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[This is Alexandre Dumas' introduction to his novel, La Comtesse de Charny. It was scanned from an 1894 edition of the novel published by Little, Brown, & Company of Boston. The translator is not identified. I have slightly modernized the punctuation--ADR]

INTRODUCTION

THOSE excellent readers who are in a certain sort pledged to us, — those who follow us wherever we go, those who (strangely enough) never abandon, even in his errors, a man who, like the author, has undertaken the interesting task of unrolling, leaf by leaf the story of the monarchy, — these readers well understood, in reading the word finis at the close of the last chapter of "Ange Pitou," that there was some monstrous error therein, which, one day, or another, we were bound to explain.

How would it be supposed that an author of any pretensions, however misplaced, an author who is supposed to know beforehand how to make a book, with all the requirements of a book, — as an architect professes to know how to build a house, with all the requirements of a house, or a shipbuilder to construct a ship, with all the requirements of a ship, — how could such an author abandon his house at the third story, or leave his vessel unfurnished with a mainsail?

Moreover, what would become of our Ange Pitou, if the reader took seriously that word finis, placed exactly at the most interesting situation of the book, — that is to say, when the King and the Queen were getting ready to quit Versailles for Paris; when Charny was beginning to note that his charming wife, although for five years he had not paid her the least attention, now blushed when his glance met her eyes, when his hand touched her hand; when Gilbert and Billot were gazing gravely but resolutely into the Revolutionary abyss before them, excavated by the Royalist hands of Lafayette and Mirabeau, one representing the Popularity of the epoch, the other its Genius; and finally when poor Ange Pitou, the humble hero of that humble history, was on the road from Villers Cotterets to Pisseleu, holding Catherine across his knees, — a young woman who had swooned over the last farewell of her lover, who was already several fields away, in full gallop over the highway to Paris.

Besides, there are other personages in this romance, secondary it is true, but personages towards whom we are sure our readers have been kindly disposed, and to whom they will still accord a portion of this interest; and as for ourselves, it is said that when we have once put a drama on the stage, we have a habit of following up, not only our chief heroes, but our minor characters as well, — and even the stage supernumeraries, —into the most shadowy windings of the theatrical scene.

There is the Abbé Fortier, a rigid Monarchist, who certainly will not transform himself into a Constitutionel priest, but will accept persecution rather than take the new oath.

There is the young Sebastien Gilbert, made up of the two natures embroiled at that epoch, of the two elements which had been ten years in a state of fusion, the democratic element, which he inherited from his father, the aristocratic element, derived from his mother.

There is Madame Billot, poor woman, --who is above all a mother, and blind as a mother, —leaving her daughter on the same road which she herself had trod, and returning alone to the farm, already desolated by the departure of Billot.

There is Father Clouis, in his hut in the middle of the forest, who does not yet know whether, with the gun which Pitou has given him,— in exchange for the one which had carried away two or three fingers of his left hand, — he can kill one hundred and eighty-three hares and one hundred and eighty-two rabbits in an ordinary year, and one hundred and eighty-three hares and one hundred and eighty-three rabbits in a leap year, — as he could with the old gun.

Finally there are Claude Tellier and Désiré Maniquet, village Revolutionists, who wish nothing better than to walk in the footsteps of the Revolutionists of Paris, but for whom it is to be hoped that honest Pitou — their captain, their commander, their colonel, in a word, their superior officer — will serve as a guide and curb.

All that we have said can but renew tine astonishment of the reader at the position of that word finis, so oddly placed at the end of the chapter of which it is the termination, — stationed, as one might say, like, the ancient Sphinx, crouched at the entrance of her cavern on the road to Thebes, and proposing an insoluble enigma to the Boeotian pilgrims.

We will attempt an explanation.

There was a time when the newspapers were publishing simultaneously "The Mysteries of Paris," by Eugène Sue, "General Confession," by Frederic Soulié, "Mauprat," by George Sand, and "Monte Cristo," "Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge," and "The Women’s War," by myself.

Those were good times for serial stories, but bad times for politics.

Who in the world at that time cared about the leading articles of Armand Bertin, Doctor Véron, or Deputy Chambolle?

Nobody.

And the world was right, for if any trace remains of those unlucky Parisian editorials, it is certain that they were not worth the pains taken with them.

Everything of any value always floats to the surface, and infallibly finds its rightful place somewhere.

There is only one sea which forever swallows up what ever is thrown into it; that is the Dead Sea.

It appears that it was into this sea that the leading Paris editorials of 1845, 1846, 1847, and 1848 were thrown.

Along with these leaders by Armand Bertin, Doctor Véron, and Deputy Chambolle, were also cast away, pell mell, the speeches of Thiers and Guizot, of Odilon Barrot and Berryer, of Molé and Duchâtel; and this wearied Messieurs Duchâtel, Molé, Barrot, Guizot, amid Thiers, as it wearied Deputy Chambolle, Doctor Véron, and Armaud Bertin.

