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EDITH! I brought thee late a humble gift,
The songs of earlier youth; it was a wreath
With many an unripe blossom garlanded
And many a weed, yet mingled with some flowers
Which will not wither. Dearest! now I bring
A worthier offering; thou wilt prize it well,
For well thou know'st amid what painful cares
My solace was in this; and though to me
There is no music in the hollowness
Of common praise, yet well content am I
Now to look back upon my youth's green prime,
Nor idly, nor unprofitably past,
Imping in such adventurous essay
The wing, and strengthening it for steadier flight.
The history of JoAn of Arc is as mysterious as it is remarkable. That she believed herself inspired, few will deny; that she was inspired, no one will venture to assert; and it is difficult to believe that she was herself imposed upon by Charles and Dunois. That she discovered the King when he disguised himself among the courtiers to deceive her, and that, as a proof of her mission, she demanded a sword from a tomb in the church of St Catharine, are facts in which all historians agree. If this had been done by collusion, the Maid must have known herself an impostor, and with that knowledge could not have performed the enterprise she undertook. Enthusiasm, and that of no common kind, was necessary, to enable a young maiden at once to assume the profession of arms, to lead her troops to battle, to fight among the foremost, and to subdue with an inferior force an enemy then believed invincible. It is not possible that one who felt herself
the puppet of a party, could have performed these things. The artifices of a court could not have persuaded her that she discovered Charles in disguise; nor could they have prompted her to demand the sword which they might have hidden, without discovering the deceit. The Maid, then, was not knowingly an impostor; nor could she have been the instrument of the court; and to say that she believed herself inspired, will neither account for her singling out the King, or prophetically claiming the sword. After crowning Charles, she declared that her mission was accomplished, and demanded leave to retire. Enthusiasm would not have ceased here; and if they who imposed on her could persuade her still to go with their armies, they could still have continued her delusion.
This mysteriousness renders the story of JoAN of Anc
peculiarly fit for poetry. The aid of angels and devils is not necessary to raise her above mankind; she has no gods to lackey her, and inspire her with courage, and heal her wounds: the Maid of Orleans acts wholly from the workings of her own mind, from the deep feeling of inspiration. The palpable agency of superior
powers would destroy the obscurity of her character,
and sink her to the mere heroine of a fairy tale. The alterations which I have made in the history are few and trifling. The death of Salisbury is placed later, and of the Talbots earlier than they occurred. As the battle of Patay is the concluding action of the Poem, I have given it all the previous solemnity of a settled engagement. Whatever appears miraculous, is asserted in history, and my authorities will be found in the notes. It is the common fault of Epic Poems, that we feel little interest for the heroes they celebrate. The national vanity of a Greek or a Roman might have been gratified by the renown of Achilles or Eneas; but to engage the unprejudiced, there must be more of human feelings than is generally to be found in the character of a warrior. From this objection, the Odyssey alone may be excepted. Ulysses appears as the father and
the husband, and the affections are enlisted on his side.
Virgil; with inferior taste, he appears to me to possess
a richer and more powerful imagination ; his images are strongly conceived, and clearly painted, and the force of his language, while it makes the reader feel, proves that the author felt himself. The power of story is strikingly exemplified in the Italian heroic poets. They please universally, even in translations, when little but the story remains. In proportioning his characters, Tasso has erred; Godfrey is the hero of the poem, Rinaldo of the poet, and Tancred of the reader. Secondary characters should not be introduced, like Gyas and Cloanthus, merely to fill a procession; neither should they be so prominent as to throw the principal into shade. The lawless magic of Ariosto, and the singular theme as well as the singular excellence of Milton, render it impossible to deduce any rules of epic poetry from these authors. So likewise with Spenser, the favourite of my childhood, from whose frequent perusal I have always found increased delight. Against the machinery of Camoens, a heavier charge must be brought than that of profaneness or incongruity. His floating island is but a floating brothel, and no beauty can make atonement for licentiousness. From this accusation, none but a translator would attempt to justify him; but Camoens had the most able of translators. The Lusiad, though excellent in parts, is uninteresting as a whole: it is read with little emotion, and remembered with little pleasure. But it was composed in the anguish of disappointed hopes, in the fatigues of war, and in a country far from all he loved; and we should not forget, that as the Poet of Portugal was among the most unfortunate of men, so he should be ranked among the most respectable. Neither his own country or Spain has yet produced his equal: his heart was broken by calamity, but the spirit of integrity and independence never forsook Camoens. I have endeavoured to avoid what appears to me the common fault of Epic poems, and to render the Maid of Orleans interesting. With this intent I have given her, not the passion of love, but the remembrance of subdued affection, a lingering of human feelings not inconsistent with the enthusiasm and holiness of her character.
