The Dramas of the Elder Dumas

“ THERE is in everything a maturity which must be waited for,” says Chamfort; “ happy the man who arrives at the moment of this maturity.” At the end of the first quarter of this century, it was evident to any one in France who had eyes to see that the time was ripe for a new growth in the drama. In French tragedy as it then was, all that one could hear was the empty echo of a hollow past. Elsewhere in literature and art there was the murmur of new life: in prose fiction and in poetry there had been a new birth; and even on the stage there were signs of the coming of new blood. The national vaudeville had been renewed by Eugène Scribe, who had stamped it with his image and superscription ; while Pixérécourt and Victor Ducange had made themselves masters of melodrama, imported from Germany, and were using it to wring all hearts at will. Even in the classic Théâtre Français two or three daring attempts had been made to break the cast-iron rigor of the so-called unities. In 1827 a company of English actors, headed by Kean, Charles Kemble, Young, and Macready, crossed the Channel to act in Paris. At the end of the year after the English tragedians had gone, Victor Hugo published his unacted and unactable Cromwell, with a preface laying down theories of dramatic art so iconoclastic as to seem almost impious to those who had grown up under the influence of the accepted perversion of Aristotle’s precepts. The chief of Hugo’s declarations was that the drama should be a reflection of life in its mingling of the tragic and the comic, the terrible and the grotesque. To the French Classicists of nearly sixty years ago this dictum was inexpressibly shocking. Like all reformers, Hugo pushed his argument too far and too strenuously, but essentially it is not one to be disputed now. In Hugo’s preface the programme of the Romanticists, as the new school was called, was laid down, and it only remained for them then to give the performance. Hugo himself wrote Marion Delorme, which was not allowed to be acted. The waited-for maturity had come, but another writer was happy enough to arrive before Hugo. On the 11th of February, 1829, a full year before any piece of Hugo’s was played, there was produced at the Théâtre Français a fiveact drama, full of fire and action, called Henri III. et sa Cour, and written by Alexandre Dumas, a young quadroon, who owed to his fine handwriting a place as clerk under the Duke of Orléans, and who had promised himself some day to live by bis pen instead of bis penmanship.

Like Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas was the son of a revolutionary general. His father, the Count Mathieu Dumas, was the son of the Marquis Davy de la Pailleterie. In his characteristically voluminous memoirs Dumas tells us how he spent his early youth in the country, running wild and laying up stores of strength. He seems to have grown up as void of learning as he was of fear. His mother tried to get him to read Corneille and Racine ; he confesses that he was prodigiously bored by them. But one day there came along a cumpany of apprentice actors from the Conservatory, and gave the Hamlet of the good and simple-minded Ducis, with Hamlet acted in imitation of Talma. It made so great an impression on Dumas that when he wrote his memoirs, thirty-two years afterward, he could recall distinctly every detail of the performance. He sent to Paris for the Hamlet of Ducis, and in three days he had the part by heart. He was then not sixteen years old. Two or three years later he had the pleasure of seeing Talma as Sylla, and was introduced to him as a young man who aspired to be a dramatist. Talma greeted him so kindly that he was emboldened to ask the great actor to lay hands on him in consecration, as it were, and to bring him luck in his vocation. “ So be it,” said Talma, laying his hand on the youth’s head. “ Alexandre Dumas, I baptize you poet, in the name of Shakespeare, of Corneille, and of Schiller ! ” When Dumas was twenty years of age he and his mother came up to Paris, and he got himself a clerkship under the Duke of Orléans. Then he took up in earnest the hard trade of a professional play-maker. In the first four years of his life in Paris Dumas succeeded in getting acted three vaudevilles, of no special value, and each written in collaboration with one or two of his comrades, hopeful and struggling youngsters like himself. He made also a tragedy of Fiesque, imitated from Schiller. In 1827 Dumas saw in succession the masterpieces of the English drama performed by English actors. (He had English enough to follow Shakespeare, as he had had German enough to paraphrase Schiller.) Just before the English performances ended, leaving Dumas with new lights and having opened to him new ranges of vision, the Salon set forth its annual show of pictures and sculptures; and here Dumas observed two bas-reliefs, the energy and fineness of which struck him. One was a scene from the Abbot, and the other represented the death of Monaldeschi. Dumas did not know who Monaldeschi was, so he borrowed a biographical dictionary, and there made the acquaintance of Christine of Sweden and of her physician lover; and he began at once to work their story into a five-act tragedy in verse. When it was written, by good luck he got audience of Baron Taylor, the manager of the Théâtre Français, who invited him to read it before the committee of comedians which had the accepting of new plays. Very comic indeed, and very characteristic of the changing condition of the drama just then, was the declaration of the committee that it did not know whether the play was Classic or Romantic. “ What matter?” asked the author. “ Is it good or bad ? ” And the committee did not know that, either. Finally,however, it accepted the piece on condition that it was approved by one of the regular dramatists of the house. So Dumas was forced to leave the play for a week with Picard, the author of the Petite Ville, imitated by Kotzebue. When he went for his answer, Picard asked him if he had any other means of existence than literature; and when Dumas answered that he had a fifteenhundred-franc clerkship under the Duke of Orléans, the withered old dramatist handed back the manuscript of Christine, saying, “ Go to your desk, young man, — go to your desk ! ”

