By Thomas de Quincey
Public Domain Books
Joan of Arc
IN REFERENCE TO M. MICHELET’S HISTORY OF FRANCE.
What is to be thought of her? What is to be thought of the poor shepherd girl from the hills and forests of Lorraine, that–like the Hebrew shepherd boy from the hills and forests of Judća–rose suddenly out of the quiet, out of the safety, out of the religious inspiration, rooted in deep pastoral solitudes, to a station in the van of armies, and to the more perilous station at the right hand of kings? The Hebrew boy inaugurated his patriotic mission by an act, by a victorious act, such as no man could deny. But so did the girl of Lorraine, if we read her story as it was read by those who saw her nearest. Adverse armies bore witness to the boy as no pretender: but so they did to the gentle girl. Judged by the voices of all who saw them from a station of good will, both were found true and loyal to any promises involved in their first acts. Enemies it was that made the difference between their subsequent fortunes. The boy rose–to a splendor and a noon-day prosperity, both personal and public, that rang through the records of his people, and became a byeword amongst his posterity for a thousand years, until the sceptre was departing from Judah. The poor, forsaken girl, on the contrary, drank not herself from that cup of rest which she had secured for France. She never sang together with the songs that rose in her native Domrémy, as echoes to the departing steps of invaders. She mingled not in the festal dances at Vaucouleurs which celebrated in rapture the redemption of France. No! for her voice was then silent: No! for her feet were dust. Pure, innocent, noble-hearted girl! whom, from earliest youth, ever I believed in as full of truth and self-sacrifice, this was amongst the strongest pledges for thy side, that never once–no, not for a moment of weakness–didst thou revel in the vision of coronets and honor from man. Coronets for thee! O no! Honors, if they come when all is over, are for those that share thy blood. Daughter of Domrémy, when the gratitude of thy king shall awaken, thou wilt be sleeping the sleep of the dead. Call her, King of France, but she will not hear thee! Cite her by thy apparitors to come and receive a robe of honor, but she will be found en contumace. When the thunders of universal France, as even yet may happen, shall proclaim the grandeur of the poor shepherd girl that gave up all for her country–thy ear, young shepherd girl, will have been deaf for five centuries. To suffer and to do, that was thy portion in this life; to do–never for thyself, always for others; to suffer–never in the persons of generous champions, always in thy own–that was thy destiny; and not for a moment was it hidden from thyself. Life, thou saidst, is short: and the sleep which is in the grave, is long! Let me use that life, so transitory, for the glory of those heavenly dreams destined to comfort the sleep which is so long. This pure creature–pure from every suspicion of even a visionary self-interest, even as she was pure in senses more obvious–never once did this holy child, as regarded herself, relax from her belief in the darkness that was travelling to meet her. She might not prefigure the very manner of her death; she saw not in vision, perhaps, the aërial altitude of the fiery scaffold, the spectators without end on every road pouring into Rouen as to a coronation, the surging smoke, the volleying flames, the hostile faces all around, the pitying eye that lurked but here and there until nature and imperishable truth broke loose from artificial restraints; these might not be apparent through the mists of the hurrying future. But the voice that called her to death, that she heard for ever.
Great was the throne of France even in those days, and great was he that sate upon it: but well Joanna knew that not the throne, nor he that sate upon it, was for her; but, on the contrary, that she was for them; not she by them, but they by her, should rise from the dust. Gorgeous were the lilies of France, and for centuries had the privilege to spread their beauty over land and sea, until, in another century, the wrath of God and man combined to wither them; but well Joanna knew, early at Domrémy she had read that bitter truth, that the lilies of France would decorate no garland for her. Flower nor bud, bell nor blossom, would ever bloom for her.
But stop. What reason is there for taking up this subject of Joanna precisely in this spring of 1847? Might it not have been left till the spring of 1947? or, perhaps, left till called for? Yes, but it is called for; and clamorously. You are aware, reader, that amongst the many original thinkers, whom modern France has produced, one of the reputed leaders is M. Michelet. All these writers are of a revolutionary cast; not in a political sense merely, but in all senses; mad, oftentimes, as March hares; crazy with the laughing-gas of recovered liberty; drunk with the wine-cup of their mighty Revolution, snorting, whinnying, throwing up their heels, like wild horses in the boundless pampas, and running races of defiance with snipes, or with the winds, or with their own shadows, if they can find nothing else to challenge. Some time or other, I, that have leisure to read, may introduce you, that have not, to two or three dozen of these writers; of whom I can assure you beforehand that they are often profound, and at intervals are even as impassioned as if they were come of our best English blood, and sometimes (because it is not pleasant that people should be too easy to understand) almost as obscure as if they had been suckled by transcendental German nurses. But now, confining our attention to M. Michelet–who is quite sufficient to lead a man into a gallop, requiring two relays, at least, of fresh readers,–we in England–who know him best by his worst book, the book against Priests, &c., which has been most circulated–know him disadvantageously. That book is a rhapsody of incoherence. M. Michelet was light-headed, I believe, when he wrote it: and it is well that his keepers overtook him in time to intercept a second part. But his History of France is quite another thing. A man, in whatsoever craft he sails, cannot stretch away out of sight when he is linked to the windings of the shore by towing ropes of history. Facts, and the consequences of facts, draw the writer back to the falconer’s lure from the giddiest heights of speculation. Here, therefore–in his France,–if not always free from flightiness, if now and then off like a rocket for an airy wheel in the clouds, M. Michelet, with natural politeness, never forgets that he has left a large audience waiting for him on earth, and gazing upwards in anxiety for his return: return, therefore, he does. But History, though clear of certain temptations in one direction, has separate dangers of its own. It is impossible so to write a History of France, or of England–works becoming every hour more indispensable to the inevitably-political man of this day–without perilous openings for assault. If I, for instance, on the part of England, should happen to turn my labors into that channel, and (on the model of Lord Percy going to Chevy Chase)–
––"A vow to God should make My pleasure in the Michelet woods Three summer days to take,”
–probably from simple delirium, I might hunt M. Michelet into delirium tremens. Two strong angels stand by the side of History, whether French History or English, as heraldic supporters: the angel of Research on the left hand, that must read millions of dusty parchments, and of pages blotted with lies; the angel of Meditation on the right hand, that must cleanse these lying records with fire, even as of old the draperies of asbestos were cleansed, and must quicken them into regenerated life. Willingly I acknowledge that no man will ever avoid innumerable errors of detail: with so vast a compass of ground to traverse, this is impossible: but such errors (though I have a bushel on hand, at M. Michelet’s service) are not the game I chase: it is the bitter and unfair spirit in which M. Michelet writes against England. Even that, after all, is but my secondary object: the real one is Joanna, the Pucelle d’Orleans for herself.
I am not going to write the History of La Pucelle: to do this, or even circumstantially to report the history of her persecution and bitter death, of her struggle with false witnesses and with ensnaring judges, it would be necessary to have before us all the documents, and, therefore, the collection only now forthcoming in Paris. But my purpose is narrower. There have been great thinkers, disdaining the careless judgments of contemporaries, who have thrown themselves boldly on the judgment of a far posterity, that should have had time to review, to ponder, to compare. There have been great actors on the stage of tragic humanity that might, with the same depth of confidence, have appealed from the levity of compatriot friends–too heartless for the sublime interest of their story, and too impatient for the labor of sifting its perplexities–to the magnanimity and justice of enemies. To this class belongs the Maid of Arc. The Romans were too faithful to the ideal of grandeur in themselves not to relent, after a generation or two, before the grandeur of Hannibal. Mithridates–a more doubtful person–yet, merely for the magic perseverance of his indomitable malice, won from the same Romans the only real honor that ever he received on earth. And we English have ever shown the same homage to stubborn enmity. To work unflinchingly for the ruin of England; to say through life, by word and by deed–Delenda est Anglia Victrix! that one purpose of malice, faithfully pursued, has quartered some people upon our national funds of homage as by a perpetual annuity. Better than an inheritance of service rendered to England herself, has sometimes proved the most insane hatred to England. Hyder Ali, even his far inferior son Tippoo, and Napoleon, have all benefited by this disposition amongst ourselves to exaggerate the merit of diabolic enmity. Not one of these men was ever capable, in a solitary instance, of praising an enemy–[what do you say to that, reader?] and yet in their behalf, we consent to forget, not their crimes only, but (which is worse) their hideous bigotry and anti-magnanimous egotism; for nationality it was not. Suffrein, and some half dozen of other French nautical heroes, because rightly they did us all the mischief they could, [which was really great] are names justly reverenced in England. On the same principle, La Pucelle d’Orleans, the victorious enemy of England, has been destined to receive her deepest commemoration from the magnanimous justice of Englishmen.
