Emile Zola published his famous 4,500-word essay, “J’Accuse…!” laying out the facts of the Dreyfus affair, in which the French military concocted evidence to implicate a Jewish officer in sharing secrets with the German embassy in Paris. After being convicted of libel, Zola fled to England on this day in 1898. He was allowed to return to France a year later. After Zola died in 1902, Frank Jewett Mather Jr.—an assistant editor at The Nation, an art critic, and later a professor in the art and archaeology department at Princeton University—wrote a tribute to the novelist:
His mind had wrought inquiringly upon the evidence in the Dreyfus case, had detected a great injustice and taken fire, and the whole force of will and ferocity of temperament of the man imbedded itself upon the page that was addressed to the President of the Republic, but fell upon France and the world as the summons to do justice. This inhuman document was conceived in hate—savage indignation at a national injustice, not compassion for Alfred Dreyfus, moved Zola; but his J’Accuse stung an entire people…. Zola’s deed begot hatreds that are hardly diminished today, and the entire episode, though it will be his worthiest memorial, shows that his temper was destructive rather than constructive. And yet since Swift there has not been a more notable instance of scorn of human nature accompanied by rare literary talent and complete personal probity. His last great work will bear the title Truth. But it is doubtful if Truth ever fully takes as her own so stormy a spirit as was Emile Zola.
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