Seeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 online

. (page 2 of 13)
Online LibraryVariousSeeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 → online text (page 2 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the outer hall of the castle. There the armor of Francis the First
still hangs upon the wall - his shield, and helm, and lance - as if the
chivalrous but dissolute prince had just exchanged them for the silken
robes of the drawing-room.... Doubtless the naked walls and the vast
solitary chambers of an old and desolate château inspire a feeling of
greater solemnity and awe; but when the antique furniture of the olden
time remains - the faded tapestry on the walls, and the arm-chair
by the fire-side - the effect upon the mind is more magical and
delightful. The old inhabitants of the place, long gathered to their
fathers, tho living still in history, seem to have left their halls
for the chase or the tournament; and as the heavy door swings upon its
reluctant hinge, one almost expects to see the gallant princes and
courtly dames enter those halls again, and sweep in stately procession
along the silent corridors....

A short time after candle-lighting, I reached the little tavern of the
Boule d'Or, a few leagues from Tours, where I passed the night. The
following morning was lowering and sad. A veil of mist hung over
the landscape, and ever and anon a heavy shower burst from the
overburdened clouds, that were driving by before a high and piercing
wind. This unpropitious state of the weather detained me until noon,
when a cabriolet for Tours drove up, and taking a seat within it, I
left the hostess of the Boule d'Or in the middle of a long story about
a rich countess, who always alighted there when she passed that way.
We drove leisurely along through a beautiful country, till at length
we came to the brow of a steep hill, which commands a fine view of the
city of Tours and its delightful environs. But the scene was
shrouded by the heavy drifting mist, through which I could trace but
indistinctly the graceful sweep of the Loire, and the spires and roofs
of the city far below me.

The city of Tours and the delicious plain in which it lies have been
too often described by other travelers to render a new description,
from so listless a pen as mine, either necessary or desirable. After a
sojourn of two cloudy and melancholy days, I set out on my return to
Paris, by the way of Vendôme and Chartres. I stopt a few hours at
the former place, to examine the ruins of a château built by Jeanne
d'Albret, mother of Henry the Fourth. It stands upon the summit of a
high and precipitous hill, and almost overhangs the town beneath. The
French Revolution has completed the ruin that time had already begun;
and nothing now remains, but a broken and crumbling bastion, and here
and there a solitary tower dropping slowly to decay. In one of these
is the grave of Jeanne d'Albret. A marble entablature in the wall
above contains the inscription, which is nearly effaced, tho enough
still remains to tell the curious traveler that there lies buried the
mother of the "Bon Henri." To this is added a prayer that the repose
of the dead may be respected.

Here ended my foot excursion. The object of my journey was
accomplished; and, delighted with this short ramble through the valley
of the Loire, I took my seat in the diligence for Paris, and on the
following day was again swallowed up in the crowds of the metropolis,
like a drop in the bosom of the sea.


[Footnote A: From "Old Touraine." Published by James Pott & Co.]


The Castle of Amboise stands high above the town, like another
Acropolis above a smaller Athens; it rises upon the only height
visible for some distance, and is in a commanding position for holding
the level fields of Touraine around it, and securing the passage of
the Loire between Tours and Chaumont, which is the next link in the
chain that ends at Blois.

The river at this point is divided in two by an island, as is so often
the case where the first bridge-builders sought to join the wide banks
of the Loire, and on this little spot between the waters Clovis is
said to have met Alaric before he overthrew the power of the Visigoths
in Aquitaine.

Amboise gains even more from the river than the other châteaux of
the Loire. The magnificent round tower that springs from the end of
Charles VIII.'s façade completely commands the approaches of the
bridge, and the extraordinary effect of lofty masonry, produced by
building on the summit of an elevation and carrying the stone courses
upward from the lower ground, is here seen at its best....

