Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
AT NINE o'clock the Maid of Orleans, Deliverer of France, went forth in
the grace of her innocence and her youth to lay down her life for the
country she loved with such devotion, and for the King that had abandoned
her. She sat in the cart that is used only for felons. In one respect she
was treated worse than a felon; for whereas she was on her way to be
sentenced by the civil arm, she already bore her judgment inscribed in
advance upon a miter-shaped cap which she wore:
HERETIC, RELAPSED, APOSTATE, IDOLATER
In the cart with her sat the friar Martin Ladvenu and Maetre Jean
Massieu. She looked girlishly fair and sweet and saintly in her long
white robe, and when a gush of sunlight flooded her as she emerged from
the gloom of the prison and was yet for a moment still framed in the arch
of the somber gate, the massed multitudes of poor folk murmured "A
vision! a vision!" and sank to their knees praying, and many of the women
weeping; and the moving invocation for the dying arose again, and was
taken up and borne along, a majestic wave of sound, which accompanied the
doomed, solacing and blessing her, all the sorrowful way to the place of
death. "Christ have pity! Saint Margaret have pity! Pray for her, all ye
saints, archangels, and blessed martyrs, pray for her! Saints and angels
intercede for her! From thy wrath, good Lord, deliver her! O Lord God,
save her! Have mercy on her, we beseech Thee, good Lord!"
It is just and true what one of the histories has said: "The poor and the
helpless had nothing but their prayers to give Joan of Arc; but these we
may believe were not unavailing. There are few more pathetic events
recorded in history than this weeping, helpless, praying crowd, holding
their lighted candles and kneeling on the pavement beneath the prison
walls of the old fortress."
And it was so all the way: thousands upon thousands massed upon their
knees and stretching far down the distances, thick-sown with the faint
yellow candle-flames, like a field starred with golden flowers.
But there were some that did not kneel; these were the English soldiers.
They stood elbow to elbow, on each side of Joan's road, and walled it in
all the way; and behind these living walls knelt the multitudes.
By and by a frantic man in priest's garb came wailing and lamenting, and
tore through the crowd and the barriers of soldiers and flung himself on
his knees by Joan's cart and put up his hands in supplication, crying
"O forgive, forgive!"
It was Loyseleur!
And Joan forgave him; forgave him out of a heart that knew nothing but
forgiveness, nothing but compassion, nothing but pity for all that
suffer, let their offense be what it might. And she had no word of
reproach for this poor wretch who had wrought day and night with deceits
and treacheries and hypocrisies to betray her to her death.
The soldiers would have killed him, but the Earl of Warwick saved his
life. What became of him is not known. He hid himself from the world
somewhere, to endure his remorse as he might.
In the square of the Old Market stood the two platforms and the stake
that had stood before in the churchyard of St. Ouen. The platforms were
occupied as before, the one by Joan and her judges, the other by great
dignitaries, the principal being Cauchon and the English
Cardinal--Winchester. The square was packed with people, the windows and
roofs of the blocks of buildings surrounding it were black with them.
When the preparations had been finished, all noise and movement gradually
ceased, and a waiting stillness followed which was solemn and impressive.
And now, by order of Cauchon, an ecclesiastic named Nicholas Midi
preached a sermon, wherein he explained that when a branch of the
vine--which is the Church--becomes diseased and corrupt, it must be cut
away or it will corrupt and destroy the whole vine. He made it appear
that Joan, through her wickedness, was a menace and a peril to the
Church's purity and holiness, and her death therefore necessary. When he
was come to the end of his discourse he turned toward her and paused a
moment, then he said:
"Joan, the Church can no longer protect you. Go in peace!"
Joan had been placed wholly apart and conspicuous, to signify the
Church's abandonment of her, and she sat there in her loneliness, waiting
in patience and resignation for the end. Cauchon addressed her now. He
had been advised to read the form of her abjuration to her, and had
brought it with him; but he changed his mind, fearing that she would
proclaim the truth--that she had never knowingly abjured--and so bring
shame upon him and eternal infamy. He contented himself with admonishing
her to keep in mind her wickednesses, and repent of them, and think of
her salvation. Then he solemnly pronounced her excommunicate and cut off
from the body of the Church. With a final word he delivered her over to
the secular arm for judgment and sentence.
