Seeing Europe with Famous Authors Volume 04 by Francis W. Halsey

Team Note: This is Volume 4 of a 10-volume series, the contents of which are as follows: Volume 1: Great Britain and Ireland, Part 1 Volume 2: Great Britain and Ireland, Part 2 Volume 3: France and the Netherlands, Part 1 Volume 4: France and the Netherlands, Part 2 Volume 5: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland,
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Note: This is Volume 4 of a 10-volume series, the contents of which are as follows:
Volume 1: Great Britain and Ireland, Part 1 Volume 2: Great Britain and Ireland, Part 2 Volume 3: France and the Netherlands, Part 1 Volume 4: France and the Netherlands, Part 2 Volume 5: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Part 1 Volume 6: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Part 2 Volume 7: Italy and Greece, Part 1
Volume 8: Italy and Greece, Part 2 Volume 9: Spain and Portugal
Volume 10: Russia, Scandanavia and the Southeast







Editor of Great Epochs in American History Associate Editor of “The Worlds Famous Orations” and of “The Best of the World’s Classics” etc




France and the Netherlands–Part Two





AMBOISE–By Theodore Andrea Cook

BLOIS–By Francis Miltoun

CHAMBORD–By Theodore Andrea Cook

CHENONCEAUX–By Francis Miltoun

FOIX–By Francis Miltoun

* * * * *


MONT ST. MICHEL–By Anna Bowman Dodd

CAEN–By Thomas Frognall Dibdin




BIARRITZ–By Francis Miltoun

DOWN THE SAONE TO LYONS–By Nathaniel Parker Willis

LYONS–By Thomas Gray

MARSEILLES–By Charles Dickens



* * * * *


BRUGES–By Grant Allen

A PEN PICTURE OF BRUGES–By William Makepeace Thackeray

GHENT–By Grant Allen

BRUSSELS–By Clive Holland

WATERLOO–By Victor Hugo


ANTWERP–By T. Francis Bumpus

* * * * *




HAARLEM–By Augustus J.C. Hare

SCHEVENINGEN–By George Wharton Edwards

DELFT–By Augustus J.C. Hare

LEYDEN–By Edmondo de Amicis

DORTRECHT–By Augustus J.C. Hare

THE ZUYDER ZEE–By Edmondo de Amicis

THE ART OF HOLLAND–By Edmondo de Amicis

THE TULIPS OF HOLLAND–By Edmondo de Amicis








[Footnote A: From “A Bibliographical Tour in France and Germany.”]


The diligence brought me here from Caen in about two hours and a half. The country, during the whole route, is open, well cultivated, occasionally gently undulating, but generally denuded of trees. Many pretty little churches, with delicate spires, peeped out to the right and left during the journey; but the first view of the cathedral of Bayeux put all the others out of my recollection.

There is, in fact, no proper approach to this interesting edifice. The western end is suffocated with houses. Here stands the post-office; and with the most unsuspecting frankness, on the part of the owner, I had permission to examine, with my own hands, within doors, every letter–under the expectation that there were some for myself. Nor was I disappointed.

But you must come with me to the cathedral, and of course we must enter together at the western front. There are five porticoes; the central one being rather large, and the two, on either side, comparatively small. Formerly, these were covered with sculptured figures and ornaments, but the Calvinists in the sixteenth, and the Revolutionists in the eighteenth century, have contrived to render their present aspect mutilated and repulsive in the extreme. On entering, I was struck with the two large transverse Norman arches which bestride the area, or square, for the bases of the two towers. It is the boldest and finest piece of masonry in the whole building. The interior disappointed me. It is plain, solid, and divested of ornament.

Hard by the cathedral stood formerly a magnificent episcopal palace. Upon this palace the old writers dearly loved to expatiate. There is now, however, nothing but a good large comfortable family mansion; sufficient for the purposes of such hospitality and entertainment as the episcopal revenues will afford.

It is high time that you should be introduced in proper form to the famous Bayeux tapestry. Know then, in as few words as possible, that this celebrated piece of tapestry represents chiefly the Invasion of England by William the Conqueror, and the subsequent death of Harold at the battle of Hastings. It measures about 214 English feet in length, by about nineteen inches in width; and is supposed to have been worked under the particular superintendence and direction of Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror. It was formerly exclusively kept and exhibited in the cathedral; but it is now justly retained in the Town Hall, and treasured as the most precious relic among the archives of the city.

There is indeed every reason to consider it as one of the most valuable historical monuments which France possesses. It has also given rise to a great deal of archeological discussion. Montfaucon, Ducarel, and De La Rue, have come forward successively–but more especially the first and last; and Montfaucon in particular has favored the world with copper-plate representations of the whole. Montfaucon’s plates are generally much too small; and the more enlarged ones are too ornamental.

It is right, first of all, that you should have an idea how this piece of tapestry is preserved, or rolled up. You see it here, therefore, precisely as it appears after the person who shows it, takes off the cloth with which it is usually covered. The first portion of the needle-work, representing the embassy of Harold from Edward the Confessor to William Duke of Normandy, is comparatively much defaced–that is to say, the stitches are worn away, and little more than the ground, or fine close linen cloth remains. It is not far from the beginning–and where the color is fresh, and the stitches are, comparatively, preserved–that you observe the portrait of Harold.

You are to understand that the stitches, if they may be so called, are threads laid side by side–and bound down at intervals by cross stitches, or fastenings–upon rather a fine linen cloth; and that the parts intended to represent flesh are left untouched by the needle. I obtained a few straggling shreds of the worsted with which it is worked. The colors are generally a faded or bluish green, crimson, and pink. About the last five feet of this extraordinary roll are in a yet more decayed and imperfect state than the first portion. But the designer of the subject, whoever he was, had an eye throughout to Roman art–as it appeared in its later stages. The folds of the draperies, and the proportions of the figures, are executed with this feeling.

I must observe that, both at top and at bottom of the principal subject, there is a running allegorical ornament, of which I will not incur the presumption to suppose myself a successful interpreter. The constellations, and the symbols of agriculture and of a rural occupation form the chief subjects of this running ornament. All the inscriptions are executed in capital letters of about an inch in length; and upon the whole, whether this extraordinary and invaluable relic be of the latter end of the eleventh, or the beginning or middle of the twelfth century seems to me a matter of rather a secondary consideration. That it is at once unique and important, must be considered as a position to be neither doubted nor denied.

I have learned even here, of what importance this tapestry roll was considered in the time of Bonaparte’s threatened invasion of our country: and that, after displaying it at Paris for two or three months, to awaken the curiosity and excite the love of conquest among the citizens, it was conveyed to one or two sea-port towns, and exhibited upon the stage as a most important material in dramatic effect.


[Footnote A: From “A Tour Through the Pyrenees.” By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, Henry Holt & Co. Copyright, 1873.]


Pau is a pretty city, neat, of gay appearance; but the highway is paved with little round stones, the side-walks with small sharp pebbles: so the horses walk on the heads of nails and foot-passengers on the points of them. From Bordeaux to Toulouse such is the usage, such the pavement. At the end of five minutes, your feet tell you in the most intelligible manner that you are two hundred leagues away from Paris….

Here are the true countrymen of Henry IV. As to the pretty ladies in gauzy hats, whose swelling and rustling robes graze the horns of the motionless oxen as they pass, you must not look at them; they would carry your imagination back to the Boulevard de Gand, and you would have gone two hundred leagues only to remain in the same place. I am here on purpose to visit the sixteenth century; one makes a journey for the sake of changing, not place, but ideas…. It was eight o’clock in the morning; not a visitor at the castle, no one in the courts nor on the terrace; I should not have been too much astonished at meeting the Bearnais, “that lusty gallant, that very devil,” who was sharp enough to get for himself the name of “the good king.”

His chateau is very irregular; it is only when seen from the valley that any graces and harmony can be found in it. Above two rows of pointed roofs and old houses, it stands out alone against the sky and gazes upon the valley in the distance; two bell-turrets project from the front toward the west; the oblong body follows, and two massive brick towers close the line with their esplanades and battlements. It is connected with the city by a narrow old bridge, by a broad modern one with the park, and the foot of its terrace is bathed by a dark but lovely stream.

Near at hand, this arrangement disappears; a fifth tower upon the north side deranges the symmetry. The great egg-shaped court is a mosaic of incongruous masonry; above the porch, a wall of pebbles from the Gave, and of red bricks crossed like a tapestry design; opposite, fixt to the wall, a row of medallions in stone; upon the sides, doors of every form and age; dormer windows, windows square, pointed, embattled, with stone mullions garlanded with elaborate reliefs. This masquerade of styles troubles the mind, yet not unpleasantly; it is unpretending and artless; each century has built according to its own fancy, without concerning itself about its neighbor.

On the first floor is shown a great tortoise-shell, which was the cradle of Henry IV. Carved chests, dressing-tables, tapestries, clocks of that day, the bed and arm-chair of Jeanne d’Albret, a complete set of furniture in the taste of the Renaissance, striking and somber, painfully labored yet magnificent in style, carrying the mind at once back toward that age of force and effort, of boldness in invention, of unbridled pleasures and terrible toil, of sensuality and of heroism. Jeanne d’Albret, mother of Henry IV., crossed France in order that she might, according to her promise, be confined in this castle. “A princess,” says D’Aubigne, “having nothing of the woman about her but the sex, a soul entirely given to manly things, a mind mighty in great affairs, a heart unconquerable by adversity.”

She sang an old Bearnaise song when she brought him into the world. They say that the aged grandfather rubbed the lips of the new-born child with a clove of garlic, poured into his mouth a few drops of Jurancon wine, and carried him away in his dressing-gown. The child was born in the chamber which opens into the lower tower of Mazeres, on the southwest corner.

His mother, a warm and severe Calvinist, when he was fifteen years old, led him through the Catholic army to La Rochelle, and gave him to her followers as their general. At sixteen years old, at the combat of Arnay-le-Duc, he led the first charge of cavalry. What an education and what men! Their descendants were just now passing in the streets, going to school to compose Latin verses and recite the pastorals of Massillon.

