A chemist, industrialist and Republican opponent of Napoleon III, Scheurer-Kestner entered politics in 1871, becoming one of the Senate’s leading voices. In 1897, the lawyer Louis Leblois convinced Scheurer-Kestner of Dreyfus’ innocence, which he proclaimed to his Republican colleagues on July 13, 1897. On October 29, 1897, Scheurer-Kestner met with President Félix Faure regarding the matter, met with his friend, Minister of War was Jean-Baptiste Billot (1828-1907) on October 30, and on November 3, the date of our letter, he conferred with Prime Minister Méline. Less than two weeks later, on November 15, 1897, Scheurer-Kestner declared Dreyfus innocent in an open letter to Le Temps, the journal discussed in our letter. Billot was later accused by Emile Zola of participating in the conspiracy to frame Dreyfus by covering up proof of his innocence. The documents in our letter no doubt refer to the ongoing Affair.
“How little meaning there is in words that are not backed by action”
PICQUART, GEORGES-MARIE. (1854-1914). Dreyfus’s instructor at the War College and chief of military intelligence. In 1896, Picquart opened an investigation into Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, the spy whose treason was pinned on Dreyfus, after intercepting a letter (the petit bleu) from the German Embassy addressed to Esterhazy. AMsS. (“G. Picquart”). ½ p. 4to. Paris, September 22, 1899. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“I was offered to inaugurate this book; I have accepted, but it is my decision not to write in it any indictment nor any opinion. I am told that you will read this when you are twenty years old [Pierre Dreyfus was eight at the time]. The painful past will seem very remote, and maybe you will have already experienced how little meaning there is in words that are not backed by action. Paris, 22 September 1899. G. Picquart”
Despite his anti-Semitism, Picquart, in 1897, reported the discovery of the petit bleu which implicated Esterhazy and exonerated Dreyfus. For his courage, Picquart was punished, first by a re-assignment to active duty in Tunisia, and then, upon Esterhazy’s acquittal, Picquart was “discharged for gross misconduct in the service” in 1898 and imprisoned the same day Zola’s letter J’Accuse was published. After testifying at Zola’s libel trial and becoming one of Dreyfus’ most vociferous champions, Picquart was accused of forging the petit bleu, and imprisoned a second time. Thousands of people signed the petitions for Picquart’s release circulated by Le Siècle and L’Aurore before he was freed in June 1899. In 1906, Picquart was finally exonerated, promoted to brigadier general and, in October, made Minister of War. Picquart penned our manuscript entry shortly after the military court at Rennes found Dreyfus guilty on September 9, 1899, and President Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau issued a pardon ten days later. On September 21, 1899, the day before Picquart’s note, Minister of War Gaston de Galliffet issued a military order proclaiming “the incident is over.”
“Read again the letters of an innocent man so as not to forget that unhappiness exists”
REINACH, JOSEPH. (1856-1921). French historian, liberal politician and defender of Alfred Dreyfus. AMsS. (“Joseph Reinach”). 1/3p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“In times of joy, read again the letters of an innocent man so as not to forget that unhappiness exists; read them again in times of trial to learn more never to despair of Justice nor of France. Joseph Reinach.”
Reinach, an early and devout Dreyfus supporter, pushed for a review of the sentence and differed with other supporters by advising Dreyfus to accept the pardon. He later wrote a history of the case that is still considered by many to be the standard work on the subject. His suggestion that Pierre “read again the letters of an innocent man,” refers to the 1898 edition of Dreyfus’s letters to his wife, Lucy, entitled “Lettre d’un innocent.”
“General Mercier would have died at the penal colony”
ARCONTI-VISCONTI, MARIE-LOUISE. (1840–1923). French philanthropist, art collector and salon hostess who maintained a lengthy correspondence with Alfred Dreyfus. AMsS. (“M. Arconti Visconti nee Peyrat”). ½ p. 4to. N.p. (Paris), N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“If all true republicans had resembled my father, General Mercier would have died at the penal colony. M. Arconti Visconti, nee Peyrat.”
