The siege of Avaricum by Caesar - The complete subjugation of Gaul - The statue of the Dying Gaul at Rome - Beauty of Bourges - The cathedral - Not completed according to design - Defect in height - Strict geometrical proportion in design not always satisfactory - Necessity of proportion for acoustics - Domestic architecture in Bourges - The house of Jacques Coeur - Story of his life - A rainy day - Why Bourges included in this book - A silver thimble - Que de singeries faites-vous la, Madeleine? - Adieu.

Bourges stands in the very forefront of Gaulish history marked by a great disaster. There, on a little height at the junction of the Yevre and the Auron, the gallant Bituriges had their capital, Avaricum. In six campaigns Caesar had, as he believed, broken the neck of all resistance, and Gaul was under the iron heel of Rome. "My aunt Julia," said Caesar, "is, maternally, the daughter of kings; paternally - " he passed his fingers through his curled and scented locks - "paternally, she is descended from the immortal gods." After that, even barbarians must feel that it was in vain to strive against a man thus preordained to mastery. Yet they did not see it.

When Julius Caesar was in Rome, after six years of stubborn conflict, after incredible suffering and bloodshed, the heart of the people though bowed down was not broken.

There lived among the Arvernians, in the high mountainland, among the volcanic peaks of Auvergne, as it is now called, a young chief, whose real name is not known, but whom history calls Vercingetorix, that is, Head over a Hundred Tribes. The time was come for an united, determined, and desperate resistance. He sent messengers throughout Gaul. The downtrodden inhabitants rose to a man and invested Vercingetorix with the chief command.

In the year of Rome 702, B.C. 32, Caesar was suddenly informed in Italy that his work of six years was threatened with ruin. Most of the Gallic nations, united under a chieftain hitherto unknown, were rising with one common impulse, and recommencing war.

Caesar at once returned to Gaul. He had one quality, rare even amongst the greatest men, he remained cool amidst the hottest alarms. He was always quick, never hasty. He placed himself at the head of his troops, and, in the early part of March, moved to what is now Sens, the very centre of revolt, and looked round to decide where first to strike.

Vercingetorix from the outset knew that the ill-armed and worse disciplined Gauls could not cope in the open field with Caesar and the Roman legions; he therefore formed a plan of campaign that required great sacrifices on the side of the Gauls, for the sake of the common safety. No walls, he assured the confederates, could withstand the skill of the Romans in engineering, no array maintain itself in the field against their phalanx. But he reminded them that through the winter and early spring the soil on which the enemy trod could not furnish him with provision. He must disperse his troops among the fortresses. Let then, said he, no further attempts be made to defy the Roman in the open field; let him rather be followed in detail, and cut off when separated into cantonments, and above all, let the towns that served him for magazines be destroyed by the hands of the inhabitants themselves. He recommended in fact the very course pursued more than eighteen hundred years later by the Russians against the French Caesar, a course which proved fatal to him.

The assembled council of Gaulish states assented gallantly to this proposal. In one day twenty cities of the Bituriges were flaming, and similar havoc was made throughout the territories of the allies. But when the fate of Avaricum (Bourges) came to be discussed, the hearts of the Bituriges failed them. Their deputies knelt to the assembled chiefs and interceded for the preservation of their beautiful, and as they deemed it, impregnable city. The council yielded. In vain did Vercingetorix urge them to carry out their determination without exception. They would surrender every other city to the flames, but not their loved capital, not Avaricum.

The situation was admirably calculated for defence. It stood on rising ground, and the only approach to it then was a causeway between the river and a morass. The garrison laboured night and day to strengthen their defences with earthworks and with palisades of sharpened stakes. The Romans at once moved from Sens and surrounded the place. The story of its fall I will take from the graphic pen of Dean Merivale: - "Whilst the Bituriges within their city were hard pressed by the machinery which the Roman engineers directed against their walls, the forces of the proconsul on their side were harassed by the fatigues of the siege and the scarcity of provisions. Caesar is lavish of praise in speaking of the fortitude with which his soldiers bore their privations; they refused to allow him to raise the siege, and when he at last led them against the enemy's army, and finding it too strongly posted for an attack, withdrew them again within their lines, they submitted to the disappointment, and betook themselves once more without a murmur to the tedious operations of the blockade. The skill of the assailants at length triumphed over the bravery of the defenders. The walls were approached by towers at various points, and mounds constructed against which the combustible missiles of the besieged were unavailing. Finally, a desperate sally was repulsed, and then, at last the constancy of the Bituriges began to fail. Taking advantage of a moment when the watch on the walls had relaxed its vigilance, Caesar marshalled his legions behind his works, and poured them suddenly against the opposing ramparts. They gained the summit of the walls, which the defenders abandoned without a blow, rallying, however, in the middle of the town, in such hasty array as the emergency would allow. A bloody struggle ensued; both parties were numerous, and the assailants gave no quarter. The Gauls were routed and exterminated, their women and children mercilessly slaughtered, and the great central city of Gaul fell into the hands of the conquerors without affording a single captive for their triumph." After that the fate of the insurrection was sealed. The war was carried on with fluctuations of fortune even into an eighth campaign, and then the yoke of Rome, iron, and doubly weighted with the wrath of the conqueror, was riveted on to the neck of prostrate Gallia, never again to be shaken off.

