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Chapter 19

There is much entertainment in the journey through
the wide, smiling garden of Gascony; I speak of it as
I took it in going from Bordeaux to Toulouse. It is
the south, quite the south, and had for the present
narrator its full measure of the charm he is always
determined to find in countries that may even by
courtesy be said to appertain to the sun. It was,
moreover, the happy and genial view of these mild
latitudes, which, Heaven knows, often have a dreari-
ness of their own; a land teeming with corn and wine,
and speaking everywhere (that is, everywhere the phyl-
loxera had not laid it waste) of wealth and plenty.
The road runs constantly near the Garonne, touching
now and then its slow, brown, rather sullen stream, a
sullenness that encloses great dangers and disasters.
The traces of the horrible floods of 1875 have dis-
appeared, and the land smiles placidly enough while
it waits for another immersion. Toulouse, at the period
I speak of, was up to its middle (and in places above
it) in water, and looks still as if it had been thoroughly
soaked, - as if it had faded and shrivelled with a long
steeping. The fields and copses, of course, are more
forgiving. The railway line follows as well the charm-
ing Canal du Midi, which is as pretty as a river, bar-
ring the straightness, and here and there occupies the
foreground, beneath a screen of dense, tall trees, while
the Garonne takes a larger and more irregular course
a little way beyond it. People who are fond of canals
- and, speaking from the pictorial standpoint, I hold
the taste to be most legitimate - will delight in this
admirable specimen of the class, which has a very in-
teresting history, not to be narrated here. On the
other side of the road (the left), all the way, runs a
long, low line of hills, or rather one continuous hill,
or perpetual cliff, with a straight top, in the shape of
a ledge of rock, which might pass for a ruined wall.
I am afraid the reader will lose patience with my habit
of constantly referring to the landscape of Italy, as if
that were the measure of the beauty of every other.
Yet I am still more afraid that I cannot apologize for
it, and must leave it in its culpable nakedness. It is
an idle habit; but the reader will long since have dis-
covered that this was an idle journey, and that I give
my impressions as they came to me. It came to me,
then, that in all this view there was something trans-
alpine with a greater smartness and freshness and
much less elegance and languor. This impression was
occasionally deepened by the appearance, on the long
eminence of which I speak, of a village, a church, or
a chateau, which seemed to look down at the plain
from over the ruined wall. The perpetual vines, the
bright-faced flat-roofed houses, covered with tiles, the
softness and sweetness of the light and air, recalled
the prosier portions of the Lombard plain. Toulouse
itself has a little of this Italian expression, but not
enough to give a color to its dark, dirty, crooked streets,
which are irregular without being eccentric, and which,
if it were not for the, superb church of Saint-Sernin,
would be quite destitute of monuments.

I have already alluded to the way in which the
names of certain places impose themselves on the
mind, and I must add that of Toulouse to the list of
expressive appellations. It certainly evokes a vision,
- suggests something highly _meridional_. But the city,
it must be confessed, is less pictorial than the word,
in spite of the Place du Capitole, in spite of the quay
of the Garonne, in spite of the curious cloister of the
old museum. What justifies the images that are latent
in the word is not the aspect, but the history, of the
town. The hotel to which the well-advised traveller
will repair stands in a corner of the Place du Capitole,
which is the heart and centre of Toulouse, and which
bears a vague and inexpensive resemblance to Piazza
Castello at Turin. The Capitol, with a wide modern
face, occupies one side, and, like the palace at Turin,
looks across at a high arcade, under which the hotels,
the principal shops, and the lounging citizens are
gathered. The shops are probably better than the
Turinese, but the people are not so good. Stunted,
shabby, rather vitiated looking, they have none of the
personal richness of the sturdy Piedmontese; and I
will take this occasion to remark that in the course of
a journey of several weeks in the French provinces I
rarely encountered a well-dressed male. Can it be
possible the republics are unfavorable to a certain
attention to one's boots and one's beard? I risk this
somewhat futile inquiry because the proportion of mens ???
coats and trousers seemed to be about the same in
France and in my native land. It was notably lower
than in England and in Italy, and even warranted
the supposition that most good provincials have their
chin shaven and their boots blacked but once a week.
I hasten to add, lest my observation should appear to
be of a sadly superficial character, that the manners
and conversation of these gentlemen bore (whenever
I had occasion to appreciate them) no relation to the
state of their chin and their boots. They were almost
always marked by an extreme amenity. At Toulouse
there was the strongest temptation to speak to people,
simply for the entertainment of hearing them reply
with that curious, that fascinating accent of the
Languedoc, which appears to abound in final con-
sonants, and leads the Toulousains to say _bien-g_ and
_maison-g_, like Englishmen learning French. It is as
if they talked with their teeth rather than with their
tongue. I find in my note-book a phrase in regard to
Toulouse which is perhaps a little ill-natured, but
which I will transcribe as it stands: "The oddity is
that the place should be both animated and dull. A
big, brown-skinned population, clattering about in a
flat, tortuous town, which produces nothing whatever
that I can discover. Except the church of Saint-
Sernin and the fine old court of the Hotel d'Assezat,
Toulouse has no architecture; the houses are for the
most part of brick, of a grayish-red color, and have no
particular style. The brick-work of the place is in fact
very poor, - inferior to that of the north Italian towns,
and quite wanting in the richness of tone which this
homely material takes on in the damp climates of the
north." And then my note-book goes on to narrate a
little visit to the Capitol, which was soon made, as the
building was in course of repair and half the rooms
were closed.

Henry James