7 AUGUST 1880, Page 12


CANNES last winter afforded material for not a few paragraphs in the papers that chronicle the doings of " Society." Balls and duchesses abounded by the sheltered Mediterranean bay, where multitudinous villas are scattered pell-mell within sound of the sea and up pine- crowned heights, where, alas ! white plastered walls make ugly gashes in the feathery slopes. For in that arcadia day after day the winter sky is of the warm blue, rarely flecked by clouds, against which the southern vegetation detaches its outlines as if it were conscious of furthest ethereal space. Morning and evening the volcanic crests of the Esterel Mountains flame in golden or in violet splendour, above the ever throbbing, ever smiling sea. As Spring advances, the fields send up their wor- ship of colour and perfume from narcissus, anemones, violets, and tulips. The Alps are far ; the eye only rests on habitable valleys and sheltering slopes. The harsh draughts of Nice, the enervating calm of Mentone, are less agreeable than the airy mildness of Cannes, which keeps health and cheerfulness at their best. It is not strange that very charming people should have found the peculiar refinement of the place in sympathy with their best tastes. Even the French world of the most exclusive sort finds that, in this at least, British feeling has not been misplaced, and by the winter residence there of personages representative of what is best and most characteristic in the elder French society a par, titular distinction is gained for Cannes, which in some degree preserves it from the glaring vulgarities and absurdities of a Brighton or a Cowes. Let all who love the place be thankful for the graceful sulks, the attitude of semi-exile, the well-marked piety, and dislike to " immoral episodes" and licentious thought, which, for the French colony at least, preserve Cannes as a " ville seriense," where no theatre, no doubtful visitors, no individuals known to the police, are allowed, much less encour- aged. And one of the interests of Cannes is the diversity of its society, where in a small space many types, elsewhere not in juxtaposition, are to be studied. In the early winter, the in- valids are notably visible and important, but except in their doctors' eyes, they lose their prominence as the town fills. Rumours of balls replace conversation on the climate. Dinners cease to be hygienic ; the winter sun gleams with keen, white light on increasingly startling English costumes, just come from Mayfair. Trains go and come on the eastern line laden with moralists, who have been at Monaco because it is so lovely, or because the concerts there are so good, or because its habitues afford strange studies of character. Cannes is not yet the ante- room to Monte Carlo, except for a very few ; let' us hope that it will not become the English fashion to make it so, and that people who want to gamble, and butter their daily bread with agreeable vice, will go to Nice, or stay at Monaco. The aspects of English "high life," to use a phrase seriously adopted in French literature, are much the same at Cannes as in any other place where English fashion holds its court ; but the con- tact of our national characteristics, of our religious and politi- cal tendencies, with those of the best French society still clinging to the traditions of an elder and politer world, gives to it light and shade. There is a large and wealthy middle-class, more or less valetudinarian, who cling persistently to insular dogmas concerning drugs, drains, and dories. They now and then attempt to read a French novel, but, on the whole, they indulge, with almost a sense that they are fulfilling a duty, in ignorance of the country they patronise. They hardly believe it has a higher literature, they know little of its energy of thought, or of the social and political currents which flow just now so impetuously. But a very superficial glance at the life at Cannes might teach us many a fact worth knowing, might indicate forces which are more than usually active, might let the observer see what are the antagonisms of uneasy Europe on a very small, yet not the less true scale, just as a storm in a tea- cup may reveal the laws of a tornado.

