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قراءة كتاب Sketches of Travel in Normandy and Maine

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‏اللغة: English
Sketches of Travel in Normandy and Maine

Sketches of Travel in Normandy and Maine

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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mere holiday tourist, on the other hand, now more commonly goes somewhere else—either to the Pyrenees or to those parts of France which form the road to Switzerland and Italy. The capital of the province, of course, is familiar to everybody; two of the chief roads to Paris lie through it. But Rouen, noble city as it is, does not fairly represent Normandy. Its buildings are, with small exceptions, later than the French conquest, and, as having so long been a capital, and now being a great manufacturing town, its population has always been very mixed. There are few cities more delightful to examine than Rouen, but for the true Normandy you must go elsewhere. The true Normandy is to be found further West. Its capital, we suppose we must say, is Caen; but its really typical and central city is Bayeux. The difference is more than nine hundred years old. In the second generation after the province became Normandy at all, Rouen had again become a French city. William Longsword, Rollo's son, sent his son to Bayeux to learn Danish. There the old Northern tongue, and, we fancy, the old Northern religion too, still flourished, while at Rouen nobody spoke anything but French.

A tour in Normandy has an interest of its own, but the nature of that interest is of a kind which does not make Normandy a desirable choice for a first visit to France. We will suppose that a traveller, as a traveller should, has learned the art of travel in his own land. Let him go next to some country which will be utterly strange to him—as we are talking of France, say Aquitaine or Provence. He will there find everything different from what he is used to—buildings, food, habits, dress, as unlike England as may be. If he tries to talk to the natives he will perhaps make them understand his Langue d'oil; but he will find that his Parisian grammar and dictionary will go but a very little way towards making him understand their Lingua d'oc. Now, Normandy and England, of course, have many points of difference, and doubtless a man who goes at once into Normandy from England will be mainly struck by the points of difference. But let a man go through Southern Gaul first, and visit Normandy afterwards, and he will be struck, not with the points of difference, but with the points of likeness. Buildings, men, beasts, everything will at once remind him of his own country. We hold that this is a very sufficient reason for visiting the more distant province first. Otherwise the very important phenomenon of the strong likeness between Normandy and England will not be taken in as it ought to be.

Go from France proper into Normandy and you at once feel that everything is palpably better. Men, women, horses, cows, all are on a grander and better scale. If we say that the food, too, is better, we speak it with fear and trembling, as food is, above all things, a matter of taste. From the point of view of a fashionable cook, no doubt the Norman diet is the worse, for whence should the fashionable cook come except from the land with which Normandy has to be compared? But certain it is that a man with an old-fashioned Teutonic stomach—a man who would have liked to dine off roast meat with Charles the Great or to breakfast off beef-steaks with Queen Elizabeth—will find Norman diet, if not exactly answering to his ideal, yet coming far nearer to it than the politer repasts of Paris. Rouen, of course, has been corrupted for nine centuries, but at Evreux, and in Thor's own city of Bayeux, John Bull may find good meat and good vegetables, and plenty of them to boot. Then look at those strong, well-fed horses—what a contrast to the poor, half-starved, flogged, over-worked beasts which usurp the name further south! Look at those goodly cows, fed in good pastures, and yielding milk thrice a day; they claim no sort of sisterhood with the poverty-stricken animals which, south of the Loire, have to do the horse's work as well as their own. Look at the land itself. An Englishman feels quite at home as he looks upon green fields, and, in the Bessin district, sees those fields actually divided by hedges. If the visitor chance not only to be an Englishman but a West-Saxon, he will feel yet more at home at seeing a land where the apple-tree takes the place of the vine, and where his host asks special payment for wine, but supplies "zider" for nothing. But above all things, look at the men. Those broad shoulders and open countenances seem to have got on the wrong side of the Channel. You are almost surprised at hearing anything but your own tongue come out of their mouths. It seems strange to hear such lips talking French; but it is something to think that it is at least not the French of Louis the Great or of Louis Napoleon, but the tongue of the men who first dictated the Great Charter, and who wrung its final confirmation from the greatest of England's later kings.

The truth is, that between the Englishman and the Norman—at least, the Norman of the Bessin—there can be, in point of blood, very little difference. One sees that there must be something in ethnological theories, after all. The good seed planted by the old Saxon and Danish colonists, and watered in aftertimes by Henry the Fifth and John, Duke of Bedford, is still there.[7] It has not been altogether choked by the tares of Paris. The word "Saxon" is so vague that we cannot pretend to say exactly who the Saxons of Bayeux were; but Saxons of some sort were there, even before another Teutonic wave came in with Rolf Ganger and his Northmen. Bayeux, as we have said, was the Scandinavian stronghold. Men spoke Danish there when not a word of Danish was understood at Rouen. Men there still ate their horse-steaks, and prayed to Thor and Odin, while all Rouen bowed piously at the altar of Notre-Dame. The ethnical elements of a Norman of the Bessin and an Englishman of Norfolk or Lincolnshire must be as nearly as possible the same. The only difference is, that one has quite forgotten his Teutonic speech, and the other only partially. Not that all Teutonic traces have gone even from the less Norman parts of Normandy. How many of the English travellers who land at Dieppe stop to think that the name of that port, disguised as it is by a French spelling, is nothing in the world but "The Deeps?" If any one, now that there is a railway, prefers to go along the lovely valley of the Seine, he will come to the little town of Caudebec. Here, again, the French spelling makes the word meaningless; but only write it "Cauld beck," and it at once tells its story to a Lowland Scot, and ought to do so to every "Anglo-Saxon" of any kind. As for the local dialect, it is French. It is not, like that of Aquitaine and Provence, a language as distinct as Spanish or Italian. It is French, with merely a dialectical difference from "French of Paris." But the Normans, in this resembling the Gascons, have no special objection to a final consonant, and most vulgarly and perversely still sound divers s's and t's which the politer tongue of the capital dooms to an existence on paper only.

It is certainly curious that Normandy—which, save during the comparatively short occupation in the fifteenth century, has always been politically separate from England, since England became English once more—should be so much more like England than Aquitaine, which was an English dependency two hundred and fifty years after Normandy and England were separated. The cause is clearly that between Englishmen and Normans there is a real natural kindred which political separation has not effaced, while between English and Gascons there was