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Beautiful Europe - Belgium by Joseph E. Morris

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Beautiful Europe


by Joseph E. Morris


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As in a dream her own renewing."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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