Chapter 02: Ateneo
Although José Rizal, now eleven years old, had passed a good entrance examination in Manila in June, 1872, he nearly failed to matriculate in the Ateneo in July, because his mother's arrest had made him a month late, and because he looked so little, so slender, so young. He would not have been admitted at all but for the intercession of Dr. Manuel Burgos, a nephew of the recently executed Dr. José Burgos. When finally the boy was accepted, he went to mass and prayed fervently. (01) He had something to pray about and to study for! Tragedy had set purpose ablaze in his young soul -- purpose that would never die. He did not know how to help his home and country but he would find a way!
Following the rigid methodical habits which he had learned from his father and which were taught by his Jesuit teachers, he prepared a schedule so that he would not lose an hour: study and reading until four p.m.; four to five, exercise; five to six social and miscellaneous obligations. This careful husbanding of every minute began to show results almost at once.
He began at the bottom of the school, but within a month he was "Emperor of Rome". The Ateneo had divided the students into two "empires", Roman and Carthaginian, to fight for academic supremacy. It was this war that soon brought young Rizal triumph and prizes. At the end of the first quarter he received the grade "excellent".
When one of the teachers hurt his feelings he stopped trying for honors, so that at the end of the year he came out second in the school and had no prizes. Though he still had the grade "excellent", he felt like a failure, and doubtless the disappointment of his father in Calamba added to his remorse. He never did less than his best again. The second year he was first and had won nearly all the prizes and medals there were to be had.
The four years in the Ateneo were a continuous pageant of brilliant
scholastic triumphs, which made José Rizal the pride of the Jesuits. Here is
1873-4 Latin 2. . . . . . .
. . . . . . Excellent
1874-5 Latin 3. . . . . . .
. . . . . . Excellent
1875-6 Rhetoric and Poetry
. . . . Excellent
1876-7 Philosophy 1 . . . .
. . . . . Excellent
He was as good as he was brilliant. The Jesuits called him "a child excellent in religious sentiments, customs and application, with progress worthy of his signal talent. (02)
"Because of all this and because of his good conduct throughout his stay at the Ateneo, he succeeded in being admitted to the Marian Congregation in which he gradually rose until he became Secretary.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus (Central Figure);
The Power of Science over Death (Left);
The Power of Death Over Life (Right)
"The pious youth carved a pretty image of Our Mother with no other instrument than a plain pen-knife, to the great delight of the professors of Rizal, one of whom asked him to carve also the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The artistic youth a little later gave his new work to the Father."
Thanks to the schedule José was following, he had time for extra reading. The first foreign book he read, (03) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, reminded him of the sufferings of his mother in prison and of his motherland. All over the Philippines were conditions worse than those which Dumas had described.
But the book which first began to answer his life question was [Dr. Feodor] Jagor's Travels in the Philippines. For a sample chapter CLICK HERE. [Cf: The Former Philippines Through Foreign Eyes by the same author] Jagor was a German naturalist who had visited the Philippines fifteen years before and had made some very wise and even prophetic comments. His book severely criticized the Spanish regime: "Government monopolies. . . . insolent disregard and neglect. . . . were the chief reasons for the downfall of [Spain's] American possessions. The same causes threaten ruin to the Philippines. . . ."
We should not forget what Jagor also said about England, for it throws light upon some of Rizal's later acts: "England can and does open her possessions impartially to the world. The British colonies are united to the mother country by the bond of mutual advantage. . . . It is entirely different with Spain. . . ."
With astonishing accuracy Jagor foresaw the downfall of Spain and the coming of America: "The Americans are evidently destined to bring to full development the germs originated by the Spaniards. As conquerors of modern times they pursue their road to victory with the assistance of the pioneer's axe and plough, representing an age of peace and commercial prosperity. . . . A considerable portion of Spanish America already belongs to the United States and has since attained an importance which could not possibly have been anticipated under the Spanish government or during the anarchy which followed. . . ."
