"Nine hours' rolling at anchor" was Arthur Young's experience of a Channel passage in 1787, and on the return journey he was compelled to wait three days for a wind. Two years later, what is in our own time a delightful little pleasure cruise of one hour and a quarter, the journey from Dover to Calais occupied fourteen hours.

We might suppose from the hundreds of thousands of English travellers who yearly cross the Manche, that Picardy, Artois, and French Flanders would overflow with them, that we should hear English speech wherever we go, and find ourselves amid more distinctly English surroundings than even in Switzerland or Norway; but no such thing. From the moment I quitted Boulogne to that of my departure from Calais, having made the round by way of Hesdin, Arras, Vitry-en-Artois, Douai, Lille, St. Omer, I no more encountered an English tourist than on the Causses of the Lozere a few years before. Many years later, on going over much of the same ground, with a halt at Etaples and Le Touquet, it was much the same. Yet such a tour, costing so little as regards money, time and fatigue, teems with interest of very varied and unlooked-for kind.

Every inch of ground is historic to begin with, and has contributed its page to Anglo-French annals or English romance. We may take the little railway from Hesdin to Abbeville, traversing the forest of Crecy, and drive across the cornfields to Agincourt. We may stop at Montreuil, which now looks well, not only "on the map," but from the railway carriage, reviving our recollections of Tristram Shandy. At Douai we find eighty English boys playing cricket and football under the eye of English Benedictine monks - their college being a survival of the persecutions of Good Queen Bess.

And to come down from history and romance to astounding prose, we find, a few years ago, Roubaix, a town of 114,000 souls, that is to say, a fourth of the population of Lyons - a town whose financial transactions with the Bank of France exceed those of Rheims, Nimes, Toulouse, or Montpellier, represented by a man of the people, the important functions of mayor being filled by the proprietor of a humbleestaminet and vendor of newspapers, character and convictions only having raised the Socialist leader to such a post!

In rural districts there is also much to learn. Peasant property exists more or less in every part of France, but we are here more especially in presence of agriculture on a large scale. In the Pas-de-Calais and the Nord we find high farming in right good earnest, holdings of from ten to fifteen hundred acres conducted on the footing of large industrial concerns, capital, science and enterprise being alike brought to bear upon the cultivation of the soil and by private individuals.

I travelled from Boulogne to Hesdin, in time for the first beautiful effect of spring-tide flower and foliage. The blackthorn and pear trees were already in full blossom, and the elm, poplar and chestnut just bursting into leaf. Everything was very advanced, and around the one-storeyed, white-washed cottages the lilacs showed masses of bloom, field and garden being a month ahead of less favoured years.

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Near Etaples the wide estuary of the Canche showed clear, lake-like sheets of water amid the brilliant greenery; later are passed sandy downs with few trees or breaks in the landscape. This part of France should be seen during the budding season; of itself unpicturesque, it is yet beautified by the early foliage. Hesdin is an ancient, quiet little town on the Canche, with tanneries making pictures - and smells - by the river, unpaved streets, and a very curious bit of civic architecture, the triple-storeyed portico of the Hotel de Ville. Its 7000 and odd souls were soon to have their museum, the nucleus being a splendid set of tapestries representing the battle of Agincourt, in loveliest shades of subdued blue and grey. The little inn is very clean and comfortable; for five francs a day you obtain the services of the master, who is cook; the mistress, who is chambermaid; and the daughters of the house, who wait at table. Such, at least, was my experience.

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My errand was to the neighbouring village of Hauteville-Caumont, whither I drove one afternoon. Quitting the town in a north-easterly direction, we enter one of those long, straight French roads that really seem as if they would never come to an end. The solitude of the scene around is astonishing to English eyes. For miles we only meet two road-menders and an itinerant glazier. On either side, far as the glance could reach, stretches the chessboard landscape - an expanse oceanic in its vastness of green and brown, fields of corn and clover alternating with land prepared for beetroot and potatoes. The extent and elevation of this plateau, formerly covered with forests, explain the excessive dryness of the climate. Bitter indeed must be the wintry blast, torrid the rays of summer here. As we proceed we see little breaks in the level uniformity, plains of apple-green and chocolate-brown; the land dips here and there, showing tiny combes and bits of refreshing wood. The houses, whether of large landowner, functionary or peasant, are invariably one-storeyed, the white walls, brown tiles, or thatched roof having an old-fashioned, rustic effect. One might suppose earthquakes were common from this habit of living on the ground floor. The dryness of the climate doubtless obviates risk of damp. Much more graceful are the little orchards of these homesteads than the mathematically planted cider apples seen here in all stages of growth. Even the blossoms of such trees later on cannot compare with the glory of an orchard, in the old acceptance of the word, having reached maturity in the natural way. Certain portions of rural France are too geometrical. That I must admit.

