PILGRIMAGE TO VAUCLUSE AND JOURNEY UP THE RHONE.
We left Marseilles about nine o'clock, on a dull, rainy morning, for Avignon and the Rhone, intending to take in our way the glen of Vaucluse. The dirty faubourgs stretch out along the road for a great distance, and we trudged through them, past foundries, furnaces and manufactories, considerably disheartened with the prospect. We wound among the bleak stony hills, continually ascending, for nearly three hours. Great numbers of cabarets, frequented by the common people, lined the roads, and we met continually trains of heavy laden wagons, drawn by large mules. The country is very wild and barren, and would have been tiresome, except for the pine groves with their beautiful green foliage. We got something to eat with difficulty at an inn, for the people spoke nothing but the Provençal dialect, and the place was so cold and cheerless we were glad to go out again into the storm. It mattered little to us, that we heard the language in which the gay troubadours of king René sung their songs of love. We thought more of our dripping clothes and numb, cold limbs, and would have been glad to hear instead, the strong, hearty German tongue, full of warmth and kindly sympathy for the stranger. The wind swept drearily among the hills; black, gusty clouds covered the sky, and the incessant rain filled the road with muddy pools. We looked at the country chateaux, so comfortable in the midst of their sheltering poplars, with a sigh, and thought of homes afar off, whose doors were never closed to us.
This was all forgotten, when we reached Aix, and the hostess of the Café d'Afrique filled her little stove with fresh coal, and hung our wet garments around it, while her daughter, a pale-faced, crippled child, smiled kindly on us and tried to talk with us in French. Putting on our damp, heavy coats again, B---- and I rambled through the streets, while our frugal supper was preparing. We saw the statue of the Bon Roi René, who held at Aix his court of shepherds and troubadours--the dark Cathedral of St. Saveur--the ancient walls and battlements, and gazed down the valley at the dark, precipitous mass of Mont St. Victor, at whose base Marius obtained a splendid victory over the barbarians.
After leaving next morning, we saw at some distance to the south, the enormous aqueduct now being erected for the canal from the Rhone to Marseilles. The shallow, elevated valleys we passed in the forenoon's walk were stony and barren, but covered with large orchards of almond trees, the fruit of which forms a considerable article of export. This district borders on the desert of the Crau, a vast plain of stones, reaching to the mouth of the Rhone and almost entirely uninhabited. We caught occasional glimpses of its sea-like waste, between the summits of the hills. At length, after threading a high ascent, we saw the valley of the Durance suddenly below us. The sun, breaking through the clouds, shone on the mountain wall, which stood on the opposite side, touching with his glow the bare and rocky precipices that frowned far above the stream. Descending to the valley, we followed its course towards the Rhone, with the ruins of feudal bourgs crowning the crags above us.
It was dusk, when we reached the village of Senas, tired with the day's march. A landlord, standing in his door, on the lookout for customers, invited us to enter, in a manner so polite and pressing, we could not choose but do so. This is a universal custom with the country innkeepers. In a little village which we passed towards evening, there was a tavern, with the sign: "The Mother of Soldiers." A portly woman, whose face beamed with kindness and cheerfulness, stood in the door and invited us to stop there for the night. "No, mother!" I answered; "we must go much further to-day." "Go, then," said she, "with good luck, my children! a pleasant journey!" On entering the inn at Senas, two or three bronzed soldiers were sitting by the table. My French vocabulary happening to give out in the middle of a consultation about eggs and onion-soup, one of them came to my assistance and addressed me in German. He was from Fulda, in Hesse Cassel, and had served fifteen years in Africa. Two other young soldiers, from the western border of Germany, came during the evening, and one of them being partly intoxicated, created such a tumult, that a quarrel arose, which ended in his being beaten and turned out of the house.
We met, every day, large numbers of recruits in companies of one or two hundred, on their way to Marseilles to embark for Algiers. They were mostly youths, from sixteen to twenty years of age, and seemed little to forebode their probable fate. In looking on their fresh, healthy faces and bounding forms, I saw also a dim and ghastly vision of bones whitening on the desert, of men perishing with heat and fever, or stricken down by the aim of the savage Bedouin.
