The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
Feeling himself betrayed by the man whom he had befriended at so much danger to himself, Gil said that Lizardi had come to him in distress, and that he, Gil, had done his best to persuade him to obey the summons. Gil then went on to make a bad matter worse by saying that Lizardi had confided that a certain friend had told him he could escape safely with five hundred insurgents who were about to leave the city.
In panic, Lizardi denied this and involved another friend, Juan Olaeta, who had, Lizardi said, offered to allow him to escape with the insurgents. Olaeta, brought before the judges, passed on the responsibility to an unnamed priest from Toluca, who had overheard a conversation between two persons unknown to him, concerning the plans of five hundred insurgents who were about to leave the city. Olaeta’s part had been merely an offer to Lizardi to take him to the priest. Lizardi insisted to Olaeta’s face that Olaeta had “told him the Tolucan priest would arrange for his escape with the insurgents. Olaeta insisted that Lizardi had misunderstood him, and the two, together with Gabriel Gil, were sent back to jail.” If they were in the same cell, it must have been a frightfully embarrassing situation for Lizardi. And he was not done yet.
After nine days in prison, exhausted by repeated questioning and anxieties, he wrote a personal appeal to the Viceroy saying in effect and in short that he had acted innocently in handing him the protest against the edict and that before giving it he had shown it to a priest who approved of it, and by way of justifying himself further, he added with appalling lack of ethical sense that Carlos María Bustamante, and a Doctor Peredo had “written with more hostility than he against the same edict.” He continued to drag names into the business, adding that of a Señor Torres, and even blaming his error on them.
The first judge advised the Viceroy to turn Lizardi’s case over to the Captain General and the Military Court. Lizardi asked for bail which was his constitutional right, but it was refused. He was handed about from court to court, military and civil, for months, gradually modifying his statements, or retracting, or insisting that he had been misunderstood. Gil and Olaeta were freed, Bustamante, Torres and Peredo were never arrested at all, and Bustamante, an admirable and heroic spirit, never held any grudge against him, but wrote well of him afterwards. But Lizardi lingered on in jail, writing to the Viceroy, asking for an attorney, asking that his case be turned over to the war department, being mysteriously blocked here and there by hostile agencies, and there he might have stayed on to the end if Vanegas had not been succeeded as Viceroy on March 4, 1813, by Calleja.
Lizardi began a fresh barrage of importunities and explanations to this new, possibly more benign power. He praised him for the good he hoped for from him, and published this praise as a proclamation of the Thinker to the People of Mexico. This got him no new friends anywhere and did not get him his liberty either. He was allowed now and then to visit his family, which consisted of his wife, a newly born daughter, and four unnamed members which, dependent upon him, were almost starving. He had supported them somewhat while in prison by getting out number 10 and number 11 of The Mexican Thinker, in December, and number 12 and number 13 in January, but in a considerably chastened and cautious style.
One of its periodic plagues came upon Mexico City and raged as usual, and the churches were crowded with people kissing the statues and handing on the disease to each other. In one number of The Thinker, Lizardi advised them to clean up the streets, to burn all refuse, to wash the clothes of the sick not in the public fountains but in a separate place, not to bury the dead in the churches, and as a final absurdity, considering the time and place, he counseled them to use the large country houses of the rich as hospitals for the poor. None of these things was done, the plague raged on and raged itself out.
Lizardi also wrote a statement of his quarrel with the existing state of politics, but a very discreet one, and he could think of no better remedy, his own situation being still perilous as it was, than that both sides in the struggle should obey the counsels of Christ and love one another.
Naturally this sloppy thinking brought upon him the contempt of all sides. The royalists thought no better of him than before, and the liberals, who favored the new constitution, now distrusted him, as they had no intention of loving either an out-and-out royalist or any insurgent, and as for the insurgents themselves, they damned Lizardi freely.
All this was going on, remember, while our hero was still in prison.
In Mexico there was the celebrated “Society of Guadalupe,” the most effective of such societies which, under cover of more polite interests, were at the service of Morelos and kept him well informed of events in the capital. The new Viceroy, Calleja, proved to be an even more bitter enemy of the insurgents than Vanegas had been, and Lizardi’s unfortunate eulogy of Calleja had been sent to Morelos with a note by a member of the Society of Guadalupe. “This person,” said the note, “is not worth your attention, because when they imprisoned him, he showed his weakness, and has written several pamphlets praising this damnable government, and has most basely harmed several men.”
At last the Viceroy, finding no new things against Lizardi, wearied of the case; the last judge who took it over recommended that Lizardi be set free, and so he was, on July 1, 1813, after nearly seven months in prison. “Enough to ruin me, as I was ruined, with my family,” he wrote.
This is the least handsome episode of Lizardi’s life, and he behaved like a green recruit stampeded under his first fire, who may yet become as good a soldier as any man. Lizardi became a better soldier than most, and if he had been once afraid to die, he was not afraid to suffer a long, miserable existence for the sake of his beliefs. He was by no means ruined. He had scarcely been scotched. He returned to his dependents, his six-month-old daughter and the wife who had almost died at her birth, to a brazier without coals and a cupboard without food; and sat down at once to write indignantly against all the causes of misery and the effects of injustice in this maddening world.
