About the Enigma



About the enigma[1]

I can talk about it without hate or fear. Without hate because I have no bias—not being sure enough of the facts to stand firmly, no matter what may happen, among the “upholders” of innocence; and too independent, too passionate about truth and too worried about justice to put blind faith, without investigation, without discussion, in the credo that they try to impose on us through terror. Without fear because one good thing about the outrageousness of some ordeals is that it desensitizes and from now on, in the face of insults, I am like Mithradates and poison: I have taken too much; it has no effect!

For, that is where we are. To say what you think, no matter how reasonable and polite, constitutes a danger and exposes you to attack by stone-throwing, mud-slinging hands.

But maybe this very excess of violence is a blunder. Although they have earned the silence of weak and timid souls, it could be believed that stronger, more hardened minds would not so patiently accept such bullying, such an attack on individual rights, that they would not resist the temptation to rise to the challenge, even at the prospect of danger, so absolutely domineering and seductive.

Popularity is not pleasing to lofty minds unless it accompanies some particular act of courage or justice and unless it does so with intuition and passion. When gotten in error and abuse, picked up but not hard won, by feeding and flattering the vulgarity of the crowd—which is not the people—it remains insignificant and rejected by proud, honest people.

An elite? Certainly not. The word is pretentious and the idea ridiculous. But there is the compensation in numbers, that inescapable law that almost always puts right and reason on the side of the minority.

You have to know how to be part of it. You have to want to be part of it, stubbornly, fiercely! Because of the principle that power and force engender, inevitably arbitrary, which cannot be exerted without harming the freedom of others.

Furthermore, this is hardly a reasoned result; it is a matter of temperament. From the first step, in a way, everyone marks out their path and under the sign they were born. You can easily tell the difference between the well behaved and the defiant, between who will be a tyrant and who a rebel.

The present dispute is making the same division: authoritarians versus libertarians. The one side epileptically struggling to muzzle the other.

And Dreyfus is only a pretext for the great battle of ideas.


Who cared about it before? His family, of course, and a few fellow Alsatians (remember in Le Journal last November that very strange search at Monsieur Ranson’s house), a few coreligionists—and according to [Edgar] Demange and Bernard Lazare a few people worried about the irregularities of the trial. Many of them made no definitive conclusion about his innocence. They did not say, “He was unjustly judged.” They only said, “He was badly judged,” in the legal sense of the term.

These eccentrics, these malicious people thought that the fact that humans assume the prerogative to judge the mind and action of another, to bring it before their assembled fallibility and slap it with some kind of penalty has no other counterweight, no other excuse or surety but the strict observance and exaggerated respect for the method, the formalities.

Now, in this trial all the rules had been broken; this is undeniable. Agaisnt those very rare individuals who had made this troubling observation at that moment they had opposed the issues of national security, the fear of Germany and the interests of state. They were highly esteemed, unquestionable arguments, but used really too offhandedly to be used without rationalization.

Interests of State? But we were in the 23rd year of the Third Republic and the young generation had soaked up and was still warm with the republican teaching. In the schools they had hammered it in that interests of State was a crime of the MONARCHY and the monarchy had been destroyed for it. They made the kids shiver when they told them about the Templars, the crimes of Louis XI, the brutality of the Inquisition, the savagery of the Duke of Alba, the ruthlessness of Richelieu—and Saint Bartholomew Day and the Dragonnades! They made them cry over La Ballue, the Iron Mask, [Jean Henri] Latude, the murder of the Duke of Enghien, Josephine abandoned, [Michel] Ney and La Bédoyère shot… What were they going to say in the Republic about the interests of State?

Fear of Germany? But it judges its spies without fear of us. It is apparent, fortunately, that they are no keener on war over here than they are over there. Over-zealous patriotism would not be permitted over there: it would be judged dangerous to world peace and swiftly repressed.

National security? But wasn’t the last quarter of a century that they have been repairing and preparing, backed by crushing taxes in the billions, good for anything?

Under close scrutiny the three pretexts are nothing but pretexts. And the conviction took root and spread, creating ripples, that “there was something,” that an unheard-of blunder, that a pathetic subterfuge had taken place to get or to “formulate” the physical evidence without which the circumstantial evidence would have gone unheeded and the members of the war council, with nothing on which to base their accusations, would have been unable or unwilling to come to a decision.

Innocent, not innocent, who knew. They were only protesting against violating the rules in use with respect to a defendant—whoever he may be!


The years rolled by. The Dreyfus family, as was its right as well as its duty, tried everything that might prove the innocence of their brother, husband and father, whom they believed and still believe to be innocent.

For, they felt sorry, justifiably, for the little Esterhazy girls, incriminated for three months, but the same people did not dream for a minute about the Dreyfus children, crushed under their father’s disgrace for three years—and no guiltier!

As backward as I might be, I did not know that for national interests we had stepped back into punishing children for the sins of their fathers.

I can talk about these things with ease after my cautious cruelty of not seeing Madame Dreyfus, which I just might do again. There was, there is, too much money in their house.   But as a woman, as a mother, I sympathized with her, as I still do, and understood her effort on behalf of her absent husband.

Another, parallel effort had to be made without her knowing: that of Lieutenant Colonel Picquart who as director of the intelligence service for the war office, after coming upon a trail that seemed worth serious consideration, would have betrayed his role, his professional obligations, if he had followed through on it.

Du Paty de Clam[2] has, I think, also slightly overstepped his discretionary powers as investigator concerning the prisoner in his care. Except that the defendant was found guilty. So, it was good. Lieutenant Colonel Picquart’s suspect [Esterhazy] was acquitted. So, it was bad. There is no other difference.

