There is another point in the history of the fine old houses which command the Loire, of which, I sup- pose, one may be tolerably sure; that is, their having, placid as they stand there to-day, looked down on the horrors of the Terror of 1793, the bloody reign of the monster Carrier and his infamous _noyades_. The most hideous episode of the Revolution was enacted at Nantes, where hundreds of men and women, tied to- gether in couples, were set afloat upon rafts and sunk to the bottom of the Loire. The tall eighteenth-century house, full of the _air noble_, in France always reminds me of those dreadful years, - of the street-scenes of the Revolution. Superficially, the association is incongru- ous, for nothing could be more formal and decorous than the patent expression of these eligible residences. But whenever I have a vision of prisoners bound on tumbrels that jolt slowly to the scaffold, of heads car- ried on pikes, of groups of heated _citoyennes_ shaking their fists at closed coach-windows, I see in the back- ground the well-ordered features of the architecture of the period, - the clear gray stone, the high pilasters, the arching lines of the _entresol_, the classic pediment, the slate-covered attic. There is not much architecture at Nantes except the domestic. The cathedral, with a rough west front and stunted towers, makes no im- pression as you approach it. It is true that it does its best to recover its reputation as soon as you have passed the threshold. Begun in 1434 and finished about the end of the fifteenth century, as I discover in Murray, it has a magnificent nave, not of great length, but of extraordinary height and lightness. On the other hand, it has no choir whatever. There is much entertainment in France in seeing what a cathedral will take upon itself to possess or to lack; for it is only the smaller number that have the full complement of features. Some have a very fine nave and no choir; others a very fine choir and no nave. Some have a rich outside and nothing within; others a very blank face and a very glowing heart. There are a hundred possibilities of poverty and wealth, and they make the most unexpected combinations.
The great treasure of Nantes is the two noble se- pulchral monuments which occupy either transept, and one of which has (in its nobleness) the rare distinction of being a production of our own time. On the south side stands the tomb of Francis II., the last of the Dukes of Brittany, and of his second wife, Margaret of Foix, erected in 1507 by their daughter Anne, whom we have encountered already at the Chateau de Nantes, where she was born; at Langeais, where she married her first husband; at Amboise, where she lost him; at Blois, where she married her second, the "good" Louis XII., who divorced an impeccable spouse to make room for her, and where she herself died. Trans- ferred to the cathedral from a demolished convent, this monument, the masterpiece of Michel Colomb, author of the charming tomb of the children of Charles VIII. and the aforesaid Anne, which we admired at Saint Gatien of Tours, is one of the most brilliant works of the French Renaissance. It has a splendid effect, and is in perfect preservation. A great table of black marble supports the reclining figures of the duke and duchess, who lie there peacefully and majestically, in their robes and crowns, with their heads each on a cushion, the pair of which are supported, from behind, by three, charming little kneeling angels; at the foot of the quiet couple are a lion and a greyhound, with heraldic devices. At each of the angles of the table is a large figure in white marble of a woman elaborately dressed, with a symbolic meaning, and these figures, with their contemporary faces and clothes, which give them the air of realistic portraits, are truthful and liv- ing, if not remarkably beautiful. Round the sides of the tomb are small images of the apostles. There is a kind of masculine completeness in the work, and a certain robustness of taste.
