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Cinq années de ma vie. 1894

Paris, Librairie Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1901






8vo (232 x 154mm)
UNIQUE PRINTING in 50 copies on japan, this one nominative, printed especially for Madame Henri Bernheim

AUTOGRAPH INSCRIPTION by Alfred Dreyfus on the half-title :

à ma nièce Mad. Henri Bernheim
En souvenir de grande affection
A. Dreyfus

[to my niece Madam Henri Bernheim
In remembrance of great affection
A. Dreyfus]

BINDING SIGNED BY STROOBANTS. Spine in brown morocco with corners, original orange wrappers and spine, untrimmed, preserved untrimmed edges


Autograph letter signed by Alfred Dreyfus, on paper printed at the la Santé prison, reserved for prisoners, black ink, 2 pp. 1/2 :

“Prison de la Santé… [On] : January 17, 1895… [Last Name and First Names] : Alfred Dreyfus [Prison register N°] : 3885
9 o’clock in the evening
Dear Suzanne and Lucie,
I showed you earlier a very lively, almost violent, emotion. Thank you very much for coming to see me. But each time that I see those that I love, I have a violent contraction of my whole being which revolts against this infamy with which my name has been covered. While these meetings are so cruel to me, they however leave me with singularly comforting memories. I was able for a few moments to unburden myself into hearts that beat with mine, I am penetrated by the powerful feeling of support, of dedication that I find with you all.
Believe me that in spite of my moments of weakness, my soul always remains strong and valiant.
I will remain fighting until my last drop of blood, my last breath. I need my honor that was stolen from me ; deserting under these conditions would be more than cowardice, it would be a crime against my children.
I may have certain moments of despondency ; but still the soul floats strong and valiant.
May our rallying cry always be : Everything for honor, everything to break forth my innocence.
Besides, I feel calm on this subject ; such as I was, such is Mathieu.
My confidence in him is unlimited.
Once again, thank you for coming to console a poor victim.
I hope that this pleasure may be given to me again soon.
I embrace you and Mathieu.
Your devoted

PROVENANCE : Madame Henri Bernheim (née Lucie Valabrègue, niece of Alfred Dreyfus by her mother, Henriette Dreyfus, older sister of Captain Dreyfus) -- Hôtel Drouot, June 2020, (provenance not assigned, duplicated catalog not distributed)

CENSUS : autograph letters signed by Alfred Dreyfus sent from the various prisons are extremely rare. None of the computerized inventories of auctions provides any occurrence, with the exception of the one written from the Ile de Ré and addressed to the Minister of the Interior on January 26, 1895 (Sotheby’s Paris, May 29, 2013, lot 34, €457,500 preempted by the BnF). This letter had left the archives of the Dreyfus family to end up at the Librairie Charavay.

The entirety of the private correspondence of Alfred Dreyfus has not been published as yet. But the family and its various heirs have always taken care not to put them on the market and to favor French heritage institutions. In 1940, the Dreyfus family had the intelligence to ask Julien Cain, the famous administrator of the BnF, a resistant who had been deported by the Germans, for his help to protect these precious documents in the immense collections of the Bibliothèque. These archives were returned to the family who made a considerable donation in 1972. Among the donation is a copy of our letter, undoubtedly made by Suzanne Dreyfus.

These letters are now almost entirely preserved by the Department of Manuscripts of the BnF, by the Museum of Art and history of Judaism, the Museum of Brittany in Rennes and the National Archives of the Overseas in Aix-en-Provence. Regarding the epistolary exchange of Alfred and Lucie, Vincent Duclert recently identified a corpus of 463 letters, and as far as we have been able to count, 219 letters were addressed by Alfred to Lucie. For her part, Lucie sent 208 letters to her husband, her children adding 36 letters. Among these manuscripts, only two letters concerning the detention in Guyana (September 1898 and May 1899) seem to not belong to the French public collections. The publication of the complete correspondence of Alfred Dreyfus and his family will undoubtedly modify these provisionary figures. It is in any case certain that the letters written by Alfred Dreyfus from his confinement on the French territory are extremely rare on the market.

