But the practical M. Forestier would not give way. Ingres' persistence looked like folly, even madness in his eyes. The young man was with difficulty living from hand to mouth, portraits and small orders barely keeping the wolf from the door. The return home and marriage would ensure his future materially and socially, and up to a certain point render him independent of malevolent criticism. For already Ingres was fiercely attacked by Parisian authorities on art: he had become important enough to be a target. After cruellest heart-searching and prolonged self-reproach, il gran riffiuto was made, youthful passion, worldly advantages—and plighted faith—were cast to the winds. Henceforth he would live for his palette only, defying poverty, detraction and fiercely antagonistic opinion; if failing in allegiance to others, at least remaining staunch to his first, best, highest self, his genius.
Julie, the third imperishable Julie of French romance, never married. Let us hope that the writing of her artless little autobiography called a novel brought consolation. Did she ever forgive the recalcitrant? Her story, Emma, ou la fiance, ends with the aphorism: "Without the scrupulous fulfilment of the given word, there can be neither happiness nor inner peace."
Did that backsliding in early life disturb the great painter's stormy but dazzling career? Who can say? We learn that Ingres was twice, and, according to accredited reports, happily, married. His first wife, a humbly-born maiden from his native province, died in 1849, leaving the septuagenarian so desolate, helpless and stricken that kindly interveners set to work and re-married him. The second Mme. Ingres, although thirty years his junior, gave him, his biographer tells us, "that domestic peace and happiness of which for a brief space he had been deprived." Heaped with honours, named by Napoleon III. Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, Senator, Member of the Institut, Ingres died in 1869. Within a year of ninety, he was Dominique Ingres to the last, undertaking new works with the enthusiasm and vitality of Titian. A few days before his death he gave a musical party, favourite works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven being performed by skilled amateurs. His funeral was a veritable apotheosis, disciples, admirers and detractors swelling the enormous cortge.
Those who, like myself, have times without number contemplated the master's opus magnum in the Louvre, and have studied his art as represented in the provincial museums, will quit the Muse Ingres with mixed feelings. It must occur to many that, perhaps, after all, il gran riffiuto of opposite kind might have better served art and the artist's fame. Had he returned to France—and to Julie—at the stipulated period, the following eighteen years being spent not on Italian but on native soil, how different the result! Then of his work he could have said, as did Chantecler of his song—
"Mon chant Qui n'est pas de ces chants qu'on chante en cherchant Mais qu'on reoit du sol natal comme une sve."
Would not most of us willingly give Ingres' greatest classical and historic canvases for one or two portraits, say that of Bertin, or, better still, for a group like that of the Stamiti family? What a portrait gallery he would have bequeathed, how would he have made the men and women of his time live again before us!
[Footnote: Both are reproduced, with many other works, in M. Mommja's volume.]
Ingres, the artist, ever felt sure of himself. Did the lover look back, regretting the broken word, the wrong done to another? We do not know. His life was throughout upright, austere, free from blot; born and bred a Catholic, he had doubtless Huguenot blood in his veins, many of his most striking characteristics pointed to this inference.
A word more concerning Montauban itself. The stronghold of reform, that defied all Richelieu's attempts to take it, is to this day essentially a Protestant town. Half of its inhabitants have remained faithful to the faith of their ancestors. Tourists will note the abundance of cypress trees marking Huguenot graves, the capital of Tarn and Garonne is a veritable Calvinistic Campo Santo. After the Revocation, many families fled hence to England, their descendants to this day loving and reverencing the country which gave them a home.
Montauban, as we should expect, has raised a splendid monument to its one great citizen.
Since writing these lines, an Ingres exhibition has been opened in the Georges Petit Gallery, Paris. Apropos of this event, the Revue des Deux Mondes (May 15, 1911) contains a striking paper by the art-critic, M. de Sizeraine. Some of the conclusions here arrived at are startling. Certain authorities on art are said to regard the great Montalbanais as a victim of daltonism—in other words, colour-blind!
In company of the mere amateur, this authority turns with relief from the master's historical and allegorical pieces to his wonderfully speaking portraits. Here, he says, all is simple, nothing is commonplace, nothing is unexpected, and yet nothing resembles what we have seen elsewhere; we find no embellishment, no stultification. He adds: "In art, as in literature, works which survive are perhaps those in which the artist or writer has put the most of himself, not those in which he has had most faith. The "Voeu de Louis XIII," the "Thtis" of Ingres, we may compare to Voltaire's Henriade and to the Franciade of Ronsard, all belong to the category of the opus magnum that has failed, and of which its creator is proud." With the following charming simile the essay closes—
"Posterity is a great lady, she passes, reviews the opus magnum, la grande machine disdainfully, satirically; all seems lost, the artist condemned. But by chance she catches sight of a neglected picture turned to the wall in a corner or passage, some happy inspiration that has cost its author little pains, but in which he has not striven beyond his powers, and in which he has put the best of himself. The grande dame catches it up, holds it to the light. 'Ha! here is something pretty!' she cries. And the artist's fame is assured."
Has not Victor Hugo focused the same truth in a line—
"Ici-bas, le joli c'est le ncessaire!"
And our own Keats also—
"For 'tis the eternal law, That first in beauty should be first in might."
MY PYRENEAN VALLEY AT LAST
Osse, la bien aime Toi, du vallon Le choix, la fille ane Le vrai fleuron! C'est sur toi qu'est fixe Dans son amour, La premire pense Du roi du jour Comme sa fiance L'amant accourt. Xavier Navarrot.
Between Toulouse and Tarbes the scenery is quite unlike that of the Gard and the Aude. Instead of the interminable vineyards round about Aigues-Mortes and Carcassonne, we gaze here upon a varied landscape. Following the Garonne with the refrain of Nadaud's famous song in our minds—
"Si la Garonne avait voulu,"—
we traverse a vast plain or low vale rich in many-coloured crops: buckwheat, sweeps of creamy blossom, dark-green rye, bluish-green Indian corn with silvery flower-head, and purple clover, and here and there a patch of vine are mingled together before us; in the far distance the Pyrenees, as yet mere purple clouds against the horizon.
We soon note a peculiarity of this region—vines trained to trees, a method in vogue a hundred years ago. "Here," wrote Arthur Young, when riding from Toulouse to St. Martory on his way to Luchon, "for the first time I see rows of maples with vines trained in festoons from tree to tree"; and farther on he adds, "medlars, plums, cherries, maples in every hedge with vines trained." The straggling vine-branches have a curious effect, but the brightness of the leafage is pleasant to the eye. No matter how it grows, to my thinking the vine is a lovely thing.
The rich plain passed, we reach the slopes of the Pyrenees, their wooded sides presenting a strange, even grotesque, appearance, owing to the mathematical regularity with which the woods are cut, portions being close shaven, others left intact in close juxtaposition, solid phalanxes of trees and clearings at right angles. The fancy conjures up a Brobdingnagian wheat-field partially cut in the green stage. Sad havoc is thus made of once beautiful scenes, richly-wooded slopes having lost half their foliage.
A hundred years ago Lourdes was a mere mountain fortress, a State prison to which unhappy persons were consigned by lettres de cachet. Apologists of the Ancien Rgime assert, in the first place, that these Bastilles were comfortable, even luxurious retreats; in the second, that lettres de cachet were useful and necessary; in the third, that neither Bastilles nor lettres de cachet were resorted to on the eve of the Revolution. Let us hear what Arthur Young has to say on the subject. "I take the road to Lourdes," he writes in August 1787, "where is a castle on a rock, garrisoned for the mere purpose of keeping State prisoners, sent hither by lettres de cachet. Seven or eight are known to be here at present; thirty have been here at a time; and many for life—torn by the relentless hand of jealous tyranny from the bosom of domestic comfort, from wives, children, friends, and hurried, for crimes unknown to themselves, most probably for virtues, to languish in this detested abode, and die of despair. Oh liberty, liberty!"
Great is the contrast between the lovely entourage of this notorious place and the triviality and vulgar nature of its commerce. The one long, winding street may be described as a vast bazaar, more suited to Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims than to holders of railway tickets and contemporaries of the Eiffel Tower.
A brisk trade is done here, the place wearing the aspect of a huge fair. Rosaries, crosses, votive tablets, ornamental cans for holding the miraculous waters, drinking-cups, candles, photographs, images, medals are sold by millions. The traffic in these wares goes on all day long, the poorest "pilgrim" taking away souvenirs.
The Lourdes of theology begins where the Lourdes of bartering ends. As we quit the long street of bazaars and brand-new hotels, the first glimpse gives us an insight into its life and meaning, makes us feel that we ought to have been living two or three hundred years ago. We glance back at the railway station, wondering whether a halt were wise, whether indeed the gibbet, wheel, and stake were not really prepared for heretics like ourselves!
