Noli Me Tangere
Spain, to Rizal, was a venue for realizing his dreams. He finished his studies in Madrid and this to him was the realization of the bigger part of his ambition. His vision broadened while he was in Spain to the point of awakening in him an understanding of human nature, sparking in him the realization that his people needed him. It must have been this sentiment that prompted him to pursue, during the re-organizational meeting of the Circulo-Hispano-Filipino, to be one of its activities, the publication of a book to which all the members would contribute papers on the various aspects and conditions of Philippines life.
“My proposal on the book,” he wrote on January 2, 1884, “was unanimously approved. But afterwards difficulties and objections were raised which seemed to me rather odd, and a number of gentlemen stood up and refused to discuss the matter any further. In view of this I decided not to press it any longer, feeling that it was impossible to count on general support…”
“Fortunately,” writes one of Rizal’s biographers, the anthology, if we may call it that, was never written. Instead, the next year, Pedro Paterno published his Ninay, a novel sub-titled Costumbres filipinas (Philippines Customs), thus partly fulfilling the original purpose of Rizal’s plan. He himself (Rizal), as we have seen, had ‘put aside his pen’ in deference to the wishes of his parents.
But the idea of writing a novel himself must have grown on him. It would be no poem to forgotten after a year, no essay in a review of scant circulation, no speech that passed in the night, but a long and serious work on which he might labor, exercising his mind and hand, without troubling his mother’s sleep. He would call it Noli Me Tangere; the Latin echo of the Spoliarium is not without significance. He seems to have told no one in his family about his grand design; it is not mentioned in his correspondence until the book is well-nigh completed. But the other expatriates knew what he was doing; later, when Pastells was blaming the Noli on the influence of German Protestants, he would call his compatriots to witness that he had written half of the novel in Madrid a fourth part in Paris, and only the remainder in Germany.
“From the first,” writes Leon Ma. Guerrero, Rizal was haunted by the fear that his novel would never find its way into print, that it would remain unread. He had little enough money for his own needs, let alone the cost of the Noli’s publication… Characteristically, Rizal would not hear of asking his friends for help. He did not want to compromise them.
Viola insisted on lending him the money (P300 for 2,000 copies); Rizal at first demurred… Finally Rizal gave in and the novel went to press. The proofs were delivered daily, and one day the messenger, according to Viola, took it upon himself to warn the author that if he ever returned to the Philippines he would lose his head. Rizal was too enthralled by seeing his work in print to do more than smile.
The printing apparently took considerably less time than the original estimate of five months for Viola did not arrive in Berlin until December and by the 21st March 1887, Rizal was already sending Blumentritt a copy of “my first book.”
Rizal, himself, describing the nature of the Noli Me Tangere to his friend Blumentritt, wrote, “The Novel is the first impartial and bold account of the life of the tagalogs. The Filipinos will find in it the history of the last ten years…”
Criticism and attacks against the Noli and its author came from all quarters. An anonymous letter signed “A Friar” and sent to Rizal, dated February 15, 1888, says in part: “How ungrateful you are… If you, or for that matter all your men, think you have a grievance, then challenge us and we shall pick up the gauntlet, for we are not cowards like you, which is not to say that a hidden hand will not put an end to your life.”
A special committee of the faculty of the University of Santo Tomas, at the request of the Archbishop Pedro Payo, found and condemned the novel as heretical, impious, and scandalous in its religious aspect, and unpatriotic, subversive of public order and harmful to the Spanish government and its administration of theses islands in its political aspect.
On December 28, 1887, Fray Salvador Font, the cura of Tondo and chairman of the Permanent Commission of Censorship composed of laymen and ordered that the circulation of this pernicious book” be absolutely prohibited.
Not content, Font caused the circulation of copies of the prohibition, an act which brought an effect contrary to what he desired. Instead of what he expected, the negative publicity awakened more the curiosity of the people who managed to get copies of the book.
Assisting Father Font in his aim to discredit the Noli was an Augustinian friar by the name of Jose Rodriguez. In a pamphlet entitled Caiingat Cayo (Beware). Fr. Rodriguez warned the people that in reading the book they “commit mortal sin,” considering that it was full of heresy.
As far as Madrid, there was furor over the Noli, as evidenced by an article which bitterly criticized the novel published in a Madrid newspaper in January, 1890, and written by one Vicente Barrantes. In like manner, a member of the Senate in the Spanish Cortes assailed the novel as “anti-Catholic, Protestant, socialistic.”
It is well to note that not detractors alone visibly reacted to the effects of the Noli. For if there were bitter critics, another group composed of staunch defenders found every reason to justify its publication and circulation to the greatest number of Filipinos. For instance, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, cleverly writing under an assumed name Dolores Manapat, successfully circulated a publication that negated the effect of Father Rodriguez’ Caiingat Cayo, Del Pilar’s piece was entitled Caiigat Cayo (Be Slippery as an Eel). Deceiving similar in format to Rodriguez’ Caiingat Cayo, the people were readily “misled” into getting not a copy o Rodriguez’ piece but Del Pillar’s.
The Noli Me Tangere found another staunch defender in the person of a Catholic theologian of the Manila Cathedral, in Father Vicente Garcia. Under the pen-name Justo Desiderio Magalang. Father Garcia wrote a very scholarly defense of the Noli, claiming among other things that Rizal cannot be an ignorant man, being the product of Spanish officials and corrupt friars; he himself who had warned the people of committing mortal sin if they read the novel had therefore committed such sin for he has read the novel.
Consequently, realizing how much the Noli had awakened his countrymen, to the point of defending his novel, Rizal said: “Now I die content.”
Fittingly, Rizal found it a timely and effective gesture to dedicate his novel to the country of his people whose experiences and sufferings he wrote about, sufferings which he brought to light in an effort to awaken his countrymen to the truths that had long remained unspoken, although not totally unheard of.
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