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Introduction

"The enemy passed beneath our window and then out of view. A moment afterwards we heard the sound as it were of a hurricane; the house trembled to the gallop of horses. At the end of the street the enemy had been charged by our cavalry; and, not knowing our small numbers, they were returning at full speed hotly pursued by our men. Pell-mell they all passed by—a whirlwind of smoke and noise. Our soldiers fired and slashed away, the enemy on their side fired as they fled. Two or three bullets struck the house, one of them shattering a bar of the window-shutter through which I was looking on. The spectacle was at once magnificent and terrible. Pursued too closely the enemy had decided to face about, and there, twenty paces from us, was going on a combat life for life. I saw five or six of the enemy fall, and two or three of our men. Then, defeated after a ten minutes' struggle, the enemy trusted themselves again to the swiftness of their horses, and cleared off at full gallop. The pursuit recommenced, the whirlwind resumed its course, leaving, before it disappeared, three or four men strewn on the pavement. Suddenly we heard the drum beating to the charge. It was our hundred infantry soldiers who were coming up in their turn. They marched with fixed bayonets and disappeared at the bend of the road. Five minutes later we heard a sharp platoon firing. Then we saw our hussars reappearing, driven by five or six hundred cavalry; they reappeared the pursued, as they had started the pursuers. Amid this second tempest of men it was impossible to see or distinguish anything; only, when it was past, three or four dead bodies more lay stretched on the ground."

The boy who saw these scenes, to record them in his Memoirs many years later, was living with his mother at Villers-Cotterets, on the Soissons road in the Aisne, where fierce fighting between our little army and our allies the French on the one hand, and the Germans on the other, is taking place as these lines are being written. The time was 1814. Napoleon had retreated from Moscow and had lost the battle of Leipzig, and the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians in alliance were gradually closing in on France. All confidence in Napoleon's star had disappeared. Every hour was bringing the roar of cannon nearer to Paris: in a few days the Allies were to enter it and Napoleon to sign the decree of abdication and leave for Elba.

The name of the boy was Alexandre Dumas. His mother had filled her cellar with furniture, bedding, and household goods, and had then had a new plank floor made for the room above, so that treasure seekers might look in vain, and had buried her little store of money in a box in the middle of the garden. She was as much in terror of Napoleon as she was of the Prussian and Russian troops. If her own countrymen, the French, were beaten, she and her son might be killed, but if Napoleon was victorious he would want her son as a soldier. Now Alexandre was twelve and conscription began at sixteen.

The boy's father, General Alexandre Dumas, was dead, and as on account of his republican principles the First Consul had disgraced, exiled, and ruined him, so by the Emperor the widow and her son were disowned, forgotten and left to starve. In spite of this Madame Dumas's neighbours called her a Bonapartist, her husband having fought under Bonaparte, and the term Bonapartist was one which was presently to amount to an accusation as Louis XVIII neared the throne.

The enemy seen by the boy fighting in the street were Prussians—Prussians long expected by his mother, who had made three successive enormous dishes of haricot mutton for their pacification. Although young Alexandre had partaken of the mutton and thought very little of the threatened danger before it occurred, he never forgot the sudden Prussian inroad and the dead men left outside this door. And he often said that the Valley of the Aisne might see the Prussians again.

In 1848, when a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies, Dumas lost many votes by making a speech in the course of which, when passing the state of Europe in review, he said. "Geographically, Prussia has the shape of a serpent, and like a serpent it seems always to sleep and prepare to swallow everything around it—Denmark, Holland, and Belgium; and when it has engulfed them all you will see that Austria will pass in its turn and perhaps, alas! France also."

In June 1866 Prussia's rapid campaign against Austria startled Europe. Every thoughtful man was calculating the consequences of the preponderance of Prussia in Germany, and Dumas was one of those Frenchmen who were seized with sad presentiments of the future for their own country. Particularly does he appear to have been struck with the barbarous conduct of the Prussians in the free city of Frankfort[1] which the newspapers were daily reporting. Unable to remain at home while such events were occurring, he travelled to Frankfort and observed them for himself. Then he went to Gotha, Hanover, and Berlin; he visited the battlefields of Langensalza and Sadowa and returned to Paris with his notebooks crammed with precious details, his pockets bulging with unpublished documents.

