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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Andrew Lang (1844–1912)
 
NO author is less capable of being illustrated by extracts than Alexandre Dumas. Writers like Prosper Mérimée or Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson can be not inadequately represented by a short story or a brief scene. Even from Scott’s work we can detach ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale,’ or ‘The Tapestried Chamber,’ or the study of Effie Deans in prison, or of Jeanie Deans before the Queen. But Dumas is invariably diffuse; though, unlike other diffuse talkers and writers, he is seldom tedious. He is long without longueurs. A single example will explain this better than a page of disquisition. The present selector had meant to extract Dumas’s first meeting with Charles Nodier at the theatre. In memory, that amusing scene appeared to occupy some six pages. In fact, it covers nearly a hundred and thirty pages of the Brussels edition of the ‘Memoirs’ of Dumas. One reads it with such pleasure that looked back upon, it seems short, while it is infinitely too long to be extracted. In dialogue Dumas is both excellent and copious, so that he cannot well be abbreviated. He is the Porthos of novelists, gigantic, yet (at his best) muscular and not overgrown. For these reasons, extracts out of his romances do no justice to Dumas. To read one of his novels, say ‘The Three Musketeers,’ even in a slovenly translation, is to know more of him than a world of critics and essayists can teach. It is also to forget the world, and to dwell in a careless Paradise. Our object therefore is not to give an “essence of Dumas,” but to make readers peruse him in his own books, and to save them trouble by indicating, among these books, the best.  1
  It is notorious that Dumas was at the head of a “Company” like that which Scott laughingly proposed to form “for writing and publishing the class of books called Waverley Novels.” In legal phrase, Dumas “deviled” his work; he had assistants, “researchers,” collaborators. He would briefly sketch a plot, indicate the authorities to be consulted, hand his notes to Maquet or Fiorentino, receive their draught, and expand that into a romance. Work thus executed cannot be equal to itself. Many books signed by Dumas may be neglected without loss. Even to his best works, one or other of his assistants was apt to assert a claim. The answer is convincing. Not one of these ingenious men ever produced, by himself, anything that could be mistaken for the work of the master. All his good things have the same stamp and the same spirit, which we find nowhere else. Again, nobody contests his authorship of his own ‘Memoirs,’ or of his book about his dogs, birds, and other beasts—‘The Story of My Pets.’ Now, the merit of these productions is, in kind, identical with many of the merits of his best novels. There is the same good-humor, gayety, and fullness of life. We may therefore read Dumas’s central romances without much fear of being grateful to the wrong person. Against the modern theory that the Iliad and Odyssey are the work of many hands in many ages, we can urge that these supposed “hands” never did anything nearly so good for themselves; and the same argument applies in the case of Alexandre Dumas.  2
  A brief sketch of his life must now be given. “No man has had so many of his possessions disputed as myself,” says Dumas. Not only his right to his novels, but his right to his name and to legitimate birth, was contested. Here we shall follow his own account of himself in his ‘Memoirs,’ which do not cover nearly the whole of his life. Alexandre Dumas was born at Villers-Cotterets-sur-Aisne, on July 24th, 1802. He lived to almost exactly the threescore and ten years of the Psalmist. He saw the fall of Napoleon, the restoration of the rightful king, the expulsion of the Legitimate monarch in 1830, the Orleans rule, its overthrow in 1848, the Republic, the Empire, and the Terrible Year, 1870–1871. Then he died, in the hour of the sorrow of his
  “Immortal and indomitable France.”