These and similar books powerfully stimulated the brilliant mind of the earnest young student. "The idea that seized upon Rizal and was always growing in his thoughts was that he ought to do something to help his people out of the prison house of ignorance and tyranny". Something -- but what? That was his problem. He did not know, but he would search the world for an answer!
Every vacation he went to Santa Cruz, Laguna, to visit his mother in prison. They always cried in one another's arms. The last visit, to tell the story in his own words, "I prophesied, like another Joseph, that I had dreamed she would be released in three months. It happened that the prediction came true." (04)
At the end of his second year his home-going was full of thanksgiving, not only because of his triumphs, but because his mother was home again. "In that memorable year of my mother's release," he wrote in his Boyhood Story, "my mother had not wanted me to return to Manila, saying that I already had sufficient education. Did she have a presentiment of what was going to happen to me? Can it be that a mother's heart gives her double vision?"
The following Christmas holidays, "when I walked into our house in Calamba, my mother did not recognize me. The sad cause was that she had already lost her sight. My sisters greeted me joyfully, and I could read their welcome in smiling faces. But my father, who seemed to be the most pleased of all, said least." Cataracts had been growing in his mother's eyes, and it was this fact that turned Rizal to the thought of studying medicine so as to restore his mother's eyesight, if this were humanly possible. This gave him one more reason for studying hard in the Ateneo.
José found his greatest pleasure in making the verses which his gifted mother had taught him to write. He did not, so far as we know, write any poetry during the two years of his mother's imprisonment; at least it was not the kind he would have dared to show the world. But after her release from imprisonment his singing soul poured out music on every theme that took his fancy. Indeed, this adolescent youth was caught up in an ecstasy of precocious genius.
Following the example of the Spanish poet Zorrilla [José
Zorrilla y Moral], he wrote in honor of great discoveries:
A drawing from Rizal's Scrapbook,
"Columbus at Baracelona"
"Columbus and John II".
On Religion he wrote sonnets:
In praise of Education he wrote poems on:
He had already decided that education was the hope of salvation for his country, and from this faith he did not swerve to the end of his life. When in later years he was surrounded by revolutionists in Europe and in the Philippines, he resolutely opposed the pathway of violence and clung to education not only in theory but by his example. He became not only the best educated Malay, but one of the most astonishingly versatile scholars of his day in any race. The following poem, written at the age of fifteen, is a clue to the inner motive of Rizal's intense life.
Is there a parallel in history from the pen of a boy so young? Dr. Pardo de
Tavera writes: "We remain dumbfounded and cannot discover whence he took
such ideas expressed with such sureness. What mysterious Power had given
that brain such confidence in education?" (05)
It was in 1876 also that he wrote his "Memorial to My Village" which we have printed in Chapter 1. When we recall his drawing, painting, and sculpturing, and the fact that he excelled all other students in scholarship, it is clear why his professors looked upon him as a genius, and his fellow students regarded him with something awe. He wrote, "A Farewell Dialogue of the Students" just before he graduated from the Ateneo. On March 23, 1877, not yet sixteen years old, he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts with highest honors.
He never ceased to love the Ateneo. Five years after his graduation he wrote
a lovely tribute to the Very Reverend Pablo Ramon, Rector of the Ateneo, on
the occasion of that good Father's birthday.
Rizal's delightful account of "What happened between April and December, 1877", throws so much light upon his boyish heart that it ought not be omitted. It is an account of his first love at sixteen, that painful experience which comes to nearly all adolescents. He writes the story three years later -- the youth of nineteen laughing at himself at sixteen: (06)
"One Thursday my friend M. (Mariano), who was the brother of Miss K., came to invite me to go to Concordia College to visit our sisters. We met his sister in the sala (parlor). She greeted us and asked whether I wanted her to call my sister Olimpia. I said yes, and she went lightly, but with a grace I had not seen in anybody else. A little later, when they came, we formed a small circle.
"She asked me which flowers I liked best. I told her I liked all kinds, but white and black ones most; she told me she liked white ones and roses, and then she became pensive.
"Have you a sweetheart?" she asked me after a short pause.
"'No', I answered, 'I never had one because I guess none of the girls ever paid any attention to me.'
