FROM BOURGES TO LA ROCHELLE.
I KNOW not whether the exact limits of an excursion, as distinguished from a journey, have ever been fixed; at any rate, it seemed none of my business, at Tours, to settle the question. Therefore, though the making of excursions had been the purpose of my stay, I thought it vain, while I started for Bourges, to determine to which category that little expedition might belong. It was not till the third day that I returned to Tours, and the distance, traversed for the most part after dark, was even greater than I had supposed. That, however, was partly the fault of a tiresome wait at Vierzon, where I had more than enough time to dine, very badly, at the buffet, and to observe the proceedings of a family who had entered my railway carriage at Tours and had conversed, unreservedly, for my benefit, all the way from that station—a family whom it entertained me to assign to the class of petite noblesse de province. Their noble origin was confirmed by the way they all made maigre in the refreshmentroom (it happened to be a Friday), as if it had been possible to do anything else. They ate two or three omelettes apiece, and ever so many little cakes, while the [positive, talkative mother watched her children as the waiter handed about the roast fowl. I was destined to share the secrets of this family to the end; for when I had taken place in the empty train that was in waiting to convey us to Bourges, the same vigilant woman pushed them all on top of me into my compartment, though the carriages on either side contained no travelers at all. It. was better, I found, to have dined (even on omelettes and little cakes) at the station at Vierzon than at the hotel at Bourges, which, when I reached it at nine o'clock at night, did not strike me as the prince of hotels. The inns in the smaller provincial towns in France are all, as the term is, commercial, and the commis-voyageur is in triumphant possession. I saw a great deal of him for several weeks after this ; for he was apparently the only traveler in the southern provinces, and it was my daily fate to sit opposite to him at tables d'hÔte and in railway trains. He may be known by two infallible signs : his hands are fat, and he tucks his napkin into his shirt-collar. In spite of these idiosyncrasies, he seemed to me a reserved and inoffensive person, with singularly little of the demonstrative good-humor that he has been described as possessing. I saw no one who reminded me of Balzac’s “ illustre Gaudissart; ” and indeed, in the course of a month’s journey through a large part of France, I heard so little desultory conversation that I wondered whether a change had not come over the spirit of the people. They seemed to me as silent as Americans when Americans have not been “introduced,” and infinitely less addicted to exchanging remarks in railway trains and at tables d’hôte than the colloquial and cursory English; a fact perhaps not worth mentioning were it not at variance with that reputation which the French have long enjoyed of being a preëminently sociable nation. The common report of the character of a people is, however, an indefinable product ; and it is apt to strike the traveler who observes for himself as very wide of the mark. The English, who have for ages been described (mainly by the French) as the dumb, stiff, unapproachable nice, present to-day a remarkable appearance of good-humor and garrulity, and are distinguished by their facility of intercourse. On the other hand, any one who has seen half a dozen Frenchmen pass a whole day together in a railway-carriage without breaking silence is forced to believe that the traditional reputation of these gentlemen is simply the survival of some primitive formula. It was true, doubtless, before the Revolution ; but there have been great changes since then. The question of which is the better taste, to talk to strangers or to hold your tongue, is a matter apart; I incline to believe that the French reserve is the result of a more definite conception of social behavior. I allude to it only because it is at variance with the national fame, and at the same time is compatible with a very easy view of life in certain other directions. On some of these latter points the Boule d’Or at Bourges was full of instruction ; boasting, as it did, of a hall of reception in which, amid old boots that had been brought to be cleaned, old linen that was being sorted for the wash, and lamps of evil odor that were awaiting replenishment, a strange, familiar, promiscuous household life went forward. Small scullions in white caps and aprons slept upon greasy benches ; the Boots sat staring at you while you fumbled, in a row of pigeonholes, for your candlestick or your key; and, amid the coming and going of the commis-voyageurs, a little sempstress bent over the under-garments of the hostess, the latter being a heavy, stern, silent woman, who looked at people very hard.
It was not to be looked at in that manner that one had come all the way from Tours ; so that within ten minutes after my arrival I sallied out into the darkness to get somehow and somewhere a happier impression. However late in the evening I may arrive at a place, I cannot go to bed without an impression. The natural place, at Bourges, to look for one seemed to be the cathedral; which, moreover, was the only thing that could account for my presence dans cette galère. I turned out of a small square, in front of the hotel, and walked up a narrow, sloping street, paved with big, rough stones and guiltless of a footway. It was a splendid starlight night; the stillness of a sleepingv ville de province was over everything ; I had the whole place to myself. I turned to my right, at the top of the street, where presently a short, vague lane brought me into sight of the cathedral. I approached it obliquely, from behind; it loomed up in the darkness above me, enormous and sublime. It stands on the top of the large but not lofty eminence over which Bourges is scattered — a very good position, as French cathedrals go, for they are not all as nobly situated as Chartres and Laon. On the side on which I approached it (the south) it is tolerably well exposed, though the precinct is shabby ; in front, it is rather too much shut in. These defects, however, it makes up for on the north side and behind, where it presents itself in the most admirable manner to the garden of the Archevêché, which has been arranged as a public walk, with the usual formal alleys of the jardin francais. I must add that I appreciated these points only on the following day. As I stood there in the light of the stars, many of which had an autumnal sharpness, while others were shooting over the heavens, the huge, rugged vessel of the church overhung me in very much the same way as the black hull of a ship at sea would overhang a solitary swimmer. It seemed colossal, stupendous, a dark leviathan. The next morning, which was lovely, I lost no time in going back to it, and found, with satisfaction, that the daylight did it no injury. The cathedral of Bourges is indeed magnificently huge, and if it is a good deal wanting in lightness and grace it is perhaps only the more imposing. I read in the excellent handbook of M. Joanne that it was projected “ dès 1172,” but commenced only in the first years of the thirteenth century. " The nave,” the writer adds, “ was finished tant bien que mal, faute de ressources ; the façade is of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in its lower part, and of the fourteenth in its upper.” The allusion to the nave means the omission of the transepts. The west front consists of two vast but imperfect towers ; one of which (the south) is immensely buttressed, so that its outline slopes forward, like that of a pyramid, being the taller of the two. If they had spires, these towers would be prodigious ; as it is, given the rest of the church, they are wanting in elevation. There are five deeply recessed portals, all in a row, each surmounted with a gable ; the gable over the central door being exceptionally high. Above the porches, which give the measure of its width, the front rears itself, piles itself, on a great scale, carried up by galleries, arches, windows, sculptures, and supported by the extraordinarily thick buttresses of which I have spoken, and which, though they embellish it with deep shadows thrown sidewise, do not improve its style. The portals, especially the middle one, are extremely interesting; they are covered with curious early sculptures. The middle one, however, I must describe alone. It has no less than six rows of figures — the others have four — some of which, notably the upper one, are still in their places. The arch at the top has three tiers of elaborate imagery. The upper of these is divided, by the figure of Christ in judgment, of great size, stiff and terrible, with outstretched arms. On either side of him are ranged three or four angels, with the instruments of the Passion. Beneath him, in the second frieze, stands the angel of justice, with his scales ; and on either side of him is the vision of the last judgment. The good prepare, with infinite titillation and complacency, to ascend to the skies ; while the bad are dragged, pushed, hurled, stuffed, crammed, into pits and caldrons of fire. There is a charming detail in this section. Beside the angel, on the right, where the wicked are the prey of demons, stands a little female figure, that of a child, who, with hands meekly folded and head gently raised, waits for the stern angel to decide upon her fate. In this fate, however, a dreadful big devil also takes a keen interest; he seems on the point of appropriating the tender creature ; he has a face like a goat and an enormous hooked nose. But the angel gently lays a hand upon the shoulder of the little girl — the movement is full of dignity — as if to say, “ No, she belongs to the other side.” The frieze below represents the general resurrection, with the good and the wicked emerging from their sepulchres.
