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Chapter 20

The history of Toulouse is detestable, saturated
with blood and perfidy; and the ancient custom of
the Floral Games, grafted upon all sorts of internecine
traditions, seems, with its false pastoralism, its mock
chivalry, its display of fine feelings, to set off rather
than to mitigate these horrors. The society was
founded in the fourteenth century, and it has held
annual meetings ever since, - meetings at which poems
in the fine old _langue d'oc_ are declaimed and a
blushing laureate is chosen. This business takes place
in the Capitol, before the chief magistrate of the town,
who is known as the _capitoul_, and of all the pretty
women as well, - a class very numerous at Toulouse.
It was impossible to have a finer person than that of
the portress who pretended to show me the apart-
ments in which the Floral Games are held; a big,
brown, expansive woman, still in the prime of life,
with a speaking eye, an extraordinary assurance, and
a pair of magenta stockings, which were inserted into
the neatest and most polished little black sabots,
and which, as she clattered up the stairs before me,
lavishly displaying them, made her look like the
heroine of an _opera-bouffe_. Her talk was all in _n_'s,
_g_'s, and _d_'s, and in mute _e_'s strongly accented, as
_autre_, _theatre_, _splendide_, - the last being an epithet
she applied to everything the Capitol contained, and
especially to a horrible picture representing the famous
Clemence Isaure, the reputed foundress of the poetical
contest, presiding on one of these occasions. I won-
dered whether Clemence Isaure had been anything
like this terrible Toulousaine of to-day, who would
have been a capital figure-head for a floral game.
The lady in whose honor the picture I have just men-
tioned was painted is a somewhat mythical personage,
and she is not to be found in the "Biographie Uni-
verselle." She is, however, a very graceful myth; and
if she never existed, her statue does, at least, - a
shapeless effigy, transferred to the Capitol from the
so-called tomb of Clemence in the old church of La
Daurade. The great hall in which the Floral Games
are held was encumbered with scaffoldings, and I
was unable to admire the long series of busts of the
bards who have won prizes and the portraits of all
the capitouls of Toulouse. As a compensation I was
introduced to a big bookcase, filled with the poems
that have been crowned since the days of the trou-
badours (a portentous collection), and the big butcher's
knife with which, according to the legend, Henry,
Duke of Montmorency, who had conspired against the
great cardinal with Gaston of Orleans and Mary de ??????
Medici, was, in 1632, beheaded on this spot by the
order of Richelieu. With these objects the interest of
the Capitol was exhausted. The building, indeed,
has not the grandeur of its name, which is a sort
of promise that the visitor will find some sensible
embodiment of the old Roman tradition that once
flourished in this part of France. It is inferior in
impressiveness to the other three famous Capitols of
the modern world, - that of Rome (if I may call the
present structure modern) and those of Washington
and Albany!

The only Roman remains at Toulouse are to be
found in the museum, - a very interesting establish-
ment, which I was condemned to see as imperfectly
as I had seen the Capitol. It was being rearranged;
and the gallery of paintings, which is the least in-
teresting feature, was the only part that was not
upside-down. The pictures are mainly of the mo-
dern French school, and I remember nothing but a
powerful, though disagreeable specimen of Henner,
who paints the human body, and paints it so well,
with a brush dipped in blackness; and, placed among
the paintings, a bronze replica of the charming young
David of Mercie. These things have been set out in
the church of an old monastery, long since suppressed,
and the rest of the collection occupies the cloisters.
These are two in number, - a small one, which you
enter first from the street, and a very vast and ele-
gant one beyond it, which with its light Gothic arches
and slim columns (of the fourteenth century), its broad
walk its little garden, with old tombs and statues in
the centre, is by far the most picturesque, the most
sketchable, spot in Toulouse. It must be doubly so
when the Roman busts, inscriptions, slabs and sarco-
phagi, are ranged along the walls; it must indeed (to
compare small things with great, and as the judicious
Murray remarks) bear a certain resemblance to the
Campo Santo at Pisa. But these things are absent
now; the cloister is a litter of confusion, and its trea-
sures have been stowed away, confusedly, in sundry
inaccessible rooms. The custodian attempted to con-
sole me by telling me that when they are exhibited
again it will be on a scientific basis, and with an
order and regularity of which they were formerly
innocent. But I was not consoled. I wanted simply
the spectacle, the picture, and I didn't care in the
least for the classification. Old Roman fragments, ex-
posed to light in the open air, under a southern sky,
in a quadrangle round a garden, have an immortal
charm simply in their general effect; and the charm
is all the greater when the soil of the very place has
yielded them up.

Henry James