But Amboise has a history before the days of Charles VIII. There was
without doubt a Roman camp here, but the traditions of the ubiquitous
Caesar must be received with caution. The so-called "Greniers de
Caesar," strange, unexplained constructions caverned in the soft rock,
are proved to be the work of a later age by that same indefatigable
Abbé Chevalier to whom we have been already indebted for so much
archeological research. A possible explanation of them is contained in
an old Latin history of the castle, which goes down to the death of
Stephen of England. According to this, the Romans had held Amboise
from the days of Caesar till the reign of Diocletian; the Baugaredi or
Bagaudee then put them to flight, but let the rest of the inhabitants
remain who, "being afraid to live above ground, tunnelled beneath it,
and made a great colony of subterranean dwellings in the holes they
had dug out," a custom apparently common in Touraine from the earliest
times. The Romans at any rate left unmistakable traces of their
presence; many of their architectural remains still exist, and their
fort is spoken of by Sulpicius Severus; but they can have built no
bridge of alone, for in St. Gregory's time there were only boats
available for crossing the river.

Not till the fifteenth century did the castle become royal property,
when it was confiscated by Charles VII. as a punishment for
treacherous dealings with the invading English very similar to
the treason discovered at Chenonceaux just before. But beyond
strengthening the fortification of the place this king did little for
his new possession.

In a few years the castle is overshadowed by the cruel specter of
Louis XI., whose memory has already spoiled several charming views
for us. It was to Amboise that the father of this unfilial prince
was carried from Chinon on his way north, when wearied out by the
annoyance caused by the Dauphin's plots. The castle had become a royal
residence, and soon after the whole town turns out to meet the new
king with a "morality-play made by Master Étienne for the joyous
occasion of his arrival," for Amboise was already famous for those
dramatic performances always so dear to the French, and particularly
to these citizens, in the old days at any rate. There is no trace of
such frivolities now in the sleepy little town....

The two great towers of Amboise with the inclined planes of brickwork,
which wind upward in the midst instead of staircases, were the result
of the work which Charles set on foot as a distraction of his grief.
These strange ascents had been partially restored by the Comte de
Paris, the present owner of Amboise, before his exile stopt the work
of repairing the chateau, and it is still possible to imagine the
"charrettes, mullets, et litières," of which Du Bellay speaks,
mounting from the low ground to the chambers above, or the Emperor
Charles V., in later years, riding up with his royal host Francis I.,
always fond of display, amid such a blaze of flambeaux "that a man
might see as clearly as at mid-day."

These great towers and the exquisite little chapel were the work of
the "excellent sculptors and artists from Naples" who, as Commines
tells us, were brought back with the spoils of the Italian wars; for
the young king "never thought of death" but only of collecting round
him "all the beautiful things which he had seen and which had given
him pleasure, from France or Italy or Flanders;" but death came upon
him suddenly. At the end of a garden walk, fringed with a mossy grove
of limes that rises from the river bank, is the little doorway through
which Charles VIII. was passing when he hit his head, never a
very strong one, against the low stone arch, and died a few hours
afterward. The castle had been fortified before his time; he left it
beautiful as well, and the traces of his work are those which are most
striking at the present day....

Within the shadow of the lime trees on the terraced garden of Amboise
is a small bust of Leonardo da Vinci, for it was near here he died.
His remains are laid in the beautiful chapel at the corner of
the castle court, and the romantic story of his last moments at
Fontainebleau becomes the sad reality of a tombstone covering ashes
mostly unknown and certainly indistinguishable; "among which" as the
epitaph painfully records, "are supposed to be the remains of Leonardo
da Vinci." He had been brought to Paris a weak old man, by Francis,
in pursuance of a certain fixt artistic policy, to which it may be
noticed this forgotten and uncertain grave does but little credit.

To Francis I., rightly or wrongly, is given the glory of having
naturalized in France the arts of Italy; to him is due the
architecture built for ease and charm which turned the fortress into a
beautiful habitation, which changed Chambord from a feudal stronghold
to a country seat, and which left its traces at Amboise, as it did
at Chaumont and at Blois. He found in France the highest and most
beautiful expression of the work of "the great unnamed race of
master-masons," he found the traditions of a national school of
painting, the work of Fouquet and the Clouets, but for these he cared
not; for him the only schools were those of Rome and Florence, and
tho by encouraging their imitation he weakened the vital sincerity of
French art, yet from his first exercise of royal power the consistency
always somewhat lacking in his politics was shown clearly and firmly
in his taste for art.


