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Chapter 12

The cathedral is not the only lion of Bourges; the
house of Jacques Coeur is an object of interest scarcely
less positive. This remarkable man had a very strange
history, and he too was "broken," like the wretched
soldier whom I did not stay to see. He has been re-
habilitated, however, by an age which does not fear
the imputation of paradox, and a marble statue of
him ornaments the street in front of his house. To
interpret him according to this image - a womanish
figure in a long robe and a turban, with big bare arms
and a dramatic pose - would be to think of him as a
kind of truculent sultana. He wore the dress of his
period, but his spirit was very modern; he was a Van-
derbilt or a Rothschild of the fifteenth century. He
supplied the ungrateful Charles VII. with money to pay
the troops who, under the heroic Maid, drove the
English from French soil. His house, which to-day is
used as a Palais de Justice, appears to have been re-
garded at the time it was built very much as the resi-
dence of Mr. Vanderbilt is regarded in New York to-day.
It stands on the edge of the hill on which most of the
town is planted, so that, behind, it plunges down to a
lower level, and, if you approach it on that side, as I
did, to come round to the front of it, you have to
ascend a longish flight of steps. The back, of old,
must have formed a portion of the city wall; at any
rate, it offers to view two big towers, which Joanne
says were formerly part of the defence of Bourges.
From the lower level of which I speak - the square in
front of the post-office - the palace of Jacques Coeur
looks very big and strong and feudal; from the upper
street, in front of it, it looks very handsome and deli-
cate. To this street it presents two stories and a con-
siderable length of facade; and it has, both within and
without, a great deal of curious and beautiful detail.
Above the portal, in the stonework, are two false win-
dows, in which two figures, a man and a woman, ap-
parently household servants, are represented, in sculp-
ture, as looking down into the street. The effect is
homely, yet grotesque, and the figures are sufficiently
living to make one commiserate them for having been
condemned, in so dull a town, to spend several cen-
turies at the window. They appear to be watching for
the return of their master, who left his beautiful house
one morning and never came back.

The history of Jacques Coeur, which has been
written by M. Pierre Clement, in a volume crowned
by the French Academy, is very wonderful and in-
teresting, but I have no space to go into it here.
There is no more curious example, and few more
tragical, of a great fortune crumbling from one day to
the other, or of the antique superstition that the gods
grow jealous of human success. Merchant, million-
naire, banker, ship-owner, royal favorite, and minister
of finance, explorer of the East and monopolist of the
glittering trade between that quarter of the globe and
his own, great capitalist who had anticipated the
brilliant operations of the present time, he expiated
his prosperity by poverty, imprisonment, and torture.
The obscure points in his career have been elucidated
by M. Clement, who has drawn, moreover, a very vivid
picture of the corrupt and exhausted state of France
during the middle of the fifteenth century. He has
shown that the spoliation of the great merchant was a
deliberately calculated act, and that the king sacrificed
him without scruple or shame to the avidity of a sin-
gularly villanous set of courtiers. The whole story is
an extraordinary picture of high-handed rapacity, -
the crudest possible assertion of the right of the stronger.
The victim was stripped of his property, but escaped
with his life, made his way out of France, and, betak-
ing himself to Italy, offered his services to the Pope.
It is proof of the consideration that he enjoyed in
Europe, and of the variety of his accomplishments,
that Calixtus III. should have appointed him to take
command of a fleet which his Holiness was fitting out
against the Turks. Jacques Coeur, however, was not
destined to lead it to victory. He died shortly after
the expedition had started, in the island of Chios, in
1456. The house of Bourges, his native place, testifies
in some degree to his wealth and splendor, though it
has in parts that want of space which is striking in
many of the buildings of the Middle Ages. The court,
indeed, is on a large scale, ornamented with turrets
and arcades, with several beautiful windows, and with
sculptures inserted in the walls, representing the various
sources of the great fortune of the owner. M. Pierre
Clement describes this part of the house as having
been of an "incomparable richesse," - an estimate of its
charms which seems slightly exaggerated to-day. There
is, however, something delicate and familiar in the
bas-reliefs of which I have spoken, little scenes of
agriculture and industry, which show, that the pro-
prietor was not ashamed of calling attention to his
harvests and enterprises. To-day we should question
the taste of such allusions, even in plastic form, in
the house of a "merchant prince" (say in the Fifth
Avenue). Why is it, therefore, that these quaint little
panels at Bourges do not displease us? It is perhaps
because things very ancient never, for some mysterious
reason, appear vulgar. This fifteenth-century million-
naire, with his palace, his egotistical sculptures, may
have produced that impression on some critical spirits
of his own day.

The portress who showed me into the building was
a dear litte old woman, with the gentlest, sweetest,
saddest face - a little white, aged face, with dark,
pretty eyes - and the most considerate manner. She
took me up into an upper hall, where there were a
couple of curious chimney-pieces and a fine old oaken
roof, the latter representing the hollow of a long boat.
There is a certain oddity in a native of Bourges - an
inland town if there ever was one, without even a river
(to call a river) to encourage nautical ambitions - hav-
ing found his end as admiral of a fleet; but this boat-
shaped roof, which is extremely graceful and is re-
peated in another apartment, would suggest that the
imagination of Jacques Coeur was fond of riding the
waves. Indeed, as he trafficked in Oriental products
and owned many galleons, it is probable that he was
personally as much at home in certain Mediterranean
ports as in the capital of the pastoral Berry. If, when
he looked at the ceilings of his mansion, he saw his
boats upside down, this was only a suggestion of the
shortest way of emptying them of their treasures. He
is presented in person above one of the great stone
chimney-pieces, in company with his wife, Macee de
Leodepart, - I like to write such an extraordinary name.
Carved in white stone, the two sit playing at chess at
an open window, through which they appear to give
their attention much more to the passers-by than to
the game. They are also exhibited in other attitudes;
though I do not recognize them in the composition on
top of one of the fireplaces which represents the battle-
ments of a castle, with the defenders (little figures be-
tween the crenellations) hurling down missiles with a
great deal of fury and expression. It would have been
hard to believe that the man who surrounded himself
with these friendly and humorous devices had been
guilty of such wrong-doing as to call down the heavy
hand of justice.

