The Martyrdom of Ferrer/Chapter VII

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The Martyrdom of Ferrer by Joseph McCabe
Chapter VII. The Death of Ferrer—And the Echo


CHAPTER VII.
THE DEATH OF FERRER—AND THE ECHO

The defenders of the memory of Francisco Ferrer would be justified in declining to examine the proceedings of the military council which condemned him. What was its legal value? A lieutenant-colonel and five captains, utterly untrained to judge the value of evidence, were his judge and jury. Those six officers, moreover, belonged to a political system unique in its corruption and immorality. The counsel for the prosecution was an officer whose work gives evidence of considerable ability and intense effort, and who had the full resources and the warm blessing of Church and State. The counsel for Ferrer was an officer to whom success or zeal would mean ruin. I hasten to say that he behaved nobly, but we have seen how he was prevented from obtaining material evidence. The witnesses for the prosecution, many of whom were allowed to be anonymous, were not cross-examined, and the incriminating documents were not discussed. No witnesses for the defence were admitted, although Captain Galcerán demanded this.

From what we have seen, it is plain that an imposing mass of documents and witnesses could have been produced in Ferrer's favour if there had been a legal and free trial. Every paragraph in the indictment would have been torn to shreds, and it would have been made absolutely clear that Ferrer entirely modified his views after 1892. It could, in particular, have been demonstrated that he knew nothing whatever of the proposed strike in Barcelona, and took not the slightest share in the outbreak. Very interesting facts would have been elicited in regard to the character, motives, and interests of the witnesses against him.

The most elementary sense of justice demands that the defence should have had this opportunity, but it was refused. Not justice, but death, was the end in view throughout. The prosecution was sustained with the full power of the corrupt service of Spain; the defence was hampered by the same agents; the procedure was barbaric. I do not see the force of the arguments of those who, like the Madrid correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, plead that this barbarism was Spain's habitual usage, and was carried out "correctly."

Yet I will glance at the proceedings, the witnesses, and the documents. The court opened at 8 o'clock in the morning of October 9. Ferrer, pale, worn, clothed with deliberate ignominy, the intense black eyes flashing forth the last reserve of energy and hope, faced the six military men to whom his life was entrusted. He courteously bowed to the court, and sought to explain his disreputable appearance. The president curtly interrupted him, and called the prosecutor to read his lengthy "act of accusation."

This extraordinary document ran to more than fifty pages. It seems to have been constructed on the belief that if you poured bold, untested allegations against a man into the ears of a group of officers for a few hours, without intermission, they would be able to persuade themselves that he must be guilty of something. Let us examine such points of evidence as we have not already discussed.[1]

The first witness—quoted, not tested—is the chief of the Barcelona police. He testifies that Ferrer is a "fervent Anarchist"; that after his escape in 1906 he went to Paris, where he became "one of the most active elements in the Confederation of Labour"; that he made many journeys to London to confer with "the most noted revolutionaries and Anarchists"; and that he returned to Barcelona, most suspiciously, just before the outbreak. The first charge is a deliberate attempt to mislead; the second statement is wholly false; the third statement is silly lying, after what we have seen; and the fourth is a gross concealment of the known fact of the illness of his niece and sister-in-law. And this was all that the head of the Barcelona police had against Ferrer.

Then came four witnesses to say that Ferrer had tried to stir up the inhabitants of Masnou, a village near his home, to insurrection. The first, a policeman, is bold enough to say that Ferrer "harangued the crowd." The second, the barber Domenech, gives a minute account of Ferrer's incitation, from which it appears (1) that Ferrer was endeavouring to inflame everybody, and (2) that Domenech at the time so little understood Ferrer's motives that he went about with him all day in perfect amity. This witness, with his glaring contradiction, was the chief witness to Ferrer's participation in the outbreak. The truth is that he shaved Ferrer on that morning, as he did thrice a week, and had a talk with him, as barbers do; the police helped his memory afterwards. The next witness admitted that he had not seen Ferrer for twenty-five years until the fatal day; he did not add that, as we shall see, he was himself arrested for helping to burn convents; the press has not added that he was released after witnessing against Ferrer. The fourth Masnou witness (an officer of the Civil Guard) testified that "he knew from confidential communications that Ferrer had taken an active part."