  3
  Dumas’s full name was noble: he was Alexandre Dumas-Davy de la Pailleterie. His family estate, La Pailleterie, was made a marquisate by Louis XIV. in 1707. About 1760 the grandfather of Dumas sold his lands in France, and went to Haiti. There in 1762 was born his father, son of Louise Cossette Dumas and of the Marquis de la Pailleterie. The mother must have been a woman of color; Dumas talks of his father’s “mulatto hue,” and he himself had undoubted traces of African blood. Yet it appears that the grandparents were duly married. In 1772, his wife having died, the old marquis returned to France. The Revolution broke out, and the father of Alexandre Dumas fought in the armies of the Republic. The cruel mob called him by way of mockery, “Monsieur Humanity,” because he endeavored to rescue the victims of their ferocity. He was a man of great courage and enormous physical strength. Napoleon, in honor of one of his feats of arms, called him in a dispatch “The Horatius Cocles of the Republic.” He was with Napoleon in Egypt, where a quarrel arose, as he suspected and opposed the ambition of the future emperor. Though Dumas found a treasure in a bey’s house, he honorably presented it to his government. He died in France, a poor man, in 1806.  4
  Dumas was not at home when his father died. He was staying, a child of four, with his cousin Marianne.
          “At midnight I was awakened, or rather my cousin and I were awakened, by a great blow struck on the door of our room. By the light of a night lamp I saw my cousin start up, much alarmed. No mortal could have knocked at our chamber door, for the outer doors were locked. [He gives a plan of the house.] I got out of bed to open the door. ‘Where are you going, Alexandre?’ cried my cousin.
  “‘To let in papa, who is coming to say adieu.’
  “The girl dragged me back to bed; I cried, ‘Adieu, papa, adieu!’ Something like a sighing breath passed over my face…. My father had died at the hour when we heard the knock!”
  5
  This anecdote may remind the reader of what occurred at Abbotsford on the night when Mr. Bullock died in London. Dumas tells another tale of the same kind (‘Memoirs,’ Vol. xi., page 255: Brussels, 1852). On the night of his mother’s death he in vain sought a similar experience. These things “come not by observation”; but Dumas, like Scott, had a mind not untuned to such themes, though not superstitious.  6
  Young Dumas, like most men of literary genius, taught himself to read. A Buffon with plates was the treasure of the child, already a lover of animals. To know more about the beasts he learned to read for his own pleasure. Of mythology he was as fond as Keats. His intellectual life began (like the imaginative life of our race) in legends of beasts and gods. For Dumas was born un primitif, as the French say; his taste was the old immortal human taste for romance, for tales of adventure, love, and war. This predilection is now of course often scouted by critics who are over-civilized and under-educated. Superior persons will never share the love of Dumas which was common to Thackeray and Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson. From Buffon he went on to the ‘Letters to Émil’ (letters on mythology), and to the ‘Arabian Nights.’ An imaginative child, he knew the “pains of sleep” as Coleridge did, and the terrors of vain imagination. Many children whose manhood is not marked by genius are visionaries. A visionary too was little Dumas, like Scott, Coleridge, and George Sand in childhood. To the material world he ever showed a bold face. “I have never known doubt or despair,” he says; his faith in God was always unshaken; the doctrine of immortality he regarded rather with hope than absolute belief. Yet surely it is a corollary to the main article of his creed.  7
  At ten, Dumas went to a private school kept by an Abbé Grégoire. At the Restoration, a boy of twelve, he made and he adhered to an important resolution. He chose to keep his grandmaternal name of Dumas, like his father, and to drop the name and arms of De la Pailleterie, with all the hopes of boons from the restored Royalists. Dumas remained a man of the popular party, though he had certain relations of friendship with the house of Orléans. But he entertained no posthumous hatred of the old monarchy and the old times. His kings are nearly as good, in his romances, as Sir Walter’s own, and his Henri III. and Henri IV. may be named with Scott’s Gentle King Jamie and Louis XI.  8
  Madame Dumas, marquise as she was by marriage, kept a tobacconist’s shop; and in education, Dumas was mainly noted for his calligraphy. Poaching was now the boy’s favorite amusement; all through his life he was very fond of sport. Napoleon returned from Elba; Dumas saw him drive through Villers-Cotterets on his way to Waterloo. Soon afterwards came in stragglers; the English, they said, had been defeated at five o’clock on June 18th, but the Prussians arrived at six o’clock and won the battle. What the English were doing between five and six does not appear; it hardly seems that they quitted the field. The theory of that British defeat at Waterloo was never abandoned by Dumas. He saw Napoleon return through Villers-Cotterets. “Wellington, Bülow, Blücher, were but masks of men; really they were spirits sent by the Most High to defeat Napoleon.” It is a pious opinion!  9
  At the age of fifteen Dumas, like Scott, became a notary’s clerk. About this time he saw ‘Hamlet’ played, in the version of Ducis. Corneille and Racine had always been disliked by this born romanticist. ‘Hamlet’ carried him off his feet. Soon afterwards he read Bürger’s ‘Lenore,’ the ballad which Scott translated at the very beginning of his career as an author.
