HENRY BLACKBURN, Author of 'Travelling in Spain,' 'The Pyrenees,' 'Artists and Arabs,' Etc.
With Appendix of Routes and List of Watering-Places.
London: Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, Crown Buildings, Fleet Street. 1870. London: Printed by William Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street & Charing Cross.
In issuing the Travelling Edition of "Normandy Picturesque," the publishers deem it right to state that the body of the work is identical with the Christmas Edition; but that the APPENDIX contains additional information for the use of travellers, some of which is not to be found in any Guide, or Handbook, to France.
The descriptions of places and buildings in Normandy call for little or no alteration in the present edition, excepting in the case of one town, concerning which the Author makes the following note:—
"The traveller who may arrive at Pont Audemer this year, with 'Normandy Picturesque' in his hand, will find matters strangely altered since these notes were written; he will find that a railway has been driven into the middle of the town, that many old houses have disappeared, that the inhabitants have left off their white caps, and have given up their hearts to modern ways.
"Such changes have come rapidly upon Pont Audemer, but we must not, in consequence, alter our description of it; for the old houses and the old customs are dear memories, and the more worth recording because the reality has faded before our eyes."
London, May, 1870.
PAGE CHAP. I.—ON THE WING 1
" II.—PONT AUDEMER 13
" III.—LISIEUX 35
" IV.—CAEN—DIVES 51
" V.—BAYEUX 83
" VI.—ST. LO—COUTANCES—GRANVILLE 109
" VII.—AVRANCHES—MONT ST. MICHAEL 135
" VIII.—VIRE—MORTAIN—FALAISE 162
" IX.—ROUEN 185
" X.—THE VALLEY OF THE SEINE 217
" XI.—ARCHITECTURE AND COSTUME 243
" XII.—THE WATERING PLACES OF NORMANDY 265
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
JOAN OF ARC'S HOUSE AT ROUEN By S. PROUT. Frontispiece.
II.—Market-place at Pont Audemer S. P. HALL (From a sketch by A. E. Browne.) 14
" A Sketch at Pont Audemer M. TIBIALONG 18
" Old Houses at Pont Audemer A. E. BROWNE 29
III.—Wood-carving at Lisieux A. E. BROWNE 40
IV.—Church of St. Pierre, Caen M. CLERGET 54
" A Sketch, at Caen M. TIBIALONG 64
" Old Woman of Caen M. TIRARD 69
V.—Bayeux Cathedral H. BLACKBURN 83
" Corner of House at Bayeux A. E. BROWNE 86
" Ancient Tablet in Cathedral H. BLACKBURN 90
" Facsimile of Bayeux Tapestry A. SEVERN 103
VI.—A Sketch, at Cherbourg M. TIBIALONG 110
" Exterior Pulpit at St. Lo From a Photograph 116
" A 'Toiler of the Sea' S. P. HALL 132
" Mont St. Michael H. BLACKBURN 135
VII.—Church near Avranches H. BLACKBURN 144
" Ancient Cross H. BLACKBURN 147
VIII.—Clock Tower at Vire H. BLACKBURN 171
IX.—Rouen Cathedral M. CLERGET 194
X.—Market-women—Lower Normandy S. P. HALL (From a sketch by A. E. Browne.) 217
XI.—Modern houses at Houlgate H. BLACKBURN 253
" 'The Wrestlers' GUSTAVE DORE 257
ON THE WING.
It is, perhaps, rather a subject for reproach to English people that the swallows and butterflies of our social system are too apt to forsake their native woods and glens in the summer months, and to fly to 'the Continent' for recreation and change of scene; whilst poets tell us, with eloquent truth, that there is a music in the branches of England's trees, and a soft beauty in her landscape more soothing and gracious in their influence than 'aught in the world beside.'
Whether it be wise or prudent, or even pleasant, to leave our island in the very height of its season, so to speak—at a time when it is most lovely, when the sweet fresh green of the meadows is changing to bloom of harvest and gold of autumn—for countries the features of which are harder, and the landscape, if bolder, certainly less beautiful, for a climate which, if more sunny, is certainly more bare and burnt up, and for skies which, if more blue, lack much of the poetry of cloud-land—we will not stay to enquire; but admitting the fact that, for various reasons, English people will go abroad in the autumn, and that there is a fashion, we might almost say a passion, for 'flying, flying south,' which seems irresistible—we will endeavour in the following pages to suggest a compromise, in the shape of a tour which shall include the undoubted delight and charm of foreign travel, with scenery more like England than any other in Europe, which shall be within an easy distance from our shores, and within the limits of a short purse; and which should have one special attraction for us, viz., that the country to be seen and the people to be visited bear about them a certain English charm—the men a manliness, and the women a beauty with which we may be proud to claim kindred.
We speak of the north-west corner of France, divided from us (and perhaps once not divided) by the British Channel—the district called NORMANDY (Neustria), and sometimes, 'nautical France,' which includes the Departments of Calvados, Eure, Orne, and part of La Manche. It comprises, as is well known, but a small part of France, and occupies an area of about one hundred and fifty miles by seventy-five, but in this small compass is comprehended so much that is interesting to English people that we shall find quite enough to see and to do within its limits alone.
If the reader will turn to the little map on our title-page, he will see at a glance the position of the principal towns in Normandy, which we may take in the following order, making England (or London) our starting point:—
Crossing the Channel from Southampton to Havre by night, or from Newhaven to Dieppe by day, we proceed at once to the town of PONT AUDEMER, situated about six miles from Quillebeuf and eight from Honfleur, both on the left bank of the Seine. From Havre, Pont Audemer may be reached in a few hours, by water, and from Dieppe, Rouen or Paris there is now railway communication. From Pont Audemer we go to LISIEUX (by road or railway), from Lisieux to CAEN, BAYEUX and ST. LO, where the railway ends, and we take the diligence to COUTANCES, GRANVILLE, and AVRANCHES. After a visit to the island of Mont St. Michael, we may return (by diligence) by way of MORTAIN, VIRE, and FALAISE; thence to ROUEN, and by the valley of the Seine, to the sea-coast.
The whole journey is a short and inexpensive one, and may occupy a fortnight, a month, or three months (the latter is not too long), and may be made a simple voyage de plaisir, or turned to good account for artistic study.
But there is one peculiarity about it that should be mentioned at the outset. The route we have indicated, simple as it seems, and most easily to be carried out as it would appear, is really rather difficult of accomplishment, for the one reason that the journey is almost always made on cross-roads. The traveller who follows it will continually find himself delayed because he is not going to Paris. 'Paris is France' under the Imperial regime, and at nearly every town or railway station he will be reminded of the fact; and, if he be not careful, will find himself and his baggage whisked off to the capital. If he wishes to see Normandy, and to carry out the idea of a provincial tour in its integrity, he must resist temptation, have nothing to do with Paris, and put up with slow trains, creeping diligences, and second-rate inns.
The network of roads and railways in France converge as surely to the capital as the threads of a spider's web lead to its centre, and in pursuing his route through the bye-ways of Normandy the traveller will be much in the position of the fly that has stepped upon its meshes—every road and railway leading to the capital where 'M. d'Araignee' the enticing, the alluring, the fascinating, the most extravagant—is ever waiting for his prey.
From the moment he sets foot on the shores of Normandy, Paris will be made ever present to him. Let him go, for example, to the railway station at any port on his arrival in France, and he will find everything—people, goods, and provisions, being hurried off to the capital as if there were no other place to live in, or to provide for. Let him (in pursuit of the journey we have suggested) tread cautiously on the fil de fer at Lisieux, for he will pass over one of the main lines that connect the world of Fashion at Paris with another world of Fashion by the sea. Let him, when at St. Lo, apply for a place in the diligence for Avranches, and he will be told by a polite official that nothing can be done until the mail train arrives from Paris; and let him not be surprised if, on his arrival at Avranches, his name be chronicled in the local papers as the latest arrival from the capital. Let him again, on his homeward journey, try and persuade the people of Mortain and Vire that he does not intend to visit Paris, and he will be able to form some estimate of its importance in the eyes of the French people.
We draw attention to this so pointedly at the outset, because it is altogether inconsistent and wide of our purpose in making a quiet, and we may add, economical, visit to Normandy, to do, as is the general custom with travellers—spend half their time and most of their money in Paris.
Thus much in outline for the ordinary English traveller on a holiday ramble; but the artist or the architect need not go so far a-field. If we might make a suggestion to him, especially to the architect, we would say, take only the first four towns on our list (continuing the journey to Coutances, or returning by Rouen if there be opportunity), and he will find enough to last him a summer. If he has never set foot in Normandy before we may promise him an aesthetic treat beyond his dreams. He will have his idols both of wood and stone—wood for dwelling, and stone for worship; at PONT AUDEMER, the simple domestic architecture of the middle ages, and at LISIEUX, the more ornate and luxurious; passing on to CAEN, he will have (in ecclesiastical architecture) the memorial churches of William the Conqueror, and, in the neighbouring city of BAYEUX (in one building), examples of the 'early,' as well as the more elaborate, gothic of the middle ages.
