It was now too hot to visit the open tracts of pasture and cultivation alongside the Var. The farmer's wife proposed a shady walk to a neighbouring farm instead, our errand being to procure milk for my five o'clock tea. Without hat or umbrella, my companion set off, chatting as we went. She explained to me that on Sundays she wore bonnet and mantle after the fashion of a bourgeoise; in other words, she dressed like a lady, but that neither in summer nor winter at any other time did she cover her head. She was a pleasant-mannered, intelligent, affable woman, almost toothless, as are so many well-to-do middle-aged folks in France. Dentists must fare badly throughout the country. No one ever seems to have a guinea to spend upon false teeth.
We were soon out of the village, and passing the pretty garden of the Gendarmerie, reached a scene of unimaginable, unforgettable beauty. Never shall I forget the splendour of the olive trees set around a wide, brilliantly green meadow; near the farmhouse groves of pomegranate, orange and lemon with ripening fruit; beside these, medlar and hawthorn trees (cratoegus azarolus), the golden leafage and coral-red fruit of the latter having a striking effect; beyond, silvery peaks, and, above all, a heaven of warm, yet not too dazzling blue. At the farther end of the meadow, in which a solitary cow grazed at will, a labourer was preparing a ribbon-like strip of land for corn, beside him, pretending to work too, his little son of five years. My hostess held up her jug and stated her errand, proposing that the cow should be milked a trifle earlier in order to suit my convenience. The man good-naturedly replied that, as far as the matter concerned himself, he was agreeable enough, but that the cow was not so easily to be put out of her way. She was milked regularly as clockwork at a quarter to five, the clock had only just struck four; he might leave his work and take her home, but not a drop of milk would she give before the proper time! Leaving our jug, we roamed about this little paradise, unwilling to quit a scene of unblemished beauty. A more bewitching spot I do not recall; and it seemed entirely shut off from the world, on all sides, unbroken quiet, nothing to mar the exquisiteness of emerald turf, glossy foliage of orange and lemon trees, silvery olive in striking contrast, and above, a cloudless sky. In the heart of a primeval forest we could not feel more alone.
The thought occurred to me how perfect were such a holiday resort could a clean little lodging be found near! With some attention to cleanliness and sanitation, the little hotel at St. Martin du Var might satisfy the unfastidious. I am bound to admit that in French phrase it leaves much to desire.
My host gave me a good deal of interesting information about the place and the people. Excellent communal schools with lay teachers of both sexes have been opened under French rgime; and the village of five hundred and odd souls has, of course, its Mairie, Htel de Ville, and Gendarmerie, governing itself after the manner of French villages.
Whilst the ladies of the house chatted with me they knitted away at socks and stockings, in coarse, bright-coloured wool. Such articles are never bought, the home-made substitute being much more economical in the end. As an instance of the solid comfort of these apparently frugal folks, let me mention their homespun linen sheets. My hostess showed me some coarse bed-linen lately woven for her in the village. Calico sheets, she said, were much cheaper, but she preferred this durable home-spun even at three times the price. An old woman in the village still plied the loom, working up neighbours' materials at three francs a day. The flax has to be purchased also, so that the homespun sheet is a luxury; "and at the same time," the housewife added, "a work of charity. This poor old woman lives by her loom. It is a satisfaction to help her to a mouthful of bread."
The moon had risen when I took leave, hostess, little daughter, and sister all accompanying me to the station, reiterating their wish to see me again. Nothing, indeed, would have been pleasanter than to idle away weeks amid this adorable scenery and these charming people. But life is short and France is immense. The genially uttered au revoir becomes too often a mere figure of speech.
I add, by the way, that the little daughter, now trotting daily to the village school, is sure to have a handsome dowry by and by. Four thousand pounds is no unusual portion of a rich peasant's daughter in these regions. As an old resident at Nice informed me, "The peasants are richer than the bourgeoisie"—as they deserve to be, seeing their self-denial and thrift.
PESSICARZ AND THE SUICIDES' CEMETERY
Pessicarz is a hamlet not mentioned in either French or English guide-books; yet the drive thither is far more beautiful than the regulation excursions given in tourists' itineraries. The road winds in corkscrew fashion above the exquisite bay and city, gleaming as if built of marble, amid scenes of unbroken solitude. Between groves of veteran olives and rocks rising higher and higher, we climb for an hour and a half, then leaving behind us the wide panorama of Nice, Cimiez, the sea, and villa-dotted hills, take a winding inland road, as beautiful as can be imagined. Here, nestled amid chestnut woods, lay the little farm I had come to see, consisting of three hectares let at a rent of five hundred francs (between seven and eight acres, rented at twenty pounds a year), the products being shared between owner and tenant. This modified system of mtayage or half profits is common here, and certainly affords a stepping-stone to better things. By dint of uncompromising economy, the metayer may ultimately become a small owner. The farmhouse was substantially built and occupied by both landlord and tenant, the latter with his family living on the ground floor. This arrangement probably answers two purposes, economy is effected, and fraud prevented on the part of the metayer. Pigs and poultry are noisy animals, and if a dishonest tenant wanted to smuggle any of these away by night, they would certainly betray him. The housewife, in the absence of her husband, received me very kindly. I was of course introduced by a neighbour, who explained my errand, and she at once offered to show me round. She was a sturdy, good-natured-looking woman, very well-dressed and speaking French fairly. The first thing she did was to show me her poultry, of which she was evidently very proud. This she accomplished by calling out in a loud voice, "Poules, poules, poules" ("chickens, chickens, chickens"), as if addressing children, whereupon they came fluttering out of the chestnut woods, fifty or more, some of fine breed. These fowls are kept for laying, and not for market, the eggs being sent daily into Nice. She then asked me indoors, the large kitchen being on one side of the door, the outhouses on the other. Beyond the kitchen was a large bedroom, her children, she explained, sleeping upstairs. Both rooms were smoke-dried to the colour of mahogany, unswept and very untidy, but the good woman seemed quite sensible of these disadvantages and apologized on account of narrow space. A large supply of clothes hung upon pegs in the bed-chamber, and it possessed also a very handsome old upright clock. The kitchen, besides stores of cooking utensils, had a stand for best china, and on the walls were numerous unframed pictures. I mention these trifling details to show that even among the poorer peasant farmers something is found for ornament; they do not live as Zola would have us believe, for sordid gains alone.
We next visited the pigs, of which she possessed about a dozen in three separate styes. These are fed only upon grain and the kitchen wash supplied from hotels; but she assured me that the disgusting story I had heard at Nice was true. There are certain pork-rearing establishments in the department at which carrion is purchased and boiled down for fattening pigs. My hostess seemed quite alive to the unwholesomeness of such a practice, and we had a long talk about pigs, of which I happen to know something; that they are dirt-loving animals is quite a mistake; none more thoroughly enjoy a good litter of clean straw. I was glad to find this good woman entirely of the same opinion. She informed me with evident satisfaction that fresh straw was always thrown down on one side of the piggery at night, and that the animals always selected it for repose.
The first lot were commodiously housed, but I reasoned with her with regard to the other two, the pig-styes being mere caverns without light or air, and the poor creatures grunting piteously to be let out. She told me that they were always let out at sundown, and heard what I had to say about pigs requiring air, let us hope to some purpose. Certainly, departmental professors have an uphill task before them in out-of-the-way regions. These poor people are said to be extremely frugal as a rule, but too apt to squander their years' savings at a paternal fte, wedding or any other festivity. Generations must elapse ere they are raised to the level of the typical French peasant. On the score of health they may compare favourably with any race. A fruit and vegetable diet seems sufficient in this climate. Besides her poultry and pigs my farmeress had not much to show me; but a plot of flowers for market, a little corn, and a few olive trees added grist to the mill. On the whole, want of comfort, cleanliness, and order apart, I should say that even such a condition contrasts favourably with that of an English agricultural labourer. Without doubt, were we to inquire closely into matters, we should discover a sum of money invested or laid by for future purchases utterly beyond the reach of a Suffolk ploughman.
Just below the little farm I visited a philanthropic experiment interesting to English visitors. This was an agricultural orphanage founded by an Englishman two years before, seventeen waifs and strays having been handed over to him by the Municipal Council of Nice. The education of the poor little lads is examined once a year by a school inspector, in other respects the protgs are left to their new patron. Here they are taught household and farm work, fruit and flower culture, the business of the dairy, carpentering, and other trades; being afterwards placed out. I question whether an English Board of Guardians would so readily hand over seventeen workhouse lads to a foreigner, but it is to be hoped that the Niois authorities will have no reason to regret their confidence. The boys do no work on Sundays, and once a year have a ten days' tramp in the country; the buildings are spacious and airy, but I was sorry to see a plank-bed used as a punishment.
Indeed, I should say that the system pursued savours too much of the military. Here, be it remembered, no juvenile criminals are under restraint, only foundlings guilty of burdening society. Whether this school exists still I know not.