In spite of this chilling criticism, the Comédie Françuise accepted Christine, and put it in rehearsal. But delays arose, and disagreements with Samson according to one account, and with Mademoiselle Mars according to another ; and in a little while Dumas was convinced that Christine would never be acted at the Théâtre Français. In this he was right; and his first drama, like Hugo’s, was brought out after his second. It was perhaps well for Dumas that this was so, for it is a great advantage to begin by hitting the bull’s eye ; and Christine would never have made as striking a success as Henri III. After he was established as a dramatist, Dumas remodeled Christine, and from a quasi-classic tragedy it became a frankly romantic “ trilogy in five acts, with prologue and epilogue,” with changes of scene to justify the new sub-title, Stockholm, Fontainebleau, and Rome, and with the introduction even of a wholly new and important character, Paula. As the original version is no longer before us, criticism is impossible : no doubt it was tamer in movement and duller in color than the play as we have it; no doubt it was a somewhat timid attempt at Romanticism; even in the revised version it is not one of Dumas’s best. The verse in which it is written is verse ; it is not poetry. Dumas, although not exactly constrained in writing Alexandrines, never handles them with the assured ease of a master. Though he bends the metre to obey him, the result is good journeyman verse-making. — nothing more; and there is never the burst of lyric fervor which sometimes makes Hugo’s lines sing themselves into the memory.

Dumas threw off the shackles of metre when he began to write his second drama, Henri III. In style too, as well as in speech, it was ampler and more frankly romantic than his first. Since Christine had been originally outlined, Hugo had published the preface to Cromwell, the Romantic revolt had gained great headway, and the time for paltering between the two schools had passed forever. Henri III. showed no hesitation or wavering: it was a bold, not to say brutal, picture of an epoch of history ; it was the first French play in which history was set squarely on the stage, much as Scott had shown it in his novels. And, truth to tell, Scott had his share in the drama, directly as well as indirectly. Dumas had found one suggestion in Anquetil and another in the Mémoires de l’Estoile : combining and developing these hints from the records, he had made the main plot of his play, utilizing for one of its chief situations a scene from Scott’s Abbot, — probably the one represented in the first of the two bas-reliefs mentioned. Dumas also drew on his abandoned version of Schiller’s Fiesco. He has told us that he had studied Schiller and Goethe and Calderon and Lope de Vega, scalpel in hand, seeking to spy out the secret of their skill ; and what wonder was it that a few shreds and fragments of the foreign authors should cling to the end of his knife, and get themselves somehow worked into his model! Made, in a measure, of reminiscences, Henri III. hangs together singularly well, and possesses a unity of its own. Some of the brick and some of the mortar are borrowed without leave, but the finished house is Dumas’s property beyond all question.

The late Alphonse Royer, who was present at the first performance, has recorded that he never again saw such a sight, and that from the third act on, the audience was wild with excitement. The changing scene, and startling situations were followed with breathless interest. The touches of local color, the use of the language and even of the oaths of the time, the ease and grace of the sketch of the king’s court, with the mignons playing cup-and-ball, the life and vigor of the whole drama, charmed and delighted an audience tired with the dignified inanity of the Classicists. The very violence of the action gave a shock of pleasure to the willing spectators. It is to be said, too, that the partisans of the Classicists, not afraid of the first play of an unknown writer, had not assembled to give it battle, as they did a year later when Hernani was brought out; and so Henri III. took them by surprise, and gained the victory before they could rally. And a profitable victory it was for the author. Before writing Henri III. he was a clerk at fifteen hundred francs a year, a little less than six dollars a week. Henri III. had been written in about eight weeks; and in addition to what he received from the Théâtre Français for the right of performance, he sold the copyright for six thousand francs. By two months’ labor of his pen he had gained far more than he could have made in four years by his penmanship.

