In And Around Tours
( Originally Published 1911 )
PENSION B-, Tours, August 31st.
WE SET forth this morning on a voyage of discovery, and on foot, which is the only satisfactory way to explore this old town, with its winding streets and quaint byways and corners.
Our first visit was to the church of St. Martin of Tours, in the Rue des Halles, which brought with it some disappointment, as instead of a building so old that no one can give its date, we found a fine new church, in whose crypt are the remains of St. Martin. The most ancient basilica of St. Martin was erected soon after the death of the benevolent saint, whose remains were carried by faithful members of his diocese from Candes, where he died in the beginning of the fifth century. This basilica was burned downs in the tenth century, and another erected on its site some years later. This last basilica, built in the twelfth or thirteenth century, of vast size and beauty, was certainly old enough to have been treated with respect, and its destruction a few years ago to make way for a new street was, as Walter says, an act of vandalism worthy of the councilmen of an American city. Of the old church only two towers remain, the Tour de Charlemagne and the Tour de l'Horloge, and the gallery of one of the cloisters. Over this imperfect arcade, with its exquisite carvings of arabesques, flowers, fruits, cherubs, and griffins, Mr. Henry James waxed eloquent, and Mrs. Mark Pattison said of it: "Of these beautiful galleries the eastern side alone has survived, and being little known it has fortunately not been restored, and left to go quietly to ruin. Yet even in its present condition the sculptures with which it is enriched, the bas reliefs, arabesques, and medal-lions which fill the delicate lines of the pilasters and arcades testify to the brilliant and decided character which the Renaissance early assumed in Touraine."
If the present church of St. Martin was disappointingly new, we found the Cathedral of St. Gatien sufficiently ancient, with its choir dating back to the thirteenth century and its transept to the fourteenth, while the newels of the two towers belong to a very much earlier church dedicated to the first Bishop of Tours, and partly destroyed by fire in 1166.
Who St. Gatien was, and why he had a cathedral built in his honor, even Miss Cassandra and Lydia do not know, and we have no good histories or Lives of the Saints to refer to; verily one would need a traveller's library of many volumes in order to answer the many questions that occur to us in this city, which is so full of old French history, and English history, too. Indeed it is quite impossible to separate them at this period, when England owned so much of France and, as Miss Cassandra says, her kings were always looking out of the windows of their French castles upon some Naboth's vineyard that they were planning to seize from their neighbors.
"Jolly old robbers they were," says Walter, "and always on top when there was any fighting to be done. I must say, quite aside from the question of right or wrong, that I have much more sympathy with them than with the Johnny Crapauds. Here, in this foreign land of France, the Plantagenet kings seem quite our own, and only a few removes in consanguinity from our early Presidents."
We ware glad to lay claim to the Cathedral of St. Gatien, which in a way belongs to us, as the choir was begun by Henry II of England, although it is to be regretted that a quarrel between this Plantagenet king and Louis VII resulted in a fire which destroyed much of the good work. We lingered long in the cloisters, and climbed up the royal staircase, with its beautiful openwork vaulting to the north tower, from whose top we may see as far as Azay-le-Rideau on a clear day.
This was, of course, not a clear day, as we are having hazy August weather, so we did not see Azay, but from the tower we gained quite a good idea of the general plan of Tours, and stopped long enough in the cloisters to learn that the picturesque little gallery, called the Cloitre de la Psallette, was the place where the choir boys were once trained. The façade of this cathedral seemed to us a beautiful example of Renaissance style, although said to offend many of the canons of architecture. We are thankful that we do not know enough about the principles of architecture to be offended by so beautiful a creation, and inside the church we were so charmed by the exquisite old glass, staining the marble pillars with red, blue and violet, that we failed to notice that the aisles are too narrow for perfect harmony. The jewel-like glass of the Lady Chapel was brought here from the old church of St. Julian in the Rue Nationale, once the Rue Royale, and is especially lovely.
In a chapel in the right-hand transept we saw the tomb of the little children of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany, by whose early death the throne of France passed to the Valois branch of the Orleans family. Looking at the faces of these two children sleeping here side by side, the little one with his hands under the ermine marble, the elder with his small hands folded piously together, a wave of sympathy passed over us for the unhappy mother who was in a few months deprived of both her precious babies. As we stood by the tomb with its two quaint little figures, guarded by kneeling angels at their heads and feet, beautiful, appropriate, reverent, we wondered why mod-ern sculptors fall so far behind the ancient in work of this sort. The moderns may know their anatomy better, but in sweetness and tender poetic expression the work of the old artists is infinitely superior. This charming little group was probably made by Michael Colombe, although it has been attributed to several other sculptors of the time.
