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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 34
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    Fortunately, it did not rain every day (though I
    believe it was raining everywhere else in the depart-
    ment); otherwise I should not have been able to go
    to Villeneuve and to Vaucluse. The afternoon, indeed,
    was lovely when I walked over the interminable bridge
    that spans the two arms of the Rhone, divided here
    by a considerable island, and directed my course, like
    a solitary horseman - on foot, to the lonely tower
    which forms one of the outworks of Villeneuve-les-
    Avignon. The picturesque, half-deserted little town
    lies a couple of miles further up the river. The im-
    mense round towers of its old citadel and the long
    stretches of ruined wall covering the slope on which
    it lies, are the most striking features of the nearer
    view, as you look from Avignon across the Rhone. I
    spent a couple of hours in visiting these objects, and
    there was a kind of pictorial sweetness in the episode;
    but I have not many details to relate. The isolated
    tower I just mentioned has much in common with the
    detached donjon of Montmajour, which I had looked
    at in going to Les Baux, and to which I paid my
    respects in speaking of that excursion. Also the work
    of Philippe le Bel (built in 1307), it is amazingly big
    and stubborn, and formed the opposite limit of the
    broken bridge, whose first arches (on the side of
    Avignon) alone remain to give a measure of the oc-
    casional volume of the Rhone. Half an hour's walk
    brought me to Villeneuve, which lies away from the
    river, looking like a big village, half depopulated, and
    occupied for the most part by dogs and cats, old
    women and small children; these last, in general, re-
    markably pretty, in the manner of the children of
    Provence. You pass through the place, which seems
    in a singular degree vague and unconscious, and come
    to the rounded hill on which the ruined abbey lifts
    its yellow walls, - the Benedictine abbey of Saint-
    Andre, at once a church, a monastery, and a fortress.
    A large part of the crumbling enceinte disposes itself
    over the hill; but for the rest, all that has preserved
    any traceable cohesion is a considerable portion, of
    the citadel. The defence of the place appears to have
    been intrusted largely to the huge round towers that
    flank the old gate; one of which, the more complete,
    the ancient warden (having first inducted me into his
    own dusky little apartment, and presented me with
    a great bunch of lavender) enabled me to examine in
    detail. I would almost have dispensed with the privi-
    lege, for I think I have already mentioned that an ac-
    quaintance with many feudal interiors has wrought a
    sad confusion in my mind. The image of the outside
    always remains distinct; I keep it apart from other
    images of the same sort; it makes a picture sufficiently
    ineffaceable. But the guard-rooms, winding staircases,
    loop-holes, prisons, repeat themselves and intermingle;
    they have a wearisome family likeness. There are
    always black passages and corners, and walls twenty
    feet thick; and there is always some high place to
    climb up to for the sake of a "magnificent" view.
    The views, too, are apt to get muddled. These dense
    gate-towers of Philippe le Bel struck me, however, as
    peculiarly wicked and grim. Their capacity is of the
    largest, and they contain over so many devilish little
    dungeons, lighted by the narrowest slit in the pro-
    digious wall, where it comes over one with a good
    deal of vividness and still more horror that wretched
    human beings ever lay there rotting in the dark. The
    dungeons of Villeneuve made a particular impression
    on me, - greater than any, except those of Loches,
    which must surely be the most grewsome in Europe.
    I hasten to add that every dark hole at Villeneuve is
    called a dungeon; and I believe it is well established
    that in this manner, in almost all old castles and
    towers, the sensibilities of the modern tourist are un-
    scrupulously played upon. There were plenty of black
    holes in the Middle Ages that were not dungeons, but
    household receptacles of various kinds; and many a
    tear dropped in pity for the groaning captive has really
    been addressed to the spirits of the larder and the
    faggot-nook. For all this, there are some very bad
    corners in the towers of Villeneuve, so that I was not
    wide of the mark when I began to think again, as I
    had often thought before, of the stoutness of the human
    composition in the Middle Ages, and the tranquillity
    of nerve of people to whom the groaning captive and
    the blackness of a "living tomb" were familiar ideas,
    which did not at all interfere with their happiness or
    their sanity. Our modern nerves, our irritable sym-
    pathies, our easy discomforts and fears, make one think
    (in some relations) less respectfully of human nature.
    Unless, indeed, it be true, as I have heard it main-
    tained, that in the Middle Ages every one did go mad,
    - every one _was_ mad. The theory that this was a
    period of general insanity is not altogether indefensible.

    Within the old walls of its immense abbey the
    town of Villeneuve has built itself a rough faubourg;
    the fragments with which the soil was covered having
    been, I suppose, a quarry of material. There are no
    streets; the small, shabby houses, almost hovels, straggle
    at random over the uneven ground. The only im-
    portant feature is a convent of cloistered nuns, who
    have a large garden (always within the walls) behind
    their house, and whose doleful establishment you look
    down into, or down at simply, from the battlements of
    the citadel. One or two of the nuns were passing in
    and out of the house; they wore gray robes, with a
    bright red cape. I thought their situation most pro-
    vincial. I came away, and wandered a little over the
    base of the hill, outside the walls. Small white stones
    cropped through the grass, over which low olive-trees
    were scattered. The afternoon had a yellow bright-
    ness. I sat down under one of the little trees, on the
    grass, - the delicate gray branches were not much
    above my head, - and rested, and looked at Avignon
    across the Rhone. It was very soft, very still and
    pleasant, though I am not sure it was all I once should
    have expected of that combination of elements: an old
    city wall for a background, a canopy of olives, and,
    for a couch, the soil of Provence.

    When I came back to Avignon the twilight was
    already thick; but I walked up to the Rocher des
    Doms. Here I again had the benefit of that amiable
    moon which had already lighted up for me so many
    romantic scenes. She was full, and she rose over the
    Rhone, and made it look in the distance like a silver
    serpent. I remember saying to myself at this mo-
    ment, that it would be a beautiful evening to walk
    round the walls of Avignon, - the remarkable walls,
    which challenge comparison with those of Carcassonne
    and Aigues-Mortes, and which it was my duty, as an
    observer of the picturesque, to examine with some at-
    tention. Presenting themselves to that silver sheen,
    they could not fail to be impressive. So, at least, I
    said to myself; but, unfortunately, I did not believe
    what I said. It is a melancholy fact that the walls of
    Avignon had never impressed me at all, and I had
    never taken the trouble to make the circuit. They
    are continuous and complete, but for some mysterious
    reason they fail of their effect. This is partly because
    they are very low, in some places almost absurdly so;
    being buried in new accumulations of soil, and by
    the filling in of the moat up to their middle. Then
    they have been too well tended; they not only look at
    present very new, but look as if they had never been
    old. The fact that their extent is very much greater
    makes them more of a curiosity than those of Carcas-
    sonne; but this is exactly, as the same time, what is
    fatal to their pictorial unity. With their thirty-seven
    towers and seven gates they lose themselves too much
    to make a picture that will compare with the ad-
    mirable little vignette of Carcassonne. I may mention,
    now that I am speaking of the general mass of Avignon,
    that nothing is more curious than the way in which,
    viewed from a distance, it is all reduced to nought by
    the vast bulk of the palace of the Popes. From across
    the Rhone, or from the train, as you leave the place,
    this great gray block is all Avignon; it seems to occupy
    the whole city, extensive, with its shrunken population,
    as the city is.
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