated itself
from the English alliance and joined Charles VII, the immediate result
being a letting-up of the war in France and a transferring of
hostilities to Flanders. The duke led an enthusiastic force of Flemings
against Calais, failed to capture it, and then discovered

[Illustration: BRUGES, FROM THE QUAI DU ROSAIRE]

the erratic nature of his Flemish subjects, for they forthwith turned
against him as suddenly as they had deserted the English alliance, and
Philip proceeded forthwith to break their spirit, or rather the frantic
independence of their cities. He succeeded, and yet Flanders prospered
in spite of the sporadic internecine warfare. Prosperity somehow came
back and wealth increased, while Memling, the Van Eycks and their great
line of successors, together with other masters of art in allied fields,
gave a glory to the time that will endure for ever. Then followed years
of strife and turbulence, of shifting alliances and of sympathies as
ready to turn as to be aroused. Philip died, was succeeded by his son,
Charles the Bold, and the disorders broke out afresh so successfully
that at first he was forced to give back all the communal privileges his
father had taken away. In addition to his domestic troubles he found
himself the object of the serpentine plots of Louis XI now King of
France. Charles was equal to the occasion, however; he married Margaret
of York, sister to the English King, so acquiring a new ally; marched
against Liége, the centre of the local disaffection, captured it
triumphantly, then turned on the crafty and unscrupulous Louis and
proceeded to beat him at his own game. In the midst of this enviable
adventure, Liége revolted once more, and this time Charles, dragging
Louis at his heels, captured the city again, now showing none of the
mercy he had before exhibited. The whole city was sacked, only the
churches and monasteries being spared, and the ruins were given to the
flames. In spite of the exemption accorded religious property, the
destruction of the great city was too manifestly a violation of the
common decencies of Christian conduct to be neutrally endured by the
Pope, who at that time (it was almost five centuries ago) did not fear
to take a strong stand for righteousness when occasion offered, and
Charles had to make his peace with the head of the Church as best he
could.

The policy of “frightfulness” had its advantages to its perpetrator,
however, and the other rebellious cities surrendered at discretion,
losing their treasured liberties and becoming simply communities in a
united and centralised state. In the end Charles lost, for Louis XI was
a schemer of such profound duplicity that only the devil himself could
have matched him in the long run, and on even terms. The duke met
failure at every turn: in his effort to co-ordinate his unruly
provinces into a working organism, in his ambition to become King of
Burgundy instead of duke, in his last war against the Swiss when he was
utterly defeated and slain. He was succeeded by his daughter, the famous
Mary of Burgundy, who also became a victim of the royal spider of
France, but countered on him by suddenly marrying Maximilian, son of the
Emperor, and so beginning that train of events that severed Burgundy
from its French associations and brought its several parts into a
relationship with Germany that continued for nearly three centuries.

Young, beautiful, clever, and immensely popular, Mary of Burgundy seemed
destined to accomplish what her father had failed to bring about, the
unification and restoration of a great Burgundian state, but after only
five years of rule she was killed by a fall from her horse while
hunting, and Philip, her infant son, became duke in name, and the old
political troubles rose to a climax that in the end brought in the
Spanish dominion and the ruin that followed in its wake.

The cities of Flanders and Brabant turned again to France, in a frantic
effort to regain their lost liberties, while Maximilian, who had been
crowned King of Rome, and was of course next in succession to the
Empire, fought again and again to restore his supremacy, and regain his
infant son, the future Philip the Fair, who had been sent to France to
be educated and to get him out of the hands of his father. In the end he
defeated the ring-leading cities, Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres, and was
acknowledged regent. In 1493 Frederick died and Maximilian succeeded him
as Emperor, proclaiming Philip as Count of Flanders, marrying him out of
hand to Joanna, Infanta of Castile, and betrothing his sister to Don
John, heir to the crown of Spain. The sudden rise of a great new power
in the Iberian Peninsula had overturned all the old alignments; the
driving of the Moors from Spain and the union of Aragon and Castile in
Ferdinand and Isabella had revealed a new force that might be used
against France, and more dependable than England, and the new Emperor
was not slow to recognise his opportunity. His sister never married Don
John, who died before the projected wedding, and was followed by his
sister, the Queen of Portugal, so suddenly the Count of Flanders and his
countess became heirs to the throne of Spain. They gained little
advantage from this, although after the death of Queen Isabella in 1505
they went to Spain, and were proclaimed as king and queen, but their
glory was short-lived, for in the following year Philip met a sudden and
untimely end, his queen went mad through grief, and the Emperor became
the dominating influence in Spain as well as in Flanders through the
guardianship of his five-year-old grandson, the future Charles V.

During his minority his aunt, Margaret of Austria, had acted as regent,
and with a wisdom and a benevolence her male predecessors had never
shown, so that when in 1515 Charles became actual ruler of Flanders, he
found himself in possession of a calm and contented community. Carefully
educated by his admirable aunt, Charles, the heir to seventeen kingdoms,
could speak the language of each, and he had, moreover, the enormous
advantage of being tutored by the great Erasmus of Rotterdam. Hardly had
he become King of Spain through the death of Ferdinand, when his
grandfather died, and he became Emperor as well. Practically all Europe,
and America also, were his, and after his war with France which ended at
Pavia with the capture of Francis I (when all was “lost save honour”),
he was the temporal Lord of the World, except England alone, while the
spiritual power of the Papacy was his only rival on the Continent, and
the Pope himself was his old tutor, Adrian, Archbishop of Toledo.

Charles was as able as he was universal in his sovereignty; he organised
his vast empire on practical lines under well-chosen regents, none of
whom was more excellent than Margaret of Austria, under whom the country
prospered exceedingly. She was as shrewd and far-seeing as she was
admirable in character; a poet in her own right, she fostered art,
letters, and general culture, and her death in 1530 was a loss to
Flanders and also to the Emperor, who immediately appointed his sister
Mary regent in her place, a lady of less distinguished abilities, but a
good and faithful servant for a quarter of a century.

Charles V estimated Luther, and the Reformation generally, at something
of their true value; he saw the menace as well as the merit of the
budding revolution and opposed it firmly because of its dangerous
elements, which were already revealing themselves. The great era of the
Middle Ages had come to an end, carrying with it in its fall many of
those elements of righteousness in thought and action for which Charles
cared almost passionately. He was of the older age rather than of the
new, and in the end the conviction that he had failed to stem the tide,
coupled with the progressive ruin of the old religion, the old
philosophy, the old order of life, led him to abdicate what was almost
the throne of the world and seek refuge in a monastery, where he devoted
the brief remainder of his life to prayer, meditation, and the making of
watches.

In the meantime, however, he had done Europe inestimable services,
amongst them the beating back of the Moslem host, the recovery to
Christianity of Hungary, the conquest of Tunis, and the general blocking
of the double lines of Mohammedan advance. He was successful in his new
crusade against the Eastern infidels, but he could not arrest the
progress of heresy and anarchy in the West, and he finally abandoned the
fight in despair, turning over to others a royalty too heavy to be
borne. To his son Philip were given Spain, the American possessions, and
the “Low Countries,” which then comprised all Belgium, Holland, and
Luxembourg as well as Artois and Cambrai. So began the Spanish dominion
over the very centre of the Heart of Europe. It was the richest state
in the world; when Philip II became sovereign there were seventeen
provinces with 208 great walled towns, 150 boroughs and more than 6,000
villages. The products were infinitely varied and were famous throughout
the world: woollen cloth, linen, silk, velvet, damask, embroideries,
gloves, metal-work of every kind. Antwerp was in the lead in commerce,
and it is said that the city had a population of 250,000, with 1,000
resident foreign merchants; 500 ships entered the port daily, and 300
wagons from across the frontiers of France and the Empire, while more
business was transacted there in a week than in two years in Venice, her
great commercial rival in the South. Such were the lands that came to
Philip of Spain: the richest prize that Europe could afford.



IV

A SPANISH NETHERLANDS


When Philip II came to the throne there was a new king in France, Henry
II, who forthwith broke the peace Charles V had engineered, and
proceeded to invade both Italy and Flanders. He was promptly beaten, in
the north by Egmont at St. Quentin, and after so disastrous a fashion
that hardly any one but Nevers and Condé escaped. It was in gratitude
for the brilliant victory of his Belgian troops that Philip built the
palace of the Escorial. Trying again the next year, Henry did indeed,
through the Duke de Guise (whose luck was better than that which
followed him when he met Alva the year before in Italy), regain Calais,
during the absence of the English garrison, who were home on a holiday;
but again Egmont came into the breech, crushed the French at Gravelines,
and so forced the treaty of Câteau-Cambrésis, which obliged France,
amongst other penalties, to give up to Philip more than two hundred
walled towns, though she was allowed to retain Calais, Mary of England
now being dead.

Flemish soldiers, now forming the best trained and most effective army
in Europe, had won the war for Philip, but out of the victory came in
the end the ruin of their country, for before leaving for Spain, which
he loved, he demanded of the Netherlands, which he disliked, three
million florins toward the expense of the war. This was granted, but
coupled with a request that the Spanish garrison be withdrawn. It
happened that this demand was made at the instigation of William, Prince
of Orange, who now appears on the scene, for he had discovered that
Henry and Philip had secretly agreed to stamp out Protestantism in the
Low Countries by introducing the Spanish Inquisition, and that the alien
garrison was to be the means of putting this plan into effect. William
of Orange was not a Fleming but a German; he had expected to be made
regent when the King went back to Spain, and had been disappointed. He
was neither a Catholic nor a Protestant, but a cold, silent, far-seeing
politician of extremely rationalistic views. He knew that the spirit of
independence in the Netherlands was so dominating that Catholics and
Protestants alike could be allied against both the Inquisition and a
foreign garrison. He cleverly united them on this basis, alienated the
last flicker of friendly feeling on the part of Philip, and so
precipitated the conflict that raged for almost a century to the ruin
and misery of all the seventeen provinces. Philip appeared to yield,
went back to Spain, and at once began his scheming for the destruction
of the Protestant heresy in his too-independent territories.

So far as the aristocracy, the rich burghers, and the cultivated classes
were concerned, Protestantism had made little if any headway in spite of
the wide corruption of the Church, but among the peasants and the
ignorant, particularly in the great cities, it had taken firm hold. To
Philip it was both a damnable heresy and a civil menace; he hated it as
his father had hated it, but Charles V was of a different mould and
temper. Philip was a Spanish Catholic, and therein (at that time) lay
all the difference. To him with his cold mind and pitiless temper there
was only one question: how to root out this accursed and poisonous
growth. The answer was at hand in the shape of the peculiar type of
inquisition which had been invented in Spain for the sole purpose of
completing the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from the Peninsula after
the final defeat of the Mohammedan invaders. It had proved its
efficiency to admiration, and, though it had never been used against
Christian heretics, Philip felt (as others have felt after him) that
both the righteous State and the Catholic Church were, through the King,
fighting for their lives, and that he had no right to balk at any means
that offered when it was a question of life or death.

The old “Papal” Inquisition, which came into existence toward the end of
the Middle Ages, and was the corollary of the dawning spirit of the
Renaissance with which it synchronised, was legitimate enough, if you
hold, as every one held then, that spiritual evil is as wicked as
material evil, and just as worthy of formal punishment. Trials were
conducted according to civil law, they were public, and the secular arm
alone inflicted punishment. The “Spanish” Inquisition, which is the form
so bitterly condemned to-day, was a creature of the Renaissance in its
fulness. It was an engine of the most diabolical efficiency, for its
proceedings were secret, its finding irrevocable, its penalties
merciless and as cruel as English criminal law in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, though it lacked certain of the refinements of
torture that were first developed under “Good King Hal” when he was
waging his war against the monks and monasteries of his own England.

Had Philip been dealing with the Popes of the Middle Ages, he could
never have imposed the Spanish Inquisition on the Netherlands, but those
of the Renaissance were as different as possible, and he had no trouble
in gaining their consent. A few burnings took place, and then the loyal
and Catholic but intensely patriotic nobles took matters into their own
hands and through the regent, Margaret of Parma, warned the King that
unless the thing was stopped the provinces would act in defence of their
own rights and in accordance with their solemnly guaranteed privileges.
The Protestant mob also began to act after its own fashion, without
waiting for an answer from Philip, and week after week carried on a
course of destruction that wrecked cathedrals, monasteries, churches,
and destroyed more old stained glass, wonderful statues, great pictures,
jewelled vestments, and sacred vessels than have escaped to this day.
The senseless and sacrilegious fury of this mob of the baser sort not
only lashed the King into a cold fury but it even halted some of the
Catholic nobles, many of whom, including Egmont himself, began to wonder
if, after all, the Inquisition was not permissible in the light of the
revelations that were being made in the desecrated churches of Antwerp
and Ghent and Tournai. No advantage was taken of this changing
sentiment, however, and, ready at last, Philip struck, and the Duke of
Alva, with an army of 10,000 picked men, marched up from Genoa, occupied
Brussels, seized every disaffected leader, including even those like
Egmont and Horn, who were both loyal and devout Catholics (but barring
Orange, who had cautiously retreated to Germany), and established the
“Council of Blood,” which during the first week of its activities
executed more than eight hundred men whose only crime was protesting
against the denial of their guaranteed liberties and the maintenance of
the Inquisition.

The Prince of Orange organised in Germany a small armed force for the
deliverance of the cowed and horrified Netherlanders, but his first
victory over Alva’s forces was answered by immediate reprisals in
Brussels, a score of nobles being sent to the block, including Horn and

[Illustration: THE DUKE OF ALVA, MORO VAN DASHORST

_From a photograph by Hanfstaengl_]

Egmont, the latter being the most honoured of the nobles and as good a
Catholic as he was a soldier. The people remained absolutely crushed,
making no effort to rise in support of the Prince of Orange, who,
defeated by Alva, sought the aid of the French Protestants, attacked
from the sea by means of privateers who preyed on Spanish commerce, and
finally, by establishing a base in Holland, raised this portion of the
Spanish Netherlands against Alva and made himself actual head of a new
state. In the meantime a Huguenot army had laid siege to Mons, but just
as victory seemed near the Massacre of St. Bartholomew ended the
Protestant party in France for ever, destroyed all the hopes that had
been raised through the possibility of assistance from Coligny, and sent
Orange back again behind the Rhine, leaving Flanders and Brabant to
their fate. Alva saw to it that this was sufficiently awful, and then
began operations against Holland, but by this time Philip had become
thoroughly tired of the costly war and listened willingly to the enemies
of the terrible duke, recalled him, and sent in his place the
comparatively mild and accommodating Requesens.

The tale is now one of progressive and finally successful efforts at
pacifying the country, the undoing so far as possible of the bloody work
of Alva, the winning back to the Church and to the Spanish crown of all
those who had not gone over definitely to Protestantism and the Prince
of Orange. Both the Pope and the King offered full amnesty, and the
southern provinces, those, that is, that now form the kingdom of
Belgium, accepted at once and completely, for after all they were
solidly Catholic and in principle not averse to Spanish dominion. The
northern provinces--_i. e._, Holland--rejected all overtures, binding
themselves completely, implacably, and savagely to Protestantism, and
from now on the former Spanish Netherlands became two states: Holland,
soon to win its independence, and Belgium, now and for a long time to
come, a Spanish province.

Order was still far away. It was in the year 1573 that Requesens came to
reverse the policy of Alva, and not until the Peace of Utrecht in 1715,
when Spanish rule was finally terminated, that there was any rest or
relief for the tortured and ruined provinces of Flanders and Brabant.
Requesens died; the Spanish troops mutinied, were joined by the German
mercenaries, and began a war on their own account, burning and sacking
Antwerp, butchering 6,000 of the population, and harrying the country
right and left. Then came Don John of Austria, Philip’s new
governor-general, the victor of Lepanto, and a figure out of the pages
of mediæval romance. He came too late; anarchy was firmly fixed in the
saddle, riding rough-shod over the desolated garden of Europe.
Abandoning his original policy of pacification, he turned to war and was
successful, but only to find about every power in Europe represented in
the roaring inferno. Orange was fighting from Antwerp as his
headquarters, the provincial representatives, with Brussels as their
centre, were howling for help from any source; the Protestant faction
called John Casimir, Count Palatine, to their assistance, while the
Catholics appealed to the Duke d’Alençon, and both put in an appearance,
the latter seizing Maubeuge and working thence into the interior, while
the former defeated Don John in a pitched battle and drove him back to
Namur, where in a few months he died of chagrin and a broken heart,
after making his nephew Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, his
successor in the field.

Hell is the only name that can be applied to the unhappy land, the
condition of which was not unlike that of Mexico in this year of
enlightenment, 1915. The Renaissance and the Reformation together had
extinguished both civilisation and culture over the greater part of
Europe; war was everywhere and incessant, all principle had been
abandoned and the ethical standards of society had disappeared.
Slaughter, civil war, assassination, treason, and sacrilege howled
through an ever-widening desolation and the end of the world seemed at
hand. Fortunately, in a way, the outrageous career of the Protestants
served as an impulse to union; their savagery in Ghent and Brussels
somehow pulled the people of Belgium together and enabled Parma to win
some small order out of the insane chaos. He began a new campaign, drove
out the French, laid siege to the Calvinists in Ghent, and at last (the
Prince of Orange having been assassinated at the instigation of Philip)
broke down the last Protestant resistance in Brussels and Antwerp and
for the moment restored peace over a deserted, ruined, and blood-stained
land. And then Philip II died and dying abandoned the country he had
received as the richest in Europe and left as the most miserable and
poverty-stricken, handing it over to new rulers in the persons of his
daughter Isabella and her husband, the Archduke Albert of Austria.

The great and happy and wealthy state created by the House of Burgundy
had been utterly destroyed and irretrievably ruined. A new Protestant
state had been formed from one fragment in the north, other portions
were shortly to be incorporated in France, and the nine provinces that
still remained out of the original seventeen were hardly more than a
geographical abstraction. Half the great cities had been sacked and
burned, the craftsmen and artisans were slaughtered or in exile, the
cold and greedy Hollanders had seized (and were to retain by force or
fraud) the vast commerce that once was the possession of Flanders and
Brabant, agriculture had ceased, famine was universal, religion and
mercy and education were memories, while the old civic spirit and the
old freedom and independence were things of so long ago they were not
even remembered.

To do them justice, the new sovereigns meant well by the exhausted
country, but first of all they had set their hearts on the crushing of
the Protestant Netherlands, and nine years of war set in which ended at
last with the complete victory of the Dutch republic and its
acknowledged independence. Then came the anomaly of twelve years of
peace with the astonishing outburst of a genuine and brilliant if
evanescent culture. Peace is a good foundation for industry, trade, and
commerce, but the fact is unavoidable that the black ploughing and the
red fertilising of a land by war frequently bring a luxuriant crop of
those cultural products that have issue in character as they follow from
it. Here in Flanders the years between the Peace of Antwerp in 1609 and
the restoration of Spanish rule on the death of Albert in 1624, were
opulent with all manner of civic and personal wealth in those lines that
are cultural rather than material. It was a time of the restoration of
religion through new monastic foundations, of the establishing of houses
of mercy, of the building up of great universities, of the development
of printing, of the production of great scientists and scholars, of a
new era of painting. The University of Louvain dates from this time, the
great printing-house of the Plantins and the Moretus, the art of Rubens
and Vandyck.

It was all temporary, however, and ephemeral. Spain took charge once
more, the Dutch continued their policy of commercial and religious
aggression, the Thirty Years’ War drew the unfortunate provinces into
its whirlpool; the war between France and Spain was largely fought on
their territory, the war of France against the United Netherlands
resulted in the seizure by the unsuccessful party--France--of Belgian
territory as a salve to its wounded pride. Year after year Belgium was
subject to renewed devastations; what the Protestants and Spaniards had
left the French despoiled. Brussels, which had now become the richest
and most splendid of the cities, was bombarded with red-hot cannon balls
and almost wholly destroyed, sixteen churches and four thousand houses
being burned, and the great city deprived of almost its last examples of
the great art of the Middle Ages.

And so the wretched tale goes on, generation after generation. God alone
knows how or why anything was left in Belgium, either of art or culture
or character or religion, or even of the rudiments of civilisation.
Still something did remain for destruction, as was proved a little later
by the revolutionists of France and recently by the Prussians, both of
whom have performed the final work quite perfectly. The Heart of Europe
had been torn, lacerated, crushed, for one hundred and sixty years, and
yet somehow it continued to beat on. A great Christian culture, a great
congeries of Christian peoples, product of the splendid centuries from
1000 to 1500 A. D., had been destroyed and superseded by the very
different force engendered by Renaissance and Reformation. If there are
those who still, despite the blazing enlightenment of the last
twelvemonth, retain any illusions as to the comparative beneficence of
the two epochs, it would be well for them to consider in detail the
annals and the peoples and the personalities of the Heart of Europe
during the five centuries of mediævalism, and the same during the five
centuries of the Renaissance and the Reformation. The contrast is
striking, the revision of judgments unescapable, the lesson, immediately
to be applied in the present crisis, pregnant of possible benefits.

With the Peace of Utrecht all that is now Belgium passed to the Emperor
Charles VI, and Austrian dominion began. In contrast to the preceding
horrors it was comparatively uneventful; while Prince Charles of
Lorraine was governor the country was quiet and prosperous and a
certain advance occurred on cultural lines. This enlightened prince
deserves well of history in one respect at least, for, by an imperial
decree he caused to be issued, it was solemnly asserted that a gentleman
did not lose his status as such if he indulged in the practice of the
arts or letters! Joseph II, who followed him, was a pedantic reformer of
laudable intentions, who set himself to the perfecting of everything,
both religious and secular, to the extreme irritation of his people who
simply wanted to govern themselves and apparently cared little whether
this were well done or ill. In the end the whole country broke up again
in rebellion and disorder, the nobles leagued in one group under the
Duke d’Arenberg, the lower classes in a second with a vulgar and noisy
demagogue, Van der Noot, as its leader. Somehow or other they managed to
get together at Breda, raised an army, defeated the Austrian garrisons,
and drove the Emperor Joseph across the Meuse when he forthwith died of
sheer discouragement.

Then followed a short-lived “republic” engineered by Van der Noot, who
was an adherent of the new French ideas, with an attack on the nobles
which was sufficiently successful to bring their party to an end. Next,
the powers who looked most askance at the fast-growing
revolution--England, Holland, and Prussia--united for the restoration of
Austrian authority, on general principles, and the Emperor Leopold II,
with their support, asserted, and then established his authority,
capturing Namur and within two weeks occupying the whole country (which
accepted him contentedly enough), driving the ambitious advocate with
the revolutionary tendencies into a well-merited exile. Austria tried
honestly enough to conciliate the country, but its temper and
inclinations were otherwise, so France was asked to intervene, which she
was not loath to do, sending Dumouriez to undertake the task. Badly
beaten at first, he succeeded finally at Valmy and Jemappes, and the
French Revolution assumed control. The cabal of assassins then in power
in Paris decreed that Belgium should be saved, but that first she must
be purged, and a choice assortment of thirty ruffians was sent to
Brussels to see that this was done. A guillotine was set up at once, and
clerics, nobles, and the wealthier merchants became its victims, while
the patriot army, supported by the local revolutionists, acted after
their kind and sacked the remaining churches, destroyed religious
houses, and generally plundered whatever they safely could, _i. e._,
whatever was unable to defend itself. Dumouriez countenanced none of
this, but he was playing a double game, acting ostensibly for the cabal
in Paris though with the idea always before him that if he could control
Belgium and conquer Holland he would be in a good position from which to
turn on his employers, crush them, and then restore the monarchy on
constitutional lines. Unfortunately for his plans, he was defeated by
the allies and again Austria won back her insecure provinces. She was
received with the facile enthusiasm which now seemed chronic with the
shattered Belgian character, but after a few months was driven out for
the last time when France was finally victorious over the half-hearted,
selfish, and ineffectual allies, only one of whom, England, was waging
war against the republic with anything approaching sincerity and
determination.

Again the French--or rather the republican faction--entered into
possession, and unhappy Belgium felt the full force of its grinning
hypocrisy, its satanic savagery, and its unscrupulous greed. “Liberty,
Equality, and Fraternity” was painted on the walls, and simultaneously
the country was robbed of its last coins, its laws and privileges were
overthrown, its citizens deprived of even the most fundamental rights of
liberty and property, while the few remaining abbeys and castles were
sacked, burned, and their ruins razed to the ground. Alva had been an
amateur compared with the new apostles of liberty, and when at last
Belgium was declared regenerate and was incorporated in the French
“republic,” nothing remained for incorporation except a name, a memory,
and a huddle of entirely ruined and perfectly hopeless victims of four
centuries of cumulative enlightenment and progress.

Of course they rebelled; of course whole groups of desperate men took to
the forests and moors, robbing, killing, existing as best they could,
and of course they were crushed again and again; at last, however,
Bonaparte began to bring some order out of the republican anarchy, and
conditions improved. When at last he proclaimed himself Emperor the
Belgians accepted him with the same avidity they always had shown for
any man who promised some alleviation of their intolerable sufferings.
Holland was occupied and given a king of its own, Napoleon’s brother
Louis, who was not only the strongest and finest character in the
family, but so righteous in his kingship and so whole-heartedly devoted
to his Dutch that he soon alienated the sympathies of his imperial
brother while failing to gain those of his somewhat difficult subjects.

The dream empire began to dissolve; Holland revolted, and the Prince of
Orange was restored; Belgium was occupied by the Allies, who had got to
work again, and the scheme of a new state, to be formed of all the old
seventeen provinces united under the Prince of Orange, was brought
forward against the wishes of the Belgians, who preferred the
restoration of Austrian rule. They had lived too close to their
Protestant Dutch neighbours and had too keen a memory of their character
and habits to desire amalgamation with them on any terms.

Napoleon went to Elba, came back, called on his “loyal Belgians” to
support him, advanced into their territories, and at Waterloo lost
everything and melted away into history and legend, leaving Belgium in
unnatural union with the Dutch provinces, where it remained for some
fifteen years, revolting in 1830, making good its rebellion, and
establishing itself as an independent state under the sovereignty of
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, who had been elected King on the refusal
of the Duc de Nemours, first chosen by the victorious provisional
government.

The long agony was at an end; it had lasted from August 22, 1567, when
the Duke of Alva entered Brussels, until July 21, 1831, when Leopold I
was crowned King of Belgium, a period of two hundred and sixty-four
years. Other peoples and other states have been brought low, time out of
mind; have suffered, disintegrated, and disappeared. It would be hard to
find another instance, however, where so fabulously rich a people, and
so cultivated withal, so supreme in their achievement of a lofty and
well-rounded civilisation, have been called upon to submit to so
prolonged, varied, and searching an assault, to descend to such depths
of misery, poverty, and degradation--and who yet have preserved through
two centuries and a half of agony and spoliation a tradition and a habit
of righteousness that, when the great test arrived, blazed upward in
sudden fierceness of self-revelation to the confusion of new enemies and
the wonder of a world. What lies beyond awaits the proof, but for the
moment three centuries have dropped away and the old independence, the
old fearlessness, the old honour of Bruges and Ghent, of Liége and
Malines shine again on old battle-fields of new carnage and in new
hearts of old righteousness. The new era begins, and the world waits,
confident of the issue.



V

THE GLORY OF A GREAT ART


BETWEEN Paris and Cologne, Strasbourg and Bruges lies, in little, nearly
the whole history of northern architecture from Charlemagne to the last
Louis of France, when it ceased to be an art and became a fashion. The
greater part of Normandy lies, it is true, across the Seine, and is, for
the time, beyond our field of vision, but, barring Caen, architectural
significance is well concentrated in the triangle, Rouen, Dieppe, le
Havre. The same is true of the old Royaume of France; though Chartres
and Bourges lie to the south, the beginning, and in some sense the
culmination, of Gothic is to be found between Seine and Somme. In the
east, to the Rhine, we have practically all that Germany has
contributed, except in the later days of the Renaissance.

If we like, we may go far beyond the dim and mysterious era of the
Carolings, finding in Trèves old Roman ruins that take us back four or
five centuries earlier, but the real history of this region begins with
Charlemagne and takes us to his favourite city of Aix-la-Chapelle for
the single, but vastly significant, building left us as evidence of his
inspiration and his creative power. With the ending of this day-dream
there comes a great silence, while civilisation and culture disappear
again, to be restored two centuries later, far to the west, and at the
hands of the Normans. Here we find St. Georges de Bocherville, Fécamp,
and the inestimable and forgotten ruins of Jumièges. For transition to
Gothic we have Senlis, Soissons, Noyon, with Laon and Paris as earliest
Gothic of pure and consistent type; Châlons, Amiens, and Reims for
culmination, and Abbeville, Rouen, Beauvais, Troyes, and Strasbourg for
its sumptuous decline.

From the other hand we go on from Aix to Cologne for the fine
eleventh-century work that took up the tale after the second Dark Ages
that followed the ending of the empire of the Carolings, with more
examples at Laach and in Hildesheim, which also are beyond our survey. A
century later we get the consistent Teutonic art of Trèves, Mayence,
Spires, and Worms, while the high Gothic of the noon of mediævalism is
found at Cologne and Strasbourg, with the last rich fantasy of all, in
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in Brussels and Antwerp and
Malines, in Courtrai, Tournai, Namur, Louvain, Ghent, Ypres, and Bruges.
For Renaissance we find all we need, and everywhere; churches, palaces,
guild-halls, châteaux, dwellings, from the fanciful transition at
Dieppe, Rouen, Gisors, to the sophisticated, well-conditioned, and
perfectly artificial restored classic of Nancy.

As there is no other country in the north, of equal area, where history
has been made so plenteously and of such varied quality, so it is with
its art, and its architecture in particular, which marks the beginnings,
the culmination, and the close of the three stylistic periods of
Christian civilisation in the West--Carolingian, Norman, and Gothic--and
through monuments singularly significant and equally notable in their
perfection. It would be impossible to quote a tenth of them; there are a
hundred at least, each of which demands (and many have received) a
volume or more, but at least we can pick the most priceless, either for
history or beauty, in a farewell that may be final for all, as already
it is for such consummate and vanished masterpieces as the Cloth Hall at
Ypres and the Cathedral of Reims.

Let us begin with Aix, just over the Belgian

[Illustration: JUMIÈGES]

frontier, the “City of the Great King,” where culture lightened again
after the long night, and where, of all the churches and palaces of the
Emperor, only one remains as evidence of what he did. The royal chapel
has been built onto and over and around, but the original norm remains
in the shape of that polygonal form with surrounding arcades that was a
step in the development of the perfect Gothic chevet. To a great extent
it is a replica of San Vitale in Ravenna, and may very well have been
built by the descendants of those Roman craftsmen who, after the fall of
the one-time capitol of the world, sought refuge either under Byzantine
protection in Ravenna or on Lake Como, where the tradition is they
carefully cherished the traditions and the esoteric mysteries of their
art, perpetuating the slowly fading memory through secret lodges that,
some held, were the progenitors of modern freemasonry.

When the possibilities of a new culture and a restored civilisation
revealed themselves to the conqueror, who was also statesman, patriot,
and (after his dim and flickering light) Christian, two centuries had
left the West a wilderness, and all was to do over again. There were, it
seemed, neither scholars nor artists nor righteous leaders of any sort
in the world, and the task must have appeared hopeless. Charlemagne,
undaunted, sent east and west, from Britain to Spain, searching out
those who, by report, rose above the hopeless level of barbarian
mediocrity. Alcuin of Britain, Peter of Pisa, Theodulphus, Hincmar,
Eriugena, Radbertus Maurus, gathered around him at Aix, forming a
cultural centre, reforming the Church, building up schools, creating an
art almost out of nothing.

There was little enough, though Rome had its basilicas of the time of
Constantine--San Paolo, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Maggiore; from the
East, it is true, travellers brought back wondering stories of the
splendour of Justinian’s churches, with Hagia Sophia at the head; in
Ravenna were the more modest monuments of the Exarchate--Sant’
Apollinare in Classe, San Vitale--in Istria, at Parenzo and Grado, were
churches showing some new elements probably provided by Lombard
builders, and San Pietro, Toscanella stood like a miracle, novel,
without forebears, a new version of an ancient theme. These are what we
have left, and then there was more, for much has since been destroyed,
but most of it lay far afield, and in the north there was nothing. The
work of co-ordination was well performed, however, and the succession
was re-established; after the chapel at Aix, therefore, architectural
development was continuous, if moderate, though any estimate must be
dubious owing to the almost complete destruction of the monuments. We
still have the apses of Sant’ Ambrogio in Milan; San Donato, Zara, N. D.
de la Couture of Le Mans, and Montier en Der, none of them particularly
inspiring or inspired, and none with any hint of what was suddenly to
happen at Jumièges in the eleventh century. That the latter building may
not have been as amazing an innovation as it appears is indicated by
fragments and foundations of the work that came between it and
Charlemagne, as at St. Martin of Tours, where the Revolution has left us
nothing but foundations indicative of a former superstructure that may
well have been the connecting-link, and might have changed our entire
estimate of the quality of the architecture of the second Dark Ages. As
it is, this chapel at Aix stands not only first in the great recovery of
the eighth century, but almost unique, with no successors for nearly
three centuries.

