HERMAN VANDER LINDEN (1868–1956)
Belgium: The Making Of A Nation (1920)
"This history of Belgium from the earliest times down to 1914 is in the main a translation of the Vue générale de l'histoire de Belgique published in Paris in 1918. The last three chapters, covering the period since the establishment of the kingdom in 1831, were, however, specially written by the author for the English edition. The book is an excellent compendium, well-informed, well-balanced, well-considered. The confused annals of the middle ages are presented with as reasonable clarity as is permissible considering the tangle. " No land," says the author, " possesses a more international history—a fact which has been brought out with wonderful skill by Henri Pirenne—and it is not paradoxical to assert that one of the characteristics of Belgian nationality is internationalism."
A bone of contention between the rulers of Germany and France and Burgundy, subjected to Spain and then to Austria and for twenty years to France under the Revolution and Napoleon, and finally attached for fifteen years to Holland by the wisdom of the Congress of Vienna, only in the end to be set up as a separate household in 1831, the low land of Belgium has been exposed to every kind of weather and has experienced every strain. "Feudalism began there earlier than elsewhere and became more anarchic than in other places." This the author shows, as he also shows the emergence of Brabant and Flanders, of Luxembourg, of Artois and Hainaut. The splendor of this medieval life in art and commerce, the rich development of urban communities, signified externally by imposing halls and marvelous belfries, the progress of the bourgeoisie to a power and a prosperity that made the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries legendary in the annals of that class, the long period of Spanish rule, fatal in that it involved Belgium in a series of disastrous wars, not only against the United Provinces but also against France, all these and many other aspects of the political, artistic, literary and economic life of this people are here set forth with a concision that does not mean desiccation, with a sympathy that never turns into chauvinism and with a penetration that never degenerates into pedantry. The result is an admirable little book which contrives in some three hundred pages to present not only the territorial and institutional growth of a nation, but the development of a national mind and character as well. All this is possible because the author selects his topics with discretion and discernment and treats them with a simplicity and a directness that waste no time or space.
The results of the Franco-German war, says the author, were disastrous for Belgium. Alsace and Lorraine passed into the hands of Germany, and the valley of the Meuse thus became the obvious line of operations in the event of a new war between Germany and France. This was seen by a few shortly after 1870, to become obvious to all much later. Now that the tempest has swept by leaving colossal ravages in its wake, now that Alsace-Lorraine is no longer German, now that the famous and precarious neutralization of Belgium has been abandoned, and now that the national spirit has been heightened, the national independence consolidated as never before, the future of this highly industrialized nation seems assured. It would be difficult to find the fundamental reasons for this optimism more adequately exposed within a brief compass than in this instructive and trustworthy book." (Charles Downer Hazen, Political Science Quarterly, 06/1922)
Suggest and discuss books to read (all languages welcome!)
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