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Chapter 37

I have been trying to remember whether I fasted
all the way to Macon, which I reached at an advanced
hour of the evening, and think I must have done so
except for the purchase of a box of nougat at Monte-
limart (the place is famous for the manufacture of
this confection, which, at the station, is hawked at the
windows of the train) and for a bouillon, very much
later, at Lyons. The journey beside the Rhone -
past Valence, past Tournon, past Vienne - would
have been charming, on that luminous Sunday, but
for two disagreeable accidents. The express from
Marseilles, which I took at Orange, was full to over-
flowing; and the only refuge I could find was an
inside angle in a carriage laden with Germans, who
had command of the windows, which they occupied
as strongly as they have been known to occupy other
strategical positions. I scarcely know, however, why
I linger on this particular discomfort, for it was but
a single item in a considerable list of grievances, -
grievances dispersed through six weeks of constant
railway travel in France. I have not touched upon
them at an earlier stage of this chronicle, but my re-
serve is not owing to any sweetness of association.
This form of locomotion, in the country of the ameni-
ties, is attended with a dozen discomforts; almost all
the conditions of the business are detestable. They
force the sentimental tourist again and again to ask
himself whether, in consideration of such mortal an-
noyances, the game is worth the candle. Fortunately,
a railway journey is a good deal like a sea voyage;
its miseries fade from the mind as soon as you arrive.
That is why I completed, to my great satisfaction,
my little tour in France. Let this small effusion of
ill-nature be my first and last tribute to the whole
despotic _gare_: the deadly _salle d'attente_, the insuffer-
able delays over one's luggage, the porterless platform,
the overcrowded and illiberal train. How many a
time did I permit myself the secret reflection that it
is in perfidious Albion that they order this matter
best! How many a time did the eager British mer-
cenary, clad in velveteen and clinging to the door of
the carriage as it glides into the station, revisit my
invidious dreams! The paternal porter and the re-
sponsive hansom are among the best gifts of the Eng-
lish genius to the world. I hasten to add, faithful
to my habit (so insufferable to some of my friends) of
ever and again readjusting the balance after I have
given it an honest tip, that the bouillon at Lyons,
which I spoke of above, was, though by no means an
ideal bouillon, much better than any I could have
obtained at an English railway station. After I had
imbibed it, I sat in the train (which waited a long
time at Lyons) and, by the light of one of the big
lamps on the platform, read all sorts of disagreeable
things in certain radical newspapers which I had
bought at the book-stall. I gathered from these sheets
that Lyons was in extreme commotion. The Rhone
and the Saone, which form a girdle for the splendid
town, were almost in the streets, as I could easily be-
lieve from what I had seen of the country after leav-
ing Orange. The Rhone, all the way to Lyons, had
been in all sorts of places where it had no business
to be, and matters were naturally not improved by
its confluence with the charming and copious stream
which, at Macon, is said once to have given such a
happy opportunity to the egotism of the capital. A
visitor from Paris (the anecdote is very old), being
asked on the quay of that city whether he didn't ad-
mire the Saone, replied good-naturedly that it was
very pretty, but that in Paris they spelled it with
the _ei_. This moment of general alarm at Lyons had
been chosen by certain ingenious persons (I credit
them, perhaps, with too sure a prevision of the rise
of the rivers) for practising further upon the appre-
hensions of the public. A bombshell filled with
dynamite had been thrown into a cafe, and various
votaries of the comparatively innocuous _petit verre_
had been wounded (I am not sure whether any one
had been killed) by the irruption. Of course there had
been arrests and incarcerations, and the "Intransi-
geant" and the "Rappel" were filled with the echoes
of the explosion. The tone of these organs is rarely
edifying, and it had never been less so than on this
occasion. I wondered, as I looked through them,
whether I was losing all my radicalism; and then I
wondered whether, after all, I had any to lose. Even
in so long await as that tiresome delay at Lyons I
failed to settle the question, any more than I made
up my mind as to the probable future of the militant
democracy, or the ultimate form of a civilization which
should have blown up everything else. A few days
later, the waters went down it Lyons; but the de-
mocracy has not gone down.

I remember vividly the remainder of that evening
which I spent at Macon, - remember it with a chatter-
ing of the teeth. I know not what had got into the
place; the temperature, for the last day of October,
was eccentric and incredible. These epithets may
also be applied to the hotel itself, - an extraordinary
structure, all facade, which exposes an uncovered rear
to the gaze of nature. There is a demonstrative,
voluble landlady, who is of course part of the facade;
but everything behind her is a trap for the winds,
with chambers, corridors, staircases, all exhibited to
the sky, as if the outer wall of the house had been
lifted off. It would have been delightful for Florida,
but it didn't do for Burgundy, even on the eve of
November 1st, so that I suffered absurdly from the
rigor of a season that had not yet begun. There was
something in the air; I felt it the next day, even on
the sunny quay of the Saone, where in spite of a fine
southerly exposure I extracted little warmth from the
reflection that Alphonse de Lamartine had often trod-
den the flags. Macon struck me, somehow, as suffer-
ing from a chronic numbness, and there was nothing
exceptionally cheerful in the remarkable extension of
the river. It was no longer a river, - it had become
a lake; and from my window, in the painted face of
the inn, I saw that the opposite bank had been moved
back, as it were, indefinitely. Unfortunately, the various
objects with which it was furnished had not been
moved as well, the consequence of which was an
extraordinary confusion in the relations of thing.
There were always poplars to be seen, but the poplar
had become an aquatic plant. Such phenomena,
however, at Macon attract but little attention, as the
Saone, at certain seasons of the year, is nothing if not
expansive. The people are as used to it as they ap-
peared to be to the bronze statue of Lamartine, which
is the principal monument of the _place_, and which, re-
presenting the poet in a frogged overcoat and top-
boots, improvising in a high wind, struck me as even
less casual in its attitude than monumental sculpture
usually succeeds in being. It is true that in its pre-
sent position I thought better of this work of art, which
is from the hand of M. Falquiere, than when I had
seen it through the factitious medium of the Salon of
1876. I walked up the hill where the older part of
Macon lies, in search of the natal house of the _amant
d'Elvire_, the Petrarch whose Vaucluse was the bosom
of the public. The Guide-Joanne quotes from "Les
Confidences" a description of the birthplace of the
poet, whose treatment of the locality is indeed poetical.
It tallies strangely little with the reality, either as re-
gards position or other features; and it may be said
to be, not an aid, but a direct obstacle, to a discovery
of the house. A very humble edifice, in a small back
street, is designated by a municipal tablet, set into its
face, as the scene of Lamartine's advent into the world.
He himself speaks of a vast and lofty structure, at the
angle of a _place_, adorned with iron clamps, with a
_porte haute et large_ and many other peculiarities. The
house with the tablet has two meagre stories above
the basement, and (at present, at least) an air of ex-
treme shabbiness; the _place_, moreover, never can have
been vast. Lamartine was accused of writing history
incorrectly, and apparently he started wrong at first:
it had never become clear to him where he was born.
Or is the tablet wrong? If the house is small, the
tablet is very big.

Henry James