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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    We never went to Chinon; it was a fatality. We
    planned it a dozen times; but the weather interfered,
    or the trains didn't suit, or one of the party was
    fatigued with the adventures of'the day before. This
    excursion was so much postponed that it was finally
    postponed to everything. Besides, we had to go to
    Chenonceaux, to Azay-le-Rideau, to Langeais, to Loches.
    So I have not the memory of Chinon; I have only the
    regret. But regret, as well as memory, has its visions;
    especially when, like memory, it is assisted by photo-
    graphs. The castle of Chinon in this form appears
    to me as an enormous ruin, a mediaeval fortress, of
    the extent almost of a city. It covers a hill above the
    Vienne, and after being impregnable in its time is in-
    destructible to-day. (I risk this phrase in the face of
    the prosaic truth. Chinon, in the days when it was a
    prize, more than once suflered capture, and at present
    it is crumbling inch by inch. It is apparent, however,
    I believe, that these inches encroach little upon acres
    of masonry.) It was in the castle that Jeanne Darc ?????
    had her first interview with Charles VII., and it is in
    the town that Francois Rabelais is supposed to have
    been born. To the castle, moreover, the lover of the
    picturesque is earnestly recommended to direct his
    steps. But one cannot do everything, and I would
    rather have missed Chinon than Chenonceaux. For-
    tunate exceedingly were the few hours that we passed
    at this exquisite residence.

    "In 1747," says Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his
    "Confessions," "we went to spend the autumn in Tou-
    raine, at the Chateau, of Chenonceaux, a royal resi-
    dence upon the Cher, built by Henry II. for Diana of
    Poitiers, whose initials are still to be seen there, and
    now in possession of M. Dupin, the farmer-general.
    We amused ourselves greatly in this fine spot; the liv-
    ing was of the best, and I became as fat as a monk.
    We made a great deal of music, and acted comedies."

    This is the only description that Rousseau gives
    of one of the most romantic houses in France, and of
    an episode that must have counted as one of the most
    agreeable in his uncomfortable career. The eighteenth
    century contented itself with general epithets; and
    when Jean-Jacques has said that Chenonceaux was a
    "beau lieu," he thinks himself absolved from further
    characterization. We later sons of time have, both for
    our pleasure and our pain, invented the fashion of
    special terms, and I am afraid that even common
    decency obliges me to pay some larger tribute than
    this to the architectural gem of Touraine. Fortunately
    I can discharge my debt with gratitude. In going
    from Tours you leave the valley of the Loire and enter
    that of the Cher, and at the end of about an hour you
    see the turrets of the castle on your right, among the
    trees, down in the meadows, beside the quiet little
    river. The station and the village are about ten
    minutes' walk from the chateau, and the village con-
    tains a very tidy inn, where, if you are not in too
    great a hurry to commune with the shades of the royal
    favorite and the jealous queen, you will perhaps stop
    and order a dinner to be ready for you in the evening.
    A straight, tall avenue leads to the grounds of the
    castle; what I owe to exactitude compels me to add
    that it is crossed by the railway-line. The place is so
    arranged, however, that the chateau need know nothing
    of passing trains, - which pass, indeed, though the
    grounds are not large, at a very sufficient distance.
    I may add that the trains throughout this part of
    France have a noiseless, desultory, dawdling, almost
    stationary quality, which makes them less of an offence
    than usual. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the light
    was yellow, save under the trees of the avenue, where,
    in spite of the waning of September, it was duskily
    green. Three or four peasants, in festal attire, were
    strolling about. On a bench at the beginning of the
    avenue, sat a man with two women. As I advanced
    with my companions he rose, after a sudden stare,
    and approached me with a smile, in which (to be
    Johnsonian for a moment) certitude was mitigated by
    modesty and eagerness was embellished with respect.
    He came toward me with a salutation that I had seen
    before, and I am happy to say that after an instant I
    ceased to be guilty of the brutality of not knowing
    where. There was only one place in the world where
    people smile like that, - only one place where the art
    of salutation has that perfect grace. This excellent
    creature used to crook his arm, in Venice, when I
    stepped into my gondola; and I now laid my hand on
    that member with the familiarity of glad recognition;
    for it was only surprise that had kept me even for a
    moment from accepting the genial Francesco as an
    ornament of the landscape of Touraine. What on
    earth - the phrase is the right one - was a Venetian
    gondolier doing at Chenonceaux? He had been
    brought from Venice, gondola and all, by the mistress
    of the charming house, to paddle about on the Cher.
    Our meeting was affectionate, though there was a kind
    of violence in seeing him so far from home. He was
    too well dressed, too well fed; he had grown stout,
    and his nose had the tinge of good claret. He re-
    marked that the life of the household to which he had
    the honor to belong was that of a _casa regia;_ which
    must have been a great change for poor Checco, whose
    habits in Venice were not regal. However, he was
    the sympathetic Checco still; and for five minutes
    after I left him I thought less about the little plea-
    sure-house by the Cher than about the palaces of the
    Adriatic.

