Only three museums in France date prior to the Revolution, those of Rheims, founded in 1748, and of Dijon and Nancy, founded in 1787. The opening in Paris of the Museum Francais in 1792, consisting of the royal collections and art treasures of suppressed convents, was the beginning of a great movement in this direction. At Lille the municipal authorities first got together a few pictures in the convent of the Recollets, and Watteau the painter was deputed to draw up a catalogue. On the 12th May, 1795, the collection consisted of 583 pictures and 58 engravings. On the 1st September, 1801, the consuls decreed the formation of departmental museums and distribution of public art treasures. It was not, however, till 1848 that the municipal council of Lille set to work in earnest upon the enrichment of the museum, now one of the finest in provincial cities. The present superb building was erected entirely at the expense of the municipality, and was only opened two years ago. It has recently been enriched by art treasures worth a million of francs, the gift of a rich citizen and his wife, tapestries, faience, furniture, enamels, ivories, illuminated MSS., rare bindings, engraved gems. Before that time the unrivalled collection of drawings by old masters had lent the Lille museum a value especially its own.

The collections are open every day, Sundays included. Being entirely built of stone, there is little risk of fire. Thieves are guarded against by two caretakers inside the building at night and two patrols outside. It is an enormous structure, and arranged with much taste.

The old wall still encircles the inner town, and very pretty is the contrast of grey stone and fresh spring foliage; lilacs in full bloom, also the almond, cherry, pear tree, and many others.

Lille nowadays recalls quite other thoughts than those suggested by Tristram Shandy. It may be described as a town within towns, the manufacturing centres around having gradually developed into large rival municipalities. Among these are Tourcoing, Croix, and Roubaix, now more than half as large as Lille itself. I stayed a week at Lille, and had I remained there a year, in one respect should have come away no whit the wiser. The manufactories, one and all, are inaccessible as the interior of a Carmelite convent. Queen Victoria could get inside the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse, but I question whether Her Majesty would have been permitted to see over a manufactory of thread gloves at Lille!

Such jealousy has doubtless its reason. Most likely trade secrets have been filched by foreign rivals under the guise of the ordinary tourist. Be this as it may, the confection of a tablecloth or piece of beige is kept as profoundly secret as that of the famous pepper tarts of Prince Bedreddin or the life-sustaining cordial of celebrated fasters.

In the hope of winning over a feminine mind, I drove with a friend to one of the largest factories at Croix, the property of a lady.

Here, as at Mulhouse, mill-owners live in the midst of their works. They do not leave business cares behind them, after English fashion, dwelling as far away as possible from factory chimneys. The premises of Mme. C. are on a magnificent scale; all in red brick, fresh as if erected yesterday, the mistress's house - a vast mansion - being a little removed from these and surrounded by elegantly-arranged grounds. A good deal of bowing and scraping had to be got through before we were even admitted to the portress's lodge, as much more ceremonial before the portress could be induced to convey our errand to one of the numerous clerks in a counting-house close by. At length, and after many dubious shakes of the head and murmurs of surprise at our audacity, the card was transmitted to the mansion.

A polite summons to the great lady's presence raised our hopes. There seemed at least some faint hope of success. Traversing the gravelled path, as we did so catching sight of madame's coach-house and half-dozen carriages, landau, brougham, brake, and how many more! we reached the front door. Here the clerk left us, and a footman in livery, with no little ceremony, ushered us into the first of a suite of reception rooms, all fitted up in the modern style, and having abundance of ferns and exotics.

At the end of the last salon a fashionably dressed lady, typically French in feature, manners and deportment, sat talking to two gentlemen. She very graciously advanced to meet us, held out a small white hand covered with rings, and with the sweetest smile heard my modestly reiterated request to be allowed a glimpse of the factory. Would that I could convey the gesture, expression of face and tone of voice with which she replied, in the fewest possible words!

After that inimitable, unforgettable "Jamais, jamais, jamais!" there was nothing to do but make our bow and retire, discomfiture being amply atoned by the little scene just described.

