Obrazy na stronie

Quarante Cinq, the Memoirs go far toward convincing him that the hand that wrote them was the master hand that moulded the great romances by which the name and fame of Dumas endure. The verve, the invention, the sprightliness, the ease and raciness of dialogue, are unmistakable. Even the very blunders, exaggerations, and misrepresentations carry conviction. In the composition of these Memoirs Dumas was no more conscientious on the score of historical accuracy than he was in the construction of his romances. He was always ready to "play ducks and drakes" with facts, and when he tells of a probably apocryphal conversation between his father and General Napoleon Bonaparte he adds to the cold-blooded method of Livy a riotous invention that is all his own. Yet, as has been said, these very extravagances have a sweeping significance. They tend utterly to confound the charges of his enemies that he always received the credit that should have gone to his collaborators. There is no occasion to question the sound justice of the terms "Dumas Legion" and "Dumas et Cie," or to doubt that in later life Dumas put his name quite unscrupulously to a few hundred volumes with the writing of which he had absolutely nothing to do. But with the really great novels it is another matter. The spirit of these is reflected in the Memoirs as much as it is remote from any of the writings of Auguste Maquet, who in 1856 and again in 1858 brought forward a claim to the right to be declared fellow-author of eighteen of the most famous Dumas romances. Undoubtedly Maquet did something. There seems to be no question that it was to his idea that we owe the chapters of M. De Monte Cristo dealing with Marseilles and the Chateau d'If. Dumas had begun the book with the scenes describing the carnival at Rome. Beyond this Maquet made "researches." As Mr. Andrew Lang has pointed out, perhaps he discovered that Newcastle is on the Tweed and that the Scottish army of Charles the First largely consisted of Highlanders. Perhaps he suggested that Charles might wish to hear a mass on the eve of his execution. Perhaps at times he even blocked out a chapter which Dumas out of sheer indolence left standing like that dismal chapter describing Charles the Second at Blois in the beginning of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne.

The story of the birth and heritage of Dumas is an old story now, so old that its repetition is pardonable only on the ground that the clearest comprehension of it is necessary in approaching the Memoirs. In 1760, Dumas's paternal grandfather, Antoine Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, sold his property in France, and went to establish himself in the island of San Domingo. There he took to live with him a fullblooded negress by the name of Louise-Cessette Dumas. Whether there

was a marriage or not is doubtful, but of the union was born, in March, 1762, Thomas Alexandre Dumas, the father of the novelist, who, at the age of eighteen, went to France and enlisted in the Queen's Guards. Many tales are told of this mulatto's courage and physical prowess. He seems to have been a kind of dark-skinned Porthos, with a good deal of the giant musketeer's naïveté, obstinacy and directness of character. It was said of him that he could lift a horse by gripping the animal between his knees and seizing a beam overhead with his hands. On one occasion he was charging at the head of his regiment when the way was blocked by a wall. One by one he threw his men over the wall and then climbed it himself. He served with distinction during the wars following the Revolution, rising to the rank of General. In 1792 he married the daughter of an inn-keeper at Villers-Cotterets, and after a few months of quiet life, left his home for another period of tempestuous years. Of his career between 1793 and 1801, the first volume of the Memoirs narrates a thousand anecdotes. He served in the Pyrenees, the Alps, Italy and Austria. It was Bonaparte himself who, upon receiving General Dumas after his heroic conduct at the Bridge of Clausen, gave him the title of the "Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol." Later, in Egypt, the First Consul and his General fell out, and Dumas's career as a soldier came to an end. He returned to France, settled down at VillersCotterets and at the age of forty, when his son was but a child, died, leaving his widow in straitened circumstances. Madame Dumas went to live with her father and mother, taking her children with her. All the details of these years and the years immediately following are narrated at length in the Memoirs. The most trivial episode, a fishing trip, a new book, a village crime, is developed into an entire chapter. Of more importance are the pages dealing with the boy's impressions of political events. Napoleon, after his return from Elba, passed through Villers-Cotterets on his way to Ligny and Waterloo.

