REACH'S CLARET AND OLIVES.*
Pius volame contains the account of a tour through the South of France lying between Bordeaux and the country adjacent to the Rhone. In common hands, not much, perhaps, would have been made of this excursion. But Mr. Reach had an object which took him into the heart of the districts he passed through ; he has lite- rary ability to select his topics and describe them. He was tra- versing France as agricultural commissioner to the Morning Chro- nicle : this employment brought him into places and in connexion with persons that possessed something more than farming fea- tures, and out of the surplus Mr. Reach has drawn matter for his volume, and turned aside in search of more. The vintage, and the facts connected with the production of Bordeaux or claret as we call it, might fall within the sphere of his roving commission ; so might olives, from connexion with wine and oil. The desert Landes—the society at Pau—a late autumnal visit to the Pyrenees —Cette, the city which in Sheridan's phraseology composes wines —a pilgrimage to Aignes-Mortes, an ague-stricken town surround- ed by marshes, and whose inhabitants die a living death-.--a de- scription of the antiquities of Nismes, and the religious bitterness which, founded by the crusade of the Albigenses and renovated by the dragonades of Louis the Fourteenth, yet survives—with many passing pictures of nature and society—are things that ap- pertain not to agriculture. A few historical reminiscences are picked out of Froissart ; which, though neither overdone nor out of place, lose their effect from the manner in which bookmakers have haeknied historical topography.
The volume is less a narrative of travels than a series of travel- ling pictures, where the effect depends upon the author's choice of subjects and manner of treating them. Monologue dialogue, dra- matic points, and an elaborated style of narrative;that belongs to fiction rather than to an account of a tour, characterize Claret and
Olives. There is more substance in Mr. Reach than often accom- panies this race of sketchers, and more apparent verity. He rather seems to make the most of his materials than to exaggerate or distort under the mistaken notion of improving ; and though not without an occasional tendency to expansion, he never degenerates into phrasemongery. The subjects, moreover, are attractive. Pau and the Pyrenees have been written about of late years ; so has Nismes, pretty often ; but Mr. Reach passes briefly over these things, or takes new points of view. The Landes, the old country towns lying off the great roads of tourists and even of commerce, the undisturbed country districts, or the strange barren country half-marsh half-desert through which runs the great canal of the South as it approaches the Mediterranean, are interesting in them- selves and new to description.
There is a clever sketch of the vintage in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux ; whither Mr. Reach went in the company of his land- lord, and made a jolly day and night of it. There is also interest- ing information about the cultivation of the grape and the making of the wine. The opinion of the peasantry is that the reputation of the vineyards of highest name is forced and factitious—got up, in fact, by money and puffing. On inquiry, Mr. Reach found that this was not the case. Time, attention, care, and labour, are as
• Claret and Olives, from the Garonne to the Rhone; or Notes Social, Picturesque, and Legendary, by the Way. By Angus B. Reach, Author of "The Story of a Buccaneer." Published by Bogue.
necessary to the production of first-rate claret as of other excellent things.
"I have introduced this episode principally for the purpose of showing the notions entertained by the small proprietary as to the boasted superiority of the large vineyards ; but the plaini
truth s, that the great growers are perfectly in the right. I have stated that the quality of the soil throughout the grape country varies almost magically. Well, the good spots have been more or less known since hledoe was Ifedoc ; and the larger and richer resi- dents have got them, by inheritance, by marriage, and by purchase, almost entirely into their own hands. Next, they greatly improved both the soil and the breed of plants. They studied and experimentalized until they found the most proper manures and the most promising cultures. They grafted and crossed the vine-plants till they got the most admirably bearing bushes ; and then, generation after generation, devoting all their attention to the quality of the wine, without regard to the quantity—scrupulously taking care that not a grape which is unripe or over-ripe finds its way to the tub— that the whole process shall be scrupulously clean, and that every stage of fermentation be assiduously attended to—the result of all this has been the perfectly-perfumed and high-clasa clarets, which fetch an enormous price ; while the peasant proprietors, careless in cultivation, using old vine-plants,
anxious, at the vintage, spots e only for quantity, and confined to the worst spo in i
the district, succeed n producing wines which, good as they are, have not the slightest pretence to enter into competition with the liquid harvests of their richer and more enlightened neighbours."
The vintage sustained its character of abandon and jollity. Not so the olive, either in the appearance of the tree or the processes connected with the fruit.