Taking all things into consideration, one is inclined to call Henri III. Dumas’s best drama. In the long list of his plays, it is not easy to pick out another as simple, as strong, as direct, and as dignified. It has a compressed energy and a certain elevation of manner not found together in any of his other plays. But whether the best of his dramas or not, it is emphatically a very remarkable play to have been written by a young man of twenty-six. It is especially remarkable when we recall that it sprang up from the dust of the Classicist tragedies, and that it was the first flower of Romanticism on the stage. There are many things one might single out for praise : for one, the intuition by which Dumas grasped the cardinal principle of historical fiction, deducing it, perhaps, from the example set by Scott in his novels. This principle prescribes that the chief characters in which the interest of the spectator or the reader is to be excited shall either be wholly the invention of the author, or actual personages so little known that the author may mould or modify them as he please. A transcription of historic fact may then serve as the scaffolding of the story, and real characters may be reproduced to give it solidity and pomp. In other words, history may be stretched for the warp, but fiction must supply the woof. This is what Dumas generally did in His novels ; and it is what he did admirably in Henri III. We see the crafty, courageous, and effeminate Henri III. himself, the resolute, masculine, intriguing Catherine de Medicis, and the stern and rigorous Duke of Guise; and these serve to set off the high and noble heroine and the melancholy and devoted hero, who, although bearing historic names, are in fact truly projections of the dramatist’s imagination.

The story of Henri III. has a purity and a sobriety lacking in most of Dumas’s other plays, yet it yields to none of them in effect, in freedom, or in force. The plot may be told briefly. The weakkneed but quick-witted King Henri III. is under the rule of his mother, Catherine de Medicis, who fears the ascendency gained over him by St. Mégrim, and dreads the growing power in the state of the Duke of Guise. She craftily sets one against the other by fostering the love of St. Mégrim for Catherine of Cleves, wife of the duke, and she contrives an interview between them at an astrologer’s,—an interview innocent enough, even if the speedy coming of the duke had not put to flight the duchess, who leaves behind her a handkerchief, which her husband finds. In the next act the Duke of Guise and St. Mégrim bandy words before the king, who makes St. Mégrim a duke too, that he may fight Guise as his peer; and the combat is fixed for the morrow. But the wily Guise has no desire to die in a duel; so in the third act we see him in full mail armor standing over his wife, grasping her arm with his iron gauntlet, and by physical pain forcing her to write a letter to St. Mégrim, bidding him to her palace that night. In the following act St. Mégrim gets the note; and the king, anxious about the issue of the single combat, the next morning lends St. Mégrim his own special talisman against death by fire or steel. In the last act St. Mégrim comes to the apartment of the duchess to keep his appointment. While the duchess is trying to tell him hastily how she has vainly sought to give warning of the trap in which he is caught, the outer door of the palace clangs to, and the tread of armed men is heard on the stairs. Helpless and unarmed before the danger which draws nearer and nearer, St. Mégrim knows no way to turn ; when suddenly a bundle of rope falls at his feet, thrown through the window by the duchess’ page, who has overheard enough to suspect. The duchess thrusts her arms through the rings of the door in place of the missing staple, to give St. Mégrim time to let himself down to the ground. When the door opens the duke strides in and goes straight to the window. St. Mégrim has fallen among thieves, for Guise’s men are below. He is wounded and bleeding, but not dead. “ Perhaps he has a talisman against fire and steel,” says the Duke of Guise. “ Here, strangle me him with this ! ” and he drops down to his hirelings the handkerchief of his wife which he picked up at the beginning of the play.

This telling of the tale is bare and barren indeed; it hides the good points, while exposing the weak. That the story is of thinner texture at times than one could wish is sufficiently obvious. French and English wits have readily found spots to gird at. In a French parody of the play, the moral was summed up in four lines, which made fair fun of the handkerchief expedient:

“Messieurs et mesdames, cette pièce est morale:
Elle prouve aujourd'hui sans faire de scandale
Que chez un aniant, lorsqu’on va le soir,
On peut oublier tout . . . excepté son mouchoir! ”

And Lord Leveson Gower’s English adaptation, called Catherine of Cleves, gave the author of the Ingoldsby Legends a chance to condense the story in comic verse, and to give it at least one keen hit: —

“ De Guise grasped her wrist
With his great bony fist,
And punched it and gave it so painful a twist
That his hard iron gauntlet the flesh wont an inch in: —
She did not mind death, but she could not stand pinching ! ”

Henri III. et sa Cour is not a play of the highest order, and it has sufficiently obvious blemishes; but it is a strong and stirring drama, and one of the best of its class, of which it was also almost the first. It is a very much better play than Christine, or than Charles VII. chez ses Grands Vassaux, a second attempt in rhymed Alexandrines scarcely more successful than the first. It is a finer play than either of the two dramas he produced in 1831 : of these the first was the frantically immoral and preposterously impossible Antony, which Dumas strangely chose to consider his chief title to immortality ; and the second was Napoléon Bonaparte, which he had cut with a hasty pair of scissors from the many memoirs of the time, and which is more of a panorama than a play. The author had to confess that it made no pretense to be literature, except in so far as a single character gave it value, — the character of a magnanimous and heroic spy, omniscient, ubiquitous, and ever ready to sacrifice himself for Napoleon.

