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path through a rabble. She was at the side of the cart in an instant.
She gave us a bow and smile that were both a welcome and an act of
appropriation. She held out a firm, soft, brown hand. When it closed
on our own, we knew it to be the grasp of a friend, and the clasp of
one who knew how to hold her world. But when she spoke the words were
all of velvet, and her voice had the cadence of a caress.

"I have been watching you, 'chères dames' - crossing the 'gréve,' but
how wet and weary you must be! Come in by the fire, it is ablaze
now - I have been feeding it for you!"

And once more the beautifully curved lips parted over the fine teeth,
and the exceeding brightness of the dark eyes smiled and glittered in
our own. The caressing voice still led us forward, into the great gay
kitchen; the touch of skilful, discreet fingers undid wet cloaks and
wraps; the soft charm of a lovely and gracious woman made even the
penetrating warmth of the huge fire-logs a secondary feature of our
welcome.

To those who have never crossed a "gréve;" who have had no jolting in
a Normandy "char-a-banc;" who, for hours, have not known the mixed
pleasures and discomfort of being a part of sea-rivers; and who have
not been met at the threshold of an Inn on a Rock by the smiling
welcome of Madame Poulard[A] - all such have yet a pleasant page to
read in the book of traveled experience....

[Footnote A: An innkeeper of international fame. She is now dead, but
her name and her omelet still survive at Mont St. Michel.]

Altho her people were waiting below, and the dinner was on its way to
the cloth, Madame Poulard had plenty of time to give to the beauty
about her. How fine was the outlook from the top of the ramparts!
What a fresh sensation, this of standing-on a terrace in mid-air and
looking down on the sea and across to the level shores. The rose
vines - we found them sweet - "Ah" - one of the branches had fallen - she
had full time to re-adjust the loosened support. And "Marianne, give
these ladies their hot water, and see to their bags" - even this order
was given with courtesy. It was only when the supple, agile figure had
left us to fly down the steep rock-cut steps; when it shot over the
top of the gateway and slid with the grace of a lizard into the street
far below us, that we were made sensible of there having been any
special need of madame's being in haste ...

The Mont proved by its appearance its history in adventure; it had the
grim, grave, battered look that comes only to features - whether of
rock or of more plastic human mold - that have been carved by the rough
handling of experience.

It is the common habit of hills and mountains, as we all know, to turn
disdainful as they grow skyward; they only too eagerly drop, one by
one, the things by which man has marked the earth for his own. To
stand on a mountain top and to go down to your grave are alike, at
least in this - that you have left everything, except yourself, behind
you. But it is both the charm and the triumph of Mont St. Michael,
that it carries so much of man's handiwork up into the blue fields of
the air; this achievement alone would mark it as unique among hills.
It appears as if for once man and nature had agreed to work in concert
to produce a masterpiece in stone. The hill and the architectural
beauties it carries aloft, are like a taunt flung out to sea and to
the upper heights of air; for centuries they appear to have been
crying aloud, "See what we can do, against your tempests and your
futile tides - when we try" ... Rustic France along this coast still
makes pilgrimages to the shrine of the Archangel St. Michael. No
marriage is rightly arranged which does not include a wedding-journey
across the "gréve"; no nuptial breakfast is aureoled with the true
halo of romance which is eaten elsewhere than on these heights in
mid-air. The young come to drink deep of wonders; the old, to refresh
the depleted fountains of memory; and the tourist, behold he is a
plague of locusts let loose upon the defenseless hill!

It was impossible, after sojourning a certain time upon the hill, not
to concede that there were two equally strong centers of attraction
that drew the world hitherward. One remained, indeed, gravely
suspended between the doubt and the fear, as to which of these
potential units had the greater pull, in point of actual attraction.
The impartial historian, given to a just weighing of evidence, would
have been startled to find how invariably the scales tipped; how
lightly an historical Mont, born of a miracle, crowned by the noblest
buildings, a pious Mecca for saints and kings innumerable, shot up
like feathers in lightness when overweighted by the modern realities
of a perfectly appointed inn, the cooking and eating of an omelet of
omelets, and the all-conquering charms of Madame Poulard.

