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This introduction appears in The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Published by The Century Co., New York, 1907, and Copyright, 1898 and 1901 by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.

INTRODUCTION.

1660-1671.



    THE third and last of the series of D'Artagnan romances is The Vicomte de Bragelonne, which chronicles the old. age (if such men could grow old) and death of D'Artagnan and his three musketeer comrades. In The Three Musketeers the four soldiers are first brought upon the stage — already fully equipped and ready for any gage of battle. For Dumas does not concern himself or the reader with any probationary period. His men must step forth as men, ready to fight at a moment's notice, in these pages so full of action. In the second story, Twenty Years After, we find the four companions to be middle-aged men, but still in the very heyday of their fire and strength. They have no longer to cope with a Richelieu; and Mazarin is but a man of straw in their hands. Finally the last scene is presented by The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the sub-title of which—Ten Years Later—fixes its place in the lives of the four. Their locks are grizzled now; and while they fight at first with all their old heroic ardor, their arms gradually become the more easily wearied, and their heads sit not so erect upon their shoulders. Mazarin precedes them to the grave, but in his stead they find the most invincible adversary of them all in the person of the young and increasing figure of Louis XIV.
     The Vicomte de Bragelonne in the original consists of six parts, though the same title applies to all. For purposes of mechanical convenience it is here presented in three volumes, every line of the original, however, being faithfully reproduced. Various parts of The Vicomte de Bragelonne have been presented separately in the English under different titles. Parts I. and II. have been known as The Vicomte de Bragelonne; Parts III. and IV, as Louise de la Vallière; and Parts V. and VI. as The Man in the Iron Mask. These titles, however, are arbitrary with. the publishers, since, as stated above, the entire six parts originally bear but one title. A careful reading of The Vicomte de Bragelonne as a whole will justify Dumas' choice of titles. The six parts, though forming a story of considerable length, are closely inter-related, and cannot be severed the one from the other without serious loss to the completed plot. And the character of Raoul, Vicomte de Bragelonne, the son of Athos, and the foster-son of the other three friends, serves as a fit connecting link between these men so widely separated by time and interest, yet so close in touch when throbs of genuine affection are listened to. Raoul, therefore, becomes a sort of central point for the four soldiers of fortune, connecting them more closely with each other, and at the same time with the movements of the younger count. In him the four men live again their own adventurous lives. But this does not mean that they themselves are idle and inactive; each has his part in life yet to finish, and the part is played to the end.
    The period covered by the Vicomte de Bragelonne (1660-1671) is a momentous one in the history of France. It is a time when the young monarch Louis XIV. is beginning to assume personal control and make his kingdom the foremost in the world. The action stays upon French soil, save for a brief excursion over to England to witness the restoration of the Stuart dynasty, this being a pendant or sequel to the bloody episode narrated in Twenty Years After, when Charles I. lost his head.
    First of all let us glance at our beloved friend D'Artagnan. True to his trade we find him still in harness, responding quickly to the first call of his King. The first attribute of D'Artagnan is his fidelity. He may make mistakes in judgment, indeed, very rarely. He may allow his personal feelings to encroach too much upon official business, though never in a treasonable way. But back of it all beats a heart faithful to its trust, a heart upon which ambitious kings and crafty prelates can rely. Yes, the D'Artagnan of former days still greets us with his bonhomerie, his bluntness, his intuition, his wit, and his consummate skill in fencing, whether with swords or sentences. What more natural than that the young monarch should hit upon such a man as he to wield his sword? In the years when Louis XIV.'s name begins to spread over and beyond the confines of France, the picturesque figure of D'Artagnan stands out as a necessary adjunct. So vividly is it impressed upon that epoch, that we cannot believe it to be any less real than is the figure of the King. The two are correlative. How nicely does this touch come out in that scene near the last where D'Artagnan is suddenly made to realize that his King is indeed his master in word and in deed! D'Artagnan had been sent to arrest his two friends, then archrebels, in Belle-Isle. He