The votive church built on the outer side of the rock from which flows the miraculous fountain is a basilica of sumptuous proportions, representing an outlay of many millions of francs. Its portico, with horse-shoe staircase in marble, spans the opening of the green hills, behind which lie grotto and spring. We are reminded of the enormous church now crowning the height of Montmartre at Paris; here, as there and at Chartres, is a complete underground church of vast proportions. The whole structure is very handsome, the grey and white building-stone standing out against verdant hills and dark rocks. A beautifully laid-out little garden with a statue of the miracle-working Virgin lies between church and town.
Looking from the lofty platform on the other side of the upper church, we behold a strange scene. The space below is black with people, hundreds and thousands of pilgrims, so called, priests and nuns being in full force, one and all shouting and gesticulating with fierce zealotry, a priest or two holding forth from a temporary pulpit.
Between these closely-serried masses is a ghastly array. On litters, stretchers, beds, chairs, lie the deformed, the sick, the moribund, awaiting their turn to be sprinkled with the miraculous waters or blessed by the bishop. These poor people, many of whom are in the last stage of illness, have for bearers, volunteers; these are priests, young gentlemen of good family, and others, who wear badges and leather traces, by which they attach themselves to their burden.
All day long masses are held inside the church and in the open air; at a given signal the congregation stretching out their arms in the form of a cross, prostrating themselves on the ground, kissing the dust.
We must descend the broad flight of steps in order to obtain a good view of the grotto, an oval opening in the rocks made to look like a stalactite cave, with scores and hundreds of ex-votos in the shape of crutches. Judging from this display, there should be no more lame folks left in France. The Virgin of Lourdes must have healed them all. In a niche of the grotto stands an image of the Virgin, and behind, perpetually lighted with candles, an altar, at which mass is celebrated several times daily.
On one side, the rock has been pierced in several places, deliciously pure, cool water issuing from the taps. Crowds are always collected here, impatient to drink of the miraculous fountain, and to fill vessels for use at home. We see tired, heated invalids, and apparently dying persons, drinking cups of this ice-cold water; enough, one would think, to kill them outright. Close by is a little shop full of trifles for sale, but so thronged at all hours of the day that you cannot get attended to; purchasers lay down their money, take up the object desired, and walk away. Here may be bought a medal for two sous, or a crucifix priced at several hundred francs.
The praying, chanting, and prostrating are at their height when the violet-robed figure of a bishop is caught sight of, tripping down a side-path leading from the town. Blessing any who chance to meet him on the way, chatting pleasantly with his companion, a portly gentleman wearing the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour, the bishop hastens towards the grotto, dons his sacerdotal robes of ivory-white and gold, and celebrates mass. The ceremony over, there is a general stir. Adjusting their harness, the bearers form a procession, the bishop emerges from the grotto, and one by one the thirty and odd litters are drawn before him to be sprinkled, blessed—and healed! alas, such, doubtless, is the fond delusion of many.
The sight of so many human wrecks, torsos and living skeletons all agog for life, health, and restoration, is even less heart-breaking than that of their companions. Here we see a mother bending with agonized looks over some white-faced, wasted boy, whose days, even hours, are clearly numbered; there a father of a wizen-faced, terribly deformed girl, a mite to look at, but fast approaching womanhood, brought hither to be put straight and beautiful. Next our eye lights on the emaciated form of a young man evidently in the last stage of consumption, his own face hopeful still, but what forlornness in that of the adoring sister by his side! These are spectacles to make the least susceptible weep. Grotesque is the sight of a priest who must be ninety at least; what further miracle can he expect, having already lived the life of three generations?
The last litter drawn by, the enormous crowd breaks up; tall candles are offered to those standing near, and a procession is formed, headed by the bishop under his gold and white baldachin, a large number of priests following behind, then several hundred men, women, and children, the black and white robes of the priests and nuns being conspicuous. Chanting as they go, outsiders falling on their knees at the approach of the baldachin, the pilgrims now wind in solemn procession round the statue in front of the church, and finally enter, when another religious celebration takes place. Services are going on all day long and late into the night. Hardly do these devotees give themselves time for meals, which are a scramble at best, every hotel and boarding-house much overcrowded. The table d'hte dinner, or one or two dishes, are hastily swallowed, and the praying, chanting, marching and prostrating begin afresh. At eight o'clock from afar comes the sound of pilgrims' voices as the procession winds towards the grotto.
There is picturesqueness in these nocturnal celebrations, the tapers twinkling against the dark heavens, the voices dying away in the distance. Superstition has its season as well as sulphur-baths and chalybeate springs. The railway station is a scene of indescribable confusion; enormous contingents come for a few hours only, the numbered trains that brought them are drawn up outside the main lines awaiting their departure. Here we are hustled by a motley throng; fashionable ladies bedizened with rosaries, badges, and medallions; elegant young gentlemen, the jeunesse dore of a vanished rgime, proudly wearing the pilgrim's badge, all travelling third-class and in humble company for their soul's good; peasant women from Brittany in charming costumes; a very, very few blue blouses of elderly civilians'; enormous numbers wearing religious garb.
It seems a pity that a bargain could not be struck by France and Germany, the Emperor William receiving Lourdes in exchange for Metz or Strasburg! Lourdes must represent a princely revenue, far in excess, I should say, of any profit the Prussian Government will ever make out of the annexed provinces; and as nobody lives there, and visitors only remain a day or two, it would not matter to the most patriotic French pilgrim going to whom the place belonged.
The tourist brings evil as well as good in his track, and the tax upon glorious scenery here is not the globe-trotter but the mendicant. Gavarnie is, without doubt, as grandiose a scene as Western Europe can show. In certain elements of grandeur none other can compete with it. But until a balloon service is organized between Luz and the famous Cirque it is impossible to make the journey with an unruffled temper. The traveller's way is beset by juvenile vagrants, bare-faced and importunate as Neapolitans or Arabs. Lovers of aerial navigation have otherwise not much left to wish for. Nothing can be more like a ride in cloudland than the drive from Pierrefitte to Luz and from Luz to Gavarnie. The splendid rock-hewn road is just broad enough to admit of two carriages abreast. On one side are lofty, shelving rocks, on the other a stone coping two feet high, nothing else to separate us from the awful abyss below, a ravine deep as the measure of St. Paul's Cathedral from base to apex of golden cross. We hear the thunder of the river as it dashes below by mountains two-thirds the height of Mont Blanc, their dark, almost perpendicular sides wreathed with cloud, on their summits gleaming never-melted snow, here and there the sombre parapets streaked with silvery cascades. At intervals the Titanic scene is relieved by glimpses of pastoral grace and loveliness, and such relief is necessary even to those who can gaze without giddiness on such awfulness. Between gorge and gorge lie level spaces, amid dazzlingly-green meadows the river flows calm and crystal clear, the form and hue of every pebble distinct as the pieces of a mosaic. Looking upwards we see hanging gardens and what may be called farmlets, tiny homesteads with minute patches of wheat, Indian corn, and clover on an incline so steep as to look vertical. Most beautiful and refreshing to the eye are the little hayfields sloping from the river, the freshly-mown hay in cocks or being turned, the shorn pasture around bright as emerald. Harvest during the year 1891 was late, and in the first week of September corn was still standing; nowhere, surely, corn so amber-tinted, so golden, nowhere, surely, ripened so near the clouds. In the tiny chalets perched on the mountain ridges, folks literally dwell in cloudland, and enjoy a kind of supernal existence, having for near neighbours the eagles in their eyries and the fleet-footed chamois or izard.
These vast panoramas—towering rocks of manifold shape, Alp rising above Alp snow-capped or green-tinted, terrace upon terrace of fields and homesteads—show every variety of savage grandeur and soft beauty till we gradually reach the threshold of Gavarnie. This is aptly called "chaos" which we might fancifully suppose the leavings, "the fragments that were left," of the semicircular wall now visible, thrown up by transhuman builders, insurmountable barrier between heaven and earth. No sooner does the awful amphitheatre break upon the view, than we discern the white line of the principal fall, a slender silvery column reaching, so it seems, from star-land and moon-land to earth; river of some upper world that has overleaped the boundaries of our own. No words can convey the remotest idea of such a scene.
We may say with regard to scenery what Lessing says of pictures, we only see in both what we bring with us to the view. More disconcerting than the importunities of beggars and donkey-drivers are the supercilious remarks of tourists. To most, of course, the whole thing is "a sad disappointment." Everything must necessarily be a disappointment to some beholders; and with critics of a certain order, the mere fact of not being pleased implies superiority. The hour's walk from the village to the Cirque is an event also in the life of the flower-lover. We have hardly eyes for Gavarnie, so completely is our gaze fascinated by the large luminous gold and silver stars gleaming conspicuously from the brilliant turf. These are the glorious flower-heads of the white and yellow Pyrenean thistle that open in sunshine as do sea-anemones, sending out lovely fringes, sunrays and moonbeams not more strikingly contrasted. As we rush hither and thither to gather them—if we can—their roots are veritable tentaculae, other lovely flowers are to be had in plenty, the beautiful deep-blue Pyrenean gentian, monk's-hood in rich purple blossom, rose-coloured antirrhinum, an exquisite little yellow sedum, with rare ferns. On one side, a narrow bridle-path winds round the mountain towards Spain; on the other, cottage-farms dot the green slopes; between both, parting the valley, flows the Gave, here a quietly meandering streamlet, whilst before us rises Gavarnie; a scene to which one poet only—perhaps the only one capable of grappling with such a subject—has done justice—
"Cirque, hippodrome, Stage whereon Stamboul, Tyre, Memphis, London, Rome, With their myriads could find place, whereon Paris at ease Might float, as at sundown a swarm of bees, Gavarnie, dream, miracle!"
