A Little Tour in France

A Little Tour in France

A LITTLE TOUR IN FRANCE HENRY JAMES We good Americans - I say it without presumption - are too apt to think that France is Paris just as we are accused of being too apt to think that Paris is the celestial city. This is by no means the case fortun- ately for those persons who take an interest in modern Gaul and yet are still left vaguely unsatisfied by that epitome of civilization which stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to the Gymnase theatre. It had already been intimated to the author of these light pages that there are many good things in the _doux pays de France_ of which you get no hint in a walk between those ornaments of the capital; but the truth had been re- vealed only in quick-flashing glimpses and he was conscious of a desire to look it well in the face. To this end he started one rainy morning in mid-Septem- ber for the charming little city of Tours from which point it seemed possible to make a variety of fruitful excursions. His excursions resolved themselves ulti- mately into a journey through several provinces - a journey which had its dull moments (as one may defy any journey not to have) but which enabled him to feel that his proposition was demonstrated. France may be Paris but Paris is not France; that was perfectly evident on the return to the capital. I must not speak however as if I had discovered the provinces. They were discovered or at least re- vealed by BaIzac if by any one and are now easily accessible to visitors. It is true I met no visitors or only one or two whom it was pleasant to meet. Throughout my little tour I was almost the only tourist. That is perhaps one reason why it was so successful. I. I am ashamed to begin with saying that Touraine is the garden of France; that remark has long ago lost its bloom. The town of Tours however has some thing sweet and bright which suggests that it is sur- rounded by a land of fruits. It is a very agreeable little city; few towns of its size are more ripe more complete or I should suppose in better humor with themselves and less disposed to envy the responsibili- ties of bigger places. It is truly the capital of its smil- ing province; a region of easy abundance of good living of genial comfortable optimistic rather indolent opinions. Balzac says in one of his tales that the real Tourangeau will not make an effort or displace him- self even to go in search of a pleasure; and it is not difficult to understand the sources of this amiable cynicism. He must have a vague conviction that he can only lose by almost any change. Fortune has been kind to him: he lives in a temperate reasonable sociable climate on the banks of a river which it is true sometimes floods the country around it but of which the ravages appear to be so easily repaired that its aggressions may perhaps be regarded (in a region where so many good things are certain) merely as an occasion for healthy suspense. He is surrounded by fine old traditions religious social architectural culi- nary; and he may have the satisfaction of feeling that he is French to the core. No part of his admirable country is more characteristically national. Normandy is Normandy Burgundy is Burgundy Provence is Pro- vence; but Touraine is essentially France. It is the land of Rabelais of Descartes of Balzac of good books and good company as well as good dinners and good houses. George Sand has somewhere a charm- ing passage about the mildness the convenient quality of the physical conditions of central France - "son climat souple et chaud ses pluies abondantes et courtes." In the autumn of 1882 the rains perhaps were less short than abundant; but when the days were fine it was impossible that anything in the way of weather could be more charming. The vineyards and orchards looked rich in the fresh gay light; cultivation was everywhere but everywhere it seemed to be easy. There was no visible poverty; thrift and success pre- sented themselves as matters of good taste. The white caps of the women glittered in the sunshire and their well-made sabots clicked cheerfully on the hard clean roads. Touraine is a land of old chateaux - a gallery of architectural specimens and of large hereditary pro- perties. The peasantry have less of the luxury of ownership than in most other parts of France; though they have enough of it to give them quite their share of that shrewdly conservative look which in the little chaffering _place_ of the market-town the stranger ob- serves so often in the wrinkled brown masks that sur- mount the agricultural blouse. This is moreover the heart of the old French monarchy; and as that monarchy was splendid and picturesque a reflection of the splen- dor still glitters in the current of the Loire. Some of the most striking events of French history have occurred on the banks of that river and the soil it waters bloomed for a while with the flowering of the Renais- sance. The Loire gives a great "style" to a landscape of which the features are not as the phrase is promi- nent and carries the eye to distances even more poetic