Part 2 out of 4
and glittering cascade, alternating with sterner and grander features--
dark forests covering vast spaces, rugged peaks towering aloft, wild
sweeps of heather-covered moorland. Seen as I saw this region, under a
wind-tossed lowering heaven, the impression was of extreme desolation
and wildness; only a glimpse of sunshine was needed to bring out the
witchery of each shifting scene. Nothing can be prettier in a quiet way
than these countless rivers and rivulets, each fringed with lofty
alders, these velvety glades and winding lanes. Forests abound, and I
was assured by a peasant that the poor never need buy any firewood.
They can pick up enough to last them all winter.
Immediately below Chateau-Chinon opens a fair valley, threaded by the
river Yonne. Bewildering is the sense of space and atmosphere we obtain
here, as we look straight down into the clifts below, or allow the eye
to wander over the vast panorama stretching around.
A town perched on a height two thousand feet above the sea-level, so
placed as to command an entire kingdom, should have a history, and the
history of Chateau-Chinon goes very far back indeed. The fortified
citadel of the seigneury was built on the site of a Gallo-Roman camp,
or castrum, the castrum on that of a Gallic oppidum. The once warlike,
grim little place, that often defied its enemies in the seigneurial
wars, is now the most dead-alive, sleepy little provincial place
'We will breakfast together,' said the gray-haired conductor of the
diligence to me; 'and you will afterwards have time to look round
before we start home.'
Although pure Celts, the Morvandiaux have not the proud reserve and,
perhaps, distrust of strangers found among the Bretons. I have driven
for miles across country alone with a Breton peasant, and he would
never once open his lips. Had I carried bags of gold about me, I should
have been perfectly safe under such protection. But a sociable
invitation to chat over the ordinary of an auberge would never have
entered the head of a diligence-driver in the Morbihan or Finistere.
The little inn looked temptingly rustic and primitive, and the smiling,
round-faced, rosy-cheeked landlady might have just walked out of a
picture. Exactly such a landlady I remember at Llangollen years ago.
I had, however, no time to stay, and we drove v back to Autun, making
the descent at a rapid rate, catching by the way the glimpse of a
stately peasant, with the Gallic saie, or mantle, thrown over his
shoulders. He might have sat for a study of Vercingetorix! It was worth
while going to Chateau-Chinon for the sight of such a piece of
antiquity as that!
Alas! Chateau-Chinon is to have a railway, and alike the mantle worn by
Vercingetorix and his countrymen, the ancient Gallic speech--even the
time-honoured system of log-floating--are doomed. Instead of being
invited to breakfast with the blue-bloused pleasant driver of the
diligence, I shall expect to find at table-d'hote half a score of
English undergraduates, members of the bicyclist club, or a party of
enterprising ladies from Chicago.
A word about Autun itself, a town that improves marvellously on
acquaintance. This was my third visit, and I found it more attractive
than ever. The beauty of its site is best appreciated from the lower
ground beyond its western suburb. And beautiful it is--the graceful
cathedral, with its airy spire and twin towers, pencilled in soft,
silvery gray against the dimpled green hills, every feature of the
landscape in harmony with it, as if, indeed, made to be in harmony with
it. Turning from the cathedral in an opposite direction, in order to
make the circuit of the city, we realize how grand was the predecessor
of modern Autun the Augustodonum of Gallic Rome. Keeping to this higher
ground, we can follow with the eye the tremendous span of the Roman
wall, fragmentary for the most part, yet perfect in places, and built
neither of bricks nor blocks of stone, but of small stones.
Inside the enclosure we see the mediaeval wall and picturesque watch-
towers of the French king Francis. Picturesque as these are--also the
bits of ordinary domestic architecture between airily-perched dormers,
stone balconies filled with flowers, little terraced gardens rising one
above the other-the mind is too much occupied with the grand Roman
aspect of the place to dwell as yet upon minor points. The circuit of
the city, so made as to visit its two magnificent Roman gateways, and
equally fine so-called Temple of Janus, is beyond the reach of moderate
walkers. All are noble specimens of Augustan architecture, more
especially the Porte d'Arroux. This stands on the north side of the
town, beyond the suburbs, its lofty arches spanning the road, and
wearing, from the distance, the look of an aqueduct. It is built of
huge blocks of stone adjusted without cement. Between the upper tiers
of arches are sculptured Corinthian columns, all happily uninjured. So
massive is this structure, so firmly it stands, that we feel as if,
like the Pyramids, it might last for ever.
Beyond, on either side, stretches the pleasant open country-fields and
meadows and market-gardens; whilst far away, in bright sunny weather
looking like a violet cloud, is the vast height of Bibracte, so
celebrated in the 'Commentaries.'
But the most curious monument at Autun is the so-called Pierre de
Couhard. From all parts of the city may be seen, rising conspicuously
from its green eminence, this stately relic-maybe of Roman or Gallic
times, perhaps raised of remoter date still--a vast pyramid of stone,
worthy to be compared to the great tomb of Caius Sextius in Rome.
It is a pleasant walk to what the townsfolk call the Pierre de Quare.
Leaving behind us the cathedral and suburbs, we follow a road winding
in a south-easterly direction to the little village of Couhard, watered
by a gurgling stream, and sheltered by a fair green hill. As we quit
the highroad to reach the monument, we come upon pretty pastoral
groups. It is supper-time-l'heure de la soupe, as French rustics say--
and before every cottage-door are squatted family groups, eating their
pottage on the doorsteps. Around are the dogs and cats, chickens, pigs
and goats. To every humble homestead is attached orchard, garden, even
a patch of corn or vineyard. All is peace and contentment.
Certainly these rural interiors would not satisfy everybody. Neatness
and cleanliness do not always prevail among poor folks in France, any
more than in England. But, alike, young and old are neatly and
wholesomely dressed. Beggars are almost nil, and the prevailing aspect
is one of unforgettable well-being, independence, and cheerfulness.
In strange contrast with these domestic pictures--pet kittens and
children playing close under its shadow, tiny cabbage and tomato beds
planted to its very edge-stands the huge, angular, pyramidal pile
called the Pierre de Quare.
Very striking is the effect of the huge, solid brown mass, tapering to
a point, from summit to base reaching half the height of the cathedral-
spire, its original height in all probability having been much loftier.
The whole is a ruin, yet intact, if I may be pardoned the paradox.
Whilst the inner part of the monument remains uninjured, its sides have
been stripped of the marble slabs or polished stones that once in all
probability covered and adorned them. The outer surface now shows a
rough, jagged ensemble of masses of stone rudely put together, the
entire pyramid being solid.
We walked home in the evening light, getting dozens of charming
pictures in the twilight--pictures already familiar to me, yet ever
bringing a sense of newness. French towns, like French scenery, should
be revisited thus, and I hope ere very long to pay Autun my fourth
visit, and to take, for a second time, those delightful drives from
Avallon to Vezelay, and from the modern capital of the little Celtic
kingdom to the ancient, perched so airily above the surrounding hills.
FROM LYONS TO AVIGNON BY THE RHONE.
From Autun to Lyons is a journey that calls for little comment, unless
made, as wise Arthur Young made it a hundred years ago, on horseback;
or unless we take the steamer at Chalon, and enjoy the scenery of the
Saone, Mr. Hamerton's favourite river.
We were too impatient, however, to reach the Causses to stop, even for
the sake of a sail on the Saone, and made haste to catch the very next
_Gladiateur_ bound to Avignon. Why all these Rhone steamers should
be called _Gladiateur_ I don't know, but so it is.
By half-past five this bright August day we are on the deck of the
little steamer, to find a scene of indescribable liveliness and bustle.
All kinds of merchandise were being stowed away--bedding, fruit,
bicycles, bird-cages, passengers' luggage, cases, and packages of every
A stream of peasants poured in, bound for various stations on the way,
all heavily laden, some accompanied by their pet dogs. First-class
passengers were not numerous. We had an elderly bridegroom, who might
have been a small innkeeper, with his youthful bride, evidently making
a cheap wedding-trip; a family party or two; an excitable man with a
sick wife; a couple of pretty girls with two or three youths--brothers
or cousins; a sprinkling of priests and nuns--that was all. The
peasants with their baskets and bundles, at the other end of the
vessel, made picturesque groups, and the whole scene was as French as
French could be.
I was just thinking how pleasant it was thus to escape the routine of
travel, to find one's self in a purely foreign atmosphere, among French
people, picking up by the way French habits and ways of thought, when
one of the officials of the company bustled up to me.
'Pray pardon me, madame,' he said, bringing out a note-book. 'I see
that you are English. Will you be so very kind as to give me the name
and address of the great tourist agency in London? We are organizing an
entirely new service between Lyons and Avignon; we are going to make
our steamers attractive to tourists. You will oblige us extremely by
giving a little information.'
Crestfallen and with a sinking of the heart, I took his pencil--I
could, of course, not do otherwise--and wrote in big letters:
MM. Thomas Cook et Cie.,
But those few words I had written sufficed to dispel the delightful
visions of the moment before. Another year or two, then, and the Rhone
will be then handed over to Messrs. Cook, Gaze and Caygill--benefactors
of their kind, no doubt, but ruthless destroyers of the romance of
Instead of French folk, with whom we can chat about their crops, rural
affairs, the passing scenes, gaining all kinds of information, feeling
that we are really in France, and forgetting for awhile old
associations, henceforth we shall find on board these steamers our near
neighbours, whom, no matter how much respected, we are glad to quit for
a time. From end to end of the vessel we shall hear the voices of
English and Transatlantic tourists, one and all most probably
'disappointed in the Rhone;' but, indeed, for the river, we should as
well be at home! However, all this disenchantment happily belongs to
the future; let us enjoy the present experience--one long bright summer
day, so full of impressions as to seem many days rolled into one.
The whistle sounds, punctually to the stroke of six; we are off.
It is a noble sight as we steam out of the quay de la Charite: the vast
city rearing its stately front between green hills and meeting rivers;
above, white chateaux and villas dotting the greenery--below, the
quays, bordered with warehouses that might be palaces, so lofty and
handsome are they, and avenues of plane-trees.
The day promises to be splendid, but mists as yet hang over the scene.
Leaving behind us majestic cities and suburbs and the confluence of the
Rhone and the Saone--one silvery sheet flowing into the other--we glide
between low-lying banks bordered with poplars, and soon reach the
little village of Irigny, its sheltering green hills dotted with
country houses. As we go swiftly on we realize the appropriateness of
the epithet ever applied to the Rhone. Truly in Michelet's phrase,
'C'est un taureau furieux descendu des Alpes, et qui court a la mer.'
If we are in haste to reach our destination in the heart of the
Cevennes, the Rhone seems still more in haste to reach the sea. This
swift current of the bright blue waters and the unspeakable freshness
and purity of the air make our journey very exhilarating. Past Irigny
we are so near the low, poplar-bordered shore to our left that we could
almost reach it with a pebble, whilst to the right lies Millery. From
this point the river winds abruptly, and we see far-off hills and
gentle declivities nearer shore, with vineyards planted on the slopes.
The country on both sides is beautifully wooded, and very verdant.
The first halt is made at Givors, a little manufacturing town set round
with vine-clad banks; here the little river Giers flows into the Rhone,
one of the numerous tributaries gathered on the way. Just below the
town is a graceful suspension-bridge. But for the mists we should have
a lovely view a little further on, where the hills run nearer together,
the wooded escarpments running steep down to the water's edge. On both
right and left banks the scenery is now charming. Close to our left
hand rise banks fringed with silvery-green willows, and above a bold
line of hills, part wood, part vineyards, with white houses peeping
here and there; on our right, a little island-like group of poplar, the
whole picture very sweet and pastoral.
