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- A LITTLE TOUR IN FRANCE - 5/42 -


of this exquisite structure emerges from a bed of light verdure, which has been allowed to mass itself there, and which contributes to the springing look of the walls; while on the right it joins the most modern portion of the castle, - the building erected, on founda- tions of enormous height and solidity, in 1635, by Gaston d'Orleans. This fine, frigid mansion - the proper view of it is from the court within - is one of the masterpieces of Francois Mansard, whom. a kind pro- vidence did not allow to make over the whole palace in the superior manner of his superior age. This had been a part of Gaston's plan, - he was a blunderer born, and this precious project was worthy of him. This execution of it would surely have been one of the great misdeeds of history. Partially performed, the misdeed is not altogether to be regretted; for as one stands in the court of the castle, and lets one's eye wander from the splendid wing of Francis I. - which is the last work of free and joyous invention - to the ruled lines and blank spaces of the ponderous pavilion of Mansard, one makes one's reflections upon the advantage, in even the least personaI of the arts, of having something to say, and upon the stupidity of a taste which had ended by becoming an aggregation of negatives. Gaston's wing, taken by itself, has much of the _bel air_ which was to belong to the architecture of Louis XIV.; but, taken in contrast to its flowering, laughing, living neighbor, it marks the difference be- tween inspiration and calculation. We scarcely grudge it its place, however, for it adds a price to the rest of the chateau.

We have entered the court, by the way, by jump- ing over the walls. The more orthodox method is to follow a modern, terrace, which leads to the left, from the side of the chateau that I began by speaking of, and passes round, ascending, to a little square on a considerably higher level, which is not, like a very modern square on which the back (as I have called it) looks out, a thoroughfare. This small, empty _place,_ oblong in form, at once bright and quiet, with a cer- tain grass-grown look, offers an excellent setting to the entrance-front of the palace, - the wing of Louis XII. The restoration here has been lavish; but it was per- haps but an inevitable reaction against the injuries, still more lavish, by which the unfortunate building had long been overwhelmed. It had fallen into a state of ruinous neglect, relieved only by the misuse pro- ceeding from successive generations of soldiers, for whom its charming chambers served as barrack-room. Whitewashed, mutilated, dishonored, the castle of Blois may be said to have escaped simply with its life. This is the history of Amboise as well, and is to a certain extent the history of Chambord. Delightful, at any rate, was the refreshed facade of Louis XII. as I stood and looked at it one bright September morning. In that soft, clear, merry light of Touraine, everything shows, everything speaks. Charming are the taste, the happy proportions, the color of this beautiful front, to which the new feeling for a purely domestic architec- ture - an architecture of security and tranquillity, in which art could indulge itself - gave an air of youth and gladness. It is true that for a long time to come the castle of Blois was neither very safe nor very quiet; but its dangers came from within, from the evil passions of its inhabitants, and not from siege or in- vasion. The front of Louis XII. is of red brick, crossed here and there with purple; and the purple slate of the high roof, relieved with chimneys beautifully treated, and with the embroidered caps of pinnacles and arches, with the porcupine of Louis, the ermine and the festooned rope which formed the devices of Anne of Brittany, - the tone of this rich-looking roof carries out the mild glow of the wall. The wide, fair windows look as if they had expanded to let in the rosy dawn of the Renaissance. Charming, for that matter, are the windows of all the chateaux of Touraine, with their squareness corrected (as it is not in the Tudor architecture) by the curve of the upper corners, which makes this line look - above the expressive aperture - like a pencilled eyebrow. The low door of this front is crowned by a high, deep niche, in which, under a splendid canopy, stiffly astride of a stiffly draped charger, sits in profile an image of the good King Louis. Good as he had been, - the father of his people, as he was called (I believe he remitted various taxes), - he was not good enough to pass muster at the Revolution; and the effigy I have just described is no more than a reproduction of the primitive statue demolished at that period.

