Mansfield M. F. Milburg Francisco
A GENERAL INTRODUCTION
There have been many erudite works, in French and other languages, describing the antiquities and historical annals of Paris from the earliest times; and in English the mid-Victorian era turned out – there are no other words for it – innumerable “books of travel” which recounted alleged adventures, strewn here and there with bits of historical lore and anecdotes, none too relevant, and in most cases not of undoubted authenticity.
Of the actual life of the people in the city of light and learning, from the times of Napoleon onward, one has to go to the fountainhead of written records, the acknowledged masterworks in the language of the country itself, the reports and annuaires of various sociétês, commissions, and what not, and collect therefrom such information as he finds may suit his purpose.
In this manner may be built up a fabric which shall be authentic and proper, varied and, most likely, quite different in its plan, outline, and scope from other works of a similar purport, which may be recalled in connection therewith.
Paris has been rich in topographical historians, and, indeed, in her chroniclers in all departments, and there is no end of relative matter which may be evolved from an intimacy with these sources of supply. In a way, however, this information ought to be supplemented by a personal knowledge on the part of the compiler, which should make localities, distances, and environments – to say nothing of the actual facts and dates of history – appear as something more than a shrine to be worshipped from afar.
Given, then, these ingredients, with a love of the subject, – no less than of the city of its domicile, – it has formed a pleasant itinerary in the experiences of the writer of this book to have followed in the footsteps of Dumas père, through the streets that he knew and loved, taking note meanwhile of such contemporary shadows as were thrown across his path, and such events of importance or significance as blended in with the scheme of the literary life of the times in which he lived, none the less than of those of the characters in his books.
Nearly all the great artists have adored Paris – poets, painters, actors, and, above all, novelists.
From which it follows that Paris is the ideal city for the novelist, who, whether he finds his special subjects in her streets or not, must be inspired by this unique fulness and variety of human life. Nearly all the great French novelists have adored Paris. Dumas loved it; Victor Hugo spent years of his time in riding about her streets on omnibuses; Daudet said splendid things of it, and nearly, if not quite, all the great names of the artistic world of France are indissolubly linked with it.
Paris to-day means not “La Ville,” “La Cité,” or “L’Université,” but the whole triumvirate. Victor Hugo very happily compared the three cities to a little old woman between two handsome, strapping daughters.
It was Beranger who announced his predilection for Paris as a birthplace. Dumas must have felt something of the same emotion, for he early gravitated to the “City of Liberty and Equality,” in which – even before the great Revolution – misfortune was at all times alleviated by sympathy.
From the stones of Paris have been built up many a lordly volume – and many a slight one, for that matter – which might naturally be presumed to have recounted the last word which may justifiably have been said concerning the various aspects of the life and historic events which have encircled around the city since the beginning of the moyen age.
This is true or not, according as one embraces a wide or a contracted horizon in one’s view.
For most books there is, or was at the time of their writing, a reason for being, and so with familiar spots, as with well-worn roads, there is always a new panorama projecting itself before one.
The phenomenal, perennial, and still growing interest in the romances of Dumas the elder is the excuse for the present work, which it is to be hoped is admittedly a good one, however far short of exhaustiveness – a much overworked word, by the way – the volume may fall.
It were not possible to produce a complete or “exhaustive” work on any subject of a historical, topographical or æsthetic nature: so why claim it? The last word has not yet been said on Dumas himself, and surely not on Paris – no more has it on Pompeii, where they are still finding evidences of a long lost civilization as great as any previously unearthed.
It was only yesterday, too (this is written in the month of March, 1904), that a party of frock-coated and silk-hatted benevolent-looking gentlemen were seen issuing from a manhole in the Université quartier of Paris. They had been inspecting a newly discovered thermale établissement of Roman times, which led off one of the newly opened subterranean arteries which abound beneath Paris.
It is said to be a rival of the Roman bath which is enclosed within the walls of the present Musée Cluny, and perhaps the equal in size and splendour of any similar remains extant.
This, then, suggests that in every land new ground, new view-points, and new conditions of life are making possible a record which, to have its utmost value, should be a progressively chronological one.
And after this manner the present volume has been written. There is a fund of material to draw upon, historic fact, pertinent and contemporary side-lights, and, above all, the environment which haloed itself around the personality of Dumas, which lies buried in many a cache which, if not actually inaccessible, is at least not to be found in the usual books of reference.
Perhaps some day even more will have been collected, and a truly satisfying biographical work compiled. If so, it will be the work of some ardent Frenchman of a generation following that in which Alexandre Dumas lived, and not by one of the contemporaries of even his later years. Albert Vandam, perhaps, might have done it as it should have been done; but he did not do so, and so an intimate personal record has been lost.
Paris has ever been written down in the book of man as the city of light, of gaiety, and of a trembling vivacity which has been in turn profligate, riotous, and finally criminal.
All this is perhaps true enough, but no more in degree than in most capitals which have endured so long, and have risen to such greatness.
With Paris it is quantity, with no sacrifice of quality, that has placed it in so preëminent a position among great cities, and the life of Paris – using the phrase in its most commonly recognized aspect – is accordingly more brilliant or the reverse, as one views it from the boulevards or from the villettes.
French writers, the novelists in particular, have well known and made use of this; painters and poets, too, have perpetuated it in a manner which has not been applied to any other city in the world.
To realize the conditions of the life of Paris to the full one has to go back to Rousseau – perhaps even farther. His observation that “Les maisons font la ville, mais le citoyens font la cité,” was true when written, and it is true to-day, with this modification, that the delimitation of the confines of la ville should be extended so far as to include all workaday Paris – the shuffling, bustling world of energy and spirit which has ever insinuated itself into the daily life of the people.