than the green horizons of Touraine. It is a very fit- ful stream and is sometimes observed to run thin and expose all the crudities of its channel - a great defect certainly in a river which is so much depended upon to give an air to the places it waters. But I speak of it as I saw it last; full tranquil powerful bending in large slow curves and sending back half the light of the sky. Nothing can be finer than the view of its course which you get from the battlements and ter- races of Amboise. As I looked down on it from that elevation one lovely Sunday morning through a mild glitter of autumn sunshine it seemed the very model of a generous beneficent stream. The most charming part of Tours is naturally the shaded quay that over- looks it and looks across too at the friendly faubourg of Saint Symphorien and at the terraced heights which rise above this. Indeed throughout Touraine it is half the charm of the Loire that you can travel beside it. The great dike which protects it or protects the country from it from Blois to Angers is an admirable road; and on the other side as well the highway con- stantly keeps it company. A wide river as you follow a wide road is excellent company; it heightens and shortens the way. The inns at Tours are in another quarter and one of them which is midway between the town and the station is very good. It is worth mentioning for the fact that every one belonging to it is extraordinarily polite - so unnaturally polite as at first to excite your suspicion that the hotel has some hidden vice so that the waiters and chambermaids are trying to pacify you in advance. There was one waiter in especial who was the most accomplished social being I have ever encountered; from morning till night he kept up an inarticulate murmur of urbanity like the hum of a spinning-top. I may add that I discovered no dark secrets at the Hotel de l'Univers; for it is not a secret to any traveller to-day that the obligation to partake of a lukewarm dinner in an overheated room is as imperative as it is detestable. For the rest at Tours there is a certain Rue Royale which has pretensions to the monumental; it was constructed a hundred years ago and the houses all alike have on a moderate scale a pompous eighteenth-century look. It connects the Palais de Justice the most important secular building in the town with the long bridge which spans the Loire - the spacious solid bridge pronounced by Balzac in "Le Cure de Tours" "one of the finest monuments of French architecture." The Palais de Justice was the seat of the Government of Leon Gambetta in the autumn of 1870 after the dictator had been obliged to retire in his balloon from Paris and before the Assembly was constituted at Bordeaux. The Germans occupied Tours during that terrible winter; it is astonishing the number of places the Germans occupied. It is hardly too much to say that wherever one goes in certain parts of France one encounters two great historic facts: one is the Revolution; the other is the German invasion. The traces of the Revolution remain in a hundred scars and bruises and mutilations but the visible marks of the war of 1870 have passed away. The country is so rich so living that she has been able to dress her wounds to hold up her head to smile again; so that the shadow of that darkness has ceased to rest upon her. But what you do not see you still may hear; and one remembers with a certain shudder that only a few short years ago this province so intimately French was under the heel of a foreign foe. To be intimately French was apparently not a safeguard; for so successful an invader it could only be a challenge. Peace and plenty however have succeeded that episode; and among the gardens and vineyards of Touraine it seems only a legend the more in a country of legends. It was not all the same for the sake of this check- ered story that I mentioned the Palais de Justice and the Rue Royale. The most interesting fact to my mind about the high-street of Tours was that as you walked toward the bridge on the right-hand _trottoir_ you can look up at the house on the other side of the way in which Honore de Balzac first saw the light. That violent and complicated genius was a child of the good-humored and succulent Touraine. There is something anomalous in the fact though if one thinks about it a little one may discover certain correspondences between his character and that of his native province. Strenuous laborious constantly in felicitous in spite of his great successes he suggests at times a very different set of influences. But he had his jovial full-feeding side - the side that comes out in the "Contes Drolatiques" which are the romantic and epicurean chronicle of the old manors and abbeys of this region. And he was moreover the product of a soil into which a great deal of history had been trodden. Balzac was genuinely as well as affectedly monarchical and he was saturated with a sense of the past. Number 39 Rue Royale - of which the base ment like all the basements in the Rue Royale is occupied by a shop - is not shown to the public; and ...