Literary Rambles in France III.

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CHAPTER XI.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GEORGE SAND

I.

LA CHÂTRE AND NOHANT

 

GEORGE SAND (1804-76), by Thomas Couture.
Picture: Internet Text Archive


THE traveller bound direct from England to the scenery of central France may be likened to the patriarch who served too long an apprenticeship before securing the object of his aspirations.  Monotonous and unsuggestive as is the stage between Calais and Paris, equally flat and unpictorial is the area traversed between the capital and Châteauroux on the Orleans railway.  No sooner do we quit this unattractive town than the plain comes to an end.  Instead of tract after tract of chess-board cultivation we see fields set round with tall hedges, dimpled meadows intersected by limpid streams, glimpses of glen and coppice on either side of the railway, above chestnut woods rising violet hills crowned with feudal ruins.  We have reached the shores of old romance—a region glorified by genius.

    The ancient province of the Berry breathes of the great woman writer whose centenary has just been celebrated.  She is its presiding genius.  To how many a spot has she accorded a local habitation and a name!  In our rambles hereabout how often do we encounter figures that seem familiar peasant-folk as she portrayed, some aver, idealised them in her inimitable pages!  There may be some truth in this charge.  George Sand preferred to dwell on the engaging side of rustic character.  But her insight was unerring.  She loved and comprehended the good Berrichons among whom she lived and died.

    Châteauroux, with the exception of some handsome modern churches, possesses little attraction for the traveller.  As I had made this town my headquarters when studying peasant farming in the Indre many years before, myself and companion next day took the train for La Châtre on the line from Tours to Montluçon, a distance of twenty-three miles.  At first, the scenery reminded us of England, but soon the aspect changed.  Enclosed fields, farmhouses and cottages having little gardens, now gave way to masses of oak and chestnut wood, wide sweeps of furze and heather, and pastures animated with grazing kine.  The brilliant foliage and undulating meadowland had the effect of vast parks.  Mistletoe I noted in abundance, and tall poplars, plane and service-berry trees made of every high road a shady boulevard.  Beneficent and graceful is this planting of the public ways with umbrageous trees.  What a boon are these interminable alleys to the wayfarer!

    The month of my second, as of my first, visit to La Châtre was September; on the present occasion the weather being tropical with twilights and sunsets of great beauty.  There is a luminosity of atmosphere here reminding me of certain seasons in Anjou and the Gironde, afterglows almost as illuminating as moonlight, 'the coming on of grateful evening mild,' of intense transparence and beauty.

    La Châtre is a prettily placed, very noisy, not too clean little town.  High above the valley rise its antiquated houses, whilst below, amid lofty poplars, and gardens, and meads, flows the Indre.  'Dear, cold, noiseless little Indre,' writes George Sand, apologising to her river for being enamoured of its sister, the sky-blue, sparkling Creuse and its 'mutinous little waves.'

    On the occasion of my first visit, an old waiter at the hotel, or rather commercial inn, of St. Germain chatted to me of George Sand.  'Ah!  I knew her well, a very charming woman' (une bien charmante femme), was the gallant old fellow's whimsical appreciation.

    The lover of ancient domestic architecture will be happy here.  Two houses having elaborate timber dormers and decorations are in perfect preservation, but La Châtre, like most French towns, is trying to keep pace with progress and modern ideas.  Since my first visit handsome public buildings and suburban quarters had sprung up.  Should I make a third pilgrimage to this literary shrine greater changes still would certainly be in store for me.  A broad, handsome boulevard leads from the station to the newer town.  In the midst of a beautifully-laid-out garden, stands the noble statue of Aimé Millet.  The monument is entirely due to local generosity.  Every farthing of cost was defrayed by the townsfolk and residents of the department, the inauguration taking place with great pomp.  It is a fine piece of work.  Carved out of white Pyrenean marble, the figure somewhat larger than life, George Sand sits in an easy, contemplative attitude, pen in hand, and face uplifted.  Her dress is characterised by Greek statuesqueness and simplicity, large unconventional folds suggesting no epoch.  A scarf is loosely tied round her throat under the plain linen collar, the hair falling in waves from the powerful face.  Intellectual force, a fearless spirit, and powerful will are admirably rendered by the sculptor.  She is represented in her prime.  On the pedestal are inscribed dates of birth and death and titles of her chefs-d'œuvre.

    Especially striking was the statue as we saw it in the evening light, the white marble pencilled against the clear heavens, the monument well set off by the dark foliage forming a background.  How the little town is thereby glorified!  Tourists can now reach Nohant by railway, but the three miles' drive from La Châtre is preferable, since it takes us through the scenery of La petite Fadette, 'the corner of Berry that I live in and nowadays seldom quit,' wrote George Sand in 1857, 'the ensemble of plain and valley named by me la Vallée Noire.'  We traverse the road followed so often by the novelist and by how many illustrious guests—Balzac, Theophile Gautier, Dumas, Flaubert, a never-broken succession of kindred spirits bidden to her hospitable walls.

    For a while we follow the Indre, flowing quietly between well-cultivated fields of rich loam.  So rich indeed is the soil that three or four crops of lucerne are raised in the year.  Hedges are few and far between, maize, potatoes, beetroot, buckwheat, and lucerne making brilliantly variegated patches.  The beautiful dun-coloured cows of Berry were breaking up the fallow, every feature in the scene recalling pages from Le Meunier d'Angibault, La petite Fadette, and other idylls.  The humble sparsely-scattered dwellings, often mere mud-built, whitewashed cabins, and youthful herdsmen and little goose-girls recall George Sand's childhood.  Many years were spent under her grandmother's roof by the lonely little Aurore Dupin, her only playmates and companions being village children, the heroes and heroines of romances to come.  Nothing delighted her so much as the veillées, story-telling evenings, round rustic firesides when one after another would relate horrifying encounters with ghosts, kobolds, and were-wolves.  To no purpose, she tells us, did she try to waylay apparitions and enchanted animals; none appeared, but years afterwards such narratives proved a source of happiest inspiration.

    On our way we pass a country house connected with the deepest joys and most poignant disillusions of George Sand.  Here for some time lived that passionately loved daughter Solange, wife of Max Clésinger, the sculptor, who seems to have possessed her mother's romantic temperament, almost indeed a touch of her genius, but without her grand qualities.  The correspondence of this strange pair has just been given to the world, [p.147] and reveals a dreary tale of alternating estrangement and reconciliation.  Nor was Mme. Clésinger happier as a wife than as a daughter.  When she settled within a walk of Nohant she was separated from her husband, and although she had lost an only child, the grandmother's idol, intercourse had been regulated beforehand.  Solange could only be received at stipulated hours; she remained indeed on the footing of a neighbour.  Tragic is the story told by these letters, many of them written at midnight, bedewed with tears, each writer by turns wounding the other, attempting to heal each other's wounds.  Understanding, calm, placableness seemed impossible to both.

    Half an hour's drive brings us in sight of Nohant, the house peeping from the trees.  Close to the road stands an ivied summer-house, her petit trianon, the novelist called it, in which she spent busy hours.

    On the occasion of my first visit George Sand's son with his Italian wife and their two daughters occupied the maternal château.  Here let me note an interesting fact.  In contradistinction to English law, no one in France can change his or her name except by marriage, when men occasionally tack on the wife's name to their own.  But the Code Civil bows before genius.  Maurice Dudevant was allowed to assume the pseudonym his mother had made so famous and become Maurice Sand.  Similarly, although French law strictly forbids the assumption of masculine attire by women, unmolested Rosa Bonheur wore paletot and pantalons, and another Frenchwoman, Mme. Dieulafoy, the archaeologist, is even allowed to appear at the Élysee thus translated.

    Thinking that perhaps M. Maurice Sand would admit an English pilgrim to this literary shrine, I sent in my card, asking the great favour of a peep at George Sand's rooms.  The petition was politely refused; Monsieur was an invalid, the neat woman-servant said, but I was quite welcome to stroll about the garden at my leisure.  A delightfully old-fashioned garden it is, for use rather than ornament, wide walks bordered with flowers intersecting beds of pot-herbs and vegetables.  The house, which fronts this wide, open space surrounded by park-like greenery and wood, is a square plain building without any pretension to architectural elegance.  Close to her beloved home George Sand is buried.  A few paces from the house a bit of her own land was incorporated into the parish burial-ground, church and village lying on the other side.  A plain slab of grey marble records the great writer's name, with date of birth and death.

    When after an interval of some years I revisited garden and cemetery, the name of Maurice Sand had been inscribed under that of his mother.  He was interred according to the Protestant rites.  It is said that only out of respect for the feelings of her humble neighbours George Sand decided that her own interment should be after the Roman ritual.  She loved these good country folks so well that she could not bear the thought of not being considered one of themselves in the grave as she had been throughout life.

    But, whilst loving and understanding the peasants as no other writer has done, George Sand consorted with the most brilliant intellects of the time.  In her later years at Nohant she kept open house.  From one end of the year to the other between the modest residence called chateau and La Châtre there was a perpetual going and coming of visitors.  Boon companions found it difficult to tear themselves away.  Little wonder that she confessed to a friend in 1869: 'I have earned a million [£40,000] in the course of my life, and have never saved a penny except twenty thousand francs [£800], which I have put by so that I may not cost my children too much if I fall ill'—with happy unconcern adding, 'And that little capital I am not sure of keeping, for it may be needed by others in greater want than myself.'

    Just upon forty years earlier Balzac had visited Nohant, finding his hostess sitting alone by the fire, smoking a cigar after dinner, in semi-oriental dress, and 'not having a single white hair in spite of her terrible troubles.'  He adds, 'When she reflects, her face has but little expression.  With her, the eye is the entire physiognomy.  For a year she has lived here working desperately, and living after my own plan turned topsy-turvy.  That is to say, she goes to bed at six in the morning, and rises at midday, whilst I retire at six in the evening, and rise at midnight.'

    'For three days consecutively,' he continues, 'we chatted from five o'clock post meridiem until five o'clock in the morning, discussing the grave questions of love and human liberty with the candour, earnestness, and good faith befitting shepherds of the human flock.  She is an excellent mother, and is adored by her children.  She knows my opinions about her work, and thinks as I do, namely, that she has neither the gift of construction, nor pathos, nor reality, but without a knowledge of the French language she has STYLE.'

    I smile as I contrast George Sand's complacency with dear Sir Walter's resentment of adverse criticism.  How delicious is that letter to James Ballantyne à propos of Blackwood's suggesting that The Black Dwarf might be improved.  He wrote, 'Tell him and his coadjutor that I belong to the Black Hussars of Literature, who neither give nor receive criticism.  I'll be cursed but this is the most impudent proposal that was ever made.—W.S.'

    George Sand was not a brilliant talker, and her absence of expansiveness sometimes hurt, even affronted, ardent admirers.

    There is an amusing story of Théophile Gautier on this head.  When most reluctantly tearing himself from his beloved boulevards in order to visit Nohant, the poet was so much affronted by his hostess's undemonstrative, as he thought, cold manner, that he re-packed his portmanteau.  But for mediation on the part of a fellow guest, he would have hastened home.

    'You had not, then, told him that I was a simpleton?' (que j'étais une bête) was George Sand's naïve reproach to the peacemaker.

    Perhaps in 1873 Flaubert no less reluctantly tore himself from his country retreat on the same errand.  In company of Tourguéneff, the author of Madame Bovary visited his friend for many years, and was a constant correspondent at Nohant.  'The old troubadour who always sings, and will ever sing, of perfect love,' he called her, and she loved the name.  For his opus magnum, the so-called necessary romance, she entertained no great admiration.  'Salammbô may be magnificent,' she said, 'but the creatures of that period have no sort of interest for me.'

    The literary souvenirs of Nohant would fill volumes.

    On the occasion of my second visit, the chateau and grounds presented a dismally neglected appearance.  After vainly knocking and ringing at the porter's lodge we strolled into the garden now overgrown with weeds.  A troop of gipsies hovered about the place, some of the crones and veterans perhaps remembering the châtelaine who loved their tribe.  Very nice, fort gentils, she called the Berrichon gipsies.