was presumptuous enough (and we cannot help loving him for it) to try to twist the royal orders so as to allow his friends a loophole of escape. Foiled at every turn, D'Artagnan with his old-time braggadocio hastens back to brazen it out with the King; when he is taught that times have changed, that the King is not to be putty in his hands, as others have been, but is to mould all other men for himself. The lesson is for D'Artagnan a severe one; but once learned it is never forgotten, and with the new ideals of a broader empire dawning upon him, he is able once more to place himself at the head of the royal troops, to win glory for his sovereign, and to seize the marshal's baton in his own dying grasp. The death comes as an epitome of the life. It grieves us and yet we know it is a just, a glorious culmination of a magnificent career. We cannot bemoan a death heroically quenching a life whose embers were growing gray before the increasing glow of the sun of Louis XIV.
    Next to D'Artagnan the face of Athos stands out the most attractively. Athos is the most perfect of them all. But while such perfection attracts us, we persevere in loving the very faults of D'Artagnan. A king-like figure is that of Athos—a gentleman of the old school serving the only three masters that he recognized,—his God, his honor, and his King. The only trace of snobbery we find in him is in his interview with the complacent Planchet. This he allows to escape merely as a rebuke and a lesson in the recognized etiquette of that day. His devotion to the King as his visible head meets with a severe shock when the monarch's conduct toward Raoul merits censure; and the scene between Athos and Louis is worthy the lion of the olden days. Still it is the strength of his son that pulsates with his own, and when the son retires heart-broken from the contest, the spirit of the father breaks likewise. The ebbing tide carries out the two souls together. The closing chapters of his life are perused with a strained eagerness. At last the tale is told, the calm eyes close in death. We hear the convulsive sobs of D'Artagnan, and we speak this epitaph: "Here was a man!"
    But what can we say of Aramis, the crafty, scheming Aramis? We are surprised at first at the depths of this man's duplicity. Still we should have traced his growth through the other stories; it is a logical growth, and the Aramis of the end is the natural outcome of it all. The only palliating side to his character is his love for his friends—a love, however, which he does not hesitate to thrust aside for schemes of self-advancement. He is a diplomat of the Richelieu type, a man brilliant in intrigue, far-seeing in execution. If he could only have kept his heart warm through it all we could have persuaded ourselves to love him. Dumas displays a master genius in choosing such a character as Aramis for the General of the Jesuits. The General is typical of the Order, and the Order is concisely summed up in the General. Dumas himself loses interest in Aramis, in proportion as Aramis becomes self-centred. It is noticeable that he of them all is the only one whose manner of death is left unrecorded. A crushing rebuke, this, when the passing away of the others is dealt with so tenderly and inspiringly. The prophetic D'Artagnan with his dying breath summed up the final sentence, one fraught with tragic meaning, burdened as it was with the memory of years of comradery for four souls in the past, for only three in the future: "Athos, Porthos, we meet again; Aramis, adieu forever!"
    And Porthos—brave Porthos! worthy Porthos! He, mighty of brawn, strong of heart, must needs give his life in the service of others—must fall a victim to Aramis' ambitious plans. But—as with the others—his end is a summing up of all his life. Let us hear what Dumas says of him in the superb chapter devoted to his "Epitaph":
    "Singular destiny of these men of bronze! The most guileless of human beings allied to the craftiest; bodily strength swayed by subtlety of mind!... Honest Porthos! born to help others, always ready to sacrifice himself for the safety of the weak, as if it was for that purpose only that God had endowed him with such strength."
    The chapters devoted to the Titanic struggle and death of Porthos are among the most spirited in this book of spirited chapters.
    The titular hero, Raoul, is, after all, a little disappointing. He has much of the calmness and chivalry of his father, but he acts too often according to rote. Perhaps his shining qualities are a trifle dimmed by proximity with the glorious four. Perhaps the love for a woman dwarfs his resolution and natural good sense. Be that as it may, we feel that he does not uphold the brave front demanded of him by birth and environment. We sympathize with the jilted lover, but cannot condone the melancholia and suicidal instincts of the soldier. Too much was demanded of his life to allow it to become stunted and obliterated because of any passion, no matter how strong.
