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Essays of Travel by Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 3 out of 4

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in the Ardennes, or some other holy intercessor who has made a
speciality of the health of hunting-dogs. In the grey dawn the
game was turned and the branch broken by our best piqueur. A rare
day's hunting lies before us. Wind a jolly flourish, sound the
bien-aller with all your lungs. Jacques must stand by, hat in
hand, while the quarry and hound and huntsman sweep across his
field, and a year's sparing and labouring is as though it had not
been. If he can see the ruin with a good enough grace, who knows
but he may fall in favour with my lord; who knows but his son may
become the last and least among the servants at his lordship's
kennel--one of the two poor varlets who get no wages and sleep at
night among the hounds? {4}

For all that, the forest has been of use to Jacques, not only
warming him with fallen wood, but giving him shelter in days of
sore trouble, when my lord of the chateau, with all his troopers
and trumpets, had been beaten from field after field into some
ultimate fastness, or lay over-seas in an English prison. In these
dark days, when the watch on the church steeple saw the smoke of
burning villages on the sky-line, or a clump of spears and
fluttering pensions drawing nigh across the plain, these good folk
gat them up, with all their household gods, into the wood, whence,
from some high spur, their timid scouts might overlook the coming
and going of the marauders, and see the harvest ridden down, and
church and cottage go up to heaven all night in flame. It was but
an unhomely refuge that the woods afforded, where they must abide
all change of weather and keep house with wolves and vipers. Often
there was none left alive, when they returned, to show the old
divisions of field from field. And yet, as times went, when the
wolves entered at night into depopulated Paris, and perhaps De Retz
was passing by with a company of demons like himself, even in these
caves and thickets there were glad hearts and grateful prayers.

Once or twice, as I say, in the course of the ages, the forest may
have served the peasant well, but at heart it is a royal forest,
and noble by old associations. These woods have rung to the horns
of all the kings of France, from Philip Augustus downwards. They
have seen Saint Louis exercise the dogs he brought with him from
Egypt; Francis I. go a-hunting with ten thousand horses in his
train; and Peter of Russia following his first stag. And so they
are still haunted for the imagination by royal hunts and
progresses, and peopled with the faces of memorable men of yore.
And this distinction is not only in virtue of the pastime of dead

Great events, great revolutions, great cycles in the affairs of
men, have here left their note, here taken shape in some
significant and dramatic situation. It was hence that Gruise and
his leaguers led Charles the Ninth a prisoner to Paris. Here,
booted and spurred, and with all his dogs about him, Napoleon met
the Pope beside a woodland cross. Here, on his way to Elba not so
long after, he kissed the eagle of the Old Guard, and spoke words
of passionate farewell to his soldiers. And here, after Waterloo,
rather than yield its ensign to the new power, one of his faithful
regiments burned that memorial of so much toil and glory on the
Grand Master's table, and drank its dust in brandy, as a devout
priest consumes the remnants of the Host.


Close into the edge of the forest, so close that the trees of the
bornage stand pleasantly about the last houses, sits a certain
small and very quiet village. There is but one street, and that,
not long ago, was a green lane, where the cattle browsed between
the doorsteps. As you go up this street, drawing ever nearer the
beginning of the wood, you will arrive at last before an inn where
artists lodge. To the door (for I imagine it to be six o'clock on
some fine summer's even), half a dozen, or maybe half a score, of
people have brought out chairs, and now sit sunning themselves, and
waiting the omnibus from Melun. If you go on into the court you
will find as many more, some in billiard-room over absinthe and a
match of corks some without over a last cigar and a vermouth. The
doves coo and flutter from the dovecot; Hortense is drawing water
from the well; and as all the rooms open into the court, you can
see the white-capped cook over the furnace in the kitchen, and some
idle painter, who has stored his canvases and washed his brushes,
jangling a waltz on the crazy, tongue-tied piano in the salle-a-
manger. 'Edmond, encore un vermouth,' cries a man in velveteen,
adding in a tone of apologetic afterthought, 'un double, s'il vous
plait.' 'Where are you working?' asks one in pure white linen from
top to toe. 'At the Carrefour de l'Epine,' returns the other in
corduroy (they are all gaitered, by the way). 'I couldn't do a
thing to it. I ran out of white. Where were you?' 'I wasn't
working. I was looking for motives.' Here is an outbreak of
jubilation, and a lot of men clustering together about some new-
comer with outstretched hands; perhaps the 'correspondence' has
come in and brought So-and-so from Paris, or perhaps it is only So-
and-so who has walked over from Chailly to dinner.

'A table, Messieurs!' cries M. Siron, bearing through the court the
first tureen of soup. And immediately the company begins to settle
down about the long tables in the dining-room, framed all round
with sketches of all degrees of merit and demerit. There's the big
picture of the huntsman winding a horn with a dead boar between his
legs, and his legs--well, his legs in stockings. And here is the
little picture of a raw mutton-chop, in which Such-a-one knocked a
hole last summer with no worse a missile than a plum from the
dessert. And under all these works of art so much eating goes
forward, so much drinking, so much jabbering in French and English,
that it would do your heart good merely to peep and listen at the
door. One man is telling how they all went last year to the fete
at Fleury, and another how well so-and-so would sing of an evening:
and here are a third and fourth making plans for the whole future
of their lives; and there is a fifth imitating a conjurer and
making faces on his clenched fist, surely of all arts the most
difficult and admirable! A sixth has eaten his fill, lights a
cigarette, and resigns himself to digestion. A seventh has just
dropped in, and calls for soup. Number eight, meanwhile, has left
the table, and is once more trampling the poor piano under powerful
and uncertain fingers.

Dinner over, people drop outside to smoke and chat. Perhaps we go
along to visit our friends at the other end of the village, where
there is always a good welcome and a good talk, and perhaps some
pickled oysters and white wine to close the evening. Or a dance is
organised in the dining-room, and the piano exhibits all its paces
under manful jockeying, to the light of three or four candles and a
lamp or two, while the waltzers move to and fro upon the wooden
floor, and sober men, who are not given to such light pleasures,
get up on the table or the sideboard, and sit there looking on
approvingly over a pipe and a tumbler of wine. Or sometimes--
suppose my lady moon looks forth, and the court from out the half-
lit dining-room seems nearly as bright as by day, and the light
picks out the window-panes, and makes a clear shadow under every
vine-leaf on the wall--sometimes a picnic is proposed, and a basket
made ready, and a good procession formed in front of the hotel.
The two trumpeters in honour go before; and as we file down the
long alley, and up through devious footpaths among rocks and pine-
trees, with every here and there a dark passage of shadow, and
every here and there a spacious outlook over moonlit woods, these
two precede us and sound many a jolly flourish as they walk. We
gather ferns and dry boughs into the cavern, and soon a good blaze
flutters the shadows of the old bandits' haunt, and shows shapely
beards and comely faces and toilettes ranged about the wall. The
bowl is lit, and the punch is burnt and sent round in scalding
thimblefuls. So a good hour or two may pass with song and jest.
And then we go home in the moonlit morning, straggling a good deal
among the birch tufts and the boulders, but ever called together
again, as one of our leaders winds his horn. Perhaps some one of
the party will not heed the summons, but chooses out some by-way of
his own. As he follows the winding sandy road, he hears the
flourishes grow fainter and fainter in the distance, and die
finally out, and still walks on in the strange coolness and silence
and between the crisp lights and shadows of the moonlit woods,
until suddenly the bell rings out the hour from far-away Chailly,
and he starts to find himself alone. No surf-bell on forlorn and
perilous shores, no passing knell over the busy market-place, can
speak with a more heavy and disconsolate tongue to human ears.
Each stroke calls up a host of ghostly reverberations in his mind.
And as he stands rooted, it has grown once more so utterly silent
that it seems to him he might hear the church bells ring the hour
out all the world over, not at Chailly only, but in Paris, and away
in outlandish cities, and in the village on the river, where his
childhood passed between the sun and flowers.


The woods by night, in all their uncanny effect, are not rightly to
be understood until you can compare them with the woods by day.
The stillness of the medium, the floor of glittering sand, these
trees that go streaming up like monstrous sea-weeds and waver in
the moving winds like the weeds in submarine currents, all these
set the mind working on the thought of what you may have seen off a
foreland or over the side of a boat, and make you feel like a
diver, down in the quiet water, fathoms below the tumbling,
transitory surface of the sea. And yet in itself, as I say, the
strangeness of these nocturnal solitudes is not to be felt fully
without the sense of contrast. You must have risen in the morning
and seen the woods as they are by day, kindled and coloured in the
sun's light; you must have felt the odour of innumerable trees at
even, the unsparing heat along the forest roads, and the coolness
of the groves.

And on the first morning you will doubtless rise betimes. If you
have not been wakened before by the visit of some adventurous
pigeon, you will be wakened as soon as the sun can reach your
window--for there are no blind or shutters to keep him out--and the
room, with its bare wood floor and bare whitewashed walls, shines
all round you in a sort of glory of reflected lights. You may doze
a while longer by snatches, or lie awake to study the charcoal men
and dogs and horses with which former occupants have defiled the
partitions: Thiers, with wily profile; local celebrities, pipe in
hand; or, maybe, a romantic landscape splashed in oil. Meanwhile
artist after artist drops into the salle-a-manger for coffee, and
then shoulders easel, sunshade, stool, and paint-box, bound into a
fagot, and sets of for what he calls his 'motive.' And artist
after artist, as he goes out of the village, carries with him a
little following of dogs. For the dogs, who belong only nominally
to any special master, hang about the gate of the forest all day
long, and whenever any one goes by who hits their fancy, profit by
his escort, and go forth with him to play an hour or two at
hunting. They would like to be under the trees all day. But they
cannot go alone. They require a pretext. And so they take the
passing artist as an excuse to go into the woods, as they might
take a walking-stick as an excuse to bathe. With quick ears, long
spines, and bandy legs, or perhaps as tall as a greyhound and with
a bulldog's head, this company of mongrels will trot by your side
all day and come home with you at night, still showing white teeth
and wagging stunted tail. Their good humour is not to be
exhausted. You may pelt them with stones if you please, and all
they will do is to give you a wider berth. If once they come out
with you, to you they will remain faithful, and with you return;
although if you meet them next morning in the street, it is as like
as not they will cut you with a countenance of brass.

The forest--a strange thing for an Englishman--is very destitute of
birds. This is no country where every patch of wood among the
meadows gibes up an increase of song, and every valley wandered
through by a streamlet rings and reverberates from side to with a
profusion of clear notes. And this rarity of birds is not to be
regretted on its own account only. For the insects prosper in
their absence, and become as one of the plagues of Egypt. Ants
swarm in the hot sand; mosquitos drone their nasal drone; wherever
the sun finds a hole in the roof of the forest, you see a myriad
transparent creatures coming and going in the shaft of light; and
even between-whiles, even where there is no incursion of sun-rays
into the dark arcade of the wood, you are conscious of a continual
drift of insects, an ebb and flow of infinitesimal living things
between the trees. Nor are insects the only evil creatures that
haunt the forest. For you may plump into a cave among the rocks,
and find yourself face to face with a wild boar, or see a crooked
viper slither across the road.

Perhaps you may set yourself down in the bay between two spreading
beech-roots with a book on your lap, and be awakened all of a
sudden by a friend: 'I say, just keep where you are, will you?
You make the jolliest motive.' And you reply: 'Well, I don't
mind, if I may smoke.' And thereafter the hours go idly by. Your
friend at the easel labours doggedly a little way off, in the wide
shadow of the tree; and yet farther, across a strait of glaring
sunshine, you see another painter, encamped in the shadow of
another tree, and up to his waist in the fern. You cannot watch
your own effigy growing out of the white trunk, and the trunk
beginning to stand forth from the rest of the wood, and the whole
picture getting dappled over with the flecks of sun that slip
through the leaves overhead, and, as a wind goes by and sets the
trees a-talking, flicker hither and thither like butterflies of
light. But you know it is going forward; and, out of emulation
with the painter, get ready your own palette, and lay out the
colour for a woodland scene in words.

