(Heule, 29.09.1791 – Heule, 17.05.1871)
Guido Gezelle’s father was born in Heule and initially worked as a gardener in the Minor Seminary in Roeselare. When the Seminary closed down under the Dutch rule he found a job in the Bijloke in Ghent. Aged 37 he moved to the Rolweg in Bruges where he worked as a gardener for the Th. Van de Walle-Van Zuylen family. He married Monica De Vriese on June 2, 1829.
In order to make extra money, he also had a gardening job in the Bruges Major Seminary, owned a tree nursery and was overseeing an afforestation experiment at the seaside. After Theodoor Van de Walle passed away in 1848, the baroness appointed an other gardener. Pieter-Jan moved to the opposite side of the Rolweg on January 24, 1849. In 1871 he and his wife were living at their daughter Louise’s house in Heule, where he died in May.
“A man with a mirthful and cheerful character, an optimist, a little arrogant in speech, avid, fearless, fond of his independence, not afraid of anyone and well equipped with a vivid imagination.”
“A man who had many skills, broad-minded, who was there for everyone even to his own disadvantage; a nice person in company and in dealing with other people; who adored life, but on the other hand without much luck and experiencing a lot of setbacks due to his kindness, although he never lost his good mood facing disaster.”
(Wingene, 31.03.1804 – Heule, 30.04.1875)
Guido Gezelle’s mother was a farmer’s daughter who grew up on a small farm called “Walleke” in Wingene. Through her sister Clara, who worked as a nun at the Bijloke hospital in Ghent, Monica met Pieter-Jan Gezelle. He was employed there as a gardener. They married on June 2nd, 1829 and lived in the Rolweg in Bruges. As a wedding gift they received sixteen cents, as well as the trunk of a cherry tree to make furniture with.
Guido Gezelle was born eleven months into their marriage. Monica had made her will before giving birth, that will is still kept in the Gezelle archives. After Guido’s birth Monica and Pieter-Jan had seven more children, only four survived infancy. In 1871 she moved to the Lateur family in Heule, together with her husband. She died there on the 30th of April, 1875.
“Grandmother lived with us in Heule. I still remember her and I can almost picture her coming down the stairs of the little upstairs room where she slept. What I have heard through the grapevine, is that she had a difficult character, obstinate, closed, one-handed and scrupulous regarding religion.”
“Mother claimed that she had never seen her in a good mood nor that she had been able to bear laughter or to have fun. She was meticulous and modest in her appearance.”
(Brugge, 13.01.1832 – Brugge, 01.01.1899)
Romaan attended the Dunes college in Bruges together with Guido Gezelle. When Guido Gezelle went to the Minor Seminary in Roeselare in 1846, Romaan stayed at home to help out.
In 1862 he was living in the street called Genthof in Bruges and got a job as a firework starter in a demolition company. That year he was seriously injured during demolitions at the Katelijnepoort in Bruges and was in danger of having his leg amputated while being treated in St. John's Hospital. He was able to keep his leg after this bold refusal: "I'd rather waste away with two pows than staying alive with one".
Romaan remained crippled, but once recovered he started working as a firework maker. He had two workshops: one in the Ezelstraat 56, and one on the Oostendse Steenweg 57. His firm provided lighting and decoration for appointments of mayors and pastors in the city. He also was a taxidermist, stuffing birds and other small animals for display. On May 4, 1865 he married Filomena Desmet, in August of that same year he moved to Sint-Jorisstraat 34.
Romaan died on January 1, 1899. Guido Gezelle, then still living in Courtrai, was notified by his cousin Caesar through a telegram carrying the message “father died”. That very same day Gezelle wrote the eponymous poem dedicated to his dead brother. The Gezelle archives preserve both the telegram and a printed version of the poem. His brother’s death meant a severe blow to Guido Gezelle, what with the poems Requiescat in pace and From the depths resulting from it.