After Henri III., the next of Dumas’s dramas which needs consideration is the Tour de Nesle. This is as remarkable a play as the first; it is a play of the same kind, but more exciting, more terrible, more brutal. The dramatist has given another turn to the screw, and the pressure is more intense. Considered solely by its effect in the theatre, the Tour de Nesle is one of the most powerful plays ever written. The clash of conflicting interests and emotions catches the attention in the first scene and holds it breathless till the last. There is a resistless rush of action: improbabilities so glaring that on other occasions you would cry aloud are here so dexterously veiled and so promptly turned to advantage that you have neither wish nor time to protest; situation presses after situation, each stronger than the other ; a complicated plot, intricate in its convolutions, unrolls itself with the utmost ease and simplicity. The eye is kept awake and the ear alert, and the interest never flags for a moment, from the rising of the curtain to the going down thereof. Then, ah then, with the final pause, there is at last and for the first time a chance for reflection ; one falls to wondering what manner of monster this is which has held one motionless and almost panting for so many hours, and one begins, it may be, to suspect that the drama is either a mass of absurdities or a phantasmagoric nightmare, or both at once. But, whatever it is, and however much sober second thought may find to cavil at, its power, its sheer brute force, is indisputable.

Outcry has been made about the immorality of Henri III. and the Tour de Nesle, surely without reason. Antony is immoral, it is true, shamelessly and grossly immoral, but not Henri III. or the Tour de Nesle. The latter has been termed a tissue of horrors, but Dumas tries to get no sham pathos out of sins he sets forth, and they are not dallied with, or in any way palliated. Dark crimes were frequent enough in the dark days in which the action of the Tour de Nesle is laid. Nor are these crimes so repulsive that they are without the pale of art, as are some of the subjects Calderon treats, for example. The horrible is not necessarily immoral ; rather, if anything, the reverse. The accumulation of sin in the Tour de Nesle is not more horrible than it is in Medea, nor so horrible as in Œdipus. It must be confessed at once that the effect is more revolting in the modern play than in the ancient, because the Greek tragedians were poets, and their later imitators have tried to catch also something of the poetic spirit. But Dumas’s treatment of a similar situation has no touch of poetry ; it is prosaic, baldly prosaic, and so the horrors stand forth in their nakedness. The modern French play may be more shocking, but essentially it is no more immoral, than the old Greek tragedy. After all, morality is an affair not of subject, but of handling; and Dumas’s treatment, while not as austere and ennobling as the Greek, is not insidious or vicious. Except in so far as all over-exciting exhibitions are harmful, I do not believe that any one ever has been injured by the Tour de Nesle, which has been acted in half the theatres of the United States at one time or another during the past half century.

It was with intention that reference was made to Calderon. There is something in the exuberant prodigality of Dumas’s production which recalls the most brilliant days of the Spanish stage. Dumas can stand a comparison with Lope de Vega and Calderon ; it is not altogether to his disadvantage. In the qualities in which they were most eminent, ease and fertility and skill, he was also most abundant. In the vastness of his production he recalls Lope de Vega, but it is perhaps with Calderon rather than Lope de Vega with whom Dumas may be compared, when one considers quality instead of quantity. Dumas lacked the simple faith of Calderon, and Calderon was without the self-consciousness which was so strong in Dumas ; and the points of resemblance are scarcely more than the points of dissimilarity. Archbishop Trench dwells on the technical play-making skill of Calderon, in which Dumas was assuredly his equal, while in fecundity of character, if not of situation, the French dramatist excels the Spaniard. Where Dumas is inferior is in that indescribable quality we call “style.” Calderon, like Victor Hugo, is a playwright doubled with a lyric poet; in the highest sense, neither is a true dramatic poet, as are Shakespeare, Molière, and Schiller. And the distinction between the clever playwright who is also a lyric poet and the true dramatic poet is not at all trivial, even if it seem so. Much as Dumas was like Calderon in ease and abundance and skill, he was far inferior in that he was not a poet, and that he is altogether lacking in elevation.

