The Lemoine Affair, by Michelet

   The diamond, itself, may need to be extracted from strange depths (1,300 metres). To bring out the most brilliant stones, which alone can withstand the ardour of a woman's gaze (in Afghanistan the diamond is called "eye of flame"), one must endlessly descend to regions of great darkness. How many times will Orpheus lose his way before bringing Eurydice forth to the light of day! Yet we must not be discouraged. If the heart weakens, there is a stone there which seems to proclaim with its clear fiery voice: "Have courage, one more blow of the pick and I shall be yours." But hesitate and it is death. Salvation only comes from speed. A touching dilemma. Many lives were lost in the Middle Ages trying to resolve it. It was settled more harshly at the beginning of the twentieth century (December 1907 to January 1908). Some day I shall relate the tale of this magnificent Lemoine affair, the greatness of which was suspected by no one at the time, I shall show this little man with feeble hands, with eyes scorched by his terrible search, probably Jewish (M. Drumont has affirmed this in a not unreasonable fashion; still today the Lemoustiers - a contraction of Monastère - are not unusual in Dauphiné, the elected land of Israel during the whole of the Middle Ages), leading all of European politics for three months, bending the pride of England to consent to a commercial treaty which was ruinous to herself, to save her threatened mines, her discredited companies. So that we might give up the man, she paid her pound of flesh without hesitation. Temporary liberty, the greatest conquest of modern times (Sayous, Batbie) was refused three times. Germany, strongly deductive before her mug of beer, seeing the shares in De Beers slumping by the day, took courage (Harden's legal revision, Polish law, refusal to answer to the Reichstag). Touching sacrifice of the Jews over the ages! "You slander me, you stubbornly accuse me of treason against all evidence, on land, on sea (Dreyfus affair, Ullmo affair); so then! I give you my gold (see the extensive development of Jewish banking at the end of the nineteenth century), and more than gold, something that cannot always be purchased by weight of gold: diamonds." A grave lesson; I often meditated upon it sadly during that winter of 1908 in which even nature, abdicating all violence, made itself treacherous. One never saw fewer great freezes, but a fog which even at midday the sun never managed to pierce. Moreover the milder the temperature - the more deadly. Many deaths - more than in the ten years previous - and, towards January, violets underneath the snow. My spirit troubled by the Lemoine affair, which quite justifiably appeared to me straight away like an episode in the great struggle between wealth and science, each day I went to the Louvre where, by instinct the nation would stop in front of the Couronne diamonds more often than before Da Vinci's Giaconda. On more than one occasion I hardly dared approach it. It goes without saying, this study attracted me, I had no love for it. The secret to all this? I did not sense any life in it. Always that was my strength, my weakness too, this need for life. At the highest point in the reign of Louis XIV, when absolutism seemed to have killed off all liberty in France, during two long years - more than a century - (1680 to 1789), strange headaches made me believe every day that I was going to be obliged to interrupt my history. I did not truly recover my strength until the oath of the Jeu de Paume (20 June 1789). Likewise I felt troubled before that strange reign of crystallization which is the world of stone. Here again nothing of the flexibility of the flower that, at the most arduous of my botanical studies, very timidly - so much the better - never ceased to give me courage: "Have confidence, fear nothing, you are still part of life, part of history."

 

Article appeared in Le Figaro, 22 February 1908 and reprinted in Pastiches et Mélanges (Libraire Gallimard, 1919).


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