The Martyrdom of Ferrer/Chapter V

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In order to explain the first imprisonment and trial of Ferrer I must take the reader back ten years in the story of Barcelona. The moment one mentions in England that Barcelona has thousands of Anarchists there is a perceptible shudder in one's audience. This is due to sheer insular ignorance. The presence among us of Prince Kropotkin, the European prestige of Count Tolstoy, should have long ago corrected it. An Anarchist is not a man who throws bombs, but a man who believes that centralised government will always lead to corruption; and therefore decentralised administration, with greater liberty of personal development, is the ideal of social form. A very intelligible ideal in Spain. Occasionally, one in a thousand Anarchists may reach so uncontrollable a pitch of indignation at the existing corruption that he vents his feeling in an isolated outrage.

Anarchism is the most popular social theory among the workers of Barcelona, as Socialism is in North Italy. So long as it does not seek to remove the Government by violent means, it has, in any civilisation, as much right as any other social ideal to existence. It is in the position of the Liberal who plots humanely to overthrow a Conservative Government. The sole question which concerns any civilised Government is, whether the rebels against it, of whatever school, plainly meditate or use violence. Then they take their lives in their hands, and are the first to admit it.

Now, there have been violent outrages done by Anarchists in Barcelona, but two things must be borne in mind by those who would have a correct judgment on these matters. The first is that most, if not all, the bomb outrages that have occurred in Barcelona for the last ten years or more are due to clerical and political agents. This, we shall see, is now fully established. The second point is to understand the special circumstances which embitter Anarchists in Spain.

In 1892 there was a small rising of the peasants in Andalusia, with loss of life. An Anarchist was arrested, and, under threat of excruciating torture, gave a number of names to the authorities. It was the beginning of the reaction of the corrupt powers on the rising insurgence. Without trial, with gross pretence of military justice, several men were executed. They were known in the district to be innocent, but obnoxious to Church or State. In any case, they had no trial. Worst of all, in order to wring fresh names from the prisoners, the most revolting tortures were inflicted on them. The specific accounts of these tortures were published in the Madrid and Barcelona press. It was the beginning of the Anarchist "propaganda by deeds." On evidence thus obtained by horrible torture men were shot, or sentenced to ten or fifteen years in prison.

A fierce anger blazed through the non-clerical workers of Spain. In the following year a bomb was thrown at, and wounded the commanding officer at Barcelona. The author acknowledged the crime, and was executed, calling for vengeance. A companion Anarchist—Salvador—then threw a bomb in the theatre, with horrible effect, in 1893. He escaped, and a large number of arrests were made at once, and the constitutional guarantees were conveniently suspended—as the police could find no evidence.

In Montjuich, the grim prison-fortress that commands Barcelona, there are certain cells known as the "zero," "double zero," and "counter-zero." These cells now witnessed tortures as infamous and brutal as ever medieval jail had witnessed. For five or six days and nights (consecutive) the men were forced by the whips of their jailers to keep on the move, without resting or sleeping. During that time the only food given them was bread and dried fish, without a drop of water. They were flogged until their bodies were a livid mass. Cords were tied to their genital organs, and were pulled by the Civil Guards, inflicting the most exquisite torture conceivable. One man committed suicide. Several died. Some yielded, and were into the next cell, where a lieutenant of the Civil Guard wrote down their denunciation of the men he wanted. Several were shot, and many imprisoned on that evidence. After some weeks of this ferocity, the author of the outrage, Salvador, was caught. He explained that he had acted quite alone, to avenge his friend. To avoid discomfort, he pleaded repentance and conversion, was petted by the clergy until the day of execution, and then laughed in their faces.

What proof is there of these inhuman tortures? The sworn testimony, the lacerated bodies, the atrophied genital organs, of the men themselves. One of them, Cerezuela, smuggled a full account to the Republican journal El Pais. The others in time obtained liberty, recanted the evidence wrung from them, and described the tortures. Their letters were collected and published by a Spanish schoolmaster, J. Monsey, in a work entitled El Proceso de un gran crimen. He observed that, if in the course of time people were informed that he had retracted, they would know that he was being tortured in prison. At the next "suspension of constitutional guarantees" he was put in prison.

