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ALEXANDRE DUMAS

HIS LIFE AND WORKS



ALEXANDRE DUMAS

(pere)

HIS LIFE AND
WORKS



By
ARTHUR F. DAVIDSON, M.A

(Formerly Scholar of Keble College, Oxford)



"Vastus animus immoderata, incredibilia,
Nimis alta semper cupiebat."

(SALLUST, Catilina V)



PHILADELPHIA
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

WESTMINSTER : ARCHIBALD CONSTABLE & CO LTD

1902



BUTLER & TANNER,

THE SELWOOD PRINTING WORKS,

FROME, AND LONDON.



?



Preface

IT may be to be exact, it is a somewhat presumptuous
thing to write a book and call it Alexandre Dumas.
There is no question here of introducing an unknown man
or discovering an unrecognized genius. Dumas is, and has
been for the better part of a century, the property of all the
world : there can be little new to say about one of whom
so much has already been said. Remembering also, as I do,
a dictum by one of our best known men of letters to the
effect that the adequate biographer of Dumas neither is nor
is likely to be, I accept the saying at this moment with all
the unfeigned humility which experience entitles me to
claim. My own belief on this point is that, if we could
conceive a writer who combined in himself the anecdotal
facility of Suetonius or Saint Simon, with the loaded
brevity of Tacitus and the judicial irony of Gibbon, such
an one might essay the task with a reasonable prospect of
success though, after all, the probability is that he would
be quite out of sympathy with Dumas. However that be,
I console myself by reflecting that to adapt a familiar
Dumas story il y a des degres, and by hoping that, in the
scale of degrees, this book may not be at the very lowest.

Then, there is or there was, on the 24th of July in this
year the centenary of Dumas' birth. Centenaries threaten
to become a nuisance, nor is there any particular reason why

vii



PREFACE

a man should be more worthy of notice at a hundred years
from his birth than at ninety-nine or a hundred and one.
Still the excuse will serve for a reason : a century is, no
doubt, a good number, and demands like Sydney Smith's
Equator to be treated with all possible respect.

And so, after a fairly extensive study, during the last
fifteen years, of Dumas and whatever has been written about
him, it seemed to me that there was room for a co-ordination
of facts which might represent, in justly balanced proportion,
and with some pretence of accuracy, both the life of the
man and the work of the author. Considering the number
and variety of opinions, my object might be expressed I
use the words with all reverence as " iva eTriyvq)? jrepl wv
K&rfftQvfi \6ya)v rrjv acrfyakeiav"

In attempting this I make no apology for the amount of
space which I have given to literature dramas, novels, and
the rest. Dumas lived writing, and writing lived : that
was his incessant occupation, to a degree perhaps unparal-
leled. It would be ridiculous to relegate all this to a sec-
ondary place, simply to make room for a larger collection
of the curiosities of private life though no one will find
that anecdotes have been neglected. To his dramatic work,
though it may not be of such general interest, I have as-
signed a prominent position for reasons which I have made
clear in the book ; and I have not hesitated, even at the
cost of re-telling an old tale, to try and give a reasoned
resume of all the familiar romances. Without for a moment
wishing these pages to be considered as an " appreciation "
that word of harsh and arrogant import I should be
proud to think that they possessed some of the qualities
of a history. To theorize has not been a primary intention
that has been amply done already. Some views or con-
clusions are, however, inevitably linked with facts ; and in

viii



PREFACE

choosing these I have been guided partly by the authority
of others, partly by my own judgment.

But, while recognizing that the life of Dumas must be
before all things the life of a literary man, I have been care-
ful to attach to this string all the principal events of a career
redundant with every kind of interest ; so that, on the
whole, if a separate computation should be made, it would
probably be found that the doings and the writings the life
and the work divide this book pretty evenly between them.
In such a case with a vast mass of material and the ne-
cessity of reducing from a larger to a smaller scale the
question is one of method and proportion, if one seeks some-
thing complete within its own limits. I say " its limits,"
because none but a simpleton or an impostor would think
to measure the length and breadth of Alexandre Dumas
within the compass of one moderate volume. Any one, out
of half a dozen aspects of the man, supplies material for a
book as large as this. And, in fact, the various French
works concerning Dumas have all confined themselves to
some particular side of his talent or some particular period
of his life : there does not exist in his own country any
comprehensive and continuous work biographical and
literary such as this is intended approximately to be. I
have been bound, therefore, in the process of selection, to
leave out things which some would wish inserted, and to
insert what some would think might be omitted, guided only
by my own very fallible judgment.

