Margaret Sanger, "Portet and Ferrer, Part I," Dec 1916.
Source: " The Modern School, Nov.-Dec. 1916, 136-149 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:0093."
This is the first of a three-part series. For remaining articles see "Portet and Ferrer," Jan. 1917 and Feb. 1917. For a draft version, see Library of Congress Microfilm 130:366.
Lorenzo Portet was born in 1870, at Vich, Spain, about 18 miles from Barcelona. He was an only child. His father and mother were both Catalans, though his grandfather was a Frenchman. His father was a farmer, and although nothing of a radical--as we know the term today--he was nevertheless advanced enough to aspire to obtain for his son, Lorenzo, a University education. He accordingly sent Lorenzo to Barcelona at the age of seventeen to enter the University there, in the hopes that he would become a barrister.
After three years study of law at the University, Lorenzo became disgusted with Spain and Europe in general. He had been associated in the meantime with the Catalan movement (which is similar in feeling to the Irish movement in Great Britain) and the further he advanced in ideas for Catalan freedom, the more certain he became of the reactionary ideas of the leaders of the movement. He consequently left Spain for South America where he remained for five years teaching at schools in Buenos Aires and helping in revolutionary journalistic work.
In 1895, he returned to Spain where he found both parents had died during his absence. He had, during this time, developed newer and more revolutionary ideas, and threw himself in the movement in Spain for the freedom of Cuba.
This was about the time of the Cuban insurrection when the Cubans took up arms against the Spanish Government. A strong movement in Spain had grown up in its favor mainly composed of anarchists and republicans; who had formed groups and issued manifestos protesting against Spanish domination, etc. Then occurred the tragedy of the Corpus Christi procession (1896) where three bombs were thrown at the Bishops and high priests, and, as usual, hundreds of arrests followed.
The authorities in Spain at such a time arrest as they slaughter--in wholesale. Over three hundred arrests occurred in a few days. Everyone who had advanced ideas, radicals, republicans, free-thinkers, or any one even seen connected with these, was thrown into jail. Portet with several friends escaped across the frontier into France to await results.
It was at this time in Paris that he first met Francisco Ferrer, who had also previously become disgusted with Spain and had made his home in Paris. Word now came to Paris from those who had been arrested that tortures were being inflicted on several of the prisoners in Montjuich; that on August 4th, the anniversary of the inquisition, the tortures were applied and the prisoners were at the mercy of the torturers. Every cruelty was applied to compel the prisoners to "confess" their plots in the Corpus Christi procession. Finger and toe nails were pulled out, burning and singeing the sex organs, nothing was given the prisoners to eat, except dried salted cod-fish; then water was placed within sight, but out of reach, until the tortured ones fell from exhaustion.
The Prime Minister of Spain during this time was Sr. Antonia Canovas del Caserello. Eight of the Civil guard, well drilled in the art of refined torturing, were those selected to apply these cruelties, but one of the eight happened to be a Freemason and one of the men about to be tortured was also a Freemason (Gana). The Civil Guard, who was a Mason, refused to apply the tortures, but was kept a prisoner in Montjuich until all was over.
When word came to Paris that the authorities were torturing the prisoners, Portet left at once and returned to Barcelona to try to get into communication with some comrades in Montjuich. He succeeded. Names were sent of those who were being tortured and those who were applying them, through the Freemason. With this information and the proofs, Portet returned to Paris to present these facts to the public.
The French press flamed red with indignation at the outrages, and connected the Cuban rebellion with the injustice of the Spanish authorities as demonstrated at Montjuich. G. Clemenceau was then editor of La Justice, and Malato was assistant editor of L'Intransigeant , with Angiollilo as assistant of staff. Both of these papers led in the publicity against this second inquisition, and large public meetings were held in protest in Paris, which resulted in a large demonstration before the Spanish Embassy, where the people stoned the house, breaking in doors and windows, and were indignant and furious enough to demolish the whole place.
The police charged the crowd and thereby saved the Ambassador and all other Spanish authorities in France from rough treatment.
The next day Portet was arrested. He had been followed about by detectives since his return from Barcelona with proofs of the tortures. He was now expelled from France and came to England.
This act of expulsion on the part of the French government might have settled for some time the activities of a person less fearless than Portet. But we find him ten days after leaving France again passing through on his way to Madrid. He continued to pass to and fro from England to Barcelona for years, and it was only a few years ago that the official permit was granted him to enter France. On May 4th five of the tortured prisoners were shot to death at Montjuich. One young chap named Mas, who went insane from torture, was among these shot by the authorities, and prisoners described his mad songs and laughter on the way to his death.
