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Chapter 8

Without fastidiousness, it was fair to declare, on
the other hand, that the little inn at Azay-le-Rideau
was very bad. It was terribly dirty, and it was in
charge of a fat _megere_ whom the appearance of four
trustful travellers - we were four, with an illustrious
fourth, on that occasion - roused apparently to fury.
I attached great importance to this incongruous
hostess, for she uttered the only uncivil words I heard
spoken (in connection with any business of my own)
during a tour of some six weeks in France. Breakfast
not at Azay-le-Rideau, therefore, too trustful traveller;
or if you do so, be either very meek or very bold.
Breakfast not, save under stress of circumstance; but
let no circumstance whatever prevent you from going
to see the admirable chateau, which is almost a rival
of Chenonceaux. The village lies close to the gates,
though after you pass these gates you leave it well
behind. A little avenue, as at Chenonceaux, leads to
the house, making a pretty vista as you approach the
sculptured doorway. Azay is a most perfect and
beautiful thing; I should place it third in any list of
the great houses of this part of France in which these
houses should be ranked according to charm. For
beauty of detail it comes after Blois and Chenon-
ceaux; but it comes before Amboise and Chambord.
On the other hand, of course, it is inferior in majesty
to either of these vast structures. Like Chenonceaux,
it is a watery place, though it is more meagrely
moated than the little chateau on the Cher. It consists
of a large square _corps de logis_, with a round tower
at each angle, rising out of a somewhat too slumberous
pond. The water - the water of the Indre - sur-
rounds it, but it is only on one side that it bathes its
feet in the moat. On one of the others there is a
little terrace, treated as a garden, and in front there
is a wide court, formed by a wing which, on the right,
comes forward. This front, covered with sculptures,
is of the richest, stateliest effect. The court is ap-
proachcd by a bridge over the pond, and the house
would reflect itself in this wealth of water if the water
were a trifle less opaque. But there is a certain
stagnation - it affects more senses than one - about
the picturesque pools of Azay. On the hither side of
the bridge is a garden, overshadowed by fine old
sycamores, - a garden shut in by greenhouses and by
a fine last-century gateway, flanked with twin lodges.
Beyond the chateau and the standing waters behind
it is a so-called _parc_, which, however, it must be con-
fessed, has little of park-like beauty. The old houses
(many of them, that is) remain in France; but the old
timber does not remain, and the denuded aspect of
the few acres that surround the chateaux of Touraine
is pitiful to the traveller who has learned to take the
measure of such things from the manors and castles
of England. The domain of the lordly Chaumont is
that of an English suburban villa; and in that and
in other places there is little suggestion, in the
untended aspect of walk and lawns, of the vigilant
British gardener. The manor of Azay, as seen to-day,
dates from the early part of the sixteenth century;
and the industrious Abbe Chevalier, in his very
entertaining though slightly rose-colored book on
Touraine,* (* Promenades pittoresque en Touraine.
Tours: 1869.) speaks of it as, "perhaps the purest expres-
sion of the _belle Renaissance francaise_." "Its height,"
he goes on, "is divided between two stories, terminat-
ing under the roof in a projecting entablature which
imitates a row of machicolations. Carven chimneys
and tall dormer windows, covered with imagery, rise
from the roofs; turrets on brackets, of elegant shape,
hang with the greatest lightness from the angles of
the building. The soberness of the main lines, the
harmony of the empty spaces and those that are
filled out, the prominence of the crowning parts, the
delicacy of all the details, constitute an enchanting
whole." And then the Abbe speaks of the admirable
staircase which adorns the north front, and which,
with its extention, inside, constitutes the principal
treasure of Azay. The staircase passes beneath one
of the richest of porticos, - a portico over which a
monumental salamander indulges in the most deco-
rative contortions. The sculptured vaults of stone
which cover the windings of the staircase within, the
fruits, flowers, ciphers, heraldic signs, are of the
noblest effect. The interior of the chateau is rich,
comfortable, extremely modern; but it makes no
picture that compares with its external face, about
which, with its charming proportions, its profuse yet
not extravagant sculpture, there is something very
tranquil and pure. I took particular fancy to the
roof, high, steep, old, with its slope of bluish slate,
and the way the weather-worn chimneys seemed to
grow out of it, like living things out of a deep soil.
The only defect of the house is the blankness and
bareness of its walls, which have none of those delicate
parasites attached to them that one likes to see on the
surface of old dwellings. It is true that this bareness
results in a kind of silvery whiteness of complexion,
which carries out the tone of the quiet pools and even
that of the scanty and shadeless park.

Henry James