I have in view of the ground to be covered divided the
work into large sections or chapters (largeness seems appro-
priate when dealing with Dumas), with commonplace titles,
which roughly indicate the nature of their contents. The
order followed is, as a rule, chronological, though in one or
two instances it has been slightly varied, for the sake of

ix



PREFACE

grouping. In such cases and passim an abundant supply
of dates will, I hope, prevent any confusion. In describing
the life of Dumas, it goes without saying that I have not
scrupled, whenever the occasion required, to call a spade by
its simple name rather than by any out-worn euphemism.
I have employed notes partly to save the text, partly for
other reasons, which will appear to those who read them. I
have arranged a bibliography based as to certain details
on the recognized authorities Querard, Parran, d'Heilly,
and especially M. Charles Glinel, for the benefit of all whom
such things interest ; and the number of Dumas' collabora-
tors may be reckoned up by any one with a turn for ele-
mentary arithmetic. I have added also an index, which,
without being strictly scientific, may be of some general
utility.

Of the French authorities enumerated in Appendix II
the majority of whom I have consulted at first hand
none is more valuable than M. GlineFs book, to which, for
its bibliographical research and its chronological data, every
student of Dumas must be infinitely indebted. The works
of Blaze de Bury, Philibert Audebrand, Gabriel Ferry, and
M. Parigot's two books are all very useful on special points.
Dumas himself duly checked by reference to other authorities
is and remains the chief source of information about Dumas,
in details which are scattered broadcast through the multitude
of his writings. And here I may observe, in passing, that
whenever the narrative comes from him I have tried amid
all the pressure of condensation to preserve the spirit and
style of the original, feeling that to do aught else would be
at once a treachery to the best of raconteurs and an insult
to one's readers.

As to other documents on the subject, we all of us know
people who met Dumas in the flesh and have somewhat to

x



PREFACE

say about him though it would seem a fatuous thing to
parade private sources of information in the case of a man
about whom everything worth knowing has been known,
or knowable, for a good many years past. Of secondary
authorities for I consider, of course, the French as primary
I have not attempted to compile a list of those who have
written about Dumas in our language, but I am conscious
of having read, at one time or other, any number of articles
in English and American magazines. There is also Mr.
Percy Fitzgerald's book, The Life and Adventures of Alex-
andre Dumas. Several English writers have been quoted or
referred to in the course of the following pages. Thackeray,
Abraham Hay ward, R. L. Stevenson, in the past ; in the
present, Mr. W. E. Henley (Views and Reviews), Mr. Andrew
Lang (Essays in Little and elsewhere), Mr. W. H. Pollock,
Professor Saintsbury are names which occur at random ;
and if there be any other eminent men whom I ought to
mention, I crave pardon for the momentary forget fulness
and express my gratitude for any good things I may have
unconsciously absorbed from them. 1 Such names are suffi-
cient, at any rate, to show that appreciation of Dumas is
not solely or necessarily the mark of the literary plebeian,
as some would arrogantly have us believe. In no country
has he been more steadily esteemed than in England. In
France it may be that at present the young compose the
bulk of his readers : here in spite of, or because of, our
slower temperament all ages still resort to him by way of
refuge or relaxation. To the people he will always appeal
first ; but besides the great People, we have good ground
for believing unless report speak false that princes,

1 I should add Mr. Brander Matthews' essay on Dumas in French
Dramatists of the Nineteenth Century, which read many years ago
first sent me to the plays of Dumas.

XI



PREFACE

premiers, and prelates have been known to shirk or
solace the cares of State and Church in the imaginative
pages of Monte Cristo and Les Trois Mousquetaires. " Pos-
terity for me," said Dumas, " begins at the frontier " ; it
is pleasant to think that England forms no inconsiderable
part of that frontier.