    But attention was not long in coming round to the
    charming structure that presently rose before us. The
    pale yellow front of the chateau, the small scale of
    which is at first a surprise, rises beyond a consider-
    able court, at the entrance of which a massive and
    detached round tower, with a turret on its brow (a
    relic of the building that preceded the actual villa),
    appears to keep guard. This court is not enclosed -
    or is enclosed, at least, only by the gardens, portions
    of which are at present in a state of violent reforma-
    tion. Therefore, though Chenonceaux has no great
    height, its delicate facade stands up boldly enough.
    This facade, one of the most finished things in Tou-
    raine, consists of two stories, surmounted by an attic
    which, as so often in the buildings of the French
    Renaissance, is the richest part of the house. The
    high-pitched roof contains three windows of beautiful
    design, covered with embroidered caps and flowering
    into crocketed spires. The window above the door
    is deeply niched; it opens upon a balcony made in
    the form of a double pulpit, - one of the most charm-
    ing features of the front. Chenonceaux is not large,
    as I say, but into its delicate compass is packed a
    great deal of history, - history which differs from that
    of Amboise and Blois in being of the private and sen-
    timental kind. The echoes of the place, faint and far
    as they are to-day, are not political, but personal.
    Chenonceaux dates, as a residence, from the year 1515,
    when the shrewd Thomas Bohier, a public functionary
    who had grown rich in handling the finances of Nor-
    mandy, and had acquired the estate from a family
    which, after giving it many feudal lords, had fallen
    into poverty, erected the present structure on the
    foundations of an old mill. The design is attributed,
    with I know not what justice, to Pierre Nepveu, _alias_
    Trinqueau, the audacious architect of Chambord. On
    the death of Bohier the house passed to his son, who,
    however, was forced, under cruel pressure, to surrender
    it to the crown, in compensation for a so-called deficit
    in the accounts of the late superintendent of the trea-
    sury. Francis I. held the place till his death; but
    Henry II., on ascending the throne, presented it out of
    hand to that mature charmer, the admired of two
    generations, Diana of Poitiers. Diana enjoyed it till
    the death of her protector; but when this event oc-
    curred, the widow of the monarch, who had been
    obliged to submit in silence, for years, to the ascend-
    ency of a rival, took the most pardonable of all the
    revenges with which the name of Catherine de' Medici
    is associated, and turned her out-of-doors. Diana was
    not in want of refuges, and Catherine went through
    the form of giving her Chaumont in exchange; but
    there was only one Chenonceaux. Catherine devoted
    herself to making the place more completely unique.
    The feature that renders it sole of its kind is not ap-
    preciated till you wander round to either side of the
    house. If a certain springing lightness is the charac-
    teristic of Chenonceaux, if it bears in every line the
    aspect of a place of recreation, - a place intended for
    delicate, chosen pleasures, - nothing can confirm this
    expression better than the strange, unexpected move-
    ment with which, from behind, it carries itself across
    the river. The earlier building stands in the water;
    it had inherited the foundations of the mill destroyed
    by Thomas Bohier. The first step, therefore, had been
    taken upon solid piles of masonry; and the ingenious
    Catherine - she was a _raffinee_ - simply proceeded to
    take the others. She continued the piles to the op-
    posite bank of the Cher, and over them she threw a
    long, straight gallery of two stories. This part of the
    chateau, which looks simply like a house built upon a
    bridge and occupying its entire length, is of course
    the great curiosity of Chenonceaux. It forms on each
    floor a charming corridor, which, within, is illuminated
    from either side by the flickering river-light. The
    architecture of these galleries, seen from without, is
    less elegant than that of the main building, but the
    aspect of the whole thing is delightful. I have spoken
    of Chenonceaux as a "villa," using the word ad-
    visedly, for the place is neither a castle nor a palace.
    It is a very exceptional villa, but it has the villa-
    quality, - the look of being intended for life in com-
    mon. This look is not at all contradicted by the wing
    across the Cher, which only suggests intimate pleasures,
    as the French say, - walks in pairs, on rainy days;
    games and dances on autumn nights; together with as
    much as may be of moonlighted dialogue (or silence)
    in the course, of evenings more genial still, in the well-
    marked recesses of windows.

    It is safe to say that such things took place there
    in the last century, during the kindly reign of Mon-
    sieur and Madame Dupin. This period presents itself
    as the happiest in the annals of Chenonceaux. I know
    not what festive train the great Diana may have led,
    and my imagination, I am afraid, is only feebly kindled
    by the records of the luxurious pastimes organized on
    the banks of the Cher by the terrible daughter of the
    Medici, whose appreciation of the good things of life
    was perfectly consistent with a failure to perceive why
    others should live to enjoy, them. The best society
    that ever assembled there was collected at Chenon-
    ceaux during the middle of the eighteenth century.
