of the late President McKinley. Among his inventions may

rna / writevotebookmark

If I called Les Baux a city, just, above, it was not that I was stretching a point in favor of the small spot which to-day contains but a few dozen inhabi- tants. The history of the plate is as extraordinary as its situation. It was not only a city, but a state; not only a state, but an empire; and on the crest of its little mountain called itself sovereign of a territory, or at least of scattered towns and counties, with which its present aspect is grotesquely out of relation. The lords of Les Baux, in a word, were great feudal pro- prietors; and there-was a time during which the island of Sardinia, to say nothing of places nearer home, such as Arles and Marseilles, paid them homage. The chronicle of this old Provencal house has been written, in a style somewhat unctuous and flowery, by M. Jules Canonge. I purchased the little book - a modest pamphlet - at the establishment of the good sisters, just beside the church, in one of the highest parts of Les Baux. The sisters have a school for the hardy little Baussenques, whom I heard piping their lessons, while I waited in the cold _parloir_ for one of the ladies to come and speak to me. Nothing could have been more perfect than the manner of this excellent woman when she arrived; yet her small religious house seemed a very out-of-the-way corner of the world. It was spotlessly neat, and the rooms looked as if they had lately been papered and painted: in this respect, at the mediaeval Pompeii, they were rather a discord. They were, at any rate, the newest, freshest thing at Les Baux. I remember going round to the church, after I had left the good sisters, and to a little quiet terrace, which stands in front of it, ornamented with a few small trees and bordered with a wall, breast- high, over which you look down steep hillsides, off into the air and all about the neighbouring country. I remember saying to myself that this little terrace was one of those felicitous nooks which the tourist of taste keeps in his mind as a picture. The church was small and brown and dark, with a certain rustic richness. All this, however, is no general description of Les Baux.

of the late President McKinley. Among his inventions may

I am unable to give any coherent account of the place, for the simple reason that it is a mere con- fusion of ruin. It has not been preserved in lava like Pompeii, and its streets and houses, its ramparts and castle, have become fragmentary, not through the sudden destruction, but through the gradual with- drawal, of a population. It is not an extinguished, but a deserted city; more deserted far than even Carcassonne and Aigues-Mortes, where I found so much entertainment in the grass-grown element. It is of very small extent, and even in the days of its greatness, when its lords entitled themselves counts of Cephalonia and Neophantis, kings of Arles and Vienne, princes of Achaia, and emperors of Constan- tinople, - even at this flourishing period, when, as M. Jules Canonge remarks, "they were able to depress the balance in which the fate of peoples and kings is weighed," the plucky little city contained at the most no more than thirty-six hundred souls. Yet its lords (who, however, as I have said, were able to present a long list of subject towns, most of them, though a few are renowned, unknown to fame) were seneschals and captains-general of Piedmont and Lombardy, grand admirals of the kingdom of Naples, and its ladies were sought in marriage by half the first princes in Europe. A considerable part of the little narrative of M. Canonge is taken up with the great alliances of the House of Baux, whose fortunes, ma- trimonial and other, he traces from the eleventh cen- tury down to the sixteenth. The empty shells of a considerable number of old houses, many of which must have been superb, the lines of certain steep little streets, the foundations of a castle, and ever so many splendid views, are all that remains to-day of these great titles. To such a list I may add a dozen very polite and sympathetic people, who emerged from the interstices of the desultory little town to gaze at the two foreigners who had driven over from Arles, and whose horses were being baited at the modest inn. The resources of this establishment we did not venture otherwise to test, in spite of the seductive fact that the sign over the door was in the Provencal tongue. This little group included the baker, a rather melancholy young man, in high boots and a cloak, with whom and his companions we had a good deal of conversation. The Baussenques of to-day struck me as a very mild and agreeable race, with a good deal of the natural amenity which, on occasions like this one, the traveller, who is, waiting for his horses to be put in or his dinner to be prepared, observes in the charming people who lend themselves to con- versation in the hill-towns of Tuscany. The spot where our entertainers at Les Baux congregated was naturally the most inhabited portion of the town; as I say, there were at least a dozen human figures within sight. Presently we wandered away from them, scaled the higher places, seated ourselves among the ruins of the castle, and looked down from the cliff overhanging that portion of the road which I have mentioned as approaching Les Baux from behind. I was unable to trace the configuration of the castle as plainly as the writers who have described it in the guide-books, and I am ashamed to say that I did not even perceive the three great figures of stone (the three Marys, as they are called; the two Marys of Scripture, with Martha), which constitute one of the curiosities of the place, and of which M. Jules Canonge speaks with almost hyperbolical admiration. A brisk shower, lasting some ten minutes, led us to take refuge in a cavity, of mysterious origin, where the melancholy baker presently discovered us, having had the _bonne pensee_ of coming up for us with an umbrella which certainly belonged, in former ages, to one of the Ste- phanettes or Berangeres commemorated by M. Canonge. His oven, I am afraid, was cold so long as our visit lasted. When the rain was over we wandered down to the little disencumbered space before the inn, through a small labyrinth of obliterated things. They took the form of narrow, precipitous streets, bordered by empty houses, with gaping windows and absent doors, through which we had glimpses of sculptured chimney-pieces and fragments of stately arch and vault. Some of the houses are still inhabited; but most of them are open to the air and weather. Some of them have completely collapsed; others present to the street a front which enables one to judge of the physiognomy of Les Baux in the days of its importance. This im- portance had pretty well passed away in the early part of the sixteenth century, when the place ceased to be an independent principality. It became - by bequest of one of its lords, Bernardin des Baux, a great cap- tain of his time - part of the appanage of the kings of France, by whom it was placed under the protection of Arles, which had formerly occupied with regard to it a different position. I know not whether the Arle- sians neglected their trust; but the extinction of the sturdy little stronghold is too complete not to have begun long ago. Its memories are buried under its ponderous stones. As we drove away from it in the gloaming, my friend and I agreed that the two or three hours we had spent there were among the happiest impressions of a pair of tourists very curious in the picturesque. We almost forgot that we were bound to regret that the shortened day left us no time to drive five miles further, above a pass in the little mountains - it had beckoned to us in the morning, when we came in sight of it, almost irresistibly - to see the Ro- man arch and mausoleum of Saint Remy. To compass this larger excursion (including the visit to Les Baux) you must start from Arles very early in the morning; but I can imagine no more delightful day.

