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This biographical sketch appears in The Count of Monte Cristo, Published Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, Copyright, 1894 and 1901 by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. Copyright, 1922 by Huntington Smith


Y universal consent ALEXANDRE DUMAS is now acknowledged the most entertaining of the writers of romance. For variety of incidents, sprightliness of dialogue, and vividness of narrative no tales of adventure can compete with such works as the The Three Musketeers, or the Count of Monte Cristo. It is doubtful also, whether the life of any novelist comes as near as the life of Alexandre Dumas to what is expected of an entertaining work of fiction. Viewed as a hero of romance, the great novelist is almost as striking a figure as his picturesque and fascinating D'Artagnan, so that his Memoirs and the numerous volumes in which he relates the story of his travels seem to differ from his other narrative works only in the use, for the hero, of the first instead of the third person of the verb.
    Romance, in fact, had begun in his family even before he was born. His father, a handsome mulatto, was the son of a French nobleman, Marquis Davy de la Pailleterie, and of a San Domingo slave woman. The circumstances of his birth did not deprive the young man of the advantages which in such an aristocratic society as France had, at the end of the eighteenth century, naturally belonged to a marquis' son. Although he could not be known by the family title, and called himself simply Alexandre Dumas, a name which was to be made illustrious by his son and grandson, he moved in the most brilliant circles, and in 1786 joined the select cavalry troop known as the Queen's Dragoons.
    His opportunity, however, came with the French Revolution. His magnificent bravery rapidly raised him to the highest ranks in the armies of the Republic. In 1793, when only twenty-seven years of age, he was made a general, and he soon commanded in chief, first in the Pyrenees, then in the Alps. He afterwards served under General Bonaparte, with whom he formed a close friendship. He went with him to Egypt, distinguished himself again by conduct of extraordinary brilliancy, which gave him a great influence over the native population, but had to be sent back to Europe on account of the poor state of his health. On his way back he fell into the hands of the Neapolitan government, then bitterly hostile to France, was thrown into prison and treated with shameful inhumanity. It is even suspected that poison was mixed with his food, and that his death, which occurred in 1806, before he was forty-four years of age, was due to the attempt then made against his life. What is sure is that he left prison a wreck after the signing of the peace, and was never able to resume his military career.
    He was living in retirement, in the small town of Villers-Cotterets, in the northeast of France, when on the 10th of Thermidor of the year X of the French Republic (July 24, 1802), he became the father of a boy destined to even greater fame and more striking adventures than his own.
    With the education of that son he had nothing to do, as he died before the child was four years of age. The lad grew under the eyes of his mother, who never mustered courage enough to part with her son and send him to college. Thus what he learned during his childhood did not amount to much, at least so far as regards intellectual improvement. In everything connected with physical development, in every sort of country sport he soon excelled; he had inherited his father's herculean strength and delighted in nothing so much as in the display of physical power. He thus grew, almost ignorant of the manifold cares of life, until his twenty-first year, when he was suddenly informed by his mother that the family resources on which both had lived up to that time were completely exhausted and that upon him devolved henceforth the duty of providing for mother and son.
    He was not unprepared for the announcement, and already had ambitions the fulfilment of which was rather helped than hindered by his new responsibilities. He determined at once to go to Paris and seek his fortune there, a step which his mother would never have assented to unless driven to it, as she then was, by the sternest of necessities. Although provided with a very scanty amount of book learning the young man knew the stirring events of his father's career. Like all his contemporaries, he had followed, on the bulletins of victories placarded against the walls of public buildings, the extraordinary career of Emperor Napoleon, and knew that between the great warrior and his father a tie of personal friendship had at one time existed. He dreamed of emulating the great men of the period which had just closed, and as the reëstablishment of European peace precluded any hope of obtaining glory at the head of victorious armies, literature, and especially poetry, which had just made famous the names of Alphonse de Lamartine and Victor Hugo, the latter a young man of almost exactly the same age as Alexandre Dumas, seemed the most natural field in which to seek distinction.
