A Motor-Flight Through France

by Edith Wharton

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Part III - A Flight to the North-East

THERE are several ways of leaving Paris by motor without touching even the fringe of what, were it like other cities, would be called its slums. Going, for instance, southward or south-westward, one may emerge from the alleys of the Bois near the Pont de Suresnes and, crossing the river, pass through the park of Saint Cloud to Versailles, or through the suburbs of Rueil and Le Vésinet to the forest of Saint Germain.

These miraculous escapes from the toils of a great city give one a clearer impression of the breadth with which it is planned, and of the civic order and elegance pervading its whole system; yet for that very reason there is perhaps more interest in a slow progress through one of the great industrial quarters such as must be crossed to reach the country lying to the northeast of Paris.

To start on a bright spring morning from the Place du Palais Bourbon, and follow the tide of traffic along the quays of the left bank, passing the splendid masses of the Louvre and Notre Dame, the Conciergerie and the Sainte Chapelle; to skirt the blossoming borders of the Jardin des Plantes, and cross the Seine at the Pont d'Austerlitz, getting a long glimpse down its silver reaches till they divide to envelope the Cité; and then to enter by the Boulevard Diderot on the long stretch of the Avenue Daumesnil, which leads straight to the Porte Dorée of Vincennes—to follow this route at the leisurely pace necessitated by the dense flow of traffic, is to get a memorable idea of the large way in which Paris deals with some of her municipal problems.

The Avenue Daumesnil, in particular, with its interminable warehouses and cheap shops and guinguettes, would anywhere else be the prey of grime and sordidness, Instead, it is spacious, clean, and prosaic only by contrast to the elegance of the thoroughfares preceding it; and at the Porte Dorée it gives one over to the charming alleys of a park as well-tended and far more beautiful than the Bois de Boulogne—a park offering the luxury of its romantic lawns and lakes for the sole delectation of the packed industrial quarters that surround it.

The woods of this wonderful Bois de Vincennes are real woods, full of blue-bells and lilies of the valley; and as one flies through them in the freshness of the May morning, Paris seems already far behind, a mere fading streak of factory-smoke on the horizon. One loses all thought of it when, beyond Vincennes, the road crosses the Marne at Joinville-sur-Pont. Thence it passes through a succession of bright semi-suburban villages, with glimpses, here and there, of low white châteaux or of little grey churches behind rows of clipped horn-beam; climbing at length into an open hilly country, through which it follows the windings of the Marne to Meaux.

Bossuet's diocesan seat is a town of somewhat dull exterior, with a Gothic cathedral which has suffered cruelly at the hands of the reformers; for, by an odd turn of fate, before becoming the eyrie of the "Eagle," it was one of the principal centres of Huguenot activity—an activity deplorably commemorated in the ravaged exterior of the church.

From Meaux to Rheims the country grows in charm, with a slightly English quality in its rolling spaces and rounded clumps of trees; but nothing could be more un-English than the grey-white villages, than the stony squares bordered by clipped horn-beams, the granite marketcrosses, the round-apsed churches with their pointed bell-towers.

One of these villages, Braisne, stands out in memory by virtue of its very unusual church. This tall narrow structure, with its curious western front, so oddly buttressed and tapering, and rising alone and fragmentary among the orchards and kitchen-gardens of a silent shrunken hamlet, is the pathetic survival of a powerful abbey, once dominating its surroundings, but now existing only as the parish church of the knot of sleepy houses about it.

A stranger and less explicable vestige of the past is found not far off in the curious walled village of Bazoches, which, though lying in the plain, must have been a small feudal domain, since it still shows its stout mediæval defences and half-fallen gate-towers tufted with wallflowers and wild shrubs. The distinguishing fact about Bazoches is that it is not a dwindled town, with desert spaces between the walls and a surviving nucleus of houses: its girdle of stone fits as closely as a finger-ring, and whatever were its past glories they must have been contained in the same small compass that suffices it to-day.

