When I rashly replied in the affirmative to your genial President's invitation to address the literary societies of your University, my first thought was to avoid the beaten path of addresses to colored audiences by speaking to you simply as men and women, interested, in the same way, in the same things in which other people are interested. I have always thought that the matter of race is too much emphasized in this country; so much emphasized, that the far greater theme of humanity is often lost sight of.
But, upon second thought, I reflected that the matter of race will be very vital thing in your lives. You will have all the problems of life with which others have to contend, and this in addition, and you will find all your other problems more or less colored by it. You are going out into the world, those of you who have finished your school career, and the rest of you when you have finished it, not only to fight your own individual battles, but the battles of your race.
Struggle is the law of life. The progress of humanity is a history of struggle—man against nature always, man against man too often, and your race cannot escape the common lot. Only your struggle, let us hope, will be not with deadly weapons, but with heart and hand and brain. And for this struggle you must have a clear conception of what you are seeking—your ultimate ideal. Then you must have a plan of action, an ideal of life, by which you will approach this end. Then you must consider your personal equipment for the struggle; you must adopt your own personal ideals of character and conduct. You may not have all these important things clearly and sharply defined when you begin, but, if you have them even vaguely outlined, you can go forward with a certain degree of self-confidence, without which you are as likely to go to pieces as a ship without a rudder in a stormy sea.
Now, the object of education is to equip you with these ideals, these standards. What you accomplish, for yourselves, for your race, for humanity, will depend upon the kind of men and women you are, and the kind of men and women you are will depend largely upon yourselves—not entirely so, for if God has made a man wise and strong and gifted, he will rise above circumstances, and if he is a born fool or a weakling, circumstances will not greatly modify his character. But, fortunately, perhaps, for the world, most of us are of malleable clay, which may be molded by education and culture and by the force of our own will. Perhaps the most valuable attribute of a liberal education is the opportunity which it gives one to compare himself with others, to measure himself by accepted standards, and thus to ascertain what are his strong points, that he may best utilize them, and what his weaknesses, that he may strive to correct them. There is no more valuable equipment of the struggle of life.
Now, I have no doubt that, in this temple of learning, conducted under the auspices of a great church, and with a distinguished Greek scholar at its head, you have been trained in all virtues, ancient and modern. The cardinal virtues of the ancients were justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude. You will need them all. Certainly you will value justice and seek to promote it, for you and your people have suffered and will suffer severely from injustice. Prudence you will need, perhaps more than any other people, in the struggle against odds—one of the most interesting traits of successful colored men is the fine diplomacy with which they steer their way along difficult channels; and this is doubly interesting and indeed admirable when it is accomplished without the sacrifice of self-respect. Temperance you will need in all things, all the more so because the Negro is by temperament so filled with the sheer joy of living that he is constantly tempted and too often yields to the temptation to get all the pleasure possible out of it—the list of our successful men contains too many instances of shipwreck due to overindulgence in pleasure. The foourth pagan virtue was fortitude—the capacity to endure hardship. Some of you, in your efforts to secure an education, have doubtless had special training in this virtue. You will all undoubtedly have opportunities to exercise it. No man's life is one of unbroken happiness. If you are uniformly fourtunate in your affairs, as few men are, you will suffer in your emotions, and the philosophy which a liberal education has inculcated will enable you to endure bravely the "whips and stings" of fortune. And courage, the ability to dare, to go forward, is the active form of that virtue of which fortitude is the negative.
In this Christian university you have doubtless had the morals virtues thoroughly inculcated into your minds. You have been taught the Ten Commandments, not merely to know them, but to live by them—they are the elementary ideals of civilized society. On them, in your education, have been superimposed the Christian virtues—faith, hope and charity—the greatest of which is charity, or, to put it philosophically, altruism, the love of humanity, the willingness to serve and to share with others.
There is another Christian virtue in which the race has been severely trained—that of meekness and humility. It is a fine trait of character, if not carried to the point of servility, or beyond the point of self-respect. There is a danger of going too far in that direction, or, in seeking a proper attitude toward the world, of going too far the other way. The happy medium, the attitude of respect for the rights and feelings of others, and of demanding with firmness and courtesy the respect of others for your own rights and feelings, is the most desirable one. You have no doubt been taught to cultivate race pride. I think what your teachers meant was race self-respect, for you and your forbears have suffered so severely from race pride as to make it doubtful whether that particular quality is a virtue. No man derives any merit from his birth; it is only what he does that counts; and while it is pleasant and valuable as a spur to effort to contemplate a long record of achievement in one's ancestors, it is no ground for demanding respect or consideration from others. True scholarship, as Dr. Jackson suggested Sunday in his able and eloquent address, begets in the scholar a profound intellectual humility—one perceives, after he has learned only a little, that the field of learning is so wide that no one mind can hope to span it, the well of knowledge so deep that no one mind can hope to fathom it, and thus, by comparison, the scholar appreciates the littleness of man compared with the infinite, and is correspondingly humble.
