The Breton bard Théodore Botrel on Dreyfus and a failed coup

Botrel, Théodore, French chansonnier (1868-1925). Collection of 3 autograph letters signed, 1 autograph manuscript signed, 1 autograph picture postcard signed, 1 picture postcard with autograph dedication signed, and 2 printed concert programs signed.

Paris, La Basse Motte (Ille-et-Vilaine) and n. p., 1897, [1899], and n. d.

8vo. and postcard format. Together 10 pp.


Interesting collection of documents that connect Théodore Botrel to the nationalist politician Paul Déroulède and to the large trial before the French Senate against Déroulède and other anti-Dreyfusard activists following the failed coup of 23 February 1899.

In a letter concerning the organisation of a concert with a recipient referred to as "Mon Père", Botrel remarks that he will "go to the high court as a witness", in "great Breton costume, vest, bragoù bras, and gaiters", in order to represent "loyal Brittany that protests with my voice against the ignominies of the present hour!" (transl.). The letter can thus be dated to the 1899 trial against Paul Déroulède and his co-conspirators. Apparently, Botrel had been called to appear as a witness by the accused journalist and militant royalist Raoul de Fréchencourt who was eventually acquitted. In an undated letter to a prisoner named Raoul, very likely Fréchencourt, Botrel encourages him to call him to the stand, even though Déroulède had asked Botrel not to support him in public: "Do not hesitate to make me appear as a witness in the Déroulède affair. You know that I want to sing for him, that I want to make him even more popular through the Chanson du Peuple [...]. At the same time, Déroulède himself made me promise not to appear by his side, never to recite my verses, to sing my works, especially in Breton costume [...] out of fear that it would compromise him in his popular republican reunions. Nevertheless, Déroulède loves me, he told me so, he much values me (and this is a great honour for me) as a poet!" In this letter, Botrel also mentions the second conviction of Alfred Dreyfus on 9 September 1899, expressing his antisemitic views: "The judgment of Rennes is not the solution to the terrible crisis in which our poor country finds itself, but it is a triumph for the army, a blow to the stateless, to the cosmopolitans, and to the Jews".

The manuscript in the collection is Botrel's "Ballade de L'Ankou", which explores a theme of Breton mythology. Underneath the title, Botrel quotes Anatole Le Braz's "La Légende de la mort en Basse-Bretagne": "The Ankou is, in Brittany, the masculine personification of death". A single correction suggests that the manuscript at hand was the final draft of the poem that was published in "Contes du Lit-Clos" (Paris, 1900, p. 63).

On 27 June 1897, Botrel congratulates an unnamed recipient "on the occasion of the great honour given to our service in the person of its chef [...]". The undated postcard was written to the organizer of a charity concert with Botrel and his wife Léna. The two identical concert programmes with a photograph of Botrel in uniform point to his patriotic concerts in support of the French troops during World War I.

The manuscript is taped, with minor browning, and very slightly creased. The letter probably to Raoul de Fréchencourt shows ink stains.

Stock Code: BN#58363 Tags: ,