Beyond Braisne the country is less hilly, the pastures are replaced by vineyards, and the road runs across a wide plain to Rheims. The extent of the town, and its modern manufacturing outskirts, make its distant silhouette less characteristic than that of Bourges or Chartres, which are still so subordinated to the central mass of their cathedrals. At Rheims the cathedral comes on one unexpectedly, in the centre of the town; but once seen it enters into the imagination, less startlingly but perhaps more completely, more pervasively, than any other of the great Gothic monuments of France. This sense of being possessed by it, subdued to it, is perhaps partly due—at least in the case of the simple tourist— to the happy, the unparalleled fact, that the inn at Rheims stands immediately opposite the cathedral—so that, admitted at once to full communion with its incomparable west front, one returns, after each excursion, to renew and deepen the relation, to become reabsorbed in it without any conscious effort of attention.

There are two ways of feeling those arts—such as sculpture, painting and architecture—which appeal first to the eye: the technical, and what must perhaps be called the sentimental way. The specialist does not recognise the validity of the latter criterion, and derision is always busy with the uncritical judgments of those who have ventured to interpret in terms of another art the great plastic achievements. The man, in short, who measures the beauty of a cathedral not by its structural detail consciously analysed, but by its total effect in indirectly stimulating his sensations, in setting up a movement of associated ideas, is classed—and who shall say unjustly?—as no better than the reader who should pretend to rejoice in the music of Lycidas without understanding the meaning of its words. There is hardly a way of controverting the axiom that thought and its formulation are indivisible, or the deduction that, therefore, the only critic capable of appreciating the beauty of a great work of architecture is he who can resolve it into its component parts, understand the relation they bear to each other, and not only reconstruct them mentally, but conceive of them in a different relation, and visualise the total result of such modifications.

Assuredly—yet in those arts that lie between the bounds of thought and sense, and leaning distinctly toward the latter, is there not room for another, a lesser yet legitimate order of appreciation—for the kind of confused atavistic enjoyment that is made up of historical association, of a sense of mass and harmony, of the relation of the building to the sky above it, to the lights and shadows it creates about it—deeper than all, of a blind sense in the blood of its old racial power, the things it meant to far-off minds of which ours are the oft-dissolved and reconstituted fragments? Such enjoyment, to be of any value even to the mind that feels it, must be based indeed on an approximate acquaintance with the conditions producing the building, the structural theories that led up to it, their meaning, their evolution, their relation to the moral and mental growth of the builders—indeed, it may be affirmed that this amount of familiarity with the past is necessary to any genuine æsthetic enjoyment. But even this leaves the enjoyment under the slur of being merely "amateurish," and therefore in need of a somewhat courageous defence by those who, unequipped for technical verdicts, have yet found a more than transient satisfaction in impressions of this mixed and nebulous order.

Such a defence is furnished, to a degree elsewhere unmatched, by the exceptional closeness of intercourse to which propinquity admits the traveller at Rheims. Here is the great Presence on one's threshold—in one's window: surprised at dawn in the mystery of its re-birth from darkness; contemplated at midday in the distinctness of its accumulated detail, its complex ritual of stone; absorbed into the mind, into the heart, again at darkness—felt lastly and most deeply under the midnight sky, as a mystery of harmony and order no less secret and majestic than the curves of the stars in their orbits.

Such pleasures, at any rate, whatever their value as contributions to special lines of knowledge, enrich the æsthetic consciousness, prepare it for fresh and perhaps more definite impressions, enlarge its sense of the underlying relation between art and life, between all the manifold and contradictory expressions of human energy, and leave it thus more prepared to defend its own attitude, to see how, in one sense—a sense not excluding, but in a way enveloping and fertilising all the specialised forms of technical competence—Gefühl ist alles.

