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Letters Of George Borrow by George Borrow

To the Rev. J. Jowett

(Endorsed: recd. March 23, 1835)
ST. PETERSBURG, Febry. 20 [old style], 1835.

REVD. AND DEAR SIR, -- I take advantage of the period of the Russian Carnival, during which all business is at a stand-still, to transmit to you some account of the manner in which I have been engaged, since the time when I last addressed myself to you. True it is, that I have not much to communicate; for the history of one day is that of a week, and a month; and when I state that the printing of the Mandchou New Testament is advancing rapidly to a conclusion, I shall have stated all I can of much importance; but as you and our excellent friends at home have a right to demand particulars, I will endeavour to be as particular as lies within my power.

About a month since I placed in the hands of Baron Schilling bound copies of the first four parts of the Testament, the Gospels; he having kindly promised to cause them to be conveyed to London by one of the couriers belonging to the Foreign Department, to which the Baron is attached. I have reason to believe, however, that you have not received them yet, as I have been informed that they remained in Petersburg some weeks after they had been deposited in the Foreign Office; but in this respect I am not culpable; and having no direct means of sending packets to London, I am glad to embrace any which may come in my way, especially those not attended with expense to the Society. In the mean time, I wish to inform you that I am at present occupied on the last sheets of the fifth volume of the Testament, namely, the Acts of the Apostles, in getting which through the press I have experienced much difficulty, partly from the illness of my compositors, and partly from the manner in which the translation was originally executed, which has rendered much modification highly necessary.

How I have been enabled to maintain terms of friendship and familiarity with Mr. Lipoftsoff, and yet fulfil the part which those who employ me expect me to fulfil, I am much at a loss to conjecture; and yet such is really the case. It is at all times dangerous to find fault with the style and composition of authors and translators, even when they come to your door to ask for your advice and assistance. You may easily conceive then, that my situation has been one of treble peril. Mr. L. is the Censor of his own work, and against the Censor's fiat in Russia there is no appeal; he is moreover a gentleman whom the slightest contradiction never fails to incense to a most incredible degree; and being a strict member of the Greek Sclavonian Church, imagines that the revealed word and will of the Supreme are only to be found in the Sclavonian Scriptures, from which he made his Mandchou version. Yet whenever anything has displeased me in his translation, I have frankly told him my opinion; and in almost every instance (and the instances have been innumerable: for in translations of the sacred writings omissions and additions must ever be avoided) he has suffered himself to be persuaded to remodel what he originally concluded to be perfect, and which perhaps he still does. So that in what has been hitherto printed of the Testament, there is little, if any thing, with which any one but a professed caviller can find fault.

I confess that in one instance I have not been able to carry my point; though I assure you that I did not yield until I found that it was absolutely of no avail to offer any further opposition. For although I was convinced that Mr. L. was wrong, and I think when I state the particulars that you will be of my opinion, he had on his side the Chinese scholars of St. Petersburg, Baron Schilling amongst the rest, and moreover being Censor he could have prohibited the work from proceeding if I had been too obstinate. I will tell you the ground of dispute; for why should I conceal it? Mr. L., amongst what he called his improvements of the translation, thought proper, when the Father Almighty is addressed, to erase the personal and possessive pronouns thou or thine, as often as they occur, and in their stead to make use of the noun as the case may require. For example, 'O Father, thou art merciful,' he would render, 'O Father! the Father is merciful'; 'Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,' by 'Our . . . may the name of the Father be made holy, may the kingdom of the Father come, may the will of the Father be done on earth,' etc. I of course objected to this, and enquired what reason he had for having recourse to so much tautology. He replied that he had the best of reasons; for that amongst the Chinese and Tartars none but the dregs of society were ever addressed in the second person; and that it would be most uncouth and indecent to speak to the Almighty as if He were a servant or a slave. I told him that Christians, when they address their Creator, do not address Him as if He were a great gentleman or illustrious personage, but rather as children their father, with a mixture of reverence and love; and that this mixture of reverence and love was one of the most characteristic traits of Christianity. But he said that in China children never address their parent in this manner; and that it was contrary to all received usage; and that in speaking to a parent the children observe the same respectful formula of phraseology as in addressing an Emperor or Viceroy. I then observed that our object in sending the Bible into China was not to encourage the Chinese in any of their customs or observances, but rather to wean them from them; and that however startling any expression in the Bible might prove to them at first, it was our hope and trust that it would eventually cease to be disagreeable and extraordinary, and that the Chinese were at present in a state which required stirring and powerful medicine, medicine which must necessarily be disagreeable to the palate to prove beneficial in another quarter. However, he said that I talked 'pustota' (emptiness or nonsense), and as he was not to be moved, I was compelled to acquiesce with his dictum. This occurred some months since, and I rejoice to see in the last letter with which you favoured me a fortuitous corroboration of my views on this subject. I allude to that part of your letter where you state that you do not desire the Chinese to consider the Bible the work of a Chinese, etc. Nor do I; and throughout the progress of the work I have collated every sheet with the Greek Testament, and whenever I have found anything still adhering to the translation which struck me as not being faithful to the original, I have invariably modified it, so that, with the exception of the one instance above mentioned, I can safely assert that the Word of God has been rendered into Mandchou as nearly and closely as the idiom of a very singular language would permit.