Captain Dreyfus was interned at the military prison of Cherche-Midi on October 15, 1894 after his arrest at the Ministry of War, following the sinister episode of the “dictation” in front of Commandant du Paty de Clam. He was put into isolation. The commander of the place, Ferdinand Forzinetti, understood his innocence and attempted to protect him. An inquiry was opened by the Governor of Paris on November 3, 1894. At the same time an immense press campaign took place, orchestrated by Edouard Drumont’s anti-Semitic newspaper, La Libre parole. Commander d’Ormescheville again interrogated Captain Dreyfus and submitted his report on December 3, 1894. It proved to be empty and with no proof. The general staff would have to resort to the subterfuge of the famous “secret file” sent to the judges by Commander Henry during the closed-door trial to convict Dreyfus. On December 4, 1894, Captain Dreyfus finally received permission to write to his wife and hire a lawyer, Edgar Demange, chosen by the family. Until now, Dreyfus was not entitled to write anything in his cell. This first letter marks the beginning of his correspondence : “I am denied the right to see you” (Écris-moi souvent… , p. 70). All letters, received or sent, were read by the government commissioner, Commander Brisset. Alfred Dreyfus wrote to his wife Lucie but also to all the family :

“He writes joint letters to his “brothers and sisters”, he then sometimes writes specifically to Henriette [wife of Joseph Valabrègue, mother of Lucie Bernheim] with whom he had a privileged relationship since she raised him in part, he writes to Mathieu often. And every day, and even several times a day at important moments, he writes to his wife. Lucie or another member of the family, copy his letters to send them to the brothers and sisters living outside of Paris (…) a whole family, (…) two families – since the Hadamards were as present as the Dreyfuses – became one with one of theirs and carried him until his rehabilitation” (V. Duclert, Alfred Dreyfus.… , p. 143).

Events followed one another. In the battle of the experts at the closed-door trial, certain letters from Dreyfus to his wife seized by Brisset would even be used against him to attempt to confound Dreyfus, in vain of course, with the author of the exhibits.

The conviction was proclaimed on December 22, 1894. During the night that followed Dreyfus considered suicide but Commander Forzinetti, followed by the lawyer Edgar Demange, dissuaded him. Alfred Dreyfus wrote to his wife the day after his conviction, December 23 : “so I will try and live for you, but I need your help” (op. cit., p. 80). The same day, Dreyfus asked his wife to request permission to see him. On the 24th, he would come up with this superb formula for Lucie : “it is the thought of you which stops my hand” (op. cit., p. 83). Lucie replied to him : “my dear adored one, we must, we absolutely must, be together again, live for one another, because we can no longer exist without each other” (December 24, op. cit., p. 82). Then on Tuesday December 25, 1894, the epistolary pact for life and for courage was signed by the two spouses separated by prison, and Lucie wrote to her husband : “Live for me my darling, I beg you, gather your strength, fight, let us fight together until we find the culprit” (op. cit., p. 85). The couple, from being martyrs, would become heroes of the fight for truth and justice.

On January 2, Lucie was allowed to meet with Alfred at the prison of Cherche-Midi. The meeting took place at a distance, in the visiting room, behind barriers. Alfred wrote to her immediately after : “this meeting shook me violently” (op. cit., p. 109). This range of violence felt by the prisoner in front of the real bodies of loved ones can be found point by point in our letter of January 17 : “I showed you earlier a very lively, almost violent emotion. Thank you very much for coming to see me. But each time I see those that I love, I have a violent contraction of my whole being which revolts against the infamy.” Lucie immediately wrote a letter to her sister-in-law Henriette Valabrègue, which circulated among the family : “he is a real hero ; despite all my sufferings, I feel pride, I am proud to have a husband such as he” (V. Duclert, Alfred Dreyfus, p. 177). The next day, January 3, the good hearted Commander Forzinetti eased the conditions of the new meeting. This time it took place in the commander’s office. The spouses could embrace. Dreyfus promised his wife to live and overcome the demotion, so tragic for an officer. He would say at the Rennes trial : “if I am innocent for her and for my children, I shall go to the torment with my head high ! If I am here, it is to Madame Dreyfus that I owe it, colonel” (ibid., p. 178)

In the days preceding his demotion, Alfred Dreyfus wrote to several members of his family. First of all, to Henriette, the mother of Lucie Bernheim : “I am overwhelmed with pain (…) sooner or later you will end up finding the culprit” (quoted by V. Duclert, op. cit., p. 180, who only knew the typewritten copies of the letters to Henriette preserved by a descendant). Specially, Alfred wrote to his brother Mathieu Dreyfus : “If my soul has sunk for a moment under the terrible blow that was dealt to me, I have never however, lowered my head, I have always looked the world in the eye. Prepare the ground, get your information, build slowly but surely and with a somber energy” (ibid.)

