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Chapter 7

We never went to Chinon; it was a fatality. We
planned it a dozen times; but the weather interfered,
or the trains didn't suit, or one of the party was
fatigued with the adventures of'the day before. This
excursion was so much postponed that it was finally
postponed to everything. Besides, we had to go to
Chenonceaux, to Azay-le-Rideau, to Langeais, to Loches.
So I have not the memory of Chinon; I have only the
regret. But regret, as well as memory, has its visions;
especially when, like memory, it is assisted by photo-
graphs. The castle of Chinon in this form appears
to me as an enormous ruin, a mediaeval fortress, of
the extent almost of a city. It covers a hill above the
Vienne, and after being impregnable in its time is in-
destructible to-day. (I risk this phrase in the face of
the prosaic truth. Chinon, in the days when it was a
prize, more than once suflered capture, and at present
it is crumbling inch by inch. It is apparent, however,
I believe, that these inches encroach little upon acres
of masonry.) It was in the castle that Jeanne Darc ?????
had her first interview with Charles VII., and it is in
the town that Francois Rabelais is supposed to have
been born. To the castle, moreover, the lover of the
picturesque is earnestly recommended to direct his
steps. But one cannot do everything, and I would
rather have missed Chinon than Chenonceaux. For-
tunate exceedingly were the few hours that we passed
at this exquisite residence.

"In 1747," says Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his
"Confessions," "we went to spend the autumn in Tou-
raine, at the Chateau, of Chenonceaux, a royal resi-
dence upon the Cher, built by Henry II. for Diana of
Poitiers, whose initials are still to be seen there, and
now in possession of M. Dupin, the farmer-general.
We amused ourselves greatly in this fine spot; the liv-
ing was of the best, and I became as fat as a monk.
We made a great deal of music, and acted comedies."

This is the only description that Rousseau gives
of one of the most romantic houses in France, and of
an episode that must have counted as one of the most
agreeable in his uncomfortable career. The eighteenth
century contented itself with general epithets; and
when Jean-Jacques has said that Chenonceaux was a
"beau lieu," he thinks himself absolved from further
characterization. We later sons of time have, both for
our pleasure and our pain, invented the fashion of
special terms, and I am afraid that even common
decency obliges me to pay some larger tribute than
this to the architectural gem of Touraine. Fortunately
I can discharge my debt with gratitude. In going
from Tours you leave the valley of the Loire and enter
that of the Cher, and at the end of about an hour you
see the turrets of the castle on your right, among the
trees, down in the meadows, beside the quiet little
river. The station and the village are about ten
minutes' walk from the chateau, and the village con-
tains a very tidy inn, where, if you are not in too
great a hurry to commune with the shades of the royal
favorite and the jealous queen, you will perhaps stop
and order a dinner to be ready for you in the evening.
A straight, tall avenue leads to the grounds of the
castle; what I owe to exactitude compels me to add
that it is crossed by the railway-line. The place is so
arranged, however, that the chateau need know nothing
of passing trains, - which pass, indeed, though the
grounds are not large, at a very sufficient distance.
I may add that the trains throughout this part of
France have a noiseless, desultory, dawdling, almost
stationary quality, which makes them less of an offence
than usual. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the light
was yellow, save under the trees of the avenue, where,
in spite of the waning of September, it was duskily
green. Three or four peasants, in festal attire, were
strolling about. On a bench at the beginning of the
avenue, sat a man with two women. As I advanced
with my companions he rose, after a sudden stare,
and approached me with a smile, in which (to be
Johnsonian for a moment) certitude was mitigated by
modesty and eagerness was embellished with respect.
He came toward me with a salutation that I had seen
before, and I am happy to say that after an instant I
ceased to be guilty of the brutality of not knowing
where. There was only one place in the world where
people smile like that, - only one place where the art
of salutation has that perfect grace. This excellent
creature used to crook his arm, in Venice, when I
stepped into my gondola; and I now laid my hand on
that member with the familiarity of glad recognition;
for it was only surprise that had kept me even for a
moment from accepting the genial Francesco as an
ornament of the landscape of Touraine. What on
earth - the phrase is the right one - was a Venetian
gondolier doing at Chenonceaux? He had been
brought from Venice, gondola and all, by the mistress
of the charming house, to paddle about on the Cher.
Our meeting was affectionate, though there was a kind
of violence in seeing him so far from home. He was
too well dressed, too well fed; he had grown stout,
and his nose had the tinge of good claret. He re-
marked that the life of the household to which he had
the honor to belong was that of a _casa regia;_ which
must have been a great change for poor Checco, whose
habits in Venice were not regal. However, he was
the sympathetic Checco still; and for five minutes
after I left him I thought less about the little plea-
sure-house by the Cher than about the palaces of the
Adriatic.

