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Chapter 33

I had been twice at Avignon before, and yet I was
not satisfied. I probably am satisfied now; neverthe-
less, I enjoyed my third visit. I shall not soon forget
the first, on which a particular emotion set indelible
stamp. I was travelling northward, in 1870, after four
months spent, for the first time, in Italy. It was the
middle of January, and I had found myself, unexpected-
ly, forced to return to England for the rest of the
winter. It was an insufferable disappointment; I was
wretched and broken-hearted. Italy appeared to me
at that time so much better than anything else in the
world, that to rise from table in the middle of the
feast was a prospect of being hungry for the rest of
my days. I had heard a great deal of praise of the
south of France; but the south of France was a poor
consolation. In this state of mind I arrived at Avignon,
which under a bright, hard winter sun was tingling -
fairly spinning - with the _mistral_. I find in my journal
of the other day a reference to the acuteness of my
reluctance in January, 1870. France, after Italy, ap-
peared, in the language of the latter country, _poco sim-
patica_; and I thought it necessary, for reasons now in-
conceivable, to read the "Figaro," which was filled
with descriptions of the horrible Troppmann, the mur-
derer of the _famille_ Kink. Troppmann, Kink, _le crime
do Pantin_, very names that figured in this episode
seemed to wave me back. Had I abandoned the so-
norous south to associate with vocables so base?

It was very cold, the other day, at Avignon; for
though there was no mistral, it was raining as it rains
in Provence, and the dampness had a terrible chill in
it. As I sat by my fire, late at night - for in genial
Avignon, in October, I had to have a fire - it came
back to me that eleven years before I had at that
same hour sat by a fire in that same room, and, writ-
ing to a friend to whom I was not afraid to appear
extravagant, had made a vow that at some happier
period of the future I would avenge myself on the _ci-
devant_ city of the Popes by taking it in a contrary
sense. I suppose that I redeemed my vow on the oc-
casion of my second visit better than on my third; for
then I was on my way to Italy, and that vengeance, of
course, was complete. The only drawback was that I
was in such a hurry to get to Ventimiglia (where the
Italian custom-house was to be the sign of my triumph),
that I scarcely took time to make it clear to myself at
Avignon that this was better than reading the "Figaro."
I hurried on almost too fast to enjoy the consciousness
of moving southward. On this last occasion I was un-
fortunately destitute of that happy faith. Avignon was
my southernmost limit; after which I was to turn round
and proceed back to England. But in the interval I
had been a great deal in Italy, and that made all the
difference.

I had plenty of time to think of this, for the rain
kept me practically housed for the first twenty-four
hours. It had been raining in, these regions for a
month, and people had begun to look askance at the
Rhone, though as yet the volume of the river was not
exorbitant. The only excursion possible, while the
torrent descended, was a kind of horizontal dive, ac-
companied with infinite splashing, to the little _musee_
of the town, which is within a moderate walk of the
hotel. I had a memory of it from my first visit; it
had appeared to me more pictorial than its pictures.
I found that recollection had flattered it a little, and
that it is neither better nor worse than most provincial
museums. It has the usual musty chill in the air, the
usual grass-grown fore-court, in which a few lumpish
Roman fragments are disposed, the usual red tiles on
the floor, and the usual specimens of the more livid
schools on the walls. I rang up the _gardien_, who ar-
rived with a bunch of keys, wiping his mouth; he un-
locked doors for me, opened shutters, and while (to
my distress, as if the things had been worth lingering
over) he shuffled about after me, he announced the
names of the pictures before which I stopped, in a
voice that reverberated through the melancholy halls,
and seemed to make the authorship shameful when it
was obscure, and grotesque when it pretended to be
great. Then there were intervals of silence, while I
stared absent-mindedly, at hap-hazard, at some indis-
tinguishable canvas, and the only sound was the down-
pour of the rain on the skylights. The museum of
Avignon derives a certain dignity from its Roman frag-
ments. The town has no Roman monuments to show;
in this respect, beside its brilliant neighbors, Arles and
Nimes, it is a blank. But a great many small objects
have been found in its soil, - pottery, glass, bronzes,
lamps, vessels and ornaments of gold and silver. The
glass is especially chaming, - small vessels of the most
delicate shape and substance, many of them perfectly
preserved. These diminutive, intimate things bring
one near to the old Roman life; they seem like pearls
strung upon the slender thread that swings across the
gulf of time. A little glass cup that Roman lips have
touched says more to us than the great vessel of an
arena. There are two small silver _casseroles_, with chi-
selled handles, in the museum of Avignon, that struck
me as among the most charming survivals of anti-
quity.

