A Little Tour In France
Henry James

Part 5 out of 5

attention at Nantes, and which the writer of my
pamphlet ascribes only subordinately to Michel Colomb.
The church, which is not of great size, is in the last
and most flamboyant phase of Gothic, and in admirable
preservation; the west front, before which a quaint old
sun-dial is laid out on the ground, - a circle of num-
bers marked in stone, like those on a clock face, let
into the earth, - is covered with delicate ornament.
The great feature, however (the nave is perfectly bare
and wonderfully new-looking, though the warden, a
stolid yet sharp old peasant, in a blouse, who looked
more as if his line were chaffering over turnips than
showing off works of art, told me that it has never
been touched, and that its freshness is simply the
quality of the stone), - the great feature is the ad-
mirable choir, in the midst of which the three monu-
ments have bloomed under the chisel, like exotic
plants in a conservatory. I saw the place to small
advantage, for the stained glass of the windows, which
are fine, was under repair, and much of it was masked
with planks.

In the centre lies Philibert-le-Bel, a figure of white
marble on a great slab of black, in his robes and his
armor, with two boy-angels holding a tablet at his
head, and two more at his feet. On either side of
him is another cherub: one guarding his helmet, the
other his stiff gauntlets. The attitudes of these charm-
ing children, whose faces are all bent upon him in
pity, have the prettiest tenderness and respect. The
table on which he lies is supported by elaborate
columns, adorned with niches containing little images,
and with every other imaginable elegance; and be-
neath it he is represented in that other form, so com-
mon in the tombs of the Renaissance, - a man naked
and dying, with none of the state and splendor of the
image above. One of these figures embodies the duke
the other simply the mortal; and there is something
very strange and striking in the effect of the latter,
seen dimly and with difficulty through the intervals
of the rich supports of the upper slab. The monu-
ment of Margaret herself is on the left, all in white
merble, tormented into a multitude of exquisite pat-
terns, the last extravagance of a Gothic which had
gone so far that nothing was left it but to return upon
itself. Unlike her husband, who has only the high
roof of the church above him, she lies under a canopy
supported and covered by a wilderness of embroidery,
- flowers, devices, initials, arabesques, statuettes.
Watched over by cherubs, she is also in her robes
and ermine, with a greyhound sleeping at her feet
(her husband, at his, has a waking lion); and the
artist has not, it is to be presumed, represented her
as more beautiful than she was. She looks, indeed,
like the regent of a turbulent realm. Beneath her
couch is stretched another figure, - a less brilliant
Margaret, wrapped in her shroud, with her long hair
over her shoulders. Round the tomb is the battered
iron railing placed there originally, with the myste-
rious motto of the duchess worked into the top, -
_fortune infortune fort une_. The other two monuments
are protected by barriers of the same pattern. That
of Margaret of Bourbon, Philibert's mother, stands on
the right of the choir; and I suppose its greatest dis-
tinction is that it should have been erected to a
mother-in-law. It is but little less florid and sump-
tuous than the others; it has, however, no second re-
cumbent figure. On the other hand, the statuettes
that surround the base of the tomb are of even more
exquisite workmanship: they represent weeping wo-
men, in long mantles and hoods, which latter hang
forward over the small face of the figure, giving the
artist a chance to carve the features within this hollow
of drapery, - an extraordinary play of skill. There is
a high, white marble shrine of the Virgin, as extra-
ordinary as all the rest (a series of compartments, re-
presenting the various scenes of her life, with the
Assumption in the middle); and there is a magnifi-
cent series of stalls, which are simply the intricate
embroidery of the tombs translated into polished oak.
All these things are splendid, ingenious, elaborate,
precious; it is goldsmith's work on a monumental
scale, and the general effect is none the less beautiful
and solemn because it is so rich. But the monuments
of the church of Brou are not the noblest that one
may see; the great tombs of Verona are finer, and
various other early Italian work. These things are
not insincere, as Ruskin would say; but they are pre-
tentious, and they are not positively _naifs_. I should
mention that the walls of the choir are embroidered
in places with Margaret's tantalizing device, which -
partly, perhaps, because it is tantalizing - is so very
decorative, as they say in London. I know not whether
she was acquainted with this epithet; but she had
anticipated one of the fashions most characteristic of
our age.

