NOTES BY THE WAY ON BEATEN TRACKS.—I.
rF11011 A CORRESFONDENT.] Antwerp, August 14/h, 1878. WE reached Antwerp by a somewhat unusual route, having struck from Calais north-east through Lille, and so by Bruges and Ghent, and the "Pays de 1Vaes," on here. At Lille there was nothing worth noticing but the complaint of English competition as crushing the cotton industry of the neighbourhood, the very echo of that of our Lancashire manufacturers over the competi- tion of the Continent. Which of the two contradictory com- plaints is a lie, or are they lies both ? I suspect the Continental one is nearest to the truth. Still, it did not prevent the first- class carriages of the train from Lille onwards from being filled with French families, afterwards mingled with Belgian ones, all rushing to the Belgian sea-bathing places, Ostend, Blankenberghe, Heyst. A pleasant French father somewhat amusingly complained of having to go and spend his money among foreigners, when the French coast was nearer ; but the Dunkirk folk were so stingy that they would not allow any outlay to be made for attracting visitors, lest they should have to pay dearer for butter and eggs. Could he not go lower down the coast,—to Normandy, or even St. Valery ? Oh! the journey would be much more expensive, and times were so bad ! He seemed, however, to think he had got quite a bargain in securing a chalet at Blankenberghe, for the latter two-thirds of August, for 800 francs, making more than ten guineas a week, which did not look as if Lille or Roubaix were quite ruined yet. The same tale of depression of trade, I am bound to say, met us throughout Flanders, and a Swiss gentle- man here, fresh from Mulhouse, declared there were there 43,000 spindles idle.
I could not help noticing that the colouring of Nature in Flanders is much more like that of our own country than is that of France. The dullness of French tints is certainly remarkable. As to " golden " corn, there is literally none ; it is all dust- coloured, and nearly every grain is half-grey. This is, no doubt, the reason why France has never produced a real colourist. Com- pare, for instance, in her older school of painting, the pale tints of a Janet with the rich palette of Memlinc or Van Eyck. The French hardly know the meaning of a " colourist " to this day. They call De la Croix a colourist, but what other nation would ? They think they see colour wherever there are strong contrasts of light and shade. On the other hand, surrounded on all sides by bright hues, the Fleming or Englishman, if left to himself, becomes a colourist almost of necessity. Where were there ever two schools of painting more opposed in spirit than those of Van Eyck and Memlinc, on the one hand, and of Rubens, on the other ?—one all repose, the other all motion ; and yet the same glory of sweet and bright colour clothes the works of both. No doubt the sense of colour may run mad in either case, as in our Turner, latterly ; or to quote the humblest of examples, as in those houses of the "Pays de Waes " which I noticed to-day, with brick-red shutters, or again, with crimson blinds.
I had never seen before the line from Ghent to Antwerp by the "Pays de Waes." It has a peculiar interest. Nowhere else have I seen the purple loosestrife springing, the only weed, out of the very midst of a field of richest rye-grass. Very curious, too, is the effect, in the midst of the reclaimed polders, of a landscape which should be absolutely flat, and is never level, each field curving gently upwards from all sides from its surrounding ditches, like the back of some monstrous turtle. What patient generations of men have spent their labour in sloping field after field ! Shall it all once more be swept beneath the sea ?
It is now, if I recollect aright, thirty-eight years since I was in Flanders. I am struck by two things, no doubt connected with each other,—the gain of the Flemish language over the French ; the greater prominence of the priest element. Already, two years ago, I thought I detected the former change in the lower parts of Brussels itself,—in Bruges, Ghent; here, at Antwerp, it is unmistakable. Formerly, in the course of a longer stay, I think I never but once asked my way of a person in the streets of any of the three towns who did not speak French ; now, it seems hardly an even chance if one meets a man or woman of the lower class who understands it. At St. Baven, at Ghent, out of a number of workmen, only one could make out that I wanted to speak to the " sacristain." The booksellers' shops are full of Flemish works, often very well got up. The municipal notifications are generally headed in Flemish only, g gSt«dGend,"—ggStadAntiverpen." French "posters" on the walls, formerly the rule, are now quite the exception, and many really
good shops have no lettering upon them but in Flemish. With reference to the clerical element, it is not, perhaps, that you see more priests, monks, nuns, than formerly—Belgian railway trains were never without them—but that clerical matters fill obviously a larger space in the people's life ; there are more religious-book sellers, more ecclesiastical notifications and advertisements, more sellers of church trumpery. On the Sunday we were at Bruges there was a great " manifestation " in honour of a recently dis- missed clerical governor. The walls were covered with placards, this one inviting the "Brugelings " to meet in part of their Belfry- tower for the purpose of the "manifestation ;" another beginning with "Shame on the Liberal Ministry !" and ending with "Away with the Liberals !" The " manifestation " was indeed a very innocent affair ; a great many people in the streets, a good deal of Flemish cheering (which seemed to consist of vague shouting) before the dismissed governor's house. We met a half-company of soldiers marching in rather quick step to the spot, but they had never to cross bayonets.