    Nohant is now in the possession of George Sand's youngest and sole surviving grandchild, daughter of Maurice Sand and his Italian wife.

    The following memorials from one who knew and loved George Sand, and who more than once enjoyed the hospitality of Nohant, will fittingly conclude this sketch:—


    'George Sand possessed many characteristics of the bourgeoise.  An admirable business woman, despite her generosities and lavish expenditure, she left her affairs in perfect order, and not a single penny of debt.  From the very first her life was one of struggle and pecuniary embarrassments.  Married according to the régime de la communauté, on being divorced she bought back Nohant from her husband.  Besides allowing her daughter, when in turn divorced, a handsome income, she gave largely right and left.  It was impossible to her to say 'no' to necessitous fellow authors.  In the time of Mme. Dupin, her grandmother, Nohant had been kept up in seigneurial style, and George Sand's housekeeping was on a very liberal scale, with a good many domestics; Berrichon maidens from the neighbourhood.  There were always guests in the house, and her theatre must have cost a good deal.

    'There is one trait I should mention.  At table or in general conversation George Sand would never tolerate anything in the way of an unpleasant double entente, or any transgression of the strictest propriety.  She kept severe watch over her little Berrichonnes; and one visitor of the other sex, having taken a verbal familiarity with a housemaid, was never invited again.

    'An amiable defect in her character must also be mentioned.  She was often far too kind and encouraging to unpromising literary aspirants.  The dread of wounding would lead her to foster delusions, and in the end inflict a worse blow.

    'You ask me if I think she should have had her entire correspondence with de Musset published posthumously.  My reply is, yes.  George Sand had been so greatly maligned concerning this affair, such a step in my opinion was a necessary piece of self-justification.  The originals of these letters are now in the National Library, Paris.'


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XII.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GEORGE SAND

II.

THE VALLEY OF THE CREUSE


AT Châteauroux we quit the Indre for the Creuse.  'Dear little Indre, so cold, so noiseless as you meander through our meadows,' wrote George Sand, 'you are our legitimate companion, but all of us who dwell by your umbrageous banks are lovers of the Creuse and when we have three days' liberty we forsake you to dip our fingers in the turbulent little waves of the naïad of Châteaubrun and Crozant.'

    We have almost always a river in sight on our French travels.  The even-flowing, quiet Indre left behind, we now see the Creuse at hide-and-seek amid hill and dale, its curls looking like flakes of sky dropped here and there.

    Argenton is an ancient town pictorially terraced on the Creuse, its old-fashioned inn looking most inviting.  Unfortunately we had only a day for Gargilesse and George Sand's favourite valley, a delightful day's excursion.

    Being market day there was no little difficulty in obtaining a vehicle.  At last the master of the inn most obligingly undertook to drive us, and off we started in high spirits.  The August day if a trifle hot was perfect, the scenery charming and the realisation of a long-nurtured dream was at hand.

    We soon discovered that our host's horse was a frisky young animal only partially broken in, and but indeed for our host's imperturbable collectedness we should have been uneasy indeed.  To add to our discomfort the road was encumbered with country folks driving their cattle to market.  It seemed as if the live stock of the entire department was being brought to Argenton.  Furiously as John Gilpin, Monsieur le patron dashed along, oxen, pigs and sheep scuttling to right and left, their owners shouting, gesticulating, objurgating, himself paying no more attention to the uproar than Don Quixote to Sancho Panza's remonstrances when attacking the flock of sheep.

    Impassibility indeed was forced upon him; all his energies and muscular powers were of necessity concentrated upon his animal.  Away we flew through the sweet and pastoral country, getting over the ground like competents of the race-course, raising clouds of dust and creating perpetual hubbub; strange to say, reaching our destination without mishap.  My companion and myself had enjoyed with impunity what Victor Hugo would have described as a frisson nouveau (a novel shudder).  A grey feudal tower with massive walls, close by, a Romanesque church and straggling village, below these a bright little river bubbling over masses of rock and overshadowed with rich foliage,—such is Gargilesse, George Sand's 'pretty, darling little Switzerland,' the retreat in which she penned the fascinating Promenades au-tour d'un Village.

    It was in June 1857 that, accompanied by two friends, the novelist took up her abode here, all three being accommodated in the humble cottage still shown to strangers.

    So enchanted was she with the spot, its sheltered position, pure air and mild climate, that she dreamed of nothing less than a transformation.  'An Italy exists here,' she wrote in the fervour of patriotic enthusiasm, 'of that I am certain.'  Hotels, lodging-houses, improved channels of communication, were only needed, she was sure, and the English would flock thither as they did to the south, bringing prosperity in their wake.  Alas!  A few French artists and literary pilgrims visit Gargilesse during the autumn months, but the place can hardly be changed since George Sand's utilitarian dream of half a century ago.  Unfastidious tourists could be very happy here nevertheless, making the Hôtel Malesset their headquarters, and rambling hither and thither on the track of the romances.  In every direction her genius seems to brood over the place.  We are perpetually reminded of scenes, described as only her pen could describe them; the people also no less than the region recall her chefs-d'œuvre, those idylls which will surely last as long as the French language.

    Myself and companion had not much time for the chateau, which was, as George Sand tells us, repaired by the government of her time, its restoration giving the place 'a seigneurial, comfortable aspect,' nor for the tomb of Guillaume de Naillac, seigneur of Gargilesse, and perhaps one of the few feudal lords who were ever venerated as a saint.  Our driver was to meet us at the head of the valley two or three hours later; meantime, having brought provisions with us, we picnicked in as delightful a spot as I can remember.

    Just outside the village, and between us and the gorge, lay a small, enclosed meadow.  There, under wide-spreading elms, overhead a cloudless sky, to the music of twittering birds and rippling water, we feasted with the appetite of gipsies.  Everything here exhilarated, the brisk air, the pastoralness, the lovely surroundings.

    Fain were we to linger long in this enchanting spot, but the valley had to be traversed on foot, and our conductor would await us at its base.  So, reluctantly enough we emerged from our cool recess into the blazing sunshine.  And here let future worshippers at George Sand's shrine take a hint.  On no account explore the valley of the Creuse under an early afternoon sun even in November.

    No matter the season, this toilsome but well-repaid walk should be undertaken much earlier or later in the day.

    Hardly were we on our way when we found ourselves exposed to tropical heat and glare.  The valley, or rather gorge, at such times becomes a veritable burning-glass, by its conformation and structure absorbing every ray of sunshine, the parapet of micaschist on either side assuming painful lustre and blinding whiteness.  As at every step forward the well-hemmed ravine opened, the almost meridian fierceness became still more intense; yet with George Sand and her companions we could say that despite the tremendous heat of this meandering walk we could hardly regret having undertaken it.  Perhaps under no other circumstances would shining cliffs threaded by silvery streams, emerald swards and pure deep blue sky have been more striking by force of contrast.  Neither early morning nor sunset glow could have afforded a more brilliant picture.  And all the more blinding seemed white rocks, glittering cascades and sandy river-bed after the Theocritean nook left behind.  Hardly could our tired eye-balls take in the beauty of the scene, for strangely beautiful it was, a rare combination of pastoralness and sublimity.

    Thankful were we indeed to rejoin the high road where our host awaited us; his horse, or rather wild young colt, for it was nothing else, somewhat sobered by his twelve miles' gallop and perhaps a copious bait.  Be that as it may, we drove back to Argenton sedately enough, again encountering streams of market-folks but not disturbing their homeward march.

    The French peasant is often accused, and I fear not without reason, of hardness to his animals.  Here the rule seemed to be one of excessive tenderness, farmers and farming women footing it in the heat and dust, whilst their pigs, sheep, and calves lay comfortably installed in their carts.

    It was a memorable excursion.  In George Sand's words we had spent 'an Arcadian day in the heart of France; as times go, who can expect more?'

    Much has changed in the Berry since the novelist rendered it so famous, but the bucolic sites and character of the people have undergone little change.  From the volume devoted to Gargilesse and the valley of the Creuse, I quote a few sentences applicable to-day, as when she wrote, to the country folks she loved so well.

    'What services does not this patient, laborious being, the peasant, render society, his efforts undaunted by no matter what obstacles, often pursued in solitudes disdained by his fellows!  All he craves for is a bit of land; be it a rocky hillside or by a devastating torrent, there he will settle down, demanding neither roads, a handy market, shops, or other conveniences.  Accustomed to privations, he lives and toils resignedly under conditions that would be repellent to most men.  In rocky or mountainous regions the spade must replace plough and harrow, must solidify, and render fertile, unstable, stony patches of soil found here and there.  Alike in winter and summer he combats obdurate stone and ever-encroaching torrent, his life given up to perpetual damming and digging—life of a hermit, task of a beaver.  We might expect to find him a half savage; on the contrary, he is gentle, gay, and hospitable to the traveller who pauses in admiration of his labours.  These remarks do not apply to the banks of the Creuse only, but to entire populations scattered on French mountain-sides, living isolated from the world, but equally deserving our sympathy.'

    Elsewhere she adds—

    'These sons of the soil, are they better or worse than their fellow-toilers of the town?  I have never likened them to Theocritean shepherds, inheritors and continuers of the golden age.  What I see and hear convinces me that in the country proper, in regions remote from suburban districts, there are fewer sources of corruption, hence a relative immunity from vice.  These grown-up children among whom I live, I love them all.'

    Literary fashions and standards change, but as a great prose writer George Sand holds an unassailable position.  Among French classics the châtelaine of Nohant may be classed with the belle Marquise 'sans cœur mais pleine d'esprit'—Mme. de Sévigné.

    Tourists bound to Limoges from this point, soon come in sight of the pale blue sierra-like range of which in her old age George Sand made so sweet a fairy-tale for her grandchildren.  Le Chateau de Pictordu should be read by the way.

    The bit of railway abounds in fine perspectives, heath-covered sweeps alternating with chestnut woods and acacia groves, running streams intersecting hedged-in pastures and many a grey tower crowning rocky peak.  Especially striking is the distant view of Limoges.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIII.

III.

A LAST WORD ABOUT GEORGE SAND


THE magnificent if somewhat sombre pile in the Rue Richelieu, Paris, housing the oldest and, in certain respects, finest national library of Europe, also now contains some of the most impassioned love-letters ever penned.

    'Posterity,' wrote the poet to the novelist, his senior by six years, 'will recall our names with those of the immortal lovers who have but one between them, with Romeo and Juliet, Héloïse and Abélard, never named except in unison.'

    If this prediction has not been precisely fulfilled, the tragedy linking these most gifted, most strange, personalities imparts extra interest to both.  As we read their burning utterances we think less of the magic pens to which we owe Mauprat and Les Nuits than of the mere woman and mere man, lovers blindly courting, in the one case, bitterest illusion, in the other, despair.

    The history of the correspondence is as curious as the letters themselves. Written during the years 1833-35, the entire collection was confided to friends for posthumous publication by George Sand in 1864.  'After publication,' she wrote in her literary testament, 'I desire that the letters be handed over to the Bibliothèque Impériale (now the Bibliothèque Nationale) or to some other public library, so that all persons who desire it can verify the faithfulness of the reprint.'

    Not only were the wild outpourings of passion to be given to the world, two hearts for all time laid bare, but the blotted, tear-stained, feverishly indited pages were to become public property.  The complete correspondence of George Sand and Alfred de Musset was published in 1904, the centenary of the great novelist's birth.  And the National Library, founded by Charles V. in 1375, now contains the unique deposit, no pencilled scrap being omitted.

 

ALFRED DE MUSSET (1810-57.)
Picture: Internet Text Archive.


    Admirers of George Sand may perhaps regret that she should have regarded such a step in the light of obligatory self-justification.  Might it not have been better for her own reputation and for her descendants to let the unhappy episode fade from public memory?  Events warranted her action.  Calumniated during her life, one-sided judgments have done her injustice down to the present time.  She has been regarded by some as the evil genius of a young poet's life, the unhappy cause of his moral downfall and early death.  But no one can read these letters without coming to an opposite conclusion.  Already, at twenty-three, de Musset's being was saturated with morbidness, and he was a prey to the self-indulgence that ruined his career socially and shortened his days.

