A PILGRIM IN ORLEANS
It is an early day in May. I am sitting at my writing-table before a window that looks out upon a green New England country, fields and patches of wood, with low hills in the background, all crudely green from the heavy spring rains. But the spring is back- ward—always it is in Connecticut, despite the almanacs, and I am reminded that it was so in France last year, backward and chill, when at this very time I went to Orleans for the annual Jeanne d'Arc celebration. These patriotic rites mark the deliverance of Orleans from the English besiegers in 1429, and they have been observed, with scarcely a lapse, since that remote time.
I was a day late and so missed the big military doings and the salute to Jeanne d’Arc before her noble statue in the public square. However, French patriotism does not evaporate briefly, and there was still much to see and enjoy, following the great event or military demonstration. Jeanne is the idol of Orleans, and has ever been; from that devoted city no act of treachery can be traced against her, no failure of gratitude or loyalty. And no city in France is so memorable from her brief passage, as it
witnessed her most signal achievement. I visited the old house of Jacques Boucher, where she rested during her stay—miraculously preserved as such things are in France—and was thrilled on walking through the ancient, narrow rue du Tabour which had witnessed her glory and her triumph. One likes to call up that scene which has been realized for us in the great painting of Scherrer: the crowds, mad with joy and patriotic elation, thronging about the maiden warrior, superb in her dauntless and beautiful youth, obstructing her progress in their fond worship, cheering, laughing, weeping, showering blessings upon her, kissing her hands, her legs, her feet, aye, even her steed and his trappings; for rightly they knew and felt that all was sacred about her!
But it was in the grand old Cathedral of Orleans (destroyed in the religious wars, rebuilt under Henri IV) that I first fairly realized the apotheosis of Jeanne d'Arc, her triumph after the long, silent centuries, her ultimate defeat of the most powerful combination of enemies ever formed to crush a heroic soul. And I remembered gratefully that a former Bishop of Orleans, Mgr. Dupanloup, was among the first to propose the nimbus of saintship for the Maid, while his present successor, Mgr. Touchet, has published a notable tribute to her, without mincing or attenuating the facts of her persecution and undoing at the episcopal hands of Cauchon and his priestly accomplices.'
(He recalls a saying of Mgr. Dupanloup, that all the world had to blush before the innocent victim, and himself the first, at the thought of such a bishop! Mgr. Dupanloup has another and unforgetable title to fame as the "discoverer" of Renan. Vide the latter's "Souvenirs de ma jeunesse" for a suavely touched portrait of his old preceptor.)
Jeanne's altar was the largest and most impressive that I saw in France, and the crowds in attendance constantly before it attested the devotion of Orleans to her memory. Twelve great stained-glass windows in the cathedral picture with vivid art the principal events of her life and the tragedy of her death. No other church ('The Maid has to catch up with neglect in certain quarters. At Chartres, for example, I looked in vain for picture or statue. But all Catholic France will ere long offer her a grand basilica in Paris.) in France offers anything comparable to this glorification. At nightfall the somber cathedral clothed itself in a glory of illumination, the grand facade picked out in lines of electric fire and the lofty towers relieved against the sky with brilliant cressets. In a word, Orleans en fete for her immortal heroine made nothing of the five centuries that have rolled away since the great deliverance.
Besides Poyatier's equestrian statue, already mentioned, with its memorable inscription, Messire m'a envoyee pour delivrer la bonne ville dOrlians, there are also to be noted, with due appreciation, the heroic statue by Gois (perhaps a shade too militant); another equestrian statue, faithful and spirited, in the court of the ancient bishopric; and at the mairie the simple, appealing figure of the Maid, by the Princess Marie d'Orleans, copies of which are to be seen in many churches.
Finally, the Jeanne d'Arc Museum in Orleans of-
fered one a treasury of things illustrative of her career, of her literary and artistic glorification, and of the rude times in which she lived—pictures, statues, engravings, replicas or original sketches of many famous works, books on the Maid in divers tongues, armor and arms of every sort used in the siege of Orleans, from crude ordnance to axe, pike, and dagger—wicked-looking weapons that suggested the grimness of mediaeval warfare, cut and slash, hack and hew; sketches of the ancient city and its fortifications—and, what pleased me most of all, a photograph of Jeanne's own blessed signature here reproduced. (It is certain that Jeanne learned to trace her name while serving with the army or lingering at the royal chateaux; though, perhaps of purpose, she made an 0 for signature to the "abjuration." See Chapter XXXVI.)
It is a pathetic fact, and most significant, that no single article of her personal use or wear has come down to us—the fury of her enemies took note of and destroyed everything!
The story of Jeanne d'Arc's wonderful career is still unexhausted of its wonder, still appeals to writers of genius, particularly in France, and seems
to have the strange faculty of exposing from time to time fresh facets of attraction. Yesterday, to-day, and forever, is the formula of the Maid. But in the last two decades almost a new Jeanne d'Arc has emerged from the studies of zealous scholars of the type of Gabriel Hanotaux (In his exhaustive treatment of historical questions, especially in his projection of a greater Jeanne d'Arc, of a legend and an influence still in process of evolution, M. Hanotaux's work outranks that of any predecessor.) [to whom I think her Memory is most indebted among all her vindicators]; from her canonization by the Roman Catholic church (greatest of Jeanne's victories!), together with the extension and exaltation of her role which this solemn act appears to justify, and the passionate devotion which has followed it; lastly, by the great increase of her popular, as distinguished from her religious, cult in France. Indeed, the Jeanne d'Arc of present-day knowledge and conception is not at all the simple peasant maid, heroical and intelligent only through her "Voices," that she appeared to writers of the last generation. Nor is she, we devoutly hope and believe, at all in the likeness of Bernard Shaw's heroine, save in certain fixed 'features of the legend which he might not change or disfigure to suit the requirements of the stage.
It is a new Jeanne d'Arc, then, whom we shall attempt to present to the reader in the following pages: that is to say, the old Jeanne (who would be content to lose her?) but in the light of better knowledge and deeper understanding.