Exquisitely clean, to use a farmer's expression, are these sweeps of corn and ploughed land, belonging to different owners, yet apparently without division. Only boundary stones at intervals mark the limits. Here we find no infinitesimal subdivision and no multiplicity of crops. Wheat, clover, oats form the triennial course, other crops being rye, potatoes, Swede turnips, sainfoin and the oeillette or oil poppy. The cider apple is also an important product.

I found my friend's friend at home, and after a chat with madame and her daughter, we set out for our round of inspection. This gentleman farmed his own land, a beautifully cultivated estate of several hundred acres; here and there a neighbour's field dovetailed into his own, but for the greater part lying compactly together. The first object that attracted my notice was a weather-beaten old windmill - sole survivor of myriads formerly studding the country. This antiquated structure might have been the identical one slashed at by Don Quixote. Iron grey, dilapidated, solitary, it rose between green fields and blue sky, like a lighthouse in mid-ocean. These mills are still used for crushing rye, the mash being mixed with roots for cattle, and the straw used here, as elsewhere, for liage or tying up wheatsheaves. The tenacity of this straw makes it very valuable for such purposes.

Corn, rye and sainfoin were already very advanced, all here testifying to highly scientific farming; and elsewhere roots were being sown. The soil is prepared by a process called marnage, i.e. dug up to the extent of three feet, the marne or clayey soil being brought to the surface. A very valuable manure is that of the scoria or residue of dephosphated steel, formerly thrown away as worthless, but now largely imported from Hungary for agricultural purposes. Nitrate is also largely used to enrich the soil. Sixty years ago the Pas-de-Calais possessed large forests. Here at Caumont vast tracts have been cleared and brought under culture since that time. These denuded plateaux, at a considerable elevation above the sea-level, are naturally very dry and very cold in winter, the climate being gradually modified by the almost total absence of trees. Wisely has the present Government interdicted further destruction; forests are now created instead, and we find private individuals planting instead of hacking down. Lucerne is not much cultivated, and my host told me an interesting fact concerning it; in order to grow lucerne, farmers must procure seeds of local growers. Seeds from the south of France do not produce robust plants.

The purple-flowered poppy, cultivated for the production of oil, must form a charming crop in summer, and is a most important product. I was assured that oil procured from crushed seeds is the only kind absolutely free from flavour, and as such superior even to that of olives. Of equal importance is the cider apple.

The economic results of war are curiously exemplified here. During the war of 1871 German troops were stationed in the neighbouring department of the Somme, and there acquired the habit of drinking cider. So agreeable was found this drink that cider apples are now largely exported to Germany, and just as a Frenchman now demands his Bock at a cafe, so in his Biergarten the German calls for cider.

My host informed me that all his own apples, grown for commerce, went over the northern frontier. Cider is said to render the imbiber gout-proof and rheumatism-proof, but requires a long apprenticeship to render it palatable. The profits of an apple orchard are threefold. There is the crop gathered in October, which will produce in fair seasons 150 francs per hectare, and the two grass crops, apple trees not hurting the pasture.

The labourer's harvest here are his potato-fed pigs. In our walks we came upon men and women sowing potatoes on their bit of hired land; for the most part their bit of land is tilled on Sundays, a neighbour's horse being hired or borrowed for the purpose. Thus neither man nor beast rest on the seventh day, and as a natural consequence church-going gradually falls into abeyance. My host deplored this habit of turning Sunday into a veritable corvee for both human beings and cattle, but said that change of system must be very slow.

On the whole, the condition of the agricultural labourer here contrasts very unfavourably with that of the peasant owner described elsewhere.

The same drawbacks exist as in England. Land for the most part being held by large owners, accommodation for poorer neighbours is insufficient. Many able-bodied workmen migrate to the towns, simply because they cannot get houses to live in; such one-storeyed dwellings as exist have an uncared-for look, neither are the village folks so well dressed as in regions of peasant property. In fact, I should say, after a very wide experience, that peasant property invariably uplifts and non-propertied labour drags down. This seems to me a conclusion mathematically demonstrable.

