IN THE HEART OF THE VOSGES
AND OTHER SKETCHES BY A "DEVIOUS TRAVELLER"
OFFICIER DE L'INSTRUCTION PUBLIQUE DE FRANCE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY SPECIAL PERMISSION
"I travel not to look for Gascons in Sicily. I have left them at home." —Montaigne.
Some of these sketches now appear for the first time, others have been published serially, whilst certain portions, curtailed or enlarged respectively, are reprinted from a former work long since out of print. Yet again I might entitle this volume, "Scenes from Unfrequented France," many spots being here described by an English traveller for the first time.
My warmest thanks are due to M. Maurice Barrs for permission to reproduce two illustrations by M. Georges Conrad from his famous romance, Au Service de l'Allemagne; also to M. Andr Hallays for the use of two views from his Travers l'Alsace; and to the publishers of both authors, MM. Fayard and Perrin, for their serviceableness in the matter.
Nor must I omit to acknowledge my indebtedness to Messrs. Sampson Low & Co., to whom I owe the reproduction of Gustave Dor's infantine tours de force; and to Messrs. Rivington, who have allowed large reprints from the work published by them over twenty years ago.
And last but not least, I thank the Rev. Albert Cadier, the son of my old friend, the much respected pastor of Osse, for the loan of his charming photographs.
I GRARDMER AND ITS ENVIRONS
II THE CHARM OF ALSACE
III IN GUSTAVE DOR'S COUNTRY
IV FROM BARR TO STRASBURG
V THE "MARVELLOUS BOY" OF ALSACE
VI QUISSAC AND SAUVE
VII AN IMMORTALIZER
IX MONTAUBAN, OR INGRES-VILLE
X MY PYRENEAN VALLEY AT LAST
XI AN OLIVE FARM IN THE VAR
XII PESSICARZ AND THE SUICIDES' CEMETERY
XIII GUEST OF FARMER AND MILLER
XIV LADY MERCHANTS AND SOCIALIST MAYORS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PROVINS, GENERAL VIEW
PROVINS, THE CAPITOL
PROVINS, THE CITY WALLS
A VOSGIAN SCENE
CIRQUE DE RETOURNEMER
THE PINNACLE OF ODILE
GUSTAVE DOR, INFANTINE SKETCH
GUSTAVE DOR, DO
NEAR THE SPANISH FRONTIER
ARRAS, LA PETITE PLACE
GRARDMER AND ENVIRONS
The traveller bound to eastern France has a choice of many routes, none perhaps offering more attractions than the great Strasburg line by way of Meaux, Chlons-sur-Marne, Nancy, and pinal. But the journey must be made leisurely. The country between Paris and Meaux is deservedly dear to French artists, and although Champagne is a flat region, beautiful only by virtue of fertility and highly developed agriculture, it is rich in old churches and fine architectural remains. By the Troyes-Belfort route, Provins may be visited. This is, perhaps, the most perfect specimen of the mediaeval walled-in town in France. To my thinking, neither Carcassonne, Semur nor Gurande surpass Hgsippe Moreau's little birthplace in beauty and picturesqueness. The acropolis of Brie also possesses a long and poetic history, being the seat of an art-loving prince, and the haunt of troubadours. A word to the epicure as well as the archaeologist. The bit of railway from Chlons-sur-Marne to Nancy affords a series of gastronomic delectations. At pernay travellers are just allowed time to drink a glass of champagne at the buffet, half a franc only being charged. At Bar-le-Duc little neatly-packed jars of the raspberry jam for which the town is famous are brought to the doors of the railway carriage. Further on at Commercy, you are enticed to regale upon unrivalled cakes called "Madeleines de Commercy," and not a town, I believe, of this favoured district is without its speciality in the shape of delicate cates or drinks.
Chlons-sur-Marne, moreover, possesses one of the very best hotels in provincial France—the hotel with the queer name—another inducement for us to idle on the way. The town itself is in no way remarkable, but it abounds in magnificent old churches of various epochs—some falling into decay, others restored, one and all deserving attention. St. Jean is especially noteworthy, its beautiful interior showing much exquisite tracery and almost a fanciful arrangement of transepts. It is very rich in good modern glass. But the gem of gems is not to be found in Chlons itself; more interesting and beautiful than its massive cathedral and church of Notre Dame, than St. Jean even, is the exquisite church of Notre Dame de l'pine, situated in a poor hamlet a few miles beyond the octroi gates. We have here, indeed, a veritable cathedral in a wilderness, nothing to be imagined more graceful than the airy open colonnades of its two spires, light as a handful of wheat ears loosely bound together. The colour of the grey stone gives solemnity to the rest of the exterior, which is massive and astonishingly rich in the grotesque element. We carefully studied the gargoyles round the roof, and, in spite of defacements, made out most of them—here a grinning demon with a struggling human being in its clutch—there an odd beast, part human, part pig, clothed in a kind of jacket, playing a harp—dozens of comic, hideous, heterogeneous figures in various attitudes and travesties.
Notre Dame de l'pine—originally commemorative of a famous shrine—has been restored, and purists in architecture will pass it by as an achievement of Gothic art in the period of its decline, but it is extremely beautiful nevertheless. On the way from Chlons-sur-Marne to Nancy we catch glimpses of other noble churches that stand out from the flat landscape as imposingly as Ely Cathedral. These are Notre Dame of Vitry le Franois and St. tienne of Toul, formerly a cathedral, both places to be stopped at by leisurely tourists.
The fair, the triste city of Nancy! There is an indescribable charm in the sad yet stately capital of ancient Lorraine. No life in its quiet streets, no movement in its handsome squares, nevertheless Nancy is one of the wealthiest, most elegant cities in France! Hither flocked rich Alsatian families after the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and perhaps its proximity to the lost provinces in part accounts for the subdued, dreamy aspect of the place as a whole. A strikingly beautiful city it is, with its splendid monuments of the house of Lorraine, and handsome modern streets bearing evidence of much prosperity in these days. In half-an-hour you may get an unforgettable glimpse of the Place Stanislas, with its bronze gates, fountains, and statue, worthy of a great capital; of the beautiful figure of Duke Antonio of Lorraine, on horseback, under an archway of flamboyant Gothic; of the Ducal Palace and its airy colonnade; lastly, of the picturesque old city gate, the Porte de la Craffe, one of the most striking monuments of the kind in France.
All these things may be glanced at in an hour, but in order to enjoy Nancy thoroughly a day or two should be devoted to it, and here, as at Chlons-sur-Marne, creature comforts are to be had in the hotels. In the Ducal Palace are shown the rich tapestries found in the tent of Charles le Tmraire after his defeat before Nancy, and other relics of that Haroun-al-Raschid of his epoch, who bivouacked off gold and silver plate, and wore on the battlefield diamonds worth half a million. In a little church outside the town, commemorative of this victory, are collected the cenotaphs of the Dukes of Lorraine—the chapelle ronde, as the splendid little mausoleum is designated—with its imposing monuments in black marble, and richly-decorated octagonal dome, making up a solemn and beautiful whole. Graceful and beautiful also are the monuments in the church itself, and those of another church, Des Cordeliers, close to the Ducal Palace.
Nancy is especially rich in monumental sculpture, but it is in the cathedral that we are to be fairly enchanted by the marble statues of the four doctors of the church—St. Augustine, St. Grgoire, St. Lon, and St. Jerome. These are the work of Nicolas Drouin, a native of Nancy, and formerly ornamented a tomb in the church of the Cordeliers just mentioned. The physiognomy, expression, and pose of St. Augustine are well worthy of a sculptor's closest study, but it is rather as a whole than in detail that this exquisite statue delights the ordinary observer. All four sculptures are noble works of art; the fine, dignified figure of St. Augustine somehow takes strongest hold of the imagination. We would fain return to it again and again, as indeed we would fain return to all else we have seen in the fascinating city of Nancy. From Nancy by way of pinal we may easily reach the heart of the Vosges.
How sweet and pastoral are these cool resting-places in the heart of the Vosges! Grardmer and many another as yet unfrequented by the tourist world, and unsophisticated in spite of railways and bathing seasons. The Vosges has long been a favourite playground of our French neighbours, although ignored by the devotees of Cook and Gaze, and within late years, not a rustic spot possessed of a mineral spring but has become metamorphosed into a second Plombires. Grardmer—"Sans Grardmer et un peu Nancy, que serait la Lorraine?" says the proverb—is resorted to, however, rather for its rusticity and beauty than for any curative properties of its sparkling waters. Also in some degree for the sake of urban distraction. The French mind when bent on holiday-making is social in the extreme, and the day spent amid the forest nooks and murmuring streams of Grardmer winds up with music and dancing. One of the chief attractions of the big hotel in which we are so wholesomely housed is evidently the enormous salon given up after dinner to the waltz, country dance, and quadrille. Our hostess with much ease and tact looks in, paying her respects, to one visitor after another, and all is enjoyment and mirth till eleven o'clock, when the large family party, for so our French fellowship may be called, breaks up. These socialities, giving as they do the amiable aspect of French character, will not perhaps constitute an extra charm of Grardmer in the eyes of the more morose English tourist. After many hours spent in the open air most of us prefer the quiet of our own rooms. The country, too, is so fresh and delicious that we want nothing in the shape of social distraction. Drawing-room amenities seem a waste of time under such circumstances. Nevertheless the glimpses of French life thus obtained are pleasant, and make us realize the fact that we are off the beaten track, living among French folks, for the time separated from insular ways and modes of thought. Our fellowship is a very varied and animated one. We number among the guests a member of the French ministry—a writer on the staff of Figaro—a grandson of one of the most devoted and unfortunate generals of the first Napoleon, known as "the bravest of the brave," with his elegant wife—the head of one of the largest commercial houses in eastern France—deputies, diplomats, artists, with many family parties belonging to the middle and upper ranks of society, a very strong Alsatian element predominating. Needless to add that people make themselves agreeable to each other without any introduction. For the time being at least distinctions are set aside, and fraternity is the order of the day.
