CHAPTER XXXI. THE BELGIAN REVOLUTION, 1830-1842

During the last days of July, 1830, came the revolution at Paris that overthrew Charles X and placed the Duke of Orleans at the head of a constitutional monarchy with the title of Louis Philippe, King of the French. The Belgian liberals had always felt drawn towards France rather than Holland, and several of the more influential among them were in Paris during the days of July. Through their close intercourse with their friends in Brussels the news of all that had occurred spread rapidly, and was eagerly discussed. Probably at this time few contemplated the complete separation of Belgium from Holland, but rather looked to the northern and southern provinces becoming administratively autonomous under the same crown. This indeed appeared to be the only practical solution of the impasse which had been reached. Even had the king met the complaints of the Belgians by large concessions, had he dismissed Van Maanen, removed Libri-Bagnano from the editorship of the National, and created a responsible ministry - which he had no intention of doing - he could not have granted the demand for a representation of the south in the Second Chamber proportionate to the population. For this would have meant that the position of Holland would have henceforth been subordinate to that of Belgium; and to this the Dutch, proud of their history and achievements, would never have submitted. It had been proved that amalgamation was impossible, but the king personally was popular with those large sections of the Belgian mercantile and industrial population whose prosperity was so largely due to the royal care and paternal interest; and, had he consented to the setting-up of a separate administration at Brussels, he might by a conciliatory attitude have retained the loyalty of his Belgian subjects.

He did none of these things; but, when in August, he and his two sons paid a visit to Brussels at a time when the town was celebrating with festivities the holding of an exhibition of national industry, he was well received and was probably quite unaware of the imminence of the storm that was brewing. It had been intended to close the exhibition by a grand display of fireworks on the evening of August 23, and to have a general illumination on the king's birthday (August 24). But the king had hurried back to the Hague to keep his birthday, and during the preceding days there were abundant signs of a spirit of revolutionary ferment. Inscriptions were found on blank walls - Down with Van Maanen; Death to the Dutch; Down with Libri-Bagnano and the National; and, more ominous still, leaflets were distributed containing the words le 23 Aout, feu d'artifice; le 24 Aout, anniversaire du Roi; le 25 Aout, revolution.

In consequence of these indications of subterranean unrest, which were well known to Baron van der Fosse, the civil governor of Brabant, and to M. Kuyff, the head of the city police, the municipal authorities weakly decided on the ground of unfavourable weather to postpone the fireworks and the illumination. The evening of the 23rd, as it turned out, was exceedingly fine. At the same time the authorities permitted, on the evening of the 25th, the first performance of an opera by Scribe and Auber, entitled La Muette de Portici, which had been previously proscribed. The hero, Masaniello, headed a revolt at Naples in 1648 against foreign (Spanish) rule. The piece was full of patriotic, revolutionary songs likely to arouse popular passion.

The evening of the performance arrived, and the theatre was crowded. The excitement of the audience grew as the play proceeded; and the thunders of applause were taken up by the throng which had gathered outside. Finally the spectators rushed out with loud cries of vengeance against Libri-Bagnano and Van Maanen, in which the mob eagerly joined. Brussels was at that time a chosen shelter of political refugees, ready for any excesses; and a terrible riot ensued. The house of Van Maanen and the offices of the National were attacked, pillaged and burnt. The city was given over to wild confusion and anarchy; and many of the mob secured arms by the plunder of the gun-smiths' shops. Meanwhile the military authorities delayed action. Several small patrols were surrounded and compelled to surrender, while the main body of troops, instead of attacking and dispersing the rioters, was withdrawn and stationed in front of the royal palace. Thus by the extraordinary passiveness of Lieut.-General Bylandt, the military governor of the province, and of Major-General Wauthier, commandant of the city, who must have been acting under secret orders, the wild outbreak of the night began, as the next day progressed and the troops were still inactive, to assume more of the character of a revolution.