[Footnote: "Un cirque, un hippodrome, Un thtre o Stamboul, Tyre, Memphis, Londres, Rome, Avec leurs millions d'hommes pourraient s'asseoir. Ou Paris flotterait comme un essaim du soir. Gavarnie!—un miracle! un rve!"—Victor Hugo, "Dieu."]
How to give some faint conception of the indescribable? Perhaps the great French poet has best succeeded in a single line—
"L'impossible est ici debout."
We feel, indeed, that we are here brought face to face with the impossible.
Let the reader then conjure up a solid mass of rock threefold the circumference of St. Paul's Cathedral; let him imagine the faade of this natural masonry of itself exceeding the compass of our great Protestant minster; then in imagination let him lift his eyes from stage to stage, platform to platform, the lower nearly three times the height of St. Paul's from base to apex of golden cross, the higher that of four such altitudes; their gloomy parapets streaked with glistening white lines, one a vast column of water, although their shelving sides show patches of never-melted snows; around, framing in the stupendous scene, mountain peaks, each unlike its majestic brother, each in height reaching to the shoulder of Mont Blanc. Such is Gavarnie.
My next halting-place was a remote Pyrenean village admirably adapted for the study of rural life. Within a few hours' journey of the Spanish frontier, Osse lies in the beautiful valley of Aspe, and is reached by way of Pau and Oloron. At the latter town the railway ends, and we have to drive sixteen miles across country, a delightful expedition in favourable weather. The twin towns, old and new Oloron, present the contrast so often seen throughout France, picturesque, imposing antiquity beside utilitarian ugliness and uniformity. The open suburban spaces present the appearance of an enormous drying-ground, in which are hung the blankets of the entire department. Blankets, woollen girdles or sashes, men's bonnets are manufactured here. "Pipers, blue bonnets, and oatmeal," wrote an English traveller a hundred years ago, "are found in Catalonia, Auvergne, and Suabia as well as in Lochaber." We are now in the ancient kingdom of Beam, with a portion of Navarre added to the French crown by Henry IV, and, two hundred years later, named the department of the Basses Pyrenes.
Every turn of the road reveals new features as we journey towards Osse, having always in view the little Gave d'Aspe, after the manner of Pyrenean rivers, making cascades, waterfalls, whirlpools on its way. Most beautiful are these mountain streams, their waters of pure, deep green, their surface broken by coruscations of dazzlingly white foam and spray, their murmur ever in our ears. When far away we hardly miss the grand contours of the Pyrenees more than the music of their rushing waters. No tourists meet us here, yet whither shall we go for scenes sublimer or more engaging? On either side of the broadening velvety green valley, with its tumbling stream, rises a rampart of stately peaks, each unlike its neighbour, each having a graciousness and grandeur of its own. Here and there amid these vast solitudes is seen a white glittering thread breaking the dark masses of shelving rock, mountain torrent falling into the river from a height of several hundred feet. Few and far between are the herdsmen's chlets and scattered cornfields and meadows, and we have the excellent carriage road to ourselves. Yet two or three villages of considerable size are passed on the way; of one, an inland spa much frequented by the peasants, I shall make mention presently.
For three hours we have wound slowly upward, and, as our destination is approached, the valley opens wide, showing white-walled, grey-roofed hamlets and small towns all singularly alike. The mountains soon close round abruptly on all sides, making us feel as if we had reached the world's end. On the other side of those snow-capped peaks, here so majestically massed before our gaze, lies Spain. We are in a part of France thoroughly French, yet within a few hours of a country strikingly contrasted with it; manners, customs, modes of thought, institutions radically different.
The remoteness and isolation of Osse explain the existence of a little Protestant community in these mountain fastnesses. For centuries the Reformed faith has been upheld here. Not, however, unmolested. A tablet in the neat little church tells how the original place of Protestant worship was pulled down by order of the king in 1685, and only reconstructed towards the close of the following century. Without church, without pastor, forbidden to assemble, obliged to bury their dead in field or garden, these dales-folk and mountaineers yet clung tenaciously to their religion. One compromise, and one only, they made. Peasant property has existed in the Pyrenees from time immemorial, and in order to legitimize their children and enjoy the privilege of bequeathing property, the Protestants of the Valle d'Aspe were married according to the rites of the Romish Church. In our own days, here as elsewhere throughout France, the religious tenets handed down from father to son are adhered to without wavering, and at the same time without apparent enthusiasm. Catholics and Protestants live amicably side by side; but intermarriages are rare, and conversions from Rome to rationalism infrequent. The Sunday services of the little Protestant church are often attended by Catholics. Strangers passing through Osse, market-folk, peasants and others, never fail to inspect it curiously. The Protestant pastor is looked up to with respect and affection alike by Catholic and Protestant neighbours. The rival churches neither lose nor gain adherents to any extent. This fact is curious, especially in a spot where Protestantism is seen at its best. It shows the extreme conservatism and stability of the French character, often set down as revolutionary and fickle. In England folks often and avowedly change their religion several times during their lives. Is not the solemn reception into Rome of instructed men and women among ourselves a matter of every day? In France it is otherwise, and when a change is made we shall generally find that the step is no retrograde one.
If the social aspect is encouraging at Osse, the same may be said of peasant property. Even a Zola must admit some good in a community unstained by crime during a period of twenty years, and bound by ties of brotherhood which render want impossible. A beautiful spirit of humanity, a delicacy rare among the most polished societies, characterize these frugal sons and daughters of the soil. Nor is consideration for others confined to fellow-beings only. The animal is treated as the friend, not the slave of man. "We have no need of the Loi Grammont here," said a resident to me; and personal observation confirmed the statement.
As sordidness carried to the pitch of brutality is often imputed to the French peasant, let me relate an incident that occurred hereabouts, not long before my visit. The land is minutely divided, many possessing a cottage and field only. One of these very small owners was suddenly ruined by the falling of a rock, his cottage, cow and pig being destroyed. Without saying a word, his neighbours, like himself in very humble circumstances, made up a purse of five hundred francs, a large sum with such donors, and, too delicate-minded to offer the gift themselves, deputed an outsider to do it anonymously. Another instance in point came to my knowledge. This was of a young woman servant, who, during the illness of her employer, refused to accept wages. "You shall pay me some other time," said the girl to her mistress; "I am sure you can ill afford to give me the money now."
Peasant property and rural life generally here presented to me some wholly new features; one of these is the almost entire self- sufficingness of very small holdings, their owners neither buying nor selling, making their little crops and stock almost completely supply their needs. Thus on a field or two, enough flax is grown with which to spin linen for home use, enough wheat and Indian corn for the year's bread-making, maize being mixed with wheaten flour; again, pigs and poultry are reared for domestic consumption—expenditure being reduced to the minimum. Coffee is a luxury seldom indulged in, a few drink home- grown wine, but all are large milk-drinkers. The poorest is a good customer of the dairy farmer.
I was at first greatly puzzled by the information of a neighbour that he kept cows for the purpose of selling milk. Osse being sixteen miles from a railway station, possessing neither semi-detached villas, hotels, boarding-houses, convents, barracks, nor schools, and a population of from three to four hundred only, most of these small farmers—who were his patrons?
I afterwards learned that the "ha'porth of milk," which means much more in all senses than with us, takes the place of tea, coffee, beer, to say nothing of more pernicious drinks, with the majority. New milk from the cow costs about a penny a quart, and perhaps if we could obtain a similar commodity at the same price in England, even gin might be supplanted. Eggs and butter are also very cheap; but as the peasants rear poultry exclusively for their own use, it is by no means easy at Osse to procure a chicken. A little, a very little money goes to the shoemaker and general dealer, and fuel has to be bought; this item is inconsiderable, the peasants being allowed to cart wood from the communal forests for the sum of five or six francs yearly. The village is chiefly made up of farmhouses; on the mountain-sides and in the valley are the chlets and shepherds' huts, abandoned in winter. The homesteads are massed round the two churches, Catholic and Protestant, most having a narrow strip of garden and balcony carried along the upper storey, which does duty as a drying-ground.
One of these secluded hamlets, with its slated roofs, white walls, and brown shutters, closely resembles another; but Osse stands alone in possessing a Protestant church and community.