Joanna, as we in England should call her, but, according to her own statement, Jeanne (or, as M. Michelet asserts, Jean) d’Arc, was born at Domrémy, a village on the marshes of Lorraine and Champagne, and dependent upon the town of Vaucouleurs. I have called her a Lorrainer, not simply because the word is prettier, but because Champagne too odiously reminds us English of what are for us imaginary wines, which, undoubtedly, La Pucelle tasted as rarely as we English; we English, because the Champagne of London is chiefly grown in Devonshire; La Pucelle, because the Champagne of Champagne never, by any chance, flowed into the fountain of Domrémy, from which only she drank. M. Michelet will have her to be a Champenoise, and for no better reason than that she “took after her father,” who happened to be a Champenoise. I am sure she did not: for her father was a filthy old fellow, whom I shall soon teach the judicious reader to hate. But, (says M. Michelet, arguing the case physiologically) “she had none of the Lorrainian asperity;” no, it seems she had only “the gentleness of Champagne, its simplicity mingled with sense and acuteness, as you find it in Joinville.” All these things she had; and she was worth a thousand Joinvilles, meaning either the prince so called, or the fine old crusader. But still, though I love Joanna dearly, I cannot shut my eyes entirely to the Lorraine element of “asperity” in her nature. No; really now, she must have had a shade of that, though very slightly developed–a mere soupçon, as French cooks express it in speaking of cayenne pepper, when she caused so many of our English throats to be cut. But could she do less? No; I always say so; but still you never saw a person kill even a trout with a perfectly “Champagne” face of “gentleness and simplicity," though, often, no doubt, with considerable “acuteness.” All your cooks and butchers wear a Lorraine cast of expression.
These disputes, however, turn on refinements too nice. Domrémy stood upon the frontiers; and, like other frontiers, produced a mixed race representing the cis and the trans. A river (it is true) formed the boundary line at this point–the river Meuse; and that, in old days, might have divided the populations; but in these days it did not–there were bridges, there were ferries, and weddings crossed from the right bank to the left. Here lay two great roads, not so much for travellers, that were few, as for armies that were too many by half. These two roads, one of which was the great high road between France and Germany, decussated at this very point; which is a learned way of saying that they formed a St. Andrew’s cross, or letter X. I hope the compositor will choose a good large X, in which case the point of intersection, the locus of conflux for these four diverging arms, will finish the reader’s geographical education, by showing him to a hair’s breadth where it was that Domrémy stood. These roads, so grandly situated, as great trunk arteries between two mighty realms, and haunted for ever by wars or rumors of wars, decussated (for anything I know to the contrary) absolutely under Joanna’s bed-room window; one rolling away to the right, past Monsieur D’Arc’s old barn, and the other unaccountably preferring (but there’s no disputing about tastes) to sweep round that odious man’s odious pigstye to the left.
Things being situated as is here laid down, viz. in respect of the decussation, and in respect of Joanna’s bed-room; it follows that, if she had dropped her glove by accident from her chamber window into the very bull’s eye of the target, in the centre of X, not one of several great potentates could (though all animated by the sincerest desires for the peace of Europe) have possibly come to any clear understanding on the question of whom the glove was meant for. Whence the candid reader perceives at once the necessity for at least four bloody wars. Falling indeed a little farther, as, for instance, into the pigstye, the glove could not have furnished to the most peppery prince any shadow of excuse for arming: he would not have had a leg to stand upon in taking such a perverse line of conduct. But, if it fell (as by the hypothesis it did) into the one sole point of ground common to four kings, it is clear that, instead of no leg to stand upon, eight separate legs would have had no ground to stand upon unless by treading on each other’s toes. The philosopher, therefore, sees clearly the necessity of a war, and regrets that sometimes nations do not wait for grounds of war so solid.
In the circumstances supposed, though the four kings might be unable to see their way clearly without the help of gunpowder to any decision upon Joanna’s intention, she–poor thing!–never could mistake her intentions for a moment. All her love was for France; and, therefore, any glove she might drop into the quadrivium must be wickedly missent by the post-office, if it found its way to any king but the king of France.
On whatever side of the border chance had thrown Joanna, the same love to France would have been nurtured. For it is a strange fact, noticed by M. Michelet and others, that the Dukes of Bar and Lorraine had for generations pursued the policy of eternal warfare with France on their own account, yet also of eternal amity and league with France in case anybody else presumed to attack her. Let peace settle upon France, and before long you might rely upon seeing the little vixen Lorraine flying at the throat of France. Let Franco be assailed by a formidable enemy, and instantly you saw a Duke of Lorraine or Bar insisting on having his throat cut in support of France; which favor accordingly was cheerfully granted to them in three great successive battles by the English and by the Turkish sultan, viz., at Crécy, at Nicopolis, and at Agincourt.
This sympathy with France during great eclipses, in those that during ordinary seasons were always teasing her with brawls and guerilla inroads, strengthened the natural piety to France of those that were confessedly the children of her own house. The outposts of France, as one may call the great frontier provinces, were of all localities the most devoted to the Flours de Lys. To witness, at any great crisis, the generous devotion to these lilies of the little fiery cousin that in gentler weather was for ever tilting at her breast, could not bin fan the zeal of the legitimate daughter: whilst to occupy a post of honor on the frontiers against an old hereditary enemy of France, would naturally have stimulated this zeal by a sentiment of martial pride, had there even been no other stimulant to zeal by a sense of danger always threatening, and of hatred always smouldering. That great four-headed road was a perpetual memento to patriotic ardor. To say, this way lies the road to Paris–and that other way to Aix-la-Chapelle, this to Prague, that to Vienna–nourished the warfare of the heart by daily ministrations of sense. The eye that watched for the gleams of lance or helmet from the hostile frontier, the ear that listened for the groaning of wheels, made the high road itself, with its relations to centres so remote, into a manual of patriotic enmity.
The situation, therefore, locally of Joanna was full of profound suggestions to a heart that listened for the stealthy steps of change and fear that too surely were in motion. But if the place were grand, the times, the burthen of the times, was far more so. The air overhead in its upper chambers were hurtling with the obscure sound; was dark with sullen fermenting of storms that had been gathering for a hundred and thirty years. The battle of Agincourt in Joanna’s childhood had re-opened the wounds of France. Crécy and Poictiers, those withering overthrows for the chivalry of France, had been tranquillized by more than half a century; but this resurrection of their trumpet wails made the whole series of battles and endless skirmishes take their stations as parts in one drama. The graves that had closed sixty years ago, seemed to fly open in sympathy with a sorrow that echoed their own. The monarchy of France labored in extremity, rocked and reeled like a ship fighting with the darkness of monsoons. The madness of the poor king (Charles VI.) falling in at such a crisis, like the case of women laboring in childbirth during the storming of a city, trebled the awfulness of the time. Even the wild story of the incident which had immediately occasioned the explosion of this madness–the case of a man unknown, gloomy, and perhaps maniacal himself, coming out of a forest at noon-day, laying his hand upon the bridle of the king’s horse, checking him for a moment to say, “Oh, King, thou art betrayed,” and then vanishing no man knew whither, as he had appeared for no man knew what–fell in with the universal prostration of mind that laid France on her knees as before the slow unweaving of some ancient prophetic doom. The famines, the extraordinary diseases, the insurrections of the peasantry up and down Europe, these were chords struck from the same mysterious harp; but these were transitory chords. There had been others of deeper and more sonorous sound. The termination of the Crusades, the destruction of the Templars, the Papal interdicts, the tragedies caused or suffered by the House of Anjou, by the Emperor–these were full of a more permanent significance; but since then the colossal figure of feudalism was seen standing as it were on tiptoe at Crécy for flight from earth: that was a revolution unparalleled; yet that was a trifle by comparison with the more fearful revolutions that were mining below the Church. By her own internal schisms, by the abominable spectacle of a double Pope–so that no man, except through political bias, could even guess which was Heaven’s vicegerent, and which the creature of hell–she was already rehearsing, as in still earlier forms she had rehearsed, the first rent in her foundations (reserved for the coming century) which no man should ever heal.
