Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "In silence man can most readily preserve his integrity."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

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

    Chapter 5

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    The second time I went to Blois I took a carriage
    for Chambord, and came back by the Chateau de
    Cheverny and the forest of Russy, - a charming little
    expedition, to which the beauty of the afternoon (the
    finest in a rainy season that was spotted with bright
    days) contributed not a little. To go to Chambord,
    you cross the Loire, leave it on one side, and strike
    away through a country in which salient features be-
    come less and less numerous, and which at last has
    no other quality than a look of intense, and peculiar
    rurality, - the characteristic, even when it is not the
    charm, of so much of the landscape of France. This
    is not the appearance of wildness, for it goes with
    great cultivation; it is simply the presence of the
    delving, drudging, economizing peasant. But it is a
    deep, unrelieved rusticity. It is a peasant's landscape;
    not, as in England, a landlord's. On the way to Cham-
    bord you enter the flat and sandy Sologne. The wide
    horizon opens out like a great _potager,_ without inter-
    ruptions, without an eminence, with here and there a
    long, low stretch of wood. There is an absence of
    hedges, fences, signs of property; everything is ab-
    sorbed in the general flatness, - the patches of vine-
    yard, the scattered cottages, the villages, the children
    (planted and staring and almost always pretty), the
    women in the fields, the white caps, the faded blouses,
    the big sabots. At the end of an hour's drive (they
    assure you at Blois that even with two horses you will
    spend double that time), I passed through a sort of
    gap in a wall, which does duty as the gateway of the
    domain of an exiled pretender. I drove along a
    straight avenue, through a disfeatured park, - the park
    of Chambord has twenty-one miles of circumference, -
    a very sandy, scrubby, melancholy plantation, in which
    the timber must have been cut many times over and
    is to-day a mere tangle of brushwood. Here, as in so
    many spots in France, the traveller perceives that he
    is in a land of revolutoins. Nevertheless, its great ex-
    tent and the long perspective of its avenues give this
    desolate boskage a certain majesty; just as its shabbi-
    ness places it in agreement with one of the strongest
    impressions of the chateau. You follow one of these
    long perspectives a proportionate time, and at last you
    see the chimneys and pinnacles of Chambord rise ap-
    parently out of the ground. The filling-in of the wide
    moats that formerly surrounded it has, in vulgar par-
    lance, let it down, bud given it an appearance of top-
    heaviness that is at the same time a magnificent Orien-
    talism. The towers, the turrets, the cupolas, the gables,
    the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires
    of a city than the salient points of a single building.
    You emerge from the avenue and find yourself at the
    foot of an enormous fantastic mass. Chambord has a
    strange mixture of society and solitude. A little village
    clusters within view of its stately windows, and a couple
    of inns near by offer entertainment to pilgrims. These
    things, of course, are incidents of the political pro-
    scription which hangs its thick veil over the place.
    Chambord is truly royal, - royal in its great scale, its
    grand air, its indifference to common considerations.
    If a cat may look at a king, a palace may lock at a
    tavern. I enjoyed my visit to this extraordinary struc-
    ture as much as if I had been a legitimist; and indeed
    there is something interesting in any monument of a
    great system, any bold presentation of a tradition.

