AVIGNON

“Aubouro-te, raço Latino–
Emé toun péu que se desnouso
A l’auro santo dou tabour,
Tu siès la raço lumenouso
Que viéu de joio e d’estrambord;
Tu siès la raço apoustoulico
Que souno li campano â brand:
Tu siès la troumpo que publico
E siès la man que trais lou gran
Aubouro-te, raço Latino!”

Latin race arouse thyself!
With thy hair loosened to the holy air of the tabor,
Thou art the race of light,
Who lives in enthusiasm and joy:
Thou art the apostolic race–
That sets the bells a-chiming;
Thou art the trumpet that proclaims:
Thou art the hand that sows the seed–
O Latin race, arise!

From “ODE TO THE LATIN RACE,” by MISTRAL.

[Illustration: A PROVENÇAL ROAD.
_By Joseph Pennell._]

During the night there was a great and unexplained tumult: rustling
sounds in the little courtyard to which our rooms looked out; whisperings
along the corridors; distant bangings; footsteps, voices–or was it the
remaining rumours of a dream?

Then a great sigh and a surging among the shrubs in the courtyard. The
creepers sway against the windows, and something seems to sweep through
the room. Presently a rush and a rattle among the jalousies, and a high
scream as of some great angry creature flying with frantic wings over
the courtyard and across the sky.

The mistral!

There was no mistaking our visitor.

A great angry creature, indeed, and no one who has seen the Land of
the Sun and Wind only under the sway of the more benign power can have
any conception of the passion and storm of this mighty Brigand of the
Mountain.

We begin now to understand the meaning of the epithet, “windy Avignon.”
And if one considers its position on the plain of the Rhone and the
Durance–the country stretching south and east to the mysterious stony
desert of the Crau[1] and the great regions of the mouths of the Rhone–it
is easy to see how the Black Wind, rushing down from his home in the
ranges of Mont Ventoux and the Luberon, must sweep the streets of the
city and fill every nook and corner with whirl and trouble.

The Rhone that “bends round Avignon to salute Our Lady on her high rock,”
as Mistral proclaims, grows white with anger under the lash, noble river
that she is!

Round farmstead and garden, along her banks, and far away on the great
spaces of this wonderful country, long, tall rows of cypresses keep
guard over house and home; for only these steadfast trees of Wisdom
and of Sorrow can stand against the fury of the mistral. For unnumbered
ages, long, long before all human history or tradition, he has lorded it
over the country, descending after the fashion of the ancient Ligurian
inhabitants from the hill-tops, for raid and ravage in the valleys.

Many have been his victims from first to last; among them the daughter
to whom Madame de Sévigné addresses her famous letters. She suffers from
his onslaught upon her Provençal château of Grignan, which was nearly
destroyed by the monster; unless, indeed, the lady is romancing a little
to keep her lively mother amused and quiet; for Madame de Sévigné writes:
“Vous dépeignez cette horreur comme Virgile!”

A householder seriously damaged in his property would be most unlikely to
describe the disaster thus classically. Perhaps a chimney or two blown off
and a roof carried away may have stimulated Madame de Grignan’s fancy.
There were always those letters to be written and a certain dearth of
subjects for a lady besieged by the mistral in a Provençal château. What
Madame de Grignan must have said one gathers from the mother’s reply–

“Voila le vent, le tourbillon, l’ouragon, les diables déchainés, qui
veulent emporter votre château…. Ah ma fille, quelle ébranlement
universel!”

The mother recommends taking refuge in Avignon; a curious place to flee
to from such a foe! But in those days there was no swift flight possible,
and a removal from the howling country to the whistling town was all
that could be achieved even by the wealthy. One wonders how the removal
of a household was effected when there were no railways and probably
few roads–and a mistral at full tilt across the plains!

Poets of all ages have sung of the feats of the amazing wind, and there
are descriptions of its furious descent upon the Crau, where in default
of anything better to wreak its anger upon, it sends the stones hurling
across the plain. Nothing can stand against it. Mistral says that in
tempest “il souffle toujours. Les arbres … se courbent, se secouent
à arracher leurs troncs.”

The ancients assigned a place to the great wind among their deities,
and the Emperor Augustus erected a temple in its honour. It is curious
how this pagan feeling of personality in the wind survives to this day.

Its famous namesake, the Provençal poet, whose home is at Maillane, on
the great plain among the guardian cypresses, expresses the sentiment in
a hundred forms, and he adduces a still more striking instance in the
account he once gave of his father–a fine specimen of the Provençal
farmer or yeoman–who had a positive adoration for “le bon vent.”

“Le jour ou l’on vannait le blé, souvent il n’y avait pas un souffle
d’air pour emporter la poussière blonde, alors, mon père avait recours
a une sorte d’invocation au mistral.

“Souffle mon mignon, disait il, et il priait et implorait.

“Eh bien, le vent venait et mon père, etait plein de joie, et il criait
‘brava, brava.'”

In his house at Maillane, protected from foreign intrusion by the double
army of the winds and the mosquitos, this chief of the Félibres passes
his days, rejoicing in their scourges because they frighten away the
wandering tourist–“tempted by our horizons and our sky”–from the land
of the Sun and the Cypress.

To him the roar and shriek of the mistral is always a “musico majestuoso.”

This tremendous being (as indeed he seems when one has once felt the
very earth shaking beneath his assault) must be responsible for much in
the Provençal character and literature; it is impossible to believe it
to have been without profound influence on the imagination of the many
races that have made the country their home.

Its voice is elemental, passionate, sometimes expressing blind fury, but
often full of an agony that even its own tremendous cry cannot utter;
a torment as of Prometheus and a grandeur of spirit no less than his.

The mistral produces effects of astonishing contrast; for when he is
silent Provence is the most smiling, kindly land in the world; and half
its stories are of gentle and lovely things: of chivalry, of romance,
of dance and song and laughter. But when once the Black Wind begins to
rouse himself from his lair on Mont Ventoux, then tragedy and pain and
despair are abroad on wide dark wings.

