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7: LISTEN to everyone in your company. And figure out ways

source:iostime:2023-12-05 16:17:59

I went back to the cathedral; that, after all, was a feature. Then I returned to my hotel, where it was time to dine, and sat down, as usual, with the _commis- voyageurs_, who cut their bread on their thumb and partook of every course; and after this repast I re- paired for a while to the cafe, which occupied a part of the basement of the inn and opened into its court. This cafe was a friendly, homely, sociable spot, where it seemed the habit of the master of the establishment to _tutoyer_ his customers, and the practice of the cus- tomers to _tutoyer_ the waiter. Under these circum- stances the waiter of course felt justified in sitting down at the same table with a gentleman who had come in and asked him for writing materials. He served this gentleman with a horrible little portfolio, covered with shiny black cloth and accompanied with two sheets of thin paper, three wafers, and one of those instruments of torture which pass in France for pens, - these being the utensils invariably evoked by such a request; and then, finding himself at leisure, he placed himself opposite and began to write a letter of his own. This trifling incident reminded me afresh that France is a democratic country. I think I re- ceived an admonition to the same effect from the free, familiar way in which the game of whist was going on just behind me. It was attended with a great deal of noisy pleasantry, flavored every now and then with a dash of irritation. There was a young man of whom I made a note; he was such a beautiful specimen of his class. Sometimes he was very facetious, chatter- ing, joking, punning, showing off; then, as the game went on and he lost, and had to pay the _consomma- tion_, he dropped his amiability, slanged his partner, declared he wouldn't play any more, and went away in a fury. Nothing could be more perfect or more amusing than the contrast. The manner of the whole affair was such as, I apprehend, one would not have seen among our English-speaking people; both the jauntiness of the first phase and the petulance of the second. To hold the balance straight, however, I may remark that if the men were all fearful "cads," they were, with their cigarettes and their inconsistency, less heavy, less brutal, than our dear English-speaking cad; just as the bright little cafe where a robust mater- familias, doling out sugar and darning a stocking, sat in her place under the mirror behind the _comptoir_, was a much more civilized spot than a British public- house, or a "commercial room," with pipes and whiskey, or even than an American saloon.

7: LISTEN to everyone in your company. And figure out ways

It is very certain that when I left Tours for Le Mans it was a journey and not an excursion; for I had no intention of coming back. The question, in- deed, was to get away, - no easy matter in France, in the early days of October, when the whole _jeunesse_ of the country is going back to school. It is accom- panied, apparently, with parents and grandparents, and it fills the trains with little pale-faced _lyceens_, who gaze out of the windows with a longing, lingering air, not unnatural on the part of small members of a race in which life is intense, who are about to be restored to those big educative barracks that do such violence to our American appreciation of the oppor- tunities of boyhood. The train stopped every five minutes; but, fortunately, the country was charming, - hilly and bosky, eminently good-humored, and dotted here and there with a smart little chateau. The old capital of the province of the Maine, which has given its name to a great American State, is a fairly interest- ing town, but I confess that I found in it less than I expected to admire. My expectations had doubtless been my own fault; there is no particular reason why Le Mans should fascinate. It stands upon a hill, indeed, - a much better hill than the gentle swell of Bourges. This hill, however, is not steep in all direc- tions; from the railway, as I arrived, it was not even perceptible. Since I am making comparisons, I may remark that, on the other hand, the Boule d'Or at Le Mans is an appreciably better inn than the Boule d'Or at Bourges. It looks out upon a small market-place which has a certain amount of character and seems to be slipping down the slope on which it lies, though it has in the middle an ugly _halle_, or circular market- house, to keep it in position. At Le Mans, as at Bourges, my first business was with the cathedral, to which, I lost no time in directing my steps. It suf- fered by juxta-position to the great church I had seen a few days before; yet it has some noble features. It stands on the edge of the eminence of the town, which falls straight away on two sides of it, and makes a striking mass, bristling behind, as you see it from below, with rather small but singularly numerous flying buttresses. On my way to it I happened to walk through the one street which contains a few ancient and curious houses, - a very crooked and untidy lane, of really mediaeval aspect, honored with the denomina- tion of the Grand' Rue. Here is the house of Queen Berengaria, - an absurd name, as the building is of a date some three hundred years later than the wife of Richard Coeur de Lion, who has a sepulchral monu- ment in the south aisle of the cathedral. The structure in question - very sketchable, if the sketcher could get far enough away from it - is an elaborate little dusky facade, overhanging the street, ornamented with panels of stone, which are covered with delicate Renaissance sculpture. A fat old woman, standing in the door of a small grocer's shop next to it, - a most gracious old woman, with a bristling moustache and a charming manner, - told me what the house was, and also in- dicated to me a rotten-looking brown wooden mansion, in the same street, nearer the cathedral, as the Maison Scarron. The author of the "Roman Comique," and of a thousand facetious verses, enjoyed for some years, in the early part of his life, a benefice in the cathedral of Le Mans, which gave him a right to reside in one of the canonical houses. He was rather an odd canon, but his history is a combination of oddities. He wooed the comic muse from the arm-chair of a cripple, and in the same position - he was unable even to go down on his knees - prosecuted that other suit which made him the first husband of a lady of whom Louis XIV. was to be the second. There was little of comedy in the future Madame de Maintenon; though, after all, there was doubtless as much as there need have been in the wife of a poor man who was moved to compose for his tomb such an epitaph as this, which I quote from the "Biographie Universelle":-

