Young DArtagnans father gives him the above advice while he sets off to Paris to become a musketeer. He becomes good friends with Arthos, Porthos and Aramis, meanwhile embracing their motto of "One for all, and all for one".
And while the book serves as an inspiration to millions to fight it out in life, with utmost courage and honesty, the man to be thanked for it, is Alexendre Dumas. Having given classics like 'The Three Musketeers' and 'The Count of Monte Cristo', French playwright, historian, and author, Alexendre Dumas Pere was one of the best known writers of the 19th century. Known for high adventure novels, the themes explored such things as history, loyalty and justice.
No wonder his novels reverberate through the hallways of time, echoing through history as some of the best works English literature has ever seen.
A family of fighters
Alexendre Dumas Pere's grandfather, the Marquis Alexendre Davis de la Pailleterie married a black slave whom he fell in love with in San Domingo (now Haiti) by the name of Marie Louise Cesette Dumas. Their son alexandre Thomas was to become a general of Napolean's army.He said, "I want to go away and be a soldier." Alexandre-Antoine, his father did not oppose him; but, being an aristocrat, he gave his approval on one condition: "Thomas-Alexander should not enlist under the noble name of Davy de la Pailleterie, but under that of his mother, the black slave of "Jeremy's Gap." Thus he took his mother's last name, thereby calling himself 'Thomas Alexendre Dumas'.
According to the family's tradition, the name Alexandre was passed onto the future generations as well. At half past five in the morning of 24th July, 1802, Alexandre Dumas Pere was born to Marie Louise Labouret, daughter of an innkeeper and Thomas Alexendre Dumas, a military general under Napolean in the village of Villers-Cotterets, which was a small country town, about forty miles from Paris.
General Dumas wrote to his friend, General Brune "I have to announce to you that my wife yesterday was delivered of a son who weighs nine pounds and measures eighteen inches. If he continues to grow outside as he has grown inside, he bids fair to attain a very fine figure."
Madame Dumas was quite anxious that her son might turn out to be black. The reason for her anxiousness was a marionette show she had seen before his birth. The main character was carried off by a black devil named Berlick. The Berlick had scared her out of her wits and she went home saying "I'll be ruined! I shall give birth to a Berlick!"
Far from it; Alexandre turned out to be a fair skinned, light haired and blue eyed boy. He was praised by his father with remarks such as "the calf of whose leg was as big round as the waist of his mother."
Alexandre had the traits of his brave father whose heroic strength was applauded by Napolean, who made him a general at the age of 31. However, a consequent fall out on account of his criticism of the Egypt campaign saw Thomas Dumas being ostracized from the army. A long imprisonment led to severe deterioration of his physical and mental health.
When he returned home after 20 months, he was lame, deaf in one ear, partly paralysed and penniless. A combination of ill health and dire financial conditions took the better part of him, consequently leading to his death in 1806, when young Alexendre Pere was just four years old.
Early childhood shapes up
Alexander was in despair. He could not believe that a man so big, so good, and so strong could suddenly disappear. Young Dumas did not accept his father's death. On being told that his father was taken away by God, he commanded with the naivety of childhood that he wanted to go to heaven to see him. Dumas' novels in his later life reflected many of his father's deeds and real life exploits.
The family now comprising of four year old Dumas and his mother was left in extreme financial lurch. Providing a decent education to him was also proving to be difficult. Having no right to her husband's pension, since he did not die on the battlefield as the rule commanded, Madam Dumas found it difficult to raise her son. She did not work and hence had no income of her own.
The widow joined her parents' household, the same house they had occupied before the general's death.
With no money for education, Madame Dumas entrusted her son to a local priest, Abbe Gregoire who was to teach him. But Alexandre had no inclination towards letters, more so towards mathematics. The farthest he could go was multiplication tables. Frustrated by her son's lack of will towards academics, his mother put him to learn music at the hands of Father Hiraux, an old musician at Villers - Cotterets. Father Hiraux had an interesting way of dressing up. He was long and thin and wore a black silk cap which he pulled over when his pupils played the wrong note. With Alexandre he had his cap down too often. At the end of three years, he was convinced that Alexandre was not made for music. However, knowing the mother's financial condition, the professor's conscience did not allow him to take any money from her.
