QUOTES AND IMAGES FROM DUMAS' "CELEBRATED CRIMES"
By Alexandre Dumas (Pere)
A good novelist needs be a good historian. Alexandre Dumas was a
novelist who knew his history. At least in his early works, he was
meticulous in his research. This series of books are histories which
place most romantic novels in the shade; they cover many centuries and
many lands--those concerning the Rennaissance Popes are especially
MASSACRES OF THE SOUTH
JOAN OF NAPLES
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (The Essay, not the Novel)
THE COUNTESS DE SAINT GERAN
THE MARQUISE DE BRINVILLIERS
THE MARQUISE DE GANGES
PASSAGES FROM EACH VOLUME
NOTE: Dumas's 'Celebrated Crimes' was not written for children. The
novelist has spared no language--has minced no words--to describe the
violent scenes of a violent time.
The contents of these volumes of 'Celebrated Crimes', as well as the
motives which led to their inception, are unique. They are a series of
stories based upon historical records, from the pen of Alexandre Dumas,
pere, when he was not "the elder," nor yet the author of D'Artagnan or
Monte Cristo, but was a rising young dramatist and a lion in the
literary set and world of fashion.
Dumas, in fact, wrote his 'Crimes Celebres' just prior to launching upon
his wonderful series of historical novels, and they may therefore be
considered as source books, whence he was to draw so much of that
far-reaching and intimate knowledge of inner history which has perennially
astonished his readers. The Crimes were published in Paris, in 1839-40,
in eight volumes, comprising eighteen titles--all of which now appear in
the present carefully translated text. The success of the original work
was instantaneous. Dumas laughingly said that he thought he had
exhausted the subject of famous crimes, until the work was off the
press, when he immediately became deluged with letters from every
province in France, supplying him with material upon other deeds of
violence! The subjects which he has chosen, however, are of both
historic and dramatic importance, and they have the added value of
giving the modern reader a clear picture of the state of
semi-lawlessness which existed in Europe, during the middle ages. "The
Borgias, the Cenci, Urbain Grandier, the Marchioness of Brinvilliers,
the Marchioness of Ganges, and the rest--what subjects for the pen of
Dumas!" exclaims Garnett.
Space does not permit us to consider in detail the material here
collected, although each title will be found to present points of
special interest. The first volume comprises the annals of the Borgias
and the Cenci. The name of the noted and notorious Florentine family
has become a synonym for intrigue and violence, and yet the Borgias have
not been without stanch defenders in history.
Another famous Italian story is that of the Cenci. The beautiful
Beatrice Cenci--celebrated in the painting of Guido, the sixteenth
century romance of Guerrazi, and the poetic tragedy of Shelley, not to
mention numerous succeeding works inspired by her hapless fate--will
always remain a shadowy figure and one of infinite pathos.
The second volume chronicles the sanguinary deeds in the south of
France, carried on in the name of religion, but drenching in blood the
fair country round about Avignon, for a long period of years.
The third volume is devoted to the story of Mary Queen of Scots, another
woman who suffered a violent death, and around whose name an endless
controversy has waged. Dumas goes carefully into the dubious episodes
of her stormy career, but does not allow these to blind his sympathy for
her fate. Mary, it should be remembered, was closely allied to France
by education and marriage, and the French never forgave Elizabeth the
part she played in the tragedy.
The fourth volume comprises three widely dissimilar tales. One of the
strangest stories is that of Urbain Grandier, the innocent victim of a
cunning and relentless religious plot. His story was dramatised by
Dumas, in 1850. A famous German crime is that of Karl-Ludwig Sand,
whose murder of Kotzebue, Councillor of the Russian Legation, caused an
international upheaval which was not to subside for many years.
An especially interesting volume is number six, containing, among other
material, the famous "Man in the Iron Mask." This unsolved puzzle of
history was later incorporated by Dumas in one of the D'Artagnan
Romances a section of the Vicomte de Bragelonne, to which it gave its
name. But in this later form, the true story of this singular man
doomed to wear an iron vizor over his features during his entire
lifetime could only be treated episodically. While as a special subject
in the Crimes, Dumas indulges his curiosity, and that of his reader, to
the full. Hugo's unfinished tragedy,'Les Jumeaux', is on the same
subject; as also are others by Fournier, in French, and Zschokke, in
Other stories can be given only passing mention. The beautiful
poisoner, Marquise de Brinvilliers, must have suggested to Dumas his
later portrait of Miladi, in the Three Musketeers, the mast celebrated
of his woman characters. The incredible cruelties of Ali Pacha, the
Turkish despot, should not be charged entirely to Dumas, as he is said
to have been largely aided in this by one of his "ghosts," Mallefille.