This "suspension" occurred in 1896, and needs very careful examination. In the month of June, on the festival of Corpus Christi, the great religious procession of the Sacrament was marching through the streets of Barcelona. At the head were the chief clerical and military and civic dignitaries; in the tail walked the poorer groups of Catholics. A bomb was thrown from a window, with deadly effect, not at the head, but at the tail, of the procession. A strange thing for an Anarchist to wait until My Lord the Bishop, the Civil Governor, and all that he hated most fiercely had gone by, and then throw his bomb at a group of innocent men and women of his own class! The criminal was never discovered, but the Freethinkers and Radicals of Barcelona began to suspect that there were bomb-factories in unexpected places. We shall see that two police-agents have since been caught red-handed, and exposed in civil trial; and that the recent rioters at Barcelona found a bomb-factory in a convent.

What earthly object could civic or clerical authorities have in countenancing such a deed, the astounded Briton asks? I will only say that the throwing of that bomb was singularly profitable to the clergy and their allies. At once the constitutional guarantees were suspended. Jesuits and lay confraternities of Catholics ran about with denunciations of "irreligion" and "anarchy." Within a few days they had under lock and key four hundred active anti-clericals, without the inconvenience of a civil trial. There were Anarchists, mostly of the pacific school, among them, but the great majority were Radicals of other schools. All but one were anti-clericals and Republicans. Professors, journalists, medical and other professional men were included, and were packed in fetid jails under disgusting conditions.

The same tortures were applied to many of them as had been used in 1893. One, whose body was already livid from the lash, was kept afoot for nine days. A youth of twenty-one, Ollé by name, was scourged till he vomited blood, kept walking for thirty-seven hours, and fed on dry fish. He stuffed himself with all the most nauseous things in his cell, in the hope of poisoning himself. A friend of mine, one of the prisoners whom I will quote presently, saw Ollé in his appalling state as he was being reconducted to his cell. The nails of others were torn off; they exhibited the nailless fingers after their release. One young man, Gana, went to Paris after his release, and was taken by my friend to be examined by M. Clemenceau and other distinguished Parisians.

Professor Tarrida del Marmol was at that time Director of the Polytechnic Academy. He was imprisoned on the pretext of a forged letter (the author of which, it has since transpired, was a convict), but escaped through the influence of relatives of high rank. He has gathered together the testimonies of the tortured men, and described the whole episode—with others of equal discredit—in a French work, Les Inquisiteurs d'Espagne. His name will be familiar to many as an able contributor to our chief scientific journals: his profound humanity and honour are known to me. He is under standing sentence of death in Spain.

The emotional reader will pardon me for not suspending my narrative to express my feeling in becoming rhetoric. There is still much to say in preparation for the trial of Ferrer, towards which I hasten. I beg to call attention merely to three facts: (1) The author of the outrage was never discovered. (2) Men were shot, or received long terms of imprisonment, on the "evidence" of the tortured men. (3) The suspension of the constitutional guarantees, or supersession of the civil courts, enabled the authorities to make a sweeping clearance of all the most active rebels against Church and political system in Barcelona. It may also be useful to recall that the President of the Madrid Athenæum selects "the Liberal cacique at Barcelona" as an "eloquent example" of the corruption he so vehemently denounces.

From 1896 to 1906 anti-clericalism and anarchy continued to grow in Catalonia. A new force, a new centre of strength and inspiration, had come into the province—the educational work of Ferrer. Workers were no longer compelled to send their children to learn servility to corrupt priests and corrupt politicians at Catholic schools, or to leave them illiterate. A magnificent enthusiasm ran through the scattered ranks of the rebels. Something tangible, a positive institution, was now before their eyes; and its influence was spreading slowly over all Catalonia and a good deal of Spain. Then, on May 31, 1906, an Anarchist threw a bomb at the young King and his bride. In a few days Ferrer was in jail, and all the Modern Schools were closed.

