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    Chapter 32

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    Chapter 32
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    I find that I declared one evening, in a little
    journal I was keeping at that time, that I was weary
    of writing (I was probably very sleepy), but that it
    was essential I should make some note of my visit to
    Les Baux. I must have gone to sleep as soon as I
    had recorded this necessity, for I search my small diary
    in vain for any account of that enchanting spot. I
    have nothing but my memory to consult, - a memory
    which is fairly good in regard to a general impression,
    but is terribly infirm in the matter of details and
    items. We knew in advance, my companion and I
    that Les Baus was a pearl of picturesqueness; for
    had we not read as much in the handbook of Murray,
    who has the testimony of an English nobleman as to
    its attractions? We also knew that it lay some miles
    from Aries, on the crest of the Alpilles, the craggy
    little mountains which, as I stood on the breezy plat-
    form of Beaucaire, formed to my eye a charming, if
    somewhat remote, background to Tarascon; this as-
    surance having been given us by the landlady of the
    inn at Arles, of whom we hired a rather lumbering
    conveyance. The weather was not promising, but it
    proved a good day for the mediaeval Pompeii; a gray,
    melancholy, moist, but rainless, or almost rainless
    day, with nothing in the sky to flout, as the poet
    says, the dejected and pulverized past. The drive
    itself was charming; for there is an inexhaustible
    sweetness in the gray-green landscape of Provence.
    It is never absolutely flat, and yet is never really
    ambitious, and is full both of entertainment and re-
    pose. It is in constant undulation, and the bareness
    of the soil lends itself easily to outline and profile.
    When I say the bareness, I mean the absence of
    woods and hedges. It blooms with heath and scented
    shrubs and stunted olive; and the white rock shining
    through the scattered herbage has a brightness which
    answers to the brightness of the sky. Of course it
    needs the sunshine, for all southern countries look a
    little false under the ground glass of incipient bad
    weather. This was the case on the day of my pil-
    grimage to Les Baux. Nevertheless, I was as glad
    to keep going as I was to arrive; and as I went it
    seemed to me that true happiness would consist in
    wandering through such a land on foot, on September
    afternoons, when one might stretch one's self on the
    warm ground in some shady hollow, and listen to the
    hum of bees and the whistle of melancholy shepherds;
    for in Provence the shepherds whistle to their flocks.
    I saw two or three of them, in the course of this drive
    to Les Baux, meandering about, looking behind, and
    calling upon the sheep in this way to follow, which
    the sheep always did, very promptly, with ovine
    unanimity. Nothing is more picturesque than to see
    a slow shepherd threading his way down one of the
    winding paths on a hillside, with his flock close be-
    hind him, necessarily expanded, yet keeping just at
    his heels, bending and twisting as it goes, and looking
    rather like the tail of a dingy comet.

    About four miles from Arles, as you drive north-
    ward toward the Alpilles, of which Alphonse Daudet
    has spoken so often, and, as he might say, so in-
    timately, stand on a hill that overlooks the road
    the very considerable ruins of the abbey of Mont-
    majour, one of the innumerable remnants of a feudal
    and ecclesiastical (as well as an architectural) past
    that one encounters in the South of France; remnants
    which, it must be confessed, tend to introduce a cer-
    tain confusion and satiety into the passive mind of
    the tourist. Montmajour, however, is very impressive
    and interesting; the only trouble with it is that,
    unless you have stopped and retumed to Arles, you
    see it in memory over the head of Les Baux, which
    is a much more absorbing picture. A part of the
    mass of buildings (the monastery) dates only from the
    last century; and the stiff architecture of that period
    does not lend itself very gracefully to desolation: it
    looks too much as if it had been burnt down the year
    before. The monastery was demolished during the
    Revolution, and it injures a little the effect of the
    very much more ancient fragments that are connected
    with it. The whole place is on a great scale; it was
    a rich and splendid abbey. The church, a vast
    basilica of the eleventh century, and of the noblest
    proportions, is virtually intact; I mean as regards
    its essentials, for the details have completely vanished.
    The huge solid shell is full of expression; it looks
    as if it had been hollowed out by the sincerity of
    early faith, and it opens into a cloister as impressive
    as itself. Wherever one goes, in France, one meets,
    looking backward a little, the spectre of the great
    Revolution; and one meets it always in the shape of
    the destruction of something beautiful and precious.
    To make us forgive it at all, how much it must also
    have destroyed that was more hateful than itself!
    Beneath the church of Montmajour is a most extra-
    ordinary crypt, almost as big as the edifice above
    it, and making a complete subterranean temple, sur-
    rounded with a circular gallery, or deambulatory,
    which expands it intervals into five square chapels.
    There are other things, of which I have but a con-
    fused memory: a great fortified keep; a queer little
    primitive chapel, hollowed out of the rock, beneath
    these later structures, and recommended to the
    visitor's attention as the confessional of Saint Tro-
    phimus, who shares with so many worthies the glory
    of being the first apostle of the Gauls. Then there
    is a strange, small church, of the dimmest antiquity,
    standing at a distance from the other buildings. I
    remember that after we had let ourselves down a
    good many steepish places to visit crypts and con-
    fessionals, we walked across a field to this archaic
    cruciform edifice, and went thence to a point further
    down the road, where our carriage was awaiting
    us. The chapel of the Holy Cross, as it is called,
    is classed among the historic monuments of France;
    and I read in a queer, rambling, ill-written book
    which I picked up at Avignon, and in which the
    author, M. Louis de Lainbel, has buried a great deal
    of curious information on the subject of Provence,
    under a style inspiring little confidence, that the
    "delicieuse chapelle de Sainte-Croix" is a "veritable
    bijou artistique." He speaks of "a piece of lace in
    stone," which runs from one end of the building to
    the other, but of which I am obliged to confess that
    I have no recollection. I retain, however, a suf-
    ficiently clear impression of the little superannuated
    temple, with its four apses and its perceptible odor of
    antiquity, - the odor of the eleventh century.

