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- The True Story of My Life - 30/31 -


whole country in cheap editions. My name flown over the great ocean! I felt myself at this thought quite insignificant, but yet glad and happy; wherefore should I, in preference to so many thousand others, receive such happiness?

I had and still have a feeling as though I were a poor peasant lad over whom a royal mantle is thrown. Yet I was and am made happy by all this! Is _this_ vanity, or does it show itself in these expressions of my joy?

Ole Bull went to Algiers, I towards the Pyrenees. Through Provence, which looked to me quite Danish, I reached Nismes, where the grandeur of the splendid Roman amphitheatre at once carried me back to Italy. The memorials of antiquity in the south of France I have never heard praised as their greatness and number deserve; the so-called _Maison Quar e_ is still standing in all its splendor, like the Theseus Temple at Athens: Rome has nothing so well preserved.

In Nismes dwells the baker Reboul, who writes the most charming poems: whoever may not chance to know him from these is, however, well acquainted with him through Lamartine's Journey to the East. I found him at the house, stepped into the bakehouse, and addressed myself to a man in shirt sleeves who was putting bread into the oven; it was Reboul himself! A noble countenance which expressed a manly character greeted me. When I mentioned my name, he was courteous enough to say he was acquainted with it through the Revue de Paris, and begged me to visit him in the afternoon, when he should be able to entertain me better. When I came again I found him in a little room which might be called almost elegant, adorned with pictures, casts and books, not alone French literature, but translations of the Greek classics. A picture on the wall represented his most celebrated poem, "The Dying Child," from Marmier's _Chansons du Nord_. He knew I had treated the same subject, and I told him that this was written in my school days. If in the morning I had found him the industrious baker, he now was the poet completely; he spoke with animation of the literature of his country, and expressed a wish to see the north, the scenery and intellectual life of which seemed to interest him. With great respect I took leave of a man whom the Muses have not meanly endowed, and who yet has good sense enough, spite of all the homage paid him, to remain steadfast to his honest business, and prefer being the most remarkable baker of Nismes to losing himself in Paris, after a short triumph, among hundreds of other poets.

By railway I now travelled by way of Montpelier to Cette, with that rapidity which a train possesses in France; you fly there as though for a wager with the wild huntsman. I involuntarily remembered that at Basle, at the corner of a street where formerly the celebrated Dance of Death was painted, there is written up in large letters "Dance of Death," and on the opposite corner "Way to the Railroad." This singular juxtaposition just at the frontiers of France, gives play to the fancy; in this rushing flight it came into my thoughts; it seemed as though the steam whistle gave the signal to the dance. On German railways one does not have such wild fancies.

The islander loves the sea as the mountaineer loves his mountains!

Every sea-port town, however small it may be, receives in my eyes a peculiar charm from the sea. Was it the sea, in connexion perhaps with the Danish tongue, which sounded in my ears in two houses in Cette, that made this town so homelike to me? I know not, but I felt more in Denmark than in the south of France. When far from your country you enter a house where all, from the master and mistress to the servants, speak your own language, as was here the case, these home tones have a real power of enchantment: like the mantle of Faust, in a moment they transport you, house and all, into your own land. Here, however, there was no northern summer, but the hot sun of Naples; it might even have burnt Faust's cap. The sun's rays destroyed all strength. For many years there had not been such a summer, even here; and from the country round about arrived accounts of people who had died from the heat: the very nights were hot. I was told beforehand I should be unable to bear the journey in Spain. I felt this myself, but then Spain was to be the bouquet of my journey. I already saw the Pyrenees; the blue mountains enticed me--and one morning early I found myself on the steam-boat. The sun rose higher; it burnt above, it burnt from the expanse of waters, myriads of jelly-like medusas filled the river; it was as though the sun's rays had changed the whole sea into a heaving world of animal life; I had never before seen anything like it. In the Languedoc canal we had all to get into a large boat which had been constructed more for goods than for passengers. The deck was coveted with boxes and trunks, and these again occupied by people who sought shade under umbrellas. It was impossible to move; no railing surrounded this pile of boxes and people, which was drawn along by three or four horses attached by long ropes. Beneath in the cabins it was as crowded; people sat close to each other, like flies in a cup of sugar. A lady who had fainted from the heat and tobacco smoke, was carried in and laid upon the only unoccupied spot on the floor; she was brought here for air, but here there was none, spite of the number of fans in motion; there were no refreshments to be had, not even a drink of water, except the warm, yellow water which the canal afforded. Over the cabin windows hung booted legs, which at the same time that they deprived the cabin of light, seemed to give a substance to the oppressive air. Shut up in this place one had also the torment of being forced to listen to a man who was always trying to say something witty; the stream of words played about his lips as the canal water about the boat. I made myself a way through boxes, people, and umbrellas, and stood in a boiling hot air; on either side the prospect was eternally the same, green grass, a green tree, flood-gates--green grass, a green tree, flood-gates--and then again the same; it was enough to drive one insane.

