As you stand before the Papal palace, and espe- cially as you enter it, you are struck with its being a very dull monument. History enough was enacted here: the great schism lasted from 1305 to 1370, dur- ing which seven Popes, all Frenchmen, carried on the court of Avignon on principles that have not com- mended themselves to the esteem of posterity. But history has been whitewashed away, and the scandals of that period have mingled with the dust of dilapi- dations and repairs. The building has for many years been occupied as a barrack for regiments of the line, and the main characteristics of a barrack - an extreme nudity and a very queer smell - prevail throughout its endless compartments. Nothing could have been more cruelly dismal than the appearance it presented at the time of this third visit of mine. A regiment, changing quarters, had departed the day before, and another was expected to arrive (from Algeria) on the morrow. The place had been left in the befouled and belittered condition which marks the passage of the military after they have broken carnp, and it would offer but a me- lancholy welcome to the regiment that was about to take possession. Enormous windows had been left carelessly open all over the building, and the rain and wind were beating into empty rooms and passages; making draughts which purified, perhaps, but which scarcely cheered. For an arrival, it was horrible. A handful of soldiers had remained behind. In one of the big vaulted rooms several of them were lying on their wretched beds, in the dim light, in the cold, in the damp, with the bleak, bare walls before them, and their overcoats, spread over them, pulled up to their noses. I pitied them immensely, though they may have felt less wretched than they looked. I thought not of the old profligacies and crimes, not of the funnel-shaped torture-chamber (which, after exciting the shudder of generations, has been ascertained now, I believe, to have been a mediaeval bakehouse), not of the tower of the _glaciere_ and the horrors perpetrated here in the Revolution, but of the military burden of young France. One wonders how young France en- dures it, and one is forced to believe that the French conscript has, in addition to his notorious good-humor, greater toughness than is commonly supposed by those who consider only the more relaxing influences of French civilization. I hope he finds occasional com- pensation for such moments as I saw those damp young peasants passing on the mattresses of their hideous barrack, without anything around to remind them that they were in the most civilized of countries. The only traces of former splendor now visible in the Papal pile are the walls and vaults of two small chapels, painted in fresco, so battered and effaced as to be scarcely distinguishable, by Simone Memmi. It offers, of course, a peculiarly good field for restoration, and I believe the government intend to take it in hand. I mention this fact without a sigh; for they cannot well make it less interesting than it is at present.
Fortunately, it did not rain every day (though I believe it was raining everywhere else in the depart- ment); otherwise I should not have been able to go to Villeneuve and to Vaucluse. The afternoon, indeed, was lovely when I walked over the interminable bridge that spans the two arms of the Rhone, divided here by a considerable island, and directed my course, like a solitary horseman - on foot, to the lonely tower which forms one of the outworks of Villeneuve-les- Avignon. The picturesque, half-deserted little town lies a couple of miles further up the river. The im- mense round towers of its old citadel and the long stretches of ruined wall covering the slope on which it lies, are the most striking features of the nearer view, as you look from Avignon across the Rhone. I spent a couple of hours in visiting these objects, and there was a kind of pictorial sweetness in the episode; but I have not many details to relate. The isolated tower I just mentioned has much in common with the detached donjon of Montmajour, which I had looked at in going to Les Baux, and to which I paid my respects in speaking of that excursion. Also the work of Philippe le Bel (built in 1307), it is amazingly big and stubborn, and formed the opposite limit of the broken bridge, whose first arches (on the side of Avignon) alone remain to give a measure of the oc- casional volume of the Rhone. Half an hour's walk brought me to Villeneuve, which lies away from the river, looking like a big village, half depopulated, and occupied for the most part by dogs and cats, old women and small children; these last, in general, re- markably pretty, in the manner of the children of Provence. You pass through the place, which seems in a singular degree vague and unconscious, and come to the rounded hill on which the ruined abbey lifts its yellow walls, - the Benedictine abbey of Saint- Andre, at once a church, a monastery, and a fortress. A large part of the crumbling enceinte disposes itself over the hill; but for the rest, all that has preserved any traceable cohesion is a considerable portion, of the citadel. The defence of the place appears to have been intrusted largely to the huge round towers that flank the old gate; one of which, the more complete, the ancient warden (having first inducted me into his own dusky little apartment, and presented me with a great bunch of lavender) enabled me to examine in detail. I would almost have dispensed with the privi- lege, for I think I have already mentioned that an ac- quaintance with many feudal interiors has wrought a sad confusion in my mind. The image of the outside always remains distinct; I keep it apart from other images of the same sort; it makes a picture sufficiently ineffaceable. But the guard-rooms, winding staircases, loop-holes, prisons, repeat themselves and intermingle; they have a wearisome family likeness. There are always black passages and corners, and walls twenty feet thick; and there is always some high place to climb up to for the sake of a "magnificent" view. The views, too, are apt to get muddled. These dense gate-towers of Philippe le Bel struck me, however, as peculiarly wicked and grim. Their capacity is of the largest, and they contain over so many devilish little dungeons, lighted by the narrowest slit in the pro- digious wall, where it comes over one with a good deal of vividness and still more horror that wretched human beings ever lay there rotting in the dark. The dungeons of Villeneuve made a particular impression on me, - greater than any, except those of Loches, which must surely be the most grewsome in Europe. I hasten to add that every dark hole at Villeneuve is called a dungeon; and I believe it is well established that in this manner, in almost all old castles and towers, the sensibilities of the modern tourist are un- scrupulously played upon. There were plenty of black holes in the Middle Ages that were not dungeons, but household receptacles of various kinds; and many a tear dropped in pity for the groaning captive has really been addressed to the spirits of the larder and the faggot-nook. For all this, there are some very bad corners in the towers of Villeneuve, so that I was not wide of the mark when I began to think again, as I had often thought before, of the stoutness of the human composition in the Middle Ages, and the tranquillity of nerve of people to whom the groaning captive and the blackness of a "living tomb" were familiar ideas, which did not at all interfere with their happiness or their sanity. Our modern nerves, our irritable sym- pathies, our easy discomforts and fears, make one think (in some relations) less respectfully of human nature. Unless, indeed, it be true, as I have heard it main- tained, that in the Middle Ages every one did go mad, - every one _was_ mad. The theory that this was a period of general insanity is not altogether indefensible.
