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Chapter 32

I find that I declared one evening, in a little
journal I was keeping at that time, that I was weary
of writing (I was probably very sleepy), but that it
was essential I should make some note of my visit to
Les Baux. I must have gone to sleep as soon as I
had recorded this necessity, for I search my small diary
in vain for any account of that enchanting spot. I
have nothing but my memory to consult, - a memory
which is fairly good in regard to a general impression,
but is terribly infirm in the matter of details and
items. We knew in advance, my companion and I
that Les Baus was a pearl of picturesqueness; for
had we not read as much in the handbook of Murray,
who has the testimony of an English nobleman as to
its attractions? We also knew that it lay some miles
from Aries, on the crest of the Alpilles, the craggy
little mountains which, as I stood on the breezy plat-
form of Beaucaire, formed to my eye a charming, if
somewhat remote, background to Tarascon; this as-
surance having been given us by the landlady of the
inn at Arles, of whom we hired a rather lumbering
conveyance. The weather was not promising, but it
proved a good day for the mediaeval Pompeii; a gray,
melancholy, moist, but rainless, or almost rainless
day, with nothing in the sky to flout, as the poet
says, the dejected and pulverized past. The drive
itself was charming; for there is an inexhaustible
sweetness in the gray-green landscape of Provence.
It is never absolutely flat, and yet is never really
ambitious, and is full both of entertainment and re-
pose. It is in constant undulation, and the bareness
of the soil lends itself easily to outline and profile.
When I say the bareness, I mean the absence of
woods and hedges. It blooms with heath and scented
shrubs and stunted olive; and the white rock shining
through the scattered herbage has a brightness which
answers to the brightness of the sky. Of course it
needs the sunshine, for all southern countries look a
little false under the ground glass of incipient bad
weather. This was the case on the day of my pil-
grimage to Les Baux. Nevertheless, I was as glad
to keep going as I was to arrive; and as I went it
seemed to me that true happiness would consist in
wandering through such a land on foot, on September
afternoons, when one might stretch one's self on the
warm ground in some shady hollow, and listen to the
hum of bees and the whistle of melancholy shepherds;
for in Provence the shepherds whistle to their flocks.
I saw two or three of them, in the course of this drive
to Les Baux, meandering about, looking behind, and
calling upon the sheep in this way to follow, which
the sheep always did, very promptly, with ovine
unanimity. Nothing is more picturesque than to see
a slow shepherd threading his way down one of the
winding paths on a hillside, with his flock close be-
hind him, necessarily expanded, yet keeping just at
his heels, bending and twisting as it goes, and looking
rather like the tail of a dingy comet.

About four miles from Arles, as you drive north-
ward toward the Alpilles, of which Alphonse Daudet
has spoken so often, and, as he might say, so in-
timately, stand on a hill that overlooks the road
the very considerable ruins of the abbey of Mont-
majour, one of the innumerable remnants of a feudal
and ecclesiastical (as well as an architectural) past
that one encounters in the South of France; remnants
which, it must be confessed, tend to introduce a cer-
tain confusion and satiety into the passive mind of
the tourist. Montmajour, however, is very impressive
and interesting; the only trouble with it is that,
unless you have stopped and retumed to Arles, you
see it in memory over the head of Les Baux, which
is a much more absorbing picture. A part of the
mass of buildings (the monastery) dates only from the
last century; and the stiff architecture of that period
does not lend itself very gracefully to desolation: it
looks too much as if it had been burnt down the year
before. The monastery was demolished during the
Revolution, and it injures a little the effect of the
very much more ancient fragments that are connected
with it. The whole place is on a great scale; it was
a rich and splendid abbey. The church, a vast
basilica of the eleventh century, and of the noblest
proportions, is virtually intact; I mean as regards
its essentials, for the details have completely vanished.
The huge solid shell is full of expression; it looks
as if it had been hollowed out by the sincerity of
early faith, and it opens into a cloister as impressive
as itself. Wherever one goes, in France, one meets,
looking backward a little, the spectre of the great
Revolution; and one meets it always in the shape of
the destruction of something beautiful and precious.
To make us forgive it at all, how much it must also
have destroyed that was more hateful than itself!
Beneath the church of Montmajour is a most extra-
ordinary crypt, almost as big as the edifice above
it, and making a complete subterranean temple, sur-
rounded with a circular gallery, or deambulatory,
which expands it intervals into five square chapels.
There are other things, of which I have but a con-
fused memory: a great fortified keep; a queer little
primitive chapel, hollowed out of the rock, beneath
these later structures, and recommended to the
visitor's attention as the confessional of Saint Tro-
phimus, who shares with so many worthies the glory
of being the first apostle of the Gauls. Then there
is a strange, small church, of the dimmest antiquity,
standing at a distance from the other buildings. I
remember that after we had let ourselves down a
good many steepish places to visit crypts and con-
fessionals, we walked across a field to this archaic
cruciform edifice, and went thence to a point further
down the road, where our carriage was awaiting
us. The chapel of the Holy Cross, as it is called,
is classed among the historic monuments of France;
and I read in a queer, rambling, ill-written book
which I picked up at Avignon, and in which the
author, M. Louis de Lainbel, has buried a great deal
of curious information on the subject of Provence,
under a style inspiring little confidence, that the
"delicieuse chapelle de Sainte-Croix" is a "veritable
bijou artistique." He speaks of "a piece of lace in
stone," which runs from one end of the building to
the other, but of which I am obliged to confess that
I have no recollection. I retain, however, a suf-
ficiently clear impression of the little superannuated
temple, with its four apses and its perceptible odor of
antiquity, - the odor of the eleventh century.