    The ruins of Les Baux remain quite indistinguish-
    able, even when you are directly beneath them, at
    the foot of the charming little Alpilles, which mass
    themselves with a kind of delicate ruggedness. Rock
    and ruin have been so welded together by the con-
    fusions of time, that as you approach it from behind
    - that is, from the direction of Arles - the place
    presents simply a general air of cragginess. Nothing
    can be prettier than the crags of Provence; they are
    beautifully modelled, as painters say, and they have
    a delightful silvery color. The road winds round the
    foot of the hills on the top of which Lea Baux is
    planted, and passes into another valley, from which
    the approach to the town is many degrees less pre-
    cipitous, and may be comfortably made in a carriage.
    Of course the deeply inquiring traveller will alight as
    promptly as possible; for the pleasure of climbing
    into this queerest of cities on foot is not the least
    part of the entertainment of going there. Then you
    appreciate its extraordinary position, its picturesque-
    ness, its steepness, its desolation and decay. It
    hangs - that is, what remains of it - to the slanting
    summit of the mountain. Nothing would be more
    natural than for the whole place to roll down into
    the valley. A part of it has done so - for it is not
    unjust to suppose that in the process of decay the
    crumbled particles have sought the lower level;
    while the remainder still clings to its magnificent
    perch.

    If I called Les Baux a city, just, above, it was not
    that I was stretching a point in favor of the small
    spot which to-day contains but a few dozen inhabi-
    tants. The history of the plate is as extraordinary
    as its situation. It was not only a city, but a state;
    not only a state, but an empire; and on the crest of
    its little mountain called itself sovereign of a territory,
    or at least of scattered towns and counties, with which
    its present aspect is grotesquely out of relation. The
    lords of Les Baux, in a word, were great feudal pro-
    prietors; and there-was a time during which the island
    of Sardinia, to say nothing of places nearer home,
    such as Arles and Marseilles, paid them homage. The
    chronicle of this old Provencal house has been written,
    in a style somewhat unctuous and flowery, by M. Jules
    Canonge. I purchased the little book - a modest
    pamphlet - at the establishment of the good sisters,
    just beside the church, in one of the highest parts of
    Les Baux. The sisters have a school for the hardy little
    Baussenques, whom I heard piping their lessons, while
    I waited in the cold _parloir_ for one of the ladies to
    come and speak to me. Nothing could have been
    more perfect than the manner of this excellent woman
    when she arrived; yet her small religious house
    seemed a very out-of-the-way corner of the world. It
    was spotlessly neat, and the rooms looked as if they
    had lately been papered and painted: in this respect,
    at the mediaeval Pompeii, they were rather a discord.
    They were, at any rate, the newest, freshest thing at
    Les Baux. I remember going round to the church,
    after I had left the good sisters, and to a little quiet
    terrace, which stands in front of it, ornamented with
    a few small trees and bordered with a wall, breast-
    high, over which you look down steep hillsides, off
    into the air and all about the neighbouring country.
    I remember saying to myself that this little terrace
    was one of those felicitous nooks which the tourist
    of taste keeps in his mind as a picture. The church
    was small and brown and dark, with a certain rustic
    richness. All this, however, is no general description
    of Les Baux.