Joan, weeping, knelt and began to pray. For whom? Herself? Oh, no--for
the King of France. Her voice rose sweet and clear, and penetrated all
hearts with its passionate pathos. She never thought of his treacheries
to her, she never thought of his desertion of her, she never remembered
that it was because he was an ingrate that she was here to die a
miserable death; she remembered only that he was her King, that she was
his loyal and loving subject, and that his enemies had undermined his
cause with evil reports and false charges, and he not by to defend
himself. And so, in the very presence of death, she forgot her own
troubles to implore all in her hearing to be just to him; to believe that
he was good and noble and sincere, and not in any way to blame for any
acts of hers, neither advising them nor urging them, but being wholly
clear and free of all responsibility for them. Then, closing, she begged
in humble and touching words that all here present would pray for her and
would pardon her, both her enemies and such as might look friendly upon
her and feel pity for her in their hearts.
There was hardly one heart there that was not touched--even the English,
even the judges showed it, and there was many a lip that trembled and
many an eye that was blurred with tears; yes, even the English
Cardinal's--that man with a political heart of stone but a human heart of
The secular judge who should have delivered judgment and pronounced
sentence was himself so disturbed that he forgot his duty, and Joan went
to her death unsentenced--thus completing with an illegality what had
begun illegally and had so continued to the end. He only said--to the
"Take her"; and to the executioner, "Do your duty."
Joan asked for a cross. None was able to furnish one. But an English
soldier broke a stick in two and crossed the pieces and tied them
together, and this cross he gave her, moved to it by the good heart that
was in him; and she kissed it and put it in her bosom. Then Isambard de
la Pierre went to the church near by and brought her a consecrated one;
and this one also she kissed, and pressed it to her bosom with rapture,
and then kissed it again and again, covering it with tears and pouring
out her gratitude to God and the saints.
And so, weeping, and with her cross to her lips, she climbed up the cruel
steps to the face of the stake, with the friar Isambard at her side. Then
she was helped up to the top of the pile of wood that was built around
the lower third of the stake and stood upon it with her back against the
stake, and the world gazing up at her breathless. The executioner
ascended to her side and wound chains around her slender body, and so
fastened her to the stake. Then he descended to finish his dreadful
office; and there she remained alone--she that had had so many friends in
the days when she was free, and had been so loved and so dear.
All these things I saw, albeit dimly and blurred with tears; but I could
bear no more. I continued in my place, but what I shall deliver to you
now I got by others' eyes and others' mouths. Tragic sounds there were
that pierced my ears and wounded my heart as I sat there, but it is as I
tell you: the latest image recorded by my eyes in that desolating hour
was Joan of Arc with the grace of her comely youth still unmarred; and
that image, untouched by time or decay, has remained with me all my days.
Now I will go on.
If any thought that now, in that solemn hour when all transgressors
repent and confess, she would revoke her revocation and say her great
deeds had been evil deeds and Satan and his fiends their source, they
erred. No such thought was in her blameless mind. She was not thinking of
herself and her troubles, but of others, and of woes that might befall
them. And so, turning her grieving eyes about her, where rose the towers
and spires of that fair city, she said:
"Oh, Rouen, Rouen, must I die here, and must you be my tomb? Ah, Rouen,
Rouen, I have great fear that you will suffer for my death."
A whiff of smoke swept upward past her face, and for one moment terror
seized her and she cried out, "Water! Give me holy water!" but the next
moment her fears were gone, and they came no more to torture her.
She heard the flames crackling below her, and immediately distress for a
fellow-creature who was in danger took possession of her. It was the
friar Isambard. She had given him her cross and begged him to raise it
toward her face and let her eyes rest in hope and consolation upon it
till she was entered into the peace of God. She made him go out from the
danger of the fire. Then she was satisfied, and said:
"Now keep it always in my sight until the end."
Not even yet could Cauchon, that man without shame, endure to let her die
in peace, but went toward her, all black with crimes and sins as he was,
and cried out:
"I am come, Joan, to exhort you for the last time to repent and seek the
pardon of God."
"I die through you," she said, and these were the last words she spoke to
any upon earth.
Then the pitchy smoke, shot through with red flashes of flame, rolled up
in a thick volume and hid her from sight; and from the heart of this
darkness her voice rose strong and eloquent in prayer, and when by
moments the wind shredded somewhat of the smoke aside, there were veiled
glimpses of an upturned face and moving lips. At last a mercifully swift
tide of flame burst upward, and none saw that face any more nor that
form, and the voice was still.
Yes, she was gone from us: JOAN OF ARC! What little words they are, to
tell of a rich world made empty and poor!
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