The Martyrdom of Ferrer/Chapter VI

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We have seen the true story of Ferrer's movements and preoccupations in the period immediately preceding the riots at Barcelona in July. It rests on the evidence of a dozen witnesses of known character, and letters which were not entrusted to the Spanish post. The officials of the Spanish postal service are expert at tampering with the service. We shall see more of their activity. And they are dependent on that "eloquent example" of Tammany, "the Barcelona cacique." Now we must follow the development on the Catalonian side, which just as plainly excludes Ferrer from the slenderest complicity in the riots.

Let me first bring before the reader two earlier facts in the recent experience of Barcelona. By the adroit use of the British Press certain anonymous writers have contrived to convey an impression that Barcelona is honeycombed with "Anarchist" dens, in which deadly explosives are daily manufactured, and so measures of unusual rigour have to be adopted. The real truth—I mean the demonstrable truth—is that since the fatal and horrible crime of Salvador in 1893—sixteen years ago—not a single Anarchist, out of many thousands, has been convicted of throwing or possessing bombs in Barcelona! The remarkable thing is that the horrors of 1896, the attempt on Ferrer in 1906, and the prevailing corruption did not evoke violence earlier, if Barcelona is such a city of desperadoes.

Two men have been convicted of placing or possessing bombs in Barcelona since Salvador criminally avenged the execution of Pallas in 1893. Those two men were agents of the police or other officials. Lieutenant Morales, of the Civil Guard, was caught red-handed in 1907. The case was fully reported and aroused intense interest—though it was not worth mentioning by our foreign correspondents—at the time. The police of Barcelona do not love the Guardia Civil (Civil guards, or gendarmerie), and they promptly arrested the lieutenant of the rival force, with his bombs. He was put on trial, and, though he threatened to incriminate high officials, they were compelled by the publicity and flagrancy of the case to sentence him. He was not long in prison.

The other case is more recent, and just as notorious. Juan Rull, a Barcelona hooligan, was executed in April of last year (1908) for placing bombs. His trial lasted over a fortnight. He, with a small gang, was convicted of five outrages. Were they adherents of the Escuela Moderna? No, they were adherents of the clergy. It was proved in the course of the trial that Rull had received sums from the police amounting to at least £215. The ex-Chief of Police, Tressolo, declared in court: "I am fully convinced that Rull placed the bombs, but I must also state clearly that I believe Rull is only the arm and instrument of a terrorism with which the Anarchists are in no way associated, and that behind Rull there are persons of high station, who are not in the prisoner's dock." Who these "high-placed persons" were was indicated plainly enough in the course of the trial. They were the leaders of lay Catholicism in Catalonia, nobles who were sustaining the evil repute of Barcelona, for the purpose of repression, by making use of such scoundrels as Rull. He had to be sacrificed in spite of his threats. The whole evidence conjured up an appalling intrigue of clerical and political authorities.[1]

Where were the bombs fabricated? By one of the most singular pieces of hypocrisy in the whole sordid campaign for the support of all acknowledged corruption, the crowd which broke into the Jesuit convent at Barcelona found the shells of bombs therein! For a long time this was widely suspected in Barcelona, where the Jesuits are known to be capable of any enormity. It is not many years since a drama—Paternidad—was staged at Barcelona, in which the Jesuits were loaded with all the most shameless and criminal excesses that any Protestant ever believed them capable of perpetrating. At an enthusiastic call for the author, a Catholic priest, Segismondo Pey-Ordeix, walked before the curtain. I have, therefore, made the most careful inquiry in regard to this reported finding of bombs. When I am assured most emphatically by a schoolmaster who was present in the attack on the convent that he saw and handled these objects, there is no room for doubt.

The hesitating reader must remember two facts. The first is that not a single bomb was used by the rioters, though they would have found them most useful in attacking the powerful convents or the troops. The second is that since the riot a remarkable number of bombs have been found by the police at most opportune moments, in situations where they were finely calculated to kill nobody. Do Anarchists work thus? But the constant announcement of such discoveries sustains in the Press of Europe that fictitious repute of Barcelona which enables Church and State to suspend civil law, and put thousands of men and women, who are known to be restive, in prison without trial. The bomb which was thrown at the tail of a procession in 1896 enabled the clerical and political controllers of Barcelona to rid the town of four hundred Freethinkers and Freemasons without trial. The bombs of to-day afford a pretext for maintaining the suspension of the constitutional guarantees, and keeping three thousand men and women in jail without trial. I am content to put the facts. The reader may judge.