The multitude of obscure Epic writers copy with the most gross servility their ancient models. If a tempest occurs, some envious spirit procures it from the god of the winds or the god of the sea : is there a town besieged the eyes of the hero are opened, and he beholds the powers of Heaven assisting in the attack: an angel is at hand to heal his wounds, and the leader of the enemy in his last combat is seized with the sudden cowardice of Hector. Even Tasso is too often an imitator. But notwithstanding the censure of a satirist, the name of Tasso will still be ranked among the best heroic poets. Perhaps Boileau only condemned him for the sake of an antithesis; it is with such writers, as with those who affect point in their conversation, they will always sacrifice truth to the gratification of their vanity.
I have avoided what seems useless and wearying in other poems, and my readers will find no description of armour, no muster-rolls, no geographical catalogues, lion, tiger, bull, bear and boar similes, Phoebuses or Auroras. And where in battle I have particularised the death of an individual, it is not I hope like the common lists of killed and wounded.
In Millin's National Antiquities of France, I find that M. Laverdy was in 1791 occupied in collecting whatever has been written concerning the Maid of Orleans. I have anxiously expected his work, but it is probable, considering the tumults of the intervening period, that it has not been accomplished. Of the various productions to the memory of JoAN or Aac, I have only collected a few titles, and, if report may be trusted, need not fear a heavier condemnation than to be deemed equally bad. A regular canon of St Euverte has written une très mauvaise poème, entitled the Modern Amazon. There is a prase tragedy called La Pucelle d'Orléans, variously attributed to Benserade, to Boyer, and to Menardiere. The abbé Daubignac published a prose tragedy with the same title in 1642. There is one under the name of Jean Baruel of 1581, and another printed anonymously at Rouen 1606. Among the manuscripts of the queen, of Sweden in the Vatican, is a dramatic piece in verse called Le Mystère du Siege d'Orléans. In these modern times, says Millin, all Paris has run to the theatre of Nicolet to see a pantomime entitled Le fameux Siege de la Pucelle d'Orléans. I may add, that, aster the publication of this Poem, a pantomime upon the same subject was brought forward at CoventGarden Theatre, in which the heroine, like Don Juan, was carried off by devils and precipitated alive into hell. I mention it, because the feelings of the audience revolted at such a catastrophe, and after a few nights an angel was introduced to rescue her.
But among the number of worthless poems upon this subject, there are two which are unfortunately notorious, the Pucelles of Chapelain and Voltaire. I have had patience to peruse the first, and never have been guilty of looking into the second; it is well said by Herbert the poet,
Make not thy sport abuses, for the fly That feeds on dung, is coloured thereby.
On the eighth of May, the anniversary of its deliverance, an annual fête is held at Orléans; and monuments have been erected there and at Rouen to the memory of the Maid. Her family was ennobled by
Charles; but it should not be forgotten in the history The Lord of Waucoulcur, “ that she frequents
And glean what force the wasting war had left
For one last effort. Little had the war
Left in Lorraine, but age, and youth unripe
For slaughter yet, and widows, and young maids
Of widow’d loves. And now with his high guest
The Lord of Vaucouleur sat communing
On what might profit France, and knew no hope,
Despairing of his country, when he heard
An old man and a maid awaited him
In the castle hall. He knew the old man well,
His vassal Claude, and at his bidding Claude
Approach'd, and after meet obeisance made,
Bespake Sir Robert.
* Good my Lord, I come,
With a strange tale; I pray you pardou me
If it should seem impertinent, and like
An old man's weakness. But, in truth, this Maid
Hath with such boding thoughts impress'd my heart,
I think I could not longer sleep in peace
Denying what she sought.” She saith that God
Bids her go drive the Englishmen from France!—
Her parents mock at her and call her crazed,
Found entrance in her heart,... for good my Lord,
From her first birth-day she hath been to me
As mine own child, ... and I am an old man,
And have seen many moon-struck in my time,
And some who were by evil spirits vex'd,..
I, Sirs, do think that there is more in this...