We next drove straight through Lille to the vast park or Bois, as it is called, not many years since acquired by the town as a pleasure-ground. Very wisely, the pretty, irregular stretch of glade, dell and wood has been left as it was, only a few paths, seats and plantations being added. No manufacturing town in France is better off in this respect. Wide, handsome boulevards lead to the Bois and pretty botanical garden, many private mansions having beautiful grounds, but walled in completely as those of cloistered convents. The fresh spring greenery and multitude of flowering trees and shrubs make suburban Lille look its best; outside the town every cottage has a bit of ground and a tree or two.

During this second week of April the weather suddenly changed. Rain fell, and a keen east wind rendered fires and winter garments once more indispensable. On one of these cold, windy days I went with Lille friends to Roubaix, as cold and windy a town, I should say, as any in France.

A preliminary word or two must be said about Roubaix, the city of strikes, pre-eminently the Socialist city.

City we may indeed call it, and it is one of rapidly increasing dimensions. In the beginning of the century Roubaix numbered 8000 souls only. Its population is now 114,000. Since 1862 the number of its machines has quintupled. Every week 600 tons of wool are brought to the mills. As I have before mentioned, more business is transacted with the Bank of France by this cheflieu of a canton than by Toulouse, Rheims, Nimes, or Montpellier. The speciality of Roubaix is its dress stuffs and woollen materials, large quantities of which are exported to America. To see these soft, delicate fabrics we must visit Regent Street and other fashionable quarters, not an inch is to be caught sight of here.

Roubaix is a handsome town, with every possible softening down of grimy factory walls and tall chimneys. A broad, well-built street leads to the Hotel de Ville; another equally wide street, with mansions of wealthy mill-owners and adjacent factories, leads to the new Boulevard de Paris and pretty public park, where a band plays on Sunday afternoons.

But my first object was to obtain an interview with the Socialist mayor, a man of whom I had heard much. A friend residing at Lille kindly paved the way by sending his own card with mine, the messenger bringing back a courteous reply. Unfortunately, the Conseil-General then sitting at Lille curtailed the time at the mayor's disposal, but before one o'clock he would be pleased to receive me, he sent word. Accordingly, conducted by my friend's clerk, I set out for the Town Hall.

We waited some little time in the vestibule, the chief magistrate of Roubaix being very busy. Deputy-mayors, adjoints, were coming and going, and liveried officials bustled about, glancing at me from time to time, but without any impertinent curiosity. Impertinent curiosity, by the way, we rarely meet with in France. People seem of opinion that everybody must be the best judge of his or her own business. I was finally ushered into the council chamber, where the mayor and three deputy-mayors sat at a long table covered with green baize, transacting business. He very courteously bade me take a seat beside him, and we at once entered into conversation. The working man's representative of what was then the city par excellence of strikes and socialism is a remarkable-looking man in middle life. Tall, angular, beardless, with the head of a leader, he would be noticed anywhere. There was a look of indomitable conviction in his face, and a quiet dignity from which neither his shabby clothes nor his humble calling detract. Can any indeed well be humbler? The first magistrate of a city of a hundred and fourteen thousand souls, a large percentage of whom are educated, wealthy men of the world, keeps, as I have said, a smallestaminet or cafe in which smoking is permitted, and sells newspapers, himself early in the morning making up and delivering his bundles to the various retailers. Here, indeed, we have the principles of the Republic - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity - carried out to their logical conclusion. Without money, without social position, this man owes his present dignity to sheer force of character and conviction. We chatted of socialism and the phases of it more immediately connected with Roubaix, on which latter subject I ventured to beg a little information.

[Footnote: I give Littre's meaning of estaminet.]

"We must go to the fountain-head," he replied very affably. "I regret that time does not permit me to enter into particulars now; but leave me your English address. The information required shall be forwarded."

We then talked of socialism in England, of his English friends, and he was much interested to learn that I had once seen the great Marx and heard him speak at a meeting of the International in Holborn twenty-five years before.

Then I told him, what perhaps he knew, of the liberty accorded by our Government to hold meetings in Trafalgar Square, and we spoke of Gladstone. "A good democrat, but born too early for socialism - the future of the world. One cannot take to socialism at eighty-three years of age," I said.

"No, that is somewhat late in the day," was the smiling reply.

