The Martyrdom of Ferrer/Chapter I
Francisco Ferrer y Guardia was born at Alella, in one of the quiet vine-clad valleys of Catalonia, January 10, 1859. Nothing in his origin gave promise of the distinguished career which has been brought to so tragic a termination. For half a century Spain had been washed with blood, and the new aspirations of Europe had fought valiantly for a place in its life. Over Spain had been spread the titanic struggle of Napoleon I. and England. To Spain the Holy Alliance had sent back the Catholic monarch, who, with a lying oath to observe the Constitution, had turned on his more enlightened subjects with a ferocity that far outran the "white terror" of France, Austria, and the Papal States. Over Spain had raged, when Ferdinand VII.'s bloody reign was over, the long and violent conflict of Liberals and Conservatives, Clericals and Anti-clericals.
No valley of Spain was so remote or so densely ignorant as to be insensitive to the prolonged and murderous conflict of the old and the new ideas, but it was only a vague and confused echo that rumbled in the ears of the peasantry. Usually only one man in their village could read—the priest—and the version he gave them of the distant battles was couched in the language of the seminary. The Liberals were the forerunners of Antichrist. The mouth of the pit had been suffered to open; the emissaries of Satan were then, in 1859, in power at Madrid. They had ventured, two years earlier, to pass a law of universal elementary education. So the small vineyard-owner Ferrer and his wife—from whom, by a pretty Spanish custom, the martyred teacher took the name of Guardia—shrank closer to their Church, looked on letters as more dangerous than wine or pretty faces, and bought their indulgences of the cura with a complete ignorance that Europe at large had trodden them underfoot three hundred years earlier.
One thing of import Francisco Ferrer, to keep the shorter name by which he will live, inherited from his parents—vigour of character. The cardinal mistake of English judgment on Spanish affairs is the belief that Spain is an outworn and decadent nation. It is a complete and fatal misunderstanding. The new ideas have had to fight a sterner battle in Spain than in any other country, except (in recent years) Russia, and the best blood of the country has been spilled like water. Yet the enthusiasts for progress have re-formed their shattered ranks decade after decade, and it is only by the unscrupulous and barbaric procedure, of which this story will give a vivid illustration, that the medieval abuses have been retained by Church and State. Spain does not lack vigour or ambition. But its vigour is in part paralysed by the deliberate refusal of education, and in part suppressed by an utterly unscrupulous political system and an apprehensive Church.
Seven years after Francisco's birth, in 1866, the reactionaries again resorted to the expedient of bleeding Spain to reduce its insurgent vigour. By that time Europe at large had fought and won the battle for freedom of ideas. The Papal monarchy was shrinking before the advance of enlightened Italy, while the English fleet encouraged the advance from the blue shores. But Spain, an isolated fragment of the Middle Ages, escaped or deceived the eyes of Europe, and perpetrated infamous deeds in defence of the ruling clerical and political interests. Even then Spain proved its vitality. The progressive forces, seeing that disunion had put them at the mercy of reaction, joined once more and effected a revolution. An Italian prince, Amadeo of Savoy, was called to the throne, but his foreign ways gave material to the malcontents, and Amadeo retired in mortification from his hostile kingdom. Then the Cortes (Parliament) proclaimed the Republic of 1873, by 258 votes to 32—a triumph won by the Progressists, it must be remembered, after seventy years of war and brutal persecution.
It is at this period that the son of the vineyard cultivator in the quiet Catalonian valley comes to years of discretion. Devoid of education, living in a family of fanatical orthodoxy, the lad had no encouragement to lean towards rebellion. His brother José was a young iconoclast, it is true, with a destructive aversion for objects of piety. But Francisco was quiet and respectful. I do not labour the obscure details of his boyhood. We have graver matters to consider. All that one need note is that, as Francisco advanced into youth, his younger spirit responded to the cries that echoed from over the hills, and he began to differ profoundly from his father. At the age of thirteen he was sent to Barcelona, some twelve miles away, to take service in a drapery establishment. The proprietor had known religious persecution, and his anticlerical temper was communicated to the industrious and intelligent boy, who became a great favourite. By his twentieth year he openly declared himself Republican, and the family link was broken. A few years later he joined the Freemasons.