One asks one's self how all this decoration, this
luxury of fair and chiselled marble, survived the
French Revolution. An hour of liberty in the choir
of Brou would have been a carnival for the image-
breakers. The well-fed Bressois are surely a good-
natured people. I call them well-fed both on general
and on particular grounds. Their province has the
most savory aroma, and I found an opportunity to
test its reputation. I walked back into the town from
the church (there was really nothing to be seen by
the way), and as the hour of the midday breakfast
had struck, directed my steps to the inn. The table
d'hote was going on, and a gracious, bustling, talkative
landlady welcomed me. I had an excellent repast -
the best repast possible - which consisted simply of
boiled eggs and bread and butter. It was the quality
of these simple ingredients that made the occasion
memorable. The eggs were so good that I am ashamed
to say how many of them I consumed. "La plus
belle fille du monde," as the French proverb says,
"ne peut donner que ce qu'elle a;" and it might
seem that an egg which has succeeded in being fresh
has done all that can reasonably be expected of it.
But there was a bloom of punctuality, so to speak,
about these eggs of Bourg, as if it had been the in-
tention of the very hens themselves that they should
be promptly served. "Nous sommes en Bresse, et le
beurre n'est pas mauvais," the landlady said, with a
sort of dry coquetry, as she placed this article before
me. It was the poetry of butter, and I ate a pound
or two of it; after which I came away with a strange
mixture of impressions of late Gothic sculpture and
thick _tartines_. I came away through the town, where,
on a little green promenade, facing the hotel, is a
bronze statue of Bichat, the physiologist, who was a
Bressois. I mention it, not on account of its merit
(though, as statues go, I don't remember that it is
bad), but because I learned from it - my ignorance,
doubtless, did me little honor - that Bichat had died
at thirty years of age, and this revelation was almost
agitating. To have done so much in so short a life
was to be truly great. This reflection, which looks
deplorably trite as I write it here, had the effect of
eloquence as I uttered it, for my own benefit, on the
bare little mall at Bourg.


On my return to Macon I found myself fairly face
to face with the fact that my little tour was near its
end. Dijon had been marked by fate as its farthest
limit, and Dijon was close at hand. After that I was
to drop the tourist, and re-enter Paris as much as pos-
sible like a Parisian. Out of Paris the Parisian never
loiters, and therefore it would be impossible for me to
stop between Dijon and the capital. But I might be
a tourist a few hours longer by stopping somewhere
between Macon and Dijon. The question was where
I should spend these hours. Where better, I asked
myself (for reasons not now entirely clear to me) than
at Beaune? On my way to this town I passed the
stretch of the Cote d'Or, which, covered with a mel-
low autumn haze, with the sunshine shimmering
through, looked indeed like a golden slope. One
regards with a kind of awe the region in which the
famous _crus_ of Burgundy (Yougeot, Chambertin, Nuits,
Beaune) are, I was going to say, manufactured. Adieu,
paniers; vendanges sont faites! The vintage was
over; the shrunken russet fibres alone clung to their
ugly stick. The horizon on the left of the road had
a charm, however, there is something picturesque
in the big, comfortable shoulders of the Cote. That
delicate critic, M. Emile Montegut, in a charming
record of travel through this region, published some
years ago, praises Shakspeare for having talked (in
"Lear") of "waterish Burgundy." Vinous Burgundy
would surely be more to the point. I stopped at
Beaune in pursuit of the picturesque, but I might
almost have seen the little I discovered without stop-
ping. It is a drowsy little Burgundian town, very
old and ripe, with crooked streets, vistas always ob-
lique, and steep, moss-covered roofs. The principal
lion is the Hopital-Saint-Esprit, or the Hotel-Dieu,
simply, as they call it there, founded in 1443 by
Nicholas Rollin, Chancellor of Burgundy. It is ad-
ministered by the sisterhood of the Holy Ghost, and
is one of the most venerable and stately of hospitals.
The face it presents to the street is simple, but strik-
ing, - a plain, windowless wall, surmounted by a vast
slate roof, of almost mountainous steepness. Astride
this roof sits a tall, slate-covered spire, from which,
as I arrived, the prettiest chimes I ever heard (worse
luck to them, as I will presently explain) were ring-
ing. Over the door is a high, quaint canopy, without
supports, with its vault painted blue and covered
with gilded stars. (This, and indeed the whole build-
ing, have lately been restored, and its antiquity is
quite of the spick-and-span order. But it is very
delightful.) The treasure of the place is a precious
picture, - a Last Judgment, attributed equally to John
van Eyck and Roger van der Weyden, - given to the
hospital in the fifteenth century by Nicholas Rollin