If the architect, or art student, will but make this little pilgrimage in its integrity, if he will, like Christian, walk in faith—turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, and shunning the broad road which leads to destruction—he will be rewarded.
There are two paths for the architect in Normandy, as elsewhere—paths which we may call the 'simple right' and the 'elaborate wrong,' and the right path is sometimes as difficult to follow as the path of virtue.
But both artist and amateur will revel alike in the beauty of landscape, in the variety of form and colour of the old buildings, and in the costume of the people; and we cannot imagine a more pleasant and complete change from the heat and pressure of a London season than to drop down (suddenly, as it were, like a bird making a swoop in the air), into the midst of the quiet, primitive population of a town like Pont Audemer, not many miles removed from the English coast, but at least a thousand in the habits and customs of the people. An artist of any sensibility could scarcely do it, the shock would be too great, the delight too much to be borne; but the ordinary reader, who has prepared his mind to some extent by books of travel, or the tourist, who has come out simply for a holiday, may enjoy the change as he never enjoyed anything before.
In the following pages we do not profess to describe each place on the route we have suggested, but rather to record a few notes, made at various times during a sojourn in Normandy; notes—not intended to be exhaustive, or even as complete and comprehensive in description, as ordinary books of travel, but which—written in the full enjoyment of summer time in this country, in sketching in the open air, and in the exploration of its mediaeval towns—may perchance impart something of the author's enthusiasm to his unknown readers, when scattered upon the winds of a publisher's breeze.
About one hundred and fifty miles in a direct line from the door of the Society of British Architects in Conduit Street, London (and almost unknown, we venture to say, to the majority of its members), sleeps the little town of PONT AUDEMER, with its quaint old gables, its tottering houses, its Gothic 'bits,' its projecting windows, carved oak galleries, and streets of time-worn buildings—centuries old. Old dwellings, old customs, old caps, old tanneries, set in a landscape of bright green hills.
'Old as the hills,' and almost as unchanged in aspect, are the ways of the people of Pont Audemer, who dress and tan hides, and make merry as their fathers did before them. For several centuries they have devoted themselves to commerce and the arts of peace, and in the enthusiasm of their business have desecrated one or two churches into tanneries. But they are a conservative and primitive people, loving to do as their ancestors did, and to dwell where they dwelt; they build their houses to last for several generations, and take pride and interest in the 'family mansion,' a thing unknown and almost impossible amongst the middle classes of most communities.
Pont Audemer was once warlike; it had its castle in feudal times (destroyed in the 14th century), and the legend exists that cannon was here first used in warfare. It has its history of wars in the time of the Norman dukes, but its aspect is now quiet and peaceful, and its people appear happy and contented; the little river Rille winds about it, and spreads its streamlets like branches through the streets, and sparkles in the evening light. Like Venice, it has its 'silent highways;' like Venice, also, on a smaller and humbler scale, it has its old facades and lintels drooping to the water's edge; like Venice, too, we must add, that it has its odours here and there—odours not always proceeding from the tanneries.
In the chief place of the arrondissement, and in a rapidly increasing town, containing about six thousand inhabitants; with a reputation for healthiness and cheapness of living, and with a railway from Paris, we must naturally look for changes and modern ways; but Pont Audemer is still essentially old, and some of its inhabitants wear the caps, as in our illustration, which were sketched only yesterday in the market-place.
If we take up our quarters at the old-fashioned inn called the Pot d'Etain, we shall find much to remind us of the 15th century. If we take a walk by the beautiful banks of the Rille on a summer's evening, or in the fields where the peasants are at work, we shall find the aspect curiously English, and in the intonation of the voices the resemblance is sometimes startling; we seem hardly amongst foreigners—both in features and in voice there is a strong family likeness. There is a close tie of blood relationship no doubt, of ancient habits and natural tastes; but, in spite of railways and steamboats, the two peoples know very little of each other.
That young girl with the plain white cap fitting close to her hair—who tends the flocks on the hill side, and puts all her power and energy into the little matter of knitting a stocking—is a Norman maiden, a lineal descendant, it may be, of some ancient house, whose arms we may find in our own heraldic albums. She is noble by nature, and has the advantage over her coroneted cousins in being permitted to wear a white cap out of doors, and an easy and simple costume; in the fact of her limbs being braced by a life spent in the open air, and her head not being plagued with the proprieties of May Fair. She is pretty; but what is of more importance she knows how to cook, and she has a little store of money in a bank. She has been taught enough for her station, and has few wishes beyond it; and some day she will marry Jean, and happy will be Jean.
That stalwart warrior (whom we see on the next page), sunning himself outside his barrack door, having just clapped his helmet on the head of a little boy in blouse and sabots, is surely a near relation to our guardsman; he is certainly brave, he is full of fun and intelligence, he very seldom takes more wine than is good for him, and a game at dominoes delights his soul.
But it is in the market-place of Pont Audemer that we shall obtain the best idea of the place and of the people.
On market mornings and on fete days, when the Place is crowded with old and young,—when all the caps (of every variety of shape, from the 'helmet' to the bonnet-rouge), and all the old brown coats with short tails—are collected together, we have a picture, the like of which we may have seen in rare paintings, but very seldom realize in life. Of the tumult of voices on these busy mornings, of the harsh discordant sounds that sometimes fill the air, we must not say much, remembering their continual likeness to our own; but viewed, picturesquely, it is a sight not to be forgotten, and one that few English people are aware can be witnessed so near home.
Here the artist will find plenty of congenial occupation, and opportunities (so difficult to meet with in these days) of sketching both architecture and people of a picturesque type—groups in the market-place, groups down by the river fishing under the trees, groups at windows of old hostelries, and seated at inn doors; horses in clumsy wooden harness; calves and pigs, goats and sheep; women at fruit stalls, under tents and coloured umbrellas; piles upon piles of baskets, a wealth of green things, and a bright fringe of fruit and flowers, arranged with all the fanciful grace of "les dames des halles," in Paris.
All this, and much more the artist finds to his hand, and what does the architect discover? First of all, that if he had only come here before he might have saved himself an immensity of thought and trouble, for he would have found such suggestions for ornament in wood carving, for panels, doorways, and the like, of so good a pattern, and so old, that they are new to the world of to-day; he would have found houses built out over the rivers, looking like pieces of old furniture, ranged side by side—rich in colour and wonderfully preserved, with their wooden gables, carved in oak of the fifteenth century, supported by massive timbers, sound and strong, of even older date. He would see many of these houses with windows full of flowers, and creepers twining round the old eaves; and long drying-poles stretched out horizontally, with gay-coloured clothes upon them, flapping in the wind—all contrasting curiously with the dark buildings.
But he would also find some houses on the verge of ruin. If he explored far enough in the dark, narrow streets, where the rivers flow under the windows of empty dwellings; he might see them tottering, and threatening downfall upon each other—leaning over and casting shadows, black and mysterious upon the water—no line perpendicular, no line horizontal, the very beau-ideal of picturesque decay—buildings of which Longfellow might have sung as truly as of Nuremberg,—
"Memories haunt thy pointed gables, Like the rooks which round them throng."
In short, he would find Pont Audemer, and the neighbouring town of Lisieux, treasure houses of old mysterious 'bits' of colour and form, suggestive of simple domestic usage in one building, and princely grandeur in another—strength and simplicity, grace and beauty of design—all speaking to him of a past age with the eloquence of history.
Let us look well at these old buildings, many of them reared and dwelt in by men of humble birth and moderate means—(men who lived happily and died easily without amassing a fortune)—let us, if we can, without too much envy, think for a moment of the circumstances under which these houses were built. To us, to many of us, who pay dearly for the privilege of living between four square walls (so slight and thin sometimes, that our neighbours are separated from us by sight, but scarcely by sound)—walls that we hire for shelter, from necessity, and leave generally without reluctance; that we are prone to cover with paper, in the likeness of oak and marble, to hide their meanness—these curious, odd-shaped interiors, with massive walls, and solid oak timbers, are especially attractive. How few modern rooms, for instance, have such niches in them, such seats in windows and snug corners, that of all things make a house comfortable. Some of these rooms are twenty feet high, and are lighted from windows in surprising places, and of the oddest shapes. What more charming than this variety, to the eye jaded with monotony; what more suggestive, than the apparently accidental application of Gothic architecture to the wants and requirements of the age.
We will not venture to say that these old buildings are altogether admirable from an architect's point of view, but to us they are delightful, because they were designed and inhabited by people who had time to be quaint, and could not help being picturesque. And if these old wooden houses seem to us wanting (as many are wanting) in the appliances and fittings which modern habits have rendered necessary, it was assuredly no fault of the 15th-century architect. They display both in design and construction, most conspicuously, the elements of common sense in meeting the requirements of their own day, which is, as has been well remarked, "the one thing wanting to give life to modern architecture;" and they have a character and individuality about them which renders almost every building unique. Like furniture of rare design they bear the direct impress of their maker. They were built in an age of comparative leisure, when men gave their hearts to the meanest, as well as to the mightiest, work of their hands; in an age when love, hope, and a worthy emulation moved them, as it does not seem to move men now; in an age, in short, when an approving notice in the columns of the 'Builder' newspaper, was not a high aspiration.