Nothing can be more quaint and charming than the difference shown in their way of responding to the final trump. The good get out of their tombs with a certain modest gayety, an alacrity tempered by respect; one of them kneels to pray as soon as he has disinterred himself. You may know the wicked, on the other hand, by their extreme shyness ; they crawl out slowly and fearfully ; they hang back, and seem to say, “ Oh, dear! ” These elaborate sculptures, full of ingenuous intention and of the reality of early faith, are in a remarkable state of preservation ; they bear no superficial signs of restoration and appear scarcely to have suffered from the centuries. They are delightfully expressive ; the artist had the advantage of knowing exactly the effect he wished to produce. The interior of the cathedral has a great simplicity and majesty, and above all a tremendous height. The nave is extraordinary in this respect ; it dwarfs everything else I know. I should add, however, that I am, in architecture, always of the opinion of the last speaker. Any great building seems to me, while I look at it, the ultimate expression. At any rate, during the hour that I sat gazing along the high vista of Bourges, the interior of the great vessel corresponded to my vision of the evening before. There is a tranquil largeness, a kind of infinitude, about such an edifice : it soothes and purifies the spirit, it illuminates the mind. There are two aisles, on either side, in addition to the nave — five in all—and, as I have said, there are no transepts; an omission which lengthens the vista, so that from my place near the door the central jeweled window in the depths of the perpendicular choir seemed a mile or two away. The second, or outward, of each pair of aisles is too low, and the first too high ; without this inequality the nave would appear to take an even more prodigious flight. The double aisles pass all the way round the choir, the windows of which are inordinately rich in magnificent old glass. I have seen glass as fine in other churches ; but I think I have never seen so much of it at once.
Beside the cathedral, on the north, is a curious structure of the fourteenth or fifteenth century, which looks like an enormous flying buttress, with its support, sustaining the north tower. It makes a massive arch, high in the air, and produces a very picturesque effect as people pass under it to the open gardens of the Archevêché, which extend to a considerable distance in the rear of the church. The structure supporting the arch has the girth of a largish house, and contains chambers with whose uses I am unacquainted, but to which the deep pulsations of the cathedral, the vibration of its mighty bells and the roll of its organ-tones, must be transmitted even through the great arm of stone. The archiepiscopal palace, not walled in as at Tours, is visible as a stately habitation of the last century, now in course of reparation in consequence of a fire. From this side, and from the gardens of the palace, the nave of the cathedral is visible in all its great length and height, with its extraordinary multitude of supports. The gardens aforesaid, accessible through tall iron gates, are the promenade — the Tuileries — of the town, and, very pretty in themselves, are immensely set off by the overhanging church. It was warm and sunny; the benches were empty ; I sat there a long time, in that pleasant state of mind which visits the traveler in foreign towns, when he is not too hurried, while he wonders where he had better go next. The straight, unbroken line of the roof of the cathedral was very noble ; but I could see from this point how much finer the effect would have been if the towers, which had dropped almost out of sight, might have been carried still higher. The archiepiscopal gardens look down at one end over a sort of esplanade or suburban avenue which lies at a lower level, on which they open, and where several detachments of soldiers (Bourges is full of soldiers) had just been drawn up. The civil population was also collecting, and I saw that something was going to happen.
I learned that a private of the Chasseurs was to be “ broken ” for stealing, and every one was eager to behold the ceremony. Sundry other detachments arrived on the ground, besides many of the military who had come as a matter of taste. One of them described to me the process of degradation from the ranks, and I felt for a moment a hideous curiosity to see it, under the influence of which I lingered a little. But only a little; the hateful nature of the spectacle hurried me away, at the same time that others were hurrying forward. As I turned my back upon it I reflected that human beings are cruel brutes, though I could not flatter myself that the ferocity of the thing was exclusively French. In another country the concourse would have been equally great, and the moral of it all seemed to be that even the military should n’t steal.
The cathedral is not the only lion of Bourges ; the house of Jacques Cæur is an object of interest scarcely less positive. This remarkable man had a very strange history, and he too was “broken,” like the wretched soldier whom I did not stay to see. He has been rehabilitated, however, by an age which does not fear the imputation of paradox, and a marble statue of him ornaments the street in front of his house. To interpret him according to this image — a womanish figure in a long robe and a turban, with big bare arms and a dramatic pose — would be to think of him as a kind of truculent sultana. He wore the dress of his period, but his spirit was very modern; he was a Vanderbilt or Rothschild of the fifteenth century. He supplied the ungrateful Charles VII. with money to pay the troops who, under the heroic Maid, drove the English from French soil, His house, which to-day is used as a Palais de Justice, appears to have been regarded at the time it was built very much as the residence of Mr. Vanderbilt is regarded, in New York, to-day. It stands on the edge of the hill on which most of the town is planted, so that, behind, it plunges down to a lower level, and, if you approach it on that side, as I did, to come round to the front of it you have to ascend a longish flight of steps. The back, of old, must have formed a portion of the city-wall; at any rate, it offers to view two big towers, which Joanne says were formerly part of the defense of Bourges. From the lower level of which I speak — the square in front of the post-office —the palace of Jacques Cæur looks very big and strong and feudal; from the upper street, in front of it, it looks very handsome and delicate. To this street it presents two stories and a considerable length of façade; and it has, both within and without, a great deal of curious and beautiful detail. Above the portal, in the stonework, are two false windows, in which two figures, a man and a woman, apparently household servants, are represented, in sculpture, as looking down into the street. The effect is homely, yet grotesque, and the figures are sufficiently living to make one commiserate them for having been condemned, in so dull a town, to spend several centuries at the window. They appear to be watching for the return of their master, who left his beautiful house one morning, and never came back. The history of Jacques Cæeur, which has been written by M. Pierre Clément, in a volume crowned by the French Academy, is very wonderful and interesting, but I have no space to go into it here. There is no more curious example, and few more tragical, of a great fortune crumbling from one day to the other, or of the antique superstition that the gods grow jealous of human success. Merchant, millionaire, banker, ship-owner, royal favorite and minister of finance, explorer of the East and monopolist of the glittering trade between that quarter of the globe and his own, great capitalist who had anticipated the brilliant operations of the present time, he expiated his prosperity by poverty, imprisonment, and torture. The obscure points in his career have been elucidated by M. Clément, who has drawn, moreover, a very vivid picture of the corrupt and exhausted state of France during the middle of the fifteenth century, He has shown that the spoliation of the great merchant was a deliberately calculated act, and that the king sacrificed him without scruple or shame to the avidity of a singularly villainous set of courtiers. The whole story is an extraordinary picture of high-handed rapacity — the crudest possible assertion of the right of the stronger. The victim was stripped of his property, but escaped with his life, made his way out of France, and, betaking himself to Italy, offered his services to the Pope. It is proof of the consideration that be enjoyed in Europe, and of the variety of his accomplishments, that Calixtus III. should have appointed him to take command of a fleet which his Holiness was fitting out against the Turks. Jacques Cæur, however, was not destined to lead it to victory. He died shortly after the expedition had started, in the island of Chios, in 1456. The house at Bourges, his native place, testifies in some degree to his wealth and splendor, though it has in parts that want of space which is striking in many of the buildings of the Middle Ages. The court, indeed, is on a large scale, ornamented with turrets and arcades, with several beautiful windows, and with sculptures inserted in the walls, representing the various sources of the great fortune of the owner. M. Pierre Clément describes this part of the house as having been of an “ incomparable richesse ” —an estimate of its charms which seems slightly exaggerated to-day. There is, however, something delicate and familiar in the bas-reliefs of which I have spoken, little scenes of agriculture and industry, which show that the proprietor was not ashamed of calling attention to his harvests and enterprises. To-day we should question the taste of such allusions, even in plastic form, in the house of a " merchant prince ” (say in the Fifth Avenue). Why is it, therefore, that these quaint little panels at Bourges do not displease us? It is perhaps because things very ancient never, for some mysterious reason, appear vulgar. This fifteenth-century millionaire, with his palace, his autobiographical sculptures, may have produced that impression on some critical spirits of his own day.
