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ALS About His Libel Suit Against an Anti-Dreyfusard Newspaper

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PICQUART, GEORGES-MARIE. (1854-1914). French officer, Dreyfus’ instructor at the War College and chief of military intelligence. In 1896, following the interception of a letter (the petit bleu) from the German military attaché in Paris to French Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, Picquart opened an investigation into Esterhazy, the spy whose treason had been pinned on Dreyfus. ALS. (“G. Picquart”). 3pp. 8vo. Paris, October 31, 1900. To “Mr. President.” In French with translation.

“Mr. President,

The lawsuit that I initiated, for defamation to Mr. Lepelletier and the Echo of Paris, must come today in opposition before the 9th Chamber; but it cannot be held.

The defenders have, in fact, declined the jurisdiction of the criminal court, they have against them a judgment of this court which declares itself competent, but they have appealed, and the question is currently pending before the Court.

However, as Mr. President of the correctional appeals Chamber committed himself 15 days ago to have the case pleaded on November 22, whatever may happen, I come to urge you to agree to fix the arguments before the 9th Chamber on a date as close as possible to November 22, for example the 28th, if the convenience of the court does not oppose it.

I am making this request because it is, I believe, in everyone’s interest that these defamation cases are dealt with promptly.

I did not think it necessary to appear before the court today, since my case cannot come unnecessarily, but my lawyer will have the honor to present to you orally the request that I am presenting to you, for my part, in writing.

Please accept, Mr. President, the assurance of my highest consideration…”

Portrait of Picquart

Georges-Marie Picquart

The 1894 conviction for treason of French-Jewish artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus and his subsequent exile and imprisonment on the French Guiana penal colony Devil’s Island, hinged on an intercepted memo, or bordereau, which revealed French military secrets and had been sent anonymously to the German military attaché, Captain Schwartzkoppen, in Paris. The memo’s actual author was French Major Marie-Charles-Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, a spy in German employ. Additional evidence, intended to implicate Dreyfus, was secretly forged by French Army officers and submitted to the military judges presiding over the legal proceedings. Following his conviction, Dreyfus languished for years in solitary confinement, while his family and supporters attempted to clear his name. Anti-Dreyfusards, led by a virulent anti-Semitic French press, regularly circulated rumors and lies about him.

Despite his own anti-Semitism, Picquart, in 1896, reported the discovery of the petit bleu which implicated Esterhazy and exonerated Dreyfus. Engaged in a massive cover-up, the army first punished Picquart by re-assigning him to active duty in Tunisia. Then, upon Esterhazy’s acquittal on January 11, 1898, Picquart was imprisoned the day Zola’s letter J’Accuse…! was published. Picquart testified at Zola’s libel trial and became one of Dreyfus’ most outspoken supporters. On February 1, 1898, Picquart was “discharged for gross misconduct in the service,” effective February 26th, three days after Zola was found guilty. Picquart was then falsely charged of forging the petit bleu, which led to his second imprisonment on July 13, 1898, five days before Zola’s second conviction. Petitions, signed by thousands calling for Picquart’s release were circulated in Le Siècle and L’Aurore before he was freed on June 13, 1899, ten days before he penned our letter. In 1906, like Dreyfus, Picquart was exonerated and promoted brigadier general; on October 25th he became Clemenceau’s Minister of War. Picquart is the protagonist in Robert Harris’ best-selling 2013 historical thriller An Officer and a Spy.

A prolific novelist, lifelong friend of Paul Verlaine and radical-turned-antisemitic nationalist, Edmond Lepelletier (1846-1913) edited the right-wing newspaper L’Echo de Paris, one of the publications Emile Zola called out by name in his explosive article, J’Accuse…!: “I accuse the War Office of having carried out an abominable press campaign, especially in L’Éclair and L’Echo de Paris, to mislead public opinion and conceal their own wrongs…Among the many libelous reports that L’Echo published during the Dreyfus Affair was the April 23, 1898, accusation that it had photographs of Picquart meeting a foreign military attaché. The following July, Picquart initiated legal proceedings against several newspapers including L’Echo “for publishing unsubstantiated accounts of his alleged attempt to commit suicide in prison,” (Whyte). The newspaper remained undeterred, repeatedly attacking Dreyfus, his defenders and anyone involved in the affair, including judges. On March 14, 1900, an article in L’Echo described the 1900 bill offering amnesty to “all crimes and misdemeanors related to the Dreyfus Affair, or that have been included in a proceeding relative to one of these deeds” as ‘perfidious and shameful… prepared by [Prime Minister Pierre] Waldeck-Rousseau, and his colleagues Dreyfus, [author and politician Joseph] Reinach, Picquart and Zola,’ prompting Picquart and Reinach to sue the newspaper again. The case was heard on June 11 and 18, 1900 with Ferdinand Labori as their counsel and L’Echo de Paris was fined and ordered to pay damages,” (The Dreyfus Affair: A Chronological History, Whyte). Our letter most likely refers to an appeal of this ruling by L’Echo. Picquart is the protagonist in Robert Harris’ best-selling 2013 historical thriller An Officer and a Spy.

Folded with some very minor staining on the second page, otherwise in very fine condition and scarce from this period.

ALS About His Libel Suit Against an Anti-Dreyfusard Newspaper

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