Very different was the impression produced by the State Horticultural College recently opened at Antibes.
Around the lovely little bay the country still remains pastoral and unspoiled; a mile or two from the railway station and we are in the midst of rural scenes, tiny farms border the road, patches of corn, clover, vineyard, and flower-garden—flowers form the chief harvest of these sea-board peasants—orange, lemon and olive groves with here and there a group of palms, beyond these the violet hills and dazzling blue sea, such is the scenery, and could a decent little lodging be found in its midst, the holiday resort were perfect.
One drawback to existence is the treatment of animals. As I drove towards the college a countryman passed with a cart and pair of horses, the hindmost had two raw places on his haunches as large as a penny piece. I hope and believe that in England such an offender would have got seven days' imprisonment. The Italians, as we all know, have no feeling for animals, and the race here is semi-Italian—wholly so, if we may judge by physiognomy and complexion.
Until the foundation of the Horticultural College here, the only one in existence on French soil was that of Versailles. Whilst farm-schools have been opened in various parts of the country, and special branches have their separate institutions, the teaching of horticulture remained somewhat in abeyance. Forestry is studied at Nancy, husbandry in general at Rennes, Grignan, and Amiens, the culture of the vine at Montpellier, drainage and irrigation at Quimperl, all these great schools being made accessible to poorer students by means of scholarships.
In no other region of France could a Horticultural College be so appropriately placed as in the department of the Alpes Maritimes. It is not only one vast flower-garden, but at the same time a vast conservatory, the choice flowers exported for princely tables in winter being all reared under glass. How necessary, then, that every detail of this delightful and elaborate culture should be taught the people, whose mainstay it is, a large proportion being as entirely dependent upon flowers as the honey bee! Here, and in the neighbourhood of Nice, they are cultivated for market and exportation, not for perfume distilleries as at Grasse.
The State School of Antibes was created by the Minister of Agriculture in 1891, and is so unlike anything of the kind in England that a brief description will be welcome. The first point to be noted is its essentially democratic spirit. When did a farm-labourer's son among ourselves learn any more of agriculture than his father or fellow-workmen could teach him? At Antibes, as in the numerous farm-schools (fermes-coles) now established throughout France, the pupils are chiefly recruited from the peasant class.
How, will it be asked, can a small tenant farmer or owner of three or four acres afford to lose his son's earnings as soon as he quits school, much less to pay even a small sum for his education? The difficulty is met thus: in the first place, the yearly sum for board, lodging and teaching is reduced to the minimum, viz. five hundred francs a year; in the second, large numbers of scholarships are open to pupils who have successfully passed the examination of primary schools, and whose parents can prove their inability to pay the fees. No matter how poor he may be, the French peasant takes a long look ahead. He makes up his mind to forfeit his son's help or earnings for a year or two in view of the ulterior advantage. A youth having studied at Antibes, would come out with instruction worth much more than the temporary loss of time and money. That parents do reason in this way is self-evident. On the occasion of my visit, of the twenty-seven students by far the larger proportion were exhibitioners, sons of small owners or tenants. Lads are admitted from fourteen years and upwards, and must produce the certificate of primary studies, answering to that of our Sixth Standard, or pass an entrance examination. The school is under State supervision, the teaching staff consisting of certificated professors. The discipline is of the simplest, yet, I was assured, quite efficacious. If a lad, free scholar or otherwise, misbehaves himself, he is called before the director and warned that a second reprimand only will be given, the necessity of a third entailing expulsion. No more rational treatment could be devised.
Besides practical teaching in the fields and gardens, consisting as yet of only twenty-five hectares, or nearly sixty acres, a somewhat bewildering course of study is given. The list of subjects begins well. First, a lad is here taught his duties as the head of a family, a citizen, and a man of business. Then come geography, history, arithmetic, book-keeping, trigonometry, linear drawing, mechanics, chemistry, physics, natural history, botany, geology, agrologie, or the study of soils, irrigation, political economy. Whilst farming generally is taught, the speciality of the school is fruit and flower culture. A beautiful avenue of palm and orange trees leads from the road to the block of buildings, the director's house standing just outside. I was fortunate in finding this gentleman at home, and he welcomed me with the courtesy, I may say cordiality, I have ever received from professors of agriculture and practical farmers in France.
We immediately set out for our survey, my companion informing me, to my surprise, that the gardens I now gazed on so admiringly formed a mere wilderness a few years ago, that is to say, until their purchase by the State. The palm and orange trees had been brought hither and transplanted, everything else had sprung up on the roughly-cleared ground. Palm trees are reared on the school lands for exportation to Holland, there, of course, to be kept under glass; ere long the exportation of palms and orange trees will doubtless become as considerable as that of hothouse flowers.
I was shown magnificent palms fifteen years old, and nurseries of tiny trees, at this stage of their existence unlovely as birch brooms. Hitherto, majestic although its appearance, the palm of the Riviera has not produced dates. The director is devoting much time to this subject, and hopes ere long to gather his crop.
As we passed between the orange trees, here and there the deep green glossy fruit turning to gold, I heard the same report as at Pessicarz. At neither place can the lads resist helping themselves to the unripe oranges. Sour apples and green oranges seem quite irresistible to hobbledehoys. The trees were laden with fruit, and, unless blown off by a storm, the crop would be heavy. An orange tree on an average produces to the value of two hundred francs.
I was next taken to the newly-created vineyards, some consisting of French grafts on American stock, others American plants; but vines are capricious, and one vineyard looked sickly enough, although free from parasites. The climate did not suit it, that was all.
But by far the most important and interesting crops here are the hothouse flowers. I fancy few English folks think of glass-houses in connection with the Riviera. Yet the chief business of horticulturists during a large portion of the year is in the conservatory. Brilliant as is the winter sun, the nights are cold and the fall of temperature after sundown extremely rapid. Only the hardier flowers, therefore, remain out of doors.
I was now shown the glass-houses being made ready for the winter. All the choice flowers, roses, carnations and others, sent to Paris, London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, are grown under glass. Roses thus cultivated will bring four francs per dozen to the grower; I was even told of choicest kinds sold from the conservatories at a franc each. It may easily be conceived how profitable is this commerce, destined without doubt to become more so as the culture of flowers improves. New varieties are ever in demand for royal or millionaires' tables, bridal bouquets, funeral wreaths. I was told the discoverer or creator of a blue carnation would make his fortune. I confess this commercial aspect of flowers takes something from their poetry. Give me a cottager's plot of sweet-williams and columbine instead of the floral paragon evolved for the gratification of the curious! As we strolled about we came upon groups of students at work. All politely raised their hats when we passed, and by their look and manner might have been taken for young gentlemen.
A great future doubtless awaits this delightfully placed Horticultural School. Whilst the object primarily aimed at by the State is the education of native gardeners and floriculturists, other results may be confidently expected. No rule keeps out foreigners, and just as our Indian candidates for the Forestry service prepare themselves at Nancy, so intending fruit-growers in Tasmania will in time betake themselves to Antibes. A colonial, as well as an international element is pretty sure to be added. French subjects beyond seas will certainly avail themselves of privileges not to be had at home, carrying away with them knowledge of the greatest service in tropical France. Horticulture as a science must gain greatly by such a centre, new methods being tried, improved systems put into practice. In any case, the department may fairly be congratulated on its recent acquisition, one, alas, we have to set against very serious drawbacks! In these intensely hot and glaring days of mid-October, the only way of enjoying life is to betake oneself to a sailing-boat. Few English folks realize the torture of mosquito-invaded nights on the Riviera. As to mosquito curtains, they afford a remedy ofttimes worse than the disease, keeping out what little air is to be had and admitting, here and there, one mosquito of slenderer bulk and more indomitable temper than the rest. After two or three utterly sleepless nights the most enthusiastic traveller will sigh for grey English skies, pattering drops and undisturbed sleep. At sea, you may escape both blinding glare and mosquito bites. A boat is also the only means of realizing the beauty of the coast. Most beautiful is the roundabout sail from Cannes to the le St. Marguerite: I say roundabout, because, if the wind is adverse, the boatmen have to make a circuit, going out of their course to the length of four or five miles. Every tourist knows the story of the Iron Mask; few are perhaps aware that in the horrible prison in which Louis XIV kept him for seventeen years, Protestants were also incarcerated, their only crime being that they would not perjure themselves, in other words, feign certain beliefs to please the tyrant.
At the present time the cells adjoining the historic dungeon of the Masque de Fer are more cheerfully occupied. Soldiers are placed there for slight breaches of discipline, their confinement varying from twelve hours to a few days. We heard two or three occupants gaily whiling away the time by singing patriotic songs, under the circumstances the best thing they could do. Lovely indeed was the twenty minutes' sail back to Cannes, the sea, deep indigo, the sky, intensest blue, white villas dotting the green hills, far away the violet mountains. When we betake ourselves to the railway or carriage road, we must make one comparison very unfavourable to English landscape. Here building stone, as bricks and mortar with us, is daily and hourly invading pastoral scenes, but the hideous advertizing board is absent in France. We do not come upon monster advertisements of antibilious pills, hair dye, or soap amid olive groves and vineyards. Let us hope that the vulgarization permitted among ourselves will not be imitated by our neighbours.
