FROM POITIERS TO CARCASSONNE.
IT is an injustice to Poitiers to approach her by night, as I did some three hours after leaving La Rochelle; for what Poitiers has of best, as they would say at Poitiers, is the appearance she presents to the arriving stranger who puts his head out of the window of the train. I gazed into the gloom from such an aperture before we got into the station, for I remembered the impression received on another occasion ; but I saw nothing save the universal night, spotted here and there with an ugly railway-lamp. It was only as I departed, the following day, that I assured myself that Poitiers still makes something of the figure she ought on the summit of her considerable hill. I have a kindness for any little group of towers, any cluster of roofs and chimneys, that lift themselves from an eminence over which a long road ascends in zigzags ; such a picture creates for the moment a presumption that you are in Italy, and even leads you to believe that if you mount the winding road you will come to an old town-wall, a mass of creviced brownness, and pass under a gateway surmounted by the arms of a mediæval despot. Why I should find it a pleasure, in France, to imagine myself in Italy is more than I can say; the illusion has never lasted long enough to be analyzed. From the bottom of its perch Poitiers looks large and high ; and indeed, the evening I reached it, the interminable climb of the omnibus of the hotel I had selected, which I found at the station, gave me the measure of its commanding position. This hotel, “ magnifique construction orneede statues,” as the GuideJoanne, usually so reticent, takes the trouble to announce, has an omnibus, and, I suppose, has statues, though I did n’t perceive them ; but it has very little else save immemorial accumulations of dirt. It is magnificent, if you will, but it is not even relatively proper; and a dirty inn has always seemed to me the dirtiest of human things — it has so many opportunities to betray itself.
Poitiers covers a large space, and is as crooked and straggling as you please ; but these advantages are not accompanied with any very salient features or any great wealth of architecture. Although there are few picturesque houses, however, there are two or three curious old churches. Notre Dame la Grande, in the market-place, a small Romanesque structure of the twelfth century, has a most interesting and venerable exterior. Composed, like all the churches of Poitiers, of a light brown stone with a yellowish tinge, it is covered with primitive but ingenious sculptures, and is really an impressive monument. Within, it has lately been daubed over with the most hideous decorative painting that was ever inflicted upon passive pillars and indifferent vaults. This battered yet coherent little edifice has the touching look that resides in everything supremely old : it has arrived at the age at which such things cease to feel the years ; the waves of time have worn its edges to a kind of patient dullness ; there is something mild and smooth, like the stillness, the deafness, of an octogenarian, even in its rudeness of ornament, and it has become insensible to differences of a century or two. The cathedral interested me much less than Our Lady the Great, and I have not the spirit to go into statistics about it. It is not statistical to say that the cathedral stands half-way down the hill of Poitiers, in a quiet and grass-grown place, with an approach of crooked lanes and blank garden-walls, and that its most striking dimension is the width of its façade. This width is extraordinary, but it fails, somehow, to give nobleness to the edifice, which looks within (Murray makes the remark) like a large public hall. There are a nave and two aisles, the latter about as high as the nave; and there are some very fearful modern pictures, which you may see much better than you usually see those specimens of the old masters that lurk in glowing side-chapels, there being no fine old glass to diffuse a kindly gloom. The sacristan of the cathedral showed me something much better than all this bright bareness ; he led me a short distance out of it to the small Temple de Saint-Jean, which is the most curious object at Poitiers. It is an early Christian chapel, one of the earliest in France ; originally, it would seem, that is, in the sixth or seventh century, a baptistery, but converted into a church while the Christian era was still comparatively young. The Temple de SaintJean is therefore a monument even more venerable than Notre Dame la Grande, and that numbness of age which I imputed to Notre Dame ought to reside in still larger measure in its crude and colorless little walls. I call them crude, in spite of their having been baked through by the centuries, only because, although certain rude arches and carvings are let into them, and they are surmounted at either end with a small gable, they have (so far as I can remember) little fascination of surface. Notre Dame is still expressive, still pretends to be alive ; but the Temple has delivered its message, and is completely at rest. It retains a kind of atrium, on the level of the street, from which you descend to the original floor, now uncovered, but buried for years under a false bottom. A semicircular apse was, apparently at the time of its conversion into a church, thrown out from the east wall. In the middle is the cavity of the old baptismal font. The walls and vaults are covered with traces of extremely archaic frescoes, attributed; I believe, to the twelfth century. These vague, gaunt, staring fragments of figures are, to a certain extent, a reminder of some of the early Christian churches in Rome; they even faintly recalled to me the great mosaics of Ravenna. The Temple de Saint-Jean has neither the antiquity nor the completeness of those extraordinary monuments, nearly the most impressive in Europe ; but, as one may say, it is very well for Poitiers.
Not far from it, in a lonely corner which was animated for the moment by the vociferations of several old women who were selling tapers, presumably for the occasion of a particular devotion, is the graceful Romanesque church erected in the twelfth century to Saint Radegonde ; a lady who found means to be a saint even in the capacity of a Merovingian queen. It bears a general resemblance to Notre Dame la Grande, and, as I remember it, is corrugated in somewhat the same manner with porous-looking carvings; but I confess that what I chiefly recollect is the row of old women sitting in front of it, each with a tray of waxen tapers in her lap, and upbraiding me for my neglect of the opportunity to offer such a tribute to the saint. I know not whether this privilege is occasional or constant; within the church there was no appearance of a festival, and I see that the name day of Saint Radegonde occurs in August, so that the importunate old women sit there always, perhaps, and deprive of its propriety the epithet I just applied to this provincial corner. In spite of the old women, however, I suspect that the place is lonely ; and indeed it is perhaps the old women that have made the desolation.