To these fundamental and eternal ideals of conduct, advancing civilization has added new standards. For instance, one hundred years ago it was the custom, at dinner, for gentleman to drink themselves under the table—indeed, it was almost requisite, if one would maintain his standing as a gentleman, that he get drunk at least once in twenty-four hours. How times have changed! Now we have our Presidents and Secretaries of State banishing wine from their tables and setting the example of total abstinence, while our fiery ex-President brings a libel suit against an editor who dared to charge him with intoxication! Profanity in those days was a large element of speech; today it is rarely heard among men of culture and refinement, and the coarseness of conversation which was reflected in eighteenth and early nineteenth century literature has almost entirely disappeared. Other more intimate personal standards have changed. A hundred years ago, before the invention of modern plumbing, a bathtub was a rarity. Those of you who have seen or read the witty and cynical play of Bernard Shaw, "Arms and the Man," the scene of which is located in Bulgaria, about 1865, will recall the scene in which the heroine, Raina, says to her Chocolate Cream Soldier, Captain Bluntchli, that in her country well-bred ladies wash their hands almost every day. And the scene between Petkoff and his wife in which he tells her that her sore throat comes from washing her neck every day, and says: "I don't believe in going too far with these modern customs. All this washing can't be good for the health; it's not natural. Look at my father; he never had a bath in his life, and he lived to be 98, the oldest man in Bulgaria." We will agree that the ideal of personal cleanliness is a distinct advance over the standards of medieval times, when to bathe was considered a pampering of the flesh and therefore unpleasing in the sight of God; and that the modern requirement of good breeding that the presence of a lady or gentleman in a room should not be obvious to any other senses than those of sight and hearing, is in every respect preferable.
It was once customary to eat with the knife, and drink from the saucer; but times have changed, and we must not only eat with the fork, but hold it a certain way. In fact, table etiquette has been refined to a point where, to simple minds, it sometimes may seem burdensome, but the rules are those of good breeding, and I need not say that good manners are no small part of one's equipment for life. It is only for this reason that I mention subjects that might otherwise seem trivial or in poor taste from the platform.
In your school life you have, of course, acquired a certain amount of learning. You have, or ought to have, secured, in addition to something of mathematics and geography and foreign tongues, a fair command of your own language, the ability to read and understand it and to express yourselves clearly and succinctly in well-chosen words. And your education will have been a failure if it has not taught you to think, to reason logically, from cause to effect, from premise to conclusion. For, after all, it is reason which distinguishes us from beasts of the field, and a trained mind is your most valuable weapon for the battle of life.
Now, when you find yourselves, on leaving school, well taught, well bred, ardent, eager for the fray for yourselves, for your race and for humanity, what avenues are open to you, what obstacles will you have to overcome?
One of the formidable lions in your path, against which your life will be one of constant struggle, will be the deep-seated prejudice against your race. You will, unless you are very fortunate, find it rise to confront you at almost every turn. You all know what form it takes, or will know sooner or later. And when, in your bewilderment, your sense of wrong and injustice, you ask why these things should be, you will be told that you are inferior to other races. If you follow your first instinct, and deny the statement you will be confronted by what seemed like irrefutable proofs. You will be constrained to admit that your people, as a class, in the mass, are the poorest, the lowest in the social scale, the most illiterate, the least advanced in social organization and efficiency, of any single class of our polyglot population. If you reply that these things are explained by slavery and its consequences, and that the inferiority antedated slavery and is physical and mental, and more or less independent of circumstances; if you quote scientists to prove that fundamentally the Negro's mind is equally capable of development with the white man's, you will be told that, no matter if that be so, it is not equally developed, and that no number of laboratory experiments or psychological studies, demonstrating the physical and mental equality of races, will convince any one against the verdict of history, which shows one race always forging ahead in the race of civilization and another always lagging behind, in the rear.