  “Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
  Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
  The flashing pebbles flee.”
  10
  This German ballad, says Scott, “struck him as the kind of thing he could do himself.” And Dumas found that the refrain
  “Hurrah, fantôme, les morts vont vite,”
was more to his taste than the French poetry of the eighteenth century. He tried to translate ‘Lenore.’ Scott finished it in a night; Dumas gave up in despair. But this, he says, was the beginning of his authorship. He had not yet opened a volume of Scott or Cooper, “ces deux grands romanciers.” With a friend named Leuven he began to try to write plays (1820–1821). He now poached his way to Paris, defraying his expenses with the game he shot on the road. Shakespeare too was a poacher; let us excuse the eccentricities of genius. He made Talma’s acquaintance; he went to the play; he resigned his clerkship: “Paris was my future.” Thither he went; his father’s name served him with General Foy, and he obtained a little post in the household of the Duc D’Orléans—a supernumerary secretaryship at £60 a year. At the play he met Charles Nodier, reading the rarest of Elzevirs, and at intervals (like Charles Lamb) hissing his own piece! This delightful scene, with its consequences, occupies one hundred and thirty pages!
  11
  Dumas now made the acquaintance of Frederic Soulié, and became a pillar of theatres. He began to read with a purpose: first he read Scott; “The clouds lifted, and I beheld new horizons.” Then he turned to Cooper; then to Byron. One day he entered his office, crying aloud, “Byron is dead!” “Who is Byron?” said one of his chiefs. Here Dumas breaks off in his ‘Memoirs’ to give a life of Byron! He fought his first duel in the snow, and won an easy, almost a bloodless victory. For years he and Leuven wrote plays together,—plays which were never accepted.  12
  At last he, Rousseau (not Jean Jacques!), and Leuven composed a piece together. Refused at one house, it was accepted at another: ‘La Chasse et l’Amour’ (The Chase and Love) was presented on September 22d, 1823. It succeeded. A volume of three short stories sold to the extent of four copies. Dumas saw that he must “make a name” before he could make a livelihood. “I do not believe in neglected talent and unappreciated genius,” says he. Like Mr. Arthur Pendennis, he wrote verses “up to” pictures. Thackeray did the same. “Lady Blessington once sent him an album print of a boy and girl fishing, with a request that he would make some verses for it. ‘And,’ he said, ‘I liked the idea, and set about it at once. I was two entire days at it,—was so occupied with it, so engrossed by it, that I did not shave during the whole time.’” So says Mr. Locker-Lampson.  13
  We cannot all be Dumas or Thackeray. But if any literary beginner reads these lines, let him take Dumas’s advice; let him disbelieve in neglected genius, and do the work that comes in his way, as best he can. Dumas had a little anonymous success in 1826, a vaudeville at the Porte-Saint-Martin. At last he achieved a serious tragedy, or melodrama, in verse, ‘Christine.’ He wrote to Nodier, reminding him of their meeting at the play. The author of ‘Trilby’ introduced him to Taylor; Taylor took him to the Théâtre Français; ‘Christine’ was read and accepted unanimously.  14
  Dumas now struck the vein of his fortune. By chance he opened a volume of Anquetil, and read an anecdote of the court of Henri III. This led him to study the history of Saint Megrin, in the Memoirs of L’Estoile, where he met Quelus, and Maugiron, and Bussy d’Amboise, with the stirring tale of his last fight against twelve men. Out of these facts he made his play ‘Henri III.,’ and the same studies inspired that trilogy of romances ‘La Reine Margot’ (Queen Margot), ‘La Dame de Monsoreau’ (The Lady of Monsoreau), and ‘Les Quarante-Cinq’ (The Forty-Five). These are, with the trilogy of the ‘Mousquetaires,’ his central works as a romancer, and he was twenty-five when he began to deal with the romance of history. His habit was to narrate his play or novel, to his friends, to invent as he talked, and so to arrive at his general plan. The mere writing gave him no trouble. We shall later show his method in the composition of ‘The Three Musketeers.’  15