Those old wars are the most poetic in French history; they were made for pleasure rather than interest. It was a chase in which adventures, dangers, emotions were found, in which men lived in the sunlight, on horseback, amidst flashes of fire, and where the body, as well as the soul, had its enjoyment and its exercise. Henry carries it on as briskly as a dance, with a Gascon’s fire and a soldier’s ardor, with abrupt sallies, and pursuing his point against the enemy as with the ladies.

This is no spectacle of great masses of well-disciplined men, coming heavily into collision and falling by thousands on the field, according to the rules of good tactics. The king leaves Pau or Nerac with a little troop, picks up the neighboring garrisons on his way, scales a fortress, intercepts a body of arquebusiers as they pass, extricates himself pistol in hand from the midst of a hostile troop, and returns to the feet of Mlle. de Tignonville. They arrange their plan from day to day; nothing is done unless unexpectedly and by chance. Enterprises are strokes of fortune….

The park is a great wood on a hill, embedded among meadows and harvests. You walk in long solitary alleys, under colonnades of superb oaks, while to the left the lofty stems of the copses mount in close ranks upon the back of the hill. The fog was not yet lifted; there was no motion in the air; not a corner of the blue sky, not a sound in all the country. The song of a bird came for an instant from the midst of the ash-trees, then sadly ceased. Is that then the sky of the south, and was it necessary to come to the happy country of the Bearnais to find such melancholy impressions? A little by-way brought us to a bank of the Gave: in a long pool of water was growing an army of reeds twice the height of a man; their grayish spikes and their trembling leaves bent and whispered under the wind; a wild flower near by shed a vanilla perfume.

We gazed on the broad country, the ranges of rounded hills, the silent plain under the dull dome of the sky. Three hundred paces away the Gave rolls between marshaled banks, which it has covered with sand; in the midst of the waters may be seen the moss-grown piles of a ruined bridge. One is at ease here, and yet at the bottom of the heart a vague unrest is felt; the soul is softened and loses itself in melancholy and tender revery. Suddenly the clock strikes, and one is forced to go and prepare himself to eat his soup between two commercial travelers.

To-day the sun shines. On my way to the Place Nationale, I remarked a poor, half-ruined church, which had been turned into a coach-house; they have fastened upon it a carrier’s sign. The arcades, in small gray stones, still round themselves with an elegant boldness; beneath are stowed away carts and casks and pieces of wood; here and there workmen were handling wheels. A broad ray of light fell upon a pile of straw, and made the somber corners seem yet darker; the pictures that one meets with outweigh those one has come to seek.

From the esplanade which is opposite, the whole valley and the mountains beyond may be seen; this first sight of a southern sun, as it breaks from the rainy mists, is admirable; a sheet of white light stretches from one horizon to another without meeting a single cloud. The heart expands in this immense space; the very air is festal; the dazzled eyes close beneath the brightness which deluges them and which runs over, radiated from the burning dome of heaven. The current of the river sparkles like a girdle of jewels; the chains of hills, yesterday veiled and damp, extend at their own sweet will beneath the warming, penetrating rays, and mount range upon range to spread out their green robe to the sun.

In the distance, the blue Pyrenees look like a bank of clouds; the air that bathes them shapes them into aerial forms, vapory phantoms, the farthest of which vanish in the canescent horizon–dim contours, that might be taken for a fugitive sketch from the lightest of pencils. In the midst of the serrate chain the peak Midi d’ Ossau lifts its abrupt cone; at this distance, forms are softened, colors are blended, the Pyrenees are only the graceful bordering of a smiling landscape and of the magnificent sky. There is nothing imposing about them nor severe; the beauty here is serene, and the pleasure pure.

The statue of Henry IV., with an inscription in Latin and in patois, is on the esplanade; the armor is finished so perfectly that it might make an armorer jealous. But why does the king wear so sad an air? His neck is ill at ease on his shoulders; his features are small and full of care; he has lost his gayety, his spirit, his confidence in his fortune, his proud bearing. His air is neither that of a great nor a good man, nor of a man of intellect; his face is discontented, and one would say that he was bored with Pau. I am not sure that he was wrong: and yet the city passes for agreeable, the climate is very mild, and invalids who fear the cold pass the winter in it.


[Footnote A: From “Outre-Mer.” Published by Houghton, Mifflin Co.]


In the beautiful month of October I made a foot excursion along the banks of the Loire, from Orleans to Tours. This luxuriant region is justly called the garden of France. From Orleans to Blois, the whole valley of the Loire is one continued vineyard. The bright green foliage of the vine spreads, like the undulations of the sea, over the landscape, with here and there a silver flash of the river, a sequestered hamlet, or the towers of an old chateau, to enliven and variegate the scene.

The vintage had already commenced. The peasantry were busy in the fields–the song that cheered their labor was on the breeze, and the heavy wagon tottered by, laden with the clusters of the vine. Everything around me wore that happy look which makes the heart glad. In the morning I arose with the lark; and at night I slept where the sunset overtook me…. My first day’s journey brought me at evening to a village, whose name I have forgotten, situated about eight leagues from Orleans. It is a small, obscure hamlet, not mentioned in the guide-book, and stands upon the precipitous banks of a deep ravine, through which a noisy brook leaps to turn the ponderous wheel of a thatch-roofed mill. The village inn stands upon the highway; but the village itself is not visible to the traveler as he passes. It is completely hidden in the lap of a wooded valley, and so embowered in trees that not a roof nor a chimney peeps out to betray its hiding-place.

When I awoke in the morning, a brilliant autumnal sun was shining in at my window. The merry song of birds mingled sweetly with the sound of rustling leaves and the gurgle of the brook. The vintagers were going forth to their toil; the wine-press was busy in the shade, and the clatter of the mill kept time to the miller’s song. I loitered about the village with a feeling of calm delight. I was unwilling to leave the seclusion of this sequestered hamlet; but at length, with reluctant step, I took the cross-road through the vineyard, and in a moment the little village had sunk again, as if by enchantment, into the bosom of the earth.

I breakfasted at the town of Mer; and, leaving the high-road to Blois on the right, passed down to the banks of the Loire, through a long, broad avenue of poplars and sycamores. I crossed the river in a boat, and in the after part of the day I found myself before the high and massive walls of the chateau of Chambord. This chateau is one of the finest specimens of the ancient Gothic castle to be found in Europe. The little river Cosson fills its deep and ample moat, and above it the huge towers and heavy battlements rise in stern and solemn grandeur, moss-grown with age, and blackened by the storms of three centuries. Within, all is mournful and deserted. The grass has overgrown the pavement of the courtyard, and the rude sculpture upon the walls is broken and defaced….

My third day’s journey brought me to the ancient city of Blois, the chief town of the department of Loire-et-Cher. This city is celebrated for the purity with which even the lower classes of its inhabitants speak their native tongue. It rises precipitously from the northern bank of the Loire; and many of its streets are so steep as to be almost impassable for carriages. On the brow of the hill, overlooking the roofs of the city, and commanding a fine view of the Loire and its noble bridge, and the surrounding country, sprinkled with cottages and chateaux, runs an ample terrace, planted with trees, and laid out as a public walk. The view from this terrace is one of the most beautiful in France. But what most strikes the eye of the traveler at Blois is an old, tho still unfinished, castle. Its huge parapets of hewn stone stand upon either side of the street; but they have walled up the wide gateway, from which the colossal drawbridge was to have sprung high in air, connecting together the main towers of the building, and the two hills upon whose slope its foundations stand. The aspect of this vast pile is gloomy and desolate. It seems as if the strong hand of the builder had been arrested in the midst of his task by the stronger hand of death; and the unfinished fabric stands a lasting monument both of the power and weakness of man–of his vast desires, his sanguine hopes, his ambitious purposes–and of the unlooked-for conclusion, where all these desires, and hopes, and purposes are so often arrested. There is also at Blois another ancient chateau, to which some historic interest is attached as being the scene of the massacre of the Duke of Guise.

On the following day, I left Blois for Amboise; and, after walking several leagues along the dusty highway, crossed the river in a boat to the little village of Moines, which lies amid luxuriant vineyards upon the southern bank of the Loire. From Moines to Amboise the road is truly delightful. The rich lowland scenery, by the margin of the river, is verdant even in October; and occasionally the landscape is diversified with the picturesque cottages of the vintagers, cut in the rock along the road-side, and overhung by the thick foliage of the vines above them.

At Amboise I took a cross-road, which led me to the romantic borders of the Cher and the chateau of Chenonceau. This beautiful chateau, as well as that of Chambord, was built by the gay and munificent Francis the First. One is a specimen of strong and massive architecture–a dwelling for a warrior; but the other is of a lighter and more graceful construction, and was designed for those soft languishments of passion with which the fascinating Diane de Poitiers had filled the bosom of that voluptuous monarch.

The chateau of Chenonceau is built upon arches across the river Cher, whose waters are made to supply the deep moat at each extremity. There is a spacious courtyard in front, from which a drawbridge conducts to the outer hall of the castle. There the armor of Francis the First still hangs upon the wall–his shield, and helm, and lance–as if the chivalrous but dissolute prince had just exchanged them for the silken robes of the drawing-room…. Doubtless the naked walls and the vast solitary chambers of an old and desolate chateau inspire a feeling of greater solemnity and awe; but when the antique furniture of the olden time remains–the faded tapestry on the walls, and the arm-chair by the fire-side–the effect upon the mind is more magical and delightful. The old inhabitants of the place, long gathered to their fathers, tho living still in history, seem to have left their halls for the chase or the tournament; and as the heavy door swings upon its reluctant hinge, one almost expects to see the gallant princes and courtly dames enter those halls again, and sweep in stately procession along the silent corridors….

A short time after candle-lighting, I reached the little tavern of the Boule d’Or, a few leagues from Tours, where I passed the night. The following morning was lowering and sad. A veil of mist hung over the landscape, and ever and anon a heavy shower burst from the overburdened clouds, that were driving by before a high and piercing wind. This unpropitious state of the weather detained me until noon, when a cabriolet for Tours drove up, and taking a seat within it, I left the hostess of the Boule d’Or in the middle of a long story about a rich countess, who always alighted there when she passed that way. We drove leisurely along through a beautiful country, till at length we came to the brow of a steep hill, which commands a fine view of the city of Tours and its delightful environs. But the scene was shrouded by the heavy drifting mist, through which I could trace but indistinctly the graceful sweep of the Loire, and the spires and roofs of the city far below me.

