To Barrantes on the Noli
by José Rizal
Vicente Barrantes was a Spanish academician in Madrid, a member both of the Royal Spanish Academy and the Royal Academy of History. Formerly he had occupied various governmental positions in the Philippines including the civil governor and the director of administration. In January of 1890 Barrantes bitterly criticized Rizal’s novel, Noli me tángere in the Madrid newspaper, La España Moderna. Little did Barrantes know that it was he who had served the model for that high official in that novel who, to gain wealth through extortion, threw the richest men in Tondo in jail and turned a deaf ear to the desperate María Clara in the Epilogue. Rizal’s reply came in an open letter, “To His Excellency, Mr. Vicente Barrantes” in La Solidaridad on 15 February, 1890. In this sarcastic letter José Rizal declares that Barrantes, not himself, is inconsistent with his own contradictions. His prejudices colored any logic he might have and his imagination drew his own preconceived conclusions. “It is evident that your Excellency disposes of the truth at your pleasure,” writes Rizal, “and monopolizes it!”
to the text
To the Most Excellent Vicente Barrantes
Most Excellent Sir,
The honor that you bestow on me when you dealt with my person and Noli me tángere in the Sección Hispano-Ultramarina in La Esapña Moderna, January 1890, volume XIII, as well as certain insinuations and attacks aimed now at me, now at the ideas expressed in my book, confer upon me the right to answer you, at least to defend myself and put things in their proper place. Far from resenting the tone of your article, which at times is bitter although always patronizing, even if it degenerates into the language of a master, I consider myself up to a certain point obliged for frankly, I expected a ruder and more virulent (though perhaps less malicious) attack, because of the literary past that exists between your Excellency and me, and accustomed as I am to read the unbosoming of the journalists of my country. Your doctrinal tone and your advice moves me and I, indeed. expect to find them in one who, like your Excellency, is a member of the Reales Academias Española y de la Historia, (The Spanish Royal Academy of History) two peaks from which poor writers like me ought to look like pigmies or ants, who, in order to write, have yet to do it in a borrowed language.
The whole thesis and synthesis of pages 177-181 are reduced to this: that I have incurred in contradictions, that I am a “storehouse of contradictions” because in one part of my Noli me tángere, the captain general said to my protagonist that he was “the first man with whom I talked in that country” and because I, Rizal, in La Solidaridad ask for reforms for my fellow countrymen. And because of this Your Excellency dubs me “a novelist of his sins, a storehouse, etc.” Your Excellency says that my style is exceedingly bad. These epithets, be it known, are not my inventions. God save me from posing as a novelist of your Excellency’s sins! Let your confessor take care of that!
If your Excellency, who reproaches me for having cited only one proper name, when I spoke of harmful friars, have not been able to find in my writings more contradictions than this one, I can, in truth, consider myself twice fortunate – first for being more consistent than the Bible, the gospels, the popes, and all mortals; and second for seeing the miracle of the bread and the fishes corrected and extended. Your Excellency feigns a storehouse of what you call contradictions. If, instead of affecting being a literary man, your Excellency feigns a storehouse of what you call contradictions. If, instead of affecting being a literary man, your Excellency becomes a shop-boy or manufacturer—holy God!, how plentiful commodities would be!
But let us examine this “terrible” contradiction. Your Excellency writes (page 177): “… Quioquiap (The pseudonym of the Spaniard Pablo Feced y Temprano who wrote disparaging articles about the Indio) himself does not have such a poor opinion of the Filipinos as you have, nor would he dare to put in the mouth of the captain general those sanguinary words addressed to the protagonist of Noli me tángere: ‘Mr. Ibarra, you are the first person I talk with in this country.’ You do not even consider as men your compatriots, Mr. Rizal! Such a tremendous injustice, a Spaniard or even a Christian I repeat, would not commit. (Do you mean that the best Christian is lower than the last Spaniard, Mr. Barrantes?)
