List Of Contents | Contents of The Borgias, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Next Page > >


The Borgias



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.

In some instances facts appear distorted out of their true
perspective, and in others the author makes unwarranted charges.  It
is not within our province to edit the historical side of Dumas, any
more than it would be to correct the obvious errors in Dickens's
Child's History of England.  The careful, mature reader, for whom the
books are intended, will recognize, and allow for, this fact.


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

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 German.

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."



On the 8th of April, 1492, in a bedroom of the Carneggi Palace, about
three miles from Florence, were three men grouped about a bed whereon
a fourth lay dying.

The first of these three men, sitting at the foot of the bed, and
half hidden, that he might conceal his tears, in the gold-brocaded
curtains, was Ermolao Barbaro, author of the treatise 'On Celibacy',
and of 'Studies in Pliny': the year before, when he was at Rome in
the capacity of ambassador of the Florentine Republic, he had been
appointed Patriarch of Aquileia by Innocent VIII.

The second, who was kneeling and holding one hand of the dying man
between his own, was Angelo Poliziano, the Catullus of the fifteenth
century, a classic of the lighter sort, who in his Latin verses might
have been mistaken for a poet of the Augustan age.

The third, who was standing up and leaning against one of the twisted
columns of the bed-head, following with profound sadness the progress
of the malady which he read in the face of his departing friend, was
the famous Pico della Mirandola, who at the age of twenty could speak
twenty-two languages, and who had offered to reply in each of these
languages to any seven hundred questions that might be put to him by
the twenty most learned men in the whole world, if they could be
assembled at Florence.

The man on the bed was Lorenzo the Magnificent, who at the beginning
of the year had been attacked by a severe and deep-seated fever, to
which was added the gout, a hereditary ailment in his family.  He had
found at last that the draughts containing dissolved pearls which the
quack doctor, Leoni di Spoleto, prescribed for him (as if he desired
to adapt his remedies rather to the riches of his patient than to his
necessities) were useless and unavailing, and so he had come to
understand that he must part from those gentle-tongued women of his,
those sweet-voiced poets, his palaces and their rich hangings;
therefore he had summoned to give him absolution for his sins--in a
man of less high place they might perhaps have been called crimes--
the Dominican, Giralamo Francesco Savonarola.

It was not, however, without an inward fear, against which the
praises of his friends availed nothing, that the pleasure-seeker and
usurper awaited that severe and gloomy preacher by whose word's all
Florence was stirred, and on whose pardon henceforth depended all his
hope far another world.

Indeed, Savonarola was one of those men of stone, coming, like the
statue of the Commandante, to knock at the door of a Don Giovanni,
and in the midst of feast and orgy to announce that it is even now
the moment to begin to think of Heaven.  He had been barn at Ferrara,
whither his family, one of the most illustrious of Padua, had been
called by Niccolo, Marchese d'Este, and at the age of twenty-three,
summoned by an irresistible vocation, had fled from his father's
house, and had taken the vows in the cloister of Dominican monks at
Florence.  There, where he was appointed by his superiors to give
lessons in philosophy, the young novice had from the first to battle
against the defects of a voice that was both harsh and weak, a
defective pronunciation, and above all, the depression of his
physical powers, exhausted as they were by too severe abstinence.

Savonarala from that time condemned himself to the most absolute
seclusion, and disappeared in the depths of his convent, as if the
slab of his tomb had already fallen over him.  There, kneeling on the
flags, praying unceasingly before a wooden crucifix, fevered by
vigils and penances, he soon passed out of contemplation into
ecstasy, and began to feel in himself that inward prophetic impulse
which summoned him to preach the reformation of the Church.

Nevertheless, the reformation of Savonarola, more reverential than
Luther's, which followed about five-and-twenty years later, respected
the thing while attacking the man, and had as its aim the altering of
teaching that was human, not faith that was of God.  He did not work,
like the German monk, by reasoning, but by enthusiasm.  With him
logic always gave way before inspiration: he was not a theologian,
but a prophet.  Yet, although hitherto he had bowed his head before
the authority of the Church, he had already raised it against the
temporal power.  To him religion and liberty appeared as two virgins

Next Page > >

Other sites: