Literary Rambles in France I.

Home Up Reminiscences Victorian Memories Unfrequented France Home Life in France Snow-Flakes Little Bird Red Main Index Site Search





THE summer-house or pavilion in which Madame Bovary was written may well be so styled.  With a celebrated predecessor Flaubert regarded novel-writing as no less of a trade than the making of watches.  But from an artistic standpoint only.  Money, popular applause, contemporary fame were not dreamed of in his philosophy.  What he aimed at and what by dint of superhuman laboriousness he achieved, was literary excellence, the high water mark of style.  Hence it comes about that Croisset will ever be an interesting literary pilgrimage.  We may not find Madame Bovary delectable reading, to some of us the so-called roman nécessaire will prove 'thin sown with aught of pleasure or delight.'  The author's figure compels homage, the artist enlists general sympathy.


Picture: Wikipedia.

    Despite his ingrained pessimism, Flaubert's life is a noble lesson.  From first to last, struggling against fell disease and a melancholious temperament, manfully he went his way, no obstacle damping his ardour, no checks, however mortifying, for a single moment detaching him from his purpose.

    Croisset lies three miles from Rouen and may be pleasantly reached by steamboat.  Hurried travellers will prefer to drive and, once off the cobble-stones of the distractingly-paved city, bowl along the quays agreeably enough.  We pass an immense stretch of bustling wharfage and warehouses, the river bristling with masts and alive with smaller craft, the new bridge a beautiful object amid much that is unlovely.  As we advance on both sides we have more taking scenes.  Over against us rise dimpled green slopes, and soon we come within sight of one long wooded islet immediately succeeded by another—châteaux, farm-houses, and chalets peeping between the trees of both.

    My guide informed me that in 1875 these islets, were ice-bound, the river being frozen.  Many Rouennois have a tiny cottage orné, or what is called a pavilion, here, in which they spend their summer holidays.  How delightful thus to be islanded, shut off from the dust, glare, and turmoil of what is now one of the most bustling commercial centres in France!  Little steamers ply to and fro, apparently the favourite mode of locomotion, for every one we saw was crowded.  Leaving the quays behind we pass rows of handsome country houses and villas, all with long flower gardens reaching to the road.  Above these is a background of wood and poplar groves.  Croisset, reached in about three quarters of an hour, consists of a long line of scattered houses facing the river.  The opposite bank is low and featureless, a mere rim of yellowish green, but immediately before Flaubert's eyes lay a lovely little island, truly—

'A place of nestling green for poets made.'

But alas! put to unidyllic uses in the pages of Madame Bovary.

    Nothing in nature indeed can be prettier, more soothing, than such a combination, from amid clear, sky-reflecting waters rising a fairy kingdom, glades, woods and velvety swards of brightest, freshest green.  The river here broadens and, matching such beautiful proportions, the landscape on one side takes a bolder outline.  Above the site of Flaubert's dwelling we gaze upon richly wooded hills, chestnut, alder, and poplar here attaining a great height, the latter trees often having a crest-like branching out at the summit.  This mass of woodland and the verdant declivities running down to the road complete the picture.

    Where formerly stood Flaubert's house is now seen a dilapidated factory advertised for sale.  The garden-house however in which were written Madame Bovary and Salammbô remains intact.  Here too he wrote those delightful letters (an expurgation here and there would not render them less so) to Madame Louise Colet, George Sand and others.

    The original dwelling with its acre or two of garden must have represented the handsomer kind of campagne or French country house.  The entire property was sold by Flaubert's niece and heir, and on the site of the demolished dwelling a factory was built, this also being destined shortly to disappear.  But a little knot of ardent admirers have succeeded in getting together enough money to purchase the pavilion, which is to be turned into a memorial museum.  A bit of ground has also been obtained, so that the little building will soon stand amid flowers and shrubs.  The long avenue of lime-trees, destined, as Flaubert wrote, for 'graves et douces causeries,' has of course disappeared long ago.

    The garden-house consists of a single room of commodious proportions, overlooking highway, river, wooded islet, and low-lying banks.

    Doubtless, the road beneath his windows was much less frequented sixty years ago than it is today, but noise and dust there must have been.  In every other respect no author could desire a more seductive retreat.

    Yet these walls remind us of the most painful literary labours on record.  Flaubert was a veritable Sisyphus, and miraculous it seems that he ever accomplished his self-imposed tasks, above all, that from such agonising throes should have emerged living creations and a masterpiece!  Toilsomely as Jacob wooed his brides, Flaubert wooed the creations of his fancy, in his case being no difference between Leah and Rachel, his literary wooings never inspired by love or admiration.

    A septennate was given to the composition of Madame Bovary, another to L'Éducation sentimentale, only a year or two less to Salammbô.

    'I have just copied all that I have written since the New Year,' he wrote to Louise Colet, 'thirteen pages in seven weeks, neither more nor less.  At last they are done and as perfect as I could make them.'

    In this charmingly situated workshop he would literally entomb himself, only the sound of his own voice from time to time breaking the silence.  It was his habit, and an excellent one without doubt, to read and re-read aloud every newly framed sentence.  Old folks at Croisset still remember those clear strident utterances, on dark winter nights his lighted window guiding fishermen and sailors as a beacon.

    In search of the right word, with Boileau he could have said, je cherche and je sue, and the seeking and sweating went on with results more or less successful throughout his life.  We are told that the occurrence of two genitives in the phrase une couronne de flears d'orangers disturbed him greatly; he wondered how he could have committed such a crime.  Paragraphs were often re-written half a dozen times before being set aside as perfect as literary carpentry could make them.  The typical phrase in Flaubert's writings, has said one critic, resembles a symphony having an Allegro, an Andante, and a Presto rhythm, sonority, completeness, all the qualities necessary in verse.  Flaubert wanted to 'give prose, leaving it prose, the systematic construction of verse,' he wrote to Louise Colet, 'perhaps an absurd undertaking, but it is a fine, an original experiment.'  The experiment occupied his days and nights.

    Nor was he less careful in the matter of punctuation.  Like the great humorist of Samothrace he paid the utmost attention to stops; commas, he called the vertebrae of a phrase, and in the use of them was a pronounced master.  Little wonder that under these circumstances composition went on at a snail's pace.  Nor need we feel astonished at the utter joylessness with which the self-imposed tasks were got through.  'You have no notion,' he wrote to his friend, George Sand, 'what it is to sit throughout an entire day with your head between your hands, beating your unfortunate brains for a word.  With yourself ideas flow copiously, unceasingly as a river.  In my own case they form a narrow thread of water.  I have herculean labours before me ere obtaining a cascade.  Ah! the mortal terrors of style, I shall have known all about them by the time I have done.'

    One inevitable result of such fastidiousness was compression.  Take, for instance, the oft-cited description of Rouen seen from the heights of Boisguillaume in Madame Bovary.  This incomparable passage of ten lines originally filled a page.  Six revisions reduced it to a sentence, not a single idea having been lost in the process!

    Presentment made him no less of a galley-slave.  The horrible death-scene in his famous novel was the result of application so close and conscientious that, having poisoned his heroine, Flaubert himself felt all the symptoms of poisoning.  Have not folks been said to die of imaginary hydrophobia, even and small-pox, before now?

    If in realistic presentment Flaubert always succeeds, so much cannot be said of his descriptions.  These are not always crystal clear.

    In his history of French civilisation, M. Rambaud alludes to the cap worn by Charles Bovary as a schoolboy, the head-gear of youth worn in Louis Philippe's time.  But on reading and re-reading Flaubert's elaborate description I cannot for the life of me conceive what poor Charbovari's cap was like.  An illustrator of the scene would probably be in similar case.  If, which is very likely, the description of Charles Bovary's cap occupied Flaubert many hours, maybe days, we must remember that he was no Issachar weighed down by a double burden.  Throughout his literary career he was able, in the noble words of Schiller, having 'achieved a chef d'œuvre, to cast it without a second thought on the waves of Time.'

    If literary conscientiousness gave tormented days and sleepless nights, from other cares he was free.  Ample means allowed him to do his best, to give as many days as he pleased to a single page.  His career was an instructive comment on Dr. Johnson's dictum that no one but a fool would write except for money.  Flaubert's earnings must have been meagre, but the imperishable harvest was rich indeed.

    Volumes have been devoted to Flaubert's style and method.  It is not surprising that Montesquieu and La Bruyère were his models, Fénelon and Lamartine his detestations.  The superfine, the chiselled phrase à la Goncourt he ever avoided; honeyed sweetness, la phrase molle as exemplified in Télémaque and Graziella, he positively loathed.  What he strove after and attained was the virility, precision, and strength of the great seventeenth-century masters.

    Of his half dozen works which will live?  All were written, as he said that authors must ever write, for eternity.  'But the people's voice, the voice and echo of all human fame?'  What will posterity say?

    The rank of Madame Bovary in French literature seems assured.  Only twenty-five years after the author's death one character out of that unlovely portrait gallery has become a household word.  In the chemist of Yonville, Flaubert has created a type, added yet another figure to the list of literary creations.

    'You ask my opinion of Flaubert,' said a French critic to me the other day.  'My reply is, he created Homais.'

    'I reproach myself sometimes,' wrote Renan (Souvenirs de Jeunesse), 'for having contributed to M. Homais' triumph over the curé.  What would you have?  M. Homais is in the right.  Without M. Homais we should all be burnt alive.'

    The vain, meddlesome, half-educated, would-be Voltairean and encyclopædist, the great little man of the country town, may not at first strike English readers.  Familiarity with French middle-class life is necessary for an appreciation of such a portrait.  Our neighbours now cite Homais as we speak of Podsnap or Micawber.

    Flaubert's contempt and dislike of the bourgeoisie, whether sincere or affected, was a fashion, an epidemic in his day.  But surely it is strange that belonging as he did to the same class, surrounded as he was by admirable types, he should have neglected them for all that was mean, poor-spirited, and odious.  With the exception of Dr. Larivière, Madame Bovary gives us the bourgeois bereft of every redeeming quality.

    Foresight, thrift, family affection, the virtues that may be said to have built up a nation, with one exception are absent from the picture.  In the hospital doctor, 'belonging to the great school of Bichat,' Flaubert portrayed his father, 'who pursued his way full of debonnaire dignity, imparted by the self-consciousness of distinguished talent, fortune, and forty years of a laborious and honourable career.'

    Madame Bovary, strange as it may seem, was the subject of a criminal trial on the score of its immoral tendencies, Flaubert emerging victorious.  The result could hardly be otherwise, since from first to last the novel portrays the disillusion of vice.

    Tastes may differ concerning Salammbô, which George Sand found unreadable, also concerning L'Éducation sentimentale.  With regard to Bouvard et Pécuchet there can be but one opinion, that it is the dreariest farrago ever penned by genius.  And when all is said and done, many readers will doubtless prefer Flaubert the letter-writer to Flaubert the novelist.  No more delightful letters exist in the French language.  His outpourings to the chère muse, the beautiful, eccentric, and talented Madame Louise Colet for whom Maxime du Camp composed the following elegy:—'Here lies Louise Colet, who compromised Victor Cousin, ridiculed Alfred de Musset, illtreated Flaubert, and tried to assassinate Alphonse Karr.  Requiescat in pace.'— adored by him so reluctantly, are the best preparation for this literary pilgrimage.  As we read, we realise the existence led within these walls.  Future visitors will find a fillip to the imagination.  Manuscripts, portraits, and other memorials are being put together and will form a most interesting little temple of fame.

    Regretfully I tore myself away from the scene of Flaubert's labours, and the picture on which his eyes daily rested, meandering Seine, low-lying banks, narrow islets, with their wind-tossed trees and steamer succeeding steamer, only the mast and funnel being visible 'as in the background of a theatre.'  Such experiences bring home to us an author's personality as no mere study of his works, however persistent, can do.

    I was driven back to Rouen by another road, or rather by a country lane.  Here were hedges bright with purple loosestrife, saponaria, agrimony and other late flowers; soon rows of suburban villas, each standing in a garden, each unlike its neighbours, announced the town.

    On joining a French literary friend at Meudon I found that she had seen Flaubert, and the glimpse given of him by this lady is highly suggestive.

    'Once, and once only I saw the author of Madame Bovary,' she said; 'at that time in the prime of life and in the zenith of his fame.  Although physically afflicted throughout his entire life, being, as you know, subject to epileptic seizures, Flaubert possessed the figure of an athlete and was remarkably beautiful.

    'With a few, a very few, highly-favoured admirers I was invited to a reception given in his honour by Madame de A—.  It was late when a thrill ran through the assembled company.  Flaubert had arrived!  Fastidiously attired in the most approved style of evening dress he made his way to his hostess, addressed to her a few courteous words, shook hands with this acquaintance, bowed to that, then like a phantom, a meteor, vanished quickly as he had come.  Not one of us got so much as a word from him, and in my case, the opportunity never occurred again.'

    Tall, broad-shouldered, with a flowing beard of pale auburn, eyes described by one who knew him as of the colour of the sea, all the beauty of northern races, wrote another friend, was represented in his person.

    His behaviour at the evening party just named must be set down to anything rather than vanity or the desire of posing.  He called himself a hermit, a literary monk, and conventional society he ever avoided, reserving himself for his mother, his niece, and his friends.

    A gloomier childhood than his it is hard to conceive.  Son of a physician attached to the municipal hospital of Rouen, his boyish years were spent within its gloomy precincts, daily experiences familiarising him with pain, sickness, and death.  Little wonder that, subject as he was to a distressing infirmity, he became a confirmed pessimist.  His otherwise delightful letters are a perpetual reiteration of the preacher's text: vanity, all is vanity.

    Flaubert's father died in 1846, and Madame Flaubert removed to Croisset, henceforth the novelist's home for the rest of his days.  Brief sojourns in Paris, travels in Brittany, the Pyrenees, Italy, the East, and Tunis, in his declining years a flying visit with Tourgeneff to George Sand at Ushant, formed the only breaks in a singularly uneventful life.  The loss of an only sister, later of a boon companion and friend, saddened him to his dying day.  Family affection and friendship, indeed, satisfied his heart.  Of passion he seems only to have known the disenchantments.

    Between his mother and himself existed the closest ties of love and confidence.  To her as to a comrade he poured out his innermost thoughts; 'dear old thing,' he called her in the two or three letters that remain of their correspondence.  The pair were indeed seldom separated, and, if the tenderest mother possible, we gather that she was also one of the most exacting.  If Flaubert was indeed a typical French son, devoted, submissive, yielding on every point, Madame Flaubert seems to have been a typical French mother, regarding the grown-up, even middle-aged, son as completely her own as when a baby in arms.  'She loved him,' writes one of his biographers, 'with the devotion that not only binds but crushes. [p.14]  It was on her account that he became a stay-at-home.  In order to please her he was very near throwing up his Eastern journey at the last moment.  His briefest absence filled her with anxiety.  Of his art she understood nothing; at first jealous of it, she became reconciled to a pursuit that kept him at home.  The last years of his life were very sombre for both.  She could think and talk of nothing else but her own health, and Flaubert's principal occupation was to make her take little turns in the garden.'  Her death in 1872 proved a tremendous blow.  A few days after the event he wrote to George Sand: 'I have discovered within the last fortnight that that poor good woman, my mother, was the being I loved best in the world.  It is as if I had lost a part of myself.'

    Flaubert, who despised the bourgeoisie, essentially belonged to it; in him the homelier national virtues were conspicuous—strong family feeling, utter freedom from pretence, and strict probity in all practical matters.  We must live like bourgeois and think like artists, he used to say, a maxim he carried out.

    Amiably nepotious, as are most French bachelors, Flaubert not only made an idol of his niece, but also undertook her education, his methods, as might be expected, being highly original.  The history lesson consisted of an impromptu narrative delivered by himself which next day the pupil had to repeat, the repetition being followed by questions and comments.  'In this fashion,' Madame Commanville tells us, 'I acquired a knowledge of ancient history, sometimes puzzling him with my questions; for instance, Were Cambyses, Alcibiades, and Alexander good men?  What is that to you, he would reply; well, not perhaps exactly nice.  I was disappointed not to have more details, I expected him to know everything.

    'Geography I never learned from books either.  Children should learn from pictures, he said.  Thus, in order to make me understand what was meant by an island, a promontory, a bay, and so forth, he would take a spade and give me object-lessons in the garden.  As I grew older these daily lessons became longer, and they continued till my marriage at the age of seventeen.'

    His little Caroline was indeed to him a daughter, and as we shall see there was no sacrifice he was not prepared to make for her happiness.  Flaubert was also a devoted friend, the loss of several boon companions afflicting him greatly.  During his short residence in Paris from 1840 to 1844 he was an habitue of Pradier's studio, there meeting De Vigny, Jules Janin, Leconte de Lisle, Victor Cousin, and other leading spirits.  But it was Dr. Cloquet, at that time a foremost anatomist and clinical lecturer, whose acquaintance most influenced the future author of Madame Bovary.  The novel could only have been written by one who had made medicine a special study, and we learn that Dr. Cloquet introduced him to the most eminent of his medical brethren.  Flaubert was thus able to pursue his favourite subject, unconsciously laying the foundation of his lifework and his fame.

    His friends we learn to know in those charming letters, his favourite books also.  A finer literary taste no writer ever possessed, yet his exceptions sometimes come with a little shock.  Fénelon and Lamartine were put on the index, George Sand he found delightful as a friend but unreadable as a romancer, and De Musset he set down as a great poet but no artist.  Béranger, Thiers, Augier were bourgeois writers, who wrote for bourgeois readers; Sainte-Beuve fared at his hands as did George Sand: the man pleased, the critic was insufferable.  Sully Prudhomme he damned with faint praise, Shakespeare he adored, but neither Dante nor Goethe seems to have been a god of his idolatry.  The Greek dramatists and one or two Latin authors, Rabelais, Montesquieu, Montaigne were daily pasture; to Spinoza at three different periods of his life he returned with zest.  Ronsard he 'discovered' in 1852.  Herbert Spencer won his suffrages.

    Sad was the close of a uniformly honourable career, sad and very French!  A Frenchman's family is ever part of himself; no Frenchman owning kith and kin however remotely related can be regarded as a unit, for good or for evil he is member of a clan.  Thus it came about that when the husband of his much-loved niece was on the verge of ruin, Flaubert flew to the rescue.  Without a second's hesitation—at that time being elderly and in failing health—he sacrificed his entire fortune in order to avert the catastrophe.  The sum-total of several hundred thousand—some say a hundred thousand—francs was as nothing in French eyes by comparison with the loss of family honour.  If bankruptcy no longer entails the pillory and the green cap with steps of the Bourse, forfeiture of civil rights and banishment as under the first Napoleon, it is still high treason, mortal sin as in the days of César Birotteau.  But the famous author of Madame Bovary could not be left to starve.  The librarianship of the Bibliothèque Mazarine, bringing in just three thousand francs a year, was awarded him.  He survived the nomination a few months only, dying in 1880, his end doubtless being hastened by anxieties, unhygienic habits, and persistent self-neglect.  For days, even weeks at a time, he would shut himself up in his garden-house, not even the avenue of favourite lime-trees tempting him abroad.  To his manuscript, like Lear, he was bound as to a wheel of fire.

    Since these pages were written, that is to say, on the 17th of June of the present year, 1906, the Pavilion Flaubert was inaugurated with much ceremony and handed over to the city of Rouen.  Many interesting mementoes of the novelist have been laboriously got together: an alley of lime-trees has been planted on the site of his favourite walk, a tulip-tree, a rose bush and a root of honeysuckle, occupy the exact spot of former favourites.  The Pavilion Flaubert therefore wears a very different aspect to that seen by me nine months before.  Two monuments memorialise Flaubert in his native city, one adorning the museum of the Jardin Solférino, the other, the walls of the École de Médecine, both having portraits in bas-relief.

    And this year has been published a volume which not only reveals the character of the man in its entirety but is a revelation of French national character. [p.19]  Not only Flaubert—all France—lives in its pages, the France, not of fiction, but of real life, with all its homely lovingness, amiability and self-devotion.

    Few readers, I presume, will be at pains to peruse the three hundred and ninety letters to his adored niece Caroline, some of these the merest scraps, only a caress on paper, covering a period of thirty-four (Ed.—sic) years.  The first, dated from Paris, April 25, 1856, compliments his dear Lilinne—as he goes on he finds a score of pet names for his darling—on her improved spelling, and speaks of a new doll which is impatiently awaiting the journey to Croisset and new clothes.  The last was written from his Rouen home on May 2, 1880, just six days before his death, and is in a characteristically pessimistic strain.  His Loulou's pictures have been badly hung in the Salon and he has suffered shabby treatment at the hands of a publisher.  'This is how one is always treated by these people,' he writes bitterly; 'the contrary is quite exceptional.'