7: LISTEN to everyone in your company. And figure out ways

"Celui qui cy maintenant dort, Fit plus de pitie que d'envie, Et souffrit mille fois la mort, Avant que de perdre la vie. Passant, ne fais icy de bruit, Et garde bien qu'il ne s'eveille, Car voicy la premiere nuit, Que le Pauvre Scarron sommeille."

7: LISTEN to everyone in your company. And figure out ways

There is rather a quiet, satisfactory _place_ in front of the cathedral, with some good "bits" in it; notably a turret at the angle of one of the towers, and a very fine, steep-roofed dwelling, behind low walls, which it overlooks, with a tall iron gate. This house has two or three little pointed towers, a big, black, precipitous roof, and a general air of having had a history. There are houses which are scenes, and there are houses which are only houses. The trouble with the domestic architecture of the United States is that it is not scenic, thank Heaven! and the good fortune of an old structure like the turreted mansion on the hillside of Le Mans is that it is not simply a house. It is a per- son, as it were, as well. It would be well, indeed, if it might have communicated a little of its personality to the front of the cathedral, which has none of its own. Shabby, rusty, unfinished, this front has a romanesque portal, but nothing in the way of a tower. One sees from without, at a glance, the peculiarity of the church, - the disparity between the romanesque nave, which is small and of the twelfth century, and the immense and splendid transepts and choir, of a period a hundred years later. Outside, this end of the church rises far above the nave, which looks merely like a long porch leading to it, with a small and curious romanesque porch in its own south flank. The transepts, shallow but very lofty, display to the spectators in the _place_ the reach of their two clere-story windows, which occupy, above, the whole expanse of the wall. The south transept terminates in a sort of tower, which is the only one of which the cathedral can boast. Within, the effect of the choir is superb; it is a church in it- self, with the nave simply for a point of view. As I stood there, I read in my Murray that it has the stamp of the date of the perfection of pointed Gothic, and I found nothing to object to the remark. It suffers little by confrontation with Bourges, and, taken in itself, seems to me quite as fine. A passage of double aisles surrounds it, with the arches that divide them sup- ported on very thick round columns, not clustered. There are twelve chapels in this passage, and a charm- ing little lady chapel, filled with gorgeous old glass. The sustained height of this almost detached choir is very noble; its lightness and grace, its soaring sym- metry, carry the eye up to places in the air from which it is slow to descend. Like Tours, like Chartres, like Bourges (apparently like all the French cathedrals, and unlike several English ones) Le Mans is rich in splendid glass. The beautiful upper windows of the choir make, far aloft, a sort of gallery of pictures, blooming with vivid color. It is the south transept that contains the formless image - a clumsy stone woman lying on her back - which purports to represent Queen Berengaria aforesaid.