The next witnesses, of the same character, came from Premia, another coast village of the district. The young woman who saw Ferrer burning convents, where none were burned, has not survived the preliminary inquiry; but no less a person than the alcalde (or "mayor," as English journals put it) gives evidence that Ferrer incited him to rebel, and he refused. Premia being a village of 1,500 souls, the alcalde may be no more than a peasant. However, we need not press. Alcalde Casas merely says that "an individual calling himself Ferrer" (possibly a police-agent) did this. There is evidence that a police-agent was impersonating Ferrer. In fine, the court was not informed that, as we know, Alcalde Casas was himself arrested, on the oath of his own councillors, for complicity. He was released on testifying against Ferrer, as Captain Galcerán boldly but fruitlessly reminded Ferrer's judges.

Then a "municipal judge" of Premia (1,500 inhabitants) gives witness that "it was rumoured that Ferrer had brought a group of men with dynamite to Premia," and several men depose that they know Ferrer spoke to their alcalde; which Ferrer admitted. Then no less than nineteen citizens of Premia depose that two men came to Premia on the 28th, that the pillage and incendiarism began immediately after, and that "they learned subsequently that one of them called himself Ferrer." Then another Republican patriot, who was himself arrested for complicity (on the testimony of nineteen witnesses) and was released after his deposition, declared that Ferrer had incited him. Then another citizen solemnly deposed that Ferrer had asked him, "What do you think of events?" This witness, whose deposition was utterly worthless, was ostentatiously confronted with Ferrer.

These statements of suspicious, or futile, or anonymous, or utterly illegal witnesses are interlarded with the simple denials of the accused. Three or four of them were brought before him by the prosecuting officer, and the farce of bald affirmation and denial repeated. There was no cross-examination, and Ferrer presumably knew nothing of the arrest of these men. Counsel was not allowed to him till all the witnesses had been discharged; and then not a lawyer, but an officer. On the other hand, two or three witnesses entirely confirmed Ferrer's account of his movements in Barcelona on the 26th, and said they knew nothing of his guilt. Soledad Villafranca is allowed to admit that Ferrer was in Barcelona on the 26th, but not to account for his movements, and call her witnesses, for the 27th and 28th.[2]

Next two soldiers solemnly depose that on the evening of the 26th they told an individual, whom they later recognised as Ferrer, to "move on," and he indignantly replied that he was reading the civil governor's proclamation! At this point, however, my source of information, Gil Blas, fails. After having given at length the depositions of these witnesses in its columns, it dismisses the rest with the disdainful observation: "At this point the reading of the report presented to the tribunal loses all interest." The writer had a shorthand copy of the whole before him. He merely adds that, when Ferrer was asked to choose an advocate—of course, from a list of officers submitted to him—he said that he knew none, and trusted none, of them; but he selected one whose name resembled his own (Francisco Galcerán Ferrer).

The "act of accusation," however, is followed by the "fiscal accusation," the real speech for the prosecution. The former had been a simple recital of the statements made by witnesses on examination. The latter is a very long and oratorical manipulation of the evidence in the interest of the prosecution. It would have needed a trained magistrate to follow with balanced judgment its appalling sophistry, its wilful confusion of positive and hesitating witnesses, its culpable quotation of letters without saying if they belonged to Ferrer's earlier or later period. As Gil Blas editorially comments (October 14): "The process went on with a brutality of procedure rare even in the annals of courts-martial." I will notice such new scraps of "evidence" as are introduced in this venomous speech.