It was in 1836 that Dumas brought out Don Juan do Marana, or the Fall of an Angel, a mystery in five acts. This is the play which puts us most in mind of Calderon. The story is one which the author of Life is a Dream might well have told, and would have told with a simple sincerity and an honest faith not to be found in Dumas’s drama. The bold use of sacred personages as part of the machinery of the play is more in the style of the pious and priestly Calderon than of a worldling like Dumas. The chief figure is a repetition of the traditional type of Don Juan, accompanied throughout by the good and evil angels of his family striving with each other for his soul. Most of the scenes are on the earth ; though there is one under the earth in a tomb, in which a dead man comes to life for a moment, and another above the earth in the heavens, in which the good angel begs permission of the Virgin Mary to be allowed to go down into the world as a woman, to be more closely united with her beloved Don Juan. In the course of this truly extraordinary production we have duels and deaths by the half dozen, suicides, seductions, elopements, murders, poisonings, ghosts, and spectral visions. Calderon handles elements not unlike these without shocking our moral sense; however extravagant the events in his tale, it is easy to see they have been touched by the magic wand of the poet. Dumas uses a showman’s pointer instead of a poet’s wand, and so, in spite of all effort to moralize, his precious hodge-podge is not exactly edifying.

Don Juan de Marana is one of the pieces against which Thackeray particularly protested in his essay on French Dramas and Melodramas, reprinted in the Paris Sketch-Book. It affected him so unpleasantly, with all his liberality and fondness for freedom, that he cried aloud for government interference and the putting down of such indecent entertainments as this by the stern hand of the law. It is not a little curious that Thackeray, who lost no opportunity of heartily praising Dumas’s novels, has only words of reprobation for his plays. For one thing, it must be remembered that Dumas had not regularly set up as a novelist, with a sign over his door and daily office hours, when the Paris Sketch-Book was written; he was then known only as a dramatist. The charm of the story-teller had not yet disposed Thackeray, whose morality was sturdy and militant, to look with lenity on Dumas’s slipshod ethics. Then, too, Thackeray had not himself a very quick feeling for strength of situation and stage effects in general; and perhaps he was therefore not precisely the critic to appreciate at its full value Dumas’s best quality. Whatever the cause of Thackeray’s lack of liking for Dumas as a dramatist, it is certain that he did not like him, and he showed it plainly in the essay already referred to. Not only does he fall foul of Don Juan de Marana, but he makes fun of some of the rodomontade which fills the preface to Caligula; harmless enough it seems to us now, and not to be taken seriously. Besides Caligula, which failed, Thackeray also dissected, with the finest-edged scalpel of his sarcasm, Kean, a drama the action of which Dumas chose to lay in England. In spite of its success, due no doubt for the most part to the acting of Frédéric Lemaitre, Kean can scarcely be considered a fair specimen of Dumas at his best. The hero is Edmund Kean, most erratic and most miserable of Mother Carey’s chickens ; and Dumas, with a truly Parisian disregard for exact facts, makes Kean indeed a tragedy hero. Thackeray has so thoroughly shown the flimsiness and absurdity of the play that nothing remains to be said.

I have called Don Juan de Marana a hodge-podge, not merely because the drama has no very distinct unity of design, but more particularly because it was compounded of scraps stolen from half a score of authors. The outline of plot and character had been borrowed from Molière, of course, and more especially from Mérimée; and individual incidents had been taken from Goethe, Musset, Scott, Shakespeare, and even “ Monk ” Lewis. It must be confessed at once that this proceeding was not unusual with Dumas, although the plagiarism is rarely as flagrant as here. All through his earlier plays are scattered little bits of Scott and Schiller and Lope de Vega, turned to excellent account and firmly joined to the rest of the work. The prologue of Richard Darlington, for instance, is from Scott’s Chronicles of the Canongate. Generally it was but a hint, a suggestion, an effect, an incident, a situation, which he appropriated. Sometimes, as in the case of Henri III., he borrowed from two or three authors. Sometimes, as in Don Juan de Marana, although the whole play was plainly his own, nearly all the separate scenes could be traced to other writers. Sometimes he even took a play ready-made, and condescended to the vulgar adaptation of which his own plays have only too often been the victims in English. Dean Milman’s Fazio was thus turned into French verse as the Alchimiste. Sometimes, again, only the motive of the action came from outside, and the development was all his own. Racine’s Andromaque furnished the basis of Charles VII., and Dumas boldly braved the comparison by the epigraph on his title-page, Cur non ?