“He then appeared to us as a creature we looked up to in admiration : a strongly built man, tall in stature, broad-shouldered, with a heavy step and a head that seemed to be carved from stone, with a short-cut moustache as hard as iron wire, and with hard and upright gray spiky hair. When he spoke he used a surly voice and I have never seen him other than with a serious, closed expression on his face - self-assured and fond of authority.”
“Despite his closed nature and unruly looks, he was easy going. He was a rough diamond with a sensitive heart, but it was hard for him to show. We looked up at him in awe, but we admired him for his kindness towards children. Every time he came to visit, he brought us a present.”
(Brugge, 22.01.1834 – Steenbrugge, 12.02.1909)
Guido Gezelle’s eldest sister was known by her third name Louise. At first she was teaching in Ingelmunster (July 1858). In October 1858 she returned home and later on went to live with her aunts in Heule.
Eventually she was employed in Menen and Roubaix, where she met Camille Lateur, who was seven years her junior. They married on June 5th, 1865 and returned to Belgium in the winter of 1870-1871 because of the outbreak of the Franco-German war. They had four children, among them Frank Lateur, who would become a renowned author as Stijn Streuvels. Louise suddenly passed away on February 12th, 1909.
“On February 13th, 1909, mother died suddenly and without a death struggle. When I arrived, she was lying on her bed with an expression that I had never seen before on her face, an expression of seriousness, anger, closed - identical to the death-mask of her brother Guido, as I had seen on his deathbed.”
(Brugge, 12.02.1840 – Stene, 18.06.1903)
Jozef, Guido Gezelle’s youngest brother, originally studied in Bruges and later on in Roeselare and Turnhout as well. In Louvain he studied at the American Seminary.
Just like his brother, Jozef wanted to move to England and preach the Catholic faith. In vain they travelled to England together in 1871 to find a suitable seminary. In 1863-1864 Jozef was registered at the English Seminary in Bruges. He was ordained as a priest on December 22, 1866, served temporarily as an assistant priest in Passchendaele and in August 1867 he was appointed director of Saint-George’s Retreat, a convent and psychiatric institution at Burgess Hill in Southwark.
However, he was called back by bishop Faict by the end of December. He subsequently worked as an assistant priest in Lendelede (1868-1878), Klerken (1878-1887) and Zillebeke (1887-1898). Partially thanks to his brother he was finally employed as a priest in Stene near Ostend, where he died on June 18th, 1903.
“From what became known of uncle Seppen and from what we were able to deduce later from the family letters, he first of all had the conduct of a moody, hypersensitive, spoiled child; without willpower, floating and fickle, unsteady and indecisive; inflicted with an inferiority complex, mourning, dismayed, which then resulted in an extreme mood swing: enterprising, fierce, passionate with fixed plans and ready to tackle the most difficult problems.”
“He has never shown any ability or talent - his brother, with his endless poems, bored him. We know nothing about his function as the religious shepherd of his parish flock, nor of his sermons. He has only left a reputation as a weirdo. When he was a pastor at the village of Stene (meaning Stone), for example, he used to collect all kinds of stones in his garden. Such and other eccentricities made him quite notorious.”
(Brugge, 29.09.1847 – Heule, 19.03.1917)
Gezelles youngest sister lived with him when he was an assistant priest at Saint-Walburga’s in Bruges from 1865 till 1872. After he left for Courtrai (1872) she started working for the English Smith family.
On October 15th of the following year she entered the Sisters of Charity convent in Heule. As sister Columbia she taught at the girls’ boarding school in Heule and subsequently in Courtrai, Zarren and Klemskerke. Later on she returned to Heule, where she died on March 19th, 1917.
“Florence had grown less than her brothers and sister — short and stocky in stature, with the typical, spirited head of the Gezelle family. She was a proud woman, coquettish, somewhat spoiled being the youngest child, with a pleasant nature; she was well-educated, worldwise, quick-on-the-uptake; she spoke French and English fluently. Aunt Florence is certainly the only one in whom I have been unable to notice any of the family oddities. She had a determined personality, which she certainly could not have inherited from her father and even less from her mother.”