It is important to understand Ferrer's early revolutionary career, because some of the documents which were embodied in the charge against him belong to this early period. Those who framed the charge were well aware of the real nature of these documents. They knew the recent history of Spain, and the part that Ferrer had played in it. But few people outside the country are acquainted with the stirring and complicated story of Spain's political development in the later nineteenth century, and Ferrer's murderers found it possible to surprise foreigners with revolutionary documents and insist, mendaciously, that they were of recent date. They belonged to Ferrer's early manhood, and were curious relics of a phase in his career that he had long outlived.
The figure in Spanish political life that caught the eye of the young Catalonian was that of Ruiz Zorrilla, the brilliant and passionate leader of the Republican Progressist party. Zorrilla had been one of the leading spirits in the revolution of 1868, and had then joined in the importation of Amadeo of Savoy, under whose short reign he occupied the post of Minister of Public Instruction. Ferrer was destined to enter into close co-operation with him, and in Zorrilla's anti-clerical, Republican ideal and zeal for education one can see the early source of his inspiration. If the reader finds the atmosphere of rebellion unfamiliar, I must remind him of the long decades of bloody persecution that the Church and the old dynasty had perpetrated, and must ask his reserve until later chapters have set before him the repellent features even of the actual Church and political world. Spirited and enlightened men, when they had no interest in the existing caucus, or refused to put self before humanity, were muttering rebellion all over Spain. The reign of Charles I. in England was not a juster ground of revolt.
When Amadeo was driven out and the Republic of 1873 was set up, Zorrilla went to Paris and declared that he renounced politics. He returned to Spain, however, when the army destroyed the short-lived Republic and enthroned Alfonso XII. He then formed his Republican Progressist party, and worked with remarkable success. The army had made or marred revolutions, and the army must be republicanised; so he pushed his propaganda with great effect among the military. Francisco Ferrer, who had left his home on account of his advanced ideas, was now an inspector of railways, and was in a position to render important service by conveying the secret communications from centre to branch.
This was in the early eighties—Ferrer's early twenties. Undoubtedly he was then devoted to the cause of violent revolution, and any document that merely implies such a sentiment—setting aside the gross and clumsy forgeries which involved murder and pillage—can very well be admitted for this early period. It was only through a very natural ignorance of this period of Ferrer's career that English people were persuaded to accept them as sentiments of the mature Ferrer. We shall see immediately how his ideas evolved. Revolution was a familiar thing in recent Spanish history. There had been seven revolutions in the preceding seventy years, and those who desired the remedying of Spain's repellent maladies turned instinctively to that method.
This period of Ferrer's life culminated in 1885. That was the year of the abortive revolution led by General Villacampa, and Ferrer took part in a local Catalonian rising. The insurrection was suppressed. General Villacampa was condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to deportation by the Queen Maria Christina; a point worth remembering in view of the statement that a Spanish monarch has no such prerogative. France, as usual, received the fugitives, and both Zorrilla and Ferrer settled in Paris, where Ferrer filled the honorary position of secretary to Zorrilla.
In this decade of life in Paris we have a second and very interesting period in the young man's career. I need not dwell long on the material details. With the inevitable limitations of a foreigner, he found life hard at first, and attempted to obtain subsistence as a commission agent. The occupation failed, and it is difficult to trace his movements for a few years. What is clear is that, after a time, we find him in the position of professor of languages at the Philotechnic School in Paris. A writer in Le Temps remembers him as "a man of iron will, and especially an idealist... a model professor, giving excellent lessons in a very original manner." He is described as "a man of medium height, very nervous and refined, with extraordinary eyes, like live coals, and a look that one could never forget." His lessons were much sought, and he made lasting and devoted friends in the French metropolis. One who knew him there a few years later tells me that he had a comfortable and refined home, using his resources with great ability and moderation. Since he had first become conscious of his lack of culture, lie had studied most assiduously, and held a high position as teacher. It is another element that enters into the ideal of his later life.
