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Chapter 5

The second time I went to Blois I took a carriage
for Chambord, and came back by the Chateau de
Cheverny and the forest of Russy, - a charming little
expedition, to which the beauty of the afternoon (the
finest in a rainy season that was spotted with bright
days) contributed not a little. To go to Chambord,
you cross the Loire, leave it on one side, and strike
away through a country in which salient features be-
come less and less numerous, and which at last has
no other quality than a look of intense, and peculiar
rurality, - the characteristic, even when it is not the
charm, of so much of the landscape of France. This
is not the appearance of wildness, for it goes with
great cultivation; it is simply the presence of the
delving, drudging, economizing peasant. But it is a
deep, unrelieved rusticity. It is a peasant's landscape;
not, as in England, a landlord's. On the way to Cham-
bord you enter the flat and sandy Sologne. The wide
horizon opens out like a great _potager,_ without inter-
ruptions, without an eminence, with here and there a
long, low stretch of wood. There is an absence of
hedges, fences, signs of property; everything is ab-
sorbed in the general flatness, - the patches of vine-
yard, the scattered cottages, the villages, the children
(planted and staring and almost always pretty), the
women in the fields, the white caps, the faded blouses,
the big sabots. At the end of an hour's drive (they
assure you at Blois that even with two horses you will
spend double that time), I passed through a sort of
gap in a wall, which does duty as the gateway of the
domain of an exiled pretender. I drove along a
straight avenue, through a disfeatured park, - the park
of Chambord has twenty-one miles of circumference, -
a very sandy, scrubby, melancholy plantation, in which
the timber must have been cut many times over and
is to-day a mere tangle of brushwood. Here, as in so
many spots in France, the traveller perceives that he
is in a land of revolutoins. Nevertheless, its great ex-
tent and the long perspective of its avenues give this
desolate boskage a certain majesty; just as its shabbi-
ness places it in agreement with one of the strongest
impressions of the chateau. You follow one of these
long perspectives a proportionate time, and at last you
see the chimneys and pinnacles of Chambord rise ap-
parently out of the ground. The filling-in of the wide
moats that formerly surrounded it has, in vulgar par-
lance, let it down, bud given it an appearance of top-
heaviness that is at the same time a magnificent Orien-
talism. The towers, the turrets, the cupolas, the gables,
the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires
of a city than the salient points of a single building.
You emerge from the avenue and find yourself at the
foot of an enormous fantastic mass. Chambord has a
strange mixture of society and solitude. A little village
clusters within view of its stately windows, and a couple
of inns near by offer entertainment to pilgrims. These
things, of course, are incidents of the political pro-
scription which hangs its thick veil over the place.
Chambord is truly royal, - royal in its great scale, its
grand air, its indifference to common considerations.
If a cat may look at a king, a palace may lock at a
tavern. I enjoyed my visit to this extraordinary struc-
ture as much as if I had been a legitimist; and indeed
there is something interesting in any monument of a
great system, any bold presentation of a tradition.

You leave your vehicle at one of the inns, which
are very decent and tidy, and in which every one is
very civil, as if in this latter respect the influence of
the old regime pervaded the neighborhood, and you
walk across the grass and the gravel to a small door,
- a door infinitely subordinate and conferring no title
of any kind on those who enter it. Here you ring a
bell, which a highly respectable person answers (a per-
son perceptibly affiliated, again, to the old regime),
after which she ushers you across a vestibule into an
inner court. Perhaps the strongest impression I got
at Chambord came to me as I stood in this court.
The woman who admitted me did not come with
me; I was to find my guide somewhere else. The
specialty of Chambord is its prodigious round towers.