These were the loftiest peaks of the cloudland in the skies, that to the scientific gazer first caught the colors of the new morning in advance. But the whole vast range alike of sweeping glooms overhead, dwelt upon all meditative minds, even those that could not distinguish the altitudes nor decipher the forms. It was, therefore, not her own age alone, as affected by its immediate calamities, that lay with such weight upon Joanna’s mind; but her own age, as one section in a vast mysterious drama, unweaving through a century back, and drawing nearer continually to crisis after crisis. Cataracts and rapids were heard roaring ahead; and signs were seen far back, by help of old men’s memories, which answered secretly to signs now coming forward on the eye, even as locks answer to keys. It was not wonderful that in such a haunted solitude, with such a haunted heart, Joanna should see angelic visions, and hear angelic voices. These voices whispered to her the duty imposed upon herself, of delivering France. Five years she listened to these monitory voices with internal struggles. At length she could resist no longer. Doubt gave way; and she left her home in order to present herself at the Dauphin’s court.
The education of this poor girl was mean according to the present standard: was ineffably grand, according to a purer philosophic standard; and only not good for our age, because for us it would be unattainable. She read nothing, for she could not read; but she had heard others read parts of the Roman martyrology. She wept in sympathy with the sad Misereres of the Romish chaunting; she rose to heaven with the glad triumphant Gloria in Excelcis: she drew her comfort and her vital strength from the rites of her church. But, next after these spiritual advantages, she owed most to the advantages of her situation. The fountain of Domrémy was on the brink of a boundless forest; and it was haunted to that degree by fairies that the parish priest (curé) was obliged to read mass there once a year, in order to keep them in any decent bounds. Fairies are important, even in a statistical view; certain weeds mark poverty in the soil, fairies mark its solitude. As surely as the wolf retires before cities, does the fairy sequester herself from the haunts of licensed victuallers. A village is too much for her nervous delicacy: at most, she can tolerate a distant view of a hamlet. We may judge, therefore, by the uneasiness and extra trouble which they gave to the parson, in what strength the fairies mustered at Domrémy, and, by a satisfactory consequence, how thinly sown with men and women must have been that region even in its inhabited spots. But the forests of Domrémy–those were the glories of the land: for, in them abode mysterious powers and ancient secrets that towered into tragic strength. “Abbeys there were, and abbey windows, dim and dimly seen–as Moorish temples of the Hindoos,” that exercised even princely power both in Lorraine and in the German Diets. These had their sweet bells that pierced the forests for many a league at matins or vespers, and each its own dreamy legend. Few enough, and scattered enough, were these abbeys, in no degree to disturb the deep solitude of the region; many enough to spread a network or awning of Christian sanctity over what else might have seemed a heathen wilderness. This sort of religious talisman being secured, a man the most afraid of ghosts (like myself, suppose, or the reader) becomes armed into courage to wander for days in their sylvan recesses. The mountains of the Vosges on the eastern frontier of France, have never attracted much notice from Europe, except in 1813-14, for a few brief months, when they fell within Napoleon’s line of defence against the Allies. But they are interesting for this, amongst other features–that they do not, like some loftier ranges, repel woods: the forests and they are on sociable terms. Live and let live is their motto. For this reason, in part, these tracts in Lorraine were a favorite hunting ground with the Carlovingian princes. About six hundred years before Joanna’s childhood, Charlemagne was known to have hunted there. That, of itself, was a grand incident in the traditions of a forest or a chase. In these vast forests, also, were to be found (if the race was not extinct) those mysterious fawns that tempted solitary hunters into visionary and perilous pursuits. Here was seen, at intervals, that ancient stag who was already nine hundred years old, at the least, but possibly a hundred or two more, when met by Charlemagne; and the thing was put beyond doubt by the inscription upon his golden collar. I believe Charlemagne knighted the stag; and, if ever he is met again by a king, he ought to be made an earl–or, being upon the marches of France, a marquess. Observe, I don’t absolutely vouch for all these things: my own opinion varies. On a fine breezy forenoon I am audaciously sceptical; but as twilight sets in, my credulity becomes equal to anything that could be desired. And I have heard candid sportsmen declare that, outside of these very forests near the Vosges, they laughed loudly at all the dim tales connected with their haunted solitudes; but, on reaching a spot notoriously eighteen miles deep within them, they agreed with Sir Roger de Coverley that a good deal might be said on both sides.
Such traditions, or any others that (like the stag) connect distant generations with each other, are, for that cause, sublime; and the sense of the shadowy, connected with such appearances that reveal themselves or not according to circumstances, leaves a coloring of sanctity over ancient forests, even in those minds that utterly reject the legend as a fact.
But, apart from all distinct stories of that order, in any solitary frontier between two great empires, as here, for instance, or in the desert between Syria and the Euphrates, there is an inevitable tendency, in minds of any deep sensibility to people the solitudes with phantom images of powers that were of old so vast. Joanna, therefore, in her quiet occupation of a shepherdess, would be led continually to brood over the political condition of her country, by the traditions of the past no less than by the mementoes of the local present.
M. Michelet, indeed, says that La Pucelle was not a shepherdess. I beg his pardon: she was. What he rests upon, I guess pretty well: it is the evidence of a woman called Haumette, the most confidential friend of Joanna. Now, she is a good witness, and a good girl, and I like her; for she makes a natural and affectionate report of Joanna’s ordinary life. But still, however good she may be as a witness, Joanna is better; and she, when speaking to the Dauphin, calls herself in the Latin report Bergereta. Even Haumette confesses that Joanna tended sheep in her girlhood. And I believe, that, if Miss Haumette were taking coffee alone with me this very evening (February 12, 1847)–in which there would be no subject for scandal or for maiden blushes, because I am an intense philosopher, and Miss H. would be hard upon four hundred and fifty years old–she would admit the following comment upon her evidence to be right. A Frenchman, about thirty years ago, M. Simond, in his Travels, mentioned incidentally the following hideous scene as one steadily observed and watched by himself in France at a period some trifle before the French Revolution:–A peasant was ploughing; and the team that drew his plough was a donkey and a woman. Both were regularly harnessed: both pulled alike. This is bad enough: but the Frenchman adds, that, in distributing his lashes, the peasant was obviously desirous of being impartial: or, if either of the yoke-fellows had a right to complain, certainly it was not the donkey. Now, in any country, where such degradation of females could be tolerated by the state of manners, a woman of delicacy would shrink from acknowledging, either for herself or her friend, that she had ever been addicted to any mode of labor not strictly domestic; because, if once owning herself a prćdial servant, she would be sensible that this confession extended by probability in the hearer’s thoughts to having incurred indignities of this horrible kind. Haumette clearly thinks it more dignified for Joanna to have been darning the stockings of her horny-hoofed father, Monsieur D’Arc, than keeping sheep, lest she might then be suspected of having ever done something worse. But, luckily, there was no danger of that: Joanna never was in service; and my opinion is that her father should have mended his own stockings, since probably he was the party to make the holes in them, as many a better man than D’Arc does; meaning by that not myself, because, though certainly a better man than D’Arc, I protest against doing anything of the kind. If I lived even with Friday in Juan Fernandez, either Friday must do all the darning, or else it must go undone. The better men that I meant were the sailors in the British navy, every man of whom mends his own stockings. Who else is to do it? Do you suppose, reader, that the junior lords of the admiralty are under articles to darn for the navy?
The reason, meantime, for my systematic hatred of D’Arc is this. There was a story current in France before the Revolution, framed to ridicule the pauper aristocracy, who happened to have long pedigrees and short rent rolls, viz., that a head of such a house, dating from the Crusades, was overheard saying to his son, a Chevalier of St. Louis, ’Chevalier, as-tu donné au cochon ŕ manger!” Now, it is clearly made out by the surviving evidence, that D’Arc would much have preferred continuing to say–"Ma fille as-tu donné au cochon ŕ manger?” to saying ’Pucelle d’Orléans, as-tu sauvé les fleurs-de-lys?” There is an old English copy of verses which argues thus:–
“If the man, that turnips cries, Cry not when his father dies– Then ’tis plain the man had rather Have a turnip than his father.”
I cannot say that the logic of these verses was ever entirely to my satisfaction. I do not see my way through it as clearly as could be wished. But I see my way most clearly through D’Arc; and the result is–that he would greatly have preferred not merely a turnip to his father, but the saving a pound or so of bacon to saving the Oriflamme of France.
It is probable (as M. Michelet suggests) that the title of Virgin, or Pucelle, had in itself, and apart from the miraculous stones about her, a secret power over the rude soldiery and partisan chiefs of that period; for, in such a person, they saw a representative manifestation of the Virgin Mary, who, in a course of centuries, had grown steadily upon the popular heart.
