The Philippines and Round About
by G. J. Younghusband

A Romance of the War

In Kalamba, near the Laguna de Bay, on June 19th, 1861 , was born a child who afterwards became a prominent national character, and under the name of José Rizal is now looked upon as the personification of the rising spirit of a new and regenerate nation. Unlike Aguinaldo, José Rizal came of a good stock, landowners of some consideration, and passing rich amidst not very opulent surroundings. The poetic and scholastic temperament of Rizal began to show itself early, for when only eight years of age he wrote poems which are described as having secured the admiration of the Tagalic poets of the province, and at fifteen he produced a melodrama, entitled "Junto al Pasig." Even thus early he was filled with intensely, perhaps dangerously, patriotic emotions, and some of his writings would doubtless, if the work of a boy could have been taken seriously, have attracted the unwelcome attention of the Spanish officials. After a scholastic career in Manila which was marked by considerable success and clearly demonstrated his uncommon ability, he, in 1882, when twenty-one years of age, proceeded to Europe to study medicine.

He went first to Madrid, and after two years of hard work took his degree as Doctor of Medicine, and also as a Licentiate in Philosophy and the Fine Arts. His next step was to proceed to Paris, where, in addition to studying under Professor Wecker with a view to becoming a specialist in diseases of the eye, he gratified his artistic and literary proclivities by prosecuting his studies in those arts. In I885 he moved on to Germany, there to study Schiller and his methods, and later visited Austria. Finally he settled down for a time in Belgium, where he wrote his celebrated novel, "Noli me tangere," a work of considerable merit, and by competent critics considered wonderful, coming as it did from a member of a race which is ranked very low in the scale of national intelligence.

Rizal had now been five years absent from his native land, and a feeling of home-sickness, in the year 1887, drew him back to his beloved islands, full, and for one of a subject race, dangerously full, of broad views regarding freedom, the rights of man, and political emancipation. His return was by no means welcomed by the Spanish authorities, for his writings had been widely read by the Filipinos, and had undoubtedly had the effect of deeply impressing an excitable and easily led people. His presence in the islands was therefore shortly found to be prejudicial to the general peace, and to escape forcible transportation it became imperative to flee the country. Hitherto the patriothad only been a patriot of words and phrases, he was merely filled with generous impulses in the direction of free institutions, and the possibility or feasibility of a recourse to arms had probably not entered his head. But about this time a private injury, as has often been the case before, turned the mild reformer into a red-hot revolutionist. One of the chief lessons which Rizal had learnt in Europe was that a priest-ridden nation is a nation bound over hand and foot to degeneration and decay, and many of his writings were directed against this unwholesome influence, which nowhere has had such pernicious effects as in the Philippines. Amongst his bitterest enemies, therefore, on his return to his home, he found ranged the whole hierarchy of the priesthood. In any other country under a so-called civilised rule, such a divergence of views would probably have been sufficiently met by a literary controversy of greater or less virulence, but in the Philippines the Holy Mother Church was in a position to take much more active measures to show her displeasure. In pursuance, therefore, of a policy of systematic perjury and rapacity, charges of various sorts were trumped up against Rizal's title-deeds to his own estates, and these were bit by bit whittled away, and bit by bit were transferred to the interesting clerics who worked this infamous transaction. At last little but his house was left to him, and even that not for long, for the finishing touch was put to this fine collection of villanies by the burning down of his house about his ears.

Now, the least aggressive of mankind would, with justice, feel aggrieved at treatment of this sort, and thoughts of revenge would naturally arise. José Rizal made no pretension of acknowledging the power of the priests, and this action on their part turned him into a bitter and implacable foe, not only of the order but of the Spanish Government, whom the priesthood practically represented. He took, therefore, into his exile the seeds of a revolution. After remaining some time in Japan he returned to Europe, where he took up his abode in London, and commenced writing his "History of the Philippines," this work being shortly followed by "The Filibusters," which reads as a sequel to "Noli me tangere." This new book was written with the special object of rousing the patriotic ardour of his fellow Filipinos. His proscription by the Spanish authorities was apparently only for a term of years, for in 1892 we find Rizal back in the Philippines, and again getting into the black books of the reigning power.

The cause of offence this time was an attempt made by the reformer to encourage wholesale emigration from the Philippine Islands with a view to founding a free republic in some portion of Borneo. The undertaking, or the manner of putting it before the public, was considered revolutionary, and the promoter was banished to Dapitan by the Spanish General Despujols in 1892. From that time up to 1896 Rizal appears to have been one of the moving spirits amongst the reform party, though his actual complicity in favouring armed resistance is strenuously denied by his friends. Undoubtedly, however, he was treading on dangerous ground, and his supposed connection with certain secret societies gained him the added animosity of the priesthood. It was, therefore, perhaps only natural when rebellion broke out in the autumn of 1896, that José Rizal should be one of the first suspects seized. His direct complicity in the rising was, however, difficult of proof, and being a well-known man, with friends in Europe, the Spaniards hesitated to give him the same short shrift which awaited his less influential fellow prisoners.

