Brussels in 1842

Sergei M. Soloviev (or Solovyov; 1820-1879), the prominent Russian historian, graduated from the Moscow University in 1842 and spent the next two years traveling in Europe. The journey was made possible by his employment as the tutor to the children of a rich, upper-class family who were living abroad at that time. Thankfully, Soloviev did not have to stay with the family all the time, which gave him a chance to visit places that did not interest his employers. Soloviev described his impressions of Europe in his Notes for My Children and for Others, If Possible, not intended for print, but eventually published in 1907.

…if I had traveled with the Stroganovs, I would not have seen anything, for they journeyed from Bohemia to Paris and back with tightly shut eyes, only caring about getting there as soon as possible, and laughed at those Russians who, like the English and the Germans, would stop everywhere to observe everything curious; this sneering shows the best the nature of senior St. Petersburg bureaucrats, who have lost interest to everything but minor plots of ambition. From Mainz I set out for Cologne on a steamboat down the Rhine. The banks of the Rhine struck me strongly the first time, less so the second, and the third time I spent the whole day in my cabin, dealing with my papers.

But Belgium made an equally favorable impression on me both the first and the second time, with its neat, purely European industry [lit. “work”] seen everywhere and with inordinate activity, especially on railroads, where they are not content to serve you drinks and snacks but also offer cheap Brussels editions of French writings; and the cities – with their heroic medieval history, their blooming present, their freedom and piety, their churches full of works of art and worshipers – not women, as in France, but men, and young men at that! Belgium has served me as a comforting proof that liberty is compatible with religiosity and becomes stronger from this union, that nations that are predominantly businesslike are always religious.

Soon, Paris would completely bedazzle the young man, studious yet always open to new impressions.


  1. Belgium was the first Continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution. It became a role model for small countries, particularly Romania. The Romanians knew that imitating France was a bit overambitious so they tried to turn their country into the “Belgium of the East” instead. Belgium had a Romance-speaking elite, a very “progressive” constitution and – unlike France – it was a monarchy.

    • I didn’t know that. Belgium was a new state and a liberal constitutional monarchy, so I can understand the logic of imitation. However, Belgium’s constituent communities were very old: it was a conglomerate of free cities with long histories. Almost impossible to imitate.

      • Well, I don’t think anybody believes Romania was particularly successful in its imitation.

        • The constitution did no harm, I imagine, other than by making it easier for landowners to block land reform and other radical measures needed for capitalist industrialization.

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