Within the old walls of its immense abbey the town of Villeneuve has built itself a rough faubourg; the fragments with which the soil was covered having been, I suppose, a quarry of material. There are no streets; the small, shabby houses, almost hovels, straggle at random over the uneven ground. The only im- portant feature is a convent of cloistered nuns, who have a large garden (always within the walls) behind their house, and whose doleful establishment you look down into, or down at simply, from the battlements of the citadel. One or two of the nuns were passing in and out of the house; they wore gray robes, with a bright red cape. I thought their situation most pro- vincial. I came away, and wandered a little over the base of the hill, outside the walls. Small white stones cropped through the grass, over which low olive-trees were scattered. The afternoon had a yellow bright- ness. I sat down under one of the little trees, on the grass, - the delicate gray branches were not much above my head, - and rested, and looked at Avignon across the Rhone. It was very soft, very still and pleasant, though I am not sure it was all I once should have expected of that combination of elements: an old city wall for a background, a canopy of olives, and, for a couch, the soil of Provence.
When I came back to Avignon the twilight was already thick; but I walked up to the Rocher des Doms. Here I again had the benefit of that amiable moon which had already lighted up for me so many romantic scenes. She was full, and she rose over the Rhone, and made it look in the distance like a silver serpent. I remember saying to myself at this mo- ment, that it would be a beautiful evening to walk round the walls of Avignon, - the remarkable walls, which challenge comparison with those of Carcassonne and Aigues-Mortes, and which it was my duty, as an observer of the picturesque, to examine with some at- tention. Presenting themselves to that silver sheen, they could not fail to be impressive. So, at least, I said to myself; but, unfortunately, I did not believe what I said. It is a melancholy fact that the walls of Avignon had never impressed me at all, and I had never taken the trouble to make the circuit. They are continuous and complete, but for some mysterious reason they fail of their effect. This is partly because they are very low, in some places almost absurdly so; being buried in new accumulations of soil, and by the filling in of the moat up to their middle. Then they have been too well tended; they not only look at present very new, but look as if they had never been old. The fact that their extent is very much greater makes them more of a curiosity than those of Carcas- sonne; but this is exactly, as the same time, what is fatal to their pictorial unity. With their thirty-seven towers and seven gates they lose themselves too much to make a picture that will compare with the ad- mirable little vignette of Carcassonne. I may mention, now that I am speaking of the general mass of Avignon, that nothing is more curious than the way in which, viewed from a distance, it is all reduced to nought by the vast bulk of the palace of the Popes. From across the Rhone, or from the train, as you leave the place, this great gray block is all Avignon; it seems to occupy the whole city, extensive, with its shrunken population, as the city is.