As to Joanna’s supernatural detection of the Dauphin (Charles VII.) amongst three hundred lords and knights. I am surprised at the credulity which could ever lend itself to that theatrical juggle. Who admires more than myself the sublime enthusiasm, the rapturous faith in herself, of this pure creature? But I admire not stage artifices, which not La Pucelle, but the Court, must have arranged; nor can surrender myself a dupe to a conjuror’s leger-de-main, such as may be seen every day for a shilling. Southey’s “Joan of Arc” was published in 1796. Twenty years after, talking with Southey, I was surprised to find him still owning a secret bias in favor of Joan, founded on her detection of the Dauphin. The story, for the benefit of the reader new to the case, was this:–La Pucelle was first made known to the Dauphin, and presented to his court, at Chinon: and here came her first trial. She was to find out the royal personage amongst the whole ark of clean and unclean creatures. Failing in this coup d’essai, she would not simply disappoint many a beating heart in the glittering crowd that on different motives yearned for her success, but she would ruin herself–and, as the oracle within had told her, would ruin France. Our own sovereign lady Victoria rehearses annually a trial not so severe in degree, but the same in kind. She “pricks” for sheriffs. Joanna pricked for a king. But observe the difference: our own lady pricks for two men out of three; Joanna for one man out of three hundred. Happy Lady of the islands and the orient!–she can go astray in her choice only by one half; to the extent of one half she must have the satisfaction of being right. And yet, even with these tight limits to the misery of a boundless discretion, permit me, liege Lady, with all loyalty, to submit–that now and then you prick with your pin the wrong man. But the poor child from Domrémy, shrinking under the gaze of a dazzling court–not because dazzling (for in visions she had seen those that were more so,) but because some of them wore a scoffing smile on their features–how should she throw her line into so deep a river to angle for a king, where many a gay creature was sporting that masqueraded as kings in dress? Nay, even more than any true king would have done: for, in Southey’s version of the story, the Dauphin says, by way of trying the virgin’s magnetic sympathy with royalty,
––"on the throne, I the while mingling with the menial throng, Some courtier shall he seated.”
This usurper is even crowned: “the jeweled crown shines on a menial’s head.” But really, that is ’un peu fort;” and the mob of spectators might raise a scruple whether our friend the jackdaw upon the throne, and the Dauphin himself, were not grazing the shins of treason. For the Dauphin could not lend more than belonged to him. According to the popular notion, he had no crown for himself, but, at most, a petit ecu, worth thirty pence; consequently none to lend, on any pretence whatever, until the consecrated Maid should take him to Rheims. This was the popular notion in France. The same notion as to the indispensableness of a coronation prevails widely in England. But, certainly, it was the Dauphin’s interest to support the popular notion, as he meant to use the services of Joanna. For, if he were king already, what was it that she could do for him beyond Orleans? And above all, if he were king without a coronation, and without the oil from the sacred ampulla, what advantage was yet open to him by celerity above his competitor the English boy? Now was to be a race for a coronation: he that should win that race, carried the superstition of France along with him. Trouble us not, lawyer, with your quillets. We are illegal blockheads; so thoroughly without law, that we don’t know even if we have a right to be blockheads; and our mind is made up–that the first man drawn from the oven of coronation at Rheims, is the man that is baked into a king. All others are counterfeits, made of base Indian meal, damaged by sea-water.
La Pucelle, before she could be allowed to practise as a warrior, was put through her manual and platoon exercise, as a juvenile pupil in divinity, before six eminent men in wigs. According to Southey (v. 393, Book III., in the original edition of his “Joan of Arc”) she “appall’d the doctors.” It’s not easy to do that: but they had some reason to feel bothered, as that surgeon would assuredly feel bothered, who, upon proceeding to dissect a subject, should find the subject retaliating as a dissector upon himself, especially if Joanna ever made the speech to them which occupies v. 354-391, B. III. It is a double impossibility; 1st, because a piracy from Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation: now a piracy ŕ parte postis common enough; but a piracy ŕ parte ante, and by three centuries, would (according to our old English phrase) drive a coach-and-six through any copyright act that man born of woman could frame. 2dly, it is quite contrary to the evidence on Joanna’s trial; for Southey’s “Joan” of A. Dom. 1796 (Cottle, Bristol), tells the doctors, amongst other secrets, that she never in her life attended–1st, Mass; nor 2d, the Sacramental table; nor 3d, Confession. Here’s a precious windfall for the doctors; they, by snaky tortuosities, had hoped, through the aid of a corkscrew, (which every D. D. or S.T.P. is said to carry in his pocket,) for the happiness of ultimately extracting from Joanna a few grains of heretical powder or small shot, which might have justified their singeing her a little. And just at such a crisis, expressly to justify their burning her to a cinder, up gallops Joanna with a brigade of guns, unlimbers, and serves them out with heretical grape and deistical round-shot enough to lay a kingdom under interdict. Any miracles, to which Joanna might treat the grim D. Ds. after that, would go to the wrong side of her little account in the clerical books. Joanna would be created a Dr. herself, but not of Divinity. For in the Joanna page of the ledger the entry would be–"Miss Joanna, in acct. with the Church, Dr. by sundry diabolic miracles, she having publicly preached heresy, shown herself a witch, and even tried hard to corrupt the principles of six church pillars.” In the mean time, all this deistical confession of Joanna’s, besides being suicidal for the interest of her cause, is opposed to the depositions upon both trials. The very best witness called from first to last deposes that Joanna attended these rites of her Church even too often; was taxed with doing so; and, by blushing, owned the charge as a fact, though certainly not as a fault. Joanna was a girl of natural piety, that saw God in forests, and hills, and fountains; but did not the less seek him in chapels and consecrated oratories.
This peasant girl was self-educated through her own natural meditativeness. If the reader turns to that divine passage in Paradise Regained, which Milton has put into the mouth of our Saviour when first entering the wilderness, and musing upon the tendency of those great impulses growing within himself–
“Oh, what a multitude of thoughts arise!” &c.
he will have some notion of the vast reveries which brooded over the heart of Joanna in early girlhood, when the wings were budding that should carry her from Orleans to Rheims; when the golden chariot was dimly revealing itself that should carry her from the kingdom of France Delivered to the eternal kingdom.
It is not requisite, for the honor of Joanna, nor is there, in this place, room to pursue her brief career of action. That, though wonderful, forms the earthly part of her story: the intellectual part is, the saintly passion of her imprisonment, trial, and execution. It is unfortunate, therefore, for Southey’s “Joan of Arc,” (which however should always be regarded as a juvenile effort,) that, precisely when her real glory begins, the poem ends. But this limitation of the interest grew, no doubt, from the constraint inseparably attached to the law of epic unity. Joanna’s history bisects into two opposite hemispheres, and both could not have been presented to the eye in one poem, unless by sacrificing all unity of theme, or else by involving the earlier half, as a narrative episode, in the latter;–this might have been done–it might have been communicated to a fellow-prisoner, or a confessor, by Joanna herself, in the same way that Virgil has contrived to acquaint the reader, through the hero’s mouth, with earlier adventures that, if told by the poet speaking in his own person, would have destroyed the unity of his fable. The romantic interest of the early and irrelate incidents (last night of Troy, &c.) is thrown as an affluent into the general river of the personal narrative, whilst yet the capital current of the epos, as unfolding ihe origin and incunabula of Rome, is not for a moment suffered to be modified by events so subordinate and so obliquely introduced. It is sufficient, as concerns this section of Joanna’s life to say–that she fulfilled, to the height of her promises, the restoration of the prostrate throne. France had become a province of England; and for the ruin of both, if such a yoke could be maintained. Dreadful pecuniary exhaustion caused the English energy to droop; and that critical opening La Pucelle used with a corresponding felicity of audacity and suddenness (that were in themselves portentous) for introducing the wedge of French native resources, for rekindling the national pride, and for planting the Dauphin once more upon his feet. When Joanna appeared, he had been on the point of giving up the struggle with the English, distressed as they were, and of flying to the south of France. She taught him to blush for such abject counsels. She liberated Orleans, that great city, so decisive by its fate for the issue of the war, and then beleaguered by the English with an elaborate application of engineering skill unprecedented in Europe. Entering the city after sunset, on the 29th of April, she sang mass on Sunday, May 8, for the entire disappearance of the besieging force. On the 29th of June, she fought and gained over the English the decisive battle of Patay; on the 9th of July, she took Troyes by a coup-de-main from a mixed garrison of English and Burgundians; on the 15th of that month, she carried the Dauphin into Rheims; on Sunday the 17th, she crowned him; and there she rested from her labor of triumph. What remained was–to suffer.
