Your business at Tours is to make excursions; and if you make them all, you will be very well occupied. Touraine is rich in antiquities; and an hour's drive from the town in almost any direction will bring you to the knowledge of some curious fragment of domestic or ecclesiastical architecture, some turreted manor, some lonely tower, some gabled village, or historic site. Even, however, if you do everything, - which was not my case, - you cannot hope to relate everything, and, fortunately for you, the excursions divide them- selves into the greater and the less. You may achieve most of the greater in a week or two; but a summer in Touraine (which, by the way must be a charming thing) would contain none too many days for the others. If you come down to Tours from Paris, your best economy is to spend a few days at Blois, where a clumsy, but rather attractive little inn, on the edge of the river, will offer you a certain amount of that familiar and intermittent hospitality which a few weeks spent in the French provinces teaches you to regard as the highest attainable form of accommodation. Such an economy I was unable to practise. I could only go to Blois (from Tours) to spend the day; but this feat I accomplished twice over. It is a very sympathetic little town, as we say nowadays, and one might easily resign one's self to a week there. Seated on the north bank of the Loire, it presents a bright, clean face to the sun, and has that aspect of cheerful leisure which belongs to all white towns that reflect, themselves in shining waters. It is the water-front only of Blois, however, that exhibits, this fresh complexion; the in- terior is of a proper brownness, as befits a signally historic city. The only disappointment I had there was the discovery that the castle, which is the special object of one's pilgrimage, does not overhang the river, as I had always allowed myself to understand. It overhangs the town, but it is scarcely visible from the stream. That peculiar good fortune is reserved for Amboise and Chaurnont.
The Chateau de Blois is one of the most beautiful and elaborate of all the old royal residences of this part of France, and I suppose it should have all the honors of my description. As you cross its threshold, you step straight into the brilliant movement of the French Renaissance. But it is too rich to describe, - I can only touch it here and there. It must be pre- mised that in speaking of it as one sees it to-day, one speaks of a monument unsparingly restored. The work of restoration has been as ingenious as it is pro- fuse, but it rather chills the imagination. This is perhaps almost the first thing you feel as you ap- proach the castle from the streets of the town. These little streets, as they, leave the river, have pretensions to romantic steepness; one of them, indeed, which resolves itself into a high staircase with divergent wings (the _escalier monumental_), achieved this result so successfully as to remind me vaguely - I hardly know why - of the great slope of the Capitol, beside the Ara Coeli, at Rome. The view of that part of the castle which figures to-day as the back (it is the only aspect I had seen reproduced) exhibits the marks of restoration with the greatest assurance. The long facade, consisting only of balconied windows deeply recessed, erects itself on the summit of a considerable hill, which gives a fine, plunging movement to its foundations. The deep niches of the windows are all aglow with color. They have been repainted with red and blue, relieved with gold figures; and each of them looks more like the royal box at a theatre than like the aperture of a palace dark with memories. For all this, however, and in spite of the fact that, as in some others of the chateaux of Touraine, (always excepting the colossal Chambord, which is not in Touraine!) there is less vastness than one had expected, the least hospitable aspect of Blois is abundantly impressive. Here, as elsewhere, lightness and grace are the key- note; and the recesses of the windows, with their happy proportions, their sculpture, and their color, are the empty frames of brilliant pictures. They need the figure of a Francis I. to complete them, or of a Diane de Poitiers, or even of a Henry III. The base of this exquisite structure emerges from a bed of light verdure, which has been allowed to mass itself there, and which contributes to the springing look of the walls; while on the right it joins the most modern portion of the castle, - the building erected, on founda- tions of enormous height and solidity, in 1635, by Gaston d'Orleans. This fine, frigid mansion - the proper view of it is from the court within - is one of the masterpieces of Francois Mansard, whom. a kind pro- vidence did not allow to make over the whole palace in the superior manner of his superior age. This had been a part of Gaston's plan, - he was a blunderer born, and this precious project was worthy of him. This execution of it would surely have been one of the great misdeeds of history. Partially performed, the misdeed is not altogether to be regretted; for as one stands in the court of the castle, and lets one's eye wander from the splendid wing of Francis I. - which is the last work of free and joyous invention - to the ruled lines and blank spaces of the ponderous pavilion of Mansard, one makes one's reflections upon the advantage, in even the least personaI of the arts, of having something to say, and upon the stupidity of a taste which had ended by becoming an aggregation of negatives. Gaston's wing, taken by itself, has much of the _bel air_ which was to belong to the architecture of Louis XIV.; but, taken in contrast to its flowering, laughing, living neighbor, it marks the difference be- tween inspiration and calculation. We scarcely grudge it its place, however, for it adds a price to the rest of the chateau.