    You leave your vehicle at one of the inns, which
    are very decent and tidy, and in which every one is
    very civil, as if in this latter respect the influence of
    the old regime pervaded the neighborhood, and you
    walk across the grass and the gravel to a small door,
    - a door infinitely subordinate and conferring no title
    of any kind on those who enter it. Here you ring a
    bell, which a highly respectable person answers (a per-
    son perceptibly affiliated, again, to the old regime),
    after which she ushers you across a vestibule into an
    inner court. Perhaps the strongest impression I got
    at Chambord came to me as I stood in this court.
    The woman who admitted me did not come with
    me; I was to find my guide somewhere else. The
    specialty of Chambord is its prodigious round towers.
    There are, I believe, no less than eight of them,
    placed at each angle of the inner and outer square of
    buildings; for the castle is in the form of a larger
    structure which encloses a smaller one. One of these
    towers stood before me in the court; it seemed to
    fling its shadow over the place; while above, as I
    looked up, the pinnacles and gables, the enormous
    chimneys, soared into the bright blue air. The place
    was empty and silent; shadows of gargoyles, of extra-
    ordinary projections, were thrown across the clear
    gray surfaces. One felt that the whole thing was
    monstrous. A cicerone appeared, a languid young
    man in a rather shabby livery, and led me about with
    a mixture of the impatient and the desultory, of con-
    descension and humility. I do not profess to under-
    stand the plan of Chambord, and I may add that I
    do not even desire to do so; for it is much more
    entertaining to think of it, as you can so easily, as an
    irresponsible, insoluble labyrinth. Within, it is a
    wilderness of empty chambers, a royal and romantic
    barrack. The exiled prince to whom it gives its title
    has not the means to keep up four hundred rooms;
    he contents himself with preserving the huge outside.
    The repairs of the prodigious roof alone must absorb
    a large part of his revenue. The great feature of
    the interior is the celebrated double staircase, rising
    straight through the building, with two courses of
    steps, so that people may ascend and descend without
    meeting. This staircase is a truly majestic piece of
    humor; it gives you the note, as it were, of Chambord.
    It opens on each landing to a vast guard-room, in
    four arms, radiations of the winding shaft. My guide
    made me climb to the great open-work lantern which,
    springing from the roof at the termination of the
    rotund staircase (surmounted here by a smaller one),
    forms the pinnacle of the bristling crown of Cham-
    bord. This lantern is tipped with a huge _fleur-de-lis_
    in stone, - the only one, I believe, that the Revolution
    did not succeed in pulling down. Here, from narrow
    windows, you look over the wide, flat country and the
    tangled, melancholy park, with the rotation of its
    straight avenues. Then you walk about the roof, in
    a complication of galleries, terraces, balconies, through
    the multitude of chimneys and gables. This roof,
    which is in itself a sort of castle in the air, has an
    extravagant, faboulus quality, and with its profuse
    ornamentation, - the salamander of Francis I. is a con-
    tant motive, - its lonely pavements, its sunny niches,
    the balcony that looks down over the closed and
    grass-grown main entrance, a strange, half-sad, half-
    brilliant charm. The stone-work is covered with fine
    mould. There are places that reminded me of some
    of those quiet, mildewed corners of courts and ter-
    races, into which the traveller who wanders through
    the Vatican looks down from neglected windows. They
    show you two or three furnished rooms, with Bourbon
    portraits, hideous tapestries from the ladies of France,
    a collection of the toys of the _enfant du miracle,_ all
    military and of the finest make. "Tout cela fonc-
    tionne," the guide said of these miniature weapons;
    and I wondered, if he should take it into his head to
    fire off his little canon, how much harm the Comte de
    Chambord would do.

    From below, the castle would look crushed by
    the redundancy of its upper protuberances if it were
    not for the enormous girth of its round towers, which
    appear to give it a robust lateral development. These
    towers, however, fine as they are in their way, struck
    me as a little stupid; they are the exaggeration of
    an exaggeration. In a building erected after the days
    of defence, and proclaiming its peaceful character from
    its hundred embroideries and cupolas, they seem
    to indicate a want of invention. I shall risk the ac-
    cusation of bad taste if I say that, impressive as it is,
    the Chateau de Chambord seemed to me to have al-
    together a little of that quality of stupidity. The
    trouble is that it represents nothing very particular;
    it has not happened, in spite of sundry vicissitudes,
    to have a very interesting history. Compared with
    that of Blois and Amboise, its past is rather vacant;
    and one feels to a certain extent the contrast between
    its pompous appearance and its spacious but some-
    what colorless annals. It had indeed the good for-
    tune to be erected by Francis I., whose name by itself
    expresses a good deal of history. Why he should
    have built a palace in those sandy plains will ever
    remain an unanswered question, for kings have never
    been obliged to give reasons. In addition to the fact
    that the country was rich in game and that Francis
    was a passionate hunter, it is suggested by M. de la
    Saussaye, the author of the very complete little history
    of Chambord which you may buy at the bookseller's
    at Blois, that he was govemed in his choice of the
    site by the accident of a charming woman having
    formerly lived there. The Comtesse de Thoury had
    a manor in the neighborhood, and the Comtesse de
    Thoury had been the object of a youthful passion on
    the part of the most susceptible of princes before his
    accession to the throne. This great pile was reared,
    therefore, according to M. de la Saussaye, as a _souvenir
    de premieres amours!_ It is certainly a very massive
    memento; and if these tender passages were propor-
    tionate to the building that commemorates them, they
    were tender indeed. There has been much discus-
    sion as to the architect employed by Francis I., and
    the honor of having designed this splendid residence
    has been claimed for several of the Italian artists who
    early in the sixteenth century came to seek patronage
    in France. It seems well established to-day, however,
    that Chambord was the work neither of Primaticcio,
    of Vignola, nor of Il Rosso, all of whom have left
    some trace of their sojourn in France; but of an
    obscure yet very complete genius, Pierre Nepveu,
    known as Pierre Trinqueau, who is designated in the
    papers which preserve in some degree the history of
    the origin of the edifice, as the _maistre de l'oeuvre de
    maconnerie._ Behind this modest title, apparently, we
    must recognize one of the most original talents of
    the French Renaissance; and it is a proof of the vigor
    of the artistic life of that period that, brilliant pro-
    duction being everywhere abundant, an artist of so
    high a value should not have been treated by his con-
    temporaries as a celebrity. We manage things very
    differently to-day.

