The Dreyfus and Zola Trials
“For the French nation, the point of interest has been, not the treason, but the Jew.”
The echoes of these great trials have come to our ears much enfeebled by their long journey across the Atlantic. Unintelligible cablegrams, and a few stray newspaper articles based on one or another trifling feature supposed to be serviceably dramatic, constitute our knowledge of an agitation which has shaken France to the centre, which has intensely excited the whole continent of Europe, which has involved possibilities of political and social revolution, which has led to the serious suggestion of racial crusades and massacres, and which the philosophical historian writing an hundred years hence will find a vastly more significant, more expressive feature of this age than a whole budget of Venezuelan episodes or Cuban questions. These trials have been the exponent or the explosion, as you will, of anti-Semitism and of militarism.
For the French nation, the point of interest has been, not the treason, but the Jew. No one upon this side of the water, unless he has read the French daily newspapers most industriously, can form an idea of the savage, merciless onslaught which they have combined to make upon the unfortunate race. They have stimulated that which needed no stimulation, — the blind rage, mingled with dread and cupidity, which often means bloodshed. For many years past anti-Semitism has been rapidly advancing in France, somewhat less rapidly in other Continental countries. This Dreyfus case is only a measure whereby we can gauge the height to which the race hatred has risen. Will it now subside? The only cheering indication is the present violence, such as usually foreruns reaction. The state of feeling is mediæval, but probably the demonstration will stop short of the St. Bartholomew which some of the fanatics have dared to mention. Nevertheless, in France to-day it is perilous to be a Jew.
Yet, in spite of the fierce support given by the anti-Semites, the small band of distinguished citizens who condemned the proceedings in the Dreyfus case would have forced the government either to submit to a revision or to show that conclusive evidence which it professed to have, had it not been for the element of “our dearest blessing, the army.” The political life of the Cabinet flickered dubiously until the cry of “Vive l’armée!” was raised, and then all was safe. “Vive l’armée” might involve not only “Down with Jews,” “Down with Dreyfus and Zola,” but also “Down with law and justice.” No matter; down let them go, and let the ruins make an altar for Esterhazy, wretch and probably enough traitor, but an officer, and not a Jew. As one French officer, who seemed in his private opinion to hold Dreyfus innocent, gallantly said, “The verdict of the court-martial is for me as conclusive as the word of God.” Precisely this has been the position in which the French government has been sustained by the French people. The principle has been laid down that the generals of the French army are not only trustworthy, but infallible. Not many generations ago the French ventured to set aside the Sermon on the Mount, but to-day they cannot set aside the finding of a board of army officers. The secret proceedings in the Dreyfus case, the limitatiorms established for and during the Zola trial, offend our sense of justice; but the former are probably a necessary part of militarism, and the latter were in part proper, and in other parts they awake the old discussion as to the merits of French and Anglo-Saxon systems of criminal procedure.
The whole business, in whatever aspect we regard it, undoubtedly soothes our sense of self-satisfaction, so that we thank Heaven that we are not as the Frenchmen are. We ought also, however, to thank Heaven that we are not subject to the same conditions which embarrass the French. If all the Jews of Continental Europe were suddenly to be transported to this continent, we might find the national digestion, powerful as it is, badly nauseated. Neither ought we to forget our action as to the Chinese. If Canada and Mexico were to us what Germany and Italy are to France, we should probably change our sentiments about standing armies, court-martials, and militarism in general. When a rich man sees a poor man pick a pocket, he must condemn the poor man, but moderately, and he should not indulge in self-glorification because he himself has never appropriated as alieni, at least in the like manner.
October 29, 1894, la Libre Parole, edited by M. Edouard Drumont, a very lunatic among anti-Semites, hinted at an important arrest. On November 1 it stated that an attaché on the staff of the Ministry of War had been arrested for treason, and maliciously added: “The matter will be suppressed because the officer is a Jew. Seek among the Dreyfus, the Mayers, or the Lévys, and you will find him. He has made full confession, and there is absolute proof that he has told our secrets to Germany.” In fact, Captain Alfred Dreyfus had already been for several days in the military prison of Cherche Midi, but so secretly immured that his name was not on the register, and he had been seen by only one attendant.