With Captain Rafales's lengthy proof that the events of July constituted a rebellion we are not concerned. The sole question is whether Ferrer was, as he claimed, "the head of the rebellion." To prove this he unblushingly quotes the evidence of "witnesses who are beyond suspicion because they have themselves been arrested"—as we saw, they earned their liberty; of witnesses who depose "on information that they have not the means of controlling, but believe to be exact"; of witnesses who (being in prison for burning convents) "share the general opinion" of Ferrer's guilt; and of witnesses who merely declare that the tumult increased after Ferrer's visit to Premia—as if it would not naturally increase after the early morning. These "fifteen witnesses" are declared to prove Ferrer's guilt. Then comes the egregious barber, who offered Ferrer drinks and lunch, and went about with him, not noticing, until he was asked by the police, that they were engaged in revolution; his testimony "proves" that Ferrer was head of the insurrection. The evidence of the soldiers that Ferrer (or someone they afterwards believed to be Ferrer) protested when they wished to disturb him as he read the proclamation just posted up is pressed as "of evident importance"; whereas it is not disputed that Ferrer was in Barcelona on the 26th. For the 27th we have the Masnou and Premia witnesses I have already noticed—nineteen of whom merely testify that Ferrer did speak to their alcalde (which he did not deny), the subject being unknown to them. Most of them only recognised Ferrer when the police submitted a photograph to assist them. Of the fresh witnesses introduced one has "a moral conviction" that the rioters were instigated by Ferrer, and the other heard rioters declare that they were so instigated. All of them merely retail the gossip of the crowd.

These are the fifty witnesses for the prosecution. With their private interests at stake—most of the chief witnesses are purchasing their liberation from prison—their hearsay evidence, their moral convictions, and the complete irrelevance of more than half of them, a cross-examining lawyer would have had an easy time. Even as it is, not a single witness testifies that he personally saw Ferrer commit violence; every witness who assigns Ferrer an active leadership does so on hearsay evidence: the rest report conversations with Ferrer, which he entirely denies, and which secured "provisional liberty" for themselves.

The prosecuting orator (or Fiscal) turns to the documentary proof. First is the revolutionary document (quite clear of suggestions of pillage and assassination) which Ferrer acknowledged drawing up in 1892. In face of the mass of evidence as to his change of feeling, it is quite irrelevant. Then we have two type-written circulars (of unknown date) with the now familiar suggestions of plunder and murder. How are these forgeries brought home to Ferrer? We notice that the prosecution does not make the least suggestion, as later writers did in the English Press, that they were "posted up in Ferrer's schools." That would be too stupid a thing to suggest to a group of Spanish officers. The whole case for the prosecution—as they could not pretend that these were found among Ferrer's papers in the presence of the family—is that three letters are corrected in ink, and that certain "experts," not named or presented, declare that the written letters are like letters in Ferrer's writing! This is followed by an undated, unimportant letter to Odon de Buen, one of the most distinguished men of science in Spain. Not the least reference is made to those supposed revolutionary phrases in Ferrer's school-books, of which his later calumniators have said so much. And on this sorry evidence the prosecution demands, and obtains, sentence of death and confiscation of property!

Captain Galcerán, with his fate in his hands, made a noble effort to arrest the sordid course of injustice. He told how the prosecution had built largely on anonymous declarations; how they had "refused the testimony of all who would have thrown light on the life, habits, and work of the accused"; how, after submitting the charge to him, they had refused to give him the documents of Ferrer's with which he could have been defended; and how, when he cited witnesses for the defence, he was told that they could not delay the cause by hearing them. All this was plainly and indignantly exposed to those six officers of the Spanish army. Captain Galcerán painted vividly the elements of reaction that sought the life of Ferrer because his work of enlightenment menaced their corrupt interests. He had, he said, in the preparation of his case experienced so much "fraud" and "vile passion" in a single week that he was "completely overwhelmed."

At this point, Gil Blas observes, the official report ceases to be verbatim; and we may add that the subsequent fate of Captain Galcerán is wrapped in impenetrable obscurity. He is said to be in prison. He went on to point out the utter worthlessness or untruthfulness of the witnesses, and boldly reminded the court that the principal witnesses had obtained their own liberation from prison "by the influence of high-placed personages," when they gave their testimony against Ferrer. He describes the real work and movements of Ferrer, which he was prevented from bringing witnesses to prove. He points out that the "two young men" whom the prosecution in the anonymous proclamation represented as experts on Ferrer's writing were falsely reported by the Fiscal as saying that the letters "must have been" written by Ferrer. A reference to the original shows that they merely said the letters "might have been written by Ferrer, but they could not affirm it categorically." He reminds them that, though the houses of the insurgents have been thoroughly searched, not a single copy of this circular has been found. In fine, he concludes, Ferrer is at the bar solely because he is a Rationalist; and he makes an impassioned demand for justice.