* * * * *

All the “merry hamlets” of Provence have delightful courts or _places_
shaded with plane-trees. Here the villagers assemble on Sundays and
Saints’ days, and here may always be found a few happy loungers resting
on the benches, or playing some game of whose mysterious antiquity they
are blissfully unconscious.

It is the country of mediævalism; it is still more the country of
paganism, of Greek temples, Phœnician inscriptions and tombs, Roman baths,
amphitheatres, aqueducts; it boasts a profusion of exquisite churches,
splendid mediæval castles; scenes of troubadour history, of the reputed
Courts of Love; of a thousand traditions and stories that have become
the heritage of every civilised people.

In the valley of Elorn, near Landerneau–called the Cradle of
Chivalry–was found, according to the legend, the veritable round table
of King Arthur, and here rose into the sky the towers of the Château de
Joyeuse Garde of the Arthurian legends.

But Provence rests its claim to having been the birthplace of Chivalry on
better grounds than this, for the first troubadour was a Provençal, the
Comte Quilhelm de Poictier; a most _debonnaire_ gentleman, of attractive
appearance, courtly manners, and an exhaustive knowledge of the Gay
Science, making great havoc with the hearts of ladies.

The colour of the landscape in Provence is as vivid as the history of
its people.

A writer speaks of “la couleur violente, presque exaspérée, des
montagnes.”

There is no country that can be less conveyed to the imagination by an
enumeration of topographical facts. The more exact the description the
less we arrive at the land that Mistral sees and loves.

Of this poet, characteristically Provençal, Lamartine is reported to
have said–

“I bring you glad tidings, a great epic poet is born among us. The West
produces no more such poets, but from the nature of the South they will
spring forth. It is from the sun alone that power flows.”

It is from the sun that _life_ flows, is the irresistible conclusion
that one comes to under the skies of the Midi.

Science has insisted upon the fact, and no one seriously disputes it, but
not to dispute and to actually accept are two very different conditions
of mind. Legend, proverb, history, song, all seem to tell of a life more
intense, more “vibrant,” as their great poet describes the Provençals–in
the troubadour country than elsewhere; unless indeed one goes still
farther into the regions of the sun and falls under the kindred spell
of Italy.

In England archæology seems cold and dead. In the South it conjures up
visions of a teeming life; generation after generation of peoples, race
after race, civilisation after civilisation.

Paradox as it seems, the multitude of dead or ruined or vanished cities
that have lined the coast from the Pyrenees to the Var strangely enhances
this sense of vitality and persistence of human activities.

* * * * *

But one records and records, and yet one has not Provence. One has but
her mountains and contours, her blue sky, and perhaps her wild wind–but
there is always something beyond.

One sees the Rhone and the Durance on their way to the sea–splendid
headlong rivers; one sees the melancholy brooding wilderness of the Crau,
where Hercules and the quarrelsome Titans flung those huge stones at
one another in the dim old days; one sees always the strange, fantastic
little limestone chain of the Alpilles which finishes to the south-east
the great semicircle begun to the west by the higher ranges. The eye
follows everywhere, fascinated, the battalions of cypresses, while over
all is the flooding light, vibrating, living. And yet after all is said,
Provence is still an unknown land.

It is one of the haunted lands, the spell-weaving lands. It enslaves as
no obvious technical beauty of landscape can enslave.

Provence is like one of its own enchanting ladies of the troubadour
days, and strangely significant is it that this nameless quality of the
country should have been thus reproduced by the crown and flower of its
people. For this attribute of charm belongs to knight and baron, soldier
and singer, if we may trust the old songs and the old stories. But,
_par excellence_, it belonged to the cultivated lady of the epoch. Take,
for instance, the mysterious Countess of Die or Dia, of whose identity
nothing is certainly known. She was a writer of songs and the heroine of
one of the poetical love-stories of the age: a lady capable of deep and
faithful love, unhappily for her peace of mind. Of the subtlety of her
attractions one may judge by the power which the mere dead records wield
to this day over the imagination. This is how a modern author writes of
her–

“Her voice had the colour of Alban wine, with overtones like
the gleams of light in the still, velvety depths of the goblet,
and when she smiled, it seemed as if she drew from a harp
a slow, deep chord in the mode of Æolia. Though not at all
diffident, and not at all prudish, she wore usually an air of
shyness, the shyness of one whose thoughts dread intrusion.”

How our author managed to gather such intimate detail from ancient volumes
is perhaps difficult to understand; and doubtless he has reconstructed a
voice and a smile from hints of the personality given by musty documents
written demurely in the quaint, beautiful old _langue d’oc_. Still,
there must have been some potent suggestion in the chronicles to set the
fancy working in this glowing way, and it is a fact that all that one
reads of the women of that time has a curious elusive element, producing
an impression of some attraction subtler and more holding than can be
expressed in direct words.

And Provence has a charm like that of her mysteriously endowed women;
unaccountable, but endless to those who are once drawn within the magnetic
circle. Have their sisters of to-day none of this quality? One here
and there, no doubt, but it is to be feared that modern conditions do
not favour the production of the type. Perhaps the women of to-day are
making a _détour_ out of the region of enchantment, but only in order
to obtain a broader, more generous grasp of the things of life. Some
day they will give back to mankind what has been taken away by the new
adventures, and when the tide turns, there will surely pour over the
arid world a flood of beauty and “youngheartedness” and romance such as
the blinder, less conscious centuries have never so much as dreamt of!

Meanwhile the troubadours had the privilege of dedicating their songs
and their hearts to the most fascinating women which civilisation had
as yet produced. Perhaps one associates such subtle attraction with the
powers of darkness, but there is nothing to show that such powers had
aught to do with the charm of the heroines of troubadour song. On the
contrary, they seem as a rule to have been of extremely fine calibre;
and if one consults one’s memories of magnetic personalities–after all
there are not a very large array of them–it almost always proves to
be the powers of good in its broadest sense, and not of evil, that give
birth to the fascination that never dies.

