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Chapter 15

If I spent two nights at Nantes, it was for reasons
of convenience rather than of sentiment; though, in-
deed, I spent them in a big circular room which had
a stately, lofty, last-century look, - a look that con-
soled me a little for the whole place being dirty. The
high, old-fashioned, inn (it had a huge, windy _porte-
cochere_, and you climbed a vast black stone staircase
to get to your room) looked out on a dull square, sur-
rounded with other tall houses, and occupied on one
side by the theatre, a pompous building, decorated
with columns and statues of the muses. Nantes be-
longs to the class of towns which are always spoken
of as "fine," and its position near the mouth of the
Loire gives it, I believe, much commercial movement.
It is a spacious, rather regular city, looking, in the
parts that I traversed, neither very fresh nor very
venerable. It derives its principal character from the
handsome quays on the Loire, which are overhung
with tall eighteenth-century houses (very numerous,
too, in the other streets), - houses, with big _entresols_
marked by arched windows, classic pediments, balcony-
rails of fine old iron-work. These features exist in
still better form at Bordeaux; but, putting Bordeaux
aside, Nantes is quite architectural. The view up and
down the quays has the cool, neutral tone of color
that one finds so often in French water-side places, -
the bright grayness which is the tone of French land-
scape art. The whole city has rather a grand, or at
least an eminently well-established air. During a day
passed in it of course I had time to go to the Musee;
the more so that I have a weakness for provincial
museums, - a sentiment that depends but little on the
quality of the collection. The pictures may be bad,
but the place is often curious; and, indeed, from bad
pictures, in certain moods of the mind, there is a
degree of entertainment to be derived. If they are
tolerably old they are often touching; but they must
have a relative antiquity, for I confess I can do no-
thing with works of art of which the badness is of
receat origin. The cool, still, empty chambers in
which indifferent collections are apt to be preserved,
the red brick tiles, the diffused light, the musty odor,
the mementos around you of dead fashions, the snuffy
custodian in a black skull cap, who pulls aside a
faded curtain to show you the lustreless gem of the
museum, - these things have a mild historical quality,
and the sallow canvases after all illustrate something.
Many of those in the museum of Nantes illustrate the
taste of a successful warrior; having been bequeathed
to the city by Napoleon's marshal, Clarke (created
Duc de Feltre). In addition to these there is the
usual number of specimens of the contemporary French
school, culled from the annual Salons and presented
to the museum by the State. Wherever the traveller
goes, in France, he is reminded of this very honorable
practice, - the purchase by the Government of a cer-
tain number of "pictures of the year," which are pre-
sently distributed in the provinces. Governments suc-
ceed each other and bid for success by different
devices; but the "patronage of art" is a plank, as we
should say here, in every platform. The works of art
are often ill-selected, - there is an official taste which
you immediately recognize, - but the custom is essen-
tially liberal, and a government which should neglect
it would be felt to be painfully common. The only
thing in this particular Musee that I remember is a
fine portrait of a woman, by Ingres, - very flat and
Chinese, but with an interest of line and a great deal
of style.

There is a castle at Nantes which resembles in
some degree that of Angers, but has, without, much
less of the impressiveness of great size, and, within,
much more interest of detail. The court contains the
remains of a very fine piece of late Gothic, a tall ele-
gant building of the sixteenth century. The chateau
is naturally not wanting in history. It was the residence
of the old Dukes of Brittany, and was brought, with
the rest of the province, by the Duchess Anne, the last
representative of that race, as her dowry, to Charles
VIII. I read in the excellent hand-book of M. Joanne
that it has been visited by almost every one of the
kings of France, from Louis XI. downward; and also
that it has served as a place of sojourn less voluntary
on the part of various other distinguished persons,
from the horrible Merechal de Retz, who in the fifteenth
century was executed at Nantes for the murder of a
couple of hundred young children, sacrificed in abomin-
able rites, to the ardent Duchess of Berry, mother of
the Count of Chambord, who was confined there for a
few hours in 1832, just after her arrest in a neigh-
boring house. I looked at the house in question - you
may see it from the platform in front of the chateau
- and tried to figure to myself that embarrassing scene.
The duchess, after having unsuccessfully raised the
standard of revolt (for the exiled Bourbons), in the
legitimist Bretagne, and being "wanted," as the phrase
is, by the police of Louis Philippe, had hidden herself
in a small but loyal house at Nantes, where, at the end
of five months of seclusion, she was betrayed, for gold,
to the austere M. Guizot, by one of her servants, an
Alsatian Jew named Deutz. For many hours before
her capture she had been compressed into an inter-
stice behind a fireplace, and by the time she was
drawn forth into the light she had been ominously
scorched. The man who showed me the castle in-
dicated also another historic spot, a house with little
_tourelles_, on the Quai de la Fosse, in which Henry IV.
is said to have signed the Edict of Nantes. I am,
however, not in a position to answer for this pedigree.