The ruins of Les Baux remain quite indistinguish-
able, even when you are directly beneath them, at
the foot of the charming little Alpilles, which mass
themselves with a kind of delicate ruggedness. Rock
and ruin have been so welded together by the con-
fusions of time, that as you approach it from behind
- that is, from the direction of Arles - the place
presents simply a general air of cragginess. Nothing
can be prettier than the crags of Provence; they are
beautifully modelled, as painters say, and they have
a delightful silvery color. The road winds round the
foot of the hills on the top of which Lea Baux is
planted, and passes into another valley, from which
the approach to the town is many degrees less pre-
cipitous, and may be comfortably made in a carriage.
Of course the deeply inquiring traveller will alight as
promptly as possible; for the pleasure of climbing
into this queerest of cities on foot is not the least
part of the entertainment of going there. Then you
appreciate its extraordinary position, its picturesque-
ness, its steepness, its desolation and decay. It
hangs - that is, what remains of it - to the slanting
summit of the mountain. Nothing would be more
natural than for the whole place to roll down into
the valley. A part of it has done so - for it is not
unjust to suppose that in the process of decay the
crumbled particles have sought the lower level;
while the remainder still clings to its magnificent
perch.

If I called Les Baux a city, just, above, it was not
that I was stretching a point in favor of the small
spot which to-day contains but a few dozen inhabi-
tants. The history of the plate is as extraordinary
as its situation. It was not only a city, but a state;
not only a state, but an empire; and on the crest of
its little mountain called itself sovereign of a territory,
or at least of scattered towns and counties, with which
its present aspect is grotesquely out of relation. The
lords of Les Baux, in a word, were great feudal pro-
prietors; and there-was a time during which the island
of Sardinia, to say nothing of places nearer home,
such as Arles and Marseilles, paid them homage. The
chronicle of this old Provencal house has been written,
in a style somewhat unctuous and flowery, by M. Jules
Canonge. I purchased the little book - a modest
pamphlet - at the establishment of the good sisters,
just beside the church, in one of the highest parts of
Les Baux. The sisters have a school for the hardy little
Baussenques, whom I heard piping their lessons, while
I waited in the cold _parloir_ for one of the ladies to
come and speak to me. Nothing could have been
more perfect than the manner of this excellent woman
when she arrived; yet her small religious house
seemed a very out-of-the-way corner of the world. It
was spotlessly neat, and the rooms looked as if they
had lately been papered and painted: in this respect,
at the mediaeval Pompeii, they were rather a discord.
They were, at any rate, the newest, freshest thing at
Les Baux. I remember going round to the church,
after I had left the good sisters, and to a little quiet
terrace, which stands in front of it, ornamented with
a few small trees and bordered with a wall, breast-
high, over which you look down steep hillsides, off
into the air and all about the neighbouring country.
I remember saying to myself that this little terrace
was one of those felicitous nooks which the tourist
of taste keeps in his mind as a picture. The church
was small and brown and dark, with a certain rustic
richness. All this, however, is no general description
of Les Baux.

