CHAPTER XI. ST. CLAUDE: THE BISHOPRIC IN THE MOUNTAINS.

I was prepared to be fascinated with St. Claude, to find it wholly unique and bewitching, to greet it with enthusiasm, and bid it farewell with regret. It has been described so glowingly by different writers - alike its history, site, and natural features are so curious and poetic, such a flavour of antiquity clings to it, that perhaps no other town in the Jura is approached with equal expectation. Nor can any preconceived notion of the attractiveness of St. Claude, however high, be disappointed, if visited in fine weather. It is really a marvellous place, and takes the strangest hold on the imagination. The antique city, so superbly encased with lofty mountains, is as proud as it is singular, depending on its own resources, and not putting on a smile to attract the stranger. Were a magician to sweep away these humming wheels, hammering mill-stones, gloomy warehouses, and put smiling pleasure-grounds and coquettish villas in their place, St. Claude might become as fashionable a resort as the most favourite Swiss or Italian haunts. But in its present condition it does not lay itself out to please, and the town is built in the only way building was possible, up and down, on the edge of the cliffs here, in the depths of a hollow there, zig-zag, just anyhow. High mountains hem it round, and two rivers run in their deep beds alongside the irregular streets, a superb suspension bridge spanning the Valley of the Tacon, a depth of fifty yards. Higher up, a handsome viaduct spans the Valley of La Bienne, on either side of these two stretch clusters of houses, some sloping one way, some another, with picturesque effect. To find your way in these labyrinthine streets, alleys, and terraces is no easy matter, whilst at every turn you come upon the sound of wheels, betokening some manufactory of the well-known, widely imported St. Claude ware, consisting chiefly of turnery, carved and inlaid toys, and fancy articles in wood, bone, ivory, stag's horn, &c. Small hanging gardens are seen wherever a bit of soil is to be had, whilst the town also possesses a fine avenue of old trees turned into a public promenade. St. Claude is really wonderful, and the more you see of it the more you are fascinated. Though far from possessing the variety of artistic fountains of Salins, several here are very pretty and ornamental - notably one surrounded with the most captivating little Loves in bronze, riding dolphins. The sight and sound of rippling water everywhere are delicious; rivers and fountains, fountains and rivers, everywhere! whilst the summer-like heat of mid-day makes both all the more refreshing. St. Claude has everything - the frowning mountain-crests of Salins, the pine-clad fastnesses of Champagnole, the romantic mountain walls of Morez, sublimity, grace, picturesqueness, grandeur, all are here, and all at this season of the year embellished by the crimson and amber tints of autumn.

What lovely things did I see during an hour and a half's walk to the so-called Pont du Diable! Taking one winding mountain road of many, and following the clear winding deep green river, though high above it, I came to a scene as wild, beautiful, and solitary as the mind can picture, above bare grey cliffs, lower down fairy-like little lawns of brightest green, deeper down still, the river making a dozen cascades over its stony bed, and round about the glorious autumn foliage, under a cloudless sky. All the way I had heard, mingled with the roar of the impetuous river, the sound of mill-wheels, and I passed I know not how many manufactories, most of which lie so deep down in the heart of the gorges that they do not spoil the scenery. The ugly blot is hidden, or at least inconspicuous. As I turn back, I have on one side a vast velvety slope, sweeping from mountain to river, terrace upon terrace of golden-green pasture, where a dozen little girls are keeping their kine; on the other steep limestone precipices, all a tangle of brushwood, with only here and there a bit of scant pasturage. The air is transparent and reviving, a south wind caresses us as we go, nothing can be more heavenly beautiful. The blue gentian grows everywhere, and, as I pursue my way, the peasant-folks I meet with pause to say good-day and stare. They evidently find in me an outlandish look, and are quite unaccustomed to the sight of strangers.