Pass beneath it into the court, and the sixteenth century closes round you. It is a pardonable flight of fancy to say that the expressive faces of an age in which human passions lay very near the surface seem to look out at you from the windows, from the balconies, from the thick foliage of the sculpture. The portion of the wing of Louis XII. that looks toward the court is supported on a deep arcade. On your right is the wing erected by Francis I., the reverse of the mass of building which you see on approaching the castle. This exquisite, this extravagant, this trans- cendent piece of architecture is the most joyous ut- terance of the French Renaissance. It is covered with an embroidery of sculpture, in which every detail is worthy of the hand of a goldsmith. In the middle of it, or rather a little to the left, rises the famous wind- ing staircase (plausibly, but I believe not religiously, restored), which even the ages which most misused it must vaguely have admired. It forms a kind of chiselled cylinder, with wide interstices, so that the stairs are open to the air. Every inch of this structure, of its balconies, its pillars, its great central columns, is wrought over with lovely images, strange and ingenious devices, prime among which is the great heraldic sala- mander of Francis I. The salamander is everywhere at Blois, - over the chimneys, over the doors, on the walls. This whole quarter , of the castle bears the stamp of that eminently pictorial prince. The run- ning cornice along the top of the front is like all un- folded, an elongated, bracelet. The windows of the attic are like shrines for saints. The gargoyles, the medallions, the statuettes, the festoons, are like the elaboration of some precious cabinet rather than the details of a building exposed to the weather and to the ages. In the interior there is a profusion of res- toration, and it is all restoration in color. This has been, evidently, a work of great energy and cost, but it will easily strike you as overdone. The universal freshness is a discord, a false note; it seems to light up the dusky past with an unnatural glare. Begun in the reign of Louis Philippe, this terrible process - the more terrible always the more you admit that it has been necessary - has been carried so far that there is now scarcely a square inch of the interior that has the color of the past upon it. It is true that the place had been so coated over with modern abuse that something was needed to keep it alive; it is only, per- haps, a pity that the restorers, not content with saving its life, should have undertaken to restore its youth. The love of consistency, in such a business, is a dangerous lure. All the old apartments have been rechristened, as it were; the geography of the castle has been re-established. The guardrooms, the bed- rooms, the closets, the oratories, have recovered their identity. Every spot connected with the murder of the Duke of Guise is pointed out by a small, shrill boy, who takes you from room to room, and who has learned his lesson in perfection. The place is full of Catherine de' Medici, of Henry III., of memories, of ghosts, of echoes, of possible evocations and revivals. It is covered with crimson and gold. The fireplaces and the ceilings are magnificent; they look like ex- pensive "sets" at the grand opera.

I should have mentioned that below, in the court, the front of the wing of Gaston d'Orleans faces you as you enter, so that the place is a course of French history. Inferior in beauty and grace to the other portions of the castle, the wing is yet a nobler monu- ment than the memory of Gaston deserves. The second of the sons of Henry IV., - who was no more fortunate as a father than as a husband, - younger brother of Louis XIII., and father of the great Mademoiselle, the most celebrated, most ambitious, most self-complacent, and most unsuccessful _fille a marier_ in French history, passed in enforced retirement at the castle of Blois the close of a life of clumsy intrigues against Cardinal Richelieu, in which his rashness was only equalled by his pusillanimity and his ill-luck by his inaccessibility to correction, and which, after so many follies and shames, was properly summed up in the project - be- gun, but not completed - of demolishing the beautiful habitation of his exile in order to erect a better one. With Gaston d'Orleans, however, who lived there with- out dignity, the history of the Chateau de Blois de- clines. Its interesting period is that of the wars of religion. It was the chief residence of Henry III., and the scene of the principal events of his depraved and dramatic reign. It has been restored more than enough, as I have said, by architects and decorators; the visitor, as he moves through its empty rooms, which are at once brilliant and ill-lighted (they have not been re- furnished), undertakes a little restoration of his own. His imagination helps itself from the things that re- main; he tries to see the life of the sixteenth century in its form and dress, - its turbulence, its passions, its loves and hates, its treacheries, falsities, touches of faith, its latitude of personal development, its presen- tation of the whole nature, its nobleness of costume, charm of speech, splendor of taste, unequalled pic- turesqueness. The picture is full of movement, of contrasted light and darkness, full altogether of abomi- nations. Mixed up with them all is the great name of religion, so that the drama wants nothing to make it complete. What episode was ever more perfect - looked at as a dramatic occurrence - than the murder of the Duke of Guise? The insolent prosperity of the victim; the weakness, the vices, the terrors, of the author of the deed; the perfect execution of the plot; the accu-


A LITTLE TOUR IN FRANCE - 5/42

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