All this forward movement was her own: excepting one man, the whole council was against her. Her enemies were all that drew power from earth. Her supporters were her own strong enthusiasm, and the headlong contagion by which she carried this sublime frenzy into the hearts of women, of soldiers, and of all who lived by labor. Henceforwards she was thwarted; and the worst error, that she committed, was to lend the sanction of her presence to counsels which she disapproved. But she had accomplished the capital objects which her own visions had dictated. These involved all the rest. Errors were now less important; and doubtless it had now become more difficult for herself to pronounce authentically what were errors. The noble girl had achieved, as by a rapture of motion, the capital end of clearing out a free space around her sovereign, giving him the power to move his arms with effect; and, secondly, the inappreciable end of winning for that sovereign what seemed to all France the heavenly ratification of his rights, by crowning him with the ancient solemnities. She had made it impossible for the English now to step before her. They were caught in an irretrievable blunder, owing partly to discord amongst the uncles of Henry VI., partly to a want of funds, but partly to the very impossibility which they believed to press with tenfold force upon any French attempt to forestall theirs. They laughed at such a thought; and whilst they laughed, she did it. Henceforth the single redress for the English of this capital oversight, but which never could have redressed it effectually, was–to vitiate and taint the coronation of Charles VII. as the work of a witch. That policy, and not malice, (as M. Michelet is so happy to believe,) was the moving principle in the subsequent prosecution of Joanna. Unless they unhinged the force of the first coronation in the popular mind, by associating it with power given from hell, they felt that the sceptre of the invader was broken.
But she, the child that, at nineteen, had wrought wonders so great for France, was she not elated? Did she not lose, as men so often have lost, all sobriety of mind when standing upon the pinnaclč of successes so giddy? Let her enemies declare. During the progress of her movement, and in the centre of ferocious struggles, she had manifested the temper of her feelings by the pity which she had every where expressed for the suffering enemy. She forwarded to the English leaders a touching invitation to unite with the French, as brothers, in a common crusade against infidels, thus opening the road for a soldierly retreat. She interposed to protect the captive or the wounded–she mourned over the excesses of her countrymen–she threw herself off her horse to kneel by the dying English soldier, and to comfort him with such ministrations, physical or spiritual, as his situation allowed. “Nolebat,” says the evidence, “uti onso suo, aut quemquam interficere.” She sheltered the English, that invoked her aid, in her own quarters. She wept as she beheld, stretched on the field of battle, so many brave enemies that had died without confession. And, as regarded herself, her elation expressed itself thus:–on the day when she had finished her work, she wept; for she knew that, when her task was done, her end must be approaching. Her aspirations pointed only to a place, which seemed to her more than usually full of natural piety, as one in which it would give her pleasure to die. And she uttered, between smiles and tears, as a wish that inexpressibly fascinated her heart, and yet was half fantastic, a broken prayer that God would return her to the solitudes from which he had drawn her, and suffer her to become a shepherdess once more. It was a natural prayer, because nature has laid a necessity upon every human heart to seek for rest, and to shrink from torment. Yet, again, it was a half-fantastic prayer, because, from childhood upwards, visions that she had no power to mistrust, and the voices which sounded in her ear for ever, had long since persuaded her mind, that for her no such prayer could be granted. Too well she felt that her mission must be worked out to the end, and that the end was now at hand. All went wrong from this time. She herself had created the funds out of which the French restoration should grow; but she was not suffered to witness their development, or their prosperous application. More than one military plan was entered upon which she did not approve. But she still continued to expose her person as before. Severe wounds had not taught her caution. And at length, in a sortie from Compeigne, whether through treacherous collusion on the part of her own friends is doubtful to this day, she was made prisoner by the Burgundians, and finally surrendered to the English.
Now came her trial. This trial, moving of course under English influence, was conducted in chief by the Bishop of Beauvais. He was a Frenchman, sold to English interests, and hoping, by favor of the English leaders, to reach the highest preferment. Bishop that art, Archbishop that shalt be, Cardinal that mayest be, were the words that sounded continually in his ear; and doubtless, a whisper of visions still higher, of a triple crown, and feet upon the necks of kings, sometimes stole into his heart. M. Michelet is anxious to keep us in mind that this Bishop was but an agent of the English. True. But it does not better the case for his countryman; that, being an accomplice in the crime, making himself the leader in the persecution against the helpless girl, he was willing to be all this in the spirit, and with the conscious vileness of a catspaw. Never from the foundations of the earth was there such a trial as this, if it were laid open in all its beauty of defence, and all its hellishness of attack. Oh, child of France! shepherdess, peasant girl! trodden under foot by all around thee, how I honor thy flashing intellect, quick as God’s lightning, and true as that lightning to its mark, that ran before France and laggard Europe by many a century, confounding the malice of the ensnarer, and making dumb the oracles of falsehood! Is it not scandalous, is it not humiliating to civilization, that, even at this day, France exhibits the horrid spectacle of judges examining the prisoner against himself; seducing him, by fraud, into treacherous conclusions against his own head; using the terrors of their power for extorting confessions from the frailty of hope; nay, (which is worse,) using the blandishments of condescension and snaky kindness for thawing into compliances of gratitude those whom they had failed to freeze into terror? Wicked judges! Barbarian jurisprudence! that, sitting in your own conceit on the summits of social wisdom, have yet failed to learn the first principles of criminal justice; sit ye humbly and with docility at the feet of this girl from Domrémy, that tore your webs of cruelty into shreds and dust, “Would you examine me as a witness against myself?” was the question by which many times she defied their arts. Continually she showed that their interrogations were irrelevant to any business before the court, or that entered into the ridiculous charges against her. General questions were proposed to her on points of casuistical divinity; two-edged questions which not one of themselves could have answered without, on the one side, landing himself in heresy (as then interpreted), or, on the other, in some presumptuous expression of self-esteem. Next came a wretched Dominican that pressed her with an objection, which, if applied to the Bible, would tax every one of its miracles with unsoundness. The monk had the excuse of never having read the Bible. M. Michelet has no such excuse; and it makes one blush for him, as a philosopher, to find him describing such an argument as “weighty,” whereas it is but a varied expression of rude Mahometan metaphysics. Her answer to this, if there were room to place the whole in a clear light, was as shattering as it was rapid. Another thought to entrap her by asking what language the angelic visitors of her solitude had talked: as though heavenly counsels could want polyglott interpreters for every word, or that God needed language at all in whispering thoughts to a human heart. Then came a worse devil, who asked her whether the archangel Michael had appeared naked. Not comprehending the vile insinuation, Joanna, whose poverty suggested to her simplicity that it might be the costliness or suitable robes which caused the demur, asked them if they fancied God, who clothed the flowers of the valleys, unable to find raiment for his servants. The answer of Joanna moves a smile of tenderness, but the disappointment of her judges makes one laugh horribly. Others succeeded by troops, who upbraided her with leaving her father; as if that greater Father, whom she believed herself to have been serving, did not retain the power of dispensing with his own rules, or had not said, that, for a less cause than martyrdom, man and woman should leave both father and mother.
On Easter Sunday, when the trial had been long proceeding, the poor girl fell so ill as to cause a belief that she had been poisoned. It was not poison. Nobody had any interest in hastening a death so certain. M. Michelet, whose sympathies with all feelings are so quick that one would gladly see them always as justly directed, reads the case most truly. Joanna had a two-fold malady. She was visited by a paroxysm of the complaint called home-sickness; the cruel nature of her imprisonment, and its length, could not but point her solitary thoughts, in darkness, and in chains, (for chained she was,) to Domrémy. And the season, which was the most heavenly period of the spring, added stings to this yearning. That was one of her maladies–nostalgia, as medicine calls it; the other was weariness and exhaustion from daily combats with malice. She saw that everybody hated her, and thirsted for her blood; nay, many kind-hearted creatures that would have pitied her profoundly as regarded all political charges, had their natural feelings warped by the belief that she had dealings with fiendish powers. She knew she was to die; that was not the misery; the misery was that this consummation could not be reached without so much intermediate strife, as if she were contending for some chance (where chance was none) of happiness, or were dreaming for a moment of escaping the inevitable. Why, then, did she contend? Knowing that she would reap nothing from answering her persecutors, why did she not retire by silence from the superfluous contest? It was because her quick and eager loyalty to truth would not suffer her to see it darkened by frauds, which she could expose, but others, even of candid listeners, perhaps, could not; it was through that imperishable grandeur of soul, which taught her to submit meekly and without a struggle to her punishment, but taught her not to submit–no, not for a moment–to calumny as to facts, or to misconstruction as to motives. Besides, there were secretaries all around the court taking down her words. That was meant for no good to her. But the end does not always correspond to the meaning. And Joanna might say to herself–these words that will be used against me to-morrow and the next day, perhaps in some nobler generation may rise again for my justification. Yes, Joanna, they are rising even now in Paris, and for more than justification.