The fog of doubt thickened as, day after day, the same scenes were
enacted; when one beheld all sorts of conditions of men similarly
affected; when, again and again, the potentiality in the human magnet
was proved true. Doubt turned to conviction, at the last, that the
holy shrine of St. Michael had, in truth, been violated; that the Mont
had been desecrated; that the latter exists now solely as a setting
for a pearl of an inn; and that within the shrine - it is Madame
Poulard herself who fills the niche!...

Such a variety of brides as come up to the Mont! You could have your
choice, at the midday meal, of almost any nationality, age, or color.
The attempt among these bridal couples to maintain the distant air
of a finished indifference only made their secret the more open.
The British phlegm, on such a journey, did not always serve as a
convenient mask; the flattering, timid glance, the ripple of tender
whispers, and the furtive touching of fingers beneath the table, made
even these English couples a part of the great human marrying family;
their superiority to their fellows would return, doubtless, when the
honey had dried out of their moon.

The best of our adventures into this tender country were with the
French bridal tourists; they were certain to be delightfully human. As
we had had occasion to remark before, they were off, like ourselves,
on a little voyage of discovery; they had come to make acquaintance
with the being to whom they were mated for life. Various degrees of
progress could be read in the air and manner of the hearty young
"bourgeoises" and their paler or even ruddier partners, as they
crunched their bread or sipped their thin wine. Some had only entered
as yet upon the path of inquiry; others had already passed the
mile-stone of criticism; and still others had left the earth and were
floating in full azure of intoxication. Of the many wedding parties
that sat down to breakfast, we soon made the commonplace discovery
that the more plebeian the company, the more certain-orbed appeared to
be the promise of happiness....

Madame Poulard's air with this, her world, was as full of tact as with
the tourists. Many of the older women would give her the Norman kiss,
solemnly, as if the salute were a part of the ceremony attendant on
the eating of a wedding breakfast at Mont St. Michel. There would be
a three times' clapping of the wrinkled or the ruddy peasant cheeks
against the sides of Madame Poulard's daintier, more delicately
modeled face. Then all would take their seats noisily at the table. It
was Madame Poulard who would then bring us news of the party. At the
end of a fortnight Charm and I felt ourselves to be in possession of
the hidden and secret reasons for all the marrying that had been done
along the coast that year....

One morning, as we looked toward Pontorson, a small black cloud
appeared to be advancing across the bay. The day was windy; the sky
was crowded with huge white mountains - round, luminous clouds that
moved in stately sweeps. And the sea was the color one loves to see
in an earnest woman's eye, the dark blue sapphire that turns to
blue-gray. This was a setting that made that particular cloud, making
such slow progress across from the shore, all the more conspicuous.
Gradually, as the black mass neared the dike, it began to break and
separate; and we saw plainly enough that the scattering particles were
human beings.

It was, in point of fact, a band of pilgrims; a peasant pilgrimage was
coming up to the Mont. In wagons, in market carts, in "char-á-bancs,"
in donkey carts, on the backs of monster Percherons - the pilgrimage
moved in slow processional dignity across the dike. Some of the
younger black gowns and blue blouses attempted to walk across over the
sands; we could see the girls sitting down on the edge of the shore,
to take off their shoes and stockings and to tuck up their thick
skirts. When they finally started they were like unto so many huge
cheeses hoisted on stilts. The bare legs plunged boldly forward,
keeping ahead of the slower-moving peasant lads; the girls' bravery
served them till they reached the fringe of the incoming tide; not
until their knees went under water did they forego their venture. A
higher wave came in, deluging the ones farthest out; and then ensued a
scampering toward the dike and a climbing up of the stone embankment.
The old route across the sands, that had been the only one known to
kings and barons, was not good enough for a modern Norman peasant. The
religion of personal comfort has spread even as far as the fields.

Other aspects of the hill, on this day of the pilgrimage, made those
older dead-and-gone bands of pilgrims astonishingly real. On the tops
of bastions, in the clefts on the rocks, beneath the glorious walls
of La Merveille, or perilously lodged on the crumbling cornice of a
tourelle, numerous rude altars had been hastily erected. The crude
blues and scarlets of banners were fluttering, like so many pennants,
in the light breeze. Beneath the improvised altar-roofs - strips of gay
cloth stretched across poles stuck into the ground - were groups not
often seen in these less fervent centuries.