In 1789 Arthur Young described the stretch of country between Frjus and Cannes as a desert, "not one mile in twenty cultivated." Will Europe and America, with the entire civilized world, furnish valetudinarians in sufficient numbers to fill the hotels, villas, and boarding houses now rising at every stage of the same way? The matter seems problematic, yet last winter accommodation at Nice barely sufficed for the influx of visitors.
Nice is the most beautiful city in France, I am tempted to say the most beautiful city I ever beheld. It is the last in which I should choose to live or even winter.
Site, sumptuosity, climate, vegetation here attain their acme; so far, indeed, Nice may be pronounced flawless. During a certain portion of the year, existence, considered from the physical and material point of view, were surely here perfect. When we come to the social and moral aspect of the most popular health resort in Europe, a very different conclusion is forced upon us.
Blest in itself, Nice is cursed in its surroundings. So near is that plague spot of Europe, Monte Carlo, that it may almost be regarded as a suburb. For a few pence, in half-an-hour, you may transport yourself from a veritable earthly Paradise to what can only be described as a gilded Inferno. Unfortunately evil is more contagious than good. Certain medical authorities aver that the atmosphere of Mentone used to be impregnated with microbes of phthisis; the germs of moral disease infecting the immediate neighbourhood of Nice are far more appalling. Nor are symptoms wanting of the spread of that moral disease. The municipal council of this beautiful city, like Esau, had just sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. They had conceded the right of gambling to the Casino, the proprietors purchasing the right by certain outlays in the way of improvements, a new public garden, and so on. As yet roulette and rouge-et-noir are not permitted at Nice, the gambling at present carried on being apparently harmless. It is in reality even more insidious, being a stepping-stone to vice, a gradual initiation into desperate play. Just as addiction to absinthe is imbibed by potions quite innocuous in the beginning, so the new Casino at Nice schools the gamester from the outset, slowly and by infinitesimal degrees preparing him for ruin, dishonour and suicide.
The game played is called Petits Chevaux, and somewhat resembles our nursery game of steeplechase. The stakes are only two francs, but as there are eight to each horse, and you may take as many as you please, it is quite easy to lose several hundred francs in one evening—or, for the matter of that, one afternoon. Here, as at Monte Carlo, the gambling rooms remain open from noon till midnight. The buildings are on an imposing scale: reading rooms, a winter garden, concerts, entertainments of various kinds blinding the uninitiated to the real attraction of the place, namely, the miniature horses spinning around the tables. Already—I write of October—eager crowds stood around, and we heard the incessant chink of falling coin. This modified form of gambling is especially dangerous to the young. Parents, who on no account would let their children toss a five-franc piece on to the tables of Monte Carlo, see no harm in watching them play at petits chevaux. They should, first of all, make a certain ghastly pilgrimage I will now relate.
Monaco does not as yet, politically speaking, form a part of French territory; from a geographical point of view we are obliged so to regard it. Thus French geographers and writers of handbooks include the tiny principality, which for the good of humanity, let us hope, may ere long be swallowed up by an earthquake—or moralized! The traveller then is advised to take train to Monaco, and, arrived at the little station, whisper his errand in the cab-driver's ear, "To the suicides' cemetery."
For the matter of that, it is an easy walk enough for all who can stand the burning sun and glare of white walls and buildings. Very lovely, too, is the scene as we slowly wind upwards, the road bordered with aloes and cypresses; above, handsome villas standing amid orange groves and flowers; below, the sparkling sea.
A French cemetery, with its wreaths of beadwork and artificial violets, has ever a most depressing appearance. That of Monaco is like any other, we find the usual magnificence, and usual tinsel. Many beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers, however, relieve the gloom, and every inch is exquisitely kept.
Quite apart from this vast burial-ground, on the other side of the main entrance, is a small enclosure, walled in and having a gate of open ironwork always locked. Here, in close proximity to heaps of garden rubbish, broken bottles and other refuse, rest the suicides of Monte Carlo, buried by the parish gravedigger, without funeral and without any kind of religious ceremony. Each grave is marked by an upright bit of wood, somewhat larger than that by which gardeners mark their seeds, and on which is painted a number, nothing more. Apart from these, are stakes driven into the ground which mark as yet unappropriated spots. The indescribable dreariness of the scene is heightened by two monumental stones garlanded with wreaths and surrounded by flowers. The first records the memory of a young artisan, and was raised by his fellow-workmen; the second commemorates brotherly and sisterly affection. Both suicides were driven to self-murder by play. The remainder are mere numbers. There are poor gamesters as well as rich, and it is only or chiefly these who are put into the ground here. The bodies of rich folks' relatives, if identified, are immediately removed, and, by means of family influence, interred with religious rites. Many suicides are buried at Nice and Mentone, but the larger proportion, farther off still. Not to descant further on this grim topic, let me now say something about Monte Carlo itself.
Never anywhere was snare more plainly set in the sight of any bird. There is little in the way of amusement that you do not get for nothing here, a beautiful pleasure-ground, reading-rooms as luxurious and well-supplied as those of a West End club, one of the best orchestras in Europe, and all without cost of a farthing.
The very lavishness arouses suspicion in the minds of the wary. Why should we be supplied, not only with every English newspaper we ever heard of, but with Punch, Truth, and similar publications to boot? Why should Germans, Russians, Dutch, every other European nation, receive treatment equally generous? Again, to be able to sit down at elegant writing-tables and use up a quire of fine notepaper and a packet of envelopes to match, if we chose, how is all this managed? The concerts awaken a feeling of even intenser bewilderment. Not so much as a penny are we allowed to pay for a programme, to say nothing of the trained musicians. Where is the compensation of such liberality?
The gambling tables, crowded even at three o'clock on an October afternoon, answer our question. The season begins later, but gamblers cannot wait. "Faites le jeu, messieurs; messieurs, faites le jeu," is already heard from noon to midnight, and the faster people ruin themselves and send a pistol shot through their heads, the faster others take their place. It is indeed melancholy to reflect how many once respectable lives, heads of families, even wives and mothers, are being gradually lured on to bankruptcy and suicide.
In cruellest contrast to the moral degradation fostered below, is the enormous cathedral, at the time of my visit in course of erection directly above the gambling rooms. The millions of francs expended on this sumptuous basilica were supplied by the proprietors of the Casino and the Prince of Monaco. Nothing can strike the stranger with a stronger sense of incongruity—a church rising from the very heart of a Pandemonium!
Monaco is a pretty, toy-like, Lilliputian kingdom compared with which the smallest German principality of former days was enormous. Curiously enough, whilst Monte Carlo is peopled with gamesters, the only tenants of Monaco seem to be priests, nuns and their pupils. The miniature capital, state and kingdom in one, consists chiefly of convents and seminaries, and wherever you go you come upon these Jesuit fathers with their carefully-guarded troops of lads in uniform. A survey of the entire principality of Monaco, Monte Carlo included, requires about a quarter of an hour. Nowhere, surely, on the face of the civilized globe is so much mischief contained in so small a space. Fortunately, the poisonous atmosphere of the Casino does not seem to affect the native poor. Everywhere we are struck by the thrifty, sober, hard-working population; beggars or ragged, wretched-looking creatures are very rare. If the authorities of the Alpes Maritimes have set themselves to put down vagrancy, they have certainly succeeded.
Nice is a home for the millionaire and the working man. The intermediate class is not wanted. Visitors are expected to have money, are welcomed on that account, and if they have to look to pounds, shillings, and pence, had much better remain at home.
Woe betide the needy invalid sent thither in search of sunshine! Sunshine is indeed a far more expensive luxury on the Riviera than we imagine, seeing that only rooms with a north aspect are cheap, and a sunless room is much more comfortless and unwholesome than a well-warmed one, no matter its aspect, in England. The only cheap commodity, one unfortunately we cannot live upon, is the bouquet. In October, that is to say, before the arrival of winter visitors, flowers are to be had for the asking; on the market-place an enormous bouquet of tuberoses, violets, carnations, myrtle, priced at two or three francs, the price in Paris being twenty. Fruit also I found cheap, figs fourpence a dozen, and other kinds in proportion. This market is the great sight of Nice, and seen on a cloudless day—indeed it would be difficult to see it on any other—is a glory of colour of which it is impossible to give the remotest notion. I was somewhat taken aback to find Sunday less observed here as a day of rest than in any other French town I know, and not many French towns are unknown to me. The flower and fruit markets were crowded, drapers', grocers', booksellers' shops open all day long, traffic unbroken as usual. I should have imagined that a city, for generations taken possession of by English visitors, would by this time have fallen into our habit of respecting Sunday alike in the interests of man and beast. Of churches, both English and American, there is no lack. Let us hope that the Protestant clergy will turn their attention to this subject. Let us hope also that the entire English-speaking community will second their efforts in this direction. Further, I will put in a good word for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals founded at Nice some years since, and sadly in need of funds. The Society is backed up by the Government in accordance with the admirable Loi Grammont, but, as is the case with local societies in England, requires extraneous help. Surely rich English valetudinarians will not let this humane work stand still, seeing, as they must do daily, the urgent necessity of such interference! From the windows of a beautiful villa on the road to Villefranche, I saw baskets of chickens brought in from Italy, the half of which were dead or dying from suffocation. As the owner of the villa said, "Not even self-interest teaches this Italian humanity." By packing his fowls so as to afford them breathing space, he would double his gains. The habit of cruelty is too inveterate. My host assured me that large numbers of poultry sent across the frontier are suffocated on the way.
