Sunday 8th July
My dear Constance
I left Orleans on Wednesday the 4th and stopped at Poitiers wishing to see that place again Thursday I went to Bordeaux & Friday to Bayonne – very great heat on the railroad – did not see much by the way, except the old Churches at Poitiers, the most curious being Notre Dame, a very primitive relic – On arriving at Bayonne the guard of the fortress received us with a thundering salute, & a group of bareheaded officers in splendid uniforms on the platform showed us that we were unconsciously in the company of a great personage – while we were wondering who this could be emerged Marshal Niel <1> from one of the carriages amid a profusion of bows on all sides – he is commander of the army in this quarter of France.
At Bayonne I met two savant of my acquaintance Monsieur Léon Foucault <2> and M. Chacornac, <3> both very amiable & intelligent, they were going to observe the Eclipse at Moncayo <4> near Tuleda in Spain.
Yesterday in the cool of the evening I drove over to this little watering place, wch is 13 miles from Bayonne – The country is a succession of hills and chesnut woods, with a background of the mountains at a certain distance. The views are often very beautiful & the forms of the mountains combine very well – It is not the season at Cambo – there are several nice little hotels – last year the Emperor <5> spent a day here & it is become a fashionable watering place The houses look quite new; this hotel (des Princes) is very comfortable. My balcony looks out on a beautiful prospect to the North and North East. Today I took a drive & walk to see le pas de Roland, 5 miles from here. The heat was great but the walk over rugged paths by the side of a beautiful mountain river was very pleasant. On the rocks by the river I found some plants, which also grow in England, but these specimens were larger & more abundantly in flower than I have seen in England – There was great abundance of Anagallis tenella (grows at Grasmere on the hill behind the cottage) – of ivy-leaved Campanula which I remember Mary Talbot <6> showed me on the hill above Lanelay; <7> and of Pinguicula Lusitanica (which I have only seen in the New Forest in Hampshire) This Ping. will not dry well, it is very pretty when examined but excessively small, the flowers raised on disproportionately lofty stalks. These 3 were growing in boggy spots on the rocks in plenty. Also 3 kinds of heath in flower, which I am not certain of – They seem all different from our English kinds –
This is the Basque country, the peasants talk nothing else. An old woman guided us to the pas de Roland where the hero cleft the rock with his sword Durandane <8> She spoke a little French – I mean to return to Bayonne in the cool of the evening
1. Adolphe Niel (1802–1869), Marshal of France under Napoleon III, and Minister of War from 1867.
3. Possibly Jean Chacornac (1823–1873), French astronomer.
4. The total eclipse of the Sun that crossed northern Spain on 18 July 1860; this was the first total solar eclipse to be successfully documented by photography. [See Tobin, William, The life and science of Léon Foucault: the man who proved the earth rotates (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 218–221].
5. Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte (1808–1873), President of the Second Republic from 1850 to 1852, and Emperor from 1852 to 1870.
6. Mary Thereza Talbot (1795–1861), WHFT’s cousin.
7. Sometimes Llanely or Lanely, Glamorganshire: home of Lady Mary Cole and Mary Thereza Talbot. WHFT saw the Mynydd Garth Maelwg hill, known locally as the Smaelwg.
8. When the troops of Charlemagne withdrew from Spain in 778, the commander Roland and his men were attacked and annihilated by the Basques and the Gascons. Roland’s sword, Durandal, was said to have belonged to Hector, and rather than letting it fall into the hands of the enemy, Roland tried to break it on a rock. The sword was however unbreakable, and Roland had to throw it into a poisoned stream instead, where it, according to myth, remains.