Your tree stands in a hollow paved with fern and heather, set in a
basin of low hills, and scattered over with rocks and junipers.
All the open is steeped in pitiless sunlight. Everything stands
out as though it were cut in cardboard, every colour is strained
into its highest key. The boulders are some of them upright and
dead like monolithic castles, some of them prone like sleeping
cattle. The junipers--looking, in their soiled and ragged
mourning, like some funeral procession that has gone seeking the
place of sepulchre three hundred years and more in wind and rain--
are daubed in forcibly against the glowing ferns and heather.
Every tassel of their rusty foliage is defined with pre-Raphaelite
minuteness. And a sorry figure they make out there in the sun,
like misbegotten yew-trees! The scene is all pitched in a key of
colour so peculiar, and lit up with such a discharge of violent
sunlight, as a man might live fifty years in England and not see.

Meanwhile at your elbow some one tunes up a song, words of Ronsard
to a pathetic tremulous air, of how the poet loved his mistress
long ago, and pressed on her the flight of time, and told her how
white and quiet the dead lay under the stones, and how the boat
dipped and pitched as the shades embarked for the passionless land.
Yet a little while, sang the poet, and there shall be no more love;
only to sit and remember loves that might have been. There is a
falling flourish in the air that remains in the memory and comes
back in incongruous places, on the seat of hansoms or in the warm
bed at night, with something of a forest savour.

'You can get up now,' says the painter; 'I'm at the background.'

And so up you get, stretching yourself, and go your way into the
wood, the daylight becoming richer and more golden, and the shadows
stretching farther into the open. A cool air comes along the
highways, and the scents awaken. The fir-trees breathe abroad
their ozone. Out of unknown thickets comes forth the soft, secret,
aromatic odour of the woods, not like a smell of the free heaven,
but as though court ladies, who had known these paths in ages long
gone by, still walked in the summer evenings, and shed from their
brocades a breath of musk or bergamot upon the woodland winds. One
side of the long avenues is still kindled with the sun, the other
is plunged in transparent shadow. Over the trees the west begins
to burn like a furnace; and the painters gather up their chattels,
and go down, by avenue or footpath, to the plain.


As this excursion is a matter of some length, and, moreover, we go
in force, we have set aside our usual vehicle, the pony-cart, and
ordered a large wagonette from Lejosne's. It has been waiting for
near an hour, while one went to pack a knapsack, and t'other
hurried over his toilette and coffee; but now it is filled from end
to end with merry folk in summer attire, the coachman cracks his
whip, and amid much applause from round the inn door off we rattle
at a spanking trot. The way lies through the forest, up hill and
down dale, and by beech and pine wood, in the cheerful morning
sunshine. The English get down at all the ascents and walk on
ahead for exercise; the French are mightily entertained at this,
and keep coyly underneath the tilt. As we go we carry with us a
pleasant noise of laughter and light speech, and some one will be
always breaking out into a bar or two of opera bouffe. Before we
get to the Route Ronde here comes Desprez, the colourman from
Fontainebleau, trudging across on his weekly peddle with a case of
merchandise; and it is 'Desprez, leave me some malachite green';
'Desprez, leave me so much canvas'; 'Desprez, leave me this, or
leave me that'; M. Desprez standing the while in the sunlight with
grave face and many salutations. The next interruption is more
important. For some time back we have had the sound of cannon in
our ears; and now, a little past Franchard, we find a mounted
trooper holding a led horse, who brings the wagonette to a stand.
The artillery is practising in the Quadrilateral, it appears;
passage along the Route Ronde formally interdicted for the moment.
There is nothing for it but to draw up at the glaring cross-roads
and get down to make fun with the notorious Cocardon, the most
ungainly and ill-bred dog of all the ungainly and ill-bred dogs of
Barbizon, or clamber about the sandy banks. And meanwhile the
doctor, with sun umbrella, wide Panama, and patriarchal beard, is
busy wheedling and (for aught the rest of us know) bribing the too
facile sentry. His speech is smooth and dulcet, his manner
dignified and insinuating. It is not for nothing that the Doctor
has voyaged all the world over, and speaks all languages from
French to Patagonian. He has not come borne from perilous journeys
to be thwarted by a corporal of horse. And so we soon see the
soldier's mouth relax, and his shoulders imitate a relenting heart.
'En voiture, Messieurs, Mesdames,' sings the Doctor; and on we go
again at a good round pace, for black care follows hard after us,
and discretion prevails not a little over valour in some timorous
spirits of the party. At any moment we may meet the sergeant, who
will send us back. At any moment we may encounter a flying shell,
which will send us somewhere farther off than Grez.

Grez--for that is our destination--has been highly recommended for
its beauty. 'Il y a de l'eau,' people have said, with an emphasis,
as if that settled the question, which, for a French mind, I am
rather led to think it does. And Grez, when we get there, is
indeed a place worthy of some praise. It lies out of the forest, a
cluster of houses, with an old bridge, an old castle in ruin, and a
quaint old church. The inn garden descends in terraces to the
river; stable-yard, kailyard, orchard, and a space of lawn, fringed
with rushes and embellished with a green arbour. On the opposite
bank there is a reach of English-looking plain, set thickly with
willows and poplars. And between the two lies the river, clear and
deep, and full of reeds and floating lilies. Water-plants cluster
about the starlings of the long low bridge, and stand half-way up
upon the piers in green luxuriance. They catch the dipped oar with
long antennae, and chequer the slimy bottom with the shadow of
their leaves. And the river wanders and thither hither among the
islets, and is smothered and broken up by the reeds, like an old
building in the lithe, hardy arms of the climbing ivy. You may
watch the box where the good man of the inn keeps fish alive for
his kitchen, one oily ripple following another over the top of the
yellow deal. And you can hear a splashing and a prattle of voices
from the shed under the old kirk, where the village women wash and
wash all day among the fish and water-lilies. It seems as if linen
washed there should be specially cool and sweet.

We have come here for the river. And no sooner have we all bathed
than we board the two shallops and push off gaily, and go gliding
under the trees and gathering a great treasure of water-lilies.
Some one sings; some trail their hands in the cool water; some lean
over the gunwale to see the image of the tall poplars far below,
and the shadow of the boat, with the balanced oars and their own
head protruded, glide smoothly over the yellow floor of the stream.
At last, the day declining--all silent and happy, and up to the
knees in the wet lilies--we punt slowly back again to the landing-
place beside the bridge. There is a wish for solitude on all. One
hides himself in the arbour with a cigarette; another goes a walk
in the country with Cocardon; a third inspects the church. And it
is not till dinner is on the table, and the inn's best wine goes
round from glass to glass, that we begin to throw off the restraint
and fuse once more into a jolly fellowship.

Half the party are to return to-night with the wagonette; and some
of the others, loath to break up company, will go with them a bit
of the way and drink a stirrup-cup at Marlotte. It is dark in the
wagonette, and not so merry as it might have been. The coachman
loses the road. So-and-so tries to light fireworks with the most
indifferent success. Some sing, but the rest are too weary to
applaud; and it seems as if the festival were fairly at an end -

'Nous avons fait la noce,
Rentrons a nos foyers!'

And such is the burthen, even after we have come to Marlotte and
taken our places in the court at Mother Antonine's. There is punch
on the long table out in the open air, where the guests dine in
summer weather. The candles flare in the night wind, and the faces
round the punch are lit up, with shifting emphasis, against a
background of complete and solid darkness. It is all picturesque
enough; but the fact is, we are aweary. We yawn; we are out of the
vein; we have made the wedding, as the song says, and now, for
pleasure's sake, let's make an end on't. When here comes striding
into the court, booted to mid-thigh, spurred and splashed, in a
jacket of green cord, the great, famous, and redoubtable Blank; and
in a moment the fire kindles again, and the night is witness of our
laughter as he imitates Spaniards, Germans, Englishmen, picture-
dealers, all eccentric ways of speaking and thinking, with a
possession, a fury, a strain of mind and voice, that would rather
suggest a nervous crisis than a desire to please. We are as merry
as ever when the trap sets forth again, and say farewell noisily to
all the good folk going farther. Then, as we are far enough from
thoughts of sleep, we visit Blank in his quaint house, and sit an
hour or so in a great tapestried chamber, laid with furs, littered
with sleeping hounds, and lit up, in fantastic shadow and shine, by
a wood fire in a mediaeval chimney. And then we plod back through
the darkness to the inn beside the river.

How quick bright things come to confusion! When we arise next
morning, the grey showers fall steadily, the trees hang limp, and
the face of the stream is spoiled with dimpling raindrops.
Yesterday's lilies encumber the garden walk, or begin, dismally
enough, their voyage towards the Seine and the salt sea. A sickly
shimmer lies upon the dripping house-roofs, and all the colour is
washed out of the green and golden landscape of last night, as
though an envious man had taken a water-colour sketch and blotted
it together with a sponge. We go out a-walking in the wet roads.
But the roads about Grez have a trick of their own. They go on for
a while among clumps of willows and patches of vine, and then,
suddenly and without any warning, cease and determine in some miry
hollow or upon some bald knowe; and you have a short period of
hope, then right-about face, and back the way you came! So we draw
about the kitchen fire and play a round game of cards for ha'pence,
or go to the billiard-room, for a match at corks and by one consent
a messenger is sent over for the wagonette--Grez shall be left to-

To-morrow dawns so fair that two of the party agree to walk back
for exercise, and let their kidnap-sacks follow by the trap. I
need hardly say they are neither of them French; for, of all
English phrases, the phrase 'for exercise' is the least
comprehensible across the Straits of Dover. All goes well for a
while with the pedestrians. The wet woods are full of scents in
the noontide. At a certain cross, where there is a guardhouse,
they make a halt, for the forester's wife is the daughter of their
good host at Barbizon. And so there they are hospitably received
by the comely woman, with one child in her arms and another
prattling and tottering at her gown, and drink some syrup of quince
in the back parlour, with a map of the forest on the wall, and some
prints of love-affairs and the great Napoleon hunting. As they
draw near the Quadrilateral, and hear once more the report of the
big guns, they take a by-road to avoid the sentries, and go on a
while somewhat vaguely, with the sound of the cannon in their ears
and the rain beginning to fall. The ways grow wider and sandier;
here and there there are real sand-hills, as though by the sea-
shore; the fir-wood is open and grows in clumps upon the hillocks,
and the race of sign-posts is no more. One begins to look at the
other doubtfully. 'I am sure we should keep more to the right,'
says one; and the other is just as certain they should hold to the
left. And now, suddenly, the heavens open, and the rain falls
'sheer and strong and loud,' as out of a shower-bath. In a moment
they are as wet as shipwrecked sailors. They cannot see out of
their eyes for the drift, and the water churns and gurgles in their
boots. They leave the track and try across country with a
gambler's desperatin, for it seems as if it were impossible to make
the situation worse; and, for the next hour, go scrambling from
boulder to boulder, or plod along paths that are now no more than
rivulets, and across waste clearings where the scattered shells and
broken fir-trees tell all too plainly of the cannon in the
distance. And meantime the cannon grumble out responses to the
grumbling thunder. There is such a mixture of melodrama and sheer
discomfort about all this, it is at once so grey and so lurid, that
it is far more agreeable to read and write about by the chimney-
corner than to suffer in the person. At last they chance on the
right path, and make Franchard in the early evening, the sorriest
pair of wanderers that ever welcomed English ale. Thence, by the
Bois d'Hyver, the Ventes-Alexandre, and the Pins Brules, to the
clean hostelry, dry clothes, and dinner.


I think you will like the forest best in the sharp early
springtime, when it is just beginning to reawaken, and innumerable
violets peep from among the fallen leaves; when two or three people
at most sit down to dinner, and, at table, you will do well to keep
a rug about your knees, for the nights are chill, and the salle-a-
manger opens on the court. There is less to distract the
attention, for one thing, and the forest is more itself. It is not
bedotted with artists' sunshades as with unknown mushrooms, nor
bestrewn with the remains of English picnics. The hunting still
goes on, and at any moment your heart may be brought into your
mouth as you hear far-away horns; or you may be told by an agitated
peasant that the Vicomte has gone up the avenue, not ten minutes
since, 'a fond de train, monsieur, et avec douze pipuers.'

