Friday, February 13, 2015

"Leaders of the Cubans" by Cecil Charles

"Martí as a Lover," which we contend was authored by Cecil Charles, has received much favorable comment from academics and other martianos. Although I believe (and they believe) that I have made my case, and I do not as rule revise published posts except under rare circumstances (that is, when I have incurred in an error of fact), I have thought it best, nonetheless, to present new proof that I was not wrong. This article by Cecil Charles, published in The Sun on March 29, 1895, which we have rescued from undeserved oblivion, anticipates and could be called the "prequel" to "Martí as a Lover." It is useful in that it helps to establish the parentage of the unacknowledged child by its resemblance to the acknowledged one. Here Cecil Charles recounts her personal recollections of not only Martí, but Antonio Maceo and Francisco "Flor" Crombet. Cecil Charles, it would appear, never met a Cuban man that she didn't like. Martí, Maceo and Crombet represent all possible types of homo cubanis (at least until the Chinese-Cuban was incubated). There is much to like and admire about Cecil Charles in this article: first and foremost, her unqualified support for the Cuban rebels and belief in their inevitable victory. Perhaps Martí did help her find her better angels. Cecil Charles was truly a woman ahead of her time, and this is clearly shown in her treatment of Maceo and Crombet. What she admits in this article no single white woman in the 19th century would have dared to do much less admit: she invited the Afro-Cuban patriots to visit her home. She uses the pseudonym "Cecil Charles" in her article, which, of course, is a man's name (Cecily or Cecilia would have been the female equivalents). Although she does not write like a man and can easily be distinguished as a woman, her pseudonym is sufficient cover for her subversive socializing. Finally, Cecil Charles presents in this article one of the most touching contemporary evocations of José Martí, and certainly the most interesting by a woman with the exception of Blanche Zacharie de Baralt's. Of special interest is her description of Martí's personal library in his office at 120 Front Street, New York. His widow, Carmen Zayas-Bazán, disregarded Martí's request, contained in his "Literary Testament," that a catalog be prepared of his books before their disposal, and, instead, had them packed up and shipped to Mexico for sale, where they were subsequently lost (and with them Martí's invaluable annotations in almost all of them). A score of random books, however, which he had kept at Carmen Miyares' house, were saved and eventually found their way to the Havana Historian's Office, where presumably they are still kept. Among eleven books in English (of what once must have been hundreds if not thousands) was found Cecil Charles' Honduras: The Land of Great Depths (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally and Company, 1890).


Men Who Are Foremost in the Struggle for Freedom.

Maceo's Colonization Scheme — Crombet as a Fisherman — Martí's Patient Labor of Love in Organizing the Patriotic Cubans.

The New York Sun
March 24, 1895

The first time I saw Gen. Maceo, the dauntless Antonio Maceo y Grajales, for whose coming the Cuban insurgents hiding in the hill ranges from Santiago all the way up to Puerto Principe and beyond are waiting and praying, was about four years ago, in Costa Rica. I was breakfasting in a hotel at San José, that white jasmine-like city that lies in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world, the Aserri paradise, extending from the indigo shadow of the volcano Irazu to the exquisite sapphire Candelarian hills. A tall man entered in ordinary citizen's clothes, a mulatto at the first glance, but clearly a person of distinction. As I knew almost every one in the city and almost every one knew me as an American and a correspondent it was not long until I made the General's acquaintance.

Exquisitely neat in appearance and perfect in breeding, with a certain reserve and modesty of bearing, he could not fail to interest one who had heard of him as a brave young leader In struggle for his country's freedom twenty years before. General Maceo was in Costa Rica looking for a colony site and a Government concession. He was not exiled there, or in any way under Spanish surveillance, as one might believe from reading a recent Tampa despatch to the effect that the Spanish Consul had been removed for allowing Maceo to escape. He was there to see about locating a colony of his countrymen. He wanted a site on the Atlantic side, that coast being time more accessible, but he had to take what he could get up in the peninsula of Nicoya on the Pacific. The Costa Rican Government gave him as its reasons that too many other enterprises had first choice on the Atlantic coast. But the General let me into the secret of his suspicion that the Spanish Government had requested Costa Rica not to give the proposed Cuban immigrants, who would naturally be revolutionists, a too advantageous site for the embarkation of an expedition at short notice. Maceo finally accepted the remote lands and entered into a very interesting agreement with the Minister of Fomento (Public Works), by the terms of which he promised to bring into the country some five hundred and ultimately a thousand Cuban families — no negroes to be admitted. Just how much regret Costa Rica may feel at the loss of this colony, which would have been an undoubted benefit to the country and which in the event of a long-continued war in Cuba will be postponed and in the event of a successful revolution be abandoned, it is hard to say.

I believe Maceo was in earnest in trying to get the contract. He had given up hope of another struggle for years to come. Pacific and suave he went about the streets of San José attending to his business, like a man who had never been wounded, or driven to hide in mountain fastnesses and starve there for days, or to escape in a small boat by night and drift out to sea to lie, festering and delirious, under the burning tropical sun. Cuba's freedom was only a question of time, he said calmly. The only time he showed any excitement was when news came of Flor Crombet's escape from Cuba and the confiscation of his property. Then General Maceo got himself ready in short order and went down to hot Port Limon to meet his brother warrior. They came up to the capital together, and I had the pleasure of receiving the two big fellows at my home.