I do not aver that my country-people have never heard of Grardmer, but certainly those who stray hither are few and far between. Fortunately for the lover of nature no English writer has as yet popularized the Vosges. An Eden-like freshness pervades its valleys and forests, made ever musical with cascades, a pastoral simplicity characterizes its inhabitants. Surely in no corner of beautiful France can any one worn out in body or in brain find more refreshment and tranquil pleasure!
It is only of late years that the fair broad valley of Grardmer and its lovely little lake have been made accessible by railway. Indeed, the popularity of the Vosges and its watering-places dates from the late Franco-German war. Rich French valetudinarians, and tourists generally, have given up Wiesbaden and Ems from patriotic motives, and now spend their holidays and their money on French soil. Thus enterprise has been stimulated in various quarters, and we find really good accommodation in out-of-the-way spots not mentioned in guide-books of a few years' date. Grardmer is now reached by rail in two hours from pinal, on the great Strasburg line, but those who prefer a drive across country may approach it from Plombires, Remiremont, Colmar and Mnster, and other attractive routes. Once arrived at Grardmer, the traveller will certainly not care to hurry away. No site in the Vosges is better suited for excursionizing in all directions, and the place itself is full of quiet charm. There is wonderful sweetness and solace in these undulating hill-sides, clothed with brightest green, their little tossing rivers and sunny glades all framed by solemn hills—I should rather say mountains—pitchy black with the solemn pine. You may search far and wide for a picture so engaging as Grardmer when the sun shines, its gold-green slopes sprinkled with white chlets, its red-roofed village clustered about a rustic church tower, and at its feet the loveliest little lake in the world, from which rise gently the fir-clad heights.
And no monotony! You climb the inviting hills and woods day by day, week after week, ever to find fresh enchantment. Not a bend of road or winding mountain-path but discloses a new scene—here a fairy glen, with graceful birch or alder breaking the expanse of dimpled green; there a spinny of larch or of Scotch fir cresting a verdant monticule; now we come upon a little Arcadian home nestled on the hill-side, the spinning-wheel hushed whilst the housewife turns her hay or cuts her patch of rye or wheat growing just outside her door. Now we follow the musical little river Vologne as it tosses over its stony bed amid banks golden with yellow loosestrife, or gently ripples amid fair stretches of pasture starred with the grass of Parnassus. The perpetual music of rushing, tumbling, trickling water is delightful, and even in hot weather, if it is ever indeed hot here, the mossy banks and babbling streams must give a sense of coolness. Deep down, entombed amid smiling green hills and frowning forest peaks, lies the pearl of Grardmer, its sweet lake, a sheet of turquoise in early morn, silvery bright when the noon-day sun flashes upon it, and on grey, sunless days gloomy as Acheron itself.
Travellers stinted for time cannot properly enjoy the pastoral scenes, not the least charm of which is the frank, pleasant character of the people. Wherever we go we make friends and hear confidences. To these peasant folks, who live so secluded from the outer world, the annual influx of visitors from July to September is a positive boon, moral as well as material. The women are especially confidential, inviting us into their homely yet not poverty-stricken kitchens, keeping us as long as they can whilst they chat about their own lives or ask us questions. The beauty, politeness, and clear direct speech of the children, are remarkable. Life here is laborious, but downright want I should say rare. As in the Jura, the forest gorges and park-like solitudes are disturbed by the sound of hammer and wheel, and a tall factory chimney not infrequently spoils a wild landscape. The greater part of the people gain, their livelihood in the manufactories, very little land here being suitable for tillage.
Grardmer is famous for its cheeses; another local industry is turnery and the weaving of linen, the linen manufactories employing many hands, whilst not a mountain cottage is without its handloom for winter use. Weaving at home is chiefly resorted to as a means of livelihood in winter, when the country is covered with snow and no out-door occupations are possible. Embroidery is also a special fabric of the Vosges, but its real wealth lies in mines of salt and iron, and mineral waters.
One chief feature in Grardmer is the congeries of handsome buildings bearing the inscription "cole Communale" and how stringently the new educational law is enforced throughout France may be gathered from the spectacle of schoolboys at drill. We saw three squadrons, each under the charge of a separate master, evidently made up from all classes of the community. Some of the boys were poorly, nay, miserably, clad, others wore good homely clothes, a few were really well dressed.
Our first week at Grardmer was wet and chilly. Fires and winter clothes would have been acceptable, but at last came warmth and sunshine, and we set off for the Col de la Schlucht, the grandest feature of the Vosges, and the goal of every traveller in these regions.
There is a strange contrast between the calm valley of Grardmer, a little haven of tranquil loveliness and repose, and the awful solitude and austerity of the Schlucht, from which it is separated by a few hours only. Not even a cold grey day can turn Grardmer into a dreary place, but in the most brilliant sunshine this mountain pass is none the less majestic and solemn. One obtains the sense of contrast by slow degrees, so that the mind is prepared for it and in the mood for it. The acme, the culminating point of Vosges scenery is thus reached by a gradually ascending scale of beauty and grandeur from the moment we quit Grardmer, till we stand on the loftiest summit of the Vosges chain, dominating the Schlucht. For the first half-hour we skirt the alder-fringed banks of the tossing, foaming little river Vologne, as it winds amid lawny spaces, on either side the fir-clad ridges rising like ramparts. Here all is gentleness and golden calm, but soon we quit this warm, sunny region, and enter the dark forest road curling upwards to the airy pinnacle to which we are bound. More than once we have to halt on our way. One must stop to look at the cascade made by the Vologne, never surely fuller than now, one of the prettiest cascades in the world, masses of snow-white foam tumbling over a long, uneven stair of granite through the midst of a fairy glen. The sound of these rushing waters is long in our ears as we continue to climb the splendid mountain road that leads to the Schlucht, and nowhere else. From a giddy terrace cut in the sides of the shelving forest ridge we now get a prospect of the little lakes of Longuemer and Retournemer, twin gems of superlative loveliness in the wildest environment. Deep down they lie, the two silvery sheets of water with their verdant holms, making a little world of peace and beauty, a toy dropped amid Titanic awfulness and splendour. The vantage ground is on the edge of a dizzy precipice, but the picture thus sternly framed is too exquisite to be easily abandoned. We gaze and gaze in spite of the vast height from which we contemplate it; and when at last we tear ourselves away from the engaging scene, we are in a region all ruggedness and sublimity, on either side rocky scarps and gloomy forests, with reminders by the wayside that we are approaching an Alpine flora. Nothing can be wilder or more solitary than the scene. For the greater part, the forests through which our road is cut are unfrequented, except by the wild boar, deer, and wild cat, and in winter time the fine mountain roads are rendered impenetrable by the accumulation of snow.
This approach to the Col is by a tunnel cut in the granite, fit entrance to one of the wildest regions in France. The road now makes a sudden bend towards the chlet cresting the Col, and we are able in a moment to realize its tremendous position.
From our little chlet we look upon what seems no mere cleft in a mountain chain, but in the vast globe itself. This huge hollow, brought about by some strange geological perturbation, is the valley of Mnster, no longer a part of French territory, but of Prussian Elsass. The road we have come by lies behind us, but another as formidable winds under the upper mountain ridge towards Mnster, whilst the pedestrian may follow a tiny green footpath that will lead him thither, right through the heart of the pass. Looking deep down we discern here and there scattered chlets amid green spaces far away. These are the homesteads or chaumes of the herdsmen, all smiling cheerfulness now, but deserted in winter. Except for such little dwellings, barely discernible, so distant are they, there is no break in the solitary scene, no sign of life at all.
The chlet is a fair hostelry for unfastidious travellers, its chief drawback being the propensity of tourists to get up at three o'clock in the morning in order to behold the sunrise from the Hoheneck. Good beds, good food, and from the windows, one of the finest prospects in the world, might well tempt many to linger here in spite of the disturbance above mentioned. For the lover of flowers this halting-place would be delightful.
Next morning the day dawned fair, and by eight o'clock we set off with a guide for the ascent of the Hoheneck, rather, I should say, for a long ramble over gently undulating green and flowery ways. After climbing a little beechwood, all was smoothness under our feet, and the long dtour we had to make in order to reach the summit was a series of the gentlest ascents, a wandering over fair meadow-land several thousand feet above the sea-level. Here we found the large yellow gentian, used in the fabrication of absinthe, and the bright yellow arnica, whilst instead of the snow-white flower of the Alpine anemone, the ground was now silvery with its feathery seed; the dark purple pansy of the Vosges was also rare. We were a month too late for the season of flowers, but the foxglove and the bright pink Epilobium still bloomed in great luxuriance.
It was a walk to remember. The air was brisk and genial, the blue sky lightly flecked with clouds, the turf fragrant with wild thyme, and before our eyes we had a panorama every moment gaining in extent and grandeur. As yet indeed the scene, the features of which we tried to make out, looked more like cloudland than solid reality. On clear days are discerned here, far beyond the rounded summits of the Vosges chain, the Rhine Valley, the Black Forest, the Jura range, and the snow-capped Alps. To-day we saw grand masses of mountains piled one above the other, and higher still a pageantry of azure and gold that seemed to belong to the clouds.