We have entered the court, by the way, by jump- ing over the walls. The more orthodox method is to follow a modern, terrace, which leads to the left, from the side of the chateau that I began by speaking of, and passes round, ascending, to a little square on a considerably higher level, which is not, like a very modern square on which the back (as I have called it) looks out, a thoroughfare. This small, empty _place,_ oblong in form, at once bright and quiet, with a cer- tain grass-grown look, offers an excellent setting to the entrance-front of the palace, - the wing of Louis XII. The restoration here has been lavish; but it was per- haps but an inevitable reaction against the injuries, still more lavish, by which the unfortunate building had long been overwhelmed. It had fallen into a state of ruinous neglect, relieved only by the misuse pro- ceeding from successive generations of soldiers, for whom its charming chambers served as barrack-room. Whitewashed, mutilated, dishonored, the castle of Blois may be said to have escaped simply with its life. This is the history of Amboise as well, and is to a certain extent the history of Chambord. Delightful, at any rate, was the refreshed facade of Louis XII. as I stood and looked at it one bright September morning. In that soft, clear, merry light of Touraine, everything shows, everything speaks. Charming are the taste, the happy proportions, the color of this beautiful front, to which the new feeling for a purely domestic architec- ture - an architecture of security and tranquillity, in which art could indulge itself - gave an air of youth and gladness. It is true that for a long time to come the castle of Blois was neither very safe nor very quiet; but its dangers came from within, from the evil passions of its inhabitants, and not from siege or in- vasion. The front of Louis XII. is of red brick, crossed here and there with purple; and the purple slate of the high roof, relieved with chimneys beautifully treated, and with the embroidered caps of pinnacles and arches, with the porcupine of Louis, the ermine and the festooned rope which formed the devices of Anne of Brittany, - the tone of this rich-looking roof carries out the mild glow of the wall. The wide, fair windows look as if they had expanded to let in the rosy dawn of the Renaissance. Charming, for that matter, are the windows of all the chateaux of Touraine, with their squareness corrected (as it is not in the Tudor architecture) by the curve of the upper corners, which makes this line look - above the expressive aperture - like a pencilled eyebrow. The low door of this front is crowned by a high, deep niche, in which, under a splendid canopy, stiffly astride of a stiffly draped charger, sits in profile an image of the good King Louis. Good as he had been, - the father of his people, as he was called (I believe he remitted various taxes), - he was not good enough to pass muster at the Revolution; and the effigy I have just described is no more than a reproduction of the primitive statue demolished at that period.