In nothing were the sculptors of the Renaissance more fortunate than in being in advance of us with their tombs: they have left us noting to say in regard to the great final contrast, - the contrast between the immobility of death and the trappings and honors that survive. They expressed in every way in which it was possible to express it the solemnity, of their conviction that the Marble image was a part of the personal greatness of the defunct, and the protection, the re- demption, of his memory. A modern tomb, in com- parison, is a sceptical affair; it insists too little on the honors. I say this in the face of the fact that one has only to step across the cathedral of Nantes to stand in the presence of one of the purest and most touching of modern tombs. Catholic Brittany has erected in the opposite transept a monument to one of the most devoted of her sons, General de Lamoriciere, the de- fender of the Pope, the vanquished of Castelfidardo. This noble work, from the hand of Paul Dubois, one of the most interesting of that new generation of sculp- tors who have revived in France an art of which our overdressed century had begun to despair, has every merit but the absence of a certain prime feeling. It is the echo of an earlier tune, - an echo with a beauti- ful cadence. Under a Renaissance canopy of white marble, elaborately worked with arabesques and che- rubs, in a relief so low that it gives the work a cer- tain look of being softened and worn by time, lies the body of the Breton soldier, with, a crucifix clasped to his breast and a shroud thrown over his body. At each of the angles sits a figure in bronze, the two best of which, representing Charity and Military Courage, had given me extraordinary pleasure when they were exhibited (in the clay) in the Salon of 1876. They are admirably cast, and they have a certain greatness: the one, a serene, robust young mother, beautiful in line and attitude; the other, a lean and vigilant young man, in a helmet that overshadows his serious eyes, resting an outstretched arm, an admirable military member, upon the hilt of a sword. These figures con- tain abundant assurance that M. Paul Dubois has been attentive to Michael Angelo, whom we have all heard called a splendid example but a bad model. The visor-shadowed face of his warrior is more or less a reminiscence of the figure on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici at Florence; but it is doubtless none the worse for that. The interest of the work of Paul Dubois is its peculiar seriousness, a kind of moral good faith which is not the commonest feature of French art, and which, united as it is in this case with exceeding knowledge and a remarkable sense of form, produces an impression, of deep refinement. The whole monu- ment is a proof of exquisitely careful study; but I am not sure that this impression on the part of the spec- tator is altogether a happy one. It explains much of its great beauty, and it also explains, perhaps, a little of a certain weakness. That word, however, is scarcely in place; I only mean that M. Dubois has made a vi- sible effort, which has been most fruitful. Simplicity is not always strength, and our complicated modern genius contains treasures of intention. This fathomless modern element is an immense charm on the part of M. Paul Dubois. I am lost in admiration of the deep aesthetic experience, the enlightenment of taste, re- vealed by such work. After that, I only hope that Giuseppe Garibaldi may have a monument as fair.
To go from Nantes to La Rochelle you travel straight southward, across the historic _bocage_ of La Vendee, the home of royalist bush-fighting. The country, which is exceedingly pretty, bristles with copses, orchards, hedges, and with trees more spread- ing and sturdy than the traveller is apt to deem the feathery foliage of France. It is true that as I pro- ceeded it flattened out a good deal, so that for an hour there was a vast featureless plain, which offered me little entertainment beyond the general impression that I was approaching the Bay of Biscay (from which, in reality, I was yet far distant). As we drew near La Rochelle, however, the prospect brightened con- siderably, and the railway kept its course beside a charming little canal, or canalized river, bordered with trees, and with small, neat, bright-colored, and yet old-fashioned cottages and villas, which stood back on the further side, behind small gardens, hedges, painted palings, patches of turf. The whole effect was Dutch and delightful; and in being delightful, though not in being Dutch, it prepared me for the charms of La Rochelle, which from the moment I entered it I perceived to be a fascinating little town, a most original mixture of brightness and dulness. Part of its brightness comes from its being extra- ordinarily clean, - in which, after all, it _is_ Dutch; a virtue not particularly noticeable at Bourges, Le Mans, and Angers. Whenever I go southward, if it be only twenty miles, I begin to look out for the south, pre- pared as I am to find the careless grace of those lati- tudes even in things of which it may, be said that they may be south of something, but are not southern. To go from Boston to New York (in this state of mind) is almost as soft a sensation as descending the Italian side, of the Alps; and to go from New York to Philadelphia is to enter a zone of tropical luxuriance and warmth. Given this absurd disposition, I could not fail to flatter myself, on reaching La Rochelle, that I was already in the Midi, and to perceive in everything, in the language of the country, the _ca- ractere meridional._ Really, a great many things had a hint of it. For that matter, it seems to me that to arrive in the south at a bound - to wake up there, as it were - would be a very imperfect pleasure. The full pleasure is to approach by stages and gradations; to observe the successive shades of difference by which it ceases to be the north. These shades are exceedingly fine, but your true south-lover has an eye for them all. If he perceive them at New York and Philadelphia, - we imagine him boldly as liberated from Boston, - how could he fail to perceive them at La Rochelle? The streets of this dear little city are lined with arcades, - good, big, straddling arcades of stone, such as befit a land of hot summers, and which recalled to me, not to go further, the dusky portions of Bayonne. It contains, moreover, a great wide _place d'armes_, which looked for all the world like the piazza of some dead Italian town, empty, sunny, grass-grown, with a row of yellow houses overhanging it, an unfrequented cafe, with a striped awning, a tall, cold, florid, uninteresting cathedral of the eighteenth century on one side, and on the other a shady walk, which forms part of an old rampart. I followed this walk for some time, under the stunted trees, beside the grass-covered bastions; it is very charming, wind- ing and wandering, always with trees. Beneath the rampart is a tidal river, and on the other side, for a long distance, the mossy walls of the immense garden of a seminary. Three hundred years ago, La Rochelle was the great French stronghold of Protestantism; but to-day it appears to be a'nursery of Papists.