Now, day after day at Rome during the winter had I stood before the Dying Gaul in the Capitoline Museum, that statue of incomparable pathos: -

      "He leans upon his hand - his manly brow 
      Consents to death, but conquers agony, 
      And his drooped head sinks gradually low - 
      From the red gash fall heavy, one by one, 
      Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now 
      The arena swims around him - he is gone, 
  Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won."

Childe Harold.

The statue is not of a Dying Gladiator, but of a Gaulish chief, who has dealt himself the death-wound rather than fall into servitude to the Roman, and then has broken his sword.

And, after having looked and dreamed over that figure, could one come to Bourges and not think of that heroic and fatal struggle?

Bourges was a beautiful city in those times, loved by the Bituriges so that they could not resolve to destroy it; but oh! how beautiful it is now, with its quaint Mediaeval and Renaissance houses, and above all that most glorious cathedral, one of the very finest creations of art in the world. And yet, it is not perfect. The original design was not carried out. The nave has not the height proposed. Funds failed, and it was finished off as best might be. It wants about forty-six feet of the height it should have had, to be in correct proportion. The flying buttresses outside were designed and executed to carry a vaulting some forty-six feet higher than the present one, and they are now of no use; they sustain nothing, all the outward thrust of the central vault is thrown on the second stage of buttresses. Fine as is the interior, it ought to be finer. The clerestory windows are dwarfed, and the height of the side aisles is felt to be out of all proportion to that of the nave. Moreover, there is nothing of the wonderful skill of design in the apsidal chapels, that is seen at Amiens, Vezelai, Beauvais, &c. Instead of forming an integral portion of the plan, they are mere excrescences in the sides of the apse.

However, in spite of defects, partly in design, but mainly through lack of means to carry it out, the cathedral of Bourges is of singular beauty. In one point the architect was a greater man than the designers of Amiens and Cologne. These two cathedrals are in strict proportion in all their parts. The designer of each, like the architect of York Minster, was a great man with the compasses. But an architect should be artist as well as geometrician. I have ever felt in York Minster, in Amiens and Cologne, that there is a lack of genius, of the human soul in the creation.

There is strict formality, exact rule, that is all. No allowance has been made for effect of perspective, for the foreshortening to the eye at distances; there is no poetry in these three cathedrals. The designers drew them out on paper without having the faculty of seeing them in their minds' eye rise before them out of the soil. These churches made better sketches than they do structures. They are in admirable proportion on paper, but they are out of proportion when seen in stone. Now such architects as the men who designed Beauvais and Bourges were geniuses. They were not tied hard and fast by rule of compass. They worked from a definite geometric plan, but deviated from it where their taste and feeling for beauty taught them that such deviation was advisable. Now at Beauvais and at Bourges the exact, proportions have been abandoned. For instance, at Bourges, to be exact, each of the two side aisles should have been half the width of the nave. But the architect was perhaps afraid of the great span, perhaps he dreaded too great formality, and he made the aisle next to the nave about 2 ft. 3 in. less than the width it ought to have had, if in exact proportion. The outer aisle was given almost, but not quite, the exact proportional width.

The great defect of our modern architects is that they do not work from a foundation of geometrical proportion, but design out of their own heads by eye; we are sometimes distressed at finding that our churches recently built are bad acoustically. This is very generally due to the fact that they have been built regardless of geometric proportion.

If Bourges had been carried out as intended, the crown of the vault would have been exactly seven times half the width of the nave. S. Servin, Toulouse, has the keystone of the vault exactly five times the half width. If we desire to have good acoustic qualities in our churches and halls we must observe some such rule. So with the plan. The length of Autun is seven times the width of the nave; Beauvais the same, or would have been, had the nave been completed. Amiens has exactly the same proportion, measured to the end of the apse. So Noyon. In fact, the Mediaeval architects were careful to build so as never to give even proportions. Twice, four times, six times, would have had bad acoustic effects. There would have been an echo.

