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THE IRISH TRAVELLER.
PART THE SECOND. HOW I WENT TO SAINT MICHEL.
to all to whom these presents come, Greeting : I, the Irish Traveller, vish to impress upon the minds of my readers that I am a man abounding n good intentions, but, alas ! I must admit that if the road to a place unnentionable to ears polite is, as some wise man tells us (I wonder how he found it out), macadamized with the fragments of unkept virtuous resolutions, I, in propria persona, have contributed my full share of materials. I had fully intended to have concluded the story of the Irish Traeller in the March Number of the MAGAZINE, and, having detailed the circumstances of my journey to St. Malo, to have brought my readers a few stages further, and introduced them to St. Michel. I have no excuse to offer except what I fear will be considered a very lame one. I attribute it all to the peculiarity of my phrenological bumps (for I am a firm believer in pbrenology, and prove the truth of the science by the following line of argument). There are many men who, when they have a story to tell, tell it off from beginning to end without omitting a single circumstance (except the point occasionally), and never introduce an irrelevant topic. These are the men who are never late for railwaytrains or dinner, and always have their hats and coats well brushed ; who enter every morning, in a nicely-ruled memorandum-book, all their engagements for the day, which they scrupulously perform, and even go so far as to have housewives in which, in case of need, thread, needles, buttons and tape, are always found in serviceable order.
I can do none of these things. I never can tell a story, as my readers probably have discovered, without rambling off into a thousand digressions. 'My hat and coat are never brushed. I am often late at railway-trains, and so often late at dinner that I begin to think people must consider me a very pleasant fellow, or they would not ask me out so frequently. I have bought dozens of memorandum-books, and for a day or two have sedulously put down all the things I ought to do, which filled a goodly page ; but, alas ! the leaf for resolutions carried out and engagements fulfilled has always been a blank ; moreover in the days when I was young and good-looking, and I assure you, my dear Georgy, whatever you may think, that is not so very long ago, I received at least a dozen housewives as presents from most amiable young ladies, cousins and others, fully provided with appliances and remedies for all the ills which male attire is heir to; but whenever the necessity for making use of those pretty souvenirs arose—when, at the critical moment of commencing to dress for dinner, ten minutes after the time at which I ought to have presented myself in Merrion or Mountjoysquare, some shirt or still more indispensable button was absent without leave, if no benevolent specimen of woman-kind was at hand to repair the damage, and in my desperation I turned to the housewife, I found that the buttons had all fallen out of the pockets; if I attempted to pull out a thread, I invariably put the whole mass into an inextricable
tangle; and as for the needles, as I never was able to thread one in my life, I laid all the blame upon them, and eased my conscience by damning their eyes.
But to return to the line of my argument. It is quite clear that if my friend “Barnes” is always regular, and precise, and methodical, wbile I am everything that is opposite and contrary—if I am a very pleasant, agreeable fellow (I hope every one thinks so), while he is stupid and tiresome- it follows that each possesses some organ in which the other is deficient, and, therefore, Phrenology is true.
Having thus established, by invincible arguments, the truth of a muchdisputed fact, and satisfactorily accounted for my own rambling, unconnected way of telling a story, I shall call to the recollection of my readers, that when I last took leave of them it was at the ancient and most fish-like town of St. Malo, where I had contributed to the internal comfort of a fellow-traveller who had been rashly led on to drink the cider of St. Malo, by a copious exhibition (I do love a scientific word) of brandy. He and I parted on the most amicable terms, and as I bid him good night, and took my candle in order to proceed to my “chambre à salon," he shook my hand with a degree of vigour which forcibly recalled to my mind the story of the pretty young widow who, upon being asked if she liked a squeeze, replied with such an air of innocence, that "it all depended upon who squeezed."