The walk upon the rampart led me round to one of the gatesi of the town, where I found some small modern, fortifications and sundry red-legged soldiers, and, beyond the fortifications, another shady walk, - a _mail_, as the French say, as well as a _champ de manoeuvre_, - on which latter expanse the poor little red-legs were doing their exercise. It was all very quiet and very picturesque, rather in miniature; and at once very tidy and a little out of repair. This, however, was but a meagre back-view of La Rochelle, or poor side-view at best. There are other gates than the small fortified aperture just mentioned; one of them, an old gray arch beneath a fine clock-tower, I had passed through on my way from the station. This picturesque Tour de l'Horloge separates the town proper from the port; for beyond the old gray arch, the place presents its bright, expressive little face to the sea. I had a charming walk about the harbor, and along the stone piers and sea-walls that shut it in. This indeed, to take things in their order, was after I had had my breakfast (which I took on arriv- ing) and after I had been to the _hotel de ville_. The inn had a long narrow garden behind it, with some very tall trees; and passing through this garden to a dim and secluded _salle a manger_, buried in the heavy shade, I had, while I sat at my repast, a feeling of seclusion which amounted almost to a sense of in- carceration. I lost this sense, however, after I had paid my bill, and went out to look for traces of the famous siege, which is the principal title of La Rochelle to renown. I had come thither partly because I thought it would be interesting to stand for a few moments in so gallant a spot, and partly because, I confess, I had a curiosity to see what had been the starting-point of the Huguenot emigrants who founded the town of New Rochelle in the State of New York, a place in which I had passed certain memorable hours. It was strange to think, as I strolled through the peaceful little port, that these quiet waters, during the wars of religion, had swelled with a formidable naval power. The Rochelais had fleets and admirals, and their stout little Protestant bottoms carried de- fiance up and down.
To say that I found any traces of the siege would be to misrepresent the taste for vivid whitewash by which La Rochelle is distinguished to-day. The only trace is the dent in the marble top of the table on which, in the _hotel de ville_, Jean Guiton, the mayor of the city, brought down his dagger with an oath, when in 1628 the vessels and regiments of Richelieu closed about it on sea and land. This terrible functionary was the soul of the resistance; he held out from February to October, in the midst of pestilence and famine. The whole episode has a brilliant place among the sieges of history; it has been related a hundred times, and I may only glance at it and pass. I limit my ambition, in these light pages, to speaking of those things of which I have personally received an impression; and I have no such impression of the defence of La Rochelle. The hotel de ville is a pretty little building, in the style of the Renaissance of Francis I.; but it has left much of its interest in the hands of the restorers. It has been "done up" without mercy; its natural place would be at Rochelle the New. A sort of battlemented curtain, flanked with turrets, divides it from the street and contains a low door (a low door in a high wall is always felicitous), which admits you to an inner court, where you discover the face of the building. It has statues set into it, and is raised upon a very low and very deep arcade. The principal function of the deferential old portress who conducts you over the place is to call your attention to the indented table of Jean Guiton; but she shows you other objects of interest besides. The interior is absolutely new and extremely sump- tuous, abounding in tapestries, upholstery, morocco, velvet, satin. This is especially the case with a really beautiful _grande salle_, where, surrdunded with the most