« AnteriorContinuar »
cook wraps each bird in a vine-leaf, and thus roasted in butter, it is only appreciated by the true gourmet. The quail should never be kept, but should be cooked forthwith. On the first day of the shooting season, the birds brought down at dawn figure at the midday breakfast table, and are always served with all possible despatch.
On that delicious Sunday afternoon of September 7, whilst our sportsmen were far away with their guns, and the ladies were gone to vespers, I amused myself with an inspection of the garden, and by drawing a mental contrast between the modes of life among our French neighbours and ourselves. Here in this handsome country house were three separate families living under one roof, each having their own apartments and ménage, yet all sharing the recreations, sociabilities, and occupations of daily life. This conglomeration of families, which could only work harmoniously among a people so easy-going and amiable as French people are, is certainly attended with two, if not more results. In the first place, the economy of such an association must be very great; and in the second place, the family tie, or rather the tie of kindred, is thereby much more closely knitted than with us. It must needs be so. A child, for example, grows up immediately under the eye, not only of his parents, but of his grandparents, his uncles, his aunts, and often great-aunts and uncles, all of whom may be dwelling under one roof, and sometimes sitting down to the same daily board. I must be permitted to observe, though it is a matter on which an opinion can only be given very timidly, that whilst the tie of kindred appears to all English observers stronger than with us, the conjugal tie, owing to the system of mariages de convenance, seems much less close than with ourselves. A thoughtful young Frenchman, a friend of mine, said to me on this subject, How is it to be wondered at that marriage is often a mere contract in France, seeing that we are all of us married without being consulted in the matter? When I have finished my studies, my parents will find a young lady of suitable fortune-a desirable match, in fact; we shall be introduced to each other and married without having any choice in the matter: rather I should say, if my parents approve, as a matter of course, I shall be expected to approve also, and after, perhaps, half-a-dozen formal interviews, we shall be married! How is a happy life to be expected under such conditions? Young people may feel thankful who find that they can just rub on without serious dislikes or disagreements.' I mention this by the way as an instructive comment on the associated family home before me, so common-one might almost say so universal-in France, and resulting, firstly in a great economy of daily expenditure, secondly in the closely knitting together of collateral family ties and interests. The family in France is like the famous faggot in the story, which requires a very strong hand to pull asunder.
From these reflections I went on to compare the roughly kept, but richly furnished, flower, fruit, and vegetable garden before me, with the scrupulously neat but comparatively unproductive English ones
familiar to us. Here flowers and products, generally speaking, take care of themselves; and, in spite of a cold spring and wet season what abundance is here! The vines, from which, as a rule, the sportsmen gather ripe bunches of grapes on the first day of the shooting season, now show only small, hard beads, where the luscious clusters should be. The apple, pear, and plum-trees are bare of fruit. But rich vermilion-coloured tomatoes and ripening sea-green melons are here in plenty, whilst the spiked artichoke, and every variety of salads, and vegetables generally bespeak the richness of the soil and the geniality of the climate. Flowers there are in unspeakable abundance, as in every other French garden. The sun does everything for us,' said my hostess to me.
Towards sunset we sallied forth to meet our sportsmen, whom at last we encountered, weary enough after their twelve hours' tramp, and not in the best of humours. There was no game to be had, excepting the quails and one or two partridges: too many sportsmen by far were about; and, on the whole, such a poor ouverture de la chasse' was not remembered. Such a failure was also partly to be accounted for by the cold spring, which had killed the young birds in great quantities, and also the great heat of the last few weeks, which had driven them to the woods. Better sport might be looked for later, when the fields and birds would be forsaken for the forests, the roebuck, and the wild boar. It takes more than a poor day's sport, however, to damp French lightheartedness, and when we sat down to dinner, and a bottle of famous Beaune vintage was produced in honour of the quails, all were in excellent spirits.