Now, you will perhaps be able to convince yourselves that there is, or at least may be, something wrong in this argument. You will point to the common origin of mankind; you will explain the Negro's relatively low stage of development by unfavorable ancestral surroundings, by means of which the Negro in his native Africa was hampered by fervid heat of tropics, by the miasma of the jungle, by the constant struggle against wild beasts and venomous reptiles and insects, by great deserts and lack of harbors, which cut him off from contact with civilized centers, and, on our own continent, as I have said, by the numbing influence of slavery and the prejudice which was its outgrowth. And you will point to other so-called inferior races which have in our own time pushed rapidly forward toward the highest development.
But when all is said and done, you will never convince any one of the essential equality of the races except by the practical argument of achievement. When sufficient number of colored men and women have accomplished worthy things in the various fields of human endeavor; when they have attained not only a fair average, but enough of them have risen to the top to make the rest of the world sit up and take notice, then prejudice will have lost its chief prop and will have to rest its existence on lower foundations which will not be able to withstand the forces of justice and fair dealing. And it is your privilege and your opportunity to help forward this work which is to lift the American Negro to the plane of acknowledged equality.
You have, as I have shown, been well equipped for the struggle. Your environment, with all its limitations, is infinitely superior to that of your less fortunate ancestors. Practically every door of opportunity is open to you—some of them not open very wide, to be sure, but perhaps none of them entirely closed. If, after the excellent fundamental training which this institution has afforded, you have the means, or the energy, the ambition and ability to acquire the means to qualify for the practice of a profession, or one of the useful mechanical arts, there are excellent schools all over the North, and some in the South, where you may study medicine, or law, or engineering, or the trades; and I think it is safe to say that, once qualified, you will be able to find, somewhere—it may require a little patience—an opportunity to practice whatever calling you may prepare yourselves for. The principal trouble, in the matter of development for colored people, is not the trained man, but the untrained man, the common man—and the vast majority of colored people are common men—some of them, I think we will have to admit, very common indeed. The trained man, the educated man, the capable man, of whatever race, seems to be able to take care of himself, in whatever place.
Now, there is a danger among our particular people, a danger which would exist perhaps in any other people similarily placed—the temptation to follow the line of least resistance. This is all right up to a certain point—the open road is a quicker way to success than the forest of difficulties. But the temptation is to do the easiest thing. If the easiest thing is the best practicable thing, as it often is, it is the right thing to do, but if one does it simply because it is the easiest, the result is likely to be fatal to true progress. The ideal pursuit for every man or woman should be the most worthy pursuit within reach of which he or she is capable.
And here comes in the wisdom of the first choice. For society is very conservative. You start life in some career for which you are not especially fitted, for which perhaps you are temperamentally and intellectually unfitted. Before you know it, you have married perhaps, and have a family to support. You cannot change your pursuit without diminishing your income, and so you jog along in the old harness. The world is full of these square pegs in round holes. We have all known singers without voices, music teachers without a spark of musical talent, preachers without religion, doctors who knew little of anatomy or medicine, lawyers who knew little law, statesmen whose chief qualifications were a loud voice and the itch for office. You don't want to belong to this class. So be careful and try to find out what your aptitudes are before you select a career. But if you develop unknown aptitudes later on, and are sure of them, don't hesitate to make a temporary sacrifice for a permanent gain. Make it your ideal, as I have said, to do the most worthy thing of which you are capable.
Now, the achievements of a race are of a twofold nature—those of the mass and those of the individual. The social efficiency of a people, their ability to work together for the common welfare, is a fundamental requirement of racial efficiency. It finds its finest flower in government. As we look back through history and study the great nations of the past and of today, we see what the combined social effort of a race may accomplish. But this sort of social achievement is, for our day and for our people, practically closed. There will not be, for any of you, an opportunity to contribute to the foundation or growth of any great black nation or civilization. If Hayti and Liberia survive the pressure which stronger nations are bringing to bear upon them, they will do well. Perhaps at some distant day great black empires may grow up in Africa, but certainly not in your day or mine. You will not have an opportunity in this country to demonstrate what the pure Negro race in the mass is capable of. You may be able, by individual examples, to prove from what black men can do alone, to argue what they might do together; but you will never be able, without drawing a color line in your own ranks, if that were possible, to get together enough men of pure Negro blood to prove anything in a large way. The most you can anticipate is that you will, by the race prejudice of others, be sufficiently segregated from the general social activities of the community, to force you to show what the negroid or mixed element of the American people are capable of along lines where they are permitted or compelled to act en masse, and your principal incentive to do so, next to the instinct of self-preservation, will be that you may thereby refute the slander of your essential inferiority and prove your fitness for equal participation in all community activities. I am not interested in American Negroes primarily as a race; I am interested in them as men. I should like to see their race lost sight of, except academically, perhaps, and only their humanity and their citizenship borne in mind. In our own land the most that any optimist could hope or ask for is that we have the opportunity, in proportion to our numbers and our powers, to contribute to the government of the nation of which we constitute so considerable a part.