When the true dawn begins to lighten the hills, it is in the west that
its coming is foreshown, in that Duchy of Normandy, where in a century
the fierce Vikings, who had been driven from the coast of Flanders in
their forays from the Baltic, had become the finely tempered material
out of which was to be forged, by the monks of Cluny, a Catholic
civilisation that was to extend itself over all western Europe and
endure for five centuries. Of the three great abbeys that were the
centres from which radiated the great transforming force, Bec, Fécamp,
and Jumièges, the two latter lie on our side of the Seine, with the
third only ten miles on the other side, while St. Georges de
Bocherville, intact except for its pestilential restoration, is of the
same period, as is Cérisy le Forêt. Caen, with its two abbeys of the
Conqueror, inestimable monuments of architectural history, is well to
the west, with Evreux, Lisieux, Bayeux, and Mont St. Michel, but we have
enough on the right bank to demonstrate the nature and the greatness of
the work accomplished by Cluny and the Normans in a union cemented by a
vital and crescent Christianity.

Jumièges stands first, in its forgotten loop of the Seine, and is
amazing, no less. But for its fine new fourteenth-century chevet, it
was, at the time of the French Revolution, almost in its original state,
but it was destroyed then, with Cluny, Avranches, St. Martin of Tours,
and other priceless monuments, though by no means so completely. To-day
its towering walls, rising above thick trees and greenery, are
startlingly picturesque, but their great value lies in the revelation
they make of what was possible in the earliest days of Christian
recovery. The work was begun in 1040 and finished within twenty-five
years, being followed immediately by the abbeys of Caen, as these were
followed by St. Georges de Bocherville. The original plan was in each
case about the same, the standard type, originally Latin, with Syrian,
and probably Lombard and Carolingian, developments; cruciform, aisled
both in nave and choir, the latter being of two bays only, with an apse,
but no apsidal aisle and chapels as at Tours. The transepts are of two
bays on either side the central tower, the end bays having galleries or
tribunes, with a subordinate apse to the east, so forming, in the lower
stage, small, low chapels. It is in the working upward from this plan
that the significant developments appear, and both here and at Cérisy
le Forêt, we find the order of round-arched arcade, high triforium of
two arches under a containing arch, and a single clerestory window,
Cérisy having as well an open clerestory arcade of three units. The
system is clearly alternating, as in Lombardy and Tuscany, but there is
no evidence that vaulting was ever contemplated; instead, I think it
certain that great transverse arches on every other pier, supporting a
wooden roof, were in mind, after the Syrian fashion, as it was later
modified at San Miniato in Florence, a few years before, though these
were certainly never built at Jumièges. The west front, with its tall,
flanking towers, is of the Como type (query: Is the hand of the Comacine
master visible here?), while all the vertical proportions are more lofty
and aspiring than had ever been known before. As a matter of fact, given
the chevet with its aisle and radiating chapels, which was already being
worked out farther south by the simple process of halving the Syrian,
Byzantine, Ravennesque, and Carolingian polygonal church and attaching
this to the simultaneously developed nave, and you have all the potency
of the Gothic system, the high vault (sexpartite or quadripartite) with
its flying buttresses now to be worked out at Caen, giving the final
structural element, while the expanding Catholic faith and the buoyant
northern blood were woven together to have issue in that essentially
mediæval character which was to transform the whole, infusing it with
that peculiar spiritual quality which gave its distinctive character,
through a new vision of beauty, to the art that had been evolved for the
full expression of a Christian civilisation at last triumphant and
supreme over a dead paganism.

After Cluny and Jumièges, Paris, Bourges, Chartres, and Reims are
inevitable, and the working out of a great destiny is headlong and
almost incredible. Jumièges was finished in 1066, the year of the Norman
conquest of England; Reims was begun in 1212. Within a space of a
century and a half the greatest architectural evolution in history had
taken place, so echoing and voicing an equally unprecedented development
in human character and culture. In 1066, hardly more than fifty years
had passed since Christian society emerged from two centuries of
barbarism; in 1212 it had mounted to the loftiest levels of human
achievement, with a theology, a philosophy, and an art, whatever its
form, with which there had been nothing comparable in the past, with
which the achievements that were to follow, as they now show themselves
in the red light of a revealing war, seem only the insane wanderings of
a disorganised horde.

The sequence of development is well worked out east of the Seine, and at
the hands of the Franks of the “Royaume,” now under the direction of the
Cistercians, as a century before the Normans had been controlled by the
Cluniacs. This constant revivification of monasticism during crescent
periods of human growth is a very interesting phenomenon. Apparently
monasticism, which has accompanied Christianity from its earliest
beginning until to-day, is an essential portion of its working
structure, and if you accept Christianity in fact, you cannot escape
accepting the “religious life” in principle. It seems, however, that it
is always in unstable equilibrium, prone to inevitable decadence, and no
order lasts out three generations without losing its beneficent energy.
When life is on its periodic upward curve, a reformation always occurs
at the critical moment, and there is no loss of impetus; so the original
Benedictinism which had served Charlemagne so well, but had sunk into
worse than inaction, gave place in the eleventh century to the great
Cluniac reform, which in its turn was succeeded by the Cistercian
reform, as this yielded after another hundred years to the reform of St.
Dominic and St. Francis.

Now the Romanesque art of Toulouse, Aquitaine, and Burgundy, the Norman
of Normandy and England, the Rhenish of Germany, were largely
Benedictine of the Cluniac mode, and the style rapidly became
inordinately sumptuous, costly, and magnificent, as at Arles, Toulouse,
Poitiers, Glastonbury, Durham. It has been said of monastic movements:
“First generation pious, second generation learned, third generation
decadent.” Certainly as the Benedictines in France went on to the
twelfth century, their original austerity and fervour were relaxed, and
their art became a thing of splendour as their wealth and learning and
temporal power increased. The Cistercian movement of Robert of Molesme
and Stephen Harding and Bernard of Clairvaux was a revolt against luxury
and laxity, an attempt (as ever) to get back to the supposititious
simplicity of earlier times, and in the success that followed
architecture changed completely, though the ending of the new style, and
even its consummation, were different indeed from what the Cistercian
reforms had desired.

In its beginnings Gothic architecture was an attempt at economy, the
trying for something less massive and ornate than the great Benedictine
piles of inert masonry. By cleverly developing a system of balanced
thrusts, the sheer bulk of masonry was reduced by half, while attention
was drawn away from the fast-increasing ornamentation to the shell
itself, whereby a great gain was effected, and architecture became once
more a study in organism, in composition, and in proportion. Gothic is
primarily the perfection of exquisite organism, almost living in its
consummate integrity and its sensitive interplay of forces. This
perfectly co-ordinated structure is, of course, infused and transfigured
by an intense sense of beauty, quite new in its forms, and given a
spiritual and symbolical content peculiar to itself, the result being
what, for want of a better term, we call Gothic. The two elements cannot
be disassociated, as pedants feign, for, like all great art, it is in a
sense sacramental, and the “outward and visible sign” may never be
separated from the “inward and spiritual grace.”[A]

[A] “Sacramentum est corporale vel materiale elementum foris
sensibiliter propositum ex similitudine repræsentans, et ex
institutione significans et ex sanctificatione continens, aliquam
invisibilem et spiritualem gratiam.”--(Hugo de St. Victoire.)

Both processes may be followed through the great sequence of churches
between the Seine, the Marne, and the Somme--or might have been a year
ago. To-day it is safe to postulate nothing of a dim and ominous future;
we know that much of this galaxy has been destroyed after seven
centuries of careful cherishing through innumerable wars and
revolutions. That all may go is possible, as the power that brought them
into existence has gone, though in this case only for a time. Once,
however, the great and triumphal progress from Jumièges through Noyon,
Senlis, St. Denis, Laon, Paris, Amiens, to its final achievement at
Reims, was a complete and visible record of the greatest and most
headlong advance toward the real things in Christian civilisation by
means of the real things in Christian civilisation history has ever
recorded. Five of these--Senlis, Noyon, Laon, Amiens, and Reims lie
either within the battle lines that have maintained themselves so long,
or at least within sound of the guns; one has been destroyed--Reims; one
thus far preserved--Amiens. The fate of the others is in doubt, together
with that of all the lands that lie to the east, and the danger of
irreparable loss is greater than ever before since the French
Revolution.

There was no better place than this once-lovely region, now hidden from
view in the lurid smoke and the poisoned fumes of a new and demoniac
sort of war, in which to watch the swift growth to a splendid
self-consciousness of Gothic architecture. The elements of Gothic
organism had been developed in the twelfth century by the great
Cluniac-Norman alliance, but this was only a beginning; Gothic quality
was still to be achieved, and this consisted largely in three
elements--cohesion, economy, and character. The first means the
synthetic knitting of everything together, and the giving it dynamic
power to develop from within outward; it means making structure
absolutely central and comprehensive, but also beautiful; ornament,
decoration, remaining something added to it, something of the _bene
esse_, though not of the _esse_; deriving from it in every instance, but
not necessary to its perfection. The second is the reducing of mass to
its logical and structural (and also optical) minimum, bringing into
play the forces of accommodation, balance, and active, as opposed to
passive, resistance. The third is the hardest to describe or determine,
and probably can only be perceived through comparison. It is the
differentiation in quality, the

[Illustration: LAON]

determination of personality, and it is hardly to be defined, though it
is instantly perceived.

In the Abbaye aux Hommes, or Cérisy, or St. Georges de Bocherville, we
find great majesty and beauty, many elements that are distinctive of
true Gothic work and persist through its entire course, but none of
these buildings is actually Gothic. In St. Germer de Fly, however, and
in Sens and Noyon, while there seems at first little differentiation
from the others, the Gothic spirit has found itself and is already
working rapidly toward its consummation.

Of the condition of Noyon at the present time we know little; of what
this may be in a few months’ time we know less. The town itself was of
the oldest, its foundation being Roman, and within its walls Chilperic
was buried in 721, while Charlemagne was crowned King of the Franks
about thirty years before he became Emperor, and Hugh, first of the
Capetian dynasty, was here chosen king in 987. Incidentally, the town
was also the birthplace of John Calvin. The ancient cathedral was burned
in 1131 and the present work begun shortly after, though it is hard to
believe that much of the existing structure antedates the year 1150. The
crossing and transepts date from about 1170, the nave about ten years
later, while the west front and towers are of the early part of the next
century. The certainty and calm assurance of the work is remarkable.
Paris, which is later, is full of tentative experiments, but there is no
halting here, rather a serene certainty of touch that is perfectly
convincing. The plan is curious in that it has transepts with apsidal
ends, after the fashion of Rhenish Romanesque, one of the few instances
in France. The alternating system is used throughout, and the vault was
originally sexpartite; the interior order consists of a low arcade, high
triforium, triforium gallery, and a clerestory comprised wholly within
the vault lines; round and pointed arches are used indiscriminately, and
the flying buttresses are perhaps the earliest that emerged from the
protection of the triforium roofs. In the choir, which is earliest in
date, the ornament is rude, even rudimentary, though distinctly Gothic
in form, but in the nave twenty years has served to change this into
work of the most brilliant and classical beauty. In 1293 the whole town
was destroyed by fire, and the cathedral wrecked; it was immediately
reconstructed, however, and at this time the sexpartite gave place to
quadripartite vaulting, while the west front, with its great towers,
very noble in their proportions and their powerful buttressing, was
completed. This rebuilding and the loss of all the original glass has
left Noyon less perfect than many of the neighbouring churches, but it
still remained a grave and strikingly solemn example of the transition.

Not far away, past the huge and formidable ruins of Coucy, the greatest
castle of the Middle Ages, whose lords haughtily proclaimed, “Roi ne
suys, ne prince, ne duc, ne comte aussi: Je suys le Sire de Coucy,” is
Laon on its sudden hill. How great the loss has been here we do not
know, but the town has been frequently under German bombardment, and the
end is not yet. Laon is unique, a masterly work of curious vitality,
original, daring, and even rebellious against a growing tradition. In
the Middle Ages it was vastly admired, but to us of a day more dull and
timorous in architecture, because we have no art of our own and have
found so little in life from which we could draw an inspiration, it is
less safe and satisfying than such coherent and scholastic work as
Amiens or Reims. Begun about 1165, it was finished in 1225, the growth
being from the crossing in all directions, for not only is the amazing
west front of the central period of Gothic perfection, but the choir as
well, for the unique square termination takes the place of a regular
chevet which was part of the original design. This square-ended choir is
the only one in France, and is thoroughly English in effect; moreover,
the transepts have aisles and are the first in France to be so finished,
while they have tribunes at the ends after the Norman fashion, and there
is a central tower or lantern as well. The towers of Laon are its
distinguishing glory, for there are five in all, out of an original
seven, all incomplete, not one retaining its spire, but striking and
immensely individual. The interior organism is not wholly coherent, for
while the vaulting is sexpartite throughout, the system is regular, and
was as manifestly intended for quadripartite vaulting as Noyon for
sexpartite. The west front is vastly picturesque, if somewhat
incoherent, and is clearly a growth from year to year; it lacks both the
sublime calm and grandeur of Paris and the faultless organism of Reims,
but its detail is as brilliantly conceived as any in France, while its
carvings and sculptures are in the same class as the best of Hellas. In
the tops of the towers are the well-known stone effigies of oxen,
placed there by the builders in recognition of the patient service of
the beasts that year after year helped drag the heavy stones from the
plain to the top of the hill where the cathedral stands.

In and around Laon were once innumerable religious houses, but nearly
all their churches were destroyed during the French Revolution, which
annihilated more noble art in five years than had happened in five
centuries. St. Martin remains, and is of the middle of the twelfth
century, but the church of the Abbey of St. Vincent is wholly destroyed.

South of Laon, and about as far away as Noyon, lies Soissons, an ancient
town, famous in history, and containing, until the war, another
masterpiece of mediæval art, the cathedral, which already has been made
the target of German shells, and has suffered seriously. As a city, it
antedated the Roman occupation, was Christianised toward the end of the
third century, became a capital of the Merovings, and a notable city of
the Carolingian dynasty. The south transept is the oldest part, and
dates from about 1175, the choir was finished in 1212, the north
transept and nave about 1250. Porter says of the south transept: “This
portion of Soissons, one of the most ethereal of all twelfth-century
designs, is the highest expression of that fairy-like, Saracenic phase
of Gothic art that had first come into being at Noyon. Like Noyon,
however, this transept lacks the elements of grandeur which are found in
so striking a degree in the nave and choir of this same church of
Soissons.” The nave and choir are indeed amongst the noblest creations
of Catholic art; for justness and delicacy of proportions, refinement of
line, restraint in the placing and determination of ornament, Soissons
ranks with Chartres and Bourges. The richness of its vertical lines is
unusual, the mouldings clear, powerful, and distinguished in contour,
and altogether it has well served for nearly seven centuries as a
perfect exemplar of the Christian art of France as its highest point.

Already it has been appallingly shattered, one shell having struck the
roof of the north aisle, hurling one of the nave shafts into fragments
and obliterating an entire bay. Thus far it has been spared a
conflagration, and if the Prussian lines are promptly forced back, it
may still be preserved as a wonder for still further generations.

So far as the numberless other great churches of Soissons are
concerned, it has for long been too late; they perished, with uncounted
others in this region, at the time of the Revolution. Of the vast abbey
of St. Jean-des-Vignes nothing remains but the sumptuous west front, cut
clear like an architectural “frontispiece” from all the rest, and even
this has been further shattered by German gunfire. The royal abbey of
Our Lady has become a military barracks, St. Crepin, St. Medard with its
famous seven churches, all have vanished, and the loss is irreparable.

Nearer Paris we find Senlis, a further step in architectural
development. The town itself is charming, and full of old art and old
history. Roman walls, with sixteen towers, still remain, together with
fragments of a royal palace of the French kings, from Clovis to Henri
IV, with ancient houses, picturesque streets, desecrated churches, and
monastic ruins, such as those of the Abbey of Victory, founded by Philip
Augustus after the battle of Bouvines, and wrecked, of course, during
the Revolution.

The cathedral is curious and fascinating. Set out in 1155 on enormous
lines, it was curtailed both in height and length through the failure of
adequate funds. It has been rebuilt, extended, supplemented, century
after century, until it has become almost an epitome of French
architecture from the middle of the twelfth to the middle of the
sixteenth century. The southwest tower (its mate is unfinished) is of
the thirteenth-century culmination, and surpassed by no other spire in
France for subtlety of composition and perfection of detail. One of its
crocketed pinnacles has already been shot away, but apparently further
danger is well removed, and will become progressively less threatening
as the Prussian lines are driven back.

It is, of course, quite impossible even to note all the architectural
monuments between the Seine and the frontiers of Belgium. Paris must be
wholly left out, for St. Denis, St. Germain l’Auxerois, Notre Dame, and
the Ste. Chapelle would justly require a volume to themselves. Rouen,
with its cathedral, St. Ouen, St. Maclou, the Palais de Justice, rich
with all the lace and embroidery of the flamboyant period, lies now well
beyond danger, and so does Beauvais, where the nemesis of worldly pride
overtook the lagging spiritual impulse that had made the Middle Ages the
climax of Christian civilisation. Châlons-sur-Marne, once threatened, is
now reprieved, and its

[Illustration: BEAUVAIS]

cathedral, its churches of St. Jean and St. Loup, and its noble and
distinguished Church of Our Lady are safe for another period.

Apart from the great architectural monuments are numberless others
invaluable in archæology, and forming links in the great Gothic
development: St. Etienne of Beauvais, St. Leu d’Esserent, Morienval,
Bury, St. Germer, and St. Remi of Reims--the last valuable beyond
estimate, with an apse that was unparalleled as a masterpiece of
transitional work when Gothic was in its first and finest estate, now
wrecked and desecrated by shells that have burst its vaults into
crumbled fragments and hurled its perfect windows in showers of
splintered glass to the pavements heaped high with the wreck of masonry
and of dismembered altars.

And as in the case of the great churches, so in that of the small, from
Braisne to Caudebec, they cannot even be catalogued. The whole region
was, and is, one of wonderful little parish churches, of all periods,
and many of them are now only shapeless ruins. The great abbeys and
smaller religious houses are practically gone, scores having fallen prey
to the insane fury of the Revolution or the sordid secularism of the
Restoration. What we have lost may be seen from countless such lovely
and pathetic fragments as St. Wandrille, near Caudebec, given a new fame
through the name of Maeterlinck, and so linked with the greater
martyrdom of Belgium in these last days. This, like its myriad
companions, was architecture of the most singular beauty, the loss of
which leaves the world poor, so poor, indeed, that it had at first
nothing wherewith to meet the last assault of the enemy. The loss is
being made good, the penalty already is paid, and though one could
not--one would not--restore or rebuild these silent fragments of
exquisitely wrought stone, meshed in tall trees and clambering vines,
the vision is possible of new foundations, equal in number to these that
are gone, each an expiation and a spiritual guard, each making late
reparation for the past, guaranteeing a future immunity from perils of
the same nature as those that now shake the world.



VI

AMIENS AND REIMS


Two monuments there are to the east of the Seine that form the
realisation of the dim but dominant ideal toward which Christian society
in France was tending even from the days of St. Germer and Jumièges,
through the intermediate and progressive steps of Noyon, Soissons,
Laon-Amiens, and Reims. Equal in fame, counting no others in their own
category save only Chartres and Bourges, the one remains, the other has
passed for ever.

It is a strange sensation for us to-day to watch from afar the slow and
implacable destruction of one of the greatest works of art in the world,
for we must go back more than a century to find any catastrophe of a
similar nature. What happened then, when half a hundred masterpieces of
divinely directed human intelligence and aspiration were reduced to
scrap-heaps at the hands of revolution, is very far away, and the
irreparable loss is as unknown to-day as it was unappreciated then. We
can no more reconstruct for our understanding Cluny, St. Martin of
Tours, or Avranches than we can restore the catalogue of the Alexandrian
library; mercifully we cannot estimate our loss. Back of this era of
annihilation we must go two centuries before we find in England under
Henry VIII a similar episode of infamy. The case of Reims is wholly
different; there are tens of thousands who knew it for what it was--the
crowning manifestation of a crowning civilisation, and for them the loss
is personal, poignant, and unexampled, a horror that sophistry cannot
palliate nor time destroy.

Of the two great churches, Amiens could more easily have been spared.
The word is ill chosen; Amiens in ruins, its exquisite façade with its
perfect sculptures seared and shattered by bursting shells and consuming
fire, would have been a catastrophe that could only put to the test the
most stoical fortitude, but--it is neither Chartres nor Bourges nor
Reims, and simply because the perfect balance between all possible
elements in great architecture is here trembling toward its overthrow.
Gothic art had three controlling forces working toward an unattainable
perfection; structural integrity irradiated by consummate invention and
an almost divine creative genius; passion for that exalted beauty that
is unchangeable and eternal, expressed through new forms at once
northern and Catholic; the just balance and intimate interplay of these
two impulses. Its virtues, like all virtues, were most easily transmuted
into vices, once the controlling balance was overthrown, and each was,
in its stimulating possibilities, a constant and irresistible temptation
toward excess. In Reims, the beginnings of which antedate Amiens by only
a decade, the balance remains true and firm; in Amiens we see the first
fatal steps in the development of a purely human (and notably French)
logic, toward that intellectual pride, that almost arrogance of
self-confidence, that found its nemesis in the unstable marvel of
Beauvais.

In an admirable but anonymous little book called “Some French
Cathedrals,” the author says: “French Gothic was most rational and most
beautiful while it still remembered its Romanesque origin. At Amiens it
was just beginning to forget that and to lose itself in dreams of an
impossible romance which changed it from architecture into a very
wonderful kind of ornamental engineering.” This subtle and significant
change you feel everywhere except in the inimitable façade. The
interior is too high, the masonry too wire-drawn and tenuous, the chevet
too giddy and insecure. It is true that all but the west front has been
impossibly restored, so that outwardly little remains of the original
work, while the glass is gone from all but the ambulatory windows,
leaving the nave a cold blaze of intolerable light. Nevertheless, the
fundamental fault is there; the architect intrudes himself in place of
the _dévot_, the craft of man supplants the guiding of God; so we have
one of the most technically perfect of cathedrals, and one of the least
inspired; you must go to the Rhine to find, in Cologne, a more
self-conscious and serenely satisfied work, and it is well to make this
comparison, for by so doing you realise the real greatness of Amiens,
and how it fails only in comparison with the three perfect examples of
an art that wholly expresses the great concept of mediæval Catholic
philosophy, that in life, as we know it, material and spiritual are
inseparable, that their just balance is the true end of man in this
phase of existence, and that therefore sacramentalism is of the _esse_
of religion, and as well the law of life.

As a whole, both from within and without, Amiens in a measure fails, but
this does not hold

[Illustration: AMIENS]

of its several parts. The west front is still a masterpiece of
consummate and wholly original design, though the towers have been
incongruously (but engagingly) terminated in later centuries. The three
great doors, the first and second arcades, and the rose-window story
contain more brilliant, spirited, ingenious, and withal beautiful design
than any similar work in the world, while the ornament (there is a
wild-rose border around the archivolts of the great porches that finds
no rival in Greece) and the sculptures reach a level of decorative and
emotional significance that marks the time of their production as the
crowning moment in human culture and in Christian civilisation.

We turn to Reims--we turn now in reverence to the memory of Reims--in a
different spirit. Master Robert of Luzarches was a master, and knew it.
Master Robert of Coucy was the servant of a Lord who was greater than
he, and knew this also, and was proud of his service. He was just as
great an architect as his brother of Amiens, but he worked in a godly
fear, and so he built the noblest church in Christendom. This is not to
say that its nave order is equal to Chartres, its rhythm and composition
equal to Bourges. In every great church from 1175 to 1225 there is some
one element or more that is final and unexcelled, but at Reims there was
a great consistency, a noble and all-embracing competence, that placed
it in a class by itself.

Reims was without a fault; perhaps this made its appeal less poignant
and searching than that of the eager and sometimes less-perfect efforts
of men more human in their inadequacies. Man is the creature that tries,
and it is perhaps only human to feel a reverence that lessens affection
for those who seem to transcend the limits that are set to human
accomplishment.

Every other cathedral in France is a splendid chronicle, a record of
changing times, changing endeavours, changing impulses. Men of varying
personalities have wrought out their ideals, year after year, and the
result is in each case a great sequence, a glorious approximation. Reims
was begun in 1211, on the first anniversary of the burning of its
predecessor, and it was finished, manifestly in accordance with an
original and predetermined design, within fifty years. The three gables
and the upper stories of the western towers are a century later,
otherwise the work is consistent and a single conception. The great
ideal comprised a crowning group of seven towers, each with its slender
spire, none of which was ever completed, and had this majestic scheme
been carried out, the church would have been the most complete, as it
was the most perfect, of the architectural manifestations of
Christianity.

It is impossible to analyse Reims, to describe its vital and exquisite
organism, to laud its impeccable scale, its vivid and stimulating
originality, to explain the almost incredible competence and beauty of
its buttressing, the serene delicacy of its detail, to dwell once more
on the glory of its sculpture that ranked with that of Greece, on the
splendour of its glass that was rivalled only at Chartres. It is
impossible to do this now, for its passing has been too recent and too
grievous. Death brings silence for a time to those that knew the dead.

In another chapter I have tried to say something of the sculpture of
Reims, a crowning glory where all was glorious, but sculpture does not
mean the human figure alone; it covered in the Middle Ages all forms of
beauty chiselled out of stone and marble, and the man who wrought the
wild-rose design on the archivolts of Amiens was just as great an artist
as he who fashioned the Virgin of the south transept, or the “Beau
Dieu”; perhaps he was the same man. Gothic “ornament” is quite as
beautiful as are Gothic saints and angels, and here at Reims the stone
carving was of the finest. Every space of ornament--capital, crocket,
boss, frieze, and string-course--was a combination of these great
elements: architectural self-restraint and identity with the work as a
whole, passionate love for all the beautiful things in nature, joy in
doing everything, even the cutting of unseen surfaces, just as well as
man could do the work. It is not better than the ornament of Amiens or
Chartres; in some passages Amiens seems to have achieved the highest
attainable point, but it is of the same quality, and that is enough
glory for any church.

Most of this inimitable art already has been blasted and calcined away,
and the same fate has overtaken the glass. Here was an achievement of
the highest in an art of the best. In the light (literally) of the
stained glass of our own times, we had found some difficulty in
realising that this was an art at all, but it needed only a visit to
Chartres or Reims for enlightenment to come to us. At Chartres, in the
very earliest years of the thirteenth century, it reached its

[Illustration: REIMS]

culmination; there is no greater glass anywhere than this, almost no
greater art, and Reims, while less complete (the aisle windows were
wholly removed by eighteenth-century canons on the score of an added
“cheerfulness”), was of the same school, though later and just past the
cresting of the wave. If it lacked the unearthly clarity and divine
radiance of the western lancets, and the “Belle Verrière” of Chartres,
it had qualities of its own, particularly its most glorious azures and
rubies, that allowed no rival, and it easily ranked with Chartres and
Bourges and Poitiers as manifesting the possibilities of a noble art,
and a lost art, at its highest point of achievement.

So far as can be learned, all this has perished and it cannot be
restored. It lies in shivered heaps where it has fallen and the chapter
of the glass of Reims is closed.

Four months ago the ruin already was irreparable, and since then
bombardments have been frequent and merciless, nor has the enemy as yet
been driven beyond the range of gun-fire. Whether even the shattered and
crumbling fabric--wherefrom all carving, all detail, all glass, all
sculpture has been burned and blasted away--survives in the end, none
can foretell; but one thing is sure, and that is that no “restoration”
must ever be attempted. If enough remains so that careful hands may
preserve it from disintegration and make it available for the worship of
God, well and good, so long as no imitations, whether in stone or metal
or glass, are intruded to mock its vanished glory and obliterate for
future generations the record of an indelible crime. For seven centuries
its beauty and its perfection have spoken to succeeding generations,
each less willing to listen than the last. In its ruin and its
devastation it will speak more clearly and to more willing ears, than in
any pretentious rehabilitation.

To the sordid wickedness of its destruction has been added the insult of
Prussian promises of complete restoration--a catastrophe that would
crown the first with a greater and more contemptible indignity. Instead,
let Reims remain as it is left, and then, in Paris, let France,
regenerated and redeemed, as already has gloriously happened, make for
ever visible her restoration, through blood and suffering, to her old
ideals, by carrying out her vow to build in honour of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc
a great new church, raise a new Reims, like the old in plan and form and
dimensions. Not a copy, but a revival, with the old ideals, the old
motives, the old self-consecration; different, as the new must differ
from the old, but akin in spirit and in truth.

If one only knew how to interpret it, there is some mysterious
significance in the centring of the war of the world around Reims and in
the persistent and successful efforts of the Prussians to raze it to the
ground. Seven centuries ago the mystics of St. Victor would have read
the riddle, but for too long now we have been out of temper with
symbolism and too averse to the acceptance of signs and portents to be
able to see even dimly the correspondences and the significance of those
human happenings that are actually outside human control. In a way Reims
was the ancient heart of France, as Paris is not, and it always was a
sacred city above all others--and sacred it is now as never before. It
was here that the Christianising of the Franks was sealed by the baptism
of Clovis, A. D. 496, by St. Remi, the canonised bishop who occupied the
see for seventy-five years. The crowning of kings (every sovereign but
four for a period of fifteen hundred years came here for his
coronation), the assembling of great councils of the Church, the
beneficent activities of universities and schools of philosophy were
all commonplaces of the life of the city, while it was here that Ste.
Jeanne d’Arc finally discomfited the English and led her King to his
crowning in the church that is now destroyed.

Time and again the city has been devastated, from the Vandals of 392 to
those of 1914. During the Revolution its churches suffered bitterly; the
cathedral and St. Remi, until then, were rich with unnumbered shrines,
altars, statues, tombs, while cloisters and religious buildings of many
kinds surrounded them on all sides. All this wealth of hoarded art that
expressed the piety and culture of centuries was swept away, even to the
sacred ampulla of holy oil, piously believed to have been brought by a
dove for the consecration of Clovis and ever after miraculously
replenished for each succeeding coronation. To this irreparable
devastation was added the indignity of official “restoration,” though in
the case of the cathedral at the able and scrupulous hands of
Viollet-le-Duc, and in the nineteenth century the picturesque and
beautiful old streets gave place to boulevards and a general
Hausmanising on approved Parisian lines, so that in 1914 the city had
become dull and somewhat pretentious, framing the two priceless jewels,
the Church of Our Lady of Reims and that of the holy St. Remi.

All is now gone, the glorious and the insignificant alike overwhelmed in
indiscriminating ruin. The glass and the statues that had survived war,
revolution, and stupidity are shattered in fragments, the roofs consumed
by fire, the vaults burst asunder, the carved stones calcined and
flaking hourly in a dreary rain on blood-stained pavements where a
hundred kings have trod and into deserted streets that have echoed to
the footsteps of threescore generations. The city has passed; _deleta
est Carthago_, but it has left a memory, a tradition, and an inspiration
that may yet play a greater part in the rebuilding of civilisation than
could have been achieved by its remaining monuments as they stood making
their unheeded appeal on the day the first shell was fired from the
Prussian batteries on the eastern hills.

The tendency I have spoken of which showed itself in Amiens, the
breaking up of the mediæval integrity and a consequent inclination
toward undue emphasis on structural and intellectual arrogance, never
went very far because of the ill days that fell on France. The victory
of the French crown over the Papacy, with the resulting transfer of the
Holy See to Avignon, was the ruin of Catholic civilisation in France, as
well as in Italy and the rest of Christendom. The Church became
subservient to the state and progressively corrupt in root and branch.
The wars with England resulted in nothing less than ruin, and culture
and art came to an end. By 1370 building had become thin, poor,
uninspired, and yet, within the next ten years flamboyant architecture
appeared, and the fifteenth century opened with a sudden burst of
artistic splendour. Heaven knows what it all means; France was at her
lowest depth, and yet, without warning, a regeneration took place. The
Blessed Jeanne d’Arc appears like a miraculous vision, Orleans is saved,
the rightful king is crowned, and though the martyrdom of the saviour of
France takes place in 1430, the English are driven out in 1456, and a
new day begins.

