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Its territory, as defined by treaty of 15th November, 1831, consists of the nine provinces of South Brabant, Liége, Limbourg, Namur, Hainault, West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp, and Luxembourg ; some districts particularly described, and part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg being excepted.
The general outline of the territory is a triangular figure, the longest side of which extends on the French frontier from a point midway between Furnes and Dunkirk, to one 9 miles south-east of Arlon, or 52 miles E. from Longwy. The parts ceded to Holland, and to which we alluded above, are—first, a portion of the province of Luxembourg, on the E. of an irregular line drawn from the point just mentioned to one on the Prussian frontier, about 17 miles S. of Malmedy; and secondly, the portions of Limbourg, on the W. of the river Meuse, including the city of Maestricht in a deviating curve, and on the north of a line from Stevensweirt, on the Meuse, to one on the Dutch frontier, 4 miles W. of Wiert.
The kingdom, as thus described, is bounded on the north by the Dutch province of Limbourg, and by North Brabant and Zeeland; on the north-west by the North Sea; on the S.W. and S. by the departments of the Pas de Calais, Nord, Ardennes, and Moselle, in France; and on the E. by the Dutch portion of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Rhenish Prussia.
DIVISIONS.—Brussels is the capital and seat of government; for the administration of which the kingdom is divided into the 9 provinces above enumerated, 44 arrondissements, 98 towns, and 2,647 rural communes. For military purposes it is divided into 9 commands, corresponding to the 9 provinces; and, lastly, for judicial proceedings, it is divided into 29 arrondissements, and 237 cantons. There are bishoprics at Bruges, Ghent, Liége, Namur, and Tournay, under an archbishop at Malines; and 8,000 clergy and monks.
AREA AND POPULATION.—Belgium lies between 49° 31' and 51° 27' N. latitude, and between 2° 3' and 6° E. longitude. Its greatest length from S.E. to N.W. is 173 English miles, and its greatest breadth, measured in the direction S.S.W., from the most northern part of the province of Antwerp, to the most southern part of the province of Hainault, 112 miles. The Area and Population according to Provinces are as under :Provinces. Square Miles. Population, 1873.
Chief Towns. Population, 1873. Antwerp
Antwerp............ 141,910 Brabant
365,404 Flanders, West... 1,251 682,921
48,113 Flanders, East 1,162
128,424 Hainault............ 1,441
26,030 11,462 5,253,821
In 1869 the population was 5,021,336; in 1873, 543,680. One half speak French and the other half Flemish. All, except about 100,000, are native-born, and nearly all are Roman Catholics. The population of the largest towns (1873), besides those mentioned above, is as follows:--Malines, 38,546; Louvain, 32,314; Verviers, 38,875; Tournay, 31,923; Seraing, 27,181.
GENERAL ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY.—The N. and W. provinces of Belgium, in their flatness, fertility, dykes, and canals, may be regarded as a continuation of Holland. This portion of the country is so densely populated that it presents to the traveller the appearance of one continuous village. The S. and E. provinces have an opposite character, being generally more thinly populated, less cultivated, and exhibiting a most irregular mountainous surface, with tracts of marshy lands and extensive forests. With the exception of three hilly districts in the south and east, the entire territory presents the appearance of a series of nearly level plains, traversed by numerous streams, delightfully diversified by woods, arable lands, and meadows of brilliant verdure, enclosed by hedge rows; and thickly studded throughout with towns and villages. In surveying the general face of the country, and proceeding from west to east, we observe that the coast is uniformly flat, and formed of fine loose sand, which, by the frequent action of the sea winds, is raised into gently undulating domes or dunes
. These banks of sand extend, nearly without interruption from Dunkirk, along the entire coasts of Belgium and Holland. In breadth they vary from one to three miles, and rise in the highest parts to 40 or 50 feet. They are formed entirely by the operation of the sea waves in elevating the deep sands of the shore, and, since they serve as a natural barrier against the encroachment of the ocean, it is an object of great importance to check their constant tendency to advance inland. For the purpose, therefore, of rendering the sand compact and stationary, the dunes are sown with a species of reed (arundo arenaria), or marrum grass, until a sufficient stratum of mould is collected to support plantations of firs (Pinus Maritimus), with which most of the Belgic dunes are covered.
