Anatole France on Émile Zola, military terrorism and world peace
Translated by J. Lewis May
From speech delivered at the funeral of Émile Zola on October 5, 1902
Zola’s heart was in the right place. He had the nobility and the simplicity of all great-hearted men…His apparent pessimism, a sombreness of outlook which flings a shadow over so much of his writings, only half conceals his fundamental optimism, his steadfast faith in the progress of enlightenment and justice. In his novels, which are, properly speaking, essays in sociology, he attacked with vigour and persistency a society that was idle and frivolous, he took arms against the prevailing evil of the age, to wit the tyranny of wealth…He attacked the evils of society wherever he found them. Such, then, were the things he hated. In his later works he brought out into clear and deep relief his fervent love of human kind. He essayed to outline and pre-figure a better state of society.
Prominent men, leaders of opinion, were too often prone to palliate a crime they felt powerless to destroy. The shadows deepened. There fell an ominous silence. Then it was that Zola wrote to the President of the Republic – wrote that deliberate and terrible letter [J'accuse] which denounced the infamy and the crime.
With what howls of execration he was hailed by the criminals themselves, by their base supporters, by their involuntary accomplices…you know well enough…You heard the shouts of rage, the murderous cries which followed him even into the Palais de Justice, and echoed in his ears all through the long-drawn trial, when the true facts were willfully suppressed, when witness after witness was guilty of the grossest perjury, and all the accompaniments of military terrorism were shamelessly employed.
Let us not pity him because he suffered and endured. Let us envy him. Standing triumphant upon the most stupendous heap of calumny ever reared by the folly, the ignorance and the wickedness of man, his fame is enthroned on inaccessible heights.
Let us envy him. He has done honour to his country and to the world by a monumental life-work and by a great and glorious deed. Let us envy him, for the fates and his great heart won him the proudest of destinies; he was a moment in the universal consciousness.
From a speech delivered on January 13, 1906 on the eighth anniversary of Émile Zola’s J’accuse
Don’t let us forget that we have been threatened with a policy of financial and colonial adventure. Don’t let us forget that if the nationalists and the clericals managed to get their pet candidate elected President, we should be dragged into all manner of distant military expeditions, perhaps into a war in Africa, which, in order to swell the profits of some big banking establishment, would employ forces that ought to be reserved for the defence of our moral and intellectual heritage, for the protection of this land of ours, the land of philosophy and revolution, which bears within her the seeds – even now I see them quickening – the precious seeds of social justice and of worldwide peace.