Harm the Internet with words

of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody

source:muvtime:2023-12-05 16:00:37

To return to Tours my companion and I had counted on a train which (as is not uncommon in France) existed only in the "Indicateur des Chemins de Fer;" and instead of waiting for another we engaged a vehicle to take us home. A sorry _carriole_ or _patache_ it proved to be, with the accessories of a lumbering white mare and a little wizened, ancient peasant, who had put on, in honor of the occasion, a new blouse of extraordinary stiffness and blueness. We hired the trap of an energetic woman who put it "to" with her own hands; women in Touraine and the B1esois appearing to have the best of it in the business of letting vehicles, as well as in many other industries. There is, in fact, no branch of human activity in which one is not liable, in France, to find a woman engaged. Women, indeed, are not priests; but priests are, more or less; women. They are not in the army, it may be said; but then they _are_ the army. They are very formidable. In France one must count with the women. The drive back from Langeais to Tours was long, slow, cold; we had an occasional spatter of rain. But the road passes most of the way close to the Loire, and there was some- thing in our jog-trot through the darkening land, beside the flowing, river, which it was very possible to enjoy.

of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody

The consequence of my leaving to the last my little mention of Loches is that space and opportunity fail me; and yet a brief and hurried account of that extra- ordinary spot would after all be in best agreement with my visit. We snatched a fearful joy, my companion and I, the afternoon we took the train for Loches. The weather this time had been terribly against us: again and again a day that promised fair became hope- lessly foul after lunch. At last we determined that if we could not make this excursion in the sunshine, we would make it with the aid of our umbrellas. We grasped them firmly and started for the station, where we were detained an unconscionable time by the evolu- tions, outside, of certain trains laden with liberated (and exhilarated) conscripts, who, their term of service ended, were about to be restored to civil life. The trains in Touraine are provoking; they serve as little as possible for excursions. If they convey you one way at the right hour, it is on the condition of bring- ing you back at the wrong; they either allow you far too little time to examine the castle or the ruin, or they leave you planted in front of it for periods that outlast curiosity. They are perverse, capricious, ex- asperating. It was a question of our having but an hour or two at Loches, and we could ill afford to sacri- fice to accidents. One of the accidents, however, was that the rain stopped before we got there, leaving be- hind it a moist mildness of temperature and a cool and lowering sky, which were in perfect agreement with the gray old city. Loches is certainly one of the greatest impressions of the traveller in central France, - the largest cluster of curious things that presents itself to his sight. It rises above the valley of the Indre, the charming stream set in meadows and sedges, which wanders through the province of Berry and through many of the novels of Madame George Sand; lifting from the summit of a hill, which it covers to the base, a confusion of terraces, ramparts, towers, and spires. Having but little time, as I say, we scaled the hill amain, and wandered briskly through this labyrinth of antiquities. The rain had decidedly stopped, and save that we had our train on our minds, we saw Loches to the best advantage. We enjoyed that sensation with which the conscientious tourist is - or ought to be - well acquainted, and for which, at any rate, he has a formula in his rough-and-ready language. We "experienced," as they say, (most odious of verbs!) an "agreeable disappointment." We were surprised and delighted; we had not suspected that Loches was so good.

