Description of Paris--Departure by the Diligence--The Country--The
Vineyards--Hotels and fare--Arrival at Lyons--Description of
the City--Departure in the Steam-boat for Arles--Descent of the
Rhone--Beauty and Variety of the Scenery--Confusion on disembarking at
Beaucaire--A Passenger Drowned--Arrival at Arles--Description of the
Town--Embarkation in the Steamer for Marseilles--Entrance into the
Mediterranean--Picturesque approach to Marseilles--Arrival in the
Harbour--Description of Marseilles--Observations upon the Journey
through France by Ladies.
A week's residence in Paris does not give a stranger any title to decide upon the merits or demerits of that far-famed city. The period of the year (September) was not the most favourable for a visit, all the best families having emigrated to their country habitations, and the city consequently exhibited a deserted air, at variance with every preconceived notion of the gaiety of the French capital. The mixture of meanness and magnificence in the buildings, the dirt and bad smells, combine to give an unfavourable impression, which time only, and a better acquaintance with the more agreeable features of the place, can remove.
We had entertained a hope, upon our arrival in Paris, of getting the malle poste for our journey to Chalons; but it was engaged for at least a month in advance. We were not more fortunate, our party now being reduced to three, in our endeavour to secure the coupe, and were obliged to be contented with places (corners) in the interior. We despatched all our heavy goods--that is, the portmanteaus--by messagerie, to Marseilles, which was a great saving of trouble. Though the expense of this conveyance is enormous, it has the great advantage of speed, travelling nearly as quickly as the diligence, while by the roulage, which is cheaper, very inconvenient delays may be incurred.
We quitted Paris on the 13th of September, well pleased with the treatment we had received. Though the charges for lodging, washing,
&c. were high, there was no attempt at imposition; our landlady would not allow us to pay any thing for the eighth day of our abode, although we thereby entered into another week. We had the pleasure of leaving every body well satisfied with us, and willing to receive another English party.
The diligence started at the appointed hour, namely, six o'clock in the evening. Unaccustomed to travel all night, we were rather anxious about breakfast, as we had merely stopped to change horses, without resting for any refreshment since we quitted Paris. Upon our arrival at Sens, at about seven o'clock in the morning, we were amused by the appearance of a party of persons running, gesticulating, and talking with all their might, who brought hot coffee, milk, bread, and fruit to the carriage-door. At first we were disinclined to avail ourselves of the breakfast thus offered, but learning that we should not get any thing else before twelve o'clock in the day, we overcame our scruples, and partook of the despised fare, which we found very good of its kind.
The country we passed through was rich with vineyards, and, on account of the undulating nature of the land, and the frequency of towns and villages, exceedingly pleasing to the eye. We were continually delighted with some splendid burst of scenery. There was no want of foliage, the absence of the magnificent timber which we find in England being the less remarkable, in consequence of the number of trees which, if not of very luxuriant growth, greatly embellish the landscape, while we saw the vine everywhere, the rich clusters of its grapes reaching to the edge of the road. Though robbed of its grace, and its lavish display of leaf and tendril, by the method of cultivating, each plant being reduced to the size of a small currant-bush, the foliage, clothing every hill with green, gave the country an aspect most grateful to those who are accustomed to English verdure.
We made our first halt at Auxerre, when a dejeuner a la fourchette
was served up to the travellers in the diligence. A bad English dinner is a very bad thing, but a bad French one is infinitely worse. Hitherto, we had fed upon nothing but the most dainty fare of the best hotels and cafes, and I, at least, who wished to see as much as I could of France, was not displeased at the necessity of satisfying the cravings of appetite with bread and melon. There were numerous dishes, all very untempting, swimming in grease, and brought in a slovenly manner to the table; a roast fowl formed no exception, for it was sodden, half-raw, and saturated with oil. It was only at the very best hotels in France that we ever found fowls tolerably well roasted; generally speaking, they are never more than half-cooked, and are as unsightly as they are unsavoury. Our fellow-passengers did ample justice to the meal, from which we gladly escaped, in order to devote the brief remainder of our time to a hasty toilet.
From what we could see of it, Auxerre appeared to be a very pretty place, it being at this time perfectly enwreathed with vines. In fact, every step of our journey increased our regret that we should be obliged to hurry through a country which it would have delighted us to view at leisure, each town that we passed through offering some inducement to linger on the road. Active preparations were making for the vintage, the carts which we met or overtook being laden with wine-casks, and much did we desire to witness a process associated in our minds with the gayest scenes of rural festivity.