    There is very little literature in these five hundred and odd closely printed pages.  From this point of view the letters to his Caro, his Loulou, his Carola, his bibi, his bichon, will not bear comparison with those previously published.  The interest of the volume lies elsewhere.  For, in thus portraying himself, Flaubert portrays the real Frenchman to whom family life and family affection stand before every other earthly good.

    In the melancholy days following Sedan, after an outburst of despair concerning the national outlook he concludes with: 'But I am ungrateful to Heaven, since I shall have my poor Caro.'




NEVER was the irony of fate more conspicuously displayed than in the history of Rouget de Lisle, never did splendid renown suffer completer eclipse.  When, stricken in years and broken in health, the pensioner of Louis-Philippe died at Choisy-le-Rol, the announcement aroused no interest.  The poet-musician who had sounded the clarion note of revolution, imbuing peasant lads with the spirit of Lacedaemon, was utterly forgotten.  Could he have lived, as do many, to be a nonagenarian, how would he have electrified the Paris of Lamartine and Victor Hugo, the France of '48!  By comparison the apotheosis of Voltaire would have faded into insignificance.  Who can say?  Had such a span been accorded to Rouget de Lisle, the Second Empire and Sedan might have been averted, France might still rejoice in her Rhine provinces.  It was not to be.  He died in 1837, just a decade too soon.

    With its author, the most famous song in the world had been condemned to oblivion.  Like the genii of Arabian story, the Marseillaise was long hermetically sealed, on its deliverance from prison proving a greater miracle-worker than the guide to the enchanted lakes.  The trumpet-call of 1792 became the rallying cry of democratic France, the watchword of the great western republic.

    From another point of view Rouget de Lisle's story is equally strange.  The efflorescence of this strange genius remained single, unique, neither bud nor blossom keeping its one glorious outburst company.  Voluminous composer, novelist, song-writer, vaudevilliste, with a solitary exception Rouget de Lisle's works are as completely forgotten as if they had never been.  He lives in an impromptu durable as the language in which it was hastily jotted down.

    Claude-Joseph Rouget, afterwards self-styled de Lisle, was born at Lons-le-Saulnier, Jura, on the 10th of May 1760.  Perhaps no part of France is less familiar to the English tourist than Franche-Comté, the country of Victor Hugo, of how many other great names in art, literature and science, and of how many historic associations!  It is, moreover, in these eastern highlands, to quote Ruskin, that 'a sense of great power is beginning to be manifested in the earth, and of a deep and majestic concord in the long, low line of piny hills, the first utterance of those mighty mountain symphonies soon to be heard more loudly lifted and wildly broken along the battlements of the Alps.'

    Ruskin wrote of Champagnole lying ten miles further eastward, but the mighty mountain symphonies begin to be heard at Lons-le-Saulnier.  In clear weather Mont Blanc may be descried from the wooded height of Montciel above the town, crowning feature of a majestic panorama.

    Lons, as the chef-lieu of the department is familiarly called by residents, when I first knew it twenty-five years ago, was a cheerful, artistic little town, nothing more.  It has now become a fashionable inland spa, its valuable mineral springs attracting large numbers of valetudinarians: hotels, casino, and concert-rooms forming quite a new quarter.  More than one pleasant autumn have I spent under a French roof here, on the occasion of my latest visit finding many changes.  In one respect, however, I found no difference.  Despite modernisation and natural attractions, the English and American tourist had not discovered Lons-le-Saulnier.  The brilliance and sublimity of Franc-Comtois scenery, its underground marvels, glittering cascades, lovely little lakes, and frowning donjons, piny solitudes and pastoral vales, remain unknown to my travelling compatriots.

    The young military engineer who revolutionised France with a song, was born in the house now numbered twenty-four of the ancient Rue des Arcades, that picturesque street recalling the Spanish régime of Franche-Comté.  A delightful lounge alike during winter and summer is this long stretch of covered galleries, and many towns hereabouts are similarly embellished.

    Rouget is a very usual patronymic in this part of France, and the aristocratic de Lisle, belonging to some ancestor on the paternal side, was adopted as a matter of necessity.  The Rouget family were bourgeois, Claude-Joseph's father being an Avocat de Parlement.  Unprovided with the particle, the young man would not have been admitted into any military academy, such schools being exclusively reserved for youths of the noblesse.

    Like most of the well-to-do professional classes in France, formerly as nowadays, the Rouget family possessed their country house and small landed property.  Travel was out of the question.  Then, as to-day, the long vacation was mostly spent by lawyers and notaries on their modest ancestral domain.  Till his dying day Rouget de Lisle's fondest memories clung to the paternal home at Montaigu, a suburban village, a mile and a half from Lons-le-Saulnier.  One bright September afternoon I set off for the spot with my host, a Protestant pastor, and his little daughter, who carried a basket of grapes with which to refresh ourselves on the way.

    The neighbourhood of Lons-le-Saulnier abounds in delightful walks, the half-hour's climb among the vineyards to Montaigu being one of the prettiest.  As we ascended we saw magnificent views: to our right lay the vast plain of La Brasse, now dim and blue as a hazy summer sea; to our left rose the Jura range, dark purple shadows flecking the green slopes, standing out boldly on isolated peaks the donjons of Le Pin and Montmorot, and the ruined chateaux of L'Étoile and Bornay, whilst at our feet lay the pretty little capital of the Jura.  Although we were midway through September, and the air was keen, a hot sun poured down upon the vineyards.

    In these days numbering seven hundred and odd souls, Montaigu at one time possessed considerable importance.  In the eleventh century like a watchdog it kept guard over the valuable springs of Lons-le-Saulnier, Étienne, Count of Burgundy, having turned the place into a fortress.  Nothing worth mentioning remains of feudal Montaigu to-day, but its aspect is old-world, not to say antiquated, and little changed since Rouget de Lisle was rocked in his cradle, just upon a century and a half ago.

    The village street is picturesque, if not on the whole suggestive of comfort.  To each deep red roof are attached corner pieces for letting off the snow, which often falls in terrible superabundance in the Jura.  During the bitter winter of 1870-71, indeed, wolves could be seen prowling by daylight around these suburban villages!

    At the time of my visit there was nothing to distinguish Rouget de Lisle's birthplace from its neighbours but a handsome iron gateway, or rather door.  No tablet commemorated the 10th of May 1760.  Looking through that doorway and beyond a small courtyard, we saw a modest but substantial bourgeois dwelling with iron balcony, the whole suggesting respectability and easy circumstances.

    A marble inscription now arrests the attention of passing travellers; a second ought to be added, that to a dog deserving a niche among historic hounds.

    But indeed for the country lawyer's good house-dog, the world might never have heard of Rouget de Lisle and the Marseillaise.  When a child of three or four, Montaigu and its neighbourhood was infested with foreign gipsies.  The little fellow at this early age seems to have showed the daringness characterising his entire career; having strayed beyond the home premises he was popped under the cloak of a crone.  Already she had reached the extremity of the village street when the barkings of the faithful dog alarmed the household.  One and all rushed out; the child was hastily set down, his would-be kidnapper beating a hasty retreat.  Another fright he gave his family when six years old.  One day a company of strolling musicians gave a concert in the village, and so fascinated was he by the music that he followed the band as they marched away, playing as they went.  On being brought back and scolded, he excused himself thus: 'O Mamma, I do love you, but they played so beautifully!'

    The family was musical, and at this period the violin enjoyed especial vogue.  At an early age Claude-Joseph took lessons on the instrument from a local master, his musical education, however, never having passed the elementary stage.  Of harmony he learned little.

    As we survey the beautiful environment of Montaigu, its vine-clad slopes and majestic perspectives, we can understand Rouget de Lisle's passion for his childhood's home.  'The first utterance of those mighty mountain symphonies soon to be wildly lifted along the battlements of the Alps,' of which Ruskin speaks, awoke an echo in his turbulent nature.

    As we shall see, neither wedded love nor the domestic affections brightened his stormy career.  Of friendship he fully tasted the solace, but his tenderest recollections clung to Montaigu, the corner of France no less endeared to him by childish associations than by natural charm.  'Thine were my first affections, thine my last regrets,' thus pathetically he apostrophises the place in his latter years.  To the 'séjour charmant de mon enfance' he consecrated touching words and plaintive melodies.  And Montaigu, the dearly cherished home and paternal estate, with everything else that he prized, was destined to slip through his fingers, become a thing of the irrevocable past whilst he yet lived and felt stirred by the ambitions of youth!


    On the 25th of April 1792, Rouget de Lisle was a guest at the historic banquet given by Baron Friedrich Dietrich, first Mayor of Strassburg.

    The brilliant young military engineer had already attained a certain notoriety as novelist, poet, musical composer, and dramatist.  One of his pieces had even been produced at the Ópera Comique, and the celebrated musician Grétry had accepted his collaboration in several works now forgotten.  As was the fashion among young gentlemen of the period, he had composed innumerable society verses, besides throwing off sentimental romances.

    Rouget de Lisle's early ambitions would appear to have been by no means those of a soldier.  Had success crowned these versatile efforts, his career would doubtless have been very different.  France might perhaps have wanted her Marseillaise, but the poet and musician of Lons-le-Saulnier might have fared after happier fashion.

    A few words about this memorable dinner and the young captain's hosts and fellow-guests.

    The banquet, although unofficial, was eminently a patriotic manifestation.  A few days before, the Legislative Assembly had declared war against Austria and Prussia, in other words, against the coalition of émigrés and foreign powers formed for the restoration of absolute monarchy.  Threatened with the fate of Poland, France answered the summons to submission by a general call to arms.

    In Strassburg excitement was at fever pitch.  Alike the king's oath to maintain the constitution and the declaration of war had been enthusiastically acclaimed.  A religious ceremony in the Cathedral, a grand musical celebration in the open air, banquets to the agèd poor and orphans, celebrated these events, the day winding up with Dietrich's great dinner of farewell.  The unfortunate General Luckner had been named Commander of the Alsatian forces; on the morrow officers and volunteers would be on the march, many with little likelihood of meeting again.