So what exactly was Alexandre good at? Madam Dumas was in despair. Dumas' writing master, Mr. Oblet spoke kindly of his student's writing skills. His writing resonated clarity and elegance. "But every idiot can write well," said Madam Dumas.
Â Young Alexander remained quiet and had slowly begun to realize his inclination towards words. Happening to cry one day, he was asked what the matter was and he answered: "Dumas is crying because Dumas is troubled."
Dumas knew in his heart that he could do things on his own and his mother should have no reason to worry about him.
Cumulatively, young Dumas had passed most of his childhood in three houses, those of Madame Darcourt, Monsier Deviolaine and Monsier Collard. The first was the widow of an army surgeon. The young boy studied the animal world in the books of Buffon and the coloured plates of the historic Uhistoive Naturelle. It was here that he developed the amazing skill of reading.
The second was Monsieur Deviolaine who was connected to the Dumas family. He was a forest inspector, of a land measuring thirty thousand acres. A good friend to Madame Dumas, he was a person of tough exterior but a kind heart.
The third was M. Collard de Montjouy, a member of the legislative body who owned a lavish Chateau three miles from the main town. Here, young Dumas spent his days in merrymaking and happiness, roaming about in the wide open spaces. Just as the earlier house was associated with Buffon, this one was associated with a nicely illustrated bible. Meanwhile all of it was supplemented by Robinson Crusoe, the Arabian Nights and a Mythology for the young. Such myriad experiences added onto the child's learning and knowledge.
It was precisely his rendezvous with mythology in childhood that influenced his writing in many ways. Readers of Dumas' works will notice how frequently he draws from this branch.
He was now more than ten years old and Madam Dumas decided to send her son to a clerical seminary.
But Alexander wasn't too keen on joining it. However after enough persistence from his mother, young Alexander gave away his reluctance to join.
On the eve of the departure, Dumas went ahead to buy himself an inkstand. At this point, Miss Cecile Deviolaine intervened since she dreaded her cousin becoming a priest. She ironically remarked that she would later take him as his father- confessor. Young Dumas did not take kindly to her jibes and in a flurry of the moment flung the inkstand stating, "I will not go to the Seminary."
A bigger thing was to be an outcome of such a trivial issue. Much positivity was to emerge from it. The young lad ran away into the forest and hid there for three days and left a note for his mother to reduce her anxiety. He took shelter in the hut of a native, whose chief occupation was bird snaring and poaching.
Alexander returned on the instructions of Abbe Gregoir, another friend of his. This time though Dumas's mother wasn't too keen on keeping him at home and hence found her son a local tutor to teach. His education was shaping up in the form of regular lessons sporadically marked by holidays. It was then that he was invited to visit Abbe Fortier, a simple man with fondness for food, billiards and most importantly the gun. The young lad witnessed a world of activity like never before and developed a love for sports. Accompanying Abbe on hunting and shooting expeditions, Young Dumas eagerly awaited a time when he would get to hold the gun. Developing an innate taste for the wild, he overcame natural obstacles with ease.
When Dumas returned after a fortnight from his sporting escapade, the mother and son made Rue de Lormet their home, close to where her son had been born.
A routine marked by lessons, sojourns in the forest and play followed here. When the lad experienced bouts of emotional upheaval, he would visit his father's grave. Daily walks to the cemetery to talk to his father and the addition of graves each month moulded his sentiments and lingered on till the later years of his life.
When disturbance strikes
The peaceful routine was broken amid disturbing public events. Dumas was twelve when the Allied Powers had begun to invade France. Napolean who till now a victorious hero, was known more as a destroyer who had been draining France and separating men from their wives, sisters from their brothers and mothers from their sons.
