The Saone is about the size of the Mohawk, but not half so beautiful; at least for the greater part of its course. Indeed, you can hardly compare American with European rivers, for the charm is of another description, quite. With us it is nature only, here it is almost all art. Our rivers are lovely, because the outline of the shore is graceful, and particularly be-cause the vegetation is luxuriant. The hills are green, the foliage deep and lavish, the rocks grown over with vines or moss, the mountains in the distance covered with pines and other forest-trees; everything is wild, and nothing looks bare or sterile. The rivers of France are crowned on every height with ruins, and in the bosom of every valley lies a cluster of picturesque stone cottages; but the fields are naked, and there are no trees; the mountains are barren and brown, and everything looks as if the dwellings had been deserted by the people, and nature had at the same time gone to decay.
I can conceive nothing more melancholy than the views upon the Saone, seen, as I saw them, tho vegetation is out everywhere, and the banks should be beautiful if ever. As we approached Lyons the river narrowed and grew bolder, and the last ten miles were enchanting. Naturally the shores at this part of the Saone are exceedingly like the highlands of the Hudson above West Point. Abrupt hills rise from the river’s edge, and the windings are sharp and constant. But imagine the highlands of the Hudson crowned with antique chateaux, and covered to the very top with terraces and summer-houses and hanging-gardens, gravel-walks and beds of flowers, instead of wild pines and precipices, and you may get a very correct idea of the Saone above Lyons.
You emerge from one of the dark passes of the river by a sudden turn, and there be-fore you lies this large city, built on both banks, at the foot and on the sides of mountains. The bridges are line, and the broad, crowded quays, all along the edges of the river, have a beautiful effect. There is a great deal of magnificence at Lyons, in the way of quays, promenades, and buildings. I was glad to escape from the lower streets, and climb up the long staircases to the observatory that over-hangs the town. From the base of this elevation the descent of the river is almost a precipice. The houses hang on the side of the steep hill, and their doors enter from the long alleys of stone staircases by which you ascend.
It was holy-week, and the church of Notre Dame de Fourvieres, which stands on the summit of the hill, was crowded with people. We went in for a moment, and sat down on a bench to rest. My companion was a Swiss captain of artillery, who was a passenger in the boat, a very splendid fellow, with a mustache that he might have tied behind his ears. He had addrest me at the hotel, and proposed that we should visit the curiosities of the town together. He was a model of a manly figure, athletic, and soldier-like, and standing near him was to get the focus of all the dark eyes in the congregation.
The new square tower stands at the side of the church, and rises to the height of perhaps sixty feet. The view from it is said to be one of the finest in the world. I have seen more extensive ones, but never one that comprehended more beauty and interest. Lyons lies at the foot, with the Saone winding through its bosom in abrupt curves; the Rhone comes down from the north on the other side of the range of mountains, and meeting the Saone in a broad stream below the town, they stretch off to the south, through a diversified landscape ; the Alps rise from the east like the edges of a thunder-cloud, and the mountains of Savoy fill up the interval to the Rhone.
All about the foot of the monument lie gar-dens, of exquisite cultivation; and above and below the city the villas of the rich; giving you altogether as delicious a nucleus for a broad circle of scenery as art and nature could create, and one sufficiently in contrast with the barrenness of the rocky circumference to en hance the charm, and content you with your position. Half way down the hill lies an old monastery, with a lovely garden walled in from the world.
The river was covered with boats, the bells were ringing to church, the glorious old cathedral, so famous for its splendor, stood piled up, with its arches and gray towers, in the square below; the day was soft, sunny, and warm, and existence was a blessing. I leaned over the balustrade, I know not how long, looking down upon the scene about me; and I shall ever re-member it as one of those few unalloyed moments, when the press of care was taken off my mind, and the chain of circumstances was strong enough to set aside both the past and the future, and leave me to the quiet enjoyment of the present. I have found such hours “few and far between.”