"Not a mere artist"--writes M. de Villemessant, founder of the
Figaro,--"he has nevertheless been able to seize on those dramatic
effects which have so much distinguished his theatrical career, and to
give those sharp and distinct reproductions of character which alone can
present to the reader the mind and spirit of an age. Not a mere
historian, he has nevertheless carefully consulted the original sources
of information, has weighed testimonies, elicited theories, and . . .
has interpolated the poetry of history with its most thorough prose."
Indeed, Caesar (Borgia) had the power of persuasion as a gift from
heaven; and though they perfectly well knew his duplicity, they had no
power of resisting, not so much his actual eloquence as that air of
frank good-nature which Macchiavelli so greatly admired, and which
indeed more than once deceived even him, wily politician as he was.
At a time when he was besieged on all sides by mediocrities....
Forgetfulness is the best cure for the losses we suffer.
The vice-chamberlain (a Cardinal) one day remarked in public, when
certain people were complaining of the venality of justice, "God wills
not that a sinner die, but that he live and pay."
The same day, the cardinal's mother sent the pope the 2000 ducats, and
the next day his mistress, in man's attire, came in person to bring the
missing pearl. His Holiness, however, was so struck with her beauty in
this costume, that, we are told, he let her keep the pearl for the same
price she had paid for it.
Roderigo, retired from public affairs, was given up entirely to the
affections of a lover and a father, when he heard that his uncle, who
loved him like a son, had been elected pope under the name of Calixtus
III. But the young man was at this time so much a lover that love
imposed silence on ambition; and indeed he was almost terrified at the
exaltation of his uncle, which was no doubt destined to force him once
more into public life.
On the 11th of August, 1492, after the lingering death-agony of Innocent
VIII, during which two hundred and twenty murders were committed in the
streets of Rome, Alexander VI ascended the pontifical throne. Son of a
sister of Pope Calixtus III, Roderigo Lenzuoli Borgia, before being
created cardinal, had five children by Rosa Vanozza, whom he afterwards
caused to be married to a rich Roman.
Having seen that Beatrice was sentenced to the torture ordinary and
extraordinary, and having explained the nature of these tortures, we
proceed to quote the official report:-- "And as in reply to every
question she would confess nothing, we caused her to be taken by two
officers and led from the prison to the torture chamber, where the
torturer was in attendance; there, after cutting off her hair, he made
her sit on a small stool, undressed her, pulled off her shoes, tied her
hands behind her back, fastened them to a rope passed over a pulley
bolted into the ceiling of the aforesaid chamber, and wound up at the
other end by a four lever windlass, worked by two men."
MASSACRES OF THE SOUTH
The massacres went on during the whole of the second day, though towards
evening the search for victims relaxed somewhat; but still many isolated
acts of murder took place during the night. On the morrow, being tired
of killing, the people began to destroy, and this phase lasted a long
time, it being less fatiguing to throw stones about than corpses. All
the convents, all the monasteries, all the houses of the priests and
canons were attacked in turn; nothing was spared except the cathedral,
before which axes and crowbars seemed to lose their power, and the
church of Ste. Eugenie, which was turned into a powder-magazine. The
day of the great butchery was called "La Michelade," because it took
place the day after Michaelmas, and as all this happened in the year
1567 the Massacre of St. Bartholomew must be regarded as a plagiarism.
But from this period, each flux and reflux bears more and more the
peculiar character of the party which for the moment is triumphant; when
the Protestants get the upper hand, their vengeance is marked by
brutality and rage; when the Catholics are victorious, the retaliation
is full of hypocrisy and greed. The Protestants pull down churches and
monasteries, expel the monks, burn the crucifixes, take the body of some
criminal from the gallows, nail it on a cross, pierce its side, put a
crown of thorns round its temples and set it up in the market-place--an
effigy of Jesus on Calvary. The Catholics levy contributions, take back
what they had been deprived of, exact indemnities, and although ruined
by each reverse, are richer than ever after each victory.