    In Paris young Dumas sought his father's friends. Most of them were unwilling or unable to help him. Fortunately for him, the district from which he came was then represented in the Chamber of Deputies by a former general of the Napoleonic army, who was also a great orator and one of the most respected leaders of the Liberal Party, General Foy. Thanks to the friendly intercourse existing between the general and the Duc d'Orléans, a clerkship was obtained in the latter's employment for young Dumas, who happened to possess one of the most important requisites for the position, a beautiful handwriting. On being told of his appointment he said to his patron, "General, I am going to live by my handwriting, but I promise you that I shall some day live by my pen." The promise was redeemed.
    It is, however, not as a novelist that Alexandre Dumas first became known to the world. He had been only a short time in the employ of the Duc d'Orléans when Paris was visited by a company of English players. Although then totally ignorant of English, he was so powerfully impressed by the grandeur and life-like movement of the Shakesperian dramas, that he at once resolved to enroll himself among those who were then trying to emancipate the French stage from servile submission to rules which had had their raison d'etre in the seventeenth century, but which had then to a great extent outlived their usefulness. He was rewarded with success. The first performance of Henri III. et sa Cour, in February, 1829, is in the history of the French Romantic Drama an event second in importance only to the production of Victor Hugo's Hernani in February, 1830.
    The revolution of 1830, which followed a few months later, somewhat interfered with Dumas' newly undertaken literary labors. His sympathies were naturally with the insurgents, and with their illustrious chief, Marquis de Lafayette. He fought for the reestablishment in France of the tricolor flag, proscribed during the preceding period, and hailed with delight the accession to the throne, as Louis Philippe the First, King of the French, of his former patron, the Duc d'Orléans.
    In spite of the time given to several political missions, and to his duties as a captain in the artillery of the National Guard, he managed to have no less than five dramas performed during the year 1831. One of these dramas, Antony, which is in many respects a chapter of an autobiography, was received with even greater applause than Henri III. et sa Cour.
    This activity of the young dramatic writer in the year 1831 was the first sign given by him of the prodigious fertility of romantic invention by which he was soon to astonish the world, when to the labors of the dramatist he was to add those of the writer of romances.
    His first works of a narrative character were books of travels and short stories. He did not undertake the composition of any extended work of imagination until 1840, the date of the publication of Captain Paul. The climax was soon reached. In 1844 and 1845 he published his two masterpieces, The Three Musketeers and Monte Cristo, soon followed by the two sequels of the former work, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.
    Nothing can give an idea of the feverish haste with which Dumas was then working. He was surrounded by a real army of secretaries and collaborators whom he filled with his own genius, his inventiveness, his method of conveying facts through crisp and bright dialogue. He revised what they wrote, and gave it a brilliancy that makes it indistinguishable from what he himself wrote. Some of his assistants were men of real parts, for instance, Auguste Maquet, who had no small part in the production of The Three Musketeers. Dumas was then attacked by a libellous writer, known by the nom de plume of Eugène de Mirecourt, who described what he called the firm of "Alexandre Dumas and Co., manufacturers of romances." In the trial that followed the publication of the libel it was demonstrated that Dumas' name during the year appeared on the title page of more novels than could be produced by one man unceasingly working at his desk day and night for the whole of the three hundred and sixty-five days! But what of it, if the whole of this production bore the indisputable stamp of the master who was subjecting others to the overlordship of his imperial mind? No small compliment was paid then to the great novelist and dramatist by the historian Michelet, who wrote to him: "Monsieur, I love you and admire you, for you are one of the forces of nature."
    Lavish beyond conception of the productions of his brain, Dumas was unfortunately no less lavish of the princely income which these productions brought to him. His African blood undoubtedly manifested itself in his love of gorgeous display. His travels through Italy and Spain, related by him in some of his most entertaining volumes, were planned and carried out on a scale of expenditure such as almost appals the imagination, and the result of which was that he never could extricate himself completely from financial difficulties.
    His activity on the field of the novel, where his rivals then were no smaller writers than Balzac and George Sand, did not cause him to desert the stage. One of his dramas, The Tower of Nesle, brought about a duel with one of the authors of the play, Frédéric Gaillardet, who was afterwards the editor of the French newspaper, Le Courrier des États-Unis, in New York. Another of his plays, Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge, the action of which takes place during the French Revolution, contained a song, Mourir pour la patrie, which became a sort of war cry during the months following the Revolution of 1848, and for a while almost rivalled the popularity of the "Marseillaise."
