1870-1884 — delivered over a thousand times in various locations across the US
Among the names, to which Time has decreed Eternity, is that of Jeanne D’Arc.
Consider, the time in which she lived: the needs of her day; the work she wrought; the life she live; the death she died.
First of all: — France.
In 1316, an infant girl was the rightful heir to the French Crown.
Her uncle, who should have been her actual, as he was her legal protector, had her thrust to one side; had himself crowned by the power of the sword.
The people, believing in that day, — as in many a day since — that right is made by might, accepted this verdict. A law, of which Germany was the birthplace, and heathenism, the date, was summoned to the support of this robbery.
The affair was settled.
But, mark you, legitimacy sacrificed in the person of a young girl, left the door wide, for manly usurpations, and illegitimate claims. Edward the 3rd of England was quick to see his opportunity, — thrust his hand through this loop-hole, to grasp at the French Crown.
From this ensued a war of 120 years. A war, extending through the reigns of five English and five French kings, during which, the great realm of France was twice lost, and twice re-won, by Frenchmen.
A war that began by denying — right — to a woman, was ended, by a woman.
A war, the outset of which was the sacrifice of legitimacy in the person of a young girl, was closed, victory gained, peace established by another young girl.
Thus, the “Whirligig of Time brings in his revenges.” Thus, by a species of Divine adjustment, which we do not now comprehend, the Scales of Justice — held in the hand of God — swing down, even, at last.
This war went on with varying measures of success, — but always of success — to the English; with varying measures of defeat, — but always of defeat — to the French, till, at last, in 1427, Bedford, the then English regent, wrote to his master, Henry of England, — “I am about putting in practice a scheme which, if successful, will ultimate in the destruction of France as an independent power, — will reduce it, as a vassal, to your Crown.”
What was this scheme? England was master of the entire of the Northern Province of France — with the exception of a few insignificant fortresses. Charles still held the centre, with a portion of the Southern Province of his own domain. Orleans was his last stronghold, and was in such position, that, whoso held it, had an open door, through which he could pass to the possessions of England — those in the North, or, to the possessions of France — those in the Centre and South.
Bedford, desiring to go to the South of France, saw that it was necessary, ere advancing, to have this key of Orleans in his keeping.
To this end, he massed a great army over against the city: — twenty-three thousand as Hume, the historian of England asserts; twice and thrice that, as French chroniclers maintain. He summoned, from posts of far off duty, his chiefest generals to head this army. He scattered money, like rain, through the ranks.
As for France, it did what it could.
It threw into this city a few of its scattered and marauding bands; — (its excuses for an army.) The people, already famishing, stripped themselves a little more closely, and fed, a little more narrowly, that these defenders might have supplies for brief months, or weeks at least. The young nobles flung themselves into the city; with the determination, to save it, or, to die.
“Dim, is the rumor of a common fight,
Where host meets host, and many names are sunk.
But of a single combat, Fame spoke clear.”
This contest, by reason of the peculiarity of the position of Orleans, by reason of the magnitude of the issue at stake, by reason of the combatants, had all the interest of a duel, and all the intensity of a duel to the death: — A duel wherein France and England were the principals, while all Europe looked on.
Here was the last stand to be taken for French Nationality, and , it was taken — nobly.
Orleans comprehended, that if she fell, she dragged down with her, her King and her country, and she said: “Nothing shall subdue me.
But, there be limits to human endurance, and by and by, Orleans stretched out meagre and trembling hands, crying for help.
To the King.
The King was packing his belongings, making his preparations to flee from his country, turning his back upon the people who were dying for him, — that he might save his own worthless life.
To the Army.
The Army was broken into bands of robbers, its motto being, “each man for himself.”
To the People. — To France. But what could France do? France — whose highways were deserted, whose fields were barren, whose cities were desolate, and whose villages had ceased? High and low, rich and poor, master and servant, noble and serf were alike, helpless to aid or save their country, in this its hour of direst need and utmost extremity.
The end of all seemed near.
Suddenly — through this darkness a light shone. Suddenly, there went sounding down, through this sorrow, and gloom, and despair, a voice that cried — “I am come from God to save you!” And all the people said, “Amen! For vain is the help of man.”
The people never begin to pray, till they are afraid to hope.
This voice, that brought comfort to the fainting hearts of men, was a woman’s voice: — that of a girl, young and beautiful, and unselfish, and wise with that wisdom which, through all ages, entering into holy souls has made them prophetic, and friends of God.
In all history, there is no character, whose course can be more readily and easily traced, than that of this young girl.
Over four hundred authentic histories have been written of her. Her enemies, who, by their process of condemnation in 1431, thought to consign her to eternal infamy, have thereby built her enduring monument.
They summoned witnesses from all parts of the Empire, from the greatest noble to the lowest peasant, to testify concerning her, — and this testimony, sworn and proven, lies tonight among the State Papers of France, for whoso to examine, that has need or desire.
Thus, when one speaks of her and her work, one does not speak of a myth, of a legend, of a tale that is told. One does not say, “Perhaps it was thus,” “Maybe it was that,” “Perchance it was another.” One simply says, — so it was.
She was born in the little village of Domremy, in Lorraine — which was by then, as it has been full often since, swept by contending armies, — in the year 1411.
Her parents were peasants, — poor — but, with the independence that always comes from actual ownership of the soil.
For herself, she lived a life chiefly out of doors, that was simple, strong, vigorous, active, wholesome.
Beyond this, friend and foe, poet and historian, alike tell us of her goodness, her kindness, her charity, — Her seriousness and earnestness, amounting to sadness.
So kind was she, — as they tell us, — as to take the bread from her mouth, to give to some hungry traveller, who came to her father’s door, — as, to get off her little bed at night, to sleep upon the floor, that some weary wayfarer might have rest, for a few hours, — as to give all of her scanty childish store, with the work of her hands, to the poor, the sick, and the suffering of the village.
So pious was she, with the piety of her day and generation, as not to be content to seek the church only at stated intervals, but, upon sunny morning, or twilight evening, or high noon, she could be found prostrate at altar or shrine.
“She,” — said her old priest, “was the only one in the village who never missed confession, and who had never anything to confess.”