[Footnote A: From "Castles and Chateaux of Old Touraine." By special
arrangement with, and by permission of, the publishers, L.C. Page &
Co. Copyright, 1908.]


Blois, among all the other cities of the Loire, is the favorite with
the tourist. Here one first meets a great château of state; and
certainly the Château de Blois lives in one's memory more than any
other château in France.

Much has been written of Blois, its counts, its château, and its many
and famous hôtels of the nobility, by writers of all opinions and
abilities, from those old chroniclers who wrote of the plots and
intrigues of other days to those critics of art and architecture who
have discovered - or think they have discovered - that Da Vinci designed
the famous spiral staircase.

From this one may well gather that Blois is the foremost château of
all the Loire in popularity and theatrical effect. Truly this is so,
but it is by no manner of means the most lovable; indeed, it is the
least lovable of all that great galaxy which begins at Blois and ends
at Nantes. It is a show-place and not much more, and partakes in
every form and feature - as one sees it to-day - of the attributes of a
museum, and such it really is.

All of its former gorgeousness is still there, and all the banalities
of the later period when Gaston of Orleans built his ugly wing, for
the "personally conducted" to marvel at, and honeymoon couples to
envy. The French are quite fond of visiting this shrine themselves,
but usually it is the young people and their mammas, and detached
couples of American and English birth that one most sees strolling
about the courts and apartments where formerly lords and ladies and
cavaliers moved and plotted.

The great château of the Counts of Blois is built upon an inclined
rock which rises above the roof-tops of the lower town quite in
fairy-book fashion. Commonly referred to as the Château de Blois, it
is really composed of four separate and distinct foundations; the
original château of the counts; the later addition of Louis XII.; the
palace of Francis I., and the most unsympathetically and dismally
disposed pavilion of Gaston of Orleans.

The artistic qualities of the greater part of the distinct edifice
which go to make up the château as it stands to-day are superb, with
the exception of that great wing of Gaston's, before mentioned, which
is as cold and unfeeling as the overrated palace at Versailles.

The Comtes de Chatillon built that portion just to the right of the
present entrance; Louis XII., the edifice through which one enters
the inner court and which extends far to the left, including also
the chapel immediately to the rear; while François I., who here as
elsewhere let his unbounded Italian proclivities have full sway, built
the extended wing to the left of the inner court and fronting on the
present Place du Château, formerly the Place Royale....

As an architectural monument the château is a picturesque assemblage
of edifices belonging to many different epochs, and, as such, shows,
as well as any other document of contemporary times, the varying
ambitions and emotions of its builders, from the rude and rough
manners of the earliest of feudal times through the highly refined
Renaissance details of the imaginative brain of François, down to the
base concoction of the elder Mansart, produced at the commands of
Gaston of Orleans.

In the earliest structure were to be seen all the attributes of a
feudal fortress, towers and walls pierced with narrow loopholes,
and damp, dark dungeons hidden away in the thick walls. Then came a
structure which was less of a fortress and more habitable, but still a
stronghold, tho having ample and decorative doorways and windows, with
curious sculptures and rich framings. Then the pompous Renaissance
with "escaliers" and "balcons á jour," balustrades crowning the walls
and elaborate cornices here, there, and everywhere - all bespeaking
the gallantry and taste of the knightly king. Finally came the cold,
classic features of the period of the brother of Louis XIII.

In plan the Château de Bois forms an irregular square situated at
the apex of a promontory high above the surface of the Loire,
and practically behind the town itself. The building has a most
picturesque aspect, and, to those who know, gives practically a
history of the château architecture of the time. Abandoned, mutilated
and dishonored, from time to time, the structure gradually took on new
forms until the thick walls underlying the apartment known to-day as
the Salle des États - probably the most ancient portion of all - were
overshadowed by the great richness of the fifteenth and sixteenth

From the platform one sees a magnificent panorama of the city and the
far-reaching Loire, which unrolls itself southward and northward for
many leagues, its banks covered by rich vineyards and crowned by thick

The building of Louis XII. presents its brick-faced exterior in black
and red lozenge shapes, with sculptured window-frames, squarely upon
the little tree-bordered place of to-day, which in other times formed
a part of that magnificent terrace which looked down upon the roof
of the Église St. Nicholas, and the Jesuit church of the Immaculate
Conception, and the silvery bell of the Loire itself.