As the more unscrupulous of the anonymous writers are representing that Ferrer was at least the "moral" author of this outrage—since he stood all the pressure of the Fiscal (Attorney General) for months and had to be entirely acquitted, there cannot be the slightest question of complicity—a few words may be said on the Culprit. Matteo Morral was not a pupil of Ferrer's, as the more ignorant of the slanderers have it, nor was he an out-at-elbows desperado. He was a cultivated, well-to-do young man, speaking several languages. Concealing his disposition to use violence, he won Ferrer's regard for a time, and was employed by him to translate some books for the Modern School. What the precise importance may be of the fact that he was deeply enamoured of Soledad Villafranca, and repelled by her, one hesitates to say. Some attribute his act, in throwing a bomb at the King and Queen, to a desire to implicate Ferrer. I do not believe it. He made no effort to do so, and he unconsciously gave this important testimony to Ferrer, in a letter reproduced by Rochefort in L'Intransigeant: "I don't trust Ferrer, nor Tarrida [del Marmol], nor Lorenzo, nor any of those unfortunate people who think that words will ever lead to a practical result."

Ferrer offered himself to the authorities, who at once detained him, closed his schools, and sought to confiscate his funds. But the constitutional guarantees were not suspended. They were forced to grant him a civil trial. How he had to be acquitted, after thirteen month's detention, is still remembered. But there are features of the trial which have the greatest interest in connection with the later and fatal charge against him, and I will briefly discuss them.

The Madrid magistrate, before whom he was first brought, declared that he could see no valid ground for keeping him in custody. The fact, which Ferrer fully recognised, that Morral had done some work for him, could hardly influence a civil judge, and there was not the least particle of "evidence" beyond this. The Fiscal (Attorney General) intervened, however, and there ensued a long and extraordinary struggle. Becerra del Toro, the Fiscal, demanded that Ferrer should be garrotted for complicity. The civil court required evidence. All Europe was by this time watching the struggle, and Ferrer's admirers in every country educated the public to see that no injustice was done. For twelve months Ferrer was detained in prison to give time for the "discovery" of evidence. At length, in the month of June, he was brought before the civil judges at Madrid—brought handcuffed every day into court—and Becerra del Toro unfolded the case he had prepared.

Two things are chiefly noteworthy in connection with this trial. One is that the clergy, through their Press and pulpits, as well as through the reactionary Becerra del Toro, were making frantic efforts to secure the condemnation of Ferrer. Writers like Mr. G. K. Chesterton, whose literary faculty has the fullest and most entertaining play when they refrain entirely from studying the facts of the case they discuss, assure you that this introduction of the clergy is unjustified. The Spanish papers of the time were full of clerical comments on the case, pendente lite, and published broadcast the evidence to be used against Ferrer; but I need give only one instance. Before me lies a picture post-card issued at the time by the clergy. In the upper part it represents Morral issuing, bomb in hand, from the Escuela Moderna. He is shaking the hand of someone whose face is not seen. In the lower part is depicted the honest, industrious workman who is turned out "in thousands" from the Catholic schools. Ferrer has lightly written on it that "the Jesuits are not backward," and sent it to an English friend. The date stamped on it is March 2, 1907. In other words, this infamous inculpation of Ferrer was circulated over Spain while he still awaited trial in the prison at Madrid. In England we should know what to do with those Jesuits. In Spain they pursued the same tactics this year.

