Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

for his subjects the seamy side, to dwell more on when might was right, when the socal coloring what is wrong than on what is right, and with was crude and vivid, rather than from those later disdainful impartiality to reserve alike his blame days, when undaunted perseverance and rare enand his approval. We doubt it ; but should it be ergy had achieved the miraculously rapid transformtrue, and should it be a fault, it would lie perhaps ation of California into a civilized community, less in the judgment which he witholds, than in instead of a lawless gathering of gold-seekers, the the nature of the society which he portrays, and scum of other nations united by the lust of the to wbich he owes his unparalleled originality. glittering dust, and ever divided by murderous His artistic tact tells him that there is a wider thoughts of greed and rapine. Who would blame field for his peculiarly happy and genuine mode Bret Harte for preferring the picturesque ruffian, of expression, when his models are chosen from a the Spanish colonist, the wild Irishman, to the time when men were untrammeled by opinion, refined commonplace successors of those first ex

plorers of the young country? He does not tion he now fills. It is, however, impossible to pretend, and does not care, to introduce them be acquainted with Mr. Bret Harte without being otherwise than as they really are; but then he at once convinced of what is, indeed, the fact possesses the priceless gift of seeing the silver —that he comes from a good stock ; that his early lining to the darkest cloud; he knows the “open surroundings were both intellectual and refined ; sesame" to locked hearts; he can win a smile and that, whatever may have been the associates from. sullen lips, a glance from Proud, defiant of his youth and manhood, he must as a child eyes; he can strike the spark of feeling even in the have learned at a mother's knee those lessons of most degraded of human beings. If he does tact, gentle breeding, and perfcct manners which select his heroines from among the least favored can never be forgotten. of their sex, plain to ugliness, uncouth, repellant, He did not enrich his country with the labors sinned against or sinning, crushed out of all sem of his pen alone. During the troubled times of blance of what is lovable in woman—what matter? the War of Secession he served on the frontier, Out of some hidden source of kindliness in his and later on was appointed secretary of the Mint. own heart, he with subtle touch suddenly elicits His military career, though brief, was eminently an unexpected burst of devotion, self-sacrifice, successful. Among us he is deservedly liked and love, or passion, which at once places the poor admired, and receives the same cordial reception lost wretch on as high a moral ground as her more in the circles where his literary and conversational immaculate sisters. It is the same with his male powers are appreciated, as from those who in barcharacters. He takes the rudest life, the most rack or garrison hail him as a fellow-soldier. Jowering associations; he places in their midst a | For a time he was Consul for the United States man devoid of moral sense or common honor, at Crefeld, near Dusseldorf; he was not very long committing crimes without hesitation or remorse, i ago transferred in the same capacity to Glasgow, and lo! that man also places his foot on the road leaving many regrets and many friends behindo of Damascus ; a light bursts upon him—the touch him. There is little doubt, however, that he of baby fingers, a woman's tears, a comrade's must soon be called to fill a more important post. dying words—and with the same dogged listless. In this short notice we do not dwell on facts so ness, heaven alone counting the cost, he gives universally known as his busy editorship of the away his hopes or his life, perchance as uncon.“ Overland Monthly," and professorship of Bellesscious of being a martyr and a hero as he was of lettres at the University of California. It seems having been an outlaw.

almost presumptuous to give pre-eminence to any Have you seen Edwin Booth, the admirable particular selection from among Bret Harte's American tragedian, the intelligent interpreter of works; still, we own to a preference for some of Shakspeare, act King Lear? On the storm-beaten the shorter sketches and minor poems. Among heath, warring alike with the elements and his the latter there are a few lines called “What the own growing madness, the actor has a gesture of Wolf really said to Little Red Riding Hood," unspeakable pathos when, with what appears un- which are unrivalled for grace, simplicity, and conscious tenderness, he draws his royal cloak delicacy of intention. It seems barely credible around the shivering form of the boy buffoon that the pen which wrote “Relieving Guard," sobbing at his knee. It is the same spirit of “What the Bullet Sang," “ Fate," with their innate, almost involuntary kindliness which seems stern, forcible, dramatic depth, could change to to prompt Bret Harte to claim-nay, to compel- such idyllic tenderness. our pity and our interests for the outcasts of civil- ' “ The Luck of Roaring Camp' is commonly ization, the bankrupts in happiness and virtue, called the most perfect of all the California tales. disinherited from their cradle of all that makes It truly deserves its world-wide popularity, but we life worth living.