If you go up to some coign of vantage in the system of low hills
that permeates the forest, you will see many different tracts of
country, each of its own cold and melancholy neutral tint, and all
mixed together and mingled the one into the other at the seams.
You will see tracts of leafless beeches of a faint yellowish grey,
and leafless oaks a little ruddier in the hue. Then zones of pine
of a solemn green; and, dotted among the pines, or standing by
themselves in rocky clearings, the delicate, snow-white trunks of
birches, spreading out into snow-white branches yet more delicate,
and crowned and canopied with a purple haze of twigs. And then a
long, bare ridge of tumbled boulders, with bright sand-breaks
between them, and wavering sandy roads among the bracken and brown
heather. It is all rather cold and unhomely. It has not the
perfect beauty, nor the gem-like colouring, of the wood in the
later year, when it is no more than one vast colonnade of verdant
shadow, tremulous with insects, intersected here and there by lanes
of sunlight set in purple heather. The loveliness of the woods in
March is not, assuredly, of this blowzy rustic type. It is made
sharp with a grain of salt, with a touch of ugliness. It has a
sting like the sting of bitter ale; you acquire the love of it as
men acquire a taste for olives. And the wonderful clear, pure air
wells into your lungs the while by voluptuous inhalations, and
makes the eyes bright, and sets the heart tinkling to a new tune--
or, rather, to an old tune; for you remember in your boyhood
something akin to this spirit of adventure, this thirst for
exploration, that now takes you masterfully by the hand, plunges
you into many a deep grove, and drags you over many a stony crest.
it is as if the whole wood were full of friendly voice, calling you
farther in, and you turn from one side to another, like Buridan's
donkey, in a maze of pleasure.

Comely beeches send up their white, straight, clustered branches,
barred with green moss, like so many fingers from a half-clenched
hand. Mighty oaks stand to the ankles in a fine tracery of
underwood; thence the tall shaft climbs upwards, and the great
forest of stalwart boughs spreads out into the golden evening sky,
where the rooks are flying and calling. On the sward of the Bois
d'Hyver the firs stand well asunder with outspread arms, like
fencers saluting; and the air smells of resin all around, and the
sound of the axe is rarely still. But strangest of all, and in
appearance oldest of all, are the dim and wizard upland districts
of young wood. The ground is carpeted with fir-tassel, and strewn
with fir-apples and flakes of fallen bark. Rocks lie crouching in
the thicket, guttered with rain, tufted with lichen, white with
years and the rigours of the changeful seasons. Brown and yellow
butterflies are sown and carried away again by the light air--like
thistledown. The loneliness of these coverts is so excessive, that
there are moments when pleasure draws to the verge of fear. You
listen and listen for some noise to break the silence, till you
grow half mesmerised by the intensity of the strain; your sense of
your own identity is troubled; your brain reels, like that of some
gymnosophist poring on his own nose in Asiatic jungles; and should
you see your own outspread feet, you see them, not as anything of
yours, but as a feature of the scene around you.

Still the forest is always, but the stillness is not always
unbroken. You can hear the wind pass in the distance over the
tree-tops; sometimes briefly, like the noise of a train; sometimes
with a long steady rush, like the breaking of waves. And
sometimes, close at band, the branches move, a moan goes through
the thicket, and the wood thrills to its heart. Perhaps you may
hear a carriage on the road to Fontainebleau, a bird gives a dry
continual chirp, the dead leaves rustle underfoot, or you may time
your steps to the steady recurrent strokes of the woodman's axe.
From time to time, over the low grounds, a flight of rooks goes by;
and from time to time the cooing of wild doves falls upon the ear,
not sweet and rich and near at hand as in England, but a sort of
voice of the woods, thin and far away, as fits these solemn places.
Or you hear suddenly the hollow, eager, violent barking of dogs;
scared deer flit past you through the fringes of the wood; then a
man or two running, in green blouse, with gun and game-bag on a
bandoleer; and then, out of the thick of the trees, comes the jar
of rifle-shots. Or perhaps the hounds are out, and horns are
blown, and scarlet-coated huntsmen flash through the clearings, and
the solid noise of horses galloping passes below you, where you sit
perched among the rocks and heather. The boar is afoot, and all
over the forest, and in all neighbouring villages, there is a vague
excitement and a vague hope; for who knows whither the chase may
lead? and even to have seen a single piqueur, or spoken to a single
sportsman, is to be a man of consequence for the night.

Besides men who shoot and men who ride with the hounds, there are
few people in the forest, in the early spring, save woodcutters
plying their axes steadily, and old women and children gathering
wood for the fire. You may meet such a party coming home in the
twilight: the old woman laden with a fagot of chips, and the
little ones hauling a long branch behind them in her wake. That is
the worst of what there is to encounter; and if I tell you of what
once happened to a friend of mine, it is by no means to tantalise
you with false hopes; for the adventure was unique. It was on a
very cold, still, sunless morning, with a flat grey sky and a
frosty tingle in the air, that this friend (who shall here be
nameless) heard the notes of a key-bugle played with much
hesitation, and saw the smoke of a fire spread out along the green
pine-tops, in a remote uncanny glen, hard by a hill of naked
boulders. He drew near warily, and beheld a picnic party seated
under a tree in an open. The old father knitted a sock, the mother
sat staring at the fire. The eldest son, in the uniform of a
private of dragoons, was choosing out notes on a key-bugle. Two or
three daughters lay in the neighbourhood picking violets. And the
whole party as grave and silent as the woods around them! My
friend watched for a long time, he says; but all held their peace;
not one spoke or smiled; only the dragoon kept choosing out single
notes upon the bugle, and the father knitted away at his work and
made strange movements the while with his flexible eyebrows. They
took no notice whatever of my friend's presence, which was
disquieting in itself, and increased the resemblance of the whole
party to mechanical waxworks. Certainly, he affirms, a wax figure
might have played the bugle with more spirit than that strange
dragoon. And as this hypothesis of his became more certain, the
awful insolubility of why they should be left out there in the
woods with nobody to wind them up again when they ran down, and a
growing disquietude as to what might happen next, became too much
for his courage, and he turned tail, and fairly took to his heels.
It might have been a singing in his ears, but he fancies he was
followed as he ran by a peal of Titanic laughter. Nothing has ever
transpired to clear up the mystery; it may be they were automata;
or it may be (and this is the theory to which I lean myself) that
this is all another chapter of Heine's 'Gods in Exile'; that the
upright old man with the eyebrows was no other than Father Jove,
and the young dragoon with the taste for music either Apollo or


Strange indeed is the attraction of the forest for the minds of
men. Not one or two only, but a great chorus of grateful voices
have arisen to spread abroad its fame. Half the famous writers of
modern France have had their word to say about Fontainebleau.
Chateaubriand, Michelet, Beranger, George Sand, de Senancour,
Flaubert, Murger, the brothers Goncourt, Theodore de Banville, each
of these has done something to the eternal praise and memory of
these woods. Even at the very worst of times, even when the
picturesque was anathema in the eyes of all Persons of Taste, the
forest still preserved a certain reputation for beauty. It was in
1730 that the Abbe Guilbert published his Historical Description of
the Palace, Town, and Forest of Fontainebleau. And very droll it
is to see him, as he tries to set forth his admiration in terms of
what was then permissible. The monstrous rocks, etc., says the
Abbe 'sont admirees avec surprise des voyageurs qui s'ecrient
aussitot avec Horace: Ut mihi devio rupee et vacuum nemus mirari
libet.' The good man is not exactly lyrical in his praise; and you
see how he sets his back against Horace as against a trusty oak.
Horace, at any rate, was classical. For the rest, however, the
Abbe likes places where many alleys meet; or which, like the Belle-
Etoile, are kept up 'by a special gardener,' and admires at the
Table du Roi the labours of the Grand Master of Woods and Waters,
the Sieur de la Falure, 'qui a fait faire ce magnifique endroit.'

But indeed, it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes
a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that
quality of the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so
wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. Disappointed men,
sick Francis Firsts and vanquished Grand Monarchs, time out of mind
have come here for consolation. Hither perplexed folk have retired
out of the press of life, as into a deep bay-window on some night
of masquerade, and here found quiet and silence, and rest, the
mother of wisdom. It is the great moral spa; this forest without a
fountain is itself the great fountain of Juventius. It is the best
place in the world to bring an old sorrow that has been a long
while your friend and enemy; and if, like Beranger's your gaiety
has run away from home and left open the door for sorrow to come
in, of all covers in Europe, it is here you may expect to find the
truant hid. With every hour you change. The air penetrates
through your clothes, and nestles to your living body. You love
exercise and slumber, long fasting and full meals. You forget all
your scruples and live a while in peace and freedom, and for the
moment only. For here, all is absent that can stimulate to moral
feeling. Such people as you see may be old, or toil-worn, or
sorry; but you see them framed in the forest, like figures on a
painted canvas; and for you, they are not people in any living and
kindly sense. You forget the grim contrariety of interests. You
forget the narrow lane where all men jostle together in
unchivalrous contention, and the kennel, deep and unclean, that
gapes on either hand for the defeated. Life is simple enough, it
seems, and the very idea of sacrifice becomes like a mad fancy out
of a last night's dream.

Your ideal is not perhaps high, but it is plain and possible. You
become enamoured of a life of change and movement and the open air,
where the muscles shall be more exercised than the affections.
When you have had your will of the forest, you may visit the whole
round world. You may buckle on your knapsack and take the road on
foot. You may bestride a good nag, and ride forth, with a pair of
saddle-bags, into the enchanted East. You may cross the Black
Forest, and see Germany wide-spread before you, like a map, dotted
with old cities, walled and spired, that dream all day on their own
reflections in the Rhine or Danube. You may pass the spinal cord
of Europe and go down from Alpine glaciers to where Italy extends
her marble moles and glasses her marble palaces in the midland sea.
You may sleep in flying trains or wayside taverns. You may be
awakened at dawn by the scream of the express or the small pipe of
the robin in the hedge. For you the rain should allay the dust of
the beaten road; the wind dry your clothes upon you as you walked.
Autumn should hang out russet pears and purple grapes along the
lane; inn after inn proffer you their cups of raw wine; river by
river receive your body in the sultry noon. Wherever you went warm
valleys and high trees and pleasant villages should compass you
about; and light fellowships should take you by the arm, and walk
with you an hour upon your way. You may see from afar off what it
will come to in the end--the weather-beaten red-nosed vagabond,
consumed by a fever of the feet, cut off from all near touch of
human sympathy, a waif, an Ishmael, and an outcast. And yet it
will seem well--and yet, in the air of the forest, this will seem
the best--to break all the network bound about your feet by birth
and old companionship and loyal love, and bear your shovelful of
phosphates to and fro, in town country, until the hour of the great

Or, perhaps, you will keep to the cover. For the forest is by
itself, and forest life owns small kinship with life in the dismal
land of labour. Men are so far sophisticated that they cannot take
the world as it is given to them by the sight of their eyes. Not
only what they see and hear, but what they know to be behind, enter
into their notion of a place. If the sea, for instance, lie just
across the hills, sea-thoughts will come to them at intervals, and
the tenor of their dreams from time to time will suffer a sea-
change. And so here, in this forest, a knowledge of its greatness
is for much in the effect produced. You reckon up the miles that
lie between you and intrusion. You may walk before you all day
long, and not fear to touch the barrier of your Eden, or stumble
out of fairyland into the land of gin and steam-hammers. And there
is an old tale enhances for the imagination the grandeur of the
woods of France, and secures you in the thought of your seclusion.
When Charles VI. hunted in the time of his wild boyhood near
Senlis, there was captured an old stag, having a collar of bronze
about his neck, and these words engraved on the collar: 'Caesar
mihi hoc donavit.' It is no wonder if the minds of men were moved
at this occurrence and they stood aghast to find themselves thus
touching hands with forgotten ages, and following an antiquity with
hound and horn. And even for you, it is scarcely in an idle
curiosity that you ponder how many centuries this stag had carried
its free antlers through the wood, and how many summers and winters
had shone and snowed on the imperial badge. If the extent of
solemn wood could thus safeguard a tall stag from the hunter's
hounds and houses, might not you also play hide-and-seek, in these
groves, with all the pangs and trepidations of man's life, and
elude Death, the mighty hunter, for more than the span of human
years? Here, also, crash his arrows; here, in the farthest glade,
sounds the gallop of the pale horse. But he does not hunt this
cover with all his hounds, for the game is thin and small: and if
you were but alert and wary, if you lodged ever in the deepest
thickets, you too might live on into later generations and astonish
men by your stalwart age and the trophies of an immemorial success.