Mayor of his commune, my host was a man of progress and philanthropy in the widest sense of the word. He had lately brought about the opening of an infant school here, and dwelt on the beneficial results; children not being admitted to the communal schools under the age of seven, were otherwise thrown on the streets all day. Infant schools are generally found in the larger communes. Intersecting my host's vast stretches of field and ploughed land lay the old strategic road from Rouen to St. Omer, a broad band of dazzling white thrown across the tremendous panorama. An immense plain is spread before us as a map, now crudely brilliant in hue, two months later to show blending gold and purple. Vast, too, the views obtained on the homeward drive. Over against Hesdin rises its forest - holiday ground of rich and poor, as yet undiscovered by the tourist. From this friendly little town a charming woodland journey may be made by the railway now leading through the forest of Crecy to Abbeville.

Between Hesdin and Arras the geometrically planted cider apple trees and poplars growing in parallel lines are without beauty, but by the railway are bits of waste ground covered with cowslip, wind flowers, cuckoo-pint, and dandelion. On the top of lofty elms here and there are dark masses; these are the nests of the magpie, and apparently quite safe from molestation.

By the wayside we see evidences of peasant ownership on the most modest scale, women cutting their tiny patch of rye, as green food for cattle, sowing their potato field, or keeping a few sheep. Everywhere lilacs are in full bloom, and the pear and cherry trees burdened with blossom as snow. Everything is a month ahead of ordinary years. I write of April 1893.

The Hotel St. Pol at Arras looks, I should say, precisely as it did in Robespierre's time. The furniture certainly belongs to that epoch, sanitary arrangements have made little advance, and the bare staircases and floors do not appear as if they had been well swept, much less scoured, since the fall of the Bastille. It is a rambling, I should say rat-haunted, old place, but fairly quiet and comfortable, with civil men-servants and no kind of pretence.

Arras itself, that is to say its Petite Place, is a specimen of Renaissance architecture hardly to be matched even in France. The Flemish gables and Spanish arcades, not a vestige of modernization marring the effect, make a unique picture. Above all rises the first of those noble belfry towers met by the traveller on this round, souvenirs of civic rights hardly won and stoutly maintained. The first object looked for will be Robespierre's birthplace, an eminently respectable middle-class abode, now occupied by a personage almost as generally distasteful as that of the Conventionnel himself, namely, a process-server or bailiff. A bright little lad whom I interrogated on the way testified the liveliest interest in my quest, and would not lose sight of me till I had discovered the right house. It is a yellow-walled, yellow-shuttered, symbolically atrabilious-looking place, with twenty-three front windows. Robespierre's parents must have been in decent circumstances when their son Maximilian was born, and perhaps the reverses of early life had no small share in determining his after career. Left an orphan in early life, he owed his education and start in life to charity. The fastidious, poetic, austere country lawyer, unlike his fellow-conventionnels, was no born orator. Thoughts that breathe and words that burn did not drop from his lips as from Danton's. His carefully prepared speeches, even in the apogee of his popularity, were often interrupted by the cry "Cut it short" or "Keep to the point." The exponent of Rousseau was ofttimes "long preaching," like St. Paul.

But there are early utterances of Robespierre's that constitute in themselves a revolution, when, for instance, in 1789 he pleaded for the admission of Jews, non-Catholics, and actors to political rights. "The Jews," he protested, "have been maligned in history. Their reputed vices arise from the ignominy into which they have been plunged." And although his later discourses breathe a spirit of frenzied vindictiveness, certain passages recall that "humane and spiritual element" commented upon by Charles Nodier. This is especially noticeable in what is called his discours-testament, the speech delivered on the eve of Thermidor. At one moment, with positive ferocity, he lashes the memory of former friends and colleagues sent by himself to the guillotine; at another he dilates upon the virtue of magnanimity in lofty, Platonic strains.

With Danton's implacable foe it was indeed a case of "Roses, roses, all the way. Thus I enter, and thus I go." Twenty-four hours after that peroration he awaited his doom, an object of ruthless execration. And visitors are still occasionally shown in the Hotel des Archives the table on which was endured his short but terrible retribution.

A public day school for girls exists at Arras, but the higher education of women - we must never lose sight of the fact - is sternly denounced by Catholic authorities. Lay schools and lay teachers for girls are not only unfashionable, they are immoral in the eyes of the orthodox.

The museum and public library, 40,000 and odd volumes, of this town of 26,000 souls are both magnificent and magnificently housed in the ancient Abbaye de St. Vaast, adjoining cathedral, bishopric and public garden.

