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Chapter 4

Your business at Tours is to make excursions; and
if you make them all, you will be very well occupied.
Touraine is rich in antiquities; and an hour's drive
from the town in almost any direction will bring you
to the knowledge of some curious fragment of domestic
or ecclesiastical architecture, some turreted manor,
some lonely tower, some gabled village, or historic
site. Even, however, if you do everything, - which was
not my case, - you cannot hope to relate everything,
and, fortunately for you, the excursions divide them-
selves into the greater and the less. You may achieve
most of the greater in a week or two; but a summer
in Touraine (which, by the way must be a charming
thing) would contain none too many days for the others.
If you come down to Tours from Paris, your best
economy is to spend a few days at Blois, where a
clumsy, but rather attractive little inn, on the edge of
the river, will offer you a certain amount of that
familiar and intermittent hospitality which a few weeks
spent in the French provinces teaches you to regard
as the highest attainable form of accommodation. Such
an economy I was unable to practise. I could only go
to Blois (from Tours) to spend the day; but this feat
I accomplished twice over. It is a very sympathetic
little town, as we say nowadays, and one might easily
resign one's self to a week there. Seated on the north
bank of the Loire, it presents a bright, clean face to
the sun, and has that aspect of cheerful leisure which
belongs to all white towns that reflect, themselves in
shining waters. It is the water-front only of Blois,
however, that exhibits, this fresh complexion; the in-
terior is of a proper brownness, as befits a signally
historic city. The only disappointment I had there
was the discovery that the castle, which is the special
object of one's pilgrimage, does not overhang the river,
as I had always allowed myself to understand. It
overhangs the town, but it is scarcely visible from the
stream. That peculiar good fortune is reserved for
Amboise and Chaurnont.

The Chateau de Blois is one of the most beautiful
and elaborate of all the old royal residences of this
part of France, and I suppose it should have all the
honors of my description. As you cross its threshold,
you step straight into the brilliant movement of the
French Renaissance. But it is too rich to describe, -
I can only touch it here and there. It must be pre-
mised that in speaking of it as one sees it to-day,
one speaks of a monument unsparingly restored. The
work of restoration has been as ingenious as it is pro-
fuse, but it rather chills the imagination. This is
perhaps almost the first thing you feel as you ap-
proach the castle from the streets of the town. These
little streets, as they, leave the river, have pretensions
to romantic steepness; one of them, indeed, which
resolves itself into a high staircase with divergent
wings (the _escalier monumental_), achieved this result
so successfully as to remind me vaguely - I hardly
know why - of the great slope of the Capitol, beside
the Ara Coeli, at Rome. The view of that part of the
castle which figures to-day as the back (it is the only
aspect I had seen reproduced) exhibits the marks of
restoration with the greatest assurance. The long
facade, consisting only of balconied windows deeply
recessed, erects itself on the summit of a considerable
hill, which gives a fine, plunging movement to its
foundations. The deep niches of the windows are all
aglow with color. They have been repainted with red
and blue, relieved with gold figures; and each of them
looks more like the royal box at a theatre than like
the aperture of a palace dark with memories. For all
this, however, and in spite of the fact that, as in some
others of the chateaux of Touraine, (always excepting
the colossal Chambord, which is not in Touraine!)
there is less vastness than one had expected, the least
hospitable aspect of Blois is abundantly impressive.
Here, as elsewhere, lightness and grace are the key-
note; and the recesses of the windows, with their
happy proportions, their sculpture, and their color, are
the empty frames of brilliant pictures. They need
the figure of a Francis I. to complete them, or of a
Diane de Poitiers, or even of a Henry III. The base
of this exquisite structure emerges from a bed of light
verdure, which has been allowed to mass itself there,
and which contributes to the springing look of the
walls; while on the right it joins the most modern
portion of the castle, - the building erected, on founda-
tions of enormous height and solidity, in 1635, by
Gaston d'Orleans. This fine, frigid mansion - the proper
view of it is from the court within - is one of the
masterpieces of Francois Mansard, whom. a kind pro-
vidence did not allow to make over the whole palace
in the superior manner of his superior age. This had
been a part of Gaston's plan, - he was a blunderer
born, and this precious project was worthy of him.
This execution of it would surely have been one of
the great misdeeds of history. Partially performed,
the misdeed is not altogether to be regretted; for as
one stands in the court of the castle, and lets one's
eye wander from the splendid wing of Francis I. -
which is the last work of free and joyous invention -
to the ruled lines and blank spaces of the ponderous
pavilion of Mansard, one makes one's reflections upon
the advantage, in even the least personaI of the arts,
of having something to say, and upon the stupidity of
a taste which had ended by becoming an aggregation
of negatives. Gaston's wing, taken by itself, has much
of the _bel air_ which was to belong to the architecture
of Louis XIV.; but, taken in contrast to its flowering,
laughing, living neighbor, it marks the difference be-
tween inspiration and calculation. We scarcely grudge
it its place, however, for it adds a price to the rest of
the chateau.

