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Education had felt the onward movement of the country and the times. The whole system was, however, pervaded by the monastic spirit, which had originally preserved all learning from annihilation, but which now kept it wrapped in the ancient cerecloths, and stiffening in the stony sarcophagus of a bygone age. The university of Louvain was the chief literary institution in the provinces. It had been established in 1423 by Duke John IV. of Brabant. Its government consisted of a President and Senate, forming a close corporation, which had received from the founder all his own authority, and the right to supply their own vacancies. The five faculties of law, canon law, medicine, theology, and the arts, were cultivated at the institution. There was, besides, a high school for under graduates, divided into four classes. The place reeked with pedantry, and the character of the university naturally diffused itself through other scholastic establishments. Nevertheless, it had done and was doing much to preserve the love for profound learning, while the rapidly advancing spirit of commerce was attended by an ever increasing train of humanizing arts.

The standard of culture in those flourishing cities was elevated, compared with that observed in many parts of Europe. The children of the wealthier classes enjoyed great facilities for education in all the great capitals. The classics, music, and the modern languages, particularly the French, were universally cultivated. Nor was intellectual cultivation confined to the higher orders. On the contrary, it was diffused to a remarkable degree among the hard-working artisans and handicraftsmen of the great cities.

For the principle of association had not confined itself exclusively to politics and trade. Besides the numerous guilds by which citizenship was acquired in the various cities, were many other societies for mutual improvement, support, or recreation. The great secret, architectural or masonic brotherhood of Germany, that league to which the artistic and patient completion of the magnificent works of Gothic architecture in the middle ages is mainly to be attributed, had its branches in nether Germany, and explains the presence of so many splendid and elaborately finished churches in the provinces. There were also military sodalities of musketeers, cross-bowmen, archers, swordsmen in every town. Once a year these clubs kept holiday, choosing a king, who was selected for his prowess and skill in the use of various weapons. These festivals, always held with great solemnity and rejoicing, were accompanied bye many exhibitions of archery and swordsmanship. The people were not likely, therefore, voluntarily to abandon that privilege and duty of freemen, the right to bear arms, and the power to handle them.

Another and most important collection of brotherhoods were the so-called guilds of Rhetoric, which existed, in greater or less number, in all the principal cities. These were associations of mechanics, for the purpose of amusing their leisure with poetical effusions, dramatic and musical exhibitions, theatrical processions, and other harmless and not inelegant recreations. Such chambers of rhetoric came originally in the fifteenth century from France. The fact that in their very title they confounded rhetoric with poetry and the drama indicates the meagre attainments of these early "Rederykers." In the outset of their career they gave theatrical exhibitions. "King Herod and his Deeds" was enacted in the cathedral at Utrecht in 1418. The associations spread with great celerity throughout the Netherlands, and, as they were all connected with each other, and in habits of periodical intercourse, these humble links of literature were of great value in drawing the people of the provinces into closer union. They became, likewise, important political engines. As early as the time of Philip the Good, their songs and lampoons became so offensive to the arbitrary notions of the Burgundian government, as to cause the societies to be prohibited. It was, however, out of the sovereign's power permanently to suppress institutions, which already partook of the character of the modern periodical press combined with functions resembling the show and licence of the Athenian drama. Viewed from the stand-point of literary criticism their productions were not very commendable in taste, conception, or execution. To torture the Muses to madness, to wire-draw poetry through inextricable coils of difficult rhymes and impossible measures; to hammer one golden grain of wit into a sheet of infinite platitude, with frightful ingenuity to construct ponderous anagrams and preternatural acrostics, to dazzle the vulgar eye with tawdry costumes, and to tickle the vulgar ear with virulent personalities, were tendencies which perhaps smacked of the hammer, the yard-stick and the pincers, and gave sufficient proof, had proof been necessary, that literature is not one of the mechanical arts, and that poetry can not be manufactured to a profit by joint stock companies. Yet, if the style of these lucubrations was often depraved, the artisans rarely received a better example from the literary institutions above them. It was not for guilds of mechanics to give the tone to literature, nor were their efforts in more execrable taste than the emanations from the pedants of Louvain. The "Rhetoricians" are not responsible for all the bad taste of their generation. The gravest historians of the Netherlands often relieved their elephantine labors by the most asinine gambols, and it was not to be expected that these bustling weavers and cutlers should excel their literary superiors in taste or elegance.

Philip the Fair enrolled himself as a member in one of these societies. It may easily be inferred, therefore, that they had already become bodies of recognized importance. The rhetorical chambers existed in the most obscure villages. The number of yards of Flemish poetry annually manufactured and consumed throughout the provinces almost exceed belief. The societies had regular constitutions. Their presiding officers were called kings, princes, captains, archdeacons, or rejoiced in similar high-sounding names. Each chamber had its treasurer, its buffoon, and its standard-bearer for public processions. Each had its peculiar title or blazon, as the Lily, the Marigold, or the Violet, with an appropriate motto. By the year 1493, the associations had become so important, that Philip the Fair summoned them all to a general assembly at Mechlin. Here they were organized, and formally incorporated under the general supervision of an upper or mother-society of Rhetoric, consisting of fifteen members, and called by the title of "Jesus with the balsam flower."