It would not be a fair criterion to judge of the accommodation afforded at the hotels of the French provinces by those at which the diligence changed horses; in some I observed that we were not shown into the best apartments reserved for public entertainment, but in none did we find any difficulty in procuring water to wash with, nor did we ever see a dish substituted for a basin. From our own observation, it seems evident that the inns in the provinces have been much improved since the peace with England, and it appeared to us, that no reasonable objection could be made to the accommodation supplied. Auxerre certainly furnished the worst specimen we met with on the road; at no other place had we any right to complain of our entertainment, and at some the fare might be called sumptuous.
On the third morning from our departure from Paris, when nearly exhausted, the rising sun gave us a view of the environs of Lyons. We had been afraid to stop at Chalons the day before, having been informed that the Saone was not sufficiently full to ensure the certainty of the steam-boat's arrival at the promised time at Lyons. This was a great disappointment, but we were rewarded by the rich and beautiful scenery which characterises the route by land. We could not help fancying that we could distinguish the home of Claude Melnotte amid those villages that dotted the splendid panorama; and the pleasure, with which I, at least, contemplated the fine old city, was not a little enhanced by its association with the Lady of Lyons and her peasant lover.
Lyons more than realised all the notions which I had formed concerning it, having an air of antique grandeur which I had vainly expected to find at Rouen. It is well-built throughout, without that striking contrast between the newer buildings and the more ancient edifices, which is so remarkable in the capital of Normandy. The Hotel de Ville, in the large square, is a particularly fine building, and the whole city looks as if it had been for centuries the seat of wealth and commerce.
Friends in England, and the few we met with or made in Paris, had furnished us with the names of the hotels it would be most advisable to put up at; but these lists were, as a matter of course, lost, and we usually made for the nearest to the place where we stopped. The Hotel de Paris, which looks upon the Hotel de Ville, was the one we selected at Lyons; it was large and commodious, but had a dull and melancholy air. As it is usual in French hotels, the building enclosed a court-yard in the centre, with galleries running round the three sides, and reaching to the upper stories. The furniture, handsome of its kind, was somewhat faded, adding to the gloom which is so often the characteristic of a provincial inn.
As soon as possible, we sallied forth, according to our usual wont, to see as much as we could of the town and its environs; both invited a longer stay, but we were anxious to be at Marseilles by the 19th, and therefore agreed to rise at half-past three on the following morning, in order to be ready for the steamer, which started an hour after. We had begun, indeed, to fancy sleep a superfluous indulgence; my female friend (Miss E.), as well as myself, suffering no other inconvenience from three nights spent in a diligence than that occasioned by swelled feet and ancles.
We found a very considerable number of persons in the steam-boat, many of whom were English, and amongst them a gentleman and his wife, who, with four children, were travelling to Nice, where they proposed to spend the winter. The fine weather of the preceding day had deserted us, and it rained in torrents during the first hours of the descent of the Rhone. The wet and cold became so difficult to bear, that I was glad to take up a position under the funnel of the steamer, where, protected a little from the rain, I speedily got dry and warm, enjoying the scenery in despite of the very unfavourable state of the weather. We missed our communicative boatman of the Seine, but met with a very intelligent German, who gave us an account of the remarkable places en route, pointing out a spot once exceedingly dangerous to boats ascending or descending, in consequence of a projecting rock, which, by the orders of the Emperor Napoleon, had been blown up.
All the steamers which leave Lyons profess to go as far as Arles; but, in order to ensure conveyance to that place the same evening, it is necessary to ascertain whether they carry freight to Beaucaire, for in that case they always stay the night to unlade, taking the boat on at an early hour the following morning. We found ourselves in this predicament; and perhaps, under all the circumstances to be related, it would be advisable to leave the Lyons boat at Avignon and proceed by land to Marseilles. Many of the passengers pursued this plan.
The weather cleared up in the middle of the day, and we passed Avignon in a rich crimson sunset, which threw its roseate flush upon the ruins of the Papal palace, and the walls and bastions of this far-famed city. Experience had shown us the impossibility of taking more than a cursory view of any place in which we could only sojourn for a single day, and therefore we satisfied ourselves with the glimpses which we caught of Avignon from the river. A half-finished bridge, apparently of ancient date, projects rudely into the middle of the stream; we passed through another more modern, though somewhat difficult to shoot; our voyage the whole day having been made under a succession of bridges, many upon the suspension principle, and extremely light and elegant. The beauty and variety of the scenery which presented itself, as we shot along the banks of the Rhone, were quite sufficient to engage our attention, and to make the hours fly swiftly along; there were few, however, of our fellow-travellers who did not resort to other methods of amusement.