So serious, and sad, and thoughtful was she, as to provoke the wonder of her elders — with whom alone she would associate, for when she went abroad with her young companions, under the free arch of the skies, — while they played, she walked by herself in silent mediation, and when they laughed, she prayed.
Not only this, — but the village in which she lived was one to add to this habit of mind and seriousness of thought. It was a village — a little it is true, but it was situated at the crossing of two high roads, and these roads, the vastly travelled ones, between the kingdoms of France and the kingdoms of German. Thus, whoso journeyed, — knight, soldier, pilgrim, beggar, peasant, priest, — everyone came that way, travelling newspapers, — bringing with them, stories of the great contest raging outside, — a contest wherein they were all profoundly interested, — stories of which grew sadder and sadder, as the years went on, to those who loved the cause of the rightful King.
Among the listeners I venture to assert, none gave such an ear, such a heart of heed, as those of this young girl.
Through all of her after life, — at the head of her army, disputing with learned Doctors, dictating terms of peace to nations, crowning a king, — through it all, she showed plainly that her sentiment for France was not merely a sentiment, her feeling was not simply feeling, — but was a divine passion of patriotism.
Her patriotism was her religion. Her religion was her life.
How, then, must these stories of the sorrow, the wrongs, the want, the anguish of France have affected one who believed her country to be a portion, and the favored portion of the kingdom of God? Who regarded her King but as the viceregent of the Most High upon earth.
Manifestly they made her lose her life to find it again.
She so loved France; she so sorrowed in its sorrow; she so longed to live for it, to suffer for it, to die for it at need, that by and by this one supreme thought took absolute possession of her being. Things small, things petty, things base, things that are for self and self alone, or nearly touching self: — the life of today, the what to eat, the wherewithal to be clothed, the roof to shelter us — matters that interest one and all of us, good friends, — by and by such matters as these, were crushed to death in her, by a mightier than they, and, from their grave, her soul plunged to depths, and rose to heights, where it found God.
Hume tells us that her undisciplined mind grappling with difficulties that ere beyond its comprehension mistook the ravings of passion for divine inspiration.
Schiller, — whose tragedy is full of the most exquisite poetical conceits, but, which as history ,is a romance, pure and simple, from end to end — Schiller represents her as a nondescript in creation. A being neither angel nor human.
Shakespeare trails his great genius in the filth of a national prejudice, an daubs out of it the picture of a rude, course, vulgar, disgusting charlatan.
Michelet and Lamartine speak of her as Frenchmen almost invariably speak of women: — with the outward courtesy that veils inward contempt.
And Miss Catherine [sic] Beecher (who has written a somewhat exhaustive and exhausting article upon her) discovers that these voices and visions, of which we have heard so much, were the results of disease; a distempered condition of the body; affecting the organs of sight and sound.
For myself — I believe in these visions, — but, — I believe they were but the reflex of her own soul.
I believe she was called to her work. — Not by voices. By signs, by wonders in the air. No. I believe she was called, just as you and I are called, since I know full well that every soul that every yet was sent into the world, had its work appointed of God, and the voice of conscience, to drive it on.
She had goodness in a generation of infidelity,— she had genius in a time of commonplace — above all she had Faith. She believed in France, in her King, in Heaven’s interposition in behalf of its own, —and this goodness, this genius, above all this faith, made her the fit leader and helper of a faithless King, a shattered army, a dispirited and heart broken people.
Meanwhile, the needs of France grew and grew, and her desire to serve France kept pace with its needs.
By and by she could keep silence no longer.
One night, then, she stopped her father’s neighbor, — a poor laboring man, — as he was returning from his toil, and putting her arm upon his arm said,
— “I tell thee, there is one — standing right here, — within sound of our voices, —who, within the year, will raise the siege of Orleans, and see that the Dauphin is crowned King. What hast thou to say to that?”
Manifestly the girl wanted to take the though out of herself, mark its effect upon another.
As to this other, — he was an ignorant, superstitious, kindly fellow, living in the midst of ignorance and superstition, and it by no means astounded him. He took it, in good part.
She, gaining courage thereby, went her way to her father and mother, and no longer said, “It is a girl,” but, “I myself will do this thing.”
And the good, commonplace father and mother did just about what good, commonplace fathers and mothers would have done, in all ages since then: — the mother blinded her eyes and wore her knees with tears and with prayers, and the father said,
“Thou go with the army? Thou march with these soldiers? Why, sooner than that, I will drown thee with these hands.”
For her, none of these things moved her. The great battle, between her love and her genius, her duty and her affections, had been fought long before, in the inner depths of her nature. They might break her heart. They could not sway her purpose, nor her soul.
From this point on, it is clear that the girl marked her path from her father’s door to the King — and beyond, and followed it, step by step.
First of all, how to reach the Dauphin, whom she would serve.
She thought: — she said then, “I will go halfway to the Governor of the Province, the great man of the district, Robert de Baudricourt. He shall hear me. He shall forward e to the King.”
To this end, she enlisted in her service her good uncle, Durand Laxart, who loved her, and believed in her, and sent him on this mission to the knight.
Fancy the scene!
A magnificent castle. In it, a man grown gray with years, covered with honorable orders. A knight, a courtier, a scholar, a gentleman.
Into this superb presence comes another man. A peasant, clad in homespun, wooden shoes on his feet, his hands burdened with toil, — and this man says to this man that he comes thence as “an ambassador!” An ambassador from whom?
From another peasant! A child! a young girl who cannot write her own name, nor read it, after it is written! — ad this girl, this child, this ignorant peasant says that “She will raise the siege of Orleans, and see that the Dauphin is crowned, King” — That where kings and armies and potentates and powers have failed, she will succeed.
Why, across all this dimming distance of time, you and I can yet imagine the sort of simile that came to the knight’s face as he said, —
“Go thy way, good fellow, box thy niece’s ears, and send her home.”
He went his way. He did not box his niece’s ears, nor send her home. He was blessed to see, back of the girl’s face and the woman’s form, the august soul that was to work such results in the world, and when she said, —
“Take thou me to the governor,” he took her. But the governor would not see her. Shut the door in her face.
