anarchy archives


About Us

Contact Us

Other Links

Critics Corner


The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
  Art and Anarchy
This book appears in Anarchy Archives courtesy of International Institute for Social History.

McCabe, Joseph. The Martyrdom of Ferrer. Watts & Co., London, 1909.








Ferrer returned to Barcelona at the opening of the twentieth century to find the confederate systems I have described flourishing vigorously in an atmosphere of dense ignorance and illiteracy. "Our social condition," the President of the Madrid Athenaeum wrote in 1903, " is barbaric, in harmony with our barbaric form of government." The census of 1903 returned 11,945,971 out of a population of 17,667,256 as entirely illiterate. Spain had been far more literate under the Romans 1,700 years earlier; vastly more enlightened under the Mohammedans. Spain in the twentieth century was spending considerably less than two Million pounds a year on elementary education, while retrograde clergy and corrupt officials prospered on the general ignorance.

     Such education as there was had the express aim of supporting tire existing All the authorities agree in describing middle-class education as narrow and heavily biased. The educated class, says Dr. Dillon, betrayed "a monumental ignorance of contemporary history and foreign languages." With something of the (plaint conceit of the Chinese, they tried to convince themselves that the traditions of Spain were too precious and splendid to be lost by the process of "Europeanisation " which their deeper thinkers were demanding. The last chapter gives the real meaning of this "Spanish bride." Happily, as far as the middle class was concerned a line spirit of revolt was spreading. Brilliant writers like Perez Caldos endeavoured to bring Liberal Spain flack to the: splendid aspirations for which it had made heroic sacrifices in the first half of the nineteenth century. Blasco Ibanez another distinguished novelist, shamed it with pictures of its lamentable fall from Moorish splendour to Catholic debasement. Of forty books that the educated Spaniard reads to-day thirty-five are Rationalistic.

     But the corrupt practices of Church and State could not be abolished as long as the overwhelming majority of the nation was densely ignorant its when it is said that something over four millions (out of eighteen millions) could read and write, one must understand what this means. I may seem to have been unjust to the Church in so heavily charging it with criminal responsibility for the ignorance of the nation-the acknowledged root of half its evils. Do not thousands of nuns and other Conventual inmates spend their lives in teaching? Does not the Church provide numbers of schools, day and night, at its own expense?

     It does; unhappily for Spain. These schools are made the pretext for suppressing better schools, and for making no national effort to remove the nation's shame. They are schools of the type we had in England fifty years ago. The religious organization which, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, counteracted the growing demand for education in England by founding schools of its own, expressly stated that it would be careful to educate children " in their proper station," which was, in the old phrase, a condition of respectful submission to their pastors and masters. That is the direct aim of elementary education in Spain, as will be understood from our study of the character of the Spanish peasant's " pastors and masters." The child was taught to read, with fiery injunctions as to what it should and should not read. The curriculum was narrow, arid, and unstimulating. It was indeed especially devised to meet the old idea of teaching without educating. And the whole period of school-life was filled with fulminations intended to keep the child in its proper station.

     Before Ferrer returned to Barcelona little, hands of mutinous workers here and there had clubbed together and founded secular schools of their own. Middle-class Rationalists and Republicans took some interest in the enterprise, but the teaching--stimulating enough, in all conscience--was hampered by lack of funds. Church and State looked on with tolerable indifference at the mushroom-growths of revolt. An ex-priest who had been active in the work returned to the Church, and many little institutions were closed. Those that survived were mainly Republican schools, which have greatly increased in number and grown in efficiency under the inspiration of Ferrer's fine creations.

     It is most important to distinguish between these Republican schools and the Modern Schools established by Ferrer. They existed Before Ferrer started his work, they differed from his in giving (often) religious instruction and in political tendency and of fate years their leaders have not been on the best terms with Ferrer, because of the absorption of his hinds in purely educational work. But pro-Spanish writers----to be quite correct (since I am a pro-Spanish writer), the anonymous and unscrupulous slanderers who have poisoned our Press in the interest of the corruption of Spain--have found it useful to confuse the Modern and the Republican schools. Much that may have been taught in the Republican schools was certainly not taught in those of Fewer, to whore a Republic was not the acceptable political ideal. But I will anticipate a later discussion so far as to say that the maxims which correspondents of the Saturday Review and other journals assert they saw on the walls of schools in Spain slid not exist in either the Modern or Republican schools in any forte whatever. I have questioned on the subject masters of Ferrer's schools; and Alejandro Lerroux, the leader of the Barcelona Republicans, emphatically denies them oil his part. A moment's canting reflection would convince anybody that no school would last a week in Spain, or anywhere else, in which injunctions to massacre all officials and the whole middle-class, and indulge in general pillage, were printed in large capitals on the walls.