Pass beneath it into the court, and the sixteenth century closes round you. It is a pardonable flight of fancy to say that the expressive faces of an age in which human passions lay very near the surface seem to look out at you from the windows, from the balconies, from the thick foliage of the sculpture. The portion of the wing of Louis XII. that looks toward the court is supported on a deep arcade. On your right is the wing erected by Francis I., the reverse of the mass of building which you see on approaching the castle. This exquisite, this extravagant, this trans- cendent piece of architecture is the most joyous ut- terance of the French Renaissance. It is covered with an embroidery of sculpture, in which every detail is worthy of the hand of a goldsmith. In the middle of it, or rather a little to the left, rises the famous wind- ing staircase (plausibly, but I believe not religiously, restored), which even the ages which most misused it must vaguely have admired. It forms a kind of chiselled cylinder, with wide interstices, so that the stairs are open to the air. Every inch of this structure, of its balconies, its pillars, its great central columns, is wrought over with lovely images, strange and ingenious devices, prime among which is the great heraldic sala- mander of Francis I. The salamander is everywhere at Blois, - over the chimneys, over the doors, on the walls. This whole quarter , of the castle bears the stamp of that eminently pictorial prince. The run- ning cornice along the top of the front is like all un- folded, an elongated, bracelet. The windows of the attic are like shrines for saints. The gargoyles, the medallions, the statuettes, the festoons, are like the elaboration of some precious cabinet rather than the details of a building exposed to the weather and to the ages. In the interior there is a profusion of res- toration, and it is all restoration in color. This has been, evidently, a work of great energy and cost, but it will easily strike you as overdone. The universal freshness is a discord, a false note; it seems to light up the dusky past with an unnatural glare. Begun in the reign of Louis Philippe, this terrible process - the more terrible always the more you admit that it has been necessary - has been carried so far that there is now scarcely a square inch of the interior that has the color of the past upon it. It is true that the place had been so coated over with modern abuse that something was needed to keep it alive; it is only, per- haps, a pity that the restorers, not content with saving its life, should have undertaken to restore its youth. The love of consistency, in such a business, is a dangerous lure. All the old apartments have been rechristened, as it were; the geography of the castle has been re-established. The guardrooms, the bed- rooms, the closets, the oratories, have recovered their identity. Every spot connected with the murder of the Duke of Guise is pointed out by a small, shrill boy, who takes you from room to room, and who has learned his lesson in perfection. The place is full of Catherine de' Medici, of Henry III., of memories, of ghosts, of echoes, of possible evocations and revivals. It is covered with crimson and gold. The fireplaces and the ceilings are magnificent; they look like ex- pensive "sets" at the grand opera.
I should have mentioned that below, in the court, the front of the wing of Gaston d'Orleans faces you as you enter, so that the place is a course of French history. Inferior in beauty and grace to the other portions of the castle, the wing is yet a nobler monu- ment than the memory of Gaston deserves. The second of the sons of Henry IV., - who was no more fortunate as a father than as a husband, - younger brother of Louis XIII., and father of the great Mademoiselle, the most celebrated, most ambitious, most self-complacent, and most unsuccessful _fille a marier_ in French history, passed in enforced retirement at the castle of Blois the close of a life of clumsy intrigues against Cardinal Richelieu, in which his rashness was only equalled by his pusillanimity and his ill-luck by his inaccessibility to correction, and which, after so many follies and shames, was properly summed up in the project - be- gun, but not completed - of demolishing the beautiful habitation of his exile in order to erect a better one. With Gaston d'Orleans, however, who lived there with- out dignity, the history of the Chateau de Blois de- clines. Its interesting period is that of the wars of religion. It was the chief residence of Henry III., and the scene of the principal events of his depraved and dramatic reign. It has been restored more than enough, as I have said, by architects and decorators; the visitor, as he moves through its empty rooms, which are at once brilliant and ill-lighted (they have not been re- furnished), undertakes a little restoration of his own. His imagination helps itself from the things that re- main; he tries to see the life of the sixteenth century in its form and dress, - its turbulence, its passions, its loves and hates, its treacheries, falsities, touches of faith, its latitude of personal development, its presen- tation of the whole nature, its nobleness of costume, charm of speech, splendor of taste, unequalled pic- turesqueness. The picture is full of movement, of contrasted light and darkness, full altogether of abomi- nations. Mixed up with them all is the great name of religion, so that the drama wants nothing to make it complete. What episode was ever more perfect - looked at as a dramatic occurrence - than the murder of the Duke of Guise? The insolent prosperity of the victim; the weakness, the vices, the terrors, of the author of the deed; the perfect execution of the plot; the accu- mulation of horror in what followed it, - give it, as a crime, a kind of immortal solidity.
