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Rizal at the British Museum

MANILA –The Knights of Rizal held its 7th European Regional Assembly last August 30 – September 1, 2019, in London, the United Kingdom with the theme “Isalin ang Rizalismo sa Gawaing Pagbabago” (Translate Rizalism to Transformative Action).

Area Commander Sir Alfonso Taguiang, Knight Grand Officer of Rizal, was at the helm of the event.

The celebration also marked the 130th year of publication of Dr. Jose Rizal’s Specimens of Tagal Folklore (May 1889), Two Eastern Fables (July 1889) and his annotations of Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, a product of his numerous visits to the British Museum.

One of the activities of the 7th ERA was a visit to the British Museum to view Rizal’s Register of Admission to the Reading Room.

“I was fortunate enough to be of assistance to the London organizers since I was previously in contact with the British Museum while I was working on a paper on Rizal,” he said.

His previous engagements with the Museum led to facilitating Taguiang’s request for the delegates of the 7th ERA to see the Register.

Dr. Rizal arrived in London in the last week of May 1888. On the 25th of May, he arrived at the Grand Hotel Midland, the train’s final stop from Liverpool. The hotel is more familiar in today’s London as St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, the façade of which doubled as Kings’ Cross station to Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾.

By mid-August 1888, Rizal embarked on writing the Filipino’s glorious past. He registered as a reader at the British Museum on 16 August 1888. In order to study books or manuscripts held by the Museum, it was necessary to make an application and be given permission. Those granted admissions were issued a ticket that had to be presented when visiting the Reading Room.

Decoding the Registry

The Registry entries are numbered according to the arrival of the guests.

Looking at the Registry, the left column markings would tell us that Rizal was the 15th person to be registered on 16th August 1888 (16/15), with 16 marking the day of the month and 15 as the order of registration. The A34470 that appears below the 16/15 is the number of Rizal’s application form to the Museum while 3561 is the accession number for the documents that he presented to request access to the Round Reading Room. These documents were likely to be a reference letter and a letter by Rizal making such a request.

The registry did not make any mention of who Rizal’s referee was unlike in the previous entries. For example, in the entry on Karl Marx in 1850, it was clear who his referee was, the German Dr. William Plate. Dr. Plate was the same referee listed on another entry, that of Dr. Reinhold Rost who was Rizal’s neighbor and friend at Primrose Hill.

Dr. Rost has always been credited as the one responsible for Rizal’s admittance to the British Museum. This is not surprising considering the influence of Rost and the friendship that existed between the two men.

To put the doubt in my mind to rest, I inquired from the Museum who Rizal’s referee was. I found out that while it was still necessary to submit a referee in 1889, sadly, in the case of Rizal, the application form may have been lost or at least no longer in the British Museum (as it is the case with most earlier applications).

To date, there is no record of who was his referee. It may, therefore, be necessary to inquire deeper from the British Library if they have it as the Library kept some of them when they moved out of the British Museum building. As of this time, it does not appear in the Library’s catalogue but it does not mean it is not there if it is there.

In the main column, the entries – the name and the address – were written by Rizal, identifying himself as a doctor (Dr.) and writing down his address.

Rizal frequented the Reading Room, copying by hand the entire Morga book and making annotations using available accounts of other scholars. Fortunately, access to the Reading Room, as the whole of the British Museum, was free of charge. During Rizal’s time, readers were issued a ticket just once and there was not a need to renew it.

The reader’s ticket was presented if the staff would not recognize the person. Rizal would have been very easy to recognize with his Asian features.

The library was open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from January to April and October-December and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from May to August. It was a very busy place with up to 490 people visiting on one day.

Rizal took advantage of the resources available in the Reading Room. After leaving London in early 1889 for Paris, Rizal continued to visit the Museum. He found its materials and collections more adequate than those in continental Europe. (PNA)

(About the author: Geronimo Suliguin took postgraduate courses in historical and diplomatic studies at Oxford University. He is the Assistant Director at the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs.) 

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