     The Church and the caciques had been content with petty persecution so long as these schools depended on the coppers of the workers. An entirely new era opened where a brilliant professor from Paris, with a capital of £30,000 and a fine capacity to control and employ it, entered the field. "the notion that Ferrer gathered about him all the iconoclasts of Barcelona and "literally' taught the young idea to shoot," as the Daily Dispatch (October 16) said, in an article with the disgusting anonymous heading of " By One who Knew Him" is a grotesque untruth. Ferrer incurred the annoyance of many of his earlier friends, with whom he wished to remain on terms of personal friendship, precisely because he determined to use his funds for his single aim. He refused to spend money on ids children, beyond a modest allowance to his struggling elder daughter. He refused to lice in the comfort which his new circumstances would have justified. He regarded the money left to him by Mlle. Meunier as a moral trust, and scrupulously expended it in the cause of education and philanthropy; though the money was bequeathed absolutely to him.1

     Instead of calling to his aid tike violent revolutionaries of popular legend, Ferrer invited the co-operation of some of the best known scholars of France and Spain, such as Dr. Odon de Buen, member of the Spanish Senate and a distinguished scientist; Dr. Martinez Vargas, Professor of Medicine at Barcelona; Professor Ramon y Cajal, one of the finest physiologists in America; and Professors Reclus and Letourneau of Paris. Other scientific men were invited to co-operate as time went on, with the result that these schools, which "literally taught the young idea to shoot," had a series of scientific text-hooks which have no parallel in any elementary school system in die world. Five of them are from the pen of Dr. Odon de Buen of European repute. They include manuals of reading, grammar, history, all branches of natural philosophy, psychology, and sociology. The reader who would know Ferrer's schools should glance at this fine series of thirty manuals, a set of which has, I understand, been deposited at the British Museum.

     It has been stated all over Europe by the anonymous defenders of Spanish corruption, with the aid of simple-minded zealots like Canon Lynch that these text-books were armouries of insurrection. Let me introduce the subject by a letter received by Ferrer not in the early days of the Escuela Moderna, when the books were few and critical attention had not been directed to theta, but in the spring of the present year. This letter, which was not produced at Ferrer's condemnation, as it would have been if be had had a trial, was published prominently in the Boletin de lit Escuela Moderna (" The Bulletin of the Aloderil School ") for June, 1909, and was fresh in the memory of the Barcelona authorities. It is from a bishop, unconnected with the Vatican--the "supreme bishop of the Independent Church of t be Philippine Islands." It is dated from Manila, March to, 1909:--

Director of the Modern School,

     Accept, Sir, the assurance of my most distinguished consideration:
My delegate at Barcelona, Sr. Isabelo de los Reyes, has sent me most of the magnificent works edited by you. I have been agreeably surprised by the modern, scientific, and civilising tendency of their teaching. If the Filipinos had studied those works instead of the stupefying treatises of the monks and Jesuits, which betray the evil odour of their cells, they would have learned in a few years what it has taken them nearly four centuries to learn from the fantastic disquisitions of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and others, who were assuredly, in their time, brilliant lights of the Church. But bow are we going to teach from their archaic doctrines young people who are the contemporaries of aeroplanes, radium, and the thousands of other scientific discoveries?

     Pray accept the warmest congratulations of our Church for your praiseworthy efforts and sufferings in the cause of Rationalism. Our Church believes that reason is directly inspired by God, and that to seek the truth is to seek the Lord.

     The Supreme Council of our Bishops, which is composed of twenty-four prelates, has agreed that some of your manuals shall be established as text-books in our seminaries and schools---namely, the Natural Sciences and Physical Geography of Dr. Odon de Buen (to whom please send an assurance of our admiration), the First Stages of Humanity of Engerrand, the Ethnical Psychology of Letourneau, and Man and the Earth, by Reclus--merely rectifying or explaining the atheistic or anti-religious tendencies by saying that tile authors are anti-religious because they, like yourself, have endured savage persecution at the hands of those who ought to be imitators of tile gentlest, most humane, most noble, and free in spirit of all wasters.