For the forest takes away from you all excuse to die. There is
nothing here to cabin or thwart your free desires. Here all the
impudencies of the brawling world reach you no more. You may count
your hours, like Endymion, by the strokes of the lone woodcutter,
or by the progression of the lights and shadows and the sun
wheeling his wide circuit through the naked heavens. Here shall
you see no enemies but winter and rough weather. And if a pang
comes to you at all, it will be a pang of healthful hunger. All
the puling sorrows, all the carking repentance, all this talk of
duty that is no duty, in the great peace, in the pure daylight of
these woods, fall away from you like a garment. And if perchance
you come forth upon an eminence, where the wind blows upon you
large and fresh, and the pines knock their long stems together,
like an ungainly sort of puppets, and see far away over the plain a
factory chimney defined against the pale horizon--it is for you, as
for the staid and simple peasant when, with his plough, he upturns
old arms and harness from the furrow of the glebe. Ay, sure
enough, there was a battle there in the old times; and, sure
enough, there is a world out yonder where men strive together with
a noise of oaths and weeping and clamorous dispute. So much you
apprehend by an athletic act of the imagination. A faint far-off
rumour as of Merovingian wars; a legend as of some dead religion.

Originally intended to serve as the opening chapter of 'Travels
with a Donkey in the Cevennes.'

Le Monastier is the chief place of a hilly canton in Haute Loire,
the ancient Velay. As the name betokens, the town is of monastic
origin; and it still contains a towered bulk of monastery and a
church of some architectural pretensions, the seat of an arch-
priest and several vicars. It stands on the side of hill above the
river Gazeille, about fifteen miles from Le Puy, up a steep road
where the wolves sometime pursue the diligence in winter. The
road, which is bound for Vivarais, passes through the town from end
to end in a single narrow street; there you may see the fountain
where women fill their pitchers; there also some old houses with
carved doors and pediment and ornamental work in iron. For
Monastier, like Maybole in Ayrshire, was a sort of country capital,
where the local aristocracy had their town mansions for the winter;
and there is a certain baron still alive and, I am told, extremely
penitent, who found means to ruin himself by high living in this
village on the hills. He certainly has claims to be considered the
most remarkable spendthrift on record. How he set about it, in a
place where there are no luxuries for sale, and where the board at
the best inn comes to little more than a shilling a day, is a
problem for the wise. His son, ruined as the family was, went as
far as Paris to sow his wild oats; and so the cases of father and
son mark an epoch in the history of centralisation in France. Not
until the latter had got into the train was the work of Richelieu

It is a people of lace-makers. The women sit in the streets by
groups of five or six; and the noise of the bobbins is audible from
one group to another. Now and then you will hear one woman
clattering off prayers for the edification of the others at their
work. They wear gaudy shawls, white caps with a gay ribbon about
the head, and sometimes a black felt brigand hat above the cap; and
so they give the street colour and brightness and a foreign air. A
while ago, when England largely supplied herself from this district
with the lace called torchon, it was not unusual to earn five
francs a day; and five francs in Monastier is worth a pound in
London. Now, from a change in the market, it takes a clever and
industrious work-woman to earn from three to four in the week, or
less than an eighth of what she made easily a few years ago. The
tide of prosperity came and went, as with our northern pitmen, and
left nobody the richer. The women bravely squandered their gains,
kept the men in idleness, and gave themselves up, as I was told, to
sweethearting and a merry life. From week's end to week's end it
was one continuous gala in Monastier; people spent the day in the
wine-shops, and the drum or the bagpipes led on the bourrees up to
ten at night. Now these dancing days are over. 'Il n'y a plus de
jeunesse,' said Victor the garcon. I hear of no great advance in
what are thought the essentials of morality; but the bourree, with
its rambling, sweet, interminable music, and alert and rustic
figures, has fallen into disuse, and is mostly remembered as a
custom of the past. Only on the occasion of the fair shall you
hear a drum discreetly in a wine-shop or perhaps one of the company
singing the measure while the others dance. I am sorry at the
change, and marvel once more at the complicated scheme of things
upon this earth, and how a turn of fashion in England can silence
so much mountain merriment in France. The lace-makers themselves
have not entirely forgiven our country-women; and I think they take
a special pleasure in the legend of the northern quarter of the
town, called L'Anglade, because there the English free-lances were
arrested and driven back by the potency of a little Virgin Mary on
the wall.

From time to time a market is held, and the town has a season of
revival; cattle and pigs are stabled in the streets; and
pickpockets have been known to come all the way from Lyons for the
occasion. Every Sunday the country folk throng in with daylight to
buy apples, to attend mass, and to visit one of the wine-shops, of
which there are no fewer than fifty in this little town. Sunday
wear for the men is a green tailcoat of some coarse sort of
drugget, and usually a complete suit to match. I have never set
eyes on such degrading raiment. Here it clings, there bulges; and
the human body, with its agreeable and lively lines, is turned into
a mockery and laughing-stock. Another piece of Sunday business
with the peasants is to take their ailments to the chemist for
advice. It is as much a matter for Sunday as church-going. I have
seen a woman who had been unable to speak since the Monday before,
wheezing, catching her breath, endlessly and painfully coughing;
and yet she had waited upwards of a hundred hours before coming to
seek help, and had the week been twice as long, she would have
waited still. There was a canonical day for consultation; such was
the ancestral habit, to which a respectable lady must study to

Two conveyances go daily to Le Puy, but they rival each other in
polite concessions rather than in speed. Each will wait an hour or
two hours cheerfully while an old lady does her marketing or a
gentleman finishes the papers in a cafe. The Courrier (such is the
name of one) should leave Le Puy by two in the afternoon and arrive
at Monastier in good on the return voyage, and arrive at Monastier
in good time for a six-o'clock dinner. But the driver dares not
disoblige his customers. He will postpone his departure again and
again, hour after hour; and I have known the sun to go down on his
delay. These purely personal favours, this consideration of men's
fancies, rather than the hands of a mechanical clock, as marking
the advance of the abstraction, time, makes a more humorous
business of stage-coaching than we are used to see it.

As far as the eye can reach, one swelling line of hill top rises
and falls behind another; and if you climb an eminence, it is only
to see new and father ranges behind these. Many little rivers run
from all sides in cliffy valleys; and one of them, a few miles from
Monastier, bears the great name of Loire. The mean level of the
country is a little more than three thousand feet above the sea,
which makes the atmosphere proportionally brisk and wholesome.
There is little timber except pines, and the greater part of the
country lies in moorland pasture. The country is wild and tumbled
rather than commanding; an upland rather than a mountain district;
and the most striking as well as the most agreeable scenery lies
low beside the rivers. There, indeed, you will find many corners
that take the fancy; such as made the English noble choose his
grave by a Swiss streamlet, where nature is at her freshest, and
looks as young as on the seventh morning. Such a place is the
course of the Gazeille, where it waters the common of Monastier and
thence downwards till it joins the Loire; a place to hear birds
singing; a place for lovers to frequent. The name of the river was
perhaps suggested by the sound of its passage over the stones; for
it is a great warbler, and at night, after I was in bed at
Monastier, I could hear it go singing down the valley till I fell

On the whole, this is a Scottish landscape, although not so noble
as the best in Scotland; and by an odd coincidence, the population
is, in its way, as Scottish as the country. They have abrupt,
uncouth, Fifeshire manners, and accost you, as if you were
trespassing, an 'Ou'st-ce que vous allez?' only translatable into
the Lowland 'Whaur ye gaun?' They keep the Scottish Sabbath.
There is no labour done on that day but to drive in and out the
various pigs and sheep and cattle that make so pleasant a tinkling
in the meadows. The lace-makers have disappeared from the street.
Not to attend mass would involve social degradation; and you may
find people reading Sunday books, in particular a sort of Catholic
Monthly Visitor on the doings of Our Lady of Lourdes. I remember
one Sunday, when I was walking in the country, that I fell on a
hamlet and found all the inhabitants, from the patriarch to the
baby, gathered in the shadow of a gable at prayer. One strapping
lass stood with her back to the wall and did the solo part, the
rest chiming in devoutly. Not far off, a lad lay flat on his face
asleep among some straw, to represent the worldly element.

Again, this people is eager to proselytise; and the postmaster's
daughter used to argue with me by the half-hour about my heresy,
until she grew quite flushed. I have heard the reverse process
going on between a Scotswoman and a French girl; and the arguments
in the two cases were identical. Each apostle based her claim on
the superior virtue and attainments of her clergy, and clenched the
business with a threat of hell-fire. 'Pas bong pretres ici,' said
the Presbyterian, 'bong pretres en Ecosse.' And the postmaster's
daughter, taking up the same weapon, plied me, so to speak, with
the butt of it instead of the bayonet. We are a hopeful race, it
seems, and easily persuaded for our good. One cheerful
circumstance I note in these guerilla missions, that each side
relies on hell, and Protestant and Catholic alike address
themselves to a supposed misgiving in their adversary's heart. And
I call it cheerful, for faith is a more supporting quality than

Here, as in Scotland, many peasant families boast a son in holy
orders. And here also, the young men have a tendency to emigrate.
It is certainly not poverty that drives them to the great cities or
across the seas, for many peasant families, I was told, have a
fortune of at least 40,000 francs. The lads go forth pricked with
the spirit of adventure and the desire to rise in life, and leave
their homespun elders grumbling and wondering over the event.
Once, at a village called Laussonne, I met one of these
disappointed parents: a drake who had fathered a wild swan and
seen it take wing and disappear. The wild swan in question was now
an apothecary in Brazil. He had flown by way of Bordeaux, and
first landed in America, bareheaded and barefoot, and with a single
halfpenny in his pocket. And now he was an apothecary! Such a
wonderful thing is an adventurous life! I thought he might as well
have stayed at home; but you never can tell wherein a man's life
consists, nor in what he sets his pleasure: one to drink, another
to marry, a third to write scurrilous articles and be repeatedly
caned in public, and now this fourth, perhaps, to be an apothecary
in Brazil. As for his old father, he could conceive no reason for
the lad's behaviour. 'I had always bread for him,' he said; 'he
ran away to annoy me. He loved to annoy me. He had no gratitude.'
But at heart he was swelling with pride over his travelled
offspring, and he produced a letter out of his pocket, where, as he
said, it was rotting, a mere lump of paper rags, and waved it
gloriously in the air. 'This comes from America,' he cried, 'six
thousand leagues away!' And the wine-shop audience looked upon it
with a certain thrill.

I soon became a popular figure, and was known for miles in the
country. Ou'st que vous allez? was changed for me into Quoi, vous
rentrez au Monastier and in the town itself every urchin seemed to
know my name, although no living creature could pronounce it.
There was one particular group of lace-makers who brought out a
chair for me whenever I went by, and detained me from my walk to
gossip. They were filled with curiosity about England, its
language, its religion, the dress of the women, and were never
weary of seeing the Queen's head on English postage-stamps, or
seeking for French words in English Journals. The language, in
particular, filled them with surprise.

'Do they speak patois in England?' I was once asked; and when I
told them not, 'Ah, then, French?' said they.

'No, no,' I said, 'not French.'

'Then,' they concluded, 'they speak patois.'

