Gaston de Latour: an unfinished romance by Walter Horatio Pater

Scanned and proofed by Alfred J. Drake ( GASTON DE LATOUR: AN UNFINISHED ROMANCE WALTER PATER 1. A Clerk in Orders: 1-25 2. Our Lady’s Church: 26-47 3. Modernity: 48-72 4. Peach-Blossom and Wine: 73-90 5. Suspended Judgment: 91-115 6. Shadows of Events: 116-131 7. The Lower Pantheism: 132-end I. A CLERK IN ORDERS The
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  • 1896
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Scanned and proofed by Alfred J. Drake (


1. A Clerk in Orders: 1-25

2. Our Lady’s Church: 26-47

3. Modernity: 48-72

4. Peach-Blossom and Wine: 73-90

5. Suspended Judgment: 91-115

6. Shadows of Events: 116-131

7. The Lower Pantheism: 132-end


The white walls of the Château of Deux-manoirs, with its precincts, composed, before its dismantling at the Revolution, the one prominent object which towards the southwest broke the pleasant level of La Beauce, the great corn-land of central France. Abode in those days of the family of Latour, nesting there century after century, it recorded significantly the effectiveness of their brotherly union, less by way of invasion of the rights of others than by the improvement of all gentler sentiments within. From the sumptuous monuments of their last resting-place, backwards to every object which had encircled them in that warmer and more lightsome home it was visible they had cared for so much, even in some peculiarities of the very ground-plan of the house itself–everywhere was the token of their anxious estimate of all those incidents of man’s pathway through the world [2] which knit the wayfarers thereon most closely together.

Why this irregularity of ground-plan?–the traveller would ask; recognising indeed a certain distinction in its actual effect on the eye, and suspecting perhaps some conscious aim at such effect on the part of the builders of the place in an age indulgent of architectural caprices. And the traditional answer to the question, true for once, still showed the race of Latour making much, making the most, of the sympathetic ties of human life. The work, in large measure, of Gaston de Latour, it was left unfinished at his death, some time about the year 1594. That it was never completed could hardly be attributed to any lack of means, or of interest; for it is plain that to the period of the Revolution, after which its scanty remnants passed into humble occupation (a few circular turrets, a crenellated curtain wall, giving a random touch of dignity to some ordinary farm-buildings) the place had been scrupulously maintained. It might seem to have been a kind of reverence rather that had allowed the work to remain untouched for future ages precisely at this point in its growth.

And the expert architectural mind, peeping acutely into recondite motives and half-accomplished purposes in such matters, could detect the circumstance which had determined that so noticeable peculiarity of ground-plan. Its kernel was not, as in most similar buildings of that date, [3] a feudal fortress, but an unfortified manor-house–a double manoir–two houses, oddly associated at a right angle. Far back in the Middle Age, said a not uncertain tradition, here had been the one point of contact between two estates, intricately interlocked with alien domain, as, in the course of generations, the family of Latour, and another, had added field to field. In the single lonely manor then existing two brothers had grown up; and the time came when the marriage of the younger to the heiress of those neighbouring lands would divide two perfect friends. Regretting over-night so dislocating a change it was the elder who, as the drowsy hours flowed away in manifold recollection beside the fire, now suggested to the younger, himself already wistfully recalling, as from the past, the kindly motion and noise of the place like a sort of audible sunlight, the building of a second manor-house–the Château d’Amour, as it came to be called–that the two families, in what should be as nearly as possible one abode, might take their fortunes together.

Of somewhat finer construction than the rough walls of the older manor, the Château d’Amour stood, amid the change of years, as a visible record of all the accumulated sense of human existence among its occupants. The old walls, the old apartments, of those two associated houses still existed, with some obvious additions, beneath the delicate, fantastic surfaces of the château [4] of the sixteenth century. Its singularity of outline was the very symbol of the religion of the family in the race of Latour, still full of loyalty to the old home, as its numerous outgrowths took hold here and there around. A race with some prominent characteristics ineradicable in the grain, they went to raise the human level about them by a transfer of blood, far from involving any social decadence in themselves. A peculiar local variety of character, of manners, in that district of La Beauce, surprised the more observant visitor who might find his way into farmhouse or humble presbytery of its scattered townships. And as for those who kept up the central tradition of their house, they were true to the soil, coming back, under whatever obstacles, from court, from cloister, from distant crusade, to the visible spot where the memory of their kindred was liveliest and most exact–a memory, touched so solemnly with a conscience of the intimacies of life, its significant events, its contacts and partings, that to themselves it was like a second sacred history.

It was a great day, amid all their quiet days, for the people of Deux-manoirs–one of the later days of August. The event, which would mark it always in the life of one of them, called into play all that was most expressive in that well-defined family character: it was at once the recognition of what they valued most in past years, and an assertion of will, or hope, for the [5] future, accordant thereto. Far away in Paris the young King Charles the Ninth, in his fourteenth year, had been just declared of age. Here, in the church of Saint Hubert, church of their parish, and of their immemorial patronage, though it lay at a considerable distance from their abode, the chiefs of the house of Latour, attended by many of its dependents and less important members, were standing ready, around the last hope of their old age–the grandparents, their aged brothers and sisters, certain aged ecclesiastics of their kindred, wont to be called to the family councils.

They had set out on foot, after a votive mass said early in the old chapel of the manor, to assist at the ceremony of the day. Distinguishable from afar by unusual height in proportion to its breadth within, the church of Saint Hubert had an atmosphere, a daylight, to itself. Its stained glass, work of the same hands that had wrought for the cathedral of Chartres, admitted only an almost angry ray of purple or crimson, here or there, across the dark, roomy spaces. The heart, the heart of youth at least, sank, as one entered, stepping warily out of the sunshine over the sepulchral stones which formed the entire pavement of the church, a great blazonry of family history from age to age for indefatigable eyes. An abundance of almost life-sized sculpture clung to the pillars, lurked in the angles, seemed, with those symbolical gestures, and mystic faces [6] ready to speak their parts, to be almost in motion through the gloom. Many years after, Gaston de Latour, an enemy of all Gothic darkness or heaviness, returning to his home full of a later taste, changed all that. A thicket of airy spires rose above the sanctuary; the blind triforium broke into one continuous window; the heavy masses of stone were pared down with wonderful dexterity of hand, till not a hand’s-breadth remained uncovered by delicate tracery, as from the fair white roof, touched sparingly with gold, down to the subterranean chapel of Saint Taurin, where the peasants of La Beauce came to pray for rain, not a space was left unsearched by cheerful daylight, refined, but hardly dimmed at all, by painted glass mimicking the clearness of the open sky. In the sombre old church all was in stately order now: the dusky, jewelled reliquaries, the ancient devotional ornaments from the manor–much-prized family possessions, sufficient to furnish the whole array of a great ecclesiastical function like this–the lights burning, flowers everywhere, gathered amid the last handfuls of the harvest by the peasant-women, who came to present their children for the happy chance of an episcopal blessing.

And the almost exclusively aged people, in all their old personal adornments, which now so rarely saw the light, forming the central group, expectant around the young seigneur they had conducted hither, seemed of one piece with [7] those mystic figures, the old, armour- clad monumental effigies, the carved and painted imageries which ran round the outer circuit of the choir–a version of the biblical history, for the reading of those who loitered on their way from chapel to chapel. There was Joseph’s dream, with the tall sheaves of the elder brethren bowing to Joseph’s sheaf, like these aged heads around the youthful aspirant of to-day. There was Jacob going on his mysterious way, met by, conversing with, wrestling with, the Angels of God–rescuing the promise of his race from the “profane” Esau. There was the mother of Samuel, and, in long white ephod, the much- desired, early-consecrated child, who had inherited her religious capacity; and David, with something of his extraordinary genius for divine things written on his countenance; onward, to the sacred persons of the Annunciation, with the golden lily in the silver cup, only lately set in its place. With dress, expression, nay! the very incidents themselves innocently adapted to the actual habits and associations of the age which had produced them, these figures of the old Jewish history seemed about to take their places, for the imparting of a divine sanction, among the living actors of the day. One and all spoke of ready concurrence with religious motions, a ready apprehension of, and concurrence with, the provisions of a certain divine scheme for the improvement of one’s opportunities in the world.

[8] Would that dark-haired, fair-skinned lad concur, in his turn, and be always true to his present purpose–Gaston de Latour, standing thus, almost the only youthful thing, amid the witness of these imposing, meditative, masks and faces? Could his guardians have read below the white propriety of the youth, duly arrayed for dedication, with the lighted candle in his right hand and the surplice folded over his left shoulder, he might sorely have disturbed their placid but somewhat narrow ruminations, with the germs of what was strange to or beyond them. Certain of those shrewd old ecclesiastics had in fact detected that the devout lad, so visibly impressed, was not altogether after their kind; that, together with many characteristics obviously inherited, he possessed–had caught perhaps from some ancestor unrepresented here–some other potencies of nature, which might not always combine so accordantly as to-day with the mental requisites of an occasion such as this. One of them, indeed, touched notwithstanding by his manifest piety just then, shortly afterwards recommended him a little prayer “for peace” from the Vespers of the Roman Breviary–for the harmony of his heart with itself; advice which, except for a very short period, he ever afterwards followed, saying it every evening of his life.

Yet it was the lad’s own election which had led him to this first step in a career that might take him out of the world and end the race of [9] Latour altogether. Approaching their fourscore years, and realising almost suddenly the situation of the young Gaston, left there alone, out of what had been a large, much-promising, resonant household, they wished otherwise, but did not try to change his early-pronounced preference for the ecclesiastical calling. When he determined to seek the clericature, his proposal made a demand on all their old-fashioned religious sentiment. But the fund was a deep one, and their acquiescence in the result entire. He might indeed use his privilege of “orders” only as the stepping-stone to material advancement in a church which seemed to have gone over wholly to the world, and of which at that time one half the benefices were practically in the hands of laymen. But, actually, the event came to be a dedication on their part, not unlike those old biblical ones–an offering in old age of the single precious thing left them; the grandchild, whose hair would presently fall under the very shears which, a hundred years before, had turned an earlier, brilliant, Gaston de Latour into a monk.

Charles Guillard, Bishop of Chartres, a courtly, vivacious prelate, whose quick eyes seemed to note at a glance the whole assembly, one and all, while his lips moved silently, arrived at last, and the rite began with the singing of the Office for the Ninth Hour. It was like a stream of water crossing unexpectedly a dusty way–Mirabilia testimonia tua! In psalm and antiphon, inexhaustibly [10] fresh, the soul seemed to be taking refuge, at that undevout hour, from the sordid languor and the mean business of men’s lives, in contemplation of the unfaltering vigour of the divine righteousness, which had still those who sought it, not only watchful in the night but alert in the drowsy afternoon. Yes! there was the sheep astray, sicut ovis quae periit–the physical world; with its lusty ministers, at work, or sleeping for a while amid the stubble, their faces upturned to the August sun–the world so importunately visible, intruding a little way, with its floating odours, in that semicircle of heat across the old over-written pavement at the great open door, upon the mysteries within. Seen from the incense-laden sanctuary, where the bishop was assuming one by one the pontifical ornaments, La Beauce, like a many- coloured carpet spread under the great dome, with the white double house-front quivering afar through the heat, though it looked as if you might touch with the hand its distant spaces, was for a moment the unreal thing. Gaston alone, with all his mystic preoccupations, by the privilege of youth, seemed to belong to both, and link the visionary company about him to the external scene.

The rite with which the Roman Church “makes a clerk,” aims certainly at no low measure of difference from the coarser world around him, in its supposed scholar: and in this case the [11] aspirant (the precise claims of the situation being well considered) had no misgiving. Discreetly, and with full attention, he answers Adsum! when his name is called, and advances manfully; though he kneels meekly enough, and remains, with his head bowed forward, at the knees of the seated bishop who recites the appointed prayers, between the anthems and responses of his Schola, or attendant singers–Might he be saved from mental blindness! Might he put on the new man, even as his outward guise was changed! Might he keep the religious habit for ever! who had thus hastened to lay down the hair of his head for the divine love. “The Lord is my inheritance” whispers Gaston distinctly, as the locks fall, cut from the thickly-grown, black head, in five places, “after the fashion of Christ’s crown,” the shears in the episcopal hands sounding aloud, amid the silence of the curious spectators. From the same hands, in due order, the fair surplice ripples down over him. “This is the generation of them that seek Him,” the choir sings: “The Lord Himself is the portion of my inheritance and my cup.” It was the Church’s eloquent way of bidding unrestricted expansion to the youthful heart in its timely purpose to seek the best, to abide among the things of the spirit.

