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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. J. Jowett

(Endorsed: recd. Nov.10th, 1834)
ST. PETERSBURG, Oct. 8 [old style], 1834.

I have just received your most kind epistle, the perusal of which has given me both pain and pleasure -- pain that from unavoidable circumstances I have been unable to gratify eager expectation, and pleasure that any individual should have been considerate enough to foresee my situation and to make allowance for it. The nature of my occupations during the last two months and a half has been such as would have entirely unfitted me for correspondence, had I been aware that it was necessary, which, on my sacred word, I was not. Now, and only now, when by the blessing of God I have surmounted all my troubles and difficulties, I will tell, and were I not a Christian I should be proud to tell, what I have been engaged upon and accomplished during the last ten weeks. I have been working in the printing-office, as a common compositor, between ten and thirteen hours every day during that period; the result of this is that St. Matthew's Gospel, printed from such a copy as I believe nothing was ever printed from before, has been brought out in the Mandchou language; two rude Esthonian peasants, who previously could barely compose with decency in a plain language which they spoke and were accustomed to, have received such instruction that with ease they can each compose at the rate of a sheet a day in the Mandchou, perhaps the most difficult language for composition in the whole world; considerable progress has also been made in St. Mark's Gospel, and I will venture to promise, provided always the Almighty smiles upon the undertaking, that the entire work of which I have the superintendence will be published within eight months from the present time. Now, therefore, with the premise that I most unwillingly speak of myself and what I have done and suffered for some time past, all of which I wished to keep locked up in my own breast, I will give a regular and circumstantial account of my proceedings from the day when I received your letter, by which I was authorised by the Committee to bespeak paper, engage with a printer, and cause our type to be set in order.

My first care was to endeavour to make suitable arrangements for the obtaining of Chinese paper. Now those who reside in England, the most civilised and blessed of countries, where everything is to be obtained at a fair price, have not the slightest idea of the anxiety and difficulty which, in a country like this, harass the foreigner who has to disburse money not his own, if he wish that his employers be not shamefully and outrageously imposed upon. In my last epistle to you I stated that I had been asked 100 roubles per ream for such paper as we wanted. I likewise informed you that I believed that it was possible to procure it for 35 roubles, notwithstanding our Society had formerly paid 40 roubles for worse paper than the samples I was in possession of. Now I have always been of opinion than in the expending of money collected for sacred purposes, it behoves the agent to be extraordinarily circumspect and sparing. I therefore was determined, whatever trouble it might cost me, to procure for the Society unexceptionable paper at a yet more reasonable rate than 35 roubles. I was aware, that an acquaintance of mine, a young Dane, was particularly intimate with one of the first printers of this city, who is accustomed to purchase vast quantities of paper every month for his various publications. I gave this young gentleman a specimen of the paper I required, and desired him (he was under obligations to me) to enquire of his friend, as if from curiosity, the least possible sum per ream at which the printer himself (who from his immense demand for paper should necessarily obtain it cheaper than any one else) could expect to purchase the article in question. The answer I received within a day or two was 25 roubles. Upon hearing this I prevailed upon my acquaintance to endeavour to persuade his friend to bespeak the paper at 25 roubles, and to allow me, notwithstanding I was a perfect stranger, to have it at that price. All this was brought about. I was introduced to the printer, Mr. Pluchard, by the Dane, Mr. Hasfeldt, and between the former gentleman and myself a contract was made to the effect that by the end of October he should supply me with 450 reams of Chinese paper at 25 roubles per ream, the first delivery to be made on the 1st of August; for as my order was given at an advanced period of the year, when all the paper manufactories were at full work towards the executing of orders already received, it was but natural that I should verify the old apophthegm, 'Last come, last served.' As no orders are attended to in Russia unless money be advanced upon them, I deposited in the hands of Mr. Pluchard the sum of 2000 roubles, receiving his receipt for that amount.

