VII. AN IMMORTALIZER
In Renan's exquisitely phrased preface to his Drames Philosophiques occurs the following sentence which I render into English tant bien que mal: "Side by side are the history of fact and the history of the ideal, the latter materially speaking of what has never taken place, but which, in the ideal sense, has happened a thousand times."
Who when visiting the beautiful little town of Saumur thinks of the historic figures connected with its name? Even the grand personality of Duplessis Morny sinks into insignificance by comparison with that of the miser's daughter, the gentle, ill-starred Eugenie Grandet! And who when Carcassonne first breaks upon his view thinks of aught but Nadaud's immortal peasant and his plaint -
"I'm growing old, just three score year,
In wet and dry, in dust and mire,
I've sweated, never getting near
Fulfilment of my heart's desire.
Ah, well I see that bliss below
'Tis Heaven's will to vouchsafe none,
Harvest and vintage come and go,
I've never got to Carcassonne!"
The tragi-comic poem of six eight-lined verses ending thus -
"So sighed a peasant of Limoux,
A worthy neighbour bent and worn.
'Ho, friend,' quoth I, 'I'll go with you.
We'll sally forth to-morrow morn.'
And true enough away we hied,
But when our goal was almost won,
God rest his soul! - the good man died,
He never got to Carcassonne!"
No lover of France certainly should die without having seen Carcassonne, foremost of what I will call the pictorial Quadrilateral, no formidable array after the manner of their Austrian cognominal, but lovely, dreamlike things. These four walled-in towns or citadels, perfect as when they represented mediaeval defence, are Carcassonne, Provins in the Brie, Semur in upper Burgundy, and the Breton Guerande, scene of Balzac's Beatrix. To my thinking, and I have visited each, there is little to choose between the first two, but exquisite as is the little Briard acropolis, those imaginary "topless towers of Ilium" of Nadaud's peasant bear the palm. That first view of Carcassonne as we approach it in the railway of itself repays a long and tedious journey. A vision rather than reality, structure of pearly clouds in mid-heaven, seems that opaline pile lightly touched with gold. We expect it to evaporate at evenfall! Vanish it does not, nor wholly bring disillusion, so fair and harmonious are the vistas caught in one circuit of the citadel, mere matter of twenty minutes.
But the place by this time has become so familiar to travellers in France and readers of French travel, that I will here confine myself to its glorifier, author of a song that has toured the world.
The first biography of the French Tom Moore, published last year, gives no history of this much translated poem. Had, indeed, some worthy vine-grower poured out such a plaint in the poet's ears? Very probably, for one and all of Nadaud's rural poems breathe the very essence of the fields, the inmost nature of the peasant, from first to last they reveal Jacques Bonhomme to us, his conceptions of life, his mentality and limitations.
[Footnote: My own rendering of this piece and many other of Nadaud's songs and ballads are given in French Men, Women and Books, 1910. American translators have admirably translated Carcassonne.]
Nadaud's career is uneventful, but from one point of view, far from being noteless, he was pre-eminently the happy man. His biographer (A. Varloy) tells us of a smooth, much relished, even an exuberant existence. The son of an excellent bourgeois, whose ancestry, nevertheless, like that of many another, could be traced for six hundred years, his early surroundings were the least lyric imaginable.