The magnificent audacity and honesty of the officer took the court by surprise. His speech redeems the honour of Spain to some extent, and brands the prosecution with all the marks of a preparation for judicial murder. The civilised world should interest itself in the obscurity that has fallen on that brave officer.

Ferrer followed with a quiet protestation of innocence. He was immediately rebuked by the President for "manifestations," and was content to rebut the charge in few words, insisting that since the beginning of the century he had been occupied solely with education and moral culture. He was plainly conscious of the overwhelming forces of iniquity that were concentrated in that room. His doom was written, and a few hours later it was decreed.[3]

The trial took place on October 9, and the Council passed its sentence about six in the evening. It could not be made public, however, until it was signed by the Supreme Council of War and the Council of Ministers. Ferrer remained in the Model Prison at Barcelona until Monday night, the 11th. Then, with an escort of nearly a hundred mounted soldiers, he was conducted through the town which he had spent the best years of his life in educating and transferred to the grim fortress of Montjuich. Witnesses describe him as smiling and cheerfully discussing the case with his guardians. He was lodged in a separate domicile within the precincts, and the soldiers gathered about the place. Barcelona was in a fever of speculation. And near midnight they saw passing to Montjuich the sinister procession of three carriages of religious brothers, who were summoned to minister to a condemned man.

Natural as any other conduct would have been, Ferrer behaved with full restraint and politeness to the priests who pestered him constantly after that hour. He listened with serenity to the sentence of death, and was taken back to his cell. There he courteously begged the chaplain to depart, and commenced writing his will. Jesuits and other priests incessantly interrupted him. "I have my convictions, as you have yours," he said. "If you come to argue, we will talk. Otherwise leave me." Not a word of reproach was made to them for the foul crime that they had instigated the State to commit. He worked until five in the morning at his will, thinking wholly, in that appalling hour, how the rest of Mlle. Meunier's money might still be saved for the enlightenment of Spain, and how he might make some provision for the loved ones from whom he was torn.

Let me say a word on this will, the full provisions of which have been read to me. The executors are Cristobál Litran, of Barcelona, and Mr. W. Heaford, of London. Morally, they are trustees for the carrying on of the work of education. Ferrer had always told his daughters that he would leave them a small sum, but he trusted they would not accept it, as it was sacred money. His eldest daughter not only refuses to touch the 2,000 francs he assigns her, but refuses all aid, and earns a laborious living, in the noble spirit of her father. The younger will probably do the same. For a young son, Riego, he set aside a small group of shares. They are in the hands of the police. For Soledad Villafranca he appoints a very modest annual income. The rest is to be used in the cause for which he laid down his life, and which he believed to be the truest cause of Spain. He worked for the Spain that murdered him, without a word of bitterness, in his last hours.[4] Calmly, devotedly, he went over the intricate details with his notary during his last night on earth.

"I desire," he adds in that noble document, "that on no occasion, either imminent or distant, under no pretext whatever, shall there ever be manifestations of a political or religious nature before my remains, since the time which one gives to the dead would be better employed in the service of the living."

They had put him into a room converted into a chapel. His work was over at five in the morning, but he neither ate nor slept. At a quarter to nine they told him to prepare for death. He replied that he was ready. The chaplain stood by his side, to walk to the place of execution. For the last time he requested the clergy to respect his convictions; but, as the chaplain said he was bound to accompany him, Ferrer answered: "Very well." When one reflects that they were murdering him for his Rationalism, as his advocate said, one can admire his forbearance. His relatives had not been allowed to see him. Ferrer broke down only when his advocate came to say farewell.

