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    Chapter 38

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    Chapter 38
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    The foregoing reflections occur, in a cruder form,
    as it were, in my note-book, where I find this remark
    appended to them: "Don't take leave of Lamartine on
    that contemptuous note; it will be easy to think of
    something more sympathetic!" Those friends of mine,
    mentioned a little while since, who accuse me of always
    tipping back the balance, could not desire a paragraph
    more characteristic; but I wish to give no further evi-
    dence of such infirmities, and will therefore hurry away
    from the subject, - hurry away in the train which, very
    early on a crisp, bright morning, conveyed. me, by way
    of an excursion, to the ancient city of Bourg-en-Bresse.
    Shining in early light, the Saone was spread, like a
    smooth, white tablecloth, over a considerable part of
    the flat country that I traversed. There is no provision
    made in this image for the long, transparent screens
    of thin-twigged trees which rose at intervals out of
    the watery plain; but as, under the circumstances,
    there seemed to be no provision for them in fact, I
    will let my metaphor go for what it is worth. My
    journey was (as I remember it) of about an hour and
    a half; but I passed no object of interest, as the phrase
    is, whatever. The phrase hardly applies even to Bourg
    itself, which is simply a town _quelconque_, as M. Zola
    would say. Small, peaceful, rustic, it stands in the
    midst of the great dairy-feeding plains of Bresse, of
    which fat county, sometime property of the house of
    Savoy, it was the modest capital. The blue masses
    of the Jura give it a creditable horizon, but the only
    nearer feature it can point to is its famous sepulchral
    church. This edifice lies at a fortunate distance from
    the town, which, though inoffensive, is of too common
    a stamp to consort with such a treasure. All I ever
    knew of the church of Brou I had gathered, years
    ago, from Matthew Arnold's beautiful poem, which
    bears its name. I remember thinking, in those years,
    that it was impossible verses could be more touching
    than these; and as I stood before the object of my
    pilgrimage, in the gay French light (though the place
    was so dull), I recalled the spot where I had first read
    them, and where I read them again and yet again,
    wondering whether it would ever be my fortune to
    visit the church of Brou. The spot in question was
    an armchair in a window which looked out on some
    cows in a field; and whenever I glanced at the cows
    it came over me - I scarcely know why - that I should
    probably never behold the structure reared by the
    Duchess Margaret. Some of our visions never come
    to pass; but we must be just, - others do. "So sleep,
    forever sleep, O princely pair!" I remembered that
    line of Matthew Arnold's, and the stanza about the
    Duchess Margaret coming to watch the builders on
    her palfry white. Then there came to me something
    in regard to the moon shining on winter nights through
    the cold clere-story. The tone of the place at that
    hour was not at all lunar; it was cold and bright, but
    with the chill of an autumn morning; yet this, even
    with the fact of the unexpected remoteness of the
    church from the Jura added to it, did not prevent me
    from feeling that I looked at a monument in the pro-
    duction of which - or at least in the effect of which
    on the tourist mind of to-day - Matthew Arnold had
    been much concerned. By a pardonable license he
    has placed it a few miles nearer to the forests of the
    Jura than it stands at present. It is very true that,
    though the mountains in the sixteenth century can
    hardly have been in a different position, the plain
    which separates the church from them may have been
    bedecked with woods. The visitor to-day cannot help
    wondering why the beautiful building, with its splendid
    works of art, is dropped down in that particular spot,
    which looks so accidental and arbitrary. But there
    are reasons for most things, and there were reasons
    why the church of Brou should be at Brou, which is
    a vague little suburb of a vague little town.

