Sam also wrote an account of the trip he called “part diary and part comment,” titled, “Down the Rhône,” which was first published in 1923 in Europe and Elsewhere. The account begins on this day:
September 19 Saturday –After installing the family in Ouchy, Sam left at 2 p.m. with Joseph Verey in the purchased boat (see Sept. 16) and the first night stopped on an island in Lake Bourget, where they slept in the old castle of Châtillon in a room where Pope Celestin IV was born at the end of the eighth century [MTB 924; NB 31 TS 5-6; Aix-Les-Bains,etc.114 by Dr. Léon Brachet (1884) ].
Our point of departure was to be the Castle of Châtillon on Lake Bourget, not very far from Aix-les-Bains. I went down from Geneva by rail on a Saturday afternoon, and reached the station nearest the castle during the evening.
September 20 Sunday – In Lake Bourget, Switzerland Sam wrote in his “part diary and part comment” log:
Sunday, 11 a.m. On the lake Bourget — just started. The castle of Chatillon high overhead showing above the trees. The lake is smooth as glass — a brilliant sun is shining. Our boat is comfortable and shady with its awning.
11.20 We have crossed the lake and are entering the canal. Shall presently be in the Rhone.
NOON. Nearly down to the Rhone. Passing the village of Chanaz.
3.15 p. m. Sunday. We have been in the Rhone 3 hours. It is unimaginably still & reposeful and cool & soft & breezy. …presently Chanaz came in sight and the canal bore us along its front — along its street, for it had only one. We stepped ashore.
We got some hot fried fish in Chanaz and took them aboard and cleared out. With grapes and claret and bread they made a satisfactory luncheon. We paddled a hundred yards, turned a rock corner, and here was the furious gray current of the Rhone just a-whistling by! We crept into it from the narrow canal, and laid in the oars. The floating was begun. One needs no oar-help in a current like that. The shore seemed to fairly spin past. …
The river where we entered it was about a hundred yards wide, and very deep. The water was at medium stage. The Rhone is not a very long river — six hundred miles — but it carries a bigger mass of water to the sea than any other French stream.
For the first few miles we had lonely shores — hardly ever a house. On the left bank we had high precipices and domed hills; right bank low and wooded.
At 1.25 p.m. we passed the slumberous village of Massigneux de Rive on the right and the ditto village of Huissier [possibly Lucie] on the left (in Savoie). We had to take all names by sound from the Admiral; he said nobody could spell them. …
2.15. — Village of Yenne. Iron suspension bridge. On the heights back of the town a chapel with a tower like a thimble, and a very tall white Virgin standing on it.
2.25. — Precipices on both sides now. River narrow — sixty yards.
2.30. — Immense precipice on the right bank, with groups of buildings (Pierre Chatel) planted on the very edge of it. In its near neighborhood a massive and picturesque fortification. …
2.45. — Below that second bridge. On top of the bluffs more fortifications. Low banks on both sides here.
2.50. — Now both sets of fortifications show up, look huge and formidable, and are finely grouped. Through the glass they seem deserted and falling to ruin. Out of date, perhaps.
At midafternoon we passed a steep and lofty bluff — right bank — which was crowned with the moldering ruins of a castle overgrown with trees. A relic of the Roman times, the Admiral said. …
4.20. — Bronze statue of the Virgin on a sterile hill slope.
4.45. — Ruined Roman tower on a bluff. Belongs to the no-name series.
5. — Some more Roman ruins in the distance.
At 6 o’clock we rounded to. We stepped ashore in a woodsy and lonely place and walked a short mile through a country lane to the sizable and rather modern-looking village of St.-Genix. [Geuix].
We put up at the Hotel Labully, in the little square where the church stands. Satisfactory dinner. [Neider, Complete Essays 598-600].
Sam’s letter of Sept. 21 to Livy reveals his later activities from his first day’s river travel, but gives an hour earlier on stepping ashore:
We went ashore at 5 p.m. yesterday, dear heart, and walked a short mile to St. Geuix, a big village, and took quarters at the principal inn; had a good dinner and afterwards a long walk out of town on the banks of the Guiers till 7.30.
Went to bed at 8.30 and continued to make notes and read books and newspapers till midnight [MTLP 2: 550]. (Editorial emphasis.)
September 21 Monday – Near the village of Port-de-Groslee, France at 4:15 p.m., Sam wrote again to Livy, declaring as was his usual habit while away from her, to write daily.
Slept until 8, breakfasted in bed, and lay till noon, because there had been a very heavy rain in the night and the day was still dark and lowering. But at noon the sun broke through and in 15 minutes we were tramping toward the river. Got afloat at 1 p.m. but at 2.40 we had to rush suddenly ashore and take refuge in the above village [Port-de-Groslee] Just as we got ourselves and traps safely housed in the inn, the rain let go and came down in great style. We lost an hour and a half there, but we are off again, now, with bright sunshine.
