Dooll, but the mutton good - Les Bains de Sextius - Ironwork caps to towers - S. Jean de Malthe - Museum - Cathedral - Tapestries and tombs - The cloisters - View from S. Eutrope - King Rene of Anjou - His misfortunes - His cheeriness - His statue at Aix - Introduces the Muscat grape.

I had a friend, a parson, a good fellow, who was some years ago in Cumberland, where he was concerned about the spiritual condition of the neighbouring parsons. Among these latter was one, very bucolic, with a heavy red face. My friend urged him to take advantage of a "retreat," that is a gathering of clergy for devotion and meditation, that was to take place in Carlisle. After some persuasion the heavy-souled parson agreed to go, and my dear good friend hoped that some spark of spiritual zeal might be thus kindled in him.

When the retreat was at an end he button-holed him, and asked, "Well, how did you get on?"

"Dooll, varry dooll!" replied the heavy soul, "I shud ha' left long ago, but - the mutton was good."

I had gone for a couple of weeks to commercial inns, and now that I visited Aix I thought I would like to see another aspect of Gallic life, so I went to the Hotel des Bain de Sextius, and took a plunge into the society of patients drinking waters and taking baths. I may say of that social phase in the Bain, that it was "dooll, varry dooll, but the mutton was good." I was a fool to go there; of course one cannot expect people with their livers and their spleens, and their entire internal tubular mechanism out of order, to be chirpy and frolicsome. There were a good many ladies there, pale, I could not quite make out whether from ill-health or from violet-powder; but I think the latter had something to do with their pallor, for, after drinking, when they wiped their lips, roses began to bloom, wherever the napkin touched. They lived up to their appearance, natural or applied, they were "mild-eyed, melancholy, lotus-eaters," to whom it was "always afternoon." The gentlemen were equally sad, still and forlorn. But the mutton was good. The feeding left little to be wished for.

Aix lies in a green basin of hills, at a little distance from the river Are, clustered about the hot springs that rise at the junction of the porphyry and the limestone. They were certainly hotter when Aix was founded by Caius Sextius Calvinus, B.C. 123, to serve as a protection to the Greeks of Marseilles against the attacks of the Salyes. Roman colonists were planted there, consequently in race distinct from the Massalliotes. I cannot say that the Greek type lingers in Marseilles, certainly the women who hover about the Vieux port are as ugly as women can well be, nor have the natives of Aix a peculiarly Roman character of face and head. The only people who retain any distinguishing features of their ancestry are those of Arles, of whom I have already told.

Aix has lost its old walls and towers within the last twenty years. It has good boulevards and shaded walks, and in the old parts of the town many charming bits. Most charming perhaps are the iron crowns to two of the towers, one by the Hotel de Ville, which is conical, the other opposite the church of La Sainte Esprit, which is like a papal tiara. When I saw in Baedeker that "en face de cette eglise - une tour de 1494, qui a un beau campanile en fer," my mind turned at once to that horrible iron spire at Rouen, and I felt disposed to look at the pavement when approaching the church. However, it is not modern, and not hideous; it is quite the reverse, a study in fine ironwork. That the ancients could, however, do very villainous things, may be seen on a visit paid to the church of S. Jean de Malthe. It has a square east end, is an edifice of the thirteenth century, with a tower of the fourteenth and fifteenth. The original architect in the thirteenth century was a fool, and those who desired to complete the church a century later probably advertised for the greatest fool then in the profession, and secured him. Within the church is a monument that pretends to be the tomb of Alphonso II., Count of Provence, in 1209, and to be adorned not only with his statue, but also with those of his son Raymond Berengarius IV., and of Beatrix, Queen of Naples, the wife of the latter. The monument is, however, a hoax. The statues are there, but are modern, of the namby-pamby school, and of the original tomb possibly a crocket and a cusp may remain.

