Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
WHEN JOAN told the King what that deep secret was that was torturing his
heart, his doubts were cleared away; he believed she was sent of God, and
if he had been let alone he would have set her upon her great mission at
once. But he was not let alone. Tremouille and the holy fox of Rheims
knew their man. All they needed to say was this--and they said it:
"Your Highness says her Voices have revealed to you, by her mouth, a
secret known only to yourself and God. How can you know that her Voices
are not of Satan, and she his mouthpiece?--for does not Satan know the
secrets of men and use his knowledge for the destruction of their souls?
It is a dangerous business, and your Highness will do well not to proceed
in it without probing the matter to the bottom."
That was enough. It shriveled up the King's little soul like a raisin,
with terrors and apprehensions, and straightway he privately appointed a
commission of bishops to visit and question Joan daily until they should
find out whether her supernatural helps hailed from heaven or from hell.
The King's relative, the Duke of Alencon, three years prisoner of war to
the English, was in these days released from captivity through promise of
a great ransom; and the name and fame of the Maid having reached him--for
the same filled all mouths now, and penetrated to all parts--he came to
Chinon to see with his own eyes what manner of creature she might be. The
King sent for Joan and introduced her to the Duke. She said, in her
"You are welcome; the more of the blood of France that is joined to this
cause, the better for the cause and it."
Then the two talked together, and there was just the usual result: when
they departed, the Duke was her friend and advocate.
Joan attended the King's mass the next day, and afterward dined with the
King and the Duke. The King was learning to prize her company and value
her conversation; and that might well be, for, like other kings, he was
used to getting nothing out of people's talk but guarded phrases,
colorless and non-committal, or carefully tinted to tally with the color
of what he said himself; and so this kind of conversation only vexes and
bores, and is wearisome; but Joan's talk was fresh and free, sincere and
honest, and unmarred by timorous self-watching and constraint. She said
the very thing that was in her mind, and said it in a plain,
straightforward way. One can believe that to the King this must have been
like fresh cold water from the mountains to parched lips used to the
water of the sun-baked puddles of the plain.
After dinner Joan so charmed the Duke with her horsemanship and lance
practice in the meadows by the Castle of Chinon whither the King also had
come to look on, that he made her a present of a great black war-steed.
Every day the commission of bishops came and questioned Joan about her
Voices and her mission, and then went to the King with their report.
These pryings accomplished but little. She told as much as she considered
advisable, and kept the rest to herself. Both threats and trickeries were
wasted upon her. She did not care for the threats, and the traps caught
nothing. She was perfectly frank and childlike about these things. She
knew the bishops were sent by the King, that their questions were the
King's questions, and that by all law and custom a King's questions must
be answered; yet she told the King in her naive way at his own table one
day that she answered only such of those questions as suited her.
The bishops finally concluded that they couldn't tell whether Joan was
sent by God or not. They were cautious, you see. There were two powerful
parties at Court; therefore to make a decision either way would
infallibly embroil them with one of those parties; so it seemed to them
wisest to roost on the fence and shift the burden to other shoulders. And
that is what they did. They made final report that Joan's case was beyond
their powers, and recommended that it be put into the hands of the
learned and illustrious doctors of the University of Poitiers. Then they
retired from the field, leaving behind them this little item of
testimony, wrung from them by Joan's wise reticence: they said she was a
"gentle and simple little shepherdess, very candid, but not given to
It was quite true--in their case. But if they could have looked back and
seen her with us in the happy pastures of Domremy, they would have
perceived that she had a tongue that could go fast enough when no harm
could come of her words.
So we traveled to Poitiers,
to endure there three weeks of tedious delay
while this poor child was being daily questioned and badgered before a
great bench of--what? Military experts?--since what she had come to apply
for was an army and the privilege of leading it to battle against the
enemies of France. Oh no; it was a great bench of priests and
monks--profoundly leaned and astute casuists--renowned professors of
theology! Instead of setting a military commission to find out if this
valorous little soldier could win victories, they set a company of holy
hair-splitters and phrase-mongers to work to find out if the soldier was
sound in her piety and had no doctrinal leaks. The rats were devouring
the house, but instead of examining the cat's teeth and claws, they only
concerned themselves to find out if it was a holy cat. If it was a pious
cat, a moral cat, all right, never mind about the other capacities, they
were of no consequence.
