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Chapter 25

"Cette, with its glistening houses white,
Curves with the curving beach away
To where the lighthouse beacons bright,
Far in the bay."

That stanza of Matthew Arnold's, which I hap-
pened to remember, gave a certain importance to the
half-hour I spent in the buffet of the station at Cette
while I waited for the train to Montpellier. I had left
Narbonne in the afternoon, and by the time I reached
Cette the darkness had descended. I therefore missed
the sight of the glistening houses, and had to console
myself with that of the beacon in the bay, as well as
with a _bouillon_ of which I partook at the buffet afore-
said; for, since the morning, I had not ventured to
return to the table d'hote at Narbonne. The Hotel
Nevet, at Montpellier, which I reached an hour later,
has an ancient renown all over the south of France, -
advertises itself, I believe, as _le plus vaste du midi_. It
seemed to me the model of a good provincial inn; a
big rambling, creaking establishment, with brown,
labyrinthine corridors, a queer old open-air vestibule,
into which the diligence, in the _bon temps_, used to
penetrate, and an hospitality more expressive than
that of the new caravansaries. It dates from the days
when Montpellier was still accounted a fine winter re-
sidence for people with weak lungs; and this rather
melancholy tradition, together with the former celebrity
of the school of medicine still existing there, but from
which the glory has departed, helps to account for its
combination of high antiquity and vast proportions.
The old hotels were usually more concentrated; but
the school of medicine passed for one of the attrac-
tions of Montpellier. Long before Mentone was dis-
covered or Colorado invented, British invalids travelled
down through France in the post-chaise or the public
coach to spend their winters in the wonderful place
which boasted both a climate and a faculty. The air
is mild, no doubt, but there are refinements of mild-
ness which were not then suspected, and which in a
more analytic age have carried the annual wave far
beyond Montpellier. The place is charming, all the
same; and it served the purpose of John Locke; who
made a long stay there, between 1675 and 1679, and
became acquainted with a noble fellow-visitor, Lord
Pembroke, to whom he dedicated the famous Essay.
There are places that please, without your being able
to say wherefore, and Montpellier is one of the num-
ber. It has some charming views, from the great pro-
menade of the Peyrou; but its position is not strikingly
fair. Beyond this it contains a good museum and the
long facades of its school, but these are its only de-
finite treasures. Its cathedral struck me as quite the
weakest I had seen, and I remember no other monu-
ment that made up for it. The place has neither the
gayety of a modern nor the solemnity of an ancient
town, and it is agreeable as certain women are agree-
able who are neither beautiful nor clever. An Italian
would remark that it is sympathetic; a German would
admit that it is _gemuthlich_. I spent two days there,
mostly in the rain, and even under these circum-
stances I carried away a kindly impression. I think
the Hotel Nevet had something to do with it, and the
sentiment of relief with which, in a quiet, even a
luxurious, room that looked out on a garden, I reflected
that I had washed my hands of Narbonne. The phyl-
loxera has destroyed the vines in the country that sur-
rounds Montpellier, and at that moment I was capable
of rejoicing in the thought that I should not breakfast
with vintners.

The gem of the place is the Musee Fabre, one of
the best collections of paintings in a provincial city.
Francois Fabre, a native of Montpellier, died there in
1837, after having spent a considerable part of his
life in Italy, where he had collected a good many
valuable pictures and some very poor ones, the latter
class including several from his own hand. He was
the hero of a remarkable episode, having succeeded
no less a person than Vittorio Alfieri in the affections
of no less a person than Louise de Stolberg, Countess
of Albany, widow of no less a person than Charles
Edward Stuart, the second pretender to the British
crown. Surely no woman ever was associated senti-
mentally with three figures more diverse, - a disqualified
sovereign, an Italian dramatist, and a bad French
painter. The productions of M. Fabre, who followed
in the steps of David, bear the stamp of a cold me-
diocrity; there is not much to be said even for the
portrait of the genial countess (her life has been written
by M. Saint-Rene-Taillandier, who depicts her as de-
lightful), which hangs in Florence, in the gallery of
the Uffizzi, and makes a pendant to a likeness of
Alfieri by the same author. Stendhal, in his "Me-
moires d'un Touriste," says that this work of art
represents her as a cook who has pretty hands. I am
delighted to have an opportunity of quoting Stendhal,
whose two volumes of the "Memoires d'un Touriste"
every traveller in France should carry in his port-
manteau. I have had this opportunity more than once,
for I have met him at Tours, at Nantes, at Bourges;
and everywhere he is suggestive. But he has the de-
fect that he is never pictorial, that he never by any
chance makes an image, and that his style is per-
versely colorless, for a man so fond of contemplation.
His taste is often singularly false; it is the taste of the
early years of the present century, the period that
produced clocks surmounted with sentimental "sub-
jects." Stendhal does not admire these clocks, but
he almost does. He admires Domenichino and Guer-
cino, and prizes the Bolognese school of painters be-
cause they "spoke to the soul." He is a votary of the
new classic, is fond of tall, squire, regular buildings,
and thinks Nantes, for instance, full of the "air noble."
It was a pleasure to me to reflect that five-and-forty
years ago he had alighted in that city, at the very inn
in which I spent a night, and which looks down on
the Place Graslin and the theatre. The hotel that was
the best in 1837 appears to be the best to-day. On
the subject of Touraine, Stendhal is extremely refresh-
ing; he finds the scenery meagre and much overrated,
and proclaims his opinion with perfect frankness. He
does, however, scant justice to the banks of the Loire;
his want of appreciation of the picturesque - want of
the sketcher's sense - causes him to miss half the
charm of a landscape which is nothing if not "quiet,"
as a painter would say, and of which the felicities
reveal themselves only to waiting eyes. He even
despises the Indre, the river of Madame Sand. The
"Memoires d'un Touriste" are written in the character
of a commercial traveller, and the author has nothing
to say about Chenonceaux or Chambord, or indeed
about any of the chateaux of that part of France; his
system being to talk only of the large towns, where he
may be supposed to find a market for his goods. It
was his ambition to pass for an ironmonger. But in
the large towns he is usually excellent company, though
as discursive as Sterne, and strangely indifferent, for a
man of imagination, to those superficial aspects of
things which the poor pages now before the reader are
mainly an attempt to render. It is his conviction that
Alfieri, at Florence, bored the Countess of Albany ter-
ribly; and he adds that the famous Gallophobe died
of jealousy of the little painter from Montpellier. The
Countess of Albany left her property to Fabre; and I
suppose some of the pieces in the museum of his
native town used to hang in the sunny saloons of that
fine old palace on the Arno which is still pointed out
to the stranger in Florence as the residence of Alfieri.