The day was grey and cool, and clouds lowered from time to time, yet old and young, strong and feeble, were able to sit out the long, merry meal in the open air, without taking harm. We held our feast in a clos or enclosed vineyard, overlooking the pleasant open country, mingled forest and field, the smoke of the train from Dijon to Langres curling amid the green. We were twenty-seven in all, of all ages and both sexes, and all, with the exception of the English guest, making up one family group. We form a clan,' said one of its members to me, and a veritable clanship indeed is such a conglomeration of kinsfolk in one spot. The long feast over, the party dispersed till evening, when all again met to play billiards, round games, and enjoy tea, hot wine, and cigars. In these family gatherings, even among the richest, there is no kind of ceremony. No toilette is made in honour of the occasion, and the party breaks up early. There is, of course, an evil as well as a good side to these French clanships, so unlike anything to be found among ourselves. English people who travel much mix largely with strangers and foreigners, and, as a rule, rather avoid than seek this kind of centralisation, are readier to take in new ideas and likely to be freer from prejudice than their French neighbours. But such pictures of family life are patriarchal and pleasant to contemplate. Here we had the great-grandmother, the grandparents, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,
all living near each other and making up a little society of themselves, needing no other. Another feature to be noticed in French country life of the opulent kind is its great simplicity. In the midst of abundant, solid wealth, there was here absolutely nothing for show —the kind of show, moreover, that is set such a store by and ruins the peace of so many households with us-and the comparatively insignificant number of servants kept, alone makes all the difference. Where well-to-do English folks keep six servants, French people do with one or two, not because the two are made to work for six, but because the domestic arrangements are infinitely simpler and more economical. Yet these things are perforce changing with the time. Take, for instance, the case of a friend of mine in these parts who has had in her service a faithful woman servant for upwards of forty years. Forty years and odd ago, this woman came at yearly wages of 150 francs, i.e. 6l. English. For ten years she served on these conditions, and at the end of that time received an additional 50 francs, bringing her annual pay to 8l. At the end of ten years more, this was increased to 1ol., and, beyond, no advance has been made; whilst nowadays young girls here going out to service, without any experience whatever, ask three or four hundred francs to begin with. It must be added that this faithful old creature-who with her yearly wages and handsome new years' gifts has laid by a good sum -is regarded as one of the family. Here she has lived, here she will die, a member of the family indeed, except by ties of blood, and taking more liberties with her mistress's affairs than the nearest relative would do.
But this patriarchal system is on the wane. Servants now stay, not where they are most comfortable, but where they get highest pay, and are ready to leave on the slightest remonstrance being offered them. There is one thing more to be said about the class from which domestic servants are taken in France. In these country villages, so thriving are the peasants on their small farms that landowners cannot get hand labour at any price, and many are compelled to sell their property because of the cost of tillage. This tells two ways. The peasant no longer invests his money as much as formerly in land, on account of the same difficulty, so that the value of land, instead of rising, decreases, as with us.
Before describing the most noteworthy excursions to be made from Dijon, I will draw the traveller's attention to the formidable appearance imparted to it by its girdle of forts, most of which have been constructed within the last few years. Dijon can hardly be considered in the light of a frontier town, yet we can easily understand how important it is that it should be rendered unapproachable, seeing that Metz no longer protects the frontiers of France. Besançon hardly presents a more warlike front than this wealthy, aristocratic city of rentiers' and wine-growers.
There are many pleasant excursions to be made both by road and rail from Dijon, none easier and pleasanter than Beaune, where
indeed the traveller might do well to halt for a night in order to see the great vineyard country to advantage. These vine-clad hills and valleys, affording one of the most famous vintages in the world, abound in charmingly poetic and pastoral landscapes, and alone would suffice to disabuse the prejudiced mind of the notion concerning that flat and uninteresting country of France,' as it was once described to me.