When Soissons, a town sixteen miles from the main land was invaded, the civilians gathered their belongings and hid in caves.
Dumas witnessed two contradictory and opposing sights at once: the show of war and the reality behind it. None of it was forgotten by him. On account of all this, his education witnessed a break. His school days ended prematurely since the Abbe Gregoire had to give up teaching students in school due to some regulations. Henceforth he visited pupils at their own houses. This is how Dumas received education from Gregoire in Latin.
Education beyond education
His informal education consisted of some tuition in fencing among others. Consequently, his moral and religious training was given by Madame Dumas which lent him an emotional and spiritual outlook towards life. Honourable and generous, the boy had imbibed such traits of his father.
Dumas possessed fearlessness for the open grounds, for fresh air and the wild. He was always eager for sport, except for the fear of heights. His bird catching activities have already been referred along with Boudoux. He was outgrowing that phase of 'chasing' and now wanted to be in firearms, in the company of real sportsmen. He no longer wanted to be known as a little boy, instead wanted to give wings to his to be found early adolescence. Dumas had inherited a love for sport from his father. On one instance he had a 'real outing' with his neighbour M.Picot.
A bird kill and countless hare shoots later, Dumas remarks
"three hares proceeding to the hollow where I lay concealed,
advancing at unequal distances from one another."
Having bruised the hare and determined not to lose him, he says
"After much vain pursuit and a noise which made the rest of
the party furious, I at last got hold of him, first by one
paw, then by two, then round the body, and made my way
back, hugging the creature to my breast as Hercules did with
The vagaries of nature quickened his imagination, creating a love for nature, a disliking towards a humdrum city life and a passion for travelling. All of it was to influence his writing in the later years.
Meanwhile he was growing up and entering his youth. Dumas had his first apprenticeship in 1818 at a local notary. The notary being a liberal, Dumas had the privilege of reading revolutionary literature.
It was here that Dumas collaborated with Adolphe de Leuven, a young nobleman who became friends with Dumas. Adolphe visited Villers-Cotterets and took him on his first trip to the Paris theatre in November, 1822.
Passing by the Theatre Francais, Dumas observed that a play featuring Talma, the famous actor was supposed to be exhibited that day. Dumas made up his mind that he would see the play at any cost. Adolphe knew Talma and introduced Dumas as the son of General Alexandre Dumas. Talma called him forward and said that he must also come later to watch other plays.
A brief conversation followed:
Dumas : Unhappily I must go back to-morrow to the
country to my office, for I am a lawyer's clerk.
Talma : No need to be ashamed of that, young man.
Corneille was a lawyer's clerk. (Turning to the company.)
Gentlemen, let me present to you a future Corneille.
Dumas : Touch my forehead, sir, it will bring me luck.
Talma (putting his hand on Dumas' head): So be it! I baptize
thee Poet in the name of Shakespeare, Corneille, and Schiller. Return now
to your office, and be sure your proper vocation will find you wherever you
are. Come, come this lad has enthusiasm: he will do something yet."
Once Dumas returned home, he began the task of searching suitable topics to write plays. However he did not have money to go back to Paris, the city which would give him due recognition. But Dumas had a way out. One evening, he played billiards and won 90 francs enough to go to Paris and sustain himself till he found his ground. Soon Dumas said goodbye to his home and set out to establish himself in Paris.
Returning home to break with his former employer, Dumas began searching novels for suitable subjects to turn into plays, and plotted his escape. This turned out to be simple. One of his talents was at billiards and one evening he won 90 francs, a small fortune, enough for a coach to Paris and sustain himself till he found his feet. Almost without delay Dumas said goodbye to his childhood and set out to conquer Paris.
An introduction to General Foy, the deputy of his department sought him a place as a clerk in the service of the Duke Of Orleans with a salary of 1200 Francs.
"You write a beautiful hand." General Foy gushed over Dumas's beautiful handwriting and offered him the position.
