The traveler in the Philippines observes that every town he visits has a statue of a handsome man of thirty-five gazing down from a pedestal at the center of the plaza. One soon learns that these Emerald Islands have but a single supreme hero, who towers like a lofty mountain above all his countrymen, past or present, in the majesty of his character, the quality of his intellect, and the beauty of his sacrifice. He means to the Filipinos what Sun Yat Sen (his contemporary) means to China, or Bolivar to South America, or Lincoln to America, or Mahatma Gandhi to India. A minute study of Rizal's life reveals that he deserves the amazing devotion he increasingly enjoys.
The world grows better, as well as worse, principally by imitation. That is why the life of José Rizal ought to become a treasured possession, not only of one nation, but of the human race. It will be a better world when more men have touched his noble spirit. This volume is a swift recital of the central current of his life story, intended to allure the reader into a deeper study of what Rizal did and wrote and was.
But Rizal is in danger -- the same danger that besets all supremely great men, the danger of becoming a myth, of being turned into a cold statue on top of a monument, of being honored or sainted (or even worshipped by many) while the people who do him honor are not informed, or are misinformed, as to what he did and why he died. Even today he is lost to millions of Filipinos. His portrait is on their walls, they have perhaps read his Noli Me Tangere and his Ultimo Adiós, but the vast majority, even of educated Filipinos, do not know the story of his life.
Yet the life Rizal lived is a more abiding gift then the things he said and
wrote. The political conditions against which he struggled have greatly
changed; his life, on the contrary, will forever be of inestimable
importance. Every succeeding generation of Filipino youth will need to be
saturated with the purity, sincerity, and devotion of Rizal's lovely spirit.
First in time and in quantity is the work of Don Wenceslao E. Retana. This Spaniard was employed by a Madrid newspaper to discredit Rizal, but, like many others, he developed an admiration that later bordered on worship, and became Rizal's first and greatest biographer. Retana's Vida y Escritos de José Rizal contains not only a detailed biography but also many of Rizal's prose and poetical works. The book did not have the advantages of all the later researchers, and it suffers from a tendency to picture Rizal as a superhuman, who "bore on his features a certain seal of melancholy which irradiated from the sublimity of his spirit. . . a reflective man, a sorrowing poet, saturated with the vague mystical pessimism which is the peculiar characteristic of superior beings!" Many of Retana's statements have been called in question and some have been disproved. Nevertheless, history owes him a debt of gratitude for his great work of love. He wrote to atone for his own sins, and those of his country, against Rizal. Unfortunately, the book has not been translated from Spanish. Retana also wrote a short but delightful story of Rizal's life in the edition which he published of El Filibusterismo.
There are many Spanish editions of Rizal's other great book Noli Me Tangere.
Both Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo have been translated into English
by Charles Derbyshire. The first, Derbyshire calls The Social Cancer, the
second, The Reign of Greed.
These are now out of date due to the fact that the Philippine Government has recently made available some fourteen hundred letters to and from Rizal, while he lived in Europe, Hongkong, and Dapitan, throwing a wealth of light upon him in the most significant periods of his life. This correspondence has been collected in four volumes know as Epistolario Rizalino, edited by Director Teodoro Kalaw. One hundred and forty other letters written by Rizal to Dr. Fernando Blumentritt, have been purchased by the government, and will be published in a fifth volume of Epistolario when they have been translated into Spanish. As we now have Dr. Blumentritt's replies to these letters, it is unlikely that they will materially alter any of the story as it is written in this book. One of the most perplexing problems of a biographer is to arrange his materials in true chronological sequence. The Epistolario has been as valuable in fixing dates as it has been in furnishing an enormous wealth of new material never before available for a biography.
The only other life of Rizal in English is a delightful book written jointly
by Charles Edward Russell and Eulogio B. Rodriguez, the latter now Assistant
Director of the Philippine National Library. This book, The Hero of the
Filipinos, (1923) is as enthralling as fiction. Like the works of Professor
Craig, it was written before the Epistolario was available.
The most eminent Rizalists in the past have been Mariano Ponce, Wenceslao E. Retana, Epifaniio de los Santos Cristobal, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, Fernando Blumentritt, and Eduardo de Lete, all now deceased. The best known Rizalists now living are Teodoro M. Kalaw, Austin Criag, Vicente Elio, Jaime C. de Veyra, Edward E. Ayer, Jose P. Bantug, Eulogio B. Rodriguez, Luis Montilla, Pacifico Victoriano, and Mr. Mariano Santamaria.
Rarely is a biographer so fortunate as to have access to a mass of data collected by loving hands through years of conscientious research under the auspices of a government like that of the Philippines. Almost every statement in this book is supported by original documents now to be found in the National Library. Furthermore, every statement has been passed upon by four of the most thorough students of Rizal now living, all of whom are familiar with everything Rizal wrote, with everything of importance written about him, and with the history of the time in which he lived. These four men are Assistant Director Eulogio B. Rodriguez, Mr. Luis Montilla, of the Filipianiana Division of the Library, Mr. Miraiano Santamaria, custodian of the Rizal manuscripts, and Dr. Pacifico Victoriano, who assisted Director Kalaw in editing the Epistolario. Whatever these men called into question was omitted from the present volume, and whatever they considered sufficiently important was included. We have tried to paint a true and properly balanced picture of Rizal, knowing that truth alone will win. The enthusiastic cooperation of the other members of the Rizaliana staff, especially Miss Benita Sison, Miss Esperanza Llanes, and Mr. Escolático Tejada, deserves recognition.
The book owes a debt also to General José Alejandrino, Dr. Beldomero Roxas,
Mr. Jaime C. de Veyra, and Professor Austin Craig. A wealth of new incidents
came from Miss Trinidad Rizal, Mrs. Angelica L. Abreu, Mrs. Narcisa Rizal
Lopez, Dr. Leoncio Lopez-Rizal, Mrs. Maria Rizal Cruz, and Mrs. Anita Abreu
Garcia. Thanks are due to Rev. Francisco Galvez, for aid in Tagalog
translations, Mr. Sol H. Kwekoh, for assistance in finding Rizal's poems,
the late Dr. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, Mr. Arsenio Manuel, Mrs. Dolores
Abad Mina for data concerning her mother Josephine Bracken, Miss Minnie K.
Schultz, who patiently typed the book time after time. Miss Remedios Rivera
Kipping for data concerning Leonor Rivera, and the large number of persons
to whom reference has been made in the body of the text. The final stages of
editing and proofing of the book fell upon the shoulders of Mrs. Emiliana
Garcia Rosales, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Mattocks, Mrs. Eloise Sterling Hirt, and
Dr. H. H. Steinmetz. Especial thanks is also due to the Philippine Education
and to McCullough and Company for permission to quote from the copyrighted
works of Professor Austin Craig.