Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Red Robe

By Eugene Brieux

(French dramatist, born 1858; author of a series of powerful dramas exposing the sources of corruption in French social, political and business life. The present play has for its theme the law as a snare for the feet of the poor and friendless. The principal character is a government prosecuting attorney, driven by professional ambition and jealousy, and the nagging of his wife and daughters. A murder has been committed, and the newspapers are scolding because the criminal has not been caught. Suspicion falls upon a poor wretch of a smuggler, who is hounded and bullied into incriminating himself. At the last moment, when the case is in the hands of the jury, the prosecuting attorney’s conscience is troubled, and he realizes that he is sending an innocent man to the gallows)
MME. VAGRET:—But—these circumstances, how could you have ignored them up to now?
  VAGRET (his head bowed):—You think I have ignored them?—Would I dare to tell you all? I am not a bad man, you’d grant? I wouldn’t desire that anyone should suffer through my fault. Well!—Oh! but how it shames me to confess it, to say it aloud, after having confessed it to myself! Well! When I studied this case, I had got it so fixed in my head, in advance, that this fellow Etchepare was a criminal, that when an argument in his favor presented itself to my mind, I kept it away from me, shrugging my shoulders. As to the facts about which I am telling you, and from which suddenly my doubt has been born—at first I sought only to prove to myself that these facts were false, taking, in the testimony of the witnesses, only what would combat their exactness, repelling all the rest, with a frightful naiveté in my bad faith.—And in the end, to dissipate my last scruples, I said to myself, like you: “It is the affair of the defense, not mine!” Listen and see to just what point the exercise of the profession of prosecutor renders us unjust and cruel; I had, myself—I had a thrill of joy at first, when I saw that the judge, in his questioning, left in the shadow the sum of those little facts. There, that is the trade! you understand, the trade! Ah! poor creatures that we are, poor creatures!
  MME. VAGRET:—Possibly the jury may not condemn him?
  VAGRET:—It will condemn him.
  MME. VAGRET:—Or that it will admit some extenuating circumstances.        5
  VAGRET:—No. I urged them too emphatically against this. Was I not ardent enough, my God! violent enough?
  MME. VAGRET:—That’s true. Why should you have developed your argument with so much passion?
  VAGRET:—Ah! why! why! Long before the session, it was so well understood by everyone that the accused was the culprit! And then, everyone was trying to rouse my dander, trying to make me drunk! I was the spokesman for humanity, I had to reassure the country, bring peace to the family—I don’t know what all else! My first demands were comparatively moderate. But when I saw that famous advocate make the jury weep, I thought I was lost; I felt that the case was getting away from me. Contrary to my custom, I made a reply. When I stood up again, I was like a combattant who goes to meet defeat, and who fights with desperation. From that moment, Etchepare no longer existed, so to speak. I no longer had the care to defend society, or to maintain the accusation—I was fighting against that advocate; it was a tourney of orators, a contest of actors; I had to come out the conqueror at all hazards. I had to convince the jury, to seize it and tear from it the “Yes” of a verdict. It was no longer a question of Etchepare, I tell you; it was a question of myself, of my vanity, of my reputation, of my honor, of my future. It’s shameful, I repeat, it’s shameful! At any cost, I wanted to avoid the acquittal which I felt was certain. And I was possessed by such a fear of not succeeding, that I employed all the arguments, good and bad—even those which consisted in representing to those frightened men their homes in flames, their loved ones assassinated. I spoke of the vengeance of God upon judges who had no severity. And all that in good faith—or rather without consciousness, in a fit of passion, in a fit of passion against the advocate whom I hated with all my forces… The success was even greater than I could have wished; the jury is ready to obey me, and for myself, my dear—I let myself be congratulated, and I pressed the hands which were held out to me.—That’s what it is to be a prosecutor!
  MME. VAGRET:—Console yourself. There are perhaps not ten men in France who would have acted otherwise.
  VAGRET:—You are right. Only—if one reflects, it is precisely that which is frightful.        10

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