The Incredible Marquis

by Herbert Gorman. New York: Farrar and Rinehart. 1929. 8vo. 336 pp. Illus. $5.00.
MR. GORMAN has written a vivid and brilliant narrative of one of the most picturesque and picaresque lives ever lived by any human being. The career of Alexandre Dumas was contemporary with the larger part of the French nineteenth century and no figure in all that crowded period was more showily conspicuous than he. The son of a Napoleonic general and the grandson of a mulatto woman, he made the most of a varied and vigorous inheritance. He pushed his way from abject poverty to distinguished and triumphant success, first by masterpieces of romantic drama, then by the historical novels, culminating in The Three Musketeers and Monte Cristo, which were read by the whole world. Money poured in upon him, but it ran out faster than it ran in. Glory poured in upon him, but he squandered it more wantonly than he did the money. So that when he died, in 1870, he was certainly not forgotten, but he had drawn from life all it could possibly give him.
What he was is even more impressive than what he did. He had the simple negro vanity in a colossal degree. He loved to hold the centre of the stage, to be talked of and pointed at, and above all to talk of himself. Yet with the vanity he had a human kindliness which made him everywhere beloved and popular. What is most astounding about him is his immense, enduring, inexhaustible vitality, which made him able to do the work of four other men, while at the same time he was living with a varied intensity that would have seemed incompatible with any work whatever. With the vitality went a huge enjoyment of everything. He enjoyed food, he enjoyed love, he enjoyed laughter, he enjoyed success, and in every possible way he enjoyed being Alexandre Dumas. Yet the vitality and the enjoyment had always something animal about them, so that he went out of existence almost with the sordid and pitiable decay of the brute.
Mr. Gorman has delineated this extraordinary existence with a thoroughness of research which have titles which would not immediately occur to the reader—in this great field. By such means and by abundant cross references, dependence on the index volume is greatly lessened.
A word should be said about the art features of the work. In no encyclopædia has so much attention been given to art in all its phases, including many that are not obvious. There are, for example, remarkable articles on such topics as Chinese Sculpture, with eleven plates, Glass, with eighteen plates (in addition to three on Glass Manufacture), and Bronze, also with eighteen plates. The plates devoted to each country beautifully illustrate the charm of its towns and cities; in a number of cases, fine reproductions of etchings are used for this purpose. The art direction of the whole work has been conducted with intelligence and enthusiasm, so that every volume contains many pages of pure delight to the eye.
There has been a thoroughgoing revision of all bibliographies, and many references of 1928 date are given. Nothing seems to have been neglected; the book has gained in general helpfulness far more than it has lost through the sacrifice of some of its old-fashioned literary aloofness. The twenty-four volumes are to be published as a unit during the coming autumn; the entire process of manufacture will have been accomplished in the almost impossibly brief period of nine months.
It is the belief of the reviewer that no one who inspects the book carefully can fail to share his enthusiasm, which is based on a detailed examination of the first eleven volumes.
FRANK H. CHASE
Reference Librarian, Boston Public Library