    Dumas undoubtedly expected great results for himself to follow a political revolution which called to power a poet, Lamartine, and raised to the highest places men with whom he, on the whole, thoroughly sympathized. But he was hampered by the money obligations which resulted from his extravagant mode of living. When not Lamartine only, but Victor Hugo, Béranger, La Mennais, and a great many more of his literary friends triumphantly entered the National Assembly, he suffered a severe defeat and saw his political ambitions for the second time nipped in the bud. In fact, after a while he had to leave Paris, where he was harassed by his creditors, and to take refuge in Brussels, and there he resided for several years, until an old political friend, Noël Parfait, managed at last to straighten somewhat his business affairs.
    But he was soon to leave Paris again under circumstances strangely appealing to his imagination.
    In 1860 the Italian hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi, drove the Bourbon dynasty from the kingdom of Naples and sent word to the great French novelist to come and join him. Dumas answered the call and was soon in Naples. Just what he performed there is not exactly known. Officially he was simply the superintendent of the magnificent art museums of the city. But he seems to have had also a good deal to do with the political situation; perhaps a little less, however, than he would have had his countrymen believe. When speaking of himself he was always romancing. How could he help doing so? To invent the incidents of a narrative was the natural function of his brain. How could he be expected, simply because he was writing of himself, to confine himself to facts that had actually occurred? In fact, he hardly recognized any dividing line between the real and the imaginary and once boasted that he had "raised History to the dignity of the Novel."
    He returned to Paris in 1864, and until the last months of his life maintained his literary activity, producing novels and plays as naturally and as regularly as a manufacturer his wares. But he had not acquired the financial wisdom of the business man. Fortunately for him, a watchful and loving eye was now looking after his comfort. His son, known as Alexandre Dumas fils, had acquired, through his success as a dramatist, both fortune and glory, and yielded to no one the privilege of attending to the needs of the father whom he loved and whose fame he considered his most priceless possession. His weaknesses he knew, but he could not find it in his heart to condemn the childlike great man who had never shown, him anything but the most loving and indulgent smile. How he viewed these weaknesses is shown in his humorous play The Prodigal Father, an adaptation of which was shown on the English stage under the title of My Awful Dad.
    When both body and mind began to weaken, Alexandre Dumas was carried to his son's country estate, at Puys near Dieppe, on the British channel. There, in total ignorance of what was happening in the outside world, he spent the terrible weeks of 1870 when France was suffering defeat after defeat, surrendering one army after another, and drinking to the dregs the cup of national disaster. The joyful chronicler of D'Artagnan knew nothing of the pitiful tale, though he did not breathe his last until the fifth of December, that is, two months after the surrender at Sedan.
    His effigy is seen in France in many places. A superb bust shows his rugged features in the lower rotunda of the Théâtre Français. A statue tells the boys and girls of Villers-Cotterets of the most illustrious child of their native town. But what would most rejoice the heart of the indefatigable story-teller is a statue in Paris, facing a monument to his own son, in one of the most beautiful gardens of the beautiful city, which is soon to hold also the statue of the heroic general of the French Revolution and then to receive a new name,—the "Square of the Three Dumas."


    What sort of works did Dumas bring out during this eventful life, in which so much time was given to pleasure, to passion, to outside activity, that none seemed to be left for the intense labor of literary production? As has already been remarked, it is as a dramatist that Dumas first won distinction, and it is to be here noticed that he is one of the very few writers who attained a very high rank both as authors of novels and of dramatic works. In France itself, Balzac, George Sand, Daudet, Zola, the great rivals of Dumas on the field of romance, have done comparatively little for the stage, and that little is not of such high excellence as to add very much to the fame that they justly possess as novelists. Hugo alone towers above all, and his magnificent poetical gifts shine no less in Les Miserables and in Ninety-Three than in Hernani or Ruy Blas. Outside of France we know the novels of Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, Freytag, Sienkiewicz, Tolstoy, D'Annunzio; their names owe nothing, or next to nothing, to dramatic activity. Not so with Dumas. His dramas stand out by themselves, and his place in the literary history of France would be a conspicuous one, even if not a single romance had ever come from his pen. The twenty volumes of his Theatre are filled with thrilling dramas, some of which, indeed, are simply dramatized romances, but the most striking of which were conceived by him originally as dramatic works, and have not been treated by him in the more extended form of the novel. In fact, Dumas conceived life as a drama: the conflict of human desires as expressed in human speech and revealed in human deeds; such is the all-absorbing theme of his thoughts, and in his hurried life he quite naturally chose for its manifestations, first the shorter, more condensed, and, let us add, more quickly remunerative form of the play. No wonder, therefore, that action, which is the chief element of the drama, should also be the main source of interest in his romances, and that his dialogue be the most telling and effective, perhaps, to be found in the works of any novelist.
