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The Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan Ride into the Public Domain—Again!

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This year, a large number of well-known works entered the public domain, thanks to changes in copyright law over time. One of these books is a popular edition of “The Three Musketeers,” written by Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), translated into English by Philip Schuyler Allen (1871-1937), and illustrated by the well-known artist, Milo Winter (1888-1956).

D’Artagnan and Aramis on their way to England on a secret mission. Alexandre Dumas. “The Three Musketeers.” Translated by Philip Schuyler Allen. Illustrations by Milo Winter. Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1923, p. 198.

Earlier English-language versions of “The Three Musketeers” have already been freely available. Books published in the United States up to, and including, 1923 are considered public domain material. One of these pre-1924 works was a translation by William Robson (1786-1863); its many illustrations by Maurice Leloir (1853-1940) were engraved on wood by Jules Huyot (1841-1921).

The story of D’Artagnan and the three musketeers has captured the imagination of generations of readers. Alexander Dumas. “The Three Musketeers.” Translated by William Robson. Illustrations by Maurice Leloir. Engraved on wood by J. Huyot. New York; London: D. Appleton, 1911. Two volumes. Vol. 1, p. xiii.

Both the illustrations and the style of translation vary appreciably between these two editions, one published before World War I (1914-18) and one after. Either way, the swashbuckling adventures continued to thrill readers.

Dumas writing at his desk. Frontispiece of vol. 1, Appleton edition.

Originally written and published in French in 1844, “Les trois mousquetaires” by Alexandre Dumas has been translated into many languages, including several English translations. Dumas, with his collaborator Auguste Maquet (1813-88), tirelessly produced works of popular fiction, including the equally popular “Count of Monte Christo.” Numerous play and film versions of “The Three Musketeers” have been produced over the years as well.

Paul Gilmore in “The Musketeers.” New York: The Seer Print, 1899. Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division. Theatrical poster collection.
Edward Sothern in “The King’s Musketeer.” Cin’ti; New York: Strobridge Lith. Co., 1898. Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division. Theatrical poster collection.

The main thread of the story, very loosely based on 17th-century historical figures, concerns a power struggle between the French King Louis XIII, egged on by his éminence grise, or behind-the-scenes adviser, Cardinal Richelieu, and the Spanish-born Queen Anne, who was promoting her powerful ruling family’s interests and was engaged in an extramarital affair with the dashing English Duke of Buckingham.

Queen Anne facing King Louis XIII, with Cardinal Richelieu looking on. Robson translation, vol. 1, p. 245.

The hero, D’Artagnan, and his three musketeer friends, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, support the Queen and daringly extricate her from a plot designed to embroil her in a scandal. The devious, murdering seductress, “Milady,” with her secret, criminal past, is an accomplice of Richelieu.

After completing the military duties for which they really were employed, the heroes are ready to depart on the Queen’s mission. Allen translation, p. 454.
Robson translation, vol. 2, p. 160.

It is fascinating to compare the abbreviated 1923 young adult “Three Musketeers” edition with the much longer 1911 one, with its rather awkward and quaint translation. There are no images of royalty in the 1923 version, and the evil temptress, Milady, looks almost amiable in Milo Winter’s pictures.

D’Artagnan before and after he discovers Milady’s true nature. Allen translation frontispiece. Robson translation, vol. 2, p. 60.

Milady is found out! Robson translation, vol. 2, p. 334; Allen translation, p. 526.

Duke University Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has created a partial, but still extensive, spreadsheet describing the copyright history of the newly “liberated” works, which also include films and sheet music. The copyright law fair-use provision allows for limited use of copyright-protected material only for purposes such as scholarly or critical use. The expired copyright protection means that we can now freely use these materials in their entirety for educational, research, and creative purposes!


  1. The article skirts the real issue, unsurprisingly, of how the “laws” ripped off yet another black author and his family. The publishing “rights” for Dumas’ work should be the legal property of his family, period, unless they wish to transfer said rights. The same should “legally” apply to the work of Chevalier St.- George which has similarly been passed to the “public domain” which means everybody but his descendants are now free to make money off his work. Let’s get some truth in here, please.

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