This is the Barcelona in which Señor Costa finds the most corrupt cacique in Spain; in which the hundreds of wealthy convents stand out amid a bitterly hostile population. Let a spark fall on the inflammable material, and there will be a terrible conflagration.

The spark fell in July. The inner history of the war which Spain has entered upon in Morocco will one day be written. It is sufficient here to note that the workers of Catalonia believe that the war is waged solely in the interest of certain wealthy Catholics. A great many people in Europe besides the workers think so. The war was very unpopular, and indignation meetings multiplied. The Government forbade the holding of meetings, and increased the resentment. The reservists were called out; families were robbed of their bread-winners. The King was hooted in Madrid. At Barcelona, when the wealthy Catholic ladies went on board the troopships to distribute medals and cigarettes to the soldiers, the men threw their gifts into the sea. The Government had enacted that young men would not be called out whose families could pay 1,500 pesetas. The poorer mothers were aflame with anger.

On July 23 the Socialists and Trade Unionists decided that there should be a general strike, in protest, over the whole country on August 2. Under pressure of one group the date was anticipated, and a committee was formed to inaugurate the strike at Barcelona on July 26. I am quoting the authentic statements of the officials. Three bodies were represented on this committee—the Socialists, Anarchists, and Trade Unionists. They worked with secrecy and energy, and completely outwitted the police, who were intensely angered to find the town on strike on July 26. The crowds gathered in the streets, stopped the trams—women everywhere taking the leading part in the work—and cut the telegraph wires. The strike drifted towards riot, and there were collisions with the police. The troops were then called out, and, on the crowd appealing to them, refused to fire. All organisation was now broken, and no step that was taken after this point was in the least premeditated, as the Protestant ministers of Barcelona have written. The crowd developed, under the influence of its own passions and the stupid provocation of the Civil Guard, into an insurgent mob.

To understand the situation entirely it is essential to note that the more serious revolt did not begin in Barcelona. Some sixteen miles off is Sabadell, an industrial town of 18,000 inhabitants, the chief manufacturing centre of the province. Intensely Republican and disdainful of the corruption of Church and State, Sabadell lost its head in the whirl of news of riot from all parts of Spain. It cut its communications, disarmed its police, and proclaimed the Republic. In the afternoon messengers arrived from Sabadell in Barcelona with the news, adding that 1,500 armed Sabadellians were ready to come and help to found the Republic. It is profoundly pathetic to picture these few thousand badly armed men, feverish and reckless with anger, cutting the wires which might have informed them that Spain was not rising. Over the country beyond were thousands of trained troops concentrating on them.

The morning Of July 27 found everybody in a state of perplexity. There was no plan, no leader, no definite aim. The anger of the people was, however, quickly revived, the barricades were manned—and womanned—the guard were engaged in bloody conflict. It was an old tradition of Spain that when you rioted you burned convents. A Catalan popular song commemorated the burning of seven Madrid convents seventy years before because the authorities had provided spiritless beasts for the bull-ring. The Barcelona convents, so sleek and prosperous in a land that largely disdains them, are particularly hated, and before night forty convents and churches were in flames. Eye-witnesses speak with wonder of the curious mingling of reserve and passion.[2] The buildings, hateful to the Catalans for so many reasons, were ruthlessly set aflame, but the ailing and infirm religious were assisted out of danger by the assailants, who had generally given notice of their intention. From conflicting accounts I gather that only two inmates were killed. One was shot, rifle in hand, in the defence of his home. One was asphyxiated with smoke, obstinately refusing to leave. Money and valuables that were discovered were cast deliberately in the flames by the rioters. It was a new form of revolution.

