Quit England.—Approach to France.—Havre.—Our Reception there.—Female
Commissionnaire.—Clamour of Drums.—Port of Havre.—Projected
Porters.—Rouen Cathedral.—Our Cicerone.—A Diligence.—Picturesque
Road.—European Peasantry.—Aspect of the Country.—Church at
Louviers.—Village near Vernon.—Rosny.—Mantes.—Bourbon Magnificence.
—Approach to Paris—Enter Paris.
To R. COOPER, ESQ., COOPERSTOWN.
On quitting England, we embarked from the very strand where Henry V. embarked for the fruitless field of Agincourt. A fearful rumour had gone abroad that the Camilla (the steam-boat) had been shorn of a wing, and there were many rueful faces in the boat that took us off to the vessel. In plainer speech, one of the boilers was out of order, and the passage was to be made with just half the usual propelling power. At that season, or indeed at any season, the only probable consequence was loss of time. With a strong head-wind, it is true, the Camilla might have been compelled to return; but this might also have happened with the use of both the boilers.
Our adventurers did not see things in this light. The division of employments, which produces prices so cheap and good, makes bad travellers. Our boat's cargo embarked with fear and trembling, and "She has but one boiler!" passed from mouth to mouth amid ominous faces. A bachelor-looking personage, of about fifty, with his person well swaddled in July, declared in a loud voice, that we were "all going on board to be drowned." This startled A——, who, having full faith in my nautical experience, asked what we were to think of it? It was a mere question between ten hours and fifteen, and so I told her. The females, who had just before been trembling with alarm, brightened at this, and two or three of them civilly thanked me for the information they had thus obtained incidentally!—"Boat, sir! boat!" "Thank 'ee, sir; thank 'ee, sir."
We found two or three parties on board of a higher condition than common. Apprehension cast a shade over the cold marble-like polish of even the English aristocrat; for if, as Mrs. Opie has well observed, there is nothing "so like a lord in a passion as a commoner in a passion," "your fear" is also a sad leveller. The boat was soon under way, and gradually our cargo of mental apprehensions settled into the usual dolorous physical suffering of landsmen in rough water. So much for excessive civilization. The want of a boiler under similar circumstances, would have excited no feeling whatever among a similar number of Americans, nineteen in twenty of whom, thanks to their rough-and-tumble habits, would know exactly what to think of it.
I was seated, during a part of the day, near a group of young men, who were conversing with a lady of some three or four and twenty. They expressed their surprise at meeting her on board. She told them it was a sudden whim; that no one knew of her movements; she meant only to be gone a fortnight, to take a run into Normandy. In the course of the conversation I learned that she was single, and had a maid and a footman with her. In this guise she might go where she pleased; whereas, had she taken "an escort" in the American fashion, her character would have suffered. This usage, however, is English rather than European. Single women on the Continent, except in extraordinary cases, are obliged to maintain far greater reserve even than with us; and there, single or married, they cannot travel under the protection of any man who is not very nearly connected with them, domestics and dependants excepted.
The debates about proceeding at all had detained us so long, and the "one boiler" proved to be so powerless, that night set in, and we had not yet made the coast of France. The breeze had been fresh, but it lulled towards sunset, though not before we began to feel the influence of the tides. About midnight, however, I heard some one exclaim, "Land!" and we all hastened on deck, to take a first look at France.
The boat was running along beneath some cliffs. The moon was shining bright, and her rays lighted up the chalky sides of the high coast, giving them a ghostly hue. The towers of two lighthouses also glittered on a headland near by. Presently a long sea-wall became visible, and, rounding its end, we shot into smooth water. We entered the little port of Havre between artificial works, on one of which stands a low, massive, circular tower, that tradition attributes to no less a personage than Julius Caesar.
What a change in so short a time! On the other side of the Channel, beyond the usual demands for employment, which were made in a modest way, and the eternal "Thank'ee, sir," there was a quiet in the people that was not entirely free from a suspicion of surliness. Here every man seemed to have two voices, both of which he used as if with no other desire than to hear himself speak. Notwithstanding the hour, which was past midnight, the quay was well lined, and a dozen officials poured on board the boat to prevent our landing. Custom-house officers, gendarmes, with enormous hats, and female commissionaires, were counteracting each other at every turn. At length we were permitted to land, being ordered up to a building near by. Here the females were taken into a separate room, where their persons were examined by functionaries of their own sex for contraband goods! This process has been described to me as being to the last degree offensive and humiliating. My own person was respected, I know not, why, for we were herded like sheep. As we were without spot, at least so far as smuggling was concerned, we were soon liberated. All our effects were left in the office, and we were turned into the streets without even a rag but what we had on. This was an inauspicious commencement for a country so polished; and yet, when one comes to look at the causes, it is not easy to point out an alternative. It was our own fault that we came so late.