And I say: such a tremendous consequence cannot be drawn either by an Indio, or even by a Filipino. This is because, in order to make a syllogism of four legs, as the Dominicans say, and infer a universal conclusion from a secondary premise, it is necessary to suppose, first, that the captain general and I are equal (I would not least to you my gains); second, that the captain general had spoken with all the Filipinos before he spoke with Mr. Ibarra; third, that in every conversation his Excellency thoroughly knew his interlocutor; and fourth, that his Excellency never exaggerates.
I am not aware, most excellent Sir, if the academicians ambarum domorum (of both houses) have already ordered as law that the ideas expressed by the characters in a novel must be precisely the author’s own convictions and not what are appropriate to them according to their circumstances, beliefs, habits, education, and passions. The blessed Fr. José Rodríguez (another protagonist of Rizal) is replete with the same ideas as your Excellency or vice-versa (the order of factors does not alter the product); but until now the said friar is not an academician that I know of, and even if he might be, two do not constitute a majority in the learned corporations, and even granting that they did, their law would not be a retrospective application. It is very probable that your Excellency acquired this literary conviction from your frequent contact with the friars as proven by certain intrigues of yours, certain phrases like these “to reprove me publicly for my faults, a novelist of my sins,” and others, which smell of the convent and seem to be borrowed from the very same Fr. José Rodriguez. Until now, unable to give prerogatives to my country, I give them to my characters and I allow my captain general to say what he wants without bothering about reciprocity. I had learned besides from the authors of rhetoric and poetics the rules of what they called the mixed kind, in which different characters and the author himself intervene. In the narration what the characters say is attributed to them and what the author says to him. To Caesar what is Caesar’s! But this is asking too much. I shall be contented if I am told that my characters do not have life and a character of their own, if they do not act or speak according to their circumstances and different ways of thinking and if my convictions are laid aside.
But transeat, [“let it pass”] and let us adopt for a moment the Rodríguez-Barrantes law. Let it be granted that I am the spirit, I am the captain general himself; I have spoken with “all” the Filipinos, I have understood them and I have spoken with the last Ibarra, and I did not find a single man. Good! To what literary law will your Excellency retreat in order to nullify the corrective applied by Ibarra to “my” incontrovertible words? Because had your Excellency read the following lines, you would not have committed ‘this tremendous injustice that neither a Spaniard nor even a Christian would commit, nor would you have written so many pages similar to the aberrations of those who write on non-existent things.
As a matter of fact Ibarra answers in the following line:
“Your Excellency have seen only those who crawl in the city; you have not visited the slandered hovels of our towns: your Excellency would have seen true men, if in order to be a man it is sufficient to have a generous heart and simple customs.”
Who speaks now for Ibarra, most excellent Sir? Is it perchance your Excellency? If so, what happens to the Rodríguez-Barrantes law? And then, why does your Excellency say afterwards that Ibarra and Rizal are the same? Are we or are we not the same? I do not like to impute to bad faith this way your Excellency cites. You accuse me of injustice and you omit the reply that is precisely in the next line! This is what in plain language is called a deception of the public. Most excellent Sir, you have been a civil governor and director of administration in my country for many years. Your Excellency is a consummate literary man, your style is grand, and your pen is irreproachable. Your Excellency is a member of royal and learned academies and you never contradict yourself. Your Excellency is rich in years, experience, and honors, and you belong to a superior and privileged race. On the other hand, I am a pariah, a poor expatriate, a mediocre literary writer with a most defective style, a “storehouse of contradictions,” an untrained young man, belonging to an enslaved race, and despite all that, I shall dare give you an advice in exchange for those you give me paternally. When one has the titles and ambitions of your Excellency, he must write with more good faith and more sincerity, he must not hold on to the tricks of the polemists of the cafés, for as your Excellency yourself say: “learning is not the best emblem or the exclusive attribute of man but virtues and moral endowments.” What your Excellency says of man can be applied to the critic and historian.