Was Jeanne d’Arc a single manifestation of a new spirit that had entered
society, or was this itself a continuation of what she had initiated
under God? The answer does not really matter, the important fact is that
a great regeneration took place, and a new type of art followed in its
wake. Now the tendency was away from the proud efficiency of a glorified
architectural engineering and toward the other element in architecture,
beauty of form and splendour of ornament. It was almost as though the
French had turned to religion and beauty as their only refuge from the
miseries of their estate. In the very first years of the fifteenth
century, at the darkest hours of France, Notre Dame de l’Epine, close by
Châlons on the Marne, was built in 1419. Caudebec in 1426, St. Maclou,
Rouen, in 1432, and after these for more than a century France abandoned
herself to the creation of works of architectural art that, whatever
they may lack of the splendid consistency and the divine serenity of the
thirteenth century, are nevertheless amongst the loveliest works of man.
Beauvais is an admirable example of the two tendencies; begun in 1225,
its impossible choir was finished in 1272, only to collapse twelve years
later, paying the penalty of its structural arrogance. For forty years
it was in process of reconstruction, after a more conservative fashion
though of its original dimensions, and in 1500 the transepts were begun
and finished fifty years later. In beauty and in an almost riotous
richness, they are the crowning work of this phase of design, while the
choir itself, with its marvellously articulated system of buttresses, is
a creation of sheer architectural power almost unrivalled. Ambitious and
defiant, the canons now, in 1550, reared a vast spire over the crossing,
nearly 450 feet high, and of the same sumptuous design as the transepts.
The whole stupendous erection fell twenty-five years later, and has
never been rebuilt, while the nave was never even begun; so Beauvais
remains a vast fragment, and a living commentary on the excesses and the
penalties of that pride of life that succeeded to the spiritual humility
of the Middle Ages.

The new style, however, was perfectly adapted to the new life of secular
supremacy, and, with few exceptions, both here in eastern France and in
Flanders and Brabant and the Netherlands, the great civic monuments and
the innumerable châteaux of an expanding and ripening society are
couched in its beautiful and elaborate terms. Essentially it is a mode
of ornament, containing no new element in organism, but always beautiful
and, in France at all events, marked always by delicate and admirable
taste. With its flame-like tracery, its complicated pinnacles, its
scaffoldings of intricate latticework; with its curved and aspiring
lines, glimmering niches, pierced parapets, open-work spires, and its
tangled foliage, dainty filigree-work and sculptured lace, it is a
marvel of imagination, dramatic sense, and consummate craftsmanship.
Sometimes it is strikingly competent in its composition, as in the
transepts of Beauvais and the front of Troyes, the latter being in its
unfulfilled promise (it is only a beginning) one of the great façades of
France, but frequently its greatest weakness is forgetfulness of
consistency in a passion for beauty of line and light and shade that
became almost insane. With the beginning of the sixteenth century the
new art began slowly to decay in ecclesiastical buildings, but it
continued for at least another hundred years in châteaux and civic work,
and it is this in particular that is now disappearing through a war
waged by unprecedented methods and in accordance with principles (if we
may call them such) which hitherto have been found associated only with
barbarian invasions or the frenzies of a mad anarchy that has called
itself Revolution.

For the more distinguished châteaux we must go outside our chosen field,
to the Loire, Touraine, or to other parts of France where the
devastation of past wars and revolutions is less complete. There is
Pierrefonds, of course, if one cares for that sort of thing, but of
authentic castles of the sixteenth century there are few of notable
quality, though many minor farms and manors still remained in August,
1914. Ecouen and Chantilly are exceptions, and the latter, given to the
nation by the Duc d’Aumale when he was exiled by the republic for the
crime of belonging to the legitimate line of kings, is a good example of
the princely buildings of the Renaissance when the last fires of Gothic
spirit were dying away.

It is not so long ago that half the towns in France between the Seine
and the Belgian frontier were threaded by wonderful little streets of
stone-built and half-timber houses three centuries old, and bright with
squares and market-places framed in old architecture of Francis I and
Henri II. Their quaint and delicate beauty was too much for the
nineteenth century, however, which revolted against an old art as it
revolted against an old culture and an older religion, so nearly all are
gone, their place being taken by substitutes, the destruction of which
could hardly be counted against the Prussians for unrighteousness, if
one considered æsthetic questions alone, which is, fortunately,
impossible. For these dim old streets and sunny silent squares one
could, until a few months ago, go confidently across the border, finding
in Flanders, Brabant, Liége, and Luxembourg relief from the appalling
sophistication that had taken possession of the old cities of Champagne.
Even in France, until last year, were Douai, Pont-à-Mousson, Meaux, and
of course Arras, though now of some of these worse than nothing remains.
In the latter city was once, also, a particularly splendid example of
those great civic halls that showed forth the pride and the independence
of the industrial cities of the later Middle Ages, and another stood in
Douai. As Flanders and Brabant are, however, the chosen places for this
particular manifestation of an industrial civilisation, so different to
our own in spirit and in expression, we may include them therewith,
where they racially and historically belong; and having followed the
development of an essentially religious art in France from Jumièges to
Beauvais, note its translation in later years into civic forms, in the
little and heroic Kingdom with so great and heroic a history, now and
for many months shut off from the world still free, by the veil of smoke
and poisoned gases.



VII

THE BURGHERS AND THEIR BUILDING


The great civic halls were those of Audenaarde, Brussels, Louvain,
Malines, Termonde, Bruges, Ghent, Ypres, and Arras, and each of these
cities was as well full of wonderful old houses, some private
residences, some quarters for the various guilds. It is impossible to
discriminate between past and present tense in describing them; some are
wholly gone, as Ypres and Arras, others we suppose still remain, but how
long this may be true one cannot say. If we lose what we have lost in
the onrush of a victorious army, and in its long holding of defensive
lines in the most amazing siege in history, what may we not expect at
the hands of an army in defeat, fighting its way back to its own
frontiers for a last desperate stand? Arras, Ypres, and Louvain were
hard enough to lose, but the soul shudders at the thought of Bruges and
Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels, fought over day after day and abandoned to
pillage and destruction.

The historical significance of these halls is very great; they put into
material (and as we had thought enduring) form the oligarchical
democracy, the great wealth, the pride, the sumptuous and lavish spirit
of successive generations of princely merchants and manufacturers.
Religion was still a vital force, but it no longer stood alone, and now
the secular organisations of guilds and free cities claimed and received
the tribute of wealth through the ministry of art. It was not the old
art of the days of cathedral building and the founding of abbeys and
universities, it was quite a different art altogether, but it fitted the
new motives and ideals as the other could not do. Of severity,
self-restraint, reticence, it has nothing; it is all splendour and
magnificence, emulation and rivalry, but it is still craftsman’s art,
and whatever the taste of these great and even fantastic buildings,
there is proof of joyful workmanship and of a jealous maintenance of the
highest possible standards.

Ypres was the first in point of time, and first in absolute artistic
value. Begun by Count Baldwin in the year 1200, it was remodelled,
rebuilt, embellished for a hundred years, and finally the “Nieuwerke,”
of the most abandoned Renaissance taste, was added to the east. Of huge
dimensions--the main front was four hundred and thirty-three feet in
length, while the great tower was two hundred and thirty feet high--the
design was as simple, imposing, and direct as one would expect to find
during the early thirteenth century. It was a simple parallelogram,
three stories high, nobly arcaded, with ranges of fine niches which
contained statues of the Counts of Flanders and other worthies, until
these were completely destroyed by the French during the Revolution. A
vast, high-pitched roof covered all, broken in the middle by the belfry,
with its corner turrets, which were echoed at the four corners of the
building by similar spires. A simpler composition could hardly be
imagined, or one more impressive in its grave restraint. Architecturally
it was unique; there was and is no other rival of a similar nature, and
its value was inestimable. Bold in conception, straightforward, direct,
confident without assurance, it was one great masterpiece of the civic
art of the Middle Ages, miraculously preserved for six centuries as the
visible manifestation of the supreme quality of a great people and a
great art. Both without and within it had that spontaneousness, that
fine, frank

[Illustration: THE DESTROYED HÔTEL DE VILLE OF ARRAS]

naïveté that one finds in all crescent periods and searches for in vain
in the following days that history always selects for particular
admiration. Analyse it and see how simple it all was. First there were
three chief organic elements: the great wall unbroken by any “features,”
without buttresses because it was not vaulted; the enormous,
high-pitched roof bare of all gables or diversions of any kind; the
square, unbuttressed tower in the middle, with a tall, pointed roof and
cupola, surrounded by four high pinnacles of the simplest form. It is as
calm and simple as a Greek temple, and like this, also, it is final in
the perfection of its proportions and its relation of parts; also its
great, quiet elements are left alone, not tortured into nervous
complexity of varying planes and excitable vagaries of light and shade.
Forty-eight pointed and mullioned windows along the main floor give the
horizontal divisions, while vertically there were three stages: the low,
lintelled colonnade, a mezzanine with very beautiful traceried windows,
one to each bay, and a vast main wall without horizontal subdivisions
but with a delicately designed and very broad course of traceried
panelling above the splendid sequence of great windows, like a lofty
blind parapet. The tower was equally simple, its seven stories
exquisitely varied in their heights and windowing, but calm always, and
final in their sense of exactly felt relations. The pinnacles also, four
on the tower and others at either end of the façade, were as simply and
perfectly designed as could be asked, without fantastic exuberance or a
straining for effect; just traceried octagons with one series of pointed
gables and high, crocketed spires.

The “Nieuwerke,” in its ridiculous Renaissance effrontery snuggled up
against the silent, absorbed, unnoticing giant, was like an
architectural version of Merlin and Vivien; silly and scented impudence
in its vain approximations to grave dignity and a self-respect proof
against all blandishments.

The great hall inside was just the same: an astonishing room, four
hundred and thirty feet long, broken only by the columns and arches
bearing the great tower, and roofed with a mass of oak timbering like an
ancient and enormous ship turned bottom up. Huge oaken beams rose
against the wall dividing it into panels, and each pair supported
equally gigantic tie-beams braced by rough-hewn diagonal struts. It was
barn-building, if you like, but a good barn is better art than a
Newport

[Illustration: THE DESTROYED CLOTH HALL OF YPRES]

“cottage”; and this splendidly direct “barn” at Ypres had a quality the
Louvre could never attain.

Each panel of this colossal and almost interminable wall was destined
for great historical pictures, most of which had been completed, and the
effect was majestical in its combination of colour and carpentry. Of it
all nothing now remains, as I have said, except a single turret at one
end. The greatest surviving monument of the civic architecture of the
Middle Ages has been slowly pounded to powder, and has taken its place
with the other lost masterpieces of a world that from time to time can
create but can somehow never retain ability to enjoy or even to
understand. Month after month it was the special target of Prussian
shells; the first breeched the wall to the right of the tower and were
followed by others that started fires which swept the building from end
to end, consuming the enormous timbered roof, destroying the painted
walls, crumbling the tracery of the tall tower. For a time the
burned-out walls remained, and German professors spoke gently and with
bland reassurance of the simple task of restoration, but this last
indignity has ceased to threaten, for recently the batteries have
resumed their work; little by little the belfry has been shot away, the
fretted arcades have been splintered into road-metal, and now at last
the destruction is complete; what once was the glory of Ypres, the pride
of Flanders, the delight of the architect, is now only a heap of refuse
masonry, with one pinnacle standing alone, accusing, in the midst of
ruin from which there is no salvation, for which history will search in
vain for shadow of excuse.

In sequence of time, the old “Halles” of Malines come next, as portions
of them date from 1311, but they have been reconstructed at various
times, enlarged in several styles, and in the end were never completed,
for their great belfry never succeeded in getting above the roof.
Nevertheless they were a wonderfully picturesque and even theatrical
composition of pointed portals, fantastic gables, dormers, and turrets,
and a very engaging epitome of five centuries of architectural
mutations.

The Hôtel de Ville of Bruges is as consistent and perfect as Malines was
casual and irresponsible. It was begun in 1376, the corner-stone being
laid by Louis de Mâle, and if there is anywhere a more complete example
of civic architecture,

[Illustration: BRUGES, HÔTEL DE VILLE]

combining the restraint and the simplicity of early Gothic with the
exquisite ornament and the sense of decorative beauty of the latest
Gothic, it is not of record. It seems to come at the mid-most point,
when everything met together, without loss and without exaggeration, for
the production of a living example of what society is capable when it
achieves a perfect, if unenduring, equilibrium. It is a masterpiece of
architectural composition, of brilliant and supremely intelligent
design, while it is vivified by a poetry and an inspiration that exist
only at a few crowning moments in history. Even now it is one of the
loveliest buildings in Europe; what it must have been once, when its
fifty statues, each under its crocketed canopy (they also were pulled
down and hammered in pieces during the French Revolution), its tracery,
balustrades, and pinnacles were blazing with colour and gilding, passes
the imagination. It is only a small building of six bays subdivided by
its three turrets into two triple groups with a doorway in each. The
composition is very subtle and quite original, while the design is
emphasised vertically, there being no horizontal members which run
through from end to end, though the levels are very delicately
indicated by window mullions, niches, panels, traceried arches, and the
crowning parapet. It is one of the least obvious of architectural
compositions and, I am disposed to think, one of the best. While it
lacks the Doric simplicity of Ypres, it has a sensitive rhythm and a
richness of light and shade without studied intricacy or premeditated
theatricalism that places it amongst the few very perfect works of art.
It is a “poetic” composition in the highest sense, or rather it is akin
to music of the mode that followed the Gregorian and opened up new
possibilities of a more complex, if no more poignant, spiritual
expression. It is perhaps the most perfect single piece of architecture
in Belgium, and if it is extinguished in the night of Armageddon we lose
a thing of inestimable value, unequalled, irreplaceable, even as we have
lost that equally inestimable spiritual force that brought it into
existence.

The “Halles” also, with their famous “Belfry of Bruges” are a
particularly noble example of the same period of artistic supremacy,
though they lack consistency, for only the lower stages of the amazing
tower are original, this portion of the work being completed about 1296.
All the upper part is of the very end of the fifteenth century, and the
octagonal upper stage is of no high order of design. Once this also was
crowned by a slender spire having a statue of St. Michael sixteen feet
high, which must have brought the stupendous erection almost to a height
of five hundred feet, for even now the topmost balustrade is three
hundred and fifty-two feet above the street. Ten years after the spire
was finished it was destroyed by lightning, rebuilt, destroyed again,
and then left in its present condition.

Brussels followed Bruges, and its huge City Hall was begun about 1404.
Compared with Arras, Bruges, or Louvain, it is dry and somewhat
unimaginative, with a curious modern look that may, in part, be due to
very drastic restorations and to the devilish ingenuity in destruction
of the French Revolutionists. In the beginning, however, it failed in
subtle proportions, and in point of composition as well. Its belfry,
graceful as it is, is thin and artificial in effect, while the façade is
formal without the grave majesty of Ypres, rich without the sensitive
refinement of Bruges or the riotous exuberance of Louvain. This is not
to condemn it as bad; except for the supreme qualities of the three
monuments last mentioned it would stand high in the architectural
scale, but it is impossible to avoid comparisons, and through these it
suffers, perhaps unjustly.

Less than fifty years after Brussels came Louvain, and so far as good
art is concerned the three-quarters of a century since Bruges has not
been altogether well spent. As in the case of religious architecture, an
ungoverned passion for beauty and craftsmanship has resulted in the
destruction of the sane and noble balance in such churches as Reims,
such civic halls as Bruges and Ypres, while nothing is left but an
almost impossible luxuriance, as of a northern flower forced in the hot,
moist air of a greenhouse. The Hôtel de Ville of Louvain, spared by some
inconsequent and unnatural whim of those who wrecked all the city around
and gave over the priceless libraries of the university to the flames,
is one of the smallest of its kind in Belgium; it is only one hundred
and thirteen feet long, forty-one feet wide, and seventy feet to the
level of its parapet--about the dimensions, let us say, of an average
New York dwelling of the better class. It is less a building than an
ornament--a shrine, a tabernacle for the sanctuary of a cathedral. You
feel that you want to take it up and polish it, you regard it as you do
an ivory carving from Pekin,

[Illustration: THE HÔTEL DE VILLE OF LOUVAIN]

and so considered it is well-nigh matchless, but it still remains
outside the category of architecture, and if you compare it with the
Ste. Chapelle, you see at once that the life is already almost gone from
a great art, even if it has passed for the moment into a supreme kind of
decoration.

In making that statement one is led unawares into one of those
generalisations that contains less than half the truth. The life had
indeed gone from the larger, the official architecture, the art of the
Church, of the commune. After this there was little more than a sorry
tale of rapid degeneration, until the French and the Jesuits came with
their new style, either clever and often in good taste at the hands of
the secular power, or tawdry and rococo when popularised by the new
religious order that was the first incarnation of that “efficiency” that
in the end became the obsession of the world and the root of the war. It
is true that the new fashion rapidly superseded the dying and
disintegrating spirit of mediævalism, and never a Bruges town hall or a
Malines cathedral came again; instead we get the dull and blundering
seventeenth-century portion of the Ghent Hôtel de Ville and the showy
and very vulgar Jesuit churches, such as that in Antwerp (attributed to
Rubens) and the Cathedral of Arras. On the other hand, and this is too
often forgotten, the degradation of state architecture always precedes
by many years, sometimes centuries, the downfall of the people’s art,
and after a great era of high character and cultural attainments the
burghers and lesser nobility, the farmers and merchants and smaller
monastic houses continue instinctively to build beautifully, prolonging
the old traditions, unhampered by clever architects and the commands of
irresponsible fashion, until at last even they succumb and their art
falls to the dead level of the stupid artifice that for long had
prevailed amongst the great of earth.

So in France while the barbarities of the Louvre were being perpetrated,
the loveliest little châteaux and farms and village churches were rising
almost as though nothing had happened; so in Germany, Heidelberg and
Dresden could not prevent the Tyrol and Rothenbourg, Hildesheim and the
Black Forest and the Rhineland from creating the eternally delightful
timber houses that far more exactly expressed a racial quality that was
to endure in all its fineness, until the end of the nineteenth century
saw its ending as well. So in England, Henry VIII and Edward VI might
destroy the then vital art, and Elizabeth might expunge its very
memory, building ridiculous semi-German conceits to the grief of the
judicious; nevertheless the deep-lying tradition prevailed outside court
circles and those of the Erastianised Church, and the sixteenth-century
domestic architecture of the Cotswolds, of Surrey, Suffolk, Norfolk, and
Essex--indeed of almost every county in England--was, in its way, just
as good architecture as that which universally prevailed before the
“Great Pillage.”

Precisely the same thing happened in Belgium, and half the visual charm
of cities such as Bruges, Tournai, Termonde, Ypres, and of all that
countryside that has not been devastated by the insane cult of coal and
iron, is due to the colloquial domestic architecture of its crooked old
streets, its wide-spread market-places, and its drowsy canals and
winding quays. In the language of the schools there is no
“architecture,” properly speaking, in the Quai aux Avoines, or the Grand
Béguinage, or the old almshouses of the Abbaye de St. Trond in Malines,
along the banks of the Dyle in murdered Louvain, on the Quai aux Herbes
in Ghent, the market-place in Ypres, the Quai du Rosaire, and the Quai
Verte in Bruges. All the same, in the simple and naïve houses and
hospitals and convents, with their windows and doors where they are
wanted, their big roofs and gables and friendly chimneys, their frank
use of native materials, and their almost unfailing sense of pleasant
proportions, we have what thus far no school has been able to teach.

In the earlier work--early, that is, for domestic architecture, say of
the sixteenth century--while there is great individuality, each burgher
expressing himself and his own tastes to the full, there is a very
courtly regard for his neighbours, and a curious sense of restraint in
the light of what the city itself might expect from its citizens. There
is a well-bred uniformity of scale, a reticence in detail, a total lack
of jealous emulation that speaks well for the self-respect of the old
builders. Most of the great houses of the preceding century are gone,
either razed entirely or mutilated and degraded to base uses; Bruges,
for example, that once was rich in sumptuous mansions of nobles and
great merchants, has now almost none, but the quays of Ghent still
retain their fine rows of guild-houses and dwellings, and until a year
ago Ypres once had them also, that are models of fine civic architecture
(and of civic spirit as well), and might well serve as such to a more
chaotic and unbalanced generation. They are usually three stories high,
with three more in the stepped gables, and the materials are generally
brick with trimmings of cut stone, though wood was frequently used,
particularly in Ypres, and always in the most consistent and joiner-like
way. If there were no other test, you could always tell the work of a
good period from that of a bad by the frankness in use of materials:
brick is brick, stone is stone, and wood is wood, and there are no
shams, imitations, or subterfuges anywhere. Whatever the land produces,
that is used and made the most of, while the style of the time (mark,
not the fashion of the hour or the fad of the school or the whim of the
artist) is so modified as to adapt itself perfectly to these
restrictions.

It is not until the Renaissance that the cult of deception comes in, and
mutton masquerades as lamb, while silly columns and pediments are pasted
on where there is no need and brick is plastered over to magnify the
apparent opulence of the owner. It is at this same time that a mean
individualism appears, and each builder tries to outface his neighbor.
The Grande Place in Brussels is a good example of this new selfishness,
and for chaotic originality compares almost favourably with a city
street of the nineteenth century. It is all very amusing, these rows of
serrated slices, bedecked with mishandled “orders” and crested with
miscellaneous gorgeousness on the lines of the sterns of the proud
owner’s still prouder galleons, and the result is engagingly theatrical
and fantastic, but it is a grave commentary on a new civilisation that
has lost in culture just in proportion as it has increased in
efficiency.

It is dangerous to think too much about architecture--or any art for
that matter. The thirteenth century was supreme in its achievement
because it thought so much about religion and character and getting the
really good things out of life that for reward it was actually inspired,
and so probably thought as little about its art as it did about
eugenics; being quite content to do the things it was impelled to do by
an impulse for which it was not consciously responsible and which it
made little effort to control. The Renaissance thought so much about
art, as well as about its own thoughts (which didn’t matter anyway),
that even in its best work there is an opulent self-consciousness that
defeats its own ends and has issue at last in a self-conscious opulence
that is the nadir of culture. These builders of Flanders and Brabant and
Artois and Luxembourg and the Rhineland thought as little about art as
their very different followers of the Middle Ages, and they certainly
lacked the divine inspiration that made Reims superhuman, as St. Thomas
Aquinas and Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare were superhuman, but the
old instinct for beauty had not been burned and hammered out of them by
coal and iron, or reversed into an unintelligible jargon (like the
Lord’s Prayer said backward) by an insolent intellectualism and a
mordant secularism; and so, even when they used pseudo-Renaissance forms
in their cheerful and humorous fashion, they managed to produce work
that has a certain quality that the best-educated architect of this
century of efficient training cannot contrive to obtain in spite of all
his labours.

And in any town that had been left alone during the nineteenth century,
particularly in Bruges, as well as in many of those the Prussians have
destroyed, everything seems to fall into picturesque and beautiful
compositions that are the despair of modern planners and “improvers” of
cities. Here again the results were quite unpremeditated. You cannot
imagine the builders of the Gruuthüse in Bruges carefully arranging
their effects of gables and turrets and mullioned windows with
scrupulous regard to the soaring tower of Our Lady’s Church; you cannot
imagine the wealthy burghers who from time to time reared the varied
structures along the canal and the Quai du Rosaire or in the Rue de
l’Ane Aveugle (the names are as joyful as the architecture) or around
the Pont du Béguinage, working studiously for their dramatic effects
with square and triangle, tentative models, and perhaps the able advice
of a “Landscape Architect” or a “Scenic Artist.” If they had done this
they might have produced a tolerable stage-setting or even a superior
sort of world’s fair, but they would not have built Bruges.

No, the conviction has been growing, and is now forced on us by a
revealing war, that even in the seventeenth century there were those who
possessed a civilisation and a culture beside which ours is a kind of
raw barbarism; that they by force of this, and with the aid of a
tradition of still greater days in the past, built by instinct as we
cannot build by erudition; and that whatever issued from their hands
was admirable and honourable and lastingly fair. It is well for us to
remember sometimes when we amuse ourselves by discourse as to
“inalienable rights of man,” and that sort of thing, that there is one
such over which no argument is possible, and that is the right to beauty
in life and thought and environment, and that those who filched this
from us during the century and a half just passed (and for the first
time in history) were tyrants and robbers of the same stamp and degree
as their immediate predecessors, who destroyed the other right of man to
free and joyful labour as well as that to the genuine self-government
and the sane and wholesome democracy that marked the Middle Ages and
vanished with the despots and the dogmas of the Renaissance; not to
return, so far as we ourselves can perceive of our own experience.

God grant we may retain what is still left us in Flanders and Brabant.
If by the triumph of coal and iron either through war or (perhaps even
worse) through the imposition on territories thus far spared of the
ideals and methods of an efficient industrialism, we lose Bruges as we
have lost Ypres and Arras and Malines and Termonde, as we had already
lost, though in a different way, Liége and Lille, Mons and Namur, then
by so much (and it is very much) have we lost our hidden leaven that in
the fulness of time we rely on for the lightening of the whole dull lump
of our misguided and now discredited life.



VIII

COAL AND IRON


Across the face of Europe stretched a great scar, even before the war; a
scar that reached from Picardy and Artois across Brabant and the
Rhineland far into Westphalia. It was an open wound, creeping
gangrenously outward, and yearly involving more and more of what once
was healthy and fair in its progressive putrefaction. It was an area of
darkness that had taken the place of light; of burrowings far down in
the earth where men (and women and children once) grubbed dully and
breathlessly for poor wages on which to sustain life, life that was
mostly the same dull grubbing above the surface as below. It was a place
of warfare between an immemorial verdure of trees and flowers and grass,
clear streams and pure air and, on the other hand, ever-growing heaps of
slag and ashes and scoriæ, of fat smoke and noxious gases. In place of
old churches and quiet monasteries, of farms and flocks and forests, of
delicate châteaux and vine-clad old ruined castles, of sleepy towns, of
winding streets full of carved and gabled houses, grass-grown
market-places, still canals under their arched bridges, ancient trees
and forgotten gardens, with now and then a vast and mysterious church
built out of many ages and crowded with old memories and the aroma of
spent incense and vanished prayers--in place of this impractical,
inefficient, and very admirable old land of a hundred years ago, had
come a great noise, a greater activity, and a remarkable diminution of
enduring results. The churches had been despoiled by the Huguenots,
wrecked by the Revolutionists, and either sold for cash or restored out
of pure delight in wickedness, coupled with a conceit that only
accompanies the profoundest ignorance. Monstrous piles of brick, iron,
and cement had blistered the land, while the woods and fields were
scored and tangled by railway-lines, tram-lines, telegraph-lines.
Machines everywhere, under and on and over the earth; noise, oil, gas,
smoke, chemicals mingled in the making of a new civilisation, and the
old was both forgotten and denied. It was a place where Efficiency was
god and his First Commandment was lawfully obeyed; where old virtues
were transmuted through exaggeration and over-emphasis into new sins,
where souls shrivelled, brains atrophied, manners ceased, that ten
might amass wealth they could not use, at the expense of a thousand who
had claimed only a competence.

A land of coal and iron, and of what coal and iron can produce. Not
happiness, not character, not culture; neither philosophy, nor religion,
nor art. Machines--appalling and ingenious complications of wheels and
cogs and valves and pistons, that made more of their kind, together with
unheard-of engines of death and mutilation. And factories--emplacements
for machines that roared and vibrated endlessly, spinning, weaving,
fabricating night and day, turning out what the world needs, but
craftily fashioning it so it would not last, or what the world does not
need, but that lasted only too long. Turning out wealth, ugliness,
hatred, power, ignorance, and revolt. A land of coal and iron, black and
potential as the first; hard, inhuman, irresistible as the last.

The Heart of Europe has produced many things in its time, dynasties,
empires, crusades; religious energy, new philosophies, industrial
revolutions, immortal art. Three eras have owed it much: that of
Charlemagne, that of the Middle Ages, that of the
Renaissance-Reformation. Perhaps, after all, the latest is its greatest
debtor, and for its culmination in that civilisation of irreligion,
intellectualism, materialism, and unhampered force that is riding now
for its fall, it may be that the self-destructive energy has issued from
Lille, Maubeuge, and Charleville, from Liége and Charleroi, from Crefeld
and Essen, Eschweiler and Elberfeld.

The Black Country of England, the southern counties of Wales;
Pittsburgh, Chicago, Paterson, Lawrence, Manchester; cities innumerable
in Great Britain and America, have joined in the great act of creating a
new ideal and a new power, but the culmination that is its own antidote
did not manifest itself there; instead it seems now to have developed in
the raw scar across the face of Europe, and the malignant pustule that
has burst at last formed itself at the far eastern end. Here, in the
Rhineland and Westphalia, grew monstrously the wealth, the potency, and
the material force that, made operative by the cold philosophy and the
supreme efficiency of Prussia, have made possible, and even inevitable,
the supreme attempt to bring to an end the outworn and discredited
ideals and methods of ten centuries of Christian civilisation, and
establish in unquestioned supremacy the ideals and the methods that
have fought hiddenly for dominion in Charleroi and Essen, in Leeds and
Birmingham, in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York.

Coal and iron. When the first bituminous lump blazed unexpectedly on the
hearth of the amazed cottager, the iron that had been man’s servant for
so long, stirred in its first waking to mastership, a mastery achieved
at last, incredible in its degree, incredible in its potentiality.
Creatures of its own, and allies brought into being before or since, but
now taking a new force and applied with new motives, gunpowder, steam,
electricity, join with it in plausibly offering their services as
beneficent agents toward the annihilating of life; and, as agent and
controller of the vast hegemony, wealth, desired above all things,
powerful beyond all things, after many days “Lord of the World.”

Nations and men have tried for world-mastery, time out of mind, relying
on brute strength of muscle, on craft of brain, on indomitable will, and
everlasting fear. Have tried and failed--after a little--and the empires
of Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Louis, Philip, Napoleon have crumbled
and become a memory. Failure was inevitable for strength of arm, of
brain, of will, was not, and could not be made, exclusive possession of
any race or people, nor could terror be confined within territorial
limits; in the end revolt; the rising of new tribes, intrusion of fear,
weakness, degeneration amongst the victors, their ominous evanishment
from amongst the conquered.

But how now, with these new aids, these untried forces and
potentialities? Suppose that the unestimated energy of a million years,
stored in the bowels of the earth, be applied to the dull iron and to
the harnessing of the mysterious electrical force, under the stimulus of
Will emancipated from the hampering influence of a discredited religion
and a superstitious ethic; suppose a new demiurge be created, given
supreme direction over soul and mind and body, and named Efficiency, and
suppose for two generations the energy employed blindly and to no
consistent end by dull nations, half-hearted in their devotion and still
bound by the memory of dying creeds and moribund old morals, be applied
by the highest and most self-sacrificing intelligence to the creation of
a supreme, perfect, and absolutely co-ordinated engine that, at the
well-conceived moment, shall be brought to bear without pity and
without pause on the inferior nations of the globe. What then?

The answer is still withheld, for the trial is in process. It was a
magnificent conception, and inevitable, for the great sequence of
spiritual and material happenings that has followed from the first
weakening of Christian civilisation and Catholic culture at the very
beginning of the fourteenth century was bound to have issue in its
logical and dramatic crest, and in the final test of its efficiency.
There is nothing half-way in its effort, nothing indifferently
accomplished or insecure at any point. Essen, Wilhelmshaven, Berlin have
forgotten nothing, failed in nothing. Every material agency, potential
on the earth and under, has been developed, harnessed, and applied;
every hampering stumbling-block of an old righteousness, an old
religion, an old philosophy is removed; coal, iron, steam, electricity,
chemistry are built up into a great and puissant unity, made operative
by the wealth they themselves have created and energised by the dynamic
force of intensive intellect no longer hampered by fear of God or
charity for man, or an ancient sense of honour that came out of
feudalism, the Crusades, and a Church that held the state in thrall and
should have perished with the things she had made.

The mystery of the “Sin against the Holy Ghost,” the mystery of
“Antichrist” are mysteries no longer, but clear writings on an open
page; blazing words on the walls of the banquet hall where the feast has
broken up in sudden and searching terror.