The streets were empty, and the tall grey houses, narrow avenues, and the unaccustomed objects, presented a strange spectacle by the placid light of the moon. It appeared as if we had alighted in a different planet. Though fatigued and sleepy, the whole party would involuntarily stop to admire some novelty, and our march was straggling and irregular. One house refused us after another, and it soon became seriously a question whether the night was not to be passed in the open air. P—— was less than three years old, and as we had a regular gradation from that age upward, our début in France promised to be anything but agreeable. The guide said his resources were exhausted, and hinted at the impossibility of getting in. Nothing but the inns was open, and at all these we were refused. At length I remembered that, in poring over an English guide-book, purchased in New York, a certain Hôtel d'Angleterre had been recommended as the best house in Havre. "Savez-vous, mon ami, où est l'Hôtel d'Angleterre?"—"Ma fois, oui; c'est tout près." This "ma fois, oui," was ominous, and the "c'est tout, près," was more so still. Thither we went, however, and we were received. Then commenced the process of climbing. We ascended several stories, by a narrow crooked staircase, and were shown into rooms on the fifth floor.
The floors were of waxed tiles, without carpets or mats, and the furniture was tawdry. We got into our beds, which fatigue could scarcely render it possible to endure, on account of the bugs. A more infernal night I never passed, and I have often thought since, how hazardous it is to trust to first impressions. This night, and one or two more passed at Havre, and one other passed between Rouen and Paris, were among the most uncomfortable I can remember; and yet if I were to name a country in which one would be the most certain to get a good and a clean bed, I think I should name France!
The next morning I arose and went down the ladder, for it was little better, to the lower world. The servant wished to know if we intended to use the table d'hôte, which he pronounced excellent. Curiosity induced me to look at the appliances. It was a dark, dirty and crowded room, and yet not without certain savoury smells. French cookery can even get the better of French dirt. It was the only place about the house, the kitchen excepted, where a tolerable smell was to be found, and I mounted to the upper regions in self-defence.
An hour or two afterwards, the consul did me the favour to call. I apologized for the necessity of causing him to clamber up so high. "It is not a misfortune here," was the answer, "for the higher one is, the purer is the atmosphere;" and he was right enough. It was not necessary to explain that we were in an inferior house, and certainly everything was extremely novel. At breakfast, however, there was a sensible improvement. The linen was white as snow; we were served with silver forks—it was a breakfast à la fourchette—spotlessly clean napkins, excellent rolls, and delicious butter, to say nothing of côtelettes that appeared to have been cooked by magic. Your aunt and myself looked at each other with ludicrous satisfaction when we came to taste coffee, which happened to be precisely at the same instant. It was the first time either of us had ever tasted French coffee—it would scarcely be exaggeration to say, that either of us had ever tasted coffee at all. I have had many French cooks since; have lived years in the capital of France itself, but I could never yet obtain a servant who understood the secret of making café au lait, as it is made in most of the inns and cafés of that country. The discrepancy between the excellence of the table and the abominations of the place struck them all, so forcibly, that the rest of the party did little else but talk about it. As for myself, I wished to do nothing but eat.
I had now another specimen of national manners. It was necessary to get our luggage through the custom-house. The consul recommended a commissionnaire to help me. "You are not to be surprised," he said, laughing, as he went away, "if I send you one in petticoats." In a few minutes, sure enough, one of the beau sexe presented herself. Her name was Désirée, and an abler negotiator was never employed. She scolded, coaxed, advised, wrangled, and uniformly triumphed. The officers were more civil, by daylight, than we had found them under the influence of the moon, and our business was soon effected.
W—— had brought with him a spy-glass. It was old and of little value, but it was an heir-loom of the family. It came from the Hall at C——n, and had become historical for its service in detecting deer, in the lake, during the early years of the settlement. This glass had disappeared. No inquiry could recover it. "Send for Désirée," said the consul. Désirée came, received her orders, and in half an hour the glass was restored. There was an oversight in not getting a passport, when we were about to quit Havre. The office hours were over, and the steam-boat could not wait. "Were is Désirée?" Désirée was made acquainted with the difficulty, and the passport was obtained. "Désirée, où est Désirée?" cried some one in the crowd, that had assembled to see the Camilla start for England, the day after our arrival. "Here is an Englishman who is too late to get his passport viséd," said this person to Désirée, so near me that I heard it all; "the boat goes in ten minutes—what is to be done?"—"Ma foi—it is too late!" "Try, ma bonne—it's a pity he should lose his passage—voici." The Englishman gave his fee. Désirée looked about her, and then taking the idler by the arm, she hurried him through the crowd, this way and that way, ending by putting him aboard without any passport at all. "It is too late to get one," she said; "and they can but send you back." He passed undetected. France has a plenty of these managing females, though Désirée is one of the cleverest of them all. I understood this woman had passed a year or two in England, expressly to fit herself for her present occupation, by learning the language.
While engaged in taking our passages on board the steam-boat for Rouen, some one called me by name, in English. The sound of the most familiar words, in one's own language, soon get to be startling in a foreign country. I remember, on returning to England, after an absence of five years, that it was more than a week before I could persuade myself I was not addressed whenever a passer-by spoke suddenly. On the present occasion, I was called to by an old schoolboy acquaintance, Mr. H——r, who was a consul in England, but who had taken a house on what is called the Côte, a hill-side, just above Ingouville, a village at no great distance from the town. We went out to his pretty little cottage, which enjoyed a charming view. Indeed I should particularize this spot as the one which gave me the first idea of one species of distinctive European scenery. The houses cling to the declivity, rising above each other in a way that might literally enable one to toss a stone into his neighbour's chimney-top. They are of stone, but being whitewashed, and very numerous, they give the whole mountain-side the appearance of a pretty hamlet, scattered without order in the midst of gardens. Italy abounds with such little scenes; nor are they unfrequent in France, especially in the vicinity of towns; though whitened edifices are far from being the prevailing taste of that country.
That evening we had an infernal clamour of drums in the principal street, which happened to be our own. There might have been fifty, unaccompanied by any wind instrument. The French do not use the fife, and when one is treated to the drum, it is generally in large potions, and nothing but drum. This is a relic of barbarism, and is quite unworthy of a musical age. There is more or less of it in all the garrisoned towns of Europe. You may imagine the satisfaction with which one listens to a hundred or two of these plaintive instruments, beat between houses six or eight stories high, in a narrow street, and with desperate perseverance! The object is to recall the troops to their quarters.
Havre is a tide-harbour. In America, where there is, on an average, not more than five feet of rise and fall to the water of the sea, such a haven would, of course, be impracticable for large vessels. But the majority of the ports on the British Channel are of this character, and indeed a large portion of the harbours of Great Britain. Calais, Boulogne, Havre, and Dieppe, are all inaccessible at low water. The cliffs are broken by a large ravine, a creek makes up the gorge, or a small stream flows outward into the sea, a basin is excavated, the entrance is rendered safe by moles which project into deep water, and the town is crowded around this semi-artificial port as well as circumstances will allow. Such is, more or less, the history of them all. Havre, however, is in some measure an exception. It stands on a plain, that I should think had once been a marsh. The cliffs are near it, seaward, and towards the interior there are fine receding hills, leaving a sufficient site, notwithstanding, for a town of large dimensions.
The port of Havre has been much improved of late years. Large basins have been excavated, and formed into regular wet docks. They are nearly in the centre of the town. The mole stretches out several hundred yards on that side of the entrance of the port which is next the sea. Here signals are regularly made to acquaint vessels in the offing with the precise number of feet that can be brought into the port. These signals are changed at the rise or fall of every foot, according to a graduated scale which is near the signal pole. At dead low water the entrance to the harbour, and the outer harbour itself, are merely beds of soft mud. Machines are kept constantly at work to deepen them.
The ship from sea makes the lights, and judges of the state of the tide by the signals. She rounds the Mole-Head at the distance of fifty or sixty yards, and sails along a passage too narrow to admit another vessel, at the same moment, into the harbour. Here she finds from eighteen to twenty, or even twenty-four feet of water, according to circumstances. She is hauled up to the gates of a dock, which are opened at high water only. As the water falls, one gate is shut, and the entrance to the dock becomes a lock: vessels can enter, therefore, as long as there remains sufficient water in the outer harbour for a ship to float. If caught outside, however, she must lie in the mud until the ensuing tide.
Havre is the sea-port of Paris, and is rapidly increasing in importance. There is a project for connecting the latter with the sea by a ship channel. Such a project is hardly suited to the French impulses, which imagine a thousand grand projects, but hardly ever convert any of them to much practical good. The opinions of the people are formed on habits of great saving, and it requires older calculations, greater familiarity with risks, and more liberal notions of industry, and, possibly, more capital than is commonly found in their enterprises, to induce the people to encounter the extra charges of these improvements, when they can have recourse to what, in their eyes, are simpler and safer means of making money. The government employs men of science, who conceive well; but their conceptions are but indifferently sustained by the average practical intellect of the country. In this particular France is the very converse of America.
The project of making a sea-port of Paris, is founded on a principle that is radically wrong. It is easier to build a house on the sea-side, than to carry the sea into the interior. But the political economy of France, like that of nearly all the continental nations, is based on a false principle, that of forcing improvements. The intellects of the mass should first be acted on, and when the public mind is sufficiently improved to benefit by innovations, the public sentiment might be trusted to decide the questions of locality and usefulness. The French system looks to a concentration of everything in Paris. The political organization of the country favours such a scheme, and in a project of this sort, the interests of all the northern and western departments would be sacrificed to the interests of Paris. As for the departments east and south of Paris, they would in no degree be benefited by making a port of Paris, as goods would still have to be transshipped to reach them. A system of canals and railroads is much wanted in France, and most of all, a system of general instruction, to prepare the minds of the operatives to profit by such advantages. When I say that we are behind our facts in America, I do not mean in a physical, but in a moral sense. All that is visible and tangible is led by opinion; in all that is purely moral, the facts precede the notions of the people.
