THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.

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Lot 1143
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.
A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.

US$ 700,000 - 1,000,000
£ 550,000 - 790,000
Amended

Fine Books and Manuscripts

21 Sep 2016, 13:00 EDT

New York

THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.
A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
The Dreyfus Affair, the sordid tale of espionage and its cover up that fascinated France and the world at the end of the 19th century, was in many ways the culmination of renewed and growing nationalism and anti-Semitic sentiment in France in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. It still stands as a fascinating cultural moment, an epic battle of good versus evil, the ultimate triumph of truth and fairness over corruption and prejudice.
Alfred Dreyfus was born in Alsace, lived through the area's annexation by Germany, and grew up to pursue a career in the military, where he won a coveted appointment to the French War College. After graduating near the top of his class, he was appointed as a trainee at Army Headquarters. In the early 1890s, however, Headquarters was a bastion of right-wing antisemitism, and Dreyfus soon found himself the victim of prejudice, as when an officer unjustly inserted a negative report in his file and that of another young Jewish officer. In October of 1894, Dreyfus was accused of espionage and arrested based on a single piece of evidence: a bordereau, or note, discovered by a French operative working as a cleaning lady in the German Embassy, listing the specs of the newest French artillery piece, the Modèle 1890 120-mm Baquet howitzer. Officially, Dreyfus was targeted because he was an artillery officer, and because his handwriting was similar to that in the bordereau, thin evidence indeed. Though many were thrilled to be able to railroad a Jewish officer, upon reflection, cooler heads in the military realized that conviction in open court would be difficult. A retraction, however, would cause even bigger headaches, as no one wanted to be seen defending or covering up for a Jewish officer. Dreyfus was thus hurriedly tried and convicted, the prosecutors preparing a "secret dossier" that was illegally submitted to the tribunal which Dreyfus was not allowed to see or respond to. Worse, prosecutors knew who the real spy was: they had already identified the handwriting of the bordereau as that of Hungarian officer Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a dissolute gambler with chronic money troubles who had likely sold secrets as a way to generate cash.

After his conviction, Dreyfus was packed off to Devil's Island, where he languished for four years in solitude, seeking solace from literature and letters, and occasionally pleading his cause with French officials. Dreyfus' brother Matthieu lobbied hard for an investigation into the case, and soon the Dreyfus Affair became a cause célèbre of the French and Jewish intelligentsia. As the chorus of complaint grew louder, Esterhazy demanded a court martial. This trial, also conducted in secrecy, fascinated the country, and the Major's acquittal inspired Émile Zola to write his famous condemnation of the trial and the French Military, J'Accuse, published on January 13, 1898.

In J'Accuse, Zola baited the French government into charging him with criminal libel, and at his own trial, many of the details that had been hidden during the Dreyfus and Esterhazy trials were presented. Zola was eventually convicted, fled the country, and remained abroad until a later, more liberal government pardoned him. Meanwhile, Dreyfus was plucked from Devil's Island and returned to France for a new trial, in which, oddly, he was convicted again, but immediately pardoned. In the coming years he was reinstated in the military, and eventually was awarded the Légion d'honneur.

This remarkable lot contains material from the major players in the Dreyfus affair: Dreyfus himself, Émile Zola, and the spy Esterhazy, as follows:

DREYFUS, ALFRED. 1859-1935. Autograph Letter Signed ("A Dreyfus") in French, 3 pp recto and verso, 8vo (conjoining leaves), Dépôt de Saint-Martin-de-Ré, February 14, 1895, to the Minister of Colonies in Paris, on printed stationery, with integral address leaf, repair at left quadrants of address leaf not affecting text on verso, paper repair to left margin of p 2, overall toning and creasing.

