The Villain, the Dummy, the Good, the Suss, from left to right, Léo Taxil (1854–1907) whose real name is Gabriel Jogand-Pagès , Luigi Rotelli (1833 – 1891) the archbishop of Pharsale and apostolic nuncio, Édouard Drumont, author of La France juive (1844–1917), Georges Bernanos (1888–1948)
In 1931, Georges Bernanos published a pamphlet entitled La Grande Peur des Bien-Pensants (The Great Fear of the Righteous), which retraced the life, work and times of Édouard Drumont (see here for a list of TOO articles that deal with Drumont). In it, he painted an apocalyptic picture of the conquest of France by the Jews and the concomitant eviction of the Christians, with, on the one hand, the Crémieux decree, which in 1870 automatically granted French citizenship to the “indigenous Israelites” of Algeria (Adolphe Crémieux was himself Jewish), the Dreyfus affair, which began in 1894, and the subsequent creation in 1898 of the LDH (Ligue des Droits de l’Homme — Human Rights League), these human rights being opposed to the rights –of the French — and even to God, and with, on the other hand, the anti-Catholic Expulsion of the Congregations in 1880, the law of 7 July 1904, relating to the suppression of congregational teaching, known as the “Combes law“, and in the middle of all this, a poor little journalist, Édouard Drumont, who rowed against the tide by publishing in 1886 a monumental La France Juive (Jewish France), 1,200 pages in two volumes, which sought to awaken Catholic France, but which was caught out by the betrayal of the Ralliement (the rallying of the Church in favor of the nascent republican regime in France), pronounced in 1892 by Pope Leo XIII.
It was in this context that the Léo Taxil episode became emblematic of the Roman clergy fool’s game with the Jews and the Republic in France. The Ralliement as a whole was a downright suicide for the Church, and the Count of Chambord replied to Leo XIII’s policy, “I thought the Church forbade suicide”, but with Léo Taxil, we’ll see just how far this Church will compromise itself.
Drumont was to force a clarification of positions, and the publication of La France Juive was a resounding success, a blow that reverberated deep into the heart of French society and provoked an immediate reaction from the chief rabbi of the Consistoire central des Israélites de France, Zadoc-Kahn, who sent his famous letter to Le Temps, whose deceptively moderate tone oozed anguish:
It is already too much that, a hundred years after the Revolution of 89, there can occur in our public meetings such excitements against a whole category of citizens who are as good Frenchmen as anyone else.” — “As a Jew, I grieve, as a Frenchman, I blush.” — “France would no longer be France, that is to say the country of liberal traditions…” [American readers can of course replace «France» by «United States» and «Frenchman» by «American» if that helps them understand the sentence]. And immediately afterwards, the perfidious conclusion, the trap set, where cowards are already longing to fall: “It is my absolute conviction that not one member of the Catholic or Protestant clergy, whose virtues I admire, whose elevation of heart and mind, whose enlightened patriotism, would want to subscribe to language that is neither French, nor Christian, nor human”.
One wonders how a clergyman who inherited the tradition of Saint Thomas Aquinas could be taken in by such a display of Oriental displays of politeness, but at least this Zadoc-Kahn is a kind of high priest, whereas Léo Taxil is not. He was a pornographer, a blasphemer and a hoaxer who, in 1887, “in the name of the high clergy”, gave a lecture denouncing the “war of religion” waged by the nationalists (and in particular Édouard Drumont) against the Jewish financiers of the time. And it was to this unscrupulous adventurer that the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Rotelli, gave his visiting card at the end of the conference, without giving it a second thought, and arranged for him to have a private meeting with Pope Leo XIII.
Pope Léon XIII 1810 – 1903
In broad outline, when everything is said and done and we understand the question posed in the title, we understand the Church’s response: anti-Semitism is worse than pornography and Talmudic blasphemy, Catholics must rally round and submit, not only to the Republic, but to the Jewish Republic.