But we must not take the Chateau de Blois too hard: I went there, after all, by way of entertainment. If among these sinister memories your visit should threaten to prove a tragedy, there is an excellent way of removing the impression. You may treat yourself at Blois to a very cheerful afterpiece. There is a charming industry practised there, and practised in charming conditions. Follow the bright little quay down the river till you get quite out of the town, and reach the point where the road beside the Loire be- comes sinuous and attractive, turns the corner of dimi- nutive headlands, and makes you wonder what is be- yond. Let not your curiosity induce you, however, to pass by a modest white villa which overlooks the stream, enclosed in a fresh little court; for here dwells an artist, - an artist in faience. There is no sort of sign, and the place looks peculiarly private. But if you ring at the gate, you will not be turned away. You will, on the contrary, be ushered upstairs into a parlor - there is nothing resembling a shop- encum- bered with specimens - of remarkably handsome pottery. The work is of the best, - a careful reproduction of old forms, colors, devices; and the master of the establishment is one of those completely artistic types that are often found in France. His reception is as friendly as his work is ingenious; and I think it is not too much to say that you like the work the better be- cause he has produced it. His vases, cups and jars, lamps, platters, _plaques,_ with their brilliant glaze, their innumerable figures, their family likeness, and wide variations, are scattered, through his occupied rooms; they serve at once as his stock-in-trade and as house- hold ornament. As we all know, this is an age of prose, of machinery, of wholesale production, of coarse and hasty processes. But one brings away from the establishment of the very intelligent M. Ulysse the sense of a less eager activity and a greater search for perfection. He has but a few workmen, and he gives them plenty of time. The place makes a little vignette, leaves an impression, - the quiet white house in its garden on the road by the wide, clear river, without the smoke, the bustle, the ugliness, of so much of our modern industry. It ought to gratify Mr. Ruskin.
The second time I went to Blois I took a carriage for Chambord, and came back by the Chateau de Cheverny and the forest of Russy, - a charming little expedition, to which the beauty of the afternoon (the finest in a rainy season that was spotted with bright days) contributed not a little. To go to Chambord, you cross the Loire, leave it on one side, and strike away through a country in which salient features be- come less and less numerous, and which at last has no other quality than a look of intense, and peculiar rurality, - the characteristic, even when it is not the charm, of so much of the landscape of France. This is not the appearance of wildness, for it goes with great cultivation; it is simply the presence of the delving, drudging, economizing peasant. But it is a deep, unrelieved rusticity. It is a peasant's landscape; not, as in England, a landlord's. On the way to Cham- bord you enter the flat and sandy Sologne. The wide horizon opens out like a great _potager,_ without inter- ruptions, without an eminence, with here and there a long, low stretch of wood. There is an absence of hedges, fences, signs of property; everything is ab- sorbed in the general flatness, - the patches of vine- yard, the scattered cottages, the villages, the children (planted and staring and almost always pretty), the women in the fields, the white caps, the faded blouses, the big sabots. At the end of an hour's drive (they assure you at Blois that even with two horses you will spend double that time), I passed through a sort of gap in a wall, which does duty as the gateway of the domain of an exiled pretender. I drove along a straight avenue, through a disfeatured park, - the park of Chambord has twenty-one miles of circumference, - a very sandy, scrubby, melancholy plantation, in which the timber must have been cut many times over and is to-day a mere tangle of brushwood. Here, as in so many spots in France, the traveller perceives that he is in a land of revolutoins. Nevertheless, its great ex- tent and the long perspective of its avenues give this desolate boskage a certain majesty; just as its shabbi- ness places it in agreement with one of the strongest impressions of the chateau. You follow one of these long perspectives a proportionate time, and at last you see the chimneys and pinnacles of Chambord rise ap- parently out of the ground. The filling-in of the wide moats that formerly surrounded it has, in vulgar par- lance, let it down, bud given it an appearance of top- heaviness that is at the same time a magnificent Orien- talism. The towers, the turrets, the cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires of a city than the salient points of a single building. You emerge from the avenue and find yourself at the foot of an enormous fantastic mass. Chambord has a strange mixture of society and solitude. A little village clusters within view of its stately windows, and a couple of inns near by offer entertainment to pilgrims. These things, of course, are incidents of the political pro- scription which hangs its thick veil over the place. Chambord is truly royal, - royal in its great scale, its grand air, its indifference to common considerations. If a cat may look at a king, a palace may lock at a tavern. I enjoyed my visit to this extraordinary struc- ture as much as if I had been a legitimist; and indeed there is something interesting in any monument of a great system, any bold presentation of a tradition.