confess to a partiality for two others equally rich In biographies of the American novelist, it has in pathos, feeling, and humor, and which possess been implied that he himself belonged to the wild a strangely captivating charm : “ Tennessee's Partrace of adventurers he appears to know so well, ner," the story of a love passing the love of and that, born on the lowest rungs of the social | woman, true unto death and beyond death; and ladder, he rose by his own exertions to the posi- “ The Outcasts of Poker Flat," where two women

who should never have met-one because so pure, various times been compared with other authorsthe other because so lost-die in each other's Dickens in England, Mérimée in France, etc. arms, all unconscious of their great disparity, These parallels drawn between literary men, if fatwrapped in the white icy mantle of snow which tering to one or both, are rarely correct, and more shrouds in its stainless embrace the innocence of especially in this instance. Bret Harte stands the maiden and the shame of the fallen. Reading quite alone on the ground he has chosen ; his those tales, one cannot help wondering what the greatest claims to popularity are his individuality, man who wrote them must have known himself of his originality, his avoidance of beaten tracks and friendship and of pity. Next to these, will it ever conventional grooves. His works are stamped be possible to forget “M’liss,” “Miggles," "The with a hall-mark that distinguishes his sterling Rose of Tuolumne," and many more which there qualities from any others, and he has no more is no space to mention ?

chosen to imitate any particular style than it will Is it not the highest triumph of the poet and be possible for others to appropriate his. the novelist, after having in turns moved you to The public of both continents is now impatiently laughter or to tears, to retain an imperishable awaiting a new volume from the gifted pen that hold on your memory? This triumph is Bret has already given the world so rich an intellectual Harte's, and will remain his as long as he writes feast. The golden vein cannot be exhausted, the with his keen perception of truth, his shrewd muse must not be silent, for it is more especially humor, and that loyalty and tenderness of feeling to the aristocracy of talent and genius that the which are so exclusively his own. He has at motto applies, “ Noblesse oblige.''

DUMAS AS A HERO.

By HART AYRAULT.

The narration contained in the memoirs of bold design of setting off for Soissons—a town he Alexander Dumas of his expedition to Soissons to well knew—and seizing on the magazine there. seize the powder-magazine there and bear off its He proposed it to the general. Lafayette only contents to Paris is of so thrilling and romantic laughed, but consented to give him a pass to Gena description that it deserves repetition, if only eral Gérard, to which Dumas coolly added, “and in confirmation of the theory that truth is stranger we recommend his scheme to you." With more than fiction.

difficulty he obtained from Gérard a requisition In fact, when he afterward told this adventure, addressed to the authorities of the town for he elicited only many a scoffing laugh or an in- the powder, and interloping the words, “mindifferent shrug of the shoulders; such a romance, ister of war," on this official document, a coming from so amusing and nefarious a raconteur, title, by the way, which no one but himself not being thought worthy of refutation. Yet the had conferred on the general, he returned to story is perfectly true, and may be found set forth Lafayette, persuading the old and honored patriot in a modest official report addressed to Lafayette, to write him a kind of letter of recommendaand published in the Moniteur of August 9th, tion to the good citizens of Soissons, naming 1830, signed by Dumas and the friends who him " one of our combatants," and a fit and assisted him in the expedition, the facts of which proper person to whom they should hand over were these :