Many months before this time the War Department had become convinced that a leakage was going on toward Germany. Thereupon, an employee at the German Embassy, who habitually broke instructions by selling, instead of destroying, the contents of the waste-paper baskets, was induced, by the offer of a better price, to sell his rubbish to two new chiffoniers. One day, these persons, French detectives of course, found in the waste four fragments of a peculiar kind of paper, used by photographers. These pieces, being carefully put together, constituted the famous bordereau. This was a memorandum, specifying five documents relating to military secrets, which purported to have been sent by the writer to some one; but by whom and to whom did not appear, for there was neither address nor signature. Immediately there was an exaumination of handwritings of employees at the War Department, and Captain Dreyfus was singled out as an object of suspicion. He was summoned into a room around which looking-glasses had been skillfully disposed, and was ordered to write from dictation sentences which repeated phrases of the bordereau; he was made to rewrite some of the words as many as sixty times, now seated, now standing, now barehanded, now with gloves on, now rapidly, now slowly. Some say that he lost his self-possession, and that, vhen some one said his hand trembled, he attributed it to cold. A different story is, that the remarkable degree to which he kept his self-possession, under so trying and suggestive an ordeal, was construed as indicating guilt. Either way, the fact was turned against him, and the arrest was made on the spot. Simultaneously, Commandant du Paty de Clam hastened to the house of Dreyfus, and conducted a thorough ransacking, but without result; for, said an anti-Semite newspaper, all incriminating papers were in the strong-box of an accomplice. But for seventeen days the commandant improved his opportunity to torture the unfortunate wife with varied and ingenious barbarity; refusing to tell her where her husband was confined or of what crime he was accused, but assuring her that his guilt was unquestionable, and illustrating this opinion by drawing strange geometrical diagrams. He said that the penalty of the crime was death, and reminded her of the man in the iron mask. He also told her that her husband was leading “a double life, unexceptionable at home, but in reality monstrous.”
A court-martial was promptly convened, sat with closed doors, and found the accused man guilty. He was publicly degraded from his rank in the army, the galons were torn from his uniform, and his sword was broken; while he maintained a defiant aspect, protesting his innocence, and crying, “Vive la France!” His sentence, of unusual severity, was deportation for life to Ile du Diable, a barren little island off the coast of French Guiana.
If Dreyfus had not been a Jew, he would have dropped into his exile with little observation, and would have been soon forgotten; but the race element came in to prevent the possibility of indifference or oblivion. The anti-Semites triumphed in a Jewish treason, and abused the government for putting a Jew in the War Bureau, where he could get at salable information. Of course he dealt in it, they said. Also of course they compared him to Judas; forgetting that if Judas was a Jew, so also was Christ. La Croix boasted that Frenchmen were preëminently enemies du peuple déicide, as if such hatred was creditable to Christians. M. Drumont talked of la fatalité de la race. On the other side, the Dreyfus family strongly backed among the haute Juiverie, and with abundance of money, cried out that an innocent man had been found guilty for no other reason than because he was a Jew; and they kept up an untiring agitation of the matter.
So long as rigid secrecy was preserved the position of the government was absolutely impregnable. But in the autumn of 1896 a false rumor of the prisoner’s escape revived the waning interest, and thereupon some one who knew the facts could no longer hold his peace. This leaky person was generally understood to be General Mercier, who had been Minister of War at the time of the court-martial; but he stoutly denied it, when on the stand in the Zola case. Very appropriately, l’Eclair let in the first ray of light by publishing the bordereau, — at first incorrectly, afterward accurately; and soon le Matin gave a facsimile. In the Zola trial General de Pellieux said “People talk much of this bordereau, but few have seen it. … Nothing can be less like it than are the facsimiles.” But Me Demange, who also had seen it, said that the facsimile in le Matin was strikingly good (saisissant).
Prior to the court-martial three so-called and miscalled experts in handwriting had been consulted by the government. Theic was the military man, du Paty de Clam, who had no skill in the difficult science of graphology; there was M. Gobert, a person sometimes employed by the Bank of France, who expressed an opinion that the handwriting of the bordereau might very well be that of some other person than Dreyfus; and there was M. Bertillon, an attaché of the police service, famous for his fad concerning the study of criminals by physical measurements; he reported that if he were to set aside the hypothesis that the document might have been most carefully forged by some imitator of the handwriting of Dreyfus, he should then attribute it to Dreyfus. Precisely this hypothesis, which he thus set aside, became afterward the Dreyfusian theory of the case. Such “expert” testimony amounted to nothing. It was not materially strengthened by three other witnesses, of like qualifications, who appeared before the court-martial, and of whom one was for Dreyfus and two were against him. M. Bernard Lazare, a Parisian journalist of repute and a strenuous Dreyfusard, remarked that when prosecuting authorities consult experts it is “not in order to exculpate some one; yet two of the government experts had exculpated Dreyfus. Now the facsimile gave this zealous friend his opportunity, and M. Lazare immediately sought the judgment of leading graphologists in France and in other countries. As a result he published twelve favorable opinions in a volume, in which he also gave facsimiles of the handwriting of Dreyfus in parallel columns with facsimiles of the bordereau.