I found, at a later day, many droll theories broached in France, more especially in the Chamber of Deputies, on the subject of our own great success in the useful enterprises. As is usual, in such cases, any reason but the true one was given. At the period of our arrival in Europe, the plan of connecting the great lakes with the Atlantic had just been completed, and the vast results were beginning to attract attention in Europe. At first, it was thought, as a matter of course, that engineers from the old world had been employed. This was disproved, and it was shown that they who laid out the work, however skilful they may have since become by practice, were at first little more than common American surveyors. Then the trifling cost was a stumbling-block, for labour was known to be far better paid in America than in Europe; and lastly, the results created astonishment. Several deputies affirmed that the cause of the great success was owing to the fact, that in America we trusted such things to private competition, whereas, in France, the government meddled with everything. But it was the state governments, (which indeed alone possess the necessary means and authority,) that had caused most of the American canals to be constructed. These political economists knew too little of other systems to apply a clever saying of their own—Il y a de la Rochefoucald, et de la Rouchefoucald. All governments do not wither what they touch.
Some Americans have introduced steam-boats on the rivers of France, and on the lakes of Switzerland and Italy. We embarked in one, after passing two delectable nights at the Hôtel d'Angleterre. The boat was a frail-looking thing, and so loaded with passengers, that it appeared actually to stagger under its freight. The Seine has a wide mouth, and a long ground-swell was setting in from the Channel. Our Parisian cockneys, of whom there were several on board, stood aghast. "Nous voici en pleine mer!" one muttered to the other, and the annals of that eventful voyage are still related, I make no question, to admiring auditors in the interior of France. The French make excellent seamen when properly trained; but I think, on the whole, they are more thoroughly landsmen than any people of my acquaintance, who possess a coast. There has been too much sympathy with the army to permit the mariners to receive a proper share of the public favour.
The boat shaped her course diagonally across the broad current, directly for Honfleur. Here we first began to get an idea of the true points of difference between our own scenery and that of the continent of Europe, and chiefly of that of France. The general characteristics of England are not essentially different from those of America, after allowing for a much higher finish in the former, substituting hedges for fences, and stripping the earth of its forests. These, you may think, are, in themselves, grand points of difference, but they fall far short of those which render the continent of Europe altogether of a different nature. Of forest, there is vastly more in France than in England. But, with few exceptions, the fields are not separated by enclosures. The houses are of stone, or of wood, rough-cast. Honfleur, as we approached, had a grey distinctness that is difficult to describe. The atmosphere seemed visible, around the angles of the buildings, as in certain Flemish pictures, bringing out the fine old sombre piles from the depth of the view, in a way to leave little concealed, while nothing was meretricious or gaudy. At first, though we found these hues imposing, and even beautiful, we thought the view would have been gayer and more agreeable, had the tints been livelier; but a little use taught us that our tastes had been corrupted. On our return home every structure appeared flaring and tawdry. Even those of stone had a recent and mushroom air, besides being in colours equally ill suited to architecture or a landscape. The only thing of the sort in America which appeared venerable and of a suitable hue, after an absence of eight years, was our own family abode, and this, the despoiler, paint, had not defiled for near forty years.
We discharged part of our cargo at Honfleur, but the boat was still greatly crowded. Fatigue and ill health rendered standing painful to A——, and all the benches were crowded. She approached a young girl of about eighteen, who occupied three chairs. On one she was seated; on another she had her feet; and the third held her reticule. Apologizing for the liberty, A—— asked leave to put the reticule on the second chair, and to take the third for her own use. This request was refused! The selfishness created by sophistication and a factitious state of things renders such acts quite frequent, for it is more my wish to offer you distinctive traits of character than exceptions. This case of selfishness might have been a little stronger than usual, it is true, but similar acts are of daily occurrence, out of society, in France. In society, the utmost respect to the wants and feelings of others is paid, vastly more than with us; while, with us, it is scarcely too strong to say that such an instance of unfeeling selfishness could scarcely have occurred at all. We may have occasion to inquire into the causes of this difference in national manners hereafter.
The Seine narrows at Quilleboeuf, about thirty miles from Havre, to the width of an ordinary European tide river. On a high bluff we passed a ruin, called Tancarville, which was formerly a castle of the De Montmorencies. This place was the cradle of one of William's barons; and an English descendant, I believe, has been ennobled by the title of Earl of Tankerville.
Above Quilleboeuf the river becomes exceedingly pretty. It is crooked, a charm in itself, has many willowy islands, and here and there a grey venerable town is seated in the opening of the high hills which contract the view, with crumbling towers, and walls that did good service in the times of the old English and French wars. There were fewer seats than might have been expected, though we passed three or four. One near the waterside, of some size, was in the ancient French style, with avenues cut in formal lines, mutilated statues, precise and treeless terraces, and other elaborated monstrosities. These places are not entirely without a pretension to magnificence; but, considered in reference to what is desirable in landscape gardening, they are the very laid idéal of deformity. After winding our way for eight or ten hours amid such scenes, the towers of Rouen came in view. They had a dark ebony-coloured look, which did great violence to our Manhattanese notions, but which harmonized gloriously with a bluish sky, the grey walls beneath, and a background of hanging fields.