For the most part our passengers, alike first and second class, pay
scant heed to the scenery; the tiny salle-a-manger below and the
resources of the kitchen seem more attractive.
The excitable man with the sick wife, however, no sooner caught sight
of me with pencil and note-book than he rushed up, anxious to impart
information, also to pour out his own troubles.
'That sick lady yonder is my wife; does she not look ill? Oh, the
misfortune to have a sick wife!'
Then he went on to relate to me the history of his wife's long illness,
dilating on his own unhappiness in being so afflicted. It never seemed
to occur to him that it might be worse to be ill one's self, even than
to inflict one's illnesses on others. He had tried every imaginable
remedy, and now, as a last expedient, was about to take her to her
paternal home in the South, to see what native air might do. Poor lady!
ill and depressed she looked indeed.
As we get nearer Vienne the aspect of the country changes. There is an
Italian look about the vines trellised on trees, and festooned under
the tiled roofs of the little riverside chalets.
The approach to the ancient city itself is very striking. A light
suspension-bridge spans the river-banks just where Vienne faces the
village of St. Colombe, ancient as itself. On the right we see the
massive old town built by Philippe de Valois; to the left, behind the
houses, crowded together pell-mell, rises the massive pile of Vienne
Cathedral. Here another tributary, the Gere, flows into the Rhone.
Vienne was reputed a fosterer of poetry in classic times. At 'beautiful
Vienne,' Martial boasted that his works were read with avidity. The
scenery now shows more variety and picturesqueness. In one spot the
river winds so abruptly that we seem all on a sudden to be landlocked,
the hills almost meeting where the swift, impetuous stream has forced a
way. The cleft hills as they slope down to the shore show little dells
and combes deliciously fresh and verdurous. Everywhere we see the vine,
and with every bend we seem nearer the South. Between Vienne and
Roussillon the aspect is no longer French, but Italian--the distant
undulations dark purple, flecked with golden shadow, the nearer
terraced with the yellowing vine.
Our next halting-place is Condrien, on the right bank, celebrated for
its white wines, a pretty, Italian-looking little town, with vineyards
and gardens close to the riverside, the bright foliage of the acacia
and vine contrasting with the soft yellows and grays of the building-
stone. Above the straggling town on the sunny hill are deep-roofed
chalets, and close to us--we could almost gather them--patches of
glorious sunflowers in the riverside gardens. The mists had now cleared
off, and we were promised a superb day.
The traveller's mind is all at once struck by the extreme solitude of
this noble, vast-bosomed, swift-flowing river. We had been on our way
for hours without seeing a steamer or vessel of any kind, our little
craft having the wide water-way all to itself. Whilst the Saone is the
most navigable river in the world, quite opposite is the character of
its brother Rhone. Not inaptly has the one river--all gentleness,
yieldingness, and suavity--won a feminine, the other--all force,
impetuosity and stern will--obtained for itself a masculine,
appellative! And well has the Lyonnais sculptor given these
characteristics in his charming statues adorning the Hotel de Ville of
his native city.
The Rhone has been called 'un chemin qui marche trop vite'; the
rapidity of its currents and the difficulties of navigation up-stream
are obstructions to traffic. But before the great line of railway was
laid down between Paris and Marseilles, it was nevertheless very
important. If we converse with French folk whose memory goes back to a
past generation, we shall find that the journey South was invariably
made this way. Formerly sixty-two steamers daily plied with passengers
and goods between these riverside towns, now connected by railway. At
the present time seven or eight suffice for the work.
To render the Rhone adapted for navigation on a large scale, extensive
works are necessary in order to regulate its current and deepen its
bed. The question has long occupied the leading Chambers of Commerce
throughout France. Plans of the proposed ameliorations have been made;
works have even been begun. But the Rhone has that terribly powerful
Compagnie de Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee to contend with. It remains to be
seen whether wide public interests will be finally sacrificed to a
grasping railway company. For myself, I owe the P.-L.-M. a great and
I am in the habit of paying yearly visits to French friends living in
and near Dijon; but for the P.-L.-M., I could pleasantly vary these
annual visits to the delightful Burgundian capital, going by way of
Sens and Tonnerre, and returning by the Ligne de l'Est through
But no! The latter company is not permitted by the P.-L.-M. to set down
passengers in the Dijon railway-station. Those travellers desirous of
making the journey Paris-ward via Troyes are therefore forced to take
tickets to Is-sur-Tille, half an hour by rail from Dijon, on the Ligne
de l'Est. There they are permitted, and not before, to take through
tickets and register baggage to Paris. I rejoice to hear, however, that
influential Dijonnais are taking the matter up, and I yet live in hopes
of being able to avoid the P.-L.-M. line to and from Dijon.
It must be admitted that the great solitude of the Rhone adds to its
majesty and impressiveness. Our little craft seems insignificant as a
feather--a mere bird skimming the vast blue surface. After the clearing
of the mists, we have a spell of unbroken blue sky and bright sunshine,
followed by a deliciously cool, gray English heaven, with sunny
glimpses and varied cloudage.
Passing Serrieres, with pastures and meadows close to the water's edge,
and groups of cattle grazing under the trees, we reach Annonay, crested
by a quaint ruin, the birth-place of the great balloonists, the
brothers Montgolfier. The first balloon ascent was made from this
little town in 1783. Boissy d'Anglas, the heroic president of the
Assembly in its stormiest days, was also born here.
Next comes St. Vallier, an ancient little town close to the river-side,
with its castle of the beauty who never grew old, Diane de Poitiers--
she whose mysterious cosmetic was a daily plunge in cold water; so say
the initiated in historic secrets. Opposite to St. Vallier rises a
chain of sunny, vine-covered hills, with sharp clefts showing deep
At Arras, on the right bank, is seen another picturesque ruin. No river
in Europe boasts of more ruins than the Rhone. Then we reach the
legendary rock called the Table du Roi. Just as AEneas and his
companions made of their flat loaves, plates, and so fulfilled the
Sibyl's prediction, St. Louis saw in this tabular block a dinner-table,
providentially designed for the use of himself and his ministers. The
great advantage of such a table lay in its immunity from listeners,
thus the story runs. This al-fresco banquet above the banks of the
Rhone took place on the eve of the Seventh Crusade.
At this point the river is magnificent. Beyond the nearer hills rise
the crumbling walls of a feudal stronghold, another ruin of imposing
aspect. One hoary tower only is seen, half hidden by the folds of a
valley. On every steep slope the vines make golden patches, little
terraces being planted close to the rocky summits. This persistence in
a phylloxera-ravaged district is quite touching.
Passing Tournon and Tain, we soon come in sight of the famous little
village of the Hermitage, a sunburnt, granitic slope, its three hundred
acres once being a mine of gold. Formerly a hectare of this precious
vineyard was worth 30,000 francs. The phylloxera, alas! has invaded it.
We now see in the far distance the blue range of the Dauphinnois Alps,
and can it be--is yonder silvery glimmer on the farthest horizon the
mighty Mont Blanc? Nothing can be lovelier than these wide mountain
vistas, far above broad blue river, plain, and hill.
Passing the stately Gothic chateau of Chateaubourg, where sojourned St.
Louis, we get a glimpse of the sharply-outlined limestone heights
bordering on the vineyards of St. Peray, no less celebrated than those
of the Hermitage. On the topmost crag stand out in bold relief the
superb ruins of Crussol. At every turn we see gray walls of feudal
strongholds frowning above the bright, broad river. By the time we
reach Valence, soon after mid-day, we have passed one barge only.
Valence is beautifully situated. [Footnote: In the early part of this
century the Rhone threw up gold-dust here. The beaver, be it also
mentioned, had his home then on the banks of this river, but it lived
in isolation, showing little of the intelligence of the Canada beaver.]
Facing the river and tawny, abrupt rocks rises the splendid panorama of
the French Alps. Here we ought to stay, were we not in such feverish
flurry to reach the Causses. And here we leave more than half our
passengers and merchandise. The cook, having now nothing to do, comes
on deck to chat with a friendly traveller. I may as well mention that
we fare as well on this little steamer as at a second-class table-
d'hote. There is a small dining-room below, as well as a very fairly
comfortable saloon. The attendants are exceedingly civil, and charges
regulated by a tariff.
As an instance of the prevailing desire to please, I cite the following
piece of amiability on the part of the chef. I had given tea and a
teapot, with instructions, to the waiter. The chef, however, anxious
that there should be no blunder, came up to me and begged for
information at first hand.
'Pray excuse me,' he said; 'but I did not understand whether the milk
and sugar were to form part of the decoction.'
I gave him a little dissertation on tea-making, with the result that
future travellers by the _Gladiateur_ will obtain a fragrant cup
admirably prepared. Even a French chef cannot be expected to know
everything in the vast field of cookery.
Below Valence the scenery changes. The hills on either side of the
river recede, and we look above low reaches and lines of poplar upon
the far-off mountain-range of Dauphine and Savoy. Here and there are
little farmsteads close to the shore, with stacks of wheat newly piled
and cattle grazing--everywhere a look of homely plenty and repose. The
river winds in perpetual curves, giving us new horizons at every turn.
Lavoutte, on the right bank, is a picturesque congeries of red-tiled
houses massed round a square chateau. The town indeed looks a mere
appendage of this chateau, so conspicuous is the ancient stronghold of
the Vivarais. Livron, perched on a hill, looks very pretty. Soon we
come to perhaps the grandest ruin cresting the bank of the Rhone, the
donjon and chateau fort of Rochemaure, standing out formidably from the
dark, jagged peaks, running sheer down to the river's edge.
After Le Teil is passed the clouds gradually clear. We have the deep
warm blue of a southern sky and burning sunshine.
Viviers--ancient capital of the Vivarais, to which it gave the name--is
most romantically placed on the side of a craggy hill, its ancient
castle and old Romanesque cathedral conspicuous above the house-roofs.
Just above the verdant river-bank run its mediaeval ramparts tapestried
with ivy, the yellowish stone almost the colour of the rocks.
The scenery here is wild and striking. Far away the grand snow-tipped
Mont Ventoux, the limestone cliffs dazzlingly white against the warm
heavens, deep purple shadows resting on the vine-clad slopes, whilst
close to the water's edge are stretches of velvety turf and little
shady dells. At one point the opposite coasts are as unlike in aspect
as summer and winter; the right bank all grace and fertility, the left
all barrenness and desolation. And still we have the noble river to
ourselves as it winds between rock and hill. Pont St. Esprit is another
old-world town with a wonderful old bridge, making a charming picture.
It stands close to the water's edge, the houses grouped lovingly round
its ancient church with tall spire. Here we do at last meet a steamer
bound for Valence.
After leaving Pont St. Esprit the scenery grows less severe, till by
degrees all sternness is banished, and we see only a gentle pastoral
landscape on either side.
Bagnols, with its handsome old stone bridge, church, with perforated
tower, facing the river, makes a quaint and picturesque scene. This
curious old town, one of the most characteristic passed throughout the
entire journey, lies so close to the water's edge that we could almost
step from the steamer into its streets. Meantime, the long, bright
afternoon, so rich in manifold impressions, draws on; cypresses and
mulberry-trees announce the approach to Avignon. A golden softness in
the evening sky, a heavy warmth and languor in the air, proclaim the
South. Every inch of the way is varied and rememberable. Feudal walls
still crest the distant heights, as we glide slowly between reedy banks
and low sandy shores towards the papal city.
At last it comes in sight, rather more than twelve hours since quitting
the quay of Lyons, and well rewarded were we for having preferred the
slower water-way to the four hours' flight in the railway express.