A. F. D.



XII



Contents



PAGE

PREFACE vii

CHAPTER I
THE BOY (1802-1818) i

CHAPTER II
THE YOUTH (1818-1824) 29

CHAPTER III
STUDY AND EFFORT (1824-1828) 51

CHAPTER IV
HENRI III" AND "CHRISTINE" (1828-1830) .... 76

CHAPTER V
A POLITICAL INTERLUDE (1830-1832) no

CHAPTER VI
L'HoMME DE THEATRE (1831-1843) 147

CHAPTER VII
IN PARIS AND ABROAD (1832-1843) 184

CHAPTER VIII
THE GREAT NOVELS (1843-1853) 216

CHAPTER IX

THE MONTE CRISTO EPOCH (1843-1851) ..... 257

xiii



CONTENTS

f.\QK

CHAPTER X

THE STRUGGLE TO RETRIEVE (1852-1864) . 297

CHAPTER XI

THE ENDING OF THE DAY (1864-1870) . 33 r

CHAPTER XII

THE REAL DUMAS AND OTHERS ... . 359

APPENDIX I. Bibliography ... 35

(includes) A. Plays .386

B. Fiction ..... 393

C. Historical Works 4 02

D. Works of Travel 44

E. Miscellaneous Works (sketches, cause ries, etc.) . 405

F. Historical Novels in sequence of Time . . 409

APPENDIX II. French Authorities on Alexandre Dumas . . 414

INDEX .... 419



xiv



List of Illustrations



To face page
MEDALLION OF ALEXANDRE DUMAS AT THE AGE OF 27 YEARS

BY DAVID, OF ANGERS 76

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A LITHOGRAPH FROM NATURE BY

LEON NOEL PUBLISHED IN "L'ARTISTE" . . . . no

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A DRAWING FROM NATURE BY

MAURI 129

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A CARICATURE BY NADAR . . 147
ALEXANDRIA DUMAS FROM A CARICATURE BY ETIENNE CARJAT

IN "DlOGENE" 2l6

ALEXANDRE DUMAS THE GIANT FROM A CARICATURE BY H.

MEYER 257

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A DRAWING BY CARLO GRIPP . . 273

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A CARICATURE BY ANCOURT IN " LE
BOUFFON" . 281

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A CARICATURE BY CHAM. . . 289
ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM A CARICATURE BY G. CHANOINE 297

ALEXANDRE DUMAS AT THE AGE OF 60 YEARS, FROM AN

ETCHING BY RAJON 313

ALEXANDRE DUMAS FROM AN OIL PAINTING IN THE POSSES-
SION OF MADAME ALEXANDRE DUMAS FILS AT MARLY-
LE-Roi 331



The Illustrations in this volume are taken, by permission, from

"ALEXANDRE DUMAS EN IMAGES."

XV



CHAPTER I

THE BOY

(1802-1818)

THE name Dumas is neither rare nor undistinguished in
France. There was a Doctor of the Sorbonne,
Hilaire Dumas, a learned theologian ; there was Louis
Dumas, a writer on the theory of music, and tutor to the
Marquis de Montcalm ; there was Rene Francois Dumas,
assessor of Fouquier-Tinville, and his equal in ferocity ;
there was Count Mathieu Dumas, who filled important
military offices under the Republic and the Empire, origin-
ated the idea of the Legion of Honour, and wrote a history
of Napoleon's campaigns. And there were some fifty others.
Among them, contemporary with our own Alexandre, there
lived an Adolphe Dumas, destined by rather unkind fortune
to be also something of a poet and dramatist. Of him it is
said that, having had a play of his produced at the Theatre
Frangais, and happening to meet Alexandre in the foyer
that evening, he exclaimed with a natural complacency,
" Hitherto the Franais has had its two Corneilles, hence-
forth it will have its two Dumas." " Quite true," replied
the author of The Musketeers, " and you have my best
wishes for your success, Thomas." To which with apolo-
gies for explaining the obvious it may be added that the
name of the great Corneille was Pierre, that of his brother
Thomas.

I B



THE LIFE OF DUMAS

With none, however, of these other families was our Dumas
connected : he was, in fact, only the second bearer of a
name assumed under circumstances which require a brief
genealogical notice. The Marquis (or Count, as some will
have it) de la Pailleterie Antoine Alexandre Davy de la
Pailleterie, to give him his full style represented one
branch of an ancient Norman family. About 1760 this
nobleman, who had held various positions at Court whether
from falling into disfavour, or from motives of speculation,
or from mere ennui exchanged Versailles for St. Domingo,
where he purchased an estate, and took unto himself a
native woman, by name Marie Cessette Dumas. Of this
union 1 a son was born, Thomas Alexandre Davy de la
Pailleterie. Eighteen years elapsed, the mother died, and
the Marquis returned to Paris, accompanied by his son.
The young man a fine specimen of tropical growth now
transplanted to the centre of things was ready for all the
attractions of Paris life. But there were two obstacles in
his way. The exclusive society of pre-Re volution France
regarded with coolness one who was so very distinctly an
homme de couleur ; and the Marquis, his paternal instincts
perhaps blunted by a similar prejudice, displaying at any
rate the common virtue of economy at the expense of others,
was none too kind or too liberal of his money. Hence un-
pleasant relations, increased by the old man's second mar-
riage, and ending in an open rupture. " And so my father "
(for we are speaking now of the famous father of a famous
son), " resolving to carve his fortune with his sword, en-