Horrible also is the pigeon-shooting at Monte Carlo. Hundreds of these wretched birds are killed for sport every day during the winter. The wounded or escaped fly back after a while to be shot at next day.
The word "villa" calls for comment. Such a designation is appropriate here. The palatial villas of Nice, standing amid orangeries and palm groves, are worthy of their Roman forerunners. For the future I shall resent the term as applied in England to eight-roomed, semi-detached constructions, poorly built, and with a square yard of flower-bed in front. Many of the Niois villas are veritable palaces, and what adds to their sumptuousness is the indoor greenery, dwarf palms, india-rubber trees, and other handsome evergreens decorating corridor and landing-places. The English misnomer has, nevertheless, compensations in snug little kitchen and decent servant's bedroom. I looked over a handsome villa here, type, I imagine, of the rest. The servants' bedrooms were mere closets with openings on to a dark corridor, no windows, fireplace, cupboard, or any convenience. The kitchen was a long, narrow room, after the manner of French kitchens, with space by the window for two or three chairs. I ventured to ask the mistress of the house where the servants sat when work was done. Her answer was suggestive—
"They have no time to sit anywhere."
It will be seen that our grey skies and mean-looking dwellings have compensations.
GUEST OF FARMER AND MILLER
"Nine hours' rolling at anchor" was Arthur Young's experience of a Channel passage in 1787, and on the return journey he was compelled to wait three days for a wind. Two years later, what is in our own time a delightful little pleasure cruise of one hour and a quarter, the journey from Dover to Calais occupied fourteen hours.
We might suppose from the hundreds of thousands of English travellers who yearly cross the Manche, that Picardy, Artois, and French Flanders would overflow with them, that we should hear English speech wherever we go, and find ourselves amid more distinctly English surroundings than even in Switzerland or Norway; but no such thing. From the moment I quitted Boulogne to that of my departure from Calais, having made the round by way of Hesdin, Arras, Vitry-en-Artois, Douai, Lille, St. Omer, I no more encountered an English tourist than on the Causses of the Lozre a few years before. Many years later, on going over much of the same ground, with a halt at taples and Le Touquet, it was much the same. Yet such a tour, costing so little as regards money, time and fatigue, teems with interest of very varied and unlooked-for kind.
Every inch of ground is historic to begin with, and has contributed its page to Anglo-French annals or English romance. We may take the little railway from Hesdin to Abbeville, traversing the forest of Crcy, and drive across the cornfields to Agincourt. We may stop at Montreuil, which now looks well, not only "on the map," but from the railway carriage, reviving our recollections of Tristram Shandy. At Douai we find eighty English boys playing cricket and football under the eye of English Benedictine monks—their college being a survival of the persecutions of Good Queen Bess.
And to come down from history and romance to astounding prose, we find, a few years ago, Roubaix, a town of 114,000 souls, that is to say, a fourth of the population of Lyons—a town whose financial transactions with the Bank of France exceed those of Rheims, Nmes, Toulouse, or Montpellier, represented by a man of the people, the important functions of mayor being filled by the proprietor of a humble estaminet and vendor of newspapers, character and convictions only having raised the Socialist leader to such a post!
In rural districts there is also much to learn. Peasant property exists more or less in every part of France, but we are here more especially in presence of agriculture on a large scale. In the Pas-de-Calais and the Nord we find high farming in right good earnest, holdings of from ten to fifteen hundred acres conducted on the footing of large industrial concerns, capital, science and enterprise being alike brought to bear upon the cultivation of the soil and by private individuals.
I travelled from Boulogne to Hesdin, in time for the first beautiful effect of spring-tide flower and foliage. The blackthorn and pear trees were already in full blossom, and the elm, poplar and chestnut just bursting into leaf. Everything was very advanced, and around the one-storeyed, white-washed cottages the lilacs showed masses of bloom, field and garden being a month ahead of less favoured years.
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Near taples the wide estuary of the Canche showed clear, lake-like sheets of water amid the brilliant greenery; later are passed sandy downs with few trees or breaks in the landscape. This part of France should be seen during the budding season; of itself unpicturesque, it is yet beautified by the early foliage. Hesdin is an ancient, quiet little town on the Canche, with tanneries making pictures—and smells—by the river, unpaved streets, and a very curious bit of civic architecture, the triple-storeyed portico of the Htel de Ville. Its 7000 and odd souls were soon to have their museum, the nucleus being a splendid set of tapestries representing the battle of Agincourt, in loveliest shades of subdued blue and grey. The little inn is very clean and comfortable; for five francs a day you obtain the services of the master, who is cook; the mistress, who is chambermaid; and the daughters of the house, who wait at table. Such, at least, was my experience.
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My errand was to the neighbouring village of Hauteville-Caumont, whither I drove one afternoon. Quitting the town in a north-easterly direction, we enter one of those long, straight French roads that really seem as if they would never come to an end. The solitude of the scene around is astonishing to English eyes. For miles we only meet two road-menders and an itinerant glazier. On either side, far as the glance could reach, stretches the chessboard landscape—an expanse oceanic in its vastness of green and brown, fields of corn and clover alternating with land prepared for beetroot and potatoes. The extent and elevation of this plateau, formerly covered with forests, explain the excessive dryness of the climate. Bitter indeed must be the wintry blast, torrid the rays of summer here. As we proceed we see little breaks in the level uniformity, plains of apple-green and chocolate-brown; the land dips here and there, showing tiny combes and bits of refreshing wood. The houses, whether of large landowner, functionary or peasant, are invariably one-storeyed, the white walls, brown tiles, or thatched roof having an old-fashioned, rustic effect. One might suppose earthquakes were common from this habit of living on the ground floor. The dryness of the climate doubtless obviates risk of damp. Much more graceful are the little orchards of these homesteads than the mathematically planted cider apples seen here in all stages of growth. Even the blossoms of such trees later on cannot compare with the glory of an orchard, in the old acceptance of the word, having reached maturity in the natural way. Certain portions of rural France are too geometrical. That I must admit.
Exquisitely clean, to use a farmer's expression, are these sweeps of corn and ploughed land, belonging to different owners, yet apparently without division. Only boundary stones at intervals mark the limits. Here we find no infinitesimal subdivision and no multiplicity of crops. Wheat, clover, oats form the triennial course, other crops being rye, potatoes, Swede turnips, sainfoin and the oeillette or oil poppy. The cider apple is also an important product.
I found my friend's friend at home, and after a chat with madame and her daughter, we set out for our round of inspection. This gentleman farmed his own land, a beautifully cultivated estate of several hundred acres; here and there a neighbour's field dovetailed into his own, but for the greater part lying compactly together. The first object that attracted my notice was a weather-beaten old windmill—sole survivor of myriads formerly studding the country. This antiquated structure might have been the identical one slashed at by Don Quixote. Iron grey, dilapidated, solitary, it rose between green fields and blue sky, like a lighthouse in mid-ocean. These mills are still used for crushing rye, the mash being mixed with roots for cattle, and the straw used here, as elsewhere, for liage or tying up wheatsheaves. The tenacity of this straw makes it very valuable for such purposes.
Corn, rye and sainfoin were already very advanced, all here testifying to highly scientific farming; and elsewhere roots were being sown. The soil is prepared by a process called marnage, i.e. dug up to the extent of three feet, the marne or clayey soil being brought to the surface. A very valuable manure is that of the scoria or residue of dephosphated steel, formerly thrown away as worthless, but now largely imported from Hungary for agricultural purposes. Nitrate is also largely used to enrich the soil. Sixty years ago the Pas-de-Calais possessed large forests. Here at Caumont vast tracts have been cleared and brought under culture since that time. These denuded plateaux, at a considerable elevation above the sea-level, are naturally very dry and very cold in winter, the climate being gradually modified by the almost total absence of trees. Wisely has the present Government interdicted further destruction; forests are now created instead, and we find private individuals planting instead of hacking down. Lucerne is not much cultivated, and my host told me an interesting fact concerning it; in order to grow lucerne, farmers must procure seeds of local growers. Seeds from the south of France do not produce robust plants.