The city of Tours and the delicious plain in which it lies have been too often described by other travelers to render a new description, from so listless a pen as mine, either necessary or desirable. After a sojourn of two cloudy and melancholy days, I set out on my return to Paris, by the way of Vendome and Chartres. I stopt a few hours at the former place, to examine the ruins of a chateau built by Jeanne d’Albret, mother of Henry the Fourth. It stands upon the summit of a high and precipitous hill, and almost overhangs the town beneath. The French Revolution has completed the ruin that time had already begun; and nothing now remains, but a broken and crumbling bastion, and here and there a solitary tower dropping slowly to decay. In one of these is the grave of Jeanne d’Albret. A marble entablature in the wall above contains the inscription, which is nearly effaced, tho enough still remains to tell the curious traveler that there lies buried the mother of the “Bon Henri.” To this is added a prayer that the repose of the dead may be respected.

Here ended my foot excursion. The object of my journey was accomplished; and, delighted with this short ramble through the valley of the Loire, I took my seat in the diligence for Paris, and on the following day was again swallowed up in the crowds of the metropolis, like a drop in the bosom of the sea.


[Footnote A: From “Old Touraine.” Published by James Pott & Co.]


The Castle of Amboise stands high above the town, like another Acropolis above a smaller Athens; it rises upon the only height visible for some distance, and is in a commanding position for holding the level fields of Touraine around it, and securing the passage of the Loire between Tours and Chaumont, which is the next link in the chain that ends at Blois.

The river at this point is divided in two by an island, as is so often the case where the first bridge-builders sought to join the wide banks of the Loire, and on this little spot between the waters Clovis is said to have met Alaric before he overthrew the power of the Visigoths in Aquitaine.

Amboise gains even more from the river than the other chateaux of the Loire. The magnificent round tower that springs from the end of Charles VIII.’s facade completely commands the approaches of the bridge, and the extraordinary effect of lofty masonry, produced by building on the summit of an elevation and carrying the stone courses upward from the lower ground, is here seen at its best….

But Amboise has a history before the days of Charles VIII. There was without doubt a Roman camp here, but the traditions of the ubiquitous Caesar must be received with caution. The so-called “Greniers de Caesar,” strange, unexplained constructions caverned in the soft rock, are proved to be the work of a later age by that same indefatigable Abbe Chevalier to whom we have been already indebted for so much archeological research. A possible explanation of them is contained in an old Latin history of the castle, which goes down to the death of Stephen of England. According to this, the Romans had held Amboise from the days of Caesar till the reign of Diocletian; the Baugaredi or Bagaudee then put them to flight, but let the rest of the inhabitants remain who, “being afraid to live above ground, tunnelled beneath it, and made a great colony of subterranean dwellings in the holes they had dug out,” a custom apparently common in Touraine from the earliest times. The Romans at any rate left unmistakable traces of their presence; many of their architectural remains still exist, and their fort is spoken of by Sulpicius Severus; but they can have built no bridge of alone, for in St. Gregory’s time there were only boats available for crossing the river.

Not till the fifteenth century did the castle become royal property, when it was confiscated by Charles VII. as a punishment for treacherous dealings with the invading English very similar to the treason discovered at Chenonceaux just before. But beyond strengthening the fortification of the place this king did little for his new possession.

In a few years the castle is overshadowed by the cruel specter of Louis XI., whose memory has already spoiled several charming views for us. It was to Amboise that the father of this unfilial prince was carried from Chinon on his way north, when wearied out by the annoyance caused by the Dauphin’s plots. The castle had become a royal residence, and soon after the whole town turns out to meet the new king with a “morality-play made by Master Etienne for the joyous occasion of his arrival,” for Amboise was already famous for those dramatic performances always so dear to the French, and particularly to these citizens, in the old days at any rate. There is no trace of such frivolities now in the sleepy little town….

The two great towers of Amboise with the inclined planes of brickwork, which wind upward in the midst instead of staircases, were the result of the work which Charles set on foot as a distraction of his grief. These strange ascents had been partially restored by the Comte de Paris, the present owner of Amboise, before his exile stopt the work of repairing the chateau, and it is still possible to imagine the “charrettes, mullets, et litieres,” of which Du Bellay speaks, mounting from the low ground to the chambers above, or the Emperor Charles V., in later years, riding up with his royal host Francis I., always fond of display, amid such a blaze of flambeaux “that a man might see as clearly as at mid-day.”

These great towers and the exquisite little chapel were the work of the “excellent sculptors and artists from Naples” who, as Commines tells us, were brought back with the spoils of the Italian wars; for the young king “never thought of death” but only of collecting round him “all the beautiful things which he had seen and which had given him pleasure, from France or Italy or Flanders;” but death came upon him suddenly. At the end of a garden walk, fringed with a mossy grove of limes that rises from the river bank, is the little doorway through which Charles VIII. was passing when he hit his head, never a very strong one, against the low stone arch, and died a few hours afterward. The castle had been fortified before his time; he left it beautiful as well, and the traces of his work are those which are most striking at the present day….

Within the shadow of the lime trees on the terraced garden of Amboise is a small bust of Leonardo da Vinci, for it was near here he died. His remains are laid in the beautiful chapel at the corner of the castle court, and the romantic story of his last moments at Fontainebleau becomes the sad reality of a tombstone covering ashes mostly unknown and certainly indistinguishable; “among which” as the epitaph painfully records, “are supposed to be the remains of Leonardo da Vinci.” He had been brought to Paris a weak old man, by Francis, in pursuance of a certain fixt artistic policy, to which it may be noticed this forgotten and uncertain grave does but little credit.

To Francis I., rightly or wrongly, is given the glory of having naturalized in France the arts of Italy; to him is due the architecture built for ease and charm which turned the fortress into a beautiful habitation, which changed Chambord from a feudal stronghold to a country seat, and which left its traces at Amboise, as it did at Chaumont and at Blois. He found in France the highest and most beautiful expression of the work of “the great unnamed race of master-masons,” he found the traditions of a national school of painting, the work of Fouquet and the Clouets, but for these he cared not; for him the only schools were those of Rome and Florence, and tho by encouraging their imitation he weakened the vital sincerity of French art, yet from his first exercise of royal power the consistency always somewhat lacking in his politics was shown clearly and firmly in his taste for art.


[Footnote A: From “Castles and Chateaux of Old Touraine.” By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, L.C. Page & Co. Copyright, 1908.]


Blois, among all the other cities of the Loire, is the favorite with the tourist. Here one first meets a great chateau of state; and certainly the Chateau de Blois lives in one’s memory more than any other chateau in France.

Much has been written of Blois, its counts, its chateau, and its many and famous hotels of the nobility, by writers of all opinions and abilities, from those old chroniclers who wrote of the plots and intrigues of other days to those critics of art and architecture who have discovered–or think they have discovered–that Da Vinci designed the famous spiral staircase.

From this one may well gather that Blois is the foremost chateau of all the Loire in popularity and theatrical effect. Truly this is so, but it is by no manner of means the most lovable; indeed, it is the least lovable of all that great galaxy which begins at Blois and ends at Nantes. It is a show-place and not much more, and partakes in every form and feature–as one sees it to-day–of the attributes of a museum, and such it really is.

All of its former gorgeousness is still there, and all the banalities of the later period when Gaston of Orleans built his ugly wing, for the “personally conducted” to marvel at, and honeymoon couples to envy. The French are quite fond of visiting this shrine themselves, but usually it is the young people and their mammas, and detached couples of American and English birth that one most sees strolling about the courts and apartments where formerly lords and ladies and cavaliers moved and plotted.

The great chateau of the Counts of Blois is built upon an inclined rock which rises above the roof-tops of the lower town quite in fairy-book fashion. Commonly referred to as the Chateau de Blois, it is really composed of four separate and distinct foundations; the original chateau of the counts; the later addition of Louis XII.; the palace of Francis I., and the most unsympathetically and dismally disposed pavilion of Gaston of Orleans.

The artistic qualities of the greater part of the distinct edifice which go to make up the chateau as it stands to-day are superb, with the exception of that great wing of Gaston’s, before mentioned, which is as cold and unfeeling as the overrated palace at Versailles.

The Comtes de Chatillon built that portion just to the right of the present entrance; Louis XII., the edifice through which one enters the inner court and which extends far to the left, including also the chapel immediately to the rear; while Francois I., who here as elsewhere let his unbounded Italian proclivities have full sway, built the extended wing to the left of the inner court and fronting on the present Place du Chateau, formerly the Place Royale….

As an architectural monument the chateau is a picturesque assemblage of edifices belonging to many different epochs, and, as such, shows, as well as any other document of contemporary times, the varying ambitions and emotions of its builders, from the rude and rough manners of the earliest of feudal times through the highly refined Renaissance details of the imaginative brain of Francois, down to the base concoction of the elder Mansart, produced at the commands of Gaston of Orleans.

In the earliest structure were to be seen all the attributes of a feudal fortress, towers and walls pierced with narrow loopholes, and damp, dark dungeons hidden away in the thick walls. Then came a structure which was less of a fortress and more habitable, but still a stronghold, tho having ample and decorative doorways and windows, with curious sculptures and rich framings. Then the pompous Renaissance with “escaliers” and “balcons a jour,” balustrades crowning the walls and elaborate cornices here, there, and everywhere–all bespeaking the gallantry and taste of the knightly king. Finally came the cold, classic features of the period of the brother of Louis XIII.

In plan the Chateau de Bois forms an irregular square situated at the apex of a promontory high above the surface of the Loire, and practically behind the town itself. The building has a most picturesque aspect, and, to those who know, gives practically a history of the chateau architecture of the time. Abandoned, mutilated and dishonored, from time to time, the structure gradually took on new forms until the thick walls underlying the apartment known to-day as the Salle des Etats–probably the most ancient portion of all–were overshadowed by the great richness of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

From the platform one sees a magnificent panorama of the city and the far-reaching Loire, which unrolls itself southward and northward for many leagues, its banks covered by rich vineyards and crowned by thick forests.