Rouen is a sea-port; vessels of two hundred, or two hundred and fifty tons burden, lying at its quays. Here is also a custom-house, and our baggage was again opened for examination. This was done amid a great deal of noise and confusion, and yet so cursorily as to be of no real service. At Havre, landing as we did in the night, and committing all to Désirée the next day, I escaped collision with subordinates. But, not having a servant, I was now compelled to look after our effects in person. W—— protested that we had fallen among barbarians; what between brawls, contests for the trunks, cries, oaths, and snatching, the scene was equally provoking and comic.
Without schooling, without training of any sort, little checked by morals, pressed upon by society, with nearly every necessary of life highly taxed, and yet entirely loosened from the deference of feudal manners, the Frenchmen of this class have, in general, become what they who wish to ride upon their fellow mortals love to represent them as being, truculent, violent, greedy of gain, and but too much disposed to exaction. There is great bonhomie and many touches of chivalry in the national character; but it is asking too much to suppose that men who are placed in the situation I have named, should not exhibit some of the most unpleasant traits of human infirmity. Our trunks were put into a handbarrow, and wheeled by two men a few hundred yards, the whole occupying half an hour of time. For this service ten francs were demanded. I offered five, or double what would have been required by a drayman in New York, a place where labour is proverbially dear. This was disdainfully refused, and I was threatened with the law. Of the latter I knew nothing; but, determined not to be bullied into what I felt persuaded was an imposition, I threw down the five francs and walked away. These fellows kept prowling about the hotel the whole day, alternately wheedling and menacing, without success. Towards night one of them appeared, and returned the five francs, saying, that he gave me his services for nothing. I thanked him, and put the money in my pocket. This fit of dignity lasted about five minutes, when, as finale, I received a proposal to pay the money again, and bring the matter to a close, which was done accordingly.
An Englishman of the same class would have done his work in silence, with a respect approaching to servility, and with a system that any little contretems would derange. He would ask enough, take his money with a "thank 'ee, sir," and go off looking as surly as if he were dissatisfied. An American would do his work silently, but independently as to manner—but a fact will best illustrate the conduct of the American. The day after we landed at New-York, I returned to the ship for the light articles. They made a troublesome load, and filled a horse-cart. "What do you think I ought to get for carrying this load, 'sqire?" asked the cartman, as he looked at the baskets, umbrellas, band-boxes, valises, secretaries, trunks, etc. etc.; "it is quite two miles to Carroll Place." "It is, indeed; what is your fare?" "Only thirty-seven and a half cents;" (about two francs;) "and it is justly worth seventy-five, there is so much trumpery." "I will give you a dollar." "No more need be said, sir; you shall have everything safe." I was so much struck with this straight-forward manner of proceeding, after all I had undergone in Europe, that I made a note of it the same day.
The Hôtel de l'Europe, at Rouen, was not a first-rate inn, for France, but it effectually removed the disagreeable impression left by the Hôtel d'Angleterre, at Havre. We were well lodged, well fed, and otherwise well treated. After ordering dinner, all of a suitable age hurried off to the cathedral.
Rouen is an old, and by no means a well-built town. Some improvements along the river are on a large scale, and promise well; but the heart of the city is composed principally of houses of wooden frames, with the interstices filled in with cement. Work of this kind is very common in all the northern provincial towns of France. It gives a place a singular, and not altogether an unpicturesque air; the short dark studs that time has imbrowned, forming a sort of visible ribs to the houses.
When we reached the little square in front of the cathedral, verily Henry the Seventh's chapel sunk into insignificance. I can only compare the effect of the chiselling on the quaint Gothic of this edifice, to that of an enormous skreen of dark lace, thrown into the form of a church. This was the first building of the kind that my companions had ever seen; and they had, insomuch, the advantage over me, as I had, in a degree, taken off the edge of wonder by the visit already mentioned to Westminster. The first look at this pile was one of inextricable details. It was not difficult to distinguish the vast and magnificent doors, and the beautiful oriel windows, buried as they were in ornament; but an examination was absolutely necessary to trace the little towers, pinnacles, and the crowds of pointed arches, amid such a scene of architectural confusion. "It is worth crossing the Atlantic, were it only to see this!" was the common feeling among us.
It was some time before we discovered that divers dwellings had actually been built between the buttresses of the church, for their comparative diminutiveness, quaint style, and close incorporation with the pile, caused us to think them, at first, a part of the edifice itself. This desecration of the Gothic is of very frequent occurrence on the continent of Europe, taking its rise in the straitened limits of fortified towns, the cupidity of churchmen, and the general indifference to knowledge, and, consequently, to taste, which depressed the ages that immediately followed the construction of most of these cathedrals.
