The writing and typesetting of "El Habanero" in 1824 must have been intensive labor of love for the one who put it together.
Word by word and letter by letter, patiently assembling the lines of movable type, avoiding at all cost the devil in the typos, must have been a total headache wherever it took place in Old City Philadelphia.
Greater even than the headache the author created when his words were finally read in Havana— and the colonial Governor of Cuba went into a rage that was felt as far as Philadelphia —where the man must have first framed his words in the pure love he felt for his native island.
To transfer his thoughts of liberty for Cuba to the printed page must have been demanding for Father Felix Varela y Morales— penning them in Spanish, in Philadelphia in 1823 at the start of his little known career as a publisher in America.
In this age of digital journalism, which has given us iPads, smart phones and all those other devises to communicate our thoughts, we have forgotten what it took back then to widely disseminate the words of a writer.
Guttenberg's ' invention was still remembered and revered and it was the magic of its times — taking each of a writer’s words and, by hand, using the movable type the Chinese invented 400 years before Guttenberg in Europe, assembling them on metal plates, to finally reproduce them on paper for massive distribution and reading.
Today we type, and we send, and it is done. We can even tweet our writing to the world — all in a matter of seconds.
At the beginning of the 19th century when Varela published "El Habanero" in Spanish in Philadephia, and later in New York City, it must have been days and weeks before the writer's ideas finally made contact with the reader.
It must have been so hard that Varela's passion for writing must have been tested throughout by the difficulty.
Writing and publishing was then as much a physical activity as it was an intellectual one.
The words, born in the writer's mind, became tangible on paper— first in the manuscript, and then on the printer's version — enduring a patient and long process hard to imagine today.
But it was all worthwhile, in Varela's case, whose modest Habanero, a "Journal of Politics and Science," as he called it, is preserved in libraries as evidence of the vision of the man who, Cubans say today, "taught us to think."
He dared to send those modest pages he printed in Philadelphia to Havana. They caused a stir the moment they were read.
He had just put down on paper simple thoughts like this:
"The irresistible voice of nature proclaims that the island of Cuba must be happy."
Today, self-evident and harmless; back then, to endorse the thought in writing was revolutionary and dangerous.
The gentle writer didn't mince words against what he called the "traffickers" of patriotism, "the political hypocrites," or those who “shamelessly” used religion as a mask.
He quickly drew the rage of the powerful in the Spanish colonial capital — where, he wrote, many are persecuting "my poor 'Habanero' " and are plotting to assassinate his author.
“Miserable men!" exclaimed the writer in Philadelphia.
Varela then would ask the obvious question, writing In the third of his fledging publication: "Do you believe you can destroy the truth by killing the one who dares to speak it…?"