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Flashes From A French Album
( Article orginally published September 1942 )
Let us begin a pictorial tour of France by opening our album at a section of the republic that is now occupied by the German army. Let us land at Calais, one of the Cinque Ports which played a great part in English history during the Middle Ages. In this port lay the fleet of Dauphin Louis when the barons of Merrie England were putting pressure on King John, which resulted in his signing the Magna Carta. On a clear day the chalk cliffs and the Castle of Dover are visible from Calais. Now long-distance guns exchange shots across the famous strait that has kept Britain unconquered these nine centuries.
The city hall, Hotel de Ville, in the Place d'Armes, dates from 1740. On the site was a building of the 15th century, the tower of which was still standing when our photographer made this picture back in pre-World War I days. Another card shows the bronze bust of the Due de Guise, who liberated Calais in 1558; and another bust gives us Richelieu, the founder of the citadel in 1643, as the subject for a third card. Both busts were in the Hotel de Ville when the old tower and the massive square Watch Tower of Calais, dating from 810, were landmarks visible across the English Channel. The Watch Tower was used as a lighthouse until 1848. Perhaps both towers have fallen victims of British artillery; if so, our album has preserved a bit of history.
Another seaport on the North coast is Boulogne-sur-Mer, the Bononia of the Romans. The Bassin a' flot, a large semi-circular basin on the left bank of the Liane, was constructed by Napoleon I to accommodate the flotilla which was to convey his troops to England. One of our Boulogne cards pictures a bronze statue of Frederic Sauvage, by Lafrance. Sauvage was among the first to use screw-propellers for steamboats.
Another famous statue is that of Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination. This memorial is by Eugene Paul and was located in front of the Douane. We refer to these statues as if they no longer exist, for they may all have long since passed into the melting pot to make implements of war. Even our own bronze statues of the post Civil War period are being looked upon as prizes by over-zealous patriots, who despise the awkward style of the Victorian era and who would have them made into the sinews of war. Even old William Penn, whose statue atop Philadelphia's City Hall inspired a breakfast food trademark, is threatened by those who would make room for the works of modern artists when peace comes again to the banks of the Schuylkill. However, we ramble.
In the vicinity of Boulogne, our album shows us the Tour D'Ordre, a beacon tower built in the reign of the Roman emperor, Caligula, in 40 A.D. The Chateau, in which Louis Napoleon was confined after the attempted insurrection of 1840, is the ancient citadel of Boulogne, and dates from the 13th century. In 1804, Napoleon I assembled an army of 172,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry on the table-land to the north of Boulogne, under the command of Marshals Soult, Ney, Davoust, and Victor, and collected in the harbor a flotilla of 2413 craft of various dimensions for the purpose of invading England. The victory of Nelson at Trafalgar ended this well-planned invasion.
As we skip a few pages we find views of inland Arras, once the capital of the Gallic tribe known as the Atrebates. The Hotel de Ville at Arras dates from the 16th century and is one of the most handsome in the North of France. It contains in the ambulatory of the choir the paintings "Descent from the Cross" by Rubens and Van Dyck's "Entombment."
Next we find some cards from Amiens, the ancient capital of Picardy, where roses are blooming in spite of occupation by invaders from the East: Even earlier this town knew war. When it was Samarobriva, the chief town of the Ambiani, it fell before the legions of J. Caesar. Centuries later it was troubled by the Normans. In 1597 it was surprised by the Spaniards and retaken by Henri IV. Peace came to Amiens in 1802 when France, Great Britain, Spain, and Holland paused to get their breath in a continental struggle and literally buried the hatchet at the Hotel de Ville. The Cathedral of Amiens is one of the most imposing Gothic structures in Europe. It was erected in the period between 1220 and 1288. The chief relic of this ancient edifice is the veritable "Head of John the Baptist," once the prize of a dancer known as Salome, now on display in the transept under glass.
Beauvais occupies the site of the ancient capital of the Bellovaci, a people who gave some resistance to a Roman writer of Commentaries. Perhaps the most famous event in the history of Beauvais was its gallant resistance to Charles the Bold of Burgundy and his army of 70,000 men in 1472. The women of the town especially distinguished themselves on this occasion, and one of them, Jeanne Laine or "Hachette" by name, captured with her own hands a hostile banner, which is still preserved in the Hotel de Ville. "There are few rocks, even among the Alps," says Ruskin in his "Seven Lamps of Architecture," "that have a clear vertical fall as high as the choir of Beauvais."
To cover even a tenth of the views in our French album would be impossible in a short sketch. We have skimmed the highlights of but a few pages and have found much history and a few episodes that would make plots for heroic tales of high adventure. Perhaps when the Pied Piper of Vichy has passed to his Nazi Vahalla, France again will be a land where wealthy tourists may admire architecture and art of a period before bombs burst in air. Perhaps there will be more post-cards with new monuments to those who fought the Battle of France in 1940.