The institution has had other benefactors, notably
a certain M. Bruyas, who has enriched it with an extra-
ordinary number of portraits of himself. As these,
however, are by different hands, some of them dis-
tinguished, we may suppose that it was less the model
than the artists to whom M. Bruyas wished to give
publicity. Easily first are two large specimens of
David Teniers, which are incomparable for brilliancy
and a glowing perfection of execution. I have a weak-
ness for this singular genius, who combined the delicate
with the grovelling, and I have rarely seen richer
examples. Scarcely less valuable is a Gerard Dow
which hangs near them, though it must rank lower as
having kept less of its freshness. This Gerard Dow
did me good; for a master is a master, whatever he
may paint. It represents a woman paring carrots,
while a boy before her exhibits a mouse-trap in which
he has caught a frightened victim. The good-wife has
spread a cloth on the top of a big barrel which serves
her as a table, and on this brown, greasy napkin, of
which the texture is wonderfully rendered, lie the raw
vegetables she is preparing for domestic consumption.
Beside the barrel is a large caldron lined with copper,
with a rim of brass. The way these things are painted
brings tears to the eyes; but they give the measure of
the Musee Fabre, where two specimens of Teniers and
a Gerard Dow are the jewels. The Italian pictures are
of small value; but there is a work by Sir Joshua Rey-
nolds, said to be the only one in France, - an infant
Samuel in prayer, apparently a repetition of the pic-
ture in England which inspired the little plaster im-
age, disseminated in Protestant lands, that we used to
admire in our childhood. Sir Joshua, somehow, was
an eminently Protestant painter; no one can forget
that, who in the National Gallery in London has looked
at the picture in which he represents several young
ladies as nymphs, voluminously draped, hanging gar-
lands over a statue, - a picture suffused indefinably
with the Anglican spirit, and exasperating to a mem-
ber of one of the Latin races. It is an odd chance,
therefore, that has led him into that part of France
where Protestants have been least _bien vus_. This is the
country of the dragonnades of Louis XIV. and of the
pastors of the desert. From the garden of the Peyrou,
at Montpellier, you may see the hills of the Cevennes,
to which they of the religion fled for safety, and out
of which they were hunted and harried.

I have only to add, in regard to the Musee Fabre,
that it contains the portrait of its founder, - a little,
pursy, fat-faced, elderly man, whose countenance con-
tains few indications of the power that makes distin-
guished victims. He is, however, just such a personage
as the mind's eye sees walking on the terrace of the
Peyrou of an October afternoon in the early years of
the century; a plump figure in a chocolate-colored coat
and a _culotte_ that exhibits a good leg, - a culotte pro-
vided with a watch-fob from which a heavy seal is
suspended. This Peyrou (to come to it at last) is a
wonderful place, especially to be found in a little pro-
vincial city. France is certainly the country of towns
that aim at completeness; more than in other lands,
they contain stately features as a matter of course. We
should never have ceased to hear about the Peyrou, if
fortune had placed it at a Shrewsbury or a Buffalo. It
is true that the place enjoys a certain celebrity at
home, which it amply deserves, moreover; for nothing
could be more impressive and monumental. It consists
of an "elevated platform," as Murray says, - an im-
mense terrace, laid out, in the highest part of the town,
as a garden, and commanding in all directions a view
which in clear weather must be of the finest. I strolled
there in the intervals of showers, and saw only the
nearer beauties, - a great pompous arch of triumph in
honor of Louis XIV. (which is not, properly speaking,
in the garden, but faces it, straddling across the _place_
by which you approach it from the town), an equestrian
statue of that monarch set aloft in the middle of the
terrace, and a very exalted and complicated fountain,
which forms a background to the picture. This foun-
tain gushes from a kind of hydraulic temple, or _cha-
teau d'eau_, to which you ascend by broad flights of
steps, and which is fed by a splendid aqueduct,
stretched in the most ornamental and unexpected
manner across the neighboring valley. All this work
dates from the middle of the last century. The com-
bination of features - the triumphal arch, or gate; the
wide, fair terrace, with its beautiful view; the statue
of the grand monarch; the big architectural fountain,
which would not surprise one at Rome, but goes sur-
prise one at Montpellier; and to complete the effect,
the extraordinary aqueduct, charmingly fore-shortened,
- all this is worthy of a capital, of a little court-city.
The whole place, with its repeated steps, its balus-
trades, its massive and plentiful stone-work, is full of
the air of the last century, - _sent bien son dix-huitieme
siecle_; none the less so, I am afraid, that, as I read in
my faithful Murray, after the revocation of the Edict
of Nantes, the block, the stake, the wheel, had been
erected here for the benefit of the desperate Camisards.

Henry James