The lion of Poitiers, in the eyes of the natives, is doubtless the Palais de Justice, in the shadow of which the statue-guarded hotel, just mentioned, erects itself; and the gem of the courthouse, which has a prosy modern front, with pillars and a high flight of steps, is the curious salle-des-pas-perdus, or central hall, out of which the different tribunals open. This is a feature of every French court house, and seems the result of a conviction that a palace of justice — the French deal in much finer names than we — should be in some degree palatial. The great hall at Poitiers has a long pedigree, as its walls date back to the twelfth century, and its open wooden roof, as well as the remarkable trio of chimney-pieces at the left end of the room as you enter, to the fifteenth. The three tall fireplaces, side by side, with a delicate gallery running along the top of them, constitute the originality of this ancient chamber, and make one think of the groups that must formerly have gathered there — of all the wet boot-soles, the trickling doublets, the stiffened fingers, the rheumatic shanks, that must have been presented to such an incomparable focus of heat. To-day, I am afraid, these mighty hearths are forever cold; justice is probably administered with the aid of a modern calorifère, and the walls of the palace are perforated with regurgitating tubes. Behind and above the gallery that surmounts the three fireplaces are high gothic windows, the tracery of which masks, in some sort, the chimneys; and in each angle of this and of the room to the right and left of the trio of chimneys, is an openwork spiral staircase, ascending to — I forget where ; perhaps to the roof of the edifice. This whole side of the salle is very lordly, and seems to express an unstinted hospitality, to extend the friendliest of all invitations, to bid the whole world come and get warm. It was the invention of John, Duke of Berry and Count of Poitou, about 1395. I give this information on the authority of the Guide-Joanne, from which source I gather much other curious learning: as, for instance, that it was in this building, when it had surely a very different front, that Charles VII. was proclaimed king, in 1422; and that here Joan of Arc was subjected, in 1429, to the inquisition of certain doctors and matrons.
The most charming thing at Poitiers is simply the promenade de Blossac — a small public garden at one end of the flat top of the hill. It has a happy look of the last century (having been arranged at that period), and a beautiful sweep of view over the surrounding country, and especially of the course of the little river Clain, which winds about a part of the base of the big mound of Poitiers. The limit of this dear little garden is formed, on the side that turns away from the town, by the rampart erected in the fourteenth century, and by its big semicircular bastions. This rampart, of great length, has a low parapet; you look over it at the charming little vegetable-gardens with which the base of the hill appears exclusively to be garnished. The whole prospect is delightful, especially the details of the part just under the walls, at the end of the walk. Here the river makes a shining twist, which a painter might have invented, and the side of the hill is terraced into several ledges, — a sort of tangle of small blooming patches and little pavilions with peaked roofs and green shutters. It is idle to attempt to reproduce all this in words ; it should be reproduced only in water-colors. The reader, however, will already have remarked that disparity in these ineffectual pages, which are pervaded by the attempt to sketch without a palette or brushes. He will doubtless, also, be struck with the groveling vision which, on such a spot as the ramparts of Poitiers, peoples itself with carrots and cabbages rather than with images of the Black Prince and the captive king. I am not sure that in looking out from the promenade de Blossac you command the old battlefield ; it is enough that it was not far off and that the great rout of Frenchmen poured into the walls of Poitiers, leaving on the ground a number of the fallen equal to the little army (eight thousand) of the invader. I did think of the battle; I wondered, rather helplessly, where it had taken place; and I came away (as the reader will see from the preceding sentence), without finding out. This indifference, however, was a result rather of a general dread of military topography than of a want of admiration of this particular victory, which I have always supposed to be one of the most brilliant on record. Indeed, I should be almost ashamed, and very much at a loss, to say what light it was that this glorious day seemed to me to have left forever on the horizon, and why the very name of the place had always caused my blood gently to tingle. It is carrying the feeling of race to quite inscrutable lengths when a vague American permits himself an emotion because more than five centuries ago, on French soil, one rapacious Frenchman got the better of another. Edward was a Frenchman as well as John, and French were the cries that urged each of the hosts to the fight. French is the beautiful motto graven round the image of the Black Prince, as he lies forever at rest in the choir of Canterbury: à la mort ne pensai-jemye. Nevertheless, the victory of Poitiers declines to lose itself in these considerations ; the sense of it is a part of our heritage, the joy of it a part of our imagination, and it filters down through centuries and migrations till it titillates a New Yorker who forgets in his elation that he happens at that moment to be enjoying the hospitality of France. It was something done, I know not how justly, for England, and what was done in the fourteenth century for England was done also for New York.
If it was really for the sake of the Black Prince that I had stopped at Poitiers (for my prevision of Notre Dame la Grande and of the little temple of St. John was of the dimmest), I ought to have stopped at Angouleme for the sake of David and Eve Séchard, of Lucien de Rubempre and of Madame de Bargeton, who when she wore a toilette etudiee sported a Jewish turban ornamented with an Eastern brooch, a scarf of gauze, a necklace of cameos, and a robe of “ painted muslin,” whatever that may be ; treating herself to these luxuries out of an income of twelve thousand francs. The persons I have mentioned have not that vagueness of identity which is the misfortune of historical characters ; they are real, supremely real, thanks to their affiliation to the great Balzac, who had invented an artificial reality which was as much better than the vulgar article as mock-turtle soup is than the liquid it emulates. The first time I read Les Illusions Perdues I should have refused to believe that I was capable of passing the old capital of Anjou without alighting to visit the Houmeau. But we never know what we are capable of till we are tested, as I reflected when I found myself looking back at Angoulême from the window of the train, just after we had emerged from the long tunnel that passes under the town. This tunnel perforates the hill on which, like Poitiers, Angouleme rears itself, and which gives it an elevation still greater than that of Poitiers. You may have a tolerable look at the cathedral without leaving the railway-carriage ; for it stands just above the tunnel and is exposed, much foreshortened, to the spectator below. There is evidently a charming walk round the plateau of the town, commanding those pretty views of which Balzac gives an account. But the train whirled me away, and these are my only impressions. The truth is that I had no need, just at that moment, of putting myself into communication with Balzac ; for opposite to me in the compartment were a couple of figures almost as vivid as the actors in the Comedie Humaine. One of these was a very genial and dirty old priest, and the other was a reserved and concentrated young monk — the latter (by which I mean a monk of any kind) being a rare sight to-day in France. This young man, indeed, was mitigatedly monastic. He had a big brown frock and cowl, but he had also a shirt and a pair of shoes; he had, instead of a hempen scourge round his waist, a stout leather thong, and he carried with him a very profane little valise. He also read, from beginning to end, the Figaro, which the old priest, who had done the same, presented to hint; and he looked altogether as if, had he not been a monk, he would have made a distinguished officer of engineers. When he was not reading the Figaro he was conning his breviary or answering, with rapid precision and with a deferential but discouraging dryness, the frequent questions of his companion, who was of quite another type. This worthy had a bored, good-natured, unbuttoned, expansive look; was talkative, restless, and almost disreputably human. He was surrounded by a great deal of small luggage, and had scattered over the carriage his books, his papers, the fragments of his lunch, and the contents of an extraordinary bag, which he kept beside him — a kind of secular reliquary — and which appeared to contain the odds and ends of a life-time, as he took from it successively a pair of slippers, an old padlock (which evidently did n t belong to it), an opera-glass, a collection of almanacs, and a large seashell, which he very carefully examined. I think that if he had not been afraid of the young monk, who was so much more serious than he, he would have held the shell to his ear, like a child. Indeed, he was a very childish and delightful old priest, and his companion evidently thought him most frivolous. But I liked him the better of the two. He was not a country cure, but an ecclesiastic of some rank, who had seen a good deal both of the church and of the world ; and if I too had not been afraid of his confrère, who read the Figaro as seriously as if it had been an encyclical, I should have entered into conversation with him.