For the same reason I find highly censurable the assertion that you ascribe to me on page 179. You say there that I call “carpenters” the modest artists of Santa Cruz and Paete. How, most excellent Sir? How could your Excellency have seen in the phrase carpenterias de Paete in my Noli me tángere the sculpture shops of Santa Cruz? Does your Excellency think that the district of Santa Cruz is inside the carpentry shops of that town of my province? In another article your Excellency places Colombo apparently outside of Ceylon and now you fall on the opposite error—you put towns inside others like the juggler’s boxes. To what system do you adhere? Come now, has your Excellency done it to discredit me in the eyes of my compatriots or is it because your Excellency does not know how to read and now you want to pose as a defender of the Indios who remember so many things about your Excellency? Fr. Rodriguez used to cite also in that manner and following that system, the Holy Ghost itself can come down to write and I assure you that it will come out deplumed. That is why your Excellency doubts my love for truth because in some things I do not agree with your Excellency. It is evident that your Excellency disposes of the truth at your pleasure and monopolizes it!
But returning to the bloody words of my general, I shall admit that they are bloody, very bloody, indeed, but they are not false, considering the personality of the speaker. Your Excellency speaks with more cruelty even on page 180 and that, despite your being a Spaniard and a Christian and your having already before your eyes my general’s satire. Your Excellency says:
“In truth, in truth, I have looked indefatigably with the same lantern of Diogenes [a Greek who founded the Cynical school of philosophy. He is alleged to have carried a lantern during the day looking for an honest person.] through the whole archipelago and because of my experience, than the aforesaid general, who found only ‘one man’ and that man was you, because Ibarra and Rizal are ‘the same,’ ‘one and the same.’”
Let us conclude. Did your Excellency find him? Did your Excellency find more men? If your Excellency did find what you were looking for, why talk to us “indefatigability” and of “the very same lantern of Diogenes” (popularly the lantern of the civil guard?) And if you did not find what you were looking for, for what reason do you talk to us of your sense of smell better than what of my general, who was not indefatigable, did not go around the Archipelago looking his man and did not have a lantern even of the Middle Ages? Would your Excellency like me to have taken you for the type of my captain general? Why talk to us about bloody words? Your Excellency, who in all your writings? Your Excellency, who in all your writings, breathes the most ruthless hatred of my race and my country; your Excellency who has always relished seeing us suffer; now, your Excellency poses as a defender of the Indios? To what extent has our misfortune reached when we have to be defended by no others than the very same ones who have insulted us!
Who is the one who contradicts himself? Does your Excellency call me a “storehouse of contradictions” because I have stored in my memory a good supply of your contradictions?
Is it inconceivable that a captain general who is used to spend the three years term of office in an atmosphere of vanity and flattery, environed by friars and interested persons, does not know the inhabitants of the country, when your Excellency yourself, despite your many airs does not know them, your Excellency whom the friars do not court but who courts them? And tell me, who is the discreet man who will like to place himself within reach of a captain general of the Philippines and to talk to him freely and frankly when he knows that a dysentery or indigestion of his Excellency can disturb the tranquility of his home? And consider that in the Philippines dysentery and indigestion are common among certain classes. I know of a brother-in-law of mine (This is Manuel T. Hidalgo, the husband of Rizal’s eldest sister, Saturnina. He was twice banished twice Tagbilaran, Bohol) who is now banished for the second time, even if he nor the governor general have never seen each other, even if there had been to trial at all, even if he does not know what crime he is accused of except that he is my brother-in-law. I myself, “the man”, the Ibarra of your Excellency, (I don’t know why, for I am neither rich nor a mestizo, nor an orphan, nor do the qualities of Ibarra coincide with mine) have regretted the two times that I went to Malacañang. The first time was in 1880 because I was knocked down and wounded one dark night by a civil guard because I passed before something bulky and I did not salute, and the bulk turned out to be the lieutenant commander of the military post. I was treacherously wounded in the back without any exchange of words. I went to Primo de Rivera, but I did not see his Excellency, nor did I get justice either. . . and the second time was in 1887 because I was summoned by Mr. Terreros to answer for the accusations and charges made against me on account of my book. Now then, how many thousands of thousands of men more worthy and more honorable than Ibarra and I have seen even the end of the hair or the bald pate of his Excellency? And your Excellency who presumes to know the archipelago, with how many Filipinos have you spoken? How many have unbosomed themselves to you? Does your Excellency know the spirit of the country? If you did, you would not say that I am “a spirit twisted by a German education”, for the spirit that animates me I already had since a child before I left the Philippines, before I learned a word of German. My spirit is “twisted” because I have been reared among injustices and abuses which I saw everywhere, because since a child I have seen many suffer stupidly and because I also have suffered. My “twisted spirit” is the product of that constant vision of the moral ideal that succumbs before the powerful reality of abuses, arbitrariness, hypocrisies, farces, violence, perfidies and other base passions. And “twisted” like my spirit is that of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who have not yet left their miserable homes, who speak no other language except their own, and who, if they would write or express their thoughts, would leave my Noli me tángere very tiny indeed, and with their volumes there would be enough to build pyramids for the corpses of all the tyrants. . . .