And the fascination of this gay, sad, brilliant, sympathetic country is
not dreadful and diabolic. It is compounded of wholesome sunshine and
merriment, swift ardour of thought and emotion, of beautiful manners;
of the poetry of ancient industries: of sowing and reaping and tillage;
of wine-culture and olive-growing; of legends and quaint proverbs, and a
language full of the flavour of the soil and the sun that reveals itself
to the quick of ear and of heart long before it can be fully understood.
For it appeals to the heart, this sweet language of the troubadours, and
hard must have often been the task of those poor ladies, wooed in this
too winning tongue!

The traditions of chivalry are among the priceless possessions of the
human race, and it is in Provence that their aroma lingers with a potency
scarcely to be found in any other country. The air is alive with rich
influences. The heat of the sun, the extraordinary brilliance of light and
colour, the dignity of an ancient realm whose every inch is penetrated
with human doings and destinies, all combine towards an enchantment
that belongs to the mysterious side of nature and prompts a host of
unanswerable questions. The eye wanders bewildered across the country,
wistfully struggling to realise the wonder and the beauty. It sweeps
the peaked line of mountains with only an added sense of bafflement,
and rests at last, sadly, on some lonely castle with shattered ramparts
and roofless banqueting-hall, where now only the birds sing troubadour
songs, and ivy and wild vines are the swaying tapestries.

“Sur le pont d’Avignon,
On y danse, on y danse!”

“Avenio ventosa, sine vento
Venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa.”
LATIN PROVERB.

“Parlement mistral et Durance
Sont les trois fleaux de Provence.”
OLD SAYING.

How the sun does pour down on to the great esplanade before the Palace
of the Popes! It is as warm as a June day in England and twice as light.
That astounding building towers into the blue, bare and creamy white,
every stern, simple line of it ascending swift and clear, in repeated
strokes, rhythmically grand, like some fine piece of blank verse.

The parapet alone shows broken surfaces. Neither cornice nor corbel
nor window pediment; scarcely a window to interrupt the mass of
splendid masonry, only recurrent shafts of stone (continuing from the
machicolations above) which shoot straight and slim from base to summit of
the fortress, to meet there at intervals, as if a line of tall poplars,
two by two, had bent their heads together to form this succession of
sharply-pointed arches.

The arrangement of massive wall and slender arch gives to the building
a singular effect of strength and eternity combined with a severe sort
of grace.

[Illustration: PONT DE ST. BENÉZET, AVIGNON.
_By E. M. Synge._]

It stands there enormous, calm, yet with a delicacy of bearing belonging
surely to no other edifice of that impregnable strength and vast bulk. The
genius of the architect has expressed in these sixteen-feet walls some
of the spirit of the palace as well as the rudeness of the stronghold,
and has given a subtle hint of the painted halls and galleries wherein
half the potentates of Europe were magnificently entertained, where
Petrarch dreamed and Rabelais jested…. And that hint seems to lie in
the general relations of mass to mass, and especially in the shallow
projection and towering height of that endless line of delicate arches.
Burke, in his sublime way, assures us that sublimity is the result
of monotonous repetition, and this surprising achievement of Papal
magnificence certainly bears out the theory.

The palace shows no more signs of age upon it than the glowing tint
of the walls through the beating of the sun upon them for hundreds of
brilliant years. How brilliant they must have been! What warmth, what
light! That is what astonishes Barbara: the light. She cannot get over
it. We seem to have awakened into a world woven out of radiance.

Not but that it is a very real and solid world, this sun-created realm
of rambling terraces and upward-trending pathways. Rich stone-pines
follow the slant of the road, as it mounts the famous Rocher du Dom in
easy zig-zags till it reaches the plateau at the summit, where once upon
a time, tradition says, all the witches and wizards of the country-side
used to celebrate their unholy rites. And thereby hangs a tale–perhaps
to be told later in the day.

Half-way up the rock, on a little platform of its own, stands a small
Romanesque Cathedral, singularly fine in style, and characteristic of
the architecture of the South of France. Creepers are hanging recklessly,
alluringly over the walls and parapets of the hill above. On the top there
is a little garden, with seats and shrubs and a pond inhabited by ornate,
self-conscious kinds of birds. We learn this in later explorations. Just
now the instinctive human desire to reach the highest point achievable
is half quieted by the warm comfort of this placid spot below, and we
turn our backs on the aspiring Mount.

There are sun-warmed stone benches under the young, sparsely-covered
plane-trees (no town in Provence ever dreamt of trying to exist without
plane-trees), and here we establish ourselves and watch the little events
of the square: the soldiers coming and going up the steps of the Papal
Palace (now a barracks); the three recruits being frantically drilled
(there is always an element of frenzy in French military exercises);
the slow moving of the shadows which rudely caricature the huge stone
garland on the Papal Mint, a design in Michael Angelo’s most opulent
manner; the stray cats on the prowl from neighbouring kitchens; the
cheerful dog trotting across the square, tail in air, ready to answer
to a friendly word with which we detain him from more important affairs.

Ancient as is this city of the Popes, there are no weather-stains, as
we northerners understand them, only marks of the sun and wind. A good
friend this fierce, cleansing sun, and the wind from Mont Ventoux must
sweep away all impurities from the narrow streets, and–_il y en a!_

Away across the parapet a mass of roofs fills the slope to the river
bank–most wonderful of rivers!–and to the south there are hills
and bright distances: Provençal hills, distances of the land of “joy,
young-heartedness and love.” And that makes the thought that we are in
Provence wake up with a cry that rings in the heart like a _reveillé_.
And on its heels comes a strange, secret rebound of sadness, keen as the
cut of a knife. As for the cause? Who can say exactly what home-sickness,
what vast longing it is that wakens thus when the beauty and greatness
of the world and the narrowness of individual possibilities point too
clearly their eternal contrast?

[Illustration: PALACE OF THE POPES AND CATHEDRAL.
_By E. M. Synge._]

“I can’t get over that _light_,” Barbara exclaims, in renewed
astonishment. “I don’t feel as if I ever wanted to move from this bench.”

And we let the sun make a considerable portion of his daily journey
across the palace walls before we move. Already the influence of the
South is in our veins. It makes one better understand the genius of this
“Rome transportée dans les Gaules.” It must have been, in some sort,
the capital of Europe, when for sixty years or so the Papal Court drew
the great and the famous from the ends of the earth to the gay, corrupt
little city.