Woman, sister–there are some things which you do not execute as well as your brother, man; no, nor ever will. Pardon me if I doubt whether you will ever produce a great poet from your choirs, or a Mozart, or a Phidias, or a Michael Angelo, or a great philosopher, or a great scholar. By which last is meant–not one who depends simply on an infinite memory, but also on an infinite and electrical power of combination; bringing together from the four winds, like the angel of the resurrection, what else were dust from dead men’s bones, into the unity of breathing life. If you can create yourselves into any of these great creators, why have you not? Do not ask me to say otherwise; because if you do, you will lead me into temptation. For I swore early in life never to utter a falsehood, and, above all, a sycophantic falsehood; and, in the false homage of the modern press towards women, there is horrible sycophancy. It is as hollow, most of it, and it is as fleeting as is the love that lurks in uxoriousness. Yet, if a woman asks me to tell a faleshood, I have long made up my mind–that on moral considerations I will, and ought to do so, whether it be for any purpose of glory to her, or of screening her foibles (for she doescommit a few), or of humbly, as a vassal, paying a peppercorn rent to her august privilege of caprice. Barring these cases, I must adhere to my resolution of telling no fibs. And I repeat, therefore, but not to be rude, I repeat in Latin–
Excudent alii meliús spirantia signa, Credo equidem vivos ducent de marmore vultus: Altius ascendent: at tu caput, Eva, memento Sandalo ut infringas referenti oracula tanta.
Yet, sister woman–though I cannot consent to find a Mozart or a Michael Angelo in your sex, until that day when you claim my promise as to falsehood–cheerfully, and with the love that burns in depths of admiration, I acknowledge that you can do one thing as well as the best of us men–a greater thing than even Mozart is known to have done, or Michael Angelo–you can die grandly, and as goddesses would die were goddesses mortal. If any distant world (which may be the case) are so far ahead of us Tellurians in optical resources as to see distinctly through their telescopes all that we do on earth, what is the grandest sight to which we ever treat them? St. Peter’s at Rome, do you fancy, on Easter Sunday, or Luxor, or perhaps the Himalayas? Pooh! pooh! my friend: suggest something better; these are baubles to them; they see in other worlds, in their own, far better toys of the same kind. These, take my word for it, are nothing. Do you give it up? The finest thing, then, we have to show them is a scaffold on the morning of execution. I assure you there is a strong muster in those fair telescopic worlds, on any such morning, of those who happen to find themselves occupying the right hemisphere for a peep at us. Telescopes look up in the market on that morning, and bear a monstrous premium; for they cheat, probably, in those scientific worlds as well as we do. How, then, if it be announced in some such telescopic world by those who make a livelihood of catching glimpses at our newspapers, whose language they have long since deciphered, that the poor victim in the morning’s sacrifice is a woman? How, if it be published on that distant world that the sufferer wears upon her head, in the eyes of many, the garlands of martyrdom? How, if it should be some Marie Antoinette, the widowed queen, coming forward on the scaffold, and presenting to the morning air her head, turned gray prematurely by sorrow, daughter of Cćsars kneeling down humbly to kiss the guillotine, as one that worships death? How, if it were the “martyred wife of Roland,” uttering impassioned truth–truth odious to the rulers of her country–with her expiring breath? How, if it were the noble Charlotte Corday, that in the bloom of youth, that with the loveliest of persons, that with homage waiting upon her smiles wherever she turned her face to scatter them–homage that followed those smiles as surely as the carols of birds, after showers in spring, follow the re-appearing sun and the racing of sunbeams over the hills–yet thought all these things cheaper than the dust upon her sandals in comparison of deliverance from hell for her dear suffering France? Ah! these were spectacles indeed for those sympathizing people in distant worlds; and some, perhaps, would suffer a sort of martyrdom themselves, because they could not testify their wrath, could not bear witness to the strength of love, and to the fury of hatred, that burned within them at such scenes; could not gather into golden urns some of that glorious dust which rested in the catacombs of earth.
On the Wednesday after Trinity Sunday in 1431, being then about nineteen years of age, the Maid of Arc underwent her martyrdom. She was conducted before mid-day, guarded by eight hundred spearmen, to a platform of prodigious height, constructed of wooden billets supported by occasional walls of lath and plaster, and traversed by hollow spaces in every direction for the creation of air-currents. The pile “struck terror,” says M. Michelet, “by its height;” and, as usual, the English purpose in this is viewed as one of pure malignity. But there are two ways of explaining all that. It is probable that the purpose was merciful. On the circumstances of the execution I shall not linger. Yet, to mark the almost fatal felicity of M. Michelet in finding out whatever may injure the English name, at a moment when every reader will be interested in Joanna’s personal appearance, it is really edifying to notice the ingenuity by which he draws into light from a dark corner a very unjust account of it, and neglects, though lying upon the high road, a very pleasing one. Both are from English pens. Grafton, a chronicler but little read, being a stiff-necked John Bull, thought fit to say, that no wonder Joanna should be a virgin, since her “foule face” was a satisfactory solution of that particular merit. Holinshead, on the other hand, a chronicler somewhat later, every way more important, and universally read, has given a very pleasing testimony to the interesting character of Joanna’s person and engaging manners. Neither of these men lived till the following century, so that personally this evidence is none at all. Grafton sullenly and carelessly believed as he wished to believe; Holinshead took pains to inquire, and reports undoubtedly the general impression of France. But I cite the case as illustrating M. Michelet’s candor.
The circumstantial incidents of the execution, unless with more space than I can now command, I should be unwilling to relate. I should fear to injure, by imperfect report, a martyrdom which to myself appears so unspeakably grand. Yet for a purpose pointing, not at Joanna but at M. Michelet,–viz., to convince him that an Englishman is capable of thinking more highly of La Pucelle than even her admiring countryman, I shall, in parting, allude to one or two traits in Joanna’s demeanor on the scaffold, and to one or two in that of the bystanders, which authorize me in questioning an opinion of his upon this martyr’s firmness. The reader ought to be reminded that Joanna d’Arc was subjected to an unusually unfair trial of opinion. Any of the elder Christian martyrs had not much to fear of personal rancor. The martyr was chiefly regarded as the enemy of Cćsar; at times, also, where any knowledge of the Christian faith and morals existed, with the enmity that arises spontaneously in the worldly against the spiritual. But the martyr, though disloyal, was not supposed to be, therefore, anti-national; and still less was individually hateful. What was hated (if anything) belonged to his class, not to himself separately. Now Joanna, if hated at all, was hated personally, and in Rouen on national grounds. Hence there would be a certainty of calumny arising against her, such as would not affect martyrs in general. That being the case, it would follow of necessity that some people would impute to her a willingness to recant. No innocence could escape that. Now, had she really testified this willingness on the scaffold, it would have argued nothing at all but the weakness of a genial nature shrinking from the instant approach of torment. And those will often pity that weakness most, who, in their own persons, would yield to it least. Meantime, there never was a calumny uttered that drew less support from the recorded circumstances. It rests upon no positive testimony, and it has a weight of contradicting testimony to stem. And yet, strange to say, M. Michelet, who at times seems to admire the Maid of Arc as much as I do, is the one sole writer amongst her friends who lends some countenance to this odious slander. His words are, that, if she did not utter this word recant with her lips, she uttered it in her heart. “Whether, she said the word is uncertain: but I affirm that she thought it.”