It was the morning after this, I think (a certain Saturday), that when I came out of the Hotel de l'Europe, which lies in a shallow concavity just within the city gate that opens on the Rhone, - came out to look at the sky from the little _place_ before the inn, and see how the weather promised for the obligatory excursion to Vaucluse, - I found the whole town in a terrible taking. I say the whole town advisedly; for every inhabitant appeared to have taken up a position on the bank of the river, or on the uppermost parts of the promenade of the Doms, where a view of its course was to be obtained. It had risen surprisingly in the night, and the good people of Avignon had reason to know what a rise of the Rhone might signify. The town, in its lower portions, is quite at the mercy of the swollen waters; and it was mentioned to me that in 1856 the Hotel de l'Europe, in its convenient hollow, was flooded up to within a few feet of the ceiling of the dining-room, where the long board which had served for so many a table d'hote floated dis- reputably, with its legs in the air. On the present occasion the mountains of the Ardeche, where it had been raining for a month, had sent down torrents which, all that fine Friday night, by the light of the innocent-looking moon, poured themselves into the Rhone and its tributary, the Durance. The river was enormous, and continued to rise; and the sight was beautiful and horrible. The water in many places was already at the base of the city walls; the quay, with its parapet just emerging, being already covered. The country, seen from the Plateau des Doms, re- sembled a vast lake, with protrusions of trees, houses, bridges, gates. The people looked at it in silence, as I had seen people before - on the occasion of a rise of the Arno, at Pisa - appear to consider the prospects of an inundation. "Il monte; il monte toujours," - there was not much said but that. It was a general holiday, and there was an air of wishing to profit, for sociability's sake, by any interruption of the common- place (the popular mind likes "a change," and the element of change mitigates the sense of disaster); but the affair was not otherwise a holiday. Suspense and anxiety were in the air, and it never is pleasant to be reminded of the helplessness of man. In the presence of a loosened river, with its ravaging, unconquerable volume, this impression is as strong as possible; and as I looked at the deluge which threatened to make an island of the Papal palace, I perceived that the scourge of water is greater than the scourge of fire. A blaze may be quenched, but where could the flame be kindled that would arrest the quadrupled Rhone? For the population of Avignon a good deal was at stake, and I am almost ashamed to confess that in the midst of the public alarm I considered the situation from the point of view of the little projects of a senti- mental tourist. Would the prospective inundation inter- fere with my visit to Vaucluse, or make it imprudent to linger twenty-four hours longer at Avignon? I must add that the tourist was not perhaps, after all, so sentimental. I have spoken of the pilgrimage to the shrine of Petrarch as obligatory, and that was, in fact, the light in which it presented itself to me; all the more that I had been twice at Avignon without under- taking it. This why I was vexed at the Rhone - if vexed I was - for representing as impracticable an ex- cursion which I cared nothing about. How little I cared was manifest from my inaction on former oc- casions. I had a prejudice against Vancluse, against Petrarch, even against the incomparable Laura. I was sure that the place was cockneyfied and threadbare, and I had never been able to take an interest in the poet and the lady. I was sure that I had known many women as charming and as handsome as she, about whom much less noise had been made; and I was convinced that her singer was factitious and literary, and that there are half a dozen stanzas in Wordsworth that speak more to the soul than the whole collection of his _fioriture_. This was the crude state of mind in which I determined to go, at any risk, to Vaucluse. Now that I think it over, I seem to remember that I had hoped, after all, that the submersion of the roads would forbid it. Since morning the clouds had gathered again, and by noon they were so heavy that there was every prospect of a torrent. It appeared absurd to choose such a time as this to visit a fountain - a fountain which, would be indistinguishable in the general cataract. Nevertheless I took a vow that if at noon the rain should not have begun to descend upon Avignon I would repair to the head-spring of the Sorgues. When the critical moment arrived, the clouds were hanging over Avignon like distended water-bags, which only needed a prick to empty themselves. The prick was not given, however; all nature was too much occupied in following the aberration of the Rhone to think of playing tricks elsewhere. Accordingly, I started for the station in a spirit which, for a tourist who sometimes had prided himself on his unfailing supply of sentiment, was shockingly perfunctory.
"For tasks in hours of insight willed May be in hours of gloom fulfilled."
I remembered these lines of Matthew Arnold (written, apparently, in an hour of gloom), and carried out the idea, as I went, by hoping that with the return of in- sight I should be glad to have seen Vaucluse. Light has descended upon me since then, and I declare that the excursion is in every way to be recommended. The place makes a great impression, quite apart from Petrarch and Laura.
There was no rain; there was only, all the after- noon, a mild, moist wind, and a sky magnificently black, which made a _repoussoir_ for the paler cliffs of the fountain. The road, by train, crosses a flat, ex- pressionless country, toward the range of arid hills which lie to the east of Avignon, and which spring (says Murray) from the mass of the Mont-Ventoux. At Isle-sur-Sorgues, at the end of about an hour, the fore- ground becomes much more animated and the distance much more (or perhaps I should say much less) actual. I descended from the train, and ascended to the top of an omnibus which was to convey me into the re- cesses of the hills. It had not been among my pre- visions that I should be indebted to a vehicle of that kind for an opportunity to commune with the spirit of Petrarch; and I had to borrow what consolation I could from the fact that at least I had the omnibus to myself. I was the only passenger; every one else was at Avignon, watching the Rhone. I lost no time in perceiving that I could not have come to Vaucluse at a better moment. The Sorgues was almost as full as the Rhone, and of a color much more romantic. Rush- ing along its narrowed channel under an avenue of fine _platanes_ (it is confined between solid little embank- ments of stone), with the good-wives of the village, on the brink, washing their linen in its contemptuous flood, it gave promise of high entertainment further on.
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