Forgiving readers could get a glimpse of the thought of Bernanos and Drumont in these translated extracts from La Grande Peur des Bien-Pensant, the chapter devoted to Léo Taxil, an anti-clerical Frenchman who concocted a hoax in which he claimed to have returned to Catholicism in an effort to expose the Church’s opposition to Freemasonry. Bear in mind that what we are aiming for here is not so much a good translation into English as making two essential authors known on the other side of the Atlantic: Édouard Drumont and Georges Bernanos, who can be very useful to Americans in understanding what happened in their own country at the same time.
Why so? Because the point of Bernanos and Drumont is beyond the classic war between an anticlerical French Republic and the Church. The context has evolved between 1789 and 1871: the Jews are now in the game, within the Republic and within the Church, just as neoconservatives have managed to dominate both sides of the political divide in the U.S. (see “Neoconservatism as a Jewish Movement).” It could be said that Drumont and Bernanos saw the “Ralliement as a Jewish Movement” and Pope Léon XIII as the first Neoconservative who will choose to meet with Léo Taxil, despite his being a pornographer and a blasphemer, rather than Édouard Drumont, Catholic but anti-Semite (and it should be noted that the “but” is completely new, before, it would have rather been a “and therefore”).
Georges Bernanos, translated from The Great Fear of the Righteous (1931), inner quotes from Drumont
At this time they [the clergy] hurled at the disrespectful Catholic [Drumont], with unheard-of naivety, the most hideous of penmen, rejected by all, a sort of black mass sacristan, claiming to be converted, and whose stench only bigots were probably still able to bear: Léo Taxil.
A magnificent story! A certain number of good people who never tire of anything, so terribly well-intentioned that, like Juvenal’s courtesan — and to rewrite this savage phrase — no cheese will ever make them vomit, still take seriously, after forty years, one or two episodes of an imposture that is as simple, as a summary as any famous swindle. A former seminarian, half pornographer, half blackmailer, supplier to specialty bookshops, then a bookseller himself, founder of an ‘Anticlerical Bookshop’ where he published so-called popular pamphlets, the delight of obsessives and maniacs, he had suddenly announced his return to God, promising at the same time, thanks to imminent revelations about the secrets of the Freemasonry to which he had belonged, a plentiful ration of muddy water to devout frogs. Thousands of simpletons were eager to learn the famous secret rites from the mouth of the prodigal son, no doubt sniffing out details of a wondrous obscenity, the terror and torment of their anxious chastity. Overnight, the anti-clerical Librairie became the anti-Masonic Librairie, tripling or quadrupling its clientele. What’s more, this bizarre forty-something altar boy had secured, it was said, the even more bizarre collaboration of a mysterious Masonic sister [Diana Vaughn] who had once reached the last degree of initiation, was familiar with the demonic cult, and was responsible for an incalculable number of political assassinations, executor of the pitiless decrees of the sect, and who, having miraculously escaped the possession of her master Satan and the vengeance of his accomplices, was condemned to death, wandered under a false name from monastery to monastery, watched over by the daggers of assassins. Using the pseudonym Diana Vaughan, she made revelations even more sensational than those of Taxil, avidly commented on by the most serious Catholic journals, and which filled all the presbyteries of France with visions and nightmares.
This prodigious detective story ended as abruptly as it had begun: with a pirouette. To the terror of the good canons, threatened with apoplexy, the neophyte [Taxil] flooded with blessings [neophyte in the literal sense = newly baptized], stuffed with pious sweets like the parrot of the ladies of Nevers, quietly stuck his tongue out at his new audience, and declared that he had paid off the mitered heads; moreover, more a Freemason than ever, having only revealed Polichinelle’s secrets to right-thinking curiosity. Diana Vaughan had never existed except in his soap opera imagination: the supposed revelations, the confessions, the pages that had shed so many tears, were the crude imposture of this vicious pimp, written on the marble of a café table, greasy with gum syrup and absinthe. What’s more, even at the height of his fervor — an unheard-of trait! — the favourite of the pious public had not even renounced the profits of the Librairie anticléricale. To the bewilderment of his dupes, he had left the management of the bookshop to Mme Léo Taxil, who faithfully brought in, each month, the countless free-thinking pennies, fraternally mixed with the clerical pennies from elsewhere. However disgusting this story may be, it is worth courageously swallowing its ignominy and humiliation: it gives the measure of a certain baseness of heart that explains, without justifying, alas! the corruptions of intelligence.