Seven Popes reigned here, but of the life at the Palace during that time
there is singularly little record. Instinctively one tries to recapture
misty reminiscences of schoolroom lore, for now the dry facts begin to
glow with the splendour and the pathos of real life, as one realises that
just on this very spot, in sight of these sunny hills and this rushing
river, those ancient things took place.

“Oh! Barbara, how magnificently learned I should be if only I possessed
all the information that I have forgotten!”

“What have you forgotten?” Barbara inquires soothingly.

Heavens! What with forgetting and never having known, one felt as arid
and futile as an extinct volcano. Had one but enjoyed the privileges
accorded to the characters of ancient drama, one would have stretched
forth hands in invocation to the mysterious eventful city.

“O city, O immortal city of the Rhone, lift but for one moment the veil
that hides from us those tremendous secrets which fill the air with
dreams and presences even to this hour!”

Perhaps the appeal was not altogether in vain, for a few isolated facts
began to drift, ghost-like, into view. They were images imprinted in
childish days while Avignon was nothing but a name, and so the ill-guided
imagination had placed the city on the plain; a bare, arid group of
houses surrounding a vague, vast structure, against which clouds of dust
were continually being driven.

It was curious and interesting to compare this long-cherished picture
with the reality. In connection with it was another painted in richer
tones. The subject was the journey of Philip of Valois through his
kingdom with the kings of Navarre and Bohemia in his train. After passing
through Burgundy–broad and spacious Burgundy, with its straggling, brown
villages–he arrives here at Avignon, where other kings have hurried to
meet him, and is magnificently received by the Pope. Which of the seven
Popes was it? Alas! memory failed, but King Philip was lodged over there
across the river at Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

“Beyond the island where the huge castle is on the hill?” Barbara
inquired. “What a shabby sort of place to put a king.”

My idea, too, of Villeneuve, till I saw it, had been a brilliant little
pleasure-city, full of splendid cardinals’ palaces.

“Let’s go and see the town,” said Barbara; “perhaps the palaces are
still there.”

We decided to go that very day. A place is twice seen that is seen at
once. Some discerning person had read me Froissart’s account of the
scene, and I had never forgotten it; the feastings and festivals that
burst forth all over the city, till Lent came; and then the thrilling
news that went flying through the country that the Saracens were marching
against the Holy Land. This was a threat to all Christendom. It was
difficult to imagine what it must have been to fear a possible invasion
of those terrible enemies.

But the city was spared. The Pope preached a great sermon to his
congregation of kings, exhorting them to take the cross. They all obeyed.
And then the visionary pictures became a procession: the King of France
with his retinue journeying westward into Languedoc—-

“Languedoc?” questioned Barbara.

It was just before us across the Rhone; lovely brown hills on the horizon.

And so the royal company moved in picturesque progress through the
provinces of France: Auvergne, Berry, Beauce, and so on, till they
reached Paris.

“I should like to have seen it,” said Barbara. “I wonder if they wore
long robes and ermine.”

“Perhaps not quite so beautiful a garb as that, but, thank Heaven, we
know they didn’t wear tweed suits! When the human race took to doing
that they bid goodbye to the charm and romance of life for ever.”

“But I think men look quite nice in tweed suits,” said Barbara. “I am
sure they would look ridiculous now in mantles and ermine.”

“Oh, that’s another matter. There is always something a little ridiculous
about civilised man, ‘rough hew him how you may’; but nothing brings it
out so fatally as tweed.”

Barbara remonstrated, and then wanted to know if I could remember any more.

I could remember nothing about Avignon, but between us we recollected
incidents about the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, which took
place just at this time. It was a luckless day for France and England
when Edward III. was so ill-inspired as to assert his roundabout claim
to the throne of France! The fair country became the scene of raids and
sieges, ravaging of provinces, taking and retaking of towns and castles,
battle and murder and sudden death.

Of this there are of course endless chronicles; of all the moil and toil
of war and rapine, of the clash of rival interests, of mad ambitions
which, once gratified, left their victims only more wild and craving
than before.

If the annals of the Middle Ages have a moral it is this: Fling away
ambition. Fling away this crude passion of kings and captains which seems
to drive a man like a fury through his untasted life, never giving him
pause to possess what he has won or even to realise the triumph of his
achievement.

“Tell me more,” demanded Barbara.

But the pictures were at an end. Quite capriciously it seemed,
certain scenes had painted themselves on the mind, but what followed
chronologically had made no special impression, perhaps because there
was a general confusion of wars and tumults, till suddenly we emerge on
familiar ground at the battles of Creçy and Poitiers.

We had grown tired of trying to realise the things of the past, and
strolled down to the river, to the long suspension bridge, where, as
every French child knows, “on y danse, on y danse.” And here one has a
fine view of Villeneuve, across the Rhone, and looking back, of Avignon.
From this point its walls are strikingly picturesque, ramparts of the
fourteenth century, built by Clement VI. and described by a modern
author as a “remarkably beautiful specimen of mediæval masonry, with
a battlemented wall for projecting machicolations on finely moulded
corbels”–corbels of four or five courses, which give an appearance
almost Eastern to these splendid walls and gateways.

“The intensest life of the fourteenth century,” says the same writer,
“passed through the Gothic portal over which the portcullis hung in its
chamber ever ready to drop with a thundering crash, and fix its iron
teeth in the ground.”

Barbara asked a great many searching questions about times and manners.
But here I began to experience what some discriminating person has
called a “reaction against the despotism of facts.” I did not know any
more. I began to repent of having excited this inordinate thirst for
information. However, very little is needed to enable one to achieve a
general impression of France in the fourteenth century. One has merely
to think of the fair land under the horrors of sack and siege, burning
towns, starving people, all the agonies of chronic warfare. What is
more difficult is to descend from the general to the particular, and
to imagine what sort of life that must have been for the mortal who was
neither a King nor a Pope, nor a plundering freebooter, but only a human
being with a life to ruin and a heart to break.