Besides pictures, statuary, natural history and archaeological collections, occupying three storeys, is a room devoted exclusively to local talent and souvenirs. Among the numerous bequests of generous citizens is a collection of faience lately left by a tradeswoman, whose portrait commemorates the deed. Some fine specimens of ancient tapestry of Arras, hence the name arras, chiefly in shades of grey and blue, and also specimens of the delicate hand-made Arras lace, are here. There is also a room of technical exhibits, chemicals and minerals used in the industrial arts, dyes, textiles.

Quite a third of the visitors thronging these sumptuous rooms were young recruits. A modern picture of Eustache St. Pierre and his companions, at the feet of Edward III and his kneeling Queen, evoked much admiration. I heard one young soldier explaining the subject to a little group. There were also many family parties, and some blue blouses. How delightful such a place of resort-not so much in July weather, on this 9th of April one might fancy it harvest time! - but on bleak, rainy, uninviting days! One of the officials advised me to visit the recently erected Ecole des Beaux Arts at the other end of the town, which I did. I would here note the pride taken in their public collections by all concerned. This elderly man, most likely an old soldier, seemed as proud of the museum as if it were his own especial property.

I was at once shown over the spacious, airy, well-kept building - school of art and conservatorium of music in one, both built, set on foot, and maintained by the municipality. Here youths and girls of all ranks can obtain a thorough artistic and musical training without a fraction of cost. The classes are held in separate rooms, and boys in addition learn modelling and mechanical drawing.

The school was opened four years ago, and already numbers eighty students of both sexes, girls meeting two afternoons a week, boys every evening. Arras also possesses an Ecole Normale or large training school for female teachers.

On this brilliant Sunday afternoon, although many small shops were open, I noted the cessation of street traffic. Every one seemed abroad, and business at a standstill. All the newspaper kiosks were closed.

Next morning soon after eight o'clock I was off to Vitry-en-Artois for a day's farming. At the little station I was met by a friend's friend - a typical young Frenchman, gaiety itself, amiable, easy, all his faculties alert - and driven by him in a little English dogcart to the neighbouring village. Twenty-five minutes brought us to our destination - house and model farm of a neighbour, upwards of twelve hundred acres, all cultivated on the most approved methods. Our host now took my young friend's reins, he seating himself behind, and we drove slowly over a large portion of the estate, taking a zigzag course across the fields. There are here three kinds of soil - dry, chalky and unproductive, rich loam, and light intermediate. In spite of the drought of the last few weeks, the crops are very luxuriant, and quite a month ahead of former seasons.

This estate of six hundred and odd hectares is a specimen of high farming on a large scale, such as I had never before witnessed in France. I do not exaggerate when I say that from end to end could not be discerned a single weed. Of course, the expense of cultivation on such a scale is very great, and hardly remunerative at the present price of wheat.

Sixty hectares, i.e. nearly 150 acres, are planted with wheat, and two-thirds of that superficies with beetroot. The young corn was as advanced as in June with us, some kinds of richer growth than others, and showing different shades of green, each tract absolutely weedless, and giving evidence of highest cultivation. Fourteen hectolitres per hectare of corn is the average, forty the maximum. Besides beetroot for sugar, clover and sainfoin are grown, little or no barley, and neither turnips nor mangel-wurzel.

[Footnote: Hectolitre = 2 bushels 3 pecks.]

The land is just now prepared for planting beetroot, by far the most important crop here, and on which I shall have much to say. Henceforth, indeed, the farming I describe may be called industrial, purely agricultural products being secondary.

On the importance of beetroot sugar it is hardly necessary to dwell at length. A few preliminary facts, however, may be acceptable. Up till the year 1812, cane sugar only was known in France; the discovery of beetroot sugar dates from the Continental blockade of that period. In 1885 the amount of raw sugar produced from beetroot throughout France was 90 millions of kilos. In 1873 the sum-total had reached 400 millions. The consumption of sugar per head here is nevertheless one-third less than among ourselves.

[Footnote: Kilogramme = 2 lb. 3 oz.]