But at the same time as the author of La France juive [Drumont] was modestly standing for election to the town council, Léo Taxil was still the parish favourite, publishing articles every day in Le Petit Catholique and La France Chrétienne. Although he had already given a few tokens to the nascent anti-Semitism, he suddenly changed his front and in a resounding lecture stigmatized for the first time, in the “name of the high clergy”, what he impudently called the new religious war, declaring moreover that “the names of the Rothschilds, the Pereires, the Cahens of Anvers, the Hirsches, the Ephrussi and the Commondos were universally esteemed”.
The “high clergy” did not let the adventurer’s brutal formal notice go unanswered for long: at the very end of the conference — incredibly — the apostolic nuncio [Cardinal Rotelli] had his card deposited with Mr Léo Taxil. A token of even greater favors! A little later, he was received in private audience by Leo XIII, and in addition to the customary blessings, he brought back a more or less faithful but skillfully balanced interview.
It will be said that the episode is thin. However, it is worth repeating. In its comedy, alas! a little trivial — of such low quality, as it stands at last — it uncovers a whole part of Drumont’s life, gives the measure of the heroic bitterness that twenty years later was to sink into a kind of despair, otherwise incomprehensible.
At this moment at least, in full strength, the incomparable fighter stood his ground. It obviously did not depend on him to destroy in a single day the mediocrity — the incurable mediocrity of the clerical party, a mediocrity whose causes are profound, probably beyond the judgement of the moralist or the historian, and require a supernatural explanation. Let us at least take, after so many years, from this old fraternal voice, an admirable lesson in contempt! The over-scholastic portraits of [anti-Semites, monarchists, and/or pro-Catholics like] Veuillot, the heart-rending cries of Léon Bloy, the lyrical fury of Léon Daudet, the ancient eloquence, the sacred anger of Maurras, cannot give the idea of this good-natured and familiar ferocity, in its somewhat monotonous unfolding, where suddenly a tragic shudder passes, the whole breath of the powerful chest, like a lion’s snort.
All this, he writes, is of secondary interest. What confounds the mind is to see the archbishop of Paris suffer such an individual to dare to speak in the name of the high clergy, to hear the author of Les Amours secrètes de Pie IX [i.e., Taxill] assert that he has a mandate from the Church to attack a writer [Drumont] whose past is clean and who, even when he was not a Christian, never wrote, against what Christians respect, a line of which he would be ashamed of today.
There is more surprise than anger in these lines; you think you see the tired look behind the glasses, the resigned gesture of the hand closing a book. … But he is already marching on his adversary, with his heavy step:
I was curious to go through the filthy work of this man who is so dear to the ecclesiastical authorities today. It is understandable that the first publishers of these books were Jewish: Strauss in Paris, Milhaud in Marseille. It is truly a descent into Jewish hell, into the excremental hell described by Swendenborg in this “tainted Jerusalem which exhales the stench of rats, and through which Jews scabbed to the back run in the mud after a few gold coins”. This is not a mockery of Voltaire, nor the eloquent blasphemy of Proudhon, nor the disturbing protests of so many great rebels: this is pure abjection, the literature of La Lanterne that launched these publications and made them a success; this is the Talmud that announces that it is a good omen to dream of fecal matter.
Taxil’s protective nuncio begins to blush and asks for mercy. The vigilante continues, impassive:
You can’t imagine what it’s like to go through (even in haste, even if you avoid touching them for a long time) these books of stercorals [an omitted passage, a list of books with gravelly-sounding titles that are difficult to translate]
Another minute’s silence, another step forward.