  ‘Christine’ had been wrecked among the cross-currents of theatrical life. ‘Henri III.’ was more fortunate. Dumas was indeed obliged to choose between his little office and the stage; he abandoned his secretaryship. In 1829 occurred this “duel between his past and his future.” Just before the first night of the drama, Dumas’s mother, whom he tenderly loved, was stricken down by paralysis. He tended her, he watched over his piece, he almost dragged the Duc d’Orléans to the theatre. On that night he made the acquaintance of Hugo and Alfred de Vigny. Dumas passed the evening between the theatre and his mother’s bedside. When the curtain fell, he was “called on”; the audience stood up uncovered, the Duc d’Orléans and all!  16
  Next morning Dumas, like Byron, “woke to find himself famous.” He had “made his name” in the only legitimate way,—by his work. Troubles followed, difficulties with the Censorship, duels and rumors of duels, and the whole romantic upheaval which accompanied the Revolution of 1830. Dumas was attached again to the Orléans household. He dabbled in animal magnetism, which had been called mesmerism, and now is known as hypnotism. The phenomena are the same; only the explanations vary. About 1830 there was a mania for animal magnetism in Paris; Lady Louisa Stuart recounted some of the marvels to Sir Walter Scott, who treated the reports with disdain. When writing his romance ‘Joseph Balsamo’ (a tale of the French Revolution), Dumas made studies of animal magnetism, and was, or believed himself to be, an adept. The orthodox party of modern hypnotists merely hold that by certain physical means, a state of somnambulism can be produced in certain people. Once in that state, the patients are subject to “suggestion,” and are obedient to the will of the hypnotizer. He for his part exerts no “magnetic current,” no novel unexplained force or fluid. Some recent French and English experiments are not easily to be reconciled with this hypothesis. Dumas himself believed that he exerted a magnetic force, and without any “passes” or other mechanical means, could hypnotize persons who did not know what he was about, and so were not influenced by “suggestion.” In a few cases he held that his patients became clairvoyant; one of them made many political prophecies,—all unfulfilled. Another, in trance, improved vastly as a singer; “her normal voice stopped at contre-si. I bade her rise to contre-re, which she did; though incapable of it when awake.” So far, this justifies the plot of Mr. du Maurier’s novel ‘Trilby.’ Dumas offers no theory; he states facts, as he says, including “post-hypnotic suggestion.”  17
  These experiments were made by Dumas merely as part of his studies for ‘Joseph Balsamo’ (Cagliostro); his conclusion was that hypnotism is not yet reduced to a scientific formula. In fiction it is already overworked. Dumas got his ‘Christine’ acted at last. Then broke out the Revolution of 1830. Dumas’s description of his activity is “as good as a novel,” but too long and varied for condensation. It seems better to give this extract about his life of poverty before his mother died, before fame visited him. (I quote Miss Cheape’s translation of the passage included in her ‘Stories of Beasts,’ published by Longmans, Green and Company.)

          HE had, in later years, named a cat Mysouff II.
  “If you won’t think me impertinent, sir,” said Madame Lamarque, “I should so like to know what Mysouff means.”
  “Mysouff just means Mysouff, Madame Lamarque.”
  “It is a cat’s name, then?”
  “Certainly, since Mysouff the First was so-called. It is true, Madame Lamarque, you never knew Mysouff.” And I became so thoughtful that Madame Lamarque was kind enough to withdraw quietly, without asking any questions about Mysouff the First.