We come now to see the results of fiscal regulation upon agriculture. Formerly duty was paid not upon the root itself but its product. This is now changed, and, the beetroot being taxed, the grower strives after that kind producing the largest percentage of saccharine matter. Hardly less important is the residue. The pulp of the crushed beetroot in these regions forms the staple food of cows, pigs and sheep. Mixed with chopped straw, it is stored for winter use in mounds by small cultivators, in enormous cellars constructed on purpose by large owners. Horses refuse to eat this mixture, which has a peculiar odour, scenting farm premises from end to end. The chief manure used is that produced on the farm and nitrates. On this especial estate dried fish from Sweden had been tried, and, as on the farm before mentioned, chalky land is dug to the depth of three feet, the better soil being put on the top. This is the process called marnage. We now drove for miles right across the wide stretches of young wheat and land prepared for beetroot. The wheels of our light cart, the host said, would do good rather than harm. Horse beans, planted a few weeks before, were well up; colza also was pretty forward. Pastures there were none. Although the cornfields were as clean as royal gardens we came upon parties of women, girls and boys hoeing here and there. The rows of young wheat showed as much uniformity as a newly-planted vineyard.

Ploughing and harrowing were being done chiefly by horses, only a few oxen being used. My host told me that his animals were never worked on Sundays. On week-days they remain longer afield than with us, but a halt of an hour or two is made for food and rest at mid-day. Another crop to be mentioned is what is called hivernage or winter fodder, i.e. lentils planted between rows of rye, the latter being grown merely to protect the other. On my query as to the school attendance of boys and girls employed in agriculture, my host said that authorities are by no means rigid; at certain seasons of the year, indeed, they are not expected to attend. Among some large landowners we find tolerably conservative notions even in France. Over-education, they say, is unfitting the people for manual labour, putting them out of their place, and so forth.

Moles are not exterminated. "They do more good than harm," said my host, "and I like them." I had heard the same thing at Caumont, where were many mole-hills. Here and there, dove-tailed into these enormous fields, were small patches farmed by the peasants, rarely their own property. Their condition was described as neither that of prosperity nor want. "They get along." That was the verdict.

In our long drive across weedless corn and clover fields we came upon a small wood, a recent plantation of our host. Even this bit of greenery made a pleasant break in the uniform landscape. We then drove home, and inspected the premises on foot. Everything was on a colossal scale, and trim as a Dutch interior. The vast collection of machinery included the latest French, English, Belgian and American inventions. Steam engines are fixtures, the consumption of coal being 160 tons yearly per 300 hectares.

We are thus brought face to face with the agriculture of the future, ancient methods and appliances being supplanted one by one, manual labour reduced to the minimum, the cultivation of the soil become purely mechanical. The idyllic element vanishes from rural life and all savours of Chicago! Stables and neat-houses were the perfection of cleanliness and airiness. Here for the first time I saw sheep stabled like cows and horses. Their quarters were very clean, and littered with fresh straw. They go afield for a portion of the day, but, as I have before mentioned, pastures are few and far between.

The enormous underground store-houses for beetroot, pulp and chopped straw were now almost empty. At midday, the oxen were led home and fell to their strange food with appetite, its moistness being undoubtedly an advantage in dry weather. The cart horses were being fed with boiled barley, and looked in first-rate condition. Indeed, all the animals seemed as happy and well-cared for as my host's scores upon scores of pet birds. Birds, however, are capricious, and nothing would induce a beautiful green parrot to cry, "Vive la France" in my presence. After an animated breakfast - thoroughly French breakfast, the best of everything cooked and served in the best possible manner - we took leave, and my young friend drove me back to Vitry to call upon his own family.

M.D., senior, is a miller, and the family dwelling, which adjoins his huge water-mill, is very prettily situated on the Scarpe. We entered by a little wooden bridge running outside, a conservatory filled with exotics and ferns lending the place a fairy look. I never saw anything in rural France that more fascinated me than this water-mill with its crystal clear waters and surrounding foliage. M.D. with his three sons quitted their occupation as we drove up. Madame and her young daughter joined us in the cool salon, and we chatted pleasantly for a quarter of an hour.

I was much struck with the head of the family, an elderly man with blue eyes, fine features, and a thoughtful expression. He spoke sadly of the effect of American competition, and admitted that protection could offer but a mere palliative. Hitherto I had found a keenly protectionist bias among French agriculturists. Of England and the English he spoke with much sympathy, although at this time we were as yet far from the Entente Cordiale. "C'est le plus grand peuple au monde" ("It is the greatest nation in the world"), he said.

Nothing could equal the ease and cordiality with which this charming family received me. The miller with his three elder sons had come straight from the mill. Well-educated gentlemen are not ashamed of manual labour in France. How I wished I could have spent days, nay weeks, in the neighbourhood of the water-mill!