The portress who showed me into the building was a dear little old woman, with the gentlest, sweetest, saddest face — a little white, aged face, with dark, pretty eyes and the most considerate manner. She took me into an upper hall, where there were a couple of curious chimney-pieces and a fine old oaken roof, the latter representing the hollow of a long boat. There is a certain oddity in a native of Bourges, an inland town if there ever was one, without even a river (to call a river) to encourage nautical ambitions, having found his end as admiral of a fleet ; hut this boatshaped roof, which is extremely graceful and is repeated in another apartment, would suggest that the imagination of Jacques Cæur was fond of riding the waves. Indeed, as he trafficked in Oriental products and owned many galleons, it is probable that he was personally as much at home in certain Mediterranean ports as in the capital of the pastoral Berry. If, when he looked at the ceilings of his mansion, he saw his boats upside down, this was only a suggestion of the shortest way of emptying them of their treasures. He is presented in person above one of the great stone chimney-pieces, in company with his wife, Macée de Léodepart — I like to write such an extraordinary name. Carved in white stone, the two sit playing at chess at an open window, through which they appear to give their attention much more to the passers-by than to the game. They are also exhibited in other attitudes; though I do not recognize them in the composition on top of one of the fire-places, which represents the battlements of a castle, with the defenders (little figures between the crenelations) hurling down missiles with a great deal of fury and expression. It would have been hard to believe that the man who surrounded himself with these friendly and humorous devices had been guilty of such wrong-doing as to call down the heavy hand of justice. It is a curious fact, however, that Bourges contains legal associations of a purer kind than the prosecution of Jacques Cæur, which, in spite of the rehabilitations of history can hardly be said yet to have terminated, inasmuch as the law-courts of the city are installed in his quondam residence. At a short distance from it stands the Hôtel Cujas, one of the curiosities of Bourges and habitation for many years of the great jurisconsult who revived in the sixteenth century the study of the Roman law, and professed it during the close of his life in the university of the capital of Berry. The learned Cujas had in spite of his sedentary pursuits led a very wandering life ; he died at Bourges in the year 1590. Sedentary pursuits is perhaps not exactly what I should call them, having read in the Biographie Universelle, sole source of my knowledge of the renowned Cujacius, that his usual manner of study was to spread himself on his belly on the floor. He did not sit down ; he lay down ; and the Biographie Uuiverselle has (for so grave a work) an amusing picture of the short, fat, untidy scholar dragging himself à plat ventre across his room, from one pile of books to the other. The house in which these singular gymnastics took place, and which is now the headquarters of the gendarmerie, is one of the most picturesque at Bourges. Dilapidated and discolored, it has a charming Renaissance front. A high wall separates it from the street, and on this wall, which is divided by a large open gateway, are perched two overhanging turrets. The open gateway admits you to the court, beyond which the melancholy mansion erects itself, decorated also with turrets, with fine old windows, and with a beautiful tone of faded red brick and rusty stone. It is a charming encounter for a provincial by-street; one of those accidents in the hope of which the traveler with a propensity for sketching (whether on a little paper block or on the tablets of his brain) decides to turn a corner at a venture. A brawny gendarme, in his shirt-sleeves, was polishing his boots in the court; an ancient, knotted vine, forlorn of its clusters, hung itself over a doorway and dropped its shadow on the rough grain of the wall. The place was very sketchable. I am sorry to say, however, that it was almost, the only “ bit.”
Various other curious old houses are supposed to exist at Bourges, and I wandered vaguely about in search of them. But I had little success, and I ended by becoming skeptical. Bourges is a ville de province in the full force of the term, especially as applied invidiously. The streets, narrow, tortuous, and dirty, have very wide cobble-stones ; the houses for the most part are shabby, without local color. The look of things is neither modern nor antique — a kind of mediocrity of middle age. There is an enormous number of blank walls — walls of gardens, of courts, of private houses — that avert themselves from the street, as if in natural chagrin at there being so little to see. Round about is a dull, flat, featureless country, on which the magnificent cathedral looks down. There is a peculiar dullness and ugliness in a French town of this type, which, I must immediately add, is not the most frequent one. In Italy everything has a charm, a color, a grace ; even desolation and ennui. In England a cathedral-city may be sleepy, but it is pretty sure to be mellow. In the course of six weeks spent en province, however, I saw few places that had not more expression than Bourges.