At the distance of a half-hour's journey from Beziers we were put on land; I felt almost ready to faint, and there was no carriage here, for the omnibus had not expected us so early; the sun burnt infernally. People say the south of France is a portion of Paradise; under the present circumstances it seemed to me a portion of hell with all its heat. In Beziers the diligence was waiting, but all the best places were already taken; and I here for the first, and I hope for the last time, got into the hinder part of such a conveyance. An ugly woman in slippers, and with a head-dress a yard high, which she hung up, took her seat beside me; and now came a singing sailor who had certainly drunk too many healths; then a couple of dirty fellows, whose first manoeuvre was to pull off their boots and coats and sit upon them, hot and dirty, whilst the thick clouds of dust whirled into the vehicle, and the sun burnt and blinded me. It was impossible to endure this farther than Narbonne; sick and suffering, I sought rest, but then came gensdarmes and demanded my passport, and then just as night began, a fire must needs break out in the neighboring village; the fire alarm resounded, the fire-engines rolled along, it was just as though all manner of tormenting spirits were let loose. From here as far as the Pyrenees there followed repeated demands for your passport, so wearisome that you know nothing like it even in Italy: they gave you as a reason, the nearness to the Spanish frontiers, the number of fugitives from thence, and several murders which had taken place in the neighborhood: all conduced to make the journey in my then state of health a real torment.

I reached Perpignan. The sun had here also swept the streets of people, it was only when night came that they came forth, but then it was like a roaring stream, as though a real tumult were about to destroy the town. The human crowd moved in waves beneath my windows, a loud shout resounded; it pierced through my sick frame. What was that?--what did it mean? "Good evening, Mr. Arago!" resounded from the strongest voices, thousands repeated it, and music sounded; it was the celebrated Arago, who was staying in the room next to mine: the people gave him a serenade. Now this was the third I had witnessed on my journey. Arago addressed them from the balcony, the shouts of the people filled the streets. There are few evenings in my life when I have felt so ill as on this one, the tumult went through my nerves; the beautiful singing which followed could not refresh me. Ill as I was, I gave up every thought of travelling into Spain; I felt it would be impossible for me. Ah, if I could only recover strength enough to reach Switzerland! I was filled with horror at the idea of the journey back. I was advised to hasten as quickly as possible to the Pyrenees, and there breathe the strengthening mountain air: the baths of Vernet were recommended as cool and excellent, and I had a letter of introduction to the head of the establishment there. After an exhausting journey of a night and some hours in the morning, I have reached this place, from whence I sent these last sheets. The air is so cool, so strengthening, such as I have not breathed for months. A few days here have entirely restored me, my pen flies again over the paper, and my thoughts towards that wonderful Spain. I stand like Moses and see the land before me, yet may not tread upon it. But if God so wills it, I will at some future time in the winter fly from the north hither into this rich beautiful land, from which the sun with his sword of flame now holds me back.

Vernet as yet is not one of the well-known bathing places, although it possesses the peculiarity of being visited all the year round. The most celebrated visitor last winter was Ibrahim Pacha; his name still lives on the lips of the hostess and waiter as the greatest glory of the establishment; his rooms were shown first as a curiosity. Among the anecdotes current about him is the story of his two French words, _merci_ and _tr s bien_, which he pronounced in a perfectly wrong manner.

In every respect, Vernet among baths is as yet in a state of innocence; it is only in point of great bills that the Commandant has been able to raise it on a level with the first in Europe. As for the rest, you live here in a solitude, and separated from the world as in no other bathing place: for the amusement of the guests nothing in the least has been done; this must be sought in wanderings on foot or on donkey-back among the mountains; but here all is so peculiar and full of variety, that the want of artificial pleasures is the less felt. It is here as though the most opposite natural productions had been mingled together,-- northern and southern, mountain and valley vegetation. From one point you will look over vineyards, and up to a mountain which appears a sample card of corn fields and green meadows, where the hay stands in cocks; from another you will only see the naked, metallic rocks with strange crags jutting forth from them, long and narrow as though they were broken statues or pillars; now you walk under poplar trees, through small meadows, where the balm-mint grows, as thoroughly Danish a production as though it were cut out of Zealand; now you stand under shelter of the rock, where cypresses and figs spring forth among vine leaves, and see a piece of Italy. But the soul of the whole, the pulses which beat audibly in millions through the mountain chain, are the springs. There is a life, a babbling in the ever-rushing waters! It springs forth everywhere, murmurs in the moss, rushes over the great stones. There is a movement, a life which it is impossible for words to give; you hear a constant rushing chorus of a million strings; above and below you, and all around, you hear the babbling of the river nymphs.

High on the cliff, at the edge of a steep precipice, lie the remains of a Moorish castle; the clouds hang where hung the balcony; the path along which the ass now goes, leads through the hall. From here you can enjoy the view over the whole valley, which, long and narrow, seems like a river of trees, which winds among the red scorched rocks; and in the middle of this green valley rises terrace-like on a hill, the little town of Vernet, which only wants minarets to look like a Bulgarian town. A miserable church with two long holes as windows, and close to it a ruined tower, form the upper portion, then come the dark brown roofs, and the dirty grey houses with opened shutters instead of


The True Story of My Life - 30/31

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