the powder. Thus equipped, our hero—for so he During the Revolution of 1830, Alexandre proved himself on this occasion-prepared himDumas, then a very young man, took his share in self for as spirited an adventure as can be found its stirring scenes as a skirmisher, and on hearing in the annals of war. a remark made by Lafayette, to the effect that is He set out the middle of a fine afternoon,-the the king were to advance on Paris there would be 30th of July, 1830,—and meeting one of his no powder to meet him with, he conceived the friends, a young artist of nineteen, named Bard, he asked him to join. With all the well-known sand eager questions were asked, and, late as it ardor of the Gaul for adventure, this latter was, every house poured out its inhabitants to agreed, and returned home for his double-barreled hear the story of the last few days. Dumas was pistols and his horse, overtaking Dumas, who had soon carried off to the house of an old friend to pushed on in a cabriolet, at Le Bourget, the first get something to eat; a number of old comrades post on the road to Soissons. Here they exhib- gathered about him, and, while a hasty supper was ited the official documents to the postmaster, being discussed, listened eagerly to what their demanding conveyance for the mission. The friend recounted between the mouthfuls. The postmaster was empressé, and his friendliness at open-eyed rustics who gathered around hearkened once took the necessary form of chaise and horses. with delight and wonder to the celebrated gasWhile waiting, the two friends went out and conader; but when he announced that he intended bought some strips of calico, with which they to capture, single-handed, all the powder that was made a tricolor flag, fastened on a broom-stick, in a military town containing eight thousand which latter was fixed to the chaise. When all inhabitants and a garrison of eight hundred men, was ready, they started, with ensign flying, and they looked at each other incredulously, as though causing the greatest excitement through the he were crazed. This, of course, was but the various villages they passed, hoping to reach fuel craved by the incurable vanity of the great Soissons by midnight.

al.

dramatist, who always set his own figure in the Agreeing together that some sort of cry was most effective positions, and who, true to his necessary to keep their waning flag in countenance, hobby, turned to his companion, Bard, for enthey adopted, not without hesitation, the well- dorsement. worn and tattered Vive la Republique !" AC- “What,” he said, “were my words when procordingly, they took turns, alternately sleeping or posing this expedition to you?" hanging out of the window to vociferate the cry “You asked," was the ready answer, “if I decided on. Striking the high-road, they met a were inclined to get myself shot with you." chaise going to Paris, and a traveler some fifty | “And what say you now?" years old asked for news.

“That I am ready still.”. “The Bourbons have fled, the Louvre is taken, As may be supposed, such gallantry confounded Provincial Government is established— Vive la and awed the spectators, one of whom stepped Republique !"' the excited artist panted forth, his forward, offering to get Alexandre into Soissons, head out of the window.

as he had a friend at the gates. After drinking to The gentleman of fifty shrugged his shoulders, his own return next evening, and ordering dinner scratched his ear, and continued his journey. for twenty people," and mind, it is to be eaten The next stop they shipped an old postilion, on just the same be we dead or alive. Here are two whom cajolery or execrations were alike powerless hundred francs to defray the expenses,”-the io induce him to increase his steady jog-trot, and great Alexandre tossed off his wine, and, slipping who at every remonstrance answered doggedly, his hand through Hutin's arm,—the friend who “ A man knows his own business best." At last, was to pass them through he gates,-the bold annoyed beyond endurance, Dumas, leaning from trio dashed off into the darkness on their daring the chaise window, laid onto the backs of the i expedition. horses, making them gallop. In a rage the man By one o'clock they reached the gates of Soisswore he would unharness the beasts, and actually sons, through which Hutin succeeded in getting proceeded to do so. Dumas fired at him with a them passed, the gate-keeper little dreaming that blank cartridge, which so scared him that he lay he was admitting the revolution. motionless on the ground with terror. Drawing As no exploit is complete without the interpooff his huge posting-boots, our hero donned them, sition of the fair sex, be it active or only hinted and they left him to his fate, reaching the next at, our trio at once proceeded to the house of post at a gallop. This was the old town of Villers- Hutin's mother, where they enlisted the sympa. Colterets, and the appearance of the chaise with thies of both mistress and maids, and the rest of the tricolor, bearing Alexandre Dumas, threw its the night was spent in the manufacture of a huge inhabitants into the wildest excitement. A thou- tricolor flag, contributed from the blue and red curtains of the establishment and a table-cloth, to know what to do, when Colonel D'Orcourt, while the whole household took part in the sew who was in command, was seen approaching. ing with patriotic ardor. By day-break the task Explaining the matter to him, a treaty was arwas completed. As for the flag-staff, they pro ranged by which the three officers promised their posed utilizing the very pole from which the neutrality and engaged to keep quiet. Bourbon white flag was tranquilly foating, for, Thus successful, he opened the gate to his friend as Dumas remarked, " the flag-staff had no politi Bard, and, handing over the charge of the magacal opinions."