The approach to Avignon by the Rhone may be set side by side in the
traveller's mind with the first glimpse of Venice from the Adriatic, or
of Athens from the AEgean.
The river, after winding amid cypress-groves, makes a sudden curve, and
we see all of a sudden the grand old Italian-looking city, its watch-
towers, palaces, and battlements pencilled in delicate gray against a
warm amber sky, only the cypresses by the water's edge making dark
points in the picture. Far away, over against the city towers, the
stately snow-crowned Mont Ventoux and the violet hills shutting in
Petrarch's Vaucluse. How warm and southern--nay, Oriental--is the scene
before us, although painted in delicatest pearly tints! It is difficult
to believe that we are still in France; we seem suddenly to have waked
up in Jerusalem!
AVIGNON AND ORANGE.
My first business at Avignon was, of course, to visit the tomb of our
great countryman, John Stuart Mill.
As we drive to the cemetery this cloudless August day there is little
to remind us of northern latitudes: warm yellow walls, burning blue
heaven, venerable fig-trees white with dust, peach and olive orchards--
all combine to conjure up a vision of the far-off East. The perpetual
wind, however, cools the air, and if it has not the delicious freshness
of the desert breeze tasted towards nightfall near Cairo, at least it
makes August in that apparently tropic region bearable. Avignon should
without doubt be visited in the height of summer, otherwise we lose
this Oriental aspect, which is its most striking and, at the same time,
most beautiful characteristic.
Passing the colossal palace of the popes--pity such superb masonry
should be linked with the memories of crimes so horrible!--we reach the
public gardens, containing the statue of a comparatively humble
individual, who did more for the public weal than perhaps all the popes
and anti-popes put together. This is Althen, who, by the introduction
of the madder-root into France, promoted the peaceful industry and
wellbeing of thousands of honest families. From the lofty terrace of
this promenade--a natural precipice overlooking the river--we obtain a
glorious panorama--the entire city, with its towers, palace, and
churches, spread before us as a map, the glory of the Dauphinnois Alps,
the magnificent Mont Ventoux stretching across the northern horizon,
under the shadow of its sunny crest the pale violet hills of Vaucluse,
and, to complete the picture, the Rhone, silvery bright--I protest it
is not always muddy as some writers insist!--flowing swiftly between
green banks towards the sea.
An avenue of stone pines leads to the cemetery--announced by flower-
stalls and stonemasons' yards--and we soon find the head-gardener--an
ancient man, proud to show us the tomb of the 'grand Anglais.'
'Do my country-people often come here to pay their respects to this
grave?' I asked.
'Oh, many, many!' he said; 'and the demoiselle, his daughter--it is she
who sees to everything. She is always coming. Never was any grave so
cared for, as you will see.'
He was right. The sarcophagus of pure white marble stands in the midst
of a tiny garden, exquisitely kept and railed in, with gate well-
locked. The well-known inscription inscribed by Stuart Mill to the
memory of his wife cannot be deciphered from outside the enclosure, and
no one, under any circumstances whatever, is permitted to enter it; but
the name of the noble apostle of liberty stands out bold and clear, and
may be seen from a distance. The flower-borders around the tomb were
bright with late summer and autumn flowers; not a seared leaf, not an
unsightly weed anywhere. The reverential care bestowed on this grave is
delightful to witness. Two English girls lie buried near the great
champion of women and of liberty of thought. Rare flowers--roses and
lilies--were not to be had, so I purchased a homely garland of zinnias
and China asters, and laid it just outside the little railing. In
paying this modest tribute to the memory of John Stuart Mill I
fulfilled a wish very dear to my heart. One other pilgrimage of the
like kind I would fain make did not wide seas intervene. I should like
to place a wreath on the tomb of another apostle of liberty--the
dauntless, the self-immolating Colenso!
Schiller, great in poetry as in prose, says: 'The larger portion of
humanity are too much concerned with the struggle for bare existence to
occupy themselves with the search after truth.' Let us, then, rejoice
in the memory of those who have consecrated their existences to this
Beautiful as is Avignon for a burial-place, we wonder how anyone could
from choice live here. The perpetual mistral-like wind, the dazzling
glare, the white dust, the malodorous streets of the old town, do not
at any rate invite a long stay during the dog-days, and much of its
picturesqueness would be lost in winter. With the prospect of the
breezy Roof of France ever before us, we certainly felt little disposed
to linger, in spite of our comfortable quarters and another attraction
not mentioned in guide-books. I allude to the great beauty of the
people, especially of the young girls and children. We seemed here to
have touched the first note of a gradually ascending scale of beauty,
the climax awaiting us in the mountain fastnesses of the Lozere. In and
around Avignon we saw many a girl beautiful as one of Raphael's
Madonnas, many a child lovely as an angel. We could not paint these
charming heads, we could not make the acquaintance of their possessors;
but it was delightful to obtain such glimpses of beauty by the way--to
feel one's self in a living portrait-gallery of beauty. The great
neatness and tidiness of the country people, and the absence of
vagrancy, are very striking. Wherever we go, we see evidence of an
existence laborious perhaps in the extreme, yet one of wholesomeness
Strange to say, chemical science has proved as disastrous to the rural
population round about Avignon as the phylloxera has done in other
parts of the department. The supersession of madder by aniline dyes
has, indeed, for a time almost ruined the small farmers of Vaucluse.
'Ah!' said an elderly man to me, 'in former days the madder made up for
everything. It was the harvest of the year. If a peasant's corn was
blighted, or potatoes and fruit crops failed, the madder was there to
take to market. The madder paid his way in bad seasons and in good--
gave him a little "argent mignon" to lay by. The peasant just manages
to live nowadays, but when madder was cultivated 'twas his own fault if
he didn't grow rich.'
The culture of this plant, which extended over 13,500 hectares in
Vaucluse in 1860, had diminished to eight, representing a loss of
millions of francs. The vineyards have also been reduced, owing to the
inroads of the phylloxera, although not in equal proportion. Even the
silkworm, the third chief source of wealth here, has suffered from a
But the peasant-owner of the soil never loses heart. He drives his
plough across the ruined vineyard, digs up the madder-field, plants
other crops, and cheerfully accepts a fourth part of former profits.
My companion, of course, would no more have dreamed of quitting Avignon
without a visit to Vaucluse than I should have thought it possible to
go away leaving unvisited the tomb of John Stuart Mill. But next
morning brought a lowering sky, heavy rain-drops, and an ominous
rumbling of thunder. To set out for a twenty miles' drive across
country under such auspices were madness.
We decided to visit Orange instead, a short distance by railway. We
should be sure to obtain a covered carriage at the station. Under such
circumstances, need a deluging shower or two and a thunderstorm keep us
The prospect brightened towards mid-day, so we started in high spirits,
assuring ourselves of a delightful excursion. We found pleasant company
in the railway-carriage, our fellow-travellers being all bound for
Paris. One, a young Jesuit who had been in England, was delighted to
practise his English.
'You are not favoured with fine weather in your travels,' he said; 'but
you are probably going to remain at Orange some time?'
'Oh dear no,' was the reply. 'We are spending the afternoon there, that
is all--just going to see the Roman theatre!'
'I wish you enjoyment of your expedition,' he replied drily, no little
amused, but evidently somewhat accustomed to insular eccentricity.
The rest of the company could hardly keep a grave countenance. 'These
English! these English!' their faces said, and the general verdict
evidently was parodying the immortal words of Madame Roland: 'O
Pleasure, what pains are endured under thy name!'
By the time we reached our destination the storm had become truly
awful. Rain fell in torrents; the crashing thunder was like the roar of
artillery. The heavens were black as night, but for the blue flashes
that seemed to set the place on fire. Outside the station was no
vehicle of any kind; within, groups of storm-driven travellers and
pedestrians waited for the tempest to abate.
And long, indeed, we had to wait. The most rational alternative seemed
to be to take the next train back to Avignon. But we might never again
find ourselves at Orange. We recalled Addison's words, 'The remains of
this Roman amphitheatre are worth the whole principality of Orange,' so
we abided the storm. We were, after all, as well off in the
comfortably-appointed little station as in a first class railway-
carriage, and the tempest, if awful, afforded a sublime spectacle.
Lightning so vivid I think I never before witnessed.
At last the deluging rain slackened somewhat; the heavens grew clearer;
and the omnibus of the Hotel de la Poste made its appearance. We took
our seats and rattled into the town, the poor drenched horses paying no
heed to the swiftly-recurring peals and flashes.
At the Poste, most French and old-fashioned of French inns--very
spacious, very handsome, and scrupulously clean--we found a charming
landlady, to whom we carried friendly greetings from former visitors;
and after tea and a little chat, the thunder and lightning having
abated, we ventured forth.
The streets, which on our arrival an hour before were like rivers, now
began to dry up; the raindrops fell at intervals only; the thunder
pealed from a distance. A few townspeople, like ourselves, were abroad.
A noble avenue of plane-trees leads from the station to the ancient
town. Hardly a bit of modernization to be seen anywhere, its quaint,
narrow streets having deep, over-hanging roofs and round arched
galleries, as seen in some of the old Spanish towns of Franche-Comte.
After zigzagging for awhile in rain, we come suddenly upon the Roman
theatre, a sight to take one's breath away. Rome itself shows nothing
finer than this colossal mass of masonry--facade of the Augustan
amphitheatre, and at the same time an acoustic wall, built of such
thickness and solidity in order to retain the sound of the actors'
voices. The entire facade is very nearly perfect, and forms a splendid
specimen of Augustan architecture in its prime. It is constructed of
huge blocks put together symmetrically, without the adjunct of cement.
The colour is of deep, rich brown, the entire structure majestically
dominating the town, whilst around, dwarfed by its gigantic
proportions, rise the pleasant green hills.
Close under the shadow of the facade, enhancing its grandeur by force
of contrast, are mean little houses, and in front an open space, where
poor people are washing their clothes and carrying on the homeliest
avocations. Some notion of the interior may be gathered from without,
but, on payment of a small fee, strangers are permitted to enter and
wander at will about the stone benches raised on tiers, the corridors,
and dressing-closets of the actors. Vandalism has all but done its
worst; still, enough are left of proscenium and auditorium, originally
constructed to hold 7,000 spectators, to admit of the performance of
plays here. The stone corbels, pierced with holes to hold the enormous
awning or velarium used in wet weather or extreme heat, remain intact.
The gray stone is covered with moss and greenery, and the whole scene
for magnificence and impressiveness may be compared with the great
Dionysiac theatre at Athens.
As we lingered outside, it was pleasant to witness the pride of the
inhabitants in this great monument.
'Ah, you should have been here a few days ago!' one bystander said to
us; 'you might then have seen the "OEdipe Roi" of Corneille given in
this amphitheatre, by the troupe of the Comedie Francaise. Never before
was a fete so brilliant seen at Orange! People flocked hither from
fifty miles and farther round!'
We found, and lost, and lost, and found our way in the perplexing
labyrinth of ancient streets, till we reached the fine but somewhat
cold and uninspiring triumphal arch at the other end of the town. Then
we returned to Avignon, the thunderstorm bursting forth with renewed
fury. Our compartment was illuminated by the lightning from the
beginning of our journey to the end, and when we alighted the blue
flashes were positively appalling; the whole place seemed ablaze with
the steely-blue, blinding coruscations. So we rattled through the
lightning-lit streets and turned into bed, the storm taking its
departure as soon as we were safely housed. It was worth while making a
great effort to see Orange, but nothing--no, nothing--will ever tempt
me to excursionize in such a storm again!