And who can tell if, in these perilous times,
It should please God, ... but hear the Maid yourselves,
For if, as I believe, this is of Heaven,
My silly speech doth wrong it.”
While he spake
Curious they mark'd the Damsel. She appeard
of eighteen years; 4 there was no bloom of youth
Upon her cheek, yet had the loveliest hues
Of health with lesser fascination fix’d
The gazer's eye; for wan the Maiden was,
Of saintly paleness, and there seem'd to dwell
The loneliest haunts and deepest solitude,
Estranged from human kind and human cares
With loathing like to madness. It were best
To place her with some pious sisterhood,
Who, duly morn and eve for her soul's health
Soliciting Heaven, may likeliest remedy
The stricken mind, or frenzied or possess'd,”
So as Sir Robert ceased, the Maiden cried,
* I am not mad. Possess'd indeed I am!"
The hand of God is strong upon my soul,
And I have wrestled vainly with the Lond,
And stubbornly I fear me. I can save
This country, Sir! I can deliver France!
Yea.. I must save the country | Goo is in me... .
I speak not, think not, feel not of myself.
He knew and sanctified me ere my birth,
He to the nations hath ordained me,
And whither he shall send me, I must go,
And whatso he commands, that I must speak,
And whatso is his will, that I must do;
And I must cast away all fear of man
Lest he in wrath confound me.” "
At the first
With pity or with scorn Dunois had heard
The Maid inspired; but now he in his heart
Felt that misgiving which precedes belief
In what was disbelieved and scoff d at late
As folly. “Damsclow said the Chief, a methinks
It would be wisely done to doubt this call,
Haply of some ill spirit prompting the
To self-destruction. » - -
“ Doubt on the Maid crelain'd,
• It were as easy when I gaze around
On all this fair variety of things, - -
Green fields and tufted woods, and the blue depth
of heaven, and yonder glorious sun, to doubt
Creating wisdom! when in the evening gale .
I breathe the mingled odours of the spring, .
And hear the wild wood melody, and hear
The populous air vocal with insect life,
To doubt God's goodness! there are feelings, Chief,
That may not lie; and I have oftentimes
Felt in the midnight silence of my soul
The call of God.”
They listen’d to the Maid,
And they almost believed. Then spake Dunois,
• Wilt thou to with me, Maiden, to the King,
And there announce thy mission?” Thus he said,
For thoughts of politic craftiness arose
within him, and his unconfirmed faith
Determined to prompt action. She replied,
• Therefore I sought the Lord of Vaucouleur,
That with such credence as prevents delay,
Ile to the King might send me. Now beseech you,
Speed our departure.”
Then Dunois address'd Sir Robert: “Fare thee well, my friend and host! It were ill done to linger here when Heaven Isath sent such strange assistance. Let what force Lorraine cau yield to Chinon follow us; And with the tidings of this holy Maid, Rais'd up by God, fill thou the country; soon The country shall awake as from the sleep Of death. Now, Maid! depart we at thy will.”
* God's blessing go with thee!» exclaim'd old Claude;
* Good Angels guard my girl!» and as he spake
The tears stream'd fast adown his aged cheeks.
“And if I do not live to see thee more,
As sure I think I shall not, yet sometimes
Remember thine old Uncle. I have loved thee
Even from thy childhood, JOAN! and I shall lose
The comfort of mine age in losing thee.
But God be with thee, Child! »
Nor was the Maid,
Though all subdued of soul, untroubled now
In that sad parting;—but she calm'd herself,
'ainfully keeping down her heart, and said,
• Comfort thyself, my Uncle, with the thought
Of what I am, and for what enterprise
Chosen from among the people. Oh be sure
I shall remember thee, in whom I found
A parent's love, when parents were unkind!
And when the ominous broodings of my soul
Were scoff d and made a mock of by all else,
Thou for thy love didst hear me and believe.
Shall I forget these things?» ... By this Dunois
Had arm'd, the steeds stood ready at the gate;
But then she fell upon the old man's neck
And cried, a Pray for me!... I shall need thy prayers!
Pray for me that I fail not in my hour ! »
Thereat awhile, as if some awful thought
Had overpower'd her, on his neck she hung;
Then rising with flush'd cheek and kindling eye,
• Farewell!" quoth she, “ and live in hope! anon
Thou shalt hear tidings to rejoice thy heart,
Tidings of joy for all, but most for thee!