But in nothing is the attraction greater to us, who are accustomed to the monotonous perspective of modern streets, than the irregularity of the exteriors, arising from the independent method of construction; for, by varying the height and pattern of each facade, the builders obtained to almost every house what architects term the 'return,' to their cornices and mouldings, i.e., the corner-finish and completeness to the most important projecting lines. And yet these houses are evidently built with relation to each other; they generally harmonize, and set off, and uphold each other, just as forest trees form themselves naturally into groups for support and protection.
All this we may see at a distance, looking down the varied perspective of these streets of clustering dwellings; and the closer we examine them, the more we find to interest, if not to admire. If we gain little in architectural knowledge, we at least gain pleasure, we learn the value of variety in its simplest forms, and notice how easy it would be to relieve the monotony of our London streets; we learn, too, the artistic value of high-pitched roofs, of contrast in colour (if it be only of dark beams against white plaster) and of meaning in every line of construction.
These, and many more such, sheaves we may gather from our Norman harvest, but we must haste and bind them, for the winds of time are scattering fast. Pont Audemer is being modernised, and many an interesting old building is doomed to destruction; whilst cotton-mills and steam-engines, and little white villas amongst the trees, black coats and parisian bonnets, all tend to blot out the memories of mediaeval days. Let us make the most of the place whilst there is time—and let us, before we pass on to Lisieux, add one picture of Pont Audemer in the early morning—a picture which every year will seem less real.
There are few monuments or churches to examine, and when we have seen the stained-glass windows in the fine old church of St. Ouen, and walked by the banks of the Rille, to the ruins of a castle (of the twelfth century) at Montfort; we shall have seen the chief objects of interest, in what Murray laconically describes as, 'a prettily situated town of 5400 inhabitants, famed for its tanneries.'
Early morning at Pont Audemer.
That there is 'nothing new under the sun,' may perhaps be true of its rising; nevertheless, a new sensation awaits most of us, if we choose to see it under various phases. The early morning at Pont Audemer is the same early morning that breaks upon the unconscious inhabitants of a London street; but the conditions are more delightful and very much more picturesque; and we might be excused for presenting the picture on the simple ground that it treats of certain hours of of the twenty-four, of which most of us know nothing, and in which (such are the exigencies of modern civilization) most of us do nothing.
A storm passed over the town one night in August, which shook the great rafters of the old houses, and made the timbers strain; the water flowed from them as from the sides of a ship—one minute they were illuminated, the next, they were in blackest gloom. In two or three hours it has all passed away, and as we go out into the silent town, and cross the street where it forms a bridge over the Rille (the spot from which the next sketch was taken), a faint gleam of light appears upon the water, and upon the wet beams of one or two projecting gables. The darkness and the 'dead' silence are soon to be disturbed—one or two birds fly out from the black eaves, a rat crosses the street, some distant chimes come upon the wind, and a faint clatter of sabots on the wet stones; the town clock strikes half-past three, and the watchman puts out his lantern, and goes to sleep. The morning is breaking on Pont Audemer, and it is the time for surprises—for the sudden appearance of a gable-end, which just now was shadow, for the more gradual, but not less curious, formation of a street in what seemed to be space; for the sudden creation of windows in dead walls, for the turning of fantastic shadows into palpable carts, baskets, piles of wood, and the like; and for the discovery of a number of coiled-up dogs (and one or two coiled-up men) who had weathered the night in sheltered places.
But the grey light is turning fast to gold, the warmer tints begin to prevail, the streets leading eastward are gleaming, and the hills are glistening in their bright fresh green. The sweet morning air welcomes us as we leave the streets and its five thousand sleepers, and pass over another bridge and out by the banks of the Rille, where the fish are stirring in the swollen stream, and the lilies are dancing on the water. The wind blows freshly through the trees, and scatters the raindrops thickly; the clouds, the last remnant of the night's storm, career through a pale blue space, the birds are everywhere on the wing, cattle make their appearance in the landscape, and peasants are already to be seen on the roads leading to the town.
Suddenly—with gleams of gold, and with a rushing chorus of insect life, and a thousand voices in the long grass on the river's bank—the day begins. It is market-morning, and we will go a little way up the hill to watch the arrivals—a hill, from which there is a view over town and valley; the extent and beauty of which it would be difficult to picture to the reader, in words. Listen! for there is already a cavalcade coming down the hill; we can see it at intervals through the trees, and hear men's voices, the laughter of women, the bleating of calves, and the crushing sound of wheels upon the road. It is a peaceful army, though the names of its leaders (if we heard them), might stir up warlike memories—there are Howards and Percys amongst them, but there is no clash of arms; they come of a brave lineage, their ancestors fought well under the walls of Pont Audemer; but they have laid down their arms for centuries—their end is commerce and peace.
Let us stand aside under the lime trees, and see them pass. But they are making a halt, their horses go straight to the water-trough, and the whole cavalcade comes to a stand; the old women in the carts (wearing starched caps a foot high) with baskets of eggs, butter, cheeses, and piles of merchandise, sit patiently until the time comes to start again; and the drivers, in blouses and wooden sabots, lounge about and smoke, or sit down to rest. The young girls, who accompany the expedition and who will soon take their places in the market, now set to work systematically to perform their toilettes, commencing by washing their feet in a stream, and putting on the shoes and stockings which they had carried during their wet march; then more ablutions, with much fun, and laughter, and tying up of tresses, and producing from baskets of those wonderful caps which we have sketched so often—souffles of most fantastic shape and startling dimensions. This was the crowning work, the picture was complete: bright, fresh, morning faces, glowing under white caps; neat grey or blue dresses with white bodices, or coloured handkerchiefs; grey stockings, shoes with buckles, and a silver cross, a rosary, or a flower. We must not quite forget the younger men (with coats, not blouses), who plumed themselves in a rough way, and wore wonderful felt hats; nor, above all, a peep through the trees behind the group, far away down the valley, at the gables and turrets of Pont Audemer, glistening through a cloud of haze. This is all we need describe, a word more would spoil the picture; like one of Edouard Frere's paintings of "Cottage Life in Brittany," the charm and pathos of the scene lie in its simplicity and harmony with Nature.
If we choose to stay until the day advances, we may see more market-people come crowding in, and white caps will crop up in the distance through the trees, till the green meadows blossom with them, and sparkle like a lawn of daisies; we may hear the ringing laughter of the girls to whom market day seems an occasion of great rejoicing, and we may be somewhat distracted with the steady droning patois of the old women; but we come to see rather than to hear, and, returning to the town for the last time, we take our station at the corner of the market-place, and make a sketch of a group of Norman maidens who are well worth coming out to see.
'Oh! the pleasant days, when men built houses after their own minds, and wrote their own devices on the walls, and none laughed at them; when little wooden knights and saints peeped out from the angles of gable-ended houses, and every street displayed a store of imaginative wealth.'—La Belle France.
We must now pass on to the neighbouring town of LISIEUX, which will be found even more interesting than Pont Audemer in examples of domestic architecture of the middle ages; resisting with difficulty a passing visit to Pont l'Eveque, another old town a few miles distant. "Who does not know Pont l'Eveque," asks an enthusiastic Frenchman, "that clean little smiling town, seated in the midst of adorable scenery, with its little black, white, rose-colour and blue houses? One sighs and says 'It would be good to live here,' and then one passes on and goes to amuse oneself"—at Trouville-sur-mer!
If we approach Lisieux by the road from Pont Audemer (a distance of about twenty-six miles) we shall get a better impression of the town than if riding upon the whirlwind of an express train; and we shall pass through a prettily-wooded country, studded with villas and comfortable-looking houses, surrounded by pleasant fruit and flower gardens—the modern abodes of wealthy manufacturers from the neighbouring towns, and also of a few English families.
We ought to come quietly through the suburbs of Lisieux, if only to see how its 13,000 inhabitants are busied in their woollen and cloth factories; how they have turned the old timber-framed houses of feudal times into warehouses; how the banners and signs of chivalry are desecrated into trade-marks, and how its inhabitants are devoting themselves heart and soul to the arts of peace. We should then approach the town by picturesque wooden bridges over the rivers which have brought the town its prosperity, and see some isolated examples of carved woodwork in the suburbs; in houses surrounded by gardens, which we should have missed by any other road.
The churches at Lisieux are scarcely as interesting to us as its domestic architecture; but we must not neglect to examine the pointed Gothic of the 13th century in the cathedral of St. Pierre. The door of the south transept, and one of the doors under the western towers (the one on the right hand) is very beautiful, and is quite mauresque in the delicacy of its design. The interior is of fine proportions, but is disfigured with a coat of yellow paint; whilst common wooden seats (of churchwardens' pattern) and wainscotting have been built up against its pillars, the stone work having been cut away to accommodate the painted wood. There are some good memorial windows; one of Henry II. being married to Eleanor (1152); and another of Thomas-a-Becket visiting Lisieux when exiled in 1169.