In your person I respectfully salute tile whole of tile professors of the Modern School in Spain.

Supreme Bishop of the Independent Philippine Church.

     It will be seen that a Liberal Catholicism of a remarkable type has evolved in the remote Philippines; but the lack of ' consecration from the Vatican does not affect the value of this testimony. Within two months of the receipt of this religious encouragement the Modern Schools were to be closed, on a scandalous pretext, their founder branded through the Press of Europe as "the Fagin of revolt," and savagely murdered in the prime of his life. It is true that the Bishop recognises anti-religious sentiments in the works; but there is not a word about those murderous phrases which Ferrer has been so widely accused of disseminating through his schools.

     On the point of Rationalistic teaching the Modern Schools were perfectly open. Ferrer was what we should call in England an Agnostic. In the genial note he appends to the Bishop's letter in his Boletin he repudiates the idea that he and his friends opposed religion only because it persecuted. They oppose it, he says, from conviction. The manuals and the teaching were professedly Rationalistic, in the general pervading sense in which the text-books and teaching in a Roman Catholic school are Catholic; and there was a special Rationalistic manual on The Origin of Christianity. The idea that the schools could be suppressed on that account by any civilised Government is ludicrous. If an Agnostic cares to use his fortune in establishing schools, he has the same elementary right to have his ideas, provided they do not tend to violent disturbance, taught in them as has a Roman Catholic. Indeed, the contention of our Roman Catholics 'that, while the State here ought to pay practically the whole cost of their specific education, the State in Spain should not allow ideas opposed to theirs to be taught at private expense, is only remarkable for its audacity.

     The children of Ferrer's schools came from Rationalist homes, and their parents desired this teaching. The alternative schools violated their consciences and merited their disdain. There was nothing secret or insidious in the teaching. The Jesuits very loudly proclaimed it. But, while Spanish agents have somehow persuaded many people in England that a State may fitly confiscate schools and shoot their founder, because of his Agnosticism-an assumption which we should regard as an outrage on civilisation here-the truth is that, bad as Spain is, such a thing is not possible even there, and a lying pretext had to be invented. Ferrer's schools were closed, his property confiscated, and his life ruthlessly taken, because he was a Rationalist. Let us see what there is in the charge that he "literally taught the young idea to shoot."

     I will examine in a later chapter the forged documents and the phrases of anonymous origin which Catholic journals began to publish before Ferrer was tried. Not the slightest effort was made to prove that these sentiments were ever, in any shape, disseminated in Ferrer's schools. They are indignantly and emphatically repudiated by the men I have examined who taught in those schools. It is, in fact, preposterous to think that the authorities, who have watched Ferrer assiduously since his trial in 1906 would have allowed such phrases, or any remote approach to them, to be paraded in the Modern Schools. English journals of great weight have admitted to their columns statements of this kind which had not a tittle of evidence or authority, and were in themselves wildly improbable. English Roman Catholic priests have seized and employed them with a blind bigotry, a gross injustice, and a disregard of truth that make one wonder how much of the spirit of the Inquisition lurks beneath their professions of humane conversion.

     We shall speak of the origin of these documents later. For the moment we are confronted with the statement that the manuals themselves taught anarchy, revolution, pillage, and massacre. We turn with interest to the "quotations" which Catholics have disseminated, and we find that in not a single instance is there a reference, not merely to a specific page, but even to a specific book. We are left to make our way through a series of thirty-one text-books and fifteen other books published by the Escuela Moderna in search of half a dozen phrases. Then we are told by Canon Lynch that we suppress the truth and misrepresent Ferrer. Until a particular passage in the works is submitted to us, we cannot be expected to take serious notice of such charges. Anonymity of writers is bad enough; anonymity of quotations usually means forgery or falsification.

     I have examined many of the works in question; informants of mine who possess the whole series report that no such passages occur in them. Again, one must reflect whether the Spanish authorities would have waited so long to entrap Ferrer, and would have shrunk from a civil trial, if they could have put before a court works containing the passages alleged. The civil courts of Spain would suffice to deal with schools in which children were taught "literally" to shoot or to pillage. Even before the Military Council these books were not produced, and no allusion was made to them whatever.