It is one of the wonders of this rich northeastern district that the traveller may pass, in a few hours, and through a region full of minor interest, to another great manifestation of mediæval strength: the fortress of Coucy. Two such contrasting specimens of the vigour—individual and collective—of that tremendous age are hardly elsewhere, in France, to be found in such close neighbourhood; and it adds to the interest of both to know that Coucy was a fief of Rheims, bestowed by its Archbishop on a knight who had distinguished himself in the First Crusade. It was a great-grandson of this Enguerrand de Boves who built the central keep and the walls; but the castle was farther enlarged and adorned when, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, it passed into the possession of Louis d'Orléans, the brother of Charles VI.

It is doubly interesting to see Coucy after Carcassonne, because the two fortresses present the opposite extremes of feudal secular architecture, Carcassonne being the chief surviving example of a large walled town with a comparatively small central castle, while at Coucy the castle is the predominating feature, both in size and site, and the town no more than a handful of houses within the outer circuit of its defences. Both strongholds are of course situated on steep heights, and that of Coucy, though it rises from slopes clad in foliage, and therefore less stern of outline than the dry southern rock of Carcassonne, stands no less superbly than its rival. In fact there is perhaps no single point from which Carcassonne produces quite such an effect of concentrated power as the keep and castle-towers of Coucy squaring themselves on their western ridge. Yet such comparisons are unprofitable, because the two fortresses were designed for purposes so different, and under such different conditions, that the one is necessarily most vigorous where the other had the least need for a display of strength.

Coucy, in its present fallen state, gains incalculably from the charm of its surroundings—the lovely country enfolding it in woods and streams, the shaded walks beneath its ivy-hung ramparts, and above all the distinct and exquisite physiognomy of the tiny old town which these ramparts enclose. The contrast between the humble yet stout old stone houses ranged, as it were, below the salt, and the castle throned on its dais of rock at one end of the enclosure, seems to sum up the whole social system of the Middle Ages as luminously and concisely as Taine's famous category. Coucy has the extraordinary archæological value of a place that has never outgrown the special institutions producing it: the hands of the clock have stopped at the most characteristic moment of its existence; and so impressive, even to the unhistorical mind, is its compact and vivid "exteriorisation" of a great phase of history, that one wonders and shudders at, and finally almost comes to admire, the superhuman stolidity of the successful merchant who has planted, on the same ledge as the castle, and almost parallel with its Titanic towers, a neatly turreted suburban villa, the sole attempt of modern Coucy to give the retort to its overwhelming past.

Taking Coucy as a centre, the traveller may, within a few hours, extraordinarily vary his impressions, since the remarkable group of monuments distributed over the triangular bit of France between Paris, Rheims and Saint Quentin, comprises a characteristic example of almost every architectural period from the early Middle Ages till the close of the eighteenth century—the extremes being sometimes in as close touch as Tracy-le-Val and Prémontré.

Turning first to the west, through a country of rolling fields and wooded heights, vaguely English in its freedom from the devouring agriculture of the centre, one comes on the most English impression in France—the towers of Noyon rising above a girdle of orchards and meadows. Noyon, indeed, to the end, maintains in one this illusion—so softly misted with verdure, so lacking in the sharp edges of the dry stony French town, it seems, by its old street-architecture of cross-beams and stucco, by the smoothly turfed setting of the cathedral, and the crowning surprise of a genuine "close" at its back, to corroborate at every step the explorer's first impression.

In the cathedral, indeed, one is no longer in England—though still without being very definitely in France. For the interior of Noyon, built at a time when northern art was still groping for its specific expression, is a thing apart in cathedral architecture, one of those fortunate variations from which, in the world of art as of nature, new forms are sometimes developed. That in this case the variation remained sterile, while it makes, no doubt, for a more exclusive enjoyment of Noyon, leaves one conjecturing on the failure to transmit itself of so original and successful an experiment. The deviation consists, principally, in the fact that the transept ends of Noyon are rounded, so that they form, in conjunction with the choir, a kind of apsidal trefoil of the most studied and consummate grace. The instinctive use of the word grace perhaps explains as well as anything the failure of Noyon to repeat itself (save once, half-heartedly, in the south transept of Soissons). Grace at the expense of strength is, especially from without, the total result of this unique blending of curves, this prodigal repetition of an effect that, to produce its deepest impression, should be used singly, and only as the culmination, the ecstatic flowering, of a vigorous assemblage of straight lines.

