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The following article was published in The Colophon, New Series, Volume I, Number 1, Summer, 1935. It is reissued here without permission.

F. W. REED

ALEXANDRE DUMAS, BENEFACTOR

ONE DAY in the summer of 1857 some chance saw Alexandre Dumas call upon Monsieur Théodore de Lesseps, Superintendent of Consulates in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. There were few doors at that time which did not open readily to the genial and famous author. Conversing with de Lesseps, through an interpreter, was a stately man in the long robe of a high ecclesiastic of the Greek Orthodox Church. His cross and ring revealed his episcopal rank.
    "Come in, Dumas," cried de Lesseps. "This surely concerns you, you man of faith in an age of doubt, you who undertake things impossible, saying 'God will aid.' "
    Says Dumas: "I received this compliment quite simply, believing it true. Moreover the better part referred not to me but to God."
    Thereupon the romancer took the eastern visitor back to his own rooms. Once there he learned that the Archbishop of Homs and Hama, a large district in Syria which extended as far as Palmyra, had come to France hoping to enlist the aid of the charitable. In stamping out a rebellion, with which the flock of the archbishop had nothing to do, but to which some of the government's opponents had fled, the Turks had cared no whit that the innocent should suffer with the guilty. Were they not in any case only Christian dogs? After the storm had passed the condition of the innocent victims was deplorable. Of goods, property and sometimes lives they had been despoiled, and those who remained knew not where to turn or how to seek to repair the mischief. Then it was that Monseigneur Ata proposed to come to Western Europe in search of financial assistance from the faithful to aid him in rebuilding his ruined churches and college.
    To what extent he succeeded we cannot say. That he should be introduced to the author of Monte Cristo in such a connection may seem strange to those who know the latter only as the careless spendthrift—the man who, for all his earnings, was forever in debt. But de Lesseps knew better; he, like many others, knew that no more kindly or generous heart beat in all Paris. This side of his nature has not received the consideration or the acknowledgment it deserves. Yet they said in Paris at that day that no one went to Dumas with a request who did not come away fully satisfied. That is a big thing to say of any man. Often it was voiced laughingly, though without question, as a prelude to some story such as the giving of ten francs to a petitioner who asked five to help bury a bailiff, and bidding him bury two of them; or of how he had raised money for a friend in dire need, when both that and his credit were alike for the moment exhausted, by pledging the orders given him by half a dozen monarchs to an imbecile of a money-lender who, next day, paraded the boulevards with them every one pinned across his breast. It is true that some of his actions do make us smile, but with kindly sympathy and appreciation, not sneeringly or in despisal, for, if we know the circumstances, we find invariably a great-hearted purpose, if perchance unwisely and sometimes too carelessly accorded.
    In this year 1857 Dumas was busy with a multiplicity of works. There was the romance of Les Compagnons de Jehu, running serially through the pages of Le Journal pour Tous; Le Meneur de Loups and Charles le Téméraire, were also being written; L'Invitation à la Valse was in rehearsal; in addition he was busy with the production of the eighteen thousand words required every week for his own literary paper Le Monte Cristo, almost all of which he wrote himself. There you found a chapter of Les Mohicans de Paris, a causerie (a study on de Musset, maybe), a child's story, and part of his latest Grand Homme en Robe de Chambre: Octave Auguste. For a large portion of his life Dumas hankered after a journal of his own; more often than not he possessed one in the later years; but invariably he lost money, and much money, by them; he had no financial ability whatever.
    Thus he was able to offer Monseigneur Ata only a louis toward his subscription list, but in addition he devoted a column from his own pen in his journal to enlisting the sympathies of others.
    On the following day, as he took his way briskly along the Boulevard des Italiens, his thoughts were with the troubles of the Archbishop of Hama and his flock. He entered the shop of Lecomte with the object of purchasing some of Flaxman's designs. As he turned these over he chanced upon a copy of Raffet's lithograph, "The Nocturnal Review." Attracted by it, he added it to the others. This sketch had been inspired by a German ballad by Sedlitz.
    Having reached his rooms again, Alexandre hunted among some old papers and found what he felt certain should be among them, a word-for-word prose translation of the German verses. His daily task must have been finished, or he would never have settled down to the amusement of making a French adaptation—rather than a translation—of the composition of Sedlitz. This penning of verses was a little pleasure which, throughout life, he liked to indulge in when rare moments of leisure permitted.
    The next number of Le Monte Cristo published in full, save for a lapse to be mentioned presently, the ballad from Dumas' hand, with this intimation to his readers:
    "Personally I can only modestly aid our worthy Archbishop of Hama by setting an example. But every day I receive requests for autographs. Well, here is my suggestion.
    "I will get Lecomte to paste twenty of Raffet's lithographs upon Bristol paper. On the margin of each I will write the verses you have just read. You will go to the establishment of Lecomte, No. 5 Boulevard des Italiens, and you will pay him what you are willing for the lithograph bearing my autograph, and that which you give will be paid over by Lecornte to our archbishop.
    "Then I shall have done all which is in my power. Who does what he can does what he should.
            "ALEX. DUMAS"

    Here is a rough attempt at a rendering of Dumas' ballad.