Joan was as sweetly self-possessed and tranquil before this grim
tribunal, with its robed celebrities, its solemn state and imposing
ceremonials, as if she were but a spectator and not herself on trial. She
sat there, solitary on her bench, untroubled, and disconcerted the
science of the sages with her sublime ignorance--an ignorance which was a
fortress; arts, wiles, the learning drawn from books, and all like
missiles rebounded from its unconscious masonry and fell to the ground
harmless; they could not dislodge the garrison which was within--Joan's
serene great heart and spirit, the guards and keepers of her mission.
She answered all questions frankly, and she told all the story of her
visions and of her experiences with the angels and what they said to her;
and the manner of the telling was so unaffected, and so earnest and
sincere, and made it all seem so lifelike and real, that even that hard
practical court forgot itself and sat motionless and mute, listening with
a charmed and wondering interest to the end. And if you would have other
testimony than mine, look in the histories and you will find where an
eyewitness, giving sworn testimony in the Rehabilitation process, says
that she told that tale "with a noble dignity and simplicity," and as to
its effect, says in substance what I have said. Seventeen, she
was--seventeen, and all alone on her bench by herself; yet was not
afraid, but faced that great company of erudite doctors of law ant
theology, and by the help of no art learned in the schools, but using
only the enchantments which were hers by nature, of youth, sincerity, a
voice soft and musical, and an eloquence whose source was the heart, not
the head, she laid that spell upon them. Now was not that a beautiful
thing to see? If I could, I would put it before you just as I saw it;
then I know what you would say.
As I have told you, she could not read. "One day they harried and
pestered her with arguments, reasonings, objections, and other windy and
wordy trivialities, gathered out of the works of this and that and the
other great theological authority, until at last her patience vanished,
and she turned upon them sharply and said:
"I don't know A from B; but I know this: that I am come by command of the
Lord of Heaven to deliver Orleans from the English power and crown the
King of Rheims, and the matters ye are puttering over are of no
Necessarily those were trying days for her, and wearing for everybody
that took part; but her share was the hardest, for she had no holidays,
but must be always on hand and stay the long hours through, whereas this,
that, and the other inquisitor could absent himself and rest up from his
fatigues when he got worn out. And yet she showed no wear, no weariness,
and but seldom let fly her temper. As a rule she put her day through
calm, alert, patient, fencing with those veteran masters of scholarly
sword-play and coming out always without a scratch.
One day a Dominican sprung upon her a question which made everybody cock
up his ears with interest; as for me, I trembled, and said to myself she
is done this time, poor Joan, for there is no way of answering this. The
sly Dominican began in this way--in a sort of indolent fashion, as if the
thing he was about was a matter of no moment:
"You assert that God has willed to deliver France from this English
"Yes, He has willed it."
"You wish for men-at-arms, so that you may go to the relief of Orleans, I
"Yes--and the sooner the better."
"God is all-powerful, and able to do whatsoever thing He wills to do, is
it not so?"
"Most surely. None doubts it."
The Dominican lifted his head suddenly, and sprung that question I have
spoken of, with exultation:
"Then answer me this. If He has willed to deliver France, and is able to
do whatsoever He wills, where is the need for men-at-arms?"
There was a fine stir and commotion when he said that, and a sudden
thrusting forward of heads and putting up of hands to ears to catch the
answer; and the Dominican wagged his head with satisfaction, and looked
about him collecting his applause, for it shone in every face. But Joan
was not disturbed. There was no note of disquiet in her voice when she
"He helps who help themselves. The sons of France will fight the battles,
but He will give the victory!"
You could see a light of admiration sweep the house from face to face
like a ray from the sun. Even the Dominican himself looked pleased, to
see his master-stroke so neatly parried, and I heard a venerable bishop
mutter, in the phrasing common to priest and people in that robust time,
"By God, the child has said true. He willed that Goliath should be slain,
and He sent a child like this to do it!"
