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Chapter 1

I am ashamed to begin with saying that Touraine
is the garden of France; that remark has long ago lost
its bloom. The town of Tours, however, has some
thing sweet and bright, which suggests that it is sur-
rounded by a land of fruits. It is a very agreeable
little city; few towns of its size are more ripe, more
complete, or, I should suppose, in better humor with
themselves and less disposed to envy the responsibili-
ties of bigger places. It is truly the capital of its smil-
ing province; a region of easy abundance, of good
living, of genial, comfortable, optimistic, rather indolent
opinions. Balzac says in one of his tales that the real
Tourangeau will not make an effort, or displace him-
self even, to go in search of a pleasure; and it is not
difficult to understand the sources of this amiable
cynicism. He must have a vague conviction that he
can only lose by almost any change. Fortune has
been kind to him: he lives in a temperate, reasonable,
sociable climate, on the banks, of a river which, it is
true, sometimes floods the country around it, but of
which the ravages appear to be so easily repaired that
its aggressions may perhaps be regarded (in a region
where so many good things are certain) merely as an
occasion for healthy suspense. He is surrounded by
fine old traditions, religious, social, architectural, culi-
nary; and he may have the satisfaction of feeling that
he is French to the core. No part of his admirable
country is more characteristically national. Normandy
is Normandy, Burgundy is Burgundy, Provence is Pro-
vence; but Touraine is essentially France. It is the
land of Rabelais, of Descartes, of Balzac, of good
books and good company, as well as good dinners and
good houses. George Sand has somewhere a charm-
ing passage about the mildness, the convenient quality,
of the physical conditions of central France, - "son
climat souple et chaud, ses pluies abondantes et courtes."
In the autumn of 1882 the rains perhaps were less
short than abundant; but when the days were fine it
was impossible that anything in the way of weather
could be more charming. The vineyards and orchards
looked rich in the fresh, gay light; cultivation was
everywhere, but everywhere it seemed to be easy.
There was no visible poverty; thrift and success pre-
sented themselves as matters of good taste. The white
caps of the women glittered in the sunshire, and their
well-made sabots clicked cheerfully on the hard, clean
roads. Touraine is a land of old chateaux, - a gallery
of architectural specimens and of large hereditary pro-
perties. The peasantry have less of the luxury of
ownership than in most other parts of France; though
they have enough of it to give them quite their share
of that shrewdly conservative look which, in the little,
chaffering, _place_ of the market-town, the stranger ob-
serves so often in the wrinkled brown masks that sur-
mount the agricultural blouse. This is, moreover, the
heart of the old French monarchy; and as that monarchy
was splendid and picturesque, a reflection of the splen-
dor still glitters in the current of the Loire. Some of
the most striking events of French history have occurred
on the banks of that river, and the soil it waters
bloomed for a while with the flowering of the Renais-
sance. The Loire gives a great "style" to a landscape
of which the features are not, as the phrase is, promi-
nent, and carries the eye to distances even more poetic
than the green horizons of Touraine. It is a very fit-
ful stream, and is sometimes observed to run thin and
expose all the crudities of its channel, - a great defect
certainly in a river which is so much depended upon
to give an air to the places it waters. But I speak of
it as I saw it last; full, tranquil, powerful, bending in
large slow curves, and sending back half the light of
the sky. Nothing can be finer than the view of its
course which you get from the battlements and ter-
races of Amboise. As I looked down on it from that
elevation one lovely Sunday morning, through a mild
glitter of autumn sunshine, it seemed the very model
of a generous, beneficent stream. The most charming
part of Tours is naturally the shaded quay that over-
looks it, and looks across too at the friendly faubourg
of Saint Symphorien and at the terraced heights which
rise above this. Indeed, throughout Touraine, it is
half the charm of the Loire that you can travel beside
it. The great dike which protects it, or, protects the
country from it, from Blois to Angers, is an admirable
road; and on the other side, as well, the highway con-
stantly keeps it company. A wide river, as you follow
a wide road, is excellent company; it heightens and
shortens the way.

