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Chapter 23

Carcassonne dates from the Roman occupation of
Gaul. The place commanded one of the great roads
into Spain, and in the fourth century Romans and
Franks ousted each other from such a point of vantage.
In the year 436, Theodoric, King of the Visigoths,
superseded both these parties; and it is during his oc-
cupation that the inner enceinte was raised upon the
ruins of the Roman fortifications. Most of the Visigoth
towers that are still erect are seated upon Roman sub-
structions which appear to have been formed hastily,
probably at the moment of the Frankish invasion.
The authors of these solid defences, though occasionally
disturbed, held Carcassonne and the neighboring coun-
try, in which they had established their kingdom of
Septimania, till the year 713, when they were expelled
by the Moors of Spain, who ushered in an unillumined
period of four centuries, of which no traces remain.
These facts I derived from a source no more recondite
than a pamphlet by M. Viollet-le-Duc, - a very luminous
description of the fortifications, which you may buy
from the accomplished custodian. The writer makes
a jump to the year 1209, when Carcassonne, then
forming part of the realm of the viscounts of Beziers
and infected by the Albigensian heresy, was besieged,
in the name of the Pope, by the terrible Simon de
Montfort and his army of crusaders. Simon was ac-
customed to success, and the town succumbed in the
course of a fortnight. Thirty-one years later, having
passed into the hands of the King of France, it was
again besieged by the young Raymond de Trincavel,
the last of the viscounts of Beziers; and of this siege
M. Viollet-le-Duc gives a long and minute account,
which the visitor who has a head for such things may
follow, with the brochure in hand, on the fortifications
themselves. The young Raymond de Trincavel, baffled
and repulsed, retired at the end of twenty-four days.
Saint Louis and Philip the Bold, in the thirteenth cen-
tury, multiplied the defences of Carcassonne, which
was one of the bulwarks of their kingdom on the
Spanish quarter; and from this time forth, being re-
garded as impregnable, the place had nothing to fear.
It was not even attacked; and when, in 1355, Edward
the Black Prince marched into it, the inhabitants had
opened the gates to the conqueror before whom all
Languedoc was prostrate. I am not one of those who,
as I said just now, have a head for such things, and
having extracted these few facts had made all the
use of M. Viollet-le-Duc's, pamphlet of which I was cap-
able.

I have mentioned that my obliging friend the
_amoureux-fou_ handed me over to the door-keeper of
the citadel. I should add that I was at first committed
to the wife of this functionary, a stout peasant-woman,
who took a key down from a nail, conducted me to a
postern door, and ushered me into the presence of her
husband. Having just begun his rounds with a party
of four persons, he was not many steps in advance. I
added myself perforce to this party, which was not
brilliantly composed, except that two of its members
were gendarmes in full toggery, who announced in the
course of our tour that they had been stationed for a
year at Carcassonne, and had never before had the
curiosity to come up to the Cite. There was something
brilliant, certainly, in that. The _gardien_ was an extra-
ordinarily typical little Frenchman, who struck me even
more forcibly than the wonders of the inner enceinte;
and as I am bound to assume, at whatever cost to my
literary vanity, that there is not the slightest danger
of his reading these remarks, I may treat him as public
property. With his diminutive stature and his per-
pendicular spirit, his flushed face, expressive protuber-
ant eyes, high peremptory voice, extreme volubility,
lucidity, and neatness of utterance, he reminded me of
the gentry who figure in the revolutions of his native
land. If he was not a fierce little Jacobin, he ought
to have been, for I am sure there were many men of
his pattern on the Committee of Public Safety. He
knew absolutely what he was about, understood the
place thoroughly, and constantly reminded his audience
of what he himself had done in the way of excavations
and reparations. He described himself as the brother
of the architect of the work actually going forward
(that which has been done since the death of M. Viol-
let-le-Duc, I suppose he meant), and this fact was more
illustrative than all the others. It reminded me, as
one is reminded at every turn, of the democratic con-
ditions of French life: a man of the people, with a
wife _en bonnet_, extremely intelligent, full of special
knowledge, and yet remaining essentially of the people,
and showing his intelligence with a kind of ferocity,
of defiance. Such a personage helps one to under-
stand the red radicalism of France, the revolutions,
the barricades, the sinister passion for theories. (I do
not, of course, take upon myself to say that the indi-
vidual I describe - who can know nothing of the
liberties I am taking with him - is actually devoted to
these ideals; I only mean that many such devotees
must have his qualities.) In just the _nuance_ that I
have tried to indicate here, it is a terrible pattern of
man. Permeated in a high degree by civilization, it
is yet untouched by the desire which one finds in the
Englishman, in proportion as he rises in the world, to
approximate to the figure of the gentleman. On the
other hand, a _nettete_, a faculty of exposition, such as
the English gentleman is rarely either blessed or cursed
with.

