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A BELGIAN SCHOOL EXHIBITION.
OUVAIN has its fascination for the scholar, the antiquary,
and the artist, because of its old-time prestige in the world of letters and science, its archæological relics and its noble mediæval art, but hitherto it had possessed its main interest for me in its association with the name of Ireland's "patient sad Four Masters.” Coming out of the Burgundian
' Library in Brussels, one day, I passed through the Salle d'Exposition, looking in routine fashion at the various old manuscripts displayed there, when the following title caught my eye, “ The Martyrology of the O'Gorman." Underneath were the familiar Celtic characters. The ink had faded on the withered parchment, the hand that had penned this record of Ireland's deathless faith had been stilled in a Louvain friary close on 300 years ago.
I resolved to take an early opportunity of visiting the scene of Michael O'Clery's labours. Accompanied by an Irish friend, I set out on a delightful day in August, to make a pilgrimage to Louvain. The electric tram from Brussels took us a portion of the way.
It carried us through the glorious forest of Loignies—that munificent gift of their King to the people of Brussels. The shade of the luxuriant woods was grateful after the glare and trimness of Brussels, and the sight of some soldiers manæuvering among the trees recalled memories of Napoleon and the Iron Duke.
At Tervueren we changed to the steam tram which runs from this point to Louvain. In the tram car we found a lady with whom we had some acquaintance Miss X—the Directress of a large commercial school in one of the suburbs of the capital, and a happy looking Belgian matron with three children.
The country through which our journey lay suggested to Irish visitors many points of contrast with the land from which they had come.
To the aesthetic sense it did not appeal powerfully, in this respect Ireland had distinctly the advantage over it, and, if scenic beauty was all one had to look for in a landscape, a comparison would be wholly in favour of Ireland. But
à people cannot live upon the beauty of its scenery.
There is a practical side to life, and, as things are in a world in which industry is the first condition of existence, this practical side is the most prominent. The country before us, richly cultivated, the home of evident plenty and prosperity, suggested recollections of another country upon which waste and hardship have set their seal, a country "whose beauteous face is furrowed
a by sorrow's streaming rains.”
Where in Ireland could one find a tract cultivated as this Belgian plain? No hedges and ditches to occupy a fourth part of the available space. No headlands abandoned to weeds and briars. Not even that strip of waste by the roadside which hospitable Ireland reserves for the donkey of the wandering tinker. Every square foot utilized to its full capacity, the whole a vast sea of vegetation--oats, wheat, barley, and green cropsundulating in waves of green and gold, with the tiled roofs of the neat homesteads breaking the level of the fertile expanse. Fruit trees, too, in abundance, massed in orchards round the peasant houses, or standing, apparently unprotected, by the roadside, and laden with fruit which would compare favourably with the much praised products of the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire orchards. The smaller fruit, also, seemed to thrive in profusion.
Here the question presented itself: Are there no small boys in this part of the country, or is there some law which bans their activity in the vicinity of lands under fruit cultivation? In Ireland, what should be one of the most promising industries is retarded by the fear of the terrible small boy, his insatiable appetite for apples and his utter disregard of any precept bidding him respect his neighbour's goods when these goods take the form of fruit.
That there is grave foundation for this fear I very well know. The appearance of some small boys coming up a byeroad at this moment answered my question. They did exist and were suffered to enjoy liberty. Did the good things of the earth, among them apples, not appeal to the palate of the little Belgian boy as temptingly as to his little Irish brother ? I had thought the psychology of the small boy was the same the world over.
It was a Flemish district. The Flemish are renowned for their appreciation of the beautiful in art. Does this saving quality imbue their young population with a practical appreciation of the harmony of the moral order? Do they shudder at the mere idea of purloining their neighbours's fruit?
Unable to solve the problem I turned to Mademoiselle X. and asked her for the solution. Her answer had nothing to do with psychology. The laws were very stringent, the magistrates inflexible, and the little Belgian boy preferred liberty without dessert to the solitary confinement that is inexorably enforced, to enable doubtful little boys to discriminate between "meum and “tuum" when any practical confusion arises. A paying industry is thus allowed to flourish.
Satisfied in this matter, I asked Mademoiselle X. if she knew the Franciscan friary in Louvain. She did not, but Madame, who, in spite of those three unruly children, had been continually beaming on her fellow-passengers, signified that she did. I learnt afterwards that it is part of the school discipline of a Belgian girl to “porter la belle figure," no matter how great the weight of personal care may be; a very good precept, founded on the utilitarian principle, that to laugh at the world will induce it to laugh with you.
