Letters from Brussels

Sergei M. Soloviev, the great Russian historian, visited Brussels in 1842 (possibly 1843) as a young graduate of the Moscow University. He wrote of Belgium with great warmth:

… 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 given me comforting proof that liberty is compatible with religiosity and grows stronger from this union, that nations that are predominantly businesslike are always religious.

Curiously, Charlotte and Emily Brontë were probably living in Brussels as student-teachers when Soloviev visited the city. In The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1957), Elizabeth Gaskell quotes a letter Charlotte sent from Belgium in 1842:

If the national character of the Belgians is to be measured by the character of most of the girls is this school, it in a character singularly cold, selfish, animal, and inferior. They are very mutinous and difficult for the teachers to manage; and their principles are rotten to the core…

Catholic worship gets an honorable mention, too:

My advice to all Protestants who are tempted to do anything so besotted as turn Catholics, is, to walk over the sea on to the Continent; to attend mass sedulously for a time; to note well the mummeries thereof; also the idiotic, mercenary aspect of all the priests; and then, if they are still disposed to consider Papistry in any other light than a most feeble, childish piece of humbug, let them turn Papists at once – that’s all.

An interesting contrast. Charlotte Brontë was 26 at that time; Soloviev was only 22.

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