When, as prisoner on Devil’s Island, Alfred Dreyfus lay shackled to his bed in the sweltering heat, he was completely unaware that the novelist Emile Zola had, with the publication of J’Accuse! in a Paris paper, taken up his cause – and in so doing, instigated one of the great commotions in modern history.
Zola’s article, which would see him convicted of criminal libel and forced into exile, did result, ultimately, in Dreyfus’ freedom and exoneration: a fact Dreyfus, as this note attests, never forgot. Writing here, eight years after Zola perished by mischance, or murder - he died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a stopped chimney – Dreyfus honors the anniversary of Zola’s courageous publication of J’Accuse!, on January 13, 1898: “I do not want,” he says, “to let this anniversary go by without sending you the echo of my eternally thankful remembrance for our so dearly missed Zola and of my unalterable affection.”
J’Accuse!, which appeared in L’Aurore in a special first edition of 300,000 copies, accused virtually everyone involved in Dreyfus’ treason conviction with conspiring to cover up a miscarriage of justice. Violence - much of it directed against Jews – erupted immediately, and Zola was charged with criminal libel. Convicted, he fled to England rather than serve a year in prison – the maximum punishment possible – and remained there until it was safe to return in June 1899. By that time, Dreyfus too was back on French soil. Brought back to face yet a second trial and another unjust conviction, he was soon pardoned, and in July 1906, finally, exonerated.
Autograph Note Signed ("A. Dreyfus"), on his Calling Card, in French, 1 page, sextodecimo, 101 Boulevard Malesherbes [Paris], January 13, 1910. To Mrs. Emile Zola.