It is true, as a compensation, that people cut off with the greatest care the feuilletons, or half-sheets, containing "The Mysteries of Paris," "General Confession," "Mauprat," "Monte Cristo," "The Women’s War," and "Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge," in order that after these sheets had been read in the morning, they could he put aside to be reperused in the evening; it is true that these feuilletons brought subscribers to the journals and patrons to the libraries; it is true they brought history home to the historians and the people; it is true that they created four millions of readers in France, and fifty millions of foreign readers; it is true that French thus became the literary language of the nineteenth century, as it had been the diplomatic language of the seventeenth; it is true that the poet, who thus won money enough to make himself independent, escaped from the thralldom heretofore exercised over him by aristocracy and royalty; it is true that literature created in society a new nobility amid empire, — the nobility of Talent and the empire of Genius; it is true, finally, that all this led to results so honorable for individuals, and so glorious for France, that serious efforts were made to bring to an end this state of things, — one which produced such an overturn that the prominent men of the kingdom became really the men in most repute, amid that the reputation, the glory, and even the money of the country were drifting towards those who had truly earned their reward.

The state officials of 1847 hoped, as has been said, to put an end to this scandal, whereupon Odilon Barrot, who always liked to be talked about, conceived an idea of giving, not only good and beautiful speeches on the rostrum, but had dinners in different localities, where his name was still held in honor.

It was necessary to give a name to these dinners. In France it is of little importance that things should have the name most appropriate to them, provided only that they have some name. These dinners were consequently called Reformatory Banquets.

There was then in Paris a man who, having been a Prince, was made a General; who, after being a General, was exiled; who, after being exiled, was made Professor of Geography; who, having been a Professor of Geography, traveled in America; who, having traveled in America, resided in Sicily; who, having married the daughter of the King of Sicily, returned to France; who, having re turned to France, was raised to the rank of Royal Highness, by Charles the Tenth; and who at last, being thus made a Royal Highness by Charles the Tenth, finished by making himself King.

Well, this Prince, this General, this Professor, this Traveler, this King, — in a word, this man, whom both misfortune and prosperity ought to have taught much, though they had taught him nothing, — this man had an idea of preventing Odilon Barrot from giving his Reformatory Banquets. He lost his head over that idea, never suspecting that it was a principle against which he declared war. Now every principle conies from above, and is consequently stronger than whatever comes from below, as every angel is able to overthrow the man with whom he wrestles. Now as Jacob was a man, and the angel overthrew Jacob, so, in these latter days, the Principle overthrew the man; and Louis Philippe was overthrown, with his double generation of princes, his sons and his grandsons.

What say the Scriptures? "The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation."

This made such a noise in France that for some time people would bother themselves neither with "The Mysteries of Paris," with "The General Confession," with "Mauprat," with "Monte Cristo," with "Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge," nor with "The Women’s War,"—nor even (we must acknowledge it) with their authors.

No, they listened to Lamartine, to Ledru Rollin, to Cavaignac, and Prince Napoleon.

At the end of the turmoil, however, a little calm supervening, it was perceived that these gentlemen were far less entertaining than Eugène Sue, than Frédéric Soulié, than Madame George Sand, and even the man who humbly puts himself last of all; and it was seen that their political prose, except that of Lamartine (to every prince all honor!) was not worth so much as that of "The Mysteries of Paris," of "The General Confession," of "Mauprat," of "Monte Cristo," of "Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge," and of "The Women’s War."

As he could not do much in politics, Lamartine, the Wisdom of the Nation, was invited to write essays; and the other gentlemen, myself included, to confine ourselves to light literature.

This we hastened at once to do, having no need of any invitation thereto.

Straightway the novels reappeared, and the editorial leaders again disappeared; although the same orators who declaimed before the Revolution, have continued to repeat, without an echo, the same speeches after the Revolution, and will go on talking forever.

Among these speechmakers was one who never talked, —at least, rarely.

Nevertheless he was well known, and the world saluted him when he passed along, wearing his decorative ribbon as a Delegate.

One day he mounted the tribune. Oh Lord, I wish I could tell you his name, but I have forgotten it.

He ascended the rostrum. Well, you must know one thing, that the Chamber was in very bad humor that day.

Paris had elected, as its Representative, one of those men who write feuilletons. The name of that man I do not forget; he was called Eugène Sue.

The Chamber was in a bad humor when it was reported that Eugène Sue had been elected. There were already on its benches four or five literary blots, who were sufficiently insupportable, — Lamartine, Hugo, Felix Pyat, Quinet, Esquiros.

This Deputy, whose name I do not recall, mounted the tribune, profiting adroitly by the bad humor of the Chamber. Everybody called out "Hush." Everybody listened.

He said that in novels were to be found the reasons why Ravaillac assassinated Henry Fourth, why Louis Thirteenth assassinated Maréchal d’Ancre, why Louis Fourteenth assassinated Fouquet, why Damiens tried to assassinate Louis Fifteenth, why Louvel assassinated the Duc de Berry, why Fieschi assaulted Louis Philippe, and finally why Praslin assassinated his wife.