    The immediate successors of Francis I. continued
    to visit, Chambord; but it was neglected by Henry IV.,
    and was never afterwards a favorite residence of any
    French king. Louis XIV. appeared there on several
    occasions, and the apparition was characteristically
    brilliant; but Chambord could not long detain a
    monarch who had gone to the expense of creating a
    Versailles ten miles from Paris. With Versailles, Fon-
    tainebleau, Saint-Germain, and Saint-Cloud within easy
    reach of their capital, the later French sovereigns had
    little reason to take the air in the dreariest province
    of their kingdom. Chambord therefore suffered from
    royal indifference, though in the last century a use
    was found for its deserted halls. In 1725 it was oc-
    cupied by the luckless Stanislaus Leszczynski, who
    spent the greater part of his life in being elected
    King of Poland and being ousted from his throne,
    and who, at this time a refugee in France, had found
    a compensation for some of his misfortunes in marry-
    ing his daughter to Louis XV. He lived eight years
    at Chambord, and filled up the moats of the castle.
    In 1748 it found an illustrious tenant in the person
    of Maurice de Saxe, the victor of Fontenoy, who, how-
    ever, two years after he had taken possession of it,
    terminated a life which would have been longer had
    he been less determined to make it agreeable. The
    Revolution, of course, was not kind to Chambord.
    It despoiled it in so far as possible of every vestige
    of its royal origin, and swept like a whirlwind through
    apartments to which upwards of two centuries had
    contributed a treasure of decoration and furniture. In
    that wild blast these precious things were destroyed
    or forever scattered. In 1791 an odd proposal was
    made to the French Government by a company of
    English Quakers who had conceived the bold idea of
    establishing in the palace a manufacture of some
    peaceful commodity not to-day recorded. Napoleon
    allotted Chambord, as a "dotation," to one of his
    marshals, Berthier, for whose benefit it was converted,
    in Napoleonic fashion, into the so-called principality
    of Wagram. By the Princess of Wagram, the marshal's
    widow, it was, after the Restoration, sold to the
    trustees of a national subscription which had been
    established for the purpose of presenting it to the in-
    fant Duke of Bordeaux, then prospective King of
    France. The presentation was duly made; but the
    Comte de Chambord, who had changed his title in
    recognition of the gift, was despoiled of his property
    by the Government of Louis Philippe. He appealed
    for redress to the tribunals of his country; and the
    consequence of his appeal was an interminable litiga-
    tion, by which, however, finally, after the lapse of
    twenty-five years, he was established in his rights. In
    1871 he paid his first visit to the domain which had
    been offered him half a century before, a term of
    which he had spent forty years in exile. It was from
    Chambord that he dated his famous letter of the 5th
    of July of that year, - the letter, directed to his so-
    called subjects, in which he waves aloft the white
    flag of the Bourbons. This amazing epistle, which is
    virtually an invitation to the French people to re-
    pudiate, as their national ensign, that immortal tricolor,
    the flag of the Revolution and the Empire, under
    which they have, won the glory which of all glories
    has hitherto been dearest to them, and which is as-
    sociated with the most romantic, the most heroic, the
    epic, the consolatory, period of their history, - this
    luckless manifesto, I say, appears to give the measure
    of the political wisdom of the excellent Henry V. It
    is the most factitious proposal ever addressed to an
    eminently ironical nation.