No morning could promise fairer, but hardly had we reached the goal of our walk when from far below came an ominous sound of thunder, and we saw heavy rain-clouds dropping upon the heights we had left behind.
All hope of a fine prospect was now at an end, but instead we had a compensating spectacle. For thick and fast the clouds came pouring into one chasm after another, drifting in all directions, here a mere transparent veil drawn across the violet hills, there a golden splendour as of some smaller sun shining on a green little world. At one moment the whole vast scene was blurred and blotted with chill winter mist; soon a break was visible, and far away we gazed on a span of serene amethystine sky, barred with lines of bright gold. Not one, but a dozen, horizons—a dozen heavens—seemed there, whilst the thunder that reached us from below seemed too remote to threaten. But at last the clouds gathered in form and volume, hiding the little firmaments of violet and amber; the bright blue sky, bending over the green oasis—all vanished as if by magic. We could see no more, and nothing remained but to go back, and the quicker the better. The storm, our guide said, was too far off to reach us yet, and we might reach the chlet without being drenched to the skin, as we fortunately did. No sooner, however, were we fairly under shelter than the rain poured down in torrents and the thunder pealed overhead. In no part of France are thunderstorms so frequent and so destructive as here, nowhere is the climate less to be depended on. A big umbrella, stout shoes, and a waterproof are as necessary in the Vosges as in our own Lake district.
We had, however, a fine afternoon for our drive back, a quick downhill journey along the edge of a tremendous precipice, clothed with beech-trees and brushwood. A most beautiful road it is, and the two little lakes looked lovely in the sunshine, encircled by gold-green swards and a delicate screen of alder branches. Through pastures white with meadow-sweet the turbulent, crystal-clear little river Vologne flowed merrily, making dozens of tiny cascades, turning a dozen mill-wheels in its course. All the air was fragrant with newly-turned hay, and never, we thought, had Grardmer and its lake made a more captivating picture.
Excursions innumerable may be made from Grardmer. We may drive across country to Remiremont, to Plombires, to Wesserling, to Colmar, to St. Di, whilst these places in turn make very good centres for excursions. On no account must a visit to La Bresse be omitted. This is one of the most ancient towns in the Vosges. Like some of the villages in the Morvan and in the department of La Nivre, La Bresse remained till the Revolution an independent commune, a republic in miniature. The heads of families of both sexes took part in the election of magistrates, and from this patriarchal legislation there was seldom any appeal to the higher court—namely, that of Nancy. La Bresse is still a rich commune by reason of its forests and industries. The sound of the mill-wheel and hammer now disturbs these mountain solitudes, and although so isolated by natural position, this little town is no longer cut off from cosmopolitan influence. The little tavern is developing into a very fair inn. In the summer tourists from all parts of France pass through it, in carriages, on foot, occasionally on horseback. Most likely it now possesses a railway station, a newspaper kiosk, and a big hotel, as at Grardmer!
As we drop down upon La Bresse after our climb of two hours and more, we seem to be at the world's end. Our road has led us higher and higher by dense forests and wild granite parapets, tasselled with fern and foxglove, till we suddenly wheel round upon a little straggling town marvellously placed. Deep down it lies, amid fairy-like greenery and silvery streams, whilst high above tower the rugged forest peaks and far-off blue mountains, in striking contrast.
The sloping green banks, starred with the grass of Parnassus, and musical with a dozen streams, the pastoral dwellings, each with its patch of flower garden and croft; the glades, dells and natural terraces are all sunny and gracious as can be; but round about and high above frown inaccessible granite peaks, and pitchy-black forest summits, impenetrable even at this time of the year. As we look down we see that roads have been cut round the mountain sides, and that tiny homesteads are perched wherever vantage ground is to be had, yet the impression is one of isolation and wildness. The town lies in no narrow cleft, as is the case with many little manufacturing towns in the Jura, but in a vast opening and falling back of the meeting hills and mountain tops, so that it is seen from far and wide, and long before it is approached. We had made the first part of our journey at a snail's pace. No sooner were we on the verge of the hills looking down upon La Bresse, than we set off at a desperate rate, spinning breathlessly round one mountain spur after another, till we were suddenly landed in the village street, dropped, as it seemed, from a balloon.
A curious feature to be noted in all the places I have mentioned is the outer wooden casing of the houses. This is done as a protection against the cold, the Vosges possessing, with the Auvergne and the Limousin, the severest climate in France. La Bresse, like Grardmer and other sweet valleys of these regions, is disfigured by huge factories, yet none can regret the fact, seeing what well-being these industries bring to the people. Beggars are numerous, but we are told they are strangers, who merely invade these regions during the tourist season.
Remiremont, our next halting-place, may be reached by a pleasant carriage drive, but the railway is more convenient to travellers encumbered with half-a-dozen trunks. The railway, moreover, cuts right through the beautiful valley of the Moselle—a prospect which is missed by road. Remiremont is charming. We do not get the creature comforts of Grardmer, but by way of compensation we find a softer and more genial climate. The engaging little town is indeed one of nature's sanatoriums. The streets are kept clean by swift rivulets, and all the air is fragrant with encircling fir-woods. Like Grardmer and La Bresse, however, Remiremont lies open to the sun. A belt of flowery dells, terraced orchards, and wide pastures, amid which meanders the clear blue Moselle, girds it round about, and no matter which path you take, it is sure to lead to inviting prospects. The arcades lend a Spanish look to the town, and recall the street architecture of Lons-le-Saunier and Arbois in the Jura. Flower gardens abound, and the general atmosphere is one of prosperity and cheerfulness.
The historic interest of this now dead-alive little town centres around its lady abbesses, who for centuries held sovereign rule and state in their abbatial palace, at the present time the Htel de Ville. These high-born dames, like certain temporal rulers of the sex, loved battle, and more than one chanoinesse, when defied by feudal neighbours, mounted the breach and directed her people. One and all were of noble birth, and many doubtless possessed the intellectual distinction and personal charm of Renan's Abbesse de Jouarre.
There are beautiful walks about Remiremont, and one especial path amid the fragrant fir-woods leads to a curious relic of ancient time—a little chapel formerly attached to a Lazar-house. It now belongs to the adjoining farm close by, a pleasant place, with flower-garden and orchard. High up in the woods dominating the broad valley in which Remiremont is placed are some curious prehistoric stones. But more inviting than the steep climb under a burning sun—for the weather has changed on a sudden—is the drive to the Valle d'Hrival, a drive so cool, so soothing, so delicious, that we fancy we can never feel heated, languid, or irritated any more.
The isolated dwellings of the dalesfolk in the midst of tremendous solitudes—little pastoral scenes such as Corot loved to paint—and hemmed round by the sternest, most rugged nature, are one of the characteristics of Vosges scenery. We also find beside tossing rivers and glittering cascades a solitary linen factory or saw-mill, with the modern-looking villa of the employer, and clustered round it the cottages of the work-people. No sooner does the road curl again than we are once more in a solitude as complete as if we were in some primeval forest of the new world. We come suddenly upon the Valle d'Hrival, but the deep close gorge we gaze upon is only the beginning of the valley within valley we have come to see. Our road makes a loop round the valley so that we see it from two levels, and under two aspects. As we return, winding upwards on higher ground, we get glimpses of sunny dimpled sward through the dark stems of the majestic fir-trees towering over our head. There is every gradation of form and colour in the picture, from the ripe warm gold barring the branches of the firs, to the pale silveriness of their upper foliage; from the gigantic trees rising from the gorge below, each seeming to fill a chasm, to the airy, graceful birch, a mere toy beside it. Rare butterflies abound, but we see few birds.
The hardy pedestrian is an enviable person here, for although excellent carriages are to be had, some of the most interesting excursions must be made on foot.
I do not suppose that matters are very greatly changed in hotels here since my visit so many years ago. In certain respects travellers fare well. They may feast like Lucullus on fresh trout and on the dainty aniseed cakes which are a local speciality. But hygienic arrangements were almost prehistoric, and although politeness itself, mine host and hostess showed strange nonchalance towards their guests. Thus, when ringing and ringing again for our tea and bread and butter between seven and eight o'clock, the chamber—not maid, but man—informed us that Madame had gone to mass, and everything was locked up till her return.
Even the fastidious tourist, however, will hardly care to exchange his somewhat rough and noisy quarters at Remiremont for the cosmopolitan comforts of Plombires within such easy reach. It is a pretty drive of an hour and a half to Plombires, and all is prettiness there—its little park, its tiny lake, its toy town.
