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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. J. Jowett

(Endorsed: recd. Sept.26th, 1833)
ST. PETERSBURG, No.221 GALERNOY ULITZA.
[Undated.]

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- My last letter was from Hamburg, which I hope and trust you received. I started from thence on the 24th, and embarking at Travemunde I arrived at the Russian capital on the 31st July (old style) after an exceedingly pleasant passage, accomplished in the short space of 72 hours; for the wind was during the greatest part of our way favourable and gentle, the sea being quite as smooth as a mill pond, so that the paddles of our noble steamer, the Nikolai, were not at all impeded in their working by any rolling or pitching of the vessel. Immediately on my arrival I sought out Mr. Swan, one of the most amiable and interesting characters I have ever met with, and delivered to him your letter, the contents of which were very agreeable to him; for from applying himself too un-interruptedly to transcribing the manuscript of the Mandchou Old Testament he had in some degree injured his health; and the arrival of a coadjutor in the task was exceedingly opportune. In a day or two I went with him to pay a visit to Mr. Schmidt, who resides a few miles out of town. He assured us that he had no doubt of permission being granted for the printing of the Mandchou New Testament, and promised to make all the necessary inquiries, and to inform Mr. Swan and myself of the result. He was at the time we saw him much occupied with his Mongolian Grammar and Dictionary, which are in the press. We have not heard from him since this visit, and I shall probably call upon him again in a week or two to hear what steps he has taken. I resided for nearly a fortnight in a hotel, as the difficulty of procuring lodgings in this place is very great, and when you have procured them, you have to furnish them yourself at a considerable expense. During this time I collated with Mr. Swan the greatest part of what he had transcribed, and eventually I took up my abode with Mr. Egerton Hubbard, a friend of Mr. Venning's, where I am for the present very comfortably situated, and I do assure you exerting myself to the utmost to fulfil the views of the Society. I have transcribed from the Mandchou Old Testament the second book of Chronicles, which when I had done, I put aside the Old Testament for a season, and by the advice of Mr. Swan began to copy St. Matthew's Gospel from the version of the New, executed by the same hand as the Old, with the purpose of comparing it with that of Mr. Lipoftsoff. This task I have just completed, and am now about to commence a transcript of the Acts. Respecting this manuscript translation of the Old and New Testaments I must here observe, that with scarcely one exception it is the most laborious and best executed work of the kind which I have ever seen, and I cannot but admire the diligence and learning of him who, probably unasked and unrewarded, engaged in and accomplished it. The style, as far as I can judge, is to an eminent degree elegant and polished, and likely to captivate those whose taste is cultivated, and with this advantage, it exhibits none of that obscurity which too frequently attends refinement of language; and as for fidelity -- it is upon the whole executed as literally, and with as much adherence to the original, as the genius of the Tartar language and the understandings of the people, for whose edification it is intended, will permit. But the notes and elucidations (which I copy not) which follow every chapter, both of the Old and New Testament, constitute the most surprising feature of this work. They are so full and copious, that they occupy far more space than the text; indeed, I think I speak quite within bounds when I say that for every page of text there are two of explanatory matter. The author was a French Jesuit, and when did a Jesuit any thing which he undertook, whether laudable or the reverse, not far better than any other person? Staunch Protestant though I be, I am not ashamed to say that all the skill and talent of our own missionaries, in acquiring languages and making versions of the Scriptures, are, when compared with the capabilities displayed by the seminary priests, faint and seemingly insignificant; and yet it is singular enough that the labours of the latter in this line have had almost invariably no other fate than to be buried in continental public libraries or in the literary collections of the learned and curious; from which it is manifest that the Lord smiled not upon their undertakings. They thought not of His glory but of the glory of their order, and the consequence has been that 'He has put down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek.'

A few days since I called upon Mr. Lipoftsoff, and to my surprise discovered that he was totally unaware of any plan being in agitation for the printing of his translation of the Scriptures. He said that he had had no communication with Mr. Schmidt for several months; and far from being able to furnish me with any information respecting the probable destiny of his work, he asked questions of me concerning it. He is a gentleman rather advanced in years, probably between sixty and seventy, but is nevertheless surprisingly hale and robust. He was very kind, and promised to give me any assistance in his power towards acquiring a thorough knowledge of the Mandchou; and, permit me to say, that Petersburg is the only place in Europe where such a knowledge can be obtained, for the manuscripts and printed books in that tongue are very plentiful here, and there are moreover several individuals who speak and write it. I of course most gladly accepted such an offer, and shall endeavour to turn it to the best account. Mr. L. speaks no European language but Russ, which I am not sorry for, because frequent conversation and intercourse with him will improve my knowledge of that language. It is a great error to suppose that a person resident in this country can dispense with Russ, provided he is acquainted with French and German. The two latter languages, it is true, are spoken by the French and German shop-keepers settled here. French is moreover spoken (to foreigners) by the nobility and a few of the officers in the army; but neither are so generally understood as in England -- German far less so; and as for the Russians being the best general linguists in Europe, I am totally unable to guess how the idea could have originated, but am certain from personal experience that they are quite the contrary.

Petersburg is the finest city in the world; neither London nor Paris nor any other European capital which I have visited has sufficient pretensions to enter into comparison with it in respect to beauty and grandeur. Many of the streets are miles in length, as straight as an arrow and adorned with the most superb edifices. The so-called Nevsky Prospect, a street which runs from the Admiralty to the Monastery of St. Alexander Nevsky, is nearly three miles in length and for the greatest part of the way floored with small blocks of wood shaped octagonally. The broad and rapid Neva runs through the centre of this Queen of cities, and on either side is a noble quay, from which you have a full view of the river and of what is passing on its bosom. But I will not be diffuse in the description of objects which have been so often described, but devote the following lines which my paper will contain to more important matters.

The lower orders of the Russians are very willing to receive Scriptural information, and very willing to purchase it if offered to them at a price which comes within their means. I will give an interesting example of this. A young man of the name of Nobbs, in the employ of Mr. Leake, an English farmer residing a few versts from Petersburg, is in the habit on his return from the latter place, whither he is frequently sent by his master, to carry with him a satchel filled with Russian New Testaments and religious tracts, with which he is supplied by an excellent English lady who dwells there. He says that before he has reached home, he has invariably disposed of his whole cargo to the surrounding peasantry; and such is the hunger and thirst which they display for the word of salvation that his stock has always been insufficient to answer all the demands made, after it was known what merchandise he brought with him. There remain at present three hundred copies unsold of the modern Russian New Testament at the shop which has the disposal of the works of the late Russian Bible Society; these copies, all of which are damaged from having been immersed during the inundation of 1824, might all be disposed of in one day, provided proper individuals were employed to hawk them about in the environs of this capital. There are twenty thousand copies on hand of the Sclavonian Bible, which being in a language and character differing materially from the modern Russ character and language, and only understood by the learned, is unfit for general circulation, and the copies will probably remain unsold, though the Synod is more favourable to the distribution of the Scriptures in the ancient than in the modern form. I was informed by the attendant in the shop that the Synod had resolved upon not permitting the printing of any fresh edition of the Scriptures in the modern Russ until these twenty thousand copies in the ancient language had been disposed of. But it is possible that this assertion is incorrect.

I must now conclude; and with an earnest request that you will write to me speedily, and deliver my kindest remembrances to Mr. Brandram and to my other good friends at the Society House, I remain, Revd. and dear Sir, your most obedient servant,

G. BORROW.

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