However, as we shall find ample proof of the guilt of the clergy and of their unscrupulous poisoning of the public mind while Ferrer awaited trial this year, we need not delay. The action of the Fiscal was not less instructive; the evidence he gathered not less hypocritical. At first, in the absence of anything with the remotest pretension to be proof of complicity in the bomb outrage, he demanded that Ferrer be imprisoned for life as "a man who was extremely dangerous on account of his anti-religious views"; and this note was struck repeatedly throughout the trial when evidence broke down. During the twelve months' wait in jail (June 3, 1906, to June 3, 1907), moreover, the evidence for the prosecution was communicated to the Press (as in the present year), and garbled versions of it were disseminated through Spain and the rest of Europe. A Madrid magistrate, Santiago Mataix, showed the case for the prosecution to several journalists, with the express object of condemning Ferrer in advance. One of these, Urales, editor of the Diario Universal resigned his position, and exposed the scandalous action in the España Nueva. Urales also interviewed Becerra del Toro. "Have you any proof of Ferrer's guilt?" he asked. "No," the Fiscal answered; "we have no proof of Ferrer's guilt, but we have a moral conviction of it."

It was the shameful story of 1909 in anticipation. The determination to kill Ferrer was dressed as a conviction that he was the "moral author" of outrages; and the reader may guess whether, in a country where officials do not even need to trouble that the end justifies the means, since the end itself has no justification, the collection of evidence would be conducted with much scruple. In point of fact, the evidence was contemptible. Mysterious documents were discovered which had passed between Ferrer and his former friend, Mme. Bonnard. Were they not revolutionary machinations couched in cipher? Mme. Bonnard, who had long before been alienated from Ferrer, came forward and showed that they were French shorthand. A most seditious letter was found, which purported to be from Ferrer's son, Riego. Riego was four years old. The prosecution had to fall back on the sworn declaration of the Lieutenant of the Civil Guard at Barcelona that he was "convinced" that Ferrer had organised the crime, and similar "convictions" on the part of the police. Remember what Spanish writers have told us of "His Majesty Recommendation."

In spite of forged letters, selected judges, and frantic appeals of Becerra del Toro to stop the work of the Modern Schools, Ferrer had to be liberated. His friends were busy in many lands, and Europe followed the long trial with interest. There was not evidence of a kind even to satisfy judges belonging to such a system as I have described, impelled by the whole force of the Catholic press, which does not seem to be subject to any law of contempt of court in Spain. On June 12 Ferrer returned in triumph to Barcelona.

Few will doubt that, had the constitutional guarantees been suspended and Ferrer been tried by a military council in 1906, he would have been executed. The witnesses would not have been cross-examined, the documents would not have been produced in open court, and the "moral conviction" of lieutenants—of that famous "Barcelona cacique"—would have passed as evidence. But a few more particular reflections of moment will occur to the reader who studies the trial of 1906. In the first place, the action of the Church must be remembered. What the law of contempt of court may be in Spain I do not know, but an elementary delicacy and sense of justice would have restrained Catholics from issuing picture post-cards and publishing anonymous documents and violent assurances of guilt before the court even had the evidence submitted to it, if the clergy possessed any such delicacy and sense of justice. The end justified the means. Whatever Catholic theology has taught on that principle in the abstract, Catholic priests have unceasingly acted on it in the concrete. The history of the Spanish clergy, even in the nineteenth century, shows it on every page. The Modern Schools were to be suppressed; and if this could be effected only through the suppression of their leader, so much the worse for him.

It will be noted further that some of the remarkable documents and "proofs" which have been produced this year were not produced in 1906. This is a point of the greatest interest. Where were the phrases impelling to violence in his text-books? Where was the extraordinary inscription, inciting to pillage and murder, which anonymous "travellers" now declare they themselves saw posted up, in large capitals, in all the Modern Schools? These would have been invaluable to the prosecution; yet, though Ferrer's papers were ransacked and his schools exhaustively discussed, they do not appear until 1909. Does anyone imagine that Ferrer, with the sword hanging above him after 1906, with police spies openly watching all he did, set up these things after his narrow escape? The supposition would be childish. These things did not appear in 1906, because the witnesses would have had to submit to cross-examination by Ferrer's able advocate.