Note: “Down the Rhone” offers a more detailed coverage of this day’s events. The inn is named as the Hotel des Voyageurs. Sam describes:
4.10 p.m. — Left Port de Groslee.
4.50 p.m. — Chateau of the Count Cassiloa — or something like that — the Admiral’s pronunciation is elusive. Courier guesses the spelling at “Quintionat.” I don’t quite see the resemblance. …
5.35. — Very large gray broken-arched and unusually picturesque ruin crowning a hilltop on right. Name unknown. This is a liberal mile above village of Briord (my spelling — the Admiral’s pronunciation), on same side. Passed the village swiftly, and left it behind.
6 p.m. — Another suspension bridge — this is the sixth one. They have ceased to interest…. Presently landed on left bank and shored the boat for the night. Hotel du Rhone Moine. Isolated. Situated right on the bank. Sort of a village — villagette, to be exact — a little back. Hotel is two stories high and not pretentious — family dwelling and cow stable all under one roof.
[Neider, Complete Essays 603-6].
September 22 Tuesday – On the Rhone River below Villebois at Noon, Sam wrote again to Livy:
Good morning, sweetheart. Night caught us yesterday where we had to take quarters in a peasant’s house which was occupied by the family & a lot of cows & calves — also several rabbits. — [His word for fleas.] — The latter had a ball, & I was the ball-room; but they were very friendly & didn’t bite.
The peasants were mighty kind & hearty, & flew around & did their best to make us comfortable. This morning I breakfasted on the shore in the open air with two sociable dogs & a cat. Clean cloth, napkin & table furniture, white sugar, a vast hunk of excellent butter, good bread, first class coffee with pure milk, fried fish just caught. Wonderful that so much cleanliness should come out of such a phenomenally dirty house.
An hour ago we saw the Falls of the Rhone, a prodigiously rough & dangerous looking place; shipped a little water but came to no harm. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of piloting & boat-management I ever saw. Our admiral knew his business.
Sam’s log discloses that he got out of the boat and walked until the “Admiral” guided the boat through a canal to the left of the Falls:
I did not see how our flimsy ark could live through such a place. If we were wrecked, swimming could not save us; the packed multitude of tall humps of water meant a bristling chaos of big rocks underneath, and the first rock we hit would break our bones. If I had been fortified with ignorance I might have wanted to stay in the boat and see the fun; but I have had much professional familiarity with water, and I doubted if there was going to be any fun there. So I said I would get out and walk, and I did. I need not tell anybody at home; I could leave out the Falls of the Rhone; they are not on the map, anyhow. …
Noon. — A mile of perpendicular precipices — very handsome. …
This is the prettiest piece of river we have found. …
1.p.m. — Chateau de la Salette. This is the port of the Grotte de la Balme, “one of the seven wonders of Dauphiny.” It is across a plain in the face of a bluff a mile from the river. A grotto is out of the common order, and I should have liked to see this one, but the rains have made the mud very deep and it did not seem well to venture so long a trip through it.
2.15 p.m. — St.-Etienne. On a distant ridge inland a tall openwork structure commandingly situated, with a statue of the Virgin standing on it.
Immense empty freight barges being towed upstream by teams of two and four big horses — not on the bank, but under it; not on the land, but always in the water — sometimes breast deep — and around the big flat bars.
We reached a not very promising-looking village about four o’clock, and concluded to land; munching fruit and filling the hood with pipe smoke had grown monotonous. We could not have the hood furled, because the floods of rain fell unceasingly. The tavern was on the river bank, as is the custom. It was dull there, and melancholy — nothing to do but look out of the window into the drenching rain and shiver; one could do that, for it was bleak and cold and windy, and there was no fire [Neider, Complete Essays 614-16].
September 23 Wednesday – Sam did reach Lyon, France
The end of “Down the Rhone” comes here:
Wednesday. — After breakfast, got under way. Still storming as hard as ever. The whole land looks defeated and discouraged. And very lonely; here and there a woman in the fields. They merely accent the loneliness [Neider, Complete Essays 616].
September 24 Thursday – On the Rhone River below Vienne,
I was up & shaved before 8 this morning, but we got delayed & didn’t sail from Lyons till 10.30 — an hour & a half lost. And we’ve lost another hour — two of them, I guess — since, by an error. We came in sight of Vienne at 2 o’clock, several miles ahead, on a hill, & I proposed to walk down there & let the boat go down there ahead of us. So Joseph & I got out there & struck through a willow swamp there along a dim path, & by & by came out on the steep bank of a slough or inlet or something, & we followed that bank forever & ever trying to get around the head of that slough. Finally I noticed a twig standing up in the water, & by George it had a distinct & even vigorous quiver to it! I don’t know when I have felt so much like a donkey. On an island! I wanted to drown somebody, but I hadn’t anybody I could spare. However, after another long tramp we found a lonely native, & he had a scow & soon we were on the main land — yes, & a blamed sight further from Vienne than we were when we started.