Catholic journals have stated that Ferrer and his friends took "hundreds of innocent lives and violated the bodies of nuns." Of Ferrer's position at the time I speak presently. The rioters unintentionally took, or were responsible for, two lives in the attack on the convents, though some communities naturally met rifle with rifle, and the most sinister rumours were current among the heated populace. It was widely believed, not only that the bombs of 1896, 1907, and 1908, which had strengthened the arm of despotic corruption, were Catholic bombs, but that the religious were even then provoking the reluctant soldiers to fire on the mob. A circumstantial account by a creditable eye-witness of one incident was submitted to me. A group of men were firing from an elevated position at the troops. Up to this point the troops had taken no part. Infantry refused to fire, and cavalry to charge; the whole riot was on their behalf. The shrewder spirits among the people saw the danger and criminality of this attack on the soldiers, and dislodged those who were firing on them. The witness emphatically asserts that they were from the convents.

The "violation" of the dead bodies of nuns is an unscrupulous mis-statement. In one convent an iron bed was found, with gas-fire underneath its perforated sheet. Was it an instrument of torture? Well, the Catholics say that it was a philanthropic apparatus for warming the beds of ailing nuns. The reader may form his own opinion. It was, remember, a sheet of iron, perforated, with burners immediately beneath. At all events, the bodies of recently deceased nuns were disinterred solely to examine if they bore marks of torture, and were subjected to no indignity. I am further assured by a schoolmaster who entered the Jesuit convent with the crowd that, as was reported in the press, not only the shells of bombs, but apparatus for coining money was discovered. He declares that he examined this, and smiles at the Catholic suggestion that it was for making medals for sale. It was a time of great turbulence and intense passion. The reader must balance the probabilities from what I have previously described as to the known condition of the clerical and political authorities. One thing is certain. R. Thirlmere, in his authoritative Letters from Catalonia, said four years ago that the Church was doomed in that province, if not in the whole of Spain. That is beyond question now.

To conclude with the outbreak. By July 28 the insurgents were masters of the Town Hall and most of Barcelona and the question now arose of forming a definite plan of action. The whole episode had been an unthinking release of pent-up anger against the war and the clergy. The Republican and Radical leaders had kept entirely away, the committee of the strike were appalled at the turn of events, and the people had no leaders and no plan. The notion that the outbreak was organised, by Ferrer or anybody else, is grotesquely untrue to every account we have of the course of events. The slightest acquaintance with Barcelona politics shows the absurdity of such a notion. Advanced bodies in Barcelona are so fundamentally opposed to each other that the moment a question of construction arose it would be utterly impossible to take a single step. The Separatists would demand the autonomy of Barcelona; the great body of the Republicans, under Alejandro Lerroux, would oppose it (because the Separatist movement has a suspicious proportion of Catholic adherents); the Socialists would plead for an entirely new economic system; the Anarchists would strongly oppose all their plans.

But the spontaneity and aimlessness of the outbreak are palpable. I will add only two curious testimonies. I was permitted to see a letter written secretly from one of the Anarchists of Barcelona, who had eluded the police, to a sympathetic leader outside Spain. In this candid and intimate account the working-man writer says, exultantly: "The people did the whole thing, without anybody's help." The next witness is the South American Anarchist daily, La Protesta. Writing to this journal from Barcelona on July 30, before the reaction has begun, Alejandro Sux remarks on "the absolute lack of aim" in the disturbances. No leaders were seen, he says. It was a spontaneous outburst of "the indignation of men and sorrow of the women" on account of the corruptly engineered war, which fell on the poor. Anselmo Lorenzo tells exactly the same story.

The sequel need be recalled in few words, before we return to Ferrer. Fresh troops were introduced, and the insurgents were at once repressed. The barricades were swept with artillery. The number of rioters and soldiers killed is differently reported, and may be roughly set down at about a hundred. Then the "white terror" set in. The constitutional guarantees had been already suspended, and there was no pretence of seeking evidence. Within a few weeks 3,000 men and women and some children were packed in the jails of Catalonia. In many cases, the official journal (Correspondencia Militar) admitted, there, was "no time" to frame a charge before the arrests were made. The arrests were made, notoriously, from the lists of names of obnoxious persons supplied by the police, the clergy, and the Catholic ladies who visited among the poor. At night especially the civil guards went from house to house, arresting all the more active members of the advanced political or anti-clerical organisations, working-men's clubs, and every institution on that had been set up apart from the orthodox political bodies or the Church. Their schools and halls were closed. A special installation was made of powerful arc-lamps, to prevent escapes in the night; and, according to the Matin (the Daily Mail of Paris), September 28, all were arrested "who could not give a satisfactory account of their means of subsistence and their opinions." As in 1896, the outrage was made a sheer pretext for suppressing every institution and body that opposed the corruptions Of Church and State, and intimidating Barcelona from setting them up afresh. All the jails of Catalonia—for men and for women—were crowded to suffocation; and weary, haggard bands of men and women were dragged on foot over the provinces to more distant jails. Every message that has since appeared in a Spanish Journal or been telegraphed abroad has been rigorously censored. Europe, which knows not the ways of Spain, was cynically deluded by the Home Secretary, La Cierva.

