European intellectual influences on Jose Rizal’s ‘Noli’ and ‘Fili’
CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2020 - 12:00am

This piece is written to celebrate Jose Rizal’s date of birth on June 19. (He was born in the year 1861). It is an appropriate sequel to my Crossroads essay, “Jose Rizal’s ideas and ideals,” (PhilSTAR, Jan. 2, 2019), which commemorated the day of his execution (Dec. 30, 1896).

Spanish censorship of Noli Me Tangere in the Philippines. Shortly after the publication of Noli Me Tangere (in Berlin in 1887), copies of ‘Noli’ had trickled into the country. As soon as they became aware of this, the Spanish authorities – both civil-colonial and Church -- reacted and applied strict censorship and strong criticisms.

One of the critics was Vicente Barrantes, a Spaniard who had been a colonial of? cial in the Philippines who also authored works about the country. A member of Real Academia de la Lengua (Royal Academy of the Language), he was held in high regard in Spain.

Rizal took it upon himself to answer Barrantes in a long answer that was published in four instalments in La Solidaridad, the Filipino propaganda periodical that Marcelo H. del Pilar edited and published in Madrid, to which Rizal contributed profusely.

Jose Rizal was at his best in giving a ?ery and measurefor-measure response. He stood his ground with arguments about Spanish injustices, capped by his own personal and family experience of such cruelties. He showed that Barrantes was highly prejudiced against Filipinos, biased and super? cial. (See National Heroes Commission publication of Jose Rizal’s Political and Historical Writings (Volume VII, 1964, Manila, pp. 181-193).

Rizal pointed out that were it not for Spanish censorship, his work would have had a huge readership. For he said, rhetorically: “Find out … (how many were) the number of copies sold of the works of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Cantu, Sue, Dumas, Lamartine, Thiers, Aiguals de Izco, and others … and you will have an idea of the number of (readers).” (p. 191)

From this list, only two or three of these names would be recognizable for the intelligent modern reader. In Rizal’s own times, they were well-known.

This passage was a revelation. They conveyed the names of important writers whom Rizal held in high respect, was busy reading during his long sojourn in European of almost nine years in his short life (of 35 years). As a wide and possibly fast reader, he had strong capacity to absorb learning from the books that he kept note of and read.

Many of these writers could have consciously and unconsciously penetrated his understanding of novelistic plot, drama and of hidden philosophical con?icts. Mix this with his own perception of Spanish cruelties – both civilian government and friar – and we could imagine how he mixed realities, stories, characters, and events into his two novels.

Early musings in his diaries. When Jose Rizal was recently arrived in Madrid, he maintained a diary which he ? lled with occasionally revealing entries. From some of his book purchases, we knew that he had bought copies of works by Voltaire, by Shakespeare, and other books. He was also reading hungrily and watching theater, aside from taking care of his studies in medicine and the arts.

An entry in his Madrid diary on Jan. 25, 1883, together with my bracketed ‘(..)’ edits, said: “Today I had ? nished reading the Judio Errante (Wandering Jew) (by Eugene Sue). It seemed to me to be the best contrived novel, the fruit alone of talent and meditation. The sweet language of (Alphonse de) Lamartine does not speak to the heart. It imposes, dominates, confuses, subjugates, but it does not make one cry. I don’t know if it’s because I’m hardened. It reminds me a great deal of the Mohicans of Paris (by [Alexandre] Dumas).”

While transiting in Singapore on his ?rst voyage to Europe to study, he observed in his diary (dated entry, May 7, 1882) a very pretty English woman in the hotel where he was staying. He regretted he could not speak English with her. The girl resembled, he wrote, Dora. Was this proof that Rizal had read Charles Dickens’s David Copper?eld, perhaps in Spanish translation, before he set sail overseas? Dora was the hero’s young and very pretty wife.

Rizal’s novelistic and historical mentors. All the mentors cited by Rizal, except for Voltaire and Rousseau, who were among the ‘light’ of European enlightenment philosophy, were mostly Rizal’s living contemporaries, though older by a generation or two.

Victor Hugo (b.1802-d.1885) was a poet, writer, man of public a?airs, a politician, who participated in the revolution of 1848 (the so-called Second French Republic). Aside from his poetry, his ?ctional masterpiece was Les Miserables, a very moving tale of poverty, social problems and police brutality.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) was the author of highly plot-driven thrillers, like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Many of Rizal’s early readers among his friends compared the Monte Cristo story to his Noli.

Eugene Sue (1804-1857) wrote about the pro?igacy of the rich and the miseries of the poor, socially conscious novels of his time, with Wandering Jew being his most famous work.

Alphonse de Lamartine (1789-1869) was a poet, writer, historian and politician who played an important role in the 1848 uprising in Paris. He also became an important public ?gure in the early days of the Second Republic.

Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) was a respected French academician who wrote on history of the French Revolution and Napoleonic times. He also actively engaged in the political upheavals of 1830 and 1848. He became president of France in 1870.

Cesare Cantu (1804-1895) was a historian and writer. Like Thiers, he was also involved in the political upheavals of his country, Italy, and would also become a public ?gure there. But he was known more for his writings on history.

Wenceslao Aiguals de Izco (1801-1873) was the Spanish equivalent of Thiers and Cantu, a writer-historian. He wrote novels about anti-clericalism and on social issues. His works were translated by Eugene Sue, who was his friend. His novels were popular among the literate poor of Spain.

My email is: For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.

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