Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 1

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
    I am ashamed to begin with saying that Touraine
    is the garden of France; that remark has long ago lost
    its bloom. The town of Tours, however, has some
    thing sweet and bright, which suggests that it is sur-
    rounded by a land of fruits. It is a very agreeable
    little city; few towns of its size are more ripe, more
    complete, or, I should suppose, in better humor with
    themselves and less disposed to envy the responsibili-
    ties of bigger places. It is truly the capital of its smil-
    ing province; a region of easy abundance, of good
    living, of genial, comfortable, optimistic, rather indolent
    opinions. Balzac says in one of his tales that the real
    Tourangeau will not make an effort, or displace him-
    self even, to go in search of a pleasure; and it is not
    difficult to understand the sources of this amiable
    cynicism. He must have a vague conviction that he
    can only lose by almost any change. Fortune has
    been kind to him: he lives in a temperate, reasonable,
    sociable climate, on the banks, of a river which, it is
    true, sometimes floods the country around it, but of
    which the ravages appear to be so easily repaired that
    its aggressions may perhaps be regarded (in a region
    where so many good things are certain) merely as an
    occasion for healthy suspense. He is surrounded by
    fine old traditions, religious, social, architectural, culi-
    nary; and he may have the satisfaction of feeling that
    he is French to the core. No part of his admirable
    country is more characteristically national. Normandy
    is Normandy, Burgundy is Burgundy, Provence is Pro-
    vence; but Touraine is essentially France. It is the
    land of Rabelais, of Descartes, of Balzac, of good
    books and good company, as well as good dinners and
    good houses. George Sand has somewhere a charm-
    ing passage about the mildness, the convenient quality,
    of the physical conditions of central France, - "son
    climat souple et chaud, ses pluies abondantes et courtes."
    In the autumn of 1882 the rains perhaps were less
    short than abundant; but when the days were fine it
    was impossible that anything in the way of weather
    could be more charming. The vineyards and orchards
    looked rich in the fresh, gay light; cultivation was
    everywhere, but everywhere it seemed to be easy.
    There was no visible poverty; thrift and success pre-
    sented themselves as matters of good taste. The white
    caps of the women glittered in the sunshire, and their
    well-made sabots clicked cheerfully on the hard, clean
    roads. Touraine is a land of old chateaux, - a gallery
    of architectural specimens and of large hereditary pro-
    perties. The peasantry have less of the luxury of
    ownership than in most other parts of France; though
    they have enough of it to give them quite their share
    of that shrewdly conservative look which, in the little,
    chaffering, _place_ of the market-town, the stranger ob-
    serves so often in the wrinkled brown masks that sur-
    mount the agricultural blouse. This is, moreover, the
    heart of the old French monarchy; and as that monarchy
    was splendid and picturesque, a reflection of the splen-
    dor still glitters in the current of the Loire. Some of
    the most striking events of French history have occurred
    on the banks of that river, and the soil it waters
    bloomed for a while with the flowering of the Renais-
    sance. The Loire gives a great "style" to a landscape
    of which the features are not, as the phrase is, promi-
    nent, and carries the eye to distances even more poetic
    than the green horizons of Touraine. It is a very fit-
    ful stream, and is sometimes observed to run thin and
    expose all the crudities of its channel, - a great defect
    certainly in a river which is so much depended upon
    to give an air to the places it waters. But I speak of
    it as I saw it last; full, tranquil, powerful, bending in
    large slow curves, and sending back half the light of
    the sky. Nothing can be finer than the view of its
    course which you get from the battlements and ter-
    races of Amboise. As I looked down on it from that
    elevation one lovely Sunday morning, through a mild
    glitter of autumn sunshine, it seemed the very model
    of a generous, beneficent stream. The most charming
    part of Tours is naturally the shaded quay that over-
    looks it, and looks across too at the friendly faubourg
    of Saint Symphorien and at the terraced heights which
    rise above this. Indeed, throughout Touraine, it is
    half the charm of the Loire that you can travel beside
    it. The great dike which protects it, or, protects the
    country from it, from Blois to Angers, is an admirable
    road; and on the other side, as well, the highway con-
    stantly keeps it company. A wide river, as you follow
    a wide road, is excellent company; it heightens and
    shortens the way.