Although the little centre of a purely agricultural region, we find here one of those small, specific industries, as characteristic of French districts as soil and produce. Folks being great water-drinkers, they will have their drinking-water in a state of perfection. Some native genius long ago invented a vessel which answers the requirement of the most fastidious. This is a pail-shaped receptacle of yewen wood, bound with brass bands, both inner and outer parts being kept exquisitely clean. Water in such vessels remains cool throughout the hottest hours of the hottest summer, and the wood is exceedingly durable, standing wear and tear, it is said, hundreds of years. The turning and encasing of yewen wood, brass-bound water-jars is a flourishing manufacture at Osse.
Here may be seen and studied peasant property in many stages. I would again remark that any comparison between the condition of the English agricultural labourer and the French peasant proprietor is irrelevant and inconclusive. In the cottage of a small owner at Osse, for instance, we may discover features to shock us, often a total absence of the neatness and veneer of the Sussex ploughman's home. Our disgust is trifling compared with that of the humblest, most hard-working owner of the soil, when he learns under what conditions lives his English compeer. To till another's ground for ten or eleven shillings a week, inhabit a house from which at a week's notice that other can eject him, possess neither home, field nor garden, and have no kind of provision against old age, such a state of things appears to our artless listener wholly inconceivable, incommensurate with modern civilization and bare justice.
As an instance of the futility of comparisons, I will mention one experience. I was returning home late one afternoon when a poorly-dressed, sunburnt woman overtook me. She bore on her head a basket of bracken, and her appearance was such that in any other country I should have expected a demand for alms. Greeting me, however, cheerfully and politely, she at once entered into conversation. She had seen me at church on Sunday, and went on to speak of the pastor, with what esteem both Catholics and Protestants regarded him, then of the people, their mode of life and condition generally.
"No," she said, in answer to my inquiry, "there is no real want here, and no vagrancy. Everybody has his bit of land, or can find work. I come from our vineyard on the hillside yonder, and am now returning home to supper in the village—our farmhouse is there". She was a widow, she added, and with her son did the work of their little farm, the daughter-in-law minding the house and baby. They reared horses for sale, possessed a couple of cows, besides pigs and poultry.
The good manners, intelligence, urbanity, and quiet contentment of this good woman were very striking. She had beautiful white teeth, and was not prematurely aged, only very sun-burnt and shabby, her black stuff dress blue with age and mended in many places, her partially bare feet thrust in sabots. The women here wear toeless or footless stockings, the upper part of the foot being bare. I presume this is an economy, as wooden shoes wear out stockings. We chatted of England, of Protestantism, and many topics before bidding each other good-night. There was no constraint on her part, and no familiarity. She talked fluently and naturally, just as one first-class lady traveller might do to a fellow-passenger. Yet, if not here in contact with the zero of peasant property, we are considering its most modest phase.
A step higher and we found an instance of the levelling process characteristic of every stage of French society, yet hardly to be looked for in a remote Pyrenean village. In one of our afternoon rambles we overtook a farmeress, and accepted an invitation to accompany her home. She tripped cheerfully beside us; although a Catholic, on friendliest terms with her Protestant neighbours. Her thin white feet in toeless stockings and sabots, well-worn woollen petticoat, black stuff jacket, headgear of an old black silk handkerchief, would have suggested anything but the truth to the uninitiated. Here also the unwary stranger might have fumbled for a spare coin. She had a kindly, intelligent face, and spoke volubly in patois, having very little command of French. It was, indeed, necessary for me to converse by the medium of an interpreter. On approaching the village we were overtaken by a slight, handsome youth conducting a muck-wagon. This was her younger son, and his easy, well-bred greeting, and correct French, prepared me for the piece of intelligence to follow. The wearer of peasant's garb, carting manure, had passed his examination of Bachelor of Arts and Science, had, in fact, received the education of a gentleman. In his case, the patrimony being small, a professional career meant an uphill fight, but doubtless, with many another, he would attain his end.
The farmhouse was large, and, as is unusual here, apart from stables and cow-shed, the kitchen and outhouse being on the ground floor, the young men's bedrooms above. Our hostess slept in a large, curtained four-poster, occupying a corner of the kitchen. A handsome wardrobe of solid oak stood in a conspicuous place, but held only a portion of the family linen. These humble housewives count their sheets by the dozen of dozens, and linen is still spun at home, although not on the scale of former days. The better-off purchase strong, unbleached goods of local manufacture. Here and there I saw old women plying spindle and distaff, but the spinning-wheel no longer hums in every cottage doorway.
Meantime our hospitable entertainer—it is ever the women who wait on their guests—brought out home-grown wine, somewhat sour to the unaccustomed palate, and, as a corrective, home-made brandy, which, with sugar, formed an agreeable liqueur, walnuts—everything, indeed, that she had. We were also invited to taste the bread made of wheaten and maize flour mixed, a heavy, clammy compound answering Mrs. Squeers's requirement of "filling for the price." It is said to be very wholesome and nutritious.
The kitchen floor, as usual, had an unsecured look, but was clean swept, and on shelves stood rows of earthen and copper cooking-vessels and the yewen wood, brass-bound water-jars before mentioned. The faade of the house, with its shutters and balcony, was cheerful enough, but just opposite the front door lay a large heap of farmhouse manure awaiting transfer to the pastures. A little, a very little, is needed to make these premises healthful and comfortable. The removal of the manure-heap, stables, and cow-shed; a neat garden plot, a flowering creeper on the wall, and the aspect would be in accordance with the material condition of the owner.
The property shared by this widow and her two sons consisted of between five and six acres, made up of arable land and meadow. They kept four cows, four mares for purposes of horse-breeding, and a little poultry. Milch cows here are occasionally used on the farm, an anomaly among a population extremely gentle to animals.
My next visits were paid on a Sunday afternoon, when everybody is at home to friends and neighbours. Protestant initiative in the matter of the seventh day test has been uniformly followed, alike man and beast enjoy complete repose. As there are no cabarets and no trippers to disturb the public peace, the tranquillity is unbroken.
Our first call was upon an elder of the Protestant Church, and one of the wealthier peasants of the community. The farmhouse was on the usual Pyrenean plan, stables and neat-houses occupying the ground floor, an outer wooden staircase leading to kitchen, parlour, and bedrooms; on the other side a balcony overlooking a narrow strip of garden.
Our host, dressed in black cloth trousers, black alpaca blouse, and spotless, faultlessly-ironed linen, received us with great cordiality and the ease of a well-bred man. His mother lived with him, a charming old lady, like himself peasant-born, but having excellent manners. She wore the traditional black hood of aged and widowed Huguenot women, and her daughter-in-law and little granddaughter, neat stuff gowns and coloured cashmere kerchiefs tied under the chin.
We were first ushered into the vast kitchen or "living room," as it would be called in some parts of England, to-day with every other part of the house in apple-pie order. Large oak presses, rows of earthen and copper cooking-vessels, an enormous flour-bin, with plain deal table and chairs, made up the furniture, from one part of the ceiling hanging large quantities of ears of Indian corn to dry. Here bread is baked once a week, and all the cooking and meals take place.
Leading out of the kitchen was the salon or drawing-room, the first I had ever seen in a peasant farmer's house. A handsome tapestry table-cover, chimney ornaments, mirror, sofa, armchairs, rugs, betokened not only solid means but taste. We were next shown the grandmother's bedchamber, which was handsomely furnished with every modern requirement, white toilet-covers and bed-quilt, window-curtains, rug, wash-stand; any lady unsatisfied here would be hard indeed to please. The room of master and mistress was on the same plan, only much larger, and one most-unlooked-for item caught my eye. This was a towel-horse (perhaps the comfortably-appointed parsonage had set the fashion?), a luxury never seen in France except in brand-new hotels. As a rule the towel is hung in a cupboard. We were then shown several other bedrooms, all equally suggestive of comfort and good taste; yet the owner was a peasant, prided himself on being so, and had no intention of bringing up his children to any other condition. His farm consisted of a few hectares only, but was very productive. We saw his cows, of which he is very fond, the gentle creatures making signs of joy at their master's approach. Four or five cows, as many horses for breeding purposes, a few sheep, pigs, and poultry made up his stock. All that I saw of this family gave me a very high notion of intelligence, morality, thrift and benevolence.
Very feelingly all spoke of their animals and of the duty of human beings towards the animal world generally. It was the first time I had heard such a tone taken by French peasants, but I was here, be it remembered, among Protestants. The horrible excuse made in Italy and Brittany for cruelty to beasts, "Ce ne sont pas des chrtiens," finds no acceptance among these mountaineers.
Our second visit brought us into contact with the bourgeois element. The farmhouse, of much better appearance than the rest, also stood in the village. The holding was about the size of that just described. The young mistress was dressed in conventional style, had passed an examination at a girls' Lyce, entitling her to the brevet suprieur or higher certificate, her husband wore the dress of a country gentleman, and we were ushered into a drawing-room furnished with piano, pictures, a Japanese cabinet, carpets, and curtains.