1 The question of a marriage ceremony or not is improvable and
profitless ; but, as between a French aristocrat and a negress it is
very unlikely. Moreover the action of the General in parting
from his father, and enlisting under his mother's name, seems to
show that he was aware that he had no claim to the title of the
Marquis:



THE BOY

listed in what was then (1786) ' The Queen's Dragoons.' "
The Marquis had stipulated only that his aristocratic name
should not be borne by a common private ; and therefore
the young soldier, assuming his mother's name, enrolled
himself simply as Alexandre Dumas. Very soon afterwards
the Marquis died, " as became an old nobleman who did not
care to see the fall of the Bastille." With him the " Mar-
quisate " 1 became practically extinct, and though the arms
(three eagles) and the title submerged in the Revolution
were fifty years later claimed by the novelist, and used by
him in official designations, they had obviously only a
burlesque value at a time when all the world had become
familiar with the name of Alexandre Dumas.

To return to the first bearer of the name. He had en-
listed at an opportune moment. No sooner did the war of
the Revolution break out than promotion followed upon
merit with a rapidity unequalled, or equalled only by other
instances of that same period. He was still a private at the
end of 1791 ; by September 1793 he had risen to be General
Dumas commanding the " Army of the Western Pyrenees."
Meanwhile he had (in November 1792) married Marie Elisa-
beth Louise Labouret, daughter of the proprietor of the
Hotel de p6cu at Villers-Cotterets, whose acquaintance he
had made when stationed on garrison duty in that town.
To describe from this point the exploits of " my father "
would be an attractive and inspiring task. Dumas devotes
more than a half of the first volume of his Memoirs to a story

1 There has been much disputation on the subject of this Mar-
quisate. The fact seems to be that the Seigneur de la Pailleterie,
father of Antoine Alexandre, had on some occasion claimed and
assumed the style of Marquis, which he was allowed to retain as a
courtesy title, although no territorial Marquisate existed. The
title therefore of Dumas' grandfather as Marquis de la Pailleterie
was quite valid.



THE LIFE OF DUMAS

which is hardly less romantic than one of his own romances.
The merest outline must here suffice to show what manner
of man was General Dumas.

To begin with, he was dark very dark as was natural
to his origin ; supple and well knit of figure, of prodigious
strength, a swarthy Hercules, for whom it was a common-
place event to remove a big gate from its hinges, to raise a
heavy gun on a couple of fingers, to lift a comrade by the
seat of his breeches and fling him over a wall, and to perform
many other feats which might draw an envious groan from
the strongest of professional " strong men." In character
ardent and generous, quick to resent and to forgive, the kind
of man who upon the least affront was always sending in
his resignation, were it not for a prudent aide-de-camp who
suppressed these documents till his superioi had cooled
down : a patriot, like most of the Republican Generals, as
well as a soldier, sincerely demoted to the Revolution, but
detesting its cruelties. Sent into La Vendee, he frankly con-
demned the brutality and indiscipline of the Government's
troops. His merciful disposition made him abhor the con-
stant executions which the civil power deemed necessary.
" Take away that ugly machine," he said, pointing to the
guillotine, " and break it up for firewood." The crowd
hooted outside his windows, and jeered him as " Monsieur
de Fhumanit6." Being transferred to the Army of the Alps,
by his brilliant capture of Mont Cenis he redeemed, in the
eyes of Robespierre, Collot d'Herbois and the rest, an excess
of humanity otherwise fatal. We find him a little later
under Joubert in the Tyrol, commanding the cavalry. Here,
heroically defending the bridge of Clausen against the
Austrians, he was called agreeably with the classic nomen-
clature of the day" The Horatius Codes of the Tyrol."
" Send me Dumas," said Bonaparte to Joubert, when fresh