By all this examination it was established that between the handwriting of the borderean and that of Dreyfus there was a general resemblance, but with certain distinct differences. Some letters were said even to stand the test of superposition. Hence originated the suggestion that these letters had been traced, and other parts had been originally written with intentional variations; also that the bordereau was a combination of the writing of Alfred Dreyfus and that of his brother Mathieu. The paper of the bordereau was of a texture which admitted tracing. The Dreyfusards sneered at so laborious and so clumsy a resource, and said that the combination of close likeness with slight yet essential differences was precisely what would be expected in the case of a forgery. They asked pertinently, Since Dreyfus was an Alsatian, familiar with the German language and writing, why, if he was writing to Germans, did he not safely use the German script? They urged that the peculiar paper of the bordereau was of German manufacture, and that none like it was found at the house of Dreyfus. Also they asked the fundamental question, Why should Dreyfus have increased the danger by sending this useless bordereau at all? Why not have simply dispatched the documents which were named in it? They also criticised the failure to produce the persons who brought the bordereau, when it was upon their act that the whole superstructure of the case rested. Against this, however, was the firm principle forbidding such use of government detectives.
It was almost a matter of course that there should be legends of confession. Of these, the earlier one was almost certainly false ; but the later one is not quite so easily disposed of. This was that, at the time of his military degradation, Dreyfus had told Captain Lebrun„ Renault that he had indeed given information to Germany, but in the hope of drawing out in return much more important information for France. This story, however, never came at first-hand from Lebrun„Renault himself, and there is no direct evidence to sustain it. General Cavaignae declared, in the Chamber of Deputies, that the statement of the confession was on file at the Ministry of War, — a fact presumably within his own personal and official knowledge; but upon being directly questioned he admitted that he had never seen the document; and being again asked for the basis of his certainty, he replied that he was ñmorally sure.î The Dreyfusards, betwixt ridicule and indignation, responded that they were much more than morally sure of many facts in the case. In the Zola trial, Forzinetti, commander of the prison, being interrogated by Me Labori as to a confession, was forbidden to answer; but elsewhere he had strenuously denied any such occurrence. It is very difficult to believe that a confession was made. If it had been, the government could have quieted this whole perilous excitement by merely stating the fact, without infringing upon the secrecy of their detective service. Moreover, the consistent and persistent behavior of Dreyfus indicates great resolution in asserting innocence. On the other hand, such efforts were made to lead him into the blunder of confessing that, if they had succeeded, the confession would have lost much of its natural value.
A vital question was, whether or not Dreyfus had access to the documents named in the bordereau. Apparently, no evidence was offered to this point, except that in the Ministry of War he was known as a prying character, accustomed to ask questions and to look over the shoulders of other employees. Now a precise investigation revealed that as to one document he could have got knowledge only by inquiry from the Artillery Bureau, and it was alleged that the officers of that bureau affirmatively testified that they had never been questioned by him. Of another document only a limited number of copies had been issued for distribution to the army corps, and the government had kept careful trace of each one of these, without being able to bring one home to him. Finally, the bordereau closed with the line, “Je vais partir en man¦vres.” At any time when it was possible that these documents could have been transmitted, Dreyfus was not going to any manouvres.
In the natural search for a motive la Libre Parole suggested: “His treason is probably a thoroughly Jewish act, — an act of ingratitude and hate, whereby Jews have always been wont to reward nations who have harbored them.”
Money, however, seemed more satisfactory, and stories were circulated that Dreyfus was a gambler and a dissolute liver; but he was neither the one nor the other, and he was rich.
If the bordereau had been given out in the hope of silencing the Dreyfusards, all this criticism showed that it had signally failed. Accordingly, a second effort now followed, again by the familiar channel of l’Eclair. It was said that a letter, written by a military attaché of the German Embassy at Paris to a member of the German Embassy in Italy, — both names were given eventually, — had been held up in transitu sufficiently long to be “skillfully read and prudently photographed;” that when the court-martial showed hesitation as to convicting upon the sole evidence of the bordereau, this letter was laid before the members, and at once “induced unanimity in their implacable decision;” but that it was not made known to Dreyfus or to his counsel. Reasons of state and la haute politique compelled profound secrecy. Some persons even believed that if its contents should leak out, the German army would start the next day for Paris. Very soon, however, the curious public was assured that the sentence supposed to be fatal to Dreyfus was this simple remark: “Decidedly, this animal, Dreyfus, is getting too exacting.” There did not seem anything in these words to bring the Germans again to Paris! But even in these an essential correction was soon made: Dreyfas was not named in the letter at all; the last sentence had only the initial letter “D.” This left it as a mere item of evidence; and it appeared that the French government had had the letter for many months before the arrest of Dreyfus, and that it had fastened the “D” upon at least two other persons.
The situation now was substantially this: the admission that this secret letter was necessary tn induce conviction involved the admission of the insufficiency of the bordereau; but the fact that in the letter there was only an initial left that also inconclusive ; finally, the placing of secret evidence before the judges created a great storm of indignation; it was a violation alike of technical law and substantial justice. Persons who were neither Jews nor lovers of Jews, even some who thought that Dreyfas might very well be guilty, now demanded a revision of his case; and these recruits came largely from the more intelligent and thinking classes. Me Demange took a skillful position: he refused to be a party to these proceedings, because he would not believe that any such “enormity,” such “flagrant violation of the rights of the defendant,” could have been committed. But the government stood stubbornly to its colors, refused discussion, and said that the affair was chose jugée and should never be reopened. A majority in the Chamber of Deputies sustained this position; and the great multitude of the people, strong in their hatred of Judaism, remained well pleased. Nevertheless, the situation was by no means satisfactory.