I am unable to give any coherent account of the
place, for the simple reason that it is a mere con-
fusion of ruin. It has not been preserved in lava like
Pompeii, and its streets and houses, its ramparts and
castle, have become fragmentary, not through the
sudden destruction, but through the gradual with-
drawal, of a population. It is not an extinguished,
but a deserted city; more deserted far than even
Carcassonne and Aigues-Mortes, where I found so
much entertainment in the grass-grown element. It
is of very small extent, and even in the days of its
greatness, when its lords entitled themselves counts
of Cephalonia and Neophantis, kings of Arles and
Vienne, princes of Achaia, and emperors of Constan-
tinople, - even at this flourishing period, when, as M.
Jules Canonge remarks, "they were able to depress
the balance in which the fate of peoples and kings is
weighed," the plucky little city contained at the most
no more than thirty-six hundred souls. Yet its lords
(who, however, as I have said, were able to present
a long list of subject towns, most of them, though a
few are renowned, unknown to fame) were seneschals
and captains-general of Piedmont and Lombardy,
grand admirals of the kingdom of Naples, and its
ladies were sought in marriage by half the first
princes in Europe. A considerable part of the little
narrative of M. Canonge is taken up with the great
alliances of the House of Baux, whose fortunes, ma-
trimonial and other, he traces from the eleventh cen-
tury down to the sixteenth. The empty shells of a
considerable number of old houses, many of which
must have been superb, the lines of certain steep
little streets, the foundations of a castle, and ever so
many splendid views, are all that remains to-day of
these great titles. To such a list I may add a dozen
very polite and sympathetic people, who emerged from
the interstices of the desultory little town to gaze at
the two foreigners who had driven over from Arles,
and whose horses were being baited at the modest
inn. The resources of this establishment we did not
venture otherwise to test, in spite of the seductive
fact that the sign over the door was in the Provencal
tongue. This little group included the baker, a rather
melancholy young man, in high boots and a cloak,
with whom and his companions we had a good deal
of conversation. The Baussenques of to-day struck
me as a very mild and agreeable race, with a good
deal of the natural amenity which, on occasions like
this one, the traveller, who is, waiting for his horses
to be put in or his dinner to be prepared, observes
in the charming people who lend themselves to con-
versation in the hill-towns of Tuscany. The spot
where our entertainers at Les Baux congregated was
naturally the most inhabited portion of the town; as
I say, there were at least a dozen human figures
within sight. Presently we wandered away from them,
scaled the higher places, seated ourselves among the
ruins of the castle, and looked down from the cliff
overhanging that portion of the road which I have
mentioned as approaching Les Baux from behind. I
was unable to trace the configuration of the castle as
plainly as the writers who have described it in the
guide-books, and I am ashamed to say that I did not
even perceive the three great figures of stone (the
three Marys, as they are called; the two Marys of
Scripture, with Martha), which constitute one of the
curiosities of the place, and of which M. Jules Canonge
speaks with almost hyperbolical admiration. A brisk
shower, lasting some ten minutes, led us to take refuge
in a cavity, of mysterious origin, where the melancholy
baker presently discovered us, having had the _bonne
pensee_ of coming up for us with an umbrella which
certainly belonged, in former ages, to one of the Ste-
phanettes or Berangeres commemorated by M. Canonge.
His oven, I am afraid, was cold so long as our visit
lasted. When the rain was over we wandered down
to the little disencumbered space before the inn,
through a small labyrinth of obliterated things. They
took the form of narrow, precipitous streets, bordered
by empty houses, with gaping windows and absent
doors, through which we had glimpses of sculptured
chimney-pieces and fragments of stately arch and vault.
Some of the houses are still inhabited; but most of
them are open to the air and weather. Some of them
have completely collapsed; others present to the street
a front which enables one to judge of the physiognomy
of Les Baux in the days of its importance. This im-
portance had pretty well passed away in the early part
of the sixteenth century, when the place ceased to be
an independent principality. It became - by bequest
of one of its lords, Bernardin des Baux, a great cap-
tain of his time - part of the appanage of the kings of
France, by whom it was placed under the protection
of Arles, which had formerly occupied with regard to
it a different position. I know not whether the Arle-
sians neglected their trust; but the extinction of the
sturdy little stronghold is too complete not to have
begun long ago. Its memories are buried under its
ponderous stones. As we drove away from it in the
gloaming, my friend and I agreed that the two or three
hours we had spent there were among the happiest
impressions of a pair of tourists very curious in the
picturesque. We almost forgot that we were bound to
regret that the shortened day left us no time to drive
five miles further, above a pass in the little mountains
- it had beckoned to us in the morning, when we
came in sight of it, almost irresistibly - to see the Ro-
man arch and mausoleum of Saint Remy. To compass
this larger excursion (including the visit to Les Baux)
you must start from Arles very early in the morning;
but I can imagine no more delightful day.

Henry James