Be this thy comfort!” The old man received
Her last embrace, and weeping like a child
Scarcely through tears could see them on their steeds
Spring up and go their way.
So on they went,
And now along the mountain's winding path
Upward they journey'd slow, and now they paused
And gazed where o'er the plain the stately towers
Of Vaucouleur arose, in distance seen,
Dark and distinct; below the castled height,
Through fair and fertile pastures, the deep Meuse
Roll'd glittering on. Domremi's cottages
Gleam'd in the sun hard by, white cottages,
That in the evening traveller's weary mind
Had waken'd thoughts of comfort and of home,
Till his heart ached for rest. But on one spot,
One little spot, the Virgin's eye was fix’d,
Iler native Arc; embower'd the hamlet lay
Upon the forest edge, whose ancient woods,
With all their infinite varieties,
Now form'd a mass of shade. The distant plain
Rose on the horizon rich with pleasant groves,
And vineyards in the greenest hue of spring,
And streams now hidden on their winding way,
Now issuing forth in light.
The Maiden gazed
Till all grew dim upon her dizzy eye.
« O what a blessed world were this!» she cried,
But that the great and honourable men
Have seized the earth, and of the heritage
which God, the Sire of all, to all had given,
Disherited their brethren! happy those
Who in the after days shall live when Time
Hath spoken, and the multitude of years
| Taught wisdom to mankind!" Unhappy France!
Fiercer than evening wolves thy bitter foes
Rush o'er the land and desolate and kill;7
Long has the widow's and the orphan's groan
Accused Heaven's justice;—but the hour is come;
God hath inclined his ear, hath heard the voice
Of mourning, and his anger is gone forth.”
Then said the Son of Orleans, a Iloly Maid!
Fain would I know, if blameless I may seek
Such knowledge, how the heavenly call was heard
First in thy waken'd soul; nor deem in me
Aught idly curious, if of thy past days
I ask the detail. In the hour of age,
If haply I survive to see this realm
By thee deliver'd, dear will be the thought
That I have seen the delegated Maid,
And heard from her the wonderous ways of Heaven.”
• A simple tale,” the mission'd Maid replied, * Yet may it well employ the journeying hour, And pleasant is the memory of the past.
* Seest thou, Sir Chief, where yonder forest skirts
The Meuse, that in its winding mazes shows
As on the farther bank the distant towers
Of Vaucouleur? there in the hamlet Arc
My father's dwelling stands; a lowly hut,
Yet nought of necdful comfort did it lack,
For in Lorraine there lived no kinder Lord
Than old Sir Robert, and my father Jaques
In flocks and herds was rich. A toiling man
Intent on worldly gains, one in whose heart
Affection had no root. I never knew
A parent's love; for harsh my mother was,
And deem'd the cares which infancy demands
Irksome, and ill-repaid. Severe they were,
And would have made me fear them, but my soul
Possess'd the germ of steady fortitude,
And stubbornly I bore unkind rebuke
And wrathful chatisement. Yet was the voice
That spake in tones of tenderness most sweet
To my young heart; how have I felt it leap
With transport, when mine Uncle Claude approach'd!
For he would place me on his knee, and tell
The wonderous tales that childhood loves to hear,
Listening with eager eyes and open lips
Devoutly in attention. Good old man!
Oh if I ever pour'd a prayer to Heaven
Unhallow'd by the grateful thought of him,
Methinks the righteous winds would scatter it!
He was a parent to me, and his home |
Was mine, when in advancing years I found
No peace, no comfort in my father's house.
With him I pass'd the pleasant evening hours,
By day I drove my father's flock afield,8
And this was happiness.
Amid these wilds
Often to summer pasture have I driven
The flock; and well I know these mountain wilds,
And every bosom'd vale, and valley stream
ls dear to memory. I have laid me down
Beside yon valley stream, that up the ascent
Scarce sends the sound of waters now, and watch'd
The Beck roll glittering to the noon-tide sun,
And listen’d to its ceaseless murmuring,
Till all was hush'd and tranquil in my soul,
Fill'd with a strange and undefined delight
That pass'd across the mind like summer clouds
Over the lake at eve, their fleeting hues
The traveller cannot trace with memory's eye,
Yet he remembers well how fair they were,
Here in solitude and peace
My soul was nurst, amid the loveliest scenes
Of unpolluted nature. Sweet it was
As the white mists of morning roll'd away
To see the mountain's wooded heights appear
Dark in the early dawn, and mark its slope
With gorse-flowers glowing, as the rising sun
On the golden ripeness pour’d a deepening light.