Having arranged this most important matter to my satisfaction, I turned my attention to the printing process. I accepted the offer of Messrs. Schultz and Beneze to compose and print the Mandchou Testament at the rate of 25 roubles per sheet, and caused our fount of type to be conveyed to their office. I wish to say here a few words respecting the state in which these types came into my possession. I found them in a kind of warehouse, or rather cellar. They had been originally confined in two cases; but these having burst, the type lay on the floor trampled amidst mud and filth. They were, moreover, not improved by having been immersed within the waters of the inundation of '27 . I caused them all to be collected and sent to their destination, where they were purified and arranged -- a work of no small time and difficulty, at which I was obliged to assist. Not finding with the type what is called 'Durchschuss' by the printers here, consisting of leaden wedges of about six ounces weight each, which form the spaces between the lines, I ordered 120 pounds weight of those at a rouble a pound, being barely enough for three sheets. I had now to teach the compositors the Mandchou alphabet, and to distinguish one character from another. This occupied a few days, at the end of which I gave them the commencement of St. Matthew's Gospel to copy. They no sooner saw the work they were called upon to perform than there were loud murmurs of dissatisfaction, and . . . [four Russian words] which means 'It is quite impossible to do the like,' was the cry -- and no wonder. The original printed Gospel had been so interlined and scribbled upon by the author in a hand so obscure and irregular, that, accustomed as I was to the perusal of the written Mandchou, it was not without the greatest difficulty that I could decipher the new matter myself. Moreover, the corrections had been so carelessly made that they themselves required far more correction than the original matter. I was therefore obliged to be continually in the printing-office, and to do three parts of the work myself. For some time I found it necessary to select every character with my own fingers, and to deliver it to the compositor, and by so doing I learnt myself to compose. We continued in this way till all our characters were exhausted, for no paper had arrived. For two weeks and more we were obliged to pause, the want of paper being insurmountable. At the end of this period came six reams; but partly from the manufacturers not being accustomed to make this species of paper, and partly from the excessive heat of the weather which caused it to dry too fast, only one ream and a half could be used, and this was not enough for one sheet; the rest I refused to take, and sent back. The next week came fifteen reams. This paper, from the same causes, was as bad as the last. I selected four reams, and sent the rest back. But this paper enabled us to make a beginning, which we did not fail to do, though we received no more for upwards of a fortnight, which caused another pause. At the end of that time, owing to my pressing remonstrances and entreaties, a regular supply of about twelve reams per week of most excellent paper commenced. This continued until we had composed the last five sheets of St. Matthew, when some paper arrived which in my absence was received by Mr. Beneze, who, without examining it, as was his duty, delivered it to the printers to use in the printing of the said sheets, who accordingly printed upon part of it. But the next day, when my occupation permitted me to see what they were about, I observed that the last paper was of a quality very different from that which had been previously sent. I accordingly instantly stopped the press, and, notwithstanding eight reams had been printed upon, I sent all the strange paper back, and caused Mr. Beneze to recompose three sheets, which had been broken up, at his own expense. But this caused the delay of another week.

This last circumstance made me determine not to depend in future for paper on one manufactory alone. I therefore stated to Mr. P[luchard] that, as his people were unable to furnish me with the article fast enough, I should apply to others for 250 reams, and begged him to supply me with the rest as fast as possible. He made no objection. Thereupon I prevailed upon my most excellent friend, Baron Schilling, to speak to his acquaintance, State-Councillor Alquin, who is possessed of a paper manufactory, on the subject. M. Alquin, as a personal favour to Baron Schilling (whom, I confess, I was ashamed to trouble upon such an affair, and should never have done so had not zeal for the cause induced me), consented to furnish me with the required paper on the same terms as Mr. P. At present there is not the slightest risk of the progress of our work being retarded -- at present, indeed, the path is quite easy; but the trouble, anxiety, and misery which have till lately harassed me, alone in a situation of great responsibility, have almost reduced me to a skeleton.