    Louise de la Vallière is not worthy of the extreme love which she elicits. She is modest, gentle, and retiring, but she displays small strength of character. Only once or twice does a fitful gleam betray the workings of an inner spirit. It is hard to condemn her relations with Louis. Undoubtedly she loved him with a sincere, personal affection. Nor did she allow her love to transcend the limits of her modesty. As to her relations with the king, we cannot, with our twentieth-century code of morals, judge the attitude that prevailed at a time when the maintenance of mistresses was a part of the divine right of kings.
    The rival figures of Fouquet and Colbert possess both a fictitious and a historical interest. As Fouquet wanes Colbert waxes. The transition is inevitable. In the destinies of these two men are seen the signs of a newer and broader empire reared upon the crumbling foundations of the old. Fouquet represented the barons and great lords of a former day, whose power made even their sovereigns to quail, and whose official honesty could not be impeached, because their individual strength precluded justice. Fouquet himself, despite the protestations of Dumas, who remains his steadfast champion, if not dishonest in his own official dealings was at least ready to wink at the malfeasance of his colleagues. He looked upon the common people as the ministry's natural prey. His own world was to him a place where money could flow like water, where friends could revel and feast unstintedly, and where the King himself could be courteously sneered at. Such a man must inevitably fall before the march of greater national events represented in the person of the despised Colbert. The latter might not have cultivated the arts and sciences under his own roof; he might not have been so much monseigneur as monsieur; but he did labor unceasingly and successfully for the advancement of Louis' power. He created navies, levied armies, reduced the national debt, and enforced national respect, but all so quietly that Dumas himself—in company with the astute D'Artagnan and Aramis—is astounded, and is compelled to bow respectfully before the man he has persistently misunderstood and maligned.
    The pathetic figure of the "Man in the Iron Mask" stands out in bold relief, though treated very briefly. Our farewell glimpse of him is upon the parapet of the fortress at Île Sainte-Marguerite, contemplating the infinite horizon wherein others were to soar untrammelled, while he remained with clipped pinions behind prison bars. This character, one of the most puzzling in history, is used in a daring way by Dumas. The novelist weaves him into the woof of the story most ingeniously by making him the twin-brother of Louis. The theory obtained credence in France at one time, but is now received with fictitious rather than historical interest.
    In regard to the other characters that crowd the canvas, only a few words may be uttered here. Mazarin plays no extended part in this story, nevertheless is true to motives we find impelling him in Twenty Years After. His death removes the final impediment to the progress of the King. A graphic picture is given of the youthful Louis XIV. With his court he lives again for us. The development of his character from its inner and outer aspect is sketched with a psychological insight unusual with Dumas, who generally contents himself with the sparkle and gusto of exploit. The after life of the four original lackeys forms an amusing parallel to the fate of their masters. The character of "Madame" is interesting enough to arouse regret that it should be neglected towards the last.
    As we take a farewell glance at the long and turbulent career of the four comrades we realize that they grew, day by day, not through any set purpose of their author, but gradually, as men grow in life. Dumas himself does not seem to have divined the growth till it was accomplished. Each man worked out his own destiny from the raw material. D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis of the Vicomte de Bragelonne are not the same characters of Twenty Years After or The Three Musketeers. D'Artagnan learned that other authorities may arise beside his own stubborn will; he learned that his lode-star was not self-advancement, but service. Athos discovered the beauty of a vicarious existence; the strength of example above precept. Porthos found that vanity and worldly pride are secondary to self-sacrifice. Aramis, looking with dimmed, aching eyes at the rocky sepulchre of Belle-Isle, realized that all the intrigues and advancements of a world cannot replace a friend. Step by step these men advanced, and with each step was wrought an irrevocable change until at last each had worked out his mission upon earth. And if his motives remained fixed and grounded upon Friendship and Honor and Chivalry, he could well go to his final repose like one who "wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams."

            J. WALKER MCSPADDEN.

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