It is surely one of the hottest places in the world, and like Spa, of which it reminds me, must be one of the most wearisome. Just such a promenade, with a sleepy band, just such a casino, just such a routine. This favourite resort of the third Napoleon has of late years seen many rivals springing up. Vittel, Bains, Bussang—all in the Vosges—yet it continues to hold up its head. The site is really charming, but so close is the valley in which the town lies, that it is a veritable hothouse, and the reverse, we should think, of what an invalid wants. Plombires has always had illustrious visitors—Montaigne, who upon several occasions took the waters here—Maupertuis, Voltaire, Beaumarchais, the Empress Josephine, and a host of historic personages. But the emperor may be called the creator of Plombires. The park, the fine road to Remiremont, the handsome Bain Napoleon (now National), the church, all these owe their existence to him, and during the imperial visits the remote spot suffered a strange transformation. The pretty country road along which we met a couple of carriages yesterday became as brilliant and animated as the Bois de Boulogne. It was a perpetual coming and going of fashionable personages. The emperor used to drive over to Remiremont and dine at the little dingy commercial hotel, the best in the place, making himself agreeable to everybody. But all this is past, and nowhere throughout France is patriotism more ardent or the democratic spirit more alert than in the Vosges. The reasons are obvious. We are here on the borders of the lost provinces, the two fair and rich departments of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, now effaced from the map of France. Reminders of that painful severance of a vast population from its nationality are too vivid for a moment to be lost sight of. Many towns of the Vosges and of the ancient portion of Lorraine not annexed, such as Nancy, have been enriched by the immigration of large commercial firms from the other side of the new frontier. The great majority of Alsatians, by force of circumstances and family ties, were compelled to remain—French at heart, German according to law. The bitterness and intensity of this feeling, reined-in yet apparent, constitutes the one painful feature of Vosges travel. Of course there is a wide difference between the supporters of retaliation, such journals as L'Alsacien-Lorrain, and quiet folks who hate war, even more than a foreign domination. But the yearning towards the parent country is too strong to be overcome. No wonder that as soon as the holidays begin there is a rush of French tourists across the Vosges. From Strasburg, Metz, St. Marie aux Mines, they flock to Grardmer and other family resorts. And if some Frenchwoman—maybe, sober matron—dons the pretty Alsatian dress, and dances the Alsatian dance with an exile like herself, the enthusiasm is too great to be described. Lookers-on weep, shake hands, embrace each other. For a brief moment the calmest are carried away by intensity of patriotic feeling. The social aspect of Vosges travel is one of its chief charms. You must here live with French people, whether you will or no. Insular reserve cannot resist the prevailing friendliness and good-fellowship. How long such a state of things will exist, who can say? Fortunately for the lover of nature, most of the places I have mentioned are too unobtrusive ever to become popular. "Nothing to see here, and nothing to do," would surely be the verdict of most globe-trotters even on sweet Grardmer itself!
THE CHARM OF ALSACE
The notion of here reprinting my notes of Alsatian travel was suggested by a recent French work— travers l'Alsace en flnant, from the pen of M. Andr Hallays. This delightful writer had already published several volumes dealing with various French provinces, more especially from an archaeological point of view. In his latest and not least fascinating flnerie he gives the experiences of several holiday tours in Germanized France.
My own sojourns, made at intervals among French friends, annexs both of Alsace and Lorraine, were chiefly undertaken in order to realize the condition of the German Emperor's French subjects. But I naturally visited many picturesque sites and historic monuments in both, the forfeited territories being especially rich. Whilst volume after volume of late years have appeared devoted to French travel, holiday tourists innumerable jotting their brief experiences of well-known regions, strangely enough no English writer has followed my own example. No work has here appeared upon Alsace and Lorraine. On the other side of the Channel a vast literature on the subject has sprung up. Novels, travels, reminiscences, pamphlets on political and economic questions, one and all breathing the same spirit, continue to appear in undiminished numbers.
Ardent spirits still fan the flame of revolt. The burning thirst for re-integration remains unquenched. Garbed in crape, the marble figure of Strasburg still holds her place on the Place de la Concorde. The French language, although rigidly prohibited throughout Germanized France, is studied and upheld more sedulously than before Sedan. And after the lapse of forty years a German minister lately averred that French Alsatians were more French than ever. Les Nollets of Ren Bazin, M. Maurice Barrs' impassioned series, Les Bastions de l'Est, enjoy immense popularity, and within the last few months have appeared two volumes which fully confirm the views of their forerunners—M. Hallays' impressions of many wayfarings and Aprs quarante ans by M. Jules Claretie, the versatile, brilliant and much respected administrator-general of the Comdie Franaise.
Whilst in these days of peace and arbitration propaganda the crime of enforced denationalization seems more heinous than ever, there appears little likelihood of the country conquered by Louis XIV., and re-conquered by German arms a century and a half later, again waving the Tricolour.
Let us hope, however, that some via media may be found, and that if not recovering its lost privilege, the passionately coveted French name, as a federal state Alsace and Lorraine may become independent and prosperous.
For a comprehensive study of Alsace and its characteristics, alike social, artistic and intellectual, readers must go to M. Hallays' volume. In every development this writer shows that a special stamp may be found. Neither Teutonic nor Gallic, art and handicrafts reveal indigenous growth, and the same feature may be studied in town and village, in palace, cathedral and cottage.
We must remember that we are here dealing with a region of very ancient civilization. Taste has been slowly developed, artistic culture is of no mushroom growth. Alsace formed the highroad between Italy and Flanders. In M. Hallays' words, already during the Renaissance, aesthetic Alsace blended the lessons of north and south, her genius was a product of good sense, experience and a feeling of proportion. And he points out how in the eighteenth century French taste influenced Alsatian faence, woven stuffs, ironwork, sculpture, wood-carving and furniture, even peasant interiors being thereby modified. "Alsace," he writes, "holds us spell-bound by the originality of culture and temperament found among her inhabitants. It has generally been taken for granted that native genius is here a mere blend of French and German character, that Alsatian sentiment appertains to the latter stock, intellectual development to the former, that the inhabitants think in French and imagine in German. There is a certain leaven of truth in these assumptions, but when we hold continued intercourse with all classes, listen to their speech, familiarize ourselves with their modes of life and mental outlook, we arrive again and again at one conclusion: we say to ourselves, here is an element which is neither Teutonic nor Gallic. I cannot undertake to particularize, I only note in my pages those instances that occur by the way. And the conviction that we are here penetrating a little world hitherto unknown to us, such novelty being revealed in every stroll and chat, lends extraordinary interest to our peregrination."
It is especially an artistic Alsace that M. Hallays reveals to us. Instead of visiting battlefields, he shows us that English travellers may find ample interest of other kind. The artist, the ecclesiologist, the art-loving have here a storehouse of unrevealed treasure. A little-read but weighty writer, Mme. de Stal, has truly averred that the most beautiful lands in the world, if devoid of famous memories and if bearing no impress of great events, cannot be compared in interest to historic regions. Hardly a spot of the annexed provinces but is stamped with indelible and, alas! blood-stained, records. From the tenth century until the peace of Westphalia, these territories belonged to the German empire, being ruled by sovereign dukes and princes. In 1648 portions of both provinces were ceded to France, and a few years later, in times of peace, Strasburg was ruthlessly seized and appropriated by the arch-despot and militarist, Louis XIV. By the treaty of Ryswick, that of Westphalia was ratified, and thenceforward Alsace and Lorraine remained radically and passionately French. In 1871 was witnessed an awful historic retribution, a political crime paralleling its predecessor committed by the French king two centuries before. Alsace-Lorraine still awaits the fulfilment of her destiny. Meantime, as Rachel mourning for her children, she weeps sore and will not be comforted.
Historically speaking, therefore, the annexed provinces present a strangely complex patchwork and oft-repeated palimpsest, civilization after civilization overlapping each other. If Alsace-Lorraine has produced no Titan either in literature or art, she yet shows a goodly roll-call.
The name heading the list stands for France herself. It was a young soldier of Strasburg—not, however, Alsatian born—who, in April, 1792, composed a song that saved France from the fate of Poland and changed the current of civilization. By an irony of destiny the Tricolour no longer waves over the cradle of the Marseillaise!
That witty writer, Edmond About, as well as the "Heavenly Twins" of Alsatian fiction, was born in Lorraine, but all three so thoroughly identified themselves with this province that they must be regarded as her sons. Those travellers who, like myself, have visited Edmond About's woodland retreat in Saverne can understand the bitterness with which he penned his volume—Alsace 1870-1—and the concluding lines of the preface—
"If I have here uttered an untrue syllable, I give M. de Bismarck permission to treat my modest dwelling as if it were a villa of Saint Cloud."
The literary brethren whose pictures of Alsatian peasant life, both in war and peace, have become world-wide classics, suffered no less than their brilliant contemporary, and their works written after annexation breathe equal bitterness. The celebrated partnership which began in 1848 and lasted for a quarter of a century, has been thus described by Edmond About: "The two friends see each other very rarely, whether in Paris or in the Vosges. When they do meet, they together elaborate the scheme of a new work. Then Erckmann writes it. Chatrian corrects it—and sometimes puts it in the fire!" One at least of their plays enjoys equal popularity with the novel from which it is drawn. To have witnessed L'Ami Fritz at Molire's house in the last decade of the nineteenth century was an experience to remember. That consummate artist, Got, was at his very best—if the superlative in such a case is applicable—as the good old Rabbi. No less enchanting was Mlle. Reichenbach, the doyenne of the Comdie Franaise, as Suzel. Of this charming artist Sarcey wrote that, having attained her sixteenth year, there she made the long-stop, never oldening with others. L'Ami Fritz is, in reality, a German bucolic, the scene being laid in Bavaria. But it has long been accepted as a classic, and on the stage it becomes thoroughly French. This delightful story was written in 1864, that is to say, before any war-cloud had arisen over the eastern frontier, and before the evocation of a fiend as terrible, the anti-Jewish crusade culminating in the Dreyfus crime.
It is painful to reflect that whilst twenty years ago the engaging old Jew of this piece was vociferously acclaimed on the first French stage, the drama of a gifted Jewish writer has this year been banned in Paris!
Edmond About and Erckmann and Chatrian belong to the same period as another native, and more famous, genius, the precocious, superabundantly endowed Gustave Dor. Of this "admirable Crichton" I give a sketch.