    On the contrary, George Sand's nature was robust, practical by comparison with de Musset's, and widely sympathetic.  Life meant much more to her than the passing capture of passionate love.  The poet's initiatory blunder lay in his belief that he could absorb such a nature; and for the time being, perhaps, if she did not nurse, at least she did not check the illusion.  It were hard to say which suffered more, although here, as in most cases, the axiom holds good—


'Oh! well for him whose will is strong,
 He suffers, but he will not suffer long.'


    De Musset died at the age of forty-seven, the victim of early dissipation and melancholia; George Sand survived him by twenty years, delighting the world with her exquisite prose to the last, in her old age writing plays for the sake of dowering her little granddaughter.

    It was after a very brief acquaintance that de Musset wrote to the already famous author of Indiana and Lélia:—'My dear George, I have something foolish and ridiculous to tell you.  You will laugh in my face, you will show me the door, and you will not believe that I am speaking the truth.  I am in love with you!  I have been in love with you from the first moment I crossed your threshold.'

    Aurore Dudevant, née Dupin, whose nom-de-plume of George Sand has attained world-wide fame, was now thirty.  Married at sixteen to a man with whom she had absolutely nothing in common, after the birth of two children a separation was mutually agreed upon and literature adopted as a career.  Appended to the letters are several rough sketches of her by de Musset.  In one of these she is seated pensively on a sofa, her strongly marked features in repose, her hands crossed over an open book.

    The beauty of George Sand's face was, however, the beauty of character and intellect.  De Musset, on the contrary, judging from the portrait affixed to Arvêde Barine's volume (Hachette) was a youthful Apollo; 'très dandy' had been George Sand's first description of him.  Already recognised as a poet, he was a victim to the literary phase called 'le byronisme,' and from Byronism in its worst sense he never freed himself.

    That hint of awakening passion was soon followed by open declaration, lovers' transports and lovers' quarrels. From the outset George Sand combated her feelings.  She evidently foresaw that only harm could thereby come to both.  But infatuation prevailed, and on the 22nd of December the pair embarked from Marseilles for Italy together.  The very first days of foreign travel and romance were marred by misunderstanding and recrimination, and in February of the following year de Musset fell dangerously ill, owing his life to the devotion of George Sand and of a young Italian doctor named Pagello.

    A new element of discord was now introduced into this strange romance.  Pagello, to quote Arvêde Barine, had also succumbed to the fascination of the novelist's 'grands yeux noirs.'  But to Pagello, de Musset felt that in great part he owed his restoration to health.  What happened between the trio will never be quite known.  If, as the writer just quoted, de Musset sacrificed passion to the sentiment of gratitude, it was not without bitter conflicts and stormy scenes, as the following extracts will show.

    'Adieu, my child,' he writes to her at Venice, himself on the point of going to Milan.  'No matter what may be your hatred or your indifference, if yesterday's kiss is the last I ever give you, know that I quitted your dwelling with the thought of having lost you for ever and of having merited such a fate.'

    In motherly strain she writes to him at Milan.  'Be prudent, be wise, be good, as you have promised.  May heaven protect you and bring you back safely to Venice if I am still here.  In any case I shall see you in the holidays.  And with what joy!  How dearly we shall love each other!  Adieu mon petit oiseau.  Aime toujours ton pauvre vieux George.'

    From Paris he writes in April of the same year—

    'Visit the Tyrol, Venice, Constantinople; follow your inclination; weep, laugh as the humour takes you, but some day when you find yourself sad and alone, remember that there exists one being in the world whose first and last love you have been.'

    The same note of reckless passion and despair runs throughout de Musset's letters to the last.  George Sand meanwhile was overwhelmed with anxieties apart from those of wounded sensibilities and lover's jealousy.  It is small wonder that she sometimes talked of suicide.  The following passage shows her cruel position.

    'A week ago I received a notification from Buloz (proprietor of the Revue des deux Mondes) that I should get 500 francs from Boucoiran; he is either neglectful or in love, for nothing has come.  Pagello has pawned my poor belongings.  I owe Rebizzo 200 francs and am determined to borrow no more.  Next week, unless the money comes, I shall have to go short of food (économiser sur mon estomac), for I am absolutely penniless and it is odious to have to depend upon others.'

    To this de Musset, still despairing but calmer, replies:—'I entreat you, pocket your pride and borrow of Rebizzo.  You are sure, whatever happens, of being able to pay him, and should Buloz refuse to give you a halfpenny, I have only to ask and I could get anything I like, a thousand, two thousand francs, from my mother.  My life belongs to you, and to ask a service of me is to render one.'  That reliance on his mother's liberality seems to have been ill-founded, as we shall see.

    In her next letter George Sand congratulates him on his chastened mood.  In language of great eloquence and beauty she urges him to throw off the trammels of the past, to love another, to work, to live indeed.  'Love is a temple built by him who loves in honour of one more or less deserving such adoration.  The idol is shattered, the lovely shrine remains, a sublime retreat wherein the heart is again steeped in the eternal flame, reimbued with the power of loving, of recreating a divinity.  Which is the fairer of the two epochs of inner life, that of tearful hope or lyric rapture?  Perhaps the first.  Take courage then.  Before you is a rude, painful, upward path, but it reaches lofty heights.  You were born to realise your destiny in this upper region, and to find your best happiness in the noblest exercise of your intellectual faculties.  Go on, hope that your career will be as beautiful as your poetic ideals.'

    But de Musset was utterly incapable of sprinkling cool patience on the heat of his distemper.  His next missive is frenzied in its self-surrender and vehemence.

    'Best beloved, sole beloved,' he writes, 'if the sacrifice of my life could secure you a single year's happiness, I would joyfully throw myself from a precipice to-morrow.  Think what it is to be alone without a friend, without a dog, without a sou, [p.170] without a hope, during three months perpetually in tears, a prey to constant ennui, a being empty as night.  I love you, I will love only you till I die!'

    The following year George Sand returned to Paris, Pagello accompanying her.  The poet and his 'Georgette,' his 'grand George,' met once more, with consequences easily foreseen.  All de Musset's infatuation, mixed with jealousy, again took possession of him.  Unable to remain near her he quitted home, writing from Baden:—

    'A week has passed since I left Paris and I have not yet written to you, waiting for the calmer mood which has not come.  Ah, George, what love was that, our love!  Never man loved as I love you still, do you realise it?  I am drowned in passion, overwhelmed, and know not if I live, eat, sleep, walk, breathe, articulate, and only know that I love.  I love you, I am dying of love that is nameless, eternal, insensate, fatal.  No, no, I shall never be cured, I shall not make an effort to live, I prefer to die, to die loving you is better than to live.  I know it well enough.  I am dying, but I love, I love, I love!'

    The winter of 1834-35 brought the pair together again, and this terrible history to a close.  In her turn George Sand falls under the former spell, allowed herself to be drawn into the vortex of passion.  Her letters at this period are no less fervid and self-abandoned than his own.  'Can anything be harder to me than what I endure now?' she writes.  'You hope you will come out of the struggle victorious, you say, or perish utterly.  But you are young, a poet, in the full force of youth and beauty.  Try, then.  As for me, I shall die.  Adieu, adieu.  I cannot give you up, I cannot accept your love, I can do nothing but throw myself on the ground and weep.  My only love, my life, my second self, leave me, but not alive,' and in a later note occurs the desperate sentence—'Shall we go to Franchart and there blow our brains out in company?  That were an easy matter enough.'

    The marvel is that some such course was not taken or that they did not both lose mental balance.  Again and again George Sand implores him to leave her, endeavours to convince him that happiness is impossible, that his mad jealousy renders further intimacy a mutual torture, and again and again, although convinced that it is so, he hesitates.  But the final rupture soon came.  Unable any longer to endure an existence, every moment of which was tempestuous, she fled in March to Nohant, in the Indre, the maternal chateau which afterwards became her home.

    The generosity of her nature is evidenced in a letter written a week later to her man of business, Boucoiran.  'My friend, do not speak disparagingly to me of Alfred.  To be brought to despise those we have loved is more painful than to lose them.'  The final pages of the volume relate the return of letters, ending with the following line from George Sand, of which we have a facsimile—

    'Adieu, mon enfant, Dieu soft avec toi.—G.'

    But the pair did not wholly lose sight of each other.  Three years later they occasionally met in Paris, and in 1848 they corresponded at length as to the final destination of the letters now safely housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale.  Their last interview took place in 1848.  Ten years later, a wreck alike physically and mentally, but rich in fame and honours, de Musset died at the age of forty-seven.  The following exquisite verses bespeaking a chastened frame of mind, of which I have endeavoured to convey the spirit, are almost hymn-like in their solemnity.


TRISTESSE

I.


My life is wasted, strength is spent,
    My friends have vanished one by one.
Light-heartedness and proud content,
    The poet's faith in self is gone!


II.


Truth once I looked on as a friend,
    She smiled responsive for a day,
Cruel I found her in the end,
    And turned my head another way.


III.


Eternal all the same is Truth,
    Let any that great fact ignore,
And witless as in cradled youth
    They fall asleep to wake no more.


IV.


God speaks and we must make reply,
    Though hearkening with reluctant ears.
The little left me till I die,
    I owe unto a few sad tears!


His life's work as a poet did not in some senses belie his own idea as touched upon in the Impromptu of which I also give a rendering—


Building verse to eternize
Momentary phantasies,
Wooing beauty, goodness, truth,
Never parting with his youth,
By haphazard, grave or gay,
Laughing, weeping, on his way,
Little nothings as he goes
All sufficing for his muse,
Into pearls transmuting tears,
Thus the poet spends his years.
Such the passion and the dream
That the poet best beseem.


And here is yet another attempt at a rendering.


BARBERINE'S SONG
I.


O knight resplendent, off to wars afar,
            Why must you roam,
            Remote from home?
Note yon dark sky without a single star.
            And snares o'erlay
            The wanderer's way.


II.


Could you believe the love you left behind
            An hour ago
            Was fickle too?
Vain seekers of renown, 'tis yours to find
            That glories pass
            As breath on glass.


III.


O knight resplendent, why must you be gone,
            With lance and shield
            To battlefield?
Whilst I, what can I do but weep alone,
            Who charmed erewhile
            With careless smile?


    George Sand lived to see the consolidation of the Third Republic, retaining her power of expression and wealth of imagination to the last.  When for the first time visiting Nohant twenty years ago, I chatted with village folks about their 'bonne dame' whom they loved so well.  If she idealised the peasant in her matchless idylls, the author of La petite Fadette understood them as no other French novelist has done.  And if it is the fashion to regard her novels slightingly, as a trifle out of date, time will assuredly vindicate her claims as one of the greatest prose-writers of nineteenth-century France.  In the unhappy story just outlined, it is impossible to arrive at the conclusion that either of the lovers was more sinned against than sinning.  Both were in some measure enfants du siècle, victims of an epoch; and, brave in the face of calumny during her lifetime, George Sand has fearlessly challenged the verdict of posterity.


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CHAPTER XIV.

ST. GEORGES DE DIDONNE, MICHELET'S
HOLIDAY HAUNT


IT is strange how some descriptions of places fascinate us, dwell in the memory, make us long to visit them, till at last our dream is realised too often with disenchantment.

    Such a spell was cast upon me many years ago by the perusal of Michelet's prose poem 'La Mer.'  Towards the middle of the last century the historian discovered a forest nook by the shore of the Atlantic, St. Georges de Didonne.  The mixed rural and seafaring life, the sturdy, artless character of the inhabitants—a handful of Protestants—the singular flora of the downs, the vast stretches of forest and perpetual sights and sounds of the sea held him captive.  Enchanted by so much primitiveness and natural beauty, here he remained six months, in his humble retreat penning pages as exquisite as any in the French language.