A few months ago, when M. Quentin-Bauchard’s curious volume La Caricature pendant le siège et la Commune [Caricature during the siege and the Commune] appeared, I was curious enough to look at my collection: it is not complete, and contains barely five hundred items. For a whole day, I saw Paris of the siege pass before me, that strange Paris, which, dying of hunger and still under arms, still found the means to hang nearly a thousand charges, caricatures and drawings on the nails of every shop. … Nothing is spared. … No, I am wrong, and it is an observation that has been made before me: a figure never appears in the midst of these saturnalia which begin on the Fourth of September and end in the days of May. During this time of absolute freedom, in the midst of all the outbursts of anger, no Frenchman was vile enough to insult the white cornette of the Sisters of Charity….
It was as if the Paris that had risen up resembled the Forum of Rome… Sedition was rumbling under the fiery voice of the Gracches, the henchmen of Clodius were at loggerheads with the friends of Milon; people were shouting, threatening and slitting each other’s throats. Suddenly the clamor died down and the daggers were lowered. At the entrance to the square, which resounded with the cries of civil war, the lictors had just appeared, preceding the white procession of the Vestals…
The implacable writer takes his time, swaying his slingshot for a moment:
The first person to insult the daughters of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, the first to shamelessly lift the sacred gown, was the current favorite of the archbishopric and the nunciature.
It’s a date, a degree in the sewer. If we had a hydrometer to indicate the low-water mark of the muddy river that has flowed over France, we would find this, indicated with a name.
Here she is, the sister of charity, in the Album anticlérical [comic drawings by Pépin based on text by Léo Taxil] she has her real name: la petite sœur qui quête… [the little sister who’s questing = pun on words, «qui quête» stand for «quéquette» i.e. «wee willy winkle» – sorry]
It was Lent, and the convent chaplain preached a very pathetic sermon on the tears shed by Christ for human sins.
The tears of Christ weeping over the faults of men, you can imagine how this lends itself to villainous comments… Sister Mary of the Angels drinks lacryma christi, she’s drunk as a skunk, she’s hung up by a rapin [apprentice painter] and after nine months we find her in the final drawing with a huge belly that she’s spreading.
He grabbed the drowsy nonce with his strong hand and put him on his feet, limp and pale, facing the burst sewer:
We still have to go on, overcoming a disgust that expresses itself in a very physical way. As you walk through this path that reeks of piss [French word = sentine], you think you’ve reached the last hiccups, but you’re wrong. There is yet another mound of excrement, another puddle of faeces.
The life of Jesus Christ messing about [along the Seine banks] is perhaps the most ignoble thing imaginable in this work, where ignominy is everywhere.
The Virgin is covered in filth. In fact, everything about her is a development of an abject slander in the Talmud that I have already debunked, which shows the Virgin mating women and being impregnated by a soldier called Panther.
“While Joseph was talking, Marion had regained her composure: she tried to coax her fiancé, made a cuddly pout to make him swallow the pill..
- Joseph, my big bunny…
- Ta ta ta, don’t try to fool me… Who, if not a man, put you in this bloody position?
- It’s the pigeon, Joseph…”
The pen trembles in my hand, but this filth must be transcribed, so that it will be known that the wretch who spewed out this filth was able to rise up against me and say that he was blaming me in the name of the high clergy without an authorised voice being heard to protest.
But Léo Taxil perhaps had another claim to the indulgence of the high clergy, to the favours of the Nuncio Rotelli…. A former student at the seminary, he was introduced to certain special treatises, veritable clinical manuals for the use of future confessors, and one day became a voluntary publisher, translating them from Latin into French and launching the famous Livres secrets des confesseurs dévoilés aux pères de famille (Secret Books of Confessors Revealed to Fathers of Families), thanks to the publicity of La Lanterne. — “the only complete edition published by Léo Taxil and containing Mgr Bouvier’s Diaconales, the Compendium and the Mœchialogie or Treatise on sins against the sixth and ninth commandments of the decalogue and on all matrimonial matters by reverend father Deybryne,Trappist monk”.