  That name had taken me back to fifteen years ago, when my mother was still living. I had then the great happiness of having a mother to scold me sometimes. At the time I speak of, I held a situation in the service of the Duc d’Orléans, with a salary of 1500 francs. My work occupied me from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon. We had a cat in those days, whose name was Mysouff. This cat had missed his vocation; he ought to have been a dog. Every morning I started for my office at half-past nine, and came back every evening at half-past five. Every morning Mysouff followed me to the corner of a particular street, and every evening I found him in the same street, at the same corner, waiting for me. Now the curious thing was that on the days when I had found some amusement elsewhere, and was not coming home to dinner, it was of no use to open the door for Mysouff to go and meet me. Mysouff, in the attitude of the serpent with its tail in its mouth, refused to stir from his cushion. On the other hand, on the days I did come, Mysouff would scratch at the door until some one opened it for him. My mother was very fond of Mysouff; she used to call him her barometer.
“Mysouff marks my good and my bad weather,” my dear mother would say: “the days you come in are my days of sunshine; my rainy days are when you stay away.”
  When I came home I used to see Mysouff at the street corner, sitting quite still and gazing into the distance. As soon as he caught sight of me, he began to move his tail; then as I drew nearer, he rose and walked backward and forward across the pavement with his back arched and his tail in the air. When I reached him, he jumped up upon me as a dog would have done, and bounded and played round me as I walked towards the house; but when I was close to it he dashed in at full speed. Two seconds after, I used to see my mother at the door.
  Never again in this world, but perhaps in the next, I shall see her standing waiting for me at the door.
  That is what I was thinking of, dear readers, when the name of Mysouff brought back all these recollections; so you understand why I did not answer Madame Lamarque’s question.
  18
  
  The life of Dumas after 1830 need not be followed step by step; indeed, for lack of memoirs, to follow it is by no means easy.  19
  Dumas, by dint of successful plays, and later of successful novels, earned large sums of money—£40,000 in one year, it is said. He traveled far and wide, and compiled books of travel. In the forties, before the Revolution of 1848, he built a kind of Abbotsford of his own, named “Monte Cristo,” near St. Germains, and joyously ruined himself. “Monte Cristo,” like Abbotsford, has been described as a palace. Now, Abbotsford is so far from being a palace that Mr. Hope Scott, when his wife, Scott’s granddaughter, inherited the place, was obliged to build an additional wing.  20
  At Monte Cristo Dumas kept but one man-servant, Michel (his “Tom Purdie”), who was groom, keeper, porter, gardener, and everything. Nor did Dumas ruin himself by paying exorbitant prices for poor lands, as Scott did. His collection of books and curios was no rival for that of Abbotsford. But like Scott, he gave away money to right and left, and he kept open house. He was eaten up by parasites,—beggars, poor greedy hangers-on of letters, secretaries, above all by tribes of musical people. On every side money flowed from him; hard as he worked, largely as he earned, he spent more. His very dog brought in thirteen other dogs to bed and board. He kept monkeys, cats, eagles, a vulture, a perfect menagerie. His own account of these guests may be read in “My Pets”; perhaps the most humorous, good-humored, and amusing of all his works.  21
  The Revolution of 1848 impoverished him and drove him from Monte Cristo; not out of debt to his neighbors. Dumas was a cheerful giver, but did not love to “fritter away his money in paying bills.” He started newspapers, such as The Musketeer, and rather lost than gained by a careless editorship. A successful play would enrich him, and he would throw away his gains. He went with Garibaldi on his expedition against the King of Naples, and was received with ingratitude by the Neapolitans.  22
  A friend of Daniel Dunglas Home, the “medium,” he accompanied him to Russia, where Home married a lady of a noble and wealthy family. Returned to France, Dumas found his popularity waning. His plays often failed; he had outlived his success and his generation; he had saved nothing; he had to turn in need to his son Alexandre, the famous dramatist. Finally he died, doubting the security of his own fame, in the year of the sorrows of France.  23