But within the church, and especially from the point where the sweep of both transepts may be seen flowing into the curves of the choir, one is too deeply penetrated by the grace to feel in it any latent weakness. For pure loveliness of line nothing in northern church architecture—not even the long bold sweep of Canterbury choir—surpasses the complex pattern of the east end of Noyon. And in the detail of the interior construction the free, almost careless, mingling of the round and the pointed arch heightens the effect of Noyon as of something experimental, fugitive, not to come again—the blue flower, as it were, of the Gothic garden—an experiment which seems to express the fantasy of a single mind rather than such collective endeavour as brought forth the great secular churches of the Middle Ages.

While Noyon offers, in its general setting, and in certain architectural peculiarities, suggestions so specifically English, the type of its chief civic monument seems drawn from that Burgundian region where the passing of Gothic into Renaissance forms found so rich and picturesque an expression. The Hôtel de Ville of Noyon, built in the middle of the fifteenth century, is a charming product of that transitional moment which was at its best in the treatment of municipal buildings, since domestic architecture was still cramped, and driven to an overcrowding of detail, by the lingering habit of semi-defensive construction. In the creation of the town-hall the new art could throw off feudal restraints, and the architect of the graceful, ornate yet sober building at Noyon—with its two façades so equally "composed" as wholes, so lingered over and caressed in every part—has united all the freedom of the new spirit with the patient care for detail that marked the old.

At Saint Quentin, not far to the north-west of Noyon, a town-hall of more imposing dimensions suggests other architectural affinities. This part of France is close to the Low Countries, and Flemish influences have overflowed the borders. The late Gothic Hôtel de Ville at Saint Quentin, with its elaborately composed façade surmounted by three pointed gables, was completed at a period when, in other parts of France, Renaissance forms were rapidly superseding the earlier style. But here the Gothic lingers, as it did in the Low Countries, in a rich yet sober and sturdy form of civic architecture which suits the moist grey skies, the flat fields, the absence of any abrupt or delicate lines in the landscape. Saint Quentin, a large dull manufacturing town, with a nucleus of picturesque buildings grouped about its town-hall and its deplorably renovated collegiate church, has a tone so distinctively northern and provincial, that its other distinguishing possession—the collection of portraits by the great pastelliste Latour—seems almost as much expatriated as though it were actually beyond the frontier. It is difficult to conceive of the most expert interpreter of the Parisian face as forming his style on physiognomies observed in the sleepy streets and along the sluggish canals of Saint Quentin; and the return of his pictures to his birthplace, if it has a certain historical fitness, somehow suggests a violent psychological dislocation, and makes one regard the vivid countenances lining the walls of the Musée Lécuyer as those of émigrés yearning to be back across the border. For Latour worked in the Attic age when the least remoteness from Paris was exile; and one may reasonably fancy the unmistakable likeness between all his sitters to be the result of the strong centralising pressure which left the French face no choice between Parisianism and barbarism.