    'La Mer' had doubtless much to do with the material fortunes of St. Georges de Didonne.  Readers of the book and followers in Michelet's footsteps nowadays will find a great difference between his descriptions and the reality.  The lapse of time must also be taken into account.  When Michelet settled in this seaside nook it was a mere fishing village.  To-day the charming little bay is studded with villas, piecemeal the noble forests overlooking the shore have disappeared, the bathing season brings its visitors by the thousand, and a railway runs along the once solitary coast.  Already when I spent a summer holiday at St. Georges some years since, the transformation had begun in good earnest.  On the smooth, velvety sands croquet was played by day and quadrille parties were held by moonlight.  Family groups took their sea-baths or promenades en mer at low tide, and the one or two villas, hotels, and boarding-houses were full.  Elsewhere we found almost undisturbed solitude.

    Grandiose is the site of this tiny port: the broad, bright Gironde here flowing from Bordeaux to lose itself in the Atlantic; towering loftily from mid-ocean, Cordouan, 'the oldest lighthouse in Europe,' avers Michelet, and he adds, 'for six months our perpetual subject of contemplation and our society.'

    And how delicious were those inland rambles amid remnants of ancient ilex forests and plantations of young pine, dark and waxen green foliage sharply contrasted, overhead a warm, southern sky, ever in our ears the sound of sea waves rippling with most musical cadence!  Large white and coloured butterflies sported about the undergrowth, whilst every spot was fragrant with wild carnations, thyme, and aromatic immortelles.

    Along the shore, even in September, we found plenty of flowers, the evening primrose scenting the air, the silvery green sea-holly, the delicate heathlike sea-lavender, the handsome sea-poppy, the limosiris vulgaris, with its mass of little gold tufts, and many others.  Turning our backs upon the bits of pine-forest we would climb the downs, following a zigzag path, between us and the sea rising lofty cliffs of yellow tufa, fantastically hollowed and riddled, in which are found oysters in all stages of growth.  On the lee-side are tamarisks in rosy bloom; contrasted with these, ilexes bordering tiny vineyards, cornfields, or potato-beds growing high above the shore.

    At the time of which I write, a vast expanse in patches brought under cultivation stretched before us, whilst tall hedges draped with luscious blackberries bordered our path.  Every shifting scene was full of quiet stately charm, wide flowery downs, tamarisk and ilex groves on the edge of the cliffs; below, smooth brown sands and placid sea; in the distance lying Royan with its spires and bay and far-away river meeting ocean, the grand pyramidal tower of Cordouan conspicuous in the scene as the sun in the heavens.

    Leaving the white-washed walls of St. Georges with their trellised vines and patriarchal fig-trees behind us, we find a cool enchanting world of greenery.  In and out we wander, now following woodland paths, now losing ourselves in a fragment of venerable forest, now crossing little glades through which purls a crystal-clear rivulet, next we exchange such umbrageous seclusion for sunny cornfields, vineyards, and beds of Indian corn.  A variety of trees—ilex, oak, chestnut, elm, beech, birch, alder, acacia, and aspen—flourish side by side and in close proximity to the sea.

    The ilexes and aspens are—or were—magnificent; I use the past tense, for much I fear I should find few bits of forest left at St. Georges to-day.  Not only in the walks just described, but farther afield we would come upon what looked like silvery clouds dropped upon the dark masses of forest.  It was the aspen, mingling its pale yet resplendent tints with darker foliage.  Especially marked was the contrast afforded by the sombre, motionless ilex and ever rippling, ever murmuring, whispering aspen, summer and winter, hand in hand.

    And if the silvery ripple of the tremble, as this tree is poetically called in France, looks lovelier than ever under the azure heavens, equally is the leafage of the ilex thereby beautified.  How much do trees, their changes, varied foliage, and sounds contribute to our delight in the different seasons!

    Poetic as St. Georges appeared in its early stage of modernisation, the fishing village Michelet discovered must have been romantic indeed.  I will endeavour to give the spirit of his opening page; the seduction of such French as his naturally eludes the translator.

    A storm of exceptional length and fierceness had raged along the west coast of France during the close of October 1859.  Michelet writes—


    'This storm was observed by me from a spot where one might least have expected it, so peaceful and caressing is the little port of St. Georges de Didonne, near Royan, at the mouth of the Gironde.  I had there spent five months in great tranquillity, reviewing my ideas, interrogating my heart, seeking an atmosphere for subject so delicate, so solemn.  The place, the book assimilated agreeably.  Could I have written this work elsewhere?  I know not.  Thus much I do know, that the rustic fragrance of the district, its austere loveliness, the stimulating aroma of the woodlands, the flora of the wastes and of the shore count for much in my pages, of all they will always breathe.

    'The population harmonised with nature.  Here no vulgarity, no grossness.  Peasants of grave disposition and sober lives, sailors whose business is pilotage, a little Protestant race which has survived persecution.

    'A primitive probity reigns (locks and bolts were not as yet in vogue throughout the village).  No turbulence.  Among these seafaring men existed tact and discretion not always found in the most elevated ranks of society.  Received as a friend, regarding them as a friend, the solitude necessary for my work was never intruded upon by my neighbours.  All the more did I interest myself in their daily perils.  Silently my prayers followed them in their heroic calling.

    'Before the great storm I had felt uneasiness, as I observed the dangerous conformation of the coast, wondering if this quiet and beautiful sea had not cruel deceptions in store for us.  The scene so fraught with hazard is not at all sad.

    'Every morning from my window I beheld the sails of countless merchantmen just flushed with auroral rose awaiting a breeze to raise anchor.  The Gironde is here three leagues in breadth.  With the solemnity of great American rivers it has all the gaiety of Bordeaux.'


    Royan is a pleasure resort, patronised by Gascons from far and wide.  From the shores of Royan and St. Georges, we can enjoy a gratuitous spectacle, the sight of porpoises and their frolics.  In their playful leaps they will throw themselves five or six feet above the water.  Well enough they seem to understand that no one dreams of disturbing them.  The business of pilotage leaves no leisure for catching porpoises.

    To this gaiety of the sea add the unique and beautiful harmony of the coasts.  The luxuriant vineyards of the Médoc face the harvests and varied crops of the Saintonge.  The heavens have not the fixed, at times monotonous, brilliance of the Mediterranean.  Here they are very variable.  From the mingled currents, salt and fresh, rise iridescent clouds reflecting in their native mirror the strangest coloured clouds, bright green, rose, and violet.  Fantastic shapes people the piled-up monuments of cloud formation, bold arcades, lofty bridges, triumphal arches, the portals of ocean, for a moment visible then lost to sight.

    The two semi-circular shores of Royan and St. Georges with their fine sands, offer a smooth promenade to the most fastidious feet, the fragrance of young pines scenting the way.  The promontories separating the coasts and wastes emit health-giving fragrance, medicinal is the honeyed odour of immortelles, in their flowers being concentrated the warmth of sun and sands.

    Inland flourish astringent plants, their odours stimulating the brain and reviving the spirits—thyme, mint, sage, and above all, the wild pink, odorous as the choicest oriental spices.  It always seemed to me that the birds sang better on these wastes than elsewhere.  Never did I hear a lark carol as did one in July on the heights of Valliere.  She rose from amid the flowers, mounting, gilded by the setting sun.  Her voice so high above, perhaps a thousand feet from the soil, despite its sonorousness was none the less sweet and artless.  It was evidently to the nest, the humble furrow, that she addressed her rustic yet sublime song, thus interpreting the glory through which she modestly winged her way, encouraging her young to follow, enticing them with the cry, 'Follow, my little ones, follow.'

    For Michelet's fine description of the storm I refer readers to the volume itself; I only note one very interesting remark.  Throughout the five days' turmoil, winds and waves working woful devastation around, he tells us that his mind remained active; mistress of itself, he observed, he wrote.  'But,' he adds, 'fatigue and sleeplessness robbed me of one faculty that I held, the most delicate a writer can possess.  I lost the sense of rhythm.  My sentences wanted harmony.  This, the first chord of my instrument, was broken.'

    A lighthouse appeals strangely to the imaginative.  For several weeks Cordouan was my own daily contemplation also, and how I longed to visit it as Scott had visited the Bell Rock almost a century before!  What a charming page in his yachting diary is that devoted to the great northern beacon, its neat sleeping chamber, saloon, parlour, and the entertainment enjoyed within its walls.

    No experience so unique was to be my own.  The eight miles' sail from Royan to Cordouan is at all times difficult, often very risky, and only under exceptional circumstances are strangers permitted to undertake it.  Regretfully I quitted St. Georges with no nearer acquaintance of 'the white phantom' of Michelet's fanciful apostrophe.

    St. Georges is mainly a Protestant community.  Touching is the story of Le Pasteur du Désert, narrative of eighteenth-century persecutions and endurance.  Jarosseau, the subject of those pages and the historic pastor of St. Georges, was compelled to gather his flock together in forest depths, or with the little congregation put out to sea, holding service in a boat.  At night his bedroom was a walled-up cupboard approached by a secret stair.  Unable to endure such a state of things, at last he set off for Paris, and after many difficulties and rebuffs obtained an interview with Louis XVI.  On his knees he demanded permission to celebrate Protestant worship in his village.  The boon was granted and a few years later the Revolution proclaimed liberty of conscience throughout France, and Protestants obtained full civic rights.

    The little Sunday congregation is an interesting sight.  These matrons in the long black cloaks of their Huguenot ancestresses, these sunburnt peasants and seafaring patriarchs neatly dressed in black, have all strongly-marked, suggestive features.  We read on each countenance inherited convictions and powers of endurance, a humble yet heroic pedigree!

    St. Georges de Didonne is reached by way of Niort and Royan (Orleans Railway) and is just upon three hundred and fifty-five miles from Paris.  During the summer months, steamers make the journey from Royan to Bordeaux every other day, a pleasant two hours' sea-trip.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XV.

CHANTILLY AND MME. DE SÉVIGNÉ


CHANTILLY only needed the Duke d'Aumale's magnificent legacy to become one of the most attractive holiday resorts near Paris.  The graceful palace erected since the war of 1870-1 had already embellished the place, but its art treasures were not as yet accessible to the general public.  To tourists, nevertheless, Chantilly offered many charms.  The clean, quiet, friendly little town in the valley of the Nonette possesses individual engagingness.  Folks are sociable hereabouts.  If you stand lost in admiration of their long, beautifully-kept gardens, open to the road, they do not frown you away.  There are pretty walks by river and canal, and no matter in which direction you go, no one says you nay, no board marked 'Private; trespassers will be prosecuted' hinders advance.

    Then there is the perpetual sight of that fairy-like pleasure-house. Its stately gardens and park lie open, whilst beyond you have between six and seven thousand acres of forest in which to roam at will. During the hottest summer days delicious coolness is to be had close to the town; when the weather is breezy, sunny swards are equally within reach.

    Here a little English colony of horse-trainers and jockeys lives on the best possible terms with its French neighbours.  On Sunday mornings may be seen troops of our little country-people flocking to the Wesleyan Sunday-school; here and there a boy—presumably of Scotch parentage—proudly wearing kilt and bonnet, a tiny dirk, of course, in his Rob Roy stocking.

    'The explanation of horse-training as an English speciality,' observed a French friend to me as we strolled together by the exercise grounds, 'I take to be this: your compatriots are more patient with their animals than my own and other men following the trade.'

    What Chantilly may be like during the racing season I cannot say.  Certainly at other times, and I have often spent days and even weeks here, I can give the town a very quiet, orderly character.

    It was in 1875 that the Duke d'Aumale began to build a modern chateau on the foundations of the old.  The Chantilly of the Montmorencys and the Condés, of Mme. de Sévigné—and Vatel the cook!—disappeared during the Revolution.  When, in 1789, the Bourbon princes headed the general emigration, the populace became incensed.  In 1792 the château was used as a prison, and in 1794 it was rased by order of the Convention, on the ground of being a fortress.  The magnificent stables, with stabling for nearly two hundred horses, remain intact.

    The Duke, if not his own architect, entered into every detail, both within and without, attempting a reconstruction of the historic palace.  No chef d'œuvre of light, graceful architecture had more suitable surroundings.  The chateau with its pinnacles and turrets of the elegant Valois period stands sideways on the canal watered by the Nonette, and on clear days are obtained lovely effects of light and shadow, a reflected palace as beautiful as the solid reality being given by the limpid waves.  In front as behind stretch the quaint old gardens laid out by the famous Le Nôtre in the time of Louis XIV., marble terraces, orangeries, fountains, and statuary harmonising with the gleaming whiteness of the building.