We have entered the court, by the way, by jump-
ing over the walls. The more orthodox method is to
follow a modern, terrace, which leads to the left, from
the side of the chateau that I began by speaking of,
and passes round, ascending, to a little square on a
considerably higher level, which is not, like a very
modern square on which the back (as I have called
it) looks out, a thoroughfare. This small, empty _place,_
oblong in form, at once bright and quiet, with a cer-
tain grass-grown look, offers an excellent setting to the
entrance-front of the palace, - the wing of Louis XII.
The restoration here has been lavish; but it was per-
haps but an inevitable reaction against the injuries,
still more lavish, by which the unfortunate building
had long been overwhelmed. It had fallen into a state
of ruinous neglect, relieved only by the misuse pro-
ceeding from successive generations of soldiers, for
whom its charming chambers served as barrack-room.
Whitewashed, mutilated, dishonored, the castle of Blois
may be said to have escaped simply with its life. This
is the history of Amboise as well, and is to a certain
extent the history of Chambord. Delightful, at any
rate, was the refreshed facade of Louis XII. as I stood
and looked at it one bright September morning. In
that soft, clear, merry light of Touraine, everything
shows, everything speaks. Charming are the taste, the
happy proportions, the color of this beautiful front, to
which the new feeling for a purely domestic architec-
ture - an architecture of security and tranquillity, in
which art could indulge itself - gave an air of youth
and gladness. It is true that for a long time to come
the castle of Blois was neither very safe nor very
quiet; but its dangers came from within, from the evil
passions of its inhabitants, and not from siege or in-
vasion. The front of Louis XII. is of red brick, crossed
here and there with purple; and the purple slate of
the high roof, relieved with chimneys beautifully
treated, and with the embroidered caps of pinnacles
and arches, with the porcupine of Louis, the ermine
and the festooned rope which formed the devices of
Anne of Brittany, - the tone of this rich-looking roof
carries out the mild glow of the wall. The wide, fair
windows look as if they had expanded to let in the
rosy dawn of the Renaissance. Charming, for that
matter, are the windows of all the chateaux of Touraine,
with their squareness corrected (as it is not in the
Tudor architecture) by the curve of the upper corners,
which makes this line look - above the expressive
aperture - like a pencilled eyebrow. The low door of
this front is crowned by a high, deep niche, in which,
under a splendid canopy, stiffly astride of a stiffly
draped charger, sits in profile an image of the good
King Louis. Good as he had been, - the father of
his people, as he was called (I believe he remitted
various taxes), - he was not good enough to pass
muster at the Revolution; and the effigy I have just
described is no more than a reproduction of the
primitive statue demolished at that period.

Pass beneath it into the court, and the sixteenth
century closes round you. It is a pardonable flight
of fancy to say that the expressive faces of an age
in which human passions lay very near the surface
seem to look out at you from the windows, from the
balconies, from the thick foliage of the sculpture. The
portion of the wing of Louis XII. that looks toward
the court is supported on a deep arcade. On your
right is the wing erected by Francis I., the reverse of
the mass of building which you see on approaching
the castle. This exquisite, this extravagant, this trans-
cendent piece of architecture is the most joyous ut-
terance of the French Renaissance. It is covered with
an embroidery of sculpture, in which every detail is
worthy of the hand of a goldsmith. In the middle of
it, or rather a little to the left, rises the famous wind-
ing staircase (plausibly, but I believe not religiously,
restored), which even the ages which most misused it
must vaguely have admired. It forms a kind of chiselled
cylinder, with wide interstices, so that the stairs are
open to the air. Every inch of this structure, of its
balconies, its pillars, its great central columns, is
wrought over with lovely images, strange and ingenious
devices, prime among which is the great heraldic sala-
mander of Francis I. The salamander is everywhere
at Blois, - over the chimneys, over the doors, on the
walls. This whole quarter , of the castle bears the
stamp of that eminently pictorial prince. The run-
ning cornice along the top of the front is like all un-
folded, an elongated, bracelet. The windows of the
attic are like shrines for saints. The gargoyles, the
medallions, the statuettes, the festoons, are like the
elaboration of some precious cabinet rather than the
details of a building exposed to the weather and to
the ages. In the interior there is a profusion of res-
toration, and it is all restoration in color. This has
been, evidently, a work of great energy and cost, but
it will easily strike you as overdone. The universal
freshness is a discord, a false note; it seems to light
up the dusky past with an unnatural glare. Begun in
the reign of Louis Philippe, this terrible process - the
more terrible always the more you admit that it has
been necessary - has been carried so far that there is
now scarcely a square inch of the interior that has the
color of the past upon it. It is true that the place
had been so coated over with modern abuse that
something was needed to keep it alive; it is only, per-
haps, a pity that the restorers, not content with saving
its life, should have undertaken to restore its youth.
The love of consistency, in such a business, is a
dangerous lure. All the old apartments have been
rechristened, as it were; the geography of the castle
has been re-established. The guardrooms, the bed-
rooms, the closets, the oratories, have recovered their
identity. Every spot connected with the murder of
the Duke of Guise is pointed out by a small, shrill
boy, who takes you from room to room, and who has
learned his lesson in perfection. The place is full of
Catherine de' Medici, of Henry III., of memories, of
ghosts, of echoes, of possible evocations and revivals.
It is covered with crimson and gold. The fireplaces
and the ceilings are magnificent; they look like ex-
pensive "sets" at the grand opera.