One's first impression on entering this singular portrait gallery is of coming into a salon where all the habitués have taken the same tone, where the angles of difference have been so rubbed down that personalities are as hard to differentiate as in a group of Orientals. The connecting link which unites a company ranging from Vernezobre, the colour-dealer, to Madame la Dauphine, from the buffoon Manelli to the Academician Duclos—this unifying trait is found in the fixed smile on the lips of all the sitters. It is curious, and a little disconcerting, on first entering, to see faces of such marked individuality—from the rough unshorn Vernezobre to the mincing Camargo—overrun by the same simper of "good company"—so disconcerting that only by eliminating the universal Cupid's-bow mouth, and trying to see the other features without it, can one do justice to the vigorous and penetrating portraiture of Latour. Then indeed the pictures affirm themselves as "documents," and the artist's technical skill in varying his methods with the type of his sitters becomes only less interesting than the psychological insight of which, after all, it is a partial expression. One's attention is at first absorbed by the high personal interest of the protraits; but when this has been allowed for, the general conclusion resulting from their collective study is that, even in that day of feminine ascendancy, the man's face, not only plastically but psychologically, was a far finer "subject" than the woman's. Latour had before his easel some of the most distinguished examples of both; and how the men triumph and stand out, how Rousseau and d'Alembert, Maurice de Saxe and the matchless Vernezobre overshadow and efface all the Camargos and Dauphinesses, the Favarts and Pompadours of the varied feminine assortment! Only one little ghostly nameless creature—a model, a dancer, the catalogue uncertainly conjectures—detaches herself from the polite assemblage as if impaled with quivering wings on the sharp pencil of the portraitist. One wonders if she knew she had been caught. . . .

The short run from Saint Quentin to Laon carries one, through charming scenery, from the Low Countries into a region distinctively French, but with such a touch of romance as Turner saw in the sober French landscape when he did his "Rivers and Harbours." Laon, the great cathedral town of the north-east, is not seated on a river; but the ridge that carries it rises so abruptly from the plain, and so simulates the enclosing curves of a bay, that, as we approached it, the silvery light on the spring fields at its base seemed like the shimmer of water.

Seen from the road to Saint Quentin, Laon is one of the stateliest hill-towns of France—indeed it suggests rivalry with the high-perched Umbrian cities rather than with any nearer neighbours. At one extremity of the strangely hooked cliff, the two ends of which bend toward each other like a thumb and forefinger, stands the ruined abbey church of Saint Vincent, now a part of the arsenal; at the other rises the citadel, behind which are grouped the cathedral and episcopal palace; and the apex of the triangle, between these pronged extremities, is occupied by the church of Saint Martin, which lifts its Romanesque towers above the remains of a Premonstratensian abbey. In the sheltered hollow enclosed between the thumb and forefinger lies the Cuve de Saint Vincent, a garden district of extraordinary fertility, and beyond it the interminable plain flows away toward the Belgian frontier.

To the advantage of this site Laon adds the possession of well-preserved ramparts, of two or three fortified gates to which clusters of old houses have ingeniously attached themselves, and above all of its seven-towered cathedral—a cathedral now no longer, though its apse still adjoins an ancient group of diocesan buildings, from the cloistered court of which one obtains the finest impression of the lateral mass of the monument.

Notre Dame of Laon ranks in size among the "secondary" French cathedrals; but both in composition and in detail it occupies a place in architecture as distinctive as its natural setting, and perhaps no higher praise can be awarded it than to say that, like the church of Vézelay, it is worthy of the site it occupies.

The seven towers of Laon are its most notable ornament; no other cathedral roof of France bears such a glorious crown. Four only of the towers have received their upper tiers of arcades; but the others rise high enough above the roof-ridge to break its outline with their massive buttresses and pyramidal capping. The taller four are distinguished by the originality of their upper stories, of which the intermediate one is octagonal, and broken up into four groups of arches of extreme lightness and vigour, separated by stilted round-arched openings which are carried through to the upper tier of the tower. At the west end of the church, the open niches formed by the octagonal sally of the tower-arcades are filled by colossal stone oxen, modelled with a bold realism, and advancing from their high-perched stalls almost as triumphantly as the brazen horses above the door of Saint Mark's.