Coal and iron. These territories are now the centres of greatest
conflict: Poland, Galicia, and the Scar of Europe in the west. Each is
the land of coal and iron. In the east the contest sweeps back and forth
in Poland to rob Russia of her mines and manufactures, and add them to
the resources of Germany; in the south to preserve to Austria the coal
and iron and oil of Galicia; in the west to gain from France the coal
and iron of Champagne, Artois, Picardy, as the coal and iron of Belgium
were gained in the beginning at the price of paper treaties and a
negligible honour, or to deprive Germany of the coal and iron that are
the foundations of her empire (actual and potential) in the Rhineland
and Westphalia. Was there any drama of Sophocles, Euripides,
Shakespeare, Goethe that matched the sombre theatricalism of life
itself? Here in the west, far back in the Middle Ages, was the first
great centre of manufacture and trade, Bruges, Ghent, Arras, great
cities and world markets when London was a little river town, Paris a
village, Berlin a frontier fort on the raw edge of a savage and heathen
Prussia. Then later, after this first (and different) industrial
civilisation had passed, came a new manifestation, and from Lille to
Essen appeared the materialisation of a new madness, while Bruges and
Courtrai and Aix were forgotten, with all they stood for, and other
centres grew up--black, roaring, uncouth, but for men admirable and
desired far beyond the restored churches and desecrated abbeys, the
schools and universities, the dim and discredited philosophies, the
decaying art and the vanished ideals of Fécamp and Reims, of Bruges and
Louvain, of Aix and Trèves and Cologne. And now the Frankenstein monster
gets him to his perfect work, and through the coal-fields and over the
forges and factories, where he was fashioned, spreads death,
devastation, and ruin that, nevertheless (and here the mystery and the
wonder increase), may yet bring redemption, release, and restoration.

What has been in the immediate past needs no description: Crefeld and
Lille are only Manchester and Pittsburgh, and their familiarity is
sufficient to itself. What is now is equally common to all, and Louvain,
Arras, and Reims in their blood-stained ruin are a part of the common
consciousness. Meanwhile there were, and for the moment are, other
cities and other regions, forgotten or endured, that are all Charleroi
is not, or Crefeld or Maubeuge, and they are well worth a study, partly
for what they are, partly for what they signify, partly for what they
may forecast for a future beyond the present cataclysm.

There is hardly a more absorbingly interesting portion of France,
historically, artistically, or picturesquely, than that wonderful
quadrilateral, Compiègne-Noyon-Laon-Soissons, with its three great
cathedrals; its finest castle ruin in France--Coucy, the pride of
Enguerrand III--its fine old towns, as Laon and Noyon, with their groves
and terraced paths; its great Forest of Compiègne; and only a few miles
away on one hand or the other, châteaux such as Coucy and Ham,
battle-fields of the significance of Crécy. It is all fought over now
and may be again; no one knows how much is left, or may be left by and
by, but it was a fair land, with many traces of a more spacious and
balanced past, not in its great churches alone but as well in its quiet
villages and its fine grey houses in old cities. A frontier, in a way,
for already the creeping desolation of industrialism had reached close,
working always down from the North of coal and iron, already absorbing
St. Quentin and involving its ancient architecture in smoke and traffic,
blotting out its streets of gabled houses, and turning it into a typical
manufacturing centre--this, that was once the dowry of Mary Stuart.

North we enter into a general darkness, but on our way toward the dim
old cities of Flanders and Brabant that hold even now the beauty of an
elder day, forgotten by the world and outside the area of “great natural
resources,” we may pause in spirit in Arras (it would not be well to be
there in body, unless one were a soldier in the army of the Allies, when
it would be perilous but touched with glory) for sight of an old, old
city that gave a vision, better than almost any other in France, of what
cities were in this region at the high-tide of the Renaissance. It is
gone now, utterly, irremediably, and the ill work begun in the
Revolution and continued under the empire, when the great and splendid
Gothic cathedral was sold and utterly destroyed, has been finished by
Prussian shells.

Capital of Artois, it had a vivid and eventful history, reaching back to
pre-Roman times, continuing under Baldwin of the Iron Arm, who became
the first Count of Arras; then being halved between the Count of
Flanders and the King of France; given by St. Louis to his brother
Robert, passing to the Counts of Burgundy, reverting to Louis de Mâle of
Flemish fame, abandoned to the Emperor, won back by France; then
acquiring the sinister distinction of having produced Robespierre and,
finally, coming now to its end at the hands of the German hosts. What
Arras must have been before the Revolution we can only guess, but with
its glorious cathedral, its Chapelle des Ardents, and its “Pyramid of
the Holy Candle” added to its surviving town hall with its fantastically
beautiful spire, and its miraculously preserved streets and squares
lined with fancifully gabled and arcaded houses, it must have been a
sanctuary of old delights. The cathedral was of all styles from the
twelfth to the sixteenth century, while the chapel and the “pyramid,”
were models of mediæval art in its richest state. Both were destroyed by
one Lebon, a human demon and apostate priest, who organised a “terror”
of his own in his city and has gone down to infamy for his pestilential
crimes.

Both the destroyed monuments were votive offerings in gratitude to Our
Lady for her miraculous intervention in the case of a fearful plague in
the twelfth century, the instrument of preservation being a certain holy
candle, the melted wax from which was effective in preserving the life
of all it touched. The pyramid was a slender Gothic tabernacle and
spire, ninety feet high, standing in the Petite Place, a masterpiece of
carved and painted and gilded sculptures, unique of its kind. Every
vestige has vanished except a few relics preserved, together with that
most precious memorial, the blood-stained rochet of St. Thomas à Becket,
in the modern cathedral which Berlin has just announced has been
completely and intentionally destroyed by gun-fire.

Until its recent destruction, Arras was one of the few territorially
French towns in this region that could and did take one back into the
atmosphere of the pre-coal-and-iron era of Europe, though with a
difference. The fine vigour and riotous life of the Renaissance, the
gaiety and spontaneousness of mediævalism were gone, with the colour
and gold of the carved and painted shrines and houses, the fanciful
costumes, the alert civic life; and instead was a grey shadow, a slowly
dissolving memory. Still the pale simulacrum could stimulate the
imagination, as the rose jar renews the memory of the rose. Now the jar
is shattered and the scented leaves are trodden in the red mire, and we
must make our way across the frontier if we are to find and enjoy what
once Arras could in a measure give. God grant we may always be able to
do so, and that Audenaarde and Tournai, Bruges and Malines, and
Courtrai, with the still little villages in between, may remain to us
after coal and iron have achieved their perfect work and been replaced
in that position in life to which it pleased God to call them, so
surrendering the more dominating place to which man had called them in
his turn.

Of Ypres and Dixmude it is better to say little. Of the first of these,
and its vanished glory, the solemn and single great Cloth Hall, I have
said an inadequate something, but there was also St. Martin’s, once a
cathedral, with its delicate type of Gothic, its rich Renaissance
woodwork, its tombs and screens and treasures of ecclesiastical art;
there were its old guild-houses and its quaint dwellings, carved and
gabled and with wonderful old brickwork. And in Dixmude there was the
Church of St. Nicholas with its jubé, or rood-loft, as gorgeous a piece
of flamboyant art as one could find anywhere in Belgium or France. All
this is gone, but a little farther on, behind the present battle lines,
are more wonderful cities still--or are at this writing, in July, 1915.

This little Flanders, from the Scheldt to the sea, was a veritable
garden of dreams. Nieuport, Furnes, Ypres, Dixmude, Courtrai, Tournai,
Bruges, Ghent, Audenaarde--all are haunted by infinite old memories, and
most of them have preserved their souls through seclusion and commercial
oblivion, but around and between lie endless little villages of delicate
old houses, grey Gothic churches that have not been secularised or
abandoned (for Flanders always was a Catholic country), gardens, slow
canals and brooks under their low stone bridges, and an ingratiating
quiet that gives the lie to the progressive, practical, efficient, and
wealthy strip of inordinate activity that “disquieteth itself in vain”
from Lille to Liége through Mons and Courcelles, Charleroi and Namur.

As the old names come forward again in rumours and reports from the
front, in death lists and hideous narratives of outrage and destruction,
indestructible memories, dormant for thirty years, take form and shape
again, and daily the gentle charm of a forgotten land becomes living,
and the dull fear of an unpredictable and sinister future grows more
ominous and intense. There is no other land quite like it; no place
where the old has been spared by the new to such a degree, and where the
old has remained so altogether lovely.

Of course Bruges is the Holy of Holies in this sanctuary of lost ideals,
but on the way stop to consider the outer ring of a better kind of
fortresses that circle her inner citadel.

Nieuport, Dixmude, and Ypres once held their stations from the sea to
the Lys, but their ramparts and bastions were not proof against the
siege-guns of Essen and they have fallen. Next to the east and farther
down the Lys, is Courtrai, under whose walls in 1302 was fought that
battle of the burghers of Flanders against the French, when 1,200 of the
flower of French knighthood, not to speak of the men-at-arms, were
slain, and 600 golden spurs were gathered from the field and hung in
triumph in the abbey church.

[Illustration: A CHIMNEY-PIECE FROM COURTRAI]

Once a great city, Courtrai had recovered something of its ancient
wealth and activity, but this had injured it less than one might
suppose, and it was still a fair town, with many trees and gardens, and
its air of pride in a fine past. There were many churches, confused in
their sequent styles, but full of charm, with rich screens of Gothic
lace work, old wall paintings, and in one--Notre Dame--Vandyck’s
“Elevation of the Cross,” a great picture in every way. Then there was
the Hôtel de Ville, late Gothic of the kind that lingered so long in
Flanders after it had perished elsewhere, with sumptuous chimneypieces
of fantastic carvings and crowded statues, and finally the matchless old
bridge with its three round arches and its enormous towers at either end
with their high extinguisher roofs; altogether a good old town, so
self-respecting and sane that it could achieve a new prosperity without
sacrificing its old ideals.

South of Courtrai lies Tournai, on either side the Scheldt, the last
outpost of an old culture against a new civilisation, for beyond lies Le
Borinage, the Great Scar, where none would venture unless under
compulsion. Like Courtrai it holds its own bravely against coal and
iron, preserving its fine old buildings, and largely confining itself
to its traditional weaving and embroidery, much of which is still the
product of hand-looms and deft fingers. All day the black coal barges
slide down the river, coming from the inner darkness to disappear in the
outer darkness, leaving the city itself clean and sweet, but prosperous
withal, and manifesting a tendency toward boulevards that prompts both
regret and apprehension.

An ancient capital of the Merovings, a great city in the fifteenth
century, four times the size of such struggling communities as London,
besieged from time to time by pretty much every state or faction of
North Europe, Tournai is full of pregnant records of every age for
fifteen centuries. Toward the end of the seventeenth century the grave
of King Childebert himself was discovered, containing innumerable
remains of royal vestments and regalia--three hundred golden bees from
his dalmatic, medals, coins, portions of a sceptre, sword, axe, javelin,
together with the great seal-ring of the King himself and, as well,
vestiges of the skeleton and trappings of his warhorse, killed and
buried with him. Unfortunately these precious relics were seized and
taken to Paris, where most of them were later stolen and never
recovered. It was from the gold bees, however, that Napoleon derived his
idea of substituting this emblem for the traditional lilies of France.
Now the lilies are faded and the bees are dust, but a resurrection is
possible for either, and out of the war one or the other may come to a
new day--or will both yield to the Rampant Lion from a blood-stained and
forever-glorious flag, blowing now, though in exile, amongst the banners
of Europe, equal in dignity and first in honour?

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Tournai is far less known than its peculiar
importance and its peculiar beauty demand. It is a curious accretion and
plexus of styles, from the middle of the eleventh to the end of the
fourteenth century, with an incongruous but beautiful rood-screen of the
Renaissance. Cruciform, and of great size (425 feet in length), it has
the apsidal transepts of the Rhenish style, each with its columned
ambulatory; a central tower with high pointed roof, also Rhenish (and
English) and, as well, four slim surrounding towers, two to each
transept, as at Laon, where they are not all complete, and at Reims,
where they never rose above the nave cornice. All this is in a fine,
strong, simple, round-arched transition style, far superior to anything
on the Rhine, and at least equal to Noyon and Paris. The four tall
towers are equal in size and general design, but run from a consistent
Romanesque to a straightforward Gothic in detail, the effect being
particularly vital and interesting. The enormous choir of late and very
delicate mediæval design, having been begun in the last quarter of the
thirteenth and finished in the middle of the fourteenth century, is one
of the few Gothic things one regrets, for while it is very beautiful in
itself, it has eliminated what was probably a strikingly effective
Romanesque choir, while its towering mass crushes all the rest of the
church and makes it a rather shapeless composition.

The cathedral has suffered constantly and at the hands of many kinds of
unscrupulous vandals. The “Reformers” in the sixteenth century pillaged
it and wrecked its gilded shrines and its ancient glass; the
Revolutionists continued the dread work in the eighteenth century, and a
hundred years later blundering efforts to reinforce it by crude masses
of masonry were succeeded by equally blundering efforts at restoration.
It has, however, preserved and gathered together many treasures of
Catholic art, including chasubles of St. Thomas à Becket, Flemish
tapestries, ivory carvings, embroidered altar frontals, metal work, and
mediæval missals.

There are many other fine old churches in Tournai--St. Jacques, St.
Quentin, St. Nicholas, St. Brice--all with elements of interest, while
the ancient Cloth Hall contains a most valuable collection of mediæval
art-work of all kinds, and the older streets still preserve fine
dwellings and guild-houses of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

Audenaarde is all old, and it lies some five and twenty miles down the
slow-winding Scheldt on its roundabout and unhurried way to Ghent and
Antwerp and the sea. Once also it was a great city, now it is a village
of six or seven thousand souls, for it has fortunately never recovered
its prosperity under the new and unhandsome conditions that marked the
nineteenth century, as happened in the case of Brussels and Antwerp and
Ghent. In earlier days it was famous, like Arras, for its tapestries,
and many of those exquisite fifteenth-century masterpieces that are now
exiled in alien museums where they do not belong, but where at least
their value is appreciated and estimated at almost their weight in
gold, came from its looms. Tapestries are made here no more, nor in any
other place, for their art was of a peculiar subtlety that, even if it
finds appreciation amongst stray connoisseurs and curators, is as far
beyond the powers of the present day and generation as the glass of
Chartres or the sculptures of Reims. Linen and cotton weaving and the
brewing of beer have taken the place of tapestries in Audenaarde, but
the old town itself is little harmed thereby.

From the large and pious and opulent days of the later Middle Ages,
there remain in Audenaarde a very splendid great hall and two equally
great churches of rather unusual value. The hall is early sixteenth
century, very rich and equally graceful, with a slender tower and spire,
ending in a great crown as did the now-shattered tower of Arras. Its
rooms are very splendid, with big carved chimneypieces of the most
elaborate design, and with its small size and scrupulous detail it ranks
with Bruges and Arras and in advance of the more ambitious creations of
Brussels and Ghent.

The two remaining churches of Audenaarde, Ste. Walburga and Notre Dame,
have much distinction and architectural value, particularly Notre Dame,
which was Cistercian and is a surprisingly pure example of the reserved
and ascetic Gothic which always marked the buildings of this
order--which it largely created as a matter of fact. Ste. Walburga is
quite different, with its Romanesque choir of very modest proportions,
its ambitious and overshadowing nave of the fifteenth century, and its
unfinished transepts showing where the great scheme of rebuilding,
undertaken when it was too late and religion was already a waning force,
had been abandoned. There has been too much restoration in the case of
all these works of admirable art, and the ancient atmosphere is pretty
well gone, but they are noble still, in spite of the nervous and
mechanical attentions of archæologists and architects and other
well-meaning but misguided people.



IX

A TALE OF THREE CITIES


Still farther to the north, at the confluence of the Scheldt and the
Lys, is Ghent, the proud and turbulent metropolis of the fifteenth
century, the city-state that was so preposterously democratic it could
never get along with its neighbours, nor even with itself; the city of
De Conninck and Breidel and the Van Artevelds, of sudden and heroic
courage, of irresponsible turnings from one side to the other, and a
characteristic vacillation in public policy that kept it always in hot
water and was in the end its undoing; the place of strange old churches
and wonderful houses; the shrine of marvellous pictures and one of them
perhaps, what it has been called, the greatest picture in the world.

To Ghent, over which lay for centuries the oblivion that came upon all
the cities of Flanders after they lost their independence and fell into
the hands of the unscrupulous princes and states of the Renaissance, one
following another with variety of oppression but no cessation thereof,
has come a new vitality. It is as great a city now as then, counting a
population of well over 200,000, while Bruges has no more than a quarter
of this number. Providentially, it has suffered less than might have
been feared by this accession of prosperity; its wonderful churches and
tall towers, its quays with their serried lines of high gabled houses,
its great castle of the Counts of Flanders, its winding streets and
tortuous canals lined with ancient and lovely dwellings and spanned by
little stone bridges, all tell even now for almost their full value; and
though the city is quite metropolitan in its cleanness and well-being,
with fine new streets and bridges and shops, the spell of a great
antiquity is over it, and the new follows the old with conscientious
effort and delightful delicacy of feeling. If an old city must gain a
new lease of life, let it be after the fashion of Ghent.

Here is an old treasure-house full of wonders, and it can be touched
upon lightly, if at all, for it demands a volume to itself. It has a
dozen churches, all of the deepest interest; the Cathedral of St. Bavon,
St. Nicholas, St. Michael, St. Jacques, standing to the front. All
suffered from the Protestants and the French Revolution, and some from
the mishandling of restorers, but they retain their individuality, which
is very marked, for one and all are very local variants of the styles
one finds elsewhere; they are of Ghent and of no other place. Brick is
used widely, as elsewhere in Flanders, either by itself or mingled with
stone; and it is used with that intelligence, so rare in modern times,
that indicates the possibility of adapting a style to the materials
through which it is expressed. Of course, then art was as living a thing
as religion and the realities of liberty, whereas now they all fall in
the category of those fictions that please while they do not
persuade--which makes all the difference in the world. All Flanders is a
lesson in the use of brick, and as it is used here in St. Nicholas, and
in the houses of the Quai aux Herbes, as it was used in lost Louvain, in
desolated Ypres, in battered Malines, it was a study in good art, a
lesson in the history of human culture, a demonstration of the perfect
adaptation of modest means to a very noble end.

Ghent must have been a city of indescribable beauty about the middle of
the sixteenth century before its dark days began and one scourge after

[Illustration: A CANAL IN MALINES]

another followed the Reformers with their combination of dull brutality,
insane self-sufficiency, and savage fury of destruction. Even now the
group of towers, St. Bavon, St. Nicholas, and the belfry with its “Great
Bell Roland”--though the original spires are gone and the belfry has
further suffered the indignity of an extinguisher cap of iron--gives
some faint idea of what must have been before coal and iron came, first
to destroy and then most hideously to re-create. So also does the
towering old castle give a hint, whether you see it from the Place Ste.
Pharailde or from the canal, with its great buttresses lifting out of
the water; so does the unfinished but sumptuous Hôtel de Ville with its
fretted bays and balconied turrets; so do the beautiful ruins of the
ancient abbey shrouded in vines and trees. Life in a mediæval city such
as this could have left little to be desired so far as beauty of
environment was concerned, and when this contained within itself
unspoliated, unrestored churches that were in use all the time and meant
something besides a seventh-day respectability, and a great bell in a
tall tower, around whose rim were the words, “My name is Roland. When I
toll there is fire; when I ring there is victory in Flanders,” it is
easy to see how men could and did paint such pictures as “The Adoration
of the Lamb That Was Slain.”

This, with the other great pictures in Flanders, will be considered in
another chapter. It is the central art-treasure of the cathedral, the
pride of the Netherlands, and one of the wonders of painting of the
world.

Past tragic Termonde--a name and a deed never to be forgotten so long as
history endures--now only a desert of broken walls and a place of
unquiet ghosts, the Scheldt goes down to Antwerp, the last of the inner
circle of impotent defences of the eternal things that cannot resist,
against the passing things that are omnipotent during their little day.
In the sixteenth century it was the greatest and richest city in Europe;
now, with its 400,000 inhabitants, it is double its former size but
numerically counts for little beside the insane aggregations that call
themselves cities and are the work of the last century of misdirected
and evanescent energy. Its greatness culminated in 1550, and then came
the sequence of catastrophes that reduced it to material insignificance
for three hundred years, the Protestant Reformation, with its savage
destruction in 1566 of churches and monasteries, and of what they stood
for as well; the Spanish occupation, with Alva’s enormities in 1576,
when the more industrious and able citizens were driven into England,
and the city itself burned; the winning away by the Dutch of its old
command of commerce; the closing of the river by the Peace of
Westphalia, and finally the devastating storm of the French Revolution
which destroyed pretty much of anything that had been left. By this time
the population had fallen to 40,000, but under Napoleon a short-lived
recovery began, which was brought to an end by the revolution of 1830,
and it was not until the middle of the century that a more lasting
development was initiated.

Antwerp is a good enough modern town, as these go, but its disasters
have robbed it of all its ancient quality, and even the cathedral has
the air of being out of place. Great as it is, it is not a masterpiece,
or even an exemplar of its many Gothic variants at their best. Its
unusual width and number of aisles, its great height and its forest of
columns give a certain impressiveness and a very beautiful play of light
and shade, while its single tower is quite wonderful in its slender
grace and its intricate and delicate scaffolding. Its one famous
picture is the over-praised “Descent from the Cross” of Rubens, painted
while he was under Italian influence and therefore, if quite
uncharacteristic, nobler and more self-contained than the products of
his maturity when he had become wholly himself.

There are one or two other churches of fragmentary value, the unique
museum made out of the old dwelling and printing-office of Christopher
Plantin, with its stores of mediæval and Renaissance industrial art, and
the Royal Museum where there are more admirable examples of the painting
of Flanders, Brabant, and the Netherlands than are to be found gathered
together in any other one place. For critical, or in a limited way,
artistic study, this hoarding together, cheek by jowl, of innumerable
works of art collected from desecrated churches and ruined monasteries,
has its uses, but no one of the pictures torn from its original and
intended surroundings tells for its full value. One wonders sometimes
whether a daily newspaper, a school of fine arts, or a picture-gallery
is the most biting indictment of contemporary culture and artistic
sense; certainly whatever the answer, the picture-gallery presents
powerful claims that are not lightly to be disregarded.

So, from the dunes of the North Sea around to the wide estuary of the
Scheldt, the ring of defences is complete, and in the midst like a
citadel lies Bruges, the Dream City, preserving, guarding, and
reverencing its dreams.

I knew Bruges first in 1886 when I seem to remember its old walls, when
its new buildings were few and unobjectionable, and when the
tourist--English, German, American--was as much of a novelty as he was
an anachronism. I am told now that the walls have gone, and the
boulevards and architects’ buildings, and the tourists have come in;
have come in hosts, with all their destructive possibilities, but I can
think only of the old Bruges, still, meditative, serene; a town Maxfield
Parish might have designed, but impossible elsewhere except as a
survival, by some providential miracle of beneficence, from the heart of
the Middle Ages.

This is not to say that Bruges has survived intact. Hurled into the
midst of the maelstrom of chaos that characterised the Renaissance in
all its political aspects, she was ruined utterly between Maximilian of
Austria, the Calvinists, and the Duke of Alva. War and pillage,
massacre, bribery, treason, the rack marked the advance in culture and
civilisation beyond the dark days of mediævalism. What the Austrian
spared the Protestant devoured, while the Spaniard gleaned the crumbs
that remained. Bruges, that great city, proud, rich, and beautiful above
all cities of the North, counted now a population of a scant 30,000,
hopeless, abandoned, poverty-stricken.

The greatest ruin was wrought by one Balfour, a creature in the pay of
William of Orange, who in 1578 captured the city and held it for six
years, during which time the Catholic religion was prohibited, the
bishop was imprisoned, all priests were either driven into exile or
tortured and then burned at the stake, while churches were destroyed,
turned into stables, sacked and desecrated, and more great pictures,
statues, shrines, windows, sacred vessels, and vestments were destroyed
than have been miraculously preserved. Every religious house in the
vicinity was completely expunged, including the vast Cistercian
monastery of Coxyde, the most glorious church in Flanders; and its
wide-spread gardens, fields, and orchards regained from the dunes by
centuries of labour, reverted to their original estate, and desolation
took the place of beneficent and hard-won fertility.

Out of this reign of terror came as some compensation the saving of
Bruges--or what was left of it. In 1560 the Pope had made the city an
episcopal see, on the urging of Philip II, and after Balfour had met a
well-merited, but too sudden and merciful, death, the exiled and
plundered orders took refuge within its walls, building new and humbler
quarters for themselves and hospitals and almshouses for the miserable
citizens. The Church took the place of commerce, and under its care some
degree of life came back to the ruined city; and the quality it then
took on, of a community of religious houses, institutions of charity and
mercy, and old churches restored again to their proper uses, it has
never lost.

Toward the end of the seventeenth and all through the eighteenth century
the slow destruction of old beauty went on, though with a different
impulse. Now it was the unescapable vandalism of ignorance and degraded
taste that marked the time; old windows that had escaped the Calvinists
were pulled out so that a better light might fall on a new altar, since
it was “such an admirable imitation of marble,” even as happened in
Chartres, where some of the matchless windows were contemptuously cast
into a ditch to reveal the tawdry splendours of the lamentable high
altar and imitation marble of the choir which represented the
enlightened intelligence of the eighteenth-century canons. The sixteenth
century was bad enough, but one wonders sometimes how any continental
culture survived the eighteenth century.

Later, when the nineteenth century came to crown with perfect
achievement the arduous but incomplete efforts of its predecessor, ugly
and barbarous houses took the place of only too many of the beautiful
works of the Middle Ages, and finally the wonderful old walls were
ruthlessly razed to give place to silly boulevards. And in spite of it
all Bruges survives, and more completely than any other city of the
North, for it is farthest away from the kingdom of coal and iron, and if
war passes it by, it may still remain an oasis, a sanctuary in the
desert.

The beauty of Bruges is incomparable and unique. Threaded by winding
canals, crossed by innumerable old stone bridges, where pink-and-grey
walls, tall gables, spired turrets, leaning fronts of mullioned windows
rise from old stonepaved quays and garden walls hung with vines and
backed by tree tops; cut by narrow streets of ancient houses, with old
churches and convents and chapels on every hand and with slender towers
lifting over quaint market-places and little squares and sudden gardens,
it is a continuous and ever-varying and never-exhausting delight that,
so far as I know, finds its rival only in Venice. A city that has
shrunken a little within its walls is always more beautiful than one
that has burst them and is steadily intruding into the fleeing
countryside. That is the difference between the advance of man and that
of nature. Ghent, Rome, Nuremberg are kernels of sweetness surrounded by
a monstrously expanding rind that is exceeding bitter, but Carcassonne,
Rothenburg, Siena, Bruges are so wholly different there is no
possibility of comparison. When the houses of an old town seem to huddle
a little more closely together, while superfluous walls fall away and
the tide of green comes lapping on already moss-grown walls to cover and
obliterate the traces man has left of his less successful efforts, then
you have something approaching a perfect environment, particularly if,
as here, there are innumerable and endless treasures of the best that
man can do, now carefully preserved, and growing better the nearer
nature comes to touch them with her wand of magic.

Architecturally, Bruges is fifteenth century with a singular
consistency--when it isn’t of a century later or, and less
conspicuously, of the fourteenth century; not that it matters much, it
all hangs together because it is all of one mood and one impulse and one
race. Its Hôtel de Ville, one of the perfect things in architecture, I
have spoken of elsewhere; its churches, at least six of them, are each
engaging in a different way, and each contains treasures of endless
pictures, wood carving, metal work, vestments, gathered from ruined
monasteries and churches to take the place of the greater treasures
pillaged and destroyed by the Calvinists. Our Lady’s Church, with its
curiously beautiful tower and its gem-like porch; the cathedral with its
ugly modern tower and its fine interior with all its pictures and
treasures of “dinanderie”; the Chapel of the Holy Blood, still fantastic
and charming in spite of its sufferings at the hands of the French
Revolutionists; St. Jacques, St. Gilles, and the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre with its noble tomb of Count Baldwin of Jerusalem and his
wife.

[Illustration: THE BELFRY OF BRUGES]

Then there are all the old guild-houses, hospitals, convents,
monasteries, and the rows and rows of fine old dwellings, each a model
of personal and curiously contented architectural art, but, after all,
Bruges is not Bruges because of its single buildings, or all of them
together, or because of its pictures and its metal work and wood
carving. It is Bruges because of its unearthly beauty of canals and
gardens, of endless sudden compositions of lovely forms and lines and
silhouettes; because of its still atmosphere of old days and better
ways, and because it is a place where religion no longer appears as an
accessory but takes its place even in these modern times as a constant,
daily, poignant, and personal influence.

Already this living charm had begun to exert itself over a wider and
wider field, and when the war came there were more than 4,000 English
and Americans who had taken up their residence there, drawn by its
subtle charm and by what this stood for once, and stands for now. When
the King is back in Brussels again, and real life begins once more, who
knows but that the spirit of Bruges may find itself dominant over the
spirit (has it a spirit?) of Charleroi, not only in Flanders and
Belgium and Europe, but throughout the world, for “the old order
changeth, giving place to new,” and the “new” is also, and unmistakably,
the old, preserved as here in Bruges for better days, when through
suffering and ruin man comes into his own again, and sees once more what
is, what is not, worth while.

In Brabant were once other centres of old memories: Maastricht, Liége,
Huy, and Namur; Dinant, Louvain, and Malines. None of them remains, for
across Brabant runs the black scar that has transformed the cities of
the Sambre and the Meuse into smoking anvils, where iron is hammered out
into efficiency and coal is torn from the earth and burned in consuming
fires to the same end; for across Brabant runs the red scar that
efficiency has blazed like a trail of enduring flame, never to be
forgotten or forgiven so long as man remains on earth; a portent and a
horror to all generations _in sæcula sæculorum_. Dinant, Louvain,
Malines; yes, and Tirlemont, Aerschot, Wavre and the innumerable other
names that are uttered below the breath as signifying things that cannot
be spoken but never will be forgotten, things that give one at last to
understand the stern necessity of the once discredited, but now
grateful, doctrines of hell and of eternal damnation in the Christian
scheme of the universe.

Dinant, whose fame in the fifteenth century for the making of wonderful
works of art in metal, gave the name “dinanderie” to this admirable
art--Dinant, crouched under the castle-crowned cliffs of the Meuse, with
its quaint church, has gone now, and gone also is Louvain, all but its
Hôtel de Ville which is more like a pyx or a reliquary, or some other
work of “dinanderie,” than a real building. The destruction of Louvain
needs no description, for its fires have burned its story indelibly into
human consciousness. We know only too well how its university was
destroyed, with its priceless library and its ancient and unique
manuscripts; how the great and beautiful Church of St. Pierre was swept
by flames and left a hopeless ruin; how its streets were absorbed, one
after another, in the roaring conflagration, covering with their débris
the stains of massacre and pillage. Of Malines we know less, nor shall
until the great cloud rolls back, but there was much there to lose, and
some of this we know has been lost while more may follow. In spite of
the altars to coal and iron outside the old cincture of the town,
Malines itself was a gentle and lovely old place, gathered around its
great Church of St. Rombaut with its incredible tower. A town of old
houses and still canals in strangely poetic combination, a little Bruges
with a finer church than any the perfect Flemish city could boast. The
church itself is of a vigorous type of the earliest fourteenth-century
architecture, but the great tower, which was planned as the highest and
most splendid spire in the world, though it completed only three hundred
and twenty of its projected five hundred and fifty feet, is fifteenth
century, and as perfect an example of late Gothic at its best as may be
found anywhere in the world. It is really indescribable in its
combination of majesty, brilliancy of design, and inconceivable
intricacy of detail. The exuberance that marks the flamboyant art of
France is here controlled and directed into the most excellent channels,
and if ever it had been completed it must have taken its place as the
most beautiful tower in the world. As it is, it ranks in its own way
with the southern flèche of Chartres and Giotto’s Tower in Florence, and
more one cannot say.

Information is not forthcoming as to how far it already has been
wrecked; it is said that the glimmering pinnacles and niches of its
amazing buttresses have suffered severely from shell-fire, and that its
carillon, the finest in Belgium, has been destroyed; if nothing worse
follows, the world may yet see its visionary spire take actual form at
last, in the gratitude of a people for the passing from themselves, and
from the world, of the shadow of death.

Inevitably, when one thinks of Malines, Louvain, Ypres, Arras, Soissons,
Reims, there comes the suggestion of possible restorations, concretely
expressed already by German savants and archæologists incapable of
comprehending the difference between art and imitation, and as some
palliation for the evils that have been done. It is a thought that must
resolutely be put aside. As I said in speaking of Reims, if enough
remains to be made habitable by simple patching and protection, let this
be done by all means, but without a foot of false carving or glass or
sculpture. Build other churches if you like, and as you must, and
perhaps on the old general lines, though elsewhere, but let us have no
more a Pierrefond or a Mt. St. Michael. What is gone is gone
irrevocably, and its shells and shards are too valuable in their eternal
teaching to be obliterated by well-meant schemes of rehabilitation.
When a whole town passes, as Ypres and Louvain and Arras, then as it
fell so let it lie. A kindly nature will slowly turn these bleak piles
of fallen masonry into beautiful memorials, clothing them with grass and
vines and flowers and trees. Let them stand so for ever, a memorial to
the dead and a warning to man in his pride of life and insolence of
will; and for the new cities, let them rise as beautifully as may be
alongside, but not over, the graves of a dead era. Glastonbury and
Jumièges, in their solemn and noble ruin, tell their story to ears that
at last are disposed to listen, and the story of Reims and Louvain, with
the same moral at its end, must be told eternally after the same
fashion.