Madame knew the monastery. It was very ancient; the brother of Monsieur her« beau frere". was in orders there. Providence was kind: now I should hear all I wanted to know.
Of course, Madame had heard of the saintly Irish brother, Michael O'Clery, whose abode in the Louvain friary was the cause of muy journey to-day.
“Michel O'Kleerie!” No, Madame had not, "at least not under that name. What was his name in religion? Was he one of the younger friars not long in residence there ?',
I explained that the “poor brother of the Order of St. Francis," of whom I spoke, was a compatriot, who had immortalised the annals of our country, and had died in the 17th century at the friary, which reverence to his memory was inducing me to visit.
Madame's constant smile gave place to an expression of wonder, and, in reply to my further questions, she replied that it was possible some of the friars might know something of my countryman, but, that as this was their "retreat” week, it would be impossible for us to gain admission to the monastery.
Madame was sorry for our disappointment. Seeing our evident interest in the country, she told us she was visiting a school
exhibition near Louvain, where her eldest daughter was one of 1,000 pupils. It was a convent school, kept by an order of teaching sisters, and, she suggested, as our journey had missed its main object, we might like to visit this school. The place was worth seeing. It was not one of the most expensive schools, but the education was as good and complete as that given in the more costly establishments. It was chiefly intended for the daughters of the bourgeoise, and aimed at giving them an education suitable to their condition, and one which would enable them to make a decent livelihood.
Madame approved of the education given: it had a religious basis, and preserved in the pupils the simplicity of, and taste for, family life. The girls were trained in housekeeping and general knowledge of home duties, and always with a view to the tasks which lay before them in real life.
“I should not,” continued Madame, “like my daughter to come home to me with expensive tastes, which the limitations of my purse cannot satisfy, with an impatience of home duties which, as the eldest, she must undertake, a mass of worldly affectation, resenting the change to home life, and consumed with envy, because fortune did not permit her to enjoy the same life as Mademoiselle la Baronne.
“My daughter is 16 years of age, she is finishing her études moyennes, and is now in the 'section agricole ménagère,' and can already superintend most of the wark on a farm. She has been a pupil of the sisters from the kindergarten stage upwards.”
Here was occupation for the day we thought we had lost. We felt interested in the exhibition of the work of a country school. We had already visited exhibitions of city schools in Brussels ; they are prominent objects of attention towards the end of the month of July. The visitor to the city comes upon a street gaily decorated with flags and bunting, and on inquiring the reason of this display, is told that a school “ exposition ” is proceeding in some school of the neighbourhood. This festivity to celebrate an exhibition of schoolwork! Why, it is quite enough for the commemoration of an event of national importance, and the free use of the “ Drapeau Belge’ would lead one to think that something was afoot which affected the nation as
And it is only a school exposition des travaux des élèves,”
This is our way of estimating these things, but it is not the Belgian. To the Belgians a school exhibition is an event of national importance. They regard their schools as one of the chief factors in their national life, and there is no use to which, they conceive, the national flag could be more worthily put than to celebrate school successes. The public take an interest which we should regard as extravagant in these shows of schoolwork ; they readily pay their half franc to gain admittance, and they spend their time freely in examining and criticising the exhibits. On all these exhibitions—so far as we had seen them—was writ large the purpose of the educationist to combine utility with beauty. There was much that was highly artistic, much thąt gave evidence of a careful cultivation of the aesthetic sense. But, everywhere, the end sought was the perfection of practical work, the aim to make the pupil a finished worker in his or her sphere.
Curious to know something of the history of these schools, whose successes we had seen celebrated in such fashion, I addressed myself to Mademoiselle X, whose knowledge of the subject I might assume to be complete. From her I learned the following details.
The first professional school was started in Brussels in 1865, by the “ Association for the professional teaching of women.' It was wholly a private enterprise. It had for its declared purpose to improve the chances in life of young girls, whose lot obliged them to rely for a living on their own efforts. According to the views of the founders of the Association, a girl, as soon as she has finished her course at the primary school, should be led to choose a career according to her aptitudes. The choice having been made, it is the function of the “professional school” to train her as completely as possible in the technique of the work she will have to do.
But another kind of training besides that which fits her for the work of a profession is necessary to complete a woman's education. In the natural course of things she will one day be called on to act as mistress of a home. The interests of her household and the interests of society are largely affected by the manner in which she discharges the duties of this position. On this aspect of woman's work the Association laid special stress, and they accordingly added to their professional schools, “ écoles ménagères," or housekeeping schools, where girls were