The Holy Office of the Inquisition had recently been abolished by decree. Lizardi, with that unbelievable speed of his, wrote a history of that institution, a very bitter history, and he rejoiced over its downfall. He published it on September 30, 1813, as a number of The Thinker, and went on with his many projects for local reforms, not attacking the government except by indirection. He wrote against ignorant doctors; against the speculators in food who hoarded for higher prices; he wrote rebuking the Creoles, telling them they had the vices of both the Indians and the Spaniards. If he had poured boiling oil upon them he could not have offended them more bitterly. He wrote against the depravity of the lower classes, and the plague of thieves, beggars, and drunkards in the streets. In November he enjoyed a small popular triumph. A crowd gathered at sight of him and cheered him in the street, shouting that he told them the naked truth. (“La Verdad Pelada” was one of his most lively efforts.) But no royalist or liberal or insurgent or priest or anyone that mattered then was in this cheering rabble; these were the shirtless ones, the born losers no matter which side might win. They shouted his name, and worsened his reputation, but they did not follow his advice and could not if they would. They liked him because he was sharp and angry, full of their own kind of humor, and talked to them in their own language. It was the first time they had ever seen their own kind of talk in print. The flattery was great and they responded to it; for a few centavos they could buy this highly flavored reading matter which expressed all their secret wrongs and grudges and avenged them vicariously; and his words worked afterwards in their thoughts; they trusted him and believed him.
In December, 1813, three months after Lizardi’s attack, the Inquisition was reestablished. The absolutist monarch Ferdinand VII after his eclipse was back on the throne of Spain, and all grudgingly granted liberties were at an end again for Spain and her colonies.
Lizardi was by then a man without a party indeed. For in that month someone of the Society of Guadalupe sent Morelos a marked copy of Lizardi’s attack on the native-born Mexicans
And one month later, January 14, 1814, a priest called the attention of the head Inquisitor, Flores, to The Mexican Thinker’s denunciation of the Inquisition. More than a year later Flores sent the article to two priests for examination, and in June, 1815, they denounced it as “a mass of lies, impostures, iniquitous comparisons, scandals, seductions, offensive to pious ears, injurious to the sanctity of the sovereign Popes, and the piety of our monarch.”
Once more the harassed manager of the Jáuregui press was tracked down, this time by an officer of the Inquisition. The printer said that Lizardi lived in Arco Street, number 3, tenement A, then reconsidered and said Lizardi had lived there when he wrote the article but was now living in Prieto Nuevo Street. Lizardi was always moving about from one poverty-stricken tenement in a shabby back street to another. Nothing more came of this affair just then.
The only sign Lizardi gave that he knew he had been denounced to the Inquisition was a softening in the tone of his indignation, a generally lowered quality of resistance, a methodical search for themes on which he might express himself freely without touching too dangerous topics. That year he wrote some rather sensible plans for relieving the sufferings of lepers; against gambling and gambling houses; and criticisms of the prevailing system of public education. He began a campaign for modern education, based on the ideas of Blanchard, a Jesuit priest who had modified Rousseau’s theories as expressed in Emile “to suit the needs of Christian education.”
Sometime during 1815 Lizardi tried a new series of pamphlets under a single title, “Alacena de Frioleras,” meaning a cupboard of cold food, scraps, leftovers. He fell into disgrace with the censors at the second number, and was refused license to print it. He was bitterly discouraged but not without some resources still. He decided to try his hand at a novel; what censor would look for political ideas in a paltry fiction?
Lizardi’s friend Dr. Beristain, a man of letters, who was writing and compiling a Library of Northern Spanish Americana, did not agree with the censors, but declared Lizardi to be “an original genius, native of New Spain.” Dr. Beristain also believed that Lizardi, for his knowledge of the world and of men, and for his taste in literature, merited to be called “if not the American Quevedo, at least the Mexican Torres Villaroel. . . he has now in hand a life of Periquito Sarmiento, which judging by what I have seen of it, much resembles Guzman de Alfarache.”
The censor’s report for February, 1816, mentions the appearance of El Periquillo from the prologue to chapter 6; in July, another series of chapters; the third series was suppressed on November, 29, 1816, because it contained an attack on the system of human slavery.
This is the first mention of that book, undertaken as Lizardi’s last hope of outwitting the censorship, as well as of making a living by its sales as it was being written. He finished it, but it was not published in full until after his death.
There followed a long dreary period of pamphlet writing, against bullfighting, against dandyism—his Don Catrín remains a stock character in that line until today—calendars, almanacs, stainless essays on morals and manners, hymns and little songs for children. In the meantime the insurgents, who had been growing in strength, were weakened and the Liberal-Constitutionalist party got into power. At once they suppressed both the Inquisition and the Board of Press Censorship, and at once Lizardi was ready for them. He founded a small periodical called The Lightning Conductor and began to tell again the naked truth.