Now, I affirm that she did not; not in any sense of the word ’thought" applicable to the case. Here is France calumniating La Pucelle: here is England defending her. M. Michelet can only mean, that, on a prioriprinciples, every woman must be presumed liable to such a weakness; that Joanna was a woman; ergo, that she was liable to such a weakness. That is, he only supposes her to have uttered the word by an argument which presumes it impossible for anybody to have done otherwise. I, on the contrary, throw the onus of the argument not on presumable tendencies of nature, but on the known facts of that morning’s execution, as recorded by multitudes. What else, I demand, than mere weight of metal, absolute nobility of deportment, broke the vast line of battle then arrayed against her? What else but her meek, saintly demeanor, won from the enemies, that till now had believed her a witch, tears of rapturous admiration? “Ten thousand men,” says M. Michelet himself, “ten thousand men wept;” and of these ten thousand the majority were political enemies knitted together by cords of superstition. What else was it but her constancy, united with her angelic gentleness, that drove the fanatic English soldier–who had sworn to throw a faggot on her scaffold, as his tribute of abhorrence, that did so, that fulfilled his vow–suddenly to turn away a penitent for life, saying everywhere that he had seen a dove rising upon wings to heaven from the ashes where she had stood? What else drove the executioner to kneel at every shrine for pardon to his share in the tragedy? And, if all this were insufficient, then I cite the closing act of her life as valid on her behalf, were all other testimonies against her. The executioner had been directed to apply his torch from below. He did so. The fiery smoke rose upwards in billowing volumes. A Dominican monk was then standing almost at her side. Wrapt up in his sublime office, he saw not the danger, but still persisted in his prayers. Even then, when the last enemy was racing up the fiery stairs to seize her, even at that moment did this noblest of girls think only for him, the one friend that would not forsake her, and not for herself; bidding him with her last breath to care for his own preservation, but to leave her to God. That girl, whose latest breath ascended in this sublime expression of self-oblivion, did not utter the word recant either with her lips or in her heart. No; she did not, though one should rise from the dead to swear it.
Bishop of Beauvais! thy victim died in fire upon a scaffold–thou upon a down bed. But for the departing minutes of life, both are oftentimes alike. At the farewell crisis, when the gates of death are opening, and flesh is resting from its struggles, oftentimes the tortured and the torturer have the same truce from carnal torment; both sink together into sleep; together both, sometimes, kindle into dreams. When the mortal mists were gathering fast upon you two, Bishop and Shepherd girl–when the pavilions of life were closing up their shadowy curtains about you–let us try, through the gigantic glooms, to decipher the flying features of your separate visions.
The shepherd girl that had delivered France–she, from her dungeon, she, from her baiting at the stake, she, from her duel with fire, as she entered her last dream–saw Domrémy, saw the fountain of Domrémy, saw the pomp of forests in which her childhood had wandered. That Easter festival, which man had denied to her languishing heart–that resurrection of spring-time, which the darkness of dungeons had intercepted from her, hungering after the glorious liberty of forests–were by God given back into her hands, as jewels that had been stolen from her by robbers. With those, perhaps, (for the minutes of dreams can stretch into ages,) was given back to her by God the bliss of childhood. By special privilege, for her might be created, in this farewell dream, a second childhood, innocent as the first; but not, like that, sad with the gloom of a fearful mission in the rear. This mission had now been fulfilled. The storm was weathered, the skirts even of that mighty storm were drawing off. The blood, that she was to reckon for, had been exacted; the tears, that she was to shed in secret, had been paid to the last. The hatred to herself in all eyes had been faced steadily, had been suffered, had been survived. And in her last fight upon the scaffold she had triumphed gloriously; victoriously she had tasted the stings of death. For all, except this comfort from her farewell dream, she had died–died, amidst the tears of ten thousand enemies–died, amidst the drums and trumpets of armies–died, amidst peals redoubling upon peals, volleys upon volleys, from the saluting clarions of martyrs.
Bishop of Beauvais! because the guilt-burthened man is in dreams haunted and waylaid by the most frightful of his crimes, and because upon that fluctuating mirror–rising (like the mocking mirrors of mirage in Arabian deserts) from the fens of death–most of all are reflected the sweet countenances which the man has laid in ruins; therefore I know, Bishop, that you, also, entering your final dream, saw Domrémy. That fountain, of which the witnesses spoke so much, showed itself to your eyes in pure morning dews; but neither dews, nor the holy dawn, could cleanse away the bright spots of innocent blood upon its surface. By the fountain, Bishop, you saw a woman seated, that hid her face. But as you draw near, the woman raises her wasted features. Would Domrémy know them again for the features of her child? Ah, but you know them, Bishop, well! Oh, mercy! what a groan was that which the servants, waiting outside the Bishop’s dream at his bedside, heard from his laboring heart, as at this moment he turned away from the fountain and the woman, seeking rest in the forests afar off. Yet not so to escape the woman, whom once again he must behold before he dies. In the forests to which he prays for pity, will he find a respite? What a tumult, what a gathering of feet is there! In glades, where only wild deer should run, armies and nations are assembling; towering in the fluctuating crowd are phantoms that belong to departed hours. There is the great English Prince, Regent of France. There is my Lord of Winchester, the princely Cardinal, that died and made no sign. There is the Bishop of Beauvais, clinging to the shelter of thickets. What building is that which hands so rapid are raising? Is it a martyr’s scaffold? Will they burn the child of Domrémy a second time? No: it is a tribunal that rises to the clouds; and two nations stand around it, waiting for a trial. Shall my Lord of Beauvais sit again upon the judgment-seat, and again number the hours for the innocent? Ah! no: he is the prisoner at the bar. Already all is waiting; the mighty audience is gathered, the Court is hurrying to their seats, the witnesses are arrayed, the trumpets are sounding, the judge is going to take his place. Oh! but this is sudden. My lord, have you no counsel? “Counsel I have none: in heaven above, or on earth beneath, counsellor there is none now that would take a brief from me: all are silent.” Is it, indeed, come to this? Alas! the time is short, the tumult is wondrous, the crowd stretches away into infinity, but yet I will search in it for somebody to take your brief: I know of somebody that will be your counsel. Who is this that cometh from Domrémy? Who is she that cometh in bloody coronation robes from Rheims? Who is she that cometh with blackened flesh from walking the furnaces of Rouen? This is she, the shepherd girl, counsellor that had none for herself, whom I choose, Bishop, for yours. She it is, I engage, that shall take my lord’s brief. She it is, Bishop, that would plead for you: yes, Bishop, SHE–when heaven and earth are silent.
Arc:–Modern France, that should know a great deal better than myself, insists that the name is not d’Arc, i.e. of Arc, but Darc. Now it happens sometimes, that if a person, whose position guarantees his access to the best information, will content himself with gloomy dogmatism, striking the table with his fist, and saying in a terrific voice–"It is so; and there’s an end of it,"–one bows deferentially; and submits. But if, unhappily for himself, won by this docility, he relents too amiably into reasons and arguments, probably one raises an insurrection against him that may never be crushed; for in the fields of logic one can skirmish, perhaps, as well as he. Had he confined himself to dogmatism; he would have entrenched his position in darkness, and have hidden his own vulnerable points. But coming down to base reasons, he lets in light, and one sees where to plant the blows. Now, the worshipful reason of modern France for disturbing the old received spelling, is–that Jean Hordal, a descendant of La Pucelle’s brother, spelled the name Darc, in 1612. But what of that? Beside the chances that M. Hordal might be a gigantic blockhead, it is notorious that what small matter of spelling Providence had thought fit to disburse amongst man in the seventeenth century, was all monopolized by printers: in France, much more so.]
Those that share thy blood:–a collateral relative of Joanna’s was subsequently ennobled by the title of du Lys.]
“Jean."–M. Michelet asserts that there was a mystical meaning at that era in calling a child Jean; it implied a secret commendation of a child, if not a dedication, to St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, the apostle of love and mysterious visions. But, really, as the name was so exceedingly common, few people will detect a mystery in calling a boy by the name of Jack, though it does seem mysterious to call a girl Jack. It may be less so in France, where a beautiful practice has always prevailed of giving to a boy his mother’s name–preceded and strengthened by a male name, as Charles Anne, Victor Victoire. In cases where a mother’s memory has been unusually dear to a son, this vocal memento of her, locked into the circle of his own name, gives to it the tenderness of a testamentary relique, or a funeral ring. I presume, therefore, that La Pacelle must have borne the baptismal names of Jeanne Jean; the latter with no reference to so sublime a person as St. John, but simply to some relative.]
And reminding one of that inscription, so justly admired by Paul Richtor, which a Russian Czarina placed on a guide-post near Moscow–This is the road that leads to Constantinople.]
Yes, old–very old phrase: not as ignoramuses fancy, a phrase recently minted by a Repealer in Ireland.]
