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Chapter 14

I am shocked at finding, just after this noble de-
claration of principles that in a little note-book which
at that time I carried about with me, the celebrated
city of Angers is denominated a "sell." I reproduce
this vulgar term with the greatest hesitation, and only
because it brings me more quickly to my point. This
point is that Angers belongs to the disagreeable class
of old towns that have been, as the English say, "done
up." Not the oldness, but the newness, of the place
is what strikes the sentimental tourist to-day, as he
wanders with irritation along second-rate boulevards,
looking vaguely about him for absent gables. "Black
Angers," in short, is a victim of modern improvements,
and quite unworthy of its admirable name, - a name
which, like that of Le Mans, had always had, to my
eyes, a highly picturesque value. It looks particularly
well on the Shakspearean page (in "King John"), where
we imagine it uttered (though such would not have
been the utterance of the period) with a fine old in-
sular accent. Angers figures with importance in early
English history: it was the capital city of the Plantagenet
race, home of that Geoffrey of Anjou who married, as
second husband, the Empress Maud, daughter of
Henry I. and competitor of Stephen, and became father
of Henry II., first of the Plantagenet kings, born, as we
have seen, at Le Mans. The facts create a natural
presumption that Angers will look historic; I turned
them over in my mind as I travelled in the train from
Le Mans, through a country that was really pretty, and
looked more like the usual English than like the usual
French scenery, with its fields cut up by hedges and
a considerable rotundity in its trees. On my way
from the station to the hotel, however, it became plain
that I should lack a good pretext for passing that night
at the Cheval Blanc; I foresaw that I should have con-
tented myself before th e end of the day. I remained
at the White Horse only long enough to discover that
it was an exceptionally good provincial inn, one of the
best that I encountered during six weeks spent in
these establishments.

"Stupidly and vulgarly rnodernized," - that is an-
other phrase from my note-book, and note-books are
not obliged to be reasonable. "There are some narrow
and tortuous-streets, with a few curious old houses," - I
continue to quote; "there is a castle, of which the ex-
terior is most extraordinary, and there is a cathedral
of moderate interest. It is fair to say that the
Chateau d'Angers is by itself worth a pilgrimage; the
only drawback is that you have seen it in a quarter of
an hour. You cannot do more than look at it, and
one good look does your business. It has no beauty,
no grace, no detail, nothing that charms or detains
you; it is simply very old and very big, - so big and
so old that this simple impression is enough, and it
takes its place in your recollections as a perfect specimen
of a superannuated stronghold. It stands at one end
of the town, surrounded by a huge, deep moat, which
originally contained the waters of the Maine, now
divided from it by a quay. The water-front of Angers
is poor, - wanting in color and in movement; and there
is always an effect of perversity in a town lying near a
great river and, yet not upon it. The Loire is a few
miles off; but Angers contents itself with a meagre
affluent of that stream. The effect was naturally much
better when the huge, dark mass of the castle, with its
seventeen prodigious towers, rose out of the protecting
flood. These towers are of tremendous girth and soli-
dity; they are encircled with great bands, or hoops, of
white stone, and are much enlarged at the base.
Between them hang vast curtains of infinitely old-look-
ing masonry, apparently a dense conglomeration of
slate, the material of which the town was originally
built (thanks to rich quarries in the neighborhood),
and to which it owed its appellation of the Black.
There are no windows, no apertures, and to-day no
battlements nor roofs. These accessories were removed
by Henry III., so that, in spite of its grimness and
blackness, the place has not even the interest of look-
ing like a prison; it being, as I supposed, the essence
of a prison not to be open to the sky. The only
features of the enormous structure are the black, sombre
stretches and protrusions of wall, the effect of which,
on so large a scale, is strange and striking. Begun by
Philip Augustus, and terminated by St. Louis, the
Chateau d'Angers has of course a great deal of history.
The luckless Fouquet, the extravagant minister of
finance of Louis XIV., whose fall from the heights of
grandeur was so sudden and complete, was confined
here in 1661, just after his arrest, which had taken
place at Nantes. Here, also, Huguenots and Vendeans
have suffered effective captivity.

I walked round the parapet which protects the
outer edge of the moat (it is all up hill, and the moat
deepens and deepens), till I came to the entrance
which faces the town, and which is as bare and
strong as the rest. The concierge took me into the
court; but there was nothing to see. The place is
used as a magazine of ammunition, and the yard con-
tains a multitude of ugly buildings. The only thing
to do is to walk round the bastions for the view; but
at the moment of my visit the weather was thick, and
the bastions began and ended with themselves. So I
came out and took another look at the big, black ex-
terior, buttressed with white-ribbed towers, and per-
ceived that a desperate sketcher might extract a
picture from it, especially if he were to bring in, as
they say, the little black bronze statue of the good
King Rene (a weak production of David d'Angers),
which, standing within sight, ornaments the melancholy
faubourg. He would do much better, however, with
the very striking old timbered house (I suppose of the
fifteenth century) which is called the Maison d'Adam,
and is easily the first specimen at Angers of the
domestic architecture of the past. This admirable
house, in the centre of the town, gabled, elaborately
timbered, and much restored, is a really imposing
monument. The basement is occupied by a linen-
draper, who flourishes under the auspicious sign of
the Mere de Famille; and above his shop the tall
front rises in five overhanging stories. As the house
occupies the angle of a little _place_, this front is double,
and the black beams and wooden supports, displayed
over a large surface and carved and interlaced, have
a high picturesqueness. The Maison d'Adam is quite
in the grand style, and I am sorry to say I failed to
learn what history attaches to its name. If I spoke just
above of the cathedral as "moderate," I suppose I
should beg its pardon; for this serious charge was
probably prompted by the fact that it consists only of
a nave, without side aisles. A little reflection now
convinces me that such a form is a distinction; and,
indeed, I find it mentioned, rather inconsistently, in
my note-book, a little further on, as "extremely simple
and grand." The nave is spoken of in the same
volume as "big, serious, and Gothic," though the choir
and transepts are noted as very shallow. But it is not
denied that the air of the whole thing is original and
striking; and it would therefore appear, after all, that
the cathedral of Angers, built during the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, is a sufficiently honorable church;
the more that its high west front, adorned with a very
primitive Gothic portal, supports two elegant tapering
spires, between which, unfortunately, an ugly modern
pavilion has been inserted.

I remember nothing else at Angers but the curious
old Cafe Serin, where, after I had had my dinner at
the inn, I went and waited for the train which, at nine
o'clock in the evening, was to convey me, in a couple
of hours, to Nantes, - an establishment remarkable for
its great size and its air of tarnished splendor, its
brown gilding and smoky frescos, as also for the fact
that it was hidden away on the second floor of an un-
assuming house in an unilluminated street. It hardly
seemed a place where you would drop in; but when
once you had found it, it presented itself, with the
cathedral, the castle, and the Maison d'Adam, as one
of the historical monuments of Angers.

Henry James