The bedrooms might have been fitted up by an upholsterer of Tottenham Court Road. It must be borne in mind that I am not describing the wealthy farmers of the Seine and Marne or La Venide.
The fact that these young people let a part of their large, well-furnished house need not surprise us. There is no poverty here, but no riches. I do not suppose that any one of the small landowners to whom I was introduced could retire to-morrow and live on his savings. I dare aver that one and all are in receipt of a small income from invested capital, and have a provision against sickness and old age.
The master of the house showed me his stock, five or six handsome cows of cross breed, in value from 10 to 16, the latter the maximum price here. We next saw several beautiful mares and young colts, and four horned sheep. Sheepkeeping and farming are seldom carried on together, and this young farmer was striking out a new path for himself. He told me that he intended to rear and fatten sheep, also to use artificial manure. Up to the present time, guanos and phosphates are all but unknown in these regions, only farmhouse dung is used, cows being partly kept for that purpose. Although the land is very productive, my informant assured me that much remained to be done by departure from routine and the adoption of advanced methods. The cross-breeding of stock was another subject he had taken up. Such initiators are needed in districts remote from agricultural schools, model farms, and State-paid chairs of agriculture.
Each of the four instances just given differed from the other. The first showed us peasant property in its simplest development, a little family contentedly living on their bit of land, making its produce suffice for daily needs, independent of marts and markets as the members of a primitive community.
The second stage showed us a wholly dissimilar condition, yet not without its ideal side. We were brought face to face with that transitional phase of society and pacific revolution, of happiest augury for the future. From the peasant ranks are now recruited contingents that will make civil wars impossible, men who carry into politics learning and the arts, those solid qualities that have made rural France the admiration of the world, and more than once saved her Republic.
The first instance exemplified the intense conservatism of the French peasant. Liberal in politics, enlightened in religion, open to the reception of new ideas, here was nevertheless a man absolutely satisfied with social conditions as they affected himself and his children, utterly devoid of envy or worldly ambition. To reap the benefits of his toil, deserve the esteem of his neighbours, bequeath his little estate, improved and enriched, to his heirs, surely this was no contemptible ideal either.
The last case differed from the other three. We were now reminded of the English tenant, or even gentleman-farmer—with a difference. Alike master and mistress had received a good education and seen something of the world; they could enjoy music and books. But in spite of her brevet suprieur, the wife attended to her dairy; and although the husband was a gentleman in manners and appearance, he looked after the stock. They lived, too, on friendliest terms with their less-instructed and homelier neighbours, the black alpaca blouse and coloured kerchief, doing duty for bonnet, being conspicuous at their Sunday receptions. Not even a Zola can charge French village-life with the snobbishness so conspicuous in England. It will be amply shown from the foregoing examples that peasant property is no fixed condition to be arbitrarily dealt with after the manner of certain economists. On the contrary, it is many-phased; the fullest and widest development of modern France is indeed modern France itself. The peasant owner of the soil has attained the highest position in his own country. No other class can boast of such social, moral and material ascendency. He is the acknowledged arbitrator of the fortunes of France.
I will now cite two facts illustrating the bright side of peasant property in its humblest phase, where we have been told to expect sordidness, even brutality. The land hereabouts, as I have before stated, is excessively divided, the holdings being from two and a half acres in extent and upwards. It often happens that the younger children of these small owners give up their share of the little family estate without claiming a centime of compensation, and seek their fortunes in the towns. They betake themselves to handicrafts and trade, in their turn purchasing land with the savings from daily wages.
Again, it is supposed that the life of the peasant owner is one of uniform, unbroken drudgery, his daily existence hardly more elevated than that of the ox harnessed to his plough. Who ever heard of an English labourer taking a fourteen days' rest at the seaside? When did a rheumatic ploughman have recourse to Bath or Buxton? They order these things better in France.
Between Osse and Oloron stands Escot, long famous for its warm springs. The principal patrons of this modest watering-place are the peasants. It is their Carlsbad, their Homburg, many taking a season as regularly as the late King Edward. The thing is done with thoroughness, but at a minimum of cost. They pay half a franc daily for a room, and another half-franc for the waters, cooking their meals in the general kitchen of the establishment. Where the French peasant believes, his faith is phenomenal. Some of these valetudinarians drink as many as forty-six glasses of mineral water a day! What must be their capacities in robust health? The bourgeois or civilian element is not absent. Hither from Pau and Oloron come clerks and small functionaries with their families. Newspapers are read and discussed in company. We may be sure that the rustic spa is a little centre of sociability and enlightenment.
Let me now say something about the crops of this sweet Pyrenean valley. The chief of these are corn, maize, rye, potatoes, and clover; the soil being too dry and poor for turnips and beetroot. Flax is grown in small quantities, and here and there we seen vines, but the wine is thin and sour.
From time immemorial, artificial irrigation has been carried on in the Valle d'Aspe, and most beautiful is the appearance of the brilliantly green pastures, intersected by miniature canals in every direction; the sweet pastoral landscape framed by mountain peaks of loveliest colour and majestic shape. These well-watered grasslands produce two or even three crops a year; the second, or regain as it is called, was being got in early in September, and harvest having taken place early, clover was already springing up on the cleared cornfields. Everywhere men and women were afield making hay or scattering manure on the meadows, the latter sometimes being done with the hands.
All these small farmers keep donkeys and mules, and on market-days the roads are alive with cavalcades; the men wearing gay waist-sashes, flat cloth caps, or berets, the women coloured kerchiefs. The type is uniform—medium stature, spareness, dark eyes and hair, and olive complexion predominating. Within the last thirty years the general health and physique have immensely improved, owing to better food and wholesomer dwellings. Gotre and other maladies arising from insufficient diet have disappeared. Epidemics, I was assured, seldom work havoc in this valley; and though much remains to be done in the way of drainage and sanitation, the villages have a clean, cheerful look.
The last ailment that would occur to us proves most fatal to those hardy country folks. They are very neglectful of their health, and as the changes of temperature are rapid and sudden, the chief mortality arises from inflammation of the lungs. It is difficult indeed to defend oneself against so variable a climate. On my arrival the heat was tropical. Twelve hours later I should have rejoiced in a fire. Dangerous, too, is the delicious hour after sunset, when mist rises from the valley, whilst yet the purple and golden glow on the peaks above tempts us to linger abroad.
The scenery is grandiose and most beautiful. Above the white-walled, grey-roofed villages and townlings scattered about the open, rise sharp-pointed green hills or monticules, one gently overtopping the other; surmounting these, lofty barren peaks, recalling the volcanic chains of Auvergne, the highest snow-capped point twice the altitude of the Puy de Dme, two-thirds that of Mont Blanc.
Whichever way we go we find delightful scenery. Hidden behind the folded hills, approached by lovely little glades and winding bridle-path, tosses and foams the Gave d'Aspe, its banks thickly set with willow and salicornia, its solitary coves inviting the bather. The witchery of these mountain streams grows upon us in the Pyrenees. We hunger for the music of their cascades when far away. The sun-lit, snow-lit peaks, towering into the brilliant blue heavens, are not deserted as they appear. Shepherd farmers throughout the summer dwell in huts here, and welcome visitors with great affability.
Let me narrate a fact interesting alike to the naturalist and meteorologist. On the 7th September, 1891, the heat on one of these summits, nine thousand feet above the sea-level, was so intense that a little flock of sheep were seen literally hugging the snow, laying their faces against the cool masses, huddled about them, as shivering mortals round a fire in winter. And, a little way off, the eye-witnesses of this strange scene gathered deep blue irises in full bloom.
On the lower slopes the farmers leave their horses to graze, giving them a look from time to time. One beautiful young horse lost its life just before my arrival, unwarily approaching a precipitous incline. As a rule accidents are very rare.
The izard or Pyrenean chamois, although hunted as game, is not yet a survival here, nor the eagle and bear, the latter only making its appearance in winter-time.
Tent-life in these mountain-sides is quite safe and practicable. Who can say? A generation hence and these magnificent Alps may be tunnelled by railways, crowned by monster hotels, peopled from July to October with tourists in search of disappointments.
At present the Valle d'Aspe is the peacefullest in the world. Alike on week-days and Sundays the current of life flows smoothly. Every morning from the open windows of the parsonage may be heard the sweet, simple hymns of the Lutheran Church, master and mistress, servants and children, uniting in daily thanksgiving and prayer.
And a wholesome corrective is the Sunday service after the sights of Lourdes.
The little congregation was striking. Within the altar railings stood two anciens, or elders, of the church, middle-aged men, tall, stalwart, the one fair as a Saxon, the other dark as a Spaniard. Both wore the dress of the well-to-do peasant, short black alpaca blouses, black cloth trousers, and spotless collars and cuffs, and both worthily represented those indomitable ancestors who neither wavered nor lost heart under direst persecution.