* * * * *

Even while one is dreaming of other things, that wonderful Palace is
impressing itself upon the sentiment with steady power. It stands there
in the blaze of light, tremendous, inevitable, like a fact of nature.
One can scarcely think it away. It resists even that mighty force, the
human imagination.

Avignon! the Roman _Avenio_; a place of many events, many influences,
which have helped to make our present life what it is–we are really
there, absurdly improbable as it seems; we, with our modern minds, modern
speech, modern preconceptions, in the bright land of the troubadours;
and, stranger still, in the land where the Phœnicians traded, the Greeks
colonised, the Romans built their inevitable baths and amphitheatres;
where the ancient Ligurians lived their lives on peaked hilltops, and
race fought race and tribe fought tribe, when there was neither Pope
in Avignon nor King in France, but only wild gods and wilder chieftains
ruling in the lawless, beautiful land.

From the height of the Rocher du Dom (we climb there at last by the
zig-zag pine-shadowed road) the whole country bursts upon us, blue, wide,
mountain-encircled, radiant; with the Rhone winding across the plain,
dreaming of mysterious things. The great river has a personality of its
own as strong as that of the palace. It sweeps to the foot of our cliff
and takes a splendid curve round the south side of the town, past the
ruined bridge of St. Benézet, with its romantic chapel poised midway
above the rush and flurry of the river.

Every year, on Christmas Eve, Mass used to be celebrated in this little
chapel of the Rhone, and strange must it have been when the yellow lights
glowed–just once of all the nights of the long year–on its lonely
altar, and the chanting of priests rose and fell above the sound of the
marauding waters. But for their aggressions, the grand old bridge would
still be carrying passengers from the Papal city across the two branches
of the river and the island of St. Barthelasse to the foot of the tower
of Philippe le Bel.

This old tower is, perhaps, the most striking building–except the
great castle–in the decaying town of Villeneuve where the Cardinals
built so many palaces. Here it was, in that forgotten little haunt of
pleasure, that the guests of the Pope were once so gloriously lodged
and entertained. And now–sad beyond all telling is the little town!
Ardouin-Dumazet, the author of “Un Voyage en France,” seems to have been
impressed by its forlornness as much as we were, for he writes of it in
words that evoke the very spirit of the place:–

“Amas de toits audessus desquels surgissent des eglises rongées par
le temps, des edifices à physiognomie triste et vague–La ville est
d’apparence morne. Elle dut être splendide jadis: de grands hotels, des
maisons de noble ordonnance, des voies bordées d’arcades indiquent un
passé prosperé. Les moindres détails: ferrurues de portes et de balcon,
corbeaux, statuettes d’angle sont d’un art tres pur. Aujourd’hui on
rencontre surtout des chiens et des chats–On pourrait se croire dans
une ville morte–On va errer par les lamentables et pittoresques débris
de la Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction où sont encore de merveilles
architecturales.”

Everywhere, indeed, as one wanders, one comes upon these “architectural
marvels.” A fine doorway giving entrance to a wheelwright’s yard; delicate
pieces of iron-work on the balcony of a barber’s shop; a scrap of stone
carving; a noble block of buildings in some ill-kept street.

The symphonic beauty of such relics of the Renaissance which are found in
almost every town of the South of France, bears in upon the imagination
the truth of the saying of the great architect Alberti that a slight
alteration in the curves of his design for San Francesco at Rimini would
“spoil his music.”

The traveller who climbs the hill to the vast fortress of St. André–with
its battlements of the fourteenth century–enters a scene even more
eloquent of desolation. But splendid it must have been in the days of
its glory!

[Illustration: CHARTREUSE DU VAL-DE-BÉNÉDICTION, VILLENEUVE-LES-AVIGNON.
_By E. M. Synge._]

The huge drum towers of the entrance gate recall old dreams of romantic
adventure. But for the strange silence of the place, it might almost
excite expectations of clattering cavalcades, and one knows not what
medley of bright figures in harmony with the mediæval background. But
the silence broods on, unbroken. A black kitten is the only living thing
that meets the view as we pass through the shadows of the gateway. A
dishevelled grey village has grown up within the walls, its steep street
climbing upward to the summit of the hill, while a cypress-guarded
convent stands within its own high walls. Here the sisters pass their
lives, doubly immured. If some unhappy nun tried to escape, she would
not only have to penetrate the stern boundaries of her retreat, but
to scale the ramparts of the fortress into the bargain; the engines
of State and Religion arrayed against her; of this world and the next.
It prompted one to carry the significant symbol further afield, and to
follow in imagination the fortunes not only of the fugitive nun but of
the escaping woman!

As we begin the ascent of the desolate street, the black kitten slips
coquettishly across the way, at a slant, her tail high in the air,
like a ruler, as the School-Board essayist happily puts it. We hail her
as alluringly as may be, but she is away beyond our reach up a little
outside staircase leading to the doorway of one of the few habitable
houses. From this eminence she looks down upon us mockingly, clearly
enjoying our disadvantage. This piques us and we engage in pursuit. The
imp finally vanishes into the doorway, and presently a miserably clad,
dejected-looking woman emerges. Evidently the kitten had announced to her
the advent of visitors. She leads the way, a huge bunch of keys in her
hand, the kitten following in a self-willed, flighty sort of fashion.
While we are trifling with ancient walls and gruesome dungeons, the
kitten is busy catching phantom mice among the heaps of fallen masonry
that encumber the grassy hill-top, forlorn remains, indeed, of human
habitations.

[Illustration: CASTLE OF ST. ANDRÉ, VILLENEUVE-LES-AVIGNON.
_By E. M. Synge._]

The little chapel of the convent strikes with a chill as we enter–surely
it is something more than a chill; a sense of something deathly. In
a flash comes the horrified sense of the death-in-life that is hidden
behind these mysterious walls. One needs no detail, no assurance; the
whole beats in upon the consciousness, steals in like an atmosphere, as
we stand in the shadow looking at the little flower-decked altar, musty
and tawdry with its artificial flowers and flounced draperies.

“Of what Order are the Sisters?” we inquire, in undertones, after a long
silence.