It is odd that English folk so rarely visit Orange; but the attractions
of Switzerland are too obvious, and the great Schweitzer Hof at Lucerne
has more charms for the multitude than the thoroughly French Hotel de
One illustrious English traveller, however, just two hundred years ago,
In a recently-unearthed letter of Addison to Bishop Hough, dated 27th
October, 1700, he wrote: 'I was about three days ago at Orange, which
is a very fruitful and pleasant spot of ground. The governor, who is a
native of the place, told me there were about 5,000 people in it, and
one-third were Protestants. There is a Popish bishop and some convents,
but all live very amicably together, and are, I believe, not a little
pleased with their prince, who does not burden them with taxes and
impositions. There are two pieces of antiquity--Marius' triumphal arch,
and the remains of a Roman amphitheatre--that are worth the whole of
It may be as well to add here that the prevailing opinion of
archaeologists now refers the arch to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and
that the name Marius has no reference to the conqueror of the Cimbri,
as has been generally supposed. The supposition was brought about by
the name Mario inscribed on a shield, among the many facsimiles
adorning the trophy. But it is clearly the name of the vanquished, not
the victor, found here, and Mario, part of Marion, may well have been
the name of a Gaulish prisoner.
As all spoliations throughout France indiscriminately are imputed to
the Revolution, it may be as well to remind the reader that it was
Maurice, Prince of Nassau, who did his very utmost to demolish the
noble Roman theatre of Orange.
By the Treaty of Ryswick, signed 1697, the family of Nassau were
confirmed in the possession of Orange, and the prince referred to in
Addison's letter was our William the Third. The spoliator of the Roman
theatre was his ancestor, the tyrannical and justly-hated Maurice. This
fact is to be noted.
The thunderstorm cooled the air, and the next day we had unclouded
skies and burning sunshine, tempered with a brisk wind, for our
expedition to Vaucluse. The wind blows ever at Avignon, no matter what
the weather may be, and renders the tropic heat of summer tolerable.
All the way we caught sight of beautiful faces, these peasant-girls and
children having faultless features, a rich complexion, dark hair and
eyes, and a dignified carriage. They go bare-headed in the broiling
sun, and seem to revel in the heat. Passing suburban villas, close-
shuttered, vine-trellised, handsome chateaux, each approached by
stately avenues of plane or mulberry, cypress groves and vineyards, we
are soon in the heart of the country.
Little farmhouses are seen on either side, their ochre-coloured walls
gleaming against the deep-blue sky--fig-trees in every garden, with
peach-orchards beyond, showing the brilliant fruit. It is a bit of the
East, only the blue-bloused peasant and the bare-headed, dignified
country girls, wishing us 'Bonjour' as they pass, remind us that we are
on French soil. There is no evidence here either of wealth or poverty;
but the fruits of the earth, so laboriously cultivated, are equally
shared by all. Everywhere we find cheerfulness, independence, and
Pilgrims to Vaucluse must be prepared to pay dear for the privilege.
Once--and once only during this journey-were we thoroughly overcharged,
and it was at the little inn here.
I have not kept the bill, but was it not worth any money to taste trout
fished from Petrarch's stream, eggs whose ancestors had crowed in
Petrarch's hearing, salad grown within perhaps a stone's-throw of
Petrarch's garden? Thus doubtless our hostess reasoned, and in all
probability she was right. What devotee would be deterred from visiting
such a shrine by the prospect of a long bill?
Many, however, will be deterred by another reason. I allude to the
burning noonday sun, that makes this close-shut valley, as it is
complimentarily called, a veritable furnace. It is in reality a deep
winding cleft between lofty, yellow rocks, by virtue of position and
formation a naturally formed sun-trap, not a ray being lost. Words can
give no idea of the scorching, blinding heat this August afternoon. Yet
a little girl who acts as our guide confronts the sun bareheaded, and
as we go we find dozens of relic-vendors equally unprotected. No one
seems to require a hat or umbrella. This child had the face of a
miniature Madonna, and others we met on the way equally beautiful and
well-formed. Strange thus to escape for a time altogether from the
region of human ugliness, to be as completely isolated from ill-
favoured looks and uncomely gait as if we were in a sculpture-gallery
of Florence! These country-bred girls and children have not only
statuesque features, but the stateliest carriage, holding themselves
with the air of Nature's princesses.
I stopped when half-way through the burning, blinding cul-de-sac, and
took refuge under the shadow cast by a bit of wall and a fig-tree. If
the deluging showers of yesterday had failed to damp my enthusiasm, the
meridian heat of Vaucluse shrivelled it up. My companion, with her
angelic-faced little cicerone, perseveringly went on.
This rock-shut valley, watered by the Sorgues, a tiny thread of water
and verdure amid towering walls of bare, sun-baked rock, has lost much
of its poetry and romance. The stream flows clear as in the poet's
time, but the solitude he loved so well is invaded. Of his garden not a
trace remains. The perpetually whirring wheels of a water-mill, the
clatter of washerwomen beating clothes on the bank, now drown the
murmur of the waves, whilst at every turn the traveller is beset by
vendors of immortelles and photographs. Truth to tell, an element of
vulgarity has found its way to this once ideal spot! But it requires no
very vivid imagination to transport ourselves to the Eden described so
musically in Petrarch's letters; and close at the doors of the
hermitage he has rendered immortal lies scenery that might well recall
his native Italy. All this is vividly portrayed in the pages of Arthur
Young, who was more fascinated by the scenery of Vaucluse than either
myself or my companion.
'And what was the fountain like?' I asked, when, after a quarter of an
hour, she returned.
This was her account:
'Following the hot and dusty path, beset all the way with children
selling wild-flowers and dried grasses-it seems providential that they
don't all have sunstroke under this merciless sun-we at last reach a
semicircle of rocks, a miniature stone bay, slanting slippery rocks
leading down to the midst, covered, as my little guide said, in winter
by water. From under these rocks burst the Sorgues-not a very tiny
river at its first start-and flows into a dark pool of by no means
clear water. Indeed, I should say it looked slightly scummy. On the
only ledge of rock above, with soil enough for vegetation, is a bright
spot of green, covered with the sweet-scented flower-a plant of the
good King Henry tribe, which we had been pestered to buy all the way
from the inn. This little patch looked so inaccessible that I think the
children must find the plant elsewhere.
'It is well,' sighed my friend, 'that Petrarch cannot see his beloved
village and river; for although the Sorgues is still limpid and
beautiful when flowing over the mossy rocks, what with guides,
tourists, and paper-mills, the place is vulgarized by people who
probably never read a line of the great poet of ideal love in their
lives, and never will.' [Footnote:
'The love from Petrarch's urn,
A quenchless lamp by which the heart
Sees things unearthly.'
If the outward drive amid orchards of peach and fig trees, vineyard and
cypress, conjures up a vision of the East, the return journey will give
some idea of the great olive-strewn plain of the Spanish Vega.
Far as the eye can reach, nothing is seen but one continuous sweep of
country covered with the silvery-green olive. Beyond in a northerly
direction the vast grandiose outline of Mont Ventoux shows an opaline
hue, its deep violet tints being subdued in the paling afternoon light.
All the tones in the picture are uniform and subdued, but none can be
fairer, more harmonious, no spectacle more impressive, than the
delicate sea-green foliage of myriads of olive-trees--plumage were the
apter word--one unbroken sheeny wave from end to end of the immense
That the half may be better than the whole in travel is an axiom
verified every day. Was it worth while to incur a sunstroke for the
sake of seeing Petrarch's fountain--nearly dry, moreover, at such
seasons of the year? Far better to drive home without headache, and be
able thoroughly to enjoy such compensation for what we could not see.
After the tomb of John Stuart Mill, Petrarch's Vaucluse; after
Petrarch's Vaucluse, the palace of the popes.
But the sight of torture-chambers and horrid underground prisons is not
inviting; the souvenirs here awakened are anything but attractive. The
palace of the anti-popes, moreover, is turned into a caserne. I was
content to pass it by. Does not Mr. Symonds relate, in his history of
the Italian Renaissance, how a certain pope vivisected little children
in the hope of prolonging his own infamous existence? In other words,
the pope believed in the doctrine of transfusion of blood, and hapless
little lads were bribed into undergoing the operation of blood-letting
in order that the veins of the pontiff should be thereby revivified.
The victims received the promised money and died, but I refer readers
to Mr. Symonds' work for the story--as horrible as any in the horrible
history of the sovereigns of the Vatican. Doubtless the walls of this
outwardly imposing papal palace here could tell others as ghastly. I
had not the slightest inclination to cross the threshold.
At Avignon we made inquiries right and left as to the best means of
reaching the Causses. Nobody had so much as heard of the name. One
individual thus interrogated repeated after me:
'L'Ecosse, l'Ecosse? Mon Dieu! je n'en sais absolument rien.'
He thought we were asking the directest road to Scotland--a strangely
random question for two Englishwomen to make, surely, in the South of
Nimes in August is about as hot as Cairo in May, which certainly is
saying a good deal. In front of the pleasant Hotel de Luxembourg are
fountains and gardens, bright with oleanders and pomegranates; and the
town is open and airy, but the heat is very oppressive. The unremitting
precautions taken to keep out the sun show what is expected in summer-
time. The rooms are not only protected by shutters, but by Venetian
blinds as well, and are kept in semi-darkness during the greater
portion of the day. How the business of daily life can be carried on in
this perpetually enforced twilight I am unable to say. Whether or no
the majority of the townsfolk have acquired by sheer force of habit the
faculty of seeing in the dark, or contrive to transact all obligatory
affairs in the cool of the evening, when for a brief moment shutters
are thrown open and blinds drawn, is a mystery.
I have no intention of describing Nimes--a city, perhaps, as familiar
to my country-people as any in France; and, indeed, time only permitted
of a glance at the beautiful Roman baths, a quite fairy-like scene, the
exquisite little Greek temple, [Footnote: Colbert wished to move this
lovely little temple to Versailles, bit by bit, and the Cardinal
Alberoni demanded that it should be encased in gold.] known under the
name of the Maison Carree, and the amphitheatre. All these have been
well and amply described for tourists elsewhere; also the lovely group
of Pradier adorning the principal fountain of the town--a modern chef-
d'oeuvre that may well figure amid so many gems of classic art. The most
hurried traveller will, of course, visit one and all.
The modern aspect of Nimes is worthy of note.
Distinguished Frenchmen--or, for the matter of that, Frenchwomen--may
count with mathematical certainty upon the compensation of earthly
ills: they are sure of their statue after death.
Nimes, not behindhand in this appreciative spirit, has recently
conferred such honours upon two illustrious sons--Reboul, the artisan
poet; and Paul Soleillet, the gallant African explorer. Both monuments
are well worth seeing, and both men deserved to be so remembered.
One-fourth of the inhabitants of Nimes are Protestant; but a true
spirit of toleration was very slow to make itself felt there. In 1876,
for the first time, 'Les Huguenots' was given at the opera-house.
Hitherto the experiment had been considered risky.
It is strange that the inroads of the phylloxera should have any
influence upon the movements of religious bodies, but so it is.
Narbonne, in the neighbouring department, has lately lost its
Protestant population, most of whom were wine-growers or wine-
merchants, ruined by the terrible vine-pest. So complete was the exodus
that the ministrations of a pastor were no longer needed. These facts I
had from the then _desoeuvre_ pastor himself, who was appointed to
the cure of souls in the little village of St. Georges de Didonne, at
the mouth of the Gironde, during my stay there two years ago.