The prospect from their cheerful, unenclosed road, like a white scarf flung across the land, as [12] the party returned home in the late August afternoon, was clear and dry and distant. The great barns at the wayside had their doors thrown back, displaying the dark, cool space within. The farmsteads seemed almost tenantless, the villagers being still at work over the immense harvest-field. Crazy bells startled them, striking out the hour from behind, over a deserted churchyard. Still and tenantless also seemed the manor as they approached, door and window lying open upon the court for the coolness; or rather it was as if at their approach certain spectral occupants started back out of the daylight–“Why depart, dear ghosts?” was what the grandparents would have cried. They had more in common with that immaterial world than with flesh and blood. There was room for the existing household, enough and to spare, in one of the two old houses. That other, the Château d’Amour, remained for Gaston, at first as a delightful, half-known abode of wonders, though with some childish fear; afterwards, as a delightful nursery of refined or fantastic sentiment, as he recalled, in this chamber or that, its old tenants and their doings, from the affectionate brothers, onwards–above all, how in one room long ago Gabrielle de Latour had died of joy.

With minds full of their recent business it was difficult to go back to common occupations; as darkness came on, the impressions of the day did but return again more vividly and concentrate [13] themselves upon the inward sense. Observance, loyal concurrence in some high purpose for him, passive waiting on the hand one might miss in the darkness, with the gift or gifts therein of which he had the presentiment, and upon the due acceptance of which the true fortune of life would turn; these were the hereditary traits alert in Gaston, as he lay awake in the absolute, moon-lit, stillness, his outward ear attentive for the wandering footsteps which, through that wide, lightly-accentuated country, often came and went about the house, with weird suggestions of a dim passage to and fro, and of an infinite distance. He would rise, as the footsteps halted perhaps below his window, to answer the questions of the travellers, pilgrims, or labourers who had missed their way from farm to farm, or halting soldier seeking guidance; terrible or terror-stricken companies sometimes, rudely or piteously importunate to be let in– for it was the period of the Religious Wars, flaming up here and there over France, and never quite put out, during forty years.

Once, in the beginning of these troubles (he was then a child, leaning from the window, as a sound of rickety, small wheels approached) the enquiry came in broken French, “Voulez-vous donner direction?” from a German, one of the mercenaries of the Duc de Guise, hired for service in a civil strife of France, drawing wearily a crippled companion, so far from home. [14] The memory of it, awakening a thousand strange fancies, had remained by him, as a witness to the power of fortuitous circumstance over the imagination.

One night there had come a noise of horns, and presently King Charles himself was standing in the courtyard, belated, and far enough now from troublesome company, as he hunted the rich-fleshed game of La Beauce through the endless corn. He entered, with a relish for the pleasant cleanliness of the place, expressed in a shrill strain of half-religious oaths, like flashes of hell-fire to Gaston’s suddenly- awakened sense. It was the invincible nature of the royal lad to speak, and feel, on these mad, alto notes, and not unbecoming in a good catholic; for Huguenots never swore, and these were subtly theological oaths. Well! the grandparents repressed as best they could their apprehensions as to what other hunters, what other disconcerting incident, might follow; for catholic France very generally believed that the Huguenot leaders had a scheme for possessing themselves of the person of the young king, known to be mentally pliable. Meanwhile they led him to their daintiest apartment, with great silver flambeaux, that he might wash off the blood with which not his hands only were covered; for he hunted also with the eagerness of a madman–steeped in blood. He lay there for a few hours, after supping very familiarly on his own birds, Gaston rising from [15] his bed to look on at a distance, and, afterwards, on his knee, serving the rose-water dish and spiced wine, as the night passed in reassuring silence; Charles himself, as usual, keenly enjoying this “gipsy” incident, with the supper after that unexpected fashion, among strange people, he hardly knew where. He was very pale, like some cunning Italian work in wax or ivory, of partly satiric character, endued by magic or crafty mechanism with vivacious movement. But as he sat thus, ever for the most part the unhappy plaything of other people’s humours, escaped for a moment out of a world of demoniac politicians, the pensive atmosphere around seemed gradually to change him, touching his wild temper, pleasantly, profitably, so that he took down from the wall and struck out the notes of a lute, and fell to talking of verses, leaving a stanza of his own scratched with a diamond on the window-pane–lines simpler- hearted, and more full of nature than were common at that day.

The life of Gaston de Latour was almost to coincide with the duration of the Religious Wars. The earliest public event of his memory was that famous siege of Orleans from which the young Henri de Guise rode away the head of his restless family, tormented now still further by the reality or the pretence of filial duty, seeking vengeance on the treacherous murder of his father. Following a long period of quiet progress–the tranquil and tolerant years of the [16] Renaissance– the religious war took possession of, and pushed to strangely confused issues, a society somewhat distraught by an artificial aesthetic culture; and filled with wild passions, wildly-dramatic personalities, a scene already singularly attractive by its artistic beauty. A heady religious fanaticism was worked by every prominent egotist in turn, pondering on his chances, in the event of the extinction of the house of Valois with the three sons of Catherine de Medici, born unsound, and doomed by astrological prediction. The old manors, which had exchanged their towers for summer-houses under the softening influence of Renaissance fashions, found themselves once more medievally insecure amid a vagrant warfare of foreign mercenaries and armed peasants. It was a curiously refined people who now took down the armour, hanging high on the wall for decoration among newer things so little warlike.

A difficult age, certainly, for scrupulous spirits to move in! A perplexed network of partizan or personal interests underlay, and furnished the really directing forces in, a supposed Armageddon of contending religious convictions. The wisest perhaps, like Michel de L’Hôpital, withdrew themselves from a conflict, in which not a single actor has the air of quite pure intentions; while religion, itself the assumed ground of quarrel, seems appreciable all the while only by abstraction from the parties, the leaders, at once violent [17] and cunning, who are most pretentious in the assertion of its rival claims. What there was of religion was in hiding, perhaps, with the so-called “Political” party, professedly almost indifferent to it, but which had at least something of humanity on its side, and some chance of that placidity of mind in which alone the business of the spirit can be done. The new sect of “Papists” were not the true catholics: there was little of the virtue of the martyr in militant Calvinism. It is not a catholic historian who notes with profound regret “that inauspicious day,” in the year 1562, Gaston’s tenth year, “when the work of devastation began, which was to strip from France that antique garniture of religious art which later ages have not been able to replace.” Axe and hammer at the carved work sounded from one end of France to the other.

It was a peculiarity of this age of terror, that every one, including Charles the Ninth himself, dreaded what the accident of war might make, not merely of his enemies, but of temporary allies and pretended friends, in an evenly balanced but very complex strife–of merely personal rivals also, in some matter which had nothing to do with the assumed motives of that strife. Gaston de Latour passing on his country way one night, with a sudden flash of fierce words two young men burst from the doors of a road-side tavern. The brothers are quarrelling about [18] the division, lately effected there, of their dead father’s morsel of land. “I shall hate you till death!” cries the younger, bounding away in the darkness; and two atheists part, to take opposite sides in the supposed strife of Catholic and Huguenot.

The deeds of violence which occupy the foreground of French history during the reigns of Catherine’s sons might indeed lead one to fancy that little human kindness could have remained in France,–a fanatical civil war of forty years, that no place at all could have been left for the quiet building of character. Contempt for human life, taught us every day by nature, and alas! by man himself:–all war intensifies that. But the more permanent forces, alike of human nature and of the natural world, are on the whole in the interest of tranquillity and sanity, and of the sentiments proper to man. Like all good catholic children, Gaston had shuddered at the name of Adretz, of Briquemaut with his great necklace of priests’ ears, of that dark and fugitive Montgomeri, the slayer, as some would have it the assassin, of a king, now active, and almost ubiquitous, on the Huguenot side. Still, at Deux-manoirs, this warfare, seething up from time to time so wildly in this or that district of France, was for the most part only sensible in incidents we might think picturesque, were they told with that intention; delightful enough, certainly, to the curiosity of a boy, in whose [19] mind nevertheless they deepened a native impressibility to the sorrow and hazard that are constant and necessary in human life, especially for the poor. The troubles of “that poor people of France”–burden of all its righteous rulers, from Saint Lewis downwards–these, at all events, would not be lessened by the struggle of Guise and Condé and Bourbon and Valois, of the Valois with each other, of those four brilliant young princes of the name of Henry. The weak would but suffer somewhat more than was usual, in the interest of the strong. If you were not sure whether that gleaming of the sun in the vast distance flashed from swords or sickles, whether that far-off curl of smoke rose from stubble-fire or village-steeple, to protect which the peasants, still lovers of their churches, would arm themselves, women and all, with fork and scythe,–still, those peasants used their scythes, in due season, for reaping their leagues of cornland, and slept with faces as tranquil as ever towards the sky, for their noonday rest. In effect, since peace is always in some measure dependent on one’s own seeking, disturbing forces do but fray their way along somewhat narrow paths over the great spaces of the quiet realm of nature. La Beauce, vast enough to present at once every phase of weather, its one landmark the twin spires of Chartres, salient as the finger of a dial, guiding, by their change of perspective, victor or vanquished on his way, offered room enough [20] for the business both of peace and war to those enamoured of either. When Gaston, after a brief absence, was unable to find his child’s garden-bed, that was only because in a fine June the corn had grown tall so quickly, through which he was presently led to it, with all its garish sweets undisturbed: and it was with the ancient growths of mind–customs, beliefs, mental preferences–as with the natural world.

It may be understood that there was a certain rudeness about the old manor, left almost untouched from age to age, with a loyalty which paid little or no heed to changes of fashion. The Château d’Amour, indeed, as the work of a later age, refined somewhat upon the rough feudal architecture; and the daintier taste had centred itself in particular upon one apartment, a veritable woman’s apartment, with an effect in some degree anticipating the achievement of Gaston’s own century, in which the apparatus of daily life became so eloquent of the moods of those to whom it ministered. It was the chamber of Gabrielle de Latour, who had died of joy. Here certainly she had watched, at these windows, during ten whole years, for the return of her beloved husband from a disastrous battle in the East, till against all expectation she beheld him crossing the court at last. Immense privilege! Immense distinction! Again and again Gaston tried to master the paradox, at times, in deep concentration of mind, seemed [21] almost to touch the point of that wonderful moment.

Hither, as to an oratory, a religious place, the finer spirits of her kin had always found their way, to leave behind them there the more intimate relics of themselves. To Gaston its influence imparted early a taste for delicate things as being indispensable in all his pleasures to come; and, from the very first, with the appetite for some great distinguishing passion, the peculiar genius of his age seeming already awake spontaneously within him. Here, at least, had been one of those grand passions, such as were needed to give life its true meaning and effect. Conscious of that rudeness in his home, and feeding a strong natural instinct for outward beauty hitherto on what was barely sufficient, he found for himself in this perfumed place the centre of a fanciful world, reaching out to who could tell what refined passages of existence in that great world beyond, of which the echoes seemed to light here amid the stillness. On his first visit one pensive afternoon, fitting the lately attained key in the lock, he seemed to have drawn upon himself, yet hardly to have disturbed, the meditations of its former occupant. A century of unhindered summers had taken the heat from its colours–the couches, the curtains half shading the windows, which the rain in the south- west wind just then touched so softly. That great passion of old had been also a dainty love, leaving [22] its impress everywhere in this magic apartment, on the musical instruments, the books lying where they might have fallen from the hands of the listless reader so long since, the fragrance which the lad’s movement stirred around him. And there, on one of the windows, were the verses of King Charles, who had slept here, as in the most courtly resting-place of the house. On certain nights Gaston himself was not afraid to steal from his own bed to lie in it, though still too healthy a sleeper to be visited by the appropriate dreams he so greatly longed for.