     The plain truth-and it is the plain truth I submit in contrast to a crowd of anonymous allegations, resting on no proof or authority-is that the spirit of the teaching in some of the manuals was democratic. Ferrer, seeing the political and clerical corruption about him, would have thought it cowardly to conceal his social ideal or his views of religion. His schools were founded to inaugurate the elevation of the Spanish people, and protests against injustice and war had a legitimate place in them. This is a matter on a totally different plane from the incitements to kill and to pillage which have been fraudulently ascribed to him. Not a single word of that nature ever occurred in the Modern Schools, and not the least attempt has been made to prove that it did. The well-known Anarchist, M. Malato, informed me that Ferrer expressly directed him to avoid Anarchism in the one or two works he compiled for the schools. Only such sentiments were communicated to the children as will be found in any democratic school in England. The dissemination of such sentiments in so corrupt a country as Spain is dangerous to the corruption. But even there no law is broken by the peaceful propaganda of advanced social views. The case of the murderers of Ferrer rests entirely on allegations that he, directly or indirectly, incited to murder or the destruction of property. We have shown that this was utterly foreign to the spirit in which he left Paris. We shall see that it is a gross and groundless calumny.

     The real spirit in which Ferrer set about his work is made clear in the following passages from his private letters, which I translate from the Italian Ragione (of Rome): "As is notorious, the child is born without any preconceived idea, and in the course of life it imbibes the ideas of those who first surround it, modifying them afterwards according to its culture, observations, and relations to its environment. It clearly follows that, if the child be educated in true, positive ideas about all things, and taught that, to avoid errors, it is indispensable that it should accept nothing on faith, but only what science can demonstrate, the child will grow up with its powers of observation sharpened and with an aptitude for all kinds of study ....... To educate children with freedom from prejudice, and publish the works necessary for that purpose, is the work of the Modern School ....... The whole value of education consists in respect of the physical, intellectual, and moral will of the child ....... The true teacher is he who can defend the child against his own will and ideas, making his appeal in increasing measure to the energies of the child himself."

     We thus see that this man who has been so grossly misrepresented had a profound theory of pedagogy, which he embodied in a fine constructive system of education. Construction was essentially his aim. He would make a new Spanish race, of upright life-the scurrilous charge that he undermined morality is too frivolous to be considered informed mind, and scientifically trained judgment. This new democracy would create a new Spain. I have before me the index to the Boletin he published from 1901 to 1909. The articles are often by some of the most eminent men of science in Europe. They deal with every aspect of pedagogy and science, and often with religion; but, except in this broad sense, not one article in a hundred deals with social questions, none deal with political questions, and all reflect a serious, scientific temper.

     I need only add, in regard to the general principles of his work, that after his schools had been threatened in 1906 his friends co-operated in forming an “International League for the Rational Education of Children." Ferrer was made President, and Professor Haeckel (an anti-Socialist) and Professor Sergi (the great Italian anthropologist) are among the Vice-Presidents. Its spirit is the spirit of the Modern Schools, and is expressed in such principles as: "Instruction is only a part of this education. It must also, in addition to the formation of the intelligence, embrace the development of character, the cultivation of the will, the creation of a moral and physical nature, nicely balanced, with faculties harmoniously associated and drawn out to their full power. Moral education, much less theoretic than practical, must chiefly be given by example, and be based on the great natural law of solidarity."

     This ideal-the ideal of progressive teachers the world over-is the true spirit of Ferrer's work. It is repeated in every number of his Bulletin, reflected in all his manuals, and informed the whole activity of his schools. Not a line of correct quotation from any authentic document of Ferrer's is out of accord with it. But this is precisely the ideal of education that would soon put a term to the bulas and caciques of Spain, if it were embodied in a general system of education.

     The work commenced with the opening of the original and central Escuela Moderna at Barcelona in 1901. Its classes were first attended by twelve girls and eighteen boys. At the end of the first year the number had increased to seventy, in spite of priestly strictures. Its fine rooms, genial teachers, and enlightened lessons could not fail to win adherents. Ferrer quoted in 1907, from a Spanish educational journal (La Escuela Espanola), some unpleasant facts with regard to the schools which the Jesuits thought sufficient for Spain. They were largely, it seems, "without light or ventilation-dens of death, ignorance, and bad training." It was estimated that 50,000 children died every year in consequence of the mischievous character of these school rooms; moreover, there were still half a million children without any school accommodation at all, and crowds of hungry, unpaid, incompetent teachers seeking a livelihood.