Having engaged a seat in the diligence for Avranches, I rose early the next morning, and after a hurried and somewhat scanty breakfastfor I do not think our noble Allies understand what a good breakfast means, though I am far from disparaging their gastronomic science in general-proceeded to the office, where I found that my seat had been secured in the hinder part of the vehicle, which, contrary to all rules of social and political economy, had been constructed on the principle of causing the greatest possible inconvenience to the greatest possible number of individuals, and no doubt the artist had succeeded perfectly in carrying out his intention. The part of the vehicle in which I was condemned to pass some five hours was capable of containing four or five persons with tolerable comfort ; but as a most outrageous legal fiction declared that there was accommodation" pour sept voyageurs," and one lady passenger had, by the influence of a handsome face and a pair of roguish black eyes, overcome the scruples of the “conducteur" and the reluctance of her fellow-passengers, and smuggled into the vehicle two children, who were as restless and ungovernable as children generally are during a journey, I must admit that if we had had more air and more room, and somewhat less dust and sun, the journey would have been more agreeable ; but my rule is always to make the best of everything, and as I was the only English passenger, and not overawed by the presence of any countryman who spoke the language better than myself
, I talked away in my bad French, " de omnibus rebus et quibusdum aliis," trusting to the rumbling of the diligence to cover my errors in genders and grammar, and particularly exerted myself to cement the “ entente cordiale" between England and France by fraternising with a tall French soldier, who put himself into all kinds of uncomfortable attitudes to protect me from being annoyed by his long sword and still longer legs. I really found him, as the
French soldiers generally are, a most agreeable and intelligent person, willing and anxious to give me all the information in his power, and abounding in polite and merciful consideration for my bad French. There is, I believe, a way to every man's heart, and people say to every woman's also; I have forgotten that road many years ago, “ainsi nous n'en causerons pas," but I won the heart of “mon brave soldať by producing, when we stopped to change horses at a town with a name unpronounceable by an Irish tongue, a cigar-box filled with the choicest Havannahs, and requeisng this acceptance of half-a-dozen, which he took with a low bow, and a “ Mille graces, Monsieur,” and in return produced his snuff-box, from which, though I have rather a contempt for such a small vice as snuff-taking, I took a pinch, thanking him at the same time in a strange, piebald language, for his courtesy, to which he replied with another bow, in the words of the French proverb, "A celui qui a son paté au four ou peut donner de son gateau "
Thus bearing, as well as we could, the inconvenience of an overcrowded vehicle, and concealing from each other, with the politest dissimulation, the intense desire we all felt that at each stage some of our fellow-passengers would leave us to feast on their pleasant memory, and repeat in our inmost and most secret soul, that their room was better than their company, we accomplished the thirty-six miles, or thereabouts, of our journey without any incident worth recording, and found ourselves, at about three in the afternoon, in the good town of Ayranches.
Having engaged a porter for the transport of my goods and chattels, I arrived, after a short walk, in the * Rue Gué de l'Epine,” to the great, and I hope agreeable surprise of my friends, who had put little faith in my promise to pay them a visit, and knowing my vagrant habits, had given me credit for being “ upstairs” in the North, among the Fiords of Norway, a locality which I intend at some future period to visit, and describe for the benefit of the readers of THE IRISH METROPOLITAN MAGAZINE.
Many people have, no doubt, found their way to Avranches; but as there must be a vast number of persons who have not done so, I may be allowed to venture on a short description, faithfully promising my readers that I will not weary them with statistics of agriculture, commerce, trade, crime, or population-subjects about which some people write, and therefore I suppose some people read; but as I honestly confess that I am now, and probably shall always be, wholly unlearned on such subjects, I can only recommend such readers as are dissatisfied with the meagre information contained in these pages, to put a wet towel round their heads some fine morning, and read through all the volumes of “ Alison's History of Europe.” For my part, I frankly tell them that I would not accept the fee-simple of Europe to read through its history, or the columns of statistical figures which are to be found scattered through the work, although in other respects it contains much valuable and interesting information; and if any man can insure to himself sufficient length of life to read through the entire, verily he will have his reward, and I shall be prepared to congratulate him on his mental digestion. Well, having spared my readers all dry, statistical details,
I am bound to communicate to them some information which I acquired during my stay at Avranches, connected with natural history, and proving the hereditary descent of instinct in animals. We all know the story of the learned and venerable dignitary of the Established Church who put the following question to his curates : :-“What is the vocative case of cat ?” And after the reverend young gentlemen in white cravats had puzzled over the question for some minutes, and a few of the boldest had blushed out “ Cato,” or “O'Cat,” the venerable prelate told them, with a look of benign superiority, that "puss was the vocative of cat ; and he was perfectly right as regards England and Ireland, where every cat answers to the name of puss, and every kitten, even before his eyes are open, cocks his ears and endeavours to purr upon hearing the wellknown monosyllable. And as I never heard (did you ?) any old cat say puss to her progeny, I leave it to Professor Owen, who so obstinately denies the existence of the sea serpent, in which I firmly believe, to explain the phenomenon ; but the moment you cross the channel, you discover that the instinct is merely geographical. I have a great talent for winning the affection of cats, dogs, horses, and young children, for which reason (for I have no other merits) all mammas with young families appreciate me highly; and some twenty years ago I had a little skill in attracting “those things which wear caps and bonnets,” by which circumlocutory expression a Cornish miner, who accompanied Sir Francis Head on his journey across the Pampas, described the pretty girls of his native village. Therefore during my stay at Avranches I had no difficulty in winning the hearts of several cats, chiefly through the medium of their stomachs, but found them one and all deaf and insensible to the word "puss.'