zine to him, sought the commandant of the fort, Making every allowance for Dumas's bombast, Liniers. He found considerable excitement in the plan they now arranged seemed simply Quix- this quarter, where the commandant, just risen, otic in its extravagance, and, had we not every was discussing the news of the sudden appearance minutiæ of names, dates, and places to prove its of the tricolor on the cathedral. Introducing verity, would read like the wildest flight of the himself, Dumas made his demand for an order to novelist's fancy. It was settled that Hutin and remove the powder. The commandant seemed Bard were to secrete the flag, by some strategic rather amused, and smiled patronizingly on the movement, in the cathedral, and, under pretense young man who announced the garrison at the of seeing the sun rise from the tower, were to fort as his prisoners; declining to acknowledge bribe the sacristan into their interests. If he General Gérard's order, he insisted that there was resisted, he was to be flung over the parapet. very little powder in the magazine. Answering Then, having substituted the tricolor for the white politely that he would bring proof under the hand flag, Bard was to hurry to Dumas's aid, who of those in charge of the fort that there was would then be engaged at the powder maga- powder there, Dumas few back, and returned zine.

presently with satisfactory proof that the magaAt day-break Dumas made his way to a small zine contained a large quantity. But in the pavilion close to the gateway of the Fort St. meantime the party at the commandant's office Jean, used as the magazine. Stealing past the had greatly increased, and included an officer of gate, he cautiously climbed up the wall and took gendarmes and Bouvilliers, colonel of the engia peep into the fort. Only two soldiers were to neers, all in full uniform and armed. In a scornbe seen, too eagerly engaged in a discussion to ful and bantering tone the commandant informed notice him as he let himself down again. Look- Alexandre that he had sent for these officers, who, ing toward the distant tower of the cathedral, he with him, were in command of the post, that they saw against the rosy dawn the dark, distinct out might have the pleasure of hearing M. Dumas—I lines of some figures, then the white flag tossing think you said that was your name-explain his about, far too stormily for the utterly windless mission; the officers during this speech passing day, and finally the tricolor taking its place. Gérard's order from one to the other in smiling Now was his moment; his companions had ac- contempt. complished their part. Slinging his double-bar- Seeing that matters were coming to a crisis, and relled gun about him, he hastily scaled the wall, that boldness was his only resource, the young and found the two soldiers before alluded to man took a prompt resolution, and before the staring with wonder, as if doubting their senses, party guessed his intention he stepped back against at the tricolor on the cathedral. Presenting his the door and presented his pistols, saying: gun, he leaped down and stood before them. “Gentlemen, you are four, but we are five, and Advancing on them still, presenting his piece, he if that order be not signed in five seconds I give explained his errand in a courteous but hurried my word of honor that I will blow your brains speech, announcing himself as Alexandre Dumas, out, beginning with the commandant. Take son of General Dumas, coming in the name of the care,” he added, “I am in dead earnest. I mean minister of war to demand the surrender of the what I say. I am going to count. One-twopowder, exhibiting with one hand his document, three- " He confessed he felt nervous at this signed by General Gérard, and holding his cocked juncture, but was determined. gun in the other. The pair, Captain Mollard and Suddenly the side door was Aung open, and a Sergeant Wagon, were too much taken by surprise lady rushed upon the scene in an agony of alarm.

« PreviousContinue »