The semblance of a long trial was therefore gone through, and though Rizal eloquently denied his complicity and claimed the same toleration which other writers on broad general questions enjoy in Europe, he was, in December, 1896, sentenced to be shot. And now comes in the romance. Amongst those who were sincerely attached to José Rizal, and who believed implicitly in his innocence, was Josephine Bracken, the daughter of a sergeant in the British service, an Irishman who, when his term of service had expired, had settled down at Hong Kong. Miss Bracken was born at the Victoria Barracks, Hong Kong, and her mother dying soon afterwards, she was adopted by a kind couple named Tauffner, who took her to Manila with them and reared and educated her. History does not relate in what year the attachment between José Rizal and the Irish girl commenced, but it is certain that through the weeks and months of anxious waiting which intervened between the capture and sentence of her lover, she used the most strenuous exertions and every means in her power to loosen the coils which were being wound about him, but, alas! without avail. It was officially announced that Dr. José Rizal would be shot at eight o'clock on the morning of December 30th, on the Luneta, the fashionable promenade of Manila, for the crime of treason and the instigation of armed rebellion.

At 3 A.M. on that morning, after first having confessed to the priest, Rizal received the Holy Communion at the chapel of the royal fortress of Santiago, and at g 5. A.M., under these solemn and touching circumstances and with these gloomy surroundings, was celebrated the marriage of Dr. José Rizal and Miss Josephine Bracken, in the presence only of the chaplain to the forces and the officers of the guard. A bridegroom of an hour's standing, the prisoner was at 6.30 A.M. marched under an escort of the artillery regiment to the Campo de Bagumbayan, which lies at the back of the Luneta, arriving there just before 7 o'clock, nearly a full hour before the time fixed upon for the execution. The reason for this precipitance is probably to be found in the fact that Dr. Rizal was much respected and beloved by his countrymen, and a serious rising or an organised rescue might have been attempted if time had been given for a still greater gathering than had already assembled, perhaps mercifully, therefore, José Rizal was deprived of one hour of his life, and being led to the sea face and bound hand and foot, was placed close to a lamp post and there and then shot in the back by a picquet of the 10th Spanish Infantry Regiment. Such was the tragic end of possibly the ablest and certainly the most intellectual personality whom Philippine history has produced.

Her brief married life thus abruptly ended, Madame Rizal, stirred by the hot Irish blood of her forefathers, swore that she would be avenged on the Spaniards for what she could only consider the judicial murder of her husband. Acting on this determination she, together with José Rizal's sister, went over to the insurgent camp and actively espoused the rebel cause. The sister apparently contented herself with such non-combatant duties as nursing the sick and wounded, but Madame Rizal, with fine intrepidity, insisted on taking her place in the firing line, armed either with a revolver or a rifle. In this lady's first engagement it is narrated that she picked off, with unerring aim, the Spanish officer who was leading the troops to the attack, and during this engagement she is said to have fired forty rounds, and to have excited the admiration of those around her by her excellent shooting. For many weeks this brave woman fought in the ranks of the insurgents, and certainly by the tenets of the Mosaic law, an eye for an eye and a life for a life, she must have amply avenged the loss of her husband. Not content with combat at long ranges, Madame Rizal is reported to have even faced the stern ordeal of hand-to-hand conflict, and to have led charges with the bohie knife as a weapon of offence against dumbfounded bodies of Spaniards. Finding that lack of arms of precision in sufficient quantities prevented the insurgents from gaining a decisive success, Madame Rizal escaped to Japan and afterwards to America to procure arms, and these have since undoubtedly, prohibition or no prohibition, been steadily flowing into the country.

Prevented by her friends from again returning to the Philippines, where death as a rebel, if not as a combatant, assuredly awaited her, Madame Rizal settled down in Hong Kong, where she still lives, awaiting the development of events. When in Manila we went to see Dr. Rizal's sister, and found her a pure Philippine native, now engaged in keeping a small shop at which "pina" cloth is sold. She gave us a picture of her brother, together with a printed sketch of his life, corrected by herself, from which, sketch the present narrative of Rizal's early life is taken, but we were somewhat surprised to find that she was quite reconciled to her brother's death, and chatted genially and without the least emotion or rancour about it. In a city where executions by the dozen take place constantly, doubtless the natural feelings get somewhat dulled. In Hong Kong we hunted high and low, east and west, for Madame Rizal, but could not succeed in finding her, though we came across houses she had recently occupied, nor could the postal authorities help us.

The little romance, therefore, which is here set forth, must be taken only as a romance, for without first securing Madame Rizal's own version of her touching story, it should be impossible to distinguish facts from fiction. It may, however, be accepted that the main outlines of the unhappy history of the Philippine revolutionist José Rizal and the Irish girl Josephine Bracken are as herein recorded.

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created: November 5, 1995
updated: October 20, 1997
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