At Leipzig, the cheapest publishing place in the
world, was printed the novel "Noli Me Tangere", a title giving in
Latin the Tagalog idea of cancer - the untouchable disease. This social cancer
of the Philippines was the union of church and state, which the censorship did
not permit to be touched in speech or print. A Filipino friend, Dr. Maximo
Viola, found Rizal without resources and almost suffering, but with the plan of
a book at last accomplished. He loaned the money and by cutting many pages the
work was lessened in cost so an edition of 2000 copies could be issued.
Many different opinions of "Noli Me Tangere"
have been expressed but America's foremost literary critic, the novelist W. D.
Howells, certainly has not left his judgment in doubt: "I don't know
whether it ought to be astonished or not that a little saffron man somewhere in
that unhappy archipelago should have been born with a gift so far beyond that of
any or all of the authors of our roaring literary successes, but these things
are strangely ordered by Province, and no one who has read this pathetic novel
ca deny its immeasurable superiority. The author learned his trade from the
modern Spanish novelists, but he has gone beyond them in a certain sparing touch
with which he presents situation and character by mere statement of fact,
without explanation or comment. It is great novel, of which the most poignant
effect is in a sense of unimpeachable veracity."
Rizal succeeded in his task for he has rivaled the
work of Sue and the story dominates one from the first. Of it the author wrote
in answer to attacks on its literary faults that it was not written to gain him
admission into the Spanish Academy and that it could only be judged by its
results. Single handed it destroyed Spain's prestige in the Philippines and laid
bare to the world in all its hideousness the rottenness of the Philippines
Much of the book is personal experience. The unjust
treatment of his mother when no sooner was one accusation proven without cause
than another equally groundless was substituted, is the foundation for a similar
statement about Ibarra's father. Mrs. Rizal was persecuted successively during
four years with seven charges, including cruelty, theft and attempted murder of
a relative and in no case was any evidence presented but the malice of the
provincial judge convicted while the supreme court as soon the matter came to it
each time ordered the dismissal of the charge. Once an appeal was taken because
of the evident prejudice of the judge and when the order of the Supreme Court
came down sustaining the charge of prejudice the judge imprisoned the defendants
and their attorney for contempt of court. The Supreme Court upheld his position.
The rich man whose property was eaten up in
litigation was Dr. Rizal's half-uncle, at one time the richest man in Biñan. He
was a knight commander "de numero" of the American order of Isabel the
Catholic and a knight of the order Carlos III, the first for loyalty and the
second for charity, but both really bought to help him in his law suits.
Captain Tiago, the gobernadorcillo of the mestizos,
had many points in common with Rizal's own maternal grandfather whose house in
Calle Anloague is described in the book.
A relative, still living, who came to see the Doctor
about her eyes during his short stay in Kalamba, asked if it was true that she
was original of Doña Victorina and her cousin answered, "The book is but a
mirror; if you recognized your perfection it must be you".
The story was true and though its reading was
prohibited no book has ever circulated so widely in the Philippines or so
influenced its people.
Rizal said he aimed to lift a little the veil that
covered his country's ills, sacrificing all to truth, even pride-itself. He
planned a series of ten volumes, one of which was to be published each year.
"Noli Me Tangere" has two English translations, "An Eagle's Flight" and "Friars and Filipinos", neither of which is complete, and "The vision of Friars Rodriguez" which Rizal wrote in answer to the attacks on the book has also been translated. A French edition and five Spanish editions have been published and parts have at various times been printed in a number of different languages. Until now no Tagalog translation has appeared but one of its, as well as of "El Filibusterismo," has recently been announced by the family to be in preparation.