Another day, when the inquisition had dragged along until everybody
looked drowsy and tired but Joan, Brother Seguin, professor of theology
at the University of Poitiers, who was a sour and sarcastic man, fell to
plying Joan with all sorts of nagging questions in his bastard Limousin
French--for he was from Limoges. Finally he said:
"How is it that you understand those angels? What language did they
"In-deed! How pleasant to know that our language is so honored! Good
"Perfect, eh? Well, certainly you ought to know. It was even better than
your own, eh?"
"As to that, I--I believe I cannot say," said she, and was going on, but
stopped. Then she added, almost as if she were saying it to herself,
"Still, it was an improvement on yours!"
I knew there was a chuckle back of her eyes, for all their innocence.
Everybody shouted. Brother Seguin was nettled, and asked brusquely:
"Do you believe in God?"
Joan answered with an irritating nonchalance:
"Oh, well, yes--better than you, it is likely."
Brother Seguin lost his patience, and heaped sarcasm after sarcasm upon
her, and finally burst out in angry earnest, exclaiming:
"Very well, I can tell you this, you whose believe in God is so great:
God has not willed that any shall believe in you without a sign. Where is
your sign?--show it!"
This roused Joan, and she was on her feet in a moment, and flung out her
retort with spirit:
"I have not come to Poitiers to show signs and do miracles. Send me to
Orleans and you shall have signs enough. Give me men-at-arms--few or
many--and let me go!"
The fire was leaping from her eyes--ah, the heroic little figure! can't
you see her? There was a great burst of acclamations, and she sat down
blushing, for it was not in her delicate nature to like being
This speech and that episode about the French language scored two points
against Brother Seguin, while he scored nothing against Joan; yet, sour
man as he was, he was a manly man, and honest, as you can see by the
histories; for at the Rehabilitation he could have hidden those unlucky
incidents if he had chosen, but he didn't do it, but spoke them right out
in his evidence.
On one of the latter days of that three-weeks session the gowned scholars
and professors made one grand assault all along the line, fairly
overwhelming Joan with objections and arguments culled from the writings
of every ancient and illustrious authority of the Roman Church. She was
well-nigh smothered; but at last she shook herself free and struck back,
"Listen! The Book of God is worth more than all these ye cite, and I
stand upon it. And I tell ye there are things in that Book that not one
among ye can read, with all your learning!"
From the first she was the guest, by invitation, of the dame De Rabateau,
wife of a councilor of the Parliament of Poitiers; and to that house the
great ladies of the city came nightly to see Joan and talk with her; and
not these only, but the old lawyers, councilors and scholars of the
Parliament and the University. And these grave men, accustomed to weigh
every strange and questionable thing, and cautiously consider it, and
turn it about this way and that and still doubt it, came night after
night, and night after night, falling ever deeper and deeper under the
influence of that mysterious something, that spell, that elusive and
unwordable fascination, which was the supremest endowment of Joan of Arc,
that winning and persuasive and convincing something which high and low
alike recognized and felt, but which neither high nor low could explain
or describe, and one by one they all surrendered, saying, "This child is
sent of God."
All day long Joan, in the great court and subject to its rigid rules of
procedure, was at a disadvantage; her judges had things their own way;
but at night she held court herself, and matters were reversed, she
presiding, with her tongue free and her same judges there before her.
There could not be but one result: all the objections and hindrances they
could build around her with their hard labors of the day she would charm
away at night. In the end, she carried her judges with her in a mass, and
got her great verdict without a dissenting voice.
The court was a sight to see when the president of it read it from his
throne, for all the great people of the town were there who could get
admission and find room. First there were some solemn ceremonies, proper
and usual at such times; then, when there was silence again, the reading
followed, penetrating the deep hush so that every word was heard in even
the remotest parts of the house:
"It is found, and is hereby declared, that Joan of Arc, called the Maid,
is a good Christian and a good Catholic; that there is nothing in her
person or her words contrary to the faith; and that the King may and
ought to accept the succor she offers; for to repel it would be to offend
the Holy Spirit, and render him unworthy of the air of God."
The court rose, and then the storm of plaudits burst forth unrebuked,
dying down and bursting forth again and again, and I lost sight of Joan,
for she was swallowed up in a great tide of people who rushed to
congratulate her and pour out benedictions upon her and upon the cause of
France, now solemnly and irrevocably delivered into her little hands.
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