The church of St. Jacques with its fine stained-glass, the interior of which is much plainer than St. Pierre, will not detain us long; it is rather to such streets as the celebrated 'Rue aux Fevres' that we are attracted by the decoration of the houses, and their curious construction. There is one house in this street, the entire front of which is covered with grotesquely carved figures, intricate patterns, and graceful pillars. The exterior woodwork is blackened with age, and the whole building threatens to fall upon its present tenant—the keeper of a cafe. The beams which support the roof inside are also richly decorated.
To give the reader any idea of the variety of the wooden houses at Lisieux would require a series of drawings or photographs: we can do little more in these pages than point out these charming corners of the world where something is still left to us of the work of the middle ages.
The general character of the houses is better than at Pont Audemer, and the style is altogether more varied. Stone as well as wood is used in their construction, and the rooms are more commodious and more elaborately decorated. But the exterior carving and the curious signs engraved on the time-stained wood, are the most distinctive features, and give the streets their picturesque character. Here we may notice, in odd corners, names and legends carved in wood on the panels, harmonizing curiously with the decoration; just as the names of the owners (in German characters) are carved on Swiss chalets; and the words 'God is great,' and the like, form appropriate ornaments (in Arabic) over the door of a mosque. And upon heraldic shields, on old oak panels, and amidst groups of clustering leaves, we may sometimes trace the names of the founders (often the architects) of the houses in which several generations lived and died.
The strange familiarity of some of these crests and devices (lions, tigers, dragons, griffins, and other emblems of ferocity), the English character of many of the names, and the Latin mottos, identical with some in common use in England, may give us a confused and not very dignified idea respecting their almost universal use by the middle classes in England. M. Taine, a well-known french writer, remarks that 'c'est loin du monde que nous pouvons jugez sainement des illusions dont nous environt,' and perhaps it is from Lisieux that we may best see ourselves, wearing 'coats of arms.'
It is considered by many an unmeaning and unjust phrase to call the nineteenth century 'an age of shams,' but it seems appropriate enough when we read in newspapers daily, of 'arms found' and 'crests designed;' and when we consider the extent of the practice of assuming them, or rather we should say, of having them 'found,' we cannot feel very proud of the fashion. Without entering into a genealogical discussion, we have plenty of evidence that the Normans held their lands and titles from a very early date, and that after the Conquest their family arms were spread over England; but not in any measure to the extent to which they are used amongst us. In these days nearly every one has a 'crest' or a 'coat of arms.' Do the officials of Heralds' College (we may ask in parenthesis) believe in their craft? and does the tax collector ever receive 13s. 4d. for imaginary honours? Such things did not, and could not, exist in mediaeval times, in the days when every one had his place from the noble to the vassal, when every man's name was known and his title to property, if he had any, clearly defined. A 'title' in those days meant a title to land, and an acceptance of its responsibilities. How many "titled" people in these days possess the one, or accept the other?
It would seem reserved for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to create a state of society when the question 'Who is he?' has to be perpetually asked and not always easily answered; in a word, to foster and increase to its present almost overwhelming dimensions a great middle-class of society without a name or a title, or even a home to call its own.
It was assuredly a good time when men's lives and actions were handed down, so to speak, from father to son, and the poor man had his 'locum tenens' as well as the rich; and how he loved his own dwelling, how he decked it with ornament according to his taste or his means, how he watched over it and preserved it from decay; how, in short, his pride was in his own hearth and home—these old buildings tell us.
The conservative influence of all this on his character (which, although we are in France, we must call 'home-feeling'), its tendency to contentment and self-respect, are subjects suggestive enough, but on which we must not dwell. It flourished during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and it declined when men commenced crowding into cities, and were no longer 'content to do without what they could not produce.'
Let us stay quietly at Lisieux, if we have time, and see the place, for we shall find nothing in all Normandy to exceed it in interest; and the way to see it best, and to remember it, is, undoubtedly, to sketch. Let us make out all these curious 'bits,' these signs, and emblems in wood and stone—twigs and moss, and birds with delicate wings, a spray of leaves, the serene head of a Madonna, the rampant heraldic griffin,—let us copy, if we can, their colour and the marks of age. We may sketch them, and we may dwell upon them, here, with the enthusiasm of an artist who returns to his favourite picture again and again; for we have seen the sun scorching these panels and burning upon their gilded shields; and we have seen the snow-flakes fall upon these sculptured eaves, silently, softly, thickly—like the dust upon the bronze figures of Ghiberti's gates at Florence—so thickly fall, so soon disperse, leaving the dark outlines sharp and clear against the sky; the wood almost as unharmed as the bronze.
But more interesting, perhaps, to the traveller who sees these things for the first time, more charming than the most exquisite Gothic lines, more fascinating than their quaint aspect, more attractive even than their colour or their age, are the associations connected with them; and the knowledge that they bear upon them the direct impress of the hands that built them centuries ago, and that every house is stamped, as it were, with the hall mark of individuality. The historian is nowhere so eloquent as when he can point to such examples as these. We may learn from them (as we did at Pont Audemer) much of the method of working in the 14th century, and, indeed, of the habits of the people, and the secret of their great success.
It is evident enough that in those old times when men were very ignorant, slavish, easily led, impulsive (childlike we might almost call them), everything they undertook like the building of a house, was a serious matter, a labour of love, and the work of many years; to be an architect and a builder was the aspiration of their boyhood, the natural growth of artistic instinct, guided by so much right as they could glean from their elders. With few books or rules, they worked out their designs for themselves, irrespective, it would seem, of time or cost. And why should they consider either the one or the other, when time was of no 'marketable value,' when the buildings were to last for ages; and when there were no such things as estimates in those days? Like the Moors in Spain, they did much as they pleased, and, like them also, they had a great advantage over architects of our own day—they had little to unlearn. They knew their materials, and had not to endeavour, after a laborious and expensive education in one school, to modify and alter their method of treatment to meet the exigencies of another. They were not cramped for space, nor for money; they were not 'tied for time;' and they had not to fight against, and make compromises with, the two great enemies of modern architects—Economy and Iron.
At Lisieux, as at Pont Audemer, we cannot help being struck with the extreme simplicity of the method of building, and with the possibilities of Gothic for domestic purposes. We see it here, in its pure and natural development, as opposed to the rather unnatural adoption of mediaeval art in England, in the latter half of the 19th century. This last is, to quote a well-known writer on art, 'the worship of Gothic-run-mad' in architecture. It instals itself wherever it can, in mediaevally-devised houses, fitted up with mediaeval chairs and tables, presses and cupboards, wall papers, and window hangings, all 'brand-new, and intensely old;' which feeds its fancy on old pictures and old poetry, its faith on old legend and ceremonial, and would fain dress itself in the garb of the 15th century—the natural reaction in a certain class of minds against the mean and prosaic aspects of contemporary work-a-day life.
The quiet contemplation of the old buildings in such towns as Pont Audemer, Lisieux, and Bayeux, must, we should think, convince the most enthusiastic admirers of the archaic school, that the mere isolated reproduction of these houses in the midst of modern streets (such as we are accustomed to in London or Paris) is of little use, and is, in fact, beginning at the wrong end. It might occur to them, when examining the details of these buildings, and picturing to themselves the lives of their inhabitants, in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, that the 'forcing system' is a mistake—that art never flourished as an exotic, and assuredly never will—that before we live again in mediaeval houses, and realise the true meaning of what is 'Gothic' and appropriate in architecture, we must begin at the beginning, our lives must be simpler, our costumes more graceful and appropriate, and the education of our children more in harmony with a true feeling for art. In short, we must be more manly, more capable, more self-reliant, and true to each other, and have less in common with the present age of shams.
The very essence and life of Gothic art is its realism and truism, and until we carry out its principles in our hearts and lives, it will be little more to us than a toy and a tradition.
'Large, strong, full of draperies, and all sorts of merchandise; rich citizens, noble dames, damsels, and fine churches.'
The ancient city of Caen, which was thus described by Froissart in the middle of the fourteenth century, when the English sacked the town and carried away its riches, might be described in the nineteenth, in almost the same words; when a goodly company of English people have again taken possession of it—for its cheapness.
The chief town of the department of Calvados with a population numbering nearly 50,000—the centre of the commerce of lower Normandy, and of the district for the production of black lace—Caen has a busy and thriving aspect; the river Orne, on which it is built, is laden with produce; with corn, wine, oil, and cider; with timber, and with shiploads of the celebrated Caen stone. On every side we see the signs of productiveness and plenty, and consequent cheapness of many of the necessaries of life; Calvados, like the rest of lower Normandy, has earned for itself the name of the 'food-producing land' of France, from whence both London and Paris (and all great centres) are supplied. The variety and cheapness of the goods for sale, manufactured here and in the neighbourhood, testify to the industry and enterprise of the people of Caen; there is probably no city in Normandy where purchases of clothing, hardware, &c., can be more advantageously made.