I went back to the cathedral; that, after all, was a feature. Then I returned to my hotel, where it was time to dine, and sat down, as usual, with the commis-voyageurs, who cut their bread on their thumb and partook of every course ; and after this repast I repaired for a while to the café, which occupied a part of the basement of the inn and opened into its court. This café was a friendly, homely, sociable spot, where it seemed the habit of the master of the establishment to tutoyer his customers, and the practice of the customers to tutoyer the waiter. Under these circumstances, the waiter of course felt justified in sitting down at the same table as a gentleman who had come in and asked him for writing-materials, He served this gentleman with a horrible little portfolio, covered with shiny black cloth and accompanied with two sheets of thin paper, three wafers, and one of those instruments of torture which pass in France for pens — these being the utensils invariably evoked by such a request; and then, finding himself at leisure, he placed himself opposite and began to write a letter of his own. This trifling incident reminded me afresh that France is a democratic country. I think I received an admonition to the same effect from the free, familiar way in which the game of whist was going on just behind me. It was attended with a great deal of noisy pleasantry, flavored every now and then with a dash of irritation. There was a young man of whom I made a note; he was such a beautiful specimen of his class. Sometimes he was very facetious, chattering, joking, punning, showing off; then, as the game went on and he lost, and had to pay the “ consommation,” he dropped his amiability, slanged his partner, declared he would n’t play any more, and went away in a fury. Nothing could be more perfect or more amusing than the contrast. The manner of the whole affair was such as, I apprehend, one would not have seen among our English-speaking people; both the jauntiness of the first phase and the petulance of the second. To hold the balance straight, however, I may remark that if the men were all fearful “ cads,” they were, with their cigarettes and their inconsistency, less heavy, less brutal, than our dear English-speaking cad ; just as the bright little café, where a robust materfamilias, doling out sugar and darning a stocking, sat in her place under the mirror behind the comptoir, was a much more civilized spot than a British public-house, or a “commercial room,” with pipes and whisky, or even than an American saloon.
It is very certain that when I left Tours for Le Mans it was a journey and not an excursion ; for I had no intention of coming back. The question, indeed, was to get away ; no easy matter in France, in the early days of October, when the whole jeunesse of the country is going back to school. It is accompanied, apparently, with parents and grandparents, and it fills the trains with little pale-faced lycéens, who gaze out of the windows with a longing, lingering air, not unnatural on the part of small members of a race in which life is intense, who are about to be restored to those big educative barracks that do such violence to our American appreciation of the opportunities of boyhood. The train stopped every five minutes ; but fortunately the country was charming, hilly and bosky, eminently good-humored, and dotted here and there with a smart little château. The old capital of the province of the Maine, which has given its name to a great American State, is a fairly interesting town, but I confess that I found in it less than I expected to admire. My expectations had doubtless been my own fault; there is no particular reason why Le Mans should fascinate. It stands upon a hill, indeed — a much better hill than the gentle swell of Bourges. This hill, however, is not steep in all directions ; from the railway, as I arrived, it was not even perceptible. Since I am making comparisons, I may remark that, on the other hand, the Boule d'Or at Le Mans is an appreciably better inn than the Boule d’Or at Bourges. It looks out upon a small market-place which has a certain amount of character and seems to be slipping down the slope on which it lies, though it has in the middle an ugly halle, or circular market-house, to keep it in position. At Le Mans, as at Bourges, my first business was with the cathedral, to which I lost no time in directing my steps. It suffered by juxtaposition to the great church I had seen a few days before ; yet it has some noble features. It stands on the edge of the eminence of the town, which falls straight away on two sides of it, and makes a striking mass, bristling behind, as you see it from below, with rather small but singularly numerous flying buttresses. On my way to it I happened to walk through the one street which contains a few ancient and curious houses ; a very crooked and untidy lane, of really mediæval aspect, honored with the denomination of the Grand’ Rue. Here is the house of Queen Berengaria — an absurd name, as the building is of a date some three hundred years later than the wife of Richard Cæur de Lion, who lias a sepulchral monument in the south aisle of the cathedral. The structure in question — very sketchable, if the sketcher could get far enough away from it — is an elaborate little dusky façade, overhanging the street, ornamented with panels of stone, which are covered with delicate Renaissance sculpture. A fat old woman, standing in the door of a small grocer’s shop next to it — a most gracious old woman, with a bristling mustache and a charming manner — told me what the house was, and also indicated to me a rotten-looking brown wooden mansion, in the same street, nearer the cathedral, as the Maison Scarron. The author of the Roman Comique, and of a thousand facetious verses, enjoyed for some years, in the early part of his life, a benefice in the cathedral of Le Mans, which gave him a right to reside in one of the canonical houses. He was rather an odd canon, but his history is a combination of oddities. He.wooed the comic muse from the arm-chair of a cripple, and in the same position — he was unable even to go down on his knees—prosecuted that other suit which made him the first husband of a lady of whom Louis XIV. was to be the second. There was little of comedy in the future Madame de Maintenon ; though after all there was doubtless as much as there need have been in the wife of a poor man who was moved to compose for his tomb such an epitaph as this, which I quote from the Biographie Universelle : —
Fit plus de pitié que d’envie,
Et souffrit mille fois la mort,
Avant que de perdre la vie.
Passant, ne fais icy de bruit,
Et garde bien qu’il ne s’éveille,
Car voicy la première nuit,
Que le pauvre Scarron sommeille.”
There is rather a quiet, satisfactory place in front of the cathedral, with some good " bits ” in it; notably a turret at the angle of one of the towers, and a very fine, steep-roofed dwelling, behind low walls, which it overlooks, with a tall iron gate. This house has two or three little pointed towers, a big, black, precipitous roof, and a general air of having had a history. There are houses which are scenes, and there are houses which are only houses. The trouble with the domestic architecture of the United States is that it is not scenic, thank Heaven ! and the good fortune of an old structure like the turreted mansion on the hillside of Le Mans is that it is not simply a house. It is a place, as it were, as well. It would be well, indeed, if it might have communicated a little of its expression to the front of the cathedral, which has none of its own. Shabby, rusty, unfinished, this front has a Romanesque portal, but nothing in the way of a tower. One sees from without, at a glance, the peculiarity of the church — the disparity between the Romanesque nave, which is small and of the twelfth century, and the immense and splendid transepts and choir, of a period a hundred years later. Outside, this end of the church rises far above the nave, which looks merely like a long porch leading to it, with a small and curious Romanesque porch in its own south flank. The transepts, shallow but very lofty, display to the spectators in the 'place, the reach of their two clere-story windows, which occupy, above, the whole expanse of the wall. The south transept terminates in a sort of tower, which is the only one of which the cathedral can boast. Within, the effect of the choir is superb; it is a church in itself, with the nave simply for a point of view. As I stood there, I read in my Murray that it has the stamp of the date of the perfection of pointed Gothic, and I found nothing to object to the remark. It suffers little by confrontation with Bourges, and, taken in itself, seems to me quite as fine. A passage of double aisles surrounds it, with the arches that divide them supported on very thick round columns, not clustered. There are twelve chapels in this passage, and a charming little lady-chapel, filled with gorgeous old glass. The sustained height of this almost detached choir is very noble ; its lightness and grace, its soaring symmetry, carry the eye up to places in the air from which it is slow to descend. Like Tours, like Chartres, like Bourges (apparently like all the French cathedrals, and unlike several English ones), Le Mans is rich in splendid glass. The beautiful upper windows of the choir make, far aloft, a