Thankful as the visitor may feel to get away from Nimes in the dog-
days, it should certainly be visited then, otherwise we lose that
impression of the South--that warm glow of colour and Oriental languor
so new and striking in Northern eyes. For ourselves, we would willingly
have lingered days--nay, weeks--in the noble Roman city, but for the
heat and our feverish desire to reach that cool, breezy Roof of France,
so near, yet so apparently difficult to reach; in fact, the nearer we
approached our destination, the more unattainable it appeared. No more
at Nimes than at Avignon could we get an inkling of information as to
the best means of reaching the Causses.
We are but fairly off on our way to Le Vigan when we find a welcome
change in the atmosphere. The air is cooler, the heavens show
alternating cloud and sky; we feel able to breathe. Past olive grounds
and mulberry plantations, ancient towns cresting the hill-tops,
cheerful farmsteads dotted here and there--these are the pictures
descried from the railway. It was hard to pass Tarascon without
stopping, but the experience of last year was fresh in my memory. If we
lingered at every interesting place on the way, we should find the Roof
of France embedded in snow. There was nothing to be done but, in
policeman's language, 'move on.' Some of the little towns passed on the
way are very old and curious, but night closed in long ere we reached
I had heard nothing in favour of Le Vigan. The hotel was described to
us as a fair auberge. The very place was marked down in my itinerary
simply because it seemed impossible to reach the region we were bound
for from any other starting-point. At least, the two other alternatives
had drawbacks: we must either make a circuitous railway journey round
to Mende, or a still longer detour by way of Millau.
Having therefore expected literally nothing either in the way of
accommodation or surroundings, what was our satisfaction next day to
wake up and find ourselves in quite delightful quarters, amid charming
scenery! Our hotel, Des Voyageurs, is as unlike the luxurious barracks
of Swiss resorts as can be. An ancient, picturesque, straggling house,
brick-floored throughout, with spacious rooms, large alcoves, outer
galleries and balconies facing the green hills, it is just the place to
settle in for a summer holiday. On the low walls of the open corridor
outside our rooms are pots of brilliant geraniums and roses; beyond the
immediate premises of the hotel is a well-kept fruit and flower garden;
everywhere we see bright blossoms and verdure, whilst the low spurs of
the Cevennes, here soft green undulations, frame in the picture.
The weather is now that of an English summer, with alternating clouds
and sunshine and a fresh breeze.
The people are no less winning than their entourage. Our host, a
septuagenarian of the old-fashioned school, in his youth was cook to
Louis Philippe, and has carried with him to this remote spot all the
polish and urbanity of the court. Aristocratic as he was in manner, and
evidently a man of substance, as behoved a royal cook to be, he yet
exercised supervision in the kitchen, not only giving instructions, but
inspecting saucepans, to see that the acme of cleanliness was arrived
For what we may therefore call a royal cuisine, besides excellent
accommodation, we were charged the modest sum of seven francs per diem
each. Madame la patrone was no less dignified in manner than her
husband, and from the first took me into her confidence.
She told me that the prosperity of their old age had just been saddened
by the death of their only child--the hope of hopes, the joy of joys.
No one remained to inherit their good name and little fortune.
'And a young girl so carefully brought up, so well educated and
amiable, so useful in the house! Voyez-vous, madame, ces choses sont
trop tristes,' she said with tears; and what could we say to comfort
To attend upon us we had a delightful peasant woman, neat, clean,
sturdy, unlettered; yet very intelligent, and full of interest in
English inventions and English ways. What a treasure such a woman would
be at home! but for the hindrance of husband and children, we should
have felt sorely tempted to bring her away with us. Then there was a
tall, handsome fellow, a man of all work, in the establishment, who
would rap at my door at all hours of the day with two enormous jugs of
boiling water. I required a considerable supply of hot water early in
the morning wherewith to fill my portable indiarubber bath--a perpetual
source of amusement in the Lozere-and he seemed to think that a warm
bath, like a cigarette or a petit verre, was a luxury to be indulged in
at all hours of the day.
I would be absorbed in the study of maps and geographies when a
thundering rat-tat-tat would make me start from my seat, and, lo! on
opening the door, there stood the tall, soldierly, well-favoured
Francois, holding in each hand a huge steaming jug filled to the brim,
his handsome face beaming with satisfaction at having thus anticipated
He evidently thought, too, that anyone with an appetite so unreasonable
in the matter of hot water must have innumerable wants equally
unreasonable. So quite unexpectedly, I believe whenever he had a spare
moment, he would knock at our door and stand there, stock-still,
Seductive as is Le Vigan by virtue of site and surroundings, I am sorry
to have to say that the town is badly kept. Its aediles are terribly
wanting in a sense of what is due to public health and enjoyment. The
streets look as if they were never cleaned from January to December,
although there is an abundant supply of water. Sanitation is for the
most part woefully disregarded, and the little that is needed to make
the place wholesome and attractive is left unattempted. What distressed
my companion more than the neglected aspect of the streets was the
sight of so many apparently uncared-for, ill-fed cats and dogs. As a
rule, French people are kind to their domestic pets, but the bare-
ribbed cats and their kittens here told a different story. Fortunately,
when sketching just outside the town one day, the cure came up and
entered into conversation with the sketchers. Here was an opportunity
not to be neglected, and it was eagerly seized upon.
'Do, M. le Cure,' pleaded the English lady, after drawing his attention
to the destitute condition of many four-footed parishioners, 'speak to
your people, and make them see how wrong it is thus to rear cats and
dogs, and leave them to starve,'
The benevolent old man promised to do his best, reminding me of the
different response made to a similar appeal by a Breton priest.
I was once so shocked at the cruel treatment of calves at a country
fair that I boldly stopped the cure in the middle of the road, and
entreated him to preach against such wickedness.
'Madame' was his reply, 'ce n'est pas un teche' (it is no sin);
meaning, I suppose, that diabolical cruelty to animals did not come
under the head of offences against the Church.
It may be a consolation to many readers to know that the Loi Grammont
now prohibits the misdeeds ignored by so-called ministers of religion
in France; and it is a law, if not often, occasionally enforced with
little ceremony. At Clermont-Ferrand, a few weeks later, a cab-driver
was carried off to prison before our eyes for having brutally beaten
his fallen horse.
Throughout the remainder of this journey I am bound to say that we were
struck with the kindness and gentleness of our drivers to their horses.
Any sign of ill-temper or skittishness was always coaxed away, an angry
word or blow never being resorted to.
As I have said, Le Vigan might easily be made a charming halting-place
for tourists in these regions. The pulling down of a few ancient, ill-
favoured streets, a wholesale cleaning and white-washing, a general
reparation of the town from end to end, open spaces utilized as public
gardens--all this might be done at half the expense of the
supernumerary statues now being raised all over France. Sanitation
first, statues afterwards, should be the maxim of its prefets and
maires in these remote and behindhand regions. Our hotel, it must be
added, is clean and well kept, and even furnished with the luxury of
baths. A few more royal cooks at the head of French country inns, and
we should soon find cosmopolitan luxuries in out-of-the-way corners.
But such an epithet will not long apply to our favourite town. A
railway now in course of construction will soon link it to Millau, on
the Toulouse line, thus rendering it accessible from all south-westerly
points. Who knows? This quaint, old-fashioned, thoroughly French hotel
may be replaced a few years hence by some huge fashionable barracks, in
which there will be a perpetual come and go of tourists furnished with
return tickets, including the Causses, the gorges of the Tarn and
Montpellier le Vieux.
An English pedestrian or cyclist or two have, I believe, found their
way hither, but no lady tourists.
Poorly off in matters of sanitation, Le Vigan could not, nevertheless,
afford to lose its one statue to its one hero. We all know the story of
the gallant young Chevalier d'Assas, captain of an Auvergnat regiment,
and of his no less heroic companion, the Sergeant Dubois: how when
reconnoitring at night in the forest near Closter-camp, their men in
ambush behind them, they came suddenly upon the foe. A dozen bayonets
were pointed at their breasts with the whisper, 'Silence or death!'
The pair in a breath gave the warning: 'The enemy! Fire!' and fell side
by side, pierced with the bullets alike of friend and foe.
This bronze statue is the only monument the town can boast of, but it
possesses a compensation for many monuments--I allude to its noble
grove of venerable chestnuts. Well-planted boulevards of plane-trees
lead to what appears a bit of primeval forest--an assemblage of ancient
trees, their knotted, hoary trunks each in girth huge as a windmill, in
striking contrast to the bright foliage and abundant fruit. Nothing can
be more weird and fantastic than these broken, corrugated stems,
battered by storm, worn out by time, apparently dropping to pieces, yet
at the root full of vitality, sending forth the most luxuriant harvest,
the freshest, youthfullest leafage: the whole--the gray old world
below, the fairy-like greenery above--making a glorious scene under the
bright blue sky. May not this chestnut grove symbolize the phenomenal
richness and activity of highly-endowed natures in old age--the
Goethes, the Titians, the Voltaires? From these pleasant suburbs,
little paths wind invitingly upward among the hills, planted on all
sides with the vine, and although the summer is already so far
advanced, wild-flowers abound. What a paradise this would be for the
botanist in spring, or for the portrait painter! The good looks of the
people, their rich colouring, fine stature, and dignified bearing,
strike us ever with a sense of novelty.
How many makable places, if I may coin such a word, still remain in
France--sweet spots, Cinderellas of the natural world, only awaiting
the fairy godmother to turn them into princesses, courted by wealth and
fashion. Many a nook in the environs of Le Vigan doubtless answers to
this description. I will only describe one, Cauvalet, an inland
watering-place sadly in need of enterprise and patronage.
The 'Etablissement des Bains' stands in a nest of greenery within ten
minutes' drive of the town; its mineral waters, strongly impregnated
with sulphur, are said to be very efficacious in rheumatic affections.
We found a few visitors lounging in the gardens; with proper
accommodation, and under good management, the place might doubtless
become a miniature Vals. The same remark might be applied to many other
equally favoured spots I have met with in my French travels. It is a
consolation to remember that, sooner or later, their time must come. So
enormously has the habit of travelling increased of late years among
French people, that France itself will erelong prove too narrow for its
own tourists, to say nothing of foreigners.
Our good hosts were very anxious that we should see everything.
Accordingly we were escorted to one of the numerous silk factories in
the town. Here, as at Vic-sur-Cere the year before, and in places to be
described later on, we were rather treated as guests in a country house
than Nos. 1 and 2 of an ordinary hotel. Everybody--master, mistress,
and servants--wanted to do the honours of their native place for us,
and this without any thought of interest or advantage. It was the good,
invaluable, middle-aged chambermaid who, out of her own head and on her
own account, carried us off to see the silk factory. The fact of two
English ladies having come so far to see the country evidently
impressed her wonderfully.
'Ah!' she sighed cheerfully, 'were it not for my good man and my
demoiselles' (her daughters), 'how pleased I should be to return with
you and see l'Angleterre!' and as she went along, having dressed
herself in her Sunday's best for the occasion, she stopped in high glee
to tell chance-met friends and neighbours that we were two Englishwomen
come across the sea 'pour s'instruire'--for self-instruction. The fact
of having crossed that tiny strip of sea ever impresses French country
folk. Had we reached France by land, no matter the distance--say, from
St. Petersburg--the exploit would not appear half so striking to them.
The work-room of a silk factory affords a curious spectacle.
