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by M. M. Norton
Date: 12/6/2013

Who is the man after whom the major Metro Manila avenue was named? In M. M. Norton’s glowing profile of Epifanio de los Santos and discussion of his works, abridged for this site, readers are treated to the grand, romantic style of colonial writing in the Philippines. The article appears in Builders of a Nation: A Series of Biographical Sketches (Manila, 1914), a book that celebrates the coming of Americans which “brought the modern world to [the Filipinos’] doors, and the public schools, the right of voting and the beginning of a legislative life of their own.”

Barasoain, Malolos are names to conjure with, for the historian, and what elation to think that the man who points these places out to you, who reads the runic stones of the Past with the passion of a lover and the intellect foremost in its line of the land he honors by calling it his own, the incarnation of the delicacy and intuitive genius of his race, is no other than De los Santos Cristobal, the first of the sons of the Philippines to be made a member of the Royal Academy of Madrid in these days, known in Europe as the leading philologist and writer on matters biographical and historic of his country.

Read in choice Castilian the some thirty pages dedicated to him and his work by Wenceslao E. Retana, the Spanish scholar, and you will find in his resume of this master's works that he placed him both as historian and philologist, "summam cum laude," (sic) in his land and of his people today.

He, with that sensitive modesty which is par excellence oriental, disclaims all this, exalting, before himself as "filipinista" other names, but in point of view of real scholarship, after Rizal he will be obliged to accept the place which the learned of his contemporaries have given him in Germany and Spain, the two countries which are the most sympathetic to him, as their work is most serious on the subjects he loves best. …. The fiery intensity of this slim, wiry figure has so much of the divine afflatus that every instant it is in motion, and while the flashes of the fire of mind sweep over it, as it moves either to the piano and plays a snatch of a symphony--for you are in the presence of a great musician--or to a desk where are brought forth rich tomes bound in leather--for this writer of matchless prose loves rich and sumptuous bindings, and with true oriental lavishness lays them at your feet, as an "obsequio"--or again delving in the book shelves, he draws some treasure out and in a word qualifies its merits, or demerits, and then turns your attention to his colored reproductions of his European favorites--Titian's "Pagan and Christian Love," the figure of Christ taken from the "Transfiguration;" and you learn that in youth he was a painter of no mean promise! ….

This country gentleman by choice was born in Malabon, in 1871. … Ten years of the classics under the Jesuits, those makers of classical students, where he entered at 9 years of age, and seven years at Sto. Tomas from whose erudition you must perforce come forth wise, gave a basis for a scholarship which is as brilliant as it is original, kept up amid the carping cares of official position.

His father was Señor Escolastico de los Santos. The mother, Antonia Cristobal, was a musician, a finished player on that feminine instrument without parallel, the harp; and she modeled the son on the lines of harmony even as the father, who was a passionate student of history, guided him in his love of the universal drama of the race.

In 1893, when still a law student, he began to direct his reading to the masterpieces of the Spanish writers and laid the foundation a markedly finished style. He became acquainted with English and German and French, all in Spanish translations first and at the epoch of the Revolution started, with Zulueta, an intimate friend who lived with him, "Libertad". This famous paper was short lived, was printed on the machines of the Augustinian friar at Malabon and was suppressed by the revolutionary party after one issue and the machines transferred by the Aguinaldo wing to Cavite, to use in publishing the "Heraldo de la Revolucion." Then this would-be journalist was part-editor, under General Luna, on a sheet which they wished to call "La Solidaridad," but which was by discretion named "La Independencia." In April he was married and moved to his father's native town of San Isidro, where, in 1900 he was made district attorney and afterwards provincial secretary. He still resided in this place when elected twice as governor of Nueva Ecija.