X

MARGARET OF MALINES


The historians always call her Marguerite of Austria, but this is hardly
fair, for even if she were a daughter of the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian
she did not come into her own until she took up her residence in a
beautiful castle in Malines and made that own the fortune and the
destinies and the happiness of the Flemish people who had been given
her. On both her father’s side and her mother’s she was English, if you
go back far enough, her great, great, great-grandfather having been that
“John of Gaunt (Ghent), time-honoured Lancaster” of whom we have heard
before. Her mother, Mary of Burgundy, who died when she was a baby,
traced her line back through Charles the Bold and Isabella of Bourbon to
John of Gaunt’s daughter, Philippa, who married John I of Portugal; and
it is through Philippa’s son Eduard and his daughter Eleanor who married
Maximilian’s father, the Emperor Frederick III, that the strain comes on
the father’s side. So “Margaret of Malines” let her be; and as well the
well-beloved Regent of Flanders, for never, even in the great days of
great kings and governors, was there ever a better sovereign or a more
engaging lady.

The Middle Ages are as full of lovable and admirable women as the
Renaissance is of sinister and regrettable representatives of the same
sex. They had no votes and they claimed no rights; they were less
welcome at birth than princes, and they were incontinently (and often
prodigally) married off without a “by your leave” by their scheming
fathers. Wholly subservient both in principle and in law, they were
anything but this in fact, and a study of the Middle Ages reveals a
certain feminine dominance that is startling to the male of to-day. It
is well to remember that the clinging type, with the ringlets and facile
emotions and tears, is a product of modern civilisation; mediævalism
knew nothing of it, and little of that even less attractive aspect that
always becomes conspicuous when society is breaking down at the end of
an era; a Catherine of Russia, while not without prototypes in the
Middle Ages, would have been as anomalous then as a Blanche of Castile
in the eighteenth century. Apparently, the only conspicuous differences
between the men and women of mediævalism were that the men did the
fighting and most of the active or violent work, while the women
directed their courses, corrected their mistakes, and built up their
character and that of their children; and that the men confined
themselves to the tactics while the women controlled the major strategy
of the battle of life.

The glitter and the show remained with the men, the substance of power
remained with the women, and as their vision is apt to be wider and more
penetrating it is fortunate that this was so. Of course it was all a
part of the very real supremacy of Christianity over all domains of
activity, all phases of life and thought. As soon as its power began to
lapse and old pagan theories came in with the Renaissance, while Our
Lady and the saints were dethroned by the Reformation, the wholesome
balance was overthrown and women slowly fell back to that earlier
position where the only defence against male oppression was the power of
sex, the result being those artificial barriers and differences, and the
unwholesome bartering of bribes and promises and threats, that always
have resulted, and always will, in a complete downfall of personal and
social righteousness. The problem to-day is not how women are to get the
ballot but how they are to regain their old mediæval equality (or
supremacy if you like) without it. During mediævalism men were more
masculine and women more feminine than ever before or since, and in all
probability a good part of the ethical, cultural, and social success of
the time was due to this fact and to the absence of artificial barriers
that denied to demonstrated character and to proved capacity the
opportunity of effective service.

Whenever you find a great man in mediæval history (or any other for that
matter) _cherchez la femme_; ten to one you will find behind a St. Louis
a mother like Blanche of Castile, or a guardian like Margaret of Austria
behind a Charles V. Men try in vain to change the course of history by
their own efforts; women always have the power to do this through the
new generation they are nursing and educating, while the men are
exhausting their energies in the fighting and the politics and the
everlasting strenuousness that bring so many great things to pass that
hardly last overnight. After all, so far anyway as the Middle Ages are
concerned, it was the monks and nuns at their endless prayers in chapel
and cell and cloister, and the mothers in their tall towers and their
walled gardens, with their children about them, that made the great and
enduring things possible.

Margaret of Malines was as perfect a type of this consecrated womanhood
as one could find in a year’s delving in ancient history; in addition
she was a particularly charming lady and a very great statesman.
Moreover her twenty-three years of rule in the Netherlands cover a
particularly significant and interesting period in the history of this
country and the end of mediæval civilisation here when it had outlasted
its career elsewhere in Europe, so we may try in a chapter to give some
idea of society in the Heart of Europe, at exactly the moment when it
was about to surrender to the anarchy that already was progressively
dominant elsewhere.

Margaret was born on January 10, 1480, in Brussels. Her father, the
Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg, was apparently a kind of imperial
Admirable Crichton--handsome, fearless, a gallant knight, a poet,
painter, scholar, patron of all arts and letters, and as serenely
conscious of his personal merits as they deserved. Her mother was the
beautiful Mary of Burgundy, daughter of the headlong and magnificent
Charles the Bold and Isabel of Bourbon who, like Margaret’s own mother,
and her father’s mother, Eleanor of Portugal, was one of those fine and
beautiful characters with which mediæval history is so full. When the
little Margaret was only two years old her radiant mother, who was
adored by every one, was killed while hunting and Maximilian, who was
heartbroken and quite frantic with grief, found his two children,
Margaret and her brother Philip, seized by the somewhat aggressive
burghers of Ghent on the ground that it was for the state, and not the
father, to determine their education and their future. Louis XI of
France was undoubtedly behind them, for he believed he saw his chance to
devour Burgundy, and in the end he cleverly engineered the treaty of
Arras whereby the small Margaret was affianced to his son Charles and
taken to the French court to be properly educated, while Philip remained
in Flanders to be reared as the burghers saw fit.

Fortunately, the old French spider, Louis XI, died almost as soon as
Margaret reached Paris, and her education was undertaken by his daughter
the Princess Anne, who became regent for the Dauphin Charles and was
another of those strong and righteous personalities of a time that
already had almost exhausted itself by overproduction. Under her able
direction the château of Amboise became a kind of “finishing school” for
princesses, and here the small Margaret was subjected to a system of
training that would stagger the present day. “On a foundation of strong
religious principles hewn from the early fathers of the Church and the
_Enseignements de Saint Louis_, she built up a moral and philosophic
education with the help of the ancient philosophers, especially Plato as
studied with the commentary of Boethius,” maintaining a cloisteral
simplicity of life and fighting affectation and pretence with an austere
ardour that contrasts quaintly with the court life of the time. And all
this just before the discovery of America and on the eve of the election
of the Borgia, Alexander VI, to the Papacy!

In spite of her gorgeous betrothal to the poor little awkward and
misshapen prince, the marriage was destined not to come off; political
considerations intervened, and Charles married Anne, the heiress of
Brittany, out of hand, and the Princess Margaret was unceremoniously
returned to Flanders where she was received with enthusiasm by her
loyal if turbulent and irresponsible Flemings.

The situation was characteristically fifteenth century, which is to say
impetuous and fantastic. Maximilian had just been made King of the
Romans and heir to the Holy Roman Empire; he had ventured into the nest
of unruly Flemings, been captured, and imprisoned for eleven weeks, to
the scandal of Europe and of the Pope who put both Bruges and Ghent
under the interdict. Maximilian won in the end by promising much and
performing little, and then backed Brittany against France, intending to
marry the little Princess Anne, but he lost both the battle and his
coveted bride with her desirable territories, both being won by his
prospective son-in-law Charles who at one blow threw over Margaret, and
won the very lady her father had been striving to attain. Maximilian’s
irritation was perhaps excusable under the circumstances, but when he
found no one who really cared to help him in a war against France he
turned to schemes of a new crusade for driving the Turks out of Europe,
consoled himself with a Sforza princess from Milan, and worked out a
beautiful new scheme of a Spanish alliance by marrying his son Philip
to the Princess Juana and Margaret to the royal Infante, Don Juan.
Margaret was now seventeen, and after Dona Juana had made her way to
Flanders by sea, always in imminent danger of shipwreck, and married
Prince Philip, she took the poor storm-tossed ladies-in-waiting back
with her by the same uncomfortable route, producing for their
edification, in the midst of the worst of the incessant tempests, her
proposed epitaph which ran:

    “Ci-gist Margot, la gentile demoiselle
     Qu’eut deux maris, et ci mourut pucelle.”

The epitaph was not needed, and Margaret reached Spain at last, where
she was received with wild joy, at once becoming the idol of all who met
her, from Queen Isabella down. The prince was of the same temper as
herself, handsome, noble in character, learned, proficient in all the
arts, and they were married the moment Lent was over, in the midst of a
kind of frenzy of general joy and magnificence. This was on Easter
Sunday, April 10, 1497; on October 4 the fairy prince was dead of the
plague, dying as he had lived his brief life of nineteen years, a gentle
and perfect knight, destroying the golden dreams of his people, breaking
the heart of the Queen, and leaving Margaret, heartbroken also, to
await the birth of her child, who was born only to die after a single
breath. The life of the girl-widow was despaired of, but she finally
recovered, and in spite of the prayers of the sorrowing Queen and court,
who had acquired a passionate affection for her, returned to Flanders,
where her brother Philip, through a sequence of deaths in the royal
family of Spain, had suddenly found his wife the heir to the vast and
powerful kingdom. Margaret arrived in 1499 and two years later, again
for political reasons (her spirited father now being interested in the
conquest of Italy), was married to Duke Philibert of Savoy, Philibert le
Beau, a figure of splendour, courage, learning, and beneficence; devoted
to his people, to governmental and industrial reform, to the founding of
schools, hospitals, monasteries. One looks aghast on the mortality of
young and promising leaders at this particular time. They arise like
splendid stars, they embody all the beneficent quality of the five
centuries of mediævalism that already had come to an end; they have no
kinship with the new type of the Renaissance then first showing
itself--with a Henry VIII, a Francis I, a Philip II, an Alexander
VI--and one by one they are blotted out of the darkening heavens. Born
out of due time, after the ending of an epoch of righteousness and
beauty, they seem to be taken away from a world they could not save and
that could only have been for them a misery and a disappointment, as it
was for Margaret’s baby nephew, Charles, who was destined to inherit the
world in its chaotic desolation only to surrender it at last and seek
refuge in the cloister.

So it was with this model of chivalry, Philibert the Beautiful; three
years of ecstatic happiness were granted him and his duchess, Margaret,
and then he also died, in the room in which he had been born, at Pont
d’Ain, only twenty-four years before. Margaret withdrew at once from the
world, cut off her great wealth of golden hair, and devoted herself to
prayers and devotions, and to the building at Brou, in memory of the
dead duke, of that matchless piece of architectural jewel work, the
shrine that occupied the energies of the greatest artist-craftsmen in
Europe for a period of twenty-five years, From every part of France,
Flanders, Burgundy, Italy architects, painters, sculptors, glassmakers,
wood-workers, craftsmen in metals were gathered together, and thus they
laboured year after year, at first supervised by the Duchess Margaret
from an oratory she had built where she might divide her time between
intercessions for the repose of the soul of her knight and
superintendence of the building that was to immortalise his memory and
form the place of sepulture for him, and for her when God willed. In the
money of our time the cost of this shrine, small as it is, was over
$4,000,000, and it represented the ending of art as it marked the ending
of a great epoch.

The peace and the withdrawal from the world the poor princess desired
above everything were denied her. Two years after the death of the Duke
of Savoy, Philip, the only son of Maximilian, brother of Margaret,
husband of poor Dona Juana, who was destined to a life of madness,
Philip, Archduke of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, King of Castile,
another of the promising princes of Christendom, died at the age of
twenty-eight, leaving five children, with another shortly to be born,
and amongst them was the seven-year-old Charles, the heir of the world.
At the solemn obsequies in the Cathedral of St. Rombaut in Malines (the
same whose tower is now shattered by Prussian shells), at the end of the
mass, the King-at-Arms of the Golden Fleece cast his baton

[Illustration: THE TOWER OF ST. ROMBAUT, MALINES]

along the pavement and cried three times in a loud voice: “Le Roi est
mort!” Raising it again he cried again: “Vive don Charles, par la grace
Dieu, Archiduc d’Autrice, Prince des Espagnes!” and without a pause a
herald continued, raising his great banner from the ground, “de Bourbon,
de Lostric, et de Brabant”; and a second, “Comte de Flandres,
d’Arethorys, de Bourgone, Palatin d’Haynault, de Hollande, de Zelande,
de Namur, et de Zutphen!” and a third continued the long list, and a
fourth, the last ending: “Marquis du Sainct Empire, Seigneur de Frise,
de Salins, et de Malines!”

So the future Lord of the World entered into his inheritance at the age
of seven, and as always, without a murmur or a protest, Margaret left
her oratory, turned from her slowly rising shrine, and went into
Flanders to be guardian for the future Emperor, to train him for his
task, and meantime to administer for him one of the most turbulent, if
rich and beautiful, dominions of his patrimony.

Bruges and Ghent were too uncertain in their temper as the result of an
uncontrolled guild system and its inevitable democracy, inorganic and
chaotic. Moreover, Margaret herself had been educated in Malines by her
grandmother, Margaret of York, widow of Charles the Bold, so to Malines
she came with four of her little nephews and nieces, and was received
with great rejoicing, taking up her residence in a very splendid palace,
the Hôtel de Savoy, portions of which still remain and are used as a
Palais de Justice.

Malines in 1507 was a very different city from that of to-day; as we
could have seen it a year ago with its narrow and winding streets, its
fragments of old ruins, its little gabled houses, we loved it for its
quaintness and its modest picturesqueness which formed a kind of foil to
the vast tower of St. Rombaut, lifting like a truncated obelisk above a
low plain. At the beginning of the sixteenth century it was, like the
other great cities of Flanders and Brabant, a place of palaces and
gardens, a courtly and splendid city, rich, busy, magnificent. In the
night of the “Spanish Fury” in Antwerp it is of record that amongst
other proud buildings, five hundred palaces of marble or chiselled stone
were destroyed, and this gives some idea of the nature of the other
cities that rivalled and exceeded Antwerp in magnificence. Malines, when
the Duchess Margaret took up her abode there, was no village of dark and
dirty little streets, but a city of palaces, far finer than London, or
even Paris, and a fitting residence for a princely court and for the
future Emperor.

The new Regent made it more magnificent than ever; it was a time when
five centuries of mediæval culture were blooming in beauty and great
learning, and the beneficent qualities of the early, or Christian
Renaissance, were uniting with all that had come from an epoch whose
term had already arrived. In Italy the Renaissance had rotted into a
poison, but the virus had penetrated only a little way into the veins of
Europe. The Papacy was rotten to the core, the Medici were cloaking
their pestilential tyranny and their glorification of material gain in
the fine vesture of learning and æsthetics. Machiavelli was dethroning
Christian ethics and substituting efficiency in its place, but the
Christian Renaissance was still fighting its losing battle through
Cardinal Cusa, Sir Thomas More, and Erasmus. Dürer, Holbein, Hans Sachs
were giving a new glory to at least two of the arts in Germany, and as
yet Luther was no more than a threat, Wolsey a rising star whose
balefulness was not apparent, Calvin unheard of, Henry VIII a splendid
prince shortly to be proclaimed “Defender of the Faith” he was so soon
to cast down into the mire.

In the domains of Margaret of Malines the afterglow of Catholic culture
was still golden and gracious, and while she defended the interests and
the welfare of the principality she held in trust with a vigour and a
persistency that threw into the shade the lesser abilities of her male
predecessors, she made of her city a new centre of learning and
righteousness. Here came Louis Vives and Adrian, Archbishop of Utrecht,
later the Pope of a year who, had he lived, might have reformed the
Church and made the Protestant Reformation innocuous; Erasmus of
Rotterdam, that engaging character who could have matched and worsted
Luther, and done his work better than he, had he possessed the sincerity
and the consecration of a martyr; “Cornelius Agrippa,” Massé, Everard,
Molinet, Renacle de Florienne, and other lesser lights. Mabuse, Van
Orley, Coxcie came as painters to produce the altar-pieces and portraits
desired by the Regent and her court; composers and musicians sought her
patronage, for she had a passionate love for music of all sorts and
wrote many poems and songs which they set after the fashion of the time.
Her interest in architecture was intense, and she made Rombaut
Keldermans her court architect, charging him amongst other things with
the completion of the vast tower of the church of his name-saint, begun
by his direct ancestor Jan in 1452. This was a famous family of master
masons, Jan, with his brother André, Mathieu, Antoine, and later Antoine
II, Rombaut, and Laurent. The designs for the completion of St.
Rombaut’s tower and also for a great Hôtel de Ville are still preserved,
and in vision one can see them carried out by and by in a new and
regenerated Malines under a new and regenerated civilisation. As a
matter of fact, the stone for St. Rombaut’s spire was already cut and on
the ground when the fortunes of Flanders changed, and in 1582 it was all
seized by the Prince of Orange, and carried away to build a new town at
Willemstadt. During Margaret’s regency, the great Cathedral of Ste.
Gudule at Brussels was built, the good part of the Ghent Hôtel de Ville,
the belfry of Bruges, the spire of Antwerp, as well as innumerable other
great works that perished at the hands of the Spaniards, the Calvinists,
and the French devils of the Revolution.

As a collector of books, pictures, works of art of all kinds she was
indefatigable. In her own house, which was a true palace of art, were
Van Eycks, Memlings, Van der Weydens, Dierick Bouts, most of which
succumbed long ago to ignorance and vandalism. There were priceless
tapestries without end, sequences of six or more: The Life of Queen
Esther, the Story of the Three Kings, of the Earthly Paradise, of
Arcadia; La Cité des Dames, the History of the Cid, of Alexander, of St.
Helena. An inventory of the palace art still exists and reads like a
story out of the Arabian Nights; we here find catalogued wonderful
carpets and rugs; armour inlaid with gold and silver; caskets, clocks,
vases of precious metals, carved and engraved gems, precious marbles,
jasper, ivory, alabaster, chalcedony; gold-and-silver plate set with
precious stones. As for her private library it was a treasure-house and
a student’s sanctuary. There were one hundred and fifty vellum volumes
illumined with colours and gold and bound in velvet, gilded leather,
metal studded with gems; there were three editions of Aristotle, four of
Livy, with the works of Ovid, Seneca, Cæsar. There was a large
collection of theological and moral works, decretals and digests in
Latin and French, the works of St. Augustine, Lives of Saints, Bibles,
missals, breviaries, books of hours, Gospels, Testaments. Froissart was
there, with all the old Arthurian romances, as well as the “Golden
Legend,” “Le Livre de Tresor,” “le Mirroir du Monde,” “le Mirroir des
Dames”; books on hunting, falconry, chess, fashions. All these were
illumined manuscripts, but printing was already an industry, and what
Margaret had in this line we can only guess, as this particular
catalogue is gone.

It was in this wonderful palace, set in the midst of many other palaces
in a rich and courtly city, where the streets were always full of the
pageantry of the iridescent mingling of an ending mediævalism and an
unfolding Renaissance, that Margaret lived for a quarter of a century,
training the little princes and princesses, administering the very
complicated affairs of her state, defending it against aggression,
composing its internal differences, giving aid to the sick, the
suffering, and the disquieted in mind and soul, conversing with the
philosophers, poets, and theologians she had drawn from many sources,
and all the time keeping architects, painters, sculptors, craftsmen busy
in adding to the wealth of beauty already superabundant in the
Netherlands.

Flanders and Brabant have always been fortunate when women ruled in the
place of men and never more so than under Margaret of Malines. She
guarded with the most jealous care every just interest of her people,
beating at the outset Henry VII of England in a diplomatic contest, but
later refusing to marry the thrifty monarch (“They have tried to marry
me three times, but my luck is bad.”), bringing Charles of Guelders to
rights, aiding in the defeat of France by her father and young Prince
Henry of England at the Battle of the Spurs, but on the whole
maintaining an unwonted peace.

Not for a thousand years had there been a time more momentous than the
years of Margaret’s regency; more complicated in its conflicting
currents, more amazing in its possibilities and in the ideas that were
brought forth. The Renaissance was in the saddle in Italy, riding the
Church and society to their fall; in Germany Protestantism was claiming
and fighting for the succession, while France was following Italy in its
progressive corruption, England still standing firm behind her Channel
cliffs that seemed so well to defend her against spiritual as well as
physical invasion. All things were changing, a new era was establishing
itself, but Maximilian was not content to see the old depart without a
struggle, nor was his son Charles when he succeeded him. In the
voluminous correspondence that has been preserved between the Emperor
and his Regent of the Netherlands there is an astounding letter which
reveals the almost insane lengths to which the imagination could go in
these overstimulated times; in it Maximilian confesses that he has a
great scheme for the redemption of Europe and it is this: he, himself,
is to be made a kind of coadjutor to the Pope (Julius II, then ill),
whereupon he will surrender the Empire to his son Charles, and then when
Julius shall die, be made Pope in his place, thus uniting all spiritual
and temporal power in the persons of the Hapsburg father and son!

He wouldn’t have made a bad Pope, this shrewd, crusading, idealistic
Maximilian, certainly he would have been a better than the Alexander VI,
Julius II, Leo X type then in vogue, and the vision of Maximilian in the
chair of Peter, with Charles V the temporal lord of the world, is
stimulating and provocative of speculation as to what might have
happened. However, it all came to nothing; Julius recovered, and was
succeeded in 1513 by Leo X, who reigned furiously for eight years and
then died, to be succeeded, not by Wolsey, who was exerting every
diplomatic and pecuniary agency to gain the prize, not by a Cardinal of
the Medici or the Colonna, but by an obscure recluse, Adrian, sometime
Archbishop of Utrecht, a gentle professor at Louvain whom Maximilian had
discovered and sent to Malines to help educate the future Charles V, and
who had since been immured in Spain as Cardinal of Tortosa.

It was one of those kaleidoscopic phenomena that gave an exceeding
vivacity to the age. Into the midst of a line of Popes distinguished for
their highly developed and quite artificial taste, their rapacity and
simony, their persistent nepotism and their serene profligacy, came
suddenly a shy, ascetic student, pious, austere, and simple. Into the
Vatican of an Alexander VI and Leo X he came with his old Flemish
housekeeper, to the horror of the curia, and, we may believe, the
sympathetic amusement of the angels. For a moment it seemed as though
the ideal of Maximilian was to be attained by more orthodox methods.
Adrian VI set himself to the task of reforming not alone the curia but
the whole Church; to regenerate Catholicism on Catholic lines, defeat
Protestantism in its own field, restore peace to the world. Destiny,
however, is not to be escaped; the world had busily made its bed and in
it it was destined to lie. One by one each young and righteous prince
had been taken away by death before he could set his lance in rest
against the common enemy, and now the anomalous Pope was denied his
self-appointed task. In less than two years he was dead, Clement VII
reigned in his stead, and the world, having taken a long breath of
relief, went on very much as before, to its inescapable destiny.

When he was fifteen years old Charles formally took over the government
of the Netherlands and four years later he was elected to the Empire,
becoming Charles V, but Margaret still remained at the head of the
Council of Regency of the Netherlands. In the wars between the Emperor
and Francis I, the Netherlands escaped as the fighting was elsewhere,
and their peace and prosperity remained practically unbroken. In the end
Margaret crowned her career by initiating and completing the “Ladies’
Peace,” which resulted in the treaty of Cambrai. Francis I had already
been completely beaten by the Emperor, renouncing his claims over
Flanders and Artois and promising to keep the peace, but he promptly
broke all his engagements and had to be beaten again, very thoroughly
this time, with further disastrous results to the remains of Christian
culture, for Clement VII had joined with Francis against the Empire, and
Rome was stormed and sacked by the lawless troops of the Constable of
Bourbon, unfortunately killed in the assault, amidst appalling scenes of
murder, arson, and pillage, when untold wealth of ancient art was
utterly destroyed. The whole war was a scandal on the name of decency
and more than Margaret and the other decent women could bear, so she
proposed to the Emperor that she should undertake to make peace, and
actually succeeded in doing so, with the aid of Louise of Savoy, mother
of King Francis, Marguerite of France, Queen of Navarre, and Marie of
Luxembourg, Countess of Vendôme.

Margaret’s work was apparently finished. All her brother’s children had
been guarded, educated, and married, Eleanore to the King of Portugal,
Isabelle to the King of Denmark, Marie to the King of Hungary, while
Ferdinand who had been educated in Spain had married Anne of Hungary and
received from his brother, the Emperor, the throne of Austria, to which
were added Bohemia and Hungary after the great beating back of the Turks
from Vienna in 1529, since King Louis, husband of Marie, had lost his
life in the terrible disaster of the battle of Mohacs in 1526, when for
the moment the Moslems had been victorious and had threatened all Europe
from the field where 20,000 had laid down their lives in a vain attempt
to stem the heathen tide.

As for her imperial nephew Charles, he was now the unquestioned head of
the Holy Roman Empire and leader of Christendom; on February 24, 1530,
he was solemnly crowned by the Pope, in Bologna, with the Iron Crown of
Lombardy and the crown of Charlemagne. Peace of sorts, had settled on
Europe, and it was a peace of Margaret’s own making. The Lutheran heresy
was sullen and threatening, but thus far there was no actual violence.
There was a pause in the ominous progress of events, and tired,
apprehensive Margaret determined to resign her charge to the Emperor,
who was coming from his crowning to visit her in Malines, and retire to
one of the convents she herself had founded. She had earned the peace
she desired, and a greater peace, which was accorded her by the grace of
God, for on November 30, 1530, she died from an overdose of opium given
her by her physicians in preparation for an operation that had become
necessary, owing to an injury to a foot which had not been properly
treated.

She died as she had lived, thoughtful for others, generous, meek in
spirit, sincerely and devotedly a Catholic. All the Netherlands mourned
for her as a righteous and able governor and, after the imposing funeral
services in Bruges, she was carried through the snow, along the road she
had followed on her wedding journey, thirty years before, to the church
at Brou, where she was placed by the side of the husband, who had been
hers for so few years, and for love of whom she had built the most
beautiful shrine in Europe.

The church at Brou is the last of Gothic art, and Margaret of Austria,
by the love of her people, Margaret of Malines, was the last of the
great and righteous and pious women of the age that had made this art
its own.

With the passing of Margaret, Malines ceased to be the capital of the
Netherlands, but for compensation in some sort it was made an
archbishopric; and though its great palaces have passed with its glory,
the hoarded art and the

[Illustration: A DETAIL FROM THE CHURCH AT BROU]

marvellous library of the Regent gone to feed the fires of sacrilege or
enrich the galleries of the uttermost parts of the earth, though its
wealth is no more and throngs of finely clad burghers and merchants no
longer enrich its winding streets with the pageant of a wedded
Mediævalism and Renaissance, out of this ecclesiastical aggrandisement
has come in these later days a new honour to Malines; for when war and
pillage again swept it with the flames of hell, it was the Cardinal of
Malines, Archbishop Mercier, who dared to stand forth and defy the
spoiler, while shaming his too-cautious ecclesiastical superior,
weighing, vacillating, counting costs and profits in the midst of his
buzzing curia.

The Heart of Europe, pierced by the sword and shedding the life-blood
that had coursed for a thousand years through the arteries of the world,
knew that the hour of the eternal question had come, that the clean
division between right and wrong had been cut by the sword, that once
more the Voice had gone forth: “He that is not with Me is against Me,”
and that there was no longer place on earth for the emasculate, the
neuter, in the catchword parlance of the time, the neutral. Peter
shuddered and hesitated on the throne of the Fisherman; great nations
outside the widening ring of fire counted the cost and dreamed
day-dreams of arbitration and pacification, but once again Malines
spoke, as in the past, with the tongue of the past--and of the future.
Mercier of Malines spoke for God and his own people, and for the
righteousness that is eternal, as four centuries ago spoke Margaret of
Malines.



XI

THE FIFTEENTH-CENTURY PAINTERS


The history, the principles, the motives, the methods of that mode of
art which expresses itself in pictorial form are involved in more error
and misrepresentation than happens in the case of any of its allies. For
this the nineteenth century, and particularly the Teutonic nineteenth
century, with its inability to understand art in any form save that of
music, is chiefly responsible. Every effort has been made to isolate it
as an independent form of art, to confine it to “easel painting” on
panel or canvas, or to wall decorations conceived after the same fashion
and on the same lines, to reduce it to certain schools and individuals
and localities; in a word, to make it a highly specialised form of
personal expression, like lyric poetry or theological heresy. This is to
miss its essential character and deny its primary function.

Painting is the use of colour and the composition of lines and forms for
sheer joy in this particular kind of beauty; for the honouring of the
most honourable things; for the stimulating of high and fine human
emotion; for the symbolical (and therefore sacramental) expression of
spiritual adventures and experiences that so far transcend the
limitations of the material that they are not susceptible of
intellectual manifestation. Painting is primarily and in its highest
estate an ally and an aid of architecture, as are also sculpture and (in
a less intimate degree) music, poetry, and the drama, all working
together for the building up, under the inspiration of religion, of a
great stimulus and a great expression. As a thing by itself it fails of
half its power, but, like all the arts, it can be used in this way,
though indifferently and only within certain limitations. To say,
therefore, that painting as an art began with Giotto or Cimabue or
Duccio, is absurd; there was great painting long before them, and some
of it reached heights even they could not attain. Of course most of it
is gone, vanishing with the destroyed or remodelled buildings, where it
worked intimately with architecture, scraped off by “restorers,”
whitewashed by iconoclasts, done over by easel painters, so it is hard
to judge it justly, but a few fragments remain in France and Italy that
give some idea of its original power and beauty.

Similarly, illumination is not a handicraft or an industrial art; it was
frequently great art of a very distinguished quality, and so was the
painting of carving and sculpture, an art not disdained by the Van Eycks
themselves. From the earliest beginnings of the Middle Ages there was
great painting, and the Duccios and Massaccios and Memlings only added
to it certain different, and not always admirable, qualities, while
devising novel methods that made possible novel modes of expression.

And here enters another misconception that has done much harm: the Van
Eycks did not invent oil painting, if by the phrase is meant the oil
painting of the nineteenth century. This, the use of mechanically ground
pigments already mixed with an oil medium, is a trick hardly more than a
century old, and is a time-saving device for the obtaining (which it
does not succeed in doing), at the least expenditure of time and
thought, of the effects originally produced by the old method that held
from the time of Hubert Van Eyck down to that of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
This old method consisted in dividing the work of a painter into three
stages--drawing, modelling, colouring--each of which had to be done
laboriously and to perfection. After the picture had been drawn
completely and in every detail it was modelled in a thick underpainting
of impasto with its varied reliefs and textures, and then the colour was
applied; successive coats of _transparent_ pigment, one imposed on the
other, each being allowed to dry before the next was put on. The result
was, amongst other things, that depth, resonance, and transparency of
colour that mark the great painting of the past and are absolutely
unobtainable by the use of the opaque and muddy pigments squeezed out of
collapsible tubes. In this earlier method there was no short road to
success; a painter could not sweep in his broad masses of paint with a
few masterly strokes, masking his lack of proficiency in drawing by
daring and theatrical brush work, and making amends for his opaque and
unbeautiful colour by a stunning exhibition of a delusive chiaro-oscuro.
Everything was built up laboriously and conscientiously; it was
consummate craftsmanship, with much in common with stained glass,
orfèverie, and even with architecture. No wonder a painter’s training
frequently began with a goldsmith; it demanded the most exquisite and
conscientious craft and there was no substitute that a public trained
in eye and quick in appreciation could be induced to accept. Temperament
was no excuse for incapacity; daring brush work made no amends for lack
of competence; for once painting was on a par with the other arts, and a
painter was as much a master of craft, and as rigidly held to its
highest standards, as a musician or a master builder.

Of course there always had been fresco-painting, and here the method was
quite different, for the colour had to be applied swiftly and once for
all to the wet plaster. Here the technique was direct and instantaneous,
quite unlike that of panel painting, and though it was no more adaptable
to the vagaries of temperamental expression, it opened up new
possibilities of which painters were always trying to take advantage.
Giotto himself, being the greatest master of this particular mode, was
always working along these lines, and later Velasquez combined them with
the possibilities inherent in the development of underpainting as a
thing final in itself, without the laborious and studied glazing of
successive coats of pure colour.

The art of painting was never a rigid and immobile system; every painter
was striving for new methods and new developments, and frequently
finding them; in the end, as the old artistic sense died away,
virtuosity took its place, and this found its opportunity through the
elimination of all the old elements of craftsmanship and a development
of the qualities of breadth and swiftness inherent in fresco-painting,
together with the dash and bravura that offered themselves through the
clever manipulation of the thick and solid and suave material of the old
underpainting. In a word, the tendency was toward combining drawing,
modelling, and colour in one process, obtaining final effects in one
operation; and while this meant a possible slouching of drawing, a
substitution of surprise and bravado for consistent modelling, a loss of
all depth and resonance of colour, and the putting of a premium on such
quite unimportant (and sometimes vicious) matters as dashing brush work,
it must be admitted it did permit “temperament” to express itself with a
swiftness and mobility impossible before, granting always that this is
desirable.