At long narrow tables, stretched from end to end of the workshop, sit
rows of girls manipulating in bowls of hot water the cocoons--in
Gibbon's phrase, 'the golden tombs whence a worm emerges in the form of
a butterfly'--carefully disengaging the almost imperceptible film of
silk therein concealed, transferring it to the spinning-wheel, where it
is spun into what looks like a thread of solid gold. Throughout the
vast atelier hundreds of shuttles are swiftly plied, and on first
entering the eye is dazzled with the brilliance of these broad bands of
silk, bright, lustrous, metallic, as if of solid gold. This flash of
gold is the only brightness in the place, otherwise dull and
Gibbon gives a splendid page on the 'education of silkworms,' once
considered as the labour of queens, and shows impatience with the
learned Salmasius, who also wrote on the subject, because, unlike
himself, he did not know everything. He tells us how two Persian monks,
long resident in China, amid their pious occupations viewed with a
curious eye the manufacture of silk; how they made the long journey to
Constantinople, imparting their knowledge of the silkworm and its
strictly guarded culture to the great Justinian; finally, how a second
time they entered China, 'deceived a jealous people by concealing the
eggs of the silkworm in a hollow cane, and returned in triumph with the
spoils of the East.' 'I am not insensible of the benefits of an elegant
luxury,' adds the historian, 'yet I reflect with some pain that if the
importers of silk had introduced the art of printing, already practised
by the Chinese, the comedies of Menander and the entire decade of Livy
would have been perpetuated in the sixth century.'
Alas! a pound of silk is no longer worth twelve ounces of gold, as the
Emperor Aurelian complained; and the education of the silkworm, instead
of being the labour of queens, is far from a remunerative occupation.
The hours in these factories are terribly long--fifteen--two of which
are, however, allowed for meals. The wages, on the other hand, contrast
favourably with those of many of our own factories in which women are
chiefly employed. About fifteenpence a day is the average pay, the
ateliers being always closed on Sundays. Several causes have brought
about a temporary depression of the French silk trade. Just as cheap
Chinese and Japanese straw-plaits have paralyzed our home industry of
hand-plaited straw in Bedfordshire, so cheap Oriental silks have, for a
time at least, done much to supplant the more solid, richer, and more
brilliant Lyons manufacture.
Again, the silkworm industry, not only in France, but in other
countries, was some years back threatened with an enemy as ruthless as
the phylloxera. It is interesting to learn that here science has come
to aid with a simple but effectual remedy, which it is said has
benefited French industry to the extent of the Prussian war indemnity,
viz., four hundred million sterling (five milliards of francs). The
silkworm-rearers are now taught to breed from healthy moths only. Girls
and women are employed in examining the bodies of the moths with
microscopes. If the diseased corpuscles are found, the eggs are
Thus, by a simple method of artificial selection, the silkworm industry
has been rescued from what threatened to be a collapse.
Of course, one consequence of these fluctuations in rural industries is
a universal migration into the towns, and consequent diminution of
population in country places. The towns gain, but the villages lose. We
find Le Vigan a little centre of increasing commercial activity, and
the same may be averred of the secondary towns of this department, this
prosperity having originally a different source.
The Protestant communities of France, formerly deprived, like the Jews,
of civil and political rights, threw heart and soul into industrial
pursuits. Wherever they settled they founded manufactures--cotton-
mills, silk-factories, manufactures of woollen stuffs--many of which
have flourished in these small towns on the outskirts of the Cevennes
till this day.
The Gard is foremost of all other departments in the matter of silk-
worm rearing, the Ardeche alone surpassing it in the number of silk-
factories. In all the villages around Le Vigan are small silk-worm
farms, the peasants rearing them on their own account, and selling them
to the manufacturers. The curious on this subject will everywhere be
cordially received, and gain any information they may require. At
least, such was our own experience.
All this time Le Vigan was to us as Capua to Hannibal's soldiers--
Circe's charmed cup held to the lips of Odysseus.
We ought not to have stayed there an unnecessary hour. We should have
continued our journey at once. On and on we lingered, nevertheless, and
when at last we braced ourselves up for an effort, the terrible truth
was broken to us. Instead of being nearer to the goal of our wishes, we
had come out of the way, and were indeed getting farther and farther
from that mysterious, so eagerly longed-for region, the terribly
unattainable Causses. Our project at last began to wear the look of a
nightmare, a harassing, feverish dream. We seemed to be fascinated
hither and thither by an ignis fatuus, enticed into quagmires and
quicksands by an altogether illusive, mocking, malicious Will-o'-the-
I was painfully reminded of what had been a pleasing puzzle in childish
days: the maze at Needham Market, famous throughout Suffolk, and
familiar to all Suffolk-bred folk. This is a wonderfully constructed
shrubbery or thicket, cut into numerous little circular and
semicircular paths, so contrived that the most ingenious are caught
like flies in a spider's trap. Round and round, backwards and forwards,
in and out, scuttle the uninitiated, only to find themselves at the
precise point whence they had started hours before. The conviction of
being thus foiled in my purpose, and for the second time, weighed upon
my spirits. My companion also became somewhat dejected. The superb
weather might forsake us. September was at hand. It really seemed as if
we were doomed to return to our dogs and cats at Hastings without
having reached the Roof of France after all.
True, a matter of eighty miles only divided us from our destination,
but surely the most impracticable eighty miles out of Arabia Petraea! We
were bound for a certain little town called St. Enimie, but between us
and St. Enimie stretched a barrier, insurmountable as Dante's fog
isolating Purgatory from Paradise, or as the black river separating
Pluto's domain from the region of light. We seemed as far off the
Causses as Christian from the heavenly Jerusalem when imprisoned in
Castle Doubting, or as the Israelites from Canaan when in the
wilderness of Zin.
To reach St. Enimie, then, meant two long days' drive, _i.e._,
from six a.m. to perhaps eight p.m., in the lightest, which stands for
the most uncomfortable, vehicle, across a country the greater part of
which is as savage as Dartmoor. Our first halting-place would be
Meyrueis, and between Le Vigan and Meyrueis relays could be had, but at
that point civilization ended. The second day's journey must lie
through a treeless, waterless, uninhabited desert; in other words, as a
glance at the map will show, we must traverse the Causse Mejean itself.
Romantic as this expedition sounded, our host, the royal cook, shook
his head at the proposal. Suppose we were overtaken by a storm in that
wilderness? Suppose any accident happened to horses or harness?
'In fact,' he said, 'there is nothing for these ladies to do but make
the round to Mende by railway.'
'To Mende!' I cried aghast. 'Back to Nimes, back to heaven knows where!
Never! Get to St. Enimie we can, we will, we must, without making the
round by railway to Mende.'
After a good deal of somewhat painful excitement, a rueful inspection
of the only kind of vehicle that was practicable on the stony, uphill
Causse, the Helvellyn we wanted to climb, I gave in. Yes, it was out of
the question to drive for fourteen hours at a stretch, seated on such a
knifeboard. I had made a blunder in thinking eighty miles only eighty
miles under any circumstances. Crestfallen, and having in mind the
dictum of the great Lessing: 'Kein mensch muss muessen,' I again took in
hand maps and guidebooks. At this stage of affairs came to aid the
voiturier who had gallantly proposed to drive us to the top of the
Lozerien Helvellyn, provided we could sit on a knifeboard. He was one
of the handsomest men we saw in these parts, which is saying a good
deal. Tall, well-made, dignified, with superb features and rich
colouring, it seemed a thousand pities he should be only a carriage
proprietor in this out-of-the-way spot. He appeared, however, as every
other good-looking person does here, altogether unconscious of his
magnificent physique and striking features. What occupied him much more
was evidently his business, and the duty incumbent upon him to make
things pleasant to strangers.
'If these ladies,' he said in country fashion, thus addressing
ourselves--if these ladies will let me drive them to Millau, they can
have my most comfortable carriage, as the roads are excellent. They can
sleep at a good auberge on the way. From Millau it is only five hours
by railway to Mende, and from Mende only a four hours' drive to St.
We joyfully hailed the proposal. It seemed a roundabout way to St.
Enimie, but it did seem a way; and, at any rate, if we were going back,
we were not going back to the precise point from which we had started.
My companion still persisted in the melancholy conviction that we
should never get to the Causses, but I comforted her with the
observation that if we did not get to the Causses, we should at all
events get somewhere. Before starting, our host presented us with a
letter of introduction to the master of the auberge at our halting-
place for the night--the little village of Nant, half-way between Le
Vigan and Millau.
'It is only an auberge,' he said apologetically; 'you must not expect
much. But the patron is a friend of mine; he will do his very best for
you after what I have written.'
The letter of introduction being, of course, an open one, we read it.
'Permit me to commend to your attentive care,' wrote the royal cook,
'two respectable ladies----' Here amusement got the better of
curiosity; we laid down the missive and had a hearty laugh over what
seemed at best a strange, almost ludicrous, compliment. Surely he might
have substituted an adjective of a more flattering nature, accorded us
some more winning attribute--charming, amiable, learned. Could we lay
claim to none of these?
I summed up the matter in our favour, after all. Such a testimony
coming from a courtier, as the chef of a king's cuisine must be called,
was, perhaps, the very highest he felt able to give; and to be
respectable means more than meets the ear.
Does not La Bruyere say: 'Un homme de bien est respectable par lui-meme
et independamment de tous les dehors'? He had, perhaps, that axiom in
Having sent on our four big boxes to Millau by diligence, we set off
for the first stage of our journey. The weather was perfect, and I
cannot at any time reconcile my experiences of French weather with
those of another ardent explorer of France a hundred years ago.
'Amusements,' wrote Arthur Young from the North of France in September,
1787, 'in truth, ought to be taken within doors, for in such a climate
none are to be depended on without; the rain that has fallen here is
hardly credible. I have, for five-and-twenty years past, remarked in
England that I never was prevented by rain from taking a walk every
day, with going out while it actually rains; it may fall heavily for
many hours, but a person who watches an opportunity gets a walk or a
ride. Since I have been at Liancourt we have had three days in
succession of such incessantly heavy rain that I could not go a hundred
yards from the house without danger of being quite wet. For ten days
more rain fell here, I am confident, had there been a gauge to measure
it, than ever fell in England in thirty.'
We are accustomed to reverse this comparison, and I should say that the
years 1787-88-89, during which the Suffolk squire journeyed through the
country on horseback, must have been revolutionary in a meteorological
as well as a political sense. I have now made travels and sojourns in
various parts of France during fifteen years, and I should say to all
who want sunshine for their holiday trip, go to France for it.
Upon this, as upon the occasion of former expeditions, a rainy day
never came except when a spell of bad weather was an unmitigated boon,
enforcing rest, and giving leisure for the utilization of daily
On the whole, the route now decided upon has much to recommend it,
especially to travellers unfit for excessive fatigue. The drive from Le
Vigan to Millau is thus divided into two easy stages, and the scenery
for the greater part of the way is diversified and interesting.
Gradually winding upwards from the green hills surrounding our
favourite little town, its bright river, the Arre, playing hide-and-
seek as we go, we take a lonely road cut around barren, rocky slopes
covered with stunted foliage, here and there tiny enclosures of corn
crop or garden perched aloft.
The charm of this drive consists in the sharp contrasts presented at
unexpected turns. Now we are in a sweet, sunbright, sheltered valley,
where all is verdure and luxuriance. At every door are pink and white
oleanders in full bloom, in every garden peach-trees showing their
rich, ruby-coloured fruit--the handsome-leaved mulberry, the shining
olive, with lovely little chestnut-woods on the heights around. Now we
seem in a wholly different latitude. The vegetation and aspect of the
country are transformed. Instead of the vine, the peach, and the olive,
we are in a region of scant fruitage, and only the hardiest crops,
apple orchards sparsely mingled with fields of oats and rye. And yet
again we seem to be traversing a Scotch or Yorkshire moor--so vast and
lonely the heather-clad wastes, so bleak and wild the heavens.
But every zone has its wild-flowers. As we go on, our eyes rest upon
white salvias, the pretty Deptford pink, wild lavender, several species
of broom and ferns in abundance. The wild fig-tree grows here, and the
huge boulders are tapestried with box and bilberry. One rare lovely
flower I must especially mention--the exquisite, large-leaved blue flax
(the Linum perenne), that shone like a star amid the rest.
