Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
JOAN HAD said true: France was on the way to be free.
The war called the Hundred Years' War was very sick to-day. Sick on its
English side--for the very first time since its birth, ninety-one years
Shall we judge battles by the numbers killed and the ruin wrought? Or
shall we not rather judge them by the results which flowed from them? Any
one will say that a battle is only truly great or small according to its
results. Yes, any one will grant that, for it is the truth.
Judged by results, Patay's place is with the few supremely great and
imposing battles that have been fought since the peoples of the world
first resorted to arms for the settlement of their quarrels. So judged,
it is even possible that Patay has no peer among that few just mentioned,
but stand alone, as the supremest of historic conflicts. For when it
began France lay gasping out the remnant of an exhausted life, her case
wholly hopeless in the view of all political physicians; when it ended,
three hours later, she was convalescent. Convalescent, and nothing
requisite but time and ordinary nursing to bring her back to perfect
health. The dullest physician of them all could see this, and there was
none to deny it.
Many death-sick nations have reached convalescence through a series of
battles, a procession of battles, a weary tale of wasting conflicts
stretching over years, but only one has reached it in a single day and by
a single battle. That nation is France, and that battle Patay.
Remember it and be proud of it; for you are French, and it is the
stateliest fact in the long annals of your country. There it stands, with
its head in the clouds! And when you grow up you will go on pilgrimage to
the field of Patay, and stand uncovered in the presence of--what? A
monument with its head in the clouds? Yes. For all nations in all times
have built monuments on their battle-fields to keep green the memory of
the perishable deed that was wrought there and of the perishable name of
him who wrought it; and will France neglect Patay and Joan of Arc? Not
for long. And will she build a monument scaled to their rank as compared
with the world's other fields and heroes? Perhaps--if there be room for
it under the arch of the sky.
But let us look back a little, and consider certain strange and
impressive facts. The Hundred Years' War began in 1337. It raged on and
on, year after year and year after year; and at last England stretched
France prone with that fearful blow at Crecy. But she rose and struggled
on, year after year, and at last again she went down under another
devastating blow--Poitiers. She gathered her crippled strength once more,
and the war raged on, and on, and still on, year after year, decade after
decade. Children were born, grew up, married, died--the war raged on;
their children in turn grew up, married, died--the war raged on; their
children, growing, saw France struck down again; this time under the
incredible disaster of Agincourt--and still the war raged on, year after
year, and in time these children married in their turn.
France was a wreck, a ruin, a desolation. The half of it belonged to
England, with none to dispute or deny the truth; the other half belonged
to nobody--in three months would be flying the English flag; the French
King was making ready to throw away his crown and flee beyond the seas.
Now came the ignorant country-maid out of her remote village and
confronted this hoary war, this all-consuming conflagration that had
swept the land for three generations. Then began the briefest and most
amazing campaign that is recorded in history. In seven weeks it was
finished. In seven weeks she hopelessly crippled that gigantic war that
was ninety-one years old. At Orleans she struck it a staggering blow; on
the field of Patay she broke its back.
Think of it. Yes, one can do that; but understand it? Ah, that is another
matter; none will ever be able to comprehend that stupefying marvel.
Seven weeks--with her and there a little bloodshed. Perhaps the most of
it, in any single fight, at Patay, where the English began six thousand
strong and left two thousand dead upon the field. It is said and believed
that in three battles alone--Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt--near a
hundred thousand Frenchmen fell, without counting the thousand other
fights of that long war. The dead of that war make a mournful long
list--an interminable list. Of men slain in the field the count goes by
tens of thousands; of innocent women and children slain by bitter
hardship and hunger it goes by that appalling term, millions.
It was an ogre, that war; an ogre that went about for near a hundred
years, crunching men and dripping blood from its jaws. And with her
little hand that child of seventeen struck him down; and yonder he lies
stretched on the field of Patay, and will not get up any more while this
old world lasts.
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