The freedman of Pliny - Forum Julii - The Port of Agay - The Port of Frejus - Roman castle - Aqueduct - The lantern of Augustus - The cathedral - Cloisters - Boy and dolphin - Story told by Pliny - TheChaine des Maures - Desaugiers - Dines with the porkbutchers of Paris - Sieyes - Sans phrase - Agricola - His discoveries.

It was strange. The first person I thought of, on arriving at Frejus, was not Julius Caesar the founder of this old port - no, nor Agricola, a native of Frejus, who is so associated with British history, especially with Scottish - no! it was Pliny's sick freedman, about whom that polished orator wrote in his nineteenth letter, in Book V. of his collected epistles. Pliny was a native of Como, he had two villas on the lake. He was a kindly, honourable, somewhat bumptious man - but what great talkers think small matter of themselves? He had a slave, a Greek, named Zosimus, of whom he writes to his friend Paulinus, who had an estate at Frejus: "He is a person of great worth, diligent in his services, and well skilled in literature; but his chief talent is that of a comedian. He pronounces with great judgment, propriety, and gracefulness; he has a very good hand too upon the lyre, and performs with more skill than is necessary for one of his profession. To this I must add, he reads history, oratory, and poetry. He is endeared to me by ties of long affection, now heightened by the danger in which he is."

Pliny had given Zosimus his liberty, but Zosimus remained attached to his service as freedman. Some years before, this accomplished slave had overstrained his voice, and begun to spit blood. Thereupon Pliny sent him to Egypt, where in the dry air he seemed better, and after a while Zosimus returned to his master, apparently completely restored. Pliny goes on, in his letter: "Having exerted himself again beyond his strength, there was a return of his former malady and a spitting of blood. For this reason, I intend to send him to your farm at Forum Julii (Frejus), having often heard you mention the exceeding fine air there, and recommend the milk of that place as very salutary in disorders of this nature. I beg you will give directions to your people to receive him into your house, and to supply him with what he shall have occasion for: which will not be much; for he is so temperate as not only to abstain from delicacies, but even to deny himself the necessaries his ill health requires. I shall supply him with all that is needful for his journey. Farewell."

Now, on reaching Frejus on a balmy day in April, when the air was soft as butter-milk, and the sun was hot, not scorching, my thoughts went at once to poor Zosimus, with his hacking cough, his delicate complexion, come here to inhale the soft air and drink the warm milk. And I thought of him the more from certain experiences of my own relative to Como. I went to that city in January from England, thinking that it lay in a warm nook, and that there I might bask for a few weeks, when recovering from an attack of bronchitis, till I was able to go further south.

I went into an hotel where I had stayed in summer and been comfortable; but - oh! - never shall I forget the horrors of that hotel in January! I was the sole person staying in it. There was no bedroom that had in it a stove. In the salle-a-manger the fire was lighted for half-an-hour at nine in the morning, then let out and not rekindled through the day. The fountain in the square was frozen. An icy wind descended from the Alps. My bedroom was a tomb; brick-floored, stone vaulted. My bed measured two feet across, and the sheet and crimson duvet were so nicely adjusted as exactly to fit the bed, when unoccupied. When I lay in the bed, that duvet was balanced like a logan stone on the ridge of my body shivering under it, and it oscillated as I shivered. Then it slid gently to the floor, and left me with a chill and damp linen sheet over me, the thermometer being below zero, and I - afflicted with a cough.

Next morning I fled - fled to Milan - was stabbed there by the Tramontana, fell ill, escaped to Genoa, and there recovered.

Now, perhaps, the reader will understand how it was that naturally, and at once, my mind turned to poor Zosimus, as I entered Frejus. His dust is laid there - I doubt not. He had wandered there - some eighteen hundred years ago, and, like me, had inhaled the sweet scent of the flowering beans, looked on the Esterel chain glowing as if red-hot in the sunshine, and had entertained, like me, kindly, affectionate thoughts of that somewhat pedantic, conceited, but eminently worthy Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus.