Yes, your Excellency is right; Noli me tángere is a satire and not an apology. Yes, I have portrayed the social ulcers of “my country”; in it there is “pessimism and darkness” and it is because I see a lot of infamy in my country; there the number of the wretched equals that of the imbeciles. I admit that I found a keen delight in exposing so much shame and blushes, but in doing the painting with the blood of my heart, my aim was to correct them and save the rest. Quioquiap, with whom I was compared by Your Excellency, undoubtedly, in order to humiliate an entire race, in order to deride her and laugh at her misfortune, generalizing the bad and the vile without exceptions, inferring like your Excellency universal conclusions from secondary and remote promises. But I have portrayed the good beside the bad, I have depicted an Elias and a Tasio, because the Elias and the Tasios exist, exist, and exist, however much this may displease your Excellency; only that your Excellency and your partisans, fearing that the little good that I have portrayed may serve as an example to the bad men and redeem them, shout that it is false, poetic, exaggerated, visionary, impossible, unlikely; what more do I know? And you acknowledge the bad alone so that the people may stoop down and degrade themselves, because, being incapable of rising you want every one around you to go down in order that, in this way, you may appear great and elevated. There is indeed much corruption over there, maybe more than anywhere else, but this is because to the soul’s own rubbish have been added the dross of birds and passage and the corpses that the sea deposits on the beach. And because this corruption exists, I wrote my Noli me tángere, I ask for reforms so that what little good there is may be saved and the and may be redeemed. If my country were a republic like that of Plato (The Greek philosopher, Plato [427? – 347?] wrote, in dialogue form, The Republic in which inquired into the nature of justice and the organization of a perfect society.), neither would I have written nor would the Noli me tángere achieve the success that it had nor would there be a need for reforms, because, of what use is medicine for the healthy?
But your Excellency wants to catch me in an error with your trick on page 179. You claim that in the Noli me tángere are not mentioned the men who need the liberal reforms which I ask in Filipinas dentro de cien años (sometimes translated with the English title, The Philippines a Century Hence). Now I see that your Excellency has not read my entire book and I am not sorry because I had not written it for Your Excellency. But since you desire to be a censor and to be an infallible censor at that, yet should have read it entirely in order not to waste time asking stupid questions. Your Excellency asks with feigned sloth: “Why have you kept it silent so long a time? Is there a better occasion than a novel to announce to the world your wonders?”
The greatest wonder here is the Excellency’s daring: you fancy one thing, take it for truth, and draw from it all the conclusions you wish. Well, indeed, most excellent Sir, those men of whom I speak in my Filipinas dentro de cien años are announced on pages 290 and 291 and I do not quote those pages here because that is wasting time and paper. Everyone can read them. That movement that has reached the corners of the provinces – for even philosopher Tasio has taken notice of it ten or twelve years ago, the period of my novel – has produced the men of today; this consequence, even the chronology of events was called by your Excellency a contradiction. Your Excellency has also called Malayans the natives of Ceylon, you have placed Santa Cruz in Paete, and Colombo I do not know where. May the procedure profit you!