That ideal slowly took shape in the pacific, intellectual atmosphere of Paris. I wish to speak with the most complete candour on the important aspects of Ferrer's personality and ideals. Skulking under the disguise of anonymity, there are writers who have shamefully traduced a murdered man, and nothing that one can say will escape misrepresentation in the cheap Roman Catholic journals. But I am laying my case before those men and women who would form an honest judgment on this great crime, and it is my duty to place before them the facts as I know them. I have examined half-a-dozen intimate friends of Ferrer on the evolution of his ideas. It is unfortunate that lie wrote no work from which one can learn his mature views. An elementary Spanish grammar is his only literary work. But there are passages enough in his letters and journal to bear out entirely the judgment I formed, after closely questioning his friends, on his later views.
I must say at once that the statement of some of his less intimate friends, that he came to hold views akin to those of Tolstoy or those of our English Quakers, is denied by those who knew him better. On the other hand, there is not the slightest doubt that, after his long sojourn in Paris, Ferrer ceased to advocate, counsel, or in any way encourage violent insurrection. I have spoken fully on the matter with his intimate Anarchist friends, and the utmost that any of them claimed was that he did not go out of his way to condemn other people's methods. His method was that of education. Do not let me be misunderstood. He did not educate without an ulterior ambition. He trusted that an educated Spanish nation would put an end to that corruption of Church and State which I will presently describe, and which fills modern Spanish literature with laments. But he nowhere, either directly or indirectly, suggested or counselled violence. He held aloof from active participation with any political party in Barcelona, and was absorbed in his schools.
This will be quite apparent as we follow him through the last decade of his career, but it is important to establish that he went back from France to Spain with no intention to engage in political work. We shall see the nature of the "evidence" against him on this point later. It has not the shadow of a particle of value. For the moment I will give a few of the many weighty testimonies to his real views and disposition.
The first testimony is his own explicit declaration, published in the Barcelona Republican weekly, Fructidor, February 8, 1907. He had been asked to furnish an account of the origin of the Modern School, and, in referring to the idea which inspired it, he said: "When Zorrilla died I lost all my confidence, which had been already much weakened, in the results of a revolution effected by superficial revolutionaries who were themselves the victims of much the same prejudices as the monarchists whom they would deprive of power. From that time forward I devoted all my activity to the task of establishing a school which, in my humble opinion, might serve as a model for all the schools which advanced bodies were endeavouring to found, in order to preserve the child from the mendacious teaching of the official schools. That was the origin of the Modern School." This emphatic repudiation of revolution, in a Republican paper, to be read by his friends of all parties in Barcelona, is decisive. It was not submitted at his "trial." It is supported by the testimony of all who knew him.
As I go to press an important article on Ferrer appears in the Nineteenth Century (November). The writer, M. Naquet, is not only a high Parisian authority, both from the cultural and the political point of view, but he knew Ferrer well, and had given material assistance to Ruiz Zorrilla in his revolutionary campaign. He was in close touch with Ferrer during the fifteen years he spent in Paris, and later, and describes their relations as "of the most fraternal character." Further, M. Naquet himself openly advocates the removal of corruption and abuses in Spain and Russia by violent methods. His authority is, therefore, quite apart from his well-known personality, extremely great, if not decisive. And this is what M. Naquet writes on the subject: “Ever since the days when he acted as the lieutenant of Don Zorrilla, Ferrer's point of view had undergone profound modifications. The successive checks to all the Spanish conspiracies in which he had been involved, and his deeper study of the domestic quarrels which had ruined the Spanish Republic of 1873, had imparted a new direction to his political ideas. He had arrived at the conclusion that the employment of violence is useless; that, despite its apparent swiftness, it is the slowest method in the end. Without going to the length of accepting the doctrine of resignation, or accepting the passive-resistance theory of Tolstoy—he was far from that—he believed that the surest and quickest way to progress was that pacific way which consists in transforming by means of education the conceptions of one's contemporaries.” These are not the ideas of M. Naquet, when there is question of such countries as Spain and Russia, nor do the words express a mere inference in regard to Ferrer's development. The point was often debated between the two friends, and to Naquet's contention the younger man used to reply: “Time respects only those institutions which time itself has played its part in building up. That which violence wins for us to-day another act of violence may wrest from us to-morrow. Those stages of progress alone are durable which have rooted themselves in the mind and conscience of mankind before receiving the final sanction of legislation. The only means of realising what is good is to teach it by education and propagate it by example.”
