Émile Duclaux (1840 - 1904)

Portrait of Emile Duclaux


Journalists & intellectuals

Director of the Pasteur Institute, Emile Duclaux was one of the most renowned scholars among the Dreyfusards. He was born at Aurillac in the department of Cantal on 24 June 1840.

He was the son of a bailiff and a shopkeeper. He passed the competitive exam to become a physics professor in 1862, and taught microbiology at the National Agronomics Institute. He was the colleague and successor to Louis Pasteur, and was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1888, and to the Academy of Medicine in 1894. Lucien Herr listed him as one of the first potential Dreyfusards, and he was indeed one of the first scientists to sign the protest against Esterhazy's acquittal and the mysteries of the 1894 trial, which was printed in L'Aurore on 14 January 1898.

On 6 December 1897, he wrote to president Scheurer-Kestner with respect to the secret documents that led to Dreyfus's conviction: "such investigative proceedings are unworthy of a republic." On 18 January 1898, he told Le Temps that he spoke as "any man who is a soldier or who has sons that will be soldiers, and who is led with terror to think that two lines of his handwriting can send him to jail amidst the worst abuse, simply because this handwriting resembles that of a rogue." On 19 February 1898, at the Zola trial, he explained that him name was among others on the protest because, along with other men "who are devoid of any other preoccupation than the truth," he would continue to demand that light be shed on the case.

Vice-president of the League of Human Rights from its foundation, his commitment can be seen by the many articles that he published in Le Siècle, which were later reprinted in Avant le procès and the two volumes of Propos d'un solitaire. On 10 September 1899, he wrote to Dreyfus: "you are the first soldier who has managed to invoke a shared shiver of human sympathy and fraternity in the heart of nations around the world (…) there is a sort of communion of souls in the civilized world, and it is happening because of your name."

Meeting him in 1900, Alfred Dreyfus found this scholar to possess "a great simplicity and a delightful finesse." After Duclaux died on 2 May 1904, followed by professor Molinier from the Ecole des Chartes on the 19th, Dreyfus ranked them among the finest of his supporters. His widow Mary Duclaux was present in the small courtyard of the Ecole Militaire on 21 July 1906. She remarked, "The last act of compensation has been accomplished. (…) Dreyfus is an officer and Picquart is a general (…) Duclaux has been somewhat forgotten. And that would not have displeased [one who said] that all pain is good if it serves to expand the soul."