Ben Jonson, as we are told, once dreamed that he saw the Romans and Carthaginians fighting on his big toe. No doubt Dumas had not dissimilar dreams, for his vanity was at least as stalwart and as frank as Ben Jonson’s. To defend himself against all charges of plagiarism the French playwright echoed the magniloquent phrase of the English dramatist, and declared that he did not steal, he conquered. It is but justice to say that there was no mean and petty pilfering about Dumas; he annexed as openly as a statesman, and made no attempt at disguise. In his memoirs he is very frank about his sources of inspiration, and tells us at length where he found a certain situation and what it suggested to him, and how he combined it with another effect which had struck him somewhere else. When one goes to the places thus pointed out, one finds something very different from what it became when it had passed through Dumas’s hands, and more often than not far inferior to it. It can scarcely be said that Dumas touched nothing he did not adorn, for he once laid sacrilegious hands on Shakespeare, and brought out a Hamlet with a very French and epigrammatic last act ; but whatever he took from other authors he made over into something very different, something truly his own, something that had Dumas fecit in the corner, even though the canvas and the colors were not his. The present M. Dumas asserts that “ there are no original ideas, especially in dramatic literature ; there are only new points of view.” Granting this, as we may, it remains to be said that no one ever took more new points of view than Dumas. In a word, all his plagia risms — and they were not a few — are the veriest trifles when compared with his indisputable and extraordinary powers.

Besides plagiarism, Dumas has been accused of “ deviling,” as the English term it; that is to say, of putting his name to plays written either wholly or in part by others. There is no doubt that the accusation can be sustained, although many of the separate charges are groundless. The habit of collaboration obtains widely in France, and collaboration runs easily into deviling. That Dumas yielded to temptation now and then is not to be wondered at. There was something imperious in his character as there was something imperial in his power; he had dominion over so many departments of literature that he had accustomed himself to be monarch of all he surveyed ; and if a follower came with the germ of a plot, or a suggestion for a strong situation, Dumas took it as a tribute due to his superior ability. In his hands the hint was worked out and made to render all it had of effect. Even when he had avowed collaborators, as in Richard Darlington, he alone wrote the whole play. His partners got their share of the pecuniary profits, benefiting by his skill and his renown ; and most of them did not care whether he who had done the best of the work should get all the glory or not. At times, too, as in the case of Perrinet Leclerc and of the Tour de Nesle, his name did not appear at all; he tells us in his memoirs that the former was in part his handiwork, and it is not even yet included in his collected plays.

The case of the Tour de Nesle is different and not a little complicated. Dumas has written a long and somewhat disingenuous history of the play. It seems that M. Frédéric Gaillardet (afterward the founder of the Courrier des Etats-Unis in New York) wrote the Tour de Nesle and took it to Harel, the manager of the Porte St. Martin Théâtre. Harel saw in it the raw material of a strong piece, and accepted it, subject to revision by a more practiced hand. He sent the play to Jules Janin, who rewrote it, and then knew enough to see that the result was hopelessly undramatic. Harel then took Janin’s manuscript to Dumas, who, according to his own account, discarded most of the original play, and wrote a new drama around the central situations. Having thus made what was substantially a new play, Dumas arranged with Harel that M. Gaillardet should get the full author’s fee, which the Porte St. Martin Théâtre was accustomed to pay, and that his own fee should be independent of M. Gaillardet’s. In spite of Harel’s repeated requests, Dumas refused to allow his name to be put on the bills. Under such circumstances, a play is announced as by MM. Gaillardet and ——, but Harel chose to announce the Tour de Nesle as by MM. —— and Gaillardet. M. Gaillardet rushed into print, and M. Dumas rejoined, setting forth his own share in the composition of the drama. Subsequently Dumas and Gaillardet fought a bloodless duel ; then there was a lawsuit; after many years peace was declared, and M. Gaillardet was pleased to acknowledge the great service Dumas had rendered to the Tour de Nesle. Looking back now, one can scarcely have a doubt as to whom the success of the drama was due : whether to M. Gaillardet, who had not done anything like it before and who has not done anything like it since, or to Dumas, who had shown in Henri III. and Antony his ability to write a play of precisely the same quality. The original sequence of situations was no doubt suggested by M. Gaillardet, but the play as it stands is unequivocally the handiwork of Dumas.