The love and knowledge of Alexandre Dumas père for Paris was great, and the accessory and detail of his novels, so far as he drew upon the capital, was more correct and apropos. It was something more than a mere dash of local colour scattered upon the canvas from a haphazard palette. In minutiæ it was not drawn as fine as the later Zola was wont to accomplish, but it showed no less detail did one but comprehend its full meaning.
Though born in the provincial town Villers-Cotterets, – seventy-eight kilomètres from Paris on the road to Soissons, – Dumas came early in touch with the metropolis, having in a sort of runaway journey broken loose from his old associations and finally becoming settled in the capital as a clerk in the Bureau d’Orleans, at the immature age of twenty. Thus it was that his impressions and knowledge of Paris were founded upon an experience which was prolonged and intimate, extending, with brief intervals of travel, for over fifty years.
He had journeyed meantime to Switzerland, England, Corsica, Naples, the Rhine, Belgium, – with a brief residence in Italy in 1840-42, – then visiting Spain, Russia, the Caucasus, and Germany.
This covered a period from 1822, when he first came to Paris, until his death at Puys, near Dieppe, in 1870; nearly a full half-century amid activities in matters literary, artistic, and social, which were scarce equalled in brilliancy elsewhere – before or since.
In spite of his intimate association with the affairs of the capital, – he became, it is recalled, a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies at the time of the Second Republic, – Dumas himself has recorded, in a preface contributed to a “Histoire de l’Eure,” by M. Charpillon (1879), that if he were ever to compile a history of France he should first search for les pierres angulaires of his edifice in the provinces.
This bespeaks a catholicity which, perhaps, after all, is, or should be, the birthright of every historical novelist.
He said further, in this really valuable and interesting contribution, which seems to have been entirely overlooked by the bibliographers, that “to write the history of France would take a hundred volumes” – and no doubt he was right, though it has been attempted in less.
And again that “the aggrandizement of Paris has only been accomplished by a weakening process having been undergone by the provinces.” The egg from which Paris grew was deposited in the nest of la cité, the same as are the eggs laid par un cygne.
He says further that in writing the history of Paris he would have founded on “Lutetia (or Louchetia) the Villa de Jules, and would erect in the Place de Notre Dame a temple or altar to Ceres; at which epoch would have been erected another to Mercury, on the Mount of Ste. Geneviève; to Apollo in the Rue de la Barillerie, where to-day is erected that part of Tuileries built by Louis XIV., and which is called Le Pavillon de Flore.
“Then one would naturally follow with Les Thermes de Julien, which grew up from the Villa de Jules; the reunion under Charlemagne which accomplished the Sorbonne (Sora bona), which in turn became the favourite place of residence of Hugues Capet, the stronghold of Philippe-Auguste, the bibliothèque of Charles V., the monumental capital of Henri VI. d’Angleterre; and so on through the founding of the first printing establishment in France by Louis XI.; the new school of painting by François I.; of the Académie by Richelieu; … to the final curtailment of monarchial power with the horrors of the Revolution and the significant events which centred around the Bastille, Versailles, and the Tuileries.”
Leaving the events of the latter years of the eighteenth century, and coming to the day in which Dumas wrote (1867), Paris was truly – and in every sense —
“The capital of France, and its history became not only the history of France but the history of the world… The city will yet become the capital of humanity, and, since Napoleon repudiated his provincial residences and made Paris sa résidence impériale, the man of destiny who reigns in Paris in reality reigns throughout the universe.”
There may be those who will take exception to these brilliant words of Dumas. The Frenchman has always been an ardent and soi-disant bundle of enthusiasm, but those who love him must pardon his pride, which is harmless to himself and others alike, and is a far more admirable quality than the indifference and apathy born of other lands.
His closing words are not without a cynical truth, and withal a pride in Paris:
“It is true that if we can say with pride, we Parisians, ‘It was Paris which overthrew the Bastille,’ you of the provinces can say with equal pride, ‘It was we who made the Revolution.’”
As if to ease the hurt, he wrote further these two lines only:
“At this epoch the sister nations should erect a gigantic statue of Peace. This statue will be Paris, and its pedestal will represent La Province.”
His wish – it was not prophecy – did not, however, come true, as the world in general and France and poor rent Alsace et Lorraine in particular know to their sorrow; and all through a whim of a self-appointed, though weakling, monarch.
The era of the true peace of the world and the monument to its glory came when the French nation presented to the New World that grand work of Bartholdi, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” which stands in New York harbour, and whose smaller replica now terminates the Allée des Cygnes.
The grasp that Dumas had of the events of romance and history served his purpose well, and in the life of the fifties in Paris his was a name and personality that was on everybody’s lips.
How he found time to live the full life that he did is a marvel; it certainly does not bear out the theory of heredity when one considers the race of his birth and the “dark-skinned” languor which was supposedly his heritage.
One edition of his work comprises two hundred and seventy-seven volumes, and within the year a London publisher has announced some sixty volumes “never before translated.” Dumas himself has said that he was the author of over seven hundred works.
In point of time his romances go back to the days of the house of Valois and the Anglo-French wars (1328), and to recount their contents is to abstract many splendid chapters from out the pages of French history.
It would seem as though nearly every personage of royalty and celebrity (if these democratic times will allow the yoking together of the two; real genuine red republicans would probably link royalty and notoriety) stalked majestically through his pages, and the record runs from the fourteenth nearly to the end of the nineteenth century, with the exception of the reign of Louis XI.
An ardent admirer of Sir Walter Scott has commented upon this lapse as being accounted for by the apparent futility of attempting to improve upon “Quentin Durward.” This is interesting, significant, and characteristic, but it is not charitable, generous, or broad-minded.