You may go to Amboise either from Blois or from Tours; it is about half-way between these towns. The great point is to go, especially if you have put it off repeatedly; and to go, if possible, on a day when the great view of the Loire, which you enjoy from the battlements and terraces, presents itself under a friendly sky. Three persons, of whom the author of these lines was one, spent the greater part of a perfect Sunday morning in looking at it. It was astonishing, in the course of the rainiest season in the memory of the oldest Tourangeau, how many perfect days we found to our hand. The town of Amboise lies, like Tours, on the left bank of the river, a little white- faced town, staring across an admirable bridge, and leaning, behind, as it were, against the pedestal of rock on which the dark castle masses itself. The town is so small, the pedestal so big, and the castle so high and striking, that the clustered houses at the base of the rock are like the crumbs that have fallen from a well-laden table. You pass among them, however, to ascend by a circuit to the chateau, which you attack, obliquely, from behind. It is the property of the Comte de Paris, another pretender to the French throne; having come to him remotely, by inheritance, from his ancestor, the Duc de Penthievre, who toward the close of the last century bought it from the crown, which had recovered it after a lapse. Like the castle of Blois it has been injured and defaced by base uses, but, unlike the castle of Blois, it has not been com- pletely restored. "It is very, very dirty, but very curious," - it is in these terms that I heard it described by an English lady, who was generally to be found engaged upon a tattered Tauchnitz in the little _salon de lecture_ of the hotel at Tours. The description is not inaccurate; but it should be said that if part of the dirtiness of Amboise is the result of its having served for years as a barrack and as a prison, part of it comes from the presence of restoring stone-masons, who have woven over a considerable portion of it a mask of scaffolding. There is a good deal of neatness as well, and the restoration of some of the parts seems finished. This process, at Amboise, consists for the most part of simply removing the vulgar excrescences of the last two centuries.
The interior is virtually a blank, the old apart- ments having been chopped up into small modern rooms; it will have to be completely reconstructed. A worthy woman, with a military profile and that sharp, positive manner which the goodwives who show you through the chateaux of Touraine are rather apt to have, and in whose high respectability, to say nothing of the frill of her cap and the cut of her thick brown dress, my companions and I thought we discovered the particular note, or _nuance_, of Orleanism, - a com- petent, appreciative, peremptory person, I say, - at- tended us through the particularly delightful hour we spent upon the ramparts of Amboise. Denuded and disfeatured within, and bristling without with brick- layers' ladders, the place was yet extraordinarily im- pressive and interesting. I should confess that we spent a great deal of time in looking at the view. Sweet was the view, and magnificent; we preferred it so much to certain portions of the interior, and to oc- casional effusions of historical information, that the old lady with the prove sometimes lost patience with us. We laid ourselves open to the charge of pre- ferring it even to the little chapel of Saint Hubert, which stands on the edge of the great terrace, and has, over the portal, a wonderful sculpture of the mi- raculous hunt of that holy man. In the way of plastic art this elaborate scene is the gem of Amboise. It seemed to us that we had never been in a place where there are so many points of vantage to look down from. In the matter of position Amboise is certainly supreme among the old houses of the Loire; and I say this with a due recollection of the claims of Chau- mont and of Loches, - which latter, by the way (ex- cuse the afterthought), is not on the Loire. The plat- forms, the bastions, the terraces, the high-perched windows and balconies, the hanging gardens and dizzy crenellations, of this complicated structure, keep you in perpetual intercourse with an immense horizon. The great feature of the-place is the obligatory round tower which occupies the northern end of it, and which has now been, completely restored. It is of astounding size, a fortress in itself, and contains, instead of a staircase, a wonderful inclined plane, so wide and gradual that a coach and four may be driven to the top. This colossal cylinder has to-day no visible use; but it corresponds, happily enough, with the great circle of the prospect. The gardens of Am- boise, perched in the air, covering the irregular rem- nants of the platform on which the castle stands, and making up in picturesqueness what they lack in ex- tent, constitute of come but a scanty domain. But bathed, as we found them, in the autumn sunshine, and doubly private from their aerial site, they offered irresistible opportunities for a stroll, interrupted, as one leaned against their low parapets, by long, con- templative pauses. I remember, in particular, a certain terrace, planted with clipped limes, upon which we looked down from the summit of the big tower. It seemed from that point to be absolutely necessary to one's happiness to go down and spend the rest of the morning there; it was an ideal place to walk to and fro and talk. Our venerable conductress, to whom our relation had gradually become more filial, per- mitted us to gratify