He added that all the adulteries committed, all thc peculations perpetrated, all the thefts accomplished, were caused by the feuilleton; that its novels must either be suppressed or taxed; that when this was done the world would call a halt, and instead of continuing its road towards the abyss, would reascend to the Golden Age, — which it could not fail to reach at a very early day, provided the country could go backward as fast as it had come forward.

General Foy said one day: "There is an echo in France, whenever the words honor and country are spoken."

Yes, it is true that in General Foy’s time there was such an echo. We have heard it, — we who are now speaking, — and we are glad we did hear it.

"Where is that echo?" somebody asks.

Which echo?

"The echo of General Foy."

It is with the old moons of the poet Villon. Perhaps some day we shall find it again. Let us hope so.

There was also on a certain day, — not the time of General Foy, — another echo heard in the tribune. It was a strange echo, which said: "This is a time when we blast what Europe admires, — when we sell, as dearly as possible, what any other government would give away for nothing, if it had the good fortune to possess it, — Genius."

It must be said that this poor Echo did not speak on its own account; it did but repeat the words of the orator. —

The Chamber, with few exceptions, was but the echo of that echo.

Alas, for thirty-five or forty years this has been the role of every majority. In legislatures, as in the theatre, there are traditions almost fatal.

The Chamber, being advised that all thefts which occurred, all peculations which took place, all adulteries which were committed, were to lie at the door of the Feuilleton Romance; that if Praslin killed his wife, if Fieschi assaulted Louis Philippe, if Louvel killed the Duc de Berry, if Napoleon killed the Duc d’Enghien, if Damiens tried to kill Louis Fifteenth, if Louis Fourteenth killed Fouquet, if Louis Thirteenth killed Maréchal d’Ancre, and finally, if Ravaillac killed Henry Fourth,— all these crimes were evidently owing to the serial novel, even before it was created.

The majority were in favor of a stamp-act.

Perhaps the reader has not thought about such a tax, and may ask how a stamp, of only a centime (a fifth of a sou, or the hundredth part of a franc) on each sheet, should kill the feuilleton.

Dear reader, a centime on each feuilleton, — do you know how much it amounts to, if your journal prints forty thousand copies? Four hundred francs an issue for each feuilleton; that is, twice as much as is paid to the author, whether his name is Eugène Sue, Lamartine, Méry, George Sand, or Dumas.

It is three or four times as much as is received when the author is less in vogue than those whose names we have cited, however honorable the name of that excellent author may he.

Now tell me: Is it highly moral for a government to place on merchandise an impost-duty four times the value of the merchandise itself? Above all, is this honorable when the merchandise is such that its ownership may he contested, — namely, Intellect?

The result is that not a journal is rich enough to buy serial romances. It also follows from this, that all the journals publish feuilleton histories.

Dear reader, what do you say to the serial history in "The Constitutionel?"

Ahem!

Yes. That’s it exactly!

That is what politicians desire, in order that these literary fellows shall no longer be talked about; but no body imagines that this will incite the feuilleton to a healthy moral course.

For instance: it was proposed to me, — to me who wrote "Monte Cristo," "The Musketeers," "Queen Margot," — it was proposed to me to make a History of the Palais Royal.

This species of history would be doubly interesting, — on the one side a History of Gaming-houses, and on the other a History of Brothels.

It was also proposed to me, — to me, a distinctively religious man, — to write a History of Papal Crimes.

It was proposed to me, — well, I dare not tell you all that was proposed to me.

This would be nothing, however, if people were only content with asking me to work: but they also propose to me to work no more.

Accordingly, this very morning, I received this letter from Émile de Girardin.

MY DEAR FRIEND: I wish "Ange Pitou" to lie in one half-volume instead of six volumes, —in ten chapters instead, of a hundred. Arrange it to suit yourself; but cut it, unless you wish me to curtail it for you.

I understood perfectly well, parbleu!

Girardin had my Memoirs in his old drawers. He preferred publishing my Memoirs, which pay no stamp-tax, rather than "Ange Pitou," which is heavily taxed. He would therefore suppress six volumes of fiction in order to publish twenty volumes of Memoirs.

And this, dear and beloved reader, is why the word finis was placed long before the finish, — why Ange Pitou was strangled after the fashion of Paul the First, not by the neck, but around the middle of his body.

But you know by "The Musketeers," which you twice believed dead, but which became twice resuscitated, that my heroes are not put out of the way as easily as emperors.

Well it is with Pitou as it was with these same Musketeers.

Pitou — who was not dead the least in the world, but had only disappeared-is going to reappear; and on my part I beseech you, in this season of troubles and revolutions, which kindle so many torches and extinguish so many candles, not to mistake my heroes for dead, unless you receive a certificate from me, signed by my own hand.

And hardly then—!


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