Now some newspapers revived an interesting story. It was remembered that N. Casimir Périer had resigned the presidency of the Republic about the time of the Dreyfus trial, on the ground that he could not endure the combination of moral responsibility and powerlessness. The tale told by le Rappel was, that N. de Munster, the German Minister, had called upon the President, and said that he was instructed by his sovereign to give assurance that Dreyfus had not, either in France or in Belgium,1 nearly or distantly, been in relation with the secret service of the German government. The ambassador further suggested that one must be bien naïf to believe that a diplomat could have thrown into a waste-paper basket so important a document. Further, it was said that the Emperor of Germany had addressed an autograph letter to the President of France, saying: “I give you my word of honor as a man that Captain Dreyfus has never betrayed France to the German government; and if need should be, I will give you my word as Emperor, with all the consequences thereof.” Finally, N. Casimir Périer was declared to have said of the story, “It is not precisely so,” thereby confirming the substance by contradicting only the detail. Now, if the President did in fact receive these communications, he could do absolutely nothing except refer them to his ministers; and when the ministers refused to act on them he was in a false and humiliating position, out of which he might naturally get by precisely that act of resignation which had appeared so singular. Probabilities seem to favor the truth of this story; and if it was false, there could be no objection to contradicting it. In the Zola case Casimir Périer was on the witness-stand, but gave out nothing of interest. He said that it was his duty not to tell the whole truth.
Probably out of this German story grew the suggestion that the treason of Dreyfus had moved, not toward Germany, but toward Russia; and this, as many persons conceived, might explain the unwillingness to make public the secret letter. There is no way of absolutely disproving this theory; but not one particle of evidence supports it, and it stands as an arbitrary and gratuitous fancy. Moreover, much must be explained away before it can be admitted. How came the bordereau in the German waste-paper basket? How did it happen that the secret letter was written by one German attaché to another? Why, when some one who knew the whole story gave out the evidence, did he state that the communications had been made to Germany? And why had Casimir Périer hesitated to clear the German Emperor of alleged interferences? The ingenious theory has possibility, for, as the Italian peasant said to Dickens, “all things are possible;” but beyond this nothing can be said in support of it.
In the procession of sensations, the next to arrive was that of Esterhazy. Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart, after eager investigation, had satisfied himself that this man was the real criminal. He stated his discoveries to Mathien Dreyfus, who in turn formally denounced Esterhazy to the Minister of War. Esterhazy was not only a bad man in the ordinary sense of the term, but he was a thorough villain. Certain letters written by him some time before were now made public, and rendered it entirely probable that he might be a traitor. There occurred in them many venomous insults toward the French army: “Our great chiefs, cowardly and ignorant, will go once more to people the German prisons.” “After getting to Lyons, the Germans will throw away their guns, and keep only their canes [or ramrods2] to chase the French before them.” There was much more to the like purport with these samples. With incredible effrontery Esterhazy admitted all save the famous “uhlan letter;” and as to that he admitted that the handwriting was closely like his own. In it he spoke of the pleasure with which he would cause the death of a hundred thousand Frenchmen; said that to see Paris taken by assault and given over to the pillage of a hundred thousand drunken soldiers was a fête of which he dreamed, and that if he were told that he was to be slain the next day as a captain of uhlans sabring Frenchmen he should be perfectly happy. In view of public excitement, it was deemed necessary to try Esterhazy by court-martial; yet the government stated beforehand its strange position, that whatever might be the outcome of his case, the Dreyfus case would remain unaffected thereby. Ministers did not mean to be at all embarrassed if they should find themselves with two traitors and only one treason! Yet the assertion was superfluous, since Esterhazy was innocenté par avance.
The only question at this trial was whether or not Esterhazy wrote the bordereau. The doors were closed. Colonel Picquart made his statement. The batch of graphologues filed into court, and asserted in theatrical chorus that Esterhazy never wrote that bordereau, — never! They even declared they were doubtful whether he had written some of the letters which he himself acknowledged. One docile expert, who had said that Dreyfus had traced some of his own handwriting in the bordereau, now said that Dreyfus had also traced in the bordereau some of Esterhazy’s handwriting! If there was a lack of originality in the suggestion, there was also a lack of any plausible reason for it. Upon such evidence the court could only acquit the defendant. Thereupon came a surprising scene. The accused man, his breast sparkling with decorations, received in his arms his weeping advocate, and contributed his own tears; the members of the court-martial congratulated him avec émotion; every one shook hands with him, and the crowd outside shrieked, “Vive l’armée!” and “Vive Esterhazy!”—certainly a strange fellowship of cries.