You leave your vehicle at one of the inns, which are very decent and tidy, and in which every one is very civil, as if in this latter respect the influence of the old regime pervaded the neighborhood, and you walk across the grass and the gravel to a small door, - a door infinitely subordinate and conferring no title of any kind on those who enter it. Here you ring a bell, which a highly respectable person answers (a per- son perceptibly affiliated, again, to the old regime), after which she ushers you across a vestibule into an inner court. Perhaps the strongest impression I got at Chambord came to me as I stood in this court. The woman who admitted me did not come with me; I was to find my guide somewhere else. The specialty of Chambord is its prodigious round towers. There are, I believe, no less than eight of them, placed at each angle of the inner and outer square of buildings; for the castle is in the form of a larger structure which encloses a smaller one. One of these towers stood before me in the court; it seemed to fling its shadow over the place; while above, as I looked up, the pinnacles and gables, the enormous chimneys, soared into the bright blue air. The place was empty and silent; shadows of gargoyles, of extra- ordinary projections, were thrown across the clear gray surfaces. One felt that the whole thing was monstrous. A cicerone appeared, a languid young man in a rather shabby livery, and led me about with a mixture of the impatient and the desultory, of con- descension and humility. I do not profess to under- stand the plan of Chambord, and I may add that I do not even desire to do so; for it is much more entertaining to think of it, as you can so easily, as an irresponsible, insoluble labyrinth. Within, it is a wilderness of empty chambers, a royal and romantic barrack. The exiled prince to whom it gives its title has not the means to keep up four hundred rooms; he contents himself with preserving the huge outside. The repairs of the prodigious roof alone must absorb a large part of his revenue. The great feature of the interior is the celebrated double staircase, rising straight through the building, with two courses of steps, so that people may ascend and descend without meeting. This staircase is a truly majestic piece of humor; it gives you the note, as it were, of Chambord. It opens on each landing to a vast guard-room, in four arms, radiations of the winding shaft. My guide made me climb to the great open-work lantern which, springing from the roof at the termination of the rotund staircase (surmounted here by a smaller one), forms the pinnacle of the bristling crown of Cham- bord. This lantern is tipped with a huge _fleur-de-lis_ in stone, - the only one, I believe, that the Revolution did not succeed in pulling down. Here, from narrow windows, you look over the wide, flat country and the tangled, melancholy park, with the rotation of its straight avenues. Then you walk about the roof, in a complication of galleries, terraces, balconies, through the multitude of chimneys and gables. This roof, which is in itself a sort of castle in the air, has an extravagant, faboulus quality, and with its profuse ornamentation, - the salamander of Francis I. is a con- tant motive, - its lonely pavements, its sunny niches, the balcony that looks down over the closed and grass-grown main entrance, a strange, half-sad, half- brilliant charm. The stone-work is covered with fine mould. There are places that reminded me of some of those quiet, mildewed corners of courts and ter- races, into which the traveller who wanders through the Vatican looks down from neglected windows. They show you two or three furnished rooms, with Bourbon portraits, hideous tapestries from the ladies of France, a collection of the toys of the _enfant du miracle,_ all military and of the finest make. "Tout cela fonc- tionne," the guide said of these miniature weapons; and I wondered, if he should take it into his head to fire off his little canon, how much harm the Comte de Chambord would do.