All this while I was getting on to Bordeaux, where I permitted myself to spend three days. I am afraid I have next to nothing to show for them, and that there would be little profit in lingering on this episode, which is the less to be justified as I had in former years examined Bordeaux attentively enough. It contains a very good hotel — an hotel not good enough, however, to keep you there for its own sake. For the rest, Bordeaux is a big, rich, handsome, imposing commercial town, with long rows of fine old eighteenth-century houses overlooking the yellow Garonne. I have spoken of the quays of Nantes as fine, but those of Bordeaux have a wider sweep and a still more architectural air. The appearance of such a port as this makes the Anglo-Saxon tourist blush for the sordid water-fronts of Liverpool and New York, which, with their larger activity, have so much more reason to be stately. Bordeaux gives a great impression of prosperous industries and suggests delightful ideas, images of prune-boxes and bottled claret. As the focus of distribution of the best wine in the world, it is indeed a sacred city — dedicated to the worship of Bacchus in the most discreet form. The country all about it is covered with precious vineyards, sources of fortune to their owners and of satisfaction to distant consumers; and as you look over to the hills beyond the Garonne you see them, in the autumn sunshine, fretted with the rusty richness of this or that immortal clos. But the principal picture, within the town, is that of the vast curving quays, bordered with houses that look like the hôtels of farmers-general of the last century, and of the wide, tawny river, crowded with shipping and spanned by the largest of bridges. Some of the types on the water-side are of the sort that arrest a sketcher — figures of stalwart, brown-faced Basques, such as I had seen of old in great numbers at Biarritz, with their loose circular caps, their white sandals, their air of walking for a wager. Never was a tougher, a harder, race. They are not mariners, nor watermen, but, putting questions of temper aside, they are the best possible dock-porters. “ Il s’y fait un commerce terrible,” a douanier said to me, as he looked up and down the interminable docks; and such a place has indeed much to say of the wealth, the capacity for production, of France — the bright, cheerful, smokeless industry of the wonderful country which produces above all the agreeable things of life, and turns even its defeats and revolutions into gold. The whole town has an air of almost depressing opulence, an appearance which culminates in the great place which surrounds the Grand-Théatre — an establishment in the grandest style, encircled with columns, arcades, lamps, gilded cafes. One feels it to be a monument to the virtue of the well-selected bottle. If I had not forbidden myself to linger, I should venture to insist on this, and, at the risk of being considered fantastic, trace an analogy between good claret and the best qualities of the French mind ; pretend that there is a taste of sound Bordeaux in all the happiest manifestations of that fine organ, and that, correspondingly, there is a touch of French reason, French completeness, in a glass of Pontet-Canet. The danger of such an excursion would lie mainly in its being so open to the reader to take the ground from under my feet by saying that good claret does n’t exist. To this I should have no reply whatever. I should be unable to tell him where to find it. I certainly did n’t find it at Bordeaux, where I drank a most vulgar fluid ; and it is of course notorious that a large part of mankind is occupied in vainly looking for it. There was a great pretense of putting it forward at the Exhibition which was going on at Bordeaux at the time of my visit, an “ exposition philomathique,” lodged in a collection of big, temporary buildings in the Allées d’Orleans, and regarded by the Bordelais for the moment as the most brilliant feature of their city. Here were pyramids of bottles, mountains of bottles, to say nothing of cases and cabinets of bottles. The contemplation of these shining embankments was of course not very convincing ; and indeed the whole arrangement struck me as a high impertfneuce. Good wine is not an optical pleasure, it is an inward emotion ; and if there was a chamber of degustation on the premises I failed to discover it. It was not in the search for it, indeed, that I spent half an hour in this bewildering bazaar. Like all “ expositions,” it seemed to me to be full of ugly things, and gave one a portentous idea of the quantity of rubbish that man carries with him on his course through the ages. Such an amount of luggage for a journey after all so short! There were no individual objects; there was nothing but dozens and hundreds, all machine-made and expressionless, in spite of the repeated grimace, the conscious smartness, of “ the last new thing,” that was stamped on all of them. The fatal facility of the French article becomes at last as irritating as the refrain of a popular song. The poor “Indiens Galibis ” struck me as really more interesting—a group of stunted savages who formed one of the attractions of the place, and were confined in a pen in the open air, with a rabble of people pushing and squeezing, hanging over the barrier, to look at them. They had no grimace, no pretension to be new, no desire to catch your eye. They looked at their visitors no more than if they had been so many sunbeams, and seemed ancient, indifferent, terribly bored.