One cannot but reflect that if Dreyfus had been tried in the same spirit in which Esterhazy was tried, he would have been acquitted, and vice versa. It is impossible, upon the merits, much to differentiate the two cases. At each trial the substantial question was of handwriting, and at neither did the experts deserve the name. In the Dreyfus case they contradicted one another; in the Esterhazy case they stultified themselves. Was there much to choose? Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. If one of these women were a Jewess, and the other a Christian, the French government would have no difficulty in making the selection. Dreyfus had now become a symbol between Semites and anti-Semites; he was the test of victory: —
For Titus dragged him by the foot, And Aulus by the head.
With the Jews stood a cohort composed of men of brains and independence, lovers of justice, who worried themselves about neither Jew nor Gentile, but who believed that a gross injustice had put in jeopardy the safety of every citizen of France. On the anti-Semite side were the mass of the people, the government, and the army, — an invincible combination, but unfortunate in having to adopt as their symbol the disreputable Esterhazy.
On January 13, 1898, l’Aurore published Zola’s famous letter to M. Félix Faure, President of the Republic. It filled nearly eight columns, and was clear, forcible, dramatic, — an admirable composition. What fuel it was! The flames of conflict roared and sprang aloft toward the heavens. It was certainly an act of reckless daring, and I believe that it was also an honest act, though others have seen in it only an advertisement, — a novel and very perilous experiment in that direction, one would think. The press overwhelmed him with abuse, repudiated him as a fellow countryman, and called him auteur de pornographies and écrivain immonde, and many unsavory names. When French newspapers cried out against his coarseness, it was evident that even the French sense of humor had succumbed to the intensity of the situation, and was fairly drowned beneath the raging torrent of anti-Semitism. They said that “in an epileptic attack he had insulted our dearest blessing, the army.” In vain did he explain that his attack was not upon the army, but only upon a few individuals; none the less did the illogical mobs continue to shriek, “A bas les Juifs!” “Vive l’armée!” “A bas Zola!” as an allied trinity of cries.
The government, unable to ignore such a defiance, at once instituted a prosecution against M. Zola and M. Perrenx, editor of l’Aurore. From the moment of the Dreyfus arrest the government had held “the inside track,” and this now meant the very great advantage of selecting the field of battle. In the long list of arraignments made by Zola was this sentence—
“I accuse the first Council of War of having violated the law by condemning the accused on a piece of evidence which was kept secret; and I accuse the second Council of War of having, under orders, covered this illegality by committing in its turn the crime at law of knowingly acquitting a guilty man.”
The government based its proceedings only upon the second half of this charge. In other words, the Esterhazy case was to be retried, and that was all. A curious world was disappointed, but the government was well advised; its whole business was to convict the defendants in the surest, simplest way. The advocate-general, van Cassel, promptly demanded a strict limitation to the precise question: “Have the judges of Commandant Esterhazy committed the crime of rendering a judgment to order?”
Maîtres Labori and Clémenceau, counsel for MM. Zola and Perrenx, resisted: “It was impossible thus to get to the bottom of the affair; the incriminated passage, taken in isolation, was incomprehensible ; it was against good sense and justice to select arbitrarily a short passage from the letter, to the exclusion of the general purport and bearing of the whole.”
Zola added: “How can we show that an illegality has been covered, if we are not allowed to show that an illegality has been committed?”
But the situation was Zola’s misfortune; the ruling of the court in favor of the advocate-general was inevitable.
When M. Labori began to name his witnesses, the result was like that which befell the man who made a great supper and bade many guests, and they all with one consent began to make excuse. A nuniber of nuilitary men were not free to speak on grounds of “professional secrecy,” and the ladies were all ill. The widow Chapelin had an influenza and a sick baby, and frankly declared that if forced to testify she would say “the contrary of the truth.” Me Lahon argued fairly that these persons could not know beforehand to what point they would be questioned, and complained that the military men made themselves “a caste apart.” The court ordered most of them to appear.
Madame Dreyfus was the first witness, and was asked under what conditions she learned of the arrest of her husband, and what she thought of the good faith of M. Zola. The president of the court ruled the question out. M. Zola said that he “claimed such advantages as were accorded to robbers and assassins, whose witnesses were named and heard; that he was insulted in the streets, menaced with violence, his carriage windows were broken; the jury should have those facts; and was he not to be permittecl to show his good faith?” The president assured him that the question was contrary to law. Zola responded: “I do not know the law; and, at time moment, I do not wish to know it. I am accused, and I ought to have the right of defense.”
More questions were ruled out, and again M. Zola protested: “To present a portion of my letter only in order to bring me within reach of the law is a disgrace to justice. I do not put myself above the law, and have never said so but I do put myself above the hypocritical procedure which seeks to close my mouth.” (Applause.)
