In 1889 King Leopold announced that he had by his will bequeathed the Congo state to Belgium, and in 1890 the Belgian government, in return for financial help, acquired the right of annexing the country under certain conditions. At later dates definite proposals for immediate annexation were considered but not adopted, the king showing a strong disinclination to cede the state, while among the mass of the Belgians the disinclination to annex was equally strong. It was not until terrible reports as to the misgovernment of the Congo created a strong agitation for reform in Great Britain, America and other countries responsible for having aided in the creation of the state, that public opinion in Belgium seriously concerned itself with the subject. The result was that in November 1907 a new treaty of cession was presented to the Belgian chambers, while in March 1908 an additional act modified one of the most objectionable features of the treaty—a clause by which the king retained control of the revenue of a vast territory within the Congo which he had declared to be his private property. A colonial law, also submitted to the chambers, secured for Belgium in case of annexation complete parliamentary control over the Congo state, and the bill for annexation was finally passed in September 1908.
Bibliography.—Th. Juste, Histoire de la Belgique (2 vols., 1853); La Révolution belge de 1830 (2 vols., 1872); Congrès national de Belgique (2 vols., 1880); Memoirs of Leopold I. (2 vols., 1868); De Gerlache, Histoire du royaume des Pays-Bas (3 vols., 1859); D. C. Boulger, The History of Belgium, part i. (1900); C. White, The Belgic Revolution of 1830 (2 vols., 1835); Moke and Hubert, Histoire de Belgique (jusque 1885) (1892); L. Hymans, Histoire parlementaire de la Belgique (1830-1899); Cinquante ans de liberté (4 vols., 1881); J. J. Thonissen La Belgique sous le règne de Leopold Ier (4 vols., 1855-1858); De Laveleye, Le Parti clérical en Belgique (1874); Vandervelde and Destree, Le Socialisme belge (1898); C. Woeste, Vingt ans de polémique (1890); Hamelius, Le Mouvement flamand (1894).
Belgian literature, taken in the widest sense of the term, falls into three groups, consisting of works written respectively in Flemish, Walloon and French. The earlier Flemish authors are treated under Dutch Literature; the revival of Flemish Literature (q.v.) since the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1830, and Walloon Literature (q.v.), are each separately noticed. The earlier French writers born on what is now Belgian territory—e.g. Adenès le Rois, Jean Froissart, Jean Lemaire des Belges and others—are included in the general history of French Literature (q.v.). It remains to consider the literature written by Belgians in French during the 19th century, and its rapid development since the revolution of 1831.
Belgian writers were commonly charged with provincialism, but the prejudice against them has been destroyed by the brilliant writers of 1870-1880. It was also asserted that Belgian French literature lacked a national basis, and was merely a reflection of Parisian models. The most important section of it, however, has a distinctive quality of its own. Many of its most distinguished exponents are Flemings by birth, and their writings reflect the characteristic Flemish scenery; they have the sensuousness, the colour and the realism of Flemish art; and on the other hand the tendency to mysticism, to abstraction, is far removed from the lucidity and definiteness associated with French literature properly so-called. This profoundly national character disengaged itself gradually, and has been more strikingly evident since 1870. The earlier writers of the century were content to follow French tradition.