Of the sculpture on the west facade, the richly, deeply-recessed portals, I will not speak. That has been sufficiently observed and admired by other writers. I am not writing a guide-book, and I do not as a rule notice at any length what may be found in easily-accessible works. Here, as at Rouen, is a butter tower, so called because built with money paid for indulgence to be allowed to eat butter in Lent. Does the reader know how strictly the observance of Lent was enforced down to the Civil Wars in England? I have gone through some episcopal registers of our English bishops since the Reformation, and find that in James I.'s time a bishop's licence was sought to obtain permission to eat meat in Lent. Not only so, but all schoolmasters, surgeons, and midwives were required to obtain an episcopal licence before being permitted to practise in the diocese.

In Bourges one feels that one is removed altogether from the influences that moulded architecture in Provence. There the abundance of Classic remains affected the minds and formed the taste of the Mediaeval builders. In Central France there were few traces of the Roman conquerors, and Gothic architecture developed freely according to its own genius. The domestic architecture is different. We come now to the gables standing over the street. There are many and charming specimens in Bourges. Among the houses is that of Cujas, concerning whom some anecdotes have already been told. Bourges was famous for its University and School of Laws, and Cujas was invited to a professorship in it. The house is of brick, of the sixteenth century, and richly adorned. Another interesting house is that of Charles VII., with a graceful staircase, and an old hall with open fireplace. But the striking mansion of all is that of Jacques Coeur, the Bourges jeweller, father of an Archbishop of this his native city. Throughout the house is introduced his canting device, a human heart and the scallopshell of S. James. His motto is also graven, "A vaillants coeurs rien impossible."

I hate doing a thing again and in an inferior manner that has already been done inimitably; and Madame Parkes-Belloc, with her fresh pen dipped in sunlight has written about Bourges and Jacques Coeur's house in her charming book, 'La Belle France,' [1] and I dare not tread after her. So I simply quote her words - I fear her pleasant book is not much sought after and read now: - "His dwelling must have fitted Jacques Coeur as its skin fits an animal. All its quaint architectural corners seem, as it were, wrinkles and creases, whereby it adapted itself to the nature and genius of the man. We, in our day, know nothing of such a style of building. If we want a large house we send for an architect, who submits his plans to our enlightened judgment; allotting ample stairs, a sufficiency of best bedrooms, kitchen, butler's pantry, &c. If rather less, then rather cheaper; and as to making the slightest difference in style on account of our late pursuits, as whether, for instance, we were a retired candlestick-maker, or a Lord Chancellor, or a physician, the very idea would savour of lunacy. Not so Jacques Coeur. This man wished, in dying, to leave a beautiful shell behind him, so that the passers-by might say: 'Here lived a great merchant; he had a wife, sons, and a daughter, and numerous domestics. He liked his money, but loved art more. He kept a negro; he was pious, also loyal. He didn't mind fighting, if needs must be; but preferred commerce and politics. He loved Bourges, and Bourges loved him; for he paid his workmen well.' All this, and more, Jacques Coeur continued to write in legible characters on the walls of his house, some of it on the outside, some of it on the inside."

[Footnote 1: Published in 1868.]

He had humour, a quaint conceit, this man of gold and jewelry. He had the very knocker to his door made to strike upon a heart. Under the eaves of his observatory he had his negro sculptured hugging his money-box, and a little beyond an angel exhibiting his newly-acquired coat-of-arms. The one led to the other - the money-box brought on gentility. Hard by is the shield of an allied commercial family, their coat one of fleurs-de-lis interspersed with woolsacks. The Fuggers of Augsburg, when desiring a coat, asked Maximilian for lilies - for, said these wealthy spinners - as for the lilies, "They toil not, neither do they spin." With droll invention Jacques had one of his fireplaces made like a fortress, with little windows above, out of which folk are peeping. He had a gift for pungent mottoes. Here are some he had wrought into the decorations of his house: -

  "A close bouche 
  Il n'entre mouche."

Another is: -

  "Entendre, taire, 
  Dire, et faire, 
  Est ma joie."

I remember a merchant's house, very sumptuous, at Schaffhausen, on which he had written this bitter device - "God preserve me from my friends; I will protect myself from my enemies." Another man altogether from Jacques Coeur.

The ending of this bright, merry, pomp-loving merchant was sad. He fell into disgrace with his king - he had probably lent him too much money; he was accused falsely of several crimes - forging money and selling arms to infidels, and was thrown into prison. The king then seized his wealth, tore up the bills in his name, and left one of Jacques' sons only a remnant of his treasure and the house. Jacques Coeur managed to escape from prison, got to Rome, and was taken into favour by Nicolas V. and Calixtus III., and was appointed captain of an expedition against the Turks. He is thought to have been wounded in a skirmish with them, for he is known to have died in Chios. And so he passed his old age, and laid his bones far from the house he had built for himself in which to end his days, and was not buried in the chapel of the cathedral which he had constructed as his mausoleum.