Around the same time, Scheurer-Kestner—whose attention had been drawn to the affair by the doubts constantly put forward by his fellow Alsatians—also ordered an investigation to unravel the enigma, if possible.

By different ways these three men, Mathieu Dreyfus, Lieutenant Colonel Picquart and Senator Scheurer-Kestner ended up at the crossroads where they were bound to meet.

What was at the crossroads?

The note.


They told us that the handwriting experts had declared that the note was not written by Esterhazy. I really want to admit that they had made such a declaration, although nothing proves it because it was behind closed doors and they kept us sequestered from this kind of testimony even when it posed no apparent danger to the peacefulness of Europe.

But I must quickly add that if I had I heard them it would not have made me any more trustful of this art that seems to me, whatever field is being treated, full of paradox, inconsistency and deception.

I remember that in toxicology Monsieur Bergeron wrongly got the head of the poor herbalist Moreau; and in the Druaux affair and in the Cauvin affair, in all the most notorious judicial errors, the experts, in stirring up unanimity and doubtlessly too much good faith, testified how the judge urged them: in falsehood.

I also remember the legendary trial in which the “man of science” declared that the document submitted to his expertise was certainly not in the hand of the accused although the marginal notes, with no less certainty, was in his hand. Now, this belonged to the President! It was he who had annotated the dossier!

Therefore, I remain skeptical. But even if, conscientious of the matter being judged, I cannot confirm that the note is from Esterhazy, I can say that my conviction, the result not of an impression but of a study, my absolute, invincible, unshakeable conviction—we are free in this, aren’t we?—attributes it to him.

A traitor, then? No, not at all. A dear servant, on the other hand, deserving hereafter to be spared and protected. It is only a hypothesis, but let’s look more closely at it. I assure you that it is worth the trouble.

Monsieur Dreyfus is in the war office. He “came up” young. He is rich. He is a Jew. Along with this, such as they painted him for us, he bore more of the bad than the good qualities of his race: he is rough, gruff, haughty, ambitious, and maybe scheming. You see, I do not pretty up the picture.

He is envied and loathed. Some sectarianism is mixed up in the competitive environment, in office matters. He is the victim of deadly hatred—of hatred like Montjuïc![3]

Now, there were “leaks” like there still are and will always be! The enemy is suspicious of the enemy and to its ruin desires and hunts for someone to accuse. The suspicion festers. They gather clues and circumstantial evidence… Is Dreyfus guilty, is he reckless, is he innocent? I do not know.

But whether innocent, reckless or guilty, there is no proof to bring him to a court-martial. Which proves that in a sincere belief, for interests of the State, to safeguard the fatherland, to save it from whom they imagined a traitor and whom they could punish, they did not ask any tangible proof from the officer whose writing resembled his the most?

A novel? No more than the rest. The closed doors are dangerous because they allow all conjectures.

The council of war, in its soul and conscience, passes judgment based on the note. Because it has told us that there is no secret evidence.

Like Monsieur de Cassagnac, furthermore, I reckon that in the single tribunal bringing forth only one document not released to the accused and his defense would suffice to nullify the verdict, being a monstrous derogation.

But Dreyfus goes off the Devil’s Island, innocent or guilty—judged like that.


What were the three trail seekers, Mathieu Dreyfus, Picquart and Scheurer-Kestner, supposed to think of the note with such a “frightening” resemblance to Esterhazy’s writing?

But since they did not considered the same hypothesis, since the starting point was different, they had to conclude that, because there had been treason, the traitor could be none other than the author of the note.

They did think it, at least, especially faced with the facts: the disgrace inflicted on Colonel Picquart who was too eager to find out what they were trying to hide; the attitude of the chiefs who were at first all fired up and then turned completely cold; the obvious protection given to Esterhazy who was free until the end to make his plans; the people attending the second military tribunal, hand-picked from the auxiliary press; the lack of investigation, the closed doors sessions, the obvious fear of the least incident that might bring the scandal to light again!

Does this amount to saying that the judges the other day were biased or under orders? I do not believe so. I do not want to believe so. They judged on what they were given to judge—that is, empty air, a void, nothing, nothing, nothing!

Add to this what is fatal: the spirit of hierarchy and discipline that is inherent to the uniform, to the job of a soldier; the impossibility for these brains molded in leather and steel to admit that their colleagues, their predecessors might have been wrong; the horror of thinking how the military prestige might collapse under the discovery of such an error… and you will understand the blasé fulfillment of an already weighty task and the fear of finding more than had been given.


I have only one more thing to say, to repeat rather, since I have already said it.

Before the Esterhazy affair, when people talked to me about the Dreyfus affair, I invariably answered, “They haven’t given me any proof of the convicted man’s innocence so far, but neither have they given me any proof to the contrary, seeing the way he was judged. I’m not sure…”

Since then—and especially after the public session at Cherche-Midi [prison]—the obvious desire to snuff out, to stifle the debate, the tactics taken, the campaign waged, the uproar organized, the alliance to intimidate or gag whoever permitted himself just to doubt, has determined my inevitable reaction.

Amidst the storm of insults I have just described the matter without insulting anyone. I have spoken, I believe, calmly. And I am not alone in thinking like this. There are a few of us (including the good people whom they are trying to stir up but who remain quiet) who, without being “spies,” “traitors,” or “for sale,” are milling about the enigma and want the truth… and we will have it!


[1] January 14 1898, included in Vers la lumière 1900.

[2] Who examined the handwriting and declared it evidence enough to have Dreyfus arrested.

[3] “Jew Mountain” in Barcelona where five anarchists were executed under antiterrorist laws in 1897 during a crackdown on the militant working class.


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