    The first Mayor of Strassburg, as he is known in history, is an ingratiating figure.  A cultivated gentleman and high-minded citizen, the friend of Turgot and Condorcet, he had welcomed the Revolution, but from a monarchical point of view.  With Arthur Young's friend, the amiable Due de Liancourt, and many others, he believed in the possible establishment of constitutional monarchy.  To Dietrich's cost he believed the word of Louis XVI.  Hence his growing unpopularity among the more violent faction at Strassburg, hence the swift waning of his once immense and deserved popularity, and tragic end.

    Just now the Dietrich salon (early in 1792) was the centre of all that was most public-spirited and refined in the city.  Both husband and wife were accomplished musicians, and the former possessed a magnificent tenor voice.  Their two sons, Friedrich and Albert, both volunteers in the army of defence, were present at the dinner.  Among the guests were the generals in command, Desaix, the future hero of Marengo, other officers and a few leading citizens.  The hostess and two young nieces seem to have been the only ladies present.

    Little wonder that under the circumstances conversation took an entirely martial turn.  Marches, battles, the chances and fruits of victory formed the sole topic of conversation.  The words 'Enfants de la patrie,' a name given to the younger Dietrich's volunteers, 'Aux armes, citoyens!' 'Marchons,' and other phrases were on every lip, emphasised many a sentence.  Champagne circulated freely, voices became more impassioned and vociferous, and as it was then the fashion in France, as it is still, for ladies to remain at the table to the last, Madame Dietrich and her nieces interposed.  Could not something else be discussed?—they had heard enough of campaigns and wars.

    Then patriotic songs were mentioned.  Might not some substitute be found for the jingling 'Ça ira, ça ira'?  Could not some one compose a hymn for the army of the Rhine, General Luckner's brave followers?  The host's first notion was of a publicly advertised competition, of offering a prize for what should be not only a war-song, but become a national hymn.  Then, another thought having struck him, he turned to the young military engineer.

    'But you, Monsieur de Lisle,' he said with charming insinuation and persuasiveness, 'you who woo the Muses, why should not you try to give us what we want?  Compose, then, a noble song for the French people, now a people of soldiers, and you will have deserved well of your country.'

    Rouget de Lisle tried to excuse himself, but alike host and fellow-guests would not hear his deprecations.  Again the champagne passed round, and just as at last, amid tears, smiles, and passionately patriotic farewells, the party broke up, a fellow-officer, about to quit Strasburg next day, begged de Lisle for a copy of his forthcoming song.

    'I make the promise on behalf of your comrade,' Dietrich replied with affectionate authoritativeness.

    In a state of tremendous surexcitation Rouget de Lisle reached his lodging close by, but not to sleep.  His violin lay on the table.  Taking it up, he struck a few chords.  Soon a melody seemed to grow under his fingers, harmonising with the words that had been reiterated throughout the evening, 'Aux armes, aux armes, citoyens, marchons, formez vos bataillons!'  No sooner had he gripped his air, and put down the notes on paper, than he dashed off the words.  Thus having in a brief hour secured for himself an undying name, he threw himself upon his bed and slumbered heavily.


    In his declining years, Rouget de Lisle would ofttime narrate the genesis of the Marseillaise to friends and acquaintances, memory sometimes playing him false in immaterial particulars.  Again and again he told the story, among his listeners being the celebrated painter David d'Angers.

    The following version is now accepted as substantially correct.  On awakening next morning, his eye immediately rested on the composition of a few hours before.  After glancing at verse and melody, early as was the morning, the clock had just struck six, he hurried off to a fellow-officer and guest of the night before, who in turn hurried him off to the Mayor's.  The young men found Dietrich strolling in his garden.

    'Let us go indoors,' he said; 'I will try the air on the clavecin, [p.33] and shall be able to tell at once if it is very good or very bad.'

    Dietrich, true musician as he was, unhesitatingly anticipated the verdict of posterity.  All the available guests of yesterday were again invited to dinner; he had an important communication in store for them, he said.  During the banquet his secret was carefully withheld.  The party having adjourned to the salon, one of the young ladies opened the clavecin, and the Mayor's magnificent voice thundered forth:—

'Allons, enfants de la patrie,
 Le jour de gloire est arrivé.'

    The audience was electrified.  Forthwith copied and distributed to local bands and musical societies, the song acted like a charm.  Hitherto enrolling themselves by twos and threes, the youth of Alsace now donned the tricolour cockade by hundreds and thousands.

    As yet, however, the composition was only known by the name of 'Le Chant de Guerre de l'Armée du Rhin,' and its fame remained local.  One interesting feature of this history is the part played in it by a woman.

    Although a prolific musical composer, Rouget de Lisle possessed, as has been said, only an imperfect knowledge of harmony and counterpoint.  It was his host's wife, the accomplished and public-spirited Madame Dietrich, who now set to work, not only correcting technical errors and arranging the piece for part-singing and orchestration, but making numerous copies.  In a charming letter to her brother at Basle she wrote in May: 'Rouget de Lisle, a Captain in the Engineers and an agreeable poet and musician, at the suggestion of my husband, has composed a song suited to present events (un chant de circonstance), which we find very spirited, and not without a certain originality.  It is something after the manner of Gluck, but livelier and more stirring.  I have put my knowledge of orchestration to use, arranging the song for different instruments, and am therefore very busy.'

    It was not till the following August that Rouget de Lisle's composition reached Paris, henceforth to be known as the Marseillaise.

    In his famous novel, The Reds of the Midi, the Provençal novelist dramatically describes a march historic as that of the Ten Thousand.  The volunteers of Marseilles set forth early in July, harnessing themselves like beasts of burden to their field-pieces, singing as they went, and bequeathing the new song to every village passed through.  It was not till the last day but one of the month that they arrived, and on the 4th of August, for the first time, the great war-song was heard in the capital.

    A few days later the king and his family were prisoners, the Legislative Assembly dissolved, and the newly-formed Convention demanded adhesion from all officers and public functionaries, the alternative being immediate dismissal.

    Rouget de Lisle's reply was a decided No, the fateful word changing the course of his career, a little later bringing his head within an inch of the guillotine.


    How are we to account for il gran refiuto, such a withdrawal of the hand from the plough?  Was the step due to social influences, to conviction, or simply to waywardness and instability of character?  He carried his secret with him to the grave.

    Anterior events may in part account alike for his reactionary mood and his incarceration later as a suspect.  Strassburg had been divided into two factions.  On the one side were Dietrich and his followers, who believed in the possibility of constitutional reforms whilst retaining monarchical institutions; on the other the ultra-Jacobin party, headed by that ferocious ex-priest Euloge Schneider, the Carrier of the east, of whom Charles Nodier has left us so striking a portrait.

    Rouget de Lisle, like many another, unhappily for himself, possessed one gift he could well have spared.  Not only could he dash off songs, operas, novels, and plays, and skilfully handle the violinist's bow, but he wielded a mordant pen.  In the art of invective he equalled Rochefort himself.  During his stay at Strassburg he had in his editorial capacity violently lashed Schneider and his associate Lapeaux, another and equally violent ex-priest, in the organ of Dietrich's party.  The attacks were continued after his removal to Huningue, a small fortified place in what until 1871 was the department of Haut Rhin.  Small wonder, therefore, that he soon found himself by these an object of suspicion.  For many months after his dismissal from the army he led the life of a wanderer, effacing himself in the wilds of his beloved Jura.  So little, as yet, was he generally known as the author of the Marseillaise, that six months after its composition a friend wrote to him saying that the new war-song was performed in all the Paris theatres, and adding: 'You have never told me the name of the composer.  Is it Edelmann?'  This Edelmann, a former close friend of Dietrich, and, with himself, an accomplished musician, afterwards became his accuser and bitterest enemy.  In his invaluable Reminiscences of the Revolution, Charles Nodier relates how he heard him with horrible sang-froid thus arraign his old associate when on his trial at Besançon: 'As my friend I am bound to weep for thee; as a traitor thou must die!'

    During these wanderings, Rouget de Lisle one day engaged a youth as guide through some mountain passes unknown to him: his ear was greeted with the refrain:—

'Allons, enfants de la patrie,
 Le jour de gloire est arrive.'

    'What is that you are singing, my lad?' he asked with some surprise.

    'You don't know, monsieur!' replied the boy still more astonished.  'Why, that's the song of the Marseillais volunteers that everybody knows by heart.'

    His song had not only reached the capital, but his native province.

    The instability of Rouget de Lisle's character is evidenced in the next phase of his chameleon-like career.  Apparently overtaken by remorse he demanded re-admission into the army, now that of the First Republic, took the civic oath, and joined the victorious forces of Valmy at Verdun.  What followed remains a mystery.  Shortly afterwards he was again dismissed the service, and once more effaced himself among his native solitudes.  Then he returned to Paris, seeking distraction in music and literature, was soon arrested, set at liberty, rearrested, this time being kept in prison till the great deliverance of Thermidor.  His immediate liberation was lastly due to the fact that he was the composer of the Marseillaise, now proclaimed the national hymn of the Republic.

    It is not perhaps astonishing that despite these facts and certain honours decreed by the Convention, his first mood was of violent reaction.  He could not indeed say with Charles Nodier [p.38] that he had been the sole guest of a famous banquet who had preserved his head.  But the amiable Dietrich, his noble guest Victor de Broglie had fallen victims to personal vindictiveness; a second guest on that memorable 25th of April 1792, Achille de Chastellet, had poisoned himself in prison; a third was in exile; others had died on the field of battle; the rest were scattered.

    In curious contradiction to the mercilessness of partisanship at this period was the prison régime.  During his incarceration Dietrich found distraction in musical composition for the clavecin.  No less than twenty pieces called Allemande, a kind of quick dance, were composed by him whilst a prisoner, the manuscripts still remaining in his family.  For the rest Henrietta Maria Williams tells us how the prisoners of the Terror fared, how conversation, cards, books, music and painting in company relieved the tedium of confinement, how 'her teakettle was never allowed to get cool,' and above all how one of her jailors, Benoit by name, did his utmost to alleviate the condition of his charges by little kindnesses and comforts, 'without deviating from duty ever pursuing his steady course of humanity.'  Schneider and Edelmann, be it recalled, met with the fate they had so ruthlessly meted out to others.