The building of Louis XII. presents its brick-faced exterior in black and red lozenge shapes, with sculptured window-frames, squarely upon the little tree-bordered place of to-day, which in other times formed a part of that magnificent terrace which looked down upon the roof of the Eglise St. Nicholas, and the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, and the silvery bell of the Loire itself.

The murders and other acts of violence and treason which took place here are interesting enough, but one can not but feel, when he views the chimney-piece before which the Due de Guise was standing when called to his death in the royal closet, that the men of whom the bloody tales of Blois are told quite deserved their fates.

One comes away with the impression of it all stamped only upon the mind, not graven upon the heart. Political intrigue to-day, if quite as vulgar, is less sordid. Bigotry and ambition in those days allowed few of the finer feelings to come to the surface, except with regard to the luxuriance of surroundings. Of this last there can be no question, and Blois is as characteristically luxurious as any of the magnificient edifices which lodged the royalty and nobility of other days throughout the valley of the Loire.

The interior court is partly surrounded by a colonnade, quite cloister-like in effect. At the right center of the Francois I. wing is that wonderful spiral staircase, concerning the invention of which so much speculation has been launched.

The apartments of Catherine de Medici were directly beneath the guard-room where the Balafre was murdered, and that event, taking place at the very moment when the queen-mother was dying, can not be said to have been conducive to a peaceful demise.

Here, on the first floor of the Francois I. wing, the queen-mother, held her court, as did the king his. The great gallery over-looked the town on the side of the present Place du Chateau. It was, and is, a truly grand apartment, with diamond-paned windows, and rich, dark wall decorations on which Catherine’s device, a crowned C and her monogram in gold, frequently appears. There was, moreover, a great oval window, opposite which stood her altar, and a doorway led to her writing-closet, with its secret drawers and wall panels, which well served her purpose of intrigue and deceit.

A hidden stair-way led to the floor above, and there was a chambre-a-coucher, with a deep recess for the bed, the same to which she called her son Henri, as she lay dying, admonishing him to give up the thought of murdering Guise. “What,” said Henri, on this embarrassing occasion, “spare Guise, when he, triumphant in Paris, dared lay his hand on the hilt of his sword. Spare him who drove me a fugitive from the capital. Spare them who never spared me. No, mother, I will not.”

As the queen-mother drew near her end, and was lying ill at Blois, great events for France were culminating at the chateau. Henry III. had become King of France, and the Balafre, supported by Rome and Spain, was in open rebellion against the reigning house, and the word had gone forth that the Duc de Guise must die.

The States-General were to be immediately assembled, and De Guise, once the poetic lover of Marguerite, through his emissaries canvassed all France to ensure the triumph of the party of the church against Henri de Navarre and his queen–the Marguerite whom De Guise once profest to love–who soon were to come to the throne of France.

The uncomfortable Henri III. had been told that he would never be king in reality until De Guise had been made away with.

The final act of the drama between the rival houses of Guise and Valois came when the king and his council came to Blois for the assembly. The sunny city of Blois was indeed to be the scene of a momentous affair, and a truly sumptuous setting it was, the roof-tops of its houses sloping downward gently to the Loire, with its chief accessory, the coiffed and turreted chateau itself, high above all else.

Details had been arranged with infinite pains, the guard doubled, and a company of Swiss posted around the courtyard and up and down the gorgeous staircase. Every nook and corner has its history in connection with this greatest event in the history of the chateau of Blois.

As Guise entered the council chamber he was told that the king would see him in his closet, to reach which one had to pass through the guard-room below. The door was barred behind him that he might not return, when the trusty guards of the Forty-fifth, under Dalahaide, already hidden behind the wall-tapestry, sprang upon the Balafre and forced him back upon the closed door through which he had just passed. Guise fell stabbed in the breast by Malines, and “lay long uncovered until an old carpet was found in which to wrap his corpse.”

Below, in her own apartments, lay the queen-mother, dying, but listening eagerly for the rush of footsteps overhead, hoping and praying that Henri–the hitherto effeminate Henri who played with his sword as he would with a battledore, and who painted himself like a woman, and put rings in his ears–would not prejudice himself at this time in the eyes of Rome by slaying the leader of the church party….

It was under the regime of Gaston d’Orleans that the gardens of the Chateau de Blois came to their greatest excellence and beauty. In 1653, Abel Brunyer, the first physician of Gaston’s suite, published a catalog of the fruit and flowers to be found here in these gardens, of which he was also director. More than five hundred varieties were included, three-quarters of which belonged to the flora of France.

Among the delicacies and novelties of the time to be found here was the Prunier de Reine Claude, from which those delicious green plums known to all the world to-day as “Reine Claudes” were propagated, also another variety which came from the Prunier de Monsieur, somewhat similar in taste, but of a deep purple color. The potato was tenderly cared for and grown as a great novelty and delicacy long before its introduction to general cultivation by Parmentier. The tomato was imported from Mexico, and even tobacco was grown….

In 1793 all the symbols and emblems of royalty were removed from the chateau and destroyed. The celebrated bust of Gaston, the chief artistic attribute of that part of the edifice built by him, was decapitated, and the statue of Louis XII. over the entrance gateway was overturned and broken up. Afterward the chateau became the property of the “domaine” and was turned into a mere barracks. The pavilion of Queen Anne became a military magazine, the Tour de l’Observatoire, a powder-magazine, and all the indignities imaginable were heaped upon the chateau.

In 1814 Blois became the last capital of Napoleon’s empire, and the chateau walls sheltered the prisoners captured by the imperial army.


[Footnote A: From “Old Touraine.” Published by James Pott & Co.]


The road that leads from Blois to Chambord crosses the Loire by a fine stone bridge, which the inscription sets forth to be the first public work of Louis Philippe.

For some distance the rails of a small tramway followed the road by which our carriage was slowly rolling toward the level plains of the Cologne, but we gradually left such uncompromising signs of activity, and came into a flat country of endless vineyards, with here and there a small plaster tower showing its slated roof above the low green clusters of the vines. We passed through several villages, whose inhabitants that day seemed to have but one care upon their minds, like the famous Scilly Islanders, to gain a precarious livelihood by taking each other’s washing. On every bush and briar fluttered the household linen and the family apparel, of various textures and in different states of despair; and with that strict observance of utility which is the chief characteristic of the French peasant, the inevitable blouses, of faded blue were blown into shapeless bundles even along the railings of the churchyard tombs.

At last we came to an old moss-grown wall, and through a broken gateway entered what is called the Park of Chambord. There is very little of it to be seen now, the trees have been ruthlessly cut down and mutilated, and of the wild boars, which Francis I. was so fond of hunting there is left only the ghostly quarry that Thibault of Champagne chases through the air, while the sound of his ghostly horn echoes down the autumn night as the fantom pack sweeps by to Montfrault.

It is impossible for the uninstructed mind to grasp the plan or method of this mass of architecture; yet it is unsatisfactory to give it up, with Mr. Henry James, “as an irresponsible, insoluble labyrinth.” M. Viollet-le-Duc, with a sympathetic denial of any extreme and over-technical admiration, gives just that intelligible account of the chateau which is a compromise between the unmeaning adulation of its contemporary critics and the ignorance of the casual traveler.

“Chambord,” says he, “must be taken for what it is; for an attempt in which the architect sought to reconcile the methods of two opposite principles, to unite in one building the fortified castle of the Middle Ages and the pleasure-palace of the sixteenth century.” Granted that the attempt was an absurd one, it must be remembered that the Renaissance was but just beginning in France; Gothic art seemed out of date, yet none other had established itself to take its place. In literature, in morals, as in architecture, this particular phase in the civilization of the time has already become evident even in the course of these small wanderings in a single province, and if only this transition period is realized in all its meaning, with all the “monstrous and inform” characteristics that were inevitably a part of it, the mystery of this strange sixteenth century in France is half explained, of this “glorious devil, large in heart and brain, that did love beauty only” and would have it somewhere, somehow, at whatever cost.

Francis I. had passed his early years at Cognac, at Amboise, or Romorantin, and when he first saw Chambord it was only the old feudal manor-house built by the Counts of Blois. He transformed it, not by the help of Primaticcio, with whose name it is tempting to associate any building of this king’s, for the methods of contemporary Italian architecture were totally different; but, as Mr. de la Saussaye proves, by the skill of that fertile school of art particularly of one Maitre Pierre Trinqueau, or Le Nepveu, whose name is connected with more successful buildings at Amboise and Blois. The plan is that of the true French chateau; in the center is the habitation of the seigneur and his family, flanked by four angle towers; on three sides is a court closed by buildings, also with towers at each angle, and like most feudal dwellings the central donjon has one of its sides on the exterior of the whole …

It may well be imagined that Chambord is the parody of the old castles, just as the Abbey of Theleme parodies the abbeys of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Both heaped a fatal ridicule upon the bygone age, but what Rabelais could only dream Francis could realize, yet not with the unfettered perfection that was granted to the vision of Gargantua; for surely never was the spirit of the time, seized and smitten into incongruous shapes of stone at so unfortunate a moment, just when the old Renaissance was striving to take upon itself the burden which was too heavy for the failing Gothic spirit, just when success was coming, but had not yet come.

It is only from within the court, where the great towers fling their shadows over the space, where pinnacles and gables soar into the air, and strange gargoyles and projectures shoot from the darkness into light, that it is possible to realize the admiration which Chambord roused when it was first created. Brantome waxes enthusiastic over its wonders, and describes how the king had drawn up plans (mercifully never carried out) to divert the waters of the Loire to his new palace, not content with the slender stream of Cosson, from which the place derived its name. Others compare it to a palace put of the Arabian Nights raised at the Prince’s bidding by a Genie, or like Lippomano, the Venetian ambassador, to “the abode of Morgana or Alcinous”; but this topheavy barrack is anything rather than a “fairy monument”; it might with as much humor be called a “souvenir of first loves,” as M. de la Saussaye has it. Both descriptions fit Chenonceaux admirably; when used of Chambord they are out of place.


[Footnote A: From “Castles and Chateaux of Old Touraine.” By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, L.C. Page & Co. Copyright, 1906.]