Though no part of the surface of Belgium is actually below the level of the sea, like that of Holland, yet, in common with the latter, its shore in some parts defended from the encroachments of the ocean by broad and elevated dykes ; and whole districts, which were formerly alluvial morasses, have been gained entirely from the bed of the sea, after being drained and embanked. The embanked enclosures of this description are called polders. On the sea coast, and along the lower banks of the Scheldt, they are very numerous, and some contain above 1,000 acres of rich alluvial soil, which is appropriated with great advantage to the purposes of agriculture.
To the south-east of the dunes the provinces of West and East Flanders and Hainault form a far-stretching plain, the luxuriant vegetation of which indicates the indefatigable care and labour bestowed upon its cultivation, for the natural soil consists almost wholly of barren sand, and its great fertility is entirely the result of very skilful management and judicious application of various manures. The undulations in the surface of the northern districts is very slight, and the northern parts of the province of Antwerp are less varied and fertile than any other. The soil is, for the most part, composed of pure sand, very partially mixed with argillaceous earth. The largest unbroken plain in Belgium is called Campine, comprising the north-east portion of Antwerp and north-west of Liége. It consists of marshes, desolate moors, peat bogs, and extensive tracts of sand, covered with heath, broom, and firs. Some parts, however, consist of natural prairies, that serve as pasturage for extensive herds of excellent horses, and the portion of Limbourg, on the banks of the Meuse, is fertile and carefully cultivated. The character of Brabant resembles that of Flanders with respect to its beautiful fields, gardens, and luxuriant trees. In the province of Liége the north bank overlooks a fertile plain, producing all kinds of grain and vegetables, and affording excellent pasturage for cattle and for dairy husbandry ; but the country on the south bank of the river belongs to the mountainous district which constitutes the provinces of Luxembourg and Namur. The course of the Meuse, from Durant to Maestricht, offers some very picturesque combinations of landscapes and rock scenery. The river is closely shut in by lofty cliffs of various hues. Here they overhang the river, and are beautifully shrouded with bushes of box, wild myrtle, and ivy, and there they slope away to its margin, or are vertically cleft asunder, presenting through the chasm a delightful view of highly-cultivated farms and villages, half hidden by trees, in the distant highlands. The wild state of nature in the provinces of Namur, Liége, and Luxembourg, the various fossils and mineral products, and the charms of the scenery, have long made this part of the country a favourite of the naturalist, the geologist, and the painter.
LAND TENURE.—Short leases of nine years are the rule. Rents are high. There are many tenant farmers and many peasant owners. For example, in the province of Brabant, there are 54,000 owners and 29,000 tenants; in Antwerp province, 21,000 owners and 27,000 tenants.
CLIMATE.—The climate of Belgium is pure and healthy, but subject to much variation in its general character.
The GOVERNMENT is a limited constitutional monarchy, and the succession to the throne confined to the direct male issue, perpetually excluding females and their descendants. The legislative power is vested in the King and two Chambers—the Senate and the House of Representatives, the members of which are elected by the people paying 30s. direct taxes annually. The number of representatives cannot exceed one to every 40,000 people, and in all cases the representative must be a Belgian by birth or naturalisation. The King enjoys the power of dissolving the Chambers, either together or separately, but the decrees of dissolution must contain an edict
convoking the elective body within 40 days, and the Chambers within two months. Both Chambers are elected by the people, and the upper one, or Senate, consists of but one-half the uumber constituting the lower Chamber. A senator must be a Belgian resident within the kingdom, and 40 years old, and be rated as paying annually 1,000 florins direct taxes—something about £84 sterling. The Representatives are paid at the rate of £16 16s. monthly for their services during the session, but the senators, or members of the upper chamber, receive no pay.
The public INCOME (1874) was 9 millions sterling, against an EXPENDITURE of 9} millions. The public Debt is nearly 42į millions. The ARMY (including the reserve) numbers 74,000 infantry, 8,440 cavalry, 16,000 artillery, and 240 guns. There are 22 fortified places. It has no ship of war.