The sovereigns were always anxious to conciliate these influential guilds by becoming members of them in person. Like the players, the Rhetoricians were the brief abstract and chronicle of the time, and neither prince nor private person desired their ill report. It had, indeed, been Philip's intention to convert them into engines for the arbitrary purposes of his house, but fortunately the publicly organized societies were not the only chambers. On the contrary, the unchartered guilds were the moat numerous and influential. They exercised a vast influence upon the progress of the religious reformation, and the subsequent revolt of the Netherlands. They ridiculed, with their farces and their satires, the vices of the clergy. They dramatized tyranny for public execration. It was also not surprising, that among the leaders of the wild anabaptists who disgraced the great revolution in church and state by their hideous antics, should be found many who, like David of Delft, John of Leyden, and others, had been members of rhetorical chambers. The genius for mummery and theatrical exhibitions, transplanted from its sphere, and exerting itself for purposes of fraud and licentiousness, was as baleful in its effects as it was healthy in its original manifestations. Such exhibitions were but the excrescences of a system which had borne good fruit. These literary guilds befitted and denoted a people which was alive, a people which had neither sunk to sleep in the lap of material prosperity, nor abased itself in the sty of ignorance and political servitude. The spirit of liberty pervaded these rude but not illiterate assemblies, and her fair proportions were distinctly visible, even through the somewhat grotesque garb which she thus assumed.

The great leading recreations which these chambers afforded to themselves and the public, were the periodic jubilees which they celebrated in various capital cities. All the guilds of rhetoric throughout the Netherlands were then invited to partake and to compete in magnificent processions, brilliant costumes, living pictures, charades, and other animated, glittering groups, and in trials of dramatic and poetic skill, all arranged under the superintendence of the particular association which, in the preceding year, had borne away the prize. Such jubilees were called "Land jewels."

From the amusements of a people may be gathered much that is necessary for a proper estimation of its character. No unfavorable opinion can be formed as to the culture of a nation, whose weavers, smiths, gardeners, and traders, found the favorite amusement of their holidays in composing and enacting tragedies or farces, reciting their own verses, or in personifying moral and esthetic sentiments by ingeniously-arranged groups, or gorgeous habiliments. The cramoisy velvets and yellow satin doublets of the court, the gold-brocaded mantles of priests and princes are often but vulgar drapery of little historic worth. Such costumes thrown around the swart figures of hard-working artisans, for literary and artistic purposes, have a real significance, and are worthy of a closer examination. Were not these amusements of the Netherlanders as elevated and humanizing as the contemporary bull-fights and autos-da-fe of Spain? What place in history does the gloomy bigot merit who, for the love of Christ, converted all these gay cities into shambles, and changed the glittering processions of their Land jewels into fettered marches to the scaffold?

Thus fifteen ages have passed away, and in the place of a horde of savages, living among swamps and thickets, swarm three millions of people, the most industrious, the most prosperous, perhaps the most intelligent under the sun. Their cattle, grazing on the bottom of the sea, are the finest in Europe, their agricultural products of more exchangeable value than if nature had made their land to overflow with wine and oil. Their navigators are the boldest, their mercantile marine the most powerful, their merchants the most enterprising in the world. Holland and Flanders, peopled by one race, vie with each other in the pursuits of civilization. The Flemish skill in the mechanical and in the fine arts is unrivalled. Belgian musicians delight and instruct other nations, Belgian pencils have, for a century, caused the canvas to glow with colors and combinations never seen before. Flemish fabrics are exported to all parts of Europe, to the East and West Indies, to Africa. The splendid tapestries, silks, linens, as well as the more homely and useful manufactures of the Netherlands, are prized throughout the world. Most ingenious, as they had already been described by the keen-eyed Caesar, in imitating the arts of other nations, the skillful artificers of the country at Louvain, Ghent, and other places, reproduce the shawls and silks of India with admirable accuracy.

Their national industry was untiring; their prosperity unexampled; their love of liberty indomitable; their pugnacity proverbial. Peaceful in their pursuits, phlegmatic by temperament, the Netherlands were yet the most belligerent and excitable population of Europe. Two centuries of civil war had but thinned the ranks of each generation without quenching the hot spirit of the nation.

The women were distinguished by beauty of form and vigor of constitution. Accustomed from childhood to converse freely with all classes and sexes in the daily walks of life, and to travel on foot or horseback from one town to another, without escort and without fear, they had acquired manners more frank and independent than those of women in other lands, while their morals were pure and their decorum undoubted. The prominent part to be sustained by the women of Holland in many dramas of the revolution would thus fitly devolve upon a class, enabled by nature and education to conduct themselves with courage.

Within the little circle which encloses the seventeen provinces are 208 walled cities, many of them among the most stately in Christendom, 150 chartered towns, 6,300 villages, with their watch-towers and steeples, besides numerous other more insignificant hamlets; the whole guarded by a belt of sixty fortresses of surpassing strength.

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