Mendacity is essential and habitual to the pro-Catholic and pro-Spanish writers. As far as they are concerned, I know that my plainest words will be completely misrepresented. But I will make it plain, nevertheless, that I have no sympathy with the burning of convents, however corrupt, no leaning to the political Anarchist ideal, and no inclination to criticise Spain for punishing violence. What I say is that the violence has been made the pretext for imprisoning thousands for totally different and corrupt reasons. Many have been shot, many condemned to imprisonment for life or for twenty years without trial. What the value of a condemnation by "military council" is we shall now see in the indictment of Ferrer.

The founder of the Modern School was in Barcelona on the Monday, June 26, when the movement was at its height. It is quite true that he was "seen talking to leaders of the people." I have before me a letter of this "leader of the people" (with whom, moreover, I have spoken on the subject) in which the fact is admitted and explained. Señor Moreno was at work in the organisation of the strike, and adds his testimony that it drifted into riot solely under stupid provocation. "On the Monday," he writes to an Anarchist friend, "I had a note from Ferrer making an appointment for half-past eight, in the railway station of the Paseo de Isabel, for the purpose of discussing the creation of a new school, for the 'Alliance,' a society affiliated to the Solidarity of Workers." There are previous references to this school in Ferrer's published letters. Moreno adds that he then told Ferrer about the organisation of the strike, which had been conducted with great secrecy. Ferrer had not worked with any of the groups co-operating in it, and they would not have dreamed of taking him into their confidence.

This entirely agrees with Ferrer's account of his movements, in a letter published in the Daily News on October 11. He explains that, as we know, he had much work at his publishing office, especially in connection with a forthcoming history of the French Revolution by Prince Kropotkin. He spent the whole day in visits to printers and publishers or in his office. He went to the station to take the train for Mongat, where he was staying with his brother, at ten minutes past six. The line was up, and he returned to the printer's house. Prudently, however, he concluded that Barcelona was unsafe, and he walked on foot to Mongat, where he arrived at five in the morning and remained until the 29th.

In another letter he describes his occupation during the period between his return from England and the outbreak. He was occupied solely in studying English works on the moral instruction of children—such works as Miss Alice Chesterton's Magic Garden of Childhood and Mr. Waldegrave's Teacher's Handbook of Moral Lessons. These and other works were read and annotated by him, and selected for publication in his schools. "Where are these dear books now?" he writes, before his condemnation. "They have been seized by the police at my house, Mas Germinal; but I shall, no doubt, have them returned to me later."

Even Ferrer doubted the full guilt of his persecutors. He requested the authorities to put at the disposal of his advocate, Captain Galcerán, this important batch of notes and books. They would have met the charge that he sought to corrupt children, as well as show his real occupation after his return to Spain. The request was refused, and they were not put before his "judges."

At Mongat, a farm a few miles from Barcelona in the direction of his native place, Alella, he presently heard that the authorities had taken over and searched his publishing house in Barcelona. Next a message came from Alella that a young woman, a nurse, was informing the authorities that she had seen him lead a band to burn one of the convents at Premia. No convents had been burned at Premia, as Ferrer afterwards discovered; but he saw that the affair of 1906 was to be repeated. He, therefore, concealed himself, and eluded the police for five weeks, though, he says, he "suffered much from reading the charges made against him in the papers." On August 29 or 30, he adds, in this interesting letter to Mr. Heaford, he read that the Fiscal (Attorney-General) had declared, after making an investigation at Barcelona, that "Ferrer was the director of the revolutionary movement." This atrocious declaration on the part of the first legal official of Spain, condemning Ferrer even before an elementary case had been made up against him, drew him from his hiding-place. He resisted the entreaties of his friends, and went out to give himself up. He was arrested on his way to Barcelona.