    I am unable to give any coherent account of the
    place, for the simple reason that it is a mere con-
    fusion of ruin. It has not been preserved in lava like
    Pompeii, and its streets and houses, its ramparts and
    castle, have become fragmentary, not through the
    sudden destruction, but through the gradual with-
    drawal, of a population. It is not an extinguished,
    but a deserted city; more deserted far than even
    Carcassonne and Aigues-Mortes, where I found so
    much entertainment in the grass-grown element. It
    is of very small extent, and even in the days of its
    greatness, when its lords entitled themselves counts
    of Cephalonia and Neophantis, kings of Arles and
    Vienne, princes of Achaia, and emperors of Constan-
    tinople, - even at this flourishing period, when, as M.
    Jules Canonge remarks, "they were able to depress
    the balance in which the fate of peoples and kings is
    weighed," the plucky little city contained at the most
    no more than thirty-six hundred souls. Yet its lords
    (who, however, as I have said, were able to present
    a long list of subject towns, most of them, though a
    few are renowned, unknown to fame) were seneschals
    and captains-general of Piedmont and Lombardy,
    grand admirals of the kingdom of Naples, and its
    ladies were sought in marriage by half the first
    princes in Europe. A considerable part of the little
    narrative of M. Canonge is taken up with the great
    alliances of the House of Baux, whose fortunes, ma-
    trimonial and other, he traces from the eleventh cen-
    tury down to the sixteenth. The empty shells of a
    considerable number of old houses, many of which
    must have been superb, the lines of certain steep
    little streets, the foundations of a castle, and ever so
    many splendid views, are all that remains to-day of
    these great titles. To such a list I may add a dozen
    very polite and sympathetic people, who emerged from
    the interstices of the desultory little town to gaze at
    the two foreigners who had driven over from Arles,
    and whose horses were being baited at the modest
    inn. The resources of this establishment we did not
    venture otherwise to test, in spite of the seductive
    fact that the sign over the door was in the Provencal
    tongue. This little group included the baker, a rather
    melancholy young man, in high boots and a cloak,
    with whom and his companions we had a good deal
    of conversation. The Baussenques of to-day struck
    me as a very mild and agreeable race, with a good
    deal of the natural amenity which, on occasions like
    this one, the traveller, who is, waiting for his horses
    to be put in or his dinner to be prepared, observes
    in the charming people who lend themselves to con-
    versation in the hill-towns of Tuscany. The spot
    where our entertainers at Les Baux congregated was
    naturally the most inhabited portion of the town; as
    I say, there were at least a dozen human figures
    within sight. Presently we wandered away from them,
    scaled the higher places, seated ourselves among the
    ruins of the castle, and looked down from the cliff
    overhanging that portion of the road which I have
    mentioned as approaching Les Baux from behind. I
    was unable to trace the configuration of the castle as
    plainly as the writers who have described it in the
    guide-books, and I am ashamed to say that I did not
    even perceive the three great figures of stone (the
    three Marys, as they are called; the two Marys of
    Scripture, with Martha), which constitute one of the
    curiosities of the place, and of which M. Jules Canonge
    speaks with almost hyperbolical admiration. A brisk
    shower, lasting some ten minutes, led us to take refuge
    in a cavity, of mysterious origin, where the melancholy
    baker presently discovered us, having had the _bonne
    pensee_ of coming up for us with an umbrella which
    certainly belonged, in former ages, to one of the Ste-
    phanettes or Berangeres commemorated by M. Canonge.
    His oven, I am afraid, was cold so long as our visit
    lasted. When the rain was over we wandered down
    to the little disencumbered space before the inn,
    through a small labyrinth of obliterated things. They
    took the form of narrow, precipitous streets, bordered
    by empty houses, with gaping windows and absent
    doors, through which we had glimpses of sculptured
    chimney-pieces and fragments of stately arch and vault.
    Some of the houses are still inhabited; but most of
    them are open to the air and weather. Some of them
    have completely collapsed; others present to the street
    a front which enables one to judge of the physiognomy
    of Les Baux in the days of its importance. This im-
    portance had pretty well passed away in the early part
    of the sixteenth century, when the place ceased to be
    an independent principality. It became - by bequest
    of one of its lords, Bernardin des Baux, a great cap-
    tain of his time - part of the appanage of the kings of
    France, by whom it was placed under the protection
    of Arles, which had formerly occupied with regard to
    it a different position. I know not whether the Arle-
    sians neglected their trust; but the extinction of the
    sturdy little stronghold is too complete not to have
    begun long ago. Its memories are buried under its
    ponderous stones. As we drove away from it in the
    gloaming, my friend and I agreed that the two or three
    hours we had spent there were among the happiest
    impressions of a pair of tourists very curious in the
    picturesque. We almost forgot that we were bound to
    regret that the shortened day left us no time to drive
    five miles further, above a pass in the little mountains
    - it had beckoned to us in the morning, when we
    came in sight of it, almost irresistibly - to see the Ro-
    man arch and mausoleum of Saint Remy. To compass
    this larger excursion (including the visit to Les Baux)
    you must start from Arles very early in the morning;
    but I can imagine no more delightful day.
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