[To THZ EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."}
SOME thirty years ago, more or less, I remember reading with much incredulous amusement Sir Francis Head's " Bubbles of the Brunnen." It was in the early days of the Saturday Review, when the infidel Talleyrand gospel of surf out point de zele was being preached to young England week by week in those able but depressing columns. I, like the rest of my contemporaries, was more or less affected by the cold-water virus, and was certainly inclined to look from the superior person standpoint on what I could not but regard as the outpourings of the second childhood of an eccentric septuage- narian, who was really asking us to believe that the Schwal- bach waters were as miraculously, potent as the thigh-bone of St. Glengulphns, of which is it not written in "The Ingoldsby Legends" :— "And cripples, on touching his fractured os fentoris,
Threw down their crutches and danced a quadrille."
I need scarcely say to you, Sir, that it is many years since I have been thoroughly disabused of this depressing heresy ; but perhaps one never quite recovers from such early demoralisation. At any rate, now that I find myself ap- proaching Sir Francis's age, and much in his frame of mind when he blew his exhilarating bubbles, I can't quite make up my mind to turn myself loose, as he did, and in Lowell's words, "pour out my hope, my fear, my love, my-wonder," upon you and your readers. The real fact, however, stated in plain (Yankee) prose is, that Schwalbach (I have been there) "is not a circumstance" to this refuge for the victim of gout, rheumatism, eczema, dyspepsia, and I know not how many more kindred maladies, amongst the burnt-out volcanoes of the Department Puy-de-Dome. Nevertheless, you may fairly say, and I should agree, that my ten days' experience of the effect of the waters is scarcely sufficient to make me a trustworthy witness as to the healing properties of these springs. Twenty-one days is the prescribed course, and as I am as yet but half through, I will not " holloa till I am out of the wood," but will try in the first place to give you some idea of this Royat-les-Bains and its surroundings.
Let us look out from this third-floor window at which I am writing, on the highest guest-floor of the topmost hotel in Royat, to which a happy chance (or my good angel, if I have one) led me on my arrival. I look out across a narrow valley, from three to four hundred yards wide, upon a steep hill which forms its opposite side. They say this hill is a burnt- out volcano. However that may be, it is now clothed with vineyards on all but the almost precipitous places where the rock peeps out. On the highest point, against the sky-line, stands out a small white house, calling itself the Hotel de l'Obseriatoire, from which there must be a magnificent view; but how it is to be reached I have not yet learned, for there is no visible road or footpath, and the peasants object to one's attempting the ascent through the vineyards. The valley winds up round this hill, taking a turn to the north, our side widening out and sweeping back behind Royat Church and village, to which the retreating hill behind forms a most picturesque background. For, on the lower slope, just above the houses, are stretches of bright-green meadow, interspersed amongst irregular clumps of oak ; above this comes a brown-red belt of rough ground, growing heather and wild strawberries ; and, again above that, all along the brow, are dense pine-woods. The constant changes of colour which this southern sun brings out all day long on this hill-side make it difficult to break away from one's window and descend to the gtablissement to drink waters and take baths. This institution lies down at the bottom of the valley I have been describing, some 200 ft. below this window, and lg.) ft. below the broad terrace which is thrown out from the ground-floor of this hotel. From the terrace a rough, zig-zag path leads down to the brook, which rushes down from Royat village in a succession of tiny waterfalls, sending up to us all day the murmur of running water. On reaching the brook's bank, we have about one hundred yards to walk by its side, when, crossing a good road which runs round it, we reach the low wall of the Park, in which lies the bathing establish- ment. From this point the electric tram-cars run to Clermont, carrying backwards and forwards for two sous baigneurs and holiday-folk enough, I should say, to pay handsome dividends. This park occupies the whole breadth of the valley, pushing back the houses on either side against the hill-sides. Its main building, a handsome structure, built of lava, with red-tiled roof, contains all the separate baths and a piscine, or swimming-bath, besides a good-sized ball for sanitary gym- nastics, and a salle d'escrime, in which a professor instructs pupils daily in fencing and le bore. The broad path runs from top to bottom of this