We were less struck by the interior, than by the exterior of this building. It is vast, has some fine windows, and is purely Gothic; but after the richness of the external details, the aisles and the choir appeared rather plain. It possessed, however, in some of its monuments, subjects of great interest to those who had never stood over a grave of more than two centuries, and rarely even over one of half that age. Among other objects of this nature, is the heart of Coeur de Lion, for the church was commenced in the reign of one of his predecessors; Normandy at that time belonging to the English kings, and claiming to be the depository of the "lion heart."
Rouen has many more memorials of the past. We visited the square in which Joan of Arc was burned; a small irregular area in front of her prison; the prison itself, and the hall in which she had been condemned. All these edifices are Gothic, quaint, and some of them sufficiently dilapidated.
I had forgotten to relate, in its place, a fact, as an offset to the truculent garrulity of the porters. We were shown round the cathedral by a respectable-looking old man in a red scarf, a cocked hat, and a livery, one of the officers of the place. He was respectful, modest, and well instructed in his tale. The tone of this good old cicerone was so much superior to anything I had seen in England—in America such a functionary is nearly unknown—that, under the influence of our national manners, I had awkward doubts as to the propriety of offering him money. At length the five francs rescued from the cupidity of the half-civilized peasants of la basse Normandie were put into his hand. A look of indecision caused me to repent the indiscretion. I thought his feelings had been wounded. "Est-ce que monsieur compte me présenter tout ceci?" I told him I hoped he would do me the favour to accept it. I had only given more than was usual, and the honesty of the worthy cicerone hesitated about taking it. To know when to pay, and what to pay, is a useful attainment of the experienced traveller.
Paris lay before us, and, although Rouen is a venerable and historical town, we were impatient to reach the French capital. A carriage was procured, and, on the afternoon of the second day, we proceeded.
After quitting Rouen the road runs, for several miles, at the foot of high hills, and immediately on the banks of the Seine. At length we were compelled to climb the mountain which terminates near the city, and offers one of the noblest views in France, from a point called St. Catherine's Hill. We did not obtain so fine a prospect from the road, but the view far surpassed anything we had yet seen in Europe. Putting my head out of the window, when about half way up the ascent, I saw an object booming down upon us, at the rate of six or eight miles the hour, that resembled in magnitude at least a moving house. It was a diligence, and being the first we had met, it caused a general sensation in our party. Our heads were in each other's way, and finding it impossible to get a good view in any other manner, we fairly alighted in the highway, old and young, to look at the monster unincumbered. Our admiration and eagerness caused as much amusement to the travellers it held, as their extraordinary equipage gave rise to among us; and two merrier parties did not encounter each other on the public road that day.
A proper diligence is formed of a chariot-body, and two coach-bodies placed one before the other, the first in front. These are all on a large scale, and the wheels and train are in proportion. On the roof (the three bodies are closely united) is a cabriolet, or covered seat, and baggage is frequently piled there, many feet in height. A large leathern apron covers the latter. An ordinary load of hay, though wider, is scarcely of more bulk than one of these vehicles, which sometimes carries twenty-five or thirty passengers, and two or three tons of luggage. The usual team is composed of five horses, two of which go on the pole, and three on the lead, the latter turning their heads outwards, as W—— remarked, so as to resemble a spread eagle. Notwithstanding the weight, these carriages usually go down a hill faster than when travelling on the plain. A bar of wood is brought, by means of a winch that is controlled by a person called the conducteur, one who has charge of both ship and cargo, to bear on the hind wheels, with a greater or less force, according to circumstances, so that all the pressure is taken off the wheel horses. A similar invention has latterly been applied to railroad cars. I have since gone over this very road with ten horses, two on the wheel, and eight in two lines on the lead. On that occasion, we came down this very hill, at the rate of nine miles the hour.
After amusing ourselves with the spectacle of the diligence, we found the scenery too beautiful to re-enter the carriage immediately, and we walked to the top of the mountain. The view from the summit was truly admirable. The Seine comes winding its way through a broad rich valley, from the southward, having just before run east, and, a league or two beyond due west, our own Susquehanna being less crooked. The stream was not broad, but its numerous isles, willowy banks, and verdant meadows, formed a line for the eye to follow. Rouen in the distance, with its ebony towers, fantastic roofs, and straggling suburbs, lines its shores, at a curvature where the stream swept away west again, bearing craft of the sea on its bosom. These dark old towers have a sombre, mysterious air, which harmonizes admirably with the recollections that crowd the mind at such a moment! Scarce an isolated dwelling was to be seen, but the dense population is compressed into villages and bourgs, that dot the view, looking brown and teeming, like the nests of wasps. Some of these places have still remains of walls, and most of them are so compact and well defined that they appear more like vast castles than like the villages of England or America. All are grey, sombre, and without glare, rising from the background of pale verdure, so many appropriate bas reliefs.
The road was strewed with peasants of both sexes, wending their way homeward, from the market of Rouen. One, a tawny woman, with no other protection for her head than a high but perfectly clean cap, was going past us, driving an ass, with the panniers loaded with manure. We were about six miles from the town, and the poor beast, after staggering some eight or ten miles to the market in the morning, was staggering back with this heavy freight, at even. I asked the woman, who, under the circumstances, could not be a resident of one of the neighbouring villages, the name of a considerable bourg that lay about a gun-shot distant, in plain view, on the other side of the river. "Monsieur, je ne saurais pas vous dire, parce que, voyez-vous, je ne suis pas de ce pays-là," was the answer!
