CHAPTER VI. BESANCON AND ITS ENVIRONS.
Under the same roof is the free art-school for students of both sexes, which is one of the most flourishing institutes of the town, and dates from the year 1794. In the second year of study, drawing is taught from the living model, and every facility is thus afforded to those unable to pursue their studies in Paris, or pay the expense of a private study. There is also a free music-school and technical schools, both gratuitous, and open to both sexes. Nor must we forget the Academy of Science and Belles Lettres, which not only affords complete scientific and literary instruction gratuitously to the poor student, but also courses of lectures open to the general public from October till June. These lectures may be compared to the Winter series of our Royal Institution, (alas! the privilege of the rich and at least well-to-do only!) and, besides offering a rare intellectual treat to lovers of science and letters generally, are of the greatest possible use to needy students. Indeed, so liberal is the City of Besancon in this respect that any lad who has been lucky enough to get a nomination to the Lycee, may here pass his examination for the Bachelier-es-Lettres and es-Science without a farthing of costs. Again I may remark, as far as I know, no English town of 60,000 inhabitants, more or less, offers anything like the same advantages in the matter of higher instruction to those who cannot afford to pay for it; but perhaps my English critics will reply that those who cannot pay the cost of Royal Institution or other lectures are unreasonable to expect scientific instruction, or recreation, to which argument I have nothing to say. The fact remains, as everyone who lives in France knows well enough, that we have nothing to be compared to the free Academies, free art and music schools found there so largely, and which have received considerable development of late years. Many of these date from the great Revolution, when the highest instruction was not considered too good for the people. The superior taste, technical skill, and general intelligence of French workmen are due to those causes, and, of course, chiefly to the accessibility of museums, libraries, art-collections, &c. on Sundays. No matter which of these you may happen to visit on a Sunday, you are sure to find that soldiers, artisans and peasants curiously inspecting the treasures displayed to view - even dry geological and archaeological collections attracting their attention. It is impossible to have anything to do with the French working classes, and not observe the effect of this artistic culture, and here and there throughout this work I have adduced instances in point. We have nothing in England to be compared to the general filtration of artistic ideas, by means of gratuitous art and technical instruction, and the opening on Sunday of all art and literary collections.
But after all it is the watchmaking school, or, Ecole d'Horlogerie that will perhaps most interest and instruct the traveller here, and he should by no means neglect to visit it; however short his stay may be. Watchmaking is, as is well known, the speciality of Besancon, and dates as an important branch of industry from the year 1793. The National Convention is to be thanked for the foundation of the first "horlogerie," having invited to Besancon the refugee watchmakers of Chaux de Fonds and Locle, who had been prescribed for their adherence to the Republican idea. By a decree of the Convention, these exiles were accorded succour, after which the Committee declared watchmaking in the Department of the Doubs to be a national institution. Many hundred thousand watches are made here annually, and it has been computed that, out of every hundred watches in the French market, eighty-six come from Besancon. In the year 1873, 353,764 watches were made, representing a capital of fifteen millions of francs, and the trade increases annually. The watchmaking school located in the picturesque old Grenier, or public granary of the city, numbers over a hundred pupils of both sexes, and is of course gratuitous. The Besancon watches are noted for their elegance and cheapness, being sold at prices which would surprise eminent London watchmakers. Many working watchmakers on a small scale, are here, who, by dint of great economy, contrive to purchase a bit of garden and summer house outside the town, whither they go on Sundays and holidays to breathe the fresh air, and cultivate their flowers and vegetables. But the majority are capitalists on a large scale, as at Montbeliard, and I fear the workman's hours here are as long as at the latter place. The length of the day's labour in France is appalling, the one blot on a bright picture of thrift, independence, and a general well-being.