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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And take up Les Trois Mousquetaires or Les Quarante Cinq


Of

course this device of conversation, like the other best things--the beauty of woman, the strength of wine, the sharpness of steel, and red ink--is "open to abuse."[326] It has been admitted that even the fervency of the present writer's Alexandrianism cools at the "wall-game" of Montalais and Malicorne. There may be some who are not even prepared to like it in places where I do. They are like Porthos, in the great initial interchange of compliments, and "would still be _doing_." But surely they cannot complain of any lack of incident in this latest and not least _Alexandreid_?

It may seem that the length of this chapter is not proportionate to the magnitude of the claims advanced for Dumas. But, as in other cases, I think it may not be impertinent to put in a reference to what I have previously written elsewhere. Moreover, as, but much more than, in the cases of Sandeau, Bernard, and Murger, there is an argument, paradoxical in appearance merely, for the absence of prolixity.

His claim to greatness consists, perhaps primarily, in the simplicity, straightforwardness, and general human interest of his appeal. He wants no commentaries, no introductions, no keys, no dismal Transactions of Dumas Societies and the like. Every one that thirsteth may come to his fountain and drink, without mysteries of initiation, or formalities of licence, or concomitant nuisances of superintendence and regulation. In the _Camp of

Refuge_ of Charles Macfarlane (who has recently, in an odd way, been recalled to passing knowledge)--a full and gallant private in the corps of which Dumas himself was then colonel _vice_ Sir Walter deceased--there is a sentence which applies admirably to Dumas himself. After a success over the other half of our ancestors, and during a supper on the conquered provant, one of the Anglo-Saxon-half observes, "Let us leave off talking, and be jolly." Nothing could please me better than that some reader should be instigated to leave off my book at this point, and take up _Les Trois Mousquetaires_ or _Les Quarante-Cinq_, or if he prefers it, _Olympe de Cleves_--"and be jolly".[327]

FOOTNOTES:

[311] The postponement of him, to this last chapter of the first division of the book, was determined on chiefly because his _novels_ were not begun at all till years after the other greater novelists, already dealt with, had made their reputation, while the greatest of them--the "Mousquetaire" and "Henri Trois" cycles--did not appear till the very last _lustrum_ of the half-century. But another--it may seem to some a childish--consideration had some weight with me. I wished to range father and son on either side of the dividing summary; for though the elder wrote long after 1850 and the younger some time before it, in hardly any pair is the opposition of the earlier and later times more clearly exposed; and the identity of name emphasises the difference of nature.

[312] In using this phrase I remembered the very neat "score" made off the great Alexander himself by a French judge, in some case at Rouen where Dumas was a witness. Asked as usual his occupation, he replied somewhat grandiloquently: "Monsieur, si je n'etais pas dans la ville de Corneille, je dirais 'Auteur dramatique.'" "Mais, Monsieur," replied the official with the sweetest indulgence, "il y a des degres." (This story is told, like most such, with variants; and sometimes, as in the particular case was sure to happen, not of Alexander the father, but of Alexander the son. But I tell it, as I read or heard it, long years ago.)


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