I took leave, much pleased with my reception. From a certain point of view, the socialist mayor of Roubaix was one of the most interesting personalities I had met in France.

Roubaix has been endowed by the State with a handsome museum, library, technical and art school, the latter for young men only. These may belong to any nationality, and obtain their professional or artistic training free of charge. The exhibition of students' work sufficiently proclaims the excellence of the teaching. Here we saw very clever studies from the living model, a variety of designs, and, most interesting of all, fabrics prepared, dyed and woven entirely by the students.

The admirably arranged library is open to all, and we were courteously shown some of its choicest treasures. These are not bibliographical curiosities, but albums containing specimens of Lyons silk, a marvellous display of taste and skill. Gems, butterflies' wings, feathers of tropical birds are not more brilliant than these hues, while each design is thoroughly artistic, and in its way an achievement.

The picture gallery contains a good portrait of the veteran song-writer Nadaud, author of the immortal "Carcassonne." Many Germans and Belgians, engaged in commerce, spend years here, going away when their fortunes are made. More advantageous to the place are those capitalists who take root, identifying themselves with local interests. Such is the case with a large English firm at Croix, who have founded a Protestant church and schools for their workpeople.

Let me record the spectacle presented by the museum on Sunday afternoon during the brilliant weather of April 1893. What most struck me was the presence of poorly-dressed boys; they evidently belonged to the least prosperous working class, and came in by twos and threes. Nothing could equal the good behaviour of these lads, or their interest in everything. Many young shop-women were also there, and, as usual, a large contingent of soldiers and recruits.

Few shops remained open after mid-day, except one or two very large groceries, at which fresh vegetables were sold. It is pleasant to note a gradual diminution of Sunday labour throughout France.

The celebration of May-Day, which date occurred soon after my visit, was not calculated either to alarm the Republic or the world in general. It was a monster manifestation in favour of the Three Eights, and I think few of us, were we suddenly transformed into Roubaix machinists, would not speedily become Three Eighters as well.

At five o'clock in the morning the firing of cannon announced the annual "Fete du Travail," or workmen's holiday, not accorded by Act of Parliament, but claimed by the people as a legitimate privilege.

Unwonted calm prevailed in certain quarters. Instead of men, women, boys and girls pouring by tens of thousands into the factories, the streets leading to them were empty. In one or two cases, where machinery had been set in motion and doors opened, public opinion immediately effected a stoppage of work. Instead, therefore, of being imprisoned from half-past five in the morning till seven or eight at night, the entire Roubaisien population had freed itself to enjoy "a sunshine holiday." Such a day cannot be too long, and at a quarter past seven vast crowds had collected before the Hotel de Ville.

Here a surprise was in store for the boldest Three Eighter going. The tricolour had been hoisted down, and replaced, not by a red flag, but by a large transparency, showing the following device in red letters upon a white ground: -

                 1er Mai 1893.

             Huit Heures du Travail, 
             Huit Heures du Loisir, 
             Huit Heures du Repos.

[Footnote: Translation-International festival of labour; eight hours' work, eight hours' leisure, eight hours' repose.]

The mayor, in undress, that is to say in garments of every day, having surveyed these preparations, returned to his estaminet, the Plat d'Or, and there folded his newspapers as usual for the day's distribution.

In the meantime the finishing touch was put to other decorations, consisting of flags, devices and red drapery, everywhere the Three Eights being conspicuous.

A monster procession was then formed, headed by the Town Council and a vast number of bands. There was the music of the Fire Brigade, the socialist brass band, the children's choir, the Choral Society of Roubaix, the Franco-Belgian Choral Society, and many others. Twenty thousand persons took part in this procession, the men wearing red neckties and a red flower in their button-holes, the forty-seven groups of the workmen's federation bearing banners, all singing, bands playing, drums beating, cannons firing as they went.

At mid-day the defile was made before the Hotel de Ville, and delegates of the different socialist groups were formally received by the mayor and deputy-mayors, wearing their tricolour scarves of office.

I must say the mayor's speech was a model of conciseness, good sense and, it must be added, courtesy; addressing himself first to his fellow-townswomen, then to his fellow-townsmen, he thanked the labour party for the grandiose celebration of the day, dwelt on the determination of the municipal council to watch over the workmen's interests, then begged all to enjoy themselves thoroughly, taking care to maintain the public peace.