At once Ferrer began to experience the ferocity which disgraces the whole of the rest of the story. He demanded that he should be conducted forthwith before the magistrate who was to make the preliminary inquiry. They took him instead to the military governor, who assured him that he was responsible for the outbreak by reason of his schools. He was then taken to the Prefecture of Police, and made to submit to a singular procedure, which astonished even the officials. The whole of his linen and clothes were taken from him, and he was dressed in fresh cheap linen, a "ten shilling suit of clothes, which were too small for me, and the rough cap of a hooligan." All these details have transpired through his being able to bribe a jailer to post a long letter to M. Malato, at Paris.[3]

In this guise he was the same evening brought before the examining magistrate, or military man acting as such, who questioned him as to his movements during the outbreak. This magisrate, he observes, showed a spirit of justice and honesty, and Ferrer concluded that his detention would be brief. Witnesses to his story could easily be procured. Apparently this magistrate was a man of honour. The case was taken out of his hands, and Ferrer never saw him again. He spent nearly a week in a squalid dungeon, without air, warmth, or light, and infested with swarms of vermin; and he was refused soap and water for several days.

Five days later he was again summoned. It was a fresh military magistrate, a polite, correct Spanish gentleman, but—we shall see what happened. The first day was spent in a fruitless attempt of the military surgeons to find marks of fighting or burning on his person. Another delay, and then the magistrate discussed his movements in Barcelona, and laid great stress on certain revolutionary sentiments which were attributed to him in a Freethought Almanack published in Brussels in 1907. Ferrer at once pointed out that this passage referred to his youth, and that in this very article he expressly avows that an adequate education of the people is now the sole work of his life. He had written the notice—which I have before me—himself. But from this and certain letters they had obtained, and were wholly misrepresenting, he saw what kind of a case was being made up.

The next visit completely opened his eyes. While Ferrer was hiding, the police had, on August 11, searched his house in the presence of his family. After twelve hours' search by a band of twenty agents only three articles were thought worthy of removal—a letter from a Paris friend to his brother Jose, a key belonging to Lerroux (a leader of the recognised Republican party), and a note indicating that he had lent some £30 to a working-men's society. Of this Ferrer was aware, and felt some security against misrepresentation. To his astonishment, at the third visit to the magistrate, a month after the search at Mas Germinal, that officer produced a faded document of a violently revolutionary character, and said that it had been found among his papers. Ferrer at once protested that no such document had been found at his house during the official search in the presence of his wife. Soledad also wrote an emphatic denial of the "discovery." The magistrate politely promised to incorporate a due report of his denial, but nothing of the kind was done.

What was the origin of the document, with its incitements to murder and pillage, of which so much has been made in certain British journals? The band of police found no such document on August 11. But on August 27 they returned to Mas Germinal. This time the family were not invited to be present, as an elementary instinct of justice and even the Spanish practice demanded. For two days a band of military engineers ransacked the house, and, as we know from the betrayal of a disgusted official, the search was controlled by continuous telegrams from the Home Secretary. In view of the guilty refusal to have witnesses present in Ferrer's interest, any documents alleged to be found in such a search have no legal value. In view of the "profound immorality"—to quote again authoritative Spanish writers—of the whole civic and political system, they have not an atom of moral value. In view of the repeated declarations of Ferrer, published before the trouble and addressed to revolutionary friends, that he had abandoned all revolutionary action, the documents must be regarded as gross forgeries.

I may add that the alcalde of Alella has been decorated since by the late Home Secretary, and a sum of £120 has been distributed among the country police who arrested Ferrer.