These were the real sentiments of the man who was shot on the charge of having led or inspired a violent rising of obviously hopeless character; and M. Naquet expressly adds that these ideas took deeper and deeper root in the mind of his “noble friend” in the later years. But, the astonished reader will ask, why was not the testimony of so authoritative a man as Naquet brought forward at his trial? Listen. “I communicated this crucial fact,” M. Naquet proceeds, “to his noble defender, Captain Francisco Galcerán, but he was not allowed to read my letter, any more than the others which were received from England and France in exculpation of his client.” We shall see that this is only one of the “crucial facts” that were suppressed by the servants of the Spanish State and Church.
Another French writer who knew him, André Morizet, gives the same testimony in L’Humanité. “Intellectually,” he says, “Ferrer was not one of us. He was one of those who prove refractory to all ideas of organisation, and expect the renovation of the old world solely by the development of freedom of conscience... He not only kept aloof from the action of political parties, but even Trades Unionism had little interest for him.” The last phrase must not be taken too strictly, however.
From distant Italy comes the same testimony. In an article in La Ragione (Rome, October 10) Oddo Marinelli writes: “Fifteen years in Paris, in constant expectation of the revolution which was to regenerate his country, had caused him to lose all hope that Spain would rise again through the efforts of revolutionaries... Having taken part in the many attempts at revolution engineered by Zorrilla, he came to the conclusion that the education of the child alone would lead to the betterment of men and to the dawn of happier days for his unhappy country.” Marinelli adds that Ferrer wrote (May 27, 1907) from his prison cell to a group of Barcelona youths: “Do not let us play with words. Liberals, Republicans, or Anarchists—these were, and are, words to be avoided by us who march with all our hearts towards the ideal of human regeneration.”
These concordant testimonies are a few out of the many that have been published, and agree entirely with the words of the seven or eight personal friends of Ferrer with whom I have spoken. We shall find him, true to that ideal, looking on, passively and wonderingly, when the crowds are seething about him in the fatal days of July at Barcelona. The fifteen years of study, observation, and reflection at Paris had induced him to turn from revolutionary ways to an ideal of education. Of “revolution” he still spoke and wrote frequently; but he always said “social revolution.” He gained belief in the power of ideas. To the end he had cherished friends of the revolutionary school. He did not criticise their hopes and methods, but followed his own.
A distinguished Anarchist said to me: “To the Republicans he was an Anarchist; to the Anarchists he was a Republican.” It is the finest statement of the political position he had reached. The works of Professor Reclus and Prince Kropotkin had a fascination for him. With them he believed—little wonder after his experience of the Spanish political world—that a decentralised administration of a nation's affairs, leaving the maximum of liberty to the individual, was the best ideal of society. This is the real gist of Anarchism. Its accidental alliance in a few cases—about one in a thousand Anarchists in Spain, a Spanish Anarchist tells me—with the use of dynamite must not blind us. As a social ideal it has a right to plead at the bar of public discussion like any other. But the work to be done immediately in Spain was to educate, and Ferrer eschewed political organisation to turn teacher.
He was then nearing his fortieth year. A teacher of merit in a small institution, unknown to the world, he moved restlessly under the burden of his ideal. The great contrast of France and Spain saddened him. The Spanish law of universal education was a comedy, as we shall see. Two-thirds of the Spaniards could neither read nor write at the beginning of the twentieth century. Only a few million could both read and write. One-third of the population of Madrid were utterly illiterate. In such a soil corruption throve vigorously. The reflection, the contrast, burned into Ferrer's mind, and made education his constant day-dream. How was a young man of no fortune and no authority to educate a people, to fight the hostile influences of both Church and State? And suddenly an unexpected stroke of fortune put a powerful weapon in his hand, and he flew back to Spain to establish his now famous schools.
Among the many who admired the young teacher of the Philotechnic school and listened to his fervid ambitious was a wealthy Roman Catholic lady, Mlle. Meunier. She caught the glow of his enthusiasm, and, when she died at the end of the century, left him an estate in Paris worth some £30,000.