She, nothing daunted, went her way to the house of the next women in the town, — the wife of the blacksmith, — and there took her abode, waiting the knight’s pleasure.
And while she there waited, she talked much, —and all her talk was of France. She shed innumerable bitter tears, — and all her tears were for France. She prayed incessantly, — and all her prayers were for her wretched King, and his yet mor unhappy land.
She so talked, she so wept, she so prayed, that the people of the village, the country folk round about, crowded to see and hear her, and one and all, swept and swayed by some subtle power and magnetism they could not comprehend, went their way from her presence, complaining against the Governor, over in his castle, for withholding “Divine aid, that should be forwarded to the King.”
They so talked, the wonder so spread, as finally to reach the ears of a young knight, Jean of Metz, who rode that way with his old squire, to whom he said, —
“Come, my squire, let us turn a little out of our path, and see this girl.”
Which was done, accordingly.
And it is plain, from the outset, what effect the girl had upon the knight, for there yet [sic], in letters extant — simple, sweet, manly letters — that the young fellow wrote to his mother and sisters, telling them of the marvellous girl, and of the wonderful influence she had on whoso approached her.
So he staid [sic] and talked with her about many things, and at last, said to her, —
“What is it, thou dost desire, Jeanne? What wouldst thou do? What is all this mystery?
To which she, —
“I am sent of God to this governor, — Robert de Baudricourt, over yonder in the great castle, — to tell him he must forward me to the King. But he will not listen. He shuts the door in my face! And yet, I must reach the dauphin before Easter Morning, if I have to go to him, upon my knees, for neither kings nor princes, nor the daughter of the King of Scotland (who was the ally of France) can in any way aid or serve him. I alone can save him. For so my Lord has ordained.”
And you and I can yet hear the laugh, that came from the gay young fellow, as looking at her, and thena t his old squire, he asked, —
“Thy lord? Who is thy lord, Jeanne?”
At that, the young knight and the old squire, — stretching out their mailed hands, — took her young slight palm in their grasp and swore to conduct her to the King, or whithersoever she would.
“When wilt thou go?” said they.
“Rather today than tomorrow,” she answered.
She realized that when a may of dying, there is need of dispatch.
“Wilt thou go in that dress?”
“I will be thankful for another.”
Nothing could stand betwixt her and her work. The woman’s dress would expose her to difficulty danger, insult, perchance, death itself.
Meanwhile, the Governor, moved by all this, had written to the Dauphin. The Dauphin, doubtless wayed by a variety of emotions, had sent back word “forward her to us,” and so, all things conspiring, the King, commanding her presence, the knight and squire swearing to conduct her, the people believing in her, she ws sent on her way; and, as she was about riding forth, clad in compete armor, the Governor de Baudricourt himself going into is armory, taking a sword from the wall, putting it into her hand, said, —
“Go! Go and let come what thou canst accomplish!”
Evidently the knight though it was a very small affair the girl was to do.
Why, it was a vast enterprise, even, to begin.
She had to get over one hundred and four leagues of territory, — the old French league being twice as long as the present one, — every town, every village, every fortress of which was in the hands of the enemy — the English and Burgundian forces. She had to cross eight rivers, and innumerable streams, every one of which was bridgeless. She had to go upon a journey, which, from the fatigue, exposure, exhaustion, hunger, thirst, cold, would have taxed the strength of a strong man.
More than this, she had to go, a girl, young, beautiful, alone, with seven knights and men-at-arms, in a day when men held women’s honor but as thistle-down, to be blown down the winds, and yet, — as these same men afterwards testified, under oath, — tho’ they rode all day on horse at her side, and stretched themselves out to sleep by her side in the open fields at night, no thought ever came to them concerning her, other than thought she had been an angel.
At last, she reached the town where lived the King, but the King had changed his mind, — would not see her. He sent her to an inn, and commissioners to her.
But she had naught to say, to them.
Then, he forwarded some, to her old home, to inquire into her past life, and impatient, ere these could return, sent other commissioners to her.
But she replied to these, as to the first, —
“I have naught to say to you. Take me to the King. I will answer him.”
Till at last the King said, “We will receive her. Let her come in.”
And so, — as the old chronicles tell us, — the impoverished Court made itself fine to receive he peasant girl. It got out its splendid robes, and its cloth-of-gold, and its magnificent jewels, and arrayed itself therein. It had fifty candles, twelve feet high, burning in the room. It had three hundred knights in complete armor waiting in the antechamber, and the Dauphin said, —
“If she come of God, she will recognize us in disguise,” and so put him into plain armor, and mingled with his Court. “If she come of the devil — she will pick out my handsomest courtier,” and himself selecting the knight, had him dressed in his own robes, placed his Crown upon his head, mounted him, in his Chair of State, and had her summoned to audience.
And here, say those who will find in this girl everything, save, what she was, a creature of genius, of power and patriotism, say those, who will see in her a mere blind tool in the hand of fate, “here be two incidents in her career that plainly demonstrate the truth of our theory.”
They tell us, as she was riding across the drawbridge, to come into the castle, where the King was witing to receive her, a brutal man-at-arms, struck by the beauty of her face, and the singularity of her dress, said to a comrade, —
“Who is that?”
“Jeanne D’Arc,” was the answer. “The maid, you know, who has come to the help of the King.”
The man with horrid oaths, and hideous blasphemy, made some threat against her womanhood.
They tell us she paused, drew bridal rein, turned and looked at the man, and, n a voice, thrilling and terrible, cried out —
“Ah, by my God, thou blasphemest Him! And thou, so near to death.” And I a little while thereafter, they tell us the man fell into the river, and was drowned.
Need of a miracle, here? Why so good, and so serious, and so earnest a soul must, of necessity, hav borne its testimony against blasphemy and indecency, and, for the rest, Time must always have seemed short, and the grave near, to one who lived in constant thoughts of Eternity.
Coming then, into the presence of the King and his Court she was by no means deceived, by this mock dauphin on his throne. She knew her rightful lord. She knelt at his feet. She claimed him as her own.
Again, need of a miracle?
Why, she had lived for four days in the same town with hi, — a little town, — a town of one street. Every knight of his court had been into her presence, — all their talk had been of the King, — she must have heard him described, a thousand times.