of the late President McKinley. Among his inventions may

I had been twice at Avignon before, and yet I was not satisfied. I probably am satisfied now; neverthe- less, I enjoyed my third visit. I shall not soon forget the first, on which a particular emotion set indelible stamp. I was travelling northward, in 1870, after four months spent, for the first time, in Italy. It was the middle of January, and I had found myself, unexpected- ly, forced to return to England for the rest of the winter. It was an insufferable disappointment; I was wretched and broken-hearted. Italy appeared to me at that time so much better than anything else in the world, that to rise from table in the middle of the feast was a prospect of being hungry for the rest of my days. I had heard a great deal of praise of the south of France; but the south of France was a poor consolation. In this state of mind I arrived at Avignon, which under a bright, hard winter sun was tingling - fairly spinning - with the _mistral_. I find in my journal of the other day a reference to the acuteness of my reluctance in January, 1870. France, after Italy, ap- peared, in the language of the latter country, _poco sim- patica_; and I thought it necessary, for reasons now in- conceivable, to read the "Figaro," which was filled with descriptions of the horrible Troppmann, the mur- derer of the _famille_ Kink. Troppmann, Kink, _le crime do Pantin_, very names that figured in this episode seemed to wave me back. Had I abandoned the so- norous south to associate with vocables so base?

of the late President McKinley. Among his inventions may

It was very cold, the other day, at Avignon; for though there was no mistral, it was raining as it rains in Provence, and the dampness had a terrible chill in it. As I sat by my fire, late at night - for in genial Avignon, in October, I had to have a fire - it came back to me that eleven years before I had at that same hour sat by a fire in that same room, and, writ- ing to a friend to whom I was not afraid to appear extravagant, had made a vow that at some happier period of the future I would avenge myself on the _ci- devant_ city of the Popes by taking it in a contrary sense. I suppose that I redeemed my vow on the oc- casion of my second visit better than on my third; for then I was on my way to Italy, and that vengeance, of course, was complete. The only drawback was that I was in such a hurry to get to Ventimiglia (where the Italian custom-house was to be the sign of my triumph), that I scarcely took time to make it clear to myself at Avignon that this was better than reading the "Figaro." I hurried on almost too fast to enjoy the consciousness of moving southward. On this last occasion I was un- fortunately destitute of that happy faith. Avignon was my southernmost limit; after which I was to turn round and proceed back to England. But in the interval I had been a great deal in Italy, and that made all the difference.