    It was fortunate for Dumas that he appeared at a moment when the time-honored formulas of French classical tragedy and comedy were about to undergo the furious onslaught of the Romanticists. His exuberant nature could not easily have been curbed and made to obey the rules laid down for the writers of a statelier age. There was a lawless element in him, which manifested itself in his life no less than in his books, and which, happily, was entirely free from any taint of malice, so that no one was ever harmed by it, except Dumas himself. His nature remained unsubdued to the last.
    Thus it happened that Henry III. and his Court brought as much novelty on the French stage as Victor Hugo's Hernani, which it preceded by about a year, and that the dramatists of France are indebted for their emancipation to the author of The Three Musketeers hardly less than to the author of Les Miserables.
    In the list of Dumas' plays we find, of course, a number of dramatized novels; and no wonder, for every scene of his novels has the stirring quality that is demanded of the drama, and it seems almost as if one might, by the simple omission of the narrative passages, at once make it ready for the stage. Indeed, Dumas' novels were, if we are not mistaken, the first novels that were bodily turned into plays; and to the success that greeted Dumas' characters, when actually walking in flesh and bone before a public which had already been delighted by the narrative of their deeds in the pages of the book, is due in no small measure the practice so prevalent today of turning into a play nearly every novel that has won the approval of the reading public.
    But Dumas' best and greatest plays are those the subjects of which are not found in the long list of his romances. In writing them he was moved, not as in his novels, by the ambition of depicting a whole period, of history, or reciting every incident of an eventful career, but by the desire of explaining a single act which might have been made known to him by a page of history, an incident of real life, or sometimes even as in his romantic drama of passion, Antony, by a supposition of his ever seething fancy.
    Thus, for instance, he happened one day to read in the now discarded French History of Anquetil, that Duke Henry of Guise had murdered a nobleman by the name of Saint-Mégrin, a favorite of the King, after compelling his own wife, by a sheer display of physical force, to write a note inviting Saint-Mégrin to a love meeting; and thence the play of Henry III. and his Court. Christian of Sweden explains Monaldeschi's murder in the palace at Fontainebleau. Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle, Dumas' most successful comedy, owes more to fancy than to truth, but is also mainly the preparation and explanation of a single deed in the whole play.
    One of the characteristics of Dumas' plays is the striking manner in which each act ends. Dumas possessed the faculty of compelling the spectator to ask himself; What will happen next? And it is perhaps the desire of causing this question to arise that kept Dumas for a while from producing works in which the answer might easily be found by simply turning over a few pages of a book. But he soon found a way of combining the exhilaration of keeping the public waiting for an answer to a riddle with the satisfaction of giving full play to one's own imagination, and leaving nothing unexplained which belongs to the writer of romance more than to the dramatist; and he became thus the creator of a kind of work of fiction in which he was to acquire his greatest glory, and to remain to this day unequalled, viz.: what the French call the Roman-Feuilleton.