This brilliant, this suggestive warden of Carcas-
sonne marched us about for an hour, haranguing, ex-
plaining, illustrating, as he went; it was a complete
little lecture, such as might have been delivered at
the Lowell Institute, on the manger in which a first-
rate _place forte_ used to be attacked and defended
Our peregrinations made it very clear that Carcassone
was impregnable; it is impossible to imagine, without
having seen them, such refinements of immurement,
such ingenuities of resistance. We passed along the
battlements and _chemins de ronde_, ascended and de-
scended towers, crawled under arches, peered out of
loop-holes, lowered ourselves into dungeons, halted in
all sorts of tight places, while the purpose of some-
thing or other was described to us. It was very
curious, very interesting; above all, it was very pic-
torial, and involved perpetual peeps into the little
crooked, crumbling, sunny, grassy, empty Cite. In
places, as you stand upon it, the great towered and
embattled enceinte produces an illusion; it looks as
if it were still equipped and defended. One vivid
challenge, at any rate, it flings down before you; it
calls upon you to make up your mind on the matter
of restoration. For myself, I have no hesitation; I
prefer in every case the ruined, however ruined, to
the reconstructed, however splendid. What is left is
more precious than what is added: the one is history,
the other is fiction; and I like the former the better of
the two, - it is so much more romantic. One is posi-
tive, so far as it goes; the other fills up the void with
things more dead than the void itself, inasmuch as
they have never had life. After that I am free to
say that the restoration of Carcassonne is a splendid
achievement. The little custodian dismissed us at
last, after having, as usual, inducted us into the inevi-
table repository of photographs. These photographs
are a great nuisance, all over the Midi. They are
exceedingly bad, for the most part; and the worst -
those in the form of the hideous little _album-pano-
rama_ - are thrust upon you at every turn. They
are a kind of tax that you must pay; the best way is
to pay to be let off. It was not to be denied that
there was a relief in separating from our accomplished
guide, whose manner of imparting information re-
minded me of the energetic process by which I have
seen mineral waters bottled. All this while the after-
noon had grown more lovely; the sunset had deepened,
the horizon of hills grown purple; the mass of the
Canigou became more delicate, yet more distinct. The
day had so far faded that the interior of the little
cathedral was wrapped in twilight, into which the
glowing windows projected something of their color.
This church has high beauty and value, but I will
spare the reader a presentation of details which I my-
self had no opportunity to master. It consists of a
romanesque nave, of the end of the eleventh century,
and a Gothic choir and transepts of the beginning of
the fourteenth; and, shut up in its citadel like a precious
casket in a cabinet, it seems - or seemed at that hour
- to have a sort of double sanctity. After leaving it
and passing out of the two circles of walls, I treated
myself, in the most infatuated manner, to another walk
round the Cite. It is certainly this general impression
that is most striking, - the impression from outside,
where the whole place detaches itself at once from
the landscape. In the warm southern dusk it looked
more than ever like a city in a fairy-tale. To make
the thing perfect, a white young moon, in its first
quarter, came out and hung just over the dark sil-
houette. It was hard to come away, - to incommode
one's self for anything so vulgar as a railway-train; I
would gladly have spent the evening in revolving
round the walls of Carcassonne. But I had in a
measure engaged to proceed to Narborme, and there
was a certain magic that name which gave me
strength, - Narbonne, the richest city in Roman Gaul.

Henry James