There is another point in the history of the fine
old houses which command the Loire, of which, I sup-
pose, one may be tolerably sure; that is, their having,
placid as they stand there to-day, looked down on the
horrors of the Terror of 1793, the bloody reign of the
monster Carrier and his infamous _noyades_. The most
hideous episode of the Revolution was enacted at
Nantes, where hundreds of men and women, tied to-
gether in couples, were set afloat upon rafts and sunk
to the bottom of the Loire. The tall eighteenth-century
house, full of the _air noble_, in France always reminds
me of those dreadful years, - of the street-scenes of the
Revolution. Superficially, the association is incongru-
ous, for nothing could be more formal and decorous
than the patent expression of these eligible residences.
But whenever I have a vision of prisoners bound on
tumbrels that jolt slowly to the scaffold, of heads car-
ried on pikes, of groups of heated _citoyennes_ shaking
their fists at closed coach-windows, I see in the back-
ground the well-ordered features of the architecture of
the period, - the clear gray stone, the high pilasters,
the arching lines of the _entresol_, the classic pediment,
the slate-covered attic. There is not much architecture
at Nantes except the domestic. The cathedral, with a
rough west front and stunted towers, makes no im-
pression as you approach it. It is true that it does its
best to recover its reputation as soon as you have
passed the threshold. Begun in 1434 and finished
about the end of the fifteenth century, as I discover in
Murray, it has a magnificent nave, not of great length,
but of extraordinary height and lightness. On the
other hand, it has no choir whatever. There is much
entertainment in France in seeing what a cathedral
will take upon itself to possess or to lack; for it is
only the smaller number that have the full complement
of features. Some have a very fine nave and no choir;
others a very fine choir and no nave. Some have a
rich outside and nothing within; others a very blank
face and a very glowing heart. There are a hundred
possibilities of poverty and wealth, and they make the
most unexpected combinations.

The great treasure of Nantes is the two noble se-
pulchral monuments which occupy either transept, and
one of which has (in its nobleness) the rare distinction
of being a production of our own time. On the south
side stands the tomb of Francis II., the last of the
Dukes of Brittany, and of his second wife, Margaret
of Foix, erected in 1507 by their daughter Anne, whom
we have encountered already at the Chateau de Nantes,
where she was born; at Langeais, where she married
her first husband; at Amboise, where she lost him; at
Blois, where she married her second, the "good"
Louis XII., who divorced an impeccable spouse to
make room for her, and where she herself died. Trans-
ferred to the cathedral from a demolished convent,
this monument, the masterpiece of Michel Colomb,
author of the charming tomb of the children of Charles
VIII. and the aforesaid Anne, which we admired at
Saint Gatien of Tours, is one of the most brilliant
works of the French Renaissance. It has a splendid
effect, and is in perfect preservation. A great table of
black marble supports the reclining figures of the duke
and duchess, who lie there peacefully and majestically,
in their robes and crowns, with their heads each on a
cushion, the pair of which are supported, from behind,
by three, charming little kneeling angels; at the foot of
the quiet couple are a lion and a greyhound, with
heraldic devices. At each of the angles of the table
is a large figure in white marble of a woman elaborately
dressed, with a symbolic meaning, and these figures,
with their contemporary faces and clothes, which give
them the air of realistic portraits, are truthful and liv-
ing, if not remarkably beautiful. Round the sides of
the tomb are small images of the apostles. There is a
kind of masculine completeness in the work, and a
certain robustness of taste.

In nothing were the sculptors of the Renaissance
more fortunate than in being in advance of us with
their tombs: they have left us noting to say in regard
to the great final contrast, - the contrast between the
immobility of death and the trappings and honors that
survive. They expressed in every way in which it was
possible to express it the solemnity, of their conviction
that the Marble image was a part of the personal
greatness of the defunct, and the protection, the re-
demption, of his memory. A modern tomb, in com-
parison, is a sceptical affair; it insists too little on the
honors. I say this in the face of the fact that one has
only to step across the cathedral of Nantes to stand in
the presence of one of the purest and most touching
of modern tombs. Catholic Brittany has erected in
the opposite transept a monument to one of the most
devoted of her sons, General de Lamoriciere, the de-
fender of the Pope, the vanquished of Castelfidardo.
This noble work, from the hand of Paul Dubois, one
of the most interesting of that new generation of sculp-
tors who have revived in France an art of which our
overdressed century had begun to despair, has every
merit but the absence of a certain prime feeling. It
is the echo of an earlier tune, - an echo with a beauti-
ful cadence. Under a Renaissance canopy of white
marble, elaborately worked with arabesques and che-
rubs, in a relief so low that it gives the work a cer-
tain look of being softened and worn by time, lies the
body of the Breton soldier, with, a crucifix clasped to
his breast and a shroud thrown over his body. At
each of the angles sits a figure in bronze, the two best
of which, representing Charity and Military Courage,
had given me extraordinary pleasure when they were
exhibited (in the clay) in the Salon of 1876. They
are admirably cast, and they have a certain greatness:
the one, a serene, robust young mother, beautiful in
line and attitude; the other, a lean and vigilant young
man, in a helmet that overshadows his serious eyes,
resting an outstretched arm, an admirable military
member, upon the hilt of a sword. These figures con-
tain abundant assurance that M. Paul Dubois has been
attentive to Michael Angelo, whom we have all heard
called a splendid example but a bad model. The
visor-shadowed face of his warrior is more or less a
reminiscence of the figure on the tomb of Lorenzo de'
Medici at Florence; but it is doubtless none the worse
for that. The interest of the work of Paul Dubois is
its peculiar seriousness, a kind of moral good faith
which is not the commonest feature of French art, and
which, united as it is in this case with exceeding
knowledge and a remarkable sense of form, produces
an impression, of deep refinement. The whole monu-
ment is a proof of exquisitely careful study; but I am
not sure that this impression on the part of the spec-
tator is altogether a happy one. It explains much of
its great beauty, and it also explains, perhaps, a little
of a certain weakness. That word, however, is scarcely
in place; I only mean that M. Dubois has made a vi-
sible effort, which has been most fruitful. Simplicity
is not always strength, and our complicated modern
genius contains treasures of intention. This fathomless
modern element is an immense charm on the part of
M. Paul Dubois. I am lost in admiration of the deep
aesthetic experience, the enlightenment of taste, re-
vealed by such work. After that, I only hope that
Giuseppe Garibaldi may have a monument as fair.

Henry James