I had pleasant acquaintances provided for me here by my friend, the schoolmaster's wife at Morez, and a very agreeable glimpse I thus obtained of French middle-class life; Catholic life, moreover, but free alike from bigotry and intolerance. Very light-hearted, lively, and well-informed were these companions of my walks at St. Claude, among them a government official, his young wife, sister, and another relation, who delighted in showing me everything. We set off one lovely afternoon for what turned out to be a four hours' walk, but not a moment too long, seeing the splendour of weather and scenery, and the amiability of my companions. We took a road that led from the back of the Cathedral by the Valley of the Tacon, a little river that has its rise in the mountain near, and falls into the Flumen close by. It is necessary to take this walk to the falls of the Flumen in order to realize fully the wonderful site of St. Claude, and the amazing variety of the surrounding scenery. Every turn we take of the upward curling road gives us a new and more beautiful picture. The valley grows deeper and deeper, the mountains on either side higher and higher, little chalets peeping amid the grey and the green, here perched on an apparently unapproachable mountain-top, there in the inmost recess of some rocky dell. As we get near the falls, we are reaching one of the most romantic points of view in all the Jura, and one of the most striking I have ever seen, so imposingly do the mountains close around us as we enter the gorge, so lovely the scene shut in by the impenetrable natural wall; for within the framework of rock, peak, and precipice are little farms, gardens, and orchards - gems of dazzling green bathed in ripest sunshine, pine-forests frowning close above these islets of luxuriance and cultivation, dells, glades, and open, lawny spaces between the ramparts of fantastically formed crags and solitary peaks, a scene recalling Kabylia, in the Atlas mountains, but unlike anything except itself. All was still, except for the roar of the tiny river and the occasional sound of timber sliding from some mountain slope into the valley below. The timber is thus transported in these parts, the woodman cutting the planks on some convenient ledge of rock, then letting it find its way to the bottom as best it can. All day long you see the trunk-cutters at work on their airy perches, now bright stairs of gold-green turf, soon to be enveloped in impenetrable masses of snow, and hear the falling planks. As we climb, we are overtaken by two timber carts, and the drivers, peasant-folks from the mountains, are old acquaintances of my companions, and suggest that the ladies should mount. We gladly do so, to the great satisfaction of the peasants, who on no account would themselves add to their horses' burden. It would have been an affront to offer these good people anything in return for their kindness. They were delighted to chat behind with Monsieur, whilst their horses, sure-footed as mules, made their way beside the winding precipice. These peasants had intelligent, good countenances, and were excellent types of the Jura mountaineer.

Having passed a tunnel cut through the rock, we soon reached the head of the valley, the end of the world, as it seems, so high, massive, and deep is the formidable mountain wall hemming it in, from whose sides the little river Tacon takes a tremendous leap into the green valley below; and not one leap, but a dozen, the several cascades uniting in a stream that meanders towards St. Claude. Before us, high above the falls, seeming to hang on a perpendicular chain of rocks, is a cluster of saw-mills. It is not more the variety of form in this scene here than the variety of colour and tone that makes it so wonderful. Everywhere the eye rests on some different outline, colour, or combination.

Would that space permitted of a detailed account here of all else that I saw in this ancient little bishopric in the mountains! St. Claude, indeed, deserves a chapter, nay, a small volume to itself; there is its history to begin with, which dates from the earliest Christian epoch in France; then its industries, each so curious in its details; lastly, the marvellous natural features of its position, a wholly unique little city is this, compared by Lamartine to Zarcle in the forests of Lebanon, and described by other Franche-Comte writers in equally glowing terms. The famous Abbey of St. Claude was visited by Louis XI in order to fulfil a vow still mysterious in history. This was under the regime of its eighty-sixth Abbot, Peter Morel, but, after a period of almost unequalled glory and magnificence, fire, pillage, and other misfortunes visited it from time to time, till the suppression of the Abbey in 1798. I went into the Cathedral with two charming young married ladies, whose acquaintance I had made during my stay, and, leaving them devoutly on their knees, inspected the beautiful and quaint stalls in carved wood of the choir; these are worth a day's study, and unfortunately are not to be had in photography, for some reason or other no photographs being permitted. Here the spirit of the Renaissance has had full play, and you find comedy mixed with pathos, practical good sense with Biblical solemnity, quaintness, beauty, grace, drollery, all in one. The middle statues in bold relief are those of the early Kings of France and the Abbots of St. Claude, besides many noteworthy saints and martyrs, among these St. Denis with his head in his hand, St. Sebastian pierced with arrows, and others. The upper series, on a smaller scale, represents allegorical subjects, some of which are treated in a curiously homely and practical manner, for instance, the figure of Adam holding the apple in his hand with a look as much as to say, "This is what has ruined me;" Eve, in the next compartment, looks somewhat nonchalant, rather a coquette than a penitent. In some of these Biblical scenes the figures are naively dressed in mediaeval garb, but many of them have great beauty and pathos. The under-pieces of the seats, cornices, and sides are decorated with all kinds of drolleries, and not a few coarse subjects, such as a man catching hold of a pig by its tail, faces ludicrously distorted, three heads in one, a dog setting its back at a wild boar, &c. One corner-piece represents the first Abbots of St. Claude building the Abbey, and comical little devils perched on trees pelting them with stones. The whole is a wonderful piece of work, full of originality, strength, and real artistic feeling.

