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Scholar’s essay narrates Jose Rizal’s work in London


By Roy Mabasa

Almost 130 years ago today, Dr. Jose P. Rizal arrived in London where he spent less than a year meeting with some of the most influential Orientalists in Europe and more importantly, worked on the formation of the Association Internationale Des Philippinistes or the Philippine Studies.

Foreign service scholar Geronimo Suliguin, who is currently reading his Postgraduate Historical Studies from the prestigious Oxford University in England, narrated in his essay “Rizal, London and the Beginnings of Philippine Studies” on what transpired during those colorful days of our National Hero in London and his attempt to launch the Philippine Studies as he “wanted the Association to be truly international and planned to invite scholars who were interested in Philippine affairs.”

Rizal was only 26 when he arrived in London in 1888.

In the entirety of his stay in the capital of the United Kingdom of the Great Britain, Rizal published articles, read, copied, researched, and annotated an important work on Philippine history, joined La Solidaridad, exchanged numerous letters and ideas with friends and family, sculpted a number of items, visited Spain and crossed the English Channel at least four times.

“In keeping with the 130th year of the publication of his Specimens of Tagal Folklore, Two Eastern Fables, Annotations of de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, and his letter Sa Mga Kababayang Dalaga Sa Malolos – all written in London, let us go back in time and rediscover Rizal, his London, and his Philippine project,” Suliguin, a former acting director of the Asia Pacific Desk of the Department of Foreign Affairs wrote at the beginning of his essay.

Although Rizal was not able to fulfill his mission of completing the establishment of the Philippine Studies during his days in Great Britain, Suliguin wrote: “Within that span, London enriched Rizal’s mind regarding his people’s past. He was a changed man… But while the Association never bloomed, the seeds planted had taken root.”

We are sharing herewith Suliguin’s thorough research and narration of Rizal’s life and times in London and all the important elements to the planned launching of the Philippine Studies in the very heart of Europe.

A Home By the Park

Rizal arrived in England on 24th May 1888 via Liverpool before proceeding to London the following day.

He went on to settle as a lodger with the family of Charles Beckett at No. 37 Chalcot Crescent in Primrose Hill, one of the terrace or row of adjoining houses in the development.

Aside from the public park, the railway line out of Euston was the defining feature of Rizal’s suburb since 1837.

The railway transported in and out both goods and people and altered the development of Primrose Hill from the desirable plan of one to two detached units per plot.

Its completion also dragged from the 1840s to 1875.

The eastern side closest to the rail lines have endured enough of the smoke and soot from the coal engines of the passing trains rendering the plots less desirable, busy and dirty.

It was said that the plots away from the train lines to the west – Rizal’s is somewhere in the middle – were somewhat larger but was taken over by “respectable” owners.

Given their stature, terrace houses composed of five or more narrow houses were constructed in lieu of the planned two detached villas.

By mid-1870s, the main streets of Gloucester Avenue, Chalcot Road and Regent’s Park Road surrounding Rizal’s were bustling with retail activities with 12 or more people living over and behind a shop, mostly of the lower middle class.

Many terrace houses also converted into lodging houses and rented out floor-by-floor, while others even room-by-room, with shared washing and cooking facilities, if not minimal.

Like in other lodging houses, meals were also provided for the borders.

The ‘Descriptive Map of London Poverty’ in 1889 by Charles Booth identified the larger houses of Primrose Hill, especially the wealthy ones (colored yellow) along Regent’s Park, as ‘upper middle and upper class, comfortable to wealthy, the servant-keeping class’.

The well to do households were concentrated around Chalcot Square Gardens.

Those with one or two servants – like the Becketts (in pale pink, a color legend above the poor ones) who employed one servant- were considered ‘lower middle class’.

Other classifications include ‘higher class labor, working-class comfort, good ordinary earnings’ with large households suggesting tough and cramped conditions.

In this late 1880s part of London (another part was hounded by the Whitechapel murders), Rizal, admittedly, was really “not in a bad place” and, in fact, relatively well-off to have enjoyed two small rooms with the Becketts, who esteem him for £2 a week.

He enjoyed the comforts of a small room for sleeping and another to study, write and receive visitors.

He was keenly taken cared for.

The place surrounding him was bustling with shops although not on Sundays.

It helped that a few minutes walk from the Beckett house was a “countryside” in the form of the Primrose Hill Park.

