One of the latest of the masterpieces which have recently come in rapid succession from the studio of M. Karl Bitter is the heroic statue of Jeanne d’Arc for the entrance hall of “Biltmore,” the palatial country seat of George Vanderbilt, near Ashevile, North Carolina.
“In Kantadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree,
Where Alf, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”
The selection of Jeanne d’Arc as one of the guardians of the portals of his southern home shows the happiest historic eclecticism on the part of the owner. She may be said to typify in herself Piety, Modesty, Bravery, and Inspiration. M. Bitter’s Jeanne d’Arc is in a full suit of medieval armor, expect the gorget, which is discarded, showing a white, finely moulded neck, laced with blue, wandering veins. The visor of the bassinet is raised, and the eyes of the statue lifted to commune with those Heavenly Guides and Voices which directed every movement of the inspired maid. The hands are clasped—half resting on the quillons of an imaginary sword, and half raised in silent prayer.
“A maiden knight to me is given
Such hope I know not fear;
I yearn to breathe the airs of heaven
That often meet me here.”
Jeanne was burnt as a heretic by the Bishop of Beauvais on May 30, 1429, in Orleans. Dumas styled her “The Christ of France.”
She had all the distinctive qualities, she struck all the separate notes of the human side of the Son of the carpenter of Nazareth.
The life of the Maid of Orleans, and its plainly spiritual qualities, stand out in tremendous antithesis to the materialistic tendencies of the present age, an age when the interference of the Creator with the regular routine of his universe is at least questioned, if not his very existence doubted. In the case of Jeanne the veil which separates the material from the spiritual was rent in twain. Her gifts of inspiration and of prophecy were so unmistakable, and are so well authenticated, as to render her whole story an absolute and undeniable miracle.
When she was a child by the spinning-wheel, she foretold her journey to the king and her mission to deliver France. Before she was eighteen she prophesied that she would succor Orleans and conduct the king to Rheims to be crowned. Before she went to Orleans she predicted that she would be wounded. On the evening before its receipt she specified that the wound would be above her breast.
When the maneuvers began, which ended in raising the siege, she predicted that she would utterly rout and drive away the English in five days. When her most learned and skilful captains declared that the city of Tourrelles could not be reduced in less than a month, she prophesied its capture next day; and in each of these cases the prediction was verified.
She divined the death of a horseman of the guard at Chinon a few hours before it happened. She foresaw the death of Lord Scales two days before he fell; and she foretold her own decease at the end of the year. She warned the Due d’Alenĉon to avoid a cannon-ball, which slew the gentleman who took his place; and she predicted with the utmost confidence the result of the battle of Patay before a shot had been fired. For a similar series of prophecies so well attested, so precise, and so incredible at the time they were delivered, we may search the pages of sacred or profane history in vain.
Her possession of the highest and rarest qualities of military genius is equally well attested. She had the supreme gift which only great commanders enjoy—the technical mastery of the art of directing artillery fire, of planning campaigns, and of foreseeing their exact duration and result. She was accompanied and surrounded by the most distinguished captains of the age, and their statements are emphatic concerning her possession of these qualities. Absolutely nothing short of direct inspiration will explain the inherence of these facts in the mind of a village girl who could neither read, write, ride on horseback, nor command men, before she was launched against the English to their utter undoing.
The Duc d’Alencon made the campaign of the Loire by her side. “In everything,” he said, “excepting the making of war, she was as simple as any other young girl, but in war she was very skilful, either in the bearing of the spear or in mustering an army, in appointing the order of battle or disposing of artillery. All were astounded to see her display the skill and foresight of a captain exercised by a practice of twenty or thirty years of war. But they admired, above all, her use of artillery, where she had a consummate ability.”
