His Father's Father
There is one dramatist whose defects and whose merits Dumas fils almost exactly repeated: -- Dumas père. LÉON BLUM
IT was about 1859 that father and son began to enjoy an equal celebrity. They were alike in features, in their burliness, and in their love of swagger. In some ways, however, they were very different, and indulged in mutual criticism. 'I find my subjects in my dreams,' said Dumas père, 'my son takes his from real life. I work with my eyes shut, he with his open. I draw, he photographs.' And, again: 'What Alexandre produces is not so much literature as music. One notices only bars, and, now and again, a few words.'1 The father had created a number of superb righters of wrongs, but he thought nothing of behaving badly himself. His son, in his own life, was for ever playing the part of Athos the magnanimous.
They often quarrelled. The son reproached his father for having brought him up badly. 'I naturally did what I saw you do, and lived as you had taught me to live.'2 He was censorious about the debts and the numerous love affairs of a man who was now well past middle age. Sometimes Alexandre II would treat Alexandre I with almost paternal severity. Then the head of the old grizzled goat would droop in contrition, and that evening he would come home with a gift of fine apples for his son, as once, to win forgiveness, he had brought a melon to Catherine Labay.
Dumas fils found in his relations with his father the subject matter of some of his plays. Le Fits naturel ( 1858) and Un Père prodigue ( 1859) were autobiographical, in so far as any work of art can be autobiographical, that is to say with distortions that went deep. Dumas père applauded. He knew that his son loved him; besides, the latter had once said:
You have become Dumas père to the respectful, le père Dumas to the insolent, and amidst all the chatter, you must sometimes have heard these words: 'No doubt about it, the son has the greater talent.' How you must have laughed!