Page images

The sole place of refuge for the classic muse, the single fane at which the sacred fire was still kept burning by her worshippers, was the Theatre Français. Yet it only escaped profanation by a caprice. "Antony' had been accepted there: an early day had been fixed for the first representation, and the company were assembled for the last rehearsal, when Dumas hurries in with excuses for being late, and the following dialogue takes place between him and Mademoiselle Mars, who was to play Adèle :-

Mars. The delay is of no consequence; you have heard what has happened? We are to have a new chandelier, and be lighted with


D. So much the better.

M. Not exactly; I have laid out 1200 francs (sixty pounds) for your piece. I have four different toilettes.* I wish them to be seen ; and since we are to have a new chandelier

D. How soon ?
M. In three months.
D. Well!

M. Well, we will play Antony to inaugurate the new lustre.' The new lustre was a pretence. The company of the classical theatre bad resolved not to act the piece. It was immediately transferred to the more congenial atmosphere of the Porte St. Martin, to which Victor Hugo emigrated about the same time; and this theatre thenceforth became the head-quarters of their school. The part of Adèle was played by Madame Dorval, and played con amore in every sense of the phrase. On learning the arrival of her husband, Adèle exclaims, Mais je suis perdue, moi ! At the last rehearsal, Madame Dorval was still at a loss how to give full effect to these words, and, stepping forward, requested to speak to the author. "How did Mademoiselle Mars say Mais je suis perdue, moi.' 'She was sitting down, and she stood up.' Good,' replied Dorval, ‘I will be standing up, and sit down.' On the first night of the performance, owing to some inadvertence, the arm-chair into which she was to drop was not properly placed, and she fell back against the arm, but the words were given with so thrilling an expression of despair that the house rang with applause.

The key to the plot being in the last position and last words, the angry disappointment of the audience may be guessed, when one evening the stage-manager let down the curtain as soon as Antony had stabbed Adèle. Le dénouement ! Le nouement ! was the sustained


from every part of the house ; till Madame Dorval resumed her recumbent position as dead or dying woman to complete the performance. But Bocage (who acted Antony), furious at the blunder, stayed away, and the call was renewed in menacing tones, when Dorval raised her drooping head, reanimated her inert form, advanced to the footlights, and in the midst of a dead silence, gave the words with a startling and telling variation : Messieurs, je lui resistais, il m'a assassinée. Dumas complacently records this incident with apparent unconsciousness of the ridicule which it mingles with the supposed pathos or horror of the catastrophe.

* We beg our female readers to mark this and medita toilettes or costumes for sixty pounds!

on it. Four complete

The chief honours of the poetical revolution are assigned by Dumas to Lamartine and Hugo, but the dramatic revolution, he insists, began with the first representation of Henri Trois.' Hugo, an anxious spectator, was one of the first to offer his congratulations. It is now my turn,' were his words to Dumas, *and I invite you to be present at the first reading.' The day following he chose his subject; and “Marion Delorme,' begun on the 1st June, 1829, was finished on the 27th. Dumas was true to his engagement, and at the end of the reading he exclaimed to the Director—“We are all done brown (flambès) if Victor has not this very day produced the best piece he ever will produce— only I believe he has.' Why so?' 'Because there are in “ Marion Delorme” all the qualities of the mature author, and none of the faults of the young one. Progress is impossible for any one who begins by a complete or nearly complete work.''

• Marion Delorme was stopped by the Censorship, and did not appear till after Antony. The striking similarity between the two heroes of the two pieces respectively, raised and justified a cry that one was copied from the other, and suspicion fell upon Hugo, who came last before the public; when Dumas gallantly stepped forward and declared that, if there was any plagiarism in the matter, he was the guilty person, since, before writing Antony,' he had attended the reading of Marion Delorme.'

An amusing instance of the manner in which Hugo was piqued into abandoning the Theatre Français for the Porte St. Martin, is related by Dumas. At the rehearsal of • Hernani,' the author, as usual, being seated in the pit, Mademoiselle Mars, who played Doña Sol, came forward to the foot-lights, and shading her eyes with her hand and affecting not to see Hugo, asked if he was there. He rose and announced his presence :““ Ah, good. Tell me, M. Hugo, I have to speak this verse

Vous êtes mon lion ! Superbe et généraux. “ Yes, Madame, Hernani says

Helas! here goes,

Helas ! j'aime pourtant d'un amour bien profond !
Ne pleure pas ... mourons plutot. Que n'ai-je un monde,

Je te le donnerais !... Je suis bien malheureux.” “ And you reply

Vous êtes mon lion! Superbe et généreux, “ And

you like that, M. Hugo ? To say the truth, it seems so droll for me to call M. Firmin mon lion."

“Ah, because in playing the part of Doña Sol, you wish to continue Mademoiselle Mars. If you were truly the ward of Ruy Gomez de Sylva, a noble Castilian of the sixteenth century, you would not see M. Firmin in Hernani; you would see one of those terrible leaders of bands that made Charles V. tremble in his capital. You would feel that such a woman may call such a man her lion, and you would not think it droll.”

“Very well; since you stick to your lion, I am here to speak what is set down for me. There is mon lion in the manuscript, M. Firmin

Vous êtes mon lion! Superbe et généreux.' At the actual representation she broke faith, and substituted Monseigneur for mon lion, which (at all events from the author's point of view) was substituting prose for poetry. Nothing can be more injudicious or vain than the attempt to tone down a writer of originality or force ; for the electric chain of imagination or thought may be broken by the change or omission of a word. The romantic school which delighted in hazardous effects,-in effects often resting on the thin line which separates the sublime from the ridiculous,-could least of all endure this description of criticism. Dumas suffered like his friend ; and their concerted secession to the Porte St. Martin was a prudent as well as inevitable step.