A nature, instinctively religious, which would readily discover and give their full value to all such facts of experience as might be conformable thereto! But what would be the relation of this religious sensibility to sensibilities of another kind, now awaking in the young Gaston, as he mused in this dreamy place, surrounded by the books, the furniture, almost the very presence of the past, which had already found tongues to speak of a still living humanity– somewhere, somewhere, in the world!–waiting for him in the distance, or perchance already on its way, to explain, by its own plenary beauty and power, why wine and roses and the languorous summer afternoons were so delightful. So far indeed, the imaginative heat, that might one day enter into dangerous rivalry with simple old- fashioned faith, was blent harmoniously with it. They [23] were hardly distinguishable elements of an amiable character, susceptible generally to the poetic side of things–two neighbourly apprehensions of a single ideal.

The great passions, the fervid sentiments, of which Gaston dreamed as the true realisation of life, have not always softened men’s natures: they have been compatible with many cruelties, as in the lost spirits of that very age. They may overflow, on the other hand, in more equable natures, through the concurrence of happier circumstance, into that universal sympathy which lends a kind of amorous power to the homeliest charities. So it seemed likely to be with Gaston de Latour. Sorrow came along with beauty, a rival of its intricate omnipresence in life. In the sudden tremor of an aged voice, the handling of a forgotten toy, a childish drawing, in the tacit observance of a day, he became aware suddenly of the great stream of human tears falling always through the shadows of the world. For once the darling of old age actually more than responded in full to its tenderness. In the isolation of his life there had been little demand for sympathy on the part of those anywhere near his own age. So much the larger was the fund of superfluous affection which went forth, with a delicacy not less than their own, to meet the sympathies of the aged people who cherished him. In him, their old, almost forgotten sorrows bled anew.

[24] Variety of affection, in a household in which many relations had lived together, had brought variety of sorrow. But they were well- nigh healed now–those once so poignant griefs–the scars remaining only as deeper lines of natural expression. It was visible, to their surprise, that he penetrated the motive of the mass said so solemnly, in violet, on the Innocents’ Day, and understood why they wept at the triumphant antiphons:–“My soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler!”–thinking intently of the little tombs which had recorded carefully almost the minutes of children’s lives, Elizabeth de Latour, Cornélius de Latour, aged so many years, days, hours. Yes! the cold pavement under one’s feet had once been molten lava. Surely the resources of sorrow were large in things! The fact must be duly marked and provided for, with due estimate of his own susceptibility thereto, in his scheme of life. Might he pass through the world, unriven by sorrows such as those! And already it was as if he stept softly over the earth, not to outrage its so abundant latent sensibilities.

The beauty of the world and its sorrow, solaced a little by religious faith, itself so beautiful a thing; these were the chief impressions with which he made his way outwards, at first only in longer rambles, as physical strength increased, over his native plains, whereon, as we have seen, the cruel warfare of that age had [25] aggravated at a thousand points the everyday appeal of suffering humanity. The vast level, stretching thirty miles from east to west, thirty from north to south:–perhaps the reader may think little of its resources for the seeker after natural beauty, or its capacity to develope the imagination. A world, he may fancy, in which there could be no shadows, at best not too cheerful colours. In truth, it was all accent, so to speak. But then, surely, all the finer influences of every language depend mostly on accent; and he has but to think of it as Gaston actually lived in it to find a singularly companionable soul there. Gaston, at least, needed but to go far enough across it for those inward oppositions to cease, which already at times beset him; to feel at one with himself again, under the influence of a scene which had for him something of the character of the sea–its changefulness, its infinity, its pathos in the toiling human life that traversed it. Featureless, if you will, it was always under the guidance of its ample sky. Scowling back sometimes moodily enough, but almost never without a remnant of fine weather, about August it was for the most part cloudless. And then truly, under its blue dome, the great plain would as it were “laugh and sing,” in a kind of absoluteness of sympathy with the sun.


“I had almost said even as they.”

[26] Like a ship for ever a-sail in the distance, thought the child, everywhere the great church of Chartres was visible, with the passing light or shadow upon its grey, weather-beaten surfaces. The people of La Beauce were proud, and would talk often of its rich store of sacred furniture, the wonder-working relics of “Our Lady under the Earth,” and her sacred veil or shift, which kings and princes came to visit, returning with a likeness thereof, replete in miraculous virtue, for their own wearing. The busy fancy of Gaston, multiplying this chance hearsay, had set the whole interior in array–a dim, spacious, fragrant place, afloat with golden lights. Lit up over the autumn fields at evening, the distant spires suggested the splendour within, with so strong an imaginative effect, that he seemed scarcely to know whether it was through the mental or bodily eye that he beheld. When he came [27] thither at last, like many another well- born youth, to join the episcopal household as a kind of half- clerical page, he found (as happens in the actual testing of our ideals) at once more and less than he had supposed; and his earlier vision was a thing he could never precisely recover, or disentangle from the supervening reality. What he saw, certainly, was greater far in mere physical proportion, and incommensurable at first by anything he knew–the volume of the wrought detail, the mass of the component members, the bigness of the actual stones of the masonry, contrary to the usual Gothic manner, and as if in reminiscence of those old Druidic piles amid which the Virgin of Chartres had been adored, long before the birth of Christ, by a mystic race, possessed of some prophetic sense of the grace in store for her. Through repeated dangers good-fortune has saved that unrivalled treasure of stained glass; and then, as now, the word “awful,” so often applied to Gothic aisles, was for once really applicable. You enter, looking perhaps for a few minutes’ cool shelter from the summer noonday; and the placid sunshine of La Beauce seems to have been transformed in a moment into imperious, angry fire.

It was not in summer, however, that Gaston first set foot there; he saw the beautiful city for the first time as if sheathed austerely in repellent armour. In his most genial subsequent impressions of the place there was always a lingering [28] trace of that famous frost through which he made his way, wary of petrifying contact against things without, to the great western portal, on Candlemas morning. The sad, patient images by the doorways of the crowded church seemed suffering now chiefly from the cold. It was almost like a funeral– the penitential violet, the wandering taper-light, of this half- lenten feast of Purification. His new companions, at the head and in the rear of the long procession, forced every one, even the Lord Bishop himself, to move apace, bustling along, cross-bearer and acolyte, in their odd little copes, out of the bitter air, which made the jolly life Gaston now entered on, around the great fire of their hall in the episcopal palace, seem all the more winsome.

Notre-Dame de Chartres! It was a world to explore, as if one explored the entire Middle Age; it was also one unending, elaborate, religious function–a life, or a continuous drama, to take one’s part in. Dependent on its structural completeness, on its wealth of well- preserved ornament, on its unity in variety, perhaps on some undefinable operation of genius, beyond, but concurrently with, all these, the church of Chartres has still the gift of a unique power of impressing. In comparison, the other famous churches of France, at Amiens for instance, at Rheims or Beauvais, may seem but formal, and to a large extent reproducible, effects of mere architectural rule on a gigantic scale. The [29] somewhat Gothic soul of Gaston relished there something strange, or even bizarre, in the very manner in which the building set itself, so broadly couchant, upon the earth; in the natural richness of tone on the masonry within; in its vast echoing roof of timber, the “forest,” as it was called; in the mysterious maze traced upon its pavement; its maze-like crypt, centering in the shrine of the sibylline Notre-Dame, itself a natural or very primitive grotto or cave. A few years were still to pass ere sacrilegious hands despoiled it on a religious pretext:–the catholic church must pay, even with the molten gold of her sanctuaries, the price of her defence in the civil war. At present, it was such a treasure-house of medieval jewellery as we have to make a very systematic effort even to imagine. The still extant register of its furniture and sacred apparel leaves the soul of the ecclesiologist athirst.

And it had another very remarkable difference from almost all Gothic churches: there were no graves there. Its emptiness in this respect is due to no revolutionary or Huguenot desecration. Once indeed, about this very time, a popular military leader had been interred with honour, within the precinct of the high altar itself. But not long afterwards, said the reverend canons, resenting on the part of their immaculate patroness this intrusion, the corpse itself, ill at ease, had protested, lifting up its hands above [30] the surface of the pavement, as if to beg interment elsewhere; and Gaston could remember assisting, awakened suddenly one night, at the removal of the remains to a more ordinary place of sepulture.

And yet that lavish display of jewellers’ work on the altars, in the chapels, the sacristies, of Our Lady’s Church, was but a framing for little else than dead people’s bones. To Gaston, a piteous soul, with a touch also of that grim humour which, as we know, holds of pity, relic-worship came naturally. At Deux-manoirs too there had been relics, including certain broken children’s toys and some rude childish drawings, taken forth now and then with almost religious veneration, with trembling hands and renewal of old grief, to his wondering awe at the greatness of men’s sorrows. Yes! the pavement under one’s feet had once been, might become again for him, molten lava. The look, the manner, of those who exposed these things, had been a revelation. The abundant relics of the church of Chartres were for the most part perished remnants of the poor human body itself; but, appertaining to persons long ago and of a far-off, immeasurable kind of sanctity, stimulated a more indifferent sort of curiosity, and seemed to bring the distant, the impossible, as with tangible evidence of fact, close to one’s side. It was in one’s hand–the finger of an Evangelist! The crowned head of Saint Lubin, bishop of Chartres [31] long centuries since, but still able to preserve its wheat-stacks from fire; bones of the “Maries,” with some of the earth from their grave; these, and the like of these, was what the curious eye discerned in the recesses of those variously contrived reliquaries, great and small, glittering so profusely about the dusky church, itself ministering, by its very shadows, to a certain appetite in the soul of Gaston for dimness–for a dim place like this–such as he had often prefigured to himself, albeit with some suspicion of what might seem a preference for darkness. Physical twilight we most of us love, in its season. To him, that perpetual twilight came in close identity with its moral or intellectual counterpart, as the welcome requisite for that part of the soul which loves twilight, and is, in truth, never quite at rest out of it, through some congenital uneasiness or distress, perhaps, in its processes of vision.

As complex, yet not less perfectly united under a single leading motive,–its sister volume, was the ritual order of Notre-Dame de Chartres, a year-long dramatic action, in which every one had, and knew, his part–the drama or “mystery” of Redemption, to the necessities of which the great church had shaped itself. All those various “offices” which, in Pontifical, Missal and Breviary, devout imagination had elaborated from age to age with such a range of spiritual colour and light and shade, with so much poetic tact in quotation, such a depth of insight into [32] the Christian soul, had joined themselves harmoniously together, one office ending only where another began, in the perpetual worship of this mother of churches, which had also its own picturesque peculiarities of “use,” proud of its maternal privilege therein. And the music rose–warmed, expanded, or fell silent altogether–as the order of the year, the colours, the whole expression of things changed, gathering around the full mystic effulgence of the pontiff in his own person, while the sacred theme deepened at the great ecclesiastical seasons, when the aisles overflowed with a vast multitude, and like a court, combed, starched, rustling around him, Gaston and his fellows “served” Monseigneur–they, zealous, ubiquitous, more prominent than ever, though for the most part profoundly irreverent, and, notwithstanding that, one and all, with what disdain of the untonsured laity!

Well! what was of the past there–the actual stones of the temple and that sacred liturgical order–entered readily enough into Gaston’s mental kingdom, filling places prepared by the anticipations of his tranquil, dream-struck youth. It was the present, the uncalculated present, which now disturbed the complacent habit of his thoughts, proposing itself, importunately, in the living forms of his immediate companions, in the great clerical body of which he was become a part, in the people of Chartres itself (none the less animated because provincial) as [33] a thing, alien at a thousand points from his preconceptions of life, to be judged by him, to be rejected or located within. How vivid, how delightful, they were!–the other forty-nine of the fifty lads who had come hither, after the old- fashioned way, to serve in the household of Monseigneur by way of an “institution” in learning and good manners, as to which a grave national assembly, more than three centuries before the States- General of 1789, had judged French youth of quality somewhat behindhand, recommending king and nobles to take better care for the future of their education, “to the end that, enlightened and moralised, they might know their duties, and be less likely to abuse their privileges.”