this innocent wish, - to the extent, that is, of taking a turn or two under the mossy _tilleuls._ At the end of this terrace is the low door, in a wall, against the top of which, in 1498, Charles VIII., ac- cording to an accepted tradition, knocked his head to such good purpose that he died. It was within the walls of Amboise that his widow, Anne of Brittany, already in mourning for three children, two of whom we have seen commemorated in sepulchral marble at Tours, spent the first violence of that grief which was presently dispelled by a union with her husband's cousin and successor, Louis XII. Amboise was a fre- quent resort of the French Court during the sixteenth century; it was here that the young Mary Stuart spent sundry hours of her first marriage. The wars of re- ligion have left here the ineffaceable stain which they left wherever they passed. An imaginative visitor at Amboise to-day may fancy that the traces of blood are mixed with the red rust on the crossed iron bars of the grim-looking balcony, to which the heads of the Huguenots executed on the discovery of the con- spiracy of La Renaudie are rumored to have been suspended. There was room on the stout balustrade - an admirable piece of work - for a ghastly array. The same rumor represents Catherine de' Medici and the young queen as watching from this balcony the _noyades_ of the captured Huguenots in the Loire. The facts of history are bad enough; the fictions are, if possible, worse; but there is little doubt that the future Queen of Scots learnt the first lessons of life at a horrible school. If in subsequent years she was a prodigy of innocence and virtue, it was not the fault of her whilom ??? mother-in-law, of her uncles of the house of Guise, or of the examples presented to her either at the windows of the castle of Amboise or in its more pri- vate recesses.
It was difficult to believe in these dark deeds, how- ever, as we looked through the golden morning at the placidity of the far-shining Loire. The ultimate con- sequence of this spectacle was a desire to follow the river as far as the castle of Chaumont. It is true that the cruelties practised of old at Amboise might have seemed less phantasmal to persons destined to suffer from a modern form of inhumanity. The mis- tress of the little inn at the base of the castle-rock - it stands very pleasantly beside the river, and we had breakfasted there - declared to us that the Chateau de Chaumont, which is often during the autumn closed to visitors, was at that particular moment standing so wide open to receive us that it was our duty to hire one of her carriages and drive thither with speed. This assurance was so satisfactory that we presently found ourselves seated in this wily woman's most com- modious vehicle, and rolling, neither too fast nor too slow, along the margin of the Loire. The drive of about an hour, beneath constant clumps of chestnuts, was charming enough to have been taken for itself; and indeed, when we reached Chaumont, we saw that our reward was to be simply the usual reward of virtue, - the consciousness of having attempted the right. The Chateau de Chaumont was inexorably closed; so we learned from a talkative lodge-keeper, who gave what grace she could to her refusal. This good woman's dilemma was almost touching; she wished to reconcile two impossibles. The castle was not to be visited, for the family of its master was staying there; and yet she was loath to turn away a party of which she was good enough to say that it had a _grand genre;_ for, as she also remarked, she had her living to earn. She tried to arrange a compromise, one of the elements of which was that we should descend from our carriage and trudge up a hill which would bring us to a designated point, where, over the paling of the garden, we might obtain an oblique and surreptitious view of a small portion of the castle walls. This suggestion led us to inquire (of each other) to what degree of baseness it is allowed to an enlightened lover of the picturesque to resort, in order to catch a glimpse of a feudal chateau. One of our trio decided, characteristically, against any form of derogation; so she sat in the carriage and sketched some object that was public property, while her two companions, who were not so proud, trudged up a muddy ascent which formed a kind of back-stairs. It is perhaps no more than they deserved that they were disappointed. Chau- mont is feudal, if you please; but the modern spirit is in possession. It forms a vast clean-scraped mass, with big round towers, ungarnished with a leaf of ivy or a patch of moss, surrounded by gardens of moderate extent (save where the muddy lane of which I speak passes near it), and looking rather like an enormously magnified villa. The great merit of Chaumont is its position, which almost exactly resembles that of Am- boise; it sweeps the river up and down, and seems to look over half the province. This, however, was better appreciated as, after coming down the hill and re- entering the carriage, we drove across the long sus- pension-bridge which crosses the Loire just beyond the village, and over which we made our way to the small station of Onzain, at the farther end, to take the train back to Tours. Look back from the middle of this bridge; the whole picture composes, as the painters say. The towers, the pinnacles, the fair front of the chateau, perched above its fringe of garden and the rusty roofs of the village, and facing the afternoon sky, which is reflected also in the great stream that sweeps below, - all this makes a contribution to your happiest memories of Touraine.
We never went to Chinon; it was a fatality. We planned it a dozen times; but the weather interfered, or the trains didn't suit, or one of the party was fatigued with the adventures of'the day before. This excursion was so much postponed that it was finally postponed to everything. Besides, we had to go to Chenonceaux, to Azay-le-Rideau, to Langeais, to Loches. So I have not the memory of Chinon; I have only the regret. But regret, as well as memory, has its visions; especially when, like memory, it is assisted by photo- graphs. The castle of Chinon in this form appears to me as an enormous ruin, a mediaeval fortress, of the extent almost of a city. It covers a hill above the Vienne, and after being impregnable in its time is in- destructible to-day. (I risk this phrase in the face of the prosaic truth. Chinon, in the days when it was a prize, more than once suflered capture, and at present it is crumbling inch by inch. It is apparent, however, I believe, that these inches encroach little upon acres of masonry.) It was in the castle that Jeanne Darc ????? had her first interview with Charles VII., and it is in the town that Francois Rabelais is supposed to have been born. To the castle, moreover, the lover of the picturesque is earnestly recommended to direct his steps. But one cannot do everything, and I would rather have missed Chinon than Chenonceaux. For- tunate exceedingly were the few hours that we passed at this exquisite residence.
"In 1747," says Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his "Confessions," "we went to spend the autumn in Tou- raine, at the Chateau, of Chenonceaux, a royal resi- dence upon the Cher, built by Henry II. for Diana of Poitiers, whose initials are still to be seen there, and now in possession of M. Dupin, the farmer-general. We amused ourselves greatly in this fine spot; the liv- ing was of the best, and I became as fat as a monk. We made a great deal of music, and acted comedies."
This is the only description that Rousseau gives of one of the most romantic houses in France, and of an episode that must have counted as one of the most agreeable in his uncomfortable career. The eighteenth century contented itself with general epithets; and when Jean-Jacques has said that Chenonceaux was a "beau lieu," he thinks himself absolved from further characterization. We later sons of time have, both for our pleasure and our pain, invented the fashion of special terms, and I am afraid that even common decency obliges me to pay some larger tribute than this to the architectural gem of Touraine. Fortunately I can discharge my debt with gratitude. In going from Tours you leave the valley of the Loire and enter that of the Cher, and at the end of about an hour you see the turrets of the castle on your right, among the trees, down in the meadows, beside the quiet little river. The station and the village are about ten minutes' walk from the chateau, and the village con- tains a very tidy inn, where, if you are not in too great a hurry to commune with the shades of the royal favorite and the jealous queen, you will perhaps stop and order a dinner to be ready for you in the evening. A straight, tall avenue leads to the grounds of the castle; what I owe to exactitude compels me to add that it is crossed by the railway-line. The place is so arranged, however, that the chateau need know nothing of passing trains, - which pass, indeed, though the grounds are not large, at a very sufficient distance. I may add that the trains throughout this part of France have a noiseless, desultory, dawdling, almost stationary quality, which makes them less of an offence than usual. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the light was yellow, save under the trees of the avenue, where, in spite of the waning of September, it was duskily green. Three or four peasants, in festal attire, were strolling about. On a bench at the beginning of the avenue, sat a man with two women. As I advanced with my companions he rose, after a sudden stare, and approached me with a smile, in which (to be Johnsonian for a moment) certitude was mitigated by modesty and eagerness was embellished with respect. He came toward me with a salutation that I had seen before, and I am happy to say that after an instant I ceased to be guilty of the brutality of not knowing where. There was only one place in the world where people smile like that, - only one place where the art of salutation has that perfect grace. This excellent creature used to crook his arm, in Venice, when I stepped into my gondola; and I now laid my hand on that member with the familiarity of glad recognition; for it was only surprise that had kept me even for a moment from accepting the genial Francesco as an ornament of the landscape of Touraine. What on earth - the phrase is the right one - was a Venetian gondolier doing at Chenonceaux? He had been brought from Venice, gondola and all, by the mistress of the charming house, to paddle about on the Cher. Our meeting was affectionate, though there was a kind of violence in seeing him so far from home. He was too well dressed, too well fed; he had grown stout, and his nose had the tinge of good claret. He re- marked that the life of the household to which he had the honor to belong was that of a _casa regia;_ which must have been a great change for poor Checco, whose habits in Venice were not regal. However, he was the sympathetic Checco still; and for five minutes after I left him I thought less about the little plea- sure-house by the Cher than about the palaces of the Adriatic.