    The responsibility rests, at any rate, upon the
    Duchess Margaret, - Margaret of Austria, daughter of
    the Emperor Maximilian and his wife Mary of Bur-
    gundy, daughter of Charles the Bold. This lady has
    a high name in history, having been regent of the
    Netherlands in behalf of her nephew, the Emperor
    Charles V., of whose early education she had had the
    care. She married in 1501 Philibert the Handsome,
    Duke of Savoy, to whom the province of Bresse be-
    longed, and who died two years later. She had been
    betrothed, is a child, to Charles VIII. of France, and
    was kept for some time at the French court, - that of
    her prospective father-in-law, Louis XI.; but she was
    eventually repudiated, in order that her _fiance_ might
    marry Anne of Brittany, - an alliance so magnificently
    political that we almost condone the offence to a
    sensitive princess. Margaret did not want for hus-
    bands, however, inasmuch as before her marriage to
    Philibert she had been united to John of Castile, son
    of Ferdinand V., King of Aragon, - an episode ter-
    minated, by the death of the Spanish prince, within a
    year. She was twenty-two years regent of the Nether-
    lands, and died at fifty-one, in 1530. She might have
    been, had she chosen, the wife, of Henry VII. of Eng-
    land. She was one of the signers of the League of
    Cambray, against the Venetian republic, and was a
    most politic, accomplished, and judicious princess.
    She undertook to build the church of Brou as a mau-
    soleum, for her second husband and herself, in fulfil-
    ment of a vow made by Margaret of Bourbon, mother
    of Philibert, who died before she could redeem her
    pledge, and who bequeathed the duty to her son. He
    died shortly afterwards, and his widow assumed the
    pious task. According to Murray, she intrusted the
    erection of the church to "Maistre Loys von Berghem,"
    and the sculpture to "Maistre Conrad." The author
    of a superstitious but carefully prepared little Notice,
    which I bought at Bourg, calls the architect and
    sculptor (at once) Jehan de Paris, author (sic) of the
    tomb of Francis II. of Brittany, to which we gave some
    attention at Nantes, and which the writer of my
    pamphlet ascribes only subordinately to Michel Colomb.
    The church, which is not of great size, is in the last
    and most flamboyant phase of Gothic, and in admirable
    preservation; the west front, before which a quaint old
    sun-dial is laid out on the ground, - a circle of num-
    bers marked in stone, like those on a clock face, let
    into the earth, - is covered with delicate ornament.
    The great feature, however (the nave is perfectly bare
    and wonderfully new-looking, though the warden, a
    stolid yet sharp old peasant, in a blouse, who looked
    more as if his line were chaffering over turnips than
    showing off works of art, told me that it has never
    been touched, and that its freshness is simply the
    quality of the stone), - the great feature is the ad-
    mirable choir, in the midst of which the three monu-
    ments have bloomed under the chisel, like exotic
    plants in a conservatory. I saw the place to small
    advantage, for the stained glass of the windows, which
    are fine, was under repair, and much of it was masked
    with planks.

    In the centre lies Philibert-le-Bel, a figure of white
    marble on a great slab of black, in his robes and his
    armor, with two boy-angels holding a tablet at his
    head, and two more at his feet. On either side of
    him is another cherub: one guarding his helmet, the
    other his stiff gauntlets. The attitudes of these charm-
    ing children, whose faces are all bent upon him in
    pity, have the prettiest tenderness and respect. The
    table on which he lies is supported by elaborate
    columns, adorned with niches containing little images,
    and with every other imaginable elegance; and be-
    neath it he is represented in that other form, so com-
    mon in the tombs of the Renaissance, - a man naked
    and dying, with none of the state and splendor of the
    image above. One of these figures embodies the duke
    the other simply the mortal; and there is something
    very strange and striking in the effect of the latter,
    seen dimly and with difficulty through the intervals
    of the rich supports of the upper slab. The monu-
    ment of Margaret herself is on the left, all in white
    merble, tormented into a multitude of exquisite pat-
    terns, the last extravagance of a Gothic which had
    gone so far that nothing was left it but to return upon
    itself. Unlike her husband, who has only the high
    roof of the church above him, she lies under a canopy
    supported and covered by a wilderness of embroidery,
    - flowers, devices, initials, arabesques, statuettes.