By the time the pastor ascended the reading-desk, the cheerful, well-kept little church was full, the men in black blouses, the women wearing neat stuff or print gowns, with silk handkerchiefs tied under the chin, widows and the aged, the sombre black-hooded garment, enveloping head and figure, of Huguenot matrons of old—supposed to have suggested the conventual garb.
Among the rest were two or three Catholics, peasants of the neighbourhood, come to look on and listen. The simple, intelligible service, the quiet fervour of the assembly, might well impress a sceptical beholder. Even more impressive is the inscription over the door. A tablet records how the first Protestant church was pulled down by order of the king after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and rebuilt on the declaration of religious liberty by the National Assembly. Gazing on that inscription and the little crowd of worshippers, a sentence of Tacitus came into my mind. Recording how not only the biographers of good men were banished or put to death, but their works publicly burnt by order of Domitian, the historian, whose sentences are volumes condensed, adds: "They fancied, forsooth"—he is speaking of the tyrant and his satellites—"that all records of these actions being destroyed, mankind could never approve of them." An illusion shared by enemies of intellectual liberty, from the Caesars to their latest imitator, unhappily not wholly dispelled in our own day.
Whether the homeward journey is made through the Landes by way of Bayonne and Bordeaux, or through the Eastern Pyrenees by way of Perpignan, we are brought face to face with scenes of strangest transformation. In the former region the agency has been artificial, the shifting sands being fixed and solidified by plantations on a gigantic scale, and large tracts rendered fertile by artificial irrigation; in the latter, Nature has prepared the field, the more laborious portion of the husbandman's task is already done.
"The districts of sand, as white as snow and so loose as to blow," seen by Arthur Young towards the close of the last century, can hardly be said to exist in our own day. Even within twenty-five years the changes are so great as to render entire regions hardly recognizable. The stilts, or chanques, of which our word "shanks" is supposed to be the origin, become rarer and rarer. The creation of forests and sinking of wells, drainage, artificial manures and canals are rapidly fertilizing a once arid region; with the aspect of the country a proportionate change taking place in the material condition of the people.
No less startling is the transformation of lagoon into salt marsh, and marsh into cultivable soil, witnessed between the Spanish frontier, Perpignan and Nmes.
Quitting Cerbre, the little town at which travellers from Barcelona re-enter French territory, we follow the coast, traversing a region long lost to fame and the world, but boasting of a brilliant history before the real history of France began.
We are here in presence of geological changes affected neither by shock nor convulsion, nor yet by infinitesimally slow degrees. A few centuries have sufficed to alter the entire contour of the coast and reverse the once brilliant destinies of maritime cities. With the recorded experience of mediaeval writers at hand, we can localize lagoons and inland seas where to-day we find belts of luxuriant cultivation. In a lifetime falling short of the Psalmist's threescore years and ten observations may be made that necessitate the reconstruction of local maps.
The charming little watering-place of Banyulssur-Mer, reached soon after passing the Spanish frontier, is the only place on this coast, except Cette, without a history. The town is built in the form of an amphitheatre, its lovely little bay surrounded by rich southern vegetation. The oleanders and magnolias in full bloom, gardens and vineyards, are no less strikingly contrasted with the barrenness and monotony that follows, than Banyuls itself, spick and span, brand-new, with the buried cities scattered on the way, ancient as Tyre and Sidon, and once as flourishing. There is much sadness yet poetic charm in the landscape sweeps of silvery-green olive or bluish salicornia against a pale-blue sky, dull-brown fishing villages bordering sleepy lagoons, stretches of white sand, with here and there a glimpse of the purple, rock-hemmed sea. Little of life animates this coast, in many spots the custom-house officer and a fisherman or two being the sole inhabitants, their nearest neighbours removed from them by many miles. Only the flamingo, the heron, and the sea-gull people these solitudes, within the last few years broken by the whistle of the locomotive. We are following the direct line of railway between Barcelona and Paris.
The first of the buried cities is the musically-named Elne, anciently Illiberis, now a poor little town of the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, hardly, indeed, more than a village, but boasting a wondrous pedigree. We see dull-brown walls, ilex groves, and above low-lying walls the gleaming sea. This apparently deserted place occupies the site of city upon city. Seaport, metropolis, emporium had here reached their meridian of splendour before the Greek and the Roman set foot in Gaul. Already in Pliny's time the glories of the Elne had become tradition. We must go farther back than Phoenician civilization for the beginnings of this town, halting-place of Hannibal and his army on their march towards Rome. The great Constantine endeavoured to resuscitate the fallen city, and for a brief space Elne became populous and animated. With other once flourishing seaports it has been gradually isolated from the sea, and the same process is still going on.
Just beyond Perpignan a lofty tower, rising amid vineyards and pastures, marks the site of Ruscino, another ancient city and former seaport. The Tour de Roussillon is all that now remains of a place once important enough to give its name to a province. Le Roussillon, from which was formed the department of the Pyrnes Orientales, became French by the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Here also the great Carthaginian halted, and here, we learn, he met with a friendly reception.
Monotonous as are these wide horizons and vast stretches of marsh and lagoon, they appeal to the lover of solitude and of the more pensive aspects of nature. The waving reeds against the pale sky, the sweeps of glasswort and terebinth, show delicate gradations of colour; harmonious, too, the tints of far-off sea and environing hills. Not cities only seem interred here: the railway hurries us through a world in which all is hushed and inanimate, as if, indeed, mankind no less than good fortune had deserted it. The prevailing uniformity is broken by the picturesquely placed little town of Salses and the white cliffs of Leucate. Strabo and Pomponius Mela describe minutely the floating islands or masses of marine plants moving freely on the lake of Salses. Here, as elsewhere, the coastline is undergoing slow but steady modification, yet we are in presence of phenomena that engaged the attention of writers two thousand years ago.
From this point till we approach Cette the region defies definition. It is impossible to determine nicely where the land ends and the sea begins. The railway follows a succession of inland salt lakes and lagoons, with isolated fishermen's cabins, reminding us of lake-dwellings. In some places the hut is approached by a narrow strip of solid ground, on either side surrounded by water, just admitting the passage of a single pedestrian. The scene is unspeakably desolate. Only sea-birds keep the fisher-folk company; only the railway recalls the busy world far away.
Of magnificent aspect is Narbonne, the Celtic Venice, as it rises above the level landscape. The great seaport described by Greek historians six centuries before our own era, the splendid capital of Narbonese Gaul, rival of the Roman Nmes and of the Greek Arles, is now as dull a provincial town as any throughout France. Invasions, sieges, plagues, incendiaries, most of all religious persecutions, ruined the medival Narbonne. The Jewish element prevailed in its most prosperous phase, and M. Renan in his history of Averros shows how much of this prosperity and intellectual pre-eminence was due to the Jews. The cruel edicts of Philip Augustus against the race proved no less disastrous here than the expulsion of Huguenots elsewhere later. The decadence of Narbonne as a port is due to natural causes. Formerly surrounded by lagoons affording free communication with the sea, the Languedocian Venice has gradually lost her advantageous position. The transitional stage induced such unhealthy climatic conditions that at one period there seemed a likelihood of the city being abandoned altogether. In proportion as the marsh solidified the general health improved. Day by day the slow but sure process continues, and when the remaining salt lakes shall have become dry land, this region, now barren and desolate, will blossom like the rose. The hygienic and atmospheric effects of the Eucalyptus globulus in Algeria are hardly more striking than the amelioration wrought here in a natural way. The Algerian traveller of twenty-five years ago now finds noble forests of blue gum tree, where, on his first visit, his heart was wrung by the spectacle of a fever-stricken population. On the coast of Languedoc the change has been slower. It has taken not only a generation but a century to transform pestilential tracts into zones of healthfulness and fertility.
An interesting fact, illustrating the effect of physical agencies upon human affairs, must be here mentioned. Till within the last few years this town counted a considerable Protestant community. The ravages of the phylloxera in the neighbouring vineyards caused a wholesale exodus of vine-growers belonging to the Reformed Church, and in 1886 the number had dwindled to such an extent that the services of a pastor were no longer required. The minister in charge was transferred elsewhere.
The dull little town of Agde is another ancient site. Its name is alike a poem and a history. The secure harbourage afforded by this sheltered bay won for the place the name of Good Fortune, [Greek: agathae tuchae], whence Agathe, Agde. A Greek settlement, its fine old church was in part constructed of the materials of a temple to Diana of Ephesus. Agde possesses interest of another kind. It is built of lava, the solitary peak rising behind it, called Le Pic de St. Loup, being the southern extremity of that chain of extinct volcanoes beginning with Mont Mezenc in the Cantal. A pathetic souvenir is attached to this lonely crater. At a time when geological ardour was rare, a Bishop of Agde, St. Simon by name, devoted years of patient investigation to the volcanic rocks in his diocese. The result of his studies were recorded in letters to a learned friend, but the Revolution stopped the poor bishop's discoveries. He perished by the guillotine during the Terror. The celebrated founder of socialism in France was his nephew.