An attempt had been made, before Ferrer was tried and acquitted, to induce the French Government to suffer the confiscation of his property in Paris, but it was warmly repelled. Ferrer's deposit in the Bank of Spain had already been confiscated, but it had to be released. In defiance of all justice, however, the central Modern School was closed, and has been ever since. It was a piece of spite and malignant injustice.

Ferrer passed to Paris and to England, to thank the friends who had worked for him, and returned to continue his perilous mission in Barcelona. Fresh Modern Schools were opened in various parts, and a new institution was founded in Barcelona. This foundation was designed to become in time a "popular university." In the brief space that remained for Francisco Ferrer, it developed into a fine and successful publishing business, disseminating cheap literature in Catalonia. On the very eve of the tragedy Ferrer set forth an ambitious programme for his "Encyclopedia of Higher Popular Education." Its aim was, he says in the Boletin for June, 1909, to provide the public with "sound and nutritious intellectual food." It was professedly Rationalistic in spirit. The Church was vitally interested in this project of "socialising science." But lest any should think that the aim was ineptly or fraudulently expressed, let me quote the titles of the whole of the projected works:—

  1. The Evolution of Worlds.
  2. The Story of the Earth.
  3. The Origin of Life.
  4. The Evolution of Living Things.
  5. The Factors of Organic Evolution.
  6. The Origin and Development of Man.
  7. Thought.
  8. The History of Civilisation.
  9. Religions.
  10. Law and Morals.
  11. Social Organisations.
  12. Economic Systems.
  13. The Evolution of Technics and Art.
  14. The Factors of Social Evolution.
  15. Man and the World.

The conception brings out once more the fact that Ferrer was a serious and very thoughtful teacher, and the idea recurs throughout the manifesto that this popular dissemination of science had for its aim "the improvement of the moral and physical condition of mankind." English readers must remember that the mere idea of "evolution" is anathema in Catholic Spain. To a Spanish priest this innocent and excellent programme was a plain emanation from the pit.

This manifesto was published, as I said, in the Boletin for June, 1909. At that time Ferrer was in England, and I must deal fully with his intentions and movements. We are within the advancing shadow of the great crime.

It was stated in the indictment against Ferrer that he made frequent visits to criminal and dangerous characters in other countries, chiefly Belgium, France, and England. I have had pleasant hours with his criminal associates in Paris, and I believe that the most dangerous of his Belgian habitués was the distinguished and fine-spirited Brussels barrister, M. Furnemont, whom I have occasionally met. But it will be most profitable to designate the dangerous criminals we harbour in this country, to whom Ferrer made his English visits. Most of them are personally known to me. I need only name them:—

Professor Tarrida del Marmol, an acute student of mathematics and astronomy, formerly Director of the Barcelona Polytechnic and Professor at the School of Arts and Crafts, cousin of the Marquis of Mont-Roig, a personal friend of mine.

Professor Portet, of the Liverpool School of Commerce.

Prince Kropotkin.

Mr. Ward, a well-known Trades Union worker, of Sheffield.

Mr. W. Heaford, of London, who is neither Anarchist nor Socialist.

Those who have pictured Ferrer as frequenting obscure rooms in Soho for the purpose of concerting plans with bomb-throwers have made a ludicrous mistake; but the insertion of that stupendous piece of folly, or fraud, in the indictment against him is on a level with the whole document.

Ferrer came to London with his wife this spring, for two purposes, both of which are expressed in the extant letters of his intimate friends. The first object was rest and recuperation. On arriving at his hotel in Russell Square, he wrote as follows to Professor Tarrida del Marmol:—


Friend Fernando,—We are here for a time to rest. We have had so much to do lately that we do not wish to see anybody just yet. Naturally, that does not apply to you. Do not make a special journey to see us. Merely drop in on us, when you come to the City, at 9, or 1, or 6 o'clock, and we will have a chat.