    The inns at Tours are in another quarter, and one
    of them, which is midway between the town and the
    station, is very good. It is worth mentioning for the
    fact that every one belonging to it is extraordinarily
    polite, - so unnaturally polite as at first to excite your
    suspicion that the hotel has some hidden vice, so that
    the waiters and chambermaids are trying to pacify
    you in advance. There was one waiter in especial who
    was the most accomplished social being I have ever
    encountered; from morning till night he kept up an
    inarticulate murmur of urbanity, like the hum of a
    spinning-top. I may add that I discovered no dark
    secrets at the Hotel de l'Univers; for it is not a secret
    to any traveller to-day that the obligation to partake
    of a lukewarm dinner in an overheated room is as
    imperative as it is detestable. For the rest, at Tours,
    there is a certain Rue Royale which has pretensions
    to the monumental; it was constructed a hundred
    years ago, and the houses, all alike, have on a
    moderate scale a pompous eighteenth-century look. It
    connects the Palais de Justice, the most important
    secular building in the town, with the long bridge
    which spans the Loire, - the spacious, solid bridge
    pronounced by Balzac, in "Le Cure de Tours," "one of
    the finest monuments of French architecture." The
    Palais de Justice was the seat of the Government of
    Leon Gambetta in the autumn of 1870, after the
    dictator had been obliged to retire in his balloon from
    Paris, and before the Assembly was constituted at
    Bordeaux. The Germans occupied Tours during that
    terrible winter; it is astonishing, the number of
    places the Germans occupied. It is hardly too much
    to say that wherever one goes in, certain parts of
    France, one encounters two great historic facts: one
    is the Revolution; the other is the German invasion.
    The traces of the Revolution remain in a hundred
    scars and bruises and mutilations, but the visible
    marks of the war of 1870 have passed away. The
    country is so rich, so living, that she has been able to
    dress her wounds, to hold up her head, to smile again;
    so that the shadow of that darkness has ceased to rest
    upon her. But what you do not see you still may
    hear; and one remembers with a certain shudder that
    only a few short years ago this province, so intimately
    French, was under the heel of a foreign foe. To be
    intimately French was apparently not a safeguard; for
    so successful an invader it could only be a challenge.
    Peace and plenty, however, have succeeded that
    episode; and among the gardens and vineyards of
    Touraine it seems, only a legend the more in a country
    of legends.

    It was not, all the same, for the sake of this check-
    ered story that I mentioned the Palais de Justice and
    the Rue Royale. The most interesting fact, to my
    mind, about the high-street of Tours was that as you
    walked toward the bridge on the right-hand _trottoir_
    you can look up at the house, on the other side of
    the way, in which Honore de Balzac first saw the
    light. That violent and complicated genius was a
    child of the good-humored and succulent Touraine.
    There is something anomalous in the fact, though, if
    one thinks about it a little, one may discover certain
    correspondences between his character and that of his
    native province. Strenuous, laborious, constantly in
    felicitous in spite of his great successes, he suggests
    at times a very different set of influences. But he had
    his jovial, full-feeding side, - the side that comes out
    in the "Contes Drolatiques," which are the romantic
    and epicurean chronicle of the old manors and abbeys
    of this region. And he was, moreover, the product
    of a soil into which a great deal of history had been
    trodden. Balzac was genuinely as well as affectedly
    monarchical, and he was saturated with, a sense of the
    past. Number 39 Rue Royale - of which the base
    ment, like all the basements in the Rue Royale, is
    occupied by a shop - is not shown to the public; and
    I know not whether tradition designates the chamber
    in which the author of "Le Lys dans la Vallee"
    opened his eyes into a world in which he was to see
    and to imagine such extraordinary things. If this
    were the case, I would willingly have crossed its
    threshold; not for the sake of any relic of the great
    novelist which it may possibly contain, nor even for
    that of any mystic virtue which may be supposed to
    reside within its walls, but simply because to look at
    those four modest walls can hardly fail to give one a
    strong impression of the force of human endeavour.