Mary was a harmony in which the most ardent enthusiast for sculptured
form could have found nothing to reproach. This was indeed Mary's great
and real crime: one single imperfection in face or figure, and she would
not have died upon the scaffold. Besides, to Elizabeth, who had never
seen her, and who consequently could only judge by hearsay, this beauty
was a great cause of uneasiness and of jealousy, which she could not
even disguise, and which showed itself unceasingly in eager questions.
Unfortunately for her honour, Mary, always more the woman than the
queen, while, on the contrary, Elizabeth was always more the queen than
the woman, had no sooner regained her power than her first royal act was
to exhume Rizzio, who had been quietly buried on the threshold of the
chapel nearest Holyrood Palace, and to have him removed to the
burial-place of the Scottish kings, compromising herself still more by
the honours she paid him dead, than by the favour she had granted him
The priests had already begun to sing the death hymn; the executioner
was ready, the procession had set out, when Solomon the fisherman
appeared suddenly on the threshold of the prison, his eyes aflame and
his brow radiant with the halo of the patriarchs. The old man drew
himself up to his full height, and raising in one hand the reddened
knife, said in a sublime voice, "The sacrifice is fulfilled. God did
not send His angel to stay the hand of Abraham."
The crowd carried him in triumph!
[The details of this case are recorded in the archives of the Criminal
Court at Naples. We have changed nothing in the age or position of the
persons who appear in this narrative. One of the most celebrated
advocates at the Neapolitan bar secured the acquittal of the old man.]
KARL LUDWIG SAND
Fundamentally nothing is great, you see, and nothing small, when things
are looked at apart from one another.
Danger of driving the vanquished to despair.
Let fall from the height of his superiority a few of those disdainful
words which brand as deeply as a red-hot iron.
The more absurd the reports, the more credence did they gain.
....crowd of prejudices, which are sacred to the vulgar.
Fourneau having saluted Grandier, proceeded to carry out his orders,
whereupon a judge said it was not sufficient to shave the body of the
prisoner, but that his nails must also be torn out, lest the devil
should hide beneath them. Grandier looked at the speaker with an
expression of unutterable pity, and held out his hands to Fourneau; but
Forneau put them gently aside, and said he would do nothing of the kind,
even were the order given by the cardinal-duke himself.
Madly in love, which is the same as saying that he was hopelessly blind,
silly, and dense to everything around him.
It is singular how very clear-sighted we can be about things that don't
There in semi-isolation and despoiled of her greatness lived
Angelique-Louise de Guerchi, formerly companion to Mademoiselle de Pons
and then maid of honour to Anne of Austria. Her love intrigues and the
scandals they gave rise to had led to her dismissal from court. Not
that she was a greater sinner than many who remained behind, only she
was unlucky enough or stupid enough to be found out. Her admirers were
so indiscreet that they had not left her a shred of reputation, and
in a court where a cardinal is the lover of a queen, a hypocritical
appearance of decorum is indispensable to success. So Angelique had to
suffer for the faults she was not clever enough to hide.
"All passions," says La Bruyere,--"all passions are deceitful; they
disguise themselves as much as possible from the public eye; they hide
from themselves. There is no vice which has not a counterfeit
resemblance to some virtue, and which does not profit by it."
The whole life of Derues bears testimony to the truth of this
observation. An avaricious poisoner, he attracted his victims by the
pretence of fervent and devoted piety, and drew them into the snare
where he silently destroyed them.