Toasts were drunk, the mayor's health with especial enthusiasm, but when at the stroke of noon he waved the tricolour and an enormous number of pigeons were let loose, not to be fired at but admired as they flew away in all directions, their tricolour ribbons fluttering, the general delight knew no bounds. "Long live our mayor," resounded from every mouth, "Vive le citoyen Carrette!"

The rest of the day was devoted to harmless, out-of-door amusements: a balloon ascent, on the car being conspicuous in red, "Les trois huits," concerts, gymnastic contests, finally dancing and illuminations.

Thus ended the first of May, 1893, in Lille.

       * * * * *

St. Omer is a clean, well-built and sleepy little town, with some fine old churches. The mellow tone of the street architecture, especially under a burning blue sky, is very soothing; all the houses have a yellowish or pinkish hue.

The town abounds in convents and seminaries, and the chief business of well-to-do ladies seems that of going to church. In the cathedral are many votive tablets to "Our Lady of Miracles" - one of the numerous miracle-working Virgins in France. Here we read the thanksgiving of a young man miraculously preserved throughout his four years' military service; there, one records how, after praying fervently for a certain boon, after many years the Virgin had granted his prayer. Parents commemorate miraculous favours bestowed on their children, and so on.

The ancient ramparts at this time were in course of demolition, and the belt of boulevards which are to replace them will be a great improvement. The town is protected by newly-constructed works. Needless to say, it possesses a public library, on the usual principle - one citizen one book, - a museum, and small picture gallery. The population is 21,000.

I was cordially received by a friend's friend, foremost resident in the place, and owner of a large distillery. As usual, the private dwelling, with coach-house, stables and garden adjoined the business premises. The genievre or gin, so called from the juniper used in flavouring it, here manufactured, is a choice liqueur, not the cheap intoxicant of our own public-houses. Liqueurs are always placed with coffee on French breakfast-tables. Every one takes a teaspoonful as a help to digestion.

French people are greatly astonished at the absence of liqueurs in England. The excellence of French digestions generally would not seem to discredit the habit. In the fabrication of gin here only the corn of rye is used, and in small quantities, the juniper berry; it is ready for drinking in six months, although improved by keeping. I saw also curacoa in its various stages. The orange peel used in the manufacture of this liqueur is soaked in alcohol for four months.

My object, however, was to see the high farming on an extensive scale for which this region is famous. Accordingly my host, accompanied by his amiable wife, placed themselves, their carriage, and time at my disposal, and we set out for a long round.

In harvest time the aspect of the country must be one of extreme richness. The enormous sweeps of corn, clover, and beetroot have no division from each other or the road; no hedges are to be seen, and not a tree in the middle of the crops, few trees, indeed, anywhere. Everywhere, on this 17th of April, the corn was a month ahead of former seasons, and, in spite of the long drought, very flourishing.

The first farm visited consists of 360 hectares (just upon 900 acres), all in the highest cultivation, and conducted strictly on the footing of a large industrial concern, with offices, counting-house, carpenters', saddlers' and wheelwrights' shops, smithies, mills and machinery, every agricultural process down to grinding the corn being performed on the premises, and by workmen in the employ of the owner.

As we enter these vast premises, and hear the buzz of machinery, we feel the complete prosaicization of rustic life. The farmhouse scenes of my own childhood in Suffolk, the idyllic descriptions of George Eliot, no more resemble actualities than the poetic spinning-wheel of olden times the loom of latest invention. Utility is the object aimed at, incontestably with great results, but in effect unromantic as Chicago. It is high farming made to pay. All was bustle and activity as we made the round of the premises, beginning with the vast machinery and workshops. These walled-in buildings, divided into two portions, each covering three-quarters of an acre, reminded me of nothing so much as of the caravanserais of Algerian travel twenty-five years ago. Once the doors are bolted none can enter, yet to render security doubly sure dogs are chained up in every corner - we will hope, let loose at night.

I will not here go into agricultural details, only adding a few particulars.