Chenonceaux is noted chiefly for its chateau, but the little village itself is charming. The houses of the village are not very new, nor very old, but the one long street is most attractive throughout its length, and the whole atmosphere of the place, from September to December, is odorous with the perfume of red and purple grapes. The vintage is not equal to that of the Bordeaux region, perhaps, nor of Chinon, nor Saumur, but “vin du pays” of the Cher and the Loire, around Tours, is not to be despised.

Most tourists come to Chenonceaux by train from Tours; others drive over from Amboise, and yet others come by bicycle or automobile. They are not as yet so numerous as might be expected, and accordingly here, as elsewhere in Touraine, every facility is given for visiting the chateau and its park.

If you do not hurry off at once to worship at the abode of the fascinating Diane, one of the brightest ornaments of the court of Francois I. and his son Henri, you will enjoy your dinner at the Hotel du Bon Laboureur, tho most likely it will be a solitary one, and you will be put to bed in a great chamber over-looking the park, through which peep, in the moonlight, the turrets of the chateau, and you may hear the purling of the waters of the Cher as it flows below the walls.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, like Francois I., called Chenonceaux a beautiful place, and he was right. It is all of that and more. Here one comes into direct contact with an atmosphere which, if not feudal, or even medieval, is at least that of several hundred years ago.

Chenonceaux is moored like a ship in the middle of the rapidly running Cher, a dozen miles or more above where that stream enters the Loire. As a matter of fact, the chateau practically bridges the river, which flows under its foundations and beneath its drawbridge on either side, besides filling the moat with water. The general effect is as if the building were set in the midst of a stream and formed a sort of island chateau. Round about is a gentle meadow and a great park, which gives to this turreted, architectural gem of Touraine a setting equalled by no other chateau.

What the chateau was in former days we can readily imagine, for nothing is changed as to the general disposition. Boats came to the water-gate, as they still might do if such boats still existed, in true, pictorial legendary fashion. To-day the present occupant has placed a curiosity on the ornamental waters in the shape of a gondola. It is out of keeping with the grand fabric of the chateau, and it is a pity that it does not cast itself adrift some night. What has become of the gondolier, who was imported to keep the craft company, nobody seems to know. He is certainly not in evidence, or, if he is, has transformed himself into a groom or a chauffeur.

The chateau of Chenonceaux is not a very ample structure; not so ample as most photographs would make it appear. It is not tiny, but still it has not the magnificent proportions of Blois, of Chambord, or even of Langeais. It was more a habitation than it was a fortress, a country house, as indeed it virtually became when the Connetable de Montmorency took possession of the structure in the name of the king, when its builder, Thomas Bohier, the none too astute minister of finance in Normandy, came to grief in his affairs.

Francis I came frequently here to hunt, and his memory is still kept alive by the Chambre Francois I. Francois held possession till his death, when his son made it over to the “admired of two generations,” Diane de Poitiers.

Diane’s memory will never leave Chenonceaux. To-day it is perpetuated in the Chambre de Diane de Poitiers; but the portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, which was supposed to best show her charms, has now disappeared from the Long Gallery at the chateau. This portrait was painted at the command of Francois, before Diane transferred her affections to his son.

No one knows when or how Diane de Poitiers first came to fascinate Francois, or how or why her power waned. At any rate at the time Francois pardoned her father, the witless Comte de St. Vallier, for the treacherous part he played in the Bourbon conspiracy, he really believed her to to be the “brightest ornament of a beauty-loving court.”

Certainly, Diane was a powerful factor in the politics of her time, tho Francois himself soon tired of her. Undaunted by this, she forthwith set her cap for his son Henri, the Duc d’Orleans, and won him, too. Of her beauty the present generation is able to judge for itself by reason of the three well-known and excellent portraits of contemporary times.

Diane’s influence over the young Henri was absolute. At his death her power was, of course, at an end and Chenonceaux, and all else possible, was taken from her by the orders of Catherine, the long-suffering wife, who had been put aside for the fascinations of the charming huntress.

It must have been some satisfaction, however, to Diane, to know that, in his fatal joust with Montgomery, Henri really broke his lance and met his death in her honor, for the records tell that he bore her colors on his lance, besides her initials set in gold and gems on his shield.

Catherine’s eagerness to drive Diane from the court was so great, that no sooner had her spouse fallen–even tho he did not actually die for some days–than she sent word to Diane “who sat weeping alone,” to quit the court instantly; to give up the crown jewels–which Henri had somewhat inconsiderately given her; and to “give up Chenonceaux in Touraine,” Catherine’s Naboth’s vineyard, which she had so long admired and coveted.

She had known it as a girl, when she often visited it in company with her father-in-law, the appreciative but dissolute Francois, and had ever longed to possess it for her own, before even her husband, now dead, had given it to “that old hag Diane de Poitiers, Duchesse de Valentinois.”

Diane paid no heed to Catherine’s command. She simply asked: “Is the king yet dead?”

“No, madame,” said the messenger, “but his wound is mortal; he can not live the day.”

“Tell the queen, then.” replied Diane, “that her reign is not yet come; that I am mistress still over her and the kingdom as long as the king breathes the breath of life.”

The chateau of Chenonceaux, so greatly coveted by Catherine when she first came to France, and when it was in the possession of Diane, still remains in all the regal splendor of its past. It lies in the lovely valley of the Cher, far from the rush and turmoil of cities and even the continuous traffic of great thoroughfares, for it is on the road to nowhere unless one is journeying crosscountry from the lower to the upper Loire. This very isolation resulted in its being one of the few monuments spared from the furies of the Revolution, and, “half-palace and half-chateau,” it glistens with the purity of its former glory, as picturesque as ever, with turrets, spires, and roof-tops all mellowed with the ages in a most entrancing manner.

Even to-day one enters the precincts of the chateau proper over a drawbridge which spans an arm of the Loire, or rather, a moat which leads directly from the parent stream. On the opposite side are the bridge piers supporting five arches, the work of Diane when she was the fair chatelaine of the domain. This ingenious thought proved to be a most useful and artistic addition to the chateau. It formed a flagged promenade, lovely in itself, and led to the southern bank of the Cher, whence one got charming vistas of the turrets and roof-tops of the chateau through the trees and the leafy avenues which converged upon the structure.

When Catherine came she did not disdain to make the best use of Diane’s innovation that suggested itself to her, which was simply to build the Long Gallery over the arches of this lovely bridge, and so make of it a veritable house over the water. A covering was made quite as beautiful as the rest of the structure, and thus the bridge formed a spacious wing of two stories. The first floor–known as the Long Gallery–was intended as a banqueting-hall, and possest four great full-length windows on either side looking up and down the stream, from which was seen–and is to-day–an outlook as magnificently idyllic as is possible to conceive. Jean Goujon had designed for the ceiling one of those wonder-works for which he was famous, but if the complete plan was ever carried out, it has disappeared, for only a tiny sketch of the whole scheme remains to-day.

Catherine came in the early summer to take possession of her long-coveted domain. Being a skilful horsewoman, she came on horseback, accompanied by a little band of feminine charmers destined to wheedle political secrets from friends and enemies alike–a real “flying squadron of the queen,” as it was called by a contemporary.

It was a gallant company that assembled here at this time–the young King Charles IX., the Duc de Guise, and the “two cardinals mounted on mules”–Lorraine, a true Guise, and D’Este, newly arrived from Italy, and accompanied by the poet Tasso, wearing a “gabardine and a hood of satin.” Catherine showed the Italian great favor, as was due a countryman, but there was another poet among them as well, Ronsard, the poet laureate of the time. The Duc de Guise had followed in the wake of Marguerite, unbeknown to Catherine, who frowned down any possibility of an alliance between the houses of Valois and Lorraine.

A great fete and water-masque had been arranged by Catherine to take place on the Cher, with a banquet to follow in the Long Gallery in honor of her arrival at Chenonceaux.

When twilight had fallen, torches were ignited and myriads of lights blazed forth from the boats on the river and from the windows of the chateau. Music and song went forth into the night, and all was as gay and lovely as a Venetian night’s entertainment. The hunting-horns echoed through the wooded banks, and through the arches above which the chateau was built passed great highly colored barges, including a fleet of gondolas to remind the queen-mother of her Italian days–the ancestors perhaps of the solitary gondola which to-day floats idly by the river-bank just before the grand entrance to the chateau. From parterre and balustrade, and from the clipt yews of the ornamental garden, fairy lamps burned forth and dwindled away into dim infinity, as the long lines of soft light gradually lost themselves in the forest. It was a grand affair and idyllic in its unworldliness …

Catherine bequeathed Chenonceaux to the wife of Henry III., Louise de Vaudemont, who died here in 1601. For a hundred years it still belonged to royalty, but in 1730 it was sold to M. Dupin, who, with his wife, enriched and repaired the fabric. They gathered around them a company so famous as to be memorable in the annals of art and literature. This is best shown by the citing of such names as Fontenelle, Montesquieu, Buffon, Bolingbroke, Voltaire, and Rousseau, all of whom were frequenters of the establishment, the latter being charged with the education of the Dupins’ only son.

Chenonceaux to-day is no whited sepulcher. It is a real living and livable thing, and moreover, when one visits it, he observes that the family burn great logs in their fireplaces, have luxurious bouquets of flowers on their dining-table, and use wax candles instead of the more prosaic oil-lamps, or worse–acetyline gas.


[Footnote A: From “Castles and Chateaux of Old Navarre.” By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, L.C. Page & Co. Copyright, 1907.]


Above the swift flowing Ariege in their superb setting of mountain and forest are the towers and parapets of the old chateau, in itself enough to make the name and fame of any city…. The actual age of the monument covers many epochs. The two square towers and the main edifice, as seen to-day, are anterior to the thirteenth century, as is proved by the design in the seals of the Comtes de Foix of 1215 and 1241 now in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In the fourteenth century these towers were strengthened and enlarged with the idea of making them more effective for defense and habitation.

The escutcheons of Foix, Beam and Comminges, to be seen in the great central tower, indicate that it, too, goes back at least to the end of the fourteenth century, when Eleanore de Comminges, the mother of Gaston Phoebus, ruled the Comte. The donjon or Tour Ronde arises on the west to a height of forty-two meters; and will be remarked by all familiar with these sermons in stones scattered all over France as one of the most graceful. Legend attributes it to Gaston Phoebus; but all authorities do not agree as to this. The window-and door-openings, the moldings, the accolade over the entrance doorway, and the machicoulis all denote that they belong to the latter half of the fifteenth century. These, however, may be later interpolations.