The Regent’s Canal in the south was also a good place to spend time on “boring” Sundays. The Zoological Gardens at Regent’s Park, among the chief sights of Victorian London, not to mention the sheeps left grazing in the park,
was about a kilometer south of Rizal’s residence.

It was a particular entertainment and recreation destination with its biggest attraction Jumbo the elephant at 1 shilling admission (20 shillings = £1; Rizal’s weekly board was £2).

Although Rizal enjoyed the views the park, the canal, and the wealthy villas afforded him on his way to and back from the British Museum, the regular street traffic of horse buses and horse trams whether in garden seats or double decks, offered the putrid smell of soot, dung, and urine so heavy shopfronts nearby got discolored.

A New Family in London

In a span of one week after his arrival in London, Rizal was invited to a tea-party, his first, by the German Dr. Reinhold Rost who also lived in Primrose Hill, reportedly at 1 Elsworthy Terrace or a short walk of about 600 meters northwest of Chalcot Crescent.

Reinhold Rost used to be the secretary to the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for six years (in his 5 January 1894 letter to Rizal who was exiled in Dapitan, Rost was encouraging Rizal to send some article contributions to the Asiatic Society of Singapore or the RAS in Great Britain, or the Shanghai Society or the one at Wellington in New Zealand) and at the time of their meeting in mid-1888 was a librarian at the India Office (the park end of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office along Horse Guards Rd).

Rost was also a formidable linguist whose wide interests in Indian, east and southeast Asian, and African languages cover Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu among others.

Rost was, first and foremost, a Sanskrit scholar, and yet had contributed articles on Malay Language and literature, Pali, Thugs, and Rajah to the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica published in 1875-1889.

It is very likely that Blumetritt had mentioned Rizal to Rost since Blumentritt had been in contact with Rost as early as January 1885.

Also, in one of his letters, Rizal mentioned Rost as proof of Blumentritt’s sincere friendship.

Blumentritt may have mentioned of Rizal’s works and writings and his memberships to the prestigious Berlin Society of Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory and the Berlin Geographical Society with no less a member than the eminent German Rudolf Virchow.

Rost would have known who Virchow was as well as fellow German Fedor Jagor.

Not much is known how Rizal was invited by Rost to the latter’s residence.

Rizal just arrived in London and there was no evidence Rizal made known his address until he wrote Blumentritt.

It is very likely that Rizal found Rost at the India Office Library.

Rost was known to have wide personal knowledge of scholars in all countries. The library under him was also known as a natural and regular resort of all students of the East who were either visiting or residing in London.

When Rizal sent a letter to Blumentritt on 2 June of 1888 with regard to his first meeting with Rost, on even date, he mentioned that he was received very amiably.

He narrated that they spoke a lot about languages. Rizal likely spoke of his admiration for Pardo de Tavera’s knowledge of Sanskrit and expressed his own desire to discover more Sanskrit words in Tagalog.

The latter may have delighted and piqued the interest of the Sanskrit and Malay scholar.

Rizal would then frequent the Rost residence to have tea on Sunday afternoons. In Rost, he found his new family in London.

Intellectual Neighbor

During Sundays on his way to Rost’s residence, while on foot along Rothwell St, just before crossing Regent’s Park Rd, Rizal may have noticed the wealthy house a few doors away on his right, 122 Regent’s Park Road which was home from 1870 to another German, Friedrich Engels.

Karl Marx was dead in 1883 but Engels was still active at the time Rizal was at Primrose.

Engels at that time completed the preparation and publications of Das Kapital Volume ll and Das Kapital Volume III in 1885 and 1884, respectively.

Also in 1884, Engels published his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State which was translated into a number of European languages throughout the decade.

In 1885, Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England was translated to English and was published in 1887.

Das Kapital, Marx’ most important work, also appeared in English edition in 1887.

It is said that Engels’ interests included Sunday parties for London’s left-wing intelligentsia.

Was it likely that Rizal noticed a group of left-wing intellectuals heading to House 122 on his Sunday strolls to Rost’s?

A question was asked whether “it was impossible for Rizal to escape the influence of the socialist movement” especially at the time when he was in London.

Socialist publications of Marx and Engels were ripe at the time of his arrival.

The man himself was just in the neighborhood less than 150m away, a fact impossible to ignore.

