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PAGE 5

Joan Of Arc
by [?]

This sympathy with France during great eclipses, in those that during ordinary seasons were always teasing her with brawls and guerilla inroads, strengthened the natural piety to France of those that were confessedly the children of her own house. The outposts of France, as one may call the great frontier provinces, were of all localities the most devoted to the Flours de Lys. To witness, at any great crisis, the generous devotion to these lilies of the little fiery cousin that in gentler weather was for ever tilting at her breast, could not bin fan the zeal of the legitimate daughter: whilst to occupy a post of honor on the frontiers against an old hereditary enemy of France, would naturally have stimulated this zeal by a sentiment of martial pride, had there even been no other stimulant to zeal by a sense of danger always threatening, and of hatred always smouldering. That great four-headed road was a perpetual memento to patriotic ardor. To say, this way lies the road to Paris–and that other way to Aix-la-Chapelle, this to Prague, that to Vienna–nourished the warfare of the heart by daily ministrations of sense. The eye that watched for the gleams of lance or helmet from the hostile frontier, the ear that listened for the groaning of wheels, made the high road itself, with its relations to centres so remote, into a manual of patriotic enmity.

The situation, therefore, locally of Joanna was full of profound suggestions to a heart that listened for the stealthy steps of change and fear that too surely were in motion. But if the place were grand, the times, the burthen of the times, was far more so. The air overhead in its upper chambers were hurtling with the obscure sound; was dark with sullen fermenting of storms that had been gathering for a hundred and thirty years. The battle of Agincourt in Joanna’s childhood had re-opened the wounds of France. Crecy and Poictiers, those withering overthrows for the chivalry of France, had been tranquillized by more than half a century; but this resurrection of their trumpet wails made the whole series of battles and endless skirmishes take their stations as parts in one drama. The graves that had closed sixty years ago, seemed to fly open in sympathy with a sorrow that echoed their own. The monarchy of France labored in extremity, rocked and reeled like a ship fighting with the darkness of monsoons. The madness of the poor king (Charles VI.) falling in at such a crisis, like the case of women laboring in childbirth during the storming of a city, trebled the awfulness of the time. Even the wild story of the incident which had immediately occasioned the explosion of this madness–the case of a man unknown, gloomy, and perhaps maniacal himself, coming out of a forest at noon-day, laying his hand upon the bridle of the king’s horse, checking him for a moment to say, “Oh, King, thou art betrayed,” and then vanishing no man knew whither, as he had appeared for no man knew what–fell in with the universal prostration of mind that laid France on her knees as before the slow unweaving of some ancient prophetic doom. The famines, the extraordinary diseases, the insurrections of the peasantry up and down Europe, these were chords struck from the same mysterious harp; but these were transitory chords. There had been others of deeper and more sonorous sound. The termination of the Crusades, the destruction of the Templars, the Papal interdicts, the tragedies caused or suffered by the House of Anjou, by the Emperor–these were full of a more permanent significance; but since then the colossal figure of feudalism was seen standing as it were on tiptoe at Crecy for flight from earth: that was a revolution unparalleled; yet that was a trifle by comparison with the more fearful revolutions that were mining below the Church. By her own internal schisms, by the abominable spectacle of a double Pope–so that no man, except through political bias, could even guess which was Heaven’s vicegerent, and which the creature of hell–she was already rehearsing, as in still earlier forms she had rehearsed, the first rent in her foundations (reserved for the coming century) which no man should ever heal.