There are, I believe, no less than eight of them,
placed at each angle of the inner and outer square of
buildings; for the castle is in the form of a larger
structure which encloses a smaller one. One of these
towers stood before me in the court; it seemed to
fling its shadow over the place; while above, as I
looked up, the pinnacles and gables, the enormous
chimneys, soared into the bright blue air. The place
was empty and silent; shadows of gargoyles, of extra-
ordinary projections, were thrown across the clear
gray surfaces. One felt that the whole thing was
monstrous. A cicerone appeared, a languid young
man in a rather shabby livery, and led me about with
a mixture of the impatient and the desultory, of con-
descension and humility. I do not profess to under-
stand the plan of Chambord, and I may add that I
do not even desire to do so; for it is much more
entertaining to think of it, as you can so easily, as an
irresponsible, insoluble labyrinth. Within, it is a
wilderness of empty chambers, a royal and romantic
barrack. The exiled prince to whom it gives its title
has not the means to keep up four hundred rooms;
he contents himself with preserving the huge outside.
The repairs of the prodigious roof alone must absorb
a large part of his revenue. The great feature of
the interior is the celebrated double staircase, rising
straight through the building, with two courses of
steps, so that people may ascend and descend without
meeting. This staircase is a truly majestic piece of
humor; it gives you the note, as it were, of Chambord.
It opens on each landing to a vast guard-room, in
four arms, radiations of the winding shaft. My guide
made me climb to the great open-work lantern which,
springing from the roof at the termination of the
rotund staircase (surmounted here by a smaller one),
forms the pinnacle of the bristling crown of Cham-
bord. This lantern is tipped with a huge _fleur-de-lis_
in stone, - the only one, I believe, that the Revolution
did not succeed in pulling down. Here, from narrow
windows, you look over the wide, flat country and the
tangled, melancholy park, with the rotation of its
straight avenues. Then you walk about the roof, in
a complication of galleries, terraces, balconies, through
the multitude of chimneys and gables. This roof,
which is in itself a sort of castle in the air, has an
extravagant, faboulus quality, and with its profuse
ornamentation, - the salamander of Francis I. is a con-
tant motive, - its lonely pavements, its sunny niches,
the balcony that looks down over the closed and
grass-grown main entrance, a strange, half-sad, half-
brilliant charm. The stone-work is covered with fine
mould. There are places that reminded me of some
of those quiet, mildewed corners of courts and ter-
races, into which the traveller who wanders through
the Vatican looks down from neglected windows. They
show you two or three furnished rooms, with Bourbon
portraits, hideous tapestries from the ladies of France,
a collection of the toys of the _enfant du miracle,_ all
military and of the finest make. "Tout cela fonc-
tionne," the guide said of these miniature weapons;
and I wondered, if he should take it into his head to
fire off his little canon, how much harm the Comte de
Chambord would do.

From below, the castle would look crushed by
the redundancy of its upper protuberances if it were
not for the enormous girth of its round towers, which
appear to give it a robust lateral development. These
towers, however, fine as they are in their way, struck
me as a little stupid; they are the exaggeration of
an exaggeration. In a building erected after the days
of defence, and proclaiming its peaceful character from
its hundred embroideries and cupolas, they seem
to indicate a want of invention. I shall risk the ac-
cusation of bad taste if I say that, impressive as it is,
the Chateau de Chambord seemed to me to have al-
together a little of that quality of stupidity. The
trouble is that it represents nothing very particular;
it has not happened, in spite of sundry vicissitudes,
to have a very interesting history. Compared with
that of Blois and Amboise, its past is rather vacant;
and one feels to a certain extent the contrast between
its pompous appearance and its spacious but some-
what colorless annals. It had indeed the good for-
tune to be erected by Francis I., whose name by itself
expresses a good deal of history. Why he should
have built a palace in those sandy plains will ever
remain an unanswered question, for kings have never
been obliged to give reasons. In addition to the fact
that the country was rich in game and that Francis
was a passionate hunter, it is suggested by M. de la
Saussaye, the author of the very complete little history
of Chambord which you may buy at the bookseller's
at Blois, that he was govemed in his choice of the
site by the accident of a charming woman having
formerly lived there. The Comtesse de Thoury had
a manor in the neighborhood, and the Comtesse de
Thoury had been the object of a youthful passion on
the part of the most susceptible of princes before his
accession to the throne. This great pile was reared,
therefore, according to M. de la Saussaye, as a _souvenir
de premieres amours!_ It is certainly a very massive
memento; and if these tender passages were propor-
tionate to the building that commemorates them, they
were tender indeed. There has been much discus-
sion as to the architect employed by Francis I., and
the honor of having designed this splendid residence
has been claimed for several of the Italian artists who
early in the sixteenth century came to seek patronage
in France. It seems well established to-day, however,
that Chambord was the work neither of Primaticcio,
of Vignola, nor of Il Rosso, all of whom have left
some trace of their sojourn in France; but of an
obscure yet very complete genius, Pierre Nepveu,
known as Pierre Trinqueau, who is designated in the
papers which preserve in some degree the history of
the origin of the edifice, as the _maistre de l'oeuvre de
maconnerie._ Behind this modest title, apparently, we
must recognize one of the most original talents of
the French Renaissance; and it is a proof of the vigor
of the artistic life of that period that, brilliant pro-
duction being everywhere abundant, an artist of so
high a value should not have been treated by his con-
temporaries as a celebrity. We manage things very
differently to-day.

