Harm the Internet with words

care, there's nostopping them. If you don't trust your

source:androidtime:2023-12-05 17:19:30

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.

care, there's nostopping them. If you don't trust your

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.

care, there's nostopping them. If you don't trust your

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.

care, there's nostopping them. If you don't trust your

Without fastidiousness, it was fair to declare, on the other hand, that the little inn at Azay-le-Rideau was very bad. It was terribly dirty, and it was in charge of a fat _megere_ whom the appearance of four trustful travellers - we were four, with an illustrious fourth, on that occasion - roused apparently to fury. I attached great importance to this incongruous hostess, for she uttered the only uncivil words I heard spoken (in connection with any business of my own) during a tour of some six weeks in France. Breakfast not at Azay-le-Rideau, therefore, too trustful traveller; or if you do so, be either very meek or very bold. Breakfast not, save under stress of circumstance; but let no circumstance whatever prevent you from going to see the admirable chateau, which is almost a rival of Chenonceaux. The village lies close to the gates, though after you pass these gates you leave it well behind. A little avenue, as at Chenonceaux, leads to the house, making a pretty vista as you approach the sculptured doorway. Azay is a most perfect and beautiful thing; I should place it third in any list of the great houses of this part of France in which these houses should be ranked according to charm. For beauty of detail it comes after Blois and Chenon- ceaux; but it comes before Amboise and Chambord. On the other hand, of course, it is inferior in majesty to either of these vast structures. Like Chenonceaux, it is a watery place, though it is more meagrely moated than the little chateau on the Cher. It consists of a large square _corps de logis_, with a round tower at each angle, rising out of a somewhat too slumberous pond. The water - the water of the Indre - sur- rounds it, but it is only on one side that it bathes its feet in the moat. On one of the others there is a little terrace, treated as a garden, and in front there is a wide court, formed by a wing which, on the right, comes forward. This front, covered with sculptures, is of the richest, stateliest effect. The court is ap- proachcd by a bridge over the pond, and the house would reflect itself in this wealth of water if the water were a trifle less opaque. But there is a certain stagnation - it affects more senses than one - about the picturesque pools of Azay. On the hither side of the bridge is a garden, overshadowed by fine old sycamores, - a garden shut in by greenhouses and by a fine last-century gateway, flanked with twin lodges. Beyond the chateau and the standing waters behind it is a so-called _parc_, which, however, it must be con- fessed, has little of park-like beauty. The old houses (many of them, that is) remain in France; but the old timber does not remain, and the denuded aspect of the few acres that surround the chateaux of Touraine is pitiful to the traveller who has learned to take the measure of such things from the manors and castles of England. The domain of the lordly Chaumont is that of an English suburban villa; and in that and in other places there is little suggestion, in the untended aspect of walk and lawns, of the vigilant British gardener. The manor of Azay, as seen to-day, dates from the early part of the sixteenth century; and the industrious Abbe Chevalier, in his very entertaining though slightly rose-colored book on Touraine,* (* Promenades pittoresque en Touraine. Tours: 1869.) speaks of it as, "perhaps the purest expres- sion of the _belle Renaissance francaise_." "Its height," he goes on, "is divided between two stories, terminat- ing under the roof in a projecting entablature which imitates a row of machicolations. Carven chimneys and tall dormer windows, covered with imagery, rise from the roofs; turrets on brackets, of elegant shape, hang with the greatest lightness from the angles of the building. The soberness of the main lines, the harmony of the empty spaces and those that are filled out, the prominence of the crowning parts, the delicacy of all the details, constitute an enchanting whole." And then the Abbe speaks of the admirable staircase which adorns the north front, and which, with its extention, inside, constitutes the principal treasure of Azay. The staircase passes beneath one of the richest of porticos, - a portico over which a monumental salamander indulges in the most deco- rative contortions. The sculptured vaults of stone which cover the windings of the staircase within, the fruits, flowers, ciphers, heraldic signs, are of the noblest effect. The interior of the chateau is rich, comfortable, extremely modern; but it makes no picture that compares with its external face, about which, with its charming proportions, its profuse yet not extravagant sculpture, there is something very tranquil and pure. I took particular fancy to the roof, high, steep, old, with its slope of bluish slate, and the way the weather-worn chimneys seemed to grow out of it, like living things out of a deep soil. The only defect of the house is the blankness and bareness of its walls, which have none of those delicate parasites attached to them that one likes to see on the surface of old dwellings. It is true that this bareness results in a kind of silvery whiteness of complexion, which carries out the tone of the quiet pools and even that of the scanty and shadeless park.