I should have mentioned that below, in the court,
the front of the wing of Gaston d'Orleans faces you
as you enter, so that the place is a course of French
history. Inferior in beauty and grace to the other
portions of the castle, the wing is yet a nobler monu-
ment than the memory of Gaston deserves. The second
of the sons of Henry IV., - who was no more fortunate as
a father than as a husband, - younger brother of Louis
XIII., and father of the great Mademoiselle, the most
celebrated, most ambitious, most self-complacent, and
most unsuccessful _fille a marier_ in French history,
passed in enforced retirement at the castle of Blois
the close of a life of clumsy intrigues against Cardinal
Richelieu, in which his rashness was only equalled by
his pusillanimity and his ill-luck by his inaccessibility
to correction, and which, after so many follies and
shames, was properly summed up in the project - be-
gun, but not completed - of demolishing the beautiful
habitation of his exile in order to erect a better one.
With Gaston d'Orleans, however, who lived there with-
out dignity, the history of the Chateau de Blois de-
clines. Its interesting period is that of the wars of
religion. It was the chief residence of Henry III., and
the scene of the principal events of his depraved and
dramatic reign. It has been restored more than enough,
as I have said, by architects and decorators; the visitor,
as he moves through its empty rooms, which are at
once brilliant and ill-lighted (they have not been re-
furnished), undertakes a little restoration of his own.
His imagination helps itself from the things that re-
main; he tries to see the life of the sixteenth century
in its form and dress, - its turbulence, its passions, its
loves and hates, its treacheries, falsities, touches of
faith, its latitude of personal development, its presen-
tation of the whole nature, its nobleness of costume,
charm of speech, splendor of taste, unequalled pic-
turesqueness. The picture is full of movement, of
contrasted light and darkness, full altogether of abomi-
nations. Mixed up with them all is the great name of
religion, so that the drama wants nothing to make it
complete. What episode was ever more perfect - looked
at as a dramatic occurrence - than the murder of the
Duke of Guise? The insolent prosperity of the victim;
the weakness, the vices, the terrors, of the author of
the deed; the perfect execution of the plot; the accu-
mulation of horror in what followed it, - give it, as a
crime, a kind of immortal solidity.

But we must not take the Chateau de Blois too
hard: I went there, after all, by way of entertainment.
If among these sinister memories your visit should
threaten to prove a tragedy, there is an excellent way
of removing the impression. You may treat yourself
at Blois to a very cheerful afterpiece. There is a
charming industry practised there, and practised in
charming conditions. Follow the bright little quay
down the river till you get quite out of the town, and
reach the point where the road beside the Loire be-
comes sinuous and attractive, turns the corner of dimi-
nutive headlands, and makes you wonder what is be-
yond. Let not your curiosity induce you, however, to
pass by a modest white villa which overlooks the
stream, enclosed in a fresh little court; for here dwells
an artist, - an artist in faience. There is no sort of
sign, and the place looks peculiarly private. But if
you ring at the gate, you will not be turned away.
You will, on the contrary, be ushered upstairs into a
parlor - there is nothing resembling a shop- encum-
bered with specimens - of remarkably handsome pottery.
The work is of the best, - a careful reproduction of
old forms, colors, devices; and the master of the
establishment is one of those completely artistic types
that are often found in France. His reception is as
friendly as his work is ingenious; and I think it is not
too much to say that you like the work the better be-
cause he has produced it. His vases, cups and jars,
lamps, platters, _plaques,_ with their brilliant glaze, their
innumerable figures, their family likeness, and wide
variations, are scattered, through his occupied rooms;
they serve at once as his stock-in-trade and as house-
hold ornament. As we all know, this is an age of
prose, of machinery, of wholesale production, of coarse
and hasty processes. But one brings away from the
establishment of the very intelligent M. Ulysse the
sense of a less eager activity and a greater search for
perfection. He has but a few workmen, and he gives
them plenty of time. The place makes a little vignette,
leaves an impression, - the quiet white house in its
garden on the road by the wide, clear river, without
the smoke, the bustle, the ugliness, of so much of our
modern industry. It ought to gratify Mr. Ruskin.

Henry James