Léon Gozlan : "Monte-Cristo, this castle they talk about in Europe and America" Vous êtes ici : Accueil > English > Dumas's life > Dumas as described...
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In 1847, the building up of the castle of Monte-Cristo, near Saint-Germain-en-Laye, is at its height. Léon Gozlan relate with witty eloquence, in L'Almanach comique, how the public felt about this crazy venture and Dumas's inimitable way of supervising the work...

The Parisian who goes and visits Italy, Spain and England, and who sometimes regrets not being able to go to the moon, as if there wasn't anything left on Earth for him to know, a new Alexander ; the Parisian is utterly unaware of the fact that between Saint-Germain, where he often goes, and Versailles, where he goes even more often, there is a particular unknown to his stronger and stronger taste for travelling. And that is the piece of land bounded by these two famous residences ; a charming, enchanted area, more cheerful than Italy where one may miss the shade, less picturesque than Spain, where there are few trees, happier than England deprived of sunshine, and, I believe, merrier than the moon whose vegetation, seen from a long distance, doesn't seem very luxuriant. They simply, too simply in my opinion, call this area, this privileged land, Marly's countryside. But that's little things' fate to have great names ; and great things' fate to have little names. Montmorency, that word which makes you immoderately open your mouth four times, is a very ugly village ; and Nile that word which hardly moves your lips, refers to the largest river in Africa.
The road to Marly, in the middle of the countryside with the same name, is bounded between a line of woods and the river Seine, richer, more beautiful there than in any other spot of its huge course. Everyone knows why this road is so magnificent. The courtiers of those kings who lived in Versailles and Saint-Germain have been frequenting it for three centuries, and it is spangled with palaces, castles, pleasure houses ; it is covered with parks as vast as woods.
I was going to Luciennes, where madame du Barry owned her so famous house, Luciennes where Louis XV came to forget that he was a king in order to convince himself a little too much that he was a man, Luciennes : one of the best stopping place on the road to Marly, when the coachman cried out to me, leaning over his leather seat :
- Sir, here it is !
- I don't mind at all, I answered him, without stopping dreaming away watching the sky, the river, the skyline and the little white bell flowers on the road.
- I'm telling that it is here, the coachman said again.
- I'm telling you to leave alone. I have paid to go to Versailles, not for you to tell me about your touristic observations.
- Indeed here it is, my fellow travellers said to me in their turn, and all of them going to the right side of the coach.
- And what is it now ? I asked impatiently. Is it Louis XIV, Louis XV ?
- M. Alexandre Dumas's castle ( Saint-Germain's coachmen say Dumassse, as if there were three s s s). The castle of Monte-Cristo.
- The Castle of Monte-Cristo ! I cried out. That's another thing ; it deserves to put ourselves out.
And I did just like the others, I rushed to the coach's window to know this castle they talk about in Europe and America, the way they talked about Versailles under Louis XIV, and about St Helena in 1820.
I wanted to see with all my eyes, feeling sorry that I should have only two of them, this building which, according to some, makes the ideal creations from the Arabian Nights real, for it is so splendid, dazzling, oiginal and rich ; which according to the others is no better than a comfortable house in the Marais ; which, according to others, doesn't exist at all.
I could already see the lead weather vanes of the Castle of Monte-Cristo. And this removes any doubts about its existence ; I was soon to face its main side, passing down the hill, and silently complaining about not being able to stop for a few minutes in order to study the details of the architecture, which seemed to be of excellent taste, at leisure.
Suddenly our coachman, with more vibrant voice than when he had cried out Here it is ! started saying : There he is ! There he is ! And his whip joyfully cracked at the very same moment, his horses stamped ; the travellers, very much used to his enthusiasm went from the right side to the left side of the coach, in perilous haste, happy to repeat after him : There he is ! There he is ! This time I said to myself, it must be Louis XV. For it is something like from people to king that is happening in front of me. Only Voltaire could have in the past... But I was rushing as well... It was Alexandre Dumas, walking, like a simple man, or rather like no one, for it was very hot on the road and the dust was stiffling.
- Fancy that, Gozlan ; and where are you going then ?
- To Luciennes.
- Well then, get out.
- No, for I'm going to Luciennes to see the castle of madame du Barry ; I'm still weak enough to want to know things before I give an account of them.
- Give an account of mine and come and see it. Come on : get out !
- But when shall I see Luciennes ?
- After having seen Monte-Cristo. Today you stay with me ; we'll have dinner together...
I break off here, or rather I interrupt Dumas, to say that it took him two strides to climb on the highest seats of the coach, which hadn't stop going, and that he had sat beside me and some butchers from Poissy, very happy to be in such illustrious company.
- So, we'll have dinner together ; if you want to sleep in, you'll sleep in, and tomorrow morning... Even better, spend a month in Saint-Germain and you will write a play for the Théâtre-Historique. Right, you stay.
Stop here my friend ; this gentleman isn't going to Luciennes ; he gets out with me at
- All right ! I sacrifice madame du Barry for you, I said to Dumas.
- She has sacrified so many for Louis XV...
