Belsunce, Henry Francis Xavier De

, bishop of Marseilles. This illustrious prelate was of a noble family in Guienne, had been of the order of Jesuits, and was made bishop of Marseilles in 1709. The assistance he gave his flock during the plague of 1720, that desolated the city of Marseilles, deserves to be commemorated. He was seen every where during that terrible calamity, as the magistrate, the physician, the almoner, the spiritual director of his flock. In the town-house of Marseilles there is a picture representing him giving his benediction to some poor wretches who are | dying at his feet; in this he is distinguished from the rest of his attendants by a golden cross on his breast. Louis the XVth, in 1723, in consideration of his exemplary behaviour during the plague, made him an offer of the bishopric of Laon, in Picardy, a see of greater value and of higher rank than his own. Of this, however, he would not accept, saying, that he refused this very honourable translation that he might not leave a church already endeared to him by the sacrifices of life and property which he had offered. The pope honoured him with the pallium (a mark of distinction in dress worn only by archbishops), and Louis XV. insisted upon his acceptance of a patent, by which, even in the first instance, any law-suit he might be so unfortunate as to have, either for temporal or spiritual matters, was permitted to be brought before the parliament of Paris. He died in 1755, closing a life of the most active benevolence with the utmost devotion and resignation. He founded at Marseilles a college, which still bears his name. He wrote “L’histoire des Eveques de Marseille;” “Des Instructions Pastorales;” and in 1707, when he was very young, he published “La vie de Mademoiselle de Foix andale,” a relation of his, who had been eminent for her piety. A particular account of the exertions of this benevolent prelate during the terrible calamity that afflicted Marseilles is to be found in the *' Relation de la Peste de Marseilles, par J. Bertrand,“12mo, and in” Oratio funebris illust. domini de Belsunce Massiliensium episcopi," with the translation by the abbe Lanfant, 1756, 8vo.

The “Relation de la Peste de Marseilles,” by M. Bertrand, is well written and authentic. He was a physician, and staid in the town during the whole time of its ravages.

The following letter from this excellent bishop to the bishop of Soissons speaks so much in his favour, that we shall make n,o apology for inserting it.

Sept. 20, 1720, N. S.

"I wish, my lord, I were as eloquent as you are full of zeal and charity, to testify my grateful acknowledegment of your liberality, aqd the charities you have procured us; but in our present consternation, we are not in a condition to express any other sentiment than that of grief. Your alms came at a very seasonable time, for I was reduced almost to the last penny. I am labouring to get money for bills for 1000 livres, which the bishop of Frejus was | pleased to send us, and six more of Mr. Fontanteu, though just upon the decay of the bills of 1000 livres, they are not very current, yet I hope I shall succeed. You, my lord, have prevented these difficulties, and we are doubly obliged to you for it. Might I presume to beg the favour of you to thank, in my name, cardinal de Rohan, M. and Madame Dangeau, and the curate of St Sulpice, for their charities.

"It is but just that I give you some account of a desolate town you was pleased to succour. Never was desolation greater, nor ever was any like this. There have been many cruel plagues, but none was ever more cruel: to be sick and dead was almost the same thing. As soon as the distemper gets into a house, it never leaves it till it has swept all the inhabitants one after another. The fright and consternation are so extremely great, that the sick are abandoned by their own relations, and cast out of their houses into the streets, upon quilts or straw beds, amongst the dead bodies, which lie there for want of people to inter them. What a melancholy spectacle have we here on all sides! We go into the streets full of dead bodies half rotten, through which we pass to come to a dying body, to excite him to an act of contrition, and give him absolution. For above fourteen days together, the blessed sacrament was carried every where to all the sick, and the extreme unction was given them with a zeal of which we have few examples. But the churches being infected with the stench of the dead bodies flung at the doors, we were obliged to leave off, and be content with confessing the poor people. At present I have no more confessors; the pretended corruptors of the morality of Jesus Christ (the Jesuits), without any obligation, have sacrificed themselves, and given their lives for their brethren; whilst the gentlemen of the severe morality (the Jansenists) are all flown, and have secured themselves, notwithstanding the obligations their benefices imposed on them; and nothing can recal them, nor ferret them out of their houses. The two communities of the Jesuits are quite disabled, to the reserve of one old man of seventy-tour years, who still goes about night and day, and visits the hospitals. One more is just come from Lyons, purposely to hear the confessions of the infected, whose zeal does not savour much of trie pretended laxity. I have had twenty-four capuchins dead, and fourteen sick, but I am in expectation of more. Seven | recollecs, as many cordeliers, five or six carms, and several minims, are dead, and all the best of the clergy, both secular and regular; which grievously afflicts me.