After the weather had cleared, the decks dried, and the sun-beams, warming, without scorching, glanced through fleecy clouds, the greater number of the passengers remained in the cabin below, whence, the windows being small and high, there was literally nothing to be seen. They employed themselves in reading, writing, or working; the French ladies in particular being most industrious in plying the needle. We noticed one family especially, who scarcely shewed themselves upon deck. It consisted of the mother, an elderly lady, of a very prepossessing appearance, with her son and daughter; the former about thirty years old, the latter considerably younger. The dress of the ladies, which was perfectly neat, consisting of printed muslin dresses, black silk shawls, and drawn bonnets, seemed so completely English, that we could scarcely believe that they were not our own countrywomen; they were the most diligent of the workers and readers, and as we never went down into the cabin unless to take some refreshment, or to fetch any thing we wanted, a few brief civilities only passed between us, but these were so cordially offered, that we regretted that want of inclination to enjoy the air and prospect upon deck which detained the party below.
There was a restaurateur on board the steamer, who supplied the passengers, at any hour they pleased, with the articles inserted in his carte; every thing was very good of its kind, but the boat itself was neither handsomely nor conveniently fitted up, and I should recommend in preference the new iron steamers which have been lately introduced upon the Rhone.
It was about nine o'clock in the evening when we reached Beaucaire; one other boat stopped at this place, but the rest, to our mortification, went on to Arles. We were told that we must be at the river-side at four the next morning, in order to proceed, and we therefore could not reckon upon more than four or five hours' sleep. The night was very dark, and a scene of great confusion took place in the disembarkation. We had agreed to wait quietly until the remainder of the passengers got on shore; and Miss E. and myself, glad to escape from the bustle and confusion of the deck, went down below to collect our baggage, &c. The quay was crowded with porters, all vociferating and struggling to get hold of parcels to carry, while the commissionaires from the hotels were more than ever eager in their recommendations of their respective houses: their noise and gesticulations were so great, and their requests urged with so much boldness, that we might have been led to suppose we had fallen into the hands of banditti, who would plunder us the moment they got us into their clutches.
Miss E. had posted herself at an open window, watching this strange scene, and while thus employed, was startled by hearing a piercing scream, and a plunge into the water; at the same moment, the clamour on shore became excessive. We instantly rushed upon deck, where we found our other friend safe; and upon inquiring what had happened, were told that a box had fallen into the river. Not quite satisfied of the truth of this statement, we asked several other persons, and received the same answer, the master of the steamer assuring us that no more serious accident had occurred.
We soon afterwards went on shore, which was then perfectly quiet, and, preceded by a commissionaire, who had persuaded the gentleman of our party to put himself under his convoy, we walked into the town. At a short distance from the water, we came upon an hotel of very prepossessing appearance, which we concluded to be the one to which we were bound. The windows of the lower and upper floors were all open, the rooms lighted, showing clean, gay-looking paper upon the walls, and furniture of a tempting appearance. Our conductor, however, passed the door, and dived down a lane, upon which we halted, and declared our resolution to go no further. After a little parley, and amongst other representations of the superior accommodations of the unknown hotel, an assurance that the stables were magnificent, we gained our point, and entered the house which had pleased us so much. We were met at the door by two well-dressed, good-looking women, who showed us into some excellent apartments up-stairs, all apparently newly-fitted up, and exceedingly well-furnished.
Ordering supper, we descended to the public room, and as we passed to a table at the farther end, noticed a young man sitting rather disconsolately at a window. We were laughing and talking with each other, when, suddenly starting up, the stranger youth exclaimed, "You are English? how glad I am to hear my own language spoken again!" He told us that he was travelling through France to Malta, and had come by the other steam-boat, in which there were no other English passengers beside himself. He then inquired whether a lady had not been drowned who came by our vessel; we answered no; but upon his assurance that such was the fact, we began to entertain a suspicion that the truth had been concealed from us. It was not, however, until the next morning, that we could learn the particulars. The gentleman who had accompanied us, and who had likewise been deceived by the statements made to him, ascertained that the accident had befallen the elderly French lady, with whose appearance we had been so much pleased. She had got on board a boat moored close to ours, and believing that she had only to step on shore, actually walked into the river. She was only ten minutes under water, and the probabilities are, that if the circumstance had been made known, and prompt assistance afforded, she might have been resuscitated. Amid the number of English passengers on board the steamer, the chances were very much in favour of its carrying a surgeon, accustomed to the best methods to be employed in such cases. No inquiry of the kind was made, and we understood that the body had been conveyed to a church, there to await the arrival of a medical man from the town.