The daughter of the Republican journalist and politician Alphonse Jean Peyrat (1812-1890), and, by 1876, the wealthy widow of an exiled Milanese noble, Arconti-Visconti became acquainted with Dreyfus’ plight through the French intellectuals that attended her Paris salon, including Jean Jaurès, Aristide Briand, Raymond Poincaré, and Léon Gambetta; she frequently corresponded with Dreyfus directly.
Minister of War General Auguste Mercier (1833-1921) headed the military’s initial investigation into what became known as the Dreyfus Affair, becoming convinced of Dreyfus’ guilt despite a lack of evidence. His ongoing belief was, in part, a reaction to the right-wing press’s criticism of keeping the army’s investigation a secret. Following Dreyfus’ conviction, Mercier requested the reinstatement of the death penalty for sedition and destroyed evidence, leading to his replacement as minister of war. For his cover-up, Dreyfus regarded Mercier as the “chief criminal” in his persecution. From 1900-1920, Mercier served as a French senator.
“Your father’s first defenders were not numerous; but it will be correct to say that they represented France”
FRANCE, ANATOLE. (1844-1924). Nobel Prize-winning French novelist and poet. AMsS. (“Anatole France”). 2/3 p. Paris. March 27, 1902. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“When you read these lines, my child, people everywhere will say: ‘In 1899, France, hating Mercier’s crime and Meline’s cowardice, proclaimed Dreyfus’s innocence. Your father’s first defenders were not numerous; but it will be correct to say that they represented France, since they were her conscience.’ Paris, 27 March 1902, Anatole France”
The son of a bookseller, France began his literary career as a journalist. His 1881 novel Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard brought him fame and was followed by La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedauque, Les Opinions de Jerome Coignard and the 1901 Monsieur Bergeret which commented on the Dreyfus Affair and reflected his support of Emile Zola’s criticism of the French government during that troubled period in French history. His 1908 L’Ile de Pingouins (Penguin Island) was a lengthy satire on the Dreyfus Affair. France mentions Minister of War General Auguste Mercier (1833-1921) and French Prime Minister Jules Méline (1838-1925), in office from April 1896-June 1898, and who opposed a reopening of the Dreyfus trial, famously stating “There is no Dreyfus Affair. There is not now and there cannot be a Dreyfus Affair,” and insisting that Dreyfus confessed his guilt. Five months after France penned these lines, Dreyfus’ most outspoken defender, Emile Zola, died of asphyxiation under mysterious circumstances; at his October 5, 1902, funeral, France called Zola “a moment in the conscience of man.”
“The tragedy of the Dreyfus Affair prompted my becoming a true republican”
ROUJON, HENRY. (1853-1914). French academic, writer, director of the Academy of Fine Arts and secretary to moderate Republican Prime Minister Jules Ferry. AMsS. (“H. Roujon”). ½p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“It seems to me that the tragedy of the Dreyfus Affair prompted my becoming a true republican, in conscience and in thoughts. H. Roujon”
“When history weighs the responsibilities of those involved in the Dreyfus Affair”
DURUY, GEORGE. (1853-1918). French novelist and historian. AMsS. (“George Duruy”). ½p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“When history weighs the responsibilities of those involved in the Dreyfus Affair, it will judge harshly the evil men who, with a little heart and insight, could have spared the country the immeasurable harm they caused it by stubbornly refusing a revision, even after an event such as Henry’s suicide added its sinister eloquence to the reasons invoked by Scheurer-Kestner, the good citizen and pure patriot who was the first to demand it. George Duruy.”
A professor of literature and history at the École Polytechnique, Duruy was suspended from his post after publishing a defense of Dreyfus entitled “For Justice and for the Army” in Le Figaro in April 1899. He was later reinstated and awarded the Legion of Honor in 1910.
