July 24, 1802: Alexandre Dumas (père) was born on this day in 1802. Dumas was brought up by his widowed mother, on little money and many stories of his father’s exploits as a general in Napoleon’s army. In Chapter 1 of The Three Musketeers the young d’Artagnan saddles up for Paris and glory, his only provisions “The Three Presents of D’Artagnan the Elder”:
You are young. You ought to be brave for two reasons: the first is that you are a Gascon, and the second is that you are my son. Never fear quarrels, but seek adventures. I have taught you how to handle a sword; you have thews of iron, a wrist of steel. Fight on all occasions. Fight the more for duels being forbidden, since consequently there is twice as much courage in fighting. I have nothing to give you, my son, but fifteen crowns, my horse, and the counsels you have just heard. Your mother will add to them a recipe for a certain balsam, which she had from a Bohemian and which has the miraculous virtue of curing all wounds that do not reach the heart.
The American crime writer John D. MacDonald was born on this day in 1916. The Deep Blue Good-By, first book in MacDonald’s popular Travis McGee series, was published in 1964. The twenty more he wrote over the next twenty years was a slowing down, given the forty-one books in fourteen years before McGee, but they did for the marinas and malls of Florida what Chandler did for the mansions and alleys of L. A. McGee was a “tattered knight on a spavined steed,” but always clear about which pennants he carried:
Up with life. Stamp out all small and large indignities. Leave everyone alone to make it without pressure. Down with hurting. Lower the standard of living. Do without plastics. Smash the servo-mechanisms. Stop grabbing. Snuff the breeze and hug the kids. Love all love. Hate all hate. (A Tan and Sandy Silence)
Once a warrior gentle of birth,
Then a person of civic worth,
Now a fellow to move our mirth.
Warrior, person, and fellow — no more:
We must knight our dogs to get any lower.
Brave Knights Kennelers then shall be,
Noble Knights of the Golden Flea,
Knights of the Order of St. Steboy,
Knights of St. Gorge and Sir Knights Jawy.
God speed the day when this knighting fad
Shall go to the dogs and the dogs go mad.
—from The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, born on this day in 1842