For myself I believe that from the moment she came into the presence of the King and the Court, they saw, of what stuff she was made, and for what work she was ready, but it was necessary to prepare the minds of the common people, to fight under her banner, in this last desperate enterprise for the salvation of France.
So they held councils, and had questions and cross questions aplenty, and her answers full of that rarest of all genius, the genius of Common Sense, were scattered broadcast across the land.
Through this, six thousand men, from the midst of the multitudes who had swarmed to the place, had enlisted under her banner. The people, finding that a final effort was to be made in behalf of Orleans, gathered, of their scanty remaining store of provisions, to lend to the starving wretches of the town.
She, then, being first of all appointed Commander-in-Chief of the King’s forces, was clad in shining white armor. A so-called sacred sword put into one hand. A so-called sacred banner, into the other, and so, with her army, her escort, her provisions, she rode on her way, — the last hope of the last stronghold of France.
They marched all day, and they marched by night, through many days and nights, and at last found themselves at a little village, a few leagues distant from Orleans, and there waited till the officers of the town could come out to meet her.
On this side the city, the English siege lines were of such strength, as to compel her army to go about by a long and circuitous route, and so come into the place from the other side.
By and by the officers of the town came out to meet her. Her army went on its way. She, and her escort, and her provisions, came down the river to a little place just opposite Orleans, and wind and tide favoring, entered unmolested in.
“How! Say you, “unmolested?” “Where, then were the English? Why did they not prevent?”
She was as well known in the one camp as in the other, but with a difference.
The French said, —
“She comes of Heaven!”
The English said, —
“She comes of Hell.”
The French cried, “She is God’s special interposition in our behalf!”
The English could not accept that theory, for God, you know, is always on our side. Nevertheless, the Devil is a formidable adversary, and they preferred (wisely enough) staying behind their entrenchments, to meeting him in the open field.
And so, coming into that city at eight o’clock of the pleasant summer evening, 1428, what did she bring to it?
A great army to fight their battle?
A commanding general whose name, of itself, would be a tower of strength in their midst?
A King, to arouse their enthusiasm?
She brought two hundred me-at-arms. She brought some food for starving mouths. She brought herself.
But, in that last bringing, she literally brought, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy, for mourning, and the garment of praise, for the spirit of heaviness.”
The people, crowding the house tops, darkening the windows, blocking the doorways, swarmingin the streets, looking at this marvellous, beautiful, inspired face, as it rode up, cried,
“Ah! She is sent indeed, of Heaven. We are saved!”
And the next day she began active enterprise in their behalf, and for their salvation, by calling together a council of war and putting before it her plan of a campaign.
“Her plan of a campaign?” says someone. “What did she know of such matters? It is self evident that it was the generals, the officers, the men who understand these things who planned the campaign, and she, by her youth, and sex, and enthusiasm merely inspired the men to fight.”
Let us see if that statement will hold water.
The siege of Orleans had begun in October 1428. This was April 1429.
This was the same city, these the same officers in command, this the same army, this the same besieging English line. Not an item had changed, save only, that this girl had come into the town.
The officers had had everything their own way for six months. They could plan as they pleased, and fight as they pleased. What had they gained by it?
They had gained, precisely, six months of waiting — and starvation.
She, then, standing in their midst laid down her plan of a campaign.
Said she, “We will take our men, burning with hope, at white heat of enthusiasm, will weld them into one compact body, will beat this down upon the nearest and weakest of the enemy’s forts. Taking this will cut their line — will inspire our men to greater deeds, — will be an entering wedge to victory.”
Why her whole plan was simply that, what Napoleon put into practice centuries later, through which, he made himself temporary master of the world. It was to take his army, large or small, make one compact mass of it, hurl this upon the frailest point, in the line of the enemy, and so breaking it in two, have the whole thing at his mercy, to be taken in detail.
Of the man, the world says, “What august power! What commanding genius!”
Of the woman, under precisely similar conditions, it cries, “Why what a lucky accident it was, she should happen to hit upon that plan.”
So she presented it, and the Governor of the City, the Count Dunois, — the ablest officer, bravest soldier, most cultured scholar, elegant gentleman of the Court of Charles the 7th, — said Dunois, and such men as he, as became true greatness —
“All we have to propose has come to nothingness. We have no fresh plan to offer. Here is a new one. We stand to back it, and see what comes of it.”
Said the little ones, —
“It is not to be thought of for one instant.”
They had never thought of it. But, when the council had broken up, and the great men and the great woman had gone on their ways, these lesser souls, gathering themselves together said, —
“Good! Capital! Tomorrow when she is where she ought to be, in her own house, we will take her plan, and the men she has inspired, and will march out, and pick the laurels of this tree of her planting.”
So the next morning, early, they took the men, they took the plan, and went their way to its fulfillment.
They went out swelling to victory. — And they came home again!
She, lying upon her bed, at high noon, asleep, — exhausted by the long toils of the past month, — was wakened by the sorrowful tumult in the street, by voices that cried under her window, —
“Awake! Arouse! The French line has advance! Has attacked! Is defeated! Is in full retreat at the gates of the city, the enemy at its heels!”
She heard; — she awakened; — she answered!
She sprang from her be, — she dashed into her armor, — she fled down the stairways, — she vaulted into her saddle, and tearing her banner from the window where it floated, put spurs to her horse, and rode from the Western gate of the city to the Eastern gate — the gate of Burgundy, — across the whole length of the town ere her old squire had fairly cased himself in armor.
Riding, then, among these scattered, beaten fugitives, she swept around them eye and voice of command; and the men recognized — (what men always have and always will recognize to the end of time) — the ene and the voice of the Master Soul, where it blazes, and when it speaks.
They gathered about her; they close in after her; they followed her through the gate of the city to the fort from whence they had fled a half hour before, and in another half hour, they literally took it by storm. Five hundred Englishmen had been left dead under their bloody swords and spears.
So quick, so terrible, so resistless had been the assault, that the English, in the near forts did not venture to the rescue of their comrades, and even Bedford, the great English commander, did not care, as Hume himself confides, to meet this girl in the open field with the sword.
That, in short, was the story of that day — and, of the next, and the next.
