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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Plagiarism and devilling


There are probably not quite so many readers as there might have been a generation ago who would express indignation at the idea that the two novelists can be held in any degree[312] comparable. Between the two periods a pretty strong and almost concerted effort was made by persons of no small literary position, such as Mr. Lang, Mr. Stevenson, and Mr. Henley, who are dead, and others, some of whom are alive, to follow the lead of Thackeray many years earlier still. They denounced, supporting the denunciation with all the literary skill and vigour of which they were capable, the notion, common in France as well as in England, that Dumas was a mere _amuseur_, whether they did or did not extend their battery to the other notion (common then in England, if not in France) that he was an amuser whose amusements were pernicious. These efforts were perhaps not entirely ineffectual: let us hope that actual reading, by not unintelligent or prejudiced readers, had more effect still.

[Sidenote: Charge and discharge.]

But let us also go back a little and, adding one, repeat what the charges against Dumas are. There is the moral charge just mentioned; there is the not yet mentioned charge of plagiarism and "devilling"; and there is the again already mentioned complaint that he is a mere "pastimer"; that he has no literary quality; that he deserves at best to take his chance with the novelists from Sue to Gaboriau who have been or will be dismissed with rather short shrift elsewhere. Let us, as best seems to suit history, treat these in order, though with very unequal degrees of attention.

[Sidenote: Morality.]

The moral part of the matter needs but a few lines. The objection here was one of the still fewer things that did to some extent justify and "_sens_ify" the nonsense and injustice since talked about Victorian criticism. In fact this nonsense may (there is always, or nearly always, some use to be made even of nonsense) be used against its earlier brother. It is customary to objurgate Thackeray as too moral. Thackeray never hints the slightest objection on this score against these novels, whatever he may do as to the plays. For myself, I do not pretend to have read everything that Dumas published. There may be among the crowd something indefensible, though it is rather odd that if there is, I should not merely never have read it but never have heard of it. If, on the other hand, any one brings forward Mrs. Grundy's opinion on the Ketty and Milady passages in the _Mousquetaires_; on the story of the origin of the Vicomte de Bragelonne; on the way in which the divine Margot was consoled for her almost tragic abandonment in a few hours by lover and husband--I must own that as Judge on the present occasion I shall not call on any counsel of Alexander's to reply. "Bah! it is bosh," as the greatest of Dumas' admirers remarks of another matter.

[Sidenote: Plagiarism and devilling.]

The plagiarism (or rather devilling + plagiarism) article of the indictment, tedious as it may be, requires a little longer notice. The facts, though perhaps never to be completely established, are sufficiently clear as far as history needs, on the face of them. Dumas' works, as published in complete edition, run to rather over three hundred volumes. (I have counted them often on the end-papers of the beloved tomes, and though they have rather a knack, like the windows of other enchanted houses, of "coming out" different, this is near enough.) Excluding theatre (twenty-five volumes), travels, memoirs, and so-called history, they must run to about two hundred and fifty. Most if not all of these volumes are of some three hundred pages each, very closely printed, even allowing for the abundantly "spaced" conversation. I should say, without pretending to an accurate "cast-off," that any _three_ of these volumes would be longer even than the great "part"-published works of Dickens, Thackeray, or Trollope; that any _two_ would exceed in length our own old average "three-decker"; and that any _one_ contains at least twice the contents of the average six-shilling masterpiece of the present day.


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