And how becomingly that cleric pride, that self-respecting quiet, sat upon their high-bred figures, their angelic, unspoiled faces, saddened transiently as they came under the religious spell for a moment. As for Gaston, they welcomed him with perfect friendliness, kept their best side foremost for an hour, and would not leave his very dreams. In absolute unconsciousness, they had brought from their remote old homes all varieties of hereditary gifts, vices, distinctions, dark fates, mercy, cruelty, madness. Appetite and vanity abounded, but with an abundant superficial grace, befitting a generation which, as by some aesthetic sense in the air, made the most of the pleasant outsides of life. All the [34] various traits of the dying Middle Age were still in evidence among them, in all their crude effectiveness; only, blent, like rusty old armour wreathed in flowers, with the peculiar fopperies of the time, shrewdly divined from a distance, as happens with competent youth. To be in Paris itself, amid the full, delightful, fragrance of those dainty visible things which Huguenots despised:–that, surely, were the sum of good-fortune! Half-clerical, they loved nevertheless the touch of steel; had a laughing joy in trifling with its latent soul of destruction. In mimicry of the great world, they had their leaders, so inscrutably self-imposed:–instinctively, they felt and underwent that mystery of leadership, with its consequent heats of spirit, its tides and changes of influence.

On the other hand also, to Gaston, dreamily observant, it was quaint, likeable, the way they had of reproducing, unsuspectingly, the humours of animal nature. Does not the anthropologist tell us of a heraldry, with a large assortment of heraldic beasts, to be found among savage or half-savage peoples, as the “survival” of a period when men were nearer than they are or seem to be now, to the irrational world? Throughout the sprightly movement of the lads’ daily life it was as if their “tribal” pets or monsters were with or within them. Tall Exmes, lithe and cruel like a tiger–it was pleasant to stroke him. The tiger was there, the parrot, the hare, the goat of course, and certainly much apishness. [35] And, one and all, they were like the creatures, in their vagrant, short, memories, alert perpetually on the topmost crest of the day and hour, transferred so heartlessly, so entirely, from yesterday to to-day. Yet out of them, sure of some response, human heart did break:–in and around Camille Pontdormi, for instance, brilliant and ambitious, yet so sensitive about his threadbare home, concerning which however he had made the whole company, one by one, his confidants–so loyal to the people there, bursting into wild tears over the letter which brought the news of his younger brother’s death, visibly fretting over it long afterwards. Still, for the most part, in their perfect health, nothing seemed to reach them but their own boyish ordinances, their own arbitrary “form.” It was an absolute indifference; most striking when they lifted their well-trained voices to sing in choir, vacant as the sparrows, while the eloquent, far-reaching, aspiring words floated melodiously from them, sometimes, with truly medieval license, singing to the sacred music those songs from the streets (no one cared to detect) which were really in their hearts. A world of vanity and appetite, yet after all of honesty with itself! Like grown people, they were but playing a game, and meant to observe its rules. Say, rather, a world of honesty, and of courage! They, at least, were not preoccupied all day long, and, if they woke in the night, with the fear of death.

[36] It was part of their precocious worldliness to recognise, to feel a little afraid of their new companion’s intellectual power. Those obviously meditative souls, which seem “not to sleep o’ nights,” seldom fail to put others on their guard. Who can tell what they may be judging, planning in silence, so near to one? Looking back long afterwards across the dark period that had intervened, Gaston could trace their ways through the world. Not many of them had survived to his own middle life. Reappearing, from point to point, they connected themselves with the great crimes, the great tragedies of the time, as so many bright-coloured threads in that sombre tapestry of human passion. To recall in the obtuse, grieved, marred faces of uninteresting men or women, the disappointments, the sorrows, the tragic mistakes of the children they were long ago; that is a good trick for taking our own sympathy by surprise, which Gaston practised when he saw the last, or almost the last, of some of them, and felt a great pity, a great indulgence.

Here and now, at all events, carrying their cheerful tumult through all those quiet ecclesiastical places–the bishop’s garden, the great sacristy, neat and clean in its brown, pensive lights, they seemed of a piece with the bright, simple, inanimate things, the toys, of nature. They made one lively picture with the fruit and wine they loved, the birds they captured, the buckets of clear water drawn for pastime from [37] the great well, and Jean Sémur’s painted conjuring book stolen from the old sorceress, his grandmother, out of which he told their fortunes; with the musical instruments of others; with their carefully hidden dice and playing-cards, worn or soiled by the fingers of the older gamesters who had discarded them. Like their elders, they read eagerly, in racy, new translations, old Greek and Latin books, with a delightful shudder at the wanton paganism. It was a new element of confusion in the presentment of that miniature world. The classical enthusiasm laid hold on Gaston too, but essayed in vain to thrust out of him the medieval character of his experience, or put on quite a new face, insinuating itself rather under cover of the Middle Age, still in occupation all around him. Venus, Mars, Aeneas, haunted, in contemporary shape, like ghosts of folk one had known, the places with which he was familiar. Latin might still seem the fittest language for oratory, sixteen hundred years after Cicero was dead; those old Roman pontiffs, draped grandly, sat in the stalls of the choir; Propertius made love to Cynthia in the raiment of the foppish Amadée; they played Terence, and it was but a play within a play. Above all, in natural, heartfelt kinship with their own violent though refined and cunning time, they loved every incident of soldiering; while the changes of the year, the lights, the shadows, the flickering fires of winter, with [38] which Gaston had first associated his companions, so full of artificial enjoyment for the well-to-do, added themselves pleasantly, by way of shifting background, to the spectacular effect.

It was the brilliant surface with which the untried world confronted him. Touch it where you might, you felt the resistant force of the solid matter of human experience–of human experience, in its strange mixture of beauty and evil, its sorrow, its ill-assorted fates, its pathetic acquiescence; above all, in its overpowering certainty, over against his own world of echoes and shadows, which perhaps only seemed to be so much as echoes or shadows. A nature with the capacity of worship, he was straightway challenged, as by a rival new religion claiming to supersede the religion he knew, to identify himself conclusively with this so tangible world, its suppositions, its issues, its risks. Here was a world, certainly, which did not halt in meditation, but prompted one to make actual trial of it, with a liberty of heart which might likely enough traverse this or that precept (if it were not rather a mere scruple) of his earlier conscience. These its children, at all events, were, as he felt, in instinctive sympathy with its motions; had shrewd divinations of the things men really valued, and waited on them with unquestioning docility. Two worlds, two antagonistic ideals, were in evidence before him. Could a third condition supervene, to mend their discord, or [39] only vex him perhaps, from time to time, with efforts towards an impossible adjustment?

At a later date, Monseigneur Charles Guillard, then Bishop of Chartres, became something like a Huguenot, and ceased, with the concurrence of ecclesiastical authority, from his high functions. Even now he was but a protégé of King Charles in his relations to a more than suspicious Pope; and a rumour of the fact, reaching somehow these brisk young ears, had already set Gaston’s mind in action, tremblingly, as to those small degrees, scarcely realisable perhaps one by one, though so immeasurable in their joint result, by which one might part from the “living vine”; and at times he started back, as if he saw his own benighted footsteps pacing lightly towards an awful precipice. At present, indeed, the assumption that there was sanctity in everything the kindly prelate touched, was part of the well-maintained etiquette of the little ecclesiastical court. But, as you meet in the street faces that are like a sacrament, so there are faces, looks, tones of voice, among dignified priests as among other people, to hear or look upon which is to feel the hypothesis of an unseen world impossible. As he smiled amiably out of the midst of his pontifical array on Gaston’s scrupulous devotion, it was as if the old Roman augur smiled not only to his fellow augur but to the entire assistant world. In after years Gaston seemed to understand, and, as a consequence of [40] understanding, to judge his old patron equitably: the religious sense too, had its various species. The nephew of his predecessor in the see, with a real sense of the divine world but as something immeasurably distant, Monseigneur Guillard had been brought by maladroit worldly good-fortune a little too close to its immediate and visible embodiments. From afar, you might trace the divine agency on its way. But to touch, to handle it, with these fleshly hands:–well! for Monseigneur, that was by no means to believe because the thing was “incredible, or absurd.” He had smiled, not certainly from irreverence, nor (a prelate for half his life) in conscious incredulity, but only in mute surprise, at an administration of divine graces–this administration in which he was a high priest–in itself, to his quite honest thinking, so unfitting, so improbable. And was it that Gaston too was a less independent ruler of his own mental world than he had fancied, that he derived his impressions of things not directly from them, but mediately from other people’s impressions about them, and he needed the pledge of their assents to ratify his own? Only, could that, after all, be a real sun, at which other people’s faces were not irradiated? And sometimes it seemed, with a riotous swelling of the heart, as if his own wondrous appetite in these matters had been deadened by surfeit, and there would be a pleasant sense of liberty, of escape out-of- doors, [41] could he be as little touched as almost all other people by Our Lady’s Church, and old associations, and all those relics, and those dark, close, fragrant aisles.

At such times, to recall the winged visitant, gentle, yet withal sensitive to offence, which had settled on his youth with so deep a sense of assurance, he would climb the tower of Jean de Beauce, then fresh in all its array of airy staircase and pierced traceries, and great uncovered timbers, like some gigantic birdnest amid the stones, whence the large, quiet, country spaces became his own again, and the curious eye, at least, went home. He was become well aware of the power of those familiar influences in restoring equanimity, as he might have used a medicine or a wine. At each ascending storey, as the flight of the birds, the scent of the fields, swept past him, till he stood at last amid the unimpeded light and air of the watch- chamber above the great bells, some coil of perplexity, of unassimilable thought or fact, fell away from him. He saw the distant paths, and seemed to hear the breeze piping suddenly upon them under the cloudless sky, on its unseen, capricious way through those vast reaches of atmosphere. At this height, the low ring of blue hills was visible, with suggestions of that south-west country of peach-blossom and wine which had sometimes decoyed his thoughts towards the sea, and beyond it to “that new world of the Indies,” [42] which was held to explain a certain softness in the air from that quarter, even in the most vehement weather. Amid those vagrant shadows and shafts of light must be Deux-manoirs, the deserted rooms, the gardens, the graves. In mid-distance, even then a funeral procession was on its way humbly to one of the village churchyards. He seemed almost to hear the words across the stillness.

They identified themselves, as with his own earliest prepossessions, so also with what was apt to present itself as being the common human prepossession–a certain finally authoritative common sense upon the quiet experience of things–the oldest, the most authentic, of all voices, audible always, if one stepped aside for a moment and got one’s ears into what might after all be their normal condition. It might be heard, it would seem, in proportion as men were in touch with the Earth itself, in country life, in manual work upon it, above all by the open grave, as if, reminiscent of some older, deeper, more permanent ground of fact, it whispered then oracularly a certain secret to those who came into such close contact with it. Persistent after-thought! Would it always survive, amid the indifference of others, amid the verdicts of the world, amid a thousand doubts? It seemed to have found, and filled to overflowing, the soul of one amiable little child who had a kind of genius for tranquillity, and on his first coming hither had led Gaston to what he held to be the [43] choicest, pleasantest places, as being impregnable by noise. In his small stock of knowledge, he knew, like all around him, that he was going to die, and took kindly to the thought of a small grave in the little green close, as to a natural sleeping-place, in which he would be at home beforehand. Descending from the tower, Gaston knew he should find the child seated alone, enjoying the perfect quiet of the warm afternoon, for all the world was absent–gone forth to receive or gaze at a company of distinguished pilgrims.

Coming, sometimes with immense prelude and preparation, as when King Charles himself arrived to replace an image disfigured by profane Huguenots, sometimes with the secrecy and suddenness of an apparition vanished before the public was aware, the pilgrims to “Our Lady under the Earth” were the standing resource of those (such there were at Chartres as everywhere else) who must needs depend for the interest of their existence on the doings of their neighbours. A motley host, only needing their Chaucer to figure as a looking-glass of life, type against type, they brought with them, on the one hand, the very presence and perfume of Paris, the centre of courtly propriety and fashion; on the other hand, with faces which seemed to belong to another age, curiosities of existence from remote provinces of France, or Europe, from distant, half-fabulous lands, remoter still. Jules Damville, who would have liked best to be a sailor, [44] to command, not in any spiritual ark, but in the French fleet–should half-ruined France ever come to have one–led his companions one evening to inspect a strange maritime personage, stout and square, returned, contrary to all expectation, after ten years’ captivity among the savages of Florida, kneeling among the lights at the shrine, with the frankness of a good child, his hair like a mat, his hands tattooed, his mahogany face seamed with a thousand weather- wrinklings, his outlandish offerings lying displayed around him.

Looking, listening, as they served them in the episcopal guest- chamber, those young clerks made wonderful leaps, from time to time, in manly knowledge. With what eager shrewdness they noted, discussed, reproduced, the manners and attire of their pilgrim guests, sporting what was to their liking therein in the streets of Chartres. The more cynical or supercilious pilgrim would sometimes present himself–a personage oftenest of high ecclesiastical station, like the eminent translator of Plutarch, Amyot, afterwards Bishop of Auxerre, who seemed to care little for shrine or relic, but lingered long over certain dim manuscripts in the canonical library, where our scholarly Gaston was of service, helping him directly to what he desired to see. And one morning early, visible at a distance to all the world, risen betimes to gaze, the Queen-mother and her three sons were [45] kneeling there–yearning, greedy, as ever, for a hundred diverse, perhaps incompatible, things. It was at the beginning of that winter of the great siege of Chartres, the morning on which the child Guy Debreschescourt died in his sleep. His tiny body–the placid, massive, baby head still one broad smile, the rest of him wrapped round together like a chrysalis–was put to rest finally, in a fold of the winding-sheet of a very aged person, deceased at the same hour.

For a hard winter, like that famous winter of 1567, the hardest that had been known for fifty years, makes an end of the weak–the aged, the very young. To the robust, how pleasant had the preparation for it seemed–the scent of the first wood-fire upon the keen October air; the earth turning from grey to black under the plough; the great stacks of fuel, come down lazily from the woods of Le Perche, along the winding Eure; its wholesome perfume; the long, soothing nights, and early twilight. The mind of Gaston, for one, was touched by the sense of some remote and delicate beauty in these things, like magicians’ work, like an effect of magic as being extorted from unsuspected sources.

What winter really brought however, was the danger and vexation of a great siege. The householders of catholic Chartres had watched the forces of their Huguenot enemies gathering from this side and that; and at last the dreaded circle was complete. They were prisoners like [46] the rest, Gaston and the grandparents, shut up in their little hotel; and Gaston, face to face with it, understood at last what war really means. After all, it took them by surprise. It was early in the day. A crowd of worshippers filled the church of Sainte-Foy, built partly upon the ramparts; and at the conclusion of the mass, the Sacrament was to be carried to a sick person. Touched by unusual devotion at this perilous time, the whole assembly rose to escort the procession on its way, passing out slowly, group after group, as if by mechanical instinct, the more reluctant led on by the general consent. Gaston, the last lingerer, halting to let others proceed quietly before him, turned himself about to gaze upon the deserted church, half tempted to remain, ere he too stepped forth lightly and leisurely, when under a shower of massy stones from the coulevrines or great cannon of the besiegers, the entire roof of the place sank into the empty space behind him. But it was otherwise in a neighbouring church, crushed, in a similar way, with all its good people, not long afterwards.

And in the midst of the siege, with all its tumult about her, the old grandmother died, to the undissembled sorrow of Gaston, bereft, unexpectedly as it seemed, of the gentle creature, to whom he had always turned for an affection, that had been as no other in its absolute incapacity of offence. A tear upon the cheek, like [47] the bark of a tree, testified to some unfulfilled hope, something wished for but not to be, which left resignation, by nature or grace, still imperfect, and made death at fourscore years and ten seem, after all, like a premature summons in the midst of one’s days. For a few hours, the peace which followed brought back to the face a protesting gleam of youth, far antecedent to anything Gaston could possibly have remembered there, moving him to a pity, a peculiar sense of pleading helplessness, which to the end of his life was apt to revive at the sight (it might be in an animal) of what must perforce remember that it had been young but was old.

That broken link with life seemed to end some other things for him. As one puts away the toys of childhood, so now he seemed to discard what had been the central influence of his earlier youth, what more than anything else had stirred imagination and brought the consciousness of his own life warm and full. Gazing now upon the “holy and beautiful place,” as he had gazed on the dead face, for a moment he seemed to anticipate the indifference of age. And when not long after the rude hands of catholics themselves, at their wits’ end for the maintenance of the “religious war,” spoiled it of the accumulated treasure of centuries, leaving Notre-Dame de Chartres in the bareness with which we see it to-day, he had no keen sense of personal loss.


[48] The besieging armies disappeared like the snow, leaving city and suburb in all the hardened soilure of war and winter, which only the torrents of spring would carry away. And the spring came suddenly: it was pleasant, after that long confinement, to walk afar securely through its early fervours. Gaston too went forth on his way home, not alone. Three chosen companions went with him, pledged to the old manor for months to come; its lonely ancient master welcoming readily the tread of youth about him.

“The Triumvirate”:–so their comrades had been pleased to call the three; that term (delightful touch of classic colour on one’s own trite but withal pedantic age) being then familiar, as the designation of three conspicuous agents on the political scene of the generation just departing. Only, these young Latinists went back for the associations of the word to its Roman original, to the three gallants of the distant time, rather than to those native French [49] heroes–Montmorenci, Saint-André, Guise–too close to them to seem really heroic. Mark Antony, knight of Venus, of Cleopatra; shifty Lepidus; bloody, yellow-haired Augustus, so worldly and so fine; you might find their mimic semblance, more easily than any suggestion of that threadbare triad of French adventurers, in the unfolding manhood of Jasmin, Amadée, and Camille.

They had detached themselves by an irresistible natural effectiveness from the surface of that youthful scholastic world around the episcopal throne of Chartres, carrying its various aptitudes as if to a perfect triple flower; restless Amadée de l’Autrec, who was to be a soldier, dazzled early into dangerous, rebellious paths by the iron ideal of the soldiers of “the religion,” and even now fitting his blond prettiness to airs of Huguenot austerity; Camille Pontdormi, who meant to be a lawyer in an age in which certain legists had asserted an audacity of genius after a manner very captivating to youth with any appetite for predominance over its fellows–already winsomely starched a little, amid his courtly finery, of garb, and manner, and phrase; Jasmin de Villebon, who hardly knew what he meant to be, except perhaps a poet–himself, certainly, a poem for any competent reader. Vain,–yes! a little; and mad, said his companions, of course, with his clinging, exigent, lover’s ways. It was he who had led the others on this visit to Gaston de Latour. Threads to [50] be cut short, one by one, before his eyes, the three would cross and recross, gaily, pathetically, in the tapestry of Gaston’s years; and, divided far asunder afterwards, seemed at this moment, moving there before him in the confidential talk he could not always share, inseparably linked together, like some complicated pictorial arabesque, under the common light, of their youth, and of the morning, and of their sympathetic understanding of the visible world.

So they made their way, under the rows of miraculous white thorn- blossom, and through the green billows, at peace just then, though the war still blazed or smouldered along the southern banks of the Loire and far beyond, and it was with a delightful sense of peril, of prowess attested in the facing of it, that they passed from time to time half-ruined or deserted farm-buildings where the remnants of the armies might yet be lingering. It was Jasmin, poetic Jasmin, who, in giving Gaston the book he now carried ever ready to hand, had done him perhaps the best of services, for it had proved the key to a new world of seemingly boundless intellectual resources, and yet with a special closeness to visible or sensuous things;–the scent and colour of the field-flowers, the amorous business of the birds, the flush and re-fledging of the black earth itself in that fervent springtide, which was therefore unique in Gaston’s memory. It was his intellectual springtide; as people look back to [51] a physical spring, which for once in ten or fifteen years, for once in a lifetime, was all that spring could be.

The book was none other than Pierre de Ronsard’s “Odes,” with “Mignonne! allons voir si la Rose,” and “The Skylark” and the lines to April–itself verily like nothing so much as a jonquil, in its golden-green binding and yellow edges and perfume of the place where it had lain–sweet, but with something of the sickliness of all spring flowers since the days of Proserpine. Just eighteen years old, and the work of the poet’s own youth, it took possession of Gaston with the ready intimacy of one’s equal in age, fresh at every point; and he experienced what it is the function of contemporary poetry to effect anew for sensitive youth in each succeeding generation. The truant and irregular poetry of his own nature, all in solution there, found an external and authorised mouthpiece, ranging itself rightfully, as the latest achievement of human soul in this matter, along with the consecrated poetic voices of the past.

Poetry! Hitherto it had seemed hopelessly chained to the bookshelf, like something in a dead language, “dead, and shut up in reliquaries of books,” or like those relics “one may only see through a little pane of glass,” as one of its recent “liberators” had said. Sure, apparently, of its own “niche in the temple of Fame,” the recognised poetry of literature had had the [52] pretension to defy or discredit, as depraved and irredeemably vulgar, the poetic motions in the living genius of to-day. Yet the genius of to-day, extant and forcible, the wakeful soul of present time consciously in possession, would assert its poetic along with all its other rights; and in regard to the curiosity, the intellectual interest, of Gaston, for instance, it had of course the advantage of being close at hand, with the effectiveness of a personal presence. Studious youth, indeed, on its mettle about “scholarship,” though actually of listless humour among books that certainly stirred the past, makes a docile act of faith regarding the witchery, the thaumaturgic powers, of Virgil, or may we say of Shakespeare? Yet how faint and dim, after all, the sorrows of Dido, of Juliet, the travail of Aeneas, beside quite recent things felt or done–stories which, floating to us on the light current of to-day’s conversation, leave the soul in a flutter! At best, poetry of the past could move one with no more directness than the beautiful faces of antiquity which are not here for us to see and unaffectedly love them. Gaston’s demand (his youth only conforming to pattern therein) was for a poetry, as veritable, as intimately near, as corporeal, as the new faces of the hour, the flowers of the actual season. The poetry of mere literature, like the dead body, could not bleed, while there was a heart, a poetic heart, in the living world, which beat, bled, spoke with irresistible power. Elderly [53] people, Virgil in hand, might assert professionally that the contemporary age, an age, of course, of little people and things, deteriorate since the days of their own youth, must necessarily be unfit for poetic uses. But then youth, too, had its perpetual part to play, protesting that, after all said, the sun in the air, and in its own veins, was still found to be hot, still begetting, upon both alike, flowers and fruit; nay! visibly new flowers, and fruit richer than ever. Privately, in fact, Gaston had conceived of a poetry more thaumaturgic than could be anything of earlier standing than himself. The age renews itself; and in immediate derivation from it a novel poetry also grows superb and large, to fill a certain mental situation made ready in advance. Yes! the acknowledged, and, so to call it, legitimate, poetry of literature was but a thing he might sip at, like some sophisticated rarity in the way of wine, for example, pleasing the acquired taste. It was another sort of poetry, unexpressed, perhaps inexpressible, certainly not hitherto made known in books, that must drink up and absorb him, like the joyful air–him, and the earth, with its deeds, its blossoms, and faces.

In such condition of mind, how deeply, delightfully, must the poetry of Ronsard and his fellows have moved him, when he became aware, as from age to age inquisitive youth by good luck does become aware, of the literature of his own day, confirming–more than confirming– [54] anticipation! Here was a poetry which boldly assumed the dress, the words, the habits, the very trick, of contemporary life, and turned them into gold. It took possession of the lily in one’s hand, and projecting it into a visionary distance, shed upon the body of the flower the soul of its beauty. Things were become at once more deeply sensuous and more deeply ideal. As at the touch of a wizard, something more came into the rose than its own natural blush. Occupied so closely with the visible, this new poetry had so profound an intuition of what can only be felt, and maintained that mood in speaking of such objects as wine, fruit, the plume in the cap, the ring on the finger. And still that was no dubious or generalised form it gave to flower or bird, but the exact pressure of the Jay at the window; you could count the petals,–of the exact natural number; no expression could be too faithful to the precise texture of things; words, too, must embroider, be twisted and spun, like silk or golden hair. Here were real people, in their real, delightful attire, and you understood how they moved; the visible was more visible than ever before, just because soul had come to its surface. The juice in the flowers, when Ronsard named them, was like wine or blood. It was such a coloured thing; though the grey things also, the cool things, all the fresher for the contrast–with a freshness, again, that seemed to touch and cool the soul–found their account [55] there; the clangorous passage of the birds at night foretokening rain, the moan of the wind at the door, the wind’s self made visible over the yielding corn.