After a visit to the archbishop's palace, and a short stop at the museum, which attracted us less than the outdoor world on this pleasant day, we stopped at the Quai du Pont Neuf to look at the statues of Descartes and Rabelais, so picturesquely placed on each side of the Pont de Pierre. Retracing our steps by the Rue Nationale we strolled into the interesting old church of St. Julian, where we admired the vast nave of noble proportions and the beautiful stained glass. After wandering at will through several streets with no especial object in view, we found ourselves in a charming little park where we were interested in a monument to three good physicians of Tours, a recognition of valiant service to humanity that might well be followed by our American cities. Just here my inveterate American reminded me of the monument in Boston to the discoverer of ether, and that to Dr. Hahnemann in Washington.
"Both of them monstrosities of bad taste!" exclaimed Miss Cassandra, as we turned into the Rue Emile Zola, and along the Rue Nationale to the Palais de Justice, in one of whose gardens is a fine statue of the great novelist who was born in the Maison de Balzac, near by on the Rue Nationale. Through the streets George Sand and Victor Hugo, we found our way to the theatre and then back to the Boulevard Béranger, upon which our pension is situated.
"It is," as Miss Cassandra says, "a liberal education to walk through the streets of these old French towns, and whatever may be the shortcomings of the French, as a nation, they cannot be accused of forgetting their great people."
As we stroll through these thoroughfares and parks we are constantly reminded by a name on a street corner or a statue that this Touraine is the land of Balzac, Rabelais, Des-cartes, and in a way of Ronsard and George Sand, as the châteaux of La Poissonnière and Nohant are not far away. Here they, and many another French writer, walked and dreamed, creating characters so lifelike that they also walk with us through these quaint streets and byways or look out from picturesque doorways. We can fancy the Curé de Tours emerging from the lovely Cloitre de la Psalette of St. Gatien or the still lovelier cloister of old St. Martin's; or we can see poor Félex de Vandenesse making his way across the park, Emile Zola, with his meagre lunch basket on his arm. We have not yet tasted the rillons and rillettes so prized by the school children of Tours, and so longed for by Félex when he beheld them in the baskets of his more fortunate companions. Lydia reminds us that Balzac was at some pains to explain that this savory preparation of pork is seldom seen upon the aristocratic tables of Tours, and as our pension is strictly aristocratic and exclusive, it is doubtful if we ever see rillons and rillettes upon Madame B 's table.
We crossed over the bridge this afternoon in a train to Saint Symphorien, on whose hillside the original city of Tours was built. Here we saw an interesting Renaissance church, and passing through the streets of Vieux Calvaire l'Ermitage, Jeanne d'Arc and St. Gatien, gained the entrance to the Abbey of Marmoutier, where Saint Gatien dug out his cave in the rocky hill-side. We also saw the ruins of a fine thirteenth century basilica once the glory of Touraine, and by a spiral staircase ascended to the Chapelle des Sept Dormants, really a cavern cut in the side of the hill in the shape of a cross, where rest the seven disciples of St. Martin, who all died on the same day as he had predicted. Their bodies remained intact for days and many miracles were worked, which you may believe, or not, just as you choose. When the name of the chapel was revealed to Miss Cassandra she exclaimed : "I have heard of the Seven Sleepers all my life and have been likened unto them in my youth; but never did I expect to lay eyes upon their resting place, and very uncomfortable beds they must have been!"
"So it was St. Gatien who first brought Christianity to France. Some one of us should surely have known that," said Lydia, looking up from the pages of a small local guidebook, with a face so dejected over her own ignorance, and that of her companions, that Miss Cassandra said in her most soothing tones :
"Never mind, dear, you will probably find when we reach the next cathedral town that some other worthy and adored saint did this good work for France."
And sure enough, this very night we have been learning, from a short history that we picked up on a book stall, that, although St. Gatien came here on a mission from Rome in the third century, to St. Martin is due the spread of Christianity not only through Tou-raine but all over France.
Having done our duty in the line of sight-seeing and historic associations, we rested from our labors for a brief season and stopped to call on the Grants from New York, who are staying in a pleasant pension at St. Symphorien. Here we had an hour with them in the garden where many flowers are abloom, and exchanged travel experiences and home gossip over brioches, the famous white wine of Vouvray and glasses of orange-flower water. Orange-flower water is the proper thing to drink here as it is made in large quantities in the neighborhood of Tours. As a refreshing and unintoxicating beverage it was highly recommended to our Quaker lady, who does not take kindly to the wine of the country, which is really guiltless of alcohol to any extent; but over this rather insipid drink she was not particularly enthusiastic. Like the English woman when she made her first acquaintance with terrapin, the most that Miss Cassandra could be induced to say was that the eau des fleurs d'oranges sucrée was not so very bad. The English dame, of course, said "it is not so very nasty"; but we have not become sufficiently Anglicized to say "nasty" in company. There is no knowing what we may come to when Angela joins us, as she has been visiting and motoring with Dr. Mclvor's English and Scotch relations for the last six weeks and will have become quite a Britisher by the time we see her again. She is to meet us in Paris later in September, when her M.D. will join us for his vacation.