We got out ; we were at the gate of Monte-Cristo. Dumas, who has described so many costumes, will allow me to tell about his. He was wearing a velvet jacket and hat, a three-hundred francs lace shirt, and he was unshaven. A well-known face, distinguishing marks : none.
- Monsieur Dumas !
- Who is calling me ?
- I am
- Monsieur Dumas !
Another voice was calling Dumas.
- Monsieur Dumas ! Monsieur Dumas ! Monsieur Dumas ! That was a third voice : they could be heard from every spots in the estate.
The first voice said to Dumas :
- This morning, I have bought 1500 gudgeons.
- 1500 gudgeons ! ! I cried out. And what are you going to do, Good Lord! with all these gudgeons ?
The voice went on :
- 800 bleaks, 150 trouts and 1200 crayfish.
- That is very good, my friend, Dumas answered, coldly, you may now release them in the ponds.
- But the ponds have sunk, the voice answered.
I thought I understood, all of a sudden I did not understand anymore. I had understood that there were ponds in the estate and that the little fish were here to stock them, but I could not understand how the ponds had sunk.
- You are surprised, Dumas said ; that means that you have never dealt with architects... Would you believe, my dear friend, that I have had a series of small ponds dug one under the other, cascade shaped...
- Monsieur Dumas, what shall we do with those gudgeons ?
- Now what !... Put them in the Isle of Monte-Cristo.
- Yes, monsieur Dumas.
And Dumas went on while taking me towards his cascade :
- Thus these smalls ponds were so badly built that what I had foreseen happened, even before they were filled with water. Look, my dear friend. I then saw ten or twelve ponds, as large as a big frying pan, which had come loose and had slipped one on top of the other like a pile of plate.
Dumas was deep into his thoughts. Then, bravely putting up with it, he told me, laughing :
- If the fish had been here, we would have had to serve them. The ponds have become dishes.
I have said that other voices were calling Dumas, whose intelligence was taking care of everything, was giving an answer to everything, was foreseeing everything, like Napoléon's.
The gudgeon man had just finished and we had not yet reached the hll where the castle of Monte-Cristo had been built, when the gardener told him :
- Monsieur Dumas, where are we going to plant the park ?
- Here, my dear.
- Who will draw it ?
- I will, my dear.
- What kind of trees do you want ?
- The best . Larches, firs, oaks, briches, hornbeams, limes...
- But will your park be ? I asked Dumas, having painfully noticed that the land was not as vast as the landlord's imagination.
- I have told my gardener, and you have just heard it ; it will be here.
- Where we are ?
- Yes.
- It will be very small, I told him. It will hardly be larger than the Comédie-Française's foyer.
- It will be small, that's true, but it will be a very literary one.
- And what is a literary park my dear Dumas ?
- I mean that I will give to each alley the name of one of my works. There will be the Lorenzino Alley, and the Antony alley.
- I understand : but it won't give much shade to the wanderers.
- What do you expect ? Glory first, then shade.
At last, I had reached the castle of Monte-Cristo, entirely built according to Alexandre Dumas's ideas, tastes and plans, and he had proved that his taste as an architect is exquisit, just as his talent for writing. I can find nothing to compare to this precious jewel, apart from the castle of the Reine Blanche in the woods of Chantilly, and Jean Goujon's house in Paris. Its walls are with cut-off corners, and there is a balcony in stone ; there are stained-glass windows, turrets and weather vanes ; which is enough to show that he belongs to no precise age, not to the Greek art, nor middle art. Yet it has a whiff of Renaissance about it that gives him a special charm. Anyway, it is the outward sign of a great mind, of a superior artistic taste it is an lovable mould for a dreamy and passionate soul. Which architect on earth would have conceived such a monument ? The poet's thought has stopped here, and here was Monte-Cristo. It is a ten-syllables verses poem with alternate rhymes monument. It is even better than that : one could madly fall in love with this monument, the way one loves the moon when one is young.
Dumas, who knows better than anyone his century's men of value, has entrusted Messieurs Auguste Préault, Pradier et Antoine Moine with the making of all the statues of his castle.
An eminent novelist forgot, and that is true, o have built his countryhouse's staircase ; Dumas has forgotten nothing, neither the staircase, nor the cellars which are most beautiful, neither the lounger which will be wonderful when it is furnished, nor the weather vanes' motto. On of the banderole it is written : To the wind the flame ! and on the other one : To the Lord the soul !
He has had put the bust of all the greatest dramatic writers of all centuries and even of his own era around the first floor's frieze. While I was marveling at this act of nobility of soul by a dramatic writer so much spared from jealousy, I said to him :
- My dear Dumas, would you allow me to make an observation.
- Which one ?
- I can see here Dante and Virgil : it seems to me that neither of them has ever written for the stage These two lyric poets would be fit anywhere else, they wouldn't encroach upon such a limited space, since modern dramatic literature is only represented by Victor Hugo's bust. Only one contemporary dramatic author !... By the way, what about you, my dear friend, you are not here ?
- I will be, Dumas said, indulgent enough to answer me.

Léon Gozlan
L'Almanach comique pour 1848
© Société des Amis d'Alexandre Dumas
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