    This was surely, in France at least, the age of good
    society, the period when it was well for appreciative
    people to have been born. Such people should of
    course have belonged to the fortunate few, and not to
    the miserable many; for the prime condition of a
    society being good is that it be not too large. The
    sixty years that preceded the French Revolution were
    the golden age of fireside talk and of those pleasures
    which proceed from the presence of women in whom
    the social art is both instinctive and acquired. The
    women of that period were, above all, good company;
    the fact is attested by a thousand documents. Chenon-
    ceaux offered a perfect setting to free conversation;
    and infinite joyous discourse must have mingled with
    the liquid murmur of the Cher. Claude Dupin was
    not only a great man of business, but a man of honor
    and a patron of knowledge; and his wife was gracious,
    clever, and wise. They had acquired this famous pro-
    perty by purchase (from one of the Bourbons; for
    Chenonceaux, for two centuries after the death of
    Catherine de' Medici, remained constantly in princely
    hands), and it was transmitted to their son, Dupin de
    Francueil, grandfather of Madame George Sand. This
    lady, in her Correspondence, lately published, describes
    a visit that she paid, more than thirty years ago, to
    those members of her family who were still in posses-
    sion. The owner of Chenonceaux to-day is the daughter
    of an Englishman naturalized in France. But I have
    wandered far from my story, which is simply a sketch
    of the surface of the place. Seen obliquely, from either
    side, in combination with its bridge and gallery, the
    chateau is singular and fantastic, a striking example
    of a wilful and capricious conception. Unfortunately,
    all caprices are not so graceful and successful, and I
    grudge the honor of this one to the false and blood-
    polluted Catherine. (To be exact, I believe the arches
    of the bridge were laid by the elderly Diana. It was
    Catherine, however, who completed the monument.)
    Within, the house has been, as usual, restored. The
    staircases and ceilings, in all the old royal residences
    of this part of France, are the parts that have suffered
    least; many of them have still much of the life of the
    old time about them. Some of the chambers of Che-
    nonceaux, however, encumbered as they are with mo-
    dern detail, derive a sufficiently haunted and suggestive
    look from the deep setting of their beautiful windows,
    which thickens the shadows and makes dark, corners.
    There is a charming little Gothic chapel, with its apse
    hanging over the water, fastened to the left flank of
    the house. Some of the upper balconies, which look
    along the outer face of the gallery, and either up or
    down the river, are delightful protected nooks. We
    walked through the lower gallery to the other bank of
    the Cher; this fine apartment appeared to be for the
    moment a purgatory of ancient furniture. It terminates
    rather abruptly; it simply stops, with a blank wall.
    There ought, of course, to have been a pavilion here,
    though I prefer very much the old defect to any mo-
    dern remedy. The wall is not so blank, however, but
    that it contains a door which opens on a rusty draw-
    bridge. This drawbridge traverses the small gap which
    divides the end of the gallery from the bank of the
    stream. The house, therefore, does not literally rest
    on opposite edges of the Cher, but rests on one and
    just fails to rest on the other. The pavilion would
    have made that up; but after a moment we ceased to
    miss this imaginary feature. We passed the little
    drawbridge, and wandered awhile beside the river.
    From this opposite bank the mass of the chateau looked
    more charming than ever; and the little peaceful, lazy
    Cher, where two or three men were fishing in the
    eventide, flowed under the clear arches and between
    the solid pedestals of the part that spanned it, with
    the softest, vaguest light on its bosom. This was the
    right perspective; we were looking across the river of
    time. The whole scene was deliciously mild. The
    moon came up; we passed back through the gallery
    and strolled about a little longer in the gardens. It
    was very still. I met my old gondolier in the twilight.
    He showed me his gondola; but I hated, somehow, to
    see it there. I don't like, as the French say, to _meler
    les genres_. A gondola in a little flat French river?
    The image was not less irritating, if less injurious, than
    the spectacle of a steamer in the Grand Canal, which
    had driven me away from Venice a year and a half
    before. We took our way back to the Grand Monarque,
    and waited in the little inn-parlor for a late train to
    Tours. We were not impatient, for we had an ex-
    cellent dinner to occupy us; and even after we had
    dined we were still content to sit awhile and exchange
    remarks upon, the superior civilization of France.
    Where else, at a village inn, should we have fared so
    well? Where else should we have sat down to our
    refreshment without condescension? There were two
    or three countries in which it would not have been
    happy for us to arrive hungry, on a Sunday evening,
    at so modest an hostelry. At the little inn at Chenon-
    ceaux the _cuisine_ was not only excellent, but the ser-
    vice was graceful. We were waited on by mademoiselle
    and her mamma; it was so that mademoiselle alluded
    to the elder lady, as she uncorked for us a bottle of
    Vouvray mousseux. We were very comfortable, very
    genial; we even went so far as to say to each other
    that Vouvray mousseux was a delightful wine. From
    this opinion, indeed, one of our trio differed; but this
    member of the party had already exposed herself to
    the charge of being too fastidious, by declining to de-
    scend from the carriage at Chaumont and take that
    back-stairs view of the castle.
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