Monday, June 29, 2009

Philippine Literary History: The Early Period - 1900 to 1930

On August 13, 1898, the American forces occupied Manila. A few years later, in April of 1900, President William McKinley directed the Philippine Commission to make English the official medium of instruction for all public schools. The first teachers of English were members of the United States Army. In August of 1901 six hundred American teachers arrived on the transport Thomas. They replaced the soldiers as teachers. In that year, 1901, the Philippine Normal School was founded. Its purpose was to train Filipino in the art of teaching so that they could eventually take charge of elementary education.

The students and the people in general learned English quickly. Even in 1899 there were English newspapers such as
The Courier, Insular Press, and Manila Freedom. In 1900 the Daily Bulletin was founded, while The Cablenews started in 1902. The Philippines Free Press began in 1905, edited by F. Theodore Rogers. At first it was a bilingual weekly in English and Spanish. In 1908 it published the first Filipino short stories in English.

In that same year, 1908, the University of the Philippines was founded. This school became the forerunner in the use of English for higher education. In October of 1910 the University of the Philippines'
College Folio was published. This magazine printed the works of the first promising writers in English. These early selections were mostly ghost stories or folk tales explaining natural phenomena. Often the authors taught a moral message which was evident even at a first reading.

Among the famous early teachers of English might be mentioned Professors Dean S. Fansler and his wife Harriott Ely Fansler, George Pope Shannon, Tom Inglis Moore, Harold P. Scott, and C. V. Wicker. In literature classes they taught the works of Chaucer, Milton, Donne, Shakespeare, Irving, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Longfellow, Bryant, Harte, Holmes, Lowell, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Lamb, Joyce, Tennyson, Thackeray, Macaulay, and other famous writers.

For composition themes they encouraged the students to write about folk tales and their own experiences. In one college class of 1913 the students were asked to write speeches for these topics: The Building of a Modern Sanitary Market; A Speech at the First Banquet of the Philippine Normal School; An Appeal to the Moral Sense-Cockfighting; Primary Education in the Philippines; A Stump Speech before the People of a Certain Barrio; and The Unveiling of a Monument Dedicated to Apolinario Mabini; The student themes were carefully corrected and when a grammatical mistake was made students were required to write the corrected form five times. At the end of each theme, the student wrote a statement of originality testifying that "...this is my own original work." The skill and dedication of the early teachers was to produce rich results in the years to come.

At first Filipino writing in English was quite formal and imitative. Influences from the Spanish language could be seen in the use of Spanish expressions and in an ornate style. Grammatical expression was at times awkward and there was some difficulty in the use of prepositions and pronouns. But gradually the quality of writing improved. Between 1908 and 1914 some students at the University of the Philippines collected and retold, in English, old Filipino tales. These writings were gathered by Dean S. Fansler and published in
Filipino Popular Tales in 1921. In 1912 the graduates of the Manila High School published their English writings in The Coconut. The following year 1913, the Philippine Normal School introduced its publication, The Torch.

Aside from student publications, newspapers and magazines provided an early outlet for writers. In 1920 the
Philippines Herald began publication. It was founded by Manuel L. Quezon and its magazine section was edited by Paz Marquez Benitez. As distinguished writer herself, she helped to make familiar the names of Paz Latorena, Loreto Paras, Jose Garcia Villa, Casiano T. Calalang, and others. In 1924 A.V.H. Hartendorp became the editor of the Philippine Educator Magazine. Some four year later, he widened its content and renamed it the Philippine Magazine. The high quality of this magazine made it so popular that it became the most influential literary magazine in the country. It published some of the best Filipino writing in English.

Filipino writers received further encouragement in 1925. In that year The
Free Press began paying for original manuscripts and offered P1,000 for the best stories. The Manila Tribune was founded and, along with the Graphic, the Woman's Outlook, the Woman's Home Journal, and the Philippine Collegian, offered further incentives to promising writers. Also in 1925 the Philippine Writers Association was organized with Rizal G. Adorable as president. Among the early members were: Paz Latorena, Loreto Paras, Jose Garcia Villa, Jose Panganiban, Remedios Mijares, Mercedes Grau, Clemencia Joven, Casiano Calalang, Jose Dayrit, Sol H. Gwekoh, Arturo B. Rotor, D. H. Soriano, and Augusto C. Catanjal.

Perhaps an even more influential group was the Writer's Club founded in 1927 at the University of the Philippines. This group published
Literary Apprentice which became the leading college literary publication in the country. The Writer's Club stimulated and encouraged an artistic consciousness among the literary circles of the Philippines.