Flor Crombet is a man one couldn't help liking — frank as a boy he admitted he didn't care to go into Gen. Maceo's colony scheme, but he thought he would stop a while and see the country — his complexion showed nothing of the African, but suggested Indian blood. He had a direct honest glance and the pleasantest way in the world. The scar on his face seemed to want to apologize for being there ahead of time — that is, before Cuba is a country. To amuse himself and make a little money he bought a fishing smack and set to work catching fish along the coast by Limon. Now, the sea along the coast is the nastiest bit of water for making one repent that one could imagine. There is a horrid choppiness all the way down toward Bocas del Toro — but the fish are certainly fine. Crombet sold all he could catch and nobody appeared to think he could turn his boat to expeditionary purposes. He was unmolested and cheerful as a school child. Occasionally he came up to San José — and Maceo and he certainly made a fine-looking pair. Nobody ever saw them engaged in any mysterious conference or plotting. Maceo was very friendly with a family that had lately come from Cuba, a Spanish family, or, at least, loyal to the Spanish rule, for the Spanish Minister was also a great friend of theirs, and Gen. Maceo and he must have met very often at the house. The meetings were without the slightest annoyance or feeling on either side, I am confident, for Señor Arellano, the Minister, who is now in Guatemala, I think, is a most delightful man, and Maceo was also delightful in a social way. Only it seemed a little odd that they should meet thus.

Gen. Maceo was a little older than Gen. Crombet, but the two offered a strong combination — Maceo reserved, astute, far-sighted, of unguessable thoughts; Crombet outspoken, earnest, enthusiastic, daring. From a personal knowledge of the pair, I should say that if they are really on Cuban soil it simply means that the astounding success of the revolutionists may be looked for. I say astounding success because such a victory against such terrible odds should astound the world. Maceo would never waste his life or Crombet's; if they are in Cuba, it means the beginning of the end.

Carrillo and Sanchez I met at a steamer on my return to New York not long after, where, with the patriot Marti, they were seeing off some Cuban friends bound for Costa Rica — Carrillo affable, full of hope and good spirits, in appearance more Saxon than Latin; Sanchez pale, serene, contemplative, with these words on his lips:

"I can assert without boasting that our [last] war first with all its miseries and dangers and our defeat afterward with all its sorrows and losses, have only succeeded in making me stronger in my belief. The task to which I have consecrated myself for twenty-five years I shall not desert today at forty-seven What I cannot do is to leave my country in slavery through my indifference and lack of patriotism."

Sanchez was pale and still suffering from the wound in his leg from the bullet that killed the horse he rode when fighting under Gen. Roloff in 1876. I have before me a little book he has written, "Humble Heroes." The simple tales of Cuban patriots, told with pathos and modesty, are part of the revolutionary propaganda, which has attained to splendid proportions here in New York and wherever else the Cubans await the day of their deliverance. The network of clubs and leagues stretching from New Vork down to Tampa and Key West is perfect. It has been woven patiently and with consummate art. There is not a weak spot in it. José Martí has taught his followers how to weave it.

Is Martí with Maximo Gomez in Cuba? is asked. I hardly think so. Martí's sword is his pen, a weapon that will do more for the cause than many swords, perhaps. Once, five or six years ago, it was my privilege to be a pupil of this remarkable man. At that time he had just resigned several important and lucrative South American Consulships rather than desert the Cuban cause, and was quietly pursuing life as patriot and teacher. The cosey office now occupied by the revolutionary paper, Patria, at 120 Front street, was then his headquarters and the scene of many exciting patriotic meetings. Pupils, like myself, who studied there with the "maestro," as he was affectionately called, can never forget the place. I never saw another room so full of books. There were shelves to the ceiling, and movable bookcases and tables and chairs loaded down with books and magazines and papers. All languages were represented in that precious collection, which had not a single worthless volume in it. The maestro was still young; not tall or strong looking. Pale, with refined features and slightly almond-shaped eyes, he seemed the typical poet-exile from sunnier lands. Sensitive and easily moved as a woman, affectionate with friends, courteous to strangers, and always willing to give information whether it was the question of the best part of South America to immigrate to, or where to find a pipe to drink maté tea through, important and trivial people were all kindly treated.

Martí was an easy writer, but a painstaking one. He used to work feverishly away for hours over a single article, whether intended for publication or discourse. His cheeks would take on a brilliant flush, his eyes would gleam, and his entire frame tremble with excitement as sheet after sheet slipped out from under his hand. No one who ever heard Martí as orator before the wild crowd of his countrymen and sympathizers assembled in Hardman Hall on a memorable 10th of October could ever forget the elegant flow of thought, the fire, the poetic imagery, the insistent cry for liberty.

Martí was a busy man: besides earning his bread as a teacher he must also teach others as a labor of love. I remember a class of fine young fellows that used to meet in Fourth street. At their head was Rafael Serra, a young Cuban negro, quite black; a fellow of great talent. In the class were Cubans, Puerto Ricans and others. The maestro took more delight in instructing these eager and earnest young men than in all the adulation of the fashionable clubs that sought him as a notable speaker and thinker. Martí's literary work has been considerable. His translation into Spanish of Helen Hunt Jackson's "Ramona," his own poems, "Ismaellillo" and "Versos Sencillos," place him in a high rank. Martí has been spoken of as possible President of the Cuban republic. He would be no unworthy figure at the head of a new nation. But at present where is Martí, and where is the redoubtable, the faithful, the invincible Maximo Gomez? If they, too, have landed in Cuba, the end of the struggle must be at hand.


No comments:

Post a Comment