of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody

I hardly know what is best there: the strange and impressive little collegial church, with its romanesque atrium or narthex, its doorways covered with primitive sculpture of the richest kind, its treasure of a so-called pagan altar, embossed with fighting warriors, its three pyramidal domes, so unexpected, so sinister, which I have not met elsewhere, in church architecture; or the huge square keep, of the eleventh century, - the most cliff-like tower I remember, whose immeasurable thick- ness I did not penetrate; or the subterranean mysteries of two other less striking but not less historic dungeons, into which a terribly imperative little cicerone intro- duced us, with the aid of downward ladders, ropes, torches, warnings, extended hands; and, many, fearful anecdotes, - all in impervious darkness. These horrible prisons of Loches, at an incredible distance below the daylight, were a favorite resource of Louis XI., and were for the most part, I believe, constructed by him. One of the towers of the castle is garnished with the hooks or supports of the celebrated iron cage in which he confined the Cardinal La Balue, who survived so much longer than might have been expected this extra- ordinary mixture of seclusion and exposure. All these things form part of the castle of Loches, whose enorm- ous _enceinte_ covers the whole of the top of the hill, and abounds in dismantled gateways, in crooked passages, in winding lanes that lead to postern doors, in long facades that look upon terraces interdicted to the visitor, who perceives with irritation that they com- mand magnificent views. These views are the property of the sub-prefect of the department, who resides at the Chateau de Loches, and who has also the enjoy- ment of a garden - a garden compressed and curtailed, as those of old castles that perch on hill-tops are apt to be - containing a horse-chestnut tree of fabulous size, a tree of a circumference so vast and so perfect that the whole population of Loches might sit in con- centric rows beneath its boughs. The gem of the place, however, is neither the big _marronier_, nor the collegial church, nor the mighty dungeon, nor the hideous prisons of Louis XI.; it is simply the tomb of Agnes Sorel, _la belle des belles_, so many years the mistress of Charles VII. She was buried, in 1450, in the collegial church, whence, in the beginning of the present century, her remains, with the monument that marks them, were transferred to one of the towers of the castle. She has always, I know not with what justice, enjoyed a fairer fame than most ladies who have occupied her position, and this fairness is expressed in the delicate statue that surmounts her tomb. It represents her lying there in lovely demureness, her hands folded with the best modesty, a little kneeling angel at either side of her head, and her feet, hidden in the folds of her decent robe, resting upon a pair of couchant lambs, innocent reminders of her name. Agnes, however, was not lamb-like, inasmuch as, according to popular tradition at least, she exerted herself sharply in favor of the ex- pulsion of the English from France. It is one of the suggestions of Loches that the young Charles VII., hard put to it as he was for a treasury and a capital, - "le roi de Bourges," he was called at Paris, - was yet a rather privileged mortal, to stand up as he does before posterity between the noble Joan and the _gentille Agnes_; deriving, however much more honor from one of these companions than from the other. Almost as delicate a relic of antiquity as this fascinating tomb is the exquisite oratory of Anne of Brittany, among the apartments of the castle the only chamber worthy of note. This small room, hardly larger than a closet, and forming part of the addition made to the edifice by Charles VIII., is embroidered over with the curious and remarkably decorative device of the ermine and festooned cord. The objects in themselves are not especially graceful; but the constant repetition of the figure on the walls and ceiling produces an effect of richness, in spite of the modern whitewash with which, if I remember rightly, they have been endued. The little streets of Loches wander crookedly down the hill, and are full of charming pictorial "bits:" an old town- gate, passing under a mediaeval tower, which is orna- mented by Gothic windows and the empty niches of statues; a meagre but delicate _hotel de ville_, of the Renaissance, nestling close beside it; a curious _chancel- lerie_ of the middle of the sixteenth century, with mythological figures and a Latin inscription on the front, - both of these latter buildings being rather un- expected features of the huddled and precipitous little town. Loches has a suburb on the other side of the Indre, which we had contented ourselves with looking down at from the heights, while we wondered whether, even if it had not been getting late and our train were more accommodating, we should care to take our way across the bridge and look up that bust, in terra-cotta, of Francis I., which is the principal ornament of the Chateau de Sansac and the faubourg of Beaulieu. I think we decided that we should not; that we were already quite well enough acquainted with the nasal profile of that monarch.