The murders and other acts of violence and treason which took place
here are interesting enough, but one can not but feel, when he views
the chimney-piece before which the Due de Guise was standing when
called to his death in the royal closet, that the men of whom the
bloody tales of Blois are told quite deserved their fates.

One comes away with the impression of it all stamped only upon the
mind, not graven upon the heart. Political intrigue to-day, if quite
as vulgar, is less sordid. Bigotry and ambition in those days allowed
few of the finer feelings to come to the surface, except with regard
to the luxuriance of surroundings. Of this last there can be no
question, and Blois is as characteristically luxurious as any of the
magnificient edifices which lodged the royalty and nobility of other
days throughout the valley of the Loire.

The interior court is partly surrounded by a colonnade, quite
cloister-like in effect. At the right center of the François I. wing
is that wonderful spiral staircase, concerning the invention of which
so much speculation has been launched.

The apartments of Catherine de Medici were directly beneath the
guard-room where the Balafré was murdered, and that event, taking
place at the very moment when the queen-mother was dying, can not be
said to have been conducive to a peaceful demise.

Here, on the first floor of the François I. wing, the queen-mother,
held her court, as did the king his. The great gallery over-looked the
town on the side of the present Place du Château. It was, and is, a
truly grand apartment, with diamond-paned windows, and rich, dark wall
decorations on which Catherine's device, a crowned C and her monogram
in gold, frequently appears. There was, moreover, a great oval
window, opposite which stood her altar, and a doorway led to her
writing-closet, with its secret drawers and wall panels, which well
served her purpose of intrigue and deceit.

A hidden stair-way led to the floor above, and there was a
chambre-à-coucher, with a deep recess for the bed, the same to which
she called her son Henri, as she lay dying, admonishing him to give
up the thought of murdering Guise. "What," said Henri, on this
embarrassing occasion, "spare Guise, when he, triumphant in Paris,
dared lay his hand on the hilt of his sword. Spare him who drove me a
fugitive from the capital. Spare them who never spared me. No, mother,
I will not."

As the queen-mother drew near her end, and was lying ill at Blois,
great events for France were culminating at the château. Henry III.
had become King of France, and the Balafré, supported by Rome and
Spain, was in open rebellion against the reigning house, and the word
had gone forth that the Duc de Guise must die.

The States-General were to be immediately assembled, and De Guise,
once the poetic lover of Marguerite, through his emissaries canvassed
all France to ensure the triumph of the party of the church against
Henri de Navarre and his queen - the Marguerite whom De Guise once
profest to love - who soon were to come to the throne of France.

The uncomfortable Henri III. had been told that he would never be king
in reality until De Guise had been made away with.

The final act of the drama between the rival houses of Guise and
Valois came when the king and his council came to Blois for the
assembly. The sunny city of Blois was indeed to be the scene of a
momentous affair, and a truly sumptuous setting it was, the roof-tops
of its houses sloping downward gently to the Loire, with its chief
accessory, the coiffed and turreted chateau itself, high above all

Details had been arranged with infinite pains, the guard doubled, and
a company of Swiss posted around the courtyard and up and down
the gorgeous staircase. Every nook and corner has its history in
connection with this greatest event in the history of the château of

As Guise entered the council chamber he was told that the king would
see him in his closet, to reach which one had to pass through the
guard-room below. The door was barred behind him that he might not
return, when the trusty guards of the Forty-fifth, under Dalahaide,
already hidden behind the wall-tapestry, sprang upon the Balafré and
forced him back upon the closed door through which he had just passed.
Guise fell stabbed in the breast by Malines, and "lay long uncovered
until an old carpet was found in which to wrap his corpse."