    On the whole, Chambord makes a great impression;
    and the hour I was, there, while the yellow afternoon
    light slanted upon the September woods, there was a
    dignity in its desolation. It spoke, with a muffled
    but audible voice, of the vanished monarchy, which
    had been so strong, so splendid, but to-day has be-
    come a sort of fantastic vision, like the cupolas and
    chimneys that rose before me. I thought, while I
    lingered there, of all the fine things it takes to make
    up such a monarchy; and how one of them is a su-
    perfluity of mouldering, empty, palaces. Chambord is
    touching, - that is the best word for it; and if the
    hopes of another restoration are in the follies of the
    Republic, a little reflection on that eloquence of ruin
    ought to put the Republic on its guard. A sentimental
    tourist may venture to remark that in the presence of
    several chateaux which appeal in this mystical manner
    to the retrospective imagination, it cannot afford to be
    foolish. I thought of all this as I drove back to Blois
    by the way of the Chateau de Cheverny. The road
    took us out of the park of Chambord, but through a
    region of flat woodland, where the trees were not
    mighty, and again into the prosy plain of the Sologne,
    - a thankless soil, all of it, I believe, but lately much
    amended by the magic of cheerful French industry
    and thrift. The light had already begun to fade, and
    my drive reminded me of a passage in some rural
    novel of Madame Sand. I passed a couple of timber
    and plaster churches, which looked very old, black,
    and crooked, and had lumpish wooden porches and
    galleries encircling the base. By the time I reached
    Cheverny, the clear twilight had approached. It was
    late to ask to be allowed to visit an inhabited house;
    but it was the hour at which I like best to visit almost
    anything. My coachman drew up before a gateway,
    in a high wall, which opened upon a short avenue,
    along which I took my way on foot; the coachmen in
    those parts being, for reasons best known to them-
    selves, mortally averse to driving up to a house. I
    answered the challenge of a very tidy little portress,
    who sat, in company with a couple of children, en-
    joying the evening air in, front of her lodge, and who
    told me to walk a little further and turn to the right.
    I obeyed her to the letter, and my turn brought me
    into sight of a house as charming as an old manor in
    a fairy tale. I had but a rapid and partial view of
    Cheverny; but that view was a glimpse of perfection.
    A light, sweet mansion stood looking over a wide green
    lawn, over banks of flowers and groups of trees. It
    had a striking character of elegance, produced partly
    by a series of Renaissance busts let into circular niches
    in the facade. The place looked so private, so reserved,
    that it seemed an act of violence to ring, a stranger
    and foreigner, at the graceful door. But if I had not
    rung I should be unable to express - as it is such a
    pleasure to do - my sense of the exceeding courtesy
    with which this admirable house is shown. It was
    near the dinner-hour, - the most sacred hour of the
    day; but I was freely conducted into the inhabited
    apartments. They are extremely beautiful. What I
    chiefly remember is the charming staircase of white
    embroidered stone, and the great _salle des gardes_ and
    _chambre a coucher du roi_ on the second floor. Che-
    verny, built in 1634, is of a much later date than the
    other royal residences of this part of France; it be-
    longs to the end of the Renaissance, and has a touch
    of the rococo. The guard-room is a superb apartment;
    and as it contains little save its magnificent ceiling
    and fireplace and certain dim tapestries on its walls,
    you the more easily take the measure of its noble
    proportions. The servant opened the shutters of a
    single window, and the last rays of the twilight slanted
    into the rich brown gloom. It was in the same pic-
    turesque fashion that I saw the bedroom (adjoining) of
    Henry IV., where a legendary-looking bed, draped in
    folds long unaltered, defined itself in the haunted
    dusk. Cheverny remains to me a very charming, a
    partly mysterious vision. I drove back to Blois in the
    dark, some nine miles, through the forest of Russy,
    which belongs to the State, and which, though con-
    sisting apparently of small timber, looked under the
    stars sufficiently vast and primeval. There was a damp
    autumnal smell and the occasional sound of a stirring
    thing; and as I moved through the evening air I
    thought of Francis I. and Henry IV.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    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
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?