Colonel Picquart had been practically the prosecutor of Esterhazy; at the court-martial his evidence had been given within closed doors, hut now he told his story to the world. In 1896, the fragments of a torn carte-télégramme, the petit bleu, had “fallen into his hands.” He did not explain why these fragments excited his interest, but they did so, for he had them carefully put together; and thereby he found that the card was addressed to Commandant Esterhazy, and that its contents and signature indicated something wrong. Thereupon he made inquiries about Esterhazy, and learned that he was a gambler, a speculator, a borrower of money, a coureur de femmes, and a general scoundrel, easily to be suspected of any baseness. He then had the petit bleu photographed, and two witnesses concerned in this task said that he desired to have the marks of tearing made to disappear, also to omit certain words. This looked disingenuous; but Picquart explained, reasonably, that he had only wished to leave out titles, addresses, and signatures, so that experts examining the handwriting should not know who was under investigation. Further, the card bore no post-stamp to indicate delivery, and these witnesses said that Picquart had desired to have a postmark put upon it. This he absolutely denied, saying that some one of them, looking at the card, had remarked, “It does not look authentic; there ought to be a postmark on it,” — which might have been distorted into the evidence given.
Why, in connection with a card written to Esterhazy, Picquart had desired specimens of writing by Esterhazy does not appear; but he had sought them, and had them in his possession when le Matin published the facsimile of the bordereau. Immediately Picquart was struck by the resemblance of the handwriting to that of Esterhazy. He hastened to M. Bertillon, whmo at once said that the Esterhazy specimen was the handwriting of the writer of the borderean ; and being told that the specimen was written subsequent to time conviction of Dreyfus, he said that evidently the Jews had had some one at work learning to imitate the writing of the bordereau. This evidence of Picquart was corroborated by time Deputy Hubbard, to whom the foolish Bertihlon said that he would not look at Esterhazy’s handwriting; that Esterhazy would end by confession; but that at any rate there must be no revision, which would mean a social revolution; that at times prefects of police bade one speak, at other times they bade one keep silence. The quasi expert du Paty de Clam also admitted the likeness of the writings, but suggested Mathieu Dreyfus as the writer. A banker, who had operated for Esterhazy on the Bourse, was so struck by the resemblance that he called the attention of Mathieu Dreyfus to it. One other person, also, was profoundly affected, and that was Commandant Esterhazy himself, who hurried about Paris for a couple of days, beneath a pelting rain, behaving like one demented. In his wanderings he came into the office of la Libre Parole, and there said: “Yes, between the handwriting of the bordereau and mine there is a frightful [effrayante] resemblance; and when le Matin published the facsimile, I felt myself lost.”
Picquart had thus far pushed his investigation with more satisfaction to himself than to the government, which apparently had no desire to have a second traitor on its hands. Accordingly, at this inopportune moment his chiefs sent him to Tunis, in the hope, it was said, that he would die upon an unwholesome expedition there. But the generals testified that the fact was only that he was so absorbed in one idea, so “hypnotized” by it, that he had temporarily lost his usefulness, and it was expected that he would return in a more “normal temper.” While he was there he received some puzzling telegrams: —
“Your sudden departure has thrown us all into disorder; the work is compromised.”
“All is discovered. Matter very serious.”
“They have proof that the petit blen has been made up by George.”
Picquart observed that upon one of these telegrams his name was spelled without the “c,” and that it had been spelled in the same manner in a letter received by him at nearly the same time from Esterhazy. He became suspicions that Esterhazy was preparing charges of forgery and conspiracy against him, and sent two of the telegrams to the War Department, with a request for an inves tigation. Later, it appeared that Esterhazy, in Paris, had knowledge of these documents at an unaccountably early date. When Picquart came back to Paris for the trial, he found himself by no means any longer a favorite, but, on the contrary, he was received “rather as one accused than as a witness.” Apparently, he now, at the Zola trial, made a good impression by his testimony, for at the end of his most important day he “received an ovation,” which was a rare occurrence on his side of that case.
Also, in his character of prosecutor of Esterhazy, Picquart went further, by showing that Esterbazy had sought information in the direct line of the documents enumerated by the bordereau, and that, in fact, soon after the probable date of the bordereau Esterhazy was sent upon some manoeuvres. But thereupon arose an angry discussion as to the date of the bordereau, the generals setting it in September, or possibly August, while their opponents said that it had always been set by every one in April.
General de Pellieux, who bore the burden for the government, testified that he had investigated the charges against Esterhazy prior to the court-martial, and found no evidence of guilt, but that he did find that Colonel Picquart was in need of discipline (which he got in Africa); that Colonel Picquart had failed to show that the petit bleu was sent by mail by a foreign military attaché to Esterhazy; that the card did not appear genuine; and that Picquart had shown singular naïiveté in fancying that such a communication would be so openly made. But this came with an ill grace after the earlier naïveté of believing that the bordereau had been thrown into a wastepaper basket. The general was moved, at one point, to exclaim: “I will not admit that seven officers, several of whom have spilled their blood on battlefields, while other persons were I know not where, can be accused of having acquitted by order!”
Zola interrupted: “There are different ways of serving France; one can serve her by the sword or by the pen. M. le général de Pellieux has doubtless won battles. I also have won mine. My works have carried the French language throughout all the universe. Posterity will choose between General de Pellieux and Emile Zola.”
