Old French Houses.
They were the necessary outgrowth of that time. Foreign invasions and civil and religious wars made castles a necessity. Defenseless people were only too thankful then to rally around any powerful chief who built a stronghold and offered them protection. The owners of these castles were, therefore, almost independent sovereigns in their localities, and this gave rise to feudalism, which gradually yielded to the central royal power, as France became a homogeneous nation.
Leaving Touraine, with its old castles and historic memories, we halted next in our southward journey toward the Pyrenees, at Bordeaux. Bord-d' eaux, if not the accepted derivation of its name, would still be a very appropriate title for this city, lying on the border of the Garonne river, which,as it sweeps around the town in a majestic curve three miles in length, has a breadth of two thousand feet. Few cities in the world have such a water-front and such substantial quays as Bordeaux can display, and one can well believe its commerce fully justifies all that has been expended here in its embankments and magnificent bridge, - the handsomest in France. Bordeaux is, of course, preeminently the city of Bacchus, and on the altar of that deity are poured libations of those products of French vineyards which come to us across the ocean under such well - known labels as Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafitte, Chateau La-tour, Pontet Canet, St. Jul-ien, and Medoc. Thelattername, indeed, is given primarily to a long strip of grape - producing land extending northward from Bordeaux between the ocean and the river, and this, in autumn, is loaded with innumerable clusters of the delicious fruit that is to send its flavor through the world.
The River Garonne At Bordeaux.
The Grand Opera House, Bordeaux.
"Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a Snare? A Blessing, we should use it, should we not? And if a Curse, why, then, Who set it there?"
The soil of Medoc is a light gravel which seems peculiarly adapted to the vine, because it retains the sun's heat about its roots for a long time after sunset. Bordeaux is not a city where the passing tourist will care to linger, but its hotels are comfortable, the view of its noble river, crowded with shipping, is exceedingly picturesque, and its Grand Opera House is one of the most imposing structures of the kind in Europe.
The form of the western coasts of France and Spain resembles that of a gigantic chair, and almost exactly at the point of union of its seat and back is situated Biarritz, fronting upon the Bay of Biscay.
"The winds are rude in Biscay's sleepless bay," says Byron, and in truth the roughness of that body of water has become proverbial. The ceaseless swell of the Atlantic pours into this peculiar area, formed by the huge projections of two countries, an uninterrupted series of enormous waves, which in recoiling from the sharp, rectangular coast lines are of necessity thrown into great confusion. Such billows have, in the course of ages, ravaged and honeycombed the opposing cliffs, beating them down and cutting them away from the mainland, so that they now protrude from the expanse of agitated water like the skeletons of some extinct sea-monsters of an earlier world. I liked especially to make my way to one of these isolated rocks, which is connected with the shore by a long iron bridge. To lean upon that parapet on a breezy day is almost as exhilarating as standing at the bow of a fine yacht in a stiff breeze, and has the advantage of involving no danger and discomfort. After a storm, the grandeur of the Atlantic at this point is almost indescribable; but even in comparatively calm weather the scene here is enchanting. At such a time the great variety of colors in the Bay of Biscay seemed to me unequaled. Far off, the sea is usually of the deepest blue, but nearer, is transformed into distinctly graduated shades of purple, lighter blue, and green, till finally it curls into successive lines of snow-white breakers, which chase each other up the cliffs as nimbly and audaciously as charging squadrons of light cavalry. Delightful also is the contrast between the fury of the billows on the tortured rocks, and the tranquillity which reigns in sheltered nooks behind them, where only tender wavelets are discernible - their soft, caressing fingers running along the sand and ruffling it into letters whose meaning no man knows. Meantime, everywhere and dominating all else is the ocean's voice, now rising to a thunder of defiance, now sinking to a soft entreaty or a murmur of delight; on one side giving an exultant shout of victory, and on the other a soft whisper of submission. How typical of the passions of humanity are these restless waves, - tossed on the bosom of the sleepless bay, in strict obedience to a power they cannot control, buffeted rudely by each other, driven by winds which make of them their sport, and alternating ceaselessly between ferocity and gentleness, war and peace, bewitching gaiety and solemn majesty!