But attention was not long in coming round to the charming structure that presently rose before us. The pale yellow front of the chateau, the small scale of which is at first a surprise, rises beyond a consider- able court, at the entrance of which a massive and detached round tower, with a turret on its brow (a relic of the building that preceded the actual villa), appears to keep guard. This court is not enclosed - or is enclosed, at least, only by the gardens, portions of which are at present in a state of violent reforma- tion. Therefore, though Chenonceaux has no great height, its delicate facade stands up boldly enough. This facade, one of the most finished things in Tou- raine, consists of two stories, surmounted by an attic which, as so often in the buildings of the French Renaissance, is the richest part of the house. The high-pitched roof contains three windows of beautiful design, covered with embroidered caps and flowering into crocketed spires. The window above the door is deeply niched; it opens upon a balcony made in the form of a double pulpit, - one of the most charm- ing features of the front. Chenonceaux is not large, as I say, but into its delicate compass is packed a great deal of history, - history which differs from that of Amboise and Blois in being of the private and sen- timental kind. The echoes of the place, faint and far as they are to-day, are not political, but personal. Chenonceaux dates, as a residence, from the year 1515, when the shrewd Thomas Bohier, a public functionary who had grown rich in handling the finances of Nor- mandy, and had acquired the estate from a family which, after giving it many feudal lords, had fallen into poverty, erected the present structure on the foundations of an old mill. The design is attributed, with I know not what justice, to Pierre Nepveu, _alias_ Trinqueau, the audacious architect of Chambord. On the death of Bohier the house passed to his son, who, however, was forced, under cruel pressure, to surrender it to the crown, in compensation for a so-called deficit in the accounts of the late superintendent of the trea- sury. Francis I. held the place till his death; but Henry II., on ascending the throne, presented it out of hand to that mature charmer, the admired of two generations, Diana of Poitiers. Diana enjoyed it till the death of her protector; but when this event oc- curred, the widow of the monarch, who had been obliged to submit in silence, for years, to the ascend- ency of a rival, took the most pardonable of all the revenges with which the name of Catherine de' Medici is associated, and turned her out-of-doors. Diana was not in want of refuges, and Catherine went through the form of giving her Chaumont in exchange; but there was only one Chenonceaux. Catherine devoted herself to making the place more completely unique. The feature that renders it sole of its kind is not ap- preciated till you wander round to either side of the house. If a certain springing lightness is the charac- teristic of Chenonceaux, if it bears in every line the aspect of a place of recreation, - a place intended for delicate, chosen pleasures, - nothing can confirm this expression better than the strange, unexpected move- ment with which, from behind, it carries itself across the river. The earlier building stands in the water; it had inherited the foundations of the mill destroyed by Thomas Bohier. The first step, therefore, had been taken upon solid piles of masonry; and the ingenious Catherine - she was a _raffinee_ - simply proceeded to take the others. She continued the piles to the op- posite bank of the Cher, and over them she threw a long, straight gallery of two stories. This part of the chateau, which looks simply like a house built upon a bridge and occupying its entire length, is of course the great curiosity of Chenonceaux. It forms on each floor a charming corridor, which, within, is illuminated from either side by the flickering river-light. The architecture of these galleries, seen from without, is less elegant than that of the main building, but the aspect of the whole thing is delightful. I have spoken of Chenonceaux as a "villa," using the word ad- visedly, for the place is neither a castle nor a palace. It is a very exceptional villa, but it has the villa- quality, - the look of being intended for life in com- mon. This look is not at all contradicted by the wing across the Cher, which only suggests intimate pleasures, as the French say, - walks in pairs, on rainy days; games and dances on autumn nights; together with as much as may be of moonlighted dialogue (or silence) in the course, of evenings more genial still, in the well- marked recesses of windows.