"'How are you fooled! Do you want me to get you one?' asked the Lady.
"'Thank you Miss', I said, 'but I do not wish to trouble you.'
"It happened that I had just heard that she was to be married in December, so I asked:
"'Are you going to your town in December?'
"'No', she answered dryly.
"'They tell me that in your town they are going to have a big celebration, in which you are to take a leading part, and which cannot continue without your help.'
"'No', she said laughing, 'My parents want me to retire, but I do not want to, for I want to stay in this college five more years.'
"We went on drinking the sweetest narcotic of love, through our conversation. Her looks were glorious in their sweetness and expressiveness; her voice was melodious and I thought an enchantment accompanied every movement. Languor penetrated my heart, and I had feelings I had never known before. . . .
"She disappeared and returned with two white (artificial!) roses, one of which she gave to her brother and the other to me; she herself put it in the ribbon of my hat. I gave her a picture I had drawn of her, and she was delighted. She told me that my sister had made the rose she gave me; and, though I knew it was not so, I pretended to believe it. I went home and took care of that rose as a symbol of our 'artificial' love.
"The Thursday following that Sunday my aunts went with me. We were seated in a circle, she beside me. My sister whispered I do not know what feminine secret to my aunts, and we two were left alone. I took advantage of the occasion by asking her who had made those roses. Blushing she told me the truth. I thanked her and promised to keep them as long as I lived and added:
"'Do you realize how sad it is going to be for me to lose you, after having
". . . But I told my heart not to love her for she was already engaged . . . I resolved to be quiet . . . and not become subject to her yoke, nor to tell her of my love.
"Once we did not go to see her because her brother was sick. The next day on the steps we met.
"'Have you been ill?' she asked me.
"'Yes', I replied, 'but today I am well, thank you.'
"'Oh', she answered, 'last night I was praying for you; I was afraid something had happened to you.'.
"'Thank you', said I, 'I should like to be sick always, if that is the way to be remembered by you; why even death would be welcome if it did that.'
"'How!' she said, 'do you want to be dead?'"
December brought vacation time and José went home the day before his new first love. He rode his horse to the roadside where he knew she would pass. . . "Suddenly I heard a noise, and turning my head I saw calesas (carriages) and horses enveloped in a cloud of dust. My heart beat violently and I probably turned pale. . . .
"The second coach was occupied by K., her sister, and other girls from Concordia. She saluted me smiling and waving her handkerchief. I only tipped my hat and said nothing. Ah, that is what has always happened to me in the saddest moments of my life. (07) My tongue, usually talkative, goes dumb when my heart is breaking with emotion. The coach passed like a swift shadow and left me no other trace than a dreadful vacuum in the world of my affections. On a horse behind the third calesa rode my friend. He stopped and asked me to come to the town. I was about to follow, and mounted my horse quickly. But in critical moments in my life I have always worked against my will. I kicked my horse and took another road, exclaiming 'So that is ended'. Ah, how much truth, how much instinct there was in those words: the brief hours of my first love had ended; I returned to my town confused and like an intoxicated man. I knew she was the woman who satisfied perfectly the aspirations of my heart, and I told myself that she was lost."
Rizal's first love was Señorita Segunda Katigbak. That December she married Don Manuel Luz, and became the mother of Arsenio Luz, who, at the writing of this book, occupies a prominent place in Philippine business and social circles.
[NOTE: It might be mentioned that there
were two other young women that caught the attention of Rizal. One is a
mysterious young maiden of Calamba Rizal only referred to as "Miss L." The
romance did not last long as his heart still yearned for Segunda and there
was apparently some animosity between Rizal's family and hers. In his
Sophomore year at the University of Santo Thomas he also caught the eye of
Leonor Valenzuela of Pagsanjan, Laguna. Some of his "love notes" were
written in a homemade invisible ink (it could be deciphered under the heat
of a candle or lamp). His courtship did not lead, however, to a proposal of
marriage. His heart turned to another Leonor who dominated his thoughts for
most of the rest of his life. More will be said about this romance in the
following chapters. -- RLY]