sort of gallery of pictures, blooming with vivid color. It is the south transept that contains the formless image — a clumsy stone woman, lying on her back — which purports to represent Queen Berengaria aforesaid. The view of the cathedral from the rear is, as usual, very fine. A small garden behind it masks its base; but you descend the hill to a large place de foire, adjacent to a fine old public promenade which is known as Les Jacobins, a sort of miniature Tuileries, where I strolled for a while in rectangular alleys, destitute of herbage, and received a deeper impression of vanished things. The cathedral, on the pedestal of its hill, looks considerably farther than the fairground and the Jacobins, between the rather bare poles of whose straightly-planted trees you may admire it at a convenient distance. I admired it till I thought I should remember it (better than the event has proved), and then I wandered away and looked at another curious old church, Notre-Dame-de-laCouture. This sacred edifice made a picture for ten minutes, but the picture has faded now. I reconstruct a yellowish-brown façade, and a portal fretted with early sculptures ; but the details have gone the way of all incomplete sensations. After you have stood a while in the choir of the cathedral, there is no sensation at Le Mans that goes very far. For some reason not now to be traced, I had looked for more than this. I think the reason was to some extent simply in the name of the place, for names, on the whole, whether they be good reasons or not, are very active ones. Le Mans, if I am not mistaken, has a sturdy, feudal sound; suggests something dark and square, a vision of old ramparts and gates. Perhaps I had been unduly impressed by the fact, accidentally revealed to me, that Henry II., first of the English Plantagenets, was born there. Of course it is easy to assure one’s self in advance, but does it not often happen that one had rather not be assured ? There is a pleasure sometimes in running the risk of disappointment. I took mine, such as it was, quietly enough, while I sat before dinner at the door of one of the cafés in the market-place, with a bitteret-curaçao (invaluable pretext at such an hour) to keep me company. I remember that in this situation there came over me an impression which both included and excluded all possible disappointments. The afternoon was warm and still ; the air was admirably soft. The good Manceaux, in little groups and pairs, were seated near me ; my ear was soothed by the fine shades of French enunciation, by the moulded syllables of that perfect tongue. There was nothing in particular in the prospect to charm ; it was an average French view. Yet I felt a charm, a kind of sympathy, a sense of the completeness of French life and of the lightness and brightness of the social air; together with a desire to arrive at friendly judgments, to express a positive interest. I know not why this transcendental mood should have descended upon me then and there ; but that idle half hour in front of the café, in the mild October afternoon, suffused with human sounds, is perhaps the most definite thing I brought away from Le Mans. with irritation along second-rate boulevards, looking vaguely about him for absent gables. “ Black Angers,” in short, is a victim of modern improvements, and quite unworthy of its admirable name — a name which, like that of Le Mans, had always had, to my eyes, t a highly picturesque value. It looks particularly well on the Shakespearean page (in King John), where we imagine it .uttered (though such would not have been the utterance of the period) with a fine old English accent. Angers figures with importance in early English history : it was the capital city of the Plantagenet race, home of that Geoffrey of Anjou who married, as second husband, the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I. and competitor of Stephen, and became father of Henry II., first of the Plantagenet kings, born, as we have seen, at Le Mans. These facts create a natural presumption that Angers will look historic ; I turned them over in my mind as I traveled in the train from Le Mans, through a country that was really pretty, and looked more like the usual English than like the usual French scenery, with its fields cut up by hedges and a considerable rotundity in its trees. On my way from the station to the hotel, however, it became plain that I should lack a good pretext for passing that night at the Cheval Blanc ; I foresaw that I should have contented myself before the end of the day. I remained at the White Horse only long enough to discover that it was an exceptionally good provincial inn, one of the best that I encountered during six weeks spent in these establishments. “ Stupidly and vulgarly modernized ” — that is another phrase from my note-book, and notebooks are not obliged to be reasonable.
I am shocked at finding, just after this noble declaration of principles, that in a little note-book, which at that time I carried about with me, the celebrated city of Angers is denominated a “sell.” I reproduce this vulgar term with the greatest hesitation, and only because it brings me more quickly to my point. This point is that Angers belongs to the disagreeable class of old towns that have been, as the English say, " done up. Not the oldness, but the newness, of the place is what strikes the sentimental tourist to-day, as he wanders
“ There are some narrow and tortuous streets, with a few curious old houses,”
I continue to quote ; “ there is a castle, of which the exterior is most extraordinary, and there is a cathedral of moderate interest.” It is fair to say that the Château d’Angers is by itself worth a pilgrimage; the only drawback is that you have seen it in a quarter of an hour. You cannot do more than look at it, and one good look does your business. It has no beauty, no grace, no detail, nothing that charms or detains you; it is simply very old and very big — so big and so old that this simple impression is enough, and it takes its place in your recollections as a perfect specimen of a superannuated stronghold. It stands at one end of the town, surrounded by a huge, deep moat, which originally contained the waters of the Maine, now divided from it by a quay. The waterfront of Angers is poor — wanting in color and in movement; and there is always an effect of perversity in a town lying near a great river and yet not upon it. The Loire is a few miles off, but Angers contents itself with a meagre affluent of that stream. The effect was naturally much better when the huge, dark mass of the castle, with its seventeen prodigious towers, rose out of the protecting flood. These towers are of tremendous girth and solidity ; they are encircled with great bands, or hoops, of white stone, and are much enlarged at the base. Between them hang vast curtains of infinitely old-looking masonry, apparently a dense conglomeration of slate — the material of which the town was originally built (thanks to rich quarries in the neighborhood), and to which it owed its appellation of the Black. There are no windows, no apertures, and to-day no battlements nor roofs. These accessories were removed by Henry III., so that, in spite of its grimness and blackness, the place has not even the interest of looking like a prison ; it being, as I suppose, the essence of a prison not to be open to the sky. The only features of the enormous structure are the blank, sombre stretches and protrusions of wall, the effect of which, on so large a scale, is strange and striking. Begun by Philip Augustus, and terminated by St. Louis, the Château d'Angers has of course a great deal of history. The luckless Fouquet, the extravagant minister of finance of Louis XIV., whose fall from the heights of grandeur was so sudden and complete, was confined here in 1661, just after his arrest, which had taken place at Nantes. Here, also, Huguenots and Vendeans have suffered effective captivity. I walked round the parapet which protects the outer edge of the moat (it is all up hill, and the moat deepens and deepens), till I came to the entrance which faces the town, and which is as bare and strong as the rest. The concierge took me into the court; but there was nothing there to see. The place is used as a magazine of ammunition, and the yard contains a multitude of ugly buildings. The only thing to do is to walk round the bastions for the view ; but at the moment of my visit the weather was thick, and the bastions began and ended with themselves. So I came out and took another look at the big, black exterior, buttressed with white-ribbed towers, and perceived that a desperate sketcher might extract a picture from it, especially if he were to bring in, as they say, the little black bronze statue of the good King René (a weak production of David d’Angers), which, standing within sight, ornaments the melancholy faubourg. He would do much better, however, with the very striking old timbered house (I suppose of the fifteenth century) which is called the Maison d’Adam and is easily the first specimen at Angers of the domestic architecture of the past. This admirable house, in the centre of the town, gabled, elaborately timbered, and much restored, is a really imposing monument.