    We have called attention already to the advantage for Dumas of having made his literary début at the same time as the great School of Romanticists. Another good fortune of this happy child of nature was to have lived at the time when the daily press was entering the period of extraordinary development which has made it one of the indispensable institutions of modern society. He conceived the idea of using the daily paper, not simply for the dissemination of the news of the day and of political speculations, but also for the satisfaction of the craving for the ideal, for the unreal and imaginary which exists in the human heart, and which has given us our great poets, our great dramatists, our great writers of romance; and he began to write and to dictate novels which were to appear before the public first not in the shape of volumes, but in daily instalments, of, say, from two to three thousand words, filling only the lower part of the first two pages of La Presse or Le Journal des Débats. Let it be well understood here that it never was Dumas' practice to hand to the newspaper editor a complete novel, allowing him to cut it in such a way as to fit the exigencies of the publishers, the character and quantity of news of the day, etc. Dumas composed his narrative day by day, his copy reached the printer's office usually just at the last moment, and he sent of it just as much as he wished to appear in the next issue. He had also a knack for placing the famous to be continued at such a place that the reader had to ask himself nearly every day the question which tickles the spectator of a stirring play at the end of every act: What will happen next?
    And here we strike one of the causes of Dumas' extraordinary success. His works are not the result of cold calculation. They are instinct with life. Of all the faults which may exist in a literary work, the one which the reader is sure never to find in his romances is dulness. His heroes may be charged with a great many offences, but they are not lazy; they are always doing something, and always have to fight against something, against some danger by which they are threatened. We cannot help being interested in the never ending struggle which they have to carry against obstacles and odds which for any one except Dumas' heroes would be absolutely insuperable. They. however, triumph over everything. For them human strength and human endurance seem to have been stretched far beyond their usual limits without, however, giving the reader any impression of extravagance. We follow D'Artagnan or Monte Cristo through their extraordinary adventures with a feeling of exhilaration which makes us their companions and associates in the performance of their superhuman feats and the enjoyment of their impossible success. Why?
    Because they are filled with Dumas' own exuberant life. Strength was the most striking characteristic of the whole family. It had been noticeable in the father almost as much as it was in the heroes which came out of the son's inexhaustible imagination. Daring the wars of the Revolution at Brixen, in Tyrol, it was necessary for the French army to keep the Austrians from crossing a bridge. General Dumas managed to do it without any companions. His life seemed charmed. The enemies could not touch him. The deeds which, by their impossible character, gave the readers of Livy's first books their first doubts as to the historical accuracy of the narrative, were equalled by the Hercules-like mulatto chieftain, whom General Bonaparte saluted by the name of the Horatius Cocles of Tyrol. The impression that had been created by the warrior was repeated by the man of letters. The men by whom Alexandre Dumas was surrounded were struck by something like awe, at the sight of his display of vigor and indefatigableness either in work or pleasure. How could they have raised any doubt as to the possibility for his heroes of accomplishing the tasks he had set for them when he was constantly doing what, but for his doing it, they would have declared to be impossible? He is perhaps the only writer of extraordinary adventures whose tales are told with an accent of irresistible conviction. Even when indulging in the most extravagant flights of fancy his sincerity is undeniable. For a moment what he says seems possible not only to himself, but to every reader of his extraordinarily entertaining productions. His resourcefulness fills us with a feeling of security for those of his characters in whose favor the magician that he is has managed to enlist our sympathies. By whatever dangers they are encompassed we know that he will find a way out for them.


    Two types are to be found in Dumas' romances. On one side we find the works that have been put together under the collective titles of The Valois romances and the D'Artagnan romances, on the other those that belong to the same class as Monte Cristo. By what traits are these two types distinguished from each other?
    The first class, the Valois and the D'Artagnan romances, are the outcome of a purpose early formed by Alexandre Dumas of narrating to the French, in an entertaining form, the whole of their national history. He had reached manhood with a very scanty stock of historical notions, and he experienced, in discovering how much romance there was in history, a feeling of delighted surprise and amazement which he determined to communicate to his contemporaries. He tells us himself in his memoirs of an incident which had a good deal to do in starting him on his career of reciter of historical tales.