The immediate successors of Francis I. continued
to visit, Chambord; but it was neglected by Henry IV.,
and was never afterwards a favorite residence of any
French king. Louis XIV. appeared there on several
occasions, and the apparition was characteristically
brilliant; but Chambord could not long detain a
monarch who had gone to the expense of creating a
Versailles ten miles from Paris. With Versailles, Fon-
tainebleau, Saint-Germain, and Saint-Cloud within easy
reach of their capital, the later French sovereigns had
little reason to take the air in the dreariest province
of their kingdom. Chambord therefore suffered from
royal indifference, though in the last century a use
was found for its deserted halls. In 1725 it was oc-
cupied by the luckless Stanislaus Leszczynski, who
spent the greater part of his life in being elected
King of Poland and being ousted from his throne,
and who, at this time a refugee in France, had found
a compensation for some of his misfortunes in marry-
ing his daughter to Louis XV. He lived eight years
at Chambord, and filled up the moats of the castle.
In 1748 it found an illustrious tenant in the person
of Maurice de Saxe, the victor of Fontenoy, who, how-
ever, two years after he had taken possession of it,
terminated a life which would have been longer had
he been less determined to make it agreeable. The
Revolution, of course, was not kind to Chambord.
It despoiled it in so far as possible of every vestige
of its royal origin, and swept like a whirlwind through
apartments to which upwards of two centuries had
contributed a treasure of decoration and furniture. In
that wild blast these precious things were destroyed
or forever scattered. In 1791 an odd proposal was
made to the French Government by a company of
English Quakers who had conceived the bold idea of
establishing in the palace a manufacture of some
peaceful commodity not to-day recorded. Napoleon
allotted Chambord, as a "dotation," to one of his
marshals, Berthier, for whose benefit it was converted,
in Napoleonic fashion, into the so-called principality
of Wagram. By the Princess of Wagram, the marshal's
widow, it was, after the Restoration, sold to the
trustees of a national subscription which had been
established for the purpose of presenting it to the in-
fant Duke of Bordeaux, then prospective King of
France. The presentation was duly made; but the
Comte de Chambord, who had changed his title in
recognition of the gift, was despoiled of his property
by the Government of Louis Philippe. He appealed
for redress to the tribunals of his country; and the
consequence of his appeal was an interminable litiga-
tion, by which, however, finally, after the lapse of
twenty-five years, he was established in his rights. In
1871 he paid his first visit to the domain which had
been offered him half a century before, a term of
which he had spent forty years in exile. It was from
Chambord that he dated his famous letter of the 5th
of July of that year, - the letter, directed to his so-
called subjects, in which he waves aloft the white
flag of the Bourbons. This amazing epistle, which is
virtually an invitation to the French people to re-
pudiate, as their national ensign, that immortal tricolor,
the flag of the Revolution and the Empire, under
which they have, won the glory which of all glories
has hitherto been dearest to them, and which is as-
sociated with the most romantic, the most heroic, the
epic, the consolatory, period of their history, - this
luckless manifesto, I say, appears to give the measure
of the political wisdom of the excellent Henry V. It
is the most factitious proposal ever addressed to an
eminently ironical nation.