park, baying this etablissement building on its left or northern side, and on its right two parallel terraces, one above the other. On the lower of these is the great source, the "Eugenie," which bubbles up here in magnificent style, sending up some millions of gallons daily. Over the Eugenie source is a pavilion, with open sides and striped red and white curtains. A second pavilion on the same terrace, a little lower down, is devoted to the band, which plays every afternoon for two or three hours ; and below that again, the Casino. On the second or upper terrace are a few favoured clicilet shops, for the sale of books, pictures, photographs, and the pottery and bijouterie of Auvergne. Then, above again, comes the road which encloses the Park, on the opposite side of which are the row of large hotels built against the rocky side of the valley, and communicating at the back from their upper storeys with the road which runs up to Royat village. The rest of the Park is laid out in lawns and garden-beds, full of bright flowers and walks, amongst which are found three other sources—the Cesar, the St. Mart, and the St. Victor, each of which has its small drinking-pavilion. In front of these several pavilions and along the terraces are a plentiful supply of seats, and chairs which you can carry about to any spot you may select under the shade of the plane-trees and acacias which line the terraces and walks, with weeping-willows, chestnuts, and poplars happily inter- spersed here and there. The abundant water-supply which the brook brings down is well utilised, so that the whole park, some six acres in extent, is kept as fresh and green, and the flower-beds as luxuriant and bright with colour, as if it were in dear, damp England. At the bottom of the Park, a handsome viaduct of arches, built of lava, spans the valley, seeming to shut Royat in from the outer world, and beyond, the valley broadens out into a wide plain, with Clermont, the capital of Auvergne, in the foreground, and beyond the city, stretching right away to Switzerland, a splendid sea (as it were) of corn and maize and vines and olives, the richest, it is said, in the whole of la belle France. It is stated in all the guide-books, and by trust- worthy residents, that on a clear day you may see Mont Blanc from Royat, but as yet I have not been lucky enough.
Unless I have failed altogether in describing the view which lies constantly before me—from the pine-clad hill-side over Royat village, with its grey church and white red-roofed houses to the west, away down over the Park and sur- rounding hotels and shops, and viaduct and city and plain to the far east—you can now fancy what it must be in the early morning, when the light mist is lying along the hill-sides until the sun has had time to dispose of the clouds in the upper air, or at night, when the clear sky is thick with stars, and the Northern Lights flame up behind the silent volcano opposite this Hotel de Lyon. There is no place on earth, from the back-slums of great cities to the mountain-peak or mid-ocean, to which early morns and evening twilights do not bring daily, or almost daily, some touch of the beauty of light-pictures which sun and moon and stars paint for us so patiently, whether we heed them or no ; but to get them ihi their full perfection, one should be able to look at them in the light, dry, warm air of such places as these volcanic highlands of Auvergne.
And now for the life we lead in this air and scenery. Every morning at 6 I arrive at the Camar spring and drink two, glasses, with twenty minutes' interval between them. Then
I climb the hill to café au bait and two small rolls and butter on the terrace, which comes off about 7 a.m., as soon as the last of our party of four has come up from the Park. Rest till 11 follows, when we have clejeilner la fourchette, which, as we sit down about a hundred, lasts for an hour. In the afternoon I drink two glasses at the St.- Mart spring, and between them have twenty minutes in the piscine, which is my great treat of the day. Going punctually at 2, when the ladies surrender this swimming-bath to the men, I almost always get it to myself, and enjoy it as I used to do years ago, when my blood was warm enough, lying about amongst the waves on the English coast, and letting them just tumble and toss me about as they would. This water comes warm from the Eugenie spring daily, and is so buoyant that one can lie perfectly still on the top of it with one's hands behind one's head ; and if there were no roof to the piscine, and one could only look straight up all the time into the deep-blue sky, twice as high, so it looks, as ours in England, the physical enjoyment would be perfect. It is not far from that as it is, and I thoroughly sympathise with Browning's Amphibian,—
" From worldly noise and dust,
In the sphere which overbrims With passion and thought—why just
Unable to fly one swims."
August 9th. VACITIIS VIATOR..