Through this, the major officers stood to support her, the minor ones to oppose her, till at last these said, “Enough! Let us make an end!”
Thursday, a Saint’s Day, (she, devout, on her knees in her own chamber in prayer) these malcontents gathered themselves together in a council from which Dunois had been excluded, of which she was supposed to know nothing.
Being so gathered, the one suggested one reason; — another another; — a fifth, a fifth; — a tenth, a tenth for — “Delay,” till her army, which was already half way over its course, should reach its destination, and they with its assistance, should accomplish some great thing.
This being done they were about making up their council, when she, who was supposed to know naught of it, came knocking, knocking, at the door, and entering in, said to them —
“Gentlemen, you have been at your council, I have been at mine. Believe me, the councils of men shall come to naught, but, that of my God, shall stand. I will attack the enemy, tomorrow.”
So the next morning when the sun rose, she rose. She clad herself in armor, and came riding through the city streets to the city gates; — to find them locked and barred against her, their keeper, with the keys in his hand, his guard about him.
“Let me through!” she cried.
“It is against the orders of the council,” he answered.
“Let me through!” she repeated.
“The generals have otherwise decried,” was the response.
The generals were not there, and the council was not there, — but the army as tehre, and the people were there, and when she cried to them, “Let us go through!” they went through!
They battered the gate to atoms. They swarmed across the bridge to attack the last stronghold of the enemy: ‑The Tournelles — two great towers that lifted themselves up over against the city, connected by a drawbridge.
Here the English — (learning wisdom through disaster) —had gathered in the men from the outlying forts, and so massed them in these two towers as to force them out upon the open and exposed drawbridge.
Here, then, they fought that day as Englishmen know how to fight! As men, who struggled, not alone for life, but for immortality!
Against this seemingly impregnable fortress, against this desperate and heroic foe, the French line beat from seven of the morning ‘till one of the afternoon, — and beat in vain.
She, then, finding her men were losing heart and hope, that she could not rally them, flinging her sword to one soldier, her banner to another, ran, and with her own hands seizing a ladder, put against the walls of the fort, and mounted it, battle axe in hand, shouting to her men to come onward.
They heard! — They followed! — They answered! But not soon enough. An archer, taking too sure aim, let fly an arrow from the wall, striking her here [in the breast] making a wound a finger length broad, the arrow head coming out behind.
She fell, fainting, to the bottom of the trench. Her men ran, — seized her, — tore her from under the very advancing feet of the foe, and to carry her away to a green and quiet spot, stood about her, to watch her die.
But, presently, life came back to her, and with life, the consciousness of intolerable pain. The tears were wrung from her eyes, — but remembering herself — herself once more, with her own hand, she tore the arrow from the wound, with her own hand dressed it, and ordered her men to carry her back to the front.
But through this, the minutes had grown to hours. The soul gone, how could the body fight? The French line was in full retreat. It thought her dead.
She, looking across the field saw that this was no defeat, saw that it was a panic. She recognized, what military men in all ages have recognized, that under the whole shining surface of the sun, ther eis naught so senselss as a panic in an army.
But, finding she could not sway the generals — to her mind — with that quickness of thought that pertains to genius, and goes to its mark, like the lightning of God, she said —
“At least, let the men sit down to supper. They have had naught to eat, nor to drink, this day.”
Thereby she gained two points; strength, for the men, to fight the battle she meant to wage that night; time for them, sitting there coolly to see what it was, from which they had fled, what it was they were to face.
The generals did not fathom her plans. They were not willing for the men to fight, they were more than ready to let them feed. So they were put down to their suppers.
Through this, she went by herself fin prayer, and this done, and that done, she came among them once more — to find them refreshed and inspired. New men.
As to these English in their two towers, they expected no second assault. They thought the day well and honorably won. They had flung aside their arms, and put off their armor. They were feasting, and reveling, and rejoicing themselves in a false security, when the solitary sentry, from the wall cried, —
And lo, here was seen creeping up through the gathering twilight of the spring evening, seemingly a new army, and at its head the woman they thought dead, hours before, came living and commanding the living.
There could be no two results. Such an assault. Fighting, — struggling, — contending, — inch by inch of the way, — the English were forced out upon the overcrowded drawbridge.
Here, then, fully exposed, the French fire cutting through and through them, the French arrows whizzing across sand across them, she, from where she stood, saw, that the timbers were cracking, the bridge giving way, and, with a blessed instinct of mercy, ran forward, and cried to [William] Glasdale, the English commander, —
“Surrender, thou and thy men, and ye shall have mercy! You shall not be put to the point of the sword.”
And Glasdale, who had promised that if she ever fell into his hands, he would burn her as a witch, responded, with brutal oaths and blasphemy, — and, — at the instant, — the timbers burst! The bridge gave way! The hundreds on hundreds there gathered, sank into the river beneath, and as Glasdale himself went down, and the dark waters closed over his blaspheming head, she cried, for his dying ears to hear, —
“Ah, how I pity and pray for thy soul!”
The other towr was soon taken.
The siege of Orleans was ended.
It had lasted for six months ere she came to the city. This, was the night of the sixty day, after she entered it.
The next day was the Sabbath. She would permit no fighting. She compelled the whole army to stand still, while the shattered remnants of the English forces marched away.
Monday, while the place was in the midst of its rejoicing, the went her way to the King.
She was received with all honor. She was loaded with gold and with favors. The dissolute young courtiers, for once in their lives, paid respect to genius, and to goodness, — but they recommenced their councils.
One said, — “She shall go with me, into Normandy, to reconquer my possessions there.”
Another said, — “Nay, not so, selfish fellow, my castly and lands in Britany are greater than thine. She shall go with me, there.”
Others said, “She shall go upon no private enterprise. She shall fight the battle of the King.”
As for the King, about whom was the whole ado, he said, “Enough has been done. Let us eat, drink, and be merry.”
As for her, she saw the first need of the king was to be King, indeed. The first want of the empire was a head.
There was a superstition, rife through all France — from the highest noble to the lowest peasant, to the effect, that the rightful heir to the throne, could nowhere be properly crowned, and anointed, save, in the great cathedral of the City of Rheims.
Every French King had there been crowned, — Charles, alone, excepted.