The view of the cathedral from the rear is, as usual, very fine. A small garden behind it masks its base; but you descend the hill to a large _place de foire_, ad- jacent to a fine old pubic promenade which is known as Les Jacobins, a sort of miniature Tuileries, where I strolled for a while in rectangular alleys, destitute of herbage, and received a deeper impression of vanished things. The cathedral, on the pedestal of its hill, looks considerably farther than the fair-ground and the Jacobins, between the rather bare poles of whose straightly planted trees you may admire it at a con- venient distance. I admired it till I thought I should remember it (better than the event has proved), and then I wandered away and looked at another curious old church, Notre-Dame-de-la-Couture. This sacred edifice made a picture for ten minutes, but the picture has faded now. I reconstruct a yellowish-brown facade, and a portal fretted with early sculptures; but the details have gone the way of all incomplete sensations. After you have stood awhile in the choir of the cathedral, there is no sensation at Le Mans that goes very far. For some reason not now to be traced, I had looked for more than this. I think the reason was to some extent simply in the name of the place; for names, on the whole, whether they be good reasons or not, are very active ones. Le Mans, if I am not mistaken, has a sturdy, feudal sound; suggests some- thing dark and square, a vision of old ramparts and gates. Perhaps I had been unduly impressed by the fact, accidentally revealed to me, that Henry II., first of the English Plantagenets, was born there. Of course it is easy to assure one's self in advance, but does it not often happen that one had rather not be assured? There is a pleasure sometimes in running the risk of disappointment. I took mine, such as it was, quietly enough, while I sat before dinner at the door of one of the cafes in the market-place with a _bitter-et-curacao_ (invaluable pretext at such an hour!) to keep me com- pany. I remember that in this situation there came over me an impression which both included and ex- cluded all possible disappointments. The afternoon was warm and still; the air was admirably soft. The good Manceaux, in little groups and pairs, were seated near me; my ear was soothed by the fine shades of French enunciation, by the detached syllables of that perfect tongue. There was nothing in particular in the prospect to charm; it was an average French view. Yet I felt a charm, a kind of sympathy, a sense of the completeness of French life and of the lightness and brightness of the social air, together with a desire to arrive at friendly judgments, to express a positive interest. I know not why this transcendental mood should have descended upon me then and there; but that idle half-hour in front of the cafe, in the mild October afternoon, suffused with human sounds, is perhaps the most definite thing I brought away from Le Mans.

I am shocked at finding, just after this noble de- claration of principles that in a little note-book which at that time I carried about with me, the celebrated city of Angers is denominated a "sell." I reproduce this vulgar term with the greatest hesitation, and only because it brings me more quickly to my point. This point is that Angers belongs to the disagreeable class of old towns that have been, as the English say, "done up." Not the oldness, but the newness, of the place is what strikes the sentimental tourist to-day, as he wanders with irritation along second-rate boulevards, looking vaguely about him for absent gables. "Black Angers," in short, is a victim of modern improvements, and quite unworthy of its admirable name, - a name which, like that of Le Mans, had always had, to my eyes, a highly picturesque value. It looks particularly well on the Shakspearean page (in "King John"), where we imagine it uttered (though such would not have been the utterance of the period) with a fine old in- sular accent. Angers figures with importance in early English history: it was the capital city of the Plantagenet race, home of that Geoffrey of Anjou who married, as second husband, the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I. and competitor of Stephen, and became father of Henry II., first of the Plantagenet kings, born, as we have seen, at Le Mans. The facts create a natural presumption that Angers will look historic; I turned them over in my mind as I travelled in the train from Le Mans, through a country that was really pretty, and looked more like the usual English than like the usual French scenery, with its fields cut up by hedges and a considerable rotundity in its trees. On my way from the station to the hotel, however, it became plain that I should lack a good pretext for passing that night at the Cheval Blanc; I foresaw that I should have con- tented myself before th e end of the day. I remained at the White Horse only long enough to discover that it was an exceptionally good provincial inn, one of the best that I encountered during six weeks spent in these establishments.