I have just rambled off into this episode about the cats to convince my readers that I am a man of an observing turn of mind, and therefore when I do tell them (as I intend to do by-and-bye) “How I went to St. Michel,” they may rely on it that I am giving the most accurate and faithworthy information. So now, before we go to St. Michel, let us go back to Avranches, which is a very pretty town in Normandy, standing on an eminence, and commanding a fine view of the sea and the Rock of St. Michel. It is much frequented by the English for many reasons, among which may be reckoned the salubrity of the climate, and the facilities for the education of children. It is said that children are never ill at Avranches; there are very few resident doctors, and to this day it is a moot-question whether the children are never ill, because there are no doctors, or whether there are no doctors, because there is no sickness among the children—the robust country gentlemen, maintaining that there is nothing remarkable in the climate, and that the children enjoy uninterrupted health because there are no doctors to dose them with nauseous drugs ; while on the other hand the “mammas," who in their secret souls are disappointed because they have no legitimate excuse for weighing out medicines in brass scales, and putting into practice their theories about globules, grey powder, hippo, and columbo, attribute it entirely to the climate, and, although they rejoice in the vigorous health of their offspring, lament that there is no necessity for consulting that “clever Mr. Smith,” or that “ dear Dr. Jones.”
The English residents form a strong party, supporting a clergyman of the Church of England, who officiates in one room of a building which was formerly a nunnery, but is now used for purposes certainly never contemplated by the original founders, inasmuch as while the upper story is converted into a place of Protestant worship, the lower has been metamorphosed into a theatre; and as Sunday is in France a favourite day for dramatic performances, I observed on each Sabbath, as I proceeded up stairs to the room appointed for Divine service, the employés of the theatre busily engaged in posting up the bills of the evening performance. I could not help thinking that if ever the spirits of the ejected nuns are allowed to visit the earth, they must be astonished and horrified to find their temporal residence, while " in the flesh,” converted into a place for theatrical representations, and a chapel for what they consider heretical worship.
The scenery in the vicinity is rich and picturesque, and a stranger will find much amusement and interest in visiting the quaint Norman villages and farm-houses which are within an easy walk of the town; but the great “lion” of the place is the Rock of St. Michel, which stands in solitary grandeur in the ocean, about two miles from the shore. I call it purposely the Rock of St. Michel, for such it appears to the eye from the high grounds about Avranches, and it is not until you approach within a short distance that you become aware that it is the site of a gorgeous cathedral, and that it is inhabited by a numerous colony of fishermen, and garrisoned by about a hundred and fifty sol. diers. From the Rue Gué de l'Epine you command a better view of the Rock than from any other part of the town ; and many a time and oft I have looked from my window across a richly-wooded country, through which a fine river winds down to the ocean, in which stands St. Michel, like a lonely sentinel, keeping watch and ward over the French coast.
I have heard some persons remark that the picture wanted a background, but I do not agree in the criticism. In the evening, at least, it seemed to me that the banks of clouds, dyed by the glories of the setting sun, formed the most appropriate background to the old weatherbeaten Rock.
In all the libraries and print-shops at Avranches are to be purchased drawings of St. Michel, taken from different points of view, as well as pictures of the interior of the Cathedral. Every one considers it a point of duty to purchase some of these sketches, and also one of the small books which profess to give you a history of the Rock from the earliest times. In the book which I procured, I found that the story commenced with the account of the Archangel Michael's combat with Satan ; but as I did not quite believe that the authentic State Papers of that remote period had come down to the writer, I took the liberty of skipping over a few thousand years, and coming down to a period comparatively modern-viz., the early part of the twelfth century, at which period it seems the cathedral was built. It is still in excellent preservation, but has been in some degree diverted from its original purpose, a great part of it being made use of as a stronghold for the safe keeping of French convicts. As you look at the barren rock, you wonder at the perseverance and piety of the men who, with such vast labour, erected a temple for worship thereon, as all the materials must of necessity have VOL. III.