It was thus Gaston understood the poetry of Ronsard, generously expanding it to the full measure of its intention. That poetry, too, lost its thaumaturgic power in turn, and became mere literature in exchange for life, partly in the natural revolution of poetic taste, partly for its faults. Faults and all, however, Gaston loyally accepted it; those faults–the lapse of grace into affectation, of learning into pedantry, of exotic fineness into a trick–counting with him as but the proof of faith to its own dominant positions. They were but characteristics, needing no apology with the initiated, or welcome even, as savouring of the master’s peculiarities of perfection. He listened, he looked round freely, but always now with the ear, the eye, of his favourite poet. It had been a lesson, a doctrine, the communication of an art,–the art of placing the pleasantly aesthetic, the welcome, elements of life at an advantage, in one’s view of it, till they seemed to occupy the entire surface; and he was sincerely grateful for an undeniable good service.

And yet the gifted poet seemed but to have spoken what was already in Gaston’s own mind, what he had longed to say, had been just going to say; so near it came, that it had the charm [56] of a discovery of one’s own. That was an illusion, perhaps; it was because the poet told one so much about himself, making so free a display of what though personal was very contagious; of his love-secrets especially, how love and nothing else filled his mind. He was in truth but “love’s secretary,” noting from hour to hour its minutely changing fortunes. Yes! that was the reason why visible, audible, sensible things glowed so brightly, why there was such luxury in sounds, words, rhythms, of the new light come on the world, of that wonderful freshness. With a masterly appliance of what was near and familiar, or again in the way of bold innovation, he found new words for perennially new things, and the novel accent awakened long-slumbering associations. Never before had words, single words, meant so much. What expansion, what liberty of heart, in speech: how associable to music, to singing, the written lines! He sang of the lark, and it was the lark’s voluble self. The physical beauty of humanity lent itself to every object, animate or inanimate, to the very hours and lapses and changes of time itself. An almost burdensome fulness of expression haunted the gestures, the very dress, the personal ornaments, of the people on the highway. Even Jacques Bonhomme at his labour, or idling for an hour, borrowed from his love, homely as it was, a touch of dignity or grace, and some secret of utterance, which made [57] one think of Italy or Greece. The voice of the shepherd calling, the chatter of the shepherdess turning her spindle, seemed to answer, or wait for answer,–to be fragments of love’s ideal and eternal communing.

It was the power of “modernity,” as renewed in every successive age for genial youth, protesting, defiant of all sanction in these matters, that the true “classic” must be of the present, the force and patience of present time. He had felt after the thing, and here it was,–the one irresistible poetry there had ever been, with the magic word spoken in due time, transforming his own age and the world about him, presenting its everyday touch, the very trick one knew it by, as an additional grace, asserting the latent poetic rights of the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent. Poetry need no longer mask itself in the habit of a bygone day: Gaston could but pity the people of bygone days for not being above-ground to read. Here, was a discovery, a new faculty, a privileged apprehension, to be conveyed in turn to one and to another, to be propagated for the imaginative regeneration of the world. It was a manner, a habit of thought, which would invade ordinary life, and mould that to its intention. In truth, all the world was already aware, and delighted. The “school” was soon to pay the penalty of that immediate acceptance, that intimate fitness to the mind of its own time, by sudden [58] and profound neglect, as a thing preternaturally tarnished and tame, like magic youth, or magic beauty, turned in a moment by magic’s own last word into withered age. But then, to the liveliest spirits of that time it had seemed nothing less than “impeccable,” after the manner of the great sacred products of the past, though in a living tongue. Nay! to Gaston for one, the power of the old classic poetry itself was explained by the reflex action of the new, and might seem to justify its pretensions at last.

From the poem fancy wandered to the poet, and curious youth would fain see the writer in person,–what a poet was like, with anxious surmises, this way and that, as to the degree in which the precious mental particles might be expected to have wrought up the outward presence to their own high quality. A creature of the eye, in this case at least, the intellectual hold on him being what it was, Gaston had no fear of disillusion. His poetic readings had borrowed an additional relish from the genial, companionable, manner of his life at this time, taking him into the remotest corners of the vast level land, and its outer ring of blue up-lands; amid which, as he rode one day with “the three,” towards perfectly new prospects, he had chanced on some tangible rumour of the great poet’s present abode. The hill they had mounted at leisure, in talk with a village priest, dropped suddenly upon a vague tract of wood and pasture, [59] with a dark ridge beyond towards the south-west; and the black notch, which broke its outline against the mellow space of evening light, was the steeple of the priory of Croix-val, of which reverend body Pierre de Ronsard, although a layman, was, by special favour of King Charles, Superior.

Though a formal peace was come, though the primary movers of war had taken hands or kissed each other, and were exchanging suspicious courtesies, yet the unquiet temper of war was still abroad everywhere, with an after-crop of miserable incidents. The captainless national and mercenary soldiers were become in large number thieves or beggars, and the peasant’s hand sank back to the tame labour of the plough reluctantly. Relieved a little by the sentimental humour of the hour, lending, as Ronsard prompted, a poetic and always amorous interest to everything around him, poor Gaston’s very human soul was vexed nevertheless at the spectacle of the increased hardness of human life, with certain misgivings from time to time at the contrast of his own luxurious tranquillity. The homeless woman suckling her babe at the roadside, the grey-beard hasting before the storm, the tattered fortune-teller who, when he shook his head at her proposal to “read his hand,” assured him (perhaps with some insight into his character) “You do that”–you shake your head, negatively–“too much!” these, and the like, [60] might count as fitting human accidents in an impassioned landscape picture. And his new imaginative culture had taught him to value “surprises” in nature itself; the quaint, exciting charm of the mistletoe in the wood, of the blossom before the leaf, the cry of passing birds at night. Nay! the most familiar details of nature, its daily routine of light and darkness, beset him now with a kind of troubled and troubling eloquence. The rain, the first streak of dawn, the very sullenness of the sky, had a power, only to be described by saying that they seemed to be moral facts.

On his way at last to gaze on the abode of the new hero or demi-god of poetry, Gaston perceives increasingly, as another excellence of his verse, how truthful, how close it is to the minute fact of the scene around; as there are pleasant wines which, expressing the peculiar quality of their native soil, lose their special pleasantness away from home. The physiognomy of the scene was changed; the plain of La Beauce had ruffled itself into low green hills and gently winding valleys, with clear, quick water, and fanciful patches of heath and wood-land. Here and there a secular oak tree maintained a solitude around it. It was the district of the “little river Loir”–the Vendomois; and here, in its own country, the new poetry, notwithstanding its classic elegance, might seem a native wild flower, modest enough.

[61] He came riding with his companions towards evening along the road which had suddenly abandoned its day-long straightness for wanton curves and ascents; and there, as an owl on the wing cried softly, beyond the tops of the spreading poplars was the west front, silver-grey, and quiet, inexpressibly quiet, with its worn, late- gothic “flamings” from top to bottom, as full of reverie to Gaston’s thinking as the enchanted castle in a story-book. The village lay thinly scattered around the wide, grass-grown space; below was the high espaliered garden-wall, and within it, visible through the open doors, a gaunt figure, hook-nosed, like a wizard, at work with the spade, too busily to turn and look. Or was it that he did not hear at all the question repeated thrice:–Could one see His Reverence the Prior, at least in his convent church? “You see him” was the answer, as a face, all nerve, distressed nerve, turned upon them not unkindly, the vanity of the great man aware and pleasantly tickled. The unexpected incident had quickened a prematurely aged pulse, and in reward for their good service the young travellers were bidden carry their equipment, not to the village inn, but to the guest- chamber of the half-empty priory. The eminent man of letters, who had been always an enthusiastic gardener, though busy just now not with choice flowers but with salutary kitchen-stuff, working indeed with much effort, to counteract the gout, was ready enough [62] in his solitude to make the most of chance visitors, especially youthful ones. A bell clanged; he laid aside the spade, and casting an eye at the whirling weather-vanes announced that it would snow. There had been no “sunset.” They had travelled away imperceptibly from genial afternoon into a world of ashen evening.

The enemies of the lay Prior, satirists literary and religious, falsely made a priest of him, a priest who should have sacrificed a goat to pagan Bacchus. And in truth the poet, for a time a soldier, and all his life a zealous courtier, had always been capable, as a poet should be, of long-sustained meditation, adapting himself easily enough to the habits of the “religious,” following attentively the choir-services in their church, of which he was a generous benefactor, and to which he presently proceeded for vespers. Gaston and “the three” sat among the Brethren, tempting curious eyes, in the stalls of the half-lighted choir, while in purple cope and jaunty biretta the lay Prior “assisted,” his confidentiaire, or priestly substitute, officiating at the altar. The long, sad, Lenten office over, an invitation to supper followed, for Ronsard still loved, in his fitful retirements at one or another of his numerous benefices, to give way to the chance recreation of flattering company, and these gay lads’ enthusiasm for his person was obvious. And as for himself, the great poet, with his [63] bodily graces and airs of court, had always possessed the gift of pleasing those who encountered him.

The snow was falling now in big, slow flakes, a great fire blazing under the chimney with its cipher and enigmatic motto, as they sat down to the leek-soup, the hard eggs, and the salad grown and gathered by their host’s own hands. The long stone passages through which they passed from church, with the narrow brown doors of the monks’ dormitories one after another along the white-washed wall, made the coquetries of the Prior’s own distant apartment all the more reassuring. You remembered that from his ninth year he had been the pet of princesses, the favourite of kings. Upon the cabinets, chests, book-cases, around, were ranged the souvenirs received from various royal persons, including three kings of France, the fair Queen of Scots, Elizabeth of England; and the conversation fell to, and was kept going by, the precious contents of the place where they were sitting, the books printed and bound as they had never been before–books which meant assiduous study, the theory of poetry with Ronsard always accompanying its practice–delicate things of art, which beauty had handled or might handle, the pictured faces on the walls, in their frames of reeded ebony or jewelled filigree. There was the Minerva, decreed him at a conference of the elegant, pedantic “Jeux Floraux,” which had proclaimed [64] Pierre de Ronsard “Prince of Poets.” The massive silver image Ronsard had promptly offered to his patron King Charles; but in vain, for, though so greatly in want of ready-money that he melted down church ornaments and exacted “black” contributions from the clergy, one of the things in which Charles had ever been sincere was a reverence for literature.

So there it stood, doing duty for Our Lady, with gothic crown and a fresh sprig of consecrated box, bringing the odd, enigmatic physiognomy, preferred by the art of that day, within the sphere of religious devotion. The King’s manuscript, declining, in verse really as good as Ronsard’s, the honour not meant for him, might be read, attached to the pedestal. The ladies of his own verse, Marie, Cassandre, and the rest, idols one after another of a somewhat artificial and for the most part unrequited love, from the Angevine maiden–La petite pucelle Angevine–who had vexed his young soul by her inability to yield him more than a faint Platonic affection, down to Helen, to whom he had been content to propose no other, gazed, more impassibly than ever, from the walls.

They might have been sisters, those many successive loves, or one and the same lady over and over again, in slightly varied humour and attire perhaps, at the different intervals of some rather lengthy, mimetic masque of love, to which the theatrical dress of that day was appropriate; [65] for the mannered Italian, or Italianised, artists, including the much-prized, native Janet, with his favourite water- green backgrounds, aware of the poet’s predilection, had given to all alike the same brown eyes and tender eyelids and golden hair and somewhat ambered paleness, varying only the curious artifices of the dress–knots, and nets, and golden spider-work, and clear, flat stones. Dangerous guests in that simple, cloistral place, Sibyls of the Renaissance on a mission from Italy to France, to Gaston one and all seemed under the burden of some weighty message concerning a world unknown to him; the stealthy lines of cheek and brow contriving to express it, while the lips and eyes only smiled, not quite honestly. It had been a learned love, with undissembled “hatred of the vulgar.” Three royal Margarets, much-praised pearls of three succeeding generations (for to the curious in these objects purity is far from being the only measure of value) asserted charms a thought more frank, or French, though still gracefully pedantic, with their quaintly kerchiefed books–books of what?–in their pale hands. Among the ladies, on the pictured wall as in life, were the poet’s male companions, stirring memories of a more material sort, though their common interest had been poetry–memories of that “Bohemia,” which even a prince of court poets had frequented when he was young, of his cruder youthful vanities. [66] In some cases the date of death was inscribed below.