The purple-flowered poppy, cultivated for the production of oil, must form a charming crop in summer, and is a most important product. I was assured that oil procured from crushed seeds is the only kind absolutely free from flavour, and as such superior even to that of olives. Of equal importance is the cider apple.
The economic results of war are curiously exemplified here. During the war of 1871 German troops were stationed in the neighbouring department of the Somme, and there acquired the habit of drinking cider. So agreeable was found this drink that cider apples are now largely exported to Germany, and just as a Frenchman now demands his Bock at a caf, so in his Biergarten the German calls for cider.
My host informed me that all his own apples, grown for commerce, went over the northern frontier. Cider is said to render the imbiber gout-proof and rheumatism-proof, but requires a long apprenticeship to render it palatable. The profits of an apple orchard are threefold. There is the crop gathered in October, which will produce in fair seasons 150 francs per hectare, and the two grass crops, apple trees not hurting the pasture.
The labourer's harvest here are his potato-fed pigs. In our walks we came upon men and women sowing potatoes on their bit of hired land; for the most part their bit of land is tilled on Sundays, a neighbour's horse being hired or borrowed for the purpose. Thus neither man nor beast rest on the seventh day, and as a natural consequence church-going gradually falls into abeyance. My host deplored this habit of turning Sunday into a veritable corve for both human beings and cattle, but said that change of system must be very slow.
On the whole, the condition of the agricultural labourer here contrasts very unfavourably with that of the peasant owner described elsewhere.
The same drawbacks exist as in England. Land for the most part being held by large owners, accommodation for poorer neighbours is insufficient. Many able-bodied workmen migrate to the towns, simply because they cannot get houses to live in; such one-storeyed dwellings as exist have an uncared-for look, neither are the village folks so well dressed as in regions of peasant property. In fact, I should say, after a very wide experience, that peasant property invariably uplifts and non-propertied labour drags down. This seems to me a conclusion mathematically demonstrable.
Mayor of his commune, my host was a man of progress and philanthropy in the widest sense of the word. He had lately brought about the opening of an infant school here, and dwelt on the beneficial results; children not being admitted to the communal schools under the age of seven, were otherwise thrown on the streets all day. Infant schools are generally found in the larger communes. Intersecting my host's vast stretches of field and ploughed land lay the old strategic road from Rouen to St. Omer, a broad band of dazzling white thrown across the tremendous panorama. An immense plain is spread before us as a map, now crudely brilliant in hue, two months later to show blending gold and purple. Vast, too, the views obtained on the homeward drive. Over against Hesdin rises its forest—holiday ground of rich and poor, as yet undiscovered by the tourist. From this friendly little town a charming woodland journey may be made by the railway now leading through the forest of Crcy to Abbeville.
Between Hesdin and Arras the geometrically planted cider apple trees and poplars growing in parallel lines are without beauty, but by the railway are bits of waste ground covered with cowslip, wind flowers, cuckoo-pint, and dandelion. On the top of lofty elms here and there are dark masses; these are the nests of the magpie, and apparently quite safe from molestation.
By the wayside we see evidences of peasant ownership on the most modest scale, women cutting their tiny patch of rye, as green food for cattle, sowing their potato field, or keeping a few sheep. Everywhere lilacs are in full bloom, and the pear and cherry trees burdened with blossom as snow. Everything is a month ahead of ordinary years. I write of April 1893.
The Htel St. Pol at Arras looks, I should say, precisely as it did in Robespierre's time. The furniture certainly belongs to that epoch, sanitary arrangements have made little advance, and the bare staircases and floors do not appear as if they had been well swept, much less scoured, since the fall of the Bastille. It is a rambling, I should say rat-haunted, old place, but fairly quiet and comfortable, with civil men-servants and no kind of pretence.
Arras itself, that is to say its Petite Place, is a specimen of Renaissance architecture hardly to be matched even in France. The Flemish gables and Spanish arcades, not a vestige of modernization marring the effect, make a unique picture. Above all rises the first of those noble belfry towers met by the traveller on this round, souvenirs of civic rights hardly won and stoutly maintained. The first object looked for will be Robespierre's birthplace, an eminently respectable middle-class abode, now occupied by a personage almost as generally distasteful as that of the Conventionnel himself, namely, a process-server or bailiff. A bright little lad whom I interrogated on the way testified the liveliest interest in my quest, and would not lose sight of me till I had discovered the right house. It is a yellow-walled, yellow-shuttered, symbolically atrabilious-looking place, with twenty-three front windows. Robespierre's parents must have been in decent circumstances when their son Maximilian was born, and perhaps the reverses of early life had no small share in determining his after career. Left an orphan in early life, he owed his education and start in life to charity. The fastidious, poetic, austere country lawyer, unlike his fellow-conventionnels, was no born orator. Thoughts that breathe and words that burn did not drop from his lips as from Danton's. His carefully prepared speeches, even in the apogee of his popularity, were often interrupted by the cry "Cut it short" or "Keep to the point." The exponent of Rousseau was ofttimes "long preaching," like St. Paul.
But there are early utterances of Robespierre's that constitute in themselves a revolution, when, for instance, in 1789 he pleaded for the admission of Jews, non-Catholics, and actors to political rights. "The Jews," he protested, "have been maligned in history. Their reputed vices arise from the ignominy into which they have been plunged." And although his later discourses breathe a spirit of frenzied vindictiveness, certain passages recall that "humane and spiritual element" commented upon by Charles Nodier. This is especially noticeable in what is called his discours-testament, the speech delivered on the eve of Thermidor. At one moment, with positive ferocity, he lashes the memory of former friends and colleagues sent by himself to the guillotine; at another he dilates upon the virtue of magnanimity in lofty, Platonic strains.
With Danton's implacable foe it was indeed a case of "Roses, roses, all the way. Thus I enter, and thus I go." Twenty-four hours after that peroration he awaited his doom, an object of ruthless execration. And visitors are still occasionally shown in the Htel des Archives the table on which was endured his short but terrible retribution.
A public day school for girls exists at Arras, but the higher education of women—we must never lose sight of the fact—is sternly denounced by Catholic authorities. Lay schools and lay teachers for girls are not only unfashionable, they are immoral in the eyes of the orthodox.
The museum and public library, 40,000 and odd volumes, of this town of 26,000 souls are both magnificent and magnificently housed in the ancient Abbaye de St. Vaast, adjoining cathedral, bishopric and public garden.
Besides pictures, statuary, natural history and archaeological collections, occupying three storeys, is a room devoted exclusively to local talent and souvenirs. Among the numerous bequests of generous citizens is a collection of faence lately left by a tradeswoman, whose portrait commemorates the deed. Some fine specimens of ancient tapestry of Arras, hence the name arras, chiefly in shades of grey and blue, and also specimens of the delicate hand-made Arras lace, are here. There is also a room of technical exhibits, chemicals and minerals used in the industrial arts, dyes, textiles.
Quite a third of the visitors thronging these sumptuous rooms were young recruits. A modern picture of Eustache St. Pierre and his companions, at the feet of Edward III and his kneeling Queen, evoked much admiration. I heard one young soldier explaining the subject to a little group. There were also many family parties, and some blue blouses. How delightful such a place of resort-not so much in July weather, on this 9th of April one might fancy it harvest time!—but on bleak, rainy, uninviting days! One of the officials advised me to visit the recently erected Ecole des Beaux Arts at the other end of the town, which I did. I would here note the pride taken in their public collections by all concerned. This elderly man, most likely an old soldier, seemed as proud of the museum as if it were his own especial property.
I was at once shown over the spacious, airy, well-kept building—school of art and conservatorium of music in one, both built, set on foot, and maintained by the municipality. Here youths and girls of all ranks can obtain a thorough artistic and musical training without a fraction of cost. The classes are held in separate rooms, and boys in addition learn modelling and mechanical drawing.
The school was opened four years ago, and already numbers eighty students of both sexes, girls meeting two afternoons a week, boys every evening. Arras also possesses an cole Normale or large training school for female teachers.
On this brilliant Sunday afternoon, although many small shops were open, I noted the cessation of street traffic. Every one seemed abroad, and business at a standstill. All the newspaper kiosks were closed.
Next morning soon after eight o'clock I was off to Vitry-en-Artois for a day's farming. At the little station I was met by a friend's friend—a typical young Frenchman, gaiety itself, amiable, easy, all his faculties alert—and driven by him in a little English dogcart to the neighbouring village. Twenty-five minutes brought us to our destination—house and model farm of a neighbour, upwards of twelve hundred acres, all cultivated on the most approved methods. Our host now took my young friend's reins, he seating himself behind, and we drove slowly over a large portion of the estate, taking a zigzag course across the fields. There are here three kinds of soil—dry, chalky and unproductive, rich loam, and light intermediate. In spite of the drought of the last few weeks, the crops are very luxuriant, and quite a month ahead of former seasons.