of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody

I know not whether the exact limits of an excur- sion, as distinguished from a journey, have ever been fixed; at any rate, it seemed none of my business, at Tours, to settle the question. Therefore, though the making of excursions had been the purpose of my stay, I thought it vain, while I started for Bourges, to determine to which category that little expedition might belong. It was not till the third day that I re- turned to Tours; and the distance, traversed for the most part after dark, was even greater than I had sup- posed. That, however, was partly the fault of a tire- some wait at Vierzon, where I had more than enough time to dine, very badly, at the _buffet_, and to observe the proceedings of a family who had entered my rail- way carriage at Tours and had conversed unreservedly, for my benefit, all the way from that station, - a family whom it entertained me to assign to the class of _petite noblesse de province_. Their noble origin was confirmed by the way they all made _maigre_ in the refreshment oom (it happened to be a Friday), as if it had been possible to do anything else. They ate two or three omelets apiece, and ever so many little cakes, while the positive, talkative mother watched her children as the waiter handed about the roast fowl. I was destined to share the secrets of this family to the end; for when I had taken place in the empty train that was in waiting to convey us to Bourges, the same vigilant woman pushed them all on top of me into my com- partment, though the carriages on either side con- tained no travellers at all. It was better, I found, to have dined (even on omelets and little cakes) at the station at Vierzon than at the hotel at Bourges, which, when I reached it at nine o'clock at night, did not strike me as the prince of hotels. The inns in the smaller provincial towns in France are all, as the term is, commercial, and the _commis-voyageur_ is in triumphant possession. I saw a great deal of him for several weeks after this; for he was apparently the only traveller in the southern provinces, and it was my daily fate to sit opposite to him at tables d'hote and in railway trains. He may be known by two infallible signs, - his hands are fat, and he tucks his napkin into his shirt-collar. In spite of these idiosyncrasies, he seemed to me a reserved and inoffensive person, with singularly little of the demonstrative good-humor that he has been described as possessing. I saw no one who re- minded me of Balzac's "illustre Gaudissart;" and in- deed, in the course of a month's journey through a large part of France, I heard so little desultory con- versation that I wondered whether a change had not come over the spirit of the people. They seemed to me as silent as Americans when Americans have not been "introduced," and infinitely less addicted to ex- changing remarks in railway trains and at tables d'hote the colloquial and cursory English; a fact per- haps not worth mentioning were it not at variance with that reputation which the French have long en- joyed of being a pre-eminently sociable nation. The common report of the character of a people is, how- ever, an indefinable product; and it is, apt to strike the traveller who observes for himself as very wide of the mark. The English, who have for ages been de- scribed (mainly by the French) as the dumb, stiff, unapproachable race, present to-day a remarkable ap- pearance of good-humor and garrulity, and are dis- tinguished by their facility of intercourse. On the other hand, any one who has seen half a dozen Frenchmen pass a whole day together in a railway- carriage without breaking silence is forced to believe that the traditional reputation of these gentlemen is simply the survival of some primitive formula. It was true, doubtless, before the Revolution; but there have been great changes since then. The question of which is the better taste, to talk to strangers or to hold your tongue, is a matter apart; I incline to believe that the French reserve is the result of a more definite con- ception of social behavior. I allude to it only be- came it is at variance with the national fame, and at the same time is compatible with a very easy view of life in certain other directions. On some of these latter points the Boule d'Or at Bourges was full of instruction; boasting, as it did, of a hall of reception in which, amid old boots that had been brought to be cleaned, old linen that was being sorted for the wash, and lamps of evil odor that were awaiting replenish- ment, a strange, familiar, promiscuous household life went forward. Small scullions in white caps and aprons slept upon greasy benches; the Boots sat staring at you while you fumbled, helpless, in a row of pigeon- holes, for your candlestick or your key; and, amid the coming and going of the _commis-voyageurs_, a little sempstress bent over the under-garments of the hostess, - the latter being a heavy, stem, silent woman, who looked at people very hard.

It was not to be looked at in that manner that one had come all the way from Tours; so that within ten minutes after my arrival I sallied out into the dark- ness to get somehow and somewhere a happier im- pression. However late in the evening I may arrive at a place, I cannot go to bed without an impression. The natural place, at Bourges, to look for one seemed to be the cathedral; which, moreover, was the only thing that could account for my presence _dans cette galere_. I turned out of a small square, in front of the hotel, and walked up a narrow, sloping street, paved with big, rough stones and guiltless of a foot-way. It was a splendid starlight night; the stillness of a sleeping _ville de province_ was over everything; I had the whole place to myself. I turned to my right, at the top of the street, where presently a short, vague lane brought me into sight of the cathedral. I ap- proached it obliquely, from behind; it loomed up in the darkness above me, enormous and sublime. It stands on the top of the large but not lofty eminence over which Bourges is scattered, - a very good position, as French cathedrals go, for they are not all so nobly situated as Chartres and Laon. On the side on which I approached it (the south) it is tolerably well ex- posed, though the precinct is shabby; in front, it is rather too much shut in. These defects, however, it makes up for on the north side and behind, where it presents itself in the most admirable manner to the garden of the Archeveche, which has been arranged as a public walk, with the usual formal alleys of the _jardin francais_. I must add that I appreciated these points only on the following day. As I stood there in the light of the stars, many of which had an autumnal sharpness, while others were shooting over the heavens, the huge, rugged vessel of the church overhung me in very much the same way as the black hull of a ship at sea would overhang a solitary swimmer. It seemed colossal, stupendous, a dark leviathan.