Now in the working of this revolution the Van Eycks had no part
whatever. They did not invent “oil painting” or anything like it. They
were the greatest painter-craftsmen ever known, and they and the
generations that followed them in Flanders and Italy held faithfully to
the old threefold mode of operation until Tintoretto, Velasquez, and
Rubens began to merge the three in one and to lay the foundations for
the present lamentable subterfuges of the Salon and the Royal Academy.
What they did do was this: until Hubert’s time every painter had been
searching for some medium which would not mitigate the perfect
transparency of their hand-ground colours and would dry quickly. All
kinds of viscous things had been employed--white of egg, fig juice, and
other less seemly media--but none was wholly satisfactory. Oil was the
natural thing, but oil was an unconscionable time in drying. Hubert Van
Eyck found some oil medium (or varnish) that dried quickly and this at
once became the universal medium. It was a great discovery and a great
boon, but it had nothing whatever to do with “oil painting,” which did
not actually come into existence until the dark days of the late
eighteenth or early nineteenth century, therefore the skirts of the Van
Eycks are clear and we can absolve them of all responsibility.

There never was a school of such consummate craftsmanship as this of
Flanders. The Van Eycks, Memling, Van der Weyden were the most perfectly
trained, the most comprehensively competent, and the most
conscientiously laborious artists ever known; also they understood
drawing, composition, and lighting as no others ever did, while their
sense of beauty of colour, either in itself or in subtle and splendid
combinations, was unique. They were not portents, sudden meteors
shooting across a dark sky, they simply continued and developed a long
and glorious tradition. Long before them the monasteries had been
producing great art of every kind--frescos, illuminations, stained
glass, embroidery, painted sculpture--and it was all art of the
greatest. When Hubert painted the “Adoration of the Lamb,” he merely
gathered together all these arts and manifested his enormous and
astounding synthesis in concentrated form, and better than any one had
ever done before. All the intricate delicacy of jewel work, all the
vivacity of clean-cut sculpture, all the suavity of silken needlework,
all the flaming splendour of stained glass are brought together here in
one astonishing combination, and to this era-making synthesis is added
the living light

[Illustration:

OUR LADY, FROM THE TRYPTICH AT GHENT
HUBERT VAN EYCK
]

and the human appeal of the poignant beauty of the world, and the
transcendent magic of the supernatural, sacramentally and visibly set
forth.

This, which very well may be the greatest picture in the world (it does
not matter), was ordered from Hubert Van Eyck when he was nearly fifty
years old, he having been born about 1366 in the province of Limbourg
and coming of a long line of painters. It was ordered by Jodocus Vydts,
a worthy burgher of Ghent, as an altar-piece for a chapel he had built
and endowed (according to the pious and admirable practice of those good
Catholic times) in the Cathedral of St. Bavon. For ten years he worked
at his masterpiece, and then death overtook him in the year 1426, when
his work was only partly finished, when his brother, Jan, took it up and
brought it to a triumphant conclusion in 1432. It is a great triptych of
twenty-two painted panels and its preservation has been nothing short of
miraculous. Philip II tried to carry it off in 1558, the Protestants to
destroy it in 1566, and the Calvinists to give it away to Queen
Elizabeth in 1578. It was nearly destroyed by fire in 1641, dismembered
and packed away in 1781, carried off (parts of it) to Paris in 1794. In
1816 most of the wings were sold to a shrewd dealer for $20,000 and by
him to the Berlin Museum for $80,000; finally the Adam and Eve panels
were taken to the Brussels Museum, and a set of copies attached to the
mutilated remainder in the Cathedral of St. Bavon.

The work is one vast, comprehensive, and sacramental manifestation of
the central Catholic sacrament of the mass, searching and final in its
symbolism, consummate in its mastery of all the elements that enter into
the make-up of a great work of pictorial and decorative art,
unapproached and unapproachable in its splendour of living and radiant
colour. In its philosophical grasp, its technical perfection, its
unearthly beauty, its communication of the very essence of a fundamental
mystery, and in its evocative power it staggers the imagination and
takes its place amongst the few great works of man, in any category,
which are so far beyond what seems possible of achievement that they
rank as definitely superhuman. So far as its spiritual content is
concerned, it can no more be estimated than can the mass itself, or
paraphrased in words than Chartres Cathedral or a Brahms symphony or the
Venus of Melos. If the Van Eycks are responsible for this, they rank
with St. Thomas Aquinas and Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci as the
greatest creative forces amongst men. Of course they were not, nor the
others, named. Somehow each was used by something greater than he: the
concentrated consciousness of his fellows, the underlying and informing
time-spirit of an era--or why not God Himself?--as a channel through
which and by which absolute truth was communicated to man who, of his
own motion, can do much, but not so much as this.

For the consummate artistry, for the perfect sense of decoration and
composition, the keen and exquisite line, the perception and recording
of diversified character, the poignant love of all natural beauty and
corresponding rejection of all ugliness, for the technique which is that
of a master in the fashioning of precious metals and the cutting of
priceless gems, for the colour that is now resonant with all the deep
splendour of great music, now thin and aerial with all the delicacy of
far horizons and misty forests at some pale dawn in a land of
dreams--for all these things we may remember Hubert Van Eyck and his
brother Jan, for this is their work, but beyond this we go elsewhere, at
least as far as the mass itself, for the inspiration that has made this
Flemish triptych one of the great, revealing creations of the world.

The infinite variety of conception and rendition simply transcend
experience. The three great, dominating figures--God the Father, Our
Lady, and St. John Baptist--are of a Byzantine majesty transfused by a
passionate humanism that is almost unique in any form. From them you
pass to the central panel of the “Worship of the Lamb That Was Slain,”
which is as tender and personal and human as the best of Fra Angelico,
and, like his clear visions, irradiated by a kind of paradisal glory
that sets it in a heaven of its own; from this you go to the panels of
singing angels and splendid attendant knights and marching pilgrims that
are pages out of the daily record of life in proud and beautiful Bruges,
and finally you come to the Adam and Eve who are sheer, unadulterated
realism unapproachable in its minute veracity. Surely, these two men
were a type of the universal genius. They balked at nothing and found
nothing too difficult of accomplishment, simply because they were
perfectly trained and broadly accomplished craftsmen who knew that
theirs was an exacting and a jealous craft for which
“temperament”--artistic or otherwise--was not, and could not be made, a
substitute.

It is with a feeling almost of relief that we come down nearer the earth
and confront the masterpieces of Jan Van Eyck. With Hubert we are taken
into a kind of seventh heaven of mystical revelation; with his brother
and those that follow we come back to what is more human, more in scale
with experience. Great art still, as great as one can find elsewhere,
and with all the mastery of methods, all the confident certainty, all
the triumphant colour and the exquisite design and the faultless
craftsmanship of the painted “Beatific Vision” itself. There once were
many other pictures by Hubert Van Eyck, but all now are gone, destroyed
by the savage hands of Calvinists and Revolutionaries, and the
“Adoration of the Lamb” remains alone as an isolated miracle.

Jan was of another sort; equally great as a craftsman, he was a fine
gentleman, a courtier, the friend of princes, and a diplomat. In those
barbarous days before the culmination of the era of enlightenment, art
was not a cult, isolated from life, nor were artists a sort of creature
apart, made so by the possession of a then undiscovered and quite
pathological affliction called the “artistic temperament.” They were
good citizens and an integral part of a like-minded community, serving
their kind after many fashions, amongst them being the honourable and
admirable craft of art. Of this craft Jan was past master; he painted
statues and illuminated missals and fashioned stained glass; he created
great altar-pieces and produced living portraits of old ecclesiastics
and worthy burghers and their wives; for all I know he was an architect
as well--at all events he might have been, as is proved by the wonderful
drawing of St. Barbara with its background of a great Gothic tower under
construction. A thoroughly typical example of his painting is the St.
Donatian altar-piece, a votive picture ordered by the excellent old
Canon Van der Paele, who is shown in adoration before Our Lady and the
Holy Child and attended by St. Donatian himself and St. George. Mr.
Berenson could find no finer example than this of that “space
composition” on which he rightly lays such stress; Holbein could paint
no more exact and characteristic portraits; all the goldsmiths of
Byzantium could not rival the jewel work of armour and orphreys,
brocades and embroideries, and sculptures and inlays, while the colour,
both in its individual parts and its composition, comes nearer the
living light of the

[Illustration: A DRAWING OF ST. BARBARA, JAN VAN EYCK]

windows of Chartres than any other painted colour in the world. One
would like to hang this particular picture (for a time only, then
replacing it over an altar where alone it belongs) in the midst of a
“Rubens Gallery,” or a room in the Luxembourg or the Royal Academy, and
call all the world to see.

There is little enough left of Jan’s work, and for the same humiliating
reason that holds in the case of his brother. Of Hans Memling, another
wonder child, there is fortunately much. When one catalogues the list of
this earliest and greatest work in Flanders and recalls the wrecking
with axe and torch of cathedrals, abbeys, convents, hospitals, châteaux
by Calvinists and sans-culottes; the pyres of smouldering pictures, the
ditches filled up with pulverised glass, shattered statues, illuminated
missals and graduales and books of hours; the sacred vessels and
gorgeous vestments, such as Hubert and Jan, Hans and Gerard showed in
their pictures, despoiled of their splendid jewels (transferred for a
consideration to Hebrew brokers) and melted down or used for chair
covers, as the case may be; and when in this lurid light one weighs the
thick hides and the muddled brains and the shrivelled souls of the
wreckers against even the mere artistic value of their spoils, one
marvels still more at the wonders of scientific evolution and the
promises of evolutionary philosophy.

Memling is the third of the great trio of Flemings, and though there
were innumerable others whose art was near perfection, these three stand
for ever by themselves apart. There is more of human tenderness in his
work and a certain spiritualisation informing everything that gives a
different quality; the portraiture and differentiation of character are
possibly beyond what any other ever attained, but his composition as it
gains in complexity and facile ease loses something of that broad and
powerful directness, that supreme quality of rhythm and serenity that
marked the Van Eycks. The colour also is less invariably sonorous, less
pure and splendid and luminous both in its single tones and its
harmonies, while now and then the universal Flemish passion for
sumptuous stuffs and gorgeous patterns and glittering accessories
betrays him into a loss of unity and balance. Still, any criticism is
impudent; his St. Ursula series, his St. John Baptist, his St. Bertin
and Floreins and Moreel altar-pieces are amongst the greatest pictures
that

[Illustration: A MEMLING ALTAR-PIECE

_From a photograph by Hanfstaengl_]

have been painted, while his portraits are pure life expressed through
the terms of pure beauty.

It would be impossible to review all the work of all the great Flemings.
Driven by the same impulse, each gave his own personality to all he did,
and the sequence is as astonishing as it is priceless. Gerard, David,
Roger Van der Weyden, Quentin Metsys, Dierick Bouts, Lucas Cranach, as
well as numberless unknown whose work survives their contemporary fame,
all reached their several heights of attainment on their own individual
lines, and their pictures still remain in Bruges and Ghent, in Brussels
and Antwerp (or remain to-day, in August, 1915) to bear witness to the
full and vigorous life, the wholesome and happy religious devotion, the
astonishing physical beauty of Flemish environment of those last years
of the fifteenth century in Europe when the fair day of mediævalism came
to its golden close.

Between this whole-souled art of the Middle Ages and that of the
Renaissance came an intervening group that served to effect the
necessary modulation from one key to quite another. Mabeuse, Van Orley,
the younger Porbus, and the Breughels are the chief representatives and
through them one sees the old and masculine qualities dying away, the
new and alien elements from the south entering in to take possession.
When this transition was effected it was in Holland that it found its
opportunity, and as the Dutch provinces are outside our consideration we
need not consider here the products of a school that ranged in quality
from Rubens to Rembrandt, from Frans Hals to Vermeer of Delft. The
succession was broken, the torch (with whatever flame that remained) was
passed from the Flemings to the Dutch, and only Vandyck appeared in the
line of true Flemish descent to demonstrate the possibilities that still
remained in spite of Rubens (and at the hands of his own pupil) for the
development of a restrained and self-respecting and beautiful art, even
though the moving spirit had been dissolved and the great tradition
become no more than a memory. The great period of mediæval painting (for
it was this in spirit and in truth) had begun and ended in this Cor
Cordium, this Flemish concentration of the Heart of Europe. It had begun
with the monkish illuminations of the fourteenth century, culminated in
the great century from 1395, when Hubert Van Eyck began to paint, to
1494, when Memling died, and

[Illustration: MADONNA AND CHILD WITH ST. LUKE, VAN DER WEYDEN

_From a photograph by Hanfstaengl_]

slowly disappeared under the influence of the Renaissance, the
Reformation, and the Spanish oppression; by the year 1600 it had ceased
to exist, and the Renaissance, which had established itself in all
secular and ecclesiastical matters, now took over art also for the
purpose of developing its own exact expression. The five centuries of
Catholic civilisation had come to an end.



XII

GOTHIC SCULPTURE


Long before the days of the Pisani in Italy, who were erroneously held
to have been the restorers of the lost art of sculpture, France had
initiated and developed three great schools, one of which at least
reached greater heights even than the later schools of Italy, even than
Donatello and Michael Angelo if you test this art by the established
principles of the greatest sculpture the world has ever known--that of
Greece. These three were: The school of the south with Toulouse as a
centre, the school of Burgundy, or Vezelay, and the school of the Île de
France. The first is of the late eleventh century, the second of the
twelfth, the third of the latter part of this century and the first half
of the thirteenth. The earlier work south of the Loire is part Roman,
part Byzantine, and it occasionally reaches, as at Moissac, a level of
extraordinary decorative value, with, in its bas reliefs, a feeling for
rhythmical line and space composition that are quite astounding. In
Burgundy, combined with great rudeness and an almost savage directness,
there is far greater humanism, with much action and an unusual amount of
character differentiation; much of the best work of this school is to be
found at Autun and Vezelay. With the middle years of the twelfth century
the sculpture of the Île de France seems suddenly to burst forth at St.
Denis and Chartres like some miraculous happening. It was not this, but
the result of many years of cumulative and progressive effort; but all
that went before has perished, while fortunately some examples at St.
Denis and a supreme collection at Chartres remain to give the impression
of an unwonted and unheralded event. This sculpture of Chartres is more
superbly architectural, more intimately a part of the whole artistic
scheme than any other on record; all is formal, conventionalised; the
figures are erect, rigid, immensely elongated; the multiplied fine lines
and delicate zigzags of the drapery, the simple figure-modelling, the
immobile, dispassionate faces, all show a most curious self-abnegation
on the part of the sculptor and a profound conviction that both he and
his art are only part of a greater whole, for they are purely
architectural and indeed nothing but the architectural spirit
expressing itself through an allied artistic mode. They are startlingly
akin to archaic Greek work and, as Professor Moore has said of the
sculpture from Delos: “One of these ancient Greek statues might, if
wrought in French limestone and slightly modified in outline, stand in
the west portal of Chartres without apparent lack of keeping.” Yet there
is manifestly no possible point of historical contact between the
Hellenic and the French work, and the kinship simply shows the
persistence of certain ways of looking at and feeling about things, and
the inevitable if unconscious return of one generation to the ways of
another, that form a commentary, both cruel and humorous, on the
evolutionary philosophy current during the last century, and quite
unjustifiably claiming descent from the innocent speculations of Darwin
and Herbert Spencer.

Out of this sculpture of Chartres grew the very wonderful art of the
thirteenth century, which gives a sorely diminished glory to the
Cathedral of Paris and gave, a year ago, a still greater glory to that
immortal group of churches now slowly crumbling under gun-fire. Very
notable examples of the transition are at Senlis, but they have been
shockingly mutilated, and only one of the two wonderful carved lintels
still gives much idea of its original beauty. The panel of the
“Resurrection of the Virgin,” has all the architectural form and the
decorative sense of Chartres, but it has as well an added human quality
that makes it enduringly vital and appealing. The same can be said of
the surrounding statues and reliefs that are of the same period, and
altogether the almost unique work at Senlis strikes a singularly happy
balance, as sculptured architecture, between the rigid formalism of
Chartres and Vezelay and the exquisite humanism and the almost
too-surpassing art of Paris, Amiens, and Reims. But for the Revolution
Senlis would not have stood so alone for sculptural art of the
transition. Laon once possessed far more, and of an even higher type,
but all the column figures of the west doors, and indeed practically all
the free-standing statues, were then ruthlessly destroyed and those that
have taken their places are merely modern assumptions. The tympana of
the doors are original, though mutilated: the Coronation of the Virgin,
scenes from her life, the Last Judgment; while in the archivolts and
around the windows are remains of singularly beautiful effigies of the
wise and foolish virgins, the seven liberal arts, episodes from the
lives of the saints. More or less of the original polychromatic
decoration remains, and the statues themselves, even in their battered
state, are marvels of art. Every trace of archaism and of uncertainty is
gone, the sculptor works with a definiteness and a certainty of touch
that are amazing, while his sense of the eternally sculpturesque is
infallible. Every face--where a face remains--is brilliantly
characterised; the poses are graceful, unaffected, constantly varied;
the gestures are convincing, the stone quality never lost, while there
is nothing outside Hellas--except Amiens and Reims--so faultless in its
composition of drapery. From the very first this was one of the strong
points in French sculpture; each artist strove for, and attained, not
only distinction, but naturalism expressed through and by an almost
classic formalism; the line composition, from Vezelay to Reims, is a
succession of ever-waxing marvels. At Laon are even now mutilated
figures that are as perfect in their composition of lines and masses as
anything in Athens, and the same was true of Reims. Personally I have
always thought of the figure work at Amiens

[Illustration: A HEAD, NOW DESTROYED, FROM REIMS]

(apart from the bas reliefs) as less perfect in this respect, in spite
of expert opinion, than that of Paris, Laon, and Reims; less brilliantly
composed, more heavy and realistic, while the figures themselves are
certainly not as slender and graceful, or so varied in pose. Moissac and
Vezelay are hieratic abstractions, Chartres pure architecture, Soissons
a breathing of divine life into ancient forms, but Laon and Paris and
Reims are pure and perfect sculpture against which no criticism of any
kind can be brought. Never has actual life been better expressed through
the necessarily transforming modes of art than here; in these exquisite
and rhythmical compositions the barbarous folly of the naturalistic and
realistic schools of modern times is made cruelly apparent, and the base
products of the average nineteenth-century practitioners (barring a few
exceptions such as St. Gaudens at his best, as in the Rock Creek figure)
become in comparison as absurd as do the shameless vulgarities of
Bernini and his unhappy ilk.

There still remain at Laon many broken and headless fragments, and I do
not know where anything can be found more complete in every sculptural
quality. This is a great art at its highest, and it shows, as Reims
once showed, that in the early thirteenth century France possessed an
art of sculpture that could take its place unashamed beside the best of
the Parthenon. Usually one thinks of Gothic sculpture in the terms of
that late fourteenth-century work so easily obtainable from venders of
the remains of mediæval art, but this is of a time when a cold
convention had killed the art itself; when the subtle curves of such
matchless things as the statue of the Virgin from the north door of her
church in Paris had been distorted into grotesque exaggeration; when the
thin, close lines of drapery had coarsened into triangular spaces of
meaningless upholstery, and the sensitive, spiritual faces of Reims had
given place to fat attempts at a stolid pulchritude. This is not art but
a trade, and it bears no earthly resemblance to the consummate work of a
century earlier, when the art itself and the religion and the joy and
the personal liberty behind it were very real things.

Chronologically, the next great sculpture of France is that of the
Cathedral of Paris, but as I have arbitrarily excluded this city from
the survey, since one must stop somewhere, while Paris requires a volume
to itself, it is only necessary to say that in spite of the
devastations of man during six centuries, ending with the dull barbarity
of the architect Sufflot, who hacked away the trumeau of the great
central west door, together with a large section of the tympanum of the
Last Judgment, in order to provide a more magnificent means of entrance
for processions, enough still exists to show the singular mastery of the
art. As for the statue of Our Lady on the north transept, it is one of
the finest works of sculpture of any time or place, the perfection of
the drapery finding rivals only in Greece. It is interesting to realise
that this marvellous work antedates Niccolo Pisano by more than a
century, so that if there still are those who search for the origins of
sculpture after the great blank of the Dark Ages, they must forsake the
Renaissance and Italy and find what they sought in France during the
culmination of the Middle Ages.

At Amiens there is also, over the south portal, a figure of the Blessed
Virgin, and while it is wholly different in spirit from that of Paris,
it is almost as lovely and even more delicate and full of charm. Paris
has the majesty and nobility of Michael Angelo, with nothing of his high
but inopportune paganism, but this is like Mino da Fiesole, with all
his daintiness and sweetness of feeling, and added to this an almost
playful humanism that is wonderfully appealing. “Le Beau Dieu” of
Amiens, on the trumeau of the central west door is almost in the class
of the Paris Virgin and the sculpture of Reims, and is perhaps more
nearly a satisfactory showing forth of Christ in human form than any
other work of art in the world. The whole vast church is a pageant of
carven figures--prophets, saints, apostles, kings, virtues and vices,
symbolical characters, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, the lives
of the saints, philosophy, romance--every tympanum is carved in bas
relief, and the wall below the columns of the west portals is set with
innumerable medallions of the signs of the zodiac and the labours of
man. Never was there such an apotheosis of imagination, and only at
Reims is there anything a degree finer as art. Even there the difference
is mostly one of personal taste; if you like the lost marvels of Reims
better than the miraculously preserved wonders of Amiens, well and good;
it is for you to say, for both are matchless, each after its own kind.
How the amazing array of carvings and statues at Amiens has survived
passes the understanding; one would have supposed that its spiritual
emphasis, its priceless nature, and its singular beauty would have
subjected it to the sequent attentions of Huguenots, Revolutionaries,
and the nineteenth century, but all have passed it by; and even the
Prussians in their brief occupation on their way to defeat at the Marne
had no time to leave their mark. Now that Reims is gone, Amiens must
remain (if it does remain) the great and crowning exemplar of Christian
sculpture at its highest and most triumphant cresting of achievement.

It is hard to write of the sculptures of Reims, or of anything dead and
foully mutilated. For generations the thousands of carved figures stood
in their niches growing grey and weather-worn through the passing of
years--neglected, unnoticed, despised--while silly effigies were turned
out by incompetent bunglers to receive the laudation of the haunters of
international expositions and the galleries of the Salon. Then suddenly
a dim light showed itself and grew steadily brighter until at last, a
year or two ago, the consciousness became sure that here was one of the
very great things in the world, one of the few supreme products of man
in his highest and most unfamiliar estate, priceless and unreplaceable,
as the Parthenon or the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, or the plays
of Shakespeare, or the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. And the
long-delayed knowledge came to us only to be turned into a memory, the
new possession was ours only to be taken away, and now nevermore for
ever can it be granted to us to live in and with this perished art, for
it is gone as utterly as the lost dramas of Sophocles, the burned
library of Alexandria, the “Last Supper” of Leonardo da Vinci.

“The fool hath said in his heart, ‘there is no God,’” and the fool hath
said in his heart: “I am greater and more precious than silly works of
art.” What is the result of this insolence, the “Pomeranian grenadier”
type of insolence that exalts an ignorant, degraded, useless hulk of
dull flesh and blood over the supreme works of divinely inspired men?
Under the lash of industrialism he can transform coal and iron into
money values; he can fight for markets overseas where his masters can
sell articles no man needs, to people who do not want them; he can beget
children after his own kind, in their turn to do likewise, and
finally--though this is not the appealing argument to the partisans of
his essential superiority--he has an immortal soul he is doing his best
to lose, and frequently succeeding to admiration. Are the vile types
that revealed themselves in rape and murder and mutilation in the
undefended villages of Belgium, or those under whose orders they acted,
more worth saving for further industry of the same nature than the
“Worship of the Lamb” in Ghent or the sculptures of the northwest door
of Reims? It is an easy argument to offer, the sanctity of human life,
but it is not the motive behind the batteries on the hills to the east
of the devastated capital of Champagne, month after month pouring shell
on the greatest cathedral that the Christianity of the West has reared
to the glory of God. The motive behind the batteries is an instinctive
realisation that Reims is a record of human greatness to which the
gunners and their masters cannot attain, a lasting reproach to
inferiority, a sermon and a prayer, a menace to bloated self-sufficiency
and to a baseless pride. Nobility engenders hate as well as reverence,
the choice depends only on the nature of the man who confronts it, and
there never has been a time in all history when decadence did not bring
into existence a hatred of all fine and noble things that for very rage
and resentment willed the destruction of the dumb accuser. Reims, and
what Reims stood for, cannot exist in the world together with their
potent and efficient negation; therefore Reims perishes, as has perished
at similar times in the past so much of the record in sublimity and
beauty of that human superiority which is the silent accuser of all
spiritual and ethical degeneration.

For the making of the west front of Reims all the great masters and
craftsmen of France gathered together, and the sculpture showed not only
greater excellence than may be found elsewhere, but a greater variety in
genius and personality. It is not that in the doors of this façade were
to be found great statues in conspicuous places with lesser work all
around; every piece of sculpture or of carving was a masterpiece of its
kind. High up in the gables, hidden in the shadows of the archivolts,
forgotten in odd corners where only persistent search would reveal them,
were little figures or isolated heads as carefully thought out and as
finely felt as the august hierarchies of the front itself. Personality,
varied, vital, distinguished, marked the sculpture of Reims, together
with an unerring sense of beauty of formalised line, and an erudition, a
familiarity with the Scriptures, with scholastic philosophy, with the

[Illustration: THREE DESTROYED FIGURES FROM REIMS]

lives of the saints, and with the arts and sciences that would appear to
do away with the quaint superstition that the Middle Ages were a time of
intellectual ignorance. The men who carved these statues were not of the
æsthetically elect; they were not a few highly trained, well-dressed,
and supercilious specialists, working in the confidence born of years in
Paris and Rome; they were stone-masons, members of their own
self-respecting union, who had worked their way up a little higher than
their fellows and so could carve each his group of statues to the
satisfaction of bishop or abbot or master mason and--which was even more
to the point--to his own satisfaction and in accordance with the jealous
standards of excellence of his guild. He had to know what he was doing
and what he had to express; there was no ubiquitous architect to
instruct him, no “committee on symbolism” to show him the way, and so if
he could not read well enough to enjoy a modern “yellow journal,” or
write well enough to forge a name or draft a speculative prospectus, he
did know far more about religion, theology, philosophy, history, and the
contemporary sciences and arts and romances than the modern workman with
his years of public school behind him, or many an architect or sculptor
with his high school, preparatory school, and university training behind
him as well.

They knew and felt and enjoyed, these sculptors of Reims, whose work
endured for six centuries and might have lasted six more. Perhaps the
quality of enjoyment was more clearly expressed than anything else. Life
was worth living to them and they made the most of it, and with much
laughter. These carved figures at Reims and Amiens and Paris show in
every line the good human joy of doing a thing well, just as so much of
the output of so much of modern industrialism shows the dull
indifference or the weary disgust for doing a thing ill. No sculptor
then would have contented himself with making a clay model and a plaster
cast and then turning the execution over to a gang of ignorant
day-labourers working like banderlogs, only with the intelligent
assistance of mechanical devices. The artist was the craftsman and the
art was a craft, just as the craft was an art, and the work shows it all
to those who still can see. Great work, the greatest work, if you like;
but so far as Reims is concerned it is now fire-scorched débris, and for
its loss we are consoled by the offer of--another Sieges Allee,
perhaps. The world may be forgiven for thinking that the game is not
worth the candle.

During the Hundred Years’ War sculpture in France froze into a sometimes
pleasing but never very profitable convention; now and then it had great
loveliness, as in the statues of the church at Brou, but generally it
had those qualities of exaggeration, affectation, and insincerity to
which I already have referred. Technically, it was always very perfect
and sometimes the decorative design and the manipulation of the marble
were almost Japanese in their curious delicacy. Toward the end of the
century there is an improvement owing to the influence of Flanders, then
prosperous and cultured while so much of the rest of Europe was
spiritually and physically devastated by wars, but this later work
seemed the particular detestation of the reformers, and mostly it is
gone, particularly in the land of its origin, where reform followed by
revolution left nothing intact that could be mutilated. Little of the
work of the two great schools of Tournai and Burgundy remains, but there
is enough to show that if the torch of sculptural art had passed in
blood and flame from the hands of France, it had been seized by the men
of the Netherlands and carried on for two centuries at least with little
diminution in its radiance. With the seventeenth century the flame was
suddenly extinguished and afterward was nothing but that type of baroque
absurdity that still disgraces the undevastated churches with
preposterous marble screens and loud-mouthed, theatrical pulpits, and
prancing images of heroic size stuck on the columns of nave and choir.

What the seventeenth century failed to accomplish in the line of these
atrocities is scarcely worth doing; the grotesque insanity of the
confessionals and pulpits and other woodwork of the time passes
imagination, and is matched only by the misdirected ingenuity and
facility of it all. The cathedral in Brussels; St. André at Antwerp; St.
Martin, Ypres; St. Pierre, Louvain, were particularly hard hit, but
there were few churches that did not boast at least a pulpit in a style
of design that would have looked like a king’s coach of state had it not
more closely resembled a bandwagon. St. Gudule in Brussels suffered most
of all, for it not only possesses a peculiarly irritating pulpit of most
ridiculous design but its columns are disfigured by the impossible
statues on grotesque brackets, while it is disgraced by some of the
very worst stained glass produced before the last quarter of the
nineteenth century, when all past records were revised.

When one compares the tawdry horrors that in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries blotted almost every church in Flanders and
Brabant, and compares it, not with the consummate sculpture and
decoration of the great era but even with such work of the undoubted
decadence as the screens of Louvain and Lierre, the impossible gulf
between the two civilisations becomes peculiarly conspicuous. When one
realises further that the black-and-white-marble mortuary horrors in the
way of screens in Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent exist at the expense of
such works of real, if unguarded, art as the screen at Lierre, destroyed
to give place to their perfumed artifice, the annihilation of art that
has followed its production with implacable steps takes on a new
poignancy, and the continued destruction, now violently in process,
becomes even less endurable than before.



XIII

THE ALLIED ARTS


The debt of Europe to the region we are considering is as great in the
case of the so-called “minor arts” as it is elsewhere. Even the language
preserves the record: Arras has given its name to the tapestries for
which it was famous, linen woven in regular patterns is called diaper,
or “linge d’Ypres,” cambric is simply the product of Cambrai, gauntlet
preserves the fame of Ghent for its gloves, while the lost city of
Dinant was once so famous for its work in copper, brass, bronze, and
gilded metal that during the Middle Ages all products of this kind were
called dinanderie. Tapestry weaving is, or was, an art essentially
Flemish; illumination, if shared with Italy and in a measure every land
where there were monks and monasteries, reached peculiarly notable
heights in Flanders, Brabant, and Champagne; the casting of bells and
the forming of them into carillons is peculiarly the province of this
region, while metal work, whether of gold and silver, or of bronze and
copper and brass, was an art of distinction even from the time of
Charlemagne.

It was he that was primarily responsible for the beginnings of many of
these admirable arts. From his capital at Aix, where he had gathered all
the art and learning he could glean from western Europe, went out the
influences that persisted long beyond his day and that of his
ill-fortuned dynasty. The Scandinavian tribes and the Celts of Gaul had
always been craftsmen in metals, particularly bronze, and Charlemagne
used them under the direction of his Roman and Byzantine artificers,
developing an art that was neither one nor the other, but a new
Christian mode of expression. When toward the close of the tenth century
the young Princess Theophano came from the Bosporus as the bride of Otho
II, she brought with her other artists, with a treasure of Byzantine
craftsmanship in weaving, metals, enamels, and ivory carving; and a new
impulse was given, so that, under the direction of a crescent
Christianity, a local and racial art developed along many lines and
extended itself through the whole region and into France, Normandy,
England, and Germany as well. From Aix, Archbishop Willigis and Bishop
Bernward carried into Germany the art of metal working as they had
learned it, one to Mainz, the other to Hildesheim, where their works
still remain. To Dinant, Huy, and Liége the same impulse was given that
later extended through Brabant and Flanders. In France the beginnings
seem to have been at the hands of St. Eloi at Limoges and Abbot Suger of
St. Denis, but it was all within the area to which our attention is
confined.