Dreyfus’ 1894 conviction for treason and his subsequent exile and imprisonment on Devil’s Island hinged on an intercepted memo, or bordereau, revealing French military secrets, that had been sent anonymously to the German military attaché in Paris and incorrectly identified as having been written by Dreyfus. Its author was another French officer spying for the Germans, Major Marie-Charles-Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy. Additional forged evidence intended to implicate Dreyfus was secretly submitted by French Army officers to the military judges presiding over the proceedings. As Dreyfus languished for years in solitary confinement following his conviction, his family tried to clear his name while an anti-Semitic French press regularly circulated rumors and lies about him. Esterhazy and Major Hubert-Joseph Henry (1847-1898), a statistical section officer who had forged much of the evidence used against Dreyfus, conspired to cover up their involvement by faking additional evidence. The truth finally emerged in the summer of 1898 after Henry confessed and killed himself in a military prison and Esterhazy fled to England. General Boisdeffre, the army’s Chief of the General Staff who had been convinced of Dreyfus’ guilt from the beginning, resigned after Henry’s confession.
“I do not know what I think is greatest: [Dreyfus’s] unshakeable courage or his unwavering hope”
CLARETIE, JULES ARSÈNE ARNAUD. (1840-1913). French author and journalist; theater critic for Le Figaro and, later, director of the Théâtre Français. Among his works are novels, plays and the librettos for three of Jules Massenet’s operas. AMsS. (“Jules Claretie”). 1p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“What struck me, child who will be a man when you read these lines, is that after what your father suffered, all I found in him was pity and the will to forgive. What he endured is meant to astound; what he seems to forget arouses in me a feeling of compassionate admiration. After so much pain, he harbors no hatred; after such unfairness and torture he still has illusions and faith. His optimism, it seems, has survived…And I do not know what I think is greatest: his unshakeable courage or his unwavering hope. Jules Claretie.”
“You will have learned that truth and justice sooner or later will triumph over lies and injustice”
MONOD GABRIEL. (1844-1912). French historian and founder of the academic journal Revue Historique. AMsS. (“Gabriel Monod”). 1p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“My dear Pierre, At an age when, ordinarily, what one knows of life and men in their smile, you already know fate’s decrees and man’s evil; still you will not curse fate nor humanity. Because you will have learned that truth and justice sooner or later will triumph over lies and injustice, and you will have seen – in your father, in your mother, in your uncle Matthieu, in those who, like Colonel Picquart, have sacrificed themselves in the name of oppressed innocence – virtues that make humanity worthy of your love and respect. Gabriel Monod.”
Monod’s statement refers to the unceasing efforts of Picquart and Dreyfus’ brother Mathieu (1857-1930) to clear his name. It was Mathieu who secured lawyers, lobbied politicians and contacted writers and other prominent intellectuals, among them Monod, to take up his brother’s cause.
“It is truly and doubly the Dreyfus Affair. He was both the victim and its hero.”
JAURÈS, JEAN. (1859-1914). French historian and influential Socialist politician whose pacifist position during World War I led to his assassination by a French nationalist, Raoul Villain, acquitted in 1919. AMsS. (“Jean Jaures”). 2½pp. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“My dear friend, you know, now, that the crisis that bears your father’s painful and great name deeply moved many consciences, changed the very course of events in our country, and pulled France out of the worst reaction, both fraudulent and violent. But what must touch you and move you the most is not only that your father was the cause of this just movement: he supported it and carried it with the strength of his heart. It is he who, with his stoical faith in justice and in the future made possible this great fight for rights and our victory. It is truly and doubly the Dreyfus Affair. He was both the victim and its hero. Jean Jaures.”
Jaures, a staunch supporter of Dreyfus, spoke in front of the Chamber of Deputies in 1898, demanding, “the whole truth, and not a mutilated and incomplete truth.” He was also an ardent defender of Zola, calling him, “the man who tore away from the General Staff this grievous and arrogant irresponsibility, where every disaster for the country is being unconsciously prepared.” Jaures founded the socialist newspaper L’Humanite in 1904 and was its editor until his assassination ten years later. L’Humanite continues to be published to this day.