        THE NOCTURNAL REVIEW

        When midnight strikes on every side,
        And that funereal hour appears;
        When from the bronze all sound hath died,
        Extinguished where far space uprears;

        Then, raising with his livid brow
        The chilly stone his tomb o'erlays,
        A crippled drummer wakens now,
        A tattered uniform displays.

        His drumsticks he will smartly ply
        Upon the drum, a strange conceit,
        And with his bony hands and dry
        Ere dawn the reveille will beat.

        Then, sudden, to the muffled roll
        Upon that weird, fantastic drum,
        Those old, dead soldiers, yea, the whole,
        Respond, and, waking, forth they come:

        These whom Italian lands retain
        Entombed beneath their laurels green;
        These, 'neath her olives slaughtered, Spain,
        The Catholic, hath plainly seen;

        These, too, whom Egypt all enraged
        Calcined beneath her burning sands;
        These in the icy waves engaged
        'Twixt Beresina's flooded strands;

        All, as in days of swift alarms
        Which their heroic combats knew,
        Spring forth,—and snatching each his arms,—
        From sepulchres which yawn to view.

        The martial skeletons all show
        Their sombre squadrons ordered set;
        Their trumpeters before them go,
        On their mute clarions blowing yet.

        Here swarming see with all its spears
        The purple-coated lancer flood;
        Here are the epic cuirassiers,
        In mantles white and flecked with blood;

        Here are hussars who threat the foe
        Which from the field they soon will clear;
        Here heavy, stark dragoons who go
        With ne'er a sound may any hear;

        Amid the clouds of dust they fly,
        With sabres straight which cleave the air;
        As though the thunder to defy
        Each blade doth flashing lightnings bear;

        Here are the grenadiers renowned,
        Always who march with step the same;
        'Twas they who burst the ancient bound
        That kingdoms old as limit claim;

        'Twas they, in bloody fêtes arrayed,
        Dragged monarchs by their hair in train,
        And when "I wish!" the master said,
        Did crowns for heads exchange amain.

        "Silence! The Master! He is here!"
        The last he from the tomb comes, pale,
        And springs on his white horse anear.
        "Hail! Caesar! Imperator! Hail!"

        In gray and shabby riding-coat,
        In little hat and green costume,
        The short sword at his side you note,
        The flag which shades his brow with gloom.

        'Tis he, as 'mid the flashing blades
        Our fathers saw him then appear,
        And as our sons, ere vision fades,
        See, greater, taller, him draw near.

        O moon! from clouds come forth apace,
        And pour on him your rays anew;
        The Emperor 'tis, who, pale of face,
        Comes his battalions to review.

        "Halt! Soldiers! Halt! Now arms present!"
        'Mid icy ran^s his way is sped;
        His face we see with tears besprent,
        And hollow-eyed for all these dead.

        Caesar from center to each wing
        With galloping doth weary grow;
        Then gather round him in a ring
        Those leaders few still faith who show.

        The nearest captain gives command;
        The order passes swift along
        From rank to rank,—o'er all the strand,—
        In low-toned murmur through the throng.

        Uncertain future who can raise,
        Yet who would not some glimmer view?—
        "Wagram and Austerlitz!" then says
        The shade; Fate answers "Waterloo!"

        Behold the funeral review
        Which, so 'tis said, at midnight, he—
        Dreaming of grandeurs past anew—
        Napoleon doth passing see.

    Not many of us, probably, would care to copy this out in full twenty times on the margin of a lithograph, yet here was a man who did it for charity after working for ten or a dozen hours at his desk before doing so.
    There is still another strange little incident connected herewith, and worthy to be noticed by the curiously inclined. When the number of Le Monte Cristo came out, as Dumas glanced through it, he perceived, probably with some annoyance, that the last stanza had been omitted through some oversight. Thus in the following number we read:
    "Our typesetters, on their own private authority, suppressed in our last number the final strophe of 'La Revue Nocturne.'
    "It is true that this strophe had no importance save that of being the resumé of the whole piece. It appears a trifle late, but I desire it
            "ALEX. DUMAS."
And thereupon he printed the final lines, which we have taken care not to divorce from their fellows above.
    Some years after the death of Dumas his publishers gathered a number of his articles into a volume, "The Noctural Review" among them. Evidently this was taken from the pages of Le Monte Cristo, for the last verse is again lacking. Not unnaturally, the earlier number giving no indication, no one had thought of turning to that which followed. Consequently, to this day, in the collected works of Dumas, the ballad lacks its final stanza. Only in the journal Le Monte Cristo, or on one of those twenty lithographs,1 both now very scarce, can it be found.
    1 Or in my Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas Père, page 329 (London, Neuhuys, 1933).


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