expensive upholstery, the mayor holds his official receptions. (So at least, said my worthy portress.) The mayors of La Rochelle appear to have changed a good deal since the days of the grim Guiton; but these evidences of municipal splendor are interesting for the light they throw on French manners. Imagine the mayor of an English or an American town of twenty thousand inhabitants holding magisterial soirees in the town-hall! The said _grande salle_, which is un- changed in form and its larger features, is, I believe, the room in which the Rochelais debated as to whether they should shut themselves up, and decided in the affirmative. The table and chair of Jean Guiton have been restored, Iike everything else, and are very elegant and coquettish pieces of furniture, - incongruous relics of a season of starvation and blood. I believe that Protestantism is somewhat shrunken to-day at La Rochelle, and has taken refuge mainly in. the _haute societe_ and in a single place of worship. There was nothing particular to remind me of its supposed austerity as, after leaving the hotel de ville, I walked along the empty portions and cut out of the Tour de l'Horloge, which I have already mentioned. If I stopped and looked up at this venerable monument, it was not to ascertain the hour, for I foresaw that I should have more time at La Rochelle than I knew what to do with; but because its high, gray, weather-beaten face was an obvious subject for a sketch. The little port, which has two basins, and is ac- cessible only to vessels of light tonnage, had a certain gayety and as much local color as you please. Fisher folk of pictuesque type were strolling about, most of them Bretons; several of the men with handsome, simple faces, not at all brutal, and with a splendid brownness, - the golden-brown color, on cheek and beard, that you see on an old Venetian sail. It was a squally, showery day, with sudden drizzles of sun- shine; rows of rich-toned fishing-smacks were drawn up along the quays. The harbor is effective to the eye by reason of three battered old towers which, at different points, overhang it and look infinitely weather- washed and sea-silvered. The most striking of these, the Tour de la Lanterne, is a big gray mass, of the fifteenth century, flanked with turrets and crowned with a Gothic steeple. I found it was called by the people of the place the Tour des Quatre Sergents, though I know not what connection it has with the touching history of the four young sergeants of the garrison of La Rochelle, who were arrested in 1821 as conspirators against the Government of the Bour- bons, and executed, amid general indignation, in Paris in the following year. The quaint little walk, with its label of Rue sur les Murs, to which one ascends from beside the Grosse Horloge, leads to this curious Tour de la Lanterne and passes under it. This walk has the top of the old town-wall, toward the sea, for a parapet on one side, and is bordered on the other with decent but irregular little tenements of fishermen, where brown old women, whose caps are as white as if they were painted, seem chiefly in possession. In this direction there is a very pretty stretch of shore, out of the town, through the fortifications (which are Vauban's, by the way); through, also, a diminutive public garden or straggling shrubbery, which edges the water and carries its stunted verdure as far as a big Etablissernent des Bains. It was too late in the year to bathe, and the Etablissement had the bank- rupt aspect which belongs to such places out of the season; so I turned my back upon it, and gained, by a circuit in the course of which there were sundry water-side items to observe, the other side of the cheery little port, where there is a long breakwater and a still longer sea-wall, on which I walked awhile, to inhale the strong, salt breath of the Bay of Biscay. La Rochelle serves, in the months of July and August, as a _station de bains_ for a modest provincial society; and, putting aside the question of inns, it must be charming on summer afternoons.