I learned, however, to my dismay, from a sympa-
thizing but inexorable concierge, that what remained
to me of the time I had to spend at Beaune, between
trains, - I had rashly wasted half an hour of it in
breakfasting at the station, - was the one hour of the
day (that of the dinner of the nuns; the picture is in
their refectory) during which the treasure could not
be shown. The purpose of the musical chimes to
which I had so artlessly listened was to usher in this
fruitless interval. The regulation was absolute, and
my disappointment relative, as I have been happy to
reflect since I "looked up" the picture. Crowe and
Cavalcaselle assign it without hesitation to Roger van
der Weyden, and give a weak little drawing of it in
their "Flemish Painters." I learn from them also -
what I was ignorant of - that Nicholas Ronin, Chan-
cellor of Burgundy and founder of the establishment
at Beaune, was the original of the worthy kneeling
before the Virgin, in the magnificent John van Eyck
of the Salon Carre. All I could see was the court of
the hospital and two or three rooms. The court, with
its tall roofs, its pointed gables and spires, its wooden
galleries, its ancient well, with an elaborate superstruc-
ture of wrought iron, is one of those places into which
a sketcher ought to be let loose. It looked Flemish
or English rather than French, and a splendid tidiness
pervaded it. The porter took me into two rooms on
the ground-floor, into which the sketcher should also
be allowed to penetrate; for they made irresistible
pictures. One of them, of great proportions, painted
in elaborate "subjects," like a ball-room of the seven-
teenth century, was filled with the beds of patients,
all draped in curtains of dark red cloth, the tradi-
tional uniform of these, eleemosynary couches. Among
them the sisters moved about, in their robes of white
flannel, with big white linen hoods. The other room
was a strange, immense apartment, lately restored
with much splendor. It was of great length and
height, had a painted and gilded barrel-roof, and one
end of it - the one I was introduced to - appeared
to serve as a chapel, as two white-robed sisters were
on their knees before an altar. This was divided by
red curtains from the larger part; but the porter lifted
one of the curtains, and showed me that the rest
of it, a long, imposing vista, served as a ward, lined
with little red-draped beds. "C'est l'heure de la
lecture," remarked my guide; and a group of conva-
lescents - all the patients I saw were women - were
gathered in the centre around a nun, the points of
whose white hood nodded a little above them, and
whose gentle voice came to us faintly, with a little
echo, down the high perspective. I know not what
the good sister was reading, - a dull book, I am afraid,
- but there was so much color, and such a fine, rich
air of tradition about the whole place, that it seemed
to me I would have risked listening to her. I turned
away, however, with that sense of defeat which is
always irritating to the appreciative tourist, and pot-
tered about Beaune rather vaguely for the rest of my
hour: looked at the statue of Gaspard Monge, the
mathematician, in the little _place_ (there is no _place_ in
France too little to contain an effigy to a glorious son);
at the fine old porch - completely despoiled at the
Revolution - of the principal church; and even at the
meagre treasures of a courageous but melancholy little
museum, which has been arranged - part of it being
the gift of a local collector - in a small hotel de ville.
I carried away from Beaune the impression of some-
thing mildly autumnal, - something rusty yet kindly,
like the taste of a sweet russet pear.