At this theatre Dumas was like the air, a chartered libertine ; and here he brought out a succession of pieces, which, thanks to his prodigality of resource and unrivalled knowledge of stage effect, secured and permanently retained an applauding public, although many of them seemed written to try to what extent the recognised rules of art might be set aside. To take · La Tour de Nesle, for example, we agree with Lord Dalling, that judging by the ordinary rules of criticism, it is a melodramatic monstrosity; but if you think that to seize, to excite, to suspend, to transport the feelings of an audience, to keep them with an eye eager, an attention unflagged, from the first scene to the last—if you think that to do this is to be a dramatist, that to have done this is to have written a drama-bow down to M. Dumas or M. Gaillard, to the author of • Tour de Nesle’ whoever he be, that man is a dramatist, the piece he has written is a drama,


Go and see it! There is great art, great nature, great improbability, all massed and mingled all together in the rapid rush of terrible things, which pour upon you, press upon you, keep you fixed to your seat, breathless, motionless. And then a pause comes—the piece is over-you shake your head, you stretch

limbs, you

still feel shocked, bewildered, and walk home as if awakened from a terrible nightmare. Such is the effect of the “ Tour de Nesle."

Such was the effect when Mademoiselle Georges played Marguerite, and Frederic Le Maître, Buridan; and (independently of the acting) the rapid succession of surprises make it a masterpiece in its way.

No one can doubt that these are the creation of Dumas, along with everything else that constitutes the distinctive merits or demerits of the piece. We should also say, Go and see Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle ; you will follow the action with wrapt and constantly growing interest; and you will listen to sparkling dialogue, exquisitely adapted to the characters.

It was as a dramatist that Dumas became famous, although his world-wide renown is owing to his romances, which he composed at headlong speed, contemporaneously with his dramas, without much adding to his reputation until 1844-45, when he published • Les Trois Mousquetaires,' • Vingt ans Après,' and Monte Christo,' the most popular of his works. There is hardly an inhabited district, in either hemisphere, in which Dumas, pointing to a volume of one of them, might not exclaim like Johnson pointing to a copy of the duodecimo edition of his Dictionary in a country-house:

Quæ regio in terris nostri non plena laboris ?' They have remained the most popular, and remained moreover exclusively associated with his name, although the authorship has been confidently assigned by critics of repute to others, and the most persistent ridicule has been levelled at their conception, their composition, their materials, and their plan. Amongst the most mischievous assailants was Thackeray, in a letter addressed to M. le Marquis Davy de la Pailleterie, printed in the • Revue Britannique' for January, 1847. We give a specimen:

As for me, I am a decided partisan of the new system of which you are the inventor in France. I like your romances in one-andtwenty volumes, whilst regretting all the time that there are so many blank pages between your chapters, and so small an amount of printed matter in your pages. I, moreover, like continuations. I have not skipped a word of “Monte Christo," and it made me quite happy when, after having read eight volumes of the “Trois Mousquetaires,” I saw M. Rolandi, the excellent circulating-library man, who supplies me with books, bring me ten more under the title of “ Vingt



The seven

Ans Après.” May you make Athos, Porthos, and Aramis live a hundred years, to treat us to twelve volumes more of their adventures! May the physician (Médecin) whose "Mémoires” you have taken in hand, beginning them at the commencement of the reign of Louis XV., make the fortunes of the apothecaries of the Revolution of July by his prescriptions !'

Innumerable readers would reciprocate in earnest the wishes thus ironically expressed, and Thackeray might have remembered that length is more a merit than an objection so long as interest is kept up. It is strange, too, that he should have hailed Dumas as the inventor of the voluminous novel, particularly after calling attention to the blank pages between his chapters and the small amount of printed matter in his pages. There is an English translation of Les Trois Mousquetaires,' in one royal octavo volume, and of Monte Christo’ in three volumes octavo. volumes of ‘Clarissa Harlow' contain more printed matter than the longest of Dumas' romances. Mademoiselle Scudery beats him hollow in length, and might be apostrophised like her brother

Bienheureux Scudery, dont la fertile plume,

Peut tous les mois sans peine enfanter un volume.' So does Restif de la Bretonne, one of the most popular novelists of the eighteenth century, whose 'Les Contemporaines' is in fortytwo volumes.

So much for length. In point of plot, they are on a par with • Don Quixote' and Gil Blas :' in point of incident, situation, character, animated narrative, and dialogue, they will rarely lose by comparison with the author of Waverley.' Compare, for example, the scene in · Les Trois Mousquetaires between Buckingham and Anne of Austria, with the strikingly analogous scene between Leicester and Elizabeth in Kenilworth.

If Dumas occasionally spun out his romances till they grew wearisome, it was not because he was incapable of compressing them. His Chevalier d'Harmenthal,' which we ourselves are inclined to consider one of his best novels, is contained in three volumes. His · Impressions de Voyage’abound in short novels and stories, which are quite incomparable in their way, like pictures by Meissonnier and Gerome. Take for dramatic effect the story told by the monk of · La Chartreuse ;' or, for genuine humour, that of Pierrot, the donkey, who had such a terror of both fire and water that they were obliged to blind him before passing a forge or a bridge. The explanation is, that two young Parisians had hired him for a journey; and having recently suffered from cold, they hit upon an expedient which they carried into execution without delay. They began by putting a layer of wet turf upon Vol. 131.–No. 261.



« PreviousContinue »