High up, mounted on the natural pulpit, formed of a bit of rock, with
the rude altar before him with its bits of scarlet cloth covered with
cheap lace, stood or knelt the priest. Against the wide blue of the
open heaven his figure took on an imposing splendor of mien and an
unmodern impressiveness of action. Beneath him knelt, with bowed
heads, the groups of the peasant pilgrims; the women, with murmuring
lips and clasped hands, their strong, deeply-seamed faces outlined
with the precision of a Francesco painting against the gray background
of a giant mass of wall or the amazing breadth of a vast sea-view;
children, squat and chubby, with bulging cheeks starting from the
close-fitting French "bonnet"; and the peasant-farmers, mostly of the
older varieties, whose stiffened or rheumatic knees and knotty hands
made their kneeling real acts of devotional zeal.

There were a dozen such altars and groups scattered over the
perpendicular slant of the hill. The singing of the choir boys, rising
like skylark notes into the clear space of heaven, would be floating
from one rocky-nested chapel, while below, in the one beneath which
we, for a moment, were resting, there would be the groaning murmur of
the peasant groups in prayer.

Three times did the vision of St. Michael appear to Saint Aubert, in
his dream, commanding the latter to erect a church on the heights of
Mont St. Michel to his honor. How many a time must the modern pilgrim
traverse the stupendous mass that has grown out of that command before
he is quite certain that the splendor of Mont St. Michel is real, and
not part of a dream!

Whether one enters through the dark magnificence of the great portals
of the Châtelet; whether one mounts the fortified stairway, passing
into the Salle des Gardes, passing onward from dungeon to fortified
bridge to gain the abbatial residence; whether one leaves the vaulted
splendor of oratories for aërial passageways, only to emerge beneath
the majestic roof of the Cathedral - that marvel of the Early Norman,
ending in the Gothic choir of the fifteenth century; or, as one
penetrates into the gloom of the mighty dungeons where heroes, and
brothers of kings, and saints, and scientists have died their long
death - as one gropes through the black night of the crypt, where a
faint, mysterious glint of light falls aslant the mystical face of the
Black Virgin; as one climbs to the light beneath the ogive arches
of the Aumônerie, through the wide-lit aisles of the Salle des
Chevaliers, past the slender Gothic columns of the Refectory, up at
last to the crowning glory of all the glories of La Merveille, to the
exquisitely beautiful colonnades of the open Cloister - the impressions
and emotions excited by these ecclesiastical and military masterpieces
are ever the same, however many times one may pass them in review. A
charm indefinable, but replete with subtle attractions, lurks in every
one of these dungeons.

The great halls have a power to make one retraverse their space I have
yet to find under other vaulted chambers. The grass that is set,
like a green jewel, in the arabesques of the cloister, is a bit of
greensward the feet press with a different tread to that which skips
lightly over other strips of turf. And the world, that one looks out
upon through prison bars, that is so gloriously arched in the arm of
a flying buttress, or that lies prone at your feet from the dizzy
heights of the rock clefts, is not the world in which you, daily, do
your petty stretch of toil, in which you laugh and ache, sorrow, sigh,
and go down to your grave.

The secret of this deep attraction may lie in the fact of one's being
in a world that is built on a height. Much, doubtless, of the charm
lies, also, in the reminders of all the human life that, since the
early dawn of history, has peopled this hill. One has the sense
of living at a tremendously high mental pressure; of impressions,
emotions, sensations crowding upon the mind; of one's whole meager
outfit of memory, of poetic equipment, and of imaginative furnishing
being unequal to the demand made by even the most hurried tour of the
great buildings, or the most flitting review of the noble massing of
the clouds and the hilly seas.

The very emptiness and desolation of all the buildings on the hill
help to accentuate their splendor. The stage is magnificently set;
the curtain, even, is lifted. One waits for the coming on of kingly
shapes, for the pomp of trumpets, for the pattering of a mighty host.
But, behold, all is still. And one sits and sees only a shadowy
company pass and repass across that glorious mise-en-scéne.