The events of 1830-1831 gave a great stimulus to Belgian letters, but the country possessed writers of considerable merit before that date. Adolphe Mathieu (1802-1876) belongs to the earlier half of the century, although the tenth and last volume of his Œuvres en vers was only printed in 1870. His later works show the influence of the Romantic revival. Auguste Clavareau (1787-1864), a mediocre poet, an imitator of the French and Dutch, produced some successful comedies, but he ceased to write plays before 1830. Édouard Smits (1789-1852) showed romantic tendencies in his tragedies of Marie de Bourgogne (1823), Elfrida (1825), and Jeanne de Flandre (1828). The first of these had a great success, partly no doubt because of its patriotic subject. For four years before 1830 André van Hasselt (q.v.) had been publishing his verses in the Sentinelle des Pays-Bas, and from 1829 onwards he was an ardent romanticist. A burst of literary and artistic activity followed the Revolution; and van Hasselt’s house became a centre of poets, artists and musicians of the romantic school. The best work of the Belgian romanticists is in the rich and picturesque prose of the 16th century romance of Charles de Coster (see De Coster), and in the melancholy and semi-philosophical writings of the moralist Octave Pirmez (q.v.). The Poésies (1841) and the Chansons (1866) of Antoine Clesse (1816-1889), have been compared with the work of Béranger; and the Catholic party found a champion against the liberals and revolutionists in the satirical poet, Benoît Quinet (b. 1819). Among the famous dramatic pieces of this epoch was the André Chénier (1843) of Édouard Wacken (1819-1861), who was a lyric rather than a dramatic poet; also the comedies of Louis Labarre (1810-1892) and of Henri Delmotte (1822-1884). Charles Potvin (1818-1902), a poet and a dramatist, is best known by a patriotic Histoire des lettres en Belgique, forming vol. iv. of the Belgian compilation, Cinquante ans de liberté (1882), and by his essays in literary history. Eugène van Bemmel (1824-1880) established an excellent historical tradition in his Histoire de la Belgique (1880), reproducing textually the original authorities, and also edited a Belgian Encyclopaedia (1873-1875), the Patria Belgica. Baron E. C. de Gerlache (1785-1871) wrote the history of the Netherlands from the ultramontane standpoint. The romanticists were attacked in an amusing satire, Les Voyages et aventures de M. Alfred Nicolas (1835), by François Grandgagnage (1797-1877), who was a nationalist in the narrowest sense, and regarded the movement as an indefensible invasion of foreign ideas. The best of the novelists of this period, excluding Charles de Coster, was perhaps Estelle Ruelens (née Crèvecœur; 1821-1878); she wrote under the pseudonym of “Caroline Gravière.” Her tales were collected by the bibliophile “P. L. Jacob” (Paris, 1873-1874).
The whole of this literature derived more or less from foreign sources, and, with the exception of Charles de Coster and Octave Pirmez, produced no striking figures. De Coster died in 1879, and Pirmez in 1883, and the new movement in Belgian literature dates from the banquet given in the latter year to Camille Lemonnier (q.v.) whose powerful personality did much to turn “Young Belgium” into a national channel. Lemonnier himself cannot be exclusively claimed by any of the conflicting schools of young writers. He was by turns naturalist, lyrist and symbolist; and it has been claimed that the germs of all the later developments in Belgian letters may be traced in his work. The quinquennial prize of literature had been refused to his Un mâle, and the younger generation of artists and men of letters gave him a banquet which was recognized as a protest against the official literature, represented by Louis Hymans (1829-1884), Gustave Frédérix (b. 1834), the literary critic of L’Indépendance belge, and others. The centres around which the young writers were grouped were two reviews, L’Art moderne and La Jeune Belgique. L’Art moderne was founded in 1882 by Edmond Picard, who had as his chief supporters Victor Arnould and Octave Maus. The first editor of La Jeune Belgique was M. Warlomont (1860-1889), known under the pen-name of “Max Waller.” This review, which owed much of its success to Waller’s energy, defended the intense preoccupation of the new writers with questions of style, and became the depository of the Parnassian tradition in Belgium. It had among its early contributors Georges Eekhoud, Albert Giraud, Iwan Gilkin and Georges Rodenbach. Edmond Picard (b. 1836) was one of the foremost in the battle. He was well known as an advocate in Brussels, and made a considerable contribution to jurisprudence as the chief writer of the Pandectes belges (1886-1890). His Pro arte (1886) was a kind of literary code for the young Belgian writers. His novels, of which La Forge Roussel (1881) is a good example, were succeeded in 1902-1903 by two plays, Jéricho and Fatigue de vivre.
Georges Eekhoud, born at Antwerp on the 27th of May 1854, was in some ways the most passionately Flemish of the whole