    Oddly enough, as I gazed on Chantilly, my mind recalled a pleasure-house on the Baltic, the famous Putbus palace in the island of Rügen.  Just as dainty a picture as that Italian structure doubled in its lake is the Duke d'Aumale's Chantilly, to-day the property of the French Academy.  Such a comparison holds good with regard to picturesqueness and artistic interest only.  Putbus is without historic interest, whilst Chantilly is connected with dazzling pages of French story.  To have its records at the fingers' ends is to know more than one goodly chapter.  Most of us have read Mme. de Sévigné, and of the fabulous entertainment given by the great Condé to the Sun King, when Vatel, the cook, threw himself on his sword because the fish had not arrived for dinner.  But here a little court had been held by the greatest of the Montmorencys a century and a half before.  A statue of the fierce old warrior, Anne de Montmorency,—never man having a feminine name was more devoid of womanly softness—now stands in front of the new chateau; as the creator of its precursor, he deserves such a place.  This pitiless foe of Protestantism was not only a patron of the fine arts, but a connoisseur.  To him we are indebted for the treasures contained in the chapel, exquisite stained glass, carved altar-piece, panels in carved wood, and other gems.

    Let us first visit the château.  Wisely have its new owners ordained that visitors may wander at will through these sumptuous galleries.  Here no cicerone drives us like a flock of sheep from one place to another, barely allowing us time for the most cursory inspection.  Officials are at hand, but only to keep order and answer inquiries.  Emulating the generosity of its donor, the Institute throws open the Musée Condé, as Chantilly is called, on Thursdays and Sundays free of charge during six months of the year.  Large numbers of visitors, all country folks, and during my last visit I noticed among the crowd several Breton women wearing native costume.

    In French art Chantilly is particularly rich.  Fine works by Greuze, Ingres, Decamps, Delacroix, Meissonier, Gérome, and, coming down to our own time, Daubigny and De Neuville are kept here.  Among Italian masters figures the famous Raphael purchased of the Earl of Dudley for £25,000, a bagatelle to an Orleans prince.  Da Vincis, Titians, Vandycks, and Rembrandts, and interesting drawings by Ingres and other famous French artists enrich these galleries.  Beauvais and Gobelins tapestries, enamels, engraved gems, antique jewellery and plate, faïence in great variety form of themselves a rich museum, whilst the library deserves the same name.  The Duke was not only an accomplished writer and art collector, but a bibliophile, adding rare old editions in choicest bindings to his magnificent collection of books.  The arrangement of the library is very convenient and elegant, upper shelves being reached by light galleries.

    The Salle de la Smalah recalls an earlier and quite opposite phase of the Duke's life.  Here we see the glittering loot taken from the tents of Abd-el-Kader, weapons having jewelled handles, gorgeous stuffs and embroideries, rich horse-trappings, and vessels.  The Duke's portrait here represents him as the slim young soldier of 1842, a striking contrast to the portly, infirm septuagenarian some of us remember.  As was only natural in reconstructing Chantilly, the glory of the Condos was uppermost in his mind.  The chapel and Galerie de Monsieur le Prince commemorate the head of the Montmorencys and the Grand Condé; in these indeed two distinct phases are realised by portraiture and artistic memorials.  The chapel contains a series of portraits in stained glass, those of the great Constable, Anne de Montmorency, his spouse, Madeleine of Savoy, their four sons and four of their daughters, with John the Baptist and Saint Agatha keeping them company.  The entire family of the pair numbered twelve.  By a freak of fortune the foremost figure was deprived of his head.  For the portrait substituted we are indebted to other likenesses, notably, the medallion in wax at the Louvre, and the famous enamel of Léonard Limousin.  Anne de Montmorency also figures as the god Mars in the enamel after Raphael by the same artist, 'Le Banquet des Dieux,' which belonged to the Fountains collection and fetched seven thousand guineas.  The finish of these portraits on glass is remarkable, and every detail of costume is given with minute exactitude.

    The altar-piece is an elaborate work of finely grained marble, ornamented with bas-reliefs.  Both stained glass and altar-piece were formerly at Écouen, another appanage of the Montmorencys.  The Constable was a friend of the worthless Henri II., and highly suggestive here are the bow, arrows, and crescent recalling Diane de Poitiers.  These emblems of the king's mistress appear on the panels in stained wood adorning the chapel.  The panels are exquisitely carved; they remind us of the perfection attained by the decorative arts during the Valois régime, also of Schiller's remark.  Truly has the German poet declared that there is no connection between art and morality.

    As a château, Chantilly possesses all the magnificence of a royal residence, and here for a few years its owner held his state.  Here but for dynastic intrigues he might have remained.  The exile of the Pretenders twenty years ago could have surprised no one acquainted with French affairs.

    When, childless, a widower, and in failing health, the Duke was invited to return by M. Carnot's government, all had changed.  The heir of the Condé's could read the writing on the wall, he knew well enough that his house was doomed.  Partly perhaps out of gratitude, partly from a feeling that an amende honorable was due, he bequeathed Chantilly to the Institute.

    In the moment of their country's direst fortunes, immediately after Sedan, the Orleanist princes claimed the millions that had been confiscated by Napoleon III.  In doing so, did they realise that like Esau they sold their birthright for a mess of pottage?  Be this as it may, the Third Republic in at once satisfying the claim might well congratulate itself on an excellent bargain.  From that moment the fate of the Bourbons was sealed.

    Such considerations, however, do not in the least detract from the Duke's act of magnanimity.  It is gratifying to think that he spent the last years of his life in the stately pleasure-house he loved so well.  But all this time we have forgotten Mme. de Sévigné and Vatel the cook, two figures perhaps more humanly interesting than any others memorialised at Chantilly.

 

MME. DE SÉVIGNÉ (1626-96) by Claude Lefebvre (1665).
Picture: Internet Text Archive.


    No one indeed must visit the place without a volume of the immortal letters, or without a rereading of that dated April 26, 1674.

    The 'belle marquise sans cœur mais aver beaucoup d'esprit,' thus has she been described, had just returned from Chantilly, where the king had been feted with extraordinary splendour.

    'The King arrived on Thursday evening.  The hunt, illuminations, walks, collation on a bit of turf blooming with jonquils, all went off well.  Then came supper.  Extra tables had to be set and at these the roast joint was wanting.  Vatel was overcome.  Again and again he said, "Honour is lost, I shall never be able to endure this mortification."  At four o'clock next morning he rose and wandered about, all the household being asleep.  At last came a fishmonger with two loads of fish.  "Is that all?" asked Vatel.  "Yes, Monsieur," was the reply, the man not knowing that Vatel had sent for fish to all the nearest seaports.  Vatel waited a little while.  No fishmonger came.  "Monsieur," he said to Gourville, "I shall never survive this mortification.  My honour, my reputation are at stake."  The other treated the matter as a jest, but Vatel went straight to his bedchamber and threw himself on his sword.  He fell dead, and shortly afterwards supplies of fish arrived from the different seaports. . . . The King reproached Monsieur le Prince (le Grand Condé), telling him that he should only supply two dinner-tables, but it was too late to save poor Vatel!' who, however, has been immortalised, will live as long as the French language!


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CHAPTER XVI.

CARCASSONNE, ITS POET AND POETISER
 


'Mon Dieu! que je mourrais content,
 Après avoir vu Carcassonne!'


ONE of the first questions I have ever asked when reaching any unknown town or village in France, has been what illustrious name is connected with it, to what historic personage has it given birth?  Persons are so much more interesting than places! or to put the thesis less positively, any human mind must have so much more in common with any other mind than with natural accidents, or piled-up bricks and mortar.  Mountains, lakes, and waterfalls awaken perhaps a deeper feeling than that of mere mortal fellowship.  Stately piles and other monuments raised by collective genius impress us with a vague sense of personality.  More nearly comes home to us the inseparableness of a name and its surroundings, the eternal impress of mind and character on inanimate scenes.  Here nature not seldom plays curious pranks.  Some magnificent places are absolutely wanting in a genius loci, others not so naturally favoured, on the contrary, are veritable Walhallas, whilst others have brought forth exactly the opposite of what might have been looked for.

    Before relating how Carcassonne has fared in this respect, let me describe the chef-lieu of the Aude or rather attempt to give some faint idea of the indescribable.  There is only one way of realising the wonderful little city in the clouds, and that is to follow the long Toulouse railway and so behold for oneself what a vast, variegated bit of map is traversed between Paris and the ancient Carcaso, how many regions, diverse as so many kingdoms, are passed through before we catch a glimpse of the Pyrenees!  Cornland, vineyards, olive-groves, pine-forests, mountains, rivers, valleys, each zone having its special climate, from one transformation scene to another we are whirled through in rapid succession, the last outshining all.

    A far-off sight of Carcassonne recalls some magic city in Arabian story.  Enchanted, intangible, no edifice reared by human hands seems that airy pile of pearl, opal, and amethyst, lifted high above the common world, its battlements dimly outlined against the golden heavens.  Almost a vision can we fancy the exquisite picture, and as we gaze we should hardly be surprised to see it melt away, dissolving with cloud pageantry like Prospero's airy palaces, leaving no wrack behind.  France numbers many walled-in towns, none are so perfect or so beautifully placed as this little acropolis in mid-heaven.  Above verdant plain, winding river, and scattered villages, towers mediaeval Carcassonne, its prosaic twin, the busy little Carcassonne of the work-a-day world lying below.

    Quitting the modern town which is given up to the pacific manufacture of capsules and retorts, crossing two bridges, and climbing steep, grass-grown streets and tumbling, deserted tenements we reach the ramparts, here enclosing an oval, not a rectangular, space as is the case at Aigues-Mortes.

    Toy-like were the proportions of the ancient city compared with its fortifications, Lilliputian capital hemmed round with Brobdingnagian defences.  The prodigious masonry before us rests on foundations laid by the
Visigoths, and well had those fierce warriors chosen their site.  These limestone heights must have seemed to them arisen for the purpose, sprung from the plain with the object of domination, enthroned for ever and only awaiting a crown.  The outworks that successfully resisted that ruthless devastator of Languedoc, the Black Prince, are now silent but for the occasional tread of guide and tourists, and, elevated as we are above the plain, no sound reaches us from the cheerful, bustling world at our feet.  Through the archers' loop-holes we obtain scenes of varying beauty, each clear-cut, brilliant in hues as a mosaic or a bit of Palissy ware.  At a depth of several hundred feet below, the Aude meanders by suburban villas and gardens, rich pastures, as far as we can see, the vast southward expanse being broken by gleams of shining water.  Intersecting the landscape are white threads bordered with greenery, those splendid roads or rather continuous boulevards that run through every part of France.  Sixty miles of yonder expanse divide us from the Pyrenees and a wayfarer footing it would have umbrageous shadow all the way.

    I think the glorious little round of the citadel was accomplished in twenty minutes or less, but the unimaginable and the indescribable are not to be measured by inches or minutes, and no traveller in France should miss Carcassonne.

 

GUSTAV NADUD (1820-93).
Picture: Wikipedia.


    The name evokes that of two poets, but the poetiser of Carcassonne, the author of a song which will live as long as the French language, was no native.  Gustave Nadaud belonged to the north, lived and died amid the ceaseless hum of machinery and never-extinguished smoke of factory chimneys.  Did he ever find his way hither from Roubaix?  History does not say, and when in 1894 I visited the interesting but unidyllic town, Nadaud was on his deathbed.  Had I paid an earlier visit I might have been privileged with an interview, and perhaps have learned the genesis of his famous poem.  As a book written for English readers should be in English, I have attempted a rendering.

    Never has the quintessential characteristic of the French peasant been more subtly pressed into a ballad.  Not the bent and worn vintager of Limoux, but thousands of his compeers, we may be sure, have similarly sighed for some little distraction to which prudence has perpetually said 'No.'


CARCASSONNE

I.