We returned home by the suspension bridge, built upon the site of an early bridge of boats. A later stone bridge was erected by Odo, Count of Blois and Touraine, "in order," as he recorded, "to make himself agreeable to God, useful to posterity and upon the solicitations of his wife." These were very good reasons, it must be admitted, for building a bridge. The substructure of this old stone bridge, the first of its kind in France, may be seen below the surface of the water a little farther up the stream.
Royalty seems to have had the good taste to spend much time in Touraine during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, and small wonder we thought, for this fertile well-watered plain combines the advantages of north and south, and is hospitable to the fruits and flowers of many climates. Louis XI, in his declining years, sought refuge here from the chill winds of Paris, which are tempered in Touraine by the softer breezes of the Midi, and this ancient city of the Turones he wished to make the capital of the France that he had strengthened and unified. However we may abhor the despicable characteristics of this wily old politician and despot, we cannot afford to underestimate his constructive ability and his zeal for the glory of France.
We drove out this morning through the little village of St. Anne to the old château of Plessisles-Tours, which Louis built and fortified to suit his fancy and his fears, for great and powerful as he was he seems to have been a most timid mortal. Of the "hidden pitfalls, snares and gins" with which the old King surrounded his castle we could not expect to find a trace, but we were disappointed to see nothing left of the three external battlemented walls or the three gates and dungeon-keep, which Sir Walter Scott described, the latter rising "like a black Ethiopian giant high into the air."
With our Quentin Durward in our hands, we read of Plessis-les-Tours as the novelist pictured it for us in the light of romance. Of course Sir Walter never saw this château, but like many other places that he was not able to visit, it was described to him by his friend and neighbor, Mr. James Skene, Laird of Rubislaw, who while travelling in France kept an accurate diary, enlivened by a number of clever drawings, all of which he placed at the novelist's disposal. From this journal, says Lockhart, Sir Walter took the substance of the original introduction to Quentin Durward. As Mr. James Skene is said to have given his friend most accurate descriptions of the buildings and grounds, it is safe to conclude that the château has been entirely remodelled since the days when the young Scottish archer listened to the voice of the Countess Isabelle, as she sang to the accompaniment of her lute while he acted as sentinel in the "spacious latticed gallery" of the château. It is needless to say that we failed to discover the spacious gallery or the maze of stairs, vaults, and galleries above and under ground which are described as leading to it. Nor did we see any traces of the fleur-de-lis, ermines, and porcupines which are said to have adorned the walls at a later date. Indeed the empty, unfurnished rooms and halls, guiltless of paintings or tapestries, were so dismal that we hurried through them. As if to add an additional note of discord to the inharmonious interior, a "vaccination museum" has been established in one of the ancient rooms. We stopped a moment to look at the numerous caricatures of the new method of preventing the ravages of smallpox; one, that especially entertained Walter, represented the medical faculty as a donkey in glasses charged upon by vaccine in the form of a furious cow.
We hoped to find in the grounds some compensation for the cheerlessness of the interior of the castle ; but here again we were doomed to disappointment. The vast lawn and extensive parterres, which caused the park of Plessisles-Tours to be spoken of as the Garden of France, have long since disappeared, and all that we could find was a grass-grown yard with some neglected flower beds, surrounded by a hedge of fusane, a kind of laurel with a small white flower that grows here in great profusion. We made an effort to see, or to fancy that we saw, an underground passage that was pointed out to us as that which once led to the dungeon upon whose stone foundation was placed the iron cage in which Cardinal la Balue was con-fined. Of the series of fosses which once en-closed the château we found some remains, but of the solid ramparts flanked by towers, where a band of archers were once posted by night and day, and of the bristling chevaux-de-frise nothing was to be seen. Walter wishes you to tell Allen that the greatest disappointment of all is that there is no oak forest anywhere near Plessis from whose boughs the victims of Louis were wont to hang "like so many acorns," one of Scott's bits of realism that appealed to his boyish imagination.
We were glad to turn our backs upon the modern brick building which occupies the site of the ancient stronghold of Plessis and to drive home by a farm called La Rabatière, whose fifteenth century building is said to have been' the manor house of Olivier le Daim, familiarly called Olivier le Diable, the barber-minister of Louis. Our driver, who is some-what of an historian, and like a loyal Tournageau is proud of the associations of his town, good and bad alike, was delighted to show us this old home of Olivier who was, he informed us, the executioner of his master's enemies of high degree, while Tristan l'Hermite attended to those of less distinction, having, as Louis warned Quentin, "For him whose tongue wagged too freely an amulet for the throat which never failed to work a certain cure." The house of Tristan, our cocher told us, we should find in one of the narrow streets of the old part of Tours, which we have not yet explored.