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Description de l’éditeur
THE regard which every one has for the old French provinces is by no means inexplicable. Out of them grew the present solidarity of republican France, but in spite of it the old limits of demarcation are not yet expunged. One and all retain to-day their individual characteristics, manners, and customs, and also a certain subconscious atmosphere.
Many are the casual travellers who know Normandy and Brittany, at least know them by name and perhaps something more, but how many of those who annually skim across France, in summer to Switzerland and in winter to the Riviera or to Italy, there to live in seven-franc-a-day pensions, and drink a particularly vile brand of tea, know where Brittany leaves off and Normandy begins, or have more than the vaguest of vague notions as to whether the charming little provincial capital of Nantes, on the Loire, is in Brittany or in Poitou. A recollection of their school-day knowledge of history will help them on the latter point, but geography will come in and puzzle them still more.
There are many French writers, and painters for that matter, who have made these provinces famous. Napoleon, perhaps, set the fashion, when he wrote, in 1786, that eulogy beginning: “It is now six or seven years since I left my native country.” More familiar is the “Native Land” of Lamartine. Camille Flammarion wrote “My Cradle,” meaning Champagne; Dumas wrote of Villers-Cotterets, and Chateaubriand and Renan of Brittany; but head and shoulders above them all stand out Frederic Mistral and his fellows of the Félibres at Avignon and Arles. All this offers a well-nigh irresistible fascination for those who love literary and historic shrines,—and who does not in these days of universal travel, personally conducted or otherwise? Not every one can follow in the footsteps of Sterne with equal facility and grace, or bask in the radiance of a Stevenson or a Gautier. Still, it is given to most of us who know the lay of the land to discover for ourselves the position of these celebrated shrines, whether the pilgrimage be historical, literary, or artistic.
This is what gives a charm to travel, and even where no new thing is actually discovered, no new pathways broken, there is, after all, a certain zest in such an exploration rivalling that to be obtained from an expedition to the uttermost confines of the Dark Continent, to Tibet, or to Tierra del Fuego.
Primarily, the ancient provinces of France have a story of historical and romantic purport not equalled in the chronicles of any other nation. The distinctive types are but vaguely limned, but the Norman and the Breton stand out most distinctly, and such figures as the Norman and Breton dukes of real history live even more vividly in one’s mind than D’Artagnan and his fellows in the great portrait-gallery of Dumas.
One need not be of the antiquary species in order to revel in the great monuments of history abounding in Brittany even as in Normandy. There are many and beautiful shrines elsewhere,—and doubtless some are more popularly famous than any in Brittany,—but none have played greater or more important rôles in the history and development of the France of to-day than those of the two northwestern provinces.
As has been said, each of the great provinces into which France was divided previous to the Revolution possessed characteristics, unmistakable even to-day. As to the topography of any single one, the question is so vast in its detail that more than mention of principal features can hardly be made in a book such as this. It is then perhaps enough that some slight information concerning Brittany and its principal places should be recorded here, and that the chief configurations of its territory should be outlined.
In addition to the principal old-time governments, there were the ancient fiefs and local divisions, and these in many cases had names often encountered in history and literature. Sometimes these were relics of the still earlier day, of Gaul before the Roman conquest, their ancient names having come down through the ages with but little change.