Originally one entered the chateau from exactly the opposite side from that used to-day. The slope leading up to the rock and swinging around in front of the town is an addition of recent years. Formerly the plateau was gained by a rugged path which finally entered the precincts of the fortress through a rectangular barbican.

Finally, to sum it up, the pleasant, smiling, trim little city of Foix, and its chateau rising romantically above it, form a delightful prospect. Well preserved, well protected and forever free from further desecration, the chateau de Fois is as nobly impressive and glorious a monument of the Middle Ages as may be found in France, as well as chief record of the gallant days of the Comtes de Foix. Foix’ Palais de Justice, built back to back with the rock foundation of the chateau, is itself a singular piece of architecture containing a small collection of local antiquities. This old Maison des Gouverneurs, now the Palais de Justice, is a banal, unlovely thing, regardless of its high-sounding titles….

It was that great hunter and warrior, Gaston Phoebus, who gave the Chateau de Foix its greatest lustre. It was here that this most brilliant and most celebrated of the counts passed his youth; and it was from here that he set out on his famous expedition to aid his brother knights of the Teutonic Order in Prussia. At Gaston’s orders the Comte d’Armagnac was imprisoned here, to be released after the payment of a heavy ransom. As to the motive for this particular act, authorities differ as to whether it was the fortune of war or mere brigandage.

They lived high, the nobles of the old days, and Froissart recounts a banquet at which he had assisted at Foix, in the sixteenth century, as follows:

“And this was what I saw in the Comte de Foix: The Comte left his chamber to sup at midnight, the way to the great ‘salle’ being led by twelve varlets, bearing twelve illumined torches. The great hall was crowded with knights and equerries, and those who would supped, saying nothing meanwhile. Mostly game seemed to be the favorite viand, and the legs and wings only of fowl were eaten. Music and chants were the invariable accompaniment and the company remained at table until after two in the morning. Little or nothing was drunk.”




[Footnote A: From “In and Out of Three Normandy Inns.” By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, Little Brown & Co. Copyright, 1892.]


The promised rivers were before us. So was the Mont, spectral no longer, but nearing with every plunge forward of our sturdy young Percheron. Locomotion through any new or untried medium is certain to bring with the experiment a dash of elation. Now, driving through water appears to be no longer the fashion in our fastidious century; someone might get a wetting, possibly, has been the conclusion of the prudent. And thus a very innocent and exciting bit of fun has been gradually relegated among the lost arts of pleasure.

We were taking water as we had never taken it before, and liking the method. We were as wet as ducks, but what cared we? We were being deluged with spray; the spume of the sea was spurting in our faces with the force of a strong wet breeze, and still we liked it. Besides, driving thus into the white foam of the waters, over the sand ridges, across the downs, into the wide plains of wet mud, this was the old classical way of going up to the Mont.

Surely, what had been found good enough as a pathway for kings, and saints and pilgrims should be good enough for lovers of old-time methods. The dike yonder was built for those who believe in the devil of haste, and for those who also serve him faithfully….

With our first toss upon the downs, a world of new and fresh experiences began. Genets was quite right; the Mont over yonder was another country; even at the very beginning of the journey we learned so much. This breeze blowing in from the sea, that had swept the ramparts of the famous rock, was a double extract of the sea-essence; it had all the salt of the sea and the aroma of firs and wild flowers; its lips had not kissed a garden in high air without the perfume lingering, if only to betray them.

Even this strip of meadow marsh had a character peculiar to itself; half of it belonged to earth and half to the sea. You might have thought it an inland pasture, with its herds of cattle, its flocks of sheep, and its colonies of geese patrolled by ragged urchins. But behold somewhere out yonder the pasture was lost in high sea-waves; ships with bulging sails replaced the curve of the cattle’s sides and instead of bending necks of sheep, there were sea-gulls swooping down upon the foamy waves.

As the incarnation of this dual life of sea and land, the rock stands. It also is both of the sea and the land. Its feet are of the waters–rocks and stones the sea-waves have used as playthings these millions of years. But earth regains possession as the rocks pile themselves into a mountain. Even from this distance, one can see the moving of great trees, the masses of yellow flower-tips that dye the sides of the stony hill, and the strips of green grass here and there.

So much has nature done for this wonderful pyramid in the sea. Then man came and fashioned it to his liking. He piled the stones at its base into titanic walls; he carved about its sides the rounded breasts of bastions; he piled higher and higher up the dizzy heights a medley of palaces, convents, abbeys, cloisters, to lay at the very top the fitting crown of all, a jewelled Norman-Gothic cathedral.

Earth and man have thrown their gauntlet down to the sea–this rock is theirs, they cry to the waves and the might of the oceans. And the sea laughs–as strong men laugh when boys are angry or insistent. She has let them build and toil, and pray and fight; it is all one to her what is done on the rock–whether men carve its stones into lace, or rot and die in its dungeons; it is all the same to her whether each spring the daffodils creep up within the crevices and the irises nod to them from the gardens.

It is all one to her. For twice a day she recaptures the Mont. She encircles it with the strong arm of her tides; with the might of her waters she makes it once more a thing of the sea.

The tide was rising now.

The fringe of the downs had dabbled in the shoals till they became one. We had left behind the last of the shepherd lads, come out to the edge of the land to search for a wandering kid. We were all at once plunging into high water. Our road was sunk out of sight; we were driving through, waves as high as our cart wheels….

Our cart still pitched and tossed–we were still rocked about in our rough cradle. But the sun, now freed from the banks of clouds, was lighting our way with a great and sudden glory. And for the rest of our watery journey we were conscious only of that lighting. Behind the Mont lay a vast sea of saffron. But it was in the sky; against it the great rock was as black as if the night were upon it.

Here and there, through the curve of a flying buttress, or the apertures of a pierced parapet, gay bits of this yellow world were caught and framed. The sea lay beneath like a quiet carpet; and over this carpet ships and sloops swam with easy gliding motion, with sails and cordage dipt in gold. The smaller craft, moored close to the shore, seemed transfigured as in a fog of gold. And nearer still were the brown walls of the Mont making a great shadow, and in the shadow the waters were as black as the skin of an African. In the shoals there were lovely masses of turquoise and palest green; for here and there a cloudlet passed, to mirror its complexion in the translucent pools….

There was a rapid dashing beneath the great walls; a sudden night of darkness as we plunged through an open archway into a narrow village street; a confused impression of houses built into side-walls; of machicolated gateways; of rocks and roof-tops tumbling about our ears; and within the street was sounding the babel of a shrieking troop of men and women. Porters, peasants, and children were clamoring about our cartwheels like so many jackals. The bedlam did not cease as we stopt before a brightly-lit open doorway.

Then through the doorway there came a tall, finely featured brunette. She made her way through the yelling crowd as a duchess might cleave a path through a rabble. She was at the side of the cart in an instant. She gave us a bow and smile that were both a welcome and an act of appropriation. She held out a firm, soft, brown hand. When it closed on our own, we knew it to be the grasp of a friend, and the clasp of one who knew how to hold her world. But when she spoke the words were all of velvet, and her voice had the cadence of a caress.

“I have been watching you, ‘cheres dames’–crossing the ‘greve,’ but how wet and weary you must be! Come in by the fire, it is ablaze now–I have been feeding it for you!”

And once more the beautifully curved lips parted over the fine teeth, and the exceeding brightness of the dark eyes smiled and glittered in our own. The caressing voice still led us forward, into the great gay kitchen; the touch of skilful, discreet fingers undid wet cloaks and wraps; the soft charm of a lovely and gracious woman made even the penetrating warmth of the huge fire-logs a secondary feature of our welcome.

To those who have never crossed a “greve;” who have had no jolting in a Normandy “char-a-banc;” who, for hours, have not known the mixed pleasures and discomfort of being a part of sea-rivers; and who have not been met at the threshold of an Inn on a Rock by the smiling welcome of Madame Poulard[A]–all such have yet a pleasant page to read in the book of traveled experience….

[Footnote A: An innkeeper of international fame. She is now dead, but her name and her omelet still survive at Mont St. Michel.]

Altho her people were waiting below, and the dinner was on its way to the cloth, Madame Poulard had plenty of time to give to the beauty about her. How fine was the outlook from the top of the ramparts! What a fresh sensation, this of standing-on a terrace in mid-air and looking down on the sea and across to the level shores. The rose vines–we found them sweet–“Ah”–one of the branches had fallen–she had full time to re-adjust the loosened support. And “Marianne, give these ladies their hot water, and see to their bags”–even this order was given with courtesy. It was only when the supple, agile figure had left us to fly down the steep rock-cut steps; when it shot over the top of the gateway and slid with the grace of a lizard into the street far below us, that we were made sensible of there having been any special need of madame’s being in haste …

The Mont proved by its appearance its history in adventure; it had the grim, grave, battered look that comes only to features–whether of rock or of more plastic human mold–that have been carved by the rough handling of experience.

It is the common habit of hills and mountains, as we all know, to turn disdainful as they grow skyward; they only too eagerly drop, one by one, the things by which man has marked the earth for his own. To stand on a mountain top and to go down to your grave are alike, at least in this–that you have left everything, except yourself, behind you. But it is both the charm and the triumph of Mont St. Michael, that it carries so much of man’s handiwork up into the blue fields of the air; this achievement alone would mark it as unique among hills. It appears as if for once man and nature had agreed to work in concert to produce a masterpiece in stone. The hill and the architectural beauties it carries aloft, are like a taunt flung out to sea and to the upper heights of air; for centuries they appear to have been crying aloud, “See what we can do, against your tempests and your futile tides–when we try” … Rustic France along this coast still makes pilgrimages to the shrine of the Archangel St. Michael. No marriage is rightly arranged which does not include a wedding-journey across the “greve”; no nuptial breakfast is aureoled with the true halo of romance which is eaten elsewhere than on these heights in mid-air. The young come to drink deep of wonders; the old, to refresh the depleted fountains of memory; and the tourist, behold he is a plague of locusts let loose upon the defenseless hill!

