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Within two years of Oscar Wilde's death in November 1900, he was hailed in the English periodical To-Day as one of the direct instruments in freeing Alfred Dreyfus." Readers were reminded that "now that poor Wilde is dead, one may easily forget the little side of his character, and rejoice that such a brilliant star, even after its fall, lighted the way towards a great act of justice" (Healy, "Oscar Wilde" 145-46). To a public uniformly hostile to Wilde, the news was all the more astonishing in light of the existence of what his first biographer, Robert Sherard, refers to as "some malevolent comment in London, where Wilde was accused of taking part on that side of the Dreyfus affair which was not popular in England [i.e., the anti-Dreyfusard side]" (Twenty Years 440), a charge that continues to cast a shadow on Wilde's memory.
The author of the To-Day article, Chris Healy, a journalist and bohemian poet, had had close contact with both Oscar Wilde and Emile Zola in Paris at the high tide of the Dreyfus affair. A week after Zola's death at the end of September 1902, Healy published in To-Day a personal reminiscence of the French author under the title "Emile Zola: Some Memories and a 'Revelation,'" in which he touched upon "the weird Dreyfus affaire, in whose secret history - whenever it is written - I claim the right of writing at least one chapter" (337). As for his promised revelation, Healy wrote:
I now come to an extraordinary announcement, which will surprise all those who imagine themselves as familiar with every scene of the affaire. The dramatic change in the tide of affairs which led to the suicide of Colonel Henry [protector of the guilty Commandant Esterhazy] was planned by Zola and - Oscar Wilde.... [A]nd the renewed agitation which followed ended in the famous farce of Rennes [Dreyfus's second court-martial] and the release of Dreyfus.
But the successful agitation was all due to the information Oscar Wilde had given. (337-38)
Healy's "extraordinary announcement," not surprisingly, was greeted with derision and general disbelief. He responded in a second article, "Oscar Wilde and Zola: A Reply to Some Criticisms and Further Revelations," in which he supported his claim with additional details, noting that "to the commonplace mind only commonplace things are possible" (145). Healy had himself been an active participant in the events he describes, although in his account he appears anonymously as "a young English journalist in Paris" ("Emile Zola" 337). He continued to defend his revelations as "absolutely true," and two years later published a lengthier account of the circumstances in his autobiographical Confessions of a Journalist (1904), in which he eulogized Wilde as "the rare artist, the accomplished scholar, ... and the kindly gentleman whose heart was a mine of generosity and good nature. May his soul rest in peace and his sins be forgiven him" (157, 138). This testimony received no more serious consideration than the earlier articles, and Healy's story has from its inception won few adherents, being generally dismissed as too fantastic for credence. But Healy's essential claim is corroborated by an unimpeachable witness: Carlos Blacker [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].
The cover blurb on Michel Drouin's encyclopedic L'Affaire Dreyfus de A a Z, published during the centenary of the affair, states that, "after a hundred years one thought that everything was known about the Dreyfus affair. But who was Carlos Blacker...?" Carlos Blacker was a trustee of Constance Wilde's marriage settlement and one of her husband Oscar's oldest and closest friends. A witness for Oscar at his wedding in 1884, Blacker was his "best friend," in the eyes of W. R. Paton, a long-time friend of both, while Wilde described himself as Blacker's "oldest and most faithful friend."(1) A brilliant talker and a versatile linguist, Blacker had great charm and a notably kind and generous nature. There had been a time "for many years up to 1893" when he and Wilde had seen one another daily, as Blacker later described the intimate nature of their friendship to Otho Holland (BP, 21 Dec. 1900).(2) Things changed for Blacker early in 1893 when, in the course of a quarrel with his close friend the Duke of Newcastle, the Duke in the heat of anger made unfounded accusations of serious misconduct against him in the presence of witnesses. As rumors of the Duke's charges were whispered about London, Blacker chose to leave England and join his sister and her family in Freiburg, Germany. In the early months of his difficulties with Newcastle, Blacker had turned for help to Wilde, who responded by agreeing to represent Blacker in the latter's absence in proceedings aimed at securing a retraction and an apology from the Duke. In the ensuing negotiations, in which Wilde continued to be involved to the time of his arrest, he not only made a powerful enemy in Newcastle but his involvement in the matter appears as well to have furthered the growing distance between him and his once close friend and adviser Sir George Lewis, the Duke's solicitor, the loss of whose counsel Wilde later lamented in his prison cell: "[W]hen I was deprived of his advice and help and regard, I was deprived of the one great safeguard of my life" (De Profundis 21). Wilde's efforts on Blacker's behalf, however, served to strengthen the bonds of a long and mutually supportive friendship that was founded upon a unique compatibility of temperament. "You were always my staunch friend and stood by my side for many years," Wilde wrote to Blacker shortly after his release from prison:
Often in prison I used to think of you: of your chivalry of nature, of your limitless generosity, of your quick intellectual sympathies, of your culture so receptive, so refined. What marvelous evenings, dear Carlos, we used to have! What brilliant dinners! What days of laughter and delight! ... [W]e tired many a moon with talk, and drank many a sun to rest with wine and words. You were always the truest of friends and the most sympathetic of companions. (Letters 621)
Following an abject apology by the Duke seven years later, he and Blacker resumed a friendship that the Duke not long before his death assured Blacker was "the greatest friendship of my life" (BP, 14 Sept. 1926). In his letter of apology to Blacker a few weeks before Wilde's death, Newcastle wrote: "I want to tell you how deeply I deplore all that you have suffered in the past through me.... Even your troubles over Dreyfus are more or less due to me because if all had been well you would probably not have left England" (BP, 8 Oct. 1900). Blacker's troubles over Dreyfus were the result of the extraordinary hidden role that he came to play in the Dreyfus affair as friend and trusted confidant of Colonel Alessandro Panizzardi, the Italian military attache in Paris [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED] and an active partner in espionage with his German counterpart and fellow member of the Triple Alliance, Colonel Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen. It was Schwartzkoppen to whom Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was accused of selling military secrets. Dreyfus had been court-martialled, found guilty, and sent to serve a life sentence on Devil's Island [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. Panizzardi, who freely exchanged information with Schwartzkoppen, was fully informed at an early date of Schwartzkoppen's dealings with the real traitor, Commandant Marie-Charles-Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, and uncomfortably aware of the innocence of Dreyfus. At a time when, in Blacker's words, "three beings alone knew the whole & entire truth [about Dreyfus], namely God & the two Military Attaches" (Memo), Blacker became the fourth such being when his intimate friend Panizzardi confided "the whole & entire truth" to him. The two then developed a plan aimed at publicly establishing the innocence of Dreyfus and the guilt of Esterhazy.
Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, a quondam Oxford don whose influential history, The Dreyfus Case (1898), was by his own admission inspired by Blacker, predicted that when the facts of Blacker's part in the affair would ultimately be known he would receive the honor due him as "the pioneer of a noble cause" (BP, c. 28 Jun. 1898) and his name would be in the mouths of the thousands of French people who were committed to the cause of truth and justice. Blacker, however, never released Conybeare from the bond of secrecy under which he had informed him of his part in the case. The secret of Blacker's role has been so well kept - mainly as the result of his own insistence on anonymity and his extreme reticence about an episode in his life with unforgettably painful associations for him - that after a century Conybeare's prediction has yet to be realized.
Blacker came to confide the information obtained from Panizzardi to Wilde, in the hope of providing him with the moral and intellectual stimulus to resume writing following his release from prison. More important to Wilde at the time, however, abandoned on all sides by former friends, was the solace of Blacker's company. When, following their emotional reunion in March 1898 after not having seen one another since before Wilde's imprisonment, repeated appeals by Wilde for further meetings proved fruitless, he became convinced that Blacker too had turned his back on him. Wilde's close companions at the time were Chris Healy and the latter's employer, Rowland Strong, both journalists caught up in the Dreyfus case. When Wilde, in despair and anger over what he perceived to be his abandonment by Blacker, betrayed the latter's confidence to them, Healy immediately went to Zola with the information and Strong went to Esterhazy. The results of these retailings of Blacker's confidences to Wilde were critical to both the Dreyfusard and the anti-Dreyfusard causes, and fatal not …