    While he was in the service of the Duc d'Orléans, the prince had once to set up a defence in a rather strange judicial contest. He was charged by a kind of adventuress with not being at all a member of the royal family, but with having been substituted for a girl baby born to the Duchess at a time when it was necessary for the Orléans branch of the Bourbon dynasty to possess a male heir. The Duke was fond of composing himself the legal briefs to be used in his controversies, and to dictate them to his secretaries. On that occasion young Dumas was selected by him on account of his beautiful handwriting as his amanuensis. Suddenly, while dictating, the Duke noticed in the features of his secretary an expression of astonishment. He had just dictated the following sentence: "If, moreover, no other proof existed, the striking likeness that is noticeable between his Royal Highness the Duc d'Orléans and his illustrious ancestor, Louis XIV., would be sufficient to establish his right to occupy his place in the royal family of France." Dumas knew, of course, that the Orléans branch was descended from Philippe d'Orléans, brother of Louis XIV., while the older branch, then still on the throne, came directly from the great King himself. What he did not know, and what he would have known if better acquainted with history, was that a marriage had taken place between members of the two branches, that Louis XIV. had as much as compelled his nephew, who became afterwards the Regent, during the minority of Louis XV., to marry one of his numerous illegitimate daughters, Mademoiselle de Blois. The true condition of things dawned upon the young man when he heard the Duke tell him in his deep basso voice: "Learn, sir, that when a man is descended from Louis XIV., though it be through bastards, it is glorious enough for him to boast of it." When back at his desk Dumas related the occurrence to his colleagues, one of whom simply said to him: "You had better read the memoirs of Saint-Simon." He followed the advice thus given, and on reading the pages of the haughty nobleman was dumfounded to discover that often history was very different in reality from what it seemed to be in the official text-books written under the eyes and published with the approval of the monarchical authorities. He at once decided to do for others what had been done for him through the occurrence just related, and the book Gaul and France was the first outcome of his ambition to make the French people acquainted with the true character of their annals. The cold reception of the book in no way disheartened him, and he went on, reading Memoirs, Souvenirs, Recollections, until one day, in the National Library, he stumbled upon a comparatively short work on the reigns of Louis XIII. and Louis XIV., Memoirs of the Chevalier D'Artagnan. There was enough of romance in the book to fire his imagination, and a new form of historical novel was created. Of this type of narrative the most celebrated are, following the sequence of historical events, Queen Margot (1845), The Three Musketeers (1844), with its two continuations, Twenty Years After (1845), and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1848-50), and finally, The Queen's Necklace (1849-50). The common trait of all these works, and of the numerous other romances by which Dumas' novels are made to constitute, as it were, a continuous narrative, stretching from the time of the last Valois kings to the time of the Revolution, is the outward claim that the important thing in them consists in the narrative of the well-known facts of official history, such as the massacre of Saint Bartholomew's night, the murder of Buckingham, the disturbances of the Fronde, the trial of Cardinal de Rohan before the Parliament of Paris; while what will interest the reader is the imaginary explanation of how these things took place. In official history the important people seem to be Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin, General Monk, etc.; in Dumas' romances these great people seem to have been mere playthings, puppets in the hands of daring adventurers, known by, or rather hidden under, the names of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis; and the wonderful thing in them is the snug fit of truth with fiction which they present.
    In the novels of the Monte Cristo type, the most remarkable of which, after the entrancing Monte Cristo itself, is The Mohicans of Paris, history provides only the background. They do not attempt to furnish explanations of historical events, and they place upon the stage no great historical characters. The Comte de Monte Cristo, or rather Edmond Dantès, M. de Villefort, The Comte de Morcerf are all offsprings of Dumas' inexhaustibly prolific brain, and their adventures are freed from the obligations of fitting in with facts already well known through the more dignified narratives due to the pen of historians; hence the more fantastic character of the occurrences with which they are filled.
    But whether Dumas takes us through the halls and corridors of the Louvre, at the time of Catherine of Medici, Charles IX., or Henry III., to some treasure cave under the waters of the Mediterranean, to the Palais Royal, with Richelieu, or to the walls of Janina, with the terrible Ali-Pasha, he always holds us, wistfully listening to his wonderful story-telling, even with the look of the child carried away to fairy-land by the old tales of the nursery.
    For the benefit of American readers let us add that Dumas' French style is almost the perfection, of narrative style. It has no very striking personal traits; it tells its story swiftly, brightly, clearly, and therefore loses little, if anything, in passing through the hands of a clever and experienced translator.

            ADOLPHE COHN.

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