There is commercial activity at Caen and little sympathy with idlers. If we take up a position in the Place Royale, adorned with a statue of Louis XIV., or, better, in the Place St. Pierre near the church tower, we shall see a mixed and industrious population; and we shall probably hear several different accents of Norman patois. But we shall see a number of modern-looking shops, and warehouses full of Paris goods, and even find smooth pavement to walk upon.
We are treading in the 'footsteps of the Conqueror' at Caen, but its busy inhabitants have little time for historic memories; they will jostle us in the market-place, and in the principal streets they will be seen rushing about as if 'on change,' or hurrying to 'catch the train for Paris,' like the rest of the world. A few only have eyes of love and admiration for the noble spire of the church of St. Pierre, which rises above the old houses and the market-place, with even a grander effect than any that the artist has been able to render in the illustration. 'St. Pierre, St. Pierre,' are the first and last words we heard of Caen; the first time, when—approaching it one summer's morning from Dives, by the banks of the Orne—the driver of our caleche pointed to its summit with the pride of a Savoy peasant, shewing the traveller the highest peak of Monte Rosa; and the last, when Caen was en fete, and all the world flocked to hear a great preacher from Paris, and the best singers in Calvados.
Built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in the best period of Gothic art in Normandy, its beautiful proportions and grace of line (especially when seen from the north side) have been the admiration of ages of architects and the occasion of many a special pilgrimage in our own day. Pugin has sketched its western facade and its 'lancet windows;' and Prout has given us drawings of the spire, 'percee au jour'—perforated with such mathematical accuracy that, as we approach the tower, there is always one, or more, opening in view—as one star disappears, another shines out, as in the cathedral at Bourgos in Spain.
In the interior, the nave is chiefly remarkable for its proportions; but the choir is richly ornamented in the style of the renaissance. It has been restored at different periods, but, as usual in France, the whole interior has been coloured or whitewashed, so that it is difficult to detect the old work from the new. The sculptured pendants and the decorations of the aisles will attract us by their boldness and originality, and the curious legends in stone on the capitals of the pillars, of 'Alexander and his Mistress,' of 'Launcelot crossing the Sea on his Sword,' and of 'St. Paul being lowered in a Basket,' may take our attention a little too much from the carving in the chapels; but when we have examined them all, we shall probably remember St. Pierre best as Prout and Pugin have shewn it to us, and care for it most (as do the inhabitants of Caen) for its beautiful exterior.
We should mention a handsome carved oak pulpit in the style of the fifteenth century, which has lately been erected; it is an ornament to the church in spite of its new and temporary appearance—taking away from the cold effect of the interior, and relieving the monotony of its aisles. The people of Caen are indebted to M. V. Hugot, cure of St. Pierre, for this pulpit. 'A mon arrivee dans la paroisse,' he says (in a little pamphlet sold in the church), 'un des premiers objets qui durent appeler mes soins c'etait le retablissement d'une chaire a precher.' The pulpit and staircase are elaborately carved and decorated with statuettes, bas-reliefs, &c., which the pamphlet describes at length, ending with the information that it is not yet paid for.
The most interesting and characteristic buildings in Caen, its historical monuments in fact, are the two royal abbeys of William the Conqueror—St. Etienne, called the 'Abbaye aux Hommes,' and la Ste. Trinite, the 'Abbaye aux Dames'—both founded and built in the eleventh century; the first (containing the tomb of the Conqueror) with two plain, massive towers, with spires; and an interior remarkable for its strength and solidity—'a perfect example of Norman Romanesque;' adorned, it must be added, with twenty-four nineteenth-century chandeliers with glass lustres suspended by cords from the roof; and with gas brackets of a Birmingham pattern.
The massive grandeur, and the 'newness,' if we may use the word, of the interior of St. Etienne, are its most remarkable features; the plain marble slab in the chancel, marking the spot where William the Conqueror was buried and disinterred (with the three mats placed in front of it for prayer), is shewn with much ceremony by the custodian of the place.
The Abbaye aux Dames is built on high ground at the opposite side of the town, and is surrounded by conventual buildings of modern date. It resembles the Abbaye aux Hommes in point of style, but the carving is more elaborate, and the transepts are much grander in design; the beautiful key-pattern borders, and the grotesque carving on the capitals of some of the pillars, strike the eye at once; but what is most remarkable is the extraordinary care with which the building has been restored, and the whole interior so scraped and chiselled afresh that it has the appearance of a building of to-day. The eastern end and the chancel are partitioned off for the use of the nuns attached to the Hotel Dieu; the sister who conducts us round this part of the building raises a curtain, softly stretched across the chancel-screen, and shews us twenty or thirty of them at prayers.
We can see the hospital wards in the cloisters, and, if we desire it, ascend the eastern tower, and obtain a view over a vast extent of country, and of the town of Caen, set in the midst of gardens and green meadows, and the river, with boats and white sails, winding far away to the sea.
'These two royal abbeys,' writes Dawson Turner, 'which have fortunately escaped the storm of the Revolution, are still an ornament to the town, an honour to the sovereign who caused them to be erected, and to the artist who produced them. Both edifices rose at the same time and from the same motive. William the Conqueror, by his union with Matilda, had contracted a marriage proscribed by the decrees of consanguinity. The clergy, and especially the Archbishop of Rouen, inveighed against the union; and the Pope issued an injunction, that the royal pair should erect two monasteries by way of penance, one for monks, the other for nuns; as well as that the Duke should found four hospices, each for 100 poor persons. In obedience to this command, William founded the Church of St. Stephen, and Matilda, the Church of the Holy Trinity.
It is usual on this spot to recount the pitiful, but rather apocryphal story of the burial of William the Conqueror, by a 'simple knight;' of its dramatic interruption by one of the bystanders, a 'man of low degree,' who claimed the site of the grave, and was appeased with 60 sous; and of the subsequent disturbance and destruction of his tomb by the Huguenots; but the artistic traveller will be more interested in these buildings as monuments of the architecture of the eleventh century, and to notice the marks of the chisel and the mason's hieroglyphics made in days so long gone by, that history itself becomes indistinct without these landmarks—marks and signs that neither armies of revolutionists nor eight centuries of time have been able to destroy.
We speak of 'eight centuries' in two words (the custodian of the place has them glibly on his tongue), but it is difficult to comprehend this space of time; to realise the fact of the great human tide that has ebbed and flowed through these aisles for eleven generations—smoothing the pillars by its constant wave, but leaving no more mark upon them than the sea on the rocks of Calvados.
The contemplation of these two monuments may suggest a comparison between two others that are rising up in western London at the present time,—the 'Albert Memorial' and the 'Hall of Science.' They (the old and the new) stand, as it were, at the two extremities of a long line of kings, a line commencing with 'William the Bold,' and ending with 'Albert the Good;' the earlier monuments dedicated to Religion, the latter to Science and Art—the first to commemorate a warrior, the latter a man of peace—the first endurable through many ages, the latter destructible in a few years.
The comparison is surely worth making, for is it not curiously typical of the state of monumental art in England in the present day, that we are only doing what our ancestors did better? They erected useful, appropriate, and endurable monuments which are still crowning ornaments to the town of Caen. Are either of our 'memorials' likely to fulfil these conditions?
Not to go further into detail, there is no doubt that, elaborate and magnificent as the 'Albert Memorial' may be, it is useless, inappropriate, and out of place in Hyde Park; and that the 'Hall of Science' at South Kensington (whatever its use may be) is not likely to attract foreign nations by the external beauty of its design.
At Caen we are in an atmosphere of heroes and kings, we pass from one historical site to another until the mind becomes half confused; we are shown (by the same valet-de-place) the tomb of the Conqueror, and the house where Beau Brummel died. We see the ruins of a castle on the heights where le 'jeune et beau Dunois' performed historical prodigies of valour; and the chapel where he 'allait prier Marie, benir ses exploits.' But the modern military aspect of things is, we are bound to confess, prosaic to a degree; we find the Dunois of the period occupied in more peaceful pursuits, mending shoes, tending little children, and carrying wood for winter fires.
There are many other buildings and churches at Caen which we should examine, especially the exterior carving of 'St. Etienne-le-vieux;' which is now used as a warehouse.
The cathedrals and monuments are generally, as we have said, in wonderful preservation, but they are desecrated without remorse; on every side of them, and, indeed, upon them, are staring advertisements of 'magazines,' dedicated 'au bon diable,' 'au petit diable,' or to some other presiding genius; of 'magasins les plus vastes du monde,' and of 'loteries imperiales de France;' whichever way we turn, we cannot get rid of these staring affiches; even upon the 'footsteps of the Conqueror' the bill-sticker seems master of the situation.
We must now speak of Caen as we see it on fete days, but for the information of those who are interested in it as a place of residence, we may allude in passing to the very pleasant English society that has grown up here of late years, to the moderate rents of houses, the good schools and masters to be met with; the comparative cheapness of provisions and of articles of clothing, and to the good accommodation at the principal inns. The situation of Caen, although not perhaps as healthy as Avranches, is much more convenient and accessible from England.