And how full of charm and interest are these quiet little French towns-Beaune, chiefly so by virtue of its hospital. Let not the name call up unpleasant associations in the reader's mind. Rather should this Beaune Hospital be called a resting and healing place than anything else, since the aged come hither to rest for the remainder of their days, and the 'sick unto death' are for the most part those whose work in the world is done. This charming place would almost make me wish to be ill at Beaune,' wrote the famous French architect Viollet le Duc; and little matter indeed by what name we call it, or what it is—nothing in the world can be imagined more soothingly picturesque, quaint, and graceful. The aged poor and the sick generally are here indeed lodged in a palace--a palace moreover built in the most delightful style imaginable, though in what style architects alone must determine. Outside, its long, deep roof, studded with little turreted dormers, above which rises a clocktower, all in soberest grey, recalls some stately Dutch townhall or stadthaus; but inside, its vast oblong courts or inner gardens, and double rows of galleries running round, surmounted by lofty roofs, many-gabled and many-dormered, would seem to betoken some royal residence. The whole aspect is so sober, so mediæval, so picturesque, that only the white-robed sisters of charity moving about seem at one with their surroundings. The entire length of the court or inner garden is turfed and turned into an orangery, for the time being, by double rows of orange-trees, planted from end to end, and this delicious verdure and the intense blue sky of the perfect October day are strikingly contrasted with the quiet tints and subdued harmonies of the architecture. A great part of the structure, notably the carved balconies, running between gallery and gallery, is of wood, and this is painted lead colour to match the leaden roofs, bell-tower, weather-cocks, and elaborate ornamentation of the roofs. As you stroll along this pleasant inner garden with its wondrously poetic entourage, no open door or court but reveals something in keeping with it. You see here a group of nuns in their creamy white dresses and white hoods, folding linen in a room that must have remained precisely what it was centuries ago—its low panelled ceiling of sober brown, dark, polished oak presses, and richly carved sideboards, affording a beautiful background to the white, shadowy figures; or you see the kitchen where scores of copper cooking vessels of all dimensions, and bright as gold pieces fresh from the mint, emblazon one wall, whilst before the magnificent chimneypiece are the massive andirons, pothooks, and pothangers that were
used in the olden time. The kitchen, when we visited it in the afternoon, was deserted, except by one figure-a young girl wearing a nun's dress of black and blue, studying a cookery book. Nothing could be more spotless and speckless than the kitchen-a delightful background for a Dutch picture-if English artists ever thought it worth their while to look for subjects in France! Now let us go into the brilliantly decorated, dazzling chapel, where a grand surprise awaits us. For opening out of the chapel, only separated from it by a crimson curtain, is the so-called Grande Salle des Malades,' a vast parallelogram decorated in the same brilliant style as the chapel, only toned down by the rows of snow-white beds on either side. So vast is this hall-being nearly fifty yards in length-that you get a vanishing perspective of these small, white-curtained beds; and so lofty is its arched roof that alike their occupants and the quiet figures of the nuns moving about are as much lost in it as the isolated worshippers in a cathedral. I have said that the chapel leads into the hall or Salle des Malades: it is rather the hall that leads into the chapel, so insignificant is the latter by comparison, though both are in exact keeping, style, scale, and decoration being nicely matched by the restorer. For both have undergone restoration, concerning which opinions may differ, but all must agree that the general effect is magnificent in the extreme.
Here, then, lie the convalescent sick, and aged poor of Beaune, each in a snowy bed; each, if strength permits, only having to crawl to the outer door to find the sunshine and the orange-trees; each beholding from his bed a dome that might well prefigure to him the unseen abodes of heaven, so gorgeous is the dome-purple, amber, and crimson, being richly fretted and starred with gold. If too feeble to get as far as the crimson curtains partly dividing him from the chapel, he can gaze on the splendid stained glass of the choir, can catch a glimpse of the priests and white-robed boys moving rhythmically before the altar, can see the censer swing, and rejoice in the pealing organ and voices of the choristers. Yes, for a poor, aged, and forlorn Catholic it must be good to end one's days in such a place; and if his simple mind is imbued with the mysticism and poetry of his faith, he will imagine such an experience to prefigure the world to come and the life everlasting.'
If here the true believer is reminded of the joys of heaven, the famous Van Eyck picture of the Day of Judgment, in another portion of the building, will animate his mind with the pangs of hell. glorious picture, a series of living portraits, in beautiful, rich-coloured drapery, against a gold background, has a room set aside for it, and rightly. It is the richest possession of the richly endowed hospital, and being a chef-d'œuvre of the first water, no wonder that attempts have been made to purchase it for the Louvre, and also by private collectors. It was bequeathed to this hospital, along with other treasures and a goodly rent-roll in vineyards, by Nicholas Rollin, Chancellor of Burgundy, and the foundation is still maintained, in