    Balzac, in the maturity of his vision, took in more of
    human life than any one, since Shakspeare, who has
    attempted to tell us stories about it; and the very
    small scene on which his consciousness dawned is one
    end of the immense scale that he traversed. I confess
    it shocked me a little to find that he was born in a
    house "in a row," - a house, moreover, which at the
    date of his birth must have been only about twenty
    years old. All that is contradictory. If the tenement
    selected for this honour could not be ancient and em-
    browned, it should at least have been detached.

    There is a charming description, in his little tale
    of "La Grenadiere," of the view of the opposite side
    of the Loire as you have it from the square at the end
    of the Rue Royale, - a square that has some preten-
    sions to grandeur, overlooked as it is by the Hotel de
    Ville and the Musee, a pair of edifices which directly
    contemplate the river, and ornamented with marble
    images of Francois Rabelais and Rene Descartes.
    The former, erected a few years since, is a very honor-
    able production; the pedastal of the latter could, as
    a matter of course, only be inscribed with the _Cogito
    ergo Sum._ The two statues mark the two opposite
    poles to which the brilliant French mind has travelled;
    and if there were an effigy of Balzac at Tours, it ought
    to stand midway between them. Not that he, by any
    means always struck the happy mean between the
    sensible and the metaphysical; but one may say of
    him that half of his genius looks in one direction
    and half in the other. The side that turns toward
    Francois Rabelais would be, on the whole, the side
    that takes the sun. But there is no statue of Balzac
    at Tours; there is only, in one of the chambers of
    the melancholy museum, a rather clever, coarse bust.
    The description in "La Grenadiere," of which I just
    spoke, is too long to quote; neither have I space for
    any one of the brilliant attempts at landscape paint-
    ing which are woven into the shimmering texture of
    "Le Lys dans la Vallee." The little manor of Cloche-
    gourde, the residence of Madame de Mortsauf, the
    heroine of that extraordinary work, was within a
    moderate walk of Tours, and the picture in the novel is
    presumably a copy from an original which it would be
    possible to-day to discover. I did not, however, even
    make the attempt. There are so many chateaux in
    Touraine commemorated in history, that it would take
    one too far to look up those which have been com-
    memorated in fiction. The most I did was to endeavor
    to identify the former residence of Mademoiselle
    Gamard, the sinister old maid of "Le Cure de Tours."
    This terrible woman occupied a small house in the
    rear of the cathedral, where I spent a whole morning
    in wondering rather stupidly which house it could be.
    To reach the cathedral from the little _place_ where we
    stopped just now to look across at the Grenadiere,
    without, it must be confessed, very vividly seeing it,
    you follow the quay to the right, and pass out of sight
    of the charming _coteau_ which, from beyond the river,
    faces the town, - a soft agglomeration of gardens, vine-
    yards, scattered villas, gables and turrets of slate-
    roofed chateaux, terraces with gray balustrades, moss-
    grown walls draped in scarlet Virginia-creeper. You
    turn into the town again beside a great military
    barrack which is ornamented with a rugged mediaeval
    tower, a relic of the ancient fortifications, known to
    the Tourangeaux of to-day as the Tour de Guise.
    The young Prince of Joinville, son of that Duke of
    Guise who was murdered by the order of Henry II. at
    Blois, was, after the death of his father, confined here
    for more than two years, but made his escape one
    summer evening in 1591, under the nose of his keepers,
    with a gallant audacity which has attached the memory
    of the exploit to his sullen-looking prison. Tours has
    a garrison of five regiments, and the little red-legged
    soldiers light up the town. You see them stroll upon
    the clean, uncommercial quay, where there are no
    signs of navigation, not even by oar, no barrels nor
    bales, no loading nor unloading, no masts against the
    sky nor booming of steam in the air. The most active
    business that goes on there is that patient and fruitless
    angling in, which the French, as the votaries of art for
    art, excel all other people. The little soldiers, weighed
    down by the contents of their enormous pockets, pass
    with respect from one of these masters of the rod to
    the other,as he sits soaking an indefinite bait in the
    large, indifferent stream. After you turn your back to
    the quay you have only to go a little way before you
    reach the cathedral.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
    If you're writing a Henry James essay and need some advice, post your Henry James essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?