Â Ecstatic with the response, Dumas felt a sense of Deja Vu. The phrase had embraced him at all places- Paris, Villers Dumas was stunned. A beautiful hand! It was the stock phrase that greeted him everywhere, at Paris and at Villers-Cotterets.
Dumas went on an austerity drive and left the hotel in the rue des Vieux-Augustins where he had stayed since his arrival and rented a small room at ten Francs a month.
While in Paris, Dumas and Leuven started working together to produce vaudevilles and melodramas. Madame Dumas later joined her son in Paris and died in 1938.
1829 saw the production of his first play, Henry III and his Court, which met great public acclaim. A major piece of work of the romantic drama saw admiration from Victor Hugo and Alfred de Vigny, two great writers of the time. His second play Christine, produced in 1830 also became popular and sufficed his financial needs, enough to start working full time as a writer.
The mid 1830s saw the end of a cumbersome republican era which was marked by occasional riots. Dumas professed himself as a republican, just like his father. However the republican era of 1830 was not as aggressive as that of 1790. On July 26, 1830, at five in the morning, Dumas heard of the suspension of the liberty of the press. It was enough for him that the ruling government was against literary pursuits. Until then he was indifferent to politics. However, thereafter he started calling himself a republican, not knowing exactly why, but probably because his father was one.
"The suppression of certain liberal newspapers, the dissolution
of the recently elected chamber before it had even met, and the
diminution of the electorate, these were the chief points in the ordinances. "
Meanwhile in 1831, a play by the name of Antony came out and proved to be an even greater success than Henri III. It attacked conventional notions of marriage, idealised romantic love and ended in murder and suicide. As usual the critics slammed it with statements like "The most obscene play that has ever appeared in these days of obscenity!" Once again, his play was revered by young romantics.
With a booming economy and an end to press censorship, the times proved to be rewarding for Dumas in many ways.
His desire to lead an extravagant lifestyle made him understand the economics of the market and thence produce serial novels, as demanded by newspapers at that time. Intelligent that he was, Dumas simply rewrote one of his plays into a novel titled "Le Capitaine Paul". It also led to the formation of his production studio which churned countless stories with his inputs.
He compiled an eight volume collection of essays from 1839 to 1841 on famous criminals in European history.
Soon love blossomed and in 1840 he married Ida Ferrier, an actress but continued to have liaisons with other women.
He also bore 3 illegitimate children, one of them being Alexandre Dumas fils
(French for son) who was to become a great historian in the times to come.
Dumas' ability as a writer was undisputed. By 1843, he had developed 15 plays. The historical novels which were to follow earned him a fortune but his extravagant lifestyle made him spend more than he earned. An assistant by the name of Auguste Maquet was one of the nearly 73 assistants who helped him write his books. Dumas' particularly weighed Auguste's opinions. Maquet helped Dumas outline the plot for 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and also made a significant amount of contribution for 'The Three Musketeers.' However Dumas himself added the final details and dialogues.
The mention of historical facts in Dumas' works was not always exact. However, he had a sharp sense and hence combined history with fiction very tactfully. On one instance at a public gathering, Dumas described the battle of waterloo. However, a general present shouted saying, "but it wasn't like that; I was there!" To this, Dumas with his razor sharp wit replied "You were not paying attention to what was going on".
Dumas earned generously, making nearly 200,000 francs annually. He also received an annual sum of 63,000 francs for 220,000 lines written for 'La Presse' and the 'Constitutional', both well know newspapers.
The Count of Monte-Cristo
"There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness."
Edmond Dantes, the protagonist has everything going well for him. He is about to become the captain of a ship and is engaged to a beautiful and young lady, Mercedes. Marked by envy, Dantes' so called friends plot to put him in trouble. Danglars, the treasurer of the ship, envies his early success. Fernand Mondrego is in love with Mercedes and the third one, his neighbour Caderousse does not like the fact that Dantes is luckier and more successful than him.
Together the three men accuse Dantes of treason by drafting a letter. However, accusations were true upto some extent. Dantes is carrying a letter from Napoleon for some of his sympathizers in Paris.
