When success came, Dumas indulged his extravagant tastes and consequently was forced to write more and more rapidly in order to pay his creditors. He tried to make money by journalism and with travel books but with little success.
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That revolution broke out; France was invaded; , men volunteered; new regiments were formed; and advancement, for the stouthearted, came with lightning-like speed.
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Various colonels vied for the valiant Dumas. One of them made him a second lieutenant; another snatched him away by raising him to first lieutenant; the first, in order to grab him back again, promoted him in a single jump to lieutenant colonel. The couple was immediately separated, as Dumas set out anew for the wars. On July 30, , he was made brigadier general; two months later, major general; and soon after, at the age of thirty-two, commander in chief of the Army of the Western Pyrenees. From there he was sent to the Alps, where he distinguished himself, as always, by epic feats.
With several men he took possession of Mont Cenis, where the Austrians were entrenched, by scaling a perpendicular rock with the aid of spikes. Once at the top, his men encountered a palisade and had difficulty clearing it. Leave that to me! And seizing them one after another by the seat of the breeches, he heaved them over the palisade onto the terrified enemy! Tactic worthy of Gargantua. This Hercules was gentle and good. The guillotine, which at that time trailed behind armies, horrified him.
One day, to prevent the executioner from using it, he had the frightful machine dismantled and requisitioned the wooden scaffolding in order to keep himself warm.
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Such carryings-on hardly found favor with political commissioners attached to the armies, who called him Monsieur Humanity. The rise to power of General Bonaparte put an end to the reign of guillotiners. The young commander in chief of the Italian army held General Dumas in high esteem. He knew the value of having such leaders of men under him.
When, on his own, Dumas defended the bridge at Clausen against an Austrian charge, slashing down everyone who appeared at the head of the bridge, Bonaparte nicknamed him the Tyrolean Horatius. Josephine, herself a Creole, enjoyed meeting this good-looking fellow, who talked to her about the islands. During the Egyptian campaign everything went wrong between the new master and the republican general. Dumas displayed his usual bravery. His troops, at whose head he led the attack, hurled the Mamelukes into the Nile. When he made his horse rear and brandished his sword, the most courageous Arabs shrieked with terror: The Lord!
The Lord! But soon discouragement seeped into the victorious army.
The soldiers felt too far from Europe, in a severe climate; they were badly fed. The generals did not understand the object of the campaign and feared that Bonaparte wished to make of them only instruments serving his personal ambition. Inside the tent of General Dumas, they put certain questions: Was it a kingship Bonaparte wanted to carve for himself in the Orient?
Should the soldiers of a nation become the satellites of a man?
Alexandre Dumas - A Great Life in Brief
Every ambitious leader has his Intelligence service, and these matters were promptly reported to Napoleon. For some time the Tyrolean Horatius had been referred to only as that colored man by his chief. Here are the terms in which General Bonaparte described what happened to Desgenettes, chief medical officer of the Egyptian army:. When I arrived at Giza, I was informed that there was some dissatisfaction and that several generals had gone so far as to announce they would restrain me from pushing on any farther. I knew that Dumas was among the rebels, as were Murat and Lannes.
And I forgot about the whole affair a long time ago. According to this testimony, Bonaparte supposedly said to Dumas: General, you are striving to demoralize the army. Take care lest I perform my duty! This conversation is not unbelievable. Dumas was courageous, and Bonaparte, when in good humor, tolerant. After that, General Dumas continued to behave like a hero. He quelled an uprising in Cairo, was the first to enter the great mosque, and sent Bonaparte some of its treasures.
But his heart was no longer in the campaign. The superb mulatto was stricken with a nostalgia peculiar to Creoles and with a profound discouragement. He asked for permission to return to France.
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A crossing was not easy, however, for the Mediterranean was controlled by the English fleet. Bonaparte, only too glad to get rid of a discontented subordinate, authorized General Dumas to depart but could not provide the means, even had he so desired. Finally Dumas managed to charter a small vessel, the Belle Maltaise , and set out to sea with a certain number of fellow soldiers.
The Maltese captain promised to land them in France; but the Belle Maltaise was not seaworthy, and, in the face of tempests, they had to put into the nearest harbor, unfortunately a port in the Kingdom of Naples, then an enemy of France. Imprisoned at Taranto, the general was kept in solitary confinement.
There was even an attempt to poison him. After twenty months of captivity, he was crippled, threatened with paralysis, deaf in one ear, and almost blind in one eye. This was in Bonaparte, also back in France, had become First Consul without any opposition. Dumas, who did not possess a franc, wrote him to claim wages in arrears and to petition for resumption of active service. But Bonaparte, though not cruel, never forgave a want of devotion to his person.
He had not forgotten Egypt. The first corporal at hand can replace him. When friends endeavored to intervene in his favor, the countenance of the First Consul darkened. I forbid you to speak to me about that man! Afterwards the sentence was repeated to the hapless Dumas. When I think, said Dumas, that I had him under my fingers and could have strangled him!
Nine months after his return, a son was born to him and registered under the name of Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie. The child, for his part, adored such a good father; he admired his marvelous strength, his beautiful embroidered uniform. He was too young to realize that the Hercules was dwindling. The regime in Neapolitan prisons had forever destroyed the health of the unfortunate general. He himself felt he was dying.