One should always go round the sun to meet the moon in France, that is to say, one should ever circumambulate, never make straight for the lodestar ahead. The way to almost any place of renown, natural, historic or artistic, is sure to teem with as much interest as that to which we are bound. So rich a palimpsest is French civilization, so varied is French scenery, so multifarious the points of view called up at every town, that hurry and scurry leave us hardly better informed than when we set out. Thus it has ever been my rule to indulge in the most preposterous peregrination, taking no account whatever of days, seasons or possible cons, hearkening only to the pros, and never so much as glancing at the calendar. Such protracted zigzaggeries have been made easy to the "devious traveller" by one unusual advantage. Just as pioneers in Australasia find Salvation Army shelters scattered throughout remotest regions, so, fortunately, have I ever been able to count upon "harbour and good company" during my thirty-five years of French sojourn and travel.

To reach a certain Pyrenean valley in which I was to spend a holiday would only have meant a night's dash by express from Paris. Instead, I followed the south-eastern route, halting at - Heaven knows how many! - already familiar and delightful places between Paris and Dijon, Dijon and Lyons, Lyons and Nimes; from the latter city being bound for almost as many more before reaching my destination.

Quite naturally I would often find myself on the track of that "wise and honest traveller," so John Morley calls Arthur Young.

Half-way between Nimes and Le Vigan lies the little town of Sauve, at which the Suffolk farmer halted in July 1787. "Pass six leagues of a disagreeable country," he wrote. "Vines and olives."

But why a disagreeable country? Beautiful I thought the landscape as I went over the same ground on a warm September afternoon a century and odd years later, on alighting to be greeted with a cheery -

"Here I am!"

As a rule I am entirely of Montaigne's opinion. "When I travel in Sicily," said the philosopher of Gascony, "it is not to find Gascons." Dearly as we love home and home-folk, the gist of travel lies in oppositeness and surprises. We do not visit the uttermost ends of the globe in search of next-door neighbours. That cordial "Here I am!" however, had an unmistakable accent, just a delightful suspicion of French. My host was a gallant naval officer long since retired from service, with his English wife and two daughters, spending the long vacation in his country home.

High above the little village of Quissac rises the residence of beneficent owners, master and mistress, alas! long since gone to their rest. From its terrace the eye commands a vast and beautiful panorama, a richly cultivated plain dotted with villages and framed by the blue Cevennes. Tea served after English fashion and by a dear countrywoman, everywhere "le confortable Anglais" admittedly unattainable by French housewives, could not for a single moment make me forget that I was in France. And when the dinner gong sounded came the final, the unequivocal, proof of distance.

Imagine dining out of doors and in evening dress at eight o'clock in the last week of August! The table was set on the wide balcony of the upper floor, high above lawn and bosquets, the most chilly person having here nothing to fear. It is above all things the French climate that transports us so far from home and makes us feel ourselves hundreds, nay, thousands of miles away.

I have elsewhere, perhaps ofttimes, dwelt on the luminosity of the atmosphere in southern and south-western France. To-night not a breath was stirring, the outer radiance was the radiance of stars only, yet so limpid, so lustrous the air that cloudless moonlight could hardly have made every object seem clearer, more distinct. The feeling inspired by such conditions is that of enchantment. For the nonce we may yield to a spell, fancy ourselves in Armida's enchanted garden or other "delightful land of Faery."

Not for long, however! Pleasant practical matters soon recall us to the life of every day. That laborious, out-of-door existence, which seems sordid in superfine English eyes, but which is never without the gaiety that enchanted Goldsmith and Sterne a hundred and fifty years ago.

Whilst host and guest dined on the balcony, the farming folk and such of the household as could be spared were enjoying a starlit supper elsewhere. Later, my hostess took me downstairs and introduced her English visitor to a merry but strictly decorous party having a special bit of sward to themselves, bailiff, vintagers, stockmen, dairywoman, washerwoman and odd hands making up a round dozen of men, women and boys. All seemed quite at home, and chatted easily with their employer and the visitor, by no means perturbed, rather pleased by the intrusion.

And here I will mention one of those incidents that lead English observers into so many misconceptions concerning French rural life. Little things that seem sordid, even brutifying to insular eyes, really arise from incompatible standards.

The Frenchman's ideal of material comfort begins and ends with solvency, the sense of absolute security from want in old age. Small comforts he sets little store by; provided that he gets a good dinner, lesser considerations go. I do not hesitate to say that the comforts enjoyed by our own farm-servants half a century ago were far in excess of those thought more than sufficient by French labourers and their employers. On the following day my hosts took me round the farmery, fowl-run, piggeries, neat-houses and stalls being inspected one by one. When we came to the last named, I noticed at the door of the long building and on a level with the feeding troughs for oxen, a bed-shaped wooden box piled up with fresh clean straw.

"That is where our stockman sleeps," explained the lady.