Dantes is framed as a Napoleanic conspirator just before Napolean's return from Elba in 1815. He is hence thrown in prison at Chateau d'lf. After learning about the treasure on the Isle of Monte Cristo, he escapes the prison and uses the treasure for the destruction of the three men who framed him.
The book explores the character traits like no other. Known for his imaginative and gripping style, Dumas keeps the action moving in the book. He also composes the chapter endings or teasers to evoke suspense and entice the reader into reading the book.
The tale of suffering and retribution is partly inspired by a real life shoe maker known as François Picaud. The book was a humongous success when published in 1840.
The Three Musketeers
Porthos: He thinks he can challenge the mighty Porthos with a sword...Â
D'Artagnan: The mighty who?Â
Porthos: Don't tell me you've never heard of me.Â
D'Artagnan: The world's biggest windbag?Â
Porthos: Little pimple... meet me behind the Luxembourg at 1 o'clock and bring a long wooden box.Â
D'Artagnan: Bring your own...Â
â€•Â The Three Musketeers
Published in 1844, the story talks about international and political chaos and struggles in 17th century France. Said to be one of the greatest adventure novels of all time, The Three Musketeers marks the power struggle between King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu and a time of conflict between England and France.
The protagonist, D' Artagnan, a young fellow leaves his home in Gascony to go to Paris and dreams of joining the musketeers, who are responsible for protecting the royal French family.
However a lot of hurdles were to come his way. It started with him being beaten up and robbed of a valuable possession - A letter of recommendation without which he would not be allowed the honourable musketeers.
Soon after he continues towards Paris and meets the three musketeers namely, Porthos, Athos and Aramis. The first meeting with the musketeers goes poorly. However on being challenged by six of Cardinal Richelieu's guards, D' Artagnan and the musketeers become allies and battle it out with the guards. They ultimately stand victorious.
A series of complications follow, from political assassinations to kidnapping, from international espionage to murder. Meanwhile D'Artagnan is faced with an arrest warrant. The unscrupulous and unprincipled Milady de Winter attempts to kill him. Milady's character is one of intrigue. As a nun, she seduced the priest and stole valuables from the church. She became a spy for the Cardinal and it is later revealed that she was the wife of Athos, who after knowing the evil fact disowned her.
The eventual outcome sees the Cardinal being impressed by D'Artagnan's courage. He clears him of all the charges.
Dumas does not penetrate deeply into the psychology of his characters. Infact he identifies them with descriptive tags, for eg. the lean acerbity of Athos and the spirit of D'Artagnan. The main characters possess a sorierity and exhibit valour. These add onto the amazing adventure and suspenseful story.
Dumas never followed any writing rules except the ones oh his heart. His characteristic style was affable and indeed moved the reader.
The story has been extremely popular and has continued to be read generations after it was originally written. Not only this, the book has been adapted into several movies and TV series too.
Vital themes explored in the book include:
Friendship forms an integral part of the book. The four young men combine each other's strengths and defeat evil powers. Friendship is seen as a source of support in the story.
The importance of loyalty:
Loyalty in 'The Three Musketeers' is an absolutely binding faith. In order to protect themselves, the characters depend on each other's loyalty, which is explored through risk-taking adventures.
Portrayed as men of immense pride and self-respect, the characters do not take kindly to any insults. In order to preserve their pride, they are seen fighting for their lives.
A large part among his fan base is the English-speaking world and the French readers. Critics most notably applaud him for his dramatic writing which have since generations been recognized as groundbreaking. Inspite of applaud on one hand, Dumas was often the centre of harsh criticism. His works were laughed off with shallow descriptions like 'mere entertainment', nothing more substantial than 'The Wandering Jew.' He was compared to other established writers of his time namely, Hugo, Balzac and George Sand.