An old Belgian officer, at the table d'h6te, admitted the correct- ness of both the observations I have just mentioned (it has
since been confirmed by others), but would not allow that the priesthood had any real influence, except with women,—and as to this, it was the Liberals' own fault. For years and years they let their girls be brought up in the convents, from whence they came out not knowing one Person of the Trinity from the other, and it was only lately that girls' schools had begun to be opened
where they really learned something. The officer I speak
of was a surly-looking "moustache grise," but full of quaint humour. We were a small party — himself, a young Belgian and his wife, and ourselves—and the conversation
flowed with a freedom that recalled the long-vanished French table d'hole of former days. The old officer evidently felt his
country too stuffy for him. "Belgium is such a small country, that it can have no great men. Everybody knows everybody else. Monsieur — is a deputy, is a senator. 'Oh! but,' we
say, we know him of old,—c'est une ganache.' So with journalists. Who writes that paper?' ' So-and-So." Oh ! but we know him,—c'est sine canaille.' There are no politics to care for. When it came to paying thirty-five millions of francs for a Palais de Justice, for the benefit of two sorts of people whom nobody likes —lawyers and prisoners—that we really did feel. Otherwise, people make a noise, but it means nothing. These very priests, who make such a fuss in public, are charming men in private. Besides, they can't help themselves. In former days, most of the cur6s had served in the army. They knew the world, and were men of good-sense, and moderate. The Bishops did not dare to displace them, but there are only a few of them left, one at Bruges, a couple at Ghent, and so forth. The young cur4s are brought up at the seminaire, and are all now compelled to take an engagement to give up their parishes,whenever required to do so by the Bishop. In some places they are not allowed to keep their livings more than two years. So of course they can only do what their Bishops tell them. If they had some assurance of keeping their places, they would be very different. Moreover, I had a friend, a captain of gendarmerie, who founded two societies in the town where be was quartered,—one for the suppression of sparrows, another for the suppression of priests. The first was so wholly successful, that six months after the last sparrow had been killed they had to send for fresh ones. He let his other society drop, and never founded another."
Very characteristic was also the talk of the two Belgians about beer. Beer is evidently still dear to the heart of the Fleming, as in the days of old, and the almost indignation with which the younger man spoke of the smallness of Parisian beer-glasses was characteristic. It seemed, however, to be admitted that the consumption of wine is gaining on that of beer among the Flemish middle-class.
Poor little Belgium ! "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."—is not that well-nigh her true motto? Between France and tiermany, what chance has she eventually? If a Flemish nationality could be constituted, one could understand the advantage of the Flemingising process that has been going on ever since 1846, when Flemish began to be officially taught in the schools. But how can the Flemish element ever assimilate the other elements which stand side by side with it, in this little country, — the true French element, the Walloon, and that I am told forms almost a fourth distinct one, that marked out by the peculiar French dialect spoken about Namur? The Swiss, no doubt, have their national unity, in spite of their differences of language ; but their one special tongue, the Romansch, has never, that I am aware of, tried to swallow up German, or French, or Italian, as Flemish is trying to swallow up French. A singular fact it is, however, in our days, this revival of conquered languages. At Aberystwith last year a news- vendor told me that he not only sold many more Welsh news- papers than English, but that the sale of the former was greatly
increasing, by comparison with that of the latter. And the get-up of Welsh books has improved as much within the last twenty years as that of Flemish. What was formerly published only for the reading of the lowest class in either case, is evidently pub- lished now for that of a class much better to do. At Dolgelly Market I was quite surprised at the expensively- illustrated Welsh Bibles that were on sale. Side by side with the tendency towards unity of language over large tracts of country, which we may all think we see at work, is there also in human nature a Babel-tendency, a tendency to make man unin- telligible to his brother ? I must own I abominate Eisteddfodds, and could heartily wish to see Welsh and every other idiom, whether language or dialect, which tends to sever small tracts of earth from the larger life around them, strained for good, out of human speech, after their last uttered sounds had been bottled up in the tin-foil of the phonograph.
Not less singular also is this revived influence of Romanism everywhere else than at its centre. The Church question, what-
over the old officer may.say, is the only question of the day in Belgium ; it is also so in Switzerland ; it will be so in France,
from the day that the Republic is once firmly settled. L.