There is much entertainment in the journey through the wide, smiling garden of Gascony ; I speak of it as I took it in going from Bordeaux to Toulouse. It is the south, quite the south, and had for the present narrator its full measure of the charm he is always determined to find in countries that may even by courtesy be said to appertain to the sun. It was, moreover, the happy and genial view of these mild latitudes, which, heaven knows, often have a dreariness of their own ; a land teeming with corn and wine, and speaking everywhere (that is, everywhere the phylloxera had not laid it waste) of wealth and plenty. The road runs constantly near the Garonne, touching now and then its slow, brown, rather sullen stream, a sullenness that incloses great dangers and disasters. The traces of the horrible floods of 1875 have disappeared, and the land smiles placidly enough while it waits for another immersion. Toulouse, at the period I speak of, was up to its middle (and in places above it) in water, and looks still as if it had been thoroughly soaked — as if it had faded and shriveled with a long steeping. The fields and copses, of course, are more forgiving. The railway line follows as well the charming Canal du Midi, which is as pretty as a river, barring the straightness, and here and there occupies the foreground, beneath a screen of dense, tall trees, while the Garonne takes a larger and more irregular course a little way beyond it. People who are fond of canals — and, speaking from the pictorial stand-point, I hold the taste to be most legitimate — will delight in this admirable specimen of the class, which has a very interesting history, not to be narrated here. On the other side of the road (the left), all the way, runs a long, low line of hills, or rather one continuous hill, or perpetual cliff, with a straight top, in the shape of a ledge of rock, which might pass for a ruined wall. I am afraid the reader will lose patience with my habit of constantly referring to the landscape of Italy, as if that were the measure of the beauty of every other. Yet I am still more afraid that I cannot apologize for it, and must leave it in its culpable nakedness. It is an idle habit, but the reader will long since have discovered that this was an idle journey and that I give my impressions as they came to me. It came to me, then, that in all this view there was something transalpine, with a greater smartness and freshness and much less elegance and languor. This impression was occasionally deepened by the appearance, on the long eminence of which I speak, of a village, a church, or a chateau, which seemed to look down at the plain from over the ruined wall. The perpetual vines, the bright-faced, flatroofed houses, covered with tiles, the softness and sweetness of the light and air, recalled the prosier portions of the Lombard plain. Toulouse itself has a little of this Italian expression, but not enough to give a color to its dark, dirty, crooked streets, which are irregular without being eccentric, and which, if it were not for the superb church of Saint Sernin, would be quite destitute of monuments.
I have already alluded to the way in which the names of certain places impose themselves on the mind, and I must add that of Toulouse to the list of expressive appellations. It certainly evokes a vision — suggests something highly méridional. But the city, it must be confessed, is less pictorial than the word, in spite of the Place du Capitole, in spite of the quay of the Garonne, in spite of the curious cloister of the old museum. What justifies the images that are latent in the word is not the aspect, but the history, of the town. The hotel to which the well-advised traveler will repair stands in a corner of the Place du Capitole, which is the heart and centre of Toulouse, and which bears a vague and inexpensive resemblance to Piazza Castello at Turin. The Capitol, with a wide modern face, occupies one side, and like the palace at Turin looks across at a high arcade, under which the hotels, the principal shops, and the lounging citizens are gathered. The shops are probably better than the Turinese, but the people are not so good. Stunted, shabby, rather vitiated looking, they have none of the personal richness of the sturdy Piedmontese; and I will take this occasion to remark that in the course of a journey of several weeks in the French provinces I rarely encountered a well-dressed male. Can it be possible that republics are unfavorable to a certain attention to one’s boots and one’s beard ? I risk this somewhat futile inquiry because the proportion of neat coats and trousers seemed to be about the same in France and in my native land. It was notably lower than in England and in Italy, and even warranted the supposition that most good provincials have their chin shaven and their boots blacked but once a week. I hasten to add, lest my observation should appear to be of a sadly superficial character, that the manners and conversation of these gentlemen bore (whenever I had occasion to appreciate them) no relation to the state of their chin and their boots. They were almost always marked by an extreme amenity. At Toulouse there was the strongest temptation to speak to people, simply for the entertainment of hearing them reply with that curious, that fascinating accent of the Languedoc, which appears to abound in final consonants, and leads the Toulousains to say bien-g and maison-g, like Englishmen learning French. It is as if they talked with their teeth rather than with their tongue. I find in my note-book a phrase in regard to Toulouse which is perhaps a little illnatured, but which I will transcribe as it stands. “ The oddity is that the place should be both animated and dull. A big, brown-skinned population clattering about in a flat, tortuous town, which produces nothing whatever that I can discover. Except the church of Saint Sernin and the fine old court of the Hôtel d’Assézat, Toulouse has no architecture ; the houses are for the most part of brick, of a grayish-red color, and have no particular style. The brickwork of the place is in fact yery poor — inferior to that of the north Italian towns, and quite wanting in the richness of tone which this homely material takes on in the damp climates of the north.” And then my note-book goes on to narrate a little visit to the Capitol, which was soon made, as the building was in course of repair and half the rooms were closed.
The history of Toulouse is detestable, saturated with blood and perfidy; and the ancient custom of the Floral Games, grafted upon all sorts of internecine traditions, seems, with its false pastoralism, its mock chivalry, its display of fine feelings, to set off rather than to mitigate these horrors. The society was founded in the fourteenth century, and it has held annual meetings ever since — meetings at which poems in the fine old langue d’oc are declaimed and a blushing laureate is chosen. This business takes place in the Capitol, before the chief magistrate of the town, who is known as the capitoul, and of all the pretty women as well—a class very numerous at Toulouse. It was impossible to have a finer person than that of the portress who pretended to show me the apartments in which the Floral Games are held : a big, brown, expansive woman, still in the prime of life, with a speaking eye, an extraordinary assurance, and a pair of magenta stockings, which were inserted into the neatest and most polished little black sabots, and which, as she clattered up the stairs before me, lavishly displaying them, made her look like the heroine of an opérabouffe. Her talk was all in n’s, g’s, and d’s, and in mute e’s strongly accented, as autré, théatré, splendidé — the last being an epithet she applied to everything the Capitol contained, and especially to a horrible picture representing the famous Clemence Isatire, the reputed foundress of the poetical contest, presiding on one of these occasions. I wondered whether Clémence Isaure had been anything like this terrible Toulousaine of to-day, who would have been a capital figure-head for a floral game. The lady in whose honor the picture I have just mentioned was painted is a somewhat mythical personage, and she is not to be found in the Biographie Universelle. She is, however, a very graceful myth, and if she never existed her statue does, at least; a shapeless effigy, transferred to the Capitol from the socalled tomb of Clemence in the old church of La Daurade. The great hall in which the Floral Games are held was encumbered with scaffoldings, and I was unable to admire the long series of busts of the bards who have won prizes and the portraits of all the capitouls of Toulouse. As a compensation I was introduced to a big bookcase, filled with the poems that have been crowned since the days of the troubadours, a portentous collection, and the big butcher’s knife with which, according to the legend, Henry, Duke of Montmorency, who had conspired against the great cardinal with Gaston of Orleans and Mary de’ Medici, was, in 1632, beheaded on this spot by the order of Richelieu. With these objects the interest of the Capitol was exhausted. The building, indeed, has not the grandeur of its name, which is a sort of promise that the visitor will find some sensible embodiment of the old Roman tradition that once flourished in this part of France. It is inferior in impressiveness to the other three famous Capitols of the modern world — that of Rome (if I may call the present structure modern), and those of Washington and Albany !