From the time of Charlemagne the production of works of art in precious
and common metals was an ever-increasing industry, lapsing during the
second Dark Ages, beginning with new and unexampled vigour with the
great religious revival of the first years of the eleventh century. It
is impossible to form an adequate estimate either of the magnitude of
the product or the degree of concrete beauty that came in these many
lines of art out of the Middle Ages. For five hundred years craftsmen
were busy over all that is now Rhenish Prussia, Holland, Belgium,
France, and England, with the Scandinavian countries, Italy, and Spain
in only a less degree, in producing an infinite number of exquisite
things for an infinite number of churches; metal work of every kind and
for every conceivable purpose--sacred vessels, crosses, crosiers,
reliquaries, shrines, tombs, and screens; woven tapestries to hang the
walls of châteaux and cathedrals; embroidered and jewelled vestments for
an unending series of bishops, priests, altars; illuminated volumes
whose every vellum page was a work of art and whose bindings were
studded with jewels; carved wood and ivory in endless designs and for
endless purposes; stained glass, enamels, tiles. Every church, abbey,
and cathedral was by the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War as full of
works of consummate art as the private museum of a modern millionaire,
and were you to gather together the treasures of ecclesiastical crafts
in the Cluny, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Metropolitan in
New York you might have about as much as at that time might have been
found in a provincial cathedral of the second class or a minor
monastery. In France the sculpture has been largely, and the glass
partially, saved; in Flanders many of the pictures; in England a good
proportion of the churches themselves, but the rest is gone, utterly and
irrevocably, and we can hardly more than dimly imagine from a Gloucester
candlestick, an Ascoli cope, a Shrine of St. Sebald the nature of what
has been taken from us.

Even from the first these things had three qualities that argued against
their preservation, the world being what it is. They were intrinsically
valuable because of their bronze and silver and gold and precious gems;
therefore in the wars that followed the cresting of mediævalism they
were stolen wholesale by one army after another and their jewels plucked
out, and then they were broken up, melted down, and returned to their
original estate of lumps of bullion, or dead metal, all of which had its
price. They were the most sacred material things possessed by the Church
that had created them; part and parcel of the Catholic sacraments,
memorials of the honoured dead, caskets for the reverent treasuring of
the relics of the saints; therefore they were the particular object of
the blind and furious hatred of Protestants, whether Huguenots,
Calvinists, Presbyterians, or, in a less degree, Lutherans. They were
Gothic in their inimitable art, hence anathema to the bewigged bishops,
the worldly priests, and, most dangerous of all, the conceited canons of
the eighteenth century. What the thief overlooked the fanatic destroyed,
and what he forgot the ignorant and vulgar amateur purged away to make
place for imitation marble and secular frippery. After four centuries
of this it is a wonder that anything remains, and, to tell the truth,
there is little enough.

Nevertheless, it is surprising how much of this was still in our chosen
territory in 1914, and how much that is in museums elsewhere came
originally from the same place. Liége had its extraordinary bronze font,
Hal a font, a lectern, and many other treasures of late Gothic and early
Renaissance art; Louvain, Tirlemont, Xanten, Aix, and Trèves each had a
few pieces of metal work of immense artistic value, while in Bruges,
Ghent, Brussels, and Antwerp, in Laon, Noyon, Sens, and Reims were a few
miraculously preserved shrines, tapestries, vestments, and sacred
vessels. As for the treasures of the European and American museums, the
greater part came from Flanders, Brabant, the Rhineland, or eastern
France, for this was the great centre of industry, the fountainhead of
artistic inspiration. Of the “dinanderie” that owed its existence to the
influence of the four great leaders, St. Eloi, St. Willigis, Abbot
Suger, and Bishop Bernward, absolutely nothing remains except the fine
group of bronze masterpieces by the last at Hildesheim. Liége had,
however, the extremely important bronze font made by Regnier of Huy
about 1112, and Lille possessed a censer of his workmanship, while in
Maastricht was a great shrine of gilded and enamelled copper set with
precious stones; the Convent of Notre Dame at Namur and the church of
Walcourt had no less than eighteen specimens of the handicraft of
Brother Hugh of the great but long ago destroyed Abbey at Oignies
between the Meuse and the Sambre, representing the art of a century
later, while later still we had the “Chasse de Notre Dame” and the
reliquary of St. Eleutherus at Tournai, and the shrine of St. Gertrude
of Nivelles made in 1272. Of the vast product of the fourteenth century
there are a few fragments only, an eagle lectern and a great paschal
candlestick at Tongres, some crosses, reliquaries, monstrances, and
candlesticks at Aix, Tongres, Furnes, Mainz, Xanten, Bruges, and Ghent,
but, fortunately it would now seem, the greater part of what remains is
preserved in the museums of Paris and London and therefore safe for
another period. Outside the museums the great treasures were to be found
at Sens and Laon, the latter being particularly rich, as is proved by
the fact that the cathedral is said to contain no less than eighty
reliquaries covering the whole

[Illustration: FIFTEENTH-CENTURY FLEMISH TAPESTRY]

period of the Middle Ages. So far as monumental tombs are concerned,
every church in France has been swept clear, chiefly by the
Revolutionists, not one of the marvellous collections at St. Denis and
Reims remaining, but in Bruges we still have the fine tomb of Mary of
Burgundy, of black marble encased in a foliated tracery of gilded copper
and coloured enamels.

In the bourdons of France and the carillons of the Low Countries the art
of the metal-worker combines with that of music. Both the carillon and
the English peal are late developments, the first of the sixteenth, the
second of the seventeenth century, but from the beginning of the
thirteenth century great bells, used singly or in small combinations,
were in constant use. Most of the latter are gone, melted down in the
Hundred Years’ War and the Revolution in France, and the wars of
religion in the Rhineland and the Low Countries, though a few remain at
Amiens, Sens, Metz, and Beauvais, with one weighing over a ton which
hung at Reims until last year. The carillons of Belgium and Holland were
intact until that time, though many have now fallen with the splendid
towers that held them. Arras is gone and probably Dunkerque; Louvain and
Ypres are gone and possibly Mons; Malines, most beautiful of all, has
been battered to pieces and its forty-five bells have been cracked,
melted, hurled in ruin down through the many stories of the great tower.
Time after time during the last generation from twenty thousand to forty
thousand people have assembled to hear these bells rung by M. Denyn, the
greatest master of the art, but they will hear them no more until,
perhaps, when the world is made new the bells of Malines may ring out
again to welcome the dawn of a better day.

Whether the English peal of an octave, with the bells attuned to the
intervals of the diatonic scale, and swung by hand, a man to each rope,
in accordance with the most intricate mathematical formulas and without
recognised melodies, is better or worse art than the carillon of
thirty-five to fifty-two bells, covering sometimes four octaves and a
half, in accord with the chromatic scale, fixed in their head-stocks and
struck by hammers manipulated by one man sitting before a keyboard, and
reproducing the most elaborate musical compositions, is no part of the
argument. Each has its place, each is a mode of musical art, and just
because one may like the strange and subtle variations of an English
peal thundering out its vibrant tones from great bells swinging and
clashing in a grey old tower, it does not follow that he must reject the
floating and ethereal harmonies of the Belgian carillon pouring into the
still evening air strange melodies that are eternally haunting in their
poignant appeal. They are silent now, even those that still hang in
their tall towers, and the roar of giant artillery, splitting and
harshly reverberating, has taken their place. In the good beginnings
iron was anathema and might not be used in the service of the Church;
bronze alone was tolerable. Now iron is king and holds dominion over the
world, transmuted into steel through the offices of its ally, coal.
Bronze is rejected, shattered, dethroned, but some of the great bells
yet remain, hanging silent and patient while hell rages around them and
iron asserts its universal dominion. Perhaps by and by they will give
tongue again, proclaiming the end of the iron age, calling in once more
a better and more righteous sovereignty.

Some day the world will awaken to the fact that there are other great
arts besides architecture, painting, and sculpture; already there is a
suspicion abroad that music, poetry, and the drama are arts also and
not merely vehicles for the expression of temperament, and there is even
a preliminary waking of the subconsciousness which threatens to confess
that ritual and ceremonial have been, and may be again, a great fine art
in the same sense. Little by little the pharisaic phrase, “industrial
art,” is yielding some of its component parts and offering them to the
very superior _haute noblesse_ of fine art, and amongst these are
stained glass and tapestry. The recent discovery of the existence of
Chartres Cathedral and its glass has settled one point, and much against
their will the artist and the amateur and the commentator have had to
admit that the art of these windows, and of those at Bourges and Le Mans
and Angers, is of the highest, and quite in the class of the painters of
Italy and Flanders, the sculptors of France and England (in the Middle
Ages), and the master builders from Laon to Amiens.

Of this particularly glorious art, which has become more completely a
lost art than any other ever revealed to man, there is little in the
region under consideration. It did not issue from the Heart of Europe,
but had its beginnings elsewhere and its culmination as well. It was an
art of the twelfth and thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
degenerating rapidly after the year 1300, and, while the churches and
abbeys and cathedrals between the Seine and the Somme were once splendid
with glass that almost rivalled that of Chartres, the Reformation and
the Revolution had seen to it that the major part of this glory had been
made to depart. Amiens retains a little in its chevet chapels, and Reims
only a year ago was blazing with an apocalyptic splendour that is now
transformed into gaping and fire-swept openings, laced by distorted
metal bars, and heaps of pulverised refuse ground into the blood and
ashes on shattered pavements. Whatever the Low Countries may have had is
long since gone the way of all the other beautiful things the Calvinists
did not like and only fragments, imitations, and Renaissance absurdities
remain.

With the other great art, that of tapestry, the case is fortunately
different. This was almost the intimate art of the Heart of Europe,
finding its beginnings in Aix when the Greek princess brought with her
from the East the first examples of Byzantine needlework and weaving
that had been seen in the West in her day, and going on to new glories
in Arras, Brussels, Tournai, Audenaarde, Lille, Enghien. The perfection
of tapestry weaving came in the last half of the fifteenth century, but
the advance was regular for a century before, and if we can judge from
the few examples left the work of the fourteenth century had many fine
and powerful qualities that were all its own. The collapse came
suddenly, early in the sixteenth century, being marked by Raphael’s
intrusion into a field where he had no place, and after this there was
no more hope for tapestry than for the other arts, and it rapidly sank
to the point where the products of the Gobelins, Beauvais, and Aubussons
looms were much admired.

If Gothic tapestry had possessed a pecuniary value easily translated
into cash, or if it had been closely associated with the most sacred
religious things, we should have preserved less than is actually the
case. As it is, it was seldom the victim of cupidity or fanaticism, but
by its very nature it was perishable, and therefore nearly all the work
antedating the fifteenth century has vanished. Its greatest enemy,
however, was the ignorant and vulgar culture of the nineteenth century,
and during the first fifty years of this destructive epoch it melted
rapidly away. Just before the outbreak of the French Revolution it is
no exaggeration to say that there were in France alone enough tapestries
to carpet a road from Paris to Arras; of course, many were of the
Gobelins type and comparatively valueless as art, but every château,
every cathedral and monastery, almost every church had its sets of
“arras,” and these were of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the
curious products of the Renaissance were confined to kings, princes,
great nobles, and to their respective palaces. With 1793 the massacre
began; everything feudal, even by implication, was burned, sometimes
just out of pure deviltry, as when tapestries were consumed in heaps at
the foot of the “Tree of Liberty”; sometimes through thrift, as when in
1797 the Directory burned at one time nearly two hundred ancient works
of art to recover the gold and silver bullion--which they did at this
one holocaust to the value of $13,000. Mr. G. L. Hunter has reckoned the
value of these destroyed tapestries at about $2,500,000 in the market of
to-day. At this rate, the current value of all the tapestries in France
at the Revolution would have been about $250,000,000.

No appreciation of this value developed until nearly the end of the
nineteenth century. In 1852 a set of ten, formerly belonging to Louis
Philippe, with a total length of one hundred and twenty feet, sold for
about $1,200, and at the same sale another set of six, running to eighty
feet, was bought for $400. At present the intrinsic value of these
wonderful creations is quite fully appreciated, and any one who can
secure a fifteenth-century work for less than $300 a square yard is
fortunate. And yet during the whole of the eighteenth century tapestries
were ruthlessly cut up to form floor rugs, used for packing bales of
merchandise, or, as at Angers, slashed into strips to protect the roots
of orange-trees from the cold, or nailed on the stalls of the bishop’s
stable so that the episcopal nags might not scar their precious flanks.
This last outrage, by the way, was perpetrated on the unique series of
the Apocalypse, a sequence of panels eighteen feet high with a total
length of four hundred and seventy-two feet, woven in Paris about 1370
from designs by Jean de Bruges, court painter to the Emperor Charles V,
for the use of the Duke of Anjou in his private chapel, and at a cost
(in the money of to-day) of upward of $60,000. They had been given to
the cathedral by King René in 1480, but by the beginning of the
nineteenth century they were quite out of fashion and therefore
useless; so until a rag merchant sufficiently accommodating could be
found they were used as noted above and finally sold (the opportunity at
last offering) in 1843 for $60, the purchaser ultimately returning them
to the cathedral when some glimmerings of intelligence came back to the
ecclesiastical authorities.

When this sort of thing was the rule in France and England and Germany
for more than a century during which civilisation and culture were
progressing with such notable rapidity, it is a miracle that anything
has come down to us, particularly when you remember what the Calvinists
and Sansculottes and Reformers did to monasteries and châteaux and
entire cities in the two preceding centuries; but a good deal did so
come down, including even the poor remains of the very much domesticated
tapestries of Angers. There is only one other fourteenth-century set
woven at Arras that can positively be identified, and that is the series
now (or recently) in the cathedral of Tournai, though we know from wills
and inventories that at the beginning of the fifteenth century they
existed in hundreds. The remains of this early work are fine and strong
in design, powerful as decoration, clear but faded in colour. With the
fifteenth century there came an amazing advance, similar to the sudden
appearance of the Van Eycks in painting at exactly the same moment. The
“Burgundian Sacraments”--or what remains--now in the Metropolitan Museum
as the gift of the late J. P. Morgan, is one of the finest examples in
existence of this earliest of the great periods. Admirable as it is, it
fails in perfection of beauty before the wonderful works of art that
immediately followed. With the beginning of the fifteenth century
tapestry weaving came suddenly to a level of supreme excellence that
places it for a hundred years on a level with the other arts, however
august they may be. Very few of these masterpieces remain in Belgium;
you must search for them in Paris, in London, in Madrid, in New York, in
the museums of all the world, but the search is rewarded by the
discovery of an art that, however brief its day, was one of the great
arts of the world.

Each art has its own medium of expression and to this medium it
absolutely adheres in its periods of greatness, adapting itself to its
limitations, working within them, and even making them tributary to its
excellence. Limitations are, after all, the greatest gift of God to man
instead of being, as the last century feigned, something that deplorably
existed only to be transcended; without them man would revert to the
condition of the jellyfish or the primal ooze of the depths of the sea;
with them he has an opportunity to demonstrate his divine elements
through a development that is both in spite of and because of the firm
lines they draw that cannot be overpassed. One of the great things in
art is its revelation of the possibility of spiritual achievement by and
through the narrowest physical limitations. When, on the other hand,
architecture tries to assimilate the peculiar methods of bridge
building; when painting intrudes into the province of sculpture,
literature, photography, or even music; when music becomes mathematical
or takes to itself the habits of the circus performer; when sculpture
deliquesces into a sloppy kind of black-and-white illustration; when
stained glass and tapestry become pictorial; when, in fact, all the arts
forsake their own provinces and deny their own limitations, as they have
tended to do during the last century, splashing over, the one into the
other, they cease to be arts at all and become unprofitable
aberrations.

Only three great arts have come into existence during the last two
thousand years--music, stained glass, and tapestry--and each developed
its own exact and individual mode of expression. Music was as old as
architecture, painting, sculpture, poetry, and the drama, but under the
influences of Christianity it gradually transformed itself into what was
almost a new art and one that has remained the only vital art through
all the unfriendly influences of modern civilisation. Stained glass was
an absolutely new art, taking its rise in the twelfth century,
culminating in the thirteenth, decaying through the two following
centuries, and entirely disappearing in the eighteenth century. It is an
art of Christianity, of Frank genius, and of the Île de France. Tapestry
is also a new art, beginning about 1350, culminating a century later,
dying almost in a day (as a great art), about 1520. It also is
Christian, but, unlike glass, it is primarily secular, and it is
explicitly and almost exclusively Flemish, the great contribution of a
distinguished race to the imperishable art of the world.

It was the glorification of a national industry--weaving--and is
significant as showing how, under wholesome impulses and in a
stimulating environment, a simple industry may be transfigured and made
into art. Its medium was peculiarly delicate, subtle, and beautiful,
threads of spun wool, silk and gold and silver woven by hand into a
fixed warp of strung threads. These filaments of silk (as in the finest
work) had peculiar qualities of beauty, combining both lustrousness and
depth, while the colours being entirely vegetable dyes, with none of the
harsh horrors of the analine by-products of coal-tar, were infinitely
varied and of unique richness and soft splendour. Fortunately, this new
artistic mode was developed sufficiently prior to the breakdown of art
which was signalised by the career of a man in himself a very great
artist--Raphael--to permit a full century of life, and at the hands of a
people who had a peculiar appreciation of decoration and of decorative
methods. The result was startling, for a new art was born and one of the
most distinguished quality. As colour decoration the tapestries of
Flanders come near being the very finest things in the world, although
we must judge them from a few examples only, the admittedly greatest
having long since fallen victims to greed, fanaticism, and the stolid
ignorance of the eighteenth century. Fortunately for the general
public, the remaining masterpieces are now widely scattered and may be
studied with comparative ease, the Metropolitan Museum in New York being
particularly rich and having, either in its own name or by loan, the
Burgundian Sacraments, the matchless “Mazarin” Christ in Glory, the
almost equally beautiful “Coronation of the Virgin,” as well as scores
of others, many of them of supreme excellence.

It is as impossible to describe a tapestry in words as it is to do the
same by a Chartres window. In point of composition the tapestries of the
fifteenth century are matched only by the greatest pictures; even when
they are crowded with figures there is the most masterly spacing of
masses, the most consummate balance of form. When one realises that in
every case the design is the work of the members of the guild and not of
the more famous painters of the time, the wonder grows over the
apparently universal feeling for the highest type of artistic
expression. Compared with the best of the Flemish tapestries, the
boasted and “much admired” composition of Raphael in the “Disputa” and
the “School of Athens,” of Michael Angelo in the Sistine Chapel, is
mathematical and academic. In line and line composition there is the
same exquisite sensitiveness that is almost Greek or Japanese in its
subtlety and rhythm, while the colour, though in many cases faded, is as
pure and musical in its several tones as it is resonant and splendid in
combination. And through all this consummate mastery and this supreme
artistic sense run a peculiar charm and distinction that are found only
in such unique products as the pictures of Jan van Eyck, Fra Angelico,
the Lorenzetti, Carpaccio, and their kind. Through them you enter into a
dim and golden fairyland full of wistful music and haunting memories,
where fair ladies, courteous knights, delicate-winged angels, aureoled
saints in blazing dalmatics pass like dreams through far countries,
“where it is always afternoon” and where the land is always lovely, the
skies serene, the flowers and birds and little beasts friendly and well
beloved. Chretien de Troyes and the troubadours and the Court of Love,
King Arthur and Roland and King René, Guenivere, and the gracious queens
and gentle ladies of all the Middle Ages live again, or rather prolong
their lives through a passive immortality into which whoever understands
is welcome to enter and sit him down in peace.



XIV

ART IN THE RHINELAND


From Charlemagne’s ambitious centre at Aix-la-Chapelle the influence of
a new culture went west rather than east, and it is not until the
eleventh century that we can look for art of any sort along the valley
of the Rhine and in the lands of old Lorraine. There was little enough
elsewhere, but when, at the finger-touch of a new monasticism calling a
new northern blood to action, civilisation began again in Normandy and
then in the Île de France, its echo in the Rhineland was far and long
delayed, and never more than an echo at most. There were bad kings until
the second Crusade and the coming of the Cistercians in 1174, and little
culture; but from then on there was a distinct spiritual revival, a new
impulse in religion and in life, and as a result the output of art of
all kinds was greatly increased. The three elements entering into the
new architecture were: the revived tradition of the old work of the
Carolings, much of which still existed in ruinous form, the new ideas
brought home from Syria by the crusaders, and the infiltration of
Lombard fashions from north Italy, with the Cistercian monks always
exerting their austere and reforming influence toward simplicity.

Many of the earliest examples of this new work--at least the earliest
now existing--are across the Rhine, in Thuringia and Saxony, and are
outside our survey. Gernrode, Essen, Hildesheim, are all beyond our
territory, but Cologne is this side the river and contains some of the
most organic and best of the late tenth and early eleventh century work.
Sta. Maria in Capitolio and St. Martin are both of that very peculiar
type of plan that has an apse and apsidal transepts of equal size and
semicircular in plan. The central tower is supported on four piers made
up of groups of four, as at San Marco in Venice, and the apse and
transepts are surrounded by ambulatories, the main walls being carried
on columns, set rather close together and carrying round arches. It is
an interesting and ingenious scheme, with great possibilities of
development, though it has almost never been used elsewhere; probably it
is of Syrian origin, the idea being brought home by early crusaders,
though it may be Byzantine, in which case also it was probably derived
from Antioch, where the crusaders found so much of value to them in the
development of the later art of Europe. St. Martin’s has also a very
beautiful tower with a high broach spire and admirably designed corner
turrets. The composition of the church from the east, with its curving
apsidal lines, its delicate little colonnades of Lombard form under the
eaves, and the graceful yet powerful towers, is noble and dignified, and
the whole building is far more organic and logically articulated than
the bigger work of a century later farther up the Rhine.

The Church of the Apostles is nearer this later type and has its
unfortunate agglomeration of ill-placed towers, but St. Gereon is _sui
generis_; it can hardly be said to have any plan at all, for it is made
up of a simple little aisleless church of three bays with a round apse
and two small transept-like towers, joined on to an irregular decagon of
a nave, somewhat elliptical in plan, with large niches in each of the
eight lateral sides and a square porch or narthex at the west end. This
anomalous “nave” is early thirteenth century it is true, while the
eastern church is one hundred and fifty years older, but the Gothic
work is on foundations undoubtedly Roman and takes the place of a
structure of somewhat similar plan built by the Empress Helena. The
sequence is curious; there was first a circular or elliptical Roman
building, on the foundations of which the Empress Helena built her
church, the crypt of which still remains, then the easterly choir was
built by Archbishop Hanno late in the eleventh century, and finally the
original main church was torn down and rebuilt on Gothic lines about
1225.

In nearly all the Romanesque churches of Cologne an attempt has been
made to reproduce the original polychromatic decoration which once
covered all portions of the masonry, but the results are not eminently
satisfactory, for mechanical diaper and stencilling cannot take the
place of the old work which was done freely and without exactness of
line and spacing, while the colours and the medium used were quite
different from what is employed to-day. There is no doubt that once
every Gothic interior, now grey and sombre, or garish in its clean
whitewash and mathematical jointing of painted lines, was entirely
covered with the richest possible surface decoration in colours and
gold, and the result must have been a gorgeousness and a gaiety of
which we know nothing and that would probably shock our sensitive taste
to the point of hysteria. One would like to see some great church with
full colour decoration, but as matters now stand, with oil paint,
stencils, coal-tar colours, and all that, the experiment could hardly be
made with any degree of safety.

In Cologne also are many early, middle, and late Gothic churches; that
of the Minorites, St. Severins, St. Panteleon, St. Andreas, St.
Cunibert; in fact, Cologne is especially rich in churches of many styles
and most of them remarkably good, but they are apt to be overlooked by
the tourist who can see, and cares to see, only the overgrown grandeur
of the cathedral. Farther up the Rhine we find a long succession of
great churches which are characteristically German and well show the
best the Teutonic genius was capable of under the highest impulse; Bonn,
Coblentz, Mayence, Worms, and Spires are all huge structures and quite
in a class by themselves. They are not beautiful by any stretch of
courtesy; big they are and massive, with curious combinations of
multiplied apses and transepts and towers, but they are without organic
quality of any kind, their composition is diffuse and casual, their

[Illustration: WORMS]

detail crude and uninteresting. Nowhere is there a step forward in the
development of organism, and as they increase in size they show only a
multiplication of rather infelicitous parts. Underneath is an idea that
was susceptible of development into something fine and national, but it
never had either the time or the spirit to work itself out and so
remains a heavy and rather illiterate labouring after something too
dimly seen to be really stimulating in the sense in which the ideal in
Normandy and France was stimulating. Actually there was more of promise
in the work of the eleventh century, as we see it at Hildesheim and
Cologne, but this also was left undeveloped and never worked out its
inherent possibilities.

The architectural development of Germany began too late; it was always a
full century behind France and Italy, and when the Rhenish people were
hammering away at their clumsy and uninspired giants of masonry that
never seemed to become anything else and never produced any elements of
novelty or progress, either structurally or æsthetically, Normandy
already had struck out those masterpieces of crescent vitality, Jumièges
and the abbeys of Caen, while France was well along the highroad of her
consummate Gothic, through St. Denis, Noyon, Laon, and Paris.

This backwardness in the acceptance of civilisation has always worked
against the attainment of the highest levels of culture by that portion
of the Germanic nation north of the Danube and east of the Rhine, while
it has given it a certain advantage in the achievement of material ends,
since the ethical and religious considerations, that in a measure held
elsewhere, were naturally lacking. No part of this wild land of savage
and heathen tribes ever felt the touch of Roman civilisation, such as it
was, and it was the last part of central Europe to be Christianised. The
Bavarians, Burgundians, and Franks all accepted Christianity at the end
of the fifth century, but the tribes between the Rhine and the Weser
were heathens for another three hundred years. The Wendish lands (where
Berlin now is) did not come into Christian Europe until the early
eleventh century, at about the time, let us say, of Duke Richard of
Normandy and the founding of the great abbeys and schools of Bec,
Fécamp, and Jumièges; Pomerania (where the grenadiers come from) was
converted after a fashion a hundred years later still, in the days of
the highest civilisation in Europe, but Prussia was the last of all,
and when Christianity was preached in its arid plains and amongst its
stubbornly heathen peoples Reims cathedral was rising into its sublime
majesty, marking the high attainments of almost eight centuries of
cumulative Christian culture.

Even in the Rhineland, however, there was something lacking to that
culture that always has issue in great architectural art; many things
were started but none was ever finished. The school of Cologne gave
place to the Rhenish fashion and this was suddenly abandoned for Gothic
after it had been raised to its highest point in France and was at the
very moment of decline. Neither Cologne nor Strasbourg is of the same
quality of perfection as Bourges or Amiens or Reims; indeed, they both
fall immeasurably short, and though later, across the Rhine, in
Freibourg, Erfurt, even as far afield as Vienna, Teutonic blood was to
begin a new coursing through veins already hardening, again there was to
be no culmination and the Renaissance was accepted, ready-made, as it
came from France and Italy.

Cologne is a magnificent essay in premeditated art, and it has certain
qualities of almost over-powering grandeur that are wholly its own; the
west front with its vast towers is a masterpiece of consistent design,
but it is so knowing and academic that it misses the inspiration
accorded to more modest and God-fearing master builders, while the
interior is wire-drawn and metallic and quite without the infinite grace
and subtlety of the best French or even English work. Of the sense of
scale it has little or nothing, its detail is of a cast-iron quality,
and altogether it seems like a very successful nineteenth-century essay
in academic design.

Of course, much of what we see is modern; the choir is fairly early for
Gothic in Germany, having been begun in 1248 and finished just
seventy-five years later; the transepts followed at once, and the lower
portion of the nave, but interest died out and some time during the
fifteenth century work completely stopped. During the Renaissance
nothing was done except to mess up the forlorn interior with
pseudo-classic ineptitudes, and finally the Revolutionists came over to
turn the whole thing into a storage place for hay. In 1823 royalty
conceived the scheme of restoring the ruin and completing the entire
design in accordance with certain original plans which had been
preserved. It is said, possibly with truth,

[Illustration: COLOGNE]

that the first architect, Master Gerard, sold his soul to the devil as
the price for these same plans, and if so he would perhaps have done
better had he followed the practice of the master masons of a century
earlier in France, who preferred to deal with other spiritual powers and
not on the basis of trade. However this may be, the work went on at the
expense of all Germany, and was finally completed in 1880, at a cost of
some five millions of dollars.

As it stands, then, it is largely the work of restoration and of
nineteenth-century talent; hence, if in the fortunes of war it should be
subjected to the hail of shell and shrapnel from French and British
batteries, so working out the hard old Israelitish law of an eye for an
eye, a tooth for a tooth, and suffering even as Reims has suffered, the
world would look on with far different sentiments since, apart from its
windows (some of them) and pictures and tombs, nothing would be lost
that could not be replaced and after a better fashion; for after all
when you say the most you can for the nineteenth century it will
generally be admitted that, even in Germany, it was not a stimulating
era so far as creative or even archæological Gothic art is concerned.

Strasbourg is much more interesting and poetic, with great refinement
and originality in design, though its taste is far from impeccable, its
structural sense gravely deficient. The tendency is wholly toward
lace-like and fantastic design, but it has little resemblance to the
late French flamboyant with its curving and interlacing lines; instead,
it is more suggestive of the English perpendicular, with its scaffolding
of vertical lines applied to, but not a part of, the basic fabric. It
has no consistency of plan, for the eastern end, with its semicircular
apse and portions of its transepts, is of a singularly noble type of
twelfth-century Romanesque, while the nave is mid-thirteenth century and
the tower and upper portion of the west front are a hundred years later.
Confused as it is, there is an extraordinary charm about it all, for
every part is personal and distinguished, full of novel and poetic ideas
and all kinds of unaffected touches of genius. The wonderful colour of
the exterior and the singularly fine glass of the interior have much to
do with its general effect of a delicate mediæval loveliness that makes
amends for its architectural shortcomings.

Of the castle architecture of the Rhine there is

[Illustration: STRASBOURG]

little left from the mediæval period from which one can gain an adequate
idea of its excellence, which was probably great. As in Luxembourg,
everything has been shattered into wildly picturesque ruins which are
outside the category of architecture, and such Renaissance work as
Heidelberg is quite as far without the same category, though for another
reason; here even picturesqueness of site and dilapidation cannot make
amends for ignorance, assurance, and excruciating taste. As a matter of
fact, the best architecture of the Rhine is the domestic building of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the half timber, many-gabled
structures that give the little Rhine towns a charm that is unexcelled
and testify to the native sense of beauty in the common people, when
they were left alone and not confused by the self-satisfied and ill-bred
interference of the connoisseur.

If Christian culture began too late along the Rhine to find a great
expression in architecture, the same is not true of painting, which
followed after and achieved much that the older art could not
accomplish. The Teutonic tribes of the Rhine had always excelled in
certain virtues of frugality, temperance, domestic morality, and a
righteous revolt showed itself here against the corruption of the
Church and society in the fourteenth century that followed the first
downward trend of mediævalism. Early in the century men and women began
to draw away from a world with which they had little sympathy, striving
for personal righteousness, the sense of an inner relation to God, the
attainment through mystical means of escape from the devastating wars,
the pestilence and famine, the favouritism and cupidity and
licentiousness of the Church. The centre of these mystical brotherhoods
was Cologne, particularly at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning
of the fifteenth century, and it is not a mere coincidence that here at
Cologne also, and at the same time, a new school of painting should come
into existence, exactly as had happened a few years earlier in Siena and
Florence. There had been great wall painting for several centuries, but
it had always been an essential part of architecture, hieratic, formal,
monumental, impersonal; now the new spiritual impulse was to work out an
original and very personal form of expression on the basis of these
earlier works, but at smaller scale and with a minute craftsmanship
borrowed partly from the goldsmiths’ work and the enamels for which
Cologne already was famous; partly from the exquisite illumination of
the vellum volumes of the time. It was somewhere about 1350 that Master
Wilhelm, who holds the same place in the north that was attained by
Cimabue in the south, was born. His pictures are rare but there is one
of great value in Cologne cathedral, the “St. Clara Triptych,” and it
shows all the elements now at work toward the development of the new
art, the fine and masterly line and composition, with a strong rhythmic
sense taken over from the fully developed wall painting of the preceding
century, the delicate craftsmanship of the goldsmith, the illuminator,
or the worker in enamels, and the extraordinary personal quality, the
direct human appeal, that was furnished by the mystical seekers after
union with God through a direct relationship outside the formalised
institutions and practices of the Church. You get the quality best of
all perhaps from the “Madonna of the Bean-flower” in the Cologne Museum,
another picture by Master Wilhelm, and as lovely and personal as one
could ask. There are also the “Paradise pictures,” equally human and
even more mystical; visions of delicate and gracious gardens, where
youths and ladies and children and angels all mingle in the midst of
flowers and singing around the Queen of Heaven herself; efforts, one
might think, to create a paradise for the imagination, where one could
escape from the too numerous horrors of a none too accommodating world.
The more specifically devotional pictures are very numerous and
generally anonymous; painters then were craftsmen, members of guilds
devoted to the upbuilding of the highest standards of workmanship, and
caring little for their own personal fame. Picture exhibitions and
competitions for prizes and medals were also unknown, which made a
difference. In all these works is the same sweet humanism, the
invariable personal appeal, and it is easy to understand that a new art
such as this must have been a wonderful boon to a weary and disappointed
generation.