Note: They did reach the town late and took rooms in an inn, as Sam’s PS shows the next day.
September 25 Friday – In St. Pierre de Boef, France,
Sam’s party took again to the river at 9 a.m. At 3 p.m. that afternoon, afloat on the Rhone, Sam wrote again to Livy:
Livy darling, we sailed from St. Pierre de Boef six hours ago, & are now approaching Tournon, where we shall not stop, but go on & make Valence, a City Of 25,000 people. I
September 26 Saturday – The activities of the day are best described in the letter Sam wrote to Livy at nightfall, at the Hotel Bertrand in La Voult, France:
Land, Livy darling, but I am tired! I got up at 7.30 in Valence & drove ½ hour to the foot of a mountain, climbed it on foot (very steep,) & spent an hour or more in wandering among the acres of ruins of a seldom-visited castle nine or ten hundred years old, perched on that lofty pinnacle & overlooking a vast landscape of plain & river. Returned to the city & spent a long time examining two most curious & ornate dwellings of the Middle Ages; then, at 1.15 set sail, but the Mistral (the storm-wind of the Midi — the Midi is “the south”) struck us & kept us back; at 4 we had made but 18 kilometres & I was tuckered out & sleepy; so we landed at this village, & ever since I have been prowling through its maze of steep & narrow alleys — mere stone stairways 6 feet wide which turn & turn & never arrive at any place…we also prowled through the huge ancient castle that rises out of & above the village & dominates it; & so at last I am in my room & shan’t wait for pitch-dark to come, but shall get immediately to bed & to sleep [LLMT 260-1].
September 27 Sunday – On the Rhone River below Bourg St. Andéol, Sam wrote on Sept. 28 of this day’s trip and of Bourg St.Andeol:
Livy darling, I didn’t write yesterday [Sept. 27]. We left La Voulte in a driving storm of cold rain — couldn’t write in it — & at 1 p.m., when we were not thinking of stopping, we saw a picturesque & mighty ruin on a high hill back of a village, & I was seized with a desire to explore it; so we landed at once & set out with rubbers & umbrella, sending the boat ahead to St. Andéol, & we spent 3 hours clambering about those cloudy heights among those worn & vast & idiotic ruins of a castle built by two crusaders 650 years ago. The work of these asses was full of interest, & we had a good time inspecting, examining & scrutinizing it. All the hills on both sides of the Rhone have peaks & precipices, & each has its gray & wasted pile of mouldy walls & broken towers. The Romans displaced the Gauls, the Visigoths displaced the Romans, the Saracens displaced the Visigoths, the Christians displaced the Saracens, & it was these pious animals who built these strange lairs & cut each other’s throats in the name & for the glory of God, & robbed & burned & slew in peace & war; & the pauper & the slave built churches, & the credit of it went to the Bishop who racked the money out of them. These are pathetic shores, & they make one despise the human race.
We came down in an hour by rail, but I couldn’t get your telegram till this morning, for it was Sunday & they had shut up the post office to go to the circus. I went, too. It was all one family — parents & 5 children — performing in the open air to 200 of these enchanted villagers, who contributed coppers when called on. It was a most gay & strange & pathetic show [MTLP 2: 553-4].
September 28 Monday – In Bourg St. Andéol, the rest of Sam’s letter to Livy concerning this day:
Sam’s party left the village and continued down the Rhone to Avignon, in the south of France. In the evening Sam wrote again to Livy from the Hotel D’Europe.
We had a curious experience today. A little after I had sealed & directed my letter to you, in which I said we should make Avignon before 4, we got lost. We ceased to encounter any village or ruin mentioned in our “particularizes” & detailed Guide of the Rhone — went drifting along by the hour in a wholly unknown land & on an uncharted river! Confound it, we stopped talking & did nothing but stand up in the boat & search the horizons with the glass & wonder what in the devil had happened. And at last, away yonder at 5 o’clock when some east towers & fortresses hove in sight we couldn’t recognize them for Avignon — yet we knew by the broken bridge that it was Avignon.
Then we saw what the trouble was — at some time or other we had drifted down the wrong side of an island & followed a sluggish branch of the Rhone not frequented in modern times. We lost an hour & a half by it & missed one of the most picturesque & gigantic & history-sodden masses of castellated medieval ruin that Europe can show.
It was dark by the time we had wandered through the town & got the letters & found the hotel — so I went to bed.
September 29 Tuesday – Sam’s notebook shows he arrived in Arles on this day [NB 31 TS 7]. On his last day on the Rhone river, Sam wrote at 11: 20 a.m. to his daughter Clara Clemens, answering her letter. He may have also written his other daughters, though such letters are not extant.
DEAR OLD BEN —
The vast stone masses & huge towers of the ancient papal palace of Avignon are projected above an intervening wooded island a mile up the river behind me — for we are already on our way to Arles. It is a perfectly still morning, with a brilliant sun, & very hot — outside; but I am under cover of the linen hood, & it is cool & shady in here.