Was it likely that Marx nor Engels did not ever come up as a subject matter in any given Sunday afternoon tea with Rost?

As an Orientalist and linguist, Rost may have no interest in socialism.

But as a German, it is very unlikely that he was not familiar with Marx or Engels.

A recent study on Marx’s early associates revealed a point of connection.

When Marx and Engels published their Communist Manifesto in Brussels in February 1848, the London German Gazette serialized the publication from 3 March- 28 July 1848.

When Marx arrived in London in 1849, he placed an announcement on a meeting in September of the German Workers’ Educational Society.

It was supposed that Marx likely met a certain Dr. William Plate in that meeting.

Dr. Plate, a regular contributor to the London German Gazette, was not only German but trustee and Honorary Foreign Secretary of the Syro-Egyptian Society and was highly regarded as an Arabist or an Orientalist for that matter and a registered reader at the British Museum.

He was also known to fellow Society member Samuel Birch of the British Museum and Sir Henry Ellis, the Principal Librarian. And so it came that on 12 June 1950, Karl Marx was admitted as a new reader to the Reading Room with Dr. Plate as his referee.

Some three years before Marx was admitted, on 24 July 1847, Dr. Plate extended his extraordinary kindness to another German Orientalist, a new arrival in London, by giving him a letter of introduction to the Director of the British Museum.

That other German was no other than Dr. Rost.

Works and Writings

Not much is known about Rizal and Rost’s encounters in London except that he frequently visited the old man on Sunday afternoons.

Socialism was likely off the menu.

Rizal himself was adamant that his work, the Noli, was not “socialistic” and denied this accusation as “false”.

Some writers filled the gap by discussing in length the romantic relationship between Rizal and one of the Beckett sisters right under the noses of Victorians Mr. and Mrs. Beckett.

In London, Rizal devoted time defending himself and the Noli from various attacks.

By 23 June, Rizal mentioned of his plans to make the second edition of Noli to correct typographical errors and erroneous citations suffered by the first.

Come July, it appears he set himself on learning more of the history and development of the human races, the classification of languages and learning the English language with Blumentritt recommending titles that Rost could help him with.

Between studying and keeping up to date with what was happening in the Philippines, Rizal was quick to recognize an opportunity at hand when he mentioned on 26 July his wish to visit the Paris Exposition.

He was still uncertain how long he will remain in London.

He hinted to Mariano Ponce that he was drafting the sequel of Noli, only to tear up the draft of the early chapters as he has not made up his mind about its plot.

He was clearly troubled by attacks not only on his novel but on the “primitive” Filipinos in general.

He lamented on 7 August that majority of Spaniards, whether priests or employees, “judge us according to the conduct of their servants with whom they deal”.

If only Blumentritt would give in to his wish and write a history of the Philippines.

But since he would not, Rizal knew there was still time.

It was still a year to the Paris Exposition.

He could work on something that will arouse the identity and pride of his countrymen.

He was tired of being mistaken as another Asian.

He wanted to be recognized as a Filipino.

Thus began the task of finding the “glorious past of an extinct civilization” to correct the present mind view of the Indio and of Spain.

Unearthing the Glorious Past

Even before Rizal completed and published his first novel, he was already tinkering on the idea of writing about the Philippines’ past.

It was in Berlin where Rizal first expressed his plan “to do something for science and the history” of his native country which he can do “very well at the Royal Library.”

As early as 22 November 1886, in between his studies of anthropology and translating stories for his nephew the tragedies of Friedrich Schiller (of William Tell) and Hans Christian Anderson’s (of The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid), Rizal was already familiarizing himself with books on Philippine history.

He knew of the volumes Adelbert von Chamisso brought from the Philippines 60 years ago including a copy of de Morga’s Sucesos.

He has read the account of Chamisso’s trip to the Philippines.

He was also aware that it was important that the Filipinos know that “foreigners take more interest in the study of their country than they themselves do.”

Rizal’s interactions with German intellectuals and scientists during his stay in his “scientific mother country” from February 1886 to May 1887 further lit the fire within him.

There he met the leading naturalists, ethnologists, anthropologist, and geographers who have either visited the Philippines or have written an account about the country.

There he presented and wrote a paper on Tagalog poetry, to clearly demonstrate that the Tagalogs were not “primitives”.