For mere holiday-makers in search of exhilaration and beauty, Alsace offers attractions innumerable, sites grandiose and idyllic, picturesque ruins, superb forests, old churches of rare interest and many a splendid historic pile.
There are naturally drawbacks to intense lovers of France. Throughout M. Hallays' volume he acknowledges the courtesy of German officials, a fact to which I had borne testimony when first journalizing my own experiences. Certain aspects of enforced Germanization can but afflict all outsiders. There is firstly that obtrusive militarism from which we cannot for a moment escape. Again, a no less false note strikes us in matters aesthetic. Modern German taste in art, architecture and decoration do not harmonize with the ancientness and historic severity of Alsace. The restoration of Hohknigsburg and the new quarters of Strasburg are instances in point. All who visited the German art section of the Paris Exhibition in 1900 will understand this dis-harmony.
The reminiscences of my second and third journeys in Alsace and Lorraine having already appeared in volume form, still in print (East of Paris), are therefore omitted here. For the benefit of English travellers in the annexed portion of the last-named province I cite a passage from M. Maurice Barrs' beautiful story, Colette Baudoche. His hero is German and his heroine French, a charming Messine or native of Metz. In company of Colette's mother and a friend or two, the fiancs take part in a little festival held at Gorze, a village near the blood-stained fields of Gravelotte and Mars-la-Tour—
"At Gorze, church, lime-trees, dwellings and folks belong to the olden time, that is to say, all are very French.... In crossing the square the five holiday-makers halted before the Htel de Ville and read with interest a commemorative inscription on the walls. A tablet records English generosity in 1870, when, after the carnage and devastation of successive battles, money, roots and seeds were distributed among the peasants by a relief committee. The inspection over, the little party gaily sat down to dinner in an inn close by, regaling themselves with fried English potatoes, descendants of those sent across the Manche forty years before."
As I re-read this passage I think sadly how the tribute from such a pen would have rejoiced the two moving spirits of that famous relief committee—Sir John Robinson and Mr. Bullock Hall, both long since passed, away. To the whilom editor of the Daily News both initiative and realization were mainly owing, the latter being the laborious and devoted agent of distribution.
But an omission caused bitterness. Whilst Mr. Bullock Hall most deservedly received the Red Ribbon, his leader was overlooked. The tens of thousands of pounds collected by Sir John Robinson which may be said to have kept alive starving people and vivified deserts, were gratefully acknowledged by the French Government. By some unaccountable misconception, the decoration here only gratified one good friend of France.
"I should much have liked the Legion of Honour," sighed the kindly old editor to me, a year or two before he died.
I add that my second sojourn in Alsace-Lorraine was made at Sir John's suggestion, the series of papers dealing with Metz, Strasburg, and its neighbourhood appearing from day to day in the Daily News.
English tourists must step aside and read the tablet on the Htel de Ville of Gorze, reminder, by the way, of the Entente Cordiale!
IN GUSTAVE DOR'S COUNTRY
The Vosges and Alsace-Lorraine must be taken together, as the tourist is constantly compelled to zigzag across the new frontier. Many of the most interesting points of departure for excursionizing in the Vosges lie in Alsace-Lorraine, while few travellers who have got so far as Grardmer or St. Di will not be tempted to continue their journey, at least as far as the beautiful valleys of Munster and St. Marie-aux-Mines, both peopled by French people under German domination. Arrived at either of these places, the tourist will be at a loss which route to take of the many open to him. On the one hand are the austere sites of the Vosges, impenetrable forests darkening the rounded mountain tops, granite precipices silvered with perpetual cascades, awful ravines hardly less gloomy in the noonday sun than in wintry storms, and as a relief to these sombre features, the sunniest little homesteads perched on airy terraces of gold-green; crystal streams making vocal the flowery meadow and the mossy dell, and lovely little lakes shut in by rounded hills, made double in their mirror. In Alsace-Lorraine we find a wholly different landscape, and are at once reminded that we are in one of the fairest and most productive districts of Europe. All the vast Alsatian plain in September is a-bloom with fruit garden and orchard, vineyard and cornfield, whilst as a gracious framework, a romantic background to the picture, are the vineclad heights crested with ruined castles and fortresses worthy to be compared to Heidelberg and Ehrenbreitstein. We had made a leisurely journey from Grardmer to St. Di, bishopric and chef-lieu of the department of the Vosges, without feeling sure of our next move. Fortunately a French acquaintance advised us to drive to St. Marie-aux-Mines, one of the most wonderful little spots in these regions, of which we had never before heard. A word or two, however, concerning St. Di itself, one of the most ancient monastic foundations in France. The town is pleasant enough, and the big hotel not bad, as French hotels go. But in the Vosges, the tourist gets somewhat spoiled in the matter of hotels. Wherever we go our hosts are so much interested in us, and make so much of us, that we feel aggrieved at sinking into mere numbers three or four. Many of these little inns offer homely accommodation, but the landlord and landlady themselves wait upon the guests, unless, which often happens, the host is cook, no piece of ill-fortune for the traveller! These good people have none of the false shame often conspicuous among the same class in England. At Remiremont, our hostess came bustling down at the last moment saying how she had hurried to change her dress in order to bid us good-bye. Here the son-in-law, a fine handsome fellow, was the cook, and when dinner was served he used to emerge from his kitchen and chat with the guests or play with his children in the cool evening hour. There is none of that differentiation of labour witnessed in England, and on the whole the stranger fares none the worse. With regard to French hotels generally the absence of competition in large towns strikes an English mind. At St. Di, as in many other places, there was at the time of my visit but one hotel, which had doubtless been handed down from generation to generation, simply because no rival aroused a spirit of emulation.
St. Di has a pleasant environment in the valley of the Meurthe, and may be made the centre of many excursions. Its picturesque old Romanesque cathedral of red sandstone, about which are grouped noble elms, grows upon the eye; more interesting and beautiful by far are the Gothic cloisters leading from within to the smaller church adjoining. These delicate arcades, in part restored, form a quadrangle. Greenery fills the open space, and wild antirrhinum and harebell brighten the grey walls. Springing from one side is an out-of-door pulpit carved in stone, a striking and suggestive object in the midst of the quiet scene. We should like to know what was preached from that stone pulpit, and what manner of man was the preacher. The bright green space, the delicate arcades of soft grey, the bits of foliage here and there, with the two silent churches blocking in all, make up an impressive scene.
We wanted the country, however, rather than the towns, so after a few days at St. Di, hired a carriage to take us to St. Marie-aux-Mines or Markirch, on the German side of the frontier, and not accessible from this side by rail. We enter Alsace, indeed, by a needle's eye, so narrow the pass in which St. Marie lies. Here a word of warning to the tourist. Be sure to examine your carriage and horses well before starting. We were provided for our difficult drive with what Spenser calls "two unequal beasts," namely, a trotting horse and a horse that could only canter, with a very uncomfortable carriage, the turnout costing over a pound—pretty well, that, for a three hours' drive. However, in spite of discomfort, we would not have missed the journey on any account. The site of this little cotton-spinning town is one of the most extraordinary in the world. We first traverse a fruitful, well cultivated plain, watered by the sluggish Meurthe, then begin to ascend a spur of the western chain of the Vosges, formerly dividing the two French departments of Vosges and Haut Rhin, now marking the boundaries of France and German Elsass. Down below, amid the hanging orchards, flower-gardens and hayfields, we were on French soil, but the flagstaff, just discernible on yonder green pinnacles, marks the line of demarcation between France and the conquered territory of the German empire. For the matter of that, the Prussian helmet makes the fact patent. As surely as we have set foot in the Reich, we see one of these gleaming casques, so hateful still in French eyes. They seem to spring from the ground like Jason's warriors from the dragon's teeth. This new frontier divided in olden times the dominions of Alsace and Lorraine, when it was the custom to say of many villages that the bread was kneaded in one country and baked in the other.
Nothing could be more lovely than the dim violet hills far away, and the virginal freshness of the pastoral scenery around. But only a stout-hearted pedestrian can properly enjoy this beautiful region. We had followed the example of another party of tourists in front of us, and accomplished a fair climb on foot, and when we had wound and wound our way up the lofty green mountain to the flagstaff before mentioned, we wanted to do the rest of our journey on foot also. But alike compassion for the beasts and energy had gone far enough, we were only too glad to reseat ourselves, and drive, or rather be whirled, down to St. Marie-aux-Mines in the vehicle. Do what we would there was no persuading our driver to slacken pace enough so as to admit of a full enjoyment of the prospect that unfolded before us.