    The mental see-saw characterising Rouget de Lisle's career now manifested itself in adhesion to the party of counter-revolution.  Heart and soul he joined the Jeunesse dorée, danced at the celebrated ball de victimes, and frequented the salons of Madame Tallien and of General Beauharnais's widow, the future Empress.  A little later we find the author of the Marseillaise, as he now styled himself, demanding reintegration into the army under Hoche, a request unhesitatingly accorded.

    Disappointed at not receiving promotion after Quiberon, once more he retired from the service, a little later once more asking re-admission.  This time he had to do with 'the organiser of victory,' now the most powerful man in France.  Carnot would make no exception to the new law, for once and for all excluding officers who had voluntarily thrown up their commissions.  The correspondence of the pair is curious reading.  To the great 'Citoyen directeur,' as afterwards to his still greater rival, the young military engineer took the tone of a commander-in-chief addressing a subaltern.  With Carnot's fall and Napoleon's star in the ascendant, Rouget de Lisle's hopes of a career revived.  Excluded from the army, he dreamed of diplomatic distinction.  His protectress Josephine, now Madame Bonaparte, twice procured him employment, firstly a mission to the Spanish court of no political importance, secondly a post in the commissariat.  As envoy complimentary he acquitted himself satisfactorily; as contractor for the barracks he naturally proved a dismal failure.  The complicated story is too long for reproduction here, sufficient to say that addressing the 'Citoyen Premier Consul' haughtily and defiantly as he had addressed Carnot, he announced his intention of crossing the Manche, assured, he said, of receiving honourable hospitality in England.  The intention was not carried out.  A year later again he dipped his pen in gall, his long tirade containing such sentences as these: 'Bonaparte! you are hastening to your own destruction, worse still to the destruction of France.  What have you done with our liberties?  What in your hands has become the fate of the Republic? . . . Bonaparte!  It was not with the intention of becoming your patrimony that France threw herself into your arms,' and so on and so on, an admirable and powerful arraignment, unfortunately coming from a negligible quarter.  So insignificant a personality indeed was now the author of the Marseillaise that despite this harangue he kept his head on his shoulders!


    Rouget de Lisle's career recalls a certain Norse fable.  One day a farmer set out for market on a valuable horse he wished to turn into money.  But being of a fantastic and capricious disposition he thought he would try barter instead.  After many, as he deemed, excellent bargains, having exchanged his good beast respectively for a cow, pigs, cocks and hens, and what not, the final lot was sold for a small piece of money which he lost ere reaching home.  Maybe, the one success of Rouget de Lisle's explains his many failures.

    In another respect his story is even more exceptional.  During the long struggle with poverty, neglect, and enforced inaction that followed, but for his friends he would have found himself alone.  Family affection, the usual adamantine bond of sympathy and good-fellowship among our neighbours, was here wanting.  'Talk not to me of brothers!' he one day said, the words recalling Tacitus's bitter epigram, 'They hated with the hatred of brothers.'

    The Musée Carnavalet is now the depository of Rouget de Lisle's correspondence with his brothers and sisters, a collection revealing painful dissensions.  One brother was now a general in Napoleon's army, another was employed in the naval commissariat.  But the family had not prospered, bit by bit the patrimony of Montaigu had been parted with; finally the ancestral home, Rouget de Lisle's asylum for five years, was sold also.

    In 1817, at the age of fifty-seven, he settled in Paris, earning a scanty and uncertain livelihood by teaching and copying music, making translations from the English for reviews, and literary hackwork.  The inventive faculty was still alert.  He composed new national hymns and accompaniments to Béranger's songs, wrote librettos, and, it is said, suggested to St.-Simon the agency of music in social regeneration.

    Many old friends were now dead or scattered, but one or two remained, among these his former companion in arms General Blein, who survived him by some years, gave him shelter under his roof and raised a monument to his memory, and new friends gathered round him devoted as the old.  Rouget de Lisle, like most of his countrymen, possessed a veritable genius for friendship.  His warm heart, generous spirit, versatile, scintillating nature, and talent for conversation, endeared him to all with whom he came in close contact, atoning for exasperating foibles.  Again and again some faithful comrade proved 'the man whose name was Help,' and who dragged him out of the Slough of Despond.  When, in 1826, he was torn from his Paris garret and thrown into prison for a trifling debt, it was Béranger who flew to the rescue, discharging the claim and collecting a little money for future needs.

    General Blein, who lived at Choisy-le-Roi with his mother and sister, now offered him a home, and partly as guest, partly as boarder he remained under their friendly roof for some years.  The Blein home was later broken up owing to the death of the two ladies, and then other friends equally devoted made him one of their family circle.

    The Revolution of 1830 brought him belated honours and independence.  I have ever had a corner in my heart for the homely citizen king who, like any honest bourgeois, used to preside at the head of his dinner-table and carve for his large family, and who would daily have a 'good-day' and a gossip with the guards.  Louis-Philippe never forgot that he owed his crown to revolution and to the Marseillaise.  Even before crowned as Roi des Français he accorded a pension of 1500 francs to his comrade of 1792, the pair having fought side by side in Dumouriez's army.  Through Béranger's agency two other pensions of a thousand francs each were awarded Rouget de Lisle by the Ministers of the Interior and of Commerce respectively.  Finally on the 6th of December of the same year came that honour which sends all Frenchmen happy to the grave.  The cross of the Legion of Honour now adorned his breast!

    It is pleasant to find this storm-tossed career ending in days of deep halcyon repose, and indeed in something more.  Rouget de Lisle's last years were not only free from care, suffering and mental depression, they were enlivened by intellectual intercourse, irradiated by the quick, keen sympathies of artistic fellowship.  The central figure of a highly cultivated circle, every evening he found himself surrounded by kindred spirits.  Music and conversation, above all, the reminiscences of the author of the Marseillaise, made his hostess's reunions animated and stimulating.  The Voiart dwelling commanded a beautiful prospect, before it stretching the verdant valley of the Seine, at that time undisturbed by railways and unpoetised by the speculative builder.  In 1892, the centenary of the Marseillaise, old folks living here could remember the old soldier as slowly strolling to and fro he sunned himself and drank in the beauty of the scene.

    And strange as it seems, in this year of grace nineteen hundred and five, some hale nonagenarian might still be found who could tell us of that pathetic figure,—the red rosette, atoning in part for so many cruel disillusions, conspicuous on his shabby military coat!

    Surrounded by his friends, Rouget de Lisle died on the 27th of June 1836, a vast crowd following his remains to the grave.  Even under the citizen king, the son of Philippe Égalité, the Marseillaise had been silenced, but just as the funeral party prepared to disperse, some workmen began with solemn measure:

'Allons, enfants de la patrie,
 Le jour de gloire est arrivé.'

The refrain, taken up by the crowd, swelled into a mighty volume of sound, fitting requiem of one now numbered among the immortals!


    The fate of the Marseillaise had been meteoric as that of its composer, one day flashing forth with blinding brilliancy, now buried in Serbonian obscurity, now the theme of Europe, now silent as the voice of one gone down to the tomb.

    It was hardly likely that Napoleon, having used the Marseillaise for his own ends, would allow it to serve any other.  The song might prove a siren to his soldiers when in his early days he led them on to victory.  No sooner had the Corsican Cæsar crushed the Republic and trampled French liberties under foot, than the electrifying strains resounded no more.  Nor was it at all probable that the Restoration would tolerate consecration of principles it had adhered to so gingerly.  Louis-Philippe, indeed, on first coming to the throne, allowed himself to be occasionally serenaded with the hymn of liberty and revolution, but in his ears also and in those of his advisers, its democratic note soon seemed a portent and a warning.  Eighteen years later the Marseillaise was resuscitated, once more not only to awaken France but Europe.  Then followed the Napoleonic legend and its fatal magic, and for eighteen years more, like the princess of fairy tale, it was condemned to deathless slumber.

    And not with the proclamation of the Third Republic was Rouget de Lisle's song pronounced the national hymn of France.  During the reactionary MacMahon régime the Marseillaise was studiously kept in the background.  From August 1875 until the same month of the following year I lived at Nantes, being the guest of a French lady, widow of a former Préfet.  Never once do I remember hearing the strains now familiar even to children of our own national schools.  It was not indeed until the 14th of February 1879 that the Chamber under Gambetta's presidency recalled and ratified the decree of the 26 Messier, An II. (14 July 1795) and the Marseillaise was proclaimed the national hymn of France.

    As we review this strange history an inevitable reflection occurs to the student of history.  For strange it is, but true, the Revolution was, pre-eminently a lyrical epoch.  A period of fiercest passions and superhuman endurance, of Titanic struggles for national existence, found expression in song and melody.  The stormy years preceding the Restoration constitute indeed the most musical period of French history.  Song and vaudeville, vaudeville and song, characterise crises appalling as any in modern annals.  Seeking relief from actualities, native genius took a sportive turn.  The authors of Jean qui pleure et Jean qui rit, of Le Temps et l'Amour, of Il pleut, bergère, il pleut, were severally contemporaries of Robespierre and Napoleon.

    These and many other graceful trifles have become classics, numerous editions having been unearthed within recent years by the Société de l'histoire de la Révolution. [p.48]

    The Conservatoire, that great national school of music and declamation, was founded by the Convention, similar schools being opened at Marseilles, Nantes, and other large cities.  In the words of M. Rambaud, the history of French national music dates from the Revolution, the crown being decreed to the young soldier, who as a child followed the pipe of wandering minstrels in his beloved Jura—whose verdict on himself was so singularly falsified.  'Your musical talent,' he wrote to Berlioz in 1830, 'is a volcano always emitting flame.  Mine is only a lighted wisp, blazing for a moment, then smouldering away.'




THERE are certain French towns to which Balzac is the best possible, nay, the indispensable guide.  Saumur, the home of Eugénie Grandet, and Guérande, the scene of Béatrix, have, indeed, become literary pilgrimages, but other places of great interest in themselves possess a double interest for the Balzac student, notably Limoges and Angoulême.


HONORÉ DE BALZAC (1799-1850).
Picture: Internet Text Archive.