That Dumas plagiarized freely in his earliest plays, and had the aid of devils in the second stage of his career, is not to be denied, and neither proceeding is praiseworthy. But although he is not blameless, it irks one to see him pilloried as a mere vulgar appropriated of the labors of other men. The exact fact is that he had no strict regard for mine and thine ; he took as freely as he gave. In literature, as in life, he was a spendthrift,— and a prodigal is not always as scrupulous as he might be in replenishing his purse. Dumas’s ethics deteriorated as he advanced. One may safely say that none of the plays bearing his name fails to prove itself his by its workmanship. When, however, he began to write serial stories and to publish a score of volumes a year, then he trafficked in his reputation, and signed his name to books which he had not even read. An effort has been made to show that Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers series were the work of M. Auguste Maquet, and that Dumas contributed to them only his name on the title-page. It is foreign to the purpose of the present essay to deal with Dumas as a writer of romance, but as these novels were at once cut up into plays, a consideration of their authorship is in order here. I do not see how any one with a pretense to the critical faculty can doubt that Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers are Dumas’s own work. That M. Maquet made historical researches, accumulated notes, invented scenes even, is probable, but the mighty impress of Dumas’s hand is too plainly visible in every important passage for us to believe that either series owes more to M. Maquet than the service a pupil might render fairly to a master. That these services were considerable is sufficiently obvious from the printing of M. Maquet’s name by the side of M. Dumas’s on the title-pages of the dramatizations from the stories. Señor Castelar has said that all Dumas’s collaborators together do not weigh half as much in the literary balance as Dumas alone ; and this is true. I have no wish to reflect on the talents of Dinaux, the author of Thirty Years, or a Gambler’s Life, and of Louise de Lignerolles, or on the talents of M. Maquet himself, whose own novels and plays have succeeded, and who was so highly esteemed by his fellow-dramatists as to be elected and reëlected the president of the Society of Dramatic Authors; yet I must say that the plays which either Dinaux or M. Maquet has written by himself do not show the possession of the secret that charmed us in the work in which they helped Dumas. It is to be said, too, that the later plays, taken from his own novels, in which Dumas was assisted by M. Maquet, are very inferior to his earlier plays. They are mero dramatizations of romances, and not n a true sense dramas at all. The earlier dramas, however extravagant they might be in individual details, have a distinct and essential unity not to be detected in the dramatizations, which were little more than sequences of scenes snipped with the scissors from the interminable series of tales of adventure. How could the plot of the Three Musketeers, so far as it has any single plot, —how could it be compressed within the limits of five or even six or seven acts ? Monte Cristo was brought out as a play in two parts December 3d and 4th, 1848; and three years later two more divisions of the same story were put on the stage. Obviously enough, pieces of this sort are like the earlier Napoléon Bonaparte, not plays, but panoramas ; slices of the story serve as magic-lantern slides, and dissolve one into another at the will of the exhibitor. Full as these pieces are of life and bustle and gayety, they are poor substitutes for plays which depend for success on themselves, and not on the vague desire to see in action figures which the reader has learned to like in endless stories. These dramatizations were unduly long drawn : naturally prolix, not to say garrulous, Dumas, when his tales were paid for by the word, or at least by space, let the vice of saying all there was to be said grow upon him. Whatever may be the case in prose fiction, on the stage the half is more than the whole.

Side by side with these dramatizations Dumas continued to bring out now and then dramas in his earlier manner : for example, the already-mentioned Alchimiste (1839) and Hamlet (1849), and also a Catilina (1849), likewise in verse, besides an occasional play in prose, including, for one, an adaptation of Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe. None of these, however, is as interesting or as important as any one of his earliest four or five successes. The only works of his more mature years which enlarge his reputation are his comedies. He brought to the making of comedy the same freshness, facility, fecundity, and force that he had brought years before to the making of drama. After all, it is not inexact to say that the two chief qualities of Dumas were abundance and ease. Other writers of his time were abundant, none was so easy. Contrast his running sentences with the tortured style of Balzac, and we can understand how it was that Dumas could write a volume in a few hours, and that Balzac once spent a whole night toiling over a single sentence. Now ease and abundance are invaluable to a writer of comedy. Although the half a dozen comedies Dumas wrote vary in value, all are equally facile and flowing. Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle and the Demoiselles de St. Cyr and the Jeunesse de Louis XIV. (which his son edited for the Parisian stage a few years ago) are as simple and unaffected plays as you can find, and they are plays of a new kind. The comedies of Dumas are unlike the comedies of any other French dramatist. They are as different from the more philosophic comedy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as they are from the realistic and dramatic comedy which his son brought into fashion. They are a little like the best of the comedies which Scribe wrote for the Théâtre Français, although they have a boldness and a freedom Scribe could never attain. Perhaps more than anything else they resemble the English comedies of intrigue and adventure imitated from Spanish models, chief among which is Cibber’s She Would and She Would Not. In Dumas’s plays, however, both situation and dialogue seem less forced, although it is unfair ever to speak of either as though it were at all forced. Dumas had little humor, as we understand the word, and what he had was on the surface; but he was witty without effort and without end. It is a quality he seems to have discovered after he had written his earlier and more famous plays, for in these there is little to relieve the tensity of emotion, although they are not as barren as most of Victor Hugo’s dramas. In his comedies, however, his wit had a chance to show its nimbleness. This wit is lightsome and buoyant rather than penetrating. It is not epigrammatically sparkling, with a hard brilliance, like Sheridan’s and Congreve’s ; it appears less studied and more natural than either, and more to be compared to the graceful and clever wit of a ready man of the world. As I have said, it is as unfailing as it is spontaneous. I can recommend a little comedy in one act called the Mari de la Veuve, and written during the desolation caused by the cholera, to all who may desire to see as bright and light a little play as could be desired. In his memoirs Dumas tells us that the primary idea of this tiny piece was one friend’s, and that the development and construction were another’s, and that all he did was to take their plans and write the dialogue. But it was such dialogue as none but he could write. This very play contains an admirable instance of his tact in turning a difficulty. A husband has written to his wife bidding her to announce his death for reasons not given but imperative : it is from the false position thus created for the wife, who is supposed to be a widow, that the comedy is evolved. Shortly after the rise of the curtain the husband appears, but too much in a hurry to explain why he has to conceal his existence. The explanation is never furnished. At the end of the piece, as the notary enters to draw up the contract reuniting the pair, the husband lightly remarks to his wife, “ I will tell you all about it to-morrow! ” and the curtain falls, leaving the spectator amused and entertained, but still in ignorance why the husband found it necessary to give out his own death. One is inclined to surmise that the pair of collaborators who planned the play devised a reason for this,—a reason which Dumas found insufficient; and not having time to concoct another, he made the difficulty disappear by not giving any reason at all.