Although Julius Caesar is said to have formed the port at Forum Julii, and to have given the place his name, it is probable that there was a settlement there earlier. He, however raised it into consideration by the construction of the harbour. The port is there still, within its moles, and guarded by two castles on heights above it, but - alas for the well being of Frejus, the harbour is filled with sand and soil brought down by the river Argens and washed in by the waves, and is now a level meadow, every portion belonging to a farmer cut off from another portion by a ditch, in which spring the rushes and croak the frogs. Augustus enlarged the port, and after the decisive battle of Actium (B.C. 31) sent thither the galleys captured from Anthony. The sea is now two miles distant.

The mistake of making ports at the mouths of rivers was one constantly made by the Romans. The Greeks knew better - Marseilles has not been choked.

Hard by, at Agay, is a perfect natural harbour. The red porphyry mountains rise in fantastic shapes above it, and plunge in abrupt crags into the deep blue water. It is a little harbour that calls out "Come and rest in me from every wind." Now a lighthouse has been erected at the extremity of one of the natural moles of rock, a coastguard establishment crowns the heights, two or three fishermen's cottages nestle in the lap of the bay - that is all.

On the south of the port of Frejus is an old castle. There must have existed there originally a nodule of rock, but out of this a platform has been formed artificially of earth gathered from the port, and this platform was converted in Roman times into a fort. On one side may be seen a curious contrivance for resisting the outward pressure of the earth heaped up within. The basement wall has not buttresses thrust forth, but consists of a series of semicircular concave depressions in its face. In Mediaeval times a strong castle with circular towers was erected on the ancient basement, that also is now in ruins, the ledges where the old Roman wall ended and the Mediaeval wall sprang at half the thickness of the former were, when I saw them, dense with white irises.

Frejus was supplied in Roman times with an aqueduct, the arches of which, broken and ruinous, still stretch across the plain, and were destined to convey into the town the waters of the Siagnole, from a distance of about fifty miles. The arcade is about forty-five feet high.

Following a path that leads along the ancient mole one reaches a quadrangular tower of Roman masonry with a stone conical roof, which goes by the name of the Lantern of Augustus, and is supposed to have served as lighthouse at the entrance of the harbour, but the height is too insignificant for this purpose, it is not over thirty-five feet, and there is no indication of any contrivance whereby it could have been utilised for the purpose of a pharos. In the Torlonia Museum at Rome is a bas-relief representing the port of Ostia, with its pharos; that is a structure of several stages, each receding as it is superposed on the other, and the topmost sustains the ever-burning fire - quite a different sort of building from this tower at Frejus.

Frejus is a cathedral city, though numbering only 3,500 inhabitants, but it is an ancient see, dating from about 374, when it was an important maritime place. Its fortunes had gone down in the Middle Ages, and the citizens and prelates were never in a position to build much of a cathedral. The present church is of the eleventh century, both small and plain. It contains little of interest save a fine painting on gold ground of S. Margaret and other saints, brought from the ancient Monastery of Lerins. The organ gallery is supported on granite pillars, Classic, found among the ruins of the amphitheatre. The baptistery is surrounded by eight porphyry columns with Corinthian capitals taken from a pagan temple.

The carved doors of the cathedral deserve to be seen, they are of rich Renaissance work. In the north aisle of the cathedral to the west is the tomb of two bishops of the seventeenth century, Bartholomew and Peter de Camelin, kneeling; and at the east end are two alabaster monuments of bishops three centuries earlier. The cloisters are of the usual Provencal type, the arcade resting on double columns, but walls have been erected blocking up the spaces, and the interior yard is turned into the bishop's fowl-house.

But - is not that sufficient? I am not writing a guide book; and I enter into these details here solely because the guide books pass over the cathedral very slightingly, and concern themselves chiefly with the Roman antiquities. Of these latter, besides what I have mentioned, there is the Porte Doree, one arcade only of what was formerly a noble portico facing the harbour; also a fine amphitheatre, now traversed by a highway, not however as perfect as those of Nimes and Arles. Fragments also remain of the ancient theatre, but they are unimportant.