    The Danton of fiction, as Philarète Chasles has called him, whilst bestowing world-wide fame upon a sleepy Breton bourg or a remote Touraine hamlet had little general knowledge of his own country.  In Béatrix, for instance, he speaks of France still retaining two walled-in towns, perfect specimens of feudal architecture, namely Guérande and Avignon.  As all travellers know, such specimens are numerous—Carcassonne, Saumur, Provins, Montreuil, by no means exhaust the list.  Travelling was expensive and laborious in Balzac's day, and we must be thankful that he travelled much more than most people.

    Limoges, the scene of Le Curé du Village, and Angoulême, that of Les Deux Poètes, are both cities commandingly placed and rich in archaeological and artistic attractions.  On lately revisiting the capitals of the Haute Vienne and the Charente I found them more engaging than ever and quite as neglected.  Seldom, indeed, do you encounter a stray compatriot in the surroundings so minutely interwoven with Balzac's stories, stories as full of pathetic interest- as any of his vast series.  Crowning the lofty banks of the Vienne, Limoges is seen from afar, the gloomy tower of its beautiful cathedral forming a strange contrast to the bright landscape.  September is the month for the chestnut country, such is the Limousin par excellence.  What the apple-tree is to Normandy, the olive to Provence, is the chestnut in these regions, and the veteran trees are a glory to behold.  Formerly chestnuts almost supplanted bread with the country folks.  Of late years, alas, wide areas of chestnut wood have been levelled for the culture of cereals.



    Strolling through the lower town with Balzac's novel in hand we feel that these tortuous streets and ancient dwellings must remain very much as he saw them three quarters of a century back.  The tumble-down shop 'unchanged from the middle ages' in which the ill-fated girl's miserly grandfather amassed riches—the bookseller's window on which Paul et Virginie caught her eye, a turning point in her history—the stately hotel of the rich banker with 'the façade of a public building,' her home when exchanging an avaricious father for an equally avaricious husband—the cottage on the opposite bank whither she strolled on summer evenings to enjoy the view, her mother's society—and stolen interviews—the lonely suburban dwelling by the river with its garden, scene of her lover's crime, the double murder saving her from shame and exposure—all these sites seem as identifiable as any in guidebooks.

    Here, indeed, is a page that might well have been transcribed for traveller's use: 'The bishop's palace of Limoges crowns an eminence bordering the Vienne, the gardens flanked with solid masonry descending stairwise to the river.  So considerable is this elevation that the Faubourg St. Étienne on the opposite bank seems level with the lowest terrace.  From that point, according to the direction pedestrians may take, the river winds sinuously or flows with unbroken sweep through a rich panorama.  Westward from the bishopric gardens is seen a graceful curve, the Vienne here bathing the Faubourg St. Martial, a little further on rising the Poplar-covered islet fancifully designated by Wronique, the Île de France.  Eastward the perspective is one of hills forming a natural amphitheatre.  The witchery of its site and the rich simplicity of its style make the évêché the most remarkable edifice of Limoges. . . . The bishop was seated in an angle of the lower terrace under a trellised vine taking his dessert and drinking in the beauty of the evening.  The poplars on the islet seemed a part of the water, so clear their reflections gilded by the setting sun.  Thus mirrored, a variety of foliage made up a whole tinged with melancholy. . . . Beyond, the spires and roofs of the Faubourg St. Martial gleamed between clustering greenery.  The subdued murmur of a country town half-hidden in the bent arc of the river, the softness of the air'—here follows a truly Balzacian touch—'all contributed to impart to the prelate that quietude of mind insisted upon by all authorities on digestion—his eyes wandered to the right bank, soon becoming fixed upon the enclosed garden, scene of the double assassination.'

    The bishop's palace, so glowingly described by the great novelist, had moved Arthur Young to enthusiasm half a century before.  'The present bishop,' wrote the Suffolk farmer in 1787, 'has erected a large and handsome palace, and his garden is the finest object to be seen at Limoges, for it commands a landscape hardly to be equalled for beauty; it would be idle to give any other description than just enough to induce travellers to visit it!  A river winds through a vale surrounded by hills that present the gayest and most animated assemblage of villas, farms, vines, hanging meadows, and chestnuts blended so fortunately as to compose a scene truly smiling.'

    Balzac's good bishop and the country priest fetched from the murderer's village in order to confess him play an important part throughout the story.  Véronique, whose beauty at nine years of age was the marvel of Limoges, whom a chance reading of Paul et Virginie in girlhood made sentimental and visionary, is a character after Balzac's own heart.  She seeks refuge from a loveless home in Byron, Walter Scott, Schiller, Goethe, and in pietistic exercises.  These failing to satisfy her aspirations she accepts the love of a protégé, a young man of inferior position whom, as she said in her dying confession, she 'intended to train for heaven, but had conducted to the scaffold.'  When this supreme crisis in her life came, when her lover lay sentenced to death in prison, the conduct of cette sublime femme, as Balzac calls her, was what might have been expected.  The sentimentality that did duty for passion prompted no heroic initiative.  Instead of throwing good repute to the four winds, consoling her lover in prison, confronting his judges, thereby averting the death penalty, she held aloof.  The unhappy youth, showing a temper truly valiant, went to his doom with sealed lips, and Véronique betook herself to works of abstinence and piety, thereby expiating her fault and gaining saintly renown.

    But all this time the dreadful secret had not been her own.  The bishop had divined it in the first instance, and the curé was put in possession of it by means of the confessional.  When, worn out by fasting, the cilice, and other penances, she wished to make public avowal, these two endeavoured to dissuade her.  'Die in peace,' urged the bishop, you have endured enough, God has heard you.'

    The dying penitent insisted, however, and before a numerous assemblage—priests, civic authorities, and friends—she unburdened herself, pleaded excuse for the reticence that had saved her own reputation at the cost of another's life, for having been 'carried away by the terrible logic of the world' ('entraînée par la logique terrible du monde').

    Le Curé du Village is far from being one of Balzac's greatest stories, and Limoges is by no means one of the greatest cathedral towns in France, but the romance embellishes the town and a sight of the town vivifies the romance.  Henceforth we cannot think of them apart.  Balzac's excessive minuteness is far from being a fault in the eyes of the wayfarer on his track.  His long descriptions do not weary under such circumstances; on the contrary, they become vitally interesting.  We should re-read Béatrix at Guérande, hardly changed, I dare say, since I saw it many years ago—Eugénie Grandet at lovely little Saumur, Le Curé de Tours at Tours, Ursule Mirouët at the pretty town of Nemours, and so on, in each case the scenery being elaborated with as much care as the figures with which they are animated.

    Heretical as it may appear, to my thinking the fine gothic cathedral of Limoges is disfigured by its gloomy clock tower.  The entire town seems overshadowed, rendered gloomy, by this tall lank steeple of funereal stone which we catch sight of from every point.

    After an interval of some years I lately revisited the capital of the ancient Limousin and chef-lieu of the Haute Vienne.  The clock tower, I thought, looked grimmer, more spectral, than ever.  It is slightly, ever so slightly, inclined, a peculiarity no little adding to its eeriness.  As we gaze, we cannot help contemplating a possible calamity, death and destruction dealt by a sudden collapse of that tremendous pile.

    How came these leaning and curved spires about?  Was it by chance, caprice, or from devotional motives that the clock tower of Limoges, like Limoges beautiful spire of Dijon cathedral, was thus constructed, made to bow before Heaven?

    For many years I was in the habit of staying at the old Burgundian capital, ever admiring that bending spire, as graceful a thing in stone as fancy could picture.  But the inclination gradually became more marked, and it was feared that some day the spire would fall; so, ten years since, it was taken down and a new perfectly upright one erected in its stead.

    Limoges cathedral itself is beautiful alike without and within, perfect type of Northern French Gothic, a type we shall soon exchange for another.

    With delight I again lingered in the exquisitely proportioned interior, ruminating on the grand old architects, stone-masons, its creators, their names for the most part forgotten, their life's work recorded in imperishable stone.  These modest but truly great artists have ever been to me a subject of admiring contemplation, and at every stage of French travel the traveller is reminded of them.  It would seem that sacred legend did not suffice for the prolific fancy of such builders, so often do we find mythological subjects turned to account.  Thus the richly ornate rood-loft here represents the six labours of Hercules in bas-relief, unfortunately much damaged.  St. Michel-aux-Lions, on high ground to the right of the cathedral, recalls our own beautiful Grantham, so elegant and conspicuous is its spire.

    The interest of Limoges is far from being exhausted when we have revisited cathedrals and churches.  Limoges is the cradle of two exquisite arts, one, alas! now lost to the world for ever, the other flourishing.  The inimitable enamels of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are only to be admired in museums.  The dainty faïence, due to the discovery of a lady in 1760, is to-day an important manufacture, one of the first, if not the first, in France.

    Genius has its harvests, its extraordinary efflorescence as well as Nature's products: thus not one, but groups of enamellers sprung up simultaneously, the delicate art ran in families, in clans, the skill of one merged in the excellence of all, fathers and sons, brothers and cousins earning collective fame, inheriting collective renown!  These sons of Limoges have glorified their native city, lent it unique distinction.  Their enamel remains inimitable, unpurchasable, existing collections are not to be added to, for all time they must remain stationary.  These masterpieces of an art which dealt in masterpieces only do not appeal to all, they are appreciated by the eclectic, the connoisseur, not by ordinary lovers of painting and the decorative arts.  But the other speciality of Limoges, its famous faïence, is more readily understood and admired.  The manufacture too, if we must so call it, is eminently serviceable and within reach of rich and poor.  At very reasonable cost we can embellish our tables and walls with this lovely ware.

    The history of Limoges porcelain is curious in more respects than one.  The fine white clay (called kaolin), found in strata above gneiss, had long been known to the Chinese and used by them in the manufacture of their hard or kaolinic porcelain.  The Germans had also discovered the value of kaolin at an early period, but long kept their methods secret.  In France search had been made for the precious clay in vain, and, as in the Arabian fairy-tale, a woman it was who discovered the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water; so, in 1768, the wife of a poor country doctor named Darnet discovered magnificent beds of kaolin at St. Yriex near Limoges, a find worth a mine of gold.  Madame Darnet's happy treasure trove and the discovery of petuntze a little later for once and for all assured the splendid future of Limoges faïence.  The latter mentioned substance is a kind of felspar hardly less valuable than kaolin in this manufacture, and equally familiar to the Chinese.  In the ceramic museum of Sevres is to be seen a fragment of the very kaolin accidentally lighted upon by Madame Darnet, a memento making up for the non-erection of a statue.  For with the strangest inconsistency in what is par excellence a statue-raising country, no monument records the fact.  Whilst at Angers, though portraits in stone memorialise a worthy gentlewoman who bequeathed her small fortune to the municipality, the benefactress of generations has not been similarly honoured.  Between three and four thousand potters of both sexes and just upon a thousand artists and designers are employed in the various manufactures here, the annual value of the commerce amounting to many millions of francs.

