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The Idler in France   By: (1789-1849)

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I have omitted to notice the route to this place, having formerly described the greater portion of it. I remarked a considerable improvement in the different towns we passed through: the people look cleaner, and an air of business has replaced the stagnation that used to prevail, except in Marseilles and Toulon, which were always busy cities.

Nismes surpasses my expectations, although they had been greatly excited, and amply repays the long détour we have made to visit it.

When I look round on the objects of antiquity that meet my eye on every side, and above all on the Amphitheatre and Maison Carrée , I am forced to admit that Italy has nothing to equal the two last: for if the Coliseum may be said to surpass the amphitheatre in dimensions, the wonderful state of preservation of the latter renders it more interesting; and the Maison Carrée , it must be allowed, stands without a competitor. Well might the Abbé Barthélemy, in his Voyage d'Anacharsis , call it the masterpiece of ancient architecture and the despair of modern!

The antiquities of Nismes have another advantage over those of Italy: they are kept wholly free from the disgusting entourage that impairs the effect of the latter; and in examining them in the interior or exterior, no risk is incurred of encountering aught offensive to the olfactory nerves, or injurious to the chaussure .

We devoted last evening to walking round the town, and so cloudless was the sky, so genial the air, and so striking the monuments of Roman splendour, that I could have fancied myself again transported to Italy.

Our inn, the Hôtel du Midi, is an excellent one; the apartments good, and the cuisine soignée . In this latter point the French hôtels are far superior to the Italian; but in civility and attention, the hosts of Italy have the advantage.

We had no sooner dined than half a dozen persons, laden with silk handkerchiefs and ribands, brocaded with gold and silver, and silk stockings, and crapes, all the manufacture of Nismes, came to display their merchandise. The specimens were good, and the prices moderate; so we bought some of each, much to the satisfaction of the parties selling, and also of the host, who seemed to take a more than common interest in the sale, whether wholly from patriotic feelings or not, I will not pretend to say.

The Maison Carrée , of all the buildings of antiquity I have yet seen, is the one which has most successfully resisted the numerous assaults of time, weather, Vandalism, and the not less barbarous attacks of those into whose merciless hands it has afterwards fallen. In the early part of the Christian ages it was converted into a church, and dedicated to St. Étienne the Martyr; and in the eleventh century it was used as the Hôtel de Ville. It was then given to a certain Pierre Boys, in exchange for a piece of ground to erect a new hôtel de ville; and he, after having degraded it by using a portion of it as a party wall to a mean dwelling he erected adjoining it, disposed of it to a Sieur Bruyes, who, still more barbarous than Pierre Boys, converted it into a stable. In 1670, it was purchased by the Augustin monks from the descendants of Bruyes, and once more used as a church; and, in 1789, it was taken from the Augustin monks for the purposes of the administration of the department. From that period, every thing has been done for its preservation. Cleared from the mean houses which had been built around it, and enclosed by an iron palisade, which protects it from mischievous hands, it now stands isolated in the centre of a square, or place , where it can be seen at every side. Poldo d'Albenas, a quaint old writer, whose book I glanced over to day, attributes the preservation of the Maison Carrée to the fortunate horoscope of the spot on which it stands. His lamentations for the insults offered to this building are really passionate... Continue reading book >>

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