This estate of six hundred and odd hectares is a specimen of high farming on a large scale, such as I had never before witnessed in France. I do not exaggerate when I say that from end to end could not be discerned a single weed. Of course, the expense of cultivation on such a scale is very great, and hardly remunerative at the present price of wheat.
Sixty hectares, i.e. nearly 150 acres, are planted with wheat, and two-thirds of that superficies with beetroot. The young corn was as advanced as in June with us, some kinds of richer growth than others, and showing different shades of green, each tract absolutely weedless, and giving evidence of highest cultivation. Fourteen hectolitres per hectare of corn is the average, forty the maximum. Besides beetroot for sugar, clover and sainfoin are grown, little or no barley, and neither turnips nor mangel-wurzel.
[Footnote: Hectolitre = 2 bushels 3 pecks.]
The land is just now prepared for planting beetroot, by far the most important crop here, and on which I shall have much to say. Henceforth, indeed, the farming I describe may be called industrial, purely agricultural products being secondary.
On the importance of beetroot sugar it is hardly necessary to dwell at length. A few preliminary facts, however, may be acceptable. Up till the year 1812, cane sugar only was known in France; the discovery of beetroot sugar dates from the Continental blockade of that period. In 1885 the amount of raw sugar produced from beetroot throughout France was 90 millions of kilos. In 1873 the sum-total had reached 400 millions. The consumption of sugar per head here is nevertheless one-third less than among ourselves.
[Footnote: Kilogramme = 2 lb. 3 oz.]
We come now to see the results of fiscal regulation upon agriculture. Formerly duty was paid not upon the root itself but its product. This is now changed, and, the beetroot being taxed, the grower strives after that kind producing the largest percentage of saccharine matter. Hardly less important is the residue. The pulp of the crushed beetroot in these regions forms the staple food of cows, pigs and sheep. Mixed with chopped straw, it is stored for winter use in mounds by small cultivators, in enormous cellars constructed on purpose by large owners. Horses refuse to eat this mixture, which has a peculiar odour, scenting farm premises from end to end. The chief manure used is that produced on the farm and nitrates. On this especial estate dried fish from Sweden had been tried, and, as on the farm before mentioned, chalky land is dug to the depth of three feet, the better soil being put on the top. This is the process called marnage. We now drove for miles right across the wide stretches of young wheat and land prepared for beetroot. The wheels of our light cart, the host said, would do good rather than harm. Horse beans, planted a few weeks before, were well up; colza also was pretty forward. Pastures there were none. Although the cornfields were as clean as royal gardens we came upon parties of women, girls and boys hoeing here and there. The rows of young wheat showed as much uniformity as a newly-planted vineyard.
Ploughing and harrowing were being done chiefly by horses, only a few oxen being used. My host told me that his animals were never worked on Sundays. On week-days they remain longer afield than with us, but a halt of an hour or two is made for food and rest at mid-day. Another crop to be mentioned is what is called hivernage or winter fodder, i.e. lentils planted between rows of rye, the latter being grown merely to protect the other. On my query as to the school attendance of boys and girls employed in agriculture, my host said that authorities are by no means rigid; at certain seasons of the year, indeed, they are not expected to attend. Among some large landowners we find tolerably conservative notions even in France. Over-education, they say, is unfitting the people for manual labour, putting them out of their place, and so forth.
Moles are not exterminated. "They do more good than harm," said my host, "and I like them." I had heard the same thing at Caumont, where were many mole-hills. Here and there, dove-tailed into these enormous fields, were small patches farmed by the peasants, rarely their own property. Their condition was described as neither that of prosperity nor want. "They get along." That was the verdict.
In our long drive across weedless corn and clover fields we came upon a small wood, a recent plantation of our host. Even this bit of greenery made a pleasant break in the uniform landscape. We then drove home, and inspected the premises on foot. Everything was on a colossal scale, and trim as a Dutch interior. The vast collection of machinery included the latest French, English, Belgian and American inventions. Steam engines are fixtures, the consumption of coal being 160 tons yearly per 300 hectares.
We are thus brought face to face with the agriculture of the future, ancient methods and appliances being supplanted one by one, manual labour reduced to the minimum, the cultivation of the soil become purely mechanical. The idyllic element vanishes from rural life and all savours of Chicago! Stables and neat-houses were the perfection of cleanliness and airiness. Here for the first time I saw sheep stabled like cows and horses. Their quarters were very clean, and littered with fresh straw. They go afield for a portion of the day, but, as I have before mentioned, pastures are few and far between.
The enormous underground store-houses for beetroot, pulp and chopped straw were now almost empty. At midday, the oxen were led home and fell to their strange food with appetite, its moistness being undoubtedly an advantage in dry weather. The cart horses were being fed with boiled barley, and looked in first-rate condition. Indeed, all the animals seemed as happy and well-cared for as my host's scores upon scores of pet birds. Birds, however, are capricious, and nothing would induce a beautiful green parrot to cry, "Vive la France" in my presence. After an animated breakfast—thoroughly French breakfast, the best of everything cooked and served in the best possible manner—we took leave, and my young friend drove me back to Vitry to call upon his own family.
M.D., senior, is a miller, and the family dwelling, which adjoins his huge water-mill, is very prettily situated on the Scarpe. We entered by a little wooden bridge running outside, a conservatory filled with exotics and ferns lending the place a fairy look. I never saw anything in rural France that more fascinated me than this water-mill with its crystal clear waters and surrounding foliage. M.D. with his three sons quitted their occupation as we drove up. Madame and her young daughter joined us in the cool salon, and we chatted pleasantly for a quarter of an hour.
I was much struck with the head of the family, an elderly man with blue eyes, fine features, and a thoughtful expression. He spoke sadly of the effect of American competition, and admitted that protection could offer but a mere palliative. Hitherto I had found a keenly protectionist bias among French agriculturists. Of England and the English he spoke with much sympathy, although at this time we were as yet far from the Entente Cordiale. "C'est le plus grand peuple au monde" ("It is the greatest nation in the world"), he said.
Nothing could equal the ease and cordiality with which this charming family received me. The miller with his three elder sons had come straight from the mill. Well-educated gentlemen are not ashamed of manual labour in France. How I wished I could have spent days, nay weeks, in the neighbourhood of the water-mill!
LADY MERCHANTS AND SOCIALIST MAYORS
Only three museums in France date prior to the Revolution, those of Rheims, founded in 1748, and of Dijon and Nancy, founded in 1787. The opening in Paris of the Musum Franais in 1792, consisting of the royal collections and art treasures of suppressed convents, was the beginning of a great movement in this direction. At Lille the municipal authorities first got together a few pictures in the convent of the Rcollets, and Watteau the painter was deputed to draw up a catalogue. On the 12th May, 1795, the collection consisted of 583 pictures and 58 engravings. On the 1st September, 1801, the consuls decreed the formation of departmental museums and distribution of public art treasures. It was not, however, till 1848 that the municipal council of Lille set to work in earnest upon the enrichment of the museum, now one of the finest in provincial cities. The present superb building was erected entirely at the expense of the municipality, and was only opened two years ago. It has recently been enriched by art treasures worth a million of francs, the gift of a rich citizen and his wife, tapestries, faence, furniture, enamels, ivories, illuminated MSS., rare bindings, engraved gems. Before that time the unrivalled collection of drawings by old masters had lent the Lille museum a value especially its own.
The collections are open every day, Sundays included. Being entirely built of stone, there is little risk of fire. Thieves are guarded against by two caretakers inside the building at night and two patrols outside. It is an enormous structure, and arranged with much taste.
The old wall still encircles the inner town, and very pretty is the contrast of grey stone and fresh spring foliage; lilacs in full bloom, also the almond, cherry, pear tree, and many others.
Lille nowadays recalls quite other thoughts than those suggested by Tristram Shandy. It may be described as a town within towns, the manufacturing centres around having gradually developed into large rival municipalities. Among these are Tourcoing, Croix, and Roubaix, now more than half as large as Lille itself. I stayed a week at Lille, and had I remained there a year, in one respect should have come away no whit the wiser. The manufactories, one and all, are inaccessible as the interior of a Carmelite convent. Queen Victoria could get inside the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse, but I question whether Her Majesty would have been permitted to see over a manufactory of thread gloves at Lille!
Such jealousy has doubtless its reason. Most likely trade secrets have been filched by foreign rivals under the guise of the ordinary tourist. Be this as it may, the confection of a tablecloth or piece of beige is kept as profoundly secret as that of the famous pepper tarts of Prince Bedreddin or the life-sustaining cordial of celebrated fasters.
In the hope of winning over a feminine mind, I drove with a friend to one of the largest factories at Croix, the property of a lady.