In this work of villainy, Taxil was truly infernal. At five francs, the volume still seemed too expensive: to reach the little ones and reveal to them all the secrets of debauchery, he published a volume for one and a half francs, and flooded France with it: “Les Pornographes sacrés: La Confession et les Confesseurs, by Léo Taxil, on sale from the author and all booksellers”.
But here the great voice of the old master is going to swell, to pass imperceptibly from a tone of quiet contempt to that kind of accent which is the very quiver of genius, ingenium, the immortal vibration that nothing stops, neither space nor time — the word of justice where even anger has fallen silent. Words like these do not come out of a man’s heart without tearing it apart: woe betide anyone who receives in the face, to be marked forever, the jet of ruddy blood!
Do you want to know what the Pope’s representative, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Rotelli of Pharsalus, thinks of the man who has corrupted so many? Read La France chrétienne of 12 June 1890, which reports on the conference against anti-Semitism at the Salle des Capucines.
“The day after the conference, His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio had his card delivered to Mr Léo Taxil!”
It’s a very fin de siècle trait, and confirms what we’ve said about the frivolous, extravagant, caricatured and buffoonish allure of dying societies.
When we think of the countless little girls in the workshop or in the countryside soiled by this filthy reading, and we see Rotelli fraternising with the author of all this filth, we must not despair of anything. Some day we can expect to see the Apostolic Nuncio, in his fine lace and purple camail, walking arm in arm with the imitators of Ménesclou [infamous murderer, kind of Jack the ripper].
But the comparison is only half fair. The unfortunates who commit these crimes that frighten Paris belong, for the most part, more to the doctor than to the executioner; they are irresponsible brutes; their brains are mush; they bear the burden of all fatal heredities. Here, it’s the intellectual crime — the seminary pupil who coldly says to himself: “I’m going to make money by defiling the souls of little girls and boys”.
So the Nuncio sent him his card.
At this point, what was left of the smile in the tangled beard disappears, the gaze fixes itself without hardening; attentive, as the gaze of the adversary has met it so many times, on pale mornings, and the long, admirably articulated sentences, powerful and supple, follow one another, in the same cadence, as at the end of a duel to the death:
If he sees these pages, Rotelli will not even understand why his conduct is shameful: he has a complete obscuring of the moral sense. For him, virtue consisted in faithfully paying his rent to Calmann-Lévy, with whom he had taken up residence while waiting for the Marquise de Plessis-Bellière to disinherit his parents and leave him a hotel. Such is the morality of this nonce.
He is not a politiian, this Frenchman,” he may murmur as he reads me; “he has not understood the combinazione. Léo Taxil has a good relationship with His Excellency Baron de Rothschild, and Baron de Rothschild is a good man; he got me to do a little business.”
They’re all like that in this country, and the Archbishop of Pharsalus has no more scruples about courting Jews than Nigra had about making the Empress’s rizotto in a silver pan.
Rotelli would even have been a cardinal a year ago had it not been for a trial that took place at the Perugia assize court in March 1890. It concerned a pharmacist, well known to Rotelli, who had murdered his brother with a knife; the brother was a canon, also well known to Rotelli.
It was feared that, in the modern Sacred College, the representative of a race of fratricides might seem a little too 16th-century; it was also feared that the new Eminence might feel some embarrassment in preaching to the godless the virtues of the family.
You know, Excellency, that I’m not like your friend Taxil, and that when I assert a fact, it’s because it’s absolutely true.
A final word on Bernanos: in the caption to his photo above, we described him as dubious, for two reasons:
1 – The Drumont portrayed by Bernanos bears a striking resemblance to his Curée de Campagne, which can be found in the pages of his next, most famous novel, so it is not clear whether La Grande Peur is sincere or is a kind of rehearsal for his masterpiece.
2 – He was uncompromisingly opposed to National Socialism from the outset, even though NS posed exactly the same problems as concerned Drumont.
So, did Bernanos consider antisemitism to be one of those old Christian virtues that have gone off mad?
That in no way detracts from his talent, of course.