It must be plain that if these gifts of hers came from anybody, they came direct from God. To use the words of a very distinguished commentator on the life of this inspired woman, “If a Suffolk ploughboy, fresh from the plough-tail, were to be suddenly put on board a great ironclad on the eve of a great battle, everyone would admit that it could only be by a miracle if he should display, in maneuvering and fighting that great conglomerate of complex machinery, the naval genius of Nelson or the skill of Admiral Hornby. Yet for an illiterate maiden of eighteen, who had never sat in a saddle nor worn armor, to command an army of ten thousand men with such consummate success as to destroy the established power of the English in France, was not less extraordinary, not less demanding a miraculous or supernatural explanation. What, then, is that explanation?”
I have already referred to the prevailing unwillingness of the deepest thought of the present age to admit of any interference in the established routine of the physical or psychological universe.
Happily, the belief is general in the existence of a divine Creator or First Cause. But it seems more in accordance with the established rules of design in the universe, patent on every side, that it should be allowed to pursue the clock-work of its way without any interference on the part of its Creator The mechanic who could make a clock capable of running for ten thousand years, and containing within itself the capacity for repair, would certainly impress us as a much more capable workman than he whose handicraft required his more or less constant supervision to keep it going.
But in the case of Jeanne d’Arc the spiritual world, or that beyond our senses, whatever it may be, was in constant preponderance, and fashioned everything that she did to the best and quickest results.
I am personally acquainted with a very lovely old lady who believes that she is able to hold immediate and personal conferences with her Maker. Whenever she has any question of unusual moment to be decided, she retires to her bedroom, falls on her knees in prayer, and asks her God for direct personal advice, and she is convinced that she always receives it. He tells her with his own voice, and has always told her, exactly what to do.
This supreme and unusual gift of faith would certainly be questioned, if not scoffed at, by the present every-day world of men and women. But if it need confirmation, such confirmation can assuredly be found in the well-authenticated history of the so-called heretic who was burned at the stake on May 30, 1429.
The story of that maiden’s earthly career is thoroughly tinctured with miraculous elements of constant occurrence. She was always in the presence of the invisible world. She heard the voices of angels and of just men and just women who had long since gone to their reward. She was a stone divinely cut from the mountain quarry. She was as divinely shaped, graven, and built into the social fabric of the time. Upon no other supposition can we appreciate her foreknowledge of things to come. From none but a divine teacher did she gather the art of war, or was she enabled to turn a huddled mob of sheep into resistless soldiery.
At the beginning of 1429 the English were to France what Germany was at the beginning of 1871, only more so. Talbot was the English Von Moltke, and the victories of Verneuil, of Poictiers, of Agincourt, and of Herrings were as decisive as those of Sedan and of Metz.
The battles waged during a hundred years had effectually forged the chain of English supremacy in France. English garrisons were stationed in Paris and Rouen and Bordeaux.
The French had neither money, nor men, nor king, nor prestige. Their nominal ruler was vacillating and utterly incapable. His chosen advisers dreaded success more than failure. Out of all this dismay and distrust Jeanne d’Arc arose like some fragrant, unexpected exhalation. In the course of a single year she had changed everything —delivered Orleans, crowned the king, destroyed English prestige, re-created and regenerated France.
Jeanne’s explanation of this matter was at once simple and conclusive. She freely said that it was not her own strength, but that of “My Lord,” the King of heaven. She was in constant correspondence with invisible guides. There were more than one of them, and she learned to identify them and to name them with the utmost confidence.
She insisted that they were neither invisible nor intangible to her. In her earliest years they came to her as voices, whose sound, though speaking out of empty space, fell distinctly on her ear. Later she recognized them as persons, and finally she trusted them as friends.
As a lesson of sweet confidence which was absolute and explicit, and which was not deceived, the story of Jeanne’s life may, if properly taken, fail not to fall as a benediction upon the wide skepticism and utter utilitarianism of the present day.
Collection: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Publication: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Date: March, 1895
Title: Jeanne D’Arc and her Heavenly Voices
Location: Philadelphia, PA