These documents, moreover, were communicated to the Catholic press before the trial. They began to appear in El Mundo and other reactionary journals on September 17. The Church was egging on the willing officials with all its power. Not only did the orthodox press scatter over Spain, and over Europe, these scandalous documents, without a word as to the real story of the "search," but the prelates of Catalonia publicly demanded that the outrages should be visited on the founder of "the schools without God." Writers like Mr. Chesterton, who treat the charge against the Church as an idle one, have not taken the least trouble to ascertain the facts. The Heraldo of Madrid published on September 4 a letter addressed to the Prime Minister by the prelates of Barcelona. They assured him that the evil was due to the promoters of the Modern Schools, declared that the late outbreak was only the prelude to worse, and trusted that "his piety, his patriotism, and his compassion for the Church in its misfortunes" would move him to rigorous action. "Pious" Señor Maura replied (September 7): "I hasten to assure you that the Government will act in the spirit of your letter and follow the line of conduct that you indicate." Mgr. Guitari (Barcelona), interviewed by a Matin correspondent after the murder, said (October 13) that "the principal character of the outbreak was that it was essentially anti-clerical," and that, quite apart from his "alleged" participation in the outrages—the Bishop obviously doubts it—Ferrer "deserved to be punished because he had prepared the way for them by his doctrinal propaganda."

Let us return to the manufacture of evidence. The magistrate had discovered another revolutionary document. He had, he told Ferrer, "sat up until three in the morning studying its real significance" (to quote Ferrer's letter)—which does not say much for its revolutionary value. This document is genuine; but it belongs, as the magistrate quite admitted, to 1892! It was sent by Ferrer to a Congress at Madrid in his early revolutionary days. The date was thus fixed so plainly that the magistrate did not attempt to alter it. He admitted it as "evidence" because there was "a curious coincidence" between the words, as he read them at three in the morning, and the actual outbreak at Barcelona, seventeen years later. In spite of Ferrer's protest that his ideas had, as we saw, utterly changed, it was made a formidable point in the indictment. I may add that this is one of the documents published, with suppression of date, by the Catholic Press of Spain and this country.

Ferrer now felt alarmed, especially as the magistrate told him the preliminary work was over, and he must choose an advocate for the military council. Ferrer protested that he had still most important evidence to lay before him, including proof that the police were offering money to his servants to testify against him, and explaining the real motives of the Republican witnesses who were appearing against him. The reader must remember that there was to be no cross-examination. The magistrate refused to hear him, declaring that "military law was not civil law," and closed the inquiry.[4]

The sitting of the military council—I cannot call it trial—was fixed for October 9. Europe was being informed, in spite of the expulsion from Barcelona of every journalist who told the truth; and the Cortes was to assemble on October 15, when the Liberals might give trouble—as they did. Meantime the foul conspiracy hampered Ferrer at every point. The indignities to which he was subject, in the refusal of decent clothes, handkerchiefs, etc., were bad enough—he was told that his things were "confiscated"; but the unscrupulous thwarting of his efforts to put material in the hands of Captain Galcerán, who had been appointed his advocate, is appalling to read. He had been hitherto au secret (forbidden to communicate), but this had now to be removed. The official, however, tried to render this liberty useless by refusing to let him touch any of his money for postage and telegrams. With less than three weeks to gather material for his defence, surrounded by corrupt officials, the hunted man made his last struggle. He sent a letter to a lady at Paris, with a full and important analysis of the case against him. The letter was stolen.[5] He sent to England to have the material proofs of his innocence forwarded to his advocate. Mr. Heaford and others sent a number of important letters and documents. They were all suppressed. He demanded that the moral-instruction books should be given to his advocate. They were refused. Friends in Paris sent him 300 francs. One-third of the sum was stolen. Thus was engineered the "trial" which the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph described as having been conducted with perfect honour and honesty.

  1. English readers will find a full account in an article by Mr. Ward in the Sheffield Independent, April 18, 1908.
  2. See, for instance, the accounts written by Protestant ministers in the Protestant Alliance Magazine (November, 1909) and the Methodist Recorder (August 26, 1909). The correspondent of the Times confirmed this.
  3. Facsimile pages of this letter are given in the life of Ferrer which the Committee of Defence have just published at Paris.
  4. This important account of the manufacture of the case is from a long letter, smuggled out of jail to Paris by Ferrer, and published in full in the work issued recently by the Committee of Defence. Facsimile sheets of the letter are prudently reproduced.
  5. We know of his sending it by a reference to it in a later letter which managed to get through.