From the sombre Antony to the laughing Mari de la Veuve is a long stride, but Dumas took it without straining, and many another beside. Even more remarkable than the range of Dumas’s work is its general level of merit. He had at least one element of greatness, — an inexhaustible fecundity ; and more than this, when we consider the quantity of his dramas, the quality of the best of them seems singularly high. There is but one dramatist of his generation who will stand comparison with him ; and even Victor Hugo, master as he is of many things, is less a master of the theatre than Dumas. He was the superior of Dumas in that he was a poet and had style, as Dumas was willing to confess. But for success on the stage poetry and style are not so potent as other qualities which Dumas had more abundantly than Hugo. He had an easy wit, which Hugo lacked, and which is of inestimable service to the play-maker. He had a flexibility of manner to which Hugo could not pretend: we have seen how many different kinds of drama Dumas attempted, while all Hugo’s pieces are cast in the same mould. As Heine said, “ Dumas is not so great a poet as Victor Hugo, but he possesses gifts which in the drama enable him to achieve far greater results than the latter. He has perfect command of that forcible expression of passion which the French term verve, and he is, withal, more of a Frenchman than Victor Hugo is.” Elsewhere Heine credits Hugo with a Teutonic want of tact, and suggests that his muse has two left hands. Now, Dumas’s muse had a right hand which never forgot its cunning. Dumas’s dramas, extravagant as some of them are, strike one as more natural than Hugo’s, perhaps because the latter reveal too openly the constraint of their construction, as the former never do. Dumas was frank to praise Hugo and to acknowledge his own indebtedness to him ; yet he spoke his mind freely about his competitor. He is reported as saying that “ each had our own good points, but mine were better. Hugo was lyrical and theatrical; I was dramatic. Hugo, to be effective, could not do without contrasting drinking-songs with church hymns, and setting tables laden with flowers and flasks by the side of coffins draped in black. All I wanted was four scenes, four boards, two actors, and a passion,” It is easy to smile at this as mere vanity and vexation of spirit, but, magniloquence apart, it is sound criticism, nevertheless. Like Hugo, Dumas was born of revolutionary blood; and both were as militant in literature as their fathers had been in actual life. From his father Dumas inherited little but the physical force which sustained him in his reckless waste of energy, and which helped to give him the abundant confidence in himself. These two things, indeed, strength and confidence, are at the bottom of his career of marvelous prodigality. It was confidence and strength combined which made possible his unhasting, unresting life of toil in so many departments of literature. This life is in many respects a warning rather than an example : with his great powers, one feels that he ought to have done something higher and nobler ; but that the power was great admits of no cavil. The present M. Alexandre Dumas, who is as restrained as his father was exuberant, and who looked on his father as a sort of prodigal son, upholds the honor of the family and pushes filial reverence to the extreme verge of extravagance (and yet, due allowance made, he is not so very far out) when he speaks of his father as “ he who was and is the master of the modern stage, whatever noise may be made about other names ; he whose prodigious imagination touched the four cardinal points of our art, tragedy, historical drama, the drama of manners and the comedy of anecdote ; he whose only fault was to lack solemnity, and to have genius without pride and fecundity without effort, as he had youth and health ; he who, to conclude, Shakespeare being taken as the culminating point, by invention, power, and variety approached amoug us most closely to Shakespeare.”

J. Brander Matthews.