You must obviously either speak French or patios. Talk of the
force of logic--here it was in all its weakness. I gave up the
point, but proceeding to give illustrations of my native jargon, I
was met with a new mortification. Of all patios they declared that
mine was the most preposterous and the most jocose in sound. At
each new word there was a new explosion of laughter, and some of
the younger ones were glad to rise from their chairs and stamp
about the street in ecstasy; and I looked on upon their mirth in a
faint and slightly disagreeable bewilderment. 'Bread,' which
sounds a commonplace, plain-sailing monosyllable in England, was
the word that most delighted these good ladies of Monastier; it
seemed to them frolicsome and racy, like a page of Pickwick; and
they all got it carefully by heart, as a stand-by, I presume, for
winter evenings. I have tried it since then with every sort of
accent and inflection, but I seem to lack the sense of humour.

They were of all ages: children at their first web of lace, a
stripling girl with a bashful but encouraging play of eyes, solid
married women, and grandmothers, some on the top of their age and
some falling towards decrepitude. One and all were pleasant and
natural, ready to laugh and ready with a certain quiet solemnity
when that was called for by the subject of our talk. Life, since
the fall in wages, had begun to appear to them with a more serious
air. The stripling girl would sometimes laugh at me in a
provocative and not unadmiring manner, if I judge aright; and one
of the grandmothers, who was my great friend of the party, gave me
many a sharp word of judgment on my sketches, my heresy, or even my
arguments, and gave them with a wry mouth and a humorous twinkle in
her eye that were eminently Scottish. But the rest used me with a
certain reverence, as something come from afar and not entirely
human. Nothing would put them at their ease but the irresistible
gaiety of my native tongue. Between the old lady and myself I
think there was a real attachment. She was never weary of sitting
to me for her portrait, in her best cap and brigand hat, and with
all her wrinkles tidily composed, and though she never failed to
repudiate the result, she would always insist upon another trial.
It was as good as a play to see her sitting in judgment over the
last. 'No, no,' she would say, 'that is not it. I am old, to be
sure, but I am better-looking than that. We must try again.' When
I was about to leave she bade me good-bye for this life in a
somewhat touching manner. We should not meet again, she said; it
was a long farewell, and she was sorry. But life is so full of
crooks, old lady, that who knows? I have said good-bye to people
for greater distances and times, and, please God, I mean to see
them yet again.

One thing was notable about these women, from the youngest to the
oldest, and with hardly an exception. In spite of their piety,
they could twang off an oath with Sir Toby Belch in person. There
was nothing so high or so low, in heaven or earth or in the human
body, but a woman of this neighbourhood would whip out the name of
it, fair and square, by way of conversational adornment. My
landlady, who was pretty and young, dressed like a lady and avoided
patois like a weakness, commonly addressed her child in the
language of a drunken bully. And of all the swearers that I ever
heard, commend me to an old lady in Gondet, a village of the Loire.
I was making a sketch, and her curse was not yet ended when I had
finished it and took my departure. It is true she had a right to
be angry; for here was her son, a hulking fellow, visibly the worse
for drink before the day was well begun. But it was strange to
hear her unwearying flow of oaths and obscenities, endless like a
river, and now and then rising to a passionate shrillness, in the
clear and silent air of the morning. In city slums, the thing
might have passed unnoticed; but in a country valley, and from a
plain and honest countrywoman, this beastliness of speech surprised
the ear.

The Conductor, as he is called, of Roads and Bridges was my
principal companion. He was generally intelligent, and could have
spoken more or less falsetto on any of the trite topics; but it was
his specially to have a generous taste in eating. This was what
was most indigenous in the man; it was here he was an artist; and I
found in his company what I had long suspected, that enthusiasm and
special knowledge are the great social qualities, and what they are
about, whether white sauce or Shakespeare's plays, an altogether
secondary question.

I used to accompany the Conductor on his professional rounds, and
grew to believe myself an expert in the business. I thought I
could make an entry in a stone-breaker's time-book, or order manure
off the wayside with any living engineer in France. Gondet was one
of the places we visited together; and Laussonne, where I met the
apothecary's father, was another. There, at Laussonne, George Sand
spent a day while she was gathering materials for the Marquis de
Villemer; and I have spoken with an old man, who was then a child
running about the inn kitchen, and who still remembers her with a
sort of reverence. It appears that he spoke French imperfectly;
for this reason George Sand chose him for companion, and whenever
he let slip a broad and picturesque phrase in patois, she would
make him repeat it again and again till it was graven in her
memory. The word for a frog particularly pleased her fancy; and it
would be curious to know if she afterwards employed it in her
works. The peasants, who knew nothing of betters and had never so
much as heard of local colour, could not explain her chattering
with this backward child; and to them she seemed a very homely lady
and far from beautiful: the most famous man-killer of the age
appealed so little to Velaisian swine-herds!

On my first engineering excursion, which lay up by Crouzials
towards Mount Mezenc and the borders of Ardeche, I began an
improving acquaintance with the foreman road-mender. He was in
great glee at having me with him, passed me off among his
subalterns as the supervising engineer, and insisted on what he
called 'the gallantry' of paying for my breakfast in a roadside
wine-shop. On the whole, he was a man of great weather-wisdom,
some spirits, and a social temper. But I am afraid he was
superstitious. When he was nine years old, he had seen one night a
company of bourgeois et dames qui faisaient la manege avec des
chaises, and concluded that he was in the presence of a witches'
Sabbath. I suppose, but venture with timidity on the suggestion,
that this may have been a romantic and nocturnal picnic party.
Again, coming from Pradelles with his brother, they saw a great
empty cart drawn by six enormous horses before them on the road.
The driver cried aloud and filled the mountains with the cracking
of his whip. He never seemed to go faster than a walk, yet it was
impossible to overtake him; and at length, at the comer of a hill,
the whole equipage disappeared bodily into the night. At the time,
people said it was the devil qui s'amusait a faire ca.

I suggested there was nothing more likely, as he must have some

The foreman said it was odd, but there was less of that sort of
thing than formerly. 'C'est difficile,' he added, 'a expliquer.'

When we were well up on the moors and the Conductor was trying some
road-metal with the gauge -

'Hark!' said the foreman, 'do you hear nothing?'

We listened, and the wind, which was blowing chilly out of the
east, brought a faint, tangled jangling to our ears.

'It is the flocks of Vivarais,' said he.

For every summer, the flocks out of all Ardeche are brought up to
pasture on these grassy plateaux.

Here and there a little private flock was being tended by a girl,
one spinning with a distaff, another seated on a wall and intently
making lace. This last, when we addressed her, leaped up in a
panic and put out her arms, like a person swimming, to keep us at a
distance, and it was some seconds before we could persuade her of
the honesty of our intentions.

The Conductor told me of another herdswoman from whom he had once
asked his road while he was yet new to the country, and who fled
from him, driving her beasts before her, until he had given up the
information in despair. A tale of old lawlessness may yet be read
in these uncouth timidities.

The winter in these uplands is a dangerous and melancholy time.
Houses are snowed up, and way-farers lost in a flurry within hail
of their own fireside. No man ventures abroad without meat and a
bottle of wine, which he replenishes at every wine-shop; and even
thus equipped he takes the road with terror. All day the family
sits about the fire in a foul and airless hovel, and equally
without work or diversion. The father may carve a rude piece of
furniture, but that is all that will be done until the spring sets
in again, and along with it the labours of the field. It is not
for nothing that you find a clock in the meanest of these mountain
habitations. A clock and an almanac, you would fancy, were
indispensable in such a life . . .


Through what little channels, by what hints and premonitions, the
consciousness of the man's art dawns first upon the child, it
should be not only interesting but instructive to inquire. A
matter of curiosity to-day, it will become the ground of science
to-morrow. From the mind of childhood there is more history and
more philosophy to be fished up than from all the printed volumes
in a library. The child is conscious of an interest, not in
literature but in life. A taste for the precise, the adroit, or
the comely in the use of words, comes late; but long before that he
has enjoyed in books a delightful dress rehearsal of experience.
He is first conscious of this material--I had almost said this
practical--pre-occupation; it does not follow that it really came
the first. I have some old fogged negatives in my collection that
would seem to imply a prior stage 'The Lord is gone up with a
shout, and God with the sound of a trumpet'--memorial version, I
know not where to find the text--rings still in my ear from my
first childhood, and perhaps with something of my nurses accent.
There was possibly some sort of image written in my mind by these
loud words, but I believe the words themselves were what I
cherished. I had about the same time, and under the same
influence--that of my dear nurse--a favourite author: it is
possible the reader has not heard of him--the Rev. Robert Murray
M'Cheyne. My nurse and I admired his name exceedingly, so that I
must have been taught the love of beautiful sounds before I was
breeched; and I remember two specimens of his muse until this day:-

'Behind the hills of Naphtali
The sun went slowly down,
Leaving on mountain, tower, and tree,
A tinge of golden brown.'

There is imagery here, and I set it on one side. The other--it is
but a verse--not only contains no image, but is quite
unintelligible even to my comparatively instructed mind, and I know
not even how to spell the outlandish vocable that charmed me in my

'Jehovah Tschidkenu is nothing to her'; {6} -

I may say, without flippancy, that he was nothing to me either,
since I had no ray of a guess of what he was about; yet the verse,
from then to now, a longer interval than the life of a generation,
has continued to haunt me.

I have said that I should set a passage distinguished by obvious
and pleasing imagery, however faint; for the child thinks much in
images, words are very live to him, phrases that imply a picture
eloquent beyond their value. Rummaging in the dusty pigeon-holes
of memory, I came once upon a graphic version of the famous Psalm,
'The Lord is my shepherd': and from the places employed in its
illustration, which are all in the immediate neighbourhood of a
house then occupied by my father, I am able, to date it before the
seventh year of my age, although it was probably earlier in fact.
The 'pastures green' were represented by a certain suburban
stubble-field, where I had once walked with my nurse, under an
autumnal sunset, on the banks of the Water of Leith: the place is
long ago built up; no pastures now, no stubble-fields; only a maze
of little streets and smoking chimneys and shrill children. Here,
in the fleecy person of a sheep, I seemed to myself to follow
something unseen, unrealised, and yet benignant; and close by the
sheep in which I was incarnated--as if for greater security--
rustled the skirt, of my nurse. 'Death's dark vale' was a certain
archway in the Warriston Cemetery: a formidable yet beloved spot,
for children love to be afraid,--in measure as they love all
experience of vitality. Here I beheld myself some paces ahead
(seeing myself, I mean, from behind) utterly alone in that uncanny
passage; on the one side of me a rude, knobby, shepherd's staff,
such as cheers the heart of the cockney tourist, on the other a rod
like a billiard cue, appeared to accompany my progress; the stiff
sturdily upright, the billiard cue inclined confidentially, like
one whispering, towards my ear. I was aware--I will never tell you
how--that the presence of these articles afforded me encouragement.
The third and last of my pictures illustrated words:-

'My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes:
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows':

and this was perhaps the most interesting of the series. I saw
myself seated in a kind of open stone summer-house at table; over
my shoulder a hairy, bearded, and robed presence anointed me from
an authentic shoe-horn; the summer-house was part of the green
court of a ruin, and from the far side of the court black and white
imps discharged against me ineffectual arrows. The picture appears
arbitrary, but I can trace every detail to its source, as Mr. Brock
analysed the dream of Alan Armadale. The summer-house and court
were muddled together out of Billings' Antiquities of Scotland; the
imps conveyed from Bagster's Pilgrim's Progress; the bearded and
robed figure from any one of the thousand Bible pictures; and the
shoe-horn was plagiarised from an old illustrated Bible, where it
figured in the hand of Samuel anointing Saul, and had been pointed
out to me as a jest by my father. It was shown me for a jest,
remark; but the serious spirit of infancy adopted it in earnest.
Children are all classics; a bottle would have seemed an
intermediary too trivial--that divine refreshment of whose meaning
I had no guess; and I seized on the idea of that mystic shoe-horn
with delight, even as, a little later, I should have written
flagon, chalice, hanaper, beaker, or any word that might have
appealed to me at the moment as least contaminate with mean
associations. In this string of pictures I believe the gist of the
psalm to have consisted; I believe it had no more to say to me; and
the result was consolatory. I would go to sleep dwelling with
restfulness upon these images; they passed before me, besides, to
an appropriate music; for I had already singled out from that rude
psalm the one lovely verse which dwells in the minds of all, not
growing old, not disgraced by its association with long Sunday
tasks, a scarce conscious joy in childhood, in age a companion

'In pastures green Thou leadest me,
The quiet waters by.'