Hard by the Hotel de Ville is a beautiful red porphyry figure of a boy and a dolphin which one would have taken to have been Renaissance work, but that the Renaissance artists would hardly have taken the pains to sculpture such intractable material as porphyry for a petty town of the size of Frejus. The group recalls that very odd story told by Pliny in one of his letters, which, as it may not be familiar to many of my readers, I will venture here to repeat. He says that the story "was related to him at table by a person of unsuspected veracity." At Hippo, in Africa, when the boys were playing in the lake that communicates with the sea, and the lads were contending together which could swim furthest, one boy found a dolphin play about him as he swam, and he ventured to climb on the back of the fish. The dolphin was not alarmed, but conveyed the little fellow on his back to the shore. The fame of this remarkable event spread through the town, and crowds came down to the water's edge to see the boy and ask him questions. Next day he went into the water again, and once more the dolphin appeared, played round him, and again took him on his back. This happened several times, and the circumstance was bruited throughout the neighbourhood, so that great numbers of people came in from the countryside to see the fish play in the water with the children, and carry them on its back. At last the authorities of the town, annoyed at the concourse of the curious, destroyed the playful dolphin, a bit of barbarity that excites Pliny's wrath.

To the south-west of Frejus lies the Chaine des Maures, the outline of which is by no means so bold as that of the porphyry Esterel, but the mountains rise in sweeping lines from a broad and fertile plain covered and silvered with olives, growing out of rich red soil, like the old red sandstone of Devonshire. The red sandstone rocks through which the line passes are ploughed with rains. On the right appears the wonderfully picturesque little town of La Pauline, with an extensive ruined castle, and the walls and towers of the town in tolerable condition. Above it rises a stately peak capped with the white limestone that forms the mountains about Toulon and Marseilles, and having all the appearance of a flake of snow.

When we reach the basin between Aubaine and Camp-Major we are surrounded by these barren white ranges, so white that they look as if a miller had shaken his flour-bag over them.

But I have not quite done with Frejus yet. I fear the reader will think I have given him a dull chapter of antiquarian and historical detail, so I will here add an anecdote, to spice it, concerning a worthy of Frejus, Desaugiers, one of the liveliest of French poets. He was born at Frejus in 1772. One day he was invited to preside at the annual banquet of the pork-butchers. At dessert everyone present was expected to pronounce an epigram or sing a song; and when the turn came to Desaugiers, he rose, cleared his throat, looked around with a twinkle in his eye, and thundered forth "Des Cochons, des Cochons."

The pork-butchers bridled up, grew red about the cheeks and temples, believing that an insult was intended, when Desaugiers proceeded with his song: -

  "Decochons les traits de la satire."

Sieyes was another native of Frejus, that renegade priest, to whom is attributed the ferocious saying, when called on to give his vote on the condemnation of Louis XVI., "La mort - sans phrases." Some few years after the Directory sent Sieyes as ambassador to Berlin. He invited a prince of the blood royal of Prussia to dine at the embassy with him; but the prince took the invitation and scored across it his answer: -

"Non - sans phrases."

Napoleon as national recompense to Sieyes for the services he had rendered to France, and to himself personally, gave him the estate of Crosne. This gave rise to the epigram -

  "Bonaparte a Sieyes a fait present de Crosne, 
  Sieyes a Bonaparte a fait present du trone."

But after all, it is chiefly as the birthplace of Agricola, that true model of a Roman soldier of the best description, that Frejus interests us most. His father, Julius Graecinus, had fallen a victim to Caligula, because he refused to undertake the prosecution of a man the Emperor was determined to destroy, and there is some reason to suspect that Agricola himself was sacrificed to the suspicions and envy of Domitian. Like most good and honourable men, he had a good mother, whose virtues Tacitus records.

When Agricola was proconsul of Britain, his rule was mild, and he took pains to win the confidence of the provincials. He it was who drew a chain of forts from sea to sea between the Tyne and Solway, to protect the reclaimed subjects of the southern valleys from the untamed barbarians who roved the Cheviots and the Pentlands. He was not merely a conqueror, but an explorer and discoverer, in Scotland. In A.D. 83 he passed beyond the Frith and fought a great battle with the Caledonians near Stirling. The Roman entrenchments still remaining in Fife and Angus were thrown up by him. In 84 he fought another battle on the Grampians, and sent his fleet to circumnavigate Britain. The Roman vessels at all events for the first time entered the Pentland Frith; examined the Orkney islands, and perhaps gained a glimpse of the Shetlands.

It was interesting to tread the soil where the childhood was passed of a man who left such permanent marks in Britain, and to whom we are indebted for our first knowledge of Scotland.