  Dumas is described by Michelet as “a force of nature.” Never was there in modern literature a force more puissant, more capricious, or more genial. His quantity of mind was out of all proportion to its quality. He could learn everything with ease; he was a skilled cook, a fencer; he knew almost as if by intuition the technique and terminology of all arts and crafts. Ignorant of Greek, he criticized and appreciated Homer with an unmatched zest and appreciation. Into the dry bones of history he breathed life, mere names becoming full-blooded fellow-creatures under his spell. His inspiration was derived from Scott, a man far more learned than he, but scarcely better gifted with creative energy. Like Scott he is long, perhaps prolix; like him he is indifferent to niceties of style, does not linger over the choice of words, but serves himself with the first that comes to hand. Scott’s wide science of human nature is not his; but his heroes, often rather ruffianly, are seldom mere exemplary young men of no particular mark. More brilliantly and rapidly than Scott, he indicates action in dialogue. He does not aim at the construction of rounded plots; his novels are chronicles which need never stop while his heroes are alive. His plan is to take a canvas of fact, in memoir or history, and to embroider his fantasies on that. Occasionally the canvas (as Mr. Saintsbury says) shows through, and we have blocks of actual history. His ‘Joan of Arc’ begins as a romance, and ends with a comparatively plain statement of facts too great for any art but Shakespeare’s. But as a rule it is not historical facts, it is the fictitious adventures of characters living in an historical atmosphere, that entertain us in Dumas.  24
  The minute inquirer may now compare the sixteenth-century ‘Memoirs of Monsieur D’Artagnan’ (fictitious memoirs, no doubt) with the use made of them by Dumas in ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘Twenty Years After.’ The ‘Memoirs’ (reprinted by the Librairie Illustrée, Paris) gave Dumas his opening scenes; gave him young D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, Aramis, Rosnay, De Treville, Milady, the whole complicated intrigue of Milady, D’Artagnan, and De Vardes. They gave him several incidents, duels, and “local color.” By making Milady the wife of Athos, Dumas knotted his plot; he added the journey to England, after the Queen’s diamonds; from a subordinate character he borrowed the clerical character of Aramis; a mere hint in the ‘Memoirs’ suggested the Bastion Saint-Gervais. The discrimination of character, the dialogue, and many adventures, are Dumas’s own; he was aided by Maquet in the actual writing. In a similar way, Brantôme and L’Estoile, in their ‘Memoirs,’ supply the canvas of the tales of the Valois cycle.  25
  The beginner in Dumas will assuredly find the following his best works. For the Valois period, ‘The Horoscope’ (a good deal neglected), ‘Queen Margot,’ ‘The Lady of Monsoreau,’ ‘The Forty-Five.’ ‘Isabeau of Bavière,’ an early novel, deals with the anarchy and misery before the coming of Jeanne d’Arc. For Henri II., ‘The Two Dianas’ is indicated. For the times of Richelieu, Mazarin, Louis XIV., we have ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘Twenty Years After,’ and ‘The Viscount of Bragelonne.’ These deal with the youth, middle age, old age, and death of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis. The Revolutionary novels, ‘Joseph Balsamo,’ ‘The Queen’s Necklace,’ and others, are much less excellent. The Regency is not ill done in ‘The Regent’s Daughter’; and ‘The Chevalier of Harmenthal,’ with ‘Olympe of Cleves,’ has many admirers. Quite apart from these is the immense modern fantasy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’; the opening part alone is worthy of the master. ‘The Black Tulip,’ so warmly praised by Thackeray, is an innocent little romance of the days of Dutch William. Les jeunes filles may read ‘The Black Tulip’: indeed, Dumas does not sacrifice at all to “the Goddess of Lubricity,” even when he describes very lax moralities.  26
  With a knowledge of these books, and of ‘My Pets’ and the ‘Memoirs,’ any student will find himself at home in Dumas, and can make wider ranges in that great wilderness of fancy. Some autobiographical details will be found in the novel called ‘Ange Pithou.’ ‘Isaac Laquedem’ was meant to be a romance of the Wandering Jew; only two volumes are published. Philosophy a reader will not find, nor delicate analysis, nor “chiseled style”; but he will be in touch with a great sunny life, rejoicing in all the accidents of existence.  27
 
 
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