He was to set off from Paris at three o'clock in the morning; so he should pass through Villers-Cotterets about seven or eight o'clock.

At six o'clock I was waiting at the end of the Rue de Largny with the most able-bodied portion of the population, namely, those who could run as fast as the imperial carriages. But really the best way to see Napoleon would be where the relays were to be changed, and not as he drove by.

I realized this, and, as soon as I caught sight of the dust of the first horses,

a quarter of a league away, I set off for the posting-house.

As I approached, I heard the rumble of wheels behind me coming nearer. I reached the posting-house, and on turning round I saw the three carriages flying over the pavement like a turbulent stream, the horses dripping with sweat, their postilions got up in fine style, powdered and beribboned. Everybody rushed for the emperor's carriage, and naturally I was of the foremost.

He was seated at the back, on the right, dressed in a green uniform with white facings, and he wore the star of the Legion of Honor.

His face was pale and sickly-looking, as though his head had been clumsily carved out of a block of ivory, and it was bent slightly forward on his chest; his brother Jerome was seated on his left; and the aide-de-camp, Letort, was opposite Jerome, on the front seat.

He lifted his head, looked round him, and asked: "Where are we?"

"At Villers-Cotterets, sire," some one replied.

"Six leagues from Soissons, then," he answered.

Ten days later brought to the little village the story of the débâcle. At this time young Dumas was thirteen years of age. On account of the poverty of the family, his mother had destined him for the priesthood. But, to quote Andrew Lang again, Dumas had nothing of Aramis, except his amorousness, and ran away into a local forest, rather than take the first educational step toward the ecclesiastical profession. After this his education was unsystematic, though in a measure an education that went far toward equipping him for his career. Before he was eighteen he went into a solicitor's office, but, finding the work hardly to his liking, deserted his post, and in company with a friend made his way to Paris. The first few years in the great city were precarious ones. He had already builded fine day-dreams of stage triumphs, but while waiting for the realization he eked out an existence by various clerkships. His first literary work bringing remuneration was the writing of verses to accompany pictures; a task which, about the same period, was being dignified by the example of Mr. Arthur Pendennis. Meanwhile he was writing industriously on his plays and his triumph came with the literary revolution of 1830. With Hugo, Gautier and Alfred De Musset, he was in the thick of the fray. Henri III and Christine made him one of the most prominent figures in Paris, and, in cultivating this position, his abundant vanity led him to extremes which far surpassed the red waistcoats of Gautier.

From this point on the Memoirs become a series of pictures devoted to his own glorification and to his impressions of his contemporaries. In a writer of less clarity it would be positive chaos. The story of a single play, such as Antony-the birth of the seed idea, the development of the plot, the rehearsals, the misunderstandings with actresses and with managers-is spread over two or three volumes. Above all, there is everywhere the breath of characteristic indiscretion-the indiscretion of a great, generous, unmoral and inordinately vain baby. Beyond the genius, the Memoirs show you prophetically the figure of the Dumas of twenty-five years later, fiddling in a Paris restaurant, in order to hold a little longer the attention of a thoroughly sated public. Arthur Bartlett Maurice.


THERE are some interesting points of contrast and of resemblance between Mr. Hueffer's England and the English and Mr. Howells's London Films. Each author is frankly impressionistic and each is very anxious that the reader should not mistake an account of personal states of emotion for a statement of fact. Accordingly each warns the reader at many points that the significance of the picture is matter for personal interpretation. But the literary purpose of Mr. Hueffer is so strong that he cannot help finding the significant at every turn. Like most recent writers of national description, he is bound to see something symbolical or infinitely characteristic in nearly everything that befalls him. Riding into London on the top of an electric van he sees a steam crane at work on an upper story of a building.