“A good instance when one rose above the cruelty of things and of people; that’s what the Dreyfus Affair was for me”
BRISSON, HENRI. (1835-1912). Prime minister of France from 1885-1886 and again in 1898; Brisson’s second term as prime minister, June-October 1898, came at the height of the Dreyfus Affair. AMsS. (“Henri Brisson”). 1p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (1910?). (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“Since I am asked, my dear sir, to add a few lines to the preceding pages, let me tell you what I owe your father: You are twenty years old; I am 75; at this age one willingly reviews one’s life and likes to find in it a good instance when one rose above the cruelty of things and of people; that’s what the Dreyfus Affair was for me. I also find in it the memory of him who, during those mean weeks of 1898, encouraged and supported me with such firm calm. A memory both cruel and sweet, mixed with a little bit of pride that sometimes brings me comfort in my loneliness. Henri Brisson.”
“Learn to suffer from you father”
BÉDIER, JOSEPH. (1864-1938). French author and historian known for his scholarship on medieval literature. AMsS. (“Joseph Bedier”). ¼p. 4to. N.p. (Paris). N.d. (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“‘Learn to suffer from you father; learn about happiness from others. (Virgil)’ Joseph Bedier”
Bédier quotes Ancient Roman poet Virgil (70 BCE-19 BCE). Bédier was a member of Arconti-Visconti’s Dreyfusard salon of intellectuals.
“The Dreyfus Affair presented and, in short, solved one of contemporary democracy’s fundamental problems”
LEFRANC, ABEL. (1863-1952). Influential literary scholar best known for his work on François Rabelais and his adherence to the theory that Shakespeare’s works were authored by William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. AMsS. (“Abel Lefranc”). 2pp. 4to. N.p., N.d. (circa 1910). (To PIERRE DREYFUS.)
“A poet-historian had already foreseen with admirable insight, half a century ago, what dilemma the Dreyfus Affair would create. What depth and soundness there is in the concluding lines of Louis Menard’s book, Of Ethics before the Philosophers, published in 1860! How beautiful those lines have remained to the eye, and what useful quotations they make (page 281)!
‘A people has rights only if it knows how to defend them. The law is in everyone’s safekeeping when it is violated in one citizen, then all citizens must rise in its defense, and, in Solon’s words, when a limb is hurt, the whole body must feel the wound. The strength of the social tie, the deep feeling for fairness and duty, this supreme union of justice and courage is the highest expression of human morality…And since this virtue, the most difficult of all, is the first condition of democracy, one should not wonder that this political form appears so rarely in history. It is not enough to want it, it must be deserved; the ardent aspirations of a few are not sufficient; what is needed is the firm resolution, the enduring will of all. Athens has embodied and will continue to represent this type of democracy, because no other people has proven more worthy.’
One can therefore conclude that the Dreyfus Affair presented and, in short, solved one of contemporary democracy’s fundamental problems. France continued Athens work. What association could be more magnificent than that of these two names? Abel Lefranc.”
Lefranc cites the 1860 work La Morale avant les philosophes by Louis-Nicolas Ménard (1822-1901), a French polymath and socialist who, in addition to making scientific discoveries in the field of chemistry, was a painter, teacher, poet, historian, and philosopher.
After growing up in the shadow of the anti-Semitic persecution of his father, Pierre Dreyfus fought for France in both World Wars only to flee to the United States in 1942 after the establishment of the Vichy government. From the U.S. he worked with Zionist and Jewish aid organizations and died in a plane crash after touring Jewish orphanages in France.
The Dreyfus Affair’s significance is so far-reaching that the human rights movement, the beginnings of Zionism, and the French separation of church and state can all claim to have been born during this dark chapter in French history. In excellent condition and a remarkable testament to the ongoing power and relevance of the Dreyfus Affair.