Ille per extentum funein mihi posse videtur
Ire poeta, meum qui pcctus inaniter angit,
Irritat mulcet falsis terroribus implet
Ut magus: et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athcnis.
HORATIUS FLACCUS: Epistolae, 2.1.210
Alexandre Dumas, a prolific quadroon French writer, grandson of Davy de la Pailleterie and a negro slave of San Domingo, and son of Thomas-Alexandre "Dumas" and Marie Louise Elizabeth Labourer, daughter of an innkeeper, was born July 24, 1802, at Villers-Cotterets. In 1814 he was apprenticed to a notary, but in 1823 went to Paris and became a supernumerary clerk in the offices of the Duke of Orleans. To earn a bit of extra money to support his mother and his mistress Catherine Lebay and their son Alexandre fils, he collaborated with de Leuven and Rousseau in writing a vaudeville skit, "La Chasse et l'Amour," for which he received 300 francs as his share. His own play, "Henri III et sa Cour" was produced for the first time on February II, 1829, and was a great success, so that Dumas was enabled to increase his harem. In 1830 he did a bit of spectacular soldiering, during the "Days of July," when the Bourbons were overthrown. "Anthony," his next play, was an even greater success, in spite of—or because—the critics pronounced it a "filthy play," and "the most obscene play that has ever appeared in these days of obscenity." A liberal spender, he was soon down to eating meals at six sous, and, forced to work, he produced, with paste-pot and shears, his "Gaule et France." February 5, 1840, he was married to Ida Ferrier, who had been his mistress for seven years. He continued to produce plays and comedies and a few novels, but his financial affairs were in a bad state until he had the good fortune to meet Auguste Maquet, a retired professor, who was writing historical romances with interesting plots but uninterestingly told. Thereafter, for many years, Maquet wrote out from data supplied by Dumas and "borrowed" here, there, and everywhere, the novels which Dumas himself burnished into final form. Thus was produced "Les trois Monsquetaires," in 1845, based on de Courtils' "Les memoires de M. d'Artagnan," Roederer's "Intrigues Politiques et Galantes de la Cour de France," and "Les Memoires de la Porte." In the same way, the outstanding "Monte Cristo" and many other romances were produced. The style of writing adopted by Dumas was that which was so common to many of the dime novelists of a later day. Instead of beginning with tedious descriptions, the story started with a bang—action first and explanations afterwards.
As his fame grew, Dumas employed more collaborators—Fiorentino, Malefille, Meurice, and Paul Lacroix—and, like his contemporary Balzac, established a veritable romance factory, but his principal co-worker remained Maquet until 1856, when they came to the parting of the ways. Unlike the dime novelists, who wrote under various pen names to conceal the number of stories they turned out, Dumas gathered much more than his share under his own name.
In 1853 Dumas' journal, Le Mosquetaire, was established. For some years it was very successful, but finally, in 1857, it died of inanition. In 1858 he visited Russia, and on his return his plays were again received with favor. He took part in Garibaldi's Revolution in 1860, and was made Director of Fine Arts in Naples, where he remained four years, but in 1864 he returned to Paris. As he grew older his belief in spiritualism, charms, and the evil eye increased and he grew more superstitious. His fickle public deserted him again, and he resorted to the pleasures of the kitchen. Had he not been a popular author, he might have become a famous cook. He tried journalism again, but Les Nouvelles, a revived Le Monsquetaire, and D'Artagnan all languished. Caesar was growing old. His last conquest was Adah Isaacs Menken, the actress, and the sixty-five-year-old man and Adah may be seen in a charming photograph made at Dives. By this time Dumas had become enormous in body; his hair, mustache, and goatee were white, his breath short, and he waddled when he walked. Said his son (Bookman (N.Y.), XV, 1902, 415): "My father was so vain that he would climb up on the seat of his own carriage in order to make people think that he kept a negro coachman." He still wrote, but received only about $200 (1,000 francs) per volume and 10 per cent royalty, which, except for the royalty, was not far from the usual remuneration of the American dime novelists. Funds often ran low, and he had recourse to leaving some article of value with his "uncle."
During the years 1869 and 1870 he grew weaker and weaker, and went to live with his son at Puys, near Dieppe, where he would sit in a chair on the beach for hours at a time. On the fifth of December, 1870, he was dead.
REFERENCES; B. de Bury, Alexandre Dumas, 1885; Davidson, A. Dumas, Pere, His Life and Works, 1902; G. Ferry, Les dernieres anees d'Alexandre Dumas, 1883; Charles Glinel, Alexandre Dumas, 1884; Fitzgerald, Life and Adventures of Alexander Dumas, 1873; Jules Janin, Alexandre Dumas, 1871; E. de Mirecourt, Alexandre Dumas et Cie., Vabrique de romans, 1845; G. Simon, Histoire d'line collaboration—Alexandre Dumas et Auguste Maquet, 1919; Francis Gribble, "Dumas the Elder," Critic, XLI, 1902, 61-69, with portrait; J. Lucas-Dubretun, The Fourth Musketeer, 1928. There is a copy of the photograph of Dumas and the Menken in George D. Lyman's The Saga of the Comstock Lode, New York, 1934, 123.
Fireside Library. No. 137
Dime Library. No. 190