The splendid wheat, clover, bean and rye crops attested the excellence of the farming. Dovetailing into these enormous fields were small patches of peasant owners or tenants, all without division or apparent boundary.

In the villages I was struck by the tidy appearance of the children coming out of school. The usual verdict on peasant proprietors hereabouts was that they do not accumulate, neither are they in want. Very little, if any, beggary meets the eye, either in town or country. We then drove to the chateau, with its English grounds, of the Vicomte de - - , friend of my host, and an ardent admirer of England and English ways. This gentleman looked, indeed, like an English squire, and spoke our tongue. He had visited King Edward, then Prince of Wales, at Sandringham. As an illustration of his lavish method of doing things, I mention a quantity of building stone lately ordered from Valenciennes. This stone, for the purpose of building offices, had cost L800. In this part of France clerks and counting-houses seem an indispensable feature of farm premises. An enormous bell for summoning work-people to work or meals is always conspicuous. The whole thing has a commercial aspect.

Here we saw some magnificent animals, among these a prize bull of Flemish breed. It was said to be very fierce, and on this account had a ring in its nose. This cruel custom is now, I believe, prohibited here by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. On the other hand, I was glad to find the Vicomte a member of the kindred society in Paris, and he assured me that he was constantly holding his green card of membership over offenders in terrorem.

We hardly expect a rich aristocrat to make utility the first object in his agricultural pursuits. High farming was nevertheless here the order of the day.

We next drove to Clairmarais, a village some miles off in quite another direction, coming in sight of magnificent forests. Our errand was to the ancient Cistercian abbey, now the property of a capitalist, and turned into the business premises of his large farm. Of the original monastery, founded in 1140, hardly a trace remains. Abutting on the outer wall is the chapel, and before it a small enclosed flower-garden full of wallflowers and flowering shrubs, a bit of prettiness welcome to the eye. Just beyond, too, was an old-fashioned, irregularly planted orchard, with young cattle grazing under the bloom-laden trees, the turf dazzlingly bright, but less so than the young corn and rye, now ready for first harvesting.

The vaulted kitchens with vast fireplaces are relics of the ancient abbey, and even now form most picturesque interiors. At a long wooden table in one sat a blue-bloused group drinking cider out of huge yellow mugs - scene for a painter. Another, fitted up as a dairy, was hardly less of a picture. On shelves in the dark, antiquated chamber lay large, red-earthen pans full of cream for cheese-making. The brown-robed figure of a lay brother would have seemed appropriate in either place.

Outside these all was modernization and hard prose. We saw the shepherd returning with his sheep from the herbage, the young lambs bleating pitifully in an inner shed. It is the custom here to send the sheep afield during the day, the lambs meantime being fed on hay. Here again, I should say, is a commercial mistake. The lamb of pasture-fed animals must be incontestably superior. Humanity here seems on the side of utilitarianism. Who can say? Perhaps the inferiority of French meat in certain regions arises from this habit of stabling cattle and sheep. The drive from Clairmarais to St. Omer took us through a quite different and much more attractive country. We were now in the marais, an amphibious stretch of country, cut up into gardens and only accessible by tiny canals. It is a small Holland. This vast stretch of market garden, intersected by waterways just admitting the passage of a boat, is very productive. Three pounds per hectare is often paid in rent. The early vegetables, conveyed by boat to St. Omer, are largely exported to England. Every inch of ground is turned to account, the turf-bordered, canal-bound gardens making a pretty scene, above the green levels intersected by gleaming water the fine towers of St. Omer clearly outlined against the brilliant sky.

The English colony of former days vanished on the outbreak of the last war, not to return. A few young English Catholics still prepare for the priesthood here, and eighty more were at this time pursuing their studies at Douai, under the charge of English Benedictines. "Why," impatiently asked Arthur Young in 1788, "are Catholics to emigrate in order to be ill-educated abroad, instead of being allowed institutions that would educate them well at home?"

The disabilities he reprobates have long since been removed, but English-speaking seminarists still flock to Douai.

Here I close this agricultural and industrial round in Picardy and French Flanders, regions so near home, yet so unfamiliar to most of us! And here I close what, in many respects, may be called another round in unfrequented France.