The remainder of my childish recollections are all of the matter of
what was read to me, and not of any manner in the words. If these
pleased me it was unconsciously; I listened for news of the great
vacant world upon whose edge I stood; I listened for delightful
plots that I might re-enact in play, and romantic scenes and
circumstances that I might call up before me, with closed eyes,
when I was tired of Scotland, and home, and that weary prison of
the sick-chamber in which I lay so long in durance. Robinson
Crusoe; some of the books of that cheerful, ingenious, romantic
soul, Mayne Reid; and a work rather gruesome and bloody for a
child, but very picturesque, called Paul Blake; these are the three
strongest impressions I remember: The Swiss Family Robinson came
next, longo intervallo. At these I played, conjured up their
scenes, and delighted to hear them rehearsed unto seventy times
seven. I am not sure but what Paul Blake came after I could read.
It seems connected with a visit to the country, and an experience
unforgettable. The day had been warm; H--- and I had played
together charmingly all day in a sandy wilderness across the road;
then came the evening with a great flash of colour and a heavenly
sweetness in the air. Somehow my play-mate had vanished, or is out
of the story, as the sages say, but I was sent into the village on
an errand; and, taking a book of fairy tales, went down alone
through a fir-wood, reading as I walked. How often since then has
it befallen me to be happy even so; but that was the first time:
the shock of that pleasure I have never since forgot, and if my
mind serves me to the last, I never shall, for it was then that I
knew I loved reading.


To pass from hearing literature to reading it is to take a great
and dangerous step. With not a few, I think a large proportion of
their pleasure then comes to an end; 'the malady of not marking'
overtakes them; they read thenceforward by the eye alone and hear
never again the chime of fair words or the march of the stately
period. Non ragioniam of these. But to all the step is dangerous;
it involves coming of age; it is even a kind of second weaning. In
the past all was at the choice of others; they chose, they
digested, they read aloud for us and sang to their own tune the
books of childhood. In the future we are to approach the silent,
inexpressive type alone, like pioneers; and the choice of what we
are to read is in our own hands thenceforward. For instance, in
the passages already adduced, I detect and applaud the ear of my
old nurse; they were of her choice, and she imposed them on my
infancy, reading the works of others as a poet would scarce dare to
read his own; gloating on the rhythm, dwelling with delight on
assonances and alliterations. I know very well my mother must have
been all the while trying to educate my taste upon more secular
authors; but the vigour and the continual opportunities of my nurse
triumphed, and after a long search, I can find in these earliest
volumes of my autobiography no mention of anything but nursery
rhymes, the Bible, and Mr. M'Cheyne.

I suppose all children agree in looking back with delight on their
school Readers. We might not now find so much pathos in 'Bingen on
the Rhine,' 'A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,' or in
'The Soldier's Funeral,' in the declamation of which I was held to
have surpassed myself. 'Robert's voice,' said the master on this
memorable occasion, 'is not strong, but impressive': an opinion
which I was fool enough to carry home to my father; who roasted me
for years in consequence. I am sure one should not be so
deliciously tickled by the humorous pieces:-

'What, crusty? cries Will in a taking,
Who would not be crusty with half a year's baking?'

I think this quip would leave us cold. The 'Isles of Greece' seem
rather tawdry too; but on the 'Address to the Ocean,' or on 'The
Dying Gladiator,' 'time has writ no wrinkle.'

'Tis the morn, but dim and dark,
Whither flies the silent lark?' -

does the reader recall the moment when his eye first fell upon
these lines in the Fourth Reader; and 'surprised with joy,
impatient as the wind,' he plunged into the sequel? And there was
another piece, this time in prose, which none can have forgotten;
many like me must have searched Dickens with zeal to find it again,
and in its proper context, and have perhaps been conscious of some
inconsiderable measure of disappointment, that it was only Tom
Pinch who drove, in such a pomp of poetry, to London.

But in the Reader we are still under guides. What a boy turns out
for himself, as he rummages the bookshelves, is the real test and
pleasure. My father's library was a spot of some austerity; the
proceedings of learned societies, some Latin divinity,
cyclopaedias, physical science, and, above all, optics, held the
chief place upon the shelves, and it was only in holes and corners
that anything really legible existed as by accident. The Parent's
Assistant, Rob Roy, Waverley, and Guy Mannering, the Voyages of
Captain Woods Rogers, Fuller's and Bunyan's Holy Wars, The
Reflections of Robinson Crusoe, The Female Bluebeard, G. Sand's
Mare au Diable--(how came it in that grave assembly!), Ainsworth's
Tower of London, and four old volumes of Punch--these were the
chief exceptions. In these latter, which made for years the chief
of my diet, I very early fell in love (almost as soon as I could
spell) with the Snob Papers. I knew them almost by heart,
particularly the visit to the Pontos; and I remember my surprise
when I found, long afterwards, that they were famous, and signed
with a famous name; to me, as I read and admired them, they were
the works of Mr. Punch. Time and again I tried to read Rob Roy,
with whom of course I was acquainted from the Tales of a
Grandfather; time and again the early part, with Rashleigh and
(think of it!) the adorable Diana, choked me off; and I shall never
forget the pleasure and surprise with which, lying on the floor one
summer evening, I struck of a sudden into the first scene with
Andrew Fairservice. 'The worthy Dr. Lightfoot'--'mistrysted with a
bogle'--'a wheen green trash'--'Jenny, lass, I think I ha'e her':
from that day to this the phrases have been unforgotten. I read
on, I need scarce say; I came to Glasgow, I bided tryst on Glasgow
Bridge, I met Rob Roy and the Bailie in the Tolbooth, all with
transporting pleasure; and then the clouds gathered once more about
my path; and I dozed and skipped until I stumbled half-asleep into
the clachan of Aberfoyle, and the voices of Iverach and Galbraith
recalled me to myself. With that scene and the defeat of Captain
Thornton the book concluded; Helen and her sons shocked even the
little schoolboy of nine or ten with their unreality; I read no
more, or I did not grasp what I was reading; and years elapsed
before I consciously met Diana and her father among the hills, or
saw Rashleigh dying in the chair. When I think of that novel and
that evening, I am impatient with all others; they seem but shadows
and impostors; they cannot satisfy the appetite which this
awakened; and I dare be known to think it the best of Sir Walter's
by nearly as much as Sir Walter is the best of novelists. Perhaps
Mr. Lang is right, and our first friends in the land of fiction are
always the most real. And yet I had read before this Guy
Mannering, and some of Waverley, with no such delighted sense of
truth and humour, and I read immediately after the greater part of
the Waverley Novels, and was never moved again in the same way or
to the same degree. One circumstance is suspicious: my critical
estimate of the Waverley Novels has scarce changed at all since I
was ten. Rob Roy, Guy Mannering, and Redgauntlet first; then, a
little lower; The Fortunes of Nigel; then, after a huge gulf,
Ivanhoe and Anne of Geierstein: the rest nowhere; such was the
verdict of the boy. Since then The Antiquary, St. Ronan's Well,
Kenilworth, and The Heart of Midlothian have gone up in the scale;
perhaps Ivanhoe and Anne of Geierstein have gone a trifle down;
Diana Vernon has been added to my admirations in that enchanted
world of Rob Roy; I think more of the letters in Redgauntlet, and
Peter Peebles, that dreadful piece of realism, I can now read about
with equanimity, interest, and I had almost said pleasure, while to
the childish critic he often caused unmixed distress. But the rest
is the same; I could not finish The Pirate when I was a child, I
have never finished it yet; Peveril of the Peak dropped half way
through from my schoolboy hands, and though I have since waded to
an end in a kind of wager with myself, the exercise was quite
without enjoyment. There is something disquieting in these
considerations. I still think the visit to Ponto's the best part
of the Book of Snobs: does that mean that I was right when I was a
child, or does it mean that I have never grown since then, that the
child is not the man's father, but the man? and that I came into
the world with all my faculties complete, and have only learned
sinsyne to be more tolerant of boredom? . . .


Two things are necessary in any neighbourhood where we propose to
spend a life: a desert and some living water.

There are many parts of the earth's face which offer the necessary
combination of a certain wildness with a kindly variety. A great
prospect is desirable, but the want may be otherwise supplied; even
greatness can be found on the small scale; for the mind and the eye
measure differently. Bold rocks near hand are more inspiriting
than distant Alps, and the thick fern upon a Surrey heath makes a
fine forest for the imagination, and the dotted yew trees noble
mountains. A Scottish moor with birches and firs grouped here and
there upon a knoll, or one of those rocky seaside deserts of
Provence overgrown with rosemary and thyme and smoking with aroma,
are places where the mind is never weary. Forests, being more
enclosed, are not at first sight so attractive, but they exercise a
spell; they must, however, be diversified with either heath or
rock, and are hardly to be considered perfect without conifers.
Even sand-hills, with their intricate plan, and their gulls and
rabbits, will stand well for the necessary desert.

The house must be within hail of either a little river or the sea.
A great river is more fit for poetry than to adorn a neighbourhood;
its sweep of waters increases the scale of the scenery and the
distance of one notable object from another; and a lively burn
gives us, in the space of a few yards, a greater variety of
promontory and islet, of cascade, shallow goil, and boiling pool,
with answerable changes both of song and colour, than a navigable
stream in many hundred miles. The fish, too, make a more
considerable feature of the brookside, and the trout plumping in
the shadow takes the ear. A stream should, besides, be narrow
enough to cross, or the burn hard by a bridge, or we are at once
shut out of Eden. The quantity of water need be of no concern, for
the mind sets the scale, and can enjoy a Niagara Fall of thirty
inches. Let us approve the singer of

'Shallow rivers, by whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.'

If the sea is to be our ornamental water, choose an open seaboard
with a heavy beat of surf; one much broken in outline, with small
havens and dwarf headlands; if possible a few islets; and as a
first necessity, rocks reaching out into deep water. Such a rock
on a calm day is a better station than the top of Teneriffe or
Chimborazo. In short, both for the desert and the water, the
conjunction of many near and bold details is bold scenery for the
imagination and keeps the mind alive.

Given these two prime luxuries, the nature of the country where we
are to live is, I had almost said, indifferent; after that inside
the garden, we can construct a country of our own. Several old
trees, a considerable variety of level, several well-grown hedges
to divide our garden into provinces, a good extent of old well-set
turf, and thickets of shrubs and ever-greens to be cut into and
cleared at the new owner's pleasure, are the qualities to be sought
for in your chosen land. Nothing is more delightful than a
succession of small lawns, opening one out of the other through
tall hedges; these have all the charm of the old bowling-green
repeated, do not require the labour of many trimmers, and afford a
series of changes. You must have much lawn against the early
summer, so as to have a great field of daisies, the year's morning
frost; as you must have a wood of lilacs, to enjoy to the full the
period of their blossoming. Hawthorn is another of the Spring's
ingredients; but it is even best to have a rough public lane at one
side of your enclosure which, at the right season, shall become an
avenue of bloom and odour. The old flowers are the best and should
grow carelessly in corners. Indeed, the ideal fortune is to find
an old garden, once very richly cared for, since sunk into neglect,
and to tend, not repair, that neglect; it will thus have a smack of
nature and wildness which skilful dispositions cannot overtake.
The gardener should be an idler, and have a gross partiality to the
kitchen plots: an eager or toilful gardener misbecomes the garden
landscape; a tasteful gardener will be ever meddling, will keep the
borders raw, and take the bloom off nature. Close adjoining, if
you are in the south, an olive-yard, if in the north, a swarded
apple-orchard reaching to the stream, completes your miniature
domain; but this is perhaps best entered through a door in the high
fruit-wall; so that you close the door behind you on your sunny
plots, your hedges and evergreen jungle, when you go down to watch
the apples falling in the pool. It is a golden maxim to cultivate
the garden for the nose, and the eyes will take care of themselves.
Nor must the ear be forgotten: without birds a garden is a prison-
yard. There is a garden near Marseilles on a steep hill-side,
walking by which, upon a sunny morning, your ear will suddenly be
ravished with a burst of small and very cheerful singing: some
score of cages being set out there to sun their occupants. This is
a heavenly surprise to any passer-by; but the price paid, to keep
so many ardent and winged creatures from their liberty, will make
the luxury too dear for any thoughtful pleasure-lover. There is
only one sort of bird that I can tolerate caged, though even then I
think it hard, and that is what is called in France the Bec-
d'Argent. I once had two of these pigmies in captivity; and in the
quiet, hire house upon a silent street where I was then living,
their song, which was not much louder than a bee's, but airily
musical, kept me in a perpetual good humour. I put the cage upon
my table when I worked, carried it with me when I went for meals,
and kept it by my head at night: the first thing in the morning,
these maestrini would pipe up. But these, even if you can pardon
their imprisonment, are for the house. In the garden the wild
birds must plant a colony, a chorus of the lesser warblers that
should be almost deafening, a blackbird in the lilacs, a
nightingale down the lane, so that you must stroll to hear it, and
yet a little farther, tree-tops populous with rooks.

