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Chapter 36

I mounted into my diligence at the door of the
Hotel de Petrarque et de Laure, and we made our
way back to Isle-sur-Sorgues in the fading light. This
village, where at six o'clock every one appeared to
have gone to bed, was fairly darkened by its high,
dense plane-trees, under which the rushing river, on
a level with its parapets, looked unnaturally, almost
wickedly blue. It was a glimpse which has left a
picture in my mind: the little closed houses, the place
empty and soundless in the autumn dusk but for the
noise of waters, and in the middle, amid the blackness
of the shade, the gleam of the swift, strange tide. At
the station every one was talking of the inundation
being in many places an accomplished fact, and, in
particular, of the condition of the Durance at some
point that I have forgotten. At Avignon, an hour
later, I found the water in some of the streets. The
sky cleared in the evening, the moon lighted up the
submerged suburbs, and the population again collected
in the high places to enjoy the spectacle. It exhibited
a certain sameness, however, and by nine o'clock there
was considerable animation in the Place Crillon, where
there is nothing to be seen but the front of the theatre
and of several cafes - in addition, indeed, to a statue
of this celebrated brave, whose valor redeemed some
of the numerous military disasters of the reign of
Louis XV. The next morning the lower quarters of
the town were in a pitiful state; the situation seemed
to me odious. To express my disapproval of it, I lost
no time in taking the train for Orange, which, with its
other attractions, had the merit of not being seated on
the Rhone. It was my destiny to move northward;
but even if I had been at liberty to follow a less un-
natural course I should not then have undertaken it,
inasmuch, as the railway between Avignon and Mar-
seilles was credibly reported to be (in places) under
water. This was the case with almost everything but
the line itself, on the way to Orange. The day proved
splendid, and its brilliancy only lighted up the desola-
tion. Farmhouses and cottages were up to their middle
in the yellow liquidity; haystacks looked like dull little
islands; windows and doors gaped open, without faces;
and interruption and flight were represented in the
scene. It was brought home to me that the _popula-
tions rurales_ have many different ways of suffering,
and my heart glowed with a grateful sense of cockney-
ism. It was under the influence of this emotion that
I alighted at Orange, to visit a collection of eminently
civil monuments.

The collection consists of but two objects, but these
objects are so fine that I will let the word pass. One
of them is a triumphal arch, supposedly of the period
of Marcus Aurelius; the other is a fragment, magnifi-
cent in its ruin, of a Roman theatre. But for these
fine Roman remains and for its name, Orange is a
perfectly featureless little town; without the Rhone -
which, as I have mentioned, is several miles distant -
to help it to a physiognomy. It seems one of the
oddest things that this obscure French borough -
obscure, I mean, in our modern era, for the Gallo-
Roman Arausio must have been, judging it by its
arches and theatre, a place of some importance -
should have given its name to the heirs apparent of
the throne of Holland,and been borne by a king of
England who had sovereign rights over it. During
the Middle Ages it formed part of an independent
principality; but in 1531 it fell, by the marriage of
one of its princesses, who had inherited it, into the
family of Nassau. I read in my indispensable Mur-
ray that it was made over to France by the treaty of
Utrecht. The arch of triumph, which stands a little
way out of the town, is rather a pretty than an im-
posing vestige of the Romans. If it had greater purity
of style, one might say of it that it belonged to the
same family of monuments as the Maison Carree at
Nimes. It has three passages, - the middle much
higher than the others, - and a very elevated attic.
The vaults of the passages are richly sculptured, and
the whole monument is covered with friezes and
military trophies. This sculpture is rather mixed;
much of it is broken and defaced, and the rest seemed
to me ugly, though its workmanship is praised. The
arch is at once well preserved and much injured. Its
general mass is there, and as Roman monuments go
it is remarkably perfect; but it has suffered, in patches,
from the extremity of restoration. It is not, on the
whole, of absorbing interest. It has a charm, never-
theless, which comes partly from its soft, bright yellow
color, partly from a certain elegance of shape, of ex-
pression; and on that well-washed Sunday morning,
with its brilliant tone, surrounded by its circle of thin
poplars, with the green country lying beyond it and a
low blue horizon showing through its empty portals,
it made, very sufficiently, a picture that hangs itself
to one of the lateral hooks of the memory. I can
take down the modest composition, and place it before
me as I write. I see the shallow, shining puddles in
the hard, fair French road; the pale blue sky, diluted
by days of rain; the disgarnished autumnal fields; the
mild sparkle of the low horizon; the solitary figure in
sabots, with a bundle under its arm, advancing along
the _chaussee_; and in the middle I see the little ochre-
colored monument, which, in spite of its antiquity,
looks bright and gay, as everything must look in
France of a fresh Sunday morning.