He was accepted as an intellectual peer and celebrated without regard to the color of his skin, his hair or his nose.

In London, it was also a German Rost, who welcomed and showed him through the library how various histories and civilizations in the East were being studied and analyzed.

Certainly, Rost may have apprised him of the recent developments in oriental studies and regaled Rizal of his lectures in various languages and topics.

It is more than a coincidence that Rizal was inspired to write more on Tagalog language and folklore, among others, and help generate more knowledge about his people.

A quick look at Trubner’s record was enough to see how this part of the West was devouring knowledge and producing new information – The Remains of Pagan (Burma), The Bernard Free Library-Rangoon, Buddhist Relics in Western India, Dr. Leitner on Muhammadanism, The Coins of the Early Gupta Kings, The Krakatoa Eruption and the Javanese Chronicles, Four Curious Corean Books, The Nicobar Islanders etc etc not to mention the list of new books and notes on Oriental, American, European and Colonial studies and undertakings. Alas, none on the Philippines.

Very Busy with Morga

The bitter attacks against Noli hastened Rizal’s realization that it was more than necessary to inform his countrymen about the past that they may fairly judge by themselves the present and estimate how much progress has been made during the three centuries endured under Spanish rule.

Rizal admitted that he, too, was born and brought up in ignorance of the country’s history.

By mid-August, Rizal has made up his mind and embarked on writing the Filipino’s glorious past.

London, with the knowledge and information it has accumulated, was the best place to do it.

He registered as a reader at the British Museum on 16 August 1898 and busied himself copying the entire work of Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.

By annotating de Morga’s 1609 testimony, Rizal attempted to make known “our ancient nationality in its last days”, counteract the malevolent influence of the numerous books written by the friars and the Spaniards, be an example to his Filipino compatriots and combat their bad qualities.

After a month of laborious copying by hand (less if we discount the days he stayed in Paris) Rizal announced on 17 September that, “the day after tomorrow I shall finish” and will begin his annotations.

He has read Pigafetta, Chirino and needed Van Noort’s account. By 12 October, he has exhausted all sources of Philippine history available and shall continue reading in the months ahead. He was determined not to leave London until this task was done.

Meetings, Readings and More

As Rizal labored on the Morga, Rost was also introducing him to other important personalities in London.

Rizal was introduced to Count Guillermo Morphy, an admired figure in artistic circles and, more importantly, personal secretary to King Alfonso Xll of Spain.

Rizal also met the wife of Pascual De Gayangos, a Spanish scholar, orientalist, and a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, who was involved in cataloging the Spanish manuscripts in the British Museum.

This introduction helped Rizal as he progressed on his readings on Vidal y Soler, Rada, Colin, Gaspar de San Agustin etcetera in November.

In the middle of October, Rizal contemplated abandoning his Morga studies as he was chosen to assume management of a Filipino periodical in Madrid.

After considering the work he has put in his Morga, Rizal declined the offer.

While Rost was indisposed, Rizal managed to secure articles on ancient Philippine conditions, most likely with the assistance of De Gayangos.

He shared the articles with Blumentritt on 6th December.

He was also working on the copies of bust sculptures of Julius and Augustus Caesars he found at the museum, with the Augustus taking 10 days alone, as Christmas gifts to Blumentritt and Czepelack.

Having initially declined the periodical, Rizal was still chosen as its director prompting him to go to Spain.

He sent the busts by parcel to Blumentritt and left for Madrid where he stayed for 12 days.

He was back in London on the 24th of December.

With his return, Rizal started baring his plan that will coincide with the Paris Exposition and mark the culmination of his Morga annotations.

After all, he has already consulted Sir Henry Yule, an accomplished Scottish Orientalist, who gave his approval to the plan of its foundation.

Rizal drafted the prospectus and got Rost, Regidor, etc on board the project.

Project: Philippines Studies

Rizal opened 1889 by surprising Blumentritt with the formation of the Association Internationale Des Philippinistes with himself as Secretary.

He wanted the Association to be truly international and planned to invite scholars who were interested in Philippine affairs.

With these goals, it was only natural that Rizal’s choice for president was Blumentritt who was not only an ardent defender of Rizal but have written works on the Philippines and was very well connected with other European scholars.

Blumentritt accepted the presidency by end of January, however, the exchange of proposals and nominees for Board of Directors dragged until March.

