218 JOAN OF ARC'S VICTORY
CHAPTER IX. JOAN OF arc's victory OVER THE ENGLISH AT ORLEANS, A.D. 1429.
The eyes of all Europe were turned toward this scene, where it was reasonably supposed the French were to make their last stand for maintaining the independence of their monarchy and the rights of their sovereign. — Hume.
When, after their victory at Salamis, the generals of the various Greek states voted the prizes for distinguished individual merit, each assigned the first place of excellence to himself, but they all concurred in giving their second votes to Themistocles.* This was looked on as a decisive proof that Themistocles ought to he ranked first of all. If we were to endeavor, by a similar test, to ascertain which European nation had contributed the most to the progress of European civilization, we should find Italy, Germany, England, and Spain each claiming the first degree, but each also naming France as clearly next in merit. It is impossible to deny her paramount importance in history. Besides the formidable part that she has for nearly three centuries played, as the Bellona of the European commonwealth of states, her influence during all this period over the arts, the literature, the manners, and the feelings of mankind, has been such as to make the crisis of her earlier fortunes a point of world-wide interest; and it may be asserted, without exaggeration, that the future career of every nation was involved in the result of the struggle by which the unconscious heroine of France, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, rescued her country from becoming a second Ireland under the yoke of the triumphant English.
Seldom has the extinction of a nation's independence appeared more inevitable than was the case in France when the English invaders completed their lines round Orleans, four hundred and twenty-two years ago. A series of dreadful defeats had thinned the chivalry of France, and daunted the spirits of her soldiers. A foreign king had been proclaimed in her capital; and foreign armies of the bravest veterans, and led by the ablest captains then
- Plutarch, Vit. Them., 17.