En is het niet aan het oude ras van trotse burgers, aan de verbeten, bijna religieuze arbeidslust (...), dat de stad die morele, intellectuele en fysieke kracht dankt.
[John Barrow (jr.)]: A family tour through south Holland: up the Rhine, and across the Netherlands, to Ostend (ed.1839), p. 264-266
Brussels to Ghent
On the 29th of August, we left Brussels in a calèche and pair of horses, which we hired as far as Ghent – thirty-six miles, for two and a half napoleons, or somewhat less than two guineas. About half way is the town of Alost, or, as the word signifies ‘to the east,’ it being the frontier town of old Flanders in that direction. (…)
From Alost to Ghent, which is eighteen miles, an avenue of tall beech-trees is continued almost the whole way without interruption. The causeway generally was well-paved, and a very considerable number of men were employed in keeping it in good order; the surface of the country perfectly flat the whole way, and the uninterrupted tillage as neat and clean as a kitchen garden.
The number of women employed in the various operations of agriculture appeared to be at least equal to that of the other sex, and some of their employments were laborious enough, and to us appeared disgusting and degrading; for instance, we observed a young woman harnessed with a man in the painful labour of dragging a harrow over a surface of rough clods. Very few horses appeared to be employed, a single horse being frequently observed to draw a light plough through the loose and mellow soil. We noticed also a number of men engaged in spade husbandry. The green crops were almost exclusively confined to clover and potatoes.
We may here observe that, since we left Liège, the condition of the agricultural labourers, if we might judge from the appearance of the farmhouses and cottages, and villages, was somewhat superior to that of the same class further to the eastward. There was more neatness about the farm-yards, and more care taken in the preservation of every ingredient for the compost heap, so essential for keeping up the prolific quality of the soil. Their grain was carefully stacked, and their dwellings were white-washed, and kept clean before the doors, and these and the windows and the wood-work generally were painted green: this contrast, however, does not apply so much to the eastern and western portions of Brabant, as to the general appearance of the houses and the people; for nothing could exceed the neatness in which the land was cultivated the whole way along the banks of the Rhine and as far as Aix-la-Chapelle; the care and the labor bestowed on every part of it were little, if anything, inferior to that of the Dutch Netherlands.
But this neatness in the cultivation had no correspondence with the dress and appearance of the peasantry, whose extreme slovenliness and the filthy state of their dwellings were quite disgusting. All kinds of dirt was suffered to remain undisturbed before the doors, and it was not unusual to see a parcel of children nearly naked, paddling in pools of water – the drains from some neighbouring dunghill; but nothing of this kind is seen in Belgium.