It is Sunday, and as we pass the village of Arre in its charming
valley, we meet streams of country folks dressed in their best,
enjoying a walk. No one was afield. Here, as in most other parts of
rural France, Sunday is regarded strictly as a day of rest.
After a long climb upwards, our road cut through the rock being a grand
piece of engineering, we come upon the works of a handsome railway
viaduct now in construction. This line, which, when finished, will
connect Le Vigan with Millau and Albi, will be an immense boon to the
inhabitants--one of the numerous iron roads laid by the Republican
Government in what had hitherto been forgotten parts of France. Close
to these works a magnificent cascade is seen, a sheet of glistening
white spray pouring down the dark, precipitous escarpment.
Hereabouts the barren, stony, wilderness-like country betokens the
region of the Causses. We are all this time winding round the rampart
like walls of the great Causse de Larzac, which stretches from Le Vigan
to Millau, rising to a height of 2,624 feet above the sea-level, and
covering an area of nearly a hundred square miles. This Causse affords
some interesting facts for evolutionists. The aridity, the absolutely
waterless condition of the Larzac, has evolved a race of non-drinking
animals. The sheep browsing the fragrant herbs of these plateaux have
altogether unlearned the habit of drinking, whilst the cows drink very
little. The much-esteemed Roquefort cheese is made from ewes' milk, the
non-drinking ewes of the Larzac. Is the peculiar flavour of the cheese
due to this non-drinking habit?
The desert-like tracts below this 'Table de pierre,' as M. Reclus calls
it, are alternated with very fairly cultivated farms. We see rye, oats,
clover, and hay in abundance, with corn ready for garnering.
Passing St. Jean de Bruel, where all the inhabitants have turned out to
attend a neighbour's funeral, we wind down amid chestnut woods and
pastures into a lovely little valley, with the river Dourbie, bluest of
the blue, gliding through the midst. Beyond stream and meadows rise
hills crested with Scotch fir, their slopes luxuriant with buck-wheat,
maize, and other crops--here and there the rich brown loam already
ploughed up for autumn sowing. Well-dressed people, well-kept roads,
neat houses, suggested peace and frugal plenty.
What a contrast did the little village of Nant present to Le Vigan! It
was like the apparition of an exquisitely-dressed, pretty girl, after
that of a slatternly beauty. Nant, 'proprette,' airy, well cared for,
wholesome; Le Vigan, dirty, draggle-tailed, neglected, yet in itself
possessed of quite as many natural attractions. We had been led to
expect a mere country auberge, decent shelter, no more--perhaps even
two-curtained, alcoved beds in a common sleeping-room! What was our
astonishment to find quite ideal rustic accommodation--quarters,
indeed, inviting on their own account a lengthy stay!
A winding stone staircase led from the street to the travellers'
quarters. Kitchen, salle-a-manger and bedrooms were all spick and span,
cool and quiet; our rooms newly furnished with beds as luxurious as
those of the Grand Hotel in Paris. Marble-topped washstands and newly-
tiled floors opened on to an outer corridor, the low walls of which
were set with roses and geraniums as in Italy. Below was a poultry-
yard. No other noise could disturb us but the cackling of hens and the
quacking of ducks. On the same floor was a dining-room and the kitchen,
but so far removed from us that we were as private as in a suite of
rooms at the celebrated Hotel Bristol.
Nant is a quite delightful townling; we only wished we could stay there
for weeks. It is a very ancient place, but so far modernized as to be
clean and pleasant. The quaint, stone-covered arcades and bits of
mediaeval architecture invite the artist; none, however, comes!
The sky-blue Dourbie runs amid green banks below the gray peak, rising
sheer above the town; around the congeries of old-world houses are
farms, gardens and meadows, little fields being at right angles with
the streets. In the large, open market-place, where fairs are held,
just outside the town, is a curious sight. The corn is gathered in, and
hither all the farmers round about have brought their wheat to be
threshed out by water-power.
Next morning, by half-past eight, our landlady fetched me to see some
farms. She was a delicate, even sickly-looking little woman, although
the mother of fine, healthful children, and very intelligent and well-
mannered. Without showing any inquisitiveness as to my object, she at
once readily acceded to my request that she should accompany me on a
round of inspection. First of all, however, and as, it seemed, a matter
of course, she carried me off to see the Bonnes Soeurs--in other words,
the nuns, often such important personages in rural places.
I had already seen so much of nuns, nunneries and the like, that I
sorely begrudged the time thus spent. Good manners forbade a demur.
There was nothing to do but to feign some slight interest in the
schoolrooms, dormitories, playground, chapel--facsimiles, as were the
nuns themselves, of what I had seen dozens of times before.
But one thing these nuns had to show I had never seen before. I allude
to their herbarium. The mother superior, so it seems, was a capital
herbalist and doctor, consulted in case of sickness by all the country-
folks for miles round, and, in order to supply her pharmacopoeia, had
yearly collections made of all the medicinal plants in which the
neighbourhood abounds. Here in a drying chamber, exposed to air and
sun, were stores of wild lavender for sweetening the linen presses;
mallows, elder flowers, gentian, leaves of the red vine, poppies, and
many others used in medicine. What I was most interested in was the
vast stores of the so-called the des Alpes, a little plant of the sage
tribe, of which I had heard at Gap, in the Hautes Alpes. The country-
people in that part of France, as in the Aveyron, use this little plant
largely as a febrifugal infusion; they also drink it as tea. My
landlady showed me great bundles of it that she had dried for household
use. The thought struck me, as I surveyed the mother superior's
herbarium--here is an excellent hint for the projectors of home
colonies. Surely, if poor people are to be made self-supporting in one
sense, they should be made so in all.
Why should not every home colony--for the matter of that, every
isolated village--have its medicine-chest of simple field remedies? The
originators of home colonies have only to translate that excellent
little sixpenny work, 'Les Remedes de Campagne,' written by Dr.
Saffray, and published by Hachette, and put it into the hands of these
backwoodsmen of the old country. The least intelligent would soon learn
to cure common ailments by the use of remedies ever at their doors, and
not costing a penny. Having taken leave of the nuns, madame la patrone
next conducted me to the country on the other side of the town,
stopping to chat with this acquaintance and that. I suppose lady
tourists are wholly unknown in these parts, for these good people,
having glanced at me, said to madame:
'A relation, I suppose, and you are showing her about?'
All seemed pleased to learn that I was an Englishwoman come to see
their corner of the world.
We then paid a visit to some elderly farming-folks, friends of hers,
just outside the town. We found the farmer and his wife at home, and
both received us very cordially. The old man had a shrewd, pleasant
face, and, without any ado or ceremony, bade me sit down beside him
whilst he finished his morning soup. I chatted to him of my numerous
travels in various parts of France, and after listening attentively
for some time, he said:
'You must be finely rich' (joliment riche) 'to travel as you do.'
'Not at all,' said I; 'my fortune is my pen. I see all that I can, and,
on my return to England, write a book for the amusement and instruction
of others, which more than covers the expense of my journey.'
The old man's eyes twinkled; he touched his forehead, and then said
something to his wife in patois. I laughingly begged him to translate
the remark, which he did with a smile.
'I said to my wife that you must have a good head' (une bien forte
tete) 'to do that.'
'Le bon Dieu has given me eyes to see and a memory to retain,' said I.
'I have only to look well about me and take note.'
He paused, and added after a little reflection:
'Above all, you must talk with learned people.'
'That is not always necessary,' I replied. 'On the contrary, what
serves my purpose best is to talk with country-folk like yourself, who
can tell me about the details of farming in these parts--prices, crops,
and so on--not with fine ladies and gentlemen, who do not know a turnip
when they see it growing.'
This observation seemed to gratify him exceedingly. We then talked of
land tenure in France and in England. When I made him understand that
the law of entail still existed in my country, he shook his head
gravely. When I added that the English peasant did not possess an acre
of land, a garden, not even a house or a cow, he looked graver still.
'Il faut que tout cela change' (All that will have to be changed), he
remarked; and I told him that I fully concurred in the sentiment, and
that a great change of opinion on this subject was taking place in
His wife, who had meantime listened attentively to our conversation,
now joined in. The fact that we had no conscription seemed to strike
her more than any other piece of information I had as yet given.
'You English people are very fortunate,' she said. 'Think of what it is
to be a mother, and rear your son to the age of twenty, then to see him
torn from your arms and shot down by a mitrailleuse. War, indeed! Grand
Dieu! the world has seen enough of it.'
We then had a long talk on farming matters, the old man quite ready to
devote half an hour even at this time of the day to a stranger. Like
many another French peasant of the poorer class, he was the owner of a
house and garden only, his occupation being that of bailiff on the
estate of a large owner. Here, as everywhere else throughout France, a
great diversity may be seen in the matter of land tenure--peasant
properties from five acres upwards, large holdings either let on lease,
as in England, cultivated by their owners, or lastly, as in the present
instance, managed by farm stewards. The system of metayage, or half-
profits, is not in force.
On five acres, my informant told me, a man with thrift and intelligence
may rear and maintain a family. The crops are very varied, corn, maize,
oats, rye, buckwheat, hay, being the principal. Butter is not made on
any considerable scale, but sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry are reared
I have mentioned that this old man possessed a house and garden. Rare,
indeed, is it to find a deserving peasant without them in France! But
he let these, meantime occupying the large, rambling old farmhouse,
formerly an abbey, belonging to his employer. When too old to work, he
would, with his little savings, retire to the cottage, from which none
could eject him.
As will be seen, the agriculture in this part of the Aveyron presents
no special features. What strikes the stranger, as he rambles about the
well-cultivated belt of country immediately around Nant, is the
sobriety, contentment, and independence of the people. All are suitably
and tidily dressed. Of beggary there is not a trace, and if life is
laborious, the sense of independence lightens every burden.
At present the entire education of girls and that of little boys is in
the hands of the nuns. In spite of every attempt to render popular
education unsectarian throughout France, how long it will be ere the
same mental training is accorded both sexes--ere, to use Gambetta's
noble words, 'our girls and boys are made one by the understanding
before they are made one by the heart'! Is it any wonder that
Boulangism, miracle-seeking, or any other mental aberration, gets the
upper hand in France, so long as young girls are reared by convent-bred
women, and their brothers and lovers-to-be in the school of Littre,
Herbert Spencer, and Darwin?
It is a charming drive from Nant to Millau. Our road winds round the
delicious little valley of the Dourbie, the river ever cerulean blue,
bordered with hay-fields, in which lies the fragrant crop of autumn hay
ready for carting. By the wayside are tall acacias, their green
branches tasselled with dark purple pods, or apple trees, the ripening
fruit within reach of our hands. Little Italian-like towns, surrounded
by ochre-coloured walls, are terraced here and there on the rich burnt-
amber walls, the limestone ridges above and around taking the form of a
long line of rampart or lofty fortress, built and fashioned by human
hands. In contrast to this savagery, we have ever and anon before our
eyes the sweet little river, no sooner lost to sight amid willow-
bordered banks than found again.
Nervous people should avoid these drives, on account of the steep
precipices, often within a few inches of the horses' heels. Wherever on
the shelves of rock a few square yards of soil are found or can be
laid, are tiny crops of buckwheat, potatoes, and beetroot. The weather
has a southern warmth and brilliance, and in and out the burning-hot
mountain wall on our left large beautiful brown lizards disport
themselves. The road is very solitary. Till within the precincts of
Millau, we meet only a few peasants and two Franciscan brothers.