The wonderful little town! Black pearl set in the richest casket! This commonplace, flourishing centre of cotton spinning, woollen, and cretonne manufacture, built in red brick, lies in the narrow, beautiful valley of the Lipvrette, as it is called from the babbling river of that name. But there is really no valley at all. The congeries of red-roofed houses, factory chimneys and church towers, Catholic and Protestant, is hemmed round by a narrow gorge, wedged in between the hills which are just parted so as to admit of such an intrusion, no more. The green convolutions of the mountain sides are literally folded round the town, a pile of green velvet spread fan-like in a draper's window has not softer, neater folds! As we enter it from the St. Di side we find just room for a carriage to wind along the little river and the narrow street. But at the other end the valley opens, and St. Marie-aux-mines spreads itself out. Here are factories, handsome country houses, and walks up-hill and down-hill in abundance. Just above the town, over the widening gorge, is a deliciously cool pine-wood which commands a vast prospect—the busy little town caught in the toils of the green hills; the fertile valley of the Meurthe as we gaze in the direction from which we have come; the no less fertile plains of Lorraine before us; close under and around us, many a dell and woodland covert with scattered homes of dalesfolk in sunny places and slanting hills covered with pines. It is curious to reflect that St. Marie-aux-Mines, mentioned as Markirch in ancient charts, did not become entirely French till the eighteenth century. Originally the inhabitants on the left bank of the Lipvrette were subjects of the Dukes of Lorraine, spoke French, and belonged to the Catholic persuasion, whilst those dwelling on the right bank of the river, adhered to the seigneury of Ribeaupaire, and formed a Protestant German-speaking community. Alsace, as everybody knows, was annexed to France by right—rather wrong—of conquest under Louis XIV., but it was not till a century later that Lorraine became a part of French territory, and the fusion of races, a task so slowly accomplished, has now to be undone, if, indeed, such undoing is possible!
The hotel here is a mere auberge adapted to the needs of the commis-voyageur, but our host and hostess are charming. As is the fashion in these parts, they serve their guests and take the greatest possible interest in their movements and comfort. We would willingly have spent some days at Marie-aux-Mines—no better headquarters for excursionizing in these regions!—but too much remained for us to do and to see in Alsace. We dared not loiter on the way.
Everywhere we find plenty of French tourists, many of them doing their holiday travel in the most economical fashion. We are in the habit of regarding the French as a stay-at-home nation, and it is easy to see how such a mistake arises. English people seldom travel in out-of-the-way France, and our neighbours seldom travel elsewhere. Thus holiday-makers of the two nations do not come in contact. Wherever we go we encounter bands of pedestrians or family parties thoroughly enjoying themselves. Nothing ruffles a French mind when bent on holiday-making. The good-nature, bonhomie, and accommodating spirit displayed under trying circumstances might be imitated by certain insular tourists with advantage.
From St. Marie-aux-Mines we journeyed to Gustave Dor's favourite resort, Barr, a close, unsavoury little town enough, but in the midst of bewitching scenery. "An ounce of sweet is worth a pound of sour," sings Spenser, and at Barr we get the sweet and the sour strangely mixed. The narrow streets smell of tanneries and less wholesome nuisances, not a breath of fresh pure air is to be had from one end of the town to the other. But our pretty, gracious landlady, an Alsacienne, and her husband, the master of the house and chef de cuisine as well, equally handsome and courteous, took so much pains to make us comfortable that we stayed on and on. Not a thousand bad smells could drive us away! Yet there is accommodation for the traveller among the vineyards outside the town, and also near the railway station, so Barr need not be avoided on account of its unsavouriness. No sooner are you beyond the dingy streets than all is beauty, pastoralness and romance. Every green peak is crested with ruined keep or tower, at the foot of the meeting hills lie peaceful little villages, each with its lofty church spire, whilst all the air is fragrant with pine-woods and newly turned hay.
These pine-woods and frowning ruins set like sentinels on every green hill or rocky eminence, recall many of Dor's happiest efforts. "Le pauvre garon," our hostess said. "Comme il tait content chez nous!" I can fancy how Dor would enjoy the family life of our little old-fashioned hotel, how he would play with the children, chat with master and mistress, and make himself agreeable all round. One can also fancy how animated conversation would become if it chanced to take a patriotic turn. For people speak their thoughts in Alsace,—nowhere more freely. In season and out of season, the same sentiment comes to the surface. "Nous sommes plus Franais que les Franais." This is the universal expression of feeling that greeted our ears throughout our wanderings. Such, at least, was formerly the case. The men, women and children, rich and poor, learned and simple, gave utterance to the same expression of feeling. Barr is a town of between six and seven thousand souls, about twenty of whom are Prussians. A pleasant position, truly, for the twenty officials! And what we see at Barr is the case throughout the newly acquired German dominion. Alike the highest as well as the humblest functionary of the imperial government is completely shut off from intercourse with his French neighbours.
Barr lies near so much romantic scenery that the tourist in these parts had better try the little hotel amid the mines. For, in spite of the picturesque stork's nest close by, an excellent ordinary and the most delightful host and hostess in the world, I cannot recommend a sojourn in the heart of the town. The best plan of all were to halt here simply for the sake of the excursion to St. Odile—St. Odile leads nowhither—then hire a carriage, and make leisurely way across country by the Hohwald, and the Champ de Feu to Rothau, Oberlin's country, thence to Strasburg. In our own case, the fascinations of our hosts overcame our repugnance to Barr itself, so we stayed on, every day making long drives into the fresh, quiet, beautiful country. One of the sweet spots we discovered for the benefit of any English folks who may chance to stray in that region is the Hohwald, a ville giatura long in vogue with the inhabitants of Strasburg and neighbouring towns, but not mentioned in any English guide-book at the time of my visit.
We are reminded all the way of Rhineland. The same terraced vineyards, the same limestone crags, each with its feudal tower, the same fertility and richness everywhere. Our road winds for miles amid avenues of fruit-trees, laden with pear and plum, whilst on every side are stretches of flax and corn, tobacco and hemp. What plenty and fruitfulness are suggested at every turn! Well might Goethe extol "this magnificent Alsace." We soon reach Andlau, a picturesque, but, it must be confessed, somewhat dirty village, lying amid vineyards and chestnut woods, with mediaeval gables, archways, wells, dormers. All these are to be found at Andlau, also one of the finest churches in these parts. I followed the cur and sacristan as they took a path that wound high above the village and the little river amid the vineyards, and obtained a beautiful picture; hill and dale, clustered village and lofty spire, and imposingly, confronting us at every turn, the fine faade of the castle of Andlau, built of grey granite, and flanked at either end with massive towers. More picturesque, but less majestic are the neighbouring ruins of Spesburg, mere tumbling walls wreathed with greenery, and many another castled crag we see on our way. We are indeed in the land of old romance. Nothing imaginable more weird, fantastic and sombre, than these spectral castles and crumbling towers past counting! The wide landscape is peopled with these. They seem to rise as if by magic from the level landscape, and we fancy that they will disappear magically as they have come. And here again one wild visionary scene after another reminds us that we are in the land of Dor's most original inspiration. There are bits of broken pine-wood, jagged peaks and ghostly ruins that have been already made quite familiar to us in the pages of his Dante and Don Quixote.
The pretty rivulet Andlau accompanies us far on our way, and beautiful is the road; high above, beech- and pine-woods, and sloping down to the road green banks starred with large blue and white campanula, with, darkling amid the alders, the noisy little river.
The Hohwald is the creation of a woman; that is to say, the Hohwald of holiday-makers, tourists and tired brain-workers. "Can you imagine," wrote M. Edmond About, forty years ago, "an inn at the world's end that cost a hundred thousand francs in the building? I assure you the owner will soon have recouped her outlay. She had not a centime to begin with, this courageous lady, left a widow without resources, and a son to bring up. The happy thought occurred to her of a summer resort in the heart of these glorious woods, within easy reach of Strasburg." There are gardens and reception-rooms in common, and here as at Grardmer croquet, music and the dance offer an extra attraction. It must be admitted that these big family hotels, in attractive country places with prices adapted to all travellers, have many advantages over our own seaside lodgings. People get much more for their money, better food, better accommodation, with agreeable society into the bargain, and a relief from the harass of housekeeping. The children, too, find companionship, to the great relief of parents and nursemaids.
The Hohwald proper is a tiny village numbering a few hundred souls, situated in the midst of magnificent forests at the foot of the famous Champ de Feu. This is a plateau on one of the loftiest summits of the Vosges, and very curious from a geological point of view. To explore it properly you must be a good pedestrian. Much, indeed, of the finest scenery of these regions is beyond reach of travellers who cannot walk five or six hours a day.
Any one, however, may drive to St. Odile, and St. Odile is the great excursion of Alsace. Who cares a straw for the saint and her story now? But all tourists must be grateful to the Bishop of Strasburg, who keeps a comfortable little inn at the top of the mountain, and, beyond the prohibition of meat on fast-days, smoking, noise and levity of manner on all days, makes you very comfortable for next to nothing.
The fact is, this noble plateau, commanding as splendid a natural panorama as any in Europe, at the time I write of the property of Monseigneur of Strasburg, was once a famous shrine and a convent of cloistered men and women vowed to sanctity and prayer. The convent was closed at the time of the French Revolution, and the entire property, convent, mountain and prospect, remained in the hands of private possessors till 1853, when the prelate of that day repurchased the whole, restored the conventual building, put in some lay brethren to cultivate the soil, and some lay sisters, who wear the garb of nuns, but have taken no vows upon them except of piety, to keep the little inn and make tourists comfortable. No arrangement could be better, and I advise any one in want of pure air, superb scenery, and complete quiet, to betake himself to St. Odile.
Here again I must intercalate. Since these lines were jotted down, many changes, and apparently none for the better, have taken place here. Intending tourists must take both M. Hallays' volume and Maurice Barrs' Au Service d'Allemagne for recent accounts of this holiday resort. The splendid natural features remain intact.
The way from Barr lies through prosperous villages, enriched by manufactories, yet abounding in pastoral graces. There are English-like parks and fine chteaux of rich manufacturers; but contrasted with these nothing like abject poverty. The houses of working-folk are clean, each with its flower-garden, the children are neatly dressed, no squalor or look of discontent to be seen anywhere. Every hamlet has its beautiful spire, whilst the country is the fairest, richest conceivable; in the woods is seen every variety of fir and pine, mingled with the lighter foliage of chestnut and acacia, whilst every orchard has its walnut and mulberry trees, not to speak of pear and plum. One of the chief manufactures of these parts is that of paints and colours: there are also ribbon and cotton factories. Rich as is the country naturally, its chief wealth arises from these industries. In every village you hear the hum of machinery.