    The ceramic museum and school of decorative art called after their founder—Adrien Dubouché—may worthily be compared to those of Sevres, and in the former I have twice spent delightful afternoons.  No special training of the eye or technical knowledge is indispensable to such enjoyment.  Without being able to identify 'Pompadour rose' or 'bleu de Sèvres' we can revel in the lovely things before us—little landscapes in pale green, pink, or deep purple; sea-weeds on a pure white ground; moon and constellations on deep blue heavens; flowers, shells, insects, butterflies, on porcelain.

    Limoges ware does not usurp undue space.  The famous faïences of France, ancient as well as modern, are here represented—Moustiers, Strassburg—alas! poor Strassburg—Nevers, Rouen, Marseilles, Chantilly, Sevres, Gien—and oriental nations are also in full force, also admirable specimens of our own Wedgwood, Worcester, and Crown Derby.  Modern work is seen as well—ware from the great houses of Minton and Doulton and the pretty Torquay majolica.

    Close to this modest-looking but rich and important museum are grouped' potteries, and on my first visit to Limoges I was shown over one of these—certain processes are not exhibited to strangers, but an even limited insight into the fabrication is full of instruction.

    Kaolin, a bluish-white substance, found in a pure state, is first reduced to the consistency of pulp in works by the river, and afterwards dried, next modelled and turned, next immersed in liquefied pegmatite, a substance composed of felspar and quartz, which imparts the glaze.  Elaborate processes of testing, sorting, and drying follow, the pieces being finally consigned to the artist and the decorator.  The gradual transformation of uninviting looking earth to a beautiful miniature or a cup of crystalline transparency, is an object-lesson not to be despised by grown-up children.  Certain operations involving trade secrets are naturally withheld from inspection.

    As I recall the peaceful aspect of Limoges during my two sojourns, it is with difficulty I can realise the turbulent scenes of the late strike (1905).

    Next to the potters, the butchers form an important section of the community here.  From the historic point of view, these worthy citizens possess uncommon interest, once forming a powerful guild or corporation; they still enjoy certain privileges, occupy a certain area, have their own church, and intermarry after the manner of Jews.  Thus five or six patronymics only are found among the families of the seventy or eighty butchers carrying on business at Limoges.  The Boucherie or butchers' quarter with its mediaeval houses, having deep wooden dormers overlapping the lower stories, is highly picturesque.  How came it about that Balzac missed this curious feature of a town he had studied so closely?




TRAVELLERS in quest of romance and adventure cannot do better than follow me from Limoges to Rocamadour, the more venturesome including Padirac in their programme.  The railway journey of sixty miles will not be found long by the most impatient.

    A hundred and odd years ago Arthur Young dilated on the charm and variety of Limousin scenery, and those who follow in his footsteps will not feel cheated.  The fine old farmer has by no means exaggerated the natural beauties of this region.  'It is not,' he says, 'that a fine view breaks now and then upon the eye to compensate the traveller for the dulness of a much larger district; but a quick succession of landscapes, many of which would be rendered famous in England by the resort of travellers to view them.  The country is all hill and valley; the hills are all high and would be called by us mountains, if waste and covered with heather, but being cultivated to their very tops, their magnitude is lessened to the eye.  Their forms are various, they swell in beautiful semi-globes, they project in abrupt masses which enclose deep glens, they expand into amphitheatres of cultivation that rise in gradation, in some places tossed into a thousand inequalities of surface, in others, the eye reposes on scenes of the softest verdure.  Add to this, the rich robe with which nature's bounteous hand has dressed the slopes with hanging woods of chestnut.  And whether the vales open their verdant bosoms and admit the sun to illumine the rivers in their comparative repose, or whether they be enclosed in deep glens that afford a passage with difficulty to the water rolling over their rocky beds and dazzling the eye with the lustre of cascades, in every case the features are interesting and characteristic of the scenery.'



    The above lines, written in June 1787, might have been penned yesterday, so true are they as a bit of description.

    An hour's railway brings us to Brives, Brives-la-Gaillarde is the little town deservedly called, for gay it is of aspect and valiant has ofttimes been its part in history.  All travellers should halt here for the sake of the lovely walk by the Corrèze—Brives has little else to show—and of its old-fashioned, ingratiating hôtel de Toulouse in the principal street.  The house itself is a delight, with its oak panelling, roomy passages and irregularities, and landlord and landlady we found all friendliness and courtesy.  Such a reception came as an agreeable surprise after the frosty manner with which we had been greeted at the new big house near the station.  Two quiet ladies unlikely to spend money upon expensive wines were evidently not wanted there.

    Let me here set down the items of our déjeûner or midday meal at that cordially-remembered hotel, the cooking being first-rate and the price one franc and a half, just 1s. 3d.

Pâté de foie gras.
Roast Veal.
Ceps bordelaises (mushrooms in oil).
Grapes.   Figs.   Peaches.
Roquefort, Gruyere, and local Cheese.

    Here let me mention that bifteck was introduced into France with many other English things in the early years of the Restoration.  It was a reign of Anglomania, and a French historian gratefully alludes to the importation of this excellent dish.  The word bifteck was adopted by the French Academy in 1835.

    Brives has not its surname for nothing.  In 1374 the hardy little town opened its gates to the Duke of Lancaster, a little later refusing the entry of French troops under the Due de Bourbon.  Cruel reprisals followed the taking of the town, which afterwards rehabilitated itself by driving out the English from their strong places in the Limousin.

    At Brives we take the Toulouse railway, getting magnificent views on either side, and soon quit the department of the Corrèze for the Lot—the ancient province of Quercy.

    Rocamadour is one of the most traditional French sites: the nether world of Padirac was only discovered a few years ago.  For nearly eighteen hundred years pious pilgrims have flocked to the shrine of Zacchæus the publican, canonised under the name of Saint Amadour.  On the 10th of April 1899, eight thousand votaries of science fêted the inauguration of Padirac.  Here we find venerable antiquity and natural marvels in close proximity, twin spectacles of extraordinary grandeur, as yet, however, a myth to us, the three quarters of an hour's drive, or rather jolt, from the station suggesting neither picturesqueness nor sublimity.  Alike the bold promontory shooting into the heavens, and the awful chasm yawning in close proximity remained hidden, no sign betokening their existence.  After the manner of Arabian story, genii darkening the sky appear by magic, as suddenly the very bowels of the earth are revealed to our astounded eyes.  We were indeed traversing the Causse of Gramal, one of those treeless, waterless plateaux of central France, only within the last twenty years familiarised to the traveller.

    Closely packed as we were in the stuffy little omnibus, we contrived to get glimpses of the landscape—here patches of rye, lucerne or potatoes, there tiny hayfields, the autumn crop or regain relieving the stony waste.

    On we jogged, peering curiously to right and left, vainly looking for the rocky apex, the natural Tour Eiffel we had travelled so far to behold.  Nor when the vehicle came to a halt was there any sign of the famous shrine.  We found ourselves in an open space covered with carts, omnibuses, calèches, and amid most disconcerting surroundings.  Silence and desolation were now exchanged for clamouring crowds.  Around pressed the lame, the halt, and the blind, gibbering crones, unsightly cripples, dwarfs, humpbacks, paralysed and palsied besieged us, one laying hands on my tea-basket, another on my companion's travelling-bag, a third and fourth pounced upon our portmanteaus, the rest groaning, whining, supplicating in professional sing-song.  It really seemed as if Toulouse, that metropolis of mendicancy as I have elsewhere described it, had hither despatched her beggars.

    The confusion and uproar were at their height when to our great joy appeared a knight-errant, in other words, a most capable-looking man in his shirtsleeves, who drove off our assailants and took our persons and belongings under his protection, afterwards informing us that his name was Monsieur Espinasse.  Let future travellers bear the name in mind, or rather I should advise them not to follow our example approaching Rocamadour from behind, rather to stop short at the head of the gorge taking the excellent road winding corkscrew fashion to its base and setting you down in the village street.

    We soon realised our position.  We had flanked the rocky pile, lofty as the pyramids of Ghizeh, below opening a vast ravine, its velvety green depths set round with a semi-circle of silvery crags.  Half-way between the church-crowned summit and the rim of verdant gorge below, a ledge or shelf of rock had been built over, a little inn and a cluster of houses occupying the level space, whilst opposite the masonry, dove-tailed into the rock, stands the bishop's palace, formerly a fortress and a convent of cloistered nuns.  Adjoining there is the famous shrine, a congeries of cavernous buildings hollowed out of the natural wall.

    Rocamadour proper, with its one long street, ancient gateways, shops and cafés, and one or two inns, lies several hundred feet below.  Thus the place may be described as a gigantic staircase having three landing-stages.

    Following our protector in shirt-sleeves we descend the giddy flight of steps leading to the half-way bit of Rocamadour just named.  Fortunately, and at the same time unfortunately for us, if I may be permitted an oxymoron, we had arrived with two bishops and hundreds of pilgrims.  The last pilgrimage of the year and the great sight of the place had filled every hotel, inn, and auberge to overflowing.  At first it seemed highly probable that we must pass the night in armchairs or be jolted back to the station.  After much searching we were accommodated with two tiny rooms in a humble restaurant, the kindly hostess of the hôtel St. Marie promising to send in our early tea, other meals being taken with her pilgrims.  The price charged for each room was a franc and a half.  The Lourdes of the Lot had not as yet rendered folks mercenary.

    Matters being so far comfortably settled and our spirits restored by some excellent tea and bread and butter, we sallied into the crowded bit of street.  The entire population of the department seemed pouring into Rocamadour, a mere wedge of a place, its capacities as strictly limited as those of a tunnel.  What would become of such an army?  The first disagreeable impression we had received was soon effaced.  Affability itself we found this perpetually increasing stream of peasant folk.  Loquacious, animated, were our fellow-pilgrims certainly, but no crowd could be better behaved.