On January 5, 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was demoted in the court of the Ecole Militaire in front of a crowd of 20,000 people. Beyond the ordeal itself, Dreyfus, courageous, never ceased crying out his innocence. At the same time, he must have realized the havoc created in the opinion by the ant-Semitic climate which had been unleashed during his detention at the Cherche-Midi prison. Several times in fact in his letters, he forgave the lost crowd, here as well as a few days later at La Rochelle. The cries of “To death !” burst forth. Maurice Barrès titled his column “La Parade de Judas” (The Parade of Judas). Léon Daudet spoke of the “ethnic nose” of Alfred Dreyfus. Already on November 1st, 1895, La Libre parole had in fact announced “the arrest of the Jewish officer A. Dreyfus”. A concert of anti-Semitic fake-news followed in almost all of the press. Journalism at the time had only one weak moral code. Its addiction to unfounded rumor-mongering betrayed a constant concern for large circulation.

Since his demotion, Alfred Dreyfus, as a prisoner, was no longer a soldier. He no longer depended on the army but on the prison administration. Dreyfus arrived at the Santé prison on January 5 at noon and would be detained there till the day of our letter, January 17, 1894. Under the direction of the administrator Gustave Durlin, Alfred Dreyfus could see his wife twice a week, in the director’s office, much nicer than the cold visitor’s room at Cherche-Midi. The epistolary exchange did not cease but was undoubtedly even more intense. The column printed in the left margin of our letter, while quite bureaucratic, shows in its fourth line that Dreyfus did not have a fixed maximum number of letters per month.

Lucie Dreyfus visited her husband on Friday January 11 and Monday January 14, 1894 after which she fell ill. Her next visit was planned for Friday January 18. On Thursday January 17, her sister-in-law Suzanne and her niece Lucie Bernheim replaced her. Since January 2, the husband and wife therefore saw each other four times.

“After this meeting, Lucie, exhausted and of fragile health, fell ill. But she hoped to be well again for the next meeting planned for the following Friday but her hope was in vain. On the other hand, on Thursday January 17, Alfred received the visit of his sister-in-law Suzanne, Mathieu’s wife, and his young niece whom he adored, Lucie Valabrègue, wife of Bernheim, who bore the same first name as his wife. She had come especially from Basel. Alfred was overwhelmed at seeing them again” (V. Duclert, Alfred Dreyfus.… , p. 229)

The recipient of the inscription of the book is indeed Lucie Valabrègue (1870-1939), daughter of Henriette Dreyfus (1848-1932), older sister of Alfred who married Joseph Valabrègue (1839-1903) in 1889, from an old Jewish family from Comtat Venaissin. Lucie Valabrègue, wife of Henri Bernheim, is the second recipient of the letter of Alfred Dreyfus. She joined the letter to the signed volume to make her copy of Cinq années de ma vie a sort of temple. The first recipient is Suzanne, wife of Alfred’s beloved brother Mathieu Dreyfus, one of the souls of the dreyfusard fight and who is twice mentioned in the letter (“as I would have been, so Mathieu is” ; “I embrace you as well as Mathieu”). Suzanne Schwob d’Héricourt (1869-1964) married Mathieu Dreyfus in 1889. She was from a powerful family of textile industrialists who moved into finance in the 20th century. Suzanne Dreyfus and Lucie Bernheim were both of the same generation, born with the advent of the 3rd Republic, like Lucie Dreyfus, valiant wife of Alfred, also born in 1869, and whose recent historiography of the Affair helped to shed light on the role of a new day. These three women, all of the same age (the same young age, since they were all around twenty-five years old in 1894), were on the front lines of the Dreyfus Affair not just by their moral support of the prisoner thanks to the tender and courageous letters of Lucie, but also by their participation in the fight for the truth that the Dreyfus family led on the whole.

Vincent Duclert quoted the long passage of our letter beginning with “I showed you earlier a very lively, almost violent, emotion” for the text of our letter is known by a copy of the autograph made in the narrow circle of the Dreyfus family and those close to them. This copy is preserved at the BnF (Nafr. 17387, f° 127, “this letter is not in Alfred Dreyfus’s handwriting, it was probably copied by Suzanne, Mathieu’s wife, for the rest of the family”, p. 1084, note 113). This is therefore the discovery of the lost original of a manuscript known by its copy.

