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Le Capitaine Pamphile

conte/short story, pub:1839




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    He raised his stick
    It was a royal tiger of the largest size
    The executioners went about their work in dead silence


From Reviews (ADR) by Arthur D. Rypinski:
     Capitaine Pamphile is an awkwardly assembled comic novel, which began as a pair of short stories (James I and James II) and was subsequently expanded by Dumas into a cross between a travel adventure (à la Madame Giovanni or Gil Blas) and perhaps fanciful animal memoir (like Histoires de mes bêtes).
     The two James of the original short stories were small old world monkeys. Dumas begins his narration in Paris in 1831 with an account of how he rescued a turtle (which he named "Gazelle") from a culinary fate, and conveyed it to the home of his friend, the painter Descamps, who already possessed a menagerie which included a monkey (James I), a bear (Tom), and a frog (Mme. Camargo).
     The story then begins to alternate between accounts of the sad and grotesque fates of the various members of the menagerie, set in Paris, and Dumas' imaginings of the circumstances under which the animals were brought to France, captured in Africa or North America by Capitaine Pamphile, an ethically challenged Provençal sea captain. However, Dumas apparently enjoyed writing about his creation, and Captain Pamphile has soon hijacked the narrative.
     Captain Pamphile, on a trading voyage to Africa, begins by hunting big game, and captures an orphaned monkey (James I), goes on to hijack the cargo of a Chinese merchant ship, which he sells with a great profit, and then departs on a second voyage to North America, where he hijacks the cargo of several fishing boats, before his crew mutinies and throws him overboard. Pamphile washes up on Prince Edward Island, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where he is taken as a slave by the Iroquois Indian chief, Black Snake, who seems to have been borrowed from James Fenimore Cooper.
     Black Snake and his captive sail a canoe up the Saint Lawrence River past Quebec and Montreal, and Pamphile escapes when the canoe upsets. Pamphile walks for three days through trackless wilderness to arrive in Philadelphia(!), having first captured an escaped performing bear (Tom's mother). Pamphile finds his ship docked in Philadelphia, and sneaks aboard, throws the mutinous first mate to the sharks, and one morning reappears on deck in his accustomed place, to the horror of his cowed crew.
     In his next voyage, to South Africa, Pamphile forms a military alliance with an African tribe, and seizes the captives resulting from the war as slaves, which he crams into the hold, only 30 or 40 dying en route, and sells the survivors profitably (the slave trade having been legally abolished) in Martinique. He then sails for Nicaragua, where he finds Black Snake, deported from Canada by the British, ruling over the local population.
     In Pamphile's final adventure, he arrives in Britain in the guise of Black Snake's Ambassador, a raises a loan of 12 million sterling, and recruits a shipload of emigrants who have paid for the right to hold various monopolies in Nicaragua. The emigrants are dumped on the Mosquito Coast, where many succumb to disease and starvation before the swindled survivors make their way back to England.
     Much of the humour in Pamphile derives from the deadpan tone with which Dumas relates Pamphile's various crimes, without affecting to notice anything odd about his behavior. While F. W. Reed describes Capitaine Pamphile as a children's book, it would be an incautious parent who would offer this story to a child.

From A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père by Frank Wild Reed:
     An adventure story intended for children, in which various animals play no inconsiderable part, especially in the earlier chapters. The latter portion deals with the adventures of a somewhat piratically disposed captain,
     The first chapters were written long before the remainder, and appeared as a separate story, then entitled "Jacques I. et Jacques II.," both as a serial and as one of the tales in the "Souvenirs d'Antony." (Refer to 1835.)
     Original edition (of the complete work) : Paris, Dumont, 1839, 2 vols., 8vo., pp. 307, 296. Both volumes in the Reed Dumas Collection are of 1839.
     Illustrated edition : Paris, Calmann-Lévy, not dated, but about 1878, 1 vol., with 105 vignettes in the text, and 26 additional plates by Bertall. This has frequently been reprinted, and is to-day the favourite edition.
     The standard Calmann-Lévy collection includes it in one volume, which also contains "Le Fléau de Naples."
     In Le Vasseur's "Alexandre Dumas Illustré" it is contained in Vol. XVII.

         References :—
     Quérard: "Supercheries Littéraires Dévoilées," Vol. I., Columns 1100-1101.
     Parran: "Bibliographie d'Alexandre Dumas," p. 44.

         English Translations :—
     "Captain Pamphile," New York, Winchester, 1850, translated by J. Herald.
     "The Adventures of Captain Pamphile" ; London, Methuen, 1904, sewed ; same firm, an edition with coloured plates by Frank Adams, 1905, cloth. (These two editions and the following also include "Delaporte's Little Presents.")
     Reprinted, same firm, 18mo., 1922, pp. 232.
     Several of the animal stories from this work were used by Andrew Lang for his "Animal Story Book" ; London, Longmans, 1896.

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