FRANCO-GERMAN WAR OF 1870-1.-On 29th July, 1870, Bismarck published a secret despatch in reference to the offer of Napoleon III. to incorporate Belgium. Its neutrality was thereupon guaranteed by England, with France and Prussia, i.e , with each against the other ; and this was strictly respected by both parties during the war. After Sedan, several thousand men found refuge in Belgium. On 28th March, 1871, the peace negotiations between Germany and France commenced at Brussels.
ARTS AND SCIENCES.—Since Belgium became an independent nation, a great spirit of emulation and desire of improvement has arisen among all classes of the population. There are universities at Brussels, Ghent, Liége, and Louvain. Energies have been awakened which have already achieved much in the cause of social and intellectual advancement, and which promise to accomplish more in the same honourable career. The government sustains and encourages the progress of science, learning, the fine arts, and literary tastes. Pensions are given to talented young men to enable them to develope the powers of their genius in foreign countries, by studying the works of the great masters; and a national exhibition is opened every year, in the large towns and cities successively, in which are displayed the paintings, sculptures, engravings, and designs of the best artists. The most meritorious works are rewarded by medals of gold, silver, and bronze.
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.—The Belgians have been successively subjected to the influence of so many different governments, that they, consequently, possess no distinctive and peculiar national character. The apathy and persevering industry of the Dutch is blended with the vivacity and self-assurance of the French, without producing an agreeable compound. The different provinces exhibit some variety of character and manners. On the borders of Holland the people are generally similar to the Dutch, and adopt their customs, amusements, and dress. But in the southern districts they differ little from the French, in appearance, habits, manners, costume, or language. The Belgians have always displayed a passionate love for social liberty, an impatience of control, that embroiled them with all their different rulers,
and involved them in ruinous disasters during many successive centuries. Writers of all ages agree in describing them as the most restless, unruly, tumult-loving mortals in existence, always treating their best rulers the worst, while the bad overawed them. In the history of no other country do we find such unbounded liberty, with such an invincible disposition to abuse it.
LANGUAGE.—About one-third of the population speaks the Picard and Walloon dialects of French; the other two-thirds speak Flemish, a variety of Dutch. It may be said that the boundaries of the Walloon and Flemish languages are marked by a line, drawn east from Gravelines to the Lys, and along that river to Menin, and thence east again to the Meuse, by the south of Brussels and Louvain, between Maestricht and Liége. South of this line Walloon is spoken, as at Verviers, Liége, and Namur; and Flemish north of it, including Brussels. A more undulating line, drawn from Menin to the frontier near Chimay, and intersecting the country between Valenciennes and Mons, would draw a demarcation between the two dialects of the French spoken in Belgium. On the west of this line the Picard dialect is spoken, and the Walloon on the east of it. French is the language of the educated classes.
WORKS OF ART.-SCHOOL OF PAINTING.—Belgium can boast of a brilliant history, not alone in reference to architecture; in her school of painting, we find an eminent degree of perfection characterising its productions, whilst its masters and students have been signally remarkable for their perfection in the art. This school may be looked upon as dating from two separate epochs, and may be designated the schools of Van Eyck and Rubens. The founders of the early school were the brothers Aubert and John Van Eyck, who are said to have lived between 1370 and 1445. The tone and character of their works, with those of their scholars, and the degree of perfection with which they had been executed, may be easily gleaned from their numerous productions still existing in Belgium, forming, as they do, a great attraction, and the study of which becomes a special object of interest in a Belgium tour. The traveller of taste will appreciate them as equalling, if not surpassing, in their excellence, the productions of their European contemporaries. So far back as 1358, a guild of painters was established at Bruges. This corporation of artists, in the reign of Philip the Good, enjoyed a deservedly eminent reputation, and in the days of Van Eyck we find, registered on its records, above three hundred names, constituting, as a whole, the most celebrated school of that period.
Though Van Eyck cannot be said to be the inventor of oil painting, yet he cannot be denied the credit of having been the perfector of, and may, in some measure, be esteemed the father of the art. The perfection to which he brought oil painting is fully seen, to the present day, in the deep brilliancy and liveliness discernible in all his works, which, by the freshness and perfect preservation of their colours, excite