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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 21
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    My real consolation was an hour I spent in Saint-
    Sernin, one of the noblest churches in southern France,
    and easily the first among those of Toulouse. This
    great structure, a masterpiece of twelfth-century ro-
    manesque, and dedicated to Saint Saturninus, - the
    Toulousains have abbreviated, - is, I think, alone worth
    a journey to Toulouse. What makes it so is the
    extraordinary seriousness of its interior; no other term
    occurs to me as expressing so well the character of
    its clear gray nave. As a general thing, I do not
    favor the fashion of attributing moral qualities to
    buildings; I shrink from talking about tender porticos
    and sincere campanili; but I find I cannot get on at
    all without imputing some sort of morality to Saint-
    Sernin. As it stands to-day, the church has been
    completely restored by Viollet-le-Duc. The exterior is
    of brick, and has little charm save that of a tower of
    four rows of arches, narrowing together as they ascend.
    The nave is of great length and height, the barrel-roof
    of stone, the effect of the round arches and pillars in
    the triforium especially fine. There are two low aisles
    on either side. The choir is very deep and narrow;
    it seems to close together, and looks as if it were
    meant for intensely earnest rites. The transepts are
    most noble, especially the arches of the second tier.
    The whole church is narrow for its length, and is
    singularly complete and homogeneous. As I say all
    this, I feel that I quite fail to give an impression of
    its manly gravity, its strong proportions or of the lone-
    some look of its renovated stones as I sat there while
    the October twilight gathered. It is a real work of
    art, a high conception. The crypt, into which I was
    eventually led captive by an importunate sacristan, is
    quite another affair, though indeed I suppose it may
    also be spoken of as a work of art. It is a rich museum
    of relics, and contains the head of Saint Thomas
    Aquinas, wrapped up in a napkin and exhibited in a
    glass case. The sacristan took a lamp and guided me
    about, presenting me to one saintly remnant after an-
    other. The impression was grotesque, but sorne of
    the objects were contained in curious old cases of
    beaten silver and brass; these things, at least, which
    looked as if they had been transmitted from the early
    church, were venerable. There was, however, a kind
    of wholesale sanctity about the place which overshot
    the mark; it pretends to be one of the holiest spots
    in the world. The effect is spoiled by the way the
    sacristans hang about and offer to take you into it for
    ten sous, - I was accosted by two and escaped from
    another, - and by the familiar manner in which you
    pop in and out. This episode rather broke the charm
    of Saint-Sernin, so that I took my departure and went
    in search of the cathedral. It was scarcely worth find-
    ing, and struck me as an odd, dislocated fragment.
    The front consists only of a portal, beside which a tall
    brick tower, of a later period, has been erected. The
    nave was wrapped in dimness, with a few scattered
    lamps. I could only distinguish an immense vault,
    like a high cavern, without aisles. Here and there in
    the gloom was a kneeling figure; the whole place was
    mysterious and lop-sided. The choir was curtained
    off; it appeared not to correspond with the nave, - that
    is, not to have the same axis. The only other ec-
    clesiastical impression I gathered at Toulouse came to
    me in the church of La Daurade, of which the front,
    on the quay by the Garonne, was closed with scaffold-
    ings; so that one entered it from behind, where it is
    completely masked by houses, through a door which
    has at first no traceable connection with it. It is a
    vast, high, modernised, heavily decorated church, dimly
    lighted at all times, I should suppose, and enriched
    by the shades of evening at the time I looked into it.
    I perceived that it consisted mainly of a large square,
    beneath a dome, in the centre of which a single person
    - a lady - was praying with the utmost absorption.
    The manner of access to the church interposed such
    an obstacle to the outer profanities that I had a sense
    of intruding, and presently withdrew, carrying with me
    a picture of the, vast, still interior, the gilded roof
    gleaming in the twilight, and the solitary worshipper.
    What was she praying for, and was she not almost
    afraid to remain there alone?

    For the rest, the picturesque at Toulouse consists
    principally of the walk beside the Garonne, which is
    spanned, to the faubourg of Saint-Cyprien, by a stout
    brick bridge. This hapless suburb, the baseness of
    whose site is noticeable, lay for days under the water
    at the time of the last inundations. The Garonne
    had almost mounted to the roofs of the houses, and
    the place continues to present a blighted, frightened
    look. Two or three persons, with whom I had some
    conversation, spoke of that time as a memory of horror.
    I have not done with my Italian comparisons; I shall
    never have done with them. I am therefore free to
    say that in the way in which Toulouse looks out on
    the Garonne there was something that reminded me
    vaguely of the way in which Pisa looks out on the
    Arno. The red-faced houses - all of brick - along the
    quay have a mixture of brightness and shabbiness, as
    well as the fashion of the open _loggia_ in the top-
    story. The river, with another bridge or two, might
    be the Arno, and the buildings on the other side of
    it - a hospital, a suppressed convent - dip their feet
    into it with real southern cynicism. I have spoken of
    the old Hotel d'Assezat as the best house at Toulouse;
    with the exception of the cloister of the museum, it is
    the only "bit" I remember. It has fallen from the
    state of a noble residence of the sixteenth century to
    that of a warehouse and a set of offices; but a certain
    dignity lingers in its melancholy court, which is divided
    from the street by a gateway that is still imposing,
    and in which a clambering vine and a red Virginia-
    creeper were suspended to the rusty walls of brick
    stone.

    The most interesting house at Toulouse is far from
    being the most striking. At the door of No. 50 Rue
    des Filatiers, a featureless, solid structure, was found
    hanging, one autumn evening, the body of the young
    Marc-Antoine Calas, whose ill-inspired suicide was to
    be the first act of a tragedy so horrible. The fana-
    ticism aroused in the townsfolk by this incident; the
    execution by torture of Jean Calas, accused as a
    Protestant of having hanged his son, who had gone
    over to the Church of Rome; the ruin of the family;
    the claustration of the daughters; the flight of the
    widow to Switzerland; her introduction to Voltaire;
    the excited zeal of that incomparable partisan, and
    the passionate persistence with which, from year to
    year, he pursued a reversal of judgment, till at last he
    obtained it, and devoted the tribunal of Toulouse to
    execration and the name of the victims to lasting
    wonder and pity, - these things form part of one of
    the most interesting and touching episodes of the social
    history of the eighteenth century. The story has the
    fatal progression, the dark rigidity, of one of the tragic
    dramas of the Greeks. Jean Calas, advanced in life,
    blameless, bewildered, protesting. his innocence, had
    been broken on the wheel; and the sight of his decent
    dwelling, which brought home to me all that had been
    suflered there, spoiled for me, for half an hour, the
    impression of Toulouse.
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