Leaving next morning at day-break, we walked on before breakfast to Orgon, a little village in a corner of the cliffs which border the Durance, and crossed the muddy river by a suspension bridge a short distance below, to Cavaillon, where the country people were holding a great market. From this place a road led across the meadow-land to L'Isle, six miles distant. This little town is so named, because it is situated on an island formed by the crystal Sorgues, which flows from the fountains of Vaucluse. It is a very picturesque and pretty place. Great mill-wheels, turning slowly and constantly, stand at intervals in the stream, whose grassy banks are now as green as in spring-time. We walked along the Sorgues, which is quite as beautiful and worthy to be sung as the Clitumnus, to the end of the village, to take the road to Vaucluse. Beside its banks stands a dirty, modern "Hotel de Petrarque et Laure." Alas, that the names of the most romantic and impassioned lovers of all history should be desecrated to a sign-post to allure gormandizing tourists!
The bare mountain in whose heart lies the poet's solitude, now rose before us, at the foot of the lofty Mont Ventoux, whose summit of snows extended beyond. We left the river, and walked over a barren plain, across which the wind blew most drearily. The sky was rainy and dark, and completed the desolateness of the scene, which in no wise heightened our anticipations of the renowned glen. At length we rejoined the Sorgues and entered a little green valley running up into the mountain. The narrowness of the entrance entirely shut out the wind, and except the rolling of the waters over their pebbly bed, all was still and lonely and beautiful. The sides of the dell were covered with olive trees, and a narrow strip of emerald meadow lay at the bottom. It grew more hidden and sequestered as we approached the little village of Vaucluse. Here, the mountain towers far above, and precipices of grey rock, many hundred feet high, hang over the narrowing glen. On a crag over the village are the remains of a castle; the slope below this, now rugged and stony, was once graced by the cottage and garden of Petrarch. All traces of them have long since vanished, but a simple column, bearing the inscription; "À PETRARQUE," stands beside the Sorgues.
We ascended into the defile by a path among the rocks, overshadowed by olive and wild fig trees, to the celebrated fountains of Vaucluse. The glen seems as if struck into the mountain's depths by one blow of an enchanter's wand; and just at the end, where the rod might have rested in its downward sweep, is the fathomless well whose overbrimming fulness gives birth to the Sorgues. We climbed up over the mossy rocks and sat down in the grot, beside the dark, still pool. It was the most absolute solitude. The rocks towered above and over us, to the height of six hundred feet, and the gray walls of the wild glen below shut out all appearance of life. I leaned over the rock and drank of the blue crystal that grew gradually darker towards the centre, till it became a mirror, and gave back a perfect reflection of the crags above it. There was no bubbling--no gushing up from its deep bosom--but the wealth of sparkling waters continually welled over, as from a too-full goblet.
It was with actual sorrow that I turned away from the silent spot. I never visited a place to which the fancy clung more suddenly and fondly. There is something holy in its solitude, making one envy Petrarch the years of calm and unsullied enjoyment which blessed him there. As some persons, whom we pass as strangers, strike a hidden chord in our spirits, compelling a silent sympathy with them, so some landscapes have a character of beauty which harmonizes thrillingly with the mood in which we look upon them, till we forget admiration in the glow of spontaneous attachment. They seem like abodes of the Beautiful, which the soul in its wanderings long ago visited, and now recognizes and loves as the home of a forgotten dream. It was thus I felt by the fountains of Vaucluse; sadly and with weary steps I turned away, leaving its loneliness unbroken as before.
We returned over the plain in the wind, under the gloomy sky, passed L'Isle at dusk, and after walking an hour with a rain following close behind us, stopped at an auberge in Le Thor, where we rested our tired frames and broke our long day's fasting. We were greeted in the morning with a dismal rain and wet roads, as we began the march. After a time, however, it poured down in such torrents, that we were obliged to take shelter in a remise by the road, side, where a good woman, who addressed us in the unintelligible Provençal, kindled up a blazing fire. On climbing a long hill, when the storm had abated, we experienced a delightful surprise. Below us lay the broad valley of the Rhone, with its meadows looking fresh and spring-like after the rain. The clouds were breaking away; clear blue sky was visible over Avignon, and a belt of sunlight lay warmly along the mountains of Languedoc. Many villages, with their tall, picturesque towers, dotted the landscape, and the groves of green olive enlivened the barrenness of winter. Two or three hours' walk over the plain, by a road fringed with willows, brought us to the gates of Avignon.