It is true that this was not exactly the appearance
of the Roman theatre, which lies on the other side of
the town; a fact that did not prevent me from making
my way to it in less than five minutes, through a suc-
cession of little streets concerning which I have no
observations to record. None of the Roman remains
in the south of France are more impressive than this
stupendous fragment. An enormous mound rises above
the place, which was formerly occupied - I quote from
Murray - first by a citadel of the Romans, then by a
castle of the princes of Nassau, razed by Louis XIV.
Facing this hill a mighty wall erects itself, thirty-six
metres high, and composed of massive blocks of dark
brown stone, simply laid one on the other; the whole
naked, rugged surface of which suggests a natural cliff
(say of the Vaucluse order) rather than an effort of
human, or even of Roman labor. It is the biggest
thing at Orange, - it is bigger than all Orange put to-
gether, - and its permanent massiveness makes light
of the shrunken city. The face it presents to the town
- the top of it garnished with two rows of brackets,
perforated with holes to receive the staves of the _vela-
rium_ - bears the traces of more than one tier of orna-
mental arches; though how these flat arches were
applied, or incrusted, upon the wall, I do not profess
to explain. You pass through a diminutive postern -
which seems in proportion about as high as the en-
trance of a rabbit-hutch - into the lodge of the custo-
dian, who introduces you to the interior of the theatre.
Here the mass of the hill affronts you, which the in-
genious Romans treated simply as the material of their
auditorium. They inserted their stone seats, in a
semicircle, in the slope of the lull, and planted their
colossal wall opposite to it. This wall, from the inside,
is, if possible, even more imposing. It formed the
back of the stage, the permanent scene, and its
enormous face was coated with marble. It contains
three doors, the middle one being the highest, and
having above it, far aloft, a deep niche, apparently
intended for an imperial statue. A few of the benches
remain on the hillside which, however, is mainly a
confusion of fragments. There is part of a corridor
built into the hill, high up, and on the crest are the
remnants of the demolished castle. The whole place
is a kind of wilderness of ruin; there are scarcely any
details; the great feature is the overtopping wall. This
wall being the back of the scene, the space left be-
tween it and the chord of the semicircle (of the audi-
torium) which formed the proscenium is rather less
than one would have supposed. In other words, the
stage was very shallow, and appears to have been ar-
ranged for a number of performers standing in a line,
like a company of soldiers. There stands the silent
skeleton, however, as impressive by what it leaves you
to guess and wonder about as by what it tells you.
It has not the sweetness, the softness of melancholy,
of the theatre at Arles; but it is more extraordinary,
and one can imagine only tremendous tragedies being
enacted there, -

"Presenting Thebes' or Pelops' line."

At either end of the stage, coming forward, is an
immense wing, - immense in height, I mean, as it
reaches to the top of the scenic wall; the other dimen-
sions are not remarkable. The division to the right,
as you face the stage, is pointed out as the green-
room; its portentous attitude and the open arches at
the top give it the air of a well. The compartment
on the left is exactly similar, save that it opens into
the traces of other chambers, said to be those of a
hippodrome adjacent to the theatre. Various fragments
are visible which refer themselves plausibly to such an
establishment; the greater axis of the hippodrome would
appear to have been on a line with the triumphal
arch. This is all I saw, and all there was to see, of
Orange, which had a very rustic, bucolic aspect, and
where I was not even called upon to demand break-
fast at the hotel. The entrance of this resort might
have been that of a stable of the Roman days.

Henry James