We were, of course, inexpressibly shocked by this fatal catastrophe, the more so because we all felt that we might have been of use had we been told the truth. The grief and distraction of the son and daughter, who had thus lost a parent, very possibly prevented them from taking the best measures in a case of such emergence; whereas strangers, anxious to be of service, and having all their presence of mind at command, might have afforded very important assistance. How little had we thought, during the day spent so pleasantly upon the Rhone, that a fiat had passed which doomed one of the party to an untimely and violent death! Our spirits, which had been of the gayest nature, were damped by this incident, which recurred to our minds again and again, and we were continually recollecting some trifling circumstance which had prepossessed us in favour of the family, thus suddenly overwhelmed by so distressing an event.
A couple of hours brought us to Arles, where we arrived before the town was astir; the steamer to Marseilles did not leave the quay until twelve o'clock, and we were tantalized by the idea of the excellent night's rest we might have had if the steamer had fulfilled its agreement to go on to Arles. The Marseilles boat, though a fine vessel of its class, was better calculated for the conveyance of merchandize than of passengers; there being only one cabin, and no possibility of procuring any refreshment on board. This is the more inconvenient, as there is danger in bad weather of the passage into the harbour of Marseilles being retarded for several hours. We now lamented having slighted an invitation to comfortable quarters in Avignon, which we found on board the Lyons steamer, printed upon a large card.
We were much pleased with what we saw of Arles; it is a clean, well-built town, the streets generally rather narrow, but the houses good. In walking about, we found many of the outer doors open, and neat-looking female servants employed in sweeping the halls and entries. With what I hope may be deemed a pardonable curiosity, we peeped and sometimes stepped into these interiors, and were gratified by the neatness and even elegance which they exhibited. We found the people remarkably civil, and apparently too much accustomed to English travellers to trouble themselves about us. The hotel was not of the best class, and we only saw some very inferior cafes, consisting of one small room, with a curtain before the open door, and on the outside a rude representation, on a board, of a coffee-pot, and a cup and saucer. All the shops at Arles had curtains at the doors, a peculiarity which we had not previously observed in the towns of France. We went into a handsome church, where we found a few people, principally beggars, at prayers, and leaving a small donation in the poor-box, beguiled the time by walking and sitting in the boulevard
of the town.
We were glad to embark at twelve o'clock, and soon afterwards we were again in motion. The Rhone is at this place a fine broad stream; but its banks were less interesting than those which we had passed the previous day. We came at length to a large tract of low land, washed on the other side by the Mediterranean, which we were told was tenanted by troops of wild horses, known by their being invariably white. There were certainly many horses to be seen, and amongst them numerous white ones; but they appeared to be exceedingly tame, and had probably only been turned out for the benefit of grazing on the salt marsh. Possibly there might be some difficulty in catching them in so large a plain, perfectly unenclosed, and they might have bred in these solitudes. There were also some very peaceable-looking donkeys to be seen, and now and then a few cows. We did not perceive any human habitations until we came to the extreme point, where one or two low, dreary-looking tenements had been raised.
The view for the last hour had been magnificent, extending over a splendid country to the lower Alps, and now Marseilles appeared in the distance, spread upon the side of a hill down to the water, and its environs stretching far and wide, villas and country mansions appearing in every direction. Upon entering the Mediterranean, we were struck by the line of demarcation which kept the green waters of the Rhone and the deep dark blue of the sea perfectly distinct from each other, there being no blending of tints. Here we were delighted by the appearance of a shoal of large fish, which were seen springing out of the water; several approached the steamer, gamboling about in the most beautiful manner possible, darting along close to the surface, and then making long leaps with their bodies in the air. One of our fellow-passengers, a German, with whom we had made acquaintance, hastened to fetch a gun; but, much to our joy, it missed fire in several attempts to discharge it at the beautiful creatures which had thus amused us with their sports. How strong must be the destructive propensity, when it leads men to wanton acts of barbarity like this; since, had a hundred fish been killed, there would have been no possibility of getting one on board, and the slaughter must merely have been perpetrated for slaughter's sake! Our remonstrances passed unheeded, and we therefore did not conceal our rejoicing over the disappointment.