It is safe to say that such things took place there in the last century, during the kindly reign of Mon- sieur and Madame Dupin. This period presents itself as the happiest in the annals of Chenonceaux. I know not what festive train the great Diana may have led, and my imagination, I am afraid, is only feebly kindled by the records of the luxurious pastimes organized on the banks of the Cher by the terrible daughter of the Medici, whose appreciation of the good things of life was perfectly consistent with a failure to perceive why others should live to enjoy, them. The best society that ever assembled there was collected at Chenon- ceaux during the middle of the eighteenth century. This was surely, in France at least, the age of good society, the period when it was well for appreciative people to have been born. Such people should of course have belonged to the fortunate few, and not to the miserable many; for the prime condition of a society being good is that it be not too large. The sixty years that preceded the French Revolution were the golden age of fireside talk and of those pleasures which proceed from the presence of women in whom the social art is both instinctive and acquired. The women of that period were, above all, good company; the fact is attested by a thousand documents. Chenon- ceaux offered a perfect setting to free conversation; and infinite joyous discourse must have mingled with the liquid murmur of the Cher. Claude Dupin was not only a great man of business, but a man of honor and a patron of knowledge; and his wife was gracious, clever, and wise. They had acquired this famous pro- perty by purchase (from one of the Bourbons; for Chenonceaux, for two centuries after the death of Catherine de' Medici, remained constantly in princely hands), and it was transmitted to their son, Dupin de Francueil, grandfather of Madame George Sand. This lady, in her Correspondence, lately published, describes a visit that she paid, more than thirty years ago, to those members of her family who were still in posses- sion. The owner of Chenonceaux to-day is the daughter of an Englishman naturalized in France. But I have wandered far from my story, which is simply a sketch of the surface of the place. Seen obliquely, from either side, in combination with its bridge and gallery, the chateau is singular and fantastic, a striking example of a wilful and capricious conception. Unfortunately, all caprices are not so graceful and successful, and I grudge the honor of this one to the false and blood- polluted Catherine. (To be exact, I believe the arches of the bridge were laid by the elderly Diana. It was Catherine, however, who completed the monument.) Within, the house has been, as usual, restored. The staircases and ceilings, in all the old royal residences of this part of France, are the parts that have suffered least; many of them have still much of the life of the old time about them. Some of the chambers of Che- nonceaux, however, encumbered as they are with mo- dern detail, derive a sufficiently haunted and suggestive look from the deep setting of their beautiful windows, which thickens the shadows and makes dark, corners. There is a charming little Gothic chapel, with its apse hanging over the water, fastened to the left flank of the house. Some of the upper balconies, which look along the outer face of the gallery, and either up or down the river, are delightful protected nooks. We walked through the lower gallery to the other bank of the Cher; this fine apartment appeared to be for the moment a purgatory of ancient furniture. It terminates rather abruptly; it simply stops, with a blank wall. There ought, of course, to have been a pavilion here, though I prefer very much the old defect to any mo- dern remedy. The wall is not so blank, however, but that it contains a door which opens on a rusty draw- bridge. This drawbridge traverses the small gap which divides the end of the gallery from the bank of the stream. The house, therefore, does not literally rest on opposite edges of the Cher, but rests on one and just fails to rest on the other. The pavilion would have made that up; but after a moment we ceased to miss this imaginary feature. We passed the little drawbridge, and wandered awhile beside the river. From this opposite bank the mass of the chateau looked more charming than ever; and the little peaceful, lazy Cher, where two or three men were fishing in the eventide, flowed under the clear arches and between the solid pedestals of the part that spanned it, with the softest, vaguest light on its bosom. This was the right perspective; we were looking across the river of time. The whole scene was deliciously mild. The moon came up; we passed back through the gallery and strolled about a little longer in the gardens. It was very still. I met my old gondolier in the twilight. He showed me his gondola; but I hated, somehow, to see it there. I don't like, as the French say, to _meler les genres_. A gondola in a little flat French river? The image was not less irritating, if less injurious, than the spectacle of a steamer in the Grand Canal, which had driven me away from Venice a year and a half before. We took our way back to the Grand Monarque, and waited in the little inn-parlor for a late train to Tours. We were not impatient, for we had an ex- cellent dinner to occupy us; and even after we had dined we were still content to sit awhile and exchange remarks upon, the superior civilization of France. Where else, at a village inn, should we have fared so well? Where else should we have sat down to our refreshment without condescension? There were two or three countries in which it would not have been happy for us to arrive hungry, on a Sunday evening, at so modest an hostelry. At the little inn at Chenon- ceaux the _cuisine_ was not only excellent, but the ser- vice was graceful. We were waited on by mademoiselle and her mamma; it was so that mademoiselle alluded to the elder lady, as she uncorked for us a bottle of Vouvray mousseux. We were very comfortable, very genial; we even went so far as to say to each other that Vouvray mousseux was a delightful wine. From this opinion, indeed, one of our trio differed; but this member of the party had already exposed herself to the charge of being too fastidious, by declining to de- scend from the carriage at Chaumont and take that back-stairs view of the castle.