His writing style was rampant with excessive quotations and dialogues. The astounding output of his works often left others wondering about the authenticity of the production under his name. ." But he proved in his later works that collaboration was not an absolute requirement for production on his part, and observers have pointed out that no joint authorship has ever been claimed forÂ My MemoirsÂ and any number of his widely praised non-fiction works."
The sheer number of adaptations of his works reiterates his position as a great writer. He was truly a creative talent much beyond the literary milieu of his times. Critics have continued to investigate his works of lesser popularity for their contemporary relevance.
Brussels and the return to Paris
In 1851, in order to escape his creditors on account of rising debts, Dumas went off to Brussels. After spending two years in exile, he returned to Paris Dumas lived life lavishly and was termed as 'the king of Paris'. His fortunes were spent on friends, arts and mistresses.
There he founded a daily by the name of Le Mousquetaire. He travelled to Russia in 1858 and to Italy in 1860 where he remained in Naples as a keeper of museums. After the war of 1866, he visited the battlefields and produced his story of La Terreur Prussienne. Inspite of having told Napolean that he had written 1200 volumes, he was at the mercy of his creditors.
The death of a hero
After having lived an extravagant life, it was difficult for Dumas to live like a commoner. He was habituated to living a bohemian life, one of pleasure and peace.
His deteriorating health largely confined him to his home. However he was in the constant company of his books.
"Each page recalls to me a day that has gone by. I am like one of those trees with thick foliage full of birds that are silent at noon but that wake toward the end of the day. At night-fall they will fill my old age with the flapping of wings and with songs."
Dumas delved his being into reading 'The Three Musketeers.' On one occasion, seeing him read a book, his son asked,
"What are you reading there?"
Â "The Musketeers. I always promised myself to read it when I grew old to see for myself what it is worth."
"Well, and where are you in it?"
Â "At the end."
"What do you think of it?"
Â Â "It's good."
Depression, anxiety and gloom had started shrouding him. He kept saying, "Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse!" (largely meaning 'nothing lasts').
In October, the rains and fog made the environment gloomier. Dumas no longer left his room. Through his window he watched the autumn set by. Often Dumas tried to justify why he was left with no money.
He said to Dumas Fils "People say that I have been wasteful. There's no truth in it. I came to Paris with two louis in my pocket; go and look in my waistcoat, and you will find those two louis."
Being penniless gradually became an obsession so much so that people around him made it a point to fill his drawer with money.
Dumas often worried about the longevity of his works. The writer in him nagged his soul to know if readers would continue reading his books long after he was gone.
Dumas asked: "Tell me, Alexander, on your soul and conscience, do you believe that anything of mine will live?"
"Never fear. . . ." and with great sincerity he went on to explain how there was no doubt about the posterity of his works. Hearing this, his face lighted up.
The next day Dumas condition deteriorated. When the priest gave sacraments and called him by name, he moved his eyelids but did not have the strength to reply. At ten in the night on December 5, 1870, he died without any significant indications.
"Tell the angel who will watch over your future destiny, Morrel, to pray sometimes for a man, who like Satan thought himself for an instant equal to God, but who now acknowledges with Christian humility that God alone possesses supreme power and infinite wisdom. .... There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.
"Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,--"Wait and hope."--Ch. 117,Â The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas remained in the cemetery he had been buried in at Villers Cotterets until November 30, 2002.
In a televised ceremony in 2002, the then French president Jacques
Chirac ordered for the transfer of his body to the Pantheon of Paris, the great mausoleum where French luminaries were interred. His new coffin was draped in a blue-velvet cloth and was flanked by four men dressed up as the Musketeers; Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan.
"With you, we were D'Artagnan, Monte Cristo or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles, with you, we dream." said French President Chirac in his speech.
In an interview that followed the ceremony, he acknowledged the presence of racism that had previously existed and believed that with the transfer of the body alongside notable writers like Victor Hugo and Voltaire, a wrong had been rectified.
The honour recognized that although France has produced many great writers, none have been as popular as Alexandre Dumas. Alexandre Dumas' home outside of Paris, the Chateau Monte Cristo, has been restored and opened to the public.