Great was the agitation throughout Europe at the shooting of these prisoners--protests, indignation--nothing seemed to put to shame the Spanish authorities for their outrageous and barbarous conduct. Nothing seemed to stop their cruelties. All propaganda in Spain was suppressed; all papers confiscated; the hands of the Spanish radicals were tied and their voices stilled. All propaganda had to be carried on in England, France, Italy and Belgium. The Spanish government did not disturb itself with indignation outside its border. Not until the Prime Minister Canovas was shot to death by the young idealist Angiolillo did Spain cease to inflict punishment on innocent victims. It was just one year after, almost to the day of the anniversary of the tortures, on August 4th, that Angiolillo, residing at the same hotel, and sitting at the same table with Canovas, avenged the death and torture of his comrades at Montjuich.
A few weeks after Canovas's death, twenty-eight of the prisoners who had been sentenced to death had their sentence commuted and instead were committed to long terms of imprisonment, (all since allowed freedom) while all the others were set at liberty, though many were expelled from Spain; among these were Anselmo Lorenzo and Tarrida del Marmol, also Montseny. Many of prisoners died after they were released, while many others went insane. Angiolillo gave his life to avenge his comrades. The last word spoken by him was "Germinal".
When Portet first met Ferrer in Paris in 1896, Ferrer was an enthusiastic republican. He had been connected with the republican movement in Spain, which aimed to overthrow the monarchy and to establish a Republic as in France. Through the Cuban rebellion and the fact that many of the Spanish troops had rebelled against being sent to shoot down the Cuban rebels, Ferrer and Portet worked together in the South of France where hundreds of soldiers had deserted the Spanish Army and crossed over into France. This little army waited for the psychological moment, when something should occur, so that with flags and banners flying they could march into Spain and declare the republic. That moment never came. Alas! The spirit was there and the daring and the courage, but the financial backing for food and shoes and other necessities for their numbers were of lacking. So nothing happened.
At this time Ferrer was not only a republican, but a free-thinker, (which means anti-religious) he was also Freemason. He had almost no ideas of anarchy or of anarchist ideals. He became interested in this subject with his friendship and admiration for Portet. He began to read and subscribe to more advanced literature, and became convinced that education of a new kind was the key to the social problem, and gradually developed the ideas of the Modern School. He had been teaching Spanish in Paris and had for his pupil a Madame Meunier, who, though a Roman Catholic, became interested in Ferrer's ideas and promised him enough money during her life-time to establish the Modern School in Spain. We all know that only through this means was Ferrer able to attempt to develop his ideal, and on her death she left him enough to continue the work. All was given him unconditionally, to be used for the work he wished to do. Ferrer returned to Barcelona to carry out his project. His first work was to convince the workers of the need of new schools. He opened the Modern School, at the same time assisting those who already had independent schools which accepted the ideas of the Modern School by donating books, payment of rents, teachers' salaries, etc., which helped many of them to get a solid footing and a much deeper interest in Education. His idea was to teach the child life through nature, to analyse religions, governments, etc., and to reject that which could not be reasoned. There were at the time Ferrer established the Modern School several other kinds of independent school. There were the "secular" or lay-schools, which were considered advanced before the Modern Schools were established; these differ from the government schools only in that they are anti-clerical. There were also "Neutral Schools", where religion was neither defended nor attacked; but none of these was sufficient for Ferrer, who believed that so long as the Church and Government exist as a power, they should be attacked, exposed and abolished.
The Rationalist Schools sprang from the Modern School of Spain and are synonymous with Modern Schools. Ferrer created a new idea in education in Spain of anti-church, anti-capitalism, anti-patriotism, anti-militarism, and combined these teachings in the Modern School for the promotion of universal peace through economic justice. In the year 1901 Ferrer opened the Modern School in Barcelona. He had the cooperation of many of the most eminent educators in Europe.
Two prominent professors from the University of Barcelona lectured at the Modern School on Sunday evenings for the benefit of students and parents. One professor of Medicine, Martinez Vargas, wrote text-books for the school, principally on hygiene; while Professor Odon de Buen lectured and wrote several books on science. The schools were not considered anarchistic at the time, and not until a year later was there much criticism of them.
Attention was directed to Ferrer's schools by what seems to me a laughable thing, but it shows how a small incident may arouse intense interest.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project