Hard by this odious church, with its horrible modern garish windows, is the museum, containing some Greek inscriptions, a Christian sarcophagus or two, not grown on the spot, but imported from Arles, and some fragments of statues.

The Cathedral of S. Sauveur is the great attraction in Aix, and it is, indeed, a very fascinating church. The west front contains a recessed gateway with ranges of saints in the outer member, and a legion of cherubim with their wings, some spread, some folded, in the inner member. The lower portion of the doorway was encased by a hoarding, and I could not see it. It is undergoing restoration. The saints' figures thereon had their heads knocked off at the Revolution, and these were restored in bad taste later, and now fresh heads - we will hope more successful - are being adjusted.

Oh that we also could change our heads!

The octagonal tower, which formerly had a somewhat bold appearance, has been successfully completed with an open traceried parapet and pinnacles.

On the right hand of the church is a very interesting doorway, clearly Classic. Two fluted Corinthian pillars are let into the wall, and support an entablature. Between these a Romanesque doorway has been inserted, with a twisted pillar on one side, and another fluted, opposite it.

The interior of the cathedral is full of surprises, The baptistery on the right is supported on Classic columns of grey polished granite. The S. aisle of the church is Romanesque of the twelfth century, and was the original nave of the minster. In the fourteenth or fifteenth century the present nave and N. aisle were added, and then the S. aisle of the Romanesque church was destroyed. Consequently the cloister of the twelfth century, which originally abutted on the S. wall of the church, now stands detached from it by the width of the destroyed aisle.

In some chapels is soft old glowing marigold-yellow cinque-cento glass. The choir of the cathedral is hung with tapestries, said to be by Quentin Matsys, gorgeous in colour, of, however, beauteous harmony of tone. There are quaint old paintings on gold grounds in the nave. In the N. aisle lovely tombs that served as memorials of the dead, and likewise as altar-pieces. [1]

[Footnote 1: Christ on the cross is between kneeling figures of a knight and a lady; S. Anne and the B. V. Mary are also represented. This reredos is so excellent, so beautiful, that of course it did not suit the taste for tawdriness that sprang up in the eighteenth century, and a vulgar reredos has been erected, and the altar moved before that.]

The church is rich in picturesque features, not to be sketched with pencil, but laid in with the brush and colour.

Moreover, the cloister is charming in its rich quaintness. The sculptors have revelled in the foliage with which they have adorned the capitals. Here we have twisted pillars, there they are sculptured over with scales, lozenges, and other ornamental fancies. In the capitals, groups of figures alternate with bursting fronds of ferns, unfolding vine leaves, and fantastic playing monsters. In the centre of the quadrangle stands an old column, on which is S. Mary Magdalen with her ointment-pot, and doves were fluttering and cooing as an old canon scattered crumbs to them about his feet.

Aix lacks one thing greatly, a terrace above the town whence the valley may be seen, the towers of Aix, and the crags of Mont Victoire. But a walk should on no account be omitted up the heights of S. Eutrope to an old windmill that stands on a crest of limestone.

The view thence is charming. To the right the green valley of L'Infernet, up which marched Marcellus on the eve of the great battle of Pourrieres. Towering overhead, catching the evening sun on its glistening bald peaks is to be seen Mont Victoire. A little to the S.E. the cleft in the wooded hills through which the Are breaks its way, a cleft up which the Teutons trudged with their wives and children and the spoil of Gaul, to their destruction. To the south-east also a quaint chain of hills that rise above Gardanne, with a boss like a great snuff-box on the top, the Pillon du Roi. At one's feet is Aix, with its many towers, surrounded by silvery olive orchards, and away to the south is the red hill above Les Milles where Marius was encamped the night after the fight with the Ambrons.