“Sh–h,” warns a reproving voice from a hidden part of the chapel, which
had been so arranged as to leave the west-end of it invisible to all
but the inmates of the convent.

“C’est une des soeurs,” whispered our guide, and we turned and left the
devotee to her prayers.

A truly amazing thing the human spirit! There are times when one feels
entirely divorced from it, as if one were studying its manifestations
from the point of view of an alien race. And there is no epoch so
baffling to the modern mind as the mediæval. The ancients seem normal,
straight-going, and eminently human as compared with the men and women
of the Middle Ages.

We are taken to the dungeons in the entrance towers where our feudal
forefathers inflicted one dares not think what agonies, and without
a pang of remorse; rather with a sense of right and heaven-inspired
justice. It was within the walls of this fortress, probably in a cell
of the Convent, that the Man in the Iron Mask passed the dreadful days
and nights of his life.

The sentiment of the unimaginative ruffian who could condemn a
fellow-creature to this living grave is probably beyond the understanding
of a modern–short of a criminal lunatic. We are glad to hurry out again
into the light, oppressed by the shadow of misery and wickedness that
seems to hang about the place to this hour.

There are many who hold that the world has made no real progress except
in material civilisation. That is a subject that might best be studied
in some mouldering dungeon, which, be it remembered, was just as much a
“necessary part” of the mediæval castle as the kitchen or pantry is of
its descendant, the country-house of to-day.

If such strongholds were either let or sold in the feudal era, they were
doubtless recommended to intending purchasers as having well-appointed
torture-chambers, fitted with all the latest improvements in racks
and thumb-screws. Without venturing to claim too much for the average
modern, he may be said to have advanced a little beyond the stage when
the thumb-screw was an instrument that no gentleman’s house should be
without. As the change of ideals to which this improvement is due may
be said to have taken place in Provence, fostered and impelled, paradox
as it seems, within the precincts of the feudal castle itself with its
chains and oubliettes, those sighing ruins become strangely moving and
significant.

Our poor, half-starved guide, however, looks as if she thought them
anything but significant as she leads us up and down the fallen masonry,
the kitten following always, and often springing to her shoulders and
curving its lithe little body round her neck.

“Il est comme notre enfant,” she says, half apologetically. “Nous n’en
avons pas, des enfants.” And the kitten swirls its tail in her face
as if to assure her that it could well fill the place of any number of
children. The faithful little acolyte had to be left outside the door
leading to the dungeons, for she used to get lost in the passages and
the turret staircase. But there she waited, mewing at intervals, till
we re-emerged, and then she sprang with a little purring cry on to her
mistress’s shoulder.

We were at the entrance gate, and the round of the fortress was finished.
We bade goodbye to the woman, who pocketed her “tip” and hastened back
with her attendant sprite to the little grey, half-ruined house where
she passes her grey, unimaginable life!

“La cigalo di piboulo,
La bouscarlo do bouissoun,
Lou grihet di farigoulo
Tout canto sa cansoun.”

The tree locust in the poplar, the thrush in the wayside bush,
The grasshopper in the wild thyme, each sings its own song.

MISTRAL.

At the _table d’hôte_ of our hotel, a little group of travellers was
clustered at the far end of the long, old-fashioned room–silent, French
though they were. My neighbour was a pale, faintly-outlined young man,
with short, colourless hair. Curious that so artistic a nation should
crop its hair so very close, I idly mused. That pallor? Presumably the
lack of outdoor exercise, not to enter upon dark possibilities of absinthe
and other Parisian roads to ruin.

At about the stage of the _entrée_ the subject of these conjectures,
bracing himself to the task, turned and said–

“Est ce que vous êtes depuis longtemps à Avignon, madame?” (Accent a
little provincial, I thought, perhaps Provençal, which was interesting!)

“Non, monsieur, je ne suis ici que depuis hier,” I responded, not only
in my best French, but with as much sociability as I could throw into
the somewhat arid reply, for I desired to prolong a conversation that
might throw light upon the fascinating country.

“Ah!” said the close-cropped one, with a gesture that I thought Gallic,
“je suis un peu–de–dis–disappointed, as we say in English,” he suddenly
broke up, with an exasperated abandonment of the foreign lingo. The man
was an Englishman, for all he was worth! Barbara laughed aloud, getting
wind of the situation. So much for the distinctions of national types.
My neighbour had made precisely the same mistake on his side that I had
made on mine.

With Avignon he was indeed “a little disappointed.” He thought the Palace
bare and ugly, and the town dirty and unattractive. The view from the
Rocher du Dom? Yes, that was rather fine. Give the devil his due, he
evidently felt. What was the height of Mont Ventoux? I longed to rush
wildly into figures, but principle restrained me. Did I mean to go to
Chateauneuf? Our friend had been there. Tumble-down old place. One could
see it from the Rocher du Dom across the river. They made rather good
wine there.

Chateauneuf! Good wine there!

Was this the famous Chateauneuf, the ancient country seat of the Popes,
the lordly pleasure-house of the most luxurious and brilliant Court of
the Middle Ages?–(“Not much luxury about it now!” said our tourist)–a
vast Summer Palace situated on one of the finest sites of the district,
whence one could see Vaucluse itself in the Vale of the Sorgue, Petrarch’s
beloved retreat from the clamour of the Papal City; and Vacqueiras,
the home of Raimbaut de Vacqueiras, the celebrated troubadour, and many
another spot of greater or less renown.

Here, too, a modern singer had been born: Anselm Mathieu, and in the
old house of his family the Provençal Félibres used to meet, reciting
verses, singing songs, and doubtless pledging one another in the famous
vintage of Chateauneuf, the “rather good wine” of our severe critic.

[Illustration: CHATEAUNEUF, NEAR AVIGNON.
_By E. M. Synge._]

He placidly continued his crushing observations. Vaucluse he considered
a much over-rated spot, though the cliffs and crags above the source
of the river _were_ rather striking. Was there anything more to see
in Avignon after one had done the Palace and the Museum? I reluctantly
admitted there was but little one could recommend to a critical spirit.
Our level-headed tourist had spent an hour in Villeneuve that morning–the
little town across the bridge with the big castle, he explained–and found
it depressing–everything peeling off. The description was annoyingly
apt. There was no gainsaying it. Only it was not exhaustive.