There were to be several changes of government yet during Lizardi’s lifetime, but there was never to be one he could get along with, or accept altogether. After twenty-four numbers of The Lightning Conductor, he could not find a printer who would risk printing his periodical for him. Lizardi by no means defended the entire Constitutionalist idea, he only defended those tendencies which led to such reforms as he had just witnessed in regard to the Inquisition and the censorship. But in doing this he offended again the rockbound royalist clergy, who used the whip of spiritual authority to force their parishioners to oppose the constitution, as it curtailed the Spanish power and automatically their own. These and all other diehard royalists hated Lizardi; the insurgents distrusted him. He was a gadfly to the Viceroy, always addressing complaints directly to him: he was opposed to war still, civil war above all, and considered the insurgents to be almost as obnoxious to the good of the country as the royalists themselves. He considered himself “as Catholic as the Pope,” but the clergy hated and attacked him bitterly. A priest named Soto wrote such a vicious pamphlet against him that the censors suppressed it.
During that period, almost frantic in his hornets’ nest of personal and public enemies, Lizardi found time and a little money to open a reading room, where for a small fee the public might read the current books, newspapers, pamphlets. Almost nobody came to read, he lost his money and closed the place after a few months.
The struggle between Mexico and Spain was approaching the grand climax, and with peculiar timeliness Lizardi did precisely the thing calculated to get him into trouble. In February, 1821, Augustín Iturbide and Canon Monteagudo, at the head of the Anti-constitutionalist party, boldly declared themselves ready to separate Mexico from Spain, without any further compromises. The Liberal party had held out for an independence to be granted by Spain, peacefully. The new constitution granted when Vanegas was Viceroy had been a makeshift affair, with no real concessions in it. Iturbide’s party appeared to be only the acting head of the insurgents, for this seizing of independence for Mexico was exactly what the insurgents had been fighting for all along. Iturbide, with an ambition of his own, decided to use the strength of the insurgents and the growing nationalist spirit to his own ends. He and Monteagudo published their program as the Plan of Iguala.
In the meantime, Lizardi had been writing on this topic, too. Just four days after the Plan of Iguala was published, Lizardi printed a pamphlet which was described as a serio-comic dialogue between two popular and sharp-tongued characters called Chamorro arid Dominiquín. They discussed the possibilities of independence for Mexico, and looked forward to the day of freedom, believed it would be a good thing for both countries, but still hoped it might be granted legally by the Spanish government.
The liberal constitutionalist but still very royalist government, with its free press, saw nothing to laugh at in this work, suppressed it at once, arrested Lizardi and kept him in jail for several days. On this occasion he flattered no one, implicated no one, and retracted nothing. He was released, and wrote a halfhearted pamphlet on the beauties of reconciliation between factions. And in his next pamphlet he stated boldly a change of mind. “It is true that if we do not take our independence by force of arms, they will never concede us our liberty by force of reason and justice.”
When he had been imprisoned, he was accused of being a follower of Iturbide, and a supporter of the Plan of Iguala. Lizardi replied merely that he had not known about the plan when he wrote his own suggestions; in effect no answer at all, and perhaps true in itself. But immediately after this last pamphlet boldly counseling the violent way to freedom, the next thing we know, Lizardi is showing a letter from Iturbide to a certain Spaniard, and this Spaniard is supplying him with money and equipment and a horse, and Lizardi, by urgent request of Iturbide, is riding toward Tepotzotlan to take charge of the insurgent press there. This press was devoted entirely to the doctrine of Mexican independence and the necessity of gaining it by force.
Iturbide’s troops fought their way steadily through the country toward Mexico City, and Lizardi was close on their heels with his press turning out patriotic broadsides. Iturbide entered the capital in triumph on September 21, 1821. The great deed was accomplished, the eleven years of revolutionary war came to a close, and Mexico was declared an independent government. Lizardi
There was still no thought in anyone’s mind of establishing a Republic. Lizardi expressed the hopes of the victors clearly: that Iturbide should be made Emperor by acclamation, at the first session of Congress. “Oh,” cried our misguided hero, who had waited so long to espouse any faction, and now had taken to heart so utterly the wrong one, “may I have the joy of kissing once the hand of the Emperor of America, and then close my eyes forever in death.”
How little becoming to Lizardi was this new garment of acquiescence. It was never made for him and he could not carry it off. Two months later his eyes, closed in enthusiasm, were opened violently, he gazed clearly upon the object of his infatuation, and rejected it. He saw that Iturbide had done as other ambitious men do. He had used the force of a great popular movement to seize power for himself, and meant to set himself up as head of a government more oppressive if possible than the old.
Lizardi wrote a pamphlet called “Fifty Questions to Whoever Cares to Answer Them,” and the questions were very embarrassing to the new Emperor, to the church authorities leagued with him, and to all who had promised reforms in government. Iturbide had at least gone through the formality of having himself elected Emperor, and Lizardi accused the priests of controlling the election. They called Lizardi unpatriotic, hostile to religion, accused him of political ambitions. Iturbide was disconcerted by the sudden defection of a man to whom he had given money and a press and a horse to boot, and finding that Lizardi was abusing the freedom of the press, urged that a new censorship be established.