Another very delightful old house in Bourges is the Hotel Lallemand, constructed after the great fire of 1487; there is another in the Rue des Toiles, and another again in the Rue S. Suplice.

The reader may ask - If you are writing a book on Provence and Languedoc, why give us Bourges? Bourges, which is in Berry, which is in the very centre of France? For the same reason that I began with Florence. One does not drop out of a balloon into Provence, nor ascend out of it by one. One must stay somewhere in going there, and stay somewhere and see something on leaving there. And as my stay at Florence led on as a sort of preface to my flight up and down in Provence, so will this chapter on Bourges serve as an epilogue. For, in verity, as my encounter with the Jew dealer served me as an introduction so shall a little incident I met with in Bourges serve me as an easy mode of making my exit with a bow.

It was raining. It had rained all day. The interior of the cathedral, dark at all times with its deep-dyed (and dirty) glass, was in darkness, too deep to see and study much. The gurgoyles were spouting, the eaves dripping, the gutters running as mountain torrents. However, towards sunset, the windows of heaven were closed, the rain ceased, and folk who had been indoors all day came out with umbrellas and pattered and splashed about.

Now, by some fatality a thimble had been brought down from the roof of one of the houses by a descending water-spout; perhaps a dragon-gurgoyle had spat it disdainfully down. How had the thimble got on the roof? That was the question, not how it got down into the gutter. Had a cunning jackdaw, as in the 'Gazza di Ladra' carried it off, or had a child tumbled it out of an attic window on to the leads?

I was not the only person interested in this thimble. There was a young man, a student, a French exquisite, who also observed it; and I saw him poking at it in the water with the ferrule of his umbrella. Indeed it was his behaviour towards the thimble that attracted my attention to it. Presently he managed to extricate the thimble from the flood, to lodge it on a paving-stone, but it was slippery and round, and rolled off between two cobbles. Then he put up his eye-glass and studied it. Was it worth soiling his fingers over or not? Was it of silver or of brass? He walked round the thimble, with his eye-glass up, stood astride over the little torrent that had brought it down, stiffened his back, clapped the umbrella under his arm, and pursed up his lips to consider. Then he formed his resolution, stooped, and with the extreme point of his forefinger turned the thimble about. Then he stood erect again, pulled out a pocket handkerchief - saw it was of spotless cleanliness, considered that it would cost him two sous to have it washed if he dirtied it by drying thereon his forefinger, replaced it, and put his finger up his back under his coat tails and wiped it on the calico of his waistcoat.

He had made up his mind to have nothing more to do with the thimble, when along the trottoir came tripping a pretty damsel, with the purest of white caps, a sallow face, with fine dark eyes and abundant black hair. She bore over her shoulder, expanded, a plum-coloured umbrella. It had ceased raining, but the plum-colour threw out her pleasant face into relief: she knew that, and tripped on without folding it.

Instantly down bent the student, and, regardless of the dirty water, picked up the thimble. It slipped from his fingers into the gutter. Boldly he plunged his hand in, soiling thereby his manchette; but he recovered the trifle. The girl was abreast of him, and had passed before he was prepared.

He now pulled out a dogskin glove and polished the article. It was silver. He affixed it to the end of his little finger and waited his opportunity.

Three ladies approached. The youth plucked up courage - holding out his little finger shod with the thimble. It was like Paris and the Three Goddesses. The ladies looked at him, at his thimble, then at each other, tossed their heads, and walked on.

Then came a very ugly woman - the exquisite put the thimble resolutely behind his back.

Next - back, under her plum-coloured umbrella, returned the grisette. At once the dandy stood forward.

"Mademoiselle, as you passed just now, assuredly you dropped this."

"Mais, Monsieur! ce n'est pas possible. Ce n'est pas a moi."

"Pardon, mademoiselle, you dropped it; I saw you. I heard it fall."

"Cependant, - it is not mine."

"Then it is nobody's. I will throw it away."

"Mais, monsieur, it is of silver."

"Take it, mademoiselle, I pray."

She held the little silver thimble between thumb and forefinger, turned it about, studied it, hesitated, was inclined to take it, but did not wish to place herself under an obligation to a fop, and a stranger - knitted her brows - when up came a young workman, with a lead pencil in his hand - in his blouse.

"Mais! que de singeries faites-vous la, Madeleine?" said he, and flip! - with his pencil he sent the thimble out from her hand, flying - neither he, nor the girl, nor I saw whither it went, or where it fell.

And - just thus stands the author of this little work, offering his trifle to the gentle and well-disposed reader, who is inclined, may be, to be pleased with it, and to adopt it. But up comes the envious reviewer, and with his pen - flip - he sends the poor little article away - away - away, into the limbo of forgotten books, "que de singeries faites-vous la - avec cette bagatelle la?"