For, in a certain sense, I know no other medieval mass of buildings as
peopled as are these. The dead shapes seem to fill the vast halls. The
Salle des Chevaliers is crowded, daily, with a brilliant gathering of
knights, who sweep the trains of their white damask mantles, edged
with ermine, over the dulled marble of the floor; two by two they
enter the hall; the golden shells on their mantles make the eyes
blink, as the groups gather about the great chimneys, or wander
through the column-broken space.

Behind this dazzling cortege, up the steep steps of the narrow
streets, swarm other groups - the medieval pilgrim host that rushes
into cathedral aisles, and that climbs the ramparts to watch the
stately procession as it makes its way toward the church portals.

There are still other figures that fill every empty niche and deserted
watch-tower. Through the lancet windows of the abbatial gateways the
yeomanry of the vassal villages are peering; it is the weary time of
the Hundred Years' War, and all France is watching, through sentry
windows, for the approach of her dread enemy. On the shifting sands
below, as on brass, how indelibly fixt are the names of the hundred
and twenty-nine knights whose courage drove, step by step, over
that treacherous surface, the English invaders back to their island
strongholds.




CAEN[A]

[Footnote A: From "A Bibliographical Tour in France and Germany."]

BY THOMAS FROGNALL DIBDIN


Let us begin, therefore, with the Abbey of St. Stephen; for it is the
noblest and most interesting on many accounts. It is called by the
name of that saint, inasmuch as there stood formerly a chapel, on the
same site, dedicated to him. The present building was completed and
solemnly dedicated by William the Conqueror, in the presence of his
wife, his two sons Robert and William, his favorite, Archbishop
Lanfranc; John, Archbishop of Rouen, and Thomas, Archbishop of
York - toward the year 1080; but I strongly suspect, from the present
prevailing character of the architecture, that nothing more than the
west front and the towers upon which the spires rest remain of its
ancient structure. The spires, as the Abbé De La Rue conjectures, and
as I should also have thought, are about two centuries later than the
towers.

The outsides of the side aisles appear to be of the thirteenth, rather
than of the end of the eleventh, century. The first exterior view of
the west front, and of the towers, is extremely interesting from the
gray and clear tint, as well as excellent quality, of the stone,
which, according to Huet, was brought partly from Vaucelle and partly
from Allemagne. One of the corner abutments of one of the towers has
fallen down and a great portion of what remains seem to indicate rapid
decay. The whole stands indeed greatly in need of reparation. Ducarel,
if I remember rightly, has made, of this whole front, a sort of
elevation as if it were intended for a wooden model to work by, having
all the stiffness and precision of an erection of forty-eight hours'
standing only. The central tower is of very stunted dimensions, and
overwhelmed by a roof in the form of an extinguisher. This, in fact,
was the consequence of the devastations of the Calvinists; who
absolutely sapped the foundation of the tower, with the hope of
overwhelming the whole choir in ruin - but a part only of their
malignant object was accomplished. The component parts of the eastern
extremity are strangely and barbarously miscellaneous. However, no
good commanding exterior view can be obtained from the place, or
confined square, opposite the towers.

But let us return to the west front; and, opening the unfastened green
baize covered door, enter softly and silently into the venerable
interior - sacred even to the feelings of Englishmen. Of this interior,
very much is changed from its original character. The side aisles
retain their flattened arched roofs and pillars; and in the nave you
observe those rounded pilasters - or altorilievo-like pillars - running
from bottom to top, which are to be seen in the Abbey of Jumieges. The
capitals of these long pillars are comparatively of modern date.

To the left on entrance, within a side chapel, is the burial place
of Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror. The tombstone attesting her
interment is undoubtedly of the time. Generally speaking, the interior
is cold, and dull of effect. The side chapels, of which not fewer than
sixteen encircle the choir, have the discordant accompaniments of
Grecian balustrades to separate them from the choir and nave.