The only Roman remains at Toulouse are to be found in the museum, a very interesting establishment, which I was condemned to see as imperfectly as I had seen the Capitol. It was being rearranged, and the gallery of paintings, which is the least interesting feature, was the only part that was not upside down. The pictures are mainly of the modern French school, and I remember nothing but a powerful though disagreeable specimen of Henner, who paints the human body, and paints it so well, with a brush dipped in blackness ; and, placed among the paintings, a bronze replica of the charming young David of Mercie. These things have been set out in the church of an old monastery, long since suppressed, and the rest of the collection occupies the cloisters. These are two in number; a small one, which you enter first from the street, and a very vast and elegant one beyond it, which with its light gothic arches and slim columns (of the fourteenth century), its broad walk, its little garden with old tombs and statues in the centre, is by far the most picturesque, the most sketchable, spot in Toulouse. It must be doubly so when the Roman busts, inscriptions, slabs and sarcophagi are ranged along the walls; it must indeed, to compare small things with great, and as the judicious Murray remarks, bear a certain resemblance to the Campo Santo at Pisa. But these things are absent now ; the cloister is a litter of confusion, and its treasures have been stowed away, confusedly, in sundry inaccessible rooms. The custodian attempted to console me by telling me that when they are exhibited again it will be on a scientific basis, and with an order and regularity of which they were formerly innocent. But I was not consoled. I wanted simply the spectacle, the picture, and I did n’t care in the least for the classification. Old Roman fragments, exposed to light in the open air, under a southern sky, in a quadrangle round a garden, have an immortal charm simply in their general effect, and the charm is all the greater when the soil of the very place has yielded them up.
My real consolation was an hour I spent in Saint-Sernin, one of the noblest churches in southern France, and easily the first among those of Toulouse. This great structure, a masterpiece of twelfth-century Romanesque, and dedicated to St. Saturninus—the Toulousains have abbreviated — is, I think, alone worth a journey to Toulouse. What makes it so is the extraordinary seriousness of its interior; no other term occurs to me as expressing so well the character of its clear gray nave. As a general thing, I do not favor the fashion of attributing moral qualities to buildings; I shrink from talking about tender porticoes and sincere campanili ; but I find I cannot get on at all without imputing some sort of morality to SaintSernin. As it stands to-day, the church has been completely restored by Viollet-le-Duc. The exterior is of brick, and has little charm save that of a tower of four rows of arches, narrowing together as they ascend. The nave is of great length and height, the barrel-roof of stone, the effect of the round arches and pillars in the triforium especially fine. There are two low aisles on either side. The choir is very deep and narrow ; it seems to close together, and looks as if it were meant for intensely earnest rites. The transepts are most noble, especially the arches of the second tier. The whole church is narrow for its length, and is singularly complete and homogeneous. As I say all this, I feel that I quite fail to give an impression of its manly gravity, its strong proportions, or of the lonesome look of its renovated stones as I sat there while the October twilight gathered. It is a real work of art, a high conception. The crypt, into which I was eventually led captive by an importunate sacristan, is quite another affair, though indeed I suppose it may also be spoken of as a work of art. It is a rich museum of relics, and contains the head of St. Thomas Aquinas, wrapped up in a napkin and exhibited in a glass case. The sacristan took a lamp and guided me about, presenting me to one saintly remnant after another. The impression was grotesque, but some of the objects were contained in curious old cases of beaten silver and brass ; these things, at least, which looked as if they had been transmitted from the early church, were venerable. There was, however, a kind of wholesale sanctity about the place which overshot the mark ; it pretends to be one of the holiest spots in the world. The effect is spoiled by the way the sacristans hang about and offer to take you into it for ten sous — I was accosted by two and escaped from another— and by the familiar manner in which you pop in and out. This episode rather broke the charm of Saint-Sernin, so that I took my departure and went in search of the cathedral. It was scarcely worth finding, and struck me as an odd, dislocated fragment. The front consists only of a portal, beside which a tall brick tower, of a later period, has been erected. The nave was wrapped in dimness, with a few scattered lamps. I could only distinguish an immense vault, like a high cavern, without aisles. Here and there, in the gloom, was a kneeling figure ; the whole place was mysterious and lopsided. The choir was curtained off ; it appeared not to correspond with the nave, that is, not to have the same axis. The only other ecclesiastical impression I gathered at Toulouse came to me in the church of La Daurade, of which the front, on the quay by the Garonne, was closed with scaffoldings ; so that one entered it from behind, where it is completely masked by houses, through a door which has at first no traceable connection with it. It is a vast, high, modernized, heavily decorated church, dimly lighted at all times, I should suppose, and enriched by the shades of evening at the time I looked into it. I perceived that it consisted mainly of a large square, beneath a dome, in the centre of which a single person—a lady — was praying with the utmost absorption. The manner of access to the church interposed such an obstacle to the outer profanities that I had a sense of intruding, and presently withdrew, carrying with me a picture of the vast, still interior, the gilded roof, gleaming in the twilight, and the solitary worshiper. What was she praying for, and was she not almost afraid to remain there alone ?