It is an injustice to Poitiers to approach her by night, as I did some three hours after leaving La Rochelle; for what Poitiers has of best, as they would say at Poitiers, is the appearance she presents to the arriving stranger who puts his head out of the window of the train. I gazed into the gloom from such an aperture before we got into the station, for I re- membered the impression received on another occa- sion; but I saw nothing save the universal night, spotted here and there with an ugly railway lamp. It was only as I departed, the following day, that I assured myself that Poitiers still makes something of the figure she ought on the summit of her consider- able bill. I have a kindness for any little group of towers, any cluster of roofs and chimneys, that lift themselves from an eminence over which a long road ascends in zigzags; such a picture creates for the mo- ment a presumption that you are in Italy, and even leads you to believe that if you mount the winding road you will come to an old town-wall, an expanse of creviced brownness, and pass under a gateway sur- mounted by the arms of a mediaeval despot. Why I should find it a pleasure, in France, to imagine my- self in Italy, is more than I can say; the illusion has never lasted long enough to be analyzed. From the bottom of its perch Poitiers looks large and high; and indeed, the evening I reached it, the interminiable climb of the omnibus of the hotel I had selected, which I found at the station, gave me the measure of its commanding position. This hotel, "magnifique construction ornee de statues," as the Guide-Joanne, usually so reticent, takes the trouble to announce, has an omnibus, and, I suppose, has statues, though I didn't perceive them; but it has very little else save immemorial accumulations of dirt. It is magnificent, if you will, but it is not even relatively proper; and a dirty inn has always seemed to me the dirtiest of human things, - it has so many opportunities to betray itself.
Poiters covers a large space, and is as crooked and straggling as you please; but these advantages are not accompanied with any very salient features or any great wealth of architecture. Although there are few picturesque houses, however, there are two or three curious old churches. Notre Dame la Grande, in the market-place, a small romanesque structure of the twelfth century, has a most interesting and venerable exterior. Composed, like all the churches of Poitiers, of a light brown stone with a yellowish tinge, it is covered with primitive but ingenious sculptures, and is really an impressive monument. Within, it has lately been daubed over with the most hideous decorative painting that was ever inflicted upon passive pillars and indifferent vaults. This battered yet coherent little edifice has the touching look that resides in everything supremely old: it has arrived at the age at which such things cease to feel the years; the waves of time have worn its edges to a kind of patient dul- ness; there is something mild and smooth, like the stillness, the deafness, of an octogenarian, even in its rudeness of ornament, and it has become insensible to differences of a century or two. The cathedral interested me much less than Our Lady the Great, and I have not the spirit to go into statistics about it. It is not statistical to say that the cathedral stands half-way down the hill of Poitiers, in a quiet and grass-grown _place_, with an approach of crooked lanes and blank garden-walls, and that its most striking dimension is the width of its facade. This width is extraordinary, but it fails, somehow, to give nobleness to the edifice, which looks within (Murray makes the remark) like a large public hall. There are a nave and two aisles, the latter about as high as the nave; and there are some very fearful modern pictures, which you may see much better than you usually see those specimens of the old masters that lurk in glow- ing side-chapels, there being no fine old glass to dif- fuse a kindly gloom. The sacristan of the cathedral showed me something much better than all this bright bareness; he led me a short distance out of it to the small Temple de Saint-Jean, which is the most curious object at Poitiers. It is an early Christian chapel, one of the earliest in France; originally, it would seem, - that is, in the sixth or seventh century, - a bap- tistery, but converted into a church while the Christian era was still comparatively young. The Temple de Saint-Jean is therefore a monument even more vener- able than Notre Dame la Grande, and that numbness of age which I imputed to Notre Dame ought to reside in still larger measure in its crude and colorless little walls. I call them crude, in spite of their having been baked through by the centuries, only because, although certain rude arches and carvings are let into them, and they are surmounted at either end with a small gable, they have (so far as I can remember) little fascination of surface. Notre Dame is still ex- pressive, still pretends to be alive; but the Temple has delivered its message, and is completely at rest. It retains a kind of atrium, on the level of the street, from which you descend to the original floor, now un- covered, but buried for years under a false bottom. A semicircular apse was, apparently at the time of its conversion into a church, thrown out from the east wall. In the middle is the cavity of the old baptismal font. The walls and vaults are covered with traces of extremely archaic frescos, attributed, I believe, to the twelfth century. These vague, gaunt, staring fragments of figures are, to a certain extent, a reminder of some of the early Christian churches in Rome; they even faintly recalled to me the great mosaics of Ravenna. The Temple de Saint-Jean has neither the antiquity nor the completeness of those extraordinary monuments, nearly the most impressive in Europe; but, as one may say, it is very well for Poitiers.