To the right of the choir, in the sacristy, I think, is hung the huge
portrait, in oil, within a black and gilt frame, of which Ducarel has
published an engraving, on the supposition of its being the portrait
of William the Conqueror. But nothing can be more ridiculous than
such a conclusion. In the first place, the picture itself, which is
a palpable copy, can not be older than a century; and in the second
place, were it an original performance, it could not be older than the
time of Francis I. In fact, it purports to have been executed as a
faithful copy of the figure of King William, seen by the Cardinals in
1522, who were seized with a sacred frenzy to take a peep at the body
as it might exist at that time. The costume of the oil painting is
evidently that of the period of our Henry VIII.; and to suppose that
the body of William - even had it remained in so surprisingly perfect
a state as Ducarel intimates, after an interment of upward of four
hundred years - could have presented such a costume, when, from
Ducarel's own statement, another whole-length representation of the
same person is totally different - and more decidedly of the character
of William's time - is really quite a reproach to any antiquary who
plumes himself upon the possession even of common sense.

In the middle of the choir, and just before the high altar, the body
of the Conqueror was entombed with great pomp; and a monument erected
to his memory of the most elaborate and costly description. Nothing
now remains but a flat, black marble slab, with a short inscription,
of quite a recent date....

You must now attend me to the most interesting public building,
perhaps all things considered, which is to be seen at Caen. I mean
the Abbey of the Holy Trinity, or L'Abbaye aux Dames. This abbey was
founded by the wife of the Conqueror, about the same time that William
erected that of St. Stephen. Ducarel's description of it, which I
have just seen in a copy of the "Anglo-Norman Antiquities," in a
bookseller's shop, is sufficiently meager. His plates are also
sufficiently miserable: but things are strangely altered since his
time. The nave of the church is occupied by a manufactory for making
cordage, or twine: and upward of a hundred lads are now busied in
their flaxen occupations, where formerly the nun knelt before the
cross, or was occupied in auricular confession.

The entrance at the western extremity is entirely stopt up; but the
exterior gives manifest proof of an antiquity equal to that of the
Abbey of St. Stephen. The upper part of the towers are palpably of the
fifteenth or, rather, of the early part of the sixteenth century. I
had no opportunity of judging of the neat pavement of the floor of the
nave, in white and black marble, as noticed by Ducarel, on account
of the occupation of this part of the building by the manufacturing
children; but I saw some very ancient tombstones, one, I think, of the
twelfth century, which had been removed from the nave or side aisles,
and were placed against the sides of the north transept.

The nave is entirely walled up from the transepts, but the choir is
fortunately preserved; and a more perfect and interesting specimen
of its kind, of the same antiquity, is perhaps nowhere to be seen
in Normandy. All the monuments as well as the altars, described by
Ducarel, are now taken away. Having ascended a stone staircase, we got
into the upper part of the choir, above the first row of pillars - and
walked along the wall. This was rather adventurous, you will say; but
a more adventurous spirit of curiosity had nearly proved fatal to me;
for, on quitting daylight, we pursued a winding stone staircase, in
our way to the central tower - to enjoy from hence a view of the town.
I almost tremble as I relate it.

There had been put up a sort of temporary wooden staircase, leading
absolutely to nothing; or, rather, to a dark void space. I happened
to be foremost in ascending, yet groping in the dark - with the guide
luckily close behind me. Having reached the topmost step, I was
raising my foot to a supposed higher or succeeding step - but there was
none. A depth of eighteen feet at least was below me. The guide
caught my coat, as I was about to lose my balance, and roared out,
"Wait - Stop!" The least balance or inclination, one way or the other,
is sufficient, upon these critical occasions; when luckily, from his
catching my coat, and pulling me, in consequence, slightly backward,
my fall and my life, were equally saved! I have reason from henceforth
to remember the Abbey aux Dames at Caen.

I gained the top of the central tower, which is not of equal altitude
with those of the western extremity, and from hence surveyed the town,
as well as the drizzling rain would permit. I saw enough, however,
to convince me that the site of this abbey is fine and commanding.
Indeed, it stands nearly upon the highest ground in the town. Ducarel
had not the glorious ambition to mount to the top of the tower;
nor did he even possess that most commendable of all species of
architectural curiosity, a wish to visit the crypt. Thus, in either
extremity, I evinced a more laudable spirit of enterprise than did
my old-fashioned predecessor. Accordingly, from the summit, you must
accompany me to the lowest depth of the building. I descended by the
same somewhat intricate route, and I took especial care to avoid all
"temporary wooden staircase." The crypt, beneath the choir, is perhaps


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