It was very well that my little tour was to termi-
nate at Dijon; for I found, rather to my chagrin, that
there was not a great deal, from the pictorial point of
view, to be done with Dijon. It was no great matter,
for I held my proposition to have been by this time
abundantly demonstrated, - the proposition with which
I started: that if Paris is France, France is by no
means Paris. If Dijon was a good deal of a disap-
pointment, I felt, therefore, that I could afford it. It
was time for me to reflect, also, that for my disap-
pointments, as a general thing, I had only myself to
thank. They had too often been the consequence of
arbitrary preconceptions, produced by influences of
which I had lost the trace. At any rate, I will say
plumply that the ancient capital of Burgundy is want-
ing in character; it is not up to the mark. It is old
and narrow and crooked, and it has been left pretty
well to itself: but it is not high and overhanging; it is
not, to the eye, what the Burgundian capital should
be. It has some tortuous vistas, some mossy roofs,
some bulging fronts, some gray-faced hotels, which
look as if in former centuries - in the last, for instance,
during the time of that delightful President de Brosses,
whose Letters from Italy throw an interesting side-light
on Dijon - they had witnessed a considerable amount
of good living. But there is nothing else. I speak as
a man who for some reason which he doesn't remem-
ber now, did not pay a visit to the celebrated Puits
de Moise, an ancient cistern, embellished with a sculp-
tured figure of the Hebrew lawgiver.

The ancient palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, long
since converted into an hotel de ville, presents to a
wide, clean court, paved with washed-looking stones,
and to a small semicircular _place_, opposite, which
looks as if it had tried to be symmetrical and had
failed, a facade and two wings, characterized by the
stiffness, but not by the grand air, of the early part of
the eighteenth century. It contains, however, a large
and rich museum, - a museum really worthy of a capi-
tal. The gem of this exhibition is the great banquet-
ing-hall of the old palace, one of the few features of
the place that has not been essentially altered. Of
great height, roofed with the old beams and cornices,
it contains, filling one end, a colossal Gothic chimney-
piece, with a fireplace large enough to roast, not an ox,
but a herd of oxen. In the middle of this striking
hall, the walls of which. are covered with objects more
or less precious, have been placed the tombs of Philippe-
le-Hardi and Jean-sans-Peur. These monuments, very
splendid in their general effect, have a limited interest.
The limitation comes from the fact that we see them
to-day in a transplanted and mutilated condition.
Placed originally in a church which has disappeared
from the face of the earth, demolished and dispersed
at the Revolution, they have been reconstructed and
restored out of fragments recovered and pieced to-
gether. The piecing his been beautifully done; it is
covered with gilt and with brilliant paint; the whole
result is most artistic. But the spell of the old mor-
tuary figures is broken, and it will never work again.
Meanwhile the monuments are immensely decorative.

I think the thing that pleased me best at Dijon
was the little old Parc, a charming public garden,
about a mile from the town, to which I walked by a
long, straight autumnal avenue. It is a _jardin fran-
cais_ of the last century, - a dear old place, with little
blue-green perspectives and alleys and _rondpoints_, in
which everything balances. I went there late in the
afternoon, without meeting a creature, though I had
hoped I should meet the President de Brosses. At the
end of it was a little river that looked like a canal,
and on the further bank was an old-fashioned villa,
close to the water, with a little French garden of its
own. On the hither side was a bench, on which I
seated myself, lingering a good while; for this was just
the sort of place I like. It was the furthermost point
of my little tour. I thought that over, as I sat there,
on the eve of taking the express to Paris; and as the
light faded in the Parc the vision of some of the things
I had seen became more distinct.


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