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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. J. Jowett

(Endorsed: recd. Nov.14, 1834)
ST. PETERSBURG, Oct. 13th (old style) 1834.

REVEREND AND DEAR SIR, -- In pursuance of the promise given in my epistle of last week, which I trust in the Lord you have received, I again address you. In the first place I must intreat you to peruse and to read to the Committee the enclosed Latin certificate penned by Mr. Lipoftsoff, a gentleman as little inclined to be prodigal of praise, as was of old the learned Scaliger himself, to whom in many points indeed, he bears no faint resemblance. In the second place, I must inform you that a few hurried lines are all that I can afford to write at present; my proof sheets are rushing in so fast that time is exceedingly precious to me, and I grudge every moment that is not devoted to my Maker or to my great undertaking.

Before this letter reaches you St. Mark's Gospel will have passed through the press. The two remaining Gospels will be printed before the arrival of Christmas, and by the first of May the entire New Testament, in the Mandchou language, will have been published. I wish this intelligence to be communicated to the public, who are at liberty, provided the Lord does not visit me with some heavy affliction, to hold me culpable, if my assertion is belied by the event.

It is true that were I to pursue the common practice of editors, it would be impossible to complete the work in less than two years; the quantity of proofs, successively required for every sheet, fail not, in general, to retard the progress of all such undertakings. My beloved friend Mr. Swan published in this city a small tract in Mongolian; he found that it was absolutely necessary to demand six proofs of every sheet, for in the second, nay the third proof, there were frequently as many errors as in the first, from the compositors not being able properly to read the corrections. But I never entrust the task of making alterations in the press to other hands than my own. Having corrected the first proof at home, I proceed to the printing office and rectify all errors myself. I consequently never require more than two proofs; the second, which I generally show to Mr. Lipoftsoff, is frequently faultless. I am so perfectly convinced of the excellence of this plan, that it is my firm intention to pursue it in whatever foreign, or even English works, it may be my destiny to edit.

I wish now to say a few words upon a subject, on which I have previously said something. At the present moment my principal inducement to such a step is the observation every now and then made to me, both by Christians and no Christians, namely: 'You are printing Testaments for which you will never find readers. Do not tell us that you can distribute them at Canton and its environs, or on the coasts of China; there are not ten individuals amongst a million of the aboriginal Chinese, and such constitute the inhabitants of Canton, of the coasts and of the isles, who understand the language in which your Testaments are printed. If you wish for readers you must seek them amongst the masters of Pekin and the fierce hordes of desert Tartary; but what means do you possess for introducing them to Tartary or Pekin?' I stated in a former letter that the town of Kiachta, upon the northern frontier of China, appeared to me to be in many respects a suitable head-quarters for any person on whom might devolve the task of endeavouring to supply the Mandchou Tartars with the word of life in their own language. I am still of opinion, and so are many individuals much more experienced than myself, that if a passport could be obtained from the Russian Government, the Bible Society would do well in despatching an agent to Kiachta, to see what might be done at, or rather from, that place in the great cause. Kiachta is little more than 800 miles from Pekin, and not more than half that distance from Manjuria; he might therefore, trusting in the Lord, not unreasonably hope to be able to penetrate to the Tartar of the capital and the desert. True it is that his undertaking would not 'come within the limits of safe and prudent speculation.' But is it possible for a plan to come within the limits of safe speculation, which has in view the conversion of the Tartar? Far be it from me to advise that the entire stock of Testaments be hazarded in such an enterprise; 200 is the extreme number which should be ventured, the others shipped for England, for a seizure upon the agent and his books would be no improbable event. I am a person of few words, and will therefore state without circumlocution that I am willing to become that agent. I speak Russ, Mandchou, and the Tartar or broken Turkish of the Russian steppes, and have also some knowledge of Chinese, which I might easily improve at Kiachta, half of the inhabitants of which town are Chinamen. I am therefore not altogether unqualified for such an adventure. Were the attempt to be made, the winter of the ensuing year would be the proper time for starting, because the book will not be ready before next spring, and the expenses of a summer journey would be enormous.

A few days since, upon taking leave of Prince Abbas Khoulgi, who has departed from this place to his patrimonial territories, near the Caucasus, I presented him with a Testament in the Russian-Tartar language, which is his native tongue. He is without one exception the most interesting man I have ever met. Though by religion a Mahometan he is totally divested of the blind bigotry which so peculiarly characterises the followers of the Camel-driver-warrior-pseudo-prophet, but on the contrary is possessed of a mind ever restless in the pursuit of truth, and which will doubtless eventually lead him to the narrow path which leadeth unto salvation. The Testament which he received from me was the very last, in the Tartar language, which remained in the shop at which are sold the publications of what was once the Russian Bible Society. It is a sad fact that though there are upwards of three thousand Tartars in St. Petersburg, most of whom can read and write the Turkish dialect which they speak, not one Testament is at hand suited to their understandings. I have formed many acquaintances among these most singular people, whose language I have acquired, during my residence in the Russian capital, chiefly from conversing with my servant Mahomet Djaffier, a native of Bucharia, son of the Iman or Mahometan priest of this place. Notwithstanding the superstition and fanaticism of these men I am much attached to them; for their conscientiousness, honesty, and fidelity are beyond all praise. They stand in strong contrast with the lower orders of the Russians, a good-natured, lowly-vicious, wavering race, easily excited, easily soothed; whilst the former are sedate, sober, temperate beings, with minds like Egyptian granite, from which it is no easy matter to efface an impression, once made. How lamentable that such people should in the all-important matter of religion have embraced error instead of truth; what ornaments they would prove at the present day to Christianity, if, instead of Mahometanism, Christianity had originally come in their way! Of a surety they would reflect much more lustre on the religion of Christ than millions whose deeds and behaviour are more worthy of the followers of the impostor than of Him 'in whose mouth was found no craft or subtlety.'

I have much more to write and wish so to do, but I have really no time. It is probable that you will not hear from me again before Christmas (old style), but I entreat you to inform me as soon as possible whether my proceedings give satisfaction or not; but I must here take the liberty of stating that if I were moved one inch from my own course, the consequences might prove disastrous to the work, as I should instantly lose all power of exertion. I want no assistance but that of God, and will accept of none. Pray, I beseech you, that That be granted.

You would, my dear Sir, be conferring a great favour upon me, if you would so far trouble yourself as to write a few lines to my venerated friend Mr. Cunningham of Lowestoft, informing him that I am tolerably well, and that the work is going on most prosperously.

I remain, Reverend and dear Sir,

Your most humble and obliged servant,

GEORGE BORROW.

P.S. -- Baron Schilling wishes to have a Chinese Testament of the large edition: pray, send one if possible, and direct it to me at the Sarepta House. Be particular to remember that it must be of the large edition, for he has one of the small already in his possession. He wishes likewise to have Gutzlaff and Lindsay's Voyages.

Enclosed in the letter is the following certificate.

Testifico --

Dominum Burro ab initio usque ad hoc tempus summa cum deligentia et studio in re Mantshurica laborasse.

LIPOVZOFF.

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