Caen, Sunday, August, 186-. It is early on Sunday morning, and Caen is en fete. We have reason to know it by the clamour of church bells which attends the sun's rising. There is terrible energy, not to say harshness, in thus ushering in the day. On a mountain side, or in some remote village, the distant sound of bells is musical enough, but here it is dinned into our ears to distraction; and there seems no method in the madness of these sturdy Catholics, for they make the tower of St. Pierre vibrate to most uncertain sounds. They ring out all at once with a burst and tumble over one another, hopelessly involved, en masse; a combination terribly dissonant to unaccustomed ears. Then comes the military reveille, and the deafening 'rataplan' of regimental drums, and the town is soon alive with people arriving and departing by the early trains; whilst others collect in the market-place in holiday attire with baskets of flowers, and commence the erection of an altar to the Virgin in the middle of the square. Then women bring their children dressed in white, with bouquets of flowers and white favours, and a procession is formed (with a priest at the head) and marshalled through the principal streets and back again to where the altar to 'Our Lady' stands, now decorated with a profusion of flowers and an effigy of the Virgin.
All this time the bells are ringing at intervals, and omnibuses loaded with holiday people rattle past with shouting and cracking of whips. The old fashion and the new become mingled and confused, old white caps and Parisian bonnets, old ceremonies and modern ways; the Norman peasant and the English school-girl walk side by side in the crowd, whilst the western door of the Church of St. Pierre, to which they are tending, bears in flaming characters the name of a vendor of 'modes parisiennes' Men, women, and children, in gay and new attire, fill the streets and quite outnumber those of the peasant class; the black coat and hat predominate on fete days; a play-bill is thrust into our hands announcing the performance of an opera in the evening, and we are requested frequently to partake of coffee, syrop, and bonbons as we make our way through the Rue St. Pierre and across the crowded square.
Stay here for a moment and witness a little episode—another accidental collision between the old world and the new.
An undergraduate, just arrived from England on the 'grand tour,' gets into a wrangle with an old woman in the market-place; an old woman of nearly eighty years, with a cap as old and ideas as primitive as her dress, but with a sense of humour and natural combativeness that enables her to hold her own in lively sallies and smart repartees against her youthful antagonist. It is a curious contrast, the wrinkled old woman of Caen and the English lad—the one full of the realities and cares of life; born in revolutionary days, and remembering in her childhood Charlotte Corday going down this very street on her terrible mission to Paris; her daughters married, her only son killed in war, her life now (it never was much else) an uneventful round of market days, eating and sleeping, knitting and prayers; the other—young, careless, fresh to the world, his head stored with heathen mythology, the loves of the Gods, and problems of Euclid—taking a light for his pipe from the old woman, and airing his French in a discussion upon a variety of topics, from the price of apples to the cost of a dispensation; the conversation merging finally into a regular religious discussion, in which the disputants were more abroad than ever,—a religion outwardly represented, in the one case by so many chapels, in the other by so many beads.
It is a 'fete' to day (according to a notice pasted upon a stone pillar) 'avec Indulgence pleniere,'
GRAND MESSE a 10 a.m., LES VEPRES a 3 p.m., SALUT ET BENEDICTION DU SACRAMENT, SERMON, &c.'
Let us now follow the crowd (up the street we saw in the illustration) into the Church of St. Pierre, which is already overflowing with people coming and going, pushing past each other through the baize door, dropping sous into the 'tronc pour les pauvres,' and receiving, with bowed head and crossed breast, the holy water, administered with a brush.
We pay two sous for a chair and take our places, under a fire of glances from our neighbours, who pray the while, and tell their beads; and we have scarcely time to notice the beautiful proportions of the nave, the carving in the side chapels, or the grotesque figures that we have before alluded to, when the service commences, and we can just discern in the distance the priests at the high altar (looking in their bright stiff robes, and with their backs to the people, like golden beetles under a microscope); we cannot hear distinctly, for the moving of the crowd about us, the creaking of chairs, and the whispering of many voices; but we can see the incense rising, the children in white robes swinging silver chains, and the cocked hat of the tall 'Suisse' moving to and fro.
Presently the congregation sits down, the organ peals forth and a choir of sweet voices chaunts the 'Agnus Dei.' Again the congregation kneels to the sound of a silver bell; the smoke of incense curls through the aisles, and the golden beetles move up and down; again there is a scraping of chairs, a shuffling of feet, and a general movement towards the pulpit, the men standing in groups round it with their hats in their hands; then a pause, and for the first time so deep a silence that we can hear the movement of the crowd outside, and the distant rattle of drums.
All eyes are now turned to the preacher; a man of about forty, of an austere but ordinary (we might almost say low) type of face, closely shaven, with an ivory crucifix at his side and a small black book in his hand. He makes his way through the crowded aisles, and ascends the new pulpit in the centre of the church, where everyone of the vast congregation can both see and hear him.
His voice was powerful (almost too loud sometimes) and most persuasive; he was eloquent and impassioned, but he used little gesture or any artifice to engage attention. He commenced with a rhapsody—startling in the sudden flow of its eloquence, thrilling in its higher tones, tender and compassionate (almost to tears) in its lower passages—a rhapsody to the Virgin—
'O sweet head of my mother; sacred eyes!'
* * * * *
and then an appeal—an appeal for us 'true Catholics' to the 'Queen of Heaven, the beautiful, the adorable.' He elevated our hearts with his moving voice, and, by what we might call the electricity of sympathy, almost to a frenzy of adoration; he taught us how the true believer, 'clad in hope,' would one day (if he leaned upon Mary his mother in all the weary stages of the 'Passage of the Cross') be crowned with fruition. He lingered with almost idolatrous emphasis on the charms of Mary, and with his eyes fixed upon her image, his hands outstretched, and a thousand upturned faces listening to his words, the aisles echoed his romantic theme:—
'With my lips I kneel, and with my heart, I fall about thy feet and worship thee.'
A stream of eloquence followed—studied or spontaneous it mattered not—the congregation held their breath and listened to a story for the thousandth time repeated.
The preacher paused for a moment, and then with another burst of eloquence, he brought his hearers to the verge of a passion, which was (as it seemed to us) dangerously akin to human love and the worship of material beauty; then he lowered our understandings still more by the enumeration of 'works and miracles,' and ended with words of earnest exhortation, the burden of which might be shortly translated:—'Pray earnestly, and always, to Mary our mother, for all souls in purgatory; confess your sins unto us your high priests; give, give to the Church and to the poor, strive to lead better lives, look forward ever to the end; and bow down, oh! bow down, before the golden images [manufactured for us in the next street] which our Holy Mother the Church has set up.'
With a transition almost as startling as the first, the book is closed, the preacher has left the pulpit, the congregation (excepting a few in the side chapels) have dispersed; and Caen keeps holiday after the manner of all good Catholics, putting on its best attire, and disporting itself in somewhat rampant fashion.
Everybody visits everybody else to-day, and a fiacre is hardly to be obtained for the afternoon drive in Les Cours, the public promenade. We may go to the Jardin des Plantes, which we shall find crowded with country people, examining the beautiful exotic plants (of which there are several thousand); to the public Picture Gallery, established at the beginning of the present century, which contains pictures by Paul Veronese, Perugino, Poussin, and a number of works of the French school; and to the Museum of Antiquities, containing Roman remains, vases, coins, &c., discovered in the neighbourhood of Dives. There are also excursions to Bayeux, Honfleur, and Trouville for the day; and many tempting opportunities of visiting the neighbouring towns.
But we may be most amused by mixing with the crowd, or by listening to the performance on the Place royale of a company of foreign musicians—shabby and dingy in aspect, enthusiastic and poor—who had found their way here in time to entertain the trim holiday makers of Caen. They were of that ragged and unkempt order of slovenly brotherhood that the goddess of music claims for her own; let them call themselves 'wandering minstrels,' 'Arabs,' or what not (their collars were limp, and they rejoiced in smoke), they had certainly an ear for harmony, and a 'soul for music;' a talent in most of them, half cultivated and scarcely understood. A woman in a German, or Swiss, costume levied rapid contributions amongst the crowd, which seemed to prefer listening to this performance than to any other 'distraction,' not excepting the modern and exciting performance of velocipede races outside the town.
The streets are crowded all day with holiday people, and somewhat obstructed by the fashion of the inhabitants taking their meals in the street. We also, in the evening, dine at an open cafe (with a marble table and a pebble floor) amidst a clamour and confusion of voices, under the shadow of old eaves—with creepers and flowers twining round nearly every window, where the pigeons lurk and dive at stray morsels. The evening is calm and bright and the sky overhead a deep blue, but we are chattering, laughing, eating, and smoking, clinking glasses and shouting to waiters; we drown even the sound of the church clocks, and if it were not for the little flower girls with their 'deux sous, chaque' and their winning smiles, and for the children playing on the ground around us, we might soon forget our better natures in the din of this culinary pandemonium.