We walked around its picturesque turreted wall, and rambled through its narrow streets, washed here and there by streams which turn the old mill-wheels lazily around. We climbed up to the massive palace, which overlooks the city from its craggy seat, attesting the splendor it enjoyed, when for thirty years the Papal Court was held there, and the gray, weather-beaten, irregular building, resembling a pile of precipitous rocks, echoed with the revels of licentious prelates. We could not enter to learn the terrible secrets of the Inquisition, here unveiled, but we looked up at the tower, from which the captive Rienzi was liberated at the intercession of Petrarch.
After leaving Avignon, we took the road up the Rhone for Lyons, turning our backs upon the rainy south. We reached the village of Sorgues by dusk, and accepted the invitation of an old dame to lodge at her inn, which proved to be a blacksmith's shop! It was nevertheless clean and comfortable, and we sat down in one corner, out of the reach of the showers of sparks, which flew hissing from a red-hot horseshoe, that the smith and his apprentice were hammering. A Piedmontese pedlar, who carried the "Song of the Holy St. Philomène" to sell among the peasants, came in directly, and bargained for a sleep on some hay, for two sous. For a bed in the loft over the shop, we were charged five sous each, which, with seven sous for supper, made our expenses for the night about eleven cents! Our circumstances demanded the greatest economy, and we began to fear whether even this spare allowance would enable us to reach Lyons. Owing to a day's delay in Marseilles, we had left that city with but fifteen francs each; the incessant storms of winter and the worn-out state of our shoes, which were no longer proof against water or mud, prolonged our journey considerably, so that by starting before dawn and walking till dark, we were only able to make thirty miles a day. We could always procure beds for five sous, and as in the country inns one is only charged for what he chooses to order, our frugal suppers cost us but little. We purchased bread and cheese in the villages, and made our breakfasts and dinners on a bank by the roadside, or climbed the rocks and sat down by the source of some trickling rill. This simple fare had an excellent relish, and although we walked in wet clothes from morning till night, often laying down on the damp, cold earth to rest, our health was never affected.
It is worth all the toil and privation we have as yet undergone, to gain, from actual experience, the blessed knowledge that man always retains a kindness and brotherly sympathy towards his fellow--that under all the weight of vice and misery which a grinding oppression of soul and body brings on the laborers of earth, there still remain many bright tokens of a better nature. Among the starving mountaineers of the Hartz--the degraded peasantry of Bohemia--the savage contadini of Central Italy, or the dwellers on the hills of Provence and beside the swift Rhone, we almost invariably found kind, honest hearts, and an aspiration for something better, betokening the consciousness that such brute-like, obedient existence was not their proper destiny. We found few so hardened as to be insensible to a kind look or a friendly word, and nothing made us forget we were among strangers so much as the many tokens of sympathy which met us when least looked for. A young Englishman, who had traveled on foot from Geneva to Rome, enduring many privations on account of his reduced circumstances, said to me, while speaking on this subject: "A single word of kindness from a stranger would make my heart warm and my spirits cheerful, for days afterwards." There is not so much evil in man as men would have us believe; and it is a happy comfort to know and feel this.
Leaving our little inn before day break next morning, we crossed the Sorgues, grown muddy since its infancy at Vaucluse, like many a young soul, whose mountain purity goes out into the soiling world and becomes sullied forever. The road passed over broad, barren ranges of hills, and the landscape was destitute of all interest, till we approached Orange. This city is built at the foot of a rocky height, a great square projection of which seemed to stand in its midst. As we approached nearer, however, arches and lines of cornice could be discerned, and we recognized it as the celebrated amphitheatre, one of the grandest Roman relics in the south of France.
I stood at the foot of this great fabric, and gazed up at it in astonishment. The exterior wall, three hundred and thirty-four feet in length, and rising to the height of one hundred and twenty-one feet, is still in excellent, preservation, and through its rows of solid arches one looks on the broken ranges of seats within. On the crag above, and looking as if about to topple down on it, is a massive fragment of the fortress of the Princes of Orange, razed by Louis XIV. Passing through the city, we came to the beautiful Roman triumphal arch, which to my eye is a finer structure than that of Constantino at Rome. It is built of a rich yellow marble and highly ornamented with sculptured trophies. From the barbaric shields and the letters MARIO, still remaining, it has been supposed to commemorate the victory of Marius over the barbarians, near Aix. A frieze, running along the top, on each side, shows, although broken and much defaced by the weather, the life and action which once marked the struggling figures. These Roman ruins, scattered through Provence and Languedoc, though inferior in historical interest, equal in architectural beauty the greater part of those in the Eternal City itself.
