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Zola, a moment of human conscience

Zola, a moment of human conscience

National mourning

The sudden death of Emile Zola-who suffocated under poorly-explained circumstances on the night of 28 September 1902-stunned the Dreyfusards, and above all Captain Dreyfus. His Carnets mention the "terrifying news", and the request by Zola's widow that he not attend the funeral. Finally, after keeping vigil over Zola's body in the hours preceding the burial, the captain joined the front rows of the funeral cortege. The next day, L'Aurore described him walking "in the midst of the people of Paris, towards the radiant rehabilitation that is his due, and that is as necessary for France as for himself."

The funeral orations were given by Joseph Chaumié, Minister of State Education, Abel Hermant and Anatole France, who was given permission by Madame Zola to not limit his homage "to the writer and novelist." He stated that it was impossible "to remain silent about the men who were set on ruining an innocent man" and evoked "Zola rising up, weak and unarmed (…) his heroic honesty (…) his virtue." Saluting Zola's fame, he concluded: "Let us envy him: he honored his country and the world with an immense oeuvre and a great act. Let us envy him, his destiny and his heart gave him the fate of the greatest men. He was for a moment the human conscience." As the day approached when Zola's remains were to be transferred to the Pantheon, Anatole France repeated his admiration for Zola. Leaving men of letters to debate Zola's oeuvre, France was categorical: "The act that he accomplished with "J'Accuse!" was clear for the entire world, and must remain an immortal example."

The Dreyfusard interred in the Pantheon

It was Socialist deputies who, on 13 July 1906, presented a private bill for interring Zola in the Pantheon "in the wake of the day that finally marked the shining and definitive triumph of this imposing work of truth, justice and humanity." For rapporteur Jules-Louis Breton, who spoke in the name of Allemane, Buisson, Jaurès and Sembat, "more than all of his masterpieces, his steadfast, courageous and admirable attitude made Zola one of the most beautiful and great figures of our era." Approved hastily by 316 votes to 165, the bill was finally discussed in the Senate on 12 December. Opponents of "the honors of the Pantheon" denounced the "Italian", the "traitor", and the author of an opus that was a matter of "mere pornography and leniency with regard to vice," and forcefully proclaimed that this would "revive the Affair."

In the face of these imprecations, Zola's supporters evoked "the mob worked up against this good man who asked for justice" and stated that it was necessary to "remind future generations of Zola's example, this great upholder of the law who had the courage, in the midst of widespread confusion of conscience, to hold the flag of truth high and steady." President Clemenceau praised those who stood up "alone before the distraught masses" in resistance against the mobs: "it remains the act of a noble, courageous conscience that brought honor to his era and his country." The transfer from the Montparnasse cemetery to the Pantheon finally took place on 4 June 1908. Dreyfus, who was present at the ceremony, was wounded in the arm by two shots fired by Louis Grégori, a journalist and graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. A jury at the Paris Assize Court, who considered the attack the natural act of a nationalist, acquitted Grégori.