AN OLIVE FARM IN THE VAR
The friendly visit of a few Russian naval officers lately put the country into as great a commotion as a hostile invasion. I started southward from Lyons on the 12th October, 1893, amid scenes of wholly indescribable confusion; railway stations a mere compact phalanx of excited tourists bound for Toulon, with no immediate prospect of getting an inch farther, railway officials at their wits' end, carriage after carriage hooked on to the already enormously long train, and yet crowds upon crowds left behind. Every train was, of course, late; and on the heels of each followed supplementary ones, all packed to their utmost capacity. As we steamed into the different stations "Vive la Russie!" greeted our ears. The air seemed filled with the sound; never surely was such a delirium witnessed in France since the fever heat of 1789!
At Valence, Montlimar, Avignon, Arles, the same tumult reigned; but before reaching the second place, the regulation number of carriages, twenty-five, had been exceeded, and as hardly one per cent of the travellers alighted, we could only pass by the disconcerted multitudes awaiting places. And a mixed company was ours—the fashionable world, select and otherwise, the demi-monde in silks and in tatters, musicians, travelling companies of actors and showmen, decorated functionaries, children, poodles, all bound for the Russian fleet!
At Marseilles, a bitter disappointment awaited some, I fear, many. No sooner were we fairly within the brilliantly-lighted, crowded station, and before the train had come to a standstill, than a stentorian voice was heard from one end of the platform to the other, crying—
"LOOK TO YOUR PURSES!"
And as the gorged carriages slowly discharged their burden, the stream of passengers wending towards the door marked "Way out," a yet louder and more awe-inspiring voice came from above, the official being perched high as an orator in the pulpit, repeating the same words—
"ATTENTION VOTRE PORTE-MONNAIE!"
The dismay of the thwarted pickpockets may be better imagined than described. Many, doubtless, had come from great distances, confident of a golden harvest. Let us hope that the authorities of Toulon were equally on the alert. Marseilles no more resembles Lyons, Bordeaux, Nantes, than those cities resemble each other. Less elegant than Lyons, less majestic than Bordeaux, gayer by far than Nantes, the capital of Southern France has a stamp of its own. Today, as three thousand years ago, Marseilles may be called the threshold of the East. In these hot, bustling, noisy streets, Paris is quiet by comparison; London a Trappist monastery! Orientals, or what our French neighbours call exotics, are so common that no one looks at them. Japanese and Chinese, Hindus, Tonquinois, Annamites, Moors, Arabs, all are here, and in native dress; and writing letters in the salon of your hotel, your vis—vis at the table d'hte, your fellow sightseers, east and west, to-day as of old, here come into friendly contact; and side by side with the East is the glowing life of the South. We seem no longer in France, but in a great cosmopolitan mart that belongs to the whole world.
The Marseillais, nevertheless, are French; and Marseilles, to their thinking, is the veritable metropolis. "If Paris had but her Cannebire," they say, "she would be a little Marseilles!"
Superbly situated, magnificently endowed as to climate, the chef-lieu of the Bouches du Rhne must be called a slatternly beauty; whilst embellishing herself, putting on her jewels and splendid attire, she has forgotten to wash her face and trim her hair! Not in Horatian phrase, dainty in her neatness, Marseilles does herself injustice. Lyons is clean swept, spick and span as a toy town; Bordeaux is coquettish as her charming Bordelaise; Nantes, certainly, is not particularly careful of appearances. But Marseilles is dirty, unswept, littered from end to end; you might suppose that every householder had just moved, leaving their odds and ends in the streets, if, indeed, these beautifully-shaded walks can be so called. The city in its development has laid out alleys and boulevards instead of merely making ways, with the result that in spite of brilliant sky and burning sun, coolness and shadow are ever to be had. The Cannebire, with its blue sky, glowing foliage and gay, nonchalant, heterogeneous crowds, reminds me of the Rambla of Barcelona. Indeed, the two cities have many points of resemblance. Marseilles is greatly changed from the Marseilles I visited twenty-five years ago, to say nothing of Arthur Young's description of 1789. The only advantage with which he accredited the city was that of possessing newspapers. Its port, he wrote, was a horsepond compared to that of Bordeaux; the number of country houses dotting the hills disappointingly small. At the present time, suburban Marseilles, like suburban London, encroaches year by year upon the country; another generation, and the sea-coast from Toulon to the Italian frontier will show one unbroken line of country houses. Of this no one can doubt who sees what is going on in the way of building.
But it is not only by beautiful villas and gardens that the city has embellished itself. What with the lavishness of the municipality, public companies, and the orthodox, noble public buildings, docks, warehouses, schools, churches, gardens, promenades, have rendered Marseilles the most sumptuous French capital after Paris. Neither Lyons, Bordeaux, Nantes, can compare with it for sumptuosity. In the Palais de Longchamps, the splendour of municipal decoration reaches its acme; the horsepond Arthur Young sneered at now affords accommodation of 340 acres, with warehouses, said to be the finest in the world; last, but not least, comes the enormous Byzantine Cathedral not yet finished, built at the cost of a quarter of a million sterling. Other new churches and public buildings without number have sprung up of late years, the crowning glory of Marseilles being its Palais de Longchamps.
This magnificent group of buildings may be called a much enlarged and much more grandiose Trocadro. Worthily do these colossal Tritons and sea-horses commemorate the great achievement of modern Marseilles; namely, the conveying of a river to its very doors. Hither, over a distance of fifty-four miles, are brought the abundant waters of the Durance; as we stand near, their cascades falling with the thunder of our own Lodore. But having got the river and given the citizens more than enough water with which to turn their mills, supply their domestic wants, fertilize suburban fields and gardens, the Town Council seem satisfied. The streets are certainly, one and all, watered with rushing streams, greatly to the public health and comfort. A complete system of drainage is needed to render the work complete. When we learn that even Nice is not yet drained from end to end, we need not be astonished at tardy progress elsewhere. Sanitation is ever the last thing thought of by French authorities. Late in the afternoon we saw two or three men slowly sweeping one street. No regular cleaning seems to take place. Get well out of the city, by the sea-shore, or into the Prado—an avenue of splendid villas—and all is swept and garnished. The central thoroughfares, so glowing with life and colour, and so animated by day and night, are malodorous, littered, dirty. It is a delightful drive by the sea, over against the Chteau d'If, forts frowning above the rock, the deep blue waves, yellowish-brown shore, and green foliage, all in striking contrast.
We with difficulty realize that Marseilles is not the second city in France. The reason is obvious. Lyons lies less compactly together, its thickly-peopled Guillotire seems a town apart; the population of Lyons, moreover, is a sedentary one, whilst the Marseillais, being seafarers, are perpetually abroad. The character, too, is quite different, less expansive, less excitable, less emotional in the great silk-weaving capital, here gay, noisy, nonchalant. Nobody seems to find the cares of the day a burden, all to have some of the sunshine of the place in their composition. "Mon bon," a Marsellais calls his neighbour; there is no stillness anywhere. Everybody is "Mon bon" to everybody.
The out-of-door, rollicking, careless life, more especially strikes a northerner. We seem here as remote from ordinary surroundings as if suddenly transported to Benares. The commercial prosperity of the first French sea-port is attested by its lavish public works, and number of country houses, a disappointing handful in Arthur Young's time. Hardly a householder, however modest his means, who does not possess a cottage or chlet; the richer having palatial villas and gardens. Nothing can convey a greater notion of ease and wealth than the prospect of suburban Marseilles, its green hills, rising above the sea, thickly dotted with summer houses in every part.
All who wish to realize the advance of French cities since 1870-71 should visit Marseilles. Only those who knew it long ago can measure the change, and greater changes still are necessary ere its sanitary conditions match climate and situation.
From Marseilles to Nice, from the land of the olive to that of the palm, is a long and wearisome journey. That tyrannical monopoly, the Paris-Lyon-Mditerrane Railway Company, gives only slow trains, except to travellers provided with through tickets; and these so inconveniently arranged, that travellers unprovided with refreshments, have no opportunity of procuring any on the way. Whenever we travel by railway in France we are reminded of the crying need for competition. The all-omnipotent P.-L.-M. does as it pleases, and it is quite useless for travellers to complain. Every inch of the way points to the future of the Riviera—a future not far off. A few years hence and the sea-coast from Marseilles to Mentone will be one unbroken line of hotels and villas. The process is proceeding at a rapid rate. When Arthur Young made this journey a century ago, he described the country around Toulon thus: "Nine-tenths are waste mountain, and a wretched country of pines, box, and miserable aromatics." At the present time, the brilliant red soil, emerald crops, and gold and purple leafage of stripped vine, make up a picture of wondrous fertility. At every point we see vineyards of recent creation; whilst not an inch of soil between the olive trees is wasted. On the 28th of October the landscape was bright with autumn crops, some to be rpiqu, or planted out according to the Chinese system before mentioned.