The rest of the day the road was monotonous, though varied somewhat by the tall crags of Mornas and Mont-dragon, towering over the villages of the same name. Night came on as the rock of Pierrelatte, at whose foot we were to sleep, appeared in the distance, rising like a Gibraltar from the plain, and we only reached it in time to escape the rain that came down the valley of the Rhone.
Next day we passed several companies of soldiers on their way to Africa. One of them was accompanied by a young girl, apparently the wife of the recruit by whose side she was marching. She wore the tight blue jacket of the troop, and a red skirt, reaching to the knees, over her soldier pantaloons; while her pretty face showed to advantage beneath a small military cap. It was a "Fille du Regiment" in real life. Near Montelimart, we lost sight of Mont Ventoux, whose gleaming white crest had been visible all the way from Vaucluse, and passed along the base of a range of hills running near to the river. So went our march, without particular incident, till we bivouacked for the night among a company of soldiers in the little village of Loriol.
Leaving at six o'clock, wakened by the trumpets which called up the soldiery to their day's march, we reached the river Drome at dawn, and from the bridge over its rapid current, gazed at the dim, ash-colored masses of the Alps of Dauphiné, piled along the sky, far up the valley. The coming of morn threw a yellow glow along their snowy sides, and lighted up, here and there, a flashing glacier. The peasantry were already up and at work, and caravans of pack-wagons rumbled along in the morning twilight We trudged on with them, and by breakfast-time had made some distance of the way to Valence. The road, which does not approach the Rhone, is devoid of interest and tiresome, though under a summer sky, when the bare vine-hills are latticed over with green, and the fruit-trees covered with blossoms and foliage, it might be a scene of great beauty.
Valence, which we reached towards noon, is a commonplace city on the Rhone; and my only reasons for traversing its dirty streets in preference to taking the road, which passes without the walls, were--to get something for dinner, and because it might have been the birth-place of Aymer de Valence, the valorous Crusader, chronicled in "Ivanhoe," whose tomb I had seen in Westminster Abbey. One of the streets which was marked "Rue Bayard," shows that my valiant namesake--the knight without fear and reproach--is still remembered in his native province. The ruins of his chateau are still standing among the Alps near Grenoble.
In the afternoon we crossed the Isère, a swift, muddy river, which rises among the Alps of Dauphiné, We saw their icy range, among which is the desert solitude of the Grand Chartreuse, far up the valley; but the thick atmosphere hid the mighty Mont Blanc, whose cloudy outline, eighty miles distant in a "bee line," is visible in fair weather. At Tain, we came upon the Rhone again, and walked along the base of the hills which contract its current. Here, I should call it beautiful. The scenery has a wildness that approaches to that of the Rhine. Rocky, castellated heights frown over the rushing waters, which have something of the majesty of their "exulting and abounding" rival. Winding around the curving hills, the scene is constantly varied, and the little willowed islets clasped in the embrace of the stream, mingle a trait of softened beauty with its sterner character.
After passing the night at a village on its banks, we left it again at St. Vallier, the next morning. At sunset, the spires of Vienne were visible, and the lofty Mont Pilas, the snows of whose riven summits feed the springs of the Loire on its western side, stretched majestically along the opposite bank of the Rhone. In a meadow, near Vienne, stands a curious Roman obelisk, seventy-six feet in height. The base is composed of four pillars, connected by arches, and the whole structure has a barbaric air, compared with the more elegant monuments of Orange and Nismes. Vienne, which is mentioned by several of the Roman historians under its present name, was the capital of the Allobroges, and I looked upon it with a new and strange interest, on calling to mind my school-boy days, when I had become familiar with that war-like race, in toiling over the pages of Cæsar. We walked in the mud and darkness for what seemed a great distance, and finally took shelter in a little inn at the northern end of the city. Two Belgian soldiers, coming from Africa, were already quartered there, and we listened to their tales of the Arab and the desert, while supper was preparing.