The basement is occupied by a linendraper, who flourishes under the auspicious sign of the Mère de Famille ; and above his shop the tall front rises in five overhanging stories. As the house occupies the angle of a little place, this front is double, and the black beams and wooden supports, displayed over a large surface and carved and interlaced, have a high picturesqueness. The Maison d'Adam is quite in the grand style ; and I am sorry to say I failed to learn what history attaches to its name. If I spoke just above of the cathedral as “ moderate,” I suppose I should beg its pardon ; for this serious charge was probably prompted by the fact that it consists only of a nave, without side aisles. A little reflection now convinces me that such a form is a distinction ; and, indeed, I find it mentioned, rather inconsistently, in my note-book, a little further on, as “ extremely simple and grand.” The nave is spoken of in the same volume as “ big, serious, and Gothic,” though the choir and transepts are noted as very shallow. But it is not denied that the air of the whole thing is original and striking, and it would therefore appear, after all, that the cathedral of Angers, built during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is a sufficiently honorable church; the more that its high west front, adorned with a very primitive Gothic portal, supports two elegant tapering spires, between which, unfortunately, an ugly modern pavilion has been inserted.
I remember nothing else at Angers but the curious old Café Serin, where, after I had had my dinner at the inn, I went and waited for the train which, at nine o’clock in the evening, was to convey me, in a couple of hours, to Nantes: an establishment remarkable for its great size and its air of tarnished splendor, its brown gilding and smoky frescoes, as also for the fact that it was hidden away on the second floor of an unassuming house in an unilluminated street. It hardly seemed a place where you would drop in ; but when once you had found it, it presented itself, with the cathedral, the castle, and the Maison d’Adam, as one of the historical monuments of Angers.
If I spent two nights at Nantes, it was for reasons of convenience rather than of sentiment; though, indeed, I spent them in a big circular room which had a stately, lofty, last-century look — a look that consoled me a little for the whole place being dirty. The high, oldfashioned inn (it had a huge, windy porte-cochère, and you climbed a vast black stone staircase to get to your room) looked out on a dull square, surrounded with other tall houses and occupied on one side by the theatre, a pompous building, decorated with columns and statues of the muses. Nantes belongs to the class of towns which are always spoken of as “ fine,” and its position near the mouth of the Loire gives it, I believe, much commercial movement. It is a spacious, rather regular city, looking, in the parts that I traversed, neither very fresh nor very venerable. It derives its principal character from the handsome quays on the Loire, which are overhung with tall eighteenth-century houses (very numerous, too, in the other streets) — houses with big entresols marked by arched windows, classic pediments, balcony-rails of fine old ironwork. These features exist in still better form at Bordeaux ; but putting Bordeaux aside, Nantes is quite architectural. The view up and down the quays has the cool, neutral tone of color that one finds so often in French waterside places — the bright grayness which is the tone of French landscape art. The whole city has rather a grand, or at least an eminently well-established, air. During a day passed in it, of course I had time to go to the Musée ; the more so that I have a weakness for provincial museums — a sentiment that depends but little on the quality of the collection. The pictures may be bad, but the place is often curious ; and, indeed, from bad pictures, in certain moods of the mind, there is a degree of entertainment to be derived. If they are tolerably old, they are often touching; but they must have a relative antiquity, for I confess I can do nothing with works of art of which the badness is of recent origin. The cool, still, empty chambers in which indifferent collections are apt to be preserved, the red brick tiles, the diffused light, the musty odor, the mementoes around you of dead fashions, the snuffy custodian in a black skull cap, who pulls aside a faded curtain to show you the lustreless gem of the museum — these things have a mild historical quality, and the sallow canvases after all illustrate something. Many of those in the museum of Nantes illustrate the taste of a successful warrior, having been bequeathed to the city by Napoleon’s marshal, Clarke (created Duc de Feltre). In addition to these there is the usual number of specimens of the contemporary French school, culled from the annual Salons and presented to the museum by the state. Wherever the traveler goes, in France, he is reminded of this very honorable practice — the purchase by the government of a certain number of “ pictures of the year,” which are presently distributed in the provinces. Governments succeed each other and bid for success by different devices ; but the “ patronage of art” is a plank, as we should say here, in every platform. The works of art are often ill selected — there is an official taste which you immediately recognize — but the custom is essentially liberal, and a government which should neglect it would be felt to be painfully incomplete. The only thing in this particular Musée that I remember is a fine portrait of a woman, by Ingres — very flat and Chinese, but with an interest of line and a great deal of style. There is a castle at Nantes which resembles in some degree that of Augers, but has, without, much less of the impressiveness of great size, and, within, much more interest of detail. The court contains the remains of a very fine piece of late Gothic, a tall, elegant building of the sixteenth century. The château is naturally not wanting in history. It was the residence of the old Dukes of Brittany, and was brought, with the rest of the province, by the Duchess Anne, the last representative of that race, as her dowry, to Charles VIII. I read in the excellent handbook of M. Joanne that it has been visited by almost every one of the kings of France, from Louis XI. downward; — and also that it has served as a place of sojourn less voluntary on the part of various other distinguished persons, from the horrible Maréchal de Retz, who, in the fifteenth century, was executed at Nantes for the murder of a couple of hundred young children, sacrificed in abominable rites, to the ardent Duchess of Berry, mother of the Count of Chambord, who was confined there for a few hours in 1832, just after her arrest in a neighboring house. I looked at the house in question — you may see it from the platform in front of the château — and tried to figure to myself that embarrassing scene. The duchess, after having unsuccessfully raised the standard of revolt (for the exiled Bourbons), in the Legitimist Bretagne, and being “wanted,” as the phrase is, by the police of Louis Philippe, had hidden herself in a small but loyal house at Nantes, where, at the end of five months of seclusion, she was betrayed, for gold, to the austere M. Guizot, by one of her servants, an Alsatian Jew named Deutz.
For many hours before her capture she had been compressed into an interstice behind a fireplace, and by the time she was drawn forth into the light she had been ominously scorched. The man who showed me the castle indicated also another historic spot, a house with little tourelles, on the Quai de la Fosse, in which Henry IV. is said to have signed the Edict of Nantes. I am, however, not in a position to answer for this pedigree. There is another point, in the history of the fine old houses which command the Loire, of which, I suppose, one may be tolerably sure ; that is, their having, placid as they stand there to-day, looked down on the horrors of the Terror of 1793, the bloody reign of the monster Carrier and his infamous noyades. The most hideous episode of the Revolution was enacted at Nantes, where hundreds of men and women, tied together in couples, were set afloat upon rafts and sunk to the bottom of the Loire. The tall, eighteenth-century house, full of the air noble, in France always reminds me of those dreadful years —• of the street-scenes of the Revolution. Superficially, the association is incongruous, for nothing could be more formal and decorous than the patent expression of these eligible residences. But whenever I have a vision of prisoners bound on tumbrels that jolt slowly to the scaffold, of heads carried on pikes, of groups of heated citoyennes shaking their fists at closed coach-windows, I see in the background the wellordered features of the architecture of the period — the clear gray stone, the high pilasters, the arching lines of the entresol, the classic pediment, the slatecovered attic. There is not much architecture at Nantes except the domestic. The cathedral, with a rough west front and stunted towers, makes no impression as you approach it. It is true that it does its best to recover its reputation as soon as you have passed the threshold. Begun in 1434 and finished about the end of the fifteenth century, as I discover in Murray, it has a magnificent nave, not of great length, but of extraordinary height and lightness. On the other hand, it has no choir whatever. There is much entertainment in France in seeing what a cathedral will take upon itself to possess or to lack ; for it is only the smaller number that have the full complement of features. Some have a very fine nave and no choir; others a very fine choir and no nave. Some have a rich outside and nothing within ; others a very blank face and a very glowing heart. There are a hundred possibilities of poverty and wealth, and they make the most unexpected combinations. The great treasure of Nantes is the two noble sepulchral monuments which occupy either transept, and one of which has (in its nobleness) the rare distinction of being a production of our own time. On the south side stands the tomb of Francis II., the last of the Dukes of Brittany, and of his second wife, Margaret of Foix, erected in 1507 by their daughter Anne, whom we have encountered already at the Château de Nantes, where she was born ; at Langeais, where she married her first husband ; at Amboise, where she lost him ; at Blois, where she married her second, the “ good ” Louis XII., who divorced an impeccable spouse to make room for her, and where she herself died. Transferred to the cathedral from a demolished convent, this monument, the masterpiece of Michel Colomb, author of the charming tomb of the children of Charles VIII, and the aforesaid Anne, which we admired at Saint Gatien of Tours, is one of the most brilliant works of the French Renaissance.