"I stand in need of prayers, to enable me to support all the crosses that almost oppress me. At last the plague got into my palace, and within seven days I lost my steward, who accompanied me in the streets, two servants, t chairmen, and my confessor: my secretary and another lie sick, so that they have obliged me to quit my palace, and retire to the first president, who was so kind as to lend me his house. We arc destitute of all succour; we have no meat; and whatsoever I could do, going all about the town, I could not meet with any that would undertake to distribute broth to the poor that were in want. The doctors of Montpelier, who came hither three or four days ago, are frightened at the horrid stench of the streets, and refuse to visit the sick till the dead bodies are removed, and the streets cleansed. They had been much more surprised had they come a fortnight sooner; then nothing but frightful dead bodies were seen on all sides, and there was no stirring without vinegar at our noses, though that could not hinder our perceiving the filthy stench of them. I had 200 dead bodies that lay rotting under my windows for the space of eight days, and but for the authority of the first president they had remained there much longer. At present things are much changed; I made my round about the town, and found but few; but a prodigious number of quilts and blankets, and of all sorts of the richest clothes, which people would touch no more, and are going to burn.

"There are actually in the streets to the value of above 200,000 livres. The disorder and confusion have hitherto been extremely great; but all our hopes are in the great care of the chevalier de Langeron, governor of the town. He has already caused some shops to be opened. The change of the governor, and of the season, by the grace of God, will be advantageous. Had we not affected to deceive the public, by assuring that the evil which reigned was not the plague; and had we buried the dead bodies which lay a whole fortnight in the streets, I believe the mortality had ceased, and we should have nothing to do but provide against the extreme misery which necessarily must be the sequel of this calamity.

You cannot imagine the horror which we have seen, nor can any believe it that has not seen it; my little | courage has often almost failed me. May it please Almighty God to let us soon see an end of it. There is a great diminution of the mortality; and those who hold that the moon contributes to all this, are of opinion, that we owe this diminution to the decline of the moon, and that we shall have reason to fear when it comes to the full. For my part, I am convinced, we owe all to the mercies of God, from whom alone we must hope for relief in the deplorable condition we have been in so long a while.I am, &c.

Henry, bishop of Marseilles.

When the plague had ceased, M. de Lauzun asked an abbey in commendarn for the humane and benevolent prelate who had attended his flock with such assiduity during the time of that dreadful visitation. The regent, to whom the request was made, had forgotten M. de Lauzun’s request, and appeared much embarrassed at having neglected to prefer a man of such transcendant virtue as M. de Belsunce was. When M. de Lauzun iterated his request to him, the latter, looking archly at him, said merely, “Monseigneur, il sera mieux un autrefois” The regent, however, soon afterwards gave him a benefice to hold with the bishopric of Marseilles, which he could never be prevailed upon to quit for a more lucrative one. Father Vanier, in his poem of the “Prsedi an Rusticum,” and Pope, in his Essay on Man, Ep. iv. v. 107, 108, have paid that tribute to his memory, to which he is entitled, as the friend and benefactor of mankind.1


From our last edition. See references to Bertram’s “Relation, &c.”— Moreri.—Dict. Hist.