    Watched over by cherubs, she is also in her robes
    and ermine, with a greyhound sleeping at her feet
    (her husband, at his, has a waking lion); and the
    artist has not, it is to be presumed, represented her
    as more beautiful than she was. She looks, indeed,
    like the regent of a turbulent realm. Beneath her
    couch is stretched another figure, - a less brilliant
    Margaret, wrapped in her shroud, with her long hair
    over her shoulders. Round the tomb is the battered
    iron railing placed there originally, with the myste-
    rious motto of the duchess worked into the top, -
    _fortune infortune fort une_. The other two monuments
    are protected by barriers of the same pattern. That
    of Margaret of Bourbon, Philibert's mother, stands on
    the right of the choir; and I suppose its greatest dis-
    tinction is that it should have been erected to a
    mother-in-law. It is but little less florid and sump-
    tuous than the others; it has, however, no second re-
    cumbent figure. On the other hand, the statuettes
    that surround the base of the tomb are of even more
    exquisite workmanship: they represent weeping wo-
    men, in long mantles and hoods, which latter hang
    forward over the small face of the figure, giving the
    artist a chance to carve the features within this hollow
    of drapery, - an extraordinary play of skill. There is
    a high, white marble shrine of the Virgin, as extra-
    ordinary as all the rest (a series of compartments, re-
    presenting the various scenes of her life, with the
    Assumption in the middle); and there is a magnifi-
    cent series of stalls, which are simply the intricate
    embroidery of the tombs translated into polished oak.
    All these things are splendid, ingenious, elaborate,
    precious; it is goldsmith's work on a monumental
    scale, and the general effect is none the less beautiful
    and solemn because it is so rich. But the monuments
    of the church of Brou are not the noblest that one
    may see; the great tombs of Verona are finer, and
    various other early Italian work. These things are
    not insincere, as Ruskin would say; but they are pre-
    tentious, and they are not positively _naifs_. I should
    mention that the walls of the choir are embroidered
    in places with Margaret's tantalizing device, which -
    partly, perhaps, because it is tantalizing - is so very
    decorative, as they say in London. I know not whether
    she was acquainted with this epithet; but she had
    anticipated one of the fashions most characteristic of
    our age.

    One asks one's self how all this decoration, this
    luxury of fair and chiselled marble, survived the
    French Revolution. An hour of liberty in the choir
    of Brou would have been a carnival for the image-
    breakers. The well-fed Bressois are surely a good-
    natured people. I call them well-fed both on general
    and on particular grounds. Their province has the
    most savory aroma, and I found an opportunity to
    test its reputation. I walked back into the town from
    the church (there was really nothing to be seen by
    the way), and as the hour of the midday breakfast
    had struck, directed my steps to the inn. The table
    d'hote was going on, and a gracious, bustling, talkative
    landlady welcomed me. I had an excellent repast -
    the best repast possible - which consisted simply of
    boiled eggs and bread and butter. It was the quality
    of these simple ingredients that made the occasion
    memorable. The eggs were so good that I am ashamed
    to say how many of them I consumed. "La plus
    belle fille du monde," as the French proverb says,
    "ne peut donner que ce qu'elle a;" and it might
    seem that an egg which has succeeded in being fresh
    has done all that can reasonably be expected of it.
    But there was a bloom of punctuality, so to speak,
    about these eggs of Bourg, as if it had been the in-
    tention of the very hens themselves that they should
    be promptly served. "Nous sommes en Bresse, et le
    beurre n'est pas mauvais," the landlady said, with a
    sort of dry coquetry, as she placed this article before
    me. It was the poetry of butter, and I ate a pound
    or two of it; after which I came away with a strange
    mixture of impressions of late Gothic sculpture and
    thick _tartines_. I came away through the town, where,
    on a little green promenade, facing the hotel, is a
    bronze statue of Bichat, the physiologist, who was a
    Bressois. I mention it, not on account of its merit
    (though, as statues go, I don't remember that it is
    bad), but because I learned from it - my ignorance,
    doubtless, did me little honor - that Bichat had died
    at thirty years of age, and this revelation was almost
    agitating. To have done so much in so short a life
    was to be truly great. This reflection, which looks
    deplorably trite as I write it here, had the effect of
    eloquence as I uttered it, for my own benefit, on the
    bare little mall at Bourg.
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