Aix is closely associated with that delightful old Mark Tapley of kings, Rene of Anjou, whose character has been hit off with such masterly fidelity by Sir Walter Scott in "Anne of Geierstein." Rene was born at Angers in 1409, and was the second son of Duke Louis II., of the junior house of Anjou, and of Iolanthe, daughter of king John of Aragon. He bore the title of Duke of Guise till his father's death. Louis II. had been adopted by Joanna of Naples, as her heir, and had been crowned king of Naples at Avignon by Clement VII., but was never able to obtain possession of his inheritance. After his death, in 1417, Rene's eldest brother, Louis III., succeeded to his titles and rights, and when he died without issue, in 1434, Anjou, Provence, and claims to Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem devolved on Rene, who had in the meantime acquired, by the death of an uncle, the Duchy of Bar, and, by right of his wife, laid claim to the Duchy of Lorraine.

When he desired to make these latter claims good, he was involved in war with his wife's kinsmen, and was taken prisoner and locked up at Dijon. Finally, the question of the right to the Duchy of Lorraine was referred to the decision of the Emperor Sigismund, who gave it in favour of Rene. His opponent, however, appealed to Philip of Burgundy, who summoned Rene to appear before him, and when he did not appear, ordered him to return to his prison, from which he had been released on parole. Rene at once submitted. Whilst he was in prison at Dijon, delegates from Naples arrived offering him the crown; but Duke Philip would not release him. Thereupon Rene transferred his rights provisionally to his wife, the Duchess Isabella, and she became regent of Naples, Sicily, Anjou, and Provence. She, however, soon found herself involved in war with the king of Aragon. In the meantime Rene managed to ransom himself for the sum of 400,000 gold florins (1437) and at once hasted to Naples. There, however, he found himself unable to make head against Alphonso of Aragon, and he was finally driven out, and obliged to return to Provence. He died at Aix on July 10, 1480.

Sir Walter well says of him: "Born of royal parentage, and with high pretensions, Rene had at no period of his life been able to match his fortunes to his claims. Of the kingdoms to which he asserted right, nothing remained in his possession but the county of Provence, itself a fair and friendly principality, but diminished by the many claims which France had acquired upon portions of it by advances of money to supply the personal expenses of its master, and by other portions, which Burgundy, to whom Rene had been a prisoner, held in pledge for his ransom.... Rene was a prince of very moderate parts, endowed with a love of the fine arts, which he carried to extremity, and with a degree of good humour, which never permitted him to repine at fortune, but rendered its possessor happy, when a prince of keener feelings would have died of despair. This insouciant, light-tempered, gay and thoughtless disposition conducted Rene, free from all the passions which embitter life, to a hale and mirthful old age. Even domestic losses made no deep impression on the feelings of this cheerful old monarch. Most of his children had died young; Rene took it not to heart. His daughter Margaret's marriage with the powerful Henry of England was considered a connection above the fortunes of the king of Troubadours. But in the issue, instead of Rene deriving any splendour from the match, he was involved in the misfortunes of his daughter, and repeatedly obliged to impoverish himself to supply her ransom.... Among all his distresses, Rene feasted and received guests, danced, sang, composed poetry, used the pencil or brush with no small skill, devised and conducted festivals and processions, and studied to promote the mirth and good humour of his subjects."

In the cathedral is his portrait along with that of his second wife, Jeanne de Laval. In the place is his statue, a mediocre work, holding a bunch of Muscat grapes, a species he first introduced to Europe. I sought in vain at Aix for a photograph of the Merry Monarch taken from the authentic picture, and was offered one from the characterless statue, which I declined. Poor king Rene's poems have found an editor and a publisher - in four volumes (Paris, 1845-6, edited by Quatrebarbes), but, I fear, not many readers. No; it will not be through his laboured poetic compositions, nor through the daubs which he painted, that Rene will be known and will have earned the gratitude of posterity, but through the introduction of the Muscat grape. Henceforth, let my readers, whenever they enjoy their muscatels out of the grape-house at home, or sip Moscada Toscana in Italy, or Muscat in La Vallais, give a kindly thought to that much-tried but never downcast monarch.