One there was among them, the youngest, of whose genial fame to come this experienced judge of men and books, two years before “St. Bartholomew’s,” was confident–a crowned boy, King Charles himself. Here perhaps was the single entirely disinterested sentiment of the poet’s life, wholly independent of a long list of benefits, or benefices; for the younger had turned winsomely, appealingly, to the elder, who, forty years of age, feeling chilly at the thought, had no son. And of one only of those companions did the memory bring a passing cloud. It was long ago, on a journey, that he had first spoken, accidentally, with Joachim du Bellay, whose friendship had been the great intellectual fortune of his life. For a moment one saw the encounter at the wayside inn, in the broad, gay morning, a quarter of a century since; and there was the face–deceased at thirty-five. Pensive, plaintive, refined by sickness, of exceeding delicacy, it must from the first have been best suited to the greyness of an hour like this. To-morrow, where will be the snow?

The leader in that great poetic battle of the Pleiad, their host himself (he explained the famous device, and named the seven chief stars in the constellation) was depicted appropriately, in veritable armour, with antique Roman cuirass of minutely inlaid gold, and flowered mantle; [67] the crisp, ceremonial, laurel-wreath of the Roman conqueror lying on the audacious, over-developed brows, above the great hooked nose of practical enterprise. In spite of his pretension to the Epicurean conquest of a kingly indifference of mind, the portrait of twenty years ago betrayed, not less than the living face with its roving, astonished eyes, the haggard soul of a haggard generation, whose eagerly-sought refinements had been after all little more than a theatrical make-believe–an age of wild people, of insane impulse, of homicidal mania. The sweet-souled songster had no more than others attained real calm in it. Even in youth nervous distress had been the chief facial characteristic. Triumphant, nevertheless, in his battle for Greek beauty–for the naturalisation of Greek beauty in the brown cloud-lands of the North- -he might have been thinking, contemptuously, of barking little Saint-Gelais, or of Monsieur Marot’s pack-thread poems. He, for his part, had always held that poetry should be woven of delicate silk, or of fine linen, or at least of good home-spun worsted.

To Gaston, yielding himself to its influence, for a moment the scene around seemed unreal: an exotic, embalming air, escaped from some old Greek or Roman pleasure-place, had turned the poet’s workroom into a strange kind of private sanctuary, amid these rude conventual buildings, with the March wind aloud in the chimneys. [68] Notwithstanding, what with the long day’s ride, the keen evening, they had done justice to the monastic fare, the “little” wine of the country, the cream, the onions,–fine Camille, and dainty Jasmin, and the poet turned to talk upon gardening, concerning which he could tell them a thing or two–of early salads, and those special apples the king loved to receive from him, mille-fleurs pippins, painted with a thousand tiny streaks of red, yellow, and green. A dish of them came to table now, with a bottle, at the right moment, from the darkest corner of the cellar. And then, in nasal voice, well-trained to Latin intonation, giving a quite medieval amplitude to the poet’s sonorities of rhythm and vocabulary, the Sub-prior was bidden to sing, after the notation of Goudimel, the “Elegy of the Rose”; the author girding cheerily at the clerkly man’s assumed ignorance of such compositions.

It was but a half-gaiety, in truth, that awoke in the poet even now, with the singing and the good wine, as the notes echoed windily along the passages. On his forty-sixth year the unaffected melancholy of his later life was already gathering. The dead!–he was coming to be on their side. The fact came home to Gaston that this evocator of “the eternally youthful” was visibly old before his time; his work being done, or centered now for the most part on amendments, not invariably happy, of his earlier [69] verse. The little panelled drawers were full of them. The poet pulled out one, and as it stood open for a moment there lay the first book of the Franciade, in silken cover, white and gold, ready for the king’s hands, but never to be finished.

Gaston, as he turned from that stolen reading of the opening verse in jerky, feverish, gouty manuscript, to the writer, let out his soul perhaps; for the poet’s face struck fire too, and seeming to detect on a sudden the legible document of something by no means conventional below the young man’s well-controlled manner and expression, he became as if paternally anxious for his intellectual furtherance, and in particular for the addition of “manly power” to a “grace” of mind, obviously there already in due sufficiency. Would he presently carry a letter with recommendation of himself to Monsieur Michel de Montaigne? Linked they were, in the common friendship of the late Etienne de la Boetie yonder! Monsieur Michel could tell him much of the great ones–of the Greek and Latin masters of style. Let his study be in them! With what justice, by the way, had those Latin poets dealt with winter, and wintry charms, in their bland Italy! And just then, at the striking of a rickety great bell of the Middle Age, in the hands of a cowled brother came the emblazoned grace-cup, with which the Prior de Ronsard had enriched his “house,” and the guests withdrew.

[70] “Yesterday’s snow” was nowhere, a surprising sunlight everywhere; through which, after gratefully bidding adieu to the great poet, almost on their knees for a blessing, our adventurers returned home. Gaston, intently pondering as he lingered behind the others, was aware that this new poetry, which seemed to have transformed his whole nature into half-sensuous imagination, was the product not of one or more individual writers, but (it might be in the way of a response to their challenge) a general direction of men’s minds, a delightful “fashion” of the time. He almost anticipated our modern idea, or platitude, of the Zeit-geist. A social instinct was involved in the matter, and loyalty to an intellectual movement. As its leader had himself been the first to suggest, the actual authorship belonged not so much to a star as to a constellation, like that hazy Pleiad he had pointed out in the sky, or like the swarm of larks abroad this morning over the corn, led by a common instinct, a large element in which was sympathetic trust in the instinct of others. Here, truly, was a doctrine to propagate, a secret open to every one who would learn, towards a new management of life,–nay! a new religion, or at least a new worship, maintaining and visibly setting forth a single overpowering apprehension.

The worship of physical beauty a religion, the proper faculty of which would be the bodily eye! Looked at in this way, some of the well- [71] marked characteristics of the poetry of the Pleiad assumed a hieratic, almost an ecclesiastical air. That rigid correctness; that gracious unction, as of the medieval Latin psalmody; that aspiring fervour; that jealousy of the profane “vulgar”; the sense, flattering to one who was in the secret, that this thing, even in its utmost triumph, could never be really popular:–why were these so welcome to him but from the continuity of early mental habit? He might renew the over-grown tonsure, and wait, devoutly, rapturously, in this goodly sanctuary of earth and sky about him, for the manifestation, at the moment of his own worthiness, of flawless humanity, in some undreamed-of depth and perfection of the loveliness of bodily form.

And therewith came the consciousness, no longer of mere bad- neighbourship between what was old and new in his life, but of incompatibility between two rival claimants upon him, of two ideals. Might that new religion be a religion not altogether of goodness, a profane religion, in spite of its poetic fervours? There were “flowers of evil,” among the rest. It came in part, avowedly, as a kind of consecration of evil, and seemed to give it the beauty of holiness. Rather, good and evil were distinctions inapplicable in proportion as these new interests made themselves felt. For a moment, amid casuistical questions as to one’s indefeasible right to liberty of heart, he saw himself, somewhat [72] wearily, very far gone from the choice, the consecration, of his boyhood. If he could but be rid of that altogether! Or if that would but speak with irresistible decision and effect! Was there perhaps somewhere, in some penetrative mind in this age of novelties, some scheme of truth, some science about men and things, which might harmonise for him his earlier and later preference, “the sacred and the profane loves,” or, failing that, establish, to his pacification, the exclusive supremacy of the latter?


[73] Those searchings of mind brought from time to time cruel starts from sleep, a sudden shudder at any wide outlook over life and its issues, draughts of mental east-wind across the hot mornings, into which the voices of his companions called him, to lose again in long rambles every thought save that of his own firm, abounding youth. These rambles were but the last, sweet, wastefully-spent remnants of a happy season. The letter for Monsieur Michel de Montaigne was to hand, with preparations for the distant journey which must presently break up their comradeship. Nevertheless, its actual termination overtook them at the last as if by surprise: on a sudden that careless interval of time was over.

The carelessness of “the three” at all events had been entire. Secure, on the low, warm, level surface of things, they talked, they, rode, they ate and drank, with no misgivings, mental or moral, no too curious questions as to the essential nature of their so palpable well-being, [74] or the rival standards thereof, of origins and issues. And yet, with all their gaiety, as its last triumphant note in truth, they were ready to trifle with death, welcoming, by way of a foil to the easy character of their days, a certain luxurious sense of danger–the night-alarm, the arquebuse peeping from some quiet farm-building across their way, the rumoured presence in their neighbourhood of this or that great military leader–delightful premonitions of the adventurous life soon to be their own in Paris. What surmises they had of any vaguer sort of danger, took effect, in that age of wizardry, as a quaintly practical superstition, the expectation of cadaverous “churchyard things” and the like, intruding themselves where they should not be, to be dissipated in turn by counter-devices of the dark craft which had evoked them. Gaston, then, as in after years, though he saw no ghosts, could not bear to trifle with such matters: to his companions it was a delight, as they supped, to note the indication of nameless terrors, if it were only in the starts and crackings of the timbers of the old place. To the turbid spirits of that generation the midnight heaven itself was by no means a restful companion; and many were the hours wasted by those young astrophiles in puzzling out the threats, or the enigmatic promises, of a starry sky.

The fact that armed persons were still abroad, thieves or assassins, lurking under many disguises, [75] might explain what happened on the last evening of their time together, when they sat late at the open windows as the night increased, serene but covered summer night, aromatic, velvet-footed. What coolness it had was pleasant after the wine; and they strolled out, fantastically muffled in certain old heraldic dresses of parade, caught up in the hall as they passed through, Gaston alone remaining to attend on his grandfather. In about an hour’s time they returned, not a little disconcerted, to tell a story of which Gaston was reminded (seeing them again in thought as if only half real, amid the bloomy night, with blood upon their boyish flowers) as they crossed his path afterwards at three intervals. Listening for the night-hawk, pushing aside the hedge-row to catch the evening breath of the honeysuckle, they had sauntered on, scarcely looking in advance, along the causeway. Soft sounds came out of the distance, but footsteps on the hard road they had not heard, when three others fronted them face to face–Jasmin, Amadée, and Camille–their very selves, visible in the light of the lantern carried by Camille: they might have felt the breath upon their cheeks: real, close, definite, cap for cap, plume for plume, flower for flower, a light like their own flashed up counter-wise, but with blood, all three of them, fresh upon the bosom, or in the mouth. It was well to draw the sword, be one’s enemy carnal or spiritual; even devils, [76] as wise men know, taking flight at its white glitter through the air. Out flashed the brave youths’ swords, still with mimic counter-motion, upon nothing–upon the empty darkness before them.

Curdled at heart for an hour by that strange encounter, they went on their way next morning no different. There was something in the mere belief that peace was come at last. For a moment Huguenots were, or pretended to be, satisfied with a large concession of liberty; to be almost light of soul. The French, who can always pause in the very midst of civil bloodshed to eulogise the reign of universal kindness, were determined to treat a mere armistice as nothing less than realised Utopia. To bear offensive weapons became a crime; and the sense of security at home was attested by vague schemes of glory to be won abroad, under the leadership of “The Admiral,” the great Huguenot Coligni, anxious to atone for his share in the unhappiness of France by helping her to foreign conquests. Philip of Spain had been watching for the moment when Charles and Catherine should call the Duke of Alva into France to continue his devout work there. Instead, the poetic mind of Charles was dazzled for a moment by the dream of wrestling the misused Netherlands from Spanish rule altogether.