I'm growing old, just threescore years,
    In wet and dry, in dust and mire,
I've sweated, never getting near
    Fulfilment of my heart's desire.
Ah, well I see that bliss below,
    'Tis Heaven's will to grant to none,
Harvest and vintage come and go,
    I've never got to Carcassonne!


II.


The town I've glanced at many a day,
    You see it from yon mountain chain
But five long leagues it lies away,
    That's ten leagues there and back again.
Ah, if the vintage promised fair
    But grapes won't ripen without sun,
Without soft showers to make them swell,
    I shall not get to Carcassonne!


III.


You'd think 'twas always Sunday there,
    So fine, they say, are folks bedight,
Silk hats, frock coats, the bourgeois wear,
    Their demoiselles walk out in white.
Two generals with their stars you see,
    And towers outdoing Babylon,
A bishop too—ah me! ah me!
    I've never got to Carcassonne!


IV.


Yes, truly did our curé call
    Pride, the besetting sin of man,
Ambition brought on Adam's fall,
    And soaring wishes are my bane.
Yet could I only steal away
    Before the winter has begun,
I'd die contented any day,
    If once I'd been to Carcassonne!


V.


Mon Dieu, men Dieu, forgive my prayer
    I'm but a poor presumptuous fool,
We build fine castles in the air,
    When old, as when we went to school.
My wife, with our first-born Aighan,
    Has made the journey to Narbonne,
My godson has seen Perpignan
    I've never been to Carcassonne.


VI.


So sighed a peasant of Limoux,
    A worthy neighbour bent and worn,
He, friend, quoth I, I'll go with you,
    We'll sally forth to-morrow morn!
And true enough away we hied
    But when our goal was almost won,
God rest his soul, the good man died,
    He never got to Carcassonne!


    It is astonishing to find not only the idiosyncrasy but the life history of the French peasant hit off by a citizen, a Roubaisien above all others.

    And strange to say Nadaud wrote that poem without having seen Carcassonne, like Balzac being in ignorance of one of the most perfect things to be found throughout France.  Carcassonne meant to him what any other third-rate town or little bishopric might have meant to the untravelled peasant of former days.  Such are the paradoxes of literary history!

    As strange is the contradiction afforded by Carcassonne's poet.  I have shown elsewhere that the Revolution was pre-eminently a lyric period, in no other epoch of French history is seen so general and spontaneous an outburst of song.

    'I can never hear, Il pleut, bergère, il pleut, without emotion,' wrote Renan in his old age, and doubtless many a Frenchman could say the same.  That naive little song familiar to every man, woman, and child in France, with Nadaud's Carcassonne incorporated into French literature, was the improvisation of a whimsical revolutionary known to the world by a flowery pseudonym only.  Philippe-François-Nazaire Fabre, otherwise Fabre d'Églantine, first saw the light at Carcassonne on December the 28th, 1755.  When a mere boy he carried off the so-called Prix d'églantine in the famous poetic contests of Toulouse, and from that time adopted his title of honour.  Comedian and playwright, his early years were one unbroken series of successes.  Play quickly followed play, each being enthusiastically received, one and all as completely forgotten now as if they had never been written.  Revolution interrupted this dazzling career.  The popular caterer for the stage threw himself heart and soul into the great upheaval.  He became Danton's secretary, sat as deputy for Paris in the Convention, and ranged himself on the side of the Montague.  With his great leader and their friends, he mounted the fatal tumbril in April 1794.

    Fabre d'Églantine's innumerable comedies, like so many other works popular in their day, are buried in oblivion.  But at some time or other he had improvised an artless song which, having a heart in it and reaching all French hearts, has become imperishable, will no more slip out of the language than the verb aimer, to love.  For, just as the poetiser of Carcassonne had crystallised peasant psychology in a ballad, so Carcassonne's poet put into a few simple verses all that makes peasant life what it is, an existence, laborious, circumscribed, unprogressive, it may be, but beautified, elevated by domestic ties and love of home.  Here indeed and for once and for all is falsified Zola's indictment of the French peasant in La Terre.  And the picture presented by the poet is one we may meet with on French soil any day.  As when Fabre d'Églantine wrote, so under the Third Republic, family life and family honour are held sacred by the humblest.

    The little idyll is of the simplest.  A youth overtakes a maiden keeping her little flock and surprised by a thunderstorm.  Urging upon her the necessity of seeking shelter, and taking care to remove any scruples she might feel at following a stranger, he points out his mother's farm—she is evidently a widow—in the distance.  Helping her to keep her sheep together amid deluging rain, thunder and lightning, they reach the rustic homestead where she is confided to maternal and sisterly care.  The tempest over, she is persuaded to remain, her lover, for lover he has become, folding her sheep and betaking himself to his shake-down in neat-house or stable, [p.203] there like the maiden dreaming happy dreams till morning comes, when with his mother he will conduct their guest home, asking her hand in marriage.  Here is the best rendering I can give of this truly Theocritean pastoral—


IL PLEUT, BERGÈRE, IL PLEUT
('It rains, shepherdess, it rains')

I.


The rain is falling, shepherd maid,
    A storm is coming fast,
Let's hasten to some friendly shade
    And shelter till 'tis past.


II.


Hark how the big drops patter down,
    The water runs in streams,
Whilst from yon clouds that darkly
        frown,
    Fiercely the lightning gleams.


III.


The thunder growls, my shepherd maid,
    Delay not, take my arm,
Gather your sheep, be not afraid,
    We 're near my mother's farm.


IV.


Ah! there she stands, the housewife dear
    And with her, sister Anne,
See both, a visitor is here,
    Beguile her as you can.


V.


With sister Anne, sit down, ma mie,
    The peat shall soon burn bright,
Your little flock shall cared for be,
    And folded for the night.


VI.


Good night, good night, my shepherd
        maid,
    The storm has passed away,
But sister makes your little bed,
    There sweetly dream till day.


VII.


To-morrow, with my mother, I,
    —May fortune us betide—
Unto your father we will hie,
    And ask you for my bride.


    Another highly poetic creation of Fabre d'Églantine was the floral calendar which the late Mr. Hamerton, with, may be, some others, greatly regretted.  Certainly the calendar adopted in 1792 and abolished by Napoleon in 1805 had much to recommend it, alike on the score of novelty, taste, and accurate delineation, each name nicely indicating the month for which it stands, each poetically recalling nature's shifting scenes.  Germinal and Floréal at once bring before us 'the sight of vernal bloom and summer's rose,' whilst Pluviôse and Ventôse as unmistakably remind us of February Filldyke and the month that comes in like a lion.  But these ingenious and beautiful names, like everything else connected with the first short-lived Republic, stunk in the nostrils of the Corsican liberticide.  Fabre d'Églantine's charming invention has only survived a historic curiosity, and is seldom mentioned in connection with its author.  And, indeed, but for his song of the shepherd-maiden and her humble but chivalrous lover, the winner of the wild-rose crown would be forgotten, even at the place which gave him birth.  An ardent revolutionary and champion of freedom, in noble company he fell a victim to his aspirations.  His short political career was not, alas! one of those sure sooner or later to be commemorated in marble.  Danton's statue adorns his native town on the banks of the silvery Aube.  No such honour has been paid to his secretary and companion on the scaffold.

    A volume might well be devoted to the numerous little walled-in towns of France, Carcassonne holding the supreme place.  Each is unlike the other, each has some peculiar charm of its own—Guérande, scene of Balzac's Béatrix is one, Saumur in upper Burgundy is another.  With its walls, watchtowers, and donjons intact this little town of the Auxois must look much as it did in the days of Charles the Bold.  Provins, capital and court of the Counts of Champagne, is a third.  Here Thibault VI., song-writer and art-patron, held his state, and here in the days of the Crusaders was introduced the rich red rose erroneously by ourselves styled the Provence rose.  Many others I could name, but as far as my own experience goes none equal that constellated oval towering so regally yet with such poetic charm over plain and river, moss-green, limitless level through which winds a stream of mazarine blue.


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CHAPTER XVII.

THE BRITTANY OF ÉMILE SOUVESTRE


TO visit Brittany unissued with the spirit of Émile Souvestre is to travel in Scotland without the literature of Scott and Burns or to traverse Spain without having read Don Quixote.  For the author of Les derniers Bretons was himself the last of the Bretons; in his person was embodied the genius of 'that ancient Druidess baptized by St. Paul,' which he found fast disappearing three quarters of a century ago, and which his magic pen has resuscitated for all time.  Not only did Émile discover a world of fable, poetry, and romance awaiting a chronicler, but one and all touched a secret and hitherto silent chord, as he tells us, awakening his real self and true vocation.  Having unsuccessfully tried his fortunes in Paris he retraced his steps, Brittany henceforth proving alike his inspiration and his theme.

    Others had as assiduously wooed the same muse.  It was reserved for Émile Souvestre to discover the talking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water.  What does not charm is dead, wrote Goethe, and who but the most patriotic Breton nowadays reads Brizeux's interminable idylls?  The sentiment, the poetic feeling is there, but not the spell.  Another great German has written—'a genius is known by what he leaves out.'  Unfortunately Brizeux did not leave out enough.  Hence, whilst his Marie and the rest are only turned to by the curious, Le Foyer Breton is not only a popular book but a classic.  Émile Souvestre indeed was a true artist and a master of easy, graceful style.

    The Brittany of the past lives in his pages, a Brittany little resembling that of preconceived notions.  With austereness, profound religious belief, we here find charming bonhomie, humour in no small degree and imaginativeness of a high order.

    We must indeed go to the fountain head of fairytale, to the Arabian Nights and to the Norse tales collected by Mr. Dasent, for narratives as full of charm, character, and piquancy as those related to Émile Souvestre during his wanderings.  In order that the letter as well as the spirit of the originals should be preserved, each story was first put to paper in Breton, afterwards being translated.  The original stamp was thus preserved, the naive, simple, and picturesque language adding greatly to the charm of the stories.

    Travellers must hardly look for so much as a vestige of our author's Brittany in the much frequented holiday ground of to-day.  The grand coast scenery remains, but the face of the country has been gradually modified, picturesqueness yielding to material improvement.  Railways now intersect the various departments in every direction.  Costume has all but disappeared.  The time-honoured Pardon is replaced by enormous pilgrimages to Lourdes, and, as if to complete the disenchantment, instead of inspiring idyllic episodes, Breton scenes and character are studied à la Zola.

    One of the most popular novelists of the day, M. René Bazin, has lately given us a novel of Breton life with a purpose, the sordid history of a young matron who goes to Paris as a wet-nurse, there ending her career in degradation and ruin.  Certainly the Breton wet-nurse was unknown in Émile Souvestre's days.

    It is now over a quarter of a century since I spent twelve months in Brittany, a few years back revisiting familiar scenes.  Many regions, when I first knew them, had to be traversed by carriage or diligence.  On the occasion of my second visit railways had been laid down in all directions.

    Take Quiberon for instance.  Never shall I forget that solitary ride from Auray to Quiberon during my first visit.

    I was travelling alone.  How matters may be now, I know not; a generation ago a young Englishwoman wearing watch, chain, and carrying money, could safely traverse lonely wastes unaccompanied, her vehicle an old-fashioned calèche, or cart without springs, her driver a Breton peasant, his bare feet thrust in sabots.  The age of these drivers might vary.  Neither young, old, nor middle-aged would vouchsafe an unnecessary word to their fare.  Sometimes one of these would offer a wayfarer a lift beside him, chatting with the new-comer.  Never through the score and odd lonely drives of many miles that I thus made had I the least complaint to make of my conductors.  This especial drive I remember as unusually lonely.  Through poor villages we passed, before every hovel standing a heap of manure and pool of liquid; ragged, gipsyish children running after the carriage vociferating in broken French: 'A sou, a sou, if you please,' here and there wild-looking women looking up from their little flocks of burnt-sienna-coloured sheep, and before, behind, and around lying stretches of brown moor ribbed by the action of the sea and tinged with the gold of gorse and moss.  Gloomy knots of pine broke the steppe-like monotony, and as we approached Fort Penthièvre, greyish blue sea hemmed us in on either side.  At the fort I alighted and, not encountering a soul, wandered on the cliffs, perfumed with wild carnations and gorgeous with purple and orange seaweed.