And although they were initially deciding against electing two executive members from one nationality, in the end, it wasn’t avoided.

To mark the formal organization of the association, Rost found it necessary to publish something about the group.

It also helped that beginning its March issue, the editorship of the Trubner’s Record fell on Rost.

When the Record came out in the middle of March 1889, it carried a preliminary prospectus on the Association.

The announcement did not carry as much difference in membership from Rizal’s initial proposal to Blumentritt except that the French Dr. Edmund Planchut was no longer Vice President but a Counselor.

Also, three German Counselors in Rost, Dr. Meyer, and Dr. Riedel completed the five-person body with Dr. Regidor.

Rizal’s name was wrongly printed as Dr. T. Rizol, Secretaire.

There is no doubt that Rizal thought of the Association and the nomination of Dr. Planchut, not to mention the French name of the organization, as a homage to the Exposition Universelle 1889.

Rizal planned to use the Exposition to launch the study on the Philippines by holding the International Congress of the Association in August in Paris.

This was the main reason Rizal left London in the middle of March.

His energy and activities were focused on the preparation for the International Congress.

By 19th of March, he acknowledged that there wasn’t much time to publish Morga.

However, he intimated that he had money to print Blumentritt’s works – Ethnography of Mindanao and Defense which he finished translating.

He also founded Kidlat Club with Filipinos in Paris in support of the activities during the Exposition.

In the next nine days, Rizal crossed the English Channel shuttling between Paris and London four times to make everything ready.

To garner interests on the newly formed association, Rizal submitted two contributions in the May and July 1889 issues of Trubner’s Record.

The Record included notes and lists of current American, European and colonial publications.

Published six times a year, the issue came out in the middle of the month and aimed to provide ample space to literary and scientific articles on subjects within its scope like history, antiquities and Civilization of the East in addition to personal notices and notes of works projected or in progress.

Rizal’s articles were entitled “Specimens of Tagal Folklore” composed of proverbial sayings, puzzles and verses and “Two Eastern Fables” – a comparative analysis of the ‘Tagal Ang buhay ni pagong at ni matsing’ and the Japanese ‘Saru Kani Kassen’ (Battle of the monkey and the crabs).

The Specimens was meant to draw the attention of the readers and other scholars to sample the language, its tones, its rhyme, its metric, and its vocabulary while at the same time appreciate the genius of the common folk.

These are the reasons the samples were printed in Tagal with their corresponding English translations.

The contribution was straightforward, not even a short introduction of where the Tagal speakers were from.

Two Eastern Fable, on the other hand, was an invitation to dig deeper into Philippine studies by offering a comparative analysis of related fables from the Philippines and Japan.

It also helped that the article landed on the first page of the issue.

Rizal stated that the Japanese fable may have come from a South country where the Philippine version may have come from as well.

He also stated that the Philippine version was a more primitive version as it is plainer, and shows a more delicate observation of character and feeling as opposed to the Japanese version that is much changed.

He also implied that the Philippine version may be the primitive form itself and referred to it as an inheritance of an extinct civilization.

After Rizal sent Ethnography in Barcelona for printing in late April, his grand plan in Paris was dealt a big blow.

The Exposition organizers gave no quarters for the Philippine Congress as the number of International conferences was limited.

He lamented that he missed the British Museum and wanted to go back to London.

The association members also had problems with commitments – Meyer was arriving in May, Rizal had a falling out with Regidor, only the old man Rost was likely to come in August.

On the 20th of May, Rizal has conceded on his Paris plan.

He promised to prepare a meeting for good Philippinists if Blumentritt was coming over.

He also sent the Morga proofs to Blumentritt for the latter’s prologue before it could be printed.

By this time, the Association was nipped right in the bud.

It was May all over again.

London – is busy and smelly roads, the British Museum and its rich collections, the home by the park with a watercolor painting left hanging by his study because he planned to go back, the Rost family in Primrose, the Sunday tea, and the circle of Orientalists friends – all distant memories. It has been a year.

Within that span, London enriched Rizal’s mind regarding his people’s past.

He was a changed man.

The publication of his annotations of Morga’s Sucesos (published later in the year) and the International Congress would have completed his project and heralded the birth of Philippine Studies – all made in London.

But while the Association never bloomed, the seeds planted had taken root.

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