These effigies are supposed to commemorate the services of the patient beasts who dragged the stone for the cathedral up the cruel hill of Laon; and looking up at their silhouettes, projected ponderously against the blue, one is inclined to see in them a symbol of mediæval church-building—of the moral and material cost at which Christianity reared its monuments.

The oxen of Laon and the angels of Saint Père sous Vézelay might indeed be said to stand for the two chief factors in this unparalleled outburst of religious activity—the visionary passion that aroused it, and the painful expenditure of human and animal labour that made the vision a reality. When one reads of the rapidity with which many of these prodigious works were executed, of the fever of devotion that flamed in whole communities, one has, under the gladness and exaltation, glimpses of a drudgery as unceasing and inconceivable as that of the pyramid-builders, and out of which, perhaps, have grown the more vigorous, the stabler fibres of European character—and one feels that the triumphing oxen of Laon, though they stand for so vast a sum of dull, unrewarded, unintelligible toil, have on the whole done more for civilisation than the angels of Saint Père.

At Soissons, an old city saturated with Roman and Merovingian memories, Gothic art again triumphs, but in a different and a milder strain.

The short run from Laon to Soissons, through a gently undulating landscape, prepares one for these softer impressions. The Gallo-Roman city has neither the proud site nor the defensive outline of Laon. It lies in the valley of the Aisne, in a circle of wooded hills, with the river winding peaceably between the old town and its faubourg of Saint Vaast. Passing through this faubourg, and crossing the Aisne, one is caught in a maze of narrow streets, which lead up tortuously to the cathedral square. The pressure of surrounding houses makes it difficult to get a comprehensive view of the church, but one receives, in narrow glimpses through the clipped limes of the market-place, a general impression of grace and sobriety that somehow precludes any strong individual effect. The cathedral of Soissons is indeed chiefly remarkable for its repetition of the rounded transepts of Noyon; though in this case (for reasons which it would be interesting to learn) the round end, while receiving the farther development of an aisle and triforium, has been applied only to one transept.

The thought of Soissons, however, at least in the mind of the passing impressionist, must remain chiefly associated with that rarest creation of the late Gothic of the north-east, the façade of Saint Jean des Vignes. This church, which formed part of a monastic settlement in the outskirts of the town, is now almost in ruins, and of the abbatial buildings around it there remain only two admirable fragments of the cloister arcade, and the abbot's house, built at a much later date. So complete is the outline of the beautiful west front that one would hardly guess the ruin of the nave but for the blue sky showing through the vast circle of the central rose, from which every fragment of tracery has been stripped. Yet one can pardon even that inhumanity to the destroyers who respected the towers—those incomparable towers, so harmonious in their divergences, so typical of that lost secret of mediæval art—the preservation of symmetry in unlikeness. These western towers of Saint Jean, rising strongly on each side of the central door, and reinforcing the airy elegance of the façade by their vigorous vertical buttressing, break, at the level of the upper gable, into pyramidal masses of differing height and breadth, one more boldly tapering, the other more massive and complex, yet preserving in a few essential features—the placing of the openings, the correspondence of strong horizontal lines—a unity that dominates their differences and binds them into harmony with the whole façade. It is sad, on passing through the gaping western doorway, to find one's self on a bit of waste ground strewn with fragments of sculpture and masonry—sadder still to have the desolation emphasized by coming here on a bit of Gothic cloister, there on a still more distinctive specimen of Renaissance arcading. The quality of these surviving fragments indicates how great must have been the interest, both æsthetic and historical, of this beautiful ruin, and revives the vain wish that, in some remote corner of Europe, invasion and civil war might have spared at least one complete example of a great monastic colony, enabling one to visualise the humaner side of that mediæval life which Carcassonne evokes in its militant aspect.