We are reminded, with somewhat of surprise, of the acrimony and divergence of excellent Christians. Many a prejudice, many a practice we had considered obsolete, are in full vigour at Cannes. Furious Evangelical and fiery Ritualist shout beneath the cloudless canopy. Three Anglican churches form, let us hope, white light, by the union of their very diverse colours. There are Scotch churches, French and Swiss Protestant temples, Bible meetings, soup kitchens, where strong meat soup is doled to the working-classes during the strictest fasts ; missionaries speaking the Provencale tongue, the better to seize on unwary natives ; schools with every attraction of universal knowledge, and pre-eminently the knowledge how to proselytise children and parents by arguments of the most practical sort ; "asiles" where the sick are doctored on Gospel principles ; advertise- ments, Bible depots, and all the pomp and circumstance of propagandism. The gauntlet so fairly flung down is necessarily taken up by the " times pieuses " among the French, who feel that all these foreign wolves in strange English costumes must not make away with the sheep and lambs of the parish. Hence, rival "oeuvres," and many sermons ; piety in its full life, and, as after all the town and the poor are French, piety in its right place, and reasonable in its efforts,—and if ever slightly con- troversial, perforce so, because of the vehement effort to disturb the faith of the ignorant and rather indifferent people. But to a looker-on, the rivalry betrays a most curious lack of percep- tion on the part of the well-meaning strangers. Surely the comfortable zealots who are eager to nibble at the foundations of whatever religion yet remains in revolutionised France '(fortunately, those foundations are deeper than is some- times supposed), do not wish to identify themselves with Nihilists in religious matters. The respectable rich can- not wish to undermine the laws of reverence at the base of society, or in the name of liberty second the tyranny of anti-Christian hatred, which threatens the civilisation 'of Continental Europe. But the respectable rich are not very intelligent, and so money is lavishly spent on reli- gious disintegration. Servants are tempted to profess a • spurious Protestantism during the good pleasure and good payment of their employers. Children are filched from schools where they learn the first lessons of duty and faith, that they may fill the benches and excuse the expense that is so freely incurred in starting opposition classes, with many more 'additional attractions than the poor machinery of the place can -offer. Truly these "valiant for truth" folk do not look far ahead, or they would shrink from their work of destruction, and the active aid they afford to the professors of the law of hate versus the law of love. Probably few of the picnickers at Cannes. think of the under-life of which they snatch away the essence in two or three months of extravagance and idleness. If they think of it at all, it is to grumble loudly at the efforts of the chief lady of Cannes, whose name need not be told to any who know the place, because she tries to stem the rush of selfish frivolity, to remind English visitors of the perpetual debt owed by the rich to the poor, and to support and extend the works of charity—partially, it must be owned, works of self-defence—which she has established, as the place has by its increase of motley population needed their multiplication. It would be well if the better-meaning English visitors would use their common-sense to see that the various -good works in aid of the children, the sick, and the aged of Vannes deserve a special respect, because there, where social extremes are so marked and the population so shifting, it is more important to mend social fractures, and carry on the work -of class reconciliation, than elsewhere ; work important, in the 'first instance, to the poor, but far more to the rich, if they will but look ahead.

Meantime, at Cannes, society is beginning to labour hard at pleasure, which may presently spoil the enjoyment of the place. Its world is very worldly. It affords plenty of material to -occupy the pen of a Thackeray or a Greville, yet we have dwelt on the religions irritations of Cannes because they represent curious survivals, and they afford possible forecasts of what, after all, must ever attract the curiosity, if not the affection, of men and women. In France the religious volcano is in actual 'eruption, and at Cannes the motley and superficial crowd is more or less unconsciously an index to the current of deeper thought. The figures that lounge in the Cercle Nautique, that meet with surprise at cosmopolitan picnics or dab balls, are vepresentative, from the Russian who intrudes fragments of Louis Quinze life under the respectable noses of "advanced" Englishwomen, to the invalid grandee and his swarming ministers the Swiss hotel-keepers and shopkeepers. Exiled princes and their adherents are at Cannes conspicuous flotsam, left by the high tide of monarchy ; but equally at Cannes are there tokens of further tempest, angry dawns just hinted through the decorous twilight of legitimism.

The place will be crowded next winter. Much that is un- desirable of modern fashion will doubtless obtain within its three miles of villas. The best energies of the British will be given to lawn tennis, and few will concern themselves about Provencale or Ligurian customs and tempers ; yet we appeal to the least frivolous of the modish mob to preserve the pleasant place from the vulgarities, the pseudo-reforms, the mischievous patronage that are apt to follow on " upper-class " invasion. We protest against upper-class contempt for indigenous life that is the outcome of so antique and vivid a history as is that of Provence.

The excellent and rich patrons of Evangelical societies, and tract distributors, who have, in the last twenty years, poured some thirty million pamphlets assailing the national religion into France, would do well to pause and think to what end they are working. But we English, being singularly opinionated, and confident that the British Church and Consti- tution are the only panaceas for all European evils, lend our weight of character and purse to the destructive forces, which are as con- trary to liberty as to all religion. Excellent, well-to-do souls fidget about Europe, and, as far as they know how, by making war on the only possible religion of many localities, strengthen the hands of officials who are too glad to see the churches emptied, and with light hearts hasten the Nihilism which is only an extreme and antedated form of the gospel of demolition. After all, how can English people of the class that is at once endowed with delicate health and heavy purses be expected to know much of these subjects ? " Anglicise, advienne que pourra," is the motto of too many of the errant Bayards of British thought. Yet would they but try to learn something of the true family life of their hosts by the Provencal shores, would they but endeavour to get below the surface—not a truth-telling surface, in such a world as that of Cannes—they would see much that we. in England might well respect of simple faith and morals ; while in the French society of the place, a degree of piety and a high tone of manners exist, as a rule, of which some recent volumes of memoirs give a fair idea. There is more to learn than to teach at Cannes, more to help than there is to reform. Shall we English ever believe that we are not wisest and best, and born to set the world to rights, by proper application of Bishops and bank- notes, soap and a well-marked sense of our superiority ?