Knowledge is the parent of knowledge. He who possesses most of the information of his age will not quietly submit to neglect its current acquisitions, but will go on improving as long as means and opportunities offer; while he who finds himself ignorant of most things, is only too apt to shrink from a labour which becomes Herculean. In this manner ambition is stifled, the mind gets to be inactive, and finally sinks into unresisting apathy. Such is the case with a large portion of the European peasantry. The multitude of objects that surround them becomes a reason of indifference; and they pass, from day to day, for a whole life, in full view of a town, without sufficient curiosity in its history to inquire its name, or, if told by accident, sufficient interest to remember it. We see this principle exemplified daily in cities. One seldom thinks of asking the name of a passer-by, though he may be seen constantly; whereas, in the country, such objects being comparatively rare, the stranger is not often permitted to appear without some question touching his character.
[Footnote 3: When in London, two years later, I saw a gentleman of rather striking appearance pass my door for two months, five or six times of a morning. Remembering the apathy of the Norman peasant, I at length asked who it was—"Sir Francis Burdett," was the answer.]
I once inquired of a servant girl, at a French inn, who might be the owner of a chateau near by, the gate of which was within a hundred feet of the house we were in. She was unable to say, urging, as an apology, that she had only been six weeks in her present place! This, too, was in a small country hamlet. I think every one must have remarked, coeteris paribus, how much more activity and curiosity of mind is displayed by a countryman who first visits a town, than by the dweller in a city who first visits the country. The first wishes to learn everything, since be has been accustomed to understand everything he has hitherto seen; while the last, accustomed to a crowd of objects, usually regards most of the novel things he now sees for the first time with indifference.
The road, for the rest of the afternoon, led us over hills and plains, from one reach of the river to another, for we crossed the latter repeatedly before reaching Paris. The appearance of the country was extraordinary in our eyes. Isolated houses were rare, but villages dotted the whole expanse. No obtrusive colours; but the eye had frequently to search against the hill-side, or in the valley, and, first detecting a mass, it gradually took in the picturesque angles, roofs, towers, and walls of the little bourg. Not a fence, or visible boundary of any sort, to mark the limits of possessions. Not a hoof in the fields grazing, and occasionally, a sweep of mountain-land resembled a pattern-card, with its stripes of green and yellow, and other hues, the narrow fields of the small proprietors. The play of light and shade on these gay upland patches though not strictly in conformity with the laws of taste, certainly was attractive. When they fell entirely into shadow, the harvest being over, and their gaudy colours lessened, they resembled the melancholy and wasted vestiges of a festival.
At Louviers we dined, and there we found a new object of wonder in the church. It was of the Gothic of the bourgs, less elaborated and more rudely wrought than that of the larger towns, but quaint, and, the population considered, vast. Ugly dragons thrust out their grinning heads at us from the buttresses. The most agreeable monstrosities imaginable were crawling along the grey old stones. After passing this place, the scenery lost a good deal of the pastoral appearance which renders Normandy rather remarkable in France, and took still more of the starched pattern-card look, just mentioned. Still it was sombre, the villages were to be extracted by the eye from their setting of fields, and here and there one of those "silent fingers pointing to the skies" raised itself into the air, like a needle, to prick the consciences of the thoughtless. The dusky hues of all the villages contrasted oddly, and not unpleasantly, with the carnival colours of the grains.
We slept at Vernon, and, before retiring for the night, passed half an hour in a fruitless attempt to carry by storm a large old circular tower, that is imputed to the inexhaustible industry of Caesar. This was the third of his reputed works that we had seen since landing in France. In this part of Europe, Caesar has the credit of everything for which no one else is willing to apply, as is the case with Virgil at Naples.
It was a sensation to rise in the morning with the rational prospect of seeing Paris, for the first time in one's life, before night. In my catalogue it stands numbered as sensation the 5th; Westminster, the night arrival in France, and the Cathedral of Rouen, giving birth to numbers 1, 2, and 4. Though accustomed to the tattoo, and the evening bugle of a man-of-war, the drums of Havre had the honour of number 3. Alas! how soon we cease to feel those agreeable excitements at all, even a drum coming in time to pall on the ear!
Near Vernon we passed a village, which gave us the first idea of one feature in the old régime. The place was grey, sombre, and picturesque, as usual, in the distance; but crowded, dirty, inconvenient, and mean, when the eye got too near. Just without the limits of its nuisances stood the chateau, a regular pile of hewn stone, with formal allées, abundance of windows, extensive stables, and broken vases. The ancient seigneur probably retained no more of this ancient possession than its name, while some Monsieur Le Blanc, or Monsieur Le Noir, filled his place in the house, and "personne dans la seigneurie."