Kind regards, etc.,

F. Ferrer

He had, he told his friends, the design of staying some months in England, which he greatly liked and admired. To the secretary of his International League for the Rational Education of Children, M. Albert, of Paris, he wrote on June 9 that he did not know when he would return to Paris. If M. Albert (I have seen the letter) did not see him before the end of the month, he must act, in the matter in question, on his own responsibility.

Letters to his friend Mr. Heaford show that the work he was doing in England was something very different from that attributed to him. The moral education of children always preoccupied him. In this country an important League has been formed (the Moral Education League) for furthering this education, and has had its ideas embodied in the curricula of a large number of our educational authorities. It was a study of the results and methods of this League that occupied Ferrer during the time when he is alleged to have been plotting revolution at Barcelona. He was struggling with the asperities of the English tongue, and examining a series of works for the moral training of children which Mr. Heaford had suggested to him. Barcelona politics he did not discuss. I have shown that he held aloof from the subject; and we shall see presently that the violent outbreak at Barcelona was purely spontaneous and unforeseen. He even threw out the idea that his school system was now so firmly rooted in Spain—there were then ninety schools of his and of the Republican model—that he might soon be able to entertain the idea of living elsewhere. But when his friend, who had known the horrors of Montjuich, begged him never to return to that land of corruption and official crime, he shook the suggestion lightly aside. Had he but remained in London two months longer, as he intended, he would be living to-day.

His plans were interrupted by the news that his sister-in-law and his niece were seriously ill. I have before me the last letter that he wrote in England, to his friend Del Marmol. It is a letter-card, stamped officially with the date June 11. Even a military council could not have questioned its genuineness. It runs:—

Friday, 11/6/09.

Dear Fernando,—We hear from Mongat [his brother's farm] that my brother's wife and my niece are seriously ill. We leave by the first train to-morrow, and shall not be able to bid you all goodbye. The supper must be postponed until the next time. I will send news from Mongat. Cordial greetings to all from Soledad and yours,

F. Ferrer.

He reached Barcelona on June 19. No one at that time had the faintest presentiment of serious trouble, and Ferrer's attention was divided between his sick relatives, the translation and publication of a work of Prince Kropotkin's for his new library and his English books on moral instruction. His niece died in his arms, and he was presently free to return to France or England. Towards the close of July, however, a friend in Paris, M. Malato, who related the incident to me, sent him a request for information in regard to certain Spanish stock, and he delayed in order to obtain it. By sheer accident he was in Barcelona when the riots broke out, and his bitter and unscrupulous enemies closed on him.

Why, the reader will ask again, was not this evidence put forward on his behalf? There is surely not a court in Europe on which it would fail to make an impression. Why were not these letters I now reproduce sent to be used in his defence? Why did not Mr. Heaford, with his ample documents, prove on what business Ferrer was engaged? Why did he not rebut the abominable charge that Ferrer corrupted his pupils' morals with the plain evidence of Ferrer's preoccupation with the literature of moral education? Why did not M. Malato send documentary proof of his queries to Barcelona?

The reply to the first question is that Professor Del Marmol is one of the Barcelona refugees of 1896, and knows the ways of "military councils." He produced the letters at a public meeting at which I presided, and said that if they were sent to Barcelona they would be "lost in transit." He entrusted them to me, and I warned Señor Maura that I held them. The answer to the other questions will show that my friend was right. Ferrer was to be shot. The letters would at least help his memory.

Mr. Heaford and M. Malato, like M. Naquet and others, sent valuable documents to Ferrer's advocate at Barcelona, to be used in Ferrer's defence. They have not been heard of since. Further, the parcel of English works on moral education which Ferrer took back, together with his notes and plans on the subject, are in the hands of the police at Barcelona. They were refused to his advocate, who wished to account for his visit to London and to prove what subject it was that really pre-occupied Ferrer during the months of June and July.

But here we enter upon the shameful story of the "trial" and execution of this high-spirited idealist; and I must relate what was happening in Spain, in Ferrer's absence, to lead up to the violent outbreak in Barcelona.