The inns at Tours are in another quarter, and one
of them, which is midway between the town and the
station, is very good. It is worth mentioning for the
fact that every one belonging to it is extraordinarily
polite, - so unnaturally polite as at first to excite your
suspicion that the hotel has some hidden vice, so that
the waiters and chambermaids are trying to pacify
you in advance. There was one waiter in especial who
was the most accomplished social being I have ever
encountered; from morning till night he kept up an
inarticulate murmur of urbanity, like the hum of a
spinning-top. I may add that I discovered no dark
secrets at the Hotel de l'Univers; for it is not a secret
to any traveller to-day that the obligation to partake
of a lukewarm dinner in an overheated room is as
imperative as it is detestable. For the rest, at Tours,
there is a certain Rue Royale which has pretensions
to the monumental; it was constructed a hundred
years ago, and the houses, all alike, have on a
moderate scale a pompous eighteenth-century look. It
connects the Palais de Justice, the most important
secular building in the town, with the long bridge
which spans the Loire, - the spacious, solid bridge
pronounced by Balzac, in "Le Cure de Tours," "one of
the finest monuments of French architecture." The
Palais de Justice was the seat of the Government of
Leon Gambetta in the autumn of 1870, after the
dictator had been obliged to retire in his balloon from
Paris, and before the Assembly was constituted at
Bordeaux. The Germans occupied Tours during that
terrible winter; it is astonishing, the number of
places the Germans occupied. It is hardly too much
to say that wherever one goes in, certain parts of
France, one encounters two great historic facts: one
is the Revolution; the other is the German invasion.
The traces of the Revolution remain in a hundred
scars and bruises and mutilations, but the visible
marks of the war of 1870 have passed away. The
country is so rich, so living, that she has been able to
dress her wounds, to hold up her head, to smile again;
so that the shadow of that darkness has ceased to rest
upon her. But what you do not see you still may
hear; and one remembers with a certain shudder that
only a few short years ago this province, so intimately
French, was under the heel of a foreign foe. To be
intimately French was apparently not a safeguard; for
so successful an invader it could only be a challenge.
Peace and plenty, however, have succeeded that
episode; and among the gardens and vineyards of
Touraine it seems, only a legend the more in a country
of legends.

It was not, all the same, for the sake of this check-
ered story that I mentioned the Palais de Justice and
the Rue Royale. The most interesting fact, to my
mind, about the high-street of Tours was that as you
walked toward the bridge on the right-hand _trottoir_
you can look up at the house, on the other side of
the way, in which Honore de Balzac first saw the
light. That violent and complicated genius was a
child of the good-humored and succulent Touraine.
There is something anomalous in the fact, though, if
one thinks about it a little, one may discover certain
correspondences between his character and that of his
native province. Strenuous, laborious, constantly in
felicitous in spite of his great successes, he suggests
at times a very different set of influences. But he had
his jovial, full-feeding side, - the side that comes out
in the "Contes Drolatiques," which are the romantic
and epicurean chronicle of the old manors and abbeys
of this region. And he was, moreover, the product
of a soil into which a great deal of history had been
trodden. Balzac was genuinely as well as affectedly
monarchical, and he was saturated with, a sense of the
past. Number 39 Rue Royale - of which the base
ment, like all the basements in the Rue Royale, is
occupied by a shop - is not shown to the public; and
I know not whether tradition designates the chamber
in which the author of "Le Lys dans la Vallee"
opened his eyes into a world in which he was to see
and to imagine such extraordinary things. If this
were the case, I would willingly have crossed its
threshold; not for the sake of any relic of the great
novelist which it may possibly contain, nor even for
that of any mystic virtue which may be supposed to
reside within its walls, but simply because to look at
those four modest walls can hardly fail to give one a
strong impression of the force of human endeavour.
Balzac, in the maturity of his vision, took in more of
human life than any one, since Shakspeare, who has
attempted to tell us stories about it; and the very
small scene on which his consciousness dawned is one
end of the immense scale that he traversed. I confess
it shocked me a little to find that he was born in a
house "in a row," - a house, moreover, which at the
date of his birth must have been only about twenty
years old. All that is contradictory. If the tenement
selected for this honour could not be ancient and em-
browned, it should at least have been detached.