It was impossible, after sojourning a certain time upon the hill, not to concede that there were two equally strong centers of attraction that drew the world hitherward. One remained, indeed, gravely suspended between the doubt and the fear, as to which of these potential units had the greater pull, in point of actual attraction. The impartial historian, given to a just weighing of evidence, would have been startled to find how invariably the scales tipped; how lightly an historical Mont, born of a miracle, crowned by the noblest buildings, a pious Mecca for saints and kings innumerable, shot up like feathers in lightness when overweighted by the modern realities of a perfectly appointed inn, the cooking and eating of an omelet of omelets, and the all-conquering charms of Madame Poulard.

The fog of doubt thickened as, day after day, the same scenes were enacted; when one beheld all sorts of conditions of men similarly affected; when, again and again, the potentiality in the human magnet was proved true. Doubt turned to conviction, at the last, that the holy shrine of St. Michael had, in truth, been violated; that the Mont had been desecrated; that the latter exists now solely as a setting for a pearl of an inn; and that within the shrine–it is Madame Poulard herself who fills the niche!…

Such a variety of brides as come up to the Mont! You could have your choice, at the midday meal, of almost any nationality, age, or color. The attempt among these bridal couples to maintain the distant air of a finished indifference only made their secret the more open. The British phlegm, on such a journey, did not always serve as a convenient mask; the flattering, timid glance, the ripple of tender whispers, and the furtive touching of fingers beneath the table, made even these English couples a part of the great human marrying family; their superiority to their fellows would return, doubtless, when the honey had dried out of their moon.

The best of our adventures into this tender country were with the French bridal tourists; they were certain to be delightfully human. As we had had occasion to remark before, they were off, like ourselves, on a little voyage of discovery; they had come to make acquaintance with the being to whom they were mated for life. Various degrees of progress could be read in the air and manner of the hearty young “bourgeoises” and their paler or even ruddier partners, as they crunched their bread or sipped their thin wine. Some had only entered as yet upon the path of inquiry; others had already passed the mile-stone of criticism; and still others had left the earth and were floating in full azure of intoxication. Of the many wedding parties that sat down to breakfast, we soon made the commonplace discovery that the more plebeian the company, the more certain-orbed appeared to be the promise of happiness….

Madame Poulard’s air with this, her world, was as full of tact as with the tourists. Many of the older women would give her the Norman kiss, solemnly, as if the salute were a part of the ceremony attendant on the eating of a wedding breakfast at Mont St. Michel. There would be a three times’ clapping of the wrinkled or the ruddy peasant cheeks against the sides of Madame Poulard’s daintier, more delicately modeled face. Then all would take their seats noisily at the table. It was Madame Poulard who would then bring us news of the party. At the end of a fortnight Charm and I felt ourselves to be in possession of the hidden and secret reasons for all the marrying that had been done along the coast that year….

One morning, as we looked toward Pontorson, a small black cloud appeared to be advancing across the bay. The day was windy; the sky was crowded with huge white mountains–round, luminous clouds that moved in stately sweeps. And the sea was the color one loves to see in an earnest woman’s eye, the dark blue sapphire that turns to blue-gray. This was a setting that made that particular cloud, making such slow progress across from the shore, all the more conspicuous. Gradually, as the black mass neared the dike, it began to break and separate; and we saw plainly enough that the scattering particles were human beings.

It was, in point of fact, a band of pilgrims; a peasant pilgrimage was coming up to the Mont. In wagons, in market carts, in “char-a-bancs,” in donkey carts, on the backs of monster Percherons–the pilgrimage moved in slow processional dignity across the dike. Some of the younger black gowns and blue blouses attempted to walk across over the sands; we could see the girls sitting down on the edge of the shore, to take off their shoes and stockings and to tuck up their thick skirts. When they finally started they were like unto so many huge cheeses hoisted on stilts. The bare legs plunged boldly forward, keeping ahead of the slower-moving peasant lads; the girls’ bravery served them till they reached the fringe of the incoming tide; not until their knees went under water did they forego their venture. A higher wave came in, deluging the ones farthest out; and then ensued a scampering toward the dike and a climbing up of the stone embankment. The old route across the sands, that had been the only one known to kings and barons, was not good enough for a modern Norman peasant. The religion of personal comfort has spread even as far as the fields.

Other aspects of the hill, on this day of the pilgrimage, made those older dead-and-gone bands of pilgrims astonishingly real. On the tops of bastions, in the clefts on the rocks, beneath the glorious walls of La Merveille, or perilously lodged on the crumbling cornice of a tourelle, numerous rude altars had been hastily erected. The crude blues and scarlets of banners were fluttering, like so many pennants, in the light breeze. Beneath the improvised altar-roofs–strips of gay cloth stretched across poles stuck into the ground–were groups not often seen in these less fervent centuries.

High up, mounted on the natural pulpit, formed of a bit of rock, with the rude altar before him with its bits of scarlet cloth covered with cheap lace, stood or knelt the priest. Against the wide blue of the open heaven his figure took on an imposing splendor of mien and an unmodern impressiveness of action. Beneath him knelt, with bowed heads, the groups of the peasant pilgrims; the women, with murmuring lips and clasped hands, their strong, deeply-seamed faces outlined with the precision of a Francesco painting against the gray background of a giant mass of wall or the amazing breadth of a vast sea-view; children, squat and chubby, with bulging cheeks starting from the close-fitting French “bonnet”; and the peasant-farmers, mostly of the older varieties, whose stiffened or rheumatic knees and knotty hands made their kneeling real acts of devotional zeal.

There were a dozen such altars and groups scattered over the perpendicular slant of the hill. The singing of the choir boys, rising like skylark notes into the clear space of heaven, would be floating from one rocky-nested chapel, while below, in the one beneath which we, for a moment, were resting, there would be the groaning murmur of the peasant groups in prayer.

Three times did the vision of St. Michael appear to Saint Aubert, in his dream, commanding the latter to erect a church on the heights of Mont St. Michel to his honor. How many a time must the modern pilgrim traverse the stupendous mass that has grown out of that command before he is quite certain that the splendor of Mont St. Michel is real, and not part of a dream!

Whether one enters through the dark magnificence of the great portals of the Chatelet; whether one mounts the fortified stairway, passing into the Salle des Gardes, passing onward from dungeon to fortified bridge to gain the abbatial residence; whether one leaves the vaulted splendor of oratories for aerial passageways, only to emerge beneath the majestic roof of the Cathedral–that marvel of the Early Norman, ending in the Gothic choir of the fifteenth century; or, as one penetrates into the gloom of the mighty dungeons where heroes, and brothers of kings, and saints, and scientists have died their long death–as one gropes through the black night of the crypt, where a faint, mysterious glint of light falls aslant the mystical face of the Black Virgin; as one climbs to the light beneath the ogive arches of the Aumonerie, through the wide-lit aisles of the Salle des Chevaliers, past the slender Gothic columns of the Refectory, up at last to the crowning glory of all the glories of La Merveille, to the exquisitely beautiful colonnades of the open Cloister–the impressions and emotions excited by these ecclesiastical and military masterpieces are ever the same, however many times one may pass them in review. A charm indefinable, but replete with subtle attractions, lurks in every one of these dungeons.

The great halls have a power to make one retraverse their space I have yet to find under other vaulted chambers. The grass that is set, like a green jewel, in the arabesques of the cloister, is a bit of greensward the feet press with a different tread to that which skips lightly over other strips of turf. And the world, that one looks out upon through prison bars, that is so gloriously arched in the arm of a flying buttress, or that lies prone at your feet from the dizzy heights of the rock clefts, is not the world in which you, daily, do your petty stretch of toil, in which you laugh and ache, sorrow, sigh, and go down to your grave.

The secret of this deep attraction may lie in the fact of one’s being in a world that is built on a height. Much, doubtless, of the charm lies, also, in the reminders of all the human life that, since the early dawn of history, has peopled this hill. One has the sense of living at a tremendously high mental pressure; of impressions, emotions, sensations crowding upon the mind; of one’s whole meager outfit of memory, of poetic equipment, and of imaginative furnishing being unequal to the demand made by even the most hurried tour of the great buildings, or the most flitting review of the noble massing of the clouds and the hilly seas.

The very emptiness and desolation of all the buildings on the hill help to accentuate their splendor. The stage is magnificently set; the curtain, even, is lifted. One waits for the coming on of kingly shapes, for the pomp of trumpets, for the pattering of a mighty host. But, behold, all is still. And one sits and sees only a shadowy company pass and repass across that glorious mise-en-scene.

For, in a certain sense, I know no other medieval mass of buildings as peopled as are these. The dead shapes seem to fill the vast halls. The Salle des Chevaliers is crowded, daily, with a brilliant gathering of knights, who sweep the trains of their white damask mantles, edged with ermine, over the dulled marble of the floor; two by two they enter the hall; the golden shells on their mantles make the eyes blink, as the groups gather about the great chimneys, or wander through the column-broken space.

Behind this dazzling cortege, up the steep steps of the narrow streets, swarm other groups–the medieval pilgrim host that rushes into cathedral aisles, and that climbs the ramparts to watch the stately procession as it makes its way toward the church portals.

There are still other figures that fill every empty niche and deserted watch-tower. Through the lancet windows of the abbatial gateways the yeomanry of the vassal villages are peering; it is the weary time of the Hundred Years’ War, and all France is watching, through sentry windows, for the approach of her dread enemy. On the shifting sands below, as on brass, how indelibly fixt are the names of the hundred and twenty-nine knights whose courage drove, step by step, over that treacherous surface, the English invaders back to their island strongholds.


[Footnote A: From “A Bibliographical Tour in France and Germany.”]


Let us begin, therefore, with the Abbey of St. Stephen; for it is the noblest and most interesting on many accounts. It is called by the name of that saint, inasmuch as there stood formerly a chapel, on the same site, dedicated to him. The present building was completed and solemnly dedicated by William the Conqueror, in the presence of his wife, his two sons Robert and William, his favorite, Archbishop Lanfranc; John, Archbishop of Rouen, and Thomas, Archbishop of York–toward the year 1080; but I strongly suspect, from the present prevailing character of the architecture, that nothing more than the west front and the towers upon which the spires rest remain of its ancient structure. The spires, as the Abbe De La Rue conjectures, and as I should also have thought, are about two centuries later than the towers.