Its author intended to go next morning to see the Pont du Gard, about
which one heard so many laudatory accounts. He was told that he wouldn’t
think as much of it as he expected. How much he expected after this
warning I was unable to estimate, but I thought it safe to prophesy
disappointment. He said himself that he confidently anticipated it. I
wondered vaguely whether the condition of mind thus described was capable
of analysis, but did not attempt it. I felt Barbara was emotionally in
a state of unstable equilibrium, and dared not add to her provocations.
My neighbour further complained that considering the general importance
of Avignon and one’s extreme familiarity with its name, historically
speaking, it seemed surprisingly shabby and small–narrow streets and
all that. We admitted the narrow streets.

And there wasn’t a decent church in the whole place! Wouldn’t compare
with Bruges or Rouen. My tourist was at Rouen in the autumn of ’98, and
at Bruges in September of ’99, on a cycling tour–or was it August?

I thought it might be August.

Yes (our friend’s memory clarified most satisfactorily), it was the last
week in August. On the 18th he had left London. I knew that hot weather
we had all over England and the Continent at the end of August in that
year?

I evidently must have known it, so it seemed scarcely worth while
confessing that my memory failed to distinguish the particular heat of
that summer from the more or less similar oppressiveness of any other
season.

Well, he and two fellows cycled all through Holland and Belgium in ten
days and three hours; saw everything. They made an average of sixty miles
a day. Barbara, who hailed from north of the Tweed, said “Aw!” and the
flattered cyclist hastened to add, with becoming modesty, that of course
the roads were good and the country flat. They did ninety several days.
Pretty fair with the thermometer at 70° in the shade—-

“An interesting country for such a tour?”

“Rather flat; never get a really good spin; though on the other hand,
there is no uphill work.”

For general interest did the country compare at all with Provence? I
wanted to turn my informant from his line of ideas just for the fun of
seeing him work back to it, as an intercepted ant or earwig will pursue
its chosen path, no matter how many obstacles one may throw in the way.
Our tourist doubled and fell into line again almost at once.

Provence? He had been recommended to give it a trial, but so far had
seen nothing particular to attract one. Too hot for cycling, and hotels
very poor. And, as he said before, there were no churches, let alone
cathedrals. Look at the cathedral here, as they had the cheek to call
it, perched up on a rock like a Swiss châlet. And what architecture!
Baedecker called it Romanesque. He always called things Romanesque when
there was nothing else he _could_ decently call them. (This was cheering;
a sort of inverted enthusiasm which at least was less depressing than
indifference.) Why couldn’t they stick to some definite style–Gothic or
something? However, he (my neighbour) didn’t pretend to know anything
about these matters, though he evidently felt that the architects who
couldn’t bring themselves to settle down decisively into “Gothic or
something” had made rather a poor thing of their profession. It seemed
to him that there was a baldness about the buildings here. They _might_
be all right, but so they struck him. Rienzi’s tower, for instance–not
a rag of ornament!

I had begun to suggest an unsatisfied yearning for a few minarets with
a trifle of Early Perpendicular work down the sides, when I became aware
that for various reasons–Barbara especially–it was wiser to desist.

It was not till our friend had gone next day to court disappointment
at the Pont du Gard that we felt the lifting of the curious, leaden
atmosphere that he had thrown around him. His presence seemed to stop
the heart-beat of the place, nay, one’s own heart-beat, till nothing
was left but hotels and averages and heights and dates. _Mon Dieu!_ And
some day somebody would have to travel with such a being–perhaps for
life. Heaven help the other traveller!

However, after all, it was possibly wholesome to have one’s hot-headed
impressions subjected to the cold light of an Englishman’s reason. Our
compatriot, with his severely rational way of conducting himself, had
doubtless gathered a crop of solid information, which was more than
could be said for _our_ methods. I told Barbara that I was going to
regard Avignon henceforth from the point of view of its population and
height above the sea, and I hunted up facts in guide-books and put her in
possession of all available dates from the earliest ages to the present
day. She did not seem to me to assimilate them satisfactorily.

[Illustration: RIENZI’S TOWER, AVIGNON.
_By E. M. Synge._]

The country round Avignon serves to remind one of the fact that it was,
in ancient times, a good deal nearer the sea than it is at present.
The outlines are like those of a sea-bordering country; such heights
as there are have the character of cliffs, or they are level-topped,
smoothed-out hills until one reaches the grotesque escarpments of the
Alpilles or the wild masses of the Luberon range, once island summits
rising from the waters.

Avignon stands majestically on one of these heights, with the Rhone
valley spreading wide on every hand.

It looks like a magic city in the sunshine or in the glow of evening;
the interminable Palace, the Cathedral, the spires and towers rising
against the sky with that particular serenity of beauty that we think
of as belonging to the land of dreams.

* * * * *

A railway journey of about two hours from Avignon takes one to the little
ducal city of Uzès, which lies in the heart of this curious lateral
country, whose eminences have no peaks or highest points, whose lines
are all horizontal.

Upon the sky-line at the end of the leisurely journey appears a striking
mass of buildings and mediæval towers, announcing to the lover of
architecture that some delightful hours are before him.

A quaint old omnibus takes (and shakes) the passengers–mostly commercial
travellers–up the slight hill and in through the grey gates of this
stately little city, landing one and all at the big inn in the broad
main street. Except that it is so exceedingly quiet, it has something
in common with the street of an English cathedral town.

Obviously Uzès has been a place of importance in the past: the public
buildings are on a grand scale and of fine design; the Ducal Palace
announces the capital of a little Principality or Duchy, and the number
of churches would suggest either a large population or a very devout one.
But a sort of trance seems to have fallen upon the place, and not even
the bustle of the inn at its busiest moments, when the vast, dark-papered
dining-room is filled with hungry passengers, can overcome the sense of
suspended life that haunts the town.