Here, as at Mulhouse, mill-owners live in the midst of their works. They do not leave business cares behind them, after English fashion, dwelling as far away as possible from factory chimneys. The premises of Mme. C. are on a magnificent scale; all in red brick, fresh as if erected yesterday, the mistress's house—a vast mansion—being a little removed from these and surrounded by elegantly-arranged grounds. A good deal of bowing and scraping had to be got through before we were even admitted to the portress's lodge, as much more ceremonial before the portress could be induced to convey our errand to one of the numerous clerks in a counting-house close by. At length, and after many dubious shakes of the head and murmurs of surprise at our audacity, the card was transmitted to the mansion.
A polite summons to the great lady's presence raised our hopes. There seemed at least some faint hope of success. Traversing the gravelled path, as we did so catching sight of madame's coach-house and half-dozen carriages, landau, brougham, brake, and how many more! we reached the front door. Here the clerk left us, and a footman in livery, with no little ceremony, ushered us into the first of a suite of reception rooms, all fitted up in the modern style, and having abundance of ferns and exotics.
At the end of the last salon a fashionably dressed lady, typically French in feature, manners and deportment, sat talking to two gentlemen. She very graciously advanced to meet us, held out a small white hand covered with rings, and with the sweetest smile heard my modestly reiterated request to be allowed a glimpse of the factory. Would that I could convey the gesture, expression of face and tone of voice with which she replied, in the fewest possible words!
After that inimitable, unforgettable "Jamais, jamais, jamais!" there was nothing to do but make our bow and retire, discomfiture being amply atoned by the little scene just described.
We next drove straight through Lille to the vast park or Bois, as it is called, not many years since acquired by the town as a pleasure-ground. Very wisely, the pretty, irregular stretch of glade, dell and wood has been left as it was, only a few paths, seats and plantations being added. No manufacturing town in France is better off in this respect. Wide, handsome boulevards lead to the Bois and pretty botanical garden, many private mansions having beautiful grounds, but walled in completely as those of cloistered convents. The fresh spring greenery and multitude of flowering trees and shrubs make suburban Lille look its best; outside the town every cottage has a bit of ground and a tree or two.
During this second week of April the weather suddenly changed. Rain fell, and a keen east wind rendered fires and winter garments once more indispensable. On one of these cold, windy days I went with Lille friends to Roubaix, as cold and windy a town, I should say, as any in France.
A preliminary word or two must be said about Roubaix, the city of strikes, pre-eminently the Socialist city.
City we may indeed call it, and it is one of rapidly increasing dimensions. In the beginning of the century Roubaix numbered 8000 souls only. Its population is now 114,000. Since 1862 the number of its machines has quintupled. Every week 600 tons of wool are brought to the mills. As I have before mentioned, more business is transacted with the Bank of France by this cheflieu of a canton than by Toulouse, Rheims, Nmes, or Montpellier. The speciality of Roubaix is its dress stuffs and woollen materials, large quantities of which are exported to America. To see these soft, delicate fabrics we must visit Regent Street and other fashionable quarters, not an inch is to be caught sight of here.
Roubaix is a handsome town, with every possible softening down of grimy factory walls and tall chimneys. A broad, well-built street leads to the Htel de Ville; another equally wide street, with mansions of wealthy mill-owners and adjacent factories, leads to the new Boulevard de Paris and pretty public park, where a band plays on Sunday afternoons.
But my first object was to obtain an interview with the Socialist mayor, a man of whom I had heard much. A friend residing at Lille kindly paved the way by sending his own card with mine, the messenger bringing back a courteous reply. Unfortunately, the Conseil-Gnral then sitting at Lille curtailed the time at the mayor's disposal, but before one o'clock he would be pleased to receive me, he sent word. Accordingly, conducted by my friend's clerk, I set out for the Town Hall.
We waited some little time in the vestibule, the chief magistrate of Roubaix being very busy. Deputy-mayors, adjoints, were coming and going, and liveried officials bustled about, glancing at me from time to time, but without any impertinent curiosity. Impertinent curiosity, by the way, we rarely meet with in France. People seem of opinion that everybody must be the best judge of his or her own business. I was finally ushered into the council chamber, where the mayor and three deputy-mayors sat at a long table covered with green baize, transacting business. He very courteously bade me take a seat beside him, and we at once entered into conversation. The working man's representative of what was then the city par excellence of strikes and socialism is a remarkable-looking man in middle life. Tall, angular, beardless, with the head of a leader, he would be noticed anywhere. There was a look of indomitable conviction in his face, and a quiet dignity from which neither his shabby clothes nor his humble calling detract. Can any indeed well be humbler? The first magistrate of a city of a hundred and fourteen thousand souls, a large percentage of whom are educated, wealthy men of the world, keeps, as I have said, a small estaminet or caf in which smoking is permitted, and sells newspapers, himself early in the morning making up and delivering his bundles to the various retailers. Here, indeed, we have the principles of the Republic— Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—carried out to their logical conclusion. Without money, without social position, this man owes his present dignity to sheer force of character and conviction. We chatted of socialism and the phases of it more immediately connected with Roubaix, on which latter subject I ventured to beg a little information.
[Footnote: I give Littr's meaning of estaminet.]
"We must go to the fountain-head," he replied very affably. "I regret that time does not permit me to enter into particulars now; but leave me your English address. The information required shall be forwarded."
We then talked of socialism in England, of his English friends, and he was much interested to learn that I had once seen the great Marx and heard him speak at a meeting of the International in Holborn twenty-five years before.
Then I told him, what perhaps he knew, of the liberty accorded by our Government to hold meetings in Trafalgar Square, and we spoke of Gladstone. "A good democrat, but born too early for socialism—the future of the world. One cannot take to socialism at eighty-three years of age," I said.
"No, that is somewhat late in the day," was the smiling reply.
I took leave, much pleased with my reception. From a certain point of view, the socialist mayor of Roubaix was one of the most interesting personalities I had met in France.
Roubaix has been endowed by the State with a handsome museum, library, technical and art school, the latter for young men only. These may belong to any nationality, and obtain their professional or artistic training free of charge. The exhibition of students' work sufficiently proclaims the excellence of the teaching. Here we saw very clever studies from the living model, a variety of designs, and, most interesting of all, fabrics prepared, dyed and woven entirely by the students.
The admirably arranged library is open to all, and we were courteously shown some of its choicest treasures. These are not bibliographical curiosities, but albums containing specimens of Lyons silk, a marvellous display of taste and skill. Gems, butterflies' wings, feathers of tropical birds are not more brilliant than these hues, while each design is thoroughly artistic, and in its way an achievement.
The picture gallery contains a good portrait of the veteran song-writer Nadaud, author of the immortal "Carcassonne." Many Germans and Belgians, engaged in commerce, spend years here, going away when their fortunes are made. More advantageous to the place are those capitalists who take root, identifying themselves with local interests. Such is the case with a large English firm at Croix, who have founded a Protestant church and schools for their workpeople.
Let me record the spectacle presented by the museum on Sunday afternoon during the brilliant weather of April 1893. What most struck me was the presence of poorly-dressed boys; they evidently belonged to the least prosperous working class, and came in by twos and threes. Nothing could equal the good behaviour of these lads, or their interest in everything. Many young shop-women were also there, and, as usual, a large contingent of soldiers and recruits.
Few shops remained open after mid-day, except one or two very large groceries, at which fresh vegetables were sold. It is pleasant to note a gradual diminution of Sunday labour throughout France.
The celebration of May-Day, which date occurred soon after my visit, was not calculated either to alarm the Republic or the world in general. It was a monster manifestation in favour of the Three Eights, and I think few of us, were we suddenly transformed into Roubaix machinists, would not speedily become Three Eighters as well.
At five o'clock in the morning the firing of cannon announced the annual "Fte du Travail," or workmen's holiday, not accorded by Act of Parliament, but claimed by the people as a legitimate privilege.
Unwonted calm prevailed in certain quarters. Instead of men, women, boys and girls pouring by tens of thousands into the factories, the streets leading to them were empty. In one or two cases, where machinery had been set in motion and doors opened, public opinion immediately effected a stoppage of work. Instead, therefore, of being imprisoned from half-past five in the morning till seven or eight at night, the entire Roubaisien population had freed itself to enjoy "a sunshine holiday." Such a day cannot be too long, and at a quarter past seven vast crowds had collected before the Htel de Ville.
Here a surprise was in store for the boldest Three Eighter going. The tricolour had been hoisted down, and replaced, not by a red flag, but by a large transparency, showing the following device in red letters upon a white ground:—
FTE INTERNATIONALE DU TRAVAIL, 1er Mai 1893.
Huit Heures du Travail, Huit Heures du Loisir, Huit Heures du Repos.
[Footnote: Translation-International festival of labour; eight hours' work, eight hours' leisure, eight hours' repose.]
The mayor, in undress, that is to say in garments of every day, having surveyed these preparations, returned to his estaminet, the Plat d'Or, and there folded his newspapers as usual for the day's distribution.
In the meantime the finishing touch was put to other decorations, consisting of flags, devices and red drapery, everywhere the Three Eights being conspicuous.