The morning of the 25th was dull and rainy; the road, very muddy and unpleasant, led over the hills, avoiding the westward curve of the Rhone, directly towards Lyons. About noon, we came in sight of the broad valley in which the Rhone first clasps his Burgundian bride--the Saone, and a cloud of impenetrable coal-smoke showed us the location of Lyons. A nearer approach revealed a large flat dome, and some ranges of tall buildings near the river. We soon entered the suburb of La Guillotière, which has sprung up on the eastern bank of the Rhone. Notwithstanding our clothes were like sponges, our boots entirely worn out, and our bodies somewhat thin with nine days exposure to the wintry storms in walking two hundred and forty miles, we entered Lyons with suspense and anxiety. But one franc apiece remained out of the fifteen with which we left Marseilles. B---- wrote home some time ago, directing a remittance to be forwarded to a merchant at Paris, to whom he had a letter of introduction, and in the hope that this had arrived, he determined to enclose the letter in a note, stating our circumstances, and requesting him to forward a part of the remittance to Lyons. We had then to wait at least four days; people are suspicious and mistrustful in cities, and if no relief should come, what was to be done?
After wading through the mud of the suburbs, we chose a common-looking inn near the river, as the comfort of our stay depended wholly on the kindness of our hosts, and we hoped to find more sympathy among the laboring classes. We engaged lodgings for four or five days; after dinner the letter was dispatched, and we wandered about through the dark, dirty city until night. Our landlord, Monsieur Ferrand, was a rough, vigorous man, with a gloomy, discontented expression; his words were few and blunt; but a certain restlessness of manner, and a secret flashing of his cold, forbidding eye betrayed to me some strong hidden excitement. Madame Ferrand was kind and talkative, though passionate; but the appearance of the place gave me an unfavorable impression, which was heightened by the thought that it was now impossible to change our lodgings until relief should arrive. When bed-time came, a ladder was placed against a sort of high platform along one side of the kitchen; we mounted and found a bed, concealed from the view of those below by a dusty muslin curtain. We lay there, between heaven and earth--the dirty earth of the brick floor and the sooty heaven of the ceiling--listening until midnight to the boisterous songs, and loud, angry disputes in the room adjoining. Thus ended our first day in Lyons.
Five weary days, each of them containing a month of torturing suspense, have since passed. Our lodging-place grew so unpleasant that we preferred wandering all day through the misty, muddy, smoky streets, taking refuge in the covered bazaars when it rained heavily. The gloom of every thing around us, entirely smothered down the lightness of heart which made us laugh over our embarrassments at Vienna. When at evening, the dull, leaden hue of the clouds seemed to make the air dark and cold and heavy, we walked beside the swollen and turbid Rhone, under an avenue of leafless trees, the damp soil chilling our feet and striking a numbness through our frames, and then I knew what those must feel who have no hope in their destitution, and not a friend in all the great world, who is not wretched as themselves. I prize the lesson, though the price of it is hard.
"This morning," I said to B----, "will terminate our suspense." I felt cheerful in spite of myself; and this was like a presentiment of coming good luck. To pass the time till the mail arrived we climbed to the chapel of Fourvières, whose walls are covered with votive offerings to a miraculous picture of the Virgin. But at the precise hour we were at the Post Office. What an intensity of suspense can be felt in that minute, while the clerk is looking over the letters! And what a lightning-like shock of joy when it did come, and was opened with eager, trembling hands, revealing the relief we had almost despaired of! The city did not seem less gloomy, for that was impossible, but the faces of the crowd which had appeared cold and suspicious, were now kind and cheerful. we came home to our lodgings with changed feelings, and Madame Ferrand must have seen the joy in our faces, for she greeted us with an unusual smile.
We leave to-morrow morning for Chalons. I do not feel disposed to describe Lyons particularly, although I have become intimately acquainted with every part of it, from Presqu' isle Perrache to Croix Rousse. I know the contents of every shop in the Bazaar, and the passage of the Hotel Dieu--the title of every volume in the bookstores in the Place Belcour--and the countenance of every boot-block and apple-woman on the Quais on both sides of the river. I have walked up the Saone to Pierre Seise--down the Rhone to his muddy marriage--climbed the Heights of Fourvières, and promenaded in the Cours Napoleon! Why, men have been presented with the freedom of cities, when they have had far less cause for such an honor than this!
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