Among your own people you can demonstrate your social efficiency by the conduct of successful co-operative business enterprises. You have already done much in the way of churches and benefit organizations and educational intstitutions. This very university is an evidence of racial capacity. True, it is neither entirely supported nor entirely conducted by colored men, but they have done most of it, and what they have done has been well done.
In fine, it seems to me that the most open field in which to labor to demonstrate racial quality and racial equality is the field of individual achievement. And in the last analysis, races are judged by their great men. It may be said that great nations produce great men, but, with equal truth, great men make great nations. Glance through the pages of history. The history of any nation is embodied in the history of its great men. Every great movement, in goverment, in law, in literature, in art, in religion, had its inception in some one man's mind, and its fruition in others whom he inspired. Every great invention which has contributed to the comfort and happiness of mankind has owed its origin to a germ of thought in some one man's mind. Therefore, however cramped the field of community enterprise may seem to colored people, whatever one man can do, that some one Negro or man of Negro blood, can do, if it be in him, provided, of course, that he have a fair opportunity. And great men, to a large extent, make their own opportunities. To design a great invention, one needs, besides an idea, perhaps a laboratory or a machine shop. To write a book, a pen and ink, or a typewriter and a quire of paper. To paint a great picture, a palette and a square canvas. And, therefore, to my mind, it is in the field of individual, personal, intellectual effort that the greatest opportunity of the Negro for the immediate future lies. Of course, environment is a powerful factor of development, and while the environment of the Negro in the United States is not ideal, it is better than it has been; it has not prevented the rise of notable examples of intellectual and esthetic development; and it is destined to grow better as the years go by.
Now, I do not know how many of you, if any of you, are material for great authors, or painters, or physicians, or merchants, or inventors, but if there are any of you, it will be an encouragement to you in your upward struggle to whatever level—and I am going to assume that you will all rise in life, which you must do to prove yourselves worthy of your opportunities here—to have before you some examples of men of similiar origin who have demonstrated of what the Negro, or at least men of Negro blood, are capable.
The history of our land and our own times shows a long list of colored men who have attained honorable distinction in the higher walks of life. You know of most of them—some of them have been and are connected with your own institution, and in Dr. Washington's History of the American Negro and other similar works you will find them all mentioned, with a resume of what they have accomplished
But I am going to conclude my remarks by going somewhat into detail in the case of a colored family which for three generations shed the luster of intellect and achievement upon its own members, upon their nation and the two races from which their blood was drawn, one of which was the Negro race. It is true that they, and the one or two others that I shall mention in passing, lived their lives and won their fame in a country where race prejudice is at a minimum. The example of our men at home shows what the Negro is capable of under adverse circumstances; the lives of these others will show what the Negro can do in a fair field, with no favor, and what may be expected of him in this country when such a condition shall prevail.
If any of you should have the good fourtune to visit at some time during your lives the beautiful city of Paris—many of you, I know, have already done so—I can suggest to you a little pilgrimage which will be a source of satisfaction. Perhaps your first visit, after looking the city over, will be to the Louvre Musuem. There, in one of the larger rooms, you will find two great paintings, great in size, design and execution, from the brush of Guilliaume Guillon Lethiere. Lethiere was of mixed blood, a native of Guadeloupe, at that time and now one of the French West Indies. During the generation preceding 1850, Lethiere was one of the great historic painters of France. For some years he was President of the Academy des Beaux Arts of Rome, a society at Rome for French painters, and later he was for a number of years President of the Academy des Beaux Arts in Paris. He painted many canvases, which are in various collections throughout France. The two to which I have above referred, "The Death of Virginia" and "Lucius Junius Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death," depicting two well-known events with which those of you who are students of Roman history are no doubt familiar, are among the most striking and beautifully colored pictures in the Museum.