4



THE BOY

from the triumphs of his Italian campaign he wanted to
form some cavalry regiments. But Bonaparte and Dumas
were antipathetic from the first. The latter naturally fell
into the background like many others reduced by the turn
of events to be merely divisional generals from being gen-
erals-in-chief. A period of retirement and residence at
Villers-Cotterets followed. Then came the great Egyptian
expedition, and the General, chafing at inaction, welcomed
the chance of service even in a subordinate capacity. At
Toulon, before starting, Bonaparte and he seem for a moment
to have been on the most friendly terms. At any rate they
made a compact, Josephine being present, that whichever
of the two should first be blessed with a son, the other should
stand godfather. So near did Alexander the Great come to
being godson of Napoleon the Great. But Egypt upset that
arrangement, amongst others. For it was in Egypt that the
personal ambition of Bonaparte became clear to his generals,
who, amid the hardships of the desert, unrelieved by the
barren victory of the Pyramids, began to ask one another,
' To what end is all this ? " General Dumas, too impulsive
or too patriotic to hide his sentiments, was regarded as the
source of disaffection. As the result of an angry scene, in
which Bonaparte behaved with the ill-bred violence usual
to him on such occasions, Dumas requested and obtained
leave to return to France at the earliest opportunity. He
did not go, however, before he had distinguished himself by
quelling a formidable revolt in Cairo his last chance as it
proved of active service ; for on the voyage back, being
driven by storm to put in at Tarentum, he fell into the hands
of the Bourbon Government of Naples. Animated by a
natural hatred of the French Republic, this Government
seized him and his companions and locked them up in the
Castle of Tarentum, authorizing the Governor to make

5



THE LIFE OF DUMAS

judicious experiments in the effect of various poisons.
General Dumas survived this imprisonment, which lasted
from March 1799 to April 1801, but he emerged fatally
injured in health, and feeling the first symptoms of an
internal cancer which eventually carried him off. Much
had happened during the two years' captivity. Napoleon
had overthrown the Directory, and as First Consul had again
wrested Italy from the Austrians. The Neapolitan Govern-
ment had been made to pay a heavy indemnity for its
treatment of French prisoners, but our General was not
among the sharers in this sum of money. His son ascribes
this and subsequent neglect to Napoleon's deliberate inten-
tion of punishing one whose opposition in Egypt had stung
him to the quick : it is safe at any rate to assert that the
First Consul had sufficient other business on hand to trouble
himself little about a man whom he had either forgotten or
remembered only with dislike. And so this brave soldier
returned home to Villers-Cotterets to live with his wife, on
a modest retiring pension of 160. The couple had already
had one child a daughter, Aimee Alexandrine Dumas, 1
now eight years old. About a twelvemonth after the
General's return their second child was born a son, named
after his father, Alexandre Dumas. The General's health
grew steadily worse as the fatal disease advanced. He made
several fruitless efforts, personally and through friends, to
obtain either a share of the indemnity or his arrears of pay
due for the period of his captivity ; and he died early in
1806, at the age of forty-four, worn out by pain and dis-
appointment. Thus much at least of tribute is due to the
memory of the first, and essentially the most admirable of
the three men who have borne the name of Alexandre

1 She married Monsieur Victor Letellier, an official in the Revenue
Department.

6



THE BOY

Dumas. He was one of those who do the things which others
write about, a simple heroic figure fairly to be classed with
Hoche and Marceau, Joubert and Kleber like him men
whose fortune was unequal to their merit, men of single
purpose, brave deeds, and early death. Some few of his
characteristics will appear to have been inherited by his son.:
Let us return now to the son. " I was born on July 24,
1802, at Villers-Cotterets, a small town in the department
of Aisne, two leagues from Ferte-Milon, the birthplace of Ra-
cine, and seven from Chateau-Thierry, that of La Fontaine."
In these words Dumas announces the date and place of his
birth, as well as the literary tone of his natal air. Of Villers-
Cotterets itself nothing has to be said except that it is a
placid little country town, about forty miles from Paris, on
the high road to the Belgian frontier, the nearest place of
any size being Soissons. Its fine castle, built by Francis I,
and for generations an appanage of the Orleans family, had
degenerated into a depot de mendicite ; its magnificent forest
was cut down by Louis Philippe, who valued cash more than
sentiment. As against these departed glories Villers-
Cotterets has the honour of being the birthplace of Alexandre
Dumas. The house in which he was born stood in the then
Rue de Lormet ; since 1872 the street has been called Rue
Alexandre Dumas. The little house, No. 54, is or was
till quite recently still standing, though it has many times
changed owners and occupiers. Among the oldest of the
father's friends was General Brune, and to him General
Dumas wrote announcing the birth of his son, and asking
him to be godfather. Brune begged to be excused on the
ground that he had already filled that position five times
and on each occasion his godchild had died. Eventually,
according to Dumas' account, he yielded to pressure, and
(by proxy) stood godfather to the infant, the other sponsor,

7



THE LIFE OF DUMAS

according to French custom, being the child's sister. As



Online LibraryArthur Fitzwilliam DavidsonAlexandre Dumas (père) his life and works → online text (page 1 of 33)