At another point in the case General de Pellieux had quite a brush with M. Jaurès, the famous Socialist member of the Chamber of Deputies, who addressed to the jury an elaborate and sufficiently eloquent speech, thinly salted with testimony.
“I consider,” said M. Jaurès, “that the conduct of the trial of Esterhazy justifies the most vehement of M. Zola’s outbursts of indignation; it justifies also the alarm of those who, profoundly respecting the national army, yet do not wish to see the military power raise itself above all control and all law.” “Why,” he asked, “has it been necessary to conduct in secrecy the examination of experts in handwriting?”
He referred also to the “very disquieting” fact that no investigation had been made to discover how the secret letter, or a photographic copy thereof, on which Dreyfus was condemned, had come by the singular channel of a “veiled lady” into the hands of Esterhazy, and had there remained several days. When this paper, of such immeasurable importance, was found to have reached Esterhazy, evidently by connivance on the part of the Etat Major, no investigation was ordered! Did not this publish the resolution of the Staff Office to protect Esterhazy thoroughly and at all cost? Everything, he said, showed that the trial had been conducted, “not with a view to truth and justice, but for the systematic justification of the great military chiefs.” Matters had gone in the same way in the Chamber of Deputies, where he had introduced the question whether or not a document, which might prove culpability, had been communicated to the judges, but not to the accused and his counsel. He had been able to obtain no direct answer. M. Meline had said, “I cannot answer you without serving your schemes,” — as though, in the land of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, it were a “scheme” to say that a man could not be convicted on secret evidence! Afterward, however, the deputies had thronged around him, and had said: “You are quite right; but how unfortunate that this affair should have broken out just before election!” General de Pellieux replied to this “admirable speech:” —
“I am not a soul of crystal, and I have had enough of all these splashings of mud with which people are trying to bespatter men who have no other care than their duty. I can stand it no longer! I say that it is culpable, criminal, to rob the army of the confidence which it has in its chiefs. In the day of peril, nearer perhaps than you think, what do you expect this army to do? It is to butchery that your sons will be led, gentlemen of the jury! And on that day M. Zola will have gained a new battle. He will write a new Dé’bâcle, and it will be spread abroad throughout a Europe from which France will be erased.”
His words were loudly applauded. Me Labori turned to the audience and rebuked them; the president of the court in turn rebuked him. He retorted: “The lawyers are forbidden, and properly, to make manifestations. Why, then, is it endured that officers of artillery, in full uniform, should applaud ostentatiously?” The president threatened to forbid his speaking. “Do so!” exclaimed Me Labori. “M. le général de Pellieux has suggested future battles. In him I respect my chief, for I also belong to the army. But I can tell him that on that day of battle my blood will be as good as his!”
In fact, one can hardly be surprised that Me Labori felt it as an unfair burden that generals came daily into court as witnesses; not only addressing the jury, sometimes with much eloquence, but dazzling them by the éclat of their military insignia and decorations, and by their official character. After one of the hearings, General de Peliieux, “profoundly moved,” passed out of the Palais de Justice, weeping and shaking hands with the crowd, whose patriotic fervor was boiling. At the same moment Esterhazy appeared. Men took off their hats and crushed around him, and one kissed him, whilst all joined in shouting, “Vive Esterhazy” “Vive l’armée” “Saluez la victime” “A bas les Juifs.”
The conduct of Commnndant Esterhazy was both prudent and simple. He came upon the witness-stand, turned his back upon Me Labori, and when a question was put to him by that gentleman stated that he should answer no question whatsoever coming from that side. Thereupon Me Labori requested the president to put the question, and the president did so. Esterhazy replied “Although you do me the honor, M. le Président, to transmit this question, it remains all the same the question of Me. Labori; therefore I will not answer.” Apparently, there is no process in French law whereby a recalcitrant witness can be made to answer a question, if he does not wish to. Accordingly, in this case Maîtres Labori and Clémenceau had no other course than to put all their questions without receiving an answer to any one of them. This they did, and in so doing covered thoroughly all the points which were charged against Esterhazy. The interrogatories fill nearly three columns of le Ternps. and make, by implication, a terrible arraignment of the man who dared not answer them.
In connection with Esterhazy, it is worthwhile to mention the evidence of M. Huret. who had been sent to Rouen to find out what was thought of Esterhazy by his regimental comrades. He testified that he was struck by the fact that the news of the suspicion which had fallen upon the commandant excited not a ripple of astonishment. The officers said that they were not surprised. When he asked, “Why so?” they gave no definite reason; but one of them told him that when news had come that a commandant, not on active duty, was under suspicion of treason, several at the Rouen garrison had suggested Esterhazy.