"Stupidly and vulgarly rnodernized," - that is an- other phrase from my note-book, and note-books are not obliged to be reasonable. "There are some narrow and tortuous-streets, with a few curious old houses," - I continue to quote; "there is a castle, of which the ex- terior is most extraordinary, and there is a cathedral of moderate interest. It is fair to say that the Chateau d'Angers is by itself worth a pilgrimage; the only drawback is that you have seen it in a quarter of an hour. You cannot do more than look at it, and one good look does your business. It has no beauty, no grace, no detail, nothing that charms or detains you; it is simply very old and very big, - so big and so old that this simple impression is enough, and it takes its place in your recollections as a perfect specimen of a superannuated stronghold. It stands at one end of the town, surrounded by a huge, deep moat, which originally contained the waters of the Maine, now divided from it by a quay. The water-front of Angers is poor, - wanting in color and in movement; and there is always an effect of perversity in a town lying near a great river and, yet not upon it. The Loire is a few miles off; but Angers contents itself with a meagre affluent of that stream. The effect was naturally much better when the huge, dark mass of the castle, with its seventeen prodigious towers, rose out of the protecting flood. These towers are of tremendous girth and soli- dity; they are encircled with great bands, or hoops, of white stone, and are much enlarged at the base. Between them hang vast curtains of infinitely old-look- ing masonry, apparently a dense conglomeration of slate, the material of which the town was originally built (thanks to rich quarries in the neighborhood), and to which it owed its appellation of the Black. There are no windows, no apertures, and to-day no battlements nor roofs. These accessories were removed by Henry III., so that, in spite of its grimness and blackness, the place has not even the interest of look- ing like a prison; it being, as I supposed, the essence of a prison not to be open to the sky. The only features of the enormous structure are the black, sombre stretches and protrusions of wall, the effect of which, on so large a scale, is strange and striking. Begun by Philip Augustus, and terminated by St. Louis, the Chateau d'Angers has of course a great deal of history. The luckless Fouquet, the extravagant minister of finance of Louis XIV., whose fall from the heights of grandeur was so sudden and complete, was confined here in 1661, just after his arrest, which had taken place at Nantes. Here, also, Huguenots and Vendeans have suffered effective captivity.

I walked round the parapet which protects the outer edge of the moat (it is all up hill, and the moat deepens and deepens), till I came to the entrance which faces the town, and which is as bare and strong as the rest. The concierge took me into the court; but there was nothing to see. The place is used as a magazine of ammunition, and the yard con- tains a multitude of ugly buildings. The only thing to do is to walk round the bastions for the view; but at the moment of my visit the weather was thick, and the bastions began and ended with themselves. So I came out and took another look at the big, black ex- terior, buttressed with white-ribbed towers, and per- ceived that a desperate sketcher might extract a picture from it, especially if he were to bring in, as they say, the little black bronze statue of the good King Rene (a weak production of David d'Angers), which, standing within sight, ornaments the melancholy faubourg. He would do much better, however, with the very striking old timbered house (I suppose of the fifteenth century) which is called the Maison d'Adam, and is easily the first specimen at Angers of the domestic architecture of the past. This admirable house, in the centre of the town, gabled, elaborately timbered, and much restored, is a really imposing monument. The basement is occupied by a linen- draper, who flourishes under the auspicious sign of the Mere de Famille; and above his shop the tall front rises in five overhanging stories. As the house occupies the angle of a little _place_, this front is double, and the black beams and wooden supports, displayed over a large surface and carved and interlaced, have a high picturesqueness. The Maison d'Adam is quite in the grand style, and I am sorry to say I failed to learn what history attaches to its name. If I spoke just above of the cathedral as "moderate," I suppose I should beg its pardon; for this serious charge was probably prompted by the fact that it consists only of a nave, without side aisles. A little reflection now convinces me that such a form is a distinction; and, indeed, I find it mentioned, rather inconsistently, in my note-book, a little further on, as "extremely simple and grand." The nave is spoken of in the same volume as "big, serious, and Gothic," though the choir and transepts are noted as very shallow. But it is not denied that the air of the whole thing is original and striking; and it would therefore appear, after all, that the cathedral of Angers, built during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is a sufficiently honorable church; the more that its high west front, adorned with a very primitive Gothic portal, supports two elegant tapering spires, between which, unfortunately, an ugly modern pavilion has been inserted.