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Chapter 39

On my return to Macon I found myself fairly face
to face with the fact that my little tour was near its
end. Dijon had been marked by fate as its farthest
limit, and Dijon was close at hand. After that I was
to drop the tourist, and re-enter Paris as much as pos-
sible like a Parisian. Out of Paris the Parisian never
loiters, and therefore it would be impossible for me to
stop between Dijon and the capital. But I might be
a tourist a few hours longer by stopping somewhere
between Macon and Dijon. The question was where
I should spend these hours. Where better, I asked
myself (for reasons not now entirely clear to me) than
at Beaune? On my way to this town I passed the
stretch of the Cote d'Or, which, covered with a mel-
low autumn haze, with the sunshine shimmering
through, looked indeed like a golden slope. One
regards with a kind of awe the region in which the
famous _crus_ of Burgundy (Yougeot, Chambertin, Nuits,
Beaune) are, I was going to say, manufactured. Adieu,
paniers; vendanges sont faites! The vintage was
over; the shrunken russet fibres alone clung to their
ugly stick. The horizon on the left of the road had
a charm, however, there is something picturesque
in the big, comfortable shoulders of the Cote. That
delicate critic, M. Emile Montegut, in a charming
record of travel through this region, published some
years ago, praises Shakspeare for having talked (in
"Lear") of "waterish Burgundy." Vinous Burgundy
would surely be more to the point. I stopped at
Beaune in pursuit of the picturesque, but I might
almost have seen the little I discovered without stop-
ping. It is a drowsy little Burgundian town, very
old and ripe, with crooked streets, vistas always ob-
lique, and steep, moss-covered roofs. The principal
lion is the Hopital-Saint-Esprit, or the Hotel-Dieu,
simply, as they call it there, founded in 1443 by
Nicholas Rollin, Chancellor of Burgundy. It is ad-
ministered by the sisterhood of the Holy Ghost, and
is one of the most venerable and stately of hospitals.
The face it presents to the street is simple, but strik-
ing, - a plain, windowless wall, surmounted by a vast
slate roof, of almost mountainous steepness. Astride
this roof sits a tall, slate-covered spire, from which,
as I arrived, the prettiest chimes I ever heard (worse
luck to them, as I will presently explain) were ring-
ing. Over the door is a high, quaint canopy, without
supports, with its vault painted blue and covered
with gilded stars. (This, and indeed the whole build-
ing, have lately been restored, and its antiquity is
quite of the spick-and-span order. But it is very
delightful.) The treasure of the place is a precious
picture, - a Last Judgment, attributed equally to John
van Eyck and Roger van der Weyden, - given to the
hospital in the fifteenth century by Nicholas Rollin
aforesaid.

I learned, however, to my dismay, from a sympa-
thizing but inexorable concierge, that what remained
to me of the time I had to spend at Beaune, between
trains, - I had rashly wasted half an hour of it in
breakfasting at the station, - was the one hour of the
day (that of the dinner of the nuns; the picture is in
their refectory) during which the treasure could not
be shown. The purpose of the musical chimes to
which I had so artlessly listened was to usher in this
fruitless interval. The regulation was absolute, and
my disappointment relative, as I have been happy to
reflect since I "looked up" the picture. Crowe and
Cavalcaselle assign it without hesitation to Roger van
der Weyden, and give a weak little drawing of it in
their "Flemish Painters." I learn from them also -
what I was ignorant of - that Nicholas Ronin, Chan-
cellor of Burgundy and founder of the establishment
at Beaune, was the original of the worthy kneeling
before the Virgin, in the magnificent John van Eyck
of the Salon Carre. All I could see was the court of
the hospital and two or three rooms. The court, with
its tall roofs, its pointed gables and spires, its wooden
galleries, its ancient well, with an elaborate superstruc-
ture of wrought iron, is one of those places into which
a sketcher ought to be let loose. It looked Flemish
or English rather than French, and a splendid tidiness
pervaded it. The porter took me into two rooms on
the ground-floor, into which the sketcher should also
be allowed to penetrate; for they made irresistible
pictures. One of them, of great proportions, painted
in elaborate "subjects," like a ball-room of the seven-
teenth century, was filled with the beds of patients,
all draped in curtains of dark red cloth, the tradi-
tional uniform of these, eleemosynary couches. Among
them the sisters moved about, in their robes of white
flannel, with big white linen hoods. The other room
was a strange, immense apartment, lately restored
with much splendor. It was of great length and
height, had a painted and gilded barrel-roof, and one
end of it - the one I was introduced to - appeared
to serve as a chapel, as two white-robed sisters were
on their knees before an altar. This was divided by
red curtains from the larger part; but the porter lifted
one of the curtains, and showed me that the rest
of it, a long, imposing vista, served as a ward, lined
with little red-draped beds. "C'est l'heure de la
lecture," remarked my guide; and a group of conva-
lescents - all the patients I saw were women - were
gathered in the centre around a nun, the points of
whose white hood nodded a little above them, and
whose gentle voice came to us faintly, with a little
echo, down the high perspective. I know not what
the good sister was reading, - a dull book, I am afraid,
- but there was so much color, and such a fine, rich
air of tradition about the whole place, that it seemed
to me I would have risked listening to her. I turned
away, however, with that sense of defeat which is
always irritating to the appreciative tourist, and pot-
tered about Beaune rather vaguely for the rest of my
hour: looked at the statue of Gaspard Monge, the
mathematician, in the little _place_ (there is no _place_ in
France too little to contain an effigy to a glorious son);
at the fine old porch - completely despoiled at the
Revolution - of the principal church; and even at the
meagre treasures of a courageous but melancholy little
museum, which has been arranged - part of it being
the gift of a local collector - in a small hotel de ville.
I carried away from Beaune the impression of some-
thing mildly autumnal, - something rusty yet kindly,
like the taste of a sweet russet pear.

Henry James