The return from Soissons to Paris holds out so many delightful alternatives, in respect both of scenery and architecture, that, in April especially, the traveller may be excused for wavering between Compiégne and Senlis, between Beauvais and Saint Leu d'Esserent. Perhaps the road which traverses Senlis and Saint Leu, just because it offers less exceptional impressions, brings one closer to the heart of old France, to its inexhaustible store of sober and familiar beauty. Senlis, for instance, is only a small sleepy town, with two or three churches of minor interest—with that the guide-book might dismiss it; but had there been anything in all our wanderings quite comparable to the impression produced by that little cathedral in its quiet square—a monument so compact yet noble, so embroidered with delicate detail, above all so sunned-over with a wonderful golden lichen that it seems like a dim old jewel-casket from which the gilding is almost worn?

The other churches of Senlis, enclosed, like the cathedral, in the circuit of half-ruined walls that make a miniature cité of the inner town, have something of the exquisite quality of its central monument. Both, as it happens, have been secularised, and Saint Pierre, the later and more ornate of the two buildings, has suffered the irony of being converted into a market, while Saint Frambourg, an ancient collegiate church, has sunk to the uses of a storage warehouse. In each case, access to the interior is sometimes hard to obtain; but the two façades, one so delicate in its early Gothic reticence, the other so prodigal of the last graces of the style, carry on almost unbrokenly the architectural chronicle which begins with the Romanesque cathedral; and the neglect, so painful to witness in the interior, has given them a surface-tone almost rich enough to atone for the cost at which it has been acquired.

If, on leaving Senlis, one turns westward, skirting the wooded glades of Chantilly, and crossing the park at the foot of the "Canal de la Manche," one comes presently into the valley of the Oise and, a few kilomètres farther on, the village of Saint Leu d'Esserent lifts its terraced church above the river.

The site of Saint Leu is that of the little peaked Mediterranean towns: there is something defensive, defiant, in the way it grasps its hill-side and lifts its church up like a shield. The town owes this crowning ornament—and doubtless also its own slender existence—to the founding here, in the eleventh century, of a great Cluniac abbey, of which certain Romanesque arcades and a fortified gate may be traced among the débris behind the apse. Of the original church there survives only a round-arched tower, to which, in the latter half of the twelfth century, was added what is perhaps the most homogeneous, and assuredly the most beautiful, early Gothic structure in France. The peculiar interest of this church of Saint Leu—apart from its intrinsic nobility of design—lies in the fact of its being, so curiously, the counterpart, the other side of the shield, of the church of Vézelay. For, as at Vézelay one felt beneath the weight of the round openings the impatient stirrings of the pointed arch, so here at Saint Leu, where the latter form at last triumphs, its soaring movement is still held down by the close-knit Romanesque frame of the church. It is hard to define the cause of this impression, since at Saint Leu the pointed style has quite freed itself, structurally, from Romanesque entraves, all the chief elements of later Gothic construction being blent there in so harmonious a composition that, as Mr. Charles Moore has pointed out, the church might stand for a perfect example of "unadorned Gothic." All that later art could do toward the elaboration of such a style was to add ornament, enlarge openings, and lighten the masses. But by the doing of just that, the immense static value of the earlier proportions was lost—and the distinction of Saint Leu is that it blends, in perfect measure, Gothic lightness with Romanesque tenacity.

Of this the inside of the church is no less illustrative than its exterior. Though the western bays of the nave were built later than its eastern portion, they end in a narthex on the lines of the outer porch of Vézelay, surmounted by a gallery from which the great sweep of the aisles and triforium may be felt in all its grandeur. For, despite the moderate proportions of the church, grandeur and reserve are its dominating qualities—within and without it has attained the classic balance that great art at all times has its own ways of reaching.

Westward from Saint Leu, the valley of the Oise, fruitful but somewhat shadeless, winds on toward Paris through pleasant riverside towns—Beaumont, l'Isle-Adam, and the ancient city of Pontoise; and beyond the latter, at a point where the river flings a large loop to the west, one may turn east again and, crossing the forest of Saint Germain, descend on Paris through the long shadows of the park of Saint Cloud.

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