The triptych, imputed to Holbein, may well be his work. The sacristan's little son took me to the upper chapel, where it hangs quite lost upon those below. It is as beautiful as its altarpiece in wood; the three central compartments filled with large figures of the Abbot of St. Claude and his Apostles; below, on a small scale, the Last Supper, and other subjects, treated in a masterly manner. The colours are still bright, though the whole is in a terribly dirty state, and below the central figure is a coronal of the loveliest little cherub heads. Unfortunately, no photograph is to be had of this triptych, and it is hung in a very obscure place. These two works of art, each a gem in its way, are all that remains of the once puissant and magnificent Abbey of St. Claude. Having completed a leisurely inspection, I quietly took a chair behind my companions, for fear of disturbing their devotions. I found, however, that these were over long ago, and that, though in a devout position, they were discussing fashion and gossip as a matter of course! Twice, during my visits to the Cathedral, I had found thirty Dominicans at vespers, and I was informed afterwards that these were poor students who were maintained and prepared for the office of teachers at the expense of a rich young Abbe of St. Claude. It happened that I fell into conversation with this young Abbe in a photographic shop, and found him very agreeable and instructed. It seems a pity he could not find some better means of employing his fortune.

In that same photograph shop were hung photographs of the Pope and Grambetta, side by side, the shop-keeper acting, I presume, on the principle of one of George Eliot's characters, who had to vote "as a family man." Doubtless, being the father of a family, this stationer felt it expedient to be agreeable to both parties, Clerical and Republican. St. Claude, like the other towns I have passed through in the heart of the Jura, is eminently Republican, and a very intelligent workman told me that Catholic parents were compelled to send their children to the lay Communal Schools, instead of to the Freres Ignorantins, because with the latter they learn nothing. Many of these Freres Ignorantins I saw here, and graceless figures they are. One can but pity them, for as lay instruction is fast superseding clerical, what will soon be theirraison d'etre?

There is no Protestant organization at St. Claude, but most likely it will soon come. English Protestants must never forget that money is sorely needed by the struggling Protestant communities in France; and that, without money, schools, hospitals, and churches cannot be built. At present, as I have before mentioned, trade is at a low ebb, but the projected railway connecting St. Claude with Nantua will give new development to its industries, and also throw open a new and beautiful pleasure-ground to travellers. My friends entrusted me to the care of an intelligent workman in order to see the manufactures of the "articles de St. Claude," viz.: pipes, toys, inlaid work, and carved objects in bone, ivory, &c. We saw small blocks of the so called bois de bruyere, as they come straight from the Pyrenees, which are cut about the length of pipes, and are worked up partly by hand and partly by machinery. Women, girls, and children are largely employed with the turning lathes, and in many other processes; I saw a woman polishing handles of the toys known as cup and ball; also box-wood tops being turned, and rules and measures being made; the thin blades of folding rules are made with marvellous rapidity, as had need to be the case, seeing how low is the price at which these and other goods of this kind are sold by the gross for foreign markets. Having gone through the various workshops of a large manufactory, my companion conducted me to see the handwork done at home. We found a young artist, for so we must call him, at work in a clean little room opening into a garden, and much he told us of interest. He said that he could only earn five francs a day, and this by dint of hard work, carving two dozen pipes a day, at the rate of two and a half francs per dozen. These vine-leaves, flowers, arabesques, and other patterns are done with marvellous swiftness and dexterity, and entirely according to the fancy of the moment, and for his artistic education he had paid high. All the best workmen, he told me, were going to Paris in order to get better pay and shorter hours of labour. Strikes here are out of the question, as there are no Trades' Unions and associations in order to raise the price of labour. Meantime wages decrease, and the cost of living augments. A gloomy picture he drew of trade prospects at St. Claude, that is to say, from the workman's point of view. The arts of turnery, inlaid work, carving in wood and ivory, have long been peculiar to St. Claude, though when first they were introduced is not exactly known. First of all, it was the box-wood of the Jura that these rustic artists put into requisition, then buffalo and stags' horns, lastly, ivory, vegetable ivory, and foreign woods. The part of the box-wood used chiefly is an intermediate part between the root and the stem called la loupe, or racine de bruyere; whilst the red wood used for pipes is the root of a heath common in the Pyrenees, which has the peculiar quality of resisting heat, and is free from odour or taste. So great is the division of labour in the manufacture of the St. Claude wares that it is said there are three thousand different processes in turnery alone! A child's top, even though of the simplest, goes through a great number of stages before being finished for the markets. Chaplets are also manufactured largely, and is the earliest branch of industry, dating from the Middle Ages. Snuff-boxes in inlaid wood, ivory, and bone are made in great quantities, also rules and measures, spectacle cases, napkin rings, salad spoons and forks, and other articles of the kind. Four-fifths of the St. Claude wares are exported; an especial kind of pipes being made expressly for the English market. It is stated that, during the general Exhibition at Hyde Park in 1862, many Frenchmen brought home, as English curiosities, the elegantly carved pipes of St. Claude! The United States of America also import great quantities of these pipes. In the last American war, there was hardly a soldier who did not possess a pipe manufactured in the little city in the Jura mountains. There is also another branch of industry more fascinating still, which is peculiar to St. Claude and the neighbouring village of Septmoncel; but, perhaps, I am indiscreet in speaking of it, so dire is the temptation it holds out to the traveller. As you stroll along these quiet streets, your eyes are attracted here and there by open boxes of what appears, at first sight, to be large beads, but which are in reality gems and precious stones; amethysts, emeralds, sapphires, topazes, and diamonds, lie here in dazzling little heaps, and if you are a connoisseur in such matters, and have not spent all your money on the way, you may carry home with you one of the most delightful of all souvenirs to be set at pleasure. Diamond polishing and gem-cutting are largely carried on here, but form, more especially, the industry of Septmoncel, a little village in the mountains, a few miles distant from St. Claude. Several thousand souls depend for daily bread on this delicate occupation, which none know how long has been peculiar to the inhabitants of Septmoncel, and their monopoly is only rivalled by the diamond polishers of Amsterdam. These ateliers are well worth visiting. Besides diamonds and precious stones, rock crystal, and various kinds of imitations, and paste jewellery are here worked up; also jasper, agate, malachite, cornelian, lapis-lazuli, jet, &c. The work is done by the piece, and the whole family of the lapidary is generally employed.