Then, pursuing your study of art, you will cross the Seine to the Luxembourg Museum, and there, in the gallery of foreign modern painters, cheek by jowl with Whistler, Sargent and the other great contemporary painters of lands other than France, you will find a striking canvas by Mr. Henry Ossawa Tanner, the American painter with whose history and achievements you are all doubtless familiar.—his father is a bishop of your own church—and who received, it is but just to say, his early artistic training and encouragement in his native country. In Paris, where, other things being equal, there is little prejudice against color, even among Americans sojourning there, Mr. Tanner has enjoyed the distinction of being secretary of the Society of American Artists, in that great center of art and literature,
Some fine morning, if you will take a cab, and, leaving the Place de la Concorde, drive out the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, and then, turning to your right, follow one of the beautiful avenues which radiate from the Round Point like the spokes of a wheel, you will come in a few minutes to a beautiful square in one of the choice residence quarters of the city. The city of Paris has some characteristics which are more or less peculiar to itself. For instance, they honor their great men by naming streets and avenues and public squares after them. The same is true, of course, with other nations, but particularly so in France, and Paris. If you will take any guide bok or atlas of Paris you will find, for instance, such streets as the Avenue Montaigne, Moliere Passage, Jules Sandeau Boulevard, Boulevard Hausmann, Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, Rue Balzac, Rue Moliere. Some great men have two streets named after them; for instance, last summer my daughter and I were trying to find in Paris the residence of a friend of ours, an American residing in that city. We were looking for a street named Rue Henri Martin. By mistake we paid our first visit to the Avenue Henri Martin, and after some considerable difficulty got ourselves properly oriented, Henri Martin being one of the great French painters who was thus doubly honored. There is also a Victor Hugo Avenue and a Victor Hugo Place.
This public square at which you have arrived as your first stopping place was formerly known as Place Malsherbes. When I was in Paris upon a former visit some years ago this square contained a handsome bronze monument on a granite base, designed by Gustave Dore, a famous French artist, in honor of Alexander Dumas, pere, the elder Dumas, so called. On the summit of the monument is a seated figure of the great romancer, and on the front and back of the base are two marble sculptures in bas-relief, one representing the figure of a musketeer, suggesting Dumas' famous novel, "The Three Musketeers," and the other a group composed of a young girl reading one of Dumas' romances to two workingmen.
Upon a more recent visit to Paris I found that to this monument had been added, at the other end of the square, a beautiful marble memorial of Alexander Dumas, fils, son of Alexander the great. It represented a life-size figure of Dumas the younger under a marble canopy. On either of the four sides of the monument was a list of the author's principal plays and writings.
On another side of this beautiful little square, which is adorned with trees and flowers, is the pedestal for a monument to a third member of this illustrious family, General Thomas Alexander Dumas, the first of the line. The money has been raised and the monument is in course of construction and will undoubtedly rest upon the pedestal at an early date.
Recently the name of this square has been changed from the Place Malsherbes to that of the Place des Trois Dumas—the Square of the Three Dumas. It is unique in that it is the only public square in Paris named in honor of three distinguished members of one family in three different generations, as this family itself was unique in more ways than one.
Continuing this little pilgrimage, and pursuing your course a few more blocks to the right, you will find yourself in the beautiful Cemetery of Montmartre, situated at the top of a sunny hill in the northern part of the city. Here, beneath a beautiful monument representing a recumbent figure of the great playwright, by the sculptor St. Marveaur, lies all that is mortal of Dumas the younger, surrounded by the tombs of many illustrious Frenchmen, among them the painters Paul de Laroche, Horace Vernet, Ary Scheffer, Greuze and Troyon; Heinrich Heine, the poet; Ludovic Halevy, Henri Murger and Theophile Gautier, novelists; Jules Simon, philosopher and statesman; Ernst Renan, author and critic; Hector Berlioz, composer; Emile Zola, novelist—a fit resting place and fit company for the remains of a great man. The elder Dumas and his father, General Dumas, are buried at Villers-Cotterets, the birthplace of Alexander the elder.
And now since I am on the subject, and since this is by all odds the most conspicuous family of colored men in the world's history, perhaps I might profiably spend a few minutes in reciting some of the achievements which entitle thse gentlemen, in the judgment of their contemporaries and successors, to the signal honors thus bestowed upon them, and through them, by inference, upon the race with which, as you will see, they were by blood and temperament so strongly allied. These facts, in much the same words as I give them, are gathered from authorities that may be found in any good library.
In the year 1760, a certain French nobleman, a Count or Marquis Davy de la Pailleterie, went to reside on estates which he owned in Hayti, then a French colony. While there, there was born to him by a black mother, a full-blooded Haytian Negress, a son who was given the name of Thomas Alexander. The elder Dumas claimed that his grandfather and grandmother were married, but the fact is doubtful and rather unlikely. At any rate, the Marquis, returning to France eighteen years later, took with him his colored son. When the Revolution broke out the young Dumas, fired with patriotic zeal, enlisted as a private under his mother's name, Dumas, feeling that his father would not like his aristocratic name borne by a soldier in the ranks. But promotion was rapid in those days of liberty, equality and fraternity, and three years later the young mulatto found himself General Dumas, in command of an army, under the Directory, with Napolean as General-in-Chief.