I hardly know what to say about the tone of Langeais, which, though I have left it to the end of my sketch, formed the objective point of the first ex- cursion I made from Tours. Langeais is rather dark and gray; it is perhaps the simplest and most severe of all the castles of the Loire. I don't know why I should have gone to see it before any other, unless it be because I remembered the Duchesse de Langeais, who figures in several of Balzac's novels, and found this association very potent. The Duchesse de Lan- geais is a somewhat transparent fiction; but the castle from which Balzac borrowed the title of his heroine is an extremely solid fact. My doubt just above as to whether I should pronounce it excep- tionally grey came from my having seen it under a sky which made most things look dark. I have, how- ever, a very kindly memory of that moist and melan- choly afternoon, which was much more autumnal than many of the days that followed it. Langeais lies down the Loire, near the river, on the opposite side from Tours, and to go to it you will spend half an hour in the train. You pass on the way the Chateau de Luynes, which, with its round towers catching the afternoon light, looks uncommonly well on a hill at a distance; you pass also the ruins of the castle of Cinq-Mars, the ancestral dwelling of the young favorite of Louis XIII., the victim, of Richelieu, the hero of Alfred de Vigny's novel, which is usually re- commended to young ladies engaged in the study of French. Langeais is very imposing and decidedly sombre; it marks the transition from the architecture of defence to that of elegance. It rises, massive and perpendicular, out of the centre of the village to which it gives its name, and which it entirely domi- nates; so that, as you stand before it, in the crooked and empty street, there is no resource for you but to stare up at its heavy overhanging cornice and at the huge towers surmounted with extinguishers of slate. If you follow this street to the end, however, you encounter in abundance the usual embellishments of a French village: little ponds or tanks, with women on their knees on the brink, pounding and thumping a lump of saturated linen; brown old crones, the tone of whose facial hide makes their nightcaps (worn by day) look dazzling; little alleys perforating the thick- ness of a row of cottages, and showing you behind, as a glimpse, the vividness of a green garden. In the rear of the castle rises a hill which must formerly have been occupied by some of its appurtenances, and which indeed is still partly enclosed within its court. You may walk round this eminence, which, with the small houses of the village at its base, shuts in the castle from behind. The enclosure is not defiantly guarded, however; for a small, rough path, which you presently reach, leads up to an open gate. This gate admits you to a vague and rather limited _parc_, which covers the crest of the hill, and through which you may walk into the gardens of castle. These gardens, of small extent, confront the dark walls with their brilliant parterres, and, covering the gradual slope of the hill, form, as it were, the fourth side of the court. This is the stateliest view of the chateau, which looks to you sufficiently grim and gray as, after asking leave of a neat young woman who sallies out to learn your errand, you sit there on a garden bench and take the measure of the three tall towers attached to this inner front and forming sever- ally the cage of a staircase. The huge bracketed cor- nice (one of the features of Langeais) which is merely ornamental, as it is not machicolated, though it looks so, is continued on the inner face as well. The whole thing has a fine feudal air, though it was erected on the rains of feudalism.

The main event in the history of the castle is the marriage of Anne of Brittany to her first husband, Charles VIII., which took place in its great hall in 1491. Into this great hall we were introduced by the neat young woman, - into this great hall and into sundry other halls, winding staircases, galleries, chambers. The cicerone of Langeais is in too great a hurry; the fact is pointed out in the excellent Guide- Joanne. This ill-dissimulated vice, however, is to be observed, in the country of the Loire, in every one who carries a key. It is true that at Langeais there is no great occasion to indulge in the tourist's weak- ness of dawdling; for the apartments, though they contain many curious odds and ends of, antiquity, are not of first-rate interest. They are cold and musty, indeed, with that touching smell of old furniture, as all apartments should be through which the insatiate American wanders in the rear of a bored domestic, pausing to stare at a faded tapestry or to read the name on the frame of some simpering portrait.

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.

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.