Your house should not command much outlook; it should be set deep
and green, though upon rising ground, or, if possible, crowning a
knoll, for the sake of drainage. Yet it must be open to the east,
or you will miss the sunrise; sunset occurring so much later, you
can go up a few steps and look the other way. A house of more than
two stories is a mere barrack; indeed the ideal is of one story,
raised upon cellars. If the rooms are large, the house may be
small: a single room, lofty, spacious, and lightsome, is more
palatial than a castleful of cabinets and cupboards. Yet size in a
house, and some extent and intricacy of corridor, is certainly
delightful to the flesh. The reception room should be, if
possible, a place of many recesses, which are 'petty retiring
places for conference'; but it must have one long wall with a
divan: for a day spent upon a divan, among a world of cushions, is
as full of diversion as to travel. The eating-room, in the French
mode, should be ad hoc: unfurnished, but with a buffet, the table,
necessary chairs, one or two of Canaletto's etchings, and a tile
fire-place for the winter. In neither of these public places
should there be anything beyond a shelf or two of books; but the
passages may be one library from end to end, and the stair, if
there be one, lined with volumes in old leather, very brightly
carpeted, and leading half-way up, and by way of landing, to a
windowed recess with a fire-place; this window, almost alone in the
house, should command a handsome prospect. Husband and wife must
each possess a studio; on the woman's sanctuary I hesitate to
dwell, and turn to the man's. The walls are shelved waist-high for
books, and the top thus forms a continuous table running round the
wall. Above are prints, a large map of the neighbourhood, a Corot
and a Claude or two. The room is very spacious, and the five
tables and two chairs are but as islands. One table is for actual
work, one close by for references in use; one, very large, for MSS.
or proofs that wait their turn; one kept clear for an occasion; and
the fifth is the map table, groaning under a collection of large-
scale maps and charts. Of all books these are the least wearisome
to read and the richest in matter; the course of roads and rivers,
the contour lines and the forests in the maps--the reefs,
soundings, anchors, sailing marks and little pilot-pictures in the
charts--and, in both, the bead-roll of names, make them of all
printed matter the most fit to stimulate and satisfy the fancy.
The chair in which you write is very low and easy, and backed into
a corner; at one elbow the fire twinkles; close at the other, if
you are a little inhumane, your cage of silver-bills are twittering
into song.

Joined along by a passage, you may reach the great, sunny, glass-
roofed, and tiled gymnasium, at the far end of which, lined with
bright marble, is your plunge and swimming bath, fitted with a
capacious boiler.

The whole loft of the house from end to end makes one undivided
chamber; here are set forth tables on which to model imaginary or
actual countries in putty or plaster, with tools and hardy
pigments; a carpenter's bench; and a spared corner for photography,
while at the far end a space is kept clear for playing soldiers.
Two boxes contain the two armies of some five hundred horse and
foot; two others the ammunition of each side, and a fifth the foot-
rules and the three colours of chalk, with which you lay down, or,
after a day's play, refresh the outlines of the country; red or
white for the two kinds of road (according as they are suitable or
not for the passage of ordnance), and blue for the course of the
obstructing rivers. Here I foresee that you may pass much happy
time; against a good adversary a game may well continue for a
month; for with armies so considerable three moves will occupy an
hour. It will be found to set an excellent edge on this diversion
if one of the players shall, every day or so, write a report of the
operations in the character of army correspondent.

I have left to the last the little room for winter evenings. This
should be furnished in warm positive colours, and sofas and floor
thick with rich furs. The hearth, where you burn wood of aromatic
quality on silver dogs, tiled round about with Bible pictures; the
seats deep and easy; a single Titian in a gold frame; a white bust
or so upon a bracket; a rack for the journals of the week; a table
for the books of the year; and close in a corner the three shelves
full of eternal books that never weary: Shakespeare, Moliere,
Montaigne, Lamb, Sterne, De Musset's comedies (the one volume open
at Carmosine and the other at Fantasio); the Arabian Nights, and
kindred stories, in Weber's solemn volumes; Borrow's Bible in
Spain, the Pilgrim's Progress, Guy Mannering and Rob Roy, Monte
Cristo and the Vicomte de Bragelonne, immortal Boswell sole among
biographers, Chaucer, Herrick, and the State Trials.

The bedrooms are large, airy, with almost no furniture, floors of
varnished wood, and at the bed-head, in case of insomnia, one shelf
of books of a particular and dippable order, such as Pepys, the
Paston Letters, Burt's Letters from the Highlands, or the Newgate
Calendar. . . .


A mountain valley has, at the best, a certain prison-like effect on
the imagination, but a mountain valley, an Alpine winter, and an
invalid's weakness make up among them a prison of the most
effective kind. The roads indeed are cleared, and at least one
footpath dodging up the hill; but to these the health-seeker is
rigidly confined. There are for him no cross-cuts over the field,
no following of streams, no unguided rambles in the wood. His
walks are cut and dry. In five or six different directions he can
push as far, and no farther, than his strength permits; never
deviating from the line laid down for him and beholding at each
repetition the same field of wood and snow from the same corner of
the road. This, of itself, would be a little trying to the
patience in the course of months; but to this is added, by the
heaped mantle of the snow, an almost utter absence of detail and an
almost unbroken identity of colour. Snow, it is true, is not
merely white. The sun touches it with roseate and golden lights.
Its own crushed infinity of crystals, its own richness of tiny
sculpture, fills it, when regarded near at hand, with wonderful
depths of coloured shadow, and, though wintrily transformed, it is
still water, and has watery tones of blue. But, when all is said,
these fields of white and blots of crude black forest are but a
trite and staring substitute for the infinite variety and
pleasantness of the earth's face. Even a boulder, whose front is
too precipitous to have retained the snow, seems, if you come upon
it in your walk, a perfect gem of colour, reminds you almost
painfully of other places, and brings into your head the delights
of more Arcadian days--the path across the meadow, the hazel dell,
the lilies on the stream, and the scents, the colours, and the
whisper of the woods. And scents here are as rare as colours.
Unless you get a gust of kitchen in passing some hotel, you shall
smell nothing all day long but the faint and choking odour of
frost. Sounds, too, are absent: not a bird pipes, not a bough
waves, in the dead, windless atmosphere. If a sleigh goes by, the
sleigh-bells ring, and that is all; you work all winter through to
no other accompaniment but the crunching of your steps upon the
frozen snow.

It is the curse of the Alpine valleys to be each one village from
one end to the other. Go where you please, houses will still be in
sight, before and behind you, and to the right and left. Climb as
high as an invalid is able, and it is only to spy new habitations
nested in the wood. Nor is that all; for about the health resort
the walks are besieged by single people walking rapidly with plaids
about their shoulders, by sudden troops of German boys trying to
learn to jodel, and by German couples silently and, as you venture
to fancy, not quite happily, pursuing love's young dream. You may
perhaps be an invalid who likes to make bad verses as he walks
about. Alas! no muse will suffer this imminence of interruption--
and at the second stampede of jodellers you find your modest
inspiration fled. Or you may only have a taste for solitude; it
may try your nerves to have some one always in front whom you are
visibly overtaking, and some one always behind who is audibly
overtaking you, to say nothing of a score or so who brush past you
in an opposite direction. It may annoy you to take your walks and
seats in public view. Alas! there is no help for it among the
Alps. There are no recesses, as in Gorbio Valley by the oil-mill;
no sacred solitude of olive gardens on the Roccabruna-road; no nook
upon Saint Martin's Cape, haunted by the voice of breakers, and
fragrant with the threefold sweetness of the rosemary and the sea-
pines and the sea.

For this publicity there is no cure, and no alleviation; but the
storms of which you will complain so bitterly while they endure,
chequer and by their contrast brighten the sameness of the fair-
weather scenes. When sun and storm contend together--when the
thick clouds are broken up and pierced by arrows of golden
daylight--there will be startling rearrangements and
transfigurations of the mountain summits. A sun-dazzling spire of
alp hangs suspended in mid-sky among awful glooms and blackness; or
perhaps the edge of some great mountain shoulder will be designed
in living gold, and appear for the duration of a glance bright like
a constellation, and alone 'in the unapparent.' You may think you
know the figure of these hills; but when they are thus revealed,
they belong no longer to the things of earth--meteors we should
rather call them, appearances of sun and air that endure but for a
moment and return no more. Other variations are more lasting, as
when, for instance, heavy and wet snow has fallen through some
windless hours, and the thin, spiry, mountain pine trees stand each
stock-still and loaded with a shining burthen. You may drive
through a forest so disguised, the tongue-tied torrent struggling
silently in the cleft of the ravine, and all still except the
jingle of the sleigh bells, and you shall fancy yourself in some
untrodden northern territory--Lapland, Labrador, or Alaska.

Or, possibly, you arise very early in the morning; totter down
stairs in a state of somnambulism; take the simulacrum of a meal by
the glimmer of one lamp in the deserted coffee-room; and find
yourself by seven o'clock outside in a belated moonlight and a
freezing chill. The mail sleigh takes you up and carries you on,
and you reach the top of the ascent in the first hour of the day.
To trace the fires of the sunrise as they pass from peak to peak,
to see the unlit tree-tops stand out soberly against the lighted
sky, to be for twenty minutes in a wonderland of clear, fading
shadows, disappearing vapours, solemn blooms of dawn, hills half
glorified already with the day and still half confounded with the
greyness of the western heaven--these will seem to repay you for
the discomforts of that early start; but as the hour proceeds, and
these enchantments vanish, you will find yourself upon the farther
side in yet another Alpine valley, snow white and coal black, with
such another long-drawn congeries of hamlets and such another
senseless watercourse bickering along the foot. You have had your
moment; but you have not changed the scene. The mountains are
about you like a trap; you cannot foot it up a hillside and behold
the sea as a great plain, but live in holes and corners, and can
change only one for another.


There has come a change in medical opinion, and a change has
followed in the lives of sick folk. A year or two ago and the
wounded soldiery of mankind were all shut up together in some
basking angle of the Riviera, walking a dusty promenade or sitting
in dusty olive-yards within earshot of the interminable and
unchanging surf--idle among spiritless idlers; not perhaps dying,
yet hardly living either, and aspiring, sometimes fiercely, after
livelier weather and some vivifying change. These were certainly
beautiful places to live in, and the climate was wooing in its
softness. Yet there was a later shiver in the sunshine; you were
not certain whether you were being wooed; and these mild shores
would sometimes seem to you to be the shores of death. There was a
lack of a manly element; the air was not reactive; you might write
bits of poetry and practise resignation, but you did not feel that
here was a good spot to repair your tissue or regain your nerve.
And it appears, after all, that there was something just in these
appreciations. The invalid is now asked to lodge on wintry Alps; a
ruder air shall medicine him; the demon of cold is no longer to be
fled from, but bearded in his den. For even Winter has his 'dear
domestic cave,' and in those places where he may be said to dwell
for ever tempers his austerities.

