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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to John Rickman, 2 October 1815

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“Brussels, Oct. 2. 1815.
“My dear Rickman,

“I wish you had been with me at Ghent, where the Beguines have their principal establishment. The Beguinage is a remarkable place, at one end of the city, and entirely enclosed. You enter through a gateway, where there is a statue of S. Elizabeth of
Hungary, the patroness of the establishment. The space enclosed is, I should think, not less than the area of the whole town of Keswick or of Christ Church; and the Beguinage itself, unlike almshouse, college, village, or town: a collection of contiguous houses of different sizes, each with a small garden in front, and a high brick wall enclosing them all; over every door the name of some saint under whose protection the house is placed, but no opening through which anything can be seen. There are several streets thus built, with houses on both sides. There is a large church within the enclosure, a burying-ground, without any grave-stones; and a branch from one of the innumerable rivers with which Ghent is intersected, in which the washing of the community is performed from a large boat; and a large piece of ground, planted with trees, where the clothes are dried. One, who was the second person in the community, accosted us, showed us the interior, and gave us such explanation as we desired, for we had with us a lady who spoke French. It is curious that she knew nothing of the origin of her order, and could not even tell by whom it was founded; but I have purchased here the Life of S. Bega, from whom it derived its name, and in this book I expect to find the whole history.

“There are about 6000 Beguines in Brabant and Flanders, to which countries they are confined; 620 were residents in the Beguinage. They were rich before the Revolution. Their lands were then taken from them, and they were obliged to lay aside the dress of the order; but this was only done in part,
Ætat. 42. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 129
because they were supported by public opinion; and being of evident utility to all ranks, few were disposed to injure them. They receive the sick who come to them, and support and attend them as long as the illness requires. They are bound by no vow, and my informant assured me, with evident pride, that no instance of a Beguine leaving the establishment had ever been known. She herself had entered it after the death of her husband; and I suppose their numbers are generally, if not wholly, filled up by women who seek a retreat, or need an asylum from the world. The property which a Beguine brings with her reverts to her heir-at-law. At the Revolution, the church of the Beguinage was sold, as confiscated religious property. This sale was a mere trick, or, in English phrase, a job to accommodate some partisan of the ruling demagogues with ready money. Such a man bought it, and in the course of two or three weeks resold it to two sisters of the community for 300 Louis d’ors, and they made it over again to the order. There is a refectory, where they dine in common if they please, or, if they please, have dinner sent from thence to their own chambers. We went into three chambers,—small, furnished with little more than necessary comforts, but having all these, and remarkably clean. In one, a Beguine, who had been bed-ridden many years, was sitting up and knitting. We were taken into the chamber, because it amused her to see visitors. She was evidently pleased at seeing us, and remarkably cheerful. In another apartment, two sisters were spinning, one of eighty-five, the other of eighty-three years of age.
In all this there is less information than I should have given you, if my tongue had not been the most antigallican in the world, and the Flemish French not very intelligible to my interpreter. The dress is convenient, but abominably ugly. I shall endeavour to get a doll equipped in it. The place itself I wish you could see; and, indeed, you would find a visit to Bruges and Ghent abundantly overpaid by the sight of those cities (famous as they are in history), and of a country, every inch of which is well husbanded.

“Bruges is, without exception, the most striking place I ever visited, though it derives nothing from situation. It seems to have remained in the same state for above 200 years; nothing has been added, and hardly anything gone to decay. What ruin has occurred there, was the work of frantic revolutionists, who destroyed all the statues in the niches of the Stadtt House, and demolished an adjoining church, one of the finest in the town. The air of antiquity and perfect preservation is such, that it carries you back to the age of the Tudors or of Froissart; and the whole place is in keeping. The poorest inhabitants seem to be well lodged; and if the cultivation of the ground and the well-being of the people be the great objects of civilisation, I should almost conclude that no part of the world was so highly civilised as this. At Ghent there is more business, more inequality, a greater mixture of French manners, and the alloy of vice and misery in proportion. Brussels, in like manner, exceeds Ghent, and is, indeed, called a second Paris. The modern part of the city is per-
Ætat. 42. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 131
fectly Parisian; the older, and especially the great square, Flemish. . . . .

“We have seen the whole field of battle, or rather all the fields, and vestiges enough of the contest, though it is almost wonderful to observe how soon nature recovers from all her injuries. The fields are cultivated again, and wild flowers are in blossom upon some of the graves.* The Scotchmen—‘those men without breeches’—have the credit of the day at Waterloo.

“The result of what I have collected is an opinion that the present settlement of these countries is not likely to be durable. The people feel at present pretty much as a bird who is rescued from the claw of one eagle by the beak of another. The Rhine is regarded as a proper boundary for Prussia; and it is as little desired that she should pass that river as that France should reach it. There is a spirit of independence here, which has been outraged, but from which much good might arise if it were conciliated. This, I am inclined to think, would be best done by forming a wide confederacy, leaving to each of the confederates its own territory, laws, &c.; and this might be extended from the frontiers of France to the Hanseatic cities. One thing I am certain, that

“The passing season had not yet effaced
The stamp of numerous hoofs impressed by force,
Of cavalry, whose path might still be traced.
Yet Nature everywhere resumed her course;
Low pansies to the sun their purple gave,
And the soft poppy blossomed on the grave.”

such arrangements would satisfy everybody, except those sovereigns who would lose by it. I am aware how short a time I have been in the country, and how liable men, under such circumstances, are to be deceived; by it I have taken the utmost pains to acquire all the knowledge within my reach, and have been singularly fortunate in the means which have fallen in my way. The merest accident brought me acquainted with a Liegois, a great manufacturer, &c., and I have not found that men talk to me with the less confidence because I am not a freemason. . . . .

“We turn our face homeward to-morrow, by way of Maestricht and Louvaine to Brussels. The delay here will possibly oblige us to give up Antwerp. However, on the whole, I have every reason to be pleased with the journey. No month of my life was ever better employed. God bless you!

R. S.”