In personal appearance he was tall, broad-shouldered, very dark for a mulatto, with a fine, manly face and bearing; very strong, an expert in all physical exercises. He was ardent and generous in character, quick to resent an insult or injury and equally quick to forgive; a patriot, sincerely devoted to the Revolution, but detesting its cruelties. Indeed, his tender heart subjected him to danger at the hands of the bloody triumvirate, with Robespierre at its head, who were slaughtering the French nobility and directing the destinies of France. But he was able to redeem himself in their eyes by many military exploits, the capture of Mont Cenis, for instance, and his heroic defense of the bridge at Clausen against the Austrians, by which he won the sobriquet, in accordance with the classical nomenclature of the day, of "The Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol." But General Dumas was not in sympathy with Bonaparte's ambitious, and fell into disfavor with him, with the result that, after distinguishing himself in the campaign in Egypt, he quarreled with Bonaparte and resigned from the army. On his way home he was taken prisoner at Naples, and remained in captivity for two years, emerging fatally injured in health. He returned home to live with his wife on a modest retiring pension of eight hundred dollars a year. The couple had already had one child, a daughter, and about a year after the General's return, a son was born, Alexander Dumas the second. The General died in 1806, at the age of fourty-four. He was the first, and essentially the most admirable in character, of the three men who have borne the name of Alexander Dumas, a simple, heroic figure, whose fortune was unequal to his merit, a man of single purpose and brave deeds.
The son of this distinguished soldier and patriot, and the most famous of the line, was Alexander Dumas, the great romancer, who was born in 1802 and died in 1870. His mother, the General's wife, was a white woman, the daughter of a tavernkeeper and small landowner, which made the great Dumas technically, therefore, a quadroon, or three-fourths white and one-fourth Negro. He was born and reared at Villers-Cotterets, his mother's home, a small town some forty or fifty miles from Paris. The General, who had been put on half pay by Napolean, died when his son was four years old; and as the Emperor continued to behave as meanly to his widow and children, the first years of a most prodigal life were years of decent poverty and thrift. Dumas, though afterward an omnivorous reader, was not a model schoolboy, and the local teachers could make nothing of him; but he had the run of the great forest about his native hamlet, he became an expert woodman, he developed a magnificent constitution and a turn for letters, and when, at twenty or so, he went to Paris to seek his fortune, he was physically as fit for the struggle for existence as any of the strong and ardent generations to which he belonged. It may be interesting to note that at one time he was intended for the church, but, fourtunately for literature, the plan was abandoned.
He secured employment, through the influence of one of his father's military friends, as a clerk in the bureau of the Duc d'Orleans (afterward King Louis Philippe); but his mind still ran on literature, and he spent some years in reading in trying to learn to write. He had only published a volume of short stories and collaborated in a couple of farces, when at seven-and-twenty he forced the door of the Theatre Francais, the classical State theater, with his first five-act play, Henri Trois et sa Cour (1829), and at one stroke operated a revolution in the theory and practice of historical drama. In 1831 he did the same for domestic tragedy with Antony, perhaps the boldest, adroitest and completest achievement in plan, construction and effect in the literature of the modern theater; then after a failure with Charles VII et Ses Grands Vassaux, an excellent play in verse, he scored a tremendous success with Richard Darlington; and in 1832 produced perhaps his greatest play, La Tour de Nesle. "He was, indeed," says one critic, "the very genius of the stage. He broke ground with the ease, the assurance, the insight into essentials, and the technical accomplishment of a master, and he retained those qualities until his final breakdown, a year before his death. His dialogue is bright, appropiate, vivid, eminently constructive and explanatory; he never eludes or tampers with his situation, but faces his problem boldly, and wrings his interest from the clash of character and the presentation of emotion in action; his plots are made and conducted with admirable adroitness and lucidity; his expositions are models of clarity; his effects are brought off with surprising certainty and vigor. 'All I needed,' he said of himself, 'was'—not scenery, nor choruses of monks, nor Hernani's horn, nor any merely decorative stuff of that sort—but 'four trestles, four boards, two actors, and a passion'; and the vaunt was absolutely justified. Dumas is the soundest influence in drama of the century, and to his example is owing not a little of the best of the French dramatists who have followed him."