Pleasant at noon beside the vocal brook
To lie me down, and watch the floating clouds,
And shape to Fancy's wild similitudes
Their ever-varying forms; and oh how sweet !
To drive my flock at evening to the fold,
And hasten to our little hut, and hear
The voice of kindness bid me welcome home.
Amid the village playmates of my youth
Was one whom riper years approved a friend.
A gentle maid was my poor Madelon,
I loved her as a sister, and long time
Her undivided tenderness possess'd,
Till that a better and a holier tie
Gave her one nearer friend; and then my heart
Partook her happiness, for never lived
A happier pair than Arnaud and his wife.
* Lorraine was call'd to arms, and with her youth
Went Arnaud to the war. The morn was fair,
Bright shone the sun, the birds sung cheerfully,
And all the fields look d lovely in the spring;
But to Domremi wretched was that day,
For there was lamentation, and the voice
Of anguish, and the deeper agony
That spake not. Never will my heart forget
The feelings that shot through me, when the horn
Gave its last call, and through the castle-gate
The banner moved, and from the clinging arms
Which huug on them, as for a last embrace
Sons, brethren, husbands went.
More frequent now
Sought I the converse of poor Madelon,
For now she needed friendship's soothing voice.
All the long summer did she live in hope
Of tidings from the war; and as at eve
She with her mother by the cottage door
Sat in the sunshine, if a traveller
Appear'd at distance coming o'er the brow,
Her eye was on him, and it might be seen
By the flush'd cheek what thoughts were in her heart,
And by the deadly paleness which ensued
How her heart died within her. So the days
And weeks and months pass'd on, and when the leaves
Fell in the autumn, a most painful hope
That reason own’d not, that with expectation
Did never cheer her as she rose at morn,
Still linger'd in her heart, and still at night
Made disappointment dreadful. Winter came
But Arnaud never from the war return'd,
He far away had perish'd; and when late:
The tidings of his certain death arrived,
Sore with long anguish underneath that blow
She sunk. Then would she sit and think all day
Upon the past, and talk of happiness
That never would return, as though she found
Best solace in the thoughts which minister'd
To sorrow ; and she loved to see the sun
Go down, because another day was gone,
And then she might retire to solitude
And wakeful recollections, or perchance
To sleep more wearying far than wakefulness,
Dreams of his safety and return, and starts
Of agony; so neither night nor day
Could she find rest, but pin d and pin'd away.
« Death ! to the happy thou art terrible, But how the wretched love to think of thee! O thou true comforter, the friend of all Who have no friend besides 9 By the sick bed Of Madelon I sate, when sure she felt The hour of her deliverance drawing near; I saw her eye kindle with heavenly hope, I had her latest look of earthly love, I felt her hand's last pressure—Son of Orleans ! I would not wish to live to know that hour, When I could think upon a dear friend dead, And weep not. I remember as her bier Went to the grave, a lark sprung up aloft, And soard amid the sunshine carolling So full of joy, that to the mourner's ear More mournfully than dirge or passing bell, His joyful carol came, and made us feel That of the multitude of beings, none But man was wretched. Then my soul awoke, For it had slumber'd long in happiness, And never feeling misery, never thought What others suffer. I, as best I might, Solaced the keen regret of Elinor; And much my cares avail'd, and much her son's, On whom, the only comfort of her age, She center'd now her love. A younger birth, Aged nearly as myself was Theodore, An ardent youth, who with the kindest cares Had soothed his sister's sorrows. We had knelt By her death-bed together, and no bond In closer union knits two human hearts Than fellowship in grief. It chanced as once Beside the fire of Elinor I sate, The night was comfortless, the loud blast howl'd, And as we drew around the social hearth, We heard the rain beat hard: driven by the storm, A warrior mark'd our distant taper's light; We heapt the fire, and spread the friendly board. “The storm beats hard, the stranger cried: ‘safe hous'd Pleasant it is to hear the pelting rain. I too were well content to dwell in peace, Resting my head upon the lap of Love, But that my country calls. When the winds roar, Remember sometimes what a soldier suffers, And think on Conrade.' Theodore replied, ‘Success go with thee! Something we have known Of war, and tasted its calamity; And I am well content to dwell in peace, Albeit inglorious, thanking that good God