Our sisters are always rather uneasy when we say anything of them in Latin or Greek. It is like giving sealed orders to a sea captain, which he is not to open for his life till he comes into a certain latitude, which latitude, perhaps, he never will come into, and thus may miss the secret till he is going to the bottom. Generally I acknowledge that it is not polite before our female friends to cite a single word of Latin without instantly translating it. But in this particular case, where I am only iterating a disagreeable truth, they will please to recollect that the politeness lies in not translating. However, if they insist absolutely on knowing this very night, before going to bed, what it is that those ill-looking lines contain, I refer them to Dryden’s Virgil, somewhere in the 6th Book of the Ćneid, except as to the closing line and a half, which contain a private suggestion of my own to discontented nymphs anxious to see the equilibrium of advantages re-established between the two sexes.]
Amongst the many ebullitions of M. Michelet’s fury against us poor English, are four which will be likely to amuse the reader; and they are the more conspicuous in collision with the justice which he sometimes does us, and the very indignant admiration which, under some aspects, he grants to us.
1. Our English literature he admires with some gnashing of teeth. He pronounces it “fine and sombre,” but, I lament to add, “sceptical, Judaic, Satanic–in a word, Anti-Christian.” That Lord Byron should figure as a member of this diabolical corporation, will not surprise men. It willsurprise them to hear that Milton is one of its Satanic leaders. Many are the generous and eloquent Frenchmen, beside Chateaubriand, who have, in the course of the last thirty years, nobly suspended their own burning nationality, in order to render a more rapturous homage at the feet of Milton; and some of them have raised Milton almost to a level with angelic natures. Not one of them has thought of looking for him below the earth. As to Shakspeare, M. Michelet detects in him a most extraordinary mare’s nest. It is this: he does “not recollect to have seen the name of God” in any part of his works. On reading such words, it is natural to rub one’s eyes, and suspect that all one has ever seen in this world may have been a pure ocular delusion. In particular, I begin myself to suspect that the word ’la gloire” never occurs in any Parisian journal. “The great English nation,” says M. Michelet, “has one immense profound vice,” to wit, “pride.” Why, really, that may be true; but we have a neighbor not absolutely clear of an “immense profound vice,” as like ours in color and shape as cherry to cherry. In short, M. Michelet thinks us, by fits and starts, admirable, only that we are detestable; and he would adore some of our authors, were it not that so intensely he could have wished to kick them.
2. M. Michelet thinks to lodge an arrow in our sides by a very odd remark upon Thomas ŕ Kempis: which is, that a man of any conceivable European blood–a Finlander, suppose, or a Zantiote–might have written Tom; only not an Englishman. Whether an Englishman could have forged Tom, must remain a matter of doubt, unless the thing had been tried long ago. That problem was intercepted for ever by Tom’s perverseness in choosing to manufacture himself. Yet, since nobody is better aware than M. Michelet, that this very point of Kempis having manufactured Kempis is furiously and hopelessly litigated, three or four nations claiming to have forged his work for him, the shocking old doubt will raise its snaky head once more–whether this forger, who rests in so much darkness, might not, after all, be of English blood. Tom, it may be feared, is known to modern English literature chiefly by an irreverent mention of his name in a line of Peter Pindar’s (Dr. Wolcot) fifty years back, where he is described as
“Kempis Tom, Who clearly shows the way to Kingdom Come.”
Few in these days can have read him, unless in the Methodist version of John Wesley. Amongst those few, however, happens to be myself; which arose from the accident of having, when a boy of eleven, received a copy of the De Imitatione Christi, as a bequest from a relation, who died very young; from which cause, and from the external prettiness of the book, being a Glasgow reprint, by the celebrated Foulis, and gaily bound, I was induced to look into it; and finally read it many times over, partly out of some sympathy which, even in those days, I had with its simplicity and devotional fervor; but much more from the savage delight I found in laughing at Tom’s Latinity. That, I freely grant to M. Michelet, is inimitable; else, as regards substance, it strikes me that I could forge a better De Imitatione myself. But there is no knowing till one tries. Yet, after all, it is not certain whether the original was Latin. But, however that may have been, if it is possible that M. Michelet[A] can be accurate in saying that there are no less than sixty French versions (not editions, observe, but separate versions) existing of the De Imitatione, how prodigious must have been the adaptation of the book to the religious heart of the fifteenth century! Excepting the Bible, but excepting that only in Protestant lands, no book known to man has had the same distinction. It is the most marvellous bibliographical fact on record.
[Footnote A: “If M. Michelet can be accurate.” However, on consideration, this statement does not depend on Michelet. The bibliographer, Barbier, has absolutely specified sixty in a separate dissertation, soixante traductions, amongst those even that have not escaped the search. The Italian translations are said to be thirty. As to mere editions, not counting the early MSS. for half a century before printing was introduced, those in Latin amount to two thousand, and those in French to one thousand. Meantime, it is very clear to me that this astonishing popularity, so entirely unparalleled in literature, could not have existed except in Roman Catholic times, nor subsequently have lingered in any Protestant land. It was the denial of Scripture fountains to thirsty lands which made this slender rill of Scripture truth so passionately welcome.]
3. Our English girls, it seems, are as faulty in one way as we English males in another. None of us lads could have written the Opera Omnia of Mr. ŕ Kempis; neither could any of our lasses have assumed male attire like La Pucelle. But why? Because, says Michelet, English girls and German think so much of an indecorum. Well, that is a good fault, generally speaking. But M. Michelet ought to have remembered a fact in the martyrologies which justifies both parties,–the French heroine for doing, and the general choir of English girls for not doing. A female saint, specially renowned in France, had, for a reason as weighty as Joanna’s, viz., expressly to shield her modesty amongst men, wore a male military harness. That reason and that example authorized La Pucelle; but our English girls, as a body, have seldom any such reason, and certainly no such saintly example, to plead. This excuses them. Yet, still, if it is indispensable to the national character that our young women should now and then trespass over the frontier of decorum, it then becomes a patriotic duty in me to assure M. Michelet that we have such ardent females amongst us, and in a long series–some detected in naval hospitals, when too sick to remember their disguise; some on fields of battle; multitudes never detected at all; some only suspected; and others discharged without noise by war offices and other absurd people. In our navy, both royal and commercial, and generally from deep remembrances of slighted love, women have sometimes served in disguise for many years, taking contentedly their daily allowance of burgoo, biscuit, or cannon balls–anything, in short, digestible or indigestible, that it might please Providence to send. One thing, at least, is to their credit: never any of these poor masks, with their deep silent remembrances, have been detected through murmuring, or what is nautically understood by “skulking.” So, for once, M. Michelet has an erratum to enter upon the fly-leaf of his book in presentation copies.
4. But the last of these ebullitions is the most lively. We English, at Orleans, and after Orleans (which is not quite so extraordinary, if all were told,) fled before the Maid of Arc. Yes, says M. Michelet, you did: deny it, if you can. Deny it, my dear? I don’t mean to deny it. Running away, in many cases, is a thing so excellent, that no philosopher would, at times, condescend to adopt any other step. All of us nations in Europe, without one exception, have shown our philosophy in that way at times. Even people, ’qui ne se rendent pas,” have deigned both to run and to shout, “Sauve qui pent” at odd times of sunset; though, for my part, I have no pleasure in recalling unpleasant remembrances to brave men; and yet, really, being so philosophic, they ought not to be unpleasant. But the amusing feature in M. Michelet’s reproach, is the way in which he improves and varies against us the charge of running, as if he were singing a catch. Listen to him. They ’showed their backs,” did these English. (Hip, hip, hurrah! three times three!) ’Behind good walls, they let themselves be taken,” (Hip, hip! nine times nine!) They ’ran as fast as their legs could carry them.” (Hurrah! twenty-seven times twenty-seven!) They ’ran before a girl;” they did. (Hurrah! eighty-one times eighty-one!) This reminds one of criminal indictments on the old model in English courts, where (for fear the prisoner should escape) the crown lawyer varied the charge perhaps through forty counts. The law laid its guns so as to rake the accused at every possible angle. Whilst the indictment was reading, he seemed a monster of crime in his own eyes; and yet, after all, the poor fellow had but committed one offence, and not always that. N.B.–Not having the French original at hand, I make my quotations from a friend’s copy of Mr. Walter Kelly’s translation, which seems to me faithful, spirited, and idiomatically English–liable, in fact, only to the single reproach of occasional provincialisms.