M. Bertillon, the government’s expert in handwriting, was as grotesque as a character in a farce. He admitted that he had no confidence in his art, and yet alleged that by that art he was “sure” that Dreyfus wrote the bordereau. He said of the bordereau: “It obeys a geometric rhythm of which the equation is found in the blotter of Dreyfus.” He had much to say about dextrogyre and sénestrogyre. Altogether, he justified Me Labori in exclaiming, “Experts are not yet oracles!” and in the sneering charge that M. Bertillon had based the culpability of Alfred Dreyfus on a letter written by Mathieu Dreyfus.
The defendants called several experts in graphology. One of them, M. Héricourt, stated that variations in handwriting are in harmony with physiological variations of the writer; and, applying this subtle principle, he declared the bordereau to be the handwriting of Esterhazy. For the most part, however, these experts gave testimony in a manner both intelligent and intelligible.
There were several instances of what the French newspapers called “incidents of vivacity.” One of these vivacious occurrences consisted in the exchange of the lie between Colonel Picquart and Commandant Henry. This afterward occasioned a duel, more serious than most French duels, in which Henry received a rather bad wound. Another incident arose in the examination of General Gonse, who lost his temper, and exclaimed that the questions put to him were “traps.” For this discourtesy he afterward apologized, saying that he respected justice and had yielded to his emotions. Thereupon, Me Ployer, apparently a sort of amicus curiae, said, “General, I thank you in the name of the whole bar;” and the “incident was closed.” This witness, by the way, took the difficult position that the Dreyfus case must not be opened, but that the question of Esterhazy’s guilt should be investigated, though independently.
General Mercier testified that he did not know from what source l’Eclair and le Matia had derived their knowledge about Dreyfus, and denied having ever said that a document had been secretly submitted to the court-martial. But when pressed to state whether in fact there had been such a secret document, he refused to answer. “We will take your word as a soldier,” said Me Labori. “I will give it,” exclaimed the witness, “that that man was a traitor, and justly and legally condemned!” Me Labori excepted to this answer; but it had been made.
The trial of MM. Zola and Perrenx ended in the only possible way; both defendants were found guilty, and sentenced to imprisonment in St. Pélagie and to an insignificant fine. Zola received one year, Perrenx four months. The trial had been thoroughly unsatisfactory; it had proved absolutely nothing; it had only established the fact that it was quite as likely that the bordereau had been written by Esterhazy as that it had been written by Dreyfus, for the two men wrote singularly alike. In consequence, some persons who believed Dreyfus guilty now gave out the theory that Esterhazy was his accomplice. If Esterhazy had previously had any reputation for honor or decency, the trial would have destroyed it; but he had had none, and he only exemplified that from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. So the Zola ease affected the Dreyfus question only by making the enigma more enigmatical; and it did this by introducing a rival claimant for the bordereau. The impression left upon me is that, whether or not Dreyfus had been mixed up in a treason, Esterhazy almost surely had been so.
Is Dreyfus guilty? All the facts known fall very far short of proving guilt. It does not follow, of course, as an affirmative proposition, that he is innocent. Moreover, there is a vexatious probability that important facts remain unknown. From beginning to end the government has not uttered one word; it has introduced no evidence in public; it did not call one witness nor cross-examine one witness in the Zola case; it has never admitted that the evidence which has leaked into publicity is all, or even an important part, of the evidence in its possession; on the contrary, in defiance of all pressure, of all curiosity, of all political peril, it has firmly and consistently refused to show its hand. Furthermore, three reputable witnesses, generals of the army, have asserted most solemnly, upon their word of honor, that they knew Dreyfus to be guilty; that it was not matter of opinion, but of knowledge; that it was an absolute fact; and they have said that they based this statement on their knowledge of things which had not been published. In corroboration of this, there occurred in the course of the testimony distinct allusions to the existence of documents on file at the War Department, and strictly secret.
No one questioned the integrity of the officers of the court-martial. Neither was it comprehensible that the government should have gratuitously pushed a false charge against an insignificant captain, or that so cruel a punishment should have been inflicted, if there were doubts of his guilt. Nor has it been shown that he had any enemy likely to enter upon the perilous task of manufacturing false evidence against him. On the other hand, the scandalous protection given by the government to the wretched Esterhazy provokes suspicion of bad faith. Neither is it easy to explain why the government should not have permitted the occult leakage, by which it had been put in so embarrassing a position, to continue a little longer for the purpose of extrication.
All these things, however, are speculations only, and the affair remains an unsolved mystery. But its mystery is its charm. If we knew, as an absolute fact, either that Dreyfus is guilty or that he is innocent, we should forget his case within twenty-four hours.
- The reference to Belgium arose from a story that Dreyfus had made a trip into Belgium, and there had met a secret agent of the Berlin government. ↩
- The word is baguettes. Littré says: “Sorte de petit baton mince et flexible. Dans quelques pays certains officiers portaient une baguette quand ils étaient en fonction. … Baguette de fusil, de pistolet, baguette qui sert à presser la charge dans le canon. Plur. Supplice militaire, qui consiste à frapper avec une baguette.” ↩