I have now received and paid for, as you will perceive by my accompts, 495 reams of paper, which will be barely sufficient for the work, which will consist of eight parts, instead of seven, as we at first supposed. I take the liberty of requesting that when the books arrive you will examine the texture of the paper on which they are printed. Mr. L. is exceedingly pleased with it, and says that it is superior to the paper of the first edition of St. Matthew by at least ten roubles per ream; and that it is calculated to endure for 200 years. It certainly does possess uncommon strength and consistency, notwithstanding its tenuity, and the difficulty of tearing it is remarkable. By my direction it received a slight tinge of yellow, as no books are printed in China upon paper entirely colourless. I must be permitted to say that the manner in which the book-binder, Mr. Lauffert, is performing his task is above all praise; but he has been accustomed for many years to this kind of work, the greatest part of Baron Schilling's immense collection of Chinese works having been bound by him. We may esteem ourselves very fortunate in having met with a person so competent to the task, and whose terms are so remarkably reasonable. Any other book-binder in St. Petersburg would have refused double the price at which he has executed this important part of the work, and had they undertaken the affair, would probably have executed it in a manner which would have exposed the book to the scorn and laughter of the people for whom it is intended.

A few months since I saw Mr. Glen, the missionary from Astracan, as he passed through St. Petersburg on his return to England. He is a very learned man, but of very simple and unassuming manners. The doom which had been pronounced upon his translation seems to have deeply affected him; but he appears to me to labour under a very great error respecting the motives which induced the Editorial Committee to reject his work, or at least to hesitate upon publishing it. He assured me that all that was urged against it was the use, here and there, of Arabic words, which in a language like the Persian, which on an original foundation exhibits a superstructure nearly one moiety of which is Arabic, is unavoidable. As I was totally unacquainted with the facts of the case, I said nothing upon the subject; but I now suspect, from a few words dropped in your letter, that the objection is founded not on the use of Arabic words, but on attempts at improving or adorning the simplicity of the Bible. However this may be, there can be no doubt that Mr. Glen is a Persian scholar of the first water. Mirza Achmed, a Persian gentleman now living at St. Petersburg, who resided some time at Astracan, informed me that he had seen the translation, and that the language was highly elegant; but whether or not the translation was faithful, and such as a translation of the sacred volume ought to be, he of course was entirely ignorant; he could merely speak as to the excellence of the Persian. Mirza Djaffar also, the Persian professor here, spoke much to the same effect.

Mr. Stallybrass, the Siberian missionary, is at present here on his way to England, whither he is conducting his two sons, for the purpose of placing them in some establishment, where they may receive a better education than it is possible for him to give them in Siberia. I have seen him several times, and have heard him preach once at the Sarepta House. He is a clever, well-informed man, and in countenance and manner much like Mr. Swan -- which similarity may perhaps be accounted for by their long residence under the same roof; for people who are in the habit of conversing together every day insensibly assume each other's habits, manner of speaking, and expression of countenance. Mr. Stallybrass's youngest son, a lad of fifteen, shows marks of talent which may make him useful in the missionary field for which he is intended. The most surprising instance of precocious talent that I have ever seen, or ever heard of, is exhibited in a young nobleman, who visits me every day. He is the eldest son of Count Fredro, Marshal of the Imperial Court, and though only fourteen years of age, speaks eight languages perfectly well, is a good Grecian and Latinist, is one of the best draftsmen in Russia, is well acquainted with physics, botany, geography, and history, and to crown all, has probably the most beautiful voice that ever mortal was gifted with. A admirable Chrishna again by metempsychosis; the religion of the family, with whom I am very intimate, is the Romish. I now and then attend the service of the Armenian Church, for the purpose of perfecting myself in the language, and have formed many acquaintances amongst the congregation: there are several very clever and very learned Armenians in this place; one of them I will particularly mention, a little elderly gentleman of the name of Kudobashoff, who is the best Armenian scholar at present in existence. He is on the eve of publishing a work, calculated to be very interesting to us: an Armenian and Russian Dictionary, on which he has been occupied for the space of thirty-seven years, and which will be of the highest assistance to any future editor of the Armenian Scriptures; and be it known, that no place in Europe, with perhaps the exception of Venice, offers more advantages to the editing of the A.S. than St. Petersburg.

I will now conclude, and repeat the assurance that I am ready to attempt anything which the Society may wish me to execute; and, at a moment's warning, will direct my course towards Canton, Pekin, or the court of the Grand Lama. With my best respects to Mr. Brandram, I have the honour to remain, Revd. and dear Sir, most truly yours,

G. BORROW.

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