The approach to Millau is very pretty. Almond and peach orchards,
vineyards and gardens, form a bright suburban belt. Two rivers, the
Tarn and the Dourbie, water its pleasant valley, whilst over the town
tower lofty rocks in the form of an amphitheatre. Nant may be described
as a little idyll. After it Millau comes disenchantingly by comparison.
Never was I in such a noisy, roystering, singing, lounging place. There
was no special cause for hilarity; nothing was going on; the business
of daily life seemed to be the making a noise.
In spite of its pretty entourage, too, the town is not engaging. Its
hot, ill-kept, malodorous streets do not call forth an exploring frame
of mind. The public garden is, however, a delightful promenade, and.
the well-known photographer of these regions has his atelier in one of
the most curious old houses to be seen anywhere.
Climbing a narrow, winding stone stair, we come upon an open court,
with balconies running round each story, carved stone pillars
supporting these; oleanders and pomegranates in pots make the ledges
bright, whilst above the gleaming white walls shines a sky of Oriental
brilliance. The whole interior is animated. Here women sit at their
glove-making, the principal industry of the place, children play, pet
dogs and cats sun themselves; all is sunny, careless, southern life--a
page out of 'Graziella.'
There are several mediaeval facades, and some curious old carved arcades
also; much, indeed, that is sketch worthy, if our artists could be
brought to deem anything worth sketching in France, out of Brittany and
Millau, once one of the stanchest Protestant communities of the
Cevennes, was quite ruined by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
May not French history up to the date of the Revolution be summed up in
a single sentence--one woman created France; another ruined it? The
glorious work of Jeanne d'Arc was for a time wholly undone by the
machinations of that arch enemy of mankind, Madame de Maintenon. We
must travel in the Cevennes, and learn by heart the vicissitudes of
these once-flourishing little Protestant centres to realize the
bloodstained page in French history played by the bigoted adventuress
whose sole ambition was to become Queen of France.
And how worthy of such a career the last little episode of her court
life! When the old king, a shadow of his former self, lay on his dying
bed, and whispered that his chief consolation in dying was the thought
that she would rejoin him in heaven, Madame de Maintenon made no reply.
She was, indeed, wearied of the task that had been, in her eyes, so
inadequately rewarded--amusing for thirty and odd years a dull,
resourceless, ennuye and ennuyant husband; and had no desire to see any
more of him, either in this world or the next.
At present there is but a sprinkling of Protestants in Millau.
We took train to Mende. It is one of those delightfully slow trains
which enable you to see the scenery in detail, after the leisurely
fashion of Arthur Young, trotting through France on his Suffolk mare.
Part of the way lies through a romantic bit of country: chateau-crowned
hills follow each other in succession, every dark crag having its
feudal shell, whilst patchwork crops cover the lower slopes.
Everywhere vineyards predominate, so persistent the faith of the French
cultivator in the vine, so touching the efforts made to entice it to
grow on French soil. Few and far between are little wall-encompassed
villages perched on the hilltops.
At Severac-le-Chateau romance culminates in the stern, yellowish-gray
ruin cresting the green heights. A most picturesque little place is
this, seen from the railway. We now leave behind us cornlands and the
vine, and reach the region of pine and fir woods.
On the railway embankment we see the yellow-horned poppy and the golden
thistle growing in abundance; many another flower, too, as brilliant
brightens the way-a large, handsome broom, several kinds of mullein,
with fern and heather.
Bright and strongly contrasted are the hues of the landscape--purply-
black the far-off mountains, emerald-green the fields of rye and clover
at their feet. A large portion of the land hereabouts is mere
wilderness; yet the indomitable peasant wrenches up the boulders,
cleans the ground of stones, and turns, inch by inch, the waste into
productive soil. At every turn we are reminded of the dictum of 'that
wise and honest traveller,' Arthur Young: 'The magic of property turns
sands to gold.'
We are now in the region of the Causses; around us rise the spurs of
Sauveterre and Severac. The scenery between Marvejols and Mende is
grand; sombre, deep-green valleys, shut in by wide stretches of
stupendous rocky wall, dark pinewoods, and brown wastes.
Then evening closes in, and the rest is lost to us. As on my first
visit to Mende, a year ago, I lose the romantic approach to this
wonderfully placed little city.
The Hotel Manse, whither we now betake ourselves, is a great
improvement on the other mentioned in my first chapter in matters of
situation, sanitation, and comfort; the people are very civil and
obliging in both.
Here, however, we are not in the very heart of the stuffy, dirty, ill-
kept town, but on the outskirts, looking on to suburban gardens and
pleasant hills, with plenty of air to breathe.
Our rooms are so spacious, well-furnished, and clean that once more we
regret we cannot stay for weeks. Such quarters might indeed tempt many
a tourist to idle away a month here. The people are well-mannered,
affable, and strikingly handsome; and if the town requires an advanced
aedileship, no one need see much of it. Abundance of excursions are to
be made from Mende, and the prices of hotels are very moderate.
At Millau we saw a drunken man, and in the streets of Mende one old
woman came up to us begging an alms. I note these facts as we have so
rarely encountered either drunkards or mendicants on our way.
Strangers might naturally expect a somewhat low standard of morality in
a department so isolated from the great French highways and social
centres as that of the Lozere. The railway to Mende, as I have before
mentioned, dates from a few years only; up till that time the little
bishopric in the mountains would often be completely shut off from the
outer world by the snow, the only link being the telegraphic wire.
Nevertheless, an exceptional freedom from crime distinguishes the
country, as may be gathered from the following statement in a French
newspaper, dated August 29th, 1888.
'The opening of the assizes of the Lozere, which should have taken
place on the 3rd of September, will now be unnecessary, the list of
cases being _nil_.' What are called 'white sessions' (assises
blanches), for the matter of that, are of no infrequent occurrence in
the department of the Lozere, eminently an honest one. This is the
second time that 'white sessions' have distinguished it during the
As the Lozere is essentially a region of peasant owners, far from the
richest of their class, I commend the fact to the opponents of peasant
property--albeit, I know too well, to small purpose. The people have no
right to the soil in the eyes of these political economists. Whether
the possession of the soil makes them better or happier is wholly
beside the question. Just as the great autocrat Louis XIV, after very
serious reflection on the matter, came to the solemn conclusion that
his subjects had no right to any property whatever, and that the
sovereign was the divinely-ordained owner of everything supposed to
belong to them, so certain writers believe that, according to some
direct Providential arrangement--a second choosing of a special people
--not a Canaan alone, but every inch of Mother Earth, is the heaven-sent
heritage of the superior few.
FROM MENDE TO ST. ENIMIE.
So, just upon twelve months later, I once more found myself climbing to
the summit of the lofty plateau between Mende and St. Enimie.
It was a fortnight earlier in the year, and the weather was perfect;
light clouds that had threatened rain cleared off, mild sunshine
brightened the scene, and the air, although brisk and invigorating, was
by no means cold. Still more enticing now looked the billowy swell of
gold and purple mountains, and the dark cliffs frowning over green
valleys. To-day, too, the exhilarating conviction of fulfilment was
added to that of looking forward. A second time I had reached the
threshold of the long-dreamed-of region of marvels, at last really to
cross it and enter in.
I was on my way to the Causses at last! More striking and beautiful
than when first seen now seemed the upward drive from Mende--the
beautiful gray cathedral cushioned against the soft green hills, the
cheerful little town in its fertile valley, its wild entourage of far-
stretching waste and barren peak. More musical still sounded in my ears
the purling of the Lot, as unseen it ran between sunny pastures over
its stony bed far below.
Little I thought, indeed, although of firm intention, when making the
journey so far twelve months all but two weeks ago, that on this 5th of
September, 1888, I should be gazing on the same scene--a scene
reminding me now, as then, of the vast reedy plateau gazed on at Saida,
dividing the Algerian traveller from the Sahara.
This time I did not stop to make tea gipsy-wise on the turf in front of
the farmhouse; nor, to my disappointment, did the children run out to
share the contents of my bonbon-box. Not a soul was abroad; an eldritch
solitude reigned everywhere.
The Causse of Sauveterre is not reached till we have left the farmhouse
and ruined chateau far behind. From that point the roads diverge, and
we see our own leading to St. Enimie wind like a ribbon till lost to
view in the gray, stony wilderness.
A considerable portion of the land hereabouts is cultivated. We see
little patches of rye, oats, Indian corn, clover, potatoes, and here
and there a peasant ploughing up the soil with oxen.
As we proceed, the enormous horizon ever widens; long shadows fleck the
purply-brown and orange-coloured undulations; scattered sparsely are
little flocks of sheep, of a rich burnt-umber-brown, but herbage is
scant and little cattle can be nourished here. The swelling hills now
show new and more grandiose outlines; at last we come in sight of the
dark mass of the Causse de Sauveterre, and soon we enter upon the true
'Caussien' landscape in all its weird and sombre grandeur. Just as when
fairly out on the open sea we realize to the full its beauty and sense
of infinity, so it is here. The farther we go the wider, more
bewilderingly vast becomes the horizon: wave upon wave, billow upon
billow, now violet-hued, with a tinge of gold; now deep brown, partly
veiled with green, or roseate with sunlit clouds--the gray monotony of
stone and waste is thus varied by the way.
By the roadside slender trees of the hornbeam tribe are planted at
intervals, and where these are wanting, tall flagstaffs take their
place, to guide the wayfarer when six feet of snow cover the ground.
Wild-flowers in plenty brighten the edges of the road--stonecrops,
cornflowers, purple 'lady's fingers,' and many others; but wedged as we
are in our not too comfortable caleche, to get out and pluck them is
The road from Mende to the summit of the plateau can only be described
as a vertical ascent; before beginning to descend, we have a few
kilometres of level, that is all. As we approach the village of
Sauveterre, we see one or two wild figures--shepherds, uncouth in
appearance as Greek herdsmen; poorly dressed, but robust-looking, well-
made girls and women, short-skirted, bare-headed, footing it bravely
under the now hot sun.
Portions of the land on either side consist of waste, quite recently
laid under cultivation; the huge blocks of stone have been wrenched up,
heaven knows how, and conspicuously piled up in the midst of the newly-
created field, a veritable trophy. How much more commendable than that
commemorative of blood-stained victory! The rich red earth amply repays
these Herculean labours. With regard to the tenure of land, I should
suppose the state of things here must be very much what it was in the
age of primitive man. I fancy that any native of these parts, any true
Caussenard, has only to clear a bit of waste and plant a crop to make
it his own; a stranger would doubtless have his right to do so
contested, or, maybe, some patriarchal system is still in force, and
the village community is not yet extinct in France.
'Voila la capitale de Sauveterre!' soon cries our driver, pointing to a
cluster of bare brown, apparently windowless, houses, and a tiny
church, all grouped picturesquely together.
A poor-looking place it was enough when we obtained a nearer view,
reminding me of a Kabyle village more than anything else; not, however,
brightened with olive or fig tree! Nothing in the shape of a garden is
to be seen, only dull walls of close-set dwellings, with narrow paths
between. Windows, however, our driver assured us, were there; but the
village is built with its back to the road.
The great privation of these poor people is that of a regular water-
supply--one large, by no means pellucid, pond, with cisterns, are all
the sources they can rely upon from one end of the year to the other;
not a fountain issues from the limestone for miles round, not a stream
waters the entire Causse, a region extensive as Dartmoor or Salisbury
Plain. When we consider that this plateau has a height above the sea-
level equal to that of Skiddaw, we can easily imagine what the long
eight months' winter here is like. For the greater part of the time the
country is under several feet of snow, and the Caussenard warms his
poor tenement as best he can with peat.