His relations with Mlle. Meunier have provided material for the anonymous writers who have thought fit to serve some cause or other by recklessly slandering the dead man. How some of their suggestions came to be printed passes understanding; but we may notice one Catholic untruth. A priest wrote in the Manchester Guardian that Ferrer had deceived this pious Roman Catholic lady, who believed he would employ her money in accord with her religious convictions. It is difficult to consider such puerilities seriously. Ferrer knew Mlle. Meunier for three years. He argued constantly against her religious beliefs. She knew him as an extreme Rationalist during the whole of that time, and she left the money to him, unreservedly, to be used as he thought fit. She thoroughly understood that he would use it in carrying out his new ideal. How educated men can, in such circumstances, suggest that she believed Ferrer, the notorious Agnostic and anti-clerical, would expend the money much as the priest would do is a problem I do not care to discuss. As the reader will guess, and as I was informed in Paris by those who knew her, Mlle. Meunier was really very unsound in dogma, not in judgment. Ferrer assured her that he would only accept the money as a trust for the foundation of secular schools, but she bequeathed it to him without any directive clause.
So Francisco Ferrer set out for Barcelona, eight years ago, with uplifted and unselfish feelings. Many things had happened in Barcelona since he had last seen it. Exiles had invaded his home in Paris with stories of brutality and injustice—stories we shall consider later—that hardly any but a Spaniard could credit. The tortures of the Inquisition had been revived. The corrupt officials of Church and State had descended with ferocity on the new generation that aspired to liberty and progress. Ferrer would not give them occasion to destroy his work. It would be such as civilisation could protect. But its ultimate outcome would be that those grim dungeons of Montjuich would never again echo with the groans of tortured men, nor would priests and politicians any longer keep Spain in the far rear of human advancement. And within five years he would be fighting for his life in the courts of Spain. Within eight years he was to yield up his life in the trenches of Montjuich to the forces he had challenged.
This tragic ending to so fine an ambition has so perplexed Europe that I cannot proceed further until I have plainly described, with adequate evidence, that profound corruption of Church and State to which I have already alluded. One point, however, remains to be considered in regard to Ferrer's earlier years. His domestic conduct has been so grossly impugned that one is compelled to say a few words about it.
Ferrer's legal wife was a woman of heated temper and pronounced orthodoxy. Needless to say, the difference of views drew on him painful attacks from his wife, especially after the birth of their three daughters, Trinidad, Paz, and a young girl, Sol, who is at school in Madrid. Ferrer was a Freemason, and had his elder daughters initiated in a Masonic ceremony. The irritation of the mother ended in a revolver-shot and Ferrer, instead of prosecuting, consented to a separation. The eldest daughter works in a bakery or confectionery at Paris, and received help from her father until his imprisonment. The second daughter, who has entirely discarded her father's views, is an actress—a Catholic and Royalist. Both were profoundly attached to their father, and depicted him in the most affectionate terms in the Paris Press. Both honoured his conviction that the money bequeathed to him was a trust for humanity, and should be spent in public work, not on them. Trinidad, in the fine spirit of her father's wish, even refuses the help now willingly offered her, and supports herself by her own labour.
Mme. Ferrer went to Russia. There she joined the Orthodox Church, obtained a divorce, and remarried. For Ferrer himself no divorce was possible. In spite of the general immorality, the clergy of Spain cling to the antiquated ideal, and bitterly oppose a law of divorce. When, therefore, Ferrer found among his teachers at Barcelona a woman of great charm and helpfulness, a true and sustaining companion in his arduous struggle, he was not at liberty to contract legal marriage with her. It is one of those very exceptional cases that need only to be known in their true features. We have known such in high circles in England, and understood. But for the Spanish clergy, with their own body deeply infected with immorality, with their genial toleration of the most flagrant laxity in their most religious centres, to make a crime or a vice of this act of Ferrer's is one of those pieces of insolence which one can only brush aside. To his real wife, Soledad Villafranca, and to his daughters, Ferrer was very sweet, affectionate, and generous. The world knows how bitterly they have mourned their loss.
I have anticipated the virtual marriage of his later years, since it must be understood in the light of his experience at Paris. Now I must take up the thread of the story, and describe those features of the Spanish Church and the Spanish system of Government which alone explain the ferocity with which his death was designed and accomplished. It is true that his educational work undermined the authority of Church and State. But what a Church and what a State!
- The whole article must be read, in the Nineteenth Century, November. In conversation with me M. Naquet expressed his great pleasure of being allowed to vindicate his friend in one of our leading reviews.