The first thirty years of Philippine Literature in English produced little in the fields of drama and the novel. Drama was hardly written because vernacular plays and the zarzuela still dominated the stage. The first Filipino novel in English was
A Child of Sorrow, written by Zoilo M. Galang in 1921. He later wrote Visions of a Sower in 1924 and Nadia in 1929. Another novelist of this period was Ernest Lopez who published His Awakening in 1929.

From 1900 to 1930 there was some significant writing of essays, short stories, and poems. In the following paragraphs the development of these forms will be treated in more detail.

Essays. The essay was a popular form of expression for the early writers. Some essays were light or humorous, while others dealt with more serious subjects such as education, history, politics, and social problems. As early as 1926 essayists expressed the need for a literature that was native and national. Many essays first appeared as newspaper columns and later they were published in anthologies. In 1921 Zoilo M. Galang published Life and Success, the first volume of essays in English. Another collection of Filipino essays appeared in 1924, entitled Thinking for Ourselves, edited by Vicente M. Hilario and Eliseo Quirino. In that year Zoilo M. Galang also published another book of essays, Master of Destiny. Among the early essay writers might be mentioned F. M. Africa, Francisco Benitez, Jorge Bocobo, Amador Daguio, Leandro Fernandez, Zoilo M. Galang, Fernando Ma. Guererro, M. M. Kalaw, Pedro de la Llana, I. V. Mallari, Ignacio Manlapaz, Fernando Maramag, Camilo Osias, Claro M. Recto, Carlos P. Romulo, and Eulogio B. Rodriguez.

Short Stories. Virginia R. Moreno has described the literary years 1910-1924 as "...a period of novices with their experiences both in fiction-making and the use of the new language; 1925 to 1931 was the period of the phenomenal growth among the practitioners in the art." It is true that the early short stories were the work of novices. The tales were often romantic and the adventures, themes, and plots were sometimes imitated. There were difficulties in grammar and at times there was a tendency toward sentimentalism. But gradually, certain writers appeared who showed that the novitiate period was ending. Jorge Bocobo's "Horrible Adventure" in the Philippine Review for May 1916, and Paz Marquez Benitez's "The Siren of 34 Real" in the Philippine Review for July, 1917 were praised by critics for their high literary quality. On September 20, 1925 The Philippines Herald published "Dead Stars" by Paz Marquez Benitez. This story was quickly recognized as one of the best short stories yet written by a Filipino.

In 1925 Zoilo M. Galang published the first collection of short stories in book form under the title
Box of Ashes and Other Stories. Beginning with 1926, Jose Garcia Villa encouraged writers with his yearly selection of the best Filipino short stories. In 1927 the first anthology of Filipino short stories was edited by Paz Marquez Benitez. It was entitled Filipino Love Stories. In that same year, Jose Villa Panganiban published The Stealer of Hearts and Other Stories. In 1928 the best short stories were compiled by Jose Garcia Villa in Philippine Short Stories: The Best 25 Stories of 1928.

By 1930 original and significant stories were being written. "Zita," written by Arturo B. Rotor around 1930, has been called " of the finest love stories in Filipino Literature in English." Among the early short story writers were: Paz Marquez Benitez, Jorge Bocobo, Amador T. Daguio, Pilar Hidalgo Lim, Paz Latorena, Tarcila Malabanan, Jose Villa Panganiban, Arturo B. Rotor, Loreto Paras Sulit, L. B. Uichangco, and Jose Garcia Villa.

Poems. The first known Filipino poem in English is "Sursum Corda," by Justo Juliano. It appeared in the Philippines Free Press in 1907. This poem, along with others of that period, has been criticized as being too artificial and overwritten in order to achieve intensity. The early poems often borrowed images and similes from English or American poets. The first collection of poems in book form was Reminiscences, by Lorenzo Paredes, in 1921. In 1922 Procopio Solidum published Never Mind, a collection of Filipino poetry in English. Rodolfo Dato edited an anthology of Filipino poems in 1924 under the title Filipino Poetry. In 1926 he published his own poems in Manila.

Most critics agree that Marcelo de Gracia Concepcion was a leading poet of the early period. His
Azucena was published in New York in 1925. His poems reveal simple images with deep sensitivity and original thought. Some poets who belonged to the early period of Philippine Literature were: Aurelio S. Alvero, Marcelo de Gracia Concepcion, Rafael Zulueta da Costa, Luis Dato, Vicente L. del Fierro, Virgilio Floresca, Angela Manalang Gloria, Jose M. Hernandez, A. E. Litiatco, Fernando M. Maramag, Natividad Marquez, Conrado B. Rigor, Juan F. Salazar, Abelardo Subido, Trinidad Tarrosa Subido, Francisco G. Tonogbanua, L.B. Uichangco, and Jose Garcia Villa.