Charles the 6 th had died in 1422. This was 1428. The Dauphin had not been crowned in the place appointed, since it, and all the country round it, was in the hands of his powerful enemies, — the English and Burgundian forces.
Grave doubts were everywhere entertained of the Dauphin’s legitimacy; — sdoubts that Bedford, the English regent, the most astute prince of his time did his best to intensify. He had already sent to England for young Henry. It was a race, between the two, whoso should first reach this city of Rheims, and there be crowned. Henry of England or Charles of France, would be recognized by the great body of the people as their rightful head.
The King did not know his own danger. His knights and nobles were too blind, selfish, or indifferent, to tll hi thereof.
Jeanne D’Arc, a peasant, comprehended the superstitions of the peasants. A child of the people, understood what would touch the hearts of the people. A soldier, knew what would rouse the courage of soldiers, so, that, coming into the presence of the Dauphin, she said, —
“Sire, if thou wouldst forever set at rest, this whole question of loyalty, and legitimacy, in Frances, if thou wouldst bring knight, soldier, peasant, as one man to fight under thy standard, go thou thy way, as all thy forefathers have gone, before thee, to this city of Rheims, and there be crowned. The first step will behalf the journey. The very effort to start will prove, thou has the right to go, and will bring thy people to thy support.”
The King cried, —
“No! — Madness!”
The Court cried, —
“No! — Folly!”
She said, —
And when power speaks, weakenss yields. She carried them on their way.
And, to sum up in brief that story of journey through a hostile country, — she came to fortresses and took them; she cam to strongly walled and garrisoned places, and took them; at Patay, she fought the first battel in eight years of ceaseless battle where in France had stood victorious in the open field. Nay, here was not alone defeated, here was positively annihilated the vast power, sent from England years before for the subjugation of the French.
From this point on , it was, as she had predicted: — the march of the King was one triumphal progress.
The fortresses let down their drawbridges at his approach. The towns and cities, flung their keys and their allegiance at his feet. The people crowded the roadsides, shouting at his approach.
The King had, literally, “come to his own.”
Reaching the city of Rheims, it was to find the gates thrown wide, the English army marched away, the citizens rejoicing to receive them.
The morning Jeanne d’Arc entered that city, she climbed the apex of her life. She reached the summit of her existence.
Everyone of us, you and I, my friend, have had, or, will have, our day, from which we date.
This was hers.
That morning, she dictated a letter to Burgundy, that ultimately brought peace between the King and his great rebellious subject. She dictated a letter to Bedford decreeing terms of settlement that were scoffed at that day, but that in comparatively brief space of time were accepted to the last letter. Entering the city, though in the procession were knights, and nobles, and men with even royal blood in their veins, she took precedence of them all. She marched at the right hand of the King.
In the cathedral where he was crowned, she still held her post of honor at his right hand.
The King, crowned, sent for her homely, old peasant uncle, and delighted to have him sit a the same table, and, as the greatest mark of favor he could sow him, fed out of the same dish with him. He sent for her peasant father and peasant mother, ennobled and knighted them. He loaded her with honors, and with gold. In every magnificent pageant of Camp and Court in all Europe, no figure stood as resplendent, as that, of this young girl.
“Twas a dizzy height.
Did she lose balance, there? Was it necessary, to place behind her, as behind Caesar, (in his triumphs,) a salve, to whisper, “remember, thou, too, art but human?”
She was a peasant. She was a girl of eighteen. She had all France at her feet, and was the marvel of Europe. What was her ambition?
The King, throned and established, she came into his presence, and said, —
“Sire, I have somewhat, to ask of thee.”
And the King said,
He would have given her, then, the half of his kingdom.
Then she said —
“I pray thee, sire, that thou wouldst let me go back, to my old home. Thou has no longer need of me, here. The siege of Orleans is raised; — The English army is dispersed. Thou, thyself, art crowned. Burgundy is considering terms of truce with thee. Thy knights and thy nobles are crowding to thy standard. What remains to be done, can soon be done, and without farther aid of mind. I pray thee, then, that thou wouldst let me return; — that I may enter once more, under my mother’s roof, to tend my father’s sheep. Grant me this, sire, I beseech of thee, since I have naught more to ask of thee.”
The soldier’s work, was done. The patriot’s labor, was ended. The woman’s heart cried for home.
“No,” said the King.
“Not to be thought of!” cried the knights. Thou has gathered this army; thou has inspired it; thou has led it to victory. Stay, thou, then with it, till is accomplished, what is so nearly done.
She prayed, — she entreated, — as a good and loyal subject, she yielded to the commands of the King.
But, it was noted that from this time, a great sadness fell upon her, and that she no longer originated plans. She was content to execute the orders of others.
Still, she marched and she fought. Wherever, a forlorn hope was to be led, wherever, a desperate encounter was to be headed, there, was she. But one day, in front of the walls of Paris, in endeavoring to save from destruction an attack she had not alone not planned, but against which she had protested, she and her men were driven back.
Coming from this defeat to the little town of Saint Denis, she was welcomed by the King and his Court!
Though it is so long ago, ages ago, the actors in the scene dead, and turned to dust, and the most of them, forgotten, — tie enough to make the indignant tears to start to one’s eyes, to read what treatment was accorded her.
The King, whose brow she had crowned, whose throne she had established, whose kingdom she had saved, at this, her first disaster, turned upon her, with heartless jeers and revilings. The courtiers, in too many cases, hated her for her power, and were envious of her success, and they made the most of the opportunity, to reveal their bad feelings. The people, the common soldiers, loved her, as of old.
For herself, thought she knew she was surrounded by enemies, that her King would prove faithless, for herself, she never faltered to the end, — and the end was near.
Compiègne was attacked.
The Duke of Burgundy had brought the entire of his army from Germany, where it had been successful, and planted it over against the city. The commandant of the town, [Guillaume] de Flavy, a rough and brutal soldier, hated her, and made no secret of his enmity.
Undeterred by this she did, as she had done in other cases. She took a handful of men, flung herself into the city, promising the citizens she would save them, or would die, with them.
At five o’clock in the afternoon of the day after she came into the town, she took six hundred men-at-arms, and marched across the drawbridge, to attack a portion of the Burgundian line.