Your Excellency already cites the names of Anacleto del Rosario, Isabelo de los Reyes, and Arellano. You could cite more if you knew better the country and its men and you did not haggle much with us for our little national glories. I could cite to you besides a León Guerrero, a Zamora, a Joaquin Garrido, a José Luna, a Regino Garcia, Mariano Sevilla, Pedro Serrano, and many others; but the point here is not to make a catalogue of worthy men, there are and that is enough. Your Excellency asks about historiographers, freethinkers, and philosophers. Of the first, though they are not members of the Real Academia de la Historia, there are like Isabelo de los Reyes who, though he has not written Guerras Piráticas, has on the other hand great merit for the conscientiousness of his works. As to telling Your Excellency the names of the freethinkers and philosophers, God save me from falling into the trap! “Rather”, as the English say, not even the name of the province! We know enough of the persecutions and slanders of which the unhappy Mr. Francisco Rodríguez was the target while living and even after death because he was famous as a freethinker! Your Excellency pretended to be innocent by asking me for the works of the philosophers. And the prior censorship? Have it suppressed, your Excellency, and I promise that the first copies will be dedicated to you. Find out also how many copies are sold of the works of Voltaire, Rousseu, Victor Hugo, Cantú, Sue, Dumas, Lamartine, Thiers, Aiguals de Izco, and others and by the consumption you will have an idea of the number of consumers. Your thesis is reduced to this: I am a storehouse of contradictions, because that is the whim of your Excellency and because you see contradiction in everything. Does your Excellency use spectacles that have the quality of contradiction or does your Excellency have the spirit of contradiction in your nature?
Do you perchance persist in your opinion that the characters of a novel must all conform to the convictions of the author? In that case, I admit the “storehouse of contradictions” and even more. But that Poetica of Fr. Rodriguez should have been published before, most excellent Sir!
I am glad that your Excellency put Quioquiap many cubits above me; put him in the moon and in heaven too. I shall never aspire to imitate his style. I shall keep mine which is very bad, as your Excellency says: Academicus Vincentius Barrantes dixit, ergo ita est. The academician Vicente Barrantes said so; therefore, it is so. But no matter how bad it might be, it is not as bad as the abuses it combats, and I can say any with Lista ( Spanish poet and critic considered to be the foremost member of the second Sevillian school of late 18th-century writers who espoused the tenets of Neoclassicism.):
“De mi libre Musa Jamás
el eco adormeció a tiranos
ne vil lisonja empozoñó su aliento. . .”
Of my free Muse
Never did her echo lull tyrants to slumber
Nor did vile adulation ever poison her breath. . . .
Never has it corrupted an administration nor has it served to shield frauds, oppress or exploit an overconfident race. Though bad and all, it has served what I liked and if it is not the conic, nickel-plated, and polished bullet that an academician can fire but only a rough pebble picked from the brook, it has nevertheless hit the mark, it has hit in the head that double-faced goliath that in the Philippines which is called friarism (i.e. the doings of the friars) and bad government. It is just that it should kick about violently; I do not deny its right to do so. The wound is there, death is there, what matters the missile to me? Because they cannot deny the veracity of the facts, let them grasp at the style, at the bark. A dog bites the stone that hits it. For the rest, if I do have detractors, I do not lack panegyrists (those that would deliver Rizal’s eulogy) – one compensates the other. Madness it would be to ask the offended powerful to reward him who told him the bitter truths, I consider myself very lucky because I am still alive. Only the demigods ask that their hands with which they slap be kissed. What I would have felt indeed is to hear applause and compliments, instead of howling and cursing, in the ranks of the enemy, applause and compliments, for them that would be a proof that the shot had come out of the butt end of the musket. And as I did not write for myself nor to ask admission to the porter’s lodge of the Academy but only to denounce abuses that it combats shall have disappeared from the politics of my homeland; when a generation that would not countenance the crimes or the present immoralities should come; when Spain should put an end to this strife by means of sincere and liberal reforms; in short, when all of us shall have disappeared and with us our self-love, our vanities, and our little passions, then the Spaniards and the Filipinos can judge it calmly and impartially, without eagerness or rancor.