A few days after this visit, on January 20, Lucie Bernheim, full of pain and compassion, wrote to her brother Paul Valabrègue :

“I saw uncle Alfred, my darling. It was a very short but very cruel visit (…) all about his being breaths an atrocious suffering (…) he is always full of courage, determined to live, he does not wish to die dishonored. Poor dear uncle Fred, I would have liked to take him in my arms, put to sleep his suffering and I didn’t even dare take his hand ! These meetings take place in the director’s office, in his presence. You will understand in times like this how painful it is to be watched by a more than indifferent stranger. I would like to see him again, our poor dear friend, but alas, how to do so ? He is on the Ile de Ré, already far from all of us that love him”

The conditions of detention from January 18 to February 21 in the prison on the Ile de Ré were very much more difficult. The system of correspondence was changed. Alfred Dreyfus could now write to his wife only twice a week and no longer write to the rest of his family. The use of paper, ink and pencil was taken away. Lucie could see him twice a week, the first visit taking place on February 13. There would be another one the next day in equally harsh conditions. Exhausted, Lucie left for Paris and came back on February 20 and 21 for two further visits. Back in his cell on the 21st, Alfred Dreyfus learned that he was to leave immediately for a destination that was not told to him. In the end, his wife Lucie could only see her husband eight times. The visit of Suzanne Dreyfus and Lucie Bernheim is inserted like a link between the fourth and fifth visit. Likewise, the letter that Alfred Dreyfus wrote to them, takes its place within the semantic context of the prisoner’s great correspondence.

On the Ile du Diable, the prisoner would be even more closely watched. Any correspondence other than from his wife was forbidden him. Delays in the mail were numerous, interminable and torturous. The jailers and the soldiers were persuaded that Dreyfus coded his letters, so from September 1896, the conditions of his detention were tightened. Dreyfus was put in irons after the false news of his escape. Mail only arrived sporadically and very late. The worst was yet to come. From March 1897 it would only be for the most part, copies of the original autographs which reached Lucie and Alfred Dreyfus. The Ministry of the Colonies held by André Lebon intended to slowly push Dreyfus towards death since it was only the letters that kept him alive.

The history of this great restrained and prevented correspondence thus followed the developments of the Affair step by step. Alfred Dreyfus was in no way aware of the evolution of the Affair itself, every mention from the outside world being barred from the first days of his detention. This bureaucratic concern for the vacuum created around prisoners was already reflected in the printed mentions of our letter : “they must talk only of their family affairs and their private interests”. From the first months of Dreyfus’s correspondence with his family emerges this space of freedom and objectification which allowed him to hope for the restoration of his honor, allowing him also to love his wife and family. Paper and ink were the only humanity he had left. Thus, for the letters of the Cherche-Midi as for those of the Santé, the rhythm of the visits and the correspondence had their importance. This is found in the contents of the letters. In the letters from prison, the intimate drama of Alfred Dreyfus and his family is tied around thoughts which were to become the energy of the great story. We read these letters all woven from the same infernal dialectic of suffering and violence, absence and presence, misery and heroism. In this letter as in the others, we see under his pen, the ideas forming which would guide his locked-up life : to recover his honor and to refuse suicide and a death which would plunge his story into oblivion, giving him the courage to cope.

But this courage, he could not find it without the women in his family and at the forefront of course, without Lucie. These women, Lucie Dreyfus, Suzanne Dreyfus, Lucie Bernheim are the Antigone of the great correspondence of Alfred Dreyfus. Awareness of the tragedy gave an absolute strength to their love and consequently a lucidity of love and action that society never granted them before. Many researchers such as Florence Rochefort and Michelle Perrot, recently endeavored to analyze the role of the women in the Affair, wherever they came from.

These letters also exerted a force of real conviction on the first defenders of Dreyfus as later on the public. Thus, Joseph Reinach, convinced of the innocence of the Captain by reading the letters, encouraged Lucie Dreyfus to accept the publication of a part of the correspondence. Others would be published soon after J’accuse in Le Siècle of January 18, 1898. Then in book form, this would be, strictly speaking, a “book-event” (V. Duclert) : Lettres d’un innocent was published in 1898. Alfred Dreyfus would use these letters to compose Cinq années d’exil. Then his family would publish others in the 1930s. In 1898, Émile Zola read them and wrote his famous sentences :

“They are admirable, I know not of higher, more eloquent pages. It is the sublime in pain, and, later, they will remain as an inexhaustible monument. They are the sob, all of human suffering. The man who wrote these letters cannot be guilty. Read them, read them one evening with your loved ones at the domestique hearth. You will be swimming in tears.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY : Alfred et Lucie Dreyfus. Écrire c’est résister. Correspondance (1894-1899). Éd. établie par M.-N. Coche et V. Duclert. Paris, 2019 -- Alfred et Lucie Dreyfus. “Écris-moi souvent, écris-moi longuement… ” Correspondance de l’île du Diable. Éd. établie par V. Duclert. Paris, 2005 -- Vincent Duclert. Alfred Dreyfus. L’honneur d’un patriote. Paris, 2006 -- Jean-Denis Bredin. L’Affaire. Paris, 1993 -- [Drouin, Michel, Dict. sous la dir.]. L’Affaire Dreyfus. Paris, 2006