The diary of John Evelyn

Regular posts from the diary of John Evelyn

Month: May 1644

Wednesday 25 May 1644

Was the Fête Dieu, and a goodly procession of all the religious orders, the whole streets hung with their best tapestries, and their most precious movables exposed; silks, damasks, velvets, plate, and pictures in abundance; the streets strewed with flowers, and full of pageantry, banners, and bravery.

“22nd: La Grande Procession de Florence, le jour de la Fête de Dieu”. Artist unknown. 1760. Source: BnF.

Sunday 8 May 1644

I went to see their manufactures in silk (for in this town they drive a very considerable trade with silk-worms), their pressing and watering the grograms1 and camlets2, with weights of an extraordinary poise, put into a rolling engine.

“Silk worms” from General History of Drugs by Pierre Pomet. 1694. Source: Collection BIU Health Medicine

Here I took a master of the language, and studied the tongue very diligently3., recreating myself sometimes at the Mall, and sometimes about the town. The house opposite my lodging had been formerly a King’s palace; the outside was totally covered with fleur-de-lis, embossed out of the stone. Here Mary de Medicis held her Court, when she was compelled to retire from Paris by the persecution of the great Cardinal.

  1. A cloth made with silk and mohair (Old Fr., gros-grabi). –AD 

  2. A stuff made of the hair of the Angora goat. –AD 

  3. “His [the foreign traveller’s] first study shall be to master the tongue of the country . . . which ought to be understood perfectly, written congruously, and spoken intelligently” (Preface to Evelyn’s State of France, Miscellaneous Writings, 1825, p. 45) –AD 

Friday 6 May 1644

We went to St. Gatian, reported to have been built by our countrymen; the dial and clockwork are much esteemed. The church has two handsome towers and spires of stone, and the whole fabric is very noble and venerable. To this joins the palace of the Archbishop, consisting both of old and new building, with many fair rooms, and a fair garden.

“Exterior of Gothic Cathedral of St. Gatien“ from France Illustrated. 1845. Source: Google ebook.

Here I grew acquainted with one Monsieur Merey, a very good musician. The Archbishop treated me very courteously. We visited divers other churches, chapels, and monasteries for the most part neatly built, and full of pretty paintings, especially the Convent of the Capuchins, which has a prospect over the whole city, and many fair walks.

Detail of Tours from “Monsiessulanus, Montpellier, Turo, Tours [and] Pictavis, sive Pictavia, Vernaculo Idiomate Poitiers” by Braun & Hogenberg. 1572-1624.

Monday 2 May 1644

We took boat again, passing by Charmont1, a proud castle on the left hand; before it is a sweet island, deliciously shaded with tall trees. A little distance from hence, we went on shore at Amboise, a very agreeable village, built of stone, and the houses covered with blue slate, as the towns on the Loire generally are2 ; but the castle3chiefly invited us, the thickness of whose towers from the river to the top, was admirable. We entered by the drawbridge, which has an invention to let one fall, if not premonished. It is full of halls and spacious chambers, and one staircase is large enough, and sufficiently commodious, to receive a coach, and land it on the very tower, as they told us had been done. There is some artillery in it; but that which is most observable is in the ancient chapel4, viz, a stag’s head, or branches, hung up by chains, consisting of twenty browantlers, the beam bigger than a man’s middle, and of an incredible length. Indeed, it is monstrous, and yet I cannot conceive how it should be artificial they show also the ribs and vertebræ of the same beast; but these might be made of whalebone5.

“Autre Vüe du chateau Royal d’Amboise du côté des champs.” by Jacques Rigaud. 1750. Source: BnF

Leaving the castle, we passed Mont Louis, a village having no houses above ground but such only as are hewn out of the main rocks of excellent freestone. Here and there the funnel of a chimney appears on the surface among the vineyards which are over them, and in this manner they inhabit the caves, as it were sea-cliffs, on one side of the river for many miles.