For the rest, the picturesque at Toulouse consists principally of the walk beside the Garonne, which is spanned, to the faubourg of Saint-Cyprien, by a stout brick bridge. This hapless suburb, the baseness of whose site is noticeable, lay for days under the water at the time of the last inundations. The Garonne had almost mounted to the roofs of the houses, and the place continues to present a blighted, frightened look. Two or three persons, with whom I had some conversation, spoke of that time as a memory of horror. I have not done with my Italian comparisons ; I shall never have done with them. I am therefore free to say that in the way in which Toulouse looks out on the Garonne there was something that reminded me vaguely of the way in which Pisa looks out on the Arno. The redfaced houses — all of brick — along the quay have a mixture of brightness and shabbiness, as well as the fashion of the open loggia in the top-story. The river, with another bridge or two, might be the Arno, and the buildings on the other side of it — a hospital, a suppressed convent — dip their feet into it with real southern cynicism. I have spoken of the old Hotel d’Assezat as the best house at Toulouse; with the exception of the cloister of the museum, it is the only “ bit” I remember. It has fallen from the state of a noble residence of the sixteenth century to that of a warehouse and a set of offices; but a certain dignity lingers in its melancholy court, which is divided from the street by a gateway that is still imposing, and in which a clambering vine and a red Virginia - creeper were suspended to the rusty walls of brick and stone.
The most interesting house at Toulouse is far from being the most striking. At the door of number 50 Rue des Filatiers, a featureless, solid structure, was found hanging, one autumn evening, the body of the young Marc-Antoine Galas, whose ill-inspired suicide was to be the first act of a tragedy so horrible. The fanaticism aroused in the towns-folk by this incident; the execution by torture of Jean Galas, accused as a Protestant of having hanged his son, who had gone over to the church of Rome ; the ruin of the family ; the claustration of the daughters ; the flight of the widow to Switzerland ; her introduction to Voltaire ; the excited zeal of that incomparable polemist. and the passionate persistence with which, from year to year, he pursued a reversal of judgment, till at last he obtained it, and devoted the tribunal of Toulouse to execration and the name of the victims to lasting wonder and pity — these things form part of one of the most interesting and touching episodes of the social history of the eighteenth century. The story has the fatal progression, the dark rigidity, of one of the tragic dramas of the Greeks. Jean Calas, advanced in life, blameless, bewildered, protesting his innocence, had been broken on the wheel, and the sight of his decent dwelling, which brought home to me all that had been suffered there, spoiled for me, for half an hour, the impression of Toulouse.
I spent but a few hours at Carcassonne ; but those hours had a rounded felicity, and I cannot do better than transcribe from my note-book the little record I made at the moment. Vitiated as it may be by crudity and incoherency, it has at any rate the freshness of a great emotion. This is the best quality that a reader may hope to extract from a narrative in which “useful information ” and technical lore even of the most general sort are completely absent. For Carcassonne is moving, beyond a doubt, and the traveler who, in the course of a little tour in France, may have felt himself urged, in melancholy moments, to say that on the whole the disappointments are as numerous as the satisfactions must admit that there can be nothing better than this.
The country, after you leave Toulouse, continues to be charming; the more so that it merges its flatness in the distant Cevennes on one side, and on the other, far away on your right, in the richer range of the Pyrenees. Olives and cypresses, pergolas and vines, terraces on the roofs of houses, soft, iridescent mountains, a warm yellow light — what more could the difficult tourist want ? He left his luggage at the station, warily determined to look at the inn before committing himself to it. It was so evident (even to a cursory glance) that it might easily have been much better that he simply took his way to the town, with the whole of a superb afternoon before him. When I say the town, I mean the towns; there being two at Carcassonne, perfectly distinct, and each with excellent claims to the title. They have settled the matter between them, however, and the elder, the shrine of pilgrimage, to which the other is but a stepping-stone, or even, as I may say, a humble door-mat, takes the name of the Cite. You see nothing of the Cité from the station; it is masked by the agglomeration of the ville - basse, which is relatively (but only relatively) new. A wonderful avenue of acacias leads to it from the station —leads past it, rather, and conducts you to a little high-backed bridge over the Aude, beyond which, detached and erect, a distinct mediæval silhouette, the Cite presents itself. Like a rival shop, on the invidious side of a street, it has “ no connection ” with the establishment across the way, although the two places are united (if old Carcassonne may be said to be united to anything) by a vague little rustic faubourg. Perched on its solid pedestal, the perfect detachment of the Cite is what first strikes you. To take leave, without delay, of the ville-basse, I may say that the splendid acacias I have mentioned flung a summerish dusk over the place, in which a few scattered remains of stout walls and big bastions looked venerable and picturesque. A little boulevard winds round the town, planted with trees and garnished with more benches than I ever saw provided by a soft-hearted municipality. This precinct had a warm, lazy, dusty, southern look, as if the people sat out-of-doors a great deal, and wandered about in the stillness of summer nights. The figure of the elder town, at these hours, must be ghostly enough on its neighboring hill. Even by day it has the air of a vignette of Gustave Daré, a couplet of Victor Hugo. It is almost too perfect — as if it were an enormous model, placed on a big green table at a museum. A steep, paved way, grass-grown like all roads where vehicles never pass, stretches up to it in the sun. It has a double enciente, complete outer walls and complete inner (these, elaborately fortified, are the more curious); and this congregation of ramparts, towers, bastions, battlements, barbicans, is as fantastic and romantic as you please. The approach I mention here leads to the gate that looks toward Toulouse — the Porte de l’Aude. There is a second, on the other side, called, I believe, the Porte Narbonnaise, a magnificent gate, flanked with towers thick and tall, defended by elaborate outworks ; and these two apertures alone admit you to the place — putting aside a small sally-port, protected by a great bastion, on the quarter that looks toward the Pyrenees. As a votary, always, in the first instance, of a general impression, I walked allround the outer enceinte; a process on the very face of it entertaining. I took to the right of the Porte de l’Aude, without entering it, where the old moat has been filled in. The filling-in of the moat has created a grassy level at the foot of the big gray towers, which, rising at frequent intervals, stretch their stiff curtain of stone from point to point. The curtain drops without a fold upon the quiet grass, which was dotted here and there with a humble native, dozing away the golden afternoon. The natives of the elder Carcassonne are all humble, for the core of the Cite has shrunken and decayed, and there is little life among the ruins. A few tenacious laborers, who work in the neighboring fields or in the ville-basse, and sundry octogenarians of both sexes, who are dying where they have lived, and contribute much to the pictorial effect — these are the principal inhabitants. The process of converting the place from an irresponsible old town into a conscious “ specimen has of course been attended with eliminations; the population has, as a general thing, been restored away. I should lose no time in saying that restoration is the great mark of the Cité. M. Viollet-le-Duc has worked his will upon it, put it into perfect order, revived the fortifications in every detail. I do not pretend to judge the performance, carried out on a scale and in a spirit which really impose themselves on the imagination. Few architects have had such a chance, and M. Viollet-le-Duc must have been the envy of the whole restoring fraternity. The image of a more crumbling Carcassonne rises in the mind, and there is no doubt that forty years ago the place was more affecting. On the other hand, as we see it to-day, it is a wonderful evocation, and if there is a great deal of new in the old, there is plenty of old in the new. The repaired crenelations, the inserted patches, of the walls of the outer circle sufficiently express this commixture. My walk brought me into full view of the Pyrenees, which, now that the sun had begun to sink and the shadows to grow long, had a wonderful violet glow. The platform at the base of the walls has a greater width on this side, and it made the scene more complete. Two or three old crones had crawled out of the Porte Narbonnaise, to examine the advancing visitor ; and a very ancient peasant, lying there with his back against a tower, was tending half-a-dozen lean sheep. A poor man in a very old blouse, crippled and with crutches lying beside him, had been brought out and placed on a stool, where he enjoyed the afternoon as best he might. He looked so ill and so patient that I spoke to him ; found that his legs were paralyzed and he was quite helpless. He had formerly been seven years in the army, and had made the campaign of Mexico with Bazaine. Born in the old Cité, he had come back there to end his days. It seemed strange, as he sat there, with those romantic walls behind him and the great picture of the Pyrenees in front, to think that he had been across the seas to the faraway new world, had made part of a famous expedition, and was now a cripple at the gate of the medieval city where he had played as a child. All this struck me as a great deal of history for so modest a figure — a poor little figure that could only just unclose its palm for a small silver coin. He was not the only acquaintance I made at Carcassonne. I had not pursued my circuit of the walls much further when I encountered a person of quite another type, of whom I asked some question which had just then presented itself, and who proved to be the very genius of the spot. He was a sociable son of the ville-basse, a gentleman, and as I afterwards learned an employe at the prefecture — a person, in short, much esteemed at Carcassonne. (I may say all this, as he will never read these pages.) lie had been ill for a month, and in the company of his little dog was taking his first airing ; in his own phrase he was amoureux-fou de la Cité — he could lose no time in coming back to it. He talked of it, indeed, as a lover, and, giving me for half an hour the advantage of his company, showed me all the points of the place. (I speak here always of the outer enceinte ; you penetrate to the inner, which is the specialty of Carcassonne, and the great curiosity, only by application at the lodge of the regular custodian, a remarkable functionary, who, half an hour later, when I had been introduced to him by my friend the amateur, marched me over the fortifications with a tremendous accompaniment of dates and technical terms.) My companion pointed out to me in particular the traces of different periods in the structure of the walls. There is a portentous amount of history embedded in them, beginning with Romans and Visigoths ; here and there are marks of old breaches, hastily repaired. We passed into the town — into that part of it not included in the citadel. It is the queerest and most fragmentary little place in the world, as everything save the fortifications is being suffered to crumble away, in order that the spirit of M. Viollet-le-Duc alone may pervade it, and it may subsist simply as a magnificent shell. As the leases of the wretched little houses fall in, the ground is cleared of them, and a mumbling old woman approached me in the course of my circuit, inviting me to condole with her on the disappearance of so many of the hovels which in the last few hundred years (since the collapse of Carcassonne as a stronghold) had attached themselves to the base of the walls, in the space between the two circles. These habitations, constructed of materials taken from the ruins, nestled there snugly enough. This intermediate space had therefore become a kind of street, which has crumbled in turn, as the fortress has grown up again. There are other streets beside, very diminutive and vague, where you pick your way over heaps of rubbish and become conscious of unexpected faces, looking at you out of windows as detached as the cherubic heads. The most definite thing in the place was a little cafe, where the waiters, I think, must be the ghosts of the old Visigoths ; the most definite, that is, after the little chateau and the little cathedral. Everything in the Cité is little ; you can walk round the walls in twenty minutes. On the drawbridge of the chateau, which, with a picturesque old face, flanking towers and a dry moat, is to-day simply a bare caserne, lounged half a dozen soldiers, unusually small. Nothing could be more odd than to see these objects inclosed in a receptacle which has much of the appearance of an enormous toy. The Cité and its population vaguely reminded me of an immense Noah’s ark.
Carcassonne dates from the Roman occupation of Gaul. The place commanded one of the great roads into Spain, and in the fourth century Romans and Franks ousted each other from such a point of vantage. In the year 436, Theodoric, king of the Visigoths, superseded both these parties, and it is during his occupation that the inner enceinte was raised upon the ruins of the Roman fortifications. Most of the Visigoth towers that are still erect are seated upon Roman substructions which appear to have been formed hastily, probably at the moment of the Frankish invasion. The authors of these solid defenses, though occasionally disturbed, held Carcassonne and the neighboring country, in which they had established their kingdom of Septimania, till the year 713, when they_were expelled by the Moors of Spain, who ushered in an unillumined period of four centuries, of which no traces remain. These facts I derive from a source no more recondite than a pamphlet by M. Viollet-le-Duc — a very luminous description of the fortifications, which you may buy from the accomplished custodian. The writer makes a jump to the year 1209, when Carcassonne, then forming part of the realm of the viscounts of Beziers and infected by the Albigensian heresy, was besieged, in the name of the Pope, by the terrible Simon de Montfort and his army of crusaders. Simon was accustomed to success, and the town succumbed in the course of a fortnight. Thirty-one years later, having passed into the hands of the king of France, it was again besieged by the young Raymond de Trincavel, the last of the viscounts of Beziers ; and of this siege M. Viollet-le-Duc gives a long and minute account, which the visitor who has a head for such things may follow, with the brochure in hand, on the fortifications themselves. The young Raymond de Trincavel, baffled and repulsed, retired at the end of twenty-four days. Saint Louis and Philip the Bold, in the thirteenth century, multiplied the defenses of Carcassonne, which was one of the bulwarks of their kingdom on the Spanish quarter; and from this time forth, being regarded as impregnable, the place had nothing to fear. It was not even attacked, and when, in 1355, Edward the Black Prince marched into it, the inhabitants had opened the gates to the conqueror before whom all Languedoc was prostrate. I am not one of those who, as I said just now, have a head for such things, and having extracted these few facts had made all the use of M. Viollet-le-Duc’s pamphlet of which I was capable.