The thin arm stretched out above the street, spidery and black against a mistiness that was half sky, half haze; at the end of a long chain there hung diagonally some baulks of wood turning slowly in mid air. They were rising imperceptibly, we approaching imperceptibly. A puff of smoke shot out, writhed very white, melted and vanished between the house fronts. We glided up to and past it. Looking back I could see down the reverse of the long perspective baulks of timber turning a little closer to the side of the building, the thin extended arm of the crane a little more foreshortend against the haze. Then the outlines grew tremulous, it all vanished with a touch of that pathos like a hunger that attaches to all things of which we see the beginnings or middle courses without knowing the ends. It was impressive enough-the Modern Spirit expressing itself in terms not of men but of forces. We gliding by, the timbers swinging up without any visible human action beneath their motion. No doubt men were at work in the enginebelly of the crane, just as others were very far away among the dynamos that kept us moving. But they were sweating invisible. That too is the Modern Spirit: great organizations run by men as impersonal as the atoms of our own frames, noiseless and to all appearances infallible.

This illustrates, by the way, certain qualities of Mr. Hueffer's styleits verbal superabundance, its insistence on effect and above all its concern with the "Modern Spirit" which typifies itself very obligingly and appears in capital letters on many pages of the book.

Mr. Howells finds aristocracy typified in one of the regular spaces enclosed by low iron barriers in Hyde Park where of a Sunday afternoon very distinguished-looking people whom he felt to be of the highest social value are to be seen.

There was especially one enclosure which seemed consecrated to the highest comers; it was not necessary that they should make the others feel that they were not wanted there; the others felt it of themselves and did not attempt to enter that especial fairy ring, or fairy triangle. . . . Not only the women old and young had the aristocratic air which is not aggressive, the patrician bearing 'England and the English. By Ford Maddox Hueffer. New York: McClure, Phillips and Company.

London Films. By William Dean Howells. New York: Harper and Brothers.

which is passive and not active and which in the English seems consistent with so much that is human and kindly. . . . The spectacle is a condition of that old secure society which we have not yet lived long enough to have known and which we very probably never shall know. Such civilization as we have will continue to be public and impersonal like our politics, and our society in its specific events will remain within walls. It could not manifest itself outside without being questioned, challenged, denied; and upon reflection there might appear reasons why it is well so.

But this is the exception with Mr. Howells. Older than Mr. Hueffer by some forty years he has his lust for the deeply significant under better control. Race traits and the Modern Spirit and the genius of a nation do not buttonhole him on every corner. Indeed he would probably have been embarrassed by the large matters which England told Mr. Hueffer in a burst of confidence. His book is not, like Mr. Hueffer's, “an interpretation," but a very small beer chronicle of a brief London visit varied by some short railway journeys in search of American origins. He tells of the slow London spring, and the delicate greens of the English foliage, and his quest for lodgings and how he liked them when he found them, and the English complexion, and what the women wore, and a day at Hampton Court and a day at Henley, and some poor people he saw, and some polite, and some very dull conversation he overheard.

How should a young couple on an omnibus-top imagine that a stranger in the seat opposite could not help overhearing the tender dialogue in which they renewed their love after some previous falling out:

"But I was hurt, Will, dear."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, dear."

"I know, Will, dear."

"But it's all right now, dear?"

"Oh, yes, Will, dear."

Could anything be sweeter? I am ashamed to set it down; it ought to be sacred; and nothing but my zeal in these social studies could make me profane it.

Whatever may be the social value of this anecdote, no "zeal in social studies" can account for the details of this volume. They must be very exact, these details, for no man's fancy would be at so sad a business as inventing them. But, as we all know, life to Mr. Howells is a very democratic affair and one event is as good as another, and those of us who read his novels will always maintain that it is more exciting to follow one of his women while she buys a hat than most heroes through a single combat. He has too often disproved the triviality of common things for us to blame his choice of subject. But the details of London Films remain details from beginning to end, and the question that arises

« PoprzedniaDalej »