Under such genial conditions, then, Gaston set out towards those south-west regions he had [77] always yearned to, as popular imagination just now set thither also, in a vision of French ships going forth from the mouths of the Loire and the Gironde, from Nantes, Bordeaux, and La Rochelle, to the Indies, in rivalry of Spanish adventure. The spasmodic gaiety of the time blent with that of the season of the year, of his own privileged time of life, and allowed the opulent country through which he was to pass all its advantages. Ever afterwards that low ring of blue hills beyond La Beauce meant more for him, not less, than of old. After the reign of his native apple-blossom and corn, it was that of peach-blossom and wine. Southwards to Orleans and the Loire then, with the course of the sunny river, to Blois, to Amboise, to Tours, he traversed a region of unquestioned natural charm, heightened greatly by the mental atmosphere through which it reached him. Black Angers, white Saumur, with its double in the calm broad water below, the melancholy seigneurial woods of Blois, ranged themselves in his memory as so many distinct types of what was dignified or pleasant in human habitations. Frequently, along the great historic stream, as along some vast street, contemporary genius was visible (a little prematurely as time would show) in a novel and seductive architecture, which, by its engrafting of exotic grace on homely native forms, spoke of a certain restless aspiration to be what one was not but might become–the old [78] Gaulish desire to be refined, to be mentally enfranchised by the sprightlier genius of Italy. With their terraced gardens, their airy galleries, their triumphal chimney-pieces, their spacious stairways, their conscious provision for the elegant enjoyment of all seasons in turn, here surely were the new abodes for the new humanity of this new, poetic, picturesque age. What but flawless bodies, duly appointed to typically developed souls, could move on the daily business of life through these dreamy apartments into which he entered from time to time, finding their very garniture like a personal presence in them? Was there light here in the earth itself? It was a landscape, certainly, which did not merely accept the sun, but flashed it back gratefully from the white, gracious, carven houses, that were like a natural part of it. As he passed below, fancy would sometimes credit the outlook from their lofty gables with felicities of combination beyond possibility. What prospects of mountain and sea-shore from those aerial window- seats!

And still, as in some sumptuous tapestry, the architecture, the landscape, were but a setting for the human figures: these palatial abodes, never out of sight, high on the river bank, challenged continual speculation as to their inhabitants–how they moved, read poetry and romance, or wrote the memoirs which were like romance, passed through all the hourly changes of their all- [79] accomplished, intimate life. The Loire was the river pre-eminently of the monarchy, of the court; and the fleeting human interests, fact or fancy, which gave its utmost value to the liveliness of the natural scene, found a centre in the movements of Catherine and her sons, still roving, after the eccentric habit inherited from Francis the First, from one “house of pleasure” to another, in the pursuit at once of amusement and of that political intrigue which was the serious business of their lives. Like some fantastic company of strolling players amid the hushed excitement of a little town, the royal family, with all its own small rivalries, would be housed for the night under the same roof with some of its greater enemies–Henri de Guise, Condé, “The Admiral,” all alike taken by surprise–but courteously, and therefore ineffectively. And Gaston, come thus by chance so close to them, had the sense not so much of nearness to the springs of great events, as of the likeness of the whole matter to a stage-play with its ingeniously contrived encounters, or the assortments of a game of chance.

And in a while the dominant course of the river itself, the animation of its steady, downward flow, even amid the sand-shoals and whispering islets of the dry season, bore his thoughts beyond it, in a sudden irresistible appetite for the sea; and he determined, varying slightly from the prescribed route, to reach his destination by way [80] of the coast. From Nantes he descended imperceptibly along tall hedge-rows of acacia, till on a sudden, with a novel freshness in the air, through a low archway of laden fruit-trees it was visible–sand, sea, and sky, in three quiet spaces, line upon line. The features of the landscape changed again, and the gardens, the rich orchards, gave way to bare, grassy undulations: only, the open sandy spaces presented their own native flora, for the fine silex seemed to have crept into the tall, wiry stalks of the ixias, like grasses the seeds of which had expanded, by solar magic, into veritable flowers, crimson, green, or yellow patched with black.

It was pleasant to sleep as if in the sea’s arms, amid the low murmurs, the salt odour mingled with the wild garden scents of a little inn or farm, forlorn in the wide enclosure of an ancient manor, deserted as the sea encroached–long ago, for the fig-trees in the riven walls were tough and old. Next morning he must turn his back betimes, with the freshness of the outlook still undimmed, all colours turning to white on the shell-beach, the wrecks, the children at play on it, the boat with its gay streamers dancing in the foam. Bright as the scene of his journey had been, it had had from time to time its grisly touches; a forbidden fortress with its steel-clad inmates thrust itself upon the way; the village church had been ruined too recently to count as picturesque; and at last, at the meeting-point of [81] five long causeways across a wide expanse of marshland, where the wholesome sea turned stagnant, La Rochelle itself scowled through the heavy air, the dark ramparts still rising higher around its dark townsfolk:–La Rochelle, the “Bastion of the Gospel” according to John Calvin, the conceded capital of the Huguenots. They were there, and would not leave it, even to share the festivities of the marriage of King Charles to his little Austrian Elizabeth about this time–the armed chiefs of Protestantism, dreaming of a “dictator” after the Roman manner, who should set up a religious republic. Serried closely together on land, they had a strange mixed following on the sea. Lair of heretics, or shelter of martyrs, La Rochelle was ready to protect the outlaw. The corsair, of course, would be a Protestant, actually armed perhaps by sour old Jeanne of Navarre–the ship he fell across, of course, Spanish. A real Spanish ship of war, gay, magnificent, was gliding even then, stealthily, through the distant haze; and nearer lay what there was of a French navy. Did the enigmatic “Admiral,” the coming dictator, Coligni, really wish to turn it to foreign adventure, in rivalry of Spain, as the proper patriotic outcome of this period, or breathing-space, of peace and national unity?

Undoubtedly they were still there, even in this halcyon weather, those causes of disquiet, like the volcanic forces beneath the massive [82] chestnut-woods, spread so calmly through the breathless air, on the ledges and levels of the red heights of the Limousin, under which Gaston now passed on his way southwards. On his right hand a broad, lightly diversified expanse of vineyard, of towns and towers innumerable, rolled its burden of fat things down the slope of the Gironde towards the more perfect level beyond. In the heady afternoon an indescribable softness laid hold on him, from the objects, the atmosphere, the lazy business, of the scene around. And was that the quarter whence the dry daylight, the intellectual iron, the chalybeate influence, was to come?–those coquettish, well-kept, vine-wreathed towers, smiling over a little irregular old village, itself half-hidden in gadding vine, pointed out by the gardeners (all labourers here were gardeners) as the end of his long, pleasant journey, as the abode of Monsieur Michel de Montaigne, the singular but not unpopular gentleman living there among his books, of whom Gaston hears so much over-night at the inn where he rests, before delivering the great poet’s letter, entering his room at last in a flutter of curiosity.

In those earlier days of the Renaissance, a whole generation had been exactly in the position in which Gaston now found himself. An older ideal moral and religious, certain theories of man and nature actually in possession, still haunted humanity, at the very moment when it was [83] called, through a full knowledge of the past, to enjoy the present with an unrestricted expansion of its own capacities.–Might one enjoy? Might one eat of all the trees?–Some had already eaten, and needed, retrospectively, a theoretic justification, a sanction of their actual liberties, in some new reading of human nature itself and its relation to the world around it.–Explain to us the propriety, on the full view of things, of this bold course we have taken, or know we shall take!

Ex post facto, at all events, that justification was furnished by the Essays of Montaigne. The spirit of the essays doubtless had been felt already in many a mind, as, by a universal law of reaction, the intellect does supply the due theoretic equivalent to an inevitable course of conduct. But it was Montaigne certainly who turned that emancipating ethic into current coin. To Pascal, looking back upon the sixteenth century as a whole, Montaigne was to figure as the impersonation of its intellectual licence; while Shakespeare, who represents the free spirit of the Renaissance moulding the drama, hints, by his well-known preoccupation with Montaigne’s writings, that just there was the philosophic counterpart to the fulness and impartiality of his own artistic reception of the experience of life.

Those essays, as happens with epoch-marking books, were themselves a life, the power which [84] makes them what they are having been accumulated in them imperceptibly by a thousand repeated modifications, like character in a person: at the moment when Gaston presented himself, to go along with the great “egotist” for a season, that life had just begun. Born here, at the place whose name he took, Montaigne–the acclivity–of Saint Michael, just thirty-six years before, brought up simply, earthily, at nurse in one of the neighbouring villages, to him it was doubled strength to return thither, when, disgusted with the legal business which had filled his days hitherto, seeing that “France had more laws than all the rest of the world,” and was what one saw, he began the true work of his life, a continual journey in thought, “a continual observation of new and unknown things,” his bodily self remaining, for the most part, with seeming indolence at home.

It was Montaigne’s boast that throughout those invasive times his house had lain open to all comers, that his frankness had been rewarded by immunity from all outrages of war, of the crime war shelters: and openness–that all was wide open, searched through by light and warmth and air from the soil–was the impression it made on Gaston, as he passed from farmyard to garden, from garden to court, to hall, up the wide winding stair, to the uppermost chamber of the great round tower; in which sun-baked place the studious man still lingered over a late [85] breakfast, telling, like all around, of a certain homely epicureanism, a rare mixture of luxury with a preference for the luxuries that after all were home-grown and savoured of his native earth.

Sociable, of sociable intellect, and still inclining instinctively, as became his fresh and agreeable person, from the midway of life, towards its youthful side, he was ever on the alert for a likely interlocutor to take part in the conversation, which (pleasantest, truly! of all modes of human commerce) was also of ulterior service as stimulating that endless inward converse from which the essays were a kind of abstract. For him, as for Plato, for Socrates whom he cites so often, the essential dialogue was that of the mind with itself; but this dialogue throve best with, often actually needed, outward stimulus–physical motion, some text shot from a book, the queries and objections of a living voice.–“My thoughts sleep, if I sit still.” Neither “thoughts,” nor “dialogues,” exclusively, but thoughts still partly implicate in the dialogues which had evoked them, and therefore not without many seemingly arbitrary transitions, many links of connexion to be supposed by the reader, constituting their characteristic difficulty, the Essays owed their actual publication at last to none of the usual literary motives–desire for fame, to instruct, to amuse, to sell–but to the sociable desire for a still wider range of conversation with others. [86] He wrote for companionship, “if but one sincere man would make his acquaintance”; speaking on paper, as he “did to the first person he met.”–“If there be any person, any knot of good company, in France or elsewhere, who can like my humour, and whose humours I can like, let them but whistle, and I will run!”

Notes of expressive facts, of words also worthy of note (for he was a lover of style), collected in the first instance for the help of an irregular memory, were becoming, in the quaintly labelled drawers, with labels of wise old maxim or device, the primary, rude stuff, or “protoplasm,” of his intended work, and already gave token of its scope and variety. “All motion discovers us”; if to others, so also to ourselves. Movement, rapid movement of some kind, a ride, the hasty survey of a shelf of books, best of all a conversation like this morning’s with a visitor for the first time,–amid the felicitous chances of that, at some random turn by the way, he would become aware of shaping purpose: the beam of light or heat would strike down, to illuminate, to fuse and organise the coldly accumulated matter, of reason, of experience. Surely, some providence over thought and speech led one finely through those haphazard journeys! But thus dependent to so great a degree on external converse for the best fruit of his own thought, he was also an efficient evocator of the thought of another–himself an original spirit more than tolerating [87] the originality of others,–which brought it into play. Here was one who (through natural predilection, reinforced by theory) would welcome one’s very self, undistressed by, while fully observant of, its difference from his own–one’s errors, vanities, perhaps fatuities. Naturally eloquent, expressive, with a mind like a rich collection of the choice things of all times and countries, he was at his best, his happiest, amid the magnetic contacts of an easy conversation. When Gaston years afterwards came to read the famous Essays, he found many a delightful actual conversation re-set, and had the key we lack to their surprises, their capricious turns and lapses.–Well! Montaigne had opened the letter, had forthwith passed his genial criticism on the writer, and then, characteristically, forgetting all about it, turned to the bearer as if he had been intimate with him from childhood. And the feeling was mutual. Gaston in half an hour seemed to have known his entertainer all his life.

In unimpeded talk with sincere persons of what quality soever–there, rather than in shadowy converse with even the best books–the flower,