On the whole, Chambord makes a great impression;
and the hour I was, there, while the yellow afternoon
light slanted upon the September woods, there was a
dignity in its desolation. It spoke, with a muffled
but audible voice, of the vanished monarchy, which
had been so strong, so splendid, but to-day has be-
come a sort of fantastic vision, like the cupolas and
chimneys that rose before me. I thought, while I
lingered there, of all the fine things it takes to make
up such a monarchy; and how one of them is a su-
perfluity of mouldering, empty, palaces. Chambord is
touching, - that is the best word for it; and if the
hopes of another restoration are in the follies of the
Republic, a little reflection on that eloquence of ruin
ought to put the Republic on its guard. A sentimental
tourist may venture to remark that in the presence of
several chateaux which appeal in this mystical manner
to the retrospective imagination, it cannot afford to be
foolish. I thought of all this as I drove back to Blois
by the way of the Chateau de Cheverny. The road
took us out of the park of Chambord, but through a
region of flat woodland, where the trees were not
mighty, and again into the prosy plain of the Sologne,
- a thankless soil, all of it, I believe, but lately much
amended by the magic of cheerful French industry
and thrift. The light had already begun to fade, and
my drive reminded me of a passage in some rural
novel of Madame Sand. I passed a couple of timber
and plaster churches, which looked very old, black,
and crooked, and had lumpish wooden porches and
galleries encircling the base. By the time I reached
Cheverny, the clear twilight had approached. It was
late to ask to be allowed to visit an inhabited house;
but it was the hour at which I like best to visit almost
anything. My coachman drew up before a gateway,
in a high wall, which opened upon a short avenue,
along which I took my way on foot; the coachmen in
those parts being, for reasons best known to them-
selves, mortally averse to driving up to a house. I
answered the challenge of a very tidy little portress,
who sat, in company with a couple of children, en-
joying the evening air in, front of her lodge, and who
told me to walk a little further and turn to the right.
I obeyed her to the letter, and my turn brought me
into sight of a house as charming as an old manor in
a fairy tale. I had but a rapid and partial view of
Cheverny; but that view was a glimpse of perfection.
A light, sweet mansion stood looking over a wide green
lawn, over banks of flowers and groups of trees. It
had a striking character of elegance, produced partly
by a series of Renaissance busts let into circular niches
in the facade. The place looked so private, so reserved,
that it seemed an act of violence to ring, a stranger
and foreigner, at the graceful door. But if I had not
rung I should be unable to express - as it is such a
pleasure to do - my sense of the exceeding courtesy
with which this admirable house is shown. It was
near the dinner-hour, - the most sacred hour of the
day; but I was freely conducted into the inhabited
apartments. They are extremely beautiful. What I
chiefly remember is the charming staircase of white
embroidered stone, and the great _salle des gardes_ and
_chambre a coucher du roi_ on the second floor. Che-
verny, built in 1634, is of a much later date than the
other royal residences of this part of France; it be-
longs to the end of the Renaissance, and has a touch
of the rococo. The guard-room is a superb apartment;
and as it contains little save its magnificent ceiling
and fireplace and certain dim tapestries on its walls,
you the more easily take the measure of its noble
proportions. The servant opened the shutters of a
single window, and the last rays of the twilight slanted
into the rich brown gloom. It was in the same pic-
turesque fashion that I saw the bedroom (adjoining) of
Henry IV., where a legendary-looking bed, draped in
folds long unaltered, defined itself in the haunted
dusk. Cheverny remains to me a very charming, a
partly mysterious vision. I drove back to Blois in the
dark, some nine miles, through the forest of Russy,
which belongs to the State, and which, though con-
sisting apparently of small timber, looked under the
stars sufficiently vast and primeval. There was a damp
autumnal smell and the occasional sound of a stirring
thing; and as I moved through the evening air I
thought of Francis I. and Henry IV.

Henry James