Then M. Hollander, the owner of the political journal "The Situation," came running to the author of "The Three Musketeers," "Queen Margot," and of so many other famous historical romances to ask for one to be called "The Prussian Terror." Dumas, who like M. Hollander was anxious to do all he could to arouse France, fast crumbling under the Second Empire, to a sense of her danger from Prussia, gladly complied. Such is the genesis of this book in which on every page the author seems to say—"Awake! the danger is at hand."

To render it more easily intelligible to readers of the present day who appear to us to know very little of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, let us glance at the important events which the newspaper proprietor and the historical romancer had in mind.

The death of the King of Denmark occurred in 1863[2] and North Germany buzzed like a swarm of angry bees over the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Luxemburg. By the treaty of London (1852), which fixed the succession to the Danish Crown, Austria and Prussia, although signatories to it, denied the right of the new king to those duchies and claimed them as part of Germany. In February 1864 Austrian and Prussian troops crossed the Danish border. The Danes fought well, but were forced to submit and eventually the duchies were made over to their enemies.

Then Prussia, which had long looked with jealousy on the power of Austria and considered a war with her inevitable sooner or later, opposed her desire to form the duchies into a separate state under the Duke of Augustenburg. Austria referred the matter to the Frankfort Diet, which decided in favour of the duke, but Bismarck, as Prussia's Prime Minister, to secure the complete control of North Germany, required that, not only the duchies but the whole of Hanover, Hesse Cassel, Hesse Nassau, and the city of Frankfort should be absorbed in Prussia. Both Prussia and Austria prepared for war, Prussia entering into an alliance with Victor Emanuel. On June 7th Prussian troops entered Holstein.

On June 14th, in regard to the decisive question whether the federal army should be mobilized, Hanover voted in the Diet with Austria, and by so doing irrevocably declared on which side she would range herself in the approaching struggle. Prussia at once issued an ultimatum to Hanover, requesting her to maintain neutrality and to accept her scheme for the reformation of the Confederation. Hanover immediately rejected these demands and Prussian troops at once crossed the frontier. The resulting battles are known as those of Langensalza and Aschaffenburg. The Austrians were disastrously defeated in the terrific battle of Sadowa or Koeniggraetz, and Bismarck was thus nearer to the formation of German Unity under Prussia.

After Sadowa, the first act of the Prussians was to enter the "free" city of Frankfort, which did not attempt any defence, relying as it did on its treaties, and terrorise its inhabitants. It was these "acts of terror," then, of which M. Hollander and Dumas were particularly thinking, hoping that the recital of them in a popular romance would do something to awaken France.

It has been repeatedly stated that before the Franco-German War of 1870 the German soldiers were guiltless of acts of atrocity. This story proves the contrary, and it is not a little curious that no work in the English language, save books of reference, covering the ground traversed by "The Prussian Terror," appears to be now accessible. For this reason alone Dumas's book, which, though in story form, is an authoritative contribution to history, deserves attention at the present time. Apart from this, it is so spirited and interesting that it is quite surprising that at so late a date—forty-seven years after its original issue—I should be the first to offer a version[3] to the British public.

Dumas was still living in Paris when, in the summer of 1869, war was declared with Germany. His health was now bad, and his son, the author of "La Dame aux Camelias," did not wish him to remain during the siege. In the autumn he took his father with him to Puys near Dieppe, where he had a villa. There Dumas died on December 5th, 1870.

He did not know it—news being kept from him—but during his last days his worst prognostications had been verified. A detachment of the Prussian army was actually taking possession of Dieppe as he breathed his last. While the soldiers marched along the streets, their bands playing German airs and the inhabitants hid in their houses behind shuttered windows, the news flew round the town that the country had lost Alexandre Dumas, the most typically French writer who has ever existed. The coffin was borne to the grave at Neuville, where the German soldiers were in occupation, before a Prussian patrol. In 1872 the body was exhumed, and buried in the family tomb at Villers-Cotterets. Hard by, where as a boy of twelve Dumas heard the Prussian cannon, three nations are now fighting.

R.S. GARNETT.


[1] Dumas knew Frankfort well, having lived there for some time in 1838 with G?rard de Nerval, the author of "Les Filles de Feu."

[2] These facts are taken from the "Encyclopedia Britannica."

[3] It should be stated that M. Hollander, who wished the brilliant name of Dumas to shine on as many issues of his newspaper as possible, stipulated for not less than sixty feuilletons. Dumas complied, but was forced to include some hunting stories which he puts into the mouth of his hero, Benedict Turpin. These stories will not be found in the present volume.

Alexandre Dumas pere