It is a curious fact, however, that Bourges contains
legal associations of a purer kind than the prosecution
of Jacques Coeur, which, in spite of the rehabilitations
of history, can hardly be said yet to have terminated,
inasmuch as the law-courts of the city are installed in
his quondam residence. At a short distance from it
stands the Hotel Cujas, one of the curiosities of Bourges
and the habitation for many years of the great juris-
consult who revived in the sixteenth century the study
of the Roman law, and professed it during the close
of his life in the university of the capital of Berry.
The learned Cujas had, in spite of his sedentary pur-
suits, led a very wandering life; he died at Bourges in
the year 1590. Sedentary pursuits is perhaps not
exactly what I should call them, having read in the
"Biographie Universelle" (sole source of my knowledge
of the renowned Cujacius) that his usual manner of
study was to spread himself on his belly on the floor.
He did not sit down, he lay down; and the "Biographie
Universelle" has (for so grave a work) an amusing pic-
ture of the short, fat, untidy scholar dragging himself
_a plat ventre_ across his room, from one pile of books
to the other. The house in which these singular gym-
nastics took place, and which is now the headquarters
of the gendarmerie, is one of the most picturesque at
Bourges. Dilapidated and discolored, it has a charm-
ing Renaissance front. A high wall separates it from
the street, and on this wall, which is divided by a
large open gateway, are perched two overhanging
turrets. The open gateway admits you to the court,
beyond which the melancholy mansion erects itself,
decorated also with turrets, with fine old windows, and
with a beautiful tone of faded red brick and rusty
stone. It is a charming encounter for a provincial by-
street; one of those accidents in the hope of which
the traveller with a propensity for sketching (whether
on a little paper block or on the tablets of his brain)
decides to turn a corner at a venture. A brawny gen-
darme, in his shirt-sleeves, was polishing his boots in
the court; an ancient, knotted vine, forlorn of its
clusters, hung itself over a doorway, and dropped its
shadow on the rough grain of the wall. The place
was very sketchable. I am sorry to say, however, that
it was almost the only "bit." Various other curious
old houses are supposed to exist at Bourges, and I
wandered vaguely about in search of them. But I had
little success, and I ended by becoming sceptical.
Bourges is a _ville de province_ in the full force of the
term, especially as applied invidiously. The streets,
narrow, tortuous, and dirty, have very wide cobble-
stones; the houses for the most part are shabby, with-
out local color. The look of things is neither modern
nor antique, - a kind of mediocrity of middle age.
There is an enormous number of blank walls, - walls
of gardens, of courts, of private houses - that avert
themselves from the street, as if in natural chagrin at
there being so little to see. Round about is a dull,
flat, featureless country, on which the magnificent
cathedral looks down. There is a peculiar dulness
and ugliness in a French town of this type, which, I
must immediately add, is not the most frequent one.
In Italy, everything has a charm, a color, a grace; even
desolation and _ennui_. In England a cathedral city
may be sleepy, but it is pretty sure to be mellow. In
the course of six weeks spent _en province_, however, I
saw few places that had not more expression than
Bourges.

I went back to the cathedral; that, after all, was
a feature. Then I returned to my hotel, where it was
time to dine, and sat down, as usual, with the _commis-
voyageurs_, who cut their bread on their thumb and
partook of every course; and after this repast I re-
paired for a while to the cafe, which occupied a part
of the basement of the inn and opened into its court.
This cafe was a friendly, homely, sociable spot, where
it seemed the habit of the master of the establishment
to _tutoyer_ his customers, and the practice of the cus-
tomers to _tutoyer_ the waiter. Under these circum-
stances the waiter of course felt justified in sitting
down at the same table with a gentleman who had
come in and asked him for writing materials. He
served this gentleman with a horrible little portfolio,
covered with shiny black cloth and accompanied with
two sheets of thin paper, three wafers, and one of
those instruments of torture which pass in France for
pens, - these being the utensils invariably evoked by
such a request; and then, finding himself at leisure,
he placed himself opposite and began to write a letter
of his own. This trifling incident reminded me afresh
that France is a democratic country. I think I re-
ceived an admonition to the same effect from the free,
familiar way in which the game of whist was going
on just behind me. It was attended with a great deal
of noisy pleasantry, flavored every now and then with
a dash of irritation. There was a young man of whom
I made a note; he was such a beautiful specimen of
his class. Sometimes he was very facetious, chatter-
ing, joking, punning, showing off; then, as the game
went on and he lost, and had to pay the _consomma-
tion_, he dropped his amiability, slanged his partner,
declared he wouldn't play any more, and went away
in a fury. Nothing could be more perfect or more
amusing than the contrast. The manner of the
whole affair was such as, I apprehend, one would not
have seen among our English-speaking people; both
the jauntiness of the first phase and the petulance of
the second. To hold the balance straight, however,
I may remark that if the men were all fearful "cads,"
they were, with their cigarettes and their inconsistency,
less heavy, less brutal, than our dear English-speaking
cad; just as the bright little cafe where a robust mater-
familias, doling out sugar and darning a stocking, sat
in her place under the mirror behind the _comptoir_,
was a much more civilized spot than a British public-
house, or a "commercial room," with pipes and whiskey,
or even than an American saloon.

Henry James