The entrance into Marseilles is very picturesque, it being guarded on either side by high rocks, bold, and projecting in various shapes. We found the harbour crowded with vessels of various denominations, and amongst them several steamers, one a French ship of war, and another the English Government steamer, appointed to carry the mails to Malta. The smell arising from the stagnant water in the harbour of Marseilles was at first almost intolerable, and it was not without surprise that we saw several gay gondola-looking boats, with white and coloured awnings, filled with ladies and gentlemen, rowing about apparently for pleasure.
The clock struck five as we got on shore, and, much to our annoyance, we found that our first visit was to be paid to the customhouse. Upon embarking at Arles, a gens-d'armes had laid his finger upon our baggage, and demanded our keys; but upon a remonstrance at the absurdity of a re-examination, after it had passed through the whole of France, he allowed it to be put on board inviolate. Here, however, there was no escaping, and, tired as we were, and anxious to get to our hotel, we were obliged to submit to the delay. Fortunately, we were the first arrivals, and the search not being very strict, we were not detained more than ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, which, under the circumstances, seemed an age. The nearest hotel was of course our place of refuge, and we were fortunate in speedily ending a very good one, the Hotel des Embassadeurs, an immense establishment, exceedingly well-conducted in every respect. Here we enjoyed the prospect of a night's rest, having, during a hundred and ten hours, only had about ten, at two different periods, in bed. Refreshed, however, by a change of dress, we had no inclination to anticipate the period of repose, but hurried our toilet, in order to join the dinner at the table-d'hote.
Marseilles struck us as being the handsomest and the cleanest town we had yet seen in France. All the houses are spacious and lofty, built of white stone, and in good condition, while every portion of the city is well paved, either after the English fashion, or with brick, quite even, and inserted in a very tasteful manner. Many of the streets are extremely wide, and some are adorned with handsome fountains. The shops are very elegant, and much more decorated than those of any other place in France; some had paintings upon glass, richly gilded, on either side of the doors, handsome curtains hung down within, and the merchandise displayed was of the best description. These shops were also well lighted, and together with the brilliant illuminations of the neighbouring cafes, gave the streets a very gay appearance. We wandered about until rather a late hour; the cafes, both inside and outside, were crowded with gentlemen; but in the promenades we saw fewer ladies than we had expected, and came to the conclusion--an erroneous one in all probability--that French women stay very much at home. Assuredly, the beauty of the night was most inviting; but, worn out at last, we were obliged to retire to our hotel.
The next day, we made inquiries concerning the steamers, and learned that the French boat was certainly to start on the following afternoon, the 21st, while the departure of the English vessel was uncertain, depending upon the arrival of the mails. Though disappointed at finding that the French steamer did not touch at Naples, as I had been led to believe, I felt inclined to take my passage in her; but the advantage of being in time to meet the Bombay steamer at Suez was so strongly urged upon me, in consequence of the ticklish state of affairs in Egypt, that, finding plenty of room on board the Niagara, we engaged a couple of berths in the ladies' cabins. Mehemet Ali was represented to us as being so obstinately determined to retain possession of the Turkish fleet, and the British Government so urgent with France to support the Porte against him, that, if this intelligence was to be depended upon, no time ought to be lost. It was with reluctance that I gave up my original intention of lingering on the road, and at Malta, but my unwillingness to run any risk of being shut out of Egypt prevailed. After executing this necessary business, we engaged a carriage, and paying a visit to the British consul, drove about the town and its environs, being the more pleased the more we saw of both. There appeared to be a deficiency of trees in the landscape, but a peculiar air of its own compensated for the want of foliage.
The private streets and houses of Marseilles are very regular and well built, nor did we see any portion of the town of a very inferior description. I should have liked much to have remained a few weeks in it, and indeed regretted the rapidity of my journey through France, not being able to imagine any thing more delightful than a leisure survey of the country through which we passed. I had been so strongly determined to make the overland trip to India, that I would have undertaken it quite alone, had I not met with a party to accompany me; some kind friends would not allow me, however, to make the experiment; nor do I recommend ladies, unless they are very well acquainted with the country, to travel through it without the protection of a gentleman, a courier, or a good servant. Miss E. and myself performed the whole distance without a care or a thought beyond the objects on the road; but this we owed entirely to the attention of the gentleman who put us safely on board the Malta steamer, and who managed every thing for us upon the way, so that we were never in one single instance subjected to the slightest annoyance.