I have mentioned that my obliging friend the amoureux-fou handed me over to the door-keeper of the citadel. I should add that 1 was at first committed to the wife of this functionary, a stout peasant-woman, who took a key down from a nail, conducted me to a postern door, and ushered me into the presence of her husband. Having just begun his rounds with a party of four persons, he was not many steps in advance. I added myself perforce to this party, which was not brilliantly composed, except that two of its members were gendarmes in full toggery, who announced in the course of our tour that they had been stationed for a year at Carcassonne and had never before had the curiosity to come up to the Cité. There was something brilliant, certainly, in that. The gardien was an extraordinarily typical little Frenchman, who struck me even more forcibly than the wonders of the inner enceinte ; and as I am bound to assume, at whatever cost to my literary vanity, that there is not the slightest danger of his reading these remarks, I may treat him as public property. With his diminutive stature and his perpendicular spirit, his flushed face, expressive, protuberant eyes, high, peremptory voice, extreme volubility, lucidity, and neatness of utterance, he reminded me of the gentry who figure in the revolutions of his native land. If he was not a fierce little Jacobin he ought to have been, for I am sure there were many men of his pattern on the Committee of Public Safety. He knew absolutely what he was about, understood the place thoroughly, and constantly reminded his audience of what he himself had done in the way of excavations and reparations. He described himself as the brother of the architect of the work actually going forward (that which has been done since the death of M. Viollet-le-Duc, I suppose he meant), and this fact was more illustrative than all the others. It reminded me, as one is reminded at every turn, of the democratic conditions of French life : a man of the people, with a wife en bonnet, extremely intelligent, full of special knowledge, and yet remaining essentially of the people, and showing his intelligence with a kind of ferocity, of defiance. Such a personage helps one to understand the red radicalism of France, the revolutions, the barricades, the sinister passion for thrones. (I do not, of course, take upon myself to say that the individual I describe — who can know nothing of the liberties I am taking with him — is actually devoted to these ideals ; I only mean that many such devotees must have his qualities.) In just the nuance that I have tried to indicate here, it is a terrible pattern of man. Permeated in a high degree by civilization, it is yet untouched by the desire which one finds in the Englishman, in proportion as he rises in the world, to approximate to the figure of the gentleman ; on the other hand, a netteté, a faculty of exposition, such as the English gentleman is rarely either blessed or cursed with. This brilliant, this suggestive warden of Carcassonne marched us about for an hour, haranguing, explaining, illustrating, as he went: it was a complete little lecture, such as might have been delivered at the Boston Music Hall, on the manner in which a first-rate place forte used to be attacked and defended. Our peregrinations made it very clear that Carcassonne was impregnable ; it is impossible to imagine, without having seen them, such refinements of immurement, such ingenuities of resistance. We passed along battlements and chemins de ronde, ascended and descended towers, crawled under arches, peered out of loop-holes, lowered ourselves into dungeons, halted in all sorts of tight places, while the purpose of something or other was described to us. It was very curious, very interesting, above all it was very pictorial, and involved perpetual peeps into the little crooked, crumbling, sunny, grassy, empty Cite. In places, as you stand upon it, the great towered and embattled enceinte produces an illusion ; it looks as if it were still equipped and defended. One vivid challenge, at any rate, it flings down before you ; it calls upon you to make up your mind on the matter of restoration. For myself, I have no hesitation ; I prefer in every case the ruined, however ruined, to the reconstructed, however splendid. What is left is more precious than what is added; the one is history, the other is fiction, and I like the former the better of the two ; it is so much more romantic. One is positive, so far as it goes ; the other fills up the void with things more dead than the void itself, inasmuch as they have never had life. After that I am free to say that the restoration of Carcassonne is a splendid achievement. The little custodian dismissed us at last, after having, as usual, inducted us into the inevitable repository of photographs. These photographs are a great nuisance, all over the Midi. They are exceedingly bad, for the most part; and the worst, those in the form of the hideous little album panorama, are thrust upon you at every turn. They are a kind of tax that you must pay ; the best way is to pay to be let off. It was not to be denied that there was a relief in separating from our accomplished guide, whose manner of imparting information reminded me of the energetic process by which I have seen mineral waters bottled. All this while the afternoon had grown more lovely; the sunset had deepened, the horizon of hills grown purple ; the mass of the Canigou became more delicate, yet more distinct. The day had so far faded that the interior of the little cathedral was wrapped in twilight, into which the glowing windows projected something of their color. This church has high beauty and value, but I will spare the reader a presentation of details which I myself had no opportunity to master. It consists of a Romanesque nave of the end of the eleventh century, and a gothic choir and transepts of the beginning of the fourteenth; and, shut up in its citadel like a precious casket in a cabinet, it seems — or seemed at that hour — to have a sort of double sanctity. After leaving it and passing out of the two circles of walls, I treated myself, in the most infatuated manner, to another walk round the Cité. It is certainly this general impression that is most striking—the impression from outside, where the whole place detaches itself at once from the landscape. In the warm southern dusk it looked more than ever like a city in a fairy-tale. To make the thing perfect, a white young moon, in its first quarter, came out and hung just over the dark silhouette. It was hard to come away — to incommode one’s self for anything so vulgar as a railwaytrain ; I would gladly have spent the evening in revolving round the walls of Carcassonne. But I had in a measure engaged to proceed to Narbonne, and there was a certain magic in that name which gave me strength — Narbonne, the richest city in Roman Gaul.