“Her good education and monastic discipline will certainly have shaped her character. She was a staid, sensible and a veritable religious sister, but she had the courage to express her own opinion and to give advice whenever it was needed. I have often witnessed that in confusing circumstances she had common sense and her own view on worldly matters.”
(Brugge, 24.10.1875 - Moorsele, 11.02.1939)
Caesar Gezelle studied at the Sint-Lodewijkscollege in Bruges, (Retorica 1894) and subsequently at the Bruges Major Seminary. His ordination as priest took place in Bruges on May 27th, 1899. In 1899 he began pursuing a degree in Germanic philology in Louvain.
On September 16th, 1900 he started teaching at the Sint-Amandscollege in Courtrai (1900-1913). From July 11th, 1913 onwards he served as a pastor in the Saint-Martin parish in Ypres. During the First World War he fled to France, taught at the Versailles Minor Seminary and worked as a chaplain for the Flemish refugees. In 1919 he became a pastor in Roesbrugge, teacher at the governmental secondary school and religious director of the Sisters of the Holy Family.
In 1921 he returned to Ypres together with the school and the convent. He retired early in 1933 in Moorsele. Caesar Gezelle wrote poetry, prose and made several contributions to literary magazines such as De Nieuwe Tijd (The New Time), De Vlaamsche Vlagge (The Flemish Flag), De Lelie (The Lily), Ons Volk Ontwaakt (Our People Awakens), Vlaanderen (1903-1907, Biekorf (Beehive), Dietsche Warande en Belfort. He inherited the archives of Guido Gezelle and published several studies about his uncle.
“As a student, he was always dressed after the latest fashion and even a tiny eccentrically. I have known my mother to remark: “He is far too vain to become a priest! ” Once he was wearing his soutane his looks suddenly changed in stature and appearance and he then had an imposing air, a beautiful, young clergyman, to whom one looked up. Just as before, he was smartly dressed. He wore silver buckles on his shoes and he loved wearing a Roman cloak. I had the opportunity to witness Cesar’s transformation from teenage boy to manhood.”
“I am firmly convinced that he was an exemplary and conscientious priest, who wanted above all to fulfill his duties as a clergyman. But I am well aware that he has been wearing a mask all his life - the outer bark tucking away the inner sensitive soul; a lifetime of suppression - restraining his heart, as his uncle had been doing before, who had moreover told him this. As a poet, he suffered from the pressure of his uncle, feeling like the imitator, the epigone of the important Gezelle.”
(Heule, 3 oktober 1871 – Ingooigem, 15 augustus 1969)
Stijn Streuvels is the pen name of Frank Lateur, born in Heule in 1871. He was the son of Guido Gezelle’s sister Louise and Camiel Lateur. Trained to be a baker he seemed on his way to take over the family bakery in Avelgem.
His first literary contributions were published in small Flemish magazines, such as Biekorf. There his literary talent was spotted by Van Nu en Straks. In 1899, the year his uncle Guido Gezelle died, his first collection of tales was published. Although not everyone appreciated his realistic style, his success increased steadily. From 1905 he could live by his pen and he settled in Het Lijsternest (The thrush’s nest) in Ingooigem, where he would stay until his death in 1969.
His most important works are : De Vlaschaard (The Flaxfield, 1907), Het leven en de dood in den ast (Life and Death in the Oast, 1926) and De teleurgang van de Waterhoek (The Decline of the Waterhoek, 1927). Streuvels played an important role in the management of Gezelle’s copyright on behalf of the family, for example by distributing Gezelle’s work through the Dutch editing company Veen. He also took the initiative to publish a bibliophile edition Verzen (Verses, 1902), with a Gezelle autograph glued inside every copy. In 1960 he published a Chronicle of the Gezelle family.