It has a splendid effect, and is in perfect preservation. A great table of black marble supports the reclining figures of the duke and duchess, who lie there peacefully and majestically, in their robes and crowns, with their heads each on a cushion, the pair of which are supported, from behind, by three charming little kneeling angels ; at the foot of the quiet couple are a lion and a greyhound, with heraldic devices. At each of the angles of the table is a large figure in white marble of a woman elaborately dressed, with a symbolic meaning ; and these figures, with their contemporary faces and clothes, which give them the air of realistic portraits, are truthful and living, if not remarkably beautiful. Round the sides of the tomb are small images of the apostles. There is a kind of masculine completeness in the work, and a certain robustness of taste.
In nothing were the sculptors of the Renaissance more fortunate than in being in advance of us with their tombs: they have left us nothing to say in regard to the great final contrast—the contrast between the immobility of death and the trappings and honors that survive. They expressed in every way in which it was possible to express it the solemnity of their conviction that the marble image was a part of the personal greatness of the defunct, and the protection, the redemption, of his memory. A modern tomb, in comparison, is a skeptical affair ; it insists too little on the honors. I say this in the face of the fact that one has only to step across the cathedral of Nantes to stand in the presence of one of the purest and most touching of modern tombs. Catholic Brittany has erected in the opposite transept a monument to one of the most devoted of her sons, General de Lamoricière, the defender of the Pope, the vanquished of Castelfidardo. This noble work, from the hand of Paul Dubois, one of the most interesting of that new generation of sculptors who have revived in France an art of which our overdressed century had begun to despair, has every merit but the absence of a certain prime feeling. It is the echo of an earlier tune — an echo with a beautiful cadence. Under a Renaissance canopy of white marble, elaborately worked with arabesques and cherubs, in a relief so low that it gives the work a certain look of being softened and worn by time, lies the body of the Breton soldier, with a crucifix clasped to his breast and a shroud thrown over his body. At each of the angles sits a figure in bronze, the two best of which, representing Charity and Military Courage, had given me extraordinary pleasure when they were exhibited (in the clay) in the Salon of 1876. They are admirably cast, and they have a certain greatness: the one, a serene, robust young mother, beautiful in line and attitude ; the other, a lean and vigilant young man, in a helmet that overshadows his serious eyes, resting an outstretched arm, an admirable military member, upon the hilt of a sword. These figures contain abundant assurance that M. Paul Dubois has been attentive to Michael Angelo, whom we have all heard called a splendid example but a bad model. The visor-shadowed face of his warrior is more or less a reminiscence of the figure on the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici at Florence ; but it is doubtless none the worse for that. The interest of the work of Paul Dubois is its peculiar seriousness, a kind of moral good faith which is not the commonest feature of French art, and which, united as it is in this case with exceeding knowledge and a remarkable sense of form, produces an impression of deep refinement. The whole monument is a proof of exquisitely careful study ; but I am not sure that this impression on the part of the spectator is altogether a happy one. It explains much of its great beauty, and it also explains, perhaps, a little of a certain weakness. That word, however, is scarcely in place; I only mean that M. Dubois has made a visible effort, which has been most fruitful. Simplicity is not always strength, and our complicated modern genius contains treasures of intention. This fathomless modern element is an immense charm on the part of M. Paul Dubois. I am lost in admiration of the deep esthetic experience, the enlightenment of taste, revealed by such work. After that, I only hope that Giuseppe Garibaldi may have a monument as fair.
To go from Nantes to La Rochelle you travel straight southward, across the historic bocage of La Vendée, the home of royalist bush-fighting. The country, which is exceedingly pretty, bristles with copses, orchards, and hedges, and with trees more spreading and sturdy than the traveler is apt to deem the feathery foliage of France. It is true that as I proceeded it flattened out a good deal, so that for an hour there was a vast featureless plain, which offered me little entertainment beyond the general impression that I was approaching the Bay of Biscay (from which, in reality, I was yet far distant). As we drew near La Rochelle, however, the prospect brightened considerably, and the railway kept its course beside a charming little canal, or canalized river, bordered with trees, and with small, neat, bright-colored, and yet old-fashioned cottages and villas, which stood back on the further side, behind small gardens, hedges, painted palings, patches of turf. The whole effect was Dutch and delightful; and in being delightful, though not in being Dutch, it prepared me for the charms of La Rochelle, which from the moment I entered it I perceived to be a fascinating little town, a most original mixture of brightness and dullness. Part of its brightness comes from its beingt extraordinarily clean — in which, after all, it is Dutch ; a virtue not particularly noticeable at Bourges, Le Mans, and Angers. Whenever I go southward, if it be only twenty miles, I begin to look out for the south, prepared as I am to find the careless grace of those latitudes even in things of which it may be said that they may be south of something, but are not southern. To go from Boston to New York (in this state of mind) is almost as soft a sensation as descending the Italian side of the Alps ; and to go from New York to Philadelphia is to enter a zone of tropical luxuriance and warmth. Given this absurd disposition, I could not fail to flatter myself, on reaching La Rochelle, that I was already in the Midi, and to perceive in everything, in the language of the country, the caractère méridional. Really, a great many things had a hint of it. For that matter, it seems to me that to arrive in the south at a bound — to wake up there, as it were — would be a very imperfect pleasure. The full pleasure is to approach by stages and gradations ; to observe the successive shades of difference by which it ceases to be the north. These shades are exceedingly fine, but your true south - lover has an eye for them all. If he perceive them at New York and Philadelphia — we imagine him boldly as liberated from Boston — how could he fail to perceive them at La Rochelle ? The streets of this dear little city are lined with arcades — good, big, straddling arcades of stone, such as befit a land of hot summers, and which recalled to me, not to go further, the dusky porticoes of Bayonne. It contains, moreover, a great wide place d’armes, which looked for all the world like the piazza of some dead Italian town, empty, sunny, grass-grown, with a row of yellow houses overhanging it, an unfrequented café, with a striped awning, a tall, cold, florid, uninteresting cathedral of the eighteenth century on one side, and on the other a shady walk, which forms part of an old rampart. I followed this walk for some time, under the stunted trees, beside the grass-covered bastions ; it is very charming, winding and wandering, always with trees. Beneath the rampart is a tidal river, and on the other side, for a long distance, the mossy walls of the immense garden of a seminary. Three hundred years ago La Rochelle was the great French stronghold of Protestantism; but to-day it appears to be a nursery of Papists.