The Teuton had at last found a field for the expression of that æsthetic
sense that was one of the inalienable possessions of man down to the
nineteenth century, and he made the very best of it, as he was to make
the best of the still newer art of music a few centuries later. The
world wanted this new art, and from Cologne it spread rapidly to the
west into Flanders and Brabant, and south to Franconia and Suabia. To
the

[Illustration: BACHARACH ON THE RHINE]

school of Cologne Hubert van Eyck owed much, he could hardly have been
what he was but for Master Wilhelm and his contemporaries, but he added
something of his own Flanders, and more of himself, and the art he
initiated rose immeasurably above its source.

In sculpture also the Teuton found a facile and congenial form of
expression, but this art developed rather to the north and east of the
Rhine. Hildesheim was, of course, the centre, for it was here that
Bishop Bernward gathered or educated his amazing craftsmen in bronze.
Where such an artist came from, as he who made the cathedral doors and
the bronze column, heaven alone knows, for it was early in the eleventh
century that these came into existence. They began a school, however,
that continued in Saxony for many centuries and had its influence over
all Germany. The early thirteenth-century bronze font, also in the
cathedral, is one of those masterpieces that defy comparison. The great
school of sculpture in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was that
which grew up between the Elbe and the Hartz Mountains, not only in
Hildesheim but Halberstadt, Bamberg, Freiberg, Magdebourg, Naumbourg,
the masters of Magdebourg ranking with those of Amiens and Reims.
Undoubtedly there is French influence here, perhaps through the
training, under the masters of France, of the craftsmen who later went
back to their native lands to practise their art. In Strasbourg the
French influence is even more clearly seen but here it is rather in the
line of the more southerly schools. It is at Strasbourg that we find
that singular and ingenious masterpiece, the “Pillar of the Angels,”
slender grouped shafts with intermediate niches, one above the other,
each containing an exquisite statue of an apostle, an angel, or, at the
top, our Lord at the Day of Judgment. This is one of those sudden and
unprecedented happenings in mediæval art that mark the vast vitality,
imagination, and personal initiative of the time. It has no progenitors,
no successors, it is a sport of personal genius, and the masterpiece of
one Ervin de Steinbach, who appears to have been the architect for the
later portions of the cathedral.

Apart from Strasbourg, however, sculpture seems never to have been a
favoured art in the Rhineland, and the painting of Cologne remains its
chief claim to honourable record, though stained glass reached
considerable heights, as is seen both at Cologne and Strasbourg, and on
definitely local lines. By the fifteenth century the Flemish schools of
art of all kinds had succeeded by their sheer achievement in
establishing their dominant influence along the Rhine, and with the
Renaissance the lingering elements of an instinctive practice of beauty
quite died away.



XV

THE FOREST OF ARDEN


Where the immemorial Forest of the Ardennes closes in on the Moselle
that winds beautifully to the Rhine, there is a little land that can
give us small aid in the way of art, for the hand of man and of an
implacable fatality has been heavy, and little remains, but it is a
place of infinite charm and of significance as well, while in the last
year its ancient name has come into the light again, even as it was some
centuries ago. It has borne many names, acknowledged many sovereignties;
Roman Belgica, part of the kingdom of the Ripuarian Franks, Austrasia,
Lorraine, a province of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, Burgundy, the
Netherlands (Spanish and Austrian), France again, both of the republican
and imperial mode, then back in an amorphous Germany, and now, crushed
into a tiny but concentrated state, an independent but sovereign Grand
Duchy of Luxembourg, imprisoned for the moment in dark fastnesses of
oppression wherefrom no word issues forth, but destined under God to a
triumphant release and to a restoration that may mean a return to
earlier and wider frontiers.

Luxembourg means that portion of the Heart of Europe lying between the
Meuse and the Moselle, and one line drawn from Limbourg to Trèves,
another from Verdun to Metz. It is now a tithe of this, but who can say
what may be in the future? All its great northern portion has for long
been incorporated in the eternally honourable kingdom of Belgium, and
there it will remain, but there is always the old Archbishopric of
Trèves with its Moselle valley, and there are the lands along the Saar
and the new (and old) frontiers of France. At present, as a result of
three treaties in which it played the passive part of victim, it is a
fourth the size it once had under its first Duke Wenceslas; the first
section was lost in 1659, the second at the Congress of Vienna in 1815,
the third and largest at London in 1859, but, as a Japanese guide
remarked at the monastery of Horiuji, “The quality is not dependent on
the numerality of quantity,” and as nothing was lost but land the
indomitable spirit of the people remained intact and merely
concentrated itself still more intensely within its shrunken borders.

Luxembourg lies along that line where first the Teuton blended with the
primitive Gaul, or Celt, and where a second mingling later took place
between the result of the first--the Salian Frank--and the same old
Teutonic stock. It is the mating-place of races and therefore the
fighting-place as well, and always will remain so, as they and we now
realise only too clearly. They were far enough apart, these Celts and
Germans, to guarantee good progeny. The Gaul was huge of stature,
blonde, long-haired, fond of fine clothes and golden chains. He was
pastoral and agricultural, aristocratic in his social and political
systems, incontinent, good-natured, quick-tempered, superstitious,
Druidical. The Teuton was red-haired, shaven except for a fierce
top-knot, grim in his clothing, contemptuous of agriculture and of
everything else except fighting; as a youth he wore an iron collar which
could not be removed until he had killed his man. Politically he was
ultra-democratic; socially, monogamous and chaste; theologically,
monotheistic. From the fusion of these two elements came the many tribes
of Gallia Belgica, and in good time most of the peoples of the Heart of
Europe, of Flanders, Brabant, Luxembourg, Lorraine, the hither
Rhineland, Champagne, Burgundy, Picardy, Artois. Trèves, head city of
the Treveri, was the natural capital and so it became under the Cæsars
when they had made their wilderness and called it peace.

It did not remain a wilderness long; presently came the pacific Cæsars
of a later day and the whole land became first the “kitchen-garden of
Rome” and then the Newport of the Empire. Fine roads cut the forests in
every direction, land was cleared, agriculture intensified, so that
shortly the whole region was a garden dotted with private parks and
estates. Trèves was made a great city, with palaces, temples, baths,
amphitheatres, the summer capital of Europe and second in Gaul only to
Lyons. A city of manifold pleasures and as many beauties; rich,
sumptuous, sensuous, where from the shores of Tiber and Bosporus
enervated and exhausted devotees of the joy of living came to cool
themselves and restore their vitality in the fresh air and the green
river valleys of this curiously picturesque retreat. All along the
Moselle rose gorgeous villas with their rooms of sheeted marble and
mosaic and gilded cedar and splendid fabrics, their terraced gardens
and cool groves and wide-spreading parks. A golden day-dream focussed
along the windings of a little river and destined, the sleepers dreamed,
to endure for ever.

And then the greater dream of empire began to turn into nightmare. The
Gallic legions revolted against a weakening hand in Rome, and Cæsars of
a day and a thousand votes fought back and forth over the land, and
burned and murdered and died until peace came again, and restoration,
with real emperors refreshing themselves in their imperial city of
Trèves and their dim forests on the hilly walls of the winding Moselle.
War again, and ruin, this time of a nature to last for generations and
to leave the marble villas to the slow but kindly burial of trees and
vines and moss. Out of the terrible east the Huns came like a flood with
the deadly Attila at their head, blind terror before them, death and
silence behind. Just to the west, at Châlons, they were beaten back and
fled eastward again (men thought for ever), and what was left became
part of the new Frankish kingdom. Of the makers of this nation and the
stock from which sprang Merovings, Carolings, and most of

[Illustration: SCHLOSS ELTZ]

the other royal houses of Europe, the Reverend T. H. Passmore writes
engagingly thus:

     The record of this people, until the close of the fifth century, is
     dim and discursive. Up to that time they were more like a firework
     display than a people. They appear and disappear on the historic
     horizon confusingly, the only unifying condition being a general
     and most sacred sense of mission, the mission being the demolition
     of the universe. The first head upon which history steadily
     focusses its light is that of the great Clovis. He was lord of the
     small Salian tribe in Batavia and sacked and plundered all around
     him to such an extent that the other Frankish tribes who lived
     along the Belgic rivers were smitten with admiration and flocked to
     the standard of so virtuous a prince.... The pious Clovis was a
     born diplomatist. He was a sanguinary Teuton, a cultured Roman, and
     a Christian saint according to circumstances. He was great.

     After clearing Gaul of the Burgundians and other Germans who still
     barred his progress, and wiping out the Alemanni--those chronic
     foes whom Rome had found invincible--Clovis listened to the prayers
     of his Christian wife, Clotilde, and was baptised in Rheims
     Cathedral by St. Remigius with three thousand of his devoted
     Franks, who would probably have heard of it again had they made any
     trouble about the matter. He does not seem, however, to have grown
     any nicer or kinder on this account. St. Gregory of Tours, his
     biographer and panegyrist, who was somewhat modestly endowed with
     the sense of humour, tells us gravely that on one occasion, after
     dismissing with prayer a synod of the Gallican Church, he quietly
     proceeded to butcher all the Merovingian princes. Having pushed his
     arms into France, he fixed on Paris as his royal seat; conquered
     the Goths under Alaric, his only remaining rivals; and was
     invested with purple tunic in St. Martin’s church at Tours.
     Twenty-five years after his death the Emperor Justinian generously
     bestowed on his sons the provinces of Gaul, which they already
     possessed; and most gracefully absolved its inhabitants from their
     allegiance to himself, which had only existed in his own august
     imagination. Thus the French kingdom of the Merovingians, to the
     generation succeeding Clovis, already included all Gaul from
     western France to the Rhine and their suzerainty reached to the
     Alps and beyond them.

Luxembourg had long been Christian after a fashion; the first Bishop of
Trèves had been appointed by St. Peter himself, while the Emperor
Constantine, who had lived much in the city, fostered the new religion
in every way. Later, at the time of the era-making Pepin of Heristal,
St. Willibrord came from England on his great mission to the heathen of
Friesland, and while converting them, and much of Norway and Denmark to
boot, established here at Echternach a great monastery that was his
spiritual power-house, from which he drew the energy that sent him on
his endless journeys and cruises, by land and sea, for the winning of
souls to Christ. He did his work well, none better, and wherever he went
Christianity went with him, and a new civilisation, a new culture, that
remained for many centuries after he had been called to his high
reward, buried in his dear abbey at Echternach and enrolled in the
Kalendar of Saints.

It was a vast monastery and a magnificent one, but it is a monastery no
longer; for centuries it continued to pour out from its inexhaustible
Benedictine store, missionaries, prophets, priests, leaders and
protectors of the people; fostering education, agriculture, the arts;
establishing order, nursing a piety that found its reward in this world
through the consciousness of an ever-widening civilisation, and a
greater reward in heaven. Then the power and wealth grew too great for
the equanimity of princes, and it was robbed by one after another,
oppressed by lay abbots _in commendam_, its Benedictine monks driven out
and secular canons intruded, and finally pillaged by recreant bishops of
the new dispensation of humanism and enlightenment and by that
concentration and apotheosis of the same, Le Roi Soleil, and so handed
over to the emissaries of the deluge that followed him, the attractive
exemplars of revolution, who swept the place clean of books and pictures
and statues and all the hoarded art of a thousand years--yes, even of
the poor ashes of the good saint himself--to make place a half century
later for the ashes and slag of blast-furnaces set up within the
ancient walls, and for the housing of soldiers and their mounts.

Still, the work could not wholly be undone, Luxembourg was a Christian
state and so it remained, through fair days and foul, the fairest being
perhaps those when, united to Flanders and Brabant under the Emperor
Maximilian, it fell into the charge of that great lady and unofficial
saint, Margaret “of Malines,” whose story I have tried to tell
elsewhere.

With the wars of religion this peace and prosperity came to an end and
for two hundred years all the duchy was devastated by all the armies of
Europe, from those of Francis I to the obscene hordes of the French
Republic. It had never revolted against the Catholic religion nor
against its varied rulers, and its reward was a slow and savage
extermination. Cities were burned and their names forgotten; great
abbeys and churches like those of Orval and Clairefontaine were utterly
extinguished; tall castles that crowned every height of land were blown
up with gunpowder; fields and farms became waste land; and through
starvation, massacre, and exile the population was reduced to a tithe of
its former numbers, and at last, by the republic that came to bring
liberty, taxed into an all-engulfing penury.

The era of enlightenment had not been wholly happy in its action on
Luxembourg, but it was free at last, and, in 1867, independent, as it
remained until that memorable day in August, 1914, the day of broken
treaties, when the little Grand Duchess backed her motor-car across the
bridge, closing it with a pathetic barrier in the vain protest of honour
against a force that did not recognise the meaning of the word or the
existence of the thing it signified.

Luxembourg to-day is not a place where one may go to revel in the
artistic memorials of a great past; the great past is there, and its
memory is still green, but even more than Brabant or Champagne has it
borne the grievous harrowing of endless wars and recrudescent
barbarisms, not the least destructive of these visitations being the
nineteenth century in its satisfying completeness, which saw many an
abbey and old haunted castle dismantled, reduced to road-metal, and
carted away for the value inherent in its raw material, or turned to
inconceivably base uses from all of which some pecuniary profit might be
obtained. Once it was as rich in enormous castles as any country in the
world that happily has a mediæval past. Bourscheid on its great hill,
lordly and dominating still and a wilderness of vast crags of masonry,
in spite of all that man could do; Brandenbourg, rigid and riven in its
ring of mountains; Esch, split into towering and sundered fragments on
the raw cliffs overhanging the Sûre; Hollenfel, Clervaux, spared by war
to fall victim to the contemptuous neglect of owners who preferred
pseudo-Gothic villas with all modern conveniences; Beaufort, with its
noble proportions and its beauty of a later and more gracious
mediævalism; Vianden, most fascinating of all with its dizzy gables, and
its chapel still intact in spite of the wide ruin of its surroundings.
And every castle ruin is haunted to heart’s desire, crowded with
attested ghosts whose consistent habits and dependable visitations are a
peculiar joy in a world that until a twelvemonth ago could not believe
in the impossible and promptly discounted the improbable. Any peasant in
Luxembourg knew better, and not only the ruins but the whole duchy is
honeycombed by the midnight prowlings of an entire population of
delectable phantoms, while the stories and legends of their commerce in
the past with lords and ladies and knights and monks and bishops form a
literature in themselves.

In spite of its losses, the land was one of infinite and unfamiliar
charm; a land of wide and high plateaus cut by many winding river
courses, each a possible journey of varying delights. Our and Sûre and
Black Erenz; Alzette and Clerf and White Erenz, with many others of
minor flow, cut the duchy in every direction, all at last finding the
goal of their waters in the magical Moselle, as it flows past old Roman
Trèves on its devious way to the Rhine. And it was a kind of little
earthly paradise as well, for the fifty years of its well-earned peace.
A land of farms and gardens and pastures, of contented little villages
and river-bordered hamlets, and a kindly and devoted people. Coal and
iron have left little mark, though the efficient Baedeker (to whom shall
we go for guidance on our journeys in the long days to come?), in one of
his concise and unpremeditately dramatic paragraphs does say: “18½ M.
_Weilerbach_, for the iron-foundry of Weilerbach and the former
summer-house of the Abbots of Echternach, magnificently situated amidst
wood”--an antithesis of startling illumination. Protestantism passed it
by, except for purposes of plunder, and it has always been unanimously
and enthusiastically Catholic, with a record for public and private
morality that puts any and every other part of Europe to sudden shame.

What is to be its future when the great storm that is cleaning the
soiled world of its dust and ashes of false ideals and burnt-out
superstitions sweeps away into the hollows of a night that is only in
its darkness the promise of a new day? Who shall say? but any one can
weave his vision, and to some it already appears that, with the meting
out of inadequate earthly reward for irreparable bodily suffering, will
come the lands to the east as far as the Kyll, with to the south
Saarbourg, and the far side of the Moselle to the Hochwald, including
ancient Trèves, no longer a forgotten relic of an old imperialism but a
greater and better and more potent Hague, a central city of Europe and
of peace, where, under the united guarantees of all the states, is
permanently sitting a great council of ambassadors for the devising of
measures of common interest, the adjustment of international
differences, the preservation of a righteous peace between nations, and
with authority to suppress any violation of treaties or any wilful
aggression of one state against another, by calling into the field
against the offender all the military and naval forces of all the other
powers signatory to an European Treaty of Permanent Peace and
represented in the council of ambassadors.

Or perhaps Trèves, with surrounding territory within a five-mile radius,
might be erected into an international city of council, surrounded by
Luxembourg, Belgium, which may be extended to the Moselle and eastward
half-way to the Rhine, France, the new frontiers of which would be the
old eastern borders of Alsace and Lorraine, and a restored Palatinate
limited to the north and east by the Rhine and the Moselle. Central in
this circle of guarding states, with all Europe for added defence
against any possible recrudescence of local egoism in any place, Trèves
might again become a great city of refuge and of Christian
righteousness, with noble buildings on its circle of surrounding hills,
a centre of religion and education and mercy, guardian of the peace of
Europe, a living and glorious symbol of the world enlightenment that
came through the clean purging of a war greater than all former wars
because the need was greater.



XVI

EX TENEBRIS LUX


I have tried to give some idea of the contributions of the lands and the
peoples in the western theatre of the war in certain of the fields of
art; to note the development of culture, the direction of human
happenings, the bearing of great men and women who were leaders in
Europe, through an abbreviation of historical records, to justify the
giving to the region between the Seine and the Rhine, the Alps and the
sea, the name of “Heart of Europe.” Such a survey of such a territory
must, of necessity, be superficial and incomplete, for too many and
wonderful things happened there to be recorded in a volume of limited
extent. Chiefly, I have spoken of what could be, and is being,
destroyed, but there is much else that is not subject to annihilation at
the hands of furious men, the contributions to music, to letters, to the
slow-growing spiritual deposit in society through philosophy, theology,
and religion.

In music alone the Heart of Europe has done more, and at different
times, than any similar area. While the troubadours of the twelfth
century came into existence in the sunny lands of Languedoc, it was in
Aquitaine, Champagne, and Flanders that the trouvères developed the norm
of the troubadours “into something rich and strange,” and under the
Countess Marie of Champagne created that beautiful and potent fiction of
“courteous love,” which had issue in so many exquisite phases of human
character and made possible a great school of romantic poets. They,
under the leadership of Chretien de Troyes, made for the Countess Marie,
out of the rude elements that had come from England and Wales through
Brittany, the great poems and romances of King Arthur and his knights.
The greatest of the trouvères was Adam de la Hâle and he was born in
Arras in the year 1240. Long before him, however, Gottfried of
Strasbourg, a contemporary of Chretien de Troyes, had made of the tale
of Lancelot and Guinevere one of the deathless poems of the world, as
Wolfram von Essenbach of Bavaria was to create its great counterpart
from the story of Parsifal.

Very slowly in the meantime music had been working out its wonderful
growth from the classical models of SS. Ambrose and Gregory intermingled
with the instinctive folk-music of the south, and in the fourteenth
century the leadership fell full into the hands of Flanders, where monks
and laymen set themselves to the congenial task of building up a new and
richer music on polyphonic lines. Brother Hairouet, who was at work
about 1420; Binchois, born near Mons and died in 1460; Dufay, born in
Hainault and trained in the cathedral at Cambrai, were all, together
with the English Dunstable, potent leaders in the great work, laying
well the foundations on which a few centuries later was to be erected
the vast and magnificent superstructure of Bach and his successors. In
the second period, that of the close of the fifteenth century, Antwerp
became the centre, Jean de Okeghem, of Termonde, the leader in the
intellectualising of music and the establishing it on methodical lines,
while in the third period, of the end of the fifteenth and the beginning
of the following century, Josquin des Pres led the course back toward a
purer beauty, though through modes that were increasingly clever in
their elaborate virtuosity. After this the lead passed across the Rhine,
with memorable results a century later, when the great cycle, from Bach
to Brahms, rounded itself into a perfect ring.

The era-making movements in religion all began outside our territorial
limits at Monte Cassino, Cluny, Clairveaux, but it was through St.
Benedict of Aniane that Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle effected his
regeneration of the Church and his initiation of a new Christian
education and culture; St. Bruno, of Cologne, sometime head of the
cathedral school of Reims, was the founder of the Order of Carthusians;
St. Chrodegang, Archbishop of Metz, brought into existence the Canons
Regular of St. Augustine, who introduced into cathedral chapters the
order and discipline of monasticism; St. Norbert, of Xanten, created the
Order of Prémontré, one of the most beneficent and beautiful of the
religious brotherhoods of the Middle Ages, while the “Imitation of
Christ,” the most purely spiritual and devotional work of the time, was
the product of Thomas à Kempis, an obscure monk of the Netherlands. In
the development of Christian mysticism the Rhine valley stands
pre-eminent, though the greatest of all those of this school of combined
thought and vision was Hugh of St. Victor, of the monastery of
Augustinian Canons in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, where now is the
Jardin des Plantes, The ancient tradition is that he was born near
Ypres, though recent researches seem to indicate that he may have been a
son of the Count of Blankenburg in Saxony. In any case, he was the great
expositor of sacramental religion and philosophy as Charlemagne’s
Radbertus Paschasus was the great defender of the true doctrine of
Transubstantiation. If, indeed, Hugh of St. Victor was a product of
Flanders, then the credit goes there of having given birth to one of the
noblest and most penetrating minds the world has known, one that ranks
with that greatest pure intellect of all time, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Whether one accepts the mysticism of the Rhine or not does not matter;
it was a potent element in the flowering of Christian piety and the
development of Catholic theology, and Elizabeth of Schönau, Hildegarde
of Bingen, Mary of Ognies, Liutgard of Tongres, Mechtilde of Magdebourg,
are all names that connote a poignancy of spiritual experience that
proves both the personal exaltation of the time and the quality of the
blood that had issue in character such as theirs. This mystical vision
of the holy women of the Rhine is simply an extreme intensification of
the same vision that was given in lesser measure and in different ways
to all the creative artists, philosophers, and theologians of the Middle
Ages, from Othloh of the eleventh to St. Bonaventure of the thirteenth
century, and it had a great part in determining and fixing the artistic
manifestation of this amazing time. Both as a result and an influence it
is vastly important and not to be ignored. Out of it came much of that
marvellous symbolism of the mass and the cathedral so explicitly set
forth by the monk Durandus and Vincent of Beauvais, and for its good
offices here alone the world owes it a deep and lasting gratitude.

One is tempted to go on through other fields where the harvest is
plenteous, but an end must be made, and it is here. There remains the
question of the issue of it all--whether out of this latest devastation
that so adequately follows those of the nineteenth century, of the
French Revolution, of Protestantism and the wars of religion, of the
Hundred Years’ War with England, any compensation may come for the
progressive (and as yet unfinished) destruction of the art records of a
great past. If we consider alone the wide ruin in Flanders and Brabant,
in Artois and Picardy and Champagne, there seems no possible
compensation for what we ourselves knew and now have lost for ever.
Nevertheless, the law of the universe is death that life may come; and
out of this present death that is so immeasurably more wide-spread and
inclusive than any known before, even when the Huns or the Moslems were
on their deadly march across Europe, there should come a proportionately
fuller life, a “life more abundant,” than that which is now in
dissolution. If this is so, if we can look across the plains of death
and immeasurable destruction to the dimly seen peaks of the mountain
frontiers of a new Land of Promise, then we can see Louvain and Liége,
Ypres and Arras, Laon and Soissons and Reims pass in the crash and the
dim smoke of obliteration, content with their tragic destiny, even as we
can see poured out as a new oblation the ten millions of lives, the
tears of an hundred millions of those who follow down into the Valley of
the Shadow of Death.

Is it all a vain oblation? There is the crucial question and the answer
is left with us. This is no war of economic and industrial rivalry, of
jealous dynasties, of opposed political theories; it is not the
inevitable result of a malignant diplomacy from Frederick the Great and
Metternich to Disraeli and the German Kaiser; it is not even the last
act in a drama ushered in by Machiavelli and brought to its denouement
at Pottsdam. All these and myriad other strands have gone to the weaving
of the poisoned shirt of Nessus, but they all are blind agents, tools of
a dominant and supreme destiny by which are brought about the events
that are only the way of working of an unescapable fate. The war is a
culminating catastrophe, but it is as well the greatest mercy ever
extended to men, for it may be made the means of a great purging, the
atonement for the later sins of the world, the redemption from a wilful
blindness and folly that are not consonant with the will of God.

There is a stern propriety in the centring around the Cathedral of Reims
of the first phase of the great conflict, and in its slow and implacable
demolition. Long ago Heinrich Heine, the poet of the German people,
though not himself a German, saw clearly the coming ruin and wrote as
follows:

     Christianity--and this is its highest merit--has in some degree
     softened, but it could not destroy, the brutal German joy of
     battle. When once the taming talisman, the Cross, breaks in two,
     the savagery of the old fighters, the senseless Berserker fury of
     which the northern poets sing and say so much, will gush up anew.
     That talisman is decayed, and the day will come when it will
     piteously collapse. Then the old stone gods will rise from the
     silent ruins, and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes.
     Thor, with his giant’s hammer, will at last spring up, and shatter
     to bits the Gothic cathedrals.

Better than any other, he has declared the nature of this war that arose
a century after his death. Thor, the impersonation of conscienceless and
unmitigated force, shatters in pieces the Gothic cathedrals because he
and they are antitheses and they cannot exist in the same world. Like
Barbarossa sitting stonily in his dim cave under ground, century after
century, while his beard grows through the rocky table before him,
waiting for the call that will send him forth into the world again,
primitive force and primitive craft have sullenly awaited the day when
the Christian dispensation passes and they issue again into the light.
In the fulness of time their day arrives and their first task is to
destroy the symbol of their ended bondage. With the name of Christ on
their lips and the boast of Christian civilisation in their mouths, the
nations and the peoples forsake Christianity until only the
nomenclature remains and the memorials of its power and glory.

Reims falls, but that which built Reims fell long ago, while the devious
undermining and the blind sapping began even while the last cubits were
being added to its stature, and since then has been only a steady
progression in strength and assurance of its antitheses--of materialism,
intellectualism, secularism, industrialism, opportunism, efficiency;
founded on the coal and iron of the Scar of Europe and on the sinister
and ingratiating philosophy that came out of a re-entrant paganism,
thrived under the fertilisation of an evolutionary empiricism, flowered
in a Nietzsche, a Treitschke, and a Bernhardi. And always it presented
itself in a gracious guise; intellectual emancipation, humanitarianism,
social service, democratic liberty, evolution, parliamentary government,
progress, direct approach of each soul to God. It all sounded fine and
high and noble, and on the 30th day of July, 1914, there could have been
hardly a thousand men in the world, apart from those in the secret, who
would not have said--there were not a thousand in Europe who did not
believe--that man in his regular progress from lower ever to higher
things had achieved a plane where the wars and savagery and lies of the
past were no longer possible.

And in one week from that fateful 30th of July the cloud castle had
dissolved in a rain of blood. Could conviction have come to the world in
any other way? Would the diseased body have reacted to a gentle
prophylactic, could the Surgeon have spared His knife? Since the knife
is used, the answer admits of no dispute, but will it be enough? This is
the question that is asked on every battle-field of a world at war; the
lesson is set for the learning--will the nations learn? In so far as
they have diverged from what Reims stood for; from Leo IX and Gregory
VII and Innocent III; from Edward I and Ferdinand III and Louis IX; from
Eleanor of Guienne and Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Malines; from
St. Bernard, St. Norbert, and St. Anselm; from Albertus Magnus and Hugh
of St. Victor and St. Thomas Aquinas, just so far have they to return,
bringing with them not empty hands but all the great good winnowed from
the harvest of grain and chaff they have reaped in those years of
spiritual and material and national disorder that began when the dizzy
fabric of mediævalism trembled to its base at the exile at Avignon and
“piteously collapsed” between the nailing at Wittenberg and the
sansculotte throning of the “Goddess of Reason” in the desecrated
cathedral of Notre Dame. There is good grain in plenty, but it is sowed
along with the chaff and the tares, and now for the last harvesting the
grain has germinated only to dwindle and die, for the tares have sprung
up and choked it and the red garnering is of tares alone.

Men would think, as they follow the scarlet annals of war, that the
lesson was sufficiently clear even for pacificists to read as they run,
but is it so? France reads and learns, gloriously regenerate, blotting
out the memory of old folly with her blood of sacrifice, turning again
as her first King Clovis was adjured by St. Remi of Reims, destroying
what she worshipped a year ago, worshipping what then, and for two
centuries before, she had destroyed. Again France shows the way,
traversing it with bleeding feet and with many tears; Russia is learning
it, though she had less to unlearn; Belgium must have learned it through
her blind martyrdom; but how of the others? Is England learning, and
Italy; will Germany learn, and Austria; will America learn, standing
aloof from the smoking altar of sacrifice; will the Church learn, there
in trembling isolation while again Peter listens for the crowing of the
cock? If not, if when silence comes down on a decimated, an exhausted, a
bankrupt world, the old ways are sought again and men go on as before,
then the myriad lives and the dreary rain of tears are indeed a vain
oblation, and all will be to do over again. God sets no lesson that need
not be learned, and unless out of it all comes an old heaven and a new
earth, then the lesson is set again, as time after time it was set for
imperial Rome, until a century of war and pestilence and famine broke
down her insolent pride and made from the ruins of her vainglory a
foundation for a new civilisation in the strength of the Christianity
she had denied.

And if the lesson is learned by all tongues and all peoples, as we must
believe will be, then the horror of human loss, the bitterness of Ypres
and Louvain and Reims will receive its compensation, for out of death
will come life and no man will have died in vain, no work of art will
have perished without a return in kind. To lose Reims and regain after
long years the impulse and the power to build after the same fashion
would be more than ample compensation. We have tried for many centuries
and have failed; no man has built anything approaching it for seven
hundred years, nor has any one matched the statue of Our Lady at Paris,
or the “Worship of the Lamb” at Ghent, or the glass of Chartres, or the
tapestries of Arras, or the metal work of Dinant and Tournai. There was
something lacking, some once indwelling spirit had been taken away, and
though we tried to reassure ourselves by our boasting in far-away lines
of accomplishment--parliamentary government, manhood suffrage, clever
mechanical devices, deductive science, mastery of earth forces hitherto
unknown, industrialism, high finance, favourable balance of trade,
evolutionary philosophy, public-school systems, vocational training, or
what-not; though we even made the effort to exalt the Pantheon and Fifth
Avenue to rivalry with Amiens, the Sieges Allee into an emulation of the
statues of Reims, the Salon and Luxembourg and Royal Academy above the
primitives of Flanders--it was all unconvincing to ourselves and in the
end we came to say that, after all, it did not matter anyway, art was,
“in the ultimate analysis,” only a dispensable amenity of life, which
could go on very well without it. Then came the revelation of 1914 and
we saw our foolishness, realising at last that, “amenity” or no, art did
indicate the existence in a society of something without which it was
bound to decay to the point of extinction; and as the monuments we had
despised because they exceeded our own powers of achievement were one by
one taken from us, we saw architecture and painting and sculpture and
all the other arts in a new light and offered our reverence, too late,
to what we had lost for ever.

Whatever the issue of the war, the world can never be the same, but a
very different place; and amongst the differences will be a new
realisation of the nature and function of art. All the follies of the
last fifty years--didacticism, Bavarian illustration, realism, “new
art,” impressionism, “cubism,” boulevardesque and neo-Gothic and revived
Roman architecture--all the petty and insincere and premeditated
fashions must go, and in their place come a new sincerity, a new sense
of self-consecration.

The real things of life are coming into view through the revealing fires
of the battle-field, and the new experiences of men confronted at last
by everlasting truths. With the destruction of each work of old art
comes a new duty that demands all that is best and strongest and most
sincere in every man--the duty of making good the loss, in kind; the
duty of building a new civilisation and a new culture on the old
foundations now revealed through the burning away of the useless
cumbrances of futile superstructures; the duty of making a Cathedral of
Reims possible again, not through self-conscious and competent
premeditation but because at last men have come to their senses,
regained their old standard of comparative values, and so can no more
fail to build in the spirit of Reims and in reverence for the eternal
truths it enshrined and set forth than could those who built it seven
centuries ago in the sweat of their brows, the joy of their hearts, and
the high devotion of their souls.





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