The first thing that strikes the stranger at Nice is its Italian population. These black-eyed, dark-complexioned, raven-haired, easy-going folks form as distinct a type as the fresh-complexioned, blue-eyed Alsatian. That the Niois are French at heart is self-evident, and no wonder, when we compare their present condition with that of the past. We see no beggars or ragged, wretched-looking people. If the municipal authorities have set themselves the task of putting down mendicity, they have succeeded. French enterprise, French capital is enriching the population from one end of the Alpes Maritimes to the other. At the present time there must be tens of thousands of workmen employed in the building of hotels and villas between Marseilles and Ventimille. That the Riviera will finally be overbuilt no one can doubt; much of the original beauty of the country is already destroyed by this piling up of bricks and mortar, more beauty is doomed. But meantime work is brisk, wages are high, and the Post Office savings bank and private banks tell their own tale.
Of course the valetudinarians contribute to the general prosperity, a prosperity which it is difficult for residents in an English watering-place to realize. Thus I take up a Hastings newspaper to find a long list of lodging-house keepers summoned for non-payment of taxes. Arrived at Nice, a laundress employed by my hostess immediately came to see if I had any clothes for her. On bringing back the linen she deposited it in my room, saying I could pay her when fetching the next bundle. I let her go, but called her back, thinking that perhaps the poor woman had earned nothing for months and was in distress. My hostess afterwards informed me with a smile that this good woman had 2,500 in the bank. I could multiply instances in point.
If the condition of the working classes has immensely improved, the cost of living has not stood still. A householder informed me that prices of provisions, servants' wages, house rent and other items of domestic economy have tripled within the last twenty years. There is every prospect that this increase will continue. Last winter hotels and boarding-houses at Nice were all full; fast as new ones are built, they fill to overflowing. And, of course, the majority of visitors are rich. No others should come; they are not wanted.
In studying the rural population we must bear in mind one fact—namely, the line of demarcation separating the well-to-do peasants of the plain from the poor and frugal mountaineer. Follow the mule track from Mentone to Castillon, and we find a condition of things for squalor and poverty unmatched throughout France. Visit an olive-grower in the valley of the Var, and we are once more amid normal conditions of peasant property. My first visit was to the land of Goshen.
Provided with a letter of introduction to a farmer, I set off for the village of St. Martin du Var, a village of five hundred and odd souls, only within the last year or two accessible by railway. The new line, which was to have connected Nice with Digne and Cap, had been stopped short half-way, the enterprising little company who projected it being thereby brought to the verge of ruin. This fiasco, due, I am told, to the jealous interference of the P.-L.-M., is a great misfortune to travellers, the line partially opened up leading through a most wildly picturesque and lovely region, and being also of great commercial and strategic importance. But that terrible monopoly, the Paris-Lyon- Mditerrane, will tolerate no rivals. Folks bound from Gap to Nice must still make the long round by way of Marseilles in order to please the Company; merchandise—and, in case of a war with Italy, which may Heaven avert!—soldiers and ammunition must do the same.
The pretty new "Gare du Sud" invites patronage, and three services are performed daily. On this little line exists no third class. I imagine, then, that either the very poor are too poor to take train at all, or that there are none unable to pay second-class fare. In company of priests, peasants, and soldiers, I took a second-class place, the guard joining us and comfortably reading a newspaper as soon as we were fairly off.
It is a superb little journey to St. Martin du Var. The line may be described as a succession of tunnels, our way lying between lofty limestone cliffs and the Var, at the present time almost dry. As we slowly advance, the valley widens, and on either side are broad belts of verdure and fertility; fields, orchards, gardens, olive trees feathering the lower slopes, here and there, little villages perched high above the valley. One charming feature of the landscape is the aspen; so silvery were its upper leaves in the sun that at first I took them for snow-white blossoms. These verdant stretches on either side of the river were formerly mere waste, redeemed and rendered cultivable by means of dykes.
My destination is reached in an hour, a charmingly placed village amid beautiful mountain scenery, over against it towering the hamlet of La Roquette, apparently inaccessible as cloudland. Here a tributary stream joins the Var, the long winding valley, surrounded by lofty crags and olive-clad slopes, affording a delightful and most exhilarating prospect. The weather on this 20th of October was that of a perfect day in July.
St. Martin du Var has its Mairie, handsome communal schools, and large public walks or recreation ground, a parallelogram planted with trees. The place has a neglected, Italian aspect; at the same time an aspect of ease and contentment. The black-eyed, olive-complexioned, Italian-looking children are uniformly well dressed, with good shoes and stockings. French children, even of the poorest class, are always decently shod.
I found my host at dinner with his wife, little daughter, and sister-in-law. The first impression of an uninitiated traveller would be of poverty. The large bare kitchen was unswept and untidy; the family dishes—soup, vegetables, olives, good white bread, wine—were placed on the table without cloth or table-cover. As will be seen, these hard-working, frugal people were rich; in England they would have servants to wait upon them, fine furniture, and wear fashionable clothes. My letter of introduction slowly read and digested, the head of the family placed himself at my disposal. We set off on a round of inspection, the burning mid-day sun here tempered by a delicious breeze.
We first visited the olive-presses and corn-mill—this farmer was village miller as well as olive grower—all worked by water-power and erected by himself at a heavy outlay. Formerly these presses and mills were worked by horses and mules after the manner of old-fashioned threshing-machines, but in Provence as in Brittany, progress is now the order of the day.
In order to supply these mills, a little canal was dug at my host's own expense, and made to communicate with the waters of the Var; thus a good supply is always at hand.
The enormous olive-presses and vats are now being got in for the first or October harvest. This is the harvest of windfalls or fallen fruit, green or black as the case may be, and used for making an inferior kind of oil. The second harvest or gathering of the olives remaining on the trees takes place in April. Linen is spread below, and the berries gently shaken off. I may add that the periods of olive harvests vary in different regions, often being earlier or later. An olive tree produces on an average a net return of twelve francs, the best returns being alternate or biennial; the roots are manured from time to time, otherwise the culture is inexpensive. The trees are of great age and, indeed, are seldom known to die. The "immortal olive" is, indeed, no fiction. In this especial district no olive trees have, within living memory, been killed by frost, as was the case in Spain some years ago. Nevertheless, the peaks around St. Martin du Var are tipped with snow in winter. The olive harvests and necessary preparations require a large number of hands, the wages of men averaging three francs, of women, the half. Thus at the time I write of, day labourers in remote regions of Provence receive just upon fourteen shillings and sixpence per week; whereas I read in the English papers that Essex farmers are reducing the pittance of twelve and even ten shillings per week for able-bodied men.
Ten days later, my cicerone said that the first harvest would be in active progress, and he most cordially invited me to revisit him for the purpose of looking on. From the lees of the crushed berries a third and much inferior oil is made and used in the manufacture of soap, just as what is called piquette or sour wine is made in Brittany from the lees of crushed grapes. I was assured by this farmer that the impurity of olive oil we so often complain of in England, arises from adulteration at the hands of retailers. Table oil as it issues from the presses of the grower is absolutely pure; merchants add inferior qualities or poppy oil, described by me in an earlier page, and which my present host looked upon with supreme contempt. The olive, with the vine and tobacco, attains the maximum of agricultural profits. This farmer alone sells oil to the annual value of several thousand pounds, and to the smaller owner also it is the principal source of income. Peasant owners or tenants of an acre or two grow a little corn as well, this chiefly for their own use.
The interior of the corn-mill presented an amusing scene. Two or three peasants were squabbling with my host's subordinate over their sacks of flour; one might have supposed from the commotion going on and the general air of vindictive remonstrance that we were suddenly transported to a seigneurial mill. A few conciliatory words from the master put all straight, and soon after we saw the good folks, one of them an old woman, trotting off on donkeys with their sack of corn slung before them. I need hardly say that the talk of these country-people among themselves is always in patois, not a word of which is intelligible to the uninitiated.
Just above the mills are groves of magnificent old olive trees, and alongside the little railway were bright strips of lucerne and pasture, folks here and there getting in their tiny crops of hay.
The iron road is not yet regarded as an unmixed good. My host told me that local carters and carriers had been obliged in consequence to sell their horses and carts and betake themselves to day labour. Such drawbacks are, of course, inevitable, but the ulterior advantage effected by the railway is unquestionable. I should say that nowhere are life and property safer than in these mountain-hemmed valleys. The landlady of the little hotel at St. Martin du Var assured me that she always left her front door open all night. Nothing had ever happened to alarm her but the invasion of three English ladies at midnight, one of these of gigantic stature and armed with a huge stick. The trio were making a pedestrian journey across country, apparently taking this security for granted. Neither brigands nor burglars could have given the poor woman a greater fright than the untimely appearance of my countrywomen.