In 1832, however, he fell ill of cholera, went to Switzerland to recuperate, and wrote for the Revue des Deux Mondes the first of his famous and delightful Impressions de Voyage. He was fond of adventure and change; his capacity of producing agreeable and brilliant "copy" was amazing, and these traveler's notes of his—in which a good deal of history and romance is worked in with abounding vivacity and wit—were among the best liked of his many benefactions to the public. He kept them going almost to the end. A prodigious worker (he would write for weeks on end at the rate of sixteen or eighteen hours a day), he was wont, after months of production, to renew himself with a round of hundreds, or thousands, of miles, and he never failed to put the experience into print. From 1832 to 1865, during the whole of his wonderful career, his romances and plays were interpersed with books of travel.
But it was a story-teller pure and simple that Dumas was destined to gain the better and larger part of his abounding and enduring success. And this is as good a place as any to say that many of his novels and plays were written in collaboration with others, for which he was at times criticised by jealous contemporaries. But it is none the less a fact that apart from him his assistants were mostly unreadable, while in conjuction with him they were Alexander Dumas—that is to say, perhaps the most popular among modern novelists, and assuredly one of the greatest masters of the art of narrative in all literature.
He has told us that from the first it was a purpose of his life to put the history of France into novels, and his earliest essay was in the field of historical romance, the Isabelle de Baviere of 1836. It was followed by several other novels along different lines until the historical vein cropped up anew in his Le Cheva'ier d'Harmenthal, published in 1843. During this period appeared the D'Artagnan series, beginning with the Three Musketeers, whose principal characters, D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, are household words among all lovers of romance. Dumas carried this interesting and attractive group through a long series of novels, of which the first, as is always true in such cases, was the best, but all were good, During this period also appeared The Count of Monte-Cristo, next to the Three Musketeers the most universally popular of Dumas' novels, with its long lists of sequels. Also the Valois cycle, or the series of novels dealing with the Court of Francis II; his wife, Catherine de Medici; the four Henris, Marguerite de Valois, afterward the Queen of Navarre and of France. It is safe to say that Dumas' conceptions of the character of the leading figures in the gay and corrupt court of life of that period, honeycombed with political and religious and amorous intrigue, have become, in the popular mind, the historical conceptions.
Most of these novels were cut into plays, of which Monte Cristo alone furnished four. The play of that name, produced in our own day by Mr. James O'Neill, is one of the most popular dramas on the stage, and well worth witnessing. He wrote, in all, sixty-seven plays, thirty-eigth of them in collaboration, besides collaborating in many others published under the names of other authors. In the Levy collection at Paris there are published ninety-two novels, in one hundred and seventy-five volumes, from his pen, and there are several others not published by that house; of these twenty-seven were collaborated. He published eighteen books of travel, and fourteen miscellaneous works. And a bibliography which I have examined notes one hundred and twenty-five books written in whole or in part about him, ten of which are well considered biographies, the others mainly critical of his works. No one man, unaided, could have done all the rough work of such an output, before the invention of phonography and the typewriter, and the world ought to thank Dumas for employing secretaries to assist him in producing what might otherwise have been in much smaller contribution to the institution and entertainment of mankind.
Nor was the enormous fund of energy possessed by this remarkable man exhausted in literary production. He took an active part in the days of July. In 1837 he received the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor. He even found time to get married to an actress, Mlle. Ida Ferrier, from whom he promptly separated, for his was not a nature to be bound by ties of any sort. He spent two years in exile at Brussels, partly because of his political opinions, partly because of his debts, for, although he made large sums of money, he spent it even more freely; he could resist a dun, but could never refuse a borrower. He was in Italy four years, during which he helped Garibaldi in the struggle for Italian liberty, and wrote a life of that Italian patriot. In 1868 he founded a magazine and produced the last but one of his plays.
But by this time the end was near. He had lived freely, had produced prodigiously, and at the end of sixty-eight years he retired to his son's villa at Dieppe, where, after a few months of painless physical and mental decline, he simply faded away.
It is regrettable that the personal conduct of this great writer cannot be held up as an example to the young. In life he was much of a scapegrace and a madcap and even more of a prodigal. He earned and spent, says one of his biographers, three fourtunes, and it is certain that his revenue from his works was greater than that of any author of his day. But it was the old story, too common among men of genius, of easy come, easy go. He knew it, and joked about it—it is to be hoped that he regretted it.
The story is told of him that at Dieppe, in his last days, he said one day to his son Alexander, while jingling two napoleons in his hand, "They claim, Alexander, that I am a spendthrift. I can prove the contrary. I started in life in Paris with two napoleans, and I still have them."