I will not prolong the story. When the cortège reached the governor, he asked Ferrer if he had a last wish to express. "I desire," said Ferrer, "to be shot standing, without a bandage over my eyes." After a long deliberation, they consented that he need not kneel, but that his eyes must be bandaged. He was taken into the trench. With head erect and feet firmly planted, he faced the row of rifles. "Look well, my children," he cried to the soldiers; "it is not your fault. I am innocent. Long live the School ——." The crack of the rifles, at the officer's signal, interrupted his last splendid call for the education of Spain, and he fell dead. The authorities refused the body to his relatives, and buried it in the common ground."

* * * * * * *

That rifle-volley has echoed through the world, and the thunder of its echo has penetrated the dense air of Spain. The world has realised the corruption of its politicians and the contemptible devices of its clergy. The notion that only Anarchists resented this foul crime is a libel on Europe. At Paris a long list of barristers, men and women, signed an indignant protest against the execution of a man "on such a caricature of justice"; and a solemn procession of 60,000 men and women marched through the town. Fifty towns of France have decided to give the name of Ferrer to one of their streets. At Brussels an imposing list of lawyers signed the indictment of the Spanish Government, and a monument is to be raised to Ferrer. In England Conservative journals like the Times and Spectator protested against the way in which the execution was secured. In Germany a number of the leaders of culture headed the protest. Even in Spain a politician with such authority as Count Romanones declared that "the Government committed a grave blunder in acting as it did with Ferrer."

But Ferrer is dead. Some weeks ago I sat in a London café with a small group of men who knew Ferrer and knew Spain. Someone entered with the news of Ferrer's arrest. Then, said my friend, he is doomed. He pleaded that I knew Spain well enough to understand that. I did not think they would dare to perpetrate so palpable a murder, and I worked hard in the education of English people as to his danger. The corrupt servants of Spain moved too quickly for us. Ferrer is dead. A man of fine character, high ability, and intense devotion to his ideals; a man who loved the sunlight, but was not happy save in the consciousness that he was bringing the sunlight into the darkened homes of the poorer Spaniards; a man whose work has stood the fiercest searching that his embittered enemies could devise, yet has proved to be one of peaceful devotion to a noble ambition—this man has sunk under a burden of calumny and hatred, and lies in the grave of a criminal. I trust I have vindicated his memory.

But I have a further trust, and a further purpose. Many besides Ferrer have been shot, without trial. We have no idea whether they were innocent or guilty. About three thousand men and women are suffocating in the jails of Catalonia, without trial. Soledad Villafranca, against whom it would be stupid even to manufacture evidence, is "detained," broken-hearted and seriously ill, her heritage confiscated. Hundreds upon hundreds of men and women have been torn from their homes, and condemned to long imprisonment, solely because they were known, in one way or other, to oppose the corrupt political system and the corrupt Church Of Spain. I trust this brief account of that State and that Church, and of the infamy to which they stoop in the protection of their interests, will move men and women of England, whose land was purged of such corruption by the Ferrers of past days, to follow the life of Spain with closer and more informed interest.


  1. I take the account from the full report given in Gil Blas, October 14 to 22.
  2. The Dépêche for October 31 published a letter in which Soledad gives a minute account of Ferrer's movements from July 26 to 29. It entirely agrees with our story as to the 26th, and adds that he remained studying at home on the 27th and 28th. It was with the greatest difficulty that she induced him to take a serious view of the matter. All this would have been proved in a trial, as there were others at the house.
  3. I note a point of interest to English readers in the account published by the Paris Committee, Francisco Ferrer. The writer says: "On the day after the trial all the journals of Europe, except the English, reported that the witnesses had been regularly cited and confronted, and the accused interrogated." A Spanish agency, under the control of the Home Office, had sent out this mendacious report. The Times alone told the truth—that the depositions of the witnesses were simply read.
  4. The original property in Paris was mortgaged repeatedly to find capital for the building of schools. Probably seven or eight thousand pounds still remain of its value. Ferrer was an excellent business man, and largely increased the legacy. His little house at Mas Germinal and his funds in Spain, with his school, publishing house, and all stock, have been "confiscated." A little moral pressure from other nations might induce Señor Moret to reconsider this sordid robbery.