The outsides of the side aisles appear to be of the thirteenth, rather than of the end of the eleventh, century. The first exterior view of the west front, and of the towers, is extremely interesting from the gray and clear tint, as well as excellent quality, of the stone, which, according to Huet, was brought partly from Vaucelle and partly from Allemagne. One of the corner abutments of one of the towers has fallen down and a great portion of what remains seem to indicate rapid decay. The whole stands indeed greatly in need of reparation. Ducarel, if I remember rightly, has made, of this whole front, a sort of elevation as if it were intended for a wooden model to work by, having all the stiffness and precision of an erection of forty-eight hours’ standing only. The central tower is of very stunted dimensions, and overwhelmed by a roof in the form of an extinguisher. This, in fact, was the consequence of the devastations of the Calvinists; who absolutely sapped the foundation of the tower, with the hope of overwhelming the whole choir in ruin–but a part only of their malignant object was accomplished. The component parts of the eastern extremity are strangely and barbarously miscellaneous. However, no good commanding exterior view can be obtained from the place, or confined square, opposite the towers.

But let us return to the west front; and, opening the unfastened green baize covered door, enter softly and silently into the venerable interior–sacred even to the feelings of Englishmen. Of this interior, very much is changed from its original character. The side aisles retain their flattened arched roofs and pillars; and in the nave you observe those rounded pilasters–or altorilievo-like pillars–running from bottom to top, which are to be seen in the Abbey of Jumieges. The capitals of these long pillars are comparatively of modern date.

To the left on entrance, within a side chapel, is the burial place of Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror. The tombstone attesting her interment is undoubtedly of the time. Generally speaking, the interior is cold, and dull of effect. The side chapels, of which not fewer than sixteen encircle the choir, have the discordant accompaniments of Grecian balustrades to separate them from the choir and nave.

To the right of the choir, in the sacristy, I think, is hung the huge portrait, in oil, within a black and gilt frame, of which Ducarel has published an engraving, on the supposition of its being the portrait of William the Conqueror. But nothing can be more ridiculous than such a conclusion. In the first place, the picture itself, which is a palpable copy, can not be older than a century; and in the second place, were it an original performance, it could not be older than the time of Francis I. In fact, it purports to have been executed as a faithful copy of the figure of King William, seen by the Cardinals in 1522, who were seized with a sacred frenzy to take a peep at the body as it might exist at that time. The costume of the oil painting is evidently that of the period of our Henry VIII.; and to suppose that the body of William–even had it remained in so surprisingly perfect a state as Ducarel intimates, after an interment of upward of four hundred years–could have presented such a costume, when, from Ducarel’s own statement, another whole-length representation of the same person is totally different–and more decidedly of the character of William’s time–is really quite a reproach to any antiquary who plumes himself upon the possession even of common sense.

In the middle of the choir, and just before the high altar, the body of the Conqueror was entombed with great pomp; and a monument erected to his memory of the most elaborate and costly description. Nothing now remains but a flat, black marble slab, with a short inscription, of quite a recent date….

You must now attend me to the most interesting public building, perhaps all things considered, which is to be seen at Caen. I mean the Abbey of the Holy Trinity, or L’Abbaye aux Dames. This abbey was founded by the wife of the Conqueror, about the same time that William erected that of St. Stephen. Ducarel’s description of it, which I have just seen in a copy of the “Anglo-Norman Antiquities,” in a bookseller’s shop, is sufficiently meager. His plates are also sufficiently miserable: but things are strangely altered since his time. The nave of the church is occupied by a manufactory for making cordage, or twine: and upward of a hundred lads are now busied in their flaxen occupations, where formerly the nun knelt before the cross, or was occupied in auricular confession.

The entrance at the western extremity is entirely stopt up; but the exterior gives manifest proof of an antiquity equal to that of the Abbey of St. Stephen. The upper part of the towers are palpably of the fifteenth or, rather, of the early part of the sixteenth century. I had no opportunity of judging of the neat pavement of the floor of the nave, in white and black marble, as noticed by Ducarel, on account of the occupation of this part of the building by the manufacturing children; but I saw some very ancient tombstones, one, I think, of the twelfth century, which had been removed from the nave or side aisles, and were placed against the sides of the north transept.

The nave is entirely walled up from the transepts, but the choir is fortunately preserved; and a more perfect and interesting specimen of its kind, of the same antiquity, is perhaps nowhere to be seen in Normandy. All the monuments as well as the altars, described by Ducarel, are now taken away. Having ascended a stone staircase, we got into the upper part of the choir, above the first row of pillars–and walked along the wall. This was rather adventurous, you will say; but a more adventurous spirit of curiosity had nearly proved fatal to me; for, on quitting daylight, we pursued a winding stone staircase, in our way to the central tower–to enjoy from hence a view of the town. I almost tremble as I relate it.

There had been put up a sort of temporary wooden staircase, leading absolutely to nothing; or, rather, to a dark void space. I happened to be foremost in ascending, yet groping in the dark–with the guide luckily close behind me. Having reached the topmost step, I was raising my foot to a supposed higher or succeeding step–but there was none. A depth of eighteen feet at least was below me. The guide caught my coat, as I was about to lose my balance, and roared out, “Wait–Stop!” The least balance or inclination, one way or the other, is sufficient, upon these critical occasions; when luckily, from his catching my coat, and pulling me, in consequence, slightly backward, my fall and my life, were equally saved! I have reason from henceforth to remember the Abbey aux Dames at Caen.

I gained the top of the central tower, which is not of equal altitude with those of the western extremity, and from hence surveyed the town, as well as the drizzling rain would permit. I saw enough, however, to convince me that the site of this abbey is fine and commanding. Indeed, it stands nearly upon the highest ground in the town. Ducarel had not the glorious ambition to mount to the top of the tower; nor did he even possess that most commendable of all species of architectural curiosity, a wish to visit the crypt. Thus, in either extremity, I evinced a more laudable spirit of enterprise than did my old-fashioned predecessor. Accordingly, from the summit, you must accompany me to the lowest depth of the building. I descended by the same somewhat intricate route, and I took especial care to avoid all “temporary wooden staircase.” The crypt, beneath the choir, is perhaps of yet greater interest and beauty than the choir itself. Within an old, very old, stone coffin–at the further circular end–are the pulverized remains of one of the earliest abbesses. I gazed around with mixed sensations of veneration and awe, and threw myself back into centuries past, fancying that the shrouded figure of Maltilda herself glided by, with a look as if to approve of my antiquarian enthusiasm!

Having gratified my curiosity by a careful survey of the subterranean abode, I revisited the regions of daylight, and made toward the large building, now a manufactory, which in Ducarel’s time had been a nunnery. The revolution has swept away every human being in the character of a nun; but the director of the manufactory showed me, with great civility, some relics of old crosses, rings, veils, lacrimatories, etc., which had been taken from the crypt I had recently visited. These relics savored of considerable antiquity. Tom Hearne would have set about proving that they must have belonged to Matilda herself; but I will have neither the presumption nor the merit of attempting this proof. They seemed, indeed, to have undergone half a dozen decompositions. Upon the whole, if our Antiquarian Society, after having exhausted the cathedrals of their own country, should ever think of perpetuating the principal ecclesiastical edifices of Normandy, by means of the art of engraving, let them begin their labors with the Abbey aux Dames at Caen.


[Footnote A: From “A Tour Through the Pyrenees.” By special arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, Henry Holt & Co. Copyright, 1873.]


The river is so fine that, before going to Bayonne, I have come down as far as Royan. Ships heavy with white sails ascend slowly on both sides of the boat. At each gust of wind they incline like idle birds, lifting their long wings and showing their black bellies. They run slantwise, then come back; one would say that they felt the better for being in this great fresh-water harbor; they loiter in it and enjoy its peace after leaving the wrath and inclemency of the ocean.

The banks, fringed with pale verdure, glide right and left, far away to the verge of heaven; the river is broad like a sea; at this distance you might think you had seen two hedges; the trees dimly lift their delicate shapes in a robe of bluish gauze; here and there great pines raise their umbrellas on the vapory horizon, where all is confused and vanishing; there is an inexpressible sweetness in these first hues of the timid day, softened still by the fog which exhales from the deep river.

As for the river itself, its waters stretch out joyous and splendid; the rising sun pours upon its breast a long streamlet of gold; the breeze covers it with scales; its eddies stretch themselves, and tremble like an awaking serpent, and, when the billow heaves them, you seem to see the striped flanks, the tawny cuirass of a leviathan.

Indeed, at such moments it seems that the water must live and feel; it has a strange look, when it comes, transparent and somber, to stretch itself upon a beach of pebbles; it turns about them as if uneasy and irritated; it beats them with its wavelets; it covers them, then retires, then comes back again with a sort of languid writhing and mysterious lovingness; its snaky eddies, its little crests suddenly beaten down or broken, its wave, sloping, shining, then all at once blackened, resembles the flashes of passion in an impatient mother, who hovers incessantly and anxiously about her children, and covers them, not knowing what she wants and what fears.

Presently a cloud has covered the heavens, and the wind has risen. In a moment the river has assumed the aspect of a crafty and savage animal. It hollowed itself, and showed its livid belly; it came against the keel with convulsive starts, hugged it, and dashed against it, as if to try its force; as far as one could see, its waves lifted themselves and crowded together, like the muscles upon a chest; over the flank of the waves passed flashes with sinister smiles; the mast groaned, and the trees bent shivering, like a nerveless crowd before the wrath of a fearful beast. Then all was hushed; the sun had burst forth, the waves were smoothed, you now see only a laughing expanse; spun out over this polished back a thousand greenish tresses sported wantonly; the light rested on it, like a diaphanous mantle; it followed the supple movements and the twisting of those liquid arms; it folded around them, behind them, its radiant, azure robe; it took their caprices and their mobile colors; the river meanwhile, slumbrous in its great, peaceful bed, was stretched out at the feet of the hills, which looked down upon it, like it immovable and eternal.

The boat is made fast to a boom, under a pile of white houses; it is Royan. Here already are the sea and the dunes; the right of the village is buried under a mass of sand; there are crumbling hills,