The share which I had in the political struggles of the last part of the nineteenth century put my early convictions to a severe test. I was a revolutionary in the cause of justice; I was convinced that liberty, equality, and fraternity were the legitimate fruit to be expected of a republic. Seeing, therefore, no other way to attain this ideal but a political agitation for a change of the form of government, I devoted myself entirely to the republican propaganda.
My relations with D. Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla, who was one of the leading figures in the revolutionary movement, brought me into contact with a number of the Spanish revolutionaries and some prominent French agitators, and my intercourse with them led to a sharp disillusion. I detected in many of them an egoism which they sought hypocritically to conceal, while the ideals of others, who were more sincere, seemed to me inadequate. In none of them did I perceive a design to bring about a radical improvement — a reform which should go to the roots of disorder and afford some security of a perfect social regeneration.
The experience I acquired during my fifteen years' residence at Paris, in which I witnessed the crises of Boulangism, Dreyfusism, and Nationalism, and the menace they offered to the Republic, convinced me that the problem of popular education was not solved; and, if it were not solved in France, there was little hope of Spanish republicanism settling it, especially as the party had always betrayed a lamentable inappreciation of the need of a system of general education.
Consider what the condition of the present generation would be if the Spanish republican partyhad, after the banishment of Ruiz Zorrilla , devoted itself to the establishment of Rationalist schools in connection with each committee, each group of Freethinkers, or each Masonic lodge; if, instead of the presidents, secretaries, and members of the committees thinking only of the office they were to hold in the future republic, they had entered upon a vigorous campaign for the instruction of the people. In the thirty years that have elapsed considerable progress would have been made in founding day-schools for children and night-schools for adults.
Would the general public, educated in this way, be content to send members to Parliament who would accept an Associations Law presented by the monarchists? Would the people confine itself to holding meetings to demand a reduction of the price of bread, instead of resenting the privations imposed Oil the worker by the superfluous luxuries of the wealthy? Would they waste their time in futile indignation meetings, instead of organising their forces for the removal of all unjust privileges?
My position as professor of Spanish at the Philotechnic Association and in the Grand Orient of France brought me into touch with people of every class, both in regard to character and social position; and, when I considered them from the point of view of their possible influence on the race, I found that they were all bent upon making the best they could of life in a purely individualist sense. Some studied Spanish with a view to advancing in their profession, others in order to master Spanish literature and promote their careers, and others for the purpose of obtaining further pleasure by travelling in countries where Spanish was spoken.
No one felt the absurdity of the contradictions between belief and knowledge; hardly one cared to give a just and rational form to human society, in order that all the members of each generation might have a proportionate share in the advantages created by earlier generations. Progress was conceived as a kind of fatalism, independent of the knowledge and the goodwill of men, subject to vacillations and accidents in which the conscience and energy of man had no part. The individual, reared in a family circle, with its inveterate atavism and its traditional illusions maintained by ignorant mothers, and in the school with something worse than error — the sacramental untruth imposed by men who spoke in the name of a divine revelation — was deformed and degenerate at his entrance into society; and, if there is any logical relation between cause and effect, nothing could be expected of him but irrational and pernicious results.
I spoke constantly to those whom I met with a view to proselytism, seeking to ascertain the use of each of them for the purpose of my ideal, and soon realised that nothing was to be expected of the politicians who surrounded Ruiz Zorrilla; they were, in my opinion, with a few honourable exceptions, impenitent adventurers. This gave rise to a certain expression which the judicial authorities sought to use to my disadvantage in circumstances of great gravity and peril. Zorrilla, a man of lofty views and not sufficiently on his guard against human malice, used to call me an “anarchist” when lie heard me put forward a logical solution of a problem; at all times he regarded me as a deep radical, opposed to the opportunist views and tile showy radicalism of the Spanish revolutionaries who surrounded and even exploited him, as well as the French republicans, who held a policy of middle-class government and avoided what might benefit the disinherited proletariate, on the pretext of distrusting utopias.
In a word, during the early years of the restoration there were men conspiring with Ruiz Zorrilla who have since declared themselves convinced monarchists and conservatives; and that worthy man, who protested earnestly against the coup d'Etat of January 3, 1874, confided in his false friends, with the result, not uncommon in the political world, that most of them abandoned the republican party for the sake of some office. In the end he could count only on the support of those who were too honourable to sell themselves, though they lacked the logic, to develop his ideas and the energy to carry out his work.
In consequence of this I restricted myself to my pupils, and selected for my purposes those whom, I thought more appropriate and better disposed. Having now a clear idea of the aim which I proposed to myself and a certain prestige from my position as teacher and my expansive character, I discussed various subjects with my pupils when the lessons were over; sometimes we spoke of Spanish customs, sometimes of politics, religion, art, or philosophy. I sought always to correct the exaggerations of their judgments, and to show clearly how mischievous it is to subordinate one's own judgment to the dogma of a sect, school, or party, as is so frequently done. In this way I succeeded in bringing about a certain agreement among men who differend in their creeds and views, and induced them to master the beliefs which they had hitherto held unquestioningly by faith, obedience, or slicer indolence. My friends and pupils found themselves happy in thus abandoning some ancient error and opening their minds to truths which uplifted and ennobled them.
A rigorous logic, applied with discretion, removed fanatical bitterness, established intellectual harmony, and gave, to some extent at least, a progressive dispisposition to their wills. Freethinkers who opposed the Church and rejected the legends of Genesis, the imperfect morality of the gospels, and the ecclesiastical ceremonies; more or less opportunist republicans or radicals who were content with the futile equality conferred by the title of citizen, without in the least affecting class distinctions; philosophers who fancied they had discovered the first cause of things In their metaphysical labyrinths and established truth in their empty phrases — all were enabled to see the errors of others as well as their own, and they leaned more and more to the side of common sense.
When the further course of my life, separated me from these friends and brought on me an unmerited imprisonment, I received many expressions of confidence and friendship from them. From all of them I anticipate useful work in the cause of progress, and I congratulate myself that I had some share in the direction. of their thoughts and endeavours.