    On the way home all was silent and solitary as the desert, and the deepening shades of autumn twilight added new mysteriousness and poetry to the wintered waste, sombre pine-groves, and purpling sea and sky.

    Twenty years later, making the same journey by rail, I found the waste in many places brought under cultivation and on all sides signs of material progress.  Instead of an unspeakably wild and poetic drive I jogged along pleasantly, but after humdrum fashion by railway.  And pleasant it was on this Sunday afternoon to see artisans and peasants with their families taking advantage of the cheap return tickets.

    The approach to Quiberon—tomb of the Vendean War—is exquisitely beautiful, not less so the bay of smoothest, finest silvery sand hemming a turquoise sea.

    Until the construction of the railway a few years ago, Quiberon was a mere fishing village, occasionally visited by tourists on account of its historic interest.  Here the ancien régime may be said to have yielded up the ghost, and its most determined opponents cannot resist the pathos of such a tragedy.  The place itself is no longer in keeping with associations so dreary.  A lively, fashionable little resort has sprung up with mushroom swiftness.  At the station you are beset by clamouring representatives of the big new hotels now grouped around the shore; villa and cottage orné keep them company; a casino is not wanting; for two or three months in the year Quiberon is a miniature Étretat!

    The 'lazy Laurence' of travel, not seldom the wisest, will leave the gimcrack of a town behind him and dream away delicious hours on the shore—a shore most gracefully curved, coast, sea, and sky lovely as any that inspired Shelley's Italian poems.  Towards the close of the bathing season, that is to say, after the second week in September, we may have Quiberon and most French watering-places wholly to ourselves.

    During those early travels I still seemed within reach of Émile Souvestre's Brittany.  The figures I encountered on my long drives across country, in rustic inns or by the seashore, were every whit as picturesque as those of his story-tellers, chance-met hosts to whom he owed his store of fairy-tale and legend.  But it was not only native taciturnity and reserve that now sealed their lips.  A generation ago, as Jules Simon has shown, village schools were all but non-existent in Brittany.  These peasants and seafaring folks could not carry on even an ordinary chat in French.

    Costume as well as physiognomy would often recall the figures familiar to us in Le Foyer Breton.

    Here is an incident that remains fresh in my memory as if it had happened yesterday.  I had driven from Brest to Plougastel, a mile of winding road bringing us from the ferry to the dingy, unattractive little town.  It was market day and the narrow ill-paved streets were so encumbered with cattle and their drovers that it was very difficult to make one's way.  The women here all wore high coifs, and the men looked picturesque enough in their Spanish-like dress, but on a sudden my guide exclaimed—

    'See yonder lad, let us ask him whence he comes.'

    The boy, wearing scarlet trousers, green jacket, and broad hat with coloured streamers, proved to be no Merry Andrew, but a wedding guest, and his mother, who was also very gaily dressed, informed us that a double wedding had just taken place and offered to introduce me to the brides.  My guide, the driver hired at Brest, acted as interpreter, the good people knowing no French beyond a word or two.

    We followed the pair to a very dirty and crowded little inn, myself waiting outside whilst toasts were being drunk.

    Then, all on a sudden out they trooped, brides, bridegrooms, and wedding guests, and surely no ceremonies in the olden time, no court pageantries or carnival, ever made up a stranger, more gorgeous spectacle!  The dingy little street blazed with the dazzling colours, which, whilst bright as dyes could make them and belonging to garments of fancifullest pattern, were without a touch of vulgarity or grotesqueness.

    The two brides, who were young, fresh-complexioned, and pretty, were dressed precisely alike.  They wore, what from time immemorial has been the head-dress of the Plougastel matron, a high cap with lappets, recalling that of Egyptian priestesses, to-day these caps being of finest cambric.  Coquettish little jackets of soft, gold-green cloth showed undervests of dark blue cloth, with white muslin sleeves and chemisette.  Skirts and petticoats were numerous, and so worn as to show different hems and rims of colours, red, yellow, and violet predominating.  Scarlet and gold morocco slippers were worn inside the wooden sabots.  Sleeves, vests, and skirts were elaborately and tastefully trimmed with silk and gold braid.  The dress of the elder women was soberer, vest and petticoat being of dark violet cloth with orange and crimson border, dark green vest, open sleeves, and large white collar covering the chest like a cuirass.

    The men wore broad-brimmed felt hats, perhaps three quarters of a yard in circumference, and trimmed with braids and tassels of different colours, green cloth jackets embroidered in red, yellow, or blue, crimson waist-sashes, and full black trousers.

    I add that the bridal party insisted upon the English lady re-entering the unsavoury little hostelry with them and drinking their health.  Indeed one agreeable feature of those early Breton wanderings was the prevailing cordiality with which I was received.  Not only, as I say, did I undertake long drives and difficult—even perilous—expeditions in the utmost safety and comfort, but upon no single occasion was I subjected to extortion or incivility, but was instead the object of attention.

    Here is another remembrance of Brittany as I first knew it.  I was staying at St. Pol de Léon, a place at that time strangely somnolent, melancholy, unpeopled.  Those grass-grown, solitary streets indeed recalled the enchanted city of Arabian story; one almost hesitated to enter the cathedral lest the sacristan should be found turned to stone like the Prince of the Black Isles.  I shall never forget the eerie sound of my own footsteps on the pavement.

    St. Pol de Léon fascinates all the same, and I was very happy in the ramshackle old inn despite the rats gambolling about and the primitiveness of the arrangements.  The time was November, but we were enjoying a temperature of summer.  From my windows I looked upon a garden still full of chrysanthemums and lilies; far beyond, a group of sea-pines breaking the outlines of sea and low-lying coast.

    At Roscoff I had a friend's friend, a learnèd Breton doctor.

    'You should cross over to the Île de Batz tomorrow in time for vespers and see the Druidesses,' he said to me one Saturday afternoon.  'These people are quite unlike any other in Brittany; they go to mass and are called Catholics, but their real religion is still the purest Druidism.'

    So to see the Druidesses I went.

    Next day was soft, bright, and beautiful, the very day for a little cruise.  As I drove to Roscoff we met numbers of pedestrians trudging to St. Pol in time for mass, all saluting us with grave politeness.  My driver, who could speak very little French, carried his Sunday clothes with him, which he put on when arriving, presenting as smart an appearance at church as any.  Before putting to, in the afternoon he again entered the church for a prayer.  What perfect type of the Léonnais was this peasant—taciturn, dignified, courteous.  The crossing to the Île de Batz on a calm, sunny day is a trifle, but at low tide when you have to wade for a quarter of a mile across the wet sands it is not easy.  To be on the sea to-day was delicious, and the unclouded blue sky, deep purple waves, and burnt-sienna-coloured rocks made up a glowing picture.  In the little mail-boat were about a dozen passengers, all talking Breton as fast as they could.  Among them was one of the so-called 'Druidesses,' or women of the Île de Batz, a very young woman—though she wore a wedding-ring—who now very modestly put on the shoes and stockings she had wisely taken off to get down to the boat.  She was a pretty brunette, and her look of physical strength and animal spirits was delightful to see.  Her dress was severely simple and dignified: skirt of the softest, finest black French merino made with a plain skirt, scrupulously white linen habit-shirt with embroidered collar and sleeves, and a hood of creamy white cashmere, so spotless, soft, and graceful that a duchess might have put it on to go to the opera.  Arrived at the island, we saw crowds of women and children in this costume, and men, whose looks betokened their seafaring life—all are sailors here, whilst the women cultivate the soil—hastening to vespers, the former loitering outside the church till the last moment, as is the fashion in English country places.  Inside, the congregation presented so strange an appearance that it was difficult to believe we were not assisting at some solemn ceremony instead of an ordinary Sunday service.  There was not a bit of colour in the church except a gay baby's hood, the assemblage of black-robed, white-hooded women looking more like a concourse of nuns than ordinary country folks; and the black dress of the men when they entered did not relieve the monotony.

    When Émile Souvestre traversed the country in search of folklore it was on horseback, by-roads being few and far between.  Twenty-five years ago the solitude and silence of Breton travel formed a crowning charm.  If in these days of added railways, cosmopolitan hotels, and other innovations travellers fare better with regard to creature comforts, they lose much, above all the coming in direct contact with the people.

    Here is another experience of the Brittany I first knew.  I dare say if I returned to Pont l'Abbé I should find a smart hotel, German house-porters in livery, and a service of motor cars to Penmarck.

    After a breakfast at the little auberge, which would have satisfied a Roman epicure, and for which was charged the modest sum of two francs, I started for Penmarck.  The sky, which had clouded over for a time, brightened, and for the rest of the day we had a warm west wind, driving light rain-clouds across a pale blue sky, with breaks of sunshine and occasional rainbows, and rain drifting down on the distant fields.  As we went on, the scenery grew wilder and wilder; hills and woods were left behind, and we were now in a wide, dreary, monotonous plain, only broken by occasional farmsteads, some solitary dolmen or menhir rising with weird effect from amid brown waste or rudely-tilled fields.

    As we drew near, the stately church of the once flourishing city of Penmarck loomed in the distance.  More like a château than a church, with its fantastic congeries of towers and turrets, this and the neighbouring ruin of St. Guenole, with a scattered population of two thousand inhabitants, are all that now remain of what, in the sixteenth century was a large and busy maritime town, rivalling in importance Nantes itself, able to send three thousand archers to the fight, and possessing seven hundred fishing-vessels!  The dukes of Brittany held it to be one of the richest communities in their duchy, and it was not till the discovery of the great cod-fisheries of America that its prosperity declined.  Now, nothing can be drearier or more dead-alive than these village streets, where you meet no one but wild-looking, shaggy peasants, with broad-brimmed hats slouched over their heads, carting away seaweed for manure, and unkempt, gipsylike children, who gaze at the stranger in amazement.  When we approach the sea, which for miles before had glinted and gleamed above the dips in the sombre marsh around, we heard the roar of the waves beating furiously against the rock.  Three wild little natives take charge of the horse whilst we alight, and my guide leads me to the edge of the steep, storm-beaten promontory, along which we wander, now climbing, now descending the masses of rock heaped together, with many a fault, as geologists would say; now piled one on the top of the other as carelessly as the dolmens; now forming shelves and staircases only to be reached on hands and knees; now a rocky rampart, steep and unapproachable, against which the blue waves dash almost tempestuously even on this mild autumn day.  The distant sea was calm almost as a lake, yet columns of spray were sent up from the purple depths below us with a deep continuous murmur.  What a spectacle must be here on a wild wintry day!

    Penmarck is the scene of one of Émile Souvestre's most striking episodes.  Here is yet another sketch of former experiences, the account of a drive from the sweet little town of Lannion to Ploumanach:—

    'The November day was exquisite—I should say November is the most charming month for Breton travel—light clouds floated across the azure sky, and lovely lights and shadows played about the mellowing woods and hedges.  As we drove on, the smiling landscape was gradually exchanged for wild scenery.  The fishing village of Ploumanach is a collection of hovels, built pêle-mêle among the masses of rich granite flung about the shore, as if Titans had here been playing ninepins and suddenly left off the game.  The view from the hill overlooking the village and sea is magnificent—intense blue waves smooth as a lake, pale purple islands beyond; and nearer, lying under our feet, houses and rocks huddled confusedly together; huge fragments, here piled one on the top of the other, like a child's tower of bricks, there so closely wedged together as if even an earthquake could not separate them.  Sometimes an enormous slab would be perched, dolmen-like, on the narrowest point of columnar supports, looking as if a child's finger could tip it over; at others you might see a grand monolith, standing alone like some solitary menhir, whilst all around, near and far, the ground was covered with blocks, cones, pyramids, every fantastic form that granite can take, making up an indescribably strange and fantastic scene.  The village—if village it can be called—is very dirty, and to reach the coast you have to go through a succession of little alleys, wading ankle-deep through pools of liquid manure.  These fisher-folks might, without any trouble worth mentioning and no expense, have the best thresholds and stepping-stones in the world, not to speak of pavements; but they do not so much as lay down a few blocks in front of their habitations so as to bridge over the invariable black stream through which they must wade whenever going out or coming in.