"I was miserably disappointed with the olive. It is one of the romantic trees, full of association. It is a Biblical tree, and one of the most favoured of the old Eastern emblems. But what claim has it to beauty ? The trunk, a weazened sapless-looking piece of timber, the branches spreading out from it like the top of a mushroom, and the colour, when you can see it for dust, a cold, sombre, greyish green. One olive is as like another as one mord& is like another. The tree has no picturesqueness, no variety. It is not high enough to be grand, and not irregular enough to be graceful. Put it beside the birch, the beech, the elm, or the oak, and you will see the poetry
of the forest and its poorest and most meagre prose. •
"On our way to Lund l we saw the olive-gathering just beginning ; bat, alas! it had none of the gayety and bright associations of the vintage. On the contrary, it was as businesslike and unexciting as weeding onions or digging potatoes. A set of ragged peasants—the countrypeople hereabouts are poorly dressed—were clambering barefoot in the trees, each man with a bas- ket tied before him, and lazily plucking the dull oily fruit. Occasionally, . the olive-gatherers had spread a white cloth beneath the tree, and were shaking the very ripe fruit down ; but there was neither jollity, nor romance about the process. The olive is a tree of association, but that is all. Its culture, its manuring, and clipping, and trimming, and grafting—the ga- thering of its fruits, and their squeezing in the mill, when the ponderous stone goes round and round in the glutinous trough, crushing the very es- sence out of the oily pulps—while the fat, oleaginous stream pours lazily into the greasy vessels set to receive it—all this 18 as prosaic and uninterest- ing as if the whole Royal Agricultural Society were presiding in spirit over the operations."
The student of Murray's Handbook will remember the attack upon the French commis voyageur: Mr. Reach stands up for the bagman, especially in comparison with the military officers. I agree with Mr. Murray, that commercial travellers, French and Eng- lish, are not distinguished by much polish of manner or elegance of address; on the contrary, the style of their proceedings at table is frequently slovenly and coarse, and their talk is almost invariably shop.' In a word, theydre not educated people, or gentlemen. But when we come to such expressions as selfish, brutal, and depraved,' I think most English travellers in France will agree with me that the aristocratic handbook maker is going more than a little too far. I have met scores of clever and intelligent commis voyageurs— hundreds of affable, goodhumoured ones—thousands of decent, inoffensive ones. In company with a lady, I have dined at every species of table-d'hAte, in every species of hotel, from the Channel to the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay to the Alps, and I cannot call to mind one instance of rudeness, or voluntary want of civility, from one end of our journey to the other ; while scores and scores of instances of attention and kindness—more par- ticularly when it was ascertained that my companion was in weak heahh- come thronging on me. I know that the French commis voyageur looks after his own interest at table pretty sharply, and also that he is quite de- ficient in all the elegant little courtesies of society ; but to say that he is brutal-or depraved, because he is not a petit maitre and an elegant, is neither true nor courteous. If there be any set of Frenchmen to whose conducf at table-d'hOtes strong expressions may be fairly applied, it is French officers; who, sprung from a rank often inferior to that of the bagman, and with al the coarseness of the barracks clinging to them, frequently cluster together in groups of half-a-dozen—scramble for all that is good upon the table—eat with their caps on, which the commis voyageur only does in winter, when the bare and empty salle is miserably cold—and in general behave with a coarse rudeness and a tumultuous vulgarity which I never saw private soldiers guilty of, either here or in France."
The visit to the city of Aigues-Mortes, founded by Saint Louis in the midst of marshes as a point of departure for his crusaders,
soon after abandoned by the favour of royalty, and gradually sink- ing to its present state, is a graphic narrative. We will take one passage as indicative of a medical principle—the power of good living and its concomitants to resist noxious influences. "Here now is Aignes-Mortes—coffinlike Aigues-Mortes—with about a couple of thousand pallid, shaking mortals, striving their best against the marsh fever, among the ruined houses and within the smouldering walls of this ancient Gothic city. In a solemn, shady street, I found a decentish hotel, not much above the rank of an auberge, and where I was about as lonely as in the vast caravan- sary at Bagnerre. The landlord himself—a staid, decent man—waited at my solitary dinner. "'Monsieur,' he said, 'is an artist, or a poet ? '
" ' What made him think so ? '
" 'Because nobody else ever came to Aigues-Mortes ; no traveller ever turned aside across the marshes to visit their poor old decayed town. There
was no trade, no commis voyageurs. The people of Nismes and Montpellier were afraid of the fever ; and even if they were not, why should they come there ? It was no place for pleasure on a holyday ; a man would as soon think of amusing himself in a hospital or a morgue as in Aigues-Mortes.'
"I inquired more particularly about the fever, for I felt it difficult to con- ceive how people could continue to remain in a place cursed by nature with a perpetual chronic plague. My host informed me, that those who lived well and copiously, were well clothed, well lodged, and under no necessity to be out early and late among the marshes, fared tolerably. They might have an ague-fit now and then, but when once well-seasoned they did pretty well, It was the poorer class who suffered, particularly in spring and autumn, 'when vegetation was forming and withering, and the steaming mists came out thickest over the fens. People seldom died with the first attack ; but the subtile disease hung about them, and returned again and again, and wore, and tugged, and exhausted their energies—kept nibbling, in fact, at body and soul, till, in too many cases, the disease-besieged man surrendered, and his soul marched out. I asked again, then, how the poor people remained in such a hotbed of pestilence? "Que voulez-vous ? ' was the reply—' the greater part can't help it; they were born here, and they have a place here; at Nismes, or Marseilles, or Montpellier, they would have no place. Besides, they are accustomed to it ; they look upon fevers as one of the conditions of their lives, like eating and drinking ; and besides, they have no energy for a change. The stuff has been taken out of them. You will see what a sal- low, worn-out people we have at Aig,ues-Mortes. They can get a living here, but they would be overwhelmed anywhere else.'"