There is a charming description, in his little tale
of "La Grenadiere," of the view of the opposite side
of the Loire as you have it from the square at the end
of the Rue Royale, - a square that has some preten-
sions to grandeur, overlooked as it is by the Hotel de
Ville and the Musee, a pair of edifices which directly
contemplate the river, and ornamented with marble
images of Francois Rabelais and Rene Descartes.
The former, erected a few years since, is a very honor-
able production; the pedastal of the latter could, as
a matter of course, only be inscribed with the _Cogito
ergo Sum._ The two statues mark the two opposite
poles to which the brilliant French mind has travelled;
and if there were an effigy of Balzac at Tours, it ought
to stand midway between them. Not that he, by any
means always struck the happy mean between the
sensible and the metaphysical; but one may say of
him that half of his genius looks in one direction
and half in the other. The side that turns toward
Francois Rabelais would be, on the whole, the side
that takes the sun. But there is no statue of Balzac
at Tours; there is only, in one of the chambers of
the melancholy museum, a rather clever, coarse bust.
The description in "La Grenadiere," of which I just
spoke, is too long to quote; neither have I space for
any one of the brilliant attempts at landscape paint-
ing which are woven into the shimmering texture of
"Le Lys dans la Vallee." The little manor of Cloche-
gourde, the residence of Madame de Mortsauf, the
heroine of that extraordinary work, was within a
moderate walk of Tours, and the picture in the novel is
presumably a copy from an original which it would be
possible to-day to discover. I did not, however, even
make the attempt. There are so many chateaux in
Touraine commemorated in history, that it would take
one too far to look up those which have been com-
memorated in fiction. The most I did was to endeavor
to identify the former residence of Mademoiselle
Gamard, the sinister old maid of "Le Cure de Tours."
This terrible woman occupied a small house in the
rear of the cathedral, where I spent a whole morning
in wondering rather stupidly which house it could be.
To reach the cathedral from the little _place_ where we
stopped just now to look across at the Grenadiere,
without, it must be confessed, very vividly seeing it,
you follow the quay to the right, and pass out of sight
of the charming _coteau_ which, from beyond the river,
faces the town, - a soft agglomeration of gardens, vine-
yards, scattered villas, gables and turrets of slate-
roofed chateaux, terraces with gray balustrades, moss-
grown walls draped in scarlet Virginia-creeper. You
turn into the town again beside a great military
barrack which is ornamented with a rugged mediaeval
tower, a relic of the ancient fortifications, known to
the Tourangeaux of to-day as the Tour de Guise.
The young Prince of Joinville, son of that Duke of
Guise who was murdered by the order of Henry II. at
Blois, was, after the death of his father, confined here
for more than two years, but made his escape one
summer evening in 1591, under the nose of his keepers,
with a gallant audacity which has attached the memory
of the exploit to his sullen-looking prison. Tours has
a garrison of five regiments, and the little red-legged
soldiers light up the town. You see them stroll upon
the clean, uncommercial quay, where there are no
signs of navigation, not even by oar, no barrels nor
bales, no loading nor unloading, no masts against the
sky nor booming of steam in the air. The most active
business that goes on there is that patient and fruitless
angling in, which the French, as the votaries of art for
art, excel all other people. The little soldiers, weighed
down by the contents of their enormous pockets, pass
with respect from one of these masters of the rod to
the other,as he sits soaking an indefinite bait in the
large, indifferent stream. After you turn your back to
the quay you have only to go a little way before you
reach the cathedral.


Henry James