CHAPTER VI. BESANCON AND ITS ENVIRONS.
The most salient feature of social life at Besancon is its Catholicism, the place literally swarming with priests, and soldiers, to the great detriment of public morality. The Protestants, nevertheless, hold their own here, and even gain ground, witness the Protestant Church established within the last ten years at Arbois by the Consistory of Besancon. They have also succeeded in founding a hospital here for the sick and aged poor, which is the greatest possible boon. Up till that time, this section of the community had been received in the municipal hospital under the management of the nuns, who, of course, did all in their power to worry their patients into Catholicism. We know what happens when a hospital is under the charge of nuns, and it can easily be understood that many of these poor people preferred to embrace a crucifix than forego their broth when half dead of exhaustion. Some would go through a mock conversion, others would endure a martyrdom till the last; but the position alike of weak and obstinate was unbearable. Now there is a home, not only for the indigent sick and aged, but for those who can afford to pay a small sum for being well looked after; and it is delightful to witness the home-like ease and comfort everywhere. The poor people welcomed their pastor, who accompanied me on my visit, not only as a priest but as a friend, and it was easy to see how they enjoyed a little talk with Madame, and the prattle of the children.
The large shady hospital garden overlooking the town is much resorted to in fine weather, and everywhere we found cheerful faces. It is hardly necessary to say that this admirable work needs money. The Catholic clergy, of course, regard any step in advance on the part of the Protestants with abhorrence, and do a little bit of persecution whenever opportunity offers. Thus, as perhaps may not be known to all my readers, the parish burial-ground in France is open by the law to all sects and denominations indiscriminately; Protestant, Jew, Mahometan, or Brahmin may here find a resting-place in spite of M. le Cure. Such is the law, and an admirable law it is, but the law means one thing to a Catholic and another to a Protestant There is no Protestant burial-ground in Besancon or the neighbouring villages, so that everyone is buried in the town and parish cemetery; but, as mayors of small country towns and villages often happen not to know the law, the cure tries to circumvent his enemy at the last. Accordingly, when the time of burial comes, a Protestant pastor may be kept waiting for hours in consequence of this wilful obstinacy; supposing that the mayor is under clerical influence, useless to argue "La loi est avec nous;" cure and mayor persist, and at the last moment the unfortunate pastor has to telegraph to the Prefet, who, whether clerical or not, knows the law, and is obliged to follow it, and consequently sends an authorization which ends the matter. This is very blind on the part of the clericals, for it naturally turns the Protestants into martyrs. It happened in a little village, not far from Besancon, that, after a scene of this kind, all the village population turned into the cemetery, and, by the time the Prefet's order came, the Protestant pastor had a large audience for his discourse over the grave. "C'est si consolant chez les Protestants, l'enterrement des morts," people were heard to say, and let us hope that the cure and the mayor were punished for their folly by a few conversions among their flocks to Protestantism.
A mediaeval writer, Francois de Belleforest, thus describes Besancon: -
"Si par l'antiquite, continuee en grandeur, la benediction de Dieu se cognoit en une lieu, il n'y a ville ni cite en toutes les Gaules qui ayt plus grande occasion de remarquer la faveur de Dieu, en soy que la cite dont nous avions prise le discours. Car, en premier lieu, elle est assise en aussi bonne et riche assiette que ville du monde; estant entoure de riches costeaux et vignobles, et de belles et hautes forets, ayant la riviere du Doux qui passe par le millieu, et enclost pour le plupart d'icelle, estant bien, d'ailleurs fort bien approvisionee. Les fruicts y sont aussi bons, et y a aussi bonne commodite de venaison et de gibier en ceste ville, qu'en autre qu'on sceut choisir. Et puis ce qu'elle est a la cheultes des montagnes, on la tient pour le grenier commun du comte de Bourgogne, comme jadis Sicile estait de l'Itaile. Et s'il etait question d'estimer la vertu d'un peuple, qui s'est longtemps maintenu libre sans ployer la gantelet, ni rien perdu de sa reputation, on peut, a bon droit, faire cas de ceste cite. Et certes de tout temps ceste brave cite a este enviee des tyrans, pour en usurper la domination. Et il n'y a ni eu ni menaces, ni allechement qui ayent sceu esbranler les nobles et libres coeurs besanconnais, pour quicter aucune chose de leurs libertez, quelques couleurs de grandeur et de richesses qu'on leur ayt mis audevant pour se laisser annexer au comte de Bourgogne, et avoir un parlement, et se mettre auxpieds ce qu'il ont aux mains."