The next morning, which was lovely, I lost no time in going back to it, and found, with satisfaction, that the daylight did it no injury. The cathedral of Bourges is indeed magnificently huge; and if it is a good deal wanting in lightness and grace it is perhaps only the more imposing. I read in the excellent hand- book of M. Joanne that it was projected "_des_ 1172," but commenced only in the first years of the thirteenth century. "The nave" the writer adds, "was finished _tant bien que mal, faute de ressources;_ the facade is of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in its lower part, and of the fourteenth in its upper." The allusion to the nave means the omission of the transepts. The west front consists of two vast but imperfect towers; one of which (the south) is immensely buttressed, so that its outline slopes forward, like that of a pyramid, being the taller of the two. If they had spires, these towers would be prodigious; as it is, given the rest of the church, they are wanting in elevation. There are five deeply recessed portals, all in a row, each surmounted with a gable; the gable over the central door being exceptionally high. Above the porches, which give the measure of its width, the front rears itself, piles itself, on a great scale, carried up by gal- leries, arches, windows, sculptures, and supported by the extraordinarily thick buttresses of which I have spoken, and which, though they embellish it with deep shadows thrown sidewise, do not improve its style. The portals, especially the middle one, are extremely interesting; they are covered with curious early sculp- tures. The middle one, however, I must describe alone. It has no less than six rows of figures, - the others have four, - some of which, notably the upper one, are still in their places. The arch at the top has three tiers of elaborate imagery. The upper of these is divided by the figure of Christ in judgment, of great size, stiff and terrible, with outstretched arms. On either side of him are ranged three or four angels, with the instruments of the Passion. Beneath him, in the second frieze, stands the angel of justice, with his scales; and on either side of him is the vision of the last judgment. The good prepare, with infinite titilla- tion and complacency, to ascend to the skies; while the bad are dragged, pushed, hurled, stuffed, crammed, into pits and caldrons of fire. There is a charming detail in this section. Beside the angel, on, the right, where the wicked are the prey of demons, stands a little female figure, that of a child, who, with hands meekly folded and head gently raised, waits for the stern angel to decide upon her fate. In this fate, how- ever, a dreadful, big devil also takes a keen interest; he seems on the point of appropriating the tender creature; he has a face like a goat and an enormous hooked nose. But the angel gently lays a hand upon the shoulder of the little girl - the movement is full of dignity - as if to say, "No; she belongs to the other side." The frieze below represents the general re- surrection, with the good and the wicked emerging from their sepulchres. Nothing can be more quaint and charming than the difference shown in their way of responding to the final trump. The good get out of their tombs with a certain modest gayety, an alacrity tempered by respect; one of them kneels to pray as soon as he has disinterred himself. You may know the wicked, on the other hand, by their extreme shy- ness; they crawl out slowly and fearfully; they hang back, and seem to say, "Oh, dear!" These elaborate sculptures, full of ingenuous intention and of the reality of early faith, are in a remarkable state of pre- servation; they bear no superficial signs of restoration, and appear scarcely to have suffered from the centu- ries. They are delightfully expressive; the artist had the advantage of knowing exactly the effect he wished to produce.

The interior of the cathedral has a great simplicity and majesty, and, above all, a tremendous height. The nave is extraordinary in this respect; it dwarfs every- thing else I know. I should add, however, that I am, in architecture, always of the opinion of the last speaker. Any great building seems to me, while I look at it, the ultimate expression. At any rate, during the hour that I sat gazing along the high vista of Bourges, the interior of the great vessel corresponded to my vision of the evening before. There is a tranquil largeness, a kind of infinitude, about such an edifice: it soothes and purifies the spirit, it illuminates the mind. There are two aisles, on either side, in addi- tion to the nave, - five in all, - and, as I have said, there are no transepts; an omission which lengthens the vista, so that from my place near the door the central jewelled window in the depths of the perpen- dicular choir seemed a mile or two away. The second, or outward, of each pair of aisles is too low, and the first too high; without this inequality the nave would appear to take an even more prodigious flight. The double aisles pass all the way round the choir, the windows of which are inordinately rich in magnificent old glass. I have seen glass as fine in other churches; but I think I have never seen so much of it at once.

Beside the cathedral, on the north, is a curious structure of the fourteenth or fifteenth century, which looks like an enormous flying buttress, with its sup- port, sustaining the north tower. It makes a massive arch, high in the air, and produces a romantic effect as people pass under it to the open gardens of the Archeveche, which extend to a considerable distance in the rear of the church. The structure supporting the arch has the girth of a largeish house, and con- tains chambers with whose uses I am unacquainted, but to which the deep pulsations of the cathedral, the vibration of its mighty bells, and the roll of its organ- tones must be transmitted even through the great arm of stone.