    But what matters all this?  We are soon far too enraptured at the prospect before us to think of the slough of despond through which we have passed in order to reach it.  A little way off lay the seven islands or islet rocks, now amethystine between a turquoise sky and lapis lazuli sea.  Not a breath is stirring this soft summer day—it is the 3rd of November!  Yet the waves here are never at rest, and dash with perpetual murmur against the glowing sea-walls.  As we wandered along the edge of the cliffs the full splendour and weirdness of the scene became apparent, the scattered fishing village looking like a collection of pigmy dwellings amid the gigantic rocks scattered about; turning seaward, the piled-up masses of fiery red granite forming ramparts, chasms, precipices innumerable against the purple, white-crested waves breaking below.  Wild geese, sea-ducks, and seagulls were flying overhead, a few fishing boats were out at sea, whilst landward the only living things in sight were odd little black sheep, mere tufts of wool, as it seemed, browsing on the brown hills above Ploumanach.  Which of those lovely little islands is Avalon, 'where falls not rain, nor hail, nor any snow, nor ever wind blows loudly,' my guide does not know, but thinks it is Tomé; and the old keeper of the lighthouse, when I made him understand what I wanted, for he was very deaf, shook his head, and said, 'Le roi Arthur?  Il n'est pas de ce pays.'

    Should I revisit these spots with Le Foyer Breton in my pocket, I fear the journey would be a succession of disenchantments.  Better, perhaps, to live over again such experiences in fancy, and to feel thankful—at a distance—that material well-being has changed the face of the Brittany of my youth.  And if the Brittany of poetry and legend has disappeared also, it lives again in the pages of Émile Souvestre and of his great compatriot, Ernest Renan.  Like the Breton fabled city, the Ville d'Is is lying at the bottom of the sea, whose church bells fishermen hear in still weather; the voice of the ancient Armorica reaches us; its music is audible in the hum of these busier days.


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CHAPTER XVIII.

AMIENS AND 'VERT-VERT'


HOW many happy hours have I spent in that delightfullest of French hotels at Amiens with the umbrageous garden and the storks!  The storks, alas! perished during a severe winter some years ago, but pretty foreign ducks sport in the basin, and the hotel is still a very haven of rest with the thermometer at ninety degrees, a breathable, almost cool retreat.

    During the heat wave of the present year (August 1906) I betook myself with a friend to the capital of the Somme, not bent upon again revelling in its treasures, revisiting its matchless cathedral with Ruskin for guide, not minded even to stroll through its magnificent museums, historic collections, and art schools.  My errand was to visit the tomb of its one, its unique poet.

    For Vert-Vert stands absolutely alone in French literature.  Nothing like it, or approaching to it, is to be found throughout the successive stages of that vast treasure-house.  The history of the parrot, every line of which produces our unreluctant smile, has secured for its author an imperishable niche in the national Valhalla, and, for the bustling, prosperous, industrial city of his birth and residence, poetic lustre.

    That quiet, shady hotel garden was not to be quitted last August during the day, but as the sun declined we exchanged its comparative refreshingness and shadow for the cathedral.  Here all was greyness and a temperature requiring discarded wraps.  The tropical climate of the streets was left completely behind!

    Only two or three worshippers knelt here and there in the vast space; but, as is always the case, a priest with breviary in hand slowly paced backwards and forwards, keeping, I presume, an eye upon intruders.  When I ventured to ask him the local of Gresset's tomb, to my surprise he replied in very good English.

    'Yonder,' he said with an affable smile as he pointed to a tablet on one of the side pillars, 'is the monument; the Latin inscription is short, but very'—hesitating, he finished with a French word—'very spirituel.'

    'Very witty,' I added, giving the first synonym that entered my head.  'Elegant,' I think, were the better word.  The inscription is to the effect that Gresset, a son of Amiens and splendid follower of the Muses, born in 1709, died on the 16th June 1777, was interred elsewhere, and re-interred here on the 16th of August 1811.  A verse from the 118th Psalm followed the figures.

    Poor Gresset!  How happy would he have been could he have known that his memory would be thus gloriously perpetuated, generation after generation of the devout having this tribute before their eyes, the commemorative tablet forming part of the cathedral itself!

    And of perverse necessity the poet would have prided himself more on the monument than the works to which he owed it.  Like Pascal, Gresset could not overcome the dogmatic teachings of early youth.  In his later years he repudiated all claims to literary fame.  His story shows how persistently and how remorselessly theological narrowness here waged war against intellectual originality.  There is not a line in Vert-Vert, nor even in the little jeu d'esprit, Le Lutrin Vivant (The Live Lectern), that can be twisted into real disrespect to religion or the Church.  But unfortunately Gresset had exercised wit and pleasantry in dealing with ecclesiastical objects and formulas, and but for tardy recantation he would doubtless have died under clerical ban.

    When only twenty-four, Jean Baptiste Louis Gresset, at that time a student of the Jesuit College of Louis le Grand, Paris, composed Vert-Vert.  The poem, handed about in manuscript, took the public by storm; the clerical world was scandalised, and the young author was sent in disgrace to the Jesuit College of La Flèche in the Sarthe.  Soon after, he threw up alike theology and seminarist's garb, cast in his lot with letters, established himself in Paris, and wrote play after play, a series of successes culminating in that of Le Méchant, a piece that to this day holds its own in the repertory of the Comédie Française.

    Gresset, then in the prime of life, returned to Amiens in 1749, there, with the royal permission, founding a literary academy.  Unfortunately for his peace of mind, he was of a vacillating nature, and falling under the influence of Lamotte, Bishop of Amiens, was induced to burn all his unpublished manuscripts, and publicly repudiate his entire works.

    But the bishop's action only damaged himself and his unfortunate pupil.  Gresset died a morbid, deluded, self-deluding devotee.  Vert-Vert will delight the world as long as the tongue survives in which it is penned.  Did leisure permit, and did the task look at all feasible, how delightful were it to translate into English the serio-comic story of the immortal parrot who travelled from Nevers to Nantes, falling into bad company on the way, and, as will happen to mortals, thereby losing all the good habits acquired in early youth.

    Vert-Vert, then, was a parrot, young, splendid to behold, vivacious, and the most insatiable picker-up of unconsidered trifles; in other words, imitating every syllable that fell upon his ears.  But as he was the cherished darling of a convent, that of the Visitandines, he could of course learn only what was good and seemly; hence his reputation.  Indeed, so far did his fame spread that the abbess of a sister-convent at Nantes insisted upon having a visit from him.  So, amid tears and kisses of his friends, and heaps of bonbons being supplied for his journey, Vert-Vert was put on board a barge bound for the city on the Loire, among the passengers being three dragoons, two Gascons, with others not likely to be choice in their topics or words.  So, when poor Vert-Vert reached his destination, what was the horror of the pious sisters when, instead of deferentially repeating the Benedicite, the Oremus, and canticles, he broke forth into terrible oaths and expletives never before profaning such walls.  The novices, as they well might, thought the bird was speaking Greek!  Bundled back to Nevers with a flea in his ear, Vert-Vert underwent a term of seclusion and bread and water, and when it came to an end, overjoy and an overdose of sugar-plums causing his death, all his faults were straightway forgiven.  He was buried with every mark of grief, and an epitaph was composed by the nuns, ending thus--


'Here lies Vert-Vert; here lie all our hearts.'


    There is a lilt, an irresistible engagingness, about Vert-Vert that impels the reader to go on from start to finish without a halt.  And every line has a frolicsome turn.  The only kind of frolicsomeness worth having, spontaneity and sparkle, characterises the poem, as they do the twin jeu d'esprit, The Live Lectern.

    Le Méchant is an admirable play, and, amid many good things, in a single line focusses French idiosyncrasy.  The excellent Géronte has been told by his niece's maid Lisette that he is a good man.

    'I a good man?  I am no such thing.  What folly!' he exclaimed with an air of positive affront.

    A sermon on French character might be preached from this text.  The dread of appearing hypocritical is a perfect nightmare to our neighbours.

    Gresset as a stylist is well worth attention.  As one of his own critics has written: 'The great merit of Le Méchant consists in its style and versification.  The piece abounds in verses so well turned, so witty, so concise, so perfect that as we read we cannot imagine them being expressed in any other way.  So easy are these verses that the ear retains them without an effort; so concise are they that, like the best sayings of Boileau, they became minted, proverbial from the first.'

    In his satire, Le Pauvre Diable, Voltaire pretty severely castigates Gresset for his self-pillorying, and also hits upon the cardinal fault of Le Méchant, namely, its want of action.  Nevertheless a representation at the Français would be a treat of the first water.

    There are bits of French scenery that take hold of the memory we hardly know why, coming back to us again and again, when grandiose sites and natural marvels are only recalled by an effort.  And thus it happened with an afternoon drive I took from Amiens upon another occasion and a little later in the year.  That familiar city so richly dowered in other respects is unblessed in the matter of climate.  Rain falls at Amiens in the maximum proportion, and the enormous number of factory chimneys render the atmosphere smoky.  Despite its cathedral and noble art collections, the capital of the Somme can only be fitly enjoyed in fine weather.  Fine weather is also needed for the little excursion I am about to describe.

    The great manufacturing city has a double girdle of verdure, first its handsome boulevards, next its market-gardens, wide belt of variegated greenery reaching far into the country.  Beyond these, stretch vast sweeps of picturesque but unprofitable country, meres and marshland, reminding us that at a remote period in cosmical history Amiens was almost a seaport.  Within comparatively recent times the region now forming the two departments of the Pas de Calais and the Somme have undergone great changes owing to the retrogression of the sea, or rather the encroachment of the land.  For a most interesting account of these transformations, see the papers of M. Charles Lartherie, Revue des deux Mondes, 1902.

    Silent, desolate, without a vestige of cultivation, without a dwelling in sight, the scenery possesses a weird fascination.  On this brilliant afternoon the succession of watercourses and lakelets set round with sallows lost all dreariness and gained an ethereal, fairy-like aspect.  Every tiny stream, every mere caught the tints of burning blue sky, silvery cumuli, and sea-green willows.  And it was hard to say which picture was the lovelier, the real or its double, as we passed stage after stage of amphibious landscape, haunt surely of will-o'-the-wisps and water fays!  An hour and a half bring us to the trim little town of Boves, where a ruined chateau recalls the siege of Amiens in 1597 and the sojourn of Henri Quatre, accompanied of course in war as in peace by the Belle Gabrielle.  A little further and my destination is reached.

    The school is reached by way of a lovely little gorge or ravine, a clear rivulet gleaming through the thick fringes of poplar and acacia.  Here, on the site of an ancient monastery, waste lands and reedy marsh have been cleared, and within the last few years rendered cultivable and productive.  In the absence of the Director, his representative most courteously shows us over the premises, explaining everything.  The school accommodates fifty students, the cost of board and instruction being adapted to the purse of the small peasant owner, namely, four hundred francs yearly.  Nine professors constitute the teaching staff, each school of this kind costing the State at least twenty thousand francs yearly.  The curriculum extends over three years.  Our informant explained to us that the chief difficulty to contend with is that of obtaining pupils.  It is not so much the money that the peasant farmer grudges but the time, three years of his son's labour lost to him, added to the three years of military service.  But little by little the minds of the more intelligent are being opened to the ultimate gain of such loss.  The teaching is both practical and scientific.  Farming generally, stock-breeding, dairying, bee-keeping, fish-rearing, market-gardening, are all taught by the most approved methods and with the aid, regardless of cost, of the most approved machinery.  In the class-rooms the pupils acquire the theoretic training necessary for a farmer—chemistry, land-surveying, geometry, etc.  Students belonging to different classes of society share precisely the same accommodation.  Four ample meals a day are allowed, the diet being liberal and indeed luxurious compared with that of the recruit going through his military service.  The school is well worth a visit.

    Most picturesque is the homeward drive through this amphibious region on a September afternoon, at first the little lake-like mere, flooded with ruddy gold,—wood, water, and sky a blaze of crimson and in amber,—gradually every feature of the scene subdued to quiet tints, in keeping with the silvery sallows and soft grey heavens.


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