A monster procession was then formed, headed by the Town Council and a vast number of bands. There was the music of the Fire Brigade, the socialist brass band, the children's choir, the Choral Society of Roubaix, the Franco-Belgian Choral Society, and many others. Twenty thousand persons took part in this procession, the men wearing red neckties and a red flower in their button-holes, the forty-seven groups of the workmen's federation bearing banners, all singing, bands playing, drums beating, cannons firing as they went.
At mid-day the defile was made before the Htel de Ville, and delegates of the different socialist groups were formally received by the mayor and deputy-mayors, wearing their tricolour scarves of office.
I must say the mayor's speech was a model of conciseness, good sense and, it must be added, courtesy; addressing himself first to his fellow-townswomen, then to his fellow-townsmen, he thanked the labour party for the grandiose celebration of the day, dwelt on the determination of the municipal council to watch over the workmen's interests, then begged all to enjoy themselves thoroughly, taking care to maintain the public peace.
Toasts were drunk, the mayor's health with especial enthusiasm, but when at the stroke of noon he waved the tricolour and an enormous number of pigeons were let loose, not to be fired at but admired as they flew away in all directions, their tricolour ribbons fluttering, the general delight knew no bounds. "Long live our mayor," resounded from every mouth, "Vive le citoyen Carrette!"
The rest of the day was devoted to harmless, out-of-door amusements: a balloon ascent, on the car being conspicuous in red, "Les trois huits," concerts, gymnastic contests, finally dancing and illuminations.
Thus ended the first of May, 1893, in Lille.
* * * * *
St. Omer is a clean, well-built and sleepy little town, with some fine old churches. The mellow tone of the street architecture, especially under a burning blue sky, is very soothing; all the houses have a yellowish or pinkish hue.
The town abounds in convents and seminaries, and the chief business of well-to-do ladies seems that of going to church. In the cathedral are many votive tablets to "Our Lady of Miracles"—one of the numerous miracle-working Virgins in France. Here we read the thanksgiving of a young man miraculously preserved throughout his four years' military service; there, one records how, after praying fervently for a certain boon, after many years the Virgin had granted his prayer. Parents commemorate miraculous favours bestowed on their children, and so on.
The ancient ramparts at this time were in course of demolition, and the belt of boulevards which are to replace them will be a great improvement. The town is protected by newly-constructed works. Needless to say, it possesses a public library, on the usual principle—one citizen one book,—a museum, and small picture gallery. The population is 21,000.
I was cordially received by a friend's friend, foremost resident in the place, and owner of a large distillery. As usual, the private dwelling, with coach-house, stables and garden adjoined the business premises. The genivre or gin, so called from the juniper used in flavouring it, here manufactured, is a choice liqueur, not the cheap intoxicant of our own public-houses. Liqueurs are always placed with coffee on French breakfast-tables. Every one takes a teaspoonful as a help to digestion.
French people are greatly astonished at the absence of liqueurs in England. The excellence of French digestions generally would not seem to discredit the habit. In the fabrication of gin here only the corn of rye is used, and in small quantities, the juniper berry; it is ready for drinking in six months, although improved by keeping. I saw also curaoa in its various stages. The orange peel used in the manufacture of this liqueur is soaked in alcohol for four months.
My object, however, was to see the high farming on an extensive scale for which this region is famous. Accordingly my host, accompanied by his amiable wife, placed themselves, their carriage, and time at my disposal, and we set out for a long round.
In harvest time the aspect of the country must be one of extreme richness. The enormous sweeps of corn, clover, and beetroot have no division from each other or the road; no hedges are to be seen, and not a tree in the middle of the crops, few trees, indeed, anywhere. Everywhere, on this 17th of April, the corn was a month ahead of former seasons, and, in spite of the long drought, very flourishing.
The first farm visited consists of 360 hectares (just upon 900 acres), all in the highest cultivation, and conducted strictly on the footing of a large industrial concern, with offices, counting-house, carpenters', saddlers' and wheelwrights' shops, smithies, mills and machinery, every agricultural process down to grinding the corn being performed on the premises, and by workmen in the employ of the owner.
As we enter these vast premises, and hear the buzz of machinery, we feel the complete prosaicization of rustic life. The farmhouse scenes of my own childhood in Suffolk, the idyllic descriptions of George Eliot, no more resemble actualities than the poetic spinning-wheel of olden times the loom of latest invention. Utility is the object aimed at, incontestably with great results, but in effect unromantic as Chicago. It is high farming made to pay. All was bustle and activity as we made the round of the premises, beginning with the vast machinery and workshops. These walled-in buildings, divided into two portions, each covering three-quarters of an acre, reminded me of nothing so much as of the caravanserais of Algerian travel twenty-five years ago. Once the doors are bolted none can enter, yet to render security doubly sure dogs are chained up in every corner—we will hope, let loose at night.
I will not here go into agricultural details, only adding a few particulars.
The splendid wheat, clover, bean and rye crops attested the excellence of the farming. Dovetailing into these enormous fields were small patches of peasant owners or tenants, all without division or apparent boundary.
In the villages I was struck by the tidy appearance of the children coming out of school. The usual verdict on peasant proprietors hereabouts was that they do not accumulate, neither are they in want. Very little, if any, beggary meets the eye, either in town or country. We then drove to the chteau, with its English grounds, of the Vicomte de——, friend of my host, and an ardent admirer of England and English ways. This gentleman looked, indeed, like an English squire, and spoke our tongue. He had visited King Edward, then Prince of Wales, at Sandringham. As an illustration of his lavish method of doing things, I mention a quantity of building stone lately ordered from Valenciennes. This stone, for the purpose of building offices, had cost 800. In this part of France clerks and counting-houses seem an indispensable feature of farm premises. An enormous bell for summoning work-people to work or meals is always conspicuous. The whole thing has a commercial aspect.
Here we saw some magnificent animals, among these a prize bull of Flemish breed. It was said to be very fierce, and on this account had a ring in its nose. This cruel custom is now, I believe, prohibited here by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. On the other hand, I was glad to find the Vicomte a member of the kindred society in Paris, and he assured me that he was constantly holding his green card of membership over offenders in terrorem.
We hardly expect a rich aristocrat to make utility the first object in his agricultural pursuits. High farming was nevertheless here the order of the day.
We next drove to Clairmarais, a village some miles off in quite another direction, coming in sight of magnificent forests. Our errand was to the ancient Cistercian abbey, now the property of a capitalist, and turned into the business premises of his large farm. Of the original monastery, founded in 1140, hardly a trace remains. Abutting on the outer wall is the chapel, and before it a small enclosed flower-garden full of wallflowers and flowering shrubs, a bit of prettiness welcome to the eye. Just beyond, too, was an old-fashioned, irregularly planted orchard, with young cattle grazing under the bloom-laden trees, the turf dazzlingly bright, but less so than the young corn and rye, now ready for first harvesting.
The vaulted kitchens with vast fireplaces are relics of the ancient abbey, and even now form most picturesque interiors. At a long wooden table in one sat a blue-bloused group drinking cider out of huge yellow mugs—scene for a painter. Another, fitted up as a dairy, was hardly less of a picture. On shelves in the dark, antiquated chamber lay large, red-earthen pans full of cream for cheese-making. The brown-robed figure of a lay brother would have seemed appropriate in either place.
Outside these all was modernization and hard prose. We saw the shepherd returning with his sheep from the herbage, the young lambs bleating pitifully in an inner shed. It is the custom here to send the sheep afield during the day, the lambs meantime being fed on hay. Here again, I should say, is a commercial mistake. The lamb of pasture-fed animals must be incontestably superior. Humanity here seems on the side of utilitarianism. Who can say? Perhaps the inferiority of French meat in certain regions arises from this habit of stabling cattle and sheep. The drive from Clairmarais to St. Omer took us through a quite different and much more attractive country. We were now in the marais, an amphibious stretch of country, cut up into gardens and only accessible by tiny canals. It is a small Holland. This vast stretch of market garden, intersected by waterways just admitting the passage of a boat, is very productive. Three pounds per hectare is often paid in rent. The early vegetables, conveyed by boat to St. Omer, are largely exported to England. Every inch of ground is turned to account, the turf-bordered, canal-bound gardens making a pretty scene, above the green levels intersected by gleaming water the fine towers of St. Omer clearly outlined against the brilliant sky.
The English colony of former days vanished on the outbreak of the last war, not to return. A few young English Catholics still prepare for the priesthood here, and eighty more were at this time pursuing their studies at Douai, under the charge of English Benedictines. "Why," impatiently asked Arthur Young in 1788, "are Catholics to emigrate in order to be ill-educated abroad, instead of being allowed institutions that would educate them well at home?"
The disabilities he reprobates have long since been removed, but English-speaking seminarists still flock to Douai.
Here I close this agricultural and industrial round in Picardy and French Flanders, regions so near home, yet so unfamiliar to most of us! And here I close what, in many respects, may be called another round in unfrequented France.