DREYFUS PROCLAIMS HIS INNOCENCE, REQUESTS TO BE SENT AWAY TO A REMOTE DESERT ISLAND. Dreyfus's closed court trial took place December 19-22, 1894. In spite of his vigorous defense, he was convicted and quickly shipped off to Saint-Martin-de-Ré in the Charente Maritime district, where felons were housed before being shipped off to penal colonies. In this poignant letter, Dreyfus writes to the Minister of Colonies (which would have been the recently appointed Émile Chautemps), not only asking for justice, but also desiring to be taken far away from the madness and public attention that had attended his arrest and trial. In part, translated: "I have been condemned for a crime the most infamous that a soldier can commit and I am innocent. / Only the grace that I have solicited, and failing that, I still solicit, would be justice. I ask that one carry out the investigations in order to unmask the monster who is doubly a criminal: who is traitor to his country and who allows his horrible crime to be blamed on an innocent man ... While waiting for those investigations to succeed and my conviction is that they will succeed, because in a country like France basic noble ideas of justice and truth will prevail, an innocent cannot pay indefinitely for a culprit—send me to whatever desert island, but spare the innocent one who suffers martyrdom, horrible moral torture which I see as my lot. I do not deserve it. It does not matter what dungeon, Mister Minister, but spare me the sight of all human beings who see me as a traitor, for a Traitor I am not."

ZOLA, ÉMILE. 1840-1902.
Autograph Manuscript Signed ("Émile Zola"), 29 pp, 4to, n.p., [before January 6, 1898], titled "Lettre à la France," printer's mark(?) in blue crayon to p 1 ("19060"), leaves creased horizontally, tipped at left margin and bound in half red morocco over marbled boards.

ZOLA'S MANUSCRIPT OF "LETTRE À LA FRANCE," THE ESSAY JUST PRECEDING "J'ACCUSE." At the time of the Dreyfus Affair, Émile Zola was the most famous novelist in France, perhaps the world, and a pioneer of the Naturalism school of literature that emphasized observation and the scientific method in the service of fiction. He was successful and comfortable, but still enough of a radical to be outraged at the injustice suffered by Dreyfus, and what the systemic corruption in government and the military meant for France at large. The essay "J'Accuse" is the most famous of Zola's writings on the Dreyfus Affair, but it is actually the third of three pivotal essays he wrote during late 1897-early 1898. The first, Lettre à la jeunesse, was published in 1897; the second piece in the trilogy, "Lettre à la France," published January 6, 1896, is the manuscript offered here. In this piece, written as the Esterhazy trial got underway, Zola argues forcefully against the closed proceedings, and the need for transparency. A week later, after Esterhazy's acquittal, he would publish "J'Accuse," an open letter to the French President, in which he famously dared officials to charge him with criminal libel.

ESTERHAZY, FERDINAND WALSIN. 1847-1923.
Autograph Letter Signed ("Esterhazy"), 3 pp recto and verso, 8vo, London, August 5, 1899; WITH Autograph Manuscript, 2 pp recto and verso, legal folio, n.p., n.d., being a memoranda of notes relating to his trial and information he wishes to make public, light creasing and toning to all leaves.

Though the real villains of the Dreyfus Affair are the cowardly military officials who railroaded an innocent man, the actual spy was Hungarian officer Major Esterhazy. After evidence of his guilt became public, Esterhazy himself demanded a court martial, which again was held in closed court, and was acquitted, a verdict which set off riots in Paris and inspired Zola's "J'Accuse."
Esterhazy writes from London not long after he fled France in the wake of his fellow conspirator Colonel Henry's arrest and suicide. His correspondent is possibly his legal counsel or someone who is otherwise involved in helping rehabilitate his image, given the way Esterhazy describes and spins the evidence in his case. OF course, Esterhazy continues to maintain his innocence in these pages, even though two months earlier he had admitted to writing the bordereau to a French newspaper. (He claimed it had been done as part of a counter-espionage plot with the knowledge and permission of his superiors.) In a post-script to the letter, he continues to spin his alibis: "Despite the efforts of the Dreyfusards, I believe that one begins to discover the Russian connection, that is the key point of the question ... I will possibly have some serious things to say during the course of the debates...."
In the memorandum, Esterhazy gives the "History of the petit bleu," the telegram sent to Esterhazy by the German military attache, which enabled Picquart to identify Esterhazy as the author of the bordereau. In this document he outlines his own alibi, explains the history of the bordereau, explains his connections to the German Embassy and the knowledge of the same by French military officials, followed by a listing of the individual pieces of evidence.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that in the 2 page Esterhazy memorandum, he confesses to writing the bordereau "histoire de bordereau, son origin... comment je l'ai ecrit" (The Story of the Bordereau, its Source... How I Wrote It.)
Contacts
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR & ÉMILE ZOLA.  A GROUP OF LETTERS AND MANUSCRIPTS CENTRAL TO THE TRIAL OF THE 19TH CENTURY.
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