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. Our own sovereign lady Victoria rehearses annually a trial not so severe in degree, but the same in kind. 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! 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Joanna would be created a Dr. For in the Joanna page of the ledger the entry would be—"Miss Joanna, in acct. 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—. 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. But this limitation of the interest grew, no doubt, from the constraint inseparably attached to the law of epic unity. 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. 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.
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? 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.
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. Michelet is anxious to keep us in mind that this Bishop was but an agent of the English. 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! 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!
Joan of Arc
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. 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.
Miscellaneous Essays by Thomas de Quincey
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. 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. 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. 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 does commit 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—. 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? 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.
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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, 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 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?
On the Wednesday after Trinity Sunday in , 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. 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.
Miscellaneous Essays of Thomas de Quincey
Yet, to mark the almost fatal felicity of M. Both are from English pens. 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. 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. Any of the elder Christian martyrs had not much to fear of personal rancor. 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. Here is France calumniating La Pucelle : here is England defending her.
Michelet can only mean, that, on a priori principles, 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. 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? 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! 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. 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.
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. Ah, but you know them, Bishop, well!
Oh, mercy! 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? 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? 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.
My lord, have you no counsel? 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. 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. But what of that? The Man who Laughs. Victor Hugo. Jean Jacques Rousseau.
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