His morals were loose. His son Alexander was an illegitimate child, as was also a daughter who won some small repute in the literary world. He was vain, which some of his critics ascribed to his color, as they did also his moral laxity, and I may say in passing that it is for the new generation of colored people to disprove this slander, or if there were truth in it, to demonstrate that vanity and prodigality are not persistent race traits. But, numerous as were his faults, his virtues were equally conspicuous. His humanity was boundless in degree and incorruptible in quality. He was generous to a fault—in fact, his prodigality was mostly misdirected generosity—and he was never known to strike a foul blow. "I love and admire you," said his friend Michelet, "for you are a force of nature." "Fundamentally good," was George Sand's verdict, "but too often drunk with power." The fact is that he was a prodigy of temperament and power and the capacity of life and invention and achievement. His principal happiness was in work; he could work sixteen or eighteen hours a day, and be fresh for the start next morning. He talked still better than he wrote; and he wrote without any affectations of style, and with an ease, a gusto, a sincerity of mind, a completeness of method that are irresistible. And the lesson of his greater books—of the Valois cycle, for instance, and the long sequence of the Mousquetaires—is one by which the world may well have profited. Love, honor, friendship, loyalty, valor, the old chivalric virtues—these were his darling themes; and he treated them with a combination of energy and insight, of good sense and good feeling, of manliness of mind and beauty of heart, that has ranked him with the great benefactors of humanity. And we can easily afford to forgive him his weakness for the sake of what he accomplished and for the glory which his achievements reflect upon the race from which a part of his blood was drawn.
Alexander Dumas (born 1824), son of the precceding, was born in Paris when his father was but twenty-one years old. He was of illegitimate birth, but was soon legitimized, and at sixteen, after thorough course of training in first-class educational institutions, he left school for the world of letters and the society to which his father, then almost at his apogee, belonged, the lively and loose theatrical world of Paris. He was essentially respectable, however, and having sown a certain quantity of wild oats, and made a few experiments in literature, he settled down to earnest work, and began to take life seriously. He started in fiction, and succeeded; he went on to drama, religion, even, and succeeded. He was made a member of the Institute in 1874, and was at the date of his death in 1898, the acknowledged best playwright, and one of the greatest artists in words in latter-day France, the country of the world which is easily first in dramatic literature and historic art.
His novels—from La Dame aux Camelias (1848) to L'Affairs Clemenceau (1867)—are all readable, and more often than not are worth reading. His essays, letters, speeches, prefaces and occasional writings generally are brilliant and admirable in form, and in matter daring, paradoxical, suggestive in a very high degree. Of his sixteen plays, there is scarce one that is not literature, while five or six of them are masterpieces of construction, characterization and writing. He also collaborated in other famous dramas. He was not so prolific a writer as his father, but he was more of a stylist, and his product is of perhaps a more uniform standard of excellence as writing than that of the elder Dumas. His method is logical to a fault, he builds as for all time, he is an artificer even in theory, and his paradoxes are developed with scientific exactness and precision. A bitter and dazzling wit; an intelligence of uncommon energy, daring and intensity; a morality that is so genuine as to be sometimes offensive; and incorruptible honesty; a style hard, polished. chaste, flexible as a perfect sword blade, and a dramatic gift as real as his father's—these are his qualities, and they have made him not only remarkable but distinguished.
Now, my young friends, I have selected this particular family to speak about for several reasons—primarily because of their blood, and the just pride which you may for that reason feel in their achievements. Their education, their surroundings, the influences which molded their lives, were those of another country and another generation or generations—they were a French soldier, a French novelist, a French dramatist and while their work belongs to the flower of the literature of the most intellectual nation in the world, there is about it, especially that of the great Alexander, a verve, a fire, an animation, a swing, a naturalness which are so peculiarly characteristic as to be ascribable to the African strain, which was thereby shown to be valuable to the world of intellect, and which gives those who share their blood the right to be proud of them, and to look forward to and struggle toward a time when this great nation, with its large strain of Negro blood, shall produce many great men of color, in literature, in art, in the drama, in all the walks of life, whose names shall be worthy to be enrolled with those of Pushkin and Lethiere, and the three Dumas, and whose achievements shall reflect glory not only upon their race, but upon a nation which shall be as proud of them as France is of this famous family. And it will be your opportunity, with the privileges which you have enjoyed here, and your duty to contribute by the formation of right ideals for yourselves and their realization in your own individual lives to their realization for your race.This address was delivered before the literary societies of Wilberforce University, commencement week, June, 1913. As a writer of fiction, Mr. Chesnutt stands at the head of American colored men of letters. We take pleasure in giving to our readers his views and ideals for Negro youth. —Editor.