     The Escuela Moderna continued to gain adherents. Demands came from other parts of Catalonia for modern schools, and Ferrer eagerly co-operated and shared his manuals. The Republican schools received a great impetus, and spread equally. By the year 1906 more than fifty schools had been founded, mainly in Catalonia, on the model of the original Escuela Moderna. In that year Ferrer gave a feast to 1,700 children who were pupils in the various schools set up under his inspiration. Teachers and pupils were devoted to their founder, and his Boletin testifies constantly to the keen interest he tool: in their moral no less than their physical development.

     I have so often spoken of Spain as a century behind the rest of Europe that I may complete the parallel. A hundred years ago groups of educationists were plotting to rid England of its degrading condition of ignorance, and one of these, Robert Owen, inaugurated a work very closely similar to that of Ferrer. He built a fine school for the children of the workers at New Lanark, dispensed with religious instruction, paid great attention to the training of character on humanitarian lines, and devised the most advanced curriculum that could then be found in Europe. It was well known that Owen detested militarism, advocated Socialism, and rejected theology. We did not shoot or persecute Owen, even in those days. Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Kent, followed his work with the closest interest. Indeed, the success of his moral training was so astounding that New Lanark drew educationists and representatives of governments and monarchs from all parts of Europe.

     Francisco Ferrer was the Robert Owen of Spain. I have met men or women who have known both of these educators, and if there is any difference-besides the ultimate political ideal-it is that Ferrer was less absorbed in large ideas, more quick and direct in human sympathies. His letters, many of which I have read, suggest a man of very warm affections, very genial presence, great generosity and refinement. One letter shown to me recalls a typical instance of his ways. A cultivated refugee from some other country had reached England, and, in great privation, became known to a friend of Ferrer's. As the man spoke Spanish, Ferrer was told of his case. Ferrer at once sent the man's fare to Barcelona, and found him employment. His whole career since 1900 was one of generous giving.

     He was a man of medium height, with penetrating black eyes, whitish hair, and roundish face. Gifted with a high intelligence, an iron will, and a fine business capacity, he took pride and pleasure in work. A French writer, who knew him, observes that "it was difficult to approach him without loving him," but that he was reserved, and only responded when he willed. His many intimate friends to whom I have spoken-and had spoken often before the tragedy occurred-felt and suffered as one does only where great charm is associated with great worth of character. Of children he was passionately fond. His work for them had a ground of human sentiment as well as of social and moral principle. It was the peril of a child that caused him, quite accidentally, to break a sojourn in England that was to last some months, and drew him into the death-trap at Barcelona.

     Ferrer was a happy man. Quiet and dignified in bearing, he had all the Spaniard's love of life, and in his last decade it found satisfaction. Welcomed in a score of circles throughout Eastern Europe, wedded to a charming and beautiful woman, comfortable in his small estate (a farm) on the fringe of Barcelona, he needed but one further solace-the success of his work, the enlightenment of Spain. And it was succeeding as rapidly as he had ever hoped it would. With warm feeling he watched the rays of his ideal spread slowly over the map of Spain, and nursed the little schools which sprang up on all sides. Here was a pacific victory, far more promising than the silencing of rifle by rifle which he had once meditated. But the reactionary powers were watching with inflamed anger and dread, and he was hardly five years in Barcelona when the first attempt was made to destroy his work and take his life.

1 A scurrilous letter was contributed on the subject to the Manchester Guardian by a responsible priest, Canon Lynch. He says:-
"The facts are these. Ferrer was teacher of Spanish in Paris. One of his pupils was a very wealthy Catholic old lady. She fell sick, and in her will wished to leave all her wealth to works of Catholic piety. Ferrer induced her to leave him personally the money, and promised that he would conscientiously carry out her wish."
I have already pointed out the stupidity of such a suggestion, but the letter deserves quoting as an example of "Catholic truth." Mlle. Meunier was only fifty years old; she knew Ferrer and his views intimately for three years; she did not leave him all her money (Canon Lynch will find it interesting to discover how the rest is being employed), and she had the keenest sympathy with Ferrer's ideal. The rest of this priest's letter is of a similar character. Happily, the editor of the Manchester Guardian has a sense of truth and justice, and in publishing Canon Lynch's letter he appended a note that effectively exposed its reckless statements.


[Home]               [About Us]               [Contact Us]               [Other Links]               [Critics Corner]