Twice she drove them before her. The third time, she and her followers, were driven back. They were, however, retiring in good order, when another section of the Burgundian line went about, to get between them and the bridge, shut them within two forces, and so, grind them to powder.
The men saw. They lost hope. They lost courage. They broke ranks, and fled like sheep, to the bridge.
She, finding she could not lead them to victory, would cover them, in retreat. She rode from her post at the head, to the rear. She fought, as even her malignant enemies, the old English chronicler assert, as ten men might have fought. She fought, till she saw her last soldier on the bridge, her last soldier across it, then, she put spurs to her own horse to ride forward. His fore feet were posed to bear down upon the bridge, when the cruel governor, de Flavy, gave the signal! The drawbridge swung into mid-air. Jeanne d’Arc was alone. Surrounded, by ten thousand enemies! Soon, she was torn from her horse, and in the hands of her foe.
What treatment was accorded her?
She was a soldier, an officer, a prisoner of war. She had never done aught to forfeit the treatment due such an one. In every case, she had been a most magnanimous enemy. What, then, was done with this heroic and hapless soul?
The man-at-arms who captured her surrendered her to de Signy. De Signy sold her to [John of] Luxembourg, Luxembourg sold her to Burgundy, Burgundy sold her to the English, and her traitorous countrymen, and the English who had failed to capture her, were not ashamed of the bargain. There was paid for her, — the King of England transmitted it through his coffers at Rouen, — the sum of then thousand livres.
They passed her, from prison to prison, from keeper to keeper, till at last she was lodged in the great castle of the city of Rouen, in which place, already, lived Henry, the young English King. They gave her as jailer — the secular arm holding her, for the church to try — the Earl of Warwick, he, who is written down in history, as the pink and flower of the chivalry, of his time.
What did he do for her?
The men who constructed it, — at his command — afterwards, testified under oath, that they made for her an iron cage, too low, for her to stand upright, therein, too short, for her to stretch herself, at length. They chained her, about the neck, about her waist, about her hands, about her feet. They fastened these, iron links, to the iron bars of her cage.
They thrust this cage, into a dungeon under water, into which no ray of daylight could ever penetrate. They put three brutal men-at-arms within two outside her dungeon, to watch her, to insult her, to waken her from brief and troubled slumbers, to tell her the executioner was coming, to carry her to torture, and to death. They almost starved her.
Worse than this, such men as the Count of Luxembourg, the Earl of Warwick, the Bishop of Beauvais, were not ashamed to come into her dungeon, and while men-at-arms held up torches to shine upon her face, to laugh at, and revile her, where she lay.
Nay, the great John of Luxembourg, making a mock of her, said, —
“Ah, Jeanne, I have come to buy thee, of these English, — to pay thy ransom, to let thee go free. What! So silent? Hast thou no thanks, to offer me, for that?”
And she, where she lay, helpless, yet, heroic, looking at him with undaunted eyes, answered. —
“Thou mockest me! Thou canst not, if thou wouldst. Thou hast sold me to the English. They will burn me. That I know, right well. But, though they destroy me, and one hundred thousand more, they will be swept from France, for so God has ordained.
At that, the Count tor ethe dagger from his belt to stab her to death, but the Earl of Warwick dashed hand and dagger to one side, saying, —
“Not so easy a death. She is to be saved, for the stake, and the burning.”
They exhausted ingenuity, in trying to find testimony against her — and failed. Among other efforts, they sent to her old home to buy it, and were naught else known in her favor, this would suffice. These English emissaries went into a country desolated by war, to bare fields, to empty cupboards, to cold hearthstones, to hungry mouths, — they went with hands, full of gold, — and they couldn’t find in all the village, nor in the region round about, man, woman, nor little child, so poor, as to sell the truth, against her.
I tell you there is no calumny, not one, that can stand against the words — beloved by the poor.
At last, they brought her to trial.
I can give you no transcript of that work. Had I a brush, dipped into the blackness of darkness, on the one hand, thrust into all the splendor of God’s own sunlight, on the other, I could not paint that scene.
Ninety judges on the bench; — the clearest intellects, he finest brains, of all France. The whole power, of the Inquisition, to back them.
The girl, absolutely alone, — save for her soul and her God. But these, sufficed.
The trial, lasted for months. There were in the aggregate, hundreds of questions, put, and answers, received, and the strangest part of this strange trial, is that these marvellous answers can be accepted without doubt, cavil, or question, since they have come to us, not on the record of friend, defender, or supporter. The very en who condemned her to die had the record written out for you and for me to read.
Piling her scaffold, they built their own monument, of infamy.
But of these amazing answers, I pick, but one or two. Wonderful, I pray you to remember, only, as all are wonderful. Types, of the whole.
Said one of her judges, —
“Thou wast sure, Jeanne d’Arc, to wear a ring upon thy hand, — a ring to which thou didst talk, didst kiss, over which thou didst pray, before going into battle. Manifestly ‘twas an evil thing, given thee by the enemy of souls. Thou dost not dare to deny it.”
“Ah,” she answered, the tears rising in her tender eyes. “Tis true I did — I did wear such a ring. I did so talk to it, so kiss it, so pray to it, before going into battle. It was because it had the name of Jesus carved upon it, — because it had been given me by my mother, — because it was full of memories of childhood, and of home.”
“But,” said another, “thy standard! That was an evil thing. Thou wast heard again, and yet again, to tell thy men that standard would gain them victory, anywhere. All they had to do, was to look at it.”
“No,” she cried, [to] the soldier speaking there. “No. I told them no such thing. I told them to follow that standard, whenever and wherever it led to the front, the the hottest part of the battle, and for all witchcraft, I carried it there myself.”
“But,” said they, “thou didst take it into the Cathedral, where the King was crowned. In all that magnificent pageant thine was the only banner. What did that miserable, tattered piece of silk, and hacked and hewn bit of wood, do there? Thou didst not dare leave it out of thy grasp. Thou was afraid thy Master would come else, to capture thee.”
“Carry it there?” she cried,— ad the answer would go to the heart of every soldier, at lest. “Cary it there I did, as was most meet. Since my banner had been where there was danger, and suffering, and struggle, and death, it was fit that it should go where there was honor and glory.”