But attention was not long in coming round to the
charming structure that presently rose before us. The
pale yellow front of the chateau, the small scale of
which is at first a surprise, rises beyond a consider-
able court, at the entrance of which a massive and
detached round tower, with a turret on its brow (a
relic of the building that preceded the actual villa),
appears to keep guard. This court is not enclosed -
or is enclosed, at least, only by the gardens, portions
of which are at present in a state of violent reforma-
tion. Therefore, though Chenonceaux has no great
height, its delicate facade stands up boldly enough.
This facade, one of the most finished things in Tou-
raine, consists of two stories, surmounted by an attic
which, as so often in the buildings of the French
Renaissance, is the richest part of the house. The
high-pitched roof contains three windows of beautiful
design, covered with embroidered caps and flowering
into crocketed spires. The window above the door
is deeply niched; it opens upon a balcony made in
the form of a double pulpit, - one of the most charm-
ing features of the front. Chenonceaux is not large,
as I say, but into its delicate compass is packed a
great deal of history, - history which differs from that
of Amboise and Blois in being of the private and sen-
timental kind. The echoes of the place, faint and far
as they are to-day, are not political, but personal.
Chenonceaux dates, as a residence, from the year 1515,
when the shrewd Thomas Bohier, a public functionary
who had grown rich in handling the finances of Nor-
mandy, and had acquired the estate from a family
which, after giving it many feudal lords, had fallen
into poverty, erected the present structure on the
foundations of an old mill. The design is attributed,
with I know not what justice, to Pierre Nepveu, _alias_
Trinqueau, the audacious architect of Chambord. On
the death of Bohier the house passed to his son, who,
however, was forced, under cruel pressure, to surrender
it to the crown, in compensation for a so-called deficit
in the accounts of the late superintendent of the trea-
sury. Francis I. held the place till his death; but
Henry II., on ascending the throne, presented it out of
hand to that mature charmer, the admired of two
generations, Diana of Poitiers. Diana enjoyed it till
the death of her protector; but when this event oc-
curred, the widow of the monarch, who had been
obliged to submit in silence, for years, to the ascend-
ency of a rival, took the most pardonable of all the
revenges with which the name of Catherine de' Medici
is associated, and turned her out-of-doors. Diana was
not in want of refuges, and Catherine went through
the form of giving her Chaumont in exchange; but
there was only one Chenonceaux. Catherine devoted
herself to making the place more completely unique.
The feature that renders it sole of its kind is not ap-
preciated till you wander round to either side of the
house. If a certain springing lightness is the charac-
teristic of Chenonceaux, if it bears in every line the
aspect of a place of recreation, - a place intended for
delicate, chosen pleasures, - nothing can confirm this
expression better than the strange, unexpected move-
ment with which, from behind, it carries itself across
the river. The earlier building stands in the water;
it had inherited the foundations of the mill destroyed
by Thomas Bohier. The first step, therefore, had been
taken upon solid piles of masonry; and the ingenious
Catherine - she was a _raffinee_ - simply proceeded to
take the others. She continued the piles to the op-
posite bank of the Cher, and over them she threw a
long, straight gallery of two stories. This part of the
chateau, which looks simply like a house built upon a
bridge and occupying its entire length, is of course
the great curiosity of Chenonceaux. It forms on each
floor a charming corridor, which, within, is illuminated
from either side by the flickering river-light. The
architecture of these galleries, seen from without, is
less elegant than that of the main building, but the
aspect of the whole thing is delightful. I have spoken
of Chenonceaux as a "villa," using the word ad-
visedly, for the place is neither a castle nor a palace.
It is a very exceptional villa, but it has the villa-
quality, - the look of being intended for life in com-
mon. This look is not at all contradicted by the wing
across the Cher, which only suggests intimate pleasures,
as the French say, - walks in pairs, on rainy days;
games and dances on autumn nights; together with as
much as may be of moonlighted dialogue (or silence)
in the course, of evenings more genial still, in the well-
marked recesses of windows.