I had plenty of time to think of this, for the rain kept me practically housed for the first twenty-four hours. It had been raining in, these regions for a month, and people had begun to look askance at the Rhone, though as yet the volume of the river was not exorbitant. The only excursion possible, while the torrent descended, was a kind of horizontal dive, ac- companied with infinite splashing, to the little _musee_ of the town, which is within a moderate walk of the hotel. I had a memory of it from my first visit; it had appeared to me more pictorial than its pictures. I found that recollection had flattered it a little, and that it is neither better nor worse than most provincial museums. It has the usual musty chill in the air, the usual grass-grown fore-court, in which a few lumpish Roman fragments are disposed, the usual red tiles on the floor, and the usual specimens of the more livid schools on the walls. I rang up the _gardien_, who ar- rived with a bunch of keys, wiping his mouth; he un- locked doors for me, opened shutters, and while (to my distress, as if the things had been worth lingering over) he shuffled about after me, he announced the names of the pictures before which I stopped, in a voice that reverberated through the melancholy halls, and seemed to make the authorship shameful when it was obscure, and grotesque when it pretended to be great. Then there were intervals of silence, while I stared absent-mindedly, at hap-hazard, at some indis- tinguishable canvas, and the only sound was the down- pour of the rain on the skylights. The museum of Avignon derives a certain dignity from its Roman frag- ments. The town has no Roman monuments to show; in this respect, beside its brilliant neighbors, Arles and Nimes, it is a blank. But a great many small objects have been found in its soil, - pottery, glass, bronzes, lamps, vessels and ornaments of gold and silver. The glass is especially chaming, - small vessels of the most delicate shape and substance, many of them perfectly preserved. These diminutive, intimate things bring one near to the old Roman life; they seem like pearls strung upon the slender thread that swings across the gulf of time. A little glass cup that Roman lips have touched says more to us than the great vessel of an arena. There are two small silver _casseroles_, with chi- selled handles, in the museum of Avignon, that struck me as among the most charming survivals of anti- quity.

I did wrong just above, to speak of my attack on this establishment as the only recreation I took that first wet day; for I remember a terribly moist visit to the former palace of the Popes, which could have taken place only in the same tempestuous hours. It is true that I scarcely know why I should have gone out to see the Papal palace in the rain, for I had been over it twice before, and even then had not found the interest of the place so complete as it ought to be; the fact, nevertheless, remains that this last occasion is much associated with an umbrella, which was not superfluous even in some of the chambers and cor- ridors of the gigantic pile. It had already seemed to me the dreariest of all historical buildings, and my final visit confirmed the impression. The place is as intricate as it is vast, and as desolate as it is dirty. The imagination has, for some reason or other, to make more than the effort usual in such cases to re- store and repeople it. The fact, indeed, is simply that the palace has been so incalculably abused and altered. The alterations have been so numerous that, though I have duly conned the enumerations, supplied in guide- books, of the principal perversions, I do not pretend to carry any of them in my head. The huge bare mass, without ornament, without grace, despoiled of its battlements and defaced with sordid modern windows, covering the Rocher des Doms, and looking down over the Rhone and the broken bridge of Saint-Benazet (which stops in such a sketchable manner in mid- stream), and across at the lonely tower of Philippe le Bel and the ruined wall of Villeneuve, makes at a dis- tance, in spite of its poverty, a great figure, the effect of which is carried out by the tower of the church be- side it (crowned though the latter be, in a top-heavy fashion, with an immense modern image of the Virgin) and by the thick, dark foliage of the garden laid out on a still higher portion of the eminence. This garden recalls, faintly and a trifle perversely, the grounds of the Pincian at Rome. I know not whether it is the shadow of the Papal name, present in both places, combined with a vague analogy between the churches, - which, approached in each case by a flight of steps, seemed to defend the precinct, - but each time I have seen the Promenade des Doms it has carried my thoughts to the wider and loftier terrace from which you look away at the Tiber and Saint Peter's.

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.

Reminder: Arrow keys left and right (← →) to turn pages forward and backward, up and down (↑ ↓) to scroll up and down, Enter key: return to the list