As to the effort to compel here, to submit her inspiration to the judgement of the Pope, — knowing, full well, that as the Pope was the ally of England, on that ground he would decide against her; that, since she had maintained that men should obey the orderings of God in their own souls, rather than the commands of any man, on that second count, she was foredoomed. I pray you, who care to estimate this girl, and her character aright, to remember that before the word “Protestant” was spoken in Europe, before Luther was dreamt of, this child, this peasant this Catholic, facing prelates of her own church, life and death hanging on the balance, answered them, after this wise:
“As to my work, my battles, my signs, these were the toils of human hands. I am content to submit them to the judgement of the Pope, and his Council, men great in power, yet, human beings like myself. But for mine inspiration — it came of Heaven. I yield it, to Heaven, alone. I refuse to recognize the right of any man to interfere between the soul, and its God.”
And, at last, weary of injustice, and anguish, she cried, —
“I am come from God. I have naught to do here. Dismiss me to God, from whence I came.”
Finding, that even perverted law could not trap her, they resorted to strategy. They brought her, face to face, with torture and death, and, in their presence, read her a something called a recantation; — a something, by which, she promised, to go back to her home, to resume her peasant’s gown, and that, — if the Pope so decided, — she would stay there, — would no longer fight the battles of the King.
Can you not imagine the girl’s thought? as she listened. How she must have said to herself, — “it will take time for this to reach the Pope, — time, for him to consider it, — time, for it to be sent back, here. Meanwhile, if I sign it, I gain freedom thereby. I can finish the battles of the King, — they are nearly done! After that, what matter!
—“Read it, again.”
It was read, again.
“I will sign it.”
But, instead of putting this paper under her hand, they placed another, wherein she accused herself of every crime and enormity — (for remember, she could not read a word) — and, smiling as she took the quill, she traced at the foot of the parchment, a circle, and marked within it, the sign of the cross, — for the hand, that had beaten down the power of all England, could not sign its own name, — and then, stood up for sentence, supposing it would be one of dismissal.
It was read to her.
“Thou are condemned, to be carried back to thy dungeon, there, to eat the bread of sorrow, and to drink the waters of bitterness, till, thou shalt die.”
And even at that, the soldiers, ad her own false countrymen crowding the streets, gathered up stones to fling at the priest on the scaffold, crying, —
“Ah false priests! Ye are not earning the King’s money. You are not doing as you were bid! You are letting her live! She is to die! She is to be burned! She is to be burned!”
And at that, the priests coming down from the scaffold, going among the people, laughed and nodded as they went by, saying,
“In good season. In good season. In good season. We will have her again.”
So, she was carried back, to her dungeon.
And on the eight morning, as she would rise from her bed, she found lying beside it, not the peasant gown she had sworn to resume, — and on which hung her life, — but the steel links of the armor, she had promised neve to wear again.
She knew that to clothe herself in that armor would be to dress herself in her shroud; — to enter those steel links, would be to enter the open door of her tomb, and so standing, she cried again and again for her peasant garments and they were withheld, till, to save herself from insult, from danger, nay, from absolute violation, she put it on.
‘Twas but a trap in which to catch her. Spies had been watching. They ran with hasty steps to tell the Bishop of Beauvais. And she, where she stood in the gloom of her dungeon, could hear the Bishop’s feet sounding on the flagstones of the courtyard outside, could hear his voice, jarring the solemn stillness of the Sabbath morning, as he cried to the Earl of Warwick, where he hung from an upper window, “Aha! We have caught her!”
And the next day she was carried out to her death.
The story goes on to tell us, how she was brought from her dungeon, and put into a card. The one officer of the jail who had been kind to her on the one side, the monk, who was faithful to death, on the other. How the cart moved down the narrow street to the open marketplace of the city, crowded with reviling soldiers who literally spat upon her as she went by.
At the one side, a high scaffold. On it, the Bishop of Winchester, the Bishop of Beauvais, the knights, and prelates, and officers who were in the town.
At the other, a scaffold, equally high. On it, a stake, faggots, the executioner.
Outside, swelling and surging like waves of the sea, the people of the city of Rouen, for whom she would have died, come to witness her burning.
And here, at the selfsame moment of her life, she manifested herself, supreme. Dying, she conquered the living.
She knelt in her cart, in the crowded street. She prayed for these her enemies, accusers, judges, murderers. For this, her executioner. For the reviling soldiers about her. For the King, the army, the nation that had forgotten her. For herself, that she might hold fast, to the awful end.
What power was it, think you, that speaking from dying life and dying eyes, brought to such results?
That made the Bishop of Winchester, who in “dying made no sign,” turn his face to the wall, unable to witness the sight?
That made the Bishop of Beauvais who, a short half hour before, had read her death sentence, cover his face with his hand, so that those who stood watching, could see the tears drip down the back of it?
That made the yelling, cursing, reviling soldiers pause to listen, and, as the prayer wen ton, drop their swords and spears, and seizing one another’s arms, cry out, “Ah, look at her! Listen to her! See her! See a Saint of God we are about to burn!?
That sent her with steady, unwavering feet,— up the gallows stairs? That chained to the stake, the smoke, stifling and blinding her, the cruel flames cracking her bones, and shriveling her flesh, maying her in dying, remember the living who had forgotten himself?
She saw where the flames ran out to seize the robe of the faithful monk who stood by her side, and tearing loose her scorching, withering hands, thrusting them forth, she cried.
“Go down, my father. Go down and save thyself. But stand where thou canst hold the blessed cross before me, and speak, I pray thee, words of comfort, to me, to the end.”
Then, those who stood, looking and listening, in awestruck stillness, could hear, issuing from the flames and the smoke, naught save confused sounds: — broken murmurings of a voice: — a soul, speaking to its God, in death.
She had fought a good fight. She had finished her course. She had kept the faith.
Source: Library of Congress, Anna Dickinson Papers, Mss. 17984, Reel 17, container 14, pp. 471-507.
Also: Texts in Context: Critical Dialogues on Significant Episodes in American Political Rhetoric, ed. Michael C. Leff, Fred J. Kauffeld, (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press) 1989, pp. 279-309.