Below, in her own apartments, lay the queen-mother, dying, but
listening eagerly for the rush of footsteps overhead, hoping and
praying that Henri - the hitherto effeminate Henri who played with his
sword as he would with a battledore, and who painted himself like a
woman, and put rings in his ears - would not prejudice himself at this
time in the eyes of Rome by slaying the leader of the church party....

It was under the régime of Gaston d'Orléans that the gardens of the
Château de Blois came to their greatest excellence and beauty. In
1653, Abel Brunyer, the first physician of Gaston's suite, published a
catalog of the fruit and flowers to be found here in these gardens,
of which he was also director. More than five hundred varieties were
included, three-quarters of which belonged to the flora of France.

Among the delicacies and novelties of the time to be found here was
the Prunier de Reine Claude, from which those delicious green plums
known to all the world to-day as "Reine Claudes" were propagated, also
another variety which came from the Prunier de Monsieur, somewhat
similar in taste, but of a deep purple color. The potato was tenderly
cared for and grown as a great novelty and delicacy long before its
introduction to general cultivation by Parmentier. The tomato was
imported from Mexico, and even tobacco was grown....

In 1793 all the symbols and emblems of royalty were removed from
the château and destroyed. The celebrated bust of Gaston, the chief
artistic attribute of that part of the edifice built by him, was
decapitated, and the statue of Louis XII. over the entrance gateway
was overturned and broken up. Afterward the château became the
property of the "domaine" and was turned into a mere barracks. The
pavilion of Queen Anne became a military magazine, the Tour de
l'Observatoire, a powder-magazine, and all the indignities imaginable
were heaped upon the château.

In 1814 Blois became the last capital of Napoleon's empire, and the
château walls sheltered the prisoners captured by the imperial army.


[Footnote A: From "Old Touraine." Published by James Pott & Co.]


The road that leads from Blois to Chambord crosses the Loire by a fine
stone bridge, which the inscription sets forth to be the first public
work of Louis Philippe.

For some distance the rails of a small tramway followed the road by
which our carriage was slowly rolling toward the level plains of the
Cologne, but we gradually left such uncompromising signs of activity,
and came into a flat country of endless vineyards, with here and there
a small plaster tower showing its slated roof above the low green
clusters of the vines. We passed through several villages, whose
inhabitants that day seemed to have but one care upon their minds,
like the famous Scilly Islanders, to gain a precarious livelihood by
taking each other's washing. On every bush and briar fluttered the
household linen and the family apparel, of various textures and in
different states of despair; and with that strict observance of
utility which is the chief characteristic of the French peasant, the
inevitable blouses, of faded blue were blown into shapeless bundles
even along the railings of the churchyard tombs.

At last we came to an old moss-grown wall, and through a broken
gateway entered what is called the Park of Chambord. There is very
little of it to be seen now, the trees have been ruthlessly cut down
and mutilated, and of the wild boars, which Francis I. was so fond
of hunting there is left only the ghostly quarry that Thibault of
Champagne chases through the air, while the sound of his ghostly
horn echoes down the autumn night as the fantom pack sweeps by to

It is impossible for the uninstructed mind to grasp the plan or method
of this mass of architecture; yet it is unsatisfactory to give it up,
with Mr. Henry James, "as an irresponsible, insoluble labyrinth."
M. Viollet-le-Duc, with a sympathetic denial of any extreme and
over-technical admiration, gives just that intelligible account of the
château which is a compromise between the unmeaning adulation of its
contemporary critics and the ignorance of the casual traveler.

"Chambord," says he, "must be taken for what it is; for an attempt in
which the architect sought to reconcile the methods of two opposite
principles, to unite in one building the fortified castle of the
Middle Ages and the pleasure-palace of the sixteenth century." Granted
that the attempt was an absurd one, it must be remembered that the
Renaissance was but just beginning in France; Gothic art seemed out
of date, yet none other had established itself to take its place. In
literature, in morals, as in architecture, this particular phase in
the civilization of the time has already become evident even in the
course of these small wanderings in a single province, and if only

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryVariousSeeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume 4 France and the Netherlands, Part 2 → online text (page 2 of 13)