But we are in good company; three tall mugs of cider are on the next table to our own, a dark, stout figure, with shaven crown, is seated with his back to us—it is the preacher of the morning, who with two lay friends for companions, also keeps the feast.
Before leaving the neighbourhood of Caen, the antiquary and historically minded traveller will naturally turn aside and pay a visit to the town of DIVES, about eighteen miles distant, near the sea shore to the north-east, on the right bank of the river Dives. It is interesting to us not only as an ancient Roman town, and as being the place of embarkation of the Conqueror's flotilla, from whence it drifted, with favourable winds, to St. Valery—but because it possesses the remains of one of the finest twelfth-century churches in Normandy. We find hardly any mention of this church in 'Murray,' and it stands almost deserted by the town which once surrounded it, and by the sea, on the shore of which it was originally built. At the present time there are not more than eight or nine hundred inhabitants, but we can judge by the size of the old covered market-place, and the extent of the boundaries of the town, that it must have been a seaport of considerable importance. Dives was once rich, but no longer bears out the meaning of its name; in comparison to the thriving town of Cabourg (which it joins), it is more like Lazarus sitting at the gate.
The interior of the church at Dives has been restored, repaired, and whitewashed; but neither time nor whitewash can conceal the lovely proportions of the building; the pillars and aisles, and the carving over the doorways which the twelfth-century mason fashioned so tenderly have little left of his most delicate workmanship; half of the stained glass in the chancel windows has been destroyed, and the pinnacles on the roof have been broken down by rude hands. Nevertheless it is a church worth going far to see; and it will have exceptional interest for those who believe that their ancestors 'came over with the Conqueror,' for on the western wall there is a list of the names of the principal persons who were known to have accompanied him. Some of these names are very familiar to English ears, such as PERCY, TALBOT, VERNON, LOVEL, GIFFARD, BREWER, PIGOT, CARTERET, CRESPEN, &c.; and there are at least a hundred others, all in legible characters, which any visitor may decipher for himself. There is a small grass-grown church-yard surrounded by a low wall, but the tablets are of comparatively modern date.
If, before leaving Dives, we take a walk up the hill on the east side of the town, and look down upon the broad valley, with the river Dives winding southwards through a rich pasture land, flanked with thickly wooded hills—and beyond it the river Orne, leading to Caen—we shall see at once what a favourable and convenient spot this must have been for the collecting together of an army of fifty thousand men, for the construction of vessels, and for the embarkation of troops and horses, and the materiel of war; and, if we continue our walk, through one or two cornfields in the direction of Beuzeval, we shall find, on a promontory facing the sea, and overlooking the mouth of the river, a not very ornamental, round stone pillar placed here by the Archaeological Society of France in 1861; 'AU SOUVENIR DU PLUS GRAND EVENEMENT HISTORIQUE DES ANNALES NORMANDES—LE DEPART DU DUC GUILLAUME LE BATARD POUR LA CONQUETE DE L'ANGLETERRE EN 1066;' and, if the reader should be as fortunate as we were in 1869, he might find a french gentleman standing upon the top of this column, and (forgetting probably that Normandy was not always part of France) blowing a blast of triumph seaward, from a cracked french horn.
The approach to the town of Bayeux from the west, either by the old road from Caen or by the railway, is always striking. The reader may perchance remember how in old coaching days in England on arriving near some cathedral town, at a certain turn of the road, the first sight of some well-known towers or spires came into view. Thus there are certain spots from which we remember Durham, and from which we have seen Salisbury; and thus, there is a view of all others which we identify with Bayeux. We have chosen to present it to the reader as we first saw it and sketched it (before the completion of the new central semi-grecian cupola); when the graceful proportions of the two western spires were seen to much greater advantage than at present.
The cathedral has been drawn and photographed from many points of view; Pugin has given the elevation of the west front, and the town and cathedral together have been made the subject of drawings by several well-known artists; but returning to Bayeux after an absence of many years, and examining it from every side, we find no position from which we can obtain a distant view to such advantage as that near the railway station, which we have shewn in the sketch at the head of this chapter.
The repose—the solemnity we might almost call it—that pervades Bayeux even in this busy nineteenth century, is the first thing that strikes a stranger; a repose the more solemn and mysterious when we think of its rude history of wars, of pillage, and massacres, and of its destruction more than once by fire and sword. From the days when the town consisted of a few rude huts (in the time of the Celts), all through the splendours of the time of the Norman dukes, and the more terrible days of the Reformation, it is prominent in history; but Bayeux is now a place of peaceful industry, with about 10,000 inhabitants, 'a quiet, dull, ecclesiastical city,' as the guide books express it; with an aspect almost as undisturbed as a cathedral close. There are a few paved streets with cafes and shops, as usual, but the most industrious inhabitants appear to be the lacemakers—women seated at the doorways of the old houses, wearing the quaint horseshoe comb and white cap with fan-like frill, which are peculiar to Bayeux.
Every building of importance has a semi-ecclesiastical character; the feeling seeming to have especially pervaded the designers of the thirteenth-century houses, as we may see from this rough sketch made at a street corner. Many houses have such figures carved in wood upon them, and we may sometimes see a little stone spire on a roof top; the architects appearing to have aimed at expressing in this way their love and admiration for the cathedral, and to have emulated the Gothic character of its decorations; the conventual and neighbouring buildings harmonizing with it in a manner impossible to describe in words. Even the principal inn, called the 'Hotel du Luxembourg,' partakes of the quiet air of the place; the walls of the salle a manger are covered with pictures of saints and martyrs, and the houses we can see from its windows are built and carved in stone.
The chief object of interest is, undoubtedly, the cathedral itself, for although we may find many curious old houses, everything gives way in importance and interest to this one central building. The noble west front, with its pointed Gothic towers and spires, is familiar to us in many an engraving and painting, but what these illustrations do not give us on a small scale is the beauty of the carved doorways, the clustering of the ornaments about them, and the statues of bishops, priests, and kings. Later than the cathedral itself, and 'debased in style' (as our severe architectural friends will tell us), the work on these beautiful porches has exquisite grace; the fourteenth-century sculptor gave free scope to his fancy, his hands have played about the soft white stone till it took forms so delicate and strange, so unsubstantial and yet so permanent, that it is a marvel of the sculptor's skill.
The interior is 315 feet long and 81 feet high, open from one end to the other, and forms a very striking and imposing effect. 'The west end,' to quote a few words from the best technical authority, 'consists of florid Norman arches and piers, whose natural heaviness is relieved by the beautifully diapered patterns wrought upon the walls, probably built by Henry I., who destroyed the previously existing church by fire. Above this, runs a blank trefoiled arcade in the place of a triforium, surrounded by a clerestory of early-pointed windows, very lofty and narrow. The arches of the nave, nearest the cross and the choir, ending in a semi-circle, exhibit a more advanced state of the pointed style, and are distinguished by the remarkable elegance of their graceful clustered pillars. The circular ornaments in the spandrils of the arches are very pleasing and of fanciful variety.'
We see in the interior of this cathedral a confusion of styles—a conflict of grace and beauty with rude and grotesque work. The delicately-traced patterns carved on the walls, the medallions and pendant ornaments, in stone, of the thirteenth century, are scarcely surpassed at Chartres; side by side with these, there are headless and armless statues of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which have been painted, and tablets (such as we have sketched) to commemorate the ancient founders of the church; and underneath the choir, the crypt of Bishop Odo, the Conqueror's half-brother, with its twelve massive pillars, which formed the foundation of the original church, built in 1077.
In the nave we may admire the beautiful radiating chapels, with their curious frescoes (some destroyed by damp and others evidently effaced by rude hands); and we may examine the bronze pulpit, with a figure of the Virgin trampling on the serpent; the dark, carved woodwork in the chancel; the old books with clasps (that Haag, or Werner, would delight in), and two quite modern stone pulpits or lecterns, with vine leaves twining up them in the form of a cross, the carving of which is equal to any of the old work—the rugged vine stem and the soft leaves being wonderfully rendered.
The interior is disfigured by some gaudy colouring under the new cupola, and the effect of the west end is, as usual, ruined by the organ loft. There are very fine stained-glass windows, some quite modern, but so good both in colour and design, that we cannot look at them without rebelling in our minds, against the conventionality of much of the modern work in english churches. It seems not unreasonable to look forward to the time when it shall be accounted a sin to present caricatures of scriptural subjects in memorial church-windows. Let us rather have the kaleidescope a thousand times repeated, or the simplest diaper pattern on ground glass, than 'Jonahs' or 'Daniels,' as they are represented in these days; we are tired of the twelve apostles, so smooth and clean, in their robes of red and blue (the particular red and blue that will come best out of the melting-pot), of yellow glories and impossible temples.
The long-neglected art of staining glass being once more revived, let us hope that, with it, a taste will grow up for something better than a repetition of the grotesque.