Here, then, quite contentedly slept the herdsman of a large estate in nineteenth-century France, whilst his English compeers two generations before, and in much humbler employ, had their tidy bedroom and comfortable bed under the farmer's roof. What would my own Suffolk ploughmen have said to the notion of spending the night in an ox-stall? But autres pays, autres moeurs. In Deroulede's fine little poem, "Bon gite", a famished, foot-sore soldier returning home is generously entreated by a poor housewife. When she sets about preparing a bed for him, he remonstrates -

     "Good dame, what means that new-made bed, 
         Those sheets so finely spun? 
     On heaped-up straw in cattle-shed, 
         I'd snore till rise of sun."

The compensations for apparent hardship in the case of French peasants are many and great. In Henry James's great series of dissolving views called The American Scene, he describes the heterogeneous masses as having "a promoted look". The French proletariat have not a promoted look, rather one of inherited, traditional stability and self-respect. One and all, moreover, are promoting themselves, rising by a slow evolutionary process from the condition of wage-earner to that of metayer, tenant, lastly freeholder.

Although the immediate environs of Quissac and Sauve are not remarkable, magnificent prospects are obtained a little farther afield - our drives and walks abounded in interest - and associations! Strange but true it is that we can hardly halt anywhere in France without coming upon historic, literary or artistic memorials. Every town and village is redolent of tradition, hardly a spot but is glorified by genius!

Thus, half-an-hour's drive from our village still stands the chateau and birthplace of Florian, the Pollux of fabulists, La Fontaine being the Castor, no other stars of similar magnitude shining in their especial arc.

Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian was born here in 1755, just sixty years after the great fabulist's death. Nephew of a marquis, himself nephew-in-law of Voltaire, endowed with native wit and gaiety, the young man was a welcome guest at Fernay, and no wonder! His enchanting fables did not see the light till after Voltaire's death, but we will hope that some of them had delighted his host in recitation. Many of us who loved French in early years have a warm corner in our hearts for "Numa Pompilius", but Florian will live as the second fabulist of France, to my own thinking twin of his forerunner.

How full of wisdom, wit and sparkle are these apologues! Take, for instance, the following, which to the best of my ability I have rendered into our mother tongue -


     Once on a time and far away, 
       The elephant stood first in might, 
     He had by many a forest fray 
       At last usurped the lion's right. 
     On peace and reign unquestioned bent, 
       The ruler in his pride of place, 
     Forthwith to life-long banishment 
       Doomed members of the lion race.

     Dispirited, their best laid low, 
       The vanquished could but yield to fate, 
     And turn their backs upon the foe 
       In silence nursing grief and hate. 
     A poodle neatly cropped and clipped, 
       With tasselled tail made leonine, 
     On hearing of the stern rescript, 
       Straightway set up a piteous whine.

     "Alas!" he moaned. "Ah, woe is me! 
       Where, tyrant, shall I shelter find; 
     Advancing years what will they be, 
       My home and comforts left behind?" 
     A spaniel hastened at the cry, 
       "Come, mate, what's this to-do about?" 
     "Oh, oh," the other gulped reply, 
       "For exile we must all set out!"

     "Must all?" "No, you are safe, good friend; 
       The cruel law smites us alone; 
     Here undisturbed your days may end, 
       The lions must perforce begone." 
     "The lions? Brother, pray with these, 
       What part or lot have such as you?" 
     "What part, forsooth? You love to tease; 
       You know I am a lion too."

[Footnote: The first translation appeared with others in French Men, Women and Books, 1910. The second was lately issued in the Westminster Gazette.]

Here is another, a poem of essential worldly wisdom, to be bracketed with Browning's equally oracular "The Statue and the Bust," fable and poem forming a compendium.


     "I now intend to change my ways" - 
       Thus Juan said - "No more for me 
     A round on round of idle days 
       'Mid soul-debasing company. 
     I've pleasure woo'd from year to year 
       As by a siren onward lured, 
     At last of roystering, once held dear, 
       I'm as a man of sickness cured."

     "Unto the world I bid farewell, 
       My mind to retrospection give, 
     Remote as hermit in his cell, 
       For wisdom and wise friends I'll live." 
     "Is Thursday's worldling, Friday's sage? 
       Too good such news," I bantering spoke. 
     "How oft you've vowed to turn the page, 
       Each promise vanishing like smoke!"

     "And when the start?" "Next week - not this." 
       "Ah, you but play with words again." 
     "Nay, do not doubt me; hard it is 
       To break at once a life-long chain." 
     Came we unto the riverside, 
       Where motionless a rustic sate, 
     His gaze fixed on the flowing tide. 
       "Ho, mate, why thus so still and squat?"

     "Good sirs, bound to yon town am I; 
       No bridge anear, I sit and sit 
     Until these waters have run dry, 
       So that afoot I get to it." 
     "A living parable behold, 
       My friend!" quoth I. "Upon the brim 
     You, too, will gaze until you're old, 
       But never boldly take a swim!"

As far as I know, no memorial has as yet been raised to the fabulist either at Quissac or at Sauve, but as long as the French language lasts successive generations will keep his memory green. Certain of his fables every little scholar knows by heart.

Associations of other kinds are come upon by travellers bound from Quissac to Le Vigan, that charming little centre of silkworm rearing described by me elsewhere. A few miles from our village lies Ganges, a name for ever famous in the annals of political economy and progress.