My dearest Sir, do me the favour to ask our excellent Committee, Would it have answered any useful purpose if, instead of continuing to struggle with difficulties and using my utmost to overcome them, I had written in the following strain -- and what else could I have written if I had written at all? -- 'I was sent out to St. Petersburg to assist Mr. Lipoftsoff in the editing of the Mandchou Testament. That gentleman, who holds three important situations under the Russian Government, and who is far advanced in years, has neither time, inclination, or eyesight for the task, and I am apprehensive that my strength and powers unassisted are incompetent to it' (praised be the Lord, they were not!), 'therefore I should be glad to return home. Moreover the compositors say that they are unaccustomed to compose in an unknown tongue from such scribbled and illegible copy, and they will scarcely assist me to compose. Moreover the working printers say (several went away in disgust) that the paper on which they have to print is too thin to be wetted, and that to print on dry requires a two-fold exertion of strength, and that they will not do such work for double wages, for it ruptures them.' Would that have been a welcome communication to the Committee? Would that have been a communication suited to the public? I was resolved 'to do or die,' and, instead of distressing and perplexing the Committee with complaints, to write nothing until I could write something perfectly satisfactory, as I now can; and to bring about that result I have spared neither myself nor my own money. I have toiled in a close printing-office the whole day, during 90 degrees of heat, for the purpose of setting an example, and have bribed people to work whom nothing but bribes would induce so to do.

I am obliged to say all this in self-justification. No member of the Bible Society would ever have heard a syllable respecting what I have undergone but for the question, 'What has Mr. Borrow been about?' I hope and trust that question is now answered to the satisfaction of those who do Mr. Borrow the honour to employ him. In respect to the expense attending the editing of such a work as the New Testament in Mandchou, I beg leave to observe that I have obtained the paper, the principal source of expense, at fifteen roubles per ream less than the Society paid formerly for it -- that is to say, at nearly half the price.

As St. Matthew's Gospel has been ready for some weeks, it is high time that it should be bound; for if that process be delayed, the paper with be dirtied and the work injured. I am sorry to inform you that book-binding in Russia is incredibly dear, and that the expenses attending the binding of the Testament would amount, were the usual course pursued, to two-thirds of the entire expenses of the work. Various book-binders to whom I have applied have demanded one rouble and a half for the binding of every section of the work, so that the sum required for the binding of one Testament alone would be twelve roubles. Dr. Schmidt assured me that one rouble and forty copecks, or, according to the English currency, fourteenpence halfpenny, were formerly paid for the binding of every individual copy of St. Matthew's Gospel. I pray you, my dear Sir, to cause the books to be referred to, for I wish to know if that statement be correct. In the meantime arrangements have been made, and the Society will have to pay for each volume of the Testament the comparatively small sum of forty-five copecks, or fourpence halfpenny, whereas the usual price here for the most paltry covering of the most paltry pamphlet is fivepence. Should it be demanded how I have been able to effect this, my reply is that I have had little hand in the matter. A nobleman, who honours me with particular friendship, and who is one of the most illustrious ornaments of Russia and of Europe, has, at my request, prevailed on his own book-binder, over whom he has much influence, to do the work on these terms. That nobleman is Baron Schilling.

Commend me to our most respected Committee. Assure them that in whatever I have done or left undone, I have been influenced by a desire to promote the glory of the Trinity and to give my employers ultimate and permanent satisfaction. If I have erred, it has been from a defect of judgment, and I ask pardon of God and them.

In the course of a week I shall write again, and give a further account of my proceedings, for I have not communicated one-tenth of what I have to impart; but I can write no more now. It is two hours past midnight. The post goes away to-morrow, and against that morrow I have to examine and correct three sheets of St. Mark's Gospel, which lie beneath the paper on which I am writing. With my best regards to Mr. Brandram, I remain, dear Sir, most truly yours,


P.S. -- I wrote to Mr. Jackson and Mr. Tarn last week.

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