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A Little Tour in France   By: (1843-1916)

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A Little Tour In France

by Henry James,

We good Americans I say it without presumption are too apt to think that France is Paris, just as we are accused of being too apt to think that Paris is the celestial city. This is by no means the case, fortun ately for those persons who take an interest in modern Gaul, and yet are still left vaguely unsatisfied by that epitome of civilization which stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to the Gymnase theatre. It had already been intimated to the author of these light pages that there are many good things in the doux pays de France of which you get no hint in a walk between those ornaments of the capital; but the truth had been re vealed only in quick flashing glimpses, and he was conscious of a desire to look it well in the face. To this end he started, one rainy morning in mid Septem ber, for the charming little city of Tours, from which point it seemed possible to make a variety of fruitful excursions. His excursions resolved themselves ulti mately into a journey through several provinces, a journey which had its dull moments (as one may defy any journey not to have), but which enabled him to feel that his proposition was demonstrated. France may be Paris, but Paris is not France; that was perfectly evident on the return to the capital.

I must not speak, however, as if I had discovered the provinces. They were discovered, or at least re vealed by BaIzac, if by any one, and are now easily accessible to visitors. It is true, I met no visitors, or only one or two, whom it was pleasant to meet. Throughout my little tour I was almost the only tourist. That is perhaps one reason why it was so successful.

I.

I am ashamed to begin with saying that Touraine is the garden of France; that remark has long ago lost its bloom. The town of Tours, however, has some thing sweet and bright, which suggests that it is sur rounded by a land of fruits. It is a very agreeable little city; few towns of its size are more ripe, more complete, or, I should suppose, in better humor with themselves and less disposed to envy the responsibili ties of bigger places. It is truly the capital of its smil ing province; a region of easy abundance, of good living, of genial, comfortable, optimistic, rather indolent opinions. Balzac says in one of his tales that the real Tourangeau will not make an effort, or displace him self even, to go in search of a pleasure; and it is not difficult to understand the sources of this amiable cynicism. He must have a vague conviction that he can only lose by almost any change. Fortune has been kind to him: he lives in a temperate, reasonable, sociable climate, on the banks, of a river which, it is true, sometimes floods the country around it, but of which the ravages appear to be so easily repaired that its aggressions may perhaps be regarded (in a region where so many good things are certain) merely as an occasion for healthy suspense. He is surrounded by fine old traditions, religious, social, architectural, culi nary; and he may have the satisfaction of feeling that he is French to the core. No part of his admirable country is more characteristically national. Normandy is Normandy, Burgundy is Burgundy, Provence is Pro vence; but Touraine is essentially France. It is the land of Rabelais, of Descartes, of Balzac, of good books and good company, as well as good dinners and good houses. George Sand has somewhere a charm ing passage about the mildness, the convenient quality, of the physical conditions of central France, "son climat souple et chaud, ses pluies abondantes et courtes." In the autumn of 1882 the rains perhaps were less short than abundant; but when the days were fine it was impossible that anything in the way of weather could be more charming. The vineyards and orchards looked rich in the fresh, gay light; cultivation was everywhere, but everywhere it seemed to be easy. There was no visible poverty; thrift and success pre sented themselves as matters of good taste... Continue reading book >>




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