In Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tells of his travels in France with this sentiment:
I crave thy forbearance for having thought that even the busiest mind might not be a stranger to those moments of repose, when the clock of time clicks drowsily behind the door, and trifles become the amusement of the wise and great (5).
Longfellow spent three years, 1826-1829, travelling through Europe and revealed in Outre-Mer: “I have traversed France from Normandy to Navarre; smoked my pipe in a Flemish Inn (perhaps while writing “Belfry in Bruges”); floated through Holland in a Trekschuit; and trimmed my midnight lamp in a German university “(9).
In this time of limited International travel, I take delight in these “moments of repose and trifles” with Longfellow. If we cannot currently visit France, nor at anytime in the near future, Longfellow can bring France to us!
Longfellow’s first stop in France was in the Normandy ville of Rouen. Having visited Rouen myself on several occasions, I was transported back to one of my favorite cities through his eyes.
“In Rouen, there was an air of antiquity about the whole city that breathed of the Middle Ages; and so strong and delightful was the impression that it made upon my youthful imagination, that nothing which I afterward saw could either equal or efface it.
I have since passed through that city, but I did not stop. I was unwilling to destroy an impression which, even at this distant day, is as fresh upon my mind as if it were yesterday” (21).
“With these delightful feelings, I rambled on from street to street, till I unexpectedly came out in front of the magnificent cathedral. If it had suddenly risen from the earth, the effect could not have been more powerful and instantaneous. It completely overwhelmed my imagination”(22).
“When I gazed on the stupendous architecture of the church, the huge columns that the eye followed up till they were lost in the gathering dusk of the arches above, the long and shadowy aisles, the statues of saints and martyrs that stood in every recess, the figures of armed knights upon the tombs, the uncertain light that stole through the painted windows of each little chapel—all I had read of, but had not seen, — I was transported back to the Dark Ages, and felt as I can never feel again”(23).
Perhaps Claude Monet read this lovely description of the Rouen Cathedral by Longfellow and felt inspired to paint his series of the cathedral fifty-years later (1892)!
**Unfortunately, the Rouen Cathedral that Monet and Longfellow experienced was almost destroyed in April, 1944, during an bombing of World War II.
The pillars in the middle chapel, the one that held, are shiny and worn by the centuries, while the others in that aisle are fresh from the stonemason’s chisel. The Cathedral has since been restored to its original grandeur!
Longfellow, Henry W. Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea. Philadelphia: McKay Publisher. 1892.
“Longfellow the Linguist”:
“A Psalm of Life”
“Longfellow and Goethe”
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)