But it is the exterior of Bayeux Cathedral that will be remembered best, the beauty and simplicity of its design; its 'sky line,' that we pointed out at a distance, at the beginning of this chapter, which (like the curve of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and many an english nineteenth-century church we could name), leaves an impression of beauty on the mind that the more ornate work of the Renaissance fails to give us. It is an illustration in architecture, of what we have ventured to call the 'simple right' and the 'elaborate wrong;' like the composition of Raphael's Holy Family (drawn on the head of a tub), it was right, whilst its thousand imitations have been wrong.
And if any argument or evidence were wanting, of the beauty and fitness of Gothic architecture as the central feature of interest, and as a connecting link between the artistic taste of a past and present age, we could point to no more striking instance than this cathedral. It has above all things the appearance of a natural and spontaneous growth, harmonizing with the aspect of the place and with the feelings of the people.
A silence falls upon the town of Bayeux sometimes, as if the world were deserted by its inhabitants; a silence which we notice, to the same extent, in no other cathedral city. We look round and wonder where all the people are; whether there is really anybody to buy and sell, and carry on business, in the regular worldly way; or whether it is peopled only with strange memories and histories of the past.
On every side there are landmarks of cruel wars and the sites of battles—nearly every old house has a legend or a history attached to it; and all about the cathedral precincts, with its old lime trees—in snug, quiet courtyards, under gate-ways, and in stiff, formal gardens behind high walls—we may see where the old bishops and canons of Bayeux lived and died; the house where 'Master Wace' toiled for many unwearied years, and where he had audience with the travelling raconteurs of the time who came to listen to him, and to repeat far and wide the words of the historian.
The silence of Bayeux is peopled with so many memories, of wars so terrible, and of legends so wild and weird, that a book might be written about Bayeux and called 'The Past.' We must not trench upon the work of the antiquary, or we might point out where Henry I. of England attacked and destroyed the city, and the exact spot in the market-place where they first lighted the flames of Revolution; but we may dwell for a moment upon one or two curious customs and legends connected with Bayeux.
The 'Fete of the three Kings' (a remnant of a custom in the time of the Druids) is still religiously observed by its inhabitants, and incantations and ceremonies are kept up by the country people around Bayeux, especially on the eve of this fete. The time is winter, and around the town of Bayeux (as many visitors may have noticed) a curious fog or mist hangs over the fields and the neighbouring gardens, through which the towers of the cathedral are seen like phantoms; it is then that the peasants light their torches, and both priests and people wander in procession through the fields, singing in a loud, but mournful tone, a strange and quaint ditty. Thus their fields and the crops (which they are about to sow) will be productive, and a good harvest bless the land!
We are still in the middle ages at Bayeux, we believe implicitly in witches, in good omens, and in fairy rings; we are told gravely by an old inhabitant that a knight of Argouges, near Bayeux, was protected by a good fairy in his encounter with some great enemy, and we are shewn, in proof of the assertion, the family arms of the house of Argouges, with a female figure in the costume of Lady Godiva of Coventry, and the motto, a la fee; and we hear so many other romantic stories of the dark ages, that history at last becomes enveloped in a cloud of haze, like the town of Bayeux itself on a winter's night.
We must now pass from the region of romance and fable to its very antipodes in realism; to the examination of a strip of fine linen cloth of the colour of brown holland, which is exhibited in the Public Library at Bayeux.
This world-renowned relic of antiquity, which Dibdin half-satirically describes as 'an exceedingly curious document of the conjugal attachment and enthusiastic veneration of Matilda,' is now kept with the greatest care, and is displayed on a stand under a glass case, in its entire length, 227 feet. It is about 20 inches wide, and is divided into 72 compartments. Every line is expressed by coarse stitches of coloured thread or worsted, of which this arrow's head is a facsimile, and the figures are worked in various colours, the groundwork and the flesh tints being generally left white. The extraordinary preservation of the tapestry, when we consider, not only the date of the work, but the vicissitudes to which it has been subjected, is so remarkable, that the spectator is disposed to ask to see the 'original,' feeling sure that this fresh, bright-looking piece of work cannot have lasted thus for eight hundred years. And when we remember that it was carried from town to town by order of Napoleon I., and also exhibited on the stage on certain occasions; that it has survived the Revolution, and that the cathedral, which it was originally intended to adorn, has long been levelled with the ground, we cannot help approaching it with more than ordinary interest; an interest in which the inhabitants, and even the ecclesiastics of Bayeux, scarcely seem to share. It was but a few years ago that the priests of the cathedral, when asked by a traveller to be permitted to see the tapestry, were unable to point it out; they knew that the 'toile St. Jean,' as it is called, was annually displayed in the Cathedral on St. John's Day, but of its historical and antiquarian interest they seemed to take little heed.
The scenes, which (as is well known) represent the principal events in the Norman Conquest, are arranged in fifty-eight groups. The legend of the first runs thus:—
Le roi Edouard ordonne a Harold d'aller apprendre au duc Guillaume qu'il sera un jour roi d'Angleterre, &c.
After the interview between the 'sainted' King Edward and Harold, the latter starts on his mission to 'Duke William,' and in the next group we see Harold, 'en marche,' with a hawk on his wrist—then entering a church (the ancient abbey of Bosham, in Sussex), and the clergy praying for his safety before embarking, and—next, 'en mer.' We see him captured on landing, by Guy de Ponthieu, and afterwards surrounded by the ambassadors whom William sends for his release; the little figure holding the horses being one Tyrold, a dependant of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and the artist (it is generally supposed) who designed the tapestry. Then we see Harold received in state at Rouen by Duke William, and afterwards, their setting out together for Mont St. Michael, and Dinan; and other episodes of the war in Brittany. We next see Harold in England, at the funeral of Edward the Confessor, and have a curious view of Westminster Abbey, in red and green worsted. After the death of King Edward, we have another group, where 'Edouard (in extremis) parle aux hommes de sa cour;' evidently an after-thought, or a mistake in taking up the designs to work in their proper order. Harold is crowned, but with an ill omen (from the Norman point of view), as represented in the tapestry by an evil star—a comet of extravagant size, upon which the people gaze with most comical expressions of wonder and alarm.
Harold began his reign well, says an old chronicler, he 'stablysshed good lawes, specyally for the defence of holy churche;' but soon he 'waxed so proud and covetouse,' that he became unpopular with his subjects.
Then follows the great historical event, of 'THE INVASION OF ENGLAND BY THE CONQUEROR,' and we have all the details portrayed of the felling of trees, constructing ships, transporting of cavalry, and the like; we see the preparations for the commissariat, and the curious implements of warfare, shewing, amongst other things, the lack of iron in those days; the spades, for use in earthworks and fortifications, being only tipped with iron. The bustle and excitement attendant upon the embarcation are given with wonderful reality; and there is many a quaint and natural touch in the attitudes and expressions of these red and yellow men.
The landing in Pevensey bay is next given (the horses being swung out of the ships with cranes and pulleys as in the present day), and soon afterwards, the preparations for a feast; the artist at this point becoming apparently imbued with the true British idea that nothing could be done without a dinner. There must be a grand historical picture of a banquet before the fight, and so, like Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon, William the Conqueror has his 'night before the battle,' and, perhaps, it is the most faithful representation of the three.
Of the battle of Hastings itself, of the consternation at one time amongst the troops at the report of William's death, of the charge of cavalry, with William on a tremendous black horse (riding as straight in the saddle as in our own day), of the cutting to pieces of the enemy, of the stripping the wounded on the ground, and of Harold's defeat and death, there are several very spirited representations.
For our illustration we have chosen a scene where the battle is at its height, and the melee is given with great vigour. These figures on the tapestry are coloured green and yellow (for there was evidently not much choice of colours), and the chain armour is left white. The woodcut is about a third of the size, and is, as nearly as possible, a facsimile of the original.
The last group is thus described in the catalogue:—
'ET FVGA VETERVNT ANGLI.
'Et les Anglais furent mis en fuite. Des hommes a pied, armes de haches et d'ipies, combattent contre les cavaliers: mais la defaite des Anglais est complete; ils sont poursuivis a toute outrance par les Normands vainqueurs.
'La scene suivante reprisentent des herauts d'armes a pied, et des cavaliers galoppant a toute bride pour annoncer probablement le succes du Conquerant; mais l'interruption subite du monument ne permet plus de continuer cette chronique figurie, qui allait vraisemblablement jusqu'au couronnement de Guillaume.
The design of the tapestry is very unequal, some of the latter scenes being weak in comparison, especially that of the death of Harold; the eleventh-century artist, perhaps becoming tired of the work, or having, more probably, a presentiment that this scene would be painted and exhibited annually, by English artists, to the end of time. Perhaps the most interesting and important scenes are:—first, when Harold takes the oath of allegiance to William, with his hands leaning on two ark-like shrines, full of the relics plundered from churches; next, the awful catastrophe of the malfosse, where men and horses, Norman and Saxon, are seen rolling together in the ditch; and, lastly, the ultra-grotesque tableaux of stripping the wounded after the battle.