Jose Rizal's Letters Reveal How He Dealt With Heartbreak

The national hero had his torpe days, too.

He may have lived centuries ago, but it seems we're still constantly discovering new things about Jose Rizal. Case in point: an exceedingly significant letter written by the national hero for his parents has surfaced. Dated October 10, 1883, it is from the collection of historian Epifanio de los Santos, who acquired it from one of the members of the Rizal family. For the first time since that acquisition, the letter is back in the public arena, allowing historians to revisit the contexts in which the national hero lived his life in Europe.

The letter is written in Rizal's own hand on the front and the back of a single sheet of paper. It will go under the gavel with a starting bid of one million pesos on June 22, 2019 at Leon Gallery's Spectacular Mid-Year Auction in Makati City.

Jose Rizal's Letter to His Parents

According to Leon Gallery curator Lisa Guerrero Nakpil, Rizal's letter to his parents reveal the context of time, place, and circumstance of events that would follow after 1883.

The letter was written at a difficult time during his life in which he was experiencing a period of adjustment. In 1882, he left the love of his life in the Philippines and abruptly sailed to Europe without saying goodbye to his lover and his family. It was also the year when he started medical school in Spain.

"The letter gives added dimension to the country's foremost hero. Like any Filipino expatriate, Rizal would succumb to the enchantments of his foreign surroundings but also to its political liberalism," said Nakpil.

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Rizal was very detailed in his letters to his parents, talking about the places he saw and the food he ate in the foreign country.

Jose Rizal's letter to his parents in 1883 (front) Courtesy of Leon Gallery

Jose Rizal's letter to his parents in 1883 (back) Courtesy of Leon Gallery
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"Rizal's letter reveals he took his meals on the very next street, at Calle del Lobo (Street of the Wolf), which had a couple of restaurants frequented by Filipinos, including Hotel Ingles which still exists to this day," said Nakpil.

"The letter situates him at No. 15 Calle del Baño (Street of the Bath) where Rizal slyly claims he is there only to sleep and study," Nakpil said. He also detailed his notorious brindis or toasts.

"Jose Rizal would make the legendary brindis or toasts, but would include so many political barbs and insults to the Spanish colonial authorities that his brother would fear for his life and plead for him not to return to the Philippines," said Nakpil.

"This would mark Rizal's metamorphosis as an activist that would reach its zenith in his novels, Noli and Fili, and his eventual martyrdom."

Letters of Rizal to Paciano Details the "Amusements" in Madrid

In the same year he wrote the letter to his parents, Rizal also wrote his brother Paciano about the "amusements" in Madrid.

"Women abound even more (here in Madrid) and it is, indeed, shocking that in many places they intercept men and they are not the ugly ones either... With respect to morality there are some who are models of virtue and innocence and others who have nothing womanly about them, except their dress or at most their sex. Rightly it has been said that the women in the South of Europe have fire in their veins. However, here prostitution is a little more concealed than at Barcelona, though not less unrestrained."

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The letter does not imply that he partook in such amusements. However, it was his friend and namesake, Jose Alejandrino, who outs Rizal's gallivanting in his book, La Senda del Sacrificio (1945):

"One day, he invited me to amuse ourselves, telling me we could pass the time in the house of two sisters whom he knew. We went there and I came to like the amusement very much, because a few days later I asked him when we could return for more fun, but then he grew serious, saying that he considered such entertainment was necessary once a month, but more than once was already a vice, and he was not willing to encourage vices."

Letters of Rizal to Consuelo

Contrary to what Rizal's letter to his parents state, he did more than "sleep and study" during his stay in Madrid. Nakpil also narrated the story of Consuelo Ortega Y Rey, one of Rizal's flings.

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"The house at Calle del Baño was owned by one Don Pablo Ortiga y Rey, the former mayor of Manila," the curator said. "Don Pablo had two daughters, the 'prettier one' being the 18-year-old Consuelo. She would keep a rather detailed, albeit indiscreet diary, on her gentleman admirers, which included Rizal, then 23 years of age."

In one of Consuelo's diaries, she writes about Rizal:

"Rizal says he never goes out except to go to medical school and come here at night. Rizal too is in love, he hasn't proposed outright but almost, almost... I am divided between Rizal and Lete, the former attracts me because of his conversation and because he seems such a serious young man... Rizal told me he was leaving for Paris to forget, to heal himself of a disease acquired a year ago..."

Based on Consuelo's very revealing journal entry, it was possible that the "disease" Rizal told her about was a heartbreak or yearning for Leonor Rivera, whom many historians believe was Rizal's most significant love and heartbreak.

Interestingly, in one his letters to Consuelo, he wrote a poem titled "A la Señorita C. O. y R:"

Why resurrect unhappy memories
now when the heart awaits from love a sign,
or call the night when day begins to smile,
not knowing if another day will shine?

Apart from such poetry, Rizal also gave her a variety of gifts, according to Nakpil. Among them were gift of fabric and slippers from Manila, the first bloom from his houseplant, and music sheets from Paris.

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León Gallery's Spectacular Mid-Year Auction runs from June 15 to 21 at G/F Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City.

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