"From Ganges", wrote the great Suffolk farmer in July 1787, "to the mountain of rough ground which I crossed" (in the direction of Montdardier), "the ride has been the most interesting which I have taken in France; the efforts of industry the most vigorous, the animation the most lively. An activity has been here that has swept away all difficulties before it and clothed the very rocks with verdure. It would be a disgrace to common sense to ask the cause; the enjoyment of property must have done it. Give a man the sure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden." The italics are my own. When will Arthur Young have his tablet in Westminster Abbey, I wonder?

The department of the Gard offers an anomaly of the greatest historic interest. Here and here only throughout the length and breadth of France villages are found without a Catholic church, communities that have held fast to Protestantism and the right of private judgment from generation to generation during hundreds of years. Elsewhere, in the Cote d'Or, for instance, as I have described in a former work, Protestantism was completely stamped out by the Revocation, whole villages are now ultramontane, having abjured, the alternatives placed before them being confiscation of property, separation of children and parents, banishment, prison and death.

[Footnote: See Friendly Faces, chap. xvi.]

The supremacy of the reformed faith may be gathered from the following facts: A few years back, of the six deputies representing this department five were Protestant and the sixth was a Jew. The Conseil General or provincial council numbered twenty-three Protestants as against seventeen Catholics. The seven members of the Board of Hospitals at Nimes, three of the four inspectors of public health, nine of the twelve head-mistresses of girls' schools, twenty-nine of forty rural magistrates, were Protestants.

My host belonged to the same faith, as indeed do most of his class and the great captains of local industry. It is not as in Michelet's fondly-loved St. Georges de Didonne, where only the lowly and the toiler have kept the faith aflame.

But whilst neighbours now live peacefully side by side, a gulf still divides Catholic and Protestant. Although half a millennium has elapsed since the greatest crime of modern history, the two bodies remain apart: French annexes of Alsace-Lorraine and Germans are not more completely divided. Mixed marriages are of rarest occurrence, intercourse limited to the conventional and the obligatory. There are historic curses that defy lustration. St. Bartholomew is one of these. I must now say something about the country-folks. Calls upon our rustic neighbours, long chats with affable housewives, and rounds of farmery, vineyard and field attracted me more than the magnificent panoramas to be obtained from Corconne and other villages within an easy drive.

George Sand has ever been regarded as a poetizer of rural life, an arch-idealist of her humbler country-folks. At Quissac I made more than one acquaintance that might have stepped out of La petite Fadetteor La mare au Diable.

One old woman might have been "la paisible amie," the tranquil friend, to whom the novelist dedicated a novel. Neat, contented, active and self-respecting, she enjoyed a life-interest in two acres and a cottage, her live stock consisting of a goat, a pig and poultry, her invested capital government stock representing a hundred pounds. Meagre as may seem these resources, she was by no means to be pitied or inclined to pity herself, earning a few francs here and there by charing, selling her little crops, what eggs and chickens she could spare, above all things being perfectly independent.

A charming idyll the great Sand could have found here. The owner of a thirty-acre farm had lately died, leaving it with all he possessed to two adopted children, a young married couple who for years had acted respectively as steward and housekeeper. We are bound to infer that on the one hand there had been affection and gratitude, on the other the same qualities with conscientiousness in business matters. The foster-father was childless and a widower, but, among the humble as well as the rich French, ambition of posthumous remembrance often actuates impersonal bequests. This worthy Jacques Bonhomme might have made an heir of his native village, leaving money for a new school-house or some other public edifice. Very frequently towns and even villages become legatees of the childless, and the worthy man would have been quite sure of a statue, a memorial tablet, or at least of having his name added to a street or square.

Before taking leave of Quissac I must mention one curious fact.

The Proteus of Odyssean story or the King's daughter and the Efreet in the "Second Royal Mendicant's Adventure," could not more easily transform themselves than the French peasant. Husbandman to-day, mechanic on the morrow, at one season he plies the pruning-hook, at another he turns the lathe. This adaptability of the French mind, strange to say, is nowhere seen to greater advantage than in out-of-the-way regions, just where are mental torpidity and unbendable routine. Not one of Millet's blue-bloused countrymen but masters a dozen handicrafts.

Thus, whilst the heraldic insignia of Sauve should be a trident, those of Quissac should be surmounted by an old shoe! In the former place the forked branches of the Celtis australis or nettle tree, Ulmaceae, afford a most profitable occupation. From its tripartite boughs are made yearly thousands upon thousands of the three-pronged forks used in agriculture. The wood, whilst very durable, is yielding, and lends itself to manipulation.

In Florian's birthplace folks make a good living out of old boots and shoes! Some native genius discovered that, however well worn footgear may be, valuable bits of leather may remain in the sole. These fragments are preserved, and from them boot heels are made; the debris, boots, shoes and slippers, no matter the material, find their way to the soil as manure. But this subject if pursued further would lead to a lane, metaphorically speaking, without a turning, that is to say to a treatise on French rural economy.