A journey of political propaganda had just been accomplished in these mountain regions, and the well-known writer Jean Mace, accompanied by some leading Republicans, among these Victor Poupin, editor of the useful little series of works called L'Instruction Republicaine and La Bibliotheque Democratique. At St. Claude the occasion was turned into a general fete; the place was decorated with tri-coloured flags, a banquet was held, and the whole proceedings passed off to the satisfaction of all but the cures. In one of the little mountain towns, the cure preached in the pulpit against the sous-prefet and his wife, because, upon one of these occasions, before taking part in the Republican fete, they did not attend mass.

Travelling in the Jura will, doubtless, one day be made easy and pleasant, and, perhaps, become the fashion. As it is, in spite of the glorious weather, no tourist is seen here, and the diligence to Nantua was almost empty. It is a superb drive of five or six hours by the valley of the Bienne and Oyonnaz, a little town which is the seat of an important comb-manufactory. Keeping by the river, here so intensely clear that every pebble may be seen in the water, we gradually quit the severer characteristics of the Jura for its milder and more smiling aspects. Traversing a savage gorge, we soon come to the marble quarries of Chassal and Molinges, also, at the former place, ochre quarries. The red and yellow marbles of the Jura, so richly veined and ornamental, will, doubtless, constitute a great source of wealth in the Department as soon as there are improved means of transport. In that rich marble region, we find only box trees and other dwarf shrubs, with abundance of romantic little cascades, grottoes, rivulets, and mountain springs. All this bit of country, indeed, is most interesting, picturesquely, industrially, and geologically, and on this perfect day, the second of October, every feature is beautified by the weather; large cumuli dropping violet shadows on the hills, deep ravines showing intensest purple, golden mists veiling the verdant valleys. We are soon in a pastoral country, and, as we pass chalets perched on some far off ridge, little girls run down from the mountain sides with letters in their hands, which the conductor drops into his little box attached to the diligence. We are, in fact, the travelling post-office. How laborious the life of the peasant-farmer is here, we may judge from the hard work being done by the women and girls. In some cases, they guide the team whilst the man behind holds the plough, in others they are digging up potatoes, or gathering in their little crop of maize. All the women seem to be out of doors and sunburnt, toil-worn looking creatures they are, though they wear an expression of contentment, or rather resignation. The potato crop, on which these rural populations so largely depend for winter food, is fortunately good and abundant, and little else but potato and maize seem to be grown here. The villages we pass through have a dirty and neglected appearance; but beggars are nowhere encountered, and, at the entrance of each, we see the inscription, "Mendicity is forbidden in the Department of the Jura."