You may lessen the distance from Barr to St. Odile by one-half if you make the journey on foot, winding upwards amid the vine-clad hills, at every turn coming upon one of those grand old ruins, as plentiful here as in Rhineland, and quite as romantic and beautiful. The drive is a slow and toilsome ascent of three hours and a half. As soon as we quit the villages and climb the mountain road cut amid the pines, we are in a superb and solitary scene. No sound of millwheels or steam-hammers is heard here, only the summer breeze stirring the lofty pine branches, the hum of insects, and the trickling of mountain streams. The dark-leaved henbane is in brilliant yellow flower, and the purple foxglove in striking contrast; but the wealth of summer flowers is over.
Who would choose to live on Ararat? Yet it is something to reach a pinnacle from whence you may survey more than one kingdom. The prospect from St. Odile is one to gaze on for a day, and to make us dizzy in dreams ever after. From the umbrageous terrace in front of the convent— cool and breezy on this, one of the hottest days of a hot season—we see, as from a balloon, a wonderful bit of the world spread out like a map at our feet. The vast plain of Alsace, the valley of the Rhine, the Swiss mountains, the Black Forest, Ble, and Strasburg—all these we dominate from our airy pinnacle close, at it seems, under the blue vault of heaven. But though they were there, we did not see them: for the day, as so often happens on such occasions, was misty. We had none the less a novel and wonderful prospect. As we sit on this cool terrace, under the shady mulberry trees, and look far beyond the richly-wooded mountain we have scaled on our way, we gradually make out some details of the fast panorama, one feature after another becoming visible as stars shining faintly in a misty heaven. Villages and little towns past counting, each with its conspicuous spire, break the monotony of the enormous plain. Here and there, miles away, a curl of white vapour indicates the passage of some railway train, whilst in this upper stillness sweet sounds of church bells reach us from hamlets close underneath the convent. Nothing can be more solid, fresher, or more brilliant than the rich beech- and pine-woods running sheer from our airy eminence to the level world below, nothing more visionary, slumberous, or dimmer than that wide expanse teeming, as we know, with busy human life, yet flat and motionless as a picture.
On clear nights the electric lights of the railway station at Strasburg are seen from this point; but far more attractive than the prospects from St. Odile is its prehistoric wall. Before the wall, however, came the dinner, which deserves mention. It was Friday, so in company of priests, nuns, monks and divers pious pilgrims, with a sprinkling of fashionable ladies from Strasburg, and tourists generally, we sat down to a very fair menu for a fast-day, to wit: rice-soup, turnips and potatoes, eggs, perch, macaroni-cheese, custard pudding, gruyre cheese, and fair vin ordinaire. Two shillings was charged per head, and I must say people got their money's worth, for appetites seem keen in these parts. The mother-superior, a kindly old woman, evidently belonging to the working class, bustled about and shook hands with each of her guests. After dinner we were shown the bedrooms, which are very clean; for board and lodging you pay six francs a day, out of which, judging from the hunger of the company, the profit arising would be small except to clerical hotel-keepers. We must bear in mind that nuns work without pay, and that all the fish, game, dairy and garden produce the bishop gets for nothing. However, all tourists must be glad of such a hostelry, and the nuns are very obliging. One sister made us some afternoon tea very nicely (we always carry tea and teapot on these excursions), and everybody made us welcome. We found a delightful old Frenchman of Strasburg to conduct us to the Pagan Wall, as, for want of a better name, people designate this famous relic of prehistoric times. Fragments of stone fortifications similarly constructed have been found on other points of the Vosges not far from the promontory on which the convent stands, but none to be compared to this one in colossal proportions and completeness.
We dip deep down into the woods on quitting the convent gates, then climb for a little space and come suddenly upon the edge of the plateau, which the wall was evidently raised to defend. Never did a spot more easily lend itself to such rude defence by virtue of natural position, although where the construction begins the summit of the promontory is inaccessible from below. We are skirting dizzy precipices, feathered with light greenery and brightened with flowers, but awful notwithstanding, and in many places the stones have evidently been piled together rather for the sake of symmetry than from a sense of danger. The points thus protected were already impregnable. When we look more nearly we see that however much Nature may have aided these primitive constructors, the wall is mainly due to the agency of man. There is no doubt that in many places the stupendous masses of conglomerate have been hurled to their places by earthquake, but the entire girdle of stone, of pyramidal size and strength, shows much symmetrical arrangement and dexterity. The blocks have been selected according to size and shape, and in many places mortised together. We find no trace of cement, a fact disproving the hypothesis that the wall may have been of Roman origin. We must doubtless go much farther back, and associate these primitive builders with such relics of prehistoric times as the stones of Carnac and Lokmariaker. And not to seek so wide for analogies, do we not see here the handiwork of the same rude architects I have before alluded to in my Vosges travels, who flung a stone bridge across the forest gorge above Remiremont and raised in close proximity the stupendous monolith of Kirlinkin? The prehistoric stone monuments scattered about these regions are as yet new to the English archaeologist, and form one of the most interesting features of Vosges and Alsatian travel.
We may follow these lightly superimposed blocks of stone for miles, and the enceinte has been traced round the entire plateau, which was thus defended from enemies on all sides. As we continue our walk on the inner side of the wall we get lovely views of the dim violet hills, the vast golden plain, and, close underneath, luxuriant forests. Eagles are flying hither and thither, and except for an occasional tourist or two, the scene is perfectly solitary. An hour's walk brings us to the Menelstein, a vast and lofty platform of stone, ascended by a stair, both untouched by the hand of man. Never was a more formidable redoubt raised by engineering skill. Nature here helped her primitive builders well. From a terrace due to the natural formation of the rock, we obtain another of those grand and varied panoramas so numerous in this part of the world, but the beauty nearer at hand is more enticing. Nothing can exceed the freshness and charm of our homeward walk. We are now no longer following the wall, but free to enjoy the breezy, heather-scented plateau, and the broken, romantic outline of St. Odile, the Wartburg of Alsace, as the saint herself was its Holy Elizabeth, and with as romantic a story for those with a taste for such legends.
Here and there on the remoter wooded peaks are stately ruins of feudal castles, whilst all the way our path lies amid bright foliage of young forest trees, chestnut and oak, pine and acacia, and the ground is purple with heather. Blocks of the conglomerate used in the construction of the so-called Pagan Wall meet us at every turn, and as we gaze down the steep sides of the promontory we can trace its massive outline. A scene not soon to be forgotten! The still, solitary field of Carnac, with its avenues of monoliths, is not more impressive than these Cyclopean walls, thrown as a girdle round the green slopes of St. Odile.
We would fain have stayed here some time, but much more still remained to be seen and accomplished in Alsace. Rothau, the district known as the Ban de la Roche, where Oberlin laboured for sixty years, Thann, Wesserling, with a sojourn among French subjects of the German Empire at Mulhouse— all these things had to be done, and the bright summer days were drawing to an end.
FROM BARR TO STRASBURG, MULHOUSE AND BELFORT
The opening sentences of this chapter, written many years ago, are no longer applicable. Were I to revisit Alsace-Lorraine at the present time, I should only hear French speech among intimate friends and in private, so strictly of late years has the law of lse-majest been, and is still, enforced.
Nothing strikes the sojourner in Alsace-Lorraine more forcibly than the outspokenness of its inhabitants regarding Prussian rule. Young and old, rich and poor, wise and simple alike unburden themselves to their chance-made English acquaintance with a candour that is at the same time amusing and pathetic. For the most part no heed whatever is paid to possible German listeners. At the ordinaries of country hotels, by the shop door, in the railway carriage, Alsatians will pour out their hearts, especially the women, who, as two pretty sisters assured us, are not interfered with, be their conversation of the most treasonable kind. We travelled with these two charming girls from Barr to Rothau, and they corroborated what we had already heard at Barr and other places. The Prussian inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine—for the most part Government officials—are completely shut off from all social intercourse with the French population, the latter, of course, still forming the vast majority. Thus at Barr, a town consisting of over six thousand inhabitants, only a score or two are Prussians, who are employed in the railway and postal service, the police, the survey of forests, etc. The position of these officials is far from agreeable, although, on the other hand, there is compensation in the shape of higher pay, and much more material comfort, even luxury, than are to be had in the Fatherland. Alsace-Lorraine, especially by comparison with Prussia, may be called a land of Goshen, overflowing with milk and honey. The vine ripens on these warm hill-sides and rocky terraces, the plain produces abundant variety of fruit and vegetables, the streams abound with trout and the forests with game. No wonder, therefore, that whilst thousands of patriotic Alsatians have already quitted the country, thousands of Prussians are ready to fill their places. But the Alsatian exodus is far from finished. At first, as was only natural, the inhabitants could not realize the annexation. They refused to believe that the Prussian occupation was final, so, for the most part, stayed on, hoping against hope. The time of illusion is past. French parents of children born since the war had to decide whether their sons are to become Prussian or French citizens. After the age of sixteen a lad's fate is no longer in their hands; he must don the uniform so odious in French eyes, and renounce the cherished patrie and tricolor for ever.