Any one who has travelled westward by the great transcontinental
railroad of America must remember the joy with which he perceived,
after the tedious prairies of Nebraska and across the vast and
dismal moorlands of Wyoming, a few snowy mountain summits alone,
the southern sky. It is among these mountains in the new State of
Colorado that the sick man may find, not merely an alleviation of
his ailments, but the possibility of an active life and an honest
livelihood. There, no longer as a lounger in a plaid, but as a
working farmer, sweating at his work, he may prolong and begin anew
his life. Instead of the bath-chair, the spade; instead of the
regulated walk, rough journeys in the forest, and the pure, rare
air of the open mountains for the miasma of the sick-room--these
are the changes offered him, with what promise of pleasure and of
self-respect, with what a revolution in all his hopes and terrors,
none but an invalid can know. Resignation, the cowardice that apes
a kind of courage and that lives in the very air of health resorts,
is cast aside at a breath of such a prospect. The man can open the
door; he can be up and doing; he can be a kind of a man after all
and not merely an invalid.

But it is a far cry to the Rocky Mountains. We cannot all of us go
farming in Colorado; and there is yet a middle term, which combines
the medical benefits of the new system with the moral drawbacks of
the old. Again the invalid has to lie aside from life and its
wholesome duties; again he has to be an idler among idlers; but
this time at a great altitude, far among the mountains, with the
snow piled before his door and the frost flowers every morning on
his window. The mere fact is tonic to his nerves. His choice of a
place of wintering has somehow to his own eyes the air of an act of
bold contract; and, since he has wilfully sought low temperatures,
he is not so apt to shudder at a touch of chill. He came for that,
he looked for it, and he throws it from him with the thought.

A long straight reach of valley, wall-like mountains upon either
hand that rise higher and higher and shoot up new summits the
higher you climb; a few noble peaks seen even from the valley; a
village of hotels; a world of black and white--black pine-woods,
clinging to the sides of the valley, and white snow flouring it,
and papering it between the pine-woods, and covering all the
mountains with a dazzling curd; add a few score invalids marching
to and fro upon the snowy road, or skating on the ice-rinks,
possibly to music, or sitting under sunshades by the door of the
hotel--and you have the larger features of a mountain sanatorium.
A certain furious river runs curving down the valley; its pace
never varies, it has not a pool for as far as you can follow it;
and its unchanging, senseless hurry is strangely tedious to
witness. It is a river that a man could grow to hate. Day after
day breaks with the rarest gold upon the mountain spires, and
creeps, growing and glowing, down into the valley. From end to end
the snow reverberates the sunshine; from end to end the air tingles
with the light, clear and dry like crystal. Only along the course
of the river, but high above it, there hangs far into the noon, one
waving scarf of vapour. It were hard to fancy a more engaging
feature in a landscape; perhaps it is harder to believe that
delicate, long-lasting phantom of the atmosphere, a creature of the
incontinent stream whose course it follows. By noon the sky is
arrayed in an unrivalled pomp of colour--mild and pale and melting
in the north, but towards the zenith, dark with an intensity of
purple blue. What with this darkness of heaven and the intolerable
lustre of the snow, space is reduced again to chaos. An English
painter, coming to France late in life, declared with natural anger
that 'the values were all wrong.' Had he got among the Alps on a
bright day he might have lost his reason. And even to any one who
has looked at landscape with any care, and in any way through the
spectacles of representative art, the scene has a character of
insanity. The distant shining mountain peak is here beside your
eye; the neighbouring dull-coloured house in comparison is miles
away; the summit, which is all of splendid snow, is close at hand;
the nigh slopes, which are black with pine trees, bear it no
relation, and might be in another sphere. Here there are none of
those delicate gradations, those intimate, misty joinings-on and
spreadings-out into the distance, nothing of that art of air and
light by which the face of nature explains and veils itself in
climes which we may be allowed to think more lovely. A glaring
piece of crudity, where everything that is not white is a solecism
and defies the judgment of the eyesight; a scene of blinding
definition; a parade of daylight, almost scenically vulgar, more
than scenically trying, and yet hearty and healthy, making the
nerves to tighten and the mouth to smile: such is the winter
daytime in the Alps.

With the approach of evening all is changed. A mountain will
suddenly intercept the sun; a shadow fall upon the valley; in ten
minutes the thermometer will drop as many degrees; the peaks that
are no longer shone upon dwindle into ghosts; and meanwhile,
overhead, if the weather be rightly characteristic of the place,
the sky fades towards night through a surprising key of colours.
The latest gold leaps from the last mountain. Soon, perhaps, the
moon shall rise, and in her gentler light the valley shall be
mellowed and misted, and here and there a wisp of silver cloud upon
a hilltop, and here and there a warmly glowing window in a house,
between fire and starlight, kind and homely in the fields of snow.

But the valley is not seated so high among the clouds to be
eternally exempt from changes. The clouds gather, black as ink;
the wind bursts rudely in; day after day the mists drive overhead,
the snow-flakes flutter down in blinding disarray; daily the mail
comes in later from the top of the pass; people peer through their
windows and foresee no end but an entire seclusion from Europe, and
death by gradual dry-rot, each in his indifferent inn; and when at
last the storm goes, and the sun comes again, behold a world of
unpolluted snow, glossy like fur, bright like daylight, a joy to
wallowing dogs and cheerful to the souls of men. Or perhaps from
across storied and malarious Italy, a wind cunningly winds about
the mountains and breaks, warm and unclean, upon our mountain
valley. Every nerve is set ajar; the conscience recognises, at a
gust, a load of sins and negligences hitherto unknown; and the
whole invalid world huddles into its private chambers, and silently
recognises the empire of the Fohn.


There will be no lack of diversion in an Alpine sanitarium. The
place is half English, to be sure, the local sheet appearing in
double column, text and translation; but it still remains half
German; and hence we have a band which is able to play, and a
company of actors able, as you will be told, to act. This last you
will take on trust, for the players, unlike the local sheet,
confine themselves to German and though at the beginning of winter
they come with their wig-boxes to each hotel in turn, long before
Christmas they will have given up the English for a bad job. There
will follow, perhaps, a skirmish between the two races; the German
element seeking, in the interest of their actors, to raise a
mysterious item, the Kur-taxe, which figures heavily enough already
in the weekly bills, the English element stoutly resisting.
Meantime in the English hotels home-played farces, tableaux-
vivants, and even balls enliven the evenings; a charity bazaar
sheds genial consternation; Christmas and New Year are solemnised
with Pantagruelian dinners, and from time to time the young folks
carol and revolve untunefully enough through the figures of a
singing quadrille.

A magazine club supplies you with everything, from the Quarterly to
the Sunday at Home. Grand tournaments are organised at chess,
draughts, billiards and whist. Once and again wandering artists
drop into our mountain valley, coming you know not whence, going
you cannot imagine whither, and belonging to every degree in the
hierarchy of musical art, from the recognised performer who
announces a concert for the evening, to the comic German family or
solitary long-haired German baritone, who surprises the guests at
dinner-time with songs and a collection. They are all of them good
to see; they, at least, are moving; they bring with them the
sentiment of the open road; yesterday, perhaps, they were in Tyrol,
and next week they will be far in Lombardy, while all we sick folk
still simmer in our mountain prison. Some of them, too, are
welcome as the flowers in May for their own sake; some of them may
have a human voice; some may have that magic which transforms a
wooden box into a song-bird, and what we jeeringly call a fiddle
into what we mention with respect as a violin. From that grinding
lilt, with which the blind man, seeking pence, accompanies the beat
of paddle wheels across the ferry, there is surely a difference
rather of kind than of degree to that unearthly voice of singing
that bewails and praises the destiny of man at the touch of the
true virtuoso. Even that you may perhaps enjoy; and if you do so
you will own it impossible to enjoy it more keenly than here, im
Schnee der Alpen. A hyacinth in a pot, a handful of primroses
packed in moss, or a piece of music by some one who knows the way
to the heart of a violin, are things that, in this invariable
sameness of the snows and frosty air, surprise you like an
adventure. It is droll, moreover, to compare the respect with
which the invalids attend a concert, and the ready contempt with
which they greet the dinner-time performers. Singing which they
would hear with real enthusiasm--possibly with tears--from a corner
of a drawing-room, is listened to with laughter when it is offered
by an unknown professional and no money has been taken at the door.

Of skating little need be said; in so snowy a climate the rinks
must be intelligently managed; their mismanagement will lead to
many days of vexation and some petty quarrelling, but when all goes
well, it is certainly curious, and perhaps rather unsafe, for the
invalid to skate under a burning sun, and walk back to his hotel in
a sweat, through long tracts of glare and passages of freezing
shadow. But the peculiar outdoor sport of this district is
tobogganing. A Scotchman may remember the low flat board, with the
front wheels on a pivot, which was called a hurlie; he may remember
this contrivance, laden with boys, as, laboriously started, it ran
rattling down the brae, and was, now successfully, now
unsuccessfully, steered round the corner at the foot; he may
remember scented summer evenings passed in this diversion, and many
a grazed skin, bloody cockscomb, and neglected lesson. The
toboggan is to the hurlie what the sled is to the carriage; it is a
hurlie upon runners; and if for a grating road you substitute a
long declivity of beaten snow, you can imagine the giddy career of
the tobogganist. The correct position is to sit; but the fantastic
will sometimes sit hind-foremost, or dare the descent upon their
belly or their back. A few steer with a pair of pointed sticks,
but it is more classical to use the feet. If the weight be heavy
and the track smooth, the toboggan takes the bit between its teeth;
and to steer a couple of full-sized friends in safety requires not
only judgment but desperate exertion. On a very steep track, with
a keen evening frost, you may have moments almost too appalling to
be called enjoyment; the head goes, the world vanishes; your blind
steed bounds below your weight; you reach the foot, with all the
breath knocked out of your body, jarred and bewildered as though
you had just been subjected to a railway accident. Another element
of joyful horror is added by the formation of a train; one toboggan
being tied to another, perhaps to the number of half a dozen, only
the first rider being allowed to steer, and all the rest pledged to
put up their feet and follow their leader, with heart in mouth,
down the mad descent. This, particularly if the track begins with
a headlong plunge, is one of the most exhilarating follies in the
world, and the tobogganing invalid is early reconciled to

There is all manner of variety in the nature of the tracks, some
miles in length, others but a few yards, and yet like some short
rivers, furious in their brevity. All degrees of skill and courage
and taste may be suited in your neighbourhood. But perhaps the
true way to toboggan is alone and at night. First comes the
tedious climb, dragging your instrument behind you. Next a long
breathing-space, alone with snow and pinewoods, cold, silent and
solemn to the heart. Then you push of; the toboggan fetches way;
she begins to feel the hill, to glide, to, swim, to gallop. In a
breath you are out from under the pine trees, and a whole heavenful
of stars reels and flashes overhead. Then comes a vicious effort;
for by this time your wooden steed is speeding like the wind, and
you are spinning round a corner, and the whole glittering valley
and all the lights in all the great hotels lie for a moment at your
feet; and the next you are racing once more in the shadow of the
night with close-shut teeth and beating heart. Yet a little while
and you will be landed on the highroad by the door of your own
hotel. This, in an atmosphere tingling with forty degrees of
frost, in a night made luminous with stars and snow, and girt with
strange white mountains, teaches the pulse an unaccustomed tune and
adds a new excitement to the life of man upon his planet.


To any one who should come from a southern sanitarium to the Alps,
the row of sun-burned faces round the table would present the first
surprise. He would begin by looking for the invalids, and he would
lose his pains, for not one out of five of even the bad cases bears
the mark of sickness on his face. The plump sunshine from above
and its strong reverberation from below colour the skin like an
Indian climate; the treatment, which consists mainly of the open
air, exposes even the sickliest to tan, and a tableful of invalids
comes, in a month or two, to resemble a tableful of hunters. But
although he may be thus surprised at the first glance, his
astonishment will grow greater, as he experiences the effects of
the climate on himself. In many ways it is a trying business to
reside upon the Alps: the stomach is exercised, the appetite often
languishes; the liver may at times rebel; and because you have come
so far from metropolitan advantages, it does not follow that you
shall recover. But one thing is undeniable--that in the rare air,
clear, cold, and blinding light of Alpine winters, a man takes a

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