The walk upon the rampart led me. round to one of the gates of the town, where I found some small modern fortifications and sundry red-legged soldiers, and, beyond the fortifications, another shady walk—a mail, as the French say, as well as a champ de manæuvre — on which latter expanse the poor little red-legs were doing their exercise. It was all very quiet and very picturesque, rather in miniature; and at once very tidy and a little out of repair. This, however, was but a meagre back-view of La Rochelle, or poor side-view at best. There are other gates than the small fortified aperture just mentioned ; one of them, an old gray arch beneath a fine clock-tower, I had passed through on my way from the station. This picturesque Tour de I'Horloge separates the town proper from the port; for beyond the old gray arch the place presents its bright, expressive little face to the sea. I had a charming walk about the harbor, and along the stone piers and sea-walls that shut it in. This indeed, to take things in their order, was after I had had my breakfast (which I took on arriving) and after I had been to the hotel de ville. The inn had a long, narrow garden behind it, with some very tall trees; and passing through this garden to a dim and secluded salle à manger, buried in the heavy shade, I had, while I sat at my repast, a feeling of seclusion which amounted almost to a sense of incarceration. I lost this sense, however, after I had paid my bill, and went out to look for traces of the famous siege, which is the principal title of La Rochelle to renown. I had come thither partly because I thought it would be interesting to stand for a few moments in so gallant a spot, and partly because, I confess, I had a curiosity to see what had been the starting-point of the Huguenot emigrants who founded the town of New Rochelle, in the State of New York, a place in which I had passed certain memorable hours. It was strange to think, as I strolled through the peaceful little port, that these quiet waters, during the wars of religion, had swelled with a formidable naval power. The Rochelais had fleets and admirals, and their stout little Huguenot bottoms carried defiance up and down. To say that I found any traces of the siege would be to misrepresent the taste for vivid whitewash by which La Rochelle is distinguished to-day. The only trace is the dent in the marble top of the table on which, in the hÔtel de ville, Jean Guiton, the mayor of the city, brought down his dagger with an oath, when in 1628 the vessels and regiments of Richelieu closed about it on sea and land. This terrible functionary was the soul of the resistance; he held out from February to October, in the midst of pestilence and famine. The whole episode has a brilliant place among the sieges of history ; it has been related a hundred times, and I may only glance at it and pass. I limit my ambition, in these light pages, to speaking of those things of which I have personally received an impression ; and I have no such impression of the defense of La Rochelle. The hÔtel de ville is a pretty little building, in the style of the Renaissance of Francis I. ; but it has left much of its interest in the hands of the restorers. It has been “done up ” without mercy ; its natural place would be at Rochelle the New. A sort of battlemented curtain, flanked with turrets, divides it from the street and contains a low door (a low door in a high wall is always felicitous), which admits you to an inner court, where you discover the face of the building. It has statues set into it, and is raised upon a very low and very deep arcade. The principal function of the deferential old portress who conducts you over the place is to call your attention to the indented table of Jean Guiton ; but she shows you other objects of interest besides. The interior is absolutely new and extremely sumptuous, abounding in tapestries, upholstery, morocco, velvet, and satin.
This is especially the case with a really beautiful grande salle, where, surrounded with the most expensive upholstery, the mayor holds his official receptions. (So, at least, said my worthy portress.) The mayors of La Rochelle appear to have changed a good deal since the days of the grim Guiton, but these evidences of municipal splendor are interesting for the light they throw on French manners. Imagine the mayor of an English or an American town of twenty thousand inhabitants holding magisterial soirées in the town - hall! The said grande salle, which is unchanged in form and in its larger features, is, I believe, the room in which the Rochelais debated as to whether they should shut themselves up, and decided in the affirmative. The table and chair of Jean Guiton have been restored, like everything else, and are very elegant and coquettish pieces of furniture — incongruous relics of a season of starvation and blood. I believe that Protestantism is somewhat shrunken to-day, at La Rochelle, and has taken refuge mainly in the haute société and in a single place of worship. There was nothing particular to remind me of its supposed austerity, as, after leaving the hÔtel de ville, I walked along the empty porticoes and out of the Tour de I Horloge, which I have already mentioned. If I stopped and looked up at this venerable monument, it was not to ascertain the hour, for I foresaw that I should have more time at La Rochelle than I knew what to do with; but because its high, gray, weather-beaten face was an obvious subject for a sketch.
The little port, which has two basins, and is accessible only to vessels of light tonnage, had a certain gayety and as much local color as you please. Fisher folk of picturesque type were strolling about, most of them Bretons; several of the men with handsome, simple faces, not at all brutal, and with a splendid brownness — the golden-brown color, on cheek and beard, that you see on an old Venetian sail. It was a squally, showery day, with sudden drizzles of sunshine; rows of rich-toned fishing-smacks were drawn up along the quays.
The harbor is effective to the eye by reason of three battered old towers which, at different points, overhang it, and look infinitely weather-washed and sea-silvered. The most striking of these, the Tour de la Lanterne, is a big, gray mass, of the fifteenth century, flanked with turrets and crowned with a Gothic steeple. I found it was called by the people of the place the Tour des Quatre Sergents, though I know not what connection it has with the touching history of the four young sergeants of the garrison of La Rochelle, who were arrested in 1821 as conspirators against the government of the Bourbons, and executed, amid a general indignation, in Paris, in the following year. The quaint little walk labeled Rue sur les Murs, to which one ascends from beside the Grosse Horloge, leads to this curious Tour de la Lanterne and passes under it. This walk has the top of the old town-wall, toward the sea, for a parapet on one side, and is bordered on the other with decent but irregular little tenements of fishermen, where brown old women, whose caps are as white as if they were painted, seem chiefly in possession. In this direction there is a very pretty stretch of shore, out of the town, through the fortifications (which are Vauban’s, by the way) ; through, also, a diminutive public garden or straggling shrubbery, which edges the water and carries its stunted verdure as far as a big Etablissement des Bains. It was too late in the year to bathe, and the Etablissement had the bankrupt aspect which belongs to such places out of the season ; so I turned my back upon it, and gained, by a circuit in the course of which there were sundry waterside items to observe, the other side of the cheery little port, where there is a long breakwater and a still longer sea-wall, on which I walked a while, and inhaled the strong, salt breath of the Bay of Biscay. La Rochelle serves, in the months of July and August, as a station de bains for a modest provincial society; and, putting aside the question of inns, it must be charming on summer afternoons.