I did wrong just above, to speak of my attack on
this establishment as the only recreation I took that
first wet day; for I remember a terribly moist visit to
the former palace of the Popes, which could have
taken place only in the same tempestuous hours. It is
true that I scarcely know why I should have gone out
to see the Papal palace in the rain, for I had been
over it twice before, and even then had not found the
interest of the place so complete as it ought to be; the
fact, nevertheless, remains that this last occasion is
much associated with an umbrella, which was not
superfluous even in some of the chambers and cor-
ridors of the gigantic pile. It had already seemed to
me the dreariest of all historical buildings, and my
final visit confirmed the impression. The place is as
intricate as it is vast, and as desolate as it is dirty.
The imagination has, for some reason or other, to
make more than the effort usual in such cases to re-
store and repeople it. The fact, indeed, is simply that
the palace has been so incalculably abused and altered.
The alterations have been so numerous that, though I
have duly conned the enumerations, supplied in guide-
books, of the principal perversions, I do not pretend
to carry any of them in my head. The huge bare
mass, without ornament, without grace, despoiled of its
battlements and defaced with sordid modern windows,
covering the Rocher des Doms, and looking down over
the Rhone and the broken bridge of Saint-Benazet
(which stops in such a sketchable manner in mid-
stream), and across at the lonely tower of Philippe le
Bel and the ruined wall of Villeneuve, makes at a dis-
tance, in spite of its poverty, a great figure, the effect
of which is carried out by the tower of the church be-
side it (crowned though the latter be, in a top-heavy
fashion, with an immense modern image of the Virgin)
and by the thick, dark foliage of the garden laid out
on a still higher portion of the eminence. This garden
recalls, faintly and a trifle perversely, the grounds of
the Pincian at Rome. I know not whether it is the
shadow of the Papal name, present in both places,
combined with a vague analogy between the churches,
- which, approached in each case by a flight of steps,
seemed to defend the precinct, - but each time I have
seen the Promenade des Doms it has carried my
thoughts to the wider and loftier terrace from which
you look away at the Tiber and Saint Peter's.

As you stand before the Papal palace, and espe-
cially as you enter it, you are struck with its being a
very dull monument. History enough was enacted
here: the great schism lasted from 1305 to 1370, dur-
ing which seven Popes, all Frenchmen, carried on the
court of Avignon on principles that have not com-
mended themselves to the esteem of posterity. But
history has been whitewashed away, and the scandals
of that period have mingled with the dust of dilapi-
dations and repairs. The building has for many years
been occupied as a barrack for regiments of the line,
and the main characteristics of a barrack - an extreme
nudity and a very queer smell - prevail throughout its
endless compartments. Nothing could have been more
cruelly dismal than the appearance it presented at the
time of this third visit of mine. A regiment, changing
quarters, had departed the day before, and another
was expected to arrive (from Algeria) on the morrow.
The place had been left in the befouled and belittered
condition which marks the passage of the military after
they have broken carnp, and it would offer but a me-
lancholy welcome to the regiment that was about to
take possession. Enormous windows had been left
carelessly open all over the building, and the rain and
wind were beating into empty rooms and passages;
making draughts which purified, perhaps, but which
scarcely cheered. For an arrival, it was horrible. A
handful of soldiers had remained behind. In one of
the big vaulted rooms several of them were lying on
their wretched beds, in the dim light, in the cold, in
the damp, with the bleak, bare walls before them, and
their overcoats, spread over them, pulled up to their
noses. I pitied them immensely, though they may
have felt less wretched than they looked. I thought
not of the old profligacies and crimes, not of the
funnel-shaped torture-chamber (which, after exciting
the shudder of generations, has been ascertained now,
I believe, to have been a mediaeval bakehouse), not of
the tower of the _glaciere_ and the horrors perpetrated
here in the Revolution, but of the military burden of
young France. One wonders how young France en-
dures it, and one is forced to believe that the French
conscript has, in addition to his notorious good-humor,
greater toughness than is commonly supposed by those
who consider only the more relaxing influences of
French civilization. I hope he finds occasional com-
pensation for such moments as I saw those damp
young peasants passing on the mattresses of their
hideous barrack, without anything around to remind
them that they were in the most civilized of countries.
The only traces of former splendor now visible in
the Papal pile are the walls and vaults of two small
chapels, painted in fresco, so battered and effaced as
to be scarcely distinguishable, by Simone Memmi. It
offers, of course, a peculiarly good field for restoration,
and I believe the government intend to take it in
hand. I mention this fact without a sigh; for they
cannot well make it less interesting than it is at
present.

Henry James