    Before and around the hôtel St. Marie dozens of country-people were making al fresco meals, while farther on a fair was held, vendors of toys, photographs, clothes, eatables, and devotional objects doing a brisk trade.

    From this noisy, turbulent little platform one steep flight of stone steps leads upward to the votive church crowning the rock, another winds downward to the village, a third and intermediate flight leading to the vast vestibule of the bishop's palace, scene of the benediction.  The Rocamadour of pilgrimage occupies several stages, one ledge of the rock after another having been built upon, the entire mountain,—for so it may be called,—being honeycombed with churches, sanctuaries, and votive chapels.  It is a veritable ecclesiological beehive.  The long, narrow street of Rocamadour proper with its fine old portcullises is very picturesque.  Nothing can be prettier than the animated street, little scenes and bits of mediaeval architecture peeped at through their grey stone arches, the peasant folk, both men and women, in their sober black garb having an antiquated look well harmonising with their surroundings.

    After dull, showery days just experienced at Limoges, perfect September weather compensated us here.  The temperature was seasonable, a delicious breeze stirred the trees; moss green valley, glittering parapets, and dark sugar-loaf rock glowed under a cloudless, deep blue sky.  As we strolled down the village street, now admiring the bishop's hanging garden-garland brightening the gloomy fortress-like building—now in an opposite direction gazing on the verdant reaches of the Alzon and dazzling parapets above, we encountered an increasing inflow of pilgrims, some afoot, some in carts and calèches, the majority belonging to the peasant class.  The men wore long black blouses or frocks and black cloth trousers with broad-brimmed felt hats; the women were also dressed as if in mourning, neat, serviceable stuff gowns with white coiffes made up their Sunday costume.  Here and there a bonnet and modish dress proclaimed the bourgeoise or lady visitor, these also habited in black, only a few little girls having coloured frocks and ribbons in their hats.

    The prevalence of decorum was very noticeable.  It is not the fashion in France, even among working folks, for young men and women to pair off when holiday-making.  A girl who should separate herself from the family party when out for the day, and go her own ways with her sweetheart, would at once lose caste.  This great festival therefore, the only fete day of the year to many, in no respect resembled a Bank holiday at home.  There was no rollicking, no excitement, and not a single pair of lovers to be seen.  The sergent de ville and gendarme were equally absent, nor during our stay did we see any one the worse for drink.  In fact, to compare things totally dissimilar, this assemblage of Romanist devotees suggested a Puritan concourse, a coming together of Covenanters!

    As the evening wore on, village street, cafes, al fresco restaurants, and booths became deserted.  After an excellent dinner at the hotel St. Marie we descended a little way, then climbed the broad flight of steps leading sideways to the bishop's palace, and here a strange spectacle met our eyes.  We had indeed come to visit Rocamadour in the nick of time, and my advice to others is this—put up with no matter what accommodation, with no matter what noise and other inconveniences, but arrive anyhow for the great September pilgrimage, allow yourself for once to be transported to the Middle Ages.  The ceremony of the Benediction had now completely emptied both upper and lower village, filling the vast vestibule or court.  I hardly know what other name to give this open portico used as a church, and presenting us with an unforgettable sight.  Massed together in what looked like the narthex of some vast cathedral, were hundreds of black-robed worshippers holding lighted tapers, whilst from a gallery above, priests and acolytes led a dolorous chant in Latin, the congregation chanting the responses in the same funereal tone.  So lugubrious was the entire proceeding, litany, voices, and attitude of the assemblage, that the ceremony suggested a commination.  It might have been supposed that these devotees were met together for the purpose of expiating some national calamity, plague, pestilence, or famine.  On a sudden, at the tinkling of a bell, all fell on their knees, the momentary hush imparting unspeakable impressiveness to the scene.  You could have heard the softest sigh, the mere drawing of breath.  Never had I witnessed more self-abandonment, and that deep, momentary hush rendered the scene singularly impressive.

    We could realise how profound was the import of such annual ceremonies to these simple country folks.

    Myself and fellow-traveller straightway retired early to our queer little roosting-places, but for some time sleep was out of the question.  Till past midnight I heard the distant chanting of little processions, some climbing to the votive church crowning the rock, others descending to the village.  It is my belief that many spent the night abroad or in the churches, for the very good reason that no kind of lodging was available.

    The tiny bedroom allotted to me was over the kitchen, in which to-night, on the floor, slept master and mistress of the humble restaurant, with their little son.  I could plainly hear them breathe as I lay, for the inner wall had not been carried up to the ceiling, the interstice admitting air, at the same time noise, smoke, and kitchen smells.  A cleaner, more comfortable bed nobody could desire; by five o'clock next morning, however, the household was astir, savoury steam announced the preparation of soup, the countryman's substitute for coffee, soon pilgrims dropped in for a breakfast.  Sleep became out of the question.  Then girls' merry voices reached me from the courtyard under my window.  Looking out I saw three ruddy-cheeked, well-made damsels performing their toilette like Trooper George at the pump, and combing and braiding their long, dark hair before a bit of broken looking-glass hanging from the wall.

    But even standing-room represents money at Rocamadour during a pilgrimage.  No sooner had the three maidens adjusted their lustrous braids, nature's head-dress in rural France, than they went away, and their place was taken by three stalwart peasant farmers in black smock-frocks and cloth trousers.  The little yard contained nothing on which any one could sit, but contentedly enough the men broke their fast standing.  What it was their earthen bowls held I could not discern, most likely a compound of milk, flour, and vegetables, with a flavouring of bacon.

    Next day was one of delightful softness and beauty.  Not being expert at scaling walls like a fly, and not being fond of explorations underground, I left my friend to explore the subterranean church, votive chapels hollowed out of the rock, and hermitage of Zacchæus, 'chief among the publicans and he was rich.'  According to tradition and pious credence, he made his way hither from Palestine, and here under the name of Saint Amadour ended his days, having presented the community with a statue of the Virgin Mary.

    So runs the legend.  Archaeologists on the other hand, assign another personality to the anchorite called Saint Amadour, from Roc-amator or amator rupis.  The miracle-working statue said to have been presented to Zacchæus by the Virgin Mary, and brought hither by him from Palestine, is now pronounced a work of the thirteenth century, and the date of the sanctuary is stated to be apocryphal.

    Be this as it may, ex-votos testifying to miraculous interposition cover the walls, the epoch of electricity, telephone, and aerial telegraphy supplying as many as the dark ages.

    Among historic worshippers at the shrine of the publican were Saint Louis—a very doubtful saintship if viewed in the light of humanitarianism; Blanche of Castille, the cruel persecutor of religious dissidents; Simon de Montfort, the exterminator of the Albigenses; Louis XI., the astute monarch of whom we have so fearful a portrait in Notre Dame de Paris, but who possessed two titles to admiration.  Like our rare Ben Jonson, he loved 'a nimble wit as he loved his nutriment,' and he lived for the aggrandisement and grandeur of France.  Two names awaken a softer mood.  To Rocamadour in 1651, came M. and Mme. Lamothe Fénelon offering a picture in gratitude for the birth of a son, that lovable bishop so scurvily treated by Louis XIV., Mme. de Maintenon, Bossuet, and also by his valet.  The man who stole the manuscript of Télémaque and published it surreptitiously, was in reality a public benefactor.  But for the theft—who can say? posterity might have missed the prettiest book ever written by a bishop; Télémaque might have been lost to the world.  Many of the wooden statues adorning these recesses are hideous to behold.  The rock is at this end honey-combed, riddled, tunnelled with votive chapels and grottoes, but the sight of one gives an adequate idea, of all.

    My own morning passed delightfully.  Seated on a bench in front of a little cafe, I revelled in the glorious scenery around—outline, colour, and detail all surpassingly beautiful and all set off by a brilliant blue sky.  The temperature was high but modified by soft winds, and now perfect quiet reigned, a great refreshment after yesterday's turmoil and an almost sleepless night.  Over against me, veritable eyrie in cloudland, gleamed the tiny church crowning the highest point of Rocamadour; midway between summit and base, the façade of the bishop's palace with its hanging gardens made broad belts of light and colour against the sombre background, brightening the natural ramparts as a rainbow.  Immediately under my eyes I had sweet little vignettes, ancient domestic architecture framed by picturesque old gateways: turning my back upon these I beheld the dazzlingly green valley of the Alzon, lofty escarpments hemming it round, glittering like snowy peaks against the cloudless heavens.  As I rested thus, a well-dressed peasant paused to ask me a question.  Perceiving that I did not understand what he said, the dear old woman keeping the restaurant, and with whom I had made friends, immediately came forward and acted as interpreter.

    'That good man,' she explained to me, 'asked the way to a tobacconist's shop, but every one speaks patois hereabouts, and Madame, I see, is a stranger.'

    It is rather a dialect that these country folks use, survival of the Langue d'Oc, many of a passing generation not being able to make themselves understood in France.

    And as I lazily waited thus, I was reminded of the twin marvels that are bringing the wise as well as the foolish, the learned as well as the unsophisticated to Rocamadour, that wondrous underworld now accessible to all but the timorous.  Family parties in waggonettes, tourists afoot passed from time to time, jauntily setting off on their tenebrous errand.

    'To Padirac, to Padirac!' they shouted to this acquaintance and that, recalcitrants like myself whose spirit was willing but whose flesh was weak, who were not to be tempted into Pluto's domain.

    'To Padirac, to Padirac!' reiterated the jubilant explorers till well out of hearing.

    We had dropped upon Rocamadour as from a balloon, we quitted it by the excellent carriage road winding in corkscrew fashion from the gorge, at every turn looking back on magnificent perspectives.  The sight of the crowded platform awakened misgivings.  Hundreds of pilgrims, including the Bishop of Tulle and his vicar, were there; it seemed impossible that the Toulouse express would find room for us all.  Long we waited in the cool breezy afternoon, the peasant folk squatted on the turf taking their supper, the rest standing, for the excellent reason that there were no seats.  But the multitude was disposed of as if by magic.  Without the slightest turmoil, commotion, or bustle, the little army of pilgrims was seated, the platform was cleared in a twinkling, and the train rushed Paris-ward, leaving Rocamadour to drowse in quiet till summer and the pilgrims should return together.


[Next Page]


 [Home] [Up] [Reminiscences] [Victorian Memories] [Unfrequented France] [Home Life in France] [Snow-Flakes] [Little Bird Red] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be addressed to....