We now came within sight of Tours, where we were designed for the rest of the time I had resolved to stay in France, the sojournment being so agreeable. Tours is situate on the east side of a hill on the river Loire, having a fair bridge of stone called St. Edme; the streets are very long, straight, spacious, well built, and exceeding clean; the suburbs large and pleasant, joined to the city by another bridge. Both the church and monastery of St. Martin are large, of Gothic building, having four square towers, fair organs, and a stately altar, where they show the bones and ashes of St. Martin, with other relics.

“Tombeau de pierre dans la Chapelle de la Vierge derriere le Choeur de l’Eglise de St Martin de Tours. Il est du Mareschal de Boucicaut le Fils” by Louis Boudan. 1695. Source: BnF.

The Mall6 without comparison is the noblest in Europe for length and shade, having seven rows of the tallest and goodliest elms I had ever beheld, the innermost of which do so embrace each other, and at such a height, that nothing can be more solemn and majestical. Here we played a party, or party or two, and then walked about the town walls, built of square stone, filled with earth, and having a moat. No city in France exceeds it in beauty, or delight.

  1. The birthplace (1460) of Cardinal George d’Amboise (see ante, p. 93); and the residence of Catherine de Médicis. –AD  

  2. Plus que le marbre dur me plaist l’ardoise fine, Plus mon Loyre Gaulois que le Tybre Latin, — sings Joachim du Bellay in his Regrets, 1565.- AD 

  3. Chateau Royal d’Amboise -GS 

  4. The Chapel of Saint Hubert – Saint Hubert being the patron saint of hunters. -GS 

  5. Reresby, who duly mentions the winding staircase, adds: “In the chapel we saw the horns of a stag, of an incredible bigness, which they tell you swam from the sea, and came out of England; as also the neck-bone and one of his ribs, of five cubits and a half long” (Travels [in 1656], 1831, p. 26). –AD  

  6. Reresby calls it “the longest pell mell in France” (Travels, 1831, p. 26). -AD 

Sunday 1 May 1644

On Sunday, being May-day, we walked up into Pall Mall1, very long, and so noble shaded with tall trees (being in the midst of a great wood), that unless that of Tours, I had not seen a statelier.

From hence, we proceeded with a friend of mine through the adjoining forest2, to see if we could meet any wolves, which are here in such numbers that they often come and take children out of the very streets3; yet will not the Duke, who is sovereign here, permit them to be destroyed. We walked five or six miles outright; but met with none; yet a gentleman, who was resting himself under a tree, with his horse grazing by him, told us that half an hour before, two wolves had set upon his horse, and had in probability devoured him, but for a dog which lay by him. At a little village at the end of this wood, we ate excellent cream, and visited a castle builded on a very steep cliff4.

“Chasteau et bourg de Chaumont, Veüe de l’hostellerie du grand Escu à Escures, sur la levée” by Louis Boudan(?). 1699. Source: BnF. (Image shows barque style boats mentioned in diary)

Blois is a town where the language is exactly spoken5; the inhabitants very courteous; the air so good, that it is the ordinary nursery of the King’s children. The people are so ingenious, that, for goldsmith’s work and watches, no place in France affords the like. The pastures by the river are very rich and pleasant.

  1. A long straight road or promenade which evolved from the alleys in which the game of Pall Mall was played. -GS 

  2. The Foret de Blois -GS 

  3. Reresby confirms this, thirteen years afterwards. “They [the wolves] are so numerous and bold in cold weather, that the winter before my coming thither, a herd of them came into the street and devoured a young child ” (Travels, 1831, p. 26). See also ante, p. 92. –AD

  4. The castle is the Château de Chaumont and the village is probably the nearby Chaumont-sur-Loire. – GS 

  5. For which reason Mr. Joseph Addison, some fifty years later, spent twelve months there to acquire the French language at its best. “ The place where I am at present,”—he wrote to his friend Stanyan in February, 1700,—“by reason of its situation on the Loire and its reputation for ye Language, is very much Infested with Fogs and German Counts.” Pope, it may be added, touches on the quality of the Blois French :—

    A Frenchman comes,
    presents you with his Boy, Bows and begins—
    “This Lad, Sir, is of Blois. . . .His French is pure.”

    Imitations of Horace, Ep. II. Bk. ii. 1. 3. –AD