But in the earlier centuries it had a stirring history. Uzès possessed
some valiant seigneurs in the days of Philippe le Bel, for that monarch
was so pleased with their prowess that he erected the town into a
“Vicomté.” It was governed by its seigneurs and its bishops who shared
the jurisdiction, and a lively time they must have had of it!

It has always been a fiery little city, and during the religious wars of
the sixteenth century was the scene of terrible struggles and massacres,
even in the very churches, which were half ruined during this period.
Perhaps the tumult of those times has left Uzès weary and sad, for now
the place seems dedicated to the God of Sleep.

The shaded promenade or terrace, with its white parapet of short stone
pillars, runs round two sides of the Ducal Garden outside its walls–a
delightful spot to rest or loiter in, commanding a curious wide view
over the country, which is, however, suddenly shut in by a hard, high
horizon line as level as if it were ruled, or as if it were the edge of
a plain, though it is really a range of hills.

The trees of the shady old garden of the Duché drop their branches over
a high wall; at the back of the demesne the Cathedral stands half hidden
by some of the buildings of the Duché and beside it rises one of the
most singular and beautiful architectural monuments of the South, La
Tour Fenestrella, an exquisite Romanesque tower, much smaller but more
graceful than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which it otherwise resembles.

It springs upwards, tier after tier of little arches, with an effect
of exquisite lightness and strength, and leaves one wondering why this
delicate example of Romanesque work does not enjoy a greater renown.

Many hours might be well spent in this forgotten little city, where in
the old days the intense quiet that broods over it–as if invading it
from the strange, almost ominous landscape beyond the parapet–was broken
by the din of warfare more violent and more unappeasable than any other
sort of strife: that of religion.

* * * * *

In early spring the plain of the Rhone in the neighbourhood of Avignon
is all flushed with young almond blossoms. The carriage of the tourist
trundles past field after field of misty pink, and for the time he might
fancy himself in the landscape of a Japanese fan.

Above this plain, perched on a bare hillside that gives a bird’s-eye
view of the wide expanse of the Rhone valley, stands the ancient village
of Barbentane, a name that occurs constantly in the literature of
Provence, especially in the poems of Mistral. In Roman days Barbentane
or Bellinto, a station on the road between Tarascon and Orange, was an
island surrounded by the waters of the Durance.

[Illustration: STREET AT UZÈS.
_By E. M. Synge._]

It is of far less imposing aspect than Uzès and is approached by a long,
ascending road, which is continuous with the broad main street of the
town, whence other streets climb the hill, wandering into little platforms
and nooks and picturesque corners such as only a hill town in the Midi
can produce. There are ancient buildings at every turn, and above the
rest, beyond the gateway leading up to the windy limestone downs, stands
the tall ruined tower of Barbentane, which has a romantic story attached
to it. Mistral writes of it:

“The Bishop of Avignon …
Has built a tower at Barbentane,
Sea-wind it spurns, and tramontane,
And round it demons rage in vain.
He’ll exorcise
The walls that rise
With turrets square
From rocks so bare.
Its front looks to the setting sun,
And over the windows one by one–
Lest demon ever through them may pass–
He carves his mitre over the glass.”[2]

To this demon-proof stronghold the Bishop appoints a warder, who–as is
the way of warders–has a charming daughter, Mourrette. Mourrette has a
lover who is determined to scale the walls of the fortress and carry off
the damsel or die in the attempt. Unfortunately, he dies in the attempt.

“So true, so brave, he ne’er will stop
Till he grasp her hand at the turret top.
Alas! a branch breaks–with a hideous shock,
Her lover is dashed on the hungry rock.”

Tragedy as usual! If all had gone well, the story in all likelihood would
never have reached us. We may, perhaps, conclude that life is not quite
so dark as history and literature might lead us to believe.

* * * * *

The author of “Un voyage en France” writes:–

“Les cultures enveloppent jusqu’au Rhone le petit massif sur lequel
se dresse la haute Tour de Barbentane,” and these “cultures”–corn,
almond-trees, vines, olives–give an aspect of richness and prosperity
to the great valley.

[Illustration: GATEWAY, BARBENTANE.
_By E. M. Synge._]

On the opposite side of it stands an ancient but still inhabited castle
belonging to the Comte des Essars (or some similar name), situated upon
a sudden height or cliff and approached by a steep and shady avenue which
leads to a modern garden of evergreen shrubs, all very carefully grouped
and tended. At the highest point appears the great square castle, with
its round tower at each corner, and crenellated walls.

The caretaker admits the visitor to a large courtyard and thence to the
suites of sombre old rooms with their dark ceilings, stately mantelpieces
and rich, ancient furniture, all spell-bound as if waiting for the life
that has gone away. The owners only come there for about a month in the
time of the grape-harvest, but the evidence of their presence in little
personal belongings, such as racks full of pipes, carved sticks, riding
whips, photographs, and so forth, emphasises pathetically the silence of
the house, which is speckless and in perfect order, ready at any moment
for habitation.

The place is well worth a visit, not merely for its rather sad charm,
but because it helps the imagination to reconstruct the life and aspect
of the feudal castle; for such edifices as this are generally seen in
ruins, emptied of all their splendours. Here rises before one’s eye
the scene of mediæval romance almost precisely as in the days of the
troubadours and their fascinating ladies.

It seemed a pity that our friend the critic had left Avignon without
having seen this place where the little touches of the modern (especially
that prosaic garden of well-groomed evergreens) would have cheered his
soul and proved to him that Provence could, after all, produce something
that was not either tumble-down or peeling off.

Such is the contradictoriness of human nature, that we began to regard
with regret the certainty that he would not be at the _table d’hôte_
that night to record his disappointments. It was quite interesting to
watch the process by which he would throw an atmosphere of spiritual
deathliness–a sort of moral incandescent gaslight–over the fascinating
things of this despised country.

We realised that, in spite of his powers of disenchantment, we had found
a sort of satisfaction (like the satisfaction of a discord in music) in
the bleakness of our friend’s outlook upon life and things.

It made one, perhaps not very relevantly, think of Madame de Sévigné’s
phrase:–

“Toujours soutenue de l’ignorance capable de Madame de B—-”

“Ignorance capable!” We positively missed it!

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