As soon as his head was covered, the executioner gave the signal. One
would have thought a very few blows would have finished so frail a
being, but he seemed as hard to kill as the venomous reptiles which must
be crushed and cut to pieces before life is extinct, and the 'coup de
grace' was found necessary. The executioner uncovered his head and
showed the confessor that the eyes were closed and that the heart had
ceased to beat. The body was then removed from the cross, the hands and
feet fastened together, and it was thrown on the funeral pile. While the
execution was proceeding the people applauded. On the morrow they
bought up the fragments of bone, and hastened to buy lottery tickets, in
the firm conviction that these precious relics would bring luck to the
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK ironm10.txt or ironm.zip [Etext #2751]
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Voltaire added a few further details which had been given him by M. de
Bernaville, the successor of M. de Saint-Mars, and by an old physician
of the Bastille who had attended the prisoner whenever his health
required a doctor, but who had never seen his face, although he had
"often seen his tongue and his body." He also asserted that M. de
Chamillart was the last minister who was in the secret, and that when
his son-in-law, Marshal de la Feuillade, besought him on his knees, de
Chamillart being on his deathbed, to tell him the name of the Man in the
Iron Mask, the minister replied that he was under a solemn oath never to
reveal the secret, it being an affair of state. To all these details,
which the marshal acknowledges to be correct, Voltaire adds a remarkable
note: "What increases our wonder is, that when the unknown captive was
sent to the Iles Sainte-Marguerite no personage of note disappeared from
the European stage."
JOAN OF NAPLES
The next morning the people were beforehand with the executioner, loudly
demanding their prey. All the national troops and mercenaries that the
judicial authorities could command were echelonned in the streets,
opposing a sort of dam to the torrent of the raging crowd. The sudden
insatiable cruelty that too often degrades human nature had awaked in
the populace: all heads were turned with hatred and frenzy; all
imaginations inflamed with the passion for revenge; groups of men and
women, roaring like wild beasts, threatened to knock down the walls of
the prison, if the condemned were not handed over to them to take to the
place of punishment: a great murmur arose, continuous, ever the same,
like the growling of thunder: the queen's heart was petrified with
That same evening the sentence, to the great joy of all, was proclaimed,
that Joan was innocent and acquitted of all concern in the assassination
of her husband. But as her conduct after the event and the indifference
she had shown about pursuing the authors of the crime admitted of no
valid excuse, the pope declared that there were plain traces of magic,
and that the wrong-doing attributed to Joan was the result of some
baneful charm cast upon her, which she could by no possible means
MARTIN GUERRE mguer10.txt or mguer10.zip [Etext #2752]
On the 10th of, August 1557, an inauspicious day in the history of
France, the roar of cannon was still heard at six in the evening in the
plains of St. Quentin; where the French army had just been destroyed by
the united troops of England and Spain, commanded by the famous Captain
Emanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy. An utterly beaten infantry, the
Constable Montmorency and several generals taken prisoner, the Duke
d'Enghien mortally wounded, the flower of the nobility cut down like
grass,--such were the terrible results of a battle which plunged France
into mourning, and which would have been a blot on the reign of Henry
II, had not the Duke of Guise obtained a brilliant revenge the following
This sentence substituted the gallows for the decapitation decreed by
the first judge, inasmuch as the latter punishment was reserved for
criminals of noble birth, while hanging was inflicted on meaner persons.
Albania was one of the most difficult provinces to manage. Its
inhabitants were poor, brave, and, the nature of the country was
mountainous and inaccessible. The pashas had great difficulty in
collecting tribute, because the people were given to fighting for their
bread. Whether Mahomedans or Christians, the Albanians were above all
soldiers. Descended on the one side from the unconquerable Scythians,
on the other from the ancient Macedonians, not long since masters of the
world; crossed with Norman adventurers brought eastwards by the great
movement of the Crusades; they felt the blood of warriors flow in their
veins, and that war was their element. Sometimes at feud with one
another, canton against canton, village against village, often even
house against house; sometimes rebelling against the government their
sanjaks; sometimes in league with these against the sultan; they never
rested from combat except in an armed peace. Each tribe had its
military organisation, each family its fortified stronghold, each man
his gun on his shoulder. When they had nothing better to do, they
tilled their fields, or mowed their neighbours', carrying off, it should
be noted, the crop; or pastured their, flocks, watching the opportunity
to trespass over pasture limits. This was the normal and regular life
of the population of Epirus, Thesprotia, Thessaly, and Upper Albania.
On the 18th June, 1815, at the very moment when the destiny of Europe
was being decided at Waterloo, a man dressed like a beggar was silently
following the road from Toulon to Marseilles.
