Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Cover for Mark Twain's Biography about Joan of Arc

Chapter 31

    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 gone by.
    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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