A few leagues farther brought us to an eminence, whence we got a beautiful glimpse of the sweeping river, and of a wide expanse of fertile country less formally striped and more picturesque than the preceding. Another grey castellated town lay on the verge of the river, with towers that seemed even darker than ever. How different was all this from the glare of our own objects! As we wound round the brow of the height, extensive park-grounds, a village more modern, less picturesque, and less dirty than common, with a large chateau in red bricks, was brought in sight, in the valley. This was Rosny, the place that gave his hereditary title to the celebrated Sully, as Baron and Marquis de Rosny; Sully, a man, who, like Bacon, almost deserves the character so justly given of the latter by Pope, that of "The wisest, greatest, meanest, of mankind." The house and grounds were now the property of Madame, as it is the etiquette to term the Duchesse de Berri. The town in the distance, with the dark towers, was Mantes, a place well known in the history of Normandy. We breakfasted at Le Cheval Blanc. The church drew us all out, but it was less monstrous than that of Louviers, and, as a cathedral, unworthy to be named with those of the larger places.
The next stage brought us to St. Germain-en-Laye, or to the verge of the circle of low mountains that surround the plains of Paris. Here we got within the influence of royal magnificence and the capital. The Bourbons, down to the period of the revolution, were indeed kings, and they have left physical and moral impressions of their dynasty of seven hundred years, that will require as long a period to eradicate. Nearly every foot of the entire semi-circle of hills to the west of Paris is historical, and garnished by palaces, pavilions, forests, parks, aqueducts, gardens, or chases. A carriage terrace, of a mile in length, and on a most magnificent scale in other respects, overlooks the river, at an elevation of several hundred feet above its bed. The palace itself, a quaint old edifice of the time of Francis I, who seems to have had an architecture not unlike that of Elizabeth of England, has long been abandoned as a royal abode. I believe its last royal occupant was the dethroned James II. It is said to have been deserted by its owners, because it commands a distant view of that silent monitor, the sombre beautiful spire of St. Denis, whose walls shadow the vaults of the Bourbons; they who sat on a throne not choosing to be thus constantly reminded of the time when they must descend to the common fate and crumbling equality of the grave.
An aqueduct, worthy of the Romans, gave an imposing idea of the scale on which these royal works were conducted. It appeared, at the distance of a league or two, a vast succession of arches, displaying a broader range of masonry than I had ever before seen. So many years had passed since I was last in Europe, that I gazed in wonder at its vastness.
From St. Germain we plunged into the valley, and took our way towards Paris, by a broad paved avenue, that was bordered with trees. The road now began to show an approach to a capital, being crowded with all sorts of uncouth-looking vehicles, used as public conveyances. Still it was on a Lilliputian scale as compared to London, and semi-barbarous even as compared to one of our towns. Marly-la-Machine was passed; an hydraulic invention to force water up the mountains to supply the different princely dwellings of the neighbourhood. Then came a house of no great pretension, buried in trees, at the foot of the bill. This was the celebrated consular abode, Malmaison. After this we mounted to a hamlet, and the road stretched away before us, with the river between, to the unfinished Arc de l'Étoile, or the barrier of the capital. The evening was soft, and there had been a passing shower. As the mist drove away, a mass rose like a glittering beacon, beyond the nearest hill, proclaiming Paris. It was the dome of the Hotel of the Invalids!
Though Paris possesses better points of view from its immediate vicinity than most capitals, it is little seen from any of its ordinary approaches until fairly entered. We descended to the river by a gentle declivity. The chateau and grounds of Neuilly, a private possession of the Duke of Orleans, lay on our left; the Bois de Boulogne, the carriage promenade of the capital, on our right. We passed one of those abortions, a magnificent village, (Neuilly,) and ascended gently towards the unfinished Arch of the Star. Bending around this imposing memorial of—Heaven knows what! for it has had as many destinations as France has had governors—we entered the iron gate of the barrier, and found ourselves within the walls of Paris.
We were in the Avenue de Neuilly. The Champs Elysées, without verdure, a grove divided by the broad approach, and moderately peopled by a well-dressed crowd, lay on each side. In front, at the distance of a mile, was a mass of foliage that looked more like a rich copse in park than an embellishment of a town garden; and above this, again, peered the pointed roofs of two or three large and high members of some vast structure, sombre in colour and quaint in form. They were the pavilions of the Tuileries. A line of hotels became visible through trees and shrubbery on the left, and on the right we soon got evidence that we were again near the river. We had just left it behind us, and after a détour of several leagues, here it was again flowing in our front, cutting in twain the capital.
[Footnote 4: Tuileries is derived from Tuile, or tile; the site of the present gardens having been a tile-yard.]
Objects now grew confused, for they came fast. We entered and crossed a paved area, that lay between the Seine, the Champs Elysées, the garden of the Tuileries, and two little palaces of extraordinary beauty of architecture. This was the place where Louis XVI. and his unfortunate wife were beheaded. Passing between the two edifices last named, we came upon the Boulevards, and plunged at once into the street-gaiety and movement of this remarkable town.