The enforced military service, necessitated, perhaps, by the new order of things, is the bitterest drop in the cup of the Alsatians. Only the poorest, and those who are too much hampered by circumstances to evade it, resign themselves to the enrolment of their sons in the German army. For this reason well-to-do parents, and even many in the humbler ranks of life, are quitting the country in much larger numbers than is taken account of, whilst all who can possibly afford it send their young sons across the frontier for the purpose of giving them a French education. The prohibition of French in the public schools and colleges is another grievous condition of annexation. Alsatians of all ranks are therefore under the necessity of providing private masters for their children, unless they would let them grow up in ignorance of their mother tongue. And here a word of explanation may be necessary. Let no strangers in Alsace take it for granted that because a great part of the rural population speak a patois made up of bad German and equally bad French, they are any more German at heart for all that. Some of the most patriotic French inhabitants of Alsace can only express themselves in this dialect, a fact that should not surprise us, seeing the amalgamation of races that has been going on for many generations.
Physically speaking, so far the result has been satisfactory. In Alsace-Lorraine no one can help being struck with the fine appearance of the people. The men are tall, handsome, and well made, the women graceful and often exceedingly lovely, French piquancy and symmetrical proportions combined with Teutonic fairness of complexion, blonde hair, and blue eyes.
I will now continue my journey from Barr to Strasburg by way of the Ban de la Roche, Oberlin's country. A railway connects Barr with Rothau, a very pleasant halting-place in the midst of sweet pastoral scenery. It is another of those resorts in Alsace whither holiday folks flock from Strasburg and other towns during the long vacation, in quest of health, recreation and society.
Rothau is a very prosperous little town, with large factories, handsome chteaux of mill-owners, and trim little cottages, having flowers in all the windows and a trellised vine in every garden. Pomegranates and oleanders are in full bloom here and there, and the general aspect is bright and cheerful. At Rothau are several blanchisseries or laundries, on a large scale, employing many hands, besides dye-works and saw-mills. Through the town runs the little river Bruche, and the whole district, known as the Ban de la Roche, a hundred years ago one of the dreariest regions in France, is now all smiling fertility. The principal building is its handsome Protestant church—for here we are among Protestants, although of a less zealous temper than their fore-fathers, the fervid Anabaptists. I attended morning service, and although an eloquent preacher from Paris officiated, the audience was small, and the general impression that of coldness and want of animation.
From the sweet, fragrant valley of Rothau a road winds amid green hills and by the tumbling river to the little old-world village of Foudai, where Oberlin lies buried. The tiny church and shady churchyard lie above the village, and a more out-of-the-way spot than Foudai itself can hardly be imagined. Yet many a pious pilgrim finds it out and comes hither to pay a tribute to the memory of "Papa Oberlin," as he was artlessly called by the country folk. This is the inscription at the head of the plain stone slab marking his resting-place; and very suggestive it is of the relation between the pastor and his flock. Oberlin's career of sixty years among the primitive people of the Ban de la Roche was rather that of a missionary among an uncivilized race than of a country priest among his parishioners. How he toiled, and how he induced others to toil, in order to raise the material as well as moral and spiritual conditions of his charges, is pretty well known. His story reads like the German narrative, Des Goldmachers Dorf. Nor does it require any lively fancy to picture what this region must have been like before Oberlin and his fellow-workers made the wilderness to blossom as the rose. The soil is rocky and barren, the hill-sides whitened with mountain streams, the more fertile spots isolated and difficult of access. An elaborate system of irrigation has now clothed the valleys with rich pastures, the river turns a dozen wheels, and every available inch of soil has been turned to account. The cottages with orchards and flower-gardens are trim and comfortable. The place in verity is a veritable little Arcadia. No less so is Waldersbach, which was Oberlin's home. The little river winding amid hayfields and fruit-trees leads us thither from Foudai in half-an-hour. It is Sunday afternoon, and a fte day. Young and old in Sunday garb are keeping holiday, the lads and lasses waltzing, the children enjoying swings and peep-shows. No acerbity has lingered among these descendants of the austere parishioners of Oberlin. Here, as at Foudai, the entire population is Protestant. The church and parsonage lie at the back of the village, and we were warmly welcomed by the pastor and his wife, a great-great-granddaughter of Oberlin. Their six pretty children were playing in the garden with two young girls in the costume of Alsace, forming a pleasant domestic picture. Our hosts showed us many relics of Oberlin, the handsome cabinets and presses of carved oak, in which were stored the family wardrobe and other treasures, and in the study the table on which he habitually wrote. This is a charming upper room with wide views over the green hills and sunny, peaceful valley.
We were offered hospitality for days, nay, weeks, if we chose to stay, and even the use of Oberlin's study to sit and write in! A summer might be pleasantly spent here, with quiet mornings in this cheerful chamber, full of pious memories, and in the afternoon long rambles with the children over the peaceful hills. From Foudai, too, you may climb the wild rocky plateau known as the Champ de Feu—no spot in the Vosges chain is more interesting from a geological point of view.
After much pleasant talk we took leave of our kind hosts, not going away, however, without visiting the church. A tablet with medallion portrait of Oberlin bears the touching inscription that for fifty-nine years he was "the father of this parish." Then we drove back as we had come, stopping at Foudai to rest the horse and drink tea. We were served in a cool little parlour opening on to a garden, and, so tempting looked the tiny inn that we regretted we could not stay there a week. A pleasant pastoral country rather than romantic or picturesque is the Ban de la Roche, but close at hand is the lofty Donon, which may be climbed from Rothau or Foudai, and there are many other excursions within reach.
Here, for the present, the romance of Alsace travel ends, and all is prose of a somewhat painful kind. The first object that attracted our attention on reaching Strasburg was the new railway station, of which we had already heard so much. This handsome structure, erected by the German Government at an enormous cost, had only been recently opened, and so great was the soreness of feeling excited by certain allegorical bas-reliefs decorating the faade that for many days after the opening of the station police-officers in plain clothes carefully watched the crowd of spectators, carrying off the more seditious to prison. To say the least of it, these mural decorations are not in the best of taste, and at any rate it would have been better to have withheld them for a time. The two small bas-reliefs in question bear respectively the inscription, "Im alten, und im neuen Reich" ("In the old and new Empire"), improved by a stander-by, to the great relish of others, thus, "Im alten, reich, im neuen, arm" ("In the old, rich, in the new, poor"). They give a somewhat ideal representation of the surrender of Strasburg to the German Emperor. But the bombardment of their city, the destruction of public monuments and the loss of life and property thereby occasioned, were as yet fresh in the memories of the inhabitants, and they needed no such reminder of the new state of things. Their better feelings towards Germany had been bombarded out of them, as an Alsacienne wittily observed to the Duchess of Baden after the surrender. The duchess, daughter to the Emperor William, made the round of the hospitals, and not a single Alsatian soldier but turned his face to the wall, whereupon she expressed her astonishment at not finding a better sentiment. Nor can the lover of art help drawing a painful contrast between the Strasburg of the old and the new rgime. There was very little to see at Strasburg except the cathedral at this time. The Library, with its 300,000 volumes and 1,500 manuscripts—the priceless Hortus Deliciarium of the twelfth century, richly illuminated and ornamented with miniatures invaluable to the student of men and manners of the Middle Ages, the missal of Louis XII., bearing his arms, the Recueil de Prires of the eighth century—all these had been completely destroyed by the ruthless Prussian bombardment. The Museum, rich in chefs d'oeuvre of the French school, both of sculpture and painting, the handsome Protestant church, the theatre, the Palais de Justice, all shared the same fate, not to speak of buildings of lesser importance, including four hundred private dwellings, and of the fifteen hundred civilians, men, women and children, killed and wounded by the shells. The fine church of St. Thomas suffered greatly. Nor was the cathedral spared, and it would doubtless have perished altogether, too, but for the enforced surrender of the heroic city. On my second visit ten years later I found immense changes, new German architecture to be seen everywhere.
Strasburg is said to contain a much larger German element than any other city of Alsace-Lorraine, but the most casual observer soon finds out how it stands with the bulk of the people. The first thing that attracted our notice in a shop window was a coloured illustration representing the funeral procession of Gambetta, as it wound slowly past the veiled statue of Strasburg on the Place de la Concorde. These displays of patriotic feeling are forbidden, but they come to the fore all the same. Here, as elsewhere, the clinging to the old country is pathetically—sometimes comically—apparent. A rough peasant girl, employed as chambermaid in the hotel at which we stayed, amused me not a little by her tirades against the Prussians, spoken in a language that was neither German nor French, but a mixture of both—the delectable tongue of Alsace!
Strasburg is now a vast camp, with that perpetual noisy military parade so wearisome in Berlin and other German cities, and, as I have said, there was very little to see. It was a relief to get to Mulhouse, the comparatively quiet and thoroughly French city of Mulhouse, in spite of all attempts to make it German. But for the imperial eagle placed over public offices and the sprinkling of Prussian helmets and Prussian physiognomies, we could hardly suppose ourselves outside the French border. The shops are French. French is the language of the better classes, and French and Jews make up the bulk of the population. The Jews from time immemorial have swarmed in Alsace, where, I am sorry to say, they seemed to be little liked.
This thoroughly French appearance of Mulhouse, to be accounted for, moreover, by an intensely patriotic clinging to the mother country, naturally occasions great vexation to the German authorities. It is, perhaps, hardly to be wondered at that undignified provocations and reprisals should be the consequence. Thus the law forbids the putting up of French signboards or names over shop doors in any but the German language. This is evaded by withholding all else except the surname of the individual, which is of course the same in both languages.