Arrived at the entrance of the Gorge of Ollioulles, he halted on a
little eminence from which he could see all the surrounding country;
then either because he had reached the end of his journey, or because,
before attempting that forbidding, sombre pass which is called the
Thermopylae of Provence, he wished to enjoy the magnificent view which
spread to the southern horizon a little longer, he went and sat down on
the edge of the ditch which bordered the road, turning his back on the
mountains which rise like an amphitheatre to the north of the town, and
having at his feet a rich plain covered with tropical vegetation,
exotics of a conservatory, trees and flowers quite unknown in any other
part of France.
THE COUNTESS OF SAINT GERAN
"Could not, for instance," said the marquis, "a confinement be effected
"I don't know about that, but this I do" know, that I shall take very
good care not to practise any method contrary to the laws of nature."
"You are deceiving me: you are acquainted with this method, you have
already practised it upon a certain person whom I could name to you."
"Who has dared to calumniate me thus? I operate only after the decision
of the Faculty. God forbid that I should be stoned by all the
physicians, and perhaps expelled from France!"
THE MARQUISE DE BRINVILLIERS
When the prayer was done and the doctor raised his head, he saw before
him the executioner wiping his face. "Well, sir," said he, "was not
that a good stroke? I always put up a prayer on these occasions, and
God has always assisted me; but I have been anxious for several days
about this lady. I had six masses said, and I felt strengthened in hand
and heart." He then pulled out a bottle from under his cloak, and drank
a dram; and taking the body under one arm, all dressed as it was, and
the head in his other hand, the eyes still bandaged, he threw both upon
the faggots, which his assistant lighted.
"The next day," says Madame de Sevigne, "people were looking for the
charred bones of Madame de Brinvilliers, because they said she was a
THE MARQUISE DE GANGES
The beginnings of this union were perfectly happy; the marquis was in
love for the first time, and the marquise did not remember ever to have
been in love. A son and a daughter came to complete their happiness.
The marquise had entirely forgotten the fatal prediction, or, if she
occasionally thought of it now, it was to wonder that she could ever
have believed in it. Such happiness is not of this world, and when by
chance it lingers here a while, it seems sent rather by the anger than
by the goodness of God. Better, indeed, would it be for him who
possesses and who loses it, never to have known it.
About the end of the reign of the Emperor Paul I--that is to say,
towards the middle of the first year of the nineteenth century--just as
four o'clock in the afternoon was sounding from the church of St. Peter
and St. Paul, whose gilded vane overlooks the ramparts of the fortress,
a crowd, composed of all sorts and conditions of people, began to gather
in front of a house which belonged to General Count Tchermayloff,
formerly military governor of a fair-sized town in the government of
Pultava. The first spectators had been attracted by the preparations
which they saw had been made in the middle of the courtyard for
administering torture with the knout. One of the general's serfs, he
who acted as barber, was to be the victim.
Although this kind of punishment was a common enough sight in St.
Petersburg, it nevertheless attracted all passers-by when it was
publicly administered. This was the occurrence which had caused a
crowd, as just mentioned, before General Tchermayloff's house.
SOME FAVORITE QUOTATIONS
Air of frank good-nature which Macchiavelli so greatly admired
All passions are deceitful
Always in extremes, whether of enthusiasm or hatred
Besieged on all sides by mediocrities
Danger of driving the vanquished to despair
Determination to exact his strict legal rights
Disdainful words which brand as deeply as a red-hot iron
Doubting spirit which was unhappily so prevalent
Forgetfulness is the best cure for the losses we suffer
Fundamentally nothing is great, you see, and nothing small
God wills not that a sinner die, but that he live and pay
Influence he had gained over the narrow-minded
Interpolated according to the needs of the prosecution
Italy and Greece seemed to be mere suburbs of Venice
Jesus, Son of David and Mary
Knew how short was the space between a prison and a tomb
Let her keep the pearl for the same price she had paid for it
Madly in love-that is to say silly and blind
Method contrary to the laws of nature
More absurd the reports, the more credence did they gain
No vice which has not a counterfeit resemblance to some virtue
Prejudices, which are sacred to the vulgar
Put to the question ordinary and extraordinary
So much a lover that love imposed silence on ambition
The last thing I should desire would be to be as dead as he
To draw back was to acknowledge one's guilt
Too commonplace ever to arrive at a high position
Vanity and self-satisfaction
Very clear-sighted we can be about things that don't touch us
Without fear of being called to account