Friday, February 24, 2017

The Dreyfus Affair

"Thou latest victim of an ancient hate!"
Alfred Dreyfus
as depicted in Vanity Fair (7 September 1899)
In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer, was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. When evidence was presented in 1896 by Lt Col Georges Picquart showing that Dreyfus was wrongly accused, military officials tried to suppress it and silence Picquart by transferring him to a new duty station in Tunisia. But word spread about the cover-up, and in large part due to pressure from public opinion, Dreyfus would eventually be fully exonerated in 1906. Florence Earle Coates was among "artists and intellectuals" who spoke out against the wrongful imprisonment, and would pen four poems relating to the affair: "Dreyfus" (1898), "Dreyfus" (1899), "Picquart" (1902) and "Le Grand Salut" (1906).  Further details about the Dreyfus affair can be found at Wikipedia.
France has no dungeon in her island tomb
     So deep that she may hide injustice there;
     The cry of innocence, despite her care,—
Despite her roll of drums, her cannon's boom,
Is heard wherever human hearts have room
     For sympathy: a sob upon the air,
     Echoed and re-echoed everywhere,
It swells and swells, a prophecy of doom.
Thou latest victim of an ancient hate!
     In agony so awfully alone,
          The world forgets thee not, nor can forget.
     Such martyrdom she feels to be her own,
And sees involved in thine her larger fate;
          She questions, and thy foes shall answer yet.
"Dreyfus," as published in Poet Lore (September 1898)

     If thou art living, in that Devil's Isle
     Inquisitorial and darkly vile,
Where human hearts are pitilessly broken;
          Where treacherous hate seems stronger
Than either right or law; where grief hath spoken
Its final word and asks but to forget:
If thou art living, wretched one! live yet
          A little longer!
     Outcast, forsaken, thou art not alone,
     One bides with thee Who shall thy woes atone,
And France, entangled in her toils of hate,
          Hearkens a voice of warning.
Martyr and hope of an imperiled State,
Live yet a little! In the East is light—
A pledge to thee that long tho seem the night,
          There comes the morning!
"Dreyfus," as published in The Independent (16 February 1899)

"For love of justice and for love of truth!"
     Aye, 't was for these, for these, he put aside
     Place and preferment, fortune and the pride
     Of fair renown; the friends he prized, in sooth,
All the rewards of an illustrious youth,
     And set his strength against a swollen tide,
     And gave his spirit to be crucified,—
     For love of justice and for love of truth!
Keeper of the abiding scroll of fame,
     Lo! we intrust to thee a hero's name!
     Life, like a restless river, hurrying by,
Bears us so swiftly on, we may forget
     The name to which we owe so deep a debt,—
     But guard it, thou! nor suffer it to die!
"Picquart," as published in The Century Magazine (July 1902)

"Major Dreyfus, in the name of the Republic and of the people of France, I proclaim you a knight of the Legion of Honour"

There is a power in innocence, a might
     Which, clothed in weakness, makes injustice vain:
     A strength, o'ertopping reason to explain,
Which bears it—though deep-buried out of sight—
Slowly and surely upward to the light:
     A conscious certainty amidst its pain
     That, robbed of all things, it shall all regain,
Through that eternal law which guards the right.
O Dreyfus! Thy dear country has restored
     More than thine honour in her hour supreme.
          Noble, still noble, though she so could err,
     God spared thee to her that she might redeem
Herself, and hand thee back thy blameless sword.
          Listen! the world salutes—not only thee, but her!
"Le Grand Salut," as published in The Athenaeum (28 July 1906)

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