In 1904 he was one of the honorary commission sent to the St. Louis exhibition and from there he went, with Pardo de Tavera, to Paris, and afterwards traveled alone through England, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. He spent, during these travels, most of his time in museums and in great libraries hunting up in the latter works on the Philippines, and began his collection of rare first editions, which he quaintly names "my sickness." Many of these volumes he naturally procured in Spain, where he formed a delightful acquaintanceship with Juan Valera, the foremost master of Spanish style and leader in Spanish culture, as well as a profound student of modern literature.

On his return Señor de los Santos was still governor for about one year and in March, 1906, he moved to Malolos, where he has been for seven years provincial fiscal and has fortunately time in which to devote himself to his chosen profession of literature, and is looking forward to the moment when he can retire to the country and give all of his attention to this work. His countrymen wish him to be the historian of their land and European scholars desire him to devote himself entirely to that investigation of the Tagalog language, on which he has spent already some twenty years of arduous toil. His diction in Spanish is as limpid as a mountain pool and as correct as a sentence in a school grammar, and, best of all, full of vitality.

In an essay read before the "Liceo de Manila," afterwards printed in book form, as are most of his works, by the Royal Academy printing press of Madrid, entitled "Samahan nang Mananagalog," Señor Cristobal brings out as only he can the wonders and delicacies of his mother tongue, Tagalog, noting its peculiarities, its revolutionized orthography, in which Rizal and Pardo de Tavera both had a share, its strange versification, its masters, P. Modesto de Castro in religious prose with P. Florentino Ramirez, and traces its beauties to even anonymous sources, noting the absence of mysticism and the presence of a tendency to purely oriental modes of thought, with an occasional trace of theosophy. He notices the several periods of its development: first the religious, then the purely literary represented by Rizal and Pilar, and lastly the actual or national, when the birth of ideals of liberty are moulding its pages. This brilliant philologist can summarize, in a few lines, the work of years; research carried on often in the mountain choza of the outlaw! He has traced rare bits of versification, roots, obsolete words which are the nuggets of gold to the scholar, back among the primitive people who transmit the language in its early form.

The cost of these works, who can estimate? One thousand rhymes alone, many set to music by himself, are the foundation by which he writes an article, such as that for "El Mercantil" of this year, when he told of the influence of the Spanish language in the islands, for he knows with absolute accuracy what is native, or imported.

In his essay on "Retana" and others, we see his historical acumen and these pages are mirrors of the great Spaniard's work on the Philippines. "Filipinos y Filipinistas" is also a pamphlet of exhaustless knowledge on the Tagalog speech and the essay on "Emilio Jacinto," the organizer of the Katipunan, shows the power of the critic, of whom he is first among his countrymen, and also of the ideals of that time. In "Filipinos and Filipinistas," he pays a tribute to James A. L. Roy, calling him the leading American authority on Filipino matters, who has written during the first ten years of the American occupation. He is an admirer also of the work of Mr. Worcester and his hero worshiping finds its outlet in a most sincere admiration of Pardo de Tavera.

Preeminently a student of ethnological details he has delved into the native life and has given in a book of exquisite sketches, stories which contain perhaps the greatest proof of his genius, and which Cecilio Apostol declares will never be outdone. …. These little novelettes were called "Algo de Prose" and lifted him" at once to the first rank of Filipino writers. …

Señor Cristobal gives himself the luxury of limited copies and happy is the possessor, for this countryman is the most blue-blooded of thinkers and as he does not write for money, has a quiet scorn for the public. A great deal of his late work has appeared in "Cultura Filipina", the leading review of the Philippines.

The tribes among whom he has pursued the most of his language study are the Tinguianes, Ibilaos and Aetas and the first essays of these he has set to music and has composed many hundreds of these simple romances. His latest work, not yet published but about completed, is one on his distinguished contemporary Pardo de Tavera.

Fortunate indeed is any land who can boast of such a literary leader, profoundly devout, highly cultivated and endowed, above his fellows, with that gift the gods are sparing of genius. Such a figure is the subject of this sketch and as such he stands alone, not in cold aloofness, but in warm friendliness among Filipinos.

Source: Builders of a Nation: A Series of Biographical Sketches (Manila, 1914)

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