It is safe to say that such things took place there
in the last century, during the kindly reign of Mon-
sieur and Madame Dupin. This period presents itself
as the happiest in the annals of Chenonceaux. I know
not what festive train the great Diana may have led,
and my imagination, I am afraid, is only feebly kindled
by the records of the luxurious pastimes organized on
the banks of the Cher by the terrible daughter of the
Medici, whose appreciation of the good things of life
was perfectly consistent with a failure to perceive why
others should live to enjoy, them. The best society
that ever assembled there was collected at Chenon-
ceaux during the middle of the eighteenth century.
This was surely, in France at least, the age of good
society, the period when it was well for appreciative
people to have been born. Such people should of
course have belonged to the fortunate few, and not to
the miserable many; for the prime condition of a
society being good is that it be not too large. The
sixty years that preceded the French Revolution were
the golden age of fireside talk and of those pleasures
which proceed from the presence of women in whom
the social art is both instinctive and acquired. The
women of that period were, above all, good company;
the fact is attested by a thousand documents. Chenon-
ceaux offered a perfect setting to free conversation;
and infinite joyous discourse must have mingled with
the liquid murmur of the Cher. Claude Dupin was
not only a great man of business, but a man of honor
and a patron of knowledge; and his wife was gracious,
clever, and wise. They had acquired this famous pro-
perty by purchase (from one of the Bourbons; for
Chenonceaux, for two centuries after the death of
Catherine de' Medici, remained constantly in princely
hands), and it was transmitted to their son, Dupin de
Francueil, grandfather of Madame George Sand. This
lady, in her Correspondence, lately published, describes
a visit that she paid, more than thirty years ago, to
those members of her family who were still in posses-
sion. The owner of Chenonceaux to-day is the daughter
of an Englishman naturalized in France. But I have
wandered far from my story, which is simply a sketch
of the surface of the place. Seen obliquely, from either
side, in combination with its bridge and gallery, the
chateau is singular and fantastic, a striking example
of a wilful and capricious conception. Unfortunately,
all caprices are not so graceful and successful, and I
grudge the honor of this one to the false and blood-
polluted Catherine. (To be exact, I believe the arches
of the bridge were laid by the elderly Diana. It was
Catherine, however, who completed the monument.)
Within, the house has been, as usual, restored. The
staircases and ceilings, in all the old royal residences
of this part of France, are the parts that have suffered
least; many of them have still much of the life of the
old time about them. Some of the chambers of Che-
nonceaux, however, encumbered as they are with mo-
dern detail, derive a sufficiently haunted and suggestive
look from the deep setting of their beautiful windows,
which thickens the shadows and makes dark, corners.
There is a charming little Gothic chapel, with its apse
hanging over the water, fastened to the left flank of
the house. Some of the upper balconies, which look
along the outer face of the gallery, and either up or
down the river, are delightful protected nooks. We
walked through the lower gallery to the other bank of
the Cher; this fine apartment appeared to be for the
moment a purgatory of ancient furniture. It terminates
rather abruptly; it simply stops, with a blank wall.
There ought, of course, to have been a pavilion here,
though I prefer very much the old defect to any mo-
dern remedy. The wall is not so blank, however, but
that it contains a door which opens on a rusty draw-
bridge. This drawbridge traverses the small gap which
divides the end of the gallery from the bank of the
stream. The house, therefore, does not literally rest
on opposite edges of the Cher, but rests on one and
just fails to rest on the other. The pavilion would
have made that up; but after a moment we ceased to
miss this imaginary feature. We passed the little
drawbridge, and wandered awhile beside the river.
From this opposite bank the mass of the chateau looked
more charming than ever; and the little peaceful, lazy
Cher, where two or three men were fishing in the
eventide, flowed under the clear arches and between
the solid pedestals of the part that spanned it, with
the softest, vaguest light on its bosom. This was the
right perspective; we were looking across the river of
time. The whole scene was deliciously mild. The
moon came up; we passed back through the gallery
and strolled about a little longer in the gardens. It
was very still. I met my old gondolier in the twilight.
He showed me his gondola; but I hated, somehow, to
see it there. I don't like, as the French say, to _meler
les genres_. A gondola in a little flat French river?
The image was not less irritating, if less injurious, than
the spectacle of a steamer in the Grand Canal, which
had driven me away from Venice a year and a half
before. We took our way back to the Grand Monarque,
and waited in the little inn-parlor for a late train to
Tours. We were not impatient, for we had an ex-
cellent dinner to occupy us; and even after we had
dined we were still content to sit awhile and exchange
remarks upon, the superior civilization of France.
Where else, at a village inn, should we have fared so
well? Where else should we have sat down to our
refreshment without condescension? There were two
or three countries in which it would not have been
happy for us to arrive hungry, on a Sunday evening,
at so modest an hostelry. At the little inn at Chenon-
ceaux the _cuisine_ was not only excellent, but the ser-
vice was graceful. We were waited on by mademoiselle
and her mamma; it was so that mademoiselle alluded
to the elder lady, as she uncorked for us a bottle of
Vouvray mousseux. We were very comfortable, very
genial; we even went so far as to say to each other
that Vouvray mousseux was a delightful wine. From
this opinion, indeed, one of our trio differed; but this
member of the party had already exposed herself to
the charge of being too fastidious, by declining to de-
scend from the carriage at Chaumont and take that
back-stairs view of the castle.

Henry James